If you don't read Author's Notes, then you've no one to blame but yourself :P

Anyway, like literally everyone else, I just had to write something after all the crazy drama bombs that got dropped with the latest chapter! Some drama, some specific shipping, but I'm a huge NaLu nerd at heart, so you can definitely read that as being there if you want ;D

Title inspired by Rihanna's song by the same name.

Towards the Light

As Happy carried him away from the battlefield that might have been his grave, Natsu's thoughts descended into a chaotic morass that threatened to overwhelm him.

It was a lot for one person to take in all at once. Too much, even. The dragon slayer's once simple view of the world had been irrevocably shaken.

The world had been such a simple place before END.

His mind railed against Zeref's words. They were lies; dirty lies meant to make him doubt, to make him fear. Words to turn the tide of war against the guild, and Fiore itself.

Even as he rejected them, though, in his heart, he knew they were truth. Bitter and ugly perhaps, but truth all the same. Worse yet, his magic knew, and so did the soft embers of Igneel's power that yet mingled with his own. It whispered these same traitorous words until Natsu clapped his hands over his ears in an attempt to drown them out; but they rolled on and on regardless, revealing a vast web of tragedy that didn't seem to have an end…

They were over Magnolia, now, and night had fallen. Natsu wondered just how long he had been hanging listlessly from Happy's painfully singed paws. He didn't remember the trip, let alone releasing his hold on his ears. When had he succumbed to the truth, let it send him catatonic as he struggled to process it?

He had been willing to die in the face of that truth during his fight with Zeref. Somehow, that seemed easier than living with it, and a small, dark part of him wished Happy had been just a moment too slow.

As the guild came into view, and as Happy began to make his descent towards the front gate, panic and fear combined to rise like hot bile in the back of Natsu's throat, and he struggled in his friend's grasp.

Forced to backwing sharply to keep from dropping his injured companion, the exceed gasped in pain and said "What? Natsu, what are you doing? You're gonna make me drop you!"

"Not there, not down there," the dragon slayer begged desperately "I can't-"

Natsu's eyes were locked on the well lit courtyard below his feet. He could see them- his friends and family, running here and there in the torchlight, but as yet, no one had spotted him. The idea of facing them now, of being forced to tell them the truth, made the panic worse.

"Where then?" Happy panted, immediately filling his friend's heart with guilt. The exceed was clearly exhausted, not to mention injured, thanks to his own recklessness...

"Behind the guild," Natsu answered quickly, reasoning that he just needed a few minutes to collect himself and catch his breath. After that, he could-

His stomach gave a sickening twist that had nothing to do with the way Happy dropped sharply into the narrow alley that ran behind the guild on silent wings. It had nothing to do with the stench emanating from the garbage cans that lined one wall, either.

Happy dropped Natsu while they were still a few feet off the ground, too exhausted to go any further. The slayer's sandals hit mud, and the sudden wave of agony that shot up through his body nearly made him scream, but he managed to restrain it to a groan that escaped from between clenched teeth.

Happy tumbled weakly out of the air, and Natsu lunged in an attempt to catch him. Exhausted muscles, aching joints, and broken bones conspired to make him too slow, though, too clumsy to do more than stumble forward and crash into a garbage bin. The noise the bin made as it careened down the narrow alley was deafening, and he would have winced if he hadn't been too busy falling.

Natsu dropped to his knees, feet shy of where his friend had crumpled in a small heap of fur and feathers, then toppled forward, only barely managing to catch himself with his left hand. Fingers scrabbled at the thick, dark mud (had it rained while he was gone?), but it didn't stop his palm slipping so he landed on his elbow instead. Head hanging slack as his rose colored hair trailed the dirty ground, Natsu cradled his right arm against his chest. The entire limb was in agony, feeling as though his very bones were burning him from the inside out, charring tissue and cracking tendon with their heat...

"Who's out there?" a voice demanded as the guild's back door was thrown open with a bang.

Natsu's head jerked up sharply at the noise, shoulders tense as he was forced to narrow his eyes against the light that silhouetted the person intruding on his moment of weakness.


She stood in the doorway, looking bright, and fierce, and beautiful, not back-lit by light from within the guild, he realized, but by her own magic.

His friend wore Leo's star dress, golden light gathered around her hands as she prepared to fight. Natsu had never understood what she (or Loke, or whomever designed these dresses of hers) had been thinking, having her go into battle in an evening gown, but he had to admit that she looked good.

"Lucy," he managed to croak as the last of his strength left him, forcing him to drop his head again.

As he focused on simply breathing for a moment, Natsu felt torn between relief and horror that it was Lucy that had found him first.

On the one hand, his best friend was the last person he wanted confess his true identity to. On the other, there was no one else he wanted to see more now that he felt more lost, and more alone than he ever had before.

"Natsu," Lucy gasped, and though he couldn't see her from behind the fringe of his hair, he could hear the subtle sigh of her magic as it dropped away, and she ran towards him. Worse, he could hear the strangled cry that escaped her when she found happy.

"Oh, oh Happy," the woman whispered as she dropped to her knees, heedless of the dirt, and, carefully as she could, lifted the little exceed into her arms. The movement seemed to spur Happy's aero magic into finally canceling. His pale, dirt stained wings melted away as she turned him over onto his back and cradled him gently in the crook of her arm.

The little cat's lack of response worried her, but the gentle rise and fall of his chest kept her from flying into a panic.

"Natsu, what happened?" she asked, voice tight as she closed the few feet of distance between them on her knees, all dignity cast aside in the face of her concern for her friends.

Her question was met with silence that stretched so long Lucy felt compelled to repeat herself. She reached out to lay one hand on her friend's bloodied shoulder, only for him to shift back and push himself, slowly, painfully, into a seated position before she could.

"He's still alive," the dragon slayer said finally, words breaking the silence that had filled the air between them as a light drizzle began to fall from the sky above.

"What?" Lucy asked, the non sequitur taking her off guard. His meaning quickly clicked into place, though, and she replied "Zeref?"

Natsu only nodded as he took a long, deep breath, and turned his face skyward, unreadable dark eyes slipping shut as the rain trailed across his overheated skin and clung to his hair. His mind was in such chaos in that moment, that he felt to do more than that might make him fly apart at the seams.

"What happened?" she asked for the third time, wondering just what it was that could render her dearest friend into such a state. Oh, she had seen him physically beaten just as badly, possibly worse, in the past, but no fight had ever made him appear so...


"I stopped him. Couldn't...couldn't let him do it," Happy whispered from his place against her chest as he opened his eyes and looked at his badly burned pawpads before turning his attention up to Lucy.

Lucy stared at him, uncomprehending, and the exceed looked at Natsu expectantly, small, furry features strangely calm.

"Natsu?" she asked, warily, Happy's manner and the slayer's own silence unnerving her.

Natsu sighed, resigning himself to confessing as he turned his freshly scarred face from the sky to look at his friends, both of whom waited in silence. One already knew all, but the other...

The words poured out slowly at first, and so disordered that Lucy had to ask him to start over more than once. They picked up in pace and fluidity, though, as he continued, and gradually, things began to fall into place for Lucy.

Natsu was END, Zeref's most dreadful creation...and brother.

It was all a shock, not the least of which was discovering that her own mother had apparently had some hand in bringing not only Natsu, but all the dragon slayers to their time from the distant past. She wasn't sure just how to wrap her brain around that at the moment, so she didn't. It was perhaps the least concerning epiphany that had occurred that day, and could wait until later.

"My brother," Natsu spat, words bitter, his face contorted with disgust at the mere thought of being related to someone who had caused so much pain over the centuries. He shared blood with someone who had hurt the people he loved most in the world, someone who had apparently twisted Natsu's own being in his selfish need to not be alone in the world.

Silence fell between the three mages for a long moment, until Lucy finally managed to speak.

"Is that why you stopped him, Happy? Because Zeref's his brother?" the girl asked the cat in her arms.

He didn't reply, though. Instead, Natsu did, speaking in a low flat tone that sent chills running up Lucy's spine.

"I was going to do it. I was going to kill him," he said, staring at his hands, which rested listlessly on his lap. His fingernails were chipped and cracked, knuckles skinned, and the outer two fingers on his right hand couldn't move without pain lancing up the length of his arm.

"Even if it meant I'd die too," Natsu continued, pointedly looking anywhere but Lucy.

Horror made Lucy's heart skip a beat, and she lunged to her feet as she demanded "What?!" her voice going up several octaves as her throat went tight. Her grip on Happy tightened, and though he whimpered at the sudden increase in pressure, he didn't object.

Her friend pressed on, insistent, each word like a knife in her heart.

"For Happy, for the guild...for you..."

Finally, Natsu did force himself to meet her eyes, and the conflict within them made Lucy want to cry. He knew it was wrong, but he had done it anyways, and now he was torn between feeling justified, and frightened by what he had almost done.

"That's not how we fight, Natsu," Lucy said, voice sharp as she focused on her anger at his simultaneously selfless, and selfish actions. She had to, otherwise she'd dissolve into a teary-eyed mess, and she couldn't afford that right now. Not with a war going on, and certainly not with Natsu already so very lost.

"I know," he replied, averting his eyes once more as he found himself unable to match her, in that moment. Her will overpowered his, and put him on the defensive "I know," the slayer repeated "I forgot, just for a moment-"

"That's all it takes," Lucy insisted, taking deep breaths to keep herself under control. She couldn't cry, wouldn't cry...

For a third time, Natsu said "I know," his voice barely above a whisper.

All his anger towards Zeref, and the conflict at discovering his true identity as END, had burned itself out, leaving him feeling empty, tired, and heartsick.

Sensing the change in her friend, Lucy remained quiet for a long minute. She sniffled a little, and told herself it was just the chill of the rain as it ran down the back of her neck. The dampness on her cheeks certainly wasn't tears, after all.

The celestial spirit mage took a step towards her friend, and she shifted her grip on Happy so his head rested, child-like, against her shoulder while she cradled him in one arm.

As Natsu kneeled before her, head bowed, shoulders slumped, and will shaken, Lucy gently, almost reverently, placed a hand on the crown of his head. It was a gesture of forgiveness, of benediction...of understanding.

For so long, Natsu had been there to lift her up when she was down, to give her strength when her courage faltered. Now it was time for her to return the favor. She could lecture him for his reckless behavior later. After all, she still owed him one for his little year long disappearing act.

"He's not your brother, Natsu," Lucy said, voice quiet but firm.

The man before her turned his face up to her at last, dark eyes confused, brow furrowed, as he said "But he is. He-"

Lucy shook her head, and Happy watched her curiously as she continued "Being related by blood doesn't make you brothers, and it doesn't make him your family," she continued, brown eyes intense with emotion and meaning as they met and held his, seeming almost hypnotic to the young man.

"If there's one thing I've learned since joining Fairy Tail, Natsu, it's that family is the people you love. They're the people that stick by you in your darkest times, and carry you when you're too hurt, or too tired to take another step."

The dragon slayer's eyes widened as she spoke, and her hand slipped from his brow to his cheek, where she carefully wiped away the blood and dirt there with the pad of her thumb.

"Whatever you once were to each other, you're not the same anymore. You've come countless miles, and four hundred years to be where you are now," Lucy said, smiling now. Where would she be if not for him? What would her life have become had he never found her that day in Hargeon and whisked her away to join Fairy Tail?

"All the evil that Zeref has done?" here, her expression darkened slightly"That's not who you are, and it's certainly not a part of you. That man is not your family, Natsu. Happy is your family. The guild is. I am."

Lucy bit at her lower lip, suddenly feeling shy as Natsu reached up to cup her hand on his cheek with his own. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath as she watched, then looked at her once more.

Natsu, her Natsu, looked out at her from behind those dark eyes once more. Her wonderful, overconfident, reckless, brave best friend was back.

"Now, get up," she said, and pulled her hand gently from his, only to offer it again, this time in a gesture of help, rather than reassurance "It's time to fight."

Natsu looked at her outstretched hand for a moment, then grinned and took it, allowing her to pull him to his feet.

Despite both of their intentions, the slayer very nearly fell right back over again as the pain returned. Quick work on her part, though, let her sling his arm over his shoulder so she could half-carry him to the back door, while Happy wriggled out of her grasp and dropped to the ground, allowing her to use both arms to support their friend.

"Sorry," Natsu said with an apologetic grimace as he leaned heavily against Lucy's shoulder, and Happy giggled at their feet, relieved by his friends' return to normalcy.

"That's what family's for," Lucy said with a grin as she kicked the door open "Besides," she continued a little breathlessly "You know how the old saying goes: When you can't walk, you crawl, and when you can't crawl-"

"You find someone to carry you," Natsu finished with a laugh as he bumped his forehead lightly against hers in an unspoken sign of affection.

"I think I'm a lot easier to carry than Natsu, though," Happy commented as they maneuvered through the door, and he paused to close it behind them.

"Oh definitely," Lucy said with a grin.

"Oi," Natsu grumbled as the trio made their unsteady way down the hallway, towards their family.

AN: Yes, that was definitely a Firefly reference there at the end XD I just coudn't resist. I've been rewatching it wit hubby lately, and it's one of my favorite quotes. Honestly I feel like it suits the guild in general, so here we are ;D

Drop a review if you enjoyed!