I do not own Fairy Tail (because if I did, Lucy and Natsu would probably be together right now).
A/N: ...i love them. -heart-
She had always been pretty.
It wasn't his bias. It was simple, objective fact. In the years he's known her, he'd always been aware but just like with Mirajane and Erza and the rest of his female nakama, it'd never really registered as anything but unprejudiced reality. Some people just happened to look better than others and Lucy had always been one of the lucky ones.
But as Natsu leafed through the latest edition of Sorcerer Magazine, he had to admit that she had outdone herself.
She hadn't told him about this second photo shoot, so when he'd been walking casually through town (Happy was at the vet's for his annual physical) and had spotted the familiar face at a local newsstand, surprise and curiosity had compelled him to look through the publication.
And even he, in his simple nature and general apathy in regards to women, was caught off guard by how his teammate looked in the photos.
The shots weren't taken at the beach as they often were, so Lucy wasn't dressed in one of the usual tight-fitting bikinis he was used to her in. From what he could tell from the cover, she was in the middle of a forest, standing in an almost murky lake. She had on an off-white gown made of ruffles, reminiscent of a Greek goddess's robe, and it all clung to her, wet, as if she had just risen from the depths of the water.
It was dusk, reds and blues and violets playing off in the background, and fireflies floating close, casting an ethereal glow about her form. Her blonde hair wasn't done up as it usually was, but fell in soft waves around her shoulders.
And her face…pale, pale skin with touches of purple brushing over the lids of her eyes; gloss gliding over her pink lips. Really, it was her expression that threw him. Her bright cerulean eyes were unusually dark, and she was smiling so gently she looked like porcelain.
Natsu could hardly keep from staring. Pretty didn't seem potent enough to describe her now. He gulped, surprised at the dryness in his throat. She was—
"Man, that Lucy's one hot piece of ass, hm?"
Quickly, Natsu turned to the owner of the voice to find a man, somewhere in his fifties, glancing lecherously through the same magazine. The older male turned to him, grinning. "I saw how you were lookin' at her. Hoo-boy, what a hot stare."
The boy glared, irrationally irritated, but the stranger didn't seem to notice. "Can't say that I blame ya' though. Mirajane's always been my dream woman, but Lucy…she's something." The guy took a sip from a canteen of what he predicted (confirmed by his heightened sense of smell) was alcohol.
Natsu did his best to ignore him, averting his stare to the glossy pages in his hands.
But the man didn't know when to quit. He elbowed Natsu lightly, as if making a joke with a friend he'd known for years. "Did you check out her profile? Those measurements?"
He wrinkled his nose in disgust, but turned to the page in spite of himself.
Magic? Stellar Spirit Magic
This young, blonde bombshell has got it all. The looks—a pretty face and, did you not see those measurements? The connections—though relatively young in the Magical world, she has already become a prominent member of Fairy Tail, one of the strongest guilds in the planet; And the wealth—she is the heir to the Heartphilia fortune, the largest inheritance this side of Fiore! How is it possible that this triple threat is still single—
The article went on to describe various useless, general details about Lucy like her favorite colors and movies, and ended with a short interview filled with more useless, general, Lucy details.
Natsu was bored to tears (as he often was when such shallowness was involved). He couldn't quite understand how someone could write so much about Lucy and still totally miss the mark--
"See, see! Didn't I tell ya?" The drunkard piped up once more. He stared at the magazine in his hands so intently, you'd think he were ogling the real deal. (A sight that didn't quite sit well with Natsu.) "An 88 cm bust." He held out his free hand in a cupping manner, awe in his voice and liquor on his breath, "They must be like--."
Something surged within him, what he recognized as the beginnings of fury. "Hey," he finally spoke, "Can you shut up?" The alcohol, unfortunately for the old man, had addled his brain so he couldn't tell if Natsu was dead livid or if he was smiling shyly.
He guessed the latter, "Oh, you don't have ta' be embarrassed, son…" Before he could swing an arm around the mage's shoulder, Natsu effectively dodged, seething, "I'm not embarrassed, old man. And hell no, I'm not your son!"
The man laughed him off, the slur in his words becoming that much more evident, "Ssssure you're not. No need to get riled up…" He smiled crookedly, "I was jus' agreeing with yous that Lucy would be a gooooood lay—"
The next second, the drunken man was on the floor, unconscious, a large bruise blossoming upon his left cheek and Natsu was stalking angrily away.
He'd thought immediately of going to Fairy Tail to cool off. The guild had always been a source of comfort to Natsu—this was where he was raised, where he'd had so many experiences, where he'd met his important people. The loud, lively atmosphere always managed to lighten his mood.
As he walked through the entrance and took a seat at one of the many wooden tables, he could already feel himself grin—
"Ah, Natsu, did you see Lucy on the cover of Sorcerer?!"
He tentatively nodded at the wiry mage, attempting to seem impartial.
"She was so cute."
He shrugged, again trying to appear as apathetic as possible.
A few other male mages came bounding up to him and Natsu irately wondered if he had a sign taped to his back that said, 'Come male nakama! Let's talk about how pretty Lucy was in her cover spread!'
These guys were mages of Fairy Tail, Natsu reminded himself. These people were his family. They weren't drunks off the street, making lewd comments about wanting to get in her skirt—
"Whoa, she is such a catch, Natsu. How could I have not noticed before—"
"Check out these measurements! 88-59-88—"
"Your teammate is cute. Can you introduce us—"
--though they were starting to sound irritatingly familiar.
The fire mage grit his teeth, frustration quickly boiling into something more intense.
Being hot headed, Natsu was naturally prone to fits of irritation. But to be feeling so completely annoyed, especially by guild members who were not Gray, was a step up, even for him.
"Hey, Natsu, do you know her house number—"
The rose-haired teenager stood up abruptly and he couldn't help the glower in his eyes, "Why don't you get it yourself?"
The mages were left partly awed and partly shaken in his wake.
Natsu approached the bar, sighing as he sat down and laid his head on the table.
"Hey Mirajane," he offered, voice muffled between his arms.
Mirajane smiled at Natsu's deflated form and semi-irritated expression. She had an innate intuition about these kinds of things.
"You saw Lucy's cover, didn't you, Natsu?"
He nodded slowly, idly wondering how she could always guess so accurately.
She grinned, gently, "Lucy was really pretty, wasn't she?"
He shrugged, lifting his head to rest upon his folded arms. Mirajane had been thoroughly expecting his noncommittal answer, but when the fire mage followed up with a soft, "Yeah", the silver haired woman blinked in surprise.
Mirajane giggled, "Wow, so you admitted it."
Natsu gave her a weird look, immediately going on the defensive, "…So? So, what if I think Lucy's pretty. You're pretty. Erza's pretty. You're all very pretty!"
The elder girl smiled almost sympathetically, "So…you're annoyed because we're all very pretty?"
"No!" The rose-haired boy exclaimed, suddenly slamming his hands down upon the bar, "I'm annoyed 'cause Lucy's very pretty!"
Mirajane simply listened on as the teenager continued to rant, "She's pretty. Ok. So what?! I mean, did you see the article? That was basically all it said! Lucy is a pretty, rich girl who's a member of Fairy Tail!" He huffed, taking in quick, frustrated breaths, "And then suddenly, just because of this stupid cover, all these guys want her and they're asking me if I think she's cute or if I'd introduce them—and it's annoying!"
As Natsu took a second to calm down, the elder girl pointed out in a soft voice, "Natsu, guys have always been looking at Lucy. She didn't suddenly get cute overnight, whether or not you noticed. And you've never been bothered by it before."
Mirajane shot him a considerate look, before leaving him alone to think.
The male settled down upon his arms once more, considering the fact.
It was true. In the beginning, he hardly even regarded Lucy as a girl—he didn't ogle her whenever she wore anything particularly revealing, he didn't bat an eyelash when she'd compliment him or say something remotely flirtatious, he barged into her apartment without invitation, even if she was showering, and he paid no attention to the lewd comments that he always picked up from guys who thought she was out of earshot.
So why was he now reacting so…intensely?
He'd knocked out a man for speaking so lecherously about her, and he'd alienated teammates who'd been asking him so openly about her attractiveness.
And it suddenly clicked. …
Something had shifted. Something in their relationship had to have changed. In the couple of years he'd known her, something must have—
Before he could continue along that train of thought, a distinctly familiar voice cut in, "Oi, Natsu!" Gray took a seat beside him, throwing the dreaded magazine upon the counter, grinning, "I've been hearing good things about your teammate." The ice mage looked to the cover, "I'm almost sad we weren't invited to this one. She's really cute here."
Natsu rolled his eyes, moodily stirring the water Mirajane had placed in front of him, "Whatever. I don't care."
The black haired teen stared at his slumped rival, wondering what could have possibly dampened his spirits. He scoffed, offhandedly, "You're pathetic. Here I am, attempting to congratulate you…"
"What the hell is there to be congratulated about?" Natsu stood, a familiar heat setting his eyes ablaze.
Gray stood to match his eye level, also growing steadily irritated, "What else! Look, I'm saying you're teammate is pretty! What the hell do you have to get so riled up about?"
"Yeah, so she's pretty. Why are you congratulating me?" He seethed; gripping a part of the counter so tightly it burned beneath his hand. Mirajane looked on a little worriedly, for a fight between the two had never escalated so far, so fast.
His opponent glared, "You're lucky, idiot. Even on the most tedious of missions, you, at least, have something nice to look at—"
The first punch flew, courtesy of Natsu.
"Say that again, snowflake!"
The second punch flew, courtesy of Gray.
"Freakin' hothead! You asked for it!"
Several more punches ensued, as did chaos and property damage. And the rivals partook in their first serious brawl of the year.
It was almost instinct to come here next.
He told himself that it was because he knew she had bandages, not because this was unconsciously his back-up haven on the off chance he couldn't turn to the guild.
He threw open the bathroom door and shuffled through the medicine cabinet, one hand clutching the wound in his arm. Gray had used those damned ice stars again, and although they didn't inflict much serious damage, he had a whole lot of bleeding, superficial cuts to show for it.
Natsu growled, settling on her couch, clumsily attempting to wrap piles of gauze around his injuries.
He picked up the brisk sound of footsteps and the light scent of vanilla and lavender approaching the door, but he made no attempt to move.
There was the jingling of keys and the click of the lock coming undone; the door swung open and, "NATSU!"
Lucy was as predictable as ever. He looked to her as casually as possible, "Yo."
At this point, she would've been giving him the reprimand of his life, but then her eyes caught the blood all over his body, all over her couch, all over the carpet.
Her breath caught in her throat, "You're bleeding!" And she rushed over, kneeling before him.
"No, really?" She paid no mind to his cutting sarcasm, instead busying herself with his numerous wounds.
"What happened?" She asked almost shakily. "Was the guild attacked? Was there a huge fight—"
The earnest worry in her eyes, made him feel a little extra warm, "No, nothing like that. Me and Ice-prick fought again."
Her expression quickly reverted into irritation and she smacked him upside the head. "Ow!"
"Idiot! How the heck could you get so hurt, fighting Gray?" She growled, snatching the bandages from him, "And you're not even doing this right!" The angry, blond teen stood up abruptly, going into the bathroom. She came out, disinfectant in hand. "You have to put this on your cuts, or they'll get infected!"
She slowly unwound his loose bandages and began to work, in spite of his protests.
As they settled into companionable silence, Natsu looked at her openly, noting all the features that made the male species so attracted to her. Smooth, white skin. Silky blond hair. Wide blue eyes. An ample figure. So she was pretty.
…That didn't give any of those guys the right to like her.
What did they know, besides the fact she was cuter than the average female?
That her favorite color was blue?
That she used Stellar Spirit magic?
That she liked to read?
He watched as soft hands, wrapped gauze firmly around the cut on his palm.
Did they know how gentle she was whenever she dressed wounds? How she stretched the bandages tight enough to stop the bleeding, but never too tight to feel uncomfortable.
How she looked in battle—determined and breathless and always willing to fight to the end in spite of her shortcomings.
That she was always in tears whenever the protagonist of her latest novel was facing emotional hardship?
Did they know that she talked in her sleep, or that she tossed in bed whenever she had nightmares about her life at the Heartphilia residence?
That when she was at her happiest, she wasn't just pretty, she was—
"So what was the fight about this time?" Lucy sighed, shifting her position so she could better wrap the bandages around his right bicep. "Must've been nasty for you to be bleeding all over my floor like this."
Natsu blinked, surprised to be so suddenly shaken from his thoughts.
He shrugged, "I…don't know."
And she snorted, "Hah, that's the best excuse I've heard from you yet."
When he didn't bother to reply, something clicked in her brain as she remembered, "Hey, did you see the new edition of Sorcerer?"
He feigned disinterest, "What about it?"
She glared lightly at him, "Oh come on! They were talking about it at the guild! You really didn't see it?!"
Natsu shrugged, and she sighed, getting up to shuffle through her magazine rack. She threw it in his lap, grinning, "Go ahead, be amazed. I'm a cover girl now."
He lifted a skeptical brow, "What's so good about that?"
And she exhaled, almost in resignation, "Come on, Natsu! This is good publicity for the guild, isn't it? I mean, Mira-chan has always been such a big draw for new mages, and now, with the both of us doing regular work as cover models, we will make for an even bigger draw, no?"
He scoffed, not harshly; almost amused with her utter self-confidence.
As she finished up his wounds, she patted her hands together, "Done! And really, be careful next time, Natsu! I know you guys fought about something. But seeing as how you obviously aren't going to disclose said something to me, I'm not going to push it." Natsu nodded, slightly impressed by how his teammate had come to know him so well. "All I ask is that you try practicing a little self control, 'kay?"
There was a short moment of quiet before Lucy wistfully sighed, "Man, you should see the attention I'm getting, Natsu."
Something inside him twitched.
She giggled, "Boys notice when I walk by, even when I'm wearing something ugly like sweat pants. And they're extra, extra nice to me nowadays."
The fire mage rolled his eyes and Lucy threw him a look, hand on her hip, "You're awfully moody today. Did something happen? I mean, besides the spat with Gray and massive loss of blood?"
He quietly considered her and how she was so damn perceptive about his feelings.
He shook his head, "Had to deal with some jerks today, no big deal."
The blonde teenager pursed her lips, as she often did, absorbed in her thoughts, "…Well, it'll be a while before you have to pick up Happy. So why don't we go out for a bit then, hm? I'll treat you to some fire food."
And Natsu finally grinned for what seemed like the first time, since he woke up that morning.
Unfortunately for him, the happiness was short-lived.
For, just like Lucy said, men were all over her. Naturally, she had always received some sort of attention from the male population, but it wasn't until now, with her newly appointed 'celebrity' status, that the number of said men escalated. Greatly.
Couldn't they find a guy who wouldn't try to gaze down her shirt when she was talking to them or a man who wouldn't stare at her ass whenever she passed by?
Lucy, on the other hand, was ecstatic, "Look, did you see that? They were totally checking me out!"
Natsu wasn't quite as pleased.
She had used her 'feminine wiles' to get the ice cream and the 'fire cream', so the snack didn't taste as sweet as it usually did.
They were even stopped by a young man who wanted to take a picture with her. He introduced himself as Clemens and there was something about his toothy smile that Natsu immediately didn't trust. He cast a suspicious eye upon the other man who was busying himself adjusting the camera. They posed. When Natsu felt he was pulling her too close, her side pressed up fully against half of the front of his body, he grabbed his arm, "Hey--!"
The boy quickly tugged his limb from the mage's grip, "What the hell, man? You're not her boyfriend!"
As the words registered in his head, he felt himself quickly grow irritated. If not for Lucy wedging herself between them, he was sure he would have started something with the guy. "Hey, Natsu, calm down. He just wants a picture."
The fire-mage grudgingly took the photo and returned the camera (after having melted the shutter button in its place, making it virtually unusable.) Clemens thanked Lucy heartily and she smiled in return. Just as they were about to leave, the teenager stopped them once more, "Oh wait, Lucy. I was wondering…if I could get a hug before you go?"
Natsu glared, disgusted with how innocent he was acting. Lucy looked completely hesitant, "…I don't know about that."
And Clemens clasped his hands together, pleading, "Please! Please Lucy, make this one dream of mine true!"
Natsu stepped in front of her, angry, "Look, she already said no—" A small hand lightly touched his bicep, "No, it's fine Natsu. He's one of my first big fans! And its just one little hug."
Lucy then stepped up to the other teenager, opening her arms a little. Clemens happily accepted her hug, looking over at Natsu, smirking and satisfied with the red fury exploding all over his face.
The fire-mage made a tight fist, fingernails making little indentations in his palm and knuckles whitening, as he watched the other man bury his nose in her hair. How much longer was this 'little hug' going to be for!
His eyes narrowed at Clemens' hand as it lowered to the small of her back. Slowly, centimeters at a time, it drifted south…
Without thinking, he ripped them apart and punched the pervert, knocking him out.
"Natsu!" Lucy looked scandalized, and she quickly dropped to her knees beside the unconscious boy, ever the compassionate heart, "What the hell was that for!"
"He was gonna grope your ass! Did you want that to happen?"
The blonde turned red, looking to the out-cold teen and suddenly feeling he got what he deserved. That of course did not mean she was just going to let Natsu get away with his impulsive behavior and pissy attitude.
She suddenly looked around and realized they were making a scene. Quickly, she rose, grabbed her teammate's wrist and tugged him away until they were out of sight.
"Ok, so thank you for that back there." She mumbled quietly. Then she turned to him, determinedly, "But really, Natsu, your fuse is way shorter than usual. You've been grouchy the entire day, so something's obviously bothering you."
Concerned blue eyes looked up into his as he considered her words.
Lucy herself (she was smart like that) had suggested that he figure out his predicaments using a basic problem solving method that involved the five "w's".
Who: Himself towards every male being that commented about Lucy's appearance in Sorcerer (…and in general, as of late) or tried to hit on her.
What: Ridiculous, irrational fits of anger
When: What seemed like the entire day
Where: At the newsstand, headquarters, Lucy's apartment, here, everywhere
Why? Why the hell did he feel like either eliminating every other male in vicinity or just stealing Lucy away and going somewhere, with no guys to ogle her every ten seconds?
Mirajane had been right. Even without the magazine, Lucy had always easily garnered the attention of the opposite sex but he had never been bothered before.
He'd always known she was pretty.
His brows furrowed. But he knew more, much more, than the rest.
He knew how she liked her coffee in the morning—one cream and two sugars. (And she liked a lot of it, considering how her kitchen always gave him a caffeine buzz the mornings he decided to arrive unannounced).
He knew how funny she was—how she always made him laugh, even when she wasn't trying (and how cute she pouted whenever he did).
He knew that she did like blue, like the article stated, but only specific kinds—bright cerulean, or pastel sky (she was neutral to navy and stuck her tongue out at indigo).
He admitted to not remembering her birthday for the past couple of years, but he knew how to make it up—a mystery novel (her favorite genre).
He knew how significant her friends and being a part of Fairy Tail was—she put him, them, above her own safety and happiness.
…He knew how important she'd become to him. He knew that whenever she cried, his heart would drop into his stomach; whenever she laughed, his insides were always warmer than usual; whenever she was close, he felt like she was never close enough.
No one else knew what he did. No one else felt what he did.
And it infuriated him, knowing how every other guy thought they could have her when they didn't even know her.
All they saw was Lucy, the pretty blonde summoner.
All he saw was Lucy, the loyal, intelligent, warm, tough woman that he'd—
The girl in question gave him a worried look, unnerved by his uncharacteristic silence and pensive stare. When he suddenly turned to her, she almost jumped.
His eyes were unusually dark and his face had suddenly gotten a lot closer. "Natsu…?"
And he kissed her. A chaste brush against the lips that had her heart pounding. As they parted, the blond teenager looked up at him, blushing hard. "N-natsu! What…?"
He grinned boyishly, cheeks warm. "You're pretty…"
When next month's issue of Sorcerer came out, pretty Lucy gracing its covers, there was one major change to her profile that had her fans decline rapidly in number.
Magic? Stellar Spirit Magic