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Drabbles, Extras, and Side Stories

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Acnologia headed home after a long day of being not-home. They finally got back to Magnolia that morning after spending way too much time scouring a single lake for a specific breed of salamander that had moved unbeknownst to everyone to a different water source entirely. (Why was it that Wendy had the amazing habit of always accepting quests from kindly elderly people who had specific goals and no idea what was happening?) He’s come to expect stuff of that nature when Wendy—or Rogue for that matter—asks him to accompany them on a job. (If Sting was the one who found the job, then it was likely a monster hunt for something questionably too difficult for him to handle, but those cases have gotten better since Mirajane figured out how to talk-up smaller requests.)

After that, he arrived at the guild hall only to find that Bisca was nursing some burns from a gun that exploded in her hands (she was far more upset over the loss of that gun than the burns) and since it was summer, he was the physician on duty.

Gratefully, there was nothing else that needed to be done, so Acnologia took the opportunity to go home, though the kids were being social and wanted to stay at the guild hall. He was torn between making food and faceplanting for a twenty-hour nap, but his decision was made for him, in a way, when he arrived to find that Natsu and Happy were home too.

More specifically, Natsu was home, and he was asleep—which would have been normal, if he wasn’t asleep in Acnologia’s room. Meanwhile, Happy was sitting on the counter with a half-finished bunch of grapes. He didn’t need to see Happy’s obvious relief at seeing him to know that something happened.

“Acno! You’re home!” Happy exclaimed, pushing aside his food in favor of flying towards Acnologia.

He patted the back of Happy’s head as the cat buried his face in his shoulder. “What happened?” Acnologia asked, because something definitely happened and that something was either distressing or made the boys remember something distressing. Otherwise, there was no way that Natsu and Happy wouldn’t be eating lunch together. It was true that sleep was probably the one thing that could distract the kids from food, but in his experience, Natsu only went out of his way to sleep on Acnologia’s human bed if he was…upset.

Happy removed himself from Acnologia’s shoulders, but dismissed his wings, leaving Acnologia catch him in his arm.

Happy absently poked a tuft of Acnologia’s hair while he took a deep breath and began. “Erza came back from her jobs and she made Natsu and Gray go on a job with her because they got into a fight again—me and Lucy came too, even though Erza was being scary again at first—because Master wasn’t there because of the meeting and Erza said that there was a problem that she wanted to handle so she wanted us to help her. We fought this shadow mage guy who stole a flute that really was Zeref’s flute and Natsu took the flute from him and we scared him away and we were going to take the flute back here to deactivate it, but then that Shinigami guy attacked us in the woods because he wanted Lullaby back, and then we had to fight him too. Erza wanted me and her to take him back to Onibus to arrest him and get our stuff back, and we met back up with Natsu, Lucy, and Gray on the road, but they didn’t have the flute anymore because Lullaby ended up being a demon, but Lullaby attacked them when they were camping so they had to beat them.” Happy took a pause to breathe, sparing a worried glance back towards Acnologia’s bedroom door. “He’s been really quiet and sad.”

Understanding and interpreting Happy’s stories was an art form, but Acnologia didn’t need to have all of the details to gather that they somehow managed to come across an etherious—an older one from the sound of it, if they managed to mistake it for an object like a flute.

“I see,” he managed, which might as well as translated to oh shit. He could see the issue alright. Natsu’s first time meeting another etherious, and it definitely ended badly. Acnologia knew the day would come eventually, and he dreaded it, because there was always a large chance it would end like this—or worse. In an awful way, Acnologia was grateful it only seemed to end in violence. It could have been much worse. “I’ll go check on him.”

The subject of other etherious was always a tricky one. As the resident four-hundred-plus-year-old, Acnologia was technically the expert, but it wasn’t as if he actually knew much. Most of his experience came through hearsay he heard when he still lived in the mountains, and then from fighting some himself. The details of their nature he had only truly learnt recently, for Natsu’s sake.

Natsu was willing to brush off the fact that most of Acnologia’s contact was through fighting, because everyone knew that he wasn’t of the best judgement all those years ago, but the fact remained that Acnologia faced some in the last two hundred or so years as well, after his dragon hunt ended. The only etherious encounter that didn’t end in a fight was one with a horned boy who attempted to run away from him on the spot, only to quickly reach a dead end; their conversation was short and terse, but it served as a basis for Acnologia realizing that Zeref was no longer involved in hardly any etherious’ life anymore. Unfortunately, he never saw the kid around that area again, so he might not have survived the mage-purge-raids that still existed in those early days. Most other encounters either started with the etherious assuming (with reason) that he was a threat and attacking, or Acnologia stumbling across them causing trouble and attacking them in turn. Zeref made them an aggressive bunch, and Acnologia supposed that it would take a lot of effort on their part to break that habit. He could relate.

Unfortunately—or rather, fortunately—Natsu was much more emotionally developed than the majority of the solely crafted etherious, still having a childhood and a social life, so it stood to reason that he would be different. Hopefully he could convince Natsu that that wasn’t a bad thing.

Happy floated back to the counter, watching him hopefully as Acnologia crossed the kitchen to enter his room. Sure enough, Natsu was curled on top of Acnologia’s mattress, lightly asleep. He stirred when Acnologia entered, waking up with a sniffle and a blink, so he went ahead and slid on top of the mattress with him, grabbing Natsu around the midsection and letting him settle on top of him.

“Hey bud,” he started softly, unsure how up-to-talking Natsu was presently. The kid could talk up a storm unless it was about his feelings; then, it was a toss-up between Natsu ignoring it and pretending everything was normal or struggling to verbalize it and blaming himself for it. Judging by the way Natsu accepted his touch and immediately went to bury his head in his arms on top of Acnologia’s lap, he was willing to bet it was going to be the latter case today. “Happy told me what happened. Do you want to talk about it?”

Natsu made a muffled, strangled sound in lieu of reply.

So, a ‘I don’t know,’ then. Well, it was what Acnologia expected, but Natsu never did well sitting on these things alone. Unfortunately, it meant that Acnologia had to be the one to start it, and that didn’t come easy to him either. Stars knew that in these last six years, Acnologia was learning, but there was always more to learn.

“Were you able to talk to them?”

This was either the right or the wrong thing to say, because Natsu flipped over with a shaky inhale pressed his palms into his eyes before gesturing. “Yes. I-I mean, I tried. I tried really hard Acno, but they just wanted to— to eat souls or whatever, and definitely kill us, a-and they even wanted to kill Zeref, but I couldn’t figure out why because they were attacking us, and Gray and Lucy were there, and—”

“H-hey, slow down, it’s okay.” Gratefully, Natsu listened to him and breathed. Acnologia scrambled to gather his thoughts. “You did your best. What happened wasn’t your fault. If this Lullaby person was intent on killing people, then you did the right thing. It doesn’t matter what they were.”

“I know,” Natsu lamented, sounding miserable. “It’s just…”

“The first etherious you’ve met?” Acnologia guessed.

Natsu didn’t say anything, but the slump of his shoulders confirmed it.

He hated that Natsu had to be so alone in this, but it was true that he was simply a rare case. Even among the etherious, Acnologia doubted that there was another one that was organic and etherious simultaneously. That didn’t seem to be what Zeref was going for when he made the majority of them; Natsu was simply the exception.

Being the exception was not a bad thing, necessarily, but it was lonely.

“I just…” Natsu huffed. “I don’t know. I know I’m just being dumb.”

“No, you’re not. Emotions aren’t dumb.”

Natsu repositioned himself to lean against the wall next to him and buried his face into Acnologia’s side, burrowing underneath his arm. It was somewhat ironic that Natsu was doing his best to melt into the scar that Igneel left behind, though Acnologia knew that Natsu wasn’t doing it consciously. “Do you think…the rest are like that?”

Acnologia sighed. There was really no easy way to answer this, because from what little he knew, the prospects didn’t look great. “I don’t know. It does sound like this Lullaby was an earlier creation if they were based on a flute. I think he got more complex as time went on, but less etherious appeared as time went on—that I know of, at least—so it’s hard to say. But that’s their choice. What they do isn’t your responsibility.”

Natsu pulled himself away again in a jerky movement. “But I’m their uncle!”

Where in the stars did that come from? “…what?”

Natsu went a little red at the ears. “I-I mean, if Zeref made them, then they’re his kids, so that makes me their uncle.”

It was…sound logic…but that didn’t make it any weirder. Acnologia wondered how long Natsu was sitting on that contextualization; knowing Natsu, it was a while, so it was no wonder he was so distraught over this.

“Natsu, I’m…not exactly sure that’s how that works… I don’t think the etherious consider Zeref family.” Nor the other way around. Granted, if Zeref did care about them somewhere in his convoluted heart, then he did a terrible job at showing it.

“But why else would he make them?!” Natsu asked, frustration clear in his voice and tense shoulders.

Sometimes, Natsu was surprising pure-hearted; it almost pained him. Acnologia could think of a few ideas of why Zeref would make etherious. The obvious one was to assemble an army, but it was obvious that he had no intention of that. It could also be simply because he could make them. Though, from what Acnologia gathered in what little (sane-minded) contact he had with etherious, there was a goal of sorts that they were made with. Zeref did not seem to be the type to have goals—that, or he was as inconsistent with them as he was his emotions. Acnologia used to think it was power, but now he knew that Zeref was cursed to immortality and near limitless power because of it.

The only things left were to break the curse, or to die.

“I don’t think Zeref was thinking clearly at that time anymore than he is now,” Acnologia responded instead. All Acnologia had were theories, so there was no point in upsetting Natsu with them if they weren’t even true. Zeref’s unreliability was at least a certainty. “But no matter why he did make them, you know that that doesn’t have to do anything with you. If you can reason with other etherious, then great, but if you can’t—just like it is with any other person—then that’s not your problem. It’s their choice. You just do what you think is right, okay?”

Natsu exhaled deeply through the nose. It was steadier now, so he was starting to relax. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It just sucks, sometimes.”

“I know it does.”

It was a fact that Acnologia accepted long ago that the world was an unfair place. Yet when one of the kids made the same discovery, he was always met with the urge to change that. Acnologia didn’t have high hopes that Natsu could befriend another etherious, but he would love to be proved wrong. Though he at least hoped that Natsu wouldn’t let it bother him.

“Have you eaten yet?”

Natsu shook his head. “Not really. Haven’t slept much either. We only just got back, and I…”

“It’s okay. Come on. Happy’s gonna stress eat everything we have left.”

“Wait! I had a sandwich left!” Natsu realized, jumping up off the mattress and onto his feet. “Happy!”

With a laugh to himself, Acnologia got up and followed him. Natsu was resilient; as long as he worked things through, he’ll be just fine.