So...can I get a "Where the hell was this chapter?!"
I have no excuse. My Muse took off and went for a vacation and left her anti-self behind. AKA: the lazies. So...I'm sorry? Please don't bite my head off? Eh-heh...heh...heh...
I don't own Fairy Tail. Hiro Mashima does. And while I don't own the characters Natsu and Lucy, I am a HUGE shipper of a romatically inclined relationship between the two and think that the creators of the personalities named Natsu Dragneel and Lucy Heartfilia need to STEP UP THE INTERACTION before the fans go crazy. Honestly, there was more NaLu in the Dragon Festival Arc then in the past few arcs...but that's why I'm writing fanfictions, so it's all good.
Oh, and I mean no disrespect to my male readers. Remember, all that's said is Lucy's POV and her personal experience. We can all agree that the male baddies she's found herself up against haven't been the highlights of the male species, so I mean no offense.
She was really starting to regret letting Erza and Levi know who she was in love with. To be fair, she was really surprised that they hadn't figured it out already, as she'd heard throughout the guild that most people knew already. She had thought that she was being subtle, but evidently she was more like Natsu than she thought.
Then again, maybe she wasn't being open enough for her best friends' tastes because otherwise there'd be no way that they'd be holding that abomination in front of her.
"No. Nu-uh, no way. You are not making me do that with him," cornered as she was in the guild, Lucy wasn't going to back down. Not when that would totally blow the meticulously weaved net she had over her feelings for her partner.
"Oh, come on, Lucy," endorsed a plaintive looking Levy on behalf of that. She held the offending piece of paper out the Lucy, stretching her arm out farther for every inch that Lucy pressed her back into the wall.
"Yes, it is as Levy says. If you wish to do something about your f-f-feelings"–– here Erza blushed and stuttered and Lucy could only guess what kind of risque thoughts were running through her head ––"for Natsu, then you must take the initiative! The best defense is a solid offense; he'll never see it coming!" She had her arms crossed and a slightly unnerving sheen in her eyes that had Lucy wanting to have Taurus smash a whole through the wall behind her and take her chances with the unbearable heat of Magnolia's summer.
Yes, she really shouldn't have told them that she was in love with Natsu – now things were just really messy and heading south and she didn't know how much more heat she could take (it was coming at her from three sides after all: Natsu quite literally, Erza and Levy figuratively, and summer physically).
The worst part was, she didn't even tell them of her own volition!
"I told you guys when you got me drunk! That doesn't count! And besides, who says I want to do anything about my feelings – if it were actually true and I had these feelings you say I do – because, even if I had them, I wouldn't want to do anything!"
That fluttered in the silence as a draft picked up. It was still hanging alarmingly close to Lucy's face, to the point where she was looking at it cross eyed, but she didn't need to have tunnel vision to see that the two women across from her were giving her a look that let her know that no matter what she said, that was going into effect. Permanently, if they could have it their way.
"So...how, exactly, did you get Natsu, of all people, to agree to this?" After being cornered and practically forced into going through with their plan, Lucy, Erza, and Levy had ended back up in her apartment for some down time before that went into effect. Erza had – from wherever she got it – pulled out a piece of cake from her fridge and immediately claimed the most comfortable chair in the living room while Lucy and Levy made two cups of coffee and curled up on the couch.
They'd refused to leave Lucy alone after getting her in on their plan, fearing that she'd take off at the first chance that she got. Which, now that Lucy thought back on it, wasn't all that far from what she had planned to do as soon as they left her alone.
"Eh, it was pretty easy. We just told him that Gray got the job if he didn't do it. It was pretty much a perfect plan because A) Natsu just can't take being upsurped by Gray and B) he didn't want his precious partner taken away by the big bad stripper. Something about it being his job to protect you from whatever disease Gray has to make him a clothes-losing icicle princess. His words, not mine."
Why wasn't she surprised again? Lucy really felt like there should be some form of disbelief on her part, but she couldn't find any. Actually...
"Yup. Sounds about right for Natsu." She'd find something else to be surprised about later, right now she had to figure out the details to what that entailed.
"So, Lu-chan, are you ready for this?" Erza looked up from her cake, balancing the fork between her fingers. Lucy in turn curled her toes under foot. Was she ready for this? Oh hell no. She really didn't want to do this. Like, really, really didn't want to. Where was the rock she could hide under when she needed it?
"Um...no. I'm not ready for this at all. I don't even know what I have to do!"
"It's quite simple, Lucy. All that this requires of you is your personality and Natsu's intermingling on a more personal and romantic level than what they already function. Remember, the best defense––"
"––is a solid offense. Yes Erza, I know. You've been telling me that for the past three hours," Erza stuffed the last piece of cake in her mouth, dragging the fork against her teeth in the only sign of her annoyance. She really hated people stealing her spotlight, "but I still don't see the point of this mission. How is Natsu and me being like that going to help these people?"
"You're going undercover. Spying on a newlywed couple for the parents of the daughter who really don't approve of the husband but can't do anything about it themselves because they have a restraining order against them and their daughter ran off and eloped," Levy elaborated sipping down her black coffee. Erza was out of the conversation now that her two cents had settled into the back of Lucy's mind.
Lucy closed her eyes, massaging her temples while trying to find a better way to get her captors –– she meant friends –– to understand that she had no interest in this at all.
"O–kay. But still! Why me and him? Why don't you go with Gajeel? Or what about Erza going with Jellal? He's all goody-two shoes now, right? Or, better yet, why don't Bisca and Alzack do it? They're good at the mushy couple stuff, and they're married, so there's less chance of faliure."
She opened her eyes to the sight of a wide eyed Levy with coffee dribbling down her chin and a frozen Erza who sat there cross legged with her fork dangling from her lips. Both were staring at her with an edginess that Lucy couldn't quite identify but wasn't sure she liked. Then they both exploded at once.
"Me and Gajeel aren't like that! He just helps me out from time to time and we like spending time together! That's all, really. I mean, I wouldn't be opposed to dating him or anything, but, uh, he doesn't see me like that. And––"
"He has a fiance, he told me the last time we saw eachother. Granted, there was an atmosphere about us, and I have a distinct thought that he had half a mind to k-k-kiss me, but I would never take him from the one he decided to give his heart to. I wouldn't be conflicted to checking out the woman whom he has his eyes on, but other than that, there is nothing more than sentimentality between us! I was gone for seven years––"
And they were saying that she was swimming in Egyptian rivers? Had they looked in the mirror lately?
She stood up, gathering Erza's plate (dodging the fork she seemed to be swinging around because of nerves) and Levy's now half-spilled coffee. She'd have to remember where she put her stain remover so she could get it out of the carpet and Levy's clothes before she left for her newest job.
Ah. That job. How long did she have before she had to be at the train station? She turned on the hot water while looking at the clock above her sink. Three hours. With a twelve hour train ride to get to the location. Where she and Natsu would have to––
She needed alcohol and a lot of it if she was going to finish that thought. Three hours was long enough to get well and truly wasted, right?
Wandering to her room, Lucy grabbed a new tee-shirt for Levy and her coat before grabbing the still ranting females from her living room and pulling them out her door with a resounding click as the lock bolt slid into place.
Yes, wasted was what she wanted to be right now. Hammered enough that she wouldn't care that she was about to spend an entire week with her partner and object of affections playing house.
She'd slept most of the train ride, trying to stave off a hangover she knew was coming. Unfortunately, she failed and was stuck with nausea, vomiting, migraines, and horrible sound and light sensitivity for most of the first day that they arrived at their location. The rest of the crew had slunk off to discretely tag behind her and Natsu from their rented hotel rooms while she and Natsu moved to the resort just a block or so from the train station.
If she hadn't been hungover hard, Lucy would have enjoyed their first few moments at the resort that the job had come with. Honestly, it was one of the only bright things she had to think about during the preparation for the trip.
She couldn't seem to find that old enthusiasm now that they were here though. The sun against the windows was too bright and the sound of music was coming from the lobby that could be heard from where they were standing outside the doors. Both of those just made her head hurt more, like someone had decided that she should pay for all the things her guild had destroyed and bought her head as real estate and then proceeded to go crazy with an assortment of heavy, blunt objects. Sledge and jackhammers being the most popular means of torture. And the music was crappy elevator music to boot.
Not only that, but every time she glanced over a Natsu, she couldn't help but be a bit irked. Natsu was still acting like his normal self. How was he so normal? None of this situation was normal (did she mention that she got really irritable when she had headaches?).
Much the rest of the day was a blur. There was luggage and some sort of a grand tour that she kinda saw from from behind the lenses of dark sunglasses. There was food that she could barely stand to look at and plenty of water for her to drink. And there was the room. With one bed. That she remembered clearly. She also remembered threatening Natsu within and inch of his life if he so much as touched her while she slept off the remains of her three-hour-hammering. She recalled the kicked puppy look on her face, but she couldn't quite recollect the guilt that she normally felt with it.
Then there was silence, and a blissful reprieve from everything happening around her.
When she awoke later that night, the first thing she realized was that her hangover was gone. The second was that Natsu was sleeping on the couch. The third was that his scarf was around her neck. For whatever reason it was, she didn't know, but she was glad for the familiar warmth that it brought to her. It was only when she reached up to touch the silky scales of the material that she noticed something on her hand.
It was round, silver, and had a two small diamonds and a topaz hugging a larger piece of obsidian in a crescent. The band, from what she could tell in the half light of the moon, wasn't very intricate, but it had a dignified and refined set to it that subtly whispered expert craftsmanship and a price higher than her rent for at least a year and a half.
She held it up to the window for a better view and almost choked when she realized what finger it was on. Fourth finger from the thumb, left hand.
Without thinking too much about what she was doing, Lucy lifted a shaky right hand and pulled the ring off, noting with vague intrigue how well it fit. While setting it down on her bedside table she brushed her hands up against something else that hadn't been there when she'd fallen asleep. A piece of paper, folded in half with her name scrawled messily on the front of it. She picked it up, scanning it over with her eyes.
Ok, so I know you aren't all the thirlled with this mission. But really, we might as well make this fun, right? Besides, this is totally awesome. I get to spend as much time with you as I want, without anyone getting in the way and I get to beat up any guys that come near you because that's what I'm supposed to do when you're married to someone.
By the way, Igneel told me that when you get married to someone you give them a ring, so I got you one and I kinda put it on you when you were alseep – but I swear I didn't do anything else, so please don't kill me.
P.S. Keep the ring even after this is all said and done.
She had to push down a bubble in her chest at the note, reminding herself that she and Natsu were still only friends and that there was no way that he had the same feelings for her, but that didn't stop her from slipping the ring back on her finger and burrowing back into the sheets with the muffler pulled up to her nose.
Well, she thought, twisting the ring around, if this is the first day, then maybe being fake-married to Natsu for a week won't be all that bad.
She awoke to sunlight that didn't send her head roaring and another note from Natsu.
At the pool. Already had breakfast (they have room service that's prepaid! I love having rich employers!). Eat something and catch up to me, ok? BTW I took my scarf back.
She set the note back on top of the other, slightly stunned that he hadn't made enough noise to wake her up with him. Not that she was complaining, it was nice, in a slightly out of character way. She wasn't in any rush to get started for the day though, not when the high she had from his note and unexpected gift the night before had come back to her full force once she woke up again. No, she was perfectly content to just lie there and admire her newest piece of jewelry in a different light from the night before. It was just as gorgeous as she remembered it, but in the sun, the topaz and diamonds shone with a fiery light that she didn't think was completely a coincidence. He had picked this one for that reason, she was sure. Him and his fire.
She sat for what she estimated to be five minutes more before getting to her feet and grabbing a swimsuit and cover-up from her bag and heading for the shower. The feeling of hot water was one she relished, knowing that she wasn't paying for it and that she could use as much of it as she wanted without having her utility bill upped a couple hundred jewels.
A few hours later and she was searching for a head of pink hair in the midst of couples, families, groups of friends, and loners alike. She and he had a job to do – they had to befirend their client's daughter and scope out her new hubby, who her parents were sure just after the family fortune. The irony of the situation wasn't lost on her; the one being spied on probably would have been her a few years ago if she hadn't left her Heartfilia heritage behind her.
Lucy spied their target before she spotted Natsu (who was seriously starting to annoy her. The water park wasn't that big, and he was probably the loudest, most destructive one here!). She made a split second decision, hoping that Natsu would just turn up like he always seemed to. That'd make her life a whole lot easier. So with that in mind, she made her way over to the daughter, named Atanna Wyber-Sabfer. Her husband had taken her last name and added it to his and she'd done the same in order to keep her eligibility for the Wyber fortune open.
"Excuse me, miss?" Atanna turned her head, looking up at Lucy with kind yet naïve eyes.
"Yes? Can I help you?" Lucy laughed nervously, her eyes carefully looking around for the supposed husband. No sign so far. Then again, she'd probably have better luck making friends with the female of the relationship.
"I was wondering if you've seen anyone with pink hair come around here lately. He'd be a a good six inches taller than me and wearing a scarf." Lucy watched in satisfaction as Atanna's eyes widened in recognition, "He's been this way hasn't he? He tells me to wait for him and then takes off as soon as I get here, the idiot. Oops, sorry, could you tell me which way he went?"
"He headed towards the food court, I think. If you don't mind me asking, is he your boyfriend?" She had to fight of a blush to keep a straight face, but she managed it in light of the feelings pushing themselves to the surface of her heart. Was he her boyfriend? No, not really. Did she want him to be her boyfriend? She was starting to think that she wouldn't mind so much. But she had to keep up pretenses for the job, so might as well let the emotions out just a little bit.
"No, he's my husband," she huffed, smiling kindly at the blush that painted over Atanna's cheeks at her mess up, "but sometimes I wonder if he knows that."
"What a coincidence! My husband and I are here for our honeymoon as well! Um, I assume you and yours are here for your honeymoon at least, correct me if I'm wrong," Lucy waved a hand, telling her to continue when she paused for confirmation, "and mine seems to have deserted me as well. What a sorry pair of wives we make." Lucy scowled, thinking what a sorry "husband" she was going to have when she found him. She didn't enjoy running around looking for him, especially when they had a job to do and all he was doing was messing around.
"Well, my husband's going to be the sorry one when I catch up to him. I'm done chasing him though, he can come find me for a change. Hey, so you want to go grab a bite to eat and swap some stories?" When Atanna nodded with a smile, Lucy couldn't help but smirk back. Fine, let Natsu play and do whatever. As long as the mission was completed without a hitch, she was fine with him staying out of her way.
"That's amazing, I didn't know being a mage could be so dangerous!" Lucy snorted at the other's amazement. She'd been telling her all of the horrendous disaster mission-requests Team Natsu had been through in the past couple of years, most of them ending in hilarity and a few in suspense, but always with the Fairies coming out on top.
"Normally it isn't such a dangerous job. But, well, being a part of Fairy Tail has its own set of occupational hazards. I bet if I had joined any other guild, then I wouldn't have had to go through half of what I do on a daily basis."
"You don't sound like you regret it though."
"Oh, not for a minute. I wouldn't have found a second family if I hadn't joined them, and I've gotten a lot stronger since I arrived. They taught me to stand up for myself and it's nice to be able to do things on my own for once instead of relying on others." Atanna sighed wistfully, and Lucy caught the look on her face, recognizing it for the want of freedom.
"What made you do it, run away from home, I mean?" Fair enough question, Lucy supposed. Mrs. Wyber-Sabfer knew the modified story of Lucy's past – meaning she had no idea the Lucy was Lucy Heartfilia.
"Freedom, I guess. I wanted out of a lot of things in my old life and my mother was a mage, so I figured that it was a good choice for me as well."
"I wish I could be a strong as you. Then maybe my parents wouldn't worry about me so much." Lucy may not have told her about her background, but it was hard not to know Atanna's family. They'd replaced the Heartfilia's a couple of years back with the title of richest business family so everyone knew about the Wyber family's daughter.
"You had the strength to marry who you wanted instead of who your family wanted you to, that's something, right?" When Atanna stayed silent, Lucy shifted forward a little, the inkling of suspicion that had been gathering about Kolt Sabfer thrusting to the forefront of her mind, "Atanna?"
"Oh, sorry. Yeah, I guess that's a start. I just wish I could do more for myself instead of being another girl with a pretty face and daddy's money, ya'know?"
Before Lucy could tell her just how much she understood, Atanna stood up, eyes on the clock and already reaching for her purse.
"Goodness, how'd it get this late? Sorry, Lucy, I have dinner plans with Kolt tonight, maybe I'll see you around again?" Answering an affirmative, Lucy stared pensively at the money on the table before laying down her own small amount of jewels to cover the club sandwich she'd gotten. She grabbed her purse from the back of her chair, feeling her professionalism towards the job start to slip away in the face of the many parallels between her would-have-been life and Atanna's is-life.
Mavis, why was she such a softie?
She left the small in-resort pub, not noticing the table of three men get up at the same time she did.
By the time she made it half way across the park, she was mentally kicking herself for forgetting her keys back in the room. She hadn't really thought that at a civilian resort she would have to deal with other magical beings – human or otherwise. And for non-mage threats she had expected Natsu to be there to back her up. Which reminded her that she hadn't saw that pest for the greater part of the day. Where in the world could he be? She could really use his help right about now because she was pretty sure that those goons had been following her since she passed the water slide fifteen minutes back.
"You dimwit...I thought we were supposed to be acting like we were madly in love," she muttered to the wall that popped into place in front of her after a couple of right turns. In all honestly, she had really been hoping to lose her pursuers by taking three rights to double back in a left turn, but there were so many different dead ends and attraction lines that she had wound up in the back end of one of the water slides, right where the beams were planted to hold it up with a wall on two sides and a chain link fence on another.
Hearing the sounds of footsteps creeping up behind her made her start seriously debating the wisdom of climbing over the chain link fence, even if that was an electric wire running over the top of it.
Edolas, where was Natsu?
"Oh? Look-y here at what we found, boys. Seems like a little fairy decided to spread her wings and grace us with her presence. What do ya think we could get for a hot woman who just so happens to be part of the guild who won the Daimatou Enbu?" Human traffickers? At a resort for newlyweds and families? Ok, people had just hit an all time low.
With that in mind, all thoughts of escape disappeared. If there was one thing that she couldn't stand, if was the scum of the earth. Maybe it was because she was and had been personally acquainted with some of them or had been in virtually the same situation before she came to Fairy Tail, but Lucy just really couldn't stand those who stepped on others for their own gain. They were worse than any monster she'd ever faced, something from her nightmares and the depths of her subconscious that she never wanted to deal with again.
Then again, she supposed, it was probably better that they came after her rather than some other guest like Atanna. At least she knew how to defend herself. Not to mention that there was a fire breathing, dragon-slaying, hot-headed Fairy out there somewhere that had a penchant for knowing when she was in trouble and who made it his personal mission to save her from her self-induced perils.
The biggest one in front took a step forward, a glaring scar across the side of his face reaching from his right eye to cut through his lip and chin. Ok then, he'd be called Scarface.
When he took a step towards her, Lucy backed up one, her eyes still scanning for exits and the tell-tale pink flash that normally accompanied her partner's arrival. The two companions of Scarface fanned out behind him, blocking off escape from the sides. Thing One and Thing Two were scrawny things that didn't look too brawny, so Lucy figured that if she was going to try to take any of them out, the Thing Twins would be the first to go. She'd just have to be able to run faster than Scarface to get away.
Before any of the goons could take another step forward, something jumped from the slide above them, something very pink and something very much on fire despite the fact that they were in a water park.
Of course. As soon as she had an escape plan, he would show up.
"Oi, what'cha bastards doing over here with Lucy, huh?" He landed with a thud enough to dent the cement and Lucy had to admit that she felt some satisfaction at the looks on her pursuers faces. It may not have been normal for the Salamander to drop in on them every day, but it was getting to be a regular occurrence to her.
Just as he was about to open his mouth again to spout some kind of threatening nonsense, she beat him to it – quite literally. Nothing like a Lucy Kick to get wayward teammates to pay attention.
"And where the hell have you been?! Natsu, you haven't been around all day! I've already met with our target and befriended her – where's your part in the action? Aren't you supposed to be all buddy-buddy with the husband by now?" It was needless to say that she'd forgotten completely about the people waiting to wrap her up in sequins and price tags for the highest bidder.
"I did do my job! I was hanging out with the guy all day too! Then we went to find his wife and we couldn't find her or you, so we had lunch, chatted, and just caused some chaos in general. You know, normal guy stuff. We didn't see his wife until she came to go on a date with her husband, making me wonder where you were. Why do you always get in trouble when I'm not looking?" He was pouting almost like it was her fault that he had gone through all the trouble to jump from a slide to find her, and she wasn't going to have any of it. If he had just been where he said he was going to be, then they wouldn't be having this issue!
The next five minutes constituted of her glaring at him and him pouting back up at her while the would-be kidnappers stared on in a stunned silence, until Scarface realized he still had a job to do and it wasn't getting done.
"Ok, that's enough with the chit-chat. Blondie, you get over here and your friend there doesn't get hurt." Lucy watched as Natsu's face went from petulant child to enraged...something in less time than it took for her to even register what had been said. If she hadn't been used to his wild mood swings already, then she might have been disconcerted.
"Hey, Lucy," he spun around so he was no longer facing her, "what'd these guys want with you?" She was still feeling put-off and more than a little annoyed, but she couldn't help feeling a little happy at the thought of the punks getting blown out of the park by one of Natsu's signature moves, so she grinned grudgingly and held her head high when she answered.
"They wanted to sell me off to the highest bidder as some sort of prostitute. They're human traffickers."
She'd always remember what he yelled as he blew the thugs out of the alley with a Fire Dragon's Roar, because, when she heard it, even if it was just to stay in character, it felt as if everything in her topsy-turvy world fell rightly into place.
"Don't touch my wife!"
After the incident of the day past, Natsu and Lucy agreed that from then on, it would be best to continue their mission in the presence of the other – just in case something like that happened again. Which nothing of the sort had happened once it spread around the resort that The Salamander and The Lucy Heartfilia from The Fairy Tail were married.
Looks like Lucy wasn't the only one that heard Natsu's loud proclamation.
The third day went off without any hitches, except the fact that Lucy was starting to feel the strain of acting like she was in love with her best friend while pretending that she wasn't in love with her best friend, while actually, secretly, kinda-sorta being in-love with said best friend. She could barely wrap her head around it.
So when Atanna asked any questions about her love life (like: What's it like being married to The Salamander? Who confessed to who? What was your first kiss like? Have you guys...you know, consummated your marriage yet?) Lucy found it really hard not to imagine the answers with the startling clarity of an author's mind. Had they kissed yet? No, probably never would, but that didn't stop Lucy from imagining the heat of his lips on hers, and how it would probably be his first kiss, so it would be slow and slightly clumsy. She imagined the slow torture it would be, because honestly, the more she thought about it, the more she really just wanted to kiss him senseless – consequences be damned.
Imagining the kissing (oh, the heavenly kissing) wasn't as bad as suddenly having Atanna ask her if they'd consummated their marriage yet. Oh Edolas, Natsu had slept in her bed enough times for her to wake up in a daze and think that she had finally done the deed with her best friend. She knew what it felt like to be pressed up against his chest, knew what it felt like to have his arms around her, she knew the temperature of him much better than she knew her own because she always felt so cold next to him – there was a lot that she knew about Natsu, but adding the kissing fantasy to all of those things made her feel like she would explode from all her pent up feelings, as petty as that sounded.
So when asked each question (it was a yes to the first, though she refused to give details, and a no to the second, saying that they had decided to wait to see if they really were compatible before getting too deep into their new relationship) she smiled and gave an appropriate response, all the while hoping that Atanna couldn't see where her thoughts were wandering and how much she wished they were true.
When her imagination proved to be more powerful than her will, Lucy quickly turned the attention the Atanna's newly-wed status, asking her the same questions while trying to get a feel for what kind of person Kolt was. Atanna didn't divulge many details, keeping it politely vague for a person she had just met, but Lucy was starting to feel that there was a little more to the story of Kolt and Atanna than she was letting on.
When the question as to why Atanna had married Kolt came up, she immediately became jumpy and more than a little twitchy. Her eyes darted around to where the guys where at the snack bar, laughing away and drinking more than they probably should in the middle of the afternoon – but, hey, they were on vacation, and as long as Natsu got his target to talk, Lucy didn't really care how he did so. But she still couldn't help but feel suspicious of the events surrounding the couple who they were watching, something just wasn't right between them, and Lucy couldn't decide who was in the wrong. She would have like to believe that it was Kolt who was the dirty one, and not only because she was genuinely starting to like Atanna, but because then it would make this mission a lot easier. Kolt seemed to be an easy going guy, and she felt that if he was caught, then there wouldn't be much of a problem dragging him in for justice. Men were always like that. A little trickery, a lot of fight, but in the end, if you appeal to their pride, they were easy enough to persuade.
Women, on the other hand, were a bit more difficult to deal with. They could set aside their pride and dignity when it suited them best – turning them into damsels in distress or the hopelessly-in-love heiress who just wanted a better life. All the while, though, they'd be scheming and plotting in their heads, calculating with a coldhearted ruthlessness that Lucy was slightly ashamed to say she had used more than once in her lifetime. Most women, when they turned out to be the actual baddie, were the employers or the ones the heroes were sent to save. They're always unassuming enough that you don't suspected them until it's too late. And they went in hard. Justice never sits well with those types of women, Lucy reflected, because they normally aren't always in the wrong. Neither are the men, to be fair, but as some wise man once said, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned".
As Lucy watched Atanna's eyesight dart around the plaza, she couldn't help but wonder if Atanna fit into the "women scorned". Surely, being rich had its advantages, but with all those privileges normally came a whole lot of restrictions. Like who to marry and who not to marry, what was acceptable and what wasn't, who was ok to be acquainted with and who wasn't, and and who was an acquaintance or a companion but never a friend. If it was indeed Atanna behind all this, then Lucy knew that she and Natsu had their work cut out for them. She was going to have to find a motive and appeal to the more vulnerable side of the person Atanna was if Lucy were to ever make her see reason. Yet until she could find more proof that it was Atanna's masterminding and not Kolt's, Lucy would continue to passively suspect the man as the parents and employers had suggested.
She shut out her suspicions as the conversation made towards safer ground, promising herself that she'd go back and look over everything happening later.
That night, as she and Natsu retired to their room (him still on the couch and her on the bed – he'd been surprisingly sensitive to them sharing a bed while on this mission), they both gave a run down on whatever information they had learned. By the end of it, they both reached the same conclusion: it was probable that either one or both of them was the Einstein behind the formula.
They still didn't know which one.
It seemed that Atanna was afraid of all questions about their intimate and personal lives while Kolt was scared stiff about matters concerning her family and the consequences of their marriage.
"I don't think that it was Kolt, Luce. It's not in him to use a girl like that," was all Natsu said as they were starting to drift off to sleep, "I see a lot of us in their relationship, Lucy, and I know that I would never do something like that to you. That's why I don't think that it's Atanna either, because you'd never do something like that to me." Then he fell asleep leaving Lucy to ponder the implications of that statement. While her emotions soared, saying that there was hope for her yet, another something settled into the pit of her stomach, aching and chilling every part of her no matter how tightly she curled in on herself.
Did he see them in that kind of relationship as they were now, or was he talking about if she had stayed with her father and then run away with him? Was he seeing her as she was now, or was he seeing her in Atanna, the runaway heir to a fortune who used marriage as her way out?
That made another thought spiral into her mind: if she was Atanna and he was Kolt, then what happened if one of them was actually using the other? What if she was right and Atanna was really the one behind all of this?
Then what would Natsu think of her?
The fourth day found Lucy shopping around town with her new friend while Natsu and Kolt hit the in-resort casino, burning off whatever cash was scorching a hole in their pockets. Both of the ladies had decided that they really didn't want to see their money becoming fodder for other table sharks, so they had taken whatever amount of jewels they could from the guys before they took off for an epic game of Black Jack.
Through searching for clothes and laughing at fashion-gone-wrong, Lucy learned that Atanna had almost none of the traditional fashion sense of a well brought up konzern daughter. Where Lucy's past brought out the (somewhat) classier side in her clothing choices, Atanna had a thing for dark, dreary, and borderline scandalous. When Lucy asked about her tastes, she just shrugged and muttered something about wanting to rebel in every way possible before purposefully moving over to a rack of lighter colored clothing.
Lucy tried to shrug it off as a personality quirk that developed away from home, but the way she moved around the clothes and their brands was a little suspicious. Someone who got married two and a half months ago and left her konzern family two months before should not know her way around straps and gaudy bangles that easily. Something was going on here.
For herself, Lucy picked up a few more tank-tops, knowing that a heat wave was washing brutally over Magnolia at the moment. When she went back, she knew she was going to want some lighter wear than what she already had. Two new bikinis and several pairs of shorts later, and both the women were headed for the jewelry department.
That's when the fun really started, as Lucy saw Erza browsing at a weaponry store across the street and Gray looking for a new high collared coat over in the men's section. Wendy, Happy, and Charle were over near the back, just visible through the racks of glittering sterling silver and plastic gemstones, gawking over an impressive display of tropical fish and the like. She was still scrutinizing each of them when Gray caught her eye and very deliberately pushed over one of the many racks of coats he'd been staring at. Though to anyone else, Lucy had to suppose that the move just looked like a clumsy mistake.
Not sparing Atanna a second glance – and silently hoping that her coming over to help him was what Gray had in mind – Lucy asked the so called stranger if he needed any help cleaning up.
"Oh, yeah, thanks lady. Sorry, all this heat is getting to me and I can't help but feel a bit clumsy," he reached over to her left, grabbing on of the hangers that had fallen off while Lucy smiled benignly and started to help pick up the clothes, noticing Atanna's slight interest all the while. She continued to pick up all the scattered articles until her companion's interest was snagged away by a particularly shiny necklace, then she rounded on Gray.
"Isn't this just a little, I don't know, conspicuous? What if she sees one of your guild marks, she'll know what's going on just like that!" Whisper-hissing really took the edge off an insult.
"Look, she already knows. Her goons were all over our hotel room the other day – we had to figure some way to alert you and Natsu before she got to the both of you, too."
"Are you sure that it was Atanna's goons and not Kolt's?"
"Yeah, actually, we're pretty sure that Kolt's being used as a scapegoat in this one." He reached for one white coat at her side, pressing something into the coat pocket that only Lucy could see, "Erza, Wendy and I did some research, her parents don't want you guys to watch Kolt, they want you to keep an eye on Atanna. She's been trying to leech their money out of them for years."
She stood up, brushing off her skirt while eyeing Gray skeptically; Atanna being behind everything still seemed slightly like a stretching it. As they pulled the rack back upright, Gray grabbed her wrist, shooting her a warning look.
"Don't trust her, Lucy. No matter what you think," he whispered, before shaking her hand and in a voice clearly audible to those around them – mostly projected towards Atanna – he thanked her for her help and asked her if she would like to go grab some coffee sometime. She had to narrow her eyes at this; just what was Gray playing at? She was an undercover newlywed, as in, married. Was this some sort of test?
"Thank you, but I'm married," he gave her a smirk that was just a little too knowing for any sort of stranger – great. Now Gray knew too. Could this day possibly get anymore confusing than it already was? She kept her fingers crossed, praying to what or whomever was there upstairs to have just a touch of mercy on her for the rest of the day.
Oh, who was she kidding? The next two hours being lax would be a mercy above mercies.
Grabbing the white coat with the note in the pocket from the hanger, Lucy had to admit that it would be nice for winter and that Gray had good taste for someone who spent more time shedding vesture than he did wearing it. Lucy sighed, heading back to Atanna who was now looking at engagement rings. Hers suddenly seemed to tighten and spread an itch all across her digit.
"Who was that, Lucy? He seemed pretty interested in you. Does Natsu know that you still have suitors chasing you around corners?" Lucy was pretty sure that she mumbled something halfheartedly, but she couldn't remember for the life of her what she said, because her mind was already calculating the risk of getting Natsu a ring to match hers. Couldn't be too worrying, could it?
Under Atanna's speculative gaze, Lucy purchased a simple, smooth, black steel band. Convincing herself that it was just to keep their ruse under wraps so not to raise any suspicion.
She'd woken up before the sun even dared to start showing its sleepy face, only a couple hours past midnight and a few more since Natsu had stumbled back into the room with a surprising amount of jewels in his hands. Gambling had paid off more than she had thought it would. Though she really hoped he didn't make a habit of it.
She found after two and a half hours that there was no sleep coming to her, so she'd reached into the shopping bag against the wall out of sight and started to roll Natsu's ring between her fingers. She hadn't given it to him last night and she wasn't sure how to give it to him today either. Should she leave it with a note on his pillow like he'd done for her? Should she hand it to him directly and just walk away, or should she explain her intentions? But wait, wouldn't that make it look like she was trying to hard? But if she didn't explain, then he might take it the wrong way! Which, she grudgingly admitted, would be the right way to take the gesture, but he didn't need to know that.
And how in the world was she supposed to focus on the mission when all she had filling her head were ways to keep Natsu from finding out that she loved him and to stay at his side as his best friend and partner at the same time? Oh Mavis, she was going to drive herself mad after all of this was said and done.
Rolling on to her side, Lucy glanced at the clock, slipping Natsu's much too big ring onto her thumb in an effort to still her restless energy. It didn't work, but six o'clock was a reasonable time to start the day right? Or, it was for most people, so it shouldn't be too big of a deal if she got up now instead of her usual ten thirty – eleven just-in-time-for-brunch hour.
A loud snore from Natsu made her jump, heart pounding and head thinking of a million different excuse as to why it was perfectly ordinary for her to be up at six. Ones she was sure he wouldn't buy but would live with because she wouldn't tell him the whole truth. She shouldn't have worried. He simply flopped from his left to his right on the couch-turned-bed and fell back into a noiseless sleep.
Yup, paranoia was setting in. It was time for a walk.
She didn't get far into her calming walk before stress reared its ugly head again. Though this time it was something that she could deal with. Not to say that she couldn't deal with her emotions – just that most times she really didn't like delving into the into her maze-like psyche.
"So they're really on our trail this time? You're absolutely sure?" the voice sounded faintly familiar, even if she had only heard it in a few words and a couple of lewd jokes that had Natsu cackling for the rest of the day. It was Kolt. A very suspicious sounding Kolt.
"I'm absolutely certain, Sabfer. They're on to us. If your guild can't get the money from my parents in the next three days, then you can bet your thread-bare butt that you won't be getting any of the prize. You were hired under the pretense that we'd get married and then divorced as soon as the inheritance was mine. But your group of people is supposed to be using all of their connections to get my parents to speed up the inheritance process. By any means necessary. Where is my money?"
Ok, so maybe Atanna being a money-loving gold digger of rich man's daughter wasn't so unbelievable anymore.
Well, now what to do? The mission had only said to check the suspects out, not what to do when everything came out in the open. Which Lucy hadn't been expecting to happen. It was only what, day five out of seven? She had been expecting this to take a lot longer than five days. Waking up early may just yet have its benefits.
"What happens when they figure out the true story, all of the true story, Wyber. Then the both of us are as good as six feet under."
"Relax. I've got it under control. The blonde's wrapped completely around my finger, I have her completely convinced that it's you who's behind all of the lies and schematics." There was silence for a little while, where Lucy could picture the heated, distrustful glares being thrown into play. Kolt and Atanna hated each other, the realization didn't come with much pomp or fanfare, but Lucy was now wondering over their acting abilities.
"Besides," Atanna's devil-may-care saccharine voice carried through the lobby entrance, where Lucy was hiding just behind a pillar, "if she does start to get suspicious, I've got some blackmail on her that will surely catch the attention of her husband. Poor Mr. Dragneel won't even know what hit him; his wife having an affair and all that already."
Wait, say what?
"Then you should be fine in your blackmail's security if I were to tell you that Natsu is convinced that it's you who's got all of this down to a science." Lucy could hear the smile in Atanna's voice when she spoke next.
"Ah, creating marital discord. For your sake, Sabfer, I really hope that they're too busy fighting amongst themselves to come after you." She risked a glance around the corner in time to see Kolt sneering down at his shorter companion in crime.
"What makes you so sure that they'll come after me and not you?"
"It might not be statistically proven, but everyone knows that women are always right. Isn't that right, Lucy?"
She didn't know when she started running, but she had. And she knew that Atanna knew that she had heard every word that had been said between her and Kolt.
She didn't stop running until her back was pressed against her bolted hotel room door. Natsu awoke with a groggy "what's going on?" but Lucy was too far into panic mode to pay much attention.
Atanna saw me. Atanna saw me. Atanna saw me. She saw me. She saw me. Shesawmeshesawmeshesawme –– She saw me! What's going to happen now?
Her panic must have shown on her face more than she thought it did, because Natsu was now giving her an odd look somewhere between concern and wariness.
"Luce? What's wrong? You look like you saw Happy cleaning out your fridge again. Two hours after you got back from shopping." Jeez, that bad, huh? She'd had the misfortune of seeing herself in the window when that event happened. It hadn't been pretty. Instead of making a joke like the rational part of her brain was demanding she do, the irrational portion squashed down the idea with a zeal that almost scared her. If she could be any further into fear. So instead she blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
"She knows, Natsu, knows that we're spying on her."
"Oh." She could tell by his expression that he didn't quite understand why that was such a big deal, but then again, maybe it really wasn't –– but she wasn't thinking rationally enough for the thought to sink in any farther than it was necessary to reject it from her panicked thought cycle.
She knows. She knows. She knows. Oh, Edolas, she knows! And she's going to blackmail me and give Natsu the wrong idea. There's nothing between me and Gray. But he doesn't know that and she doesn't know that. I don't think she cares anyhow. She knows, she knows, she knows!
With the remembrance of Atanna's supposed extortions, all of Lucy's previous doubts came crashing back down on her, seeming to double the amount of gravity around her, because suddenly her legs weren't working and she shouldn't be this worked up, but she was. She slid to the floor, grateful for the solidness behind and underneath her because she felt like things were starting to unravel and twist and turn and frankly were starting to feel very unsolid.
Natsu scratched the back of his head, not sure how to respond, but seeing her obvious distress. What was it that you were suppose to do in these situations? He knew that Lisanna and most of the other females of the guild had told him – several times – and normally he could remember, but there was just something about Lucy and her looking so fragile that made him not want to blunder in with halfhearted reassurances. He didn't want her to look at him like he had shattered her world when he couldn't keep his promises. Not that he'd purposefully fail her, but he was only human – sans most semantics.
So he decided to stick with the one thing that he knew he would always be able to back up.
"Look, Luce, whatever's happening, I promise that they can't hurt you ok? They can't get to you, not while I'm here, so you're fine." A watery smile put him at ease and the promise gave her a rock to clutch at in a churning sea – while desperately trying not to read too deeply into it.
Several mugs of room-serviced hot chocolate later, and Lucy was spilling everything that she'd heard in the lobby forty-five minutes earlier –– had it really only been a half an hour plus fifteen minutes? It seemed like a lifetime ago.
"So they're both behind it?"
"Yes, Natsu, they're working together. There's not just one bad guy –– they're both the bad guys. And I think that they have something nasty planned for Mr. and Mrs. Wyber."
They were in the more living room like area of the suite, the couch having been put back together from bed to sofa for the convenience of daily movement. Well, she was sitting and he was pacing. He wouldn't admit it, but her flustered entrance had shaken him more than he let on and he was way too hyper aware of everything to be sitting down.
"We've gotta tell Erza and the others, their notes are all wrong. I mean, they're right, but not completely. Kolt's in on it too." She watched him with her eyes, sliding them back and forth to keep time with his movements, her third cup of hot cocoa nestled in her hands.
"How, though? They're probably waiting for us to leave our room so they can ambush us. Frankly, I'd rather go through this mission without getting hurt unnecessarily." He huffed, trying to think of a plan that employed stealth instead of bashing like he's prefer. She was right, after all. If she didn't need to get hurt unnecessarily, then all the better. His preference paled in comparison to Lucy being thrown into conflict with people who had unknown abilities.
Natsu paused by the window, staring down the road where he knew the rest of Team Natsu were staying at a marginally smaller hotel than the one he and Lucy were at. Man, it'd be nice if Happy were here, he could fly him over to the rest of Fairy Tail's strongest team. Or just carry the messages himself.
"It'd sure be nice if Happy were here."
"Hmm? Why's that?"
"Then I could just go out the window and fly all the way over there."
"Can't you go out the window anyway?"
"We're on the seventh floor, Lucy, I doubt that even I would escape without ending up a pancake."
"No, I mean, you could use the fire escape to climb down without raising suspicion –– well, too much suspicion, anyway." Lucy made her way to the window, pointing out the ladder that ran across the building, zig-zagging all the way from the ground to the roof, "You'll be able to go from this room all the way to either the ground or the roof, depending on what you choose to do."
He grinned, once again happy that his partner was better at strategizing than he was. Because even though he wasn't stupid, Natsu had a habit of missing the obvious and going for the hardest route. For example, instead of using the handily placed stair way on the outside, he probably would have jumped and hoped for the best.
"Great, so I'll go correct – er, warn everyone while you––"
"Do recon." Ok, not what he was going to say (he'd much rather have her stay in the room well out of harms way), but he wasn't about to argue with her. She had The Look in her eye that told him arguing would be a good way to get Lucy Kicked. Or told all the benefits and strategic reasons as to why this was the best course of action. He didn't like the thought of either, so he'd just have to hurry on his end of the plan and get back here to yank her into the safe haven again on his own.
"Fine, but we'll all meet up back in our room by noon so we can come up with a plan of action." And with that, Natsu opened the window and started the climb down to the pavement, yelling over his shoulder to remind her that they were all meeting up at noon and that she better not be late.
For his sake or hers, though, he couldn't tell.
It took him three hours longer to find all of his other friends than he had originally thought. For whatever reason, they had all thought that today had been the perfect day to spread out across the city – as far away as possible from their hotel and Natsu's – to do some much unwarranted shopping. So, at three hours after twelve – effective three o'clock – Natsu was standing with Gray, Erza, Wendy and all exceeds in tow, in an empty suite.
Translation: in a Lucy-less suite.
"Maybe she went out to do some more recon when she found out that we weren't here yet?" Gray scratched the back of his head, giving the room a glance around once more.
"It is finitely likely," Erza nodded in agreement, also sweeping the room with her sharp eyes, "we were unable to arrive in a socially acceptable range of unpunctuality, so it would not surprise me with Lucy's inability to procrastinate that she decided to find out more than she had, given our unknown return time."
"But we agreed on twelve o'clock!" Natsu insisted, tapping his foot on the floor with his srms crossed. He'd been staring at the door for the past couple of minutes since their return to the resort, and he couldn't help the niggling feeling in the pit of his stomach that something had gone undeniably wrong.
It could have been the paranoia that he'd continually experienced the sparse hours after Lucy's teary revealing of the villains' self-explanatory monologuing, but he honestly couldn't chalk it up to that. He tried – several times within the past fifteen minutes – to rationalize it as Lucy being exasperated and wanting the mission done as soon as possible. But he couldn't, because then there was always her terrified eyes after realizing that she'd become a road block in Atanna's way.
He'd tried to tell himself that she was simply trying to find cold hard evidence against them to make sure that they'd go straight to jail without passing "Go" or collecting two-hundred jewels; but then there was the entire speech she'd given him one-hundred and eighty minutes ago. That was all the evidence that was needed.
He'd even tried to tell himself that she'd found out what the gold diggers had planned for Atanna's parents and then went to warn them at the expense of herself and Natsu's sanity; but then he remembered how she told him that they'd do whatever necessary to take the money from the Wybers.
And that left him wondering just what they'd do to her if they caught her snooping.
No, he couldn't put it down to paranoia, because as soon as the thought of them holding Lucy captive while they accomplished their goal crossed his mind, the cold, clenched feeling in his stomach twisted itself into lead that had his stomach dropping to his feet. He knew that was what happened, that they had her, even if he couldn't explain it, but as the clock continued to tick – six o'clock, nine o'clock, midnight – and the air in the room continued to buzz with tension, he did nothing.
He only stared at the door, hoping against hope that she'd walk in, telling him that she'd solved the mission on her own, thank you very much, without his help at all, because he had an idiot's sense of time and didn't know three hours from three minutes.
He waited, and she never walked through the door.
Had she known that they had been waiting for her right outside in the lobby, she wouldn't have sent Natsu away. Sure, she may have had some inkling of the idea, seeing that Atanna had called her out while she'd been eavesdropping in the hallway, but her stubborn pride had won out against practicality with a reinforcement called "embarrassment" and she'd made sure that Natsu had been well and truly on his way out of the building before taking a deep breath to berate herself for falling apart like that.
Then she'd opened the door, walked down the corridor, and quite literally put herself into the hands of her enemy. There ensured a mini-battle in which hers was the losing side (she really hadn't wanted to damage too much – all she could see as she looked around were jewel signs hanging over everything), but in which Atanna, Kolt, and all their nasty henchmen hadn't been so hindered.
They hadn't completely destroyed the lobby, but it had been pretty close.
So she was now sitting in the manager's office (the manager had politely been asked to leave) tied to the window pane that, she had been dutifully told by the hired hand who put her there, was engineered to come lose and fall out if jolted from its place. Backwards. As it, into the street ten floors down. No escape attempts for her then.
Kolt and most of the muscle men had left to finalize some finer points of their devilish plot, which left Atanna and Lucy alone in the same room. Which, admittedly, left Lucy less than comfortable. It started off silently, Atanna filing down her nails and Lucy picking pointlessly at the ropes binding her while wondering how long it would take for her friends to find her. Then Atanna started talking.
"So, you and that Salamander brat aren't actually married, are you?" She was too surprised to come up with a politically vague statement, so Lucy's answer was something that would make any politician turn over in their graves.
"You and Natsu, you're not married, are you?" Atanna waved the file in Lucy's general direction.
"What do you think?" Lucy spit back, if only to win some petty spite.
"I think that my parents are paying you to make sure that I can't get their fortune, that's what I think."
"Well, I can see why they don't want you to have it. At least when I ran away, it was because I wanted away from the money, not to take it all for myself."
"Ah, I heard about that!" Atanna's eyes turned to Lucy's, some genuine interest as well as an unhealthy dose of mockery and scorn flashing in her eyes, "Sad, isn't it, that love's so hard to find in this world now-a-days. I mean, I'm sure what you feel for you friend in true love or some other form of romantic spittle, but I'm telling you, the only 'true love' in this world is for money and power. There's nothing in the heart except for pumping blood and cold rationality."
"Don't tell me you haven't noticed," her patronizing glare turned to Lucy, pinning her amongst all her confusion, "your father; always busy with work, always more concerned with his money that with his own daughter. Where is the 'love' he was supposed to feel towards you as his daughter, his own flesh and blood? All the men who've shown interest in little Lucy Heartfilia – for the money, or for the girl who has it? Or if for neither, could it only be for her body?" She trailed off expectantly, going back to her nail care with a nonchalance unfitting for the conversation.
"Why are you telling me this?" Lucy hated how her voice trembled, but there was no helping it.
"Because I hate naïve girls like you, who think that the world still gives two cents about other people's emotions. It's all personal gain – satisfaction, distraction, admiration; the list goes on. I was just like you once, you know, I liked to believe in people, liked to trust them, but then one of the many people in the race we call humanity broke my heart and opened my eyes. Whatever you feel for him, whatever he feels for you, it's a lie. There's an underlying motive, a hidden intention.
"No one is as innocent as you give them credit for. I bet he promised you that nothing would happen to you if you stayed with him, am I right? Where are you now? You're ten stories and a panel of glass away from a very violent end. I bet he helps you, I bet you think him simple, I bet you think him good – but there's always something else, someone else." She paused, giving Lucy a look drenched in icy cynicism.
"Natsu isn't like that! Neither was my father! He changed, he came back for me, he left his old self behind and tried to better himself for me. If that isn't love then I don't know what is! And as for Natsu, he doesn't know what I feel for him – and I know that I don't have any hidden motives when I say that I'm in love with him; it's just how it is!"
"But how do you know that he doesn't know?" Lucy faltered slightly, still trying to catch up to the turn in conversation.
"How do you know that he isn't just playing the fool or playing you the fool? He could change his mind, switch to someone else as soon as he's finished playing with you, and you wouldn't be any the wiser to his trues personality. As you said," she smirked jeeringly, "people can change. Didn't you father only change after he lost his money, though? Where would he be if he was still Jude Heartfilia, richest man in Fiore? Would he have come to search out his daughter to apologize, or would you never have heard from him for the rest of you life – your fortune signed and willed off to some distant relative that you've never met, let alone heard of.
"How much do you know about you partner to be as confident in his inability to fail as you are? If there's something missing from the equation, tell me, I'd be glad to open you eyes of any more misconceptions." No matter what Lucy sputtered, Atanna didn't answer to anything, not even the insults of the semi-coherent defenses that she threw against her.
In the end though, Lucy was afraid that something about what Atanna had said might have reached her deeper than she would have liked; because if she truly was as alike to Atanna as she had previously thought, if her father's personality had only changed with the loss of money (which was in the realm of probability, now that she thought about it), how hard would it be for Natsu to simply be playing her feelings like a well tuned fiddle?
Kolt returned some time later, and Lucy was still coming to terms with the terrible truths that her subconscious had drug up from the dredges of Atanna's words. She could understand that she was being purposefully misled, but she couldn't figure out to what end. What benefit did Atanna possibly garner from telling her all of this? While still chasing thoughts in circles, Kolt was already finalizing the final agreement between Atanna and himself.
"Everything's ready. If they refuse to cooperate, then the blackmail we have prepared should be more than enough of an incentive for them to listen to our demands."
"Perfect, then you and I won't ever have to see the other's face ever again, Sabfer."
"Exactly what I had in mind. But what are we going to do about all the lose ends we have lying about?"
"Don't worry your pretty little head, I've got it under control. Marital discord, remember? Capturing her was step one. Now comes the fun part. Shame we won't be able to stick around and watch."
It was some odd hour later in the evening when Lucy was finally set free to roam the lobby. There was a warning of the dire consequences that would befall her should she try to follow them, as well as a knowing smile from Atanna and a shorter version of her earlier revelations – but with new points mixed in that made Lucy all the more jumbled in her thoughts. There would be no chance of running after them now. She wasn't quite sure her mind could handle breathing, running, and sorting through her mess of emotionally fueled thoughts all at the same time. The first and the last were highest on her priority list at the moment though, so she didn't give pursuit a second thought.
No, the only thoughts running through her head had to deal with some serious self-doubt – as cliché as it sounded. Mostly though, she had to think about what Atanna had said before running off to grab the money.
"You know, it would have been so easy for you to be me. It still is. You can't tell me that you don't miss it – all the things that money can buy. The comfort, the security, the affection. It might not be love in the traditional sense, but it's enough for most people like us to live with."
People like us.
Lucy couldn't bring herself past that part of the speech. There was more to it, but then again, there always was.
She couldn't deny that there were times that she missed everything that she used to have, everything that her father's money had given her, but most of the time, the urges were short lived and hardly worth mentioning. So she didn't. Normally, she'd find something else in Fairy Tail or in Magnolia that she'd never want to leave behind, not even for anything her father could have given her. But, having been in a position where money wasn't an issue, where her every whim was something that could be turned into something physical, and she couldn't say that she hadn't disliked it. She could have used some more freedom, some more parental love from her father, but she never wanted for materials. In fact, she'd reveled in the ability to get any of the clothes that she wanted, of being able to gain entrance where ever she wanted. She loved having the keys to places that most people only dreamed about.
And that disgusted her. How could someone like her be worthy of someone like Natsu. Someone whose mind was twisted enough to feel like the world owed her everything that everyone was in her debt. Just because she had a little bit of money. How disgusting.
Her mind was still running in circles when Natsu found her. The others were still searching parts of the city, looking for her and for the evil-doers who had stolen her away.
"Lucy! Luce, I found you!" She didn't have the heart to tell him that she hadn't really wanted to be found. She had already convinced herself that she'd be fine without him finding her, if it meant that he didn't have to be around someone as polluted as her.
"Ah, so you did," she wouldn't look at him, not in the eyes, not after knowing that she and Atanna were the same. I could have been her, she could have been me. She's right it would have been so simple for our positions to be reversed. Maybe I am lucky, maybe she's unlucky, but luck is fickle. What if mine's run out?
"Are you ok? Did they do anything to you? Are you hurt?" It almost hurt to have him so worried about someone like her.
"No – I'm fine, Natsu. B-but, tell me, um, what do y-you think of – of Atanna? What kind of person is she to you?" Natsu gave her a cautious, curious look. She was in one of those moods again, the kind where he knew that if he said something even remotely wrong to her, she'd just get worse. But he didn't know what would constitute as "wrong" right now without knowing what she was thinking or what Atanna had said to her.
"I think she's wrong to be doing what she's doing," he said slowly, "I think that she shouldn't take advantage of her parent's love for her and their money like she intends to." He blanched when she flinched. Ok, rewind, retry.
"Ah, I see. Natsu...how do you feel about me?" This time blanching didn't cover it, he took a step back to regain his balance and sense of self. That was a loaded question, one that he knew when he answered he was going to leave a lot out of.
"Because, you know, I might, kinda, love you. But, I really shouldn't. Because I'm just like Atanna," she lifted her head to give him a tight, watery smile, "I use money. And, now that I think about it, I used my father as much as he used me, so I can't be hypocritical to him. I used to think that the world owed me something, that all the people in Fiore owed me something. I was so used to getting what I wanted, Natsu. The last few years, I realized how wrong that was, and that's why I left. But only a few years can't––"
"––even start comparing to all those years I spent acting like that. I just...I hate how I acted; I – I'd understand how you'd feel if you never wanted to see me again. Honestly, I would." and with that, the lobby went quite, but his brain was anything but. Oh, Edolas, how did he respond to that?
"Lucy, everything you just said was something someone did in the past. I don't know that person. I've never met that person. She may have the same name as you – she might be Lucy Heartfilia, but I know Lucy of Fairy Tail. I don't know the other. And I – uh, I happen to like, no, I happen to love Lucy of Fairy Tail. Who she was before...that doesn't matter to me. Who she is now is all the matters. If she feels like she has something to make up for, then she has all of now and all of the future to do it."
Lucy stood up so fast after his confession that he wasn't totally sure what to do except make sure she didn't fall over. He'd shouldn't have worried. If anything, he was the one who was in danger of falling over because of her intensely tight grip on his biceps.
"How do you know that difference? How do you know that you love me and nothing that I could offer? How do you know that you're not confusing love," she spat the word like poison from her mouth and Natsu found himself wrapping his arms around her, moving her clenched hands to his chest, "for what you feel for me as a friend?"
"Well, let's see," it was almost sarcastic, but somehow, his voice managed to stay soft, "I can't stand the thought of you with another guy who might hurt you." his arms tightened, "I can't stand the thought of you being hurt. I hate it when you avoid me and flirt with other guys. I hate it when you won't tell me what's wrong," his chin brushed the top of her hair, reveling in the feeling of her folding up against him, "I love the way you smile and laugh – it makes me feel like I can do anything. I want to be the one who dries all your tears and be the one who murders the one who caused them. I want to be the only one who knows what you're thinking, even if you tell me or not. And, last, but not least, I want to be the only one who eats all the food in your house! If that's not 'love' then can you tell me what is?" Ok, bad attempt at humor, but it made her laugh, so it was fine.
"You aren't Atanna, Lucy. I don't care what she said to you and I don't care about whatever money your father had. I just care about you."
CUT! THAT'S A WRAP!
Ok, wow, I just wrote 24 pages. It was NOT supposed to be that long! But it is...so...I don't think I'll apologize. Though I do for any grammatical mistakes or spelling errors.
Gajeel and Levy are up next – do you think that Levy should be the one against their relationship or for it? I kinda feel like she should be for it. I don't know. I have this headcanon that Gajeel is the more...conservative...one with their relationship and Levy is all in the open with it. PDA ALL THE WAY! Levy initiates everything.
R&R! THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT THROUGH THE NALU ARC!