XXX

Off the Page

Over a large stack of books peered two large brown eyes, brimming with curiosity. Spying the title she was looking for, Lucy grinned and reached out to carefully remove it from the stack. At least her book wasn't on the bottom.

"Just a little more," she muttered cautiously, easing the book out of the tall pile. The book was free and the stack shifted, but did not fall. Lucy sighed in relief.

She smiled once more and dashed down the hall. Slowing down to compose herself, she reached her father's study and turned the knob. Pushing carefully, so the door didn't squeak, she risked a glance inside.

There wasn't too much paperwork on her dad's desk, so she strode in. Lucy held a book with the title "Magic: Not Just a Fairy Tale", up with both hands for her father's scrutiny. When she'd waved it enough to sufficiently prod his attention, she lowered the book again and beamed happily.

"Will you read it to me? The last time I tried it was too hard to under—"

"I'm busy. And you shouldn't indulge yourself that way, young lady. If anything, go read books about etiquette. Those are easy to grasp—if they can hold your drifting attention span. Or I suppose you could play outside, provided you don't make yourself filthy like last time. It is summertime."

It was summertime, and Lucy's schoolmates were also too busy. Besides, her father was the only one she was interested in playing with. Her classmates acted like snobs.

Lucy plodded to her room, laid on the bed, and stared at the illustration on the cover of her book about magic. She just needed a teacher, like the eccentric man grinning at her like they were about to go places and stir up spells and see dragons.

She needed a friend. That would be magical.

The man continued to grin and she willed herself out of her room, her house, her life, with people who smiled at her like that—

"Good morning, Lucy!"

XXX

Natsu's overloud, cheery greeting, matched with a huge grin, ignored Lucy's groan of protest. Getting her bearings she saw Natsu's blurry image, filled with pink and teeth, interrupted as Happy decided to perch on her face.

"Lucy! You know desks don't make good pillows."

Lucy's achy neck told her that no, they did not. And Exceeds named Happy using her face as a seat did not help matters.

The awkward way she'd fallen asleep delayed her reaction to Natsu's intrusion. "Why are you in my house?" She said hoarsely. Right. She should really get some water.

Lucy had been working on her novel into the morning hours. Having just succeeded on a mission with a rich bounty, the team had no reasons to go anywhere for at least a few weeks. Lucy intended to use them productively, taking time away from the Guild to herself and writing her manuscript.

Except that Natsu apparently also wanted time away from the Guild. Away from everyone—except for her.

"Natsu! We have two other teammates and a guild full of people you can stand over and disturb. Why is it always me?" She spread her hands.

Natsu shrugged. "Would you always want to be around all of them? They're a little much, even for me."

She poured last night's coffee down the drain and prepared a fresh brew. "I don't want to be around any of them at the moment. I just need a break from the insanity. To think, you know?"

Happy said something about the fact that Lucy couldn't possibly think that much face-down on scattered sheets of paper, but Lucy didn't hear him. She was focused on Natsu's crestfallen face.

He reached behind his head to scratch an imaginary itch. "Oh! Were you working on your novel? I guess you can't work very much when I'm here. See you later!" He turned and raised his hand dismissively, walking toward the exit.

"That's not what I meant, Natsu!" Lucy crossed into the living room reached for his hand, which he withdrew to retrieve a random scrap of paper from Lucy's desk.

He smiled that large, wide smile he always did when he was fighting something, or when he was trying to cheer other people up because he wouldn't let his pain bring them down. It faltered for only a second when he glanced down at the paper.

"Erza taught me a little, but I'm still not very good at reading. When you finish your novel, you'll have to teach me to read advanced stuff like this. When you're not busy."

"Teach me, daddy?"

A friend. That would be magical.

'Why won't he smile back at me?'

'Why is his life in those papers?'

'A man who grins and takes me on adventures…'

Smile back in place, Natsu turned again. Lucy did grab his hand this time.

"I've got time," she managed to say past the lump in her throat, and no matter what she did she couldn't force the smile on her face. But her eyes smiled for her.

She broke her gaze with the floor and returned it to Natsu, whose sincere grin showing again. He looked awfully similar to the peculiarly happy man on the cover of her first book about magic. If Lucy had bothered to glance in the mirror, she'd see a grin that seemed to be complimentary to Natsu's, as if they belonged on the cover of a novel.

"I'm sorry. I've been working on it so much lately because I'd neglected it for so long," she admitted.

Natsu looked up again. "How come? I thought you loved writing."

Lucy gathered the papers and ordered them. "Here. You read out loud and show me what you're having trouble with. And you'd better not make fun of me! It's a work in progress!" She handed Natsu her rough draft.

"I do love writing," she said, her eyes already lost in a dreamlike gaze at very real memories. "But I guess life in the past few months has made the book seem boring by comparison."

After all, she'd met a grinning, fire-breathing dragon who could wield magic, brought her on all of his journeys, and had become her closest friend. Lucy could write a novel, but with Natsu, she could bring take fairy tales off of the page.