Heart of a Star
We're all stories in the end.
Just make it a good one, eh?
— Doctor Who
The first thing he notices is a voice.
It's the noticing that startles him – he hasn't paid attention to the world in a long, long time.
The voice is light and sweet, like a babbling brook. It's calling to him, but he's too insulated to hear what it's saying, so he just listens. It's the type of voice that speaks of spun gold hair and summer days, of the scent of sweetgrass and wildflowers.
Funny that he can still remember the sun.
There's a lot of blackness where he is, a lot of time that goes unaccounted for.
He lives at the edges of dreams now, where no one can harm him. He's the darkness at the corner of the eye, the shadow wisp of something roaming in the forest night.
Silent, but stalking.
Nothing is supposed to reach him here, nothing should be able to touch him.
He isn't sure who he is, what he is, but this terrible and infinite emptiness is his and his alone. This is what he deserves. This is where he belongs.
Something cold and slippery presses against him, like breath fogged on glass.
…And with it, sweet oblivion.
The second thing he notices is light.
It's trying to pierce through the vacuum that has always been him. It's an ineffectual effort, too far away and too microscopic to cause damage, but he admires it anyway. He had forgotten that such things as light and colour exist in the world.
He has no tangible form, nothing in him to retract or reach out, but these bright colours sing to him. There's a cheerful gold and a radiant white tinged with blue. They meld together into a sphere that holds a million small flares. It's like looking into the heart of a star.
There are no stars here.
Darkness swirls, tucking him back into its layers.
The third thing he notices is himself.
He had thought this place as his own, vast and endless, but he's beginning to sense he's being contained. That he is flawed in some way, waking when he's supposed to stay asleep. That this brutal landscape has been formed around him, even if he can't feel the edges. This place is not his, then.
He also feels as though something watches him. Not all the time, just when things happen.
Except for the light and the voice, nothing has ever happened, as far he knows. There's a static, timeless nature to his world. He didn't even have things such as thoughts before.
Each of these incidents seems to have stirred something, tiny bits of ideas drift before him like volcanic ash.
What happens to him when he's not here? Does he exist or not?
The darkness plucks at him, tries to guide him back down into nothingness. He almost mistook this blankness for himself—his own inertia and ambiguity, a type of hibernation—but what if it's not?
He hesitates, tries to summon the right word, to remember how to speak at all, and throws it into the pitch-blackness.
Nothing answers him.
The next thing he notices is sound.
It takes him awhile to place it, because it's something fresh and new, but hauntingly familiar.
It's a woman's laugh, soft and filled with things he has no name for, otherworldly and seraphic. It soars like a comet, burns where it touches, makes something ache within him. It's such a small thing, but it's everything.
Let me keep this, he thinks.
He feels something probe back. There's a sense of surprise, then a quiet sort of rage. Before he can process it, the void has consumed him.
The next thing that comes to him is a dream.
He's not sure whose dream it is, but there's something beautiful about it. A woman is there, perfect beyond measure. She has sunrise hair, all beams of gold, and brown eyes like fresh-tilled earth, but what she reminds him of is a shooting star. It's the way she says his name, holding it in her mouth like a wish.
Or a promise.
She seems to sense him watching her, spins towards him, offers her hand.
Dance with me? She asks.
He puts his hands on her curved hips, gliding her closer to him. She comes willingly, wraps her arms around his neck. She's smaller than he is, but not fragile. He senses her strength and her nervousness. It's in the dampness of her palms, the way she bites her bottom lip, the way she forgets the steps and ends up flustered and squishing his toes.
Don't worry, it's just us, he reassures her. Her scent drifts up to him, petrichor mixed with sweet alyssum, like standing in a garden during a summer storm. He wonders if she can feel the racing of his own keening heart.
You're right. Just us. She smiles up at him sweetly. She's like sunlight breaking through cloud cover.
Here it is then, he thinks, I've found the centre of the universe.
The barren shadowland he exists in suddenly turns caustic, bubbling up like a cauldron. There's a chemical stench, a frantic rushing towards him. He has no shape, but suddenly feels heavier, like he's being grabbed, folded in on himself. He's terrified, screaming, struggling to claw his way out of this nebulous form. This isn't him.
This isn't me, this isn't me. I'm Nat–
The blackness roars, turns sticky, suffocating as it shoves him down, down, down.
The world goes silent.
The next thing he knows, he's fighting.
The darkness is trying to claim him, wave after wave crashing down, eroding away whatever parts of himself he might've been discovering.
He lets it take it all. He doesn't even care about whoever or whatever he is. Something in the void growls in approval, picks him apart like carrion.
Then it tries to go after the things that leaked through – the voice, the light, the laugh, the woman.
He feels something glowing inside him for the first time, feels something he recognizes as fire. He will use this. He tries to gather more heat inside himself, preparing his final attack.
That's never going to happen, he tells it.
Oh? A voice whispers. I think it will, dear brother.
The dark is merciless and quick, covering him like a death shroud.
The last thing he sees is a memory.
He's in bed, sheets half-tangled around him. The blonde has mussed hair and sleepy eyes, but she touches him with a cartographer's hands, mapping the lines of his shoulders, his rib cage, then lower down to trace his hip line.
A low laugh escapes him, rumbles up his chest. You want to go for another round already?
Hmm. No. Just getting comfy, she sighs, throwing one leg over his, squirming to get even closer.
He plants a soft kiss at her hairline, feels a smile stretch across his face. She doesn't know how beautiful she is.
You should tell her.
What's that look for? She asks.
You're gorgeous, he says, but what he means is she's his ideal and always has been, he just never knew he stood a chance with her. I didn't expect our first time together to be so amazing.
Really? She lifts her head an inch to study him. I did.
I guess you're just smarter than me, he teases, perfectly content with that.
After a few moments, her breaths even out as she burrows into his chest.
He does one thing, almost imperceptible, and she does one thing back. He squeezes her shoulder slightly and she makes a sound, a tiny sigh...but it feels like they're both saying I love you.
He has her name.
Everything starts breaking apart, light and sound and fire tear into the darkness, ripping huge chunks of it away from him. There's something smoky and cloying trying to stop him, but the flames burn parts of it away.
He hears an outraged scream from far away, then a small plea.
Stay with me, brother.
He doesn't hate the void. He doesn't think of it as a bad place. He just needs to leave now. It's time.
Let me be with Lucy.
There's a strained pause, one in which he tries to show the darkness his unwavering heart.
The void lets him go.
He wakes to the sound of sobbing.
He's lying on a real bed, but it's far too narrow to be the one from his dreamscape. Crisp white sheets are tucked around his torso. Sunlight hits his eyes, has him squinting up at the blonde standing next to him. He knows her now.
"Natsu, you're awake." She's swiping at her face, trying to rid herself of tears that keep streaming down her cheeks, her lips wobbly as she tries to smile at him.
"Lucy," he tries to say, the word getting caught in the dryness of his throat. He coughs, starts again. "Lucy."
Lucy hurries to give him a glass of water. He sits up, his muscles screaming in protest. He drinks, grateful for the cold liquid, finishing it in seconds. She refills it and he gratefully drinks again.
Wasn't he in the void? Lucy had called him Natsu. Is that his name? He has…form. Sight. Sound. Taste. All of it. He can wiggle his toes.
A body is one thing, but all this crowded space around him feels foreign and strange. He's accustomed to emptiness…to staying hidden.
"What happened to me?"
Lucy has done a better job of drying her face now, but there's still a rubbed rawness in her puffy-pink eyes. "Zeref tried to activate your demon side so that you would join him as one of the Etherious."
Lucy looks as though she wants to break down again, her irises are shiny and wet. She lets loose a long exhale and rolls her shoulders back. "When that didn't work, he sealed you away in his book."
The book of E.N.D? Is that where he'd been trapped?
Then he notices Lucy's hair is shorter, just past shoulder length, and she looks as though she's lost weight. "How long was I there?"
"Three years, nine months, twelve days and six hours," Lucy rattles off automatically. She's counted the hours. Does that mean she still cares for him?
Natsu's still is trying to adapt to this new orbit, one where he has a body. He's missed almost four years of his life? He feels divided between worlds, this one of light and Lucy, and the frozen wasteland he had before.
Natsu, he reminds himself, you're Natsu Dragneel.
Lucy takes his hand, presses a fingertip in the divot of skin between his first and second knuckle. There's a gulf between them, but Lucy builds a bridge with her hand in his. All he needs to do is cross.
He's been in the dark for so long. Natsu knows part of him will always be with the void. That in the secret depths of his soul, he knows he is more prone to destruction than to creating things.
There are so many questions, so much he needs to rebuild.
"I tried every day, Natsu. Every day. To reach you."
"I know," Natsu says, and it feels like laying down the first brick. "I heard you."
A/N – First prompt done! I know it's not my usual fare, but after my first attempt (1500 words of pure wrestle mania that I have since abandoned), I had this idea. I was inspired by the Yuri on Ice fic, An Atlas of Stars by thehandsingsweapon. Satyrykal sent me the rec, saying: "I think she just explained god." I would love to hear someone else read it. It reached into my soul, killed me in all the best ways.
I'll write lighter, comedy prompts this week, too. Thanks for reading!