Copyright: I have in no way shape or form any ability to poses the awesomeness that is Fairy Tail. All hail Hiro Mashima!

Switched

Chapter 7: Promises to Keep

Lucy and Natsu couldn't help but feel more relaxed as they walked through the Magnolia Park. Spring flowers were in bloom and the light wind blew away much of their built up stress. Between them both, strolling in the park like this had never been more appreciated; just the freedom and wide openness of nature put them at ease. As soon as the train arrived from their last mission's destination back to Magnolia, Erza and Gray headed to their respective homes and Happy was more than eager to return to Carla's company at the guild. The train ride had worn Lucy down from the hours of tormented nausea but she still persistently insisted on taking a walk with Natsu. It would be their first chance to get some air and relief from having to put up an act around their teammates.

Lucy's queasy stomach calmed down by the time the two entered the park and she stretched her muscled arms above her head in relief. "Finally, some time to relax and breathe!" At her side Natsu collectively kept pace with her while they walked on the path winding through the park.

"We can finally talk openly about our…situation," Lucy summed up for lack of a better word, "without the others around, I mean. Although, I have to admit that for our first team mission we did a good job at keeping this covered up." Reflecting back on the mission reminded her that it was by some miracle that her teammates didn't suspect anything or even notice their strange behavior. Lucy surveyed that although there was always the possibility that the others did pick up on something, they didn't mention it. As a matter of fact Gray, Erza, and Happy treated them each about the same as always.

Natsu bitterly kicked a stone in his way on the path. "There's not much to talk about, is there? Not unless you have any ideas on how to change us back to normal," he replied wryly. Lucy puffed, annoyed.

"Jeez, that's a nice attitude, Natsu," she replied dryly, not taking her thoughtful eyes off the path ahead of them. "And when you put it that way, then no, I don't. But we still need some sort of plan of action. I hope I'm not just speaking for myself but how long can you put up with this? We're at a roadblock here."

Natsu clenched his fists heatedly. "I'm sick of this! Let's just find that author guy, wail him with the freakin' book and make him fix this! How's that for a plan of action?" he fumed in outrage. He wanted to punch that so-called invisible roadblock into pile of flaming scraps; anything to bypass it. They truly were getting nowhere, and at this rate he'd be stuck in this new body for a long time.

Lucy deadpanned at his brash, overexcited imagination. "Don't tell me you seriously think that would work? Besides it's not like we have the whole book anyway or we wouldn't be stuck at all," she tried to reason. Of course she knew, just as well as him, how frustrating it was to suddenly switched bodies. No one could have expected that to happen, but planning unrealistic tactics wouldn't help them at all either. Even though the road to undoing the spell would likely be tedious, they still needed to focus on what possibilities could aid them.

"I can't just sit around and let that guy run our lives!" Natsu lashed out. "I don't give a crap who the hell he is anyway! And screw finding the stupid pages to some dumb book. That's a waste of time!"

Lucy sighed, wholeheartedly agreeing with him. Spiritlessly she replied, "I understand that, but these are the cards we've been given, Natsu. Locating all of the book's pages, even if there are hundreds of them, may be our only option if we want things to go back to the way they were." She looked up into the clouds in dismay. The odds were against them and there was a sting of hopelessness in her heart.

"And how long would that take? There has to be another way!" Natsu fought despite the lingering hopelessness.

Slowing down in her tracks, Lucy pondered the suggestion analytically. "You mean returning to normal without collecting all of the pages?" Lucy's brain scanned over the possibility. She hadn't considered that they even try to bend the rules of the book... but was there some out to all of this? Natsu eyed her with unwavering determination in his brown orbs, convincing her of so.

"Yeah…maybe there's a loophole we can find in this scheme." Lucy concluded. Given enough determination perhaps they could stretch the possibilities. "It's possible that we're overlooking a key detail and can plan around it. However, even if there is something else we can do, it'll likely depend on magic."

"Why do suppose that?"

"I'm almost certain." Lucy held her chin quizzically. "Think about it. It must've taken quite a bit of magical power to perform the spell that changed us. I'm not positive on this, but assuming that once a spell lies dormant in an object for a while- in our case a book- the spell probably had some strong magic keeping it active all this time. So in return, we'll probably have to use magic to reverse it. I doubt that even finding all of the missing pages would be enough. There's probably some catch at the end."

Natsu smirked devilishly and punched his fist into his hand. "Sounds simple, enough. After all, we're not called Fairy Tail wizards for show. Magic's no problem."

Lucy could practically feel the naivety radiating from him. "Of course, Natsu. But let's not pretend to even know the mechanics of each other's magic, alright? That's assuming we can still use magic, anyway."

Natsu beamed fiercely. "Then don't assume! Let's finally do a test run!"

The mere suggestion made Lucy more nervous than eager. She wasn't sure what would happen if they tried to use magic, which scared her. Would they still have their respective abilities or would those be switched as well? So much was uncertain, but prolonging the trial wouldn't help their situation. After all, magic would probably be very crucial in hopes to regaining their proper bodies.

"Well…I am curious too." She looked around the park. No one seemed to be in sight or close range, in case something went wrong.

Lucy brought her calloused hands up and looked at them thoughtfully before clenching them into tight fists. "Honestly, ever since we switched bodies…I've felt intense power." She lingered thoughtfully, hesitantly. "I didn't mention it to you at first because I wasn't sure what to think of it. It's magic but it feels so…so different; almost like a burning energy of some sort." She locked eyes with her companion who seemed to understand that power all too well. "I don't know if I can even use your magic but I'm certain that this coursing energy…this truly is your dragon slayer magic, Natsu."

Natsu felt his chest rise with pride. Hearing that the fire dragon slayer art Igneel taught him could be experienced firsthand by his best friend would be a once in a lifetime experience. Of course he wouldn't wish this experience on anyone, but he couldn't help but feel immense happiness. Despite all that's went wrong since their switch, he was glad that she could feel such appreciation for this magic. Besides for his white scarf, dragon slayer magic was his most cherished gift from his father.

Natsu pumped his fists excitedly, more than ready to get a move on. "Then let's get started! Throw some iron punches and test those guns!"

The pink haired wizard nodded and closed her eyes in preparation, blocking out any distractions around her. She focused her thoughts solely on the flaming magic rising within her, building it up to its potential. The heat quickly began towering within her body and she almost felt like she was going to explode from the pressure. "I can feel it…this strength…this fire...this magic!" With her feet firmly grounding her she threw herself into a blazing move she had seen in action so many times before. Unwavering, she lunged forward. "Fire Dragon's Iron Fist!"

Shouting loud and clear as she leaned into the blow, fire shot out from her arm and burnt forward with such force that the flames stretched several yards ahead and into the space above an open field. She held the stance letting the magic flow out in the powerful blast until she used her own willpower to put out the shooting flames.

"That's what I'm talkin' about! Bring the heat!" Natsu cheered frantically. Lucy grinned back toothily and grasped her arm over the red Fairy Tail tattoo tenderly.

"This surge is incredible! It's exciting, but perhaps I shouldn't get too carried away," Lucy admitted truthfully. The thrill was fun but she reminded herself that dragon slayer magic shouldn't be used without purpose. She could see how Natsu would easily lose control of this power because it did have a destructive nature to it.

While Lucy was in thought Natsu's hands immediately shot at the clanking keys on his belt, detaching three at random. "Alright! Now I'll give it a shot!"

Before Lucy could protest at his idiotic urgency to open a whopping three gates, a tall glowing flash of light appeared between them. Simultaneously as Natsu began to open the gates, a familiarly suited spirit appeared and launched himself directly at Natsu.

"I open these three gates things!"

"No! Stop!"

Loke shouted in protest but before he could prevent the attempt, three more flashes of golden light appeared close by. The zodiac spirits Cancer, Sagittarius, and Virgo were at momentary standby, uncertain to why they had been summoned. Surveying the environment promptly, they realized that there was no nearby threat or battle underway.

As soon as the spirits materialized Natsu suddenly dropped heavily to the ground. Through all of the chaos, Lucy caught the utterly pained look on his sneering face before he laid out, clutching the grass beneath him. He looked as if he'd taken a harsh blow to the gut and began groaning weakly.

"Natsu!"

"I was expecting a punishment, but are you in need of assistance, Princess?" Virgo inquired to the girl.

"I'm not….a princess." Natsu stubbornly wheezed out as he couldn't find the strength to even move. Loke jumped to his side and carefully helped him sit up. Moments later, Cancer, Sagittarius, and Virgo vanished with just as quick of a sparkling fashion as they came.

Loke squeezed Natsu's shoulders roughly. "Think first before you do something that freaking stupid, Natsu! Are you trying to put Lucy in harm's way?" The lion roared spitefully at the weakened blonde.

"Loke!" Lucy didn't know how to react but as the initial shock subsided, she got a grip of the situation. Although she didn't understand what had happened, she knew something was wrong. In concern, she jumped to her friends' side immediately. One of which looked seriously troubled and the other in a heap on the grass. "What's going on, Loke? You weren't summoned!"

The lion spirit looked sternly up to the worried and confused pink haired wizard. "I came here of my own free will. I could sense from where I was in the spirit world that you were in danger, Lucy." The firmness in his voice alerted her that his unwavering gaze was aimed at her instead of addressing Natsu. Which could only mean…

"But… H-How did you know that Natsu and I….that we-!" Lucy stammered clumsily without thinking.

The spirit let out a heavy sigh, still supporting the trembling blonde in front of him. "Honestly Lucy, I felt something had changed about you through are bond- quite a while ago." Loke's voice wavered as he held back regret and shame. "I'm deeply sorry that the reason I didn't come to check on you sooner was because I couldn't reach you properly. I was stuck in the spirit world."

Lucy knelt to her spirit in alarm. "What do you mean, Loke? How could that be?"

Loke locked eyes with her, in earnest trying to help her understand. "I mean that temporarily it seemed my gate wouldn't open for me to get to where you were at the time." He broke his stare and glanced down to the body of his master. "The trouble with it has to do with this guy right here."

Before Lucy could question anymore about the spirit's sudden appearance or about the trouble he was having with the gate, she had to make one thing clear. "So Loke, you know Natsu and I have…." She paused uncertainly, afraid of even saying it aloud. "…switched bodies?" she finished in a hushed tone.

Loke nodded with all seriousness. "I'm aware of the situation now, yes." He noticed that Lucy let out a tortured sigh, feeling relieved that someone finally knew.

Loke tried to crack a grin in hopes of comforting her. "You two sure do know how to get yourselves into messes," he carried off. Quickly he returned to thinking about the urgency of the situation and how it was affecting his friend and partner. "I'm sure it wasn't you're fault, Lucy," he said sympathetically.

"If anyone's to blame for this mess it's the spell-caster that caused this to happen." Lucy snorted in agreement before finally sitting down on the grass field.

Loke hesitated thoughtfully. "I'm not familiar with specifics of what went down between you, Natsu, and whoever did this…" Loke started carefully before his voice went rigid. "But I can tell you that the situation is much more dangerous that you probably think. Just look at him, Lucy." Loke motioned to the blonde lying down with aching discomfort still written on his face. He was still fighting the spreading pain he felt all over his body.

Lucy pouted with lingering concern at her friend's state but still attempted to reason his condition for herself. "Obviously, the problem is that he opened three zodiac gates at once. No wonder he's tired."

Natsu flinched as his muscles attempted to support him to even sit up but he mustered up enough strength to speak instead producing irritable groans. "Yeah, Loke…" he breathed heavily between words. "I'm just….just not used….used to this sparkly magic….stuff yet," he replied with hints of stubbornness. Lucy looked over him sadly, guessing that he felt a bit insulted about them talking about his weakened state.

"That's not it! Admit it, Natsu, you can't even stand up can you?" Loke retorted fiercely. Alarmed at his outburst, Lucy looked between the two with concern. Loke seemed honestly angry at the situation and she couldn't figure out how any of this added up. But seeing Natsu's defeated demeanor, she knew that Loke was right to be concerned. Natsu looked too pained to even budge.

"Just give me a minute…" Natsu shakily replied. His efforts to muster up any strength were just too painful to continue but he didn't want them to know just how badly it hurt.; he had more pride than that. However, just the action of his chest rising and lungs filling with air was a struggle itself, making his breaths short and desperate.

"You see, he's worn out," Loke concluded dryly as the blonde was still trying to make an effort to prove them wrong. "Partially because he summoned several spirits at one go, which is a foolish move even in emergencies but that's beside the point. The fact of the matter is that Celestial magic is draining Natsu so greatly that even I can feel it." Loke grasped at his chest. It wasn't much but he could still sense the depletion.

Lucy gasped in disbelief. "Do you know why this is happening?"

Loke nodded thoughtfully, building up an explanation. "It's the nature of Celestial magic itself, Lucy, so I'll inform you of what information I've gathered." Loke squeezed Natsu's shoulder to get his attention before moving on. "For your sake Natsu, I'll be plain and explain this as simply as I can. Maybe it'll even distract you from the discomfort for a bit so listen well. OK?"

"I'll try to be brief so I'll start from the beginning. Lucy, a while back we made a contract together. I became your loyal partner and you obtained my gate key from which you could summon me at any time. In emergencies I have the ability to open my own gate since I have developed that strength. However, most gates can only be summoned by the magic of the Celestial wizard." Loke motioned Natsu again. "If you understand that much Natsu, I'll continue and start to cover the issue at hand." The blonde only grunted in response, letting Loke know he was still listening, if barely.

"When a Celestial wizard such as yourself, Lucy, makes a contract with a spirit, the two share a bond. The spirit, or soul rather, of the mage is connected to the Celestial spirit itself. When summoned, the spirit, be it a member of the zodiac or any other key, will appear at the wizard's side for the duration of a limited time."

Loke paused and gave Lucy a chance to interject, anticipating such. "I think even Natsu should be able to understand that much, but what you've told us so far is basic Celestial spirit knowledge, Loke."

"But if you can be reminded of that much then it'll be easier to understand what I'm about to explain." The desperate intensity in Loke's words gave Lucy chills. Unwavering and with all seriousness Loke continued. "Listen up, Natsu, because in all honesty, your life's on the line here too. The spirits contracted with Lucy can only be summoned when you and she are in close distance. If you're far enough apart the gates won't open at all."

Natsu lifted his head groggily to turn and face the spirit. "H-huh?" he managed to breathe out weakly. Through the pain he could only catch bits and pieces of what Loke was saying but still collected the last sum of stuff he said.

"How can that be?" Lucy questioned doubtfully. "I've never had an issue opening the gates unless I was completely drained of magic. So why now?"

Loke reminisced, piecing it all together. "Remember when I told you that I tried to open my gate, Lucy? And I still couldn't get through even of my own free will? That's because you and him weren't in close enough distance. I'm not even precisely sure how close you have to be for it to work."

Natsu furrowed his eyebrows in struggling thoughts, straining to remember details and locations from the last two days. "Yeah… I couldn't find Lucy at all during the festival yesterday so we were apart then. And we stayed in separate rooms at the hotel…," his voice carried off.

"Hold it, you guys," Lucy inquired, "Natsu and I were around each other for hours at a time before the festival. So what about during those intervals? The gate still wouldn't open?" Lucy was trying to add up everything Loke was saying but this much didn't make sense to her.

Loke watched her with understanding for her confusion and his eyes revealed brief dilemma while he tried to choose his words carefully. "At that time, before you departed on your mission, I was extremely worried." Saddened, he could only face Lucy with pained expression. "For a while… I could barely feel a spiritual presence from you, Lucy. I couldn't believe it. It was hard to imagine what could've happen to cause that rift, but I sensed you weren't… gone entirely," Loke phrased it gently. He didn't want to outright say he feared that she was dead since that would be too harsh of a word. Even though it was true and the sudden change startled him into expecting the worst.

"Thankfully, it was not long after that I could finally sense your spirit again, Lucy. Looking back now, I can only assume that around that time both of your spirits were still settling into your opposite bodies. You probably felt very little magic gain at first but not to a complete supply. But anyway, there was still a sort of void preventing me passage and I couldn't reach you because of this. As soon as I felt something was wrong I tried desperately to open my gate to get to you. Only recently did it feel like my gate was accessible again. And so here I am."

Lucy smiled warmly with deep appreciation for her caring spirit. Leave it to Loke to figure this all out, even assuming correct about the bits on their magical power change. She clenched her fist at the thought. "Up until now I felt a steady increase in magical power but you're right, at the beginning it was almost vacant." Lucy collected that much but still needed an explanation for another item Loke mentioned before matter-of-factly. "Why do Natsu and I have to be close for the gates to open?"

"Like I said, normally the summoned spirit would always appear at the side of the mage. However with the changed circumstances…. It appears that the contracts you hold with your spirits, Lucy, are still in your possession. Troubling enough, they have not been given to Natsu but instead are shared between you and him." Loke noticed Lucy was having trouble absorbing the matter at hand despite the fact that it was coming from her most loyal of spirits. "It sounds impossible, I know. But I'm certain."

Loke's eyes followed back to the blonde laying on the ground facing the fields in thought. He knew Natsu's pain had probably subsided a bit more, giving him enough strength to hold a conversation or at least answer a question for him. "Natsu can you use any dragon slayer magic at all now?"

The blonde's eyes lit up at the thought but after heavy consideration he mumbled a bit, sourly. "Don't think so. I can't feel it anymore. My magic's completely changed."

"I expected that much. Lucy, in your case, although Virgo, Sagittarius, and Cancer were summoned only briefly, did you sense their gates with your own magic?"

Lucy was a bit taken back by the question but thought it over, trying to remember anything she sensed during that time. After a moment she hesitantly replied "I-I think I did, yeah. But I thought I was imagining it…" She remembered that during all of the chaos there was that familiar feeling a Celestial gate opening but she assumed that it was merely just the close proximity to so many spirits that she felt. She had to admit though it felt almost too familiar. "It all happened so fast…but the connection was still there."

"It's true then," Loke concluded right away. "You merely felt their presence, their opening gates, perhaps at the very slight cost of some of your own magic. But the summoning itself took most of its toll on Natsu-"

"I don't get this at all!" Natsu bellowed in frustration. All of this spirit talk was beyond him and the only thing he wanted to know was a straight answer to why he felt so crappy all of a sudden. It felt like a huge portion of magic drained from him so quickly, leaving him next to paralyzed.

Loke scratched the back of his head apologetically and broke out a meek smile. "Sorry, Natsu. I'll be blunter although it's not in my nature. I find it's not really a good trait to have around the ladies."

Pushing jokes aside Loke stiffened up once more, eyeing his friends sternly with hints of concern. "However, you both need to know that from here on out you can't be careless. Even being risky can be dangerous so try to avoid situations that call you to do so. Again, the contracts Lucy holds with her spirits have not transferred completely to Natsu unlike how Natsu's dragon slayer magic has stayed with Lucy. After all, a Celestial contract is made between the spirit of the mage and the spirit itself. But even so, the spirit arrives into this world next to the physical body of the mage. Natsu, who now resides in Lucy's body, will have the ability to summon spirits and make them appear with him even though Lucy's the one who made the initial contracts. The issue is that Lucy's own spirit, unfortunately, is no longer in her proper body. You both need to be in each other's presence for a summoning to be successful. Natsu's spirit, which did not form contracts, needs Lucy nearby for any of the gates to appear."

"And most importantly, the strain of magic output will be much greater than normal, as Natsu, who isn't a celestial mage, tries to keep the gates open. If the situation is bad enough, Lucy may suffer if Natsu's magic is completely drained. If it comes down to that, I'm not sure exactly what would happen to either of you."

"You sayin' I'm weak?" Natsu retorted, taking the last of Loke's speech as an insult.

"Of course not, but you are very limited in this state, Natsu…." Loke looked to the side, feeling a bit at a loss for words. "I mean no offense at all, Lucy, so please don't feel insulted. But Natsu's higher tolerance for magic loss will help him the most while he's in your body. He can tolerate greater magical stress at drastic outputs." Loke didn't want to dodge the fact but thought the two should be aware of that detail. "I'm sorry. I'm not saying you can't handle yourself in your own right, Lucy."

In understanding, Lucy brushed off Loke's apologetic look, knowing he wasn't insulting her magical strength but stating a helpful fact. He was being so intuitive and resourceful so how could she take offense to a silly comparison like that. Natsu's one of the strongest mages at Fairy Tail so comparing them both didn't hurt her pride as a mage. And now she felt even more dedicated to keeping Natsu well, knowing that he was struggling so much.

She reviewed the facts and came up with their only sure-fire way to preserve Natsu's magic. "Opening three gates at once like that must've been difficult. Now I know how weakening it is for you… In that case, Natsu, it would be best that you don't use magic-"

"God, damn it!" a voice spat.

Startled, Loke and Lucy's focus veered directly to the outburst. Natsu had rolled to his side with his face hidden behind blonde hair. He grunted in his struggles and forcefully punched the dirt in blind determination before the two could figure out what he was doing. Panting and shaking all over, the mage found the power to rise from the ground. Summing up the strength to completely stand despite most of his magic energy being lost, Natsu gained his balance well enough to keep from tumbling back down again. His legs felt wobbly and he could barely stand straight but he wouldn't allow himself to fall again. Panting and out of breath, he still needed to make one thing clear.

"I promised…I promised her…"

Lucy looked to Natsu in disbelief. Was he mustering up all of that strength with just pure will power?! She knew he was the kind of guy that would push himself to his limits but that could do more harm than good. And thinking about his words she tried to recall any promises he had made to her recently…

"I said…I wouldn't let you get hurt! Whether you're in this body or not."


He smiled genuinely at his friend and helped her stand up, even though now she was towering over him when he stood. He gave a toothy grin. "Well, whether you're in this body or not, I still don't want you to get hurt. When we get our bodies back I want it to be just like before.


Wait… but that couldn't be what he was referring to was it…? In the circumstances she figured he was just lightly saying it but she remembered that soon after they realized they had switched bodies Natsu said something along the lines of a promise. She had merely brushed it off as Natsu being his go-getter self. But as a Celestial mage at heart, she knew that promises weren't just light words. They had meaning…had power…and could give people strength.

Natsu swayed momentarily and despite his efforts to regain his composure, fell to a knee.

"Natsu!" Lucy reached out for him. Instead of her grabbing him, he took hold of her shoulders and glared into her eyes, trying to forget the pain. "Even if I lose every ounce of magic in my body I will stand by that promise. It will be just like before."

For a moment they just sat there on the ground, letting Natsu's words sink in. Loke read the heaviness in the air and didn't want to break Natsu's admirable spirit. However Natsu needed to be reminded of how hard a promise like that would be to keep. "In any case…" he interrupted. "Lucy's right. Natsu, you could probably maintain holding one gate open for 10 minutes at the very most but that's probably the best you could rally up even with your high tolerance of magic loss. So don't be careless."

Wavering only by a fraction Natsu looked in Loke's direction, acknowledging the advice. "Yeah…" He hated having such narrow limits on his power, especially if a situation called for his strength. He promised to take care of Lucy and her body so the fact that he could be weakened so easily was annoying.

"By the way, I'm not sure how this whole 'switched bodies' thing will sit with the Spirit King," Loke began, changing the subject with tact in his voice. "It'll be best that he doesn't find out. In the worst case scenario he could cancel your contracts Lucy. He definitely has the power to do it. However, there's no knowing if he really would go that far to try to correct to balance between spirits and their mages."

Lucy nodded stiffly in understanding. "I see. Do my other spirits know what's happened to us?"

"No, no…" The leader of the zodiac let out a forced chuckle, trying to ease everyone's worry. Despite the fact that he revealed so much bad news, he didn't want to ruin Natsu and Lucy's hopes. They needed to stay positive and try their hardest against the odds. "I'll notify them of the change. And I'll make sure to warn them that if they're summoned, they better be ready to go full out since Natsu's magic won't be enough to hold their gates open very long."

The pink haired wizard smiled warmly, appreciating the comfort from her spirits. "Don't forget to tell them to keep our situation 'hush hush' from the Spirit King. Even though he could've been of help….That's too bad." Lucy finished weakly with dismay.

Loke wanted to ease away her disappointment. "Of course, my dear Lucy. Although we are all spirits, like the King himself, our loyalty truly lies with you."

"Thank you, Loke," she replied, flattered. Loke smiled charmingly before standing up to neatly brush any dirt from his suit. Sympathetically, he gave another look at the two, knee-to-knee on the ground. It was really too bad that his beautiful Lucy was reduced to this new body. He still wanted to playfully tease her and make her smile again but knew it'd be too awkward while she was in Natsu's body. Oh his poor Lucy!

"I wish there was more I could do. And I'm a bit conflicted about suggesting this idea…but perhaps Crux would be able to help you guys fix this mix up," Loke offered soundly.

Natsu groaned at the mere idea of summoning another spirit while he teetered on the edge of sanity. "I'm too tired to try again…," he admitted roughly.

Even though the situation was grim, Lucy was happy to see the two returning to their more heartfelt selves. Keeping all of the dread in the air wouldn't help them in the long run. She wanted to keep their hopes high, and with Loke's suggestion, the situation seemed a bit brighter. "When Natsu regains his strength we'll definitely try contacting Crux. He'd have to know something that could help us," she chimed.

Loke adjusted his collar and faced the beckoning sky, knowing he'd have to go back soon. "In that case, Lucy my wonderful, I will return to the spirit world and find him. I'll ask him to go ahead and start trying to get information so his gate won't be open for too long when you call."

"That'll save us a lot of time and energy," Lucy hummed. Lucy felt so happy to have the lion to assist her and Natsu in such a tough time. "Really, Loke. Thank you for everything."

Loke smirked, appreciating the praise but knowing it wasn't necessary. He didn't need the glory to assist his master simply because he loved her to pieces, just as she cared deeply for her spirits. He would do anything to help Lucy and it was an oath he took to the heart that very day they became partners…

"Before I go…" Loke began although his admiring gaze never left the sky. "I want you both to promise me that you won't open my gate."

Lucy nearly jumped from shock. How could he say something like that after swearing to support them? Her most loyal spirit was refusing to help any further?

"What?! But what if we need you, Loke? What then?" she voiced in disarray.

Loke swiftly faced the duo and smiled genuinely. "I'm not abandoning you, silly. It's just that if you ever need me, simply call to my gate and I will open it myself. There's no need for you to waste any magical power. You can't afford that so don't be reckless, you two."

"Hmm." Lucy nodded firmly in agreement to his point. She promised herself to make sure to preserve Natsu's magical energy as much as possible. There was no telling what would happen to either of them if his magic ran dry, and she didn't want to find out. Magic was like a life supply for wizards. They'd have to keep all of this in mind so that no matter what challenges they faced, they wouldn't use too much of it.

While Lucy was in thought Loke leaned nonchalantly down to Natsu's ear and whispered a hushed phrase. Natsu's eyes widened, taken back by the words but then squinted in understanding. He nodded carefully, confirming that the message had been received. At the last moment Lucy noticed the action but didn't mention it before Loke was already bidding farewell.

"Goodbye for now you two and good luc-"

"Loke!"

The spirit froze just in time to catch Natsu's call. Without missing a beat he slyly faced the blonde, awaiting Natsu's reasoning for stopping him. Lucy noticed immediately that the stares they gave each other were daring, as if beckoning one another with a silent challenge. A lion and a dragon; neither standing down.

"Do what you have to do," Natsu said finally. "I hope you will follow through with that."

Loke couldn't help but chuckle tastefully at the guy's response. It sounded like a remark he would expect from Natsu Dragneel but coming from Lucy's body it was just too comedic. "Of course. You know I will. Take care, guys."

And with that he vanished in a gleam of golden light, leaving the two mages alone in the world again. Lucy felt a slight ting to her heart. No one else knew about their situation anymore, and they'd have to continue putting up an act. She almost wished Loke had stuck around but she knew he needed to get back. He was already doing so much that she would feel uneasy about asking much more from him. And for that, she was grateful.


"If you really meant what you said about protecting Lucy, then I trust you to be aware of your weaknesses. Don't ignore warning signs and especially don't put her in danger by being reckless. Your lives are bound by the same thread now so if you screw up it'll cost you both. And if you make so much as one foolish mistake, if you're the reason she gets hurt, then I'll track you down find a way to force your soul out of her body myself."


A/N: Finally after sooo long I updated. My excuses are a combination of starting college and writer's block. But I finally have some ideas flowing now. If you've read this far, thanks for sticking around! I appreciate it and hope to make the next chapter sooner this time!