April 12, X780
It was amazing how Magnolia seemed almost peaceful after a longer-than-average job. In a chaotic way, of course, but relaxing all the same. Maybe because he knew—more or less—what to expect.
(It was Fairy Tail. It was never predictable.)
However, it did throw him for a loop to enter the guild house and see Mystogan sitting at one of the back tables…unmasked. Next to Erza. Surely, he was just too tired and hallucinating, because while Laxus didn’t know the entirety of it—nor did he need to—he knew a little more about Mystogan solely on account of him being one of Acno’s honorary kids. So he knew that Mystogan was squirrely about his face—which was admittedly very recognizable—because he looked like somebody else that he didn’t want to get mixed up with. (Something about him being from another world, but Laxus didn’t pay too much attention to the details.) He was also just a shy guy. But Erza was the opposite of subtle, so he was failing to see how this development could have been made, because Mystogan was also the most slippery guy he knew.
Bickslow, who was walking next to him, must have noticed the guy too. He wouldn’t have known if it was Mystogan by face, but he did know everyone by soul. Laxus was still too far away to know by scent, but Bix would figure it out. He watched his friend to gauge his expression, but he just frowned and made a thoughtful hum.
“What is it?”
Bickslow turned away. “Nothing, really. Just, the new guy looks like he had it rough.”
He didn’t elaborate past that, and Laxus knew he wouldn’t. It did confirm that it wasn’t Mystogan though—something he gathered for himself when he managed to catch a whiff of him. Unlike Mystogan, he was full of magic—the pure, burning kind that kind of reminded him of Acnologia’s.
Erza waved at them, before resuming her conversation with the new kid. He heard her point them out by name and explain the team, but he stopped listening at some point after that. Laxus figured that whatever this was, it was already handled, but he resolved to try and ask Mystogan about it, just to see how it needed to be handled.
Not that finding Mystogan was ever easy.
Naturally, Mystogan wasn’t even here—at least he didn’t think so, because Enno said that he hadn’t turned in his job yet.
Laxus never really paid attention to new guildmates, but when they looked identical to one of his current guildmates, it was a little hard to ignore. Gramps would know, too, so obviously he didn’t think there was any present danger if the new kid was a full-fledged Fairy Tail mage. That didn’t mean that there wasn’t any discomfort, however, because he knew Mystogan well enough to know that he would deny his own comfort in a heartbeat and make it look natural. And Laxus wasn’t about to do anything to make him feel worse, because he would bury that too. Although, to that note, maybe it would have been better to try his Plan B first anyway, because Acno would be more willing to share than Mystogan if something was up.
If he was even home. Or awake. This time in the spring, he was probably awake, but that didn’t guarantee availability. Any of the others could help with the same thing too, though. Especially Wendy. Everyone knew that Wendy was Mystogan’s favorite, and considering their history, it made sense. It was kinda cute, too. If he hadn’t had known that Mystogan was from some other world and Wendy was from four hundred years in the past, he would have sworn that they were related.
Laxus figured he should drop by regardless, since it had been a while, so he made sure the afternoon was free when he got around to heading towards the house. When he got closer, he got confirmation that Acno was, in fact, there. There was also…something else?
He knocked once before opening the door, more as an extra warning than anything else. Most of the time, anyone there would hear or smell him coming, but he has scared people napping on the couch by accident before, so he liked to play it on the safe side.
There was somebody on the couch. Somebody he absolutely did not recognize.
Laxus and the strange kid stared at each other, and judging by the other’s expression, he was as startled as Laxus felt. The kid didn’t look like he was from Magnolia, because he would have recognized the tan skin and dark red hair if he had seen it before. Beyond that, the kid looked like shit. He had bags under his eyes, sores on his skin—from what little Laxus could see of it, beneath the blankets—and he could hear his strained breathing from here.
“Laxus,” Acnologia greeted from the side, snapping him out of the staring match with the new kid. “Good to see you. How was your job?”
“Good,” he managed, still dumbfounded. All of the dragon slayers were fairly private when it came to the house—especially Acno. Letting people in was typically the same as sharing all of their secrets, which wasn’t unheard of, but a complete stranger? He was definitely missing something here.
Acnologia must have figured he was confused. “Laxus, this is Erik. Erik, Laxus.” He shared some meaningful look with the boy on the couch, which caused some—but not all—of the tension to leave the boy’s shoulders. Still addressing Erik, he handed him some steaming mug. “Drink this before you fall asleep, okay?”
Laxus could smell the brew as well, so he understood when the boy’s—Erik’s—nose wrinkled at it. “More detox?” he asked, voice raspy and lending to the overall ‘miserable’ look he had.
“It’s only natural for your body to need help accepting it. Nothing to be ashamed of.”
The two had some sort of nonverbal stand-off, but it didn’t last long before Erik relented.
“You taking patients home now?” Laxus asked hesitantly, sure that whatever ‘this’ was, was more complicated that Acnologia deciding that the guild infirmary wasn’t suitable. And the new guy was a guildmate too, apparently, judging from the mark on his neck.
Acno snorted. “No. Besides, Erik’s not…really sick,” he said carefully. “Just adjusting.”
“Could have fooled me,” Erik grumbled. When he brought the mug to his lips, Laxus saw his wrists, which looked…bad. All around. He could smell it too, which was… also bad.
Erik caught him looking and glared, so Laxus dropped it.
This wasn’t at all what he expected when he came here, and he wondered if it was his place to ask about it. That Erik guy seemed on edge, though Acnologia seemed perfectly comfortable with whatever arrangement this was—if not tired. Whatever happened, happened within the last month, but that still wasn’t much time. It shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but the weird additions since he came back from the job were wearing at him all the same.
Laxus didn’t have to wonder long, however, because eventually Erik just huffed. “You wanna know who I am and why I’m fucked up, right?” he asked.
Acno shot him some sort of exasperated warning look. Erik just shrugged underneath. “I am. Maybe more fucked up than Jellal right now.”
He said the line with a tone that obviously was deliriously sarcastic, so Laxus wasn’t surprised when Acnologia narrowed his eyes even further, even though he had no idea what Erik meant. Other than the self-deprecation, at least.
“Erik,” Acnologia sighed.
The teen averted his eyes, shrinking in on himself slightly. It might have been the blankets, or just the way he was curled in on himself, but he looked…small.
There was a soft patter of feet, and Laxus recognized Wendy’s footsteps before he saw her turn the corner of the stairs.
“Hi Laxus,” she greeted with a wave, which he returned, still feeling awkward. It wasn’t his business to pry, but he obviously lacked information, and now there was someone new folded into the dragon slayers, the whole thing happening when he was gone. It would have been more normal if somebody else from the guild got closer to them, but Acnologia was so private, it was hard to imagine somebody new. Yet there was.
This shifted dynamic was only confirmed when Wendy approached Erik. “How are you feeling?” the almost-nine-year-old asked, the same tone she would use whenever anyone got an injury, yet…softer, maybe.
She didn’t seem particularly surprised when Erik just huffed, “Fine.” Which was obviously a lie, but nobody called the kid out on it.
“Come on, Cubellios,” Wendy whispered, and Laxus was surprised when she reached underneath the blankets and pulled out a purple snake. He somehow missed an entire snake in the midst of well…everything. In his defense, the smell of burns and rashes was strong.
Despite that, and while handling a snake with familiarity, Wendy made a spot for herself next to Erik, healing magic at her palms.
Erik glanced back at Acnologia with almost a helpless expression. Laxus noticed that his eyes were dilating randomly in a way that seemed almost familiar. “Just tell him what I did already.”
Was he talking about Laxus? The discomfort of not knowing what the hell was going on grew, and he couldn’t help but to bristle under it. He could be patient, though, because they were obviously in the middle of…something. Laxus had questions for Acnologia anyway, so he just added this one to it.
Acnologia took the mug out of his hands, appraised it, and set it aside on the end table. He was subtle, but Laxus could tell that the dragon was sniffing the boy over in the moments he hovered above him. “Fine. But you rest.”
“Wasn’t planning on doing anything else…” Erik grumbled.
Laxus moved farther into the kitchen with one last glance at the weird sick boy, who now was being fussed over by Wendy and the snake—if the way the snake was wrapping around his shoulders and sniffing his face was any indication. The snake itself was almost as bizarre as the rest of the situation. Laxus didn’t have long to think about it, though, because Acno was directing Laxus to the side with an incline of his head. Well, he had come to speak to Acnologia anyway, and if he had answers, then Laxus would take them.
Acnologia’s room was the only bedroom on the bottom floor, on the other side of the kitchen. It was as dimly lit as it always was, but Laxus’s eyes adjusted quickly as he leaned against the wall. Acno flicked his wrist with a familiar gesture, and coupled with the slight stale formation of the air, Laxus knew that he cast a sound dampening spell of some sort—except Laxus could hear just fine, so it must be so that those on the outside wouldn’t hear them. Which was to say that Wendy wouldn’t.
“What’s all that about?” Laxus was aware that the question couldn’t begin to cover the whole situation, at least Acno was patient enough to deal with follow-up questions. He just didn’t even know where to start. The implications the boy made about him were probably the most discomfiting, but Laxus didn’t even know who he was.
“Don’t take anything Erik says personally—he’s been tense and defensive ever since the acclimation got worse,” Acnologia started with a sigh. He seemed tired, and Laxus wondered if the dragon had slept since he woke from hibernation.
Then the word Acno used registered to him. “Acclimation?” he echoed, but Laxus was sliding the pieces together as he spoke it. The unfocused yet sharp eyes, the feeling that Erik knew exactly what Laxus was, the fact that the kid was here at all… ‘Tell him what I did.’ The entire house always smelled like ‘dragon’ so he missed it, but there also hadn’t been any non-dragon magic smells.
He waited for Acnologia to confirm it, but it didn’t take long. “Erik has a dragon slayer lacrima—similar to yours,” he explained. “His sense of time is a little off, but it was inserted about two months ago. He’s going through the worst part of it now. His chances of survival are good, though.”
A lacrima. Stars. Laxus had been ready to accept that there was some other time-traveling dragon slayer; it completely didn’t register to him that the more obvious and likely reason that a brand new un-acclimated slayer would exist. ‘What I did.’ Laxus knew that it happened—otherwise there would be no market for them—but the thought somebody willingly doing that to themselves was hard to imagine.
Laxus had gotten used to being the only lacrima-born slayer among the dragons, but sometimes, it still stood out to him. He never met a dragon beside Acnologia. He didn’t come from a time when they existed, and he wasn’t raised by one; he didn’t learn slayer magic with guidance and understanding of what was to come. He wasn’t even attached to a certain dragon. There was the latent energy of a dead dragon that he would never meet inside of him, and some days, that still left him feeling… abnormal. But at least he never chose that for himself.
Though Erik was certainly older than he had been, he still looked like he couldn’t be much older than Natsu or Gajeel. He…probably hadn’t known. If he did, then Laxus doubted Acnologia would that patient. The thought of a new second-generation dragon slayer bothered Laxus, but he knew it always bothered Acnologia more.
“So what? Some teenager decided he wanted magic and got his hands on one? You find him like that?” Found him and took him home, too. What a novelty. He hoped that kid knew how lucky he was, despite making one of the biggest mistakes of his life.
Acnologia narrowed his eyes at the door thoughtfully. If Laxus hadn’t already known he couldn’t, he would have wondered if he was staring right through it. He was probably listening, though; Laxus focused on the other side too, and the spell around the room made it hard, but it was clear it was quiet over there. Maybe Erik had fallen asleep.
Acno turned back to Laxus. “I found him about a month ago by chance, when I was watching Wendy on her job. He was in bad shape then, but it was before the internal changes set in. Idiot was doing his damnedest to push it along though.” He shook his head to himself. “I hope to the stars that Erik really does understand this, but because he’s feeling like shit right now, I don’t think he realizes this as strongly as he should. He might have said that he did it, but knowing the story… Normally, I would leave this to Erik, because it’s not mine to tell, but he clearly wants me to. He’s not in much condition to anyway.” A dark look clouded over the eldest dragon slayer’s eyes. It reminded Laxus of the way he would look whenever Ivan was mentioned. Ah, of course. If Acnologia took pity on Erik, then he might have been worse off than Laxus had been.
“Erik was aware it was a dragon slayer lacrima, but not of the full effects. He was coerced by the man who was his master, just being told that it was the only way for him to be strong enough to stay. He’s separated from that group now—and if that man comes within fifty miles of here, I will kill him—but it’s taken some time to get Erik to a good physical condition. The dark guild he had been sold to had given him some of what he needed to undergo the insertion, but it was just a combination of the link he has with Cubellios and sheer luck that caused him not to die. He was malnourished enough as it was.”
Laxus listened with a growing pit in his stomach. Sold to a dark guild? No wonder Acnologia was protective over him. That was… Laxus knew that kind of shit still existed in the world, in other countries or in the shadows, but it was messed up. Plain and simple. He wasn’t sure what Acno meant about the link, but it was clear that Cubellios was that purple snake.
“It’s poison magic,” Acnologia continued, face grim. “Dragon poison is naturally potent. Even if he was in better physical condition, he would have died from it, if it weren’t for the similarity of it and Cubellio’s poison magic. That was the closest preacclimation he received, unfortunately. Might have worked himself to death or to dragonization if we hadn’t found him. He was understandably stubborn at first, but he was also not so jaded that he wasn’t terrified. He comes off as crass, but he’s a good kid. Too hard on himself, though.”
Laxus made a noise of acknowledgement, still thinking about everything that had been revealed. He remembered those first few months after the lacrima. They sucked all right, but he hadn’t been laid out looking like he was terminally ill. Granted, Acnologia siphoned the excess energy from him before he left, so that probably helped. And the fact that he was naturally inclined to lightning magic helped, too. Even though Laxus had been alone and clueless, he supposed he had been lucky in a different way. Death had been closer to this Erik kid, and even though Acnologia didn’t say it outright, it was clear that…it wasn’t off the table, either. He had to make it through the other side of the transformation first.
“How much does he know?” Laxus finally asked. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know the answer to that, but it was important to know.
“Nearly everything,” Acnologia replied with a shrug. Damn. Laxus wasn’t entirely surprised, but… in under a month? Erik might be close to death, but at least he knew what the hell was going on. Laxus tried not to be bitter about it.
“He did have latent magic beforehand,” Acno continued. “Hearing magic—empathetic in nature. He would have heard as good, if not better, than any dragon slayer, and he can hear thoughts too. Passively, even. You can’t really keep secrets from him, but in case you were wondering, he doesn’t know much of the details of your past. Just that you have a lacrima, too. The other kids told him most of theirs by now, though not every detail—just the gist. Same goes for me.”
Oh. That was good to know. Laxus was glad he was warned ahead of time—telepaths were weird enough, but passive hearing? At least the kid was good. A little messed up, maybe, but that was par for the course for mages. “He lives here now, doesn’t he?”
Acnologia nodded. “It wasn’t like he had anywhere else to go. Sometimes I feel bad for the kid, though—he’s easily overstimulated.”
Laxus snorted knowingly. It didn’t need to be said that the other dragon slayers were overwhelmingly active, and subsequently tiring to anyone who didn’t know how to handle them or shut them up. Well, Rogue and Wendy were quieter, but they were also startingly quick to make friends and trusting, so they were overwhelming in a different way.
But at least he was in company that understood all the other stuff.
“Any other questions?” Acnologia prodded, already sounding more exhausted than before. Laxus had a good idea why though, if he had been dealing with a new dragon slayer who was also being constantly poisoned by…himself. (Yeah, that sounded worse than random muscle spasms.)
There were more things he wondered about Erik, of course, but nothing else Laxus needed to know. If that kid was going to stick around, then he would get acquainted eventually. “Yeah, something else, actually,” Laxus responded, switching back to why he originally came here. He would sort through the unexpected information later. Maybe at his new apartment, with a strong enough drink to handle it. “There’s a new kid at the guild that looks exactly like Mystogan.”
Judging by the immediate understanding on Acno’s face, he didn’t need to elaborate. “Right, Jellal.” Huh, Erik had mentioned him too, hadn’t he? “Jellal is Mystogan’s doppelganger—the one originally from this world. Mystogan knew that we had found him, but I don’t think he’s been back to Magnolia since then, so I doubt they’ve met. Jellal has no idea.”
“Wasn’t Mystogan worried that his doppelganger was some jerk though?” Laxus questioned. That seemed like a relevant concern, if this person was now in the guild. The fact that Gramps had allowed it meant…little, unfortunately.
“He was,” Acnologia confirmed. “It turned out the matter was more complicated. I only stumbled upon it because of Erik, but long story short, Jellal was under the influence of black mind magic. He’s better now, though. The only threat he poses is to himself. Erza was intent on taking him home, and he…also didn’t have a better option. I’m going to have to catch Mystogan up. Makarov knows the majority of it, however.”
Okay, that answered…most of it. It was clear now that Erik was related to Jellal’s appearance, and Erza apparently was, too. She had been attached to him at the guild, and Acno said she was the one who ‘brought him home,’ so she was involved in whatever incident happened.
He remembered that time when Erza had first joined the guild. The only one he had seen possibly in a worse condition, both mentally and physically, was Bickslow—and Bickslow had been experimented on, caught in an exploding building, and had been chased by scared citizens for a month. Coupled with the connection to where Acno had found Erik… It seemed bad. Laxus didn’t need to know. He really didn’t.
“I see.” Laxus had found what he came here for, and also much more than he had expected or wanted. It was a lot to process, but at least it wasn’t on him to deal with any of it. Granted, Acno looked like he was five days overdue on sleep, so maybe Laxus should stick around town for the next week or so. Just in case.
“I’m sorry, you know.”
The words were spoken so quietly, Laxus almost missed them. Acnologia was staring back at the door, but the words were clearly directed at Laxus. “For making you go through that alone.”
That pit in the depths of his stomach hardened. “You saved my life the first time. You didn’t owe me any of it,” he huffed, awkward at the subject. Yeah, it was shitty to go through alone, but Laxus lived.
“No, I did. I was the only person alive at that time who knew what would happen, and I left you to Porlyusica because I was a shit-person and I thought if I showed my face to society for more than five minutes, the world was going to combust,” Acnologia near-growled, clearly frustrated. His brows pressed together as he sighed. “I didn’t think I was capable of it, so I never tried. Not until…”
He didn’t say, but he didn’t need to. Laxus understood. He knew the story. Wendy was practically thrust on him, and once he spent more than five minutes not-alone, that cranky old dragon realized he cared about people. Laxus understood that feeling, too.
There were many things Laxus could have wished happened when he was younger—like Acno sticking around or Porlyusica explaining more than half a thing at a time—but it was over, so there was little use dwelling on it. He had living family, and he survived. Laxus was a son of the guild, so of course he had been lucky. He made it. He made it out strong, too.
Still, it was nice to hear that, if what had happened to Laxus happened ten years later, that Acnologia would have taken him in, if he needed it. It would have still been unnecessary in that scenario, but it was…nice.
Laxus wasn’t sure how to convey that, but at least with Acno and the other dragon slayers, it wasn’t always necessary. They could sense it. Still, he smiled softly. “Well, old man—you’ll get that kid through it.”
Acnologia returned a weak smile, and then his exhausted expression morphed into something more determined as he headed for the door. Sometimes, Laxus struggled to imagine that there was ever a time when Acnologia wasn’t a protector.
At least they all lived in a time when he was. That was really all the luck they ever needed.