Thick white clouds of steam rose from the bubbling hot springs and the smell of healing herbs hung in the air. Small drops of water dripped from her golden hair into the bath, causing small ripples to disturb the glassy surface.
She sighed and tried to relax her stiffened shoulders. Crying always made Lucy feel drained and the lump in her throat only disappeared when she solved her issues. Sleep was also a thing she was missing recently. Not only were her thoughts stuck in a roundabout about their fight, but her two male friends snored like beasts. Sensing her distress, Erza suggested that they should test the hot springs and have a heart to heart.
"Look at my new bikini, Lucy. What do you thing?" Erza beamed and used her magic to change into her skimpy, crimson two piece. Internally, Lucy felt like laughing out loud. The red head always wanted to be girly, but she was only regarded as warrior woman. What a waste, she could easily be a model for bikinis. She was adorable in her own special way.
Avoid the color red.
At least her friend got to wear her favorite color. Miss Mystics horoscope started to give her the creeps. Most of the stuff that woman predicted in that horrible article was right, so Lucy decided to try to follow some of her advices … at least for now.
"It looks gorgeous, Erza." She smiled encouragingly and clapped her hands together. Somehow, the enthusiasm was missing, nor did the smile reach her eyes. "You should show me the shop were you bought it."
Erza sighed and raised an eyebrow. "You're still angry with him, aren't you?"
"Of course, I am." Lucy pouted and crossed her arms over her chest stubbornly. Since their fight yesterday, she hadn't talked to him. Not even a single word, even though he tried to persuade her to forgive him. Natsu bought her favorite food for dinner. He let her have his bed with some convincing from the warrior woman.
Heck, he didn't even make a sound when she started to write her novel, but she just didn't feel like forgiving him yet. The woman just couldn't understand where his anger came from at all and why it was directed at her of all people.
"Natsu is a jerk and you know it. Did you hear what he was saying? I know I'm not the first choice when it comes to combat, but how am I supposed to prove myself if you guys never give me a chance. I know he probably didn't mean for it to sound that way; it still hurts to hear it though. For someone who has a hard time understanding his feelings, he sure does know how to hurt mine."
"Actually, I think that Natsu understands feelings far too well," Erza said calmly and her eyes grew soft. She patted her friend's shoulder and leaned back against a rock,closing her eyes. "You know how his foster father left him when he was a kid, right? He loved him very much."
"I know that, but what does it have to do with our fight?" Lucy asked, slightly pacified by the calm and collected aura of her friend.
"He didn't know how to deal with the pain from that memory nor did anybody teach him how to be more perceptive with others," the red haired magician explained slowly and the blonde started to see a new side to him which explained some of his character traits. "If he fears that something that he loves will be taken away from him or … in this case, when he gets the feeling that someone is leaving him behind, he doesn't know how to deal with it and gets frustrated. His childish side comes through because that's the only way he knows how to deal with it. Do you see what I mean?"
"I guess so..." Lucy answered deep in thought. "When I was little and somebody wanted to take my lollipop, I always clung to it and cried until they let me be. If another kid tried to take it away, I always stole it back or just hid it so nobody would find it. Is it the same?"
"Yes and in our case you are the lollipop." Erza giggled behind her hand and the blonde wizard groaned at the comparison – she always wanted to be a sugary thread. "That's the only way I can explain it. He feared that the lollipop he loves so much would leave him behind for someone else. That idiot should know better, but I guess some fears just stick with you. Natsu still is a child in some ways."
"H-he l-loves?" She blushed a deep crimson and sunk deeper into the bath to hide it, making small bubbles with her mouth. Love in the way best friends love each other. That must be what Erza meant, so there was no need for her to panic.
Her friend watched her in amusement, but looked doubtful after a while. "You're one of the smartest people in Fairy Tail and you can't even figure that one out?"
"I already told Mira, there is nothing to find out. We're just good friends – nothing more," Lucy stuttered and was suddenly very interested in how her hair looked in the water. The strands swam around like weird octopus tentacles. On a different train of thought, she looked gratefully at her friend. "Thank you, Erza! I really mean it, I'm so glad that you are my friend."
She clapped her hands together and nodded to herself confidently. Erza felt a rush of happiness, she secretly always longed for some real girltalk and being able to give relationship advice to her friends.
"He's angry because when I go with Gray instead of him, all the money will be with us and he can't buy food."
Erza looked perplexed and her jar fell to the ground. "Seriously, I don't think – "
"Gosh, I should have known. He loves food over everything, but it's kinda dramatic to go this crazy over food. Ahhh, I'm so relieved."
"Lucy, that's not what I..."
But her protests were ignored when the now relaxed celestial wizard made her way out of the hot spring and dried herself with a white cotton towel. Lucy waved at her friend in the bath and yelled something about going to the library.
Erza knew that Natsu was incredibly dense and probably didn't even realize that he liked Lucy more than best friends should, but at least he was his usual self and just acted on instinct. On the other hand, she just couldn't believe the scene that had just happened a few moments ago. Has Lucy accidentally fried her brain or got kidnapped by aliens? Most of the time Lucy was one of the first people to notice when love was in the air ...
The city was bustling with people who prepared for the festival. More light lacrimas than at the first day were hovering in the air and illuminating the streets beautifully. He could smell various delicious kinds of food like roasted chicken, cotton candy, ice cream, sandwiches, orientally spiced vegetables and many more. But all of it didn't matter because he was in a bad mood. Natsu groaned sulkily when he wandered down a path and watched the busy people.
It was one of the worst days in his life and he could summarize the reasons in three sentences. They haven't found a hint about the guilt called Chaos Hunter. Happy was nowhere to be seen. Lucy was still angry with him. Great, just great.
Just when the fire wizard walked around a street corner, he spotted a familiar golden head. Speak of the devil. At first, Natsu wanted to talk to her, but decided against it. Lucy seemed deep in thought and he knew that she didn't want to talk to him right now. Instead, he decided to follow her like a ninja. Just to make sure she was safe, of course.
Natsu tumbled over a few boxes, ran into a few people who dropped their newly bought food and accidentally destroyed a booth full of cotton candy in which he dove because she turned around. He was getting a hang of the ninja-thing. Many angry people yelled after him to pay for the stuff, but he was too occupied with his secret mission to notice.
Lucy stopped to talk with some people, but he was too far away to hear their conversation. An elderly woman pointed to a building and the blonde woman nodded thankfully. In order to follow her unnoticed, Natsu hid behind several people who gave him weird looks in response. She halted in front of a shop that was crammed to the brim with books. Urg, books. He never understood why she seemed to like them so much. They're boring as hell.
Natsu was so busy thinking that he didn't notice the guy at the library counter at first, who started to flirt with his best friend. He looked definitely ugly in Natsu's books and was ogling at the neckline of Lucy's lavender colored silk kimono. What a creepy bastard … and she didn't even notice. It was like she was a danger magnet for these things. Natsu watched their conversation attentively, not even noticing the barrel of apples that started to burn beneath his hands.
"Hey what the hell are you doing? You gotta pay for that, mister!" The booth vendor yelled in fright and pointed at his burned goods, but his pleas were ignored. Natsu was leaning over another barrel – almost falling over – in order to get a better look.
He couldn't believe his eyes, that bastard had the nerve to touch her arm and Lucy looked far from comfortable with that. A pretty blush formed on her cheeks, but he presumed it was out of anger. She seemed to struggle with getting the unwanted hands off her arm and he saw her disapproving frown. Natsu imagined several ways to break that guys bones, if he were to harm even a hair on her head.
To hell with self control. He couldn't let this happen. The irritated dragon slayer kicked the barrel away, stomped over to the shop and kicked the door open. Lucy and the shop assistant looked shocked at the intruder who was still covered in pink cotton candy, but Natsu didn't care. Instead he walked right to the boy and ripped his hand from Lucy's arm.
The dragon slayer's keen nose picked off an odd scent from the guy and he didn't like it one bit.
"What do you think you're doing?" He growled and the guy held up his hands in a defensive pose, his glasses were almost falling from his nose. "Don't touch her or I'll burn you to a crisp!"
A shocked silence ensued.
Natsu turned around to check whether Lucy was okay, but he didn't see the grateful expression he hoped for. For all it was worth, she resembled Erza when she was about to scold someone for their rash behavoir.
"Natsu ..." It came out more like an exhasperated sigh. Her slender fingers pinched the bridge of her nose before she crossed her arms in front of her chest. "What the hell do you think you're doing? Verde was just going to show me around the library, he wasn't attacking me."
"It didn't look that way to me," Natsu muttered and shot a warning glare over his shoulder at the guy. "I don't like him, he smells funny."
"He was just showing me the way to the books I'm searching for," Lucy replied, her patience wearing thin. "He's been nothing but kind so far. A little grabby maybe, but kind."
"I don't care what he was or wasn't doing. There is something fishy about him and I don't like you being near him."
"Look Natsu, I don't really have the nerve to deal with your over-protectiveness right now. Just let me do my job and get the information we need."
"Fine." Natsu frowned and turned to leave, but not before shooting Veru or whatever his name was another nasty glare. It was all his fault. At least Lucy was talking to him again, though it seemed as if she still hadn't forgiven him. When he stepped outside the dusty library, an angry mob of shop vendors, who formed an alliance against booth violating dragon slayers, waited for him. Great … his day just got better.
"There he is! that's the man who burned my apples!" The gray haired vendor from before yelled and pointed the stick of his broom at Natsu.
"Why is he covered in pink?" A brown haired woman asked curiously, gesturing to the cotton candy that hung from his clothes.
"That's because he fell into my cotton candy machine and destroyed it," another vendor explained sadly and pointed to his booth to prove it.
Holy crap. He could either beat them up which would be a great stress relief or run. Natsu decided to make a run for it because he didn't want to get into trouble with the women on his team, even more than he already was. While running the fire wizard came to the conclusion that he had to clear things up with Lucy and apologize. Even if he didn't feel responsible at all, he wanted to end their fight once and for all.
Finally, after six hours he was able to get rid of the violent vendor mob with only a few scratches. Who knew that brooms could hurt that much, he could certainly learn a couple of tricks from the vendors. The soon-to-be purple bruises that littered his body ached when he dragged himself through the doors of the Cosmos Inn.
"And where do you think you're going?"
"Non of your business, ice freak." Natsu gritted his teeth and fought the urge to start a fight with Gray just for the sake of it. It wasn't the worst idea since the action that provided would surely distract him from his crappy day. "I need to talk to Lucy. She's still angry at me."
"Yeah, you ain't gonna do nothing before I've had my chance to beat some sense into your tiny brain." Gray grabbed the surprised dragon slayer by his shoulders and started to drag him off to a secluded area. Curious what the usually composed man had planned, Natsu let himself get dragged along. Even found the lack of ususal protest from his rival shocking, but decided not to comment on it.
They arrived at the roof top of the Inn which was covered in ruby-red tiles. A breeze of fresh evening air ruffled their hair, when Gray unceremonously dropped Natsu on the roof and sat next to him. For a while, they just enjoyed the silence neither willing to start the conversation that was bound to happen.
"What's wrong with you lately? And don't tell me that bullshit about wanting to protect her, you know damn well that she can handle herself." He risked a glance towards the fire wizard next to him, not disappointed when he saw the uncomfortable expression on his face. Looks like he was right on the mark.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Natsu muttered, trying his best not to have this conversation with Gray of all people.
The raven-haired man rolled his eyes, questioning why he volunteered to do this in the first place. Helping Lucy, right. He'd just somehow have to get the stubborn idiot to comply. "Don't lie to me. You know exactly what I'm talking about."
"Okay, fine. Yes, I know she can take care of herself just fine. Still, I'm just worried about her that's all," Natsu reluctantly admitted, feeling dread rise in his stomach. When his rival didn't reply, the fire wizard sighed and continued. " … I don't know what I'm feeling, but I'm just so moody lately. I just want to be with her and have fun like we usually do. We are partners after all, aren't we?"
"Yes, you are. It's natural that you worry about her safety that's what friends do. But you also have to trust her, just like she trusts you." Gray watched the clouds lazily drift by and ran a hand through his hair. Was he really just explaining something this basic to Natsu? He should know this. "That's what partners do."
"That still doesn't explain why I'm feeling this crappy all the time," the fire wizard argued impatiently. He didn't want to admit it, but what the ice bastard said made sense. He has been over-reacting and Lucy didn't deserve it. Natsu trusted her with his life, she was his partner. "It's like everything she does has some kind of weird effect on me. Lucy's weirdness is probably contagious."
Genuine surprise stunned Gray into silence, he didn't expect Natsu to open up to him this much nor was he prepared for the indirect confession his pal just dropped. Some things were suddenly starting to make sense, including the dragon slayers odd behavior. He briefly wondered whether someone in the guild sarificed themselves and told this clueless bastard about romantic relationships already. It certainly didn't seem that way.
"You know about the birds and the bees, right Natsu?" Sweat ran down his neck, he really would rather be anywhere but here right now.
The look he received from Natsu was priceless. Cheeks flushed with a brilliant red, the dragon slayer punched his arm lightly. "Of course, I do!"
"That's great. Really great."
"Can we please stop this now? You're giving me the creeps."
"I thought you'd never ask. I already feel your stupidity rub off on me."
"You already were stupid before, stupid."
"Just go and apologize to Lucy."
"Yeah, you don't have to tell me."
With a creaking sound, he opened the wooden door to their collective room and carefully peaked into it. The first thing he saw were scattered books, maps and pages that were adored with Lucy's elegant scribbles. His eyes searched for the blonde magician and he smiled when found her in a weird sleeping position.
Lucy lay on the ground between all those books, a writing feather in her right hand and her slender body curled up into a ball. Her face held a blissful expression that wouldn't be there if she knew that she accidentally splattered her blue ink all over a book in her sleep. Small amounts of it were still on her fingers. Not many people knew it, but when she was motivated, Lucy was a really hard worker. Natsu knew that she had the tendency to over-work herself sometimes, so he wasn't too fond of all those books she reads.
Slowly, he approached her sleeping form and lifted her up in his arms without waking her. Natsu's breath hitched when her head fell against his neck and he almost felt her soft lips on his skin, but he composed himself and carried her over to their bed.
Yes, their bed.
Since it was originally his bed and he just gave it to her temporarily to make up, he still considered it his bed though … making it theirs? When he put her down on the white cotton comforter, she buried her face into the cushion and mumbled something. Slowly, his hand drifted towards her face on its own accord. He just liked the feeling of Lucy's soft skin. She sighed in her sleep when his finger brushed the small sorrow wrinkle between her eyebrows away. Lucy was almost cute when she was asleep.
"Yooooo guys," Gray yelled drunkenly as he burst through the door with Erza and Happy in tow. Startled, Natsu withdrew his hand and looked at the group, hoping that they didn't see him. All the companioship he felt towards Gray earlier was instantly erased. How did that bastard manage to get drunk in just twenty minutes? "Where have ya been? There was such a cool bar with a lot of free booze and hot girls. You should have seen that, man!"
"Oi, don't come barging in here like that," Natsu yelled loudly and threw a book at his rival. "Some people are sleeping."
"Then don't yell, you moron!" Gray grabbed the book and chucked it right back at Natsu's head who then grabbed a cushion. So another pillow fight – the better word would be war – started. Even the poor cat was hit by a pillow which knocked him unconscious.
"Cut it out you two or you'll wake Lucy!" Erza yelled above all the noise and pointed a dozen swords at the two rivals who were sweating bullets by now.
"It's too late fore that," Lucy answered groggily and rubbed her sleepy eyes. She yawned widely before she pointed an accusing finger at the ice alchemist. She was only sort of awake. "You should consider Juvia's feelings and don't hang out with hot girls or … I'll … Crap, I forgot what I was saying. See? That's what happens when you don't let me sleep."
"Juvia is here?" Gray's eyes budged out of their sockets and he was unconsciously stripping again. "Since when?"
Outside, rain started to pour in waterfalls and the whole group gulped anxiously.
"Anyhow … Happy what did you find out by asking the citizens?" Erza demanded from the dizzy cat.
"Many people ran away from me when I asked them about Chaos Hunter, but I met some people from wealthier families who said that their children have been kidnapped. Also, I heard that the people in the dark guild are using strange magic," Happy told them after he regained his senses.
"Hmmm that's weird … why only the rich people?" Lucy murmured to herself while Erza slapped Gray for not listening to them. He used his magic to make an ice block to cool his new wound and hid in another corner of the room.
"Lucy, what did you find in the library? I must be something since our room looks like half of the library is inside … by the way you'll return all of this and clean it up," the red haired woman added with a sour tone in her voice. She was getting annoyed by all the mess they caused.
"Yes ma'am." Lucy saluted obediently and then started to tell them what she found out in her research.
Do your thing! Your unusual ideas can be the cornerstone for you success.
Lucy hated to admit it, but following her instinct was the right decision. The key to solve the riddle of the dark guild's location was the architecture of the city itself because even if one can't see it, the cultural heritage of Hosenka Town was tremendous. Sadly, the Duke of Pandera decided to create a modernized city for tourism and many believe that the old buildings disappeared completely. But they didn't. Because of the high water level, they had to build the new city on top of the old buildings after flattening them and use magic to keep the stones together.
"Underground tunnels?" Natsu didn't really listen to the entire explanation, but this was what registered in his mind.
Lucy sighed and studied some of the maps she had drawn from the information. "More like an underground labyrinth. It could take ages to find the right path and even longer to find something specific in there."
"It's not like we can't handle some stupid tunnels," he scoffed and rolled his eyes.
"Very well, then I believe we should search for the entrance to the old city tomorrow," Erza said seriously, before letting out a yawn and changing into a pajama with her magic. "I think Gray, Juvia, Happy and I should stay in the city. We need more people to protect the citizens and Natsu's fire is useful in dark underground tunnels." Secretly, she winked at Lucy who groaned in response. They still hadn't made up yet and it was awkward. Thanks, Erza.
"So we'll be going with Juvia? Where is she?" Gray questioned and the two girls smiled knowingly.
The weather suddenly calmed down and Lucy had to giggle. Juvia was so predictable, unlike the actual weather or her life.
She was far to exhausted to register that there was another person in her bed. Only when what she thought was a warm but hard pillow started to speak, her eyes went wide with realization. Right, they didn't move from their position when they had discussed about their mission earlier.
"Lucy, are you awake?" Natsu mumbled, just a few inches from her face and his onyx eyes squinted to see her in the dark.
"Yeah," she whispered back. All anger from the day and the previous was washed away by the serenity of the night. The moonlight bathed the room in a silver light and they could only hear some crickets chirp. It was really hard not to feel peaceful. And after her heart to heart with Erza, she wasn't even that angry with him anymore.
Venus it the cause of your flirty mood, but don't carry it too far. For you could break a heart.
The shop assistant was called Verde not Venus, but it still scared her. Was it just another coincidence? She was indeed flirting with him, but it didn't hurt anybody, right? If in some insane parallel universe, Natsu had feelings for her, the horoscope would be kind of accurate.
"I'm sorry." His honest eyes captured hers and Lucy couldn't look away even if she wanted too. Damn those puppy dog eyes, he mastered them perfectly. Natsu rarely apologized for something, so that was a plus. "I didn't mean what I said, it was dumb. Honestly, I just wanted to spend time with my partner and it felt like you've been ignoring me. That doesn't make it okay, of course. I just want you to know that I trust you, Lucy."
"Thanks for saying that, Natsu. I forgive you and I'm sorry that I over-reacted too. I should have considered your feelings as well, you just wanted to help me after all," she mumbled into his chest, trying to hide the tears that threatened to escape her from him. She was just so happy and relieved. Going with her instinct, she gave into her urge to hug the adorable idiot. Even the lump in her throat disappeared. Hugging Natsu was the best medicine.
"Yeah, you should have."
Lucy could practically hear the smile in his voice so she punched his arm lightly in response. She knew he was just teasing her, it was their usual banter that she missed so much. "But it's okay as long as we don't have another fight."
She nodded and buried her face deeper in his chest without thinking whether it was a normal thing to do for best friends or not. His warm hands drew patterns and circles across her back. The familiar scent of fire and ginger soothing her back into her sleepy state. Somehow, it always felt safe in his arms, so protected and loved. Scratch the last one, her mind got out of control there.
It pained Lucy to admit it, but her feelings for the dragon slayer will probably never be returned. She gave up a long time ago. Instead of causing confusion and more fights between them, she asked the question that burned on her tongue. Hopefully, her voice won't break.
"So … still best friends?"
Lucy felt her mood drop with only one word and wondered why. Everything was good now. They were friends again. Their fight was over. Why does she still feel depressed?
But she put the thought aside and concentrated on going back to sleep, barely registering that Natsu's arms tightened around her.
After a while, her breathing went even and he signed audibly. Of course, they were just friends. It was always like that and it will always be like that. But how could he continue to be her best friend, if he had these thoughts about her. Even now, the way he could feel her curves when she breathed, could see her beautiful face from close up and feel her soft skin against the exposed parts of his. It felt so right.
But the longer his thoughts lingered on her body, the more he wanted her to be his. Only his.
His train of thought was lost when she moved those lush lips of hers, mumbling something in her sleep. Natsu fought hard with the urge to steal a kiss. A small kiss was allowed. Just one tiny peck. Carefully, he closed the distance between their faces and stopped a few inches in front of her face, closing his eyes. No, he wouldn't. With a sigh he leant back and dropped his chin on the crown of her head.
"Man, you've got it bad!" Gray grinned wickedly at him from the sofa he was ordered to sleep on. He had watched the whole scene in amusement and thought it would be fun to anger the dragon slayer by interrupting him. Mission accomplished.
"Screw you, Gray!" Natsu was furious and glared at the ice alchemist from his position. Couldn't he have waited for a moment before ruining the mood? Annoying bastard. The fire dragon slayer would have started a fight, but he was comfortable in his position and didn't want to wake Lucy. "I'll kill you tomorrow."
"Try if you dare, Romeo." He winked before passing out on the sofa and starting his own song of the night. He'd always been pass-out drunk.
Natsu rolled his eyes but had a small smile on his lips. He'd simply enjoy the moment with her in his arms.
"Good night, weirdo."