'This is the power hidden within,' Erza thought amazed as she watched the pink haired dragon slayer shoot towards Jellal, his flames taking the shape of a dragon.
Her one time childhood best friend impacted the ground with such force that it shook the Tower of Heaven. Natsu, still enveloped in his raging inferno of flames, landed firmly on the blue haired man he had come to hate for no reason other than making Erza cry.
'I've never seen so much power. It's incredible!' the red headed warrior was amazed.
How could she not be? While the Etherion may have provided the necessary power to allow Natsu to use his more powerful attacks that she had not even known he had learned, it was still Natsu that possessed the seemingly endless and unbreakable will to consume the Ether-nano and turn it into a viable power source.
Instead of poisoning him as it should have done, Natsu had somehow managed to harness the energy of pure magic strong enough to level kingdoms, and it was something Erza "Titania" Scarlet had never heard of being possible.
'What an incredible man you've grown to be,' she thought fondly, remembering the many times the hyperactive dragon slayer had challenged her. He never gave up then; always fighting until I put him into the infirmary. 'I can't believe who you have become while I wasn't looking.'
Natsu stood slowly and turned to face Erza, who was still lying on the ground where he had knocked her out earlier. He smiled brightly at her.
The loss of magical energy caught up to him, causing him to pitch forward onto his knees.
Erza struggled to get her feet under her, catching the flame user before he completely collapsed and held him close to her, his head resting on her breast. A hand carded through his spiky pink locks gently as she bestowed a soft smile on the unknowing dragon slayer. 'I never could have believed you had the ability to defeat Jellal, Natsu. The amount of strength you possess is incredible, and you still have time to grow and improve even further.'
The female wizard was jolted out of her thoughts abruptly as the R-System trembled violently. Rays of Ether-nano burst forth as the overwhelming energy continued to grow more unstable and prepared to obliterate the giant lacrima tower.
She pulled Natsu's right over her shoulders and began to make her way out of the tower of her nightmares, supporting the unconscious dragon slayer. 'Even if we do escape the tower,' she thought, 'we won't get away. The blast radius is too large.' The S-class mage despaired.
As she looked about hopelessly for a solution, a realization struck her. Jellal had said his sacrifice would be infused with the lacrima and the power from the Etherion flowing through it. If she returned inside the lacrima, Erza thought she would be able to control the impending explosion of magical energy.
The red head laid Natsu on the ground and tentatively rested one hand against the lacrima. It sank in up to her elbow. "Good." Erza spoke aloud, although there was nobody to hear. "I thought it would reject me."
Natsu blinked as he come to, squinting to protect his dragon sensitive eyes from the light that could blind him when his eyes were closed. What had happened to him? Did he beat Jellal? Was Erza okay? And where was she?
His eyes widened as he finally registered the sight before him. Erza was being pulled into the lacrima again. "I don't understand. Why are you going back in there Erza?" the pinkette asked.
The girl that he had thought of as scary since the day he had joined Fairy Tail turned to face him, tears falling down the left side of her face. She explained. "If I fuse my body with the lacrima, I should be able to control the Ether-nano and the blast from the pent up energy."
Natsu's eyes widened further as he stared incredulously at Erza. "NO! There must be some other way! Don't do this Erza! You don't have to do this!" He scrambled over to her, half walking half crawling to do so. "There has to be something I can do! Don't sacrifice yourself! Don't give up your life! That's what he wanted! Let me take your place!" he cried.
"Please let me do this, Natsu. It's my turn to save you now. "Erza reached her free arm out to cup his cheek. "I can't imagine what my life would have been like if I did not know you, Natsu. Who would I be without Fairy Tail? A slave forced to labor to build this horrendous tower. I'm willing to make the ultimate sacrifice so my loved ones, my nakama, and the guild will be safe," she said, tears still falling from her real eye.
The pink haired dragon slayer cried and screamed as he pounded against the crystal that had engulfed his friend. He had never felt so helpless and defeated in his life. He had protected and saved Erza from Jellal, but he had lost her to him anyway because of this cursed tower.
Erza was surprised to find herself feeling calm and relaxed, floating in a sea of blue light in a flowing white sundress with a v-neck that showed less cleavage than she usually did. 'It doesn't hurt.' She closed her chocolate eyes, happy in the knowledge that she had saved Natsu this time. 'Dying doesn't hurt. It feels like I've fallen asleep.'
A familiar hand wrapped around her wrist. The red head's eyes snapped open in disbelief to stare silently at her spiky pink haired friend. He flashed his signature large, bright grin as he pulled her towards him and hugged the Re-Quip user to his chest.
"You don't die for your friends, Erza," he whispered softly, "you live for them."
Erza was given a mighty shove by Fairy Tail's most destructive wizard before she had a chance to process what he had said. She found herself sprawled face down on the crystal floor of the tower that had haunted her sleep for many years.
"You live for your friends," she repeated Natsu's words numbly. Then realization came to her. For her to be on top of the tower, "Natsu took my place. He saved me again." Erza was horrified. She knew the dragon slayer was a capable wizard, stronger than most, but was Natsu strong enough to control the Ether-nano?
The lacrima tower was shaking as the Ether-nano began to escape its unsteady confinement. The physical force the Ether-nano exerted prevented Erza from moving as the power leaked from the tower and began to build up.
Blue rays of Ether-nano shot into the sky. The Re-Quip mage succumbed to darkness with Natsu's name on her lips.
The pink haired dragon slayer was confused. More so than usual.
The sky was gray and cloudy. It was raining and quite frankly depressing.
All of Fairy Tail was gathered in front of a grave stone. Natsu stared at the name engraved.
'A funeral. My funeral.' His brain seemed to shut down. 'I'm dead.'
A stoic Gray, actually wearing clothes, was holding a wailing Lucy in his arms, doing the best he could to console the celestial wizard who had been brought to Fairy Tail by Natsu, despite the ice make wizard looking like he himself was moments away from falling apart.
Natsu was surprised to see Gildarts and Mystogan, for the two S-class wizards were hardly ever at the guild, always out on long and dangerous jobs. Even Laxus looked a little teary eyed, and the dragon slayer was pretty sure the lightning wizard had hated his guts since he had joined and would be glad to see him dead.
The only person he didn't see was Erza. But he wasn't sure he wanted to. The Queen of the Fairies would take the death of any Fairy Tail wizard hard, most likely blaming herself. (Even if she wasn't even present. It would be just like her to take the blame because she wasn't there.)
He didn't want to see her break down at his funeral. Although, considering the long, albeit strange, friendship they had since they were young, Natsu hurt and disappointment at her absence.
"Natsu Dragneel was a man of courage and strength. Of love and hope. He had absolute faith in the guild and its members, who were his family." Master Makarov's voice shook. "He was the embodiment of Fairy Tail. Always striving to get stronger. Always looking for the next challenge. He never backed down, always putting all of himself into the fight without a thought as to the consequences.
"Fairy Tail's name came from the question of whether fairies have tails, and because it is a mystery that may never be answered, for fairies might not even exist, Fairy Tail wizards continue to grow on an eternal adventure, searching for answers.
"Natsu Dragneel, Fairy Tail's "Salamander," shall always be remembered by the guild. Fairy Tail won't be the same without him."
The third guild master was crying by this point, and the end of his eulogy was difficult to understand due to the sudden tightness of this throat.
No one else stepped forward to speak on his behalf. The entire guild paid respect to their fallen member in a silence that was only broken with the arrival of three member of the wizard council.
The old man spoke." Natsu Dragneel exhibited great courage and skill in his defense of the magical nation and prevention of the resurrection of the Black Wizard Zeref. For these deeds, the wizard council has unanimously decided to award him the title of one of the Ten Wizard Saints posthumously."
"That's of no use to me dead, you old geezer!" Natsu yelled. "I can't rub it in the ice block head's face that I'm stronger than he is if I'm dead!" The complete unfairness of the situation. The spiky pink haired mage receives an award and recognition from the council itself, and he can't take advantage of it because he's dead.
The scene before him changed. Gone was his funeral. He still thought it weird to witness his own funeral. In its place was his house. Was it still his house now that he was dead? Then again, maybe this wasn't his house. Natsu noticed it was much cleaner than his normally was.
The answer to the unusual neatness of his home was in his bedroom. It had been turned into a storage place for some of Erza's favorite armors; he recognized the Flame Empress and Heaven's Wheel. The red headed mage appeared to have moved in, judging by the fact that she was currently sleeping in his hammock.
'Or is it former hammock,' Natsu thought morbidly, 'now that I'm dead?'
The scent of salt reached his nose. Could it be that Erza was crying?
'But she's not supposed to cry anymore!' The dragon slayer was enraged. He had fought that bastard Jellal and sacrificed himself to end her nightmares and stop her tears. All he seemed to have accomplished was give her more nightmares and another reason to cry. 'Erza's not supposed to cry,' Natsu thought again. 'How can I fix this?'
Despair filled Natsu as he realized that it was impossible. The only way to fix the situation was to make Erza smile, and in order for that to happen he would have to be alive. The fire mage had never felt this useless, not even when his motion sickness made him unable to fight. There was nothing he could do to make his friend smile because he was dead, and he couldn't return from the dead.
He forced himself to look away.
Natsu found himself floating in an unending sea of black. He could see nothing, hear nothing, feel nothing. The only thing he felt was disgust for himself. He prided himself on always keeping his word, and he had failed to keep a promise he made to Erza. To always be there when she needed him.
A flame sparked in his stomach and grew. "I refuse to give up so easily!" he roared. "I refuse! I won't accept death with welcoming arms! I AM NOT DEAD!"
His magic flared, lashing out and burning the surrounding darkness. Natsu found himself standing on shaking legs on the beach of an unknown island. The strength in his legs gave and he fell onto his knees exhausted.
Drawing on his stubbornness and vast will power, the pink haired dragon slayer crawled further up the beach and away from the water, and collapsed, quite anticipating being able to rest. He had no concept of how much time had passed since he had "died" and his service took place. But none of that mattered to him.
All Natsu cared about was getting back to Fairy Tail. To Lucy and Gray. To Happy. To Gramps. To Erza.