The words were heavy. They tasted stale, and unquestionably bitter:

"I have breast cancer."

Lucy thought about prefacing the declaration with some encouraging words about how everything was going to be okay, but she knew her kids were human like she was, and everything that was said before and after would pale beside the word 'cancer.'

They all reacted differently, and none of it was pretty.

Yuri instantly felt guilty for the bomb he'd dropped on her, and then even more guilty when he thought back and realized some part of him had at least noted she'd been taking naps and she'd seemed dizzy too. That meant he hadn't realized his own mother was sick because he was busy thinking about himself and his own life.

Layla had the greatest amount of sheer intellectual ability, so she wanted to find some semblance of peace by understanding exactly what was going on. She started asking questions about the diagnosis and the treatments, and she filled her mind with new facts and words and phrases rather than letting herself think about the fact her mother was gravely ill.

Anna just hugged her mother and didn't say anything at all, because the part of her that was inherently noble and wise forbade her from reaction.

Mavis' little heart pounded furiously, palms sweating profusely as she tried to process this information. She settled on the most comfortable method of digestion: denial.

"You can't be sick, Mom. You're too strong," she argued, her voice cracking.

Her eyes watered, and she fought the urge to cry, because there was a rule somewhere that she didn't cry, ever, for any reason. Mavis hadn't even cried when she broke her arm as a kid.

But she started thinking about when Makarov got older and there were strange words and medicines and then one day, he vanished from their lives permanently. Mavis thought back to how it felt back then, and how she'd walk past the empty bedroom, and take a deep breath just because his scent lingered for awhile afterward. Then gradually, it faded.

They thought of him less and less as their lives went on, until she felt guilty about how infrequently she felt that sting.

The idea that her mother could disappear from their lives was absolutely unfathomable to her.

Lucy held her hands and said, "I'm going to be okay."

Mavis fought hard, but the only response she had to this was a sob as she broke down into tears, which had a chain reaction. She was the toughest and yet most fragile at the same time, and couldn't remember ever feeling as vulnerable as she did right then.

Her mother squeezed her hands. "Hey, it's okay. It's okay to be scared. You know, I'm your mom, and I have to let you guys go on jobs and get into fights. I know you're in danger sometimes. I know you get hurt sometimes. But I have to have faith in you all to win your battles, so have faith in me to win mine, okay?"

Laxus put his arm around his wife and nodded. "Your mom is a fighter. Smart, vicious, strong, and she never gives up. We're not a normal family. You guys get most of your stubborn, combative, and mean traits from her."

Lucy rolled her eyes. "What he said."

The children looked to their father then, and they tried to read his reaction. What they could determine was that he already knew, and that he was trying his best to be calm. They relied on him for strength, and he found it a little ridiculous, because he felt Lucy was so much stronger than any of them in that moment in their family.

Lucy said, "The first step for me is surgery. I decided to schedule it as soon as possible. So on Friday, I'm going to have a surgery where surgeons are going to remove my breasts."

Layla answered, "You've always had good boobs, Mom."

"Great boobs. Now full of cancer. Not hard to let 'em go. Besides, I'm getting closer to the age where having large breasts starts being more of a downside than upside. And by downside, I mean just wait until you see what gravity, time, and four babies can do," she said, making light of her troubles by telling them the same things she told herself.

Yuri wiggled a little at the idea of his mom talking about her breasts in front of him, but he didn't say anything. He wanted to apologize to her, and beg her for forgiveness for hurting her at the ball. He didn't want his mom to be sick, or to need surgery, or to be in any kind of discomfort at all.

Once they were finished talking, they sent the kids up to bed and, as a couple, tucked each one in.

Mavis was taking it the worst, but she was effectively the baby of the oldest children. Being peculiar in comparison to what most people expected from a pretty girl, she'd grown up very reliant on her mother's affirmation and encouragement to be herself.

Anna was quiet, more rational, and she was thinking constantly about the king's words. She wanted to believe in her mother's abilities, and she wasn't ready to have a hysterical reaction. Her twin was very much her opposite, and she found their reactions proved that as much as anything else.

Layla had an easier time, as she believed her mother to be bulletproof, a source of neverending power that no force in all of creation could hinder. She loved her mother, but after going through her own difficult times, knew that a woman had to be strong on her own. She believed in her mother.

Lucy didn't really want to talk about cancer anyway, and had much more pressing issues on her mind.

She flopped down on the bed and said, "Honey, we need some girl time."

That meant periods or boys or some other subject manner Laxus preferred to be spared from anyway, so he shrugged, kissed his daughter goodnight, and went on to their son's bedroom.

Once he was gone, Lucy said, "So?!"

"So what?"

"Layla, don't hold out on me. I need to know what happened. With Sam. With Petri! My love life is fantastic, but I've had the same amount of excitement for a while. Your little drama is more interesting to me than it should be. I'm dying to know," she said.

Layla smiled. "Mom, you're the best."

"Well?"

Her daughter asked, "What do you want to know?"

"Do you like Sam even a little? I know you have to. You guys were adorable little babies, always together," she said.

Layla explained, "I don't think he's a bad person, but what happened isn't one of those things where everyone says they're sorry and things are fine."

Lucy had suspected as much. "You get that from your father. Forgive, but never forget."

"Gams was like that too. He kept a list of all his enemies, and the things they'd done."

This was news to Lucy, as she'd always viewed Makarov as one of the most forgiving, kind individuals she'd known.

"Are you still mad at Sam?"

"Not mad. Just not ever going to let him be close again."

Lucy nodded in understanding. "And Petri?"

Layla said, "He's a really cool guy, Mom. We almost kissed. Almost. He headbutted me and I fell in the pool. That was after he spent all night stepping on my toes. Kind of a disappointment. He seemed really distracted and disappeared in the middle of the ball to go be a boy or something."

"Boys really are helpless in a way. They grow up so much slower. You're probably more grown up now than Petri is going to be in his twenties. He might become a little more responsible, but if you think he's ever going to be a real adult, I challenge you to observe your father for a full twenty-four hours."

The two giggled, and Layla leaned her head on her mother's shoulder. "I just know you're going to be okay, Mom. You've been itching for a good fight lately anyway, right?"

"Not really the kind of fight I like, but we choose some of our battles, and some of our battles choose us. I'd rather beat the crap out of somebody, that's for sure," she answered.

In Yuri's room, Laxus was sitting on the edge of the bed listening to his son make his guilty confessions with a concerned expression. What bothered him wasn't that he'd thought about his foolish ideas and realized they were foolish; he only felt bad that he'd hurt his mother's feelings.

He finally said, "Son, your mom and I aren't upset for ourselves. We think it's a terrible idea that'll hurt you and Lilia."

"How?"

"You're not finished growing up. You're going to change a lot in the next few years. Being in a relationship that serious at your age isn't a good idea."

Yuri said, "I don't care about it, really. Mom's sick. That's what matters now. Everything else can just not matter right now."

His father answered, "Your hormones and feelings aren't going to go away just because of that. It might take a while for your mom to get better. I want to tell you something, just between us, because I think it might help you."

"What is it, Dad?"

"If I had my whole life to live over again, there's a lot I'd probably change. I'd be less of an asshole. I'd cause less grief for Gramps. I'd be less of a pain to the guild early on. I'd wait longer before getting married. Your mom was young, Yuri. And when we fell in love, we fell so hard we got into a big hurry. We were in a rush to start our lives together, and then to start a family. And somehow, while she was pregnant and taking care of you guys, all her teammates passed her up. They went on adventures. She stayed home. They became S-Class while she was taking care of you guys."

He watched his son register regret at the fact his mother had given up so much to raise them. She'd never complained, and never let on that there was ever anything else she'd rather be doing, but he knew she was a powerful wizard in her own right.

Laxus said, "Then when Gramps had his heart attack, he asked your mother to give it up completely. We were married. We had a family. She put me before her. I don't know if she has any regrets. I just think a woman needs time to be on her own for a while. I worry about that with your sisters, that they'll get all tied up with someone and end up in a situation where they have to postpone their dreams because they get too serious too soon, or get pregnant too soon. Lilia has a lot more to lose than you do. So, just let her grow up a little more."

He ruffled his son's hair, and Yuri asked, "What about Mom?"

"Don't worry about Mom. She's a fighter. And also, worrying doesn't accomplish anything. It causes mistakes. It'll make her more upset if you're anxious, so just believe in her and help out however you can, especially with your other siblings. You're a good kid. You'd do us all a big favor if you'd just slow down, most of all Lilia."

Lucy came in and kissed him goodnight, more than capable of perceiving an important discussion had taken place. There were certain things she felt were left to father and son, and she always trusted her husband to teach Yuri the right way to do things. Their son was a good man, even if he was young and a little too excited to grow up.

From there, they kissed Lex goodnight and headed up to bed, where they got ready for bed and she snuggled up to him.

"You're a good dad."

"You're a good everything."

Lucy listened to the sound of his heart beating. "I love you so much. I can't imagine how my life would have turned out if you weren't in it. I feel like I don't have to be afraid if you're with me."

Laxus wrapped himself around her. "I won't let anything happen, I promise."

She leaned up to kiss him, once and then again, and when their tongues intertwined, her hand slid across his bare chest and then down into his boxers. When he gasped, she grinned a little and watched him eagerly wriggle out of his boxers.

Her body was sore, and she didn't really feel like sex, but she knew he still had his own needs. Even if he hadn't said a word about it, or even hinted, or circled her like a shark as was normally his custom, she knew him well enough to know he needed a little attention.

Laxus was careful and as gentle as possible as they kissed and she stroked him. "Can I touch you?" he whispered against her ear.

"Not tonight."

He went soft in her hand almost immediately, and she reached over and turned on the light.

"Can you just let me, Honey? I know you've got to be horny," she said.

Laxus shook his head and pulled his boxers back on. "It's not that. It's hard for me to keep my head in the game when I know you're not feeling well. We've been together for ages. We always do it together. I don't want to do it by myself, or for you to get me off while you don't feel good. It's okay."

She rolled over and turned the lights out. "I just want to be able to take care of you, that's all. What kind of wife can't meet her husband's needs?"

"My needs are all met. I've always been very satisfied and you have always been a perfect wife. What would make me happiest right now is for you to focus on getting better. And know that when you do, I'll give you no mercy. It'll be like when we first started fucking. Everywhere, all the time."

The door cracked open and Mavis came in and used lightning form to phase through their bed until she was right between them.

Laxus blinked in disbelief. "Okay, hell no. You are way too old and way too mean to crawl into our bed."

"Mom, I had a bad dream."

Mavis barely got in the bed with them when she was little, so it was beyond bizarre to see it now when she was half-grown, but she was also taking the news considerably worse than anyone else was. Lucy always knew best how to handle her, so when she wrapped her arms around Mavis, he turned out the lights and attempted to sleep, only to have her kick and scratch him with her toenails in her sleep until he finally gave up and went to sleep in her room.

There was a smell that disturbed him consistently and prevented him from slumber, and when it bothered him enough he turned the lights on and searched for the source. Her room reeked of Baby Orga, which was quite a mystery as Laxus believed Baby Orga had never been in their house.

He made more of a mess than Mavis would appreciate until he found the source of the smell, which happened to be a sweatshirt with the Sabertooth emblem on it.

He didn't know if it was possible for a person to be so clearly teetering between being a kid and being a young adult. On one hand, she was nursing a crush that had been very unwanted at first, and on the other, she was terrified and behaving like a child at the revelation that her mother was sick.

He finally went to sleep and awoke, dressed quietly while Mavis and Lucy slept snuggled up in the bed, and went downstairs to find Yuri and Anna. They were in the kitchen cooking a big breakfast while Lex sat in his high chair and made serious demands in a language no one understood but him to Rai the Exceed, who kept slapping his cup around.

Laxus pointed and said, "Settle down, big guy. You're not the boss of anybody yet."

Anna poured him some coffee, offered him the newspaper, and said, "We're going to serve Mom breakfast in bed."

Laxus nodded. "She's had a weird appetite, so if she doesn't feel like eating, don't take it too personally."

Yuri asked, "How did we not realize she was even sick?"

"Because she didn't want you to know. There's no reason to feel any kind of way about it. Nothing that's happening is anybody's fault," their father answered.

Anna said, "Dad, we have something important decided we would tell you, even though we were told not to. It's about Mom. And us. And the king."

She recounted the meeting with the king while she mixed pancakes, as if it was a completely mundane and normal thing. Anna had been injured by the king's plans once before, and Yuri and Layla had certainly been swept up in the chaos as well.

Laxus was enraged, but he hid it well.

The older kids were at an important age, but with the exception of Mavis, they'd all been injured somehow or another by the king. This time, his threats were clear, and he held the life of their mother over their heads and demanded they do his bidding.

There was something about their meeting with the king that was more telling than the king probably intended. The king wore the 'ceremonial pumpkin mask' during the games, and no one seemed to know what he looked like. But he'd shown himself to the kids, indicating he was concerned about being recognized.

During the games, even his scent wouldn't have been able to betray him because there were thousands of other scents present.

Laxus found Anna's decision to tell to be wise beyond her years. She was a loyalist, noble, and the best friend someone could ask for, but he could tell from the look in her eyes that she had no intention of making big mistakes and she wasn't going to let the king take advantage of her.

"I'll take care of this. The king doesn't have a cure for cancer. If he did, he wouldn't come to you guys. He could get bigger favors out of me and I would provide them without argument," he said.

Yuri asked, "What are you going to do?"

Laxus shrugged. "We're not going to do anything. He's the king. We can't move first. What does the king look like? He might be someone we know. An enemy."

Anna answered, "That's the weird thing. We're all sure we've seen his face, but none of us remember what it looks like. He was powerful. I remember the hair on the back of my neck stood up."

The father thought for a while and said, "I don't want any of you venturing out beyond Magnolia for a while. And Anna, if he wants you…I can't have that. I'll start a war over you if things go the wrong way. I don't really want you to leave the house unless you're with someone packing a lot of heat."

"Like Yuri?"

"Like Natsu. Erza. Gajeel. Gildarts."

Anna made him a plate of food. "I wanted you to say maybe he knew something. Maybe we could do something and Mom wouldn't have to be sick—that she wouldn't have to have surgery or take medicine."

Yuri looked equally disappointed, and their father said, "There are some struggles you can't escape from. Magic is a powerful thing, but it won't save you all the time. We don't get to pick all our fights. I don't want your mother to be sick either. I'm so mad and there's nobody for me to hit, so that's hard for me."

Yuri asked, "Are you okay, Dad?"

"I don't even know how to operate without your mother, but she's braver than any of us, so I know she'll be okay."

Anna reached into a cabinet for a tray and started to put together their grand meal for their mother.

Laxus said, "You might want to load up the plate. Your twin decided she is still a hatchling and spent the night in bed with your mother."

His daughter added more food to the plate. "Not surprising."

Anna and Yuri were his calmest, most level-headed and responsible children, so it wasn't surprising to find them trying to make breakfast for everyone. Mavis and Layla were wildcards every day of the week, although they'd responded very differently to the news of their mother's sickness. Layla didn't believe cancer was a formidable enemy for her mother and Mavis was clinging to Lucy shamelessly.

Laxus took a piece of scrambled egg, blew on it, and offered it to his spoiled baby son, who chomped it right out of his fingers, gumming him in the process. "You better watch it, kid. You better not start biting me. I've had two biters. I'm smarter now. I'll bite you back."

Lex opened his mouth, and Anna said, "Mom will kill you for feeding him people food. He's not ready."

"I actually know a thing or five about babies, in case you forgot. All of you ate your first real food with me," he answered.

Yuri said, "I feel like he's getting big really fast."

"That's what kids do. You too. I remember when you were first born. Itty, bitty little thing. Lex is in a hurry to get big and do big boy stuff, just like you, you know."

Anna and Yuri carried the breakfast tray upstairs, where Lucy and Mavis were sound asleep, sleeping closely intertwined.

Mavis sat up and growled when she realized they'd been disturbed, and then flopped back down.

Lucy sat up and stretched. "You guys are too sweet to me."

The terrible thing about cancer was knowing a horrible thing was going on, but not really having any normal course of action to take. The kids felt helpless, and all they had was breakfast. In fact, when they thought about the king, Yuri and Anna realized the king was just trying to manipulate their helplessness.

Lucy was a little nauseated from medicine, so she mostly picked at the food in the politest manner and sent them on errands to get things for her, like salt, or pepper, or a glass of milk rather than orange juice. When they were both gone, she shoveled food into Mavis as quickly as possible.

Her daughter had dragon blood, so her stomach was like an endless, bottomless pit. She had a little more self-control than the males did, but it was not uncommon to see her eat more than a grown man.

"You know what I dreamed last night?" she asked as she spooned eggs into Mavis.

"Hmph?" Mavis asked, mouth full of food.

Lucy said, "I dreamed you had eight kids. They all had green hair."

Her daughter swallowed her food and said, "Me? Please. You'll be lucky if you get one. I assume I'll probably get unlucky at some point and end up pregnant, but I doubt very seriously anything entering or exiting my vagina is going to have green hair."

Laxus entered with a bewildered expression. "Well, that was an unfortunate moment to enter the conversation. But I have a very serious question—why do you only scratch and bite me while you are sleeping?"

"Why would bite and scratch my mom?" Mavis asked.

"Why would you bite and scratch your father?" he replied.

She dismissed his question. "Who knows? I was asleep."

Yuri and Anna returned, and piled on the bed with their mother and visibly bloated sister.

The doorbell rang, and Laxus went down to answer it, only to find a most unwelcome face.

Petri Nekkis was standing outside his door in a travelers cloak, sporting a brown leather bag and his big, flashy white grin. "Hey, Boss."

"Did you want something?"

The seventeen-year-old asked, "How's my baby?"

"Your what?"

"The love of my life?"

"Try again."

"Cutest girl in the world?"

"Idiot," the girl's father mumbled as he slammed the door in the young man's face.

From the other side of the door, he heard, "That's not a nice thing to say to your future son-in-law!"

Laxus opened the door again and asked, "You seem like a happy person, but you do things that make me think you actually want to die. Layla doesn't wake up for another two hours, so get lost, will you?"

Petri answered, "I'm not here to see Layla. I came for you. I need help."

With this, Laxus opened the door and let him in, and the boy followed him to the living room and opened his bag as he sat, laying out a series of folders with confidential stamps from the Magic Council.

"My dad won't let me visit him. He said it wasn't safe, but nothing else. So I started investigating, and I broke into his old office. He was investigating King Pilar before he became king, and he requested access to some documents right before he was fired. I found out they were being stored at the East Tower in Crocus," he said.

The older wizard saw the files were clearly stamped as top secret and property of the file archive at the East Tower, a place so secretive it was practically regarded a myth. "How in the hell did you get these?"

"I stole them."

"From the East Tower…"

He nodded.

Laxus believed it would probably be easier to steal a ton of gold from the treasury than rob the Magic Council, but the kid had clearly done it.

"When?"

"During the ball. Everyone was looking at the castle. There was minimal guard detail. I slipped out, stole the files…"

"And came right back. I didn't notice you'd left and trust me, I was keeping a pretty close eye on you."

Petri opened one of the files, "My dad became suspicious of the king over a date. These files…you have to sign before you look at them. The Magic Council keeps track of young wizards that are likely to became important later on. Pilar looked at all the Fairy Tail files. He used his status as a military adviser to order reports and briefs to be added whenever they would go on jobs, citing 'suspicion.' So the Council investigates in secret like a crime has been committed, and even if it hasn't, they're recording information."

"Your father knew Pilar was collecting information on Fairy Tail."

"He signed his name on Anna's file three days before the attack. And the guy that did it? After he got better, he was moved out of the Magic Council's control to be forced to serve in some secret military operation that's supervised by Pilar. Erigor came to the East Tower and he took Layla's file after that."

Laxus asked, "Erigor is out? He's a chronic problem for our guild. I'll hunt him down myself."

"Erigor is dead. He died from magic poisoning. His body was mutilated by Bluenote Stinger. He stole the file and something from Erigor's body. Whatever killed him. The lacrima, right? And he brings it here and offers it to Sam, who turns on Layla. Bluenote Stinger ends up dead, and Pilar wants his lacrima back. Layla is involved by accident because of Bluenote Stinger, who wants…the files don't say. Anna is the real target."

Laxus crossed his arms and watched as the boy put the pieces together.

Petri said, "The files my dad requested were about a book. The book is called Nautici Rex. It was written by Zeref, sealed by Anna Heartfilia, and gifted to Mavis Vermillion. The last known owner was Makarov Dreyar, but it was reported destroyed during the Phantom Lord raid."

"It was ours? That's suspicious as hell."

The older wizard was quiet for a long time, because he was sure there were dots to connect, but he wasn't sure what they were or how to connect them. Whatever was going on with the king was apparently deeply personal, and it seemed to be centered around his family, although it wasn't clear if that was coincidental or intentional.

One thing he knew was the kid before him wasn't someone he ever wanted as an enemy. He was going to crack wise about recruiting him into Fairy Tail when he realized the guild mark was missing from his arm.

Petri rubbed his bare arm. "Oobasama says she can't protect Lamia Scale if I get caught."

"Calling what you did 'risky behavior' would be a massive understatement. It's high treason. The Magic Council can execute you legally for this. Come with me," he said.

Laxus took him to the kitchen and made him a plate of food. "You look like you forgot to eat and sleep for a while. You can take a nap. Downstairs in the living room. Don't be sneaky with me. I'll break your legs. I'll figure out what to do with you later."

He watched the kid eat and then collected the documents and took them to his study. Lucy could probably put it together, but she was days away from her mastectomy and she was sick. He refused to involve her. He didn't want any of the kids to see the files, because their mere existence was proof a crime punishable by execution had been committed by the uninvited guest he soon heard snoring on the sofa.

It was embarrassing to admit, but he'd been outsourcing a lot of mentally-involved things to Lucy for a long time. She was so smart she could just look at stuff and know, but he didn't really have that gift. All he had was a series of events that were spawned by one stupid book which used to be in possession of Fairy Tail.

The Phantom Lord raid had never made much sense, so it wasn't useful to link to the book. Even if the guild had successfully crushed Fairy Tail, the Magic Council would have abolished it. Defeating Fairy Tail was not a plan for the future. History had not seen fit to reveal what might have actually happened at the end.

He wrote down the events on a list and started to cross out everything that was senseless or had no purpose.

Lucy's father went to Phantom Lord to kidnap Lucy, and in the commission of that, probably disclosed she had the Aquarius key. At this moment, and none other, Jose Porla sprung at the chance and attacked Fairy Tail and had it demolished. The destruction of the guild allowed for the opportunity for him to take the book and have it assumed lost forever. With Lucy and the Aquarius key, he had a golden opportunity to use the book.

Except everything went wrong and Lucy dropped her keys during the kidnapping.

He probably realized during her incarceration she'd never open the book, so he had to wait.

Then Anna came along.

That meant the most likely suspect to have that book was Jose Porla. Maybe he was the king, maybe he was controlling the king. Laxus considered whether it was possible the king was one of his shades, no more than a being composed of dark magic.

Layla appeared at the entrance to study shortly before noon. "Good morning. Mom's asleep, so I came to see what you're doing."

"Your mother is sick."

"She'll be fine. I can't believe my mother is capable of being weak. She just needs a little rest," his daughter insisted.

"Right."

Layla hadn't mentioned the meeting with the king and didn't seem to be aware Yuri and Anna had told. Mavis had also omitted this, and he found it beyond bothersome. But they were all individuals and they thought and felt different ways about different experiences.

Mavis, for her instinctive need to agitate, was actually very good at staying out of any real trouble.

Anna was careful, introspective, and more open.

Layla was unpredictable, difficult to read, and subject to her powerful mood swings.

Yuri had the best judgment in most areas of his life except one.

The cancer, the pressure from the king, and all the other external sources of stress were extremely unwelcome, and it was hard for Laxus to determine what the most immediate problems were. Or, how the kids were supposed to live normal lives or have normal feelings with everything. They were supposed to start school again in a couple of weeks, and he didn't even want to imagine what kind of impact life was going to have on their studies.

"Layla."

"Yes, Daddy?"

He pulled a drawing of Makarov's book out. "Is this the book King Pilar had?"

Layla paled at her father's question, because it meant her father knew about their meeting with the thing. She nodded and broke eye contact.

Her father sighed. "You can trust me. Layla, you're a great kid, but I don't want you to get hurt. Please don't keep secrets from me. Please."

"What's going to happen?" she asked.

Laxus said, "I will deal with this. It's not something for you. I just want you to be able to be a normal kid sometimes. Mom will be fine. And King Pilar…I'll deal with that. Trust me, he's not going to hurt you guys anymore. I'm a father. An angry one. And unlike most of the people he's hurt, I don't have to let him get away with it."

"He's the king, Dad."

"It didn't save Zeref, and it won't save Pilar either. Let me worry about that."

Layla suddenly gave him a hug of near rib-cracking force, and he wrapped his arms around her. "Everything is going to be fine. You're all right."

The hug felt like it lasted forever and he finally said, "Really, everything is going to be fine."

The dramatic little blonde said, "I'll never let go of you, Daddy!"

"Petri Nekkis is asleep on our couch."

With that, she let go and ran off immediately, feet plodding down the stairs at hyper-speed.

He periodically checked in on Lucy, who remained asleep, and on the kids as they all continued to cope in their own ways. Layla forced herself to be occupied with the very obvious source of distraction, Yuri went to the library and came home with a bunch of books about cancer, Anna studied a magic book, Mavis went to the guild to run an errand for him, and Lex was blissfully unaware that anything at all was wrong.

After a while, he went to their bedroom and laid down next to her, wishing that they could have peace even just for a day. She snuggled up in her sleep, accustomed to the feeling of her husband's embrace. They'd always been like this; they'd never gotten to a point where there was his side of the bed and hers. They slept tangled up together, always. It was the only way that felt right, and he was too scared to think about what it would be like if he ever had to sleep by himself again.

Lucy awoke that afternoon feeling relatively well-rested. Her husband was there, just watching over her, and she smiled at him and stretched up to kiss him. "Hey Honey."

"You feelin' okay, Babe?"

She nodded and sat up. "It's so weird. I have this thing inside of me that'll kill me, but everything is still going on. Life is still happening. How are the kids doing?"

"They're dealing."

"You look worried," she said.

"I'm fine."

Lucy frowned at him. "You can still talk to me. About stuff. You can't really protect me from anything. You can't keep secrets from me just because I'm sick. It won't help."

Her husband knew she wasn't going to let him get away with not still trusting her as his confidant and partner. "Lucy, I love you."

"I love you too, now tell me what's wrong."

Laxus sat up and kissed her. "We'll talk tonight, okay? I have some things to figure out, and when I'm done thinking, I'm probably going to cause more trouble than this guild has been in for a long time."

"I trust you. Whatever you do, you do to protect the guild. Look at who has been hurt? There's a limited number of times our babies can get hurt and we don't hurt back. Whoever or whatever…just give 'em hell for me, okay?"

They kissed again and spent the next hour snuggling and reminiscing about better times: when they were first falling in love, when they were newlyweds expecting a baby, when their house was full of babies…

Then she had to take her medicine and started throwing up not long after.

He held her hair, rubbed her back, and offered her water and mouthwash and crackers, but he just felt powerless and angry.

When Lucy's stomach finally settled, he carried her back to the bed and watched her fall back asleep.

It had been a while since he'd been in a massive fight, and King Pilar seemed like a good target to take his aggression out on.

By the time he went back downstairs, it was early evening. Petri was in Layla's room, and he abruptly opened the door (just in case he might catch them doing anything he would otherwise disapprove of) and found them sitting on the floor playing cards with Lex, who was chewing on the cards.

"Leave this door open."

"Dad!"

"Little Dude is our chaperone, Mr. D."

He cringed and pointed at his daughter first. "Not in the mood to argue. He's a sneaky son of a bitch and it'll just make me feel a little better," and he pointed to Petri, "if you ever call me that again, I'll hit you so hard you forget your own name."

Mavis had returned from her errand so he decided to leave them alone for a while, and after she handed him a small sack from his desk at the guild, he made her sit with him.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"I'm fine, Dad."

Since things were a little bit heavy, he decided to tease her a little. "I found a sweatshirt in your room that stank like boy sweat. I threw it in the wash."

"You didn't!" she quickly replied, "I mean…I don't care if you did!"

He smiled gently at her. "You like that boy's scent?"

"No! It's just a warm sweatshirt. It's cozy. So I took it from him! He didn't offer. Obviously I don't accept gifts from boys, especially not idiots!" she indignantly answered.

"But you kiss idiots?" he asked in amusement.

"I take after my mother. My mom likes to kiss guys who are idiots."

Her father said, "The only man who has ever kissed your mother is me."

"I know that, Dad."

She gave him an innocent smile, and he raised his brows, until his forehead wrinkled.

Mavis' expression suddenly fell. "His mom died."

To a kid who had never had to consider life without a mother, finding out someone didn't have a mother didn't mean much at the time. Maybe it was sad, but it wasn't until right then that she considered how terrible it must have been to have grown up all along with no mom. She considered all the important things she relied on her own mother for, and how afraid she was to lose her, and realized that irritating boy had lived all his life without Mom.

Mavis flinched. "My mom could die."

"She won't."

Laxus pulled her into a hug, and she melted into it. "It's going to be okay. Your mom is going to be fine. And you can sleep in your own bed."

"But Mom is so warm and soft."

"She's my warm and soft thing. You are a wild thing with sharp toenails and pointy elbows," he argued.

Mavis replied, "If I can smell her, then I know she's there and everything is fine."

She looked like she might cry if she had to discuss the subject anymore, so he hugged her again and held her like that for a long time. He couldn't imagine how confusing or weird it must have been to be any one of his kids, dealing with wizarding drama, being a normal teenager, and trying to accept the fact that Lucy was ill all at one time.

He made soup for Lucy, and ordered pizzas for the kids.

Even though the guild needed his attention, he'd stayed home all day. He and Lucy had done everything for the guild, and it was such a regular part of their lives, but right now, he just needed to manage what was going on at home. Between Natsu, Erza, and Mirajane, there wouldn't be any trouble with the guild.

When he brought the soup upstairs, he found his wife puffy-faced, red-eyed, but still for the moment.

Lucy ate the soup, and they talked about the files, and she felt relieved that her husband would still talk to her about things that really mattered. It helped in some way the distinct feeling that she'd descended into the deepest parts of hell, a place where she was a burden and a cause for worry and fear for the family she'd spent so much of her time and her heart building up.

Truth be told, she hadn't felt so bad that she couldn't have gotten out of bed and done something productive. Yet, she couldn't bring herself to face the world for some reason. It was easier to stay in bed and sleep than face her wounded family and that made her feel ashamed too.

So she cried, and cried, until she felt empty, and then she went back to sleep.

It wasn't hard for him to realize she was depressed and anxious, so pointing those things out to her didn't have any purpose. He didn't want to be the kind of asshole that says a lot of empty words of 'comfort.'

Cancer was a nightmare in the middle of their wonderful, beautiful marriage, and if they didn't have a houseful of kids and a guild to look after, he felt like he might have stayed in bed with her all day and grieved how wretched it really was.

Lucy willed herself to get out of bed and made her way quietly down the hall to Lex's room, knowing he was too young not to get some time in with mom. He wasn't there, but she found him sleeping in the middle of Layla's bed, surrounded by playing cards with single-tooth bite marks and baby toys. There was a blanket thrown over him to keep him warm, and he look like he'd partied as hard as a baby can until he fell asleep.

Laxus followed her, trying to convince her everything was fine, and when she saw her baby was quite all right, she said, "You're right. They could be just fine without me…"

"Don't be ridiculous. We all need you," he answered.

Lex stretched his arms up at the sound of her voice and whined, then clung to her happily when she picked him up.

The other kids had all moved downstairs, and were playing a board game.

Lucy sat with them, holding her clingy, drowsy baby, and watched. Jokes were made, and she found herself laughing.

And then she remembered this was the way their family always was: they stuck together, good times and bad. When Lilia and Yuri broke up briefly, or when Layla had been hurt, or when Makarov died, they always stuck together.

It took a lot of courage to enjoy life when they had reasons to be afraid, and Lucy was so proud of them for that. She was grateful they were there to remind her how strong and great their family really was. They all had their own strengths and together, their strengths all blended together to form the fabric of their outstanding family.

Being with them made her feel happy and strong, and it gave her enough encouragement to snap her out of the despair that had seized her. Of course, she had to fight and she would win, because she was part of that fabric too.

Lucy felt better, happier, lighter, and like a weight had lifted from her shoulders, even if it was just for a little while. After the game was over, all the pizza was eaten, and messes were cleaned up, Lucy put her near-comatose baby son to bed and kissed her kids goodnight, then showed Petri to the guest room.

When he was putting the sheets on the bed, Laxus leaned against the door frame and crossed his arms. "You're right across the hall from Layla. But you have to walk past my room to get there and you'll never make it, so don't try."

Petri nodded. "I'll be good. Enough people want me dead. I don't really know what to do about that."

Laxus opened the sack Mavis brought him when the kid was trying to smooth out his sheets and smacked him on the his left arm, causing him to jump and cover it with his other hand.

Then he saw a black Fairy Tail guild emblem.

"You can't just put me in your guild! You didn't even ask."

The guildmaster said, "No other guild is going to take you. You committed high treason. You're an enemy not only of the Magic Council, but of the king, and you're obviously reckless as hell. You're practically radioactive, but you have skills I want at my disposal, and that mark on your arm will protect you from mysteriously disappearing if you leave Magnolia. You can move into the dorm tomorrow, and decide what you want to do once this is all resolved."

Petri looked up and nodded. "Thanks. I wasn't really sure what to do. Either do what's right or do what's right for me…it's not hard, right?"

"You're young and reckless and crazy, but you're smart and talented. Just don't get yourself killed and you'll be fine."

Laxus gave him a pat on the head and Petri asked, "What does your guild call you? I called Oobasama Grams. Maybe Gramps?"

"I'm not anyone's Gramps," he answered in irritation.

Petri smiled and said, "If I hang around here for a few years—"

Laxus put his hand over the boy's mouth. "I don't want to hear the rest of that sentence. Go to bed or get your neck snapped. Your choice."

"Goodnight then."

Laxus shook his head as he turned out the lights. "Try to sleep off some of the idiot if you can."

Yuri was asleep when Laxus got to his room, but the books about cancer look like they'd never even been opened. He wanted to know about what was happening, yet he was scared of it, so the books remained untouched.

Layla and Anna were staying up talking in Anna's room, and he kissed them goodnight, but left them to continue.

He went back to his bedroom to find Lucy in the shower, giving him time to switch out the comforter and put on 'the green one he hated.' He folded up their usual white one and carried it down the hall to Mavis, then wrapped her up in her half-asleep daze.

It was warm and it smelled like her mother, so she nestled down in it as her father tucked it around her.

"Thanks, Dad."

"You're welcome, Hatchling. Sleep well."

When he got back to the bedroom, Lucy was drying her hair, and her mood seemed quite different. She was optimistic and seemed happy. "I'm sorry, Honey. I kind of left you alone to drown in self-pity."

"It's okay. I'm a big baby when I get sick, so I can't imagine what kind of melodramatic fit I'd throw if I was the one," he said.

"You thought about that too?"

Her husband started to strip to go into the shower. "I did. I'm not as brave as you."

Lucy watched him throw his clothes on the floor and stared at them in the most obvious way until he picked them up and put them in the hamper.

"You never change. Still throwing your clothes on the floor…"

"Neither do you. Still giving me that look. Just for that, I'm leaving the seat up."

"If I fall in, I swear I'll shave a strip right down the middle of your head while you're sleeping and give you the ugliest reverse mohawk ever," she said.

He rolled his eyes. "You don't want to start with me, Babe."

Lucy waited for him in bed and when he finally dressed and got into bed, she grabbed his hand and squeezed it tightly. She smiled at him, and he smiled back. "We're going to be just fine, Honey. Let's do this, okay? Together."

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