(Disclaimer: I don't own Fairy Tail or any of its characters.)

The Strength It Takes

Chapter Ten

Natsu plopped down in front of Mira at the bar with a tired sigh. The white haired mage looked up at the sound and smiled at him.

"Something wrong, Natsu? It's strange to hear you sighing."

He leaned his face in the palm of his hand, his elbow on the surface of the bar and frowned. To be honest, he wasn't entirely sure what was wrong with him. Ever since Lucy had left with Erza to go shopping and he had come to the conclusion that something had changed between them, he had felt…off. As a rule, Natsu typically tried not to dwell on things that he couldn't change and that overall didn't affect anything too drastically. But when it had something to do with Lucy, it mattered. He wasn't sure exactly why it mattered or even what it was that had changed, but it was there and it was bugging the shit out of him.

Deciding to share his confusion, he looked up at Mira, his frown still in place. "Mira, what does it mean when things change between friends?"

Mira paused in wiping down the bar top and turned her full attention on the Dragon Slayer. "What do you mean? Change how?"

Sitting up fully, Natsu couldn't seem to meet her eyes for some reason and instead stared at the drink he hadn't realized she had slipped him. "I'm not really sure. Earlier today, when I was teaching Lucy some attack moves, we started talking about Igneel and she said something really nice, like she usually does, but it was different this time." He looked up at Mira and continued when she made motions for him to elaborate. "I don't really know how to explain it, exactly. It just felt…different."

Mira hid a smile, knowing it would just confuse the poor mage even more. "Was it a good or a bad different?"

Natsu shrugged, his eyes on the liquid in his glass as he swirled it around absently. If Mira knew anything about Natsu, it was that he couldn't simply be told things for him to truly understand them. He wasn't stupid by any means, but because of his narrow-focused nature, it was just easier for him to experience things for himself and draw his own conclusions from them. And when it came to emotions that didn't involve the bond between nakama or his love for his father, Natsu was a little out of his element.

"Well," Mira said suddenly, smiling at him. "If it's not a bad different and it hasn't really changed your friendship with Lucy, then I think you should just see what happens. I wouldn't worry about it too much."

Natsu nodded slowly, but as he thought about it, it made sense and his nod turned more confident. "Right. Thanks Mira!"

Just as he was about to get up to find Happy, the blue Exceed having left with Wendy and Charley earlier that morning, a voice sounded in his mind.

Natsu! Natsu, can you hear me?

Stopping, he looked around, but no one was looking at him. There was only one person he knew who could talk to him without physically being there.

"Warren?" he asked.

Yes. Where are you?

"At the guild. Why? Did something happen?" He got to his feet, his blood already beginning to hum with adrenaline.

Erza told me to tell you to get to Lucy's as soon as you can. Something happened while they were out.

He felt his blood go cold and he was already on his feet and sprinting through the guild door before Nab could even finish his sentence.

"What happened?" he shouted.

She wouldn't tell me exactly but whatever it was, it's got her worried.

Erza was worried? That never boded well, especially when it came to Lucy. His heart pounded loudly in his ears as he ran in the direction of Lucy's apartment. If it was big enough to have Erza panicking, it had to be bad. What if Lucy was hurt? No, if she was, she would have taken her to Wendy, not her apartment. Whatever had happened, while Lucy may not be physically injured, with her recovery being as thin as it was, that didn't mean that she wasn't hurt.

Erza sat down on the couch in Lucy's apartment with an inward sigh. Rubbing a hand over her face, she couldn't seem to settle her nerves. It had scared her seeing Lucy that afraid and being helpless to do anything about it.

When she had collapsed in Erza's arms, Erza didn't think she would ever forget the panic that had frozen the blood in her veins. There was no enemy to fight, no injury to patch up. Just pale, shaking Lucy, babbling denial and something about green eyes. On her way to get Lucy to her apartment, she had thankfully run in Warren and told him to contact Natsu and tell him to meet them at Lucy's apartment.

But should she have told him to contact Wendy as well? Maybe someone had cast a spell on Lucy.

Damn it. What did she see?


Erza lifted her head at the sound of the shout and schooled her features into a calm mask. Now wasn't the time to panic. They had to find out what was wrong with Lucy and if anyone would have an idea, it was Natsu.

Walking to the window, she opened it just in time for Natsu to jump up onto the edge. As soon as he caught sight of her, his eyes narrowed and he stepped into the apartment.

"Where is Lucy?" he asked, his voice strained.

"Be quiet," Erza commanded. "She's sleeping in her room. I don't want you to wake her."

Natsu searched Erza's face for a moment. While there was definitely worry in her hard eyes, there was no panic and no sign that Lucy was in immediate danger. He felt his shoulders relax a fraction. But he knew unless he saw her for himself, he wouldn't be able to fully relax. Turning on his heel, he headed to her room. Erza didn't bother to try and stop him; she knew he wouldn't listen and she really didn't feel like fighting with him. Hopefully he would be able to find out what had happened.

Stepping in the dimly lit room, his sharp eyes seized on the form of Lucy under her covers and his shoulders relaxed another notch. He strode to her bedside and looked her over. She lay on her back, her face turned away from him, her breathing deep and even.

Sinking to his knees next to her, he finally let the tension and the panic leave him. Lucy was alive, she was okay. He reached one hand forward to brush a lock of blond hair from her cheek, happy to feel that her skin was warm. At his touch, Lucy shifted and murmured something in her sleep, turning her face toward him with a sigh.

He reached down to grab one of her hands that lay next to her on top of the covers and pressed her knuckles against his cheek, much like he had that horrible night all those days ago.

For a moment, he simply basked in the feel of her skin touching his and the sound of her calm heartbeat. But just as he was getting to his feet to leave, he saw her eyelids flutter and she groaned.

He waited as she fought the draw of consciousness before her brown eyes finally opened and saw him. For a moment, she simply stared at him, confusion in her eyes.

"Natsu? What are you doing here? I thought…weren't Erza and I-" She cut off as the memories flooded back. The hateful gleam of green eyes floated to forefront of her mind and she whimpered.

The dark mage…He's alive. He's alive and here. What am I going to do? Oh God, what am I going to do?

Natsu's eyes widened when the little color in her cheeks drained and tears gathered in her eyes and her shoulders began to shake. Grabbing her hand, he drew her attention on him.
"Lucy? What happened? Erza told me you collapsed."

"He back, Natsu," Lucy whispered hoarsely, her hand clutching his like a lifeline. "The dark mage. He's alive."

He shook his head. "No. I killed him Lucy. He can't be alive."

"I saw him Natsu! While Erza and I were shopping, I saw him."

The absolute conviction in her voice made his waver. "But-I killed him. There wasn't much left of him when we left."

"I don't understand either. But there's no way I could forget those horrible, evil green eyes. He's alive and he's here. Oh, God. Natsu, what if he finds me?" She lifted her free hand to her mouth to stifle the frightened sobs that wanted to escape. Tears ran uninhibited down her pale cheeks. "I'm scared, Natsu. I'm so scared."

There's no way…I smelt death on him! He was dead when we left!

But Lucy would never lie about something like this. Whatever she had seen had scared the wits out of her and if she thought it was the dark mage, than it had to be. How had he survived?

A surge of protectiveness prompted him to reach forward and gather her against his chest. Without protest, Lucy buried her face against his neck and shook against him, her hot tears dampening his clothes. Tightening his grip on her a fraction, Natsu glared a hole into the wall in front of him.

Why now? He spat in his mind. Why now when she had just begun to recover? You sick bastard, I will find you and kill you all over again if I have to.

"I'm here Lucy. I won't let him anywhere near you. I swear on my life, he won't hurt you again."

(AN: I decided that the last chapter and just how little effort I put into it really bothered me, so I posted this earlier than I had planned. I hope you guys enjoyed it and do keep in mind that things are not as they always seem ;) Thank you to those of you that reviewed, I loved hearing from you. I adore you all!)