Shearing off upwards of three feet of hair had seemed like an excellent idea at the time. Mirajane had been quite right when she showed him the flaws in his reasoning; Laxus might be his leader, his idol, and above all his dearest friend, but he was not without other comrades. He had betrayed people he'd never even bothered to get to know, and he needed to show his repentance.
Social customs in Fiore were a little different from those in Seven, but the significance of cutting one's hair to demonstrate a change in oneself was the same, for which he was grateful. He'd had to struggle through understanding cultural differences when he first came to this country, and he sincerely hoped that bridging the distance he and the rest of the Thunder Legion had put between themselves and their fellow guildmembers would not be as difficult as that. Cutting his hair was the best way he could think of to show his sincerity, and the other members of Fairy Tail had, to his infinite relief, understood the gesture for what it was.
Making new friends proved to be surprisingly easy. He didn't understand why they had never managed this before. Admittedly, it might have been Laxus's fault. Freed was well aware that his friend was… not the most socially adept individual. And the three of them had been all too willing to follow his lead in how they interacted with their fellows. Freed had only been a member for a few weeks before Makarov assigned him to watch Laxus's back (or, more accurately, to rein him in, not that Freed had done a very good job of it), and the two of them had brought Bixlow and Evergreen into the guild personally. They'd been a very insular little group from the beginning, and Laxus might not be the most charming individual, but he did have a certain magnetism to him that had kept them all locked in tight orbit around him.
Without Laxus's gravity keeping them tethered, branching out was a little easier. Freed felt somewhat guilty for feeling that way, but it was true. Whatever poison had been eating Laxus from the inside out for what must have been years now— something that Freed, in retrospect, curses himself for not recognizing— had kept him, and thus all of them, from opening themselves up. But now Laxus was gone for who knew how long, and the Thunder Legion were going to have to redefine themselves in his absence.
The rest of the guild, to his immense surprise, welcomed them. Mostly. It was going to be a long, long time before Cana forgave any of them, and he couldn't say he blamed her. Aside from Laxus, himself, who had been in from birth, Cana had been in the guild years longer than any of the younger generation. What they had done had ripped apart what was probably the only home she'd ever known, and he in particular was on the receiving end of her anger.
Being the recipient of Cana's anger was most definitely one of the least pleasant experiences of Freed's life.
Mirajane, mercifully, was wonderfully adept at distracting her and allowing Freed to escape to a part of the guild all where he was slightly less likely to have beer dumped on him and/or be set on fire.
Cana aside, though, after a few weeks, he felt as though he could walk into the guild hall with his shorn head held high.
At least, right up until the hair started to grow out.
Freed didn't consider himself especially vain, but he did take pride in his appearance, and he had neglected to consider that growing his hair back out was going to be… rather unsightly. Laxus might look magnificent with his storm-tossed hair, and perhaps the likes of Natsu and Gray didn't mind that they constantly went around with bedhead, but Freed had not had short hair in years and he was entirely unsure how to manage it. By the time a month had passed, it was just long enough that he couldn't quite keep it tame, but not nearly long enough for it to be properly styled. He looked awful, and the whole bloody thing itched.
This is it, he decided, halfway through a game of three-dimensional Scrabble, as he tried to focus on the tiles and not on how much the inch-long strands were tickling the backs of his ears, this is how I lose my mind.
He couldn't afford to be distracted, either! Levy, who was the first wizard in five years to be able to undo any enchantment he'd written, was a formidable opponent. Inattention on his part would put him at risk for a defeat, and he simply could not allow that. It was bad enough that Levy's two cheerleaders, plus Gajeel and the spirit summoner, had stuck around to watch long after Bixlow and Evergreen lost interest and wandered away to pester Mirajane instead. He refused to suffer a serious defeat with or without witnesses! But his scalp would not stop itching—!
He hummed a distracted acknowledgment, still trying to keep his mind on the game and not on how much he was tempted to just take a razor to his scalp.
"Freed, are you even listening?"
Levy's voice jolted him to a more general awareness of his surroundings. He looked up and found her and all four members of their audience staring at him strangely from across the board.
"I'm sorry, I was distracted," he said, unnerved by their curious looks.
"I'll say. You've been staring at the same tile and scratchin' your damn head for five minutes, Green Bean," Gajeel said.
Freed blinked. "I-I have?"
The spirit summoner— Lucy, he reminded himself forcefully, her name is Lucy— leaned forward in her seat. "Is your hair bothering you?" she asked.
It very much was, but he felt no need to make a production out of it. "No more than it ought to," he said. "I'm just not used to wearing it so short."
"I could help with that, if you like," Lucy said.
Ignoring the rather intriguing question of how on earth she intended to accomplish that, he decided to close the subject to preserve himself from the temptation of actually taking her up on her offer. "It's quite alright," he said. "I cut my hair as penance for having hurt my teammates. It would be a fairly meaningless gesture if there wasn't a certain amount of discomfort associated with that."
Levy gave a small sigh. "Freed…" She shook her head.
"It would be fine if you did want it long again," Lucy said. "We all understand what you're trying to say."
"That's a generous sentiment, Lucy, but really, it's-"
"What the princess is trying to say," Gajeel interrupted, "is that you've made your point and nobody gives a damn about your hair." Freed opened his mouth to protest further, but Gajeel ignored him and instead turned to the rest of the wizards scattered throughout the guild hall and shouted, "Oi, anybody got any objections to Green Bean growing out his hair?"
Heads turned in their direction and with a flurry of shrugs, supportive thumbs-ups, and a shout from Elfman about Freed needing "to be a true man again," a vote was apparently taken, and the general consensus was a resounding sure, whatever.
Freed wasn't sure whether the complete disinterest in his gesture of contrition was insulting or reassuring.
"You see?" Lucy said brightly. "If it would make you more comfortable, growing your hair out again is no problem!"
He hesitated for another moment, but the temptation was just too great. But despite the attractiveness of the offer, there was still one major problem.
"Even so, how do you plan on achieving this?" he asked.
Lucy grinned, a cocky, confident expression he really wouldn't have expected to see on such a sweet-looking face. "Just leave it to me!" she said, stepping back from the table, away from their delicately-balanced game. She reached for the ring of keys on her belt, and Freed noticed with interest that six of them were gold— this girl had half the Zodiac in her possession? Carrying even one gold key was rare, but six?
It hit him again that they had clearly underestimated the worth of many of their guild mates. Lucy hadn't even been a consideration when they were strategizing for the Battle of Fairy Tail. She was so new and, in Laxus's eyes, so unremarkable except for being attractive and rich, that her only value was that of a hostage. And yet she was clearly a formidable celestial wizard if her keyring was anything to judge by.
While he was stewing in self-recrimination, however, Lucy had wasted no time. Raising her chosen key high, she called, "Open, Gate of the Crab, Cancer!"
She was engulfed in a halo of blinding gold, and when the light faded, standing beside her was… well… presumably a crab? The spirit was not quite what Freed would have expected if asked, anyway.
He eyed the razor-sharp scissors the spirit was wielding nervously. "I… uh… I thought the point was to make my hair longer, not shorter," he said.
Lucy's grin grew even more self-assured. "Don't worry, Cancer's a real master at this!" She turned to the spirit. "Do you think you can help him with his hair?"
Cancer looked him over. "What did you have in mind-ebi?"
Ebi? Seriously? This was not helping Freed feel more confident in this plan of action at all.
"He'd like it about— Levy, what would you say, three feet longer?"
"Three and a half," Levy said with a nod.
"Alright, three and a half. And he had these two little, uh, lightning bolt thingies—" She paused in the act of waving her hand above her head to indicate the lightning bolt thingies and glanced at Freed. "Do you want those back, by the way?"
Clearly she had deduced that he did that in Laxus's honor. He was oddly touched that she would think to be concerned whether he would want them with Laxus gone.
"No, it's fine, I can do those myself," he said.
"Alright then, just the added length, then, Cancer," Lucy instructed her spirit.
"Whatever you wish, Miss Lucy," Cancer agreed.
Then he darted forward, and Freed was surrounded by a frankly alarming whirl of flashing silver blades. He held stock still, worried at the prospect of being sliced to ribbons if he moved wrong, but within moments the assault stopped and—
His head felt heavier, and there was no more prickling along his hairline from too-short strands bothering him. As Cancer returned to Lucy's side, Freed reached a hand behind his head and was met with soft strands of long, familiar hair. Pulling a lock forward to inspect it, he found that it was indeed at almost the exact length it had been before he had cut it all off.
"Hey everyone!" Lucy proclaimed. "Freed has his hair back!"
A round of cheers went up around the guild, with mugs of ale raised high. Members of Fairy Tail were always just as ready to celebrate even the smallest of things as they were to break into an unprovoked fistfight, and it was deeply endearing. It might be silly, but the sense of kinship the guild's enthusiasm fostered was not an insignificant thing.
After a few salutes and a toast in his honor, the rest of the guild went back to their previous activities, and Freed was left clutching bunches of hair in his hands, half-expecting it to vanish.
"Thank you. Thank you so much," he said, looking up at Lucy in wonderment. "How—?"
"I told you, didn't I? Cancer's a genius at hairstyles!" she said, looking mightily pleased with herself, and yet somehow very sincerely pleased for him, all at the same time.
Lucy, Freed decided, was a strange and wonderful person.
However, her expression suddenly shifted from delighted to put out as her eyes fell on the table. "Oh no," she moaned. "Cancer, you knocked over the game board!"
"Time to go-ebi!" Cancer blurted, and vanished in a cloud of golden stars.
Lucy slapped a palm over her eyes with a heavy sigh. "I'm so sorry, guys."
Freed shook his head with a little laugh, combing his fingers through his newly-restored hair. "It's not a problem, Lucy. I'm not bothered by it if Levy's not." He looked to the little script mage for confirmation, and she smiled in return. "In fact, perhaps I should thank you; I'm pretty sure I was losing."
Levy giggled. "Would you like to start over?" she offered.
"I would be delighted," he said. "It's been years since I've been up against such a formidable opponent."
"Oh for cryin' out loud," Gajeel grumbled. "You've been at this for two hours already, now you wanna start over?"
"It's a slow game, Gajeel," Levy protested.
"Whatever," Gajeel muttered. "If you're gonna keep this up, I'm gonna need a damn drink."
As he lumbered off toward the bar, Lucy took the opportunity of stealing his more advantageous view of the board, and Jet and Droy moved forward to help Levy clear the jumbled-up game board so they could start again. Freed watched them all as he leaned forward to help, reveling in how natural and easy it all felt, being around these people.
Yes, he thought, Fairy Tail is indeed a wonderful family to belong to.