Chapter 10: The Beast


With a tremendous yawn, Natsu sat up. He threw his arms out wide to stretch...and unfortunately caught someone on the side of her face.

"Ouch, watch it, will you?" Lucy frowned, rubbing the site of impact.

"Luce? Oh. Heh, sorry," he said. Hmm. He was in a bed. This was new.

Natsu vaguely remembered blacking out and he was quite thankful to have been rescued. Lucy must have found him and dragged him here, if she was sitting at his bedside. That made sense. And how nice of her, thought Natsu, hungrily eyeing out the kettle and its little tray of snacks, Lucy had even brought him something to ea--

The kettle eyed him back. "Hasn't your mother ever taught you that it was rude to stare?"

"...WHAT the, Luce!" Natsu cried, pulling his feet away from the kettle as far as he could, "Luce, the freaking tea pot just talked to me."

"Natsu, this is Mrs. Potts. Mrs. Potts, this is Natsu."

"Oh. Err, um...hello?" said Natsu. Even after being trapped in Fairy Tale-land for as long they he had, he still found it a bit...unnerving to have conversations with inanimate objects.

Lucy giggled, producing a tea cup from on top of her head (Whoa, she's learned magic? thought Natsu). "And this is Chip!"

"So, Mr. Natsu," said Chip, cautiously hopping onto the sheets, "Do you...feel any different?"

At this, the two females turned to peer apprehensively at him and Natsu felt like he was on an examination table.

"Uh, no," he cautiously replied. He didn't feel any different. Oh god, was he missing something? He did a quick check--arms, legs, head, unmentionables. No, they were all present and accounted for.

Lucy leaned in closer. "Are you...sure?"

"...Yeah." Natsu's eyes narrowed. Something was up. OMG was he wearing makeup?!

"Great! Would you like some tea and biscuits?" cheerfully said Lucy, pouring the hot beverage into Chip. She looked relieved as she pushed an overflowing platter in his direction.

"Wait, wait," said Natsu, accusingly pointing his finger at the conspirators, "What did you do to me?"

"It's what you did to yourself, young man," scoffed Mrs. Potts, "The rose was locked up in that room for a reason!"

Lucy tilted her head. "Natsu, it practically screamed, 'Do Not Even Think About Touching Me.' In CAPITAL Letters."

"...hmph." He grimaced a little, because she had a point. To avoid making conversation, Natsu glanced around at the room. It was spacious, filled with the usual medieval furniture. This room was decked out for a girl, he figured, because of the large mirror which was clearly the centerpiece. An ornate rim of gold rimmed the wide mirror and in it, he could see the reflections of Lucy, the tea cup, kettle lady, some kid with super long sideburns, the bed--

Wait a minute. Natsu wiggled out of the bed, watching in horror as he slowly made his way to the mirror.

"LUCY, what. The. Hell?!" he fumed, holding his hair up for emphasis. He felt like he was Rapunzel...except with monster sideburns instead of locks.

"Oh, Natsu, it's not so bad...," said Lucy, trying to downplay the situation as much as she could. But unfortunately, even the most complimentary of words would definitely not hide the predicament that Natsu was in. The reddish-pink hair on his head was its usual messy self, but his sideburns...oh, his sideburns. It took everything she had to keep herself from either laughing or staring in horror. Natsu's sideburns had grown and grown, past the point where it had touched the floor, all the way until they were long enough for Lucy to neatly coil them on either side of the bedpost.

In the next minute, Lucy, Mrs. Potts, and Chip sat quietly (mouths gaping slightly) as Natsu tried to "remedy" his situation. He tried to cut, bite, burn, gnaw, hack, and sever his long sideburns from his his head...but nothing seemed to work.

"They're so...beastly," Natsu moaned, tearing himself away from the mirror.

Lucy tried to smile, but her lips succeeded only in curling into some sort of contorted grimace.

The dragon-slayer shoved his locks aside to kneel earnestly in front of the kettle. "Please, there must be a way to get these off," he pleaded.

"You, sir, are cursed," said Mrs. Potts. Her irritation was obvious from the short tufts of steam that emerged from her spout.

"Look, I didn't mean to touch the rose, it just kinda--"

"Enough. You'll have to live with it, that's final." And with that, the irate teakettle whisked herself and her offspring from the room.

An hour later, Lucy found herself still in her armchair, calmly braiding Natsu's beastly sideburns so that they were more manageable. It gave her something to do besides panic. There was no way they could continue their "quest" with Natsu in a state like this... She doubted that he could even manage to leave the room without difficulty.

"She didn't have to storm off like that, freakin' unhelpful," complained Natsu, who had resprawled himself over the bed.

"Err, I think the rose was...kinda important to her," said Lucy.

Natsu sat up, grabbing a fistful of hair. He was extremely frustrated. "Yeah, I know but seriously. But look at this!"

Lucy sighed, smoothing out a tangle. "Maybe, once we finish with your, um,, we can cart it all back to Levi and she can help--"

"Um, I think I can help," said a little voice from the table. There, perched on a saucer, was Chip. It was clear from the part-devious, part-ashamed expression on his face that he had snuck away from his mother.

"REALLY?" Natsu sat up, bringing his face extremely close to the side table, "You know what my hair's like this?!" Lucy was sure that the toothy, eager grin on his face would scare the little teacup off, but Chip was brave.

"Yeah. Um, like, my mom said it. The rose is cursed." Chip quickly closed his eyes, expecting an outburst of swearing and frustration, but Natsu just frowned, waiting for the teacup to go on.

"But, but, before, there was this prince. And he pissed off this witch lady, so then he turned into a monster. Super beastly."

Natsu narrowed his eyes. "I bet he wasn't as beastly as this."

"Oh yeah, he was. MORE beastly. He had fangs and everything."

"Fangs? I want fangs--"

"Enough, enough," said Lucy, clamping her hand firmly over Natsu's mouth, "Please, Chip. Continue?"

"So the witch lady, she said that if he couldn't you know, be less of a jerk and learn to love people, he'd be stuck as a beast forever."

Natsu's jaw dropped. "FOREVER?!"

"Uh huh. Forever."

"Lucy," said Natsu, a combination of hurt and disbelief on his face, "Do you think I'm a jerk and that I deserve these beastly sideburns?"

Lucy felt her heart strings twinge a little. Poor guy, he didn't really deserve this, did he? "Aww, of course not," she said.

"Oh but wait! So like, then this lady came along. Super pretty. And nice too! And she got the prince guy to change his jerk ways and then BAM. He was normal again."

The pair sat quietly for a moment, pondering the situation.

"So...I need someone super pretty. And super nice to cure me of my flaws and then BAM. Sideburns gone?" mused Natsu, rubbing his chin.

"Think so. Kinda like a "true love" thing, but not really," said Chip, nodding knowingly, "And I think you gotta kiss her."

"It sounds...simple enough," said Lucy. It seemed much easier then fighting off crazy ax-maiden princesses and jumping out of towers. THANK goodness. She was getting a bit tired of the routine.

"Alright! It's settled." Natsu brushed his hair off the bed, settling himself on the edge of the bed so that he was facing Lucy. "C'mon, Luce. Kiss me."

"..." She sat there, stunned, until her brain finally finished processing his request. "Wait. What?!"

Chip jumped enthusiastically in his saucer. "Miss Lucy! It's perfect. You can have this fixed in no time!"

"Yeah, see, you're pretty," said Natsu (inner Lucy squealed rather excitedly) , "And I guess you're nice enough, so it should work!"

"Um," Lucy took a deep breath. She was truly caught off-guard. Even if their situations had already forced their lips to meet, it felt a bit awkward for her to kiss him on demand. Oh gosh, thought Lucy, my breath? Do I taste like lemons? I ate that entire lemon pastry, DO I TASTE LIKE--

Natsu didn't give her enough time to finish her ramblings, he simply lurched forward, planting his lips firmly on hers. The kiss lasted only for a moment, long enough for Lucy to blink twice. She felt her heart catch in her chest as her body tightened up, and she exhaled slowly as he pulled away.

"...what?" he said, lifting his "beastly locks" incredulously, "Why are they still here?"

Chip frowned. "Aww, I dunno how come it didn't work. I'm sorry, Mr. Natsu."

"Rawr, why won't you just. Come. OFF," growled Natsu, rolling into another fit of trying to bite his sideburns off.

Lucy sighed. It was late in the evening and she knew Mrs. Potts would be looking for her son. She stood up, and deposited the little teacup onto her shoulder. "Good try, Chip, but its about time you've gone to bed."

After dropping Chip off, Lucy didn't return straight to the room. Instead, she found herself at one of the mansion's many balconies. The night air was chilly as she leaned against the railing, staring blankly at the twinkling stars.

Poor Lucy, she couldn't help but feel rather..."blah." It was a lame term, but it was the best she could think of at the moment to best summarize how she felt. First, the roadblock (aka Natsu's predicament). Second, that lackluster kiss! She had honestly felt some chemistry, some spark between them earlier...had it all disappeared?

Before she could continue her spiral down into depression, Lucy felt the entire balcony shake as someone ungraciously shoved his person through the door.

"So fricken cumbersome," swore Natsu, gritting his teeth as he yanked the rest of his hair through.

He watched her smile (a half smile, he noticed), her lips turning upwards only the slightest. "See, now you know what it feels to be the 'stranded one'," she joked.

"Oh yes. Rapunzel!" he shouted to whoever would listen, "I'm sorry I thought you were a stupid princess and couldn't fix your hair problem by yourself!"

The smile on Lucy's face gradually widened so he parked himself along the balcony rail as well. "At least I've got you to help me with this," he said.

Her lips pursed together. "I'm sorry I'm not much help," she said, "I couldn't even help you know." She gestured at the length of his hair, which ironically enough, had turned a deep, flame red near the ends.

The dragon slayer's shoulders shrugged easily, and Lucy was a bit surprised to see a carefree expression on his face. "Eh, no worries," he grinned, "I'm sure it'll work itself out in time."

"Natsu, she said you could be stuck like that forever."

He shrugged again, "Well, guess I'm just gonna have to go home like this, then. Maybe Grey can like...freeze it off. I kinda like 'em." He waggled his eyebrows.

Lucy sighed, turning to stare at the sky again. Maybe it was her connection to the stars, or just the way the breeze felt on her skin, but Lucy knew it was minutes to midnight.

"...or, you know," said Natsu, letting the words roll smoothly off his tongue, "We could try again."

"...again?" Lucy asked, turning to face him. Her breath caught in her chest when she saw that he had leaned forward, towards her. He hadn't moved too close, out of respect perhaps. His lips were parted into a grin, which turned the corner of his mouth up just the slightest, daring Lucy to make a move.

"I figure, it couldn't hurt," he said, and the corners of his mouth turned up even more.

That's all it took for Lucy to decide. Before her courage left her, she closed her eyes, leaning forwards to kiss him. With a slight chuckle of triumph, he met her halfway. Their lips met tentatively at first, easing off quickly once they came together. Slowly, but surely, Lucy felt the tension melt away and kissing Natsu became rather...natural.

Inner Lucy danced her happy dance. What a wonderful night this turned out to be! They were spending the night in a mansion (aka Royal Castle), she had feasted for dinner, and now she was on a balcony, making out with Natsu. Mmm, success. The moment was perfect--except for that stupid popping noise. It was extremely distracting, but Lucy decided to focus on Natsu's lips instead.

Natsu chose this time to slip his arms around her waist, pulling her closer. Lucy's heart fluttered, but seriously. What the heck was up with that racket? In under a minute, the noise had grown from popping into what sounded explosion. 'Meh,' said Lucy's heart, which continued to send 'ignore' signals to her brain, until--BOOM.

Lucy involuntarily squealed, jumping further into Natsu's arms. It was a bit cliche, but she could care less. The first thing that came to her mind was that an airplane was bombing the castle, until she turned wide-eyed to the dramatically changed night sky.

It was a fireworks show, and an elaborate one at that. Why they had pyrotechnics lighting up the stars at midnight, Lucy had no idea, but it was beautiful.

"This is...different," said Natsu, one eyebrow raised. He just as confused as she was. "Hey Luce, do they look sorta like...roses?"

Noting that his hands were still around her waist, Lucy tried very hard not to grin like an idiot. "Hmm, I guess they kinda do."

"Why do'ya think they do this at midnight?"

"I'm not sure," said Lucy, giving a small wave at Chip, who was perched on an adjacent balcony. He was watching the fireworks with the rest of the castle staff. "Maybe its tradition?"
Maybe it was chance, or perhaps design, a stray ember shot directly to their balcony. Natsu's (almost existent) ninja skills allowed him to maneuver himself and Lucy out of its fiery path, but unfortunately, his sideburns couldn't dodge in time. The spark instantly set his hair ablaze, causing Lucy to jump as far as she could to avoid being burnt.

Natsu, being a fire dragonslayer, was not scared, angry, or worried--he was amused. "Lucy, Lucy, haha," he chortled, swatting at the flame which was quickly spreading throughout his mane, "It, it tickles."

The little ember had grown so fast and so large that the castle staff had turned their attention away from the show, focusing now on the ever growing pillar of dark smoke. Lucy's first reaction was to try and smother the fire, but the balcony was empty--there weren't any drapes she could rip and use either. Before the panic set in, Lucy noticed...that Natsu's volumptious sideburns were growing...shorter?

Natsu prided himself on being ticklish in one spot, and one spot only: on his neck, right below his ears. Unfortunately, the fire had now spread to the point where the flames began to lick the skin in that exact spot. He couldn't help but collapse onto the cold stone floor, rolling uncontrollably about.

"Lucy, HELP. Help me!" he cackled, flailing around, "Please, I can't--can't take it anymore!"

"But Natsu, look!" she pointed, her voice ringing with excitement, "Your sideburns! They're disappearing!"

The laughter stopped immediately. "...really?" He quickly felt for the pile of hair that was becoming familiar, and felt no remorse when he couldn't find it. "IT'S GONE?!"

"It's gone!" cheered Lucy, throwing her hands up in the air. Natsu grabbed her hands, dragging her along into his celebratory dance whether she wanted to or not.

The castle staff sat quietly in their own balcony, watching the newly uncursed jump around in manic circles, emanating a strong feeling of relief.

"So, Mrs. Potts," drawled the Candelabra, "You didn't tell them that the 'curse' wears off at midnight?"

"Hmph, of course not," she huffed, "I figured someone's gotta teach that kid a lesson."

Chip giggled.

"Dear me, they honestly think it was the fireworks that cured him," said the Clock.

"Alright fine, perhaps that was a little mean to tell him he'd be cursed forever," admitted Mrs. Potts.

"Eh, it's alright," called the Wardrobe, who was far too large to to fit on the balcony and had to make do with the window, "We can make it up to him."

Chip hopped on the railing. "Really? How would we do that?"

"Mmm, perhaps we can point them towards what they're looking for, "said the Featherduster, alluringly sweeping side-to-side, "You know, the book?"

"Yes, my dear," said the Candelabra, "That's a marrrrvelous idea."

A/N: There is no excuse for my lateness, I apologize. ;_;

But I've been brainstorming on what to do next! Something less...Disney? Or even more cliche-Disney, so I can have some fun with it. I'm debating.