Thank you to those who read and a double thanks to those who also review. You people are the ones who keep me going (beside my own obsession with Laxus and Lucy and writing about weird couples that would be cute if they actually happened).
Chapter Thirteen: From Now On
Lucy was never particularly fond of crying as it was not only very unsightly, making her face swell and redden while smearing all makeup, but it never seemed to soothe her pain. Besides, with Laxus gone her days were back to revolving around the whims of her teammates, and they were dedicated to keeping busy. Lucy wondered if they noticed more than they let on—or at least sensed her melancholy—and were doing their best to surreptitiously comfort her. Whether they were or not changed nothing; she was depressed, yet somehow happy at the same time.
It was an odd stalemate between emotions that left her cheeks soggy and her eyes swollen, but also kept a smile on her face. Laxus' leaving was a raw wound that had yet to heal, filling her thoughts with flashbacks of their moment in his apartment. The master's words about his son and grandson also weighed heavily on her mind, shrouded only by her own father's appearance. He frightened her, demanded money, and brought back memories from her childhood that she'd tried so hard to repress. Yet at the same time a part of her was glad that she could relate to the exiled mage.
Her father was a proud man forced into hard times though and Lucy was nothing if not forgiving and generous. She found her father at Love and Lucky and attempted to, perhaps not mend the gap between them, but at least to offer a truce. If there was one thing she learned after the whole Laxus debacle, it was that she should never waste time being indecisive again.
So, after a week of crying, working locally, visiting her father, then crying some more, Lucy was at a decent place. Perhaps the greatest relief was that she had somehow managed to increase the deadline on her rent (after much begging and many promises to do better). Erza congratulated her on the feat with a job to hunt down a bounty, thus taking advantage of the extension in the best way. With a new direction, she headed out to the train station, luggage in tow.
She'd barely stepped onto the platform when Happy collided with her bosom, bombarding her with exclamations of Natsu's unfairness.
"He ate the whole thing!" he wailed, little paws waving, "swallowed it in a big gulp!"
"You were taking too long," was the Dragon Slayer's excuse.
"What are you guys talking about?" Lucy enquired, thinking that it would be best to start at the beginning. Erza ignored the whole affair, too focused on directing her mountain of luggage onto the train while Gray paused to answer since Happy was too busy babbling and bawling.
"His fish," he explained. Lucy sighed and looked down at the cat cuddling in her arms. Then she glanced at Natsu, who was anything but apologetic. It was going to be a long trip.
Boarding the train was about as flawless as usual (Meaning: Not. At. All). Erza bullied all the attendants about safety regulations, Gray kept stripping and picking fights, Happy continued to sob hysterically over his fish, and Natsu had a panic attack just before they were to leave.
"I'll walk!" he wailed, running for the exit. At least he wasn't trying to go through the wall again.
Lucy shot forward to block him. "Natsu, no!" she said commandingly, "Sit down!"
Her friend shook his head. "I'm dying! Hurp!" he gagged and covered his mouth.
"We're not even moving yet!"
"Just thinking about it—"
All thoughts and words ended promptly as Erza took it upon herself to whack his head. The Dragon Slayer collapsed in a heap on her lap. Gray went silent himself, sitting obediently while eyeing Natsu with pity.
"Such a commotion," the scarlet-haired knight chuckled, "Really, he should know better."
The Celestial mage took the time to let herself relax in the booth with her friends. Silence descended upon them, each lost in their own thoughts. After all, there was plenty of time to simply enjoy the journey. Lucy curled into the cushion, comfortable in her denim miniskirt, boots, and T-shirt, all of which had been purchased from the Fairy Tail gift shop. She leaned her head against the window, smiling grimly at the sharp coolness of the glass against her heated skin. Locking eyes with her reflection, the girl let her mind wander. And, of course, it went to the one thing that had occupied her mind since Fantasia.
What was Laxus doing? she pondered. Where was he? And will I ever see him again? Her fingers touched the window, brushing away the fog from her breath. Behind her reflected image she could see the landscape passing. Mountains in the distance framed forests and fields. The sky seemed to hang over it all, grey and heavy, thick and shifting slowly under her gaze.
Lucy bit her lip and pulled back to bury her face in her hands.
"I need to get over this," she mumbled.
"Get over what?" Happy asked. The blonde jumped and looked down at her lap. She'd forgotten he was still sitting with her. His large eyes blinked innocently up at her and she could not help but smile.
"Oh, nothing much," she replied in a mischievous tone, "Just this eternal fear for my rent."
He looked away while shaking his head. "I knew it. Greedy as ever." She could practically hear the unsaid comment of how there was no hope for her. Her brow twitched and her teeth ground together.
"What was that, cat?" she growled, viciously rubbing his noggin with her knuckles. The booth filled with chatter then as Gray sniggered and Erza commented on the expected length of their trip. Natsu snored on. Overall, Lucy felt that it was a good start to the job.
Laxus had never been fond of Oshibana. The whole debacle involving the toad duke had done nothing to help, leaving him with memories of his little adventure with Lucy and thus once more reminding him of his mistakes. However, the train from Magnolia to Oshibana was the first one he saw on his way out. Laxus suddenly found himself with a lot of spare time, plenty of money, and a wide world to explore.
Better make the best of things, he figured. Leaning against a pillar in the station, Laxus pondered the possibility of heading to Hargeon. From there he could hop on a boat to wherever. But where? The lightening mage sighed, letting his head drop against the cold tile.
Laxus hadn't truly put much thought into anything after his little mutiny had failed, though he was wishing he had. He wasn't really a tactician anyway, preferring to punch his opponents head on, overwhelming them with sheer power. He could come up with some decent battle plans when he needed to, but Freed had been much better at strategy in their little group. Laxus sighed again.
Was that his fate? Aimlessly wandering? To be like Gildarts, if Gildarts did not have a guild to return to? Laxus wondered what his grandfather would do if he simply returned to Magnolia.
A small form colliding with his leg startled Laxus from his self-pity enough to look down. The little girl blinked up at him from behind her stuffed monkey's ratted ear. Laxus blinked back, then scowled.
"Scram, kid. Back to your mother," he growled.
She didn't move, just kept sucking her thumb while staring at him with wide hazel eyes. She was blonde and small, perhaps even malnourished; it was difficult to tell under her baggy coat.
"Tilly!" another kid shouted, suddenly appearing around the wide hips of a passing woman. He was tall and skinny, also adorned in old clothes much too big for him. "Tilly!" His eyes found Laxus then, shifting only to take in the child when she moved to grip the mage's pant leg. "I found her, Daisy!" the boy called over his shoulder while rushing forward. Two other children seemed to emerge from cracks in the crowd and Laxus was hit with the urge to punt the smallest one away from himself and escape before he got involved. He could practically smell the trouble on them.
It was only the memory of Lucy that made him stay rooted in place. She would want to help them. He swore under his breath just as the group skidded before him, a dark-haired girl falling to her knees and hugging the toddler they called Tilly.
"We're so sorry, mister!" she gushed before looking down to scold the little one in her arms. "Tilly, don't run off!" she said. Tilly just kept sucking her thumb and Laxus began to wonder about her mental state.
"Why did you bring her?" the eldest boy hissed.
"She wouldn't let me go."
"She's slowing us down!"
Laxus disliked that the boy was trying his hardest to ignore him. "Why are you here alone?" Laxus growled out suddenly, forcing the four children to look at him. The eldest boy scowled back.
"Why? Do you mean, where are our parents? They're dead!" he snapped back. "Do you pity us yet? Or are you disgusted? Poor little street urchins never to know the love of a mother or protection of a father. Betcha your dad loved you!"
"Gene!" the girl tried to admonish him, but the second boy tugged her and Tilly out of the way, looking much more frightened than he should have.
Considering Laxus' father had not, in fact, loved him, the lightening mage found all patience with the little brat disappear. Before the kid could react, he snatched him up by the scruff of his neck. He pulled him close to glare into the boy's eyes, which were starting to widen in surprise and fear.
"Shut up, kid. Listen to your friends and keep your self-pity to yourself." Then he promptly dropped the boy on his ass and stepped over him, heading for the ticket booth, his decision finally made. Laxus was going to Hargeon.
"What the hell?! What are you doing here?" the familiar voice of an angry brat drew Laxus' eyes to the aisle next to his booth. It was the boy from before and his three juvenile companions.
"Sitting," Laxus replied simply.
"Well, go elsewhere!" the brat dared to command. He just refused to learn.
"Presumptuous little brat. Go beg for some other seat, but try using common sense next time!"
"They're all taken!"
Laxus only shrugged, without a care. The other two kids shuffled nervously while the third—Tilly—toddled past and crawled onto the seat beside Laxus. She plopped down, her bloomers showing as her coat and dress billowed up before her. Little feet kicked out to hang over the edge. Without looking at the blonde man looming over her, she knocked her toes together innocently while hugging her monkey…and still sucking her thumb.
A silence had settled over them at her actions. Slowly, the older girl stepped forward. "Please excuse Gene, mister. He's just very stressed. Is it alright…" she hesitated, "if we sit with you?"
Laxus wished he could say no, but didn't have the heart to shove Tilly off the seat. Instead he grunted and looked back out the window. Somehow the children interpreted his response as 'do what you want' as they all ambled in and plopped onto the row opposite him. Gene sat as far from Laxus as he could without actually taking up residence in the aisle.
"My name is Daisy," the dark-headed girl suddenly supplied, "And this is Micky," she pointed to the quiet boy with shaggy brown hair, "and Gene." Gene's complexion was similar to her own. "And you already met Tilly,' she concluded with a weak smile. Laxus did not react, only continued to watch scenery pass. "We're on our way to Hargeon…which I guess you already knew since you are too."
"Give it up, Daisy. He's just another adult that doesn't have time for orphans. Not like it matters. We don't need their pity anymore."
The blonde mage couldn't help but think about all his comrades—former comrades, he amended—from Fairy Tail. Most were orphans, including Natsu, Gray, Erza, Cana, and all three Strauss siblings. He didn't feel the need to share that information though; he didn't have the right to after what he'd done. He'd denied them as family, now he had to live with it.
Laxus and his four temporary companions rode in silence, listening to the din of other passengers over the train's monotonous clanking. The lightening mage's mind was not nearly as peaceful though; thoughts of his guild once more brought a torrent of questions forth, drowned out only by regrets and wishes. If only he'd been content, hadn't pulled away, hadn't acted out. Laxus was still not pleased that so many laughed at Fairy Tail, but he also couldn't deny—after having been forced to admit it so recently—that his former guild mates had been precious to him. If he hadn't attacked them he would still be there with his grandfather and Lucy…and everyone else.
Sneaking a look at the child next to him, he once more marveled at Tilly's resemblance to the beautiful Celestial Mage. Golden blonde hair and a sunny smile. Lucy even had a habit of hugging that blue cat, just as the child held her monkey.
"You're Laxus of Fairy Tail, aren't you?" the girl called Daisy suddenly blurted out.
The man in question shot her an annoyed look, but only answered with a short, "Hrmph."
"You look different in Sorcerer Weekly," she carefully continued, "Not so angry." She paused in contemplation. "Are you going after monsters? Or bandits? Is Hargeon in trouble?"
Gene was watching him out of the corner of his eye while Micky huddled in his seat. Tilly didn't react.
Scowling, Laxus contemplated how to respond. Finally he settled with a smirk. "Sure, real nasty monsters. They're eating everyone."
"Liar," Gene said in a clipped tone.
The lightening mage chuckled. "I'm not bound to Magnolia or Fairy Tail. If I decide to go somewhere, then I go."
It was Gene's turn to answer with a short, "Hrmph."
Daisy flopped back into her seat to sulk out the window while Tilly began to hum until, amazingly, Micky suddenly asked, "Do you know a pretty mage named Lucy?"
Laxus nearly fell from his seat as he gawked at the boy. How did he know about her? Had that stupid magazine already started making a fuss of her, just as it did about everyone else? As the man continued to stare harshly at Micky, the boy began to grow an interesting shade of maroon, tucking into himself until his face was completely hidden. A muffled, "I'm sorry," could barely be heard before Laxus managed to pull himself together enough to answer.
"Yeah, I know her." I kissed her not even a week ago. Laxus wondered if his thoughts had spilled into his expression as even Daisy and Gene had turned red then. Or had he accidentally spoken out loud?
"What's she like?!" the eldest boy suddenly demanded, calming the man's concerns but piquing his curiosity even more. "Is she strong?"
"How old is she?" Daisy then joined in.
"When did she join?"
Even Micky added to the barrage of questions with, "Is she really as kind as people say?"
Laxus was taken aback. Interest in Lucy was becoming much more common than he'd originally thought. It seemed that she actually had a fan club. The man smirked to himself, knowing the Celestial Mage would be rolling on the ground with joy if she knew.
"Why do you brats want to know?" he questioned, quirking a blonde brow. His eyes landed on Gene, which was where they stayed, blue and piercing, expectant and amused. The boy sank into his seat under the man's scrutiny, a scowl curving his mouth.
"N-None of your business!" he barked out, looking away viciously. Laxus laughed before turning to the other two shrinking children.
They barely managed to stutter out between the two of them, "U-U-Um…w-well…we…s-she…"
Eventually the blonde mage lost interest in his teasing and finally leaned into the window again. "She's just as kind as people say," he affirmed before turning his gaze back to the passing landscape. Kind enough to forgive him, even…
"I knew it!" Daisy squealed, hopping in her seat. Laxus didn't bother sparing her a glance, too occupied with his brooding. "Even when we first saw her I knew she was beautiful and smart and kind!"
"I want to join Fairy Tail too," Micky whispered. Tilly sucked her thumb.
"Yeah, yeah…and you're all gonna be just like her. We know," Gene grumbled, having regained some of his nerve.
Glaring at the older boy, Daisy said in a clipped tone, "We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her. She gave us the money and this opportunity to help everyone else, so be respectful."
The girl's words reached Laxus just as he was about to pull his headphones over his ears in an effort to drown out their chatter, but his interest was piqued tenfold the moment he heard mention of Lucy giving them money. He didn't even notice Gene's weak response.
They couldn't mean the money that he gave her…Not after what the toad of a duke had put her through…
"She gave you money?" he suddenly demanded to know and the kids flinched, looking at him in unison…except for Tilly who was making her monkey dance.
"Charity!" Gene scoffed lowly, earning him an elbow to the ribs from Daisy.
"She saved our orphanage with enough to spare. We're on our way to invite the kids at our sister place in Hargeon to join us."
"Good for you, but what do you mean she "saved" you? What charity?"
Micky stutteringly answered, "A blue cat brought us one-hundred and fifty million Jewels. He told us everything, then later she and her friends all visited."
A blue cat…Happy gave them the money?
Suddenly Laxus realized what must have happened and an evil grin slid into place. As nice as Lucy was, she was also struggling financially and would not willingly give away so much money. His shoulders shook with amusement. Fairy Tail was known for its random chaos, but accidentally donating one-hundred and fifty million Jewels was on a whole different level of ridiculous. Plopping his headphones into place, he turned to chuckle darkly out the window, ignoring Gene's complaints. Settling into the fur of his coat, Laxus wished he could have witnessed the exchanging of funds. Though…he wasn't completely out of options when it came to teasing Lucy…
Returning to Magnolia was always a moment of relief, but also about the time all of her remaining energy began to evaporate. Dragging her suitcase through the cobblestone streets, Lucy headed for Fairy Tail carrying a tin of magical healing powder. After saving a town from bandits, an old man had approached them as they prepared to leave, claiming to be a healer and that he had known Master Makarov many years before. He also said that the powder was supposed to relax and rejuvenate, something the old guild master would vastly appreciate. Of course, Mirajane and a few others would have to make sure it was safe, but the thought was still a nice one.
The moment the train had pulled into the station, Lucy had left Natsu in Happy's capable paws while Gray stayed to taunt the barfing dragon slayer. Erza continued her eternal tradition of scolding the station manager about safety regulations, all while breaking half of them to prove her point. Lucy did not wait around; she just wanted to deliver the healing powder then go home. However, as she passed the double doors of the guild hall, a quiet hush fell across the room that was more ominous than any dark magic.
Barely any of her close friends were there, but she recognized Macao and Wakaba at their usual table while the eldest of the Strauss siblings served drinks. Lucy weaved between tables, meeting each curious stare with her own anxious one until she reached the bar where Mirajane waited. The expression on the older girl's face was perhaps the most concerning, a wickedly huge grin being the most prominent. Lucy gulped.
"H-Hey, is there something wrong?" she asked hesitantly.
"Oh, no," Mira giggled, eyes telling a different story, "not at all."
"O-Oh…well then," she began slowly, voice full of suspicion, "an old man named Watashi asked us to give this to Master Makarov." She lifted the tin for the older girl to see before elaborating, "He said that it is magical healing powder…to help him relax and…stuff…" Slowly her words faded as Mira only continued to grin.
"Oh, he's not here right now, but I'll let him know you brought it." Lucy was not used to such an impish look on her typically angelic friend. Suddenly her exhaustion hit her and the girl decided it was time to return home. She had the money for her rent, so there was no reason to stay away from her bath and bed anymore.
"Okay…I'll just leave this here then," she said, pushing the tin onto the counter.
She was turning her luggage around and was about to wheel it back out onto the streets when Mirajane then called out, "Hold up, Lucy." The girl looked back, wondering if she was about to be pranked. Instead, she found herself looking at a large basket of the most beautiful strawberries that she had ever seen. There had to be about a hundred of the juicy red berries picked and arranged delicately over a rose-colored handkerchief. The cloth was large enough that it could be folded over the fruit protectively, but Mira had pulled the corners apart when she'd lifted the basket up from behind the bar. Pink and blue flowers had been woven into the wicker rim decoratively. Lastly, her eyes fell on a thick manila envelope with 'To Lucy'written across it in scrawling cursive that was tucked into the Strawberries.
"That's for me?" Lucy marveled. Mira just continued to smile. "Who's it from?"
"Go ahead and look," the older girl chuckled. Tentatively, the Celestial Mage stepped forward, releasing her hold on her luggage. She picked up the envelope and carefully broke the seal. A card fell out and into her hand.
Lucy read it carefully, curious and cautious at first, but as she progressed her face reddened with embarrassment. She read it twice more before gazing on the basket of strawberries with new appreciation.
As she watched the girl read the note that was obviously written in Laxus Dreyer's handwriting, Mirajane's expression softened. She wondered what it said, but knew it was too personal to ask without Lucy wanting to share first.
Just then, Natsu appeared at the double doors of the guild hall, racing in with Happy swooping over his head.
"Hahaha!" he roared dramatically, "I beat Erza!"
"But she said it wasn't a race," the cat chirped, merrily.
Natsu blew fire as he declared, "She's finally realized how awesome I am and is too scared to accept my challenge!"
The lady knight herself punched his head as she marched around him, sending the dragon slayer flying into the nearest collection of tables. Gray slunk in a moment later, grumbling to himself as a lump was already forming on his skull. Lucy seemed ignorant of their arrival, caught between rereading her message and giggling over the fruit basket. She even popped one of the strawberries into her mouth and hummed with delight.
It was inevitable that the girl's joy would be interrupted by the arrival of her chaotic teammates though. Natsu, upon noticing Lucy standing at the bar stroking her gift, bounded over.
"Hey Luce, what are you doing here? You said you were going home." He patted her shoulder with enough force to make her stumble. In her surprise, the girl lost her grip on the card. It fluttered up over her head only to be snatched out of the air by the dragon slayer. He was about her give it back to her when he noticed the message written on it.
"I know this hand-writing…" he realized, "This is from Laxus!"
Immediately the room went quiet, all heads turning back to Lucy. They had seen the basket delivered and had assumed she had a boyfriend…but Laxus?
"What's it say…?" Natsu verbally voiced what they all were thinking. Flipping it over to the front he began to read out loud while dodging Lucy's frantic attempts to reclaim it.
"'Lucy, I made some interesting acquaintances today. They insist that they know you.' Who is he talking about?" Natsu wondered.
"Give it back! Stop reading!" Lucy shrieked with embarrassment, but he was too quick for her, climbing onto a table to continue.
"'I never knew that you could be so generous, though I suppose that if you must give away your fortune, it should be to a good cause. The orphans say hi, by the way.'"
"I swear Natsu, I will pummel you!"
He didn't even look her way, though his expression changed into one of confusion. "'As for the gift basket, you like strawberries, right? You smelled like them when you came by. I'm leaving Fiore in a couple days, so we probably won't meet again for a while, but send my regards to gramps and the guild. Laxus.'" Natsu finished reading with a frown in place. "I don't get it," he said, "Was he challenging you or something?"
"Natsu, I hate you!" Lucy wailed as everyone gawked at her in shock. She finally managed to snatch the card from his hands before gathering up her luggage and strawberries. She ran from the guild, blushing and angry, leaving behind all sympathetic and disbelieving stares.