AN: My third response to the twin paradox slayer theory that has taken my heart and inspiration hostage. It's a companion-piece to 'not yet, brave child', from Sting's perspective this time and set during the Daimatou Enbu. 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.

brilliance of the sun

by Miss Mungoe

He wonders what the deal is with the damn stellar mage.

He watches from across the arena; watches as Natsu Dragneel reaches down, a grin on his face that Sting can't comprehend because she just lost the damn fight, didn't she? He was even a little impressed, if only for a split second, when it had seemed like she was about to actually do something, but then she'd just...failed. Lost. It was ridiculous.

And of course that bloody guild has to go and act as though they've won. Like they've risen above it or some other self-righteous crap that they're always spewing. Like they're better than everyone else.

He hates it. He hates them.

But most of all, he hates her, and he doesn't know why. She's never done anything in particular to offend him, specifically. Hell, he's not even spoken to her directly. She's just been there, with the others. Nothing important. No one important.

But there's something about her. Something that causes a nagging at the back of his mind; like an itch just out of his reach.

Rogue is looking at him again, like he does when he thinks Sting isn't aware. And Sting doesn't know why, but there's something his friend is hiding. He doesn't press it, of course, because Rogue often keeps things to himself, and Sting lets him. Other than Lector, he's one of the few people he actually gives a shit about; one of the few people who understands him. He's like a brother, almost, but Sting doesn't know the meaning of the word, so he can't be sure.

He scoffs when she wipes her tears away – the stellar mage. As though it's something brave; like she's not just bawled her eyes out in front of an audience and brought nothing but shame to her guild. Crossing his arms over his chest, he watches with furrowed brows. "Pathetic," he mutters, mostly to himself.

"Victory has different definitions," Rogue says then, and Sting turns his head, a rebuttal on the tip of his tongue–

"There is more to winning than taking the prize, sweetheart."

–and nearly staggers, but catches himself just in time. He can't stop the hitch in his breath, though, or the way his heart does a great leap in his chest.

Rogue frowns, his acute hearing having caught everything. "What's wrong?"

Sting shakes his head to clear it. "Nothing."

Rogue doesn't look convinced, but then lying to Rogue is like trying to lie to a psychic. But he won't press him, Sting knows, and that makes it worse somehow. But he doesn't say anything, because even if he understands him better than anyone else, Sting doesn't think Rogue will be able to understand these phantom memories he has of what may or may not be his parents. He isn't crazy. He isn't, but telling Rogue would be as good as admitting to it. They're the dragonslayer duo who defeated their dragons. They'd never needed parents. Not now, and not ever. Not dragons, and most definitely not humans.

But even as he thinks it, he can't stifle the memory of the warm voice, and the soft reprimand that echoes in the depths of his mind and his memory. So close, and yet so painfully out of reach. He may not need parents, and part of him hates them, whoever they were, for abandoning him. And yet there is the other part of him, the one he doesn't want to admit that he has, that clings to the odd memories that sometimes resurface. A part of him that refuses to let them go, because he knows – he knows – that even if he doesn't need parents, he has a feeling he did, once. And that maybe...

...maybe they needed him, too.

The stellar mage rises to her feet, and the light of the sun catches in her hair, casting a shining golden halo over the two mages. Natsu Dragneel grins, as though all is right in the world.

And Sting hates them both.

"That was torture, Sting."

He runs a hand through his hair. "It was a fight. The hell did she think she signed up for anyway? A play group?"

Rogue does not look amused, and Sting feels like throwing something at him. All throughout the damn tournament he's been acting weird. Sting almost doesn't recognize him, and he feels like he's been thrown for a loop. It's not obvious to those who don't know him as well as he does, but there's an almost grudging respect in the way Rogue talks about Fairy Tail these days.

"It was unnecessary," he says then, and Sting throws his hands up.

"Yeah well, maybe she wouldn't have had to do it if she wasn't so weak. The Mistress was making an example of her, and about damn time–"

"Why're you crying, kiddo? It's just a scratch!"

He stops in his tracks, then shakes his head. Goddamnit.


"So what if you lost? Sweetie, you won't always w–"

"I'm fine."

Rogue regards him from beneath the fringe covering most of his gaze, and Sting turns away. Breathing deeply, he tries to focus on Lector and Frosch, talking quietly on the sofa. He tries to not think about the voices – the glimpses of a time he can't remember, brushing along the edges of his mind, forever just beyond his reach, like a dream slipping through his fingers at the moment of waking. Turning his eyes to the large window, he lets his gaze rest on the setting sun of the capitol; it's golden splendour casting over the rooftops a light like that of burnished gold. And just then, it's like something in him reaches out–

–and he grasps it. A memory, fleeting like the dwindling sunlight. And he remembers, suddenly. Gold. Bright, glowing gold. Warm like fire and glorious as the sun and the stars, and–

It's gone. Just when he'd felt like he'd finally caught onto something tangible, its slips from his grip. And what's even worse, he feels loss. It's strange and unfamiliar, and he doesn't like it. He's had his share of loss in his life, but he's never felt loss.

"Frosch thinks the sun is so pretty!"

The happy chirp pulls him away from his thoughts and back to the room, and Sting's eyes come to rest on the crown of light just as it dips below the rooftops. Frosch makes a noise of discontent, and Lector rolls his eyes as he says it'll be up tomorrow. It always is – it's reliable like that.

Sting says nothing as he gazes out across the city and the fading light of the sun. Reliable. Dependable. None of which are concepts he has any experience with. The sun sets on his world, but it doesn't warm like it should. It's there, but it's incorporeal, like the elusive memories of a past he can't grasp, but doesn't rightly know if he wants to remember.

"Frosch wonders if Sunny is awake..."

Sting frowns, confused by the remark, but Lector beats him to it. "And what if she is? It's not our problem."

Frosch looks down. "Frosch thinks Sunny looked very hurt," comes the soft murmur.

"She was," Rogue seconds. "I do not think she is awake, Frosch."

The stellar mage again. Sting snorts. "Why d'ya call her that, anyways?"

Frosch looks up, eyes wide. "Fro thinks she shines. Like the sun. Like Sting-kun does."

Rogue gets a very odd look on his face, but Sting ignores it. And if it had been anyone else saying it, he would have ripped them a new one, because he doesn't take being compared to people lightly. And being compared to Fairy Tail's pathetic excuse of a stellar mage?

"I ain't like the sun, Frosch."

"But Sting–"

"I said I'm not like her!" he snaps, and when Frosch starts, and those wide eyes water with tears, Sting turns away. He can feel Rogue's eyes on his back, and he knows he's overstepped a line, but he doesn't admit it, and Rogue doesn't call him on it. He glares at the slowly darkening city, stubbornly refusing to apologize, while Rogue murmurs something to the little cat he can barely catch, even with his hearing.

He sighs, and stuffs his hands into his pockets. Before him, the sprawling rooftops of the capitol are hard and dull in the waning light, the ethereal glow from before nothing more than a dream. The golden light whispering against the brim of his subconscious like the touch of soft, warm hands feels worlds away, and already he is forgetting the fiery brilliance that had moments ago felt so achingly familiar.

He shakes his head, ridding himself of the last remnants of the memory. What use is there to remember sunlight, when his world has always been shrouded in darkness?

"The stellar mage can rot for all I care," he says as he makes his way towards the door. Rogue's eyes are still on his back, and he ignores them.

But even as his own words echo in his mind, he can't purge the image of a battered shape falling towards the floor of the arena. Burning like a brand, fiery hot in his very veins, it flares like a beacon, eradicating the darkness, but it's not the sustaining warmth he felt before. He doesn't understand – doesn't comprehend why he should possibly care.

Anger envelops him like an old friend, but for the first time in his life, Sting doesn't know where to direct it.

He dreams, sometimes.

He dreams of Weisslogia, but that's understandable. He dreams about Lector; about what will happen if he doesn't succeed. He dreams about a future he doesn't know if he has, and a past he can't remember. He dreams about the sun, and the stars, and a brilliant, enveloping light and a warmth that reaches all the way into the marrow of his bones, and Sting can't for the life of him understand why.

It's never been this bad. Before the tournament, before Fairy Tail's entry back into the magic world, it was never this bad. He'd have dreams, and he'd remember things; snippets that were gone before he'd even had a chance to recognise them for what they were. They would be brief, fleeing things. Muddled, like trying to see through dirty glass. Nothing like the crisp, clear voices that haunt his mind now – that wreak havoc on the emotions he'd thought he'd succeeded in stifling.

Running a hand through his hair, he looks up at the ceiling above his head. He took Rogue's advice and went to bed, but he isn't getting any sleep. He thinks about the tournament and the finale and Lector and Minerva and–

"You won't surpass us."

His hands clench into fists at his side at the memory of the voice of Natsu Dragneel. Natsu Dragneel and his pretentious nakama speeches. Natsu Dragneel

"–is a good name, isn't it? Dragneel? Like dragon, yeah? It's yours too, you know."

Sting blinks. He recognises the voice – recognises it, like it's familiar. Like he's spent his life listening to it, and knows it's every lilt and pitch; knows it like he knows his own. Like he knows the soft murmurs that sometimes reach out to him from the depths of his memory. Like warm rays of sunlight spilling into a dark room, they cast light on obscured images he doesn't understand. A towering arch of brilliant light and winding, curving underground caves.

It's the voice he recognises, but not the words, because when has he ever heard Natsu Dragneel say that?

He doesn't know if he's going crazy. Doesn't know when or where or why or what, but he knows there is something. Something important that he should remember. The tournament has descended into chaos, but there is a nagging feeling at the back of his mind that whatever is awaiting them is worse, somehow. But he pushes the thoughts away, and thinks about Lector instead. Lector, and his promise, because that he can deal with. He can channel his strength and determination towards it. He doesn't give a shit about winning for the sake of the guild anymore; not when there's a bigger victory to be had. A more important victory.

"I'll get you back safe," he says to the empty room, more to reassure himself than anything else. He knows Lector is well; knows it because he has to. Because what use is fighting if he doesn't think he'll get him back? He'll fight for Lector, even if he's not watching. Even if he's somewhere Sting can't reach him–

"–that doesn't mean you're gone from our hearts. We'll fight for you, we'll fight for this world, and we'll get you back safe and bring you home!"

It takes him a moment to realise he isn't breathing, but he doesn't release it. Doesn't, because he can't. It's lodged in his throat like a painful lump, choking him grief. A cold sweat has broken out across his back, and his hands shake against his sides. And he doesn't dare move – doesn't dare breathe – because just for a moment, it hadn't been just a disembodied voice from the dark corners of his mind. He'd remembered. Sadness, and fear, and uncertainty and a voice whispering fiercely against his ear a promise that he can't believe he'd forgotten, now that it's rooted itself in his cynical heart like a blazoned emblem.

He remembers. A towering arch – a gateway – and the moon passing over the sun. A screech in the night and the beat of great wings

"Do you remember, sweetie, when I told you how you were my sun?"

He shakes his head stubbornly, and rubs at his eyes. He doesn't want–

"Everything's so dark, but when I look at you I remember what sunlight feels like."

"Stop it," he commands, feeling slightly foolish for talking to thin air. His voice is hoarse and there is a pounding against his skull that makes him nauseous.

"It's warm..."

"I said stop it!"

"...and sustaining..."

"Damn it! SHUT UP!"

"...and even if I can't see it, I know it's there, above us. Keeping the world alive."

Sitting up in bed, he grasps at his temples, rubbing, pounding, clawing

"And just like that, even if you're not with me, I'll know that somewhere you'll be shining bright. And even if we're apart..."

And he sees it; the face he's been hiding from. The eyes that have haunted him in his wake and in his sleep; deep brown and full of the love he's never felt, never known, and hair – golden hair, bright like the sun; shining, glowing with an intensity that burns like a dragon's molten fire. And the swirling vortex of a gateway; a portal that will lead him away, that will remove him from the brilliance and the love and the protection of the woman he suddenly remembers like he's never forgotten her.

"'ll be keeping my world alive."