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Last Place to Find Home - Part II

Chapter Text

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.

"Nothing. Hm."

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.

"Alright, tomorrow!"

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.

"Hello, son."

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.

Chapter Text

"I'm going to do it," Laxus said as he and Freed walked home one day through Magnolia. "I'm going to see Ivan."

The silence lasted a few heartbeats—this had been an ongoing topic of conversation.

"When?" Freed asked.


Freed made a noise of surprise.

"You're sure?"

"Yes. This is personal." Laxus sighed heavily. "I want you to come along."

Freed stopped dead.

"You do?"

"Why are you looking at me like that?"

"It's him," Freed spluttered. "Aren't you afraid he'll say things?"

The hair stood up on Laxus's neck, tingling over him like an electric charge.

"What could he say?" Laxus growled.

Warm hands closed around his wrists as Freed stepped in front of him.

"It doesn't matter. Just tell me: do you want me to act like we aren't together?"

The question shocked him, and he shrank from Freed's grasp. When the motion jostled Freed's still-healing arms, Freed hissed softly and Laxus looked down guiltily.

"I don't know," Laxus said.


They began walking again. After several steps, Laxus asked, "Is that 'okay, I understand,' or 'okay, I'll come'?"

"I understand and I'll come."

The muscles in Laxus's chest eased, melting with a sudden rush of heat. Having his boyfriend right under Ivan's nose was far less scary than facing the bastard alone.

"One more thing," he said as they turned a corner. "We're walking. No fucking trains."

Freed snorted. "With you, I'd expect nothing else."

"As long as you can handle it," Laxus added.

"I'm fine." Rolling his eyes, Freed swung his arms in demonstration.

Laxus grinned at him and, with a quick glance around, took his hand. It still made him anxious to do this in public, but Freed's flush of pleasure was worth it.

Laxus jolted up and rubbed his face. "Are you willing to give it all up?" Ivan's voice was clear in his head. The words were so fresh from the nightmare, like it was just yesterday, his chest untouched by knives and his heart still too young to understand his feelings or what exactly he was giving up.


Even though he knew it was selfish, he cuddled up to his boyfriend and nudged his hip.


The rune mage groaned, inhaled, and opened his eyes.

"What's wrong?" Freed asked.

"Weird dream," Laxus murmured. He pressed his face into the warm curve of Freed's neck. "You smell good."

He could practically hear Freed's smile.

"Do you need something?" Freed asked.

"No," Laxus admitted. He just needed to not be the only one awake.


When Freed pulled Laxus's arm over him, Laxus shied away from the bandages that still adorned Freed's biceps, touching his chest and stomach instead. The rest of Freed's injuries were gone, and the bandages merely covered scabs close to healing, but Laxus couldn't forget how close Freed's arms had come to parting ways with the rest of him.

"Did you know I care about you?" Freed said softly.

Laxus swallowed. "Yes."

It reminded him of the dark mage who forced Freed to spill his secrets. It wasn't just that Freed had agreed without hesitation in exchange for Laxus's life: it was how easily he'd answered the last question.

Whom do you love most?

Laxus Dreyar.

"I care for you too, by the way," Laxus whispered.

Freed squeezed his fingers.

"Fall asleep with me, Laxus."


Sleeping with Freed was his favorite thing about being together. Showing Freed affection; Freed's effervescent smile; the sex; the contentment Laxus got from being around Freed…all those were his favorites too, but this—lying side-by-side in complete trust as they entered their most vulnerable state—seemed to sum up all the rest.

Freed readjusted in Laxus's grasp, though he didn't pull away from Laxus breathing down his neck—he was quite tolerant. Laxus wasn't exactly comfortable in his curled-around position, but bent like this he could smell Freed, touch his skin, and embrace his heat. It was worth a crick in his neck.

Laxus could see it clearly.

Freed with his arms through a wall of orange light, eyes so focused, fingers moving with increasing unsteadiness as he crossed out and rewrote. Freed was shirtless, but for once, Laxus wasn't thinking about that—even the part of him that was aware this was a dream.

The dribbles of blood down Freed's arms grew thicker.

Laxus wanted to get to him, but this fucking barrier: he couldn't fight it, couldn't kill it, couldn't get through it. It rebuffed his magic over and over. Like Freed, he was trapped; except Freed was slowly cutting his arms off to get out…

While Laxus had to watch.

His beloved was going to lose his hands. Freed needed his precious hands. Laxus would explode before Freed lost a hand. And yet he was powerless; he couldn't even get Freed to stop.

Freed's gasp and sideways stagger made his heart seize. Suddenly, the runes were gone, and Freed fell through the now-impotent light.


Laxus wasn't sure Freed even heard him. The rune mage took a tottering step, and another, looking like he'd fall to pieces any moment. So much blood. With only one magical barrier between them now, Laxus could smell it strongly. As Freed coughed and huffed a weak breath, the stench of the dying hit his nose, and Laxus clapped a hand over his mouth.

The scent of blood and death.

He was sure he was going to throw up. Instead, a tear slipped down his cheek.

Somehow, Freed reached Laxus's enchanted prison. And then he just stood there, his burned, sliced-up arms shaking at his sides.

Lightning crackled under Laxus's skin. He was on the edge of breaking.

"You are beyond reckless," he snarled. "Gods dammit, Freed!"

"Just a sec…" Freed dropped off. His face was paler than ash.

Quivering, Freed's fingers brushed the runes holding Laxus captive.

"Freed, I swear to the Goddess— You're fucking bleeding everywhere. If you get yourself permanently maimed, I will not forgive you. Holy fuck."

He knew Freed was doing this for him—would only ever do something so dangerous for Laxus's sake. It made bile rise in his throat. Freed always did this. Loved a shitty human being like him. And Laxus could never pay him back. Freed gave and gave and gave, and—

Freed let out a noise of pain. It was so quiet. Laxus nearly reached through the runes and grabbed Freed, regardless of what it would do to Laxus's own body. Except he needed to be able to save Freed.

And even furious, he had faith in Freed's abilities.

The rune mage continued his unsteady editing. Freed's heart was pounding so fast, too hard; his blood pressure was rising to compensate for so much lost blood. If he didn't get help soon, very bad things would start to happen.

Gasping, Freed met his eyes. "…There."

Laxus launched forward.

When Freed tipped and fell, Laxus snatched him, lowering him to the ground. Laxus was shaking uncontrollably.

Freed's mouth moved, but nothing came out. His eyes fluttered in and out of focus, seeking Laxus's face: clearly blind. Fear lanced across Freed's expression.

"La...Lax—!" Freed shrieked.

He looked terrified.

"Freed!" Laxus was panting. "It's going to be okay. Freed? Please. Look at me. Freed!"

But Freed's eyes closed. His heart stopped.

A second later, it picked up again—erratic. Laxus gasped a breath.

No. You. Won't!

Electricity embraced him, folding him and his beloved into its depths. Laxus couldn't move at the speed of light—not while he clasped Freed to his chest, whose body didn't blend with lightning. But he got close.

Praising his nose, Laxus shot after the woman who'd done this.

The scents of Bickslow and Evergreen wafted to him as he caught up to her, crashing into her back while she was focused on the two standing Raijinshuu and sending her through a wall. Oops. Not.

Thank the gods for surprise attacks.

The Raijinshuu had been in a corner fighting a losing battle against the woman's runes; now free, they turned on him and the man in his arms.

"Deal with the mage!" Laxus ordered, seeing Ever's face go grey. "Finish her off. I need to go!"

"Shit. Freed," Bickslow whispered.

Laxus didn't wait.

In the sky, he moved with ease, no obstacles in his path. Just a straight shot to Fairy Tail.

It wouldn't be enough. Not fast enough. Not strong enough: he was never enough. He'd nearly died getting a lacrima shoved in his chest, and still he was pathetic.

He was so scared Freed would slip away. He held Freed close against his chest. So afraid Freed would stop. Stop being.

Freed couldn't. He just couldn't. Laxus couldn't survive that.

In the dream, Freed's life began to slip away; Laxus didn't know how he knew. Freed was going to die. Except he wasn't, because that wasn't how this ended. Laxus got Freed to Fairy Tail. He got Freed to Wendy in time. The dream couldn't change that. Freed would survive.

Sheer determination seemed to change the outcome of his nightmare. Through a haze of fear, Laxus found himself in the infirmary. Freed on a bed. Looking like the image of death. It seemed no blood remained in his body: it was all over the outside of him, crimson on his arms, smeared across his chest, and soaking into Laxus's shirt.

Mira did things—this would keep him alive, she said. Then Wendy darted in, and Laxus leaned up onto his toes, tense, waiting to hear it would be okay. Freed would survive. Please. Please. He had to.

Minutes later, Bickslow and Ever careened into the infirmary. In the grip of panic, Laxus's brain got stuck on that impossibility: they couldn't travel so fast. But Bickslow pulled shards of glass from Ever's hand, carefully forcing her fingers to drop the cracked remains of a lacrima into the rubbish bin. Oh. They'd used that. Which meant they'd deemed this enough of an emergency.

Freed's heart stopped and started again.

Laxus was the fraying ends of an old cable, split, sparking. He was actually sparking—Mira told him off, but he ignored her. He didn't have control over it.

Freed's blood was everywhere. It couldn't be like this. They'd only started dating this morning. They'd kissed for the first time, and less than twenty-four hours later, Laxus had already failed him. Already too weak. Too undeserving.

He could smell Freed's insides: smell his flesh. This was the coppery taste of failure.

And Freed's heartbeat was imperceptible now.

No. This couldn't be how it ended. This wasn't what happened. Not like this.

But Freed's life slipped away.

No! No please, please don't…

But begging didn't and couldn't wake Freed. Laxus was never going to be enough. Just like Ivan always told him. Like he'd told himself every time he failed. Fuck-up. Never good enough. Not good enough for Freed.

Wendy turned around and Laxus nearly screamed.



Piece of shit, Laxus, you're a piece of shit, you killed him, you heartless bastard, this is all you—

Laxus thrashed his way out of the nightmare. The room rushed back and he opened his eyes to yellow light.

Freed, ever the early riser, was reading by the dim light of the old, ugly, beloved lamp in the corner.

"Morning, Lax—"

Laxus gasped.

Freed jolted, tossing his book across the floor. "What's wrong?"

Staggering up, Laxus hurtled to the toilet. He tried to disguise the sounds as he retched, but Freed was smart. Maybe that was alright.

But nothing came up. Laxus was empty. Useless. Filled with the taste of things which should never be.

Failure. You fucking failure.

When Laxus returned, he collapsed beside Freed.

"Laxus?" Freed asked in a low voice.

When Laxus didn't answer, Freed carded his fingers through Laxus's hair. Laxus didn't try to move; his hands shook, and gods knew what the rest of him would do if he let the vestiges of panic have their way.

Sometime later, Laxus opened his eyes and caught Freed's hand, flipping it palm-up and staring at the shiny scars. He traced a finger along the pink edges.

"They're looking much better," Freed commented when Laxus remained silent.

After a little while, Freed slid down the bed to face him. To Laxus's relief, he didn't ask why Laxus was so on edge, so haunted by nightmares.

Freed gave him a long, soft kiss before saying, "Let's make breakfast."

Relieved, Laxus nodded and followed him to the kitchen. Staring Freed up and down as he did so: Freed was in nothing but boxers and damn was he good-looking.

Laxus didn't deserve this. He wasn't worth it. He needed to protect this with everything he had. This relationship, his amazing Freed, so smart and strong and skilled.

Otherwise Laxus was just a monster.

"Cell 261. Left side." The guardswoman unlocked the last enchanted door. "Knock here when you're done."

Freed stepped into the long, muggy corridor at Laxus's side. It was eerily quiet—every cell they passed had nothing but bars, occupants visible within, but runes kept noise from coming through.

He didn't grab Laxus's hand, but the urge was there. Laxus would never admit he was nervous, but Freed knew him well and Laxus's broken sleep had been too big a tell. Laxus was stronger than this confrontation, stronger than his past. Freed knew he would be okay.

Laxus was strong.

The walls oozed magic, putting Freed on edge since they were forbidden from using their own. Any magic use would result in instant safety measures, and prisoners, of course, had their magic sealed.

At the eleventh grate, Laxus stopped.

Freed stared at Ivan Dreyar.

Ivan leaned against the wall by the bars, slouched and blasé. Freed wasn't prepared for the gut-wrenching hatred that hit him. This man. This man tried to kill Laxus. This man who should've loved him.

"Hello, Laxus-chan."

Freed almost jumped hearing that voice. It had been so many years, and it startled Freed how his voice contrasted with his son's. Higher, rougher, yet with the same intonations.

Laxus looked the man in the eye coolly. "Kuso-oji."

For a brief instant, Ivan's face flashed with rage. The hall grew cold. Even Freed felt off-balance: this was a level of disgust Laxus rarely expressed.

"Did you come here to express your love or just to check up?" Ivan sneered. "Or because you actually need me?"

"Comfy?" Laxus asked.

Ivan shrugged.

"Could be better. I could have a son I can be proud of, not a pussy like you."

Laxus rolled his eyes. "Why do you use 'pussy' like it's an insult?"

When Ivan shifted forward, Freed tensed, hand on his sword. Ivan didn't miss the movement, freezing and glancing over Freed more seriously.

"Is your lacrima still working, Laxus?" Ivan asked slowly, staring at Freed.

Freed was under the impression it couldn't stop working.

"Yes," Laxus ground out.

"Hm." Ivan's eyes darted between them. "I guess I misjudged."

"Probably not. You always knew me well."

It sounded like a threat.

Ivan gave them a nasty grin. "So is this your boyfriend? Please, introduce me. That's what you're supposed to do for your father."

"As a matter of fact, this is my boyfriend." Laxus slipped an arm around Freed and the rune mage almost fell over. "You already know Freed Justine. You remember: my friend Freed from childhood."

"As if I'd remember him," Ivan said.

Laxus's fingers tightened against Freed's arm for a second, but then relaxed, shrugging. Bold and calm. Watching Laxus's face, Freed's heart filled with pride. This was the man he loved.

A brittle sneer twitched on Ivan's face.

"Well, Laxus. Can't say I'm surprised. You always were a weak little faggot."

"Yep," Laxus growled. "Until you shoved a lacrima in my chest and made me big and strong. Is that what you were going to say? That I'm wasting your blessed gift?"

"You're all kinds of pert. Your grandfather let you go to seed."

"He kicked me out like you. I got the guild fighting each other. The sort of thing you would've done, I expect."

"I missed all the fun." Ivan grinned. "So you have a bit of a reputation, then. I suppose I should be proud."

"Save it. I don't care. I realized during my time wandering around there are more important things than reputation. Or," Laxus sneered, "the strength of your blood."

"Yeah? Tell me your theories, Laxus-chan. Educate me in your wise ways."

"I'd rather protect people than prove myself to you." Laxus's arm tightened around Freed's waist. "But I don't expect you to understand that."

"You think you have the power to 'protect' your fucktoy?" Ivan chuckled—fucking laughed. Freed so wanted to hit him. "Baka. I gave you all your strength and I can take it away. If you hadn't put me in here, I'd slice your chest open myself; it was a damn waste of good magic. I always knew you'd turn out inadequate. Apparently you're even an inadequate lover."

Laxus raised an eyebrow. "The fuck does that mean?"

"The beauty is, I don't have to cut you open to destroy you," Ivan went on, ignoring him. "I can take your power away with a snap of my fingers."

Laxus snorted.

"It's lucky you can't pretend these bars away. Your imagination is pretty impressive."

"Is it?"

Smiling, Ivan whipped his hand up and a glimmer of color turned into shikigami flying through the bars.

Freed drew his sword while Laxus curled around him like a shield. Goddamn Dragon Slayer—Freed couldn't see a thing. Couldn't figure out which runes he needed.

But shikigami weren't attacking them. Freed tried to extricate himself to figure out what the hell was going on—when a horrible, painful gasp in his ear made him stumble. Laxus tilted, knees buckling, and sagged against Freed.

"Laxus!" Freed gasped, holding the man up and trying to see his face.

Laxus was so pale that for one horrible moment, Freed thought he was dying. An empty shell. The Dragon Slayer shrank in on himself, deflating in Freed's arms.

It happened in seconds, and in seconds Freed lowered Laxus to the ground and raised his sword. Ivan watched Laxus twitch in eager fascination.

"What did you do?" Freed shouted.

Ivan grinned down at his son.

When Freed rushed forward, Ivan jerked back, but he wasn't fast enough. Freed's blade tapped his throat and Ivan froze, which was a smart move: the uncontrolled rage painting Freed's features wasn't a farce.

"What did you do to him, you motherfucking bastard?"

When Ivan just smiled, Freed spat in his face.

Wiping the saliva from his cheek, Ivan said, "Better keep an eye on that lightning wizard. That doesn't look good."

Drawing back his sword, Freed spun around and found Laxus on hands and knees, breathing hard and raspy. What the fuck was happening anymore?

Freed backed up to Laxus's side and sliced his fingers through the air. A runic shield appeared around them. As he used magic, piercing squeals split the silence, a cage materializing around his runes. Trapped, but safe. Freed's runes protected them from any harmful magic, and that was what mattered: that Laxus be okay.

"Laxus," he called desperately, grabbing his beloved's shoulder.

"…okay, Freed," Laxus muttered, trying and failing to rise. "Just something weird. But it went away."

"What was that?" Freed asked quietly.

Laxus frowned. "Nothing. A…twinge in my lacrima. It's gone now."

Stern guards flocked into the corridor, confused at finding Laxus and Freed kneeling on the ground surrounded by purple magic.

"Ivan Dreyar attempted to attack," Freed said, as an officer marched up. "Thank you for coming so quickly."

Her lips twisted in a wry smile.

"We always respond when someone uses magic in the corridors."

Which Freed had counted on. Their eyes met before she turned toward Ivan's cell.

"Sleep him and search him," she ordered, and Freed was pleased to see unhappiness cross Ivan's features. "You may release Laxus Dreyar and Freed the Dark."

While someone scrawled a few runes that knocked Ivan unconscious, someone else wrote in the air to make the cage around them vanish. Only when Freed saw Ivan collapse to the ground did he undo his own runes.

Letting Laxus catch his breath, Freed rose to face the officer.

"What happened?" she asked.

"Ivan sent some of his shikigami at us," Freed said, glancing around. Several dozen of the dolls lay scattered on the ground; he crouched to look more closely. "I'm not sure how—it was quick."

This was interesting: some of the shikigami had runes on them. Memorizing as many of the runes as he could, Freed waited until the officer looked around to slide a doll up his sleeve.

"Ivan can't use magic," she said. "Still, he shouldn't have had those. How he got them— We'll look into it."

Freed rose.

"May we go?" he asked. Laxus was still panting.

"Yes. We're quite aware who you are: you're not suspect."

Chapter Text

Laxus was watching some of Fairy Tail's middle-aged mages squabble over methodology when the guild doors opened and several new figures strode in.

"Where's Makarov?" one of the women demanded.

One of the mages who had been boasting most strongly stood up. "Who wants to know?"

"We're here on inter-guild business." She looked him up and down, not intimidated. "Where is he?"

"Kiss me and maybe I'll tell yoouuu…"

The man bent over, curled like he was in pain. Then Laxus saw the spike of ice between his legs.

The woman walked past him and looked toward the bar. The only person at it was Laxus, who was hunkered down in a seat trying like usual not to be noticed. She zeroed in on him.

"Child," she said. "What's your name?"

Laxus pointed at the office door where his grandfather currently was.

She looked him up and down in suspicion.

"You're being truthful?"

"Oi." Her companion grabbed her by the arm. "That's Makarov's grandchild."

Her stare turned interested. "Oh. Thanks, child."

As they marched past toward the office, she put hand on his head.

"You're growing up under a big name. Be proud."

Laxus grunted and pulled away from her hand. He heard those words all too often.


Ivan's voice issued up from the basement, his footsteps following soon after. Laxus looked up begrudgingly from his book.

For the first time in Laxus's memory, Mayu was visiting her sister. Ivan had been putting Laxus to work nearly every day.

"What?" he asked, surly.

Ivan raised an eyebrow as he came into the room.

"What, sir?" Laxus amended.

"I need your help on something."

When Ivan nodded toward the workshop, Laxus got up and followed.

"I'm working on medical technology for the hospital," Ivan said as they descended the stairs. "A nice big contract. We need a way to restart someone's heart that doesn't require a healer's magic."

Down in the lab, an unpleasant smell grew. Laxus heard chittering, but his eyes focused first on the main table, where some small creature was laid out, organs pulled out and pinned in organized, gory symmetry, still connected by tissue and fat.

Laxus stopped on the stairs. Staring. Unable to stop staring. He'd dissected an animal. Laxus had never seen insides before. Didn't know blood could be so red, or so much.

One of the bloody lumps moved and Laxus screamed.

"Relax, Laxus. It's dead," Ivan said, moving further into the workshop.

Laxus's heart didn't obey that command. He watched the tiny feet, waiting to see if they twitched.


He looked around. Ivan had stopped along the wall by some cages. They were the source of the chittering, squirrels caught in each. In the largest cage, a mother and her babies had been trapped. Laxus smiled at the tiny balls of fuzz rolling over each other, ignoring the horrified awe that crawled up his throat at why these creatures were here in the basement. How they got here.

Opening the large cage, Ivan twisted his hand and several shikigami dove in and retrieved one of the squirming babies.

The mother's angry screech made Laxus jump back. She flung herself at the bars while Ivan calmly closed the top of the cage.

"Over here."

It took Laxus a moment to gather himself and follow.

Ivan set the squirming baby on a tray of liquid and let go. The baby squirrel tried to make a run for it, but the liquid stuck, holding it down.

"Now," Ivan said, "I've been studying that one over there," he nodded at the dissected body behind them, "and I think the heart is another type of muscle tissue, which means it should react to your magic."

"Okay," Laxus said, uncomprehending, staring with trepidation at the baby squirrel.

"Run a charge through it and stop its heart."

Laxus swallowed. In the corner, the mother flung herself at the bars of the cage.


"Run your electricity through it right here." He pointed at the baby's tiny chest, fluttering with miniscule, panicked breaths.

Laxus shook his head, unable to look away. Unable to look up.

"C'mon, Laxus." Ivan put a hand on his shoulder. "You'll stop its heart and then restart it again with the same charge. If I'm wrong, nothing will happen besides giving it a small shock."

"I don't want to," he said in a small voice. "Can I go back to my book?"

"In a minute. This is easy, Laxus. Even you can do it. I don't know lightning magic and I have no affinity for it, so I can't do this myself. But if this works, we could be saving lives over at the hospital. Human lives."

"But...couldn't I practice on something that's not alive?"

Ivan gave an overwrought sigh.

"That would defeat the purpose of the experiment."

"But what if it hurts her?" Laxus's voice was rising with panic. "What if it kills her?"

"That's the whole point. Then you'll restart its heart with another shock. Please, Laxus. I'll only make you do this once. If I can't fulfill the contract, that will reflect on our family. I can't feed you and keep a roof over you if I don't work. I need your help."

Trembling, Laxus stared back at the baby squirrel. She'd stopped trying to escape, eyes wide and limned in clear liquid.

Sniffing, Laxus wiped his eyes. He heard his father sigh.

"Please, Papa."

"Laxus." Ivan put a hand on his shoulder. "You can do this."

Tears leaked down his cheeks as he stretched out a hand. It took focus to summon his magic. His stomach turned over, and he considered telling Ivan he couldn't do it because the magic was making him sick, but he knew Ivan would just tell him to do it quickly so they could deal with his illness after.

The charge gathered in his hand and he released a tiny bit of lightning into the baby squirrel.

Its shriek made him stumble back into his father. Crying, he grabbed Ivan's arm as Ivan raised a hand to poke at the squirrel.

"Please," Laxus's voice was a shriek now, "please let me go back. I'm done now—"

"You're not done," Ivan said. "It's still alive. Do a little bit stronger."

Laxus couldn't see through his tears. He felt Ivan's hand, cool on his forehead as he brushed Laxus's hair back and wiped his cheeks.

"C'mon, Laxus," he said, soft and gentle. "It's okay. You've done things like this before. I know you have the power."

Laxus raised a hand without looking and tried again.

There was another shriek from the baby and Laxus jumped again.

"It's still alive," Ivan said. "Again, Laxus."


Ivan snatched his arm before he could pull it away.


Viciously, Laxus sent electricity through his body and out of his palm. The shriek was louder, more stretched, and he knew inherently he still hadn't done it. Furious, he shoved a ball of lightning out, and this time, the baby's sounds cut off.

A greasy, smoky smell filled the air. When Laxus opened his eyes, he saw he'd charred her side, the baby dead in the sticky trap.


He yanked out of Ivan's grasp.

"I'm done!"

"Nice, Laxus." Ivan was studying measurements on the side of the pan, murmuring about wattage. "Only took you four tries."

Laxus was too angry to parse if that was a compliment or an insult.

"I did the stupid experiment! I'm going to—"

Ivan clamped onto his arm before he could get to the stairs.

"Not yet."

"I killed it for you! What more do you want?"

"Now restart its heart with the same charge. Bring it back to life, Laxus."

Emotion still raged inside of him, but this took the wind out of Laxus's sails. Spreading his fingers one more time, he channeled the bitter sadness in his chest into a burst of electricty.

The baby squirrel twitched: he could see by the light of his lightning. And then it ignited.

Charge escaped the pan and raced through nearby objects. Laxus tried to snatch the electricity back, tried to take back the excess. Ivan still had hold of his arm; with his other hand, Ivan was shoving objects away from the small fire that started in the tray.

"Grab that glass ball!" Ivan shouted, pointing.

Laxus picked up a clear sphere filled with liquid, and Ivan snatched it from his hands and flung it at the pan. It shattered, liquid and some kind of cool magic flowing out and extinguishing the flames.

In the silence, Laxus tasted meat and char and chemicals. Amid the wreckage, a black lump had a few wispy hairs sticking up from it, a sick imitation of what used to be its fur.

"Good fucking job," Ivan growled.

Laxus hiccoughed. His wide eyes trained on his father, anger gone. In its place was only fear and panic.

"You ruined the experiment."

Laxus felt sick. He'd have to do it all over…

"D-Do you want me—"

"No! Do you have any idea how flammable this place is? Half the things in his cupboard explode when overexcited. You could've killed us both."

Laxus started crying again. "I'm sorry."

"Get out. Out of my lab, now. I've learned enough. Go to your room."

Laxus ran up the stairs, away from the smell and the smoke, away from the burned carcass, away from her ghostly condemnation.

He didn't go to his room, running outside and across the block to the large, woodsy park Mayu took him to.

This was probably where Ivan got the squirrels. And Laxus had tortured one. He'd killed a living creature.

At a rustle, Laxus gasped through startled adrenaline. A squirrel flew through the trees above and chattered angrily at him.

He picked up rock and flung it up, missing by several handbreadths.

The squirrel flipped its tail and screeched.

"Get out of here!"

He threw another rock. Another.

"Just die! Die already!"

But the squirrel scampered off freely, probably to go join her own family. She wouldn't know how lucky she was—luck of pure chance—that it wasn't her babies who were taken.

Pure chance put people in places and times and families. Pure chance made Laxus bad at magic.

He sat on the ground snapping twigs into pieces for a long time.

That night at the dinner table things were normal. Ivan didn't bring up his work, and his eyes were neutral and calm when he met Laxus's gaze.

They discussed inanities; Ivan told him guild news.

"I need you to charge some lacrimas for me tomorrow," Ivan said after a little pause in the conversation.


"Here. I need them filled up to capacity. I realize for you that will take a while, so you don't have to do it all tomorrow, but I need you to get started."

"What's it for?" Laxus asked, praying and hoping and believing it had nothing to do with this afternoon.

"I'm going ahead with the next phase of the machine I'm working on—all this research is so non-mages can do healing work without a healer being required. We need to get off our dependence on a few individuals."

Laxus swallowed a bite of rice. Took another. Swallowed.

"So you didn't need me after all?"

"Oh no, your little stunt this afternoon was quite helpful. It at least showed me the wattage range for stopping a heart of that size, and restarting it should be about the same amount. And I certainly know what too much looks like."

He raised an eyebrow; Laxus looked away. He hated that his father had witnessed it.

"If you're willing, I'll need your help next week when I move up to larger samples. Without knowing the numbers, I can't control lacrima release as finely as you can control your lightning."

"You mean…another experiment?"




"You made me kill her!"

"It wouldn't have ended up dead if you hadn't lost control. Your emotions have a tendency of getting the better of you; you need to work on that."

Laxus shook. He will not make me do it again. I will not do it again.

"Good, useful magic involves careful control of oneself, in body and spirit," Ivan went on. "You've made some headway in the first, but the second could use a lot of work. You're channeling your female relatives in the way you fly off the handle. Control, Laxus. I want you to increase your meditation exercises in the morning. Understand?"


"Good. We'll get you there eventually."

Ivan inhaled, looking weary—looking his age.

"Learning magic always involves setbacks. It involves mistakes. How bad those mistakes are depends on how hard you're trying. Like today. If you master your emotions, it won't cost you so much to work your power. You have a lot of potential, Laxus. I believe that. Keep working and one day you'll get there."

Chapter Text

Laxus hadn't required help walking down the many stairs of the tower. He'd needed it, but not required it, and Freed, with his uncanny ability to know these things, waited until they were out of sight before sliding under the Dragon Slayer's arm. Laxus leaned on him without speaking: sharp twinges still radiated from his lacrima, tugging on his magic.

As they paused for Laxus to catch his breath, Freed asked, "Why'd you tell him we're together?"

Laxus's voice came out quiet. "He pissed me off. I wanted him to know he lost. I'm happy; I love someone. That someone is a man, and rather pretty. I wanted him to see that with his own eyes."

"You like calling me pretty," Freed chuckled.

"He hated that word."

"Then I'm glad he got to see. Because I am fucking pretty."

A breathless laugh fluttered out of Laxus's chest. "Oh, Freed."

Freed grinned, ducking so his hair fell over his face. Laxus watched pleased heat spread across his cheeks.

With a deep breath, Laxus nudged them into walking again.

"What happened in there?" Freed asked. "I didn't really see."

"I thought he was using his shikigami. When I braced, my lacrima seized up… For a few minutes, it felt like I couldn't do magic."

Freed looked over, gaze sharp. "I thought the lacrima was just a tool to get you started as a Dragon Slayer."

"It was. Now it functions like a battery." Laxus shrugged and shook his head. "I'm not sure what happened. I was trying not to do magic. Unlike you."

"I was…anxious." Freed coughed. "I knew they'd 'capture' us and figured it would serve as protection until help arrived."

"As if you couldn't take my father on," Laxus scoffed.

"I didn't know what was happening to you. I don't like things I can't see."

"Things you can't study," Laxus added.

"Yes." Freed chuckled. "Don't worry, though: I won't turn you into a lab rat."

"I wouldn't mind." Laxus paused on another landing; the stairs went on for fucking forever. "You can inspect me all you want."

He leaned in for a kiss and Freed captured him eagerly, a hand slipping around the back of Laxus's neck. Freed's body was warm against his, pressing against Laxus with so much life inside him—with his heartbeat loud to Laxus's senses and his smell everywhere. When Laxus hugged him close, Freed's breath stuttered in the most exquisite way.

The taste of Freed's body was almost enough for Laxus to forget the aftershocks in his chest.

By the time they reached the bottom of the tower, Laxus regained most of his strength. The trek to Magnolia was several hours by foot, but neither of them argued for staying the night in town. Though he kept an eye on Laxus just in case, Freed felt everything would be better if they slept in their own place tonight.

A sense of unsafety wound through him. Alert. Freed truly didn't like things he didn't understand: they were the one thing that made him afraid. You couldn't create a strategy against the unknown.

They reached the guild as twilight was fading, wandering over to where Evergreen, Bickslow, and Cana sat playing a drinking game.

"The prodigals!" Cana called. "Back from a mission?"

"Something like that," Freed said.

Evergreen eyed Laxus as the pair sat.

"How'd it go?" she asked.

Laxus didn't look at her, waving down Kinana for a drink. After a pause, Freed said, "About as expected."

"The guards called him Freed the Dark," Laxus added proudly.

"Is that how you give your name these days?" Ever laughed.

"No," Freed protested. "They just knew who we were."

Laxus grinned. "Have you been cultivating a reputation, Freed?"

"Only as your bodyguard," Freed mumbled.

Cana burst out in a laugh and wiggled her eyebrows.

"Not just that, Freed."

Below the level of the table, Laxus's hand wrapped around Freed's hip.

"Hey," Freed said before Laxus could react; the Dragon Slayer still got nervous when people publicly acknowledged their relationship.

Freed watched him square his shoulders as if trying to look bigger. "Damn straight," Laxus grumbled.

"You mean damn gay," Cana chuckled.

From this close, Freed could see Laxus's skin darken in an angry blush. The Dragon Slayer picked up a drink to hide behind and took a gulp.

"Oi!" Bickslow shouted. "That's mine!"

Mischief played in Laxus's eyes as he took another sip, while Bickslow lunged across the table to wrest it back.

"Thief." Bickslow hoarded the mug against his chest.

"There was way too much alcohol in there," Laxus said, grinning.

"You made it look like I'm losing the game."

"What's the game?"

"Each person has to do a task given by the other two," Cana said. "If they succeed and survive, they take one drink. If they don't, they take three."

"Sounds like your kind of fun," Freed said.

Cana beamed.

As Laxus's drink arrived, the Dragon Slayer asked, "What tasks?"

"Things which risk waking them." Evergreen pointed across the hall at Erza, Natsu, and Gajeel slumping over a table, fast asleep. "Their team returned from a mission. Some were too exhausted to make it home before passing out."

"That's cruel," Freed said.

"It'll be crueler for whoever wakes Erza," Bickslow said.

"Where's Fullbuster?" Laxus asked.

"Next to his boyfriend," Bickslow chortled, "but on the floor. He fell a little while ago and didn't wake up. So. Want to join?"

"I think I'll just enjoy my drink."

"Come on. You drank half my glass, so you're caught up."

Freed felt the hand at his waist tighten.

"Not if Gray's there," Laxus muttered.

Despite his low voice, Ever overheard.


He glared at her. "Scents."

"That's quite considerate," she said. "More than you usually are. I'm impressed."

Laxus sulked. Across the table, Cana blinked.

"Wait, wait. Scents… Are you telling me Dragon Slayers get jealous? Gotta have your toy all to yourself or something?"

"Cana." Freed glared at her. "Toy? Really?"

"Sorry. I'm just saying."

Laxus narrowed his eyes. Freed expected the topic dropped, but a moment later Laxus spoke.

"It's called politeness, Alberona." He wasn't looking at her as he said it.

Appearing surprised he'd answered, Cana said, "Foreign scents contaminating one's datefriend isn't something most people consider, my dear."

"When everyone smells so damn strong…" Laxus shook his head. "I'm not going to leave my scent everywhere, wake Natsu up, and have him groggily wonder why Gray isn't the first thing he smells. The idiot might burn the building down seeing his boyfriend out cold and everyone else's scents all over the area."

He raised his eyebrows as if to say, got it?

"Oh gods," Cana chortled. "The possibilities are endless."

"How do scents work exactly?" Bickslow asked. Laxus was rarely this talkative about his magic.

"People have smells, and they rub off." Laxus shrugged. "A little in passing; a lot if they touch."

"So you won't let me rub myself all over Freed?" Cana snickered.

While Freed gave her the stink-eye, Laxus wrapped his arm visibly around Freed's shoulders.

"See, that's possessive," she said.

"Whatever. No it's not. Plenty of people would say the same." Too quiet for anyone else, Laxus whispered, "I just don't like sharing."

"Gods, you two," Freed interrupted. His whole body was warm, from Cana and Bickslow's laughter and from Laxus's gravelly voice.

He didn't like sharing…

Laxus looked around suddenly, no doubt smelling the change in Freed's hormones. The rune mage looked up in time to see Laxus's surprise turn into a calculating smile.

"I don't belong to anyone," Freed announced to the table. "I'm my own person. Would you stop pretending this is a game, Cana? These attitudes can hurt people. They do hurt people. Every day countless people are abused by their partners, who think they can own another person—"

"Alright, you're right. I'm sorry." Cana raised her hands in sincere surrender. "You know I didn't mean it like that, Freed. I didn't think. Sorry."

" 'Your own person'?" Bickslow grinned. "Whatever you say, Captain."

Freed flipped him off, then turned his finger on Evergreen when she busted out laughing too.

Laxus had gone silent. Kinana brought him his drink and he grabbed it like he needed something to hold onto.

The trio returned to their drinking game, and Freed and Laxus stuck around long enough to see Bickslow wake Gajeel when he accidentally sloshed cold water down his back. The ensuing fight made Freed sigh, ducking a chair that passed over their heads.

"Tired," Laxus muttered, clunking his empty mug down. "Home?"


Freed didn't miss the way Laxus drew close as soon as they exited, running his fingers through Freed's hair. Freed was still a little…excited from Laxus's comments, and Laxus was clearly aware.

" 'I just don't like sharing'?" Laxus repeated, curious, as soon as they were inside his flat. His grin was audible, and he spoke it in the same deep tone he'd used at the guild.

"I associate that voice with the bedroom," Freed replied, with as much dignity as he could muster. As he hung his coat, Laxus's arms closed around him from behind, pulling him into a loose hug.

"You liked all that, didn't you?" Laxus asked. "It turned you on."

Freed went still.

Nerves thrummed inside him. Fear of the emotions that grew in his chest. Feeling his self-recrimination, familiar after years of hating this part of himself. Wondering if Laxus too would judge him for it.

"It's not healthy," Freed whispered. "Possessiveness is bad for relationships; jealousy is often a sign of things souring, or one partner being emotionally abusive."

"It's okay to have kinks, Freed."

Freed's mouth twisted as he turned around in Laxus's arms. "Is that what this is?"

Laxus hummed. His calm smile helped Freed's shoulders unclench. He didn't like that his desires ignored his logic. He was too ashamed to even think about it some days:

Freed wanted to belong to someone.

"You don't like being out of control," Laxus murmured.

"I know."

When Laxus's hand slid into his, Freed took a deep breath. Laxus didn't like being out of control either. And yet there were beautiful moments when they both let go: when it was just them, no one else, and they could be themselves together.

Freed loved those moments. He wanted to be someone who didn't always have to have everything together. Who could, at chosen times, surrender. It was the language of ultimate trust, and it was something he always wanted with Laxus.

"Would you humor me?" Freed asked.

Mouth half open to speak, Laxus laughed. "I was about to say that."

Freed blinked.

"You first," Laxus said.

"I was going to ask, well… I just never thought this would be real. You wanting me." Freed swallowed and interrupted himself: "But I am my own person. I do not need your protection, nor do you get to control me. We're equals here."

"I know all of that, Freed, and I agree. I only meant those comments as teasing. And to make Cana shut up."

They both chuckled awkwardly, foreheads together. Laxus closed his eyes. Breathing in. Out.

"I was going to ask…" Freed began again, then dropped off.

"We can do things," Laxus said slowly. "Just in play. Things you like. They don't have to mean something in our daily life—it'd be just between us. I like you and I want you to know that. I don't know how to say it sometimes."

"Are you saying what I think you're saying?"

Orange eyes opened and looked into his.

"Probably. What do you think I'm saying?"

Smiling, Freed looped his arms around Laxus's neck. "That you're interested in certain kinds of intimate play. Which, coincidentally, is what I was going to ask."

Laxus pinked—actually goddamn flushed—and drew him even closer.

"Yeah," he said.

"I like that." Freed's fingers combed up through the back of Laxus's short hair. A spark lit his boyfriend's eye.

"You like that other people rubbing their parts all over you upsets me? How I dislike you smelling strongly like other people?"

"Something like that." The words cracked.

"How about me putting my smell all over you?" Laxus nudged him down the hall, kissing his ear as he followed. "I'm…so grateful, Freed. For you. I'd be very concerned if I woke up and smelled a bunch of scents that weren't yours."

Exploring the front of Freed's trousers, Laxus made a sound of interest and ground slowly across the bulge growing there. Freed groaned. Laxus's words were making him twitch.

"Wh-What were you going to say?" Freed panted. "Earlier."

"I hoped this can be all play right now."

A smile slid across Freed's lips and he nodded.

"Good." Laxus opened the door to the bedroom and they moved toward the futon.

As both of them stripped out of outer layers, they kept touching each other. Freed running his palms over Laxus's chest; Laxus trying to kiss the newly bare skin of Freed's throat, shoulder, wrist. Freed pulled Laxus's shirt off and breathed him in.

"Bed," Laxus muttered, voice barely working.

Freed lay down on the futon and Laxus crawled over him. He stared down at Freed for a long moment, desire painted on his face.

Freed swallowed hard.

He loved Laxus. It was effortless and overwhelming. And unconditional of Laxus returning it. Freed was still surprised sometimes when Laxus did things like this: loving him, wanting him, needing him.

"You belong to me tonight, Freed."

The jolt in Freed's gut made his breath stutter, and Laxus leaned down to cover Freed's lips with his own. Iridescent joy flew down Freed's veins.

As the Dragon Slayer flicked his tongue between Freed's teeth, the rune mage felt along each glorious ridge and muscle of Laxus's back. His body was a masterpiece. Freed had studied him visually over many years, but touching him: the warm curves of skin felt perfect under his hands, beautiful and human.

"Freed—gods, Freed," Laxus gasped. "Damn…"

Laxus panted as Freed continued touching all over Laxus's chest, arms, ass.

"I won't share you." Laxus's voice was fast and breathy. "I'll cover you in my scent so everybody knows that. If anyone tries to touch you, I'll bite their hands off."

At Freed's noise of desire, he used those sharp teeth on Freed's chest.

"You can't get away with anything, either." Laxus grinned slyly, lowering himself down Freed's body. "I'd be quite upset if you let anyone else touch you."

Moaning, Freed tried not to thrust up, but Laxus's fingers working his belt off were an impossible temptation.

"It's just you," Freed whispered. "Only ever you."

"Yeah?" Laxus tugged at his trousers. "You ever fucked someone else while thinking about me?"

"Yes," Freed panted honestly. "More than once."

For a brief moment, Laxus looked surprised. When he fisted Freed through his boxers, Freed rewarded him with a shiver of excitement.

"Well, you won't have to pretend anymore," Laxus said. "I'm here now. And like I said…"

Pulling Freed's cock out, Laxus kissed his lips with molten desire.

"…I don't share."

Freed was panting now, loving the dark, warm promise in Laxus's eyes. As he looped his arms around Laxus's neck, he felt a sense of rightness. Laxus's words filled a deep, rarely-acknowledged need: to be wanted so profoundly someone would do anything to hold onto him.

It was romanticized, maybe. But he'd never had someone love him, not like this. He'd loved Laxus for too long and not been truly needed, not in a personal way. To be needed now—Freed was breathless with it. In awe that Laxus's face could be so full of open, sincere desire.

"My Freed," Laxus said, slowly sliding his fingers over Freed's cock. "My mate; my love."

Freed couldn't hold back the noises in his throat. "I'm all yours."

At those words, Laxus's eyes fluttered closed, expression vulnerable.


"Yes, Laxus. I love you."

The Dragon Slayer tightened his grip, and Freed thrust up against him.

"I'm never sharing this," Laxus said reverently. "You're far too beautiful for me to share."

Freed moaned, Laxus's hands on his body turning his mind to fudge. Laxus bit him hard, licked the red mark, and growled, "Nobody else on Earthland can claim you now."

"Good," Freed whispered.

A palm on his face made his eyes open. Laxus was staring at him from a few centimeters away. There was no teasing in his expression, no wink of I'm just playing for you. Because this wasn't a game: Laxus was doing this to show him affection.

"You are mine, Freed Justine."

Freed gasped, breathless.

Maybe, possibly, in some healthy way, the sentiment was true.

As Laxus sucked on his neck, Freed moaned and gave himself over to his boyfriend's tenderness.

When Freed came, bursting apart with a cry, Laxus's tongue slipped into his mouth like he could taste Freed's joy. Freed caressed his cheek as he came down from the high. He wanted to share it all.

The Dragon Slayer was still half-dressed, trousers unfastened by Freed's insatiable hands but still on. Laxus wore one and only one sock, which Freed found particularly hilarious.

"I love you," Freed murmured.

Laxus's hand graced his ribs.

"So you tell me. Often. If you're not careful, I'll start believing it."

Freed snorted, but sobered a few seconds later as he considered how serious Laxus might be. Surely he understood how much Freed cared for him.

"That was a joke, Justine." Laxus kissed his forehead. "Stop thinking."

"Like that's possible," Freed grinned.

Drawing slow circles on Laxus's skin, Freed watched him remove the last vestiges of clothing, down to his boxers. Freed licked his lips.

"Laxus…" Freed began, palms sliding down his body, but Laxus curled around him, shaking his head.

"No. Let me just love you like this tonight. Please?"

Smiling, Freed waited until Laxus nervously met his gaze.

"Whatever you want," Freed whispered, and Laxus drew him into a tangled embrace.

Snuggling close and feeling Laxus's chest rise and fall, Freed sighed happily. He fell asleep naked in his beloved's arms.

Chapter Text

“Kaachan,” Laxus called. He wandered downstairs, where his mother worked at the kitchen table. The room felt smaller these days. Like her.

“What is it, Laxus?”

“I don’t understand this.”

He laid the book down and pointed at the page.

“If this is magic, you should ask your father,” she said.

Then she looked.

“But it’s your magic,” he said.

“So it is,” she murmured. Her breathing was audible.

As Laxus rounded the table to her side, leaning over the book with her, Mayu startled and grabbed his arm.

“What happened?” she asked, thumb skimming over the long scrape on the underside of his wrist.

“I got scratched. It’s not bad.”

Her grip hardened. “It’s bruised, too.”

“I kinda ran into that pot.”

“The one with all the sharp edges?” she asked, and he nodded. Her tired smile returned, relieved. “I’ve been meaning to re-pot that plant.”

He shrugged. He was embarrassed he’d run into the thing; he was clumsy when reading.

Caressing the cut on his arm, she stared at him in thought.

“Would you tell me if someone hurt you?”

“What—why?” he stammered.

“I’m sorry, Laxus. I know you can defend yourself. But sometimes people stronger than us can get the better of us, or threaten something we love. If someone ever hurts you, please tell me.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“Promise me, Laxus. If anyone at all touches you in a way you don't like. Tell me, and we’ll figure it out together, you and I.”

“I promise.”

“Thank you.” The tension around her eyes eased, wrinkles going soft. Laxus found this both fascinating and a relief.

She paused in thought.

“Laxus? Does your father ever…upset you?”

The question shocked him into standing up straight. “No. Of course not.”

“He loves you very much,” she agreed.


She was still watching him patiently, leaving a comfy silence, a calm space to say anything more.

“Sometimes he gets upset,” Laxus explained. “When I do something wrong. I don’t like…that.”

“No one likes being punished,” she guessed.


But that was normal.

“He’d never hurt you,” Mayu murmured, and Laxus shook his head. When she smiled, the cold in his body fled and he leaned into her automatically.

“Kaachan,” he sighed.

“I love you, Laxus, and I’ll never stop.”

She kissed his head. Despite how old he’d gotten, he still liked it. When she patted the seat next to her and held out her arm, he curled happily against her side.

“Alright, so this book of yours. Shall I read aloud?” she asked. “I can explain as we go.”

Laxus grinned. She used to do this when he was little. He loved her voice, and sometimes she would show him her magic… He hadn’t seen her magic in years.

“Start at the beginning of the chapter?” he requested.

Laxus wasn’t supposed to overhear.

Usually he wouldn’t. The toilet lay between his room and his parents’, a buffer for noise. But he’d been having nightmares from his fevers, and Mayu took to leaving his door open so the light from downstairs would spill into his room. Sometime after he’d fallen asleep, someone usually closed it: they’d forgotten tonight.

Down the echoing hall, Mayu’s shrill voice woke Laxus with a start.

“I don’t want to try again,” Mayu said, distraught. “I’m tired. C’mon, Ivan. Not right now.”

“When else? You—you always say you want another. You told me you wanted another the day Laxus was born.”

“I haven’t said that in years, and you know it. Laxus is enough for me. He’s perfect.”

“He’s making you sick,” Ivan said.

Laxus jerked in the darkness.

“It’s not bad,” Mayu soothed. “I’ll be better soon. It’s not from him. It’s just…my body acting up.”

“Yeah, well, maybe this will make you feel better. Come on, Mayu…”

“I said no. I don’t want to keep trying and—and getting my hopes up. Ivan!” There was a muffled slap. “Stop it! I can’t do this.”

“Can’t do what?” Ivan’s voice was dark and chilly.

“This. I need a break.”

“From what? Being married?”

“From you wanting me pregnant!”

“If your body stopped failing, this wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Don’t you dare blame this on me,” Mayu snarled. “I have no control over my fertility. If I did, we’d have a dozen children by now thanks to you. And I’d be even more ill and exhausted.”

“No shit: of course you have no control over your fertility. But you could take better care of yourself. You’re hardly eating these days. You act depressed, except you’re not, because I see you with Laxus, grinning and having fun. And if you dare say I don’t provide you enough, with everything I’ve done working my ass off for you and you whining that I never spend time with you…”

Ivan huffed in frustration. Laxus waited for Mayu to speak, but she said nothing.

“Just take better fucking care of yourself, Mayu,” Ivan said. “Maybe you’ll get strong enough that making dinner doesn’t exhaust you too much to take care of your own husband. Gods! The other day Hinata was boasting about his wife and I just kept my mouth shut, because what is there to say? You look like you’ve been worked into the ground, even though you spend all day at the house. I can’t take you out with me when I see clients…not that you'd want to come. You’re not involved in my life at all. It’s like—it’s like you don't care about me, as long as I'm providing a nice house for you."

"Ivan," she began to protest, but in the silence that followed, something changed.

When Ivan spoke, it was soft and sad and final.

“Once upon a time, I know you loved me."

Laxus took a rattling breath. Tears were sliding down his cheeks in the darkness.

"Now it’s like I can never get through to you. You never speak. You never respond when I try to start a conversation. It’s like you’re a fucking blank wall. Why do you think this relationship is going to shit? I can’t do this on my own. You won’t let me near you, won’t let me touch you…”

“Alright,” Mayu said. “We can do whatever you want.”


“I’m saying fine. Just don’t expect me to do much. I’m too tired.”

“It’s not like you ever do much,” Ivan grumbled. There was a pause. “Dammit, I can’t do this. You’re like a piece of wood.”

“Maybe if you actually cared…”

Mayu’s voice wobbled and dipped. Laxus heard the sound of a sob.

“Mayu—Mayu,” Ivan chided, voice quieting, “shh, it’s okay. Here, look at me. See? I’m right here. I’m always right here, Mayu, and I do care. Haven’t I always? I’ve never left you behind, even when the world was moving forward at a speed too fast for you. I’ll always, always be here. I promise…”

He trailed too low for Laxus to hear. Blood pounded in Laxus’s ears.

He stayed awake for a long time.

Mayu was very tired. Laxus hadn’t known. He was supposed to notice and be helpful. That was what good sons did. Instead, he kept getting sick without warning, forcing her to drop whatever she was doing to take care of him. He’d faint, and she’d have to carry him home; or he’d throw up, and she’d have to make special food.

His illness had worn her down.

If he weren’t so sick, didn't always let them down, Ivan wouldn't want more children, either. They wouldn’t fight, and his mother wouldn’t cry.

Maybe it would be better if his mother didn’t love him. If Laxus acted cold, and pretended he didn’t care, maybe he could get her to stop caring. If he were self-sufficient, she wouldn’t have to care, and then everything would be okay. She would be okay.

But he didn’t want it to end. Laxus loved her and she loved him. He needed her. Because he was weak, and got sick, and she would sit with him anyway. She would keep him talking so he wouldn’t get bored, or bring him his books from the library, or coach him to breathe through the bouts of pain. She smiled at him, and she cared. She told Laxus he mattered.

But he didn’t really matter. It was making her ill to keep pretending.

Why did she still love him if he only made her sick?

Then there was Ivan. Ivan said he loved Laxus. But he wanted other children. He had, at various points, told Laxus he was too soft-hearted. Laxus couldn’t and wouldn’t participate in his father’s experiments, and that disappointed Ivan.

If Laxus didn’t exist, all their problems would go away.

He took up too much space.

He could start hiding his illness from Mayu so she stopped taking so much care of him, stopped spending so much time making sure he was okay. He wouldn’t let her smile at him and soften him and make him feel better. He had to keep out of the way. He had to be useful, be worth something.

Laxus turned his face into his pillow to stifle his confused sobs. He could do this. If he just stopped being sick. If his body just cooperated…

It would hurt times a thousand, but he could stop needing their love.

Yet when Mayu hugged him close the next morning, just like always, he melted into her arms.

“I love you, Laxus, and I’ll never stop,” she said, like she always did.

He wanted to believe her. More than anything.

Several weeks later, Laxus was at his desk doing experiments when Ivan poked his head into Laxus’s room.

“Where is your mother?”

“I don’t know,” Laxus said, looking up from the lamp he had half-disassembled. He hadn’t felt good today, and spent the day curled up in his room by himself.

“She hasn’t come to check on you?” Ivan pressed.

Laxus shook his head.

“What are you playing with?”

“The lamp.” Laxus shifted so his father could see. It took in sunlight magically and emitted the light at a later time. When someone mentioned one of the magics was electrical, Laxus had to find out more.

“Did you figure out how it works yet?” Ivan asked.

“Some parts. I need to see it working, but every time I put it by the window to collect light, it zaps me.”

“Don’t let your mother see,” Ivan chuckled. “She loves that lamp.”

“I’ll put it back together,” Laxus promised.

Smiling, Ivan ducked out of the room again.

That evening when Laxus wandered out feeling hungry, he found his father banging around the kitchen.

“Where’s Okaasan?”

“I’m not sure. Still gone.” Ivan opened another cupboard, blinked, and shook his head in confusion. “I don’t know how she organizes everything. It’s well past dinnertime: let’s go out.”

With a jolt of glee, Laxus bounded over to get his coat. Going out was a rare treat.

They went to a small noodle shop across town—a bit of a walk, but it was a favorite to both of them. Afterward, heading home proved a slow, laborious thing: Laxus had eaten enough to make him sleepy.

Trudging up the walk in the dark, his didn’t register anything wrong until his father grabbed his shoulder. Laxus looked up, unable to see Ivan’s face, then back at the dark house, a mere twenty paces ahead.

“I left that light on,” Ivan said, pointing at the front window.

He put Laxus behind him, never letting go as they finished the trek to the door. When Ivan opened it, their first two steps into the house were enough to make it all feel wrong.

Sound echoed. The flow of air was more open.

When Ivan clicked on the light, the emptiness came into focus.

Things were missing: a blanket, a rug, a set of pictures. In the kitchen, several drawers were still open, some of the older dishes gone. Ivan kept striding room to room, and Laxus straggled behind, scared, confused. His father didn’t say anything, just grunted, hissed, trod on.

By the time they reached the upstairs, it was clear someone had taken everything that his mother loved. He hung back when Ivan hurried to their bedroom, Laxus darting to his own room. He was half-afraid the blanket she’d woven him would be gone, the picture of her missing from the wall.

But it was all there, even her lamp disassembled on his desk. Laxus sank to his knees, weak from adrenaline. It was all in its place.

Amid the normalcy of Laxus’s sanctum, his father’s shout was all the more terrifying. Laxus hurried to the door of their room to see Ivan in the center, arms loose, staring around at the devastation. Mayu’s collection of pictures, her couple prized books, her clothes, her futon…


Ivan growled again, an angry sound, and Laxus inhaled sharply. Whirling, Ivan turned his way and Laxus flinched under the blank stare, suddenly not knowing his father at all. That face of fear and rage. With a yell, Ivan picked up an ornament and threw it at the wall, where it shattered.

Laxus fled.

Slamming the door to his room, Laxus wrapped himself in his comforter and wiped away the tears that kept re-sprouting. His breath heaved out of him. Dizzy. He didn’t understand how this could happen. Why she would leave, take her things. Was she coming back? When? How long?

She hadn’t said goodbye.

But every day she’d said she loved him. She wouldn’t leave. She loved him, even though he made her sick.

Ivan’s anger was incomprehensible and Laxus didn’t know how to calm him.

She would come home. She had to.

Still clothed, he unrolled his futon and curled on top of the covers. He didn’t know when he fell asleep.

Laxus stared out the window. It had been two days now. Two days, and Ivan had gone silent. Laxus couldn’t get his attention. His father looked older.

A storm hit Magnolia. It rained for a week. Mayu wasn’t back: she couldn’t return with all the mud. The storm had delayed her. Then it was the equinox holiday. Then it was the cold snap. Then it was the rising cost of winter travel.

Laxus gathered old branches, dried them, and painstakingly stripped the bark off. It took days, a preoccupation he desperately needed, his fingers going raw in the cold ten he searched for more wood. He cut himself a few times, but by the end of it, he’d learned to handle a knife easily, and more importantly, he hadn’t bled on any of the wood.

He began cutting things down to size. Mayu needed a new lapdesk: a surface for when she sat in her chair with her sewing, or tool-mending, or knitting, or other arts. He was in a hurry to finish so he could have it waiting by her chair when she got home to surprise her.

When Laxus voiced his certainty one evening that she would return, Ivan screamed at him.

If she loved them, Ivan told him, she’d already be back. Told him to stop relying on others.

Laxus stopped talking. He stopped saying much at all. He took his project outside—despite the cold—where he could work away from his father.

Plus his spot alongside the house gave him a view of the front. He’d be the first to know when she returned.

He waited every day. He was learning how to cook a few things; soon she would return and take over. Get Ivan to speak again. She would look at Laxus and talk to him—and Ivan would look at him again too. It would all get better.

Two weeks before Laxus’s birthday, someone came and spoke his father. His father went into the workshop for a long time.

Then he came up and called Laxus. Told him with a blank face that she wasn't coming back.

She was dead.

Laxus ran away from him. Ivan called to him; Laxus kept on running. He didn’t stop, until he was in one of his favorite hiding spots in the park.

She had to come back for his birthday. She would come back and hold him. He’d been waiting, dreaming, relying on the fact he would see her again. Every day he could keep going because tomorrow she might come back.

That night when he returned was the first time Ivan ever hit him.

“Do not run from me, Laxus. Ever.”

And then Ivan broke down with a sob and tears streamed down his cheeks.

It was the first time Laxus had ever seen him cry.

Heart surging, Laxus got up without hesitation, driven by instinct as he wrapped his arms around his father. Here was something real: Ivan needed comfort. So Laxus hugged him, and Ivan held him close.

It was the first time they’d ever had a moment like that, just the two of them. Later, much later, when the new reality had made itself clear, Laxus would remember the embrace and treasure it.

As father and son cried together, they pretended the slap hadn't happened. Sobs took the place of fear; the rending, tearing pain in Laxus’s chest outshone the pain of being hit.

Because it was real.

She was gone forever.

Days passed and people came and went. Laxus’s grandfather kissed him and held him often, but Laxus just stared at the small box in the middle of the gleaming table. Someone he didn't know had cleaned the house. He stared at the small box and wondered how they expected him to believe her body fit in there.

Why she never just came home.

He could've made it better. He would've done whatever she needed. He would get stronger. He would smile more. He would do things. He would spend more time with her. He would do anything that she needed, and she would've been okay.

The day of the wake, Laxus slipped out of the house to escape the insincere people trying to hug him and tell him how amazing his mother was, as if he didn’t know better than anyone else just how perfect and selfless she had been. How little he’d deserved her.

That’s when he came upon the pile of stripped and cut branches, a knife and small handsaw sitting in rusty evidence beside it.

He’d completely forgotten about the project at all.

With a vicious stomp, he crushed it all to pieces. Then he burst into tears.

Chapter Text

Freed's dreams hurtled through the drifting fog of disparate thoughts.

"Drink!" Cana insisted. They sat in Fairy Tail.

"Drinking with you never turns out well for me," he told her.

"Laxus, come drink with me," she said, holding out a barrel as the eternal fight raged beyond her. "Please, somebody drink with me."

"No." The Dragon Slayer curled around Freed's back. "Find someone else."

Cana transformed into a pouting Bickslow. "Why not?"

"Because." Laxus kissed Freed's neck, pushing Freed's hair over the opposite shoulder. "I'm busy."

Stretching, Freed leaned back into Laxus's embrace. Laxus caught Freed's ear in his teeth and tugged lightly, making Freed groan. For once he didn't care if people saw, and Laxus didn't seem to either, which made his heart beat faster.

Laxus nosed at his hair and slid his palms down Freed's sides.

His hands tugged at Freed's belt. Startled, Freed pressed back against his chest, giving Laxus more room to unbutton his trousers. Which Laxus quickly did.

Freed didn't know what to expect. What he wanted—but he knew he wanted whatever Laxus was going to do.

When Laxus jerked Freed's trousers down his thighs and squeezed his hips, cold air hit Freed's dick. He let out a grunt, strangled and eager. He almost reminded Laxus of where they were, how many people surrounded them. But fuck that. He wanted Laxus to keep going…

He could feel Laxus's cock, at first clothed, then naked and hot, poking between his ass.

"Goddess." Freed shuddered.

Laxus had him exposed in front of everyone. Showing them how much he loved Freed.

Laxus's chest pressed more insistently against him as Laxus bent Freed over the table to brace on his hands. Lips traced a line down Freed's neck. In heated whispers Freed begged for what came next, while Laxus reassured him with kisses down his spine.

Laxus thrust into him and Freed cried out, euphoric. Laxus pulled out, entered him again. There in the middle of the guild, Laxus drew humiliating moans out of him. Freed's clothes disappeared and Laxus fucked him naked against the table, his fingers tight around Freed's waist. Freed crowed and trembled.

When the Dragon Slayer's hips slammed into him with sudden vehemence, Laxus's pulsing cock sent waves of pleasure through him. As Laxus came, it was like Freed was the one coming, like Laxus's cock knew exactly where to press inside his body.

Freed tipped his head back and breathed, breathed, but he hadn't come yet. Every second wound him tighter in Laxus's hands.

"This belongs to me," Laxus growled to the guild, hefting Freed's ass as he pulled out. "Totally and completely. And this belongs to me too."

Flipping Freed around, he grabbed his swollen dick.

While Freed moaned at the ceiling, Laxus knelt and sucked him off, lips perfect, mouth hot. He gazed up at Freed as he did so, and when Freed stared down, the adoration in Laxus's eyes captivated him. Freed spent years wanting this. Not Laxus blowing him—not just that—but Laxus's care. Laxus's whole attention.

Freed started shaking, feeling his balls tense. He writhed until pleasure was unbearable and Laxus's mouth so hot. Laxus kept going, sucking faster, eyes telling him to let go.

Freed obeyed.

As euphoria washed over him, he just stared at Laxus. Those eyes never once left his.

Consciousness slowly dawned.

Freed looked around, pulse still racing. Early light streamed in. Naked, his cum had spattered his abdomen. As he stared up, chest heaving, he grasped for the edges of the dream. Perfection.

From the other side of the bed, Laxus huffed in his sleep, rolling closer until he was smashed up against Freed's side. Freed smiled.

With cum cooling on his stomach, a tempting idea occurred to him. Laxus had mentioned dream-smells a few times, and how scents affected his sleep.

Wiping a finger through his spend, Freed held it toward the Dragon Slayer's nose.

Pure scientific inquiry.

When Laxus grunted and twitched, Freed grinned. The Dragon Slayer's face screwed up, then he cuddled Freed closer and let out a waking groan. Well. Freed hadn't expected it to be that powerful. He watched innocently as Laxus came to.

Laxus blinked once, yawned, and sniffed.

"Whatcha doing?" he rumbled, wrapping his arms tightly around Freed, which rolled Freed partway onto his side, back against Laxus's chest. Cum dripped toward the sheets and he sighed. The bedding needed washing anyway.

"I had a dream," he said, focusing on Laxus, who had leaned his cheek sleepily against Freed's shoulder. "It was quite pleasant."

"Yeah?" Laxus closed his eyes. Freed wondered if Laxus was going to fall back asleep, but his hand suddenly slipped down Freed's side to caress his bare hip. "Tell me about this dream."

Smiling, Freed said, "You were in it."

"Really? I couldn't guess." Laxus's palm slid across his ass and down his thigh, soft and slow.

"You were quite possessive." Freed couldn't keep the hitch out of his voice.

"Were there other people in this dream?"

"Oh yes: lots."

Laxus growled, nose pressing into Freed's hair before he bit his ear.

"You made that sound in my dream, too," Freed managed.

Laxus was warm and stifling against him. When something throbbed at Freed's hip, he felt around carefully and found Laxus's cock filling out against the constraint of his boxers. Laxus reacted to Freed's fingers with a choked gasp; he licked Freed's ear and kissed down his neck.

"What else did you dream?" Laxus whispered, breath hot as he traced light circles on Freed's chest.

"I dreamed that you fucked me in front of the whole guild."

Laxus inhaled sharply, fingers tightening on Freed's thigh, cock pulsing.

At evidence of Laxus's eagerness, Freed couldn't help a moan.

Laxus's hand moved down Freed's ass and between his legs, fingers brushing the back of his balls. No longer controlling his breathing, or anything really, Freed crooked one knee up to give him access. Tingling feelings shuddered up his spine.

Laxus slid out of his boxers and cuddled up to Freed's back once more.

"Tell me how I fucked you," Laxus said, pulling Freed's leg back to loop over his own, his cock sliding between Freed's thighs from behind.

With Laxus's lips trailing over his shoulder, Freed panted loud in the heated silence, his heart crashing like thunder. He was excruciatingly hard, and he palmed himself, but Laxus entwined their fingers and trapped Freed's hand against the bed.

"Tell me," Laxus prompted again. He eased his hips forward and his cock nudged Freed's balls.

"Aah, fuck yes! You—you yanked my trousers down in front of everyone and bent me over a table," Freed said.

He would've been too embarrassed to say this a few days ago, but last night… Laxus liked hearing what turned him on, as much as Freed enjoyed being able to turn Laxus on with a quirk of his eyebrows.

Like the slowly waxing moon, Freed was coming to realize over the course of the past few weeks: Laxus loved him. Freed could trust him with anything.

"You came from behind," he said. "Fucked me hard before sucking me off. It was amazing; your mouth…all of it. Gods, I'd need so much prep to fuck like that in reality."

"You can have whatever you want in a dream, Freed. That's the beauty of them."

Laxus's tongue dragged up the shell of his ear and Freed quivered. Laxus was bucking slowly between Freed's thighs, Freed bracing their bodies while Laxus caressed Freed's balls.

Breathless, Laxus said, "It sounds damn hot."

Freed shuddered in response. Much as he'd come ten minutes ago, his body was aching for more.

Their conversation dropped off as Laxus set a steady rhythm. Freed groaned in time to his thrusts, clamping his legs around Laxus's hard cock, which made the Dragon Slayer curse wonderfully under his breath. Every time Laxus thrust across his taint, need clawed further up Freed's insides. His sensitive skin begged for more.

When Laxus sped up, he leaned over Freed and pushed him chest-down into the futon, Freed's free hand tangling under his stomach. The Dragon Slayer grunted over and over: close, so close. Freed's body bringing him closer to the edge of delight.

Freed whimpered in ecstasy.

Laxus still had Freed's hand caught in his, fingers trapped and intertwined. Freed couldn't reach down to handle himself: had to make do with Laxus's movements driving his cock into the futon.

It was beautiful. He loved it.

Laxus's dick kissed his balls and smeared precum all over them. Laxus was leaking more than usual; Freed grinned through his pleasure.

The uneven friction against the sheets would've been enough to get Freed there eventually, but Laxus's lips on his spine made heat rise in his body even faster. Every time Laxus touched him, Freed felt it throughout his entire being: every kiss and caress made him tremble with adrenaline. With want, and more and more with need.

"Laxus…" Freed groaned.

"Oh fuck," Laxus cut in. "Fuck—fuck!"

A harsh gasp. Laxus's light kisses turned into open-mouthed sucking across Freed's shoulder. Laxus thrust a few more times, Freed squeezing him tight between his legs while his balls tightened and his blood sang.

"Freed…" Laxus let out a long groan and warmth coated Freed's sac.

"Oh god!" Freed exclaimed.

He soared, tipping into a high—but Laxus's hand wormed under his body and squeezed the base of his cock.

"Oh," Freed gasped, airless and painful at being delayed. Laxus still had his wrist and Freed was completely at his boyfriend's mercy.

"Oh goddess, please," Freed begged happily.

"Not…yet," Laxus panted, pulling out from between Freed's thighs. "If that's okay?"

Freed nodded. Words didn't work right now.

Laxus dragged his dripping cock up Freed's crack just to be tantalizing, and Freed felt his body try again to launch into orgasm.

When Laxus crawled off him, Freed rolled onto his back and gazed into orange eyes. The Dragon Slayer still held the root of his aching cock, his expression loving.

"You won't come if I let go?" Laxus asked.

Freed waited a moment, then nodded. Pulling his hand away, Laxus caressed his cheek with his knuckles. Freed leaned into him and took Laxus's hand in his.

"Fuck you," Freed said affectionately.

Laxus grinned.

When the Dragon Slayer sat up and moved to the edge of the bed, Freed rubbed his back. "No cuddling?"

"You want to cuddle when you're that hard?"

"I don't need to come."

"Maybe not," Laxus said, "but if you want to, I'd like to help. I stopped you because I want to do something else to you, not to be mean."

Freed tilted his head, curious.

"The bedding's a mess." Laxus nodded to the large wet spot. "And so are we. Come on."

"Don't want to fuck me unless I'm completely clean?" Freed teased, following him to the shower.

"Who says I want to fuck you?" Laxus asked.

In the bathroom, Freed leaned against the wall, cock bobbing, and watched his boyfriend turn on the water. When Laxus turned around, Freed looked him up and down. Desire was pulsing through him. He saw Laxus gulp.

"What do you want to do, Laxus?" he asked, veins on fire.

Panting, Laxus closed in on him, hands planted on either side of Freed's shoulders. The yearning in his eyes made Freed shiver.

"Everything," Laxus whispered.

Freed's heart fluttered and burst from his chest.

"Please do," he rasped.

Laxus dove for his throat, not just kissing but sinking his teeth in, leaving marks across Freed's collarbone. Thrusting his hips forward seeking friction, Freed ground against any stretch of Laxus's skin he could get to, and Laxus rubbed himself against Freed's thigh. When Freed dug his fingers into Laxus's hair, Laxus groaned, and suddenly they were a frantic mess.

There was nothing but desperate kissing, their bodies, the two of them.

Somehow they made it into the shower without disconnecting from each other. They cuddled under the hot water, open-mouthed, tongues probing and sliding together. They felt over each other, hands roaming to every sensitive spot that could elicit pleasing moans.

There wasn't thought, and there wasn't an objective: just to feel. It was the most sensual thing Freed had ever experienced.

When Freed tried to bend down to get a mouthful of Laxus's cock, Laxus distracted him with fingers tangled in his hair, tugging his head back. Laxus rutted closer so that Freed's cock ground against Laxus's hard body, and Freed's cry disappeared into a hot kiss.

As Laxus kept kissing him, tongue making quick work of him, he found Freed's hands and pinned them above his head. Laxus was gentle with his arms, pressing his lips above and below the scabs that circled both of Freed's biceps. Then he squeezed Freed's fingers, smiled, and leaned in very close.

When Freed strained forward, Laxus let him take his lips, let Freed kiss him with all the love surging through him. Expression dissolving into something holy and awed, Laxus let Freed devour his mouth.

With Freed's back pressed to the wall, Laxus leaned against him as the passion became overwhelming. Suddenly, Laxus frotted against him. Freed jolted, Laxus not stopping, finding a thrilling rhythm, their cocks rubbing together. Freed bit Laxus's lip in appreciation. The groan that poured out of Laxus was so needy and satisfying that a painful throb of pleasure wracked Freed's cock.

He felt like he might explode any minute.

"You're so fucking hard," Laxus muttered into his mouth.

"Of course I am," Freed whispered. "Laxus…fuck!"

One hand still trapping both of Freed's, Laxus reached down and jerked hard on Freed's cock several times. Freed moaned.

When Laxus released his wrists, Freed grabbed his shoulders and drew Laxus against him, body to body, to feel every centimeter of him at once. Laxus made startled, strangled noises as he wobbled. Embracing him, Freed reached back and spread Laxus's ass, and that really made the Dragon Slayer unsteady. Freed's chest exploded with heat: he could make Laxus weak in the knees.

"Freed." Laxus paused to stare into Freed's eyes.

Still pressed together, Freed looked at him.

What he saw made it hard to breathe. Yearning; effervescent surprise; deep love. Like his dream, but better. More true to Laxus—lips parted, the confused dip of his eyebrow he got when he was happy, the intensity orange eyes could hold. Laxus's smile was wide-eyed and curious, with all the enthusiasm of a child.

The man ran his palms up Freed's hips, his chest, to cup his face. Pure affection glowed in Laxus's expression. Freed felt sacred; like he mattered.

"You undo me, Laxus," Freed whispered.

Laxus hummed deep, studying every feature of Freed's face.

A grin spread across Laxus's lips.

"I believe…something like this…"

Laxus dropped to his knees and let the tip of Freed's cock slide into his mouth.

Holy shit. Freed had to put his hands on the wall for balance. Laxus's lips felt so fucking good closing over his cock, drawing him deeper, tongue pressing Freed tight to the roof of his mouth.

With a groan, Laxus sucked on him. Let Freed slide in and out; mouthed along his length; played with Freed's tip with his skilled tongue.

It was messier than Freed's dream. Clumsier. And a thousand times better. Because this was real. It was sloppy and physical and Laxus, the man Freed loved and trusted with the whole of his being.

Pressure coiled in Freed's balls as Laxus kept blowing him.

The way he used his lips, the way he sucked hard and fast, the way he did everything: it was like he knew all Freed's buttons. He'd used his mouth on Freed before, but never to orgasm. The pleasure was unbearable, the slick movements consuming Freed.

Pulling away briefly to give attention to Freed's balls, the Dragon Slayer murmured, "I want you to come in my mouth. I want to try tasting it."

"Oh," Freed gasped.

Pleasure curled through him, almost painful. Hands steady on Freed's hips, Laxus bobbed between his legs, taking him deeper. Watching anyone blow him got Freed off quickly, but watching Laxus blow him was the ultimate delight for his already taunted cock.

Laxus's smile, wet hair slicked back, and his loving hands running up and down Freed's thighs were the last things he remembered before euphoria exploded through his being. Bright, melting, pulling him into himself.

He released into Laxus's mouth, felt him swallow, and shuddered.

He'd never felt so content.

In the silence of bliss, Freed floated in a sea of Laxus's affection. Laxus's hands on his hips grounded him and held him steady. Laxus had always done that, even when they were new teammates: supported Freed when Freed needed it. Freed had been the one to swear an oath, but Laxus had been loyal anyway, without any inducement.

Looking down still trying to catch his breath, Freed grinned and combed through Laxus's hair, a gesture Laxus leaned into.

"Fuck," Freed sighed, leaning back. "Add that to your list of skills."

"Wow," Laxus whispered. "Freed..."

The word stretched. He didn't continue. Freed frowned.

Laxus's expression jerked with something like surprise.


Laxus reached for him and missed. As Freed's senses flew on high alert, Laxus collapsed onto the tile.

Chapter Text

"Laxus!" Freed shook the massive shoulder as he crouched over him.

He only remembered to turn off the water when it sprayed him in the face. In the sudden silence, he rolled Laxus onto his back and with a dripping hand touched the Dragon Slayer's face.

Laxus's eyelids didn't even flutter. He didn't look unconscious: he looked dead.

"No, no, no…"

Filling the air with sound and words, Freed felt Laxus's chest and identified a heartbeat. But Laxus's pulse was slow and his skin icy.

More jostling and calling Laxus's name didn't wake him. Adrenaline threatened to tip Freed into panic. He jumped into action.

Laxus was a big person, but Freed could still normally lift his weight, so he was confused when his muscles shook, distantly frustrated by the pain as he picked his boyfriend up.

Then something excruciating tore in his bicep. His arm gave out.

Freed yelled but did not let go.

Leaving puddles in their wake, he forced his screaming arm to do his bidding until he laid Laxus on the futon. He put a hand to his bicep, felt it throb, felt stickiness—and made the executive decision to ignore it. There was no time to manage his wounds, with Laxus sick or hurt or…

His lips were grey.

Freed pulled the comforter over him and shakily drew runes to heat the room up. Panic was beating inside Freed's head. Laxus didn't twitch, eyes not moving behind his closed lids.

Freed tried a few more things to rouse the lightning mage, but he already knew this was beyond his abilities.

He didn't bother to dry off as he threw clothes on, though he cursed his wet hair, for once hating its length. When he strapped on his sword, he realized how badly he was trembling and forced himself to breathe deep. His aching arm didn't stop shaking even when he squeezed it hard.

He had to check his protective runes on this place; add a few things. More restrictions to the wards keeping people out. Runes to keep Laxus warm and breathing.

He ran back to Laxus's side.

"I'll be right back," he whispered, squeezing Laxus's cold hand far too tight. "Stay alive. Please, Laxus. Just give me five minutes. Please."

He kissed Laxus on the lips and took him in one more time before sprinting for the door. He had to run, or else he'd never get away.

Leaving felt like betraying him.

Slamming the door, Freed couldn't stop two tears escaping. As his throat tightened, he pushed his emotions down; he didn't have time to feel things. Later. He would deal later.

The problem with buildings guarded by runes—Laxus's flat, the Fairy Tail guildhall—was that nobody could teleport within fifty meters.

Laxus lived on the third floor: the stairs seemed to take forever.

Freed burst onto the crowded walk as people dodged out of his path. He drew his sword with his good arm before reaching the edge of the fifty meters; a woman ahead of him screamed.

Skidding around her, he wrote as he exited the safe zone and magic blew him away.

Traveling this way was fast, almost instantaneous, but not fast enough for Freed. As soon as his body materialized in the street, he was running again, Fairy Tail dead ahead.

Mirajane jerked as the doors crashed inward. Freed exploded into the hall like his lover's lightning and immediately had everyone's attention.

His wet clothes were plastered to him, his coat absent, and his hair dripping and disheveled. Jaws dropped. Mira didn't think anyone had seen him this out of countenance.

Freed didn't register the sudden quiet.

"Ever! Bicks!" he shouted, searching the hall and darting toward where the two sat frozen. His movements were too focused, too jerky. When he twisted to get around a table, Mira saw one of his sleeves was painted crimson from elbow to shoulder.

Dishes shattered at her feet.

Freed skidded up to his teammates and nearly toppled into Bickslow.

"What happened?" Bickslow grabbed Freed by his uninjured arm.

"Go to the flat," Freed gasped, "and don't let anyone near."

"Where is he?" Bickslow asked, raising his visor.

He…Laxus?Mira was halfway to them, trying to decipher their words.

"You won't be able to enter," Freed rushed on. "Nobody can get inside without me."

"Freed, what happened?" Evergreen demanded.

"Go!" he yelled. "Set a guard. I'll be there in two minutes. Just go!"

Jerking her head in a nod, Ever soared into the air with Bickslow right behind her, the two shooting out the doors.

"Freed," Mira began.

He whirled, nearly knocking her over. His fear was palpable.

"Where's Master?" he asked.

"He's right…" she turned.

"…here." Makarov wheeled up to them, people parting for him.

Glancing around, Freed realized he was the focal point of Fairy Tail and blinked in shock. When he sliced his fingers through the air, runes encompassed the three of them in silence.

"Master, Laxus is…is… He's…"

Panting, Freed pinched the bridge of his nose. He looked nauseated. Cold hit Mira's gut: she'd never seen Freed trying to clamp down panic this intense. Never.

"Laxus is unconscious," Freed choked out.

"How?" Makarov asked.

"I…I don't know. Shit! I don't know." Freed sounded sick. "He collapsed. Cold all over. I think his magic was weaker too. I don't know what happened. Pulse is slowing down. I th-think he…"

Freed stopped.

Mira took his arm, carefully trying to move the sleeve to see how badly he was hurt, but Freed jerked out of her grasp.

"Freed—" she said.

"I'm fine."

"Laxus…dying?" Makarov whispered.

Mira slammed her hands over her mouth. Freed went utterly blank.

"No. He's alive."

"Take me to him," Makarov ordered. "Mirajane, send Porlyusica as fast as you can."

She nodded as Freed erased his barrier with a wave, turning toward the door.

"Um," Wendy coughed as she squeezed through the crowd. "Can I help?"

"Please." The gratitude in Makarov's voice—the guildmaster was scared.

"I'll still get Porlyusica," Mira said. Freed's shoulders got a little less tense, and Makarov nodded. She turned to the crowd now very much in the way. "Oi! Move!"

The runes opened before him and Freed let the two mages into the flat. He darted to the bedroom, letting Wendy wheel Master the last stretch.

Laxus looked greyer than when Freed left.

Crouching at his side, he put a hand to his beloved's cheek. Icy. And Laxus wasn't shivering.

The cold, ghostly pain in Freed's arm flowed up into his chest. He couldn't remember feeling fear like this. Not for a long time.

A shuddering intake of breath made Freed jolt. Gasping, Makarov rolled in, eyes fixed on Laxus. So many emotions swirled across his face.

Wendy's nose scrunched as she entered. "Oh."

The smells.

"Shitfuck," Freed muttered.

She looked at him, then merely walked to the futon and held a hand over Laxus. She wouldn't make it awkward. Small blessings.

Wendy's palm glowed for only a few moments before she said, "He's not hurt or sick, but he's empty of magic."

"No ethernanos at all?" Makarov asked vacantly.

"None." Wendy bit her lip. "He's not absorbing any from the air, either."

Her eyes went sharp and she whirled around a second before Freed heard the commotion. It sounded like Bickslow.

"...can't just waltz in."

"Let me the fuck in," said a much louder voice. "I didn't come here to stand in a hallway with shitty people."

"It's not that I won't let you," Bickslow said. "You physically can't. Freed sealed the place."

"Then he can unseal it."

"That's what I was saying! If you would be patient!"

A knock resounded as Freed touched the runes on the door and opened it.

"Freed, it's—! Oh, hey." A hassled Bickslow grimaced at him.

Porlyusica pushed Freed out of her way by force of grumpiness as she stomped inside, muttering, "Fucking people. Holy gods, what the fuck has he been doing in here? Smells like he fucked a dozen people sideways."

Freed went a mortified shade of red.

Behind him, Bickslow said, "I'll keep guarding shit," and pulled the door shut.

"Where is the idiot?" she growled, marching to the bedroom and letting Freed follow.

In his fragile state, her misanthropic anger didn't compute. Dazed, Freed returned to his place at Laxus's side as Porlyusica knelt beside Makarov. Freed ran his fingers through Laxus's hair with shaking fingers.

"Holy shit," Porlyusica breathed. She looked up at Freed. "What did this to him?"

"I don't know. No triggers…" Freed jerked, suddenly sick. "His father. We visited his father yesterday."

Porlyusica's growl was so low and angry, it made the hair rise on the back of his neck. Makarov spat in disgust.

Wendy frowned. "In prison?"

"Yes." Freed swallowed. His throat wasn't working. "He tried to attack us."

Exclamations followed as he rose and rifled through his coat in the closet.

"How could he?" Makarov demanded. "They can't use magic in there."

"Ivan threw a handful of these at us."

Freed tossed the lifeless shikigami with its single rune onto Laxus's comforter.

"Don't, baka!" Porlyusica shouted, snatching the doll up. "Don't let it touch him."

"It's impotent. I wrote enough runes around it to keep it inert for a century."

She grunted but didn't berate him further. When Makarov held out a hand, she passed it over while Freed resettled at his beloved's side. He wasn't moving from this spot unless someone killed him.

"What does this rune mean?" Makarov asked.

"I don't recognize it." Freed rubbed a hand over his face. "I intended to look it up and find out."

"Do that. But not right now," Makarov added. "First we need to hear what we can do for him."

He looked expectantly at Porlyusica. Deep consideration kept her quiet for a long minute.

"It can't just be the doll," she said, looking up at Freed. "You said he just collapsed? Out of nowhere? There had to be something which set it off. What was he doing right beforehand?"

Freed winced. Shit.


He glanced at Wendy, who colored and scuttled from the room. Thank the Goddess for socially adept people.

"He was…engaging in strenuous activity."

"You were having sex," Porlyusica filled in flatly.

Putting his free hand over his eyes, Freed took a steadying breath.

"Who was fucking whom?" Porlyusica asked. "And it is important. You'd be amazed how often losing virginity is a curse's catalyst."

Freed flushed so deeply the world inside his closed eyelids went scarlet. These weren't things he wanted to talk about in front of his boyfriend's grandfather. Ever.

"He…gave a blowjob," Freed finally managed. "His first time. Not mine."

Porlyusica hmphed thoughtfully. In the silence, Freed tried not to think what was going through Makarov's head. Freed tried not to think about his presence at all.

"He's got that lacrima," Porlyusica said. "There could be some spell on it—runes, I'd guess, since the doll has one on it. It might be activated by swallowing semen. A weird fucking activation, though not unheard of."

Freed finally managed to emerge from behind his hand.

"How can we find out about his lacrima?" he asked. If there were runes, he could fix it.

"Carve open his chest and take a look," Porlyusica said. Freed's whole body jerked. The words made his skin hurt. "We obviously can't do that, but if a spell is written on it, I can't know without seeing the actual surface of the crystal. If it's dark magic that was trapped inside the lacrima, it's used up now and we'll have to figure it out ourselves, because I feel absolutely no ethernanos in the vicinity of his body. None."

"What can we do right now?" Makarov asked.

"I'll concoct something to force ethernanos into him—through him, at least; that should keep him alive. You," she pointed at Freed, "keep him warm if you can. Meanwhile, we figure this out."

"Okay," Makarov and Freed said together.

She passed the shikigami to Freed.

"We still don't know why the hell that asshole stuck a cursed lacrima in his child."

Freed had a sudden memory of Ivan's disgusted face shouting, faggot!

He swallowed a thick, angry feeling. With Laxus, everything was always for the same reason. The reason Laxus was so angry when they were younger. The reason he attacked Fairy Tail. The reason he'd worked every day of his life to be one of the strongest mages alive. The reason he'd been terrified to admit his feelings to Freed. The reason he still struggled with affection in front of others.

"Justine." Porlyusica motioned at him. "Your arm."

Confused, Freed looked down.

A dark maroon stain.

He wobbled. Dizzy. He didn't know he lost so much blood. It pounded with pain, and he hadn't felt it.

Sighing at his slowness, she came over and shoved up his sleeve.

He'd reopened the wound where his arm had almost finished knitting together, the new flesh torn into the deep lines of the old gash. Drips slid down his arm onto her hand.

Freed took a shallow breath.

When her hand glowed, Freed wondered if she'd chide him for doing this to himself after weeks of her careful healing on the magical wounds. She stayed blessedly quiet.

"There," she said, pulling out a bandage and applying it tightly. "Keep it wrapped for now."


When she and the guildmaster moved to go, Freed rose.

"We'll let ourselves out, Freed," Makarov said gently. "Stay with him."

"Rewrite your runes so I can come and go," Porlyusica grunted. "I'll be back in a few hours with that temporary solution."

Freed nodded and she evicted herself from the room like she was allergic. Makarov paused a moment longer.

In the silence between them, they both stared at Laxus's expressionless face before Freed turned to Makarov.

"Ivan hated p-people like me. He hated seeing—he didn't want Laxus to have this kind of relationship. I think that's why."

Makarov nodded.

Freed wondered how much the old man knew; how much he'd guessed; whether it angered him or saddened him or made him feel guilty. Freed would never blame Ivan's despicable actions on the guildmaster, but he laid a small piece of the fault on him for not seeing what his son was doing sooner and putting a stop to it. Laxus had been too young and too small to fight back. Nobody had fought for him. And now, despite all the strength he'd gained since then, he was dying.

Not dying, Freed thought frantically. He wouldn't let Laxus die.

"Let me know as soon as he wakes," Makarov said, his sigh as heavy as the earth.

"If he wakes," Porlyusica said from the doorway.

Freed hadn't heard her return, but the sadness in her eyes was far, far worse than her grouchiness. Her sadness broke him.

"Freed," Makarov murmured, "I'm glad he has you."

Makarov bowed to him before rolling out.

Kneeling beside his beloved, Freed put a hand over his mouth and broke down.

Chapter Text

In the years after his mother's death, Laxus grew up a lot. And Ivan grew angry.

Laxus didn't tell anyone about the outbursts; his father was still mourning, they said. And Laxus…Laxus was a disappointment. Ivan never got angry without good reason.

Late at night, Laxus would long for the days of before. Home was never safe now. He'd lay in the dark and imagine that his mother and father were in the other room talking and laughing. The happy memories. The things which had been real.

Each time he fantasized about those days, Laxus cried, and then forced himself to stop crying, until he cried less and less. He got quicker at pulling himself back to reality.

In the daytime, he adapted. He learned how to run fast. He learned how to take a hit. He learned how to read people and diffuse their anger, how to be what people needed.

It got easier; and life fell into a new normal.

Ivan was often lost in his work. When he did pay attention to Laxus, he focused on expanding Laxus's magic power. He pushed and pushed and pushed. Punished Laxus when he got things wrong. It hurt so badly, but the punishment did make him stronger. He made marked improvement, even though he still got sick.

He embraced any amount of pain if it meant he earned Ivan's attention.

He even jumped at the rare times his father offered to take him on missions. Laxus knew he was too weak and shouldn't go, but it was the only way he got to spend time with his father. He just wanted Ivan to look at him again. When they were alone, camping out in nature, Ivan did.

And then when they got home, Laxus became invisible again, except when he made mistakes.

Around his grandfather, the world grew easy for short periods. For brief sunlit hours, there were things to laugh about and fun to be had. Reading good books and running around the guild and playing silly games.

The catch was that it all went away if Makarov saw he was hurt. If Laxus collapsed from overused magic, or if he winced from bruises and soreness from his latest training with Ivan, Makarov got concerned, halted the fun, and tried to care for him. Tried to be mushy and motherly and all the things neither Makarov nor anyone else could replace.

Mayu was gone and she wasn't ever coming back. This was life now, this merciless existence where Laxus had no room to be soft.

So he learned to make his bruises heal faster and, when that didn't work, how to hide them under clothing or dirt or sun-brown skin so Makarov wouldn't know. It was something he got good at, and that made him proud, because he wasn't good at very much.

It meant the fun at Fairy Tail could continue.

Yes, these obfuscations were lies. But lies didn't seem wrong anymore.

Less than a year after Mayu's death when Laxus was nine and a half, his grandfather, who kept nudging him toward other children, introduced him to a new boy named Freed.

The only way to describe the person Makarov pointed out would be pretty. Slightly taller than Laxus, everything about them was slender and stretched: willowy frame, long fingers. Freed's jacket obscured enough that at first Laxus thought he was a she. When he realized otherwise, he hurriedly erased the descriptor 'pretty' from his assessment.

As Laxus walked over, he continued observing. Freed had sure gestures and steady eyes. His magic power was medium-level for their age—if he was their age: something about the long hair made it hard to tell.

Freed's gaze flicked to Laxus before returning to the boy he was talking to, and in that one-second interchange, Laxus felt Freed assessing him, just as Laxus was him. Warily, Laxus stopped nearby to watch the two boys.

Freed Justine was having an argument with Wan Chianzi—a boy Laxus enjoyed goofing around with because Wan didn't ask questions. The Freed boy was clearly winning their argument. Against his endless arsenal of large vocabulary, Wan didn't stand a chance.

That told Laxus all he needed to know—Freed would be the type to ask questions.

Except…then he wasn't. Freed was observant, yes, and thus respected Laxus's unspoken boundaries. His questions were ones like, How do you control the timing of your spells if lightning moves faster than the human brain? Laxus liked those.

Freed was also different because he didn't make fun of Laxus. For anything. Ever.

Even though Freed was annoyingly perceptive, Laxus liked him. They struck up a friendship that involved rooting around the guild library, learning new spells, and practicing with each other. Due to mistrust and his ethernano "allergy," Laxus didn't practice magic with others. But Freed was okay, and Laxus managed to mask his weakness in front of him.

On very rare occasions, Freed would wordlessly give him things when his wounds were visible: a handful of ice, a potion, a quick rune. Freed never asked and never mentioned it, and Freed's help meant Laxus could heal faster, hide better, and spend more time around people, feeling less lonely.

Despite all his father's warnings, Laxus allowed himself, ever so slightly, to trust Freed.

Twelve-year-old Laxus laughed. He'd successfully pulled off a spell for silently moving objects at lightning speed, and Wan was telling him all the ways he could use that spell to get up to mischief.

"…since Gildarts always wears that cloak, so he won't notice until they're crawling up his neck. All we need is some big enough spiders."

Chortling, Laxus wrapped an arm about his aching sides, the grin on his face so wide it was almost painful.

"I like the one about stealing his beer even more," he said.

"Yo, Lightning, you do realize you can do all of them, right?" Wan said, hanging an arm around Laxus's shoulders. "You're not going to unlearn the spell."

"It'd be pretty pathetic if I did."

They both laughed, leaning into each other and falling to pieces at the thought. They couldn't seem to stop laughing: they were so far gone with giggles, everything was funny.


The hard tone shocked Laxus out of his laughter a moment before fingers curled painfully around his arm.

"Come with me," Ivan hissed, jerking him out of Wan's grip and toward the back door of the guild.

Laxus was too bewildered to feel embarrassed. He hadn't done anything wrong that he could remember. He'd washed up the dishes, completed his outdoor chores, and left a note for his father where he was going.

Outside, Ivan threw Laxus away from himself. Laxus couldn't stop his momentum as he tripped over the uneven ground—the wall of the guild zooming to meet him. His fingers slipped when he tried to catch himself, wrenching, and his face slammed into the wood. Hard.

Stars burst behind his right eye.

It gashed his face from temple to chin, filled with the sharp sting of blood. Before Laxus could collect himself, Ivan shoved him again and Laxus slid along the wall, fingers scrabbling.

"T-Tousan…" His voice broke.

"Fuck, Laxus," Ivan hissed. He was staring down at his hand. "You twisted my wrist."


"Don't try to get away from me like that. I am your father."

Laxus managed to turn around, back to the wall. Ivan surveyed him.

"Oh, don't give me that look. Like your little bout of pain means anything. Wipe your face."

Shivering, Laxus obeyed, swiping blood onto his pants.

"You need to stop what I saw you doing in there." Ivan shook his head. "How many times have I told you I don't want to see you to get hurt? You can't curry favor like that. People take advantage of kindness. I want to see you whole and healthy, not… What you did today, especially: never do that again."

Laxus dug furiously for what 'that' could be, trying to think which of Ivan's rules he'd broken.

"You can't even promise me that?" Ivan demanded.


" 'What'? Touching, for one thing. Letting him put his hands all over you. Letting him inside your defensive range. You know what I can do to you from this close?"

Ivan leaned in.

"I can hit you." His fist lashed out, stopping centimeters from Laxus's stomach. Laxus jerked in panic and Ivan laughed darkly. "See? You'd never see it coming. And do you know what else they can do? They can touch you. Put their hands in those places. You're a man, Laxus: we don't get that taken from us. Do you understand? Is that what you want?"

Laxus was shaking so hard the wall barely supported him.

"Oh my god!" Ivan exclaimed. "Gods, Laxus. Please. It's written all fucking over you, just…please." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "I thought I did a better job. Please don't tell me I failed you in this. The most important thing about human interaction."

"I don't understand," Laxus begged, managing by some amazing effort to summon his voice.

"Yeah, that's pretty fucking clear."

Laxus stayed quiet while Ivan sighed.

"I did everything I could. I showed you what good and bad relationships look like. I told you how it works. You're going to get faggoty anyway? I did everything! You're my son, and I've given you everything… This mistake isn't on me. You learned this behavior from someone else. Where? Who could make you think that was okay?"

"What? N-No one…"

"Someone did. Someone taught you to act like that, and it wasn't me. I love you too much to let you even pretend to be a poof."

"I'm not," Laxus protested, voice high with panic. "I don't."

"I just saw you!" Ivan gestured broadly, frustrated. "Did nobody teach you proper boundaries? Didn't I teach you what's okay and what isn't?"

"Yes," Laxus said, harder now. "You did, and I'm—"

"It's your own fucking willfulness," Ivan growled, turning away to pace.

Laxus wanted to hiss at his own inability to communicate. That Ivan could think he, Laxus, was that way. The world was spinning out of his control, and it made him feel desperate.

"I can't believe you," Ivan said. "My own son. Doing this to me."

Today was worse than normal. Ivan must've had trouble with his most recent job: Laxus's body generally hurt in proportion to how frustrating Ivan's work was.

"What did I do?" Laxus asked, trying to be calm and placating. If they could just have a quiet discussion…

Ivan rounded on him.

"Don't try that. Pretending innocence doesn't suit you, Laxus. Innocence isn't your thing. Considering what a whore your mother was, that shouldn't surprise me."

Before the words could process, Ivan backhanded him across the face.

Even though Laxus saw it coming he didn't dodge. That would be pointless. The impact made him cry out, Ivan's hand connecting with the wound and coming away wet.

"Fuck," Ivan spat, holding up his red-smeared fingers. "You better not give me yet another scar, you son of a bitch."

"I didn't—I didn't—" Laxus gasped, tears falling fresh, involuntary, squeezed out by shock and pain. His pulse throbbed over his cheekbone. Coherency fled.

"You didn't?" Ivan mocked in a high-pitched tone. "Really? Like I didn't just fucking see you."

Dizziness made Laxus's head spin. He tried to stay upright—knew things would get much worse if he went down this early—and managed to get his fingers into the cracks between boards. Holding himself up, he forced his head to clear.

"I'm s-sorry," Laxus whispered, trembling.

"Is that it: sorry? Is that all you've got for me?" Ivan's voice rose and Laxus shrank away. "This is what happened to that job in February, too."

"I couldn't get the timing right," Laxus insisted. "The spell was hard; I've practiced since then—"

"You were distracted."

"I can do it better now!"

"There was a boy showing you attention, and you got distracted. On a fucking covert job. I was relying on you."

Laxus let his head fall. Arguing this wouldn't help.

Sometimes he wished Ivan would just tell him what not to do. It was easier if he understood why he was wrong. He'd heard Ivan use the word 'fag,' knew it meant weakness. He knew he should never repeat his actions. But he wanted a reason. It never felt wrong in the moment.

On the other hand, nobody else needed to be told. Just him. Only Laxus was broken and messed up.

Only Laxus couldn't help showing off to other boys.

"He thought my magic was cool," Laxus said. "You told me to blend in. I was trying to be polite."

"No, Laxus. Politeness nods its head and moves on. Faggots say, pay attention to me, let's flirt and talk and become friends."

"I'm not…that's not what happened."

"Yes, it is. You sat down next to him and started talking. I watched you. Don't lie to me."

A tear slithered down his cheek. "I'm sorry."

"Stop apologizing," Ivan snapped. "That's not how I raised you." He swiped his hand over his eyes. "I didn't raise you to any of this. I taught you to be self-sufficient. Didn't I? Did you take in anything?"

"I did! I'm trying."

"Yet here you are. Deliberately acting up. You were always different, Laxus, but you didn't have to become this."

Silence fell. Laxus watched his father's face move through disgust, disappointment, sadness. When he finally met Laxus's eyes, Ivan looked vulnerable for the first time in a long time.

"I can't believe my own son…" Ivan's voice cut out for a moment, "…is homo."

Laxus's body was jerky with emotion. He whispered, "I didn't mean to."

It was the truth.

I didn't mean to be this way. Didn't mean to hurt you.

"Why?" Something pained entered Ivan's expression. "I love you, Laxus. Why do you keep doing this to me?"

Laxus squeezed his eyes shut.

"I'm sorry."

"I tried to give you everything. It hurts to see you screwing around like nothing matters, like you don't care. When you were little, your ignorance was amusing, but now it makes me ache. I look, and I know you're just going to get hurt over and over by people who don't care about you. You're setting yourself up for pain, and I can't stop it from happening, no matter how hard I try. At least tell me why you're choosing this."

"I didn't do it on purpose; it's not like that—"

"Just stop. I know you don't love me."

"I do!"

"Do you? Because you don't act like it."

Laxus could see heartbreak in his father's eyes, grief. Every bone in Laxus's body cried out, every tendon taut. Laxus was the cause of this.

All because he hadn't killed the part of him that yearned for something more. The part of him that wanted, that was scared, that felt things.

The part that was selfish.

He didn't know why he'd been okay with Wan's arm around him. He knew closeness was a lie. He didn't understand why he always let people inside his defenses.

"Everything is on purpose, Laxus," Ivan said softly. "You have choices over everything. Nobody wakes up one day and suddenly becomes a fag. You didn't have to put your arm around him: you wanted to."

Laxus tried to apologize again, but Ivan took a step away.

"A fucking twink," Ivan muttered to himself. "I can't believe someone like you came from my blood. Even your mother would hate seeing you end up like this. If she hadn't left…well. Look at you."

"What?" Laxus's eyes flew wide. "No."

Ivan sneered in disgust. "Don't delude yourself. She didn't want us anymore."

"She l-loved..." Laxus tried, but he was crying too hard.

After all the times she said I love you, she still left.

"Shut up; it's good she's gone. She doesn't have to see what her son has become. She doesn't have to see how much I've failed with you."

A tear slid down Ivan's cheek before his fingers could wipe it away.

A thick, choking sob jerked out of Laxus.

"Please," Laxus heaved. "Otousan."

Emotion was pressing against his eyes, welling up from deep places. Another airless sob burst out of his throat. He just wanted comfort, just once. An embrace like the ones she used to give him. For his father to acknowledge that she was gone, and tell Laxus it would be okay.

He wanted Ivan to say the words she used to: I love you, Laxus…

I'll never stop.

Laxus folded in on himself, and in the blackness of his closed eyes the pain in his chest hurt more than any of the times Ivan hit him.

Ivan would never say those words to him.

"Are you going to cry? Control yourself," Ivan snarled. "The fuck, Laxus: I'm trying to have a conversation with you. You're not a fucking baby anymore. When I was your age, I was already taking care of myself. I didn't have the luxury of lounging around mouthing off. And I didn't get kicked around for being weak."

"I'm s-sorry."

"Sorry doesn't make you stronger." Ivan jerked forward and Laxus flinched. The darkness in Ivan's tone made him feel faint. "Only weaklings apologize. All you do is apologize. And you're still crying! Strong wizards don't cry. Stop it, Laxus."

Ivan shook him by the shoulder before releasing him, and Laxus's head collided with the wall.

Laxus had never consented to these emotions, to the grief. But no matter how many times he said no, the tears streamed over his wounds, hot and inescapable.

"That's enough." Ivan stood over him. "Strong mages don't let emotion overpower them. Stand up. Up! Gods, I don't even know why I try."

There was no more manhandling, but the lack of touch was almost worse.

Laxus was alone. He'd been left alone to die.

"You really think you're worthy to be my son, Laxus?"

Sobs shook Laxus; getting control of himself was impossible. His father hated him. His mother hadn't wanted him anymore. Why did he even exist?

"Go home," Ivan ordered. "Clean yourself up: you're a mess. Don't let your grandfather see you like this—believe me, you don't want that to happen. Get it together before I come home tonight."

"W-What if Jiisan is at the house?"

His grandfather came over more since Mayu's death. Seeking Laxus out. Ivan grumbled about relatives impinging on others' business.

It was Laxus's fault. Six months ago he overheard an argument late at night. Ivan had taken him on another mission and Laxus had been hurt: he'd been healing well—Ivan was actually proud, and Laxus hadn't had to endure extra pain. But Makarov was angry, and from that time on things between his father and grandfather cooled.

"It's not the old man's house," Ivan replied, glaring at Laxus. "If he's there, go clean up somewhere else. Figure it out. Do I have to do everything for you? Stop being lazy and use your head. And get rid of the blood, or I'll tell the guild how much of a faggot you are."

The shiver that wracked Laxus's body knocked him sideways. Shaking his head, Ivan walked back inside.

As soon as he disappeared, Laxus hefted himself up and started running. He didn't stop even when his lungs burned and he could no longer see through his tears: he knew this route by heart.

He wrenched the familiar handle and tumbled inside the house without remembering to check if his grandfather were there. He wasn't.

Laxus slid down in the far corner behind the sofa and cried.

He was aching and scared, could still feel his father's disgust. All because he'd let a friend touch him; someone he thought he could trust. But his eye and jaw were swollen and bloody, and maybe Ivan was right: nobody was worth trusting. They only hurt you, and Laxus was too weak to fight back.

And then, when he got hurt, Laxus cried like this, because he couldn't even control that—not even his own breathing.

He didn't want to be himself anymore.

I will never be weak again.

He didn't want Ivan to be able to make such a mess of him with his accusations. Laxus had to be better. He had to prove his father wrong about all of it: how weak he was, how stupid, how reliant and curious about other boys.

He would be impenetrable. If he couldn't be that, he would stop living. But he was too determined to fail.

He would stop needing people, Ivan would stop yelling, and nobody would call anyone weak.

Chapter Text

Freed turned over to press his warm side to Laxus, the other side of him almost numb. Laxus's skin was icy.

Freed was exhausted.

After Makarov and Porlyusica had left, Freed rewrote his runes to grant them and the Raijinshuu access, clothed Laxus in warm garments, fixed his own tangled hair, washed the bedding… Busyness kept his mind occupied, but his body couldn't keep up. So Freed had curled around Laxus to offer him body heat, and fell asleep.

In early afternoon, he woke to a dark, unfamiliar mutter. Jerking up, Freed reached for his sword, but pain split his head and he groaned.

Porlyusica raised an eyebrow at him.

"Shit," he muttered, pressing palms over his throbbing temples as he sat up.

"You're dehydrated," Porlyusica said. "Sexual activity, plus significant blood loss, plus the magic of being healed. Take care of yourself, Justine. It won't help him if you don't."

He was grateful for the absence of her glare.

After a moment, Freed rose, got water, and hovered in the kitchen.

He didn't want to walk back into that room.

If he stood here, it felt like Laxus might walk out, all better, and life could go on. He couldn't conceive of any future except the same one he'd taken for granted when he woke up this morning. That Laxus would be here, at his side, awake. Alive.

"Justine," Porlyusica called.

When he entered, he saw a lacrima strapped to the middle of Laxus's chest. Ethernanos were being forced into his body now…he would live. That was what Freed told himself.

"Any change," Porlyusica stressed, "and you call me."

"Thank you," Freed said, settling by the futon again. "And thank you for treating him here."

"You're not bringing him to my place," she growled. "You and that old whiner wouldn't have left me alone. I need to study, dammit."

Freed snorted.

A scuffle in the hall and Makarov wheeled in, nodding to them and going straight to Laxus's side.

"Speak of the devil and there he appears," Porlyusica muttered.

"Any change?" he asked.

She sighed. "No."

Deep thought creasing his face, Makarov turned to Freed.

"I don't want you to take this as an accusation. Why didn't you and Laxus tell me about Ivan's attack?"

Freed blinked.

"We would've. Yesterday we were more focused on recouping."

Caressing Laxus's passive face, Freed wondered. Laxus might've wanted to forget it had happened. Maybe he wouldn't have told Makarov.

"Does he ever talk to you about his father?" Freed asked.


Freed winced at his tone. He wondered when either of them last said Ivan's name to each other.

"Ivan threatened to cut out Laxus's lacrima," Freed said quietly. "Said he would take away everything from Laxus, and that he didn't need freedom to do so. And," Freed realized, "he called him an inadequate lover."

The comment made sense now, if Porlyusica was right (and she usually was) that swallowing cum initiated the curse in Laxus's body.

Freed's fingers curled, shaking. It was fucking sadistic. To put a moratorium on your child's intimate acts, on their sex life. Torturing your child to force magic into them, then throwing them into a coma if they stepped out of line. If they dared to love someone.

Ivan was a special kind of depraved.

"Sounds like the son of a bitch was gloating," Porlyusica spoke up. "He was just waiting for this to happen. Motherfucker," she added.

"It sounds like it wasn't a satisfactory meeting," Makarov said.

"Actually," Freed said, "in a way…it was cathartic. He…"

Stood up to Ivan. Defended himself. And Laxus looked happy afterward.

"Have you gotten a chance to look up the rune?" Makarov asked.

Freed looked down. "Not yet. But I wrote down all the runes I could remember from the other shikigami. Before I forget."

"That's fine. Take your time," the guildmaster said quickly. "Freed, are you…okay?"

"I'll be alright," Freed said instantly, before his throat could close around the lie. He would be. For Laxus he would do anything.

"Okay," Makarov whispered in relief. "You'll be okay."

Ten-year-old Freed watched Laxus sleep in the hospital bed, bandages across Laxus's chest rising and falling.

They'd played a dozen hands of cards, which Freed had let Laxus win the first three times before Laxus figured it out and demanded he really try. At which point Freed won seven out of nine, but Laxus didn't seem to care. He liked the challenge, something Freed was learning through all these afternoons at his side.

Freed supposed Laxus hadn't gotten much mental stimulation since waking up in the hospital. Everyone treated him like he was broken.

Laxus inhaled thickly and twitched in his sleep. He was drooling, and Freed strongly wanted to wipe his cheek, but wasn't sure it was okay. Laxus didn't like people touching him.

So Freed sat back and kept watch.

Makarov called Freed here every time he needed to go to a meeting or address an issue elsewhere. Though he said it was to keep Laxus from being alone, the guildmaster always made sure Freed's magic wasn't depleted, that he was armed, and he breathed easier when Freed agreed to come.

It was an honor to Freed. Here at Laxus's side, Freed had found something to fight for. He would stay at Laxus's side as long as they wanted him.

Which could be a while—no one knew how long Laxus needed to recover. After Laxus told Freed the secret that he had a lacrima inside him, Freed did research and found it was an extremely rare procedure, only attempted a handful of times and almost never successfully.

Usually the patient died.

Freed didn't understand how someone could do that to another human being. To Laxus. Why anyone thought Laxus needed it—why Laxus thought he needed it. He had amazing control, knew many spells, and had a high level of skill with magic. That was powerful.

The drool was now making a wet spot on Laxus's pillow. Brow drawing down, Freed carefully wiped his cheek.

For a second, Freed's perception of magic spiked. Though Laxus hid it, he stocked a huge amount of magic power these days.

Having dealt with the drool, Freed felt less shy about pulling the edge of the blanket up over Laxus's shoulder. Laxus trusted him enough to fall asleep with him in the room: maybe this touch was okay.

As far as he knew, there was nobody else like this in Laxus's life. Laxus didn't have consistent friends. Except for Freed.

Freed would never betray that trust. He would never fail Laxus.

Pausing in the hospital doorway, Makarov watched as Freed straightened Laxus's bedside. Ensuring Laxus was comfortable, Freed moved on to the side table and straightened the untouched food there—Laxus had had trouble eating again.

As Freed frowned in focus, the old man smiled.

He worried that this was using Freed, asking him to sit with Laxus. Freed was barely ten. But Makarov needed someone who would protect Laxus at all costs, and he could tell clear as day Freed cared about his grandson. Freed would hurt himself before hurting Laxus.

Makarov cared about Freed's welfare, too—Freed was one of his guild-children. Makarov half-raised him and knew him well. Knew he disliked sleeping in strange places, knew both his brothers had died in the war, knew his intelligence quotient was a terrifyingly high number (a fact he had not yet told Freed) and that he was voraciously curious.

He cared about Freed, who was so serious for being so young. He would do everything in his power to take care of Freed. But as long as Freed wanted to be by Laxus's side—as long as this boyhood crush or whatever it was continued—Makarov would encourage the pair to be together.

Freed had stopped fussing and now sat with chin on his knees, watching Laxus with gentle eyes.

Makarov hoped Laxus recognized Freed's trustworthiness. He hoped they would have each other's backs, and he wouldn't have to worry for either of them so much.

These memories came back to him when Makarov went to Laxus's flat the morning after Freed's panicked entrance at the guild and Porlyusica's terrifying diagnosis of magic deficiency. Making sure Laxus would live took up all Makarov's mental space.

He only belatedly recognized the terror in Freed's eyes.

Receiving no reply after knocking for several minutes, Makarov let himself into his grandson's flat. Freed's runes parted for him as promised.

He wheeled to the bedroom and stopped.

The first thing he saw was Laxus, pale and unmoving on the futon. Looking so much younger than usual—more vulnerable.

Next to Laxus, books ringed a lump on the floor.

Freed had fallen asleep with his fingers tucked between several pages, legs curled under him, head on Laxus's chest. His hair pooled over the comforter, protective, proprietary. Like it could keep his boyfriend covered and safe. Freed had always been like that.

It was quite possible Freed had spent large portions of the last decade in love with Laxus.

Makarov was so glad they were dating—happy his grandson finally figured his shit out and recognized the strength of Freed's loyalty. But now when one of them got hurt, he worried about both of them twice as much.

When Freed nearly lost his arms and his life, and Laxus looked ready to electrocute someone, Makarov wanted to hit a wall, or hold Laxus, or something—he'd actually shouted at Porlyusica when she got snippy. Now he was begging the gods to give him Laxus back, while praying Freed would not crack into a thousand pieces in the meantime.

Smiling sadly, Makarov wheeled out to let Freed sleep.

Chapter Text

Two days after Ivan split Laxus's face open, they were in the kitchen, Ivan cooking himself breakfast while Laxus ate cold rice. His father hadn't spoken to him the last two days except for basic commands: Get up. Do your chores. Stay out of my way. Since Laxus's wounds were visible, he had to avoid the guild, and had been wrapped in silence for two days.

"Want to make it up to me, Laxus?" Ivan asked.

Laxus jerked so hard he choked on his food.

"Yes," he said, pouncing. This was landmark. Ivan so rarely gave him chances.

Putting down his chopsticks, Ivan looked at him for a long moment.

"When you're done, go pack. We're taking a multi-day trip."

"A job?"

"No. Training."

Laxus gaped. Ivan had never taken him out for anything that didn't earn money before.

As Laxus shoveled rice into his mouth, another question startled him, this one so gentle he almost didn't hear it.

"How's your face?" Ivan asked.

Swallowing, his hand flew to his right eye. The split skin was healing, but it was deep. Laxus prayed it didn't scar: he didn't know how he'd hide that. He'd begun concocting stories to explain it away.

"I'll make sure it disappears," Laxus said quickly, wanting to head off this line of questioning.

"Does it hurt?" Ivan asked, still serious and calm.

Laxus eyed his father. "No."


Ivan scraped food into his bowl, sat across from him, and began to eat.

"I haven't let anyone see," Laxus burst out.

"What?" Ivan frowned. "The scratch?"

"Yeah. I made sure nobody saw."

Ivan was still frowning, and Laxus's stomach rolled uncertainly.

"Why would that matter?"

"B-Because you said," Laxus stammered, "that you'd tell people I was…bad."

"I didn't say that."

That was true. He'd used another word.

"I just," Laxus muttered, becoming less and less sure, "you threatened. So I stayed home. Nobody's seen me."

"Threatened?" Ivan looked appalled. "I would never threaten you, Laxus. I'll tell you the truth, but I will never the weak resort to such cowardice to get what they want."

"Oh," was all Laxus could think to say.

Ivan's hand reached for him, making Laxus flinch, but the movement was soft, fingers pulling his chin up to look in his father's eyes.

"Is that what you think happened?" Ivan asked gently.

"N-No," Laxus murmured. A confusing mix of fear and relief spiraled through him. Fighting tears, he said, "I was scared."

"It's okay." A calloused thumb caressed Laxus's cheek, and he almost closed his eyes. "It's okay, son. You don't have to be afraid."

When Ivan pulled back to continue eating, Laxus let out the breath that had been trapped inside. Everything was okay.

"We're going to make you strong," Ivan said, piercing the yoke of his egg and letting it bleed into the rice. Glancing up, he smiled, the expression beaming uncertain sunlight through Laxus's body. "We'll make you strong and then you won't have to be afraid anymore."

"Okay," Laxus said.

Ivan understood. That was a relief and joy. And they would work on his problems together: Laxus's training with Ivan always improved his strength by leaps and bounds.

Rushing, Laxus cleaned his dishes and darted up to his room to pack. A multi-day trip. And Ivan was doing it all for him.

It turned out to be their hardest training yet.

Out in the woods far from any habitation, Ivan had his shikigami transform into snarling demons; possess animals; turn into walls and impediments hemming him in; transform into scared victims or precious research Laxus had to save. The violence was so real Laxus almost forgot the people were fake. The screams when he failed were haunting.

This was Ivan's magic at its finest: possessing creatures and transforming into the likeness of humans. He held a lacrima in his fist to enhance his power and keep the shikigami under control—that was the scariest thing of all. Laxus remembered what Ivan had told him about shikigami who got control of their master. The destruction would pale in comparison to this.

No wonder Ivan always stressed control.

When, at the end of Day One, Laxus ran out of magic power, the monsters swarmed him. It was one of the worst beatings he'd ever taken. But afterward Ivan showed him how to stop the cuts from bleeding and to wear tighter clothing to keep his limbs from swelling: that way he could continue to move and fight, and the bruises hurt less. If you could stave off the swelling, Ivan explained, they healed faster.

"Don't let me down," Ivan said, eyebrow raised, as they returned to the town where they were staying. "You need to be able to do this."

"Yes, Otousan."

"You're still afraid to hurt others. That's part of your problem. You had a clear shot at me and you didn't take it. I'm sorry, but you need to get over yourself. Do what you have to do. You can't actually get to me; but this is an opportunity to learn. When someone tries to overpower you, you overpower them first, no matter who they are. Loved ones will stab you in the back if it benefits them."

Shivering, Laxus nodded.

He could feel the hints of what failure would mean, like gusts of wind over a cliff's edge still a distance away but looming. All it took was one slip-up. Even if Ivan weren't yelling now, his anger was a close memory Laxus didn't want to contemplate. It hounded him: a dark threat which kept him on his toes, always running.

Turn the fear into a weapon: that's what he needed to do. If he feared Ivan's wrath, feared making him blow up again, then Laxus just needed to get stronger so it wouldn't happen. He could turn fear into anger and anger into power.

Chest tight, he focused forced the adrenaline in his body to do his will, clearing the pain from his consciousness.

He would do this. Tomorrow was a new day to start over.

On day two, Laxus did better. He hardly took a beating. Each day he improved, fine-tuning his control, using new spells. By day four, he was actually getting the hang of things.

Ivan was proud—even grinned when Laxus's attacks got particularly close.

That was Laxus's undoing.

He was so eager to please Ivan that the sight of that smile distracted him from what he was doing—

It was just one tiny misstep. Amazing how much damage that could do…

Ivan's anger was the cold, deadly kind. He didn't look at Laxus. Didn't say a word as they returned to their ryokan. Just turned and walked away through the trees.

Laxus had to stop to throw up—his ethernano sickness had kicked in—and though his body protested, he ran as best as he could after his father. Ivan strode several paces ahead, not letting Laxus catch up.

When Ivan went into their room, he spun on the threshold and hissed, "Stay out. I don't want to look at you. Maybe my daughter can go find a boy to distract her. How does that sound, twink? Then at least you'd have an excuse for why you failed."

He slid the door shut with a snap.

Laxus was left standing in the hallway, exhausted and alone.

Laxus hunted down food, but when he returned the door was still shut. Laxus lay down in front of it and tried to make himself smaller; he hated sleeping in hallways, not just because he occasionally got stepped on, but because of the stares in the morning. He wished he knew how to be invisible.

Luckily the tatami was soft, and his side not too bruised. Curled in a ball, his aching limbs got to rest.

He was thankful for lying down.

Tomorrow would begin the process of amelioration: serving, fetching, aiding, trying to anticipate Ivan's needs. He never knew how much it would take to get Ivan to look at him again. When he'd be worth the attention. He just had to work hard.

Worn out by anxiety, he slipped into sleep.

A hand shook Laxus awake before dawn. He didn't know where he was, why he was on top of his comforter, when he'd fallen asleep… It was all a jumble, but that didn't matter: Ivan was motioning at him.

When Ivan waved for him to follow, Laxus grabbed his shoes and hurried.

His father led them up a path that looked out from the cliff above the small town. Copying Ivan, Laxus stood with back straight and stared across the misted valley, hugging himself against the cold.

"How much are you willing to sacrifice in order to become a mature wizard?" Ivan asked.

Laxus said instantly, "Anything."

"Think about it first, Laxus. What you're willing to surrender—don't take this lightly. Power requires sacrifice, so the amount you surrender is directly proportional to your strength. The world only becomes better when we sacrifice our selfishness. When we let go of attachments. That's when we're truly strong.

"Comfort feels nice, but it's still weakness: anything we hold onto becomes something that can be taken away, destroyed, used against us. Even people. True power comes when we let go of our identities and our crutches, and accept ourselves as we are. Are you willing to give it all up? Because that's what you'd have to do."

Laxus stared at him, Ivan's face a jagged etching of shadows and sunrise light.

"Is that what you do?" he asked.

Ivan sighed.

"I didn't always. I used to think I could hold onto things. When you're mother died, it made me realize some things. How the things we think we love are never permanent."

Laxus's heart was beating fast. They hadn't talked about Kaasan in years.

"We can never know how tomorrow will turn out," Ivan continued. "People will die. You will get hurt at some point. You can hold onto the things that hurt you, or you can let them go. Letting go is hard, but it frees you. When you no longer care and love and hold on, your actions can be deliberate. Not emotional and reactive. You can change the world around you for the better, because you aren't weighed down with cares and worries that could at any moment stop you in your crusade.

"Sacrifice gives you self-control. You shed the emotions you can't control and become a person with full power over themselves. Someone thoughtful, effective, strong. Without that self-control, you can't hope to have power over others and you can't hope to truly change anything. Everything starts in your own soul."

As Laxus watched the valley transform with light, he knew with absolute certainty he wanted to be one of those people: self-controlled, purposeful. He didn't want to get hurt anymore, that was true, but he discovered an even stronger urge to make the pain stop for everyone. He wanted to be the person he dreamt of when he was little, pretending he could save the world.

It was what Mayu always said life was for. Back when she painted the world in the colors of her happiness, she said the reason people were alive was for creating beauty and meaning and goodness.

He still believed that. He hated beautiful things sometimes, and the way they made him feel, but he still wanted to create that world. Even if he would never live in it.

"If you're willing to sacrifice yourself," Ivan said, "your desires, your comforts, your selfishness, the things you care about—then I can make you strong. But you have to make a choice. Today. I was thinking last night: I have a way to strengthen you more than any training could, but it'll be hard on you. I won't do it unless it's what you want. I want you to think about it and make a decision about how far you're willing to go. Whether you're ready to give up everything.

"I know it's a lot to ask of a child, but I believe you're mature enough. You know how to make wise decisions when you want to, and you're at least good at knowing what you want. I trust you to think about this deeply and decide."

Ivan straightened and let out his breath, giving the valley one last look as he shifted toward the trail behind them.

He had his back to Laxus, walking away—and that spurred something in Laxus. This was always Ivan's posture toward him. Leaving for jobs, or receding into his workshop, or simply looking through Laxus as if he weren't there. Or ignoring him on purpose because he wasn't enough.

Laxus knew he was supposed to carefully consider Ivan's question. But he also knew the answer already. That answer wouldn't change. What did he actually have? Magic—and his body's aversion to it. His father, his grandfather.

There was nothing worth holding onto.

Jiisan would say friendships were worth it. But having friends had never helped Laxus when Ivan's fury turned on him like a rabid beast: friends were sometimes the reason Laxus had to bear those beatings.

Laxus's entire self was something he could afford to sacrifice. He'd messed up too many times. He needed to change.

"Tousan," he said, halting Ivan's steps. "I already know. I'll give up anything."

Ivan stared into his eyes, serious and considering. Laxus had never felt so much like an adult, an equal.

"Your friendships?" Ivan asked.


"Your reputation?"

"Yes," Laxus said, making a face. He was desperate to get rid of that.

"You're sure?"

Laxus's heart surged: this was all he needed. This love, right here. And power.

"Yes," Laxus said.

"The procedure will hurt."

"I'll handle it," he growled. With Ivan, his answer was always yes.

Ivan nodded.

"Follow me."

Laxus rarely ventured down into the basement lab, not welcome unless called for; the place scared him with its spiderlike, metal apparatuses and dim lights. On occasion he heard sounds from below when Ivan wasn't home, as if small things were protesting their captivity.

Ivan led the way and carefully put his parcel on a counter. Inside were the objects they'd picked up in Crocus and then several remote towns. Barred from witnessing negotiations, Laxus had no idea what they were.

As Ivan moved around the space preparing things, Laxus stood at the edge of the blue-white light. Even though Ivan led him down here, he felt superfluous, the laboratory watching him with unkind eyes.

"Remove your shirt and lie on the table," Ivan ordered, motioning to a metal surface.

Carefully, Laxus crossed the workshop, hoisted himself up, and took the garment off. Breaking out in gooseflesh from the cold, he lay awkwardly on the hard slab.

Ivan came back into view, setting a tray nearby.

"This will be…bad pain," Ivan said, coming to stand over him. "You're still sure you can handle it?"

"Yes," Laxus repeated with quiet ferocity.

"Okay. I believe you."

Ivan's hand twitched as if to touch his cheek. He turned away and began to rummage.

"You know, Laxus," he murmured, "you are the kind of person for whom greatness is possible."

Voice failing at these words, Laxus smiled.

"First, straps." Ivan threaded a leather cuff around Laxus's arm and cinched it, immobilizing his arm against the table. At Laxus's sharp inhale, he said, "You must stay in place during the procedure. This is delicate work, and I need you perfectly still."

Slowly, Laxus nodded.

When he was thoroughly tied down, Ivan walked over to find another tool and a small wave of fear washed over Laxus. He felt vulnerable. Exposed. He trusted his father, but he didn't like this lab, and he wanted to get this over with. The sooner the pain, the sooner he could test the new strength his father was giving him.

As Ivan settled at his side again, Laxus forced himself to take even breaths. Calm. Anxious adrenaline could be redirected into hyper-focus, like in a fight; this time he was memorizing the lines of his father's face, the tinkles and clanks of what Ivan was doing.

Leaning over him, Ivan inhaled.

"Are you ready?"

Laxus gave him a short nod. Ivan touched the blade to his chest.

Laxus made his mind jump anywhere, focus on anything, whatever it took to not wait for that incision. Pain was always worse when you tensed up. So he thought of his grandfather, of the guild, of the few people he called friends—and relaxed.

The first feeling was a sense of wrongness. He couldn't feel the blade actually sliding through his flesh, but he could feel pain blooming in its wake, blossoming a second later and making him take a sharp breath. Laxus grit his teeth.

After a few minutes, Ivan put the blade down—Laxus saw a flash of red—and picked up a different tool.

The pain exploded ten-fold. Pressure, pulling—it felt like he was being pried open. Laxus fought the reaction, but his mouth opened and noise came out, the desperate sounds of pain slipping past his throat.

It hurt. It hurt so much.

When he heard several cracks, nausea swirled around his head, tempting him to vomit. But he couldn't flip onto his side. Swallowing, he tried not to choke as another scream found its way out, and another.

It made him dizzy for air. All he existed of was the gaping hole where his chest should be and wasn't. Wasn't. He could feel himself opening in ways that shouldn't be possible.

Ivan didn't stop. Didn't look at him.

As his thoughts shattered over the pain, the gash down his cheek split again. Wetness accumulated along the jagged edge, above and below his eye, obscuring his vision. Still, it meant nothing compared to what was happening with his chest. Even though screaming hurt, he couldn't stop.

He heard his voice form words begging his father to stop. He needed a moment to collect himself. Or maybe he didn't need to be conscious. Maybe they could…

Despite his pleas, the pressure didn't let up.

"You can do this, Laxus," Ivan growled. "You must stay conscious. You wanted this, remember? I cannot save you."

When Ivan shifted, drops of blood landed on Laxus's face and liquid began to fill his lungs. His screams bubbled into silence.

His eyes flew so wide it hurt. Air. Needed air. He was dying.

Ivan seemed to notice—down the tunnel of his vision Laxus saw a raised eyebrow and prayed, begged that he hadn't disappointed Ivan already.

Muttering, Ivan touched something to his skin.

Electricity exploded through Laxus's chest. For one infinite second, all his muscles contracted from the overpowering charge, like he'd been hit by a lightning storm, like he'd become the lightning itself. In its wake, he could breathe again.

There were several more cracks as Ivan opened his ribcage further.

This was so, so wrong.

But on the other side of this pain lay power. Not having to be beaten anymore.

As pain beyond his ability to understand went on and on and on, his terror transformed into certainty: this was nothing more than a dream. It wasn't possible for real life to hurt this much. His father would never do this to him. This was simply a nightmare.

Laxus swam in and out of consciousness. The pain kept him on the edge: hurting too much to sleep, but too overwhelmed to stay awake.

Whenever his awareness cleared, Laxus became sure Ivan was torturing him. On purpose, for research, like the squirrel years ago.

Maybe Laxus deserved it.

He could feel each nerve in his chest like a thread, delicate, naked: ripped slowly out of him. He felt Ivan grating his veins open with sandpaper. It seemed every cell in his body was being tortured in sick and unfathomable ways into something unrecognizable.

He lived moment to moment. It was the only way to survive.

Through the fog, pounding and thuds that weren't Ivan's tools took shape. A crash and shouting and light. Shouting, screaming. Laxus was shrieking, pain along every nerve, strapped down and vulnerable, unable to defend himself, terrified.

He couldn't escape. He couldn't even die.

He saw a face like his grandfather's, but Laxus was in so much pain, strung out beyond his limits, that thoughts ceased.

Though he continued to scream, he did not remember.

Chapter Text

Freed stared out at the sunset, book in his lap. In his constant state of fear and alertness, only staying productive kept the adrenaline from exhausting him.

Porlyusica's device to force ethernanos through Laxus was working: he'd started warming up. Yet he hadn't woken. As that first day turned to night, Freed realized this wasn't going to magically get better.

It had been a week and a half now.

As the days slid by in long hours, Freed immersed himself in his books. The world grew dark and he turned on the single lamp; light dawned and Bicks brought him food; repeat.

The two times he left Laxus's side, once to buy necessities and once to do a daytime job with the Raijinshuu, Makarov had stayed with Laxus. Seeing the Master so old and worn, Freed remembered with a stab of guilt that he wasn't the only one hurting. By far.

The front door creaked that evening and Makarov wheeled in, Freed nodding from his place on the floor. He had one hand in Laxus's unmoving fingers, and other hand flipping pages and scribbling notes. The guildmaster settled on Laxus's other side in silence.

"Anything new?" Makarov asked after some time.

Freed had to swallow, voice dry.

"Here and there," he said, not in the mood to explain the linguistics.

Makarov grunted and shifted.

"Freed," Makarov asked, "are you happy?"

Sighing, Freed put down his pen.

"What do you mean?"

"I don't mean with this situation. I mean with your life."

Looking down at the handsome, expressionless face between them, Freed squeezed his boyfriend's hand.

"Yes," he said quietly.

When he looked up, he found Makarov smiling. Freed smiled back—before reality crashed back down. His boyfriend was unresponsive. Freed hadn't eaten a full meal in days. His life might never go back to what it was. The person he loved and swore to protect was half-dead, and the man who did it was laughing in prison.

Lowering his eyes, he gripped Laxus's hand fiercely.

"Was Laxus different when he was young?" he asked, taking a clearing breath. "Before I knew him?"

"Oh yes. He was the happiest baby, laughed all the time. Hard to picture," Makarov chuckled.

Infancy was the only time Laxus enjoyed innocence: Freed imagined what he would've been like if no one hurt him. The picture was a very different one. A Laxus more truly himself.

"I…can, actually."

"Perhaps it's easier now that some of that gaiety is coming back."

Freed frowned. "It is?"

Makarov just stared at Laxus's face.

"He loved everyone when he was little. Before the magic and getting sick—long before that. Anyone could hold him and he'd be happy. He loved everyone, but especially his mother. Laxus was absolutely devoted to her."

Painful yearning hit Freed's chest.

"What was she like?" he asked. He was suddenly desperate to know every piece of Laxus. As if he could get closer to Laxus through the knowledge, contact him through his past.

"Sadly, I didn't know Mayu well. She was shy but sweet. A doer more than a talker, although she used to chatter with Laxus all the time, even before he could talk: they had conversations completely in gibberish. It was rather cute," Makarov admitted. "I wish I'd known her better. Ivan and I weren't on…the best terms. It was a functional relationship: at the time I thought that was good enough. It's something I've always regretted."

The Master stared out the window. He'd never been this open before.

"Mayu leaving was what changed everything for their family. She held them together—I think she was the rock that grounded both Laxus and Ivan. Not that my son could acknowledge that with all his stupid pride," Makarov spat. "Didn't realize how much he loved her until it was too late. Her abandonment shattered them permanently. Neither Ivan nor Laxus ever got over it."

Freed frowned. "Wait. I thought she died."

"She did. But first she left." Makarov looked over. "I thought you knew."

"I thought it was a euphemism. I thought she died at home when Laxus was young."

"She moved to another town—Ivan searched for her but never found her. Six months later, she was found dead from a fatal interaction between two medicines. We never knew if it was accidental or suicide."

Freed put a hand over his mouth.

"Goddess," he murmured. "No wonder Laxus never talks about it."

"Ever?" Makarov asked.

"Laxus isn't the most expressive person in the best of times."

"I know. But I thought with you…"

Freed's lips quirked into a sad, twisted smile. "We've been…preoccupied."

"True," Makarov said, giving Freed the decency of avoiding his eyes.

Not even a month dating, and they'd both almost died and spent long chunks of time unconscious or immobile.

Only this time it was worse. This time he couldn't talk to Laxus. Freed had hated not being able to use his arms for a week, but they'd still had each other at least.

This time, he was alone.

Maybe one day Laxus would've told him about his mother. One day Freed would've asked him these questions, and it would be Laxus's cool voice unfolding the history of the walls around his heart. Laxus, warm against him. One day.

But there might not be a one day anymore.

"Why did Mayu leave them?" Freed asked quickly, swallowing the hiccough in his throat.

"I used to think she was simply following her own happiness, too selfish to care how it affected her family—that she lied to all of us about what kind of person she was. But after…everything Ivan did, with Laxus, with everything…I realized it was probably him she fled from. He was…possibly abusing her."

Tilting his head, Freed opened his mouth. Makarov beat him to it.

"I've never had the heart to ask him. Laxus never talked about her."

Freed nodded faintly. "Oh."

From what little Laxus said of his father, Freed thought the chance of Ivan abusing Mayu was close to one hundred.

"I never saw Mayu much outside their home," Makarov said. "Ivan kept their family apart from others. But she struck me as a woman who would do anything for her child. And, I think, a woman who sacrificed herself for others. There were times when she and Ivan fought terribly, but she always loved Laxus. Did everything with him; took him all sorts of places. Ivan and she tried to have other children, but never could. Laxus was her light. Even a casual observer could tell that."

"Laxus loved her back," Freed whispered. "With all his heart."

And then she died, and Laxus spent the next years of his life being broken apart by his other parent. And Freed said nothing, and Makarov did nothing, even though there were signs, because they hadn't wanted to see. It took Laxus almost dying for anyone to try to help him. For anyone to care enough.

And people wondered why Laxus trusted nobody.

Except me. For some reason he trusted me.

"He has a big heart under all that anger," Makarov said. "Which I think you know better than anyone."

Nodding, Freed pressed a hand to his throat, trying hard not to let out the painful sounds building inside him. The pressure in his heart would only go away when he solved the runes and Laxus woke up again. When he fulfilled Laxus's trust in him.

A few days later, Freed identified the rune family—a common base for more complex enchantments—but still hadn't pinned down the language. He wasn't even sure he'd recognize it if he found it. Freed had tried to memorize the runes on all the dolls in his few seconds of scrutiny, but he was sure he'd missed some, which made interpreting them harder. And he didn't know what order they went in.

He had no clue what was afflicting his beloved. No closer. Still worthless in his researching.

A quiet exhale made him whirl.

This happened several times a day. Laxus would breathe heavier, as if waking. His eyes fluttered behind his lids. Freed began to dread it, darting over only to see Laxus lying still.

Hating his hopefulness, Freed watched Laxus's face contort through expressions. He wondered constantly if Laxus were dreaming, or if his mind were simply dark.

Laxus blinked.

As Freed stared, his orange eyes opened fully.

"Holy shit." Freed's book slipped from his hands and crashed to the floor. "Holy shit, Laxus."

Paralyzed, it took him a moment to rush over and grab Laxus's hand.

"You're awake. Laxus? Are you with me? Oh Goddess. Laxus, please stay with me." Something like hysteria made Freed dizzy. Had to stay calm. His other hand frantically searched the floor next to him, seeking the communication lacrima, something. Something that would help.

Laxus's eyebrows scrunched, groggy. "Hey."

Freed laughed wildly and kissed Laxus's knuckles.

"Laxus. Holy fuck. H-How do you feel?"

"Like shit." Laxus ran his free hand through his hair, moving slowly like his joints ached. "What happened?"

"You collapsed." Freed's throat tightened. "In the shower, your body drained of ethernanos. You got horribly cold, and you stopped taking in ambient ether, and…gods, I thought…fuck."

Laxus touched the device on his chest.

"What's this?"

"It forces ethernanos through you."

"You did this?"


The Dragon Slayer's expression jumped. "Damn. That bad?"

Freed just nodded. He didn't know how he felt: relieved, exhausted, even more on edge. Was it over? Was it okay?

Frowning at his expression, Laxus squeezed his hand.

"Are you really awake now?" Freed whispered. Cruelty could make it a hallucination. He hadn't slept much lately. What if it were a dream?

"I'm here, Freed. I'm awake."

The breath Freed let out was shaky.

"Porlyusica thinks there was a curse on your lacrima," he said. He needed to keep talking. "Activated by swallowing me."

Laxus grimaced.

"I had to tell her. Sorry."

When Laxus waved a hand, the gesture was unsteady.

"So that bastard did this."


"Fucker," Laxus rumbled. "So that's what he meant about being inadequate with you."


Laxus snorted. "Asshole."

Freed couldn't laugh. Not right now.

As Laxus's eyes wandered to the ceiling, pallor spread across his features. Like Laxus had realized something. He touched the device on his chest again, frowning.

Freed had a horrible sense things were not better yet.

When Laxus struggled to sit up, Freed tried to stop him, but Laxus pushed through while Freed hovered, uncertain, stomach buzzing. Laxus stared down at one of his palms.

"F…Freed…" he said breathily.

Freed shivered. "Don't—don't do that."


"Say my name like you're dying. Like when you passed out."

Laxus stared at him.

"Just don't." Freed swallowed. "Please? I…"

Laxus touched his cheek. Freed gasped and nearly started crying.

He wished he could read Laxus's mind. He wished he could make everything better. Solve every problem and make everything right.

Laxus tried to rise, but Freed grew insistent this time—and it took appallingly little force to make him lie down.

"Please keep resting, Laxus."

Laxus closed his eyes, a long and weary sigh escaping. "Okay."

Laxus woke again to the strange nothingness in his chest. Like cold or hunger, except he was neither of those things. He felt disconnected, the world on mute.

Freed lay passed out beside him, curled on his side with Laxus's hand clasped tight against his chest—which would've been sweet if Laxus couldn't see the anxiety in every rigid line of Freed's body.

Freed looked grey, thin, and run-down. Aside from injury or illness, it was the worst Laxus had ever seen him, and it shamed him. He'd done this to Freed. Laxus, who had no right at all to cause Freed to worry.

When Laxus readjusted slightly, Freed shot upright and Laxus jumped.

"Are you okay?" the rune mage gasped. "Did something change? Do you need anything?"

"Lie back down," Laxus ordered. "Goddess, you're making me nervous."

"Sorry." Freed reclined, eyes fixed on Laxus's face, watching his every move, twitching as if to jump into action.

This wasn't any better.

"Were you actually asleep?" Laxus asked.

"Huh? Yes. Well, I think so."

"Have you eaten, Freed? Slept at all recently? Anything?"

Freed's gaze finally skittered away. "A little."

Laxus put his palm to Freed's cheek as they stared at each other. Freed's eyes softened, but he still looked scared.

The horrible emptiness in Laxus's chest was cold and barren. Things were missing inside him. Vital things. He was different, and it was awful, and it was wrong. If he focused on taking care of Freed, he wouldn't have to think about it.

"Oh, shit." Freed jerked up, pulse loud and rapid. "Master. Porlyusica."

He fumbled through disorganized piles scattered around the futon—spellbooks, pencil shavings, a blanket lying in a curved heap as if it had slipped off Freed's shoulders. A plate lay cast aside with half-eaten dumplings that smelled old.

The clutter made Laxus frown. This wasn't like Freed at all.

"There you are," Freed muttered, finding a communication lacrima.

"What are you doing?"

Freed looked around. "I forgot to tell them you woke up."

Laxus closed his eyes. Ugh.

"Do we have to?"

"Yes. Master was more worried than I've ever seen him."


"Almost," Freed amended. "Second-most."

"Oh." Laxus stared at the ceiling, not sure what to say to that.

After a few seconds, Freed dialed.

"Laxus is conscious," he said.

Laxus only half-listened to his grandfather's exclamation. In their brief conversation, Makarov left many pauses, which were more telling than anything else. He'd been worried.

Porlyusica's only response was a grunt. More surprised than usual, so that was something.

"They're both on their way." Freed slumped, energy rushing out of him. "I put more wards on the flat. Only people who can approach the door besides Ever and Bicks are those two. I can rescind their access after this if you prefer."

"It's fine, Freed."

"Just let me know. Anything you need. Anything."

Freed hung his head, glaring down at his hands, looking lost and almost guilty. Laxus sighed and sat up.

Tried to sit up. Pain lanced through him, making him slam a hand down to support himself. He clutched at his chest. Like he couldn't breathe. Except he felt air flowing in and out. Fear spasmed through his body, because the only time he'd felt something like this was when his lacrima was inserted.

"Don't overwork." Freed was right there, hands on Laxus's shoulders, face so close. "Lean on me."

"I'm fine."

"You are not fine," Freed snapped.

Growling, Laxus straightened despite the pain and grabbed him: hard, noncompliant. As he pulled Freed against his chest, Freed quivered, long fingers fisting in Laxus's shirt.

Laxus wouldn't try to get him to stop caring. If nothing else, Freed had earned it. But Laxus wouldn't let him stress himself to death. This constant fear unnerved him. This Freed was a different person.

"I love you," Laxus rumbled. "Don't forget that."

A half-gasp, half-laugh burst out of Freed's chest.

"I missed you."

Laxus inhaled the scent of Freed's hair.

"So what did I miss?" Laxus glanced around. "Has it been a whole day?"

"Fourteen days, Laxus."

Laxus jolted. "What?"

"I told you that you weren't okay."

Laxus held him closer, massaged down Freed's spine. The bones were unusually sharp. Thin. Not right.

"I'd like to try standing up," Laxus murmured after a minute.

Freed rose and offered him a hand—only one hand, but Laxus wasn't alert enough to notice.

Once upon a time, Laxus would've never admitted he needed that strong arm pulling him up, nor how much it hurt to rise. He didn't look at Freed's face, knowing his intelligent boyfriend could read his grimace. Instead he leaned obediently on Freed as they walked to the kitchen.

When he reached to get water, Freed huffed, "I could've brought you a drink."

Laxus gave him a look.

"Sorry," Freed said.

"It's okay."

The pounding on the door made both of them startle—Laxus hadn't even heard the footsteps. Freed darted toward the door, but it opened and Makarov pushed inside.

"Laxus? Laxus…"

When the old man clapped eyes on him, something soft and needy crossed his face. The things he and Laxus were so bad at expressing sparked in the silent room, shocking Laxus to his soles. Foreign emotion rose in his chest. Young and wanting. Seeking comfort.

"Laxus." Makarov's voice cracked.

"Yo, Jijii."

"You were out two weeks. Two weeks." Makarov voice slid into a growl. "You drove everyone insane worrying. You nearly made your boyfriend sick. Which made everyone worry more."

In the corner, Freed shrank in on himself.

"I'm sorry, okay?" Laxus said. "Gods, it's not like I chose this."

"I know you didn't." Makarov glared at the far wall. "My fucking son did this."

"Jijii—" Laxus began, then looked away. What was there to say? They'd stopped having this conversation a long time ago. "Never mind."

"How…do you feel?" Makarov eyed him.

Laxus knew he was glaring, but there was no good answer. Admitting his pain and getting pity, which Laxus didn't want, or lying even though they'd all know it was a lie.

"He's walking on his own," Freed interjected. "That's big."

Laxus, leaning heavily on the counter, didn't correct him.

A loud grunt from the doorway announced Porlyusica's arrival.

"Were you two camping out downstairs?" Laxus sniped.

Pushing around Makarov, she walked right up to Laxus and began tapping the thing on his chest. Laxus was discomfited by this invasion of his space, but even more discomfited by the idea of her anger, so he stayed still.

"The thing's still working," she announced. "It's unclear whether your body is pulling in any ethernanos on its own, but I want to leave the lacrima on a bit longer before we find out. Get you back up to rosy health."

She gave him a wry, sarcastic smile that Laxus returned.

"Guess your tricks are still good," he said.

"Be glad they are, or you'd be dead," she said, poking him in the chest with a sharp finger. "Now rest and recover, or whatever it is you young people do to regain your strength. Preferably no fighting, since your magic will be out of commission."

Laxus squirmed.

"Yeah, I…felt that."

Her eyebrows rose. "He's actually listening to sense this time. What happened to you while you were unconscious?"


She took a step back, looked him up and down, and nodded in satisfaction.

"Welcome back, runt."

Laxus snarled at her retreating back. He'd always hated that nickname.

As she ducked out the door again without fanfare, Laxus found his grandfather still staring at him, through him, inscrutable.

"You really are okay?" Makarov asked.

"It's like Freed said: I'm walking around," Laxus said stubbornly.

Makarov sighed.

"I'll let you rest. But I want to talk later. When you're better. For now, I guess I'll let you…get back to things."

Laxus didn't know what to say as the old man turned to go. Makarov had pulled the door almost shut when he paused and murmured, "I love you, Laxus."

The door clicked.

Laxus stared.

Makarov hadn't said that to him in years.

Freed's deflating sigh brought him back to himself. He did look ill, drooping where he stood.

"I'm starving. I want to make dinner with you," Laxus said. There was no way he would make Freed do anything for him right now. "If that's alright, of course. If you're too tired, I can—"

"Of course I'll help," Freed interrupted. "I'll cook anything you want."

"Give me a moment to decide," Laxus smiled.

As he moved in the direction of the toilet, Freed hurried to help him walk, but Laxus raised a hand.

"I'll be alright," he said, hoping to convince both of them.

The trek down the hall was wobbly, but he managed not to fall.

As he stepped into the room, a strange smell made his nose scrunch—and he stopped dead.

"Freed!" he shouted.

Alarmed footsteps ran down the hall.


"Your blood," Laxus stammered, emotion freezing his brain. When he opened the bin, he saw the contents and heat flared in his chest. When he looked over, Freed's face fell.

"Why is your blood on—on bandages? What happened?!"

"It's nothing—nothing… I can't believe I forgot to take out the trash." Freed was using his soothing voice. He scrambled to push the lid back down, hiding the rust-brown sight. "I'm honestly fine."

"Don't start with that," Laxus growled. "I'm only injured, not a child."

Freed's shoulders hunched.

After a second, he undid the buttons of his shirt.

When the garment slid off his shoulders, Laxus saw the deep, still-healing scars on his left arm, and on his right, a swath of new bandages. Thick ones.

"Holy shit."

"I was lifting…something heavy, and the wound tore. It's okay." Freed rubbed his arm carefully. "Just re-healing."

Laxus reached for him and Freed leaned into his embrace, sighing, face tilted into Laxus's neck. As Laxus ran a gentle hand over his back, Freed pulled him tighter.

"I'm sorry the smell freaked you out," Freed said. "I imagine it's frustrating waking up and not knowing what's been happening. But I swear, I am alright. With you awake, I'm finally breathing again."


Freed chuckled and Laxus hugged him close.

"May I kiss you?" Laxus asked.

"Of course."

Freed tilted his head and gave Laxus that warm smile that Laxus was in love with.

Then they were kissing, and Laxus could feel that smile curling against his lips. He felt full knowing that despite how much fear and stress he involuntarily caused Freed, he could make him happy, too. He could help Freed relax.

The kiss was a long one, neither of them interested in pulling away. He drew Freed closer until they were chest to chest, and explored Freed's mouth with his tongue. He liked Freed shirtless: could feel the warm contours of muscle and bone. His fingers slithered lower and lower, until he pushed into the waist of Freed's trousers.

"Don't!" Freed cried, jerking back, out of Laxus's arms. His head cracked against the doorframe as he tripped backward, stumbling out of the room, and Laxus made a noise of consternation.

Freed's back slammed into the hallway wall. He was panting, pupils wide. Laxus reached toward him, but couldn't move.

"I'm sorry," Freed stuttered. "I'm so sorry, I just… I'm sorry."

Laxus's fingers clenched the air.

"Don't what?"

"I don't want to do it to you again." The rune mage hugged himself as his teeth began to chatter.

"Do—?" Laxus's face darkened. "None of this was even close to your fault."

"Not on purpose," Freed whispered. "That's worse."

"None of it was you." Anger pounded beneath Laxus's skin. "That was my father, one hundred fucking percent. Don't you dare take responsibility for his…crimes."

When Freed inhaled, Laxus took a step.

"But what if it happens again?" Freed shrieked, making Laxus halt. "What if you collapse—only this time, I can't wake you?"

"Won't happen."

"You don't know that!"

"So I'll never swallow," Laxus said sarcastically.

Freed's murderous glare shut him up.

"Please, Freed. Please…"

Laxus couldn't say, I need you, because in the state Freed was in, he'd strip just to care for Laxus. When Freed panicked, he tended to stop thinking about his own consent. Laxus didn't even want sex: he just wanted closeness. Affirmation. To show Freed he cared.

"What do you need?" Laxus asked slowly.

Freed pulled in on himself even more.

"I want to take care of you," Laxus said, the admission difficult with Freed so far away. He felt cold all over. Alone.

"Please," Freed whispered. "I missed you. Please h-hug me."

"Let me." Another step. Laxus reached out and lightly caressed Freed's shoulder. "I won't put my mouth anywhere near your dick or any other risky thing. I just want to hold you. That's it."

Eyes closing, Freed released a long, shaky breath. Straightening his shoulders, he pushed into Laxus's touch and nodded.

When Laxus pulled Freed into his arms, relief radiated physically through Freed's body. He gripped Laxus hard, fingers shaking, and took long, even breaths against Laxus's collarbone. Laxus slid a hand around the back of his neck and began kissing across Freed's forehead.

"You say such beautiful things to me sometimes," Freed murmured, voice cracking.

"Of course I do."

Freed made a soft, haunted sound when Laxus's fingers grazed his cheek.

"Why?" he whispered.

Laxus kissed him harder. "You're really going to ask me that?"

Laxus's lips traversed Freed's skin gently and slowly, like ripples flowing through water. Freed hadn't expected a real answer and Laxus hadn't given him one. The only answers were worthless platitudes.

But in his weariness, Freed was filled with a single restless question.

How much time do I have left with you before something terrible happens?

Chapter Text

Waking up was the most painful thing Laxus had ever done in his twelve brief years of life.

He was in an unfamiliar room. Strangers kept telling him it would be alright. But it was not alright: their voices were shouts in his sensitive ears, a thousand soundless things now audible to him. Smells, sounds, sights; he tasted scents on his tongue, felt tremors of noise upon the air.

The lights were too bright, and when he opened his eyes, he could see everything in horrifying detail, down to the tiny mite struggling to pull itself across the woven threads of his blanket. It was a fever-dream come true.

When he looked out the window, the world leapt toward him in high definition, and Laxus started crying, tears blessedly blurring his vision.

Worst of all, he could feel the pain in extreme detail.

Every stitch and staple in his chest throbbed in its own rhythm, and there was a cold bubble in his chest, weighing him down and pressing on his lungs, and nothing could pop it. It wouldn't go away, just kept weighing him down.

Laxus passed out again almost immediately.

As consciousness returned in bits and pieces, a few minutes here, a groggy half hour there, he became intimately familiar with his body and his injuries, until he knew every twinge by heart.

In those semi-lucid times, he overheard things—conversations down the hall in vivid detail—and pieced together the story.

Makarov had grown worried when he hadn't seen Laxus for a week: Ivan had disappeared with Laxus without taking a job. When a neighbor ran to Fairy Tail saying they heard screaming, that was all it took.

Makarov brought two strong guildmembers with him, and when Ivan fought back, trying to keep them from Laxus, they subdued him in a matter of minutes. During that time, Laxus lay unattended, gaping hole in his chest pumping out blood.

People stressed the grotesqueness over and over, the story growing with each retelling.

When they changed his bandages, Laxus's world consisted entirely of the pain of wounds glued to linen with blood, of incisions made jagged and rewrapped in burning pressure.

The nurse didn't understand this. When Laxus thrashed, he chided Laxus—said he could be brave, said he'd been through worse and that part was over now. But every tearing of healing cells felt like blades gutting him and pulling his organs out. Reminding him of having his chest open, organs bare, like someone could pluck his heart out as he watched.

His screams eventually got the message across.

So they strapped him down.

Every time they had to change the dressings, they immobilized him, and that was a thousand times worse. Laxus could only remember being tied to the laboratory table and tortured.

So he taught himself, in very short order, to stay utterly silent. He learned to immerse himself in the pain and stop caring. His pain did not matter.

Thank gods, they stopped strapping him down.

With the enhanced senses, he kept his eyes closed a lot, and slept a lot, and between the two, he managed not to go insane.

Listening became his pastime. He'd nearly died—people said this in amazed whispers—but Fairy Tail's master had picked him up, grown so large he merely had to take one step, then put him down at the hospital which, thanks to Fairy Tail's history, specialized in magical wounds.

They put him back together again, put his organs where they were supposed to go—mostly: arranged around the lacrima they couldn't get out of his chest. However Ivan wove the magic into Laxus's body, he completed that before Makarov arrived. And that was a huge consolation: Laxus would've hurt himself if they'd undone what his father did. He had to get the power he'd been promised.

They couldn't remove it, but they stopped the hemorrhaging that had resulted when Makarov and his people interrupted Ivan in the act of sewing Laxus up. They saved Laxus's life, but he was hurting too much to have the energy for gratitude.

Beside him, his grandfather was an unstoppable, unapologetic force. Makarov wouldn't accept any answer that wasn't what he wanted. The only emotion he showed beside anxiety was white-faced ire.

Laxus wondered what his grandfather had seen.

Someone said dark scarlet lay pooling and spattered everywhere when Makarov cut the straps and lifted him from the table. Laxus knew from his father how much blood a body could spare before dying, and that sounded like too much.

An exaggeration.

Many times when awareness swam through Laxus's brain, Makarov was by his side. His was the first scent Laxus became attuned to—Laxus could smell him from a long way. Makarov's hand in his, holding tight, anchored Laxus. He couldn't bear to tell his grandfather it hurt his still-overly-sensitive skin: he needed that hand. Needed the reassurance it offered.

Laxus didn't talk. If he opened his mouth, half the time the only sound was a choked whimper.

So he kept listening. He learned from Makarov's heartbeat how the human body changed when falling asleep, when woken suddenly because its grandson cried out in pain, or how it sounded after eating.

The first time Laxus laughed was when his grandfather's gut made an intricate, bubbly, percolating sound. It startled Laxus so much that a single giggle burst out of him like a fledging bird.

Makarov jolted and looked over—Laxus cracked his eyes to see his grandfather with his mouth open. Laxus relaxed into the bed, listening to the hilarious noises of unhappy digestion. These extra senses, it turned out, could be amusing.

Though it seemed to take forever for Laxus to heal, he heard them saying he improved faster than he should for wounds that extensive. That made him proud. He was stronger—could feel it in his body, though he was still in too much pain to use his magic. He could not wait to get better.

On his fourth day, he sat up and ate a meal of mandarin jelly and plain okayu without help. He was moving his arms around (slowly), doing basic things on his own. Makarov watched until Laxus finished eating.

"How are you feeling, Laxus?"

Laxus swallowed a few times, licking his fingers and not looking at him.


"I'm sorry."

Valiantly as Makarov tried to hide it, Laxus heard the warble in his voice. Laxus didn't say anything more, too afraid of making his grandfather more upset.

During the long silence that followed, Laxus pictured himself with flesh pulled open. Had it scared Makarov? Did he get scared?

"I should've come sooner," his grandfather said. "I'm so, so sorry."

Shrugging, Laxus stared down at his fingers knotted in the comforter. This was all the price of rebirth. He was stronger now. The corner of his mind that had broken under his father's hands—it didn't matter. Laxus could shove aside everything that had happened to him if it meant strength.

Assuming he was stronger. Ivan had promised, but he wasn't as sure as he used to be that Ivan's promises held weight. His father hadn't visited him, and Makarov refused to say his name.

If Laxus was stronger, he ought to be more courageous too. So he took a deep breath.

"Where's Tousan?"

Makarov clenched his armrests.

"Locked up."

"What?" Laxus gasped. "You…imprisoned him?"

His grandfather's repulsed sneer silenced him.

"Yes, I did."

Quiet cut between them. Laxus couldn't believe it. Tousan is locked up. Which meant Laxus needed to get better so they would release Ivan and let things return to normal. No wonder his father hadn't come.

It's not that he doesn't love me.

He was still gaping at his grandfather when a rhythm of rapid strides made Laxus look toward the door. Someone with short legs.

"Someone's visiting?" he asked. Many people walked down that hall, but none were other children.

"Yes," Makarov said. "You have a visitor today. I thought it might help your boredom. Though if you get tired—anything—you can have whatever you need. Silence; sleep; don't hesitate to ask."

Laxus grunted.

At a tentative knock, Makarov said, "Come in."

Even before seeing who it was, Laxus could guess: those footsteps had been precise and he smelled the pleasant tang of some kind of hair product.

Freed peered around the door.

Laxus watched the other boy as Makarov motioned him in and Freed crossed to Laxus's side. Freed's scent was layered and complex, and Laxus instantly set about trying to memorize it, like he had with his grandfather and the nurses and the kind woman he'd found out was his surgeon. People were scents, he was discovering. Each was different.

He could also see every detail of Freed's slightly-windswept hair and cheeks flushed from the cold. Laxus heard the clicking joints as Freed twisted his fingers, and catalogued the unique bump of Freed's heartbeat. He looked paler than normal, and tasted like salt.

"Yo," Laxus said, as Freed sat on a chair. "How are you?"

Freed turned scarlet.

"Fine," he said. "How are you?"


Freed surveyed his bandages.

"I found a new book of lightning spells," Freed said.

Laxus's face twisted into a smile. The expression was so ill-used it felt strange. But it was a genuine smile, and it made Freed light up in return. If Laxus had looked to his other side, he would've been startled and embarrassed by how much emotion swam through his grandfather's expression.

"Any good ones?" Laxus asked.

"More than a few, and they're all new ones we haven't found before."

"Just a few more days, then I can try them out," Laxus said. He would make that statement true. "The magic to grow my ribs back together is working really well."

Freed's eyes went so round they looked like they might fall out of his head. Breath quick, he glanced down at Laxus's chest again.

"Your ribs…got broken?" he asked.

"More like cut into pieces. The hole in my chest was this big," he added proudly, motioning with his hands.

"W-What?" Freed gasped, pale. "A hole?"

"How else do you think the lacrima got put in there?"

At these words, Freed's brow bent and he glanced over at Makarov. Confused, Laxus stared between them.

"I haven't told anyone about your lacrima, Laxus," his grandfather said quietly. "Only the doctor and surgeon know about it."

"Oh." Laxus frowned, turning back to Freed, timid. "I…have a lacrima inside me."

"Wow," Freed whispered in awe. Straightening as if to salute, he said, "I'll keep your secret, Laxus. Promise."

Laxus nodded.

It made sense to keep it secret, he supposed. Aside from Ivan's constant admonitions to never trust anyone, keeping it secret would give him an edge against enemies. Plus it might be useful if nobody in the guild knew he had the same delicate senses as Natsu Dragneel.

"So you have a hole in your chest," Freed said reverently. "That must hurt."

"It does," Laxus said with a proud grin. "So did you bring the book?"

"They wouldn't let me. Claimed it would strain you," Freed said, irritated. "But I brought cards."

"Awesome. Will you play with us, Jiisan?"

"Not right now. I have some people I need to talk to. Freed can keep you company until I get back."

Freed nodded as if this were a solemn duty.

They played games, talked about missions and guildmembers, and Freed (at Laxus's urging) doodled with his magic while they speculated about potential spells. It was the first afternoon Laxus was not bored stiff, nor noticing the pain every other minute. Sensations faded to a manageable degree when he had something to focus on, and he began to understand why Dragneel was always doing something.

But it also tired him out. After nearly three hours, Makarov hadn't returned, and Laxus was yawning every few seconds. Freed finally said, "We can stop."

Laxus, too exhausted to pretend, nodded.

"Do you want to sleep?" Freed asked, rising, picking up the second blanket Laxus had kicked off earlier, and handing it to him.

"What are you going to do?" Laxus asked.

"I said I'd stay, so I'll just sit here quietly." Freed smiled. "I enjoy doing that. It's when I come up with the best spell ideas."

"Okay. Come up with some good ones," Laxus yawned.

"Will do."

Laxus sank into his pillows and cracked an eye just wide enough to see Freed settling in the chair with his feet under him, eyes on the window and the world beyond.

It made Laxus nervous to sleep in front of anyone. But if he had to trust someone right now, it might as well be Freed. Freed would not hurt him.

Laxus got out of the hospital, but things did not return to normal.

Ivan was not released. Laxus moved in with his grandfather. When he returned to the guild, he pulled away from the other children—Wan, Strauss, Alors, even Freed, whom he only saw when they holed up in the library. Laxus receded into himself, too overwhelmed to even try out his new magic for the first week: there was too much else to take in.

His new nose and new sight and new hearing. The world was fucking alive with senses. He gave Dragneel a little credit for being as intelligent as the idiot was—it was hard for Laxus to focus on anything.

Okay, and his body was still recovering: that was the other reason he couldn't try his new magic. Pain still radiated from his chest, but he hid that from everyone.

Isolation was going to be his new normal. His only safety was in lies. That was one of Ivan's more successful lessons.

Laxus missed him.

Expressing what he wanted had always been hard for him, but one evening Laxus finally worked up the words to ask Makarov:

"When can I see him again?"

Standing at the stove, Makarov froze.

"You want to see your father?"

Laxus shied away. "Yes."

Makarov stared at him for a moment.

"Fine," he said.

There was a room in the basement of Fairy Tail that sealed off magic. Sometimes they had to restrain mages before handing them over to the Council's knights, and other times they had to restrain their own. Like now.

Laxus waited outside the door as Makarov went in.

"You'll be nice to him," he heard Makarov growl.

"Finally brought me my son?" Ivan spat.

"Did you hear me? Play nice."

A huff—Laxus could picture his father's eye roll.

"Bring him in, old man."

The door opened.

Laxus shuffled in behind his grandfather, suddenly shy. It had been so long—not in days, for Ivan had taken missions which lasted longer, but in lifetimes. In change.

With Ivan restrained by a metal grate, they had to trek across the room to get close.

"Tousan?" Laxus said tentatively.


There wasn't the warmth in his father's face that he was hoping for, but he wasn't angry, either. He looked tired: careworn and unkempt. Kneeling by the bars, Ivan looked at him from eye-level.

"Are you okay?" Laxus asked in a tiny voice.

"Do I look okay?" Ivan raised an eyebrow, then shook his head. "Tell me about your new magic. Are your senses working well? How do they feel?"

Laxus looked down at his fingers, clenching them in and out. "Good."

"And your magic power: stronger?"


"You've been able to use the draconic spells?"

"I…don't know," Laxus admitted. "I haven't tried them yet."

"Haven't—? Laxus! What was the whole reason we did this?"

"So I could be strong," Laxus mumbled.

"So you could be strong. What's the point if you're not going to use it?"

"Alright," Makarov said, stepping closer. "This isn't why we're here."

"No, Otousan: stay out of this," Ivan ordered, facing him. "He's my son."

"He's a person, and he belongs to himself."

"That may be," Ivan said airily, "but to every person, other people are merely tools. You would know."

Hissing in surprised anger, Makarov pulled Laxus behind him.

"Tools? Watch your mouth, Ivan. He's a child."

"I'm not a child," Laxus protested. After everything, he still wasn't allowed to speak for himself.

Ivan stood and made a hand gesture at Makarov. Makarov reeled back in shock.

"Let me speak to my son in peace," Ivan said. "He's mine: I created him, fed him, worked hard to keep him clothed and housed. I did, not you. You were never there: I was. He's my son. Let me speak to him."

"Laxus, leave us," Makarov ordered.

Fear scrabbled at Laxus's throat.

"Wait—" he tried, but Makarov pushed him back further, out of reach of the bars. As if he feared Ivan would grab him.

Ivan and Makarov sneered at each other.

"You've hurt your child enough," Makarov said. "He's not yours, Ivan; he never was. If you can't understand that, you don't deserve to be a father."

"Hurt him?" Ivan laughed in disbelief. "That's what you're upset about?"


"He's standing right there," Ivan said sarcastically. "Clearly, the damage wasn't permanent."

"It doesn't matter: you nearly killed your own child."

They both seemed to have forgotten Laxus, glaring at each other with something worse than hatred. Laxus's breath came in quick, scared bursts. Something was about to break. A tension in the room was stretching thin.

"So what?" Ivan asked.

"So what—?!"

"Yes, so what? He didn't die. You say nearly, but it's a dangerous procedure and it's supposed to make you bleed a little. You know why he didn't suffer any permanent damage? Because I'm good. Better than you ever wanted to acknowledge. And I made him better. Otousan, I took away that weakness he inherited from his mother and made him stronger than any of us. I've made him hardier. He's got perseverance now, and can get things done. I did that. I worked with him—you did not. I helped him past his sickness or allergy or whatever you call it. I made him better and more powerful than he would've ever become on his own."

Makarov's mouth moved but words didn't come.

Laxus watched his father, confused and scared. These words all sounded like declarations of affection, but they were said with such hatred pouring from his face. And Ivan didn't look at Laxus as he said any of it: he was looking at Makarov, said it all to Makarov, did not once give Laxus his attention. Not once.

"I'd do it again," Ivan said, still staring at his own father. "Hear that, Laxus? I'd cut you up all over again. You belong to me and you'll do as I tell you. That's what good sons do, after all, isn't it, Tousan?" he added to Makarov. "Laxus, I love you. I've protected you and taught you how to protect yourself. I have never kept you weak: I have always pushed you to become everything you can. Not like this lazy old fuck."

Makarov was backing them out of the room now, jerking and uneven.

"It's your turn, Laxus," Ivan called. "I want to see you deserve what I've given you. Show me you were worth it. Prove me right!"

"He was already good enough!" Makarov snarled.

"I told you, Otousan, he's my son. I know him far better than you do, and I can tell you: he's tough."

Makarov whirled, coat twisting as he turned his back. Grabbing Laxus's hand in a too-tight grip, he pulled him from the room. At the threshold, Laxus struggled and looked back, holding out a hand, as if he could catch his father, snag him in his palm and rescue him from this hard, cold place.

"I'm sorry—" Laxus gasped.

Ivan's face turned into a familiar glare of anger.

"What have I told you about apologizing? Faggot. Get out there and don't fucking disappoint me. Don't be afraid of power."

Makarov flung the door shut on Ivan's last words, the bang ringing loud in the sudden silence. Laxus gaped at the metal, fighting tears.

"Don't listen to a thing he says," Makarov growled, words too fast, angry eyes focused elsewhere. "He's wrong. Ignore him, Laxus. Be better than him."


"I should never have brought you here. Don't ever ask for this again."

The command made Laxus's mouth slam shut.

Every day, Laxus remembered his tear-streaked promise to himself in the woods: I will never be weak again.

He was weak though, one more time.

When Makarov took away Ivan's guildmark, it was in front of the entire guild, the shame visible for all to see. And the next day, Ivan was gone. Disappeared, just like Mayu.

When Laxus went to the house and found all Ivan's possessions cleared out, something inside him shattered. Sobs grabbed him and wouldn't let go, and he shut himself in his old room.

He was never coming back. Laxus knew: he'd never see his father again.

With that thought came a strange relieved sense of stability.

Laxus was furious at himself for crying, but even more furious for feeling happy. The thing was, with Ivan gone the pain was over: no more uncertainty; no more wondering when the next hit would land. Ivan had taken Laxus's greatest fear away with his presence.

That was a terrible realization. Ivan had scared him. His own father.

Nobody should be relieved their father was gone. Laxus loved him—had truly loved him, unceasingly, even when it hurt. Ivan had looked after him. When Mayu died, when it was just them, Ivan had held him when he awoke from nightmares. Had taught him to defend himself when others tried to make sport of him. Now without Ivan pushing him, would Laxus get weaker?

He decided that any happiness he felt came from the broken, fucked-up pieces of himself. If he'd been strong enough, there never would've been fear and bruises and disappointment. But he hadn't been good enough.

He hated all the feelings swirling inside him. They hurt. He wanted to stop hurting.

After a long, long time, there was a knock on the front door. A few minutes later, it creaked open.

Laxus already knew whom that smell belonged to. He listened as Freed crept upstairs and knocked on his bedroom door, all his movements soft and quiet.

Wiping his face, Laxus took a moment to answer. He'd overheard his grandfather asking Freed if he would look out for Laxus. Back him up, be there if he needed someone, help him remember he wasn't alone. Freed had answered very seriously: "I will. I promise."

Freed Justine's promises were unbreakable.

Though Laxus was peeved at his grandfather going behind his back, he was grateful for the certainty of someone's loyalty. Grateful someone was here now: it wasn't just the cold, silent house.

Wiping away all evidence of crying, Laxus got up and unlocked his bedroom door. With a jerk of his head, he gave Freed permission to enter, walking back to the window and flopping down.

Freed took a careful seat on the tatami a meter away.

He didn't say anything; didn't try to offer sentiments that wouldn't be true or helpful. Instead he just sat there, and Laxus sat there, and in the silence, calm finally bloomed in Laxus's heart. Closing his eyes, he breathed, and began to feel safe again.

His father was gone. For good. But he still had his strength. He'd tested it, and it was strong. Nor had he gotten sick since the implantation: not even an upset stomach. He had his guildmark, that black-ink symbol of pride. He had his name.

It was time Laxus Dreyar showed the world he was good enough.

Which meant no more tears. He had to lock the emotions away. A little box inside his soul—the place where he kept his mother, and now his father, and everything that made him disgustingly human. Every time he'd lost his mind to fear.

They couldn't hurt him anymore. He was untouchable.

Looking Freed up and down, he asked, "Do you want to team up on a job? Just us, no adults?"

Freed watched Laxus grieve.

It went on for months: Laxus hurting and trying not to show it. Taking it out in anger and shows of strength. Nobody knew Freed was watching, that he understood where the outbursts came from. But Freed saw everything.

He became the one person who didn't react when Laxus unleashed his frustration in violence, because Freed didn't see 'pubescent selfishness:' he saw Laxus's pain. He saw Laxus crying without shedding any tears.

Never tears. Laxus was too closed-off for that.

Freed felt so small before Laxus's electric anger. Unable to comfort him or get past Laxus's walls. He'd promised Makarov to be here—and even more than that, he wanted to be here, cared deeply about Laxus because Laxus was his friend, even if he was difficult.

Still, Laxus did not make caring easy. How could you be friends with a thunderstorm? Freed didn't know the rules. He didn't speak the right language. How could he possibly start a conversation about all the things Laxus never said?

Laxus's self-sufficiency was a wall between them.

But even in all that power, Laxus still needed reliable back-up. Freed was always at his back, filling in the gaps. He'd decided he always would be. There was something beautiful about Laxus he couldn't escape from. Laxus's vicious pursuit of justice; the way he joked when he wasn't putting up an image for others; his creative applications of magic; the absolute loyalty he showed to the few he deemed worthy; the hard-earned reward of his smile.

Freed couldn't explain it. Maybe he was like those crazy people who chased after storms.

The power of all that lightning, ruled by Laxus's repressed pain, would probably kill Freed one day. But Freed loved him anyway. He would never stop loving Laxus.

Chapter Text

Laxus and Freed were still holding each other tightly, achingly, when another rap sounded on the door.

"They're back?" Freed sighed wearily.

But Laxus recognized these smells as different.

Leaving Freed putting his shirt back on, Laxus barely cracked the door when Ever launched at him. Grabbing him by the shoulders, she glared at the thing on his chest, then scrutinized the rest of him.

"You're okay?" she asked.

Bickslow came in behind her, shutting the door and grinning. "He looks awake to me."

"Thank the Goddess. Laxus…"

Laxus caved to her worried expression and hugged her, feeling her sigh.

"Fine now," he grunted. "Really."

"Good to see you two," Freed said, entering the room fully clothed. "We were just going to make dinner. Care to assist?"

The four of them puttered around the kitchen together, which eventually turned into Bickslow taking orders from Freed and doing the bulk of the cooking. (They had to rescue Freed from almost burning himself: after that, they banned him from going near the stove.)

Laxus leaned against the wall in the corner and Evergreen perched on the counter next to him.

"You looked like a cold, limp noodle while you were out," Ever told him. "But you're so pale compared to other people it was hard to tell if that was unnatural or not."

Laxus took a mock-swipe at her and she laughed.

"Not sure how I feel being called limp," the Dragon Slayer teased.

For a second, she looked like she was about to laugh. Then for some reason, her face fell.

She changed the subject.

"I know you pretend to hate it when anyone but Freed worries over you, so I'll only say this once: I really am relieved. When Freed ran into the guild with his arm all bloody and told us to go to your flat…I thought you might be dying." She shivered. "And then you weren't, but you were really close to it… It's just a relief to have you back."

"I'm relieved too," he said.

She smiled and nudged him with her shoulder. He nudged her back.

"Freed's arm?" Laxus mused. "Oh. Shit."

"Yeah," Ever sighed. "He probably didn't tell you: he ripped the gash on one arm back open. Bled everywhere."

But Laxus was thinking: he got it from carrying me.

If Ever saw the guilt that crossed his face, she didn't comment. Leaning in further, she glanced at the other pair—busy with Freed trying to explain to Bickslow what the consistency should be—and lowered her voice.

"Laxus…Freed needs to rest. I don't think he's gotten more than a few hours of sleep per night. Some nights I know he didn't go to bed at all."

Laxus's eyebrows drew down.

"Bickslow and I brought him on a job to get him out of his own mind," she went on. "It helped…for about the length of the job."

"What was the job?"

"A simple protect-and-transport. We took it because someone," she glared at Bickslow, "bet all his money in a drinking game with Cana. I can't exactly blame him: he was blowing off stress. Mira helped me get his drunk ass home that evening. She helped me find a job that paid well and took us less than a day. Freed teleported back to you immediately afterward. We brought him food every day, but…he's been glued to his books."

"I'm not surprised," Laxus sighed.

Usually Freed's studiousness was something Laxus liked about him. But that plus his loyalty to Laxus could be a bad combination.

"Please, Laxus. Nobody else can get him to slow down, but he listens to you. Make him stop for a few hours at least."

"I'll talk to him," Laxus rumbled.

"Talking, tying him down, whatever. Just do something. I've whined at him enough he tunes me out. He hates being babied, but sometimes he gives me no choice," she said wryly. "If he wants his dignity, he needs to take care of himself."

Laxus snorted a laugh.

"Thank you for trying," he said.

"He matters to us," she said, staring at Freed's back with a look of affection. "It's not just you. He's the reason Bicks and I have it so good. We love him too."

Too. Laxus wasn't sure why that made him feel like all the air had been sucked from the room. It was strange they knew how much he cared about Freed. He was still used to keeping it a secret. To hiding behind a placid façade.

When the four sat down to eat, Freed squeezed Laxus's hand in passing, which made Laxus jump. He needed to get used to being a couple. He wanted to get used to it. What is there to be afraid of?

When Laxus woke the next morning, he very carefully slipped out of the room and let Freed keep sleeping.

There was a giant lack inside Laxus, like a gaping hole in his chest. Waking up to it made him scared he was dying at first.

No magic: it felt wrong. Not just because he'd been using magic for two decades, but also because he was used to the lacrima's low-level hum, a slight vibration he felt in his bones.

The absence continuously caught his attention and reminded him what he didn't have.

They said the device strapped to his chest pushed ethernanos through him, but Laxus felt nothing. He was empty; simply alive and conscious, but not full of that Life which was...everything.

Dread buzzed inside him.

When Freed woke up around noon, Laxus let him eat then promptly dragged him back to bed. "I'll nap better with you there," Laxus said, and bleary-eyed Freed gave in, proceeding to sleep hours more. Laxus awoke from his catnap and stayed by Freed's side in case his presence helped.

Freed looked a bit less exhausted when he awoke the second time.

After showering and eating, Laxus asked what he'd been working on and they settled down amid Freed's book-lined chaos (the disorganization still made Laxus uneasy), where Freed handed him a sheet of paper filled with unfamiliar letters.

"Those were all the runes I could remember from what was on the shikigami. I figured out which language family we're looking in, finally. I'd brought over all my books on those languages and was just starting to search when you woke up."

Curious, Laxus began shifting through the open books.

"This looks familiar," he said.

Freed looked over. "Sanadaa. Interesting…"

Blinking, Laxus snatched up the book from Freed's lap, which had fallen open to a random page.

"And I recognize… I've definitely seen these curses before."

"Kumerian," Freed sighed. "I don't know much about it. Those runes spell out particularly nasty transformations. Which I suppose makes sense."

"His shikigami could turn into some pretty nasty things," Laxus agreed.

Freed took the book and began flipping pages.

"This helps me a lot, Laxus," he murmured, skimming over indices. "Thank you."

Nodding mutely, Laxus read over his shoulder until the words got too technical—something about how the sub-pronoun affected whether you targeted the right person.

Freed shifted and Laxus caught the wafting scent of his still-damp hair. Leaning in, Laxus closed his eyes to nose at Freed's ear, immersing himself in his senses.

"Are you tryingto distract me?" Freed chuckled after a second.

"Not really." Laxus ghosted his lips over Freed's neck. "You smell so good."

"I'm surprised you're not used to my scent by now," Freed said, turning a page.

Laxus blinked. Freed actually thought…?

"I don't think you understand how this works," he rumbled.

That got Freed's attention. His green eyes turned on Laxus like spotlights.

"You're…I won't get used to you," Laxus said. "Ever, I think. That's the point—that's how it's supposed to work."

"Supposed to?"

"The senses. They're for sensing. And you're…important to me."

Freed's surprise softened.

"You're special to me, too," he said. "Even if you couldn't find me with your nose, know that I'm right here. I won't leave."

A wave of embarrassment came out of nowhere: heat burned up Laxus's neck. He felt vulnerable and small, like he was back in his childhood and the world was a scary place. He snuggled Freed's neck, grounded by the contact. Freed couldn't look at him directly like this, either.

After a moment, Freed returned to his book, letting Laxus remain close. Laxus thought he could see the ghost of a smile on Freed's lips. That was nice. This was nice.

His boyfriend flipped another page.

Inhaling Freed's scent again, Laxus shifted, lips brushing over Freed's neck.

"I missed this," Freed whispered, leaning back against him.

"From my perspective…the last thing I remember is in the shower," Laxus grinned. "And then suddenly I woke up. So I didn't really have time to miss you."

As he kissed slowly along Freed's collar, he could feel the blood heating Freed's skin.

"But I'm sorry you did," Laxus said.

Freed closed his eyes and relaxed, book sliding out of his lap. Still moving slowly over his neck, Laxus pressed his lips to soft spot and sucked, lightly at first, harder and harder until Freed was shaking.

With a groan, Freed turned around to face him, all eyes and intensity. Laxus felt like he was about to break: like Freed was breaking him into pieces, and he welcomed it in.

For the first time in his life, he trusted somebody.

Hand on Laxus's shoulder, Freed kissed him simply. He pulled back for a second, Laxus staring at him in patient, needy waiting.

When Freed glanced to Laxus's mouth again, Laxus inhaled stiffly. Crossing the distance, Freed laced his fingers through Laxus's hair and kissed him again, deeply and clashingly, moving as if to consume him.

As their bodies got closer and the kisses longer, Laxus pulled them prone, Freed on top of him kissing with that fervent energy of longing. They didn't try to do more: lips were more than enough, a reintroduction, a way of stating themselves.

It made Laxus breathless, and that reminded him of the empty, airless space in his chest. The place where something should be, and wasn't. Pulling Freed closer, he filled the ache with Freed's mouth and hands and tenderness.

They made out for a long time, sewing back together the frayed pieces of themselves.

It took a few more days before Freed was fully rested. Laxus very neatly avoided talking with his grandfather during that time. He wasn't ready for that conversation yet.

After a few days, Porlyusica came over again. She and Laxus sat down at the table, Freed perched nervously across from them, and she unstrapped the device from Laxus's chest.

She hardly removed it before Laxus started gasping.

Frantic, he grabbed her wrist, trying to breathe. He could feel things leaving him, flying out him, his life seeping out—

But he was breathing, he could feel that much, so this was something else. Instinctive panic clouded his brain from reason.

"Okay, okay," she said, calm, pushing it flush against his skin. "I didn't expect that to happen."

Across the table, Freed was twitching with anxiety.

Porlyusica went to reattach the straps, but Laxus shook his head.

"No. Wait. Go more slowly," he panted. "I wasn't expecting…I know what it feels like now. I'm okay."

Seeing Freed's expression, he looked over at his boyfriend.

"Really. It just took me by surprise."

He put his hand over Porlyusica's and they pulled it slowly away from his chest.

The emptiness Laxus had been feeling the past two days yawned wide. He gulped air and found he wasn't dying, but he wasn't fully alive either. There was a chasm he could not cross, a hunger with no bottom. So, so hungry.

His stomach growled, making them jump.

And Laxus knew. He was different.

He looked over at Freed.

"Would you give us a moment?" he asked.

As Freed left the room, Porlyusica asked suspiciously, "Are you eating enough?"

It made him want to laugh darkly, because it was Freed who had trouble finishing meals. Laxus, meanwhile, was insatiable.

"Yes. It feels like—"

"It's a lack of lightning," she filled in. "Of course."

He nodded.

"Can you do any magic?" she asked. Frowning, she hovered a palm over his chest. "I don't feel…"

He shook his head just as she gasped.

"How the hell are you alive right now? How are you staying conscious?"

"I don't know."

"I don't sense any ethernanos."

"Me neither." He sighed. He had to ask—

"Give it a few days," she said, before he could voice his question. "If it's still hard to take in ethernanos tomorrow, meditate. It'll come back, but it'll take work."

Silently, he nodded.

After she left, Freed came back into the room. Laxus was staring down at his hands, a thousand thoughts and fears running through his mind.

"Are you okay?" Freed asked, coming to stand beside Laxus's chair.

Laxus looked up, and realized how much he hated when Freed looked worried.

"Yeah." He pulled his shirt aside. "No more device."

Freed put a hand on his shoulder, and something registered in his eyes. Laxus knew he could feel it:


"A few days," Freed said, voice catching. "In a few days it'll come back. I assume that's what she told you?"

Laxus nodded silently.

When a knock sounded, Freed opened the door and Evergreen and Bickslow came in.

"Yo," Laxus called from the sofa.

"How you feeling?" Bickslow asked.

"He doesn't like people asking that," Freed murmured. Laxus caught a knowing look passing between them and had a feeling they were chuckling internally. He tried not to be grouchy about that.

"I'm fine," he told them, as Ever came and sat beside him.

"I heard you're no longer hooked up." She motioned at his chest.

Laxus made a face. "That thing was fucking annoying."

"It kept you alive," she said with a wry grin.

"Did you come here for company?" Freed asked them.

Bickslow gave an uncomfortable half-shrug.

"Actually…" Ever gave Bickslow a strong, prompting look.

Everyone looked at him.

"Well, there's this job. Ever's the one who gave it to me," he added defensively.

"Mira just handed it off to me," she said, raising her hands. "Said you alone were qualified for it."

"Yeah, well, she's right." Bickslow pulled a paper from his pocket and held it out. "Reports of zombies in this small town. Nobody believes them, but they sent a request to the guild. This sort of thing is always possession magic. But…I mean, I can go alone."

"Don't pull that," Freed said breezily, taking the flyer and looking it over. "We don't do solo jobs."

"Laxus does."

"He's special," Freed said obviously. "I mean the three of us. When was the last time you even left Magnolia by yourself?"

"Um…possibly never. But." Bickslow glanced over at Laxus. "Are you cleared for missions?"

Laxus flicked his gaze to Freed and saw sharp curiosity.

"Not yet," the Dragon Slayer admitted.

"But it'll be soon, right?" Ever asked with a confident nod.

"Probably," Laxus said. "Ever, why is Mira handing you jobs all of a sudden?"

"I don't know," Ever snorted. Her forehead turned red, which seeped blotchily down through her cheeks.

Laxus narrowed his eyes.

"What happened with Elfman?" he asked quietly.

"We're off. Permanently," she said, picking at a thread in the sofa. Freed and Bickslow looked at each other. "I don't want to talk about it. Are we going to do this job, Freed? There's a train tomorrow morning."

Freed and Laxus had another two-second conversation via eye contact. Though Laxus gave a shrug of encouragement, he could read all the regret and hesitation packed into Freed's body.

"Yes," Freed said. "It'll be short. And Evergreen and I have rent to pay."

Bickslow turned on Laxus with raised eyebrows. "Do you need supervision or something? Why's Freed acting all nervous?"

"Gods, no." Laxus rolled his eyes. "I'll get along just fine. Go."

The three talked out details. When the other two left, Freed slowly sat down across from Laxus on the sofa.

"I'm sorry I have to—"

"I'm glad you're going. It'll make me talk to Jijii," Laxus sighed, rubbing his face. "Gotta do that at some point."

The one topic Laxus managed not to speak to Makarov about for years. Now he had to bring it up. His father.

Freed said nothing, looking pensive, eyebrows meeting together in a wrinkled frown. Laxus didn't think he knew how obvious he was with emotions sometimes.

"I'll be fine here by myself," Laxus said, giving him a pointed look.

"It's not that." After a moment, Freed shook his head, hair spilling over his shoulder. "Never mind."

Chapter Text

The next morning, Laxus watched them go—after making Freed breakfast, which he'd done because that made sense: Freed was busy, Laxus had nothing but time, it was logical…and okay, he really liked doing things for Freed.

Then the apartment was silent.

Laxus went out, past his usual places to train, and found an untouched dell. Nominally, he tried his magic, knowing already nothing would come. He was ravenous for lightning, no spark at his fingertips.

So he meditated. For a long, long time.

It was easier than in childhood—no longer wracked with sickness, plus with years of practice from back when he had to force ethernanos into his body by sheer will.

And all the more frustrating when it yielded nothing.

He tried everything he knew. Breathed, cleared his head, started over. Hit some trees to get out aggression. Tried again. Again.

At one point, his ears picked up something that shouldn't be. A silence, or perhaps a sound so soft he sensed it without knowing what he sensed. But something was there. He could feel it.

He held perfectly still.

If it were Ivan—of course it wouldn't be, but if it were one of Ivan's people—come to sneak up on him…

The thought gave him pause.

Laxus would have his ass handed to him by any mage in a fight right now. He had to be actually wary.

It took him a long time to calm down again. He hadn't considered having to watch his back. Suddenly danger lurked everywhere.

It was midafternoon, but he decided to head home. He wasn't accomplishing anything anyway.

There was always tomorrow.

Everyone said his magic would come back.

As soon as he got home, starving and irritable, he discovered they had no food, turned around, and headed to the guild.

Besides, needed to talk to Jijii.

Laxus's one problem with the guild was trying to avoid touch where people were commonly flung across the room. He could keep up a front of normalcy, but if someone made contact, they'd feel his lack of magic.

He made it most of the way to the bar—

"Oi, Laxus," Natsu said, bright and not aggressive. "You're on your feet again."

Laxus summoned all the politeness left in his very empty stomach.

"Who said I wasn't?"

Natsu shrugged. "Freed's a dead giveaway with his emotions."

"Right," Laxus sighed. Of course everyone who saw Freed panicking several weeks ago knew what that meant.

Thunderously grouchy now, Laxus continued to the bar, and Natsu didn't try to keep him talking.

"Hello," Mira chirped—goddammit, everyone was cheerful. "What can I get you?"

Before he could pull his arm back, she touched him.

"Oh!" she said, small and high, jerking back.

"Oh," he agreed, glaring her into silence.

Mira nodded simply. "Want something to eat?"

"I'll raid the pantry. I need to see Jijii."

"So," Makarov said. They stared at each other across the desk. "What happened?"

"Which time?"

Makarov's jaw tightened. "When you visited him."

"Thought Freed told you," Laxus said around a bite of food, knowing the lack of manners would annoy him further.

"Freed told me some." Makarov looked out the window. "He wasn't exactly in a good state of mind. I didn't want to grill him. Maybe I should've, but I didn't want to…break him."

Laxus blinked.

"You're fond of him," Laxus realized.

"Of course I am," Makarov snapped. "He's one of my guildlings. And you like him a lot, so I have a vested interest. Not to mention he's…he's just a genuinely good person. Which is more than I can say for some. Anyway, he was…he was just more fragile the whole time we weren't sure what would happen to you."

"I didn't intend…I don't like when he gets like that," Laxus grunted. The sensation of his grandfather's gaze made him feel too big, like if he moved something bad would happen and it would be his fault. "Panicked, sick, whatever—I don't want him to do that to himself over me."

"I'm not blaming you for Freed's anxiety." Makarov inhaled; closed his eyes. When he opened them, he didn't look at Laxus. "Tell me what happened with Ivan."

That name made the room breathless and still.

"He was his regular, insulting, asshole self," Laxus said, the words grating. "I showed him up. May have intimated a few particulars about my dating life. He spewed more vitriol and threw shikigami at us."

"That. That's the part I want more detail on."

Laxus sighed.

"Said he'd take back the lacrima, blah blah, then said he didn't need to be free to cut me open or whatever. That's when he threw them. I thought it was magic—I reacted on instinct."

"Did you lash back?"

"No. I tried to be a physical wall—Freed was there, had his sword out… And then I couldn't breathe and couldn't touch my magic."

"There, in the prison?" Makarov said in surprise. "Before you got home—you had an episode of magic deficiency?"

"Yeah. But it went away pretty fast. Freed set up some sort of barrier while I was coughing and being pathetic. After that it was a whirl of things; guards showing up, knocking Ivan out, Freed and me leaving. I didn't even know Freed snagged one of the shikigami until after I woke up from the coma."

"And on the way back to Magnolia—nothing out of the ordinary happened?"

"A few twinges in the lacrima. I thought it was a holdover."

Makarov hmmed and rubbed his moustaches.

"I still don't get the connection between the shikigami and the curse."

"I believe Freed already told you Ivan's comments on my sexuality," Laxus growled.

"That's not what I mean. Porlyusica's pretty damn certain that the curse which, hm, activated and knocked you out is written on your lacrima. It's already there, so why did he need the shikigami? What did their runes say?"

"Beats me. Maybe the curse on my lacrima is incomplete, and he needed to finish it. Maybe he thought it hadn't worked, and he tried to curse me again. We won't know until Freed manages to crack those runes."

"Which even for him would be a miracle. Even putting them in the right order—"

"I have faith in him," Laxus cut him off.

Makarov smiled.

"I'm sure that faith strengthens him."

Laxus grunted. They'd managed to be emotionless about Ivan. If he could escape this room without any feely stuff, without having to express any of the things he hoarded in his chest…

He smelled Mira just before she knocked.

"Master," she called, "the Raijinshuu are back, and Bickslow has a captive he needs to put in the basement."

Laxus opened the door and she started.

"I didn't know you were still here," she said. Smiling, she gestured behind her. "Your team's back."

Bickslow stood a little past her shoulder hopping nervously from foot to foot. Or perhaps not nervously: he had a tendency to fidget no matter how he was feeling. Beyond him were Freed, Ever, and an unconscious person floating in the air.

Makarov came out.

"Perp," Bickslow said, hooking a thumb at the slumped body. "Was hoping to put her in the basement until tomorrow morning…?"

"Of course," Makarov said, waving a hand to follow.

Bickslow took the person from Evergreen's untender care and followed.

Finding Freed's eyes, Laxus gave him a hidden smile, which made Freed's weary face lighten.

"How'd it go?" Laxus rumbled, unable to show how happy he was while Mira stood there. Buzz off already.

"It went quickly. It wasn't even that bad a case of possession."

"He could've done it on his own in a single day," Ever said. "It was that easy."

Laxus chuckled with them, as did Mira.

"You've been knocking jobs off so quickly lately," she said.

"We haven't been doing that many," Ever said, flushing. "Just ones you find for us. Thank you for that."

"You're welcome," Mira said—

A body flew over the bar and crashed into a cupboard of dishware. Mira bellowed and hurried over to chastise the evildoer.

A soft touch on Laxus's elbow made him gasp. Jolting, he ripped from the grasping fingers, but it was already too late.

Except it wasn't, because the owner of the fingers was Freed.

It stabbed Laxus to see the devastation that crossed Freed's face, compounded by how quickly Freed turned away, forced his face to blankness. Idiot, Laxus thought, and he didn't know whether he meant it for himself or Freed.

"People keep trying to touch me," Laxus murmured, trying to explain. "I thought someone would feel…"

"Right. Of course. I'm sorry." Freed rubbed his forehead, eyes tired.

Laxus's fingers twitched. The urge to wrap his arms around Freed battled the older urge to remain stoic.

"Wanna head home?" he asked.

"You go ahead. I'll follow in a moment; I just have to sign things off with Mira." Freed smiled up at him, and Laxus understood he wasn't being pushed away—rather, Freed was trying to be kind to him. "I'll catch up," Freed said.

He and Ever waved as Laxus headed to the doors and ducked out.

The sky outside had darkened to indigo. A lone bird flitted over him, calling softly.

Laxus took his and Freed's usual path: it wasn't the fastest, but it went by the grocer and a book store, which were frequent intermediary stops, so they'd adopted the route as their regular walk. Always side-by-side, often with fingers casually touching or, when Laxus felt bold, holding hands.

It struck him that Freed touched him far more than anyone ever had before. Makarov was not a demonstrative person; not after Ivan's departure, when exhaustion and age dragged him earthward ten times harder.

Ivan's touches were something to suspect and fear even when they seemed kind. They could turn in an instant.

Laxus wasn't used to the touches Freed so readily bestowed—touches like his mother's had been. Loving, reassuring, appreciative. Freed was a physical person, something Laxus had always known but never truly considered before. Now, dating, he was having to get used to it. He didn't mind: it reminded him of old happiness, a sense that all was right in the world—unfamiliar things Laxus enjoyed experiencing again.

He just wasn't fully there yet.

A strange sound pulled him from his thoughts at the same moment that a shaft pierced his back and broke out of his chest.

He looked down in dawning horror.

The spear wavered for a moment, shimmering, made of silvery magic. Then angry purple shot along its length. The spear shattered.

The small explosion included a spray of runic debris Laxus immediately recognized.

He didn't look around for Freed, focusing instead on his senses and his chest. There was no puncture, no pain. He'd been stabbed but not stabbed…

He couldn't stop to wonder about it. The spear's owner was clearly visible to a Dragon Slayer, skulking in the shadows by a building. Laxus ran at her, confused for a moment that he only moved at the speed of a human and not the speed of light. But he adjusted, launched himself, and caught her around the middle as he went down on top of her.

Magic shot over their heads and impacted the wall with several loud thuds. The woman shoved at him, trying to bring her hand up. She had a knife. Laxus threw her sideways, got his knees over her legs to keep her down, and immobilized her hands.

And then he ducked as more magic careened his direction.

There were three others closing in from three different directions. Only one held visible weaponry: the other two simply had magic. Or so he assumed. Laxus could feel it, in a muted way, but he couldn't discern anything about it. Had no idea what kinds of magic they had.

Another woman raised her hands.

He brought his captive up as a shield. Her body reverberated with the hit, something that made her groan. The perpetrator growled at Laxus and threw another burst of her magic. It glanced his arm when he couldn't escape fast enough, and now there was real pain, real blood.

Laxus shut down his sense of pain.

Three against one—the one he held as a shield was unconscious—and he had no magic. Moreover, Freed was clearly not present. The runes were a mystery Laxus could ponder later. Right now, he had to fight three people at a huge disadvantage.

They closed in, which was their mistake. Throwing his wounded captive at the nearest one, he lunged at the man on his far left, ducking a blast of fire. Laxus sneered: such basic magic. He could dodge that without magic of his own.

He got in a few good punches, took a few from his opponent. One landed in the soft tissue between shoulder and pectoral muscle. Fluidly changing his motions to accommodate what was going to be an uncomfortable bruise, Laxus got his opponent in the gut with a knee. He was surprised when the person didn't go down immediately.

Okay, they were actually tough.

By continuing to dart around, he kept them from ranging around him, only dealing with one of the three at a time. But that only worked until they coordinated: the two who couldn't reach him went opposite directions, and Laxus could only keep one of them blocked behind his current opponent.

The woman on his left was smaller, so he veered her direction, dodging a kick from his current opponent and nearly taking this short new threat by surprise as he rammed into her. Nearly. Though her eyes widened, she got her arms up in time, twisting with his momentum (and, he noted, with expert defense instincts) and uncurling her arms…right next to him.

She hit him with her magic.

A blast of freezing cold came, then a scalding heat wave. The rapid changes were a shock to Laxus's system. Though he could handle the pain, his muscles seized for a second as his nerves rebooted, and in that time she landed a hit to his abdomen with both fists.

Breath flew out of him.

Well, shit. This wasn't going as well as he hoped. He still didn't know what they wanted—why they'd chosen him, why now. Whether they knew he was powerless. How they could possibly know.

Sensing danger, he leapt sideways just as another opponent careened into him from behind. The man missed but grabbed Laxus's arm, dragging at him and slowing him down. Laxus couldn't block as the woman's foot connected with his ribs. With precision that, again, belied skill.

This time as air rushed out, many other sensations rushed in to replace it. Warnings in his brain, telling him this was not okay. No broken bones yet

Laxus shook his head. He felt his pounding pulse, his adrenaline-wracked brain. Focus: had to clear his head.

Except another hit never came—Freed did, rounding the corner and flying into action.

Laxus grabbed the foot that tried to kick him again and pulled the woman down. That was all he managed before Freed's runes wrapped around her. Rolling over, Laxus rose, ready, and saw his boyfriend and teammates dispatch the remainders.

"What are you doing here?" Laxus panted, watching Bickslow's glowing eyes force one of the men to tie his teammates up. Bickslow wasn't even trying that hard. They might have good fighting skills, but they were weak-willed. Probably hired. The kind who followed others' convictions.

Crouching on the ground, Freed brushed his fingers over a rune slowly dissolving into glittery purple smoke.

"Someone stabbed you in the back," Freed said, his voice carefully emotionless. He rose and stood before Laxus, eyes on his collar. "They managed to use up my spell completely. They actually stabbed you."

Freed's expression was consternated but controlled. Still breathing hard, Laxus let Freed run his palm back and forth across his chest.

"No hole," Laxus said. "It was only magic: thanks to you I'm fine. When did you put those runes on me?"

Freed blushed.

"When you went after Wall Eehto. Remember? When I helped you with the jutsu shiki you wanted to learn, I told you I was writing some runes for protection since I wouldn't be there to watch your back." Freed's voice softened to a whisper. "Sometimes I retrace them, just to make sure they're still there. Guess I'll have to redo them now."

Laxus cocked his head. "When do you retrace them?"

Freed smiled.

"When I rub your back."

"Alright, you two," Evergreen said, marching over. "Laxus, you're okay? Good. What next, Captain?"

She and Laxus both looked to Freed.

"What brought you?" Laxus asked again.

"Bicks and I were going to crash with you and Freed for dinner," Ever interjected. "Then Bicks sensed something happening near your spirit. So the three of us came running."

"The question is: why did they target you?" Freed asked.

Bickslow yelled.

They turned to see him collapse. Greens and yellows began to twinkle around their four trussed captives, but Laxus was focused on something else: in the darkness, a shadow, black on black. Small and quick. It leapt from Bickslow's body.

Straight at Laxus.

He stepped forward to snatch it, but collided with Freed, who darted in front of him like a shield. A spell flew from his sword, illuminating the darkness, but no shape darted out at them. Nothing moved in the darkness at all. It was suddenly, simply gone.

As were their captives.

"Shitfuck," Freed growled. "They were the only ones who could answer my question."

Laxus crouched next to Bickslow, who hadn't moved. He could hear pulse and breath and everything else, but when Laxus reached out a hand, he felt an eerie, familiar emptiness to Bickslow's skin.

"Yo," he called. "I think he's drained of magic."

Freed and Ever rushed over and dropped to their knees, both sighing in relief when they touched his skin.

"Not fully," Freed said. "There won't be any Magic Deficiency symptoms; he's merely unconscious. Probably the shock of having that much magic taken out of his body that quickly."

"What did it, though?" Ever asked, glaring around at the darkness with a growl in her throat.

"I think it was a 'who,' " Laxus said.

A groan signaled Freed managing to bring Bickslow back to wakefulness.

"You okay?"

Bickslow groaned again.

"Let's get him to the apartment." Freed looked over at Ever. "Well?"


"You're the one with levitation magic."

"I can…walk," Bickslow said, sounding both woozy and drowsy.

"How about not," Laxus snorted, getting his arms under Bickslow and lifting him. "Goddamn, you're heavy."

"Fuck you," Bickslow retorted, pouting.

Laxus grinned. "Sounds like you'll be okay."

"Alright, I've got it," Ever sighed in annoyed resignation. She twiddled her fingers. "Let go of him, Laxus."

"Hey!" Bickslow exclaimed as he was suddenly supported by nothing but air. "This is not cool."

"It's three blocks." She rolled her eyes. "You'll survive."

Laxus and Freed fell into step behind Ever and her protesting ward. The vision of Freed stepping in front of him was niggling Laxus.

Freed protecting him.

That wasn't the part that bugged him, because Freed had done that before—they both had, for each other. What got Laxus was the fear in his chest thinking Freed was in danger and he was helpless to do anything about it.

"How did they know?" Freed asked softly. "Why attack now?"

"You think they knew?" Laxus murmured, stepping closer.

"I don't know. It's not like this hasn't happened before. But the timing…"

"I don't think it's coincidence," Laxus agreed. "They knew I couldn't fight on their level. He had to have sent them."

"But why? Moreover, how? He's locked up without contact from the outside world. It's not like anyone from Raven Tail could sneak in there to get orders from him."

"That guild's dead," Laxus growled. "I don't know how he did it, but it's exactly what he'd do. After what happened at the prison…he's testing me."

Always testing him. Ivan still couldn't stop pushing him and pushing him, like Laxus was one of his experiments, Ivan waiting to see if he would become what Ivan molded for him, or if he would break.

Ivan never left any choice but for Laxus to do his will.

When they reached the house, Ever deposited Bickslow on the sofa, and she and Laxus began to cook while Freed rooted around the medicine cabinet.

"Do you think they knew?" Ever asked.

Dicing vegetables at the sideboard, Laxus nodded.

She sighed. "Gods, you are a magnet for trouble."

Laxus rumbled a laugh and Ever shot him a wide smile.

"Did you survive your boredom today?" she asked.

"Wasn't that boring. I have things to do."

"I didn't know you did anything but Freed."

"Ever!" Freed yelped behind them. His face was bright red: Evergreen burst out laughing. "Honestly!" he exclaimed.

Flushed, Freed walked over to Laxus and motioned at his shirt.

"Let me see."

Confused, Laxus raised the hem.

"Damn," Freed said, drawing the shirt higher to reveal the rest of the bruise—bigger than Laxus's hand and already a nasty purple.

"Shit, I can see that from here," Bickslow called from the sofa. "What happened?"

"I don't remember," Laxus admitted.

"It appears you were kicked in the ribs," Freed said, smearing something on the injury which made it go cold. Laxus hissed in surprise. "Sorry."

"It's fine. It doesn't hurt."

Freed raised his eyebrows.

"What? It really doesn't."

Pain stopped meaning anything long ago.

Later that evening after Ever and a now-recovered Bickslow had gone home, Laxus pulled a surprised Freed down with him onto the sofa.

Laxus rested his forehead against Freed's head so all he saw was strands of green, and sighed.

"Just want to cuddle?" Freed asked affectionately, seeking his hand.

"At least it's something I can do," Laxus grunted.

After a second, Freed straightened and twisted around to frown at him.

"Can't watch your back," Laxus grumbled.

"That's what Bicks and Ever are for." Freed smiled and touched his cheek. "It's just for a little while."

Closing his eyes, Laxus sighed.



"Freed," Laxus said again slowly. "My magic…is gone."

He expected an exclamation. For Freed to grab his arm—anything. He did not expect Freed to nod. Laxus's brows shot up.

"Your ethernano levels still have to recover, Laxus. Give it a few days."

"No, Freed." Laxus stared at him hard. "My magic is gone."

Freed stared back. Shook his beautiful head.

"What does that mean?"

"It means," Laxus inhaled, "I can't feel it. Any of it. It's all…completely…gone."

As Freed continued to frown in confusion, Laxus sat back and held his hands.

"I meditated for hours. Couldn't feel a thing. I don't even feel empty anymore—not like what happened to Bickslow. The emptiness is part of me. Like I'm…lesser."

"Oh." Freed squeezed Laxus's hands. Closed his eyes. "Wow."

The silence was filling up with so many things. Big, scary things.

"I can't do anything anymore," he said.

Freed's eyes flickered open.

"I can't take jobs," Laxus went on. "I can't do things for you guys, go places with the team. I can't…anything, really."

"There are," Freed said slowly, "technically magic-less options."

Laxus grunted skeptically.

"I'm not saying I agree that your magic is gone for good," Freed went on. "But just to nip your pessimism in the bud: there are guild jobs that don't require you to use magic."

"Like what?" Laxus snorted.

"The types of jobs I take on the side. Things that involve scholarship at home. It's mostly reading and puzzling things out, and then the only magic is when I write a few runes—or sometimes not even that; sometimes it's merely a job translating an old curse. You could do those."

Laxus's mouth twisted, but inside he was in turmoil. He didn't like it: didn't like how this felt like accepting his fate. At the same time, he knew the hole in his chest wasn't going to refill itself like it always had.

"If you feel useless," Freed said, "I have something else—something I could use your help on, specifically."

"You do?"

Freed nodded and bit his lip.

"We might enjoy doing it together, actually. Like old times," Freed smiled, "when we were children and always reading books together."

"I did enjoy that."

Freed blinked, looking happy. "Me too."

"So what is it?"

"Figuring out your curse," Freed said. "If you feel like learning a new language…or hell, even just talking through what I'm doing might provide new ideas. However much you want to be involved in it. Or not at all. These are just suggestions, obviously."

"Good suggestions." Laxus tilted his head. "What have you uncovered about those runes so far?"

Freed's gaze strayed to the clock, a yawn slipping out of him as if cued.

"Tomorrow?" Freed asked.

"Of course."

Freed was still recovering. Here Freed was the one looking sickly after Laxus spent a few weeks unconscious. It wasn't right.

"Why are you frowning?" Freed asked.

Laxus shook his head. "Sorry I can't help you more. C'mon." Rising, he held out a hand. "I'm feeling kind of tired too."

Freed followed him gratefully to the bedroom and was already curled on the futon when Laxus undressed and lay down.

As Freed drifted off beside him, Laxus watched the expressions melt away and leave Freed, finally, with a look of peace.

That left Laxus awake by himself, feeling troubled.

Chapter Text

As his teen years barreled down on him, Laxus's dreams grew…uncomfortable. These new growing-up dreams were fitful, often sexy or disconcerting or humiliating things. But this one was different: all of the above and worse.

Why did his brain betray him like this?

"And this is my grandson," Makarov said proudly, hand on Laxus's shoulder.

That palm was huge, heavy; of course it was—Makarov towered, enormous and scary and dark.

"Hey," the stranger said, sticking their hand out like a tentacle, reaching, winding around him.

Gasping, Laxus shook the hand and it retreated, but he was still crushed under his grandfather's fist.

"Not taking after the family legacy?" the stranger asked, eyeing Laxus's hand then turning to Makarov, and Laxus knew he'd been tricked, shouldn't have touched, shouldn't have let someone sense him out. "I remember both you and your son were powerhouses by that age."

"Don't be like that," someone else said—there was someone else, and Laxus couldn't breathe, couldn't stand up tall and straight…where was Ivan… "Magic grows with age."

The pair looked over at him, and Laxus could feel Makarov's proud smile aimed his way as well, and it hurt like pins and needles.

Fuck no, it shouldn't be hurting. He remembered this day. This had already happened.

"Of course." The stranger smiled kindly at him. "With the heritage you have, of course you will."

Laxus stared back, and he couldn't breathe but for some reason that was okay—

After a second, Makarov said, "Thank you. Tell me about your wife…"

As soon as his hand left Laxus's shoulder, Laxus darted away.

Disdain curdled his stomach—and Laxus realized he was dreaming, and he woke up.

He hated that memory. Still felt a remnant of being unable to breathe—even though in reality, Makarov's hand was normal-sized and nothing about the encounter had been scary.

The only thing people ever cared about with Laxus was his magic power.

He wanted to give things to the world. His mother had wanted to and never had—Ivan talked about that viciously—and Laxus refused to be like her. He would fulfill that for her and do…something of value. Add something to the world. He wasn't sure what that meant exactly, but he knew he'd know it when he found it.

He was tired of being seen only by his magic. Of people telling him what he was and wasn't capable of. Everything Ivan had taught him about people being terrible—they kept proving the bastard right.

Laxus was capable now. Of so much.

They could all stand back and be amazed. He would make Fairy Tail great again.

Gray Fullbuster kissed another boy on a dare. And then more boys, it was rumored, because he liked it and (the rumors also said) he was a good kisser.

Laxus avoided him at all costs, refused to even pass him in the guild. He was afraid to witness any snuggling. It wasn't safe; Ivan got mad at shows of affection—

Even with Ivan gone, these things mattered. There was a fear inside him, inbuilt: of nature perverted. Laxus had heard once those kinds of things rubbed off. He couldn't be around it.

And touching, in general, was weakness. Which Laxus would never be again. He had a lacrima.

When his grandfather hugged him these days, Laxus always felt a strange spike of fear, and relief when it wasn't a punch. He glared scornfully behind Makarov's back: that someone would be so tender to another person… Confused him. And he hated that it did.

Laxus didn't need people's tenderness.

He remembered everything Ivan said when he gave Laxus the scar on his face, and it was enough to make him recede into the background, away from anyone who was getting too close. Out of sight, he trained. He quietly took difficult jobs. And he let word slowly trickle in: Fairy Tail had a new power rising among its members.

It was one of those fights which was about something totally different than what they were fighting about. Little things had built up, constant bickering, rebellion, words sniped across the breakfast table, and then as Laxus went to leave the house, Makarov said, "Where do you think you're going?"

"Out," Laxus said. "Job."

"No, you're not."

Something hard curled around Laxus's windpipe, and he faced his grandfather, furious. Makarov's face mirrored the same thing right back.

"Remember what I said about how many jobs you've been taking? You need to come into the guild today. And before that, you need to do your chores."

Limiting his jobs; making him appear at the guild; arbitrary rules that had no meaning besides Makarov wanting to keep him in line.

"Fuck chores," Laxus said, turning back toward the door.

"What did you say?"

Makarov's voice was a dangerous hiss.

"I'll go to the guild for the time it takes me to find another job, then I'm gone. Your rules are pointless."

"They have a very good point," Makarov snapped.

Laxus flinched.

But Makarov looked at him in confused concern, not raging, not venting. When Makarov sighed, Laxus flashed into anger.

"What point?" he spat, a growl in his throat. "You want me to meet all your fu—fricking friends. My grandson turned out just like me. I'm not your fricking shadow."

"That is not true."

"It is true! Everyone says—"

"I do not trot you out in front of people. I'm introducing you to other mages, getting you acquainted so that one day, you'll have all these connections to pull on in my place."

"Whoever said I want to be in your place?" Laxus sneered.

Makarov tensed. This was the moment.

But Makarov closed his eyes and let out another sigh, almost sad.

"Laxus, I know you're still figuring out what you want…"

Oh, no, they were not having this conversation. Not now, not ever.

Laxus reached for the front door.

"Don't walk out while we're in the middle of this," Makarov warned as Laxus turned the handle. Escape felt so good, so close. To breathe again, to not feel so small.

He opened the door. Makarov's expression firmed.

He stormed over and took the handle from Laxus's grasp.

Laxus recoiled, eyes wide at the sound of his grandfather's footsteps: echoing like he'd never heard before, frustration in Makarov's eyes like he'd never seen. He'd never seen his grandfather be violent.

Laxus hunched away, but there was no hit, no touch at all. Makarov simply closed the door, while Laxus panted loud into the room's sudden silence.


Makarov's voice calmed, his eyes sad.

"I'm sorry, Laxus. I didn't mean to scare you."

"Don't touch me!" Laxus barked.

"I wasn't." Makarov frowned. "I would never hurt you."

A hiccough squeezed Laxus's chest.

Escape. He needed escape.

"Are you okay?" Makarov asked. He started to reach out, then thought better of it and merely watched Laxus, head tilted to the side.

"I'm fine," Laxus said, pretending his voice didn't hitch and shake as he pushed past Makarov and escaped out of the house.

As he stormed down the walk, Laxus could hear his own pulse evening out. He could feel the fear dissolving until only anger was left behind.

He felt safe. He felt better. Nobody had hit him, and he'd been able to say his piece, and it had been okay. Nobody had lashed out at him.


The strong received safety.

Except he'd been weak. Felt vulnerable, and Jiisan had tried to make him feel safe even in that fear. Because of that fear.

It couldn't be this way. It didn't make sense, and that lack of sense scared Laxus, because it meant he was missing something: when he missed details, that's when things snuck up on him and punishments rained down.

He had to be in control.

Laxus zapped things as he walked on through Magnolia: a stump, a dandelion, a fleeing rodent. (It squealed at him, which made his chest squeeze, and he liked that because he knew what to do with that feeling.)

Safety was a lie. Unless it was the safety he created for himself, it always had a condition, an end. Always.

Even Makarov and the roof and meals he provided. There were conditions. He was only human.

Another day, another argument, another fight spewing angry words at each other. Laxus spewing. Makarov resolutely and terrifyingly holding his ground.

In his fury, Laxus punched the wall.

And then he fled to his room.

When he came down much, much later, he found paint and plaster laid out below, ready to repair the hole.

Laxus had actually damaged the wall.

When he saw Makarov pause in the kitchen doorway, brush in his hand, Laxus expected him to order, demand, shout; but he merely nodded at the dent and asked, "Was that really necessary?"

Laxus glared at him.

Makarov was supposed to rage at shit like this. It made him predictable. It made him comprehensible: it made him an entity Laxus could control.

But instead he was an enigma, and that was more terrifying by far. Far more than Ivan had been.

From that time on, it became a battle between them: Laxus pushing and Makarov letting him push. Somewhere there would be a breaking point. Laxus just had to find it.

There was a controlled-ness now between them, a sense that they had the estimation of each other. Laxus knew he could push.

And he did.

Sometimes for sport. Sometimes because his grandfather irked or embarrassed him, or because he was in a bad mood and didn't know why. Sometimes because his grandfather was being an ass.

"…so the guy is staring at us all hero-worshipy," Natsu laughed, looking around his table, "and he says, 'See, I told you Fairy Tail would pull through.' And the lady just looks us up and down and goes, 'Fairy Tail is nothing but a pack of destructive children.' "

The fire mage snorted and elbowed Gray who was next to him, getting a slap but also an accompanying laugh.

"In other words, they saw right through you," Erza said in an unimpressed voice.

"It's all good fun," Natsu chuckled, and Gray made a low comment about Natsu's idea of fun that quickly broke into a brawl.

Laxus skillfully avoided the fight and made his way behind the bar to serve himself. As he lifted the tap, his fingers shook, and he had to put the mug down, anger racing through his limbs.

Destructive children. Nothing but.

Insults to the guild had been getting more prominent in recent years. They did nothing but add fuel to the inferno that always seemed to be burning in Laxus's chest these days. Anger was so quick to surface; a constant part of him.

"Laxus," Makarov said, coming over. "I needed to talk to you—are you okay?"

"Fine," Laxus growled, pouring himself another mug and settling back against the counter.

With all the emotion boiling inside him, he couldn't quite meet his grandfather's eyes.

"What happened?" Makarov asked softly, but not too softly. Laxus was grateful for that bit of consideration at least.

"Apparently Fairy Tail is nothing but destructive children," Laxus growled.

Makarov snorted. "Whoever said that, I will buy them a drink."

"It's not true."

"Have you seen your guildmates? Natsu destroyed half a town last week all by himself. Thankfully it was abandoned."


"He's being completely normal for a fire-breathing teenager. Although don't tell him I said that."

"This guild is completely falling apart," Laxus growled. "I don't know why you fail to see that."

Makarov threw him a look. "If you spent more time at the guild, I think you'd be a little more feeling toward them."

"Not a chance."

When Makarov rubbed his brow, the sign that he was irritated, Laxus felt lightness in his chest. Every time he got Makarov like this it felt like a victory.

It was the most reaction he could ever get out of his grandfather. Makarov never lashed out, and never even repeated his actions from that one scary day—stomping over and carefully closing the door. It just made Laxus want to piss him off more. Within the safety Makarov had created, expressing his anger was for once okay: no tenterhooks, no eggshells, no fear of the fist.

When he pushed Makarov over one day, it would finally prove Laxus was right about everything. Ivan was right. The world only worked one way.

"Laxus?" Freed approached Laxus perusing the jobs. "Looking for something particular?"

"Something that'll get me far away from here."

"Want company?"

Laxus looked over. Laxus had shot up with his latest growth spurt, and now looked down on Freed, whose brown, open face watched him with the same steady look he'd always had.

"Sure," Laxus said.

Smiling, Freed stared at the board.

"That one's far," Freed said, pointing.

"I hate Hana Town. I was looking at this."

"Runes involved. Sounds fun."

"Right up your alley," Laxus said, taking down the posting. "Let's do it."

"Why do you hate Hana?" Freed asked as they exited the guild. "Bad experience?"

"You could say that," Laxus grumbled.

"That sounds like a story."

"It's not. Just some asshole putting down the guild. Again."

Assholes, actually. Saying some things which made Laxus grit his teeth and consider very strongly going back and pounding them. But that would only make the words about Fairy Tail worse. What he needed was for everyone else to stop being so destructive with their magic. So sloppy.

The words against those sloppy individuals were aimed at all guildmembers. It stabbed deeper into Laxus's heart each time, like every time he hadn't been strong enough for Ivan.

He was strong enough. Fairy Tail was strong enough. Fairy Tail was all he had.

"Have you met Bickslow?" Freed asked.

Laxus inhaled and mentally tried to switch gears.

"Hm. I know who he is. Never really talked."

"He's got some pretty funky magic. And he's got a dark sense of humor. I think you'd like him."

Laxus looked over with a raised eyebrow. Freed had never suggested he be friends with someone before.

"He's powerful," Freed said. "And loyal. And I like his company. I've considered…teaming up with him."

"Oh. Wow."

"Only if you're interested, of course," Freed said. "You're my teammate first and foremost."

Laxus nodded. They'd never officially said it: it had just kind of happened. But they both knew they were a team.

"I'll get to know him and see what I think."

Freed was usually a good estimator of character. Pretty spot-on—as Freed tended to be.

For once, he and his grandfather had a good day.

Makarov needed help carrying groceries, and he didn't say anything infuriating when he asked, so Laxus came along. They talked little, but what they did say was civil and not strained. Laxus wouldn't say he was enjoying himself, but he wasn't angry for once. It was kind of nice. Relaxing to let his guard down.

"Can you reach that—thank you," Makarov said as Laxus grabbed a garlic braid off its hook. "You're taller than any of the men in my side now. Can't wait to see how tall you do end up," he chuckled.

Laxus cracked an insincere smile and plodded along at his side.

"I'm not sure about height on your mother's side," Makarov said.

Laxus's throat closed and his muscles all stiffened, somehow able to carry on as Makarov handed him a melon and a bag of rice. He felt his grandfather's eyes on his face, but he kept his gaze where it had been, refusing to let anything show on his face. Waiting for the topic to move on at his lack of participation.

"I'm sorry," Makarov said, touching his arm. "Laxus, I know I don't say it very often, but I love you."

Laxus choked but managed not to cough, his eyes still down. The only word he could've managed in that moment was, Don't.

Everyone who said that left him.

It happened on a regular day in the guild: one of the most embarrassing conversations of Laxus's life.

Wan and Laxus were goofing off, spinning on barstools and talking between dizzy circles. Wan had heard a juicy story that morning.

"…she said she saw them naked," Wan tittered, "together."

Laxus frowned, deliberately being dense to the implications.


"Oh, come on. She said they were doing things."

"Whatever." Laxus waved a hand. This topic really didn't interest him. Made him feel misplaced, outside himself—it embarrassed him more than anything.

"You're weird," Wan laughed. "Something wrong with you."

"You're weird," Laxus shot back, heat rushing to his face. At this age, he knew he was supposed to engage in these discussions. He just never knew what to say.

"Has anyone told you about sex?" Makarov asked suddenly, appearing while Laxus's sense were distracted. He tilted his head as the boys flushed. "No? It's a very natural thing. Why don't we have a chat. You should know this already; I suppose I've been falling down on my job."

He edged onto a stool between them and Laxus and Wan pretend-reluctantly settled closer.

"There are two main types of anatomy: clitorises and vaginas, and penises and testicles. Vaginas are connected to something called a uterus…"

He began to explain in vivid fact how reproduction worked. Laxus knew the basics, but the conversation still made him squirm. He didn't want to think about it too hard; he had an innate sense that it would be vastly uncomfortable to contemplate. He was glad his grandfather never lingered too long with eye contact.

"The fun part," Makarov eventually said with a smile, "is getting the semen to the vagina. When clits and penises are touched certain ways, as you might already know, it feels good."

Wan nodded like an eager bobblehead. Laxus stayed quiet. The only parts of this he'd overheard were the worst, worst parts. Just keep cool…

"Blood gathers down there, making the organs swollen—and in the case of a vagina, wet with fluid; in the case of a penis, quite hard. That enables a vagina to swallow a penis into itself. Eventually stimulation can lead to an orgasm, and if the person with a penis has an orgasm, voila: the semen is hand-delivered right where it needs to go."

Wan made a noise of fascination. "That's cool."

"Isn't it?" Makarov grinned. "That's one way of having sex: the reproductive version."

"What are the other ways?" Wan asked.

"There are a lot. Infinite, probably." Makarov chuckled. "All kinds of things can stimulate a clit or a penis. People might use hands or mouths or any other body part—or things which aren't body parts. Other parts of the body can be stimulated too, like nipples and anuses. There's also masturbation, where you stimulate yourself."

"I know about that," Wan said sagely.

Makarov choked on a laugh. "Good."

"So if two women—"

"Two people with clitorises?" Makarov interrupted.

"Yeah. If they have sex, they can't make kids?"

Laxus was appalled when his grandfather answered the question without batting an eyelash.


"Because there's no penis."

"Right. You have to have at least one vagina and at least one penis if you want to make a kid out of it. Most of the time, people aren't trying to do that."

"How do the people with clits have sex with each other?"

"With mouths, fingers, breasts, toys…there are all kinds of things. There are truly infinite ways to have sex."

Laxus took a long, steady inhale. He couldn't believe they were talking about this so casually. About two women—about how they'd…

"And two men?" Wan asked.

Laxus went rigid in his seat. Both boys watched Makarov closely.

"Same thing," Makarov said. "Mouths, hands, et cetera. Most folks with penises enjoy a bundle of nerves in their anus being stimulated, too."

"I…heard about that," Wan said hesitantly.

"It's not quite like a vagina—"

Laxus felt like he was going to faint. This was unreal, a dream he would wake up from, surely. Just a nightmare. Makarov went on, and there were hand motions Laxus's brain didn't take in. The word 'condom' floated out of the fog and Laxus latched onto that: that word he knew, and it had to do with vaginas and reproduction and this was solid ground…

But it wasn't.

Breathing was difficult. How could he tell them this wasn't how it worked? Jijii should know that. Should know it did things to you, changed you.

It was wrong.

"Any more questions?" Makarov asked.

"No," Wan said.

"Yes," Laxus said viciously. "Why would anyone want to have sex like that?"

Makarov blinked.

"Because it's what they like. They fall in love with someone, or—"

"But what's that mean?" Laxus interrupted.

"You know what love is, Laxus."

"I don't get what it has to do with sex," he spat. Frustration pressed against his eyeballs.

"Many people use sex as a way to express affection," Makarov said. "Sometimes strong emotions can stimulate your body, without any touching involved. When you care about someone, there's often an urge to be near them, touch them, kiss them. For many of us, it's part of loving special individuals in our lives."

"Whatever," Laxus said. Wan was watching him with close curiosity. Now was not the time.

Makarov just smiled indulgently.

"One day you may understand. Be open to new experiences."

"Like sex with penises," Wan chimed in happily.

"Ew. Sounds…" Laxus sought the right word. "Awful."

"Laxus." There was gentle warning in Makarov's voice, intervening before Wan could respond. He gave a brief explanation of sexual orientation and said, "Just because you don't like something doesn't mean everyone feels that way."

"I don't like it. It sounds gross."

"Why?" Wan asked.

"If you're a man, you're supposed to…" Laxus waved a hand. "Kids and stuff. If you can't do that, there's something wrong with you. It's weak."

"Alright, alright." Makarov sighed. "Everyone should have only the kinds of sex they want to have. If there are things you don't want to do, that's fine. But you shouldn't look down on others if they aren't like you."

"Whatever," Laxus said.

Chapter Text

The second time strangers attacked Laxus, there were three times as many of them.

He was with the Raijinshuu when it happened this time, but still: spells came from some dozen directions, mages well-hidden, and none of the team avoided getting scraped up.

Even though some part of Laxus held complete faith in his team, he couldn't turn off the instincts of years and years of fighting. He punched, dodged, kicked: refused to let inability sideline him. He watched their backs the way he'd always done.

Thus the move felt natural when he got between Bickslow and a curse Bicks hadn't seen flying at him, Laxus taking the magic on his forearms. Even though he knew he couldn't actually stop the spell.

It was lightning, oh the irony. His stomach rumbled, and he almost tried to eat it despite knowing it was impossible. The charge stung in an unfamiliar way, contorting his muscles and racing through him.

As he caught himself on hands and knees, he thought: So that's what that feels like.

Laxus shook himself and stumbled back to his feet—just in time to face a woman in a Molding stance.

She looked between him and Freed a few meters to the side, who had also turned; her eyes skittered between them, and for that infinitesimal moment, Laxus could see her thinking. Calculating that Freed would not be able to throw a defense in front of Laxus in time. Laxus's muscles were already tensing to brace. She shot lance-like vines—

But not at him: at Freed.

This time, it wasn't just instinct Laxus acted on. He hadn't expected her to go for Freed when she had a clear and unhindered shot at himself. His father had sent them, right? He was his father's target. Not Freed. Never Freed.

What they hadn't figured in was that Freed's life was worth more to Laxus than his own. He didn't need magic to move like lightning, managing a second time to get between teammate and curse. The thorny vines crashed into him. Those he caught against his arms merely brought gashes and blood, but those which got his stomach pierced softer tissue, digging into him before a sword came down and sliced through them.

As Freed drew runes and his eye glowed, he shot Laxus an irate glare.

Freed was furious. First he'd been scared: hearing the grunt and watching Laxus go down—

Afterward, he was boiling to the brim.

"You can't just jump in front of curses like that," he growled, turning his glare on Laxus as soon as they were alone at home.

"You were going to get hit." Laxus shrugged. "It wasn't like I thought I could defuse it. I knew it would hurt; but it was better for me to get hit than you."

"That's—" Freed's fists shook. "That's a neat little justification for protecting me."

"Fuck yeah," Laxus growled back. "That's because it's true. That makes you angry?"

"For a second in there, I saw it in your eyes. You gave yourself up."

"For you."

"For nothing! Yes, I wouldn't have been able to dodge that entirely, but you didn't trust me to handle it. You know me: you know I can handle it. But what pisses me off? For at least a moment, you didn't count your life as valuable."

Laxus huffed. "That's not—"

"Whatever you're about to say, don't you dare lie to me, Laxus."

The Dragon Slayer pursed his lips.

"It's not as valuable as yours," he said quietly.

"Goddess, just because you don't have fucking magic?"

"No," he said, but Freed went right on.

"If you want to be in denial and try to be something you're not…if you're going to cope poorly with everything that's been happening, please do it in some way that doesn't give me a heart attack!"

"No promises," Laxus said, angry. "Those are your feelings. You can't put it on me to control them for you."

"Fine, how about this: I request that you please not be an idiot and throw yourself blithely at danger when I'm standing right there."

They were both breathing hard, Laxus staring at him but not opening his mouth to speak. Freed let out a noise of frustration.

"I need to cool off. I'll be back."

"Where are you going?" Laxus asked, blinking. His expression switched from stubborn to anxious so fast it softened some of Freed's anger.

"This is not about you," he said more calmly. "I can't think straight. I'm too emotional, and you're right, that's not on you. That's on me. And I don't want to yell at you. Please, let me calm down."

After a moment's hesitation, he held out a hand. Frowning, Laxus took it.

"I will be back," Freed promised, squeezing his fingers.

Abandonment, Freed reminded himself: Laxus had bad experiences with arguments and people leaving.

Hovering on the stoop, Freed looked back and said, "I still love you," before letting the door fall shut.

Always. You idiot.

When Freed returned from his walk, he had a paper in his hand.

"I went by the guild," he told Laxus, "and picked up a small job. I could use your help on it, if you're willing."

This startled Laxus out of his glumness into curiosity.

"A job?"

"Translating the runes across a cave this town discovered while mining," Freed said, leading him to the table and laying the paper out. "They want to be sure it's not some awful curse."

Standing at Freed's shoulder, Laxus read over the paper and the paragraph of foreign symbols.

"I think this only requires two syllabaries," Freed murmured, turning toward the bedroom.

"Freed," Laxus said. "What you said before."

"I'm not sure what to do about it at present," Freed said, standing still. "I need to think about it, and that will give you time to think too, and maybe we can come up with a compromise. I'm still angry, but I also understand why you did it."

Laxus didn't like how unresolved this reply left everything, but he nodded and Freed went to grab his books. Maybe they did need to think about it. Maybe, if he got lucky, they wouldn't have to bring it up again.

They worked peacefully, Laxus finding the patterns and untwisting the coded grammar while Freed did the actual translation. But a feeling began to grow in Laxus's mind, a question of what he was good for. Yes, he could help Freed with jobs like this. And Laxus liked the calm work, the fun of puzzling things out, and he liked working beside Freed.

This could be a fun life.

But not if this were all he was good for, if Freed went out in harm's way and Laxus would be left behind: if the most he could offer his boyfriend was to be a human shield.

It was sad how appealing that sounded. Taking abuse on his body. He was good at that. And to protect someone with his own pain—to make that pain worth something…

It made him feel warm things he couldn't articulate.

These emotions swirled around the back of his mind as he worked, interrupted only when he handed Freed another scrap of transcribed runes and Freed suddenly looked up.

"You know you're quite smart, right?" Freed said, smiling up at him.

Laxus blinked. "Oh."

"Just 'oh'?" Freed smirked.

"I just…am not really. Brilliant—that's you; that's always been your purview, Freed. I get by."

"No, actually." Freed met his eyes, contemplative. "You're gifted at putting things together. Most people can't pick up new magics so quickly, Laxus."

"Next to you, I'm normal," Laxus muttered.

Freed laughed.

"That's true of most people—I'm not that humble. Much as I appreciate the compliment, I also think my boyfriend underestimates himself." Freed tapped his hand. "You're a skilled mage, Laxus. Not used to be: are. You will always be smart when it comes to magic and deduction."

Freed turned back to the work while Laxus stared at his green head for a moment.

The fact that Freed thought he was in any way brainy was a surprise. Even if Freed were right, though, was this enough for Freed? Was it enough for Laxus?

Despite his sulkiness, Laxus did enjoy the job. When they finished up, they cleared the table and cooked side-by-side, something Laxus had always secretly liked doing. They bandied jokes around, talked, teased each other, laughed. By dinner, Laxus was feeling very hopeful about them not bringing up their earlier argument.

As Laxus rose from the table afterward, Freed strode over and cornered a surprised Laxus against the wall.

"Alright, Dreyar. I'm still hungry."

Laxus blinked, frozen. Freed shoved him up against the wall, gave him a long, considering look that made Laxus's cock burn, then leaned in and bit Laxus's collarbone.

"Hahhh, fuck," Laxus groaned, automatic; surprise giving way to more pleasant things.

Freed was beautiful and devastating. His fingers dug sharply into Laxus's arms, holding him captive, foisting him toward not the bedroom but the nearest piece of furniture. When Freed shoved his chest, Laxus stumbled backward and onto the sofa. Before he could get his senses back, Freed had straddled him and pressed him into the back of the couch.

"Freed," he moaned, cut off when Freed's hot mouth covered his. Just as quickly, Freed pulled away again, hand in the middle of Laxus's chest keeping him in place.

"You like this?" Freed purred, as if there was any way not to tell Laxus loved this.

Laxus just nodded. He was out of breath. Freed was exquisite.

"I can continue," Freed said, hooking a finger into Laxus's trousers and stroking his cock to exemplify the point. When Laxus whimpered, Freed thrust his tongue rudely into Laxus's mouth.

"I can continue," Freed went on after a moment, "but first I want to talk. What's wrong?"

"Wrong?" Laxus was still breathless.

"You say you're fine, but you do not act okay. You're acting depressed. And secretive. Fay—like it doesn't matter if you get hurt. You act like you have no purpose, and then pretend you're not feeling that way, but everything you do—you're being reckless. More than usual. And you are hurting me."

"Hurting you?" Laxus asked, appalled. Despite the stiffness in his pants, he was fully paying attention now.

"Every time you run into danger like it doesn't matter, like your life doesn't mater, it hurts me. I'm here to help you, Laxus. I've always been here to help you. That hasn't changed now that you don't have magic. It hurts when you push me away, like your lack of magic means we aren't equals, means you have to work harder to be good enough."

They were so near, their bodies so connected. Laxus could see the anguish on Freed's face, close and personal…and he couldn't pretend it was anything else.

"I don't like needing help, Freed," Laxus said a bit desperately. "I don't like that I'm worthless to you, and that I can't help at all, and that I'm just a burden. I can't fucking stand it. I'm not… I haven't earned this."

"You're not a burden." Freed took his face in his hands, leaning close. "Never, Laxus. Not to me. You're not worthless to me."

"What do you get out of this?"

Freed snorted.

"Are you serious? What about living beside the person I love? What about talking about things with you, hearing your ideas, which are frequently brilliant, by the way? What about having a boyfriend who touches me, and lets me cuddle him, and who gives amazing fucks? What about the little things you do for me—have always done—to take care of me in your own way? None of that changed, Laxus. And I didn't fall in love with you for your magic. I fell in love with you for who you are. You are still that person."

Laxus grunted.

"I'm sorry, Freed."

"No, it's—I understand why you're doing all this. You've had part of you taken away. Your whole life is changed, and your own parent might be trying to kill you, and this isn't exactly an easy situation. I get it."

"I'm still sorry. That doesn't make it okay. I just…forgot you'd be affected by it."

Freed smiled at him. "Of course I'm affected. I love you. And I forgive you, Laxus."

Nodding, Laxus leaned in slightly and kissed his cheek. Freed let out a long, relaxing sigh, leaning close again. His palm on Laxus's chest was hot and sweaty.

They stared at each other for several minutes. Laxus had never looked into someone's eyes for so long; nor had he ever felt so comfortable doing so. Freed knew him. Freed saw him. And yet he never backed away. With every new piece of Laxus he learned, Freed embraced him more.

When Freed kissed him, Laxus returned it heartily. He didn't deserve this. He knew that. But he was so grateful to have it anyway. To have the love of Freed Justine.

Freed bit his lip, and suddenly he was aggressive again. Done speaking now, Freed made good on his promise.

Freed stripped speedily, the action making an incredibly tantalizing show. Fast. Desperate. Straddling Laxus now naked, Freed unfastened Laxus's trousers, slid a finger over his cock, and pulled him free. Laxus groaned in involuntary delight.

Oh. So they were moving quickly. I am not complaining.

Freed was achingly stiff, his cock a beautiful tempter. The Dragon Slayer fisted his boyfriend and jerked while Freed moaned and reached around to stretch his own ass, still stroking Laxus's cock.

He rode Laxus so hard that night it rattled the walls. Freed's face screwed up, desperate, devastated, like he'd lost something precious but refused to give it up. Like he was determined to hold on.

Laxus felt like pure gold.

Chapter Text

After breakfast, the pair of them looked over what Freed had put together about the curse so far; but it wasn't much, and Laxus was no more help, not recognizing the language or the types of magic Freed listed.

After an hour, they stopped and Laxus went to make a snack. Ever since losing his magic, he'd been ravenous.

"I have someone I need to talk to," Freed said, coming into the kitchen with a bag slung over his arm. "I need some help with these runes. They're just not making sense; I'm missing a connection."



Laxus paused. "Freed, don't…wear yourself out for this, please. It's not worth it."

Freed tilted his head with a bemused frown, little smile twitching his lips.

"You're always worth it."

Laxus gave him a skeptical look.

"You're the sine qua non of everything," Freed said.

"I don't know what that means."

"It means," Freed leaned up and kissed his forehead, "there's nothing I won't do for you."

The words settled heavily in Laxus's gut as they said goodbye and Freed left.

After a long moment, Laxus told the air, "That's…"

He gulped.

"...what scares me."

"Thank you," Freed said, as Levy let him in. "I'm sorry it can't wait."

Levy waved a hand as she led him into the narrow flat.

"The job I'm working on isn't urgent."

The main room was taken up by a large, very messy table functioning as a desk. A cowed little sofa crouched in the corner. Full bookshelves covered the walls.

Levy cleared a space on the desk and Freed spread out several sheets of paper.

"The curse is in these runes. Arranged in an order that I can't be sure of, because they were scattered by the time I saw them."

"What was the curse?" she asked.

"It forced all the magic from someone's body under certain conditions."

"Oh my god."

He nodded. "I know the script and the language now, finally. But the problem is I know next to nothing about Kumerian."

"Kumerian. Shit. I see why you didn't want to say anything until we were in private. There's Yamada's Syllabery…"

She pulled it from the shelf just as Freed pulled his own from his bag.

"It's my only good resource. I'm learning the syntax as fast as I can, but…" He shrugged.

She nodded in solidarity.

"I don't envy you. But I already know I'm not going to be much help, Freed. My magic is all based on Fioran, which is completely different, and my study has extended only to the official languages of this continent. And I've never been good at the dark languages; not for lack of trying," she admitted. "I just couldn't make them work."

Freed nodded, exchanging a wry smile with her.

"Unlike me," he said. "Black languages have always been easy for me."

"Smart bitch," she snorted, and he smiled.

"Sorry I can't help," she said again. "I'd be even farther behind you in trying to learn it. I think I'd be a hindrance."

"Thanks anyway."

She handed the rune-covered papers back to him reverently, like the symbols were precious.

"Freed," she said, "you knew my magic wouldn't be compatible."

"It was a long shot," he agreed.

"So why did you come to me?"

He looked her in the eye.

"I need to be able to say I did all I could."

Levy swallowed. "What are you planning?"

"Something potentially regrettable."

"Do you want me to talk you out of it?"

"Would you want me to stop you from saving someone you care about?" he asked.

"No." She sighed. "Be careful."

Freed snorted something that wasn't quite a laugh. "As much as that's possible, I will."

Freed went to the local office of the Magic Council, gathered the information he needed, and thanked the officer. The knights in Magnolia were always accommodating despite his guildmark because he'd helped several of them improve their runes.

Then he headed to the train station.

He hated lying to Laxus—although he really had done all he could. He hated how Laxus would react when he found out what Freed was doing, but even worse, he hated Laxus being like this.

Laxus felt he had no purpose these days. He threw himself into danger to protect people even though he didn't have magic. He might just want to get himself gloriously killed.

That thought was so distressing Freed spent the first bit of the train ride re-composing himself.

The gaol for their province wasn't far, just the next stop over. Freed entered without issue, and when he submitted the request for visitation, they granted it even though he didn't have an appointment.

After so long and all too soon, they had the woman in magic-sealing cuffs and Freed was ushered into her cell, his own magic still accessible. They closed the door behind him.

"Hello," he said.


She didn't make a move toward him, but she did stand, glaring at him with something dark and pained.

She looked the same as when he and Laxus had chased her through the streets—when she trapped them in orange runes and taunted them. When she'd forced Freed to spill his embarrassing secrets. The same, yet different. By the light of day, she was just a woman, hair pulled back, clothes plain.

And rage on her face.

"Come to gloat?" she asked.


"Really? You're the single reason I'm in here. That idiot you were in love with certainly couldn't have taken down my runes."

"Wasn't he the one who knocked you unconscious?" Freed retorted. People always underestimated Laxus's intelligence. Did people think there could only be one smart-ass on a team? Laxus could think his way out of almost anything given enough time.

"I don't really remember who knocked me out, do I? I was unconscious. I did hear you almost died."

Freed rubbed his arm before he could stop himself. "Pain is a small price to pay."

"For saving your beloved? Dreyar, wasn't it? How did that work out by the way? Manage to keep the friendship intact?"

He was tired of her taunting. He needed her help.

"Actually, he's my boyfriend. He'd asked me out that morning. And he's the reason I'm here."

"He wants revenge?"

"Why is that your first thought? I'm not here for revenge. We meant to stop you hurting others, and we did that. I'm here to offer a trade." Freed inhaled. "I need your help."

She went still, eyes tracing his features, trying to catch the lie. He knew what she was thinking—they were the same, after all. Freed was well aware he was smart, and he knew she was too: it took someone of high intelligence to create a curse language of their own. She had a unique brain. A brain like his.

"What are you trading?" she asked.

"I need your help on a linguistic problem. In exchange, I can get you access to more comfort, messages to family, maybe a shorter sentence."

"More books?" she asked.

"Whatever I can do, I'll try."

"No. I don't want any of that." She shook her head and paced the room. "I just want to see my daughter."

Freed inhaled sharply.

"She's being detained," she went on. "I want to see her and I want you to get Hana her freedom."

"You have a child?" And then— "The girl? She was yours?"

"Of course she's mine. I taught her magic when she was a toddler. That's how she can glide through the walls as a twelve-year-old without anyone ever knowing."

"You brought her in on your extortion—" Freed began in a growl, then held up his hands. "You know what, never mind. I'm not here to argue parenting with you. I'll do it."

"You will?"

"But why haven't you invoked your rights? Mothers are entitled to time with any child under the age of sixteen."

"I know that," she snapped. "I'm not her blood-mother. Her blood-mother died, but she was my wife, so Hana is mine."

"If you were married, you still have—"

"We weren't legally married," she snarled. "You think that exists for people like me? Legal stuff means getting caught. And Aoi, she was married to a woman who controlled her, beat her, and sold her to men. That's how she got pregnant. I met her on a job, decided she was worth risking everything… So I got her out of there. Spent months telling her she was worth it and I loved her and wasn't leaving. We learned to trust each other. She had the baby. We had a family. We were happy.

"Until your rune knights," she took a step toward Freed and pointed at the door, "took a cheap shot and killed her. Then it was just me and my daughter whom I raised, but whose legal parent is a woman who pimps out anyone she can manipulate. If that woman finds out about Hana, she'll make sure Hana gets out of detention so she can sell her. Sell her, do you hear me? I won't let that happen. So you'll get my daughter out of detention and somewhere safe, and swear your life on it. Then I'll see if I can help you."

Freed breathed deeply, watching her agitation, her desperation and impatience which were so obvious behind the anger.

"That is something I would do anyway," he said. "We don't believe in children being used—"

"Don't take the fucking moral high road—"

"Don't think you know me!" he shouted. She took a step back. He hissed, "Most of us at Fairy Tail were children who went through shit. We don't let that happen to other children."

She pursed her lips.

"Don't dare take her to your guild."

"I don't know what we'll do, but I do swear I will make sure she ends up safe, no matter what. And I also swear I will do everything I can to get the paperwork through making her legally your daughter."

The woman took a step back in surprise.

"Is that acceptable?" Freed asked. "In return, you will put the best of your energies into helping me decipher and undo a certain curse. When we finish, I will continue making sure your daughter is safe until she comes of age in four years or you are released."

She peered at him for a long time.

"You will?"

Flipping up his palm, Freed wrote quickly across it with his finger, until the terms of the agreement glittered on his skin.

"Your daughter's full name?" he asked.

Her expression was solemn now. "Sasaki Hana."

"I promise," he said, finishing the last rune.

She reached for his hand, hunger in her eyes.

Freed stepped back.

"Come now," he said, holding out the hand without runes instead. "You really think I'll let you steal these runes right out of my hand?"

She grinned. "It was worth a shot. So how are we supposed to shake on it, genius?"

Freed jittered his still-outstretched hand, blank of writing, and she took it slowly. As they clasped each other's fingers, he pressed his other palm to the back of her hand. The spell dissipated into their skin. Binding.

"Like that," he said.

She hmphed, but she looked amused.

"By the way," Freed said, "I'm Freed Justine."

"Nakano Akira."

"Shall we, then, Nakano-san?"

By the middle of the afternoon, Laxus was bored. He'd finished reading a book he snuck from Freed's shelves several days prior, and there were no non-magical jobs for him to do. So he headed to the guild.

He navigated his way to the bar without catching any accidental body contact, though he was less nervous about that now; it seemed people realizing his magic-less state wasn't much of a danger unless they were high-powered people like Mirajane or Erza, and they wouldn't announce something like that to the whole guild.

"Hey, Laxus," Mira said brightly. "What are you up to?"

"Amusing myself," he said honestly.

"Where's Freed?"

"Studying. Went to get assistance. You haven't seen him, have you?"

"Sadly, no," she said. "You really are bored, aren't you? I guess you're not taking jobs at the moment?"

He met her questioning gaze, raising his eyebrows. "No, not currently."

"Is Freed studying…that?" Mira motioned at Laxus's general person.


"What do they know so far?"

"I'd prefer not to talk about it right now," he said, jutting his lip out. "Clearly. Besides, I assumed you'd heard through all your gossipy sources."

"Nope. I know nothing except what I've seen on Freed's face or taken in through my tactile senses," she said. "And don't say 'gossip' with so much arrogance."

"Huh. Last time I talked to Ever, I got the impression she's been unloading to you lately."

To his surprise, she blushed.

"No. I mean, not with that."

Laxus narrowed his eyes. "So, what, she and your brother break up and you're wanting to make sure she doesn't break his heart by going on a rebound or something? What's your angle with getting all close?"

"It's not—not an angle!" she protested, flustered. "We're just friends. I wanted to make sure she was okay afterward, and now we've gotten closer. That's all. I wouldn't…dabble in my siblings' love lives! That's wrong."

He let the subject drop. He'd wheedle the rest out of Ever.

Their conversation moved onto guild business and other safe topics. Whenever the doors opened, Laxus flicked his eyes up just in case.

When Levy walked in, he left off mid-sentence.

"Just a sec," he said.

Crossing the hall, he noticed Freed's scent around her was stale.

"Yo," Levy said, raising her eyes a little regretfully. He could never tell if she was intimidated or just didn't like their height difference; he preferred to assume the latter. She wasn't intimidated by much.

"Seen Freed?" he asked, though he already knew the answer.

"Earlier," Levy said, and now she was nervous, scratching an ankle with the opposite toe. "Um, he came over to ask about some things."




"And I couldn't help him. He went off to get help elsewhere."

Laxus grit his teeth. "Where, exactly?"

"Um, I don't know…"

He raised an eyebrow. Levy sighed.

"I just know it's dangerous," she said, clenching her hands. "And that you won't like it, which was why he didn't tell anyone."

"Gods damn him," he growled.

"I didn't want him to go. I asked if he wanted me to talk him out of it but…I got the impression it was the kind of job he'd give his life for, know what I mean?"

"Yeah," he said, avoiding her eyes. "Thanks."

He started for the guild doors.

Against his will, fear was rising in his chest. He couldn't help thinking it: everyone who said they loved him either left him or died. It was a stupid superstition, but Freed was reckless and not himself lately. Freed was amazing but not invincible.

A few meters from the threshold, he stopped and turned around. If this were something dangerous, it was stupid to charge in—Laxus couldn't do much without magic. Besides, he had no idea where to start looking.

He went to the guildmaster's office.

"What is it?" Makarov asked, sitting up lazily from what had clearly been a nap.

"Freed's gone. He didn't tell anyone where, and Levy says it's dangerous."

Makarov snapped to attention.

"Was it a job?"

"No." Pressing his lips together, Laxus admitted, "He's still studying the runes from the shikigami."

With a concerned look, Makarov reached into a drawer of his desk.

"Start here." He handed Laxus a lacrima. "If he's in danger, this will help. It allows you to send feelings to another person regardless of where they are."

"Why the hell do you have something like this?"

Makarov looked at him. "How often were you depressed while you were away from the guild?"

"What—?! You know what, never mind that for now. What are its limitations?"

His grandfather waved a hand.

"Do you have to know every detail about it right this minute? Use it. The power of feelings," Makarov said, "is strong. If he is in trouble, that is the sort of thing that can lend a person physical and magical strength. The lacrima may even have a conversion spell on it. Use that, and then we'll see what else we can do."

Staring down at the crystal in his hand, Laxus focused on his emotions for Freed—screw the fact that he had an audience: he didn't have time for that concern. He closed his eyes and thought: Be safe, damn you. Don't do anything stupid. I love you.

Makarov watched as Laxus poured himself into the lacrima. The action opened up his expression, let feelings dance across his face which Makarov so rarely saw. Laxus looked concerned, affectionate, slightly angry; he looked scared; and more than anything, he looked vulnerable.

It made things click into place. Laxus truly cared for Freed. A lot.

Watching that care flit across his grandson's features, with that intensity Laxus had regardless of what he was doing, reminded him of his wife. Several decades gone now, but Makarov had over forty years of memories of her laughter, stubbornness, and kindness. He'd gotten lucky to love someone who cared for him even when she was raging mad at him, who never turned him away or stopped pulling him out of himself.

He had always felt toward her the way Laxus looked now. Caring in all the complicated ways real love worked.

It reminded him, too, of Mayu. Laxus looked like her; had her wide cheekbones and open-eyed smile. She'd worn that look sometimes: one of the few raw, uncultivated emotions she'd let others see. Her care for her son and husband.

It was the sort of emotion that made the world grow brighter and more vivid just by its existence.

Exhaling, Laxus collected himself and opened his eyes.

Back to his solid, intense self, Laxus asked, "What else can we do?"

Makarov reached into another drawer and pulled out several more items. "Let's see if we can determine where he is."

It was amazing. Freed almost couldn't believe it. Except he could: it made so much blinding sense now. He'd been on the cusp of noticing it, but she'd helped push him over.

Before Akira had even seen the runes, she asked him a few simple questions, and that had reframed the whole problem for him, so that as he laid them out for her, he was already starting to put things in order, pieces of the puzzle finally connecting. He remembered lacrima research he'd done way back when Laxus was first in the hospital with the hole healing in his chest, and as he and Akira discussed it, things finally started making sense.

Then it had just been a little creative banter over syntax, which he had enjoyed probably more than he should. He hadn't felt this scholarly giddiness in years. The sort of nerdy happiness that was hard to explain to outsiders.

It had persisted on the train ride back, too, a sudden surge of eagerness to get back and tell his beloved what he'd found.

Freed hurried into the guild, scanned the room, and saw the master's door was closed.

When he approached, it flew open before he could knock.

"Freed," Laxus gasped. "You're back."

"I untangled the runes," Freed burst out, unable to contain his grin. "I know what they say."

"What?" The exclamation rose from Freed's other side, where Makarov had come around the desk to stare at him. "Well?! Come in."

When he closed the door, Freed let his excitement radiate through him, taking in the looks on both Dreyars' faces. Makarov was spell-bound, while Laxus leaned against the wall with a frown creasing his features. Freed looked at Laxus in question and waited until Laxus nodded before speaking.

"It's Kumerian," Freed told them, "a relatively young curse language—only goes back a few centuries—strongly related to Jutsu Shiki in that it generates magic barriers. The words of this particular curse are simple: it sends out a wave of anti-ether to empty the magic from whatever it's inscribed on. But these runes from the shikigami aren't all of the words of the curse. It's incomplete, like a sentence missing some of the letters. That's why it didn't fully work when he threw the shikigami at us.

"The fun thing about Kumerian is that you can use things other than runes in the wording. You can program the make-up of certain molecules, or a certain musical signature, or even a barometric pressure into the syntax. Or, say, the molecular structure of certain bodily fluids."

Makarov nodded. I am not blushing, Freed thought furiously, hurrying on.

"Once those remaining 'letters' got added to the curse, it activated a magic barrier in your body, Laxus, and that's how both you and the lacrima were instantly drained."

"Wait, wait," Makarov said slowly, "I thought the shikigami merely caused the blip at the prison?"

"They did, because the curse was as yet incomplete. But I think the runes on the shikigami are an exact copy of runes inscribed on the lacrima. I think Ivan thought those on the lacrima had failed—maybe he thought they wore down over the years, or their power was corrupted. It was bad luck that the curse on the lacrima got completed the next day.

"There's more, too," Freed said, causing Makarov's eyebrows to rise and Laxus to look up from the floorboards he was studying. "I can now say for certain that I cannot undo the runes without getting to the surface of the lacrima itself. There are no runes I can put on you, Laxus, that will counteract these. I'd have to directly edit or erase the ones on your lacrima."

The level of excitement in the office calmed a little.

"Okay," Makarov said. "At least we know that."

Watching Freed's scholarly excitement was endearing. And Laxus clearly thought so too, because Makarov was seeing the same intensity and fondness in his expression. It was rare for Makarov to watch the two interact up close. He wouldn't dream of telling Laxus how much he enjoyed witnessing the strength of their relationship.

That bond was, unfortunately, part of the problem. If certain acts were necessary to complete the curse, then Laxus shouldn't have had any magical deficiency prior to those acts—but he had while in the prison. The only cause for that which Makarov could think of was that Freed's nearness and their affection for each other had somehow sparked a brief activation of the curse.

But this was not something Freed needed to know right now. He already breathed and bled for Laxus's wellbeing; he did not need a silly reason to feel guilty or ashamed of that love.

Their discussion didn't go much further: everything Freed had found opened up more avenues for thought. Laxus had a feeling that experiments were in his future, and that Freed would likely not be happy about this.

When the pair eventually left the office, they escaped the guild to the familiar path home—warier now of attack. Laxus noted Freed kept his sword out the entire walk.

"How was your day?" Freed asked conversationally, squeezing Laxus's fingers in an absent-minded pattern.

Laxus glanced at him in the dark.

"I freaked out. When you were gone, and Levy said it was dangerous. We were trying to find out where you were and how we could help you."

Jolting, Freed looked around with wide eyes.

"I…didn't… But of course—of course you would." Freed shook himself. "I'm sorry. I didn't even think; I didn't think you'd find out until after I was back. I'm sorry."

"Freed…where did you go?"

"You're not going to like it."

"I gathered," Laxus grumbled.

"I went to see Nakano Akira, the head of that extortion operation we stopped."

When Laxus halted in shock, Freed startled.

"You what?"

"She's a skilled rune mage." Freed bit his lip.

"She nearly fucking took your arms off. Right in front of me!"

"I needed the help."

He proceeded to explain: about their deal, about Nakano's various suggestions and how they'd come to the conclusion they did.

"Freed…" I told you I wasn't worth it.

Breathing deep, Laxus remembered that this was his boyfriend: strong, smart, and prepared. Freed did rash things, but at least he thought them through.

Fighting over what was already done was pointless.

"I'm…impressed," Laxus said. "Proud, I guess, that you figured out where to get assistance, and then figured out everything you did. And the concept of the curse intrigues me. But…I'm still…"

"I'm sorry I upset you," Freed said, soothing. "I knew you'd be unhappy about my choice, but I didn't realize it would…scare you."

The tension around Laxus's head sizzled and died.

"Yeah," Laxus said. He had been scared. He was not used to fear, but this was apparently what it meant to care about someone deeply and know you couldn't protect them.

When they arrived home, Freed was still in comfort-mode, caressing Laxus's arm, curling up next to him on the sofa, kissing his cheek. Laxus didn't strictly need Freed to be comforting, but he also wasn't going to say no.

"Was there anything else?" he asked. "Anything you didn't want to say in front of the old man?"

"Yes, actually," Freed said. "It's something I wondered about; now I'm almost certain. The thing is, you might not…hm, agree…"

"Tell me and we'll find out."

"When it all happened, years ago, and you were in the hospital and… I did some reading back then. There wasn't much, because people have attempted this procedure barely half a dozen times throughout history. But one thing was clear: there has to be consent. The lacrima will not meld with the subject's internal magic unless they want it to. Almost every other time someone's tried this, they've done it to an unconsenting captive, and the subject always died. You didn't, because at least in some way…you wanted it, or thought you did."

"Damn right I wanted it," Laxus rumbled. "It was going to solve all my problems. And it did, too. One of the few promises Ivan made which held true."

"And you knew? You knew he'd—cut you open and…?"

"Not until after he had me strapped down," Laxus said darkly. "But that didn't change things. Even when he was—fucking—snapping my ribs into fucking pieces and I just wanted it to fucking stop…I still wanted the power. Always."

Freed jerked at the visceral description. "Wow," he said at last.

"What?" Laxus grunted.

Freed swallowed.

"I just…didn't know. I mean, I knew about…the injuries, obviously, and I knew it was—was wrong and torture and something a parent should never, ever do to their own child… I just. S-snapping your ribs."

"He tried to pry them open first," Laxus rumbled, using the words to get the memories out of his head. "I think he hoped to fit the lacrima in without cutting, but my rib cage didn't open enough and he had to remove sections of the bone to make it fit."

"How the hell were you conscious?" Freed whispered, looking away. "How can you even remember that?"

"I don't usually think about it."

"I'm sorry."

"I think of it as a clinical experiment. Like you've said, I'm one of two people who survived this insertion process. That's interesting.

"And," he added, because Freed was looking so terribly sad, "I couldn't…really fathom the pain. At some point, the brain just kind of…checks out. I was just a kid; I didn't know anything. I had no experience with—torture or anything like that. I just…"

Screamed. And waited for it to end.

There hadn't been any thought or feeling.

Freed took Laxus's hand.

"How," he asked, "can a child give their consent to that? How does that even count as consent?"

Freed inhaled, and a tear slid down his cheek. That lonely tear shook Laxus.

"I don't know."

They sat against each other for a long time. Freed never wiped away the tear, letting it dry on his cheek until it was nothing. His heart beat strong and solid, and Laxus aligned himself with that, intertwining their fingers as they sat together in silence.

"So. Consent," Freed said after a while. "I was going to say…you had to consent to the magic in order for it to successfully bond with your body and your magic. In other words, your spirit, your feelings, intertwine with the lacrima."

Sensing where this was going, Laxus leaned to brace himself against the sofa.

"I think your feelings can have an effect on the lacrima's function. The molecular make-up of semen might be a far cry from anything romantic," Freed said wryly, "but a blowjob still carries emotions. Ivan wanted to shut you down if you loved a man. And you do have feelings. For m-me. I think my presence beside you in the prison made it worse."


"I'm serious. Obviously my presence alone can't complete the curse, but I don't think it helped, either. And I think…"

Freed swallowed.

"What?" Laxus asked in trepidation.

"There might be a psychological component even now. You still have feelings for me, so your access to magic is still blocked."

"No way," Laxus said, leaning back. "That makes zero sense. We were teammates for years; I've always been around you; you can't just now affect on my magic. I've been attracted to you for a long time."

A flush of color bloomed in Freed's face. It hit Laxus a few seconds later: he'd never admitted that aloud.

"Oh," Freed said, corners of his mouth tipping up in a secret smile. "The problem is the curse can only affect your lacrima. It can't permanently drain your magic. The runes are on the crystal, not your body. So the wave of anti-ether that knocked out your magic has abated—that abated, and you should've immediately begun to re-intake ethernanos into your body, just not into the lacrima. You shouldn't be stuck like this. It doesn't make sense."

"You're saying it's mental," Laxus growled.

"Not exactly."

"Yes, exactly. You're saying that because my caring about you helped in activating the curse, my psyche is keeping my magic repressed out of some sort of confused instinct. My subconscious thinks you and my magic can't coexist. That sound about right?"

"Well, yes."

"That isn't it."


"It isn't. I don't have some connection in my head saying 'Freed equals no magic.' Gods, we've worked together for almost a decade. Half our lives we've been friends, Freed. We learned magic together."

"But you never let yourself care before," Freed murmured, eyes gentle and sad—it made Laxus feel uncomfortably vulnerable. "You didn't want to—" his throat caught, "—feel anything when it came to me. Or any guy."


"We have a relationship now. That changes everything."

"No. We're still the same people we were a few months ago. When we were single and hadn't dreamed of dating."

"I don't think we are. If you'll recall, our relationship began with a series of explosive confrontations," Freed said. "Not to mention you've been forced out of the closet since then. The whole world could hypothetically know you're dating a man. It's not a secret anymore: from others, from me, or from yourself. We're changing. People are always changing."

"I want my magic back. If it's all in my head, don't you think that watching you get hurt for me the other day would jolt my magic back?"

"If my theory is correct, that would shove your magic even farther away."

"No, it wouldn't, because you're wrong. I'm sorry, Freed. You're fucking brilliant, but this theory of yours is way off." Laxus gestured broadly, then lowered his arms. "If I had a mental or emotional block, I would know about it."

"You might not," Freed said quietly. "That's what repression is."

"I'm done talking about this. I don't want to argue if neither of us is changing our minds."

Freed sighed. "Okay."

Tense, Laxus jerked his head up enough to meet Freed's eyes. It was incredibly difficult.

"We can agree to let the issue lie?" he asked.

Freed nodded.

"Thank you."

Reaching up, Freed touched his chin. "Always, love."

Laxus's heart scrambled through erratic beats. Freed's palm on his cheek made a powerful wave of relief hit him, hard enough that the child inside him would've started crying if he hadn't closed his eyes.

Arguments. He still couldn't fucking deal with them. Freed was not his grandfather, not Ivan, and Laxus did not—and had never—feared violence while arguing with him. But there were other traumatic memories of arguments with Freed which he never wanted to repeat.

"I love you, Laxus."

Laxus breathed deep, shakily.

"I love you too." He opened his eyes and smiled at Freed. Gods, he loved this man. "I have for a while."

Freed startled and stepped back, hand still raised.

"Why does that surprise you?" Laxus asked.

"You never…before…"

"I like you," Laxus said, hands on Freed's shoulders, sliding down his arms. "You're the best person I know, and… I want you to know that. I need you to believe it."

"Need me to?" Freed chuckled, though his eyes were deep and considering. "I'm sorry I'm surprised. It's not you—"

"It is me. That's why I don't like it. I want to know I've actually convinced you I'm in earnest."

"You've convinced me," Freed interrupted, stepping close, eyes darting to Laxus's mouth as his expression slid into something complex and wanting. "Everything you've done… I'm just stupid and I forget."

"You're not stupid."

"With you around, I am," Freed smiled.

"Can't deny that, I suppose," Laxus teased, and Freed's smile widened.

"You are…so very distracting," Freed murmured.

Laxus's hands were at his waist now, inching down over his hips, enjoying squeezing him and feeling the shape of him. Freed was beautiful in a host of ways, and his body was a goddamn masterpiece that still entranced Laxus. Seeing and touching Freed made him feel like a land of possibilities was spreading before him.

It was Freed who moved first to kiss him, Laxus returning it eagerly and getting wrapped up in it. The way it felt when their tongues slid against each other, when Freed pressed in and explored his mouth. The vibrating in Freed's thighs as he stood on tiptoe to reach Laxus better, Laxus's fingers greedily snatching at every bit of him.

As Laxus spread his fingers over Freed's ass and lifted him slightly, hard things rubbed between them.

"Fuck," Freed hissed, and Laxus couldn't agree more.

He rutted closer, drawing Freed's body to himself, and Freed's chest rose and fell rapidly against Laxus's.

"Wait," Freed panted. "Wait… Maybe we shouldn't."

Laxus pulled back. "Why not?"

Freed nibbled his bottom lip, looking shy. "If my presence intensifies the curse, this isn't going to help. Much as I want you to."

"My magic is already gone," Laxus rumbled, leaning down to bury his face in Freed's neck and suck on the tendons which tensed as Freed gasped. "There's nothing else I can lose."

Which wasn't actually true. There was one thing he could lose. The biggest thing of all.

"But this might keep it from coming back—"

"Freed." He pulled back so his boyfriend could see his face. "I refuse to give up both my powers and you. If I had to choose, do you really think I'd pick magic?"

"What?" Freed laughed.

"If I don't get to love you and make love to you," Laxus got his hands under Freed's ass again, "then what's the point?"

Freed's laughter was airy and surprised, ephemeral like rays of light. Some part of him clearly thought Laxus was joking; the rest of him seemed to be in shock.

"Why don't I lead you to the other room and show you exactly what it is I'm not willing to give up?" Laxus rumbled.

"Goddess," Freed swore, "why don't you fuck me right here?"

Right here in the kitchen. Laxus unbuckled Freed's belt.

"Anything you want."

"Really?" Freed interrupted.

Laxus nodded.

"Suck me."

Laxus stared at him. "You want it? For real?"

"If everything you just said is true and I'm what you want, then I'm not afraid of what this might do." Freed drew a finger down Laxus's cheek. "If you want to…then I want you to blow me, Laxus Dreyar."

Laxus shuddered. He wanted to. And Freed was granting permission.

"Yes," Laxus breathed. He pushed Freed back against the table and knelt, drawing Freed's trousers down with him.

"Hahh!" Freed cried out as Laxus wrapped a hand around him; when Laxus looked up, Freed had thrown his head back and his chest was shivering like the rolling of an earthquake.

Laxus swooped onto Freed's cock, soaking the moment in, tasting Freed's horniness and enjoying the sensation of cock under his tongue. After lapping along the length, Laxus tipped his tongue down the slit, then moved to wrap his lips around the tip while Freed cried out.

"Fuck, Laxus, suck me; nnng, fuck…"

Calloused fingers brushed over Laxus's cheek and into the hair behind his ear, tugging as Laxus sucked harder.

Freed didn't always believe, but Laxus could show him. He could prove it to him. Laxus was good at being persuasive.

Pulling back to mouth at Freed's cock, Laxus switched angles and wrapped his tongue around his tip.


Freed's thighs tensed and Laxus grabbed his hips, muscle rippling under his hands. Freed's body was open for him to play with. He took Freed deep to the sound of Freed choking out his name.

Laxus took Freed in over and over, his mouth a paradise. Freed groaned, breathless and light-headed. It was like Laxus had done this a thousand times. Maybe it was because this was Laxus, this was them, and Freed had never been able to resist him. It had been so long since Freed had really stopped and let Laxus do what he wanted.

He loved the result.

Laxus was pressing him hard to the table now, nose in the curls at the base of Freed's cock. It was Freed who choked when Laxus swallowed briefly around him.

"L-Laxus," Freed moaned desperately. "I—nnn—need…"

Laxus sucked harder and Freed's words were lost.

Freed didn't ask or warn before he came. He let it wash into him and he burst apart, wrapped within the warmth of Laxus's lips, so very loved.

When his heart settled down and he could open his eyes again, he saw a mix of things on Laxus's face, all pure and vulnerable and unafraid. Pride, surprise, delight. Freed loved him.

"You came fast," Laxus smiled, his voice low and slightly hoarse.

Freed was still panting.

"I liked it," Laxus said, rising and pressing his lips gently to the corner of Freed's mouth. "You turn me on."

Freed shivered.

"Laxus…" Sliding his palm down, he pressed against the hard bulge in Laxus's trousers, loving how Laxus gasped and bit him, searching down until he found Freed's neck and dug his teeth in. "We're here… I've always…kind of wanted…to be laid out and fucked on a table."

Pressing against him, Laxus growled, nudged him up onto the tabletop, and tugged at his trousers.

"Get me naked," Freed gasped.

While shaky, Laxus's hands were quick in pulling Freed's trousers and boxers the rest of the way off and unbuttoning his shirt. Freed tried to keep up, frantic in his need as he stripped Laxus down.

When Laxus wanted him like this…it made him feel important. Like he was Laxus's top priority.

Laxus was only half undressed when Freed tumbled backward onto the table, Laxus's hands on his chest, his own hands in Laxus's hair dragging him down to get wrapped up in a kiss that could sear the stars.

Good thing the table was solid.

Laxus wrapped his hand around Freed's thigh and drew his leg up, slowly, nails dragging over sensitive skin.

"Fuck," Freed whispered, letting his head fall back against the wood.

Laxus worked Freed open with slow, insistent movements. As he kissed Freed's neck, he could still taste Freed's cum and it made him so hungry, wanting to consume Freed. He settled for nipping and sucking hard at Freed's skin while his hand moved in and out of Freed's body and his cock leaked impatiently.

When Laxus finally entered him, a deep sense of contentment washed over him, followed swiftly by a desperate need to thrust.

Hips moving, Laxus brought his hands up to Freed's shoulders, gazing down and meeting his eyes. Mouth open to breathe and moan, Freed smiled at him, eyes crinkled up. Laxus kissed his lips, then returned to fucking him heavily and eagerly over the table.

So far his favorite thing they'd ever done was when Freed flipped him onto his stomach and took him from behind. Freed's constant motion, his lips tugging at Laxus's earlobe while he whispered encouragement and affection, the way his hands explored Laxus's skin, and Freed getting close and jerking him off, and the heavy pumping of his cock into sacredly delightful paces… Everywhere in his body had been a place of pleasure, and it had been as if Freed were everywhere, taking care of every part of him.

Now he could return the favor. Sucking Freed off was quickly becoming a new favorite thing, and this, entering Freed and pushing into him the direct message of how much he cared about Freed…this was his way of giving back.

Of making Freed feel like the best thing in the world.

The affection running through his body brought Laxus to the edge quickly. Watching the expressions on Freed's face, hearing his noisy appreciation, knowing that for once Freed was trusting him and letting go for him: that filled Laxus with a warmth that encompassed everything.

At last he thrust into Freed and hurtled into the aether. Laxus dragged Freed's hips to meet his, needing the closeness, putting everything he had, everything he was, into Freed.

Letting Freed have all of him.

"Love you," Laxus gasped against Freed's chest. "Fuck, I love you. Holy shit."

Freed's ribs rose and fell in rhythm and he combed a gentle hand through Laxus's hair.

"You make me feel amazing," Freed whispered.

Laxus was sure his body was beaming light through the entire room. The way Freed inhabited him. He could never give this up.

They slept in a sweaty tangle in the bed that night, and neither of them rolled away.

Chapter Text

Seventeen-year-old Laxus strolled through the destroyed fortress following the scent of Freed and the others. When he entered what used to be the main hall, his teammates looked up.

"That was amazing," Bickslow said. "I didn't know you could do that."

Laxus grinned.

"I didn't know I could either."

When they first showed up and someone launched pain magic at Ever and Freed, who'd been the vanguard, Laxus reacted with a strike of lightning so enormous the other three had to activate their eye magicks to protect their sight.

Probably the entire dark guild would have permanent damage to their vision, but if they were that weak, they earned it.

Freed directed the other two to collect any more prisoners from the other rooms, then turned to Laxus.

"They still don't know, right?" Freed asked, jerking his head in the direction their teammates had gone.

"No. Just you and Jijii." The fewer people who knew about his lacrima, the less chance of betrayal.

"Thought so," Freed said. "Earlier…you came close to releasing it?"

"Yeah, it was close," he answered.

"But not quite."

"Not quite."

Not enough to tip him over the edge and release the final stores of power sitting in his chest. He had the senses of a dragon, and the increased strength. But he didn't have the draconic spells. The only way to learn a Lost Magic was by someone teaching you, or the very special process his father had used on him—possibly the only time someone had tried such a thing: all the spells of a lightning dragon were inside the lacrima ready-made. All Laxus needed was for those spells to go through his body once, and he'd know how to work them.

But that meant using each of those spells. It meant incredible destructive power. When he released the Dragon Slaying magic from his lacrima, all the spells might shoot through him at once—they couldn't be sure. Which meant everyone within a couple square kilometers could be electrocuted.

It was a pretty big fucking announcement to the world: here is a Dragon Slayer.

Makarov had told him not to pull the spells out until he needed them. They would always be there, waiting for when that time came. All of this, in fact, was stuff Makarov had figured out after-the-fact; it wasn't like Ivan left behind a manual when he disappeared.

Laxus was okay following orders in this. In the past four years, he'd learned how to control vast amounts of power, increased his strength exponentially, and learned hundreds of new spells from a dozen types of magic. When the time came, his Lost Magic was the ace up his sleeve. And he always had the draconic senses.

"Imagine what the guild will think when they hear we took down an entire dark guild," Ever said with a smile, waltzing in with two trussed-up women floating behind her. (She'd learned levitation magic so she didn't have to dirty her hands.)

"Fourteen members of a dark guild," Freed corrected.

"And their rundown guildhall," Laxus said.

"Rundown now. It wasn't when we arrived."

Laxus grinned. "Exactly."

Freed rolled his eyes, chortling.

Bickslow returned and they readied their unconscious prey for delivery to the rune knights. Normally, inter-guild violence was banned, but the knights had had several casualties to these mages. Freed had connections and the knights had asked the Raijinshuu's help in the form of a job request.

"Nobody is injured?" Freed asked, checking their team over.

"I think we would've mentioned it already," Ever said.

"I meant other than life-threatening. It only takes a small wound getting infected to have big problems."

"Laxus, you have some blood on your face." Bickslow reached over and pointed at Laxus's cheek.

"It's not mine…" Laxus trailed off.

From this close, he could smell a hint of something else layered on Bickslow's normal scent. Someone. It was old, but bits remained. Huh. Bickslow hadn't mentioned dating recently, and he lived alone. One-nighter, maybe.

It was strange getting these insights into people's personal lives—information that he didn't always know how to interpret. Like last week when Freed smelled like…well, like Gray Fullbuster. The thing was, Fullbuster was known for kissing boys (and doing much more with them)—but Freed wouldn't do something like that. Freed was powerful. Laxus respected him, which was why Laxus refused to listen to the niggling part of his brain that kept trying to wonder if Freed had gone off kissing Gray.

Freed was strong; he wasn't like that.

Laxus looked around. "Ready to go?"

They were eating rice and teriyaki at the dinner table.

"Your father is in Crocus," Makarov said.

Laxus dropped his chopsticks.

When Laxus was silent, Makarov said, "I'm going there tomorrow."

"Why?" Laxus demanded.

"I need to discuss a few things with him." The old man looked up and finally met Laxus's eyes. "Are you interested in coming?"

"Absolutely not. We don't need him," Laxus spat.

"This is just to talk," Makarov said. "He's not coming back with us."

"As if he would."

"Laxus…" Makarov sighed. "He is your father."


Makarov clenched his chopsticks.

"I've kept you from seeing him before. I won't anymore."

"I'm not interested in seeing him. He can fucking rot."


Makarov's raised voice had Laxus's pulse beating fast.

"You're the one who always says he saddled you with another kid," Laxus said viciously, every word swallowed around his heartbeat. "That you'll never be able to retire."

"I do not say it like that," Makarov said firmly.

"You talk about how your pathetic son is irresponsible and left you a kid who isn't yours—"

Makarov slammed a hand down. "Do not twist my words."

Laxus flinched back, the jolt going all the way to his toes. He had to fight a shocked urge to cry, and when it passed a second later, anger filled him up, so loud he couldn't hear. This reaction: again, still, after all this time.

He would never escape it. Even when he knew now with burning certainty that Makarov would never be violent. How was his body still afraid?

They were staring at each other, both wide-eyed, and Makarov seemed to realize he'd upset Laxus because his next words came out much softer.

"I'm sorry. I don't like you thinking I don't want you. I love having you here. I didn't hesitate when—"

"Save it." Laxus stood up. "It doesn't matter."

"I think it does," Makarov began, but Laxus was already walking out of the room. "Laxus. Get back here and eat—"

Laxus didn't turn around. He didn't respond. He didn't need to. It was all just words and white noise.

They meant nothing.

Laxus usually liked Bickslow, but there were times when he wanted to disown him as a friend. Like right now.

"It's just…she's really pretty," Bickslow was saying, the end a thirty-minute whine repeating (as far as Laxus cared, which was very little about this topic) the same things over and over. "She's smart and gorgeous. But so was the last person I dated."

"Attractiveness has nothing to do with a person's ability to connect emotionally," Freed said, again. "Just because you've dated a few hot people and it never worked out before doesn't mean it won't this time. That's a very poor conclusion to draw from your data."

"Well, it doesn't matter what my brain says," Bickslow said, putting his head down on the kitchen table. They'd finished a round of poker and were waiting for Ever before they started another. "It's my heart that's the problem. It's all mushy and scared."

Though Freed rolled his eyes, he still reached over and rubbed Bickslow's shoulder. "It'll be fine."

Bickslow turned his sad eyes on Freed, and then on Laxus.

"What about you guys? Any heartbreak?"

Freed laughed. "Always."

"You don't sound like it," Bickslow grumbled.

Freed smiled and shrugged, enigmatic. Laxus could never tell if Freed was joking when he said shit like that. Freed, like Laxus, was not overly concerned with romantic endeavors.

"Laxus?" Bickslow prompted.

"There's no one hot enough for me," he said.

"That's what you always say," Freed snorted. "Word for word."

"Well, it's always true. Look around: they're all tough and self-sufficient. I'm not into that."

"You're sufficient enough for half a dozen people," Bickslow teased.

Laxus grinned.

"Self-sufficient nullifies hot?" Freed asked.

"Of course," Laxus said. "It isn't cute."

Bickslow jutted his lip out pensively. "Ever's self-sufficient and still cute. Off-limits, obviously, I just meant you're wrong. Where is she? It's only three blocks."

He rose and paced to the window.

"Maybe one of us should go look for her," Freed said, a bit of worry in his voice, and Laxus tensed. He normally took it for granted that each of them could take care of themselves, but if anything happened to one of his teammates…

"I'll go," Bickslow said. "I'm sure we'll be back in minutes."

With a little wave, he closed the door.

" 'Self-sufficient and still cute,' " Freed chortled, clapping a hand over his eyes. "Good thing she didn't hear that."

Laxus chuckled with him. "I still stand by what I said, though."

"Have you dated much?" Freed asked, leaning back and putting his feet on Bickslow's chair.

"No," Laxus said. He shifted uncomfortably. "Too busy. We've got the team; our work. Until a woman shows up who meets my standards…" he shrugged.

"Woman…or man?"

Laxus blinked. "Huh?"

"Woman or man," Freed repeated. He wore a whimsical smile. "You never know who you'll date, after all."

Just like that, fury was burning in Laxus's stomach, intense and without question.

Freed backtracked quickly.

"Or not…"

"Definitely not," Laxus growled.

Freed tried to laugh, but it was flat. "If there are no boys cute enough for your tastes—"


Papa, look at the pretty man—

Something snapped inside Laxus.

He swung his fist across the distance between them, intent only on shutting those words up. Freed darted out of his reach, Bickslow's chair tipping over. His eyes were huge and he stared at Laxus in shock as they both panted.

Laxus hated that shock. Those surprised eyes. That ignorant face that knew nothing.

"I'd rather fail a mission than be called a homosexual," Laxus spat. He was boiling over, things he'd left unspoken for years finally free. "Do you realize just how wrong it is for two guys to fuck each other? Gods, and—gods. That doesn't—it doesn't even work like that. And this whole 'we're in love' thing to cover it up. Using love as an excuse to justify… Everyone uses feelings as an excuse for their actions, like that's a good enough reason, but it's not. They… Faggots deserve exactly what they get."

The roaring in Laxus's head was so loud. Anger and fear pounded over each other in overwhelming cacophony.

When signals began to come through, Laxus realized: Freed looked shocked. And furious.

"And what," Freed asked with careful elocution, "would you do if you had to work with someone who was gay?"

"I wouldn't trust them, so what would be the point?"

"What if it were me?"


Freed's thin eyebrow was haughty and accusing.

"You're not…what? But you're not!" Laxus said.

Freed shook his head, a sickened look twisting down his lips.

"You're so fucking blind," Freed whispered.

"No," Laxus said loudly, before thought could take shape. Before the world could crash apart. "Don't even. You can't destroy what we have."

"What do we have, Laxus?"

"Seriously, Freed? You're the fucking reason this team exists. You're going to ruin it with…with—just because you want to win the argument? You'd really do that? Does my friendship mean that little to you?"

At last, Freed winced, some of the fury in his face transforming to sorrow and doubt.

Freed wasn't homosexual. Laxus would know if he were. It wouldn't make any sense: Laxus knew Freed—had known him for years—and he was already resting on the certain knowledge that Freed was not that. Freed was reliable. Freed was his friend.

But still: that Freed would say these things just to prove a point… Make these threats over something hypothetical.

"I would never break anything," Freed said coldly. "You know that. I would never do that to you. Besides, the team follows you, not me."

"Then why are you arguing?"

"…It's not…"

"You know that? Fine! Do what the fuck you want; I don't care. Go ahead and ruin us. I'll get over it. But this is all on you, Freed. Never forget that. If you break up our team, it's all on you."

Freed stood.

"I would never want to hurt you…L-Laxus." Freed's voice cracked.

Freed walked to the door, grabbed his coat, and strode out into the night.

Laxus was shaking. Freed wouldn't. He wouldn't break their bond of trust. He wouldn't ruin Laxus's faith in him. He wouldn't take away the few friends Laxus had. Not over mere ideology. That wasn't Freed. Freed was better than that. Freed was loyal. Freed was strong…

The sense of looming loss had Laxus paralyzed in his seat. It was just like his father, like his grandfather. He wouldn't let it happen again. Couldn't lose someone again.

When a voice issued out of the communication lacrima, it took him a minute to register and go over to it.

"Laxussss… There you are," Bickslow said. "Ever tripped over a cat and twisted her ankle—"

"It was a black cat!" Ever shouted from the background. "It was dark!"

"So unless you guys want to come to her place…"

"Freed just left." Laxus's voice sounded dead and hollow.

"Okay, then he'll be here soon," Bickslow said, missing the meaning. "If he doesn't find us on the walk, tell him we're at her flat."


"Are you coming?"

"I'm tired. Think I'll stay home."

Bickslow gave his long-winded version of a goodbye and they disconnected.

"Yo," Bickslow called the minute Laxus strode in the guild doors. "Have you heard from Ever?"

Laxus restrained himself from looking for Freed; besides, he knew Freed's scent wasn't here.

"You were the one who saw her last," Laxus said, joining him against the wall. "Why?"

"Wanna see how her ankle is. I'm itching to take a job, and I don't think she'll be up for it, so I figured once Freed gets here we'll take a short one for the three of us."

Laxus's face didn't move. He didn't even twitch.

Freed. Freed getting here. And if Freed looked at him with rage on his face—

"So how'd last night go?" Laxus asked, leaning on the wall and feeling his taut muscles semi-relaxing one by one with great effort. Had to be normal. Because everything was normal.

"It was just the two of us, and Ever was in a lot of pain, so I gave her painkillers and we played mahjong."

"You played mahjong?"

"It's her favorite game!" Bickslow protested. "And before you ask, yes, I lost horribly."

Laxus gave a distracted laugh.

They kept chatting, Laxus silently forgiving Bickslow for his romantic angst the night before because he was hilarious otherwise.

"Freed's usually here first thing," Bickslow commented, looking around with a frown. "This is unusual."

"Maybe he was tired. Slept in," Laxus offered. "It was late when you all left my place. I don't know how you and Ever stayed up later."

"My magic is not needing caffeine," Bickslow laughed. "Still, Freed does not sleep in. Remember that time his flat flooded and he had to stay with you? You joked about keeping him on because he always woke up so goddamn early and then cooked breakfast for you before you woke up because he was bored—"

"Yeah, I remember. Hah." A sharp scent made him look around. "Hh… Here he is."

He glanced in Freed's direction as Freed veered toward them. Freed didn't appear angry. Or tired or sad or whatever else Laxus might've expected. He honestly wasn't sure. What happened last night…it had been late, and just them, and it was on a topic they never talked about, and maybe it was just…last night. The end.

"Hello," Freed said, running a hand through his hair. "Sorry I was held up: Evergreen needed me to fetch her some groceries. She's not going to be in for a few days at least."

"Ah, we were wondering why were you late," Bickslow said. "So are we gonna do a job?"

"We could, yes."

"Because I'm bored out of my mind. And there's a certain person I want to avoid, if you know what I mean?" Bickslow said with a conspiratorial nod. Laxus did not look at Freed. "I think it'll just be easier if I don't see her for a few days."

Laxus grunted. "Point is, a job. Yes, let's."

As he trained his eyes on the job board, he could feel Freed's gaze land on him. It felt like a spotlight—was this the first time Freed looked at him so far?—and Laxus was not seeing the job board, was not thinking a single thought about what job to take. Could only focus on not looking over at Freed.

"If that's what you want," Freed said.

Laxus escaped the awkward stillness by moving toward the board, hurrying to find something before his trailing teammates could squeeze too close to his side. He didn't know why, but he knew standing next to Freed would be even more difficult than trying to look him in the eye.

"That one," Bickslow pointed. "Close enough to walk, oh ye mighty vomitous S-class mage."

"Shut the fuck up," Laxus said without heat, but it was nice to have a reason to smile, to swat at Bickslow. The brief physical touch seemed to highlight the space between him and Freed all the more, and he hurriedly returned to the neutral ground of a scowl.

Freed's face, when Laxus finally looked over, was blank. Not tired, not avoiding him: just blank. Emotionless.

It could've meant anything.

"Let's go," Freed said.

When Bickslow started up a game of who-has-the-most-embarrassing-scars to make the hike more interesting, Laxus heard Freed laugh for the first time that morning. It made Laxus's heart squeeze, then he exhaled, because this meant the tension was gone. They were okay.

"Doesn't Laxus have that one from a spork?" Bickslow asked from the lead, grinning over his shoulder at Laxus.

"That was for good reason," Freed interrupted before Laxus could open his mouth. "Natsu was trying to stab you, remember? And Laxus punched him unconscious."

"And got stabbed by a spork in the process," Bickslow chortled.

"That doesn't make it embarrassing," Freed said.

"Spork wounds are always embarrassing," Bickslow laughed.

"Agreed," Laxus chuckled. The tiny little scar was pretty silly-looking. "Freed, don't you have the one from your own sword? Although that one has good reason too."

Laxus chanced a look over his shoulder and shot a conciliatory smile at Freed who strode behind him. Freed was watching his feet and didn't see, but he snorted and nodded at the trail.

"I'm not sure it was entirely a good reason. I decided I wanted a two-sided blade, but totally forgot at first. I went to strop it and nipped my kneecap. It's just a line at this point."

"Who knew you could forget things, eh?" Laxus chuckled, glancing back at him again.

"Yeah." Freed stepped over a root. "Who knew?"

Freed didn't know if he couldn't stand this or if this was what he'd begged for: it was the most uncertain rescue he'd ever experienced.

It was as if last night were a dream: Laxus acted like nothing was wrong, and after an initial stiffness, they were talking and walking as if they'd never yelled. Like Laxus had never tried to hurt him.

This normalcy held everything he loved about Laxus: their easy affection and even silliness as soon as Laxus was out of sight of the guildhall and his grandfather. The trust, openness, fun, and depth; the warmth even. Freed treasured their team above all else and would die for any of them.

He would still die for Laxus. Even if Laxus wouldn't die for him. Someone gay.

If Freed had just kept his mouth shut…

There it was, the guilt and the regret: the wish that he could turn back time and steal the words out of his own mouth. Tell himself what an idiot he was being: he knew Laxus got tense when relationships were the focal point of a conversation, knew Laxus could get awkward when some of the guys around the guild talked about their boyfriends, and if Freed were truly smart, he should've put all that together.

He just didn't understand why.

But maybe their childhood held the explanation. Laxus never trusting anyone; Laxus nearly dying at the hands of his father. Maybe Ivan had been gay, and in his hatred and rejection, Laxus had turned against all the things his father stood for.

Or maybe in all the ways Ivan had beat Laxus down, for some reason he beat that down too, wanting Laxus as intolerant and cold as Ivan was.

All those injuries Freed didn't like to think about. All the bruises he'd never brought up. Because he couldn't: Laxus had pride, they had an understanding, trust. That subject was untouchable. Laxus didn't have to tell him not to say…that Laxus had been abused.

Apparently Laxus did have to say for Freed to keep his romantic inclinations to himself.

Idiot. Fucking idiot.

It was easier to be angry at himself than at Laxus. Laxus, who had been so violent and cold. That wasn't Laxus; last night wasn't real, wasn't right.

Maybe this, acting normal, was the apology. The fact that Laxus wasn't upset anymore—maybe this was the silent plea to move forward.

Freed hoped so. He ached for it.

So he agreed to that wordless plea. He would pretend there wasn't a broken, hurting part of himself cowering deep in his soul.

They were okay.

Laxus quickly learned the topics that made Freed fall silent—the things neither of them wanted to go near—and he never brought them up. It was that simple.

Sometimes, Laxus remembered what he'd said. But for the most part he ignored it, pretended he hadn't been so…venomous. Toward Freed. Freed so wholly acted as if he had forgotten, sometimes Laxus wondered if it truly had. They'd never fought before then, and hadn't since. It was a single, isolated incident neither could explain.

Neither of them tried. So everything was normal.

"What's with that face?" Mira said.

Freed startled out of his reverie. "Mm?"

"You're gazing thoughtfully at nothing again," she smiled.

"Just thoughts." He smiled back. "How are you?"

"I'm good. Thoughts about Laxus?"

He shrugged. "Among other things. Where's Elfman? I haven't seen him around."

"Off on some contest of strength, I'm sure," she said, waving a hand and rolling her eyes. "But tell me more. What 'things' about Laxus?"

It was hopeless. When she brought it up like that, there was no way Freed could not feel the ache in his heart, and no way he could keep his smile from slipping into something twisted.

"You're not still pining for him, are you?" she asked softly.

Though he knew Laxus wasn't in the hall to overhear, he still glanced around before saying, "Not per se."

"That means yes."

"He's straight, Mira. Nothing is going to happen there."

"So why don't you take Gray on a date again? You two hit it off well."

"They were never dates," Freed said with a significant look. "That was other things."

"Oh." She raised her eyebrows. "Is Laxus really going to ignore your feelings though?"

Yes, Freed thought. He knew Laxus. This was what to expect from the world's number-one avoider.

"I haven't told him my feelings, and I don't plan to. And you're not to, either. I'll get over them soon. There are other fish in the sea."

Fuck, it was hard to say those words.

"Yes. You deserve someone who loves you," Mira said with a kind smile, while Freed's stomach did a sickly sort of flip.

Did he really?

What if he didn't want that?

"And someone will love you," Mira continued, "because you're awesome. Just give yourself time to find them."

"Yeah," he said, managing to give her a fake smile so perfected even she didn't question it.

As she walked away, he shook his head. People acted like time was a big healer. Except sometimes it wasn't. Sometimes you never stopped loving someone, even when maybe you should. That was love, the little voice in his brain said: loving someone whether or not they deserved it. Laxus didn't have to earn Freed's loyalty: Laxus had it gratis by virtue of who he was.

Freed walked out into the autumn cold, stuffing his hands in his pockets. He would be okay. Just as he lived each day cheerfully and not asking anything of anybody, so he would continue to live the rest of his life. Time would slip by. Nothing would change. Freed was happy with that.

Stopping by a pond, Freed stared into the water.

"I'll stay by your side, Laxus," he whispered at his reflection. "I will never leave. I will never betray you, even if you lunge at me and hurt me. No matter how many times you do. I will never let you down."

He didn't acknowledge the tear that fell to join the water.

Chapter Text

Laxus woke up, as usual, to Freed bent over a book. It was a fun book this time, and not a reference text.

Squinting, Freed was curled double around it, huddled near the solitary lamp.

"The book's that intense?" Laxus rumbled, making Freed jump.

"It's dim in here," Freed yawned, brushing a hand over Laxus's cheek. "We ought to get another lamp."

"I can tinker with that one and make it brighter."

"Or we could get a new one," Freed chuckled.

"It's not hard. Not worth wasting money on a new one."

"They don't cost much."

Laxus shrugged. He looked over at the short lamp and its faded blue shade.

"It's not the most…practical thing," Freed admitted. "Nor exactly your style."

"I like it," Laxus muttered.

Freed's eyes narrowed. "Have you had it awhile?"

Laxus shrugged again.

It had been beside his bed for over a decade.

Freed could tell there was more. A story hid in the features of Laxus's face. If Freed knew him at all, he wouldn't get it out of Laxus anytime soon.

But then, quietly, Laxus said, "It was my mother's."

Freed sat up.

"It's a piece of her to you," he said, searching Laxus's eyes.

"It was her favorite. I was in the middle of taking it apart when she left. I think that's why she didn't take it with her."

"She took her things?"

"Yeah. Cleared out everything that was hers—granted, wasn't a lot. She didn't have much; we didn't have much. Ivan didn't like us having things we didn't need."

Every time Laxus said his father's name, his voice turned grating.

Tentative, Freed asked, "What was she like?"

Laxus paused for a long moment. His eyes traced the wall. Freed couldn't read him: he didn't look sad, or angry, or hurt. Perhaps wistful. As if the memory he was reaching for was a hoarded one.

"I don't remember everything," Laxus said slowly. "It was a long time ago that she died. She loved playing games and reading books to me, and she laughed a lot. I think she was really smart—had really incredible magic, not that I knew it at the time. She was very pretty—smiled a lot. At least that's how I remember her."

Unconsciously, Laxus smiled. It was soft and warm, and his eyes turned up at the corners. Freed's chest was tight, loving seeing him like this, and grieving Laxus's life.

"Do you have any pictures of her?"

"No," Laxus said quietly, staring down at his lap. "Ivan took them away."

"All of them?"

"I saved one. He threw it away when I kept asking him to help me with a certain spell. I snuck out to the garbage to find it, but he'd ripped it up."

Laxus took a long, unsteady breath.

"It was my favorite picture of her. It was all in grey, but she'd added color to it—accurate colors but brighter and…happier. She knew how to make colors do that."

"She was an artist?"

"No." Laxus grinned and looked over at him. "That was her magic. She could change the colors of anything. In the beginning, when she still had her magic, she made everything beautiful around her.

"She lost her magic later. Ivan cowed it out of her, I think. Beat it out of her. I don't know." When a crease came between Laxus's eyebrows, Freed wanted to wipe it away. "She could still do it, but it took effort, and I think it hurt her. I saw her change colors of things occasionally, like food she made, to make them look the way Ivan expected, but she always looked…in pain."

"Was this around the time you kept getting sick?"

"Yeah. I didn't know it, because she hid it so well. She was sick too, in a different way; always aching and hurting. She pretended not to be so she could take care of me. When I found out, I felt guilty for a long time."

When Laxus ducked his chin, Freed made an injured sound and touched his arm.

"You still feel guilty?"

"Yeah, well…" The wobble in Laxus's expression matched the tension in his hands. "In some ways I am guilty."

Laxus swallowed. Freed waited.

"I looked up her medical records once. Because I'm a nosy bastard," Laxus said. "Not a good thing to do. I had her death certificate and paperwork, and as her son…anyway. I wanted to know if she…if she tried to get help, or if the pills…if they were… I don't know. I thought I'd find answers.

"She hadn't gone a lot, despite being sick, which makes me think he was hurting her—like she was trying to hide it. They noticed she had bruises a lot. She told them she was nutrient-deficient, but that's a lie because we had enough food. She went to the clinic regularly because she needed certain antibiotics. For, um…female issues, apparently."

Freed frowned. His familiarity with female anatomy was purely theoretical.

"Infections of some sort?"

Laxus nodded, blushing—Freed couldn't imagine finding out such intimate things about one's parent. "She…"

All of a sudden, Laxus hiccoughed.

"I think…she was having…unwanted encounters. I think he goaded her into…being together—with him. Even when she didn't want to. He…maybe didn't force, but…but he would…she thought she had to…and…"

Laxus's mouth moved silently, shaking his head as he backed up, scrunching into a ball.

"What?" Freed demanded.

Hot and cold sliced through his veins. No, he tried to say. That can't be true.

"I know he wanted to have more kids," Laxus whispered. "But she kept miscarrying. It was probably a fucking good thing she did. If they'd brought another fucking child into that house… He kept telling her he wanted more. She didn't want to. She was happy with me. He was always saying…it was her fault. And she—there were—and the bruises… F-Fill in the rest."

Laxus folded, covering his face with his hands. A soft sound of pain groaned out of him, endless, uncomprehending, like a tortured child.

Freed grabbed him, whispering Laxus's name as he leaned his face against Laxus's hair. At first Laxus recoiled, but Freed held on and Laxus collapsed into him. Freed felt inadequate; his whole body was shivering, heart racing.

He just kept saying Laxus's name.

"H-He wanted," Laxus sniffed, "a new kid because I was always sick. I wasn't what he wanted. I think she let him…do things to her in order to protect me. Because if she gave him a kid, he'd leave me alone. Or maybe she just…didn't think she deserved better. Thought it was her fault. Maybe she thought wives have to—maybe he made her think…had to be available. Maybe she thought he'd be kinder to her—or to both of us…that it was her job…"

Gasping, Laxus pressed his face against Freed's chest and Freed drew him as close as he could. The implications of it all ached in his chest, made him feel torn-open, wounded, small.

And Laxus had carried this pain for so long. He wasn't hiding his tears now, shaking against Freed.

"I u-used to think she h-hated us. That that's why she left. That makes no sense, because she never acted like it, but I needed to understand why. Right before she went away, she asked if he ever hurt me. She was so relieved when I said no, and I found it so strange that it stuck in my memory. And then later when he actually hit me…"

Laxus took a giant, gasping breath.

"He didn't hit me—I mean truly p-push me around—until after we heard she was dead. Up until then, I don't think he would've. He got mad sometimes, but he never did more than the normal parental keeping-you-in-line stuff."

Freed had a feeling Laxus's concept of 'normal' punishment wasn't calibrated the same as others'.

"I think she left because she thought she could escape and that I would be okay. I always wondered why she left me behind, but maybe she thought she couldn't take me. Maybe he'd just lied so much, and she'd believed everything he said… Maybe she thought she was a failure, that he could provide better. That I'd be happier. I don't know. But I don't think she had any idea he'd get worse.

"When she died, everyone said it was an awful accident. Gods, you should've heard them. All the fucking people mourning who'd never known her, or us, who never cared until she was dead. There was nothing accidental about her death. Things don't happen by fucking chance in our family, Freed; they just don't. I kn-know it was on purpose. Which makes it Ivan's fault," he snarled, fresh tears rising. "It wasn't an accident. He made her believe…so she took all those pills and made her heart s-stop

"Nobody found her for days. I n-never got to see. Bodies, you know… They cremated her and she was just…gone. Forever. All the fucking things he did to her. She got away and left me behind and… I was alone. But you know, at least she got to escape from him. That's what mattered, I told myself."

"You're still angry," Freed said in a low voice.

"Yes!" Laxus pulled his hands from his face, jerking in Freed's embrace. "She got to fucking get out! She left me. I never got to leave. And I know she thought I was safe—but really? Can you really believe that when you're married to a monster like him? She should've known. She should've taken me with her."

"She should've."

"But I can't blame her," Laxus gasped, breaking down again. "He destroyed her. He hurt her, all the time, over and over. Angry words. Arguments he always won. She couldn't do anything. I heard her crying. It was awful. I hated it. She pretended she wasn't, and I believed her, but at some point I realized she was hiding being sad, and it just… You shouldn't lie to your kids. You should never lie to them. Because I thought it was my fault, and she was sparing my feelings, so then I tried to be perfect, and every time she cried…it was my fault.

"She thought she was doing the right thing by leaving us. I get that, I do, because I… I mean, I lived under him too. She didn't have anything to live for. So I understand: she had nothing, and didn't have a reason to keep going. Except…except me. Maybe. I was the only thing that might've kept her around, and I…I wasn't enough, clearly—"


"I know that's not the truth; I know that. But I still feel like if she'd only opened her eyes and really looked at me, she would've seen that she and I could've had a good life together. Away from Ivan. We could've been happy. So either she didn't truly love me—and that's not true," Laxus growled, "or I wasn't good enough.

"I never asked to be this way. I never asked to have a body that's allergic to ethernanos. If they'd just had a different fucking child, everyone would've been happy. Ivan wouldn't have gotten so disappointed and angry; she wouldn't have had to leave; Jijii wouldn't have had to excommunicate his own son.

"Hell, if it was just Kaachan and me, no one else, it wouldn't have mattered. She would've—Freed—"

Laxus's face contorted, another mask shattering.

"She would've loved me anyway. Without magic. I would've been happy, because I wouldn't know any different, and we would've just been a family. Her and me. I wouldn't have…" Laxus gasped for air. "None of it would've happened.

"I mean, yeah, I wouldn't have met you… I wouldn't have the team. That's what I tell myself. But I also wouldn't have scars on my chest. I would have a mother. Everything would've been different. And maybe…I don't know. But maybe I would actually know how to be happy. I don't know how to do that. I have no fucking clue how to do any of this."

"I know. I know, Love." Freed rocked him, fingers in Laxus's hair, palm caressing his cheek. "You deserved better. None of it was fair."

Nodding, Laxus sagged against him, face against Freed's shoulder. As Laxus cried, Freed rubbed his arm, rocked him, kissed his forehead, and let the tears empty out of Laxus. So much pent up for so long.

"I'm glad I met you," Freed said after a while. "I'm so, so glad. But I wish it could've happened for any other reason."

Laxus grunted a wet laugh.

"Jijii wanted me to make friends. He got hyper-concerned after she left. Always asking me about my business. He wanted to be involved in everything. Gods, I hated it. It seemed like he was always checking up on me, trying to make me into another version of himself, just like everyone else."

"I think he was trying to protect you."

"Yeah, but that's not how—" Laxus inhaled long and hard. "It's not how an abused boy saw it. It felt like he was controlling me. Just like Ivan."

"No one controls you now." Pulling slightly away, Freed put his hands on either side of Laxus's face and Laxus slowly met his eyes. "You made damn sure of that. For how painful that process of independence was, you are your own person now. You didn't come out of it all trying to…be just like your father. Or trying to make him happy. You grew, into your own ideals and dreams. I love that about you. I respect you so highly for that. You fought your way out and chose to survive…and look at you."

Laxus gave him a watery smile.


"I truly believe you're one of the strongest people I know."

When Laxus opened his mouth skeptically, Freed pressed a palm to his chest.

"Strong in here."

Sniffing, Laxus grasped his hand. "I love you so much. You're incredible."

Freed smiled.

"I know this isn't important," he said, "but if we're speaking in hypotheticals: if I'd met you and you didn't have magic, I'd still fall in love with you. If things had gone differently, I would still love you. I say that because I do still love you, right now, and your lack of magic hasn't affected that one bit. My love for you is not dependent on what you can do, how strong you are, how you earn your living, or whether or not you have scars on your chest and are grumpy every time you meet new people."

Laxus chortled.

"Thanks, Fr—"

"Don't thank me. Just believe me."

Believe all the wonderful and insane things Freed said about Laxus. Freed was crazy, had always been crazy—blind—when it came to him.

Laxus swallowed.


Need you. The words were on his tongue, but Laxus couldn't get his throat to work. Was too afraid to let them out.

"I know."

Eyes flicking down to Laxus's mouth, Freed moved in cautiously to kiss him. Laxus met him warmly. The kiss was like a promise. Laxus let his lungs fill with air while the heaviness in his heart turned into a wet smile.

The pain wasn't gone: it probably never would be. But it couldn't control him any longer.

After that emotional wake-up, Laxus took a long shower while Freed made breakfast. Laxus felt better afterward, looser, like the hot water had scrubbed old things off him and revealed the true him. Or maybe the tears had done that. Or finally telling someone things he'd spent so long trying to pretend weren't in his head.

He didn't like crying, didn't like that it hurt so much and made him feel so tired and dry. But with Freed, it was easier. He could be sad and hurt and it was okay.

At long last, after affectionate touches and slowly getting ready for the day, they made their way to the guild.

"So we heard Freed went running off all by himself," Evergreen smirked, approaching their table shortly after they arrived. "On a super dangerous job."

Bickslow came trotting up behind her, tongue out. They were both watching Freed.

"It was not super dangerous," Freed snorted.

"Just slightly dangerous." Bickslow grinned.

"Not even. Nakano-san was restrained and her magic sealed."

"She doesn't need magic to be dangerous," Laxus said. "She could've made you spill more secrets."

"Why is that dangerous? Last time was different because she had you hostage…"

Freed stopped and rolled his eyes when the other three grinned at him.

"Gods, whatever," he grumbled.

"So did you find anything out?" Ever asked, sliding onto the bench across from them and batting away one of Bickslow's dolls.

Blinking, Freed looked from her to Laxus.

"What, are we not in on this?" she asked.

Laxus shrugged at Freed, arms crossed. "It affects the whole team."

"Well, then," Freed said, "Yes, Ever, I found out everything I needed to know about the curse he's under. Including a hypothetical way to break it. But since that we can't do that way, we'll have to find another."

Chin on the table, Bickslow spun the saltshaker.

"Why can't we do it the hypothetical way?" he asked.

"Because. Would you stop that?" Freed gave Bickslow a look as the saltshaker rattled against the wood. "It just won't work."

"It involves hurting Laxus," Ever said.

"Yes, actually," Freed said. "Bickslow, I'm serious, cut it out."

As Bickslow flicked the saltshaker yet again, Laxus's hand came down on it, making Bickslow yelp. With a crunch, Laxus's palm flattened against the table.

"Oops," Laxus winced, lifting his hand slowly.

"Goddamnit, Laxus." Ever grabbed a napkin. "You're a danger to society."

"To saltshakers, at least," Laxus replied, letting her take his hand and dab at the blood. "Ow, goddammit!"

"Hey Bickslow, he's got glass in—don't pull your hand away, Laxus Dreyar!" Ever exclaimed, grabbing Laxus's wrist. "Bickslow has the most experience out of all of us with picking glass out of wounds."

"No pranks," Laxus glowered, before letting Bickslow see his palm.

"Bicks has more experience?" Freed asked.

With a grimace, Bickslow nodded—dropping a shard on the table with a tink. "I took the glass out of your back when that window exploded, and I've pulled glass out of my own leg on two different occasions. Ever's hand was probably the worst, though."

"Hurt like a bitch," Ever muttered.

"All those fucking little tendons," Bickslow said, shaking his head. "It was much deeper than this. I had to be so careful."

"When was that?" Freed asked, straight-backed and concerned.

They all looked at him in surprise.

"Oh," Ever said. "When you…were busy not losing your arms. I used the emergency travel lacrima. I may not have had the best control upon arrival."

"Did it explode?" Freed asked in a horrified voice.



"It was our last one," Bickslow added. "You'll need to make more."

Freed glanced at Laxus, whose magic he typically bound into his runes to make the spell. "That'll be tricky."

Bickslow pressed a napkin against Laxus's palm. "You're all good. I prescribe hand-rest and no more abuse of seasoning vessels."


"Okay." Ever looked around at them as if calling a meeting to order. "Number one: figure out how to un-curse Laxus. Number two: have we figured out who in hell keeps attacking?"

"No—" Freed began.

"My father," Laxus rumbled.

Freed looked wary. "We don't know for sure…"

"There's nobody else who would attack me like this—"

"There are so many people who would attack you—"

"This vehemently," Laxus insisted. "And also know precisely when to attack. Who would know my magic is gone? Outside this team, only two people are aware."

Silence fell.

"He cursed me. He's sending people," Laxus said.

"But why?" Bickslow asked. "You're fucking estranged, right? What does the guy gain?"

"Beats me."

Freed opened his mouth, expression sober, then closed it again.

"I don't know why he's not sending smarter people," Laxus grunted, hunching and playing with the edge of the bloody napkin. "He always fucking attacks when the rest of you are there. You'd think they'd at least catch me on my own…"

"You're not usually on your own," Ever snorted.

"I was the other day. For hours, out in the woods, training. Nobody attacked me. Then I walk home from the guild that night and they attack me while you guys are barely a block away. Haven't they heard of recon? The next time they didn't even try to catch me alone."

"I'm not complaining," Freed sighed. He pinched his nose, and the weariness around his eyes showed.

"Well, for now, your safety is our mission," Ever said. "We're not taking jobs for the time being."

"What?" Laxus asked.

"Don't give me that look. We have enough to pay our bills. This affects all of us, Laxus. And in case you forgot, you're not the only one who's gotten hurt over this. So don't balk."

Ever's expression hardened, eyebrow raised, and Laxus agreed—none of them could argue with Evergreen when she put her foot down.

Freed declared he had research to do in the library, Bickslow had errands to run, and that left Laxus and Ever at the table. As Freed walked away, Laxus caught his hand and said quietly, "You look tired."

"A little. I'll be okay."

Though Laxus shot him a look, Freed just gave him a weary, reassuring smile.

"Hey," Ever said when it was just them. Her eyes were on the wood grain, fingers traveling back and forth over a knot. "I wanted to talk to you."

Laxus raised his eyebrows in surprise. "What about?"

"Um. Girls."

His brow bent.

"I'm not sure I'm, um…the best…"

"Not like that," Ever sighed. "It's this situation. I…like someone. But she's… Elfman and I just broke up, right? I don't want to hurt him by dating someone else."

"Why did you break up?"

Evergreen's shoulders hunched.

"Sex," she mumbled.

Laxus blinked. "Really?"


"What, you couldn't…didn't want to?"

"I did. He didn't." She fell silent, fingers tight on her arms. "I thought we could try a relationship anyway. See if it worked. We knew what we were getting into. And it kind of worked at first. But."

When she looked up, her eyes were shiny and Laxus startled.

"Turns out I have needs," she sniffed. "I wanted more. I thought maybe…I know it's stupid, because he told me he wouldn't be interested. But I think some part of me thought that once he realized how attracted to me he was, he would want to do stuff with me? But…he didn't."

"Ever," he sighed. "I'm sorry."

"Me too. This heartbreak is my own making: I'm fully aware of that."

"So you still care about him."

"Not like that. Not anymore. But we're still friends, still like each other, and I don't want to see him get hurt. He doesn't deserve it. I don't either. We should both get to be happy. That's where the trouble is."

Things started connecting in Laxus's brain, but he waited for her to keep going.

"I like someone," she said eventually. "A lot. And this person is not ace and is very attractive and is, I'm pretty damn sure at this point, into me too. Elfman and I broke up over two months ago now—"

"Two months?!" Laxus interrupted. "Ever, why didn't you say something?"

"I tried," she insisted. "I needed some time to…think it over, heal in private, I don't know. But I was about ready to say something and then…you and Freed had that argument. He just about took your head off, and then you started dating, and then he almost lost his hands… It's been nonstop, and to be honest I kind of forgot my own drama. Which has been nice. There was never a good time to bring it up, and so I just kind of let you guys figure it out, and I'm sorry this is in the middle of everything you're going through—"

"Ever, don't apologize. It's not your fault, or anyone's fault, that multiple things are all breaking at once. That's just life."

"Yeah." She inhaled.

"So you're into someone, and you and Elfman have been broken up for a few months…" Laxus prompted.

"It's given me time to feel things out with this girl. I am…ashamed to admit I really like her, and I know that's fast, but sometimes you just meet these people and it clicks right away. We'd never really talked before, and then when you and Freed started dating she and I had a conversation about it that turned into a conversation about all sorts of other things and it was so easy. Being around her is the easiest thing I've ever done.

"The problem," she sighed heavily, "is that she's his sister."

Laxus was already nodding before the words were out of her mouth.

"Mira," he said, and she blushed.

"That obvious?"

"Actually from her, not from you. But yeah, you are each other's type."

"I'm her type?"

"Remember when Bicks asked her out years ago? It didn't work out. Her personality…I don't know. She's too sweet for someone who jokes as much as he does, but everybody knows Mira has anxiety, too, so I'd think she needs someone who can be kind and serious. She likes cute and strong. And you're both."

Nibbling her lip, Ever looked up at him with timid hope.

"I hope so. But this doesn't help me figure out what to do."

"Ask her out."

"Really? My ex's sister, not even three months later?"

"Or you could try spending more time with her one-on-one and see what happens. If he seems to react. How she reacts. Maybe she'll be the one who's uncertain. You don't know."


They both stared off for a moment.

"There's no way to know anything for sure," Laxus said. "Life only happens once and there are no guarantees. I think it's up to you to decide what will make you happiest: backing off for propriety or making a move on her."

"Thanks." She tilted her head. "That's good advice."

"It's not accident," he snorted, and she laughed. "Um, hey, Ever? Why me?"

"Because I knew you wouldn't make light of it," she said. "And you don't make things too serious, either. If anything terrible happens and my social life is ruined, you're the person who will continue to treat me the same way as always."

They smiled at each other, and Laxus found himself sitting straighter. It felt good to be needed. To be thought capable and worthy of helping.

Downstairs, Laxus found Freed in a fortress of books. Curse-breaking and metaphysics and dust. It was silent except for the turn of pages.

Joining Freed on his bench, Laxus received a happy, crinkle-eyed smile, then Freed returned to his book.

Laxus watched him, staring at the way Freed's hair fell over his shoulder, the crease between his eyebrows, how he mouthed words as he skimmed. Laxus had never realized you could enjoy staring at someone so much. And this beautiful person was the same one who held him while he whispered unthinkables and sobbed through trauma. That was a wondrous and secure thought, that Laxus could trust someone that much, that it was okay to trust him.

Freed was always a source of joy. Watching him speak and think and live…

Leaning close, he murmured in Freed's ear, "You know—"

Freed startled. It made Laxus chuckle, and Freed did too, flushing.

"What's up?"

"What you haven't realized yet," Laxus said, playing with the ends of Freed's hair, "is that as much as you care about me, I care about you, too."

Startled, Freed jerked. Inhaled a slow breath, head bent.

"I used to take you for granted," Laxus admitted. "Now I can admit to being grateful, but it's more than that. I…think I care less about myself than I do you. That's why I protected you the other day. I'm…I'd like to think I'm a different person. I'm not who you fell in love with: I'm trying to be better."

When Freed trembled, panic seized Laxus's heart. Freed turned to face him, and Laxus's mouth fell open. Freed was crying.

"What?" Freed gasped out. "What…do you mean?"

"I want to be better. I want…" Embarrassment was rising in Laxus's cheeks. "To actually care about you the way I want to."

Freed made a half-gasp, half-sob, and pressed a hand tight over his mouth, squeezing his eyes shut. He shook his head.

"I'm s-sorry," he muttered. "I shouldn't… I don't know what's wrong with me." A tight chuckle. "It's just…not what I expected. From you. You…"

"Gods, I feel like an asshole."

"No, no—" Freed said hurriedly.

"Because I've been one, Freed. Duh. And I'm sorry."

A fresh wave of tears surged up and Freed's whole body seemed to bend against the emotion.

"I f-forgive you. I did when we got together. Remember? I still do. I will keep doing so."

Laxus shook his head. Freed, as a person, was far too good. Impossible. Incredible.

"Don't," Freed said, wiping furiously at his eyes, "don't say you don't deserve it. You don't have to deserve it. That's the point."

"That does not sound like a very survivable policy," Laxus teased.

"I'm not taking your advice on matters of the psyche. Sorry, but you're a novice."

Laxus laughed, and Freed did too, wet and hiccuppy. Gently, Laxus touched Freed's cheek. Then he kissed Freed's forehead.

"I think we should go home," Laxus said, watching another tear slip down Freed's cheek. "Relax for a little? The books aren't going anywhere."

"I think we should eat lunch," Freed laughed. "We don't have any food."

At that, Laxus realized he was starving.

"It's been an emotional day," Freed said, patting his own cheeks as if to make the color return to normal—though his eyes were still tinged red.

Wordlessly, Laxus held out his arms.

Freed blinked at him, smiled, and met his embrace. They stayed that way for some minutes, and it was perfect.

Full and content, Freed persuaded Laxus to join him for more research for a few hours. Freed was rapidly becoming a master at the Kumerian language.

The pair left the guild after nightfall, Laxus taking Freed's hand as soon as they exited. Their conversation had both of them laughing when out of the darkness came a gout of flame.

Laxus sighed. Again.

Freed's hands flew. Runes hit the fire and dispelled it. Laxus had swung Freed in front of him, twisting to cover Freed's back. The one thing he could do, and he could feel Freed's trust this time, no fear-filled glance or hesitation. In sync for the first time since Laxus woke up.

Laxus found himself staring down the length of a staff. As it came at his face, he ducked, grabbed it before it could hit Freed, and twisted it around, bringing the wielder to face him. With Laxus's hand on the weapon, it only took one punch to knock the person flat on the ground. And now he had a staff. Hah.

He wasn't particularly versed in weaponry, but a staff was basically a halberd without a blade and he threw it like one at the next opponent who appeared. Behind him he could hear the grunts and bursts of steel as Freed fought off the forward attackers.

Two women came at Laxus from either side, one sending a cloud of what looked like fireflies while the other hurled debris with telekinetic abilities. When the fireflies hit his flesh, they burned, searing holes through his shirt.

Not just him: there was a hiss as the insects swarmed past him at Freed. As a heavy barrel flew, Laxus shoved Freed down to save him from a concussion.

Laxus caught one of the larger objects—half a fruit stand—and used it to bat the bugs back. More magic hit him, and he shielded his face.

A hard shove sent Freed into his back. A physical fight. Good. Laxus rolled around, trading places in time to take a kick to the stomach. He could hear Freed muttering: the buzz of insects changed to the pt-pt-pt of insects hitting something, and there were crashes as debris hit the ground.

Laxus, meanwhile, caught his breath and planted his feet, but there was no follow-up punch. Instead, the person launched around to try to get at Freed.

Laxus growled.

Now he knew. He understood. So many things were making sense.

Freed was being his usual brilliant self and made quick work of the two women and their annoying magic. Laxus managed to grab the person sneaking up on Freed and throw them against the nearest building.

And that's where he saw the small shadow darting from the eaves and over his head—

Leaping, Laxus caught the creature and crashed down with its hard body in his fist.

"What on earth?" Freed stared at the writhing thing with a diamond-arrow tail and a leafy crown.

"You got all the rest of them: it was going to steal your magic as a last resort."

"What? How do you know?"

"Because this," he held up the creature, "used to be a 'member' of my father's guild and that is what it does. He probably ordered it not to help out unless it had to, precisely because he knew," Laxus glared down at it, "that I'd recognize it if I caught it."

"Wait, why does he want to take my magic? We need to ask it—"

"It can't talk," Laxus said. "Wasn't created to."

Grabbing it by the head and shoulders, he snapped its neck.

It was a real snap, as of bones breaking. That shocked Laxus, and for a moment he was thrown back to captured animals in the basement. Then the creature dissolved in his hands, not into blood and offal, but lifeless paper dolls. A lacrima landed in Laxus's palm.

"Knew it," he said.

That fucking bastard.

Pocketing the lacrima, he walked over to Freed and leant to kiss his forehead.

"Now let's go home."

Freed was staring at him in utter confusion. "What about them?"

Laxus looked around and shrugged.

"I think they've learned their lesson. With the creature gone, they won't come again. No one to give them orders or pay them."

Tilting his head, Freed narrowed his eyes and went to speak—and then his gaze fell on Laxus's arm and he startled.

"Fuck, you're bleeding. Home. C'mon. And then you're going to tell me everything."

Freed's eyes kept closing as he tended to Laxus's arm ("nicked by a flying fruit stand," apparently). He didn't know where his adrenaline had fled to, why he couldn't stay awake.

"I'm sorry," he said as he swayed, trying to blink his eyes open.

"Hey." Laxus gently took his shoulders. "Are you dizzy? Did you get hit?"

"Just t-tired." Freed yawned as if in demonstration. "Trying to keep you alive constantly."

"And the irony is, you needn't have," Laxus murmured.

The words floated around, made no sense, and drained out of Freed's brain.



"I like you."

Laxus chuckled, distant and pleasing and warm. "I like you back. Here."

An arm was around Freed's waist before he could process it, half-steering, half-carrying him to the bedroom, where Freed collapsed gratefully into cool sheets. His hair would be a snarl tomorrow, but he didn't have the energy to do anything about it.

His boots slid off his feet and Laxus wrestled his sword and coat off him. Floating underwater, Freed popped a bubble with his finger. He was already in a dream state. Rustles, like Laxus was moving around, or a forest maybe…

A minute later, the shake of the bed and approach of warmth told him Laxus had joined him. When Laxus wrapped an arm around him, Freed let go and fell asleep.

Chapter Text

"People are so…urgh!" Evergreen exclaimed as the four of them walked down the trail away from their latest job. "I can't fucking believe sometimes!"

"I know," Laxus growled.

"We're not—we're better than that! Can't they at least acknowledge that we're not Natsu?"

"It's frustrating," Freed agreed from the rear, more calmly. "That statue was very clearly damaged before we arrived."

"They're just using Fairy Tail's reputation to get someone else to pay for things," Bickslow snorted.

"Fairy Tail's reputation."

Laxus spat the words, his face bunched and tight.

"It bugs you, doesn't it?" Freed asked carefully. When Laxus glanced back, Freed was studying him. "The way people talk about our guild."

"Our guild," Laxus snorted. "Hardly even see the rest of them."

"We don't have anything in common with most of them," Ever said.

"Some of them are nice," Bickslow said. "Mirajane…"

"—is hot, yes, we know," Ever bit back. "She's also not the one causing all the wanton destruction that we get blamed for."

"I don't even know how they're strong enough to do all of that, honestly," Bickslow said. "Some of the stories have got to be exaggerated."

"Erza's a hell of a lot stronger than you," Freed said, raising an eyebrow. "Mira, too. There's a few of them at least who could kick your ass."

"Yeah, but Warren brain-buzzing a whole town? Gray causing a landslide? Really?" Bickslow shook his head. "It'd be interesting to see how strong everyone is. A game or something."

"A battle," Laxus said. "See who comes out on top."

"That could be fun," Evergreen grinned.

When Laxus glanced around, all three of his teammates were smiling.

"It could be," Freed said, and the glint in his eye thrilled Laxus. Here was a plot, for sure.

"You'd need an awfully big arena," Bickslow said. "One-by-one competitions would take way too long."

"How many members are there these days, does anyone know?" Ever asked.

"About two hundred," Laxus and Freed said together. Freed went on, chuckling, "We may have a bad rep with clientele, but we have a great rep among mages."

"The ones who want to be destructive, yeah," Laxus growled. "Which makes our rep worse."

"A competition among our members would probably be bad enough to flatten a mountain or two," Freed laughed.

"What's the grand prize?" Evergreen asked, her tone only partly teasing.

"Staying on," Laxus said. "The rest of them can rot."

"Won't that end up with the most destructive ones staying?"

"Nah, destructiveness is not equal to strength," Laxus said.

"Strength involves skill," Freed added. "Not just magic power. Some of them might have raw power, but they don't have the control to use it efficiently. And we can make these games about intelligence and self-control too."

"It honestly sounds more and more fun the more you talk about it," Bickslow said. "Are we actually going to?"

"And remake Fairy Tail?" Freed added, eying Laxus.

"Maybe." Laxus pursed his lips. "Have to think about it some more. But I like the idea."

"Woot, you guys like my idea!" Bickslow shouted, as if this were a huge victory, and Evergreen punched his arm with a laugh.

"You're a dolt."

"But you love me," he said, batting his eyes at her.

"Goddess knows why," she laughed, and squeezed his shoulder.

"I think we could add traps to make it more interesting," Laxus said one day, feet up on the coffee table in Bickslow's living room.

Freed looked up from his book. "Hm?"

"For our game."

"The hypothetical Fairy Tail battle?" Ever asked, leaning closer, their game of Rummy forgotten.

"Yeah. You can use your runes, Freed. Set traps around town. Means folks have to be strong and smart to survive through the end. And I could use some lacrima. Add some…shocking surprises."

Ever chortled.

"Around town?" Freed asked. "Here?"

"Why not? It's home turf for most of them, so they can't claim we disadvantaged them."

"What about locals?"

"They'll be fine." Laxus waved a hand. "If our guild can't even keep from hurting a few bystanders, I will take my own guildmark off."

Evergreen gave him a startled look.

It was meant to enforce what he'd said, but Laxus felt the twinge, too. His guildmark was his everything. Without it, he wouldn't know who he was.

He was Fairy Tail's power. He was Fairy Tail's child. He was the product of everything they were.

"Did you decide on a playing field?" Bickslow called from the kitchen.

"Maybe," Freed said. "As well as some ideas for making it more interesting."

Bickslow came in and exchanged a wicked grin with Freed.

"Are you going to use those runes, Captain?"


Laxus looked between them. "What runes?"

"I…have a new trick," Freed said coyly, picking at the knee of his trousers.

"He has an area rule now that means nobody can use magic," Bickslow said, his smile proud. "Blocking ethernanos."

"You can do that?" Laxus asked in amazement.

"Took some time to figure out…" Freed said.

"He came up with it himself," Evergreen supplied. "So, yes, it might not have been possible before. But it is now."

Freed's blush was embarrassed and warm. This was why he was on Laxus's team: he was fucking brilliant, but never said so about himself.

They kept discussing the game, coming up with exciting ideas and traps, most of them for Freed to enact with his jutsu shiki—at some point he started writing a list.

"I'm not sure I can…well, if I invert Fenlon and mix those runes with…"

It kept them up late, and when they eventually left Bickslow's, Freed offered to walk with Laxus. It was nice, something they hadn't done in a long time.

"You're sure about this plan?" Freed asked. "You weren't at first."

"It's about time people were put in their place among the ranks."

"And kicking out the losers?"

"Why not?" Laxus shrugged. "They'd probably leave in shame anyway. But if this is about the guild's reputation, then do we want the weak, stupid, and sloppy in Fairy Tail?"

"Not as such," Freed chuckled.

"It'd be nice to be Jet-free, eh?"

Freed laughed. Laxus was well-acquainted with Freed's annoyance with Jet: the boy never thought before words came out of his mouth, and Freed had more than once ranted about Jet's lack of focus. ("He has speed magic because that's the only thing he can focus on long enough!")

"What about Master?" Freed asked after several minutes of silence.

The darkness became even more loudly quiet.

"What about him?"

"It's his beloved guild."

"You're saying…what, that his feelings will get hurt?" Laxus snorted.

"Maybe." Freed shrugged. "He does…care about you, you know."

"He cares for me because it's convenient."

Freed said nothing, plodding in step with him, ever at his side.

"He'll be fine, believe me," Laxus said. "And if it does hurt him? I'm not sure I particularly care."

"Alright," Freed said.

Laxus glanced at him.

Freed returned his gaze steadily, giving a solid nod. Laxus smiled.

"You should get working on those runes, Justine," he said, as they parted ways.

"You should get working on those lacrima," Freed smirked.

"I'll race you."

"You will probably win."

When Laxus got home, he leaned on his fists on the counter, staring at nothing for a long time.

He'd never considered what Makarov might think of the whole plan. He hadn't brought his grandfather into the calculations at all. He'd assumed he, Laxus, would take charge: and maybe it was about time he did. It was what Makarov had always wanted him to do anyway. He'd be fulfilling the old fart's dream.

There was a chance, he acknowledged, that Makarov would be upset with this game. Laxus could see his grandfather's disappointed face; but Laxus had been earning that expression for years now. Laxus had learned not to care.

Who knew—maybe for once he'd see Makarov actually angry.

So they struck, Freed's jutsu shiki written and prepared before anyone noticed; competitions began; at some point Laxus couldn't identify, he began to feel high on it all, powerful, angry. The hardness took over the sense that this was a game. It wasn't really. It was a battle.

Freed and the others followed Laxus right into it. Freed in particular—standing beside Laxus, spending the most time with him while others fought around Magnolia. Seeing when this stopped being fun for Laxus and became something much more serious. Laxus seemed to collide with Freed's reasonableness, but then before Laxus's anger Freed acquiesced, went out and fought—fought for real. And Laxus didn't wonder where Freed's deep anger came from, how Freed could possess so much darkness inside him, because Laxus was riding his own darkness.

He was too angry and hurting and blind to feel any pain about Freed wearing those same emotions—rage, hurt, and blindness.

And then it was all over. The dust settled. Laxus probably should've felt ashamed of losing, but much bigger things were working through him.

Freed telling him his heart was good, and smiling—Laxus had never considered that he might harbor any emotion that wasn't coldness inside himself. It was revolutionary.

Made him feel human.

He went to the guild, and into the infirmary, and there he found his grandfather unconscious—sleeping, not in a bad way, Porlyusica declared. So he sat in silence for a while contemplating this room. Wondering what would come next. He couldn't stay here. He was too big for this place: Fairy Tail was something other than him right now. He needed to find himself apart from it. He needed to figure out who Laxus Dreyar was.

"I am sending you from this guild."

The anger that should've been in Makarov's voice was only soft and broken. Despite the seriousness of his gaze, how hard he was trying to hold himself up, a tear slipped down his cheek.

Laxus didn't know what to say.

"You are in exile," Makarov said, his voice cracking. "I'm sorry for my failures, Laxus. I'm sorry for all the things I couldn't be. I wish I could've proven that I love you."

"You love me," Laxus snorted, his own voice hoarse and quiet. He hated how much every one of his grandfather's words hit him with soft ache. "I know that. It just doesn't mean anything. Love has…has no material value."

"I know that's not you." Makarov's voice shook and he wiped his cheeks. "I hope…you are okay. If you… I…"

"I'll be fine," Laxus cut in, finally getting a hold of himself enough to speak firmly.

Makarov swallowed. Nodded.

"I know you will."


Stepping back, Laxus stumbled a little, catching himself on the infirmary wall. His grandfather's eyes held absolute faith, an overwhelming knowledge: belief in Laxus that was in that moment as unshakeable as the mountains.

For the first time that Laxus could remember, Makarov had his respect.

Returning from exile was painful in the way of pulling out a splinter: sharp, but followed by immediate relief. Because they welcome him back in, acted as though all was forgiven, even those who definitely shouldn't: Levy and Erza and Gajeel…

And the Raijinshuu were over the moon. Laxus had never realized how good it felt to be wanted like this: for himself, for the very fact of his existence. When Freed looked at him with the light of loyalty shining in his face and said, "You're back," as if this were the sole thing he'd wanted, Laxus could've touched the stars.

He was embarrassed, still; he'd learned and grown and thought and…well, he was ashamed. He didn't like admitting it, but he could now at least. Being around them all made him want to do something to prove himself, to make their easy forgiveness and acceptance worthwhile, show them he could deserve it. He hadn't earned this, and that knowledge was a heavy stone inside him that dragged his days out.

So they took missions often—the Raijinshuu were more than happy about this—and Laxus re-found the joy of working alongside other people. People he trusted and who didn't annoy him to death, of course. But he'd never known just how much he could miss this until he hadn't had it anymore.

"…and Laxus and Ever can come in on either side," Freed finished. "Just make sure you let us finish our spells before you let yourself be seen."

The four of them nodded, and they split, Ever and Bicks marching to their assigned post while Freed and Laxus went the other direction.

"I know it's dangerous," Freed said as they picked their way. "But I swear to you, as long as people don't expect it, these runes will work."

"I trust you," Laxus said easily. "You know that."

The pause broke only for the snap of branches under their feet.

"Maybe you shouldn't," Freed whispered.


Freed shrugged. Laxus frowned at his back. Of course he trusted Freed: the man had saved his life. More than once, which was more than anyone else could claim. Evergreen had only once, and he and Bickslow had sort of saved each other once, so that only counted for half.

Freed had stayed loyal during Laxus's exile, even after Laxus told him not to. If there was anyone to trust, it was him.

The reason for Freed's words came to Laxus slowly over the following months. In little hints, pronouns omitted, the things left unsaid in Freed's stories. Until one day the fact smacked Laxus in the head when Freed showed up smelling very strongly of another man.

There was no denying the mix of heady smells. Freed was into that.

It made sense, connected things. Strange, uncomfortable feelings burst in Laxus's stomach, slowly melting away as Freed continued to act normally and Laxus allowed that regularity to soothe his anxiety.

He knew what he'd said those years ago, that he couldn't trust someone who was gay. He was not about to forget that night, even if Freed could. He knew what he'd said; but the thing was, he also knew Freed. Freed never let what he was interfere with work. He hardly even let his relationships be a topic for conversation. It was like that part of him was invisible.

And so Laxus could still trust Freed's power. With justifications Laxus didn't bother analyzing lest they fall apart, he acknowledged that Freed could be strong and what he was. He could do men and do incredible magic. He kept them separate, and Laxus was relieved to let it be so.

Maybe, sometimes, a little sad. He knew Evergreen and Freed often hung out just the two of them, and sometimes they'd both smell of someone Freed had slept with, so it was clear Ever knew about his dating life, had met some of these boyfriends. Probably setting him up half the time, if Laxus knew her at all. He felt wistful that they couldn't have those conversations all together anymore; relationship talk—except for Bickslow's messes—disappeared from their foursome friendship.

It was weird that Laxus felt left out of something he didn't want anything to do with. The idea still horrified him, made his gut twist terribly… He couldn't think about homosexuality without anger.

But Freed was still one of his closest friends. And maybe Laxus was too hard on him when he and Freed had fought. Maybe he'd kind of flown off the handle.

He wished he could apologize for it. Wipe it out, start over. Just say, 'let's pretend,' and never have had that argument. If they could only wipe out Freed's knowledge of Laxus's discomfort, so Freed didn't flinch when Ever brought up a masculine name in public.

But Freed seemed to forget the incident, acting as if there was nothing between them: no wall, no words, no arguments. Laxus was not going to remind him. There was no forgiveness for what Laxus had said—he knew that. And this was Freed the Dark. He might be patient, but he was also consistent and bound by honor and rules.

They had neutral ground; got on okay. Laxus pretended he didn't know the people Freed dated were men and that he didn't experience strange, stomach-flipping, bitter thoughts every time he smelled those hints of Freed's other life. But still, he felt that tiny, enormous silence of the unsaid.

It wasn't the lie they lived that bugged Laxus: it was the pain and anger that hid beneath the lie.

If they could just pretend nothing ever happened and nothing would ever happen, everything would be okay.

Laxus actively trusted Freed. When a hurricane ripped up the ground toward them on a mission, Laxus left Freed to deal with it and flew instead to protect the civilians in harm's way. Freed was not weak, and Laxus knew his abilities.

It was he, Laxus, who got hurt that day. It felt good to get injured for something worthwhile. For doing and choosing, not for not measuring up.

He got more in the habit of it, realizing he'd used to run from pain. Oh, he'd had excuses. "I'm better than to get caught in that, and you're the one who wasn't able to save yourself." But saving himself had been about the terror in his heart when he thought about someone else standing over him. Having that power over him.

But in pain, Laxus learned to be in charge of himself. He learned that nobody could own his soul. He measured up to his own standards. If they hurt him…well, it was always for a good reason. To save someone; or because someone was going to get hit, and he had better stamina than Bickslow, or Ever, or whoever else; or because there were people and things he cared about now and felt a duty to protect. He'd never fully appreciated Freed's rules before, but he did now, because he had his own rules.

Protect people who couldn't defend themselves. Don't turn away. Never be afraid.

Finally he was who he always wanted to be. He'd escaped the path Ivan set for him.

Freed was always in love with him. Secretly, in the background. It wasn't something that needed saying—it couldn't be said. Not with Laxus how he was.

Freed wasn't looking for a relationship. He was well aware that couldn't happen. But he loved Laxus anyway. Because, despite everything, Laxus was kind. He was attentive, and he always sought to do what was right.

Laxus looked after the team. Did little things for them. Took care of Freed, too, when he needed it—if he was down, or injured, or out of sorts. Once Freed watched Laxus, magic almost gone, step in front of a hit meant for Freed. The explosion threw Laxus several meters, and when Freed finished the battle by the strength of his fearful rage, he rushed over terrified of the worst.

Laxus lay there bleeding and laughing. When Freed tried to berate him, Laxus just chortled and said he'd won because now Freed had to carry him back.

"I'll just relax the whole way home," Laxus chuckled, before breaking into coughs.

Freed had never forgotten that day. He never forgot any of the times Laxus saved his life.

Or any of the times Laxus let Freed come to his rescue. Those times were an admission that he needed Freed. That Freed mattered.

He wanted to be important to Laxus.

Freed kept his feelings to himself and stayed by Laxus's side. He let his loyalty speak for him, the words of care he could never say. He never yearned for more, even though his heart pounded when he saw Laxus smile or laugh. He would never want more.

He just wouldn't.

Until the day Mira came to him with a funny smile on her face.

"Laxus wants a date with you. Or to make love to you, I couldn't really tell."

Freed blinked.


"We talked about dating and sex; I told him vaguely I had 'a friend' who'd be into him; and he said to set it up."

Freed returned to his book, shaking his head. He was already trying to forget the feeling that had leapt in his chest.

"He meant a woman, Mira."

"Nope." Mira beamed. "He knows he's getting cock."

Freed's eyes shot back up. Shock hit his system. Like cold. Like a stomachache. Like the unease when you knew something bad was about to happen.

"What did you tell him?"

"What I just said. See? This is your chance."



"There's been a miscommunication somewhere." He snapped his book shut. "You've misunderstood. Trust me."

"No miscommunication, Freed. Just good old-fashioned boy meeting boy." Her smile tilted, mischievous. "So what do you say?"


A pause lengthened as Mira waited for more words.

"But. This is what you've always wanted."

"Laxus doesn't want me."

Warm hands touched his cheeks.

"Darling." She looked at him seriously. "You are wonderful. Stop treating yourself like you're not good enough."

"I'm not good enough."

Something big got caught in Freed's throat when he said it.

If he were good enough, wouldn't Laxus want him anyway?

But he already knew… Even daring to hope made him nauseous. He couldn't let hope into his life. It would destroy him. He wasn't good enough, never good enough, and if he believed that, he could remain Laxus's loyal bodyguard, could force his soul into obedient silence. Most of all, Laxus would remain happy.

This was the best life could offer him. Ever. He knew that. He told himself that every day.

"Please don't lie to me," he choked, hating his voice.

"It's not a lie," Mira said gently. "You don't have to if you don't want to. But wouldn't it be worth it, just to see? You might be pleasantly surprised."

Pleasantly. Pain ripped through Freed's chest and he found himself wanting to laugh. Pleasantly.

"Set it up. But," he added with a shaky breath, "don't tell him who I am."

Glowing, Mira pulled him into a hug.

"I'm so glad for you," she said.

Freed patted her back and said nothing.

Why was pain so addictive?

Chapter Text

Laxus was the first to wake up. Freed was dead asleep, so eventually he rose, slowly got breakfast…

Over an hour later, Freed was still snoring. Laxus scrawled a note and slipped out.

Porlyusica opened the door, stared at Laxus, and walked back into the house. Laxus entered.

"I know why you're here," she said from her workbench.

"Nice lab," he commented.

Laxus leaned against a beam. Porlyusica watched with unusual patience.

"Freed cracked the runes the other day," he said.

"So I heard."

"Freed says that long-term, the runes can only block the Dragon spells; my magic should refill now. And yet here I am."

She nodded, face transforming from grumpy into something human—to an expression which reminded him of Freed. Scholars were of an ilk.

"Unless," she said slowly, "you've subconsciously tied all your magic to the lacrima over the years. Maybe you haven't been drawing ethernanos into your body for years, just into the lacrima, powering everything through it. You were so ill as a child—maybe your ethernano-allergy won out, and the only magic you're capable of is through the lacrima. Now that it's empty, and your body hasn't held magic on its own in years…you're magic-less."

"Great," Laxus growled. "So what's the solution?"

"Relearn how to hold ethernanos, if it's possible for you to do so. Or learn to live your life without magic."

Laxus made a circuit of the room, touching apparatuses.

"If it's true that I've been powering all my magic through the lacrima, what would that feel like?" he asked. "Would it feel different than holding my own ethernanos?"

"Oh, yes. The magic will be there for you to use, but it won't be part of you. You won't feel that fullness—"

"Then that's not the problem," Laxus said.

"Are you sure? You could be registering its fullness as your own."

"I'm sure. I can tell the difference between it and the magic in my soul. The lacrima added to it; helped me not get sick. But the magic inside my body increased, not diminished, when he put the lacrima in."

Porlyusica sighed.

"Then you're not going to like my final theory: your block is psychological."

Laxus flinched.

"People aren't made of a bunch of separate compartments," she said. "We are interconnected webs of feelings and memory. Magic is part of that, sourced directly from the heart. If a person experienced trauma in relation to their magic, it's fully possible that their magic will be directly connected to their triggers.

"Think about all those guildmates of yours. Why do you think Fullbuster's ice shapes itself into weapons and tools? His peer makes animals: far more neutral. But Fullbuster learned magic amid tragedy and anger, so it forms into the things that he associated with safety as a child. That's true for Scarlet and her weapons, too.

"Redfox uses unique Dragon Slayer attacks that are part of his body, not outside it like the rest of you, because he grew up insecure about his body. His little brother, that Shadow Slayer, has magic that perfectly mirrors his partner's—except he can disappear into thin air. Sting can't. I'd bet anything Rogue Cheney was mocked as a child, desperate to disappear into the background. So…he did. Literally.

"Justine and McGarden are both brilliant—Makarov had me test their IQ when they were little, and they're both off the charts. For them, books, creativity, and a flexible magic that can do many types of things gave them a place for their brains to be unconstrained in a world that isn't smart enough to speak their language. They learned runes because it was the only thing creative and challenging enough for them.

"And Justine's brothers died in the war, yes? Oh, look, Captain Justine uses a military regulation rapier and is so desperate to protect others on the battlefield that he made it his actual job.

"Mirajane is the best example. Trauma convinced her she was dangerous, so she stopped being able to do anything but the smallest magic. It wasn't by choice, believe me; she didn't like being powerless. After her sister returned, she spent weeks coming to me for help unlocking her magic again. She could not consciously touch it—it was still blocked by old memories."

Pacing, Laxus tilted his head. "Still? Unblocking it was outside her conscious control."

"Now you're catching on. It's the same as if someone took the person's magic away: you've dissociated, broken yourself in two. There's a separate self to hold the pain, but as a result, the rest of you loses control over that pain—you've given that power to that other 'you.' Occasionally that second self wrests total control, spiraling into a panic attack or tantrum or risky behavior. The second self acts purely on emotion and child logic. We may push it down, but it's always there until we learn to face and feel our pain."

He grunted. He knew about compartmentalizing feelings into a distant part of yourself you didn't look at.

"Magic comes from the heart, Laxus." She looked at him. "It comes from what you believe about yourself and the world. Anyone who wants to improve their magic should work first through the things they're afraid of, because that's where they're likely to lose control. Or," she motioned, "lose access."

He raised an eyebrow. "How do you know all this?"

"It's my job," she retorted. "And I've had to work through my own fears at points. I'm not speaking in ignorance. I was Fairy Tail once, too, remember?"

She sighed, long and heavy.

"I am going to tell you something it took me a long time to learn. There are two kinds of people: the people who want to work together with others—toward whatever goals: world peace, enlightenment, happiness. Then there are the people who use others; who believe only in hierarchy and power. That they must be in charge or else someone else will use them, abuse them. They don't believe bonds between people truly exist.

"When the healthy, cooperative people encounter the power-mongers, they typically say 'oh well' and take their energy elsewhere. But some try to make it work: they are the third type of people. They try to work cooperatively with the assholes. They believe in loving everyone. They likely grew up around an abusive person, so they know that these selfish bastards are still human: still sometimes good, sometimes afraid, sometimes kind.

"Because they try to work with assholes, they open themselves up…and can be manipulated. They're trying to get cooperation out of someone who will never cooperate—thinking if they help this person, the person will help them back. They offer their energy hoping it will be returned. Hoping that if they're kind, the other person will become kind, too. That works on some people, to be sure—and that's what makes it such an enticing option.

"But the power-hungry assholes see them only as a resource: they know how to look cooperative to get what they want. They take, and they never give back. They know how to keep power, so that you always lose.

"Being stubbornly hopeful—or maybe because they refuse to admit they've been conned—the good people keep loving and forgiving, downplaying what's happening the whole time they're getting hurt. Every time they open their heart up, they are used again. They stop trusting so easily; their souls carry scars. They know this isn't how it's supposed to be. They just want to be loved in return."

Laxus was tempted to get snarky: the word love hurt physically, like it tightened over his skin. Hardening himself, he pushed aside the fear and nodded slowly.

"Be the first kind of person, Laxus," she said. "Help others, but protect yourself from assholes. It's not selfishness to keep yourself safe.

"I'd bet a great deal Ivan taught you to be selfless and to take care of people before yourself: that's exactly the kind of virtue he knew he could take advantage of. All he had to do was claim you didn't love him, and you'd do what he wanted, right?"

Laxus looked away. Laxus, I need you… Laxus, would you please… Laxus, I am your father…

"Don't get that defensive look," she said. "Now that you know this, protect yourself. Don't try to have a deep, cooperative relationship with people who are only interested in what you can do for them. They are not making the world better, and you are not making the world better by letting them use your life energy for their own ends. Besides helping them hurt the world with their destructive energy, you'll just take on pain that will sit in your soul, and which you'll carry into your healthy relationships, hurting good people.

"Are you hearing what I'm saying? We hurt other people when we let someone use us." She pinned him with her eyes, so blue and open and raw. It was the first time he'd ever seen her admit to hurting. "You're not the person with impenetrable walls like you think you are. You're the person in pain. You're the person without any defenses at all."

"Alright, I get it."

"And Freed? He does have healthy walls. Healthy boundaries. That's why you need him. No," Porlyusica said as Laxus opened his mouth. "Don't deny it. You need him. And that is totally okay, Laxus."

She turned away, silence falling and with it a blessed end to her penetrating eyes. She began to tinker, shifting things on the desk, back to him.

For some reason—maybe the very reason that Porlyusica herself was feeling vulnerable—he did not feel the usual sense of distance and disdain when someone gave him emotional counsel.

Laxus did need Freed. A hell of a lot more than Freed needed him. Freed was the healthy one, the strong one; and Laxus was…not. Maybe that was why he still postured in front of Freed at times, pretending he was okay. It was scary to need someone you didn't control. It went against all his self-preservation instincts. It made him want to hide his need so deep no one would know it was there. Even himself.

Like he'd done for so long.

When he came out of exile, he decided he was going to let people in. But there had still been a limit: he only accepted help when he had an absolute handle on his needs, felt in control, and could push them away again after.

Tiny bit healthier that it was, that was still the old way of thinking. That was the way of repressed emotions and constant anger—which, when unconstrained, led to hurting your friends and attacking your grandfather's guild. Of yelling at the ones you loved until they shut up and became who you wanted.

He'd turned into his father in those moments. When he most hated Ivan, acting out of his disgust, Laxus turned into him. Because that hatred was just fear.

Maybe Ivan himself was nothing more than fear twisted in on itself.

Coming home and stepping into the kitchen, Laxus stared at the counter, which was a snowdrift of papers.

"Not enough desk space?"

"Good morning, love. I needed fresh thinking-space. I'm frustrated."

When he leaned on the counter, Laxus glanced over the pages and saw they were all in languages he didn't understand.

"About what?" he asked.

"It's so easy. I know how to undo it—there are a dozen ways I could, foolproof ways. I just can't."

"Why not?"

"You know why. I'd need to—" Freed shuddered, "—slice you open. Every single solution I find involves access to the lacrima's surface."

Instinctively, Laxus put a hand to his chest. Freed's palm covered his.

"It's alright, love. I'll find something else."

"Why can't you just write the spell on my chest? It'll go through me, right?"

"That's not how it works," Freed sighed. "The curse isn't on your body. It's on the lacrima, so that's what I need to un-curse."

"Okay. So we'll just cut me—"

"No," Freed growled. He flung his hands out to stop Laxus as Laxus undid his buttons and pulled aside his shirt. For a moment, Freed just stared at the tattoos covering the scars, breathing hard. More quietly, he said, "We're not going to do that."

Laxus rolled his eyes, snatched up Freed's sword, and swiped the blade across his chest.

"Laxus!" Freed shrieked, grabbing the weapon from his hands.

"Relax, it's shallow," Laxus said as red beaded along the gash. "Why can't we just do this—a light cut—and you can send the runes through me to the lacrima? You can send runes through air or water to a target, right? This is just through a bit of mushy blood and flesh."

"That's not how—the wound isn't even big enough to fit a single character!"

"So write small! Don't tell me you have no way to make your runes shrink themselves down."

"I…" Freed was still glaring, but something considering entered his eyes. The next retort came out almost on habit: "It's not that easy."

"You're smart. You'll figure it out."

More gently, Laxus took Freed's hand and put it on his chest, over the thin line of blood.

"I believe in you, Freed."

Meeting his eyes, Freed inhaled, then began to write very fast.

From what Laxus could understand, Freed wrote two spells that wound together as Freed pushed them into Laxus's chest. There was a strange, slippery sensation as it moved through his body, then blankness.

"The curse is gone," Freed said, frowning.

Laxus inhaled and clenched his hand in and out. No magic.

But he'd known that it would end up like this. Of course.

Freed was looking both upset and determined, brain spinning behind those green eyes. But runes couldn't fix the rest.

"I'll be back," he said, grabbing his coat.

Freed stammered in surprise, mouth opening and closing. When he saw fear in Freed's expression, Laxus softened, realizing this must be how he looked any time they argued. Scared he'd done something wrong. Desperate to fix it.


Cupping Freed's face, Laxus kissed his cheek slowly.

"You did everything right, Freed. I have to do something now. I know what's missing. I'll be home in a bit."

When Freed gave a gradual nod, Laxus kissed Freed's open mouth, strode to the door, and went out.

It was not as hard as Laxus expected to sneak into prison.

For one thing, he had no magic. Systems to detect mages did not sense him. A few creative wall-climbings and lock-pickings found him in the hall outside Ivan's cellblock, staring at the expectant guard.

"You're not on the register for today," she said, when he stated his business.

"I know, and I apologize for that." He put on a diffident smile. People swallowed lies better when you acted humble. "It was a last-minute decision, but they told me at the front gate that I could."

"Alright." She waved a hand and the door clicked open. "In you go."

Laxus walked down the corridor and stopped in front of the cell.

Ivan sat on a crate, sketching on the stone wall, back to the bars. He didn't seem to know his cell was open for sound, but at the scuff of Laxus's boot, he whirled.

"Laxus." He gaped.


"What…you're back."

Reaching into his pocket, Laxus pulled out the lacrima heart from Ivan's creation and dropped it on the ground.

It shattered.

"Found your shikigami," Laxus said. "Nice bit of magic. Still can't believe you'd waste it on this."

Ivan shook his head in confusion.

"Why'd you do it?" Laxus asked, feeling tired for no explicable reason. "You never cared what I did before. The shikigami, my lacrima…what was the point?"

"There's not...a plot," Ivan said, blinking. "Those were natural consequences. The spell was something I put on there to protect you. You were prone to bad decisions as a child."

Laxus wanted to yell, argue, try to reason with him why that was stupid. He forced himself to inhale.

"And the shikigami last time I visited?"

"To make sure. I care about you, Laxus."


"No, listen," Ivan said, reaching out and touching Laxus's fingers through the bars. His hand was warm and Laxus froze at the touch, feeling like a small child again, wanting to be in his father's arms. "It's all fucked up. I'm sorry, Laxus. I wanted a good life for you. Not…this. I'm so, so sorry."

Laxus stared at him, at his sagging shoulders.

"You're sorry?"

"I can't believe I yelled at you before—I regretted it as soon as you left. I'm sorry that thing's been after you. You must've been busy. You look tired."

"You. Are sorry."

Laxus couldn't remember anything he was going to say. The ground was shifting, the world tilting, and he no longer remembered all the things he'd known were true before walking in this room. It all looked wrong now. He'd been wrong.

"I don't…understand," he stammered, managing to turn his nervousness to a glare.

"Don't give me that look," Ivan frowned. "I acted rashly. I'm not so stupid I can't see that."

"You're not stupid," Laxus acknowledged. If only he had been. If only Ivan were not a brilliant, powerful man.

"How…how are you?" Ivan asked hesitantly.

"Still alive."

A flicker of confusion crossed Ivan's face. "Yes, I see."

Some of Laxus's ire came back.

"It's no thanks to you."


"Your little curse activated. Knocked me out, actually. Impressive magic. Idiotic magic."

"So you still don't have it back? The lacrima…?"

"The lacrima, my innate magic, all of it. Still empty." Laxus crossed his arms over his chest.

"I'm sorry," Ivan murmured. Laxus didn't understand: didn't understand how he could be so demure, so humble. Why he wasn't defending himself, or tearing Laxus down. Laxus had been ready for a fight. Not surrender.

"I'm sorry, too," Laxus said, not sure if he meant it in solidarity or confrontation.

After a long moment, Ivan asked, "Why did you come back?"

Ah, yes. Right. Laxus's mouth firmed.

"Why did you hurt my boyfriend?"

Ivan flinched.

"I know—I know you're angry. Yes, they used to be my people. And that was my creation you smashed, but this…this was never my plan. Nothing was supposed to go this way. They acted, and I…I should've stopped them, but it's hard to get a message out when you're in here. Nearly goddamn impossible. I tried, Laxus. And I'm sorry."

Laxus gave him the most sarcastic, unconvinced look he could. Had to stand his ground.

"You came to gloat? Rub it in?" Ivan asked, huddling in on himself and backing away from the bars as if Laxus were threatening him. "Wanted your dear old father to know how much you hate him. Fine. You've told me plenty. If that's all you have to say, go."

"I never said I hated you," Laxus began, but Ivan went on.

"You seem to blame everything on me. I'll take some responsibility—your lack of magic, yes, that spell was mine. For…for not giving you enough attention when you were younger, letting you walk away and try other lifestyles that hurt you. I should've done more to teach you, and I didn't, and it's not something I can ever change. I'm sorry.

"But you can't blame everything on other people. Believe me: I tried that, and all it does is keep you running from your problems. You never solve the biggest problem: yourself."

"You're saying I need to take responsibility," Laxus said.

Ivan nodded.

"For losing my magic."

"Son, look…"

"Are you fucking kidding me," Laxus growled.

Ivan jerked. "Lax—"

"You're going to blame me—no, guilt me into blaming myself—for the state I'm in? A state which, as it happens, includes dating someone I care about. Someone I don't deserve. I can't even take credit for that happy piece in this whole tangled situation."

"You deserve some happiness, Laxus," Ivan chided, corner of his mouth twisting in a sad smile.

"With Freed," Laxus said.

Ivan looked away. "Some kind of happiness, anyway. Happiness that's truly good for your soul, which lasts and doesn't disappoint you."

Those words—

Those words snapped inside Laxus, bringing forth all the anger he'd harbored for so many years.

"Good for me— Do you even realize how fucked up you are?" Laxus snarled. "You looked at a prepubescent boy and all you could think about was the chance that he might suck cock? Do you even realize how that sounds? You tried to mess with my sex life—when I was a child!"

"Whoa," Ivan had his hands out. "Hold on—"

"You are a bastard. Take responsibility for that, Dad."

Ivan stared at him, twitching between anger and fascination.

"Is that why you came here?" he finally asked, voice shaking with emotions Laxus couldn't identify. "To pass responsibility off on me—"

"No. I came here to tell you that you're done targeting my boyfriend. You're going to call off anyone else who's out there waiting to attack—I don't care how: you will."

"I will, will I?" Ivan chortled.

"Yes. You will."

"Scared for your darling fag's life?"

"Have you met Freed?" Laxus laughed. "It's far more likely he'd come here and hurt you. He still thinks you're after me. But I don't want you to get hurt. I don't want him to bother. He has better things to do with his time."

Ivan made a face.

"Not like that." Laxus rolled his eyes. "Believe it or not, my life doesn't revolve around sex."

"Just the part with him."

"Not even. I love him, and if you ever actually cared about me, you'd be happy for me."

Ivan made a disgusted face.

"That's what I thought," Laxus said. Turning, he stared back down the corridor, tapping the bars. "I doubt I'll be back. Goodbye. Otousan."

"Wait. Laxus!" Ivan called, making Laxus turn after two steps. "You're not going to ask how to undo it?"

"Undo what?"

"The curse." Ivan nodded to his chest. "There is a way."

Laxus's eyebrows rose. "You'd tell me?"

"For the right incentive."

"That's what I thought. You never actually change. It's all the same old tricks."

"You were always game."

"Not anymore." Turning, Laxus stalked down the corridor and didn't glance back.

That was the end of that.

When he'd finally made it out of the prison, Laxus sank onto a handy garden wall and inhaled. His heart was racing.

There was no way to undo the curse, because it wasn't a curse that was blocking his magic. He was scared—even now, he was shaking on the bench, knees weak, tears pressing up his throat for no reason at all—and that fear had kept him trapped for so long.

He didn't want to be trapped anymore. He wanted to just be. He wanted not to care anymore.

And he didn't. He didn't care. About Ivan, or anyone else.

The only person whose opinion he cared about was Freed's. Maybe not even then—Freed didn't always approve of what Laxus did, and Laxus had never felt uncomfortable about that. No, the only person who got to tell him who he could be…was his own heart.

Noting the sun heading toward the horizon, he leapt up.


It had been a couple hours since he left, and Freed was waiting—worried and confused.

Chapter Text

"There you are." Freed looked up as the door opened, smile radiant. "Where were you?"

Laxus hung his head, unsure how Freed was going to react.

"Visiting my father."

Freed froze.

"I told him to knock it off," Laxus said, using Freed's shock as time to explain. "He won't send people after you anymore. And he knows now that I don't care what he thinks."

"You…went by yourself?" Eyes wide, Freed shook himself. "Send people after me?"

"They were always after you, Freed. Not me. Ivan wanted to take you out of my life. It was another way for him to get at me and hurt me. Take his revenge, whatever."

"Fuck—fuck." Freed pressed his fingers to his forehead. "Gods, it's all so…convoluted and…"

"Messed up? Welcome to the family."

Freed's head whipped up, though Laxus wasn't sure why.

"Still. You went alone." There was a note of sadness in Freed's voice. Not petulance that Laxus had left him behind, or been rash and dangerous, but sadness…as if he didn't like the idea of Laxus all alone.

"I needed to." Laxus looked away, hanging his coat. "Sorry. I needed to think about it all. Just me. No distractions."


"Why are you apologizing?"

"Being distracting," Freed mumbled.

"Not like that. More like…the distraction of having to explain myself and my illogical thoughts to someone else."


After a slow moment staring at each other, Freed smiled and Laxus drew closer.

"I'm glad you're not mad," Laxus said.

"I can't be mad at your choices. You're an adult. I don't control you." Freed tilted his head. "I can be sad or upset, but those are my emotions, and not your responsibility. Didn't we establish that the other day?"

"Yeah," Laxus smiled.

His body felt looser, more open; Freed walked over and pulled him into a hug.

"What now?"

"Ah." Laxus's throat was tight. Like some part of him hoped they could avoid this. That he wouldn't have a chance to get it out. But if he never said it, it would never get better.

"Freed. You were right." Laxus choked. "I did this to myself."

"I never said that," Freed stammered, pulling back to look at him.

"It's stuff in my head."

Freed shut his mouth.

"So," Laxus inhaled, "I think I can find my magic again. B-But I'm not sure."

He shut his eyes. He zeroed in on Freed's heartbeat, solid and strong.

"I'm trying to face my f-fears. That's…why I went. To get it over with. I can't let him control my life anymore."

"Love," Freed whispered, touching his cheek.

"I need you with me," Laxus said, eyes still closed. "And also…"

The tension in Laxus's body threatened to shred him. But he didn't push it down: he let it wash over him, terrifying, and just remembered: he could do this.

Though fear remained, he found courage inside it.

"I'm scared. That's why I'm having so much trouble."

"Not…angry?" Freed asked.

"I'm only ever angry because I'm afraid." Laxus opened his eyes. "I…I never wanted to be gay, Freed. It was hard admitting it that first time on your sofa, but I got you in the bargain. I wanted to be with you, so I knew I had to acknowledge it. I really like you. But it still scares me to be this kind of person. This…identity scares me that something is wrong with me, even though it feels right. So good, being with you."

Freed deserved every blessing of the gods, because he didn't look betrayed or disappointed at these words. Sympathy swam around his expression.

"So what now?" Freed asked softly.

What indeed. Laxus took a shuddering breath.

"I have to decide I'm going to be alright with whoever I am. I have to stop hiding, let go of…everything Ivan made me think I wanted."

The idea of relaxing, of simply being, made him giddy. It was exhilarating. It was horrific.

He wanted to be the kind of man who could love Freed. He wanted to be like Freed, who accepted himself without issue.

Please help me have courage.

"I'm…" Emotion rushed over him and Laxus pulled Freed closer, hiding his face as all of a sudden, without being able to stop it, he started crying. "I just want to stop caring. I don't care anymore. I just want to live my life. I want to be me. It doesn't matter—whatever they think, I don't care. I'm going to do my own thing and…

"I—" Laxus hiccoughed, "I like who I am. I'm going to love this version of me. Because there's nothing wrong with me."

Freed's wide eyes held so much love.

In the distance, thunder rumbled.

Jumping, they stared at each other with mirrored shock. A thrill ran under Laxus's skin.

Oh Goddess.

Freed grabbed his hand.

"Come on! I know where the lightning hits when you're not here."

They ran up the street, through sunshine that turned to pouring rain in minutes. Others on the street ran to overhangs and into shops, small children laughing like it was a game, adults looking harried. Freed and Laxus ignored them all.

Soaked to the skin, Laxus didn't feel the cold. Freed sprinting beside him looked radiant, like passion burned beneath his skin. Toward the middle of Magnolia, Freed led them to a wide square with a tall metal fountain.

The charge in the air was strong enough to taste.

Laxus wasn't sure if he could survive if lightning hit. He grabbed Freed's arm and swung him against his chest. Freed stumbled into him, laughing, manic energy bursting a smile across his face while Laxus grinned.

Laxus stared down at him and loved him.

Fingers sliding into Freed's wet hair, Laxus kissed him deeply. Something electric passed between them: that was the real power, that he could be here, kissing his boyfriend and not caring about anything but what it felt like to be in this moment.

The driving rain was sharp. Laxus embraced Freed and Freed hugged him back.

A bolt struck them directly, bright and blinding, and Laxus raised a fist to meet it. The light turned Freed's sodden clothes to black and white. Freed flinched the barest amount, but Laxus took every drop of electricity and let it sit stirring in his chest. He would never let lightning hurt Freed.

Grinning, he gave Freed another kiss.

Freed yelped and then moaned. "You're all static."

As Laxus looked up at the sky, he felt Freed's fingers intertwine with his.

Laxus drank in the next bolt, and the next, stomach filled with buzzing energy. The flavor of relief: finally being full after too many weeks of starving hunger. When the last one struck, sunshine broke through and the rain pattered into mist.

Freed was glorious and stunned.

"Did that storm come just for you?" he asked.

Laxus tried not to laugh—then realized that was stupid, and let out a guffaw.

"I have drawn storms before."

"Still." Staring at him, Freed's eyes glowed. "Your power amazes me."

Pleasure flushed into his cheeks.

"It's not why we follow you," Freed added. "Ever, Bickslow, and I didn't want to be on your team just because you're strong. We wanted to form this team because you are protective, good, and unstoppable. You get angry at injustice. But we're also proud of your power—impressed with what you can do. And I've always loved your magic. I think it's beautiful. It always has been, Laxus."

Freed gave him an intense look and Laxus understood. Since they were kids. When he wasn't remotely able to summon lightning from the sky. When their magic consisted of small, creative spells and childish pranks.

"That just goes to show how you've always been perfect," Laxus replied.

This earned him a smack on the arm. Freed's eyes danced.

"You know…" Freed began, but Laxus was already leaning in, nose sliding against Freed's to kiss him gently.

Freed inhaled like all the oxygen had been sucked out of him.

"You know," Freed whispered, voice deepening, "we've fucked so wonderfully I thought the world was going to explode with the force of it. And when you told me you loved me—that felt pretty damn fucking amazing. But this is a completely new kind of euphoria."

Beaming, Laxus couldn't stop staring at Freed's face, sliding his fingers over Freed's cheek.

"I didn't realize you missed my magic so much," he teased, causing Freed to growl (a sound which was way too sexy).

"You're what I care about. You loving yourself," Freed said. Squeezing Laxus's hand, he nodded back toward Laxus's flat. "Come on. We're soaked."

"Mm, I have some ideas what to do with this…moisturized situation," Laxus said.

Freed blushed and raised an eyebrow.

Laxus couldn't help it: he laughed. This didn't just feel right; it was fun.

Once home, they stripped, toweled off, and lounged on the bed the rest of the afternoon, teasing and laughing. There was something very freeing about hanging out while naked—about being naked and not having sex. There was a more to it. Something Laxus couldn't describe.

Giddiness made him laugh at just about everything, including when Freed discovered all the knots in his hair.

"If you're going to laugh, you get to untangle it," Freed said, rolling so his back was to Laxus.

As Laxus pulled gently at the knots, he glanced down over Freed's body: the curve of his back, the scar on his hip.

"Would you ever consider moving in here?" Laxus asked.


Twisting around, Freed met his eyes, and Laxus realized that despite Freed's nonchalant tone, his eyes were wide.

"Is that a no?" Laxus asked. "I know I don't have anything like your personal library, but we can definitely make space. Or it doesn't have to be my place. I just thought, since you're always here…"

Laxus shrugged. He wasn't scared—still too high and happy for that—but Freed's silence was making him nervous.

"I would love to," Freed murmured. His eyes were still so serious.

"You would?"

"If that's really what you want."

"Of course it is." Smiling, Laxus ran his hand through Freed's hair again. "I'd love it. But you don't have to want to. Having separate places works just as well."

"No, it doesn't," Freed laughed. "It's incredibly inconvenient. It's just… Living together."

Eyes closing, he rolled around so they faced each other and gently touched his nose to Laxus's.

"I love you," he whispered. "I know I've said it before. But I figure you can't be reminded too many times."

"Not when it's you." Laxus smiled. "It always means something, every time. So I take it that's a yes?"

Freed opened his eyes. "Yes."

Things didn't hurt anymore—it was exhilarating, in fact, to not care about people seeing who he was. Peace settled in the hole in Laxus's chest. With every new encounter, he stitched up the gashes Ivan had left behind.

In the guild one day, Laxus was engaging in typical friendly banter with Loke.

"Eat a bag of dicks, Dreyar," Loke snorted, laughing at Laxus's unimpressed look.

"That doesn't sound all that bad to me," Laxus shot back.

Loke shrugged. "True. And some of the dicks could be women's, some could be nonbinary dicks…all the genders."

Laxus barely stifled his laugh.

"I'll take a bag of traditional dicks."

Loke cracked first, busting up while he walked away, hand in the air as if to acknowledge Laxus's win.

"Eat as many as you want," he chortled over his shoulder.

"I will," Laxus called back.

Laxus could feel three pairs of eyes on him, and when he looked back around at his team, they gave varying reactions, from Ever quickly looking away to Bickslow whistling to Freed's face transforming into a special, proud smile.

Laxus smiled. Nobody's stare could change his mood—it just didn't bug him. This was a new side of him, and he wasn't miffed by it. It was just normal now. He was proud.

Few things annoyed him these days anyway. Being satisfied with his life made it easier to let irritations go.

When Cana saw him holding Freed's hand and whistled, he just smiled. Why people felt like this was something to point out…it was just affection. If they were so desperate, then sure, let them watch him holding Freed's hand. When Gajeel passed them one day and made a comment about their scents, Laxus kissed Freed's cheek in reply.

Freed didn't seem to mind the shift in the slightest. On his way out of the guild one day to help Bickslow, Freed leaned over and kissed his lips in goodbye.

Laxus felt incredibly lucky.

At the guild, he and his grandfather were the same toward each other as they always were: teasing, grumpy, and subtly affectionate. Except Laxus wanted more. There were things they'd never said that ought to be.

As both Fairy Tail's Dreyars leaned against the bar watching the guild, Laxus said casually, "I know it doesn't mean anything anymore—I've been an adult for years—but I've been thinking about legally disowning him as my father."

Makarov whipped around and stared at him hard; not the reaction Laxus was expecting. Still watching his guildmates, the lightning mage went on.

"Parents still have legal rights over their kids even after they're of age. I don't want him to have that."

"I became your legal guardian when he was put out of the guild," Makarov said. "He abandoned you; I put in a petition for guardianship. I don't know if you remember the hearing…"

Laxus frowned. "Vaguely."

"It's easy when you're a relative," Makarov said. "It wasn't a fussy process."


Laxus finally looked over and found himself meeting Makarov's gaze. He couldn't see any of Ivan in his grandfather. It was something he never thought to be grateful for until now: father and son were completely different. For that matter, Laxus had always looked much more like his mother and like Makarov's part of the Dreyar blood. He smiled.

Continuing, he said, "I don't want him able to pull parental stuff if anything happens to me. If I'm hospitalized, or dead, or whatever. I don't want him to have any power."

Makarov narrowed his eyes. "You're not planning on doing something dangerous, are you?"

"No." Laxus rolled his eyes. "It's just in case."


Makarov fell silent. Laxus assumed that was the end of the conversation, but Makarov shifted and sighed.

"I know which papers you'd need to fill out. I can get you copies."

Laxus blinked, something swelling behind his breastbone.


"When a child is born, only the mother's name is required on the certificate of birth; they can choose whether or not to file the father. But I know for a fact Ivan is on yours. He would never have let Mayu be the only one on there. So you can't just take his name out of your paperwork. Because a father was listed at your birth, you have to replace him on the paperwork by being adopted with a new father. You can use my name for that."

Laxus stared at him.

"Jijii." He looked away quickly, smile creeping across his face. "Thank you."

"We'll just cut him out," Makarov said. He too was staring straight ahead. "Erase him. We're each other's real family."

Laxus swallowed.

"Although I can't promise I'm an improvement as a father," Makarov chortled.

"Hah. You're far superior to that asshole." Looking over, he said, "You okay adopting a gay child?"

"It's a serious relief you won't get a girl pregnant," Makarov replied. "And of course I am. I love the way you are. Besides, it wouldn't be the first time for me: I was legal guardian to most of these brats during their childhood…"

"And very few of them are straight," Laxus finished, smiling. "But it's not the same."

"No, it isn't. Because you're my blood." Makarov grinned. "What surname are you going to choose in the adoption, Laxus? Your birth father's, or mine?"

The blush Laxus had been staving off finally crept into his cheeks.

"I'll keep my own, thank you. I believe I've earned the right to it by now."

"That you have."

They both smiled and, in typical fashion, neither looked at each other.

Laxus was a Dreyar. His own kind of Dreyar. The name didn't belong to Ivan, or anyone else for that matter. It was his.

If he wanted, it could be a sign and reminder of those who came before, like Yuri. Rita. Makarov. Mayu.

But it didn't have to be anyone's but his. He could start over with it if he wanted to. He could choose what it meant.

"And the 'Ivanovich'?" Makarov asked.

"Not sure. It's not like anyone asks for a middle name. Folks around here don't understand patronymics."

The guild doors opened and Freed's scent hit Laxus like a wyvern landing on his chest. He turned to watch Freed enter: he looked so good even when simply walking. Laxus knew happiness was visible in his expression, and he didn't care.

Straightening, he turned to his grandfather, who lifted a knowing eyebrow.

"Like him a lot, do you?" Makarov asked.

A year ago, Laxus would've given him the finger for such a personal question, but instead he swallowed.

"A hell of a lot."

"I always assumed you'd date among the guild," Makarov said. "But I didn't expect you to pick so well."

"Thank you." Laxus watched Freed.

"Someone good for you," Makarov stressed. "That kind of self-insight is a good sign. You have to know yourself before you can love someone—know how to care for yourself if you want to care for others.

"You can always tell when someone is well-loved. Your mother—I'm not saying Mayu wasn't happy sometimes, but it wasn't her default. Ivan didn't care for her and it showed, if people had only looked. But Freed: he's exuberant. And that's not his temperament. He was always…uptight. Anyone can see he's happy now, and it's because of you."

Warmth spread through Laxus's body.

"Is there a reason you're analyzing my relationship?"

"It's clear you know how to treat him, Laxus. You take care of him." Makarov looked up at him, and hearing the serious tone, Laxus met his eyes. "You didn't learn that from your father: you learned it on your own. You've become a good man. Someone I am proud of. Your mother and grandmother would be proud of you too."

In other days, Laxus might've rolled his eyes, or blushed. But he had something more important welling up inside him.

Bending down before he lost his nerve, he embraced his grandfather.

Makarov's arms wrapped around him, tightly, a poorly-suppressed sniff sounding in Laxus's ear. When Laxus straightened, Makarov's eyes were fixed on him so lovingly that Laxus's heart immediately tried to close off, to make light of the fact that this felt like the love he'd always wanted. He forced himself to breathe, though. Because this could be real. It could be trusted. If he were brave.

"You know I love you, Laxus," Makarov murmured.

"Yeah, Jijii. I know."

And then Laxus smiled.

"I love you too."

As he strolled across the hall to his boyfriend, he heard Makarov burst into tears and soggily call to Mira to get him a drink.

"What's wrong with Master?" Freed asked, peering around Laxus's shoulder.

"He's having an emotional day."

When Freed gave him a suspicious look, Laxus kissed him, and Freed broke into a grin instead.

"What's on today's agenda, Thunder God?" Freed asked. "Another mission?"

Freed's arms were coiled bands of steel above him, shaking. With awed fingers, Laxus followed the bare chest down past tense muscle to the lean hips pressed against him. Sweat-soaked and panting, Freed moved over him again and again, strands of green hair escaping over his shoulder to tickle Laxus's ribs.

Laxus was stretched wide under Freed's hands, one knee pressed to the side while the other was hiked up nearly to his chest. Freed's fingers trembled as he traced up Laxus's thigh, pulling delighted moans from Laxus's throat.

As Freed slid in and out of him, Laxus felt every centimeter of him. Stretched and full. Freed's cock filled up his ass, then pulled out across the spot that made Laxus moan high-pitched, then entered him again, laid claim to his body.

Just thinking about Freed's cock made his mouth water—something he remedied by pulling Freed down and devouring his mouth. He overwhelmed his boyfriend with kisses before nipping down his neck, Freed fucking him slowly the entire time. Goddess, the man was perfect.

"Ggg!" Freed stuttered as Laxus bit him.

More kisses and another devious nibble with sharp teeth, and Freed collapsed against his chest.

"Haahh… Laxus…"

Groaning, Laxus strained to thrust against Freed's hips, to take him deep into his body. Rolling them around, he managed to straddle his boyfriend, sitting up to drive steadily onto Freed's cock. Their bed rattled against the wall of their flat.

"Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck." When Freed pushed his hair out of his eyes, he stared up at Laxus in adoration. "I think I like it when you ride me."

"You think?" Laxus chuckled through panted breaths, thrusting down again. While one hand braced on the bed, the other scratched at Freed's chest, drawing moans out of him. Goddamn he was hot. And his cock in Laxus's ass felt like connection and transformation. Laxus closed his eyes to feel the wondrous sensation of Freed entering him.

Freed's hands still clenched Laxus's thighs, his hard fingers digging in to spread Laxus wider. Even though Laxus was technically setting the pace, he felt his face contorting with need, awe, wonderful sensations swimming through his veins. He almost wanted to fight it, instinctive in his fear—to keep himself from letting go. But this was Freed. Freed. Laxus desperately wanted to let go, with him. His body needed it, and his soul needed it.

Finally, aching, he muttered, "Please."

Grinning through his haze, Freed slid his hand over Laxus's skin, long fingers drawing across his hip and down his thigh.

Freed played with his balls, circling, holding, caressing. A molten pleasure swelled inside Laxus. With a harsh breath, he curled around the feeling, nearly colliding with Freed's chin. Tighter, tigher he coiled. Body an impossible knot. Waiting, aching—

Freed tugged hard on the tip of his cock.

A gasp, and the tension launched out of Laxus, cum hitting Freed's stomach. The pleasure was so acute it hurt. It pulsed through his dick, throbbing against Freed's caressing fingers.

A warm, full pressure surged into him right behind that feeling, Freed thrusting up and trying to get deeper as Laxus spasmed with pleasure.

Boneless in the wake of everything, Laxus slumped against Freed's chest and let his body lie loose.

Freed took full advantage: fucked in deep and pulled out excruciatingly slow. With warm contentment now making him lazy, Laxus felt each plunge as something whole and encompassing: a part of Freed he welcomed to himself, embraced. Laxus cracked an eye to stare at Freed's very-near face and his expression of absolute mindlessness.

Freed the Intellectual lost himself with Laxus.

With a heave, Freed rolled them over again, on top, hungry. He kept on thrusting, hips smacking Laxus's ass, and Laxus basked in it as Freed's lips tugged softly at the skin of his throat.

"Fuuuck. Freed," Laxus groaned.

Freed's mouth moved over his collarbone, down his chest. As he ran sweaty palms over the inside of Laxus's thighs, he sucked hard and sloppily on Laxus's nipple.

The shifting pressure inside Laxus's ass was thrilling, verging on pleasure, making him feel good even though he wasn't hard. The same feeling as when Freed would out of the blue stroke him through his clothes.

Sweat glistened at Freed's temples. He looked needy, wanting. Laxus pinched both his nipples and twisted.

Freed stiffened, back arching, pressing so deep into him his balls slapped Laxus's ass.

"Fuck, Laxus, fuck, do that again, gods…"

Laxus could never resist Freed's begging. With eager hands he pulled Freed closer and bit his nipple.

Freed moaned high and delighted. He didn't have to say anything for Laxus to know: he dug his teeth into Freed's skin and sucked.

Crying out, Freed came right there in his ass, rough and perfect. He squeezed Laxus's thighs as he grasped him and pushed as deep as he could. Laxus felt Freed's cock jerking against him pleasurably and melted into the feeling.

"I love you, Laxus. I love you," Freed said over and over. A simpler pleasure flooded Laxus's body, washing him clean.

"Always fuck me like that," Laxus murmured.

"Always," Freed promised.

When Freed's euphoria played itself out, they kissed with lazy and desirous energy. Slow, extravagant kisses.

Laxus never wanted it to end.

Chapter Text

They'd been together nearly four years. People said he'd get used to it, but Freed was still in awe every morning waking beside Laxus.

Sometimes mundanity crept in, got in the way of fully appreciating each other. But Freed made it his mission to never stop seeing Laxus with the adoration he'd had since day one.

Today, Laxus looked astounding. A look he was going to mess up if he wasn't careful, what with pressing a panting Freed to the wall, one hand trapping Freed's wrists above his head, other at Freed's waist.

Laxus inhaled deeply before kissing him again. Hard enough to press Freed's head back into the wall. Freed groaned and devoured his lips, while Laxus teased his body with fingers creeping under the hem of his shirt. When he brushed over Freed's stomach, Freed pulled away—though not enough to dislodge Laxus from the embrace.

"I guess…shouldn't we pause for now?" Freed asked shakily against his lips. "Someone will find us. It's our wedding."

Laxus stared into his eyes. His mouth was red.

"Let them find us," he said, nuzzling Freed's cheek. "Why should I be ashamed of kissing you? I'm supposed to drive you crazy like this. It's my job now."

Freed laughed.

Laxus, unashamed. So much had changed in four years. They weren't the same people they had been. And they'd gotten to change together.

"I'm still in love with you," Freed said.

Laxus grinned. "That's good."

Down the corridor, someone called, "Laxus? Freed…"

Laxus released Freed's wrists and stepped back as Mirajane came around the corner.

"There you are," she said.

Freed noticed she was smiling in a smirky, mischievous way, which meant they probably looked like everything they'd been doing; but something else was there, under the smile.

"What's up?"

She bit her lip. "I hate to do this at all. But there's an uninvited guest. Laxus, um. Your father is here."

Elation evaporated from Freed's body.

Ivan wouldn't be caught dead at something like this. It couldn't be true.

But it was. Her expression was serious.

He turned to Laxus, who was rubbing his chin.

"Bastard," Freed muttered. The anger was right there. He didn't even have to reach for it.

"Okay," Laxus said. "Welcome him—no, actually, I'll do it."

"Laxus?" Freed asked.

"It's okay, love." Laxus smiled at him. "He chose to show up at our wedding. That means something."

Yes, but, Freed thought. But.

Ivan had never tried to heal things with Laxus or get back in contact. He'd never made any recompense—certainly never apologized. He'd been in and out of gaol for petty offenses since his release. He could only be here to make trouble.

As he followed Laxus back toward the main room, Freed shot a glance at Mira. Worry creased her forehead.

Festivities were still in full swing, which meant partying and an as-undestructive-as-possible brawl. On the edge, by the doors, Freed could see a few stiff people, a slight cooler mood. Then he saw Ivan.

Ivan Dreyar stood on the threshold of Fairy Tail, just outside its doors, like the absolute fish out of water. His eyes roamed the hall as if this was foreign territory, as if he'd never been here before and was trying to map out the terrain.

Maybe, Freed wondered, he was glimpsing the Fairy Tail he never knew, nor wanted his son to know: the one that meant family. Joy. Safety.

"Otousan," Laxus said. "Welcome."

He spread his hands, and though he wasn't smiling, he wasn't frowning either—his expression was soft, like pity and nostalgia.

"I didn't come here for your festivities," Ivan said, not stepping through the doors.

"Well, you're in luck anyway. Are you hungry?"


Ivan looked around, found Freed, narrowed his eyes. Freed stared at him hard, and Ivan took a step forward.

"I wouldn't," Laxus told him, suddenly sounding dangerous—Freed almost reached for his sword. "He's your family now."

"I'm not here for anything," Ivan said, wresting his gaze away and eying his son again. "I just wanted to see if it was true. When they told me, I couldn't believe it. That you'd marry him."

"Me neither." Laxus smiled back at Freed: a hurting, beautiful, loving thing. "He's too good for me."

Freed flushed.

Ivan made a sound of disgust and turned away.

The rage rushed back: Freed wanted to run after him and hit him. As he stared at Ivan's retreating back, Freed seethed with emotions he thought he'd long since laid to rest. But he doubted this anger would ever fully go away. He wasn't sure he wanted it to.

"I wish you wanted to be part of my life," Laxus called. His voice cracked.

Ivan slowed down and glanced back.

Probably in shock. Freed was wide-eyed.

"I understand why you don't," Laxus said. "But I miss you sometimes."

"That's because you're soft," Ivan said, his guard down, features fixed in surprise instead of anger.

Laxus just shrugged, and Ivan looked away shaking his head.

"So you're not going to stay," Laxus said.

"I've had enough of you for one night," Ivan whispered after a moment. Then, viciously: "Enough for a lifetime."

A carefully-even sigh at Freed's side. Though trying to breathe calmly, Laxus was fighting a dogpile of emotions. Laxus swallowed, and Freed knew he wouldn't get more words out without breaking down.

Ivan started down the steps again.

"Ivan," Freed said. Then, "Otousama."

It took a moment to register, that Freed was calling him father, and then Ivan whirled, shocked, exposed. One of his hands was half-raised as if to ward off a blow.

It made Freed sad.

"Thank you," Freed said, "for inadvertently giving me your son."

Ivan hissed.

"Thank you also for your part in his existence," Freed went on. He looked over at his spouse, at the tall pillar of courage and discernment and kindness who was always at his side, and on his heart, and in his bed. Laxus was beautiful, and it made Freed smile with uncontainable joy. "He makes me very happy."

Ivan gave a rough grunt.

Before Ivan could turn his back, Freed bowed to him in deep respect.

After a second of silence, Ivan fled down the steps.

When Freed found his beloved's face, Laxus's eyes were red and sadness showed through. Without question, Freed embraced him. Laxus sighed into his arms and squeezed him back, his breaths shaky in Freed's ear.

"Thank you," Laxus said.

After a minute or two, they released each other—and Makarov rolled up out of breath.

"Where is he?" Makarov growled, straining from his seat and peering into the night. "I heard my son was here."

"He's gone," Laxus said.

Makarov turned slowly, eyes welling with sympathy. "I'm sorry, Laxus."

"At least he came."

Makarov stiffened and said nothing.

"Let's get back to the party," Laxus said, shaking his head before anyone could speak.

Freed watched him—they all watched him—and he saw Laxus avoiding eye contact with Mira, with Makarov; too emotional, wanting to escape it rather than talk about it.

"Alright, c'mon," Freed said briskly, herding people back inside. Laxus flashed him a grateful smile.

Some ten minutes later while they sat in conversation with Ever, Elfman, Lisanna, and Gray, Laxus excused himself to the toilets. Freed almost sought a reason to follow him, but maybe Laxus needed the time alone.

At the very least, Laxus would come to Freed if he needed him. Laxus was good about that. Whether it was usual or not, they had a tendency to tell each other everything, usually lying in bed at the end of the day, and Laxus's emotions were an open book to Freed now, not at all like when they'd first met, or throughout their childhood, or even years into being teammates. When he was hurting, Laxus asked for hugs, and when he was excited, he didn't try to hide it; and when he was angry, he never forced Freed to try to figure out why or to calm him down.

Laxus was still absent a quarter of an hour later when Freed went to help himself to more food.

"Is Laxus okay?" Mira asked, coming up behind him.

"Yes," Freed said truthfully. "He will be. It still hurts. It's a shock to see him here, after so many years."

Mira leaned her head on Freed's shoulder and he paused in the act of loading up a plate, squeezing her waist.

"That was very generous what you did," she said.


"Honoring Ivan like that. He doesn't deserve it. He doesn't deserve Laxus or you."

"Forgiveness isn't about deserving, though, is it?" Freed said. "He still makes me furious, but Laxus… I want us to be able to move forward if ever a day comes when Ivan wants to. He definitely won't get better if I shun him."

"People don't always change if you hold out an olive branch, either."

"No, but there's at least a chance. And forgiveness makes the world a better place. It doesn't hurt anyone if I…bow, and thank him, and maybe even let myself feel a little bit of gratitude. He's Laxus's father, and Laxus loves him even while he has boundaries with the man. Maybe Ivan will never change, but there's no harm in letting him know that if he were to change, we'd be interested in getting to know him again."

"You're so good, Freed."

"Not really," Freed blushed. "Laxus is the one who made me think about all this. I said something angry about Ivan once. He told me it hurt him that I never express anything positive about Ivan. Said he still loves his father even though he's a bastard and… I don't know, he's right, Mira."

"You're both good, then," she said. "Regardless, you are a model to me and I'm happy we're friends."

"Me too," he smiled, hugging her back.

Ever came up on his other side while they squeezed each other, eying them both with a smile.

"How are my favorite people doing?"

"Hugging it out," Freed chuckled.

"The food table is usually where I like to collect hugs, too."

"I was here to get food," he laughed.

"I was here to get a drink," Mira sighed, "but all the carafes appear to be empty."

"I'll get you something," Ever said, coming around and kissing Mira's temple. "What do you want?"

"Oh, don't do that," Mira protested. "It's my job as party overseer. What do you want?"

"What if I want to be nice to you?" Ever retorted.

"Too bad." Grinning, Mira kissed Ever's nose and trotted off toward the kitchen. "Back in a minute!"

"She won't let me do anything for her," Ever grumbled, leaning on Freed the way Mira had been.

"How infuriating."

"It is! How am I supposed to show her I care?"

"And yet you keep dating her," Freed smirked.

"For some reason." Ever shook her head, blushing.

"Things going well with you two?" Freed asked, fetching himself food while she continued to lounge on his shoulder dramatically.

"Very. My only possible complaint is I still don't usually stay the night at her place, but she's over at mine all the time, so I'm happy."

"Well, she has siblings living with her."

"True, but I like her siblings. And I think they like me too, or they're putting on a very good act."

"You two could just move in together."

A beat of silence prompted him to look over. Ever was adorably embarrassed.

"We're considering it."

"That's exciting," he smiled.


The pair had been together years now. Freed knew well that despite the amount of time, both Evergreen and Mira were tentative about their relationship. It was very special to both of them, and also the first time either had dated a woman. Privately, he thought they were going to be a permanent fixture, but he would let them figure that out at their own pace.

Evergreen rubbed her face while he finished filling his plate, then she straightened.

"Looks like your man is back," she said as Laxus entered the main hall.

"My husband," Freed said proudly, feeling warmth glowing in his face.

Evergreen beamed at him, poking his side.

"Go kiss him like I know you want to."

When Freed walked over to Laxus, he did kiss him, rising up to drift his lips over Laxus's cheek. A slight crease remained between Laxus's eyebrows from before, though he was smiling. Freed liked that mix: it was honest, and knowing Laxus felt strong enough to express both those emotions was lovely.

"How can I help?" Freed asked, taking his hand.

Laxus bent and leaned his forehead against Freed's.

"Fall asleep in my arms," Laxus said.

"Of course."

"Can we…have sex tonight?" Laxus murmured. "You don't have to."

Smiling, Freed nodded. "Yes. I want to. And it is the best kind of comfort."

"The most energetic kind," Laxus chuckled.

"Especially," Freed whispered, "if you tie me up and let me struggle a bit."

Laxus groaned.

"Don't turn me on until we're home."

Freed grinned, winking at him as they pulled apart. "Sorry."

When they got home, anticipation had Freed wound tight. Laxus paused in the front hall, turned halfway toward the moonlit window.

"Freed, can I request something? A change of plans?"

"What is it?" Freed asked, and it took a moment of disappointment, but he set to calming his body down, releasing the tense excitement low in his gut.

"I want you to be in charge," Laxus said. "I want to be powerless."

Freed blinked. Another one-eighty in expectations.

"You want me to please you?" Walking over, Freed ran his fingers over Laxus's chest.

"I want to lose control." Laxus swallowed. "To you and only you."

"I can do something with that," Freed murmured, guttural.

Licking his lips, he let ideas flip through his mind.

"Bedroom," he said. "I want to do you in our space."

In the room, Laxus watched him as they both stripped outer layers, Freed pulling off his jacket and Laxus taking off his shirt. Freed rubbed over that bare chest and hummed.

"You'll tell me," he said, crowding Laxus toward the bed, "if I go somewhere you don't want to?"


Hooking a finger in Laxus's trousers, Freed enjoyed the hitch of his breath.

"On your knees," he said. "And please suck me. I need you so badly."

Laxus was already following, popping the button on Freed's trousers and dragging them down. Freed let out a happy sound when his cock sprang free, and Laxus's hand gently taking hold of him made eagerness surge down him in a wave of euphoria. Freed grabbed a bedpost to hold himself steady, shaking out a single word: "Laxus."

The way Laxus took him could only be described as loving. Wrapping his lips around Freed's cock, he slid down Freed's length with an intense focus. He sucked long and steady, and the pressure rocked Freed. When Laxus looked up after several minutes, Freed—mouth hanging open, fingers shaking—couldn't look away from him. Laxus looked so soulful, worshipful.

Still making eye contact, Laxus slid all the way down his cock and back up.


Freed pulled Laxus off him.

"No more," he panted, hand in Laxus's short hair. "Up."

As Laxus stood, there was a satisfied glimmer to his eye, but awe too, breathing hard and rubbing his mouth.

"Strip and turn around," Freed said huskily.

Laxus shimmied out of the rest of his clothes while Freed looked on, enjoying watching—and hearing—his beloved. Laxus hissed unconsciously when his cock was bare.

Fuck, Freed could watch him forever. Laxus's thighs were always thick and knotted, and the type of work they did meant his body…he looked good. Strong and big and handsome. Holding himself tall even while he looked expectantly at Freed.

Freed motioned for Laxus to turn around, then guided him to the corner of the room, pushing until Laxus braced with his hands on the wall, directly in front of the long mirror.

"Oh," Laxus said, high-pitched, shivering as he watched Freed undress behind him.

Freed met his eyes in the mirror and they shared a smile.

"Spread your legs for me," Freed said.

As Laxus obeyed, he asked, "What about the window?"

Freed glanced at the glass beside them.

"What about it?"

Laxus almost held his tongue, but there was a niggling emotion at the idea of being public.

"What if someone sees us?"

"You think so in this darkness?" Freed kissed his shoulder. "If someone does manage to get a look, they'll get wet wishing they could be fucked the way I'm about to fuck you."

Laxus gasped, breathy and desperate. Freed was going to…inside him…

"But if it bugs you," Freed went on, "I can definitely close it."

"I…" Laxus wet his mouth. "Another time, I'd want to? But not tonight."

"On it." Freed kissed his shoulder and went to close the blinds.

When he returned, Freed took hold of his hips and Laxus braced himself.

Then, to his surprise, Freed knelt—and began to lick Laxus's ass.

A wailing sound came out of him, edged in desire as Freed's wet, dexterous tongue explored his skin and pressed into him. After a moment of tight probing, it moved, caressing his taint before returning and squeezing into him again. Opening him up.

Aching from the intrusion, Laxus tried to relax, but he was wound so tight from sucking Freed's cock, and tension invaded him with every thrust of Freed's tongue. Pushing into him. Knowing him. Claiming him as Freed's.

Laxus had hardly opened his eyes, but when he did so, the mirror in front of him gave him a perfect view of Freed kneeling between his legs, fingers peeking around Laxus's hips from where he had Laxus spread wide. Nude, Freed's cock was tall, balls pushed up by the muscles of his thighs.

As Laxus watched, Freed moved one hand down and stroked himself.

Laxus gasped. "Freed!"

Freed's hum reverberated through Laxus's body, a sensation unlike any he'd felt before, and Laxus melted. Still opening Laxus up with his tongue, Freed continued to drag his hand over his own cock, slow, tight. Laxus could practically feel the shape of Freed's cock under his palm. The ridges, the heat. The hard length of him—the flavor still in Laxus's mouth.

Freed's tongue pushed particularly far and Laxus let out a strangled moan.

The next thrust of Freed's tongue was replaced with a finger, spit-slicked and entering him easily. A few thrusts and Freed curled his fingertip.

Laxus's legs were shaking so hard now he didn't know how long they'd hold him up. He cried out as pleasure rocketed up him.

Freed kept hand-fucking him over and over.

As Freed's wrist twisted over his own tip, Freed let out a breathy sound. That quiet noise hit Laxus with everything—Freed's hard cock being stroked right in front of him, two fingers now fucking insistently into his ass, and Laxus's eyes fell shut, body collapsing and arching, everything trembling as his cock released and that relief from the intense pressure eased, breathing coming down to something resembling normal.

"Fuck," Freed murmured, still between his legs, "you squeeze so tight when you come."

"'Sss you," Laxus said, leaning his forehead against the cool glass of the mirror. His fists felt like they'd embedded in the wall.

Behind him, Freed rose—shakily, Laxus noted—and curled around him, kissing his shoulder.

"I want to get you hard again," he whispered, meeting Laxus's eyes in the mirror. "And I want this."

Freed backed away and Laxus slowly, achingly, turned around. Freed was at the nightstand, pulling out a familiar silhouette.

"I want you to put this in me," he said as Laxus came over and put his arms around Freed's waist, their chests meeting. Laxus swore he could feel their heartbeats matching, pounding so hard together. Doing this together. To each other, with each other.

"Okay," he growled happily, taking the plug and lube from Freed's hands.

Freed stepped back as he pulled at his ascot, sliding the fabric off his neck and stretching, presenting bare skin. Hair looping over one shoulder, he began on the buttons of his shirt, chest rising and falling as he slowly parted the material. The shirt slid down one arm as he went, showing brown skin, muscles that tensed as Laxus surveyed him.

Freed looked up at Laxus as the garment fell to the floor, and his expression was sober and searching, seeming to ask the question, Am I good enough?

His only clothes now were his trousers halfway down his thighs, which he pulled off quickly and straightened, lifting his head, standing tall, showing off all of it. Muscles and lines and divots. Every part of his body.

"You're gorgeous," Laxus said softly, unable to look away, and Freed's expression turned up in a powerful smile.

"Come here," Freed said.

He beckoned Laxus sensually while he backed up onto the bed, where Freed knelt on hands and knees facing Laxus. Standing against the edge of the bed, Laxus's cock was at just the right height for Freed to suck him down and swallow over him, Laxus keening. Though soft a minute ago, under this attention Laxus could feel the blood rushing down again: Freed's fucking tongue…

As Freed worked diligently over him, Laxus leaned over that smooth expanse of warm skin and shifting vertebrae and ran a palm over Freed's ass. Freed gulped and nearly choked on him. Lube first, Laxus massaged his fingers liberally against Freed's ass, tipping just barely into him, just enough to make him ache. Had his mouth not been occupied, Freed might have even begged.

He liked being entered almost as much as Laxus did.

Eventually Laxus was working the toy into him in slow, rhythmic movements, enjoying Freed's sounds. Even a full mouth couldn't keep Freed quiet: he'd been vocal since the first time they fucked. Groans and gasps and breath hissed out in pleasure.

When the plug was seated fully inside him, Freed finally pulled away.

"Now," he said, words slurring as he wiped his mouth, "get on the bed."

Freed got Laxus splayed out in the middle of the bed and stared down at him with an emotion he couldn't put words to. Laxus was so beautiful, and with his arms spread and fingers digging into the duvet he looked desperate.

"Inside me?" Laxus asked.

He was so vulnerable, and Freed loved him so much. He loved nights like this having this power—not power over Laxus, but the ability to please him, the power to give him what he needed and what he wanted. The power to make Laxus forget everything except for joy, to be that joy in his life.

Sliding a hand up Laxus's leg, Freed inhaled and enjoyed the warm skin, Laxus's involuntary shudder. When he pressed Laxus's knee wide, Laxus let out a throaty whimper.

Pushing into him, Freed closed his eyes to breathe, focusing on the heaviness of being filled while fitting himself into Laxus's body. To fuck and be fucked, all at once, and share everything. When they were together, they discovered whole universes.

Freed began to thrust, and Laxus tipped his head back to cry out.

The thrills Freed had ignored came to the fore now: warmth swelled in the pit of his stomach as he rocked forward and back. Laxus was spasming, tensing sporadically to Freed's movements, and the slick stimulation was exhilarating. Like flying, face into the wind, the whole world yours.

Between panted breaths, Freed laid gentle kisses across Laxus's chest. He loved that feel of heated skin beneath his lips. Laxus was arching, pressing against Freed, trying to ride him as Freed bucked into him.

Freed saw when they were both getting close. Both of them trying for the most arousing touch they could get; moving chaotically; going mindless. Arms planted by Laxus's head, Freed dug his knees into the bed and took control, pounding in harder, rushing toward orgasm.

He wasn't going to make it before Laxus.

It took incredible concentration for Freed to move a hand down to Laxus's cock and wrap around him, tightly. But he had plans for Laxus's cock. Plans for how he wanted Laxus to come.

The constriction on his cock made Laxus more desperate, writhing and jerking, eyes finding Freed's as he begged, "Freed, I— Freed…"

In answer, Freed kissed him on the mouth, tongues sliding gladly together, and as Laxus's entrance tightened and gave a final aching squeeze, Freed fell apart, launching himself into Laxus, shuddering into his skin, needing and hungry and relieved.

Freed only took a moment to collect himself. Laxus spasmed as his body tried to come, Freed's grip stopping him. Laxus had his head tipped back and was watching Freed out of half-lidded eyes, drunken and panting, waiting but impatient.

Freed pulled the toy from his ass with a little moan, that tight feeling always so unique, and moved up Laxus's body to line himself up with Laxus's cock. He wasn't sure when he released his grip if Laxus would come right there, but Laxus was staring at him with more attention now, realizing what he wanted and getting a new desperate hunger in his eyes. He removed his hand and pressed himself against Laxus's cock.

Freed slid down onto him with only a slight wince. There was just enough lube for him to take Laxus in; once the backs of his thighs hit Laxus's hipbones, he stopped, staring up and panting.

"Freed?" Laxus asked.

Freed couldn't reply for a moment. The feelings were too intense. To have the person you loved and looked up to entering your body, to know you were about to give them pleasure…

It was overwhelming.

Moonlight, muted by the curtains, landed on their cool bodies, giving a moment of rest amid the sweat and exertion.

"Freed," Laxus said again.

"Ffffuck, fuck me," Freed said, words tumbling out. He suddenly knew that was what he wanted.

"Okay," Laxus said, his voice comforting, like bringing down someone from the edge of hysteria, and he leaned up to trail kisses over Freed's chest as Freed took a calming breath. Far too much excitement was spiking through his body.

Freed expected Laxus to flip him, to pull Freed beneath him and fuck into him hard, the way he did when his orgasm had been delayed for a while and Freed was loose and wet enough. Maybe he wasn't quite that ready at the moment, but Freed couldn't bring himself to care.

But Laxus took hold of his hips, fingers molding into the dips of Freed's skin, and thrust up into him. Freed bounced in his lap, jolting and then stiffening as he felt Laxus fall out of him and then enter him again.


"Mm, that's—ahh—right," Laxus murmured, still sucking on Freed's skin. "You love me."

"I do," Freed groaned. "I do."

Laxus adjusted, and soon was sitting up cross-legged with Freed in his lap, hands under his ass to raise him up for each deep thrust. Arms wrapping around Laxus's neck, Freed rested his forehead against Laxus's. They stared into each other's eyes for a long, intimate moment, and Freed had the overwhelming feeling hit him that this was Laxus he was making love with, Laxus touching him, Laxus wanting him and wanting to pleasure him, their souls so close and their bodies intertwined.

Leaning in to kiss each other, Freed closed his eyes, alight with the feel of Laxus's breath on his cheek, Laxus's tongue in his mouth, Laxus's legs beneath him, and Laxus's fingers on his ass.

"Fuck, I love you," Freed whispered when they broke apart. "Fuck."

Freed's hair was falling into his eyes, and Laxus slid a hand up his spine to draw it out of his face. He curled Freed's hair around his hand, tugging gently, and Freed let his head be dragged back, throat bobbing as he moaned.

Laxus loved him so much he could explode with it, cry from it—Freed was the only one who'd stayed by Laxus's side through the darkest times and the only one Laxus trusted enough to go to him for safety. Freed was the only person he could ever imagine crawling into the arms of and letting tears fall, letting Freed see those tears and see his weaknesses. Freed neither belittled him nor abandoned him: he stayed steady, an anchor, never letting Laxus fall alone, but never standing in Laxus's place. He was the person who helped Laxus to stand on his own. The one person whose support had meant he could come this far, and love this much.

Trembling and tentative, Laxus approached the holy stretch of Freed's throat and kissed him, biting into his skin and tugging at Freed's throat with his teeth. Freed gave a cry and Laxus gave a final thrust up, pulling Freed down onto his cock with a bruising grip on his hips—and Laxus came like that, humping against Freed's ass, breathing hard on his neck and feeling the tightly wound spring inside himself uncoil at last.

"G-Gods," Laxus stuttered, forehead on Freed's shoulder—he'd slid his hands up Freed's back to help hold him up. The embrace was sweaty and hot, and exactly what he needed.

A gentle hand on Laxus's face tipped his chin up until he could see Freed's smiling eyes.

"I'm going to wake up tomorrow next to you," Freed said, "and then eat breakfast with you, and then go out on a job with you. Maybe have sex with you again," Freed winked, "or cuddle together, or whatever we feel like. And then I'll fall asleep next to you and wake up and do it again. And again. And that makes me so, so happy."

Emotion surged down on Laxus and he captured Freed in a long, slow kiss.

"You are the best thing that ever happened to me," Laxus said. "And I mean that. Without you, I wouldn't be who I am. And that would be a travesty."

Freed smiled.

"Yes, it would. I like who you are. And I'm excited to get to know who you'll be in a year, a decade."

"Someone who loves you," Laxus said, and kissed him again.

Freed hummed and let Laxus travel his lips over Freed's face.

"I think," Freed murmured, "someone said something about falling asleep in each other's arms…"