Reku's Resurrection Arc

BY : NeirahAhrai
Category: +. to F > Fairy Tail
Dragon prints: 1077
Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail, nor the characters from it. They are copyright of Hiro Mashima. This is strictly for entertainment purposes as I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

The Storm Inside

Prologue

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The last thing he could remember was the feeling of fire igniting in his blood to circulate incomprehensible power through his veins. Through eyes wide with uncertainty, the world was brighter; sharper. Suddenly, despite his blood staining the earth and the once hopeless situation breaking ground beneath his feet, losing wasn’t an option. His heartbeat raced, thundering in his ears with vague reassurance in every breath. For the briefest of moments, infinite power pulsing within him, Neirah’s unconsciousness was irrelevant. He could feel her by his side with every move he made. But when the fighting had concluded, leaving him to fade back into reality from the overwhelming state of mind guiding his merciless hand in battle, he couldn’t feel her; despite her lying wistfully in his arms.
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There was too much blood on the battlefield to tell whose was whose, but the wrenching of Laxus’ gut led him to believe that most of it had been hers and that it had been there long before he had arrived to rescue the rambunctious infinite slayer. It churned his stomach to have his senses bathed in her defeat, her vulnerability, a failure he didn’t believe she was capable of suffering. Purity was always supposed to triumph over the vile, it was what she always preached to him about fables. Just like the hero. The prince was supposed to be the hero, not the failure clutching the dying princess in his weak, trembling arms.

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His vision was becoming his own again, but he was willing to wish it all away if it meant defending the illusion of her safety, preserving the warmth of her skin that had been replaced with heart-wrenching daggers of ice. As he slowly began to comprehend the terrors he was faced with, his vacant expression started to twist in agony, commencing with the baring of his teeth and the devastated catch in his breath as he choked on actuality. “No,” he forced out raggedly in denial. His voice was choked and airy, roughened with the primordial rumble he couldn’t shake after his brutal maiming of their enemy. He slowly peeled his quivering hand away from her body to reveal the healthy stain of her life fading, no matter how tightly he clung to it. 
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The hollow crash of her being thrown to the ground at his feet, not long before, reverberated through the resonating walls of his mind containing thoughts too corrupt to focus on comprehension.

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‘Nice try, but she can look after her damn self!’

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He whirled his devastated gaze over his shoulder to where the echoes of his own voice poisoned his thoughts. He quickly recoiled, sealing his eyes to deny the barren landscape the presence of his tears, but it didn’t stop them from falling upon the cool flesh of the woman he failed to protect. 
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He was ricocheting between sheer denial and blood-curdling truth, hoping that somewhere in between, a net of hope would catch him as he fell. “Neirah…” He uttered his whisper roughly, peeling her tangled auburn locks away from where the blood on her brow had it clinging to her face. “H-hey, I take it back…” His lips trembled as he tried to force them from displaying his complete devastation. He stared bleakly down into the delicate part in her pretty lips that begged the passage of oxygen denied. Her almost peaceful expression was haunting, deceiving him into believing that there was a chance she could wake from it. “Your lightning’s not… it’s not so little,” came his breathy mock. He choked on the laugh that he tried to force from his aching throat but it came out weak and broken with the sorrowful sting of tears ready to fall. “I couldn’t do it…” Words barely formed through the hoarse crack in his voice. “I couldn’t handle that… that kinda power…” His gaze started to narrow, hiding the smile that he had tried desperately to display to his unresponsive master. 
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“This is the part where you fight back, y'know?” He forced out in haggard continuation. “Better take advantage of this, princess, ‘cause it’s a one-time deal.” The gentle and trembling strokes of his fingers against the curves of her face grew rougher with each touch until he had finally slid his hand completely around the back of her neck to clutch her to his chest. 
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“Wake up,” he begged. He glared at the dark and lifeless earth around them with empty eyes. “What the hell am I going to tell your idiot brother? Huh? Are you seriously gonna put that on me?” He snapped his teeth together in bearing, his blink-less stare burning as the blur of glossy tears started to pool against his eyelids. “I already lost you once, damn it! You can’t do this to me again!” He coughed back a devastated cry as he lowered his voice from where it had grown loud with rage and ruin. He’d lost her. Not her brother, not her guild, he. He hated that he could only admit the weight of that pain when she was unconscious. “Please don’t do this to me again,” he pleaded bleakly. “You’re my light…” He forced his words through his teeth, burying his face in the matted hair against her neck as he clung to her damaged figure with his remaining strength. “Don’t leave me in the dark.” 
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“You are not alone, my prince.”

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Laxus’ expression grew sinister and hardened with fury as his heartache was interrupted by a sickeningly familiar voice.

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“You will always carry her with you.” The might ebony beast shifted his hot golden gaze over the contours of the blackened earth. “For she, is the Shadow.”
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Laxus’ gaze flashed bitterly as he all but growled his reply towards his reptilian company. “I don’t want your philosophical bull shit right now!” He roared defensively, keeping Neirah close to his chest in a manner that might suggest that he was ready to defend the frail woman from her own guardian. “How long have you been here?!” He demanded boldly. He watched the dragon’s mighty golden wings settle comfortably alongside him, casual in all aspects; like he wasn’t observing the life of his adopted little slayer fade in the arms of the man at his nose. “Why didn’t you help her!?” 
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“I have always been here, I will always be here,” the tired infinite dragon admitted shortly. 
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“I thought Acnologia killed you when he attacked Tenrou Island?!” Laxus argued fervently. “If that’s true, why the hell do I keep running into you!?”
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“I assured you before that you are not alone,” Ryverika rumbled regally. “A part of me will always reside within you.” 
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Laxus shook his head, sick of the encryption that both Ryverika and his fiery little spirit child spoke in. “You think I give a crap about that?!” Laxus raged irrationally. A hatred for Neirah’s beast of a father boiled his blood. “This is the second time you’ve stood by and let her take the fall for your problems! When are you going to wake up and realise that you’ve put way too high an expectation on her?! She’s just a damn kid!” He forced out through the rising pain cracking his voice. “If you want her to save the fucking world, why don’t you give her a damn hand instead of watching her constantly fall?!”  
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Ryverika’s glistening amber gaze didn’t waver as he watched Laxus fall apart with the unusual adjustments around him. After a long moment, the dragon proceeded to converse. “Because she… has yet to fall.”
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Laxus caught his breath, his expression paling with the incredible force of warmth breaking the anguish that had begun to overcome him. “What…?” He hissed out weakly, mechanically tipping his gaze back towards the dragon. 
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“I am here to remind you of something that you seem to have forgotten,” the dragon majestically dictated. “Mayhap something you feared to admit. What you hold in your arms is the unjustifiable fear that restrains you. It is hard for the selfless to survive…”
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“Shut up and tell me what you meant by ‘she hasn’t fallen’!” Laxus demanded with annoyance. “Just what the hell is going on here?”

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His heart sank until the crash of it plummeting into the emptiness to wash over him next had his stomach lurching with the weight of Neirah’s fading presence. Like a shadow among ashes, he watched in dismay as she vanished from his arms. “No,” he demanded desperately. “No!” He raked his fingertips through the earth stained with her presence in hopes to capture the light as he watched it dim completely from his life. After a trembling moment of rage, he cut his furious gaze from beneath his brow to glare at the beast with uncontainable hatred. “What… did you do…?!” He demanded hoarsely through ground molars.
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“Neirah was my shadow once,” Ryverika started solemnly. “She was the hope that I needed to be strong; to believe in a humanity tainted by greed, by war. Soon, nothing but that hope mattered.” The great beast craned his head to one side in direction. “But alone, it was not enough. To be completely devoted to the life of another, to surrender the value of your own existence… leads you to where I stand.”

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Laxus almost refused to take the dragon’s bait until light broke through the gloomy skies of his nightmare and redirected his attention to a reality he’d been subconsciously denying. “She is not your light, you are hers. It is children like her who hold you close, that also hold you high. To them, you are invaluable, even when the darkness of your shadow is all you see in the mirror.” 
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All signs of fury had washed from his features as his wide and trembling gaze stared vacantly forward to where the dragon had turned his attention. “N-Neirah…?”

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Her helpless whimpers of feeble protest had his heart sinking as she screamed her defiance to the dead air around her. She was still covered in blood, but it wasn’t hers; it was his. 
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Neirah’s breath was broken as she wheezed in agony, clinging desperately to the man she’d watched fall for the sake of every one she forced inside her. She had a hard time keeping her breaths even between whimpers as she trembled in shock and horror, her hand tightly pressed to the open wounds next to his heart. “Please… somebody help me,” she whispered out breathlessly. It seemed that just speaking the futile words comforted her, even though she knew that they were alone. The heavy flow of her tears gently dripped against the presence lying in her lap. She laid her tear stained face against the top of his head for a long moment, her sealed eyelids forcing hot tear streaks over her dirty face. 
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Her grip grew tight with anxious fury and she threw her head back with a desperate screech. “Anybody?! Please save him!” She wailed in desperation. She took a moment to scan the area around her through the tears scattering along her cheeks from panicked eyes indicating a complete depletion of her magical energy. She had given it all to him. “Useless!” She cried shrilly. She tucked her chin back towards her chest and bared her teeth in devastation. “Useless, useless, USELESS!” She recoiled on her denial, arms trembling weakly around him as another agonised cry pierced the air.

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“Please no… I can’t… I’m so sorry,” she whined tenderly in surrender. She brushed his bangs to one side before laying her forehead against his. “I didn’t know… I should have listened… I sho-” She choked on her words, her voice hoarse from her pitiful screams as she lingered between raging denial and complete helplessness. “Laxus,” she whispered weakly. She winced with her attempts at healing when she had no power left to support the effort. “Please… Laxus, I’m sorry. I didn’t know it would hurt you… I didn’t… I didn’t know.” 
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He lifted his hand, moments from calling out to her when his breath caught behind his teeth and his fingertips flexed with restraint. If what he was seeing was true, she wouldn’t have heard him anyway. Even though he wanted to, he couldn’t turn away from her; even as she apologised repeatedly for her infractions earlier that day. He couldn’t stand the thought of their fight being the last memory she had of her time with him. He watched in dismay as her deep sapphire gaze narrowed on her victim before the most blood-curdling screech on agony pierced the dead air around her. “Laxus! Please wake up!”
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His heart stopped, his skin crawling with the eerie confirmation of his suspicion as she recoiled just enough for him to lay eyes on his own unconscious figure in her lap. He closed his eyes to deny the sight, hoping that when he opened them again, he’d shift locations and wake against her. He would take the slow but steady bead of blood leaking from his chest over the pain of watching her suffer more. “No,” he forced out with trembling breaths. “That’s impossible!” He snarled in denial, whirling to face Ryverika. “Just what the hell is going on here!?”  
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“Neirah has humbly only ever asked one thing of this miracle called life,” Ryverika started softly. “And that is to be the reason that you are never alone. The child went through a great deal in her life, the thought of seeing you smile giving her a reason to move forward even as hope for her future faded.” Laxus turned and watched as Neirah cried, clinging to his lifeless figure in a hauntingly similar manner to the way he had her moments before. “Every shadow exists because somewhere, there is light. Each shadow represents the hope that every hero needs to remind them of their strengths.” Laxus didn’t break his concentration as he watched Neirah cry out a second time. “As dark as you believe you are, she sees your light. She needs you to shine.”
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Neirah sealed her eyes to deny the world her pain, but the tears refused to stop flowing over her dirty cheeks. She hadn’t even wanted him there. Laxus, Gajeel; the fact that they had followed her into the darkness in which she plunged had bothered her since the first. Infinity Dragon’s pitiful little guild had a purpose that she was determined to see come to light, but that was never of their concern. Her brother had followed her because they had never known a life without one another. She wanted to tear her heart from inside her chest to deny her pain. But she could never figure out why Laxus had done the same.

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She was the ill-appointed guild master of their little faction, but even so, he had defied her at every turn; constantly challenging every decision she made. Even if she had to admit that most of these arguments saw her to minor epiphanies, she hated the friction constantly dragging them to odds.

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But he was there.

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When she had fallen to her enemy on a poorly thought out whim, he had been the one to save her. Not her brother. Not their late first master’s loyal following.

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It was him.

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She pressed her palm more tightly to the bloodied hole ripped through his chest. “Laxus…” She mewled weakly as she adjusted and curled her palm against his neck, trying desperately to sense a pulse. “You have to get up,” she demanded inaudibly upon laying her head against his shoulder. “There are still… so many things you’ve got to keep me from saying…” Her fingers crawled up his neck until they could tangle themselves in his hair and draw him towards her breast. “You’re such a jerk… and I’ll never completely forgive you for forgetting the day we met…” She laid her cheek against his brow and let a heartbroken grimace clench her teeth in bearing. “But I love your smile,” she breathed out whimsically. “And you never stop believing in me.”
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Ryverika watched silent tears roll over the man’s face as he watched himself break the young girl’s heart. “Stop me…” Her weak whisper caused chills to skitter over his skin with her desperate demand. “Please, if there was any hope, you wouldn’t let me admit that I lov-” His breath caught as he watched her trembling lips stop before she had completed uttering her sentence, fresh hot tears boiling dark trails in her dusty skin all over again. “I lo-…”
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He flinched with the passion that tore through dusk’s blanket when she articulated her disbelief. “No! You can’t b-! You’re too strong!” She screeched, tensed fingers holding onto feigning hope. “Laxus, please don’t die!” His breath grew harsh with the intake of it through his agonised grimace, his fist clenching dangerously tight at his side as he watched on; helpless to silence her tears. “Stop me from saying it!” She raged. “You’ve always cut me off, right before I could tell you-!” She shook her head from side to side before laying her lips against his cheek in hopes that his absent state would grant her the courage she needed to divulge in her heart’s truths. “That you’re everything to me… I can’t do this without you! Please, wake up!”
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“Why?” Laxus growled bitterly beneath his breath, glaring back at the mighty beast with a heavy heart. “Why are you showing me this if I can’t do anything about it?” 
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Ryverika lowered his head to the earth and looked squarely at the man. “She exists for you, to make you strong. To help you shine,” the beast admitted certainly. “You will fight to be near her. I can see that. All that is to be learned is the value in a life you lost faith in.”
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“You’re gonna be seeing fucking stars if you don’t put me back where I belong!” Laxus fumed impatiently. He was too twisted in agony over the pain he was bringing his companion to worry that he'd just threatened one of the mightiest dragons to ever draw breath. 
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Ryverika’s rumbling laugh had the rowdy slayer cringing with uncertainty. “Yes,” Ryverika started slowly. He looked back to where Neirah clung to the boy. He’d known the moment that he saw the way the girl beamed delight the day she had first met the boy in her lap that they were meant to find each other again someday. He’d worked hard to see to that. “By her side… That does seem like a good place to put you, doesn’t it?” Laxus flinched when the beast looked his way again. “For that reason, my prince, you will survive. Remember this day well when next you fill with doubt.” Scars of Ryverika’s light reopened in Laxus’ mind when the golden rays filled the vacant skies, reminding him of the day he watched Neirah fall from oceanside cliffs. After the moment had passed and left him blind, he felt something he’d thought he’d never feel again. 
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She was pleased with the warmth human companionship had offered her that day…

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“I had one purpose… to be the shield that defends the lives of those with the power to preserve humanity,” Neirah whispered softly throwing her head back with a defiant hiss. “But I’m useless. And I ca- I couldn’t…” Sorrow overwhelmed her words as they were quietly uttered in defeat. “Not when… I can’t even protect the man I lo-”

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Her startled squeal was gentle and filled with surprise when she felt his muscles contract powerfully beneath her and when his hand wrapped tightly in the material of her hooded cloak, her heart stopped. She grew painfully still for a long moment with silent tears streaming down her face as he shifted weakly against her, relying on her presence to support his attempts at stirring. She cried out gently with the uncertain stumble she felt tear through him and she threw her arms around him to keep him from falling away from her. The moment he coughed out his first haggard breath since she’d watched him fall, the glitter of deepest gratitude flooded her warm and affectionate expression. “Laxus,” she whimpered gently as she watched him attempt to straighten. “You-” She shuddered with a shrill gasp, throwing her arms around him and clinging tightly to the hope that was his staggering breaths. She had a million words to say to him, a million smiles and delighted squeals to fill his ears, but she was having a hard time organising them appropriately. “Laxus I-”
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Her breath shortened when his palm fell heavily against her shoulder with his struggle and concern flashed across her gentle features. Before she could react much, he had pressed his forehead strongly against hers. The force had her fighting to stay upright with his clumsy effort and sudden display of passion. In the next moment, his eyelids finally rose so that he could look back at the trembling waves rippling through her ocean blue gaze. Her reserve shattered when he curled his fingers around the back of her neck, trapping her recoiling figure against him. “Don’t say it…” His demand was faint, assuming that he knew the concluding half of her sentence before it had been completed.

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“Well, I’ve got news for you! The kid didn’t care that you two always fought. She didn’t care that you didn’t say those things she obviously wanted to hear.” Gajeel continued heatedly, throwing his finger out in accusation towards the off-guard lightning wizard. “All she ever wanted from you was a god damned smile!”

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His weak gaze wasn’t long denying her its presence once more when the efforts he struggled to offer moved south to curl his lips into the most assuring of smiles. “I wanna be the first one to say it.” She didn’t try to hold her tears back as he laid his trembling fingers against her cheek, his thumb catching the tail of her dark tattoo. After a soft squeak, her desperate whimpers turned into the most broken of laughs as she smiled back at him, throwing both hands up against his face. 
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“Then say it,” she challenged tenderly. She was sure that the wounded man couldn’t possibly know the way she had intended to complete her sentiment. “Because any minute now, I’m going to kill you for scaring me lik-”
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She was interrupted sharply by the pressure of his lips crashing desperately against hers. She wanted to be angry for his rash advance, but she was far too thankful to have the feeling of his racing heartbeat reaching her fingertips. She whimpered softly when he pulled away, bracing his brow against hers once more. Her comprehension grew fuzzy, her racing heartbeat filling her crimson-tipped ears as she tried to comprehend his suddenly overwhelming display of affection towards her. “And I don’t care what that old lizard says,” Laxus started certainly to force the inquisitive twist in her expression to grow. “You’re always gonna be my light.”

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He had no interest in paying mind to the delicate woman dressing his wounds against her fiancé's will. She may have been a skilled healer, but he would have bled dry to have had her presence replaced.

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“You are lucky the Empress returned you when she did,” Arihana cooed delicately. She swept her long silver hair back over her shoulder to keep it from becoming bloodied. “It’s a wonder you survived wounds so grievous for the journey back.”

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Laxus raised his lethargic gaze to where the shaggy navy bangs of the young woman’s husband-to-be were tossed from his brow. “Ch’yeh… right. Wonder not. S’A damn shame is what it is.”

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“Damion!” Arihana scolded sternly.

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“Are we done here?” Laxus growled intolerantly while staggering to his feet. His body didn’t want to see him mobile, but his heart wanted to see him parted from such abrasive company. 

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He didn’t bother to catch Damion’s beady and resentful ebony glare as he passed by. He was exhausted enough without rehashing the past. Infinity Dragon’s first master may have fallen to spare Laxus’ life, but the act wasn’t demanded nor did he consider it necessary. Kairyn had an agenda all his own and Laxus refused to be held accountable for involuntary actions by the rest of the guild. He had broad enough shoulders, capable of carrying the weight of resentment his guildmates presented. He had done it his whole life in as a faerie, he’d see it done his remainder as a dragon.

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He didn’t let on how relieved he was to take a seat on the other side of the dank building assaulting his senses. Infinity Dragon had grown and become a humble guild of six plus an exceed, all congregating in a poorly constructed little shack burrowed beneath a hollowed-out rock face. Water leaked from the ceiling beams onto dusty floors and the entire area reeked of mossy brine. It was dark and humid, the air so thick it was hard to breathe.

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And he had never felt closer to home; the one he felt he deserved, at least.

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He didn’t particularly care for the accommodations. Recognition had seen him living a pretty comfortable, even lavish, at times, lifestyle. He’d never had to worry about where he’d lay his head, or where his next meal would come from. Things that she’d had to worry about since the day she was born.

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Tired steel eyes looked back to where a wounded Neirah waged war with her beloved big brother, each refusing to admit their wrongs in the day’s proceedings. She had cherished so little in her twenty-two years of life. A musty old sketchbook, pages filled with broken memories of time past. A raggedy stuffed cat toy with twisted whiskers and a torn paw, the first gift she ever received from a man that would rather die than admit he took pity on his bratty little sister.

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A smile.

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Wounds may have seen him ache that evening, but they paled in comparison to the true demon’s writhing inside him thanks to Ryverika’s mystical prying. It was all the little things that he took for granted; the way she wrinkled her nose and stomped her foot when she was mad, the way she fidgeted when she was nervous. It could be a hundred degrees where she stood and she’d still rub her arms like she was trying to banish a chill.

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Ever since his return from Tenrou, they’d been a hurricane in winter, raging out of control no matter how out of place their grudges stood. They fought, they teased. She was beautiful, something he’d only admitted to himself, something she never could. And instead of helping her see it, he’d shut her out.

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He watched her storm off in a huff, leaving Gajeel to stammer out his defence to an exasperated Pantherlily. She may have grown stronger every day, but no matter how much wrath seethed inside the kingdom’s tiny infinite dragon slayer, her adorable tantrums would always make him smile.

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“You forget, this is Shadow’s fight, Gajeel. We’re only here to help.”

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“I’m helping! I’m helping her to not get dead!” Gajeel demanded, looming over his furry companion.

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“Oh yeah?”

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Gajeel’s grim demeanour didn’t warm any when Laxus decided to interrupt his raving.

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“Didn’t seem like you were doin’ a really good job of that a few hours ago.”

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Gajeel cut a venomous gaze back at him, his surprise for Laxus’ outburst barely noticeable beneath the frustration he harboured. “You wanna run that by me again?”

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Laxus raised his gaze to meet the iron dragon’s, trying his hardest to mask the desperation in it. He hated untethering the bonds that had started to stitch them back together after years of feuding had seen them arch rivals. He still remembered the day Gajeel came to him in Neirah’s room, broken inside and missing his little sister. He sought the only one who could help him start healing that day, the only one strong enough to take the brunt of the wrath boiling over inside the iron dragon for their loss.

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He had the spare key to her house in his pocket, he always had, but he didn’t bother reaching for it before his hand was on the doorknob. There wasn’t a doubt in his mind as he turned it; and as he suspected, it had opened without the use of the little steel artefact. Since his conversation with Levy that afternoon, his steps weren’t nearly as heavy, but he knew for sure that they would be heard by the individual he was absolutely certain was lurking in the shadows of the home that had been vacant since Neirah’s disappearance and supposed death. He kept his guard up in case he was suspected as an intruder, but to his relief, no such interference had come. It was so strange to consider that the man inside might act more like a guard dog to the memory of the departed than another grieving mortal being. It left him undeterred as he stepped through her warm home, the sun spilling into rooms filled with happiness and fond memories. But in that moment, he felt a cool breeze sweep past him as he treated her cherished possessions like demons dancing on rocky faces of a dragon’s dim and lifeless den. They mocked him with impish grins, encouraging him to his doom as he approached the beast resting at the end of the cavern’s trail.

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He tried to ignore that her scent still lingered in the empty room’s he crossed, dust particles dancing in the midday sunlight as it spilt through the windows over her belongings. His reserve shook with the catch in his breath and he was forced to swallow the dry rasp that was no doubt to show anguish when next he spoke. He reminded himself that he was there for Levy and the other fretting hearts of the Fairy Tail guild who still held the vanishing man in regard. Nobody had suspected that he would take Baby Blacksteel’s disappearance so hard… not even the brother that sought him out.

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He paused and stared at her bedroom door, his heart sinking with dread; and in that moment, he wished with all he had that Levy had of shown up herself, by his side even. He looked down into the palm of his glove before tightening his fist in determination, Levy’s encouragement still ringing in his ears. He raised his gaze and took the last step forwards, his fingers resting on the partially opened door for only a brief moment. With the force of his fingertips leaving the wooden surface, the door swung open with a solemn whine. He lingered in the doorway for a long moment; there was no turning back.

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He didn’t even bother to wonder why no one had thought to check Neirah’s home earlier, but as he suspected, sitting on her bed with his forearms on his knees and head hung low was their missing lightning dragon. He took a step forwards only to still with the sound of paper beneath his feet. He quickly retracted his approach and diverted his gaze to observe that the man had dug out a bunch of Neirah’s paintings and strewn them about the floor and walls; paintings that he had never cared to see when the eager girl had offered him an audience before. Her memories and dreams scattered the room for Laxus’ viewing in a humble attempt to feel closer to the woman he’d never allowed himself to get to know.

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Gajeel’s gaze shifted back towards where he still hadn’t been greeted before finally stepping around the various images that lay against the floor. “I thought I’d find you sulkin’ around here,” he started hoarsely. He tried to remain as abrasively casual as a despairing man could.

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Gajeel’s blood chilled as a rather hostile steel gaze finally rose his way, but that’s what he’d gotten for stirring the beast who’d been dwelling hopelessly on the past for almost a month straight. Gajeel forced a dry swallow down his itching throat and hoped that Laxus didn’t intend on baring fangs. The dark circles bragging the man’s exhaustion meant nothing when provoking that kind of power.

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“That implies that you were lookin’ for me…” Laxus rumbled hoarsely. He could hear Neirah’s voice repeating his words in the back of his mind with his quote. He shifted his gaze to the floor in acceptance to Gajeel’s presence but it remained far from warm. “Something I’m given to understand you don’t do often.”

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The iron dragon drew some form of comfort in the submission of a man he’d found dangerous to him on a good day, much less a day he’d sought out the broken-hearted beast who’d finally tipped over the deep end with unprecedented sorrow. They had never seen eye to eye, especially on the subject of Gajeel’s little sister, but Levy was right. Maybe that was the reason it had to be Gajeel to offer the hand of reassurance. “Look, you’ve got everyone freaked. No one’s seen you for weeks and the old man’s gettin’ worried,” he rushed out impatiently. He’d almost felt he’d have more luck talking to the pictures than his stony target.

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“Tch, so he sent you to check on me?” Laxus grumbled vacantly, clearly intolerant to the man’s presence. “He’s even more senile than I thought.” He slowly climbed to his feet, the mechanical act leading Gajeel to suspect that he’d been sitting in one spot for quite a while. “I don’t care if they are worried. I don’t have anythin’ to say to them.”

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Laxus didn’t have a single breath to prepare for the restless iron fist that struck him, knocking him to the side of the room with the relentless and clearly unrestrained force of Gajeel’s fury. He cut his gaze sharply to where Gajeel’s shadowed expression hung heavy as he panted softly with the emotional strain of his thoughts.

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“If you think that you’re the only one this hurts… you’ve got another thing comin’,” he snarled bitterly.

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“Listen! I don’t need this from y-”

.

“Get it together, Sparky, and stop feelin’ sorry for yourself!” The force of the next strike Gajeel had offered in his direction was even fiercer than the last and had Laxus’ hand reaching out to the side table next to Neirah’s bed to seek stability. He tipped his gaze to where his fingers met the surface of one of Neirah’s paintings and his resolve shook until he didn’t think he’d be able to hide it from her big brother’s interrogating glare. He slowly shifted his fingers to reveal a painting she’d done of herself with a particularly familiar set of faces. When he raised his observation to where one of the painted faces denied their gaze to him in the flesh, the soft presence of tears was meeting the display of Gajeel’s bared teeth with the force of his restraint. He lowered his gaze and pushed the picture of Neirah with Gajeel and Pantherlily aside, a sickening roll of emotions welling inside as he watched her big brother fall apart before him.

 .

“I get that you had things that you didn’t get to say to the kid before we lost her,” Gajeel rumbled softly. He slowly raised his devastated crimson gaze. “But that’s your own damn problem.” Laxus raised his gaze back to Gajeel’s with guilt in his exhausted expression. “But all this mopin’ around and hidin’ from the rest of the guild… like you’re the only one who misses her…” Gajeel threw a furiously tight fist out in front of him with his heartbroken shout of defiance. “Like you’re the only one who cared!” Laxus flexed his fist, biting back his defensive retorts as Gajeel continued; feeling like maybe he was the only one strong enough to take the hits Gajeel needed to land to let go. “Well, I’ve got news for you! The kid didn’t care that you two always fought. She didn’t care that you didn’t say those things she obviously wanted to hear.” Gajeel continued heatedly, throwing out a finger in Laxus’ direction with his accusation. “All she ever wanted from you was god damned smile!”

.

Laxus tipped his bewildered gaze Gajeel’s way with the force of a strong sense assuring him that there was more to the story. “You remember that time she ran into you fifteen years ago? Well, she never forgot how lonely that spoiled little brat looked. The day before that stupid parade the guild throws, y’know, the one you fucked up? The kid told me all about it.”

.

“Shut up!” Laxus snapped back at him sternly with a hoarse crack in his voice as the painful memories rose. He hadn’t meant to be so vulnerable to the sentiment in Gajeel’s words, but his depressing stagnation over the past few weeks had seen his resolve visibly shattered, allowing emotions he’d rather hide to leak through the cracks. “I was there! You don’t need to-”

.

“But here’s what you weren’t around for!” Gajeel interrupted heatedly. “The kid asked me to track your sorry ass down in Magnolia and be your friend all so you wouldn’t look so damn miserable anymore! It came straight from ‘er mouth the day before you decided that none of the rest of us were good enough to be your pals!”

.

Gajeel shook his head with a furious curse, finding common ground with the man he was sent to liberate as his tears were joined. “The kid spent most of her whole life taggin’ along with me. I only paid attention to half of what she rambled about, but I did get that someone important kept her interested in this damn town.” Gajeel never thought in a million years it would be Laxus. “She thought you were the coolest thing goin’ but I couldn’t just roll over and be buddies with someone so clueless.” He threw himself back against her dresser with a conclusive sigh. “It probably tore the kid apart realising that the two jerks she cared about the most couldn’t stand the sight of each other. The way she lit up everytime her hero smiled down at ‘er?” He turned his gaze towards Laxus who was watching him carefully with balled fists trembling at his sides. “But she never forgot that favour she asked me all those years ago. She’s probably sittin’ somewhere now wondering why I ain’t beatin’ it out of ya… I should too…”

.

“So, your first order of business as my new pal was to knock some sense into me?”

.

Gajeel’s expression wavered for a moment with the dark catch in Laxus’ voice. “Guess so,” he admitted roughly. “Did it work?” An appreciative smile found his face as he watched the subtlest of curls in the other man’s lips with the roots of a smile.

.

“Yeah…” Laxus admitted softly, brushing his tears from his face with the back of his forearm. “Y’Did alright, Screwball…”

.


.

Laxus’ fist tightened at his side, his frustration with himself stinging fresh wounds. It was the second time they’d almost lost each other for good, and like a stubborn, juvenile fool, he still hadn’t admitted to her that he died a little more every time their paths diverted.

.

He couldn’t hide from it this time, though. Too many prying eyes watched as he struggled to regain his strength after a blow that should have claimed his life. Despite Ryverika’s warnings, he wished it had of. It would’ve saved him from the self-loathing, the unbearable disgust with himself for being so unfeeling towards the only one that cared if he didn’t make it back. He had to blame someone, someone needed to take the heat of the flames raging inside him simply because he couldn’t consciously battle himself and the darkness inside him.

.

Gajeel’s gaze flickered, his coarse words the only thing concealing his concern for the man he’d recently come to terms with. “You get smart? Or are you trying to pick out which words are gonna be yer last?”

.

“You weren’t there…” Laxus whispered grimly. He was still unsure of if he wanted to rouse the iron dragon into a confrontation; still assessing the weight of their newfound friendship. He cut his hazy gaze back at Gajeel from beneath his brow, static leaping from his fist as he prepared to unleash his frustrations. “We almost lost her again, and you weren’t there…”

.


.

Laxus sighed and turned away from Neirah’s tender smile as her heart warmed with an appreciation for the presence of the people she loved most. "I don't know why, but hearin' about her past really pisses me off,” he admitted in vague consideration of the iron dragon’s inquiry. “I hate knowing that she was suffering and no one did anything about it." Laxus dropped his gaze to his shaking fist, watching as it tried to grasp time itself. After a brief moment, he cast his weary gaze back to where a wounded Neirah smiled down at the sketchbook she'd always loved so much. "I guess the part that hurts the most is that I know she smiled through it like she's smilin' through this. Over the stupidest little things... like that old book or that ratty cat. And when I stop to realise that she had nothing... it makes me want to give her… everything..." He peeked over his shoulder to where Gajeel was lingering nearby, listening patiently for the conclusion of his sentiment. "She spent her whole life tryin' to find me... for a smile. Even if it's the last thing I want to do... how can you look down at hers and not give her one back?"

.

Gajeel denied his gaze with a sly grin, a soft snort escaping with his amusement. "Better be careful," he cautioned. He looked back towards his restless comrade. "Or people are gonna start thinkin' yer a nice guy." Gajeel smiled in approval, joining Laxus in their silent guard over their wounded little infinity dragon. "I always hoped the kid’d settle down with a nice guy..."

.


.

It would be easy to mask, she wouldn’t suspect that what he was feeling was anything more than frustrations with the man who claimed to be her guardian since they’d met. Gajeel and Laxus had fought over stupider.

.

His teeth ground to stifle the hoarse catch in his breath. His fist started to shake and his chest ached with guilt. “You weren’t there to keep her safe,” Laxus murmured beneath his breath. “You left it to me… and I fucked it up.” He couldn’t. He wished he could vent his bottled frustrations, but he couldn’t bring himself to take Gajeel down with him.

.

He ignored the softening of Gajeel’s expression, it wasn’t what he needed. He had pushed her right into the enemy’s clutches because of the tension still brewing between them; because he couldn’t fess up to the way she made him ache for salvation. He needed an attack, to suffer, to feel like he somehow got what he deserved. But all he had to show for it at the end was the stain of her warmth holding him and thanking him. Thanking him.

.

For what?

.

Laxus whirled away, narrowly reining in his desire to strike out at the unstable beams around him. “Don’t fucking do it again!” He roared wrathfully, still uncertain as to who he was demanding it of.

.

Pantherlily was the cobra to strike when the insult was offered to his dearest friend. The tiny cat stepped forth, his paw thrust out towards the thrashing lightning dragon in Gajeel’s defence. “That is an unnecessary weight to put on one member of the guild! Even a small on!” Lily demanded fervently. “It isn’t Gajeel’s responsibility, we should all be looking out for each other!”

.

Pantherlily was interrupted before he could say much more, Gajeel’s stern expression shaking his head to silently detour the feline into digging a deeper grave. Lily met the silent purpose of Gajeel’s understanding, and in due time. The exceed shivered with the tightening of the back they were offered and feared he may have overstepped in Laxus’ eyes. The last thing they needed was to fight amongst themselves when the rest of the world was at their throats as it was. The message received was that the lightning dragon was not to be provoked, under any circumstance.

.

‘Why am I here?’ Laxus thought bleakly to himself, neglecting to shift even after Gajeel and Pantherlily had left him to brood. 

.


.

“I know it’s not going to be easy for them to accept, but I have to do this; the only thing Kairyn couldn’t.” Neirah turned away and balled her fists at her side, grinding her teeth with the force she used to keep her bitter tears from falling. “It was Ryverika’s will.” She gasped when his shadow cast next to hers on the ground and she felt his fingers absently working the tension from her fists so that they could lazily intertwine with hers.

.

“So was I,” he murmured softly.

.

Neirah’s breath caught as her attention shot in his direction, her gaze resting on unshaken resolve as he looked out over the path unfolding before them. “Laxus…” She whimpered softly to the heat of his fingertips against hers, reassuring as her first tears fell from her wide and trembling gaze. “It’s not about saving the world anymore, or something so cliché… It’s about revenge, for Ryverika, for Kairyn...” She shook her head softly with the pain of her denial. She knew how badly Kairyn and Laxus had fought but she still honoured the memory of the man enough to preserve it. “I can’t ask Fairy Tail’s Prince to be a part of that.”

.

Laxus slowly tipped his gaze towards her, the determination in his features ascertaining the fact that she wasn’t leaving alone. “You don’t have to.”

.


.

He sealed his eyes tightly, hoping that, in the act, he might find some sort of bearing. ‘Why am I-?’

.

“Alright, Screwball, look alive.”

.

Coming out of his daze, Laxus diverted his attention to where their guild master approached her big brother at his back. She had a strip of gauze between her teeth, tightening around her wounded arm.

.

“I need you to stand watch while I head into town.”

.

“Screw that!” Gajeel demanded fervently. “I ain’t lettin’ you go off like that! Yer barely standin’!”

.

“Although crudely put, Gajeel has a point,” Pantherlily reasoned. “If you left now, you wouldn’t be returning until after dark. And in the state you’re in-”

.

“That’s why I’m the one going,” Neirah rebutted. “I need you to watch over the others, I can’t have you playing gofer when you’re the most able-bodied defence we have right now.”

.

“At least take Lily with you,” Gajeel suggested impatiently through his teeth. “At least then you can get out if trouble finds you.”

.

“Don’t start this,” she warned sternly. “If something happens back here, Lily can get to me faster than anyone else.” She heaved a heavy sigh of exasperation to try and calm her eager nerves. “Just, please, do what I say. Nobody is going to come after me in the city, not where there are witnesses to Ghoul Knight’s shady deeds. You have to remember that they’re posing as a legitimate guild. Nobody knows of their ties with Marionette and Austalian Elitists.”

.

“Shadow, I ain’t-”

.

“I’ll go…”

.

The three conversing were silenced as Laxus threw himself into their dispute. “No way,” Gajeel denied. “You heard Frosty. Yer lucky to be alive much less walkin’.”

.

Laxus slowly rolled his exhausted gaze to confront the iron dragon beyond words. “I’ve walked away from worse…”

.

Gajeel lingered on the underlining messages his brain was trying desperately to process. As a big brother, he wanted to knock Laxus’ teeth in for even thinking about trying to sneak in some alone time with his kid sister. As a friend and teammate, he secretly felt like he owed him at least that much. “Damn it! Am I the only one with any sense around here?!” Gajeel demanded passionately.

.

“There’s a scary thought…” Pantherlily mumbled.

.

Neirah watched the conversation unfold for a moment before offering a soft smile in response, being intelligent and capable of picking up on the subtle hints the men thought they were passing over her head. “Ok,” she concurred softly. “I’ll take Laxus.”

.

“Logic? What’s logic?” Gajeel demanded while throwing his arms up in the air with his defeat as he stormed away.

.

“I think it’s a fine idea,” Pantherlily added supportively with a small smile on his lips as he folded his arms over his chest. “I’ll alert you if there is any unwarranted activity tonight.”

.

“Excellent.”

.

Pantherlily nodded his head towards their master who had become incredibly mousey since Laxus had joined their company. “Until then, Master.”

.

Neirah diverted her gaze bashfully with Lily’s formalities. “I hate it when they call me that,” she announced sheepishly. She tried to avoid making eye-contact with him after what they’d experienced that morning together.

.

“Like it or not, you're the head of this little operation. They’re just being respectful.”

.

She smiled weakly. “Are you sure you’re up to the task? It’s a long walk into town from here.”

.

“Yeah,” he swiftly ascertained. “But we should really get going,” Laxus cautioned solemnly. His mind was still in too many places to be planning his next steps. “It’s going to start getting dark soon, and if you had anythin’ meaningful to do in town, we’ll have to beat closing time.”

.

Neirah looked up at his diverted expression, not sure whether she liked it that way or craved his direct attention when he spoke. No matter what happened between them, they could never seem to find common ground. “You’re right,” she agreed tenderly. “I guess we should go.”



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