Hello there! Just a one-shot for my little OTP. It's been a little while since I've written anything serious/angsty, so I hope this turned out alright! :D

Anyway, I hope you enjoy!

Springing into Action

It was a feeling unlike any she'd felt before: crushing, painful, and yet she felt more and more numb by the second.

She wasn't the strongest in the guild, she knew that and had learned to accept it. Although, that didn't mean she'd stop trying. She'd grow, working and sweating on her own to keep up with her friends that defined her knowledge of power.

However, even if she wasn't the strongest, her character was hard to beat. And one part of that character that she prided herself upon, was the fact that she was not a coward. Maybe she wouldn't recklessly charge into helpless situations like Natsu did, her partner, who somehow turned the most inopportune times to his favor, but she wasn't one to stand back and do nothing simply because it looked hard, or something scared her.

And so the day when she'd frozen in the face of fear, it'd felt like her world came crumbling down in a way.

She sat in her room, her back against her bed and her head buried in her knees as she played the situation over and over again in her head. It was crushing and painful to think of how pitiful she'd been. Her heart ached in regret and guilt and yet she felt like she was becoming numb.

.Maybe her brain couldn't exactly wrap itself around the fact that Lucy Heartfilia had backed down without a fight, or maybe she just didn't want to believe it. Either way, the more she thought about it, the less real it seemed and the more the numbness spread, trying to keep the feelings and regret at bay.

"Lucy?" There was a hesitant knock at her door. She looked up wearily from her knees, watching as the shadow of two petite feet peered in through the crack under the door. She'd left herself completely in darkness, not bothering to turn on lights or open windows. She needed to be alone. She needed time to think it through, time to get the courage to face her guild again. "Lu-chan?" The knocks sounded again.

"I need some time alone, Levy," she said quietly, positive that the girl on the other side of the door could still hear her.

Levy paused, shifting her weight and her shadow moving with her. Good, at least her friend knew when to heed her words.

However, there was a slight rattle before a click and the door creaked open slowly. She'd been wrong. Suddenly she regretted giving Levy the spare key to her apartment. Lucy once again buried her face in her knees, partially in shame and partially due to the street lamps outside blinding her through the now open doorway. How long had she been sitting in the dark, anyway?

She heard a huff from her blue-haired friend and the door closed again behind her. Sometimes Lucy was glad her friends wouldn't leave her alone when she was feeling down, although sometimes it felt like a curse.

Levy lightly trotted over, carefully kneeling next to her and placing a caring hand on her shoulder. "Lucy? Have you been here the entire time? You left the guild right after your team came back and no one has seen you since… Are you alright?"

Her voice sounded genuine. "I'm fine, Levy," Lucy sighed, lifting her head and giving the most convincing smile she could, although she was positive by the look on her friend's face that it hadn't been very persuasive.

With a thud Levy brought her legs around to sit criss-cross, peering at Lucy with concern. "You know you shouldn't sit in the dark. You're apt to have a burglar burst in thinking you're not home. Although, something tells me your 'Lucy kick' would put them in their place." She smiled, laughing slightly in an attempt to bring a little light-heartedness into the situation.

It was sweet, but Lucy couldn't muster even a fake laugh. She could hardly see Levy in the dark but could nearly feel her frown.

"Lu-chan what happened? Everyone else is acting just fine…"

Lucy bit her lip, looking toward Levy's figure in the darkness. She just wanted some time alone to think it through. She'd never felt this weak before in her life and she sure as hell didn't want to share that weakness with someone else. She didn't want to admit she'd been a hindrance, she didn't want to admit she'd let herself and her team down, and she didn't want to admit that she'd put the person she loved in danger.

However, despite all of the walls she'd thrown up around herself since they'd come back from that mission, not but a few hours ago, part of her wanted to share it. Part of her wanted another set of ears and someone to tell her what to do.

Lucy didn't know what to do, she didn't know how to cope with the new feelings of inadequacy and guilt and she wanted someone else to tell her how she should react.

"I froze," Lucy replied, her voice nearly inaudible. Whether she'd meant to blurt it out or not, she wasn't sure., but what she did know was that she'd opened a very large can of worms in answering Levy's question.

Her jaw clenched as an entire new wave of remorse washed over her. What kind of person was she? How could she have frozen, flinched long enough for someone to get hurt, or even killed. How could she have done that?

Sometimes it felt as if Levy read her mind. Whether it was because of their close friendship or the fact that Levy seemed to have a sense of knowing whenever it came to nearly anything, Lucy had no clue, but she was glad it happened at a time like this.

Levy heaved to her feet, leaning over to click on the bedside lamp which bathed the room in a light glow. It was comforting. Not a light which blinded but one that shed some warmth on the situation.

"You froze?" Levy questioned, situating herself to sit back down in front of Lucy, her eyebrows pinched in worry and confusion. "What do you mean?"

Lucy looked off to the side, placing her chin on her knees as he heart clenched painfully in her chest. She didn't want to say it. She didn't want to admit what'd happened on that job. Levy wouldn't judge her, she knew that; someone like the little bookworm wouldn't judge a fly, and was kind enough to empathize with nearly anyone, but that wasn't what was holding her back.

Lucy took a deep breath, her teeth clenching once before she slowly forced the words to come out. "We went on a job to guard a caravan from thieves." Levy nodded and Lucy gained a little bit of courage. "We were attacked, just as the man who hired us had thought, although the enemy was… a lot stronger than we could've guessed."

"Wasn't it supposed to have been just a little easy job? You took it because of the overpriced reward, right?" Levy tilted her head to the side slightly. Lucy had indeed told her friend of the job before she'd left.

Lucy nodded. "Yeah, that's why it was such a surprise. They were… really strong. We got separated, trying to push the thieves away from the caravan so they could continue towards their destination where they would be safe. We all sort of got paired up with an enemy. I was having a tough time with my opponent because he was able to disable some of my keys. He had me on the ropes for a second but…," Lucy sighed, a bittersweet and pained smile crossing her face, "as per usual Natsu stepped in and helped me out."

"Is that what you're upset about?" Levy questioned.

Lucy shook her head. "No. I really could've used some help then, so I was grateful to him. However after he stepped in the guy did something, I don't know what, with his magic and made it so Natsu couldn't move at all. I mean, I figured he'd pull through like he always does, somehow defying all logic and beating the enemy, but I guess… I guess I knew this was a little different."

Levy's eyebrows pinched together again. "But Natsu's in the guild right now… he's fine."

Lucy nodded. "Yeah, he is. But he wouldn't have been."

"What?" Levy looked beyond confused and Lucy nodded at her, silently saying she'd explain.

"Um, so he was completely paralyzed, and the guy all of a sudden comes out of nowhere with this gigantic sword. He had no intention of doing anything less than killing Natsu," Lucy said, her voice trailing down into a whisper. "I was fine then, his focus was off of me and I could've stepped in with a spirit to help Natsu but…"

A lump arose in her throat. Everyone else was in the guild now, acting like nothing had happened. They were fine; they hadn't thought anything of it, and yet here she was, up in her room in the dark, feeling as if her world was coming crashing down.

Natsu, her savior, the one that always came to her rescue. Her best friend and partner who had helped her more times than she could count, had needed her once. Once. And she hadn't come through for him. Tears pricked at her eyes as once again the guilt felt crushing.

"Lucy," Levy whispered, her eyes holding worry as she reached a hand forward to rest on her friend's knee.

"I froze," Lucy whispered, her voice quivering as it threatened to leave her. "He came at Natsu and I could've stepped in, I could've intervened, but I froze. For some reason he looked so scary, so… inhuman. I could feel his murderous intent and it completely shocked me still." She choked, hiding her face in her knees again in an attempt to escape the shame. "He was going to kill Natsu. I knew it, I knew it with all my heart and yet I was too scared to move."

Levy sat silent for a moment as Lucy tried her best to reign in her own emotions, blinking back the unshed tears in her eyes. "Lucy, that isn't something you could help-"

"How many times has he saved me, Levy?" she snapped, looking up from her knees, a single tear breaching the corner of her eye and trickling down her cheek. "How many times has he put himself in danger for me, and in situations much more grim than that one? That guy was scary, yes, but I could've beaten him when his attention wasn't on me. Natsu goes against opponents way out of his league for me without even an ounce of hesitation."


"He needed me once. For once he actually needed my help and I finally had a chance to help pay him back. And I completely froze. I sat on the ground like a child, my eyes wide and my mind completely blank. I was a coward, Levy." Her voice quivered again as she slowly dissolved, giving up her fight with the tears as a mournful, choking sob escaped her lips. "He could've been killed because of me."

Her shoulders shook as she dug her nails into her legs, hugging them tight.

"But he didn't," Levy piped. "He's just fine."

"Because of Erza and Gray," Lucy replied irritatedly. "They stepped in without an ounce of fear or hesitation. What if they hadn't have been there? He would've died and it would've been completely my fault. He'd stepped in because of me, and I would've just watched as he was killed. Watched, Levy. I would've sat there and watched as my best friend died." She wiped her tears with the back of her hand.

She wasn't quite sure why she was crying. Maybe it was because she felt completely weak and useless, or maybe it was because the thought of him being taken away from her seemed impossibly horrible. All she knew was that her heart felt like it could burst from the crushing feeling of guilt and that it somehow forced more tears out of her eyes.

She wanted to curl up into a ball and never go anywhere again. How could she face him? He'd been there, probably waiting for her to intervene and yet she hadn't. He was probably disappointed. He probably felt betrayed. He probably didn't trust her anywhere near as much as she trusted him, and honestly, after that job, she couldn't blame him.

What kind of friend was she? What kind of partner was she that she'd freeze because of fear? She'd been through plenty of terrifying situations, so why freeze out of fear then? Why then? Why when it mattered most?

"They're part of the team too, Lucy," Levy said carefully, her voice soft and soothing albeit guarded, as if she was disarming a bomb. "Erza and Gray are part of your team, so they should be there to help out if needed. The responsibility to save Natsu doesn't fall solely on your shoulders."

"But I was the one there," Lucy sniffed, running a hand through her hair. "Gray and Erza were off fighting on their own, goodness knows how far away, but I was right there, mere feet from him." It hurt. She truly felt as if she'd betrayed him and that thought in and of itself hurt more than even being betrayed felt.

What would it take for her to finally become as amazing as they were? Her teammates were just as fearless as Natsu. Why couldn't she be like that? Why couldn't she be the unstoppable force who didn't flinch at anything? Why was she still so hung up on emotions such as fear and guilt when the others seemed to have overcome them in their childhood?

Levy forced a smile. "I know you better than almost anyone, Lu-chan. You're not easily scared, nor would you back down from something because of fear. It was a fluke. No one's blaming you except yourself, and that's because I'm sure we all know that our Lucy is as brave as they come." She took a breath, prying one of Lucy's hands from hugging her knees and taking it in her own. "It's just now slowly turning to spring. We all know mages don't go on anywhere near as many jobs during the coldest parts of the year as in the summer, so there's bound to be some "warming up" time in between. You were just out of the routine of it all. You froze because throwing yourself back into requests is hard after having such a long break."

Levy was really stretching it now. And while it was nice having someone to comfort her, it was also a little frustrating. Part of her just wanted Levy to tell her she was horrible and that she needed to make it up to him somehow… Even though Lucy doubted that it was possible to make up for not stepping in whenever she was certain he was going to be killed. That was something too grand to ever make up for.

"Don't make excuses for me," Lucy whispered into her knees, pulling her hand from Levy's.

Silence overtook the room then. Lucy wasn't entirely sure what was going through Levy's head, but she wasn't positive she wanted to know.

She'd told someone, and it felt like a relief to get some of it off her chest, but at the same time she felt even worse. Saying it aloud made it sound even more cowardice. Had it been any normal job and she'd frozen, she was sure she'd just train even harder, working like crazy to strengthen herself, mind and body.

But this hadn't been a normal job. A few cuts and bruises or even broken bones hadn't been on the line; it'd been his life. And a life wasn't something that could be made up for by becoming stronger. Once it was gone, it was gone.

Levy moved suddenly, getting to her feet with a sigh. "It's because I love you that I'm doing this, Lucy," she said.

Lucy's head shot up from her knees as she heard the door to her apartment once again swing open. She opened her mouth in protest, wanting to call after her friend and tell her to wait, and to ask what she was doing, but no sound came out.

She knew what Levy was doing, deep down, and it made her heart go from feeling like it weighed a hundred pounds, to a ton.

"No," she whispered to herself, hugging her knees tighter. "No, no, no, no, no." The very last thing she wanted to do was to face Natsu. She couldn't do it. The guilt was too strong and she was afraid of what she'd find on his face. He was an eternally forgiving person, even when he shouldn't be, but she was afraid to see the disappointment. Maybe he could forgive her, but he'd be disappointed. She just knew it.

The few minutes after Levy left Lucy's apartment were the longest of her life. The tears had stopped suddenly, instead replaced by an overwhelming dread. She wished perhaps the tears would come back. She'd much rather be crying, berating herself in private, than to have to face him.

She was a mess and she could feel it. She just couldn't face him and his bright personality now. Especially since she was sure he wouldn't be quite as cheery around her as normal.

The sound of his footsteps outside her door made her heart pound so hard she could hardly hear anything but the steady beat in her ears. She kept her face firmly buried in her knees, trying to pretend she didn't hear her door open once again, or the unmistakable sound of his feet clomping on her carpet as he made his way over to her.

There was a thud to her right and she tried to stop breathing. Any sign that she was awake and alive was a sign that he'd respond to. He'd start a conversation, he'd address the situation, and she really didn't want to deal with it. Not now… not for a long time.

She heard him sigh, barely audible over the incessant pounding in her ears.

"It's so dark and depressing in 'ere I thought it was Gajeel's place for a moment," Natsu said, his tone joking.

As much as it felt like home to hear his chuckle, so genuine and pure, it made her feel even worse. She hadn't thought that he would be acting as if nothing happened. She thought he'd be disappointed, but if he wasn't… maybe that was even worse.

Because that made him seem even more out of reach. If he could truly forgive and forget something that big, and so quickly, he was a bigger person than she could ever be.

"Luce." His tone had turned suddenly serious and she flinched. She couldn't remember the last time he'd been serious, aside from battles. He was quiet now, much quieter than she'd ever seen him around anyone before. Maybe he'd read the situation. When she didn't respond he huffed in irritation. "Lucy, look at me."

She shook her head against her knees and he sighed again. "Look at me. If you won't, I'll stay here until you have to. Or, I'll go read your novel or something so you have to stop me." His words were teasing yet his tone was still serious.

"I don't want to," she mumbled to herself.

She felt a sudden weight on her hair, the unmistakable warmth from one of his hands engulfing the back of her head. He didn't pat, nor stroke her hair, instead simply holding his palm on top of her in a strangely comforting gesture. It was so simple, and yet it conveyed the world to her.

He wasn't mad, nor disappointed, he didn't feel betrayed, but he wasn't taking some high road either. He had a reason for not being upset, although she wasn't sure what it was.

Lucy hesitantly tilted her head to the side, peering out from her knees and looking over to him. He was watching steadily, straight ahead of himself, a look of utter seriousness mixed with perhaps a bit of pain, etched across his face.

He withdrew his hand, tilting his head to the side to look at her. "Levy told me everything."

Her heart clenched again, those tears that had suddenly disappeared, quickly prickling once again to the surface, this time not hesitating in the least to spill down her cheeks. His eyebrows pinched together, his eyes penetrating as he watched her. "I'm so sorry," she choked. "I-"

"You don't need to apologize."

"But I-"

"And you don't needa explain yourself."

She raised her head, the tears still flowing as she stared at him with complete and utter confusion. His eyebrows stayed knitted in what she swore was worry as his eyes flicked around her face, seemingly trying to absorb every inch of her expression.

He sighed then, turning his gaze to her door, his jaw clenching. "I don't want you jumping in, in situations like that."

His words shocked her, the tears stopping in surprise. Her blurred vision slowly evened out as she blinked. "What?" She couldn't imagine what he was thinking. Of all the explanations or answers that he could've given her, she wouldn't have guessed it would be telling her he didn't want her to protect him. If that was really what he was saying, after all.

He sighed to himself in what seemed frustration. Natsu wasn't one for sharing emotions, and Lucy wasn't too dense to pick up on the fact that he was having a hard time putting what he was feeling into words.

"I don't want cha just springing into action every time I might be in trouble," he said. "I know I do it but I don't want you doing it."

That seemed hypocritical. "I wouldn't just "jump in" without thinking, Natsu. I want to protect you just like you want to protect me. I should be there to help you."

He shook his head vigorously. "In that situation it was too dangerous. I don't want ya risking your own well-being. If I wanted that I wouldn't have stepped in to help you in the first place."

"It's a two-way street," she replied, sounding a little defensive. "That's what a partnership is. If I want to step in and help you, I can and I will. Do you have any idea how guilty I feel that you're always helping me out and yet I don't help you?"

"You help me, Luce," he replied sternly, looking away from the door and back to her. "You do, and you've helped me during a fight before too. I'm just saying, if for some reason you're scared, I trust your judgement and I don't want you intervening."

He had to be kidding. She couldn't do that. She couldn't just back down and watch and hope things somehow worked out for him if she felt as if the situation was too dangerous. That was completely twisted. If the circumstances were hazardous or grim, that should be even more reason for her to help out. Two against one should work out for them no matter how strong the opponent.

She opened her mouth to protest, a new wave of determination welling in her chest as the hesitance and self-loathing was slowly overtaken, but he interrupted her.

"I've already watched you die once, Luce. I can't handle watching it again."

Those two simple sentences sent a stab of pain through her heart. His eyes had turned soft, shining in the dim lighting enough to let her know he had tears welling up only at the thought.

It'd been a hellish day, the day she'd watched her future self, murdered. It'd been an interesting and confusing feeling for herself, but she hadn't exactly seen it as one affecting others. Happy and Natsu had both seemed shocked and sad, angry and motivated because of it, but even a day after, everything seemed back to normal.

But by the pained look in his eyes and the simple words he'd spoken, she knew that that event had meant a lot more to him than he'd ever let on.

"Maybe it's selfish to ask you to use your judgment to stay out of bleak situations, even if we don't, but please, for me, or even for the guild, don't die Luce." He bit his lip, reaching up and placing a hand atop her head again. "I can't imagine a future without you, so even if that means something happens to me, don't jump in and get yourself hurt."

She thought she'd been imagining it, that he'd been going out of his way to intervene in her fights and on their jobs to keep her out of harm's way since then, but by the heartfelt tone in his voice she began to think she hadn't been.

"You can't just ask me to sit back and watch you, or anyone else get hurt," she whispered, reaching up and pulling his hand from her head, instead encasing it with her own two, bringing it down to her heart. "I'm not going to be completely reckless, and I'm not going to willingly go to an early grave, but I'd much rather die protecting the ones I love than to have sat back and done nothing. What if you'd been killed today, Natsu? How do you think I would've felt?"

His teeth clenched audibly as his eyes stared at her hands surrounding his own. "I know. I know you would've been beating yourself up over it-"

"Understatement," she whispered, before nodding for him to continue.

"But just let it be known, Luce… that I don't care if I die in the process, but I want you safe. Watching you die that day… it showed me a glimpse of a future without you, and while it's hard to picture and hard to believe, and nothing I would've considered before then, it's…" His voice wavered for a second and he swallowed. "I can't. I just can't have a future like that. I trust you; you're one of tha strongest people I know but just promise me you won't go out of your way to protect me, when you could be protecting yourself."

Her eyes softened and she let out a sigh. The guilt was still there, still plaguing her slowly, but it felt a little more tolerable. He hadn't really addressed her initial worry, or her worries surrounding the fact that she'd completely frozen, but for some reason… she felt more at ease. As if over a little bit of time she'd be able to process everything and deal with it.

Because in the end he hadn't died. It'd all worked out and she could say she "could've" or "would've" or "should've" but it was all in the past.

Plus, seeing a side of Natsu like this, so vulnerable and so caring… made her feel a little differently too.

She shifted, sitting up on her knees and gently leaning over to wrap her arms around his neck. Without hesitance or surprise he wrapped his arms around her, crushing her to himself in a wordless hug full of more emotion than any conversation.

Lucy sighed into his shoulder. "I promise I won't. I promise I won't do anything reckless, and I promise I'll stay alive. I'm still going to feel guilty about today for a long time though… and nothing you say can change that. Because I would've been fine had I intervened… it was my own fears that held me back, which I promise I'll work on." His throat hummed in agreement although she sensed he wanted to say something, but before he could she let out her ultimatum. "I won't go into helpless situations to protect you, but you have to promise me the exact same thing."

There was a beat of silence before his breath tickled her ear. "I don't know if I can promise that, Luce."

She should've been frustrated, maybe even a little upset that it was such a one-way street, but somehow she felt a smile curling at her lips and her arms hugging his neck tighter. It was just who he was. That was Natsu, the reckless one that things always worked out for. She couldn't ever break him of that.

"Of course you can't," she sighed, shaking her head and nuzzling in closer, prolonging every second and internalizing it as best she could.

So there it is! Natsu grieving internally over Future!Lucy's death is one of my favorite headcanons for these two. And no, Lucy didn't actually agree to it. In my mind she just didn't want to argue about it, instead deciding to put that little "deal" away for another day to discuss. At least that's what I was thinking by her saying "Of course you can't." ;D

This was actually written for a little fanfic contest over on DeviantART and it came in second place! I cannot express how flattered and humbled I am that it actually ranked! :D *rolls around in happiness*

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed and I would love to hear what you thought! The world can never have too much NaLu love! XD