I started this over a month ago, and it was the third one-shot I started that week…and I didn't finish any of those. But now I've returned and completed it, so please have a gander at:

Strongest of Them All

If you asked any random citizen of Fiore who the strongest person in Fairy Tail was, you would most likely hear a mixture of Gildarts, Erza, Natsu, and Laxus. Mirajane was always left out because of her gentle way of acting and speaking, even though she was one of the most intimidating people of them all. Gray was just as powerful as any of them, but he didn't get as many headlines as Natsu or Erza did. Laxus was the Master's grandson, and everyone knew that Makarov was strong. Erza was the Titania, the Queen of Fairies, and undeniably the greatest exquip mage alive—and arguably the greatest that had ever lived, to boot.

And Gildarts was…well, Gildarts.

The story was different when you asked members of the guild itself.

Some of the background members who never saw what their rowdy counterparts had been through would agree with popular consensus—Gildarts or Erza. They couldn't read the hearts of their nakama nearly as well as the others who had been through hell before or even while they were in Fairy Tail. They couldn't even begin to understand the true meaning of strength like Natsu, or Mira, or Gray, or Erza could. They didn't know the loneliness that Cana had felt, or that Juvia had felt, or how abandoned Gajeel felt. No one could see past Wendy's sweet smile to the broken heart that was slowly mending. Some of them still didn't even realize all that Gildarts had lost when he failed his hundred year quest—an arm and a leg, no big deal—but it was so much more than that.

They didn't know, so their opinions couldn't accurately describe the strongest person in all of Fairy Tail.

Physical strength wasn't everything.

Natsu and Gray and Gajeel and several others always boasted about their strength—because without it, there was every possibility that they wouldn't be alive anymore. Fairy Tail was a reckless guild that always attracted trouble, so everyone had to be strong. And they all were, for the most part. They fought for their family at the guild, and they fought for the normal people of Fiore. They fought because they had to, and because it would help someone else.

But they never did it because they were strong.

Sometimes, to be strong, you had to do nothing.

And when that thought came to mind, the pink-haired dragonslayer instantly decided who he thought the strongest member of Fairy Tail was.

Everyone had been through hell—he knew that. And even though her hell didn't seem so bad to some people, Natsu still saw her as the strongest because she had just endured, and stayed herself through it all.

Lucy Heartfilia.

When he thought about Fairy Tail's strongest member, it would probably always be Lucy. He knew she was strong when he first met her, that day in Hargeon. She talked a lot, sure, but she was so passionate about wanting to join the guild that he knew she'd fit in perfectly. He could see that there was something about her, more than what she was showing, and it intrigued him. In hindsight, he realized that he could see the pain she so expertly masked behind her haughty exterior. A pain that had been with her since her mother's death—a pain that matched how he had felt since losing Igneel, but was made so much worse by the fact that she didn't have the Fairy Tail family to keep her going like he did.

He had found out why when her father had hired Phantom Lord to get her back.

She was so unhappy in that house, and gradually he learned more and more about her as she started to loosen up and fit in. And every day, he saw evidence of her strength…but perhaps one of the deciding factors in believing she was the strongest was the S-Class Exam on Tenrou Island.

Everything about Grimoire Heart's attack proved that she had strength no one knew about. Even though she was bloody and bruised and beaten, and that Kain Hikaru was about to crush her skull, she refused to leave him. She could literally do nothing, but she was stubborn and didn't run when she had the chance because no matter what, she'd rather be together with everyone. And it was so endearing and so brave that he was floored.

When he thought about that, not only did he know that she was the strongest…but Natsu also knew that he loved her.

He wasn't sure when it had all began, but it had. There was no other way to put it. One day, he had been admiring her strength, and her courage, and her—well, he had to admire her assets because they were glaringly obvious—and the next, he suddenly felt the bottom of his stomach dropping out as she laughed at one of Gray's probably stupid jokes. He didn't know why, but it upset him, and so he started another one of his fights with Gray.

At the time, Natsu didn't realize he was being a little possessive…or, rather, he was being a totally jealous asshole towards his best friend, and it took a drunken, heart-to-heart with the ice mage for him to realize it.

He'd never admit that out loud.

To anyone.

So, when Natsu saw the poll up on the board, asking in all capitals, 'THE STRONGEST FAIRY TAIL MEMBER IS…?' and all the names of the nominees, he just couldn't help himself.

People were watching him curiously, waiting for him to put another tally next to his name, or next to Gildarts' name, but he did neither. Instead, he picked up the large black marker and, in all capital letters, diagonally across the other names there (which included Erza, Cana, Gray, Gildarts, Laxus, Mira, Juvia, Gajeel, Wendy, Fried, Evergreen, and Natsu himself), he spelled out, 'LUCY HEARTFILIA' and circled it.

Someone fell out of his chair—based on the sound, he assumed it was Elfman, because it was a loud, solid thunk. A mug of beer, half-full, clunked to the ground and rolled away from someone, and as the dragonslayer turned around he spotted Macao scrambling to pick up his dropped drink. A wide-eyed Levy McGarden watched him, and then she beamed and hopped up from her seat to walk to the board. He stepped aside to watch her, and she drew a line out from Lucy's name and put two tallies—presumably one for him and one for herself.

No one else had moved, because they were staring dumbfounded at the usually rambunctious dragonslayer as he calmly walked across the room, took a seat at the bar beside Gray, and asked Mira for his usual whisky.

When Erza strode into the guild about ten minutes later, she observed the board with a calculating gaze, and without much thought at all took the marker and added another tally next to the two Levy had drawn (Natsu knew, because he couldn't keep his eyes off of the board, and now no one else could either). Cana stood up, tossing her empty barrel aside, and strode towards the board after Erza was halfway through a piece of cake, and added her mark. Natsu had kind of expected that from her, because Lucy had helped her through a tough time.

Natsu ordered another drink, and let his mind drift to thoughts of the currently absent blonde.

Later that night, the guild doors burst open, and in walked the girl he'd spent the entire day thinking about. Her hair was a mess, and her skirt was tattered. Her shirt was dirty and torn at the hem, but as soon as she saw everyone, she beamed.

"Welcome back, Lucy!" Mirajane smiled in return—it was hard not to, when the blonde did. "How did everything go?"

"I got the job done!" she said cheerfully, stretching. He saw a light bruise on her cheekbone, and wanted to ask her where she got it, but refrained. She didn't know how he felt, and he didn't want her to—not yet. "And I got paid the full award…for once!" she playfully stuck her tongue out at Natsu and he grinned back.

This was the Lucy he loved…the strongest person he knew.

"Wanna go, Lucy?" he challenged, though he knew she'd refuse. He cracked his knuckles for dramatic effect.

"Hell no!" she practically shrieked, laughing. "You've been resting all day. It would hardly be fair!"

Almost no one had said anything, other than the few greetings when she'd come back. As if just noticing this, she glanced around the room and realized all the eyes on her. An eyebrow drifted up her face as she returned some of the looks. A few people had the decency to look embarrassed and turn away.

"What is it? Do I have something on my face? Ow," she winced as her fingers brushed her cheek, "I guess I do have a bruise. Is there anything else you wanna tell me, or are you all just going to look at me like I've grown a mushroom on my head?"

Happy made an indignant response, because the mushroom jab was definitely to poke fun at him.

"Everyone's just taking a good look at our strongest family member," the voice from next to Natsu startled even him a little, and he turned to find Master Makarov beaming at the girl. The master nodded to the voting board when Lucy shot him a disbelieving, confused look, and she turned to look. The entire guild hall watched as she walked towards the board and stared at it for several moments. After a while, her shoulders started to shake, and Levy began to stand up to comfort her friend when Lucy threw her head back and laughed aloud with tears streaming down her cheeks.

"Y-you guys have outdone yourselves this time," she rasped, giggling and wiping her eyes. "Everyone knows that title belongs to Gildarts. You're telling me that somehow, I got twelve more votes?"

The blonde broke down into laughter again, and Natsu figured he was the only one who could hear her fragmented words about even more than Erza or can't believe you said I got more than Natsu or Gray or any variation of the nonsense.

Others spent time trying to convince her, but Natsu didn't bother. He knew it would take a lot before she'd believe they'd voted her the strongest—starting with those who would know the value of true strength the best, like he and Levy and Erza and Cana and Gray, who had all witnessed it before. Lucy was the kind of person who would willfully believe herself inadequate just because of one small mistake, and as she had made several…well, convincing her would be a long, arduous journey that he didn't want to deal with now. It sounded too much like a rollercoaster, which was transportation, and the thought made him feel mildly queasy.

No. Lucy didn't need to know just how strong she was yet.

The fact that he knew was enough.

Here's just a random little one-shot that I felt like posting because I honestly believe that Lucy may be the strongest person in Fairy Tail. I like her, and whereas Juvia is my favorite female character, I will stand by my Lucy just as much.

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing it!