A/N: It's been about a year, and after some careful reflection I've decided to rewrite this fic. The main reasoning behind this is that this fic was published in 2016 and my writing has improved exponentially since then. I've also garnered a bit of an affinity for fics in the present tense (thanks, aunty) so trying to write any further in the past tense that this fic originally used would...be uncomfortable to say the least.
If you remember reading this fic, please reread the first chapter, it has been entirely rewritten. Chapter two underwent some solid work as well, but chapter three is unchanged save for the tense switch. I understand it's been a while since this fic was updated so a majority of you will be rereading it anyway, but I wanted to be sure to stress this. The original chapters two and three will have been deleted by the time you get this update, and their counterparts will have been published in their place. Chapter one (this chapter) is the only one to be 'replaced'.
Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail, Hiro Mashima does. I do not own the songs used at the beginning and end of each chapter.
Why didn't we meet sooner? Why did loneliness burn our hearts?
Have we become complete by meeting? Or were we better alone?
Oh, my beloved.
Neither mine nor yours,
Our love could not complete.
Listen, my cruel beloved.
Tuesday, November 22nd, X793.
She's a lot smaller than he imagined. Squishier, redder. She barely manages to fill out a small portion of the crude wooden crib she's ensconced in. Still, she's comfortable there, swathed in his black cloak and surrounded by the strongest runes they could etch into the bars.
"She finally settled down?"
He smiles. He's been smiling a lot today. He tilts his head back and drops one hand from the railing, an invitation to join him. She shuffles in close, and his arm immediately falls to her waist, supporting her weak frame.
"She's got your hair," she murmurs, reaching down to stroke the downy tufts. He shoots her blonde locks, piled high on her head, a pointed look. "I wasn't aware."
"Oh, shut up." She swats his chest lightly and leans over the rails as far as she can go without tipping over. "Your father's a bit of a sarcastic grouch when he deigns to speak," she whispers conspiratorially. A curl falls from her bun and onto the baby's nose. She scrunches her nose and turns her face, much to the amusement of her mother. "Look, she's got emotions! My genetics in action."
"She's not even a day old, stop corrupting her," he orders, tugging her back upright. His other arm joins the first in circling her waist, and he rests his chin on her head, deep in thought as he rubs circles into the softly rounded skin beneath his fingers. He's no doubt her stomach will be as taut as before in no time at all. Food is hard to come by, and no matter how much of his own he gives her, it still won't be enough. The baby - their baby - will be fine for the period of time she's breastfeeding, but after that it's one more mouth...he and the scouting team will have to move ahead to canvass for a safer location with more supplies.
Thin fingers cup the back of his neck. He draws back and rests his forehead against hers, sighing. He knows that she knows - that she understands their predicament - but he can't bring himself to unload his worries on her. Not when she's been through so much already. He opens his eyes and is met with a pair the colour of honey. He hopes their child has hers. A little bit of her and a little bit of him. Something to live on if one of them doesn't. She smiles, soft and bittersweet. "I know," she whispers. "I know."
"We need to talk about contingencies," he replies. He doesn't like it. This is not the future he should be planning for their daughter, but there is nothing he can do about it. Fight, flight, or freeze, and for her, freezing is not an option. When all the fighting is done (when they're not there to do it anymore), fleeing is all she has left.
"Now?" She breathes. "Can this wait? Just...a few more days. I just - I need to - just a few days. Can we just pretend-?"
"No. The sooner we do it…" he trails off. "The sooner we do it, the sooner we're able to enjoy more time with her." Enjoyment. Another lie. There will never be joy, not as long as the world is turning to ash around them. But they can try, he thinks. They can always try.
"We use the Gate," she says immediately. "If...when there's nobody else left, the last person sends her through the Gate. When I die, or when you do-"
"If," he snaps, alarming even himself at the ferocity in his tone. He's made his peace with dying, written a goodbye letter and even has a will from his younger days stashed somewhere in a requip hole they'll never be able to open after he's gone. There's no escaping it, not here, but the inevitability in her tone, the the fact that she listed herself first, burns him up from the inside, clawing at his skin and settling deep in his chest. She won't die first. She won't die at all if he has anything to say about it. He repeats it again, softer now, "If you or I die."
"Then the last one standing takes her to the Gate," she continues. Her hands curl around the strands of his long hair, toying with them idly. He wonders if their daughter's will be as shaggy as his, or as tidy as his lover's.
"Where do we take her?"
"Where else?" she laughs, a sound that's as calming as a summer's breeze. Out of the corner of his eye, he spots his daughter turn towards it, seeking the same comfort he's found. "Fairy Tail, of course."
"The apocalypse is perfect preparation for your Guild," he says dryly. "She'll be more than prepared to duck for cover when your idiotic teammates have a fight."
"And for you and Sting," she reminds him. "You may be all sullen, but when you two get started it's like I'm watching Natsu and Gajeel, I swear."
"With marginally less property damage, however I'll concede to that." He presses a small kiss to her lips, just enough to taste the water that still clings to them and her own natural scent beneath, then her cheeks and her nose and before he knows it, he's covered her face in kisses and salty tears that are equal parts his and hers. He presses his forehead to hers once more, breathing slightly raggedly (but breathing nonetheless).
"I love you, Rogue."
Friday, October 15th, X792.
"You fucking cheater!" Sting screeches, scrambling to his feet. He waves a palm full of splinters, and an alarming amount of blood, at his idol, who's taken to jumping in what remains of the table and pumping his fists in the air victoriously.
"I won that round fair and square!" Natsu crows, taking a moment to pin his protege with a cocky smirk. "Face it! You're ten years too young to be thinking about beating me, the great Salamander!"
"You realize you're both biologically the same age, right?" Gajeel points out dryly from his seat at the head of the table - or, rather, where the head of the table would be had it not been demolished in what will undoubtedly go down as the third most epic arm-wrestling competition in the history of the Guild. Gajeel's managed to save his tankard of root beer ("No drinks until later," Mira had chided, "This is a last minute party so we get the alcohol last minute, too.") but the same can't be said for his plate of scrap iron. He takes a swig of his drink and keeps the tankard in front of his face in the hopes that the idiot duo will ignore him.
"Gajeel-san! He cheated, he used magic!" Sting accuses. "He heated up his hand to get an unfair advantage."
Gajeel lets out a long-suffering sigh and chugs the rest of his drink, shooting Mira a mournful look. Please? He silently begs. Please, can you get me something that will blind me? Do you see what I'm dealing with?
Mira smiles and turns away without a second glance.
Gajeel swears vengeance. But first, he has morons to rip into.
"Never said not to use magic, so…" He shrugs in what he thinks is a diplomatic manner. It works for shorty all the time when she's talking to all the annoying counsellors she does jobs for, so it should, in theory, do the same for him.
Sting turns to Natsu and nods. "We should settle who won this with another competition."
Gajeel takes a bite out of his tankard. That should show the she-devil.
"I'm marrying an idiot," Rogue mutters as he observes the rowdy group in the corner. Two seats down, Cobra snorts. "It's not too late to run. We don't have an extradition treaty with Alvarez, so if you hole up in some beachside hut he'll never know."
Lucy thwaps him upside the head and shoots Rogue a comforting smile. "Ignore him. He's just cranky because he didn't have his morning cup of poison. We're both so happy for you two, really!"
"Thank you," Rogue replies with a brief upturn of his lips. Frosch tugs his sleeve and the Shadow Dragon Slayer is pulled into a deep discussion with his Exceed and Happy about the finer points of tilapia versus haddock. Lucy shakes her head briefly and traces the rim of her mocktail glass. She's happy for them, she really is. If there are any two people on Earthland who deserve one another, it's Sting Eucliffe and Rogue Cheney. Light and Shadow. Yin and Yang. There is no one without the other. Seeing Sting exuberant is nothing new - it's an integral part of his personality - but there's a lightness to him that can't be explained away by ordinary behaviour; as for Rogue...he's happier than she's ever seen him. Still quiet and reclusive, but she watches his eyes drift over to Sting and his whole countenance relax as a result. Smitten, she thinks. Positively smitten.
Rogue's cloak shifts and so does Lucy. She flinches and slides a hand over her stomach, an ineffective barrier from shadows that will never come, but that she knows are angled and sharp, ready to pierce soft flesh and broken hearts. She bites the inside of her cheek, stopping only when she can taste copper on her tongue. Stupid, stupid, stupid. No matter how many times she reminds herself that they're not the same person, she can't help it. They are both, fundamentally, Rogue. But their Rogue and that Rogue are forks off the same road. Nothing to fear.
Except when their eyes meet and she sees the same red that's burned in the back of her retinas, and he steps forward and she moves back, and he uses his magic and all that comes to mind is Future Lucy falling to the ground as a shadow spear blinks away, andandand-
Cobra pokes her roughly. "Hey. Stop that shit. You're fine. It's an engagement party, we're here to get drunk and place bets on wedding hijinks."
Lucy avoids Rogue's probing eye and focuses on a bead of red juice as it drips down the side of her glass. She blinks and the bead is a blood red sky. She blinks again and Cobra's swiping it off with his finger and popping it in his mouth. "Ugh." He wrinkles his nose. "This is 95% sugar. Emo-prince, give this shit a whirl."
Rogue picks it up, takes a small whiff, and comes as close to gagging as she's ever seen him. "I'd rather not," he says, handing it back to her. Their fingers brush, and she's proud to say her heart only goes still for half a second before picking up pace again (she's getting better, she really is, because before she'd need to excuse herself to remember how to breathe again. She's getting better, she is, sheisheisheis-). Judging by the tightening of Rogue's jaw, he heard that. Lucy smiles, a real, genuine thing that hurts her muscles to keep steady, and says, "Sorry. I'm just…"
"I know," Rogue replies. "I understand. Sorry."
"Man, you two are a depressing lot," Cobra grumbles. "And that's saying something seeing as I grew up with this gothic douche." He jabs a thumb at the body slumped over the bartop. Midnight half-heartedly flips him the bird before going back to sleep.
Lucy rolls her eyes and flags Mira down for a drink. It's officially eleven, and that's when the fun begins. One drink and maybe she can start a conversation with Rogue. She shakes her head firmly. One drink and she will start a conversation with Rogue. She's going to ask him about what he plans on wearing to the wedding, and whether or not he needs help finding a venue because she has some connections from her days in the Konzern and she's going to put them to good use. She will extend the olive branch, because it's not fair for him to feel like she blames him for what his future self did.
Her musings are cut short as Cobra backs up, Rogue following in suit. She opens her mouth to ask what they're doing, and is promptly answered by Natsu slamming into her back and sending her careening over the bartop.
Within the Eclipse Gate
The Gate is more volatile this time around.
His memories of the first time he'd crossed the barrier of time and space are hazy. He can't remember anything besides white-hot rage and bloodlust and cries for war in his veins. If the grotesque things crawling towards him had been there the first time around, then the magic he stole from Sting had dealt with them before he could have noticed.
This time, he doesn't have the energy to tap into the light, so he does what he does best and becomes one with the shadows. It's not hard - there's no light in the Gate, after all, so he can melt into everything and nothing all at once. He can feel the things, gnarled and without definitive shape, seeking him out, grasping one another and morphing into larger, uglier beings that are torn apart by another pair, seeking moremoremore.
Such is the nature of the Gate. Take or be taken.
He grips the small body in his arms tighter, drawing her closer to his chest, closer to the darkness. He thinks of days when she was smaller. Days filled with blonde hair and shadow puppets and laughs like a summer's breeze. She'll know what that means, now. What a summer feels like. One with beaches and the cold ocean and sunburns and things that aren't hiding in bunkers from the sunlight, because there's always the risk that dragons will crush her when he's not around to keep her safe.
And he won't be around to see it.
But he deserves no less.
"Where do we take her?"
"Where else? Fairy Tail, of course."
Future Rogue clenches his jaw and pushes forward.
Friday, October 15th, X792.
"I'm heading home," Lucy announces. "It's getting late and my head is killing me, no thanks to a certain someone."
At this, Natsu chuckles weakly and presses the melted remains of an ice cube into his ribs with more force than necessary as his blonde teammate pins him with a vicious glare. The skin is already a brilliant shade of purple and is sure to stay that way for a few days. Gray rolls his eyes and produces yet another chunk of ice for the swelling. Though normally he would've laughed at his rival's misfortune, there is an unspoken agreement that angry Lucy must be met with Erza protocol - that is, to say, shut up and be best friends.
"Want me to come with?" Cobra asks as she slides off her stool and lays down a few bills to cover her tab.
"Nah, it's fine," she assures him. "It's a safe walk, and I know you want to stay back to get in the middle of another couple bar fights. I'll leave my door unlocked for you, okay?"
"I don't want to get into fights, I just…happen to always be around for the interesting ones," he counters. "I'll be over in a couple hours. Put the drain cleaner in the fridge for me."
"You can put drain cleaner in the fridge?" Natsu asks incredulously. "Wait, you put drain cleaner in the fridge?"
Gray stabs his bruise with two fingers. "Shut up, moron, don't draw attention our way."
"Make sure you bundle up," Cobra says. "It's getting cold outside."
"I'll be fine," she replies. A soft weight deposits itself on her shoulders, and Lucy whips around, stumbling back a little at Rogue's proximity. He ducks his head down reflexively to hide his mouth in a scarf that's now wrapped around her neck.
"I'll be staying in the Guild Hall anyway," he says. "You can return it to me tomorrow."
Olive branch for an olive branch.
"Thank you, Rogue," Lucy smiles. "See you for breakfast?"
He hesitates briefly. Nods slowly, and then vigorously. "I'll reserve a booth for us all."
"And a strawberry milkshake," she teases. Rogue, however, appears to take her seriously, mouthing her order once before turning back to Frosch and Happy to referee their game of Go Fish (played for real fish, Lucy can't help but note).
"Be careful," Midnight's mumble is barely loud enough to be heard over the chatter of the hall, but those close enough to hear it turn towards him. If Lucy remembers this right, these are the first words he's said since arriving earlier that afternoon.
"What do you mean?" Lucy asks. Her fingers find the inside of her elbow and she pinches hard, focusing on the sting. He's just wishing her well. A thing friends do. It's fine, she assures herself, even as her pulse picks up and the world starts to go a little fuzzy in the corners.
"Something feels off tonight," he replies, peering up at her from between his thick lashes. His head lays on the counter, cushioned by his arms. "Can't explain it. You'll be fine. You're strong, but still."
Cobra is as close to worried as she's ever seen him as he keeps his gaze on his best friend. "I'm walking you back."
"No," Lucy pushes him back in his seat. "You're gonna sit here and get in a couple of bar fights. You're going to outdrink Cana. You might even pass out here. Point is, if you come home anytime before three in the morning, you're not allowed back in my apartment for the next three visits. And I'll know if you followed me and doubled back."
Reluctantly, the Poison Dragon Slayer reaches for the remains of her fruity drink and nods. "I will hear if anything happens. No matter how far you are from the Guild."
"Yeah, yeah, go be a happy not-drunk in the corner and place an illegal bet under my name with Cana."
In a split second decision she bends down to kiss him. Cobra squeezes her hand as she pulls away, a reassurance and a promise all in one. She waves once more, calling out a loud goodbye to everyone as she makes her way to the double doors.
His indigo eye swivels over to the Reflector Mage, who's lifted head high enough to watch her depart. "Macbeth."
"It's dark," he murmurs.
"Well, yeah, it's night," Natsu states. Cobra's brow furrows as Midnight rests his head in his arms again, staring off to the side vacantly.
"She'll be fine," Midnight's eyes slide shut. "She always is."
Cobra pulls out a maraschino cherry from Lucy's drink and chews on it thoughtfully. He hates sweet things with a passion, but right now the disgusting syrup is the only thing distracting him from his rapidly darkening thoughts. He hones in on Lucy; she's only a few feet away, humming some dumb top forty hit under her breath. He allows himself a small smile before that turns to a frown; now that he's paying attention, he sees what Macbeth had meant.
The night is dark with the thickness of dark magic. A kind that he is intimately familiar with, but makes no sense given his knowledge on the subject.
The Gate had been destroyed, after all. There is no reason for its magic to be leaking into the air.
Friday, October 15th, X792.
"They're all idiots, Plue," Lucy complains to the Canis Minor spirit. "It's so hot outside!"
"This thing does have its uses, though…" she muses, drawing the scarf up to cover her nose. The air is impossibly dry, which rings as odd to her. If anything, this sudden heat wave should be accompanied by humidity. Perhaps there's a fire nearby. It would explain the heat and the odd tinge of smoke to the air.
"Puun…" Plue moans, freezing on the spot.
"What's wrong, Plue?" the blonde asks. She's never seen the wobbly spirit go completely still in her time with him. Midnight's words drift to the forefront of her mind. Her hand falls to her whip instinctively, grasping the hilt and pulling it off.
Before she can unfurl the coil, a shadow flies out from the ground before her and jets into the mouth of an alley. She unfurls herself from the ball she's formed on the ground (she doesn't know how she got there but what she does remember is a shadow and blood and deathscreamingohgodnoLucyLucyLucymememememe-) and takes in unsteady gasps. Plue has already run off as fast as his little legs can carry him, on his way to Fairy Tail for backup.
She can't rationalize it. She's only ever seen this kind of magic with one person before, and he's at the bar in the Guild talking to his cat. There's no way it's him.
Yes, there is.
There's not. There's not, because she destroyed the Gate and Natsu had said he was gone, Natsu promised and Natsu never broke promises. God she can't breathe, she can't think, she feels so much and so little and her stomach is screaming in phantom sympathy, bleeding so much, staining the castle floors, bubbling out of her lips. It's not him, it's not him, he's gonegonegone, never coming back.
Red eyes meet her own and the world shatters.
"Lucy," Future Rogue rasps, taking a step towards her. He's worse for wear, clothes tattered and bloodied, black and white hair falling to his knees in matted waves. She spots blood in the white patches and doesn't want to imagine how much more in soaked into the black ones. She doesn't want to think of whose it is.
"You need to look after her," he says, dropping to his knees before her. It's only then that she notices a bundle in his arms, small and dressed head to toe in black. Future Rogue shoves her (gently, if it can be described as such, as if the child - child! - is the most precious thing on the planet) into her arms. It's with a numb detachment that Lucy realizes the longer arms now wrapped around the girl are her own. She can't feel them. She can't feel her body.
"Her name is Cynthia Cheney," Future Rogue bites out. "Our daughter."
Her mouth twists open in a wordless scream. She can't even do that. Her mouth is so dry her tongue refuses to move, her throat swelling around the burst of air she wills out. Nothing.
Future Lucy had a child with this monster. She had a child with this monster. Raised her with him. Gave her his last name. Made love to this monster. She's going to throw up. Future Rogue murdered his lovermotherofhischildherLucy. She's going to throw up. Future Lucy had faced this man, died at his hand, and knew it. She's going to throw up.
Acid burns her heart, but she can't even spit.
God, she can't do anything.
"Listen to me!" Future Rogue snarls, grabbing her jaw with one hand and forcing her to meet his gaze. "You hate me, I get this, but you need to protect her. She has no idea what I…" he swallows thickly. "I'm paying the price for my sins. She has no chance on her own back there. Levy died shortly after I was returned, and that marks the end of all the people that we know there. She's alone and we agreed. One of us dies and there's nobody left to look after her, we bring her back here."
"Levy died?" she croaks. Blue hair spilling across rocks. Body pinned by the rubble. Alone. Bleeding. Glassy eyes staring up at a sky that refuses to cry as humanity's last defense winks out and dragons reign, triumphant.
Lucy cries for her.
"Focus," he says, ripping off his cloak and dropping it over the girl. His hand falls over Rogue's (their Rogue, sane Rogue; Rogue, who is going to buy her a strawberry milkshake for breakfast) scarf, nodding. "Good. I'm here with you."
Does he think-?
"Look after her," he whispers, brushing the girl's hair back in a manner she can only describe as paternalistic. The same hands that destroyed the capital now rub a soothing circle into a sallow cheek.
It hits her like a truck.
"You're dying," she gasps. "You…"
"Call it Fate, but I had one last chance...to fulfill one promise." Red meets brown, and Future Rogue smiles. It's a small quirk she's seen before, shy and fleeting, like he's not used to doing it. "I could never break one when it came to you."
"When do you go?" Lucy asks. "How do you know when to…"
"They've been calling me back since I got here," he says. "I don't want to."
"You have to." She's surprised at how even her voice is. "I'll look after her."
She will, that's for sure. Not for Future Rogue, but for Future Lucy, who had taken a shot meant for her and paid the ultimate price. The girl - Cynthia - will never know a life without a mother. Lucy may not be as battle-hardened and solemn as her Future Self, but they are, fundamentally, one and the same. She is softer, happier, and more easily broken than Future Lucy, but she will learn.
"She's seven years old," Future Rogue informs her. "Caster Type with an affinity for water. She doesn't like the dark, so get her a nightlight. We used Sting's magic before I-before he died. She enjoys stories, especially yours. The one you never got published. She's quiet at first but once you get to know her, she never shuts up." He laughs. "You always said she got my looks and your personality underneath it all."
"When's her birthday?"
"November 22nd, X793."
Barely two years after the Dragon Festival.
"I'll look after her," Lucy says suddenly. "I promise. You in the past will be there to raise her, too. I won't let her forget you."
"Thank you." He pulls her into a hug so tight her bones creak in protest. Copper bursts over her tongue once more. He's dying, she tells herself. Dying, just let him have this before he goes. She buries her face into his shoulder, squeezing her eyes shut against the soft golden glow of his body. He's becoming less solid as the seconds tick by, so she digs in more, seeking his warmth. It's what she would have done.
His final words melt into the sky as he disappears in a burst of golden light.
Lucy closes her eyes and weeps.
A traveler of the fading night said goodbye in the morning.
I couldn't be yours while living,
Dying, I pay my dues.
A/N: I hope the revised chapter was to everyone's satisfaction. I had a lot of fun with it!
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