A/N: Welcome, everyone! It's finally time for the long-awaited Poison Fairy. I hope you enjoy yourselves! As a side note, there will eventually be a companion story to this one, and they will both end up referencing events that happen simultaneously. This is gonna be so much fun!

Blanket disclaimer: I don't own Fairy Tail or any music that may be used in this story.

Also, please keep in mind that this story is rated M for a reason. There will, at times, be darker parts to the story. I don't do trigger warnings on individual chapters (there's a note about it on my profile), so be a responsible reader and turn back if you think there's something going on that will trigger you.

I hope you all enjoy!

Prisoner 100977

He grinned when he caught the faint sound of footsteps making their way down the spacious hall just outside of his cell. The single brazier off to the right of the door only gave off so much light, but it was still enough for him to be able to see perfectly. "Two thousand and four. Two thousand and five. Two thousand and six," he whispered to himself. The steps came closer and closer, and it took everything in him to bite back his chuckle when he heard just who was coming to pay him a visit. 'Interesting,' he thought, 'I can't hear why…'

"Prisoner 100977," Doranbolt sighed as he looked up at the little metallic placard above the cell. He lowered his gaze to find Cobra in much the same position he'd been in the last time they had seen each other with bars between them – when he'd broken the lunatic out to assist in the dragon invasion during the Grand Magic Games the month before. He was sitting on the floor with his back against the wall. One knee was pulled up with his arm draped over it, while the other leg stretched out comfortably in front of him. "How are you, Cobra?" he asked solemnly. Honestly, maybe Lahar was rubbing off on him. He felt far too rigid and stuffy, but that could be sorted out later.

"Peachy. I love the five-star accommodations," Cobra sneered. "In fact, you missed it. Last night's dinner was served on a golden platter. The caviar was exquisite, by the way, so please do send my compliments to the chef. This morning I was bathed and fed by scores of virgins that catered to my every whim. Really, I have no idea why anyone would want to leave this place."

Doranbolt sighed and shook his head, wondering just why the hell he'd decided it would be a good idea to come down and talk with the ornery one-eyed psychopath. "Diplomacy is for chumps," he muttered to himself.

Cobra chuckled and tilted his head to the side. It had been a while since anyone had spent more than a few moments in his presence – including the guards that rushed down, scooted his meal through the small gap in the bars along with his daily allotment of poison, then ran the fuck away – so he felt it was high time to have some fun. "I've got a question for you... It's been bothering me for a while now," he said, stretching both of his legs out with a sigh.

"O… kay?" Doranbolt said cautiously.

"Does Lahar give you a reach around when he's fucking you?" The baleful glare that was directed at him was more than enough to keep going. "What?" Cobra asked in feigned innocence, "If he's not, then you should ask for a raise…"

"Hilarious," Doranbolt deadpanned, getting ready to turn on his heel and forget all about speaking with the prisoner concerning what had happened with the Eclipse Gate.

"Alright, alright," Cobra sighed in defeat, throwing his hands up to placate the pissy Direct Line mage. "I do have a serious question…"

Doranbolt crossed his arms over his chest. Then nodded shortly.

With a face that was a mask of contemplation, Cobra's tone was grave as he asked, "If one Doctor doctors another Doctor, does the Doctor who doctors the Doctor doctor the Doctor the way the doctor he's doctoring doctors? Or... does the Doctor doctor the way the Doctor who doctors, doctors?"

Doranbolt slowly blinked and picked his jaw up off of the floor. Cobra had been crazy, sure. But, in just a month, it seemed he'd gone from being a prick to jumping right off the deep end into the heart of the funny farm. Clearly, the guy had lost touch with reality.

"You see," Cobra continued with a wide grin, "I think the answer is that the doctoring Doctor doctors the Doctor the way the doctoring Doctor wants to doctor the Doctor. Not the way the doctored Doctor wants to be doctored... But, I wanted to get a second opinion..."

Doranbolt sighed as Cobra began cackling wildly. He ran both hands over his face in frustration and prayed to whatever deity would listen that he was able to just get through the encounter without stabbing himself in the eye with a fork. Maybe it would get rid of the pounding headache that was starting to form. The immediate silence that ensued had his eyes slowly opening to see a dark grin on the prisoner's face.

"Professional opinion? Use a spoon to pop your eye out, then a knife to get to your brain," Cobra said, pausing only to wet his chapped lips – something, he realized after the fact, that had Doranbolt's stomach churning when he mistook it for an animalistic wetting of his chops, so to speak. "Or you could just give me a knitting needle, and I'll pull your brain out through your nose. It's pretty quick if it's done by someone with experience, so I'm your best bet."

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Doranbolt groaned in disgust.

Cobra shrugged. "Boredom?" He slowly turned and laid himself out on the cold stone floor, staring up at the dark ceiling of his cell with his hands beneath his head. "Did you need something, or have you just come to watch my slow descent into madness? I can tell you right now, it might be more entertaining for you, if you watch grass grow… Also, I've heard that grass isn't nearly as big of an asshole as I am, or plotting your death; although that's entirely debatable. No one really knows just what grass thinks about... It could just snap any fucking day and revolt. All because it's tired of getting walked all over."

Doranbolt rolled his eyes when Cobra started chuckling. "You're already insane," he shot back. "That just proves it…"

"Far from it," Cobra replied, his eye dancing with glee. "Otherwise, I would have broken out and tried to take over the world again. Define insanity…"

"Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results."

"Exactly. I broke out. I got caught." Cobra shrugged. "Not much else to do now, since I'll just get caught again."

"You're pretty talkative today."

"Yep." Cobra made sure to thoroughly annunciate the 'p'. And then kept smacking his lips together to make short, high-pitched popping sounds that he just knew would piss Doranbolt off. It got to Lahar something fierce when he did it, as with pretty much anyone else, and it took only ten (a surprisingly high number in his experience) little pops for Doranbolt's soul to flare in what constituted as a hilarious amount of annoyance. 'Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Wonder how long 'til he bashes his head into a wall…'

"So, is that why you've turned yourself in twice now?" Doranbolt asked, doing everything in his power to ignore the Poison Slayer's obnoxious pastime of pissing everyone right the hell off. "Have you finally figured out that there's no point in running?"

Cobra growled and glared at the pompous shit-goblin out of the corner of his eye. "I don't run. Never fucking did."

"What do you call it then?" Doranbolt asked with a cocky grin.

"Tactical maneuvers for the betterment of my goddamn existence," Cobra quipped. "Not once did I actually run from you little shits. In fact, I distinctly remember several Rune Knights running from me. If memory serves correctly, the only time they haven't run from me was when I was already cuffed."

They were silent for a time, with Doranbolt trying to decide just how he was going to word his questions, or what questions he really wanted to ask in the first place. He could see Cobra watching him, and knew from the curious (but no less guarded) expression on his face that the Poison Slayer must have picked up at least a small tidbit of what was going through his head. Finally, Doranbolt crossed his arms over his chest again and said, "What was your reason for willingly going into custody?"

"Which time?" Cobra drawled with a smirk. "You said it yourself, I've done it twice now."


"Inconsequential details," Cobra sighed contentedly. He suddenly sat up and stood to his feet, then began pacing in his cell on the same circuit he used daily, from one wall to the other in a figure eight pattern. "None of my reasoning is important to you. You think I'm insane, and insane people don't make much sense to anyone but themselves, now do they?"

"You said you're not insane though," Doranbolt replied. "And, even if you are, you seem lucid enough to answer some questions."

"Valid point," Cobra grinned. He slowly walked over to the bars and rested his head against them while narrowing his eye at Doranbolt. "Quid pro quo, Pedobear. It's the only way you'll get answers out of me. Give me something worthwhile, and I'll do the same."

"Did you just call me—"

"Yep." Cobra's grin widened. "You've got the little sky dragon on your mind every time I see you. Highly inappropriate, if you ask me."

Doranbolt sneered and had to fight to hold himself in place. "That's vile," he spat. "Answer my questions, or I leave. You like hearing souls, don't you? I can have them increase the hold on your cell, and then you won't hear anything at all."

Cobra snarled at the self-assured smirk that plastered itself on the fucker's face. Of course he liked hearing souls. It had been far too long since he'd been able to absorb so much pain and suffering from the people around him, and he'd thoroughly enjoyed just being able to hear other people in general. As it was, he was completely secluded in his cell. The walls and bars that surrounded him put a very heavy damper on his magic, to the point that he was only able to catch small whispers of what someone was thinking about. The concept of not hearing anything aside from himself, not even the footsteps of the guards when they came to drop off his food or that incessant dripping noise from somewhere further down the hall, would actually drive him insane.

"That's our trade," Doranbolt chuckled. "You answer my questions, you can hear my soul. How's that for quid pro quo, Hannibal?"

"What is it you fucking want?"

"You turned yourself in," Doranbolt repeated, "Why?"

"Like I said," Cobra answered as he closed his eye, stretching his magic out in a vain attempt at latching onto the soul right in front of him… and failing miserably. "I don't run."

"That girl," Doranbolt prodded, cocking his head to the side slightly when Cobra tensed, "The one that was with you the first time. You said you don't know her?"

"I've never met that girl in my life. That was the first time I had ever seen her," Cobra answered with a smirk. His eye slowly slid open, his face not showing the surprise he felt when he heard what Doranbolt was about to say.

"She's a member Fairy Tail," Doranbolt supplied, "And you've never met her?"

"I wasn't sitting in that shit guild and getting all chummy with them. We just needed the blonde."

"And after the Eclipse incident… Why didn't you just make a break for it? We could have easily lost you in the aftermath of the dragons attacking. Or assumed you were dead if you had just laid low."

"Why exactly are you stuck on me letting you fuckers take me in? You're not getting anything else on that, so move the fuck on already."

"Alright," Doranbolt nodded. "Hypothetically, if you were set free tomorrow, what would you do?"

"Slitting your goddamn throat is at the top of my fucking list right now," Cobra growled. He absolutely hated that he couldn't just glean the information from the mage in front of him. His whole life had revolved around his ability to hear what people thought, felt, or desired deep down. He'd always known what someone's ulterior motive was – Brain's in particular notwithstanding, since that bastard had found a way to block Cobra's Soul Listening magic with Zero's help – and this 'in the dark' bullshit he was being subjected to was nearly painful. "Maybe slaughtering all of you," he added wistfully. "That'd be nice."

"Anything else? Or is death and dismemberment the only thing you think about?"

Cobra sneered and pulled away from the bars, walking back across his cell to sit back down in the same spot he'd been in when Doranbolt showed up. "All I do in here is think, you fucking prick," he grumbled under his breath. "Get back to your boyfriend. I'm sure he's wondering why you're late for his daily adjustment to that stick up his ass."

Doranbolt sighed again and shook his head. There was just no way to get around the fact that Cobra was indeed a raging asshole. "Just a few more questions."


"What was your motivation for agreeing to help in the fight that day?"

Cobra blinked, his single indigo eye glinting in the bare sliver of light from the brazier.

"Are you planning on finding a way to break the others out?"

Nothing more than the sound of steady breathing was Doranbolt's reply.

"What exactly are you thinking about right now?"

"I thought a thought," Cobra answered thoughtfully. "But the thought I thought wasn't the thought I thought I thought. If the thought I thought I thought had been the thought I thought, I wouldn't have thought so much…" He paused and a wicked grin turned up the corners of his mouth. "Dontcha think?"

Doranbolt groaned and turned to walk away. There wasn't anything else he was going to get out of the bastard, and he definitely had some thinking to do. "Enjoy yourself, Cobra," he muttered as he walked away, the voice of the prisoner echoing along with his footsteps as he made his way to the door at the end of the hall.

"I'm not the pheasant plucker, I'm the pheasant plucker's mate. And I'm only plucking pheasants 'cause the pheasant plucker's late," Cobra muttered to himself with a wide grin. Doranbolt was definitely fun to fuck with, maybe more than even Lahar. Actually, definitely more fun than Lahar. That puddle-jumping cum-bucket would just walk away after only a minute instead of engaging in any conversation that was even remotely worthwhile. It's just too bad no one ever asked the right questions. Out of sheer boredom, and because he already knew he wasn't going to be getting out of prison any time soon – since he still hadn't decided just how he was going to break the Oracion Seis out yet – he would have answered their questions about his motives… Cobra chuckled and shook his head. All they had to do was stay long enough to wade through him being an asshole, and they'd get the answers they wanted. "I'm not the pheasant plucker, I'm the pheasant plucker's son. And I'm only plucking pheasants till the pheasant pluckers come."

Three days had gone by since that encounter, and Doranbolt had been thinking about it constantly. He came to an odd conclusion while he was brushing his teeth that third morning, and it had stuck itself right on the forefront of his brain until it was quite literally the only thing he could focus on.

Cobra wasn't actually insane… he was just an asshole.

Yes, he had no issues with torturing and killing people, and he enjoyed inflicting pain on others – whether mental, emotional, or physical – but he wasn't crazy. Even the pointless things he'd said that had frustrated Doranbolt to no end, the things that made no sense to him whatsoever at the time, weren't a sign of him being crazy. He was just bored. Cobra had even said as much. It seemed the Poison Slayer found ways to pass his time by playing word games, reciting tongue twisters, thinking of riddles… Okay, so he was also probably thinking of all the ways he was going to torture people as well, but so far it was only threats.

'He likes hearing someone's soul,' Doranbolt thought as he stared at the stack of papers in front of him, 'Maybe he says things like that to get a rise out of people, just so he can hear it…'

"You're more introspective than usual, Doranbolt," Lahar said as he stood from his seat and picked up a file. "Don't forget, you still have two months before that vacation of yours starts."

Doranbolt gave him a tight smile, and waved just before his old friend walked out of the room. With a heavy sigh, he looked down at the papers again. He couldn't believe he was actually considering this, but since he'd decided against erasing the Council's memories of everything that had happened with the Eclipse Gate, it only seemed appropriate. Aside from the royal family's involvement in that machine's creation and use, everyone in the Council was fully aware of the dragons that had laid waste to the land, along with Cobra's not-so-legal release to help fend off the beasts. Yes, that particular detail had resulted in a week of sorting and organizing the files of every other Enforcement Officer in their unit – something, he realized was a true punishment, since no one was as organized as Lahar was – but Doranbolt took the punishment willingly since Cobra had at least turned himself back in afterwards.

Doranbolt shook his head to clear away his stray thoughts, and silently prayed that there wouldn't be someone gunning for him after this request was officially submitted. He decided to read through it once more, then signed the bottom of the page. It was very likely that nothing whatsoever would come of his request, but at least he would have tried. And that was something. Everyone deserved a second chance – a true second chance – and Doranbolt felt that his actions had warranted this.

He quickly stood up and took long strides to the door. He could very easily have rolled the paper up and sent it through the interdepartmental mailing system that had a tube running from every office to the mail processing center, but those people were incredibly inept. They lost more mail than he thought humanly possible. So, Doranbolt decided to take the initiative and make sure his request was set in the proper hands. He could do that much, at least.

"Doranbolt." The Direct Line mage kept his gaze forward as Gran Doma's voice boomed across the Council's meeting room. "Explain yourself."

"What precisely would you like me to explain, sir?"

"This… request…" The aged man sneered at the paperwork in his hand that he and the other Council members had been reviewing for the past month. "What exactly is this supposed to be?"

"It's exactly what it looks like," Doranbolt replied. He cleared his throat and lifted his gaze to look into the Chairman's eyes in defiance as he continued. "I personally feel that Prisoner 100977 – otherwise known as Cobra of the Oracion Seis – should be released on probation."

"That's absurd!" a faceless voice shouted indignantly. "He's a psychopath!"

"I don't think so," Doranbolt answered. When Gran Doma lifted a brow in question, he sighed. "Permission to speak freely, sir?"

Gran Doma didn't spare a single glance at the other members present, and simply nodded. He was very curious to see just what had possessed Doranbolt to submit something so off-the-wall, and he refused to let any of the others try and stop him.

"The prisoner has shown himself capable of performing good deeds, as evidenced by his assistance during the Grand Magic Games to stop the dragon attack," Doranbolt said firmly. "He's willingly been taken into custody twice, and actually sought out the Rune Knights after the dragons disappeared so he could be returned to prison – something he had promised he would do. The guards that see him on a daily basis say that he doesn't cause problems—"

"That's not what I've heard," one Council member grumbled.

"Indeed… He does have quite the mouth on him," another member answered.

"His previous crimes notwithstanding, it's not like we can just keep him locked up for being an insufferable ass," a third said thoughtfully.

"But his previous crimes are withstanding! That's why he's in prison to begin with!"

Doranbolt cleared his throat again and waited for everyone's attention to get drawn back to him. "I believe he does that simply to get a rise out of people. Maybe even boredom. It's very likely that he's not actually doing it for any reason other than the fact that he likes to do it, but he's more than served his time."

"How?! Because you broke him out and he got to cause destruction and mayhem?!"

"That's a good point… I'm starting to think you have a soft spot for him, Doranbolt. Is there anything else we need to know about your sudden interest in his prison sentence?"

"I have no ulterior motives where the prisoner is concerned," Doranbolt answered, "If that's what you're implying. I am a firm believer in giving people second chances, especially when they've proven that they're willing to do the right thing."

"How can we be sure his motives for following orders were selfless?"

"We can't," Gran Doma said solemnly. "However, a person's motives for anything are hardly selfless. We cannot necessarily fault the prisoner for selfishness…"

Doranbolt's eyebrows wanted to quickly vacate his forehead at the disconcertingly pensive look on the Chairman's face, but he was lucky enough to be able to school his expression before it showed his surprise. "I've requested for Cobra to be released on probation because I believe that, given the right circumstances, he can turn over a new leaf. Obviously, there would need to be heavy restrictions and stipulations in his case, but his particular magic could be a huge benefit to society."

"And how exactly do you suggest controlling him?"

"Simple," Doranbolt shrugged, "Have him join a guild. One that can keep him in line, or subdue him until Rune Knights arrive to take him into custody." He watched as the Councilmen and women began arguing with one another, and when he looked back to the Chairman, Doranbolt actually gulped. Gran Doma definitely didn't look pleased by what was happening, but it was a rare thing to see the man smile anyway. "I feel this is the right thing to do, sir," he said over the increasing volume of the other voices in the room.

Gran Doma steepled his fingers in thought, then sighed and dismissed Doranbolt with a wave. "Return to your duties," he said. "We will discuss this matter."

Doranbolt bowed his head, then turned and walked out. 'Well, the hard part's done,' he thought with a heavy sigh as the door to the Council Chamber slammed shut behind him. As he started walking down the hall, feeling just a little bit lighter, the pep in his step suddenly faltered when his stomach decided to plummet to the floor. "Oh god," he whispered in horror, staring at the floor and slowly shaking his head. "If they agree… Oh god, no… The paperwork!"

A keening cry of despair was heard throughout the Magic Council's headquarters, and a small smirk lifted the corner of Cobra's lips when the volume of it reached even his ears down in his cell. He'd know that voice and soul anywhere, and there was no way in hell he could stop himself from laughing when one thought stuck out like a sore thumb.

'Paperwork. So much paperwork! What have I done?!'

Doranbolt was done. Officially finished. His desk was so spotless, he was sure even Lahar would be willing to eat off of it. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. Lahar would consider eating off of his sparkling desk that was free of paperwork, and then promptly snort and push his glasses up before walking off indignantly while giving a backhanded compliment that ran along the lines of, 'I'm pleased to see your desk is so organized. Why is it you can't manage to keep it like this any other time?'... Yeah, that was more like him. Regardless of that, Doranbolt was immensely happy.

There wasn't a single file that he needed to attend to. Everything was finished. He looked up at the clock and grinned when he saw that he only had five minutes to wait before his vacation officially started. Nine whole days of no stress about work. Nine of them! Which mean that he would be able to spend several days with Wendy before returning to get a few repairs done on his home.

Doranbolt sighed contentedly and leaned back in his chair, lacing his fingers together over his stomach and closing his eyes to just enjoy the utter tranquility of that moment. Three minutes left.

The door to his office suddenly opened, and one of the many delivery clerks rushed in. Doranbolt's eyes shot open when there was a loud thunk on his desk, only to see a file that was several inches thick sitting right in front of him. "No," he sneered, turning his attention to the messenger to tell them to take it back until he returned… only to find that they had rushed out as quickly as possible. "Nooooo," he whined dramatically, "Come on!"

He glanced at the clock and shook his head at the unfairness of it all. Two minutes. He had two minutes before he was finished! "Might as well see what this is," he muttered. The folder itself didn't give him any information on the contents, so Doranbolt quickly opened it and a wide grin settled itself on his face.

Request for Probationary Release: Granted
Inmate: 100977
Name: Cobra
Previous Affiliation: Oracion Seis

This was definitely a surprise. Doranbolt had assumed that the Council had simply dismissed the request as soon as he'd left their meeting chamber that day. A whole month and a half had gone by, and there hadn't been any word whatsoever on a decision from them. It seemed that his little speech had done wonders in convincing at least a couple of the Council's members that Cobra had the ability to be rehabilitated, and it took everything in his power to hold in the literal jump for joy that wanted to escape and vault him into a whole song and dance over his success.

A quick perusal of the contents revealed that it was all of the paperwork that needed to be filled out and filed for Cobra to be released back into society, along with a copy of his extensive record – well, at least what the Council had been able to charge him with. Doranbolt was sure there were plenty of crimes they were either unaware of, or didn't have enough evidence to pin on the Poison Slayer. A groan slipped past his lips when he glanced at the clock and saw that his vacation had officially started three minutes prior. He could easily take the file with him to work on at home before leaving for Magnolia, but that would cut into his time off… Also, he really didn't want to deal with filling out all of this paperwork, especially when he saw it was double-sided, and there were triplicates of everything.

He rubbed his hands over his face, internally torn on how to best handle this flaming bag of shit that had been dropped in his lap. Cobra would be none the wiser if he left it until he returned, but he just couldn't bring himself to keep the man locked up for his own selfish reasons. A heavy sigh spilled from him and he slowly stood up to leave, tucking the enormous file under his arm. As he trudged to the office door, he glared at Lahar's pristine desk. It was always like that, but the sight of it sickened him. His old friend was terrifyingly skilled at getting through piles of paperwork before the day was out, and he seldom left with anything waiting for him the next day.

A dark chuckle sounded out through the room when he paused. Lahar… That could work. There was no name on the file for the person assigned to handle the case, which meant he could leave it for Lahar to find and take his vacation. He would do the paperwork, ensuring everything was perfect, and he would have no clue that Doranbolt had screwed him over until it was too late.

He moved to stand in front of the desk, then grinned and carefully settled it right in the center of his friend's desk. He took an extra minute to ensure that not a single paper was askew, and that the edges of the file lined up perfectly with the edges of the desk, then took a step back. "Oh yeah, this is perfect," he chuckled to himself. What better way to help Cobra out and mess with his friend? "Absolutely perfect."

Doranbolt left the office with his head held high, a jaunty tune being whistled while he practically skipped out of the Council's headquarters. This was going to be the best vacation ever.

Keys lightly jingled in the early morning silence that permeated the halls of the Magic Council. There were very few employees that were actually present at a quarter to seven, since no one's shifts really started until around eight, but Lahar had made it a habit to come in early and ensure that he had everything he would need for the day in perfect order. Besides, it gave him time to just sit and relax before Doranbolt came in and started to annoy him.

A small smirk pulled at his lips when he realized that he would be Doranbolt-free for the next nine days, which meant that he wouldn't be tempted to throw his old friend into a cell every five minutes for his nearly nonstop tomfoolery. He sighed contentedly as the locking mechanism in the door to their shared office was released, and made his way into the room. It took no time at all for Lahar to realize that there was something seriously wrong even before he flicked on the lights, but he couldn't place precisely what it was.

His eye narrowed as he immediately looked at Doranbolt's desk and closed the door behind him. It was spotless, nearly shining with its lack of piles of paperwork that the Direct Line mage had yet to file or complete. That feat alone was practically a cause for celebration, but he just couldn't place why its lack of paperwork was suddenly so irksome.

It didn't take long for him to figure it out, though. One file was sitting on his desk. There hadn't been any paperwork there when he'd left the previous day – as was the case every single day when he was leaving. The several inch thick folder was settled so neatly, directly in the center of his desk, that he felt it was mocking him. Long strides had Lahar closing the distance in a matter of seconds, and he scowled down at the file.

"Doranbolt," he ground out between tightly gritted teeth. He couldn't prove that Doranbolt had actually done this – that he'd been stupid enough to try and pass off this file as one that had been assigned to Lahar – but there really was no other explanation for its presence. At least, not with it sitting where it was. Clearly, the man that had been his partner and friend for years had never noticed that when new files were left for him, even after he'd gone home for the day, they were set on the bottom right corner of his desk. Perfectly aligned with the corner itself. With two rubber bands around the file to ensure nothing slipped out and got lost. Lahar had refused to accept them unless they were prepared to his specifications – a caveat he was afforded due to his impeccable record concerning the diligent work he put into any and all files that bore his signature – which could only mean that Doranbolt had decided his vacation was more important than whatever this monstrosity held.

While Lahar would have loved to simply put the folder back on Doranbolt's desk and make the Direct Line mage handle it when he returned, the sheer thickness of the file had piqued his interest. It was clear that Doranbolt wanted him to handle the paperwork on this case, and that either meant that he was being lazy… Or that he knew it would be handled quickly and with the utmost care if it was entrusted to Lahar in his absence. Possibly both. In fact, most likely both.

"Damn," he cursed under his breath. Leave it to the man he had befriended so long ago to remember his obsessive tendencies where things of this nature were concerned. Doranbolt knew that he wouldn't be able to turn this away, no matter how much he really wanted to. He slowly sat down in his seat and opened the file, then blanched when the picture that was fastened to the inside cover of the folder caught his eye.

'Cobra?! Why in the name of all that is holy would he receive a file on that monster?!' he thought incredulously. The very first page was what gave him the answers he was seeking. Probation. Someone – namely Doranbolt and the entire Council – had lost their ever-loving mind, and actually granted Cobra a probationary release. Surely, this had to be another one of Doranbolt's pranks. It seemed they only got more elaborate as the years went by, but deep down… Lahar knew that he would never take it this far. Which could only mean that Doranbolt truly felt Cobra deserved to be released into society. The signed statement to that effect was proof enough of that.

The one good thing about Fridays for the Head Captain of the Custody Enforcement Unit was that there wasn't usually much for him to do, unless someone was trying to take over the world. 'Much like this abomination,' he sourly reminded himself. It didn't make much sense to him that this day of the week in particular was so slow, and that Tuesdays were the busiest, but he refused to question it; especially when he had something of great intrigue to read.

Two hours later, after having gone over the folder's contents in their entirety, Lahar had come to realize two things.

Doranbolt's apparent mental instability was contagious, and had clearly affected everyone on the Council.

This file was sure to be his ticket to finally taking down Fairy Tail once and for all.

Cobra was to be placed in a mage's guild for them to monitor his rehabilitation and acclimate him to society as a law-abiding citizen. While he was loathe to admit that Fairy Tail would be the most effective in at least detaining the deranged criminal should ('More like when,' he thought) he get out of line, that bunch of drunkards was surprisingly effective when it came to that. The coup de grâce, however, was that Fairy Tail was also very well known for causing destruction and mayhem. Should Cobra be arrested again, he would be locked up in an instant. And if that bothersome guild was claiming responsibility for him, then Lahar would hopefully have enough ammunition – along with however many damage reports were incurred that involved the Poison Slayer – to request the Council's cooperation in ridding them of the nuisance known as Fairy Tail. With Cobra's inability to play nice with anyone, it would only speed along the process of finally locking that barrel full of lunatics away for good.

Without a moment's hesitation, Lahar formulated a plan and activated the lacrima on his desk. If he didn't have to keep up appearances, he most likely would have been prancing around like a giddy little schoolgirl over the prospect of removing every thorn in his side in one fell swoop; however, he still had official business to attend to. His uncharacteristic prancing – that could very well turn into a full musical production later on when he was at home – would have to wait. He had some Fairies to deal with.

Not a moment after that though crossed his mind, Lahar made sure his standard stoic mask was in place just before Makarov Dreyar's ancient visage appeared on the orb. "Guildmaster Dreyar," he said with a formal bow of his head.

"Ah, Captain Lahar," Makarov chuckled. "What did my brats destroy this time, and how many pounds of their flesh should I send to the Council to help pay for the debt?"

Lahar blinked slowly, then said, "Actually, this has nothing to do with your guild's destructive tendencies."

Makarov's jaw popped open in surprise, then he grinned and raised his hands into the air. "It's a miracle!" he shouted to the ceiling of his office. "I'm not being called to bail anyone out, or give you my mon – I mean, the guild's money!"

Lahar sighed when Makarov began blubbering and thanking whole scores of deities for what was clearly a great honor that had been bestowed upon him. Finally, he cleared his throat and said, "I have been given orders that your guild will be receiving a new member."

"New member?"

"Yes. Cobra of the Oracion Seis is being released on probation, and has been assigned to join Fairy Tail as he adjusts to living in society normally."

Makarov blinked several times in surprise, then narrowed his eyes. "Why my guild?" he asked suspiciously.

"Furthermore," Lahar continued as he looked down at the paperwork in front of him, writing down a small addendum that would need to be copied into the official final draft, "He will not be able to work as a solo mage based on his history of – well, you know his history fairly well – which means he has also been assigned a team." He lifted his gaze to see Makarov waiting with barely contained anger etched into his very pores. "Team Natsu will gain one additional member."

"Absolutely not!"

"This is not up for discussion," Lahar replied coolly. "The Magic Council has decided that—"

"Why?" Makarov asked with a sneer. "Why precisely has he been assigned here? To the same place his previous allies have already attacked twice."

"Because both times your guild faced the Oracion Seis, you have come out victorious," Lahar answered. "Team Natsu, based on eyewitness accounts of the Nirvana incident and the few statements we've received from the criminals themselves, successfully defeated them in both instances. Erza Scarlet and Natsu Dragneel have faced Cobra in battle, so if he gets out of line at any point, they are the best equipped to subdue him."

"And what of their feelings concerning this?" Makarov asked. "Lucy Heartfilia was a victim to their depravity earlier this year. Do you expect me to stand aside and let the Council force this burden on her as well?"

"That is not my concern. You have no choice in this matter, Guildmaster Dreyar. It has already been decided, and your guild will just have to deal with this inconvenience."

"This is unacceptable."

"While I personally agree with you," Lahar lied through his teeth, "This is just the way it must be. No one is better equipped to handle this case than your guild." He looked back down at the statement that Doranbolt had submitted to start this whole thing, then added, "He was released temporarily to assist in the dragon attack, and has willingly gone into custody twice. The Council believes that, under the right circumstances, Cobra can be rehabilitated to function normally in society. Your guild prides itself on forgiveness and camaraderie; therefore, he will have the greatest chance of success there."

There was a long pause before Makarov finally sighed and said, "Very well. It can't be helped. I will inform Team Natsu of their newest addition. How long until he is here?"

"You have one week." Lahar watched with no small amount of amusement as Makarov slid a hand over his face before nodding. "I will see you then." With the small guildmaster's nod, Lahar cut off the lacrima and sat back in his chair, a wide grin spreading across his face. The hours paperwork to release Cobra would be well worth it, along with the extra paperwork when Fairy Tail failed to keep the Poison Slayer in line. He would finally be rid of them once and for all.

"I love Fridays," Lahar whispered to himself.

Makarov glared at the lacrima once the call was ended, clenching his fists again and again to try and calm himself down. He knew there was something more to this than Lahar was admitting, but there was no way to know for sure just what it was. He was very well aware of the Council's dislike for his guild, and could easily assume that assigning Cobra to Fairy Tail was just another ploy of theirs to try and dismantle his family once and for all.

"It does seem suspicious," Mavis said thoughtfully from her position on the corner of his desk. "But who are we to deny someone a second chance?"

"He's not coming here of his own free will, First," Makarov sighed. "Gajeel and Juvia were our enemies once, but joined because they wanted to change for the better. That isn't the case with Cobra."

"How can you be so sure he doesn't also want that?" she asked. "He could be willing to make amends and live a good life, but there's no way for him to do that in prison."

Makarov ran a hand over his face and nodded. She did have a point. Maybe Cobra was willing to do this, and his wishes had been taken into consideration when the Council had placed him with them. "I need to talk to Team Natsu," he sighed. "This… isn't going to end well…"

Mavis giggled and kicked her legs back and forth as Makarov made his way to the door of his office. "They are a rambunctious group," she said with a wide smile. "Definitely full of life."

Makarov chuckled and shook his head as he closed the door behind him. "That they are," he whispered. Once he reached the balcony on the second floor, he hopped up onto the banister and took in a deep breath to get the Team in question's attention, only to gape at the intensity of the guild brawl that was happening.

Ice flew in a wide arc through the air and decimated a pillar. Fire shot off in the opposite direction, having much the same effect on a pillar across the room. The pile of dust and flailing limbs was a common sight, but it was the inclusion of both Erza and Laxus that had Makarov at a complete loss for words. Even Cana had joined in!

A quick look around showed that there wasn't a single occupied seat anywhere else in the guild – especially since there weren't many intact tables or chairs – and he glanced down to see Mira happily polishing glasses at the bar. And then he saw Lucy. She was the picture of serenity and happiness while she sat at the bar and sipped her strawberry smoothie, chatting away with Mira Jane and seemingly oblivious to the massive battle ensuing behind her. Makarov couldn't help but grin when he looked at her. The young woman was always so vibrant and somehow managed to keep her teammates in check (to a point), which was definitely no small feat. No matter what hardships she faced, Lucy always came out with a smile and buckets of optimism. Of course, she was human and it took some time for her to return to her bubbly personality in full when some disaster occurred, but she never lost that beautiful light in her eyes that so easily set others at peace. It was no wonder she was called the Light of the Guild.

"Listen up, Brats!" Makarov shouted, his voice booming across the guild and halting everything in an instant. When everyone's attention was on him, he cleared his throat and said, "I need to see Erza, Lucy, Gray, Natsu, and Happy in my office immediately." With his announcement complete, Makarov hopped down and made his way back to his office.

It only took two minutes for Team Natsu to file into his office, each of them taking on a look of trepidation and curiosity for the reason they'd been called in there. Makarov took a look at each of them for a long minute, then sighed and said, "It seems we will be gaining a new member, children."

"That's awesome!" Natsu shouted with a wide grin. "Now I'll have someone new to fight!"

"Shut it, Flamebrain. Let Master finish!"

"Enough, you two," Erza said sternly, smirking when the Fire and Ice mages clutched tightly to each other.

"As I was saying," Makarov continued, "The Council has decided to release a prisoner back into society, and we have been tasked with assisting him in turning over a new leaf." He paused and let the news sink in, then added, "He will be joining your team, as you five are the most capable of handling him in the event that he reverts to his old ways."

"Master, who is this prisoner?" Erza asked, earning a chorus of agreement in her curiosity from Natsu, Gray, and Happy.

Makarov turned his gaze to Lucy to see that she was just as curious, but he wondered why she had stayed silent this entire time. "Cobra."

That one word was all it took for everyone to lose it.

"No way, Master!" Natsu shouted defiantly, his fists instantly igniting in tandem with the raging inferno of his anger. "That guy's tried to kill us twice now!"

Lucy took a small step back, staying otherwise silent, as the heat radiating from her partner increased on her right while Gray began dropping the temperature in the room to her left.

"You can't be serious!" Gray bellowed, tossing his shirt to the side and clenching his fists tightly. "That bastard and his friends nearly killed Lucy!"

Erza took several steps forward. "Master, we refuse to let someone like him join us. You can't ask us to do this and just forget what's happened."

"This is bullshit!" Natsu roared. "Did they all just forget that Luce was nearly sacrificed to a damn clock because of him?! Why the hell are they letting him out to begin with?!"

"Because they've lost their goddamn minds!" Gray replied with a sneer. "No way are we letting that monster come anywhere near Lucy again. She could have died, all because Cobra and his buddies are a bunch of psychopaths!"

Happy flew down and cowered in Lucy's arms as Erza, Natsu, and Gray continued shouting. He looked up at the blonde worriedly when she simply held onto him while staring blankly at the floor. "Lushy?" he whispered, "Are you okay?"

"ENOUGH!" Makarov bellowed, increasing his size and slamming a hand down on top of the three uproarious members of Team Natsu before they could cause any damage. "You will listen to me, and then this discussion will be over. Are we clear?!"

"Master, you can't do this!" Natsu shouted once Makarov lifted his gargantuan hand. "Think about Luce! She's gonna have to work with that guy?!"

"Natsu!" Erza ground out. "Let Master finish!"

Makarov sighed when Natsu fell to the ground after receiving a gauntlet to the head. "I have called you here to inform you of his assignment to our guild. There is nothing we can do to change this, but I would like each of you to take a moment and decide where you all stand concerning his presence here."

"Well, Ash Breath is clearly against it," Gray muttered as he looked down at the unconscious mage on the floor. He definitely agreed with Natsu on this one. Cobra was a monster that had no right to be released back into society. He had no clue what the Council was thinking in letting someone like that go, even if they were forcing him to join a legal guild. He turned to look at Makarov again and sighed. "I don't want that guy here at all, but orders are orders, Master," he finally said. "I'll just have to deal with it."

Makarov nodded solemnly and looked at Happy. For his part, Happy simply hovered in the air above the now unconscious Natsu and shrugged. "I guess there's nothing we can do about it… I just hope he's not gonna try to hurt anyone…"

Erza thought long and hard about what was being forced on them, then cleared her throat. After really thinking about it all, she wanted to give Cobra the benefit of the doubt concerning his change of heart. He was a product of the Tower of Heaven, and the horrors inflicted upon the slaves there could cause anyone to lose their path. She had very nearly gone down a darker path because of what had happened back then, but it was because of Fairy Tail that she hadn't descended into darkness. Jellal was proof enough that someone could change for the better, and if Cobra was willing to put forth the effort to atone for his past, then she was willing to help him. If not… She still had that hammer. "It is shocking, Master," she said after a few deep breaths to keep herself calm, "But, I will assist him in any way possible as long as his intention is truly to change his life around. If not… The Council will have little trouble detaining him once I am through with him."

Makarov smiled at his children, pride filling him that they hadn't gone on a complete rampage. Their initial reactions to the news had been something he'd expected from them – the lively little stinkers – but there wasn't any property damage. That was always a plus in his book. The one he was most concerned with, however, had stayed completely silent. Lucy had simply been staring at the ground while the rest shouted over one another, and even while everyone gave their opinions on Cobra's presence in the guild. Before he could ask for Lucy's opinion, Erza clapped her hands and began ushering the team out of his office. A frown pulled at the corners of his mouth when Lucy stayed in place, worrying her lower lip between her teeth.

"Lucy, you comin'?" Gray asked as he dragged Natsu's limp body toward the door.


"There is something I must discuss with Lucy," Makarov said firmly, never taking his eyes off of the Celestial mage in question. He waited until her team was gone, with the door closing quietly behind them, before he stood from his seat and made his way over to the young blonde. "Lucy, child… What is your opinion concerning Cobra joining our guild, and your team?" he asked softly.

"I…" Lucy sighed and slowly lifted her gaze to Makarov's ancient face, taking in his caring eyes that always made her feel safe to speak her mind – so much different than her father's had been for most of her life. "I'd like to make a request, Master," she said softly.

"What is it, my child?"

"I want to see for myself that he's really changed… Before he gets here."

"What?" Makarov asked in shock. He dumbly followed Lucy as she sighed and walked over to a small couch along the far wall, then sat himself down next to her. "Could you be a little more specific?"

Lucy slowly nodded and looked back down at the floor. "This just seems so sudden, Master," she said softly. "I want to believe that he's changed, and that the Council is sending him to us because we can help him get back on his feet. And everyone deserves a second chance…" She paused and smiled while looking over at Makarov. "Sometimes a third or fourth, even."

Makarov chuckled and held Lucy's hands with his own when she turned to fully face him. "Go on, child. I can see there's more you have to say."

Lucy nodded, her smile fading into a mask of determination. "I never directly interacted with Cobra like Natsu and Erza did. I've only ever seen him in passing – like when I was being absorbed into the Clock – and I only know what they've told me about him. I want to see for myself what kind of person he really is. I refuse to make a decision on what I've been told by others, and I think that… If he's really willing to put in the effort to live a good life, then he should get that chance."

"But, you wish to speak with him to see if you feel he's sincere about it?"

Lucy smiled sweetly. "Exactly. Do you think it would be possible?"

"I think we can work something out, Lucy," Makarov replied softly. "I care for your opinion the most in this instance." When Lucy jolted in surprise and just stared at him, Makarov gently patted her hand and added, "You were targeted by the Oracion Seis earlier this year. If Cobra's presence here will be too much for you to handle, I'll take on the entire Council to make sure he's sent somewhere else."

Lucy giggled and lunged forward, wrapping her arms around the tiny guildmaster and staying utterly oblivious to the fact that his face was wedged between her breasts. "Thank you, Master! You're the best, y'know that?"

Mavis giggled and shook her head, then said, "Lucy, I fear you're cutting off his oxygen supply with your Erza-hug."

Lucy squeaked in alarm and pulled Makarov away from her, wincing when he started gasping for air. "I'm sorry, Master!"

Makarov waved off her concern and stumbled to his feet. 'I'll be sure to check that off of my bucket list later on,' he thought. He made his way back over to his desk and hopped onto the top of it. "I will contact Captain Lahar—" He paused and chuckled when Lucy groaned her displeasure at having to deal with that particularly rigid man. "—And see what we can do to work out a meeting for you."

Lucy moved to sit in front of Makarov's desk while he activated the lacrima, and curled her lip in disgust when she heard Lahar's voice.

"Guildmaster Dreyar," Lahar answered.

"About this Cobra business," Makarov said, a smug grin crinkling his aged face when Lahar raised an eyebrow at him. "I'd like to arrange a meeting between Lucy and Cobra before he's released."

"… What?"

Lucy bit her lips to stifle her laughter. Only Lahar could pour that much derision, condescension, and confusion into a single word. While the idea of Cobra joining the guild was nerve-wracking and cause for quite a bit of concern on her part, apparently Lucy was so far gone that Lahar was bringing her dangerously close to a hysterical giggling fit.

"You heard correctly," Makarov chuckled, glancing at Lucy to see her throwing her hands over her mouth to contain her mirth. That was what he wanted to see from the sweet blonde, all smiles. "I've spoken with Team Natsu about the Council's decision, and Lucy has explained to me that she would like to speak with Cobra before he is released."

"Why, exactly?"

"Well, he did try to use her as a sacrifice," Makarov deadpanned. "I'm personally leaving it up to her discretion on whether or not we will accept him into the guild."

Lucy froze, her eyes going wide in shock before she started violently waving her hands in front of her to stop Makarov from continuing. Of course, he ignored her.

"Should Lucy decide that Cobra's intentions are not sincere, or if she feels that she cannot work with him because of their history, I will personally take the matter up with the Council and see about having him assigned to another guild."

"The Council has already decided—" Lahar started, only to narrow his eyes when he was interrupted.

"And the Council can easily change their minds," Makarov said firmly.

"I highly doubt we will be able to accommodate Team Natsu for a meeting," Lahar stated.

Lucy cleared her throat, smiling when Makarov turned his attention to her. "Well, I was actually hoping that we could keep the rest of the team in the dark on this," she said. "Otherwise, they'll probably end up attacking him before we get any answers, and then we'll be charged for any damages to the building… Or buildings, really…"

Makarov nodded and looked at the lacrima again. "Only Lucy will be present for the meeting."

Lahar sighed heavily as he pushed his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose. "Very well. I will be arriving in one week to escort Lucy Heartfilia to Era for a meeting with Cobra. Is this acceptable? Or do you have anything else you wish to add…"

Makarov grinned and shook his head. "That's all for now." Without warning the lacrima disconnected, and he quickly snapped his fingers as he said, "Drat! I meant to remind him to see a proctologist for that stick situation…"

Lucy dropped to the ground and laughed hysterically. In all honesty, she sort of pitied Cobra if he was going to be joining their big ball of crazy. She had been sane when she joined, so how would someone with several screws loose fair with the Fairies? 'Guess we'll find out soon enough,' she thought.

'Today's the day,' Lucy thought as she sat at the bar. One week had flown by, and now she was simply waiting for Lahar to show up and take her to Era for her meeting with Cobra. She would be lying if she said that she wasn't nervous. She was pretty sure a kaleidoscope of butterflies had taken residence in her stomach, and wouldn't be leaving until the day was out. She hoped.

"You'll do fine, child," Makarov said gently.

"Sure, Master," Lucy sighed, giving him a strained smile. "Except his freedom now rests on my shoulders…"

"That's not the case, child," Makarov replied. He looked out across the guild and smiled when he saw just how lively all of his children were. "We are a family, Lucy. Many of us have made mistakes in the past," he continued as he turned to look back at the young blonde, "But it is our ability to forgive that sets us apart from the rest. Take a look around at the ones who were once considered our enemies, and tell me what you see."

Lucy slowly turned on her barstool and surveyed the guild. Gajeel and Natsu were locked in a mildly friendly arm-wrestling match. Gray was running stark naked across the hall with Juvia chasing after him, holding his clothing to her chest with hearts in her eyes. Evergreen smacked a cackling Bickslow with her fan at the Raijinshuu's new table on the first floor. Freed sat next to Levy with several large tomes surrounding them, the pair totally engrossed in their conversation with matching smiles on their faces. Laxus stood on the second floor, his arms supporting his weight on the banister as he looked out across the guild with a barely noticeable smile on his face. She sighed happily and said, "They're all part of our family, and they're happy."

"How did they gain the ability to show their happiness so openly, child?"

"Forgiveness." Lucy turned back to her nearly empty smoothie. It wasn't that she didn't think she could forgive Cobra for his past transgressions. She had forgiven everyone else in the guild for their mistakes. It was that she didn't know if he was sincere about wanting to start over. She had no idea what he was really like, if he was as psychotic as Natsu and Erza made him out to be. 'Maybe he just needs the chance to prove they're wrong about him…'

"Each and every one of them," Makarov said with a small smile on his face, "Gained forgiveness from us. It wasn't just their willingness to change, to prove that they can do the right thing. It was also our own belief that they were capable of accomplishing that goal. We gave them all a second chance, but we also had faith in them. And now… Each of them is thriving where they never could have before."

Lucy nodded and smiled over at Makarov. "As long as he's willing to do the same, then I'll have faith in him, Master."

"I hope that he does then," Makarov replied. "His reception will most likely be…"

"The apocalypse," Lucy sighed.

"Precisely," he chuckled. "He will need to have someone on his side, Lucy." He watched as a suddenly fierce look of determination took its place on her delicate face, and pride for the woman before him swelled until he felt as though he would burst. Lucy was most definitely the best-suited for this task. She would be able to (hopefully) find the truth in Cobra's motivation for being released from prison, and the ex-criminal would gain a very powerful ally in regards to relations with the rest of Fairy Tail. "I can already tell that you'll be that someone."

Lucy grinned and got ready to agree with Makarov when the doors to the guild suddenly opened, causing an eerie hush to fall over the building's occupants. She turned in her seat to see Lahar with far too many Rune Knights walking through the center of the room, on a direct path to herself and Makarov.

"Guildmaster Dreyar," Lahar said with a small bow of his head. "We have come for Lucy Heartfilia."

"What?!" the guild shouted collectively.

Natsu, Gray, and Erza rushed forward just as Lucy was standing up from her seat, and she grunted when she was suddenly crushed to an armored chest while Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum stood protectively in front of her. "Guys—"

"No, Luce," Natsu growled. "Don't worry, he's not gonna take you away."

"Yeah," Gray commented, narrowing his eyes at Lahar. "He's gonna have to get through us first."

Lucy looked pleadingly at Makarov and rolled her eyes when he simply shrugged. "Guys—"

"What is it you want with Lucy?" Erza demanded.

"Guys, wait—"

"I'm all fired up!"

Lahar, for his part, stood before Team Natsu entirely unfazed. Well, almost entirely. He did find it rather humorous to see Lucy's fruitless attempts at extricating herself from Erza's suffocating grasp. "If you would release your teammate before she loses consciousness, Erza Scarlet."

Erza glanced down to see Lucy's face turning blue and quickly let her go. "My apologies, Lucy. You may strike me for my impudence!"

Lucy waved her off while gasping for air, tightly gripping the bar and sending a withering glare at Makarov's cheeky grin. "You suck, Master," she whispered, her voice filled with not a single drop of venom. After another moment, she couldn't help but smile at him. This was exactly what he'd meant. If someone like Lahar received this sort of welcome in the guild, then Cobra's was sure to be much much worse.

"Let her pass," Makarov said solemnly, nodding when Erza whirled around to stare at him in surprise. "She must go with them."

"Master, what the hell?" Gray asked incredulously.

Lucy sighed and rolled her eyes. She placed a gentle hand on Natsu's shoulder when he continued glaring at Lahar, smiling when he relaxed and looked at her. "I'll be back soon, okay Natsu?"

"Luce… What's going on?" he whispered worriedly, quickly pulling her into his arms. "Why's he trying to take you away?"

"I'll explain everything once I come back, Natsu. I promise."

"And you'll be back… Right?"

Lucy giggled and poked her toasty partner in the side. "Of course I will! No one's gonna keep me away from my family."

Lahar cleared his throat again. "Sometime today would be preferable, Miss Heartfilia."

Lucy sighed again and pulled herself from Natsu's embrace, only to be tucked into a cool chest with a pair of familiar lips pressing lightly against the top of her head. "Be careful, Lucy. Whatever's going on… Just be careful."

"Will do, Gray," she answered sweetly. "Try not to fight Natsu too much, okay?"

"Heh, no promises there. Sulfurbreath over there is an idiot."

"What did you say, Popsicle Dick?"

Lucy quickly dodged an attack that was sent at Gray, and stumbled right into Lahar. She squeaked in surprise and righted herself as quickly as possible, then impatiently motioned for him to lead the way. "Really?" she grumbled to herself as the pair of them were completely surrounded by Rune Knight as they made their way out of the guild and to the train station.

As soon as the doors were closed behind the large entourage, everyone turned to look at Makarov in question. "Listen up, brats," he said as he stood to his feet. "Lucy will explain exactly what is happening when she returns. She will be returning in the next few days, so you all…" He paused and looked directly at Team Natsu. "Will listen to me, and not follow her. That is an order, and you don't want to know what the punishment will be if you should disobey it. Is that understood?"

When he was only met with silence, Makarov nodded and made his way up to the second floor to stand next to Laxus. "You're not telling them?" Laxus whispered as he looked down at his grandfather.

"No," Makarov replied, shaking his head when he saw Natsu and Happy sneaking out of the guild. "If they knew, then there would be no stopping them from following her."

"They'd destroy everything," Laxus chuckled, turning to watch the guild again. "You'd probably have a heart attack when you saw the bill."

"Exactly," Makarov said gravely. "So, with my own health in mind, I've decided to just let them wait."

"Still can't believe you're letting Blondie do this, Gramps…"

Makarov smiled proudly as he watched the guild with Laxus. "She will do fine, Laxus. I have faith in her."