Chapter 13

My Pride

Three Days Later

Lucy had rushed through the Spirit World to talk with the Spirit King and set up this exchange. She gave Gray three days, but that was almost no time at all in the Spirit World. Still, when Gray mentioned just how easily he could die, it had scared her, as if he was jinxing himself into an early death.

How often had she felt intense dread for his life? She could get shot, blasted, cursed, just about anything, and she would return to the Spirit World to recover. Gray, on the other hand, could die, and that would be the end of the man she loved. She once calculated, with how many times one of the Celestial Spirits took a shot for Gray, if he had not had them there to protect him, he would have died sixteen times over.

And that was just from fighting enemies. There were plenty of times when she had popped up, sensing his life was in danger, and saved him at the last second from things far more mundane, like getting hit by a car, nearly drowning when he fell overboard from a boat during a storm, or the time he was almost throttled to death by Erza when Gray accidentally threw Natsu into her and Jellal's twenty-fifth wedding anniversary cake.

He was not that old, but sixty was still a precarious age. His body was still strong, but she remembered painfully how Jet had been seemingly in good health, always running, thin and eating well, yet he dropped dead from an aneurysm so suddenly, nothing could be done. Jet had not been that much older than Gray.

So when she came out to the clearing by the waterfall in the woods and did not see Gray already there, panic set in instantly.

"Gray?" she called out.

Maybe he was in the trees. She looked around to make sure this was the right place. Could he have mistaken which waterfall? Maybe he thought she said west woods, not east woods. Maybe he just slept in. Still, something worried her.

"Gray!" she shouted.

He must have just slept in. Yes, that was it. Getting old, sleeping more…

Or he was saying goodbye anyway, although he originally had not wanted to.

Maybe there were some legal issues tying him up, dealing with what to do about his house, his possessions, and the money he had saved up for retirement … a savings he would never use, she realized, feeling just a little guilty that she was stripping him of a chance to enjoy retirement.

Maybe she simply took too long. Was this the third day, or the fourth? Perhaps she was even early. Judging time between dimensions was so hard. He might have been waiting around and went home already.

Or maybe he was hit by a car on the way here, or slipped in the bathtub, or died in his sleep from heart failure.

Stop it! Stop!

Lucy grabbed her hair and shook those nagging tragic possibilities out of her head. The worries that had silently plagued her for years now swarmed over her. They were so close to being together forever … so close! If anything were to happen to Gray now, of all times…

When she heard rustling, her throat clenched up. Slowly, she let go of her wild blond hair. Her breath stopped as she waited anxiously. Seeing Gray walk forward brought a flood of relief. She ran forward, leaped into his arms, and hugged him tightly. Gray was almost knocked back.

"Whoa! Hey, babe. Missed me?"

"You weren't here," she cried out.

"Well, you didn't give me a time." He rubbed her back as she clung to him. "Did you think I'd change my mind?"

She did not want to admit she had instantly feared the worst. So close to being together for all eternity, she had feared that something tragic would separate them forever.

"So, you never told me who I'm changing places with."

Lucy let go and looked up at him in shock. "Oh!" Had she really forgotten such an important detail? "Well, he's ready."

She closed her eyes and sent a small mental signal back to the waiting Celestial Spirits. Time seemed to stop around them, and the Spirit King appeared, towering over the waterfall. With him was Lupus the Wolf, a smallish character with the face of a wolf and gray fur covering his entire animal-like body. Gray arched an eyebrow at Lupus.

"You won't look exactly like him," Lucy assured.

"Gray Fullbuster," boomed the Spirit King. "Leo says you are willing to sacrifice your life as a Human to grant Lupus his wish for a mortal life."

"I am," Gray nodded firmly.

"Do you swear to live by the laws of the Spirit World, to follow our ways and our regulations; to honor the Zodiacs, the Leader, and the King; to obey your Human owner in all things, so long as it does not break the rules of our world; to never kill your owner or do something that may cause the owner's death; and to serve and fight for that owner with all your pride as a Celestial Spirit?"

"I swear," he declared.

"Leo," the Spirit King said, and Lucy nodded.

"What happens now?" Gray asked.

Lucy looked over to the Wolf. "Lupus, stand next to him. Remember what we told you. Imagine a human form."

"Can I have dark hair?" asked Lupus.

"Any color you want."

"Lucy?" Gray asked again warily.

She explained, "The magic to switch you two is extensive. By design, a single Celestial Spirit can't do it alone. It takes the magic of both the Spirit King and the Leader of the Zodiacs. Ever since Lupus mentioned he wanted this, I've been learning that magic, hoping I could do this transformation with you."

"Learning new magic, huh?" he smiled proudly.

"It's the last thing I'll do as your Celestial Spirit, Gray. Place your Spirit Keys on the ground."

He took off the pouch he had worn for decades, ever since inheriting Lucy's Spirit Keys. Carefully, caressing those keys one last time, he placed them on the grass. Those years of training crossed his mind. He could not say it was all for nothing. Those years of training allowed him to live four decades with Lucy by his side. Not always beside him, but frequently enough to make his life a happy and fulfilled one, bursting with love and joy. Those Spirits had saved his life, and he had protected them against evil wizards who wanted the Zodiac Keys for themselves. Now, he was giving them up.

It was just a little hard to let them go, as hard as the idea of leaving Fairy Tail.

Lucy walked forward and placed a Silver Key on the pile of gold and silver ones. "I had to purchase Lupus' Wolf Key. It took the last of the savings I had from when I was Human. The owner really did not want to part with him."

"Because I'm a cool guy to have around," Lupus bragged. Then he howled and grinned up at Gray. The Ice-Make wizard only arched an eyebrow at the small, wolfish creature.

"Um, what does the Wolf do anyway?"

"Are ya kidding?" Lupus cried out. "I'm the most kick-ass fighter of all the Silver Keys."

Gray eyed the tiny thing up and down.

"Hey, I can grow to human-size, too." To show him, the Wolf grew and became a large predatory creature much taller than Gray. It reminded Gray a little of Pantherlily's ability to transform into battle-mode. "I'm also good at tracking by smell, and I instinctively know moon phases, so I know what day it is here in the Human World. My last owner mostly liked to show me off at her parties. I'm an insatiable lover, woof!"

Lucy glared. "That will not be one thing you have to do, Gray. But yes, he's a powerful fighter, and he can control other canines to some extent."

"I'm the leader of the pack, baby!" Lupus howled and licked his chops.

"Enough," intoned the Spirit King. Lupus jolted at his voice, and he shrank back down to his smaller form. "We are ready. Prepare yourselves. It may be … uncomfortable."

The Spirit King reached down a single finger, and Lucy put her hand against that huge digit. A glow overwhelmed both powerful Celestial Spirits. Gray felt magic all around him; then that magic flowed within him, through skin and bones. Lupus flinched and groaned, but Gray felt only warmth at first.

Then suddenly, something worse.

It started over his chest. For the briefest moment, he feared he might actually be having a heart attack, right now of all times. However, the pain spread through his veins. Lupus was crouched on the ground moaning already, but Gray was used to pain. Not a hell of a lot could top the day Ultear awakened his Second Origin.

He coughed as the air tasted bitter. He felt weaker, yet stronger. Younger! He felt his body changing. The wrinkles on his knobby hands smoothed out. The skin was supple again, and age spots vanished. He felt old muscles growing again. However, he felt the ice magic and the ability to summon Celestial Spirits siphoning away from him. In a mix of ice blue and celestial golden light, that magic left Gray's body and swirled around Lupus' body, while Lupus' golden magic was sucked out of him and transferred to Gray.

Lupus howled loudly now, and Gray looked over to see him changing, the fur vanishing, skin forming, his wolfish snout shrinking as his face transformed into a human. For Gray, he felt a bit of pain at the base of his back, and there was some burning on the top of his head. When he reached up, there were soft ears covered in fur.

For Lucy, watching this change was spectacular. Lupus was changing all around, going from a native of the Spirit World, not even a little human-like, to a mortal. Gray was only changing superficially, which was normal for Humans who turned into Celestial Spirits, like herself, Aries, and Virgo.

His body got younger. She was glad to see that happen. However, his hair remained silver and black. It was the color of a gray wolf, and the ears and tail that appeared matched that silver hair.

When it was over, Lupus was a young male human with dark hair and mocha skin. He laid curled on the ground, slow to recover from the trauma, while Gray just stood there, feeling the tail and touching the new ears with a sense of wonder. He suddenly yanked his shirt off. He had done that a million times, but this time when he did, there was a wide tuft of fur on his chest. He grimaced at it, poking the hairiness, but Lucy thought it was rather sexy. She would love to snuggle up to that soft, fuzzy chest.

"It is done," the Spirit King declared. "May life be kind to you, Lupus. Choose a new name and live as a Human. Your lifespan will be slightly longer than a normal human, barring any accidents, and you will have your old physical strength as the Wolf, but not your old magic. You will have the magic of Gray Fullbuster. May the Stars continue to guide you." Then he faded away, and it was like time had restarted all around them. The waterfall roared, birds sang, and the wind blew gently with hints of autumn.

"Well, Lupus," Lucy smiled with reservation. "Are you okay?"

"That threw me for a loop," the new man admitted, still panting from the pain.

"Can you feel the magic within? You should have gained Gray's magic."

"Ice-Make and celestial summoning, right?" Lupus looked over to Gray. "They said I automatically inherit your Spirit Keys."

"That's fine. Will you be okay with that?" Gray asked in concern. "It's two forms of magic."

"Yeah, I'll be just as strong as you were at your peak, same magic, same abilities, although it might take a little while to learn all the tricks. Oh, and you don't have to worry. I won't be a cruel owner."

"I know," Gray smiled. "A former Celestial Spirit would treat everyone well."

"Of course! I know what having a bad owner is like. No way would I be like that. I'll probably rarely use the Spirit Keys. It'd be … weird. Except for Aries. She's hot, woof!"

"Hey," Lucy scolded. "Don't both her, you horny wolf. I might not be your Leader anymore, but I can come out under my own magic. I won't let you take advantage of Aries."

"Yeah, yeah. I'll be a good pup." He raised to his feet and ran his hand through shaggy black hair. "I'm really a Human, huh?" Then he suddenly looked down. "Um … I'm sort of naked. No one told me that would happen."

"Here." Gray handed over the shirt he had discarded. Then he also removed his trousers, keeping only his boxers on. "This will be enough to get you into Magnolia without getting arrested. Go to Fairy Tail. Gildarts and Erza are already expecting you. I left what funds I had to you. I didn't know who I was switching with, but I told Erza a friend would be by, so just tell them my name and she'll give you a key to a deposit box in the bank. You can use that to start your new life. Keep the house, or sell it. Doesn't matter to me."

"Awesome!" Lupus beamed with happiness. "But I kinda have to take a dump now. That whole thing messed me up inside a bit. Be right back!" He ran off into the woods.

"Well, he's an odd one," Gray muttered. "He'll fit right in with the rest of the guild."

Lucy walked up to Gray and touched his face. It was smooth, youthful, the face she originally fell in love with. She gazed into his eyes and saw they had a slight animal-like gleam to them when the trees shaded his face.

Gray pouted that she was staring so hard. "I hope I look okay."

"Incredibly sexy, in a furry sort of way."

He smirked slightly. "Do you like furry things?"

She stopped looking at the ears and gazed right at him. "I like you. That's all that matters."

"So, since lions are cats and wolves are dogs, does that mean we'll be fighting all the time?"

"I doubt it," she laughed, stroking his ears. "We'll be too busy doing … other things," she said, seductively winking at him.

"Roaring and howling?" he asked with a lascivious leer.

"Scratching and biting." She licked her lips. "For all eternity," she promised sensually.

Then Lucy gave Gray a passionate kiss. Finally, they could be together forever. All the waiting, all the separation, all the years of trying to return to one another, were all worth it for this chance.

Lucy wondered sometimes, did Lupus really want to be a Human, or had he said that because everyone knew Lucy really wanted Gray to be a Celestial Spirit? Maybe he had considered that life before. Many natives of the Spirit World tired of their eternal life of servitude and wanted the freedom of being a Human, even if it meant a mortal life. However, few dared to give up their immortal status. It was freedom, but it meant one day they would die.

Had Lupus decided upon this purely to give Lucy and Gray a chance to be together forever?

If so, that crazy Wolf was the best guy in the entire Spirit World. She would have given him a great big hug of gratitude, but he would probably try to pinch her ass.

Finally, Lucy and Gray pulled back, lips swollen and moist, panting from the passion of that kiss. She reached up, playing with his ears. Then she reached behind him, down to his butt, and stroked the tail that came out of the base of his spine. Gray suddenly jolted, and his hips thrust just a little harder against her. He laughed in apology.

"It seems that part is rather sensitive," he muttered.

"Oh really," she smirked. She could really get used to this look, especially if Gray had such a strong sensitive spot now. "Well, Lupus."

"Ugh! Do you have to call me that?"

"Not in private, but you do have to get used to hearing it. How about I show you to your new home?"

"I was hoping to live with you."

"In the Lion's Mansion? Hah!" she scoffed playfully. "You're not ready for that, little Silver Key. You get the dog house."

"Silver Key? You're gonna lord that over me all the time, aren't you, Miss Leader-of-the-Zodiacs?"

"Face it, I'm the queen of beasts, on top of the food chain." She leaned into him and stroked a finger down his furry chest. "A queen needs a guard dog."

"Woof," Gray replied, snarling with lust.

"Rawrrr!" she purred back.

Gray grabbed Lucy's hips and yanked her against him. "Doggie wants to bury his bone."

She ran her hands over his shoulders and moaned heatedly. "Pussy needs petting."

"Your place or mine?"

"I'm the one with a mansion. I have the bigger bed."

"Damn, I'm gonna love eternity!"

They grabbed one another into a lustful kiss, and both vanished into golden sparkles.

Not far away, Lupus came back to the clearing. He shook his head and muttered, "Well, he inherited my wolfish way with women. Then again, if he satisfied the Lion for this many years, maybe he'll improve upon what I used to be able to do. I have a feeling he won't be using that talent with the ladies, though. Some wolves can be monogamous and intensely loyal to their mate. That'll be him, I just know it. Best of luck to them both."

Then he saw the Spirit Keys lying on the grass. He picked up the large ring of keys and added the Wolf's Key to the collection.

"Lucky break for me! Biggest single collection of Spirit Keys in the Human World! I think I won't call on those two for a while, though." He patted where the Wolf's Key now rested beside the Lion's Key. "Now, to find this guild. I hope there are some cute girls there. That's what I love most, the hot cuties, woof!" He walked toward Magnolia whistling Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.

At his side, hanging from the jean trousers Gray had been wearing, the Gold Key of Leo brightened up in a happy golden glow, and the Silver Key of Lupus shined gloriously beside her.

The End

A/N: Thank you for reading. Give a little love and leave me a quick message. —Rhov