He kept trying to poke the fire. It wasn't hot if you moved quickly, but he was curious at what speed one started to feel the heat. Every time his mother's back was turned, he'd reach for the flame again, only to be subjected to her glare before he could try out his experiments. As if being almost five didn't make him old enough to try little things like this.
"Laxus Dreyar," she said, eyebrow rising, "what do you think you're doing?"
"Nothing," he said innocently.
Laxus couldn't help a giggle. Mayu's soft face did not bend itself into 'stern' very well.
Walking over, she swept him into an embrace that pulled him away from the candles.
"My little demon," she said, but she was smiling.
Laxus hugged her back and stopped trying to get to the fire. For now.
"You'll never stop getting into mischief, will you?" she sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Just like your father: you have to know everything. I suppose you're only going to get worse as you get older?"
He grinned up at her. "Yes."
Exasperated, she kissed his ear and he basked in the affection.
"Come help me with dinner," she said as she straightened.
"Really?" Laxus leapt up. "Can I cut things?"
"What do you think?"
"No," she laughed. "But you can watch the boiling pot for me. If you promise not to mess with the fire," she added.
"Promise." Laxus jumped up on the stool she set down and stared assiduously into the pot. "What is it?"
"Rice. We're having oyakodon."
"I love oyakodon."
"You love everything," she said.
"I like the way you do the egg."
She laughed. "I think that's the way everyone does it."
"No, yours is better. You should add those long green things," he said.
"It would taste really good."
"I'm not so sure about that…" she began as Ivan strode in.
"Warm in here," he commented. "You should let the boy have his leeks, Mayu."
Laxus left his post at the burner to run over and give his father a hug.
"Hello, Laxus," Ivan smiled, picking him up so Laxus could hug him properly. Ivan turned back to Mayu. "Just add the vegetable."
"How about tomorrow I make a salad with leeks?" she asked Laxus.
Before Laxus could open his mouth, his father interrupted.
"Gods, Mayu, it's just a vegetable. It can't ruin something as simple as chicken and egg. How hard is it to add?"
With a sigh, Mayu turned her back and grabbed a cutting board. "Fine."
An uncertain silence fell, Ivan inhaling deeply to calm himself. Apprehensive, Laxus watched his father, relieved when Ivan gave him an open, happy smile.
"What did you work on today?" Laxus asked.
"Still reading my books and trying to find a better energy conversion for the spells I'm working on." He turned to Mayu and, still smiling, asked, "Did you get those things I wrote down?"
"Not yet," she said, staring down at her work. "I was very busy."
"Mayu, those books are important."
Putting Laxus down, Ivan grabbed her arm and Mayu jolted. Laxus stared at them, hovered in the doorway, uncertain if he should go play.
"This project is vital. I need to find a better formula and update the spell as soon as possible. People need this. People counting on me."
"I'll do it," she said, still, still staring down at the chopping board beneath her hands.
"Tomorrow," Ivan insisted.
Meeting his eyes, she wrenched out of his grasp, shocking Ivan and Laxus both. Laxus wanted to tell her it would be alright. Why couldn't she just get the books?
"Calm down," Ivan told her under his breath, but either she wasn't listening or didn't care. When she hunched over the counter, small and shrinking, Laxus backed up and tripped over the stool behind him.
Suddenly all her concerned attention was on him.
"Are you okay? Did you bruise your heel?"
"Good." Her smile, lovely and focused on him, was still tense around her eyes. Laxus hated it. He wanted her back to normal.
"Don't yell," he muttered.
"We're not yelling. I'm sorry it made you upset, Laxus."
Grunting, he avoided her eyes.
She murmured, "I love you, beautiful boy."
When he looked up, she was smiling again, this time for real.
He let her pull him into another embrace. Behind her, Ivan wandered over to the pot and poked a spoon at the rice. Normal once more.
Laxus closed his eyes. Her arms were warm. Safe. Always safe.
Laxus was playing with their home fire lacrima, trying to see how it worked—and why it was supposedly broken. Though meant for igniting the candles, heater, and stove, it had an odd habit of letting off an electrical charge.
Ivan swooped in behind Laxus and tapped the lacrima in his hands, putting just enough magic through it to increase the static in the air. Hair standing on end, Laxus burst into laughter at the tingle up his spine.
"You like that?" Ivan chuckled.
"It tickles. Give it back," Laxus said, fighting giggles as his father inspected the lacrima.
"Nope, sorry, you have to work for it, just like a guild wizard," Ivan grinned. The sparkle in his eye had Laxus tumbling into laughter once more.
"That's not the same, Papa."
"It isn't?" Ivan feigned confusion. "Why not?"
Laxus jumped and made a swipe for the lacrima in Ivan's hand.
"I don't have magic."
Grinning, Ivan handed the lacrima back to him.
"I suppose you're right. Figure out what's wrong with it?"
"No." Laxus's face screwed up in thought. "I think there's a different kind of magic in it."
"That's a good hypothesis." Ivan sat down beside him, scooting Laxus closer so he fit against Ivan's side. "What makes you think that?"
"The sparks are blue-white, unlike the guild's lacrima, which puts out orange sparks," Laxus told him excitedly. He held the ball up closer. "Also there are two colors swirling inside it. See? Red, which is what it's supposed to be, and a sparkly yellow."
Laxus was quite enchanted by the sparkles.
"I never noticed that before. Good catch." Ivan picked up the lacrima and scrutinized it. When he handed it back to his son, he smiled. "I think you're right, Laxus. I think whoever created it input lightning magic as well as fire. That would explain the bursts of static."
Smiling, he patted the top of Laxus's head.
"Your hair is still standing up."
"Yeah," Laxus said, eyes huge. Lightning—the power to do anything. Thunderstorms were common in Magnolia during summer, and Laxus had fallen in love with the lightning since the first time he saw it. It slithered down, too fast for the eye to see, and then it was gone, the giant boom of its power heard long after it passed.
Mayu always jumped when thunder rolled, and Laxus laughed, and she'd tell him he was brave and her strong boy.
Lightning was so big. Incomprehensible. Its majesty called to him. He hadn't known it could be magic.
"How does it work?" he asked.
"Lightning is another form of magic. When you pull in ethernanos, you release them in the form of electricity, just like you would with fire or shikigami or any other magic."
"Wow," Laxus whispered.
His father had promised to start teaching him magic soon. In secret, Laxus had already practiced meditating to draw in ethernanos, though he could only focus for a few minutes before his mind wandered and he got bored. But he was trying.
"Would you like to learn lightning magic?" Ivan asked, leaning down to see Laxus at eye level.
Laxus whirled toward him so fast he dropped the lacrima. Ivan caught it before it could hit the wooden table and start a fire, still watching Laxus's amazed expression.
"Can I?" Laxus asked, throat choking up around the words.
"Of course. I'll find someone who can teach you to release magic in that form; I can still teach you to gather ethernanos, since that's the same for everyone."
Eagerness sprouted in Laxus's chest: a rosy, energetic feeling like running with all your might. He flung his arms around Ivan's neck.
"Thank you, Papa."
"Of course, Laxus. You're my son." Ivan hugged him closer as Laxus curled up in his lap. "I think lightning will be a good magic for you. It fits your fast mind."
Laxus positively glowed.
"Papa says I can learn lightning magic," Laxus said.
Mayu, seated in her chair with several colorful yarns in her lap, looked up from her project.
"Really," she said. Her eyes weren't quite…lit up. But she was smiling. "He's going to teach you?"
"He says he'll find someone. Lightning!"
Her smile softened, genuine this time.
"It's perfect for you, Laxus. You always love the storms."
"Do you think I'll be able to control them?" he asked. "Or maybe make lightning without any clouds?"
"I don't know," she laughed. "We'll have to see. But I know you'll have a blast learning."
They shared a grin.
"What are you making?" Laxus asked, coming over to her side.
"I'm knitting you another blanket since it's getting colder."
"You know how to do that?"
"I'm teaching myself." She showed him the even, round stitches in blue and grey. "Your father doesn't want to spend money on anything nonessential right now, so I thought I'd make it myself."
"Where'd you get the string?"
"The yarn is from an old project I pulled apart; that's why it's a bit curly." She held some up and Laxus fingered the kinks. "Do you like the colors?"
He nodded. "It's soft. Like the sweater you used to wear."
Smiling sadly, Mayu leaned in and kissed his forehead.
"I'm glad you like it," she said. "I'll see if I can find some yellow and add a few lightning bolts. Tell me more about the magic you're going to learn."
Laxus turned excitedly back to the topic of lightning and listed for her all the things he wanted to learn how to do, watching mesmerized as her fingers whipped back and forth over clicking needles.
Mayu did find some yellow yarn: a tea cozy Laxus had never seen them use. Holding a finger to her lips, she picked it apart and began to add lightning details to the blanket. Laxus was in love with it already.
Except when Ivan came home and had kissed them both hello, he stared down at the blanket for a long moment before saying, "Nice work. I see you're picking up the basics pretty well."
Mayu nodded, eyes on the needles in her hands.
"Where is the yellow yarn from?" he asked casually.
"Doesn't it look fun? Laxus wanted lightning bolts. I found the various colors in different items we don't use anymore and picked them apart. It's all recycled yarn. Nothing paid for."
"That shade of yellow looks familiar."
Laxus could feel it. In the same way buzzing static filled the air when storms were close, a tension had entered everything, subtly: their voices, their bodies, their words.
"I got it from that old tea cover we never used," Mayu said casually.
"The one my mother made?" Ivan asked, eyebrow rising.
Mayu finally looked up, movements calming and conciliatory. "You always hated that thing. I figured it was okay."
"My mother made it, Mayu. You should've asked before taking it apart." He grabbed a handful of the loose yellow yarn out of her lap. Mayu stopped knitting.
"I'm sorry, love," she said after an awkwardly long silence. "I can—"
"It's fine," he grunted. "There's no way you could put it back together. I'll just have to do with one less thing to remember her by."
Laxus, now sitting on the far end of the sofa with his feet curled under him, thought that was the end of it. But Ivan added with strange venom, "But at least you're enjoying your little project."
"You hated your mother," Mayu snapped. "Stop pretending you care."
"She was my mother! Sure, I never liked her, but she had her good points. And she's gone now. I won't ever see her again. So this," he held up the pile of yellow yarn, "is all I have left of her. Thanks, Mayu. Thanks to you, that's one less piece of her I have to hold onto."
"Gods, I'm sorry," she growled quietly.
"How hard would it be to fucking ask?" Ivan snarled back.
"I didn't think, okay? I assumed you wouldn't care. I'm sorry."
"You could've asked. I don't get it. I just don't. Who does that? You just destroy my stuff without even thinking? And you wonder why I feel unloved."
"I said I'm sorry! Stop rubbing my face in it. What else do you want me to do?"
"I want you not to have taken it apart without asking."
"Well I can't go back in time, Ivan." Mayu inhaled. "Maybe if you'd let me buy a few things to make our son a blanket—"
"You're even worse with money than you are with things!" Ivan said. "You say you're trustworthy, but I see no proof of that. You always pull shit like this."
"I didn't pull anything! This blanket is for Laxus, Ivan. It's for our son. We both make sacrifices for him."
"Yeah, you've sacrificed a whole lot," Ivan said sarcastically. "I'm down in the basement slaving away over paying work—and what are you doing? Playing together, laughing, having fun. Oh, and destroying my possessions while you're at it."
"That's not true!"
"Uh, Mayu. Duh." Ivan pointed at the yellow yarn. "Or I guess this isn't mine and you didn't destroy it."
"Stop it!" Mayu shot to her feet, blanket, yarn, and needles falling to the floor. She was so much shorter than Ivan, but she stared him in the eye, and her words came out like bullets, precise and horrible. "Stop making me feel like shit, Ivan. I've said I'm sorry. I'm doing everything I can."
"Well, it's not enough."
"If you call me lazy one more time," she snarled, "maybe I'll stop doing everything I do so you can see just how much I do."
"Stop being so angry!" Ivan shouted. "Gods, look, you're freaking your son out."
Laxus cowered back.
"I'm not the one who started this!"
"Yes, Mayu, you are." Ivan pointed wordlessly at the mess at her feet. Emotion made his jaw hard. "I'm going down to my workshop. Call me when it's time to eat."
He turned to go.
"You can make your own damn dinner," Mayu spat.
Ivan looked back around with shocked rage on his face.
Neither Laxus nor Mayu was ready for his palm connecting with the side of her face.
Mayu screeched in surprise, jumping backward and tripping into her chair. The sound of the slap resounded through the room: the silence behind it was the loudest thing Laxus had ever heard.
Laxus's throat closed completely to air and sound.
Ivan's voice made him jump, the urge to cry just barely suppressed. Is Mama okay? Is she okay?
Ivan crossed the room and grabbed Laxus's arm, not painful, but it still made him startle. Fear kept Laxus from catching on until Ivan had practically dragged him to his feet, and he finally found his balance.
"We're going out to eat." Still holding Laxus's arm, Ivan pulled him toward the door. "Put on your shoes."
"Wait…" His mother's voice was thin. Wispy. Like it might disappear altogether.
Laxus was too scared, and too confused, and he was being pulled too fast toward the door: he couldn't look around and see her face, see she was okay. He was so scared that if he turned around, he'd see it all play out over again.
She was okay. She always said she was okay.
"Stop crying," Ivan said as he handed Laxus his shoes. "Everything will be fine."
Laxus nodded quickly, heavily, until his head threatened to wobble off his shoulders.
It would be okay.
Ivan started involving Laxus far more in his work. It was just little things, and very often he just had Laxus sit in silence and watch, only half understanding what his father was doing.
Time to himself became a coveted thing. Now that Ivan was preparing him to learn magic, there were activities to practice and books to read and things to tinker with. Projects, experiments.
When he came down from his room, or up from his father's workshop, his mother was usually busy cleaning or cooking or doing some other home project. They didn't have the long conversations they used to, and she didn't make him laugh as much. Instead, Laxus would bring his books and sit next to her, the new routine slowly becoming comforting as it became familiar and rote.
"Kaasan," Laxus asked one day, "why don't you use magic anymore?"
"I do occasionally," she said, wiping her forehead and not looking up from the produce she was curing. "But I don't have much time."
"Otousan has time for magic."
"He's a very busy man who is lucky to get to use magic in his job," Mayu said.
Laxus stopped asking.
The quiet should've gotten to Laxus—maybe it did—but he found other amusements. Now that he was, as his father put it, 'more interesting,' his grandfather took an interest in being involved in his life, and Ivan reluctantly let it happen. At least once a week, Laxus went to the guildhall, and very often he could be found holed away in a private corner of the guild library, searching for books. He couldn't necessarily understand the spells and technical terms, but it felt like the knowledge was right there at his fingertips. He was so close to touching it.
If only he could actually learn magic.
Apparently his body didn't want to carry magic. He could take in ethernanos automatically now like a mage, but no matter how small the amounts, he often found himself throwing up in response. Fevers became a common opponent, trapping him in bed—making him crawl even deeper into books to escape. His mother put him on a diet of bland ricey foods, but illness still followed him everywhere, walking in his footsteps, breathing down his neck. He dreaded doing simple things, and the dread just made him worse.
Ignoring his body as often as he could, Laxus forced himself to keep using magic, against Mayu's protests. He would get better at this. Everyone else could do it. It would all click and he wouldn't get sick anymore. He just had to get to that point.