Cars screamed down the road, horns honking. People passed by in waves, on their cell phones, yelling at the person on the other end. Vendors shouted their wares, trying to pull in customers. Billboards advertised their product in enormous letters and attractive pictures. Customers lined the outside of shops during the lunch rush, and bicyclists signed which way they were turning. Rats and mice ran along the alleyways, and boats drifted in and out of the harbor.
And Natsu sat behind a dumpster, stomach growling and blood caked to his temple. He was starving, hadn't eaten at all in two days. He'd found several abandoned water bottles, so he was hydrated, but the need for food was getting overwhelming.
The fight he'd been in the day before hadn't helped either. It was one on three, Natsu being the one. The brutes weren't homeless like he was. Instead, they were some of the rich boys, living the life on the outskirts of the city, the nicer part of town.
They had pelted him with trash, not caring whether or not the glass bottle had been broken, or the cup of coffee was still full. It had all rained down on him, and Natsu had been forced to run. The police were still after him on the other side of the country, so if word got out that someone who looked like Natsu Dragneel, son of the missing Igneel Dragneel, was in Hargeon, they would find him immediately.
He hadn't gotten away before getting injured though. A glass bottle (that was indeed broken) had been hurled at him, striking his temple and drawing blood. It had knocked him to the ground, dazed, and the boys had jumped on him, beating him with whatever they could find. He had been forced to fight back, but only knocked the wind out of one before he managed to scramble away. He had gotten several alleys over and collapsed behind the very same dumpster he was behind now before passing out.
When he came to the next morning, he had realized that he was behind a restaurant. Which was both good and bad. Some restaurants were willing to feed him something. Some were willing to scream at him and call the cops.
Natsu hoped they would feed him.
He had inspected his wounds, and found that nothing was broken. He'd had enough good luck that he hadn't broken anything yet on his one year run from home, but he had come pretty close. There were bruises littering his chest and abdomen, and his arms felt like lead. He had a long but not very deep cut running the length of his calf. It worried him. That could easily get infected, and there was nowhere to go for medicine.
He had quickly patched the gash up with some already used gauze from his backpack. That would keep it from getting filthy.
So now he sat, waiting for the backdoor of the restaurant to open and hopefully give him something to eat. The rats and mice were milling around him, but Natsu could care less. He'd been in shadier parts of cities before.
It was around noontime when the back door of the restaurant finally opened. The sun was high in the sky, the lunch rush in full swing. Natsu had rested his head back against the slimy wall, and closed his eyes. He was exhausted.
But the screech of the door woke him up, and his neck cracked painfully with his effort to see who was there.
It was a girl around his age with hair the color of wheat tied into a side ponytail. Her eyes were big, innocent, and brown, and she regarded him with gentleness. Her body was an hourglass shape, skin a flawless pale white. She was carrying the trash bag with one hand, the other was propping the door open. Her clothes were clean and pressed, not a wrinkle to be seen. Toned legs appeared out from under her skirt and ran down to sandaled feet.
She made Natsu feel like the lowest piece of scum on earth. She was perfect, and he was not. Hair greasy from months without showering. Skin tanned with grime, dust, and the occasional blood splatter. Scars littered his entire body, fresh wounds sure to leave him with more. His clothes were stained and tattered most likely beyond repair, his shoes falling apart. He had a black eye and a busted lip, and his hands were wrapped in gauze to protect them. He was sitting beside a dumpster and could still smell himself.
He had never felt more disgusting.
And then the girl smiled, making Natsu's cheeks pinken. She threw the trash into the dumpster and then walked back to the door and closed it behind her.
Natsu sighed and began to stand. She wasn't going to offer him food. She was probably going to tell someone inside that he was there, and then they would call the police to come find him.
Natsu groaned and grabbed his ribs as he stood. Damn kids, doing a number on him. He picked up his backpack and carefully slung it onto his shoulder, trying not to aggravate old wounds. He had only made it five steps from the dumpster when the door opened once again.
He looked back over his shoulder to see who it was who would try to push him away, and was surprised to see the girl once more. She was cradling a plate in the crook of her elbow, and in her other hand was a washcloth.
"Go ahead and take a seat. It's my lunch break now, so I have some time." She nodded to a clean spot on the wall and closed the door behind her. Natsu shifted away from her.
"W-what?" His voice was hoarse and throaty. He swallowed, licked his lips and tried again. "What are you talking about?" His voice cracked in the middle of the sentence, but he ignored it.
"Are you hungry?" His stomach answered for him, and Natsu nodded awkwardly at her smile. "Here." She extended the plate out towards him. He refused to take it.
"It's your lunch, isn't it? I don't want to take it from you. And . . . I – I should be going." He pointed over his shoulder at the alleyway and began to walk backwards.
"Oh, don't be a baby. This isn't my lunch, it was a forgotten about burrito from earlier this morning. So take it and eat it, cause otherwise it's getting thrown out." Natsu paused and glanced back and forth between the plate and the girl. Finally he accepted it and sat down against the wall, intent on devouring the meal.
She chuckled as she watched him, then sat down right in his personal space. Natsu flinched at the closeness, but let her be. She was feeding him, the least he could do was be courteous and not shove her away.
The burrito was inhaled as quickly as possible. It was still warm, and it was so good! There was scrambled egg, tomato, black beans, sausage, and cheese inside of it. He couldn't remember a better meal since he had left home one year ago.
"Thank you." He mumbled softly when he was done. He handed her the plate back and attempted to stand back up, only to find a hand gently push him back to the ground. The girl got on her knees and leaned over him, washcloth in hand. Her hand ghosted over his temple. "What are you doing?" Natsu gritted out. People don't do nice things and expect nothing in return.
"What made this cut?" She asked and looked into his eyes.
"A . . . glass bottle?" He answered and leaned back against the wall, trying to get away from her hands. Her eyes darkened ever so slightly and she began to gently wipe away the dried blood on the side of his face. The way she was leaning over him left him a view of her cleavage and collarbone. "Y-you're really close." He squeaked out, hoping she would back away from him.
"Sorry." She muttered and backed off a little. She blushed when she realized why he had said this and adjusted her shirt. "Sorry." She said again and leaned back over him to finish cleaning his face. "There's a piece of glass right here. This might hurt." Natsu nodded slightly and let her work. He wouldn't have found that for a while.
The small fragment of glass was pulled out and dropped into the dumpster. The girl went back to cleaning his face as carefully as she could. It still hurt, but it felt good at the same time.
"I'm not going to be able to fully clean this with only a washcloth." She muttered, but continue anyway. "Are you injured anywhere else?"
"Well . . .yeah?" Mentally Natsu kicked himself. Would she send him to the hospital?
"Where?" She pulled back. "Your forehead is as clean as I can get it. It really would be best if you cleaned it with rubbing alcohol then bandaged it, but . . ." She trailed off. "Where else are you injured?" Natsu nodded at his leg with the used bandage. She rolled up his pant leg and gasped. "This is going to get infected if you leave that grimy piece of cloth there." Natsu simmered at that. Did he look like he had all the supplies in the world? She rolled the pant leg back down and propped her chin on her hand.
"Hmm . . . can you stay here for about an hour?"
"I get off work in an hour. Can you stay here until then?" Natsu's breath caught.
"You're going to call the cops." He snapped and forced himself to stand.
"What?! No! I'm not going to call the police!"
"That's what they all say." Natsu began to limp his way out of the alleyway.
"I'm not! Really! I get off in an hour, and I'm offering to let you come home with me tonight! I'm offering food, medical supplies, somewhere to sleep." Natsu whirled on her at this. Seriously? She was offering that? It was too good to be true. No one did things like that for the helpless. Especially a young girl.
"Why should I trust you? Why should you trust me?" They didn't know anything about each other. This could be a setup. She could be trying to lure him somewhere safe before sending him off to an institution or orphanage. She could drug him. Hell, maybe she already did! And her? Why would she willingly let a homeless boy into her home? He could be a murderer or a rapist for all she knew! They couldn't trust each other.
But that didn't mean Natsu wasn't desperate for someone to have that with.
"Because you're you." She said and flushed at his intense gaze. "No one else would have tried to refuse food, thinking it was my lunch. No one else would have pushed me away for being too close." She flushed a little darker at that. "You have my trust." She said softly and fiddled with the bloodied rag in her lap.
Natsu was frozen. Did she actually mean that? How could she possibly trust him that easily? But . . . if that was true, then maybe he could trust her not to turn him in. She had cleaned his face without forcing him to ask. She had fed him. She had talked to him like a normal person, and now that Natsu thought about it, he hadn't seen her give him a pitying glance. It was like she understood something about him.
"People don't do nice things and expect nothing in return." He tried once more to give her an out. She smiled.
"Well then I guess you found an exception." Natsu swallowed the lump in his throat and sat down once more.
"Come back soon?" He asked, not looking at her.
"Yeah. If someone comes and tries to hurt you, the door's unlocked." He nodded his head, but knew he wouldn't go inside if he was threatened. That could put her and anyone else inside in danger.
"Okay." She stood and threw the rag into the dumpster then walked to the door. Just before she disappeared inside, Natsu spoke up.
"Hey, what's your name?" She turned back towards him and smiled.
"Lucy. Just Lucy." He nodded.
"Thank you, Lucy."
"And you are?"
"Natsu. Just Natsu."
"Your welcome, Natsu." And the door closed shut behind her. Natsu tilted his head back against the wall and smiled, then laughed. It'd been a long time since he had felt so free.