Title: Meeting Against Fate
Summary: When Erza rushes off the first time she hears of "Siegrain," Gray follows her and meets the Councilwoman Ultear. Is their meeting determined by fate, or contrary to it?
It's too much of a coincidence, for both him and Erza to suddenly encounter someone connected to their past, right? When they start digging, they make themselves an inconvenience to Grimoire Heart's plans. And inconveniences need to be dealt with. (eventual GrayTear, Grayza friendship)
A certain someone I know asked me to write GrayTear. I'm pretty sure this is not what she wanted, but I've never done romance and I'm not too sure whether this even qualifies in the first place. Plus, there's... seriously a lot of Erza.
Anyway, apparently, the translation and dub are using the excuse that Ultear's birth name was "Urtear," to match Ur, but she changed it later to "Ultear." So I guess I'll roll with that. It's not a great explanation, but at least they tried.
Finally, updates twice a week, Mondays and Fridays.
"Erza, wait! What's happened? Erza!"
Gray's questions went unanswered as Erza strode briskly, almost running, through Magnolia's busy streets. She didn't even glance back at him, hadn't since storming out of the guildhall without warning.
It had been a seemingly ordinary day, and Erza had acted like always — serious, overbearing, and scary. She'd gone to the bar to have Mira sign off on her next mission, only to have a copy of Sorcerer magazine thrust in her face. Mira had been saying something about the Magic Council, or maybe the Wizard Saints; the magazine must have run a piece about them.
There had been a loud, sharp crack as Erza's fist slammed into the bar, shattering the thick, sturdy wood. The magazine was crumpled in her other hand, torn straight through in places. Mira and those sitting nearby had jumped back in shock, but Erza had paid them no mind. Whirling around, she'd raced out of the guildhall.
Everyone had stared after her, uncertain about what had happened or what to do, unable to even form words at the suddenness of it all. Gray couldn't say what made him rush after her, except perhaps the glimpse he'd caught of her expression as she passed by him.
It hadn't been anger. He wasn't sure what it was, but the closest he could think of was pure terror.
No matter how scary, or violent, or infuriating, Erza was a comrade and a friend. On the riverbank long ago, Gray had decided he didn't want her to cry alone. Whatever she was going to do, he didn't want her to face that alone either.
There was still no response, just the sight of her armored back and her long, crimson hair as she raced onward.
He finally caught up with her at the train station — or rather, Erza had finally come to a stop. Having scared away everyone else in line, she was looming over the ticket window and the poor clerk on the other side. There was already a dent in the wall next to the glass, where Erza had unintentionally rested her hand with too much force.
"One to Era, earliest and fastest you've got!" she was demanding as Gray approached. "Well?! What's the problem? The price doesn't matter, just hurry up and give it to me!"
The teller was too terrified to do more than whimper, tears streaming down his cheeks. His silence seemed to only aggravate Erza more.
"Erza! What's going on?!" Gray demanded, grabbing her shoulder and trying to pull her away from the ticket window.
He should have known better than to ever try that on Erza, much less when she was in this kind of mood. Only quick reflexes honed through years of guild brawl let him duck the gauntlet-covered fist that lashed out, nearly braining him. Erza's expression was thunderous and dark as she turned her wrath on him instead.
...If it was truly wrath. Most would have called the look on her face rage, but Gray had known her for nearly eight years. Beneath her cold fury, the true source of her sudden fervor was something else altogether.
"Erza," Gray repeated firmly, meeting her glare and refusing to back down, "what's going on?"
"I—" Erza started, only to stop as if she couldn't find the words to continue. Or maybe she didn't even know the answer. "I have to go to Era. Now. As quickly as possible. I have to see—" She stopped again, biting something back and shaking her head sharply.
Gray's eyes slid to crumpled magazine still clutched in her shaking hand. What had the article been about? Gray tried to remember, but could only recall something about the Magic Council. But why go all the way to Era? Why not the Fiore branch?
He didn't ask. Erza already looked impatient, like she regretted answering and wanted to try decking him again. That same strange impression returned — she looked like she had that day, down by the river. This wasn't the time to fight her. What she needed was to not be alone. So no matter what she said, he wouldn't leave her by herself.
"Okay," Gray said instead. "Let's go. I'll get the tickets."
He'd surprised her enough that Erza didn't protest as he bought their tickets. If anything, with no immediate action to take, Erza had seemed to lose focus and become lost in her own thoughts, standing motionless and rigid at the edge of the platform.
The fastest way to Era involved switching trains three times and would still take the better part of a day. Trains for the first leg, to Clover Town, were thankfully common, and the one they boarded was mostly empty — perfect for trying to get something more out of Erza.
"After we reach Clover Town, we'll need to switch onto an international train and cross the border to Seven," Gray said, once they were settled into a compartment and the train began to pull out of the station. "I hope you brought your license. They might not let us into Seven otherwise."
It took Erza a moment to react. She had been staring out the window blankly and only turned toward him slowly, blinking as if surprised by his presence. "...Yes, I have it," Erza finally responded.
Gray waited for some comment about his own papers, about how they better not have been in his coat, which he'd left behind in the guild, or about how he'd better not lose his pants somewhere, if they were in his pocket. But there was nothing.
Simultaneously, Gray felt completely out of his depth and certain that he had been right to follow Erza.
"Can I see the magazine?" he asked, changing tack. He nodded at the crumpled glossy pages still in her hand.
Erza held it out to him slowly and he had to tug at the pages a few times before she unclenched her hand enough for him to slide them out. The between the creases and the tears, the photos that had gone with the article were completely unsalvageable. The text was barely better.
"New… Council member?" Gray tried to puzzle out. "Youngest… Saint?"
The windowsill cracked suddenly as Erza gripped it too hard, and Gray hurriedly put the article down.
"So, you want to meet the new Council member?" he hazarded a guess, watching her closely.
"I have to see for myself, if he's…" She didn't finish.
But it was something, at least. Now he knew for certain where they were headed and why. The rest, he'd just have to play by ear… and hope Erza didn't get them thrown in jail, or killed.
While Erza paced restlessly in one corner of the station during the layover between trains, Gray surreptitiously got another copy of Sorcerer.
The article she'd destroyed had been a short piece about the newest Council members. The youngest Wizard Saint to ever be appointed the title — Siegrain. Also, rather attractive and single, as Sorcerer was happy to report. Despite being only a teenager, barely older than Gray, Siegrain had been instrumental in putting down the Shax cult, which had attempted to resurrect several of Zeref's demons…
Gray stopped reading at that point. He didn't know enough about Erza's past to try to glean whether the article mentioned something that could tie her to this Siegrain.
He really didn't know anything about Erza, did he? Well, it wasn't like he knew that much more about Natsu — just that he'd been raised by a dragon. Or Mirajane and Elfman, or Cana. And it wasn't like he's told any of them about himself either.
They were a guild that only looked forward — they were too busy running from the past to even dare to look back. To have it come back without warning, in any form… Gray tried to imagine how he'd feel if he saw someone he'd known once in a magazine, if he saw Ly—
He shook his head sharply, shoving the thought away. That, that wouldn't happen. There was no way that could happen.
Leaving the magazine on a bench, he headed back to where Erza was circling tensely. That wouldn't happen, but just the thought of his past returning made Gray go cold. He didn't know what Erza saw when she looked at Siegrain's photo, but he could at least remind her that she wasn't alone, in the present.
Although he was originally from Isvan and had seen quite a bit of the continent when on the road, Gray hadn't been out of Fiore since joining Fairy Tail. He would have been tempted to gawk at the city of Era, its lacrima spires, the towering mountain in the center — if it hadn't been for Erza marching relentlessly in front of him, her eyes never wavering from the mansion at the top. The Magic Council headquarters were her goal, and now that it was in sight, nothing would deter her.
Not even the squad of Rune Knights at the base of the only road up to Council headquarters.
"Ma'am, no one without clearance is allowed past this point," their leader was trying to tell her. "You must receive authorization…"
"I need to see the Council," Erza insisted. "You will let me through!"
"Erza!" Gray hissed. She looked like she was about to start manhandling the knight the way she did minor clerks and sheriffs.
"If you want an audience, request an appointment," the Rune Knight said.
Erza gritted her teeth and grabbed him by the lapels, dragging him down face to face with her. "You will let me though—" she repeated, her voice low and threatening.
"Erza!" Gray protested again, reaching out to try to pull her back. Picking a fight with the Rune Knights was the absolute last thing they needed, and the fact that Erza, usually so rule-abiding, was willing to do so without a second thought spoke vividly of her unsettled state of mind.
Preoccupied with their standoff, they didn't notice someone else approach.
"Yes, let her through," a old, cracking voice sounded behind them. "They do have an appointment — with me."
Indeed, it was Master Makarov's old friend, in his usual three-pointed black hat. Folding his hands behind his back, he regarded the scene before him with an enviable calm — as if he hadn't just come across a near assault against the Council's enforcement branch by a member of Fiore's most troublesome guild, and then told a complete lie to cover for them.
Even Erza was startled enough to pull back, frowning at Yajima but thankfully not contradicting him.
"Well?" Yajima prompted the Rune Knight.
Flinching in surprise, the soldier scrambled to obey and let the rest of his squad know. With a firm look that told them to keep quiet, Yajima gestured for Erza and Gray to follow him.
Once they were past the guard post and slowly making their way up the winding road to the mountaintop estate of the Council, Yajima began to explain. "Makarov warned me you might be coming and asked me to try to keep you from making a scene, or getting arrested. So, what's all this about?"
Erza's fists clenched, the metal of her gauntlets clanking sharply, and she stopped in her tracks, glaring at the sloping ground in front of her.
"It's about the new Councilman, Siegrain," Gray said quickly. "It's… a private matter, regarding the past. It might be a case of mistaken identity, but…"
Strangely, that seemed to mean something to Yajima, and he nodded slowly. "I'll arrange a meeting. But be careful. He's very favored right now, and it might be more than even Makarov can do to cover for you if you run afoul with him."
If possible, Erza tensed further. "Yes. Thank you," she said stiffly.
Laying a hand on her shoulder, Gray tried to give it a comforting squeeze before realizing she couldn't feel it through her armor.
"You still haven't told us what this is about."
The sound of that lilting, confident voice on the other side of the door made Erza freeze in her tracks where she had been pacing the Council waiting room. Her face had paled alarmingly as she forced herself to turn toward the door just as it finally swung open and three people made their way inside.
Yajima led the way, followed by a young man who was unmistakably the famous Siegrain. Bringing up a step behind them was… was…
Gray mouthed the name, but he couldn't say it. His voice wouldn't come out, and his body felt suddenly cold and stiff. If he had been able to look, he would have seen that Erza was in the exact same state — frozen by the sight of a ghost.
"These two wizards from Fairy Tail wanted to meet you," Yajima was saying. "They came all the way from Fiore. Could you take a bit of time to speak with them? As a favor to me."
As he met Erza's eyes, Siegrain let the amused smile he had been wearing slip away. His face was unreadable as he studied her for a moment, seemingly undaunted by the burning glare that was slowly taking over her expression.
"Yes, I imagine we have a lot to talk about," he said. "About my brother."
"B...rother…?" Erza murmured in confusion.
Her uncertain, troubled expression would have normally made Gray scowl and step between the two. It was something he couldn't have stood seeing on any of their guildmates, much less Erza. Hadn't he come with her in the first place to support her against her past?
But he didn't move. All of it — Erza, Siegrain, even Yajima's suddenly grim expression — had become distant and detached.
The only thing Gray could see was the woman standing behind them. The woman who looked like Ur.
She met his gaze and smiled knowingly. Somehow, she knew who he was and what he was thinking. She knew him — but he'd never seen her before. They had never met.
"Let's talk privately," Siegrain suggested, more like ordered, gesturing Erza toward a side room.
"Wait, Siegrain," Yajima spoke up. "If it's about him, that is a matter of interest to the Council…"
Siegrain stopped him, shaking his head. "It's something private. Please understand, for her sake." He gesture to Erza, who barely restrained a flinch at being put in the spotlight.
Mustache bristling in agitation, Yajima nonetheless hesitated.
"Then we'll give you some time alone. Let's go for a walk, shall we?" the woman who looked like Ur spoke up before Yajima could protest further. Smiling that same mysterious smile, she placed her hand on Gray's arm and pulled him out of the room, Yajima following reluctantly.
Gray glanced back as the door began to close, catching a glimpse of Erza's figure standing stiff and brittle in front of Siegrain.
He knew how she felt now.
They left Yajima behind quickly, the woman leading the way to one of the building's inner courtyards. A few of the frog-like clerks scurried by on the opposite side, but the shadowed path she guided him down was deserted except for the two of them.
Glancing at Gray with her same smile, the woman said, "I've been remiss, haven't I? Let me introduce myself. I am Siegrain and Yajima's fellow Council member, Ultear."
Ultear. 'Ur's daughter… Ur-tear,' Gray remembered. He couldn't deny that it had occurred to him, even if it made no sense. And now that name — it was too similar to be a coincidence.
Again it was like she knew what he was thinking, like she knew him.
"My birthname," Ultear said, "was Urtear — after my mother. I changed it after learning of her death. It was too painful, you see…"
Gray flinched violently.
"Please don't misunderstand, I don't blame you," Ultear hurried to reassure him. "I know that my mother's, Ur's actions were her own choice. She chose to give her life to protect you, her student. It's only natural — any teacher would do so."
Despite her gentle words, Gray took a step back, as if putting distance between them would distance him from the past.
"If anything, I'm glad to have the chance to meet you," Ultear went on. "After all, you are my mother's precious student. I'm sure she would be proud of the wizard you've become."
Her mother. Ur. Ur who had thought her daughter was dead. Gray clung to that logical thought, shaking his head to force his useless emotional chaos back. He had to think.
"Ur said her daughter died," he said bluntly, looking at her challengingly. It was the only way he could stop himself from glancing away. "That's what she believed. She cried, when she thought we couldn't hear her."
For a brief instance, Ultear's expression blanked, something unreadable passing under the surface. Then, she looked away, smiling ruefully. "Is that so… I didn't know," she said. "I'm not sure what caused that misunderstanding. As a child, I was… undergoing treatment at a private facility. By the time I was released, my mother was already gone."
This time, Gray managed to hide his flinch, but the words still struck at a wound that had never healed. It was his fault, that Ur had died without ever being reunited with her daughter, without ever finding out she was alive...
"Perhaps," Ultear said, her tone even more gentle and understanding, "you could tell me about her?"
Gray choked, his throat closing. Talk? About Ur? Even to her daughter, that was…
But Ultear didn't press him, and they spent the rest of the wait in silence.
Erza was the same, when she and Siegrain returned. Her expression was equal parts melancholy and troubled, but more than anything, it was dulled, like nothing around her could reach her — caught up in the past, out of reach of the present.
They were both the same, and neither spoke as they slowly departed from the Council headquarters, their demeanor so forbidding that Yajima hesitated to speak until they were they were about to part ways.
"I won't ask what you and Siegrain discussed," he said finally, to Erza. "I can guess the cause — the criminal, Jellal Fernandes. But if you have any information that could help track him down, or…"
He didn't finish, as Erza shook her head sharply. "I… don't know anything. I'm sorry," she said stiffly.
"...Very well," Yajima allowed. "But if you ever remember something, don't keep it to yourself. You have a strong guild, who will do everything they can to help you."
It was obvious — he thought she was hiding something, something that scared her so much she couldn't even say it. The realization made Gray turn to look at Erza for the first time since that ghost from his past had appeared before him.
He'd forgotten. The reason he had come was to support Erza and remind her that she wasn't alone. He couldn't afford to wallow in his own issues when his friend was hurting this much.
On the train back, Gray sat next to Erza instead of across from her, their shoulders knocking together whenever the train jostled. It was long after they had left Era, the scenery racing past the window transforming into a nondescript countryside, before he mustered up the courage to ask her how her meeting had gone.
"Did you find out what you needed to?" Gray said.
"Find out…?" Erza repeated absently. "I suppose so. It was… just mistaken identity. They have the same face… because they're twins. It's just a coincidence…"
The troubled expression reflected in the window belied her words. It was more than that, without a doubt.
What kind of coincidence was that, anyway? For both of them to suddenly meet someone with the same face as a person from their past, together? A brother, a daughter… there was a limit to coincidence.
Siegrain, the youngest ever Wizard Saint and now on the Council as well. Jellal Fernandes, a criminal so notorious even Yajima knew of him. Both of them, making Erza close herself off, the way she had been when she'd first joined Fairy Tail. And Ultear, who had been believed dead by her own mother, only to reappear as another member of the Magic Council.
'I changed it after learning of her death. It was too painful, you see…' Ultear had said. 'I'm glad to have the chance to meet you. After all, you are my mother's precious student.'
She knew who he was. She'd recognized him despite never meeting him. That meant she'd looked him up at some point, whether through her resources at the Council or through other means. But despite that, she never once tried to confront him about anything, not about Ur's death, not about her life, not even just for the chance of making a connection that she already claimed to feel.
It was too suspicious. Ultear and Siegrain — whether they were the genuine articles or some kind of fakes, he'd get to the bottom of what they were hiding. If they were lying, he wouldn't let them stir up the painful past so carelessly.
"That came sooner than I expected," Siegrain — or rather, Jellal — admitted, once they were alone again. "But it was always an inevitable confrontation. It's unfortunate to add to the old goat Yajima's suspicions, but it couldn't be helped. He'd probably never have trusted us anyway."
"Then she bought it?" Ultear confirmed.
"Oh, yes. The twin part at least." Jellal hummed thoughtfully, his brows furrowing a little. "Perhaps not my lack of involvement with 'Jellal' but she definitely believes we are two people."
Same as the Council. It was a bit of a convoluted setup, but to complete the plan to activate the R System, he needed to be both someone on the Council, to suggest the Etherion, and a clear enemy to use it against. And Jellal trusted no one else enough to play either of those parts.
Thus, he became two people — the criminal, Jellal Fernandes, who had ties to half the dark guilds and cults in Ishgal and had nearly summoned three demons from the Books of Zeref, and also Siegrain, his heroic twin brother, who would rise up to stop him. Losing their parents and being separated early in life by the child hunters, their story was a tragic but common one, in the last decade.
It was also, conveniently, almost impossible to verify any of the details. All he had needed was to make sure both of his personas appeared in the same place a few times, and Siegrain's identity was established. A few good deeds, and his character was also set. A subtle suggestion from Ultear, and his position was secured.
"And you? I always knew Erza would come to find my dear twin, but you looked surprised to see the boy," Jellal noted, smirking as if he had somehow one-upped her.
Ultear smiled coolly. "I didn't expect him to tag along," she admitted. "And after I had been so careful to avoid the spotlight… It's somewhat annoying, to be honest. They'll be suspicious. One coincidental meeting can be overlooked, but two? Even if it really was coincidence that brought us together in this way, they will not believe that."
"Does it matter?" Jellal asked bluntly. "Even if she's suspicious, Erza won't say anything. The moment I hinted at trying to find 'Jellal's' base, she froze. She remembers my promise to her. If she tries to do something inconvenient, I'll remind her — that I can kill all her friends at any moment."
"She wouldn't dare to act alone," Ultear agreed, "but what if she thinks she has someone to support her? Her guild, Makarov, even Yajima. They've had eight years to gain her trust. She might risk opening up to them, and they'll be more difficult to get rid of."
Jellal frowned but didn't contradict her. He had considered that as well. It was a risk he was willing to take, and he was confident he could work around it, even if Erza revealed something she shouldn't. But the possibility was present. That was why he'd walked the line of condemning "Jellal's" actions without declaring "Siegrain" his enemy. He hadn't wanted her to even consider confiding in Siegrain or trying to ask for his help.
"If she had been alone, she might have pushed this meeting out of her mind and continued on silently. But I don't have the same leverage on that boy," Ultear went on. "I distracted him for now, but it might not last."
"So what will you do?" Jellal asked, amused and apparently unconcerned, as if it wasn't his plan that was being threatened.
"I wonder," Ultear pretended to muse. "I suppose I could sacrifice a few pawns to gain his trust and keep him busy."
After all, if his own past came back to haunt him, he wouldn't have time to try to help his friend or worry about what secrets she might be hiding. Ultear had just the right pieces for the job too, ones she hadn't expected to succeed in the first place, so it would be no concern to lose them.
And if she could crush his heart a little… well, that was only what he deserved, for replacing her. For being so important to that woman. For daring to live and find happiness.
'Ur said her daughter died,' that boy had said. 'That's what she believed. She cried, when she thought we couldn't hear her.'
'Hmph. What foolishness,' she thought, pushing the memory away. 'It doesn't matter.'
She refused to let it matter.
NEXT: Galuna, part one