It was early morning in Magnolia. Birds twittered softly from the rooftops, calling good morning to anyone who would listen. Magnolia was just beginning to rouse at the song; shops were opening their doors and the smell of breakfast was wafting through the windows.

Morning in the city were bright and pure, belying the grief that lurked deep inside.

The sun had just crested the hills, illuminating two figures from behind. One man, one woman. The pair was making its way down the grassy slope towards the city. They had an important destination in mind, and they carried something that was about to change the course of events.

Happy didn't realize he'd been up all night until the sky began to turn pink outside. He'd curled up against Natsu's cheek what seemed like minutes ago, facing the window that overlooked Magnolia's canal system. The cat hadn't slept a wink since Porlyusica had left; the image of Natsu - terrified and struggling against an unseen monster - wouldn't leave him. The Dragonslayer had always been Happy's fearless companion. Whenever they faced a strong opponent, an impossible task, or a hopeless situation, it was Natsu who kept them going. When Happy was ready to give in, Natsu would pull Happy to his feet and dust him off.

They were a team.

And everything was broken now. Happy turned to look at his best friend; seeing Natsu lying there, asleep, Happy could almost believe that everything was normal. But the last few weeks had destroyed any naive hopes he'd had for normalcy. Happy knew that even if Natsu did heal from his wounds, both mental and physical, scars would linger for eternity.

As Lucy gripped the door handle to Fairy Tail, she hesitated. There was a faint hum coming from the other side. Conversation rose and fell, something Lucy found odd. Since the first lacrima's showing, the Guild had been largely silent and its members had been absent.

Lucy swung the door open, curiosity driving her to find out what was going on. She wove through the group and found they'd formed a small circle around someone. His back was turned, but Lucy could recognize that tall, imposing figure and wild black mane anywhere.

"Gajeel! You're back!"

The Dragonslayer turned to regard Lucy, grunting his acknowledgement before he was hit with another question from a curious guild member. Lucy's mind was buzzing with far too many thoughts for her to hear the question. If Gajeel was here, then so was Levy. And if they were back, that meant that they had found something!

Hope bloomed in Lucy's chest. There was a chance they could help Natsu, maybe even save him.
"Gajeel! Where's Levy?"
"Huh? She's talking to the old man."
Lucy thanked him quickly and made her way to Makarov's office. When she opened the door, Lucy was surprised to see Erza, Gray, and Porlyusica already inside. She felt a little self-conscious until Levy beckoned her over. The group was poring over sheets of browned paper that held complex runes and diagrams. Levy was explaining everything to them, but the words flew right over Lucy's head. She wasn't alone, Porlyusica and Makarov seemed to be the only ones following Levy's explanation.
The Master sat back in his chair when Levy was done speaking, folding his arms in thought. "Are you sure this will work? That it's not some trap?"
Levy nodded, "I'm sure."
Gray huffed loudly. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but I don't get any of this stuff," he gestured vaguely to the papers on the desk. "What exactly are we trying to do?"
Lucy was silently thankful that he had asked. Levy was the one to explain, "Basically, the Dark Guild cast a spell on Natsu's mind that keeps him from accessing certain parts of his memory. Natsu needs those memories in order to heal."
Gray still didn't look convinced, but Lucy was catching on. Levy continued, "Think of it like an obstacle course, the spell cast on Natsu is like a massive wall that's keeping him from a full recovery. The wall is keeping Natsu from coming to terms with what happened to him, and then moving on. The spell has him trapped. . ."
Gray looked out the window when Levy's words trailed off. The silence that followed was heavy and uncomfortable. The group was once again confronted with the overwhelming task ahead.

If they failed, Natsu would be lost forever.

Porlyusica sat on the small chair at Natsu's bedside. Levy stood beside her and gazed down at the Dragonslayer. He didn't look much better since she and Gajeel had left days ago. "I never suspected that the counter-spell would look like this." Levy blinked and looked down at the old woman, prompting her to continue. "That a spell cast in the mind would have to be dismantled from the outside. . . I have never seen anything like this." Levy nodded. Despite her hatred for the dark guild that had hurt Natsu, Levy could admit that their spell-work was impressive.

Porlyusica took an ink pot out from a drawer to her side and dipped a finger in it. Levy held out one of the diagrams while Porlyusica recreated it on Natsu's blanket. The boy didn't stir; but after the circle was drawn, Porlyusica cast a sleeping spell on him anyway.
Levy made her way to the other side of the bed and pulled a stool from the corner of the room. It was Levy's job to make sure Natsu didn't wake up while Porlyusica was casting the counterspell. The small mage extended her hands over the Dragonslayer's sleeping form. She felt the calming magic flow from her fingertips and nodded to Porlyusica. The old woman drew a series of runes on her palms with the ink and settled in to cast the spell. She began to mutter in an old language and red light curled outward from her palms. The magic snaked through the air, strangely beautiful, then alighted on the sleeping Dragonslayer.

Natsu screamed.

When Lucy heard the first scream, she wanted to throw up.
Levy had warned them that the spell could be painful, but the sound coming from the infirmary suggested worse. Natsu sounded absolutely terrified. It was suddenly hard to breathe and Lucy felt herself trembling. When had it gotten so cold in here?
Happy was sitting beside her in the guild hall, his plate of food untouched. When the screams grew impossibly louder, he covered his ears and stared at the floor.

Lucy couldn't take it anymore.
She was weak and she didn't care. The spirit mage took Happy in her arms and left the Guild quickly.
Outside, the day was lighter than it had any right to be. The air was laden with all the scents of Magnolia's restaurants and the conversation of their patrons.
Lucy had no idea where her feet were taking her, but she was content to follow them. Happy was motionless in her arms, his ears still covered. The spirit mage was aware, somewhere at the edge of her mind, that the townspeople were staring. Their eyes made the skin on her back crawl and she was relieved when her feet turned her down a nearly deserted path.
But then they stopped suddenly.
Lucy looked up at the sign of the building before her; Happy craned his neck to look too, some force rousing him.

Pastel. The cake shop where Lucy, Happy, and Natsu had celebrated Lucy's acceptance into Fairy Tail. Lucy blinked back tears and went inside. Warm memories came back like old friends at the tinkling of the shop bell. She remembered the three of them sitting by the window and eating the most delicious cakes Lucy hadn't known existed.
She remembered driving the shopkeeper crazy with their noise and wild demands. They were bittersweet memories, but Lucy allowed herself the small comfort of enjoying them. The spirit mage sat at the same window booth and opened the little menu in front of her. Happy climbed out of her arms and sat on the table to see out the window. As it was still early, the shopkeeper himself attended to them; Lucy recognized Merlot immediately and judging by the man's hesitation, he remembered them too. But Lucy could tell Merlot's hesitation didn't stem from Team Natsu's prior visits. No, the look in isr eyes was the same look the townspeople gave Lucy whenever she stepped outside. All the members of Fairy Tail got such looks; practically everyone in Magnolia knew what had happened. They didn't know the details, but they knew that Natsu had been missing for many months and that he'd returned bloodied and broken. It wasn't hard to put the pieces together or form ugly rumors that spread like wildfire.

"What can I get for you today?"



"Why does everyone look at us like that?"


"Why does everyone give us those pitying looks all the time?! Don't they know how that makes us all feel?!" Lucy was suddenly breathless. She hadn't realised she'd raised her voice like that. She'd lost control, anger and shame caused tears to burn in her eyes.

Happy had hardly twitched at her outburst; he continued to watch life go by outside the window. Merlot took a deep breath and sat down across from Lucy.

"I think you misunderstand."
Lucy looked up, startled. Merlot had a gentle smile on his face and his tone lacked hostility. "Yes, we pitied you at first, but that's changed."
Lucy didn't say anything, but she noticed Happy's ears had tilted back to listen.

"The people of this city have nothing but sympathy for you now. We look up to Fairy Tail - more than you know. We want to help, but what can us non magic users do?"
Merlot answered his own question, "We keep you in our hearts and prayers. Did you know that almost every citizen has donated to Fairy Tail in the last few weeks? It's the best we can do – at least for now."
The man stood up, his gentle smile never falling, "So please, don't confuse sympathy with pity."

Lucy felt fresh tears in her eyes, "I had no idea...I didn't know you - everyone - felt..." she was cut off by her own sob. Merlot laid a hand on the spirit mage's shoulder, then he placed two cake slices on the table. "How did he..?"
Lucy looked up in time to see a waitress walk off with an empty tray, a soft smile on her face.

It had been over an hour since the completion of the spell, but Levy's nausea still hadn't faded. She'd never performed a magic so physically draining her whole life.
She ate slowly, hoping Mira's cooking could work some magic on her stomach. Levy stole a glance up to Natsu's room; Porlyusica was still there, watching over him. The treatment had been a success and the guild members present were having toasts to wish for Natsu's recovery. Levy could only join in halfheartedly.
They hadn't been in that room with her; hearing Natsu scream and watching him thrash on the bed, eyes filled with horror. Levy could still see pieces of his memory that had broken through the spell and flashed across her psyche. Visions of blood and darkness and burnt flesh, the sneering face of the man who made Natsu's life a living hell.
But what frightened Levy the most was the knowledge that she hadn't seen anything close to the worst of it. She couldn't imagine the kind of abuse it'd take to break Natsu. The small mage sighed under the weight of her thoughts. She knew she should be celebrating with her guildmates, but all of her energy had disappeared. Levy looked at the clock and decided she should take over watch duty for Porlyusica. On her way up the staircase, Levy gazed out at her guildmates below. Their glasses clinked and the liquor flowed, accompanying shy, hopeful smiles. Levy wished with everything she had that those smiles would take root and grow. She wanted them all to take this path of healing more than anything else.

The door swung open just before Levy reached it. Porlyusica stood in the doorway, supporting Natsu. Levy let out a small, shocked gasp. How could Natsu possibly be up and walking? And why was Porlyusica letting him do it?
The Dragonslayer looked awful. His eyes were unfocused and bloodshot. Exhaustion radiated from every bone in his body.
"Natsu! What are you doing out of bed?!"
He smiled faintly at her, "Hungry."
Levy looked in exasperation at Porlyusica, but the old woman's face was carefully blank. The two women stared each other down until a crash sounded from the mess hall below. Levy went to the railing and looked down, Wakaba had knocked over a bar stool. Yet the man hadn't moved to pick it up, in fact, no one was moving at all. Levy felt her eyes drawn to the entrance of the guild. Her breath stuck in her throat. Two magistrates had entered the Guild, flanked by rune knights. The frog-like men were nearly identical in appearance and their black eyes swept the room.

"Your time's up Fairy Tail, the Council requests an immediate audience with Natsu Dragneel."

A collective murmur rose in the air; tension crackled like lightning. Levy spun on her heel and ran to Makarov's office. She thrust the heavy door open and found the man half asleep at his desk.
"The Council's back! They want Natsu!" Makarov jolted awake and was out the door in seconds. He looked around, taking note of the crowd, the knights, and of Natsu outside his room. The old man cursed and strode toward the Dragonslayer and the old woman supporting him.
"What is he doing outside his room? Get him inside now! We have to-"

"Master Makarov Dreyar."

The nasally voice cut straight across the guildhall and everyone fell silent. The magistrates were looking directly at the small group upstairs. Levy could swear the magistrates were smirking. "I surely hope you are not trying to hide Natsu Dragneel from us?" Makarov's mouth went dry and his mind blanked. This was a situation he was surely not prepared for. He looked to Porlyusica for help. Her brow was wrinkled in anger, but her body read defeat.
She met Makarov's gaze and shook her head; there was no use defying a Council order.

It was early evening by the time Lucy felt ready to leave the cake shop. The small gestures of shop customers throughout the day had rooted her in place with gratitude. The adults' condoling nods and the childrens' faint smiles soothed the pain in her heart. The strangers were not helping in a literal sense, but their efforts went a long way. Happy walked beside her. He was still more quiet than usual, but his head was no longer hanging.

The faint buzz Lucy had heard from the street grew the closer she got to the Guild. As she stood before it, the buzz became a roar. The doors were open, but there were too many bodies blocking her view. She nudged her way to the front and came face to face with a rune knight. He pushed her to the side and continued back the way she'd come.
It was a procession, she realized, when a few more knights and then two magistrates followed. The last group of knights had formed a circle around Natsu. The Dragonslayer was cuffed and obviously frightened. He half limped half stumbled along, barely keeping up. He looked around wildly and when he spotted Lucy and Happy, he lurched towards them. His mouth opened to call out when one of the knights roughly shoved him back. Natsu looked hurt and he fell silent. His head dropped and the knights moved to block him from sight.
As the procession moved on, Lucy struggled to keep up. She and Happy fought through the crowd to keep pace with Natsu.
A sob rose in Lucy's throat and she could barely speak. "N-Natsu! Don't go…! Natsu!" Even to her ears, she sounded like a frightened child.
She got too close and one of the rune knights snarled at her. Lucy was pushed back, but someone caught her.
"Lucy, this is out of our hands…" The spirit mage didn't need to look, the voice belonged to Gray.

The procession left through the wide double doors and into the street. They soon disappeared, and only the quiet street remained.

Lucy sagged against Gray and cried.

"Come back. . . please."

A/N: I'm baaaack!

You guys are seriously heaven-sent angels or something. All you readers are so patient and kind, I'm truly thankful for you! I think I know how to end this story now and I'm going to binge a whole bunch of Fairy Tail episodes to get back in the mood.
Shoutout to TheGoldenDragonofFiore for finding that silly spelling mistake!
Shoutout to Doom Marine 54 as well. Even though your reviews were unnecessarily rude, you brought up a few good points!
1. The story takes place before the Oracion Seis arc, so Wendy is not present. I believe another reader PM'd me about the same thing and I neglected to make that clear.
2. I will use lacrima rather than tapes.
3. I actually have not seen the purge films and I think humanity is moving away from anything like them. I know it is completely illogical to blame an entire group for the actions of the few (and it's refreshing to find someone who thinks the same way!), but that's what anger/trauma does to a person. It makes them think illogically. For example, a person bitten by a dog may end up fearing dogs in general. Is it illogical for them to fear all dogs because of one dog's actions? Yes! But it happens nonetheless.
Keep in mind the emotional state of the character who's speaking. In that case, it was Porlyusica, who canonically already hates humanity.

Thank you everyone for your encouragement and support!