Lucy hadn't realized that she'd fallen in love with him until it was too late. She and Cobra had become the best of friends in a matter of minutes after he'd joined the guild. He'd laughed at some snide joke she'd made in her head while they sat a few stools away from each other at the bar, and that was that. She'd known he heard it.
And for months, they'd spent time together, watching people interact. They made up stupid conversations that others were having and laughed quietly to themselves, and it was even funnier when he added what their souls were allegedly saying. They both ignored the fact that he could actually hear what their targets were talking about.
She went to him when she needed someone to talk to. Even though Cobra was an asshole about her problems and told her to stop talking his ear off, he still sat and listened. And he gave Lucy advice that she was sure no one else would have the balls to say to her face. He even stopped at the store and bought her favorite cookies to dip in some almond milk when he heard that she was having a horrible day, before she'd even gotten dressed and left her apartment, then showed up and forced her to sit on the couch and eat the whole thing - like she really wanted to do.
He understood her.
But that all went up in flames the moment Lucy walked into the guild to see him hugging Kinana and placing a soft kiss on the barmaid's cheek. Then another on her lips.
A round of cheers went through the guild as people congratulated the new couple on getting together.
And Lucy cried inside while smiling and making her way toward her team's table. She'd woken up that morning with a smile on her face and the realization that the man who'd become her best friend was something more than that to her. But this was a happy time for Cobra and Kinana. She wasn't going to ruin their moment.
"Luce," Natsu said with a wide grin. "Wanna take a job? We found this one with lots of money!"
"And fish!" Happy shouted.
"That sounds wonderful," Lucy nodded. His overly warm arm wrapped around her shoulders and she was pulled into his chest. She didn't care right then that Natsu was sweaty. 'I'm happy for them. That's all I can let myself be. Move on, Lucy… Just move on.'
Across the guild, Cobra's lips turned down into a small frown and his gaze settled on the blonde. She looked happy, but the whispered thought had him thinking otherwise.
Natsu's green gaze locked onto him. "She'll be alright. Focus on Kinana, and I'll take care of Luce."
Cobra really wasn't sure what Natsu meant, but he knew from experience that the Fire Slayer was oddly in tune with Lucy in ways that not even his own Soul Listening magic could mimic. So, as the purple-haired woman sat down beside him with a plate of bacon and eggs laced with arsenic, he gave Natsu a short nod and returned his attention to Kinana.
When one mission for Team Natsu turned into two and then three, back to back, Cobra found himself wondering just what the hell was going on. He hadn't seen Lucy in two months. She didn't even come into the guild, and instead repacked her bags and waited at the train station for Natsu or Gray or Erza to pick out a new mission.
Of course, when Erza was the one in the guild, she commented on how much Lucy had grown recently in her magic. And he was always burrowing into one of their souls to listen in on memories of how she was doing.
By the third month in a row that Lucy hadn't been through the front doors of Fairy Tail, Cobra had a pretty good idea of why she was staying away. He'd thought back on what he'd heard the day Kinana had agreed to let the guild know they were a couple. Then to all the times he'd been around Lucy and heard only bare wisps of thoughts concerning the blonde and himself in a more romantic sense.
Hell, Cobra had thought Lucy wanted that for a period of time, and he'd been willing to try it out. But then Kinana had told him she loved him, and he'd chosen the woman he really wanted. And Lucy hadn't known a thing about any of it.
He'd kept it from the blonde to spare her feelings, he supposed. Or maybe it was just that she'd never really known about those errant thoughts, and he'd thought better to leave it alone. Best not to stir the pot. Regardless of what his reasoning had been, Cobra found that the longer he thought on why he hadn't told Lucy about being with Kinana for four months before the guild found out, it was all just excuses.
Lucy was his best friend, aside from the barmaid. They talked about everything. Well, she talked, and he mostly just listened.
"I haven't seen Lucy in a while," Kinana said while setting a glass of juice down for the Poison Slayer. "Cobra, have you talked to her lately?"
"Nope," he sighed. "She's been on jobs a lot though."
Kinana nodded and a soft frown settled on her lips. "Well, if you see her…"
"I'll tell her," he nodded with a small smile. Kinana, ever the loving woman, had told him when they'd started dating in private that she didn't want him spending less time with Lucy. She understood that he had his own friends, and she trusted the blonde just as she trusted him. It didn't matter to her that Lucy was a woman, because Cobra knew the meaning of loyalty. There was no doubt in either of their minds about that.
The Poison Slayer watched as she walked back to the bar, and his eye strayed over to the request board. Team Natsu had been gone for way too long. He was even starting to miss the loud, obnoxious fights that Natsu and Gray got into. How Erza moaned and fantasized about cake while eating it. Happy constantly teasing everyone.
And he missed Lucy.
Part of him hated that being with Kinana had taken the blonde away from him for a short period of time, but he understood it a little bit. If she needed to have some distance, to sort herself out, then he could give her that.
He just hoped she got through this soon, because he really was looking forward to sitting down and watching horror movies with her again. Eating far too much sugar, even for him. Rubbing the blonde's feet even though she never asked for it, because he knew she was in pain.
Damnit, he just wanted his fucking friend back.
Cobra knew the saying, "Be careful what you wish for." He'd said it a number of times while torturing people, and using the pleas from their souls against them.
He'd been begging the universe to bring Lucy back to the guild, but he hadn't meant like this. Not unconscious and bleeding out with Gajeel holding her as he ran inside the guild, yelling that she'd been dropped on his property. Not with the scent of acid clinging to her skin and poison running through her veins. Not skinnier than normal and suffering from dehydration.
"Cobra!" Kinana hissed. "They need you!"
He didn't need more prompting than that. He didn't even know why he was frozen in place. Why his heart was pounding in his chest.
The Poison Slayer scrambled across the guild and vaulted up the stairs two at a time to get to the infirmary where Gajeel had taken the blonde. He didn't hear Kinana rushing to the bar and grabbing the lacrima to call her team. And he didn't hear Erza answer and break down in tears when she was told that Lucy had been found. No one thought to ask why the guild hadn't been informed of her capture in the first place.
Instead, he was solely focused on rushing into the infirmary and coming to a screeching halt by the bed.
"With Team Natsu," Gajeel growled.
"Porlyusica?" Cobra asked.
"She won't be here in time. Bunny girl needs some-"
"Gajeel, don't move a fucking muscle," Cobra snarled. "You're helping me."
"Helping you what? I'm not a damn doctor and neither are you!"
Cobra shook his head and shrugged his coat off, then rolled up his sleeves. "Get me a bowl or a bucket or something."
"Just fucking do it!" he roared. Cobra lowered his head to the bleeding wound where Lucy's right arm used to be. His lips locked around the torn flesh at her shoulder and he carefully started to suck.
"That's fucking gross."
Cobra lifted his head while reaching for the bowl in Gajeel's hands, then spit out a mouthful of dark purple fluid. "Get me another one," he coughed.
Gajeel shuddered as Cobra put his lips back on Lucy's shoulder, watching for a moment as the Poison Slayer started to suck once again. He grabbed another bowl, this one larger than the last, and gagged when Cobra spit another mouthful of fluid into it. Then another. "Can't you just eat it?"
Cobra shook his head after wiping his lips on the back of his hand. "There's more than just poison," he said before lowering his lips again. The fact that Lucy wasn't completely dead was just a damn miracle, as far as he was concerned. Because while the poison running through her was quite the snack for him, it was deadly. And he knew he wouldn't be tasting anything for weeks while his mouth healed from the faint traces of acid in the poison itself.
They needed Wendy. And they needed her right fucking then. Porlyusica could only do so much, even if she did show up. She wasn't a mage. The little Air Slayer was the only one who could counteract the damage that Lucy's organs had gone through.
But even she couldn't regrow the arm that Lucy had lost. And Wendy wouldn't be able to get rid of the already scarring flesh in the shape of the blonde's gate keys that littered her stomach.
"Gajeel," Cobra said quietly. "Have someone call up Mest. He can teleport Wendy here, and-"
"I'm here!" Wendy shouted just as she and the rest of Team Natsu appeared in the middle of the room with a panting Mest at their side. She pushed past everyone and rushed to the blonde's bed, her eyes hardening at the sight of Lucy's battered body.
"Got the poison out," Cobra said after spitting out the last mouthful. "Wendy…"
"I've got this, Cobra," she growled. Her hands lit up and hovered over Lucy's body, and she poured more and more magic into the blonde.
He looked down at the Celestial mage's dulled golden hair and felt Natsu come to stand beside him. "Someone has to pay for hurting Luce," Natsu growled.
Cobra's hands clenched into fists before he grabbed Natsu by the arm and dragged him into the hallway. The Fire Slayer didn't even fight him on it, even as he was spun and shoved against the wall. "Tell me everything that happened before you lost her."
"What do you think you're gonna do, Cobra?" Natsu asked. "We don't know where those guys came from, or what they were planning."
"No," Cobra chuckled darkly. "But if you think about what they looked like, their names, anything… I'll find them and make them pay."
"You can't kill them," Natsu said. "You know you can't."
"I know," Natsu spat. "But you'll go to prison again. Do you really think she'd want you locked up because of her?"
"That's not important."
"It is," Natsu said softly. His gaze lifted to lock onto Cobra's burning indigo eye. "You know it is. Especially to her. She's always telling me to think before I act, and I know that she'd be telling you the same thing if she could right now."
"Well, she can just hate me forever then," Cobra snarled. "I'm gonna find them and…"
"And bring them to the Rune Knights," Makarov said as he came to stand between the two Slayers. "Should they get injured in the fight before the Rune Knights arrive… Well, as long as they're alive, that's all that matters."
Cobra paused and looked down at the ancient man, a slow, wicked grin curling his lips. "I knew I liked the way you think, old man."
Makarov didn't smile though. His magic swelled until it surrounded his small body in a golden aura. "Yes, now Natsu… Tell Cobra everything you know. And make sure you let those monsters feel the wrath of Fairy Tail when you find them."
Cobra turned his attention back to the Fire Slayer, listening intently as he told the story of what happened before Lucy was captured with memories alone. There was no need for words, not when Cobra could get a much better picture of everything that had happened through Natsu's soul. Once he was done, the Poison Slayer nodded and made his way down the stairs into the main hall. He kissed Kinana on the cheek without a word and made for the door, motioning for Natsu to follow him.
They were getting payback for Lucy. Each person who'd hurt her was going to feel not just the wrath of Fairy Tail, but of Dokuryuu no Cobra. The dormant part of the Poison Dragon Slayer that stayed hidden now that he was in a light guild. Even if he couldn't kill them, he was going to make sure they were never the same long before they were shipped off to the prison.
It killed him inside when he walked into the infirmary and heard the wailing in Lucy's soul as she struggled to bring a plastic fork to her lips. How it only grew as Erza leaned forward and took the utensil to feed the blonde.
'I'm not useless… I can do this! Erza, just let me do it myself!'
Cobra walked over and placed a hand on the Requip mage's shoulder, then nodded toward the door. "Jellal's here," he whispered. "He wants to talk to you."
"Oh, but Lucy-"
"Can manage for herself," he chuckled. "I'll sit with her." He could hear how she was ready to argue the point, the indecision in her soul for wanting to be a friend to Lucy while also wanting to see Jellal. "Go on, Titania."
Erza turned toward Lucy again, her brows furrowing as the blonde tried to lift her paper cup of water. She reached forward to steady Lucy's hand as it started to shake. Cobra stopped her with a tightened grip on her shoulder, and she let out a slow breath as her friend finally brought the cup to her lips and took a small sip. "Lucy, I'll be right downstairs," she said softly while standing.
The blonde didn't say anything in return, and kept her eyes on the tray over her lap as Cobra took Erza's seat on the edge of the bed. He stayed silent though, and she grabbed the fork again and speared it through her eggs, then slowly lifted it to her lips.
"It's good to see you awake," he said after she took a bite of food. He hated that she didn't look at him. "I've missed you, Bright Eyes."
"How's Kinana been?"
"Good," he said. "Worried about you, though."
"I'm fine. Or… I will be." Lucy took another bite of food, but her arm was starting to get tired and her hand shook even more. Cobra still didn't try to help her, even when she stabbed herself in the cheek with the plastic fork she'd been given.
"You know we can still be friends, right?" he whispered. "Just because I'm with her, doesn't mean I have to stop spending time with you."
"It's not right to spend time with another woman when you're in a relationship, Cobra."
He sighed as Lucy dropped the fork and the little bits of egg fell onto her chest and lap. Instead of trying to clean her up, he waited as her quaking fingers clumsily wrapped around a napkin.
'So stupid… I know how to eat. Why can't my body just do this like it's supposed to?'
"Nerve damage," he said as she tried to clean up the mess she'd made. "Wendy says-"
"I… kn-know," Lucy said slowly. It was the first time she'd tried to speak aloud around someone else since waking up and finding that her voice didn't work. Things were coming back to her, but she had to take baby steps to regain full mobility. Sometimes, even words came out wrong, and she could hear it. So she just practiced when she was alone. At least her mind hadn't been affected by the damage her body had taken.
But she knew that she would only get better with therapy. Physical therapy for her limbs, more for when she had a prosthetic arm made - although the blonde didn't know how she was going to pay for it.
She just wanted to be done with it all.
Cobra stayed silent as Lucy struggled to get the last bit of egg onto the napkin. He wasn't going to help her unless she asked. He couldn't. Because he knew better than anyone that Lucy just wanted to prove to herself that she wasn't an invalid. She could still take care of herself.
And he was more than thankful that the bastards who'd hurt her like this, who had tried to torture her for information about Fairy Tail, were now paralyzed from much more severe nerve damage. Poisoning and burns so extensive that they'd nearly died before the Rune Knights got custody of them.
"And woman or not," he said once Lucy picked the fork back up and started eating again, as though there hadn't been a five-minute lull in their conversation, "You're still my best friend. I miss you."
"And I'm just being respectful of your relationship."
"Kinana trusts you," he said. "She knows we're just friends."
He had to force himself not to react when Lucy's soul went quiet. Had she learned how to block him? To stifle the song in her soul so he couldn't hear what she was really thinking?
Lucy sighed in resignation as she dropped her almost empty cup and water splashed down onto her chest. Still, Cobra didn't try to help her. And she knew why. She appreciated that he was letting her do this, even though she was struggling.
"C-Could you… ge' Mira… P-P… P… Please?"
"You don't want me to help?" he whispered.
Lucy shook her head, keeping her eyes averted from the mess on her shirt and the Poison Slayer at her side. "Mira."
Cobra nodded slowly and stood from the bed. "Mmkay," he said. "Do you need anything else? I'll have her bring it up for you." Lucy's head shook again. He turned and started for the door, and had to force his feet to keep moving when he smelled the salt from her tears as she tried to blink them away. He wasn't able to hear what her soul was screaming as soon as he closed the door.
'I miss you too, Cobra… But it hurts… I can't ruin his happiness…'
"Natsu, can you do me a favor?" Cobra asked as he watched Lucy carefully making her way down the stairs from the infirmary with Wendy by her side. She was almost completely healed now, after spending months going through physical therapy. He hadn't tried to visit her again after that first day. Every time he heard her soul whispering his name in her sleep, he was tempted, but then he'd smell tears. He couldn't hurt her by being so close.
He knew he had the Fire Slayer's full attention. He never asked anyone for favors, but this was too important. "If she ever starts to think I don't care… Could you… just…"
Natsu patted the maroon-haired mage on the arm and gave him a small smile. "She knows you care, Cobra."
"Natsu, it's not that simple."
"Don't worry," he chuckled. "Luce won't forget that you're still her best friend. No matter what."
Cobra shook his head as the firebreather walked away to meet Lucy at the bottom of the steps. Even from this distance, he could see the pain in her eyes that not many noticed as she saw Kinana walk around with a tray of food. He'd been the one to do this to her, and it stung more than he cared to admit that he couldn't find a way to make it right.
Still, Cobra couldn't dwell on it. It would only drive him crazy. Maybe one day Lucy would be comfortable spending time with him again. That was all he could hope for.
'I hate this… But they're so happy together…'
Lucy took a sip of her eggnog and leaned against the bar, forcing a smile to her lips while watching everyone in the guild mingling and opening presents.
No matter what she did, her eyes strayed to the Poison Slayer and his fiancée of three months.
'Oh my god, Mira had better get a picture of them under the mistletoe! Oh, Kinana's gonna love that one for her scrapbook… I hate this…'
She was torn on how to feel. On the one hand, she was so happy for Cobra and Kinana, for the happiness they'd found with one another. Her guild mates were just too adorable together to put into words. He was so caring toward the barmaid, so thoughtful. She hadn't missed the times he came back from a mission and kissed Kinana on the cheek while discreetly handing her a small, wrapped present.
She'd seen the love they had for each other shining in their eyes every time they were together.
She'd seen his arms around Kinana, and wished that it was her instead. Because, on the other hand, Lucy hated that it wasn't her in Kinana's place.
And she hated even more just how bitter it made her feel, knowing that the one man she wanted, she could never have. There was no way Lucy would try and steal him away from Kinana. That just wasn't the type of person she was. And the blonde already knew that, if she were to throw her morals away and try it anyway, Cobra would turn her down.
But she missed him so much. She missed the closeness they'd had before, and just having someone to talk to.
"How's the arm treating you, Lucy?"
The blonde turned and smiled a little more easily as Gildarts came to sit by her side. "Pretty good," she said. "Thanks for giving me the name of the guy you went to."
"Well, Marty did some great work on my arm and leg," he chuckled, lifting his metal arm and rotating his wrist. "And you can always go back to him for repairs when you need it." Lucy nodded and took another sip of her drink while looking across the guild again.
"You're pregnant?!" Cobra shouted. Kinana laughed as the Poison Slayer wrapped his arms around her. "I'm gonna be a dad!"
"Well that's some great news," Gildarts chuckled. The soft scrape of the stool next to him on the floor drew his attention, and he watched curiously as Lucy made her way through the guild toward the door.
She paused at Cobra and Kinana's table, smiling happily down at the two.
"Bright Eyes, I-I'm… I'm gonna…"
"You're gonna be a great dad," Lucy giggled. She moved around the table and gave Kinana a gentle hug. "Let's hope that little one takes after you, huh?" she whispered to the barmaid. "The world can't take more than one of this guy."
"F-Fuck you," Cobra sniffled. With his arms still around Kinana, Lucy was so close to him now. Closer than she'd been in the last year alone. His arm hesitantly shifted to wind around the blonde as well, and she gifted him with a tender smile.
"I'm so happy for you, Cobra."
And he could hear it, deep down in her soul, that she truly was happy for him.
What the Poison Slayer didn't hear, the part that Lucy had kept hidden, was the bitter rage burning in her gut and the tears that threatened to well on her lashes. She carefully pulled away while ruffling Cobra's hair, just like she always used to do as a way to aggravate him, then walked toward the doors of the guild.
Only Gildarts noticed how the blonde's shoulders slumped just before the doors completely closed behind her as she walked out into the blustery Christmas snow. "Wonder what that's about," he muttered to himself.
"Who's ready for a free round of drinks?" Mira shouted. "Congrats to the happy couple!"
As the night continued, everyone simply let themselves enjoy the warm atmosphere in the guild, unaware of the blonde whose tears soaked into her pillow, alone in her apartment.
Two miscarriages and three children. Seven years of marriage. Buying a house. Raising a family.
Lucy watched as the man who was once her closest friend moved on with his life. He and Kinana had ups and downs, as all couples did. They fought and made up. The first two pregnancies ended prematurely, with no one understanding just why she'd lost the babies. Both times, Cobra had been the first one to know their little souls were disappearing.
He was a mess the third time Kinana got pregnant, always worrying that she was going to lose the baby. A healthy little boy was born at forty-one weeks, chubby and full of smiles.
Then they had twin daughters, both identical to Cobra in every way.
And Lucy had been right. He was a great father. She'd watched from a distance as Cobra cared for each of his children, fed and burped them, changed diapers. He read them stories and rocked them to sleep, even in the bustling guild.
Everyone seemed to be moving on without her. Natsu and Lisanna finally got together. Juvia gave up on Gray, after seeing a psychologist for the unhealthy obsession she had with him. Mira and Laxus just had their second daughter a few months prior. Gajeel publicly turned Levy down and explained that he was gay. He was in a very committed relationship with Rogue, and the two were planning on getting married soon.
And still, Lucy couldn't move on. Even though she reminded herself every morning that there was nothing to do about her feelings for Cobra, and that the Poison Slayer was with someone else, her heart didn't want to listen.
So she continued keeping her distance from him. They interacted only when it was entirely appropriate, in her eyes, only when Kinana was also there. Only on special occasions.
And he seemed to have given up on being the friend she'd once had. He didn't try to force her to talk to him like he would have done years ago. He didn't pin her to the couch and tickle her until she couldn't breathe.
She let out a quiet sigh and took a sip of the smoothie Mira gave her almost ten minutes prior. She needed to move on. Somehow, she'd find a way to do that. And Cobra could remain happy with his wife and family. She wasn't going to come between them. Ever.
"Lucy," Mira sighed while leaning her elbows on the bar. "When are you going to find a man so you can give me babies to spoil?"
"Never," Lucy answered with a scowl. It was always the same with Mira. For years, she'd been fighting to get the blonde to just admit that she needed help in finding a man. And no matter how many times or how many different ways she said it, Mira just never gave up.
"Come on," she laughed. "You don't even try to get yourself out there."
The blonde rolled her eyes and took another sip of her smoothie. "There's no point, Mira," she said. "I'm going to die alone."
"You don't have to. If you'd just let me set you up with someone."
"Mira, please," she groaned. "Just drop it, okay? I don't want you to set me up with anyone. And I don't need a man or babies or a happy family that would make me smile every single day, to feel fulfilled. I can do that on my own, without anyone else."
A sly smile curved the barmaid's lips as Lucy took another sip of her drink. "Well, let's say I set you up with someone anyway," she said slowly.
"I'd say I'm not interested in anyone but one person," Lucy answered. She winced as the next sip of her smoothie went right to her head, sending an icy shot through her brain.
"Oh, so you are interested in someone?" Mira asked, leaning forward slightly.
"I…" Lucy's brow furrowed and she blinked repeatedly to clear up the slight blurriness in her vision. "I'm not telling. There's no point anyway, since he'll never care about me."
"Aw, Lucy, that's just not true," Mira said while placing a gentle hand on the blonde's. She winked at Cana and watched as the drunk scooted closer. "Just tell me who he is, and I'll make him care. Then you can have all the babies."
"I don't…" Lucy went to take another sip of her smoothie, sighing as the cool drink slid down her throat. "Drop it, okay?"
"Aw, c'mon Lucy," Cana laughed. "We're all friends here."
"And if I say who I love, then everyone will hate me," Lucy muttered. "That's why I've kept it a secret this whole time."
"We won't hate you," Mira said. "So… tell us who - wait did you say you love someone?!"
"She did!" Cana laughed. "Oh, you have to tell us now!"
"No," Lucy whispered, her cheeks flaming.
"Do it," Mira said.
"Who do you love?"
"Cobra!" Lucy shouted, slamming her metallic hand down on the bar and sending her half-finished smoothie splashing across the wooden top. "I love Cobra, okay?! And I've loved him for years, but I can't do anything about it since-"
The blonde froze as a tanned, familiar hand clamped over her lips. The same chest she remembered from so long ago pressed against her back as he leaned forward to smell the liquid that had started dripping onto the floor.
"Really, Mira?" he growled, sending the suddenly uncomfortable barmaid a murderous glare. "You couldn't just leave her alone. You just had to spike her drink with a damn truth serum so you can set everyone up and make the world a happy-go-lucky fucking place?"
Mira's gaze shot back to Lucy whose hazy eyes were clearing, and quickly filling with tears. "What do you mean, you love Cobra?"
The Poison Slayer grunted when Lucy elbowed him in the side and dashed out of the guild like the fires of hell were licking at her heels. His head turned as he watched the doors slam behind her, and the only thing that kept him from following was the sight of Kinana holding their son's hand as she came toward the bar.
"You knew," Kinana said. It wasn't a question. The saddened look on her husband's face said it all. And all she could wonder was why he'd never told her about it.
"Since before she lost her arm," he said softly. "And there was nothing to tell." Cobra turned a heated glare toward Mira once again. "Because Lucy had enough fucking respect for me and Kinana to keep her feelings to herself."
"That's why she stopped spending time with you," Kinana whispered.
"It was too hard for her," he nodded.
"But she still…" Mira's face fell while looking toward the doors, passing the stunned faces of their guild mates. "But you're married… Y-You have a family together!"
"She knows that," Cobra growled. "And thanks to you, everyone else knows about the one thing she never told anybody!"
"Sounds like you wanted to just keep it a secret," Cana slurred. "Liked the extra attention?"
"Shut up, Lush," he spat.
"Why should I?"
"Because you don't know what you're fucking talking about! Lucy was my friend, nothing more!"
Mira shook her head and stared at the pooling liquid on the bar. "Oh, what have I done…"
"You just dragged the sweetest person in the guild through a mountain of shit," Cobra snarled. "That'swhat you fucking did. Congratulations, Mira."
Everyone watched as Cobra stormed over to the table where Gajeel and Rogue were watching his two youngest daughters, then plopped down in a seat. Kinana shook her head and glanced toward Mira. "I think you owe Lucy an apology, Mira," she said softly. "That wasn't right."
"What she feels for someone should be her business, and hers alone."
"You seem oddly fine with this," Cana frowned. "What gives?"
Kinana simply smiled while looking toward her husband as he played peek-a-boo with their daughters. "I always had a feeling that Lucy felt that way about him," she said. "But Erik told me a long time ago that she said… It wasn't right for him to spend time with another woman if he was in a relationship. I knew, then and there, she wouldn't do anything to take him away from me."
All that Kinana wished for was that she'd been the same type of person as Lucy. That she hadn't jumped on the opportunity to date Cobra when they were younger, before the blonde had realized her feelings for him. Maybe then it would be Lucy who had the man of her dreams, and a family. Someone to love her every night.
'Lucy… I'm so sorry I took him away from you…'
Cobra groaned as he finally laid in bed after getting the kids to sleep. The precious little children his wife had given birth to were fucking monsters when it came time to get bathed and ready for bed. Still, his magic had come in handy and he'd managed to get it all done without murdering someone.
He grinned as Kinana set her book down on the nightstand to look at him. "They're asleep," he whispered. "Snug as little bugs in rugs."
She nodded, worrying her lower lip between her teeth. "Erik, can we talk?"
His arms wrapped around her and he pulled her to his chest. "Of course. What's up, sugarbutt?"
She let out a heavy sigh and buried her head in his chest. Her nose brushed across the white fabric of his shirt while she took in his scent, woodsy with a hint of baby powder nowadays. "About Lucy…"
"... What about her?"
"Do you think you would have been happier with her?"
Cobra frowned and pulled back to look into her jade eyes. "What the hell are you talking about, happier?"
"She loves you."
"So? Kina, I chose you."
"All we do is argue lately," she said. "I know people in the guild think we're happy, but… What if…"
He blinked as the quick thought streaked across her mind. "I'm not gonna run out on you and the kids," he scowled. "Kina, that's beyond fucked up. You know me, and-"
"I know," she huffed. "And we wouldn't have been married all this time if you were planning on taking her up on that."
"Because she loves you, Erik!" Kinana shifted to rest on her elbows with a scowl. "Lucy's been alone all this time because she loves you, and you just brushed it all off!"
"Because I don't love her," he said. "I love you, Kina. I always have. I don't give a shit how she feels about me, because you're the one I want!" He groaned when the twins started crying again. "Great. They're awake."
"You woke them up with all your yelling," she muttered as he rolled out of the bed.
"I wasn't the only one yelling," he spat over his shoulder. "And for the fucking record, I'll remind you that I fucking chose you over her. And I've spent the past almost ten goddamn years loving you, not her. All she'll ever be is my friend, but I even pushed that away to be with you. So get off your hormonal fucking horse and deal with it."
Kinana rolled over and pulled the blanket higher as he stormed out of their room. She didn't miss the barely audible, "Cranky bitch," that spilled from him before the door closed.
Lucy quickly wiped her eyes as heavy footsteps drew closer to where she'd collapsed in a sobbing pile of shame hours earlier, on a little bridge that ran over a gentle brook just on the edge of the forest. Her head turned away when the person paused several steps from her, and Lucy shuffled closer to the edge of the bridge to let them pass.
The softness of his voice surprised her. She'd never heard it quite like that before. Sniffling as quietly as possible, she swiped at her tears again. "Hi, Gildarts. I-I'm sorry if I'm i-in the way."
He chuckled while coming to stand just next to the blonde, then tossed his pack onto the walkway before sitting down at her side. His boots just barely touched the water beneath the bridge. "You're not in the way."
"O-Oh…" The blonde jumped when a heavy weight settled over her shoulders. Something that smelled of the forest and faint traces of cologne. Soft furs brushed across her cheeks as her head turned toward him.
"You looked a little cold," he lied. "Shaking like a leaf." He watched as her metal hand came up just a little too fast to get rid of the obvious tears on her splotchy cheeks, and his own snapped out to catch it just before she could give herself a black eye. "Better be careful…"
Lucy watched as he lowered their hands to the small space between them. Even after so many years of having the prosthetic arm, she still found the fact that she could feel everything normally just a little odd. Even though she could hear metal shifting on metal as his fingers tightened around hers, Lucy felt the warmth from it before anything else.
"Thanks," she muttered.
"No problem," Gildarts said while looking across the water. "I can't tell you how many times I've split a lip with this thing."
"It felt like I was carrying a ton of lead around on my right side for the first year," she replied.
"I walked lopsided."
"Funny," she sniffled. "Me too."
Gildarts chuckled quietly as she pulled his cloak a little tighter around herself. "So, do you feel like telling an old man about what's got you down?"
"You're not that old…"
"Fifty-five is old."
"I'm almost thirty…"
Gildarts frowned while looking over the blonde. It didn't take a genius to understand why her clothing choice had changed all those years ago. He'd seen her at the guild's pool just a month prior and knew from the fleeting glance he'd given her that she still had scars from being tortured - her still-toned stomach and thighs bearing the imprints of all fifteen keys she'd had at the time. Now the blonde wore jeans and silk blouses that covered her. And that day was no different.
Still, he could see, for the first time, that she'd aged. She'd grown up just like everyone else in the guild. The roundness in her face from her teens was gone. Lucy had become a beautiful woman right under his nose, and he hadn't even realized it. It almost made him want to go inside his home and take a look at the photo album he had of Cana, just to see if his daughter had done the same without him even noticing.
"You sure about that?" he whispered. She still didn't look to be anywhere close to thirty.
"Well I'll be damned," he sighed. "Still… What's going on?"
"It's stupid," she muttered.
"I highly doubt that," he chuckled. "If there's one thing I know about you, it's that you're a smart woman."
Her lips barely turned up at the corners at that. He could have so easily called her a "smart girl" instead. "Just something I've been trying to deal with."
"For how long?" he whispered.
The Crash mage's lips pursed in thought, but he didn't let her hand go. "Well, do you want to talk about it?"
"I'm surprised you don't already know," she sighed. "It's probably all over Magnolia right now."
"Nope," he said. "I went in to grab a mission, then decided to head home and leave out at first light." When Lucy shrunk in on herself a little more, he lifted his arm and pulled the blonde into a half hug. She really just looked like she needed it right then, and he was never one for denying beautiful women hugs.
"So clue me in," he said. "What did I miss?"
Lucy took a shaky breath as she soaked up his warmth. "Mira made me drink a truth s-serum," she whispered. "And then… Everyone found out…"
"Found out, what?"
"That I-I… I don't wanna talk about it…"
Gildarts sighed and gave the blonde a gentle squeeze. "That's fine then," he whispered. "Do you wanna come in for some tea?"
"Tea," he grinned. "Hot water, some leaves, maybe sugar if you're into that sort of thing."
"Y-You're not gonna make me tell you?"
"But…" Lucy tilted her head up to look into his eyes, taking in the laugh lines that had wrinkled the outer corners only slightly. And for the first time in years, she had the same feeling Cobra had given her so long ago. As though she had someone really willing to listen to her, if she wanted to talk. Someone who wouldn't push her for answers to things she just couldn't bring herself to say.
"Sometimes there are just things a person wants to keep to themselves," he said. "And after a long day, a half-decent cup of tea is a pretty good way to unwind."
"Half-decent?" Lucy whispered in a small giggle. It wasn't much, but that was a whole lot more than she would have thought herself capable of after the day she'd had.
Gildarts shrugged while pulling his arm from her shoulders. "I can't promise it'll be great," he chuckled while standing. He extended a hand for her and waited as the blonde carefully took it and stood.
"I didn't realize you lived out here," Lucy said as they turned and made their way across the bridge and down a short path just beyond the treeline. She lifted the cloak so it didn't drag on the ground, even though it was slightly worn on the bottom edge. They came up to a small, quaint house hidden beneath the tree canopy, nearly invisible in the dark of night that she hadn't realized had crept up on her.
"It's not much, but it's a roof over my head," Gildarts said as he unlocked the door and ushered her inside. He flipped a switch just inside while closing the door behind him.
Lucy bit her lips while walking across the small living space and carefully set the cloak on a chair as she settled herself at the table. There wasn't a whole lot for her to look at while she waited for him to boil the water, but eventually Gildarts set a fresh cup of tea on the table in front of her and took a seat. The first sip had her grimacing, not from the heat but from the bland, too-old leaves that had been used.
"Sugar is a godsend," he chuckled. The two sat in silence while drinking their tea, and he tried not to watch the blonde as she simply stared down at her cup. Her tears had gone and left puffed cheeks and red-rimmed eyes in their wake. She wasn't smiling like usual, but he really couldn't blame her.
Lucy's eyes lifted hesitantly and she tucked a few stray hairs behind her ear. "Is it stupid to be in love with someone even though you can never be together?"
He gave the blonde a sad smile and reached across the table to lay his hand over hers. His calloused fingertips brushed over cool metal knuckles. "I don't think I can answer that one for you, Lucy."
She nodded and looked down at the ground tea leaves sitting in the bottom of her cup. When he squeezed her hand slightly, she looked up and met his gentle gaze.
"But maybe putting some distance between yourself and the situation would help," he said.
"No. Not running. You do it for yourself, to get away from everything for a little while. That way, you can come back and face whatever it is that happened with a smile instead of tears."
"I don't know where I'd go, though," she sighed. Her whole life was in Magnolia, in the guild. And while she'd entertained the thought earlier in the day of just leaving the guild entirely, Lucy knew she couldn't do that. The past ten years of her life had been spent with Fairy Tail, and she'd never been happier to have such great friends in her life.
Even though Cobra was there, and Kinana and their children, Lucy couldn't run away with her tail between her legs now that everyone knew she loved the Poison Slayer. Maybe taking a mission would help, but she'd have to go into the guild and talk to Mira. She would have to see everyone while trying to stay out of sight.
Just staying holed up in her apartment was another option, but Lucy would still have to take jobs to pay her rent.
"So come with me," Gildarts whispered. Her eyes widened as she stared at him, her lips parting in surprise. "I already signed out on it, but having someone with me would be a nice change of pace."
"You… B-But I'd just hold you back."
"Nah," he laughed. "You've grown a lot over the years, Lucy. I know you'll do a great job."
"If you say no, I won't be offended," he reassured her. "It's just an offer. From what you told me, Mira kinda started this whole thing, so I'm sure you'd rather not see her right now. So, you can come with me and by the time we get back, maybe you'll feel a little better about whatever happened."
"And… you'd really be okay with that?" she whispered. "Letting me tag along?"
"Sure. Who knows? While we're out there, I might even find a reason or two to tell Makarov to put you in the next S Class run."
Lucy brushed a hand through her hair and looked back down at the table. "I don't need to be an S Class mage," she whispered. It really didn't matter to her that all of the Dragon Slayers had become S Class mages, or Jet, Freed, Gray, and Bickslow. Or Cana and Levy. She was happy for all of them. Then again, when she thought about it, maybe that was part of the reason she felt like she'd just been left behind.
Everyone had grown so much in the last ten years, and Lucy was still just her. Just plain old Lucy. While everyone was off having relationships and families, she was home alone. When the team took more and more difficult missions, she kept up with them just fine, but she was just never put in the running for becoming S Class. She trained with her spirits and on her own, but it never felt like enough.
Gildarts chuckled quietly and shook his head. He knew that look in her eye. While Lucy was saying she didn't need it, she really wanted it deep down. But he wasn't going to push her. This was Lucy's choice.
"Would it be alright if I slept here tonight, then?" Lucy finally asked. "I can ask Virgo to pack my bag."
She was going to do this. Take a job with the great Gildarts Clive. Lucy knew it was really a once in a lifetime opportunity, and something that would probably have Natsu frothing at the mouth and yelling about how he always wanted to go on one. And here he was, offering to do that with her, to help her out of a pinch.
"Sure," he grinned. "Hope you're alright with sharing the bed. I don't exactly have a couch to sleep on."
Lucy blinked and looked across the single room to the bed pushed against the wall. She couldn't even find it in herself to be weirded out. After having Natsu sneak into her bed for years, she was pretty much used to not having a bed to herself. She still missed how he did that before getting together with Lisanna. Just one more sign of how alone she really was.
She sighed and turned back toward the Crash mage, then a small teasing smile curled her lips. "Hope you're alright with me being a cuddler. You don't strike me as having a volcano in you like Natsu."
"No," he laughed. "No volcanoes."
"Then I'll probably get all leechy in my sleep." By the full-bellied laugh that spilled past his lips, Lucy had a feeling he wouldn't mind it all that much if she did cuddle up to him while sleeping. And even though he always gave off that pervert vibe with his jokes, she knew for a fact that Gildarts was a gentleman and a half. He never disrespected a woman, no matter how much he happened to sleep around.
But she was sure this job with one of the strongest members of the guild was going to be just the distraction she needed.