Title: Meeting Against Fate

Notes: So, funny story. It seems like, despite aiming for romance, I completely failed to get the main couple to actually become a couple. Haha.


12. Epilogue

It had been seven years since Tenrou Island disappeared. According to official reports, it had been entirely destroyed by the monster known as the Apocalypse Dragon, Acnologia. However, within Crime Sorciere, those words were forbidden.

Tenrou, and everyone on it, had just... disappeared. Its fate was unknown. This way, at least, they could still have hope.

It was a hollow hope that hurt almost as much as despair would, but Ultear clung to it. Otherwise, her regrets would become too much to bear. What if she had stayed a little longer? What if she had taken him up on his offer? What if...?

Those kinds of thoughts were pointless. The past was something she had agreed not to change, the future was an uncertain blank, so all Ultear could do was live in the present and hope.

In the present, she lived with all she had wrought — her numerous sins and the endless road of atonement. But at least she didn't walk it alone. Even seven years later, Meldy and Jellal walked it with her.

"Ul! Ul, come quick!"

Meldy's excited voice drew Ultear out of her musings. She was already scolding as she emerged from the small grove where she and Jellal had been hiding while Meldy went to town for supplies and news. "Meldy, you know better than to use my name. What if someone—"

"Ul, look!" Meldy cut her off, thrusting a magazine in front of her face. "Look!"

Sighing, Ultear took the magazine from her and scanned the open page without much interest. Then, she went back and read it again, more carefully. Then, again — to make sure she wasn't seeing things. Because what was written on that page was something out of a dream.

'Their Unbelievably COOOOOL Story! Fairy Tail Wizards Return After Seven Years!'

"Is... is this real?" she wondered, looking at Meldy with a lost, uncertain expression.

"Yes! Sorcerer wouldn't joke like that! This is really real!" Meldy exclaimed, grinning in delight and throwing up her hands excitedly. "Let's go! Let's go see them right now!"

"See who? What's all the commotion?" Jellal asked, making his way over to them. He peered over Ultear's shoulder at the article. She knew the exact moment the words filtered through his mind — he went completely still next to her, not even breathing.

"You see? So let's go! We can be in Magnolia in three days, even if we avoid the main roads," Meldy urged, practically jumping from foot to foot.

Three days. Ultear began to nod instinctively before catching herself. "...We shouldn't," she said. Ignoring Meldy's disbelieving look, she drew a deep, fortifying breath. "We can't," Ultear corrected. "We have a mission. Going to Magnolia would serve no purpose and just risk getting us caught."

"...Ultear is right," Jellal agreed finally, his voice admirably even. "But... it's good to know. I'm glad."

"Are you two serious?" Meldy wondered, looking between them with an increasingly frustrated expression. "Are you really serious? You spend seven years regretting not acting when you had the chance, and now you're going to add even more regrets to that? Why?! Because you're too scared?"

When did Meldy become such a forceful girl? Ultear wondered. But, she supposed, Meldy had always been forceful in her own way. She had been able to see through the mistake they were making on Tenrou, long before Ultear, and she hadn't hesitated to sacrifice her life to stop Ultear from using Zeref's power.

And in the years between, she had become an adult and a full member of Crime Sorciere — one who had taken upon herself to bring at least some levity into their lives. Goodness knew, Jellal and Ultear were not the lighthearted sort.

She was right, too. Their self appointed mission, the danger of being caught by the Rune Knights, all of those were just excuses. They were the same kinds of excuses Ultear had made at Tenrou — his guild, her criminal record, all the things she hadn't even tried to find a way to overcome and instead just chose to run away.

"Fine!" Meldy declared, after they hesitated a moment too long. "Run away again, if that's what you want! But I'm going to Magnolia. I'm going to apologize and thank them properly, like I should have back then."

"Really, Meldy..." Ultear sighed.

To her surprise, it was Jellal who spoke up next. "I'm going to go too," he said quietly. "Meldy is right. If nothing else, I need to apologize. I need to face Erza myself and apologize to her for everything I did. ...Even if she doesn't forgive me. I thought I would never have the chance, so I won't let me fears stop me now."

He met her gaze, a certain understanding passing between them, as it so often did. In some ways, they were entirely too similar. Jellal, even more than Meldy, could cut straight to the heart of Ultear's hesitation — she was afraid, that Gray wouldn't want to see her, that he would finally understand what a horrible person she was and give up, even that this was all some elaborate hoax.

And so Jellal was reminding her of the price for giving in to those fears.

Ultear sighed and nodded. They would all go.


"The independent guild, Crime Sorciere..." Erza repeated thoughtfully. "And both Jellal and Ultear are in it?"

"That's what Lyon said," Gray confirmed.

"I'm glad to hear it," Erza said, smiling. "It sounds like they've both been doing their best to move forward and atone for their crimes." She regarded him for a moment, her expression taking on a sympathetic, understanding shade. "Do you want to go look for her?"

Gray sighed. "I want to. I want to see her again," he admitted, "even if it's been only a few days. ...But I won't. I already said everything I could. It's up to her now to decide where we go from here... and to let me know if her answer changes." He coughed awkwardly as Erza's smile widened. "Well, you know... nobody likes a guy who doesn't know how to take a hint."

"I think so too," Erza said. "All we can do is wait."

"Are you... really okay with that?" Gray asked. "For me, I already know her answer, but you and that guy..."

"I want to find him and shake the answers out of him," Erza admitted frankly. "What happened, all those years ago? Why did he change? How did he survive when the Tower of Heaven fell? Why has he been fighting dark guild and black cults for the last seven years?" She huffed, feeling her blood rise just thinking about Jellal and his actions, then shook her head. "But I can wait. We have to focus on the guild first."

And that meant training as much as they could to prepare for the Grand Magic Games in three months.

Up ahead, the rest of their group chatted cheerfully about their beach training grounds, sounding more like they were headed for a vacation. Even Lucy had cheered up in anticipation, her mood lifting after the entire mess with her father.

"What do you think they're talking about?" Levy whispered, leaning over toward Lucy and glancing significantly toward Gray and Erza, who had fallen behind for at least some pretense of privacy.

"Their criminal boyfriend and girlfriend," Natsu replied in a completely normal tone of voice that seemed entirely too loud for the subject. He also sounded utterly indifferent.

He winced when Lucy elbowed him sharply. "Natsu!" she protested.

"What?" he complained.

"You can hear them all the way back there? Your hearing is so good, Natsu-san," Wendy said, missing the point somewhat. "I guess I have a long way to go."

"Hang in there, Gray-sama! Juvia is sure Gray-sama's love will triumph!" Juvia insisted.

Lucy and Levy exchanged a look. As promised, Erza and Gray had explained the entire story back on Tenrou, after the Grimoire Heart airship departed and the tree was miraculously restored. It had taken them half a day to finish, and had left most of the guild stunned into silence.

The first one to react had been Cana, who offered them both a stiff drink. The second had been Gildarts, who had loudly commented on Gray's taste in women, as it were.

Those hadn't the only revelations, of course. Wendy had added in her own part, about Jellal and the hooded woman who must have been Ultear, and Cana had dragged off Gildarts for a private talk that ended in him bursting back into camp, bawling about his amazing daughter. To be frank, that last one had been the most shocking to the guild as whole. Gildarts, a father? To Cana?

Since Acnologia had attacked not long after, followed by Cana's somewhat botched attempt to combine everyone's magic for Fairy Sphere and the unbelievable seven year gap, Gray and Erza had mostly escaped any further scrutiny as their circumstances were pushed out of everyone's minds.

But still, it was all...

"So romantic," Levy couldn't help but whisper, blushing heavily.

"I know, right? It's like something out of a story," Lucy agreed. "I just hope..."

"It can work out," Levy said stubbornly. "I mean, just because you were enemies once doesn't mean you can't forgive and... find happiness, you know?"

Lucy smiled knowingly but didn't point out the obvious — that Levy wasn't speaking purely hypothetically or without bias. She had her own experience with "a bad start" that led to a very different feeling. "You wanted to go train with him?" she guessed.

Shooting her an exasperated look, Levy just sighed. "He took off before I could even ask," she mumbled.

"Whatever, as long as they don't start sneaking off together again and being all secretive," Natsu declared loudly. "That was dumb. We're all guildmates, aren't we? We shouldn't hide stuff from each other. And we should focus on training now!"

"Aye, sir!" Happy sounded off cheerfully.

'Boys,' Lucy and Levy thought simultaneously, sighing.

They also jumped simultaneously when Erza spoke up from right behind them. "We will keep that lesson in mind," she said deceptively mildly. "And I will most certainly not allow anyone to slack off. You can count on that. Understood?"

Her piercing gaze swept over the group. Gray and Natsu straightened instinctively, while Wendy and Juvia just nodded in determination. "Yes, ma'am!" Lucy and Levy sounded off.

Titania nodded imperiously. "Then let's get to it."

Naturally, that was the moment the messenger bird landed on her head.


They knew who had sent the message the moment the bridge at the end of the trail they'd been directed to repaired itself. The effects of Ark of Time were unmistakable. The three cloaked figures who waited for them on the other side could only be Ultear, Jellal, and Meldy.

But Gray still felt an almost tangible sense of relief when they pulled back their hoods, and he couldn't stop the smile that spread over his face. Especially when Ultear smiled back tentatively, some of the stiffness easing out of her shoulders.

"Long time no see!" Meldy said brightly, waving to them. At least, Gray thought it was Meldy — where Ultear and Jellal looked almost the same, she had definitely grown and changed. More than had height and her hairstyle, it was her entire demeanor that was different. "Sorry it took so long! We went to Magnolia first, but it turned out you guys already left..."

"It's sooner than I expected," Erza commented, her gaze considering as she watched Jellal, who managed an admirably composed expression under the scrutiny. "I'll hear you out," she allowed, perhaps taking pity on him. "But that's all I can promise."

"Thank you," Jellal said quietly, inclining his head.

"Shall we talk as well?" Ultear asked Gray.

"Y-yeah," Gray agreed. He felt heat rising in his cheeks, and glanced away. His heart was beating fast all of a sudden too. 'This is stupid, just calm down,' he thought furiously at himself, with no effect. Somehow, now that the pressure of worrying whether they would fight to the death had lifted, it was hard to stay focused and composed.

Ultear's faint smile widened, and Gray pursed his lips, certain his ears were starting to turn red.

"So much for training. You guys are such slackers," Natsu muttered, wincing as Lucy elbowed him again.

"Training? I can help with that!" Meldy volunteered cheerfully. Without waiting for a response, she crossed between the two groups and began to drag the others away, back the way they'd come. Over her shoulder, she made what must have been a gesture of encouragement to Ultear and Jellal.

Closing his eyes, Jellal struggled not to sigh.

"Good luck, Gray-sama!"Juvia whispered, even less subtly. Lucy and Levy were grinning as they followed Meldy back down the trail, and Happy was snickering as he flew behind them. Only Wendy and Carla at least pretended to let them keep some dignity.

Even Erza was laughing at him — despite her calm expression, her eyes were filled with mirth. "Good luck," she echoed solemnly, before heading away as well. Jellal trailed after her, until Erza stopped and waited for him to catch up and fall in step with her.

It was amazing that Erza could forgive him that much. Unlike Gray and Ultear, they had last met as enemies, but Erza showed no hostility toward him. But in a way Gray could understand — it was hard to believe this was the same person as at the Tower of Heaven. Jellal's entire manner was completely different from both Siegrain and himself back then. It was just an instinct, but something about him felt honest in a way he hadn't been before.

"I wonder if I should go with them," Ultear said quietly, watching the pair depart. When Gray glanced at her questioningly, she explained, "I told you back then, right? Jellal was my pawn, and his actions are more my responsibility than his, very directly so. I'm worried he might try to downplay my involvement out of misplaced guilt."

"I don't think Erza's going to accept anything except the absolute truth," Gray said. "Even if he doesn't want to tell her — in that mood, she'll drag it out of him."

Ultear chuckled. "She's very formidable. That's the impression I got as well." There was a fond, gentle shade to her smile as she added, "I'm glad. Jellal cares about her very much. He never stopped thinking about her, and if anyone can give him the absolution he needs, it's her."

"...And what about you?" Gray asked. "What do you need?"

She didn't answer. "In Crime Sorciere, we agreed on a rule," she said instead, "that we wouldn't get involved with people who live in the light. All of us are trying to atone for our crimes, and we can't expect to live as ordinary people. If we get close to anyone, all we'll do is cause them pain."

"Is that your answer?" Gray asked, crossing his arms. "That you're a criminal, so you don't want to get involved with me?"

Ultear shot him a look of exasperation at his bluntness. "And what if it is?" she said.

"Either way, I think it's stupid," Gray said bluntly. "It's good that you're trying to atone for your sins. But if that's all you ever think about, you're just letting yourself stay chained by the past."

"I don't think you understand how many sins I committed," Ultear said, smiling humorlessly. "I helped destroy entire cities. I ruined countless lives. That's not something I can just let go of. It's not something I should ever forget."

"The past is important. We should never forget our mistakes," Gray acknowledged. "But you can't live just for that. Ur's dream was to protect Isvan, and she couldn't do that because of me. Do you think I should have just stayed in Isvan and tried to protect it in her place? Maybe it's selfish, but I don't regret joining Fairy Tail instead."

"That was Ur's wish," Ultear pointed out. "I sure that she never held a grudge or blamed you. It was her own decision, and all she wanted for you was to find happiness."

"Maybe I'm assuming, but I think Meldy and Jellal want the same for you," Gray shot back. "And I know that no one in Fairy Tail wants you to suffer."

"Not everyone is that kind. I'm sure there are many who wish me nothing but suffering, even from beyond the grave," Ultear said.

"Then I guess you have to decide whose opinion is more important to you," Gray said flatly. Expression softening a little, he added, "I'm always going to worry about you, you know. Whatever you say and even if you avoid me forever, that's not going to change. So... think of your own happiness, even if it's just for our sake."

"...Really, you're terrible," Ultear sighed. "You already know I can't just ignore it if you say something like that."

Gray shrugged one shoulder, looking away and rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. "All's fair in love, right?" he offered.

"I suppose so," Ultear said, shaking her head. But she was smiling a little, so Gray considered it a victory. "But you realize," she went on, more seriously, "that it's not just what I think. We're all wanted by the Magic Council. It's not as if we can just stop and live ordinary lives."

"Do you want to?" Gray asked. "Live an ordinary life? Have your name cleared? If you do want that, then let's look for a way. Getting a pardon, serving out some sentence, or whatever — if that's what you want, we'll find a way."

"It's..." '...not that simple,' Ultear started to say.

But, traitorously, her mind had already started calculating the odds. Now that Gray had said it, she couldn't stop herself from considering it. She'd been on the Council, she knew how many frankly disgusting human beings had been allowed to go free through the right application of bribes or threats. The new Council appointed after the Tower of Heaven debacle was supposed to be less successible to that kind of "persuasion," but they were still the Council, in the end...

It wasn't impossible. It had never been. They had just... never truly wanted to be pardoned or return to normal society, and they had never considered a way of making it happen.

Their time and energy was better spent atoning, taking down down dark guilds and cults, not on the selfish pursuit of their own comfort and convenience, or even a symbolic absolution they didn't deserve. That was still true, of course. But...

The silence had stretched for too long, and Gray read something in it that made him draw back. "...It's just something to consider," he said quietly, looking anywhere except at Ultear. "It's for you to decide. I don't really know your circumstances or what you think, so..."

Watching him deflect awkwardly, as if he had done something wrong, Ultear realized, "I never did give you an answer."

Gray had made his feelings and his wishes clear, in his words and in his actions, but Ultear had never responded past a vague, confusing suggestion that she cared about him in some way — enough to hesitate in her plan, but what did that really mean? He didn't know where he stood with her, or if their feelings were the same.

It was only natural that he would hesitate when she didn't answer. It was just basic consideration, that her silence was a sign that she didn't want the same things he wanted.

"I'm sorry," Ultear said, moving toward him until the distance between them was something either of them could close just by reaching out. "It's been seven years, but I... I don't know. Even now, I don't really know what I want. I should have thought about it, but..."

But she had been afraid that he was truly gone, along with the rest of Tenrou. Trying to imagine a future had been... too painful, foolish, like asking to have even her small, fragile hope dashed to pieces.

"It's... it's not a big deal," Gray tried to play it off. "It's not like I've been waiting all this time. Erza's right, even just meeting you again now is more than I expected. So... take all the time you need." He grew flustered again, adding quickly, "I mean, obviously, you don't have to answer at all, if you don't want to, but—"

"But I want to," Ultear muttered, a frown crossing her face.

Her brow furrowed in frustration — at herself. Gray was looking at her with that same patient, understanding expression that showed nothing but kindness, and without meaning to, all her feelings came pouring out.

"I want to give you an answer. I want to understand my own feelings, what I want, what to do!" she burst out. Her shoulders slumped and she gritted her teeth. "But I'm always like this. Always pressed down by these pointless doubts, running in circles and losing sight of what really matters. I want to be able to be happy, but I just can't find the way forward, no matter what I do."

'Why am I telling him this?' Ultear wondered helplessly, closing her eyes as if it would somehow block out her own weakness. 'What can he possibly do? No, more importantly, I can't keep expecting him to save me from my own failings...'

And yet, it was so... it made her so happy. That he didn't give up on her, that he kept trying to reach her, that he cared about her this much. Even if he couldn't do anything except listen to her frustrations and fears... just that was enough.

It was enough, but there was still something more she wanted, something she couldn't put into words.

"..Ultear, train with me!" Gray blurted out finally.

Opening her eyes, Ultear looked up at him in surprise. There was a vivid blush of embarrassment spreading across his cheeks, but Gray refused to back down.

"Train with me! For the next three months!" Gray repeated. "We're supposed to be preparing for the Grand Magic Games, and we all ended up going together like this, but working with another Ice wizard would be more useful. We can go to Isvan or somewhere like that, in the middle of nowhere, where the Council won't be looking. And... maybe you'll be able to figure out whether you want to... with me... that is..."

Gray trailed off, words failing him too. In truth, it wasn't like he knew exactly what he wanted. With all the obstacles in just convincing Ultear not to rewrite history, he hadn't thought about what might come after that. Just being... friends was something they had never really had a chance to try, much less anything more intimate.

Spending time together, training together, living together, just being side by side — that was something they had never done.

Even if neither of them knew what they wanted, just that was a step forward. And as long as you kept moving one step forward, without giving, you would reach the future one day — that was what Gray believed. That was how he had made it through when he was lost.

Ultear blinked, surprised, but she couldn't help turning the idea over in her mind, unable to reject it out of hand. "Three months... until the Grand Magic Games..." she mused. "I... Well, it's not something I can just decide. I'm the leader of Crime Sorciere. I need to talk to Jellal and Meldy first..."

It sounded like another string of excuses, but Gray's expression slowly brightened as she went on. He understood what she hadn't said yet.

"But," Ultear concluded, feeling a low heat burn in her own cheeks, "I... I'd like that."

It was ridiculous, how embarrassed she felt just reaching out to take his hand, and how happy it made her to see the wide grin that split his face.


"So? How did it go?" Meldy asked, practically vibrating with excitement. She could at least tell that it hadn't ended in tears.

They had been given a room at the beach house Fairy Tail was renting the next three months. Even with friendly wizards in the rooms on either side, they had still settled into their usual pattern — in a small circle, a single easily extinguishable lamp in the center, ready to run or fight at any moment.

"...She didn't hit me," Jellal offered.

"Did you tell her the whole truth?" Meldy asked dubiously, thinking along the same lines as Ultear earlier.

"I don't see what good it does to make her angry at Ultear too," Jellal sighed.

"He did," Ultear confirmed, ignoring him. "I asked her to make sure. She's definitely angry at me... but not as angry as you'd reasonably expect." Pausing for a moment, she added, "She didn't hit me either."

Erza would have been well in her rights to beat them both black and blue, and then some, but there had been only a flash of old anger in her eyes when she first saw Ultear, then... nothing. Just an even calm that seemed only half-forced. It really did seem like Erza was going to just forgive Ultear for making her closest friend betray her.

Ultear supposed she might have been suppressing her feelings for Gray's sake, or perhaps that betrayal hurt less when the source was someone Erza wasn't close to. Or perhaps Erza was just that kind. Their entire guild, Ultear thought, was entirely too nice.

"You asked her...?" Jellal repeated, covering his face with one hand.

"Okay, then how did it go with you?" Meldy asked, turning her attention on Ultear. "What did he say? What did you say?"

"He said... he wanted to know if I'd train with him for the next three months, until the games," Ultear admitted.

"Wow, he doesn't waste time," Meldy said, her tone almost admiring.

"Do you think you'll be safe enough? Staying in the same place for that long?" Jellal asked. "Or are you planning to travel together?"

"Since it's for Ice Make, we'd likely go somewhere isolated, perhaps back to Isvan," Ultear said. "But is that really alright with you two? I don't have to go. The three of us are a guild, and I don't want to abandon you."

"Why would you not go?" Meldy said. "This is great! Right, Ul?"

"You're not abandoning us," Jellal pointed out, more rationally. "Even if you were leaving our guild permanently, which isn't the case, you wouldn't be abandoning us because you'd have our full support."

"...Thank you," Ultear said quietly, meaning more than just their words now. "But are you two really going to be alright? What will you do until the games?"

"We should stay and help them train too," Meldy suggested immediately. "Or at least Jellal should!"

"That is the last thing I should do," Jellal protested. "Erza should have some time to think things through without me around."

"We should at least stick around for a day or two," Meldy said. "What if she has questions?"

"What if she doesn't appreciate your unsubtle matchmaking?" Jellal asked in exasperation.

"What's wrong with wanting you guys to be happy?" Meldy muttered sulkily. "You're my family and I love you."

"I'm sorry. I know you're only trying your best for us," Jellal softened.

"Then we'll stay a couple of days?" Meldy pounced on the opening.

"Meldy..." Jellal sighed, palming his face again.

Watching their back and forth, Ultear couldn't stop the soft smile that spread across her face — didn't try to, even. Yes, Meldy was right. They were her family, her guild, and she loved them too. She didn't know if it was alright to be happy, but for them and for herself, she would try.


"Skipping out on a beach trip to go to a frozen mountain? No matter how you look at it, that's weird," Lucy said, shaking her head.

"I'm an Ice wizard, cold doesn't bother me," Gray shot back, sighing.

"Besides, think of the company!" Levy teased. "That more than makes up for it!"

"He looooves her," Happy snickered, paws over his mouth. Natsu snickered along with him.

Gray tried to resist the urge to groan. "Yes, thank you, we're all aware of that," he muttered. Honestly, why did Juvia have to go and blurt it out in front of everyone? She didn't even have the decency to look contrite, only beaming at Gray encouragingly.

"Oh, really? I didn't know you guys got that far," Meldy commented as she and Jellal approached the group. "You really do move fast."

"Honesty and forthrightness are important in a relationship," Erza said approvingly. "It's important to put how you feel into words, as well as actions." Even though she probably didn't mean anything specific, Jellal coughed awkwardly.

"Where's Ultear?" Gray asked, blatantly changing the subject.

"She said she needed to get ready and kicked us out," Meldy said. "She'll be out in a minute. Are you excited to see her?" She only giggled when Gray glared and didn't answer.

"Uh... guys?" Levy spoke up, her nervous tone immediately setting everyone on edge. She was looking at something further off up the beach, just behind them. "There's someone coming. And it's not someone we know."

Everyone sprang into motion, Jellal and Meldy pulling up their hoods and turning away, the others moving to block them from view. Only Natsu didn't move, watching the stranger — an old woman — make her way toward them without much interest.

"Levy, it's just an old lady," Lucy sighed, relaxing a little.

"Oops... sorry, I guess I just panicked," Levy whispered back, chuckling at her own mistake.

Nonetheless, they didn't want to risk anyone catching a glimpse of Crime Sorciere and reporting them. Erza moved forward to intercept the old woman, Gray following after her. "Ma'am, this is a private beach. Are you lost?" she said, raising her voice as if already assuming the woman was hard of hearing.

"Hm? Private, you say?" the old lady repeated. She didn't seem inclined to stop her onward hobble, making Erza and Gray exchange a look over her head.

"That's right, ma'am," Gray said, stepping toward her and offering her his arm. He smiled politely. "Are you headed back to town? I'll come with you, I'm headed that way myself." It was a good thing he'd already gotten his bag ready, just waiting for Ultear.

"Oh, how kind!" the old woman tittered. She slipped her wrinkled hand into the crook of his arm, leaning on him for support. Her palm was strangely smooth, and her grip was firm.

There was something very familiar about her smile as she tilted her head to look up at him. Without thinking, Gray blurted out, "Ultear?"

"Huh?!" Everyone spun around, staring at them in absolute shock. "Ultear?!"

Everyone except Natsu, who just glanced at them in surprise. "You guys didn't realize? It's not like she smells any different," he said.

"Wa can't tell stuff like that!" Lucy scolded.

"I have a long way to go..." Wendy muttered, hanging her head.

Ultear — it was indeed her — tsked, her grandmotherly expression shifting into something more like her. "You caught on too fast. I wanted to play it up a little longer," she said. "Well, what do you think of my disguise?"

"I forgot you could do that," Meldy commented, sighing. "You always go for guys, so... I was worried for a moment there, you know."

"Yes, now I'm a bit worried about leaving you two alone," Ultear said. "Are you really going to be alright for three months?"

"I'm not a kid anymore. We'll be fine," Meldy assured her. "Just go and have fun."

"We're going to train," Gray grumbled. "Don't make it sound like a vacation."

Everyone snickered at him again, their laughter following Gray and Ultear as they departed. Still, feeling Ultear's hand on his arm and walking beside her, her steps sure while there was no need to pretend, Gray had to admit that there was something to what Lucy and Levy had said — the company was definitely worth it. Worth every single thing they'd had to overcome to get there.

—And, of course, Gray would be the one laughing when he and Ultear returned to find that, for the others, those three months had passed literally in one night in the Celestial Spirit World.




Last notes:

It's oveeerrrrr! Nice. I dunno what I was writing at the end there, but there you go. I will update this notes section if there are any questions that need answering.

Thank you for sticking with me, and I hope you enjoyed the ride!