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A Life Deserved

Chapter Text


Lucy wasn't sure she really enjoyed the turning in her stomach while barreling through this warm darkness. She didn't enjoy the lack of light in general, but the fact that it wasn't cold was giving her the heebie-jeebies, something fierce. Darkness should be cold, not making her feel as though she'd wrapped herself up in a snuggly, fuzzy blanket.

Also, she couldn't tell if she was falling downward, or moving forward. She could have been soaring up toward the heavens for all she knew. The pressure surrounding her was equal no matter how she shifted her sluggish arms. At least the hole that had been blown through her chest didn't hurt anymore. And she couldn't feel any blood clinging to her tattered clothes. She also couldn't feel her keys in her hand or warming the pouch on her hip, though, so that was definitely cause for concern.

How was she supposed to get back to her friends, her team, if she didn't have her spirits with her? Natsu was probably worried already, screaming his face off about being fired up because…

Her brows furrowed when the foggy memory returned. Natsu hadn't been near her when it happened. It was probably why it had happened to begin with. He hadn't been close enough to protect her, and it had been her bright idea for them to split up and check different corridors in that stupid castle anyway.

But when he did find her, and she knew that he would eventually, Lucy was sure that things wouldn't end well. Natsu would be devastated at the sight of her battered, bloody body lying crumpled on the stained stone floor in that god-awful smelling room. She was positive it had been used as a toilet by some beast, the stench was that horrendous.

But she was digressing. She couldn't help it. Her mind was everywhere and nowhere all at once in this timeless, empty void of a space. Except it wasn't empty. She knew that it wasn't, because there was most definitely something touching her, sliding along her arms and legs and across her cheeks. Through her hair.

At least it felt nice.

Slowly, her eyes opened. When had they closed? Well, she could only assume that she'd closed them simply because there hadn't really been anything to look at. Or maybe her eyes hadn't really been closed at all, and she just couldn't comprehend the possibility that whatever she was seeing right then had suddenly manifested out of nowhere and nothing - or was it everywhere and from everything? Maybe her vision had gone from being filled with blackness to this grey wash that bled into a soft sepia, and finally muted colors so quickly that it seemed to happen out of nowhere, but so gradually that she wasn't shocked by the change.

Was that possible at all?

"Man, they did a number on you."

Lucy's head turned toward the soft, rasping voice behind her. It was so soft that she couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman speaking, and when she found a vaguely humanoid lump of drab grey fabric just beside her, their identity still wasn't clear.

"You should've been pulled out of Limbo weeks ago."

Weeks? She'd only just gotten a hole in her chest. She knew that.

"Yeah, this isn't Limbo. I guess you could call it Limbo-adjacent, but from my understanding there's not really a heaven or hell until you've been reincarnated at least 17 times. Or something like that."

This thing didn't sound all that sure about it. That definitely made her a little uneasy.

"I'll have to check the handbook again."

It needed a handbook?! Oh, this wasn't good.

"Still can't talk?" the clothes asked. "I'll make it simple and give you yes or no for now. Talk when you can, because you've got places to be."

Lucy nodded. At least she could do that.

The clothes floated a few paces away from her, hovering nearly a foot off the ground. Lucy looked down at the empty space beneath this strange being, then at the ground itself. What in the world was this made of? Some sort of shifting bronze material bled into shimmering golds and pinks. Her toes wriggled to test what it felt like. How she knew that her boots were gone escaped her, but it didn't feel like a liquid. It sure looked like liquid though. How strange.

"Here's what this boils down to," the figure said, and she had to struggle to force her attention away from the ground and back up to what she assumed was where its face was. There was a shape that seemed like shoulders there, and another that she could only assume was some semblance of a head, so that was where she settled her gaze. "You're dead."

She knew that much already. It wasn't that hard to figure out.

"You'll have three options to choose from for your next life." The figure gestured behind it toward a wall made from very solid stone. "You'll go through the door, live in that body for a day, then return here."

Her brows furrowed. How would she get back here? Where was here?

"Once you go through the door, you won't remember your past life, or being here. You'll have all the memories of that life, in that world," it continued. "But when you're here, you'll remember everything. The life you came from, and what you experienced there."

Lucy nodded. She wasn't sure if she followed, entirely, but she was trying.

"Then you'll go through the second door," the figured sighed. It sounded bored. How many times had it said this same little speech? Was this its only job? "Same deal. You won't remember the life you came from, being here, or even the life in the first door. You'll spend a day in that world. When you come back here, you'll remember everything. The life you just came from, being here, the life in the first door, being here again, then the life in the second door."

Sweet Mavis, this thing rambled.

"Then you'll go through the third door. You won't remember the life you came from, being here, the life in the first door, being here again, the life in the second door, or being here a third time. You'll spend a day in that world. When you come back here, you'll remember everything. The life you just came from, being here, the life in the first door, being here again, the life in the second door, being here a third time, the life in the third door, and being here again."

Lucy nodded again. Slower this time. Did it think she was stupid?

"Once you come back from the third door, you'll have one day to choose which life you want to be reincarnated into. You'll pick back up in that life once I send you through the door a second time. So, whatever happens there when you leave, that's where you start."

Did that mean that her being reincarnated wasn't going to be something like her being born again, and having to live life as a child?

"Once you start that new life, you'll lose all memories of everything that came before it. You'll only have memories of that life: the ones that have been created for it, and those from the time you were in that world after going through the door the first time," the figure continued.

Did that mean that she would have manufactured memories? What about the people she'd interacted with in that new life before actually becoming the consciousness behind the body? Were their memories also manufactured? Or was she taking someone else's body and putting her soul into it, and just kicking out some other soul?

Oh god, what if one of these doors had her stuck in quicksand, on the verge of dying? Would she have to die again?!

Or what if she was stuck in prison?! She definitely didn't want a life that was spent that way!

"You look freaked out. Did I forget to mention that what's behind each of these doors is a result of the way you lived your previous life? That's how this works, you know. If you were a murderer, well… Not many good options. I once had a guy come in here, and he got to choose from a dung beetle, a crack baby, and a turkey."

Holy shit, this thing was insane. What kind of options were those?!

"He chose the turkey, got slaughtered the following Thanksgiving."

It almost sounded like this thing was trying not to laugh about it. Honestly, she probably would have chosen being the baby, crack-addiction and all. At least she could try and overcome her circumstances, assuming she survived until adolescence. But to choose a turkey? What was that guy's malfunction that he'd chosen to be a bird? And not just any bird, a stupid bird. A bird who was known for drowning itself in rainwater just because it couldn't be bothered to stop staring at the sky. Clearly, that guy deserved to be reincarnated as a stupid turkey who got slaughtered and trussed up on a plate, then slathered with gravy.

"I bet he was dry as hell," she mumbled.

The figure's shoulder-humps shuddered and curved forward slightly. Lucy bit her lips when she heard it snort. "That was a good one. I'll have to remember that for the next soul who comes in."

Lucy shivered only slightly when the wispy material of its grey fabric body brushed against her bare shoulders. It only made her (finally) aware of the fact that she was actually naked. Except for once, she just didn't care. This figure didn't even have eyes to see her with that she could tell. And even if it did have eyes to see her, what was another pair of tits to some being who had probably seen more than its fair share of naked human bodies while guiding them through the reincarnation process?

"Now, any questions before we get started? You're already way behind."

Lucy's lips pursed and she looked at the door he was guiding her toward with its silvery arch and strange runic symbols etched around the jamb. The door itself was nothing more than some kind of wood. She almost wished that she'd asked Laki about the different types of wood, just to be able to identify what this door was made from. But maybe that still wouldn't have helped her at all. Maybe this was some sort of Bitch, you dead! wood.

"No questions? Alright then."

Lucy gasped when she was pushed toward the door, turning back toward the grey clothes that still hovered a foot above the ground. "How do I get back?!"

Its arm-like appendages lifted, and it shrugged. That was the last thing she saw before her body shimmered through the Bitch, you dead! door, and then Lucy was left with the distinct feeling that she didn't want to be reincarnated in this life at all. Not if she was going to be doused in ice cold water from a bucket, like she was right then.


Chapter Text

Lucy gasped as freezing cold water splashed down onto her head, rousing her from a dead sleep. She sat up quickly, scrambled in the wet silk sheets while trying to fight her way to freedom. Preferably out of the damn bed.

"What the actual fuck, Laxus?!" she screeched. She didn't need to see him standing a few feet away from her with a mostly empty cup in his hand to know he was the one who'd done it. It wasn't like they had any children who would pull a prank like this on their sleeping mother, after all.

"I told you to wake up thirty minutes ago," he said, pausing to take a sip of the drink that was still in his cup.

She looked down at the clock with a frown. Two-thirty. Lucy vaguely remembered him coming into the room and telling her to wake up, just like she'd asked him to do. And she'd nodded and agreed easily that she was in the process of getting up already, that he wouldn't have to worry about a thing because she wouldn't fall back asleep. But it had been two in the afternoon when he'd come in. That was when she'd wanted to wake up.

So, he was in the right as far as the time was concerned. Still, her eyes narrowed at him. "Was it really necessary to pour water on me?" she hissed.

Laxus simply shrugged. "I tried calling you. No answer." Then he turned on his heel and strode out of the room, his hulking shoulders and thin waist drawing Lucy's attention in an instant. Just like they always did. Fuck, she loved how that grey shirt stretched over his body, how it was tucked into his black slacks. Just the sound of his shoes lightly tapping on the polished wood floor of her bedroom had her fighting back a blush sometimes.

"Don't pour fucking water on me!" she yelled at his back once he'd reached the door.

He paused and glared at her over his shoulder. "Then stop being a lazy fucking cunt, and get out of bed for a change." He walked away, but still made sure she could hear how he added on, "Shitty fucking gold-digging wife."

Lucy muttered a whole slew of curses under her breath while finally detaching her legs from the soaked silk sheets. She padded across her bedroom and over to the tall cream-colored double doors leading to her en suite bath. With a single pass of her hand over the panel on the wall, sconces all around the bathroom lit up in a gentle wash of rose-colored light. Normally, that was enough to set her at ease, just a slight change from the harsh yellow light of normal bulbs.

She'd been so lucky to have found a man like him. Someone who understood her aversion to bright lights, and had the ability to accommodate her needs. When they'd first gotten married, Laxus had promised her the world. And he'd delivered far beyond what she could have ever hoped or dreamed. It hadn't all been outlandish claims from a man in love. It had been simple truths from a man… Well, she wasn't sure if he'd ever really loved her.

She'd loved him, though. At some point in the past seven years, Lucy was sure that she'd actually loved him. Those days, she wasn't all that sure.

With a soft sigh, she peeled off her soaked nightgown and dropped it to the floor. The maid could come and get it later.

Lucy paused and looked down at her naked flesh. She was lucky, she knew. Laxus never hit her. There were so many women in her brunch meetups and book clubs whose affluent husbands took out their stress on their wives' bodies, forcing the women to resort to expensive makeups to cover up the bruises. They all had to be camera-ready at a moment's notice. One never knew when the paparazzi may appear. Still, they had something she didn't. Something she couldn't.

Her hand brushed across her flat stomach and the scar reaching from her navel downward. No, she couldn't think about that. She absolutely refused to think about that one stupid decision she'd made before meeting Laxus that had left her a barren mess of a woman. He knew all about it - what kind of wife would she have been trying to keep it from him, when he would have found out eventually anyway? - and he'd told her that it wasn't important.

He said they didn't need children. Even when she told him that she would've loved to have them three months into their marriage, he'd just waved it away with that damned smirk of his and moved on to another topic.

Back then, she'd been so happy that he hadn't wanted to keep talking about it. At the time, she hadn't really been ready to talk about it at all. Well, he'd already known about it when she'd brought up wanting to have kids. That was how they'd met, after all.

She'd forced herself to do it, to tell him about her abortion gone wrong, and when he hadn't pushed for more or judged her for the decision… she'd latched onto him.

He'd been a beacon of light in her darkest hour, sitting on that park bench in the rain.

God, she could remember so clearly how the rain had soaked through her clothes and hidden her silent tears as the sun set. How he'd come strolling down the path with his freshly pressed suit and umbrella, and how he'd stopped when he saw her. Their eyes met and, almost as though he was the lightning that flashed overhead, she'd been overwhelmed.

He took one single look at her, and that had been it. Laxus had set his newspaper on the wet bench and took a seat beside her, held his umbrella over both of them, and asked so gently if she was alright.

She'd still been recovering from the infection that had wrought hell on her incision site when she told him.

He'd been the one who, without knowing anything more about her, took her to a hospital and had her treated. She hadn't had money for something like that, and before she could even tell him that she couldn't pay the bill… He'd shushed her and said he would take care of everything.

He'd been taking care of her ever since that night.

Lucy's gaze lifted to the mirror and she winced at the sight of bags under her eyes.

Why could she never sleep enough to get rid of this exhaustion that permeated her bones?

It didn't matter. She had ways of getting rid of them. It was a bit time-consuming, but there wasn't really anything else for her to do. She went through the process of applying her moisturizer, concealer, and foundation, then the rest of her makeup so she would be presentable. She would still need to find some clothes - and dry herself off - but that could wait another minute. First, she needed her little green and yellow pills to make everything alright again.

A slow smile stretched over her rose-stained lips as she lifted her martini and took a sip. Across from her, Laxus talked shop with one of his business associates. She couldn't remember the man's name, but it wasn't all that important. What was important was how dry her drink was. And that she had three olives in it. And that it was dirty.

Laxus hated how she liked her martinis, but he wasn't the one drinking them. And he more than likely wouldn't even try kissing her anyway, so what did it matter if her mouth tasted like she'd been drinking out of the olive jar?

Fuck, she couldn't remember the last time he'd tried to kiss her.

"Sweetheart, could you go and check with the chef? See when dinner should be ready," Laxus asked gently. He always sounded like that when they had company. And usually when he was trying to impress someone. Did that mean this guy was some big shot whose ass he needed to kiss? Probably.

"Of course, dear," she giggled. Mixing those pills with her martini was a genius idea, she realized while gracefully standing from her seat at the table. She discreetly brushed a hand across the skirt of her dress to make sure the flowing material hadn't bunched up. She kept one hand on her glass while sashaying away from the men and toward the kitchen.

"Mr. Dreyar, I must say, the way your wife looks at you is making me envious," the business associate chuckled.

Laxus huffed out a cocky laugh, and Lucy glanced at them over her shoulder before she rounded a corner. She found his stormy eyes drinking in the way her pale blue vintage dress cinched around her waist and flared at her hips. "Sorry, Jim. She's all mine."

She could feel his gaze pressing against her, sliding down her legs and then back up until he was looking right back at her. Her cheeks flushed when one corner of his lips quirked a little more than normal. That was the same look he gave her from time to time, those nights when they would actually share a bed as though they were a normal married couple. Did that mean he was done with this cold shoulder he'd been giving her?

Oddly enough, as Lucy's heels clacked on the tile of the kitchen and closer toward the chef whose tongue always hung from his mouth when he told her a joke, she found herself just a little excited by the prospect of her husband giving her a bit of attention for a change.

"Can I get one more?" she asked, holding her empty martini glass out to the chef who really wasn't even supposed to be there anymore. Dinner had long since finished, and she was already done with her fourth drink for the night.

She knew that she shouldn't have another. He also knew that she was far too drunk to be asking for more. But he still made the drink just the way she liked it, and he didn't say a word while she popped more pills into her mouth and chased them away with the strong drink.

"I saw Mr. Dreyar left," the chef said, turning back to the ingredients he'd laid out on the counter. She blinked slowly while looking at them. She wasn't entirely sure what he was planning on making them into, but she did know that he liked to prep their breakfast foods the night before. It made his mornings easier, and she could definitely appreciate an easy morning.

Not that she ever ate the breakfasts he cooked. She usually wasn't awake for them.

"Yeah," she sighed, taking a larger sip of her drink. The bite wasn't nearly strong enough, but she still smiled when she saw that there were four olives in it. He remembered that she liked four olives after having two martinis. And since she was on her fifth for the night, well… At least something was going right. "Something with work came up, so he went to the office."

The soft snort drifting through the air was no surprise. It wasn't a secret in this house that her husband spent time at the office late at night so he could lay his secretary out on her slutty little back and bunch up her too-tight pencil skirt around her waist.

They just never said it out loud.

At least Laxus had the decency to cover his tracks, but she was sure it had more to do with avoiding the tabloids getting wind of it than to spare her feelings. And his reputation. She didn't have much of a name to slander without Laxus, so it didn't matter to her if people found out he was fucking Flare. That redhaired bitch.

"So how did you like dinner?"

She shook her head to clear it a little and looked back at the chef. He wasn't looking at her, far more focused on dicing celery on the cutting board. But his voice sounded light and cheery. "I always love what you cook," she said. Lucy finished off her drink and tried to set the empty glass on the counter. The bottom caught on the edge and tipped over, but she ignored the sudden clang in the stillness of the room when his bright crimson eyes turned sharply toward her. Just when her fingers brushed across his elbow.


"Bickslow," she said, never breaking eye contact. "Is there something wrong with me?"

He blinked repeatedly, his brows furrowing over his beautifully shaped eyes. "No, ma'am," he said.

"Why doesn't he want me then?" she asked. "Why did he leave me here, when…" She looked at the celery instead, watching as he gently set the knife on the counter. "When he knows how I feel?"

"I honestly can't say," Bickslow replied. His voice was so quiet she nearly strained to hear him. His fingers hooked under her chin, forcing her gaze away from the stainless steel counter and back up to him. "But I can tell you that, if you'd like…"

She loved how he smiled down at her, and seeing the little tattoo on his tongue peeking out as she breathed him in.

"I can help you forget about him again. It's been a while, hasn't it?"

She didn't need to nod. He already knew exactly what she wanted. It was clear in the way his hands dwarfed her waist and lifted so she sat perched on the edge of the counter. Bickslow removed his apron slowly, brushing his nose along hers and never letting their lips touch. He knew just how much she ached for that one small act. That single connection that made her feel less like she was drowning in Prozac and gin and vermouth.

He was always such a tease when they were like this. But it was never malicious. Bickslow just liked to draw things out as much as possible, then give Lucy exactly what she wanted only moments before she was reduced to begging for it.

They weren't frantic or trembling while removing just enough clothing to join their bodies. She appreciated even more that Bickslow always made sure to take her panties off entirely, even if he preferred leaving her heels on.

He'd told her once that he loved how her legs looked in heels, especially when they were on his shoulders.

Sex with Bickslow wasn't wild or vicious. He didn't toss her around like some caveman while he sought to sate himself, without a care for her own needs. No, Bickslow was gentle, loving as he caressed her thighs that spread around his hips as he eased into her. He made her feel cherished with each slow roll of his hips.

Lucy's hands brushed across his purple chef's jacket and up to his broad shoulders. She'd wanted this with Laxus. She'd hoped that was where their night was heading with how he'd looked at her earlier. It had just been wishful thinking though, and Lucy should have known better. She should have known that, no matter how she thought her husband was looking at her, he wasn't seeing her that way. He was just imagining someone else in her place.

Bickslow's lips briefly passed over hers, and she wanted to cry at the tenderness in his every touch. How every hot, thick inch of him filled her. She whimpered a soft breath against his trembling lips as his arms barred around her, pulling her tightly against his chest. His hushed moan as her tongue speared into his mouth - drawing his own longer tongue into a sensual dance - had her head spinning.

"Fuck," he gasped, slowing his strokes. "I'm-"

"It's alright." She nipped lightly at his lips and looked up at him with half-lidded eyes that were hazed over in equal parts lust and her own personal cocktail to numb the pain.

His brows furrowed slightly and his hips slowed further. One hand pushed beneath her dress and his thumb brushed over the scar that acted as a constant reminder of her stupidity. But she didn't want to dwell on it, even though he knew just what she was telling him without saying the words. Oh, Bickslow knew alright.

Because two months before that night she'd met Laxus in the rain, she'd been in Bickslow's bed. She'd been loving him with her whole heart and believing they had everything they would ever need. But he'd broken up with her just three weeks before she found out that she was pregnant. And she'd scrounged up every bit of money she could to get rid of the mistake they'd made.

It was her stupidity that led her to that shady doctor, that told her to trust the man who worked above a run-down barbershop on 46th Street.

If she'd gone back to Bickslow and told him she was pregnant, that she wanted to get rid of it… Lucy knew that he would have helped her. He'd always been a good man. But no. She'd wanted to do it herself, and had paid the price.

It wasn't until two years after she and Laxus got married that Bickslow came back into her life. As their new chef. He'd always been such a great cook. She'd been surprised to find out that he'd finally gone to culinary school like he'd wanted to.

"It's alright," she gasped, grabbing onto the back of his neck with one hand. Her fingers brushed against the short blue hairs at the nape of his neck, then sifted higher through his mohawk. "Bix…"

He groaned and kissed her more fervently, pushing her down onto the counter. She could feel the celery he'd been cutting dig into her back every time he rocked into her.

She understood it. Lucy never said his name like that anymore, not even when they were like this. Because he still loved her with all his heart - he'd admitted that it was stupid for him to break up with her all those years ago, and he wished every day that he'd done things differently - and she felt the same way. But they couldn't be together. Not like they once were.

She didn't deserve the love he had for her in spades. She'd lost the right to feel anything from him or anyone else the day she'd let that hack slice into her.

"I love you," Bickslow rasped. He kissed her again in short bursts. "Baby, I love you so much."

This was why she always came back to him in secret. It wasn't just because Laxus didn't love her and probably never would. It wasn't because she was just left unfulfilled in her marriage. It was because Bickslow did love her, and she loved him right back in the only way she knew how those days. It didn't matter to him that she was a broken, pathetic husk of the woman she'd once been. It didn't matter that she'd changed in the past seven years, that she could no longer wake up before noon without taking those pills that dulled her senses and chasing it with a mimosa. Bickslow still loved her.

"F-Fuck, baby," Bickslow gasped. "Oh, fuck."

He was close, and taking her right along with him. Lucy was so lost in Bickslow and the sudden pleasure streaking through her otherwise numb center that she didn't feel the knife he'd been using on the celery slice into her forearm as it slid over the counter. No, all she felt were his hands as they desperately kneaded her thighs, her breasts, shakily brushed through her hair.

"I love you, Bix."

"Shit, yes." His hand shot between them, his thumb finding her clit with a practiced ease. He smiled down at her, watching as her back arched. "Say it again."

This was her secret. "I love you."

He groaned and his pace quickened as they breathed the same air. "Again, baby."

"I love you." This was her one selfish vice. She wanted to be loved, to be able to feel something that didn't make her want to give up every single day.

"Again." She didn't notice his eyes widening in horror when her hand lifted from the counter and she smeared her bloody fingers across his cheek. "Shit-"

Being with him was the only thing that made her feel alive those days. "Bix, I… I love you!" Her back bowed from the counter as she broke apart around him. He ground against her, prolonging her bliss as he finally lost the will to hold his own release back.

"You're bleeding," he panted.

"Shut up."

"Baby, no-"

Her eyes slid open as his hips twitched, blankly staring over at her forearm and the long gash running down it. She simply watched as he pulled his apron from somewhere she couldn't see and wrapped it around her arm.


"That looks bad…" She shivered when he pulled away, taking his warmth from between her legs. Moments later, Bickslow dragged her up to a sitting position. She couldn't keep herself upright though. Maybe that fifth martini really hadn't been a great idea. Not with another dose of her pills, at least.

Bickslow lightly tapped her cheek, then lifted her chin. "Let's get you cleaned up, okay?"

"Not the hospital," she said. "Laxus will think I tried to kill myself again."

"Lucy…" He sighed when she shook his hand from her chin and cuddled closer to his chest. Maybe she hadn't told him about that. Maybe he hadn't known about it at all. She'd thought he did. Bickslow knew everything about her.

"I'm sorry."

But as his arms wrapped around her and her blood soaked into his apron and dripped onto the stainless steel countertop, Lucy felt his lips press against her hair. "Don't be, baby," he whispered. "I'm here. I'll take care of you."

It broke her heart even more to hear those words from him, and somehow… some way… she knew he wasn't lying to her.

"Promise?" She tilted her head back only slightly to look up at him.

He gave her a tender smile, one full of patience. "I've been promising it to you since we were five years old, baby." She let out a weak laugh as his lips pressed against hers one more time. It might not have been the way Laxus had promised to take care of her - buying her things whenever she wanted, taking her on trips to far off locales - but this was better. It had always been better with Bickslow.

When Lucy's eyes opened again, she was with her grey fabric tour guide in the place that wasn't Limbo. Tears welled on her lashes the longer she looked at the faceless being in front of her. She hadn't meant to let out a small, pathetic whimper, but it escaped. And once it did, she curled in on herself and crumpled to the floor as her tears broke free. What she hadn't expected was for the grey fabric to kneel beside her, wrapping something that felt distinctly like a real arm around her shuddering shoulders. It pulled her close and quietly sighed as she cried against its very solid chest.

Chapter Text

"Why all the tears?" the grey figure asked after several minutes of her crying all over its chest. With it sitting so close to her, she could actually feel the soft rumble of its voice. And still, she couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman.

"It was horrible," she cried. The figure had been right. She hadn't remembered anything of her life in Fairy Tail while she'd been in that world. All that had filled her head and heart were the memories of her life in that strange place. Memories of Bickslow being her friend since kindergarten, growing up with him living right next door to her. Of loving him so fiercely, she'd been brought to tears on more than one occasion.

And then the abortion. She remembered the pain of waking up and finding out she'd been butchered so severely by that wannabe doctor. And even worse was the pain when she'd gotten an infection and hadn't been able to pay for treatment. She'd nearly died. If it hadn't been for Laxus coming along, she probably would have.

She had so many memories filling her head right then as she knelt on the floor in this Not Limbo place.

And if her heart hadn't hurt from the knowledge that this other Lucy loved Bickslow, but was too broken and self-medicated to break off her pathetic excuse for a marriage to Laxus and be with the man she really loved… then the fact that this could have been her life back in Earthland most certainly broke something inside of her.

If she'd never left the Konzern, that would have been her lot in life. A marriage to a rich man that she didn't love was the last thing she would ever want for herself. It was what she'd run away from, and she'd found her freedom with Fairy Tail.

She just couldn't imagine willingly choosing to live like that. Loving a man who wasn't the one she'd married, numbing herself from the pain of a life that had been filled with regret. She didn't want to ever return there, drinking herself into a stupor and popping pills just to try and brighten up her days.

But those pills didn't do that. Maybe they were supposed to, but all she'd felt was this gut-wrenching emptiness inside of her. And the only thing that had made it any better was having Bickslow's arms around her. His lips on hers, hearing that he still loved her even though he knew she was far beyond fixing.

God, that thought alone was almost more than she could fathom. It was Bickslow. He wasn't supposed to be so tender and sweet like that. Her other self had memories of him being a silly little goofball - just like she remembered of him from Earthland - but the way he'd treated her in the kitchen. That wasn't the mage she knew.

And that Laxus wasn't the Lightning Slayer she'd come to care so deeply for as nakama. He wasn't that sort of man. There was no way he would marry someone for the reasons that other Laxus had, and she was sure that he wouldn't cheat on his wife. Laxus was devoted and loyal. He was awkward as hell when trying to have a normal conversation most times, but the few glimpses she'd gotten of him with Cana had been adorable. Those two were so ridiculously in love with each other.

"Don't rule it out just yet," the figure whispered against her hair.

"I'll never go back there."

"It couldn't have been that bad."

"It was my worst nightmare," she whimpered. "I don't want that."

"How so?"

"I was married to…" Her red-rimmed eyes widened as she looked up at the figure's faceless head. "Laxus."

"Ah. You knew him in your old life?"

"Does that mean he's dead?" she asked urgently. "Him and Bickslow. They were both there. Was that… Was that the real them?"

When the figure didn't say a word one way or the other, she knew. She felt it deep within her bones. Well, maybe not her bones. She wasn't alive, so maybe she didn't actually have bones right then. Maybe she was just a humanoid manifestation of her soul.

"How?" she asked.

It sighed and drew back from her. Lucy desperately wanted to move closer, regardless of her lack of clothing, and soak in the warming chill of that fabric against her. Anything to chase away this dreadful ache in her chest at the realization that she wasn't the only one of her friends from back home who had died.

"Please," she said. "Please tell me how they died. How were they there?"

"You aren't the only one who goes through this," it said. She watched with a curious tilt to her head as it shifted and seemed to cross its invisible legs to get more comfortable on the floor. "I can't tell you whether that's the life they chose for themselves. You aren't allowed to know where others go when they're reincarnated."

Lucy nodded and crossed her legs as well. She wiped away her tears, pouring every ounce of her attention into this conversation.

"There are multiple iterations of each person across hundreds of thousands of universes," it said slowly. She wondered if it was being very careful of the words it used. Maybe she wasn't supposed to know any of this. Maybe it was bending several rules just telling her this much. "Take you for example. The life you just came from is only one possibility for your existence. There are millions of other Lucys, living their own lives. When one of you dies, you're reincarnated into another version of yourself. In another world entirely. You're never brought back to the world you'd left before."

"And the others are the same?"

"They're not necessarily dead," it said. "It's possible that those are the Laxus and Bickslow you knew, if they had died. If not, then it's just another universe's version of them."

"That couldn't have been them," she said with a frown. "I just know it. They weren't acting like themselves."

"Were you acting like your normal self from the world you came from?" The grey fabric leaned forward and rested an arm on its leg, then propped its head on the end of its arm. She found it so strange, how this unnatural being acted so much like a human. Was it actually a human under there? "Was popping pills and drinking yourself stupid your standard fare for existing the last time you were alive?"

Her mouth opened to deny it instantly. That wasn't the type of person that she was. She hadn't even really been one for drinking all that often when she'd been with Fairy Tail. And her guild was known for being able to knock back more than a few cold ones.

But when she thought about it, if Lucy hadn't been acting like herself - even though that was how she always acted when she was living that life - then maybe that Laxus and that Bickslow hadn't been acting like their normal selves either. Or maybe they weren't even dead at all, and those really weren't even the souls of the men she'd known from Earthland.

But if those were their souls, did that mean that the men she'd known didn't exist any longer? Because she hadn't been herself, not really. That wasn't the Lucy she wanted to be, or the one that she would recognize as being truly her. That woman looked like her, but she definitely didn't act the way Lucy would have.

"What is a soul?" she asked, more to herself than the figure who could more than likely give her an actual answer. Well, that was assuming it wasn't against some predetermined rule that she could have no hope of knowing about.

"It's what gives you life." The figure's other arm lifted and it gestured toward her in a vague, swishing circle. "This is your essence, the basis of your entire existence. But it's also the you that existed in that world you came from. There are other souls of other Lucys out there in the ether, living their truth and all that jazz."

"Did you just Oprah me?"

"I did." She was positive that it was staring at her with a look that dared her to laugh. How odd that she could tell something like that.

"So how do I know if I'm the real Lucy, or if one of the other Lucys is actually the real Lucy, and I'm just some imposter?"

It sighed and shook its head. "They told me you'd ask a lot of questions…"



Lucy frowned and leaned a little closer, watching as it leaned back to keep the distance between them. Was it afraid of her for some reason? No, that couldn't be right. It was an immortal being who'd had no issue holding her while she'd been crying. She was just some soul, after all.

"I don't think I can answer that one," it finally said. "Because then it gets into the nitty gritty of how things work after you've hit your reincarnation quota. That's not my department."

"Is the afterlife really departmentalized?"

"Why wouldn't it be?" it chuckled. "It's more efficient this way. All I do is guide souls like yourself through their options, then send them on their way once they've made their choice for the next life."

"But how do you know I'm not supposed to go to another department?"

"There's a number on your forehead."

"What?!" she shrieked. As soon as her hands came up to cover her face, she heard it laugh. The sound was low and full-bellied, but it wasn't malicious. Though the figure's voice did warble in such a strange way when it really laughed.

She wanted to glare at it, but when her narrowed eyes fell on the figure again, it fell backward onto the floor and just kept laughing.

"You fell for it! I can't believe you actually fell for it!" the figure yelled between laughs. It wheezed, and that in itself had Lucy smiling. She hadn't been aware that robe-clad tour guides would have the lung capacity to wheeze. Or lungs at all. "No one ever falls for that one!"

"You have far too much time on your hands," she muttered. Lucy tried to secretly rub her forehead, just in case, but she knew the moment her companion saw what she was doing.

It took a little while for it to calm down and stop laughing so much, but once it did, she heard it sigh again while slowly sitting up. "Not really," it said. "I'm actually already dealing with… 3,497 other souls while also helping you."

Her eyes widened at that. "Are you really?"

It nodded.


"Pocket dimensions. You just layer them like Pringles."

"So these pocket dimensions are actually flat? Or not entirely flat, but a little curved so they fit better?"

"In a sense. Each one is infinitely small, and infinitely vast at the same time," it said. "You have to think, they're just rooms like this, so I don't really need much space for each one. And even if I did need more than just a room, do you have any idea how small a soul is?"

"Not really," she giggled.

It reached forward and the fabric wrapped around her hand - she could feel five very distinct fingers beneath the swathes of grey, and when she focused on it a little more she realized that it was more like several layers of thin gauze-like material covering something that had to be some semblance of human. It grabbed just one of her fingers and held it with the pad facing upward. "A human soul, while it produces more than enough energy to fill a human's body with life and vitality, is actually half the size of the space between two ridges of your fingerprint."

"Th-That's all?"

"That's all," it whispered.

Lucy shivered slightly when the fabric shifted just enough for her to feel warm skin brushing against her own. But it was gone in an instant, and her companion pulled its arm back to its side, then stood in a motion that was entirely fluid. Almost as though the being beneath had lost cohesion in its form and only the fabric itself remained for a fraction of a second.

"We're wasting time. You need to go to the second door."

Lucy winced and stood as well. That was the last thing she wanted to hear. The prospect of living another life - even for just a day - didn't seem all that appealing to her. Especially not after what she'd just gone through. Maybe she could stall a bit more. "Um…"

The figure turned toward her, waiting for her to speak.

"You said that the lives I can choose from are based on the person I was before."

"I did."

"So why…" How did she ask this? What had she done to deserve that level of pain in her life? Had she done something wrong? Was she not a good enough person? Had she been too selfish? "Why did I…"

"That's not something I can tell you," it said, though she could swear it sounded just a little saddened over that fact. "Just know that things could be much worse than what lies ahead of you. So much worse…"

"Do I want to know?" she asked. Lucy was positive that she really didn't want to know how much worse it could be.

"Remember the turkey guy?" She nodded and took a step closer when it held out an arm for her to follow along as they moved to the next door. "That wasn't the worst I've seen."

Surely it had to be joking.

"A woman came in once. Everyone is supposed to have three choices, but the life she'd lived beforehand only left her with one option."

She stopped when a door appeared in the wall in front of them with glowing red runes running along the jamb. "Wh-What was it?"

"Not all universes are pleasant places," it said, its voice low and controlled. "Some of them… You wouldn't wish that existence on your worst enemy… She never stood a chance there."

"Where did she go?"

"It was a place where women are enslaved. And not just the normal hard labor kind. She came back here, ready for her second option, and she looked so… damaged. The things those devils did to her… And she was still a human there, being used for breeding. I had to…" It shook its head and Lucy's stomach dropped and twisted into a knot. "I had to trick her into going through the door, because that was her only choice. And when you go through a second time…"

"You don't come back," she whispered in horror.

Its fabric-covered hand pressed gently against the small of her back, gently nudging her toward the door. "That's not the case with you, though. I promise, this isn't the same place as that last one."

She wasn't sure if she could trust it, though.

"If it makes you feel better, I peeked into this one before you came back. This Lucy does seem to be happier with her circumstances."

It didn't make her feel better. Not at all.

"It'll be alright," it said, nudging her again. "I'll be right here when you get back."


Lucy wasn't sure why, but just the thought of being able to return to this place did set her at ease. And knowing that she would have someone waiting for her, ready to welcome her back and comfort her if she needed it… It had her feet moving closer to the door without even trying.

"I promise." Her companion took her hand in its own, and she gasped at the feeling of warm, strong, calloused fingers brushing over her palm. "I'll wait for you."

Lucy didn't have a chance to say anything more before the door opened and wisping tendrils of shadows reached out to wrap around her. She was dragged backward into the doorway, and just before it closed and bathed her in darkness, she caught the barest glimpse of the figure lifting its hand and baring a very human palm as it waved at her.

Chapter Text

In a perfect world, everyone existed as equals. Men and women stood side-by-side, working together to create a better and brighter future - the likes of which none had ever before imagined possible. There would be no slavery, no beatings in full view of the public that everyone ignored in favor of staying wrapped up in their own lives. Men wouldn't follow along like dogs, dragged by thin chains around their throats that tightened the harder the women who owned them pulled.

Lucy didn't live in a perfect world, regardless of what others around her believed. No matter how many ads she saw on the large screens over shoppes and boutiques in the merchant district for obedience training, she knew that it was never something she would want. She didn't want to own another person.

As a Siren, it was expected of her. She was supposed to relish in having her own harem of followers - whole scores of men lining up to be at her beck and call, serving her every little whim all because of the stark white feathered wings and golden hair that heralded her lineage far louder than any blaring speaker could. But the thought of something like that made her skin crawl and her feathers shudder. It sent her stomach into knots even considering taking just one man in to appease her father's wishes.

Of course, no one knew that her father was one of the few men in this world who was no longer bound to his wife's enslavement. Only Lucy knew that her mother was dead - having fallen ill years ago and not bounced back from it - and that Jude carried on the business from behind the scenes in Layla's name. No one was aware of the fact that Lucy had been mostly raised by her father. Then again, maybe that was why she didn't want to own a man. She'd seen the way her own father had been treated, and she wanted no part in it.

Jude was kind and loving. He didn't deserve the bruises on his throat from her mother pulling at his chain until he'd fallen unconscious. And he'd raised Lucy to understand the difference between love and… torture. That was all she could call it.

"You honor us with your presence, m'lady! Please, let me know if there's anything you need."

Her golden gaze slid to the side to find a small, thin man cowering on his knees beside her, just inside the doors of the little grocery store she'd stopped in. A moment later, a stiletto boot came crashing down in the center of his bare back, pressing him to the floor. Lucy's gaze slid higher to find a woman with bright red hair and onyx, leathery wings smiling sweetly at her.

"My apologies," the woman said. "He's still in training. He won't bother you again." Her face contorted into a sneer as she glared down at the squirming man. "Will you, you little flea?"

"N-No, ma'am! I - argh!"

Lucy tore her gaze from the scene and continued walking into the store, ignoring his pained cries as his owner's boot twisted on his back, digging the heel in until his skin split and blood trickled down his side.

"You've gotten my floor dirty!"

Lucy made her way to the produce section. She needed avocados.

"Clean faster!"

Her father had said he wanted guacamole to go along with the meal he was preparing, and she'd volunteered to go and get them for him so he could avoid being harassed.

"You pathetic worm!" the woman shrieked. "Greet our customers properly!"

"But you said-"

Lucy grabbed the first avocado just when he was slapped and toppled to the floor. She gently squeezed it, finding the tenderness just beneath the skin to be a little too malleable, and set it back down to test another. A soft gasp preceded small feet padding closer quickly, and Lucy couldn't help but smile when a young girl stopped just beside her.

"Miss," the girl said, her voice breathless and giddy, "Are you really a Siren?"

Lucy turned her smile toward the girl and gave her a small nod. She didn't try to speak. That was something that couldn't happen in public. Her voice was supposed to be a sacred thing, saved only for those who were deserving of its gift. Honestly, Lucy didn't see what was so special about it. Her voice wasn't anything special, really. Except, she'd learned the hard way that - no matter what she thought on the matter - there was something about her voice that could… affect anyone who wasn't also a Siren. To avoid people trying to take advantage of their voices, laws had been put in place centuries ago that banned anyone from asking a Siren to hear them speak - either directly or indirectly.

"Can you not talk?" the girl asked. Lucy watched as her young, pale face scrunched with genuine concern. "Mama says Sirens-"


The girl cringed and her shoulders hunched, allowing Lucy the smallest glimpse of barely sprouting purple wings between Asuka's shoulders. She seemed a bit old to have wings so small. Maybe she was some sort of mix of demons that didn't mesh well together.

Her mother rushed over with her pale green hair flowing freely behind her. Lucy peeked over her shoulder to find a man with short black hair following several paces behind her with his head down. She stopped in front of the girl with hair just like that man's. "You know better than to wander off."

"Sorry, Mama," Asuka said. "But look, she's a Siren."

Asuka's mother gave the little girl the same patient smile that Lucy remembered from her own childhood - that placating little lift of the lips that told other adults they didn't believe what they were hearing one bit - and then their eyes met. She took in Lucy's golden eyes, her blonde hair and white wings. And with each passing second, the green-haired woman standing before her grew more and more pale.

Lucy returned her attention to Asuka and lightly touched the tip of one of her wings. The frail appendages shivered slightly, almost as though she wasn't used to the contact. When Lucy looked back at her mother, she didn't see any wings. There weren't any visible on the man behind her either, but he was wearing something that covered his torso entirely. Some sort of poncho. Maybe he was the one with wings, and her mother didn't have any - there were quite a few species that didn't grow them, after all - and maybe that was why Asuka's were stunted.

"Mama says they're special," Asuka whispered to Lucy. "I'm the only one who's grown 'em with a guy like him and a Mama like her."

So Lucy had been right. She smiled in understanding and nodded again.

"I wish I had wings like yours though. Can I touch them? They look so soft!" Asuka gushed suddenly, causing her mother to choke and tightly grip her shoulder in an obvious attempt at pulling her away from Lucy.

"I'm so sorry," her mother said. "She won't bother you, my lady."

Lucy shook her head and crouched down in front of Asuka, then placed both hands on her cheeks. She stretched out one wing and wrapped it around the little girl's back, and her smile only grew when Asuka laughed with childlike glee at the gentle touch across her cheek. Her small hand lifted and her fingers lightly trailed over Lucy's feathers, pulling a silent laugh from the blonde.

"Are you ticklish?" Asuka giggled.

Lucy nodded quickly. It seemed to brighten the girl's mood even further to find out that this being so many thought of as royalty was actually ticklish.

"Mama says I probably won't ever get to fly," Asuka sighed, still gently petting the feathers surrounding her. "It's my Donor's fault, she says. He's not strong like she thought he was."

Lucy had to stop herself from having any outward reaction to hearing the word Donor for Asuka's father. This poor little girl was already being raised to see men as being beneath her. She didn't even see her own father as anything more than the means to an end he'd been. Even with him standing right there.

But it wasn't Asuka's fault. She knew that. Her mother saw things that way, and passed that perspective on to her child. And while Lucy knew it wasn't her place to force her own opinions on someone so young and impressionable, she was definitely tempted to do it right then. If only to stop Asuka from terrorizing innocent men in the future.

But she couldn't. She wouldn't. She'd promised her father that she would never use her voice to sway someone's mind that way. And Lucy never broke her promises.

Asuka leaned closer and lowered her voice to a whisper that her mother wouldn't be able to hear. "I know it's not his fault. He told me that they got broke when I was born, so they don't grow right. He says Mama decided not to get them cropped, but I don't know what that means..."

Lucy sighed - both with relief that the girl hadn't been tainted by hatred, and with no small amount of pity that she wouldn't get to experience the weightless, freeing sensation of being airborne. She didn't want to understand why the girl's mother would even consider having her wings cut off at the root, then bound with wire to cut off the circulation and permanently scar her so they would never try to regrow.

She bit her lip for a moment, brushing her fingers through Asuka's short black bangs. She touched the small wings again, never looking away from the little girl's wide, innocent eyes. Finally, she pulled back her wing from around Asuka's shoulders and leaned in to press her lips to the young girl's ear. Lucy's eyes closed to avoid seeing the shocked stares of Asuka's parents as her lips parted to speak.

"You're so lucky to have parents that love you the way they do," she whispered. It was a small blessing that she could hear Asuka's mother taking a short, stuttering step back to avoid hearing her voice. "Asuka, can I give you a present?"

Asuka nodded so quickly that Lucy smiled and let out a soft, barely-there laugh.

"One day, you'll fly. I promise. Not with anyone else's power, but with these two wings. They'll grow, and you'll work to make them stronger. To prove everyone who ever believed they were useless wrong. Do you believe in yourself?"

"I-I don't know," Asuka said.

"Well, that's my gift to you," Lucy said. Her eyes opened and locked onto the young girl's mother, whose mouth had dropped open in astonishment over the fact that her daughter was being graced by a Siren's voice. "I believe you can do it. But it won't work unless you believe, too. It'll be hard work…"

"I can do that!" Asuka shouted, causing Lucy to laugh again - a little louder this time. "I swear, I'll do it!"

"That's good to hear," Lucy said, keeping her voice quiet. "I'll come check on you in three years. To the day. Meet me here, at this store, and we'll fly together."

Just before she could pull away, Asuka stopped her with a single question. "What's your name?"

That was something she couldn't say, though Lucy was sure the little girl didn't know that. It wasn't that she was incapable of speaking her own name, just that Siren's never told their names to people they didn't know. To give this little girl the knowledge of her name would be giving her a deeper connection to Lucy, and that wasn't something she wanted in the slightest. The gift of hearing her voice was enough.

Asuka didn't need to know that Lucy had changed her fate by speaking to her. Not from her, at least. She wouldn't interfere anymore than she just had. But she did want to see how much the girl had grown in just a few years.

So, with a sly smile, Lucy pulled away and motioned with her fingers over her lips that her mouth had been zipped shut, locked, and the key had been thrown away. Asuka giggled again.

Lucy stood fully, nodded to the girl's parents, then turned to grab her avocados. As she took them to the register, she smiled to herself at hearing how Asuka tried to tell her parents what had been said to her. Except she couldn't find the words.

Just another perk of being what she was, she supposed. No one could tell another soul what a Siren had said to them. In this case, Asuka would show them.

Three blocks from the estate she lived in with her father, Lucy stopped dead in her tracks. The sight before her was sickening in its own right - and so close to her home that she was definitely unnerved - but she couldn't look away. It was oddly mesmerizing.

A man with waist-length black hair and skin as pale as marble snarled wildly as he fought off a group of three men who were easily twice his size. She couldn't tell why they were fighting in the first place, only that this man was desperately hoping to keep something away from them. Something small and fragile that he was forced to cradle in one arm while swiping wildly at his attackers with the other.

She wanted to intervene, but she couldn't say a thing. And these men seemed to be past caring about whether someone like her interrupted them. She wasn't sure there was a whole lot of anything she could actually do anyway. It wasn't like she was a fighter in any sense of the word. That wasn't the kind of being she was. She'd never had to fight a day in her life. Things had always just been given to her.

Lucy knew that her life was easy in comparison to others.

But damnit, she wanted to help!

"Hand it over!" one man bellowed.

"A shrimp like you don't need it!" shouted another. "We'll cook it up good."

"Fuck you!" the black-haired man roared. He whirled and ducked low to avoid what Lucy belatedly realized was a knife slashing through the air. Aimed right at his face. His movements were quick, calculated, and she was torn between watching the way his hair moved around him and the brief glimpses of his thin body and white flesh that she knew meant he was shirtless.

She'd seen men shirtless before. In all states of undress, really. There were plenty of women who paraded their property around town without a stitch of clothing on, simply to embarrass the men even further.

There was just something so tantalizing about the heavy contrast between his skin and pitch black hair that rooted her feet to the sidewalk.

A bare foot connected with his stomach, making the man stumble back several steps. He adjusted his grip on his precious cargo, but that was enough of a distraction for one hulking man in tattered grey pants to sneak up behind him, grabbing him by his hair and wrenching his head back.

Lucy held in a gasp when she saw the scar running from the bridge of his nose and across the space where his right eye should have been. His only eye was a bright, murderous red that locked onto her instead of the two other men in front of him. He bared his teeth in a snarl that was more animalistic than anything she'd ever seen before.

Was he some sort of lower demon she'd never heard of? No, he couldn't be… He looked too normal to be any of the lesser demonic races.

The sight of small wisps of black smoke at his fingertips drew her attention away from his piercing gaze. Lucy's eyes widened. She ignored how he swiped at the men in front of him, solely focused on the trails of smoke left in his wake as his free arm moved one way and another.

By the time she remembered to blink, it was finished. There was only one person for him to face off against, and two lying in lifeless heaps in front of his bare, dirty feet. Except the one who'd been holding his hair had loosened his grip, and Lucy realized she was the reason for his distraction. His eyes were beady, black as coal from this distance, and sunken too far into his face. And he was staring right at her.

The look on his face spelled trouble. The way he pushed that man with the bright red eye to the ground and started stomping toward her was an even clearer indication that she definitely wasn't safe. Lucy couldn't move. Even while watching him stalk closer, sensing the deadly aura that wafted off of him, she couldn't move. He stopped several paces away, his beady eyes growing wider, and then he fell to his knees in front of her.

It wasn't until she heard an odd, wet sucking sound and he fell face-first on the cement that she saw what had happened. Those wispy bits of smoke retracted from the back of his head and slithered back toward the pale man who was still lying on the ground.

She paid no more attention to the bodies when she noticed the way he'd curled his body around a small bundle of fabric to protect it from when he'd fallen. As she came closer to him, Lucy saw how his fingers twitched, ready to attack her as well.

He didn't say a word, even when she was right in front of him. Not even when she knelt and set her bag of avocados on the sidewalk. When she gestured toward the fabric in his grasp, he shied away from her and sneered.

"What do you want?" he finally spat. His voice was low, a barely controlled growl that was hardly human.

Lucy couldn't speak to him, so she smiled tenderly and lifted her hand. He froze as the pads of her fingers brushed across his cheek, pushing his hair from his face to bare his scar for her to see. This close, she found that it didn't detract from the exotic allure of his high cheekbones, the gentle tilt of his eye and slope of his nose. He was beautiful. And she knew from what she'd just witnessed that he was deadly as well.

He shifted slightly, but the near silence of his movement got her attention. He didn't have a collar?

Lucy glanced around the quiet street and found they were utterly alone. No one had seen a thing. But if this man was found here, unchained and running free, he would be taken into custody and sold. She didn't want that for him. For anyone, really, but definitely not for him. Except she couldn't explain why. Maybe it was because she'd seen him fighting so hard to protect something. Or maybe she was just being sentimental like her father always teased her about.

Whatever the reason, Lucy knew they needed to leave. She couldn't tell him that. He would have to trust her. She already knew that wasn't likely. She was a woman. He had no reason to believe she wouldn't try to enslave him.

A quiet, trembling mewl drew her golden gaze back toward the man in front of her, and the shifting bundle of burlap in his arms. It didn't sound like a child, and it was far too small to be a baby, but it was definitely alive. And moving.

Her eyes widened when a small, green paw peeked out of the fabric. An animal. And a cute one, by what she could tell.

"Stay away," he hissed. "Leave us alone."

Lucy shook her head slowly, meeting his gaze once again. How she wished she could just talk to him, tell him that she could be trusted. Without breaking eye contact, she grabbed her bag of avocados and stood, holding her hand out to him. His glare proved that he didn't trust her one bit. She made a motion over her throat and pointed to him.

"Like hell will I let you collar me," he snarled.

Lucy shook her head and reached out for his hand again. He just didn't understand. And just when she was ready to give up, leaving him there to his own devices, a woman with short silver hair came out of her home, dragging a boy that couldn't have been much younger than her by his collar. Lucy glanced toward the head of pink hair with deep crimson horns protruding from his forehead that she'd come to recognize. Natsu was his name.

Lucy had been walking past when Lisanna's parents brought Natsu to the house for her 18th birthday a few months back. She'd been so happy to have a slave of her own, instead of ordering her elder brother around. It was the talk of the block for weeks afterward, how lucky Lisanna was to have gotten such an attractive boy as her pet.

"My lady, how good to see you," Lisanna said with a wide smile. She paused while Natsu hurried to close the door behind them, and stared down her nose at the black-haired man on the ground.

"Rogue," Natsu whispered, his eyes wide and horrified.

So Rogue was this man's name. That was good to know.

"You know this one, Natsu?" Lisanna asked. She tucked one finger under Natsu's chin and smiled at him. "Tell me more."

"Don't say a damn word," Rogue snarled, earning a harsh glare from Lisanna.

"You don't give orders here," she said. Then she smiled. "But I see you don't have a collar. I'd be happy to take you in, too."

"Lisanna, don't," Natsu whimpered. "Not him."

"Who is he, Natsu?" she asked again.

Natsu looked down at Rogue, and Lucy was the only one who noticed the saddened slump of his shoulders as he forced himself to speak. "He's a murderer," he said softly. "He killed his brother and their Master five years ago. He lives out in The Wastes."

The Wastes? Lucy had a hard time believing anyone could survive in those huge piles of twisted metal on the edges of the city. What was he doing so far away from there? Why was he so close to her home?

"Then we should call the authorities," Lisanna chuckled. "If he murdered his Master, even so long ago, he should be held accountable. Right, Natsu?"

"I'll kill you too," Rogue said. "I'll never be shackled by some woman again, so you can go fuck yourself, you crazy bitch!"

A cruel smile curled up the edges of Lisanna's plump lips. "Natsu. Deal with this trash."

It was obvious to Lucy that he wanted no part in any of this. And she refused to let Rogue have to fight for his life again after he'd already dealt with those three men. Three men whose bodies were still on the ground around them. Oh, this wasn't good.

"Natsu, if you think I won't kill you too, you're mistaken," Rogue said from his place on the ground as the pink-haired demon came closer. "Look around."

Natsu paused in his step when he reached the end of his leash out of instinct, and Lucy watched the horror etch itself over his features as he looked at the three bodies on the ground. "Rogue, what did you…"

"They deserved it," Rogue chuckled. The sound zipped down the length of Lucy's spine, but she couldn't tell if it was tantalizing or terrifying to hear it. She agreed with him though. Those men did deserve what they'd gotten.

"Natsu, kill him!" Lisanna shouted.

But she couldn't let this continue. If more people came around and saw this, there would be nothing she could do to stop Rogue from being taken away. With just Lisanna and Natsu here… she could stop this. Lucy stepped in front of Rogue just as Lisanna let go of the leash and unfurled her wings, blocking most of him from view. She ignored Natsu's wide-eyed stare in favor of scowling at Lisanna.

"My lady, why are you protecting that thing?!"

Lucy's brows furrowed and her face hardened. Lisanna knew very well that she wouldn't speak. And everyone knew that a Siren who spoke while angered could wreak havoc on a person's psyche.

"Wait," Natsu said, taking a step back. He turned toward Lisanna. "Please, don't make me do this. We can't… Mistress, if he belongs to her..."

Lucy glanced at Rogue over her shoulder, then smiled while wrapping one of her wings around him. His eye narrowed in confusion at her for only a moment before it must have dawned on him. If they worked together, she would get him out of there safely. She reached a hand out, and this time he took it. His fingers were cool to the touch, thin but strong as she helped to pull him up from the ground. He turned just enough to keep the little animal still tucked to his chest hidden from sight.

Rogue was much taller than her, nearly a whole foot, but the way he held himself this close to her made Lucy realize that he was willing to play the part of a submissive, obedient slave. She just had to overlook the ripe scent of old sweat wafting off of him. If he could play along and come to her house, then she would make sure he got a nice shower.

"They deserved it for trying to hurt her," Rogue said, drawing Natsu's attention back to him. The lie sounded so convincing that Lucy could almost let herself believe it was true. If she hadn't seen what really happened, then she probably would have fallen for it.

Lisanna frowned at Rogue, but walked closer to pick up Natsu's leash from the ground. "Who would be stupid enough to attack a Siren?" she asked. Damn, why did Lisanna always have to be the skeptical one?

"I didn't take the time to ask them any questions," Rogue said with a sneer.

"I've never seen you with her before."

"We met while she was walking home from the grocery store," he said. Well, that wasn't really a lie.

"And just like that, she decided to keep you?" Lisanna snorted. Her lip curled in disgust while she took in Rogue's full appearance. The bare feet and chest, the dirt under his nails, his hair hanging limp with oil built up at the roots.

"Explains why you're not collared," Natsu said softly. He coughed when Lisanna yanked on his chain, then lowered his head. Lucy wanted to smack her.

"Well, you should still do something about the way he talked to me," Lisanna huffed. Lucy knew that she had a point. It was expected of her to publicly shame her property for being disobedient. And the way Rogue had been talking to Lisanna was unacceptable, according to their society's standards of "civilized" etiquette.

She just couldn't bring herself to do it. She wouldn't hit him. He wasn't her property. He was a living, breathing creature with thoughts and feelings. Hell, Rogue could articulate himself much better than she was allowed to, simply because of what her voice could do.

Finally, she nodded. She had to do something. People would talk if she didn't. But what could she do? She'd never had to do this before, and Lucy preferred not to think about the things her mother had done to her father with her in the room, even as a young child. She didn't want to think about what she saw women do to men in the streets as though it wasn't some sort of sick, depraved torture.

Lucy had sworn to herself that she wouldn't beat a man.

It seemed Rogue had an idea as he smirked down at her confused pout. He bowed at the waist only slightly. "If it pleases my Mistress," he said softly, "Please drag me to your home by the tongue for my language."

Dragging him… by the tongue? She could… Could she even do that?

Rogue's lips parted and his tongue slithered out. Her hand lifted of its own accord, and she carefully grabbed just the tip of his tongue. She pulled only slightly and he groaned with discomfort, snarling as he moved along with her hand.

Lisanna's lips pursed in thought as Lucy nodded to her and began walking away with Rogue bent in half and trailing along beside her. "Didn't he say he wouldn't ever be shackled by some woman again?" she muttered.

"She's not just some woman," Natsu sighed. "She's a Siren…"

Lucy cringed when she heard Natsu yelp as he was dragged to the ground by his leash, but she kept moving away from the area and toward her home. She didn't realize that Rogue was watching her with his only eye. She didn't notice how his brows furrowed when he saw the misery etched on her face as Natsu's pained cries echoed behind them.

Lucy was so thankful for her father's presence as soon as they walked in the door. He'd been worried that it was taking so long for her to get back home, and then when he saw Rogue's tongue still pinched between her fingers, he'd understood. Without her having to say a word, he knew what had happened. Because Jude knew how Lucy felt about the way men were treated. He knew that she would never mistreat another person this way. Not unless she had to, all for the sake of keeping up appearances.

He only knew that because she'd had to do something similar to this with her own father while out in public, and when they'd come back home… Her father had held her while she silently cried, and he'd told her that he wasn't mad at her.

But it was because he understood what had happened without her having to say a thing, that as soon as the front door was closed and locked, as soon as Lucy's fingers let go of Rogue's tongue, Jude had smiled and wrapped an arm around his thin, pale shoulders and guided him toward a bathroom so he could get cleaned up.

Rogue had frowned at Lucy in confusion, but all she could do was smile at him, nodding for him to follow her father. He'd been even more confused when her father called over his shoulder, "Go ahead and get dinner started."

Men simply didn't tell women what to do, and the fact that Lucy had actually listened to her father and taken the avocados to the kitchen was probably quite the eye-opener for their guest.

Jude came into the kitchen several minutes later and took the knife that she'd been using to dice onions, allowing her time to take a seat on the nearby barstool. Her father had always been a better chef, so she didn't mind having him cook.

"He's getting a shower," Jude said. Lucy nodded. She let out a quiet sigh while crossing her arms on the granite bartop, then resting her chin on them. She winced when one of her feathers got caught on the rung of her barstool. "It's a cat, by the way."

She blinked in surprise and looked up into her father's crinkled eyes.

"Adorable, really. All green fur. He said it needed a bath too." He laughed before she could even smile at him. "I know, you've always wanted to have a cat." Her brows furrowed and her lips pursed. "Not as a pet," he chuckled. "I know."

Lucy sighed again and set her gaze on the counter in front of her. She wasn't sure how long she sat there, letting the sounds of her father cooking up their dinner and setting the table drown out everything else. Usually that was her job. He cooked and she got the table and cutlery ready, then they would wash dishes together. Maybe he'd assumed she just needed to have some time to herself.

Except she didn't, really. Lucy was just lost in thought about nothing in particular. She hadn't been thinking about the man she'd brought home, or his little green cat, or even why he'd been fighting off those three men to protect the little thing to begin with.

She wasn't really paying much attention to anything until movement in the corner of her periphery had her looking over to the doorway leading from the kitchen to the hall.

Rogue stood there in a white button down shirt and grey pants that she didn't recognize. Maybe they'd belonged to her father when he was younger. His single ruby eye was more intense than before as he met her gaze, but then she noticed something odd. His hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, with a portion of his bangs hanging down to cover the scar where his right eye had once been.

Lucy slowly sat up, frowning as she tried to figure out why he looked so different. And then it dawned on her. His hair. Half of it was white. When had he…

It had been completely black before the shower, but then she noticed a couple stray, grey water droplets that had fallen on the collar of the shirt. Did that mean he'd dyed his hair? Had it all washed out in the shower?

Whatever the reason for it, Lucy rather preferred this new two-toned look. If the foreign tightening in her belly was any indication, she more than preferred it.

Fuck, he was sexy!

"Ah, Rogue, you're just in time," Jude said with a grin as he rounded the bar and returned to the kitchen. "Dinner's just about ready. And I put a saucer of milk out for your little friend."

"Frosch," Rogue said.

Jude gave him a kind smile. "My daughter will show you where the dining room is. Make yourself at home, and I'll bring the food right out."

Lucy blushed slightly when Rogue blinked at her father, then took a slow step closer to her. She stood from her seat and waited until he was standing beside her, then led him to the dining room. It wasn't anything fancy, really. Just a simple black circular table with a glass top that could easily seat four people. Considering it had only ever been her parents and herself, there had never been an issue. And really, her father hadn't been allowed to eat sitting at the table with them anyway when her mother had been alive. It wasn't until Layla had died and Lucy all but dragged him into a seat so she wouldn't have to sit there alone that things had really started to change.

She waited for Rogue to pick whichever of the four matching black chairs he wanted - well, three, considering there was already a little green kitten sitting at one setting at the table, drinking from a bowl.

Lucy fought with everything she had not to coo at the adorable sight.

"Frosch, you shouldn't be dirtying up her table," Rogue sighed.

Lucy frowned up at his profile, grabbing his arm before he could reach for the little kitten and move it to the floor. He froze and glared down at her out of the corner of his eye. She shook her head.


Lucy shook her head again, her shoulders slumping when his eye rolled and he yanked his arm away from her. This was why she sometimes liked that people didn't try to talk to her all that often. She wasn't allowed to speak to them. She could barely even talk to her own father unless she was extremely careful of every word she said to him. Mostly, it was just her answering a yes or no question from him. That was the only way they'd been able to communicate most times.

Then again, it also made Lucy miss her mother. She'd been able to talk to her mother with no issues, considering Layla had been a Siren herself.

Still, she didn't want Rogue to think that his cat couldn't eat at the table with them. She didn't give him a chance to walk around the table and pick Frosch up. Instead, Lucy grabbed his arm again and held him in place, then leaned forward and made a soft purring sound with only her tongue against her teeth. It wasn't considered talking if she didn't use her vocal cords, after all.

It was enough to make Frosch stop drinking its milk and look up at her. She smiled and tucked her wings against her back while moving around the table, then slowly reached her hand out to pet it.

"Have a seat," Jude chuckled as he walked in with several dishes full of food piled high on his arms. "Dinner's served."

It was well after dark, but Lucy couldn't sleep. She was sure it had everything to do with her father helping Rogue understand that he didn't have to leave that day. He could, at the very least, spend the night. He could get some good rest in a bed, not worrying about having no roof over his head except for the gnarled bits of metal scrap and debris that he huddled under at night. He and Frosch could have at least one night where they were warm and comfortable with full bellies, and without having to worry about someone coming to kill or kidnap them.

She'd nearly lost her appetite when Jude asked Rogue what it was like living without a Mistress. She hadn't wanted to know how hard life was for the men who managed to free themselves, and where they were forced to hide.

But she hadn't been able to ask him for herself, why he'd killed his brother and their Mistress. Rogue hadn't volunteered the information to her father either, even when he'd asked why Rogue had no collar.

She couldn't keep thinking about this. More than likely, Rogue was asleep and enjoying having a roof over his head - even if she knew it wouldn't last - and he would leave in the morning. She didn't necessarily want him to go, but it was his choice. If he wanted to stay, then she didn't mind having more company around the house, even if it meant that there would be one more person that she couldn't talk to on a daily basis. He'd have to learn how to communicate with her, how to read her cues so he could understand her, but they could work on that together.

She was getting ahead of herself. She knew that.

What Lucy needed was a warm glass of milk to help her relax and fall asleep. She needed to stop thinking about his single ruby eye boring into her during dinner as he'd talked to her father. She had to stop imagining what it would be like to touch his long, flowing hair.

With a quiet sigh, she pushed back her downy pink comforter and got out of bed. She didn't bother turning on her bedside lamp and instead made her way out of her bedroom in utter darkness. Lucy knew this house well enough to traverse the halls without any light. She'd been doing it nearly every night since she could walk.

Her footsteps slowed as she drew nearer to the room that had once been her mother's study. And her father's torture chamber. The door was always closed to that room. She hated thinking about the times she'd gone to see her mother for one reason or another, and was forced to watch as her father crawled beneath the desk at Layla's command and stuck his head beneath her skirt.

Lucy hated remembering the way he'd curled up on the large blue pillow in the corner to sleep, because he hadn't been allowed to share the bed with Layla.

She hated that her father had, for whatever reason, been unwilling to get rid of the kennel he'd been kept in when he disobeyed Layla. It was still in that room.

And the door was open.

Jude was already fast asleep. He could never stay up long after the sun went down. He always said it had something to do with getting older.

Slowly, Lucy peeked her head into the room. It was all still the same. The great oak desk was still right where it had been with her mother's large green wingback chair in just the same spot as always. The only difference in the atmosphere was a lack of dust… and a little green kitten curled up on the back of the chair.

She smiled and pushed the door open the rest of the way, then walked in. Her bare feet tapped lightly on the polished wood floor, but not loudly enough to wake up Frosch. Lucy paused just before walking around the desk, taking a steadying breath, then finally made her way to the chair.

"What are you doing in here?" she whispered to the kitten. Frosch's eyes opened slowly. It yawned and stretched its front legs out, ending on a soft, questioning mewl that had Lucy laughing. "This door should have been closed. We don't come in here, y'know."

Frosch simply ignored Lucy when she picked it up, choosing instead to close its eyes again. She leaned against the desk with her back to the door and scratched under Frosch's chin.

"I should take you to Rogue," she said. "He seems to care a lot about you."

Frosch purred and stretched its neck out for her to continue scratching.

"I don't want to disturb him," she continued. "He probably really does need the sleep. I guess you two don't get much chance to relax, living on the run. I wish I could tell you that not all homes are like the one he came from. Mine isn't, but I don't think he would want to stay here."

This was why she loved animals so much, and cats especially. Dogs were too obedient. They would come to heel when they were reprimanded, and the thought of ordering another being around like that made Lucy uncomfortable. But a cat? They did what they pleased, whenever it suited them. Sure, some people thought they were little hellions, and a good number of cats she'd met definitely could be considered as such. But cats also weren't affected by her voice. She could talk to them, command them to do something, and they just looked at her.

She loved it.

It was freeing to be able to speak like a normal person, even if it was only around a cat.

But she refused to keep one as a pet. She didn't want to claim any ownership over another life. She just wanted a little bit of companionship. Just someone she could talk to, who would listen to her without being forced to do it. Someone who chose that for themselves.

"I know, this room kind of says otherwise, but my dad doesn't want to change anything in it," she said. Lucy didn't understand why he would want to keep these reminders around. "He really did love my mom. I just don't see how…"

"It sounds like your father's a masochist."

Lucy gasped and whirled around so quickly that Frosch jolted and jumped from her arms onto the chair. It sat down and started cleaning its paws and face, seemingly unfazed by Rogue's presence in the doorway.

But Lucy wasn't so lucky. She was far too busy trying to remember everything she'd said to the little green cat - trying to make sure she hadn't said anything that Rogue might have heard that could sway his fate - to notice how he was shirtless once again and his hair was no longer in the ponytail he'd had it in during dinner.

Rogue walked into the room, but stayed by the wall. He looked around at the book cases on the far wall, the large window that overlooked the gardens behind the house, then his gaze honed in on her father's kennel. The choke-chain attached to the floor of the kennel that gave him no room to lift his head more than three inches. The metal bowls that he'd been forced to eat and drink from. Lucy followed his gaze quickly from one thing to the next, even noticing things that he probably didn't. Like the drawer that her mother had kept locked most times, that held different sizes of clamps - some in metal and other in rubber.

"Some men like the life they're forced into," Rogue said. He ran his fingers over the metal edge of the kennel. "In varying degrees."

She wasn't sure how someone could sound both bitter and reminiscent at the same time, but Rogue managed to do just that.

"Some can even learn to enjoy it," he continued, finally setting his single-eyed gaze on her. "Like Natsu. I already know what he enjoys, but that woman…"

Lucy was tempted to take a step back from him when she heard the way he growled the word woman with so much hatred.

"She doesn't care what he wants or likes. None of you do."

She wanted to tell him that she did care. But she couldn't speak. He'd heard her voice already, and she'd gotten lucky. He didn't seem to have been affected by what she'd said to Frosch. Maybe he hadn't really heard her though. Maybe he'd seen the room and just assumed they still had these things because of her father. Jude had made a point of letting Rogue know that he wouldn't be collared in this house, and that Lucy wouldn't try to claim him as her own.

"You only care about enslaving us, making us men do your bidding. Beating us until we can barely breathe or think." With each angry word, he moved closer to her, and Lucy couldn't find the will to move away. She wasn't like the rest of them. She didn't want any of those things. She didn't want to beat someone into submission. She didn't want to cause anyone pain.

She gasped when his hands lifted and she saw the smoky black tendrils wisping from his fingertips. He'd used that magic of his to kill the men who'd attacked him and Frosch in the street. Was he going to do the same to her?

Rogue towered over her, glaring down into her fearful golden eyes that misted with tears. For the first time in her life, she felt small. Helpless. Powerless. The weight of his presence so close to her bore down on her shoulders, weighed heavily in her breast as she struggled to pull in each breath that was filled with only the scent of him - something dark and tantalizing and foreign.

She couldn't say anything to him though. Lucy couldn't tell him that she wasn't like the other women in the world, that she'd seen firsthand the pain that others were put through and she'd wanted to stop it. Her mother and father had both told her that it wasn't her place to use her power to change the views of those around them.

Still, as something cold and cloying wrapped around her throat, Lucy found her lips moving and her vocal cords vibrating without her consent.

"I'm sorry," she whimpered.

"A Siren speaks, and the world listens," Rogue chuckled. He leaned closer and brushed his nose along her cheek just as the first of her tears broke past her lashes. "What are you sorry for?"

Lucy tried to look away from him, clamping her lips shut to keep her words to herself. She shouldn't have spoken at all, but it seemed Rogue had other plans. Gods, why hadn't she let her father know that he'd killed his own brother and their Master before? They weren't safe. He was going to kill her as well! But if she told Rogue to stop, he would listen, right?

"Speak," he hissed. "What are you sorry for?"

"Stop," she said. He had to listen to her. She hated that she was using her voice to do this, but there was no other option. She gasped when his strong fingers curled around her chin and forced her to look back at him.

"That's not what I asked you," Rogue snarled. "Do you need motivation to answer me?"

Lucy whimpered when his free hand tightly gripped her hair, dragging her head back. He didn't give her a chance to speak as his lips pressed tightly against hers and his lithe tongue speared between her parted lips. Peppermint lingered on his tongue, but she couldn't decide what to focus on first. Her first kiss was taken, not given. Taken by a man she'd brought to her home out of the kindness of her heart. But then his body pressed flush against her, and for a moment all logical thought was swept away in a torrent of dark, hungry kisses and the feel of her silk negligée rubbing against his bare torso.

When he broke away from the kiss, Lucy's eyes barely opened to find his pupil had thinned to a reptilian slit. She knew of a few demons who had eyes like these, but none came to mind at the moment.

"I'm sorry," she said, "For the pain you've been put through."

"Is that all?"

Her brows furrowed slightly as she looked up at him. What else did he expect from her? She'd never hurt anyone. She'd never taken a man as a possession and forced him to do her bidding. She was innocent.

She wasn't entirely sure what he wanted her to say, but the chilly touch around her throat lessened and his grip on her hair softened until his nails were gently scraping against her scalp. Lucy brought her hands up to his chest and soaked in his warmth beneath her fingertips. Then she felt it. His heart pounded wildly beneath his ribs. He trembled only slightly when she tensed to push him away from her. This man before her was equal parts wild and reserved.

And she could see there was some part of him that ached to have control. Maybe it was because he'd been kept as a slave before. Now, he wanted the freedom of making his own choices. If it had been five years since he'd broken free of his shackles, was this the first time he'd been in close proximity to a woman since then? Was he trying to sort out how to cope with what he'd endured in the past?

"What do you want from me?" he rasped. "Why did you bring me here?"


His lip curled in a snarl. "I won't be a slave again."

Lucy shook her head, lifting one hand to brush the black hair away from his face. Her thumb brushed just beneath his scar. "Is that…"

"She made us fight," he said. Rogue twisted away from her tender caress, covering his face with his hair again. "Sting pulled his punches, and she cut out my eye to make him pay for it."

"I hate them," she whispered. That had his full attention. "I hate how men are treated like animals. Worse than animals."

"... You do?"

His hand trailed down from her hair to rest at the base of her wings. A soft blush crept across Lucy's cheeks at the contact. No one had ever touched her there before. "I do," she said. "We should be equals. It shouldn't matter that I'm a woman and you're a man. I shouldn't have more of a say in the world just because I have breasts and the ability to give birth."

"But you're a Siren," he countered. "You have even more than most women."

Lucy smirked slightly. "People say I have power because of my voice, so I'm silent. All the time…" Her eyes lowered then. "I can't even talk to my own father without worrying about what it could do to him."

"You're talking to me, though," Rogue said. "Do you not care about what could happen to me?"

For the first time in a long while, Lucy laughed. It was barely a wisp of air, but it felt large enough to fill her chest with warmth. "I do, but you didn't listen when I told you…"

She froze. He didn't listen when she ordered him to stop earlier. He'd ignored her. For the first time ever, someone hadn't been forced to follow her words to the letter. Why? Why hadn't he been affected by her voice? Why hadn't his disobedience caused his heart to seize and blood to leak from his pores? She'd seen it happen to a little boy when she was still in school. He'd been stubborn and wanted to know why she wouldn't talk to him, and when she'd told him to stop bothering her, he'd refused. He'd been so adamant about knowing the answer to his question that it had killed him.

Rogue blinked slowly as he stroked the feathers at the base of her wing.

Lucy couldn't control this man in front of her. She didn't have to worry about what she said, or keeping her mouth shut to avoid hurting him. She couldn't hurt him.

"So why did you bring me here?"

"I just wanted to help you," she said softly.

"Why?" he asked. "Because I killed that guy?"

"No." Lucy didn't even have to think about it. "I wanted to help you before that." Her wings shuddered when his fingers brushed across her feathers again. "When I saw you fighting to protect Frosch."

"You're really not like the rest, are you…" She didn't have time to answer before he kissed her again. It was less domineering than the first kiss, but she could feel desperation moving his lips against hers. "Fuck."

Lucy felt him readying to pull back, but she didn't want him to. His affection made her ache in ways she'd never known before. But the last thing she wanted was for Rogue to feel as though she was trying to force him to do something. She couldn't pull him closer. "It's okay," she whimpered against his lips. He kissed her more fervently after that.

His tongue was a greedy serpent that slithered between her lips and teased away her senses. She felt the same chilly touch of smoke gliding along her sides as his hands caressed her back. She wanted to be just as adventurous, to touch him the way he touched her while lifting her up and perching her on Layla's desk. Lucy's legs spread of their own accord so Rogue could press himself ever closer, only if he wanted to. She kept her hands on his chest, waiting for him to decide how much he would allow her to do.

"Why do you smell like this?" he growled, kissing his way down to her throat. He paused and pulled in a deep breath through his nose, letting it out in a shuddering exhale.

"Like wh-" Lucy cried out as his fingers deftly ripped through her panties and two fingers plunged into her weeping sex. She'd known for years that this could bring her pleasure, but she'd abstained from even touching herself in the safety of her own room. She hadn't wanted to know from her own experience what she would be missing out on by never taking a man to be hers.

"Like sin and fire," he groaned, nipping at her racing pulse. His fingers drew back and slammed into her, pulling a sharp cry of pleasure from her lips. "You're so sensitive…"

"I n-never… Gods, Rogue!" She couldn't help it. She latched onto his shoulders and held him tightly as his fingers moved within her.

"Never?" he chuckled. Lucy shook her head quickly, her legs spreading wider at his silent command with his hand on her inner thigh. "You'll be spoiled by me then." He shifted and added a third finger, nibbling on her ear to distract her from the uncomfortable stretching he was putting her through. "My mother is a succubus. Things like this are second nature to me."

Her eyes rolled back when his thumb pressed against her clit. She knew what was coming. Her own mother had explained it to her in great detail when she was still just a child. Part of her education in school had focused solely on understanding the signs her body might give when she was about to have an orgasm - mostly so that it could be used as a tool for teaching her future slave obedience when necessary.

She remembered how she'd been taught about the way her breathing would change, just like this. How her breasts could become overly sensitive to the slightest touch the closer her orgasm was - and Rogue lowering his mouth to her breast and roughly suckling her nipple through her negligée proved that she was definitely more sensitive than before.

Her fingers carded through his hair, her nails lightly scraping over his scalp to encourage him to do as he pleased with her body. If his mother was a succubus then that meant… The first kiss had most likely not been planned. None of this was. His kind ran on instinct, and fed off of physical contact. The more positive physical contact he had, the better. But if his life had been spent being forced to endure pain, then it was no wonder he desperately sought this sort of connection.

Was this what he'd been looking for then? Lucy wanted to test it, but the coil in her belly burned as it wound tighter and tighter. She struggled to ignore the lewd sounds of his fingers driving deep within her, of his slick hand meeting with her sex at a frantic, punishing pace, and the moans she let loose without a care of who might hear her.

Just before she flew over the edge and into bliss, his fingers left her. His head lifted and he looked deeply into her half-lidded eyes, silently begging her for more. Didn't he realize it yet? She was more than happy to give him what he sought.

Still, there was something almost vulnerable in the look he gave her, something that had her fighting against the tension that had her drawn so tight she thought she might burst. Lucy wasn't sure what it was that had her reaching between them, gently taking hold of his hand and bringing his wet fingers to her lips. She smiled at him then just before her tongue slipped out to lick the digits clean. She hadn't expected for it to have this tangy taste, but as he slowly pushed his fingers into her mouth and she saw the way his eye flashed with excitement as her quiet moan vibrated through his flesh, Lucy didn't mind it all that much.

Her eyes widened when she felt those cold tendrils of his magic gliding up behind her neck and loosening the tie that held her negligée up. With one swift pull, the fabric fell and bared her breasts to him. His thumb brushed over her pebbled nipple, causing Lucy's head to tip back.

"You really are a sensitive one," he chuckled.

"I guess I am," she whispered as his fingers finally slid from between her lips. "Is that… bad?"

"No," he said, grinning down at her. "It's perfect."

"You won't stop, right?" she asked. Lucy couldn't help but squirm just slightly, unintentionally rubbing her sex over the bulge in his pants. "Please?"

Rogue hummed as she gently twisted a white section of his hair around her fingers. "A Siren is begging me… for what, exactly?"

"Everything I've missed out on," she said. "Please?"

"And what might that be?" he asked. "Tell me."

Lucy's cheeks burned with embarrassment. She couldn't possibly say what it was, even if she knew the words to use. She'd read plenty of instructional books on how to do just this with her slave - Making Men Beg was a bestseller for a reason. But to be on the other end of it was something she'd never been prepared for.

"Orgasms?" he asked, leaning forward and licking her slackened lips.

"Yes," she breathed.

"I can do that with my fingers," he said, then smirked. "Or my mouth, if you'd like."


"Nothing more?"

"I want everything."

"You want me to fuck you?" Lucy nodded, a small whimper escaping her when he nipped at her lips. "Tell me you won't ever own me."

"Never," she said quickly. Her eyes closed when she felt his knuckles brush against her lower lips as he loosened his pants. "You'll never be my property."

She trembled as the tip of his cock brushed from her clit down to her weeping entrance, then back up. Her wings fluttered and opened, then wrapped around Rogue, shielding him almost entirely from view. If her father walked by the room, he'd be able to see her back, and maybe a little of Rogue's head, but she still relished in the way it felt to have each of her feathers stroking his strong back and thin waist. He paused just before pushing into her, and she felt the way he trembled as her wings tenderly held him.

"Is this okay?" she whispered.

It took a moment for him to look at her again, his only eye having closed briefly, but when he did she saw it again. That vulnerable little place deep in his soul that was suddenly laid bare before her. "Yes."

She smiled while capturing his lips in a slow kiss. "My name is Lucy," she said. "Please protect it."

The swell of emotion that she felt rolling through him at learning the name of one who was held in such high regard in the world ended with his hips rocking forward, and his cock sliding home inside her so gently that she didn't feel any of the pain she'd been expecting. They moved in unison, with her leg wrapping around his hip in the hopes of bringing him closer to her. Lucy wanted to feel everything, to anchor herself against Rogue as he moved at such a languid pace. He peppered her lips and cheeks with soft, wanting kisses as he quietly groaned her name.

Hearing it from him left her speechless. No one ever spoke her name, not even her father. And she'd especially never heard it quite like this, with desire curling so wickedly around every syllable.

"Fuck, I can't hold back anymore," he finally groaned. His fingers dug into her ass as he lifted her from the desk. She hadn't realized how arousing it could be to feel him holding her at the tip of his rigid cock, then quickly lowering her until their hips were flush and she was crying out his name. Over and over again, he moved her as he pleased. Lucy rolled her hips once they were fully joined and the sudden heat that spread down to her fingers and toes had her repeating the motion.

She didn't realize right away that it was driving Rogue wild with need. Not until he snarled at her and laid her out on top of her mother's desk. He was relentless, brutal as his hips snapped against her and he held her legs on his shoulders. But she didn't mind it. Not when she could feel him growing more rigid inside her.

"Fuck me, Rogue," she moaned. "Harder!"

He grinned and intentionally slowed down, just to prove a point. He didn't have to listen to her. Those quick, powerful thrusts became longer, more measured. Lucy whined and writhed in his grasp, then lifted her hands to hold onto the edge of the desk above her head.

"Please, Rogue," she whimpered. "I want it."

"Greedy Siren," he chuckled.

His hips snapped only once and her back arched. "Yes!" She fought not to cry when he slowed down again. "Rogue, please! Please, I need it… Please!"

He hummed and let his fingers skim down her smooth legs, over her hips and up to cup her breasts. As he pinched her nipples only slightly, pulling a keening cry from the blonde beneath him, he smirked. "I think I'll take my time with you, pet."

Lucy gasped as Rogue's face shifted into the faceless grey fabric of her Afterlife Tour Guide. She sat up quickly and looked around, finding the office missing and only this strange Not-Limbo place with its shifting floor and wavering walls in its place. As the memories of that life melded with the ones from her drug-induced stupor of a life spent loving Bickslow, and then of her long life in Fairy Tail, she swayed and grabbed her head. It hurt more than anything she could remember experiencing, but strong arms and a solid chest were there, holding up her naked body. And a soft voice whispered in her ear, "I promised I'd wait for you."

She was positive that she could hear the grey figure smiling.

Chapter Text


Everything hurt. Her head, most of all, felt as though it was splitting in half with the knowledge crammed into it. Three whole lives worth of thoughts and feelings and memories clashed and writhed between her ears, and there wasn't a thing she could do to stop it from happening. She was sure the only thing really holding her together right then was the grey figure's arms wrapped around her, holding her close.

That didn't stop her from screaming as the pressure mounted and created strange yellow and white starbursts in her blurry vision.

How could she possibly have been a mage in Fairy Tail? It just didn't feel like it had been the life she'd really lived anymore. Not now that she knew so much about the demonic world she'd come from with its torturous matriarchal society. Not when she considered how it had felt to take those pills and chase them with alcohol to wash the pain in her soul away. Not when she thought about being in this Not Limbo place.

It just wasn't possible.

And still, she'd just been wrapped around Future Rogue, letting him fuck her because he couldn't be controlled by the mystical power of her voice.

What the hell had she done to deserve this torture?

Lucy would never have let that monster near her. And even when part of her tried to reason that he'd been no danger to her, that he'd just needed a little affection to really open up to her - that his being part-Succubus meant he craved a physical connection, and that was just the kind of person he was - Lucy knew it was bullshit. It didn't matter to her that she could still feel how slick her sex had become from his utterly devilish ministrations. Just like it didn't matter that he was actually painfully beautiful when she took the time to really look at him. A small part of her wondered if the Rogue from Sabertooth that she'd barely befriended before dying had actually been that attractive, and she'd just never noticed.

But what about Bickslow? Bickslow loved her. Fuck, he loved her with all his heart, and he took care of her when it was obvious that she couldn't be trusted to take care of herself.

And then Natsu! God, was he alright back in Earthland? How was he taking the news of her death? She hoped with everything she had that he was alright. That he hadn't died too. That it wasn't the Natsu she knew, the one she loved like a brother who broke into her apartment all the time, that was being dragged around and abused by that evil version of Lisanna.

But then Lucy had seen her father again, and he'd been alive and he loved her!

"It's too much," she cried into the grey figure's chest. "Make it stop!"

It sighed heavily, the warmth of its breath washing over the top of her head. She struggled to stay nestled in its embrace as the fabric slid down from its hands that gently grasped her cheeks. Its touch was tender while slowly lifting her head, forcing her to stare up into the darkened folds of grey fabric over what she assumed was its face. Thumbs brushed her tears away, and her lips trembled.

But the longer she looked, the more confused she grew. Why was it that she was so sure there was really someone under the fabric? Someone she knew. Someone… who just wanted her to be okay again.

"This is Hell, isn't it?" she whimpered. "I can't do this anymore."

"You can," it whispered, and its thumbs brushed her tears away again.

Her brows furrowed when the fabric seemed to grow a little more sheer, just enough for her to make out the shape of a face, the gentle slope of a nose. It wasn't enough to give her an idea of who this really was hiding under the fabric, but she had to know. Slowly, she reached up and tried to push the fabric away.

"Don't," it said, turning away from her. "You're better not knowing me."


"Because, I'm just a guide," it said. She watched in silence as its hands disappeared beneath the sleeves, and the fabric grew darker, heavier in appearance as though it was covered with wool instead. "This place is neutral territory. And I am, too."

"What does that mean?" she asked. It slid effortlessly across the floor and leaned against a wall, then pulled its knees up to its chest. Lucy frowned and crawled across the short distance.

"Most people ask if this is really Hell," it said. "When they finish the second choice, they always ask if it's Hell." She was almost a foot away when it tensed, so Lucy stopped where she was and just watched it. "And I guess it is, in a sense. It's hell on the soul, stretching around this information and assimilating it into the you that you know you are. You're not just your you, you're another you and a third you, and you know that there's another you that's going to be added to your other yous."

"It's not just me and others me's though," she said softly. "Or even knowing these other me's who aren't really me exist. Or that there's this me living the life of that me and another me." She shook her head and gently rubbed the space between her brows. This was just making her head hurt more. "I thought I was a good person, but these lives are making me question that."

"How so?"

"Gee, I don't know," she huffed. "The first one, I was a drugged up alcoholic who was fucking the chef behind her cheating husband's back. And the second one, I was some untouchable, closet-submissive thing stuck in a gilded cage, and I fucked the first demon that didn't just fear me outright, all because he was somehow immune to whatever it was my voice could do."

"Seems like a pretty good summary of your options so far," it said with a nod.

"So what did I do to deserve that as my choices?" she asked, scowling. "Shouldn't there be something where I'm just… happy? I helped people when I was alive. I saved lives, and I sacrificed myself and my own happiness time and again. I wasn't selfish, and I wasn't evil. For fuck's sake, I spent two years searching for the key that I broke just so I could apologize to Aquarius for breaking her key, even when she told me to do it so I could save my friends' lives. I've already put myself through hell. Why can't I be reincarnated somewhere nice?"

"All humans have that kernel of kindness in them," it said.

"Bullshit," she snorted. "I've met some horrible people, and I believed that while I was still alive and living in Earthland. Some people are just evil, down to the core."

"They do," it said, softer this time. "In your last life, you nurtured that kindness, and it guided who you became. But even with kindness, there's still selfishness and the consequences can be… less than desirable."

"You're not making any sense."

The grey figure sighed and lowered its head to rest lightly on its drawn up legs. "I'm not supposed to tell you. It'll skew the way you see the third option, and how you'll make your decision. I'm neutral. This place is neutral. There's no sway here, just a nameless, faceless guide who shows a soul the next options for reincarnation, and facilitates that transition into the new life."

"I get that."

"You don't," it said quietly. "You want to know. But trust me, this isn't Hell. And you were a good person. These things you're seeing, the lives you're living through, they have merits in them. I can't say more than that. I'm already telling you too much, and… if they find out that I'm doing this… then my ass gets in trouble."

"Who are they?"

"I can't say," it said.

Lucy frowned and crawled just a little closer. "What will happen to you if you do tell me more?"

"Knowing too much will damn you forever," it said. The rasping voice that she'd grown accustomed to became shaky, almost terrified. It sounded so small then. "I'll be blamed for tampering with your destiny, taking away your choice, and then they'll… No, even if I tell you that, it could happen."

She moved closer still and hesitated a moment before lifting her hand from the shifting bronze and gold and pink floor that looked like a liquid - but felt more like plush bedding now that she was on her hands and knees - and lightly rubbed the figure's arm. "It's okay," Lucy said. "I don't want you to get in trouble just because of me."

"You need to go to the last place," it said. She shivered when the fabric gave way beneath her fingers as it stood in one fluid motion again. The body beneath really did lose cohesion, almost like when Juvia's body became entirely water.

"I don't want to," she said.

"It's the best one," it replied. She stood as well, and its head turned toward her. "Not so much on the surface, not really to an outsider, but this Lucy is happy."

"You said the last one was happier with her circumstances," she said, narrowing her eyes. "I was miserable there."

"Until you were sprawled out on that desk," it chuckled. "You seemed pretty happy with the way things were going for you at that point."

"That's literally the only bonus to this," she huffed, crossing her arms and looking at her bare feet.

"All the action you're getting?"

"No," she muttered. "At least the other me's aren't hopeless when it comes to relationships. I died a virgin."


Her cheeks flamed and her shoulders hunched only slightly. "Shut up," she muttered. "I just… never found anyone who wanted that with me."

"You do realize Natsu wanted that, right?"

Her eyes widened in horror. "What?!"

The figure nodded. It reached into the folds of its robes and pulled out a shimmering disk that was the size of her two hands put together. Her gaze was fixed on the glassy surface, so she saw the moment it changed to show Natsu in his hammock at home, his eyes closed and his hands desperately grasping at his loose white pants in a vain attempt at taming the tented material.

"Luce," he moaned in his sleep. "Mm… smell you."

Her eyes widened when his hand slipped into his pants and his hips curled languidly while he rolled onto his side.

"Love… Lucy," he moaned.

Suddenly, her chest flared with fire. It wasn't desire for Natsu, or lust over watching the way he touched himself while thinking about her. She wasn't embarrassed by it either. Her hand shot up and knocked the shimmering disk to the floor, and the sound of it shattering was suddenly accompanied by her hand coming into contact with the grey figure's face. In her anger, she didn't realize that her palm had met with skin for the briefest of moments.

"What the fuck is wrong with you?" she screeched.

"You didn't believe me." The fact that it didn't seem fazed in the slightest by her hitting it only made her angrier. "That's not him now. It's from the past, when you were still alive in Earthland. It's nothing more than a memory."

"Whose memory?" she hissed. "Because that's not a memory of mine, and it wouldn't be one of Natsu's, since he was asleep."

"I can't tell you that."

"Of course not," she spat. "You just talk in riddles and don't really tell me anything."

"I've told you more than I should have," it said.

"No, you haven't," she said with a sneer. "And I don't believe that this isn't Hell. I think that's exactly where I am. Only someone who would want to torture me would show me something like that."

"But you wanted to know," it said.

"Yeah, thanks for letting me know that I could have had someone in my life if I'd known about it. But there's nothing I can do about it now, is there?" She let out a humorless laugh and turned away from the figure, toward the wall where a third door wavered into existence. "No, I wasted my life on Earthland, waiting for someone to love me. And I died without ever getting to experience something as simple as a kiss on the lips. And now I know that my best friend could have been that person for me."

The figure floated toward the door when she took a step forward. "If you don't believe that I'm just a guide for reincarnation, and this is actually Hell, then what are you doing?"

Her glare was chilling. "I'm playing along. If this is Hell, then there's no way to avoid my torture. I might as well just accept it."

Still, she hesitated before stepping through wooden door. It wouldn't open, she already knew. The other two hadn't opened either. She'd just… passed through them. Except, those times, she hadn't really wanted to do it. The guide had pushed her through the first, and Rogue's shadows had dragged her into the second. This was supposed to be her final option, if her guide hadn't been lying. So why couldn't she move?

"I promise, this you is happy."

"Your word doesn't mean jack shit to me," she muttered. Lucy tried to take a step, but her feet stayed rooted to the floor.

"I'll tell you one more thing, before you go," it said. "You won't remember while you're there, but… maybe it'll help when you return."

Lucy sighed and glanced at the grey figure beside her. It didn't speak right away, but she still waited. She wasn't sure why she was giving it a chance to say anything more to her. It had already done enough damage.

"Happiness is what you make of it," the figure said. "For some, that means another soul to talk to. For others, happiness comes in the form of silence. One person can find happiness in the way snow falls on a rooftop, while another's comes from just having shelter. A man is happy with knowledge, and the one next to him is happier in his ignorance."

Lucy's brows furrowed and she turned fully to face her guide.

"The pursuit of happiness is, in itself, a selfish act. But it's that selfishness that sometimes breeds the most beautiful, selfless sacrifices. And while it may never make sense, that's why… the selfish pursuit of happiness can sometimes lead to damnation."

"What?" she asked softly.

The figure shook its head and nodded toward the door. "Go," it said. "Your next choice is just through there."

"I don't understand though," Lucy whispered.

"You don't need to," it said. "I'll be here when you come back."

And oddly enough, something deep inside of her eased from the tense knot it had worked itself into at hearing that. It allowed her feet to carry her forward. Lucy's eyes closed as she stepped through the door and into her final chance at a happy future.

Behind her, the figure took a shaky breath and its head lowered while a dark shadow fell over it from behind. As soon as she was fully in the world, the figure sniffled quietly. "Why are you here?"

"You're playing a dangerous game with these rules you've been given," came the dark, malicious voice from behind it. "She cannot know the truth."

"I know," the grey figure said. "I'm being careful. She just… she asks so many questions. What am I supposed to do?"

"Soon, nothing," the voice replied.

The grey figure's head lowered further as fiery breath seared across its back. "She'll choose," it said. "And then she'll move on. I know."

"Don't forget that," the voice growled. "She has to move on. Souls who stay here are tormented forever. She doesn't deserve that. This woman led a good life. And if it was already her 19th reincarnation, then her good deeds more than likely would have outweighed the bad from her past lives. You will not ruin her chances of being permitted into Paradise because you can't keep your mouth shut!"

"I understand," the figure whispered. As the shadow behind it faded into nothingness, and the presence of that all-knowing being faded, the face beneath its grey shroud contorted into a pained grimace as it dropped to its knees. Knowledge truly was a curse, as the grey figure had learned. Tears burned at its lashes, and its head dropped to the floor. "Lucy," it cried softly, "I won't force you to spend eternity like me. Just make the right choice. Please… Please make the right choice..."

Chapter Text

Lucy sighed as she finally woke up. The scents in her bedroom were familiar, calming as she took a deep, full breath while stretching. Cashmere woods air freshener swirled through old cigarettes and musk. She didn't want to wake up just yet, but she knew that he would probably be leaving for work soon. That meant she needed to get her day started too, even if it was just long enough to kiss him and wish him a good day.

As she laid naked in their mussed bed, the sheets tangled around her legs and over one arm, she smiled. She didn't care that there were clothes flung in every direction, or that her comfy chair in the corner had a stack of old, worn textbooks filling its seat. Most people probably would've been grossed out by how she slummed it. But it was hers. It was theirs, and they hadn't had a single thing to their names since they were 16.

The soft tinkling of the plastic glow in the dark beads that made up the bedroom door had her eyes opening. She smiled even wider when she saw him there, trying so hard to creep into the room without waking her up. The only clothing on him was a pair of plain black boxers, but it made her appreciate his thin frame and lightly tanned skin even more.

And then she noticed the breakfast tray in his hands, the steaming coffee cup that she knew had her favorite tea in it, and a cigarette perched between his softly smiling lips.

"Breakfast in bed for my goddess," he said. While he pushed through the random clothes and odds and ends on the floor, Lucy took her time sitting up.

"Serena, you didn't have to," she giggled as he set the tray over her legs. She held it steady as he crawled into the bed behind her, giving her the most comfortable man-cushion to lean on.

He wrapped his arms around her, one reaching up to ash his cigarette in the ash tray just beside her bowl of Lucky Charms, and the other hand resting on her swollen belly. She dug into her cereal without worrying about how she must have looked. He knew. She was always starving first thing in the morning, now that their daughter was getting so big.

Lucy hummed and swallowed. "I'm no goddess, but you're definitely a god."

He chuckled and gently kissed her cheek. "They call me God Serena for a reason."

She shivered as he lightly nipped at her jaw. The depth of his voice always did that to her. How was she supposed to keep functioning if he was going to talk like that?

"I'm the one who calls you that," she sighed. It had started in high school when they'd been on the verge of dropping out. Sure, she'd gotten their friends calling him that, too, but it hadn't been intentional. It had really been meant as an inside joke between the two of them. Because when they were sixteen, Lucy had found out first-hand that he'd actually learned a thing or two from porn. She'd been addicted to his skills ever since.

"I dunno," he chuckled. "I've heard a few others say it."

Lucy snorted. She knew what he was talking about. Serena had made their high school P.E. coach call him that, under the guise of that one little phrase being his ticket to freedom out of the burning car Serena had locked him in. It had been a lie. But that was what the pervert got for trying to corner her in the locker room. Serena hadn't taken too kindly to finding her crying over it after school. He'd handled it right then and there.

They'd had to leave after that, though. Serena had to run before the cops found out it was him, and Lucy… she'd followed. And she'd never regretted the decision to spend her life with him, even ten years later. With every day, she fell even more in love with her sexy psycho.

After he finished his cigarette and put it out, Serena rubbed soothing circles over her belly. At four and a half months, there really was no hiding the fact that she was pregnant. Lucy was just glad that her job wasn't affected too much by it. She still made good money in tips.

"Still feeling that morning sickness?"

She hummed again and tipped her bowl back to drink the sugary milk left behind. "Kinda," she said, then smirked when his chin rested on her shoulder. "I blame you entirely."

He chuckled, and his hands stilled. "I'll gladly take that blame," he said. "But if you wanna sleep in, I won't stop you. We had a late night."

Lucy picked up her tea and the ashtray, setting them on the milk crate that acted as her nightstand. Serena reached around her and grabbed the tray, setting it on the floor beside the bed. She grinned and turned around, then carefully straddled his legs. His hands rested on her hips, helping to guide her and making sure she didn't lose her balance. "You didn't have to do anything, you know that."

His smile faded a little as she looked into his mismatched blue and gold eyes. God, she loved his eyes. "I did," he said. His brows drew together. "No one dances with my girl."

Lucy just rolled her eyes. "She wasn't dancing with me, sweetie. She was tripping on acid and just near me. I didn't even realize she was there."

She honestly hadn't been aware that there was anyone near her while she'd been dancing at that club. Her sole focus had been on the music, and knowing that he was watching her from somewhere nearby. He always loved watching her dance. He said that it was like her soul had grown wings and made her soar, that he couldn't look away no matter how hard he tried.

"But it's been so long," he whined, kissing between her breasts. "And you were so sexy all wrapped up in glowsticks. With these sexy hips just swaying-"

Lucy swirled her hips and ground against him, smiling when he groaned softly against her chest. His gaze burned as their eyes met.

"Just like that. She shouldn't have blocked my view."

"Well that just won't do," she said, pouting down at him. He drew back slightly, frowning at the look on her face. He was so concerned, and confused. She could see it. She knew he was starting to wonder if she was upset about what he'd done. She wasn't, though. Lucy loved it when he let loose. "You take care of me. I should take care of you, too."

Her hands curved around his cheeks, and she smiled again. She nibbled her lip, her fingers carding through his hair that - she finally realized - was hanging down in loose waves past his shoulders. She was so happy he'd grown it out. He looked so fucking edible like this.

"You did say you'd teach me," she rasped. "Just tell me what to get for you."

His breath hitched, just like she'd expected. It was something she'd been putting off for a while, but it was about time she tried to learn. Even if it was something she didn't enjoy doing herself, it was his hobby. She could try, at least. And if she really couldn't do it, then he'd understand. She knew that. It wasn't like she wouldn't still watch him.

"Your choice," he breathed.

Lucy shook her head, her lips pursing. "But it's my first time," she whispered. "Help me?"

Serena groaned and pushed her down to the bed, a wicked grin curling his lips. "It must be my birthday," he said. She didn't have a chance to answer before his lips were roughly claiming hers.

She just liked spoiling him whenever she could. He deserved it. After everything he'd done for her, after all these years spent taking care of one another, she wanted him to know that she loved every part of him. "Anything for my God," she whimpered against his lips.

Just like she knew he would, Serena moaned and his tongue speared between her lips. She could feel his arousal pressing against his boxers, begging to be released. And damnit, she was ready for him. She was so… so ready for him to fuck her again, just like he had the night before in the bathroom of that club.

She gasped as the alarm on his phone started blaring from somewhere on the floor. No! Not yet!

Serena drew back. "Fuck," he panted. "Time for work…"

She wanted so badly to tell him to call in. But he couldn't. They couldn't afford for him to miss work, and not get the steady paycheck he pulled in. Rent was due next week, and they still needed to save up money for diapers and a crib, and the other essentials. Especially since she wouldn't be able to work herself in another month or so.

They had to be responsible. This baby wasn't planned, but she loved it. He did, too. They had to be adults now.

"Come on," she laughed when he curled around her. You should get dressed."

Serena rolled onto his side, dragging her with him and hiking her leg over his hips. She knew where he was trying to take this as his hips curled in a slow, steady rhythm. "You working tonight?"

She nodded, brushing his hair from his eyes. "I tried for the day shift, but Bob says he really needs me tonight. I'll still be here when you get home, though. "

"I reek when I come home," he scoffed.

"You make sweaty man-funk and oil smell sexy." It was mostly true. Serena usually did stink to the high heavens when he was done with work, but he tried his hardest to make sure he got most of the mechanic gunk off his hands before walking in the door. And there was just something about smelling fresh sweat mixing with motor oil on him that turned her legs to jelly.

She kissed him deeply, gasping when he reached between them and lined himself up at her dripping entrance.

"Serena," she whimpered. "You have to work."

"I'll be quick," he rasped. "I need you."

It was the look in his eyes that had her caving. Kids had teased him for years about his heterochromia, but she loved that one eye was blue and the other a vibrant gold. It made him so unique. But when he looked at her like this, like she was the only woman in the world who mattered, she couldn't tell him no.

He sunk into her heat slowly, his arms barring around her and holding her tightly to him. "I love you," he moaned. "Fuck, I love you so much."

"I love you, too." Lucy rolled her hips carefully, grinning when his lip pulled back and he hissed in pleasure.

"No, baby," he said. "I love you." He slammed back into her, pulling a startled moan from her lips. "You ask me for anything, and it's yours." He thrust harder. "I'll rip the moon out of the fucking sky for you."

Lucy's head tipped back as he thrust into her again, his hips digging into her thighs as he rolled her onto her back.

"Say the word, and it's done," Serena groaned.

She shivered at the sheer conviction in his voice just before his lips locked onto her breast. She knew he was telling the truth. Anything she asked of him, he'd find a way to give it to her. Whether it was the very stars from the sky or someone's head on a golden platter, he would find a way.

"Just keep loving me forever," she said. His tongue snaked out and glided from her nipple up to the tattoo over her heart that he'd given her. "Never leave me."

"I'll always love you," he groaned, nipping at the shaky black lettering. His pace never slowed, even as he grabbed her hand and placed it over the scars on his chest. "I did this, remember? For you."

Her fingers brushed over the raised flesh, the memory of the night he'd carved into his own chest coming back to her full force.

The day he'd held her down in that crackhouse they'd been squatting in just a few months after running away, he'd proven just how much he loved her for the final time. She'd been so unsure of what they were doing, of whether or not it was worth it. He'd pinned her to the floor and straddled her legs, then tore his shirt off over his head.

"Don't you see how much I love you?" he asked, his eyes wide and crazed. "I'd die for you, Lucy. I'd cut out my heart for you!"

"S-Serena, no," she sniffled. "I don't want that."

He looked around them for a moment, his mismatched eyes flashing with intrigue. Serena lunged to the side and picked up an empty, dusty Jack Daniels bottle. "I'll prove it to you," he said. Lucy screamed when he broke the bottle on the floor and grabbed a large shard of glass. "I'll prove it."

"You don't have to do this," she whimpered. Her vision blurred with tears as he brought the jagged edge to his chest, just over his heart. "Serena, please-" A sob broke past her lips and her tears finally spilled over as the glass cut into his flesh.

"I love you, Lucy." Serena hissed as he dragged the glass downward. "I'm all yours. Forever and ever, baby."

"B-But…" Her eyes widened as he pushed the glass off to one side, making the shape of an L over his heart. He took it away from his chest, then set it back down and pushed harder to break the skin again. He dragged it downward, curved the bottom, and pulled back up to form a U.

"My heart's all yours," he huffed, his voice shaking. She couldn't stop looking at the thick rivulets of blood dripping down toward his stomach as he carved a crude C into his chest. "I'll never leave you. I'm nothing without you. Don't you see that?"

"Serena, stop this," she cried. Her hands wouldn't move though. She didn't reach up to try and stop him, instead simply watching as he slashed a trembling Y into his skin. "Don't hurt yourself for me. I'm not worth-"

"You are!" he shouted. When she flinched, he paused. He knew she hated being yelled at. He knew that it made her lock up. She always shut down to avoid being hurt again. He dropped the glass on the floor and curved his bloodied hand around her cheek, gently nudging her to look at him again. "You're worth it," he said. "You're worth the pain. If this will make you see, I'll carve your name all over my body. I don't fucking care. I'll bleed for you, baby. As much as you want."

She pulled in a trembling breath and roughly wiped away her tears, then looked at his chest again. Her fingers shook while brushing across the angry, bleeding cuts. "I don't want you hurt."

"Then tell me what you want. It's yours," he said. His hand closed over hers, forcing her to press harder. "Anything."

"I just want you," she said, looking up at him again. "I just wanna know I can love you, and you won't leave me behind."

"Forever?" he asked with a smirk. She nodded, and he brought her knuckles to his lips. Serena set her hand on the floor again, then picked the glass back up. "I promise," he said, carving into his chest again. "Until the world turns to shit and we're the last two people left alive, I'm yours. You'll never be left alone again, baby. I already killed for you…" He winced and groaned when the glass dug deeper. "I'll do it again, too. I'll make this whole world my bitch, and you'll be right by my side… Fuck… Forever."

His hands shook from the pain as he finished the last letter, and he dropped the glass to the floor once more. His whole body trembled, his breaths came in heaving bursts from between tightly clenched teeth. And all Lucy could see was what he'd eventually have scars from. How he'd torn himself apart to prove to her, once and for all, that he meant what he'd said.

"Lucy… four ever," she whispered.

"F-Forever," he huffed. "Always, baby."

Her tears came more forcefully after their eyes met again. Even though he was in pain and bleeding, she knew it was true. She couldn't deny it. His heart was all hers, and no one else could ever try and take it from her. He wouldn't leave her. She knew it now. "Me next," she said suddenly.

"Hell no," he chuckled, tossing the glass away before she could make a grab for it. "We're not cutting your beautiful body up."

It had been his way of proposing when they were still teenagers. They'd just… never gotten around to getting married. But she didn't need any of that. Her parents had gotten married, then ended up divorced and hating each other, taking it out on her in the process. And when her dad committed suicide, she was stuck with just her mom who only ever talked shit about her father, who tried to taint his memory with hatred. Who brought guys around the house, slept with them, and ignored how they leered at her teenage daughter. Her mother who didn't bat an eye over one of them molesting her.

No, the only one who cared as the years went on was right there with her, in their bed, worshipping every inch of her body with his lips and trembling hands. Serena, who hadn't even been her boyfriend yet, handled that guy, and made it look like an accident. Her mother ditched her shortly after that. Lucy wasn't sure if her mom knew that it hadn't been an accident, or if she suspected Lucy might have had a hand in any of it. But one morning, she'd woken up to an empty house with no power or water, a pink eviction notice on the door, and a note from her mom wishing her good luck with her life.

Serena had helped her hide the fact that she was technically homeless, and all he'd wanted in return was to take her on a date. Just one single date down at the local ice cream shop. He'd been so sweet, so tender.

He'd already been in love with her.

And then he'd saved Lucy from the PE coach. And when he had to run, she'd gladly gone with him. There hadn't been anything left for her at home. Everyone she'd ever loved had left her broken and lost and so, so alone. It took so long for her to be able to trust that he loved her, and he'd understood it. He'd kept proving his love over and over again.

"Oh, fuck," he groaned as his pace quickened. His lips peppered her chest with kisses, giving the tattoo on her chest that said God Serena 4ever extra attention. He'd made the tattoo gun at home using instructions he'd printed out at the library.

She loved it. It was their own promise. They would always be together.

"Your pussy's soaked," he groaned.

"That's what you get for knocking me up," she rasped. "I'm always ready."

It threw him over the edge and straight into the heavens. Sadly, he didn't take her with him, but that was okay. She loved feeling him let go, the way he always toppled onto the bed next to her, dragging her with him, keeping their hips connected so he could pour everything of himself into her.

Granted, that's how he got her pregnant in the first place (and a defective condom), but she loved it. Lucy couldn't get enough of how close she felt to him like this.

"You didn't cum," he panted.

She shook her head. "You're gonna be late for work," she said.

"Fuck work, you need to get off," he huffed. She grabbed his hand before he could reach down and toy with her clit. Serena's brows drew together. "I don't want you hot and bothered later."

She smirked at him, shifting her hips just enough for his softening cock to slip out of her. "But I want to be hot and bothered later," she rasped. "I'm gonna get myself so unbelievably horny for you, and then force us to wait until later tonight… And when we can't hold back anymore…"

"I'll make you mine all over again," he groaned, a salacious grin darkening his features as he pulled her flush against him. "No matter where we are."

"Damn right," she giggled. It was something that had gotten them into trouble before, but she didn't care. Lucy thrived on the feeling that driving Serena to the very edges of madness brought out in her. He was her god and her devil, all wrapped up in one.

"Called the shop," Serena said as he walked out into the living room. He paused and his eyes raked over Lucy in her pale pink robe where she sat on the couch, her hair still teased from the night before. "Fuck, you're beautiful."

She blushed.

"Told Gildarts I'm running a little late," he said.

"Thirty minutes is more than a little late," she laughed. Lucy smacked the top of their secondhand laptop, then opened it and waited for the screen to light up.

"You're the one who said I needed to shower," he chuckled.

"You smelled like prego snatch."

"I have no problems with that."

Lucy rolled her eyes. Still, with the way she'd been left hanging earlier, he was looking even sexier than normal in his jeans, blank tank top and pale blue mechanic shirt. It had to be that the buttons weren't done, and she was able to see his thin waist and how his tank top hugged him in all the right places.

"Will you do my hair today?" he asked.

That was surprising. He usually never asked her that. Lucy knew that Serena preened like a peacock when she did his hair - he loved it more than he probably should, but who was she to judge - but he would wait for her to offer to do it for him.

Lucy smiled and patted her legs, and he rushed over, sitting on the floor in front of her. He leaned forward and grabbed the brush they shared from the coffee table, handing it to her over his shoulder.

She couldn't take too long brushing his hair, but it was obvious from the heat lingering on it that he'd washed and blow-dried it. He would need a style that wouldn't get in his way for work though. And she knew braids of any sort were off the table.

Finally, Lucy separated his bangs from the rest, then pulled his hair into two sections. She held up the top section and ran the brush through the bottom to make sure it was free of knots, then tapped his shoulder.

Serena hummed while holding up his hand, and she smiled as she took the hair tie from around his wrist. She brushed the top section of hair one last time, then tied it up for him.

"Gorgeous," she said, leaning down to kiss his ear.

He turned and kissed her, then stood. She pulled the computer onto her lap while he walked around their small apartment, looking for his phone and keys and wallet. She smiled when she heard the soft metallic clack of his butterfly knife as he tucked it into his jeans. She thought he was being paranoid, always carrying it with him, but Serena had told her that he wanted to be prepared.

"I'm taking the half-pack," he said. "Full one's on the counter."

"I'll trade you," she said, logging into the computer. This thing was slow as hell, but she wanted to get online and check to see if there were any small gigs she could pick up without having to leave the house.

Serena picked up the full pack of cigarettes from the counter, switching it out for the half-full pack he'd tucked into his pocket. He pulled one out and lit it, then moved the ashtray from the far side of the coffee table closer to her. Lucy smiled while taking the smoke from him, bringing it to her lips and breathing in deeply. He kissed her as she blew smoke from her nose. "Sexy dragon," he chuckled against her lips. "Don't smoke too much, okay?"

Lucy nodded as she leaned back on the couch. "I'm already cutting back. I only had three yesterday."

She'd been so worried that her smoking nearly a pack a day was going to hurt their baby. But Dr. Porlyusica had told her that it would be worse for her and the baby if she tried to quit cold turkey when she smoked so much. So Lucy had been weaning herself off as gradually as possible. And now that she was already halfway through the pregnancy, she felt like only having three cigarettes in a day was leagues better than where she'd started.

Serena's smile was tender. "If you need me to cut back too, lemme know, okay? Or not smoking inside. Whatever you need."

"Popsicles," she said, taking another drag. "They help with the oral fixation."

"Which kind?" he asked. "I'll pick some up on the way home."

"The twin ones. Y'know with the two sticks? The yellow is banana flavored… so good…"

He laughed and kissed the top of her head. Serena didn't even have to say that he thought she was adorable. He'd told her enough times since she'd gotten pregnant, that she already knew how he felt about her cravings.

"Love you," she said.

"Love you the most." She didn't get a chance to say anything back. With a giddy grin, he turned and dashed out the front door, stopping only when it was closed again so he could lock it.

Lucy smiled down at her belly, rubbing her free hand over it. "Daddy's so cute…"

Her phone rang, and she answered it without looking, thinking it was her precious boyfriend who was already missing her. "Yellow!"


Lucy gasped. "Cana-Banana! Dude, how are you!"

Her best friend of five years laughed on the other end of the line. "I'm solid, beautiful! So look. Y'know how I'm working on beauty school?"

"Totes." She couldn't help but smile while talking with Cana. She was a spitfire and talked a mile a minute, but they'd bonded during Lucy's first night working at Blue Pegasus. She'd been in tears in the back room, freaking out over everything, and Cana had been there. She'd taken Lucy under her wing and showed her the ropes so she could make tips without also selling her fucking body like some of the other girls.

"So I know you're with child, but I need to do some acrylics for a project. I'll do 'em free of charge, because you're my bestie."

"And because you can't charge me yet," Lucy laughed.

"Not the point, bitch!"

Lucy took another drag of her cigarette, propping her phone on her shoulder. She frowned down at her bare nails. "Well, dude, I can't really get my nails done right now. Fumes and all, it's really not good for the baby." She felt like such a hypocrite, but at the same time, she was trying to limit it.

"Yeah, I told Midnight about that. Y'know, since he's teaching me his ways, and all. He says I can do that shit outside. He said you might be alright coming down to Crime Sorciere, but it's still not as well ventilated as being outside-outside. Y'all got a porch, right?"

"Yeah," Lucy said. She winced while peering around the couch toward the back porch they never used. "We might need to clean it up a bit."

"I gotchu, booboo. You take care of that baby. I'll bring Gajy over, and put his ass to work cleaning."

"Cana, you don't need to make him do that," Lucy sighed.

"Nah, he's good with it. You know him and Serena are tight. And you made us godparents. Least we can do."

Lucy smiled down at her belly, blowing out smoke again. "So all I have to do is sit here and get pampered, huh?"

"Damn straight! I'll even throw in a pedicure before the mani while he's cleaning, so you can just be on the couch, all relaxed and gorgeous."

Lucy rolled her eyes. If she was a lesbian, she knew Cana would be her first choice for partners. The bitch knew how to make her feel beautiful.

"If you want, I'll even do your hair."

"Okay, what the hell?" she laughed. "You can't just use me as a practice dummy!"

"No, but I gots to take care of you. No dye-jobs. Promise. I know how you feel about it, even when you're not carrying the God-Spawn. Just a cut. Only if you want it though. Just know I'm here whenever you feel like getting all prettied up and shit."

Lucy sighed and shut the laptop. She knew there was no way she was getting any work done. And honestly, that was alright with her. "Lemme check with Serena about the hair," she said. He loved her hair. The last thing she wanted to do was get it cut and have him not like it.

"Your locks, but I gotchu. I'm the same way with Gajy."

Lucy snorted. "Which is why his hair's down to his ass now." She put out her cigarette and got a little more comfortable on the couch, grabbing the remote so she could put the television on. "Bring it all, just in case, I guess. But I make no promises about the hair."

"Nails are a go! Fuck yes! You're the best bitch! Be there in, like, thirty… Ope, Gajy says he's gonna deep clean y'all's place. Top to bottom."

Lucy's eyes widened, and she cringed while glancing from the pile of unopened mail on the table, over to the dishes stacked by the sink and down to the floor that hadn't been mopped in fuck only knew how long. Their apartment was a complete disaster. As she'd gotten further along in her pregnancy, finding the energy to really get to work cleaning became harder. And Serena was usually exhausted after working. He'd started on the dishes yesterday, but she knew that at least one of the pots was still soaking.

"I already know what you're thinking. No, you're not changing our minds. No, you don't need to worry about the place being a mess. We went through the same shit when I was knocked up. And I already know what it's like to force yourself not to pay attention to the mess, otherwise you'll just cry. He wants to help, and he cleans places for a living so you know it'll be spic 'n span in no time."

"But it's his day off," she said. "He should relax."

"And he will. Later on. We both know how hard you and Serena have been working, and it's hard as fuck trying to do that and be pregnant, and then clean a fuckin' house. And once it's all done, maybe you'll feel more like doing that nesting shit the baby books talk about."

Tears welled on her lashes, and she smiled again. Of course Cana would bring that up. It was her biggest concern about this pregnancy. She just wasn't motivated to start getting the baby's nursery together. Granted, they only had a one-bedroom apartment, and the crib would have to go in their room, but that was okay. She just… She'd been slacking. So much.

"No tears, beautiful. We might not be blood, but we're still family. And we take care of each other. You were there for us when I lost the baby. Ain't no way we're leavin' y'all high and dry."

"You're the best, Cana," Lucy sniffled.

Lucy stepped off the bus and adjusted the lunch box she was carrying while squinting up at the store in front of her. It was nearing three in the afternoon, and she'd gotten a text from Serena saying that he'd be taking a break as soon as he was done replacing a head gasket on some Supra that was nearly as old as her.

She really wished she hadn't forgotten her sunglasses at home, but it was too late now to turn back and get them. Just finding something to wear had been enough of a chore. Mostly because she hadn't wanted to look like a hobo while leaving the house.

Also, she needed to do some laundry. Badly. But she had to wait for Serena to do that, because he was the one with the car most times, and she couldn't carry the baskets of clothes into the laundromat on her own.

She smiled when she remembered that Gajeel and Cana were still at the apartment. She didn't need to do laundry. He'd already told her that he had it all under control.

Late June heat beat down on her, making her glad that she'd chosen to wear her baby pink off-the-shoulder cut-off shirt with Kiss Me Bitch in white lettering, and a pair of bright turquoise shorts that sat comfortably under her bulging belly. She'd tied her hair up into high pigtails that hung to her shoulders, showing off the freshly shaved section of hair at the nape of her neck, leading partially up the back of her head. And sure, she was fully aware of the looks she got while turning away from the Mom & Pop Diner to go to Gildarts' Garage down the road. But Lucy didn't care how anyone felt about her style of clothing.

She loved bright colors. She was a total sucker for mixing pastels, like the canary yellow acrylics Cana had done for her. If her sandals had more support for her aching feet, she would've showed off her matching toenail polish, but instead she'd opted for her comfy pink combat boots.

The garage doors were open and a large industrial fan blew hot air through the shop. She knew better than to try walking through that deathtrap though. Instead, Lucy went to the actual door, listening as the little bell jingled to announce a customer's arrival. She found Serena's boss, Gildarts, sitting behind the reception desk with his shoulder length hair tied up in bun.

Lucy was never really sure what to make of the older man. He'd taken a chance on Serena, who didn't have a lick of experience in a garage, but needed a job desperately. And he'd only done it because she'd befriended Cana at work, and when Lucy mentioned that Serena needed a job, she'd put a bug in Gildarts' ear about it. She was sure that he was a nice guy. But he also kinda gave her the creeps. He was a little too… touchy for her tastes.

"Serena done with that head gasket?" she asked, smiling when he looked up from the forms he was filling out.

Gildarts turned in his chair and peered through the window into the garage to find Serena wiping his hands on a rag. "Just about," he said, turning back to Lucy with a smirk. She hid her discomfort when his eyes raked over her and landed on the lunchbox in her hands. "He's a lucky guy, having a cutie like you bringing him food."

"Oh, I'm nothing special," she laughed.

"Sure you are," he said. GIldarts stood as she came closer to the counter, then opened the half-door that separated the lobby from the back of the house. "Come on back, sweetie."

Lucy knew he meant it in a nice way. She'd seen him give Cana the same treatment. He was just trying to be nice, but it still irked her for some reason when his hand rested on her lower back to guide her carefully around the desk. She had to remind herself that her best friend's father wasn't a creep like the guys at Blue Pegasus.

"I can just wait in the lobby," she said.

"No way," he chuckled. She was sure his fingers brushed across her skin when he opened the door leading to the garage. "Lobby's for customers. You're family."

The thought warmed in her chest. It was Cana's infectious attitude that brought Lucy closer to her, and in that moment, she realized that her friend must have gotten this from her father. She stepped through the door and squeaked when she bumped into Serena.

He grinned down at her, surprise shining in his eyes as he brought their lips together. "What're you doing here?" he asked. "I thought you were letting Cana give you a makeover."

She nodded and followed as he walked back into the garage. When they separated, Lucy held up her hand for him to fully see her new nails. "Fancy nails," she giggled. Lucy turned and shook her head. "And a new do."

"Shaved?" he asked, frowning as she turned back to face him.

"I think it's cute. And it'll keep me cooler during summer."

His lips pursed slightly, and he pulled a rag from his back pocket to swipe the sweat from his forehead. "When you said a little shorter, I didn't think you meant like that."

"You hate it?" she asked, staring at the ground. Lucy glanced at him through her lashes, and nearly grinned when she saw the moment he caved.

"I don't hate it," he sighed. "It's just… new. Different."

"Weird?" she crooned.

"Super weird," he chuckled.

"But you like my weird," she said. "My weird ass brought you food."

Gildarts stuck his head through the door. "Serena, why don't you take that doll of a woman down to the park? We're pretty slow today, so if you wanna take off early, I'm fine with it."

"I've still gotta get a few more things done," he said, but Gildarts waved him off.

"Go enjoy life, before you're old and grey like me," he laughed.

Lucy bit her lips to hide her excitement. She really did want some extra time with Serena. "Could we go on a picnic?" she asked.

"I'm disgusting from work," he said, turning his scowl toward her.

"I don't give a shit. You're still my God," she crooned. "Besides, Cana and Gajeel are at the apartment, and his cleaning supplies were making me wanna ralph."

"He really is cleaning the place, huh?" he muttered.

Lucy brushed her hands over his arms, taking a small step closer. She knew that Serena wanted to be the one to help her clean up. He said it was his job to pick up the slack. "They just wanna help, sweetie," she whispered. "Cana's worried about the baby with how much I work, and she doesn't want me miscarrying like she did. They care."

He struggled with grasping the concept. She knew that. It was enough for him that she was in his life. Serena didn't really want more people around, but he'd also bonded with Gajeel after she and Cana became friends. To that end, Serena had learned to open up just a little.

He still sucked at accepting help, though.

"I could've cleaned…"

"But now you can do something better," she whispered. "Eat lunch with me, and then tease me in public. The only rules are that my clothes can't come off, and you can't make me cum."

And just like she knew he would, Serena perked up. He was addicted to her. Lucy was more than happy to have him fondling her in the middle of the park, if it would make him smile.

Lucy smiled and ran a hand along Gildarts' shoulders, leaning down to give him a better view of her cleavage. "Hey, you," she giggled.

"Star," he laughed. "How are you, sweetie?"

"I'm good." She glanced down as his hands shifted on the table he was sitting at, and she frowned at the cloth wrapped around his right hand in a makeshift bandage that she hadn't noticed earlier. "What happened?"

Gildarts sighed. "Engine fell on it," he said. "I should've kept Serena around for a bit. Just an old man being clumsy."

"You poor thing," she crooned. She leaned against the table and gingerly touched his wrist. With the low lighting on the main floor of Blue Pegasus, she couldn't see if it was bruised all that badly. "Did you go to the ER?"

"Nah," he chuckled. "I'll be alright."

"You should take better care of yourself."

"But that's what all you lovely ladies are for," he said, smirking at her. "Takes my mind off the pain."

Lucy snorted. "You're only here to show your support, Daddy Dearest," she said. It was odd. Gildarts came to the strip club at least once a week, watched the girls dance, even paid for a lap dance here and there. Most often, he was there to see Cana, and pay for a private lap dance.

After Lucy had learned that he was Cana's father, her friend had quickly explained that he paid for those private shows as a way to spend time with her. They just sat and talked, catching up with one another because they seldom had free time in their schedules that meshed.

"Hey, now," he laughed, "I'm great for the new girls."

That was true. Lucy's first lap dance had been with Gildarts. Cana had given her some pointers before her first real shift, and she'd practiced on her own, but then she'd been terrified when he'd actually paid for her to dance just for him. He'd taken things just a step further when he'd touched her waist while she'd been dancing. Lucy had been too scared to tell him to stop, and Gildarts had been the one to remind her that she needed to speak up for herself.

He was patient while she learned how to be more comfortable, dancing for a stranger.

Lucy had decided to keep that little tidbit of information from Serena though. No reason for him to get more jealous than he already was over what she did for money.

He understood it was necessary. They had to make ends meet somehow, and when he'd been unable to find work anywhere, Lucy had bitten the bullet and got this job.

She found out later that this strip club had much better management than some of the others in town. Minerva, one of the newer girls, had been surprised to find that there was no unspoken rule about glory holes in the bathroom like at her last job.

Lucy shuddered at the thought. The poor girl had really been through the ringer over at Tartaros.

"Star!" Bob called out, drawing her attention over to the bar. "This way, darling!"

She smiled at Gildarts one last time, patting his shoulder, then sauntered over to her boss. He was bald, portly, but he smiled like there was an angel whispering the secrets of the universe in his ear. She'd heard rumors that even he got in on the action from time to time with his crossdressing and flamboyant attitude. Apparently, some guys were really into it.

"Yes?" Lucy asked. He handed her a black key card with the number 4 printed on it in white. She tried not to wince. "Is it him again?"

"Yes, dear," Bob sighed. "Acnologia does seem to favor you."

"He's a creep," she muttered, but then she smiled. She had to put on a brave face. The last thing she needed was potential clients seeing her unhappy with the prospect of giving a private show.

"Since he's always requesting that room, I made sure the CCTV is working in there," he said, laying his hand over hers. "I'll be keeping an eye on you in there, so just wave if you need help. And fair warning, he asked for a little fetish off the bat, so he's already paid for it."

She knew Bob cared more than most bosses, but she wasn't sure what he thought he could accomplish when it came to helping her deal with someone like Acnologia. He was bigger, more muscled, than Bob - he'd made a point of talking about her baby bump being too small, and how that must mean that the father was a piddly shit pussy, and that if it was his baby it would be growing well - and he could crush someone like Bob in an instant if he wanted to.

He'd tried to flex those skills before Lucy had known she was pregnant, bragging about the men he'd killed. She didn't give a shit about that, but she'd pretended to be both impressed and intimidated. She was sure it was all talk.

"Thanks, Bob," she sighed, smiling at him again. "I appreciate it."

"I have to take care of my girls," he said. "If you need a break after you're done, I get it, darling. We'll talk more in a bit."

Lucy nodded and made her way past the stage where Minerva had just finished her pole routine, toward the plush blue curtains on the back wall. She slipped between them, her heels clacking on the tile, and paused at number 4. She could do this. It was just a lap dance. And he'd probably want to add on some extras, but that was just more money in her g-string.

And all the money she made was going right into their lock box for her to take maternity leave.

She couldn't waste time, though. Lucy slid the card into the reader, then opened the door as soon as it had unlocked.

She could admit, in another world, she might find his dark skin, vibrant tattoos, and pale hair attractive. She might have even been turned on by his bulging muscles. Except Lucy only had eyes for Serena. She just had to play the part of being aroused by someone like Acnologia - or anyone else she danced for - to get their money.

Music streamed through the speakers, and she met his heavy gaze. "What'll it be tonight?" she asked.

"Be my little girl," he said, smirking at her. It made Lucy's skin crawl when clients wanted that, but she could grin and bear it. Maybe he knew that, and he asked for it just to mess with her.

"If that's what you want, Daddy," she said. It sucked something fierce that, since getting pregnant, she'd been switched to wearing the naughty schoolgirl outfit twice a week. Her pink plaid miniskirt and matching bra and tie didn't really scream schoolgirl in Lucy's opinion, and her belly didn't really help matters. But there were apparently a good number of guys who thought the fantasy of a pregnant schoolgirl was sexy.

As long as she made money, she wasn't going to judge.

Lucy started to dance, her movements slow and calculated to match the beat. Her hips swirled as she turned her back to him, and she gasped when he leaned forward to touch the outside of her thighs. Her regulars knew that was all they could do without asking. She'd learned from Cana that making these small concessions kept the customers happy, and set boundaries.

"You're growing," he breathed.

Lucy turned to face him again, still dancing even as his hands slid up to her hips. That was pushing it, and he knew it. "Is that a good thing, Daddy?"

"Very good," he rasped. She wanted to cringe when his eyes honed in on her stomach. "You know, you could let me take care of you. I'd give you everything you'd ever want, and you'd never have to dance in a place like this again."

Lucy smiled. She'd had plenty of men tell her that in the past. What they didn't understand was that she loved her life. She loved that she had friends here in the club, and Serena at home. She actually did love dancing. It was empowering for her.

"You're a smart girl," he continued, sliding his hands back down her thighs. "I could put you through college. You could make something of yourself."

"But then I wouldn't get to dance, Daddy," she giggled.

"You can dance for me every night, if it'll keep my little girl happy," he said with a smirk. His hands curved around the backs of her legs, and he pulled one over his so she was partially straddling him.

As long as he didn't get too touchy, she could allow this. Lucy knew when to speak up, even with someone like Acnologia.

"Tell me what I can give you to make you mine, Star," he said, his breath hitching as she leaned closer to him. Her breasts brushed against his chest.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that, Daddy?" she rasped. "What can I do to please you?"

"Strip," Acnologia groaned. "I want it all off."

"That's extra, Daddy," she said. When she felt him grabbing her ass and stilling her hips, she yelped.

"You know I'll pay," he sneered. "Now, take it off. Don't do that trying to be sexy bullshit, either."

"Let go," she breathed, her eyes wide.

"Just. Strip. Let me see all of you."

"S-Sure thing, Daddy…" This was a first for him. He usually liked the full show. He wanted to see her take her time while stripping for him. It was the biggest reason she didn't have as much of a problem with these private dances for him. Her being completely naked jacked up the price like crazy. And if she had less dignity, she could charge even more (like one or two of the girls who'd already left for different clubs last month) and let him touch her while she was naked.

That was too far, in her opinion.

But he didn't want a show now. He just wanted her naked. She stepped back and out of his hold, watching as he pulled out his wallet and dropped two hundred bucks on the small table beside the couch. It wasn't nearly that much for her to be fully naked during a private dance, but she wasn't going to say a word. If he wanted to drop that money, then it was hers.

She undressed as though it was the end of the night, and she was ready to head home. It wasn't sexy. It was fast.

"Shoes, too," he said. "I want you barefoot and pregnant, right here."

Lucy forced herself to give him a coy smile while kicking off her shoes. Her feet were thankful for the relief, but she was much shorter now. When he stood up, breaking another of the rules, she took a step back. He was so tall! So much taller than her. She knew Bob was watching the security footage, but she could handle this.

That is, until Acnologia reached for her waist.

"What I wouldn't give to see my baby growing in you," he growled. "Star, let me make you mine."

"Whoa," Lucy said, scowling up at him. "You know the rules on touching!"

He knew he couldn't touch her while she was naked. He knew that! Why was he so pushy tonight?

"I'll pay extra," he said. His hand wrapped around the back of her neck, and she gasped as she was pulled flush against him. His free hand skimmed over her breast and down to her stomach. No one touched her stomach. No one!

She slapped him as hard as she could. Right in his smug face. "You could offer me the crown fucking jewels, and I'd still tell you no. You're not touching my daughter!"

"You bitch!" he roared. He lunged for her, and Lucy ducked to the side. She screamed when he got a solid grip on her hair. "I'm gonna make you pay for that."

The locked door slammed open, the breaking wood from the jamb drowning out the music that was still playing.

"Stay the fuck away from her!"

Lucy craned her neck at the sound of Serena's voice. He sounded vicious, nearly feral, but tears welled on her lashes at the sight of him standing there in the broken doorway. He'd come for her.

How had he known she needed him?

Acnologia's grip on her hair tightened, pulling on the baby pink extensions Cana had put in when she'd been getting ready for her shift. "Who the hell do you think you are, kid? Run along home."

"I'm a fucking God," Serena shot back. "And the father of that baby you were pawing at."

Acnologia twisted, dropping Lucy to her knees. She cried out from the pain, but that only seemed to excite him more. And by the look in Serena's mismatched eyes, it was driving him mad. He never wanted to hear her cry. She knew that. He fought tooth and nail to always keep her safe. "So this is the sad little sperm donor, huh?" Acnologia chuckled. "She's told me all about you. It's pathetic, really."

"Let her go."

"Are you going to make me?" he sneered. "Go ahead and try."

Serena was fast as he threw a heavy right hook at Acnologia's face, but it was obvious. Lucy screamed as he let go of her hair, wrapping her arms around her stomach and scrambling away as Acnologia's boot connected with Serena's stomach. They circled around each other, and Serena didn't back down, regardless of how many hits he took. But it was clear that he wouldn't win. Acnologia had him beat in strength and experience.

Serena had never been one for using his fists. He made things work to his advantage.

Lucy sniffled and glanced around the room. She couldn't just sit here. She couldn't let Serena do this alone! She found one of her stilettos nearby, and wrapped her fingers around it just as Acnologia wrapped a hand around Serena's throat.

"Normally, I'd take my time squeezing the life out of you," he snarled, "But you pissed me off."

"Fuck you," Serena wheezed, his eyes widening as Acnologia picked him up off the ground.

"That's what I'll be doing with her after you're dead," he chuckled.

Lucy scowled and threw her shoe at his head. It didn't hurt him, but it was enough of a distraction. While Acnologia's attention shifted to her, Serena reached into the pocket of his low-slung jeans and flipped out the butterfly knife he always carried on him. He didn't attempt any flashy tricks. Serena brought the knife up and across Acnologia's throat in a wide, powerful arc that had her attacker stumbling back and grabbing desperately at his throat.

Lucy's eyes honed in on the dark red rivulets running down the front of his shirt as he fell back into the couch.

"Fuck you," Serena spat. "No one talks about my goddess like that." He turned and forced the door closed, and Lucy listened to the quiet whirr of the locking mechanism. No one could come in now except for Bob.

Fuck… Bob was watching the security camera! He'd seen it all!

"Serena," she whimpered. "The camera-"

"Bob's shutting it off," he said, turning to wave his knife at the corner where the small black camera was hidden. "He sent me back here."

Her hand shook as he reached out to help her up, but she gladly took his hand. She didn't mind that the hand wrapping around her waist was covered in Acnologia's blood as he helped her to keep her balance.

Serena guided her over to Acnologia. She stared as he gasped for precious air.

"He'll choke on his own blood," Serena whispered. "But… You said you wanted to learn."

She blinked in surprise as he set the knife in her hand. Serena wrapped her fingers around the handle, then moved her hand so the knife was poised over Acnologia's chest.

"Right here," he breathed in her ear. "Hit hard and fast."

Lucy bit her lips with unease. Could she really do this? Could she be the one to take someone's life? As she looked into Acnologia's wide eyes, she wasn't sure. But then she felt Serena's comforting heat pressing in behind her. He made murder look so easy. Maybe it was easy for him.

"Break his heart, my beautiful goddess."

Suddenly she smiled. Serena was with her. Her protector was here. If she messed up, he could fix it. He could teach her all about this hobby of his. That girl who'd been tripping acid the night before… he'd drowned her in the toilet. Lucy had been enthralled by the way her arms and legs had thrashed so desperately. Would Acnologia do the same?

"Show him that no one can fuck with you."

Serena was right. Acnologia had tried to take advantage of her. She hadn't been able to protect herself in the past. She'd depended on Serena for that. But now… Now she had the power. She had control over her life. Hard and fast, just like he'd said, Lucy plunged the knife into Acnologia's chest. She was glad Serena had added a little of his own strength. The bastard's ribcage was tough as hell to break through.

Acnologia gurgled out a pained cough. One that had her ripping the knife from his chest. She hoped it hurt. That was for him trying to touch her stomach, the only protection her and Serena's daughter had from the cruel outside world.

Serena didn't have a chance to say a word as she moved it an inch to the left and stabbed him again. That was for throwing her around like some little doll he could do with as he pleased. It was beautiful. Mesmerizing. The way he bled, the way he trembled under her. The rush of power running through her veins right then was overwhelming. She wanted to feel it even more, and crawled up to kneel on his shaking legs.

He still wasn't dead. How was he not dead yet?

Lucy moved the knife higher. His hand was still clutching at his slashed throat. It was in her way. But she'd read in that anatomy book of Serena's that was sitting on her comfy chair in the bedroom… If she hit just the right spot, she could turn his brain to mush.

"He doesn't have a heart," Lucy said, her voice quivering as she grabbed Acnologia's face. "His thoughts are the problem."

"We should do something about that," Serena groaned. His hands skimmed down her back, gently grasping her hips.

Lucy giggled, perching the blade at Acnologia's temple. As she plunged the metal through his skin, Serena moved in behind her and thrust his rigid cock into her. Lucy's eyes nearly closed. The euphoria was instant. She'd been so worked up all day - at her own insistence - and now he couldn't hold himself back any longer. As the handle of the knife met with Acnologia's skin, her grip tightened.

Serena was wild with her, his hips slapping against her ass as he curled around her, groping her breasts. "You're my sweetest nightmare," he moaned in her ear. "You frighten me, drive me crazy…"

Lucy's head tipped back and a low moan slipped past her lips.

"And anyone who tries to take you from me is dead," he snarled. When she turned to look at him, she found a wicked smile curling his lips. "'Cause you're never leaving me."

"Wait," Lucy whimpered. "Th-The baby…"

Serena slowed, but she could see how he struggled to rein himself in just a little, and she rolled onto her back, using Acnologia's lifeless body as a cushion. Lucy spread her legs, giggling as Serena draped them over his forearms. He lined himself up and slid inside her slick heat with a low groan.

"You're my only god," she rasped. He claimed her lips in a rough, needy kiss that had her toes curling as his hips snapped forward again.

Lucy gasped as wisping fabric and strong arms wrapped around her, dragging her through a red fog and back into the strange Not-Limbo place. She was glad for the resulting pain that ripped its way through her head and turned her vision white with agony.

She was happy her tour guide was holding her closely against its body when her stomach twisted and she gagged.

"That was… so fucked up," it muttered.

As the pain became too great, Lucy was thankful for blessed darkness claiming her. But she definitely agreed. She wasn't entirely sure that it was still speaking, but part of her wanted to believe it to be true.

"I'm so sorry, Lucy. I should have pulled you out sooner…"