Year of the Sun
Disclaimer: I don't own Fairy Tail or any of its characters, but I do own Haru and his family.
"Geez, Natsu, calm down," Lucy grumbled as she readjusted her pack on her shoulder to a more comfortable position so it didn't bite into her skin. Sighing, she lifted her hair from the back of her neck, trying to cool the skin. "We'll be there soon enough. How far would you say we are, Erza?"
Up ahead, Erza looked at the map in her free hand while her other hand pulled her massive mountain of luggage behind her. "Probably an hour's walk from here. We still have to pass through that small town called…Anea."
At the front of the group, Natsu crossed his arms over his chest and tried to ignore how stifling the heat was around him. Being a Fire Dragon Slayer, his heat tolerance was high, but the humidity in the air was making even him take notice and sweat to start beading between his tan shoulder blades.
But he wasn't nearly as miserable as Gray was, he acknowledged with a chuckle. The Ice Mage had long ago discarded his shirt and was still fighting with Erza about his pants following suit. He never did fair well in the heat.
Just over the hill, Natsu noticed that a large, stone structure was just becoming visible. Frowning, he held a hand over his brow to shade his eyes so he could get a better look.
"Oi, Erza. I think I see that town you were talking about. Is it…surrounded by a stone wall?"
Erza picked up her pace so she stood beside Natsu and squinted into the distance until she could make out the same thing that her teammate had noticed. "Yes, I believe so. They are known for their defensive structures and their highly trained army. It's said some of the most powerful mages come from this town."
"Wow," Lucy breathed as she stepped up next to her team. "That's a huge stone wall. I wonder how long it took them to build it."
Natsu shrugged and grinned over at her. "Who cares? Let's go into town and get some food! I'm starved! Let's go Happy!"
"Aye, sir!" the little blue cat chirped faithfully and followed his foster father as he sprinted towards the massive structure. Left in his wake, the rest of the team shared an exasperated look and quickly followed suit, not wanting the Dragon Slayer out of their sight for too long.
As Lucy jogged up to the gate, she saw Natsu standing just inside the wrot iron gate doors, all his earlier enthusiasm having seemingly vanished. Stopping next to the strangely silent boy, she looked up into his face with a concerned frown.
"Natsu? Are you okay?"
His eyes were sharp and focused when they met hers. His shoulders were straight and tense; his hands fisted as his eyes darted from one building to another. "Do you hear that?" he asked quietly. Confused, Lucy tilted her head and strained her ears for any strange sound, but heard none. In fact, she realized with dawning realization, she didn't hear anything. Not the usual sound of a town the size of Anea. There were no sounds of people as they walked by or talked. It was almost as if the town had been deserted.
"It's too quiet," Lucy murmured, looking around. Next to her, Natsu nodded wordlessly as they waited for Gray and Erza to reach them. Erza frowned and dropped the handle to her luggage and crossed her arms over her armored chest, her eyes dark and calculating as she took in the scene of the deserted town. Gray frowned stuck his hands in his pants pockets.
"Do you think it's another cursed town?" he asked softly. Next to him, Erza shook her head slowly as she looked for signs of life.
"No, I don't sense any magic. And this town doesn't look like the people just disappeared, more like they evacuated."
Lucy frowned and agreed. Instead of the strange, unnatural feeling the last deserted town had given off, this didn't give off the feeling of disturbance, just…emptiness.
Turning to her teammates, she shared a look with them. "We should look around. Maybe we can find out what made them leave."
Nodding the team moved forward as one to begin investigating. Instead of running off, as he usually would, Natsu kept his senses alert and kept close to Lucy's side so they wouldn't get separated. He wasn't taking any chances when it came to this town. His senses were warning him of potential danger and it was making him on edge.
As the group explored the town, they became more convinced that the town evacuated as they knocked on houses and looked into shop windows. Stores and houses alike were unlocked and unattended and empty of most possessions.
Lucy couldn't stop a chill of apprehension that made her skin break out in goose bumps and rubbed her arms, absently walking a little bit closer to Natsu.
"What could make an entire town evacuate?" she murmured. Just as the words left her mouth, the ground shook with an explosion. Starting, she whipped her head in the direction the sound had come from in time to see the billow of flames and smoke that followed. It had sounded as though it had come from the heart of the deserted town.
The entire team tensed and braced themselves for battle. But after the boom faded, silence reigned. There was no scream of panicked people, no pounding of running feet.
Natsu growled uneasily. "I have a feeling whatever caused that explosion is why the town left. Let's go check it out," he bit out and began running toward where the sound had originated, the rest of the group following him.
Following the scent of burning wood and sulfur, Natsu quickly came upon the cause of the disturbance.
Skidding to a halt, he heard Lucy gasp behind him. They had stopped in front of what looked to be a healing center of sorts, but it looked as though it had seen a war. Several parts of the building had been blown out, smoke filtering out of the openings and flames flickering dimly inside.
As they watched, they heard a masculine cry of anger and despair, making them all tense once more. Listening carefully, Natsu could just make out the unknown man's words.
"Bastards! I trust them with the most precious thing in the world and they killed her! You sons of bitches! Come back and face me!" With his cry, a jet of flames caused another piece of the building to collapse in a cloud of dust and falling debris.
"He's a fire mage," Lucy murmured, locking eyes with Natsu. He nodded curtly and turned his attention back to the healing center when they heard all movement inside still abruptly, before an angry male voice yelled out, "Who's there? I can hear you, you bastards! Come and pay for your sins!"
"Oi!" Natsu called as he readied himself to spring to action. "Come out here and get your wish!"
There was the sound of running feet a moment before the figure of a man emerged from the rubble. His clothes were in tatters on his youthful body. He looked to be no older than any of the Fairy Tail members, if it weren't for his eyes. His green eyes were bloodshot and crazed, his mouth twisted into an angry snarl. His dark hair fell over his dirty brow in disarray and he looked as though he hadn't seen a bath or slept in several days.
"I thought everyone in the town had evacuated," he man mused as he began to size up the group of teammates. When Natsu stepped forward, his gaze instantly snapped to the Dragon Slayer. His snarl became more pronounced.
"Are you with the bastards that killed my family? Did you help them escape? You bastards!"
Not waiting for a reply, he sent a fire ball toward the silent group, causing everyone but Natsu to dodge the attack or risk being burned. The young Dragon Slayer was obscured by the flames only a moment before they were all sucked into his stomach.
Belching loudly, Natsu rubbed his stomach and grinned at the stunned fire mage. "Thanks for the meal! Now I'm all fired up!"
Springing into action, Natsu darted forward, one flaming fist raised and ready to deal a devastating blow to his stunned opponent when a cry made his blood run cold and he froze.
It was the cry of a baby.
Lucy's eyes widened and she gasped. "A baby? There's a baby in there!" She watched as parts of the health center began to crumble under the constant burn of the active flame and buckle from its own weight.
That baby could be killed if the building collapses!
"I'm going to get the baby!" Lucy called as she darted toward the building, sprinting past a stunned Natsu. As she passed the crazed fire mage, he shot towards her with a vicious snarl.
"Don't you lay a hand on my son, you bitch!" he roared as he caught Lucy's hair, jerking her back and making her cry out in surprise and pain.
"Lucy!" Natsu cried. He stepped forward to release his friend when a red blur shot passed him. He saw the crazed fire mage cry out in pain, blood erupting from a wound on his arm and Lucy collapse once the hold on her hair was released. Erza stood in front of Lucy, her sworn drawn, the gleaming tip pointed to toward the throat of the downed opponent. As she kept her hard gaze on the writhing man, she called out. "Lucy, Natsu. Go get the child from the building. I'll handle this man."
Lucy began to object, "But he said it's his son! You can't kill him!"
Erza's eyes narrowed and her grip tightened on her sword hilt. "I won't have to. He's already dying." A stunned silence followed her declaration and she snapped her head towards them, her eyes focused and furious. "Now go!"
Jumping into action, Natsu ran forward, snagging Lucy's wrist on the way and dragging her into the burning building. As they passed the threshold of the building, the cry of the baby began to get louder and the smoke in the air denser.
Coughing in her hand and blinking back tears, Lucy looked up at Natsu's focused face. He cursed and turned toward her. "I can't catch the baby's scent over the smell of smoke. We'll just have to follow the sound of its cries." He bent down on one knee in front of her and Lucy stepped back in confusion. He looked over his shoulder at her, his mouth set in a grim line. "Climb on; it'll be fast this way."
She hesitated for only a moment before doing as he told. Hooking his hands around her toned thighs, he stood straight and darted into the smoke and flames, following the distant bellows of the infant.
They darted from one room to the other, trying to follow the bellows of the child over the sounds of the crazed fire mage's screams of outrage. Finally, just as Natsu was about to give up and get Lucy out of the smoke riddled building, they opened the last door in a long corridor and heard the piercing cry of the child with perfect clarity.
Slipping from Natsu's slackened grasp, Lucy rushed forward, straining to see through the black smoke. Spotting a cradle in the corner of the room, she stepped forward and had to hold a hand over her mouth to hold in a gasp of surprise. Tucked protectively in the cradle, it entire body surrounded by flames, the baby bellowed and shouted its displeasure, its face scrunched up and red with tears streaming from its closed eyes.
"It's…it's on fire!" she told Natsu, who had come to a stop next to her. When she looked up at him, however, he was smiling, a strange gleam in his eyes.
"Don't worry about that. He's just using his flames to keep himself safe because he can sense the danger around him."
"But he can't be more than a few days old! How can he use his magic so early?"
Natsu didn't say anything at first, and then he turned to her with a bright smile. "He's a Dragon Slayer, like me."
Lucy frowned and looked down at the still crying child, though the volume had reduced drastically since they had entered the room. "But I thought you were the only Fire Dragon Slayer."
He shrugged. "I thought so too. Come on, we have to get you both out of this building before it collapses."
She nodded but hesitated to reach for the child or risk getting burned. "Hey, baby," she cooed even though her voice was husky from the smoke, stooping closer to it. Looking at the tag identifying the child as a male, she noticed that he didn't have a name yet and felt a pang of sympathy. "Sweetie, you're okay now. Me and Natsu are here to help you," she said, in hopes that her soothing tone would cause the baby the drop his defenses. At her voice, he quieted to a whimper and opened his eyes to blink up at her. When she saw those eyes, she felt her breath leave her lungs in surprise. His eyes were a bright vibrant red that was swimming with his tears of fear and frustration.
She held her breath, and gave him a warm smile, her brown eyes soft and tender. Natsu felt his heart squeeze as the defensive flames around the child began to lessen until they were gone completely. He watched as Lucy continued to speak soothingly to the child as she picked him up to cradle against her chest. For some reason, the sight of her and the child sent a strange pang through his chest.
She just looked so natural with the baby Dragon Slayer.
He was shaken from his thoughts when the ceiling above them gave a warning groan and he turned to see Lucy's wide, fearful eyes trained on him, her arms clasping the now silent child to her.
"Natsu, come on. We've got to get out of here."
Nodding curtly, he swung her into his arms, ignoring her squeak of surprise and the small whimper from the child in her arms, and ran the rest of the way out of the collapsing building. When he emerged, he saw Erza and Gray crouched next to the still Fire Mage that had attacked them earlier, their faces set into a grim line.
Setting Lucy on her feet, he stepped forward and crossed his arms over his chest. Lucy stepped forward with the child, clasping him more securely against her chest when the downed fire mage turned his attention to her. His eyes were no longer crazed and haunted. Instead, they glimmered with suppressed tears and peace. "My son," he rasped and lifted a trembling hand to beckon her forward. She sent Erza a hesitant glance and stepped forward when she nodded in response. Crouching next to the mortally wounded man, she silently shifted the child in her arms so he could get a look at the calmed child.
The child in her arms looked around with wide, alert red eyes, his fist now shoved into his toothless mouth. When he saw his father, he gave a small squeal and stretched his arms toward the man.
The fire mage laughed weakly, turning his head when it turned into a racking, painful cough that made everyone present wince in sympathy. Turning back to his child, he laid a trembling hand on the boy's head briefly before letting it fall to his side once more.
"My boy," he whispered, tears beginning to gather at the corners of his eyes to slip and make tracks in the blood and dirt on his cheeks. "I'm so sorry I won't be there to raise you." Lucy felt tears burn at her eyes and had to blink them away as she cradled the young boy closely. "I'm sorry I won't be there to help you learn the way of the Fire Mages, to see you become the strong young man I know you'll become." He turned his attention to the group gathered around him with a small sheepish grin. "I sure did make a mess of things, didn't I?"
Erza reached forward to clasp one of his hands. "What happened to cause this?"
The Fire Mage laughed quickly again and closed his eyes briefly. "My wife wasn't a mage, you know," he said, a bittersweet smile on his lips. "She didn't have a magical cell in her body. She always told me that she didn't need it because…" He paused as more tears fell from his tired eyes. "because she had me." His eyes rose to meet Natsu's who had stood stoically by during his words. "When you find a woman that you can't live without, Dragon Slayer, don't let her do. Don't let her out of your sight, not for anything. Do you hear me, Dragon Slayer? Don't let her go."
Natsu chanced one look towards the solemn Lucy and nodded curtly. The Fire Mage settled down when he saw his words had been heard and gave a peaceful smile.
"Dragon Slayer, come here a moment," he murmured after a moment of tense silence. Erza looked up at the strangely silent boy and moved aside so he could kneel next to the dying man. When Natsu settled next to him, the fire mage reached forward to clasp one of Natsu's hands. Natsu felt a pang of alarm when he felt how cold his hand was. With a tug of his hand, the fire mage indicated he wanted Natsu to lean closer so he could speak directly into his ear.
"Promise me something, Dragon Slayer," he whispered, his voice weak and soft, his breathing shallow and ragged as he struggled to get the words through his collapsing throat. "Promise me you'll make sure my son gets the training he needs. He needs to be with a family that can take meet his needs. Promise me you'll make sure he's taken care of." When Natsu didn't immediately answer, the fire mage's grip on him tightened to an almost painful extent. "Promise me."
Natsu took a deep breath and pulled back so he could meet his intent gaze. Squeezing the hand in his grasp, he said solemnly. "I promise on my life. Your son will be taken care of."
The intensity that had seemed to give the man strength drained away at his words and he breathed a sigh of relief, nodding in satisfaction. As his eyes slipped closed and his grip on Natsu's hands slackened he breathed his last words, "His name is Haru."
A deafening silence followed the death of the Fire Mage and Lucy pressed her lips together tightly to muffle her sobs of despair. As if sensing that something had happened to his father, the newly christened Haru began to fuss in Lucy's arms, a small whimper escaping his lips as big fat tears began to trail down his cheeks. She tried unsuccessfully to hush him, her own tears falling from her eyes.
Erza got to her feet and stiffly sheathed her sword, her face solemn and grim. "We have to inform Master about this. There is a burial that needs to be planned."
"We believe that during child birth his wife died due to complications, making him lose his grasp on reality and lose himself in his grief," Erza briefed the Master and the gathered guild once everyone had settled down after the groups arrival back at the guild. A little ways away, Natsu and Lucy stood at the back of the crowd, Haru in Natsu's arms as they listened to the recount of the information they had been told by the health center staff once they had returned.
Lucy sighed and looked over at the child in Natsu's arms. He was currently engrossed in chewing one of Natsu's fingers, his bright red eyes alert and focused. The older Dragon Slayer only smoothed an absent hand down the baby's back when he gurgled in his arms, his attention on the discussion taking place in front of them.
"Why would that cause him to attack the entire town, though?" one of the guild members asked, breaking into the silence.
"Fire Mages are notorious for their passion when it comes to emotion," the Master answered, sitting cross legged on the bar top in the middle of the group. "This wouldn't be the first time a Fire Mage has gone insane over the loss of a loved one."
Lucy chanced a glance at Natsu to see his reaction, but he had turned his attention back to the baby in his arms, grinning down at the child and lifting him high over his head to make the child giggle. Haru squealed in delight as Natsu twirled him, reaching forward with tiny hands to grip Natsu's hair and pull, making Natsu hiss in pain. Lucy winced in sympathy and stepped forward to gently pull the baby's hands out of the pink locks, pulling one curled fist to her lips to kiss it.
Haru turned his attention to the Celestial Spirit Mage and grinned a toothlessly at her, reaching his hands toward her. Grinning, Lucy pulled him from Natsu's arms to cradle against her chest. With a wide yawn, the baby settled against her for a well deserved nap.
"So what happens to Haru?" Lucy heard Gray ask the Master. Before anyone could say anything, Natsu stepped forward.
"I will take care of him," he declared, his eyes hard and intent on the weary gaze of the Master.
"Natsu, you can't-"
"I promised his father I would take care of him," he interjected strongly. "I will not go back on my promise."
"But Natsu," Mira said softly. "You don't know the first thing about raising a child."
He crossed his arms over his chest and remained firm. "I'll learn then. I promised his father. He's a Dragon Slayer. Normal humans wouldn't know the first thing of how to raise him. It would be best if he was raised amongst his own kind."
"Are you sure about this Natsu?" Master Makarov asked solemnly, crossing his arms over his chest. "This isn't something you can just do half-assed. You're raising a child. He will depend upon you for everything. Are you ready for that kind of commitment?"
Natsu nodded curtly, his expression earnest. "I will take care of him."
Master Makarov searched the Dragon Slayer's face for a moment, looking for something. Having found whatever he was looking for, he sighed and ran a hand through his white hair. "Okay. I will inform the Counsel of your decision and have the paper work drawn up."
Lucy walked up to Natsu as the rest of the guild dispersed to resume their daily routine, several sending the couple a curious glance. "Natsu, are you sure about this?" she asked softly.
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, looking down at her with a small grin. "Not really, no. But I made a promise and I intend to see it through." His grin fell as he looked down at the child in her arms and an expression she had never seen before crossing his face. Fear. "I just…" He trailed off and swallowed hard. "I'm just afraid that I'll mess it up, you know? Raising Happy was different. He could basically take care of himself from the moment he hatched."
Lucy reached forward and laid a hand on his cheek to get him to turn his attention her way. When she caught his gaze, she gave him a bright, warm smile that sent his heart pounding in his ears. "You'll be a fantastic father," she murmured. "I know you will. And besides, it's not like you're doing it alone. You've got me and the whole guild to help you out anytime. So don't worry about it. You'll do fine."
Reaching up, he covered her hand with his own and breathed a sigh of relief. "Thanks Lucy. That means a lot."
She nodded, her smile brightening. Shifting the sleeping Haru in her arms, she offered him the baby. "Then say hello to your adopted son, Haru."
Natsu felt his heart squeeze almost to the point of suffocating and felt an overwhelming surge of emotion. "My son," he breathed, looking down at the sleeping face. As he skimmed a finger down his cheek, he marveled at how soft the baby's skin was, how fragile he was. Haru sighed in his sleep and turned his face toward Natsu's touch, sticking a hand in his mouth as he settled down again. Natsu couldn't quite suppress a wave of protectiveness that washed over him. "I will protect him with my life."
AN: Okay, so I'm not entirely sure I should have posted this since its still pretty rough around its edges plot wise and I'm not even sure where I'm going with it, but (as with everything I've written for Fairy Tail) the idea popped into my head and just wouldn't leave me alone until I wrote it. So, PLEASE give me some feedback on this or any ideas you have on where you think I should go from here or I'm not sure I'll have the gumption to keep going! I hope you enjoyed it, however rough it is. Horrible or Awesome?