The Duke’s Wife

01 Jul 2018

On her first visit to Dreyar Manor, there were three things that Lady Mirajane Strauss was certain of.

First and foremost was the fact that her actions that day were a shameless breach of noble pleasantries that would surely prompt whispers among her family’s peers. Second, was her parents knew that it was so, they did not care – or maybe they did, but they were willing to risk it. They had willingly sent – ordered – their eldest daughter to enter the lion’s den and be devoured whole. The third and last, was that she came anyway. She was hesitant and terrified, but she was also resolute.

Her parents may have sent her for the Mad Duke, but Lady Mirajane made herself go for a chance to meet the swordsman with the beautiful long hair and deep blue eyes.

(From Lady Strauss to Duchess Dreyar – how exactly did that happen?)

Teen (13+)
Chapters: 3
Words: 35,155

The Duke’s Wife

Chapter 3
In which a Lady contemplates a voyage


Lady Mirajane is settling in nicely into her new life, and then she meets Cana Alberona.

Chapter Notes:

me: let’s make mira cry like 5 times more
also me: what is wrong wiTH YOU


The wet cobbled streets of Magnolia were slowly coming back to life late that afternoon. The townsfolk had kept indoors during the rain that had been falling in torrents since the previous night, but as soon as the weather let up, they had begun crawling back out of their respective shelters.

In this little town by the river, night was the busiest and most profitable time of day, so the denizens of Magnolia – from street vendors and tavern owners to thieves, whores and killers – all of them were intent on making sure they were back and ready for business by nightfall.

Among the few busy bodies making their way downtown were two women. The folk who dwell on alleyways and trade their eyes for business easily recognized the two, who were not only both eye-catching in different ways, but also were both ladies to be kept at a careful distance.

The first of the two was a beautiful brunette, dressed in an unconventional manner that easily told everyone who she was – a comfortable blouse, trousers, sashes of different silks on her waist, a seafarer’s trench coat on her shoulders, long curls wild behind her head. Lady Alberona was generally a friendly face around these streets. She walked comfortable and unafraid of pickpockets despite the gleam of the gold and jewels that hung from her ears and looped around her wrists and fingers. The folks of Magnolia knew not to try. She had a sword, and knew how to use it. If she ever appeared not to have it on her waist, they were sure that she must have at least one dagger in her person: under the scarves and sashes, up a sleeve, tucked into a boot, or all of the above.

They know this not because they know the woman, but because they know themselves.

They knew that Lady Alberona knew these streets because she grew up in them. No. That’s not quite right. One does not grow up in Magnolia. One survives .

Recognizing the lady was enough for the street’s eyes to avert their gaze ever so slightly. They would glance once in a while, maybe note her presence, because that was their job, but they wouldn’t watch. They knew the lady sees them too, and she knew where to find each of them if she so desired.

Ah, but her company called for curiosity. The young lady on Miss Cana’s arm was quite an ordinary sight on these streets, but her presence had always prompted whispers.

The young blonde in the Dreyar House colors had many names in Magnolia. During recent years though, she had seemed to settle with ‘Iris’. Most people associated Miss Iris with her haphazard braid, bright eyes, stunning smile, and the armor that was the gold-trimmed black cloak that only those under Duke Dreyar’s employ wore. On the number of times she was asked of her business, she only often smiled and answered that she was on an errand for the House. They knew her by her perpetually clean servant’s ensemble – it was a humble attire, but never dirty, always pristine. That fact alone spoke volumes – Miss Iris was not an ordinary maid, perhaps not a maid at all, and certainly not one of theirs, but she was not someone they could attempt to take advantage of either without consequence. Lately, she had also taken to a certain swordsman’s company, a fact which halted any sort of remaining attempts to pursue her.

Some people think they knew her real identity, but they only voiced it in whispers. The chosen few who did know the truth, they knew well enough to keep it to themselves. In Magnolia, silence was a skill as marketable as ruthlessness.

Miss Iris was under the Mad Duke’s protection. The man was not their own either, but there was a different story to that altogether. It simply came down to this: at the end of the day, Laxus Dreyar was powerful and not an enemy, he had done a few notable denizens some few notable favors, and for a neighborhood like Magnolia, that was as good as friendship.

So the whispers started, seeing the Lady Alberona and the Mad Duke’s mysterious ward walking together, arms looped and heads bent in conversation. A few curious eyes followed, but they maintained their distance, and no one attempted to catch the words exchanged.

In Magnolia, sometimes not having all the pieces of the puzzle was better than seeing the whole picture.

This was a consideration Cana Alberona made before she spoke.

“So… I met our newest duchess a few days ago.”

Miss Iris raised an elegant brow. They had only been talking about some local artists, an enthusiast seeking an expert’s opinion, and the change in topic was quite abrupt. “Did you, now?”

Cana gave her a rueful smile. “I can’t believe I missed our favorite Duke’s wedding. My old man went on and on about it as soon as I came back.”

“Well, it was quite the surprise for a lot of us.” her companion mused. “Although apparently it was something that had been bound to happen eventually. At least that’s what I learned from Freed. I didn’t really stick my nose in it as much as some would think.”

Cana hummed. “I haven’t heard what you think about her, yet.”

Iris gave her a curious look, and Cana did nothing to hide from it. Her friend knew her well enough. “It was about time that we have another Duchess Dreyar. I was in favor of it, of course.”

“Only of the marriage? What about the lady?”

“I quite like her. I think she’s lovely.” Iris said, smiling softly. “I would not have encouraged her to go through with it if I didn’t think she would fit the role nicely.”

Cana let out a chuckle. “So the Duke did ask you to help.”

“Only a little nudge.” and then Iris turned to peer closely at her friend’s face. “So what did you think about her, Lady Alberona? I am very curious.”

“Well, she was quite excellent at what she does.” Cana answered, nonchalant. “Perfect manners, beautiful face, very intelligent and… well… she was interesting.”

“Cana, you only use that word for surreal paintings.”

“There’s just… These. She has-…”  the brunette waved her free hand around, struggling with the words, and only managed to come up with – “Eyes.”

“She has two of those, yes.” Iris said with a light laugh, earning an exasperated look. “Alright, so. What about them?”

“They’re pretty and they remind me of the ocean.”

“Do they?” Iris blinked, brows furrowed in thought. “I always thought they were closer in shade to the sky.”

At this, it was Cana’s turn to laugh, giving the other woman’s arm a small squeeze and tilting her head to press closer. “And that, my sweet, is why you don’t deal with art.” Iris opened her mouth to protest, but Cana brought a finger to her lips, making them pause right where they stood. “It’s not the color.”

Iris looked back at her companion for a long moment before taking the other woman’s hand from her face and twining their fingers together instead. “There’s something different with you today.” When Cana only slipped slender arms around her waist and pulled her closer, the blonde planted her hands on her friend’s shoulders to steady her. “And now you’re trying to distract me. What is it you can’t tell me?”

“Nothing you should worry your perfectly pretty head about, Lucy.” Cana said in a whisper – and just like that, Miss Iris’s flimsy disguise dropped, and she was just Lucy. Confused, curious Lucy. Cana took a step back. “Also, you’ve arrived at your destination. My job here is done.”

Lucy looked around to realize that her friend was right. She now stood on the front steps of a familiar humble apartment. She climbed up a step, so she could look the slightly taller woman directly in the eyes. “Thanks for walking me here then, Cana.”

“Always my pleasure, you know that.” Cana said, taking the other woman’s hand to press a kiss to it. The typical gentleman’s gesture had always managed to charm when it came from her. When she looked up, she met concerned brown eyes. She only smiled sweetly before closing the distance between them, pulling the other woman against her once more and claiming her lips.

Lucy returned the gesture, sliding her arms around the brunette’s shoulders, melting into the kiss. It had… something to it, from the way the familiar hands held steady into her waist before a hand crept up to brush her hair, to the way her friend and lover’s lips pressed against hers a little hungrier than usual. Something different. Something more, and also something less…

When they broke apart, they were both breathless. “That,” Lady Alberona panted, grinning. “Was not an attempt at distraction.”

Lucy’s concerned look didn’t fall. “It felt like a goodbye.” She frowned slightly, eyes searching, hands cupping the other woman’s cheeks. “Are you leaving again? So soon?”

Cana shook her head. “Oh, not for a month or two. But you are about to be rid of me, very soon.” She took the blonde’s hands in hers to put them down. “Rumor has it, a certain picky Duchess has fallen for a certain dashing swordsman.”

“Oh.” Lucy breathed out, finally understanding. Oh. So it was about that. She should have known, should have expected. She should have come up with it first. When she smiled, it was bemused. “Cana, you walked me across town to break up with me.”

Cana snorted. “I’ll never break up with you. You’re my Duchess, forever.” She chuckled when she received another kiss for her words. “But you , Miss Iris, have got it bad right now. I mean, going to a shady apartment in Magnolia to meet with a man?”

“You’ve done more insane things!” Lucy pouted. “Also, this is Levy’s apartment!”

“Yes, and don’t think I don’t know who her current favorite tenant is. No offense, My Lady, but I have known this neighborhood and this man a lot longer than you have.” Cana grinned, then rolled her eyes. “Gods, I can’t believe I lost you to him, though. Just because you like his sword better-”

“That’s not it!” Lucy giggled. “And you didn’t lose me. I love you, Cana.”

“I love you too.” Cana replied, stealing one last, short kiss. “But you’re not in love with me, and I am not in love with you. We’ve always been an odd fit. T’was fun, though.”

“It was.” Lucy nodded, sighing wistfully. “You’re not… upset, are you?”

“No.” and they both knew it was the truth. “You know me. You know us.”

“I do.”

“I’ll still drop by for cakes. I love your little tiny cakes with the candy frost things.”

“You’re always welcome to all the little tiny cakes you want.” Lucy said with a laugh. “But please please use the front door?”

Cana finally pulled away, taking a step back. “I’ll consider it, but I make no promises. Now, I’m not gonna keep you from your little lover’s rendezvous. Make sure he walks you back to Dreyar House after this, alright?”

Lucy had to roll her eyes at the remark. “Yes, mother .”

“Brat. If you weren’t adorable…” was all the brunette said, waving dismissively before turning around to walk away.

Lucy watched her friend go, staring at her back. A feeling of content settled in her, but as she looked back to the past few hours with Cana, she knew that she had not been told the whole story, not yet.

“Cana!” she called out, loud enough that the brunette still stopped and turned to her, only several paces away. “Is there… someone?”

Cana blinked.

“Someone for you.” was all she said to elaborate. “Because I think there is.”

She got back a shrug. “We’ll see if it goes there.”

Lucy laughed, shaking her head. So it hadn’t been just her, after all. It all made much more sense now, and she felt much more at ease. Their relationship had always been a fleeting, casual thing. They were friends first. Lucy knew Cana went through lovers like they were one of her many sea voyages. Duchess Heartfilia’s bed, however, was more discerning. Lady Cana Alberona had only found herself invited after a while of charming and trust building.

If it was Lucy who had taken another lover, Cana would have no qualms sharing their bed with their consent. It wouldn’t be the first time.

It was a different matter altogether, however, for the famed Lady Alberona to pursue someone. Lucy knew then that there was no competition, no negotiation there.

“Do I know them?” she asked.

“A part of them, I think.” Cana said, and the little smile on her face was mysterious and private. “I’ll be sure to introduce you, if it works out.”

“I’ll hold you to that, Lady Alberona.”

The woman simply bowed with a flourish, tipped her invisible hat, and went on her way.





Freed didn’t notice the questions until later.

Perhaps it was because he simply had been busy, lately. It was trade season, which sent him and his Lord both busy going around and managing things. Both he and Laxus had always been hands-on when it came to business. With most of their time and attention focused on those, they had little time to notice the little things.

Or perhaps it was because Lady Mira has always been an inquisitive person, especially now that she was part of a new household. She had much to learn not only about Dreyar House but their business and relationships with other nobles. Fortunately, the new Duchess Dreyar had a keen mind for politics. It was a mind made for assessing rather than scheming, but she understood how things worked in this society.

Perhaps it was both. Freed had been busy, and also had dismissed Lady Mira’s questions for curiosity.

Perhaps another reason, as well: Lady Mira was quietly cunning. She had lived the past few years of her life laying low, blending in, denied of favors. She always always had to get what she wanted through subtlety.

Freed watched her in action now, and he would admit that she was quite good at what she did, given a right target.

“…and then you know what that brat said? She said, ‘You’re sleeping with your swordsman and you haven’t told me of any disadvantage to that so far.’   Did you hear that? The nerve on that girl- Who does she think she is?”

Duke Dreyar stopped pacing for a moment, perhaps waiting for a reaction from the room.

Lady Mirajane indulged her husband, but did not take her eyes off the jigsaw puzzle she was putting together on the carpet. “She is Duchess Heartfilia, darling.”

Freed watched them quietly. He was in his usual perch on the window seat, only this time he was joined by stacks of documents.

Laxus continued pacing. “I know , and that’s nice, but she’s not thinking- Fine, I went off with Freed in Magnolia as a teenager, but that was before I had a title and an estate to go with it. We changed our game as soon as I was Duke. Lucy’s different, she counts on her reputation being spotless. I can take her sleeping with the swordsman, sure, but she’s dressed up frolicking around Magnolia with him and also taking him to parties here in the Hill while she does it. Reckless.”

Mira looked up to watch him this time. “Maybe you can advice her to keep their dates to the Middle City?”

Laxus looked back at her. “That’s worse.”

“How so? It’s not as dangerous as Magnolia…”


Freed finally spoke up. “My Lady, the Middle City folks have seen nobles in public gatherings and celebrations. There’s a higher chance to be recognized. On the other hand, Magnolia is filled with people whose connections to the nobles on the Hill are mostly through their agents… it’s both dangerous and untasteful to nobles. In a way, it’s the safer choice for their… rendezvous.”

“I see… That makes sense.” Mira nodded thoughtfully.

Laxus grumbled. “This is Cana’s fault.”

Freed watched as his mistress’s posture straightened just a slight bit. Lady Mira had a tell, he had slowly discovered over the past few days. She brushed her hair over her shoulders and then clasped her hands together – hiding nervous excitement by appearing prim and proper.

“Lady Alberona?” she asked.

Freed could tell that Laxus didn’t notice the change in demeanor. But then, when Laxus got to vent, he never really noticed anything else. “Yes, who else? She was the one who introduced them. She was the one who had Lucy gallivanting off to Magnolia on every spare minute. First, it was for Levy-”

“Lucy’s secretary?”

“No-… Yes-… Sometimes.” Laxus said dismissively. Freed made a mental note to tell Mira about Miss Levy McGarden later. “Anyway, it wasn’t bad when she was just taking Lucy to see Levy, because that was business. Then I find out she’s spirited our favorite Duchess away. On a boat.”

“Ship.” Freed chimed in, amused. “Cana will never forgive you if you call ‘Cornelia’ just a boat.”

“Her ship has a name?” Mira asked, practically lighting up. “She didn’t say, last time!”

“Named after her mother, milady.” Freed smiled. “The late Lady Cornelia was a phenomenal actress, it was a shame she passed on very young.”

Mira looked down in sympathy. “Oh…”

Laxus only rolled his eyes. “Fine. Ship . The thing is, they eloped. Sure, I joked about her eloping with Cana before she marries the Fullbuster kid, but I didn’t know she’d take it to heart! And it wasn’t even to run and frolic in some vacation island. They met up with pirates. Pirates!

“They did?”

“Pirates. Lawless drunk pirates.”

“Lady Alberona and Duchess Heartfilia are quite close, then?”

“Very close.” was the duke’s grudging answer.

“Even now?”

“Well, not anymore, apparently. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if Lucy has both Cana and Loke in her bed these days.”

“They’re both… attractive choices.” Mira considered, a careful edge to her tone. “Are they… partial… to that kind of arrangement?”

Freed chose this time to speak again. “I’m certain that both of them would be fine sharing, but Cana never really commits. It’s all fun for her. Lucy prefers stable company. Loke, for his part, probably prefers a stable income. All swordsmen do. Why do you think we don’t complain when we get called in to break up petty noble fights?”

“Swordsman like that, wouldn’t pass on the chance to be the House Swordsman under Duchess Heartfilia’s name.” Laxus continued. “Good pay, clean reputation. A record to hold, because Lucy has never employed a House Swordsman before. Until he came around.”

Mira was quiet for a while, before she looked at Laxus who had stopped pacing to glare at some of the pieces of the puzzle strewn around her. “My Lord, I think you sound more worried than angry.”

“That man has enemies. Rich men. Worse: rich women.” Laxus mumbled, crouching down now to put two pieces together. “Trail of broken hearts and all that shit.”

“So you do admit it. You’re worried for Lucy?”

“Don’t say it like that.”

Mira laughed, reaching out to comb back the man’s hair. Laxus had ruffled it while he had been pacing. “I think you should trust her more.”

“And why is that?” he asked, picking distractedly at the puzzle pieces.

“Because Lucy Heartfilia is a most intelligent, charming and beautiful young lady, who you know very well.” she said, sliding a puzzle piece to the portion he was putting together. “And while you’re worried that this swordsman has seduced his way to an opportunity… you’re overlooking the possibility that it may be the other way around.”

Freed watched in satisfaction as Laxus raised his head to look at the woman. Lady Mira may not see through political schemes, but she had eyes for reading people. An invaluable skill, one that took Laxus years to hone, and he still failed at it sometimes.

“After all, you are her mentor.” Mira continued with a hum. “Surely you trust that you’ve taught her well enough.”

“You sound very sure about all this.” Laxus finally said.

“Oh, I’m not sure of anything, my dear. Just an educated guess, from what I’ve seen of our favorite duchess.”

“You’re confident, though?”


Laxus groaned, frowning down at the puzzle pieces again. “I hate it.”

“Laxus, you should leave.” Freed chimed in.

Laxus pouted. “Am I that annoying?”

Freed shook his head, smiling. “No, you simply have a meeting in an hour. At the docks.”

Mira laughed this time, while Laxus only groaned and ran a hand through his hair again in dismay. She chastised him and tried to bring back a semblance of order to his blond hair before fixing his collar.

The Duke finally stood up and grabbed his coat, mumbling about headaches, trade and boring meetings.

He began making his way towards Freed, who reached out to him quietly. Laxus took the man’s hand and pressed a quick kiss to it. Freed smiled and poked at his cheek. “Don’t start a fight. I’m tired and I have no time to stab someone for you.”

“Duly noted.” was all the Duke said before walking away. He paused to drop a kiss to the top of Mira’s head on his way out.

Freed and Mira spent several moments in silence, Freed turning to his work again while Mira continued the puzzle on the floor. She made sure to take her time as surely her husband would want to solve parts of it himself.

After a while, Mira spoke. “Do we know the whole story about the pirates? It sounded very exciting.”

Freed smiled down as his documents knowingly. He hadn’t noticed the questions before, but now he was beginning to. “It was indeed, and I’d love to tell you all about it, but no one can tell a story quite like Lady Alberona herself. I’m afraid I’d sell it short.”

“Oh, I’m sure you wouldn’t. Tell me? Please?” she asked sweetly, innocently.

Freed looked at her, still wearing his smile. “I must apologize, I am a bit… occupied.” he reasoned, shrugging as he lifted some of his papers for emphasis.  “I really think it’s best that you ask her yourself, My Lady. Why don’t you invite her for tea? Tell her you want to hear more about her crew going against the Cerberus . Cana loves telling her own stories.”

Mira pointedly looked back down at her puzzles. “It sounds a bit imposing, don’t you think? Inviting her only for that? Lady Alberona seems to be a very busy woman. She runs her own business, doesn’t she?”

Freed let out a chuckle. “Believe me, Mira. No one else has mastered the fine art of mixing business and pleasure better than our Lady Alberona.”

He almost laughed at how she hid her blush beneath the guise of running a hand through her hair.

She fell silent after that. Freed almost regretted it, maybe he pushed her a bit too much? Perhaps she could tell that he was onto her pointed questions?

“My Lady.” he called, voice unusually soft, making her look up at him in curiosity. “You do know that you’re…” he paused, considering what word he should use. Allowed? No, that made it seem like there were set rules here. Encouraged? It sounded too assuming.

Finally, he settled with something much, much simpler – “You’re free.”

She stared, her intake of breath almost audible. Had she not realized that yet, even after the past few months?

“You know that, right?” he asked, still gentle.

Mira gave a little nod. “I know. It’s just… I just… It’s been a while…”

“It takes some getting used to.” Freed continued, this time looking away and out the window. “I understand.”

He did, he really did. He’d been there. The first step he took out of the brothel knowing he wouldn’t have to go back to that life, his first few duels as a new swordsman, the first time he kissed Laxus Dreyar purely because he wanted to.

He knew how it felt like, to struggle with newfound freedom, to having a hard time believing that you deserve what you want, too.

“I just wanted to make sure that you know for yourself that things are different now. You can do things for you now.”

She nodded again, this time more resolute. “I know that.” she said. “Thank you, Freed.”

He smiled at her before turning to his work again, leaving her the room to think.

Freed tried not to smile too knowingly when after a few minutes, his mistress simply asked, “If I were to write a letter to Lady Alberona, should I send it to Clive House, or does she have another address?”





Duke Dreyar wouldn’t call himself an optimist, but even he had looked forward to this whole business with a kind of enthusiasm. Freed had told him not to tease or pressure Mira, and he understood, so he didn’t. He did his best to be supportive. He had simply shrugged off Mira informing him that she was inviting Lady Alberona over for afternoon tea and a chat, because they had such a grand time the first time.


“Hells.” said Laxus, eyeing the lounging form of his wife, who had claimed Freed’s usual window seat gazing out the garden with an absent look on her face. “You’re pining. And in the bad way.”

She sighed miserably, and he wanted to turn back and leave her alone.

Only she whirled around and looked at him with big sad blue eyes.

“She’s turned me down twice now, Laxus!” the woman despaired. “Perhaps I was too eager? I… I never really knew how to do these things…”

Supportive. He was trying his best to be supportive, because he might be an arrogant bastard but he was a damn good friend when he set his mind to it.

Also, what kind of husband does nothing while his wife was feeling miserable?

“You’re not too eager.” he finally said, when Mira’s expression began to fall further. “And she had legitimate reasons for turning you down, none of which include not liking you.”

“You think so?”

“I know so.” he scoffed. “It’s the peak of trade season, and Cana is a businesswoman. She’s not just occupied with selling, she’s also busy buying and managing and all that. When she turned you down the first time, it was because you invited her on a day when the Alvarez goods were expected to arrive. When you sent your second invite, it was in the wake of that report on criminal activity at the docks. Of course making sure our warehouses are safe from a goddamned arsonist was more urgent than flirting. If anything, you’re simply unlucky.”

“You’re saying I have terrible timing.” she said.

“Exactly.” he crossed his arms across his chest. “It’s still trade season. It’ll be a while before we can all settle down, really. Have you even seen Freed these past few days? Even Duchess Heartfilia’s been showing signs of wear.”

“Oh, dear.” she stood up, then, alarmed. “I’ve been too inside my own head I hadn’t noticed anything… I knew you were busy, but I didn’t realize you may be tired…” she searched his face. “Are you alright? Is Freed?”

“We take naps.” the duke answered, letting his wife pull him to sit on the nearest chair.

“That won’t do- Oh, you do look exhausted!” she exclaimed, looking torn and helpless. “How could I not notice?!”

“You were busy yourself.” he pointed out, this time allowing her to help him slip off his coat and undo his ties. “Prettying up the house and mooning over your lady love-”

“I’m so sorry.” Mira said, and now she was miserable for a different reason. “I make a terrible wife, do I?”

He snorted. “I didn’t ask for your hand because of your domestic skills. You don’t even know how to cook.”

“No one does.” she pouted. Nobles simply did not cook-

“I do.”

Her hands on his shoulder froze as she stared at him. He stared back, all seriousness.

“You’re teasing me.”

He grinned. “I can even bake.”

“No!” she said, now shaking him slightly. “You can’t be serious!”

“What? I can!” he insisted, laughing as he tugged at her hands, pulling her into his lap. “Do I have to prove it?”

She giggled, leaning her head against his. “You’re mad, My Lord.”

“Yeah, I worked hard at it.”

Lady Mira sighed, snuggling closer. “I really am sorry for not seeing how hard you’ve been at work. You and Freed both.”

“You’re doing well here on your side, though.” he mumbled as he leaned back and relaxed against the plush back of his chair.

“What do you mean? I just stay here all day, like you said, mooning …” the last word she said with a whine, evidently disappointed at herself. “All I do is rearrange the furniture and talk to the servants and greet your guests…”

“Exactly.” he said.


“We’re making good headway on the trade negotiations this year, much faster than usual, actually… because you’re here to hold up the fort.” Laxus continued, yawning. “You do know that’s what you’ve been doing, right?”

She raised her head to look at him, perplexed. “Really?”

“You’ve been running the house.” this time, he raised an eyebrow. “Keeping everything in order with the staff, receiving the guests, taking note of whatever they came over for, preparing the main hall for the many business meetings later this year… Freed and I used to split those jobs between us, before.”

“Oh.” she blurted out, and really? “Oh! I’ve been helping?

He shrugged. “A lot, yeah.”

“I thought you only let me do those because I had no friends and no hobbies!”

Laxus had to keep himself from laughing. He didn’t want to ruin the moment. “Hey, you said that. Not me-”

He stopped abruptly when Mira pulled him into a tight, bone-crushing hug. He sighed as he pat her back, shifting in his seat so she wouldn’t slip off his lap when she lets him go.

“Woman, let me breathe.” he grumbled.

Mira loosened her grip slightly, but didn’t pull away just yet. “I’ll try to help even more.” she mumbled against his shoulder.

“You do that.” he said. “And when I get word that Lady Alberona’s deals for the season have begun to settle nicely, I’ll let you know so you can send your third invite and finally get that sweet yes.”

She drew back with a shy smile. “They do say third time’s the charm.”

Laxus shrugged again as they settled against each other, his hand snug around the woman’s waist, Mira’s simple dress allowing her to curl up against him comfortably. “I know Cana. She’s never been one to turn down a pretty woman if she had any say in the matter.”

“You think I’m pretty?”

“You’re not ugly.”

“So that’s a yes then?”

“Don’t push it.” he grumbled under his breath, closing his eyes. He was more exhausted than he thought, and in a familiar comfortable chair with a warm body pressed against his and fingers carding through his hair, he was very close to dozing off.

There was a set of curt knocks on the door. Mira moved to put some space between them but Laxus only grunted, giving her waist a soft squeeze to prompt her to stay. “Come in.” he called out.

The door opened and one of the house servants walked in, carrying a large bouquet of flowers, all colorful and undoubtedly exotic. The man coughed upon seeing his masters’ compromising positions, but carried on. “My Lord, My Lady – this… ah… arrangement… arrived for the Duchess Mira just now.”

“For me?” Mira blinked, sitting up. This time, Laxus let her go and she stood up to receive the flowers. “Who is it from?”

“I… was told that you’d find a card, My Lady.” the servant said.

“Oh. Well, thank you very much for bringing it to me.” Mira replied with a smile, then dismissed the man, who bowed dutifully and left. She carried the bouquet back towards the table.

Laxus smothered another yawn as he watched the woman admire the brightly-colored flowers, her fingers ghosting over the petals. “Well?”

When she glanced at him, her lips were curled into a barely contained excited smile, and her eyes were shining with mirth. Finally, she felt around the bouquet, careful not to ruin the arrangement as she searched for the folded piece of parchment tucked within the leaves and tiny flowers.

It was amazing, really, to watch her expression light up as she read whatever was written in the note.

“It’s from Lady Alberona.” she said, looking at the duke.

He expected that much. There really was only one person in Fiore who sent orchids and lilies instead of traditional roses. “And…?”

“There’s a private gallery and she’s asking if I might want to go.” she looked uncertain. “Laxus, it’s tonight! She’s… she’s waiting downstairs!”

He didn’t help himself from grinning. Classic Cana. “Well? Aren’t you going?”

“But- but it’s almost time for supper, and you’re here-”

“You don’t cook my dinner.” he pointed out.

“I just said I’d help out in here-”

“So you can continue to be pathetic and pine? In my presence?” Laxus rolled his eyes, and with effort stood up, grabbed his wife by the shoulders and turned her around. “No, you are utterly useless like this. Go away, have your date, don’t come back until you’re functioning properly-”

She started resisting against him pushing her towards the door, but it was useless. “I’m- I’m in my sleeping gown! My hair’s not done up-”

“Gods. Call your lady’s maid to help you dress, that’s what we pay her for.” he grumbled, opening the door and starting to lead her out. “And hair is hair, no one cares-”

“I do!”

“Trust me, it’ll be a waste, you’d just ruin your stupid fancy updo when things start heating up-”

“Laxus!” she gaped at him, scandalized, cheeks flushed a deep red. “W-We- We- That- That is not -”

“I beg you.” he cut her off, expression serious as he stepped back into the room to leave her standing in the hall with the note and the bouquet held to her chest.  “Stop whining, get dressed, get out of my house, and get laid. In that order.”

“Get-! I-I-… I am not going with Lady Alberona to get-… g-get… l-lai-”

She couldn’t say it. She couldn’t.

He only hummed, shrugged, and then closed the door on her face.

“What kind of husband are you?!” he heard her shout, her voice a marvelous combination of offended and flustered.

“The best kind!” Laxus called back, before making a beeline for his chair and slumping down in it. Faintly he heard Mira calling for someone, probably her lady’s maid, and he finally closed his eyes to take a well-deserved nap.





The gallery was indeed a quiet and private little place. A middle-class merchant’s house in the Middle City, easels set around the repurposed receiving hall of the quaint mansion to showcase canvas paintings of the family’s middle son. The young man’s father and head of their family had apparently never been much for art, but business was business, so the merchant thought it fit to finance an open exhibit for a few short days, hoping for at least a buyer or two who might be interested in his son’s art.

Lady Alberona explained all this to Duchess Dreyar on the short carriage ride to the place.  She was dressed in a silk robe-like dress with embroidered patterns for the event, her hair tied back high behind her head. Duchess Dreyar wore a simple but flattering dress the color of red wine, the shade making her long flowing silver curls and blue eyes stand out. They were a sight to behold as they made their way through the rows of paintings in the gallery.

The other guests, mostly the merchant’s relatives, family friends, and some lower-ranking noble business partners, were not nearly as subtle with their whispers as the folks in Magnolia.

It did not seem to matter, though. The two women were very much engrossed in their own little bubble of conversation.

“I have a client across the sea who was very curious about our art here, our sculptures and paintings.” Lady Cana continued her explanation. “He likes bright colors and bold strokes, and I’d promised to bring him works he might be interested in acquiring for his estate. He’s an enthusiast.”

They were slow going, the art dealer keenly taking in each painting’s details, her companion listening to her comments in rapt attention.

“And you think this client of yours would like Young Master Tearm’s works?” Mira asked.

“Eve’s style suits my client’s preferences.” Cana answered. “He has good technique, his concepts and composition are quite ordinary, but there are some works that stand out. They’re more… inspired. Charming. I should thank Hibiki for passing on his invite to me.”

They stopped in front of a painting of a mother lounging in a settee with her young daughter sitting by her feet, both of them doing needlework. In the picture, the windows were thrown open, so the room appeared brightly lit, washing the scene in lively colors.

Cana hummed, before speaking again. “You’d think people who want to acquire foreign art would prefer scenery from another land, but they’re just as interested with the simpler things. Scenes like this make them curious about the people – our lifestyle, our society, how we’re different, and how, in a way, we’re just like them.”

Mira did not realize that she had been staring until Cana turned towards her and let out an awkward laugh. “I’m sorry, I am boring you with all the pretentious art talk, am I?”

Mira hurriedly shook her head. “Oh, no, not at all! It’s-… It’s all very interesting.”

Cana let out a small smile, looking back at the painting. “Much like you.”


Cana glanced at her again, her smile now a grin. “Nevermind. I get… talkative. At galleries. Well, my friends say I’m talkative everytime, Gray’s told me I never shut up, but it’s a different kind when it comes to art. I become… sentimental? Sort of?”

“I see.” Mira said, watching again as Cana took in the painting, even leaning forward a little bit to squint at a small detail. “I think it’s… nice. I’ve never had an eye for these things. I know artists pour their hearts out for their works, and I admire people who know how to appreciate them fully.”

Mira had never been one for this kind of art. She had been terrible at sketching. Their art tutors had found both Strauss daughters a lost cause, taking to the son instead. Surprisingly, Elfman was the artist of the siblings. Mira took pride in her singing voice, though.

Cana chuckled. “Naw, I just really really like stories.”

A blink. “Stories?”

“History.” Cana elaborated, leading her companion forward by the small of her back to move on to the next work. “Like you said, artists pour their heart on their work. Every work has a story behind it. I like it when they share the history behind things, and I also like it when they let us think about it, imagine the stories ourselves. It’s kind of… intimate. It tells you something about a person.”

“That’s a very romantic take.” Mira said.

“Maybe.” her smile turned a bit bashful. “Ultimately, I think, I just like people. Listening to them. Knowing them. I find things more beautiful the more they have to say. I like it when I’m told something I don’t know… you know? Too sappy?”

Mira wasn’t fazed. “Is that why you chose to be a trader? Why you sail away from home? To hear more people, more stories?”

“Partly. Those are some good reasons.” Cana nodded, staring absently at another painting. Fittingly, it was a painting of a stormy sea. “Plus, I am forced to moderate my drinking. Contrary to popular belief, rum and ale, in fact, does not take up the majority of Cornelia’s storage hold.”

They shared a laugh at the joke, until Cana shrugged. “Mostly, I simply like the freedom of it.”

“Freedom to be away from everything you’ve known.” Mira said softly.

“Not exactly.” Cana said, making the other woman look at her again. “Freedom to be different from everything you’ve known, more like.” she grinned. “Funny, isn’t it? That a land where I can roam wherever I want feels more like a cage, yet being stuck on a ship surrounded by nothing but sea for miles feels more like freedom?”

“No, I understand.” Mira said, this time looking straight at the other woman’s dark eyes. “As my husband is fond of saying, ‘Rules are bullshit ’.”

Swearing sounded like a foreign language coming from her tongue and Cana couldn’t help but grin. “You married an anarchist.”

Mira returned her grin. “He has good friends. I like them very much.”

“His fellow rule-breakers?”

A nod. “I can’t hold that against them. It must feel liberating to just be whoever you want to be.”

Cana looked back, intent and for once, quiet. Mira saw the other woman’s gaze fall to her lips and back to her eyes, felt the hand on her back slide to her waist, watched red-painted lips part to say something-

“Lady Alberona! You received my invitation, after all!”

Mira bit her lip as she looked away, while Cana let out a small grunt of a noise before turning to the man striding joyfully towards them.

“Good evening, Hibiki.” Cana greeted. Though resigned, she looked genuinely happy to see the young man. “Thanks for sending me this way. I love the works. Where’s Eve?”

“Being shown off by Master Tearm.” Master Hibiki Lates said, snorting. “He’s surprised this took off. He didn’t expect Eve’s art to attract this much attention.”

“He’s always been a grumpy old bat.” Cana scoffed, and as Hibiki smiled charmingly at her companion, she raised a hand in a flourish. “Duchess Dreyar here thinks the paintings are fantastic.”

“I do. They’re all very lovely.” Mira said, then giggled as she saw the young man gape at her.

“D-Duch- Duchess!” he actually squeaked , before hurrying to take a bow. “Duchess Dreyar, it’s an honor! I- I knew you looked familiar- I was at your wedding- Well, everyone was, but- Oh, pardon my manners, I am Hibiki Lates, merchling and a friend to our artist.” His next statement, he stage-whispered: “Cana, you brought a duchess ?”

Cana shrugged, smirking. “Didn’t you send me the invite with a note to ‘kindly try to bring in some noble friends, to support my dearest darling Eve’ ?”

“I know , but Dreyar- !” Hibiki shook his head disbelievingly, standing straight as he grinned dashingly at Mira. “It really is an honor to have you here, Duchess. I haven’t seen the Duke around…?”

Mira should have expected that. “Oh, Laxus is- Well…”

Cana intervened smoothly. “Hibiki, you just called yourself a merchling , you should know this. It’s trade season and businessmen have no time to look at paintings.”

“Ah. Of course.” he laughed, good-natured and genuine. “My father’s been running around, himself. Barely managed to escape for a few hours to give Eve my support. Ah-! His father should be showing off to you , Duchess! Let me fetch them-”

Whatever moment the two women were getting to had been effectively dispelled when the man quickly took off to bring the Tearms to them. Like Hibiki, both Eve and his father were dumbfounded to realize that Duchess Dreyar had been milling around their quaint little gallery right under their noses, and both showered her with praises.

Merchants might also be rich businessmen, but they were different than nobles. They cared significantly less about rumors. Whatever tarnished personal reputation Mira or her husband hand on the Hill, merchants usually ignored it in favor of good business partnership.

Lady Alberona was at home in their presence, easily exchanging jokes with Hibiki, complimenting Eve on his work, convincing Master Tearm that he made the right choice to finance his son’s art. Mira smiled, nodded and complimented as appropriate – a well-learned skill in all noble ladies – but was mostly content to watch them.

Cana’s hand on her waist never moved.

But of course, as much as this little outing was for pleasure, Cana also came over for business. After a few more moments, Mira found herself in Hibiki’s pleasant company, as Cana asked for a private word with Eve and his father. She promised not to take too long. Mira did not mind. She was enjoying Hibiki’s excited anecdotes about the paintings. Being a close friend of the artist, he knew some of the stories behind them.

“-and this one, oh he absolutely hated this one!”

She blinked down at the painting her companion was  grinning at. It was not much of a painting but more of a study. The square canvas was small, could fit neatly in her palm – a perfect size for placing on top of a dresser or shelf. There were other works of this size, probably not for sale, only placed scattered around the gallery to fill the space.

It was a charming little portrait of a cat playing with a ball of yarn.

Mira furrowed her brows. “It’s adorable! Why in the world would he hate it?”

“He did it on a dare. He was complaining about moving subjects, once, so we borrowed his little sister’s cat and dared him to use it as his model. The cat won’t stop moving, and Eve cursed the whole time he was trying to sketch her!” he said with a laugh.

Mira laughed with him. “Well, he did a good job. I like cats. We had one just like this, my sister and I. He was as precious as he was precocious, we were sad to lose him a few years back. Old age.”

Oddly enough, instead of the usual crushing feeling she had when remembering Lisanna, this time it felt more like a dull ache. A lingering nostalgia, tucked neatly in a safe space in her heart where it now lay quiet and harmless.

Had she changed all that much this past year?

Hibiki continued his anecdotes, lost in a story about his and his friends in their schoolboy days. Mira looked across the room, to where she last saw Cana, Eve and Master Tearm discussing business.

They were still there. Master Tearm was speaking, Eve was shuffling shyly on his feet, and Cana was looking right back at her.

Their gazes met, and when Cana smiled, Mira pushed past her heart skipping a beat and smiled back.



“I’m sorry I had to leave you for a while there. I figured you might have heard enough business nonsense with Laxus and Freed.” Cana said as she led her companion out the gallery, finally done with her business deal.

She said she had purchased four paintings, all to be delivered to her home in a few days’ time. She bought the items from the Tearms for a good price, and promised to let them know if her client liked it, together with a commission if the piece were to sell well..

“That is actually not the case.” Mira replied. “They don’t really talk business with me. Granted, they come home exhausted nowadays, but I just think they don’t want to bring the trouble home with them.”

Cana hummed. “I’m also sorry for turning down both your invitations. Believe me, if I had a choice-”

“Please, Cana.” she said – and she realized that it was the first time she had said the other woman’s first name, without any title or honorific. “I was told that I have bad timing.”

“No offense, but you do.” Cana said. “At least, in the first two times. I just felt bad. I… wanted to see you again.”

Mira had to resist sounded too excited. “You… You did?”

“Yes.” Cana answered, and it sounded like a confession. “So the first opportunity I had, I decided I’d return the favor.”

“This was… very sweet. Thank you. For bringing me here today. I had a wonderful time.”

“It was my pleasure.” the other woman said. Then, she clapped her hands together. “So! It’s dinnertime, in the Middle City. I know the best restaurants in these parts…”

Mira went silent, realizing something. “I’ve never been to a restaurant.”

She expected Cana to look scandalized, judgmental… but she just roll her eyes and muttered, “Nobles.”

Mira looked sheepish.

“That’s a travesty, Duchess.” Cana said, one eyebrow raised, grin teasing. “We have to fix that.” Mira inhaled sharply when the other woman took her hand, then pressed a kiss to her knuckle. “Do me the honor of taking you out to dinner?”

Duchess Dreyar smiled, ducked her head and nodded. “Yes.”



Over a sumptuous dinner, Duchess Dreyar listened to Lady Alberona’s story about pirates.

Pirates. Against a trading ship crew of all women, one of which was probably the richest one back home.

It was exciting.

It made Mira wish to be there.





A week later, a servant came in carrying a wrapped package for Duchess Dreyar.

She tried to ignore the curious look from Freed beside her and the smirk from Laxus across the room.

“It’s from Cana.” she said, after reading the note tucked to the simple, nondescript wrapping.

“Well, you look very excited to open it.” Laxus remarked, leaning back into his chair, legs propped up on the table.

“I just… didn’t quite expect to receive… anything.” She hesitated.

He scoffed. “It’s called a surprise, Mira. Do they not have that in the country?”

Mira pointedly ignored the jab, instead simply exchanging a look with Freed, handing him the note so she could unwrap the ‘surprise’.

Freed chose to read the note out loud. “To Mira – Thank you for your lovely company. With love, C.” He heard the soft gasp from the woman beside him and leaned over to look at the object in her hands. “Oh, how charming.”

“What is it?” Laxus asked, squinting at them. All he could see from his seat was the back of a small framed portrait in Mira’s hands.

“It’s a little… painting.” Freed said, smiling softly. “Of a cat. That signature- E. Tearm? Eve? Is it from that gallery date?”

Whatever the two men were about to say next was cut off when Mira determinedly stood up, clutching the frame to her chest as she took a deep, bracing breath.

“I have a letter to write.”

Without waiting for a response, she took the note from Freed’s hand, picked up her skirts and ran out the room.

They might have heard a delighted squeal after the door closed behind her.

Laxus and Freed looked at each other. Laxus snorted. “Must’ve been damn good painting.”

Freed shrugged, but he was grinning knowingly. “It was an adorable cat.”





Over afternoon tea, Cana told Mira the story of how she got her ship, why she decided that Cornelia would be a small tribute to her mother, a woman who had done her best and shone brightly but had been granted too little time on her hands. Mira listened about the ship’s crew – all women, most of them from the streets of Magnolia, secret children, bastard daughters and runaway brides. Each of them quick-witted, strong-willed, stubborn to the bone and light on her feet.

They both agreed that there was indeed some satisfaction in tearing apart that silly old seafaring superstition that it was bad luck to have women on board a ship. After all, Cornelia herself had never had a failed voyage, had always managed to transport its crew and its goods.

“It’s manned by survivors.” Cana told her, grinning proudly. “A shipwreck? Even the sea gods know we’ve been through worse.”

“I’m curious,” Mira started. “How would your crew take to someone not from Magnolia sailing with them?”

“Oh, we’ve had some foreign girls aboard. There was this one girl who escaped from a slave trader – nasty things, those – and we welcomed her, dropped her to her home’s shores.”

“No, I did not mean foreign. I just meant… someone not of their… upbringing-”

“They were fine with Lucy.”

“They were fine with Iris .”

“Ah. Yes.” Cana nodded, and finally understood. She reached across the table and took the other woman’s hands. “They’d love you.”

Mira did not bother denying that that had been her question all along. “Do you really think so?”

“Yes.” Cana nodded again. “And I think, just the fact that you’re insane enough to marry the Mad Duke… that would earn you a level of respect we don’t always give people from the Hill.”

Mira laughed. It had been easy to do so since she left her old home. She was surprised to realize it felt even easier in her new friend’s company.





In behalf of the Council of Lords and the Merchant Council, Lord Warrod Sequen threw a party to celebrate the end of a profitable trade season in Fiore. Duke Dreyar was in attendance with his lady wife, and while the Duke was under the mercy of some eager business partners, he allowed her to slip away with the other ladies in the party.

Mira did not stay in their crowd long, for Lady Alberona soon found her and snuck her out into Lord Sequen’s gardens for some fresh air.

“He grows the healthiest vegetable garden this side of the Hill, you know.” Cana explained, when Mira voiced out her curiosity about the place looking more like a crop farm than an ornamental flower garden. “Are you alright? You didn’t seem to be enjoying the company of those other ladies.”

“They kept complaining about their husbands.” Mira said with a small frown. “I do understand that they are upset about not getting enough time and attention… but I am not upset… and as much as I want to comfort them, I don’t think I can handle that much unhappiness in such a lively gathering. And they’re… I simply do not know them well enough… to… bother… Oh, I sound horrible and unsympathetic, do I?”

Cana laughed. “No, not at all! Did they just pull you in with them and started talking?”

A sigh. “Yes…”

“I hate it when they do that.” Cana sighed.

“They were looking at me strangely. Like… like they were expecting me to complain about my husband too.” This time, she huffed. “I have no complaints! Laxus is wonderful!”

Cana peered closely. “Is he?”

“Well, he is rude… and grumpy… and eats cookies all day… and has a terrible sense of humor.” Mira said, hesitant but intent. “But he makes me happy.”

“Does he, now?”

“He does. And he’s-” she stopped abruptly, risking a glance to her companion. “He is very supportive.”

Cana only hummed in thought.

“I would have joined Lucy, but she was busy talking about business. And Juvia is not here.” Mira sighed again. “Thank you for getting me out of that.”

“Anytime.” Cana waved her off. “These stupid things get stuffy, real fast.”

They were quite for a moment, listening to the inaudible chatter from inside the mansion while enjoying the cool evening breeze of the garden.



“Tell me a story?”

“What story?”

“Any story.” Mira answered, sending her companion a smile. “Yours are always the best ones.”

Cana was looking at her with an expression she couldn’t quite read. It was curious, flattered, and somehow expectant, as if she was waiting for Mira to say more.

When Mira stayed quiet, Cana finally spoke. “Alright, but one question first.”


“Will I ever hear stories from you ?”

Mira ducked her head and this time her smile turned sad.

Cana resisted the urge to kiss it away. She had to hear this answer, first.

“I don’t like my stories all that much.” Mira finally answered. “Is that alright?”

Cana nodded, sliding her hand across the space between them, linking their pinky fingers together. “It’s alright.” She let out a breath, staring up at the night sky before speaking again. “So, once, we managed to acquire an item that the owner insisted was cursed.”

Mira’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “Cursed?”

“By a witch, we were told.” Cana grinned, and she told her story until Laxus found them and demanded they come inside at once and join him in suffering.





“From the way you talk about it, it sounds so much like-… No. No, that would be completely different.”

Freed sent a rueful smile at his companion as he slid a piece across the game board. “There’s no harm in saying it, Duchess. The letters, the calls, the little presents every so often. It does sound like a courtship.”

Lucy shook her head in disbelief, but she was smiling as well. “Imagine that, Lady Cana Alberona, finally properly courting someone.” She reached over to move her own piece, in turn capturing one of her opponent’s. “I never would have imagined it, not even when she was spending her time with me.”

“How do you feel about all this, by the way?” Freed asked, considering the board. Checkers had always been a pastime he enjoyed most in Duchess Heartfilia’s company.

Lucy hummed as she waited for him to make his move. “I feel hurt, mostly.”

Freed raised his head to look at her in concern. Had he misread Lucy, even after all these years? Had he somehow overstepped-

“She didn’t tell me who it was!” Lucy was wearing a disappointed pout. “I asked her, you see. ‘Cana, is there someone? Do I know her?’ And she only gave me this cryptic answer!” She rolled her eyes, exasperated. “Mira is my friend , we’ve had several nice afternoons together drinking chocolate and getting to know each other! I could have helped you woo her, Lady Alberona, thank you very much! I- What- Why are you- Are you laughing? Freed!





“I’d ask if you’re alright, but it’s undeniable that you’re not.”

Duchess Dreyar froze at the sound of her husband’s deep voice from the doorway of her room. She tried to wipe her teary eyes with her sleeve, but it was no use. She was a mess, still sobbing, by the time Laxus had crossed the room and sat in the bed with her.

“Next time, we won’t go, even if they beg.” he said, voice calm and steady. He had not tried to touch her yet, probably from his experience with Freed, who sometimes preferred to be left alone to gather himself. But Mira was different – she needed to be touched, even when she was trying her best to stay composed.

She was failing, badly, yet she refused to reach out to him. “N-No. No, we can’t- We can’t just say ‘no’, we should- At- At least for Elfman? I love him-”

“-and he’d understand if you never want to go to your stupid family dinner ever again.” he finished for her. “He should know why. He was there when your parents treated you like some old furniture they should sell off because it clashed with the house’s new wallpaper.”

The dinner that night started going well, really. Laxus was not in a mood, there was still the trade season deals left as a cordial conversation topic between the men in the table, and for the most part, Mira simply enjoyed seeing her husband get along with her brother, for once. Elfman was shy and quiet, but his time being more active handling their estates was giving him more composure lately.

It was going well, until it wasn’t. Until Mira’s parents thanked the Duke again for taking Mira in his care, until her mother had apologized for any shortcomings her daughter had. It sounded like a merchant apologizing to the client for knowingly selling them a faulty product. Mira started insisting that they were doing well, but her parents began talking over her and giving her advice on how to make a marriage work- as if they didn’t believe that her marriage was working.

Mira, for all that she had regained her confidence these past few months, had turned meek and tried not to break down as she just nodded her assent to them pointing out all her flaws and telling her how to correct them.

Laxus had stayed curt and quiet, not wanting to fight her battle for her because he knew that she was trying her best.

Only, sometimes it was still too much. In the end, it was Elfman who tried to bring up another topic, letting his sister know that it he was on her side, still, and giving Laxus the opening to tell their hosts that they should be going.

Mira had held up admirably during the carriage ride home, managed a shaky ‘Good night, darling.’ to her husband, and then disappeared into her room.

Laxus stopped by his room to dress down. Freed was already asleep on his bed, and he only dropped a short kiss on the man’s cheek before finding Mira in her room, crying as quietly as she could.

“I wonder, do they really think I am that… pathetic ?” Mira asked, and this time, when Laxus opened his arms to her, she gave up trying to save face, launching herself at the man and letting him hold her tight. “Laxus, I’m not, right?”

“You’re not.” he said, rubbing her back. “You’re doing fine. You’re not what they see  you as. Your brother can see that. I can see that. Everyone in this house can see that.”

She cried against his chest for a while. She hated being needy, hated relying on him like this, but when he only kept quiet and rubbed soothing circles on her back, she was able to muster up some kindness for herself.

It was alright. It was okay to cry, sometimes.

“I just…” she started in a whisper, “I just hate that I felt so proud of myself for starting over – I even promised Freed- I promised him this will be a fresh start- but the moment I go back, it’s like- It’s like nothing happened, I felt so small-”

“No. No, you can’t say that.” he said. “I won’t allow you. You’ve done well. You’ve started over and you’ve changed. Sometimes there will be bad turns, like this time, but this is temporary. Do you understand? This will pass-”

“What if it doesn’t?” she sniffed, wiping at her eyes again

She really cried so silently, Laxus thought.

“What if I was fooling myself? I can pretend to be a wonderful lady wife but I will just turn back to this broken, failure of a daughter everytime- I hadn’t changed at all! I keep talking about having moved on, that I’m free, but I can’t even- I can’t even tell Cana about myself , I don’t know how to tell anyone -”

“You’ve told Freed.”

She stopped.

She had told Freed. He hadn’t said anything about telling Laxus, she simply assumed that he did, but now she wasn’t so sure. Did he keep her truth to himself, only? He had helped Mira breathe easy for the first time in years, and he did not share the secret to anyone, even his lover, his master?

“Did he hate you afterwards?”

“…No. But-”

“He is an excellent judge of character, he has an unbreakable moral code, this stupidly stubborn sense of justice. Whatever you told him about yourself… if he still accepted you after that, then you’re not as pathetic as you think you are. If you won’t take my word for this, at least take his.”

She fell silent, at a loss of how to respond to that. Laxus waited for her sobbing to subside before asking her if she needed him to stay.

She gave a weak nod, and he didn’t ask again.




Mira woke up in the morning to stinging eyes and an inaudible conversation between two familiar voices.

“-plan of yours is mad , Laxus. You’re a terror to our whole staff, do you know that?”

“I do. I’m proud of it. What about this, we double their pay for the night.”

“It’s your money.”

“What do I know? You’re the one who manages it-”

“You’re incorrigible- Oh, good morning, My Lady.”

She sat up and blinked blearily as she saw Laxus and Freed sitting in the middle and the foot of her bed, respectively. Both were holding cups, and she recognized the rich aroma of expensive chocolate.

“Good morning.” she greeted back weakly, and smiled gratefully when Freed handed her his own cup. She accepted it, manners and decorum temporarily forgotten. “What is it that you’re arguing about, this early in the morning?”

“Laxus wants to throw a party in Magnolia House.” Freed said, crossing his arms across his chest. “Ask him when.”

“Tonight?” Mira guessed, trying for a joke.

Laxus grinned. “Exactly. Tonight.”

Mira almost choked on her drink. “W-What? Laxus, that’s- The invites-… the… the preparations!”

“Will get done in time if you start working on it now.” Laxus said with a shrug. “And we don’t send out invites for Magnolia House. Everyone just knows when they know and shows up when they show up.”

Mira looked at him disbelievingly. “Pardon me, are you saying I will work on this?”

Laxus nodded. “Yes. Pick a theme, make a menu, it’s all yours. Let Freed know what you need, he’ll make it happen.”

Mira only gaped at the man, looked at Freed, and received a resigned shrug.

Laxus stood up and gave her a pat on the shoulder. “I’m counting on you, wife.”

“You are the worst husband.” she declared, watching him leave the room.

Freed followed the man out, but not before turning to Mira and saying, “That’s true, and you should say it. As often as you can.”





The party goes through, miraculously. There were complaints from the staff, but they quickly acquiesced to Mira’s instructions. Some even said they preferred her running things –

“Everything is much more well-thought-out, milady!”

Apparently, the Duke was a menace in the party-planning department. It turned out that this was not even close to some of the Duke’s madder shenanigans. She should have figured, really.

There were fewer guests than usual, but the house was still crowded by the time the party was in full swing. There were musicians singing songs that would have gotten them kicked out in a Hill event, and the mostly drunk guests were having the time of their lives.

As proud as she was of her planning skills, she was very tired .

Perhaps that was why she didn’t notice she had company until said company spoke up.

“Congratulations on your first party.”

Mira jumped at the sound, and looked to see none other than Lady Alberona perched on the sill of the window she had been leaning against. She had seen the woman among the guests earlier, exchanged a quick kiss and a greeting, but Mira had otherwise been occupied with playing hostess. She knew Laxus had wanted to give her a distraction, and it had worked – but it also got overwhelming later in the night. So as soon as she had deemed it acceptable, she had slipped away from the party and into the labyrinth halls of Magnolia House. The usual salon where she liked to spend her afternoons was empty, and she found herself standing against the window, alone with her thoughts.

That was, until, a certain woman decided to just sit on said windowsill out of thin air.



“C-Cana! You-… How did you- How did you even get there?”

Cana gave her a shrug. “I climbed.”

Mira was too tired to argue her point, and only smiled resignedly at her friend. She had not had time to properly look at Cana, and she only now noticed the woman’s attire. Cana wore a thin, comfortable blouse that Mira could only dream of allowing herself to wear one day, men’s trousers, sashes and a thick leather belt in her slender waist. Her brown hair was wild curls only partly tamed by the scarf tied around her head, and the golden hoops in her ears glinted brilliantly in the light.

“I envy how you can always look so natural in whatever you wear.” she mused.

The other woman hummed. “The trick is wearing things you like.” then she grinned, eyes appraising Mira this time. “You don’t look so bad yourself, Duchess Dreyar. It’s the first time I’ve seen you in the house colors.”

“Thank you. This was a gift.” Mira said, looking down at her own dress – black, with gold lace, trimmings and frills. Freed had told her she looked like a queen, but she didn’t feel like it. “I hope you enjoyed the party?”

“Oh, I always enjoy parties.” Cana replied. “Would have enjoyed it more in your company.”

“I am sorry, Laxus left me in charge and I guess I took the appointment very seriously.”

“You did. You made a wonderful hostess.” Cana said, and then nodded towards her. “Are you reading that?”

Mira remembered the book she held in her hands. The same book she had first started reading on her first visit to this very house. She raised the book and let out a short laugh. “I’ve been trying to. Whenever I try to read, something else demands my attention.” she flipped the book open, to the chapter she last remembered reading. “I haven’t even reached the middle.”

Cana propped a leg up and leaned forward to rest her chin on her knee. The position look like a precarious one, but Mira figured it was nothing for a sailor used to climbing up her ship’s masts. “Would you read it to me?”

“Read it to you? Out loud?”

“How else would you read it to me?” Cana chuckled. “Look, you haven’t even reached the part I stopped at. Maybe we can both make some progress, tonight.”

Mira looked at her in surprise, then down at the book. She raised her hand to finger the blue ribbon tucked neatly between the pages. “This… This is yours?”

“This-” Cana reached out, delicately taking the edge of the bookmark before pulling it slowly towards her. “-was my mother’s. A gift from my father. I always had it with me, until I didn’t.” A chuckled. “I’ve been looking for it for a while now, and now it turns out it’s been with you all along.”

Mira only stared as Cana looked wistfully at the item in her hands, then proceeded to wrap it around her wrist, tying it carefully.

“So,” She continued. “Duchess Dreyar, I’m afraid I’ve lost my place in the book – would you read it to me?”





Laxus was the one who found them again, sitting together on the windowsill as Mira read the book to Cana. He was not surprised, but he took a moment to study them first before he cleared his throat.

“Mira,” he called. “Freed’s been looking for you.”

“He is?” Mira asked, alert. “Oh, I forgot the time. I’ll go to him now!”

She handed the book to Cana, still open to their current page, with a promise to come back as soon as she can. She left in a hurry, leaving the other two alone.

The last she heard was Laxus asking their guest if she was staying the night, and Cana only laughing and saying, ‘If I’m lucky.’

Mira looked down to hide her blush even though there was no one else who could see her. No matter – she had to go to Freed- Oh. She didn’t know where he was.

She turned around to come back and ask Laxus, but paused as she caught the conversation again.

“-didn’t tell me about that. She was really upset? Is that why you threw this party all of a sudden?”

“Part of it. So that’s it? She’s never told you anything?”

“Not… really. She talks about Dreyar House, about you, and Freed and Lucy, but…-  No. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care, I can wait until she’s ready-”

“Tell me – when are you leaving again?”

There was a pause, and Mira felt her blood run cold. Cana was leaving?

“ I-… What do you care? Do-… Do you want me to go away? Are you against this, because-” Cana let out a disbelieving scoff.

“I’m not, and you know that.”  Laxus sounded frustrated now. “But you can’t say you’ll wait for her to – what? To open up? When you’re leaving in a few weeks, gone for Gods know how many months-”

There was a pause, and then a sigh.

You’re going to take her with you.”

It was not a question, nor an order. It was just a fact.

“Is that what this is about?” Cana asked, voice softer this time. “It’s not that you want me to go away. You simply don’t want her to leave. Why? Are you jealous, possessive? Duke Dreyar likes all his things in one place-”

“Stop that.”

“Don’t you want her to get away from this shitty city, Laxus? Don’t you want to see her happy, far away from people who only want to judge her-”

“You know I do.” he cut her off. “Cana, you’ve been my friend for a long time now and I know you. You’ve always worn your scars too proudly.”

“And what is wrong with that?”

“Nothing. I liked you for that.” There it was again, the heaving sigh. “But you have to learn that not everyone can do that. People heal differently. Sometimes leaving helps, sometimes it doesn’t.”

“You’re saying this time leaving won’t help.”

“I’m saying that you don’t make it the only option. She has a family here.”

“They don’t treat her right.”

“I’m not talking about her parents.”


“I’m saying that when you ask her, and she answers, you ask again if she’s sure.”

They were quiet after that, and for a while, Mira thought that they were done talking, but then she heard Cana speak again.

“Alright.” she said, voice barely a whisper. “I can do that.”

Laxus’ voice was soft when he replied. “Thank you.”

“But if she chooses to come with me,” Cana started again. “Will you allow her?”

“I don’t own her, Cana.” he said. “I just protect her.”

Mira stepped back after that. She took a breath, turned and started walking away.

She would simply find Freed by herself. It might take time, but she needed just that, anyway.





“Iris? Light of my life, the brightest star in my skies!” Cana called, loudly, catching several looks from the other people milling around the hallway of the apartment. She knocked twice on the door. “Are you decent?”

“C-Cana?!” came a familiar shriek from inside the room. “What- W-Wait, we’re naked!”

“That’s decent enough for me, I’m coming in!” she replied, and sniggered when she heard muffled sounds of scrambling. She didn’t mean it though, not really. She waited until the scrambling subsided, and the door was opened slightly.

“Milady.” Loke greeted, breathless and shirtless. He gave her his dashing smile as he propped a hand to his waist. “To what do I owe the, uh, pleasure… of this unexpected call?”

Cana looked at him. “I need to cry on your… chiseled, distracting chest. Or Iris’s. You know I take equal opportunities.”

Loke only chuckled before moving aside to let her in. It wasn’t the first time Cana had been in his little box of an apartment, but it was the first time she saw Lucy in it, sitting on the bed in Loke’s shirt and her drawers. She hadn’t bothered to lace the shirt up. She looked gorgeous.

Cana whistled. “Hello, you.” She looked at Loke again, who only wore trousers that rode low on his hips. He winked. “…and you. This is almost unfair. I almost regret coming here.”

“Almost?” Lucy asked, leaning back against the rickety headboard.

“Almost. Like I could ever regret seeing your beautiful face.” Cana agreed, quickly slipping off her coat and boots, and then joining her friend on the partially-made bed. She kissed Lucy on the cheek before she laid down, eyes on the ceiling. “I’d ask you two how your day is going, but I can tell it’s been going well.”

“Thank you, anyway.” Lucy said.

“So what is it I hear about Cana Alberona needing to cry about something?” Loke asked, sitting on Cana’s other side. “My chest is available for said crying, by the way, in case you have any doubts.”

“You’re a good man, Loke.” Cana said, reaching out a hand to pat his knee. “Just… let me gather my thoughts, yes?”

They sat quietly together for a couple of moments, Cana staring blankly at the wooden ceiling while the two sat beside her lost in their own thoughts.

Finally, Lucy asked, “Did you know I was here?”

“Oh, not really. I came to see Levy. I had a job for her, but she told me to give her a couple more minutes. Then she mentioned that you were here, and I thought I’d come visit if you weren’t busy.”

“Well, we’re not busy now.” Lucy said. “And I’m always happy to see you, Cana, but you look like you have something heavy weighing you down. Trouble with Duchess Dreyar?”

Cana raised an eyebrow at her friend. “How do you know about that?”

Lucy shrugged, and looked to be studying her nails. “Laxus tells me everything.”

Cana laughed, while Loke chuckled, thoroughly amused.

Lucy pouted. “So that’s too much, I suppose. Freed told me.”

Cana was still laughing, so Loke looked at his mistress fondly. “Getting warmer, my love.”

Lucy rolled her eyes, giving up. “Alright. I beat Bixlow in cards until he owed me and had to tell me something interesting. He was also a bit drunk at the time.”

“Ah.” Cana finally stopped laughing but her eyes were twinkling in amusement. “That, I can get by with. How does he even know that, though?”

“Nobody knows, really.” Loke said. “A trade secret, like he always says.”

Cana hummed. When Lucy stroked her hair, she scooted closer to she can press her face to the woman’s side. She heard Lucy laugh about being ticklish, so she moved further down to lay her head on her friend’s lap instead.

“So, was my intel correct?” Lucy asked, voice soft as she tucked brown hair behind Cana’s ear. Cana nodded quietly. “What seems to be the trouble? Last time I heard, Lady Alberona and Duchess Dreyar have been very, happily, affectionate with each other. That was from Freed, honest now.”

Cana closed her eyes and said, “I’m leaving in two weeks.”

“Oh.” Lucy whispered, her voice sad. “Another voyage? How long?”

“I have clients. I closed good deals last season.” Cana said. “It could take up to a year.”

Cana let out a sigh when she felt the bed dip behind her and felt Loke’s solid body at her back. She liked the feeling of his strong arms wrapped around her waist. He said nothing, only pressed his forehead to the nape of her neck.

She came to the right people, she decided.

So she found it in her to also tell them, “I asked Mira to come with me.”

Lucy didn’t stop stroking her hair while Loke asked, “Have you gotten an answer yet?”

With another heavy sigh, Cana said, “Not yet.”

They didn’t say anything anymore after that. They simply sat and laid there, three people curled around each other.

There was another knock on the door, and they recognized Levy’s voice calling out, “Is Cana in there? Are you decent or should I come back later?”

Cana snorted as she replied, “Two of us are half-naked, and the other hasn’t pounced on either of them yet, so we’re as decent as we can get! Come in!”

The door opened and Levy stepped inside, stopping to blink at the sight of the three cuddled closely together. “Huh. I thought there would be less clothes on in here by now, honestly. Is there a reason why all three of you look mildly distressed?”

“Lady Alberona’s leaving on another voyage soon.” Lucy answered.

“Is that right?” Levy asked, frowning as she settled on the foot of the bed. “We’ll miss you, Cana. Here’s what you came here for, by the way.” She handed over a rolled up piece of paper.

The three disentangled and sat up so Cana can take the paper and inspect its contents. “Excellent work as always, Levy. How much do I owe you?”

“Just the usual.” Levy said, smiling.

“Is that a crossing permit?” Lucy asked curiously, catching sight of Levy’s latest work.

“One of my girls had a problem with her papers. We couldn’t come to the City council about it, since she arrived here in a very… undesirable circumstance.” Cana said. “One that didn’t guarantee her stay’s… legality.”

Lucy couldn’t help but cringe. “Was she brought in by a… trader?”

“The bitch called herself a ‘procuress’.” Cana answered. “My girl was called exotic, apparently, foreign blood on her, like the last one we managed to sneak aboard Cornelia .” Then she smiled gratefully at Levy. “Luckily, the issue with the papers was easily solved by The Hand.”

“Best forger in Magnolia.” Loke added, as if on cue.

Levy cleared her throat. “Beg pardon, swordsman, I am nothing but a humble landlady, and sometimes a schoolteacher.”

“With very interesting side projects.” Loke said with a grin.

“It’s a hobby. Just… a very profitable one.” Levy insisted. “I wish you and your girls the best of luck, Cana. And I mean it, we’ll miss you.”

Cana groaned, pouting. She sniffed. “I’ll miss you too!” She opened up her arms and Levy only giggled before giving in and letting the other woman pull her close. “You smell like ink! I’ll miss this!”

Levy laughed, and squealed when Cana leaned sidewards to barrel both of them against Loke, who only caught them in his arms, laughing as well. Pretty soon, Lucy had joined their laughing ball of tangled limbs.

Cana came to the right people, indeed.

She might know real freedom in the sea, but she also had a family here in Fiore, in Magnolia.

Loke only narrowly avoided a broken noise when she raised her head to sniff at something in the air. “Do you smell that?”

It was Levy who answered. Only one word, a name: “Droy.”

“Mmm, I could use some of those pastries.” Lucy sighed.

“We should be getting in line, then.” Loke said. “Ladies?”

Without another word, the four of them scrambled off each other, and hurried to catch a nice afternoon snack.





When Mira came to him one night and asked, “If I should leave, on my own, for a while, would you miss me?” Laxus remembered a different night.

She asked him a different question then, but he had the same reply:

“Are you asking because you want to know the answer, or you just want to hear it?”

She seemed to remember, as well, because her answer was the same, too. “I just want to hear it.”

He heaved a sigh as he looked at her. “Yes.” he said. “Are you going to miss me ?”

“Very much.” Mira smiled, and it was a smile that was both sad and loving. This time, it was her who pressed a kiss to the top of his head before wrapping her arms around his shoulders. “But I don’t think we have to worry about that for now.”





In the early morning of the Cornelia’s departure, Duchess Dreyar was in the docks beside her house swordsman, Freed Justine. They stood in silence beside each other, watching the preparations happening aboard. Crew shouting instructions, running back and forth, doing last-minute checks on their ship and cargo. All of them were women, all shapes, sizes and colors, each of them so different with their crew mates, but all laughing and talking joyfully as they did their jobs. Lady Alberona mingled among them, looking less like a leader and more like a friend.

“When I decided to come see them off, I thought that when I see all this, I’d feel terrible that I have chosen to stay.” Mira said softly, so that only her companion could hear.

“And now?” Freed prompted, voice just as soft.

“Now, I don’t feel any of that.” she said, a small smile on her face. “I think, I’d love to be among them. I think it would be quite an adventure. I think that’s something I want for myself. Not now, but one day. Now, I just want to wish them all good winds, and a safe, successful voyage.”

“I think,” Freed spoke, returning her smile. “That those are good thoughts to have. You deserve that adventure, and it will happen.”

“One day.” she whispered.

He nodded. “One day.”

Freed took a step back when they saw Cana running towards them. He smiled when the two embraced as soon as they met, Mira laughing when the other woman lifted her off her feet and twirled her around.

“You look excited.” Mira said, eyes twinkling.

Cana laughed. “I am! We’re going to some amazing places.”

Mira did not waste any more time, did not spare any doubt – she leaned forward and kissed Cana on the lips. Cana made a noise of surprise before melting against the other woman, holding her close and kissing her with as much passion and affection.

“I’m sorry we weren’t able to finish the book.” Mira said when they parted for breath.

Cana shook his head. “It’s fine. I already know the ending. Gray told me because apparently, Juvia made him read it.” She smiled as she cradled Mira’s cheek. “I only asked you to read with me because I love hearing your voice.”

Mira looked down, a light blush on her cheeks. “If you ask, I will read to you again, when you come back.”

“Very well, then.” Cana raised her hand and pulled up her sleeve to untie a familiar blue ribbon from her wrist. She took Mira’s hand, laid it on the woman’s palm and closed her fingers over it. “Be sure to mark where we stopped, so we know to pick up exactly where we left off.”

“Of course.” Mira nodded, clutching the ribbon tight to her chest. “Be safe?”

“For you.” Cana said, leaning forward to give her another kiss.

She wiped the tear threatening to fall from Mira’s eye, then pulled away to also give Freed a hug. Freed returned the gesture with a smile of his own.

“You and your girls don’t wreak too much havoc.” he said against the woman’s hair.

“Can’t promise anything.” Cana hugged him tighter. “I’ll miss you and your grumpy boyfriend. Don’t let him break the city without me.”

She bid them goodbye, taking off in a jog. She turned back to them several meters away to wave. “Let me know whenever you want to sail away! I have a good reputation of introducing duchesses to pirates!”

Mira laughed as she and Freed waved back.

As they watched the ship sail away, Freed brought a hand to his mistress’s shoulder, and she snuggled close to his side, arms wrapping around his torso. She sighed. “There she goes…”

“And here you stay.” Freed continued, peering down to see her staring at the ribbon in her hand. “Are you really fine with this?”

Mira nodded, then looked up to meet his eyes. “I am Duchess Dreyar. My place is by my husband’s side.”

“You know he doesn’t expect that from you.”

“I know. Only… right now, I feel like my place is at Dreyar House with you and Laxus. I am not… not ready to leave his protection yet.” She paused, musing. “Do you mind?”

“I don’t.” he said. “Neither does he.”

“Besides,” she said, her lips curling into an excited smile. “I’ve already ordered the fabric for the new curtains.”

He chuckled, indulgent, as they began walking away from the docks and towards where they had left their carriage. “Have you, now?”

“Yes! And a new wallpaper for the sitting room in the west wing. Laxus said meetings will be held in the house soon – Oh, I can’t wait for everyone to see how marvelous the house looks by then!”

“Oh, Duchess. What would we do without you?”

“I don’t know.” she shrugged. “Stress out the staff, most probably.”

Freed shook his head, grinning sheepishly. “I couldn’t argue with that if I tried.”



Chapter Notes:

you can find the art featured in this chapter here in my tumblr! i got stuck in the middle of writing and the sketch happened instead. thought it’d be nice to put it in here as well for a little bonus treat. ^_^

oh my god it was a long journey to this chapter but i FINALLY finished it.
writing this was a suffering but also i enjoyed it so much! thanks everyone for waiting and for reading!

Next installment: Young Dragons. Natsu and his entourage, before they set off for Fiore.

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