The trip back to the guild was one filled with happy voices filling me in on everything that happened while on the Island. I took in their words, their tired, dirty faces, and tried my best to process what they were saying—fantastical battles against Godslayers, spirit battles, bone chilling mentions of Zeref, and even mention of the dragon, Acnologia.
But I was caught staring stupidly at them all, in awe of the fact that they were really there.
They weren't dead.
It was in a beat of silence as we walked the last leg of our journey back to the guild that Makarov took the initiative and attempted to question me about what had happened in their absence.
I mulled the answer in my head, the babbling voices of Magnolia citizens blending into the background. Would I tell them everything? Every sordid detail? Every shed tear, torn muscle, bloodied guild member? Should I tell them about the horrid dark magic which had been cast on me?
Of course not. "You'll find out when we get to the guild," I said, giving a bland smile.
"Luuuuucy," Natsu whined, and my traitor heart skipped a beat at the sound of my name. "You said we've been gone for seven years though! You can't just say that!"
"I can," I told him blankly, tucking an errant lock of hair behind my ear. "Because we're already here."
Natsu's bottomless eyes widened in sync with Happy's and his head twisted around dramatically as Erza kicked the guild doors open. I held in a chuckle as they rushed in, all poses and grins, happy for their triumphant return. A smile that quickly fell away as the usual sounds of my guild—clinking glasses, jovial belly laughs, rough housing and pattering children's feet—fell away into an eery silence that melded into the sounds of Magnolia citizens again.
With a bone weary sigh, I went around the Tenrou team to address the shocked faces of the guild. And as soon as I did, they zeroed in on me, gaping and pointing, some pale and shaking, mouthing the word "GHOST!"
"They're real," I said, then ambled over to the bar to evade the bum rush of people who went up to greet the returned team.
The festivities were larger than life. The happy sounds and tears that filled our home inside the guild were enough to fill every nook and cranny, smiles flashed that stretched from ear-to-ear, the Tenrou team so occupied by curious guild members. I sat at the bar quietly, switching between the happy bodies flitting from place to place, to the cream colored bubbles sitting on my honey colored tonic.
It was a simple nerve-quelling tonic.
After the initial shock of seeing everyone alive again, I felt like I was in limbo. There was a bizarre feeling of emptiness burrowed into me, a jittery buzzing and a pit weighing down my stomach. The tonic helped, took the edge off, but what I was feeling was huge,
"What are you doing all the way over here?" Macao asked, plopping down on a barstool next to me, a blue plume of smoke following him in lazy whorls from a simple pipe.
"You've taken up smoking?" I asked, cocking an eyebrow. "That's a disgusting habit. You smell like a dirty chimney."
"You're avoiding the question," he pointed out wryly, pulling my mug towards him and giving it a quick sniff. His eyebrows flew up, "Why the heck are you drinking this crap?"
I stole my mug back with a territorial jerk, liquid sloshing onto the bar. "I think I'm in shock," I mumbled.
"Gee, are you a parrot today, Macao?" I said, no real bite in my words. I trailed a finger down the cool condensation on my mug lamely. "Just need my head to catch up to this—them returning and all." It was much more complex than that, but I didn't want to go into the nitty gritty details of my feelings.
The world had changed so much since they had been gone. Seven years. Seven entire years of memories they weren't in.
"Lucy," Macao said sagely, putting a comforting hand on my shoulder. "You need to stop thinking so much about the past. They're finally back," he paused meaningfully. "he's back."
"Luuuuuuuuucy!" crooned the devil himself, Happy flying loops around his head. "Where'd you go?"
"You idiot, can't you see she's over there by the bar?"
"Shut up, Popsicle Brain!"
"Over here, Natsu," I called out, waving my hand in the air with a small smile.
"There you are!" he said, pushing his way through the crowd to get to me, eyes sparkling. "Why are you over here? What're you drinking? That looks like it would go better if it was on fire, you want me to do that for you?" he babbled excitedly.
I laughed, "Natsu, breathe."
"Whaaaat?" he whined.
And maybe it was the look on his face, with his lips pouted out like a child, and brows furrowed together, maybe it was the way his pink hair fell across his forehead, or the necklace I gave him all those years ago laying against his chest, or the sudden burst of lightness in my heart that provoked me. But I flashed a huge toothy grin, wrapped my arms across him in a huge bear hug and squeezed him until he was choking for breath, and all I could smell was him, and singed clothes.
"L-Lucy—c-c-can't—br-bre-breeeeathe," he wheezed, trying to kick his legs and break my grip.
I dropped him, "Well that's what you get for disappearing for so long, dumbass."
He flashed me a smile, "Missed me?"
"You don't even know the half of it," I said.
"Lucy and Natsu are holding hands!" Happy crowed, the blue cat flying over head. "They liiiiiiike each other!"
My eyes went wide, and I glanced at our joined hands—his hand was warm, rough, comforting—then looked back up at Natsu's mischievous face.
"Natsu?" I mouthed.
He flashed me a toothy grin, "Yeah?"
My face flushed red, "What are you doing?"
"Holding your hand," he said innocently, squeezing it. Even though the eyes of the entire guild were on us and it was stupidly quiet.
"KISS HER ALREADY!" Gajeel yelled from somewhere in the back.
My face heated up even more, remembering the accidental kiss from seven years ago, right before he left to Tenrou.
Quick as lightning, I tore my hand out of Natsu's, took off my shoe, and beamed it at Gajeel. "THE HELL DID YOU SAY, YOU PERVERT?"
And the silence was broken as everyone burst into laughter while I marched over to where the Iron Dragonslayer was to cave his head in.
When the night fell and the crowd cleared out, Natsu was still hanging around with me, Happy having gone off with Carla and Wendy, mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like "alone time" in our direction.
I had glared in the little cat's direction before aiming my attention at Natsu, who was fixing a piercing stare at me. "What?" I asked self-consciously.
"Why do you look—weird?" he said, squinting his eyes at me.
"That's a shitty thing to say to a girl," I griped at him, frowning.
"No," he shook his head. "You don't look like everyone else. You're not, as old looking I guess. Seven years passed, right? Shouldn't you be older than even Erza now?"
I sighed. "Kind of. I'm technically 23."
"I got hit by some dark magic while you guys were gone," I motioned the spiraling black ink on my leg. "It messed with my system, put a stop on my magic for a while, stopped me aging for a bit, so right now I'm something like nineteen or twenty I think."
"That's weird," he said.
"I think weirder things have happened to us."
"Yeah, that's right. Anyway, shouldn't we be getting home?"
I shook my head, "You go ahead, I have some stuff left to do.
He cocked his head at me, a weird shadow passing through his eyes.
I was about to ask him what was wrong, when he leaned forward, brushing his lips against my forehead. "Okay, see ya, Lucy!"
Breathless, I must've stared at the door he left through for a solid minute before I snapped out of it and turned back to the stack of paperwork in front of me.
The Tenrou team's return was amazing. The amount of paperwork I had to fill out because of it though was a nightmare.