OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS. I'M SO SORRY. LIKE, SO, SOOOO SORRY. I really didn't expect to take such a long and unexpected and unannounced hiatus... Things just got a little crazy here... Still are a little crazy. Kinda feel like I'm gonna drown in all the work I have to do. But, hey, that's college for you, no? I also didn't have my beta, so it took me a while to find another one.

But I DO have another one, and I'm starting to pick up on the slack now. I told you guys that this story wouldn't be abandoned, and I mean it. So don't you worry! I'll try to warn you guys next time if I need another hiatus, though... ahahaha...

Special shout out to prettykitty280 for being the 1,800th reviewer! And also special shout out to Humphadoodle for being the 1,850th reviewer! And let's also give a BIG thank you to my new beta, mixthealphabet! No, seriously, thank her immensely.



The Scrapple

"You let him chase after the Belladonna?" Lucy seethed as she stared down practically every single member of Fairy Tail, brown eyes gleaming and hot with her anger.

They, her guild-mates, just continued to blink back at her, as if stunned that she'd somehow found out and that she had walked all the way to the guild to yell at them for it. They'd been giving her those blank, dead-fish stares from the moment she'd thrown the double wooden doors open and stepped inside. Her intent must have been clearly written across her face, like black ink on a fresh page of paper, because the guild had instantly quieted and the air had grown thick with both unease and anxiety.

They'd known, she'd thought to herself. They'd known that Natsu had taken off. And they hadn't told her.

That gave them a damn good reason to look so uncomfortable, she though snidely to herself as she glared at them again, watching some of them pale and look down at their hands or at their drinks. She could tell that they felt guilty — or maybe that was just the look of fear on their faces? She knew that she had a temper to be reckoned with, only topped by either Mirajane or Erza on their bad days, and she knew that the guild would go out of their way to keep her from getting so angry — especially since she was no longer alone in her own body.

Gray, at the bar like usual, with his shirt missing and his pants halfway down his muscled thighs, was the only one who dared to speak up. Lately, he seemed to be the only one brave, or stupid, enough to frankly confront Lucy when she was rampaging. "… Him being?" the ice-make mage questioned in a drawl, stretching the words in his low voice.

Lucy didn't have any time for his procrastination. Her eyes narrowed as a silent warning — and that would be the only warning that Gray would get; next time he tried to be avoidant, she would kick him where it counted. "Natsu. You let Natsu take off? By himself?" she cried, eyes sweeping over the forms of her friends.

Most continued to look down in either guilt or fear.

"Oi, oi, it's not like we just let him run off, you know. He left without saying anything. We only found out two days after he'd left," Gray shot back at her, the defense in his tone as clear as most of the ice moldings he created. The dark-haired, habitual stripper sank further into his stool as he sipped his drink casually, like there wasn't a seething, hormonal, blonde woman glaring daggers into the back of his head.

For the umpteenth time, Lucy wished that she had laser-eyes that could burn through anything she wanted, melting it like putty. Gray's head, for example. She instead settled for closing her eyes and breathing deeply, making an attempt, at the very least, to calm herself. Tense moments passed, the only sound being the echoing clink of the ice in Gray's glass when he tipped it back to down its contents.

Finally, she asked, "How long has he been gone?"

"A week," came the reply, but from Cana, next to Gray. She, too, was drinking, though she had her own barrel and wasn't bothering with a glass.

Lucy stiffened. A week. He'd been gone for a whole week… Around the same time frame that he'd given her that message… Did that mean…? After she'd yelled at him, given him the best-friend's-stick-together speech, he'd gone after a highly skilled and dangerously violent gang of criminals all on his own?

He hadn't done that because of her… had he?

"Don't you worry," Cana said, taking the contemplative look on Lucy's face for one of worry — though, for all Lucy knew, it could have actually been worry. That niggling feeling in her heart was all too familiar, and she loathed its presence. "We've already agreed to send out a team if he doesn't return within two weeks. And we'll be sending our best. He'll be coming back, whether he wants to or not." The brunette snorted in finality and hefted up her barrel.

But, even though Cana sounded so confident, as if nothing could possibly go wrong, Lucy felt even more unsettled.

She'd thought that her little rant hadn't affected him at all. He'd only said two words to her afterwards, an order, a rejection; he'd said absolutely nothing about going on this hunt of his. Perhaps… perhaps her speech had struck a chord with him, rattled him more than she'd realized. And so, maybe, he was doing this for her…?

No, she shook her head. That was too optimistic of her. Natsu probably just saw a good challenge, someone new to test his strength against. Thinking that he was hunting down the Belladonna for her sake was just preposterous — wishful thinking on her part. Perhaps he might have done so at one point, but not now. She'd driven a wedge far too wide between the two of them to believe that now. A wedge that she alone had to fix.

Expression falling to determination, Lucy straightened her back — as much as she could, considering that her stomach made it hard to keep her balance sometimes — and planted her feet firmly. "I want to go," she said.

Cana spluttered, coughing, and yanked the barrel away from her mouth. Gray, too, snorted into his drink before he slammed it down. Everyone kind of just jumped, like they hadn't expected her to say anything else.

Gray rubbed his hand over his face — though, if it was to clean away his drink or if it was done out of exasperation, Lucy couldn't tell. "…You want to go… where, exactly?" the ice mage questioned.

Lucy answered without missing a beat. "I want to go with the team that's bringing him back." It was probably her fault that he'd taken off in the first place. She had to at least try to bring him back, right at least one wrongdoing.

"Er, that's…" Gray mumbled, and he closed his eyes and tugged a hand through his dark, messy hair. He sighed.

"Out of the question!" Bisca's voice openly shouted, effectively making everyone jump yet again. The markswoman had been sitting at a table with her husband, Alzack, and their daughter, the adorable Asuka. Now, she was standing, hands planted firmly on her flaring hips. And her look, the stern, mothering one that she so often beamed at Asuka when the little girl was doing things she wasn't supposed to, belied both her concern and her distaste.

Lucy drew in a deep breath. "Bisca-san, I –"

"No, no, Lucy. I'm sorry, I know how you feel, but letting you go would be too dangerous," the beautiful mother stated rather plainly.

"I can take care of myself," insisted Lucy.

Gray, again, snorted in disbelief. "Yeah? With what magic?"

The blonde celestial mage fell silent at that. Right… She couldn't use her magic. And she couldn't very well kick her enemies considering that she couldn't even bend over. Not to mention that she waddled instead of walked, and it took her at least double the length of time to walk anywhere nowadays. Not only would it be dangerous for her to go — since she couldn't defend herself —, she would be slowing down the team. Which would prevent them from finding Natsu as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

And then there was the running risk of injuring the baby.

Lucy was a stubborn girl and she knew what she wanted. But she was also logical and knew when she just had to sit back. This was one of those times. Even though she wanted to go — and badly at that —, she would be of no use to the cause; in fact, she would only hinder it.

Lucy relaxed, let her eyes drop to the floor, and sighed dejectedly. They were right.

Mira's eyes softened as she watched her friend from behind the bar counter. When the blonde bit her lip, no doubt in order to prevent herself from sniffling, Mira dropped her dirty dish rag—she could put off wiping down the counter for five minutes — and scooted around the bar table to Lucy's side. Without a word, the takeover mage grabbed her friend's hands and squeezed them reassuringly before pulling Lucy into a much-needed hug.

"Don't worry," Mirajane murmured. "I have faith in our friends. They'll bring him back, I know they will. So don't you worry about him. Just sit back and relax, ne?"

Yeah, Lucy thought sourly. Just sit back, relax, and let everyone else do the work. Like she always did.


"Hmm, you don't look as strong as Dentanus says you are…" the dark figure muttered as he finally stood upright from his crouch. Unsurprisingly, the thick tree branch easily held his slight weight. He couldn't have been more than ninety pounds, and now that he was standing, it was clear that he was just about Natsu's height, maybe a bit taller. And because the leather he wore looked as though it'd been painted over his sleek trim, it was all too easy to see his jutting ribs, pointy elbows, and knobby knees.

The bastard looked like he could keel over any minute from starvation.

And though Natsu's ultimate goal was to incapacitate him, he found he would much rather do so with his bare hands than let nature have any role in it. He wanted to feel the bastard's brittle bones break. A morbid thought for himself, he supposed, but then again, he didn't really care. This was the person who'd placed Lucy in the hospital. He deserved everything Natsu dished out and then some.

"Who are you?" Natsu demanded, brushing aside the comment about his appearance. The malnourished fool would learn soon enough.

"Me?" the Belladonna member laughed. "I don't usually tell people my name, but, since I'm gonna kill you, I don't think it really matters… They call me Chazore. Gotta nice ring to it, I think." Chazore's sharp teeth appeared as he grinned in that feral way again, like a wild animal. He almost looked like a shark with those teeth of his…

Though, if that thought was supposed to intimidate Natsu, it failed miserably. In fact, the dragonslayer found himself offhandedly thinking that shark meat was rather tasty.

Focus, Natsu, he reminded himself. "You're gonna kill me… Why?" He asked, sounding completely unconcerned with the fact that a random stranger had just placed him on a hit list.

Natsu fought with a lot of people, typically the bad kinds of people — like, the ones who wanted to wipe out the entire human population, for instance — but he couldn't recall any of them blatantly saying they would kill him. They'd made threats, sure, but none of them had plainly said they would murder him.

Or, if they had, he didn't remember it at all, which just went to show for his attention and memory span.

Still in the tree, Chazore shrugged uncaringly, rolling his lightning-blue eyes. "Because I was told to, duh. Dentanus wants you dead, and he's my boss, so…" he trailed off and shrugged again as if the answer was obvious. Then, from what Natsu could tell, his bright eyes narrowed. "I don't know why he wants you dead, though, so don't bother asking."

Natsu frowned disappointedly; that would have been his next question. "You never answered my other question… Why did you attack Lucy?" was what he asked instead. And Chazore's answer decided whether or not Natsu would jump up into that tree himself and beat the bastard black and blue.

"Why?" the member of the Belladonna repeated, pitch high and curious. "Part of it was because I was told to. Dentanus knows she's very special to you," and while that made Natsu's whole body tense and twitch in anger, what Chazore said next made red spots appear in the dragonslayer's vision, "but… I kinda just liked the way she looked when she was scared. She's pretty when she's scared — big brown eyes, pretty lips, nice skin…" He laughed afterward. "Such a shame, really, that someone so pretty got dragged into this mess."

Natsu, knowing full well that he couldn't possibly jump up the tree without aid from Happy, was at its base before he'd even blinked. And his flaming fist was punching straight into the bark, effectively making the whole tree shudder and wobble from his sheer strength. Growling, he delivered a second punch, and he heard the bark crunch and crackle.

The bastard had enjoyed terrorizing Lucy, smiled as he looked back on it, said she'd been cute when she was terrified of him.

Natsu knew firsthand what the celestial spirit mage looked like when she was scared and he also knew that, without a doubt, she was the prettiest when she was smiling. Not when she was shivering and cowering in fear, not when her eyes were wide with unhidden panic, not when her mouth was frozen in alarm. She was absolutely angelic when she smiled — her whole face would light up with warmth, and her eyes would widen, but with a glow that radiated contentedness and joy, and she just seemed to shine like a bright morning star. Or like an angel; Natsu couldn't be sure, seeing as he'd never seen a morning star or an angel, and thus had no way to compare them.

That was when she was the prettiest.

And the fact that Chazore had dared to make her show such a terrified expression—an expression that Natsu could clearly picture in his mind because he'd seen it with his own eyes—infuriated the dragonslayer. He promised himself that no one would ever make Lucy feel that way again.

Not while he was alive and breathing.

"Whoa, whoa, quit shaking my tree!" snapped Chazore as he crouched back down to steel his balance and prevent himself from falling.

Natsu, however, let yet another rapid punch fly. The bark was singed, crackling, and if he hadn't been controlling himself, the thing would have been up in flames by now, he thought proudly. He couldn't set it on fire though, couldn't risk it. Because, apparently, society frowned upon purposely-set forest fires. Mavis knew he'd gotten into enough trouble over forest fires in years past.

Suddenly, there was a raspy, low chuckle from right behind him, right in his ear. "If you wanna fight, all you have to do is ask…"

Sharp pain bloomed in his shoulder, the unmistakable sting of a blade, and he reached up to yank out… a throwing star?

Eyes wide, blood chilling, Natsu spun on his sandaled heel and tossed away the bloody weapon, fist ready to take another swipe at the enemy. The enemy who now was standing a hands-width distance from Natsu, wearing what could have been a smug grin — all smiles Chazore gave were sharp, and cunning, and lethal-looking — and tossing another throwing star into the air playfully. This time, the fire dragonslayer didn't hesitate, didn't ask questions first; he attacked. And that worked just fine for him; he'd always been more of the shoot first, ask questions later kinda guy anyway.

"Karyuu no Tekken!"

Chazore tsked, eyes glowing with annoyance, and, with a grimace, he began sinking into the forest floor as if it were water. He chuckled when Natsu's attack went sailing over his dark head and laughed even harder when the pink-haired fire mage skipped to a halt on one foot and almost fell flat on his face.

Natsu looked over his shoulder, bewildered.

Chazore was half-sunken into the hard ground, bony elbows resting comfortably on the dirt. From the waist down was… nothing but forest moss and leaves.

What kind of magic was that?

Natsu growled — he didn't have time to be thinking about that kind of stuff. Who cared what kind of magic it was? He had to beat the perpetrator to a bloody pulp, drag the answers out of him, and then get back to Lucy. Taking a step back to give himself some room, Natsu took a deep breath, filing his lungs with air and flame magic. "Karyuu no Houkou!"

A river of searing-hot flames, orange, red, and yellow, poured from his mouth like a horizontal geyser, spewing. As soon as the flames overtook the area in which Chazore was resting, Natsu sucked them back. Already, he could see and smell the barest hint of smoldering leaves and twigs on the ground — he really couldn't afford to overdo it; couldn't afford to set the whole forest on fire, because then Jiji would have a hissy-fit about having to pay a few million Jewels to the nature preserve.

Looking down, Natsu quickly stomped out a few burning twigs and leaves.

"I'd be careful if I were you," came Chazore's taunting voice from above. It startled Natsu, who had thought his foe had been trapped in his inescapable fire breath, and he swung his neck upwards to glare at the slinky, leather-wearing trickster. Said slinky, leather-wearing trickster was, once again, perched in a tree like a monkey, with a Cheshire smile plastered across his thin lips. A throwing star danced between his fingers. "It takes a lot of Jewels to repair a forest, you know. But, of course you know that. Makarov's yelled at you plenty of times, hasn't he?"

So many questions bubbled inside of Natsu. How had the creep gotten up there? How did he sink into the ground like that? But, he settled for, "How do you know that?"

A snort tore from Chazore's mouth. "We've been watching you. For a while. We know almost everything about you. For instance, we know that you, Natsu Dragneel, have a pair of Lucy Heartfilia's underwear stashed under your rug. And your cat," blue, glinting, eyes zipped to Happy, who stood behind Natsu, "keeps extra fish in the fridge for his she-cat companion."

And, despite the battle-aura in the air and the fact that liquid rage all but flowed through his veins, Natsu actually had the gall to flush. His tanned cheeks pinked lightly as his mouth dropped open to protest, but, when no sound came from him, the pink quickly darkened to scarlet-red. He could feel the raw, embarrassing heat travel from his cheeks, up to his ears, and down the back of his neck. It felt like his whole body flushed, radiating heat.

Happy was the one to snap out of the mortification first. "Her name is Charle!" he snapped. "And Natsu didn't steal Lucy's panties… He accidentally took them a while ago when we were playing dress up at Lucy's house."

Hearing that, Natsu managed to collect himself.

Now was not the time to allow himself to be taunted by the enemy. Even if the bastard somehow knew about those panties — the panties that Natsu really hadn't meant to steal and had just found in his pocket. Really, he hadn't meant to take them. But, of course, he couldn't just take those things back, because then Lucy would know that he'd taken them — however accidentally — in the first place. That was the only reason they were stashed under his rug. And he'd promised himself that he'd be returning them soon enough anyway… when she wasn't seething and ready to rip his eyeballs out.

"Happy," Natsu said, tearing himself out of his conflicting, panty-esque thoughts, "fly me up there."

"Aye, sir!" The Exceed saluted, flapping his wings. Floating upward, he grabbed Natsu by the shoulders and heaved. The dragonslayer was heavy, like always, but Happy prided himself on being able to carry his friend.

Chazore watched the two with what appeared to be boredom in his sharp, icy stare. He sighed. "You haven't learned yet? You really are slow," he murmured disappointedly just before sinking into the tree branch, just like he had earlier.

Happy, hovering with Natsu in his paws, fluttered to a stop and simply floated. His dark eyes were wide with unbidden fascination, watching intently as their enemy stopped sinking and folded his thin, leather-covered arms behind his head nonchalantly. "How is he doing that?" the flying cat asked.

"Oh, this?" Chazore's tone was colored with amusement. "It's just teleporting magic. My specialty. How do you think I got inside the Heartfilia girl's house? She locks up tight you know, even bolts the windows."

As if to vouch for this, the upper half of his bony body sank through the branch, not coming out the other end like one would have suspected — instead, Natsu craned his neck downwards just in time to see Chazore slowly emerge from the forest floor, as if rising up from a deep puddle.

So that was the game he was playing. Hide and seek.

Natsu took aim, inhaled deeply again. "Karyuu no Houkou!" And, again, he released a spray of lava-hot flames of all colors that scorched everything they touched. Ah, damn, so much for not starting a fire, he thought offhandedly as he watched the grass blaze to life and then infect nearby bushes and small trees. Smoke filled the air, faintly, and it was sure to only grow more opaque as time passed.

The Master would forgive him later. Probably.

Just like before, however, Chazore disappeared before reappearing on another tree branch a few yards away from the hovering duo. "That's not gonna work, you're just gonna set the whole forest on fire. Not that I care — don't care much for forests, never was a tree-hugger," he mused and watched the fire below with disinterest.

"It'll work," Natsu replied. "I just gotta keep trying."

That was the way he always did things. Even if his attacks did nothing at first, over time, if he kept up the intensity, his enemy always grew tired and weaker from constantly taking the blows. He just had to keep punching, and then Chazore would melt like putty, giving Natsu the victory and the answers he needed.

Or, a voice chimed from the back of his head, he could be smart about this. Natsu paused, an image of Lucy coming to mind. She always made plans, and when those plans failed, she had other plans, and then plans for those plans. Somehow, one of them managed to work… How hard was it to come up with a plan, then? He supposed he could make a plan for once. But… What could he do? Chazore just kept evading, kept running, and there was no way to predict where he would end up next. Not unless Natsu managed to block every single exit. But there was no way he could do that when he was in a forest. Not unless he…

Natsu's eyes glinted. "That'll work," he muttered.

Sure, Jiji would probably tear off his arm or his leg when they got the bill, but, hey, it could work so he was going to try it. Besides, he'd been fairly good recently — hadn't destroyed any towns or leveled any buildings — so he supposed he was overdue on causing some mayhem.

"Oi, Happy, take me up," the fire dragonslayer said, his mind made up.

This would work, he assured himself.

"Up?" the Exceed questioned, eyes rolling up to peer at the canopy of trees. "Into the sky?"

"Yep!" Natsu nodded.

The flying cat pondered for a brief moment. Well, this certainly wasn't like Natsu's usually straight-forward, balls to the wall plan at all. Happy was used to flying straight at the threat, not away from it; but he supposed that Natsu did, sometimes, know what he was doing. He just hoped this was one of those times.

"Aye, sir!" If he could have, Happy would have saluted again. Instead, he dashed upwards, wings flapping frantically.

Together, they tore through twigs, stray branches and leaves. The sharp ends of some of the branches nicked Natsu's face, and the bigger stems managed to hook onto his clothes and tear them, but he didn't care. Happy, too, took a few minor cuts to the face; his wings, too, got clipped every once in a while.

Across the way, Chazore's bright blue eyes watched them with suspicion in their depths.

Natsu almost smirked. Oh, yeah, this would work. The sucker would have nowhere to run and be forced to teleport to the only safe spot—Akane beach, right outside the forest. Which, when he was done with it, would be up in flames.

Once he was high enough in the air, face stinging from the fresh cuts and the cold, open breeze, he inhaled deeply once more. This would work, he told himself one last time, before shouting, "Karyuu no…Houkou!" and drenching the entire forest in greedy, searing flames that consumed everything in their path.

The fire burned slowly at first, taking a second or two to latch onto something that could easily ignite. But, once it started, it kept going, gathering its strength, multiplying, like a bolder rolling down a hill — unstoppable, fierce, mighty and deadly. Dark smoke rose, carrying the scent of burning wood — a scent that Natsu loved — and, as it was thick as fog, began clouding the air, making it hard for Natsu to see anything down below.

Okay, that would probably do it.

"Okay, Happy, take us down to the beach."

"… Aye, sir," the feline replied. Honestly, he hadn't expected Natsu to set the whole forest on fire. But, then again, he supposed that this was Natsu. He'd done more drastic and outrageous things before. Happy just hoped that their Master would be forgiving.

Just as the two coasted over the grainy sands of the beach, away from the tall flames that reached for the heavens and away from the clouds of suffocating, inky smoke, they caught sight of familiar sleek, black hair, tied back into a high pony tail, as it began to rise from the shore. Chazore's pale, masked face came not long afterward, with the visible strips of skin stained charcoal black from the fire's smoke. He was coughing, hacking, but that didn't stop Natsu from, once he was released onto the hot, biting, sand, tackling the slippery bastard.

"Are you insane?" yelped Chazore, his sharp teeth grazing Natsu's shoulder. "You could have killed me by setting the forest on fire. Dentanus was right about you after all." Scowling, he opened his mouth and sank his sharp, razor-like teeth into the meaty flesh of Natsu's bicep. Apparently, he was one of those people that tried to win by any means necessary — biting included.

The dragonslayer winced, hissing, before tearing his arm away and smashing his fist into Chazore's mask-covered face. Blood flowed like a river, following swiftly after a pained screech from the now writhing Belladonna member, running down his black-stained lips and chin. More than likely, his nose was broken — the crunch Natsu had heard when his fist made contact only confirmed that, and it sent a pleased thrill through him, because he'd been waiting for this moment for months.

Chazore, another throwing star in his right hand, planted the sharp tool into Natsu's side, burying it deep. He was satisfied, hearing a gasp and a splutter from Natsu, but the dragonslayer didn't bother removing it like Chazore hoped. Instead, he left it there, and promptly head-butted the leather-wearing invader. Nothing, it seemed, could hold him back now.

This was the man who had hurt Lucy. This was the man who had put her in the hospital. This was the man who had dared to attack her in order to provoke him.

Just thinking about those few things renewed Natsu's rage, to the point that it practically oozed through his pores. Heat radiated off of him as his fury rose, making his own tattered clothes stick to his clammy, over-baked skin and singe at the edges; and it effected Chazore, as he, too, began to visibly sweat. He'd been warned, Chazore recalled, to not poke the bear, to not stick around long enough to watch the fire dragonslayer's rage boil over. He hadn't taken the warning to heart, however.

And now, he honestly wished he had.

For he was staring up into eyes that had once been a bright, clear green; now, they were dark with anger, tainted with fury, dulled to the point that the color could have been mistaken for grey. Those were not the eyes of a merciful man. Those were the eyes of a man who was out for revenge. Those eyes, Chazore was eerily familiar with. Dentanus had those same eyes. The same dark determination to win at any costs.

For the first time in his life, Chazore was struck by spine-tingling fear that had not been induced by Dentanus. And, also for the first time, he was literally too scared to move. His nose was crooked, swelling rapidly, and blood leaked from it like a running faucet. Even though his nose was covered by his smooth mask, he knew for a fact that it was broken. His lungs were filled with smoke, making it hard to breath — his breaths were rapid and husky, like he'd been running a marathon. There was no way for him to win cleanly, not with a broken nose, smoke-damaged lungs, and a heavy dragonslayer sitting on top of him.

He'd… lost.

Natsu saw the light in Chazore's eyes change quickly — from fight to flight. And, before the teleporter could vanish, he grabbed the slimy bastard by the shoulders and pinned him to the sand. "Where are the Belladonna?" he demanded.

Chazore's lips thinned to a pale, taciturn line.

Natsu growled, frustrated. This was the bastard who hurt Lucy, he reminded himself, and his hands, still gripping Chazore's shoulders, burst into flames. He wasn't going to bother with the good-cop, bad-cop routine, because right now, he just felt like being a damn bad cop. "Where are they?" he repeated as his captive yelped in morbid surprise.

The fire gnawed mercilessly at the leather Chazore wore, eating away at it slowly, but surely. Soon, they both knew, the fire would be consuming pale skin.

When the teleporter continued to purse his lips, Natsu let the fire pulse up in strength. "Tell me, or I'll burn you to a crisp."

Blue eyes blinked back. There wasn't a doubt in Chazore's mind that Natsu would do just as he promised, and again, Chazore was reminded of Dentanus. Dentanus, who, after today, would surely destroy his miserable corpse — if a corpse was even left behind.

"Give him some information, tempt him, kindle his curiosity. But don't let him kill you."

He wasn't supposed to lose, dammit.

"Bosco," Chazore hissed reluctantly.

Bosco? Natsu's face fell. His flames died and his grip slackened. Bosco was right next to Fiore, and it was renowned for its wooden products and beer… and for its slave trade business. Truth be told, he'd never liked Bosco — much preferred Fiore, the flower kingdom — but he supposed it made sense for the Belladonna's hideout to be there. Plenty of forest areas, high crime rate, good beer… Easy place for a band of criminals that loved to cause trouble to hide.

"Where in Bosco?"

Chazore glared — or, at least, Natsu thought it was a glare by the way his eyes narrowed and his lips parted to reveal and angry snarl. "The main forest, just by the waters. You'll know."

Perfect; Natsu had a location. Now, all he needed were numbers, so Jiji could send the right amount of mages to get the job done. "How many of you are there?"

"Six, including myself and our boss."

Their boss… Dentanus, was his name? Chazore had mentioned it a few times before.

Chazore, speaking of the devil, began sinking into the ground again, melding into the sand. Natsu grabbed at him, yanking — he wasn't through questioning yet and he still had to give the bastard a good wallop for Lucy's sake. But Natsu wasn't fast enough, as surprising as that was, and the skinny, malnourished-looking, deadbeat sunk up to his neck, leering. "Prepare yourself, Natsu Dragneel. We'll be coming for you soon enough. And next time," he sneered, blue eyes glittering, "we'll be going for your biggest weakness."

A mad cackle came from the teleporter as he finally sank fully into the ground, to Mavis only knew where. Probably Bosco, to heal himself up.

With a huff, Natsu sat back on his haunches, looking up at the sky. He grimaced — that throwing star in his side was beginning to ache. Well, he had some answers at least: the Belladonna were in Bosco, and there were six of them total. But he still didn't know why they had it out for him… which was the biggest question. He sure as hell didn't remember any Dentanus, but his memory wasn't the greatest.

Maybe this Dentanus was someone he'd beaten up before?

Maybe. Not likely, though, due to the degree in which the bastard was striking out. Going for Natsu's greatest weakness… Blanching, the dragonslayer closed his eyes. There was only one thing — one person, he corrected himself — whom he not only considered his biggest strength, but also his biggest weakness…


Natsu's eyes snapped open.

He had to go back.

KUDOS TO ALL WHO REVIEWED: lucinda, PameliaCauas, Mimi-Kiki-Dits, LStone, stormbringer9001, Shy Heart, ebonyrose778, ceftriaxone, Toni Baloni, YOUR BIGGEST FAN, Guest, the-true-Freya, KawaiiPanda, Dreamypastelle, Humphadoodle, Deborahpflover, KillumeP, ashlieswifty, XrokzyX, lolalover101, Eliamaire101, miyazakiayakochan, Kira, Ghost, iggles, TheLingeringWolf, AKEMI SHIKON, LolaTheSa, Vaneles, Nalu4ever, Dawnie'B, StarKiss666, Guest, nahadiba, JadeAnime, TheCookieMonster77, Pink Angel Feathers, DD42, darklucy6513, lizzysakura21, IndestructableLove, NeverMakesSense, Rainbows-and-Rainclouds, SunsetRika, KawaiiOdango, kyia12, raydark182, Animefun17, nessa, Celtika82, hundefrau, Ryujin65, The writer of dreams, luv-chan, angel yang92, Sesshy's Rose, Sinares, The Keeper of Worlds, xX ShadowDragonSlayer Xx, prettykitty280, KHLostEmpress, Catwho, NALU-4-EVER-12, mrs zala, emilyalltimelow, DeathBerryHime, WildestHeart4Ever, LovingmyOTP's, NaLuFTW, Elphaba818

Guest: For the guest who had the question about the military in the US... I don't know who told you we don't have pride in our military and our military families, but I can tell you that, for the most part, it isn't true. You asked the right person, though, seeing how I come a military family myself :) Been a Navy brat all my life. In the US, most people view our troops, and their families, with respect and sometimes offer special privileges. No shame, none at all. I love and I can't thank the US military enough for what they do, and what those troops go through every day... But, maybe that's just me, maybe I'm a little bit biased since my father is in the Navy. All I know is, is that I'm proud to say that my father serves our country, and I couldn't be more grateful!

AND AGAIN, I'M SO SORRY FOR THE DELAY. Have pity on a poor college student, who's ripping her hair out over finals and projects and essays?