He always thought romance was a stupid emotion—"love" would not happen to him. It wasn't really something Natsu imagined would happen. He never saw anyone as more than a friend. They were nakama, and that's all there was to it. Now all of a sudden things felt so different so…strange.
His father had told him long ago how when a dragon finally matured, their body would start to change.
"There comes a time in every young dragon's life when his body starts to change in strange ways."
"Yeah yeah. Like losing old scales or getting adult fangs," Natsu ginned, pulling his cheek away from his mouth with his finger. "Wook! I aweady hab won ob my adult hangs!"
Ingeel threw his head back, his mouth curling back in a dragon-like grin. A rumbling growl erupted from his throat. "Not exactly."
With a single claw, he flipped the page of the large book on the cave floor. A picture of a dragon curled around a rocky nest was drawn on the paper. A large egg sat nestled next to it, the dragon's tail wrapped gently around it. The look on the dragon's face was so tender and loving—so different than the normal image human had of dragons. Young Natsu leaned over the book. His face brightened and he pointed excitedly to the egg.
"Hey, it's a new dragon!"
Igneel chuckled, a throaty rumble. "When a young dragon matures, the body starts to change."
"Like how?" Natsu looked up at his father, curiosity sparkling in his eyes.
"A young dragon's body will start to feel as though you crave a fresh kill, but it is not the meat or the thrill of the hunt you crave—it is something different. You will crave a companion."
Natsu laughed. Tears leaked from his eyes as he held his stomach. "Is that it? As long as you have nakama, your body won't go through that right?"
"The type of companionship is different, Natsu. It is a special kind of bond that two dragons will share. One that can never be broken. It is a type of bond created when two halves of a whole come together for the first time. Before this happens, a young dragon will feel an insatiable hunger that cannot be satisfied no matter how much one tries."
"Hunger you can't cure? I never wanna go through that!"
"When the time comes, Natsu, you'll understand."
"Natsu!" The smiling face of a blue cat hovered above him.
"Oh! Happy!" Natsu grinned. "What's up?"
"You were sleeping so long I thought you'd never get up." Happy, the cat, hopped off of Natsu's stomach and sat down on the bed. "Natsuuuuu, you were mumbling in your sleep. What were you dreaming about?"
Natsu sat up, stretching his muscled arms above his head. He ran his fingers through his pink, bed-head hair and yawned. "Ah, nothin' much. Just something Igneel told me a long time ago."
"Mmm…." Natsu scratched his head. "What was it?"
Happy sighed. "Natsu…. Same as always."
A loud, gurgling rumble emanated from Natsu's stomach. He clutched his abdomen. "Ah…I'm so huuuuuuungry…."
Happy hopped off the bed. Natsu threw off the blanket and threw open the door. Thrusting his fists into the air, he breathed a small plume of fire.
"Yooooosh!" he shouted. "Let's get to the guild! We need to find a job to get some food money. C'mon, Happy, let's go!"
"Aye aye, sir!"
Natsu and Happy raced to the guild. Fairy Tail was a bit far from their house in the woods, but it didn't take them long to get to Magnolia. Full of energy, Natsu ran top speed to the guild and slammed open the doors.
"Natsuuuuu, wait up!"
"Oi, Mira! I'm hungry, what'cha got today?" He shouted, his voice overflowing with enthusiasm
A couple of heads turned to look when the doors burst open. The guild was just as lively as when he first joined Fairy Tail. Many of his nakama were out on jobs, but the usual familiar faces were there. Cana sat at one of the wooden tables, her legs spread wide with a barrel of her usual morning ale between them.
"Geez, Natsu, can't you ever have a quiet morning?" Cana scowled, picking up her barrel. "I can never drink my booze in peace with you around."
The big, burly man with spiky white that sat the table behind her laughed loudly. "That's a real man's entrance! You don't have any right to talk about noise, Cana." He grinned.
"You wanna say that again, Elfman?" Cana stood up quickly, glowering at him. She leaned her face close to his.
"A real man doesn't start a fight with women. Not unless a challenge is offered."
"That can be arranged."
"Cana, don't start a fight so early in the morning," Levy, the young girl with blue hair interjected. "Is a quiet morning too much to ask?"
He strode to the bar at the back of the room, a stool flying across the room. The stool hit a group of other guild members playing cards.
"Who threw that?"
"I didn't even start this fight!" Cana yelled.
"If it's a fight you want, then I accept your challenge!" Elfman's voice bellowed. "A real man never turns down a challenge."
The room erupted in shouts. Objects that normally should have been stationary quickly became projectiles in the all-out brawl. Colliding magic exploded everywhere, breaking tables and sending people flying.
"Does this guild even know what a quiet morning is like?" The young blonde at the bar sighed.
A weird sensation rose in Natsu's chest when he spotted her. It felt as if a small puff of smoke were rising from his stomach up to his chest, like when he breathed fire. But he ignored it and approached her. He draped an arm over the girl's shoulder, leaning against her. She jumped in surprise.
"Yo! Morning Lucy!" He grinned.
Happy flew straight for her. "Lucyyyyy!"
She shoved Natsu away, annoyed. "Natsu, Happy! You scared me!"
Natsu laughed, a big grin on his face. He plopped down on one of the stools at the bar. "Miraaaa, what's for breakfast?"
"Natsu, did you have to start a brawl so early in the morning?" Mira, the white-haired barmaid and poster girl of Fairy Tail smiled sweetly.
"What'cha talkin' about?"
She sighed. "I suppose, there's nothing better than a loud morning. If the day started quiet, I think I'd be a bit worried. It wouldn't quite be Fairy Tail would it?"
"Yeah, you're right." Lucy giggled.
"Morning, Mira!" Happy shouted, hopping onto the counter.
"Good morning, Happy," she said with a smile.
"So Mira, what'cha got for breakfast? I'm starving?" Natsu pounded his fists excitedly on the bartop.
"Natsu, you know we don't give out free breakfast."
"But lucky for you, someone brought back some fresh meat, so just this once it'll be on the house."
Mira turned and pulled a large pot off the stove. Setting a big bowl in front of him, she poured out a heaping portion of dark brown stew. Calling it "stew" would be putting it lightly. It was more like heaping chunks of reddish meat with a slight gravy, a few vegetables wedged in here and there. Mira lit a match and dropped it into the mix, lighting the whole thing on fire. Natu's eyes widened.
"Woah! Thanks, Mira!" He grabbed a spoon. "Ittadakimaaaaaasu!" Natsu shoved a big spoonful in his mouth. "Oo bawt dis ba'?" he asked through mouthfuls of meat.
A look of disgust crossed Lucy's face. "Gross…don't talk with your mouth full."
"We got a lot this morning," she said with a cheerful grin. Mira pointed to the two large sacks on the floor behind the bar. "All thanks to—"
"The monster I defeated on my way back from my job." The female voice that came from behind him was steely.
Natsu stiffened at the sound of the voice. He turned hesitantly. The female armored mage stood behind him. Her scarlet hair gave the stern look of hers an even scarier appearance. She stared down at him.
"Er-chan, we were just talking about you!" Mira set a plate of strawberry shortcake on the counter next to Natsu.
"Ha ha…long time no see, Erza. You just get back from a job?"
"Yes. I just returned this morning."
"What kind of monster did you fight this time?" Happy asked.
"Oh. Hello, Happy." Erza sat down next to Natsu and took a bite of the cake. "It's nothing exciting. It was such a weak monster. Not even worth telling a story about."
"So beating that monster wasn't even part of your job?" Lucy asked incredulously.
"He just happened to be blocking my way."
"Lu-chan! You haven't been on any jobs recently have you?" Mira asked, settin a glass down in front of her.
Lucy sighed. "I'm actually running a little low on money."
"You'd better check for some good ones before they're all taken," Mira said, pouring her some tea.
"There should be some new ones up." Erza took another bite of her cake.
"What kind of job are you gonna take, Lucy?" Happy asked.
"Hmm…I'm not sure." Lucy leaned forward so she could see Natsu's face. "Hey, Natsu! Wanna go on a job together?"
"Hm?" He glanced up as he took another bite. "Yeah sure. You can pick this time."
Lucy stood up and hurried over to the job-listing board. Countless fliers with job requests and rewards were pasted to the board every day. She read them all carefully before taking one down. Bringing it back over to the bar, she held the flier up.
"How about this one?"
The paper was a wanted poster for someone to catch a group of thieves running wild in the forest. Now that Lucy had been in the guild a while, she was starting to choose harder jobs—ones with more rewards.
"Sounds good I guess."
But for some reason in the back of his mind, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was off. His instincts told him that this one was more dangerous than it appeared. He grinned, swallowing his last mouthful of stew. The lingering sense of danger only made the job more appealing.
"Sounds like fun." A trail of smoke leaked out of his mouth. "I'm getting all fired up!"
"Oi, oi!" an annoyed voice called from across the room. "Do you really need to yell so loud? But I guess I can't expect much from somebody who was raised away from civilization."
Natsu glared at the Ice Mage sitting across the hall. Gray's spiky ebony hair reminded him of a sea urchin.
"Yeah?" Natsu shot back. "At least I have more decency. What happened to your clothes this time, ya pervy stripper?"
Gray looked down, his eyes wide with shock. "What happened to my pants?" Gray coughed, averting his attention. "That aside, I hate hearing that childishly loud voice of yours so early in the morning."
As usual, Gray had come to the guild clad in only his boxers. And once again, it had to take someone else to point out his lack of clothes before he noticed. Natsu stalked over to him.
"Oh yeah?" He leaned close to the Ice Mage. His body temperature rose and steam poured from his mouth. "Don't think I heard you right, Sea Urchin. Your annoying face was too distracting."
"Want me to say it again, Flamehead?"
"You're getting me fired up." Natsu conjured a fist-full of flames, clenching his fists tightly. "Don't tell me you want me to beat you up this early in the morning."
"Like you can! Maybe I should cool you down."
"Natsu, hold on a second—" but Lucy's words hit deaf ears.
"Bring it! I'll burn that smug look of your pervy face!"
The air around them both crackled and hissed as Natsu heated the air around him, while Gray's rapidly cooled.
"Ice Make:" Gray pounded his fist against his palm, "Hammer!" Ice crystallized as he moved his hands apart, a hammer of ice forming in midair.
"Fire Dragon's," Natsu crouched low, fire engulfing his fist, "Iron Fist!"
The two charged at each other, but before either could land a blow, Erza appeared beside them.
"You…" she growled, "IDIOTS!"
With one clean swipe she punched them both, knocking them clean off their feet. Natsu and Gray both fell backward, breaking furniture with the force of her attack.
"I told you both to try and get along! Damn it, you're nakama and need to act like it. Got it?"
"Yup!" Natsu said quickly. "M-my bad. We were just, um—"
"Sparring!" Gray interrupted. "Yeah, that's it. We weren't fighting, were we, Natsu?" Gray's voice shook with the same fear Natsu was feeling.
"Yeah! We best friends. You bet!" He forced a fearful smile.
"Oh geez…" Lucy muttered, shaking her head.
Erza shot them a skeptical death glare. Finally she folded her arms in a huff. "Fine. But I want you to prove it." She turned her attention to Gray.
"Eep!" He stiffened. "Uh, yeah…sure. Whatever you want, Erza."
"Go with Natsu and Lucy on this next job. Prove to me that you're really best friends."
A look of speechless horror crossed Natsu and Gray's faces. But out of fear of Erza's wrath, neither of them said a word. Lucy sighed, wiping her hand tiredly down her face. Happy laughed.
"This job is going to be a lot fun, huh, Lucy?" the blue cat said with a grin.
"There'll never be a dull moment, that's for sure." Massaging her shoulder, Lucy sighed again. "Why do I get the feeling that this is just going to get worse?"
"I'm glad you don't have any objections either, Lucy." Erza's stern smile sent chills down Natsu's spine. And he could tell by the stiff look on Lucy's face that she felt it too.
"Of course, Erza. No trouble at all." Lucy quickly hopped off her stool. "U-uh, hey Natsu, Gray! How about we head out tomorrow morning? Meet in front of the guild, kay?"
"Sure," Gray replied, casting a fearful glance in Erza's direction.
"Yeah…fine." Natsu frowned.
"Great! I'll see you both tomorrow morning." Lucy headed for the door.
Gray pulled himself to his feet and rushed off the dirt. "Hey Lucy, where you off to?"
"I'm going to go get us some supplies."
"I'll come with you. Better than staying here with Erza…."
"What was that, Gray?" Erza's steely voice asked.
"N-nothing! Let's go, Lucy!" He raced toward the guild doors, wanting to be as far away from Erza as possible.
"Gray! At least put some pants on first!" Lucy hollered as she chased after him.
Natsu plopped down on an empty bench and slumped down on the table. He watched Lucy's retreating figure as she chased after Gray. Laying his head on the table, he sighed. Happy jumped up on the table.
"Hey, Natsu, what's wrong?"
"Mm…I dunno. Nothing, I guess." He sighed. "Why?"
Happy sat down on the table. "I don't know. You just seem kind of out it today."
"I think that dream I had is still kinda botherin' me."
"You said you couldn't remember what it was about."
"I can't! But I know it was important…." He ruffled his pink hair in frustration. "It was something Igneel said, but what was it…?"