Gajeel could easily recall all of the stories Metalicana had told him about dragons and their mates. The irate dragon had made sure he understood the inner workings of the magic that bound a dragon to their mate. Despite his attempts to appear uninterested Gajeel would always wind up starry eyed as he listened to the Dragon speak. If dragon's had mates, then dragon slayers would have mates, Metalicana had told him. Gajeel spent countless nights dreaming about finding his mate as a child. He would dream about what it was like to have a mate, to have a family. He dreamed about what it was like to belong.
After Metalicana disappeared, Gajeel didn't dream quite as much. As he got older, dragons became the stuff of Legends. People even forgot about dragon slayers and the lost magic that bound them. Gajeel only knew of one more dragon slayer like him on the continent: a pink haired punk that went by the name Salamander. Eventually Gajeel stopped dreaming altogether. He gave up on the dream of a mate and a family, that is until the day it happened. He always fantasized about the moment he met his mate and knew their bond was destined. He never imagined it would happen as he looked into the defiant eyes of a blue haired script wizard as he felt the phantom sting of his brand, as if he'd branded himself. He’d finally found her...but he had no right to claim her, not after what he’d done. He took a bite of the scrap metal in his hand with a growl trying to clear his head.
Gajeel started, and turned around quickly, seeing Fairy Tail’s tiny guild master walking through the scrap yard. How had he not heard or smelled him approaching?
“Master Makarov?!” he gasped, attempting and failing to keep the surprise out of his voice.
The older man smiled up at him, holding his hand up in greeting. Gajeel swallowed a bit, unsure as to why the man was smiling at him. He knew the man’s power, if he wanted to get revenge Gajeel wouldn’t stop him.
“So, did you come here to gloat?” he asked, turning away from him.
He could hear the man struggling to climb up behind him, and while his hands itched to help, he refused to turn around. Maybe if he ignored him well enough the man would give up whatever fool's errand he was on.
“What a nice hello indeed. Not big on manners are you?” he complained as he stepped up behind Gajeel. “Your friend Juvia is the newest member of our guild.”
Gajeel couldn’t fight the urge to turn and face the man at those words. He had added Juvia to Fairy Tail after everything Phantom Lord had done to them?
“You kiddin’ me?!”
“No sir. She was very concerned about your well being after everything that happened.”
Gajeel turned away from him in scorn.
“Chick’s got rain for brains.” He muttered, throwing a piece of metal at the wall. “What is she thinkin’?”
The metal bounced down the edge of the pile of metal, falling to the ground with a clang. Gajeel grunted turning to avoid meeting Makarov’s eyes.
“Have you thought about what your next move is,” Makarov asked quietly.
“My next move? I dunno just yet. Keepin’ my options open I guess.” Gajeel didn’t think there was any point in telling him that most Guilds wouldn’t allow a member of a guild like Phantom Lord to join their ranks. Not after what they had done to Fairy Tail.
Makarov sighed and Gajeel resisted the urge to turn to the man, just barely.
“I have another question for you,” the older man started.
“When you reflect on it, what would you say were your own reasons for going to war with Fairy Tail.”
Gajeel turned slowly, eyeing the man out the corner of his eye. That very same question kept him up most nights. He had never carried a grudge against the Fairy Tail guild. Sure, they were annoying, and they got all the best jobs, but he didn’t care about that. His reputation was good enough that he got all the jobs he needed to pay his bills and keep food on his table and that was all he was worried about.
“Hmm?” He grunted, pretending not to know where Makarov was going with this question.
“What did being part of Phantom Lord mean to you?”
That question caught Gajeel by surprise. He had never thought about what being part of a magic guild had meant to him. He knew why most people joined guilds. They wanted companionship and friendship, but Gajeel hadn’t expected any of that when he joined Phantom Lord. He had lost all of that when Metalicana had disappeared. “For that matter, what did the idea of a guild mean to you? What do you want to do with the powers you possess?”
Where was the old man going with all these questions? Gajeel couldn’t figure him out. From what he had heard about Fairy Tail’s guild master, he was a drunken fool, not a philosopher. He turned away from him with a sigh.
“You sure got a lot of questions, old man.”
“They’re all the same,” Makarov said, and his voice took on a melancholy tone. “What kind of man do you tell yourself you are, and is that the same as the man who lives inside of your heart?”
Gajeel frowned, his hands balling into fists. He couldn’t tell this man what he thought of the man he had become. He was a man who attacked his own mate recklessly. That was the man he had become. He closed his eyes, trying to block out Makarov’s next words.
“If Jose asked it of you, would you take a life for him, is his power absolute,” Makarov asked, with an urgency in his voice Gajeel hadn’t heard before. “Is his every wish your command? If that’s the case then you’re nothing more than his puppet. But I don’t get that impression from you Gajeel. You’re not mindless.”
“Would you quit flappin’ your gums and get lost already,” Gajeel bit out angrily.
“There’s no reason to give up and plunge into the darkness.”
Gajeel’s eyes flew open. That was not where this conversation should be heading. Makarov should not have hope in him after what he had done.
“Come with us, join the Fairy Tail guild.”
Gajeel couldn’t keep the surprise from his voice and face when he spun to face the guild master.
“Are you crazy?!” He cried out, covering up his surprise with disbelief. “Why in the heck would I ever wanna do that?”
“There is great value in the time spent in one's own company, but a lifetime of isolation is a fate no one should endure.”
Gajeel turned away from him closing his eyes again. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. This man was actually offering him a home.
“You know I’m the one that trashed your guild hall, right?” He asked quietly.
“Ooh, I know. We’ll rebuild it.”
Gajeel swallowed, forcing out the next words even though they lodged in his throat painfully.
“And I was also…the one that hurt your three little friends.” The image of his blue haired mate flashed before his eyes, with Phantom Lord’s guild symbol branded on her stomach, her head hanging. He swallowed back the pain that rose in his chest. He deserved that pain after what he did.
“I know,” the guild master growled out, anger in his voice that hadn’t been there before. Gajeel found himself grateful for that anger. He hadn’t known what he would do if they’d forgiven him. “A despicable act that I will never completely forgive. But for me, letting a young man fall into darkness when I could have done something to prevent it, is something even more unforgivable.” Gajeel swallowed back his paint slowly turning to the man, who had his hand outstretched. “I cannot guarantee total salvation, I can merely point you down a path out of the shadows...Will you choose to walk that path or forego it and remain where you are?”
“What happened to the blue haired one,” he asked quietly as he stared at the hand offered to him.
Something flashed through the older man’s eyes, but it disappeared so quickly Gajeel couldn’t discern what it meant.
“She’ll be fine. Our healer is looking after her.”
Gajeel grunted turning away from him. She would heal...he was glad for that. He was scared he caused permanent damage.
“And the brand?” he asked quietly, refusing to turn back around, lest his facial expression give away what he was feeling. He prayed his voice was as steady as it sounded in his ears.
“Ah...that...is likely permanent I’m afraid.”
Gajeel balled his fists again, fighting the urge to lunge out in violence. The brand would stay...he had permanently marked his mate in violence. He swallowed back the anger building in his chest. Anger was what got him where he was. The only person he should be angry at was himself.
“Fairy tail is a very forgiving guild,” Makarov said quietly. “While we could never completely forgive you for harming one of our own...you could find a home with us.”
“I ain’t askin’ for forgiveness,” he snapped before he could help himself.
“No…” the guild master murmured and he sounded entirely too smug for Gajeel’s liking. “I suppose you wouldn’t. Does that mean you will join Fairy Tail?”
Gajeel closed his eyes as he took a deep breath. He wasn’t asking for forgiveness, he didn’t deserve any forgiveness. What he had done would sit with him for the rest of his life. He could have killed his own mate and lost her for good. He turned back to the guild master fighting back tears in his eyes.
“I will,” he said, reaching out to shake hands with the guild master. "Don't expect me to be buddy-buddy like the rest of you are."
"I'll expect you at the guild hall then," the master said, turning to walk to the doors.
He’d join Fairy Tail...not because he needed the jobs, he could eat scrap metal after all, and certainly not because he wanted friends. He would join Fairy Tail because that was where his mate was, and he could protect her better that way. He may not deserve to have her as a mate, but he could at least protect her from any more danger. She was pretty tiny after all.
"By the way," the guild master said turning towards him. "Her name is Levy. Levy McGarden."
Gajeel stared at him dumbfounded as the gulid master disappeared. His mate's name was Levy...He supposed it suited her.
Levy sighed, staring at her reflection in the full length mirror. The black brand that was Phantom Lord's guild mark stood out angrily on her pale skin. No matter how many healing creams and poultices Porlyusica had used on her, the mark would not go away. The healer had not understood what magic had attached the mark to Levy's skin, but she had eventually given up. She frowned pulling her dress on to cover it up, at least she didn't have to change her style much to cover up the mark, and hopefully Porlyusica would come up some with some new cream to try in a few weeks. She frowned shaking her thoughts off as she left her dorm, heading for the guild hall.
She'd spent too many hours the last week caught up in her own thoughts. It was always the same thoughts. She should have been better. She couldn't believe how weak she had been. She hadn't even been able to defend herself, even for a second. The Iron Dragon Slayer had completely overwhelmed her and her team in seconds. She knew Jet and Droy thought they needed to protect her, but the truth was she was the strongest member of Shadow Gear. They all knew it. It was her job to protect them, and she had failed. She hadn't even been able to block his attacks long enough for them to find some cover. She was lucky he'd taken mercy on them, even though she didn't understand why. She could still picture his cruel grin when he'd leaned in to brand her. The smirk still woke her up at night, but it had fallen away almost as soon as his brand touched her skin. She didn't know what had changed in those few seconds, and she spent entirely too much time focusing on it. Maybe he'd realized he'd crossed a line he didn't want to? Maybe he was only acting on his guild master's orders and decided to defy them? Maybe he didn't enjoy hurting people?
"Get a grip Levy," she muttered to herself. "He isn't a hero in one of your novels. He was enjoying what he was doing well enough."
She walked into the guild quietly, sitting at the bar. She knew what the others would think of her if they knew she was day dreaming about the man who had put her in the hospital. No sane person would care about what happened to the man who'd tortured them, but Levy couldn't help the desire that burned in her to know more. Something about the way his red eyes had widened as he jumped away from her stuck with her. He was a mystery and every knew Levy loved her mysteries. She loved knowing what motivated people or what made things tick. It was one reason why she focused her magic on words and language. She wanted to know what pushed someone to such darkness that they were able to cause such pain without hesitation.
She groaned laying her head on the bar. What she needed was to be able to talk to Lucy, but the celestial mage had already left on vacation with Natsu and the rest of their team. She wouldn't bother her on her vacation. The young girl deserved it after nearly being kidnapped by her own father and saving Loki's life.
"I suppose I should call him Leo now," she mused quietly.
She still couldn't believe that their womanizing guild mate was the leader of the Zodiac, a celestial spirit, and that he'd been dying. He was lucky that Lucy had been able to save him. She sighed running her fingers through her hair in frustation. She wanted to go on a job, that at least would clear her mind. But Jet and Droy were treating her as if she were too fragile to travel. Porlyusica had declared her to be in perfect health. She shouldn't need any more treatments, and she thought that would be enough for her team mates to understand that she was ready to get back to work, but they still treated her as if she were made of glass.
"Are you okay Levy?"
"Hm?" She glanced up slowly, looking up to see Mirajane looking at her in concern. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just need a good distraction. I'm going stir crazy and the rest of team Shadow Gear is treating me as if I'm going to shatter in front of them."
"Why don't you go on a job by yourself then? I'm sure there's plenty of jobs for Script wizards like yourself."
Levy looked up at her slowly. She had never even considered going on a job by herself. She was part of a team. They worked together. Mira understood that, and had never offered her a job that only required one person, having been a part of a team of her own. Even if her team was composed of her siblings. Levy tilted her head to the side in curiosity.
"Do you have a job for me?"
"There's a translation job in Crocus," Mira said handing her a flyer. "It's ancient text, not magical text...Freya is planning to move back to Crocus and wants to accept the job as a way to pay for a place to stay, but..."
"She isn't an official guild member and therefore can't actually enter into the contract," Levy finished for her.
"Exactly," Mira said with a smile. "So will you help her?"
Levy thought about it quietly. Freya was Freed Justine's younger sister. She was an honorary member of the Raijinshuu even though she had never actually joined Fairy Tail. She came to stay with Freed when her parents were killed in a Dark Wizard attack, leaving the two siblings orphaned. She was a lot like her older brother. They were both distant and reserved, having been raised in the wealthiest areas of Crocus, but Levy liked her well enough. She had never done anything to upset the script wizard. Freya was excellent at translating languages. Levy didn't know her as well as she knew her guild members, but she often found her in the guild library pouring over ancient texts. The teen had a great gasp on multiple languages, and she knew if Freya ever decided to learn magic, especially rune or script magic she would be incredibly powerful. Levy had never come across someone who adapted to languages the way Freya did.
"Sure. Why not?" Levy said with a small smile. "When does she want to leave?"
"Preferably by the end of the day," a voice said beside her.
Levy jumped, turning to follow the voice and saw Freya sitting at the end of the bar, sipping from a glass in her hands. She hadn't noticed the green haired girl when she first walked into the guild hall, but she'd been caught up in her own thoughts. Freya had been out of town with the Raijinshuu for months and Levy hadn't even realized she was home. It was unusual to see her away from her brother's side, especially since Lisanna's death. Freya and Lisanna had become great friends shortly after Freya arrived in Magnolia.
"Don't you want to wait for Freed to get back?" Levy asked in surprise. Surely she would want to let her brother know where she was going?
Freya's glass slammed down on the counter with a loud clunk and Levy winced, waiting to see it shatter in Freya's hands. When it didn't, she let out a sigh of relief.
"Freed will be fine," Freya said coldly. "He has his team mates to keep him company. It's time for me to return home. I've been away from Crocus too long. The translation job won't be hard." Freya said softly. "I just need someone to help me accept the job. I'll give you have the pay. I just need enough to rent a place for a month while I search for permanent work."
Levy gave her a small smile, standing up from the bar.
"I guess I'll meet you at the train station," she told her. "Let me go pack a bag."
Freya offered her a small smile.
"Thank you Levy."
Levy smiled before hurrying out the guild. She couldn't help but feel like there was more to the story than Freya just wanting to go back home, but she couldn't turn down the job, especially when Freya had looked so desperate for help.