A/N: Apparently, I am determined to make Natsu deeper and fluffier than he probably is in canon, but I hope it's not too off-putting (because I won't stop).
Summary: If Natsu is conscious and able he is always the one to set the campfire. No exceptions.
Disclaimer: I don't even technically own the computer this was typed on.
When Lucy first joined with Fairy Tail, she just chalked it up to Natsu's pride in being a fire mage and his typical overzealous nature.
However, after another mission came up that required their little team of Erza, Gray, Natsu, Happy, and herself to camp out overnight she began to wonder if it was more than that.
Natsu had just come back from gathering firewood when he saw Gray attempting to light some kindling to start a cooking fire. Lucy and Erza were setting up tents when they heard the yelling.
"What do you think you're doing, Ice-block!" Natsu was standing over Gray now, very much in his personal space and looking highly offended.
"What's it look like, Ash-Brains?" Gray returned, actual confusion in his voice, "Building a fire."
"Boys . . . " Erza warned from Lucy's side. Even Happy fluttered over and perched himself on the safer haven of Lucy's head.
Natsu apparently didn't hear Erza or didn't care, but Lucy could have sworn she saw genuine anxiety on his face before he roughly pushed Gray out of the way and started rearranging the kindling, "Never mind, go away, I've got it."
"Look, Flame-brain," Gray said raising his voice, "I know you like to start the campfire, but - "
"You'll do it wrong, Ice-Princess," Natsu said matter-of-factly, cutting him off without taking his attention off the kindling, "I got it."
Maybe Gray was used to this or he could feel the threatening aura coming from Erza because he just rolled his eyes and mumbled, "Whatever," before heading over to help the girls with the tents, "Who knew Flame-brain could be so obsessive about something."
The subject was immediately dropped and soon they had a crackling fire and a perfectly content Dragon Slayer, if a slightly disgruntled Ice Mage. That was also the last night they ever argued about who would set the fires.
The second time Lucy thought maybe Natsu's little quirk was more than a little quirk was after a mission was finished and the fire mage ended up having to be half-carried back to the guild. They'd all sustained injuries but Natsu's were the worst and Happy had literally had his hands full helping to get his best buddy to safety.
Erza, having the most experience, had field dressed all their wounds, she herself being the least injured thanks to her plethora of armor and skill. Natsu had ended up with one arm in a sling, his ankle braced, almost every exposed inch of skin covered in salve and bandages. They were all immensely grateful for Natsu's Dragon Slayer healing or he would have been in even worse shape.
There was no way they'd be getting back to Magnolia that night in their condition, they knew, and made camp as soon as they were a safe distance away from the battlefield they'd just come from. Natsu had been knocked out cold ever since Happy had flown him to safety and was still down when Erza called for them to all get some rest and she would keep watch for the first shift. That time none of them bothered with tents or fires and barely even rolled out their sleeping bags before passing out.
Which was why Lucy was extremely confused when she woke in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke and the unmistakeable heat of a fire blanketing her on one side. Thinking the worst, she'd shot up expecting to see a forest fire raging toward them. Instead, all she saw when she frantically looked around was a happily glowing campfire dancing away in the center of their impromptu camp and Erza standing over it looking just as confused as Lucy felt.
Catching Erza's eye, Lucy pointed to the fire, "Did you . . .?"
Erza shook her head, "I think it was . . ." she stopped and just looked over at Natsu with a pinched expression. Lucy followed her gaze to see that the Fire Mage had indeed shifted position at some point.
They had laid Natsu out on his back on his sleeping bag to make sure he didn't aggravate any of his injuries. Now he was on his side, facing the fire, good arm outstretched toward it, and eyes closed, like he'd fallen asleep right after setting it. It was also then that Lucy noticed there was no wood burning in the fire. It was like the flame just sprouted out of the ground.
Erza sighed, "Well, since he went to all the trouble," she walked off and came back a few minutes later with some stray branches and fed them to the fire. Meanwhile Lucy stumbled over to Natsu and arranged him back into what was hopefully a more comfortable position. Gray had been completely oblivious to all this, still passed out, but Lucy checked on him, too.
When Lucy finally got to crawl back into her own sleeping bag, now considerably warmer thanks to the fire, she continued to watch Natsu as he slept. The Dragon Slayer had been in obvious pain after the battle and barely conscious to begin with. How in the world he managed to not only wake up, but have the wherewithal to make a fire was beyond Lucy.
"What is it with him and the campfire?" Lucy didn't realize she spoken her thought out loud until Gray, whom she'd thought was dead to the world slurred an answer.
"Cuz' he's batcrap crazy and tha's all there's to it," And with that the Ice Mage started to snore, once more asleep.
Stifling a chuckle Lucy turned to Erza, who shrugged and said, "Maybe. Go back to sleep, I'll wake you in a few hours for second shift."
Deciding lying exhausted and injured on the ground was not the time to try and unravel the mystery of her slightly fanatical teammate, Lucy had simply nodded and done as Erza said.
Lucy didn't expect the answer to her question to come so many years later, after Tenrou and the Guild's disbandment but that's what happened.
In fact, the question had all but disappeared from her mind until the night they found Gray and Erza. Natsu had insisted they camp outside the night before they returned to the guild instead of in the small cottage Gray and Juvia had called home for the past year. His reasons were a bit of a mystery, but the deal was sealed when Juvia had mentioned they had the makings for s'mores in the house and Erza all but dragged them to an appropriate camping area.
At some point Wendy and Carla had gone out to find fire wood and it wasn't until Natsu started inspecting it like a jeweler with a fine diamond did Lucy remember what she had wanted to ask what felt like a lifetime ago.
Later, when everyone else had fallen asleep, Lucy sat watching the fire Natsu had made, Happy asleep in her lap and the Fire Dragon Slayer sitting a little ways off 'keeping watch'. Keeping watch for what in the middle of a peaceful town, she didn't know, but Lucy supposed having someone on guard while the team slept was a hard habit to break.
Looking over her shoulder she saw him silhouetted against the moonlight, the light from the fire catching the shadows around him and making them flicker. Quietly, keeping Happy steady in her arms so as not to wake the little blue cat, she stood and slowly picked her way outside the circle of her sleeping friends.
Lucy made her way to Natsu and the fallen log he'd made his seat and sat down silently next to him. Natsu turned when he saw her from the corner of his eye and smiled his broad smile. She smiled back, but didn't speak and neither did he for a while.
Instead, Lucy tilted her head and looked up at the stars and moon so bright above them. Natsu followed her example as they sat in silence.
"Why do you always have to set the campfires?" Lucy asked softly not taking her eyes off the sky, even when she felt Natsu's land on her again.
There was a beat before Natsu gave a low chuckle, "Well, who else is gonna do it? I'm the Fire Mage on this team, I gotta take a little pride in it."
Then Lucy did tear her gaze away from the sparkling sky and met his smiling eyes, "Even when you're so hurt you can barely keep your eyes open?"
The smile on his face lessened and he looked away, back at the stars, without answering.
The silence seemed to settle between them and Lucy was about to assume Natsu wouldn't answer when he mumbled, "It's just . . . it's dumb."
He was nervously watching her from the corner of his eye again, so she smiled kindly and scooted closer until their shoulders were brushing, a silent encouragement.
Natsu sighed, "Ok, but you can't laugh."
"Promise," Lucy whispered. Happy shifted in her arms and she started running her fingers over his head, "Cross my heart." She flicked one finger in a cross above her heart.
Natsu fidgeted and cast his gaze down to stare at the grass, speaking haltingly, "I guess . . . it's because I . . . I want to keep you all warm . . . and safe. That's all really."
Lucy blinked at such a simple response. She didn't know what she had been expecting him to say, but that just seemed too easy. She was about to open her mouth to express this when Natsu started to speak again, in the same halting way.
"What I mean is," Natsu reached up and rubbed a hand through his pink hair, trying to sort out his words, "When I was little, you see, Igneel, my . . . my dad, he, when he was teaching me to use magic . . ." Natsu trailed off and took a deep breath.
Lucy didn't dare interrupt of even move now. Natsu never spoke much of Igneel before . . . everything happened. She imagined it wasn't exactly easy to speak of him now.
She had yet to work up the courage to speak of Aquarius.
Natsu seemed to gather himself and his next words were soft, but steadier. Like he was speaking from far away, sometime in the past, "When Igneel taught me magic, he once told me fire was a two edged blade," his gaze returned to the moon and stars, as if he was speaking to them instead of Lucy, "He said that fire is destructive and powerful. It can burn away your enemies without a trace, but it can do the same to your friends, so to be careful.
"But he also told me that fire isn't just destruction and ruin. Fire is warmth," out if reflex, it seemed to Lucy, Natsu raised a hand and a small flame erupted from his palm, lighting their faces and throwing shadows across the grass, "It is light. It is what people seek in the dark, what they wrap around in the cold. It can bring people together just as easily as it can scatter them."
Natsu looked over at Lucy again, the flame in his hand making the shadows of his face dance, the ghost of a smile in his eyes, "Did you know the stars burn, Lucy? The sun, too?"
Something in Lucy startled then, although she didn't moved an inch. She found she couldn't tear her eyes from his. Lucy couldn't say why, or what exactly, but Natsu, her hyper, immature friend, suddenly seemed so much . . . older. Wiser.
As old as the stars.
Did you know the stars burn, Lucy?
Just as her fingers brushed the ever present keys at her hip the spell was broken as Natsu laughed in a self deprecating way.
He rubbed the back of his head, still laughing but no longer looking at her or the stars, "It's just something he used to tell me and I guess it stuck. Like I said, I'm a Fire Mage, it's my thing."
He shrugged like it was nothing, but as Lucy shook herself and actually thought about what he said . . .
It can bring people together . . .
All of a sudden Lucy remembered countless nights their team had spent camping, sitting around Natsu's fire. Images of Wendy roasting marshmallows and Carla curling into her side. Of Erza slipping off a layer of armor to better enjoy the warmth. Even Gray sleepily starring into the flames as Juvia leaned on his shoulder. All the meals they'd cooked together over those fires.
Without thinking Lucy had freed one of her arms from it's hold on Happy and slipped it around Natsu and said simply, "Thank you, Natsu." And she hoped he realized she wasn't just talking about the campfires.
Natsu was shifting awkwardly again just as a very familiar voice rang out behind them, "Do we all have to hug him or can I throw something at him for being sappy this late at night?"
Natsu twisted abruptly, along with Lucy, to see Gray sitting up and smirking. Lucy saw Natsu take a breath to start yelling at Gray, but Erza beat him to it by smacking the Ice Mage with a s'mores stick. Gray yelped and ducked in case she swung again.
"I think it is very sweet," Erza said severely with a pointed look at Gray, who was rubbing his head, "Don't you, Gray?"
"Juvia thinks it is precious," Juvia cooed from Gray's other side, "Natsu-san is responsible for the best romantic fire-lit nights. Yes, Gray-sama?"
Gray seemed afraid to answer as Wendy, looking a little tearful, smiled sweetly at Natsu, who's face had colored considerably.
Lucy started laughing too and Natsu grumbled something under his breath about stupid nosey teammates. He stormed back to the circle, crawled into his sleeping bag and wrenched it over his head, nothing but pink spikes sticking out. Grumbling could still be heard coming form inside the bag.
Happy woke up at some point during this, gave them all a confused look and curled back up to fall asleep. Lucy decided to follow the cat's lead a stood to go back to her sleeping bag.
When she too had crawled in and the others were settling back in (a slight scuffle breaking out when Gray had to shove Juvia back to her original position instead of glued to his side) Erza whispered to her, "Good job, Lucy."
Lucy blinked at the older girl, not understanding, but Erza just smiled and lay back down.
Shrugging but happily regarding her odd collection of teammates, Lucy lay down.
Just before she drifted to sleep, though, lying on her back she looked up.
She drifted off to the feel of warmth blanketing her on one side, the sound of her friends breathing softly around her, and the sight of the stars above her . . . eternally burning.
A/N: Well, that turned out a crap-ton more philosophical than I meant for it to. Anyway, hope you enjoyed it because I'm really not sure what to make of it. Is it fluff, is it romance, is it me subconsciously trying to draw END out of Natsu in the only way I know how . . . ?
Who knows, but I'd love to hear your thoughts, please review!