She doesn't try to hide them.

Perhaps it's her pride, or perhaps it's simple vanity. Whatever the reason, Lucy Heartfilia's revealing outfits have become a staple that she can pull off with the barest of ease. And while it would be easy to claim the wizard's attire leaves too little—if anything—to the imagination, the scars that cover her body contradict such a statement.

She's absolutely covered in them. Scars of varying size, shape, and width. Some are jagged, some are as straight as a blade. Some stand out roughly from her skin, some have been there so long they blend in with the rest of her. It is commonly assumed that those who wield celestial keys in battle never taste true combat—but Lucy's scraped and scored skin would beg to differ.

Each mark holds a story—inflicted upon the once-heiress deliberately and without mercy.

Gajeel lays claim to some of the older scars. The stellar spirit mage is so open and trusting—so warm and bright and willing to give everything in the name of her guild—he is prone to forgetting how he had very nearly killed her. He still wonders if her death wish of a dare—her promise that he would never escape Fairy Tail's vengeance if her killed her—had been a bluff or not. She was breakable then and she is breakable now—kept out of Death's reach only by the will of Salamander and her own damned determination. Truthfully, the Iron Dragon Slayer is of the opinion that she's too stubborn to die. She'd pick a fight with the Reaper before she'd allow herself to be taken. A fight he's inclined to believe she'd win.

Even Loke recognizes some a little too well. The lion spirit will never forget that night at Karen's grave, when Lucy had all but sacrificed herself trying to save him from the injustice of the Celestial Spirit World. The impossible act of forcing open a keyless gate—of summoning the King—had taken a toll on her body, discoloring her skin where he knows she'd started to fade out of existence from the sheer might of her own magic. An act that had been as self-destructive as it had been selfless. Such sacrifices do not come cheaply.

Minerva's are the worst. The self-proclaimed Queen's magic had been devastating—leaving Lucy battered, beaten, and a breath from Death's door. Privately, Porlyusica had been impressed that the girl survived at all, Wendy's healing magic be damned. The old healer wagers that if Fairy Tail could bottle Miss Heartfillia's ironclad will and unshakeable resolve, they would have a very formidable weapon indeed. She wonders if there is some sort of celestial being watching out for the girl—something that staunchly refuses to allow her passing.

Virgo's whip had littered scars across Lucy's legs, arms, and torso. Painful marks with painful memories—the visible injuries only tell half the tale of the celestial wizard's dark dance with Ophiuchus and the price she had paid for her spirits. A price she would gladly pay again and again—anything to protect the keys she holds. No matter how fierce the fighting got, Lucy could never bring herself to raise a hand against the virgin spirit. She'd take a thousand cracks of a whip before she'd hurt any of them. Angel had mocked Lucy's ignorance to the relationships maintained between Celestial Spirits, and that may have been true. But when it came to Lucy's personal tie to her spirits—her allegiance and loyalty and utter devotion to beings that, technically, are supposed to serve her—the Fairy Tail wizard is unmatched.

Jackal's contributions are easy to spot—pure-white lacerations that stand out starkly against her back. The brutality Lucy had faced at the hands of the Tartaros mage had been overwhelming, and while she may have emerged victorious, her body still bares the marks of his ruthless Curse. By all accounts, the encounter should have left her rather impressively dead. Nothing but the knowledge that she had been the only thing standing in defense of her guild's destruction had kept her fighting spirit blazing, and she'd reached for some deep, inner strength she didn't even know she possessed. She'd promised to protect the guild, and stellar spirit wizards never break their promises.

A spindly, spider-web of a scar mars the palm of her right hand. Lucy blames herself for that one—truthfully, she blames herself for all of them: her weakness, her fragility, her pride—she'd done it to herself that terrible day when she'd been forced to say goodbye to her oldest friend in an act of sacrifice that she knows she will never forgive herself for. She'd clutched the jagged edge of Aquarius' broken key so tightly she'd injured her own hand—not even noticing the wound until hours later when Wendy had asked her how she'd gotten such a bizarre cut and she'd broken down again.

Now, however, she sits alone at Fairy Tail's bar—Natsu's picked a fight with Gajeel in a fit of excess energy that has predictably escalated to encompass nearly every member of the guild. Even Levy is eyeing the brawl with a dangerous glint in her eye as Gray upends the table she's seated at, upsetting the pile of books she'd balanced precariously on top.

Lucy stares down at the rough scar, lightly tracing her fingers over it as she experimentally opens and closes her hand. Wendy had said she'd been very lucky—had the wound been much deeper, and she could have done some serious nerve damage.

Lucky Lucy, the blonde mocks herself, frowning moodily down at her palm.

A sudden heat warms her back, and she glances up to see Natsu standing over her. He's a little worse for wear, and she can't help but crack a smile.

"Losing your fight?" she teases lightly, smile growing larger when he scowls.

"No," he denies sullenly, offended at her implication. He peers at her hand, cradled neatly in her lap. "What's wrong with your hand?"

Lucy holds it up for him to see. "Nothing," she lies smoothly. "Just an old scar."

His eyes narrow, and he reaches out to take hold of her wrist, titling her hand in order to get a better look. The other wizards hurl insults across the guild hall, calling for Natsu's return to a fight he started.

"Come on, Salamander!" Gajeel shouts.

"Don't you dare try and drag Lucy into this," Erza warns.

Natsu ignores them, eyes tracing the pale mark.

"Where'd you get it?" he asks with a frown.

Lucy stares back at him, momentarily distracted by the sight of Elfman careening through the air, doubtlessly having just been on the receiving end of a punch from the resident Iron Dragon Slayer.

"I don't remember," she lies again, refocusing her attention back on Natsu, lightly tugging on her hand to try and get him to let go. He doesn't oblige. She really didn't think he would.

"Natsu!" Gray yells above the noise. "Get your ass back here!"

"In a second!" Natsu snarls back, glancing sharply over his shoulder to treat the Ice-Make mage to a look of sheer ferocity before lowering his gaze once more to his partner's hand.

"Seriously, Natsu," Lucy says, tugging a little harder. "It's just an old scar." She gestures to herself, offering a small shrug. "I've got a couple of them, if you haven't noticed."

He frowns at her words. "I have noticed," he tells her shortly. He gives her hand a little shake. "But this one is definitely new."

She finally frees her hand with one sharp tug, folding her arms across her chest in a way that she hopes looks offhanded and not defensive as all hell.

"Get your eyes checked then," she remarks bluntly. "Because there's nothing new."

Which, as Lucy should very well know by now, breaks the first of several unofficial rules regarding Dragon Slayers—never question their senses.

Their judgment? Frequently. Their battle strategies? All the time. But never their senses.

Natsu's eyebrows slant down in a proper scowl. "There's nothing wrong with my eyes," he retorts lowly, the barest hint of fire tainting his words. He tilts his head, eyes narrowed with suspicion. "What're you hiding, weirdo?"

Lucy—a woman never short on words—struggles to find some sort of acceptable response. She falters magnificently, opening and closing her mouth a few times, rolling different excuses around in her mind, but her tongue rejects them all.

She should have told him. He would have wanted her to tell him. But the day she lost Aquarius is the day he lost Igneel. How could she have possibly added to his misery? What would she have even said? Hey, Natsu. I can see you just lost the father figure you've been searching for your whole life. That must be rough. By the way, while you and the rest of the guild were caught in that weird goo and I was getting my ass kicked by Jackal—which by the way I know you still feel ridiculously guilty about—I had to break Aquarius' key in order to summon the Celestial Spirit King so I wouldn't fucking die. Just wanted to pass that along!

It would kill him. Hadn't they all suffered enough? They'd had their year apart. They'd paid their respective penances. Now was the time for reconstruction and renewal. Not reminiscing.

Natsu peers down at her, obviously thrown by her inability to cough up some kind of answer, when a shadow falls over them and Lucy gasps.

Warm arms lock around her as Natsu pulls her off of her bar stool and into the protective cage of his chest, angling himself so that she is completely shielded. She flinches when she hears the undeniable crash of splintering wood, peeking over Natsu's broad shoulder to that see a table had been hurled at them by a very smug-looking Gajeel, and Natsu had intercepted it with his back.

Gajeel's defiant smirk drops when he sees Lucy poke her head out from around the other Slayer.

"Shit," he mutters. "I had no idea you were over there, Lucy, I was just tryin' to get Salamander—"

"Gajeel!" Natsu shouts, stepping away from Lucy to address the red-eyed mage. Lucy studies the fractured remains of the table with a bit of dazed confusion. Either Gajeel had thrown that table really hard, or Natsu is just really sturdy.

Or, most likely, a combination of both.

She watches as her partner hurls himself back into the fight with a newfound enthusiasm, flames licking up his arms and flaring out from his hands as he aims a punch at Gajeel. The Iron Dragon Slayer manages to duck his opponent's right hook, but is left completely open as Natsu follows through with a solid sideways kick that catches Gajeel in the chest and knocks him solidly to the ground.

"He's certainly riled up." Lucy glances backwards to see Mira has appeared out of seemingly nowhere, smiling calmly and wiping out a tankard like she'd been there all along.

Lucy shrugs. "When isn't he?" she asks, settling herself back at the bar to face the older woman. She feels decidedly uneasy as Mira hums merrily to herself. The barmaid has a funny habit of always knowing more than she ought. Lucy studies Mira, half-listening to the brawl rage on behind her. From the sound of shrieking metal, Erza must have finally decided to requip and truly involve herself.

"You can't keep it a secret forever, you know," Mira tells her lightly, placing the clean tankard on the back shelf and reaching for another. Her tone is sunny and bright and disarmingly cheerful. Not unlike Mira herself. Lucy frowns in suspicion.

"What do you mean?" the stellar spirit mage demands, silently wondering if gossip is somehow part of the Take Over mage's magic. It wouldn't be surprising, honestly.

Mira pauses her cleaning to treat the blonde to a look of dubious amusement.

"Lucy, I know we joke, but no one here is that stupid," she says. A knowing glint enters her eye. "Natsu's not an idiot. Especially not where you're concerned."

A blush dusts Lucy's cheeks, and she tries to mask her rush of embarrassment with a scowl. "I don't know what you're talking about," she huffs, spinning away to cross her arms over her chest. She watches as Gray and Erza cross swords—Gray having conjured his from ice, Erza using her Flame Empress armor.

She hears Mira giggle behind her and her scowl deepens. Her fingers twitch towards her whip as she watches Macao and Wakaba finally enter the fray, wondering if she should give it a whirl too. It'd be an excuse to escape Mirajane's damned knowing smirk at least.

"I overheard Happy and Natsu the other day," Mira goes on, and Lucy doesn't have to turn to know exactly what kind of face Mira's wearing. It's her I'm torn between being your mother and your sister right now face. Part deep maternal instinct, part sisterly affection and teasing. Lucy's on the receiving end of it a lot. "Happy was asking why it had been so long since they saw the fish lady."

Emotions flood through Lucy and she roughly pushes herself away from the bar. Nope. Not a chance. She doesn't have the emotional capacity for that kind of conversation today, thank you very much. Of course Mira knows about Aquarius. Of fucking course. What doesn't the demon barmaid know? Irrational anger surges through her as she smoothly draws her whip, cracking it at her feet and drawing the gaze of more than one of the combatants.

"You're joining in?" Gray demands, staring at her in blatant shock and earning a punch to the face from Erza for his trouble.

"Go get 'em, Lucy!" Wendy cheers from the safety of the upper floor, where Carla had sequestered the small Slayer, muttering about barbaric, senseless violence.

Natsu glances over, looking pleasantly surprised at his partner's involvement before he turns back to his one-on-one fight with Gajeel.

She glances over her shoulder—mistake—to get a quick look at Mira's expression, and is greeted with one of the staunchest looks of pity she's ever seen. Anger roars in her ears as she turns away, plucking a golden key off her belt. She doesn't want to think anymore. She just wants to fight.

"Star Dress!" she shouts, holding the key to her chest. "Taurus!"

When the brilliant light of her magic fades, she has successfully captured the eye of every guild member. She smirks, her modified whip dangling from her hands.

"Don't stop the party just for me," she calls, the power of the Golden Bull flowing through her and filling her with confidence. She gives the weapon a sturdy crack, and the battle heats up once more.

The once-heiress may be covered in scars, but dammit if she doesn't wear them well.

"I don't mind having a few scars as long as I can see 'em. It's the ones you can't see that sting."

More Fairy Tail because I can't be stopped.

This started out as a character study and sort of snowballed into something else entirely. I guess it's technically still a character study? I don't know. I just threw up my Lucy feelings on a page.

Yes the Aquarius thing still bothers me I don't care if it was like four manga arcs ago why is nobody talking about this shit how has no one noticed that Lucy hasn't summoned Aquarius since fucking who knows when I have so many emotions about this

Also slight spoilers on Lucy's powers but like, if you don't know what it is then it's not super important. It's more just a Cool Thing than a Plot Thing.