Lucy held Natsu's hand inside her own. She brushed her thumb back and forth across his knuckles, noting how rough and dry they were. His hand was warm, but shaking so hard he might as well have been freezing. He was sitting up and staring straight ahead. His whole body was rigid with fear and Lucy knew she looked the same.
Even without Happy eavesdropping on the conversation outside, Natsu knew that something wasn't right. His sixth sense had only grown sharper since he'd been taken captive.
Lucy had known this all too well. When she entered the room, she'd tried to seem as calm and friendly as possible. She wanted to act as if nothing was up, but the smile she wore felt ridiculously fake, even to her. There was no way it was going to convince Natsu, but what else could she do?
Holding his hand until Porlyusica and Makarov finished talking was the best Lucy could do right now. She squeezed Natsu's hand, trying to reassure him. He was strong, if anything, and he could do this.
Admittedly, Lucy had had everything together until the moment she locked eyes with the Dragonslayer. When she saw him, all the sickening, guilty feelings came rushing back and soured her already-fake smile. She couldn't get the images out of her mind.
Lucy could see nothing but Natsu being beaten and tortured and used. The spirit mage found herself wishing that she'd been blind and deaf when the footage on the first Lacrima was shown. But the information Porlyusica had shared with the small group of Natsu's closest friends was by far the worst.
The word didn't seem real to her. It was nothing but a series of letters with no understanding behind it. Lucy was thankful that her mind had permitted that small grace today.
Was it the same for Natsu? That Wall that Porlyusica and Makarov had spoken of... The day she'd listened in on the elder's conversation seemed years ago, but now it all came rushing back. Porlyusica had said the Wall was some sort of dark magic that kept Natsu from accessing all his memories and coming to terms with what really happened to him.
Suddenly, Lucy understood. Because she was refusing to acknowledge a part of Natsu's torture, she couldn't move on from it. If Natsu never came to terms with his abuse, he would never heal. That was the purpose of the Wall. Anger welled up inside Lucy. It wasn't enough for those people to hurt Natsu's body, they had to destroy him so thoroughly that he'd never come back to them.
Makarov slumped against the door to Natsu's room. He felt defeated and even more exhausted than when he had started this conversation. Porlyusica watched him for a moment, before turning her head to occupy her own thoughts.
Makarov stared at his feet. He knew that the spell Porlyusica had proposed would be risky, but he never anticipated such a low rate of success. It felt deeply wrong to go ahead with such magic, but no other option was presenting itself.
"Is there really no other way?" he looked at the old man, her eyes sympathetic, but firm. "No, there are very few spells I know that deal with the mind. This the only one I haven't tried."
Makarov let out a long, deep sigh. He seemed to shrink even more. "Do we even need to do this? Why can't we just let him recover on his own?"
Porlyusica knew that question was Makarov's last attempt to back out of the procedure. She tried to keep the frustration out of her voice, "Natsu's abusers placed a spell on him – one I'm not familiar with. It's keeping him trapped in a small corner of his mind. If the spell is not lifted…" Porlyusica trailed off, letting Makarov fill in the blanks.
The Master grimaced, his face contorted with the weight of his decision.
"Can't it wait until Levy and Gajeel return with the decoding?"
Porlyusica shook her head, "We have no idea of when they'll return and at the rate Natsu is 'recovering' on his own, he will not be ready to face the Council when they come back for him."
Makarov started at the mention of the Magic Council. It was only yesterday that they had tried to take Natsu, but Makarov had already forgotten about them.
"What could they want?" he hissed.
"I can't be sure, but I can guess. They want every shred of information Natsu might have on the dark guild and they don't care how they get it."
Makarov growled in frustration and rubbed at his face. In the last few weeks, the number of wrinkles in the old man's skin seemed to have doubled and his hair had thinned. He had aged years in a matter of days.
Porlyusica pitied him, but quickly brushed the emotion aside. She would need to focus for what was coming next. "If you have no more concerns I'll be proceeding then."
Makarov nodded and waved his hand, defeated.
Porlyusica steeled herself and entered Natsu's room. Lucy was seated at his bedside, her head tilted downward. Happy was also present, curled up against Natsu's side, trying to provide some kind of comfort. The girl didn't so much as twitch at Porlyusica's entrance, but Natsu's gaze was immediately on the healing mage.
He did not look happy to see her.
Porlyusica took up a chair opposite Lucy, "It's good that you two are here." Something in the old woman's tone roused the spirit mage, who finally looked up.
"What do you mean?"
Porlyusica sighed, "This spell that I am going to try is risky to say the least. It is a much more... aggressive technique."
Lucy immediately knew that there was something Porlyusica wasn't saying.
There was a knot in her stomach as Lucy's mind jumped to all kinds of conclusions. Whatever it was that Porlyusica was hinting at, Lucy could assume that Natsu would be in pain somehow.
The thought made her want to be sick.
Hadn't he suffered enough?
It just wasn't fair!
Why should anyone - especially someone as strong and kind and good - have to be tortured like this?
The frustration overwhelmed her then and hot, angry tears slipped down Lucy's cheeks. They only served to anger her more, she was sick of crying. She was angry not sad!
Natsu made a concerned sound and squeezed the hands that held his. Lucy withdrew one of her hands to wipe her face. Somehow, the Dragonslayer's small gesture had helped calm her nerves. Lucy took a breath and attempted to give Natsu a reassuring smile; she hoped it was convincing.
Porlyusica watched the exchange silently. Then she cleared her throat, "Natsu." The rose-haired boy looked at her, face blank. "In order for this spell to work, I'll need your full cooperation. The ones that hurt you cast a spell that has stopped your mind from healing."
Natsu stared at her, growing tense and nervous at the mention of his abusers, even if it wasn't in name. A part of him wanted to back out, to escape right then and there, but the greater part of him knew that Porlyusica was right. He had felt that spell for himself; it was the great black Wall that cut him off any time he tried to think too hard or access his own memories. It was the source of his frustration. It cut him off from remembering so many things that it left him stranded, lost in his own mind.
It was a horrible feeling, to not have control of his own body.
He might have escaped that prison, but they still held on to him. It was maddening and Natsu trembled at the sudden urge to tear his hair out, to claw his skin, something - anything - just to get the feeling of their hands off him. He grabbed a fistful of his rosy hair and began to pull. Lucy shouted something and grabbed at him. He wrenched away from her, frightened by the sudden movement.
Natsu immediately felt ashamed of himself. Lucy was a friend, she'd never hurt him.
Never never never.
"Sorry, Lucy," he mumbled. Natsu let his hand fall from his hair. He was exhausted already; he wished they could try this spell some other time. But Porlyusica was having none of that, she instructed Natsu to lie down and relax. Lucy and Happy were on either side of him, each holding a hand for comfort.
Porlyusica made a complex hand sign and began to mutter in an old language. The Dragonslayer tried to ignore the old woman and focus on his breathing. He tried to match Lucy's, but a nauseous feeling still formed in his stomach. He felt so exposed, lying down like this. Natsu tried not to dwell on it, but the thoughts made his heart race. He tried to reason with himself; he was among friends here, they wouldn't hurt him.
"I'm safe. I'm safe. They're just trying to help."
When Porlyusica placed glowing fingertips against his head, he flinched. Pressure built up in his head, worming its way deep inside. Natsu struggled against it as his vision began to fade.
It was Porlyusica's voice.
"The pressure you feel is just my consciousness entering yours! Don't fight it, I'm trying to help! Just relax."
Natsu squeezed Lucy's hand and Happy's paws, the only things he felt grounding him; he focused on those sensations, breathing deeply. Soon he grew used to Porlyusica's mental presence and his heart rate slowed.
"Good. We're going deeper now, stay calm."
The pressure nearly disappeared as Porlyusica delved farther into his mind, dragging his own consciousness with her. He went willingly, observing the inky black clouds that served as his memories. He knew what was coming, and he began to dread it.
As if in response to his fears, the Wall appeared before them.
"This is where I will need your help, Natsu. I need you to examine this Wall with all of your consciousness; you need to find a weak point. I will then strike that point with my spell. Can you do that?"
Natsu didn't really know how to start searching, he was at a loss. Porlyusica must have felt his confusion, for he could hear her thoughts again.
"Try to imagine stretching your consciousness over the entire Wall - it's not as large as it looks. Feel for any place it is cracked or thin. You will know when you find it."
Natsu did as Porlyusica asked to the best of his ability. He tried to stretch himself, the effort nearly exhausting him. When he touched the Wall, an overwhelming sense of hate and darkness rose to meet him. Natsu immediately wrenched away, frightened by how familiar that sensation had been.
"You can't give up, Natsu!"
The Dragonslayer heard the words, but hesitated. He was scared, but he knew he had try again. He searched for the sensation of his friends, drawing strength from their warm hands in his.
Natsu felt the Wall again.
The evil aura was like a nest of cold, slick worms writhing beneath him. He nearly balked at the horrid feeling, but a sudden give in the Wall pulled him in. It felt like a shallow dip in the black mass. The dark aura was definitely weaker here!
Porlyusica felt his sudden excitement and began to draw and focus her magic energy. Natsu drew his consciousness back from the Wall, exhausted and relieved. A harsh spear of light exploded inside the Dragonslayer's brain. The magic weapon hit the dark mass in his mind and tore away at the weak spot. The spear punctured the Wall and flew on to the deep darkness beyond.
For a long time, nothing happened. But at that moment, Natsu realized something.
The Wall was still there.
Porlyusica cursed somewhere in his mind, but he was not listening. Natsu stared, transfixed, as a thick black liquid began its sluggish descent from the hole down the side of the Wall. It pooled on the floor, looking like oil.
It was as if the Wall were bleeding.
Natsu looked up at the black structure, dimly noting that the hole was no longer there. He looked at the floor again, watching as the liquid began to evaporate and form a cloud. It joined the other clouds moving along inside his mind and soon enough, Natsu lost track of it.
Porlyusica's voice reached him again, sounding strained.
"Natsu! Listen to me! I'm going to weaken your end of the spell now, but I will still try to work from here!"
Pain bloomed at the base of Natsu's skull as his physical sense came back in full force and a loud cracking sound filled his ears. The Dragonslayer cried out and grabbed at his hair. He was left breathless and trembling as the sharp pain disappeared as quickly as it had come. Porlyusica's presence was still in him, yet Natsu seemed to be inside and out of his mind all at once. The sensation left him feeling sick and confused. The pressure in his head fluctuated violently as Porlyusica attacked the Wall with her spell over and over. She urged him to attack from his end as well, but the Dragonslayer didn't have the strength. Instead, he forced his eyes open, dimly aware of Porlyusica telling him to stop, to keep his eyes closed.
He ignored her. His eyes were slow to focus, but when they did, the first thing he saw was Sodom's face hovering over his.
Natsu let out a bloodcurdling scream.
Lucy was beginning to feel stiff. She had been sitting at Natsu's bedside for a few hours. Porlyusica's spell had taken the whole latter half of the afternoon; it was dark outside now.
Lucy and Happy had kept themselves busy with conversation - fake conversation. After all, there wasn't much to talk about that would help lift their spirits. But even so, they had made an effort, and Lucy couldn't help but be impressed with Happy. He had kept on a brave face since the beginning. He was the youngest and most child-like of all of them, but he had risen to the morbid challenge and was always strong for Natsu. She was proud of him, even though sadness accompanied her pride as well.
The blue cat's ears pricked only a moment before Natsu awoke.
The Dragonslayer cried out and his hands flew to his head. Lucy was on her feet immediately and Happy wasted no time in soothingly rubbing his friend's hair. Natsu seemed short of breath and his body began to shake. Lucy stole a glance at Porlyusica; but the old witch was motionless, still under the spell.
Happy gasped, pulling Lucy's gaze back to Natsu, who had opened his eyes. The boy stared ahead for a moment, then a look of pure terror spread across his face. A screech tore from his throat that made Lucy stumble back several feet.
"W-what's going on?!" Happy was in a frenzy, trying to calm Natsu any way he could.
"Natsu! Please stop! What's wrong? Tell me what's wrong!" But he just kept screaming and thrashing in the bed. The Dragonslayer's arms were raised, as if protecting himself from some unseen enemy.
No matter which way he turned, Sodom's face leered over him.
The dark, cruel eyes and wicked grin were just as he remembered. But the image was contorting; the skin grew deathly pale, sloughing off the skull and catching on sharp teeth. Dark eyes swelled and popped, running down the face like thick black oil. Natsu continued to scream, completely overcome by fear. He couldn't escape. Sodom would lock him up; would touch and hurt and humiliate him. Natsu couldn't take it, not again.
"It's just a hallucination, Natsu! It's not real!"
Porlyusica's shout pierced his brain. The image of Sodom's face shattered and only a wooden ceiling remained. Someone was breathing harshly and the sound of a heartbeat was everywhere.
Happy's face appeared in front of him, tense with worry.
The Dragonslayer blinked at him, then struggled to sit up. Gunshots went off inside his brain and spots clouded his vision. Natsu doubled over and gripped his head; the pain was blinding.
A soft hand was laid on his shoulder and he recognized Lucy's voice. "Take it easy," she whispered. Eventually, Natsu's breathing matched his friends' and the spots faded from his vision.
He looked at Lucy, "What happened?"
"You were hallucinating."
Three pairs of eyes flew up to look at Porlyusica. She had broken the spell and sat awake in her chair. She seemed tired and unhappy.
"Hallucinating? I was hallucinating?" As Natsu repeated the word in a whisper, the fear came back.
Sodom's face flashed in the corners of his vision and his heart began to pound so hard he thought it would burst. He tried to breathe, but no air was reaching his lungs. His body began to tremble. The room was getting colder and his heart was violently trying to escape his chest.
Sodom's face was everywhere.
And with it, the feeling of cruel hands all over his body hitting, burning, touching him.
Natsu wanted to scream.
Someone's arms wrapped around him. He knew it was Lucy, but that sudden physical contact made him jerk away. Immediately he was upset and ashamed, but he couldn't stop shaking. Lucy spoke softly, gently to him.
"Natsu, it's okay to be scared."
"No it's not!" he yelled.
Something had snapped in him and all the shame and anger was boiling over. He felt so small and pitiful.
"I know you guys won't hurt me, or. . . or do those things to me, but. . ."
He knew better than to be afraid of Lucy or Happy, but when the fear welled up inside him. . . it was too much.
His voice grew soft and pleading, "I'm. . .scared and I just -
I just can't do it."
Natsu began to cry.
Fat tears streamed down his cheeks and he tried vainly to wipe them away with his fists. But the more he rubbed away, the faster they fell. It was painful to watch and tore Lucy's heart to pieces.
His words were punctured with loud, hiccuping sobs.
"I want to get better - I do! I-I. . .I'm trying, I really am! I promise. . .I just have to. . .try harder and - "
"No you don't!"
Natsu's head jerked up to stare at Lucy. She was frowning, but somehow, the Dragonslayer knew she wasn't angry with him. Lucy's face softened when she met his eyes.
"You're trying as hard as you can, and I'm so proud of you," she smiled at him gently, "so stop apologizing."
Lucy's hand came up slowly and wiped the tears off Natsu's cheek.
He stared at her, sniffling.
Then Happy burrowed into Natsu's side, silently comforting him.
The Dragonslayer began to tremble, overcome with emotion. This sudden outpouring of love from his friends was enough to drive the fear away. His chest was still shaking with spasms and the tears kept falling, but he managed to thank them.
Lucy's gentle smile grew wider and she coaxed Natsu into laying down. The Dragonslayer rolled onto his side and Lucy pulled the covers over him. Happy snuggled up to Natsu's neck, his nose nestled in the boy's rosy hair. They made a sweet picture and it didn't take long for Natsu to fall into exhausted sleep.
The day had been long and hard - for everyone.
Lucy stood up to leave; on her way out, she noticed that Porlyusica was nowhere to be seen.
Makarov sat at his desk, staring past the huge pile of papers on top of it.
He was watching the door; a part of him hoped it would open and Porlyusica would come in to tell him what a glowing success the spell had been. But another part dreaded her arrival, especially if the spell failed. . .
Makarov shook that thought away. He had to believe that Porlyusica could heal Natsu. If he began to doubt, Makarov didn't want to know what dark thoughts would follow.
The Master eyed the stack of papers - job requests - on his desk. A sad thought came to him then; very few sheets would be addressing property damage, since Natsu hadn't been on a mission lately...
Makarov had wanted to stop these thoughts, but everywhere he looked, every stray thought he had, seemed to lead back to the Dragonslayer.
Makarov found himself wondering what it would be like if things could just go back to normal. He wanted that normalcy back more than anything else in the world.
If he could have just that, then Makarov would be happy.
If his children would smile again, genuinely, then Makarov would smile along with them. The Master let these desires carry his mind away for the moment, till his heart was so full it hurt. Then he sighed and took a sheet from the pile on his desk. As he prepared to register the job, the door to his office opened. Porlyusica entered and Makarov immediately sat up straight, all of his attention focused on the old woman. But when he saw the look on her face, the anger and despair, his hope disappeared. He couldn't even form the question, but Porlyusica knew what he was going to ask.
"It failed," she said curtly.
The door slammed shut and the old woman was gone. Makarov felt the floor give out from under him. It was as if he were sinking into a deep darkness. Porlyusica's last spell hadn't worked and the Magic Council was breathing down his neck. Levy and Gajeel were still gone, and there was no way to contact them or know when they'd return. Their options were horribly limited and time was running out.
Makarov felt helpless.
Lucy opened the door to her house and was met with complete silence.
The air was cold and very still; no lights were on.
Even now, Lucy still hoped against hope that when she opened the door to her home, Natsu and Happy would be there. Yet she was painfully reminded each day that that was impossible.
Lucy didn't bother turning on any lights; it was late, but there was still enough natural light to see by. The spirit mage looked at the oven, wondering if she should get something to eat. But she reminded herself that she wasn't hungry, so there would be no point.
Lucy moved to the window overlooking the canal. The stars were just beginning to emerge, winking like tiny holiday lights.
Lucy suddenly found herself hating them.
She was angry at them for being so far away from all the misery of her world. It wasn't fair. Lucy tore her gaze from the sky and looked out across the dark waters of the canal. It fit her mood much better, but the canal brought memories rushing back. Natsu's piercing, terrified scream filled her ears again. She saw him thrashing like a wounded animal, struggling against an enemy that wasn't there. It was absolutely horrifying to see her friend in so much pain. But the memory of Natsu's face when he awoke was the worst of all. Lucy had never seen such a raw, primal fear and it scared her even more to see it in Natsu's eyes. Despite her efforts, Lucy couldn't get the images out. They played over and over in her mind like some sick loop.
The spirit mage sank to the floor and covered her face.
She never wanted to see something like that again.
Tears streamed down her cheeks.
She cried bitter tears because the world was moving on around Fairy Tail without sparing a look back. They had no idea of the pain the guild was in. Their lives were blissfully moving forward while she and her friends drowned in darkness.
She cried because the images would not leave her alone and his scream roared in her ears.
Lucy sat on the floor beneath the window overlooking the canal.
The lights were off and the house was dark and cold, the only sound was that of a young girl, crying her heart out for a friend who was suffering beyond belief.
Lucy spent the night on the floor, in the dark, crying for Natsu.
A/N: I'm baaaaack! I hope this chapter is an acceptable reward for everyone's patience-we're in the double digits now! Sigh, you're all much too good to me. Just in case it was hard to understand, Porlyusica's spell put a hole in the Wall that allowed a clear memory of Sodom to reach the front of Natsu's mind.
Writing Natsu's breakdown hurt, but this is the little one. I have a much bigger sob-fest in store for you all. Lucy's was also very sad, I just kept imagining her sitting in a corner of her house with the lights off, crying all night long. . . Well on that happy note! Thanks to all who have reviewed, followed, etc.! You all keep me going!