It was a bright and beautiful afternoon in Magnolia. Lucy was heading home after having been paid for a job. It was not a big one, since Gray and Natsu were unable to come, one due to getting dragging away somewhere by Juvia, the other still feeling sick from a long train ride earlier that week. This time it was just her and Erza, although she really wished she could forget the perverted enemy. She was happy the client paid well, at least. Lucy balanced along the canal until she came to Strawberry Street and her quaint room. As she entered through her door, she began humming happily and jiggling her purse filled with Jewels.
"Got my reeeent money! Got my rent moooooney," she sang with a sunny grin.
"Good, I like this place."
"Me too … kyaaah!" She leaped back at the voice but saw only Happy sitting on her couch eating frozen fish sticks. "Happy! What are you doing here?"
The blue cat looked sad as he munched away on the icy fish. "Natsu…" He suddenly looked even more depressed. "Lucy, can I stay here tonight?"
Lucy was shocked, but more than that, she felt worried for her Dragon Slayer friend. "What happened between you and Natsu? Did you two have a fight?"
"No … not really." Happy frowned as he thought for a moment about how he could explain it. "You know how sometimes Erza is really nice and smiles and gives you good fish, and sometimes she's scary and blood covers everything and you don't want to eat any fish because your stomach is jittery?"
Lucy's eyebrow twitched, yet she could hardly help but smirk at his analogy. "Well, I think I get the idea."
"Sometimes Natsu can be scary, and when he is it … it … scares me." The Exceed shivered a little. "This time, he was really, really scary. I wanna stay with Lucy."
"Awww!" Her arms wrapped around Happy in a protective hug. "I've seen Natsu like that too, and you're right, he can get scary when serious. But Happy, why was he like that? Were you attacked?"
"No. That's the thing! We weren't in danger. Or I don't think we were," he mused in a moment of uncertainty. "We had just gone fishing, and Natsu caught a fish, not a big one, but he said I could have it because his stomach was hurting. Then he seemed like his back was hurting, which was really weird because he hadn't even done any training today because he said his head was hurting, and then … then … Scary!" Happy threw himself deeper into Lucy's embrace.
"Okay, okay," she soothed tenderly, petting his blue fur. "Happy, is Natsu in danger? Is he sick? Maybe I should go check on him. He rarely ever gets sick."
"No! Lucy, don't go out there. Natsu is really scary, and I don't want to be left alone."
She sighed and looked out her window. It was dark, and the way to Natsu and Happy's house was dangerous enough in the daylight. Besides, if Natsu was in a fighting mood, she could get killed by accident. "Well, someone needs to check on him in case he's really sick. Hold on." The Celestial Spirit mage pulled out a Gold Key and held it aloft. "Open the Gate of the Maiden! Virgo!"
In a swirl of smoke and glimmer of light, the pink-haired lady in a maid outfit appeared and bowed formally. "I'm ready for my punishment."
"Virgo, go to Natsu's house and see if he's sick or in any danger, then come back and tell me."
"I understand, Princess," she nodded, and suddenly she burrowed down into the floor.
"And don't dig holes in my floor!" Lucy screamed. She let out a sigh and rubbed the bulging veins out of her head. "Do you need anything, Happy?"
"Warm milk, please." He grabbed another fish stick. "Lucy, these are really cold and gross."
"You're supposed to warm them up, silly," she chuckled. "I'll fix you a plate."
Ten minutes later, Happy looked content with hot fish sticks and a glass of warm milk. Lucy was still fixing her own dinner when Virgo reappeared.
"Princess, I'm back with my report," the Maiden said formally with a curt bow. "Natsu is nowhere to be found. I searched within five kilometers of his house but found no trace of him. Will I be punished?"
"No, you can go back now." She swished the key, and Virgo vanished. "I wonder where he went this late at night. Are you sure there weren't enemies?" she asked Happy.
"I didn't see anything, but maybe he smelled something. It must have been something really, really horrible."
That did not help to alleviate Lucy's worries. "I hope he's safe."
She pouted in worry, but she had to believe Natsu would be fine. If it was an enemy, he would beat them, and if he was sick … well, he should be fine until morning. She could get Wendy to sniff him out. The little girl's sensitive nose would be able to find him, and if he was sick, Wendy could heal him.
After dinner and a bath, Lucy climbed into bed. Happy curled up beside her, and Lucy tried to put her worries aside.
"He'll be fine for one night," she said to herself, and snuggled into the blankets.
She dreamed she was flying with someone holding her as they soared through the air together. She spread her arms out and laughed at the feel of the wind blowing past her. Happy, Charle, and Pantherlily were there too, their wings out, flying along with her and whoever was holding her around the waist.
Then suddenly dark clouds came, and the three Exceeds looked at the person holding Lucy in fear. Happy quickly shielded Charle as the white cat trembled in terror. Pantherlily transformed into his battle size and had his Musica Sword out. In a blinding flash, all three were defeated. The Exceeds began to fall toward the dark clouds, only to get swallowed by them and vanish.
Lucy looked behind her, and it was a fierce dragon holding her in its talons. She screamed, thrashed, and her clothes ripped. She began to fall toward the billowing storm clouds, and the dragon flew after her with a terrifying roar. Lucy watched as the massive teeth got closer and closer.
Lucy jolted up in bed. Her heart was beating so hard it hurt, her lungs shivered with each gasping breath, and her skin felt clammy with sweat.
"What a horrible nightmare!" she whispered.
Then she noticed a shadow in her window. Hesitantly, filled with terror, she looked over. There, perched on her windowsill, was a hunched creature with glowing red eyes, folded wings, and a spiked tail swishing behind it. Lucy gasped and yanked the blankets over her head, as if that might hide her away. A few seconds later, she realized how childish that was. If this was some monster, she needed to fight it.
She threw the covers off, leaped out of bed, and dashed to where she kept her Celestial Spirit Keys and whip. However, before she could summon anyone, she looked at the window again and saw only moonlight and stars.
"Where … ?"
She turned on the bedroom light in case the creature had leaped inside her house. She checked the closet and under the bed. She walked around the entire house, checked every room, and searched every possible hiding place. Then she noticed her bathroom light was on. She crept up slowly and saw a shadow near the crack under the door. She calmed her breathing and prepared her whip.
Suddenly, the door opened. She pulled her whip back, ready to strike, but Happy ambled out looking sleepy. He looked up at her and yawned.
"Lucy, are you okay? Sorry I was in there for so long. I really had to go."
Lucy stuck her head into the bathroom and looked around. "Happy, did you see anything weird?"
"Aye! There was a clump of hair in the bathtub, but it was red, so I think it's Erza's."
"No, I mean … like a creature."
Happy tilted his head. "Did you have a nightmare, Lucy? I had a bad dream too, but I think it was from the gross frozen fish. I dreamed I was a catfish swimming in Lake Juvia, but then Gray came and froze the lake and I was trapped and it was really cold but then I woke up and realized the blankets had fallen off and I had to pee."
She lowered her whip. "A nightmare? Of course, that must have been it. It was a horrible dream, and you and Charle were in it."
Happy grinned. "Then it was a good dream! All of my dreams about Charle are good, even the ones where she slaps my face."
"Well, this wasn't a good one," she grumbled, slowly loosening her tense muscles. "There was a monster, and it killed you, Charle, and Pantherlily."
"Oh," he pouted. "Aye, that's a bad dream."
"Then I thought I woke up. I saw a monster in my window, but then I must have woken up from that dream, too. This isn't a dream, is it?"
"I don't think so," Happy mused. "Let's both go back to sleep and maybe we'll dream good things this time. Dreams of me and Charle and fish."
She nodded in agreement, and they both climbed into bed. Lucy kept her whip and keyring under her pillow this time, and she drifted off into better dreams.
The Next Morning
When Lucy went to the guild hall and did not see her pink-haired friend, she asked for help to search for him. Wendy agreed to come since she could sniff Natsu out. Gray came too, not because he was worried for the flame-brain or anything, but if this was the work of an enemy then someone needed to defend the two girls.
Wendy led them to the canals, and it was Lucy who noticed the white scarf. The three of them ran down an embankment and under a bridge. There Natsu laid sprawled on his face in tattered clothes with his feet down in the cold water. Gray yanked him out of the canal, Wendy checked his pulse, and Happy flew forward with a flask of something Mirajane had prepared to revive his senses. After being forced to drink, Natsu coughed and opened his eyes.
"Lucy, Wendy? Where am I? Oh man, my head hurts." He rubbed out his hair as he groaned from a massive migraine.
Gray glared down at him with his hands deep in his pockets, disappointed that there would not be a fight this time. "You look like crap, squinty-eyes. What happened?"
Wendy checked for injuries. Although his skin was not even bruised, his clothes were muddy and in shreds. "Looks like you were in a fight."
"Fight? I … don't remember." Natsu looked around disoriented. "Why am I under a bridge?"
"Idiot, you collapsed here," Lucy yelled, feeling relief that he was safe, but with it was fury for making her worry so much. "Something happened that scared Happy, and I could barely sleep worrying about you."
"Happy?" Natsu looked up to his blue friend. "The last thing I remember was eating dinner, but I … felt funny. I was feeling funny all day. Then I smelled something, and it made me feel even weirder. What happened, Happy?"
The Exceed's eyes went watery. "Stupid Natsu! Can't you even remember? You scared me so much, and you can't even remember!" He flew away sobbing loudly.
Natsu scratched out his pink hair. "What's wrong with him?"
Lucy pouted worriedly. "We don't know, and he won't say. He stayed with me last night because he was too terrified to be around you, but he wouldn't say anything about what happened. Do you remember anything? Whatever it was, you really scared him."
"Me?" Natsu's face scrunched up as he tried to think back. "Nope, nothing. I was fishing, then I was cooking, then we were eating but my stomach hurt, then I smelled something and felt weird, then I woke up here."
Gray shrugged. "Maybe you were attacked and got hit on the head too hard to remember."
"Are you saying I lost?" Natsu tried to leap at him, yet he fell over instantly and held his head. "Oww!"
Lucy recalled the winged shadow she had seen the previous night. "Natsu, could it have been some animal? Like a … a beast? You're not beaten up, so I'm guessing you didn't lose," she assured when he glared at her. "But … but maybe it had a way to give you amnesia."
Natsu sputtered and dropped his head. "I dunno. I was eating, then I was here. I can't even really remember what I smelled, just that it wasn't something I had ever smelled before."
This uncertainty worried Lucy, but she still was unsure if what she had seen was only a dream or not.
Wendy spoke up now. "I don't like that you were feeling sick, and now you spent all night half in the river. Let's get you to the infirmary. I want to check you out head to toe."
"I'm fine," Natsu snapped. He tried to stand but flinched hard again. "My back hurts. Was I sleeping on a root?"
"You were sleeping on your face, idiot," Gray told him.
"Natsu," Wendy said with as much determination as she could muster. "You are going back to the infirmary, and that's final."
He stared down at her, honestly shocked by her stubbornness, yet he decided not to argue. He limped and had to hold onto both Gray and Lucy just to make it back to the guild hall. When they entered, the sight shocked many Fairy Tail members.
"Whoa, is Natsu okay?" Elfman asked in surprise.
"Natsu!" Lisanna cried out. She ran forward to assist Lucy with helping him to walk, taking over Gray's part.
"Hey Natsu," Gajeel smirked. "You smell like defeat."
"And you smell like ugly, metal-head," Natsu glared. However, he suddenly stopped, forcing Lucy and Lisanna to pause. He began sniffing the air, glaring left and right.
"What is it?" Lucy asked in concern.
Natsu took a deeper inhale. "The guild, it smells … weird," he muttered, looking troubled by whatever he smelled. "I can't tell what's out of place. It's the same smell as usual, just … not the same."
Lucy huffed in confusion. "Maybe it's you who smells weird. You were in the river, after all, and you're covered in mud." With a nod to Lisanna, the two girls helped the Dragon Slayer over to the infirmary.
After an examination, Wendy declared Natsu had a slight fever, but nothing out of the ordinary. He had not so much as a single bruise, but his back pained him, his stomach was sensitive so that all he could eat were flames, and anything too loud made his head hurt. She gave him some medicine and sent him home.
Natsu rested for two days. Happy was back to normal, although he refused to tell anyone what happened that night. It was a mystery, but people forgot about it when, on the third day, Natsu barged into the guild hall and immediately began fighting with Gray and Elfman.
"Well, he's definitely back to normal," Lucy sighed in plaintive happiness. "Hey, Natsu," she called over, interrupting his fight with Gray before the ice mage could remove more clothes. "Wanna do a mission?"
He grinned to her and blindly punched Gajeel away so he could keep talking. "Nah, Happy and I are gonna do something, just the two of us. I owe it to him."
"I see," she muttered, feeling a bit disappointed because she could really use some shopping money, but still relieved her friends were making up. "I'm glad you're better."
He beamed a massive smile. "Me too. Hey, we'll do a mission when I get home, okay? Keep an eye out for a good one."
Just then, Nab flew through the air and collided into Natsu, who tossed the huge man right back at Elfman before charging into the small battle again. Lucy chuckled and sipped her drink. Winged beasts did not scare her so long as she had her friends around!