Disclaimer: Characters belong to Hiro Mashima.
They said Mother's a cheerful person. Always smiling, no matter what the odds were. But the Mother they knew and the Mother she knew are two different entities. Mother was always crying. Even when she was smiling, she was crying. Stella always wondered for years, why was it so. And now she knew. She knew who she had to thank for her Mother's tears.
She would never, and could never, forget how Mother fainted by the train station many years ago. The memory of her mother having amnesia after gaining consciousness terrified her. She had to stay with Uncle Natsu because her mother did not believe that she had a daughter, and when she remembered, she had locked herself up in the room for weeks. She was only three then, but it horrified her so much that she had learnt never to mention a word about her father. Ever.
Sting Eucliffe. Her father's name, as she had recently learnt. He belonged to the now defunct Sabertooth. Oh, how she loathed him. If not for him, she would never have to see such sorrow in her Mother's eyes.
Mother never ever talked about him. Not even mentioned his name. She had to learn his name from Uncle Natsu and Uncle Loke. Uncle Loke had told her every story there was of her mother back when Sting Eucliffe was alive. Somehow, the stories only fueled her hatred. Because of this irresponsible person, her mother broke promises, which she was always taught never to break them, lied to her guild members and worst, broke Uncle Natsu's heart.
Thank the stars that Sting Eucliffe was dead, as much as her mother refused to believe so, and she would never have to see him.
She smirked. Right now, she has one goal: to gain a new father. A father named Natsu Dragneel.
"For the love of the celestial king, your mother is going to have my head," Uncle Loke repeated again. He sighed, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
Stella rolled her eyes, "Stop being so dramatic. Don't you think it suits me very well?"
"First, you chose to learn fire magic, and now this. Lucy is going to kill me or she dies from the anger. Whichever comes first."
"You can't die, Uncle Loke, and Mother wouldn't kill you."
"Disown me, break our contract, send me to Yukino, whatever. I'll have you know that I plan on serving your mother her whole life."
"Even though she makes you babysit me all the time?" Stella mocked.
"Yes, even if," Uncle Loke emphasized. He muttered, "Though I will have to speak to Lucy about making me do things that are beneath me."
Stella guffawed, much to the chagrin of the lion spirit walking by her side.
"Be careful," he warned. He looked down and glared at the girl who only reached his waist, "I might send your Aunt Aquarius or Uncle Capricorn in my stead the next time I'm on babysitting duty again."
The child shuddered, "I-if you do, I'll tell Mother that you told me stories of Sting Eucliffe."
Uncle Loke grumbled, "Fuck."
"And I'll tell her that you cursed in front of me," Stella sung.
Uncle Loke groaned, "As smart as your mother, as cunning as your dad."
Stella glowered, eyes facing downwards. However, Uncle Loke noticed and continued, "At least call your dad, 'dad', or make your intentions less obvious."
Her face snapped upwards and she put on her best innocent expression, "Intentions? Dad? I have no idea what you're talking about! I have no intentions. Neither do I have a dad. Yet."
"Your intentions are as clear as day to everyone except your mother and Natsu. You're just a shy away from calling him 'dad'."
As they came face to face with the guild doors, they heard the familiar sounds of chairs being tossed about and people crashing into tables.
Uncle Loke looked up at the Fairy Tail sign. He faced the girl, body shimmering, and said, "Well, they are back from their job, as expected. Time for me to head back, and for you to make your grand entrance."
"Good luck," he added dryly.
Stella braced herself and walked into the guild, swinging the door open like how she knew Uncle Natsu always did. She walked towards said uncle who was in the midst of swinging his fist towards Uncle Gray. Mother was nowhere to be found and Stella surmised that she was in public bath with Aunt Erza, relaxing after the mission.
"I'm home!" she shouted once she was near enough and realizing that no one has even taken a second look at her.
"Welcome ho-" Uncle Natsu greeted halfway when he turned and saw the young girl. He gaped, along with the rest of the guild who had finally taken notice of her.
"S-stella?" Uncle Natsu stuttered. '
Stella grinned when she saw her uncle's face starting to tint red. He immediately looked around, flustered, before going up to her to pull her aside, away from the watching eyes of the other curious guild members.
"What the hell, Stella!"
"Do you not like it?" Stella pouted and twirled her hair for an extra touch.
She knew it had worked, for Uncle Natsu's expression softened, "Do I like it? I love it! And I'm really proud that I'm your favourite uncle, and this looks really awesome but your mum is going to kill me!"
The dragon slayer opened his mouth to say more, but he was denied a chance when they heard a voice, "Stella? Did you bully Uncle Loke again? Why did he feel so angry when he returned?"
Stella saw her mother looking around. When her eyes landed on her, a loud shriek echoed in the guild halls that Aunt Erza unsheathed her sword without hesitation. Stella wouldn't be surprised if the whole of Magnolia heard it as well.
"What. Have. You. Done. To. Your. Hair!"
Stella took a step behind Uncle Natsu, peeked out from behind his waist, and mumbled, "I dyed it?"
"You dyed it?! You dyed it?!" She repeated in disbelief.
"Yes mother, as we have already established, I dyed my hair."
A guild member, Stella suspected it was Uncle Gajeel, whistled lowly at her comeback.
"Don't you get smart with me, young lady! I go on a mission for one day, and your hair is p-pink!" Mother spluttered.
"And so is Uncle Natsu's," Stella pointed out, feeling much braver.
Uncle Natsu, on reflex, tugged onto her arms and cringed at what he knew was going to happen. He felt the hazel orbs of the blonde burning into his back.
"Natsu Dragneel," her mother dragged his name, "did you instigate this?"
"N-no. I just came back with you, remember?"
"You think I don't see how the both of you always run off behind my back, planning world domination or who-knows-what? Maybe this was one of those discussions you've had without me!"
"I have nothing to do with this!" Natsu argued insistently. And for an extra effect, he added, "Promise."
"Well then, if you stop spoiling her, then maybe she wouldn't inspire to be like you, and do things like that! Learning fire magic behind my back, destroying furniture, trying to sniff everything, and dying her hair!" her mother shouted.
"And what's so bad about that!" Uncle Natsu yelled back, with more fury towards her mother than Stella has ever seen. "I know you are trying to discipline Stella, but I don't see how anything she is doing is wrong! Is being like your best friend bad?"
Stella flinched at the tone of anger, bit down her lips and clenched her fists. She never meant for things to turn this way. Uncle Natsu always had his way of soothing her mother when she was angry. Uncle Natsu has never gotten this angry at her mother. Maybe she did go too far. Her throat burned as she tried to swallow the huge lump stuck in the middle. She gave a sideway glance at the guild and noticed the silence that had grown while Fairy Tail's favourite duo continued to argue at the top of their lungs.
Finally, she couldn't take the tension any longer and cried, "Stop it! Stop fighting! Uncle Natsu's right, Mother! What's so bad about being more like him? You're just scared! Scared that I'm becoming more like Uncle Natsu and less like that guy called Sting Eucliffe! Well, I don't want to look like him! I hate him!"
Stella watched with tears in her eyes as her mother's arms dropped lifelessly to her sides at the mention of that name. Her eyes widened and became empty. She's going to faint again. She's going to forget who I am again. Stella shutted her eyes tightly and forced back the tears. It was too late. The words were already out before she knew what she was saying. Without another word, she ran out and headed straight to the forest.
"Stella!" she heard Aunt Erza calling out for her.
Stella continued to run until her legs gave out. With both hands on her knees, she panted and looked around. She was at the lake near Uncle Natsu's house. The lake where Uncle Natsu and Happy always brought her to fish with them. She felt another person panting by her side. Knowing who it was, she sat down on the spot and hugged her knees. Uncle Natsu followed suit, but stretched his legs out instead and leaned backwards.
After a long while, he finally broke the silence, "So you aren't gonna ask about your mother?"
Stella hid her face in her knees, and mumbled, knowing that her uncle's sensitive ears would be able to catch it, "How's she?"
"When I ran out, she was still frozen on the spot. Erza was the one who asked me to chase after you."
"Then she's being taken care of."
Uncle Natsu chuckled softly, "I guess."
"What about you, Uncle Natsu? Don't you wanna ask me something as well?" She turned her head and looked at the older man next to her.
"So is this a stage of rebellion that you're going through?" he gave his toothy smile.
"That's not the question you want to ask," Stella frowned, annoyed by how circuitous he was being.
"Just like your mum," he ruffled her newly pink locks. "So, who told you about your dad?"
"He's not my dad," she snapped.
"Aright then," Uncle Natsu sighed, "then, who told you about Sting Eucliffe?"
"I can't say. I made a promise not to tell anyone."
"It must be Loke then. He's a sucker for your puppy eyes."
Stella said nothing and sunk her head between her knees deeper.
"So what exactly did Loke tell you?"
"That he's an asshole and a jerk," Stella mumbled.
"Language," Uncle Natsu warned as he tried to chuckle in between. "That would be my version of Sting Eucliffe, definitely not Loke's."
"Uncle Loke said that I reminded him of that guy. Do I really?"
Uncle Natsu stared thoughtfully at the young girl at his side before answering, "Maybe a little."
Stella cringed, hoping for a different answer.
"The way you try to be like me, it's really like him."
Stella gave him a confused look.
"That guy, he idolized me, y'know," Uncle Natsu smirked.
"B-but Uncle Loke said that he was always looking for a fight with you. During the Grand Magic Games, Saber Tooth offended Fairy Tail and how Sting Eucliffe was obsessed with beating you. Don't you hate him? I mean, Uncle Loke also said that you were the one to chase him out of Fairy Tail."
"I did chase him out, and I did hate him then. But, as for now, it's very difficult to hate a missing man."
"Do you think he's dead?" Stella asked quietly.
"I don't know what to think. Though, there were evidences suggesting that he's no longer alive."
"Have you told Mother?" Stella looked at him with hopeful eyes.
"We told her before you were even born. She blanked out, and we almost lost you. However, when she woke up, it was like we've never told her about it. Well, y'know how it's like. We agreed not to mention it again."
Stella nodded in understanding before frowning again, "I just don't understand. Why is mother so weak?"
Suddenly, Stella felt two hands on her cheeks, being forced to look at the uncle next to her.
"Do not ever call your mum weak. Your mum is the strongest woman I know! I know what you think, but you don't know how much strength it takes to have faith! To have faith that your loved one is still alive no matter what others said! Your mum's fainting spells and amnesia aren't signs of being weak. Having faith isn't a weakness."
Stella looked down with guilt before breaking the silence, "Do you still love her?"
Wha-What the hell?" Uncle Natsu spluttered. "That bastard Loke!"
"Uncle Natsu, language," Stella giggled. "So do you still have feelings for Mother?"
"I can't believe the conversation we are having," Uncle Natsu sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Wait, is this why you've been doing all those things? Like making Lucy and I have dinner together, staying over at Gray's house?"
"Stella, I do love Lucy a lot, but I'm happy with the way things are now."
"But I'm not," Stella grumbled. "I wish you were my father, Uncle Natsu."
"Am I not?" Uncle Natsu asked. Stella was surprised to see her favourite uncle showing a toothy grin. "I'm disappointed, Stell. I long considered you as my daughter in my heart."
"It's different!" Stella whined.
"Is it? What is Fairy Tail?"
"A family," Stella mumbled, knowing where this was heading to.
"And?" Uncle Natsu probed.
"And we are family as long as our hearts connect," Stella recited. "This darn line is way too cheesy!"
"And it's my favourite from Lucy's novels! It means that-"
"I know what it means!" she interrupted.
"You really are in the rebellious stage, you punk!" Uncle Natsu scowled while ruffling her hair. "As I was saying, it doesn't matter that you don't and can't call me father out loud, or that I'm not your birth father. As long as I know that in your heart, I am your father and in my heart, you are my daughter, ain't that good enough?"
The young girl widened her eyes at Uncle Natsu's words and broke into a huge smile. She lunged towards the older pink-head and allowed him to envelop her in his arms.
"C'mon, let's head back to the guild. But before that, promise me that you will stop calling Sting Eucliffe by his name, or 'that guy'."
"And am I supposed to call him 'Father'?" Stella remarked dryly.
Uncle Natsu shrugged, "You could. Remember what I said."
Stella sighed, "Alright, but only if you allow me to call you 'papa'!" She shoved a pinky upwards to the front of his nose, and hurriedly added, "Of course, I'll only call you that when we're alone!"
Uncle Natsu pushed her hand back, stared at her, before chuckling, "Alright, we have a deal if you dye your hair back."
The two of them hooked their pinkies and grinned at each other. Uncle Natsu's big, calloused hand encased smaller ones and he led the young girl back to the guild.
In similar styles, the both of them swung the door to the guild open and without a glimpse around the guild, ran up towards the infirmary.
"Halt!" a requip mage ordered with her commanding voice.
Stella turned back and saw her mother seated at one of the tables, head resting on her arms, looking seemingly fine. She watched her cautiously and approached her slowly. Now that she was closer, there was a hint of tiredness and sadness on her mother's face, which aged her.
"Hey mother," Stella shuffled towards the older blonde while twirling her pink hair, "you feeling better?"
She immediately stopped when she remembered the cause of the argument, but knew it was too late when she saw her mother gave a short glimpse at her actions. Stella cringed.
"Your hair," her mother started, "you can keep it, if you really love it. On one condition."
"Wait, Mother," Stella interrupted, her face twisted with confusion, "aren't you shocked that my hair is pink?"
"Yes, I was utterly aware of your pink hair when you got back with Loke, and believe me, 'shock' doesn't even describe it. But I am willing to overlook that, as I was saying,-"
"That's not what I meant. You remembered me getting back to the guild with Uncle Loke, with my hair pink?"
"Am I supposed to magically forget it and pretend that your hair was always pink?"
Uncle Gray placed his hand on Mother's shoulder and intercepted, "Your mother didn't go to the infirmary. Nothing happened. We talked."
"What are you talking about? I don't think I need to be sent to the infirmary!" Her mother exclaimed incredulously.
"Lucy, don't you have something to say?" Aunt Erza reminded, not wanting the conversation to go off track.
Her mother massaged her temples, "Right, before I was interrupted. The condition for allowing your hair to remain pink: Go on a mission with me. I think it's time I tell you about your dad."
"No," Stella shot immediately. She pointed at her hair, "This is temporary magic dye, and it'll fade off by the end of tomorrow."
"So you are saying that all the while you weren't planning to have pink hair?"
"I'm saying that I don't want to know more about him. Sti-, my father. I don't have to know more about my father. And I'm saying that I'd rather not keep the pink hair, which looks awesome on me by the way, than to have to go on a mission with you and listen to you talk about my father."
The words were, again, out of her mouth before she could stop them. Her eyes widened at her bluntness, but before she could even begin to apologize, a sword found its way to her neck.
"I will not allow you to speak to your mother with such manner. Apologize," Aunt Erza ordered sternly.
Her mother opened her mouth, but closed them again. Stella felt a pang of guilt for hurting her mother for the second time today. She chastised herself for not thinking through her words thoroughly and for letting her guard down after knowing that her mother hadn't fainted from the mention of Sting Eucliffe earlier in the day. Guilt ate her even more as the silent prolonged. Her mother was good with words and always knew what to say, but not this time.
Finally she spoke, "I-It's fine. You don't have to do it. I won't force you to."
"If you won't, I will," Aunt Erza glared, sword still on her neck.
"You go with your mother, or you stay with me for a month. I'll take this time to knock you out of your rebellious phase. Take your pick."
"F-fine. I'll go," Stella surrendered, her spine shivered at the thought of staying with Aunt Erza.
Aunt Erza lifted her sword away from the young girl's neck, shook her head and walked towards her blonde friend. Stella watched as she patted her mother on her back and brought her towards the bar.
"I thought young girls like you get rebellious when they're in their teens, not when they're twelve," Uncle Gray remarked.
"Are you afraid Ur will be like me when she's my age?" she smirked lifelessly and nodded towards a dark-haired child that was being rocked to sleep by Juvia.
"I'm afraid of my little girl growing up. I have one little girl growing up too quickly, I don't want another."
"Hey! She's my little girl! Go fond over yours!" Uncle Natsu popped in and argued.
"Not now, Natsu," Uncle Gray growled in annoyance. "Look, Stella, you're still your mother's little girl, no matter how you behave. I just want you to give your mother a chance."
"Sorry, Stell, I have to side with Gray on this one," Natsu agreed. "Your words were way too harsh on your mother. Your mother doesn't deserve that."
"I know," Stella muttered.
"I was the one who suggested having a mother-daughter bonding time. Have a good chat with her. Tell her what's on your mind and be honest. This is a good chance to rebuild your relationship."
"Our relationship's fine."
"Yeah right," Uncle Natsu scoffed. "And your father's still alive."
Uncle Gray shot him a glare and kicked his shin hard.
"What the fuck, ice prick! Are you trying to pick up a fight?"
"Yeah, maybe I should freeze that mouth and that brain while I'm at it!"
"What did you say?!"
"You heard what I said! Your mouth needs to keep shut and stop giving Stella any weird ideas, flame brain!"
"I do not give her weird ideas! You're just jealous that she loves me more than you!"
"She does not, fucking pig head!"
Stella looked back and forth at the silly fight and tried to warn them as she felt a demonic aura approaching them. She flinched when their heads banged against each other fiercely.
"If your little Ur and Silver, or my little Rob, so much as pick up your crude and immensely vulgar words, I will make sure to pull out your tongue before I knock you out to sleep for eternity," Aunt Erza threatened.
"A-Aye," the two uncles stammered.
"Come on, let's go home, Stella," her mother called out.
Nodding and waving goodbye to the guild members, she followed her mother out, making sure to keep behind her.
"I'll follow!" Uncle Natsu announced, but was stopped by his favourite little girl.
"It's fine," Stella assured and pushed him back.
The walk home seemed normal, but Stella knew it was anything but. Every few steps or so, her mother would give a quick glance back at her daughter. When the boatmen greeted them, as they did daily, Mother's smile was terse and her wave came short of her usual greeting. But Stella knew that Mother wasn't angry. She has been especially familiar with angry over the past few months, and this wasn't angry.
When they reached their apartment, Stella hesitantly stepped inside, eyes never leaving the older woman.
She reached out for her mother, "Mother?"
"Stella, I know you don't want to go on the mission with me," whispered Mother, "and I don't want you to go just because Erza's threatening you to."
With her back still facing her, her mother went to the cupboard and pulled out a satchel, and proceeded to place her clothes inside.
She continued without giving the young girl a chance to speak, "Your Uncle Gray wanted this mission for us to spend time with each other and he's right that a mission might help, but I want to do it only when you're ready."
She continued avoiding eye contact with her, much to Stella's annoyance, and Stella knew that packing her clothes was only a distraction.
"I'll explain everything to Erza, but I know how scary she can get, and it's fine if you don't stay with her. I'll explain everything to Natsu as well. You'll stay at his house."
"And you?" Stella asked in a small voice.
"I'll be on the mission. I signed this mission, I'll go."
"Of course not. I have all your spirit uncles and aunties with me."
"Shouldn't you get Uncle Natsu to come with?"
Her mother stopped in her tracks, as if contemplating her words. "I'll be fine by myself. I don't think you'll listen to anyone except for Natsu," she scoffed softly.
"Mother, let's talk." When it was apparent that her mother wasn't going to reply, Stella repeated, "Mother-"
"Don't call me that!" the celestial mage snapped, her voice cracking.
Mother let out a loud gasp and knelt in front of her. Her mother's thin arms wrapped around her and Stella could feel her quavering. Her shirt almost-instantly became wet as her mother continued to rub her face against her jacket.
"I'm sorry, honey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. I-I just don't know why it happened."
"Mother, get up," Stella soothed. "Let's talk."
Her mother nodded and leaned against her as she supported the blonde to the bed.
"Why have you stopped calling me 'mama'?" Her mother asked the moment they were settled on the bed.
Stella could see her mother's fist clenched tightly on her laps. When her mother looked up, her chest sunk with a heaviness she couldn't explain.
"I hate it when you call me 'mother'. It was what papa used to make me call mama when he was training me to be a lady. I hated it! It was like mama was a stranger every time I referred to her as 'mother'."
Stella turned away. She heard stories about her grandparents from her mother when she was younger and how she had ran away from home to escape her grandfather's control.
Her mother laughed bitterly, "Oh, what a paradox. To think that I've forced the same childhood on my own daughter."
Stella's hands shot out her mother and her petite hands grabbed hold of her mother's, "No mama! It isn't your fault! I was being petty and childish!"
"I was the one who told you not to call me mama, wasn't I?"
"Yes, yes you did. I was really angry. All I wanted to do was to piss you off, do everything in my power to make it seemed like you were a horrible mother. I was being immature. I'm sorry, mama."
Stella threw herself into her mother's embrace. She leaned against her mother's bosom and tightened her hold while looking up at her mother's tender gaze. Her mother stroked her hand against her head and patted.
"I'm the one who should be sorry. I never got around to saying sorry, did I? For trying to assert control on you just like what my own father did to me. I was just hoping that I could pass my keys to you when I'm done being a mage, but if you are having fun playing with fire just like your Uncle Natsu, go ahead. As your father used to tell me, knock yourself out, not literally of course," her mother giggled, combing her hair with her fingers.
Stella's lips pursed into a thin line at the mention of her father.
"You really remind me of him: childish, stubborn and impulsive. Just like how you adore Natsu, your father looks up to him as well."
"Looked," Stella corrected impulsively.
Something in her mother's eyes changed. "What?" she questioned stiffly.
"Nothing," Stella mumbled, but from her mother's expression, she knew that the damage was done. Her mother was a true Fairy Tail mage, stubborn as a mule and never giving up, and Stella knew that this did not only apply to fights.
"It wasn't nothing."
The young mage sighed, not looking at her mother's face and nodded, "It's past tense, Mama, you used the word wrongly."
Her mother frowned and snapped, "Your father isn't a past tense."
Stella reached out to her mother and placed a hand on her shoulder, "Mama, he isn't a past tense. He's living in your heart, but he can no longer look up to Uncle Natsu."
"Why not! Don't tell me you, like all the others, think he's dead?" Mother shouted and slapped the hand on her shoulder away.
"You're just deluding yourself, Mama, and you know it! He's long gone and Uncle Natsu, Aunt Erza and Uncle Gray have evidence! They've never said anything because every time someone says something about my father, you'd faint!"
"No! Stop talking right now!" Her mother's palm came down onto her cheeks.
Stella cupped her cheeks with her palm as her cheeks continued to burn more painfully than the time Uncle Natsu's fire had accidentally injured her. Her eyes burned too, from the tears that threatened to fall.
"Yes, mother," she croaked, not facing the said woman.
"St-" she heard her mother called out to her, but she shut the door behind her and ran to her bed.
The young mage woke up the following day, eyes feeling dry and throat feeling raw. The room was dark, unlike the mornings where her mother would draw back the curtains much to her disdain. She trudged towards them and drew them back. The sun was glaring into the bedroom and the heat shone onto her face. Remembering the fight from last night, she paused in her actions. Maybe she should continue to stay in bed until her mother was willing to come in and apologize. She trudged back to her bed and tucked herself into her bed.
"A food strike might work," Stella mumbled to herself.
Suddenly her stomach growled loudly.
Deciding that any idea that requires her to confine herself in her room was a bad idea, Stella hopped off her bed. She could always use the cold war method. It seemed to work the previous time.
As she walked out of her room, she noticed the silence that filled the house. She glanced towards the clock. Usually Mother was up at this time, preparing breakfast for them. She glanced towards the closed doors. Maybe like her, she was having a hard time falling asleep.
Stella felt a pang of guilt at the thought of what she said last night and what was planning to do this morning. Her mother, while stubborn, was one of the most forgiving people in Fairy Tail. The last time they had a big fight, Mother had made her a huge stack of pancakes and bacon, and to top it off, strawberry milkshake the following morning (though it took more than that to appease the young girl then). Stella always told herself to watch her words in front of her mother, especially since she knew that the older woman could be emotionally unstable when it came to the topic of her father.
She took in a deep breath and let out a loud sigh, "Guess today's breakfast is on me."
She, along with the kitchen, was soon drowning in the smoke. The smell of burnt meat and batter filled the house. The moment she stumbled out of the kitchen, the front door flew into the room and broke into half. Stella became wide-eyed and immediately lit her fingers.
A series of coughs were heard and she extinguished the small flame on her fingers when she saw that it was her favourite uncles and aunties who had trespassed.
"Uncle Natsu? Uncle Gray? Aunt Erza? What happened?"
"We should be the one asking you that! What the hell happened here?" Uncle Natsu exclaimed.
"Are you alright?" Aunt Erza asked.
Stella waved her hands, "I'm fine. I was attempting to cook."
"Cook?" Gray spoke up this time. He glanced around, "Where's Lucy?"
"She's still in bed."
"Lucy is a sleeping pig," Happy giggled behind his paws.
"In bed?" Gray lifted his brows, ignoring Happy's usual teasing. He frowned when he saw the clock.
"Your mother isn't one to sleep in."
"It's still ear-" Stella shrugged off, when she saw the time as well. "Huh, I didn't know I have been in the kitchen for almost two hours."
Uncle Natsu knitted his brows together, and without a word, he dashed into her mother's room.
"Lucy!" he cried out.
Stella and the rest of the team followed him, and Stella noted that his fists were clenched so tightly that the veins in his arms were visible.
"She's not in here," he growled deeply.
Stella shivered at the dragon slayer's tone.
"There's something on the bed," Aunt Erza pointed calmly.
Immediately, the two pink-headed mages rushed to the bed. Stella allowed Uncle Natsu to pick up the letter.
"She went to that mission. Alone. And she told Stella to stay with me while she's gone."
Stella snatched the paper out from her uncle's hands and clutched it. She could feel a pair of harsh eyes on her.
"Why aren't you with her?" Aunt Erza barked. "Did you not hear what I told you yesterday?"
"I did!" Stella argued, not looking away from the note. "I told her that I would go with her last night!"
"Then what happened?"
"It isn't like her to leave you alone without a word, or without informing any of us," Uncle Gray remarked.
Stella bit her lips, an act that didn't go unnoticed by the adults surrounding her.
"You guys fought again," Aunt Erza stated rather than asked.
The young mage nodded her head tensely and snapped her head up to face them, "But I was going to apologize this morning! Before I knew that she had left!"
"What did you fight about?"
"W-we didn't exactly fight. I-I just said the wrong thing yesterday," Stella stammered. "Things were going fine until she kept going on about how Sting, I meant, my father is still alive and all, so I merely corrected her. You know how she's like when it came to that person."
In a flash, the requip mage unsheathed her sword and brought it down to the ground. Stella didn't think it was possible for a sword to create a hole in the concrete flooring, but anything was possible with the Titania.
"Fool!" she boomed, causing everyone to jump back.
"Why do you think she didn't faint yesterday? Or hasn't fainted for a few years? Did you really think it was because nobody ever mentioned Sting Eucliffe?" Aunt Erza chided harshly. "It's because she started to have faith again!"
"Your mother's behaviours are symptoms of post-tramatic stress disorder. But the trauma wasn't having learnt that your father's missing. Before you were born, we were informed that before they had defeated Jiemma, the previous master of Sabertooth, he had casted a spell on their group. The informant was someone who had recovered from the incident at Sabertooth that year. The spell was so strong that it affected everyone in the guild hall, and they were suspended in another dimension for months. Those who returned didn't know what happened to them during these months but they didn't return unscathed. The epicentre of the spell was on your father's team, but there are some who weren't even close to them that are still missing till this day. Therefore, the informant believed that your father wouldn't return. It was from that day that your mother started having these fainting and amnesia attacks."
Stella's eyes widened at the new information, and in a small voice, she asked, "So what did you mean by faith?"
"Your mother may forget many things when she gets an attack, but she has never forgotten the informant's words. She stopped hoping for his return even though he might still be alive somewhere. At her lowest point in life, she even believed that he was dead. Your mother is a strong woman, always keeping her smile on her, and we always avoid talking about Sting. We never knew that was what she really thought until I found her drunk a few years back."
"She was always a wild drunkard," Happy teased, despite himself. Stella couldn't help but notice the sorrow in the usually-mischievous Exceed's eyes.
"She was constantly fighting a battle inside her. Her inner conflict was torturing her, we could all see that," Aunt Erza continued. "She wanted to have faith, but she didn't have that."
Uncle Gray nodded, "It was Natsu who encouraged your mother to keep her faith."
Uncle Natsu grinned, "He's only dead when there's a body. Been there, done that. If I could keep searching for Igneel, she could do the same with Sting."
The three S-class mages (and one Exceed) turned their gaze towards their best friend's daughter. Stella didn't know when her tears started rolling down her cheeks. Her heart felt constricted by the guilt that consumed her as she thought about the words she said the night before. She felt like the undoing of their efforts to keep Mother's spirit up.
"I want to find her," she croaked. "I want to apologize to Mama, and-and,"
Aunt Erza nodded proudly while patting her head, "You'll talk to her when she returns. In the meantime, pack your bags. You'll come to my house."
"What?" Uncle Natsu protested. "We aren't finding Lucy?"
"She can take care of herself. And in the first place, she chose an easy job to accompany her daughter. She'll be back tomorrow afternoon."
Uncle Natsu nodded reluctantly and muttered, "But Stella's coming with me. Lucy said so." Only to be met with a fierce glare from Aunt Erza.
Mama, come home soon, Stella thought, ignoring the conversation in front of her.
I really have no excuses for the late late late chapter and I know I told some reviewers that I would upload this in October but I was trying to complete the story in this chapter, but I guess not. I had a major writer's block when it came to the ending and lack of motivation, mainly because my OTP is Nalu. I'll try to finish the next chapter before March next year (still too long?), but no promises! And thank you all who's been reviewing, following and favouriting this chapter, and those encouraging me to upload the next chapter and giving me advice on how it should be played out. In particular GraySnowie for the PM and suggestions which inspired some parts of the chapter.