AN: This spawned out of nowhere during breakfast. It's the first of (maybe) several grumpy Grandpa!Metalicana fics. I hope you enjoy the mental image as much as I do.

Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail or its characters – Hiro Mashima does.


Hatchling

by Miss Mungoe

Humans were such frail creatures.

Any dragon could tell you the same. Humans were small and soft and so easy to simply break. Emotional, too – many wore their hearts in plain sight, making themselves easy targets even for their own kin. What they lacked in bodily protection they made up for with their self-made armours, a handling of metal so poor it was almost insulting. And yet they imagined themselves the greater species, crafting everything they would ever need or want, but completely oblivious to the greater scheme and the things going on around them. For some life was just an endless dance of habitual repetition; they didn't even stop to consider what they could do, the heights they could reach, if they put their minds to it. And the ones that did often failed to reach any kind of potential, brought down either by their own arrogance or their own insecurities. Sometimes, sprawled as he was on the lone crag that he called his home, it was hard to imagine them as anything but insignificant ants scuttling around on the ground below.

His son had been like that, too, before he'd taken him in. Small, weak, but with a temper that had amused him enough to stick around after that first encounter. He'd been a rough little brat with too much attitude - Metalicana had thought he'd had that forcibly knocked out of him, but it had grown back, somehow. But that didn't really matter. His son was strong, and he wielded iron like it should be wielded. Not like the human smiths who called themselves masters of the trade. Human arrogance was the key to their downfall – it was downright laughable sometimes, the lies they fed themselves and each other.

But then, Metalicana had always had a thin patience for humans. Other than Gajeel, he hadn't met many to convince him that they weren't anything but weak little pests. Gajeel was different, but then his son was a dragonslayer, and if you put the two alongside one another, there was a clear gap between them in nearly all aspects. Dragonslayers, Metalicana could respect. Not because of their powers – real dragons were significantly more powerful, when it came down to it. No, it was because it took certain character to host power like that. It took a level head and a good grip of one's sanity to keep it under control. Gajeel had that, and even if he'd had no discipline or manners to go along with it, he was still levels above many of his kin.

And he'd always been proud of it, too. He suspected it might have been the boy in him desiring a father, but there had always been a proud set to his son't shoulders whenever Metalicana had taken it upon himself to teach him something new. Of course, along with the fierce pride, he'd harboured an equally fierce dislike for weakness, which had manifested in his behaviour towards other humans. Before he'd left, Metalicana hadn't thought much about it. Hell, who could blame him? He'd been left on the street, abandoned to die in the gutters of some forsaken village with nothing to his name but the rags on his back. He'd been an angry child, and an even angrier adolescent, and he suspected that after he'd left, he'd grown into an angry young man.

An angry young man with a deep-rooted hatred for his own species.

So it hadn't surprised him when he'd first heard rumours of his brat's exploits. Because really, what else had he expected? He'd done no better than his human parents – he'd up and left without a word. And even if he'd left him well-equipped and able to provide for himself, the guilt that had struck him had been as unfamiliar as it had been unnerving. There had even been a point when he'd entertained the idea of his son coming after him, with the intent to utilise his powers for what they'd been meant for. He had a damn good reason, and once angered, he had the animosity necessary to spur him into making decisions most would find revolting. It wouldn't have been surprising if he'd hunted him down with the intent to kill.

But then the rumours had changed – warped, as it were. He hadn't been surprised to discover that he'd tracked down Igneel's brat, but that they'd joined forces had almost made him laugh at the incredulity. And then the name 'Fairy Tail' arose from the eagerly muttered voices of the cities, and mingled amongst the praise was a name he'd only ever thought he'd hear muttered like a curse. And he'd been strangely proud. Igneel had had a good laugh at his expense, and even Grandine had quirked a smile, and then he'd threatened to encase them both in molten metal if they didn't shut up.

But to himself, he could admit, he had been proud. Proud that his brat had gotten over his self-righteous hatred and found allies, because if he'd been alone, Metalicana doubted he'd have survived the disaster that had struck them all.

But he had survived. And the first time he'd laid eyes on his son after his disappearance, he had been forcibly struck with the nature of humans, because it wasn't a brat standing before him anymore, grinning that familiarly fanged grin, but a man. He'd let his hair grow long and hadn't grown out of his damn fascination with piercings, but the last fact had been a strange comfort for a father who hadn't seen his kid in over two decades. He was taller than he'd been, too, and towered over many of his fellow mages, especially the little one that stood close enough to catch Metalicana's attention.

He'd made a note of her at the time – the tiny blue-haired one who lingered too close for casual acquaintance and with a smile on her face that betrayed a happiness too deep-rooted for a mere companion. The bond had already started to take shape even then, and so he'd known what to expect long before the news had reached him years later. And yet...he'd been surprised. Surprised at his son's choice of mate. And why shouldn't he have been? She was half his size and when he'd asked what her skills were, Gajeel had grinned and told him, reeking of pride,

"She reads."

'Reads', meaning 'tomes'. Humans' strange way of keeping their knowledge from slipping through their fingers. Of course, with a poor memory like theirs, it was hardly a bad idea; even he could admit that, even if he couldn't fathom why his son would go for such a mate. True, his own mate had been small for a dragon when she had still been alive, and there was something distinctly feminine about lithe lines in a female, but his mate had also been a fierce companion in battle, and with strength to rival even himself.

Shorty – for that was what Gajeel called her – didn't even look like she could lift the tomes she read.

But his son had been very enthusiastic about it all, and who was he to complain, when his brat was happy and with a prospering future? Never mind the fact that he'd used to loathe the physically weak with a vengeance. But even while Metalicana had had his doubts, the proud grin on his son's face had been enough to settle them, and he'd found that, with humans, strength was a relative concept, and measured as often in wits as in physical prowess. And when it came to the former, Shorty carried a knowledge that surpassed what he'd thought the human mind could properly grasp. And the fact had been a little impressive. He knew it must have shown in his expression, because Gajeel had looked a right prideful little bastard during the rest of their visit, and Metalicana had been loath to spoil his fun.

The next time they'd visited, the little one had been heavy with child, and throughout their little social call thoughts about their unborn child had bothered him more than he'd have liked to admit. He hadn't had any hatchlings of his own in any of his many centuries but for the cheeky little street rat he'd taken under his wing on a whim. The street rat who was now standing before him, grinning the proud smile of a father and with a shape hiding behind his legs so small that Metalicana had to bend his muzzle all the way down to the ground to get a good look at it.

He snorted, a puff of breath escaping his nostrils, and the hatchling flinched, small hands grasping the fabric of her father's trousers. Gajeel only laughed, and stepped out of the way, urging the littlest one forward. In the background, the mother stood, a wary smile on her face as she watched, ready to interfere if anything were to go awry.

Tilting his head, Metalicana regarded the hatchling with narrowed eyes. "She hides," he snorted, taking in the way she stubbornly remained behind her father's legs.

No, it was safe to say, presented as he was with his first grandkid, that Metalicana was not impressed.

The thought had barely registered, however, when she suddenly shot forward, stepping away from her hiding place with a mighty frown marring her features. Two large brown eyes set above a tiny, scrunched-up nose in a face surrounded by bright blue hair, she met his gaze squarely.

"M'not af'waid!"

The sounds of their language were amateurish at best, but her message was more than clear, and he knew the surprise was evident on his features, because Gajeel threw his head back with another laugh, and even the mother quirked a smile at the display.

Metalicana huffed, taking in the fiercely furrowed eyes and the arrogant stance. "She looks like you," he said to his brat, and even if she didn't physically, what with her tiny shape and her bright blue hair, there was no mistaking the arrogant set to her shoulders and the raised chin.

Gajeel grinned. "Aa." The delight in his entire stance would have been evident for miles, Metalicana knew, and shook his head.

"That wasn't necessarily a compliment."

"Still taking it as one, Pops."

"Tch. Insolent punk," he grumbled, but there was a fondness there he couldn't have hid even if he'd tried.

"Pops?"

He blinked, before his eyes were once again claimed by the littlest shape amongst the three standing before him. It was she who'd spoken, not Gajeel, and she was still looking at him, her head tilted in thought. Then she looked at her father, her brows furrowing even further, making her look more angry than inquisitive. The mother smiled, coming forward to kneel beside her offspring. Her belly wasn't nearly as large as it had been last time, but the slight swell was easily noticeable, and if he strained his ears he could hear the heartbeat – a soft thud-thud-thud, almost but not quite in tandem with her own.

"It means 'Dad'," she explained, ever the voice of an educator, Metalicana thought with a smirk. "Like Daddy."

The littlest one looked up at him again, then back to her father, nose scrunched up in a way eerily similar to the woman kneeling beside her. "Not possible," she declared then, after a moment of contemplative silence, her big eyes blinking furiously. And she regarded them all as though they were trying to pull wool over her eyes. "Mama lying."

Metalicana snorted. "Clever–"

"Shhh!"

He stopped, caught so severely off guard by her interruption that he forgot what he'd been about to say. For her part, she was holding up one small hand, an indignant look on her face. "M'thinking," she declared, emphasising it in a way that made it sound as though he'd tried to desecrate something holy.

He grumbled, "Cheeky little brat, ain't she?"

Gajeel's grin seemed to know no limits. "Takes after her mother," he had the gall to suggest, and the little one scoffed, nudging him as she rose from her squat.

"Next you'll be saying she gets her attitude from me too, hmm?" she asked, and in their brief interaction, the littlest one seemed to have come to the conclusion that she'd lost their attention, and would therefore seek to regain it by doing something daring, as children were prone to do in that age. Wandering closer, but keeping a wary eye trained on him at all times, she came to the point where she had to crane her neck to look up at him. Metalicana felt curiosity nudging at his mind despite himself.

"And what do you think you're doing?"

He didn't know what he'd expected, but for her to reach out to gently probe one of his scales, before asking, in a curiously interested voice, 'Can I eat you?' was not it.

"And how would you go about doing that?" he asked, amusement creeping into his voice despite himself. He'd moved his head so as to look at her better, and surmised that beside his enormous bulk, she looked even tinier than she had next to her parents. She'd be like her mother, that much was clear even now.

And he didn't know what he thought about that.

"Can I climb?" she asked then, surprising him again, and he peered down at her.

"If you can reach," he found himself saying, the words teasing, and the disgruntled look on her face was almost enough to make him snort a laugh.

"I can too!" she exclaimed, and before he'd gathered his wits, she'd taken off, and was halfway up his tail before her mother caught on to what she was up to.

"Gajeel!" she made a grab for her mate's elbow.

For his part, Gajeel only grinned. "You okay up there, kiddo?" he called.

Scrambling up his tail, she flashed a fanged grin. "Aa!"

The mother looked worried, but Gajeel only crossed his arms over his chest. "Kid wants to get to know ya, Pops. Don't let 'er fall."

Metalicana snorted. "As if I would." The drop would severely injure, if not kill her, small as she was, and despite his bravado there was a tenseness to his son's stance that betrayed a focus so intense, Metalicana knew he'd be moving to catch her at the slightest sign of her losing her grip.

But he had no intention of letting his grandchild drop to her death. He knew this with a near overwhelming certainty, even as her small hands grabbed onto his scales with a grip that would have slipped, had she not had the propensity for manipulating metal that he'd sensed the minute she'd touched him. He wondered idly if her parents were aware.

It didn't take her long before she was on his back, eagerness shining in her eyes now that she was certain of his relative safety. He felt like smiling, because she was so much like her father in that regard, it was almost ridiculous. Suspicious to the point of hostility until trust was earned, and then the trust was so wholehearted, it was staggering in its sheer capacity.

"Mama! Mama, look!"

The mother waved back, brows creased with worry, and Metalicana smirked. There was a spike there, in her heartbeat, and the open promise of violence if anything were to happen to her hatchling. She might not even realise it, how much her entire stance reeked of dragon, or the way she kept her hands almost subconsciously laced over the swell of her stomach. Dragon mothers were said to be the fiercest of creatures, and he wondered briefly what had passed along in the mating, and if she was quite as human as she had used to be.

The patter of small feet was an echo in his ears as the littlest one manoeuvred over his great back, inching along the metal-rimmed ridges of his scales as she searched out a safe passage. There was something...nostalgic, almost, about the game she played, and he yet again found himself thinking back to the little runt who had tried to climb him without his consent. The same runt had gotten himself a good long fall and a sharp meeting with the ground, and back then Metalicana had hoped it would knock some sense into him. He was almost ashamed to admit, he hadn't considered the damage the fall could possibly do to a human. But Gajeel had always struck him as stronger than that, even if it had probably just been his general attitude towards pain at the time. Back then, he'd been human, not a dragonslayer. Vulnerable, if not averse to admitting it. And though he had survived the fall with nothing worse than a few bruises and a sharp curse, Metalicana knew with an almost staggering certainty that he could not let the hatchling on his back endure the same. Would not let her, because she would not survive it.

Meeting his son's eyes, he saw the warning, and nodded his head slowly, acknowledging it. Gajeel smirked then, and the little one at his side seemed to relax as well, shoulders losing some of their tension, and the action made him realize how much he'd forgotten about the bond between mates, in his decades alone. Of course she'd sensed the tension in his son – Gajeel's memories had no doubt fuelled it enough to make her subconsciously wary of the same danger.

Meanwhile, oblivious to what passed between her elders, the little hatchling had managed to get halfway up his neck. The juvenile joy of the simple height provided by her new perch seeped through his scales, and he felt a strange sort of fondness swell somewhere inside him at this odd little creature.

"So whaddaya think, Pops?" the voice of his son reached his ears, and he turned his gaze to the pair.

He snorted, but it lacked it's usual edge. "She's got guts."

"Damn straight she does," Gajeel agreed, shoulders straightening. Metalicana's eyes glinted, and he gauged his son's reaction for his next question.

"And does she read?"

What happened next was something he knew he'd remember long after his bones had decayed and all that inhabited the earth was the remnants of his spirit. For while pride had been evident before, now it expanded like a living thing, and the smile on his boy's face left no room for even a sliver of doubt. And the fact that his son – the perpetually angry, badly mannered and vindictive young man he had left all those years ago – could present his daughter, a dragonling the size of a pea, and act as though he genuinely believed she was the greatest creature to ever grace the earth with her presence, was almost enough to make an old dragon sentimental.

And though the next words out of his brat's mouth were words he'd never thought he'd hear from him, they were also the words that truly convinced Metalicana that sometime in the last two decades, his boy had grown up.

"Hell yeah she reads! She's the smartest brat in the whole damn guild!" His eyes gleamed. "Ain't that right, munchkin?"

"Damn st'waight!" came the reply from somewhere near his ear, and he grinned at the look of horror that settled on the mother's face. Gajeel burst out laughing, and Metalicana could only marvel at the dysfunctional little clan his son had made for himself. Shorty must be thinking the same, for she shook her head, a patient smile on her face.

"My son is not the best influence, I'm afraid," he grumbled in way of joking apology.

"Oye, now," Gajeel interjected, but the smirk on his face betrayed his irritation. "Shorty's influence is more than enough to cancel it out, anyway," he added. "She'll have her translating runes and shit in no time."

Metalicana would have shaken his head, had it not been for the small form currently attached to it. She'd scrambled up the last gap, and was now clinging to the back of his head, and a sound of wonder escaped her as she gazed out over the top and onto the ground far below. Her excitement was palpable, and it thrummed from the palms of her hands and through his veins.

And in that moment, perched as she was on his head like a fully-fledged dragonling, Metalicana found that his initial assessment of the girl may have been a bit misplaced. And that maybe – maybe – her form had little to do with the spirit it housed.

And as she leaned down, almost consiprationally, near his ear, any doubts he'd had about her nature were swiped away by the soft question uttered in the next moment,

"...can we fly?"

And for the first time in a long time, Metalicana threw back his head, hatchling still attached,

and laughed.


AN: Good grief, this thing had me giggling like a schizo halfway through. And damn it, I wish my grandparents were dragons...