From the moment Natsu touched down at the guild to the horror unfolding in front of her, Lucy had known something was wrong. He was too quiet, too distant.
And his eyes.
Oh, his eyes.
They were shattered things, and for once those wild flecks of color-mostly greens and golds-in his irises seemed to be broken glass instead of a beautiful mosaic. She wanted, desperately, to sit him down, patch his wounds and ask what was wrong. She had to know what had put that awful look in his eyes. What had made Happy a crying ball of fur, inconsolable by anyone. She wanted the world to go away, for Zeref's army to simply fade so she could just have five uninterrupted minutes.
As it was, she didn't get five seconds. With Wendy on her to support Lamia Scale and Mermaid Heel, Porlyusica took over healing duties. She shoved the remaining guild members aside, dumped Happy into Lucy's arms and barked out orders to give the boy some space.
That didn't stop anyone from peppering Natsu with questions, but nothing made Natsu even flinch. His eyes were fixed to the ground, and it was like he couldn't hear anyone. The questions slowly tapered off, until a thick, uncomfortable silence settled over them. Dread chilled bones, and fear caused limbs to shake and sweat to bead.
What had caused Natsu to react this way?
Some of them were starting to not want an answer.
There was no sound as Natsu limped to the infirmary, as even Happy had quieted like he'd simply run out of tears. Lucy followed without even thinking about it. No one stopped her. Her heart felt frozen, and everything was numb. She could only feel Happy shuddering in her arms. She passed by Cana, who hugged her quickly.
"He's alive," Cana whispered. Lucy could only nod.
He was alive. He was alive.
Surely that mattered more than anything else? His heart was beating, and he wasn't too weak to stand.
But she couldn't be content with just that. Couldn't just let it be. Yes, Natsu was alive, but obviously, something had gone wrong in his fight with Zeref. He hadn't offered a small smile and said it's over. Or came back grinning, claiming the war to be won. Nothing. Just broken eyes bruised and battered body, and a sobbing cat. She noted, a bit distantly, that Happy's paws were singed, yet he still clung to her like a lifeline.
She walked into the infirmary without knocking and ignored Porlyusica's sharp look. She simply held out one of Happy's burned paws. The old woman nodded, and began shuffling through her things. Lucy's gaze settled on Natsu. His shirt was off now, and his chest bandaged. The wound on his face was covered in salve but uncovered. It looked horrible, nearly deep enough to rip completely through. He didn't look at her. His face was shell-shocked, and he kept rubbing his arm where his bandage used to be. It was bare now, whatever power he'd had used up.
He still wasn't acknowledging her. Something in her chest felt close to breaking, and she shuddered with the force of it. Setting Happy down, she went over to Natsu. Sitting next to him, she hesitantly pressed a hand against his uninjured cheek.
"Natsu?" She whispered. Porlyusica was attending to Happy, but she could feel the cat's gaze on her and Natsu. Whatever had gone down, Happy had seen and heard it all. "Natsu please, what happened?"
He blinked as if coming out of a dream. Or a nightmare. He finally looked at her, but it was like he was looking through her. Seeing something she couldn't see. Her heart stuttered in pain when she saw his eyes. Instead of lighting up when they saw her, they went dimmer, the shadows in them drenching all the lovely color in his irises.
"Lucy," He spoke her name like it was foreign. His voice was thick, and she realized he was shaking. "Lucy." He said again. His eyes closed, and the look that passed over his face scared her to her bones.
He looked like he'd been crushed from the inside out.
He twisted toward her and then leaned forward until his head dropped on her shoulder, and his arms curled around her. "Oh, god, Luce."
The questions died in her throat, and she could do nothing but hold him. Fear blocked her tears, and she couldn't tell who was shaking more, her or Natsu.
Hell broke loose.
"Zeref!" Warren shouted through his telepathy. Natsu's skin went to ice, and they jumped apart like they'd been electrocuted. Neither spoke, they simply raced towards the door. She saw Porlyusica scoop up Happy, and vanish out the back. The old women couldn't fight, and Lucy was glad that she'd stay out of harm's way. She looked at Natsu, his face grim, the wound on his face still raw and open. There was something like fear in his eyes.
Questions pounded in her head, and she wanted to tell Natsu to lay down. To go somewhere else, anywhere else. She couldn't. He wouldn't listen. Injured or not, he wouldn't simply lie down.
The guild was shaking, or maybe it was the earth itself. She could smell blood and hellfire. The scream of war echoed around her. Magick, both black and white and everything in between, stung in the air.
"I've called back some reinforcements!" Warren said, his link still up. Which meant he was still alive. This had become a battle of life and death. In the back of everyone's mind, they were all wondering if they'd all make it out of this in one piece.
Something in Lucy's heart said no.
People were scrambling, spells were shot off with an air of desperation, and some people simply weren't moving at all. She couldn't stop to check, couldn't let herself focus on it. Fear pounded in every step she took, and she wished Natsu would grin at her, tell her it would all be okay.
He didn't seem to have any smiles left.
Outside was chaos. Zeref stood in front of Fairy Tail, warriors behind him. All the members of the guild had formed a ring around the building, protecting what they could. They were slowly being forced back. Natsu let loose a torrent of flame, breaking a whole into the enemy's line. Cana's cards exploded to their left, and Master was using his Titan magick, his giant arm sweeping the enemy away like ants. Lucy called out Sagittarius and donned his Star Dress. She fired into the enemy line, trying to keep them back.
There were so many.
How had he gotten here so fast? Lucy wondered. And with so many people? With Freed's barrier down, it was a simple task to breach Magnolia's boundaries, but they still had mages in Magnolia itself. She saw an injured Bixlow attacking, Freed and Evergreen at his side.
Still, they were slowly being pushed back towards the guild, where Lumen Histoire lay.
Was this all hopeless? Were they going to die here?
She shook her black mood off, focused on the battle in front of her. If Natsu wasn't going to be their light in the darkness, then she would be.
"Come on, Fairy Tail!" The words burst out of her throat, bright and loud. "Are you giving up on me now? We promised not to let this bastard touch the Fairy Heart! And so we won't! We've never fallen before, and we sure aren't going to now! Show them why making an enemy of Fairy Tail is the last mistake they'll ever make!"
New life sparked on the battlefield, and a roar of approval went out. Natsu looked back at her, a ghost of a grin on his face. She smiled at him, widened it until her face hurt, but she tried to emulate his cocky, shit eating grin. His eyes sparked with life, and new determination flooded in.
Relief was short lived.
Zeref held up a book, and she could barely see the letters 'END' scrawled over the cover. Natsu's footing stumbled, but it was brief. Fire licked at his skin, and the look he gave Zeref made her oh, so glad he was on her side.
"Gray and the others are here!" Warren reported. Reinforcements, Lucy thought, good. Maybe they could get the Thunder Legion off the battlefield, and if the reinforcements attacked from both sides, they could bottle-neck Zeref's forces and crush them. Her mind ran with scenarios, but her heart froze when the air chilled. The enemy? It only took a second for her to recognize Gray's magick, and relief flooded in again.
Gray stood atop a building, demon-slaying marks etched across his skin, bow drawn. She realized he was aiming for the book.
She heard Natsu shout as Gray fired, and something in her went to ice when she realized he'd said Gray, no! She looked at him, quickly, and saw his face drawn in panic. It was too late, the arrow had fired. Gray was looking at them, his face confused. A cheer went out, and Lucy looked at the Book of END.
Zeref held it still, his face one of shock and horror. It was frozen, a large hole gouged out in the middle. The 'N' was missing.
"No!" Zeref shouted, body shuddering. "My only...no."
The guild was whooping now, shouting at Gray, and cheering. Lucy started to smile, but a strangled gasp behind her made her stomach drop. She turned, dread coating her throat. Natsu stood, his face stunned, blood on his hands, and a hole through his chest.
"Look what you've done!" Zeref roared. "You've killed my only way of finally ending this existence."
"Natsu?" Lucy whispered. Her mind, ever logical, connected the dots, but couldn't comprehend it. Couldn't make sense of it. The guild was silent, shock thick in the air. She heard Gray make an ice bridge, heard Makarov's disbelieving no.
But she had eyes only for Natsu. He was smiling now, at her, pain etched in his eyes.
"Sorry, Lucy." He said. "I didn't...I didn't know how to tell you. No time." He closed his eyes, took a stumbling step towards her. "I should've told you. Warned you. I...I didn't want to believe it either."
He took another step, and Lucy's legs could finally move. She ran the short distance to him, catching him as he stumbled again. They both went down, Natsu in her lap. His form shuddered, and for a second she wasn't holding onto anything but magickally charged air.
"No." She whispered. They couldn't lose him. She couldn't lose him.
"Listen." He said. "The other slayers." Her heart simply stopped, before it pounded with terror. Were the other slayer's demons too? Could they be destroyed, as Natsu had been? "We were all born...four hundred years ago. Lucy, please. You have to tell them." He told her, in short, gasping breaths, how they'd been brought to the future via an Eclipse Gate, how her mother and a Celestial Mage from the past opened the gate. She was well aware of the guild members that had gathered around them, none of them daring to come within fifteen feet.
Except for Gray.
When Natsu's story ended, Gray's knees hit the dirt next to her. His Demon-Slayer magick had been deactivated, and his face was terrifyingly young.
"Natsu, I'm sorry," Gray whispered. "I didn't know…I didn't know."
Natsu eye's closed. "It's okay. Now you can take down Zeref...without worrying about me. Protect them, Gray." Natsu's eyes opened, and the distance in them stabbed a knife into Lucy's heart. "Protect Lucy."
"I will," Gray vowed. Natsu grinned.
"Put some clothes on," He told Gray, before turning back to her.
Slowly, ever so slowly, his hand cupped her cheek. Tears fell, and she could do nothing to stop them. Words were stuck in her throat. "When Igneel left, my only dream was to find him." She could see the effort it took for him to speak clearly. He was losing this fight. Some of him was starting to vanish, and he was getting lighter in her lap. "And when I found him again, I lost him, and my dream." His other hand came up and wiped tears from her cheek. Something warm curled around her neck, but she couldn't see clearly enough to tell what it was. "But Luce…" His form flickered, and she realized with horror that half his body was gone, and Gray was sobbing.
"You were my new dream."
And his was gone.
"And...and you were mine." She whispered to the scarf that he'd wrapped around her neck.
But now that he was gone, she didn't have a dream anymore.