I'm glad to be back on FF :) Here I am with a Christmas Nalu. (Okay, I know Christmas is a month away but I can't wait. Don't judge.)
It turned out a bit longer than I expected, but I'd really like it if you stuck around till the end. :) I worked hard on it, so I hope you guys like reading it as much I enjoyed writing it. This one, like many others, is dedicated to lucyglitter11 and her ridiculously good writing chops.
The Art of Making Miracles
It was snowing hard and Natsu Dragneel didn't like it.
The streets of Magnolia were deserted, but almost every house, restaurant and café had its lights on. The town was exceptionally loud that night, even for Christmas Eve. Music wafted in and out from several different places, all mingling together into a happy sound.
But Natsu was standing there with snow on his hair and snow on his eyelashes and snow in his heart and he didn't like it one bit.
His house was still a mile away and he couldn't find a cab. The snow was bearing down hard now, and he'd catch a cold pretty soon. Also, he probably wouldn't mind a cup of coffee either.
He crossed the wet street to the first café that caught his eye—it was small and cramped in between two large office buildings, but it would have to do. He wasn't in a mood to be picky about which café he went into.
As he stepped inside, he let out a reluctant sigh of relief; the warmth of the heater along with the cake-scented air welcomed him. Sadly, the people who had decided the currently playing Christmas carol was their jazz, had also decided that it was perfectly normal for them to start dancing in the middle of the café.
No one seemed to mind though; others were joining in, some were singing along, and there were couples glued to each other in a corner as they swayed obliviously to the music. The café was dimly light in honey-coloured light.
Picking his way through what he saw as a mess, Natsu stumbled onto the counter and grabbed it for support. The boy behind it, who'd been smiling at the dancing family, turned to him.
"One coffee," Natsu said, fishing for his wallet. "Medium cup."
The boy looked like he was trying to suppress a smirk. "Just a coffee? Don't you want a cake for Christmas or any—"
"Oh just shut up and give me the coffee," Natsu snapped, digging out his money at last. His dark onyx eyes glared at the boy, who whistled, undeterred.
"Alright, Scrooge," he muttered. "Sorry for asking." He turned to grab a medium cup, at the exact moment that a woman of very generous proportions bumped into Natsu and made him drop his wallet.
"Oops!" She turned out hastily and patted him hastily on the back. "An accident, sweetheart," she apologized drunkenly, after which she turned back to her dancing.
Biting down a few annoyed words he would regret saying later, Natsu bent down to retrieve his fallen wallet. As he picked it up, he heard a small, quick giggle and his eyes flicked upwards.
Straightening up, he looked at the girl two seats away from him, the one who had laughed. She had her eyes back on the book she was holding, and didn't look up again.
"Sir!" Natsu turned back to the boy behind the counter.
"What?" he snapped.
Looking like he couldn't wait to get rid of him, the boy sighed. "I asked," he said. "Whether you'd have the coffee to go or have it—"
Eyes back on the girl, Natsu said, "I'll have it here."
He was pushed a cup of steaming coffee and a bill. Paying quickly, he wrapped a tissue paper around his cup and walked casually towards the empty seat beside the one the girl was seated at.
Then he stopped and cast a surreptitious sideways glance at her; her blonde hair was piled up in a bun at the top of her head, and she had her eyes trained down on the page she was reading. The jacket she was wearing was bunched up at the wrists, and all in all, she looked a lot like she'd strolled out of her room and into the café without looking up from her book at all.
Yet, Natsu noticed, she was beautiful.
He hesitated. And alone. On Christmas Eve.
Natsu shook his head, turning his eyes away from her. He didn't even know her. And the last thing he wanted was to talk to another woman tonight. He looked down at his coffee, taking a sip. His night began to replay in his mind, and it seemed to be in sync with the scalding, bitter coffee in his mouth.
As he looked up, he noticed a man standing in the corner of the café, almost obscured by the thin screen between the seats and the back door. He had been talking over the phone—he hung up angrily after a second, as Natsu looked at his furious expression. He had dark, raven black hair and as he walked past the screen, Natsu noticed the brilliant blue his eyes were.
And they were on the blonde. Natsu felt his shoulders slump as the guy made his way to the girl's table. Of course she wasn't alone on a Christmas Eve. It was only him.
He turned his eyes back to the coffee, staring absent mindedly at the paper cup. He was just contemplating getting up and leaving, rather than sit here in the loud, happy music infused environment with couples snogging all around him, when a shout of frustration made him jump.
Natsu looked, surprised, at the next table. The raven-haired man was still standing, and had his hand slammed down on the wooden surface of the table. "I can't believe you!" he was yelling. One or two people raised their eyebrows and unglued themselves from their partners to look at him, but no one paid much attention. Almost everyone was too caught up with their dancing and cheering. "The last order of the month, Lucy, and you screw that up too!"
The blonde, Lucy, was staring at him. She had a mingled expression of shock and apology on her face.
Natsu knew it was wrong to eavesdrop, but he couldn't help himself. He was frozen to his seat, wondering if he should intervene if things got out of hand. He hated how the peaceful, mildly happy look had drained away from the blonde's face as she was wrenched out of her book and at the mercy of her boyfriend's shouting.
"Gray, don't shout," she pleaded finally. Her eyes flitted across the place in embarrassment, caught Natsu's, and looked away immediately as the guy let out a furious groan.
"Don't shout?" He echoed. "All you had to do was to send it to the correct address, Lucy! You're always reading those blasted novels of yours; can you even read an address?"
Even Natsu could feel the sting of his words. It was almost tangible.
"Look, I did enter the correct one!" Lucy was whispering, looking mortified. "It was Cana who arranged for it to be sent; I told you I wouldn't mess up a second time, Gray! Would you please just listen to—"
"It was. Our. Last. Order." Gray interrupted through gritted teeth. "Before Christmas. Do you know how bad this makes the company look?"
"Please shut up." Gray ran a hand through his hair. He had his back turned to Natsu, but there must've been something in his face that silenced Lucy. She looked like she was trying not to scream back. "I need to get back and clear up your mess. Again."
Natsu tried to look away from their fight, no matter how harsh this man seemed to be. He was in the process of getting up and leaving, when he heard Lucy retort.
"It's not my fault! Is it that difficult for you to listen to my side?!" she demanded loudly.
Gray punched the table this time. "There is no your side when it comes to my business, Lucy." He said roughly. "You know what? I think you can take a break. From my company and me. I'm sick of you messing up everything I work for."
Natsu couldn't take it any longer. He slid to the edge of the seat. "Hey—" He started, glaring up at Gray. He didn't care whose life he was intruding upon. He wouldn't sit there and see someone get treated the way that blonde was being.
But Gray was already leaving. He grabbed his jacket, ignoring Lucy's stricken face. "And buy a dress, for heaven's sake," he snapped, turning away. "You'd think you'd wear better clothes for someone working for Fall's."
As he walked away, pushing through the human maze, Natsu was already on his feet, tailing him. But he was blocked by another obliviously dancing couple and by the time he could pluck his way through the crowd too, Gray had opened the café door and walked outside.
Sighing in renewed anger, Natsu walked slowly back. His eyes fell on the blonde. He realized with a shock that she was crying. Her head was against the glass of the large café window, watching Gray walk away, and one of her hands was over her mouth.
For the second time that night, he hesitated. And that moment of hesitation changed his whole night—and his whole life since that Christmas Eve.
He found himself walking quietly to Lucy's table and coughing lightly.
She looked up quickly and Natsu saw brief recognition in her eyes. Her eyes, which were slightly red, like her nose. He knew she remembered seeing him for a fleeting second, as he plainly overheard her fight with her boyfriend.
Natsu leaned down. "Hey," he breathed. He wasn't sure what to say, or how to comfort her. And he knew it was none of business, but now that he'd seen what had happened—he felt slightly involved himself, and couldn't just leave her all alone.
Her eyes held his for a second, before she dropped them and averted her gaze. "Is there something you want?"
Natsu could feel his heart speeding up out of nervousness, and he wasn't sure why. Tentatively, he slid into the seat opposite hers, and breathed out a silent sigh of relief when she didn't protest. "Your boyfriend," he blurted out bluntly. "Is a jackass."
At that, she glared up at him. A bit of angry colour spotted her pale cheeks. "I'm sorry, but who are you again?"
Natsu reached out a hand. "Natsu Dragneel." She didn't take it.
"Well, Natsu, I'd like it if you didn't intrude upon my personal—"
"I won't leave a girl crying in a café," Natsu interrupted. He was trying very hard to shut himself up, but whether it was her fierce eyes or the fact that she'd caught his attention since the second he'd stepped inside, everything that came out of his mouth was riddled through with dangerous honesty.
She stared at him, mouth slightly open. Then she gave a small, reluctant smile and extended her hand. "I'm Lucy Full—" she broke off, wincing. "Lucy Heartfilia," she said firmly.
Natsu grinned back at her, realizing just how much more beautiful she was up close. At first glance, she seemed simple and plain. She wasn't dressed up, he couldn't see makeup on her face, and yet she was absolutely breathtaking in a large jacket and a topknot.
His smile faltered when his eyes caught the sapphire ring on her left ring finger, glinting in the light. Of course, she was engaged. In that moment, Natsu felt sure that he'd be nothing but the nice guy who cheered her up in a café and then she'd forget all about it, go home to her fiancé and work everything out.
But he didn't care. He wouldn't leave seeing a crying Lucy Heartfilia this night.
"So, how many coffees d'you think it'll take," he started, plastering on another smile. "For you to admit your fiancé is a jerk?"
Lucy cocked an eyebrow at him, but her lips lifted up infinitesimally. "Starting tonight," she said finally. "I don't think I'll have a fiancé anymore."
Natsu was taken aback at her words. Behind them, White Christmas began to play and the noise inside the little place rose up. But he felt oblivious to it all. "Isn't that a big step?"
Lucy Heartfilia shrugged, eyeing her ring. "I know you're a stranger," she said. "But tonight…did it look like Gray Fullbuster is a man I want to spend the rest of my life with?"
"It really isn't my—"
She leaned over the table. She wasn't crying any longer; "You've got snow in your hair," she remarked, surprising Natsu. "Did you know?"
"Yeah." Natsu raised a hand to brush it off. "I forgot my jacket," he lied.
"Huh." There was something so familiar in the way Lucy spoke to him, like they'd known each other all their lives. And, right then, Natsu could see that she knew he was lying in her eyes. It scared him, how her brown eyes seemed to see right through him. "Of course you did," she murmured softly, sitting back again.
There was a still moment in which neither of them spoke. And somehow, Natsu didn't seem to feel any awkward urge to say anything to fill the silence at all. It was odd, how quiet could be this comfortable with a person he just met.
He glanced up at her. Lucy was hastily rubbing away traitor tears at the corners of her eyes. When she looked at him, his eyes were already on her, and he averted his gaze with an apologetic cough.
"So, Natsu," she said after a second. "How many coffees d'you think it'll take before you tell me why you forgot your jacket?"
Natsu couldn't help but grin ever so slightly at her open ended teasing. "It's Christmas Eve," he replied finally. "I don't think we need to waste our beverages on liars and ex-fiancés."
Her deep brown eyes held his onyx ones only for a heartbeat. Then Lucy smiled. "Touché."
A new song began to play, a quicker, merrier tune, and all the couples behind them disentangled themselves from each other and joined in on a mad waltz around the café. Everyone was out of time and out of breath, but no one seemed to care.
Lucy appraised them over his shoulder. "Well, at least some people are having fun tonight," she remarked.
Natsu frowned down at the wood grains in the table. Up until fifteen minutes ago, he would've said the same in a much harsher tone than the one Lucy spoke in. But he could feel himself grudgingly admit to himself, that right then at that very moment, he was sort of content.
"Are you hating our conversation?" he asked instead. He seemed to have no filter between his thoughts and his lips that night.
The blonde looked surprised. "No. Why would you say that?"
Natsu shrugged, biting his lip to hide the satisfied smile which would slip out. "So, I heard you're a reader," he said, referring quite clearly to the loud words of Gray a while ago. "What's the novel in your bag?"
It was working. He could see it in her eyes; she was forgetting, bit by bit, the storm that took place. He had shifted her attention elsewhere. She unclasped her bag and took the book out, placing it on the table between them.
Natsu picked it up, eyes widening as he read the title. "It's the exact same book," he said slowly, when he found his voice. "That's lying on my dining table right now."
Lucy looked pleased. "Really?"
He handed the novel back to her. "Finished it over breakfast today."
"Don't tell me what happens," she said quickly.
Natsu laughed. The sound was off, because he couldn't remember laughing all night. But he did, and it felt good. "That depends on how much you're tempted to ask me."
"I won't." She set her jaw firmly. She must've been in her mid twenties, close to thirty perhaps. Yet there was something so playful and bright in her eyes, like she was no more than seventeen and free.
"I hope so, because the end's a real—" Natsu was interrupted with a warm hand clapped to his mouth. Lucy withdrew her hand with a horrified look, but her lips were already twitching, and it wasn't long before they were laughing over nothing.
Natsu didn't understand how, but suddenly they were talking about their family and their friends and their work. He found himself relating his childhood dreams and her telling him about her grandfather. They were sharing tales of high school romances and blundered job interviews and how they both wanted to leave small town Magnolia and get lost somewhere else. Travelling and books and music, and it was almost ridiculous to Natsu to realize that he knew more about her than he seemed to know most people knew. All in one night.
Once again, out of words, silence fell. Natsu checked his watch. "It's a quarter to midnight."
Lucy was unconsciously pulling at a loose strand of her hair. "That's long enough to tell me where you left your jacket," she said softly. Almost coaxing him.
At first, Natsu felt reluctant to answer. Then he looked at her, and there was no pity in her eyes. Just curiousity. Maddeningly familiar.
And it came pouring out. He described how his girlfriend of two years had been running around with his best friend for a good couple of months now. How he'd discovered it yesterday, and how she'd asked him to leave her apartment that very Christmas Eve, when he asked her about it. "My jacket hasn't been on me," he told Lucy at last. "I had to leave that house, and I wasn't bothered about jackets."
She was silent for a minute, eyes cast down. When she looked up, he was again grateful to see no sorrow for him in them. Just understanding.
"Love sucks." Lucy shrugged. "But it's also the best thing in the world."
Natsu felt like a huge burden was off his chest. That night didn't matter to him anymore. He was done. This was different night. With a Lucy Heartfilia, not with the selfish woman who barged out his door. This is the one he'd remember.
Then he smirked and pointed to the novel between them. "Don't you quote that book to me."
Lucy laughed. "I forgot you finished it." She shook her head in amusement. "I spend half my life quoting everything I've ever read."
"I do that too." Natsu frowned. "But people don't get it and think I'm stupid."
She burst into laughter again at his innocent honesty. Behind them, someone shouted that it was two minutes to midnight and Natsu turned around to see everyone get back up.
"One twenty seconds," Lucy said as he looked back at her. "What's after that?"
"What do you mean?"
"We wish each other and then walk back to empty houses?" There was a strange excitement on Lucy's face, like she was waiting—or hoping for something to happen. "What's after these two minutes?"
Natsu paused, and then smiled at her. "Let's wait and find out."
The both of them spent the remaining seconds without speaking a word, staring at each other, one assessing the other. When everyone began a happy countdown to Christmas, neither of them joined in. Finally the clock struck twelve and all the people in the café were yelling out wishes to each other.
Natsu and Lucy grinned softly at each other. "Merry Christmas," Lucy said.
"Merry Christmas, Lucy."
While everyone was busy slopping down drinks and cranking up music to the fullest, Natsu and Lucy quietly slipped past them and out into the snowy weather. They stopped in front of the lamppost by the café, deliberating.
Natsu scribbled his number on a piece of paper, and shyly offered it to Lucy. She pushed it in her coat pocket. "See you around."
Feeling distraught—and slightly scared of how much he wanted to stay and simply talk the night away with this girl—Natsu nodded. "It's a small town. We'll probably run into each other at the supermarket."
Lucy grinned. "Or purgatory, considering our exes."
He forced a laugh, but inside his stomach turned over at the despairing thought of returning to a dark, silent house.
They turned, heads down, going in opposite directions.
Natsu stared straight ahead, barely seeing the lights around him and hardly feeling the snow anymore. Absent-mindedly searching for a cab. He'd already crossed a corner when he suddenly heard a loud cry behind him.
Shocked, he turned on his heel to see Lucy Heartfilia still standing exactly where he left her. "Lucy?"
Her cheeks were flushed as she ran up to him, clutching her bag, her hair in a mess. When she reached him, boots crunching on the snow, she blushed harder in embarrassment. Natsu tried and didn't succeed in masking his elation.
"D'you believe in Christmas miracles?" she asked him abruptly.
Scant centimeters away from her, he laughed in surprise and shrugged. "Never got one."
"Me neither." She was beaming. "I was thinking of making one tonight."
Natsu stood very still, watching her eyes. Then he smiled and felt his stomach do a backflip when she returned it. "Let's go make one then."
This time, they turned to walk in the same direction and disappeared behind a corner.
Tada! :P Drop in a review and tell whether you liked it, loved it or wanted to chuck your phone at the wall reading it. I'd be happy to know your thoughts. :) Hope you like some more love for Nalu, please review. :)