AN: It's the end! Thank you so much, all of you who've been following this story, whether you've been with me from the start or if you've just joined; you've made writing this a pleasure, and I really hope the ending will make up for the endless cliffhangers I've made you go through. Reading my stuff demands a certain patience and endurance, but you can rest assured that however rough the road, all will be well in the end.
Warning: This is an AU, so I will take my share of artistic liberties regarding the plot.
Disclaimer: Fairy Tail and its characters belong to Hiro Mashima; I own absolutely nothing. Cover image by Rae.
A heavy fog lay over the valley this morning, and the smell of rain was thick on the damp mountain air. A soft roll of thunder in the distance broke into the silence of her mind, and Madrigal opened her eyes, realizing she'd been about to fall asleep. She noted the tentative start of a soft patter of rain against the mountain, but the quiet crag she'd found sat beneath a cover of rock, shielding her from the wrath of the weather.
The little alcove sat some ways down from the Aerie's throne room, near Kalwyn's library. She'd used to sit there as a nestling, whenever she'd get out from under the wings of her tutors, or her father. She hadn't be able to come entirely alone this time, but at least Balefire had had the sense to settle on a crag nearby. The rain was falling in earnest now, but her stubborn guard didn't move an inch as the water drummed against his scales, his expression grim as always under the rivulets of rain pouring down his muzzle.
Madrigal stifled a fond snort at the sight, shaking her head softly as she turned her gaze towards the entrance to the Keeper's Archive, nestled in the mountainside. The little script mage was down there, with Deeney's nestling and Makarov and his grandson, still cleaning up the mess Abbadon's clan had left them. The throne room hadn't been the only part of the Aerie that had suffered the brunt of the old dragon's wrath; there was a decent-sized hole in one of the Archive's walls, and the blast that had caused it had taken down a few bookcases. Kalwyn would have thrown a fit if he'd known.
The thought saddened her, but she didn't allow her mind to linger too long, turning it instead to the humans who'd stayed behind. The others had left the day before, to find and inform the surviving humans of their victory, and make a plan for what to do next. Metalicana had gone with them, along with a group of Madrigal's finest. She'd let them go with a good conscience, now that her kingdom was finally safe.
Levy McGarden's choice to stay had surprised her, but when she'd inquired about it, Madrigal had been assured it was only for a time. The lingering parting with Metalicana's son had not gone unnoticed, either, but there'd been a familiar determination on the young man's face when he'd left, and a short warning that she better still be there when he came back to get her.
Shifting her weight a little, Madrigal grimaced at the dull pain racing up her side. Deeney's dragonet had done what she could, but the scar still remained, a vicious, jagged thing that carved a path like a valley along her once pristine scales. She'd have liked to claim she'd never been one for vanity, but the lie was a sour taste on her tongue, and so she tore her eyes away from the sight of it, turning it back to the green of the basin below. It would look better with time. Humans and dragons all learned to live with scars, and hers would not impair her in any way, at the very least. She could still walk and fly without problems, which was more than many of her kin could say, after the battle they'd had.
She thought about the script mage, and the scars she bore on her face. She'd always thought humans were soft-looking creatures, and that it wouldn't take much to rend hide that weak, but Levy McGarden had survived somehow, and bore the marks proudly now. When she'd first arrived at the Aerie she'd worn her strange blue fringe low, nearly into her eyes, but when Madrigal had seen her at mealtime she'd pulled them back from her face.
The stray memory made her own self-pity seem an oddly juvenile thing, like she was a hatchling who hadn't yet grown into her wings, and so she forced herself to look at the wound again. It didn't look any better, of course, but she didn't feel like tearing her eyes away immediately. She'd survived, after all; it would have been a killing blow, if Natsu hadn't shouted for her to move at the last second.
The sound of wings interrupted her thoughts, and she looked into the rain to find a dark shape descending, to land smoothly on the crag at her side. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Balefire shift, but upon seeing the identity of her visitor, her grim guard stayed put.
"I was thinking I'd find you here," Igneel said, shaking the rain off his bulk as he folded his wings to join her where she sat, tucked into the dry alcove.
He grinned at the formal greeting, teeth showing as he looked out into the rain. "Beautiful day to play hooky, no? That's a human saying, for skipping your duties."
Madrigal smiled. "I felt I was due some reckless behaviour, after everything." Not to mention, she didn't handle confinement very well; there was a restlessness in her bones that time had yet to soothe completely, a trait inherited from the very dragon at her side. Her mother had always been one for the comfort of home, and had rarely ever left the Aerie in all her life. Madrigal knew that if the burden of the crown had not been hers to carry, she would have left to explore years ago, instead of taking her mother's place upon her death. Maybe she would have found a human, like her father, to pass along her powers.
Maybe. Maybe. So much is left to chance. She'd seen her father's relationship with the human boy, her...younger brother, as it were. It wouldn't have been amiss, to have had something like that for herself. She had no hatchlings of her own.
"Nyra would have been proud," her father spoke then, startling her out of her musings. When she looked up, he was looking out towards the valley, shrouded now almost completely in the mist. Then he looked back at her. "For leading us, and for being our Queen. I know I am proud of you," he said, with a warm smile. "Fire of my heart."
Unbidden, tears sprang to her eyes, and then she really did feel like a dragonet again, the weight of the responsibilities that awaited her resting heavy on her shoulders, the crown not yet hers to carry but the significance unmistakable. Now she'd worn it several centuries, and the weight had made her grow up, even though she was still young by the standards of her kind.
A tail wrapped over her own, mindful of the still-healing wound, before a wing wet from the rain came to rest over hers, a gesture he hadn't offered since she'd been a stumbling hatchling, and when the sobs shook her he pressed her close in silent response. And for once she didn't think about Balefire or the eyes of her kingdom, or the humans who'd been brought to her for aid. For once, Madrigal allowed herself to feel every ounce of fear the ordeal had driven into her marrow – Abbadon's attack, Kalwyn's death, her new little brother's near disappearance...
Her father said nothing, but sat with her there on the crag overlooking the valley. The rain still fell, heavy and wet, but with her tears her grief rested a little lighter on her back, her fears a little easier in her heart.
"You know," Igneel spoke then, voice low so only she would hear. "In this new world of ours, it will be safe for hatchlings again."
Madrigal started, and looked up, finding his honest gaze. Then she glanced towards the crag where Balefire sat, as immovable as the mountain itself, rain still pelting down at his back. She'd only looked away for a second, but when she drew her gaze back it was to a knowing look in her father's eyes.
"Perhaps," she said at length, when the silence grew distinctly uncomfortable.
Igneel laughed. "Don't get your tail in a twist, Mads, I'm only teasing."
"I am not a nestling anymore, Father, I can handle teasing." But she pointedly avoided looking in Balefire's direction again. However, despite her efforts, she had the distinct feeling her father knew exactly what she was thinking about. But though his humour lingered in the lines of his eyes, Igneel didn't push the subject, and the silence grew comfortable again under the heavy drum of rain against the mountain, the downpour like a curtain before them, shielding the entire valley now in a misty grey veil.
"What will you do about the gate?" he asked then after a lull, his voice still low but carrying a quality she couldn't quite determine, but an underlying wariness that was hard to miss, for someone who'd known him their entire life.
"I don't know," Madrigal admitted, brows drawing together with thought. "It could be useful to keep."
Igneel nodded. "It could also be dangerous."
She hummed. "That, more than anything. But I don't know if destroying it is in our immediate interest." Kalwyn had put so much work into the gate, and there was a reluctance in her heart to see it go. "I do want it out of my throne room," she said then, dryly. "That I know for certain." The monstrosity still prompted memories that were too sharp to bear; she'd have to get it out soon, before she grew mad in its presence. But where to put it?
"So we are staying?" Igneel asked, and at her quizzical look shrugged. "There was talk that we might relocate, considering the extent of the damage. Rebuilding will take time, and it won't be the same. Either way, it is your choice, as our Queen."
Madrigal thought of the Aerie of her mother's reign, sitting by the throne under her father's wing, the pillars rising into the ceiling, glittering with colour. Now it was full of dust and rubble, and at least two pillars had fallen. Her father was right, it would take time to get it back to a semblance of what it had used to be, and even then it wouldn't be the same. The mountain remembered, and there were painful memories there now, etched into the stone.
"We stay," she confirmed then, after a moment's thought. "I think that's what Mother would have done," she added, and found in her heart a certainty that surprised her. "No, I know she would have."
When she looked at Igneel next, he was smiling. "Yes. I think they'd have had to bring the whole mountain down to drag her from it," he laughed, a fond sound that still had a lingering note of hurt in it that would never truly go away. "But," he continued, "You are not your mother, Madrigal, and the Aerie is yours, as is this decision. We will follow where you go."
She considered his words. She was her mother's daughter, that much was true, but her mother had made her share of mistakes. Despite choosing to aid the humans, the gap between their races had never been fully breached, until Madrigal had made the choice to intervene centuries later, in what would now be known as the Second War, when it had almost been too late. Would Nyra have done the same, if she had still held the throne? Would she have invited a script mage into their midst, to the very heart of their people and their carefully conserved knowledge, to assist them in their plight?
Part of her wanted to think she would have, but she couldn't quite convince herself of it. Her mother's rule had seen much opposition, Abbadon and Kalwyn only two voices in a chorus of others, and when it had come to the decision to lend humans the knowledge of their powers, she had hesitated. And in the end, the dragonslayers had been trained far away, for their own safety, but perhaps even more for that of her mother's people.
Madrigal looked into the rain, and the fog curling thick around the valley trees. A fresh, earthy smell was rising from the ground far below; the rain had a way of making things feel new again, like the world was cleaning itself off its old hurt. The rebuilding would begin soon. The humans would sow the ground anew, build towns and cities, and with time things would start going back to normal. Trade would recommence, and travel between countries. The human race would flourish once again, as it had in the past, but what would be the fate of her own kin? Would she keep them separated for their own safety? Would she bid Levy McGarden goodbye when she left, and let that be the extent of the cooperation between their races?
Madrigal looked out into the rain, and found her answer in the memory of milky white eyes and the kind, rumbling laughter that followed a particularly long-winded anecdote about a small bluebird who'd single-handedly turned one old dragon's life and library on its head.
Haven's Rest, five years later
The sun glared down at him, a bright spot against a cornflower sky. The surprised shriek of a bird cut through the quiet, a keening noise that sent a flock fluttering up from a nearby tree, a hundred dark shadows rising into the sparse, fluffy clouds above.
Gajeel wiped the sweat from his brow as he took a drink of water, leaning his weight against the half-finished fence as he surveyed the quiet peace of the village around him. Nestled against the mountainside within which they'd once hid their largest shelter, Haven's Rest now sprawled, an ever-growing settlement of small, one-story houses and huts. Not their largest settlement to date, but it was the one Gajeel had contributed most to, and admittedly, the one in which he felt most at home.
The largest by far was Sanctum City in the south, the home of Queen Hisui, built a few miles from the ruins of the old Capitol. Gajeel had been there a handful of times with his old man since they'd started building. Since then it had drawn quite a few, and it grew at a faster rate than the other settlements, but it wasn't so strange, it being the Queen's home. With the dragons gone, it wasn't at all strange for people to gather around a leader. Gajeel had been surprised the girl had survived, but when they'd travelled south after the dragons' defeat, they'd found her in Sanctum, along with that severe-looking guard of hers. They must have made it on their own somehow.
The two closest settlements to Haven's Rest were Skyport and Kalwyn Cove, each only a few miles away, the three villages marking the corners of a large, triangular area that would, in time, become New Magnolia, once the population grew large enough to fill it. That had been Erza's idea, when they'd first started out with the rebuilding five years ago. It was a pretty extensive project, but she'd had the determination to match it. After they'd sent the dragons back and gotten in touch with the other shelters again, she'd also been the first to organize a more active form of communication between them. Of course, with travelling safe again, it didn't take long to establish a better system of runners and couriers, and with the dragons to aid them they were soon able to transport people across a distance that would have taken weeks to cover on foot.
Most of what remained of Fairy Tail had settled down in Haven's Rest, aside from a few who moved between the settlements. Wendy had spent enough time in Refuge to have grown comfortable, and when they'd expanded the shelter to the town that was now known as Skyport, she'd established a hospital of sorts where she spent most of her time. What remained of Blue Pegasus had moved their business there as well.
Gajeel surveyed the little one-story house that sat before him, the cheerful yellow walls that he'd painted himself and the slated roof. It was a far cry from the shoddy apartment he'd shared with Lily back before things had gone to hell, with flowerpots below the big windows his wife was so damn fond of. He looked through the glass to the rows of bookcases that lined the living room walls. Gifts from the Queen, for her's efforts in rebuilding the Keeper's Archive; they'd been the first things they'd moved into the house, when he'd first built it. Even the bed had come later. It would figure, of course, Levy being Levy. Now they had plenty of things, some of his own hands and some collected, and a small, yet-to-be-occupied extension Gajeel had spent the better part of a month adding, for the ba–
"You're up early, my boy."
Dragged out of his thoughts, Gajeel turned to look across the fence, spotting Makarov on the footpath curving between the houses. "You should be cherishing the opportunity to sleep in," the old guildmaster-turned-mayor of sorts told him pointedly, a knowing smile on his weathered face. "You'll miss it in a few months' time."
Gajeel snorted. "No point in just laying around. And Shorty's out, anyway, so I figured I'd get some work done."
Makarov hummed. "Ah, yes. She's gone to see Wendy, then? I'd have thought she'd have come here for the check-up. Should she be travelling in her condition?"
"Nope," Gajeel said, wiping his brow again. The sun was being particularly harsh this morning. "But she went with my old man, so I can't really complain about it. The kid said she'd come here, but the damn woman wanted ta go to Skyport like her bloody life depended on it."
His old guildmaster laughed. "I've heard it's thriving with shops now. And they're starting to put together a library. Do you think that might have something to do with it?"
"That ought ta do it," Gajeel drawled with a shake of his head. "Ain't enough fer her to start one here, but what's she gonna do with that one, compare catalogues?"
Makarov grinned. "It's alright to be worried, Gajeel. It's your first, after all, and Skyport is a few miles away, though I'd hate to remind you, as she no doubt already has – she knows her own limits."
"I'm not worried," he grumbled, but it sounded petulant even to his own ears, and so he changed the subject. "Ya talked to Erza lately?"
He received a nod, and Makarov tucked his hands behind his back. "She's making the annual rounds. She'll be going to the Capitol soon, to speak with the Queen."
"She still thinkin' about reinstating' the guilds?"
He nodded. "In time. We are still a little short on mages, but we've got enough to get a few guilds started. Some business would be good, to get the jewels circulating again."
Gajeel grinned. "You gonna be guildmaster then?"
"Hah! Oh no, I have lived too long, and through too much. I'm retired," Makarov declared with a look that brooked no argument. "Officially, this time, and I intend for it to stay that way."
"Whatever you say, old man." It would probably be Laxus or Erza, anyway, at least until Natsu got it into his head.
At the thought of the dragonslayer Gajeel side-eyed the house on the immediate right of his own, sitting innocently below the branches of a large oak. When Levy had insisted she wouldn't stay far away from Lucy, he'd figured she'd meant in the same town, not the same street. They were their loudest neighbours to date, and that was saying something.
"Is he visiting the Aerie?" Makarov asked, following Gajeel's gaze. The house sat in silence, as it had all week. Blondie had gone with Levy to Skyport, and Natsu's old man had come by to pick him up not long after that. It had been the quietest week Gajeel could remember since moving in two years earlier.Good riddance.
"Yeah. Mads' brats are about to hatch, last I heard. Th–"
"God, Redfox would ya keep it down? Some of us are tryin' ta sleep!" A head popped out of the window of the small house right opposite the street, dark hair mussed and tired blue eyes glaring across the footpath to where Gajeel stood behind the partly finished fence.
"Some of us keep normal hours, Alberona," he threw back. He added a shrug for good measure. "And it's a free world."
She grumbled something about showing him just how 'free', before she slammed the window shut. When she didn't come barrelling out onto the porch, he smirked, and turned back to Makarov. "The problem about building a town from scratch, ya can't scope out the neighbours first."
Makarov barked a laugh. "Indeed! But don't forget that I'm your neighbour, too," he reminded him, with a pointed gesture to the little house beside Cana's. "And that I had my first brick put down before you had decided on a spot."
Gajeel rolled his eyes. "You don't mind and don't pretend you do. You'd love it if this whole damn street filled up with brats."
"But of course," Makarov agreed readily. "What better example of our victory, than to see our legacy every day from my porch?" He grinned. "But that you'd be the first, now that I would not have thought."
"Don't speak too soon, old man. Laxus ain't getting any younger." Gajeel grinned. "And rumour has it Titania's got one on the way." He didn't know if that was true, of course, but he'd know for sure when she made her way back from the Capitol. Erza kept a permanent residence in Haven's Rest, although she travelled more than she stayed put. Not that he had any business butting into her private affairs, but in a town so small, word had a way of moving about.
"Really? Well, it certainly would be good for Erza to finally get some rest!"
"Ya didn't hear it from me," Gajeel warned, pointing his hammer at the smaller man. "If it turns out she is knocked up and wanted ta keep it on the low, I don't need her on my back. I've already got one pregnant woman out ta get me, I don't need another one."
"Speaking of," Makarov said then, looking up. Gajeel followed his gaze, shielding his eyes from the sun as a dark shadow passed overhead, the great wingspan momentarily blocking out the light. He took a moment to silently marvel that there'd been a time where he'd flinched at less, but he'd grown oddly used to the presence of dragons in their new world.
He watched as the dark shape descended, down towards the end of the street where an area had been cleared for dragons to land and take off. Contrary to his reputation, and Deeney's jokes, his old man was a good flyer. Of course, he'd have to be, for Gajeel to trust him to carry this particular cargo.
The little shape slid down from the great, ridged back – with noticeably more effort than usual, Gajeel noted with a smirk – accepting a helping hand from the blonde at her side as she came to land on her feet with a small wobble. A moment later, Juvia came around the other side of the dragon, a bag slung over one shoulder.
Discarding his hammer, Gajeel jumped smoothly over the fence, wiping his hands on his pants as he made for the new arrivals, Makarov falling into step beside him. He saw Lily now, too, a small, dark form among the three women and the looming dragon, but the sight that held his attention wasn't his partner.
Catching sight of him, happiness flashed across her face in a wide smile, and she quickened her pace to meet him, the other three scrambling at her heels with half-panicked shouts to make sure she didn't fall. Gajeel caught his father's fond eye-roll before he caught Levy halfway down the path, a reproachful glare on his face at her reckless antics, but he failed to hold it for long as she melted against him with a happy sigh.
"Yer early," he grumbled, ruffling her hair as she pressed her nose against his chest, before she drew away.
"And you smell," she retorted, nose wrinkling. She peered at his face, and his sweat-soaked shirt. "Have you been working? It's so early."
"Fence." His grin widened as her eyes went round with surprise. He shrugged, and tried to hide his pleased smile. "Ya said something about it before ya left."
"That's quite the accomplishment, Lev," Lucy commented as she caught up, one bag under each arm and a clever twinkle in her eye. "I've been trying to get Natsu to help me build a fence all summer, but he's been too busy with the hatching." She rolled her eyes fondly. "If this is how he reacts to becoming an uncle, I'm glad it's not our turn, yet," she said, with a meaningful look in Levy's direction. The script mage patted her stomach proudly, the bulge round and smooth beneath her palms.
"Have you thought of a name yet, my dear?" Makarov asked.
Levy shared a look with Gajeel, prompting an obligatory sigh that made her grin widen. "I like Wyn, for a girl," she said, cheerfully ignoring Gajeel's snort. Makarov laughed.
Gajeel shook his head. "Kid's bound ta be a nerd."
His wife pursed her lips, undeterred. "You know what, I hope she will be," she said, giving the bulge a fond rub. "It's a good legacy, I think."
"Indeed," Makarov agreed. "And for a boy?"
"It should be a strong name," Metalicana supplied from behind. "A dragon's name."
"Well you can think of it for the next one, because I know this one is a girl," Levy said, gaze finding Gajeel's. "Wendy confirmed it."
He balked, and it was Lily's turn to laugh now. "I told you," he said to the stellar mage, who shook her head.
"She's coming here to stay in a few weeks, until the baby comes," Levy explained. "Apparently, I shouldn't be travelling in my condition."
Gajeel snorted. "No kidding. And will ya listen now?"
She waved him off. "I needed to stretch my legs, and they've had new additions to the library – I wanted to check them out."
"Just 'check them out', huh?" Gajeel looked at the bulging bags the other women were carrying. Juvia lifted hers in mute answer, and he saw the unmistakable contours of books, and many, at that.
"Ours is smaller," Levy defended, when he threw her an accusatory look. "And some of these are copies, and anyway, Hibiki said I could have them."
"I bet he did," Gajeel muttered, but it was hard to feign irritation when she had that smile on her face.
His old man laughed, a deep, rumbling sound that was bound to wake the entire neighbourhood, if their arrival hadn't already. "If the size of your library is not to your liking, bluebird, there's still a position waiting for you, if you ever decide to move to the Aerie." He looked at Gajeel. "Mads hasn't chosen a new Keeper, yet."
Gajeel snorted. "Raising human brats in a mountain, old man? If they're anything like this troublemaker they'll be fallin' off the damn thing the minute they learn ta crawl." He nodded to his wife, who made a noise of discontent at being called a troublemaker.
"I could babysit," Metalicana offered, a feral grin curling along his muzzle. He looked to Levy again. "Kal would have wanted someone to keep his archive in check," he added meaningfully.
Levy smiled, gaze softening. "It is very tempting, but my place is here." She looked at the people gathered around her, cheeks curving with her joy. "With my family."
"Humble words, from the saviour of the new world," the iron dragon rumbled. "That is what they call you, among my kin." He looked at Lucy. "Both of you."
Levy laughed. "A fine title, but it's not very me, is it?" She looked down at her stomach again, hands pressing against it where it swelled. "It is a new world, but I know where I'm supposed to be in it. I'm not a saviour," she said, smile blossoming. "I'm just a survivor."
Metalicana grinned. "I suppose I'll have to come visit here, then."
Levy met Gajeel's gaze, eyes earth-brown beneath her bright blue fringe. Her scars stood out, vivid reminders of their battle, but she wore them proudly now. Survivor, huh?
Her grin curved then, wide and true and open, the sky overhead spanning an honest expanse of blue, and the sun shone bright against her face. Stepping closer, she took his hand in hers, dirt-smudged from work, and pressed his palm against the left side of her stomach. There was a pause–
He must have looked as stunned as he felt, because her expression contorted to one of laughter, the sound rising into the clouds to join the birds, flying free and careless in the late summer morning. Then the others joined in, their easy happiness such a carefree thing under a sky that had once weighed so heavy on their shoulders. The push against his palm drummed a steady, forceful beat, the source still tucked safe beneath her mother's heart but professing a strength that stole the breath from his lungs.
And when Levy met his gaze next, it was with a promise that held not just five years' worth, but that of decades to come.
"We all are."
AN: I'm not gonna lie, I am super emotional over this epilogue. This story has had its ups and downs and I've suffered a writer's block of massive proportions but it's finally done and I'm really happy with where I've gotten and I hope you are, too. I hope you've had a good read, and please leave a word if you have, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
A note on the endgame pairings: I've left some details intentionally vague, so if there's a ship of your preference you hoped would end up together, by all means, ship to your heart's content. I have my own ideas and headcanons, but since the only pairings I've been actively writing in this story from the start have been Gajeel/Levy and Natsu/Lucy, those are the ones I've settled on. Of course, that doesn't mean they're the only ones who settled down together, but I'll leave the rest up to you guys.