Written for the Fairy Tail Couples Writing Contest.
Lucy was working on her novel for one rare afternoon. Natsu and Happy had gone off on a minor mission together, and would no doubt be back soon to "hang out" with her (although with those two it felt more like harassment sometimes.) She stared at the wall above her desk, a bit stuck on her plot although she'd never admit to having writer's block in a hundred years.
She thought back to that fateful day in Harjuan, when she had met the famous Salamander without realizing it. She was lucky that he was a kind person, and hadn't laughed at her childish explanation of magic and selfish whim of joining one of the strongest guilds in Fiore with her unpolished talents.
Instead, he had personally invited her along. She soon came to realize that he had known she'd fit in with the misfits of the guild; the pain she'd known growing up was nothing compared to what many of them had gone through, but like them she'd learned to smile through her tears and never blame the world for her misfortune.
Natsu had seen that quality in her right away, and she was grateful for his perception. For all his denseness, he was usually a fairly decent judge of character.
Her reverie was broken by the sound of a knock at the door. Definitely not Natsu, she mused with a small smile to herself as she stood up and neatly slid her chair under the desk.
She opened the door to see a lawyer.
She blinked a few times. Lawyers were far more common among the merchant guild set that her father had belonged to, where contracts and agreements needed to be carefully worded and ironed out to avoid issues. Before its collapse, the Heartphilia Konzern had employed a dozen of them. A few of the quant types were mathematical mages, and a few of the researchers were at least able to use gale force glasses like Levy, but being a lawyer was primarily a job done by the non magical set of Fiore.
"Can I help you?" she asked cautiously.
"Miss Lucy Heartphilia?" the lawyer inquired. She nodded. "I am a solicitor from probate court, in charge of handling your late father's estate."
Lucy gripped the door frame.
"The estate has been settled. The majority of your father's remaining funds have been dispersed to cover his debts, but there was a small stipend in the form of savings bonds that was reserved specifically for you." He presented her with a box that had a money envelope on top; Lucy was secretly proud of the old man for putting some of his cash in untouchable bonds. He'd learned his lesson from the last time his empire collapsed. Likely, the money he'd sent to his address when he realized he was dying was also to protect it from his debt collectors.
"The box, on the other hand, is a small collection of personal artifacts that was found when the estate itself was repossessed many years ago. Your father showed no interest in it, but we thought it would be best for you to have it."
Lucy took the small wooden box from the lawyer, recognizing it as her mother's jewelry box. She had no doubt her mother's costly jewels had also been sold as part of the original estate settlement all those years ago, but she wondered what could be inside in their place.
The lawyer tipped his hat to her and she watched him walk off, before stepping back inside and taking the box to her desk. The tiny nugget of greed that sat at the heart of every Fairy Tail mage caused her to open up the money envelope first. Inside was a saving's bond for a hundred thousand jewels. Unfortunately, it wasn't going to mature for another two years. With a sigh, she set the bond aside. At least her father had covered a month of her future rent, in addition to all her past rent.
The jewelry box was something else, though. With trembling fingers she opened the tiny gold clasp on it. She was not surprised that there were no jewels inside, but what was inside was surprising in itself.
Photographs. At least a hundred of them.
There were her baby pictures. There was a picture of her mother and her father holding her at her first birthday; the Heartphilia fortunes had taken a drastic upturn in the year after the lucky daughter's birth, and each birthday picture became more and more opulent. If she squinted hard, she could see diamonds on the dress from her fifth birthday.
The last picture was from her ninth birthday.
After her mother died, her father had turned toward his work in his grief, ignoring the daughter who so desperately needed him instead of embracing her. There were no more birthday parties. Her one attempt at celebrating by herself had ended with her father throwing her hand made rice ball on the floor.
But before that, she had been as loved as any child could hope to be. Her mother had adored her, and she was the apple of her father's eye.
As she flipped through the photos, she became so absorbed that she didn't hear the soft squeak of her window until Natsu stood next to her and Happy alighted on her desk.
She probably looked pathetic to him as she stared up at him, tears streaming down her face.
Once he realized she was crying, Natsu panicked. "Lucy, are you okay? Are you hurt?"
"I'm fine, I'm fine," she said, sniffing a bit and trying to wipe away her tears. "I just got a box full of nostalgia, that's all." As she was setting the photographs down, she felt something heavy stuck to the back of one of them.
Natsu and Happy, ever nosy, watched her as she flipped the picture over.
There, taped to the back of the photo, was a ring.
"Hmmm, I thought for sure all of mother's jewels would have been sold..." She peeled it off the photo gently, but as she did so she noticed the spotting on the metal and the cheap workmanship.
"It's not real, I can smell the nickel" Natsu observed, but Lucy slid the ring on her finger anyway, a fresh smile on her face.
"Of course it's not real. It was my mother's engagement ring."
Natsu and Happy together made a small "Ooooh" of understanding.
Lucy stared at the costume jewelry. "I'm sure after the Hearthphilia Konzern succeeded my father bought her all sorts of real gemstones. But I remember the story of this ring. They were still working for Love and Lucky, just starting out. They had no money for a wedding, so my father bought this at a thrift store for her." She held up her hand, admiring the glass stone all the same.
"But he gave it to her with all of his love, didn't he?" Natsu gently placed his hand on her shoulder.
Tears threatened to fall from Lucy's face again. "He did, didn't he."
She couldn't help herself. She began sobbing, the still fresh pain from losing her father and the long, deep ache of her lost mother and her broken childhood overwhelmed her. Wordlessly, Natsu embraced her, and gently moved her from her chair to her bed, where he could sit next to her and hold her close, stroking her hair while she poured out all her emotions at once. Happy joined them, settling on Lucy's lap and offering the comfort of a gentle purr and kneading of paws. Natsu, too, knew the pain of losing a beloved parent before he was ready. And poor Happy had never known his real parents at all, only to lose Lisanna when he was merely four years old.
Eventually her need to have a good cry subsided. Still, she remained wrapped in Natsu's warm embrace, even as Happy dozed off in her lap.
"I'm so glad that I met you, Natsu," she said after a while.
"I'm glad I met you as well, Lucy." Here he distanced himself a little from her, gripping her shoulder to allow himself a good look at her face. She always felt so open and naked before him, as if his gaze could reach in and read her mind.
"You know, I really did have a good childhood until my mother died." She glanced downward; his look was too intense. "Someday, I hope to give my children that kind of warm home, only I want it to last long past the time they've grown up..."
At the mention of children, Natsu stiffened slightly. Lucy looked up sharply at him again. His brow had furrowed a little.
"I think you'll be a wonderful mother, Lucy," he said, honestly. "But who would the father be?"
She felt her face turn crimson. "I-I haven't gotten that far yet," she stumbled. Leave it to Natsu to mix a compliment in with a horribly disconcerting question.
"Good," he said with a smirk, " 'cause then I'd have to go and beat the guy up to make sure he was worthy of you."
She sighed, but it was a resigned one with a smile. Unconsciously, he had dropped his hands from her shoulders to embrace her smaller ones; the cheap ring glittered on her finger.
"You know," she said with just a hint of a smirk, "you'll make a great father too." She stroked the sleeping Happy in her lap. "Just look at what you've done with Happy."
"I bet my kids could beat up your kids," Natsu said with his signature silly grin.
"They'll probably fight all the time like you and Gray," she agreed, but then felt her blush grow back as thoughts of Natsu's children filled her mind. "Unless..."
"Eh?" Natsu asked, cocking his head at her.
She glanced back down at their joined hands. He hadn't even noticed the subtle, intimate contact, and she was afraid to comment on it.
"Unless my children are your children, too," she said, letting her hair fall and shield her eyes. Egad, it was so embarrassing to have to spell it out for this blockhead sometimes!
"Don't be silly, Lucy! We'd have to get married for that to happen."
She lifted her head again, shaking her bangs out of her face so he could see the expression on her face. The faint blush, the seriousness - and, she hoped, the feelings she held for him.
A slow comprehension washed across Natsu's face, like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. His cheeks suddenly turned red as well.
"Oh," was all he said. He realized that their hands were firmly locked together, and pulled his away, nervously, to rub the back of his neck in embarrassment.
Their faces were inches apart, and drifting closer. Lucy's heart was thudding in her chest. Was this finally the moment when this idiot realized how much she loved him, despite himself?
And of course, the moment was ruined when Happy stirred in her lap, mumbling about fish.
They immediately pulled back apart, trying desperately to ignore the tension that had ignited between them in that moment.
"Well, haha, better get back to the guild," Natsu said, standing up suddenly.
Before she could hand him Happy, he had zipped out the window.
She stared after him, then sighed with another smile to herself and settled Happy onto her bed.
She pulled her mother's ring off her finger, and tucked it back into the jewelry box, along with all her photographs.
Someday, she'd show them to her children.
But that day was still far away.