A/N: This took too long. MONTHS. Roughly a year because I always abandon it and work on other stuff. Alas, I finished it.

This is the long-awaited (by me, idk for u) sequel to 5 Times Laxus Tries to Deal with Children (& the One Time He Gives Up)! You don't have to read the first one to be able to understand this fic, but reading that will give you more insight and info on the original kid characters mentioned in this fic. The kids will appear less here, though - because it will have Laxus, Freed and Atlas as the focus.

Anyways, this is it. Domestic bliss. Enjoy!

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Laxus Tries Not To Adopt a Kid (and Gives Up Pretty Quickly)

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01.

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"How old is he again?"

"Seven, right?"

"Ten, actually."

Freed shrugged off the twin looks of confusion on Laxus's and Mira's faces.

"You told me he was seven." Laxus frowned.

"I thought so too, but I asked him just a while ago. He said ten." Freed answered. "Seven was from Bixlow. And he got it from the old man who was looking after the boy."

Laxus's brows furrowed while Mira blinked and asked, "He has family? A guardian?"

"More like a parental figure, from the looks of it." Freed continued. "I met him... He looks after the street urchins who end up on his corner of the slums. He was very kind, but also old and growing weak and forgetful... Maybe he got the ages of the kids mixed up? There were lots of children."

All three of them turned their gazes towards the bar again, where the scrawny little kid who Freed and Bixlow took home from their two-man job was sitting quietly, being fussed over.

The olive-skinned boy was shyly letting Elfman and Evergreen's eldest daughter Fleur brush his messy dirty-blonde hair back. Meanwhile, Natsu and Lucy's eldest son Ig and new guild member Peony were taking turns asking him questions about himself and telling him exciting facts about magic and their guild. The boy listened to the teenagers in rapt attention, big sky blue eyes filled with awe.

"He's really small for a ten year old." Laxus commented. "Who do we have that age?"

"Onyx-kun and Luna-chan." Mira provided.

Laxus shook his head. "The kid's like two heads shorter than those two."

It was difficult to imagine that the tiny, thin, scrappy boy was the same age as bright and lively Luna Dragneel and energetic Onyx Redfox.

"It wasn't a very nice town, and he lived in the slums." Freed reasoned. "The old man told us it would be best for Atlas to leave and start over somewhere else."

Both Mira and Laxus simply nodded in agreement.

Then Mira tilted her head to look at her companions. "So… are you two adopting him?"

Both Freed and Laxus turned to blink at her before Laxus snorted and Freed smiled warily. "Oh no, nothing like that. We're recruiting him."

Mira chuckled. "It's been awhile since we recruited anyone this young. Of course, save for members' own kids. Where is he going to stay then?"

"He can stay with us while he settles in. Gray and Cana and some others slept on gramp's couch when they first came here." Laxus said with a shrug. "But maybe he wants to be with… I dunno, other kids? A family?"

"Maybe Cana has some space to spare…" Mira considered. The Clive-Alberona-Home-for-Stray-Kids-and-Teens was always open for young guild members who need a roof above their heads, after all. "Although, between two kids and Asa and Peony… Plus I think a couple new part-timers are staying with her for awhile until they can save up rent money…"

Freed nodded, understanding. "Of course. We understand if she's got her hands full. Can you ask her anyway?"

"I will, don't worry. The others, too. I'm sure they'll be happy to help." Mira reassured, then brightened up and added, "Specially Wendy! I know she has friends in the orphanage."

Freed was pleased. "That'll be great, Mira. Thank you."

They looked up when Laxus chuckled. "Looks like he's settlin' in real nice, already."

A few other kids had arrived in the guild hall and the three adults watched as Ig introduced a shy Atlas to them. In no time, Erza's daughter Gertie and her best friends Elvin (Elfman and Evergreen's youngest and only boy) and Gunnar (Cana's son with Bacchus) were pulling him by the hand to go and play with them outside. Onyx and Luna, even though a few years older than the other three, also must have gotten curious about the new kid who was their age so they decided to tag along.

Atlas looked unsure on whether to come with them or not - after all, he'd been instructed to sit by the bar as the adults talked. Anxiously, he looked to Freed and Laxus for permission.

Freed only smiled an encouraging smile, while Laxus nonchalantly waved him off.

Atlas beamed, and finally let the other kids lead him outside.

"Oi - Gertie, Vin, Gunnar!" Laxus called, making the mentioned children stop in their tracks. "Take it easy on the new kid, you hear me?"

All three saluted dutifully. "Aye-aye, Master Teacup!"

Laxus rolled his eyes. That was one time. They're never letting that go, are they?

"Onyx, Luna." Freed chimed in. The other two blinked up at him. "You're the older ones, so you're responsible. Don't go anywhere too far, okay? I have to take him out on an errand soon."

Onyx only nodded, probably uninterested. Luna smiled in understanding, and the two followed their friends outside.

Looking at the two men, Mira couldn't help but giggle.

"Are you two sure you won't be adopting him? You already play the parts."

When they both narrowed their eyes at her, she laughed out loud and threw her hands up in mock surrender.

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02.

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"Uhhh… Onyx said I should sleepover."

They were in the middle of shopping for a few choice clothes, a pair of shoes, a new backpack, and some necessities. Freed's gaze lifted from the rack of kids' shirts to settle on the boy he was buying them for.

Atlas was looking down, fiddling with the tattered hem of the jacket he wore, one of the few decent items of clothing he had with him.

"He did?" Freed asked gently, his tone interested. He had to let the boy know there was nothing wrong with speaking up and whatever he voiced out would be listened to.

"Yeah. He did."

"Do you like Onyx?" Freed smiled. Out of the kids, he expected Atlas to get along best with the easy outgoing ones like Luna, or Gunnar. Elvin was too meek, while Gertie had a very strong personality. But he guessed maybe it was natural for Atlas to take to another boy the same age as he was. Onyx was normally quite aloof, but he warmed up fast to people.

"Um. Yeah. He's… cool." he scratched his head sheepishly. "He said we could be friends."

"That's good. How about the others? You like them too?"

"Yeah. They're nice. They said we're friends now, too."

"Well, then. Friends do sleepover all the time." Freed mused, crouching down so he could look the child in the eye without Atlas having to look up. "Do you want to sleepover?"

Atlas bit his lip. "Can I?"

"Of course. But Onyx lives with his mom, dad and little sister-"

"Oh." Atlas looked down again. "Will I bother them?"

Freed quickly shook his head. "No, no. I don't think so. But well... we'll have to ask them, won't we? They're very nice people, and you're Onyx's friend, and you won't be bringing trouble, right?"

"Yeah."

"I'm sure they'll like you. Still, we're going to ask, alright? And if Levy and Gajeel - that's Onyx's parents - if they say 'yes', then you can sleepover with Onyx. Okay?"

Atlas smiled back and nodded. "Okay."

Levy agreed almost instantly when Freed found her in the library. It looked like Onyx had taken initiative in telling his mother that he wanted to invite his new friend over, and Levy was more than happy to welcome the boy.

"No problem at all! He can stay as long as he wants to!" Levy assured Freed. "You guys are still finding somewhere for him to stay, right?"

Freed nodded. "We're considering Cana's, or the orphanage. But we thought it'll be good if he's with friends and family until he's comfortable with the new environment..."

"Well, don't worry about that. Onyx is very willing to share his room." she said with an amused smile. "He said he had to fight Luna-chan and the other kids for it. It looks like they all want to keep him."

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03.

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Atlas ended up staying with the Redfoxes for a week. He would have stayed longer, but Luna insisted that Onyx share their new friend with her. So then it was a week with the Dragneels, and then with the Fernandezes when Gertie and her twin big brothers Glenn and Ethan convinced their parents to take Atlas in for a couple of days too.

"So… what, the kid's just couch-surfing right now?" Cana asked one afternoon in the bar, having snacks and chatting with the rest of the Raijinshuu save for Freed.

Freed was on a table surrounded by children: Atlas, Luna, Onyx, his little sister Linnet, and Freed's godchild Ellie. He was teaching them about script magic and runes. All of them except for Atlas already have background knowledge courtesy of their parents or their own interest on the topic. At the moment, Onyx and Luna were teaching Atlas some basics, Ellie guided Linnet, and Freed presided over all of them.

It was a normal scene in the guild, kids roaming around and asking some of the adults to teach them something.

"It's really more like he's been sleeping in different houses." Laxus finally answered. "He still spends all day here. Hanging around Freed, mostly. Then whoever won rock-paper-scissors gets to take him home for dinner and bedtime."

Evergreen laughed. "Is that how they decided it?"

"Probably." Laxus shrugged. "Least that's why he's at Erza's. Gertie beat your kids on rock-paper-scissors." he said, looking pointedly at Evergreen and Cana.

"Elvin's too shy to ask anyone to sleep over anyway." Evergreen smiled lightly. Her only son was much like his dad before his 'I-Am-A-Manly-Man' transformation.

"If Gunnar takes him home, he'll be sharing his room with two people." Cana snorted. "Asa already sleeps on his floor. Peony and the other two have taken over Dad's room while he's away."

Bixlow momentarily stopped cooing at Cana's three-year old daughter Cornelia, who was perched on his lap, thoroughly entertained by him using his magic to make her toy doll move. "Ya know, he can stay with me. I live alone."

His companions all looked at him, unimpressed.

It took him a beat before he realized. "Oh. Yeaaah, right. I'm always away on jobs. Yeah, yeah - good call. Not me, then. Would hate to leave the kid by himself."

"So what's his magic?" Evergreen turned to ask Laxus.

"Hasn't decided yet, but he's pretty strong." Laxus remarked. "He's already picking up runes, but he's curious 'bout everything else. He asks a lot of questions. And I mean a lot."

Cana grinned. "Standard kid questions?"

"That, and standard kid-who-got-introduced-to-magic questions." Laxus grumbled. "You should hear it. And Freed went on about how asking questions is good so now the kid never stops."

Laxus had spent quite a few lazy afternoons supposedly just chilling with Freed on their couch but all-too often, Atlas was draped over Freed's legs and they were busy having a Q&A.

How can Ig and Layla eat fire and Onyx eat iron?

Elvin can turn parts of him into animal parts. Is it possible to turn into actual animals?

Does Neve get cold from his ice make?

Everyone says Fleur is the scariest but Fleur is really kind?

Why is Brooke always gettin' naked?

Can Mary's eyes really turn me to stone?

Why does everyone tell me to avoid Glenn and Ethan? Are they mean?

When Luna's Plue disappears, where does it go?

Does it go to the same place where Gertie's armor and sword go?

"And?" Evergreen nudged Laxus this time, face thoroughly amused. She knew Laxus loved the kids but he was hardly the most patient person. "Do you answer the questions?"

"Freed does." Laxus shrugged. "But one time he was busy with something, and the kid was hanging around, so I had to do the answering."

His friends looked at him, expectant.

"It was the worst." he concluded. "Specially the legitimate questions. 'Cause I didn't know the answer either. How does Requip magic work?"

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04.

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For the first time in a while, the Raijinshuu went on a mission together. Lately there haven't been any high-level jobs coming in, but when a four-man mission arrived, Mira was quick to suggest it to Laxus, who had been complaining for a while about needing a break from boring Guild Master duties.

He grabbed his teammates and the opportunity almost immediately.

"Wait, where's Atlas staying this week?" Freed asked.

"Erza's." Laxus said, chuckling. "The contest for the week was a race. Naturally the evil twins won. Onyx was pissed."

Freed raised an eyebrow, but couldn't help a small smile. "You really keep track of that, do you?"

He shrugged. "It's entertaining."

It was. The kids had started a whole system to it. They'd draw lots on what the competition would be, whoever won got an extra sibling for the week. One of the older kids were always happy to facilitate. Sometimes they even joined.

It was very impressive to see Layla Dragneel beat all three of Erza's kids on a cake-eating contest. They were all younger than her and yet she showed no mercy. That was Heartfilia-Dragneel competitiveness in full force right there.

Best of all, Atlas wasn't even mildly weirded out. He just rolled with it.

So yeah. Laxus was not ashamed to admit that he kept up with his guild's 'junior members'. It was always quality entertainment.

In the morning of the team's departure for their job, Atlas surprised them by latching on to Freed's waist.

"When are you comin' back?" he asked, eyes wide and worried.

"We won't be gone long." Freed smiled. "A week at most, but we'll try to be back earlier."

The boy frowned slightly. "What will I do while you're gone?"

He had a point there. Atlas usually ran errands for Laxus, took lessons from Freed, or helped them sort guild paperwork when he wasn't out playing with the other kids.

"You help Mira and Fleur run the guild." Laxus said, reaching out to ruffle Atlas' hair. "They'll need help. You can do that, right?"

Finally the boy smiled, pleased that he was given a job too. "Yes, Master."

"And don't make too much trouble for Erza." Freed continued.

"Aw, you don't need to tell him that." Bixlow chimed. "He's a good boy. The twins make enough trouble for everyone anyway."

"That's true." Evergreen nodded.

In the end, they gave the boy a pat on the head, then they left.

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When they came back, Atlas surprised them yet again when he glomped at Freed as soon as he saw them.

Freed blinked down at the kid whose face was buried by his stomach. "Atlas? Are you okay-"

The boy looked up at him with a very serious expression. "Welcome back. Can I sleep here? The couch is okay. I'll be quiet."

Freed exchanged a look with Laxus before he pulled the boy to sit with him on the couch. "Of course you can. You don't want to stay with your friends tonight?"

The boy's shoulders drooped as he looked down.

Surprisingly, it was Laxus who crouched down on the floor to peer at the kid's face. "Hey, what happened? You had a fight?"

Atlas shook his head.

"It's okay if you don't want to tell us." Freed consoled, stroking Atlas's hair.

The boy shook his head again before mumbling, "I ruined Gertie's house."

Silence. He glanced at them very quickly then looked away again. He gulped before continuing, voice trembling.

"I-I'm sorry, I know you told me not to cause trouble, but I didn't mean it, I swear! They were so nice to me but I- I couldn't-... I didn't mean to-"

"Hey, hey. Calm down. We're not mad." Freed soothed. "Of course you didn't mean it."

"It's just- I was surprised, and got scared for a bit. 'Cause Glenn and Ethan, they-" He paused momentarily when he heard Laxus groan. "They didn't mean it too! They were just- They wanted to surprise me, 'cause they had like, something for me, so the lights were off and stuff, it was creepy. Then it was on and they ran and shouted and I got surprised and scared and I dunno how, I really don't - I just fell over and then the wall broke down."

"The wall… broke down." Laxus repeated. "As in, you... broke the wall? Of Erza's place?"

"I held on to the wall when I fell and it just… err… like that time when Fleur turned all scary and threw out some guys who were being rude to Peony but she missed the door so the guy hit the wall and the wall broke and we had to fix it up?"

Laxus let out a breath, while Freed sighed and started to explain. "I… I guess that might be your magic you accidentally released."

Atlas bit his lip. "I screwed up."

"No, you didn't." Freed said firmly. "Sometimes, even though we don't want to, we lose control of our magic because we got too scared or surprised, like you were. Sometimes that power could destroy things, like the wall. That's why we train to control them, so things like that don't happen. It was an accident. It was nobody's fault. What happened after that?"

"Their dad found us."

Laxus raised an eyebrow. "What did Jellal do?" he asked, eyes narrowing, because if Jellal made Atlas feel bad for an incident brought on by his Twin Spawns From Hell-

"He asked me me if I'm okay. I told him I'm sorry but he said it's fine. Then he grounded Glenn and Ethan."

"Good." Laxus grumbled. Count on Jellal to be sensible. "Did anyone tell you it was your fault? Did the twins get mad at you?"

Atlas shook his head. "They said sorry for scaring me."

"Did anyone get hurt?" Freed asked this time.

"No." Another shake of the head. "But I feel bad. They were nice to me and I broke their house and got them grounded."

Freed just chuckled while Laxus ruffled the boy's hair. "Accidents happen, kid. No one got hurt and so far no hard feelings. They can fix that wall just fine."

Atlas looked at them hopefully. "Really? It's fine?"

"Of course it's fine." Freed reassured.

"Yeah." Laxus shrugged. "You saw what happened when Fleur clobbered those jerks. We just patched up the wall. That's a pretty normal thing 'round here. You know we already lost count on how many times the Dragneels' house went on fire because Layla sneezed?"

Atlas finally laughed, still wary, but it was a smile nonetheless.

"Feeling better?" Freed asked.

"Yeah." but he frowned again. "Can I still sleep here? I don't… I don't feel like… going with them today."

"Yep." Laxus answered, finally standing up. "You can go cuddle Freed. He missed you."

Freed pouted and rolled his eyes as Laxus gave the kid one last pat on the head before heading off to change into more comfortable clothes.

As Laxus made his way to their bedroom, he heard the boy softly ask Freed, "How did your job go? What happened? Was it fun? Was it dangerous? Did you fight lots?"

'...and there go the questions.' Laxus sighed, smiling to himself.

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05.

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Atlas stayed with them for a while before his friends started complaining that he never slept over with them anymore. They carried on almost as if nothing happened, but this time it was apparent that his friends avoided getting Atlas involved in surprise pranks and jump scares.

Still, once in a while, Atlas didn't feel like being with a lively family and sharing a room with another kid. That's when he would turn up at Laxus-and-Freed's asking if he could sleep over ('The couch is okay. I'll be quiet. I'll behave.').

He usually ended up sleeping beside Freed on the bed, with Laxus taking the couch.

That night however, he insisted on sleeping on the couch, leaving the two men on their bed sleeping soundly as usual.

That is, until a sound of glass shattering was heard in the middle of the night. Laxus woke up first, sitting up, but Freed was behind by only mere seconds. He mumbled, "Atlas." and that single name got both of them rushing out the bedroom.

The nest of sheets and pillows on the couch was rumpled and empty. The vase that usually sat on a small table beside the furniture lay shattered on the floor. A sniffle was heard somewhere in the corridor.

Both men hurried towards the sound and it didn't take long for them to find Atlas huddled under a thick blanket, curled up on himself under a table in the hallway.

"Atlas?" Freed said in a gentle voice as he got down on his knees to peer at the boy. "Are you okay?"

Another sniffle. Freed's brows furrowed when he noticed that the child was shaking. He looked up at Laxus with worried eyes.

"Hey, kid. It's just us." Laxus said, joining them on the floor upon seeing his partner's expression. "You wanna tell us what's wrong? You don't have to. But we're here."

When the answer the came was strangled sob, Freed shifted a bit closer. "Atlas?"

Their questions were answered when, in the midst of the storm outside, there was a loud clap of thunder and a flash of lightning. Both turned to Atlas when the boy yelped, and then started sobbing again.

Freed only mouthed a small 'oh' in realization and looked at his partner. They had slept through most of the thunderstorm, but Atlas must have woken up and gotten scared.

Laxus, always better with action rather than words, reached out to pull the child out from under the table. His hold was firm and strong, and Atlas only stiffened as the man pressed him close to his chest. "C'mon, kid. It's okay. Nothing's gonna happen here. We got you."

Another thunderclap. Atlas whimpered and grabbed onto Laxus' shirt. Freed soothed him quickly with a gentle back rub. "It'll stop soon. Let's go back, okay? You can sleep with us on the bedroom."

Atlas nodded weakly, latching on to Laxus as the man easily lifted him up and walked to the bedroom, Freed in tow.

Despite the fog of sleep, by the time they had reached the room, Freed was ready with a simple set of runes that will make the room soundproof until sunrise. Atlas watched him cast the spell on the door and the window, then visibly relaxed when the sounds of the storm outside faded.

"Better now?" - a nod - "Let's go to sleep, then, okay?" Freed said, going back to the bed and arranging the covers over the three of them.

Atlas wiped his tears with his sleeve. "I-... I'm sorry I broke the vase when I ran-"

"It's fine. T'was an ugly-ass vase anyway." Laxus said, already making himself comfortable on the bed now that he and Freed had Atlas between them.

Freed blinked - that vase belonged to Laxus' grandmother and Laxus had mentioned that he was quite fond of her. Freed simply said nothing and pulled Atlas to him as they settled down.

"I can-... I can take the floor-"

"Nope, you're stuck with us tonight." Laxus grumbled, already half-asleep, draping an arm across his companions for good measure.

Atlas frowned a bit, and Freed smiled, guessing the reason. He may look smaller and may feel more awkward than other kids his age, but Atlas was already ten years old. Freed doubted the boy appreciated being treated like one of the younger kids, specially if he was trying to learn to be independent.

Still, the boy was too sleepy to complain, so when he snuggled closer, Freed just stroked his hair until all three of them drifted off back to sleep.

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06.

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It was five months in when Atlas found himself blinking down at a neatly-wrapped package handed to him by an excited five-year-old Mika Fullbuster.

"What's this, Mika-chan?" he asked, smiling at the girl. He had stayed with the Fullbusters a couple of times and he liked Mika a lot. Mika liked him too, always delighted to have him around when her older siblings brought him home with them.

One of Atlas' new treasures was a crayon drawing of him the girl gave him when he first stayed with them.

For the moment, Mika was grinning and bouncing slightly, her curly raven pigtails reflecting the movement. "S'a present! From Mika and Neve-niichan and Brooke-nee and Mommy and Daddy. Mommy says sorry it's late. Mommy got busy."

Atlas blinked down at the package. "For me?"

She nodded happily. "Yup!"

He looked around, not finding Juvia, Gray nor any of Mika's siblings. Then again, it wasn't uncommon for the younger kids to be hanging around the guild while their parents or guardians were out on a job.

"You should open it."

Atlas looked up to see Laxus lifting Mika up to settle her on his lap as he sat on the bench next to him. "I… I don't know- What's it for?"

"Probably a welcome gift. Juvia likes making stuff for everyone." Laxus shrugged, absently twirling one of Mika's curly pigtails with a finger. "Go on. So Mika can report back to her mom. Right, kid?"

Mika looked at him and beamed. "Right, Master!"

Atlas nodded and opened the present, careful not to tear the wrapping because it was done so nicely. His mouth fell open as he took out a knitted long-sleeved button-up cardigan. It was dark purple with a yellow stripe across the chest and sleeves.

Laxus whistled in approval while Atlas felt the soft fabric, admiring how warm it was.

Mika was smiling as she also reached out to pat the item, obviously enjoying the feel of the cardigan in her fingers. "D'you like it? Mika picked the colors!"

Atlas nodded as he smiled at her. "It's great, Mika-chan."

"Ah! You opened it already!" chimed in a familiar soft voice as Juvia rushed towards them excitedly. Gray trailed after her on a more sedate pace. He was talking to Ig and Neve, who had accompanied the couple on their job.

Mika hopped off Laxus' lap to welcome her mother. Juvia scooped the girl up in her arms and pressed a kiss to Mika's forehead.

Atlas only smiled sheepishly as the woman sat on his other side. "Thank you for the present, Juvia-san."

"You're welcome, Atlas-kun." Juvia replied, resting a hand on the child's shoulder. She turned towards Laxus then. "Juvia thought something warm would be nice, since it's almost fall, then winter."

Laxus nodded. "That's real nice of you as always."

The woman then addressed Atlas again. "Have you tried it on? Juvia is worried Juvia might have made it a little too big…"

Atlas set aside the wrapper as he stood up and slipped the cardigan on. It felt really warm, but the sleeves fell past his hands and the hem ended below his hips.

"Ah, Juvia knew it." Juvia smiled apologetically. "But maybe Juvia can still adjust-"

"No, it's fine, Juvia-san!" Atlas insisted. "I-... I like it!"

Juvia blinked. "Really? But it doesn't fit too well-"

By then, Gray was standing behind her. He settled a hand on her shoulder, catching her attention. "Nah, it's fine. That means he can still grow into it."

Laxus agreed. "Yeah. You can always roll the sleeves up while it's still too long."

Juvia considered that. "Oh. That sounds fine, then? Are you sure this is okay for you, Atlas-kun? Juvia really won't mind making some adjustments."

The boy only shook his head and sent her a smile. "Y-Yeah, it's good."

Juvia smiled back, touched that her work was appreciated. "Okay then." she said, passing her daughter to her husband first before reaching out to neatly roll up the cardigan's long sleeves. She pat it down when she was done, then leaned back to appraise it. "There we go."

Gray ruffled the boy's hair. "Lookin' good, kid."

Atlas looked down fondly at his new clothing, before grinning up at them. "Thank you, Juvia-san, Gray-san. I'll take good care of it."

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07.

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"Hey, squirt."

Atlas looked up from his exercise runes to see Laxus standing by the doorway, cup of coffee in hand. "Yeah?"

"You doin' anything today?"

The boy took a moment before answering. "I told Ellie and Luna I'll go with 'em to buy some stuff. They're gonna make cupcakes for Elvin's birthday."

"Alright." Laxus acknowledged. "When you're done, come back here. Gimme a hand, we're cleanin' up some stuff in the attic."

"Okay." came the curt reply, and then Atlas turned towards his papers again.

When Laxus came back to the kitchen, he was greeted by Freed's pointed look. "What?" he asked, innocent.

"Cleaning the attic?" Freed asked, turning back to cooking lunch. It was a lazy day for both of them, and Freed wasn't feeling up to anything complicated so he was going with some simple stir-fry. "What are you up to?"

"Nothin' you should worry your pretty head about." Laxus answered, standing behind the other man and loosely embracing him from behind.

Freed hummed appreciatively. "Mm. No, really, what is it? It's weird, you hate cleaning."

Laxus thought about it. "Story time."

"Oh, dear. You saying 'story time' always makes me worry."

Laxus rolled his eyes, giving the shorter man's waist a soft squeeze. "No, listen."

Freed laughed. "Okay, I'm listening."

Laxus took a short sip from his coffee first and was about to start when Ellie came bounding in. The twelve year-old was looking particularly chipper, grinning brightly. "Good morning, Master! Uncle F! I'm gonna borrow Atlas for a bit, okay? We're going shopping for cupcake ingredients!"

Both men turned towards the girl. Freed smiled. "Okay, Ellie. Have fun."

"Thanks! Bye! Enjoy your day-off!" the girl saluted, not wasting any time as she grabbed Atlas' hand. "Let's go, Atlas!"

The boy barely managed to wave goodbye at the two men before he was dragged out by the girl.

"He grew taller." Freed mused, turning back to his cooking.

"He's fillin' in nicely." Laxus agreed. "Must be everyone stuffing him with food since he got here."

"He'll catch up to Luna and Onyx soon." Freed chuckled. "He's pretty much almost caught up to Onyx, actually."

"Metalhead Junior's gonna be so upset when he realizes his best friends are both gonna be taller than him forever."

"Don't say that, he's yet to hit his growth spurt."

"Naw, I bet you he's gonna get the McGarden height."

Freed only sighed before nudging the other man with his shoulder. "So, what's the story behind your planned attic cleaning adventures?"

"Well," Laxus started. "Couple of days ago, I was havin' a fucking terrible day. The absolute worst-"

"-when you had to sit through a council meeting and then got the report that Team Marygold accidentally destroyed a building on the job again?"

"Exactly. Imagine bein' grilled about property damage and just when you're almost done explainin' to the old geezers, they bring up a fresh new scoop. Amazing, right?"

"Mm-hm. So you were having a bad day. Then?"

"I came home with the intention to go straight to bed, preferably with you. Maybe make out and then some. Except my bed was occupied. By you. And some kid lookin' very cozy."

"Oh my God, Laxus." Freed laughed. "Are you really jealous of a kid?"

"I'm not jealous." Laxus corrected quickly. "I'm. Uh. Slightly annoyed. S'it wrong to feel annoyed when I can't have you to myself on our own bed?"

"It was one time. We were taking an afternoon nap. You could've joined us!"

"I'm a horrible person but not so horrible I'll subject a kid to the sight of us having-"

"Don't go there. And how does this connect to you cleaning up the attic?"

"I checked it. It's big. We're gonna clear out the unimportant stuff. Have someone take it to the junk shop. The others we can transfer to that storage in the basement near the library since there's plenty of space there. There's an old wardrobe and a dresser I'll just ask Laki have a look at. Also there's already an old bedframe, it's steel and it still looks fine, we just need to clean it up and then buy a mattress."

Freed momentarily stopped his cooking, turning the stove off and putting the pan down. He tilted his head to look at Laxus. "You're converting it to make a bedroom for Atlas."

Laxus raised an index finger to correct him. "I'm converting it to make a guest bedroom. The kid can use it when he's stayin' over. Better than the couch."

Freed raised an eyebrow, unimpressed. "It's for Atlas."

Laxus coughed. "No, it's not. It's… for anyone who needs to stay just in case Cana's is full, or they're too tired or sick to go home, or whatever-"

"You're a terrible liar. Why are you even trying?" Freed smiled fondly, this time turning so he can settle his hands on the taller man's shoulders. "I think it's a good idea. He's okay with staying with other kids now, but he's turning eleven soon, twelve, then he'll be a teenager. I'm pretty sure he'll start to want to have more privacy eventually, but he'll be too young to live on his own. I know Cana's willing to take him in, but I think her hands are full with her own two kids plus Asa and Peony. Offering him a room here makes sense."

Laxus shrugged. "I was gonna do it for more selfish reasons, but that works too."

Freed snorted, clearly not buying it. "Keep telling yourself yourself that."

"You know I will." Laxus chuckled lowly, leaning down to press their foreheads together. He settled his coffee mug on the nearby counter so he could pull his partner closer. "So..."

"So..." Freed echoed, wrapping his arms around Laxus' neck. "It's our day-off and the kids are out for awhile."

"That sounds like we're their parents."

A hum. "Maybe we are, a bit."

Laxus considered that and easily conceded. "Yeah. A bit." he mumbled, before catching the other man's lips with his own.

Later, Atlas will wonder why the two were only starting to eat lunch when it was already the middle of the afternoon.

.

.

08.

.

By the time the winter and holiday season rolled in, Atlas' stays in the attic bedroom had become more frequent and much longer.

When he asked if he could leave some of his things in the attic while he stayed with the Redfoxes for a week, Freed took that as a sign that it wouldn't take too long before the boy actually considered the room as his own.

Then the boy came back a week later with Onyx, asking Laxus if it might be okay to put up a band poster in the attic bedroom since Onyx's own room was already full of them.

"S'just, it's a waste? But we don't know where else to hang it up and-"

Laxus didn't let him finish. "You wanna know a trick to putting up posters and keeping 'em mint condition?"

When Freed found them that day, Laxus and the two boys were already done putting the new poster up the wall. Instead, they were busy digging through Laxus' old music collection from his teenage years and were having a very enthusiastic discussion about it while a nearby music lacryma was blasting off a loud classic rock tune.

Among the mess of records and beat-up headphones were some old posters that Laxus let Atlas and Onyx rifle through - ones that Laxus himself had put up in his childhood bedroom from way back.

Onyx paused at one and marveled as he took it out to look at the full artwork. "This is awesome! Atlas, you gotta put this up!"

Laxus grinned to himself - the kid has good taste.

"Eh? Uh-… I don't know." Atlas shrugged, looking warily between his best friend and his guardian. "C-Can we?"

"I don't see why not." Laxus answered nonchalantly. When both boys looked tentative, he finally sighed and waved them off. "Go, do it. Would be a waste to let it rot in that old box anyway."

He finally noticed Freed watching them. He stood up and left the kids to decorate the wall to their hearts' content.

"Welcome home." Laxus mumbled, wrapping an arm around the other man. "Job went okay?"

Freed melted against his side, releasing a small sigh. "Yes, it was over and done quickly." The embrace made him feel pleasantly warm after a walk out in the cold streets.

Their gazes went back to the two boys happily chattering away in the room.

Freed tucked his head on Laxus' shoulder. "I didn't know he liked music so much."

"No, that's actually new." Laxus told him. "Apparently Gajeel and Levy finally got Junior that guitar he wants so much, so he roped Atlas in and got 'im to listen to all sorts of stuff all week. And now they're obsessed. Kids."

"Kids." Freed repeated, chuckling. "Is he learning to play, too?"

"He didn't say. He really digs the music, though."

Then they heard Onyx exclaim. "Holy sheep! Master, where didja get this?!"

Laxus smirked as he saw both of the boys gaping while they lifted up a poster with actual band member autographs on it.

"I watched them play live." he answered, smug.

"Live?! As in you were there?!" Atlas marveled.

Then Onyx said, "Wow, Master, you're old."

Laxus' brow twitched. "You shut your pie-hole, Redfox."

Atlas also grinned. "Yeah. Respect your elders, Onyx."

Freed had to stifle his laugh while Laxus growled, "Are you getting an attitude, squirt?!"

They only beamed innocently at him before rushing off to stick the autographed poster on the wall.

"You laugh at my suffering." Laxus accused Freed, who was still trying hard to hide his amusement. Then he lowered his voice as he said, "We were wonderin' what to get for him for Christmas though, right?"

Freed blinked at the change of topic, but quickly picked up his partner's intent. "Yes, we were. You have an idea?"

.

Atlas hugged them both long and tight when he opened his first-ever Christmas present and saw a portable music lacryma and a pair of headphones.

.

.

09.

.

Freed always liked spending his free afternoons with Ellie. Evergreen and Elfman's third daughter was his godchild and they had always been close. Before Atlas, the girl used to be a prominent presence in the house until lately when she had gotten some friends and other hobbies of her own.

It wasn't that she didn't have friends before... Growing up, she was close friends with Neve, but they were also very different kids. While Neve started going on jobs with Ig, Ellie was interested in things other than magic. So her parents and guardians thought it was good for her to have friends outside their mage guild.

Ellie always had Fairy Tail as her extended family, but she had felt a bit out of place with kids her age outside the guild. They always wondered why, since Ellie was always a very friendly and agreeable child. So it made sense when she came out to her family as trans just as she was about to turn nine. It was a very young age, but they knew better than to invalidate how the child identified as. Everyone had been extra supportive and protective of her and made sure she knew that they accept her no matter what. She was always loved.

Now, Freed was happy that the girl was growing to be less of a loner while also being more independent, so he didn't mind it much when she started spending less time with him, with them.

Still, some things never change. Ellie will always be Freed's little girl and they still loved spending time with each other.

It was one afternoon when they were trying out a new recipe together that she asked him a question that gave him pause.

"So, whose name did you put on the papers when you adopted Atlas, Uncle F? Did you put both yours and Master's names? That's a thing you gotta do, right?"

Freed stopped chopping ingredients to look at the girl. Ellie may come off as cheerful and carefree most of the time but she was also smart as a whip and asked questions even an adult would hesitate to bring up.

"Ellie, we… didn't… adopt Atlas, exactly."

"Oh." she blinked, honestly surprised. "Really?"

"Yes. We recruited him. Of course, he can't be a formal member until he's thirteen, but he's been training. Officially older members can-"

"-bring junior members along as assistants on jobs." Ellie finished, well familiar with guild policies. "So you didn't adopt Atlas? I thought you did. Like, with the papers and everything since he got a room here and all…"

"Well, he's got no family left. Just us. The guild, I mean." Freed explained patiently. "The attic was free. He can stay as long as he needs to, and move out when wants some space for himself. As long as it's what's best for him, of course."

Ellie seemed to consider that first, then nodded. "Okay. I was just curious." Then after another second of consideration, she asked, "You and Master don't want kids then?"

If it were any other twelve year-old, Freed would be taken aback at the directness of the question - but, again, this was Ellie. "I don't think we do. Why do you ask?"

"You're so good with kids. With us." she answered with a small smile. "And Master would make a really cool dad."

Freed raised an eyebrow. "You think so?"

Ellie tilted her chin up slightly in a way that made her look very sure of herself. "I know so."

At that, Freed chuckled, the pieces clicking into place. "Okay. Ellie, what do you know that prompted all this?"

She puffed up her cheeks first before answering. "Um, it's just… the other day? When me and Atlas went with Master to shop in the market?"

"Yes, I remember, you three went to buy food and groceries, right?"

"Yup." a nod as the girl focused on the task of mixing some choice ingredients in a bowl. Freed watched her, approving her neat work. "T'was when we left Atlas behind in another stall to wait for some of the meat we bought to be chopped and wrapped but he got in trouble catching up to me and Master."

Freed's brows furrowed at this. He didn't remember Laxus telling him anything about Atlas running into trouble lately. "What kind of trouble?"

"He broke someone's stall. I think he lost control of his magic a bit." Ellie said. "But he didn't mean it! A lady got her bag stolen and Atlas tried to help her so he chased the thief but when he caught up the thief tried to hurt him… he must've panicked so he threw the thief off him and hit the stall."

Freed took in the information and prompted Ellie to continue. "What happened next then?"

"Well, I think the lady got her bag back but the thief ran off and Atlas got scolded by the man who owns the stall even though he was just trying to help. Then Master talked to the angry man and he was like 'You gotta problem with my kid?'"

Ah. There it was. Classic Laxus.

"I guess the the man knows Master because he backed off right away. Then Master just told the man to send the bill to the guild but the man said sorry he didn't know Atlas was Master's kid. Then Master told Atlas that he did great helping the lady. She thanked him too."

"And because of that," Freed finally spoke up. "You're convinced Laxus will be a good dad?"

"It was really cool! And dad-like!" the girl pouted. "You don't think so?"

Freed considered it for a while before letting out a small smile himself. "Maybe. It was indeed… cool and dad-like."

"See?"

"Mm-hm. Fine, you win this round, young lady." Freed said, finally returning to his chore. "You should tell him that, by the way."

"Tell Master?"

"Yes. Tell him he's cool and dad-like."

She blinked. "Why? Will he like it?"

Freed laughed. "No, he'll act grumpy and deny it as hard as he can."

Ellie paused for a bit before scrunching up her nose. "You just wanna see his face when I do it."

He smiled. "Clever as always."

"You two are both dad-like."

"What, me too?"

"Yup. Both embarrassing."

Freed only shook his head, but had to admit that his young companion had a point, so he didn't argue. "Do we embarrass you that much?"

"Yes, but I also think it's cute, and I love you guys a lot." the girl said, smiling sheepishly.

Freed couldn't help but return the smile and he reached out to tuck strands of silver hair behind her ear. "Aw, we love you too, Ellie."

"I know." she beamed. "Hey, what's Atlas' favorite snack?"

Freed blinked. "I… actually don't know? He seems to like everything he eats, though. Why do you ask?"

"He always goes with me to the market. I wanna make something he really likes, one of these days. As thanks."

"Well, he loves whatever you make. I know that much." Freed mused.

The girl seemed to consider it before nodding determinedly. "I'll make something special, then!"

Freed and Laxus had fun being 'embarrassingly dad-like' as they teased Atlas later when the boy blushed and stammered upon receiving a small chocolate cake from Ellie.

.

.

10.

.

"Master, boys are really stupid, huh."

Laxus had to keep himself from spitting out the water he was drinking. Thankfully he was able to gulp it down before setting his glass on the bar top and raising an eyebrow at the newcomer.

Luna was too busy frowning deeply to feel any remorse about surprising her Guild Master.

"Who pissed you off? Junior? The twins?" - because while calm and patient Luna Dragneel was hard to piss off, her teammates do manage to get on her nerves sometimes. Then, because Laxus thought himself a fair person, he also added, "Atlas?"

Over the past year, the boy had decided to train in Crash magic (he seemed to have a knack for destroying stuff if he so much as sneezed unprepared). He once went to join Gunnar to train with Gildarts and had taken to the lesson quickly. He still studied script magic on the side, specially since both Luna and Onyx were also keen on it.

Of course Team Luna was able to recruit him right away seeing as his two best friends were in that team. They still couldn't go on jobs on their own yet, what with three out of the five members still under thirteen, but they always managed to tag along with some of the more senior members who were weak to five pairs of puppy eyes.

Now the only girl of the team was visibly upset. About boys. It could only be due to her teammates.

"Yes." came Luna's answer.

Laxus snorted. "Which one?"

"All of them."

The guild master whistled, watching as the girl rested her chin on her hand and sighed. "Hah. What happened then?"

"Onyx punched Atlas. Atlas punched Onyx. I left them 'cause they won't listen to me. Then I stepped on one of Glenn and Ethan's prank traps and my skin turned blue and I had to call Aries for help 'cause it was horrible."

"One of these days, you should unleash Aquarius on those two."

"Aquarius is still mom's."

"How 'bout Loke?"

"Still mom's, too."

Laxus simply shook his head. Luna wasn't one of the vengeful types, anyway. Also knowing the twins, they probably didn't intend for Luna to fall for the prank. It was probably meant for Onyx or some other kid.

"So Onyx and Atlas are fighting then?" he asked.

That was new - those boys were usually thick as thieves. Onyx was Atlas' first friend. Atlas was Onyx's first friend his age who was a boy like him.

The girl grumbled but nodded. Really, she looked far too young to look like she was having a migraine, but Laxus supposed stubborn friends did that to you.

"Did Ig-nii and Neve leave for their job yet? Maybe I can go with them today?"

"Nah, I just saw them off a while ago. How 'bout your sister's team?"

"I don't wanna get in trouble."

Laxus nodded in approval. "That's fair." He looked around and caught sight of two familiar figures standing in discussion by the wall where the jobs were posted. "Oi, Fleur, Peony!"

Both girls turned towards him and blinked.

"Need an assistant?" he asked, jabbing a thumb towards Luna, who smiled hopefully and waved at the two older girls.

Fleur and Peony only exchanged a short look before they beamed back and gestured for Luna to come over.

"There you go."

"Thanks, Master!"

"Yeah, go be great or something."

Laxus wasn't too worried. Both Fleur and Peony were reliable and Luna was also a very sensible kid. They'll be fine. This was just like that time Team Marygold had a fight and he told Mary to go with Ig and Neve for the day and leave her teammates to pull themselves together for once.

Roughly an hour after the girls left, Laxus watched as Atlas slumped on the bar in front of him, nursing a block of ice shaped in a cutesy set of letters saying "ICE" against his bruised cheek. Obviously a product of solid script magic. He was using a fluffy towel to hold it in place.

Laxus only crossed his arms across his chest. "So who won?"

"Nobody. Lin found us and broke it off. Then she gave us some ice and took Onyx home." the boy said, sulking.

Ah. Laxus always knew Levy's daughter was a badass in the making. She was cute as hell but could definitely kick her big brother and his friends to the curb.

"Guess you both landed a punch, huh."

Atlas nodded glumly.

"Did you start it?"

"No." the boy frowned. Then after some hesitation, "A bit. We both... it just happened."

"I'm not going to ask for details." Laxus sighed. "But if you did something wrong, you gotta apologize. If t'was his fault, you gotta let him say sorry too."

"I think… I think it's both of us?"

"Then cool that hot head of yours off and make up. You're getting Luna upset and you made Lin - girl half your age - knock some sense into you. Not exactly somethin' to be proud of."

"I know." the boy whined.

"Do you?"

"I do!"

Laxus stared him down for a while longer before shrugging dismissively. "Good. Now go clean up. Freed will freak out if he sees you like that."

Atlas just nodded again before nodding and hopping off his chair, trudging towards their living quarters on the other side of the guild building.

.

"Master, boys are really REALLY weird, sometimes."

Laxus groaned as he looked at Luna, who looked like she was nursing a headache, much like the day prior.

"They still fighting?"

The girl shook her head. "No. They're fine now."

"Huh. Then what's wrong?"

"A while ago, I thought they were going to fight again, but they were quiet and they just looked at each other."

"So… they're not punching anymore. Isn't that good?"

"I guess?" Luna said, unsure. "Then Onyx was like 'you suck' and Atlas was like 'you're a jerk' and then they're okay. They just asked me if I wanna go train or tag along with someone on a job."

Laxus simply snorted. "I'm gonna assume you said 'no'."

"I said 'no' because they were so weird! Then they were like 'okay' and they went off to hang out together. That's so… Why are they like that?" Luna looked at him for an explanation.

With a sigh, Laxus simply reached out and ruffled her pink hair. "Just be happy they made up."

"Yeah. But are they… okay?"

"Like you said." the man chuckled. "Boys are weird."

.

.

11.

.

"Laxus?"

"Mmwhat?"

"Um, yesterday, Atlas and I had a… talk."

A hum. "What kinda talk?"

"You know… the talk."

That made Laxus shift so he could look at his partner. He and Freed were curled up together on the couch that evening, Laxus draped over Freed's form like some kind of big heavy blanket. They were both tired - Laxus came from another meeting with other Guild Masters and Freed had spent his day working on a job to create a rune-based spell that required lots of research.

"The… talk." Laxus said, leaning up to peer at Freed's face. "Wait, you mean that talk?"

Freed let out a breath. "That talk, yes."

"Were we supposed to do that?"

"Well. He's almost thirteen. And living under our roof. Who else will do it?"

"Yeah. But. Still. Just-…" Laxus furrowed his brows. "Really? You did that? Why?"

"He asked." Freed shrugged. When Laxus only looked more confused, he continued. "He didn't exactly ask to be given The Talk, no - but he had… some questions. Of course he does. He was quite shy about it, but I told him it's natural to be curious about those things. We both had the afternoon free, so I asked him if he wants to sit down and talk about it. He agreed."

"How'd it go?" Laxus asked. When he saw Atlas earlier, the boy didn't seem any different than usual.

"I think it went well..." Freed mused. "A bit awkward, but he's a good listener. You know him. And he actually knew quite a bit about some of it already. He-…" - a pause for a sigh - "We often forget that he didn't exactly spend his first ten years in the most child-appropriate environment."

"What d'you mean?"

"He told me that when he was… seven? Eight? Around that time, he worked for a bit in a brothel of some sort. You know, errands and cleaning jobs. That… might have exposed him to some things, I suppose."

Laxus closed his eyes and sighed, running a hand through his hair. "That's… we didn't know that, before, right?"

"We didn't." Freed answered, gently brushing Laxus' hand away so he could stroke the blonde's hair back into order. "Don't worry, he didn't look too affected by it. He was more curious than anything, as usual. I only had to explain some things properly. I tried to let him know it's perfectly okay to have questions and to want to talk about it. It wasn't as terrible as you think."

"Well, I remember the first time Ever told us she had that talk with Fleur. She said it was awkward as hell." Laxus said with a low laugh.

Freed chuckled at the memory. "Don't forget Natsu and Lucy at a loss with Ig."

"Gramps did it for me… and Cana, Gray, Levy, Natsu, Erza, Mira and Elfman-… holy shit." Laxus shook his head. "How did he manage."

"Well, Master Makarov was always a miracle worker." Freed smiled.

"I'm serious, though." Laxus started, tilting his head slightly to press a kiss on the hand that was stroking his hair. "I'm lucky the kid didn't ask ME - I wouldn't know how to explain half of the stuff properly."

"You give yourself too little credit." Freed said as he stroked his companion's cheek. "I think you would've done fine."

"I probably would've wanted to die." he leaned forward, brushing their noses together as he let out a small smile. "Heh. I think I lost count of how many times you've saved my life already."

Freed laughed at the statement as he wrapped his arms around the other man's neck. "Did you just equate death with giving a kid The Talk?"

"Yeah, 'cause I suck with kids."

"No, you don't."

"I totally do."

"Are we really going to argue about this, or are you going to kiss me?"

It took little effort to lock their lips together in a slow, languid kiss. They shifted their positions to pull each other even closer, their kisses gradually picking up pace, hands starting to roam.

They had never been so thankful that they were going for slow and easy because that made it easier to stop and withdraw when Atlas walked into the room.

The boy was listening to music via his headphones and was munching on a snack when he saw what his two older housemates were up to.

After a moment of awkward silence in which Freed and Laxus remained still on the couch simply waiting for Atlas to say something- anything-...

Atlas slid his headphones down and then said: "Please don't do the sex thing in the couch. It's weird."

With that, Atlas continued on his way to the kitchen.

Laxus looked at Freed, struggling to hold back a laugh. "You think so? It's my couch, though. I can do what I want with it." he called back to the boy who was grabbing a bottled drink from the fridge.

"Stop." Freed whispered, trying to sound chastising but he was much in the same state, trying not to laugh out loud.

Atlas looked at them pointedly when he passed by on his way back to his room. "Seriously. I like that couch."

Then he was gone.

They waited until they heard the attic bedroom door close.

"Sex thing, huh." Laxus said, his sniggers muffled against Freed's shoulder.

Freed pouted. "I swear I did not teach him to call it that."

Then thinking back on what just happened, the two finally burst out laughing.

They only stopped when they heard Atlas open his door again and shout, "I can hear you! Go to your room!"

.

.

12.

.

A month before Atlas turned thirteen, he came running inside the guild, beelining straight towards Freed, who was discussing something with Evergreen and Bixlow.

"Freed! Freeeeeed!"

Freed let out a small 'ow' when the boy crashed into him. "Yes, Atlas?"

"Guess what!" Atlas beamed, throwing his arms around his guardian's waist.

Freed shared a look with Ever and Bixlow - both of them were looking smug and amused - before looking back down at the boy. "Um… what?"

"I beat Master!" He didn't complain when Freed stroked his messy hair, trying to tame it into order.

Freed blinked. "Really now?"

"Well, no. Not really. But I got him!"

"Got him how?"

"He managed to land a punch on my shoulder." came from Laxus, who crossed his arms as he joined them. He didn't look hurt, but he was definitely annoyed.

It was Freed's turn to look smug and amused. "So he did get you."

Laxus groaned, rolling his eyes. "Shut up."

"Sore loser much, Guild Master?" Bixlow teased.

Freed only chuckled. "I guess you'll be doing a lot of chores this month, hm?"

Laxus just groaned again.

"Oh, my." Evergreen laughed. "Laxus, don't tell me you made a deal with a kid!"

"He did." Freed provided with a small smirk.

More groaning, and glaring towards the direction of the kid looking proud and latching on to Freed's waist.

"He told Atlas if he could land a hit while sparring, he'll do both of their chores for the month." Freed explained, hugging Atlas back when the kid snuggled into him.

"Ohhhh!" Evergreen and Bixlow exclaimed, teasing and laughing.

"Nice one, kid!" Bixlow cackled, high-fiving a still beaming Atlas.

Meanwhile Evergreen simply smiled teasingly at Laxus. "Did you get rusty perhaps, fearless leader?"

"Shut up." Laxus grumbled. "I was going easy on him."

Atlas started to frown, and Freed narrowed his eyes at his partner. "No, you weren't."

Laxus took one look at Atlas' confused face before sighing and confessing, "Yeah, no, I wasn't. Good job, squirt. You got me. Although you really shouldn't be punching someone covered by electricity."

"I know that now." Atlas said, looking down at his hand - it still hurt.

Then Evergreen and Bixlow watched as Laxus tried to bargain for those chores, Atlas tried not to give in to offers of snacks and money, and Freed tried to referee.

Evergreen leaned sideways to whisper to her teammate. "Do you see this?"

"I see it. Yup." Bixlow whispered back, grinning. "They totally adopted him."

"They really did."

.

.

13.

.

On Luna's thirteenth birthday, Luna, Onyx and Atlas all got their guild marks.

Atlas and Onyx could have gotten theirs when they turned thirteen several months earlier, of course - but the three friends had an agreement that they'll wait until they could all get it together.

"So Atlas and Onyx got their marks today too, eh?"

That came from Natsu as he settled on the seat between Laxus and Gajeel, who were both sitting quietly by the bar. They were watching as other senior guild members greeted Luna a happy birthday and congratulated the three kids who were excitedly going around and showing off their guild marks.

Both Laxus and Gajeel only grunted in answer.

"Mary, Brooke and Layla did the same." Laxus said. "Waited for each other's birthdays to get it together."

"Yeah." Natsu grinned, remembering his first daughter's proud face when she brought her two best friends home with her so they could show off their guild marks to him and Lucy. He let out a huff of breath. "Now it's Luna. Damn, that's all three of my kids you got, Laxus."

"I'm just grateful this one's not like the other two." Laxus rolled his eyes. "I don't wanna have three reports, for three separate teams, each with one of your kids, wreaking havoc on a job in one day."

Natsu pouted. "Hey, Ig's doin' great! And if anyone's gonna cause trouble, it won't be my Luna."

"Can't defend Layla, though?" Gajeel sniggered.

"It's in her genes. Layla and Brooke are carryin' over the Dragneel-Fullbuster Rivalry." Natsu said. "That's how Lucy says it, anyway."

"I think the word she was lookin' for isn't 'Rivalry'. It's 'Pettiness'." Gajeel quipped.

Laxus nodded at that. "Luna's got the devil twins on her team. That can't be good."

"Aw, you got a point." Natsu chuckled.

Surprisingly enough, Glenn and Ethan haven't pulled any pranks for the day yet. But it was probably only because their mother was present. Erza was happily talking to Lucy and Levy on another table.

"Whatever." Natsu shrugged. "So how's it feel to know your kids can go on jobs now?"

Gajeel and Laxus both looked at Natsu with raised eyebrows. It doesn't sound like a question that Natsu would ask, but it sounded fair. After all, between the three of them, only Natsu had prior experience in the matter. Luna was his third child to formally join the guild. Meanwhile, Onyx was Gajeel's eldest… and Atlas could be considered an… only child… of sorts.

"What're we s'pposed to say?" Gajeel scoffed. "Happy? Proud? You know I am. Kid's been real excited to join."

"Worried." Laxus answered, this time drawing both his companions' attentions. "I mean sure, they can't take that much risky jobs given their level, but-… Holy shit. Atlas is my kid, huh."

Gajeel snorted. "What're you talkin' about, of course he's your kid."

"Yeah, whenever we talk 'bout our kids, you brag 'bout how he's better than ours, so." Natsu shrugged. "Also, Gramps always called us his children. Atlas is totally yours."

Laxus only rolled his eyes. "Fine. Maybe. Whatever."

"Ya know Luna always gets annoyed when your kids tell her to stay back 'cause they're gonna protect her." Natsu continued. "She probably can kick both their asses if she wants to."

"I told her to just sic Aquarius on 'em." Laxus said.

"She's a nice kid. If she got angry, they prob'ly deserve it." Gajeel agreed.

"Let it happen. It'll be a learning experience." Laxus added. "Where are you goin' with this, anyway?"

"Nah, s'just..." Natsu scratched his head. "Your boys are always goin' on 'bout how they'll take care of her… so if they get her hurt, I swear they're toast."

The other two thought about that for a bit.

Then Gajeel said, "Y'know, you give the 'Break Her Heart, I'll Break Your Face' talk to your daughter's boys. Not to their dads."

"Yeah, I thought you'd have more experience at this - didn't you have Layla first?" Laxus followed.

Natsu groaned, shaking his head. "Layla's not givin' me anyone to give the Break-Your-Face talk to!"

"It's probably Brooke." Gajeel said. "You know that, right?"

"S'that why they're always up in each other's faces?" Laxus asked.

"Yeah? Half the time no one knows what they're fightin' about. Could be that's just how they flirt."

Natsu gaped. "What the hell, don't gossip about my daughter's love life? You're worse than the lady-types over there!"

Erza, Levy and Lucy were discussing about some new magic items being advertised in the Weekly Sorcerer. Probably contemplating whether it was worth the money.

Both Laxus and Gajeel shrugged again.

"How'd we even get there?" Natsu continued. "I was just askin' for permission to toast your boys if they let my girl get hurt!"

Laxus and Gajeel looked at each other, then back at the kids.

Team Luna had claimed a table, talking animatedly with Ellie, Neve and other teens only slightly older than them. Glenn and Ethan were perched on the table on either side of their three "new" members. Luna was sandwiched between her two best friends. Onyx had an arm draped casually across her shoulders, while Atlas was slumped on the table and letting her braid his hair.

Laxus and Gajeel spoke up at the same time. "Permission granted."

.

.

14.

.

Freed liked to think that the life-changing world-ending crazy events have very much mellowed down as of late.

Through the years, maybe there had only been a dark guild or two that picked a fight with Fairy Tail. Missions were relatively easier nowadays. Not too many suspicious retrieval or escort jobs that lead to demons... less secret deadly artifacts or parallel worlds or time-travel gates or some such. He wouldn't say there are none of those left at all - Freed was realistic, he knew that a good part of their world was still shrouded in mystery.

The point was - missions were less deadly and those jobs were carefully delegated to their S-class mages. Their guild members, most of the time, can take it easy, do jobs fit for their skill sets, learn, thrive and avoid stress.

Still though, even lower-rank jobs can tire the best mages out sometimes.

That was just it, Freed decided. It wasn't a hard job. It was just a… long job. The sort of job that shouldn't be difficult but required patience and precision and very long hours.

So God, he's tired. He's really, really tired.

Maybe he should just head straight to bed and sleep. Yes, he'll just ask Laxus or Atlas to take care of things for a while, they would understand-

Except when he got home, Laxus was sprawled out on the couch, eyes closed - probably sleeping, or trying to. His hair was a mess, his shirt was untucked and he looked downright distressed.

"Hey." Freed greeted softly, trying to see if Laxus was awake or not.

Laxus didn't open his eyes, but he replied. "Hey."

Freed managed a chuckle, approaching the other man and stroking his hair. "You look like you finished five S-class jobs by yourself."

"That's kinda what happened." Laxus said, humming as he leaned into his partner's touch.

Freed blinked, but through the haze of fatigue, he still tried to hazard a guess. "Paperwork?"

"Fuckin' paperwork." came the disgruntled reply, and finally Laxus opened his eyes. He squinted up at Freed. "What the hell happened to you?"

"What?"

"You look like shit."

"Wow." Freed deadpanned. "That… actually hurts."

"No, what? Don't do that." Laxus rolled his eyes. "You're gorgeous. Always. Just. Y'know what I mean."

Freed simply sighed. "I'm tired."

Laxus scoffed as he scooted a bit to the side. "You and me both. C'mere." He pulled Freed to sit with him on the couch and met no resistance. Freed leaned tiredly against him with a deep sigh.

Neither of them spoke for a while, just sitting together, too tired to get up and transfer to the bedroom.

They were already well on their way to completely dozing off when they felt the couch dip under another weight. Laxus only groaned in question while Freed lifted his head slightly to see Atlas on the other side of the couch, body bent sideways as he leaned against the couch's armrest, hugging a throw-pillow to himself.

"Atlas, you okay?" Freed asked softly.

"Tired." the teen mumbled.

"You too, huh?" Freed chuckled. "Get over here, then."

Atlas looked at him shortly, hesitating. That was new, but then again he was almost fourteen - maybe he's growing out of the cuddly phase.

Nevertheless, he still gave in easily, crossing the short distance between him and his guardians, ducking under Freed's arm, laying his pillow in the man's lap first before letting his head drop there. He only hugged his knees to his chest, curling up to a ball and sighing as Freed stroked his messy hair, letting it loose from the tiny ponytail before combing the blonde locks with his fingers.

"How did the job go?"

"Went fine." Atlas mumbled against the pillow. "Just… did a lot of stuff so… got tired."

Freed didn't ask past that, just continuing running his hands through the boy's hair. He tilted his head to snuggle against Laxus, who shifted to a more comfortable position now with two people leaning on him. Freed tucked his head on Laxus' shoulder.

"What're we doin' about dinner?" Laxus asked.

"Sleep?" Atlas suggested.

Freed let out a soft laugh. "It doesn't sound so bad."

"Huh." was all Laxus said, throwing his head back again and closing his eyes. "We're gonna eat tons for breakfast tomorrow."

He was answered with hums that somehow sounded like agreement. All three of them fell asleep right there on the couch.

.

.

15.

.

Atlas was fifteen-turning-sixteen and honestly, Freed and Laxus should have known it was bound to happen eventually.

"I got dumped today."

Freed looked up from the book he was reading and Laxus momentarily stopped munching on a cookie from the tin of treats Ellie had left them that morning.

Atlas was frowning as he plopped down on the empty loveseat.

"Really?" Freed asked. "We didn't even... know you liked someone."

"What? 'Course we did." Laxus retorted, passing the snacks to the teen, who accepted it eagerly. "Luna dump you for Junior?"

Atlas blinked as he took a cookie before giving back the container. "It's not Luna." he said as he took a bite. "I help Luna dump guys, though. 'Cause there's a lot of 'em and Onyx is too chicken to 'fess up."

His guardians just stared at him in question, so he continued. "It's actually really terrible 'cause, like, they both like each other and I know it and they know that I know but they made me promise not to tell the other one and it's just. Terrible. I should lock them in a closet together. Glenn and Ethan said I should. But if I do it, Glenn and Ethan will think I follow their advice and I know they'll keep giving more bad advice after and bug me to do it again. So I just... leave them alone. Like that."

"Huh." Laxus thought about it. "Always thought you and Junior are gonna fight over the girl eventually."

At this, Freed squinted at his partner. "I didn't know you had thoughts on that."

"Just came up from time to time." Laxus shrugged. "And hangin' out with Mira doesn't help, okay."

Freed just chose to dismiss that as he turned his attention back to the teen absently eating a cookie across the living room. "So it's not Luna - who's this lucky person of yours then?"

"A girl." he answered. "Abby. She's not from the guild, though. One of Luna's girl friends."

"You asked her out?"

"No, she asked me. Like, last week. I think. Luna told me to let 'er down like… kindly… if I was going to say no, but when Abby asked she was really nice so I thought why not?"

"A girl asked you out." Laxus repeated with a smug grin. "So you're quite a charmer, huh."

"I'm not." Atlas grumbled. "But we went out today and I think I got dumped."

"I thought she liked you?" Freed asked, concerned.

"Yeah she said so." Atlas shrugged. "I must've done somethin' wrong 'cause she got upset and told me she's sorry and she can't do it and then she… left? I swear I don't know why! We were just having lunch in that place she likes and she asked about what we do in the guild and stuff. Then that happened."

"That's weird." Laxus remarked idly.

"Well," Freed started, trying to come up with something more useful. "Maybe you could tell Luna what happened. Tell her you didn't know what you did and ask her to check up on her friend."

The teen nodded, knowing that Freed will never give him wrong advice. "Yeah, I'll go do that, I guess."

"Do you… actually like her, though?"

Atlas just shrugged. "She's… really nice. And stuff."

Freed's expression softened, and he exchanged a short glance with Laxus. "I'm sure she is, if she's Luna's friend. But do you really want to date this girl? Do you think she's interesting? It wouldn't do to get her hopes up if you're only saying 'yes' to her to return her being nice to you."

Atlas looked down, leaning back on the loveseat, thinking. "S'just… everyone's so into it and like, if I say 'no' I'm gonna have to explain to 'em why… you know?"

"Kid." Laxus spoke up this time. "There's a lot of reasons to start going out with someone, but 'why not' won't cut it in the long run. You don't have to do it just 'cause all your other friends are doing it too."

Atlas groaned. "I'll feel like a jerk if I dump her, though."

"You said you already help Luna dump guys."

"Well, they're not asking ME out. They're asking Luna. It's easy to like… scare them off."

"Believe me, kid. You'll feel like an even bigger jerk when you dump the girl AFTER leading her on."

"That's pretty solid advice." Freed admitted with an amused chuckle.

"Ugh…" Atlas groaned again, this time against the armrest he was slumped lazily against. Then he sat up straight. "Can I have another cookie?"

.

Sadly, the 'Date Problems' did not end there. A month later, Atlas came home frowning with cheeks blushing furiously.

"WHY ARE ALL OF LUNA'S FRIENDS OBSESSED ABOUT THIS DATING THING?" he complained, going straight for the couch where Freed was, as usual, reading peacefully.

Freed simply blinked as the fifteen-year-old grabbed a throw-pillow, placed it on Freed's lap and promptly burrowed his face into it.

"Okay, what happened?" Freed asked softly, rubbing the boy's back - a habit by now.

"Like, five of them asked me out. What the hell." Atlas grumbled. "Why? Why me? Is it a prank? Maybe Glenn and Ethan set 'em up? But Luna said they all have a… a crush… on me. I dunno. Urgh, it MUST be a prank! And I ran away from it! WHY ME?"

Laxus almost spit out the iced tea he was drinking as he tried to hold back a laugh.

Atlas pouted at him but pushed through. "I said I don't wanna go out with anyone and WHY ME? They said I'm cute. I'M NOT."

"Aw, but you are." Freed couldn't help but coo, earning a displeased noise from the teen, who sounded embarrassed. "No, really! You're a very handsome boy."

Laxus tried harder not to laugh. "You say that 'cause you gave birth to him or whatever." This earned him a glare.

"Noooo, I'm not cute or handsome!" the teen shook his head. "Or. Hot. One of 'em said that. Ew. I'm-… Just. My face is normal!"

"You don't take compliments well, don't you?" Freed raised an eyebrow. "Also, you can have a normal face and still be all those things." he said, stroking the boy's hair like usual.

"You're growin' up to be a heartbreaker, eh?" Laxus teased. "You dump all five of 'em, then?"

"T'was a nightmare." Atlas groaned.

Laxus nodded. "And then you come home running to your mom's arms. Nice."

"I'm not a mom." Freed frowned.

Atlas stared Laxus down as he accusingly said, "You come home running to Freed's arms too. All the time."

Laxus stared back but didn't give up much of a fight. "Damn. You have a point."

Freed rolled his eyes at the two before looking at Atlas again. "Does it really bother you that much? You should tell Luna, so she could tell her friends you're really not interested. That it makes you uncomfortable to be approached like that."

"I did. Tell her. She said sorry, she didn't know they were gonna go and… do that. Flirt. With me. Whatever. Now I know why Onyx never goes out. Maybe I'll hide out with him? He won't mind."

"You should ask Ig for tips on how to deal with fangirls." Laxus said.

"Ig has fangirls?" Atlas asked. Although he supposed it wasn't so strange. Ig was popular and strong and tall and good-looking and friendly… "I don't want… fangirls."

"It's okay." Freed assured him. "But out of those five girls who asked you out… you really didn't like any of them? Not one bit?"

"One of 'em was a boy, actually. He's… pretty nice, too. Maybe Luna can introduce him to Neve so Neve will stop pining over Ig." the teen answered. "And no, I don't wanna date 'em, all I wanted was to go home and… I dunno, eat something. Probably- Wait."

Freed had to lean back quickly to avoid accidentally being headbutted by Atlas when the boy suddenly sat up.

"Has Ellie dropped by yet?" he asked.

"Ellie?" Freed blinked. "No, she hasn't. Is she supposed to?"

"Not really, but she's goin' shopping today and I said I'll go with her."

They watched as Atlas stood up and pat down his clothes, then walked towards a mirror and started tying his hair back in a little ponytail.

"You go out with Ellie a lot these days, huh?" Laxus asked, a hint of curiosity in his voice.

If Atlas noticed, he didn't give any indication. "She's cool. And I always get to taste her snacks first. Also that new store that just opened down the street? They sell good stuff but they're kinda rude to her."

"What? Is Ellie being bullied?" Freed asked, worried.

Ellie was a sweet girl, and she had lived in Magnolia all her life so most of the marketplace people were familiar with her. While most of them were very accepting of her gender identity, some were… less accommodating.

"Not… exactly? They're just… They look at her weird and sometimes they don't greet her back when she's just being nice. So she always asks me or Neve or Luna to go with her." the boy answered. "I don't understand how anyone can be mean to her. Like, what's their damage?"

Freed simply sighed. "It's good that you always go with her, then."

"Yup. I'm gonna go check, maybe she's at the guild hall. Or I'll just pick her up at her house-" he paused, then grinned slightly. "That's… the opposite direction of where Luna hangs out with 'er friends… Awesome."

Freed shook his head in amusement. "Take care. Um, enjoy?"

"Yeah, I'll be back before dinner!"

Just as sudden as his arrival, the boy had left.

Freed turned to look at Laxus, who was staring at the door in scrutiny. "Laxus? Anything wrong?"

Laxus looked back at him, lips still pursed. "You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"

Freed let out a chuckle. "Maybe."

"Really. Maybe?" Laxus deadpanned.

"It's too early to tell! They've always been close." Freed argued. He still couldn't believe that between the two of them, Laxus was the 'Invested-In-My-Kid's-Love-Life' parent.

"Hm… wanna bet?"

"Oh my God. Don't start again. You already lost to Gajeel and Natsu."

A huff. "Killjoy."

.

.

16.

.

It wasn't until almost two years later that the subject came up again.

"What happened to that girl Atlas was going out with?"

That came from Freed, who was standing by the bar at the guild, absently stirring a cup of coffee.

Laxus looked up from the boring paperwork Mira and Lisanna stuck him with and blinked at his partner. Freed was taking a break from teaching some new guild members about script magic… so yes, he might be tired but his question still sounded too random.

Laxus thought about it, though. "Uh… didn't they stop goin' out? 'Bout two, three months now, I think? Somethin' to do with… Ah. She was movin' away and they weren't really serious about it in the first place so they just broke it off. Wasn't so bad, really."

"Really, that was the last one?" Freed asked, a curious look on his face. "So right now, he's not dating anyone?"

Laxus shrugged. "Not that we know of. He usually tells us? I think?"

"Right… Yes, he does, hm."

Laxus raised an eyebrow at the other man's still distracted expression, then gave him a light nudge on his arm. "Why're you makin' that face?"

Freed paused for a while. Laxus noted that his companion was contemplating whether to talk or keep something to himself. After another nudge, Freed relented. "Nothing much, but… It's just… yesterday."

"Yesterday what?"

"I came home and I found him and Ellie cooking dinner..."

"Yeah. You told me already. Ellie helped out. But she went home after to eat dinner with her parents."

"I know, but… there's something different with them. They looked really… well, they've always been comfortable with each other but they were… working very closely? But when I arrived, they suddenly stopped, and remembered about personal space, it was… I'd say they were acting strange. Awkward, actually. And Ellie seemed to be in a hurry to go home, and Atlas agreed so quickly. It's almost like-"

"-they're keepin' something from you?"

Freed took a moment to consider that before nodding. "Yes. But I could be overthinking things." He just sighed, then took a sip of coffee. "I'm probably just overthinking. Maybe they just got really into cooking, and they were embarrassed when I caught them like that. And Ellie really wanted to go home because… I don't know, she has her own cooking to do? Right?"

Laxus mostly glossed over that last statement, instead choosing to look around the guild hall to look for either Atlas or Ellie. He spotted Ellie sitting with Neve, the best friends talking animatedly over drinks and snacks. Neve was reading a magazine and Ellie was pointing things out now and then. They were acting like their usual selves…

Now where was Atlas- Ah. Perfect timing. Atlas just came in. He looked around, made a mock salute when he noticed that Laxus and Freed were looking his way…

Laxus waved him off in dismissal, and the eighteen year old proceeded to weave through the small crowds and the tables, beelining towards Neve and Ellie. He tapped Ellie's shoulder and got both her and her companion's attentions. A nod in greeting towards Neve, then he leaned down to whisper something in Ellie's ear, and she nodded easily, taking the hand he offered. Ellie said something to Neve, to which Neve nodded, and Ellie kissed his cheek, stood up and let Atlas lead her towards the guild's main doors. Then they were gone, exiting the vicinity, Ellie tucked to Atlas's side. Neve went back to his magazine, but looked up again when he was joined by Ig who set a full meal on the table and started gobbling it up.

"Nah." Laxus concluded. "You're not overthinking it. That was… new."

Freed pursed his lips. "Oh. Really?"

"Wonder why they think they can't tell us. S'not like we won't approve or anything…"

"Maybe… maybe they're still figuring it out themselves?" Freed tried. "Let's give them-"

"-space? Time? Done." Laxus shrugged, then frowned. "Dammit, I would have won that bet."

Freed laughed, this time he was the one to nudge the man beside him. "Stop."

.

They didn't have to worry about space and time for too long, though.

Before leaving for his job the next morning, Atlas casually told his guardians that Ellie will be coming over to join them for dinner that day.

"Oh? Is there a special occasion or something?" Freed asked, exchanging a glance with Laxus across the table.

Atlas was already lacing his boots up by the door and he didn't face them as he answered.

"No? It's just… normal… dinner?"

It looked like Freed wanted to ask for more details, but Laxus held up a hand, effectively making Freed pause.

They heard Atlas open the door. "I gotta go now, Luna and Onyx are waitin' for me!"

"Alright." Laxus called back, then with a conspiratory look with Freed, he added, "Hey, kid, we love you!"

"I love you too! Bye!" - the door was closed, and Atlas was off.

"Y'hear that?" Laxus asked his companion.

"He loves us too?" Freed shook his head. "He's definitely up to something, then."

"Yep."

Not that they doubted that the kid loved them back, not at all - but in their household, the usual response to that was something along the lines of 'Eww, that's so sappy, you guys are weird.'

Laxus spent his day sorting guild business out with Mira. Freed spent his with Levy helping out Team Marygold, specifically Layla, review some technicalities on script magic for their new week-long job.

Freed was already cooking dinner when Ellie arrived and helped. Laxus came home weary with paperwork and Atlas followed not very long after, stomach grumbling.

Dinner was served, all parties digging in enthusiastically. As they ate, Freed and Laxus asked their younger companions about their day.

Atlas said the job went fine: Luna was awesome as always so she saved the day and Onyx was reckless as always so he broke his nose. Ellie had a part-time job in the local library and she was also studying to become a teacher. She shared a few interesting highlights of her day.

Then finally the two exchanged a look and then turned to Freed and Laxus.

Atlas cleared his throat before speaking up. "Um, actually, we have… something… for you guys."

"Something for us?" Freed blinked.

Laxus raised an eyebrow. "From... the two of you?"

"Yup." Atlas nodded.

Ellie smiled. "We… wanted to get something special, and it took us a while to think of it, but hopefully you'll like it."

Both adults blinked when Ellie reached into her bag and extracted an envelope, then gingerly pushed it across the table, towards the two men.

Laxus was the one who took it, snapping the little seal and opening it, before taking two narrow slips of paper. Freed leaned over to read the contents before both of them gaped.

"Atlas, Ellie!" Freed said, voice strained as he looked at the two grinning in front of him. "You shouldn't have!"

"This-" Laxus followed, expression also pleasantly surprise. "For us? What's-...? Why?"

"It's almost Uncle Freed's birthday." Ellie answered, still grinning. "We were wondering what to get for him..."

"And the other day when I went home you were a wreck on the couch." Atlas added, looking pointedly at Laxus. "You kept saying you're gonna retire and run away to some tropical island or something. For real. I asked when, and you said 'now'. Like, 'right fucking now', actually, is what you said."

Ellie laughed and nodded. "So we figured - a vacation! To give you guys a break! And so Master won't have to retire early! That reservation is on Uncle F's birthday week, so you can… um, enjoy the cruise and the island and stuff? Some of my friends have been there and they promised me it's a really, really great place."

"You guys." Freed practically melted, cooing at the two grinning 'children'. "This is so thoughtful of you. And I know this place too - it's expensive!"

"Well, almost dying on the job makes for more cash than usual." Atlas shrugged.

"Hey. That's not something you should be excited about." Laxus scolded lightly. "It was an S-class mission posted as a B-rank one because the fucker who submitted it wanted to pay less. Your team was lucky Ig and Neve caught up to you on time and saved your asses. We're never letting that happen again."

"Fiiiine." Atlas rolled his eyes. "It was fun, though."

"It almost gave Freed a heart attack." Laxus reminded him.

"Laxus almost killed the man who scammed us." Freed shot back. "If I wasn't busy with that heart attack, I'd have beaten him to it."

Laxus just threw his hands up, conceding. Then he shook his head at the two again, grinning warily. "This is- We love it. But you didn't have to cash in your savings just for us-"

"Oh, it's not just us two!" Ellie assured them. "Fleur and Ig pitched in! And Team Luna!"

"Also Team Marygold, they said it's the least they can do after… they said 'the latest incident', you probably know it." Atlas continued.

Ellie went on. "Plus Uncle Bix, he told us he'll probably forget your birthday as usual so it's better if he just contributed to the big present."

"So. There 'ya go." Atlas said, grinning. "My savings are decent. Well, halved maybe. Wasn't much to begin with. But it's fine." he waved it off. "I missed a lot of your birthdays before."

Freed's expression softened. True - since Atlas started staying with them 8 years ago, he had only started giving them little presents a year or two prior. Of course, they didn't demand, but it was touching that as soon as the boy turned sixteen and was getting paid for jobs well done, he made it sure that he had small gifts to give his guardians for their birthdays and for Christmas.

Laxus simply sighed and raised the two tickets again. He grinned. "Alright, we're takin' it. Thanks, you two. This is exactly what we need. We'll enjoy it. And you thank your friends and Bix for us."

The two exchanged giddy smiles and told them that it was nothing, and they deserve nothing less.

.

"So." Laxus started, voice low.

Freed looked up at the man beside him on the bed. He was just drifting off to sleep.

"So…?" Freed prompted sleepily.

"So they're not going out. They were just all over each other because they were runnin' around planning to surprise us and they had to keep it hushed and stuff?"

"Yes, Laxus. They're just friends who grew up with each other and they were acting strange because they were hiding something from us - which they never really did, before." Freed sighed. Really, though - it was amusing that the two struggled to keep something a surprise for them. They had both been really open kids growing up.

"Huh."

"Mm-hm."

"Holy shit, he's eighteen. And he's okay."

"Um… yes?"

"We raised a kid."

"Uh-huh."

"Together."

"That, we did." Freed chuckled.

"Never thought that would happen somehow. I mean, I always knew I'll end up babysitting at least a dozen spawns for others, but. Atlas."

Freed smiled softly as he nuzzled the other man's neck. "Atlas was a surprise?"

"Yeah." Laxus said, breathing deeply before pressing a kiss to his partner's hair. "And a good one at that."

Freed only snuggled closer as they fell asleep.

.

A few days after the wonderful week-long birthday vacation, while Laxus and Atlas were doing the dishes together after dinner, Laxus found himself chuckling as a stray thought came to mind.

"Y'know, you and Ellie were acting really weird when you were trying to keep your vacation gift secret, and Freed and I thought you were secretly dating."

Atlas paused for a moment, then he shrugged and continued drying plates. "Uh, we are? Dating. Kinda."

It was Laxus's turn to stop and look at his companion. "The hell, you are?"

"Well. Actually, um, not exactly. But… sometimes?" he tried. "We're… fake dating."

"What the fuck is fake dating."

"No, it's just… lately there's been this really creepy guy and one time I was with her when he was tryin' to make a move. He went like, 'Is this your boyfriend?' and I guess Ellie took the opportunity so she said yes, so of course I backed her up and went Angry Boyfriend at the guy."

"So you're like her boyfriend for show when jerks won't back off."

"Yeah? It's nothin' big, I did it with Luna once, too. Until Onyx said it was stupid and Luna kicked his ass and... they started dating after that. Joke's on them."

"So that's how it happened." Laxus mumbled to himself. He always wondered how those two figured out that they were pining over each other.

"Yep."

"And you're doing the same with Ellie right now?"

"It was one time. Or, uh, two… Wait, three times. Then some other times with different guys."

"So it's not one time."

"Okay, yeah, it happens often. Lots of jerks in the college and the library, would've thought they'd know better, right? They're supposed to be smart guys, they should get a clue that girls don't like 'em being creepy."

"Huh."

"And another time when we were out shopping, she met some of her nosy classmates from her old school and they were teasing her. She was feeling bad about it, I could tell. So we faked it 'till they went away. What is wrong with people, right?"

"Right." Laxus shook his head slightly.

He forgot how much pressure there was on young people around Atlas and Ellie's age. Teenagers can be shitty, but young adults could be downright judgmental sometimes. Admittedly, Laxus experienced a different kind of pressure at that age, he was already with Freed, and they were too busy rebuilding Fairy Tail with his family fight after fight. But Ellie was different - she wasn't always on the guild's secure, more accepting environment. She had mostly civilian friends and there were simply different expectations that came with that...

"It's fun, though." Atlas said absently. "Goin' out together."

"Hm." Laxus only hummed in reply, nodding casually. "That's good. You kids have fun while you can."

"You sound old, saying that."

"Shut up, squirt."

.

.

17.

.

And then, another two years later, on an uneventful morning, just as Atlas was about to leave for another job with his team -

"By the way, uh, Ellie and I are dating."

"Hm. Good." Laxus hummed in reply, nodding indulgently.

Freed didn't look up from reading the morning news. "The pretend relationship thing again?"

"No, like, actual real dating."

Then they heard a gruff voice from outside shouting, "ATLAS GET YOUR ASS DOWN HERE WE'RE GONNA MISS THE TRAIN!"

"...and Onyx probably woke up on the wrong side of the bed. So. I'm leavin' now, bye!"

"Be safe!" Freed called back.

After a moment of silence, Freed finally looked up from his reading to see Laxus grinning smugly at him while chewing his breakfast.

"You know-"

"-yes, Laxus, you would have won that bet." Freed rolled his eyes, but couldn't help the amused smile that spread into his lips.

Laxus smirked and handed over his mug of coffee when Freed gestured for it. "So what d'you think?"

Freed was quiet as he took a sip of the beverage, then after a while he finally answered, "I think they're gonna be fine."

.

.

finis

.


A/N: THESE DORKY OLD MEN. LOVE THEIR CHILD SO MUCH. HOLD ME.

Ellie and Atlas should be tagged Friends to Lovers and Slow Burn.

Idk what else to say here. I hope you enjoyed reading!