Light Casts a Shadow -Part 1-
When you're about to leave this world, you should smile. That's the last thing you can show to the people you love.
Her parents died protecting her when she was small.
She saw her sister for the last time when she was taken away by the people that invaded her village.
At the time, Yukino cried and cried.
She cried because it was heartbreaking.
But, no one would know how much she regretted it afterwards.
I should've smiled. I should've shown them the best smile.
She should've smiled. Shown that it's alright, and that she would live happily by herself and make them proud.
Not being able to do it always remained as one of her regrets.
I had to grow up quickly...
Yukino was alone for a long time. She moved to a town that was extremely prejudice towards outsiders. She lived in an abandoned old church and had to sell berries on the side of the road to make a living. The berries that she grew were as sweet as honey, for they reflected her heart.
Soon the whole town became aware of her existence and despised her. For years, delinquents constantly flocked to her and made her everyday life a living hell. She already knew so well that she was pitiable and powerless, but their fists and words didn't only inflict pain. They told her twice, three times… over and over again, that she was pathetic. That she was weak.
I completely became that person.
It wasn't until meeting Sting that her life completely changed. He brought her back up on her feet and led her to a new path she never imagined… He made her realize that she was free to follow her own dreams—to do whatever she wanted. He had the warmth and kindness that her sister used to have, and every time Yukino looked at him, she secretly decided in her heart that he was the kind of person that she wanted to become.
Well, she used to. Her reality was immediately shattered after they arrived on the train.
"I'm going to die… At this rate, we're all going to die." Sting weakly murmured as he heaved himself up onto the window of the train cart, "I need… to escape."
Yukino let out a scream as she shook Rogue's lifeless body back and forth. "Rouge-sama, stop him!"
"..Uu…uuu…" Rogue helplessly drooled onto the seat. `
Realizing that he was completely useless, Yukino desperately clung onto Sting's legs. "Sting-sama, you're going to kill yourself!" She yelled as she struggled to bring his dangling torso back into the train cart.
The train suddenly jerked so heavily that Rogue was sent back flying into the wall. Yukino let out a shriek as the momentum helped her narrowly pull Sting back from the window, just as he was about to collide with an incoming building.
A few minutes later, Yukino found herself lying on the cold hard ground of the train cart, severely questioning every single thing she had done up to this point. The two lifeless bodies of her friends were collapsed on top of her. Rogue's saliva slowly dripped down her neck as Sting's weight crushed her tiny chest. A trickle of tears spilled out of Yukino's half-laughing eyes, "I'm surrounded by corpses."
The Twin Dragonslayers were the first to scramble out of the train. Sting crawled out onto the platform in agony as Rogue shakily stood up, bracing onto a nearby bulletin board for support. "Free… We're finally free—" His face turned a sickly green and he lurched over the railing in an unpleasant sight.
Yukino took a deep breath. She decided that the moment they arrived in Magnolia would be the time to make a completely new change. No longer would she be a pitiful, lonely little church girl that was bullied and picked on. She would become the beacon of hope that defends the beaten and the weak—a member of Fairy Tail! She finally stepped off the train, about to explode in her own excitement.
She rushed towards the others with a boost of speed… until something stopped her. Her steps soon faltered as a swirl of emotions suddenly burst inside of her.
She crouched on the ground, hugging her knees in confusion. The sudden barrage of heavy emotions attacked her relentlessly, until an incredibly warm presence washed them away, catching her attention. Time seemed to slow down as she saw a strikingly beautiful woman walk pass her from the edge of her vision. With the peripheral view, she saw that the goddess had blonde hair that flowed like a gentle breeze. An instant later, a tear started trickling down Yukino's cheek.
She stared confusedly at the uncontrollable outburst of tears. A massive crowd broke the atmosphere and shoved their way out the train, quickly filling the station. Yukino turned back to see the mysterious person, but she disappeared without a trace.
She tried imagining what the woman looked like, but her mind was all fuzzy. Didn't she get a clear look of her face? She couldn't remember. Yukino frantically searched among the busy commuters for the woman, until a hand pressed onto her shoulder.
"Where did she—?"
Rogue recovered from his motion sickness; however, the current sight of her made him pale. With the tears rolling down her face, she looked like a lost child trying to find her parents.
"Are you okay?" Sting asked with a concerned look.
"Aah…" Yukino wiped her eyes and strained a small smile, "I-I'm fine, hehe. I was probably just so excited that I let my emotions get the better of me."
"Ah. I understand completely!" Sting maturely nodded his head with a huge grin plastered on his face. Today was the biggest day of their lives. How could they not be excited?
Rogue was skeptical. He looked at her observantly, "Were you looking for something?"
That was surely just a vision, and no one would believe her even if she told them. She also didn't want anything to interrupt their best day ever. "It might have just been my imagination, hehe…" She decided to say. "I'm just so glad that we're finally here!"
With an irritated sigh, Rogue glanced at Sting to see what he thought of Yukino's strange behavior, but he was instead staring deeply into the heart of the city.
"Home…" Sting said with a refreshed smile on his face, "I'm finally back."
What kind of face would Lucy make when he arrived? Knowing her, she would probably beat him up to a pulp and give a severely harsh scolding, followed by a painfully long lecture. He shuddered as a bead of sweat formed on his face, but he soon smirked at the thought. At least he finally became strong enough to fulfill his promise.
He remembered the spectacle under the moonlight. The memories of the two conversing. The night when he stood over the city and said his vow: "I will be the one to protect you!"
The fishermen on their boats waved to them as they passed by. Sting smiled as he saw Lucy's current apartment. Just a few more blocks until they would arrive at the gateway of Fairy Tail. Yukino and Rogue marveled at their surroundings as Sting's mind was set entirely on his promise. Just wait for me…Lucy.
A man's hoarse voice rung out at the bar. He glumly sat at a stool, setting aside another one of his mugs. At first, he started drinking excessively and drowned himself in beer to overcome his sorrow, but it soon developed into a bad drinking habit.
When Master and the others didn't come back after a few days, no one seemed particularly worried. Those days soon became weeks, and those weeks later turned into months. Not one word was received from Fairy Tail's core members. The guild was starting to get anxious and worried. The man volunteered to form a search party and sailed with the other guild members to the location of the S-class exams… but it was as if the whole island had never existed. Tenroujima was gone.
There was a huge panic and they called the other guilds for help, but not even Blue Pegasus or Lamia's Scale could find a trace of their existence. At first, everyone tried to stay strong and act normal, but without Fairy Tail's core members, the guild felt strangely empty. Fairy Tail's usual rowdiness disappeared, along with its members. Only those who truly considered the guild as family stayed behind.
The man continued to sip on his beer, as Wakaba pulled a seat next to him, "…Macao, you should stop drinking. You have a child to take care of."
The man's heart broke when Romeo learned of Natsu's death. He tried to console him, but Romeo continued to cry for 3 days straight. The only other time he's seen him like that was the time he lost his mother. He did as what Wakaba suggested and put the beer down.
"What are we going to do?" Wakaba asked seriously. "We're doing all the jobs we can, but at this rate, we still won't be able to make enough money to keep the guild hall. They're also expecting us to pay by the end of the month."
"I don't know." Macao sighed. "We might have to start packing our bags."
"…I was afraid you were going to say that." Wakaba smoked on his pipe.
"Macao-san!" The petite barmaid with violet colored hair appeared at their table, followed by three adorable children. She eagerly beamed, "These kids were looking for you!"
Macao looked at the three with a puzzled look. A silent kid with black hair was glancing at everyone warily. A cute little girl was shyly hiding behind him with a visible blue rose hairpin. Then there was an energetic boy with blonde spiky hair that gave off a nostalgic feeling. He had a very familiar look in his eyes, a burning passion to become stronger. It sort of reminded him of… Natsu.
No… He shook his head. It's just my imagination.
"Thank you, Kinana." He nodded to her, as she proceeded to resume her work in the tavern. He turned to the three kids with a questioning gaze, "How can I help you?"
"Um... Are you the one in charge?" Yukino asked with a beet red face. She wasn't exactly ready to make a completely new change just quite yet. When they reached the front of the guild, all of her earlier excitement turned to nervousness. She shook slightly at the thought of being rejected.
"He is our current guild master." Wakaba smirked.
Guild Master! Sting's face immediately lit up. He had a hard time standing still ever since they've come to Magnolia. He'd been waiting a whole year for this day, the day he would officially become a full fledged member of the guild. "We wanna join Fairy Tail!" He shouted in pure excitement.
Yukino wanted to be excited, but she could only think of everything that could go wrong as she fidgeted with the hem of her skirt. She nervously bowed as Rogue merely nodded his head.
"A...are you sure?" Macao asked in disbelief, "We're not exactly—"
Wakaba elbowed Macao in the side and motioned for him to bend down. "If they join, they'll be able to perform jobs!" He whispered fiercely.
"But they're just kids."
"We'll be able to pay off our debt, keep the guild hall from the shutting down, and boost our reputation all at the same time." Wakaba smiled evilly, "It's like killing three birds with one stone!"
"Ah. That's actually not a bad idea…" Macao whispered. He turned back towards the kids as they stared back innocently with a question mark floating over their heads. "Now… what colors would you guys like?" He put on his best smile as he pulled out the Insignia Stamp.
"YES!" Sting pumped his fists in the air. They made it into the guild!
Yukino let out a sigh of relief. She didn't manage to screw up or anything. She peered at Rogue smiling for the first time as he watched his best friend dance around in circles.
"Would you like to go first?" Macao beckoned towards Sting, who nodded vigorously in return. "All right, where would you like your guild stamp?"
Sting thought back to the time Natsu revealed the fiery red emblem on the side of his right arm. A Fairy Tail emblem tattooed on the opposite arm in the same exact spot flashed into his mind. He unconsciously gestured towards his left arm and pulled up his sleeve, "Right here. White."
Macao gave him another weird look. This kid really did remind him of Natsu. He bent down to his arm with the stamp, and threw in a conversation just to pass some time, "So what's your name?"
Sting… Macao furrowed his eyebrows. He was sure he heard that name somewhere before. Where did I hear that? Something didn't add up. Macao put the stamp down and looked at Sting seriously, "…What made you want to join this guild so badly?"
"I made a promise to someone."
Macao's smile disappeared, "Who did you promise to?"
"Well her name is-"
"So it was a girl! Haha! Tell us everything!" Wakaba let out a hearty chuckle as put his arm around Sting's shoulder. "You lucky man, you! So what did you promise?"
Sting smiled back and answered honestly.
"I promised that I would protect Lucy from danger."
The sound of silverware breaking into pieces echoed throughout the guild hall.
The guild became dead silent. Kinana was washing the dishes until her hands abruptly stopped at the mention of Lucy's name. She stared at Sting along with the rest of the guild members as the tension continued to increase. Yukino and Rogue paled at the sudden change, but Sting seemed to be the only one unfazed.
"Where is she anyway? Is Natsu-san not here either?" Sting frowned. Wakaba let go of his pipe with a stunned expression as a wave of realization struck Sting's face, "Aaah! I can still surprise them! You guys have to keep this a secret from them, okay?"
Most of the guild members tried to carry on with their tasks and escape from reality, but many broke down in tears as their memories resurfaced too fast. Sting finally looked around and grasped the darkened atmosphere. He caught several of the guild members staring at him and whispering to each other. He could hear every single word with his enhanced dragon-like hearing.
Isn't that the child Lucy kept searching for?
Poor boy…he must not know yet.
Of all things, why did it have to be now?
Sting started freaking out. His heart was racing. Something was definitely wrong and he knew it involved him somehow. With a resurfacing fear coming into mind, Sting was about to ask what the hell happened, until he heard something strange. Recognition of the sound gave him chills. It was a sound all too familiar; the sound of someone crying.
"Natsu-nii…" Tears formed in Romeo's eyes as he sniffled at the top of the stairs.
Natsu-san and Lucy…What…? Sting had enough. All of his emotions burst, "What the hell happened!?"
Macao's face morphed into a painful expression when wondering what he should tell him. After a long silence passed and everyone's breath was still caught in their throats, Macao managed to force himself to look at Sting straight in the eye.
"-I'm sorry." He choked out as he proceeded to tell him the truth.
Sting couldn't accept such a reality. He broke out into a run and sprinted out of the opened guild doors. Rogue and Yukino called out from behind him, but he ignored them. His mind was racing; there was no way that she was dead. He absolutely refused to believe it. He dashed down the street and charged into Lucy's apartment.
"Lucy!" He yelled as he ran into her room.
Everything was exactly how he remembered it to be. The bed, the living room, the small bathroom—all of it remained untouched. The only thing missing was the blonde celestial spirit mage who dreamed of becoming a Fairy Tail wizard. His eyes carefully inspected the room as he noticed a small change.
There, on top of her writing desk, sat a small framed picture. Lucy, Natsu and Happy were in it, along with a scarlet-haired woman and a young shirtless man. Sting trembled at the sight as Lucy was smiling back at him, proudly showing off the pink Fairy Tail emblem on the back of her hand.
Rogue darted into the room and Yukino finally caught up with them with heavy breaths. Sting noticed their presence as he continued staring at the picture.
"…Lies. Isn't it? Rogue. It's only been one whole year since I left. Even if she was in trouble, Natsu-san saved her, right? Right? Isn't it? They're Fairy Tail wizards, so everyone came back, right? I wonder if Lucy is just working. Out on a job with Natsu-san. I'll head over there for a moment. I have to see Lucy. Say something, Rogue…"
Sting, who wanted to escape from the harsh reality, spun his words over and over again, repeatedly mentioning about searching for Lucy. Rogue grabbed hold of his arm and didn't let go. He had a sorrowful expression, but he stared hard at Sting.
"Sting, you understand right? …She's no longer here."
"Sting, you have to remember."
"She, Lucy is-"
"No, stop…please, stop!"
"Sting! She's dead!"
Rogue stared at him, somewhat stunned. Sting's hovered fist shook with rage. "You bastard!"
Rogue wiped the spit from his mouth and narrowed his eyes. Sting glared back at him, "She can't die! She definitely couldn't have! How could you say something so horrible? I promised that I would protect her! Even if it's you, I can never forgive—"
Yukino suddenly ran in between them. In that moment, she wrapped her arms around Sting and pulled him into a hug. She tossed Rogue a look that pleaded, 'Please, give us some time alone.' Rogue unwillingly grit his teeth and stormed out of the room, leaving the two behind.
Sting immediately tried shaking her off, determined to escape from her grasp. He was physically stronger than her, but Yukino refused to let go. She painfully continued to embrace Sting, trying to nurse him back to his normal and cheery self through her hug.
"Dammit, let go! Let me go! If I don't search for Lucy then… I'm telling you… she is definitely alive so…Let me go!"
Blindly thrashing around in rage to break free, he continued to shout even louder. Regardless of the pain, Yukino silently continued to hug him, hoping that her efforts would help ease just a little of his sorrow. After what seemed like hours, Sting finally dropped his face into her chest and sobbed.
How long did they stay like this? The sky, dyed red by the setting sun, peered through the window of the apartment. Sting was motionless in Yukino's arms. His temper had finally receded. Yukino was covered in bruises and her body ached, but that wasn't even the least bit of her concern.
"I promised that I would be the one to protect her…" He whispered in a voice so quiet that it sounded like it was going to disappear.
Sting, who was flooded with memories, had his heart shaken by the scene replaying over and over again in his mind. It was the spectacle under the moonlight. The memories of the two conversing. The night when he stood over the city and said his vow: "I will be the one to protect you!"
"In the end, I was unable to uphold my promise."
Yukino felt her stomach sink.
"If I never left, none of this would have ever happened."
"If you never left, I would have never met you. I wouldn't even be alive today, if it weren't for you." Yukino reminded him softly, "It's not your fault, so please stop blaming yourself! I'm sure she would have wanted you to be happy…"
"Happy?" He repeated with a completely flat voice. Yukino stopped breathing. She noticed the cloudy, faraway look in his eyes. "…I must never find happiness. I am bearing the weight of a sin that can never be forgiven."
Yukino didn't say a word. She knew, she instinctively knew that Sting wasn't really talking to her. His ultimate promise was shattered. His dream to protect the one person he considered as family was destroyed. Now, he was consoling himself with a weighted conscience.
"I left on a journey to become stronger, but…have I really become strong at all? I hurt everyone around me, even when I promised that we would be friends. A celestial spirit mage never breaks her promises, and yet… I broke several of mine. Now, I'll never see her again, because I couldn't protect anyone…!" Tears streamed down his face, "Natsu-san! Happy! Lucy! They're all DEAD!"
"I-I…" She couldn't muster up anything but a cracked voice from her throat. She never saw Sting in this state before. She didn't know what she could say. Even if she did say anything, Sting probably wouldn't even listen to her. She could ask Rogue for his help, but no. She shouldn't leave him alone like this. All she can do now is stay with him.
Hours passed and the night steadily approached. Only the moonlight, shining through the window, brought light to the darkened room. Yukino quietly watched over him sit still in the same position for a really long time. After thinking to herself for a while, she finally decided to break the silence.
"We…should probably go."
"Rogue-sama must still be waiting for us. We should look for him soon, right?"
The outline of his figure was completely still.
Concerned, Yukino knelt in front of him to see what was wrong. When she saw his face, she froze up. His face was stoic and he absently stared at the dark void in front of him with frozen, lifeless eyes.
"Sting-!" Yukino covered her mouth with both her hands.
She saw this happen before. Back in her village.
Back when she was younger, there was a kind old woman she used to visit almost on a daily basis. The woman let Yukino sit on her lap and read stories to her every day. Her smiles melted the coldest hearts and she treated Yukino like her own grandchild. One day, her husband fell victim to an incurable illness and only had a small amount of time left to live. She stayed by his bedside, begging him not to leave her alone, only to be responded with an eerie silence.
The happy old woman became a saddened old widow.
Yukino visited her one day and brought along her favorite book to read, but no matter what she would say, the kind old woman would only peer out the window with blank-filled eyes. The whole town tried to gain back her attention, but to no avail. She sat in her cottage, staring at nothing for the rest of her life. Yukino lost someone important to her that day.
With a wound that even time cannot heal; Sting was on the verge of becoming an empty shell of himself. He must not go to that other side, into that consuming dark void. She must bring him back to reality at all costs!
"Sting-sama, snap out of it! Please don't lose yourself!"
He sat in the same position with eyes fixated on the space before him. His gaze didn't even reach her tear-filled eyes.
What could she say to bring back his attention? Yukino took a deep breath. She has to stay calm; otherwise she won't be able to think. Out of reflex, she held onto something dangling around her neck and squeezed it tight. Stay calm, she told herself. Just do the thing you always do to stay calm. Yukino breathed in deeply and finally relaxed. She looked over Sting and began to wonder if he had anything to relieve his stress. Wait, that's it!
"Sting-sama…" She took out the small figure from the inside of her shirt. "…Do you know what this is?" In her hand was a tiny silver pendant carved into the shape of a cross. She hoped to see some sort of reaction from him, even a small twitch, but there was no change at all.
A little disheartened, she continued. "This pendant belonged to Ciel, patron of the shipwrecked. A kind priest gave it to me at my family's funeral, as I was lost in a sea of grief. He told me back then I just had to close my eyes, hold the pendant and think of my parents or of my sister and I would feel better."
She smiled bitterly, "And so I did. Over the years when I was thinking I was all alone in this world, without a place where I belonged—when it was all just too much—I held this pendant tight and thought about my older sister who filled me with so much hope. I was hoping to see her again almost every day." She took his hand and placed the silver pendant in his palm.
"I want you to have it." A reminiscent smile spread on her lips, "All you have to do is close your eyes, hold the pendant, and think of Lucy-sama, and you'll feel better! So that's why…"
After Yukino noticed his expression, her eyes opened wide. She slowly closed her mouth and lost all feeling in her knees. She tried to control herself, pushed some tears away and put on a strained smile. "That's why you should keep it. It helped me lots, even when I was a little roughed up…so… what thoughts d..do you ha.. have?"
In the end, she was barely able to keep her composure. Sting continued sitting in front of her, motionless. There was no change at all. Nothing affected him. He stared past her as if she was invisible. Yukino lost. All of her attempts were futile. Sting had done so much for her, but she couldn't even do a single thing for him. She was so useless, and she hated herself for that. Sting was the one who brought light to her world, and now he was gone.
"Please… don't leave me alone too..."
Together alone, Yukino sank her head in her knees as sobs racked her entire body.