Notes: I know, I know. I've picked this whole series apart within an inch of its life! I promise this is the last edit The Fall of Mercutio will get. My friend JackieOkCorral has so very graciously agreed to slog through all the many bits and pieces of this series as a beta. Credit for the Spanish dialog throughout the entirety of this series goes to tumblr user Marya-Nikolaevna.

As of this note (5/16/18) the first five chapters have been through a beta edit. I'll try to group future edited chapters in groups of ~5. Unedited chapters have been deleted! I'm sorry!

Thank you for reading! (again?)


Black fingernails sliced through crimson curtains. The strands fell against her shoulders and brushed the mauve tips of her breasts. Eileen tilted her head and enjoyed the way her hair seemed to flutter at her command.

"Have you always been so vain?" a voice asked from behind her. Eileen's eyes didn't stray from her own body.

"Perhaps I have." Her darkly stained lips twisted into a smirk. She stood from the cushioned bench and glided across the carpet to join her lover amongst the sheets. Smoke curled from the end of his hand-rolled cigarette. Eileen plucked it from his fingers and snubbed the cherry in a crystal tray beside the bed. One smooth leg slid over his hips. She enjoyed the way the blood-red ends of her hair brushed his chest. Any retort he might've had died when she dug sharp, black tips into his pectorals and took him inside of her.

The answer to his question was no. Eileen had not always been quite so vain, but in her experience men should be granted as little information as possible. Even when his tongue traveled the length of the jagged scar that marred her hip and stomach, she had no inclination to explain the imperfection. The more secrets a woman gifted to a man, the sharper his edge grew. Men only ever did one thing with their blades. They cut. And Eileen was sick of the scars.

Ivan Dreyar was an easy lay. Even without the tricks she'd learned in the pillow houses as a fresh-out-of-naïveté girl, she could tell he had the thirst of a man craving validation. Eileen didn't know all the dirty little details of what a Dreyar was doing all the way in Crocus – alone, no less, and carrying all his funds in his pants pockets – but she didn't need to.

He lit another cigarette once they were done, this time one of the expensive varieties she kept in a cloisonné case. Eileen didn't smoke, but men like Ivan did – and men like Ivan had loose jaws when they'd been properly serviced and filled their lungs with their poison of choice.

"Just so we're clear on terms," he said, blowing a cloud of smoke into the air that still hung thick with sex. "If I do your killing for you, you'll marry me?"

"Of course." Eileen pulled her crimson mane over her shoulder and inspected the ends she already knew were perfect. "But," she added, tossing the section of hair over her shoulder. "Just so we're clear on terms, I don't share my personal quarters. We have a business arrangement and nothing more."

"How do I know you won't pull the same murderous bait and switch trick with me?" His fingers brushed the small of her back. The touch was soft but Eileen knew what possession felt like.

"Belserion is addicted to his own product. He's driven his name into debt – my name. Are you not above such trash?" She casually shifted on the mattress and let her legs fall over the edge of the bed.

Ivan snorted. "My father raised me better than that." She heard him inhale and exhale. "Another marriage should convince him to reinstate me."

"And if he doesn't?"

He ignored her question as she'd expected him to. The answer was obvious. "What about your daughter?"

"My daughter is her own. She won't be changing her name until it's her choice. Belserion is not her father."

"Without my name to protect her –"

Eileen stood and spun around. Her eyes narrowed dangerously. Ivan's hand was still in the sheets, reaching toward her. "I protect my daughter. Not you. She is no one's property."

Ivan's eyebrow quirked but he otherwise didn't respond to the threat. "When should it be done?"

"At your leisure." Her tone returned to nonchalance and she finally reached for her robe. The silk whispered across her skin as she drew it over her naked body. Ivan nodded and snubbed the cigarette.

"It'll be done before the week is out. Once my father is properly in hand, Belserion's debts will be paid and I can focus on my affairs in Magnolia." He leaned back against the mound of pillows at the head of her bed and grinned. "I'm tired of Crocus and my son needs a mother."

Eileen didn't betray the disgust she felt at his words, but let the comment slide. Marrying a man like Ivan, who was made of not-so-carefully-concealed sharp edges, would be tricky on its own. She had her own sharp edges, though. If and when Ivan slid against one? His blood would be welcome.

Except for the black, gaping hole where the theatre used to be, Magnolia still looked mostly the same. Eileen's memories of the rows of velvet seats and gilded moldings were hazy with age. Long before her youth had been taken from her by a greedy man with a knife, her brother worked summers as a stage hand and she'd watched every performance from high above. No one complained about the girl up in the rafters and rigging. Eileen wasn't one for nostalgia or navel gazing, though. The remnants of the formerly magnificent theatre stood as a testament to pretty lies and the rot beneath.

Fairy Tail was a beautiful hotel, but she knew the storerooms below weren't any nicer than Belserion's stash in Crocus. The Dreyars weren't the only cartel scrambling for business, either, and the funeral procession that made its way to Kardia Cathedral would only distract for so long.

Somewhere in this city, her brother still prowled. She wondered if his torch for lost love had burned out, or if he still bought into the fallacy of shadows and scrim.

The pads of Anna's feet were nearly soundless in the hallway. She wasn't sneaking – she just wanted to try and cajole her husband from his new office. Anna stopped at the doorway and touched the thick molding of the frame. This room had never been hers to command. It had changed hands from her mother directly to Jude.

Anna's jaw flexed and she wicked away a frustrated tear. She didn't want to think of Jude... or Layla. Black smoke and the scent of char still filled her nostrils on the mornings she woke from nightmares of fire. Her dreams were always the same. A red curtain – identical to the one that used to hang in the now ruined theater downtown – would pull back to reveal Layla's already burning body. Blackened fingers reached toward her as the curtain burst into flame and melted to the stage in clumps and strings. Her sister's parched screams echoed in her ears. Sometimes Anna thought she still heard them even after she'd been awake for hours.

Up until the theater fire that had stolen the lives of her sister, Jude, and at least fifty other people, Anna thought she was through with dreams of death. The montages of her son, Jellal, slowly being devoured by a white dragon with her husband's face and blood red eyes hadn't troubled her for nearly a year. She didn't want to unpack why the one common element was Acnologia.

She knocked softly on the door and peeked inside. A man she still thought handsome leaned against the edge of the enormous desk that had been in the office since before Anna's birth. His hair showed signs of escaping its low ponytail but his shoulders were still high.

"Are you coming to bed?" she asked more timidly than intended. He didn't acknowledge her right away but when he turned, his eyes were apologetic. Anna couldn't tell which was more genuine – his expression or the way he didn't set aside the papers he'd been reading.

"I can't. I'm expecting a call and reports from the new barrels still need my eye."

"A call this late?" Anna pressed, pretending she didn't know exactly who'd be calling.

"Business does not sleep, mi amor." He finally left the stack of papers on the desktop and crossed the room. Anna let him brush her hair from her shoulders and closed her eyes when his finger touched the strap of her nightgown. "Me lo estás haciendo difícil."

"I'm sorry, I just hate sleeping alone," she whispered. Acnologia pressed a kiss to her forehead and slid his hand into her hair. Anna inhaled deeply, and the scent of his cologne made her dizzy. He'd always intoxicated her so.

"We are on a precipice," he muttered. "Soon this city will be ours. Love and Lucky will shine in a way it never has before."

"Of course." She faked a smile she knew he saw right through.

"Anna," he said as she turned to go. "I do this for you. For mi familia. Everything I do is for us."

Anna's hand settled on his wrist and she turned to brush a kiss over his pulse. "I'll leave you to it, then." He was already gathering up his papers again before she could shut the door behind her.

As she made her way back to their empty bedroom Anna fixated on his words. Mi familia. How far did his idea of family extend? Did he mean to honor the memories of Jude and Layla? Her long deceased mother? Those particular memories hurt. Layla had always been the favorite and the hand off of their brand and business to Jude made the point abundantly clear. He'd even taken the Heartfilia name with no protest – something Anna had never even considered asking Acnologia to do.

When Jellal was born, looking exactly like his father, Anna felt even more of an outsider in her childhood home. On his tenth birthday, Acnologia solidified the distance when he bestowed upon their son marks of a family and culture he'd never seen or been a part of. Anna still had misgivings over the tattoo. It singled him out in a way she knew he'd grown to dislike. Lucy, of course, looked exactly like a Heartfilia right down to the blonde hair and brown eyes. Thankfully, the family matriarch hadn't ever played favorites with her grandchildren the way she did her daughters.

After a long battle with chronic illness, the elder Heartfilia was laid to rest in the ostentatious manner expected from a family as old as theirs. Once the pageantry was behind them, Jude carried on as if there wouldn't be any discussion in how Love and Lucky was run. Despite Acnologia handling nearly all of the international trade negotiations and acquisitions personally, Jude disregarded most of his opinions. Anna didn't truly conceptualize the gap between her husband and brother-in-law until she realized how deep the hypocrisy went. The Heartfilia machine had gummed its cogs with dirty oil, and Anna's head was filled with doubt.

She didn't want to think of Jude using Acnologia to do the work he wouldn't dirty his own hands with to keep them in the black. She didn't want to think of Acnologia becoming impatient and resentful to the point of perhaps tossing a match inside a theater. Of course, before two weeks ago she hadn't wanted to think of organizing another funeral – this time for her sister and brother-in-law. The passage of time had a way of forcing a person's hand.