The Secret of the Twin Slayers, or, Alternately, Disguised Dragons
Disclaimer: By Grabthar's Hammer, I do not own Fairy Tail.
A/n: If you get the reference above, good. If you do not, you make Alan Rickman sad. In other news, this is my second story about life with Fairy Tail according to the Twin Paradox Slayers Theory. I hope to never leave these babies alone. Now, watch as, like a bad Time Lord, I bend the wibbly-wobblyness of time to my will.
About six weeks after the Grand Magic Games, two dragon slayers and two exceeds showed up on the doorstep of the booming guild known as Fairy Tail. These were not new dragon slayers, but, rather, they were old, sort of, friends. Still, the guild went kind of extremely quiet when the two walked in. (Any kind of quiet was an oddity in this particular hall.) The four guests were forced to make an entrance of the noticeable type.
Sting Eucliffe rubbed the back of his blonde covered head with a large palm.
"Heh,…um, hi?" he so eloquently declared.
For once, not caught up in a fight, the fire dragon slayer of Fairy Tail, Natsu Dragneel, wasted no time by zooming right up to the four. Gajeel had also noticed the visitors and easily matched his nakama's velocity.
Squinting already narrowed eyes, Natsu looked over them critically. "Eh? What have we got here? You two back for a rematch?"
"Gihihihi." The iron dragon slayer grinned fanged teeth at Rogue Cheney.
It might have been a little tense between the Fairy Tail dragon slayers and the Sabertooth ones, but the apprehension reflected the unknown place where they belonged in each others' lives, not any lingering animosity. Was it clear now that these people were no longer adversaries?
The exceed Lector clawed through the tension with his personality.
"Natsu-san! Sting-kun wants to join Fairy Tail!"
"Rogue and Fro do too!"
A voice came from the bar. "Invite our guests in, Natsu, Gajeel; it seems they have something they want to tell us," Master Makarov was holding up a half empty beer stein in salutations.
Natsu and Gajeel stepped back and in walked Sting, Lector, Rogue, and Frosch. All six of them headed on over to the stool that Makarov was perched on. Sting, Lector, Rogue, and Frosch stopped a respectful distance away from the powerful mage, however, Natsu almost went right up to the old man's face.
Teasingly, "Whataya say, Gramps? We gonna let these losers in our guild?"
"Be quiet, Natsu." The old man brought his empty mug down hard on the boy's head.
Lucy Heartfilia, who was also at the bar, sitting a seat or two away from Makarov, watched Natsu go down. "Eheh…heh."
Master Makarov started to glare at the Twin Dragon Slayers.
Any hushed whispers, building gossip, or the murmurs of onlookers died on the spot.
The leader of Fairy Tail started.
"What makes you think you brats can come in here after laughing at members of this guild and trying to hurt my children? You think you will be allowed to just walk away from your old guild too? How do I know you are worthy to bear the Fairy Tail crest?! Have you learned the importance of caring for your fellow nakama?! Do you now know what it means to have friends you wish to protect, friends that give you the power to break through walls, to fear nothing, and to keep fighting even when you have no magic left?! HOW DARE YOU BELIEVE THAT I, MASTER MAKAROV OF FAIRY TAIL, WOULD SIMPLY ALLOW YOU TO BECOME A PART OF THIS FAMILY!" His tiny form suddenly grew in size as he bellowed out the last bit.
Then, just as swift, he shrunk back to normal; his fist he kept just a little bit larger than himself though.
There were two loud "BONKS" as he brought said fist down on the heads of the White and Shadow Dragon Slayers in quick succession.
"There," he remarked, "that ought to knock some sense into you two fools."
Lector and Frosch had paws in front of wide-open mouths. Sting and Rogue were shaking from the blows and the shock.
"I believe that the addition of four more members to this guild is grounds for a party, don't you, Mirajane."
"I couldn't agree more, Master," giggled the cheerful barmaid.
"Welcome to Fairy Tail, Sting and Rogue. Lector and Frosch, too."
The rest of the guild also agreed wholeheartedly with Master Makarov and soon the alcohol was flowing freely. There is no party like a Fairy Tail party because a Fairy Tail party consists of members who have likely never even heard of, let alone know the meaning of, the word "moderation". It got loud fast.
Unluckily, because it contrasted greatly with his personality, Rogue was dragged to the center of the guildhall by Gajeel himself in order to baptize the new member in a barrel of cheap booze. (The iron dragon should have known not to use Cana's private stash for the ceremony.) Levy scooped up the tiny pink and green exceed into her arms to run off after them.
Back at the bar, it was relatively less noisy as compared to the surrounding area, so a certain Celestial Spirit mage kept to her stool; she only occasionally sipped from a brightly colored fruit-flavored drink that Mirajane had previously served her. Most of the sound near her was coming from a gleefully chuckling Natsu who was watching the slightly blasphemous proceedings, but the laugh was not too loud, so Lucy could still hear her own thoughts.
Natsu's proximity almost certainly created Sting's proximity.
Lucy brought her hand up do her chin, her pink guild's stamp shining brightly. She had a puzzled look on her pretty face.
"But what about Sabertooth?" she abruptly asked Sting. "Weren't you two going to take over so that you could turn it into a great guild that treasures its comrades? What did make you decide to leave?"
Here, the White Dragon Slayer honestly looked a little sheepish. "Well we were. But, actually, we let Yukino-san take over. After everything that happened, we felt she'd be the best leader for the guild and it was kind of a way to apologize for what happened before. And she's doing a great job, so great a job that we both felt we could leave everything up to her so that Rogue and I could pursue some of our other goals."
"Yukino is the leader of Sabertooth? That's great!" Lucy squealed, joined by Mirajane, who had stars in her eyes.
"Yeah, and being master there lets her send out people to help search for her sister."
The former demon smiled sincerely.
"That was nice of you, Sting," reported the female blonde, softly.
"Uh…yeah." He could not have just whispered back shyly.
"You hear that, Natsu? Sabertooth has a Celestial Spirit mage for its master! Who knows, maybe someday I'll be the next master of Fairy Tail."
The fire dragon slayer spared her a grin.
She smiled back and they both returned to their previous activities.
Still a little curious, Lucy continued. "What are some of these other goals you were talking about? They can't just be joining Fairy Tail. Does it have to do with trying to defeat Natsu and Gajeel?"
"Coming to Fairy Tail is only part of it. Rogue and I decided what we really wanted to do was to become worthy of our real names."
"You mean, Sting's not your real name?"
"It is for now," was all he said.
There was a lull in the conversation and Lucy sensed she was going to get nothing else of that significance from the blue-eyed dragon slayer.
She took another sip from her drink.
"Do you like fish, Lector?"
The exceed in question looked up at the young woman before him.
"I love fish almost as much as I love Sting!" he declared.
"Well that's good then," Lucy maintained. "I'll just give you some of Happy's extras to celebrate you guys joining the guild."
A flying blue cat took a nosedive toward the smiling Celestial Spirit mage.
"Luuu-Cy! Nooooooo!" he whined.
The guild had a relatively small adjustment period, to any sort of sudden or out of the blue set of circumstances. So, practically instantly, Sting, Rogue, Lector, and Frosch found their places in the world of Fairy Tail. It was only a matter of weeks before they and everyone else had settled into routine.
Not a surprise to anyone, the Twin Dragon Slayers stuck close to the other two dragon slayers that they so greatly admired. It was quickly established that Sting and Lector became the newest members of Team Natsu, and Rogue and Lector took to accompanying Gajeel, Pantherlily, and Levy on missions as well. This arrangement worked best for everyone, except for Jet and Droy who now felt that they had even more competition for Levy's affections. Sometimes, just Natsu, Happy, Sting, and Lector would go on missions; they always came back with matching grins and bills for destruction that made the Master cry. And sometimes just Gajeel, Pantherlily, Rogue, and Frosch took requests together that tended to end quicker and with less damage. But the crimson-eyed dragon slayers were usually smiling too when they returned home, Gajeel large and Rogue small. There were even missions for just the dragon slayers and their exceeds, including Wendy and Charle, that was a rare circumstance around the guild (once they even got Laxus to go).
Now, instead of just his daily brawl with Gray, Natsu spent a lot of time grappling around with Sting. The fights ranged from threatening to demolish the hall, to battles that appeared as if Natsu was teaching or instructing the other slayer on ways to improve his skills.
Happy and Lector did not get along as well with each other as their partners did. It probably had something to do with the fish, but it could have also been because Lector liked to take an interest in Charle, and Happy felt threatened. The blue cat tried to keep as much distance between them as possible by spending more and more time with Wendy and Charle, so Lector suddenly found himself waiting for Sting to stop fighting, alongside Lucy, who was keeping an eye on Natsu. But, regardless of their differences, during missions, Happy and Lector matched one another decibel for decibel in their words of encouragement for their friends.
However, it was not always that Sting spent his time with Natsu. Lucy herself had quite a bit of attention coming from the White Dragon Slayer. He never tried to flirt with or pursue her or anything, but a lot of times, he liked to stand near her for friendly little chats. He would walk next to her and stand beside her as a sort of reassuring guard. The Celestial mage could not determine if his presence was as a sort of tribute to Natsu or not.
The Shadow Dragon Slayer spent his time equally with his former Sabertooth partner and the iron dragon slayer. And wherever he went, Frosch followed. Which meant that Levy, spending an awful lot of time with Gajeel these days, developed the cutest relationship with the green cat in the pink frog costume. She started carrying around Frosch more than she had ever carried around Pantherlily; she started to look like she was the dragon slayer instead of Rogue.
Rogue, when not quietly talking to Gajeel at their table, could most likely be found near Levy's side, actually. He silently listened to her discuss topics ranging from the content of books to latest missions. Lucy would have worried, maybe she did at first, but it was Rogue's red eyes that seemed to back her off of her fears. There was something in that crimson that told the Celestial Spirit mage that he looked at Levy as a young boy might look at his mother…with endearing adoration.
This was how things were at Fairy Tail. It was still noisy, loud, destructive, and chaotic, but with the addition of the four friends, the place was even more so. And even more fun. Most felt as if their new nakama had belonged in the hall all along.
The adjustment period went smoothly and allowed for normalcy to settle in.
Five months passed before anything went wrong.
Natsu Dragneel and his partner Happy decided to take a mission alone this time. It was mysterious and ominous sounding, but it was not supposed to be difficult. The fire dragon slayer thought it would be a chance for him to let off some steam after a loss to Gray and it was far enough away that no one else wanted to waste the time or money on traveling to a place that would only be Natsu destroying everything. The mission detailed a half a week long task.
When two weeks went by and neither Natsu nor Happy had returned, a vibrating tension arose in the air at Fairy Tail.
At first, Lucy Heartfilia spent the hours of the days worrying beside her fellow teammates. She watched Erza slowly devour cake after cake with the occasional glance up at the door. The blonde had to constantly remind Gray to put his clothes back on as his stripping became a nervous tic. Her and Wendy shared uneasy looks while the tiny sky dragon hugged Charle close. And some days she sought the comforting support of Levy.
But during the third week, Lucy began to sit at a table in the corner with Sting and Lector. The male blonde usually stood there with his arms crossed. And Lector decided to take up a place sitting up on the table top near her elbow. She tried to look at anything but the empty doorway.
"You're worried about Natsu-san, aren't you?"
"Of course I am!" she threw her head into her arms.
From above her, came, "So am I."
Lucy looked up to the steady presence standing beside her table.
There was a pause, but he did not look at her.
Four months came and went vacantly; four hundred search parties left and returned with nothing.
Fairy Tail searched. Team Natsu searched. Team Shadow Gear searched. The Raijin-shuu searched. The dragon slayers searched. The Celestial spirits searched. The S-Class mages searched. Master Makarov searched. Lamia Scale searched. Blue Pegasus searched. Sabertooth searched. Mermaid Heel searched. Quatro Cerberus searched.
But no one, mage, exceed, spirit, or civilian ever found a sign of Natsu Dragneel.
Any missions taken by members of the guild became less and less about the reward money or a chance to prove one's self and became more about finding any shred of news that could help them find the missing fire dragon slayer.
Sting and Lector had moved into Lucy's apartment for the time being. She just could not stand to be alone; and the White Dragon Slayer, with his partner, were the closest thing she had left of her partner.
It was after the sixth hundredth search party returned to the guild with heavy hearts and solemn faces that a weighty decision was made.
"I'm sorry, Lucy, but I don't think Natsu's going to come back." The Master could not offer her a comforting hand because his fists were clenched so tightly at the news he had to bear.
Tears were spilling from the Celestial mage's brown eyes when she turned to seek comfort in Sting's blue eyes.
But her caramel orbs went wide, and she hardly noticed that the tears stopped with three last drops.
The figure of the White Dragon Slayer was becoming translucent. Bits of his body were already completely gone. Slowly, he was disappearing.
"Jude…" Lucy whispered.
Lucy was inconsolable after the loss of Natsu and the disappearance of Sting. The amount of tears she cried and the level of silence she exuded created a pallor over the entire guild. The members had a hard enough time looking each other in the eye, making eye contact with the Celestial Spirit mage was nearly impossible.
She could not stop screaming at Natsu's funeral.
Erza took care of her, including her finances, while Wendy took care of her house, mostly cooking and cleaning, while Gray sat on her bed with her and hugged her close.
She went to sleep each night with tears on her cheeks and Lector in her arms.
It took her quite a while to feel strong enough to go back to the guild day after day. She still refused missions, but she had at least gone back to sitting at a familiar table with her friends.
But while the rest of her friends and teammates were moving on, trying to make sense of Natsu's apparent death, the sad blonde woman felt herself falling deeper into moments of the past. They all took each day just an hour at a time, but Lucy kept thinking that the seconds were starting to slow down. She had a fear that time was going to stop, suspended. It was all because every one else was beginning to forget Sting (that he ever existed).
Lector was the first to completely forget his partner. The exceed forgot seconds after the light dragon slayer had finished disappearing. It hurt Lucy because she knew how strong the bond had been between them. So she kept him close, and he seemed to stay because he knew that her crying made others cry.
Erza, Gray, Wendy, and Charle were the next to start having issues recalling the blonde male. Then it was Laxus and his team, Romeo with his dad, Cana, Mirajane, Juvia. Max and Warren. Nab, Reedus, Laki, Kinana, and the remaining Strauss siblings. All had less and less memories of Sting Eucliffe as the days went by. Even Master Makarov could no longer picture the boy's face when Lucy brought up his name. Their emptying memory caused the Celestial Spirit mage to feel more symptoms of pain. She had to constantly seek out anything and everything that brought her closer to her deceased partner and the almost forgotten friend.
The ones who retained thoughts about the former Twin Dragon were Gajeel and his faithful entourage. Lucy latched onto this like a lifeline. But even they were going to drown someday.
"Rogue," hand me that book over there, would you?" Levy pointed to the top of a small stack across from her. The shadow dragon slayer wordlessly handed it to her. "Hey Lu-chan, what if I read you this? I know it's one of your favorites. Maybe this book will help cheer you up." She did not wait for an answer; she smiled and began reading.
And Lucy did start to perk up, but it was not because of what she was listening to; instead, it reminder her of some of the late nights she had had reading books to Sting while they waited for news of Natsu. He seemed to really love the sound of her voice since she had noticed that he hardly ever picked up a book on his own. Here, sitting at the table with a slowly munching on scraps of iron, Gajeel, and an attentive Rogue hanging on Levy's every word, Lucy felt just a little bit better, more at home.
The blue-haired bookworm had to pause after a bit when her throat started to hurt. Rogue seemed to know what was up and wordlessly stood up.
"Levy-san, can I get you some water?" inquired the composed dragon slayer.
Smiling in gratitude, Levy nodded at his thoughtfulness.
"Would you like to come with me, Lucy-san? If the two of us go, we can bring back enough for everyone, including Gajeel-san."
The blonde mage was surprised at his request, but she felt no reason to refuse him: some movement would be good for her.
Together, they headed away towards the bar.
Before the two of them could get there, however, Rogue asked if he could talk to Lucy for a few minutes. Now she was beginning to feel anxious. He tried to assure her that he only had her best interests at heart; he just wanted to tell her something important before it was too late.
"Lucy-san," he began, "I know how much you miss Sting and Natsu-san. And I believe I know how much everyone losing their memories of Sting hurts. But I believe I know why all of this is happening. I did not want to tell you at first, because I had no hope. Now, though, I have spent so much time with Levy-san and Gajeel-san that I realized that I must help you." The shadow dragon slayer paused to make sure that Lucy was listening to him.
"Sting's disappearance is linked directly to Natsu-san's disappearance. If Natsu-san ceases to exist, so does Sting."
Rogue's red eyes were calmly reading her for a reaction.
And then a staggering realization hit her. It was why the light dragon slayer looked so much like Natsu, yet had her love of the written word. Why Sting had tried hard to spend his time with both Natsu and Lucy. Why he got so much stronger when things were at their worst. Why he knew so much about spirits and their contracts. Why he cared so much about his nakama.
And why he had her dead father's name.
"He's my son, isn't he?" She did not breathe.
It fueled their growing bond. It was the reason for the closeness she felt to him.
"Sting is Natsu and I's son."
"Yes. He and I came from the future. A future where dragons created mayhem, destruction, and death. Our parents sent us here so that we could grow up, live peaceful lives. And to stop the release of ten thousand dragons on the last day of the Daimato Enbu."
"Natsu and I…sent Sting? But what about you? Who are your parents?" She followed his glance back at the happily chatting iron dragon slayer and script mage, and answered her own question. "Levy-chan, and Gajeel?"
Rogue nodded. "They are together, now, but have yet to reveal it to the rest of the guild."
She could have been shocked, but she was not.
"They should tell everyone," stated Lucy. "It would be nice for this guild to get some happy news today," she whispered.
"Come on, Lucy-san. Let's go back to Levy-san, Gajeel-san, Frosch, and Lector. We'll explain everything and together, we'll all figure it out."
"Yeah…thank you Rogue-kun." They said no more of it as they completed their original tasks of getting drinks for the table and then started to head back to their waiting friends and family. Lucy stopped about halfway there. "No matter how they react, I know your parents would still love you, Rogue-kun," she offered.
But Lucy could not understand why they did not act any different. Didn't the news change them? Change everything? It had certainly done a number on her heart. And maybe that is why they were still acting the same; maybe they were trying to spare her feelings.
She thought that was stupid. 'Just because I have a reason to be sad doesn't mean that they can't have their own happiness, and share it. I'm not so hollow that I don't want my friends to be happy.'
Maybe she should march over to them and tell them that. She saw both Levy and Gajeel entering the guild now.
"I'm not saying that!"
"But that's the point! You aren't saying anything!"
"I just don't think it matters, Shrimp."
"It does to me! I don't think I can take this anymore!"
"What'a ya saying?!"
"STUPID GAJEEL! I WANT TO TELL EVERYONE THAT WE'RE TOGETHER!"
"YOU JUST DID!"
"NOT HOW I WANTED TO!"
"WHY SHOULD IT MATTER WHICH WAY YOU DO IT?"
"YOU JUST DON'T GET IT! I wanted to tell all of my friends that we're going out, together! What's the point of just hiding it or yelling it out?! HOW WILL THEY EVER KNOW I LOVE YOU THAT WAY?! YOU'RE SUCH A JERK! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! I HATE!..."
As her words had gotten louder, Levy had started to pick up speed walking into the guild. With her last few shouts, she began to run away from the furious iron dragon slayer. Her buildup of tears blinded her so that she almost ran right into Rogue, who had appeared upon hearing the tension in his parents' voices. However, instead of running into Rogue, Levy ran right through him.
Just like Sting had, the Shadow Dragon Slayer had suddenly become see-through.
He did not even have time to widen his red eyes, as they made contact with his mother's hazel ones when she turned back around, before he tragically disappeared.
"Ryos?" Levy mumbled.
Now it was the script mages turn to cry. But Lucy held onto her tightly. The two friends needed each other, now more than ever, after losing their families before they even had them.
"I can't believe I fought with Gajeel like that," Levy tearfully murmured into her best friend's shoulder. "And because of me, Ryos is gone." Her silent tears grew stronger. "What if, Gajeel and I don't make up? If we never apologize to each other…I might start to forget Ryos ever existed…"
"Do you, do you still remember everything about Sting, Lucy?"
The Celestial mage nodded.
'But how can I still remember him…' she thought. 'If Jude disappeared because Natsu and I never got together, then I should never have remembered him in the first place; he wouldn't have ever existed. Remembering him has to mean that Natsu's alive. Because that means there's still a chance that Jude'll come back.'
Once she had this thought, Lucy Hearfilia held onto it with all that her body had left. It was like Rogue had said, she did not have any hope, now she did.
Pushing Levy out a bit from the crook of her neck, she gave her friend a small smile.
"Listen to me Levy-chan, I just thought of something, something that I think can help us all figure this out. If I'm right, we can save Jude and Ryos,...and…Natsu."
That brought the blue-haired woman out of her best friend's arms even more. She swiped away a tear with her hand. "What?"
"But Lucy, Natsu's…dead."
"I have to believe he's not. I have to believe that with all of my heart or none of this will have been worth it."
"I trust you, Lu-chan."
"Good. So here's what I think: the reason that I can still remember Jude, even though no one else can, is because there's still a chance that he'll come back. That means that Natsu and I can still get together and have him, as our son. So, in order for this to be true, Natsu has to be alive; the chance that we'll still get married and have Jude is still there because Natsu is not dead.
"Levy, tomorrow, we're going to go get Gajeel and we're going to go look for Natsu and Happy. We'll take Lily, Lector, and Frosch too. You and Gajeel can make up so that you two can get Rogue back. Then we're all going to save Natsu, Happy, and Jude. If we cannot protect our nakama, then we don't deserve to call ourselves Fairy Tail mages."
Levy's feelings were still too raw for her to talk face to face with Gajeel. Lucy had to do the explaining to the iron dragon slayer. But Levy stood beside her the whole time and made eye contact with Gajeel once or twice.
After all of the Celestial mage's words were said, the two young women waited patiently for a reaction or any sort of reply from the frowning man before them.
"Let's go, Shrimp, before we start forgetting our brat."
The three mages and the three exceeds started their search in the town where Natsu's request had come from. It was hardly novel thinking; several of the search parties started from this point. They had nothing else to go on.
The group arrived in the town late that night, so they decided to stay in a hotel and then begin their searching first thing in the morning. The girls got one room and Gajeel took another for him and the cats. Everyone shared polite "goodnights", but there was definitely still a lot lingering in the air between script and iron mages.
It was an early start for the six of them in the morning.
Pantherlily, Lector, and Frosch all flew ahead on the path up to the forest before the mountains; Gajeel, Levy, and Lucy ran at a pleasant pace beneath them.
It was obvious they all wanted to get on searching.
First things first, something had to be done about the strained feelings between Levy McGarden and Gajeel Redfox.
'One of us needs to apologize. But should I be first? I might have to be since I hardly think Gajeel will do it first. Stupid Gajeel.'
Levy lowered her head as she ran. It did nothing to stop the scent of her tears from hitting Gajeel's nose though.
"Shrimp," he grunted. "Keep running."
'I can't believe he's ready to pick another fight! I know I'm small; stop rubbing it in!' "I know!" was all Levy said out loud.
He could tell she was mad at him, but he ignored it. "I want you by my side," he replied.
The blue-haired young woman's head shot up in shock, but the iron dragon slayer was not looking at her. Suddenly, she lengthened her stride. And her tears dried up just like that.
All of them made good time to the forest. There were only a few stops for rest, though the exceeds had to stop flying eventually (from then on, Lector perched on Lucy's shoulder, Frosch took refuge in Levy's arms, and Pantherlily went into step next to Gajeel), and the last leg of the journey was spent walking.
This was it: the last place Natsu and Happy were known to have been.
"So, I guess we just start searching for Natsu-san," Lector looked to his companions.
"And Happy too!" chirped Frosch.
Lucy and Pantherlily nodded simultaneously. The black exceed took to the skies again, and soon his fellow cats followed suit. Meanwhile, Lucy began searching in a circular pattern; each time she made a complete circle, she stepped out to widen the next.
Gajeel and the script mage hung back. Levy was trying to decide if she should follow Lucy or stick to Gajeel. She looked at the muscular man, noticing he had his arms crossed, and she tightened her hold on the strap of her traveling pack. Then her hazel eyes caught the animalistic male sniffing at the air.
"Gajeel," she said, forgoing shyness, "do you smell Natsu or Happy anywhere near here?"
He frowned. "No. I can't smell either of 'em. But it's weird here; it's not just their scent that's missing. It's like a whole chunk of the forest is gone. Shit. I don't like this."
Levy put a hand on the iron dragon slayers shoulder. Then she abruptly dropped it as if she had been burned (maybe if it had been Natsu's shoulder, this would not be so shocking).
"I can see him! Gajeel, I can see Ryos!" she excitedly blurted out. She was practically jumping in her petite little frame.
The red-eyed mage looked all over, but could not see what Levy was referring too.
"Where? I don't see anything, Shrimp."
"He's over there! I think he's pointing out the direction we should take."
This time, Lucy too got caught up in her friend's excitement and glanced over in the direction that she was pointing. But like Gajeel, she saw nothing, except for maybe the beginning of what used to be a path.
"Are you sure, Levy-chan? There's nothing there."
"I swear I can see him you two. He's kind of faded though. Like maybe a lacrima projection or something. But he's there. And he wants us to follow that path." Not taking any objections, the shorter blunette marched forward. The others had no choice but to follow her.
Before they could get very far though, Lucy spotted something out of the corner of her eye. Lector shadowed her when she went to go investigate. It was an old pumpkin lying just outside the beginning of the old trail. And someone had smashed it to a pulpy mess.
Levy came up behind her.
"That kind of destruction is Natsu's handiwork. I'd recognize it anywhere," Levy affirmed.
The iron dragon slayer agreed. But then, when he bent down to take closer examination of the ground gourd, he had a thought.
"I think I know what's going on here," he suddenly declared. "And I think I know what happened to Salamander."
"What do you mean, Gajeel?"
"What happened to Natsu?"
"We follow this trail of smashed pumpkins and we'll find out. I'm almost positive flame-brain is at the end of it." That is when they noticed that there were more orange spheres all along the side of the path.
Lucy had a real smile on this time. "Just like Natsu to leave a trail of destruction in his wake."
"I'm not going to be the one to give Master the bill after this," put in Levy.
Suddenly, the pumpkin started to glow. A fiery light rose up and out of the remains of the carrot-colored plant. Something was beginning to form out of the flames.
"Magic runes!" the Celestial Spirit mage exclaimed. "Can you read them, Levy-chan?"
"I think I can. But I might need my glasses. Frosch? Do you still have them?"
The green cat in the pink suit quickly nodded. "Fro thinks so." The exceed reached into a pocket sown into the side of the frog outfit. "Here, Levy-san!"
"Thank you, Frosch."
Putting on the magic lens, the script mage started to read. Her eyes flitted to and fro across the characters created by the bluish light. With the help of her gale-force readers, she had the ruins translated within moments.
Lucy, Gajeel, Pantherlily, Lector, and Frosch waited with barely a breath spent.
"They say, that 'Every six months a node and a sphere will align, and only then can you walk down the path of fate'."
"What the hell does that mean?" Gajeel growled.
"It is probably a riddle that reveals the location of someplace that can only be located at a certain time every six months." Pantherlily rubbed his chin in thought. "But is the path that we are walking on now the path of fate, or is that something else we shall find along the way?"
"Who cares? I say we just follow the stupid pumpkins Salamander smashed and then we'll find him at the end of his own stupid trail."
Taking off her glasses and handing them back to Frosch, Levy started to frown. "I think we should probably worry like Lily said. But I guess all we can do for now is what Gajeel says. You coming, Lu-chan?"
Lucy picked up Lector to hold him tight; then her eyes followed the line of gourds. Were all of them glowing now?
"Do you see that, Levy? They're all glowing now. I think Gajeel is right; we should follow them. I know we'll find Natsu and Happy at the end."
But after walking for a few miles, the glow of the pumpkins getting brighter and brighter with each step, all they found at the end was a big black rock that blocked the exit of the forest.
Lucy Heartfilia did not want to fall any deeper into despair.
'Can we really go no further?' she cogitated. 'Natsu, you have to be alive. I believe in you, remember?'
That voice. Where was it coming from? It felt as if it was in her head; she must be the only one that can hear it. But she, Lucy, recognized it.
"Jude? Is that you?"
'I'm here, mom.'
Out of the blue, the nearest pumpkin started to glow to near blinding proportions. Then the black boulder began to shake. The group jumped back when it abruptly cracked down the middle and each half fell to opposite sides. A dark tunnel was revealed in the gap.
When a strong wind came at them out of the darkness, Gajeel's nose twitched. He tightened the arm around Levy that had grabbed the script mage when the stone began cracking.
"I can smell Salamander and his cat now," he stated. "Also, the rest of the forest. But there's something else I can smell at the end of this tunnel."
"Do you think it's dangerous?" Levy whispered.
He frowned in response. "If Natsu couldn't get away from it, I don't think it's here to help."
"Ryos wants us to go forward anyway," the blue-haired woman declared, having spotted the shadowy figure seconds after Gajeel and crushed her closer to his chest.
Oblivious to the conversation going on between her two guildmates, suddenly ignoring her own senses, and too excited at finally making some headway, Lucy marveled at what had just happened.
"The riddle! That's why no one could ever find him! This place only opens up every six months! We weren't looking in the wrong place; we were looking at the wrong time!"
"Then this must be the path of fate," stated the black exceed, ominously.
"Fro thinks so too," whimpered the green and pink exceed, shivering violently.
"But Natsu-san's at the end of it," concluded the red exceed in the blue vest. "And Happy."
They had nowhere to go but forward.
'Alright Jude. I am going to find your father; I'm going to make sure he's alive, take him back to the guild so he can heal, kill him after he's healed… And then we're all going to have a family "chat".'
'Heh. That's the Celestial Spirit mage who raised me. I think I'm a little scared for dad for when you do find him.'
"I think it's getting brighter," commented the script mage.
This was said after the group had been traveling through the tunnel for almost half a mile. She was referring to the light that had been steadily getting stronger at what was most likely the end of the dark cavern.
"That smell's getting stronger. You guys stay behind me and watch your back." The iron dragon slayer could sense their impending confrontation.
Lucy and Levy both gave reassuring pats on Lector and Frosch's heads; then stood up straight and aware. Lucy had a hand at her waist, while Levy gripped her magic pen in hand. Together, all of them walked through, into the light, and stepped out to a large clearing in what was the rest of the forest.
Waiting for them, was the source of the stench that had made Gajeel so edgy.
At the exact opposite end of the clearing was an enormous plant looming over the group from Fairy Tail. It rose up to about forty feet in the air. There were large, serpentine vines that had to be over a foot in diameter. And it was glowing, the same blue fire that had lit the path here. The heart of this colossal plant was a pumpkin bigger than a house.
Natsu and Happy were encased in the center of that pumpkin.
They were being surrounded by a gourd made of hollowed out crystal; and the bright blue flames had them trapped. The fire dragon slayer was crouched low. He had his eyes closed, but his body was tightly sheltered around the still form of the flying blue cat.
"Natsu…" Lucy murmured.
"W-what is that thing, Gajeel?" Levy's knees began to turn inward.
"Ignis fatuus, foolish fire. It's a magical creature that uses jack-o'-lanterns and lights to lure mages away from their intended path so that it can capture them and feed off of their magic," explained the metal-studded male. "Not being able to resist a free meal of flames, that idiot Natsu probably followed the glowing pumpkins just like we did, and then got caught by this thing when it used the flames he had eaten to draw him into its body. Salamander is the perfect meal for that thing; it's now eating all his flames away."
"But if he's been in there for six months, the thing slowly draining him the entire time, shouldn't he have been killed by now?" inquired Lucy. The very notion that something could take away Natsu's ability to consume fire and re-strengthen himself had her terrified.
"I don't know; flame-head's got a lot of power locked up inside him. I think that plant bit off more than it could chew."
"What about Happy?"
"I think it's takin' all Salamander's got to protect the blue cat. Neither of them will last much longer."
The script mage jumped back into the conversation. "So what do we do? How do we get them out of there?" she asked.
Gajeel started to smirk. He pulled back a fist and turned it to iron. "Gihi. I smash the damn thing to bits and save Salamander's sorry hide. You coming, Lily?"
The black cat in question grabbed his magical sword off of his back.
The dragon slayer and his partner launched into battle. Gajeel charged with his metal fist at his side. Pantherlily leapt into the air, transforming into his larger self, and brought his sword up to swing.
"Iron Dragon's Hard Fist!" Gajeel shot a punch straight at the center of the crystal pumpkin. But even his hardened fist could not crack the shell.
From above, Panterlily swung his giant sword down at the top of the plant. With a loud clang, the force of the impact sent the exceed careening backwards. He had to use his wings to stop himself midair. His attack did nothing either.
"Shit," cursed the iron dragon slayer. "It's got tougher hide than it looks."
"Even my sword did nothing," Pantherlily commented.
"Guess we'll just have to go harder at this thing."
Both of them began gearing up for their next attack. When, suddenly, the giant gourd attacked them. The pumpkin let out a volley of hundreds of crystal blue shards, each one sharpened to a deadly point, at the group of mages. Gajeel was able to transform his skin into iron scales and jump out of the way so that only a few shards bounced harmlessly against his body. Pantherlily used his weapon to cut a path through the projectiles aimed at him. It was Lucy and Levy who had to find other means of getting out of the way before they were sliced into ribbons of mages. Luckily, Lector and Frosch were thinking fast because they used their aera magic to sprout wings and carry the girls off. Only Lucy was hit by one of the shards, a small one whizzing by to produce a cut on her face.
"Lucy-san!" Lector cried.
"I'm fine, Lector. Thanks for saving me from being skewered though." She turned to her other friends suspended in the air. "You okay, Levy? Frosch?"
"Yeah, we're fine," replied the script mage. "What about Gajeel?"
"Quit worrying about me, Shrimp. I think we woke the damn thing up. We better start fighting for real."
"Right!" chorused the female mages.
"Lily!" he barked. "It's time we both go for the top together. You use your sword and I'll come at it with my Iron Spiral."
Pantherlily nodded in response.
"Oi, Shrimp! Use your script magic to see if you can find a way to get Salamander and Happy out."
"Sorry, Bunny-girl, but you'll have to use your whip on this one. I don't know what it'll do to your spirits if you summon them. Can you handle that?"
"Don't look down on me! I'm a mage of Fairy Tail! And I will save Natsu!" she declared with a shout.
"KARMA DEMON: IRON SPIRAL!"
Their combined attacks hit the crystalized plant with great force and speed. It looked like they were going to make progress, so they kept at it with their attacks.
Meanwhile, Levy hovered closer to the center of the pumpkin, with the aid of Frosch, and started to write with her magical pen. She was trying every single release spell she could think of.
The Celestial Spirit mage had taken out her weapon to aid in the battle. She decided to fly to the other side of Natsu and Happy's crystal prison and take it down with its own vines. She had wrapped her whip around one of the largest green tendrils and her and Lector were pulling with all of their might.
All of this was barely making a dent in the oversized fruit.
But it was apparently making the creature mad.
The black-haired mage yelled out a warning when he sensed it.
"Watch out! This things gonna send more crystals at us!"
As he said that, the others started flying out of the direction its attack was likely to take. Then it released hundreds more of its crystal shards; however, this time, each one was coated in a shell of blue flames.
"Eek!" Levy gasped, as she felt hot flames zoom past her in the air. "That was a close one, Frosch. Let's fly a little higher, shall we?" The exceed took her request to heart.
Over on the other side, Lucy Heartfilia was having more issues than the others. Because, on top of the crystalized attack, now the pumpkin's own vines were starting to move in. The large one that she was currently wrapped around through her whip gave a shake and forcefully shook her off to send her and Lector into a tailspin.
All around the clearing, the serpentine ropes were coming to life.
The first one the tendrils went for was the one that annoyed them the most: Lucy. Three of them rose up and headed straight for her. She was still too disoriented from the previous strike to see them coming.
"Lu-chan!" cried the blunette.
Hearing her cry in his sensitive ears, Gajeel ran toward the blonde in danger. In the end, he was caught by the vines instead and the Celestial mage was only knocked to the ground.
"ARGH!" The iron dragon slayer began screaming in pain.
"Gajeel!" Levy wanted to fly to him. That is when she noticed that as the green cables around him squeezed tighter and tighter, they also glowed. "It's gonna take his power! Stop it!" she screamed. "You're killing him!"
Spurned by the sight of the one she cared most for being on the verge of terrible danger, the tiny little script mage informed her exceed carrying her that she wanted to get closer. They dangled just out of reach of the vines, but still close enough to the bound mage to talk to him.
"Get…away, Shrimp. If one of these things…gets you,…it'll start to drain you too."
She declared, "I'm not leaving your side, Gajeel."
Her hazel eyes stared straight into his crimson ones.
"I'll get you out of this."
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed another figure. Turning her head just enough to focus better, but still keep Gajeel within her sights, Levy realized whom she was seeing. It was the translucent form of the shadow dragon slayer. He was indicating downwards at a point where all three vines converged into one.
"Is that where I need to attack?" she whispered. Rogue nodded. "Okay. You just wait Gajeel. I'm about to show you how much I've grown.
"Frosch, fly down toward that spot there. Can you do that without us getting caught?"
"Fro thinks so."
"Good. Let's go."
While she was on her mission, Pantherlily was also fighting the tendrils of the great pumpkin. He could only use his Musica Sword to hack away vine after vine; each cut piece was replaced by another writhing cord and he could not make any headway over to his trapped partner. He hoped that Levy could handle things on her own.
Focusing on the exact spot where all the vines converged, the script mage had launched attacks using her magic over words.
"Sword!" she wrote with her pen. "Daggers!" "Cut!" Created by the words, magic weapons headed for the green flesh. They made small wounds, but not enough to sever the entire vine.
She had to use a stronger attack.
"RELEASE: DIAMOND SWORD!" Levy put most of her power into the move as she yelled.
A large sword made completely of diamond appeared when her pen finished its writing. The blade went crashing down toward the vulnerable point of the mass of green. It went straight though and the vines were cut. Gajeel was released; his body went crashing toward the ground.
"Pillow!" signed Levy McGarden.
The iron dragon slayer landed softly on downy feathers.
Frosch did not need to be told twice to drop off the script mage next to the fallen mage. Levy ran to his side in a quick burst. When she got there, she dropped to her knees beside him. She skimmed tentative fingers over his chest and arms. His eyes were closed.
"Gajeel," the young woman whispered. "Please don't be dead."
He was out of breath, weakened almost to unconsciousness, but he was able to open crimson eyes.
"I ain't dead, Shrimp. Just hungry. Write me up some iron so I can eat and get back into this fight."
With a watery smile, Levy gently scolded him, "at least catch your breath for a minute before I send you back out there. I don't wanna lose you because you tried to fight before you were ready."
"Heh. You can't keep someone like me pinned down for long."
"I can try."
"I know you will. You really have grown up some, Shrimp. Guess you really wanted me to pay attention to you."
More than one or two tears escaped from Levy's heart.
"Yeah." She had all of her attention on him and he on her. "It's because I love you, Gajeel."
"Gihihihi." The iron slayer brought a gentle hand up to caress his blue-haired woman's face, "knew you couldn't resist me."
Eight feet away from her murmuring friends, the Celestial Spirit mage had gotten up from the small crater she had made when her body had crashed into the ground. Her head hurt and her cheek was still bleeding, but she was alive. She quickly scanned behind her to see if Lector had made it. The red exceed was still breathing; however, he had been knocked unconscious in the fall. She then noticed Pantherlily in the sky, consistently hacking away at the vines that attacked him. Lucy looked over at the iron dragon slayer and the script mage on the forest floor.
'Why can't we do anything to this thing?' the blonde fearfully wondered. 'It took all Levy had just to get Gajeel loose from the vines. How are we supposed to make it through the crystal to Natsu and Happy?'
She was staring hard at the massive creature before them.
'I wish Natsu was here with us. He'd know what to do.
'That's right. What Natsu would do. He'd just smash right through the stupid thing!'
Lucy had sudden determination that propelled her to her feet. She took a balanced stance directly in front of the pumpkin prison that held two nakama she cared very much about. Her pink Fairy Tail symbol seemed to shine on her hand as she reached out to point at the creature.
"I don't care how much power this thing takes! I'll always have enough power to keep fighting when some I care about is in danger! You can sit there and wait, Natsu. Believe in me this time, because I'm going to get you out. I love you, Natsu Dragneel!"
The world went dark and then a bright light blinded everyone and everything in the clearing.
"I have returned from the shadows of time," pronounced a voice.
Another announced, "It's great to be back in the flesh."
There, in full corporeal form, stood the Twin Dragon Slayers of Fairy Tail.
"I'm all fired up," they declared.
"Sting-kun!" "Rogue!" shouted the two exceeds that had rapidly regained all lost memories of their partners. They launched themselves at the White and Shadow Dragon Slayers.
Sting grabbed Lector in a one-handed hug, and then put out his other one for a high-five.
"Did you take care of things while I was gone, Lector?"
"I promise I only did things that would make you proud, Sting-kun!" The jubilant cat was proud to share with his friend his growth.
"I know you did." The blonde gave his partner a fanged grin. "And thanks for taking care of Lucy-san for me."
"I never left her side and I always protected her."
Lector shared his own toothy grin.
Next to the two, Rogue had brought his own exceed friend close to his chest. The partners hugged and smiled at one another.
"I'm back, Frosch," said the quiet dragon slayer.
"Fro missed Rogue too."
"Good. I'm glad you're all right."
"Will Rogue save Natsu-san and Happy now?" the cat in the frog suit wanted to know.
"Sting and I will save Natsu-san and Happy now so that we can all go home."
"Fro thinks so too!"
Sting looked over at his fellow dragon slayer. When their eyes met, they shared the same thought, and then nodded.
"Lector, Frosch. You two stay back," commanded the blonde. "We know you've used a lot of you magic up already and we don't want you to get hurt. Besides, we need you to protect the others so that we can fight without worries."
"Right! Come on, Frosch!" Lector grabbed the other exceed's paw so that they could run back toward the edge of the clearing.
Rogue looked back at the people who would one day create him. His eyes carefully scrutinized the body of the iron dragon slayer in order to assess his injuries. Next, he softened his gaze to examine the female as well. All of his senses told him that the pair was going to be okay, that they would heal nicely, yet he had to know that everything truly was all right.
"Mother," he finally spoke.
Just as hesitantly, Levy replied, "R-ryos?"
"Is Father going to be all right?"
Gajeel, sick of being fused over like he was a weak little thing, cut in, "Oi! You just worry about your own damn self, brat! I'm not the one who had his whole body blink out of existence. I'll always be strong enough to beat a little kid like you!"
"Right. Well then, Mother, Father, please stay out of this fight. Sting and I shall take care of the Ignis fatuus."
"Just don't screw it up, brat."
"Gajeel," Levy admonished. She turned to her future child. "Be careful, Ryos. We just got you back and I never want to lose you again."
Rogue nodded as a promise to his mother.
Meanwhile, Sting had made his way over to the blonde Celestial Spirit mage, who had immediately brought him into her arms when he got near. They shared a quick, but powerful hug, before the light dragon slayer pulled back.
"Did you miss me?" he said cheekily.
She tearily forced her head up and down.
"Everything's gonna be all right now, Mama," Sting cooed, wiping a drop of blood from her cheek with his gloved hand. "I promise you I'll save Papa."
"I know you will," she whispered. "You're a Fairy Tail mage after all."
"Not just a Fairy Tail mage. I'm the son of the two greatest mages of Fairy Tail for all of time."
She laughed, because he reminded her so much of Natsu.
"Stay with the others, okay?" Again she nodded. "Rogue and I'll be back in a flash."
Lucy did not waste another second; she sprinted over to Gajeel and Levy's side, meeting the exceeds along the way. The Celestial Spirit mage helped her friend move Gajeel to a comfortable position, propped up in both of their arms. Then the five travelers watched what was about to unfold.
"Lily!" Sting shouted. "Thanks for keep this thing busy for the last few minutes, but we'll take it from here." At the yell, Pantherlily looked down. He smirked, completely satisfied, and changed back into his smaller form, completely spent.
"Do you have a plan on how to take this overgrown vegetable down?" asked the blue-eyed mage of his partner.
"I believe pumpkins are technically a fruit," Rogue replied.
"Gah! Now's not the time for that! Do you know how to defeat it or not?!"
The Shadow Dragon Slayer promptly became more serious, a startling feat in and of itself since he was normally so composed. "I'll get Natsu-san and Happy out. You keep those things from getting in my way."
The man next to him knew immediately what his fellow mage had in mind.
Sting took off running, zigzagging over, under, and through the groups of slithering vines.
"White Dragon's Claw!" For each place he stopped, he slashed white light at the green beneath his feet.
When he finally came back to the ground, the others were able to see what he had done. Hundreds of stigmata appeared in the various places he had touched on the thick tendrils. Their erratic movements were instantly halted. They strained from their multiple positions of being frozen.
"Hurry it up, Rogue! That things going to burn off my holy marks real quick."
Soon, the shadow dragon slayer became the shadows themselves. His form became an insubstantial black smoke that moved at incredible speeds. Utilizing this form, Rogue was able to bypass the crystal shell of the colossal pumpkin and enter inside to reach where Natsu and Happy slept. He enveloped the two in his shadows; then quickly made his way out of the killing prison. Just as he got free, Sting's multiple marks started to burn away in blue flames. Rogue carried Natsu and Happy to Lucy's side.
"You will have to take care of him from here," he said, setting his load down.
"Thank you, Rogue," replied Lucy.
A yell came from the battlefield. "Rogue! You better get your shadowy ass back over here, quick! I think this thing's about to blow!"
Almost as he said it, hundreds of the flaming crystal shards once again poured out of the creature's body. The two dragon slayers were forced to take in huge lungfuls of air to stop the attack.
"White Dragon's Roar!" "Shadow Dragon's Roar!" Their combined bursts of power reduced the shards to harmless dust.
But the creature was not done yet. For its next attack, fifty of the massive vines shot out toward the two. Sting had to use Holy Ray and Rogue had to use Waxwing Flash to keep the green things from pulverizing them. They seem to be gaining some ground on the pumpkin. More crystals appeared. Once again, the dragon slayers were able to take care of them. They slashed at the thing more. After their attacks started to show physical signs of effectiveness, Rogue signaled to his partner to jump back.
"Sting, do you notice what is happening?" he inquired. "It seems as if its attacks are getting weaker and weaker each time. I think that this thing has begun to lose its power because I removed Natsu from it. All of the flames it had consumed are now gone."
"Meaning it's starting to get vulnerable. That's why our attacks are working better."
Rogue inclined his head in agreement.
"But it still does not appear to be enough."
"We'll use Dragon Force, then. After, we'll combine our powers and hit it with a Holy Shadow Dragon's Flash Fang."
They looked into each other's eyes.
"Let's do it."
"DRAGON FORCE!" The Twin Dragon Slayers' power levels started to sky-rocket. The energy around them grew and grew. Rogue became covered in shadows; Sting was surrounded by holy light. The marks of the dragons appeared on their skin. Then the air near them settled.
"It's time to pay you back for what you did to our nakama!" declared the White Dragon Slayer.
Their power began to collect in their palms. Their contrasting balls of shadow and light got larger and larger as more of their magic was put into it. Suddenly, the orbs became small and densely compacted. The two fighters drew their arms back. Their power collided; it merged. Unison Raid.
"HOLY SHADOW DRAGON'S FLASH FANG!" Sting and Rogue released everything that they had at the great enemy before them.
When the blinding effects of the immense blast faded, mages and exceeds alike stared hard at the settling dust cloud at the end of the clearing. And when that too had cleared, they looked ahead to see absolutely nothing.
"Heh," a breathing hard blue-eyed boy said. "I think we got it this time."
"Yeah," smiled Rogue. "Took it down for good."
There was a pause. Abruptly, the friends collapsed into one another, falling to the ground, laughing. They were out of steam.
"Aha!" There was a cheer from behind them. "They did it! Sting-kun and Rogue-kun did it!" Lector was happily jumping up and down in his excitement.
Frosch did a little spin with a big grin. "Frosch agrees! Rogue and Sting are the best!"
Levy was openly weeping with joy when she looked at the scene before her.
"So those brats did it, huh? Gihihihi. I always knew my boy had it in 'em." There was a smirk on Gajeel's proud face. His cat was smirking as well.
Lucy Hearfilia glanced down at the two forms in her lap. Happy was still in his partner's arms, and they both looked like they were going to continue sleeping for a long time. But they were alive. Natsu was alive.
"He did it, Natsu," she murmured. "Our son brought you back to me. I'm so proud of him. I love him,…and I love you."
"What's that, Luce?" came a tired voice from its cushion on her legs. "You love stew? Now's not the time to be a pig, Lucy. I have to tell you something."
The Celestial mage could scarcely believe it. The fire dragon slayer was awake, and talking. And trust him to say something stupid to her the first time he saw her after six long months apart. Natsu was never going to change.
"Don't look at me like that, Luce. I promise I'll feed ya later. But I gotta make sure I tell you first…that I love you, too. Weirdo." His fanged grin was the biggest she had ever seen.
They spent all of one night in the hotel in the town outside the forest. And not much was said between the different members of the group because all of them were just too tired to talk. They quickly ordered three separate rooms, headed off to each, and collapsed in beds as soon as they made it there. But not one of them fell asleep without a smile on his or her face.
After that, time was still spent resting for the dragon slayers as they sped toward Magnolia on a train. Lucy, Levy, and half of the exceeds were left to watch over them. Happy and Pantherlily took naps as well. The worn out travelers made it back to Fairy Tail in record time.
Then the next day or so was spent in a flurry of sights, sounds, and emotions. The rest of Fairy Tail was shocked beyond words when Lucy, Levy, Sting, and Rogue hobbled through the doors with the unconscious Natsu and Gajeel in their arms. Wendy was the first to react properly, heading over to give first aid treatment with her healing powers. Next, Gray and Erza jumped up to help lightened the loads of the other dragon slayers and their female companions. Master Makarov quickly ordered that they all go upstairs to the infirmary to be checked out by Porlyusica. And after being carefully scrutinized and bandaged up, the others left the dragon slayers to sleep it off some more. The Celestial Spirit and script mages, along with all the exceeds (except Happy), went back downstairs to talk to Master and the rest of the eagerly waiting Fairy Tail.
Mirajane made sure that they were seated comfortably, had drinks and food, and that the other guild members could hear them. Once Master Makarov was staring at them in full attention, the girls began their story.
Lucy revealed the truth about Sting and Rogue, how they were her and Natsu's, and Levy and Gajeel's, sons from the future. She told everyone about how her being the only one to remember Sting made her realize that Natsu was still alive. Her brown eyes glowed as she recounted her and Levy's decision to go out and find him.
At Levy's turn to speak, she backed up Lucy's statement that her and Gajeel were together. She then spoke about the forest with its secret path that only opened every six months. The script mage described the trail of pumpkins leading to the giant and deadly Ignis Fatuus. She finished it up with the appearance of Rogue and Sting in the middle of the battle.
Then her, Lucy, and the exceeds took turns regaling every detail of the fight to save Natsu and Happy from the strange creature, and how the Twin Dragon Slayers of Fairy Tail had given it their all to defeat it.
The finale of their tale was a signal to their master that he should speak his thoughts now.
"Lucy. Levy. I am glad that the two of you were able to return safely. I am even more glad that you all were able to bring back so many of my children safely. And this old man is grateful that you proved him wrong by returning Natsu to us all.
"Now, I suggest that you all return upstairs in order to watch over our sleeping comrades. And then, tomorrow we shall throw a party the likes of which Fairy Tail has never seen!"
Sting and Rogue were the first ones up the next day. Seeing that their fathers were still asleep, the shadow and light mages stayed with their mothers and had a calm breakfast with the excited cats. Then Happy woke up and blearily asked for fish, which Lucy was all too happy to provide. She had had to explain to him what had happened while he ate. Gajeel yawned and rose from his bed next. He demanded iron so Levy hit him over the head while Rogue smiled in the corner. He was still smiling when his mother informed Gajeel that he should never do anything like that again because it almost worried her to death. He simply laughed. Natsu was the only one who did not wake up for breakfast.
Midmorning, Wendy and the others came in to check on them. Erza started fussy over Lucy, who beamed at her friend's tenderness. Gray went to pester Gajeel about all of his secrets. Jet and Droy set out to directly start crying all over Levy. Happy immediately began flirting with Charle, wondering if she had missed him and if she had cried when she had thought he was dead. The female cat tried to act haughty as usual, stating that she knew he was alive the whole time because she had had a vision about it, but Pantherlily could see a tear in her right eye. Only the Twin Dragon Slayers were spared. Until Mirajane and Lisanna came in to interrogate them about the future and the love lives of their parents.
"I'll check over Natsu-san again."
"Lucy, you should still be resting. You have been through too much these last six months."
"Yo, iron-face. How come you never told anyone about you and Levy having a kid from the future?"
"Charle! Did you miss me! I have fish!" "Stupid, male-cat. I knew you were alive all along. I can see into the future after all."
"Sting! Rogue! What was it like in the future?! I mean, besides the dragons. How did Levy and Gajeel really get together? What did Natsu and Lucy say to each other when they were confessing their love?! Do I have any cute kids in the future like you two?! Are Elfman and Evergreen together now? What happens to Lisanna in the future? Does my cute lil baby sister meet a really hot guy?"
"Ugh, Lucy. Can you make all these people shut up so that I can go eat some fire? I'm starving."
The entire ward went silent. Everyone turned to the head of pink hair in the bed at the end. Lucy gasped in shock.
"N-natsu!" she exclaimed. "You're awake!"
"Yeah, and I'm hungry. You wanna go for that stew now?"
The Celestial Spirit mage could not help but begin to laugh.
Lisanna Strauss quickly dashed out to the balcony of the second floor to shout. "Hey everybody! Natsu's awake!"
A loud and enormous cheer arouse from the guild floor.
"Natsu's up!" "Natsu-nii's awake!" "Finally!" "Stupid Natsu." "Let's all start drinking!"
It was after the large group of people had made it downstairs that the party began. Mirajane and Lisanna quickly became busy pouring drinks. Gray went over to talk to Juvia about what had happened. Erza and Wendy went to get cakes for themselves and the girls. Jet and Droy headed over to Max and Warren to start drinking too. It was soon loud and cheerful in the large guildhall.
The four newly crowned parents and their dragon slaying sons from the future decided to sit at the bar so that Natsu could eat and so that they could talk.
"So, Sting," remarked the fire dragon slayer in between bites. "You're mine and Lucy's son from the future? Guess you could say you have my hair, though it's blonde like Lucy's. Why didn't you tell us when you came to Fairy Tail?"
"Rogue and I decided not to tell you until it was absolutely necessary. We didn't wanna screw anything up. And, umm, you can call me, Jude, Papa. It's what Mama named me, after her father." The blonde man began to blush when he realized what he had called Natsu.
"Papa? Jude?" The charcoal-eyed man scratched the back of his pink locks. "This might take some getting used to."
"Are you mad?"
Natsu Dragneel grinned his patented look. "Mad?! This is great! I'm gonna have a son almost as powerful as me! Say, can you use any fire attacks? Or summon weird creatures, like Lucy does?"
"Ignore your father, Jude," stated the female mage as she rubbed her fist. "He's been asleep too long and took one too many blows from that giant pumpkin."
"Haha. Yes Mama."
"That hurt, Luce! And I could take that stupid vegetable on any day!"
"So then, why'd we have to save your sorry ass, flame-brain?" cut in the iron dragon slayer. "If my boy hadn't of come along, you'd still be stuck inside that thing, whitherin' away to nothing."
"Shut up, Gajeel! There's no way your son is stronger than mine!"
"Ryos could take your crybaby of a kid on any day!"
"Jude'd pulverize your quiet kid in a second!"
"I'm going to make you eat those words, Salamander!"
"Not if I smash you into scrap metal first!"
Another all-out brawl began again that moment in Fairy Tail. It could have been just another normal day for the huge family of colorful mages.
"Eek!" "Ahh!" "Natsu! You can't use my dress as a cape! I'm naked!"
A/n: Can't breathe, guys. Been working on this for so long and so continuously that I may have forgotten my own name. As such, please forgive me for any glaring errors as it is hard to look at all of these words straight and keep track of where I am as I scroll. That being said, I greatly enjoyed this story and hope you do as well.