Chapter 13 – Barn Time and a Train to Destiny
Erza could not sleep that night, though her sleeplessness was definitely not caused by the drafts that came through cracks in the walls, animals walking around like they owned the place, dust that seemed to coat the air like chocolate on an apple, or even the dry and itchy hay that was strewn all over the place as if civilization had forgotten what a hay bale was; no, none of that was the reason since Erza was wearing very special heart kruz pajamas that literally forced anything from bothering her through means of magical intimidation. Anything that tried to touch her skin was intercepted and forced to back off and animals that found themselves wandering too near felt suddenly like a Thanksgiving full of eager butchers was upon them and quickly retreated. Erza found her mind had descended into a trap hole which would not let her escape; if anyone had been awake they might have figured out what it was she was thinking about, if they listened hard enough to hear her whisper to the ceiling, "Jellal…"
Erza sighed and stood up, took a quick look around to make sure no one else was disturbed and quickly noted everyone's various sleeping positions. Lucy had made what appeared to be a fairly comfortable nest of blankets to try and keep as much of a barrier as possible between her and everything in the barn. Stellar Spirit Virgo had made sure that nothing would disturb the princess and had helped her make that bed. Gray had somehow managed to crawl into a rather large haystack; his clothes and underwear were on top of said haystack, which obviously meant that Gray was only not nude to the world thanks to the wonders of hay. Wendy was off to the side and was curled up in a rather pathetic looking ball under a few small blankets which vibrated a bit with her shivering. Natsu, well, apparently while he was sleeping he was having a very vivid dream as currently he had in his clutches a very terrified piglet. Natsu drooled and licked his lips in anticipation but had yet to bite into the pork chop, although no doubt the piglet was dreading would happen quite soon.
Erza smiled very briefly at that image before taking leave of the barn. There was a cold breeze outside but her pajamas threatened the wind which graciously parted for her. After she had gone a fair distance away she sat down on the remains of what had been a house to think. While she was glad the execution had been interrupted, she had, once again, been forced to see Jellal slip away from her. First the ghost of Zeref had taken him, then the Council, and now this latest group had been the culprits.
Jellal had lost his memory and perhaps in time she could have helped him become the person she knew back then. That hope had been dashed, however, with the execution proclamation and was even compounded by his kidnapping. Perhaps the Xin Clan wanted to try and use him for some evil scheme? That was the most likely case as the Tower of Paradise incident had made him quite famous throughout the world and anyone with that amount of planning and power would make a good ally without a doubt. She was unsure if that was the case of course but she needed to save him from falling again, after he had been given a chance to turn his life around, even if it was only for a brief time before the Council proceeded with their plans.
Any option she chose would have some kind of negative consequence; she just hoped she would have the strength to make the right one. Time continued to flow as she looked into herself for the answers that continued to elude her mockingly.
Wendy woke up very cold on the verge of shivering. During the night she had apparently kicked off her blanket and her body had naturally taken the fetal position to try and keep warm. She rubbed the sleepies out of her eyes with one of her tiny fists and searched for her blanket. As she suspected it had not gone far and no doubt the blanket had not deserted her by choice. She considered calling out for Charle but decided against it since she did not want to take the chance of waking anyone up and Charle needed her rest anyway. With a cute sort of half groan, half mewing sound, she forced her limbs away from her body and rescued the prodigal blanket.
She wrapped the blanket around her slender frame and managed to stop a sneeze but the cold had done its work and the small bundle started to tremble.
"It's s-s-so c-cold, if I go back to sleep now I just might wake up with a cold. I wonder if there are any spare blankets around?" Wendy forced herself to move as she started to look around in the dark. It was a fairly bright night, with stars scattered across the heavens and a moon so big, despite the small bite in it, that Wendy found she could actually see fairly well, though mostly that was the barn's fault as it had obviously been designed by an architect who had failed his building material exam.
After examining the premises she could not find any blankets that were not already taken, the majority of the blankets being from the Celestial Spirit Realm that were wrapped around Lucy who had explained that those blankets were under contract so only she could use them. She had apologized for the inconvenience but Wendy could not help but feel at least a little jealous at the cocoon Lucy was wrapped in.
Suddenly there was an unearthly squeal that sounded as if three toad messengers from the Council had started an acapella group and were trying to hit a high note without any training whatsoever; needless to say, it was horrifying.
Wendy turned to the noise, as new chills entered her spine and adrenaline attempted to burst into her system despite the cold, and saw that Natsu had bitten the pig held in his grip. Survival instinct from the dawn of time kicked in as the pig thrust its way out of Natsu's grip and bolted for the door while Natsu fell on his face. Wendy stood still for a few seconds, expecting someone to stir but Gray was probably used to loud noises and Lucy apparently had earplugs, probably having learned from experience that loud noises with Natsu's team could happen anytime, anywhere.
Natsu rolled over onto his back wiped, off his face with his arm, and somehow managed to keep from waking up. Wendy still felt at least a little freaked out from the swine's scream of utmost terror and found herself inching over toward Natsu, as he seemed to give out more of a sense of security than either the obviously undressed Grey or the princess wrapped Lucy. "Ahhh, going back to sleep is going to be hard," Wendy complained. She soon found herself with a few feet of Natsu and then started to realize something: the nearer she got to Natsu, the warmer it got. At first, not sure about her discovery, she got even closer and the warm started to permeate her body, as a fire dragon slayer Natsu was literally a human heater.
Her first thought was to get closer but soon she realized that any closer and she would be literally right next to him and that immediately gave her pause. "If I get any closer I'll be right next to Natsu-san" she whispered to herself not sure what to do. She was close enough now to easily see his face and could not help but blush a little. "I-I'm sure Natsu-san wouldn't do anything to me and probably wouldn't mind if I, well, shared his warmth." Wendy thought to herself, trying to find the courage to take advantage of his heater like qualities but if she did that then, well, they'd probably be touching.
Wendy found herself in a dilemma, her body was already craving the warmth Natsu was giving out but frankly she just found it so embarrassing that she just couldn't seem to make up her mind. Finally, Wendy decided to wrap herself in the blanket and lay down as close as she could without there being any contact between them. It was close enough that most of her body was feeling his excess heat and she was glad to have found a happy medium. "Whew, well this will be fine I think." Wendy turned to face Natsu and could not help but smile a little bit, " Good-night!" Wendy replied happily in her mind and closed her eyes but then something happened which caused her to eyes to snap back open.
"E-eh?" Wendy managed to say as she felt Natsu's arm's grab her and drag her the last few inches over towards him. Instantly Wendy's face was completely flushed from a combination of warmth and self-consciousness. The two dragon slayers found themselves face to face with each other though only Wendy was aware of what was going on.
"N-Natsu-san?" She inquired weakly trying to get some response out of him. Natsu grinned and a little drool trickled down from his mouth. This time the color drained from her cheeks as she remembered what had happened just a few minutes before with the pig. "Wait Natsu-san! I-I'm not food!" Wendy protested and she tried to push herself away but Natsu's grip was too tight. Natsu's face got closer and Wendy shut her eyes in fear, Natsu sniffed her, recognized that the object in his arms was not edible, and promptly flopped back on his back, releasing his grip.
Feeling she was no longer a captive Wendy closed her eyes for a bit and breathed out a sigh of relief. Still, the experience had certainly caused her heart to pound quite wildly, and while she decided to stay because of his warmth, she quickly turned to face away from him and buried herself completely under the blanket.
"I really hope I can calm down so I can go to sleep." Wendy thought to herself, but despite her near heart attack, since she was no longer looking at Natsu her heart calmed down and within a minute or two she thankfully entered the realm of dreams that can never decide on what they want to do with a person.
Erza stood up. She had gone over everything stirring in her mind for quite some time but the only real conclusion she could come up with was to do everything in her power to save Jellal. The Jellal she once knew had been given a chance at returning, due to his memory loss, and if at all possible she wanted to make sure the kind person she knew as a child would be the one left behind even if his memories returned. For that to happen she needed to make sure to get him back, even if they would be forced by the council to give him back up.
Erza made her way back inside, determined, but still a bit jumbled inside with mixed feelings on the matter. It had been brighter outside than in the old barn so her eyes had to adjust back to the darkness. Soon she was able to see most everything again. She turned to look at Natsu who had started to sleep talk, "I'll definitely bring him back Erza," the sound was a bit mumbled but Erza's trained senses easily recognized the words. Natsu was pretty amazing, even in his sleep he was more than ready to trade blows with Jellal again for her; frankly, she did not think she had a better friend in the world than the fiery dragon slayer at this moment in her life.
Erza quietly walked over to Natsu and knelt by his side. Natsu had turned on his back; apparently the pig had escaped his grasp and it appeared to be hiding under the blanket, probably in terror. As she looked down on his face, she could not help but think that it was a bit cute, despite the obvious signs of slobber on one side of his mouth. Right below her was the rather stupid looking face of the man who had saved her and who had allowed her to keep moving forward. If it had not been for Natsu during the Tower of Paradise incident, she would no longer be alive, and that dream she had inside the lachrima would have become a reality. She was definitely indebted to him in more ways than one, her and Jellal.
Erza looked at him with gentle eyes and found herself starting to stroke his spiky pink hair. He was still quite an idiot but she had helped him learn, to read for example, and his conviction, strength, and will were something even she found herself jealous of at times. She had lost her will to live that day but Natsu had never given up on her. She leaned down a bit closer to Natsu and smiled, "Thank you Natsu, for everything. But I can't let you keep doing this; I will be the one to bring him back this time." Erza stopped stroking his hair and leaned back up, she did not want to rely on Natsu's strength anymore, it was time for her to take responsibility for Jellal, but suddenly Natsu stopped her by speaking.
"Wait, I made a promise…with Simone," Natsu's voice trailed off and Erza's eyes went wide in shock. Natsu had promised Simone something before he gave his life to protect them at the Tower of Paradise? She leaned back down, hoping to catch what the promise actually was but his words were too incoherent to hear properly.
"Natsu! What did you promise Simone! Answer me!" Erza was just about to shake him awake when she was frozen solid, as Wendy emerged from under the blanket with Natsu, rubbing her pretty eyes to get out the offending sleepies.
"Erza-san?" She asked, obviously not quite fully cognoscente yet, "What are you doing to Natsu-san?" Her questions were innocent enough but Erza very quickly realized the situation she was in and for some reason a page from a romantic novel she had borrowed from Levy came up in her mind. Erza started to blush furiously but she was able to think the situation through well enough to realize there was a simple way out of any such misunderstanding.
Quickly Erza acted and ex-quipped an armored gauntlet, "Natsu, what do you think you are doing sleeping with Wendy like that!" Natsu's scream filled the barn as Erza pummeled the poor dragon slayer awake.
No one was getting any more sleep that night.
Team Natsu were on the train, traveling back home; however, the aura in the air was not one of victory or joy but a heavy air that could put molasses to shame, it was dripping with resentment. Lucy and Gray looked at the three figures across from them, unsure of whether they should just be disgusted or perhaps fearful of the situation. Erza and Natsu were not on speaking terms with each other, any and all progress that had been made seemed to have already been reversed by the previous night's events. Natsu was bruised and battered with a permanent scowl on his face, Erza looked ticked off and more than willing to pound him some more if she didn't give off the impression she did not even want to look at him.
Poor Wendy was stuck in-between the two volcanoes, clenched fists on her knees, shoulders scrunched toward the center of her body as if trying to make herself as skinny as possible to avoid touching either flame-head of potential destruction. Wendy had her eyes cast down and could only feel that her actions last night had somehow remixed the bad blood between the two and it was all her fault. The only way she could look more pitiable and depressed was if she started crying, something Lucy and Grey were desperate to keep from happening.
"Now come on Erza, we all know that it was all harmless, Wendy already explained she just was seeking warmth, no harm done." Lucy tried to console the powerful female red-head with logic. Erza's eyes turned toward Lucy with an accusing glare.
"And who was it that was hogging most of the blankets in the first place?" Erza seemed to almost growl and Lucy felt like she was being put of a pit of Erza's swords, all freshly sharpened and ready to cut her into a sliced ham.
"Well it's not my fault, Virgo was insistent and-" Lucy felt a decisive chill as if the point of a sword had touched her spine, "yes it's all my fault." Lucy inwardly breathed a sigh of relief as her confession lessened Erza's intimidating glare, though she felt some small amount of defeat at giving in.
"Natsu," Gray began, trying to reason with his rival, "Being beat up by Erza isn't anything to be angry about; after all it usually happens this way anyway. You know that Erza doesn't really think you did anything wrong, she's just well," Gray tried to think of something to say here but nothing really came to mind, "well you know."
"Shut up Gray! She caught me by surprise and it wasn't even a fair fight! Erza should have at least woken me up first before striking!" Natsu argued venomously.
"I should have known that only thing he was angry about was the fight not being fair." Gray thought to himself as he rolled his eyes.
While Erza was perhaps a bit mad at what she saw, in reality she was just hiding behind her knight face to hide her embarrassment at how Wendy had seen her, hovering right above Natsu. Erza turned a bit from her view out the window to look at Wendy's tiny form and could not help but feel pity for her plight. "Sorry Wendy, I'll try to make it up to you later but I just don't want anyone else to know about last night." Even now when she thought about the position she had been in, she was finding it hard to keep her cheeks from flaring up.
"Wendy if you're feeling uncomfortable why don't you come over with us?" Lucy switched tactics, at least hoping to save Wendy from the fix she was in.
"Thanks Lucy-san, but I feel like I need to be here, it is my fault after all." Wendy bit her bottom lip a bit trying to stay courageous while being between a rock and a hard place that could easily pulverize her without too much effort.
"What rubbish," Charle scoffed at Wendy's feet, "those two are just acting like complete children and you have no obligation to help them sort through this ludicrousness. Don't feel like you have to suffer for their sakes." Wendy shook her head, determined to stay there to help any way she could. Charle sighed and gave up, knowing how stubborn the small dragon slayer could be.
Silence prevailed for a while longer but before someone attempted to break the ice again, everyone felt themselves almost get thrown toward the front of the train, as the emergency brakes were applied.
"What in the world is going on?!" Gray shouted as he clung to his seat, the inertia of the train making sure that it took quite a bit of time to come to a full stop. Panic could be felt throughout the train as people were flung to the ground or forced to hold on for dear life because of the emergency stop. As soon as everything ground to a halt, the passengers started to discuss what could be the cause, such as fallen trees, a broken track, and so on. One of the passengers who had his head stuck out the window yelled out something which instantly made all of Team Natsu forget the silent war going on as something was going on as they all had a hunch to what it was.
"There's a giant robot in front of the train and it's forced us to stop!" Erza and Natsu's glaring eyes snapped wide open and they turned to look at each other, both of their eyes filled with the same question and the potential consequences if it were in fact what they thought it could be. Their psyches seemed to connect in just a few moments and their eyes were filled with resolve, with a nod they both started to look out the window toward the front, if seeing the automaton itself was not confirmation enough and familiar voice boomed throughout the train.
"Greetings citizens and mages on this passenger train headed to Magnolia! Let me assure you that I have no intentions of harming any of my future citizens under the soon to be resurrected Xin dynasty but I have business with certain individuals onboard, namely those from the Magic Guild Fairy Tail!" The leader of the Xin clan's voice was magically broadcast to all those in range and even a magical image was projected in the sky above the train, showing the ornately dressed clan leader, his arms held out in front of him widely as if to embrace the entire sky, no doubt having an ego to match such a grand scheme.
"It's that guy who took Jellal!" Natsu gritted his teeth in anger and Erza strengthened her resolve for the fight that would doubtless take place.
"I hope that you all will accept my generous invitation and I am quite certain the people on board will not object to you having to depart from the train early." Xin-Fu's threat was quite obvious and fear had already gripped many of the passengers.
"We can't allow anyone else to be put in danger so let's go!" Erza commanded the team who instantly nodded and they all departed from the train.
"Good, I am glad you accepted, now as a man of my word I will be more than happy to allow the train to continue on its way." Of course since Xin-Fu had on a dark veil covering his entire face it was impossible to tell but from the way he spoke it was not stretch of imagination to image him grinning in triumph. True to his word, their automaton the Riesig moved off of the track and the train was allowed to continue on its journey, leaving the Fairy Tail members alone with the Xin Clan and their huge weapon.
"Be thankful Fairy Tail for you shall be the key to a new chapter in Fiore's history!" Xin laughed wildly as Team Natsu glared up at Xin along with all his lackeys who in turn looked down on them. "Soon the world will once again know the glorious days of the Xin Dynasty!"
Author's Note - Well it was certainly a long time in the coming eh? Glad I finally forced myself to write it and hopefully I will be able to start the next chapter in the near future. The Xin Clan has made their move and what plans do they have for Team Natsu? Well I certainly know what happens, I just have to get to writing it so that you can know what happens. XD. Well I certainly hope you have enjoyed reading this fanfiction so far, only a few chapters to go until the finale. Let's see what deliciousness me and my ever helpful editor can cook up for you in hopefully the near future. Until then, see ya!