This is it, everyone. The Epilogue, the Final Chapter. It's been a wonderful (albeit rough at times) ride. Thanks to everyone who reviewed, followed, favorited, or just read this story. It's been an extreme pleasure to read all the notices I get, as well as the reviews themselves. Hopefully I'll start another FT fanfic soon, and we can do this all over again sometime.
S/O to all of you, whom I love dearly.
Fair reading and following fanfics, my friends.
Lucy smiled down at Natsu and brushed his hair back. He looked so peaceful when he slept, despite his energy and life when he was awake. Though his rambunctiousness had been a tad bit more subdued these past few days. She could hardly blame him, though. Running a kingdom was hard work.
Moving slowly so as to not wake him, she slipped out of their bed with as much grace as she could muster. She walked over to the fireplace and sat down on the chaise lounge in front of it, holding her hands out. The winter months never affected them too much, but every once and a while a chill would manage to permeate the castle. This was one such time.
The door opened and a blue head popped in. "Is everyone decent this time?"
She chuckled, remembering the incident last week, and nodded an affirmative.
"Thank goodness." Wendy sighed in relief and wheeled a breakfast cart in. "I don't think I'll ever walk in a room without knocking again as long as I'll live." She shuddered slightly and started placing food before Lucy. "Eat up now, you'll need your strength."
Her stomach rumbled hungrily, but she still hesitated. "None of that now," Wendy chastised. "You look fine. Besides, Juvia and Gray are coming back today. You'll need to be running on all cylinders to deal with those two." She rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath.
"I suppose that's true enough." She picked up a croissant and nibbled at it. "I am looking forward to seeing them again, however. How long has it been now?"
Wendy thought for a few moments before speaking decidedly. "They left about two months ago, I think. Yes, that's right. They'll have covered the entire border by now, or at least most of it. No reports of unrest have reached us, so everything must be fine at the moment."
"I wonder how they're doing." Lucy mused.
Charle meowed and wound around Wendy's ankles. Wendy picked her up and stroked the white fur, talking absently. "Juvia's probably destroyed a terrorist cell or toppled a minor government by now- you know how she is. Gray probably hurt himself or got lost." She shrugged.
"I see you're taking care of the King's gift to you," She nodded towards the she-cat housed in Wendy's arms. "How's he doing, anyway? Sometimes I worry about him. He always plays it off, but I think passing the throne on to Natsu really took a toll on him."
"Oh, that grumpy old dragon? He's fine, don't you worry. I take good care of him, though goodness knows he certainly complains enough." She scowled and then turned to her, exclaiming. "And you know what I caught him doing yesterday?" She carried on without waiting for an answer. "I found him putting whiskey in his scrambled eggs- whiskey! In scrambled eggs! Who does that?"
The bedsheets rustled as Natsu moved and they both hushed, looking at him intently. When he settled down again they breathed a sigh of relief.
"He really does work too hard," Lucy lamented.
"Like father like son, I suppose." Wendy clucked her tongue and sat Charle down. "Well, if that's all I'll be going back to the old dragon. He's probably trying to sneak some contraband into his toast today." She grumbled some more and left, the white exceed close at her heels.
Lucy smiled fondly. Hiring Wendy had been a wonderful move on Natsu's part. She would have been here sooner had Lacy not found and confiscated the note they'd sent to the fabric shop, thinking it was meant for her. After the wedding debacle they'd made that very clear to her, and then taken Wendy and moved her into their home.
Now her stutter was gone entirely and she was looking after their retired king, Igneel. Who was doing just fine, according to Wendy's stories. Natsu was even thinking about moving Porluscia into the castle and putting her under Wendy's care as well. His grandmother was a tough one, but nobody could resist Wendy's charm once they got to know her. The three would make a good match.
She sat her breakfast down and dressed, preparing for the day. A maid or two hovered around her, waiting for a cue to help, but she waved them off every time one started forward. She liked to dress herself, while she still could. The only ones she really felt comfortable helping her were Juvia and Levy, but they were both busy at the moment.
All of three of them were busy, actually. She smiled at her reflection. How far they'd all come since that day so long ago in her old room.
Once she was properly prepared Lucy left, making sure to shut the door quietly behind her. The hallways were already alive and busy, everyone preparing for Juvia and Gray's return. Since the wedding, they'd made it a habit to patrol the borders every once and a while. It allowed Gray to ensure the security was tight enough for his liking and let Juvia investigate any information she may have received from her informants. Nothing had ever gotten past them since the two had joined forces and headed the kingdom's security force, but it never hurt to be extra careful.
The courtyards were full as well, thriving with all kinds of people. There were hopeful soldiers training in the practice yards, swinging wooden swords at each other with abandon. There was a fencing match in the corner between two lords. Most of the ladies were gathered around the jousting fields, flirting with knights preparing for tomorrow's contests. Merchants and common folk milled about, chatting or selling their wares.
That was one of the changes Lucy particularly liked. It had been one of Natsu's presents to her after their coronation. He'd decreed that the main castle courtyards would be open to all, royal or not. It would be a place of equality and safety for highborn and lowborn alike. There had been opposition at first, but now everyone seemed to meld fine. Occasional skirmishes broke out, but those were quickly settled and forgotten.
"You're up early." Lucy started and whirled around, looking for the voice. Once she found its source she smiled, and hugged the iron-clad woman.
"Erza, how are you? I haven't seen you since the new recruits arrived." She released the red-haired beauty and smiled at her warmly. The ever-present armor and sword glinted in the sun, matching the fierce gleam which came to Erza's eyes.
"Busy," She answered shortly. "It's been hard work whipping these girls into proper soldiers. They've so much to learn, and I have so much more to teach them than the other instructors. Still, I have enjoyed myself."
Lucy hummed happily and looked out over Erza's section of the training yards, reserved specially for her trainees. "They seem to be coming along nicely. The reports say your girls dominate the other recruits in every area."
"Naturally," She responded automatically. "Women are superior to men in every way, especially when it comes to swordsmanship. They will crush every male that comes before them, young or old. I'll teach them how to take their rightful place in society. Men will cower before them." Her chest puffed in pride.
Two arms snaked around Erza's waist and Jellal looked down at her, amused. "You should really learn to teach by example. Otherwise it undermines your preaching."
"What are you trying to say?" She looked at him with narrowed eyes.
"I don't recall cowering before you within the past few months." He tapped a finger to his chin. "I wonder why that is? Oh yes! It's because you haven't been around." The words had a snide edge to them by the end.
She huffed and elbowed him in the gut. "I've been busy and you know it."
"If you can't manage me and your training, how are you going to manage me and your training and our kids?"
Lucy gasped. "Erza, you're- oh, I knew it!" She beamed. "How far along are you? When's the wedding? Has he engaged yet-" She turned to Jellal. "Have you engaged yet?"
"That's quite enough!" Erza shushed her sternly. "I am not far along at all because I'm not pregnant, and he has not proposed because we're not getting married!"
"It's going to happen within the year." Jellal ignored the bristling woman in his arms. "I'm thinking a winter wedding- her hair will really pop against the white, don't you think?"
"Oh, absolutely!" Lucy nodded fervently. "And she's not very traditional so there'll be no white wedding dress, so you won't have to worry about clashing clothes and scenery."
Erza gaped at them. "I'm not marrying this idiot!"
"And then of course comes the children- we'll probably stay here so they'll have lots of playmates."
"We're not having any children!"
"I'm thinking at least five, you know?"
"Not even one!"
Lucy chuckled as their bickering continued, growing louder on Erza's part and more blissfully ignorant on Jellal's. They would make a wonderful married couple. (She also had not doubt they would have as many children as Jellal predicted.)
She moved on and left the-basically-married couple to their quarrel.
The trees were bare of leaves, but there was no frost on anything yet. She couldn't wait to see the courtyards when they were frosted over, especially the fountains.
"Lu-chan!" She looked around and spotted Levy, waving at her and jumping over the crowds. A hulking shadow emerged behind her and she no longer had that problem.
They raced towards each other- Levy more quickly than she- and hugged.
"You're back! How was the trip?"
"Absolutely beautiful! Sabertooth is gorgeous this time of year, and everyone was so nice!"
"Tch. Fucking brownnosers." Gajeel joined them and tried to casually slide an arm around Levy's waist. She and Lucy rolled their eyes and smiled.
"Don't listen to him, everyone was perfectly congenial." Levy smacked his chest in reprimand playfully. "They even offered their famous orchards for our wedding this Spring." She beamed. "They're very pretty, and smell wonderful. You wouldn't think so, but they really do."
Gajeel rolled his eyes. "As if I want to get married with a bunch of damn birds twittering and shitting all over the place. Stupid wedding's going to be annoying enough."
"He's just cranky from all his ambassador duties." She looked up at him tenderly. "For such a delicate job he's surprisingly good at it. Curse words and all."
Lucy could swear she saw the tips of his ears turn red, but he quickly covered it by looking away and muttering darkly.
"So you've got the wedding date officially set then?"
"Mhm. Hopefully our wedding will be a little less eventful than yours." Levy joked. A feral smile stole over Gajeel's face and he chuckled at the memory. His fiancé smacked him again.
"Juvia does not think any wedding will accomplish that."
"Juvia!" She and Levy rushed forward to hug their gloomy friend. Gray walked up behind her and quickly hugged Gajeel, smacking his back playfully.
Everyone exclaimed and questioned before settling down, finally. Juvia and Gray had gotten back a few hours ago ("Why didn't you come see me right away?" "Let Juvia finish!") and had been in the meeting room debriefing since then ("You still could have stopped by!").
"Everything's fine, as usual. No border activity or anything of that sort. I assume you had the same luch with Sabertooth?"
"They were absolutely-"
"Yeah," Gajeel cut Levy off. "Ass-kissers fell all over themselves to please us." He smirked.
Gray rolled his eyes as he and Gajeel walked off, presumably to talk about security and country relations. They had a tendency to sometimes stress or overthink things like that since the wedding.
After another round of hugging, Levy asked the really important question. "Has he proposed yet?"
Juvia rolled her eyes. "No, Gray-sama has not proposed. It's not the right time. We… we still have some things to work through. Although Juvia and Gray-sama have broached the subject, we're still a ways off from that. Maybe someday though…" She trailed off and her lips quirked upwards.
"That's good enough for me." Levy squeezed her arm. "Still, you'd better set a date quickly. Lacy might come back and try to snatch him up."
They all giggled quietly at the mention of Lacy. She'd coincidentally been a big help at the wedding. It was she who had pushed Lucy down the aisle, and later Juvia and Levy as the bridesmaids, and then brought up Juvia and Gray's 'engagement,' which had been the thing to start their sortofbutnotreallyyetstillreal relationship (it was complicated). Lacy was currently employed at the Heartfilia estate, as head of the clothes department.
Thinking of Lacy made her think back to her father. She still didn't know how she felt around him. On the one hand, he'd sold her off to earn him more prestige for their family. On the other hand, it was kind of because of him that she'd met her soul mate (Natsu, of course). It had been a bumpy road, but she still loved it.
Her father had been hurt in the attack on her old home, and was holed up there. He had several grazes from knives and a stab wound in his stomach. The doctors said he was healing well, and quickly on his way to recovery. He'd been too hurt to come to her wedding, but she supposed that was okay. They were exchanging letters, and she'd told him her feelings on what he'd done. He'd apologized and they were both trying to reconcile.
"Excuse me, but I think you've stolen something of mine." Natsu walked over to them and smiled. "If you don't mind, I'd like to get her back." He kissed her. "Hi."
"Hi." She hugged him. "How are you feeling?" Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Juvia and Levy slip away quietly. Going off to find their respective future husbands, she supposed.
"Funny story. I woke up this morning to an empty bed." He looked down at her in mock annoyance. "Care to tell me what that was about?"
She pushed her bangs out of her eyes and looked up at him. "You needed your rest, and I had to pee."
"You abandoned me for a toilet?"
"…It was urgent."
"The sheets were freezing without you."
"I see you managed to survive somehow."
"The servants had to thaw me from a block of ice."
Lucy laughed. "Now you're just being ridiculous. There was a fire in the room, you would have just formed ice crystals, not a whole block."
"Gee, that makes me feel so much better." He said sarcastically. "My wife left me for a porcelain bowl, but I still might get to keep all ten fingers and toes despite the frostbite. What a life."
"We're both blessed, it would seem."
His hands moved lower and cupped her swelling stomach. "Yeah, we are."
She smiled contentedly and put her hands over his. The baby kicked their joined hands and Natsu looked at her, excitement shining in his eyes.
"That means 'I love you' in baby." She rubbed her thumb over her bellybutton.
"I thought so- I'm fluent in all languages of love, you know."
"Is that so?"
"Uh-huh," He grinned down at her. "I could teach you some, if you want."
Lucy cupped his face and brought it down towards hers. "I think I would like that very much."
And then he kissed her.
Oh god, I'm about to cry. This is the end, my lovelies, this is it. I'm going to miss you all so much. Natsu and the gang will too.
Just as a little future vision present, here's what will eventually happen:
Lucy and Natsu have three children (two boys and a girl), and watch over the kingdom as fair and just rulers.
Levy and Gajeel get married that Spring and have one child (a very pierced, very book-loving little girl). Gajeel and Levy continue to be ambassadors for Fiore, despite Gajeel's crudeness.
Erza and Jellal get married the next Winter (one year from this date) and revolutionize the armies of Fiore. They will have six children.
Juvia and Gray get married two years later and have two children, a boy and girl respectively. They are just as sneaky as their mother.
Good-bye my dears. Until next time.