Disclaimer: Fairy Tail and it's characters belong to Hiro Mashima. Spoilers from current chapter.
Raw, torturous screams pierced through the air. His throat was burning but he couldn't stop. Screaming was his only defense, his only offense. It was all he could do and it was pathetic.
With tears in his eyes, he watched helplessly as his hands closed around Zeref's throat. Zeref was gasping for air and Natsu covered his ears to try to stop from hearing his rasping breaths.
He tried to push down the feelings of joy he felt as he squeezed Zeref's throat even tighter, but he couldn't. It felt so powerful. Life and death, they were both in the palm of his hand.
He relished the hot blood he could feel dripping onto his hands from Zeref's cut mouth and found beauty in the purple bruises forming at his fingertips.
Immediately he turned around only to be face to face with Lucy.
The horror in her eyes burned through Natsu causing him to flinch away but END held steady. Natsu could feel his lips twist into a devilish grin.
"Ah, has the weak girl come back to stop me?" He taunted her, still holding spluttering Zeref in his hands.
She stood firm and Natsu was nauseous at how that excited END.
"Put him down Natsu, he's your brother. You don't want to do this." Her voice was surprising steady and loud. It did not waver.
"Do you hear that Zeref. She says you're my brother. But what kind of brother turns their sibling into a demon?"
He twisted his claws further around his brother's throat. Natsu fought with all his strength to let go but he wasn't strong enough. He tugged and pulled and screamed but it was useless. He couldn't even twitch a finger.
"You wanted a demon and now you have one." END snarled.
"NATSU! Put him down!" Lucy screeched as she watched Zeref's eyes roll back into his head.
END turned to look at the pathetic human. "As you wish." With that Natsu felt as he hand curled even farther around Zeref's throat before hearing a satisfying snap. He let go and Zeref's lifeless body- his brother who had fought so hard to bring him back- crumpled to the floor.
Then there was a rush of images. His father- his real human father- throwing him up in the air while he giggled. Him running around the streets he had known since birth, his brother Zeref carrying him on his shoulders. Him dying, feeling his last breath escape his lungs. He remembers waking up with END in control. He remembers feeling his flesh burning, and the blood, so much blood, endless rivers of it, and an endless fire ravaging everything that stood in his way and-
Natsu shot up, gasping, clawing at his throat. He couldn't breathe. Oh god, he couldn't, he couldn't breathe.
"Natsu?" Lucy whispered, sleepily.
Natsu flinched hard, before scrambling away from her and tumbling off the bed.
Just a dream. It wasn't real. That wasn't how the battle happened.
He put his hands on his head and stood, hunched over her desk, trying to calm his erratic breathing and heart, but he couldn't shake off the feeling of death on his hands.
"Natsu?" She reached out for him but he dodged her hand and ran.
He slammed the bathroom door shut and locked it before flipping the light on.
He gripped the cool edge of the sink with his eyes squeezed shut.
He took several breaths before opening his eyes. He locked eyes with himself in the mirror.
He looked terrible. His eyes were bloodshot and he still had various bruises and scratches all over his face.
But his heart stuttered at the blood. There was blood all over him. He could smell it; the metallic stench assaulted his nose. His stomach rolled.
Where had it come from. Who did he hurt?!
Suddenly the door jiggled. "Natsu? Natsu what's going on? You're scaring me-"
He was scaring her. He didn't want to scare her. He never wanted to scare her again.
But his mind was stuck on one detail. The blood, there was so much blood.
He turned on the running water and scraped at his skin frantically rubbing the blood. It ran off him swirling around the pristine white sink.
He scrubbed and scrubbed but he was still covered. It wouldn't come off. He rubbed his skin raw but it wasn't enough, he was still tainted with it.
Images flashed in his mind but he gritted his teeth trying to ignore them but they attacked him relentlessly.
The images swallowed him. Shaking his head, he fell to the floor clutching his head, squeezing it. He couldn't escape what he had done. He couldn't escape the death he had caused.
A moan escaped his lips and salty tears stained his cheeks.
Then everything was blur. He wasn't aware of what was happening all he knew was that somehow the door now lay in sharp scattered pieces on the floor. Someone was whispering his name? It was hard to tell, the electric hum of the overhead lights were drowning everything else out.
He felt someone touch his hand but he yanked it away. He couldn't let anyone touch him. Didn't they know that those were the hands of a murderer?
But then Natsu blinked again and the world focused. When had it been unclear?
Blinking rapidly, he jumped when someone whispered his name. "Natsu? Natsu, look at me."
He listened to the demanding voice and turned his head in the direction of where it was coming from only to be face to face with Erza.
"Erza?" He croaked. His throat burned.
Erza breathed out a sigh of relief. "Natsu, do you know where you are?"
Frowning in confusion, he scrambled his brain to try and remember what he had been doing before.
He couldn't remember exactly. He could recall the past week when they had defeated Zeref and END had been locked up again. He could remember dragging his unconscious guild mates to the medical unit before traveling to dispose of END's new artifact, a golden and red trimmed key. He remember wandering into Lucy's apartment at 1 that morning. He knew it was late but he had to know that she was alright, and-.
"I'm in Lucy's apartment."
Erza nodded with a small smile, clearly pleased but then her face turned serious.
"What happened after you returned here?"
"I-I went to bed."
Erza didn't say anything but it was clear on her face that she wanted him to tell her more.
But what else was there? He had crawled into her bed but then why was Erza here?
Craning his neck he looked around. He was in Lucy's bathroom sitting on the tiled floor. He reached out to touch the floor because it suddenly didn't feel real. That's when he noticed that he had freshly wrapped bandages on his hands.
There was dried blood on them.
Instantly everything came back and Natsu flew backward ramming himself into Lucy's toilet. But he had to get away, he had to leave, he had to-
Erza grabbed him and held him down. "Natsu! Look at me! Calm down!"
"I killed him!" He wailed, trying to rip free of Erza's gasp but she held firm.
"Who Natsu? Look at me!" Her voice was stern but he couldn't look at her, how could he? He felt his lungs constrict painfully and he pushed away from her harder.
"Natsu answer me this moment or I will-"
"My brother! I killed my own brother! No! I'm sorry! I am so sorry!" He sobbed.
Erza's eyes widened before yelling something. Natsu was busying containing his tears when someone yanked his head up.
Frantically, Natsu shook his head because all he could focus on was the snap of Zeref's neck in his hands and the sickening laugh that bubbled from his throat afterward.
His whole body was trembling, then someone was shaking him.
Then the world went dark.
When Natsu woke up again he was in a bed and Porlyusica was standing with her back turned next to him.
He winced when he sat up causing her turn around.
"Good you're up."
Without any hesitation she grabbed his head and shined a bright light in his eyes.
Hissing in pain from her force, he pushed her hands away. "Hey! What are you doing! Why am I in your creepy hut?"
She slapped his hands away, resuming her inspection.
"You had a panic attack, which is ice mage and armor girl carried you here. Seeing the severity of this one and the recent events I conclude you will most likely experience more."
Natsu's eyes widened as she pulled back and turned around. He looked away in shame. He remembered very little of it. He remembered running to the bathroom, he remembered the blood, then nothing.
He clenched his fists, ignoring the pain. He was so weak, so weak it hurt. He couldn't stop END and now he wasn't even strong enough to move on.
Porlyusica kept speaking. "You cut your hands last night. You dug your fingernails into your palms."
He lifted his hands examining the bandages.
So thats where the blood came from.
"You will probably have PTSD and maybe some anxiety and depression but you're a tough one." She waved her hand. "You're up now and perfectly fine physically which means you can use your legs and walk out of my house!"
Natsu grumbled while he threw back the sheets and sat up. "Aren't you gonna give me some medicine for whatever I have so it doesn't come back?"
She turned to face him. "There isn't medicine for PTSD. There's only learning to live with it."
Natsu's heart dropped. "WHAT?! You mean I'm just gonna randomly freak out now! When will they go away?!"
"Maybe never and no, not all the time. Usually it starts with a trigger to something that reminds you of your trauma or an extreme nightmare…. Don't look like that." She whacked his head.
"Ow!" He rubbed his head where she had hit him.
"This isn't a death sentence, with time it will get easier and avoiding trigger situations will help. It isn't easy but it's manageable. So stop your grumbling on things you can't change and move forward. Specifically out of my house!"
Lucy was currently sitting in the newly built guild hall at the bar ripping apart a napkin deep in thought.
The guild had been reestablished but Natsu hadn't been here. It had been two weeks since his panic attack and Lucy was worried. She knew that it would be hard for him to face everyone but they were his family, they knew he wasn't the one at fault for everything that had transpired.
What really frightened her though was that he hadn't come to see her.
Lucy had patiently waited the week, her window unlocked, hoping Natsu would at least stop by to see her. By the second week she knew something was wrong. She stopped by his house a few times but if he was home he made no effort to let her know or open the door.
What if he left again?
She tore apart the napkin, ripping it in two.
He promised her he wouldn't leave again. He never breaks his promises, he had to be here somewhere.
"Lucy, why the frown?" Mira said as she emerged from the back room.
Lucy jumped, becoming conscious of her leg bouncing and of the torn napkin in her hands. "Oh, hi Mira. I was just thinking."
"You looked stressed. What were you thinking about?"
Lucy averted her gaze from Mira's concerned eyes. "Natsu. I'm worried about him. He had-" She faltered. Porlyusica had told her it was a PTSD attack and that it would probably wouldn't be the last one, but knowing Natsu she knew he would hate it if he was perceived as weak in any way, especially by the people who he has sworn to protect. "He had a pretty bad nightmare. It really shook him up, but he hasn't been around to see me or at the guild. I'm worried. I know he's been through so much and probably needs time but-…"
"Well then go see him."
Lucy sighed. "I tried but he didn't answer."
Mira just smiled. "That never stopped him from seeing you." With that she took some drinks and left, leaving Lucy alone.
Of course! She smiled. She was finally going to return the favor.
She waited until nightfall, to make sure he would be home (also because she would feel more like a ninja - not that she would ever admit that outloud).
She snuck up next to the window and hid below it. The light was on in his home so she took that to be a good sign. Slowly, she poked her head up and peeked inside.
It looked into his kitchen where pots and pans were stacked as high and as far her eyes could see. She really shouldn't be surprised, but she couldn't wrap her head around how he managed to live like this.
Quietly, she stood and peered inside again to make sure the coast was clear. As gently as she could, she tried to open the window but it didn't move. No matter, she whipped out a long wire and stuck it in between the two wooden frames. Once it fit she lowered it and shimmed the end til it latched around the hook which locked the window. After 5 minutes of frustration she finally opened the latch.
"YES! Aha!" She squealed before clamping a hand over her mouth. She froze, her eyes darting around to make sure he didn't hear.
When she assumed it would be okay to move she lifted the window and clambered inside.
She did it! She broke into Natsu's home! She chuckled at the irony.
She headed toward the living room, wincing at every squeak of the floor boards.
The sight before her made her stop in her tracks. His room was completely destroyed. His things were ripped apart and his furniture lay in sharp pieces, utterly desecrated at her feet.
Completely forgetting her playful mood she called out for him. "Natsu?"
There was no answer so she ventured further into his house, careful not to step on any of his shredded items.
She turned corner and saw a lump lying in his hammock.
The lump startled. A pink head of hair appeared from the blanket he had over himself. The hammock swung wildly while he jostled to sit up.
He locked eyes with her. "Lucy?! Why are you here? You shouldn't be here."
"I was worried." She said as she took several steps closer to him. "You never came to the guild or to see me. And your living room its destroyed-"
He bit his lip. "It's fine. Everything's fine. I just want to be alone right now alright? Please go." He laid back down, covering his head with his blanket.
Lucy was very worried now, this wasn't like him at all. He was never this passive. Cautiously, she stepped forward and touched his back. Instantly he jumped out of her reached and fell to the floor.
"Natsu! Are you okay?!"
"I'm fine!" He yelled as he stood up. "I just want to be alone! Why can't you get that?!"
Lucy was getting mad now.
"I've been worried sick! I- I thought you left again...So, sorry if I wanted to check up on you! Sorry for being a terrible best friend! I just wanted to help!"
"You can't help me! No one can! I'm- I'm a monster Lucy." He could feel his eyes watering as he bit down a curse. He couldn't even keep it together for Lucy for 5 minutes.
He couldn't even think of facing his guild members, he already hated that Erza and Gray saw him, that they had seen him at his weakest.
But the others. They would be scared of him, they would hate him. He had hurt so many of them, he would have killed them and he would have enjoyed doing it if it wasn't for Lucy.
Not only that but he had killed his only brother. What right to a family did he have after that?
He was a monster. That thing- even though it was gone now- was a part of him, and now his hands will be forever stained with the blood of who he killed. And no fact or reassurance was going to change that. It had been his hands.
Lucy took a hesitant step forward. "Natsu. No one thinks that." She said gently.
He was trembling again which only fueled his frustration. "It doesn't matter what they think! Its the truth! I shouldn't be here, you shouldn't be here." He took a step back, away from her.
"Natsu, stop. It wasn't you. Everything you did, it was END's doing, not yours. You can't beat yourself up for it. You're not the monster, END is."
But she didn't understand.
"That's- that's not true."
"Yes it is! You are the sweetest, kindest person I know. You radiate goodness, you-"
"NO! You don't get it! I enjoyed it!" He pulled at his hair. "God, I enjoyed" He sobbed. "The power- the destruction- everything. Me! Not him! I-I don't know where he stops and I begin!"
Lucy froze and he knew he lost her. He lost everything. But did he ever deserve anything to begin with?
She stood in silence for a moment and Natsu prepared his heart for the moment she would run out the door. He didn't know how he was going to survive without her but at least she would be far far away from him.
Natsu snapped his head up. She had her fists clenched together and he could see her shaking.
"Everyone is a little corrupt, no one is perfect. But what Zeref did to you… You were just an innocent child and he was twisted in the head. He put that evil into you Natsu. You are not END and END is not you."
Natsu released the breath he didn't know he was holding. As he did he felt all the tension that had been building for weeks now slowly escape, melting his muscles. He collapsed to his knees, shaking, with hot tears spilling down his cheeks.
Lucy ran to him and wrapped her arms around him. He covered his face with one hand and leaned into her, the other grabbing onto her shoulder trying to bring her closer.
"It's okay to cry Natsu. I'm right here." She rubbed his back.
"I'm sorry." He sobbed. He hated being this weak but he had no strength left and she had just given him a reassurance he didn't know he desperately needed. "Please forgive me. Please forgive me."
"There's nothing to apologize for." She murmured.
"I wasn't strong enough to stop him. It was my job to stop him.I-I don't know who I am anymore. I don't know who I am suppose to be."
He took a shaky breath in. "I'm not the little kid Zeref wanted to bring back and I'm not END but- but in a way I'm both of those. I just can't figure it out!" He pulled at his hair.
She lifted his face and looked him the eyes. He shrunk away and avert his gaze.
"Natsu, look at me."
Hesitantly, he obliged and lifted his eyes to meet hers.
"You did everything you could. You are not weak. It was both of us that stopped END. I just gave you the push you needed. And you were the one who stopped Zeref. You overcame the world's strongest demon and you gave your brother peace, something he had been desperate for for centuries. You are strong. And who you were in the past doesn't matter, it's who you are now that counts. You are Natsu, the sweetest, most loyal and amazing person I know. "
He inhaled shakily, scouring her eyes finding them filled with determination. Slowly, he started to believe her. That it wasn't his fault. He could believe that someday, he thought.
But today he wasn't strong enough and a new round of tears started. He cried for everything. He cried for the parents he didn't get to grow up with, for the countless of lives END took and destroyed. He cried for his brother, for what he had gone through, for how he had changed from his loving brother to a cursed lunatic, and for his death. He cried for Igneel and he cried at Lucy's words.
She stayed with him while he cried his heart out, rubbing his back and muttering reassurances in his ear.
But if she could forgive him, maybe he could forgive himself.
Eventually, he stopped isolating himself from her. He returned to breaking into her apartment every few days. Some days were better than others. There were days when the nightmares and memories were too much and he would lock himself in his room trying to fight them on his own. Lucy would then go and break in, wrap her arms around him and stay until his attack passed.
He also was wary of touching her, as if she would shatter if he so much as walked briskly by her. He would jump back if she tried to touch him and he would never touch her. The only exception would be when he'd wake up from a nightmare and was out of it. Then he would cling to her while she rubbed his back. They would fall asleep in each others arms contently, but by the morning he would revert back.
One day she had enough.
They were standing together in her kitchen, her directing him on what to do.
"Now crack the eggs but don't get any shells in the bowl." She said as she moved to fill a cup with milk.
He grunted in acknowledgement.
When she walked back over next to him and positioned herself so that their shoulders were touching. He froze then took a half step away from her, seemingly to grab another egg, but Lucy knew better. When he stepped back he made sure her wasn't touching her.
Lucy frowned. Testing out her theory, she put a hand on his shoulder. Instantly, he turned around and walked to the sink.
"I-uh- cracked all the eggs. What's next?" He asked while he scrubbed his hands.
"I read that flour is next right? How much do we -"
He slowly turned around to face her, eyeing her frowning face. Sensing what was coming, he crossed his arms and leaned against the sink.
She walked over to him and gently picked up his hand. His whole body tensed, ready to dart away at any moment.
"Why are you scared, Natsu?" She asked, watching his face.
He looked up at her with a scowl. "I'm not sc-…" He looked away growling before taking a deep breath. When he looked back up at her, his anger had melted away leaving on frustration in his eyes. "I just-" He brushed past her and tangled his hands in his hair.
He turned back around to face her. "I know we already had this conversation but you have to understand, I'm a monster or was or still am- I don't know! You are so pure and these hands, they-they shouldn't be touching you. Every time I do I see that monster ready to crush you and I-… I can't get it out of my head."
"I see the moment when he was ready to kill. He was so close and I didn't have the ability to stop him. To watch you die again- I can't handle that, not a second time."
She walked forward to him and picked up his hands, gripping them so he couldn't remove them from her grasp even when he tried to step away from her.
"Natsu, I know you are not going to get better overnight but I will never see you as a monster. And-" She pushed forward into his space and gently turned over his hands, inspecting them. "These hands - your hands, Natsu Dragneel, not END's - are the hands that has saved me and so many other countless of lives..
"When you hold my hand or touch my shoulder, I want you to focus on all the good memories. Like when we first met and you took my hand and dragged me away from the cops."
Natsu gave her a weak smile.
"You brought me to my family, you brought me love I didn't know I wanted."
"You deserve all the love Lucy." He mumbled, looking at their entwined hands.
"That was all thanks to you taking my hand that day. So remember that moment."
Natsu nodded while gently rubbing circles on her knuckles with his thumb.
They stood that way for few moments, enjoying each others warm hands before Natsu pulled her into a warm embrace.
Lucy smiled into his neck, knowing in that moment he was going to pull through.
Natsu jolted awake.
He sat up, curling slightly into himself. He clenched his teeth and collected himself after a moment or two. His body relaxed and he sunk back into the covers.
"Natsu?" A sleepy voice whispered.
He winced. "Yeah Luce, it's okay. Go back to sleep."
Instead she rolled over to face him, tangling their legs together. With surprisingly alert eyes, she looked at him through the darkness.
"I'm alright. Go back to sleep." He repeated.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"Lucy." He sighed. "It was just a nightmare, it's no big deal."
"Your bags under your eyes says differently."
"You have bags too and I don't ask about your nightmares."
Lucy frowned. "I -"
"I've seen it. It's okay. I think most of the time you're unaware because all I have to do is start talking to you and you instantly relax."
That wasn't the whole truth. It was true for most cases that all he had to do was reassure her but every now and then she would scream and push him away, calling him a monster. Those words hurt more than anything in the world, but she never seemed to remember in the morning, at least that she was letting on.
"Oh." She snuggled into his side. "Thank you."
Natsu blanched. She was thanking him? That wasn't right, he was a burden, she had been the one comforting him for almost two months now.
"You don't have to thank me, Lucy. After all I'm putting you through, I should be the one giving you a million thank you's."
Lucy looked up at him.
"Natsu, we were both hurt because of END. We are healing together, we aren't keeping track of how much we owe each other. We went through this together, we will heal together. You're not some burden that I'm carrying if that's what you're thinking."
Natsu stared at her speechless.
"Now go to sleep, I know you're tired." She laid her head on his chest and wrapped her arms around him.
He kept staring at her while her breathing evened out because he was in awe of her capacity for such selfless love. How could he ever make it up to her? All he could do was marvel at the girl in his arms and bring her closer to him.
And for the first night in almost two months, he slept peacefully through the night.
Lucy created a checklist for Natsu. The list included things like getting him to the guide, him using his fire and getting him on a mission. She knew they were superficial, not really reflecting his true emotional state, they were more like baby steps. And they were the only elements of Natsu's healing she could measure and control.
He still hadn't gone to the guild and the only people who he allowed to visit him were Happy, Gray, and Erza.
They had tried to get him to go on a mission but he had bluntly refused. When they suggested to take him to the guild however he had shuffled and rubbed his neck unsurely. They had sensed his unease and tried to reassure him but he simply ignored the matter and changed the subject.
Lucy however was determined to get him there.
"Lucccyyyy" He whined, one day. The said girl simply rolled her eyes.
"When are we going home? We've been shopping all day." He frowned.
Lucy simply tugged on his hand, whose fingers were currently wrapped around hers, and dragged him forward.
"I need to drop something off real quick then we can go home."
She wove him through the streets before stopping in front of a large building with a tall metal gate surrounding it.
She watched his face as his eyes widened when he read the sign, "Fairy Tail". He looked over to her with the fear evident in his eyes before taking a small step back.
"Lucy, I don't think-"
"It's okay, Natsu." She reassured him. "I know you might not be ready but I wanted to show it to you and give you the choice. I do need to give something to Levy though. Do you want to go inside with me?"
Natsu bit his lip, his eyes roaming over the building.
He looked back at her and squeezed her hand.
"Don't leave me alone, alright?"
Lucy smiled and nodded her head, leading the way.
She opened the doors and the familiar smells of his family hit him. He tried to not hid behind Lucy but he couldn't help it.
They were going to hate him, he knew they would, but he had to know, he had to make sure-.
"Natsu!" Macao yelled.
Unconsciously he jumped and then froze as all the guild laid eyes on him. He was pretty sure he was crushing Lucy's hand by this point.
A moment passed where Natsu couldn't breathe and the whole guild was silent.
Then the guild exploded.
"Natsu! You're okay! We were so worried!"
"Natsu, you idiot don't scare us like that!"
"Thought we'd have to drag you out of your house eventually."
Natsu looked around in awe at his family's smiling faces while Lucy led him to the bar.
He was astonished. He sat down on a stool slightly dazed from all their reactions. Gray nodded at him from where he stood with his arm around a contented Juvia. Erza walked by and patted him on the back. Lisanna had ran up and hugged him telling him that she was so relieved he was okay. And the list went on and on.
Natsu smiled, a sense of belonging he thought he would never feel again, spread through his heart.
After going to the guild the first time, Natsu continued to return. He still wasn't his usual self, he shied away from fights and still refused to go any missions, but at least he was there.
One day he was tasked by Lucy to pick up a check from the guild to pay to her landlady that afternoon. Lucy herself was on a mission, which already caused Natsu annoyance but he also was feeling off all day. He'd been on edge, constantly shuffling from foot to foot and jumping at every noise. It didn't help that his thoughts kept swirling back to Lucy. He wanted to go with her, to protect her. He was scared though, scared of taking it too far. He never wanted to hurt anyone again. What if he lost it again? What if he didn't need END to be a monster?
He strode through the guild gate, crunching down on the recently fallen snow, shrugging his jacket higher to keep the cold wind off his neck.
He winced as the bitter wind whipped his face. Being a fire mage the cold shouldn't have really bothered him, but he was desperately trying to not use any magic.
Before he could stop himself, he flung open the guild doors and marched up the bar. His eyes darted around, but no one seemed to be paying any close attention to him.
"Mira! I need Lucy's check to pay off her rent!" He yelled to the back room.
"Okay Natsu! One minute!"
He huffed. He reached over the bar to grab a glass to get a drink. His hands were shaking. Withdrawing his hands he let out a string of curses. He squeezed his hands into a fist.
He shouldn't be reacting this way, he is fine. He knows he's fine so why is he shaking?
Hurry up Mira.
He missed Happy in these moments the most. He was so used to his constant companion around he didn't know how to act without him. He caught himself making comments several times before realizing Happy wasn't with him.
But he had told him to go with his family. He would see the exceed in a few months, but that knowledge didn't dull the ache in his chest.
So caught up in his thoughts, he jumped when a large hand slapped his shoulder.
"Natsu! How are ya'? You haven't been around too often." Natsu glanced up and saw Gildarts red smiling face. His nose wrinkled at the alcohol on his breath.
"Fine, just picking up a check for Lucy's-"
"Oh yeah! Lucy! How are you two? Have you crossed the threshold into manhood yet?" He wiggled his eyebrows.
Natsu pushed his hand off his shoulder. "No, you pervert! Me and Lucy aren't like that, alright?"
"Ah, Natsu you have nothing to be scared off! If you don't please her the first time that leaves more practice time for the two of ya'."
"We're not together! We're just friends."
"Just friends? Well I've seen the way you two stare at each other and only lovers look at each other like that, so what's stopping you?"
Natsu gritted his teeth and looked down at his hands; they were still trembling. "Nothing, okay? Just-"
"Just what? You're both young healthy individuals who obviously like each other. Nothing else matters."
"There are other things-"
"You can't let other pathetic things get in the way-"
"You don't know! So just shut up old man! You don't know anything!" His breathing sped up. He needed to get out of there.
Gildarts continued, unaware of Natsu's state. "Calm down Natsu. I'm just trying to help you. Lucy is one beautiful lady and you don't know how long she's gonna wait for you. You shouldn't let fear ruin this opportunity-"
Natsu stood forcibly, knocking his chair over. "You can't help me! No one can help me! I-"
"Natsu!" A new voice came up beside Natsu. Natsu turned around to see Gray standing there. "I need to talk to you outside."
Before Natsu could protest, Gray grabbed his shoulder and steered him outside. He directed him the gate before he let go.
The cold wind hit Natsu instantly reviving him and clearing his head. Natsu leaned against the gate, trying to control his breathing. His anger was driven away along with his thoughts and he steadied his breath.
Gray crossed his arms and looked away like he was standing guard.
After a moment of silence, Natsu spoke. "What did you wanna talk about?"
Gray looked back at him, frowning. "Hmm? Oh, I just saw you needed a moment."
Natsu's stomach fell. He huffed and sat down on the frozen ground. He pointedly glared at a crack in the sidewalk.
Gray rolled his eyes. "I know the telltale signs of an anxiety attack and I could hear what Gildarts was saying. There's no shame in needing a moment, especially after what you've been through. What you're still going through."
At that Natsu looked up at him.
Gray stared back. "What? Thought we wouldn't notice the bags under your eyes? After what happened that first night do you really think me and Erza aren't keeping tabs on you?"
Natsu frowned. "I'm handling it. So you can butt out-"
Gray made a sound of annoyance and rubbed his face. "Look. I can't even imagine what it must have been like for you, to have to deal with that demon not to mention finding out about your past. But I do know what it's like to deal with the nightmares and attacks. So just let us help you in the ways we can because believe it or not, we hate to see you suffer like this."
Natsu looked away in shame.
"I just- I'm broken and I don't know how to put myself back together again." He said without looking at Gray instead choosing to watch the snow start to fall again. His cheeks burning in shame.
Gray snorted snapping Natsu's attention back to him. "Well that's easy. If I've learned anything while being at Fairy Tail then its with the help of your friends."
Natsu sighed. "I know. I just...don't like being weak."
"Needing your family isn't weakness. Your family is a strength. Shouldn't you know that by now?"
When Natsu continued to glare at the ground, Gray sighed before bending down and sitting next to him. He observed the street. "I watched my family, my town get destroyed by Deloria. It- it hurt so bad." Natsu turned his head and watched Gray while the air seemed to freeze at his words. "Then the whole thing with Ur. I still haven't fully healed. I thought I would be broken forever, but I'm much more whole than I ever thought I could be after. Because this messed up guild took in a messed up kid and gave me something I didn't think I would ever get again. Love from people who cared about me, even if I was broken."
Natsu cracked a smile. "You sure Juvia wasn't the main reason?"
Gray shoved him. "Shut up! You know what I mean!" He yelled before turning serious again. "Though yeah, she did a lot."
"Geez, I always knew you too would get together but I didn't know she would turn you so mushy."
Gray snickered. "Like you and Lucy aren't the same."
At that Natsu turned dark. After a moment, he started talking in a more somber tone, his joking gone. "I felt it…. When she saved me using the One Magic."
Gray looked at him confused. "Felt what?"
Natsu wrapped his arms around himself. "All of her love. It brought me back, gave me strength to make END agree to her contract. Her love for life and people. Her love of the guild. Her love for -" He stopped because he didn't want to say it out loud. He wasn't sure he really deserved something as precious as her love for him.
"But I can't give her that right now. I mean, of course I feel the same way but I'm just-" He frowned deeper - too messed up to try and start something."
"She knows that Natsu. And she'll wait."
"I don't want her to have to wait!" He covered his face in hands. "I'm sick of the nightmares and the fear! I just want everything to go back to normal!"
"Well thats not gonna happen."
Natsu sighed and rubbed his face and inhaled a deep breath. "It's gonna be a long battle isn't it?"
Gray nodded and stood up, wiping his wet hands on his jeans. "But not one you can't win."
He stuck out his hand and hefted Natsu up.
At that moment Mira ran out, Lucy's check in hand. "Natsu! Here you go! I thought you left without it for a moment."
"Nah, Lucy would've killed me." He said taking the check and stuffing it in his pocket.
Mira nodded before turning to Gray. "Gray, Erza is looking for you. You should get inside." At that she whirled around and headed back inside.
Gray turned about to follow before Natsu spoke. "Hey Gray."
Gray looked back. "Yeah?"
"Thanks, for you know," He rubbed the back of his neck. "...everything."
Gray smirked. "No problem flame-brain. Someone has to keep you in line." With that he turned back and headed to the guild his arm up in a goodbye gesture.
He managed to keep most of his PTSD to himself and Lucy. Sometimes it would slip through while walking around Magnolia or even the guild. He usually caught it and manage to run out of the guild to somewhere quiet where the daytime nightmares could take over without observers.
But other times he couldn't.
He was at the guild when he felt it. It had different feelings but sometimes it felt like he was in a deep ocean where the pressure would crush him at any moment and his legs had stopped functioning and all he could do was stare at the surface while his breath escaped him. Other times reality and dreams blurred together and he wasn't sure which he was in. The worst ones were days like today.
He wasn't even sure why he was at the guild or how he got there exactly. He just snapped into the present one moment while sitting at the bar. He had a drink in his hand. It was still cool, the fizz still bubbling to its surface. He glanced around the guide. It was full of people, too many people. When had Fairy Tail grown so much?
They were laughing and sitting and talking and standing. They didn't even have faces, they were just bodies, not people.
He stared at all of them. There were so many of them, too many.
He could do anything to them, and they wouldn't mind would they? They were masses of cells, they weren't anything important.
There were plenty other masses just like them infesting the world.
Natsu sharply gasped.
That wasn't him. He didn't truly believe that. (Did he?).
Stumbling to his feet, he stood. He whipped his head around trying to find a head of golden blonde hair to keep him steady, to keep him grounded. He did a 360 turn but there were only bodies surrounding him, he couldn't distinguish one from the other.
He took a clumsy step forward, then another, wading into the sea of faceless bodies.
He fell into something, someone? He wasn't sure but he kept moving forward. Then he was yanked back and thrown to the floor. He rolled over to look at what caused him to fall.
It was him.
Black flames encircled the demons feet. Wings protruded from his back and horns were grown on his head. Black fire tattoos etched up his arms. His eyes were pitch black, devoid of everything, color, life, emotion. His pink hair matched Natsu's own.
It was END.
The air turned stagnant. END stared into his eyes, reading him effortlessly. "These people are nothing. You see that now."
Natsu couldn't move. He was paralyzed.
"They are nothing. Mean nothing. You see why I have no trouble killing them."
Natsu flinched. END smiled.
"You see them as I do and yet you would still feel for them if I killed them?"
Natsu started trembling, though not in fear this time. It was in rage.
"I felt your emotions. I felt everything. And when I was ripping their limbs off, shredding their skin, when the blood was pouring from their veins and pooling at your feet, do you remember what you were feeling?"
Natsu looked him dead in the eye then and glowered.
"You relished it. You enjoyed it. You wanted more, so much more you would be insatiable."
"That wasn't me." Natsu growled, with clenched fists.
"Oh no? Your emotions were still intact, I did nothing to-"
"THAT WASN'T ME!" He screamed.
Natsu lit his fists on fire and attacked. He punched and sliced, barreling through anything that stood in his way. He would destroy END, he would destroy him, he will never let END threaten or hurt anyone again.
Finally, Natsu grabbed his doppelganger's tattooed arm and poured all his magic into him. He lifted his other hand and swung it towards his chest, aiming for END's heart.
Something flew out and tackled him to the ground before his fist could connect.
His head smacked the ground, blurring his vision for a moment. He struggled and fought but the weight on him wasn't budging.
Then he heard something. Was someone calling out his name?
A crash of freezing water was dumped on him and Natsu shot up. A hand slapped him across the face and was holding him by the collar.
He blinked. Erza was shaking him.
"NATSU! NATSU! SNAP OUT OF IT!"
He scrunched his eyebrows in confusion before trying to push her away.
"What?" He croaked. He touched his neck.
Confused, he looked around. He was at Fairy Tail. Except it was nearly empty, practically devoid of it's usual energy and excitement. There were scorch marks burned on the wooden walls and the furniture in his vicinity lay in ruins.
"Are you back, Natsu? Where are you?"
Natsu's eyes widened. "The guild. What-"
That's when he saw Gajeel and noticed he was screaming curses. The dragonslayer was hissing in pain. He lifted his head and they locked eyes.
"What the hell is wrong with you?!" He roared at Natsu.
He was cradling his arm with Levy fussing around him. The overwhelming scent of burnt skin hit Natsu's senses and he realized that Gajeel had his metal rod wielded, but something was wrong with it. It was deformed, dripping molten drops.
"Did I do that?" He looked at Erza with fear in his eyes. His stomach was protesting the nauseating smell of melted flesh and metal.
"WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!" Natsu snapped his attention back to Gajeel. "OF COURSE IT WAS YOU! WHO ELSE COULD- AH- SHIT LEVY STOP!"
He swatted the hand away but Levy persisted in inspecting his arm, frowning. "We need to get you to the infirmary. Gray, go find Wendy. I saw Warren take her outside."
Natsu watched as Levy led a screaming Gajeel away, feeling a pit form in his stomach.
He had hurt his friend. He had hurt him again and this time it was him, not END, who had done it.
Despite the empty hall, he suddenly felt as though the room was shrinking and the air thinning. Erza was speaking to him, but all he heard was incoherent babble emerge from her mouth. A pounding in his chest made him realize that he was panting.
Stumbling to his feet, he turned and ran out of the doors.
Erza and Lucy watched his retreating form.
"Go follow him, Lucy. You're the only one who he will want to see."
Lucy nodded and stood, glancing back at Erza before walking out the doors.
She found him on her roof of all places after scouring the city for him. She went into her house and found the window he had climbed out of before following suit. Night was about to fall and a gentle breeze brushed Lucy's hair in front of her face while she watched him. She stood a few feet away and watched as he lit his palm on fire and then snapped it close, distinguishing the flame. He did this several times. She knew that he was aware of her presence, but she stood at her distance a while to examine his face. He had deep bags under his eyes, he was barely getting four hours of sleep each night due to his nightmares, and worry lines that hadn't once been on his youthful face was now etched onto his skin.
She walked over as he put out a flame. He looked away from her while she settled down. Once comfortable, she looked over at him. His face was slightly glowing in the light as it slowly faded out, descending from a light yellow on the horizon to a dark blue above them.
Gently, she nudged his shoulders.
"I didn't mean to do it." He blurted out suddenly. He turned to her with drawn eyebrows. "Is he okay?"
"I know. Gajeel's fine, he's tough."
Natsu lowered his chin down to his knees and sighed. He was tired. Tired of being afraid and of his irregular heartbeats and shaky breaths. He was tired of his nightmares and panic attacks. But most of all he was tired of scaring people.
"Everyone is going to think I'm crazy-"
"They already think that."
"I'm serious Lucy! They- they hadn't seen me like that before. They will see a monster!"
"How can they not? I have all this power and I can't control it now. I don't know how keep sane! I saw him. I didn't even realize I was fighting Gajeel. It wasn't him I thought I was fighting."
He couldn't trust his own mind.
Lucy scooted closer to him, shoulders touching.
"The guild understands. They're your family, through the tough times and the good times."
Natsu sighed because in his head he knew this but his heart was few paces behind.
They sat in silence for awhile gazing at the stars.
He made a vow right then to start practicing. If he could train in his mind while training his powers he might be able to stop his attacks. He was going to find Erza the next day to start. He couldn't live in fear of hurting someone just because he couldn't keep his sanity.
Natsu touched the scar on his neck.
"He shouldn't have brought me back." He said breaking the silence.
Lucy turned his head to him. "What?"
Natsu kept his gaze forward, refusing to look at her. "Zeref. He shouldn't have brought me back. He should have let me stay dead. If he had just let me go then none of this would have happened. He wouldn't have been cursed and a lot more people would have been alive. Too many people died for me to live."
Lucy touched his shoulder. "That wasn't your fault. And you have saved so many lives in return. You are making up for your brother's mistake, even though it isn't really your problem."
"I know I didn't ask for it, but I can't help but feel like I'll never be able to make up for it."
Lucy grabbed his hand and squeezed. "But you're trying and that's what matters. And I'll be here beside you. None of this was your choice and you, Natsu Dragneel, help people everyday. You are a gift to humanity regardless of where you came from."
Natsu cracked a small smile. He didn't really believe her but- "As long you're beside me, I think I might be able to believe you."
Lucy smirked. "Of course, it's because I'm right." She bumped shoulders with him and he bumped back.
They sat in silence then and watched the stars shoot across the sky.
He saw one very bright one shoot across the sky and he wished with all his might, that despite everything Zeref had done, his brother would find peace.
Eventually, Lucy fell asleep against him. Carefully, so as not to wake or jostle her, he lifted her up in his arms. He froze when she shifted but all she did was snuggle deeper into his chest before smiling contently. Her smile made him smile as he maneuvered his way through her window and over to her bed. He laid her down first before lifting the covers and sliding in himself.
He chuckled quietly as she cuddled into him, resting her head on his chest and wrapping her arms around him.
He was smiling like an idiot he was pretty sure, as he brushed his fingers through her golden hair.
He knew she loved him and he hoped that she knew he loved her. He couldn't be anything more than what they were right now, friends who cuddled and were there for each other completely without hesitance. He wanted to kiss her, oh how badly he did, but he couldn't. Not yet. It wouldn't be fair to her. Not until he could be completely there for her. Not until he could go on dates with her without getting anxious. And not until he could provide for her by going on missions or protect her with/from his powers.
Not until he was whole again.
"One day, Lucy." He murmured into her hair.
Natsu lobbed another fireball at Gray who blocked it with a mountain of ice.
He had started a new training with Erza and Gray four months prior, mostly focusing on trying to control his fear of his own powers.
Natsu snickered at that thought. How ironic was it that the powers he strove so hard to strengthen to protect his family with would be the very powers that fought to destroy them. And how ironic was it that now he was scared of using said powers lest he lose his focus completely and hurt yet another person.
He gritted his teeth. He can't go down that road of thinking. It would (and has) suffocate him.
A spear of ice flew past him as he managed to jump out of its range at the last second.
"Natsu! Focus!" Erza yelled.
Gray took another shot at him which he easily deflected. Running to Gray's left, Natsu took a deep breath preparing for a dragon's roar.
He felt the fire in his stomach, wild and untamed, burn within him, fighting to escape.
He closed his eyes for a moment, to focus himself, then opened them and immediately zoned in on Gray's position. He started to chant the words. "Fire Dragon's Ro-" But then it wasn't Gray who he was targeting, it was Lucy. Flames were dancing around her, and blood dripped from her forehead. Her eyes, her usually beautiful brown eyes, were black completely devoid of color.
Instantly he deflected his attack to Gray's right missing him by a good 10 yards, and promptly fell to his knees.
Shit, Shit, Shit
Hunching over, he crunched the blades of grass in his hands, grounding himself in the present and started his breathing techniques.
"Natsu?!" Someone yelled.
"Just give me a second." He snapped.
He had to get this under control. He was getting better, he knew. Today they had been sparring on and off for a good five hours before this and the last few days he hadn't had any.
He knew he was getting better. The hard part was this, now, fighting against the panic attack, and moving past it.
But he was getting closer. Everyday he was finding strength within himself he didn't know he had the day before.
He wasn't going down without a fight.
And sure as hell wasn't going to lose.
He gritted his teeth and rose from his knees.
He lit his fists on fire.
It took months. 18 to be exact, for Natsu to feel comfortable in his own skin on a daily basis again. Even now he wasn't completely healed, he knew he would never be completely, but at least he could wake up, grab breakfast with Lucy, and go to the guild without the underlying sense of fear which had permeated through his whole being before. He didn't dread waking up, or talking to people, or going on missions. No, he felt free almost.
He could finally breathe again.
He was finally ready to stand up and move on with his life.
Which is why when he found Lucy one day, sitting on the hill behind Fairy Tail, watching the sunset, he knew it was the day.
He plopped down next to her and nudged her shoulder. "Hey."
She looked over at him and smiled, "Hey."
He looked out over the horizon where the sun was descending. Light cascaded through the clouds illuminating random patches of the land below.
"Remember when we met?" He asked breaking their silence. "You were under that love spell by the fake Igneel dude."
Lucy laughed. "Yeah, some idiot broke that spell by being loud and annoying."
"It's okay. You saved me in the end and brought me to Fairy Tail."
Natsu grinned brightly.
"Ha! Remember your maid outfit from our first mission?! You looked so weird!"
"Hey! Remember when you wanted to destroy the moon on Galuna Island?"
"Technically I was right!"
They continued to reminisce as the sun descended, recalling their adventures and the friends they made along the way. Somewhere through their talk their hands entwined, but neither said anything, nothing needed to be said. They were Natsu and Lucy, they knew each other, they had felt each other's love, they didn't need words to express it.
The sun eventually landed just above the horizon and the sky bloomed with pink and orange streaks. The warm wind blowed gently swaying their hair and the grass they sat on.
Natsu tugged on her hand and looked over at her. She was shining and his heart filled with love.
"Do you wanna start a new adventure?"
Lucy smiled. "When have I ever said no?"
The sun hit the horizon and Natsu leaned in and kissed her. The sky exploded in color and so did Natsu's heart. He felt vulnerable and strong and his mind couldn't comprehend how that could be, but it felt wonderful. It was like she was using the One Magic spell on him again, when their love had touched and blended and created an unbreakable light had saved him and brought him back END's grasps.
Kissing her, he felt redeemed.
He kissed her until the stars emerged.
And when they pulled apart, he couldn't help but grin at the sparkle in her eyes.
Lucy smiled back, exceeding the star in luminosity.
They had been through so much, but as long she was there he knew he would okay. She was his star, his guiding light, and he wouldn't change a thing about his life because everything had lead to this moment, them together under the stars. The past was over and while it would still haunt him, the future was bright. Bright enough to outshine the night.
Shelbi's note: Thank you guys for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Please leave a review and let me know what you liked or didn't like!