Hello to the dedicated fans of this story who have stuck it out this long! Although it breaks my heart, this is the last real chapter before the epilogue. I know, it is indeed sad. Good news is that there will indeed be a sequel and we'll get to see what crazy things Fairy Tail manages to get into next since they can never seem to stay out of trouble. But their story wouldn't be so interesting if they did avoid all of the craziness. Anyway, enjoy the latest chapter!

Chapter 21: Stable Lives

I felt like I was perpetually locked within a dream. No matter what I did, I couldn't wake myself so instead I just stayed within the nightmare. I would see images or feel pain, even hear people speaking. I figured that I must be delusional as my mind drifted to memory in the past.

It was a moment in time after Natsu found Happy and before I became an S-Class Wizard. It was during the day of the Harvest Festival and Makarov had asked me to make a few shadow animals for the Fantasia Parade later that night. It had been a long time since I had done anything like that, so I decided that I needed some practice. I went over to the corner of the room where the shadows were the thickest and gathered them into the shape of a dog as a test run. I heard noises behind me as if someone cleared their throat and I turned around to see Natsu and Gray, a tiny blue kitten with wings hovering over their heads.

"Hey, whatcha doing?" Natsu asked me curiously, tilting his head to the side as he tried to look past me. When I didn't say a word in response to his question, he sighed. "So you still won't talk to me?"

"Don't take it personally, Natsu, she doesn't talk to anyone here," Gray said, patting him on the shoulder before walking off. "Later, Shadow!"

I narrowed my eyes and glared at Gray's retreating back, not thrilled with the nickname he had given me. "One of these days," Natsu said quietly to me, "I will make you talk to me and I'll know your name."

I glanced up at him and saw his silent determination, never knowing anyone as persistent as he was. Rogue hadn't even been that way. After a while of staring at me, he turned around and went to go be with Lisanna. I heard footsteps and turned to see Mirajane and Erza approaching me. I happened to be friends with them both, making sure not to pick a side whenever they decided that they were going to fight with each other.

"Well, well, look at that," Mira said as she crossed her arms, giving me a knowing smirk. "Little Natsu has a bit of a crush on you." I refused to speak, just shaking my head a bit to signal that I disagreed. "Come on, Shadow, he is infatuated with you. He is determined to hear you speak, even if it's just once." This time, I bared my tiny fangs at her at the use of my nickname.

"Don't get all angry when we call you Shadow," Erza said with a sigh, placing a hand on her forehead in exasperation. "If you'd just let us know your name, we wouldn't have to find something to call you."

"It makes you an easier target to pick on as well when you can't argue," Mira laughed, an evil grin on her face. She pinched my cheek and then walked off with Erza following behind her, telling her that it was uncalled for to do that to me. I rubbed my stinging cheek, glaring after them before going back to practicing.

That night, I was assigned to the same float as Natsu and Happy, which he would be doing a fire breathing act while I made exotic shadow animals that the children could pet that walked beside our float. After that, we'd throw candy to the children once we felt like our magic was getting low. About halfway through the Fantasia Parade, we decided to give it a break and sat next to each other to toss candy at the smiling children. I was absolutely fascinated by the whole night, wishing that I could watch it one day in the future.

As Natsu gave Happy some candy to throw on either side of us, he asked, "Have you ever seen the Fantasia Parade before this?" I shook my head and he gave me a huge smile. "Me neither! It's my first time to see it, too! I heard that it was a lot of fun and now I can see why! Maybe next year we can watch it from the sidelines together!"

For a while, we kept throwing the candy until the float jerked to a stop. I wobbled on the edge and fell off of it, nearly hitting the ground when Natsu reached out and grabbed my hand. He pulled me up and set me back down before the float could move again. I couldn't tell in the semi darkness, but I thought that he might be blushing.

"Are you alright?" he asked, looking away from me and avoiding eye contact entirely.

Deciding then and there that it was time, I spoke up for the first time to someone in Fairy Tail besides the guild master. "Yes, I'm fine," I said lightly, my soft unused voice just loud enough to be heard over the cheering crowd. "Thank you, Natsu."

He looked extremely surprised at finally hearing my voice, but the next moment he grinned, looking so happy and excited I thought he might yell in joy. He talked to me for the rest of the night as we threw candy to the children, occasionally I would speak up as well and his wide grin would make a reappearance. After that night, I would sporadically talk to him again when other people weren't there to listen.

I felt my consciousness slowly drift to the surface, just enough that I could hear and feel but I still couldn't wake myself. My body felt so heavy and stiff, pain seeming to just be a dull ache and my head was what hurt me the most. Next to my right side, I could feel a soft tiny body curled up next to my and purring loudly. It took me a little while, but I could feel a familiar warmth and that someone was holding my hand.

Natsu, I said in my mind, trying to fight the exhaustion and wake up to see him, but I just couldn't do it.

I heard a noise out in the hallway, two sets of footsteps approached and then the door opened as they walked in. "Natsu, Ty, I'm back!" I heard a somewhat cheery voice say and I could tell that it was Wendy. I could sense that she wasn't her normal happy self, even that the room had a melancholy atmosphere about it. "Zeref showed me the way since you all practically live here with her."

"I figured I should be the one to do so since it doesn't look like either of you are willing to leave her side," Zeref said, moving closer only to have Natsu let out a growl at him.

"You get back," he said. "No one is allowed near her except for Ty, Wendy, and me."

"Don't forget Happy and Carla, too, Natsu," Wendy informed him and he agreed. I could hear her footsteps get closer and then felt her dainty hand on my forehead. "She's in a bit of pain right now, but I can take that away. It's nothing serious. I think that she might wake up soon, so please don't worry. You should get some rest, too."

"I won't until she wakes for me," he said tiredly, a hidden tone in his voice that said there was no point in arguing with him.

I began to feel a chill on my skin as I felt the magic from Wendy's healing spells seep into me, then an easing warmth travelled through my body and I inwardly sighed as I felt the dull ache finally leave me. After a few seconds of listening in on their conversation, I felt myself drifting back into unconsciousness and fell asleep once more.

Blearier than last time, I felt myself waking and this time I could actually open my eyes, my vision blurry and I had to blink rapidly to clear it since my limbs felt too heavy to move just yet. My head was turned in the direction of a chair that was occupied by Natsu, who was still holding my hand. He had finally crashed and was hunched over with his head on his arms, his cheek resting on my hand as he slept. I heard a gasp and I saw Ty stand up, gaping at me with a mix of surprise and joy on her face. With a squeak of joy, she jumped at me and wrapped her arms around my neck the best she could, hugging me tightly as she began to cry. I wrapped my free arm around her and pressed my cheek to hers.

I felt Natsu stir, lifting his head up a little but keeping his eyes closed. He looked so exhausted that he had dark circles under his eyes that looked like bruises, almost as if he had been in a bad fight. As Ty settled herself further up on my shoulder, I used the hand that had been on Ty's back and moved it over to brush Natsu's bangs from his eyes. I felt him sleepily lean into my touch before he froze, letting go of my hand to rub his eyes quickly and then opened them slowly. He gasped in shock, just staring at me for a few seconds before he did the same thing that Ty had done. He practically jumped at me, throwing his arms around me as he hugged me to him tightly. I felt the breath leave my lungs with a whooshing noise and I had to tap his shoulder to get him to let up a little.

"You really are ok," he whispered over Tyger's cries. "I was so worried about you, Timara."

"I know and I'm sorry," I told him. "I didn't mean to worry either of you so. Can you forgive me?"

"Of course!" Ty wailed. "You're my family! I would always forgive you, no matter what!"

I wrapped one arm around Natsu and the other around Ty as Natsu finally said, "So long as you promise to never do anything that reckless. I don't ever want to see you like this again."

"I promise," I said with a wan smile. We stayed like that for what felt like a long time when I sensed that something was missing. I could quite put my finger on it at first until I realized that I couldn't feel the shadows anymore. In fact, I couldn't feel my magic at all. "What happened to my magic?" I asked, feeling a bit worried that I might have lost it forever.

"Oh, don't worry about that," Natsu told me. "Gramps put a cap on your magic power so that you couldn't use it right now. He was worried that after you absorbed Etherion, you might not have control of your Dragon Slayer Magic and didn't want anyone to get hurt on accident. When you feel up to it, we'll go to Fairy Tail and can get the cap removed. Now, get some more rest. I'll make you some food later."

"I'll get rest as long as you do, too," I said.

He gave me a tired smile before he lay on his side next to me, wrapping an arm and a leg around me before seeming to just pass out instantly. Ty crawled up onto the pillow and fell asleep as well, so I turned over onto my side facing Natsu and rested my forehead against his chest before passing out. When I awoke again, I could tell that Natsu had been up for a while, just rubbing my back absentmindedly while I was asleep. I opened my eyes and looked up at him, seeing that the bruises under his eyes from lack of sleep looked a bit better now. I reached a hand up and placed it on his cheek, carefully and slowly rubbing the bruised skin below his eye as he leaned into my touch.

"How long had I been unconscious after I transferred Etherion's magic back into the Main Cannon?" I asked him curiously.

"About three days," he said softly, pressing his lips to my forehead lightly before moving back to his previous position. "It took a pretty large toll on you. Thankfully, Blue Pegasus and Lamia Scale showed up on Christina. I guess they tried to hurry to our aide for the fight, but instead they carried out the wounded to Fairy Tail. It took two trips just to get everyone back to Magnolia and we were on the first one. I didn't want you to be around so many people in the infirmary, so I carried you back here to your mansion. We've had a lot of visitors but I wouldn't let anyone get too close except for Wendy."

"Not even my own brother?" I asked him.

He looked a bit uncomfortable as he said, "About that… Rogue and Sting were waiting for you to wake up so that they could say goodbye. They want to head back to Sabertooth soon since they've been away for so long."

"Oh…" I said sadly. "We've been fighting with them by our side for so long that I almost forgot that they're from an entirely different guild. I'll miss them deeply."

He got up from the bed and pulled me with him, wrapping his arms around my waist when my knees buckled and threatened to make me sink to the floor. "Are you ok?" he asked me, a worried expression on his face as I heard Ty stir.

"I'm fine, my body just isn't used to the fact that I had been unconscious for days," I told him as I lightly pushed him away and stood on my own. I felt my stomach grumble uncomfortably and I let out a soft hiss. My head hurt as a pounding headache caught my attention. I slumped forward as the room began to spin all of a sudden, letting out a sigh as I closed my eyes. Natsu made a noise of surprise before catching me again and he groaned a bit.

"I thought you said you were fine!" he grumbled, glaring a little. "You know, this reminds me of the time I ate a Lacrima crystal. It had been infused with the magic from Etherion, too, and that was how I was able to use Dragon Force. You took the brunt of it though so that must be why you were asleep for three days."

"Did you feel sick afterwards?" I asked him.

"Very sick," he said, shuddering at the memory. "If I had known that was what you were going to do, I would have found a way to stop you."

"You wouldn't have been able to stop me anyway, Natsu," I said as I lightly patted him on the cheek.

As Ty hopped down from the bed and walked over to me, I pulled away from his arms and began to walk towards the door, feeling wobbly the entire way. With a frustrated sigh, Natsu walked beside me and led me arm in arm outside to the hallway then down the stairs. As we took the last step, Sting and Rogue, along with their two partners, walked out of the living room and into the main hall with us. Ty ran over to the other two cats, a slight smile on her face as the two Sabertooth Dragon Slayers looked me over.

"You don't look so good, sister," Rogue said to me. "Now you know why you shouldn't just absorb magic that doesn't belong to you so you can enter Dragon Force."

"You're right," I told him, opting out of telling him about Skiadrum passing his Dragon's Will to me. I figured I wouldn't want to burden him with it when he was just about to leave. "I won't be doing that any time soon, I promise."

"That must mean you're a First Generation Dragon Slayer, unlike your brother," Sting said with an amused grin. "Maybe you should get a Dragon Lacrima implanted and you could use Dragon Force as easily as we can."

"That's a really good idea," Rogue said. "I never could figure out why you didn't have one implanted like I did."

"Sorry, boys, but that's just not for me," I told them, rolling my eyes a bit. "I prefer the challenge of attaining Dragon Force. As for why I never had one implanted, I was a child and the process I was told about frightened me. I had zero trust in people I didn't know, remember? I certainly wouldn't allow a stranger to perform something like that on me."

"It's ok, you're perfect the way you are," Natsu said with a big smile, infecting me with his happiness.

After talking amongst ourselves for a while longer, they finally decided that it was time to leave. I didn't like the thought since I was so used to having my brother around, even Sting, who was almost like a brother as well. I wanted to give them a hug before they left, but every time I moved to do so Natsu would growl before grabbing my hand and yanking me back to his side. After the third time, I let out my own chilling growl that only had him grinning, finally letting me go as he snickered softly. I hugged Sting quickly, moving away before he could try something to anger Natsu. Instead, he reached up and ruffled my hair, giving me a bit of a sad look that I had never seen as part of his expressions before.

"I never did get the chance to tell you this, but I was really upset when I heard you'd nearly been killed by Acnologia when we were captured," Sting said. "I was even upset when you fell into that coma recently for three days straight. Believe it or not, I feel like you're my little sister as well and I wouldn't want anything bad to happen to you."

Next, I walked over to my brother, throwing my arms around his neck and hugging him tightly as he did the same. His body shook almost imperceptibly and I was shocked by this. I guess he really didn't want to leave me yet either, but knew that he needed to for his guild. I knew better than to ask him to leave Sabertooth and join Fairy Tail with me. Sabertooth was where he belonged, just like Fairy Tail was the same for me. This was the inevitable time where we had to part ways.

"You're my sister," he whispered. "I don't like the thought of leaving and being so far away after we just formed a normal sibling relationship. I'm going to miss your stubborn personality."

"I'll miss your stupid, bone-headed attitude towards my ideas," I said with a laugh. "We'll visit each other as soon as we can, ok? And if anything happens to one of us, we'll send word for the other one to rush to our side."

I pulled away a bit and brushed his bangs from his right eye, making him glare slightly at my action but he nodded at my words. I hugged him again before taking a couple steps back to Natsu. I happened to look down at our cats, Happy had now joined them and was talking to Lector as Frosch and Ty talked. Little Frosch looked like he was blushing a little at something Ty had said and she was grinning deviously. As Sting said it was time to go, Frosch quickly kissed Ty on the cheek before running over to Rogue with the biggest grin on his face. Lector made his way over to Sting as they all left and we waved goodbye to them, Ty and I feeling a bit sad to watch them go. I leaned my head against Natsu's shoulder and sighed dejectedly.

"I'll try to make you some soup and then we'll go to Fairy Tail," Natsu said as he wrapped an arm around my shoulders and led me to the kitchen. "That should keep your mind off of those two for a while."

I was surprised to see Zeref there already, a bowl of chicken noodle soup waiting for me as he gave me an embarrassed smile. "I figured that this was the least I could do for you after you helped me in my time of need. I'd say we're even now," Zeref said to me.

I slurped down a spoonful of the soup then looked back at Zeref with a sad feeling deep in my gut. "What do you plan on doing next?" I asked him curiously.

"I'm not sure," he said quietly. "I thought I might go back to Tenrou Island now that I'm no longer being hunted, but I have this strange feeling that makes me reluctant to do so. I'll stay for a few days more and try to figure out what this feeling is before I make any decisions yet."

I felt a wave of relief pass through me at his words that he'd stay for a while longer. I didn't want yet another person who was important to me to step out of my life, even though I would be able to see him again once every year for the S-Class Promotion Trials. I gulped down all of my soup before I got up, rinsed my bowl, and walked out of the room with a pensive Tyger in my arms. Natsu ran to catch up with me, Happy running after him as well, and we left the house entirely.

"You're upset by this turn of events," he said as he walked beside me down the path towards Magnolia. "You feel like everyone is just leaving you all of a sudden. But it's not true."

"I know, but that's what it seems like to me."

"We're still here with you," Ty said, breaking out of her trance to look up at me with a smile. She then looked down at the blue cat walking next to Natsu. "Right, Happy?"

"Aye!" he yelled, jumping a little.

When we reached the gate, the man who truly owned my mansion ran out and opened it for us, saying that he was glad I turned out ok. He mention that he opened the gate for Natsu that night when I was unconscious and that he was really worried about my welfare when he finally heard what had taken place. I thanked him gratefully before he went back inside his house while we headed to Fairy Tail. The walk back was spent in silence as I just looked at all the people walking past us and stared at a few stalls where vendors were selling trinkets or food. I saw a necklace that reminded me of the one my father had given me and I reached up to rub my thumb against the ruby pendant around my neck.

Finally, we made it to the courtyard outside of the guild's building and parted ways as Natsu went to go talk to someone who had called his name. I wandered inside in a bit of a daze, barely even registering anything that was going on around me. I found an empty table near a shadowy corner and lamented the fact that my magic was sealed for now. I kept trying to use the magic absentmindedly, just to create a small creature or object of some kind only to have to remind myself that it was impossible. Ty had flown off somewhere a long time ago and I stared into the shadowy corner. I distantly noticed a fight breaking out in the background, only paying any attention to it when something was thrown past my head that just barely missed me. Turning around to verbally abuse the culprit, I saw that Natsu was standing a few feet away with a worried look on his face, no longer even paying attention to the fact that he had Gray in a headlock. Gray struggled to get free, only to discover that if he kept at it he would choke himself. He finally just tried to pry Natsu's arm away from his neck instead.

"Are you really alright, Timara?" Natsu asked me.

Before I could answer, Cana came over with two wine glasses in hand and a huge wooden pitcher. She sat across from me and gave Natsu a smile before saying, "Don't worry about her, Natsu. I've got this covered."

He didn't look convinced and I had a feeling that he'd be keeping an eye on us regardless, but he nodded and dragged Gray away with him before the fight broke out again. Cana poured us both a glassful of the red liquid in the pitcher and handed me a glass before she drank hers within seconds. I sniffed the contents of mine and could smell the heavy scent of alcohol within it.

"You've got to be kidding me if you think getting me drunk is going to help," I told her as I shook my head.

"Speaking of that," a gravelly voice said beside me and I looked down to see the guild master, who was giving Cana a stern look, "don't get Timara drunk. A few glasses of that wine are ok, but I don't want one of the few civilized people in this guild to get out of hand. I don't think this hall can take it."

"Oh, it's not like she can use her magic to destroy the place if she gets a bit too tipsy," Cana said as she waved his words off. "I think this would be the perfect time to get her to loosen up a bit. She acts much too like that brother of hers."

"Hey, that's not true!" I told her.

I had a witty retort in store for her, but Makarov stopped me by saying, "No, Cana, you still can't get her drunk. Now, as for your magic, Timara, I'll keep them sealed just for today and then tomorrow you can get them back. I just didn't want anything bad to happen to you while you were unconscious."

"I understand, master," I told him as I nodded respectfully. Cana poured herself a second glass as Makarov walked away, then gave me a smile.

"Drink that," she said as she pointed at the untouched glass of wine still in my hand. "Prove that you aren't as stuffy as your brother."

"You're on," I said with grin.

It was disgusting at first and I nearly spit it out, but after a few sips I was used to it. She poured me another glass when I was finished, she was already on her fifth glass herself, and then we began to play a bit of a drinking game. Even then, it wasn't a true drinking game. We borrowed a hat and took a deck of cards, then began to try to shoot the cards with a flick of our wrist into the hat itself. If we missed, there wasn't a penalty. We were just bored and would occasionally drink from the wine glass in between turns.

After my third glass, my head began to feel fuzzy and all of my card throws began to miss, so I forfeited the game. Cana laughed, a slight flush on her cheeks from being tipsy since she had drunk way more than I had, and called me a loser before standing up to ruffle my hair. She then declared herself the card champion before walking over to Mira to get another pitcher of wine. Mira told her that she was cut off, then went back to cleaning something while Cana snuck some alcohol away without her even noticing. I heard some footsteps behind me and saw that it was my mate, who was giving me a stern look.

"Hiya, Natsu!" I giggled, leaping from the bench I was sitting on and tackling him to the ground. He nearly smacked his head into the floor and it only made me giggle more. I kissed him quickly before he could scold me for my actions and then scrambled to my feet so I could run away from him.

"Get back here!" he yelled as he took off after me. Gray and Loke tried to grab me, but I side stepped them both and ran to the door.

"Cana, I thought I told you not to get her drunk!" Makarov yelled to her as she took huge gulps straight from the pitcher.

"Oh, she's fine," Cana said as she smacked the now empty pitcher on the counter. "She's not that drunk. If anything, I'm worse than she is."

I didn't hear the rest of the conversation as I ran out of the guild hall entirely with Natsu on my heels. I might have been tipsy, but I was still speedy without my magic and I kept a five foot lead as I ran about the city. I laughed when I caught sight of the South Gate Park, not even realizing that I had made it this far until I saw the large tree right in the center of the park itself. I yelped in surprise when I felt a heavy weight crash down on me and pin me to the ground once he flipped me onto my back so he could look at me.

"Now what was that all about?" he asked, a frown on his face as he stared into my eyes.

"I don't know, I just felt like it!" I told him with a devious grin. "And let it be known that if I could use my magic at all right now, you wouldn't have been able to catch me whatsoever."

"Oh, is that so?" he said with a smirk. "So in other words, I should take advantage of this moment right now while I have the chance."

Before I could say yes, he had already kissed me hard, letting out a satisfied growl when I kissed him back. We kissed each other for a while before he stopped, pulling away and getting to his feet so that he could pull me up with him. We walked around Magnolia for the rest of the day, just enjoying each other's company until sunset when we went back to Fairy Tail to get Ty and Happy. After that, we went to sleep early so I could get up before dawn to rush back to Fairy Tail to get my magic unsealed. In celebration, I put on a bit of a show with the shadows, deciding that a party was just what we needed to revel in the fact that we were all still alive.