AN: Alright, so there's a fan-made crack!theory circulating like crazy at the moment that spurred me into writing this. It pretty much considers the possibility of Sting and Rogue being the future children of Natsu/Lucy and Gajeel/Levy (respectively), sent back from the future for reasons unknown. I take no credit for this theory – I'm just joining in on the fun and taking the chance to indulge in some shameless artistic liberties.

This piece is also inspired by a doodle by Rae (raedoodles on tumblr), and is set during day five of the Daimatou Enbu.

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

not yet, brave child

by Miss Mungoe

He's known for a while now.

"Damn it!"

Sting kicks the chair until it clatters loudly against the floor, but Rogue doesn't speak; doesn't even flinch at the noise as it cuts his sharp hearing like a knife. Trembling power crackles along the edges of his senses, and he recognises it for what it is. He's been like this since the fight. Since Lector.

Running a hand through his hair, Sting paces the room. Rogue looks over at Frosch, silent on the couch beside him.

"Fuck, Rogue – I don't know what to do."

It's rare for Sting to admit helplessness, but Rogue doesn't say this. That would be cracking a joke, and by the confused anger radiating off him, that is the last thing his friend wants or needs. And he was never one for levity, anyway.

"We do what we must," he says instead, although what that is, even he doesn't know. Fate has been throwing them for a loop since the games began, and where he once thought he had all the answers, he now has nothing. Nothing, save his own wits and his knowledge, but that amounts to little in the constantly shifting, turning, changing chaos that is their existence.

Sting scoffs. "Yeah, because that isn't vague as hell," he mutters as he picks the chair back up, righting it before slumping down on it and catching his head heavily with his hands. Tousled blonde strands stick out in odd directions, and an image flashes before Rogue's eyes of a head of bright pink, and a hand reaching down to the weeping form of Fairy Tail's stellar mage, blonde hair falling into her bruised face...

He's known for a while. He's tempted to tell him.

But when Sting's shoulders shake as he presses his fingers against his skull, Rogue keeps silent, unwilling to break the fragile stability his friend is so desperately clinging to. It's difficult, because the urge is there, constantly, spurred by the memories that haunt his mind more and more each day since the day he first laid eyes on her in seven years. In the void that is his past the only memory he's been able to grasp in the vague shadows of his mind is the feel of warm hands on his cheeks, cradling his face, wrapping him tight in an enveloping embrace that has stuck with him for years. It has been his beacon and his motivation for pushing forward because there has to be a reason he was sent back in the first place. He doesn't know what it is, doesn't even want to imagine what could possibly have demanded it of them, but he is here, now, and there is no going back for him. For either of them.

At least not yet.

Sting says nothing, and Rogue delves into the memory of soft hands wrapping a scarf tightly around his neck, and a wet cheek pressing against his as voice murmurs broken goodbyes in his ear. He remembers tracing the scars – the ones she does not have yet. He doesn't want to think when or where or why she gets them, but he knows she will.

"You'll go after Redfox tomorrow?"

Sting's voice is hoarse, but Rogue doesn't raise his eyes from his hands as he contemplates his answer, although he knows what it is; what it must be.


He doesn't know why, but he knows he must. It's a knowledge lodged deep in his heart; a righteous sort of fury that has spurred him on all these years. It's not a desire – it's a need.

Sting runs another hand through his hair, and Rogue rests his eyes once again on the blonde strands. No one is connecting the dots, because who in their right mind would? Sting resembles neither of his parents in temperament, but then he's grown up away from them. Things would have been different, undoubtedly, if they hadn't been sent away.

They would have been different.

Rogue wonders how they would react, if they knew. If they could even grasp the implications, let alone accept it as reality. He knows Fairy Tail has seen more than its share of strange scenarios, but he doubts his parents would blindly accept this particular scheme as truth, no matter the evidence presented to them. If he has evidence other than his own words.

Sting leans back in his chair, and there is a haunted look to his eyes when he raises his gaze to meet Rogue's. He doesn't know, and it's likely he never will.

Rogue has an urge to tell him, as he always does, because the burden is hard enough to shoulder alone. But he doesn't know if Sting could take it; knowing he once had people who cared, but who gave him up. Doesn't know if the man will so much as consider the reasons why, or just think of the fact that they did. In that, he is like his father; impulsive to a fault. Reckless. Righteous.

He looks at the clock. It's late. Much too late for them to still be up, with the tournament nearing its final stage. There will be a fight on the morrow, and he will have to face his own demons head on, and the man he's looked up to with equal reverence and wary curiosity for the better part of his life. The man he's looked forward to fighting, to defeating, for years.

But even if he does by some odd chance defeat his father, Gajeel Redfox won't be ruffling his hair with pride at his accomplishment when he's done. And if he fails there won't be someone picking him up and dusting him off. There won't be a smile waiting for him, and the warm embrace of a mother who's proud either way.

Rogue wonders if it's all worth it.

The smile flashes before his eyes then. It's a smile in a scarred face, surrounded by waves of sky-kissed hair. There are warm hands smoothing his fringe away from his eyes, and bright brown eyes with the wisdom of the world in their depths.

It isn't her, yet; the frail girl in the audience that cheers with a reverence that betrays simple camaraderie, whenever his father is in the arena. She hasn't yet seen what she will, and lived through what she must, to become the woman who'll one day send him away. Who'll kiss his brow and whisper how much she loves him and that he'll be a good boy – a brave boy – and live, because there's no other option for him, in the future he comes from.

He wonders if perhaps that's his job. To change the future.

But he's not Fairy Tail, no matter how clearly he can see their First Master, kicking her legs and cheering for her guild from the sidelines. He's never made eye-contact, but he knows she can see him. Knows she can see right through to his heart, but he knows, too, that she won't say anything. She'll keep his secret because he is of her guild, if not by a mark then by blood, and she is the keeper of all her children, past, present and future.

Sting can't see her, and Rogue wonders why.

"How the hell did things get this complicated, Rogue?"

Rogue says nothing, but he wants to laugh. Wants to burst out in helpless laughter, because Sting doesn't even know the beginning of it. He doesn't know what complicated is. It's not just the tournament. It's not just Fairy Tail. It's not just the dragonslayers. It's the future. It's their parents. It's the apocalypse, and it's them.

And he has no idea what to make of it.

"Fairy Tail is known for wreaking havoc wherever they go," he says instead, a small smile tugging at his lips.

Sting snorts, but says nothing to that. He rubs a hand through his hair, and sighs heavily, leaning his elbows on his knees. There's a lot Rogue wants to say. There's even more that he should say, but he doesn't know where to begin or where to end. It's the future and the past, but most of all, it's the present. He's walking blindfolded, going with the guts he recognizes is what drives the man he doesn't know whether to admire or hate. He does both, although the former is gradually replacing the latter, day by day. For a long time, his hatred was all that fuelled him; the same hatred that is tearing Sting apart from within. But that hatred is almost gone now. It started to dwindle the day he first faced his father in the arena; when an iron-knuckled fist struck him across the face and what he felt wasn't pain, but the memory of a rough, warm hand ruffling his hair affectionately.

He couldn't concentrate after that, because sometime during the fight the line between 'enemy' and 'father' became too blurred for him to distinguish between the two, leaving only Gajeel Redfox and a whole new range of unanswered questions.

He wonders if Sting feels the same. If even a shred of recognition sparked in his mind at the sight of his mother's ruthless torture at the hands of the woman from Raven Tail. Wonders if he felt something when his father turned the tables on him in the arena, schooling him like the boy he is but doesn't want to own up to.

He wonders, but he doesn't ask, and continues carrying their burden alone.

"Rogue," the small voice murmurs from beside him, and he looks down at Frosch. He smiles, and reaches out to straighten the hood that's fallen partway into her face.

"Are you tired?" he asks.

She shakes her head, but he can tell she is lying, though he doesn't press her. He knows going to sleep alone frightens her, and resolves to go to bed himself soon. He'll tuck her in, the way he knows she likes but doesn't ask for anymore, because Lector told her it was silly. He does it because he remembers the feeling himself; the snug safety of someone tucking warm blankets around you. Sting would never believe him if he told him, like everything else that is pressing on his conscience but that he won't tell him. Not now. Not yet.

Someday, maybe, but not yet.

Rising from his chair, he turns his gaze on his friend, still with his head in his hands. "I'm going to sleep. You should, too, if you wish to be at the top of your game tomorrow," he says, and bends down to retrieve Frosch before making his way towards the door and his room. Sting says nothing. Nothing, until Rogue is almost at the door.

"Sometimes I wonder if it's worth the trouble. If everything woulda been different if I hadn't gotten mixed up with Fairy Tail at all." If Lector would still be safe and not at the mercy of a ruthless Mistress who puts the old man to shame. It's what he doesn't say that Rogue hears with most clarity. And there's a tiredness to his voice that almost makes him want to turn back, sit back down and tell him. Everything. From the beginning, whenever that is, and to the end, which he doesn't even know himself. But he won't. Not now.

Not yet.

"It's too late to turn back," he says instead, hand on the doorknob and Frosch nodding off against his chest, already half-asleep. What he doesn't say is that they can't turn back. They can't outrun it. Not their fate. Not Fairy Tail. Everything they were, everything they are and everything they will be.

"Yeah," Sting says then, and there's a resolve there that brings to Rogue's mind a determined, fanged grin and flashing grey eyes. He wonders if Sting will ever make the connection.

"Get some sleep, Sting," he says, as he turns away. He receives no answer, though, but then he doesn't need it. He doesn't worry about Sting giving up. It's impossible, his parentage taken into consideration, and the stubborn blood running through his veins.

On the way to his room, he considers his choices one final time; the ones he's already made and the ones he will have to make in the future that awaits him. Then he breathes deeply, and pushes the thoughts away, to the back of his mind for another day and another time. He lets his thoughts linger on the warm brown eyes of his memory, and the hand ruffling his hair. Remnants of his past and the future that lies ahead. A future he must secure, but a future that, in the depths of his heart, he so desperately wants to change. And perhaps he will. But not now. Not yet.

But someday, sooner or later, he will make a choice. The choice. And he wonders, idly, if somewhere in the future, warm hands are cradling a small boy...

...without the intention of ever letting go.

AN: I'm so very, very into this theory right now, which, although perhaps far-fetched, isn't all that strange compared to the other things Mashima's pulled in the past (HELLO time-travel, alternate worlds and seven-year timeskip). I don't know, I guess I'm just a hopeless lover of dysfunctional family relations and this theory just went straight to the roots of my strange, strange heart. JOIN IN THE MADNESS, FRIENDS. Also, the prequel to this ('out of time') is now up!