A/N: An anniversary gift of sorts for Dragon's Host! I cannot believe that it has been a whole year (technically a whole year and two hours because whoops I'm a day late) since we started talking! To celebrate, I decided upon giving her a little mix of everything she loves: RoLu, CoLu, Stingue, angst, multiple chapters, and general mind-fuckery. That's right. Here comes another multi-chapter while I wait to finish updates for my other fics.
I'm not gonna lie, I hit writers block, which is why I never updated anything. But I've hit inspiration, so expect a mass update relatively soon.
And Dragon...it's been a great year. Thank you.
"Because this is what I believe-that second chances are stronger than secrets. You can let secrets go. But a second chance? You don't let that pass you by."
There was a saying in Fiore: "If it happens, Fairy Tail will be the first to know."
This was true in regards to everything from relationship scandals (from both the higher courts and common Guild hook-ups) to the clearance and special sales at many of the country's stores, though Magnolia and the surrounding ring of towns seemed to be of significant interest to them.
It came as no surprise, then, that the moment Sting Eucliffe had dropped to one knee and presented Rogue Cheney with the most elegant silver engagement ring, Fairy Tail had put together an engagement party and had their sister Guild over to celebrate in less than four hours after the fact, while many tabloids were still mulling over a photo of Sabertooth's blond Guild Master entering a jewelry shop somewhere near Oak Town.
"It's so beautiful," Mirajane Strauss cooed as she held the Shadow Dragon Slayer's left hand between her two smaller ones. A silver band glinted as the light hit its shining surface. Rogue gave a small smile and wiggled it off, displaying the interior. "He got it engraved, too."
In a simple script were the words 'ad vitam aeternam'. "It means 'for all time'," Rogue supplied, and Mira burst into a fresh round of 'aww's. Across the room, Sting shot his fiancé a boyish smile as he continued to hold his arm in a tense lock with Natsu Dragneel's. Gajeel Redfox refereed the arm wrestle, watching in a bored sort of disinterest as his salmon headed friend swore and dug his nails into the back of the Light Dragon Slayer's hand.
"That is so romantic!" Meredy sighed, clutching at her chest with a wistful look in her eyes. "Now if only Jellal were brave enough to do this to Erza, I could die a happy woman. Not that your engagement isn't enough!" she quickly tacked on, "But...I mean, they've been a long time coming..."
Rogue merely nodded in agreement as he stared at the aforementioned man. The Guild Master of Crime Sociére watched his semi-lover with longing clear in his eyes as she interacted freely with Minerva Orlando by the table with the Exceeds playing jenga. Though everybody and their mother was waiting for the day Jellal Fernandes finally got his shit together long enough to confess his decade long love for Erza Scarlet, the snails pace at which he worked up the courage to hold a conversation with her that exceeded fifteen minutes without excusing himself or being dragged into arguments and brawls indicated that it might as well be another ten years before he even admitted his crush to her.
"Fuck his love life, it's doomed to shrivel up like his range of emotions, anyway," Cobra said. Lucy Heartfilia pinched her boyfriend's side lightly, frowning in disapproval. "Be nice. They both have a lot of unresolved issues and your constant negativity isn't helping."
"It gets him talking about her, doesn't it?" Cobra countered. "So my negativity is forcing him to confront those issues. I'm being helpful. Why must you think so poorly of me?"
Lucy snorted and Cobra reared back in mock offense. "I'm wounded by your callousness. Emo prince, back me up."
Rogue merely waved his goodbyes to the group before shuffling off to join his fiancé to cheer him on as he and Natsu faced off in a decidedly deadly battle of chopsticks.
"I'm happy for them," Lucy said, smiling gently as she watched Rogue roll his visible eye at Sting's dramatic battle cries, fondness clear on his face. They both deserved the happily ever after they were on their way to receiving. After all the horrors the two had seen together, from the faked deaths of their dragon parents to the traumatic glimpse of a 'what if' in the form of Future Rogue, it was safe to say the Twin Dragons of Sabertooth had successfully fulfilled most of the criteria that wedding vows outlined, and it was time for them to fully wash away their dark pasts with the promise of a bright future.
Cobra poked her roughly. "Stop thinking so darkly. Or deeply. It's an engagement party, we're here to get drunk and place bets on wedding hijinks, not contemplate the events that made their love stronger."
"I can't help it!" Lucy said. "It's so amazing how they've been through so much together and after all this time they can finally find happiness in each other. It's so rare to find a couple like that these days."
"Well, I mean I attempted to kill you and your friends twice, and we did manage to survive watching the Sharknado movies together, so I feel like those two factors in combination with one another sort of bring us to the same level as them," Cobra shrugged, stealing Lucy's martini and swallowing it in one gulp. The Celestial Mage couldn't help but giggle at that as she indicated for another round of drinks.
Her and Cobra's relationship had come as a surprise to the both of them, but it was a welcome one nonetheless. What started off as a kinship between the two more intellectual members of their respective groups had slowly evolved into a friendship, and the tension that had built up in the months after that has been thick enough to be cut with a knife. Eventually, she had given herself enough pep-talks and analyzed every possible rejection scenario and, deciding that the pros outweighed the cons, she had asked him out one afternoon during one of their movie fests. Shocked to the point of silence, Cobra had stared at her for a total of two minutes and thirty-seven seconds before nodding and turning back to the movie, and they had been exclusive ever since.
"Ah, yes, Sharknado," Lucy commented dryly, sipping at her new glass of martini. "The horrors were strong enough to give us that survivours trauma connection. That explains it all."
"You catch on quick," Cobra's lip quirked up in amusement. Lucy smiled devilishly as she leaned forward to whisper, "I've always been a quick study..."
His eye darkened in what Lucy knew was lust. He made to move in closer so his lips would be just over hers but right before he could even tilt his head on an angle, the image of a man with pink hair flying towards their spot flooded his mind and he jetted back to avoid being hit.
Unfortunately, Lucy didn't have her boyfriend's Soul Reading ability and found herself squished between the counter and her best friend's back.
The first time he had traveled to the past, he had felt euphoric. His heart had pounded so loudly he could hardly hear anything else as he floated his way to the opposite end of time, and all he could see was the light from the receiving Gate that promised a future where he would rule as king of the dragons and relish in the misery he brought upon others.
This time, however, he was calm. Not the kind of calm that came about being relaxed and accomplished, but rather the calm of a man who had accepted his fate and had nothing to live for...except for the four-year-old cradled in his arms, blissfully unaware of her surroundings as she slept peacefully.
It was harder to see down the path than it had been before, but his sole eye adjusted quickly enough, as did his hearing.
It was dark. Dark enough that even he, the Shadow Dragon Slayer, could barely make out what was before him. Bitter irony swept through him as he continued his death march to the past. He had killed Sting for his magic, and here he was, drained and unable to use it.
Just the thought of his deceased best friend sent a pang of something close to agony searing through his being. He was beyond the point of being able to feel remorse for his actions. He was beyond the point of being able to feel anything. It was his feelings that had sent him into his slaughter before, and it was those same feelings that had caused him to-
"Daddy?" a soft call from his daughter had him halting in his movements to glance down. "Hm?"
"Where we goin'?" she asked, staring up at him sleepy brown eyes. He forced the corner of his mouth up in a poor imitation of his signature half-smile. "You remember how your mother used to tell you about her Guild? Her family?"
"Yeah," alert now, she held the same look of guarded curiousity that her mother used to wear when he had a surprise for her. The similarity made his chest tighten, but he kept his face neutral as he picked up pace. "Well, I decided that it was time for you to meet them. Your mother would've wanted it."
"We're goin' to the past?" she exclaimed, clapping her hands together excitedly. "Oh, daddy this is great! Wait, what about you? Won't it be bad if you meet past you?"
"I'll be there," he lied, "I'll just not be beside you all the time."
Stopping suddenly, Rogue hefted her higher in his grasp so her head was nestled in the crook of his neck. He didn't look down as he spoke, "You need to promise me something."
"Even if I'm not there," he cleared his throat, blinking his eye rapidly to ease the sudden burn. "Even if I'm not there, you need to promise me that you'll never forget me."
He would be lying if he said that was his greatest fear. Being forgotten as if his existence had no meaning, as if he hadn't done anything significant enough to be remembered by. A dark part of him whispered that that was a lie-the people of the past would never forget him.
"Of course I'll never forget you, daddy," she giggled. "You're my daddy. I can't forget you. Just like I can't forget mommy, and Uncle Sting, and Aunt Levy, and Uncle Natsu, and Uncle Gajeel, and Auntie Mira, and-"
"No," he interrupted her softly. "You know how to play telephone, right? It's like that. In the past, people really liked playing telephone, so a lot of things that you may hear will be rumours. A lot of those rumours will make you hate me. So you need to promise me that even if you do end up hating me, you'll always remember me the way you do now."
"I can never hate you," she declared boldly, throwing her skinny arms around his neck and holding on with as much strength as her tiny body could muster. "But I promise to always remember you for you, daddy. I love you!"
Despair clawed up his throat and made speaking impossible as the burn in his eye gave way to the familiar welling of tears. Not for the first time since he had learned of his fate, Rogue wanted to force the mysterious being behind this boon of sorts to let him stay with her. Everything he had done in the years after her birth had been for her sake.
Except for the Dragon Festival.
That had been his selfishness and wound up his own undoing.
"Thank you," he whispered, steeling himself as he felt the familiar pulse of power from the Gate.
"Thank you, Cynthia."
"I'm heading home," Lucy announced. "It's getting late and my head is killing me, no thanks to a certain someone."
At this, Natsu chuckled weakly and shrunk back from the force of her glare. He was still nursing his bruised side from when she had Lucy Kicked him across the Guild Hall "to make even", in her words. Gray rolled his eyes and produced yet another chunk of ice for the swelling. Though normally he would've laughed at his rival's misfortune, the two had an unspoken agreement that Lucy was much like Erza in the sense that they both needed to put aside their differences to make it through their bouts of fury.
"Want me to come with?" Cobra asked as she slid off her stool and zipped up her sweater.
"Nah, it's fine," she assured 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 countered. "I'll be over in a couple hours. Put the drain cleaner in the fridge for me."
"Alright," Lucy smiled, leaning over to briefly press her lips to his. Cobra had a small smile playing on his lips as she pulled away, which was quickly replaced with a scowl as Mirajane passed by. Lucy stifled a giggle. Cobra was adamant about maintaining his hard-ass personality around Guild-folk, even though most of them were well aware that he was putting up a front. She chalked it up to years of using it as a defense mechanism against the world.
"Make sure you bundle up," Cobra said. "It's getting cold outside."
"Sweater's enough," she replied. Suddenly, a soft weight deposited itself on her shoulders, and Lucy was surprised to see Rogue standing behind her when she looked back to identify the owner of the scarf.
"I'll be staying in the Guild Hall anyway," he said. "You can return it to me tomorrow."
"Thank you, Rogue," Lucy smiled. "And, again, congratulations. I'm really happy for the both of you."
The quiet man nodded and returned his attention to Frosch, who was animatedly detailing his victory in the Exceed's game of Go Fish.
"Be careful," Midnight's mumble was barely loud enough to be heard over the chatter of the hall, but those in the vicinity who had heard paused to listen in. If Lucy remembered it right, these would be the first words he had spoken since his arrival in the early afternoon.
"What do you mean?" Lucy asked. It wasn't like Midnight to bid a person goodbye let alone warn them to be safe. The abruptness of it all was jarring, to say the least. If Natsu had told her to be safe, she would've accepted it without second thought because that was just part of his personality. Midnight, on the other hand, was silent and generally passive about the world, so for him to pull a Natsu spoke of something serious brewing beneath his blank exterior.
"Something feels off tonight," he replied, peering up at her from between his thick lashes. His head lay on the counter, cushioned by his arms. "Can't explain it. You'll be fine. You're strong, but still."
A warning and a compliment? In the span of less than five minutes? From Midnight? The world was clearly on its way to rotating in the opposite direction. Cobra, however, had a look of something akin to worry in his eye as he stared at his best friend. "I'm walking you back."
"No," Lucy pushed 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 accidentally end up kissing somebody. 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 returned to his seat and drink. "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 bent down to kiss him once more, this one lasting a little longer than the first one. Cobra squeezed her hand as she pulled away in reassurance, and she waved once more, calling out a loud goodbye to everyone as she made her way to the double doors.
His indigo eye swiveled over to the Reflector Mage, who had lifted his head high enough to watch her depart. "Macbeth."
"It's dark," he murmured.
"Well, yeah, it's night," Natsu stated. Cobra's brow furrowed as Midnight rested his head in his arms again, staring off to the side vacantly.
"She'll be fine," Midnight's eyes slid shut. "She always is."
While Natsu just about had a coronary at hearing the man compliment his best friend twice in a row, Cobra couldn't help but gnaw at his lip as his thoughts focused on Lucy. She sounded fine, humming, actually, but now that he paid attention to it he understood what Midnight meant.
The night was dark with the thickness that was dark magic. A kind that he was intimately familiar with, but made no sense given his knowledge on the subject.
The Gate had been destroyed, after all. There was no reason for its magic to be leaking into the air.
Lucy hummed to herself as she made her way past the dark shops that lined the path home.
She had decided to stick to the sidewalk that evening. She had just purchased her leather boots that day, after all, and didn't want the good material to get scuffled on the scraggly ledge that lined the river.
Though Lucy wasn't as adept at sniffing out anomalies in the air like her Dragon Slayer companions were, even she could smell something stifling in the air. The stench was familiar and, though there was no source nearby, it was accompanied by the dryness of smoke.
"It's dark, huh…?" Lucy mused, drawing the scarf up to cover her nose and effectively block out the smell. Her hand fell to her waist, rubbing against the cold metal of her keyring and the sleek leather of her whip in assurance. Though Midnight was probably just being literal about the darkness of the night, Lucy couldn't help but tense a little.
Still, she whipped out one of her Silver Keys and after a brief sparkle of light, Plue was in her arms and vibrating in content. His wobbly smile calmed her some. She would always have her Spirits to help her when she was in need, so his warning was met with the confidence that she would always be alright so long as she was prepared.
"What's wrong, Plue?" the blonde asked as the Canis Minor as he paused in his movement. She had never felt him go completely still in her time with him. Midnight's words drifted to the forefront of her mind, and her hand fell to her whip instinctively, grasping the hilt and pulling it off.
Before she could unfurl the coil, a shadow flew out from the ground before her and jetted into the mouth of an alley. Lucy could barely make out the form of an adult leaning heavily against the closest wall, hunched over a bundle in his arms.
"Are you alright?" Lucy exclaimed, rushing over. There were thousands of questions on her mind, but the most primary was his magic. She had only ever seen one person capable of pulling the shadow trick he just had, and he was at the bar in Fairy Tail talking to his cat.
"Lucy…" the figure rasped, and Lucy locked up. Plue wiggled out of her tight embrace, dropping to the ground and scampering off in the direction of the Guild they had left not too long ago. Lucy swore her heart dropped to her feet and her chest was so light it almost ached. A wave of nausea hit her with the force of a train and she stepped back shakily, nearly tripping over her feet as she lost all sense of balance.
She would recognize that particular voice anywhere.
"Impossible," she heard herself squeak. "We destroyed the Gate, you can't-!"
"Listen to me," Future Rogue stepped out from the alley, and Lucy stopped in shock.
This was not the same man she had fought all those years ago. That Future Rogue dressed in attire sleek enough to be worn by royalty and held his long hair up in a precise ponytail. He had walked with purpose and had a permanent sneer upon his lips. He had exuded power, and bloodlust had rolled off him in palpable waves.
This Future Rogue was worse for wear. His prim clothing was heavily worn and damaged, the cloak being the only intact item. His hair fell in loose waves around his body, matted and tinted with blood, and the only thing he seemed to give off was an aura of desperation. She met his gaze and was stunned to see that he looked almost scared.
This wasn't the countenance of a man who had attempted to lead out genocide. This was the face of a man who had been broken time and time again and was a hairsbreadth away from giving up.
"You need to look after her," he approached her with all the speed he seemed able to use. Lucy noticed a faint limp in his gait that caused him to drag his right leg.
He pressed the bundle in her arms and she quickly realized that it was human. A child, to be exact. Her eyes were closed and her breath was even, her black hair falling in her face and covering her mouth.
"Her name is Cynthia Cheney," he bit out. "She's our daughter."
Lucy would have dropped the girl if it hadn't been for him bracing his arms beneath hers and supporting her weight. His red eye burned into hers as he pressed their foreheads together. "Focus, there's no time."
"How?" Lucy shouted hysterically. "That would mean that in the future, you and I-!"
"We got married and had her, yes," Future Rogue confirmed, and she sank to her knees, ignoring him as he joined her on the cold ground. Her eyes were so wide they hurt and her breath left her body in shallow gasps.
She had married Rogue Cheney and mothered a child with him. The same Rogue Cheney who was happily celebrating his engagement to his best friend (who he had killed in the same future, a voice reminded her, and her stomach roiled even harder), while she was content with her own Slayer. Bile rose up her throat as she recalled her future self.
Scarred. Traumatized. Missing an arm.
Above all else, murdered at the hands of the man currently trying to shake her out of her catatonic state.
She had been killed by her husband.
The thought had her heaving.
"Listen to me!" Future Rogue snarled, grabbing her jaw with one hand and forcing her to meet his terrifying glare. "You hate me, I get this, but you need to protect her. She's our daughter and has no idea that I…did what I did. I fucked up and I'm paying the price. 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 I won't have that!"
"Levy…died?" visions of her blue haired best friend lying on the ground with glassy eyes and a broken body invaded her mind, and, had it not been for his iron tight grip on her face, she knew she would have launched forward to wail in mourning for her future loss.
"Focus!" he reminded her. He ripped off his cloak and draped it around her, using the edges to draw her closer and press their noses together. He inhaled deeply and exhaled sharply. "Good. I'm here in the past."
The scarf. He must've scented himself on her from the scarf.
"Look after her," Lucy's face fell slack as his hand lost its force. His tone was broken and shaky, and this was a sight far more horrifying that him laughing as he killed her future self-his wife. "Please. She doesn't know anything. She'd die and I've already lost-I can't anymore. I can't protect her. I did a horrible job before and this is my one chance to atone and I know you'll keep her safe. You always did back then."
"Yes," she whispered. "I'll look after her."
Some part of Lucy screamed at her, warning her that this was a horrible idea and that she would suffer greatly as a result, but another part of her saw the child-her child-and maternal instincts she never knew she had reared up and demanded that she protect her daughter. It didn't matter that she had yet to birth her. It didn't matter that she would never come to existence here. In some alternate timeline, she had endured nine months and a painful labour and given life to this child, and she would honour her future self's sacrifice, both to keep her alive during the Dragon Festival and this birthing, by keeping her daughter alive.
By keeping Cynthia alive.
"Thank you," he murmured, and for a brief moment, Lucy saw a bit of current Rogue in him, the part that was docile and sought no bloodshed. His grip on one side of the cloak vanished as his hand fell to Cynthia's face, pushing the hair off of it and resting on her forehead. His tone was oddly gentle as he spoke, "She has your eyes. You wanted her to get mine, but she ended up with yours and I never told you, but I was happy about that. Your eyes are beautiful. Bright."
Lucy didn't speak. She couldn't. His ramblings were starting to sound more and more like those of a dying man, and she didn't have the heart to interrupt him as he bid his final farewells.
"We never tested to magical aptitude, but I know she's got a small container. Her inclination is Celestial. You said it was inherited and chances were she got it. She can't sleep if it's totally dark, so get a nightlight. We couldn't find one there, so we had to rely on Sting. She loves reading. You started young and with advanced texts. She's four years old. She's not lost a tooth yet, but her front one was starting to wiggle, so make sure she doesn't rip it out like Sting told her to. She can count to twenty-"
"You're dying," Lucy stated. Future Rogue didn't look up as he continued, "And her favourite game is hide and seek in the dark. It's…what we told her we were playing when we needed to hide from the dragons. She's good at it."
"That's why you brought her here."
"Her favourite colour is blue for some reason. I always said it was because of your attire, but you said it was because the sky was that colour on good days instead of red."
Future Rogue stayed silent this time for a while, finally meeting her steady, if somewhat scared, gaze. "The second you agreed, I was supposed to go back and die. I can feel the Gate calling me right now. I can't…I can't leave her. I want to stay here. It's good here. She'll finally be able to run out and live freely and I wanted to see that one day."
"You trust me with her?"
"Then know that I will ensure her life will be lived to the fullest," Lucy felt as if there was a foreign force that had her lifting a hand to cover the one clutching his cloak. "I'll keep her safe. You can die in peace knowing this. You may never see her grow up, but past you will. That's good enough."
Future Rogue laughed mirthlessly, and Lucy watched as his body took on a faint golden glow that trickled upwards. Just like the first time he had vanished, but this time there was a tone of absolute finality to it. He was going for good and leaving her with a daughter.
"You were always the best with convincing people to do things," Future Rogue smiled, and the blonde's heart stopped. In that moment, the only thing differing him from his past counterpart was the colour of his hair and the tattoo on his cheek. He looked free and gentle, and so un-Future Rogue that she was certain this was all just a bad dream.
"Thank you, Lucy," he leaned forward and hugged her tightly, drawing Cynthia between their chests. His hold on her grew fainter and fainted as he grew more and more translucent. "I…"
His final words disappeared with his body into the wind, shimmering and colouring the night sky with golden streaks.
Lucy closed her eyes and wept.
"All discarded lovers should be given a second chance, but with somebody else."
A/N: I cannot do drama or angst any justice, but have at it. I promise it'll get better once we get back to the Guild. That's when the fun (fuckery) really begins.