A/N: Hi! Just wanted to write something about the boys dealing with this issue. Sorry for any grammatical mistakes ^^
In this story, Zeref already told Team Natsu about the identity of END.
Warning: Spoilers for the more recent chapters in the manga. Mild swearing.
Disclaimer: Sadly, I don't own Fairy Tail or any of its characters.
"Do it, Gray! Come on! What're you waiting for!? Kill me…"
Gray dropped his gaze to the forest floor, avoiding the fiery eyes of his rival. He couldn't bear to look at that pained expression anymore. It only reminded him of what had to be done. The boys of Team Natsu stood a fair distance apart, facing each other. The wind was swirling around them, the sun nearly gone behind the tall treetops. The last rays of sunlight was slowly disappearing, and Gray was shivering. The two mages of Fairy Tail were bloody and tired, the ongoing fight with the Alvarez Empire taking its toll on them. Magic energy nearly depleted, none of them where in the mood for their usual bickering. Gray sadly thought back as to why it had come to this, eyes fixed on his worn boots.
When Zeref sought out Team Natsu to tell them the truth about the fire demon ENDs identity, no one would believe it. Erza had quickly disregarded it as mere lies, with Lucy nervously backing her up. The ice mage himself had said nothing, but didn't want to consider the dark wizard's words as true. He had honestly thought that it was some sort of trick to let their guard down, allowing Alvarez to get the upper hand in the war. It was only when Natsu remained unusually silent and stiff that a feeling of dread had started to creep up on the rest of his team. Obviously not getting the reaction of Natsu that he wanted, Zeref had retreated in silence, promising his brother that they would reunite soon. Finally, left alone, the Fairy Tail mages had turned to the dragon slayer for answers.
Of course, Natsu, at the time, didn't know much more than what the rest of the team did. He could only tell them that something strange had been happening to him ever since the fight with Tartaros. His fire magic had started changing, and he felt himself slowly losing control over his own magic. Even distancing himself from the guild hadn't helped. Some kind of demonic aura had somehow found its way inside of him, and Natsu could feel the evil presence growing. Zeref's tale had given them some answers as to what was actually happening, and to Gray's horror, the pieces started to fit together.
It really was a hopeless situation.
Gray sighed as he felt his teammate's gaze burning into him. He finally gathered the courage to look up, and met the slightly relieved eyes of Natsu. The boys stared at each other. Natsu sought comfort in that look, before he regained his composure. He knew that his request was placing a tremendous burden on his friend's shoulders. This was, however, the only solution he could think of, and a sacrifice he was willing to make.
"Don't give me that look, ice princess." Natsu growled. "This is the right thing to do."
Natsu's temper flared at Gray's lack of response. The fire mage took a threatening step forward, but held himself back, clearly trying to control his raging emotions. Gray watched Natsu struggling, eyes lingering on the angry tears stinging his rival's eyes. He could also see a hint of fear, even though he knew that Natsu was trying to hide it. He hated this helplessness.
"There… has to be another way."
Gray truly wanted to believe in those words. He had lost so many people in the past. His parents and childhood friends. Ur and Urtear. And now, in order to fulfill his father's last wish, he was supposed to end his best friend's life. He was tired of letting the people he cared about slip away from him.
Natsu's anger spiked up another notch at the ice mage's faltering statement, hands unconsciously igniting.
"Another way? There is no other way. This is the only solution to all of it." The dragon slayer sneered.
Gray bit his lip. They had been going on like this for the past 30 minutes. The team had been perplexed about what they would do to solve this, but Natsu's death had never been a topic. Natsu had on the other hand had plenty of time to think about it on his training journey, and was by now determined that this was the right thing to do. He had at one point tried to talk about it with Happy, but the feline had scolded him for thinking like that, and then quickly changed the subject. It was because of this that Natsu made sure to meet up with Gray in private to deal with this. The girls and Happy would only make it worse.
Still, to Natsu's dismay, Gray argued: "And what about the others, huh? What about Lucy? Erza? Happy? What are we going to do after I've killed y-…when you're gone?"
Natsu was to be honest a bit taken aback by this. Of course, he had thought about the rest of the team, but for it to be expressed by Gray himself... Natsu glanced to the side and swallowed thickly.
"Why can't you just…damn it, you're only making this harder. END has to be stopped". Natsu said, his voice quivering.
"Don't you think I know that?" Gray shot back, running a hand through his hair in frustration. "This is hard on me too, you know."
Natsu stopped himself from retorting back and looked at his rival. Gray's hands were shaking. Badly. The dragon slayer shook his head. This was not the time for having second thoughts.
"Gray, come on! We can't just sit back and let it take me!"
His pleas were becoming more desperate. He would not succumb to this…demon. Even if he had to die for it. Gray knew the fire mage was right, but couldn't get himself to agree to this outcome. A single tear traveled down his cheek.
"Please don't ask me to do this…"
Natsu felt a huge lump form in his throat, but tried to ignore it. He hated the fact that Gray was crying by now. He didn't want to see those tears. Trying to keep his voice steady, he kept on: "I don't want to put the guild in danger. If any of them were hurt, it would be on me…on us."
The dragon slayer began to lose his temper again. Why couldn't the stupid ice bastard just accept the fact that there was no way around it.
"Oh for God's sake, Gray! Don't be a pussy! Just do it! Please! I-"
"Alright!" Gray yelled. His sudden outburst echoed through the woods, startling them both. The raven took a deep breath before he continued: "Alright, I'll do it. For the guild…And if it's what you truly want."
A sad smile formed on Natsu's lips. What he wanted? Deep down he just wanted everything to be over. He couldn't stand the thought of harming his most precious people. Didn't want them to see him changing into a monster, too strong for anyone to stop. And he certainly didn't want Zeref to win. Yes…this was what he wanted.
"Yeah…it is. Thank you." Natsu said hoarsely, his features now softened.
Gray's whole posture screamed resignation, but he stepped a little closer. He didn't have a clue as to how he should go through with this. Iced shell? After everything that happened on Galuna Island, he doubted that Natsu would go along with it. The pinkette saw his friend's troubled expression, and thought for a second.
"Use your devil slayer magic to… make sure that I…" Natsu mumbled, not bothering to finish the sentence.
"…but make it quick, bastard."
The ice mage gave a reluctant nod, and called on his slayer magic. Natsu watched as dark markings made its way over his friend's skin. He would never get used to how different the devil slayer magic was from the raven's normal ice make magic, or how the markings made Gray almost unrecognizable. But then again, how would he look like as a fully awakened demon himself?
Gray's lips trembled as he made an ice sword. More tears were running freely down his face, dropping to the cold ground. Natsu's heart ached upon seeing his rival in such a state.
"Hey, it's okay. It's what I want, remember?" Natsu said gently, finding it odd that he was the one trying to sooth the other. Gray gave a wobbly nod, but didn't seem too convinced. Shortening the distance, he stopped only a few feet away from his teammate. Natsu's steady hands slowly unwrapped the scale-patterned scarf from his neck and placed it on the ground next to Gray. Kneeling down and lowering his head, the fire mage could feel his knees getting soaked through his trousers by the frosty forest floor.
"And take care of this, will you? It was a present from Igneel, after all." Natsu mumbled, a small smile ghosting over his lips. The devil slayer glanced at the muffler.
"Close your eyes, Natsu." Gray whispered, voice breaking. Natsu obeyed, but had one last thing he felt the need to say.
"Gray… please don't blame yourself for this…"
Natsu couldn't see his friend's response, but heard how the other clearly struggled to keep his crying under control.
Trying to even out his breathing, Natsu heard the sound of the sword raised into the air. Then it was silent. Natsu waited for the blow. For an agonizingly long time. Becoming slightly agitated, Natsu pried one eye open to see what was going on. Before him stood Gray, sword held high above his head. His rival's deep blue eyes were glistening with tears, as his whole figure shook violently. His gaze was fixated on Natsu's muffler. When Gray suddenly became aware of Natsu staring up at him, his breath got stuck in his throat and a strangled sob escaped his lips. He looked his teammate in the eye for a long time, as realization dawned on him. He could not go through with this. Gray let the sword dissolve. The markings disappeared, and Natsu was stunned speechless. Calmly looked at his rival, the ice mage broke the silence with a single word:
Natsu was flabbergasted.
"No?" What the hell is that supposed to mean? Do it!"
"Shut up, Natsu. I won't do it."
Natsu could once more feel the fire swelling up inside of him.
"Why?! I already told you that I can't control this anymore… You would only delay the inevitable!" The fire mage yelled, fists shaking in anger. He slowly got to his feet, and scowled darkly at his rival. Gray seemed unfazed by this. His eyes, previously filled with such bottomless sorrow, were now shimmering with determination.
"So you're gonna end this by dying, huh? Stop running away." Gray said coldly.
Natsu's eyes widened in surprise. He remembered those words. Nervously shuffling his feet, he reminisced upon the events taking place on Galuna Island. The thought of Gray killing himself with that horrendous magic spell had shaken him more than he would like to admit. They had never spoken of the incident since, but thinking of it now, Natsu was convinced that it had somehow made the two of them closer. Still, he didn't know how to respond without sounding like a hypocrite. When Natsu remained silent, Gray took this as a sign to continue:
"Besides, killing my best friend is not an option. I refuse to let anyone I care about die again."
'Best friend?' Natsu was at a loss for words. They had known each other for a long time, but none of them had ever stated the other as his best friend. Even the term friend was rare for them to utter. It made him secretly happy to know that Gray felt the same way about their friendship as he did. It was at this moment that Natsu thought it truly selfish of him to force the ice mage into this. He had gone through enough loss in his life already.
The raven sighed and put his hands in his pockets. He was relieved that Natsu had seemed to calm down, but noticed the guilty expression appearing on the other's face.
"But…what about your father?"
Natsu knew that Gray's motivation for bringing END down was Silver's last words to him. He had sworn to eliminate the fire demon, Zeref's greatest creation. Gray shook his head at this. He hadn't been able to kill his father in the fight with Tartaros. And now, being placed in a similar situation, he couldn't kill Natsu either. Something had made him realize that his friend's life was more important than taking care of the fire demon before he became a major threat. Gray had finally made up his mind. He would stop END, but without killing his rival.
"I will keep my promise, somehow. But not like this."
With that, Gray picked up the muffler and handed it over to Natsu.
"We'll fight this demon…together."