AN: My mind CANNOT LET THIS GO. Seriously. So this is another response to the twin paradox slayers theory on tumblr, and a prequel to my Rogue-centered one-shot 'not yet, brave child'. It's from Levy's perspective, and set in an unknown, post-apocalyptic, dragon-infested future of Fairy Tail. 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.
Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail or its characters – Hiro Mashima does.
out of time
by Miss Mungoe
"Time to go, Shorty."
His voice is hoarse, but it falls like the heavy toll of a bell, threatening to shatter the fragile pieces of the heart she tries in vain to keep together.
Levy tightens her grip around the small shape in her arms, drawing strength from the warmth and the steady breath of her dear little boy. It's those things that she's fighting for, she reminds herself. His safety and protection. His life, and his future.
Small fingers tug at the hands cradling his face, and the eyes looking imploringly into hers are the mirror-images of the ones regarding her from the doorway.
"Momma," he says, and she wipes at her eyes, desperately praying for the strength to do what she must. What they must. Giving him a trembling smile, she brushes the fringe out of his eyes. She's been meaning to cut his hair for weeks, but she's never really found the time. The thought that she now never will clenches its barbed threads around the roots of her heart, and she nearly breaks.
His presence is a wall behind her then; a pillar of strength, and his reassurance brushes along the bond with the brash simplicity that is his trademark; drawing her out of the dark and back into the light. But along with the support is a hurt that even Gajeel can't mask, but she says nothing as she accepts it, shouldering the burden between them. She breathes, and she knows what must be done.
"Sweetie," she murmurs, and the tilted head she receives in turn conveys a curiosity the answers of the world could never hope to quench, but yet no understanding of the situation. He is too young, yet, to grasp the full implications of their choice – to know what they are about to do, and why.
She wonders if he will ever understand.
He walks into her arms when she opens them, wrapping his own around her neck and putting his cheek to the scarred side of her face. She can't keep the tears away, and she shakes with them as she clutches him close to her heart, breathing in the scent of him and the warmth that she might never feel again.
"It's time to go," she whispers against his ear, his too-long hair tickling her nose. "It's time to go away now. It's not safe for you here. Remember what momma told you about the dragons?"
She can feel his brows furrow against her cheek. "Go where?"
She pulls back enough so that she can look at him. "Somewhere safe."
Her resolve nearly shatters, but then he is there, lending her strength, like he always does when she has none left. Exhaustion leaps along the bond, but there is a resolve there, steel-wrought and unbreakable as the man himself, and she clings to it with a desperation she cannot name.
"Hey, kiddo," he says as he kneels down beside her, his bulking shape dwarfing her own. "Yer ma's never been good with good-byes. How 'bout we help her out?" Even as he says the words, she can feel the tension behind them, the sadness beneath the gruff tone of his voice, and draws a shuddering breath.
The small shape shifts against her as he looks up at his father. "Momma's not gonna come with?" He looks at her then, and the words lodge in the base of her throat, refusing to be spoken.
It is Gajeel who speaks for her. "She can't. She's got a job ta do here, remember?"
Expressive brows pull down into a frown, but then they shoot back up as his inquisitive mind comes up with another option. "Pops gonna come with?" he asks then.
He wants to say yes; she can feel the desire as it curls along the bond. But it's not just a desire, it's a need. One that can't be granted, and the sorrow that follows is so sharp it stings. Because they've discussed it already; talked it over, again and again. He is needed here. Now. Just like she is.
No matter how much she wishes they weren't.
Gajeel says nothing, but reaches out a hand to ruffle the small head of dark hair. "Yer a big boy now, yeah?" She pretends she can't hear his voice break, pretends to, because if she accepts it she'll break.
He receives an eager nod. "Aa!"
"Then you don't need yer old man to watch yer back, right?"
He is about to answer when a familiar presence appears in the doorway, and his line of thought sidetracks with the impulsiveness of childhood as he calls out, "Uncle Natsu!" Levy turns her head to meet her old friend's gaze, and her heart drops into her stomach. Their time is up, and it is to time they must now relinquish what they treasure most.
The grief on his face mirrors their own, but he keeps his posture straight and proud as he regards the three of them. He quirks a smile. "Hey, kiddo. Ready for an adventure?"
If she hadn't known him so well, Levy would have fallen for the pretence of playfulness, but the shadows in his eyes betray his cheer. But she says nothing. Instead she rises to her feet to face him, squaring her shoulders in an attempt at bravery she knows is transparent, to him as well as to herself. She does it because she must; because the eager boy at her side cannot know that his impending adventure will be her downfall.
It's a needless question, and to which they all know the answer. They'll never be ready. Never, even if they'd had all the time in the world with their boys, would they ever be ready to give them up.
They are silent, and Natsu doesn't press the matter. Levy turns back to their son, and tries to smile. If this is to be his last memory of her, let it be one for him to treasure. With a shaking breath, she takes him in her arms and wraps him in a tight embrace as she rises to her feet. He doesn't protest, although she knows he considers himself too old to be carried. Understanding is dawning on him, she realizes, and grips him closer.
She doesn't know where she finds the strength to stand, but she does, although each step she takes feels like the last she'll ever make. Gajeel is at her back, a silent tower of stability, as they follow Natsu out of the room and down the corridor. The underground passage bends and curves in all directions, but Levy knows it by heart. She has walked them many times; the darkened halls of the place she calls home. It is an existence but not a life, this haven of theirs under the earth. Not for any of them, but least of all for the warm shape clinging so dearly to her chest.
She steels her resolve, and moves forward. Before her Natsu's tense shape cuts a winding path towards their destination, and they follow in silent procession. Lucy is waiting for them at the bottom of the iron ladder that marks the passage from their sanctuary to the topside world; the world they are fighting to save, every single day. In her arms clings a small shape, wrapped in a familiar, scaled scarf that obscures nearly all but the top of a head of wild blonde hair. Her friend doesn't say anything, and neither does Levy, because there are no words that can convey the sorrow, nor any to ease the pain. There is only the bond of friends, and of mothers, linking their hearts with a knowledge of love, and of impending loss.
"I'll go first," Natsu announces, nodding to Gajeel, who steps back, prepared to flank their small group. Leaning towards his mate, Natsu murmurs something against her ear, before adjusting the scarf wrapped around his son.
"Careful out there," he says then, leaning in to press his brow against hers, and Levy sees her friend shake with the effort to keep her tears at bay. A small hand reaches out of the coverlet to touch her cheek, and her smile is trembling as she kisses it. Natsu steps away and looks up the ladder, and she can see him brace himself. As though physically pushing away the grief, and replacing it with the mask of the man who's been their leader and provider these dark years.
And then he climbs.
It is a perilous journey, and they've been planning it for months. Planned every detail, every outcome, because they are carrying treasures beyond worth, and they have everything to lose. They travel by night, moving swiftly, as dark shapes along a dark landscape; shadows in the night of the silent world.
Levy pulls her hood over her face, and presses the small form closer to her chest. He says nothing, and she knows that though he cannot comprehend the full extent of what is happening, he understands the need for silence. They haven't taken him topside in over a year. It's too dangerous, and he knows this with the awareness of a child raised in the fires of war. Going topside means being silent, means being careful, and he doesn't utter a word as they slip through the night, towards the towering spires of the city in the distance.
She thinks they will make it without problems when a screech tears through the darkness and the silence, sharp and cutting like a blade through soft, unrelenting flesh. Levy freezes in her tracks, heart in her throat as the terror of the beastly call roots her feet to the ground. She can't move.
There are hands on her shoulders then, pushing her to her knees, and her mate covers her frozen form like a cloak of darkness. Arms wrap around her shoulders and her head is pressed down until her sight is obscured by the dark strands of her son's wild hair. Trees rustle above them, and she waits for it – the tell-tale sound of the beat of great wings – and she doesn't dare so much as breathe in fear of betraying their position. Her blood is a surge in her veins and a thrum in her ears, and she can feel the steady beat of two heartbeats through her chest, one at her breast and one at her back.
When blessed silence follows, so do they.
It takes them the night and most of the following day to reach the heart of the city, having had to slow their pace after the break of dawn and the rise of the sun, in order to avoid detection from the skies. The peak of the eclipse is less than an hour away on their arrival, and as they enter the abandoned palace Levy looks towards the darkening skies behind them. As planned, Erza is there to meet them, and there are tired circles under her eyes. She is in full armour, but then she is rarely out of it in these dark days, and she nods at them as they approach.
"It is time," she says, eyes lingering on their precious quarry, and Levy looks over to meet Lucy's gaze. And despite being on the doorstep of their personal calamity, there is a determination her eyes that leaves no room for a change of heart, because they've been over this many times. There is no turning back for them. Not now. Not ever.
Their boy is half-asleep when she gingerly places him down onto the marble floor, and he sways on his feet. He's switched hands more than once throughout their journey, but has been asleep for most of it, and Levy is grateful for it. She remembers vaguely a past in which travel was a self-evident part of living. Where they could cross the borders in daylight and revel in the beauty of the skies without fearing the condemning cries of its winged lords.
She smiles as he rubs tiredly at his eyes, and he nods when she murmurs in his ear. He knows he needs to be awake. "Come on," she says then, taking his small hand in hers. With a tired yet gleeful grin, he makes a grab for his father's hand with his free one, latching on and tugging him along. Gajeel says nothing, but the pain thrumming along the bond cuts like a knife. How can they hope to go through with this?
If he can sense his parents' apprehension, he doesn't show it. He only smiles up at them, and her heart hurts at the unrestrained love in the expression. If he only knew what fate he was walking towards; what fate they were leading him to...
She breathes, and remembers the screech in the night. And the fires. And the deaths. And she reminds herself that the fate he is leaving behind is worse. She is no Seer; she doesn't know what awaits him, or what his purpose will be. She only knows, in the depths of her heart, that it will be important. That he will be important. This is bigger than him, and bigger than them. It is the world, and the past, and the present and the future.
When they enter the room, the portal looms before them; innocuous in the dim light. Nothing betrays the power that lies dormant within its towering arch; the power of the past and the future.
The power to which they will sacrifice everything.
"No turning back," she whispers, and the towering shape of her mate at her elbow bristles at the words. Kneeling down, she turns her son towards her, and busies herself with fixing his scarf, winding it snugly around his neck. She brushes his hair out of his face, and her thumbs along the soft skin of his cheeks. Tears press against her eyes, and she lets them fall. Pressing her cheek to his, she breathes against him. "You be a good boy," she tells him, voice soft, but strong. "Be brave, for momma and daddy. Live," she says, and her voice breaks, catching in her throat. "Live."
When she pulls away, recognition is sharp in his eyes. "I have to go?"
It takes all her strength to nod, but when she does, he only turns his gaze towards his godparents. "Just us?" he asks, and his eyes linger on the boy clinging to Lucy. If not by blood, then a brother by bond. They will have each other, if nothing else. Levy hopes it will be enough, in the years that lie ahead of them.
"Yes," she says. "Just the two of you."
He says nothing to that, but when he turns back to look at them, she can tell he understands.
And it breaks her heart.
He lifts his arms then, but this time the hug angled toward his father standing at her back, lending her his strength. Gajeel says nothing, but bends down, and when he opens his arms there is a new desperation in their son's movements as he throws his arms around Gajeel's neck.
"Be good, kiddo. Fer yer ma, yeah?"
She is shaking with sobs, and when he finally releases his father, there is a determined set to his eyes and his shoulders that takes her breath away. "Don't cry, momma," he says with a grin, and a fanged canine catches in his lower lip.
Wiping at her eyes, Levy takes his face in her hands, and places a kiss to his brow. Then she rises to her feet, and taking his hand in hers, leads him towards the portal. Natsu and Lucy come to stand beside them, but it is Lucy who takes her son's hand as they walk towards the towering gate. The steady 'clink clink' of the twelve keys at her belt is the only sound in the domed room, save the shuffling footsteps of the two boys between them.
They are out of time.
When the eclipse finally reaches its peak and the keys are proffered, the portal is activated in a surge of power that pushes against them like a physical wall, and as she looks into the vortex of energy that will soon claim their children, Levy wonders if it's all worth it. The small hand holding hers squeezes it, and she grips it with her remaining strength. It's ironic, that when it all comes down to it, she must draw courage from the one she is supposed to be giving it to. The gate hums before them, and she knows it is time. With an effort to which she has never felt the likeness, she lets go of the small hand cradled in hers; her trembling fingers releasing the last link that keeps him at her side.
Then he walks towards the entrance. His future. Their past.
When he turns to look back, she wonders if this is the last time she will ever lay eyes on him. She wonders if he'll ever fully understand the reasons behind their choice. She wonders if he'll ever remember her hugs and her kisses, or his father's tall tales and metal-wrought toys and trinkets, in the future that he is bound for.
She wonders if her questions will forever go unanswered.
"Be safe, my heart," she whispers as she watches them step towards the gate; watches them as they pass through the void, watches until her eyes blur with tears and she falls to her knees. There are soft arms around her then, catching her and cradling her, and she clings to her friend with helpless abandon. And Lucy clings back, and keeps her locked in her embrace even as the thrum of power dwindles down to a whirring trickle, and then, nothing. Silence, save the sobs that she can no longer suppress. The moon passes over the sun, and continues its trek across the sky.
There is a hum in her ears, then. A lullaby she doesn't know the words to, but that she's heard many times before from the woman holding her close, sung to the son that is no longer with her. It's a soft, lilting tune, broken with sobs, but Lucy continues regardless, stubborn as she is. Soft hands rub circles on Levy's back, and she weeps. At their back their towering pillars have broken, but remain stubbornly upright. Their strength will be needed on the morrow. They cannot give up, but for now, they will allow themselves the luxury of grieving.
Outside the sun will set, and rise, and their battle will begin anew. There is no room in their world for the innocence of children.
At least not yet.
AN: No names are mentioned, because part of my take on the theory includes 'Sting' and 'Rogue' as names they take/get after they've been sent back to the past. I've also taken some liberties with the current manga storyline: the Eclipse gate has not been destroyed in this universe, but lies dormant in the abandoned palace in Crocas. It also takes into account that the dragon army attacked, but that most of Fairy Tail survived and is now waging war against it. (If you've seen the film Reign of Fire, it goes a little something like that, just without Christian Bale). Also, Lucy's lullaby is borrowed from phobphil's lovely drabble 'Hidden In Plain Sight', which is another response to the theory.