She knew it would happen one day.
It was only a matter of time.
For years now, it had bothered Lucy in the far back corner of her mind, a nagging worry, a fear she did not want to face. Eventually, it mutated into a silent understanding. Like it or not, it would happen one day.
They say time heals all wounds, but in this case, time had prepared her heart for this particular wound.
He was a Spirit. She was Human. She aged. He stayed eternally the same. Eventually, be it now or in a few decades, Loke would grow bored. Her appeal would tarnish. His eyes would wander.
She walked up a hill on a dirt road still drying out from a recent spring rain. Dandelions lined in close to the road, smiling their sunny faces, their golden manes cheering on the morning, blooming happily even if the whole world called this flower a weed. Her mind wandered back through the dark hallways of the past. She did not consider these years a waste. If she could live life over again, she would do the same, love him just as much, hold onto him just as tightly, and hopefully be able to let go this easily.
"Lucy, I...I am so, so sorry."
Those words came to her on a dark night when she had woken up at hearing him trying to enter silently. She knew immediately. His words had stung only a little when he said them. The betrayal that whispered to her on the scent of a foreign perfume and the proof in a pink lipstick mark on his shirt collar had made a single tear roll down her cheek, but she told herself that she knew it would happen one day. She was prepared.
After all, she was not the young teenager she had been back then.
Maybe a small part of her had hoped he would stay with her until she was old and gray. He had promised as much in the heat of passion as his body collided into hers like a fiery meteor into a virgin moon. Their love had been bright, glorious, a streak of celestial splendor for all to marvel upon. Yet like a shooting star, she knew it would burn out and fade.
It actually took longer than she anticipated. That or she was really bad at catching the hints.
As Lucy reached the crest of the dandelion-covered hill, she looked down at the Gold Key now clutched in her hand, separated from the rest of her ring of keys. This part was maybe the hardest. She had not told Loke about her plans. She wanted to avoid any awkward farewells. Just this once, Lucy was going to breach a contract with one of her Spirits.
It had taken her a long time to find the perfect Spirit Mage. It could not be a woman; that she determined the instant she made this decision. There were not many male Spirit Mages in Fiore, but she finally found one. He was young, barely sixteen, a new member of the guild Laxus had broken off and started, which meant he must be powerful. Up until now, the boy had no Gold Keys at all, which was not surprising. Lucy owned most of them. Still, she was getting up in age. It was time to stop taking the harder missions. She wondered if she was too old now to consider settling down, getting married. She wasn't quite too old to have children, right?
As she handed the Gold Key into the eager, youthful hands, she realized she could have been this boy's mother.
Yep, that clenched it. She was old.
His eyes shined in astonishment at receiving, not just a coveted Gold Key, but the strongest Zodiac Spirit. Laxus was nearby to oversee the exchange. He had gone partially bald and grew a mustache, yet he still wore those stupid headphones. Lucy smiled at him in familiarity and wondered if he realized he looked like a taller version of his long-since-deceased grandfather.
The boy held the key up into the air. Lucy gasped, and Laxus quickly put a hand over the key.
"Remember the agreement," was all he had to say.
The boy grinned huge and rubbed the back of his head. "Sorry, oba-chan. I forgot. Don't call him out and make the contract until you're gone. Sorry."
She looked sadly down at him, then up to Laxus. "You're right. He has the same smile Natsu used to have."
Laxus looked proud of his little brat. "Are you heading back to Fairy Tail? You're welcome to stay here. Even if you're retiring, we could use a librarian."
She smiled at the offer. Retirement! Her days as the Great Spirit Mage Lucy Heartfilia were over. Not just because of Loke and his betrayal. That had only been the final proof she needed to realize she had become too old to be of any use. Retirement was something she deserved after so many years of service.
"Thanks, but I can't stay around...him," she said, nodding to the key. "Besides, Master Erza offered to keep me on as an instructor."
"Well then, come visit sometime. The brat could use a good teacher, and there's none better than the Great Spirit Mage Lucy."
"Thanks. I should go before he senses the change. Take care of the kid. People will be after that key. And thanks, Laxus." She scruffed up the boy's snow-white and salmon-pink hair. "You take care, kiddo. Tell your mom hi for me."
She turned and walked down the hill. Just as she began to feel lighter about this decision and smile at the freedom of simply letting go, she felt a familiar tingle.
"I didn't do it, I swear," the boy yelled in panic.
She grimaced that it had to be this way. She quickened her steps and marched onward in determination.
"Lucy, I said I was sorry. She didn't mean anything to me. It was just...just..."
His excuses hurt even worse. She fought tears and broke into a run down the hill, letting gravity pull her away from his voice, the voice that had comforted her through the darkest day of her life when she lost her closest friend, the voice that whispered to her during passionate nights and swore to love her eternally through these bittersweet decades.
"Please, Lucy! Don't go. Don't leave me. Lucy!"
She shook her head and kept running, not even looking where she was going. The bonds had been broken; she could sense it. It was no wonder he broke through his gate in such urgency. Surely he could sense the exchange of ownership more potently than she could. Now he belonged to a new master. She just had to keep running, escape back to the guild, into the arms of friends who would comfort her as she healed from her heart's wound.
She knew it would happen one day.
It was only a matter of time.
"Farewell, beloved Lion," she whispered.
Many Decades Later
They warned her not to go fight. Master Erza specifically told her to stay in the guild and make sure enemies did not infiltrate. Master Erza also should have known Lucy would never listen. Her years fighting with Gray and Natsu left their impression on her. Of course, she knew she was too old to fight. Still, she could not let a dark guild destroy Magnolia. It was her home, and Fairy Tail was her family.
She saved many during that battle. Between Sagittarius' brilliant shooting, Aquarius flooding the enemy's ships before they could reach the port, and Aries using Wool Shield to protect some of the junior members, she guessed she must have save a few hundred lives. She couldn't save them all, though. She saw Romeo fallen on the battlefield and Wendy wailing over his cold, bloodied body. She heard Levy screaming for Droy to open his eyes, and Lucy had a feeling he never would again. A harsh war with a pyrrhic victory!
But for her, the fighting was over.
Gray was by her side, old like her now, his hair matching the color of his name. She saw his mouth yelling in desperation, but her ears only picked up random sounds now. All she could do was smile. At least she wasn't alone at the end. Her family was here on the battlefield.
Her world slowly went cold and heavy. Her eyes were distracted by an eagle flying overhead, free, seemingly floating amidst the clouds. She wanted to float freely too. She closed her eyes and drifted to sleep.
Suddenly, it was warm. She felt light, as if she did not even have a body to weigh her down. She tingled, but it was a pleasant feeling. She liked this new place, wherever it was.
"Welcome home, Lucy."
She had not heard his voice in years, and yet it could still make her shiver. She looked around, and there she saw them.
It was not just her beloved Lion. Aries and Sagittarius, who she had just seen during the fight, were there too. Aquarius was looking as peevish as ever. Scorpio gave her a wave and a wink. Gemi and Mini were dancing circles in the air. Capricorn gave her a nod. Cancer had his arms folded and a cool smile.
A pink-haired maid came up to her and bowed. "We've been waiting for you, Princess. Due to your contribution toward the entire Spirit World, you've been granted a place here with us."
Lucy looked around at all of them. "I'm...a Spirit?"
"Lucyyyyyyyyy!" Taurus cried out with hearts in his eyes. "Lucy still has such a nice body even here."
She looked down and saw that she appeared young again, the same age as when she gained these Spirits and friends.
"One other is here too," Loke smiled, and he guided her forward. "Someone you know who passed on many years ago. We always wondered why he could travel to the Spirit World, and after his passing, we found out. I must admit, it came as a huge shock."
She saw the boy who was closer than a brother. He still had the spiky pink hair and scaly scarf, but he had a slightly different look to him now, something more mature, something strange yet perhaps an improvement.
Loke introduced him formally. "Draco the Dragon Constellation...otherwise known as Dragon Slayer Natsu."
Lucy ran forward with a cry, and Natsu grinned huge. They collided together, reunited after many decades. He held her as she cried, just like he used to do, simply holding her and being a pillar of strength that he knew she desperately needed. Meanwhile, the other Spirits watched her and smiled to one another.
Then Natsu made a waving motion of his hand. Loke came forward, and Natsu gently transferred her to his arms.
"He still loves ya, Luce," Natsu said, using the edge of his scarf to dry her tears. "How about you give both of us a second chance? Here, like this, neither one of us will ever leave you again."
She sniffled back the last of her tears and nodded. "So if Natsu is Draco the Dragon, what am I?"
Loke came forward and gave her a kiss. "We called you Princess for a reason. You are, indeed, royalty, but not just from a rich family. It's time for you to take your rightful place, Lucy...or I should say, Andromeda: the Princess."
Her mouth dropped in astonishment. "No way! Andromeda? My mama...she...she always liked the Constellation Andromeda." For a brief moment, Lucy felt saddened. If she was here in the Spirit World, it meant she was not going to Heaven. She would never seen his mother again. She was happy to be with Natsu and these Spirits who were another family of hers, but she truly missed her mother.
"Of course she always liked it," Loke chuckled. "After all, she's the mother of Andromeda, Cassiopeia: the Queen."
"She...what?" Lucy gasped. He couldn't mean...
Capricorn led forward a graceful woman, royalty indeed by how she walked and carried herself. Her hair was the same golden as Lucy's, her smile the same, her eyes just as gentle.
Lucy's trembling hands covered her gaping mouth. "Mama?" she whispered. This time, her shock was beyond tears.
Layla Heartfilia smiled tenderly. "You're finally home, dearest daughter."
Loke hugged her from behind and buried his face into her hair. She felt his chest shivering with emotions. "We're never going to leave you again," he swore ardently. "You're one of us. Just as Fairy Tail was always your family, so were the Spirits. And now you're home. You're...home, Lucy. And we're never going to be separated! We never have to say sayonara to one another again, I swear! So please...please forgive me. I don't deserve it, but...please at least say you don't hate me."
She turned around to see him with tears behind his blue shades. She reached up to his face, carefully removed the glasses, and smiled at his guilt-ridden face. How long had he torn himself up inside for his one betrayal?
"Of course I forgive you," she whispered, and to show him she truly did, Lucy gave Loke a deep kiss.
Aries hummed happily to see her best friend reunited with the woman he loved. Aquarius and Scorpio chuckled and snuggled together. Virgo heard a moan to her side and glanced up to Taurus, only to see the Bull looking utterly dejected.
Capricorn leaned over to Layla Heartfilia. "I always thought they would get together when the time came, but now we have to deal with the issue of Perseus."
"One problem at a time, old friend," Layla chuckled and patted his arm. "Let her have her beloved Lion for now."