AN: I know some may find this unoriginal, but I just wanted to share it. I've been reading a lot of sad fics lately and this one had struck me the most.
He took in a deep breath as he arrived in the town of Magnolia, letting the fresh air of his hometown sift through his nose.
The quest of finding his father, Igneel, shouldn't have gone as long as possible. He only meant to be gone for six months or a year at best, not three long gruelling years away from his nakamas and home.
But instead of heading first to the guild, he made a straight beeline for another destination in mind.
He had promised someone that when he's back, she'll be the first to know. After all, the success of actually finding his father after a year and a half and spending time and training with the dragon the remaining three years that he'd been gone, he was very sure that he had worried everyone.
As he walked along the familiar road, he can't help but notice how the atmosphere in the town had dimmed slightly.
The word itself and its concept had honestly scared him. When he'd been with Igneel, the dragon had taught him the skill of survival: adjustment. No matter the condition or environment, he had to learn to adapt. His father had also explained that change is where it is seen that everything lives, they change, and continue the cycle called life.
Not knowing how to adapt is enough to spark fear in his heart.
Is Erza still freakishly scary? Is Gray still his rival? Is Fairy Tail the same chaotic, warm guild he knew? Is Lucy still the same girl he had extremely cared for? Is everyone still his nakama?
Those questions plagued him so greatly.
Igneel also taught him that emotions are part of them. If you try to deny it, you are also denying a part of yourself. So while generally ignorant when it came to this particular topic, he had learned to embrace these feelings.
But the dragon had told him that he wasn't ready to know the emotion to give himself wholly and unconditionally, because even as old as he already is at the age of nineteen – turning twenty in three months – Igneel told him that he doesn't have a complete hold of emotions. Which will result in brash and untimed consequences.
Even all the hints the dragon gave him didn't answer his question of what emotion he's referring to.
He found himself asking why, but knew the answer was very simple. He hadn't experience it himself to know it.
And during these lessons, he can remember asking on why he had to learn so much about them. When Igneel could start training him more in the arts of flames and fire.
"Because emotions are the strength of our fire, whether it'll be good or bad, it is up to your heart to decide if your flame will break through every barrier set in your way."
That had set more questions than answers.
As he trudges along the riverside, he can't help but reminisce on how he used to walk along this path with Lucy. Or when he joked and fought and smiled with Gray, Erza and Happy. Even though Fairy Tail is their home, he could tell that Lucy's home was a second to welcome them with its warmth.
He didn't bother using the door, instead sneaked into her window just like the old times. Only this time, there was no angry girl shrieking and indignantly shouting for him to get out. He frowned, the room was the still same way he had known it three years ago. Well, maybe except the number of papers on the desk or the changed curtains, bedcover and pillow cases.
A sense of foreboding made its way to his stomach.
Or maybe it was paranoia?
He checked the bathroom, the living room, the balcony…but there was no one there.
As he frantically walked around the apartment, he heard some noise in the kitchen. He released the breath he hadn't known he was holding the entire time. He found himself grinning as he entered the kitchen to see Lucy washing the dishes on the sink with her back facing him.
Her hair wasn't in its usual ponytail but he found it quite weird that it stayed the same length as it was before. And weirder to see that she's still dressed the same way he had left exactly three years ago. A spaghetti strapped top with a short black pleated skirt while her feet are adorned in her white fluffy house sleepers.
She turned around with a smile on her face while wiping her hands with a towel.
"Natsu, you're back." She stated simply as her smile widened.
Weird, but she isn't Lucy if weird things are not bound to happen sometime later. And this fact was enough to make his eyes prickle with tears.
Before she could blink, he was already in front of her and hugging her. Tears streaming down his face as he tightly held her against him. Her being still the Lucy he knows had sent him a wave relief down to his toes.
"I'm back. I'm back, Luce." He kept muttering as he buried his face on her hair.
She laughed and hugged him back. The sound making his insides tingle with the familiar warmth he had gotten accustomed to before he left, something he didn't know he would be missing this much.
"I know Natsu, it's good to have you back!" She exclaimed happily as she pushed him away by the shoulders and inspects him with a critical eye.
He had gotten taller and more handsome. He was now dressed in a black long sleeved jacket over a red shirt while the same white scarf is still draped around his neck, black trousers and black steel-toed boots. In short, he had grown.
He sighed as he looked at her beaming face. "Yeah, I really missed you Luce." He found himself saying softly.
Her smiled dimmed a bit but the rosy hue on her cheeks had acted up. Before he had a chance to react, she had slapped him soundly on the cheek. He was so shock that he just stayed standing without looking at her. Then, ever so slowly, she reached for him as she snaked her hands around the back of his neck and pulled him towards her in a not-so-quite hug. Burying his face over her shoulder at the side of her head.
She sniffled as a single tear fell from her eye, "Natsu, you idiot. I really missed you." Lucy whispered, pained.
Before he could apologize though, she had already backed away from him. Giving him a teary smile, she said. "I'm so glad that you're back. I'm sure everyone misses you. You've been gone for so long, Natsu." She told him quietly.
He gave her a tired grin. "Oh Luce, come on! Of course I'll be back, you said you'll wait for me, right?" He asked lightly, his onyx eyes bright with something so intense and pure that it made Lucy cry.
His eyes widened as he frantically flail his arms, not having any idea how to deal with crying girls, especially Lucy. "Hey, hey! Stop crying I didn't mean to be gone for so long, I'm here, aren't I? Luce, please stop crying anymore!" He worriedly ranted as she chuckled at his flustered figure.
"I'm just…so happy." She said, voice thick with emotions.
He scratched the back of his neck, unsure of this development. "Yeah, me too." He replied, looking away with a blush on his cheeks.
"Hm?" He turned to face her and saw Lucy looking at him through sad brown eyes.
Instead of saying anything, she stepped up to him and pressed her lips against his softly in a chaste kiss as she unconsciously closed her eyes. If possible, more tears fell as she just stood there with her lips against his with all the shy hesitation a lone confession from a lonely girl has.
As she stepped away from him, she smiled again, this time, it looked so much pained. As if she couldn't stand being with him in the same room.
"I really love you, Natsu." She confessed quietly, the tears had ceased but the look in her eyes didn't.
"Huh?" He mumbled intelligently, clearly confused but she just shook her head.
A relief laugh escaped from her lips. "I'm still glad you're still the same Natsu I know. Just don't change, alright?" Her voice cracked along the sentence, but the smile softened considerably.
"I think you should visit the guild, they've been waiting for you, you know?" She suggested with a sad smile.
"But what about–" She shook her head at this and her smile brightened.
That had calmed him from her weird behaviour as he ignored the rapid beating of his heart when she had kissed him.
"It's alright." She assured him.
He frowned at this but sighed, "You'll wait, right?" He asked, more like pleaded.
As she smiled, her eyes had fluttered close. "Just go to them already." Her words sounded force but he just nodded slowly as he turned around. Wondering why she was acting so weird. Clearly confused at her confession.
He slowly closed the door in his wake as he left. More confused than he'll ever know as he thought of the Nakamas there to welcome him back in the guild. But as he stepped out of the house, he missed the way Lucy looked at him – grief stricken.
She doubts if he even understood her words, but it was just so like him that it's so hard to be mad at him.
But he didn't think he'll regret something more than leaving.
As he stepped into the guild, he suddenly realized that she hadn't promised anything.
When he entered the Guild, the lively noise had instantly died down. Immediately noticing his arrival.
Did he really worry them that much?
He saw Happy slowly walked towards him as a grin made its way to his face, maybe seeing his other friends will let him forget all the turmoil and confusing emotions Lucy had inflicted upon him. He knew within himself that he had been caught totally off guard.
But the blue exceed growled at him, spreading his wings menacingly as he flew straight at him, tackling him to the ground roughly.
"Happy, what the hell?" He managed to get out, shocked that his old companion attacked him.
The cat acted as if he hadn't heard him, just started to beat his chest with firm yet desperately weak punches on the chest as tears started trickling down his cheeks. Eyes closed as if he couldn't bear to look at the man he used to call his best friend.
"Natsu, you…you meanie! Where have you been? Do you know how long we've been waiting? How long Lucy's been waiting? You…you idiot!" Happy growled angrily, his punches steadily growing stronger with each punctuated sentence. "It's your fault! I hate you! I hate you!" He continued to rant until he was just a sobbing mess on top of a speechless Natsu.
"Happy," Natsu gently nudged the cat, but the cat only sobbed more in agony, raising his large teary and frustrated eyes to look at him as if to ask him, how denser could he get?
Armor clad hands picked up the cat by the waist and hugged him softly to her armor covered chest, softly smoothing the fur on his back as if to soothe him.
He stared at them confusedly as he slowly stood up.
Brown eyes glared at Natsu harshly as they glistened with tears that refused to fall.
"So, you finally decided to come back." Erza snapped at him, he flinched in reply.
The Titania's eyes softened a little at his clueless onyx eyes, but the resentment seemed to be engraved in those chocolate orbs until the days to come.
She looked away as she scowled, "You were gone for three years." Emphasizing her point by clenching her fists. Her shoulders shaking, either from rage or from restrained anguish, he didn't know. He doubts if he even wanted to.
"I'm s-sorry, Erza. I–" He wasn't able to finish as a punch had sent him skidding back at the floor. The fist was cold but it was strong and definitely not holding back. Not a single bit.
Gray hovered above him, grabbing fistfuls of his red shirt as he pulled him to look at him in the eye.
"You bastard! After all these years, you just come back and act as if nothing happens! Is that all you've got to say? 'Sorry'? It doesn't change anything! You…you're such an idiot, Natsu! How c-could you?" Gray's hold had slackened as Juvia appeared by his side, gently pulling him away.
He idly noticed that Gray is wearing all of his clothes and how awfully close he seemed with the blue haired girl.
She sighed sadly as she glanced back at the salmon haired boy. "Gray-sama, you shouldn't be this harsh. Natsu-san doesn't know what you're talking about. I'm sure Lucy-san won't like this." She whispered inaudibly, so quiet that Natsu almost didn't catch it.
His head snapped at the name.
"Lucy? What happened to her? I just came from her apartment, she told me to come here. What happened? She's acting very weird." He flailed his arms as if to emphasize a point, his eyes narrowed slightly as he noticed that everyone was suddenly looking at him oddly.
As if he had gone crazy.
Erza tentatively stepped forward, Happy looking over his blue shoulder to give him a disbelieving stare.
The scarlet haired woman's eyes suddenly seemed concerned and worried. Even Gray is suddenly looking at him doubtfully, and maybe a little worried too. He noticed that Levy had gone outside with Gajeel right after her while others are unusually silent. As if letting him and his team settle this.
Dread began twisting its way to his stomach.
He looked around frantically. "What?" Not liking the concerned stares.
The Ice Mage took a deep shuddering breath and looked away.
"Natsu, that can't be. Lucy's been dead for a year now."
"I really love you, Natsu."
He hadn't understood back then, but as he felt himself empty and lost, he finally knew what Igneel meant. To give yourself wholly and unconditionally is what it meant to love someone. It was already a month when he had arrived back in Magnolia.
Her death still fresh as a newly inflicted wound that would never heal.
Of course, he hadn't believe his friends' words and rushed back to her apartment.
Suddenly, everything wasn't how it was supposed to be. The apartment had been bare, cold, and empty. Not a single trace of her. As if the scene he came in from a while ago was just a vivid dream of reality he deludes himself in.
He had collapsed in front of her doorstep and cried, sobbed, and screamed until his throat hurts.
Erza had reluctantly told him that Lucy had died with a disease said to be incurable. The whole guild didn't give up finding a single treatment to what might have had save her life only to come up with nothing.
But he instantly understood their resentment.
Lucy had held on to life to wait for him, even if simply living is hurting her too much. Even in her death, she had asked for him. If he's back…
He regretted being so unknowledgeable when she confessed her feelings.
He regretted so much when he wasn't able to let her know that he had wanted to reciprocate those feelings back.
In the end, even after all those years, he is still the same idiot.
As he stood in front of her grave with her favorite red roses, he let a single tear escaped. The realization still sinking in. Lucy had waited for him and had seen him one last time. Others didn't believe him, but Erza and Gray did and that is all that matters.
He sunk to his knees as he brushed the dried leaves away from her tombstone.
People can't always wait forever…
When she loved him, he hadn't been ready and didn't understand. When he realized he loved her and had been prepared, it had been too late.
"You're really going away, huh?" Lucy muttered slowly, her voice suddenly lacking its usual cheerful lustre.
Natsu looked at her over his shoulder, packing whatever he felt necessary for his conquest to finally find his father. He gave his partner a toothy and confident grin.
"Aww, come on Luce! It's only for a while, when I find Igneel I'll be sure to tell him all about you and the guild!" He happily declared as he shouldered his backpack.
Lucy smiled at him sadly as she hugged him tightly.
Surprised, he slowly let himself hug back. "Be back soon, right Natsu?"
As if it should be obvious, he laughed boisterously and pulled Lucy away by the shoulders to look at her in the eyes.
"Of course! You'll wait for me, right?"
Tears streamed down her cheeks and she nodded. He frowned as he gently wiped the tears away, "Promise?"
She chuckled, as if it should be obvious.