Maybe it's because she's always surrounded by young men that are completely oblivious; Lucy finds it hard to believe that her dream of true love will come true.

She's reading one of her favorite novels for the 'gazzilionth' time, as Natsu would say it. The said dragonslayer is mysterious absent from her home; it's pouring bullets outside, and though Lucy doesn't think he'd be the type to be set back by this, she wonders if that's what keeping him from barging into her apartment today.

Her fingers aren't 'soft and silky smooth' like the heroine of the story's are, though they used to be. The spirit mage's fingers have become calloused and maybe even a little worn from the months of magic and fighting and gripping of keys. They've become rough from clenching her skin against asphalt, from pushing herself to fight even past exhaustion, to maybe help, just a little to protect her friends.

Lucy can't identify herself with the heroine of the book at all; she can't deny the displeasure at the thought.

It's not just her hands, Lucy realizes as she turns the page. The girl's character is perfection, everything that she isn't. Lucy isn't sweet like Lisanna, she isn't understanding like Mirajane; she is not bashfully adorable like Bisca, and nor is she headstrong like Erza.

There is nothing special about her. Lucy turns the page.

"Hey," a voice sounds from above her, perhaps a bit breathlessly, and she looks up in response. Natsu is hanging over her, trademark grin on his face, and Lucy can't stop her train of thought from making a comparison.

His voice is deep and gravelly- roguish, maybe even a tad attractive. His hair is ridiculously pink (unlike the male protagonist of her story, whose hair is a sun-laced auburn), but it falls messily around his scalp like it has a mind of its own. Certainly, the dragonslayer is not bad looking.

Lucy blushes as he stares into her face questioningly- he's far from it, actually.

"What's wrong, Lucy? You got a fever or something?"

"I'm fine," Lucy responds a little awkwardly, closing the book and softly shutting it on her lap. Even his concern is like that of a protagonist's. Natsu definitely has the hero complex to match it. "I'm just feeling a bit tired today."

"Jeez. It's the rain, isn't it?" He laughs boisterously as she nods, and he continues, "well, nothing like a little exercise to cheer you up!"

Natsu reaches for the convenient dumbbells he has stashed in her room while stripping off his vest- Lucy can't help but stare foolishly at his dripping wet body- she is a teenage girl, after all. And how did Natsu continue to emit such ridiculous heat all the while walking in pouring rain? And those damned abs, they were ridiculous.

He hands her a dumbbell cheerfully, and Lucy waves it away frantically. "Don't be an idiot, Natsu. There's no way that I can- ah!"

Natsu, in one smooth movement, ducks under her outstretched arms to wrap himself behind her, and his proximity is suddenly so close that Lucy can feel his hot, hot breath against her ear and she cannot suppress the shudder that runs up her spine.

Just like the male lead, she thinks bitterly, leaning back slightly against his toned chest. I'm just not good enough, will never be good enough to fit the female's part.

"I'll help you," he murmurs into her ear, and Lucy wonders if he's really so oblivious that he can't tell what the hell he is doing to her. "C'mon." His large, calloused hands wrap around hers, and he lifts the dumbbell so that they are both grasping it. The metal has warmed to his touch, and Lucy allows the sense of security that his presence brings to overwhelm her as they lift the weight.

"Er, thanks, I g-guess," Lucy mumbles quietly, unsure. Natsu merely cackles and offers her a bright grin- she feels his cheeks pull up against her messy hair, and can imagine the toothy smile he's offering to her as he says,

"Anything to cheer up a friend, right?"

Lucy does not reply- down to his toes, Natsu is the perfect hero. He is kind and fierce, he is cheerful and oblivious, he is the boy that could. (He's not half-bad looking, either.)

And she- she is the girl that didn't. Lucy is the one with a shattered background, who could have, should have, but wouldn't. She is powerless and has to be saved; for heaven's sake, why couldn't she match up to Erza? Even sweet, sweet Lisanna has abilities far more flexible than hers. She drops her keys, and she is doomed.

Lucy cannot suppress the abrupt bitterness that wells up and her fingers loosen- Natsu, who is surprised by the change, barely manages to catch the weights in time before it squashes her feet.

"Hey, what the heck's wrong with you today?" Natsu moans, and Lucy untangles herself from his warmth, and huddles under the cold blankets of her bed instead. The change is a stark contrast, but Lucy doesn't feel quite deserving of that passion that Natsu emits.

"Nothing," Lucy turns away as her eyes roam over the book she's just placed. Maybe she's had something bad to eat, or she's PMSing, or whatever. "Maybe you should leave, Natsu. I'm feeling kind of under the weather today."

"Seeing the weather outside right now," Natsu says dryly, "I don't think you can get much worse than that." His hand encircles over hers as he slides onto the bed. Lucy knows that Natsu isn't the type to do romantic things- rather, this is a sign of his acceptance of their friendship. Nevertheless, Lucy can't resist the warm feeling that washes over her.

"We're friends, aren't we?" The pink-haired boy presses. "Tell me. Was it a guy? I'll beat him up for you," he says as his tone turns dark. Lucy almost laughs.

"No, it wasn't a guy," Lucy starts, and trails off. She can't possibly tell him what was going on- even if she were to tell him, he wouldn't understand. He was Natsu- not that he was either stupid or smart, it was just that he simply was. The kind of guy who lived in the moment, who would not understand her hesitations.

Natsu uncharacteristically decides to wait for her response. He is sitting above the sheets, shifting uncomfortably, but it is Lucy that is cold while his body heat flares off of him like a furnace. Lucy looks up at his taut, strong jaw, and wonders if she, too, can one day be as influential and life-changing as him. She really doubts it.

"Natsu," she says before she can think to stop herself. "Do you believe in happily-ever-afters?"

Lucy expects a typical, 'Of course I do!', or a 'No way, that's just stupid.' Instead, she receives an oddly calculating face from Natsu, who comically reaches up to stroke an imaginary beard before saying quite seriously, "Maybe. Under certain conditions, sure."

'Like what?" Lucy says miserably, pressing her face to the covers. He's going to crack a joke, she thinks. He's going to crush her hopes without even knowing they were there in the first place, the jerk-

"First of all," Natsu says, interrupting her thoughts, "I don't believe in those silly novels you're always reading. Really," he snorts, gesturing to the book she recently placed down, "you've read that for, like, the gazillionth time."

"I know," Lucy cracks a half-hearted smile. Her lips are chapped, and it hurts when they start to bleed. She bites down, hard. "But-"

"I didn't finish," Natsu grins. "I think that happily-ever-afters are possible, even though fairy tales can be pretty damn weird."

A heavy silence permeates the atmosphere as Natsu says in an almost-whisper, "that's why I joined Fairy Tail, you know." The word Igneel is left in the air, hanging, unspoken.

Natsu, Lucy realizes, is suddenly so charismatic that she can't do much besides stare. In the past year or so since she'd joined Fairy Tail, when had he…

when had he gone and grown up?

Lucy is always watching them, watching him move on, growing stronger and moving forward, as their backs become smaller and smaller into the distance, leaving her behind. She can't bear being weak; she pushes her magic to the limit. But it's never enough, she can never match up-

Lucy doesn't realize that she's voiced her thoughts until Natsu gives her such a shocked stare that the blonde is reduced to cowering, embarrassed, under the thin sheets.

"Lucy," he says, and his voice is so utterly and completely dumbfounded. "D'ya really think that?"

"I told you to go away," Lucy growls, her teeth clenching as hot tears spill over and into her mouth. They taste like salt and blood. "I'm not- I'm not in my right mind today."

"You are the strongest girl I know," Natsu says suddenly, and Lucy's throat constricts.

"Don't lie to me, Natsu! I-I can get it if you're comforting a friend, but just- just tell me the truth. I'm weak, I can't match up to Erza, to Mira, to-!"

"No," Natsu says, quite calmly. "Erza is fucking scary strong. Mirajane knows what she's doing. You're not like them at all."

Lucy chokes back a sob.

"But I've never seen anyone as strong as you when you're facing someone who's at least a hundred times stronger than you. I've never seen anyone stand up to their own Father like that. I've never seen anyone handle a whip like you, and I've never seen any Stellar Spirit mage as nice and as stubborn as you."

His tone is so straightforward and blunt and honest that Lucy suddenly feels fallacious. It's an odd feeling, and one that rankles.

"Natsu," Lucy says heavily. "If this is a Fairy Tale, then I'm nothing compared to you, and you know it."

Natsu doesn't reply for such a long time that Lucy has to look up to make sure that's he still breathing, he's so quiet. His eyes are as wide as saucers, and if it weren't for the situation, Lucy would be guffawing. Instead, she can't bring herself to say anything.

"Lucy, is that what this is about?" He shakes his head as if she doesn't get it, and his tone becomes that of what an adult might take on to approach a child. "You're a hopeless idiotic weirdo, Lucy."

"You're one to talk, you hypocrite," Lucy snaps back, but his familiar words warm her anyway. The fire in her slowly burns away as she says softly, "you're so strong and confident. I'm tired of being left behind, Natsu. I can't be- I can't be the hero like you. I'm not even the main character in my own story."

To her surprise, Natsu breaks the tense atmosphere by laughing at her confession. How dare he…?

"Maybe you're not the main character in your story, but you're the main character in my fairy tale," Natsu says.

"But I'm not-" she protests.

"-you're not perfect. I know, and I don't give a fuck. I mean, even though everyone said the dragon and the princess couldn't get along, here we are, the best of friends." Natsu grins cheerfully, and Lucy can't resist the urge to smile back, so she does as he continues on the same breath, "and an imperfect fairy tale is much better than a perfect fairy tale with perfect characters."

He's nearing her, and she's forgetting how to breathe. What the heck happened to the carefree, oblivious Natsu that she knows?

Then she sees it in his eyes, hot and burning like… like love is hot and burning.

So Lucy manages to crack a smile and agree, "I guess so." Natsu's answering smile is so bright that it almost blinds her.

Natsu stays by her side the entire night, and Lucy thinks that she, the imperfect heroine, might, just maybe, have a chance with the typical hero.

For a moment, Lucy thinks that she might be in love.

But Natsu is Natsu, and he's still oblivious no matter how much he's grown up, and she knows he won't be able to face her until he's conquered his shadows; his inner dragons.

He's a dragonslayer, so Lucy thinks he'll be alright. She won't confess or burden him for now.

Instead, Lucy just smiles as Natsu falls asleep, and keeps a silent vigil throughout the night.

And that night, she gets to be the princess who watches over the dragon, and Lucy believes that somehow, it'll be alright.