They kiss once.

It's only because she's convinced that the world is ending, and because everything hurts, and because Natsu still really thinks they have a chance. The room is filling with light, something more powerful than Aetherion and more unstable than Nirvana; an enemy more sadistic than Gerard and stronger than the now defunct oracion-seis, a nemesis that stands just beyond their reach.

"This is it" Lucy thinks, "this is how I'll die"

"Don't worry" Natsu says, flashing her that brilliant smile. "We'll be fine"

"How do you know?" she asks, voice bordering hysterics and feeling terribly vulnerable without her keys that were claimed earlier.

"I just do" he roars above the din of battle.

She sees the fire in his eyes and almost smiles back. In the corner of her eyes she sees the attack, sees the light mold and form and start on its path to its target.

It takes less than two steps and two seconds to cross the small space between herself and Natsu. With something between desperation and adoration she throws her arms around his neck, leans up, and presses her lips against his her eyes closed tightly. It takes less than three seconds for the attack intended for Natsu to hit her squarely in the back.

--

She sleeps for a long time after that stunt.

Everything still hurts, but not in the usual post-battle bruised way. This hurts in a magic way, something that she can't describe tearing through her veins stretching them as far as they go and blocking the blood from beating through her heart.

"This must be hell" she thinks and then feels angry because surely she has done enough good to warrant a peaceful afterlife.

"Wake up" someone tells her "I told you you'd be fine"

She ignores the voice and dreams of a place that she decides to call Oblivion where she kissed Natsu as the walls around them burned to nothing. They had called it a suicide mission but not taking the job would have meant certain death as well (because there will always be someone who thinks the world is done living, because someone will always want more than they should). When the announcement was made the guild was in an uproar as if Armageddon had already caught up with them. Lucy remembers standing next to Natsu and reading the official announcement, the paper big enough to cover the rest of the job flyers, and reaching out her hand to find Natsu's.

Wordlessly he'd gripped her hand and stared straight ahead as Master went into the details of the mission. When Master had said the name of the city Lucy had almost cried out recognizing the sleepy town where she spent her summers playing (back then that was once of the few places where the good memories had outweighed the bad) but when Master said the name of the enemy she'd bit her tongue because Natsu's hold on her hand turned crushing. One look at his face and she knew he'd be the first to run through the guild doors and south, and she knew that she would be right behind him.

"Please wake up" says the voice "please don't leave me. Not you too"

Lucy opens her eyes

--

For a week Natsu doesn't leave her bedside.

When she opens her eyes he's the first thing she sees and the relief on his face is undeniable. Seconds later Erza and Grey come into view and they smile down at her.

"You're okay" Erza says with a tired smile.

"Good" Grey says as he turns to look at Natsu, "Hey hot-head, Erza and I are gonna go get the doctor. Don't do anything stupid while we're gone"

Even in her groggy state Lucy knows to expect Natsu to rise to the bait in Grey's barb, but he doesn't. Instead he nods from his chair next to her bed "yeah I got it"

He's strangely quiet when their friends disappear through the door. Lucy shifts herself into a seated position and swallows the nausea that rises in protest of the change.

"How long was I out?" she asks. Natsu doesn't meet her eyes and stares at his hands instead, "For a long time"

"But we won right?" she tries to make her voice sound cheerful but it hurts her ribs, "That's what counts!"

Natsu gives her a half smile and reaches into his pocket "Here before I forget, I've been watching out for them while you were… resting."

He drops her keys onto her lap being careful not to touch her. "Loki spent most of the week breaking through the gate to come see you"

She laughs but that proves to be as a bad of an idea as sounding happy was. She starts to cough and wheeze for breath finally catching a lungful of air after a few terrifying seconds. She feels Natsu's warm hands in her hair and on her back and notes how quickly he snatches them back once her coughing fit is over.

"Hey Natsu" she asks "Are you okay?"

He's standing now and staring away from her and mumbles back "What sort of question is that? You're the one that almost…"

He doesn't finish his sentence as Erza and Grey burst back into the room with the doctor who begins his tests and finally produces painkillers.

As the sedatives start to blur her surroundings Lucy's last lucid thought is that Natsu never answered her question.

--

It is three weeks after the whole end-of-the-world ordeal that Lucy is finally declared well enough to go visit the guild again.

The first night Master has Mirajane put together a huge party and as Lucy looks from the Fairy Tail tattoo on her hand and back up to the entire guild that has shown up with the intent of drinking to her bravery she fights back tears.

It is late into the night when she finally notices Natsu sulking in the corner. Annoyed and with two weeks worth of pent up energy ready to rage, she barges up and grabs his arm. Ignoring the catcalls and insinuation of various guild members (Kana, it seems, can think up much dirtier calls on a moment's notice that most of the men) she drags him outside onto the terrace.

"Ow" Natsu complains pulling his arm free "Why'd you do that for?"

"What is your freaking problem?" she all but shouts, "You've been all weird since we got back from that mission"

Even in the darkening sky she can see Natsu's eyes blaze, "How would you know? I had to carry you back from that mission. You didn't wake up for two weeks… You almost DIED."

"Is that what this is about?" she responds "I've almost died before"

"But not for me"

And that's when Lucy realizes that she'd conveniently forgotten just exactly how she ended up bedridden for such a long time.

"Oh" is all she can think to say.

At a loss for words they both turn to stare at the last fading rays of the sun.

"Why did you do it?" Natsu finally asks. Lucy turns and smiles at him "It seemed like a great idea at the time"

She pauses and tries another approach "You shouldn't feel bad. It was my choice. The attack was made specifically for you and I thought I would have a better chance of withstanding it, my sort of magic wasn't exactly the kind it was made to completely destroy. It would have killed you"

"But it almost killed you"

Lucy almost cries finally understand what all the strange silences have been about, it's the same reason she kissed him and blocked the attack: their need to protect one another at all costs, their absolute terror of losing another person they consider important. Instead she spreads out her arms and starts laughing "But I'm okay silly! We're always okay, just like you said."

He smiles and Lucy finally sees the bright grin that the Salamander is known for. She reaches out and grabs his hand and smiles right back.

--

Inside most of the guild has gathered around the windows to stare at the unsuspecting couple.

Master laughs wildly "Okay suckers pay up! A life or death situation and those two still haven't admitted that they love each other!"

Gray and Erza sigh and reach deep into their respective pockets.