Lucy took a deep breath.
This was it. The big day, the big moment that would forever chain her to this life…
No, not chain, Lucy thought to herself furiously. She inspected the flowery white dress she was donning, and sighed despite herself. She had no choice in the matter; she'd decided on the choice months ago, and would follow through. But a bride?
The thought was painful.
The door creaked open in the empty bedroom as a small woman peeked inside nervously. "Your Highness, are y-you ready? The wedding will start soon-" the maid's eyes widened as she broke off at the sight of Lucy with hot tears spilling down her face. Lucy quickly tried to cover them with trembling hands as the maid stuttered, "M-Milady?"
"Just call me Lucy." The blonde sighed, wiping away the tears with a white glove as she berated herself. This was no time for tears- responsibility came first. She bit down her lip, turning to face away from the woman to hide whatever might betray her inner turmoil. "No need for formalities right now."
"Are you alright?"
"I'm just nervous," Lucy reassured. And it was partially true. It just wasn't for the same reason the maid probably thought. With a nod, the woman left Lucy alone to look in the mirror of her guest suite.
In just mere hours, she would be out of this room and… sharing a bedroom with her… husband instead. Lucy cringed, and tried to focus on rearranging her hair and makeup, ignoring the glaring alabaster of the dress.
"Lucy Heartphilia, ambassador of Magnolia," she murmured to her reflection somberly, then gave an empty laugh. "Doesn't sound as fancy now, does it, Lucy?"
She set down the brush she had been using and sighed. Although she was meant to unite the magical land of Fiore under the upcoming marriage, it didn't mean she had to like it. Her father had insisted that a marriage uniting the war-torn land was beneficial to all, and she had agreed for the people, biting back the bile that had risen in her throat.
It was as if… as if she were giving in to her father, Lucy pressed her lips into a hard line and stepped into the dimly lit hallway, making for the castle's balcony. No matter how hard she tried to reassure herself that she was indeed doing it for benefit of Fiore, she couldn't help but relate it to what her father would be gaining instead. The kingdoms of Hargeon and Magnolia had long been at war with each other, and the marriage would no doubt end the conflict with a note of potential prosperity. The problem was, it wouldn't just be for those who were in desperate need of it…
The thought of her father left a bitter taste in her mouth.
Her fiancé, the Prince of Hargeon, was well-known for a likeable attitude and demeanor. Lucy's mouth twitched in distaste- really, she thought it was just his looks that made him popular amongst the people of his kingdom. Prince Loki was not a bad person, and she had come to like him over time, but she was not willing to marry him, much less love him. Still, she supposed, it could be worse: she could be marrying some old, cantankerous man that she had nary a clue about.
It wasn't so bad. She had a white wedding dress. She had a huge crowd, with the perfect weather, and a handsome man… but god damn it, she wanted to marry for love, not for the money that her single parental figure would be raking in-!
She stepped out into the sunlight with a single clack of her heels, and was immediately greeted with a roar of cheer as she came to a stop on the lavishly decorated balcony, complete with white ribbons and silk. Bypassing the guards and her fiancé, Lucy pointedly ignored her father, instead opting to stare proudly out at the crowd. A pair of arms wove around her waist, and she tensed for a moment before forcing herself to relax.
Trumpets wailed around her as Loki bent down to her face and nuzzled her. "You look beautiful."
"Thank you," the blonde replied stiffly. Loki sighed, seeing that she was going to revert to formality, and let her go, settling for her hand instead. Her father, her filthy, conniving father stepped up to the railing and gave a smile meant to charm.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" His voice boomed out across the cheering crowd. "We are gathered here today to join these two in holy matrimony …"
Lucy tuned out his voice furiously, pursing her lips to prevent her from doing something she would regret- perhaps shout and scream her refusal, perhaps tear off the dress that was too tight in all the wrong places and too damn formal for her liking and run away…
She could remember laughing with her mother as they played outside on sunny days like this; she raised a gloved hand to shield the rays from her eyes. They had giggled and pretended they were fighting legendary monsters and ran out, embarking on wild adventures. In reality, Lucy had lived her entire childhood sheltered an in a mansion where she was rarely let out unless to talk to crowds and be a plain figurehead.
"Nothing more," Lucy sighed quietly, "nothing less."
Loki gave her a questioning look; it was handsome, it was charming- but he was not what Lucy wanted. She only shook her head as they turned to her father.
"…and the land of Fiore shall finally be united!" Her father finished with a victorious note in his voice, and the crowd burst into applause. Lucy scowled. It figured that there wouldn't even be a real wedding. There was just a speech, a white dress, and a party. No vows. No love. Just politics and food- did it even count as a wedding at all?
Loki turned to her with a fond glint in his eye and smiled brilliantly as her father stepped aside. Lucy squeezed her eyes shut in consternation because she knew that this was where they sealed the deal. The man leaned in for a kiss as Lucy stiffened, perhaps prepared to jerk away, or-
An earsplitting roar suddenly pierced the skies.
Her sigh of relief that they hadn't kissed was suppressed when she heard the people below start screaming and dispersing from under the large castle balcony. Loki flinched and look towards the heavens- she followed his line of sight, dread creeping into her like lead. The guards all gave a shout of surprise and dropped their weapons, scrambling away.
A large creature, as magnificent in its glory as it was huge, had stormed the castle with a screech. Its scaled wings bat relentlessly against the walls, and a spout of flames flew out, singeing the gardens and tapestry. There was a chaotic scramble of bodies as the castle's vicinity quickly emptied the more the beast continued its onslaught. Lucy stared in horror and awe- destructive, yet... graceful?
"A dragon!" Her father swore, and Loki immediately moved protectively in front of Lucy, who was reeling from the shock.
"B-but, they never," Lucy stammered out, "they never leave the Outer Forest Boundaries! None of the mystical creatures do!"
Loki was shifted into an aggressive stance, even as Lucy began a panicked babble: "The only ones that even dare to come out and into the cities of Fiore are minor and only come out at night, like the occasional Barghest, or maybe a Gwyllgi or two-!"
"Lucy!" Her father thundered, cutting her rant short. "You two need to get out of there!" His voice was already smaller, weaker; he had ran away to save his sorry behind before checking to make sure if they were alright! The coward!
Perhaps it was the smite of her sense of teenage rebellion, but Lucy scowled and stood her ground beside Loki on the balcony, even as the dragon neared.
"What's the plan?" She hissed desperately to the amber-haired man, whose fists were already glowing with the famed magic passed down in his royal family.
"We drive off the threat to the kingdom," he said in a low alto, and Lucy's panic came back, full-force. The only magic she knew was wielding her magical whip, and not only was her dress hard to maneuver, but she had left her whip in her room!
The dragon gave another shriek and turned to face them; Lucy's resolve hardened. Grabbing a spear that one of the guards had dropped, she stood beside Loki as the dragon gave a harsh turn and came right for them.
"Lucy, I'll distract him- you know what to do!" Loki shouted, and she nodded; they leapt apart to opposite sides of the balcony as the dragon neared. She allowed her dress to rip without a second thought so that she could properly prepare her foot on the edge of the railing, ready to spring at any given second with the spear level in her palms.
"Over here, you foul beast," Loki hissed, his fists already beginning to glow. The dragon let out a burst of flames that Loki dodged- coming up from a roll into a crouch, Loki shouted, "O Regulus-!"
What happened next was so fast that Lucy didn't have time to react properly.
Despite the fact that Loki was fully prepared to fight and distract the dragon, the winged creature was clearly more intelligent than they had thought. The creature turned face and with a quick motion, swept towards Lucy.
Lucy's hands were frozen on her spear. From the corner of her eye, she could see Loki's entire body become rigid.
The last thing the blonde registered was the sensation of weightlessness and the heat of the flames.
Someone was shouting.
Lucy opened her eyes hazily- she blinked once, twice- and forced herself to take in her surroundings. She was back in her room, on a bed with the curtains drawn. There was a doctor, and a couple of maids- Lucy could hear the chaos of confusion outside in the halls, beyond the locked doors of her bedroom.
Her father wasn't even there to assure her wellbeing. Lucy looked down disgustedly and slowly struggled to get up. Her limbs screeched in protest, shooting pain throughout her system. She pointedly ignored this, gritting her teeth so that she would not groan in pain as she sat up. The comfortable sheets were no help to her stiff arms, which she gently massaged in an attempt to relieve herself from the discomfort.
A statuesque woman walked into the room, and the blonde felt a memory dredge up from the corner of her sluggish mind. Lucy recognized her from the long, trailing red hair that flowed behind her as she stepped towards the sheets. "Erza Scarlet," Lucy said in surprise as the name finally registered. "The captain of the Royal Guard back in Magnolia? What are you doing here?"
"I came as soon as I could, Lucy," the woman smiled, a certain amount of affection in her tone; Lucy smiled back at the older girl. Erza had been Lucy's only real friend back in Magnolia, in her life surrounded by poise and protocol. It was a great relief to see her; Lucy felt herself relaxing in her presence. "It was hard to relieve my duties and make the journey here, but I am glad I did. I see you are alright?"
"How long have I been asleep?" Lucy tried to stretch- pain coursed through her body, and she winced, falling back against the pillow as Erza rushed to help.
"Two days," the doctor said gravely, motioning the frantic maids aside as she moved closer to inspect her. "When Loki pushed you aside, you hit your head pretty hard. Some rubble fell on you, but luckily, most of the injuries aren't severe."
Lucy's brown eyes widened. "Loki! The dragon!" It all came back to her as quickly as the event itself had happened. "What happened? Is he alright?"
There was a silence in the room before the doctor gave a sigh. "Lucy, I'm sorry. He pushed you aside at the last moment to protect you, and the dragon made off with him. We don't even know if he's alive."
Lucy stared in disbelief at the old woman, even as she moved to take out some magical tools and began a healing process.
She may not have loved Loki, but he had become her friend nonetheless, and she didn't have many, what with her status. There went months of hard work, the girl thought bitterly, and of arguments with my father, and now Fiore-
-Fiore! Lucy tried to sit up abruptly- the doctor pushed her down, frowning, but Lucy began to struggle. A fire shot through her body when the healer hit a sore spot, and Lucy could barely suppress a moan. Nevertheless, it was her duty to struggle.
"But the unity of Fiore under Magnolia and Hargeon!" Lucy cried out, and she could tell that what was coming next wouldn't be good from the way Erza's eyes tightened. "What's to become of it?"
The scarlet-haired knight gave a sigh as she placed a reassuring hand on Lucy's forehead. "Their Council has accused us of setting the dragon on their Prince to disrupt the wedding, as it is such a rare occurrence to see them out of their natural territory. The unity has been called off; they've given us until you've healed to leave. The hostility is back at full force, Princess. We can't dissuade them."
Lucy felt her entire world shatter to pieces at the words. "Unacceptable!" She burst out, pushing the healer's hands aside, and ignoring the pain to slide off the bed. "There has to be a way! There is no way that I'm going to let the citizens of Fiore suffer any more from this pointless war!"
Erza rushed to help steady Lucy as she faltered in her determined steps; Lucy groaned from the pain that shot through her side, but moved to grab the reassuring handle of her magic whip, earning herself a disapproving glance from Erza. The woman's hands tightened on her aching arms as she realized what Lucy's intentions. Lucy flinched as the grip threatened to open wounds, but kept her mouth shut, if only to prevent Erza from worrying any more.
"What are you doing?" The healer asked irritably. "You'll only hurt yourself more! Do you want Loki's sacrifice to be a waste?" She clacked her teeth impatiently, and motioned for Lucy to sit back down.
"He's not dead," Lucy grit out between clenched teeth. "I know him! He isn't dead- he'll fight to the last second! There's no way Loki will give up. He knows what this marriage meant to the people of Fiore!" A fire rose up in her as she spoke; her pent-up frustration chose this moment to relieve itself, and Lucy allowed it to seethe out from her body as she glared pointedly at the healer.
Her whip, Fleuve d'étoiles, seemed to glow in response to her will, and Lucy gripped it determinedly as she moved to get dressed.
"Your highness," Erza grit out, disapproval seeping from her voice, "I do not believe that what you are doing is a good idea at all."
Lucy's eyes narrowed as she tightened her bandages until the pain dulled to a numbness, and threw on a robe, fitting her whip to hang by her side. She was comforted by its weight. Shrugging off Erza's cold hands, she shot the Knight her most reassuring smile.
"I'm going to find him," she declared, and purposefully strode out of the room.
Natsu sighed at the sight of the newspaper that he held in his hands and threw it to the ground irritably, opting to grab a piece of bread (the only food he had left) and flung himself onto his couch.
The problem, he decided, was that the citizens never wanted to bother making up for their poor treatment of the environment, or to even try understanding the viewpoints of the dragons and other creatures of Fiore. They polluted the land and built their homes where they were unwanted-
He snorted at his own thoughts- what with his occupation, one might think it odd that he was even considering it that way. He tore into his bread with his fangs- what did they know, anyway?
A sharp rap came from the door. He ignored it, ripping another piece of bread and chewing irritably- it was probably just another one of those kids from town, hoping to see his rumored magic, or to see whether or not he was just a cantankerous old man (which he was far from, thank you very much).
But another knock came, and another, and yet another, until he growled and threw aside the loaf. "Alright, alright! I'm coming!" He stomped over to the wooden door and flung it aside. "Okay, who do you think you are to interrupt my meal-"
He halted at the sight of the statuesque blonde standing in his doorway; one that he had been reading about just moments ago. Rather than the flashy dress he might expect the Princess to wear, she was simply wearing a hooded cloak and robe that any common traveler might don. The perfection of her otherwise unblemished face was marred by an infinitesimal scar on her cheek. He stared at her incredulously- she returned the favor, until the silence grew too awkward to handle.
"So," she coughed, breaking the tension. "Are you… perhaps… Natsu Dragneel?"
Natsu scoffed lightly. The Princess was clearly royalty through and through, but he was going to make it clear that she didn't have to be so… formal. "Gee, I'm honored to hear that the high and mighty Princess Lucy knows my name. Let's get this over with," he fingered his ear with a cocky grin. "Wudduya want?"
She was busy staring at his hair. Natsu snorted- yeah, it was pink, get over it- and fixed his glare on her. She shook her head from his mane and met his eyes. "You interrupted my eating," Natsu said pointedly. "You gonna get on with it or what?"
Lucy scowled at his flippant attitude and crossed her arms. "Well, aren't you going to invite me into your humble abode?"
Natsu stepped aside, playing along with a teasing light in his eyes. "Okay, sure. Welcome to my humble abode, yadda yadda, all that jazz. Come in, I guess."
The blonde indignantly grumbled something that she thought he couldn't catch- but he did, after all- and stepped into his home, plopping herself onto the couch. Natsu followed suit, throwing his feet onto his table and crossing his arms behind his head.
"Okay, comfortable, Princess?" He asked, shooting her a cheesy smile. She scowled at his jokingly light use of her title as she toed an article of clothing left on the floor. "Let's get down to business so I can go back to eating," Natsu reclaimed her attention. "Why are you here?"
The Princess regarded him with a sense of disgust and shifted away from him slightly- he laughed at her obvious discomfort from the mess that was his house. Various training equipment was strung over any available space- and there was little to spare at all. What wasn't covered with any mementos was piled with sweaty clothes and food that he had long forgotten about. Lucy took a moment to attempt to find a clean spot on his small couch; when this proved a rather fruitless venture, she gave up and cleared her throat. "Are you the famous Dragonslayer of Hargeon?"
"That's me," Natsu said cheerfully, picking up the previously discarded loaf of bread from the floor and tearing into it- Lucy flinched away as crumbs spewed from his mouth. "You need me for something?"
Lucy straightened her back, and her eyes met his- for one second, a certain determination flashed across her face, an emotion Natsu both knew well and admired in others. Unconsciously, he straightened in response to her will and paid closer attention.
"As you know, my fiancé was taken by a dragon three days ago. The land of Fiore is in the middle of a war, and if this situation isn't fixed, it will descend into chaos." She paused to make sure he was listening; Natsu nodded to show he was paying attention as he finished his bread. "I need you to help me find that dragon so the unity of Fiore can finally be settled. The Council of Hargeon seems to think that the kingdom of Magnolia set the dragon upon their Prince-"
"Idiots," Natsu snorted, interrupting. "People like you can't tame a dragon."
Lucy twitched at the condescending tone, but obviously forced herself to relax- Natsu almost laughed. She was an odd person, but admirable in her determination, nonetheless. Too easy to tease, though. "Those are my thoughts exactly. I need to put a stop to this war and prove our innocence, and for that, I need to find the dragon and end him."
"Woah, woah, hold up," Natsu held up his hands, cocking an eyebrow. "Why do you need to kill the dragon, again?"
The blonde stared at him, exasperated. "You think that a fire-breathing monster is just going to hand me my fiancé back if I ask nicely?"
"Well, why not?" Natsu asked, immediately offended. "How would you know? Have you even tried?"
"Of course not! That dragon is clearly hostile and tried to kill me!" She stood up, abruptly incensed. "That dragon ruined the potential peace Fiore could have had! The citizens are suffering! Taxes are increasing, men are dying in the war-" she cut herself off abruptly, taking a deep breath and sitting back down. Natsu was silent for a moment.
"Alright, alright. I see where you're coming from, I guess." He looked around- it was true that he hadn't had anything to do lately, and it wasn't as if he didn't have reasons for listening to her request- and gave a sigh.
"I can pay you," Lucy said gravely, misinterpreting his pause. "How much do you charge for your expertise? I can-"
"No, no," Natsu waved her off dismissively. "I'll make a special exception this once. You don't have to pay me." No matter that she didn't know why he was doing this- a stranger didn't need to know his intentions, no matter how royal they were.
She abruptly stopped, staring. "Really?" Her voice changed from serious to ecstatic, thoroughly confusing Natsu. In a sudden movement, the blonde tackled the pink-haired Dragonslayer in an embrace.
"Well, yeah," Natsu said gruffly, struggling to prevent her from hearing the embarrassment in his voice. "I mean, why-?" He paused, a grin growing over his face.
"Don't tell me," he said, barely able to contain his chortles, "that you didn't have the money in the first place?"
Lucy let go of him and flushed a lovely red that had him laughing. "W-well, my father doesn't actually know I'm here, because I'm not supposed to be, and, well…"
"I get it, I get it," Natsu sobered up, offering a toothy grin. "I guess you're just like the rest of us, too, aren't ya?" His eyes rested upon her hips, where the outline of a vague shape protruded from under the cloak.
Lucy paused for a moment, and undid her outer robe, letting it fall to the ground, and Natsu could see that not only did the Princess own what seemed to be a magical whip, but she was clearly injured and bandaged as well.
"I won't be dead weight," she promised when his mouth drooped into a hard line at the sight. "I can fight even when I'm injured. I'm not some damsel in distress."
"I'm sure," Natsu said appraisingly. "You wouldn't have the guts to come here and ask me if you didn't."
She smiled at his approval, and he offered a grin in response, now feeling much more relaxed. Despite the tight formality of Court, the Princess of Magnolia didn't seem to be too affected by it. She was a decent person…
"Lucy," Natsu said, going to dig through the mess on the floor for his belongings, "can you describe this dragon for me?" His suspicions were already there, but…
"It was… a rouge kind of pink, almost red," she said after a moment's hesitance. Lucy went on to describe the dragon in detail, missing the way Natsu's eyes narrowed as she went on.
That was it. He had been right about the dragon that had attacked her.
Shouldering his knapsack and throwing on a ragged cloak, Natsu gestured to Lucy, who cut off and look at him, confused.
"You said that your father didn't know you were here, right?" he rolled his eyes at her. "We can leave now. Get a head start and stuff. We might be able to cover a decent distance before nightfall."
"W-what?" Lucy gaped, scrambling to put on her cloak. "Really? I mean, that's great," she amended under his stare, "but you don't need time to prepare? We are searching for a dragon."
Natsu paused, halfway out the doorway, and gave her a reassuring smile, grabbing her wrist. "I'm a Dragonslayer. I know what I'm doing."
He watched as a smile of her own lit up her face and dragged her out the door.
"WHAT?" Charles Heartphilia slammed his fists onto the table, enraged. "WHERE IS SHE?"
"I-I don't know, your Excellency," the guard stammered under his gaze. "I was just told that she left without a word, a-and we haven't seen her since."
"How," Charles grit out, "Long. Has. She. Been. Gone?"
"A-a-a-a few mere hours, S-Sir! Your Ma-Majesty!" The poor man was shaking now.
"That damn ungrateful brat," he snarled. His fingers clenched tightly into his fist as he considered the situation. "You. Send word to the Head Knight that she is to track down the Princess and bring her back. She may bring a companion if she wishes but she is to do it as efficiently and as quickly as possible."
"Y-you mean Erza Scarlet, sir?" The guard whimpered. "I-I'm not sure she'll be too happy about this, your Majesty…"
"You would disobey me?" Heartphilia hissed. The man shook his head frantically and quickly backed off from him, turning to sprint away at the last second. Charles settled into his chair.
That insolent child would learn her place.
Natsu and Lucy were just beyond the outskirts of Hargeon before she turned to him and teased, "You know, I didn't expect the infamous Dragonslayer to have pink hair and a ridiculous scarf."
Natsu flushed indignantly, but nonetheless attempted to retain an air of pride. "There's nothing wrong with pink hair, you weirdo. And this scarf is special!"
They continued to banter playfully, blissfully unaware of the eyes that were watching them in the shadows.
A/N: Sooo… please stop to review? Different series, different style, different plot… I'd love to hear what you guys have to say about this story thus far.
Edit 6/07/11: Beta-read by the lovely songstar13. :)