Oh, wow! So many reviews for last chapter! You guys are dollbabies ('∀'●) Anywhoser...

Super special shout out melt0928 to for being the 2,000th reviewer! And also special shout outs to XXGureSoraXX and Pink-Fire-Dragon for being the 2,050th and the 2,100th reviewers! THREE big marks in one chapter, I can't believe it! AND OH MY GOSH. 2,000 REVIEWS. I JUST... YOU GUYS ARE SO AWESOME. I can now die happy knowing that I've reached my goal...

ALSO. Guys, I have a new NaLu fic up called "Stuck On You". It's multichapter, and it'll be much, much lighter and fluffier and filled to the brim with NaLu than Adherence. So, I encourage you guys to take a peek at it and leave your thoughts!

Legitimately cannot even fathom how much I love each and every one of you guys... That being said... Here we are! The much anticipated chapter 41! It's lengthy...



The Time

The anger, the fury, that flowed through his veins as thick as his blood suddenly chilled, stopping in its tracks. His heart seemed to stop, as well. Time itself seemed to stop. And all he could do was stare blankly at the solid script mage as she looked up at him with wide, hopeful but uneasy, amber eyes that belied utter honesty. Nothing else mattered, everything faded to the background—voices, faces, the surroundings—and all Natsu Dragneel could see was Levy.

His own voice failed him as his jaw worked up and down. Surely, she had to be mistaken, or joking, as cruel as that was… But, the thought of that, of being lied to about such a delicate thing, left his insides twisting painfully, like he was being gutted with a hunting knife. So painful. Why did that suggestion, the suggestion that he wasn't the father, that it was all a lie, hurt him so deeply? His breath caught in his throat at the only remote possibility…

He realized that he wanted her to be telling the truth, craved it—desired so with his whole heart.

He wanted to be the father.

That realization shook him to his very core, made him tremble where he stood. He wanted Lucy, yes, but now that the suggestion had been made—that he was the father of her baby—he wanted the child, too. He wanted them both as his own. As his family. He wanted it to be true…so badly…

"…you listening? Natsu?" Levy's small, delicate, pixy-voice dug its way into his ears.

No, he wanted to say back, he wasn't listening. Not to anyone. He didn't want anyone to ruin the beautiful possibility that he really was…that Lucy really was…that he had a family again. Just…no. He needed to hear the truth directly from the source, from Lucy herself.


His will resolved, the dragonslayer finally broke out of his trance-like state. Blank, green eyes refocused on his surroundings, taking in the thunderstruck expressions on everyone's faces, the stoic mask that Galahad wore, and the hope that shined like a beacon in Levy's golden gaze.

His voice, too, finally came around, though it was tight, and gruff, and strained, like he hadn't used it in months. "…Lucy…" he murmured, the single name tumbling off his lips, and without another word, he darted through the guild doors and onto the cobblestone street.

If anyone was following him, he was too frantic to sense them. And frankly, he didn't really care. All that mattered was getting to Lucy—seeing her, asking her, hearing the answer from her own mouth. Galahad could wait.

His feet pounded unkindly against the stone as he ran, the breath in his lungs growing shorter as his thoughts consumed him. Was Levy telling him the truth? Was he really…? Had he and Lucy…? He internally scolded himself. Getting his hopes up was not something that he could afford do; for if he was wrong, if Levy hadn't been truthful…the disappointment would be absolutely devastating, positively crushing.

It would be like discovering that Galahad was the father all over again, but ten times worse.

It seemed hours later when Natsu stumbled upon Strawberry Street, though he knew logically that it had probably only been ten minutes at the most. Her apartment in his sights, the dragonslayer renewed his energy and sprinted to her doorstep. Climbing up to her windowsill would waste time, and the longer that he wasn't with her, the longer the hope dared to brew in his chest like a disease. He needed to see her, to ask her, and to know for sure now.

He didn't knock, just threw the door open—and thankfully, it hadn't been locked; there would have been a mess otherwise, and he would've had to clean it up later. Like he'd done with her kitchen, months ago.

Juvia was standing in the kitchen wearing a white apron, her hands covered with flour and filled with soft dough. She was baking something, as evidenced by the bowls, spoons, mixers, flour, dough and icing. Cookies, was it? Upon hearing the harsh smack of the door against the wall, however, the bluenette jumped, squealed in surprise, and knocked a bag of flour onto the floor. Naturally, the bag split upon impact and a white cloud enveloped the entire kitchen—as well as Juvia herself.

She coughed, hacking.

"Natsu-san?" the water mage spluttered, her disbelief clear. Juvia waved away the white flurries, blinking the flour out of her eyes, though the substance stubbornly clung to her entire face and body like a second skin.

And normally, Natsu would have laughed at the sight—because, hell, that was funny! But he was in no mood for anything funny. He licked his lips as they thinned tightly like a drawn bowstring. "Where is she?"

There was no need to elaborate who this she was. Juvia blinked again, this time out of confusion. But, nonetheless, she pointed down the hall with an alabaster-floured hand. "In Lucy-san's bedroom…" she murmured dazedly.

Natsu was around the corner and down the hall before the last word had even left her lips. And, like before, he didn't bother knocking. Just opened the door and stepped inside.

Lucy's scent swamped him as soon as he set foot in her room—daisies and vanilla—and he fought the urge to close his eyes and simply breathe in the intoxicating mixture. Instead, his gaze focused on her, directly in front of him. Her back was to him, and she was sitting at her desk, hastily scribbling something with her feathered quill pen. At the sound of the door, though, she perked in her seat.

"Oh, Levy-chan," the blonde said happily, still facing her desk. Lucy set down her quill and turned, a smile on her face. "I just had a few questions about…" But, when her sights settled on her visitor—who, clearly, was not Levy—the smile fell flat and she jerked back, a hand coming to rest underneath the generous swell of her stomach. "N-Natsu?" Her voice was a crack. "When did you get back? What are you doing here? And—and are you covered in…flour?" she stuttered, incredulity smothering her features, and jumped to her feet.

Where she had expected Levy to stand, Natsu loomed, his expression stark and his skin pale—though, not from the flour. He was without his overcoat, his torso bare and revealing the ropes of muscle along his abdomen, his sun-kissed skin covered with powder, and the bandages wound tightly around his middle where a growing red spot met her gaze. He was wounded, she realized. Wounded, shirtless, covered in flour, and standing in her bedroom looking lost and dazed…

Why…? she wanted to ask. How?

Natsu didn't bother with any of her questions—neither the ones she'd asked aloud or to herself. "Is it true?" he asked.

She backed up into her desk, eyes narrowing at his tone. "Is what true?"

"That I'm…" he tried, reaching for the words that he so desperately wanted to say. They wouldn't come to him, as usual. "That you…that we… You and I…" Dammit, this was frustrating. All of the things that he'd told himself he would say to her, where were they now? One look at her, and every coherent thought of his had flown out the window.

That had never happened before.

Lucy, her bewilderment and surprise put behind her, let her mouth fall into a frown. Now that the initial shock of seeing the MIA dragonslayer had worn off, she had things that she needed to discuss with him. Important things. "Is it true that you and I have some things to discuss? Yes, it is," she told him, voice hardening. "I'll have you know that severing contact with me and telling me to go home is not okay at all," Lucy hissed before flying into a rage anew. "You can't be here? Really? Do you have any idea how badly that hurt me? And not even telling me that you were going after the Belladonna… I was so worried about you!" she added vehemently.

"Lucy," he said in a dry voice, "I couldn't… I mean, I had to make sure that you were safe… I hunted down the bastard who hurt you. I had to get revenge for you… And I couldn't see you before I did that. I had no right to…"

The blonde faltered at that, her blonde brows pushing together. What did he mean by that? He really had gone off on a suicide-mission…for her? "You had to get…revenge for me? And you couldn't see me before that because…why?"

"I…was ashamed with myself," Natsu admitted. "It's my job to keep you safe, and when I failed, I didn't even try to find the bastard responsible. I didn't have any right to see you until I went and took care of him."

Oh. Well, that was a bit of new information. A part of Lucy had hoped that he'd gone charging off for her sake, but, she hadn't really believed it deep down…until now.

Seeing the confusion on her face, Natsu acted without thinking. He grabbed her by the shoulders, his grip nearly bruising, and he shook her once. "Is it true?" he demanded for the third time.

She scowled up at him and tried to wiggle her way out of his hands. "Is what true?" she snorted at him, gripping his biceps and digging her nails into the bare flesh as a warning. She did not like to be man-handled.

And she thought he knew that.

When he winced, she blanched and looked to his arm to see another, un-bandaged but healing, wound, her nails dangerously close to ripping it open. As strange as it was, she thought it looked like some sort of savage animal bite. And as her eyes traveled up, she saw yet another injury—like he'd had a small knife buried into his shoulder. Had he gotten these when he'd been out? The answer was probably yes, but, why hadn't he bothered doctoring them yet? And why wasn't the wound in his side at least partially healed? He had to have seen Wendy, Lucy knew the girl's patchwork by heart, but he hadn't allowed her to heal him.


The questions began bubbling up her throat, dancing on her tongue and she wanted nothing more than to ask him. Just as she opened her mouth, however, his left hand left her shoulder and…slid underneath her shirt. She, rightfully, squeaked upon the contact, jerking away from him and feeling her stomach muscles pull uncomfortably. He kept her still with his right hand, however, and let the hand on her stomach rest, palming her tightened skin.

"Is it true," his green eyes, glimmering with what could only have been hope, found hers, though they were wide and uncertain, "that we…?"

Understanding flooded Lucy faster than she could have blinked.

He knew.

Her stomach hollowed out, cramping and pulling at the thought. She couldn't help herself—she panicked. "Who told you?" she demanded hotly, trying to pull away from him again. "Was it Gajeel?"

He'd been the one to rat her out the last time—spilling her secret with the whole damn guild as a witness. No, Levy had been glued to his side; she wouldn't have let him get so out of control. Which meant that…she had told Natsu herself?

Well, Lucy gulped, it didn't really matter who had told him now. He knew, and he was angry.

"So it's true?" Natsu asked, shaking her again. "Eight months ago, you and I really did… And a baby? Tell me, Lucy. I need to hear it from you, directly from your mouth."

"We…" She sucked in a breath, her heart pounding against her ribcage. This was it. "We did. And yes, it resulted in a baby…"

There, it was out. He knew the truth, she'd finally admitted it.

Natsu, staring down at her, blinked. He didn't know what he was supposed to feel… But, Levy had been telling the truth; he really was the father. Which meant that Galahad had lied to him… Feeling the anger flow through him, he ripped his hand away from the soft, but taut, skin of her stomach and settled it on her shoulder again.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he snapped.

All this time, he could have been protecting her… Could have been cherishing her…

"How was I supposed to tell you?" she bit back. She stood on the tips of her feet to lean closer to him, but she strained too much and her stomach pulled tightly in protest. She flinched.

The baby was moving around awfully hard.

"I don't know!" Then, he frowned. Lucy had lied to him, too… Eight months ago. "You… Eight months ago," he started and she paled, as if she knew exactly what he was going to say, "you and I… I wasn't just your hot water bottle for the night, was I? You and I…we actually…" Mavis, he choked. They'd actually had sex. And…Lucy had outright denied it. "Why did you lie to me? To everyone?"

Lucy winced, and whether it was from his tone or from something else, Natsu couldn't tell. "Because I was scared, and I was embarrassed, okay? You're my partner, my best friend, and I didn't want a one-night stand to get in between the two of us! You couldn't remember because you were drunk, and I lo—…respected you enough to keep it that way." It appeared that she'd been about to say something other than respected and changed her mind. What she'd been about to say was irrelevant, though. "Now," she said, face tightening, "could you let me go? My stomach is cramping pretty badly."

"No," he stated. He wasn't going to let her go. He wasn't ever going to let her go. "Not until you tell me that you and Galahad aren't…together."

She, whether she liked it or not, was his family now. They'd mated, and though the ritual wasn't complete, that still made her his. His to look after, his to protect, his to cherish. And he had to make sure that she both knew and understood that.

"Oh!" Lucy sucked in a breath, her face reddening. "For Mavis's sake—no we aren't together. We never were. Why do you keep on assuming that he and I were together?"

Natsu's face darkened as understanding took hold of him. The illusionist had lied. But not without purpose—he'd lied in order to make Natsu second guess himself, and create a rift between him and Lucy. It'd worked; and damn well at that, which only made Natsu angrier at himself. He should have known better.

"He told me the baby was his," the dragonslayer finally admitted, watching as Lucy's brown eyes widened. "He told me that the two of you were starting a family…and I just… It made me crazy, Lucy. I was angry, and frustrated, and gullible. I shouldn't have believed a word he said."

This whole mess probably could have been solved months ago, if only he'd gathered his lady-balls and talked with Lucy like a civilized person.

"He lied," Lucy muttered, breathing out harshly. "We were never together, and this baby most certainly isn't his. Now, seriously, Natsu; let me go." Her voice…almost sounded pained

Natsu was about to retort, fire back the first thing that came to mind—to let her know that she was not getting rid of him anytime soon—but, he halted abruptly when he felt something…wet splash onto his feet. He looked down, mouth hanging agape, and when he saw that there was a mysterious puddle in between Lucy and himself, he promptly closed his mouth.

"Uh, Lucy," he mumbled, voice hoarse, "did you just pee yourself?"

He looked back up at her, not sure what kind of expression to see on her face.

Frustration was still evident, it appeared. "No, I did not just pee myself. Honestly, Natsu…" But, then, the reality of the situation seemed to kick in as her brown eyes widened and lost that angry spark that always made them glow. Mouth opening and rounding into a neat 'o' of complete surprise, the blonde's head jerked down to stare at the puddle. She paled. "Oh, Mavis… Oh, MavisPlease tell me that's not what I think it is?"

Natsu shifted his feet uncomfortably, not liking the panicky note to her voice, and abruptly released his grip on her. The wet stuff, whatever it was, was on both of their feet, and was soaking through the front of Lucy's pants and dripping down her legs, turning the material darker wherever it touched. It really did look like she'd peed herself.

"Are you sure you didn't pee yourself?" he asked, shifting awkwardly again and pegging her with a desperate stare. Because that was not how he'd pictured their reunion ending—with Lucy peeing on him.

"Mavis, yes, I'm sure," she snapped back at him and whipped her head back up. "My water just broke, Natsu."

He scratched the back of his head. "How's that any different from peeing yourself?" He wasn't trying to be a complete idiot; he was just an ignorant fool.

An ignorant fool who'd apparently never taken Sex-Ed in any way, shape, or form—though, why Lucy was surprised about that at this point, she didn't even know.

"Because," the celestial spirit mage huffed, "that means the baby's coming." With that, she awkwardly waddled around the puddle on the floor, noting that someone would have to clean it up for her—and she pitied whichever poor soul got stuck with that job—and went to her closet.

"Oi, seriously?" Natsu shouted as the understanding zipped through him. The baby was on its way? "Now? Right now?" His voice was weak and panicked and hoarse from their little yelling match just a few moments prior, but his green eyes were so alive with unease and worry that he looked like he could spring into action at any moment if necessary.

"Yes, right now," answered Lucy. "Which was not part of the plan. I haven't even packed yet! I need a week's worth of clothes, for both me and the baby, and I need bottles, and binkies, and diapers, and blankets, and some toys, and…. Ugh, Mavis," she cursed. "This wasn't supposed to happen for another two weeks! I'm not prepared for this!"

Natsu, still standing in the little puddle, watched Lucy yank down random shirts and pants from hangers and fold them into the crook of her arm, muttering under her breath to herself. Mavis, what was he supposed to do? He was a man, he was supposed to take charge, wasn't he? But where in the seven hells was he supposed to start?

"Uh, Lucy, do you want me to, uh, help you pack?" he offered, sounding strained—which, obviously, he was.

"No," she bit back at him, "thank you, but I – " She was cut short by her own hiss of pain as she doubled over, a hand draped across her swollen belly.

"Lucy!" Natsu was by her side in a heartbeat, holding her steady, letting her lean against him as she partially sagged. Her eyes were closed, scrunched up tight, like she was in pain, and her jaw was clenched to the point that Natsu swore he could hear her teeth grinding—and it made his fiery blood run ice-cold. "Oi," he exclaimed, shaking her lightly, "Lucy, you okay? Oi!"

Her brown eyes reopened, jaw unclenching so she could manage, "I'm fine, I'm okay. Just a contraction." She huffed, blowing air through her nose. Then, she rightened herself, letting Natsu keep his arm around her waist, and letting her own hand rest on his strong shoulder. "They weren't kidding… Those things are seriously painful."

Natsu grimaced. She was still in pain—he could smell it. And even if he couldn't, the subtle squeeze of her small fingers on his shoulders was enough to tell him everything he needed to know. "Go sit down, I'll finish packing for you." He nudged her towards her plush, pink bed.

The bed where this whole mess had begun. He shook his head—seriously not the time to be thinking about that.

"Eh?" she stuttered, looking up at him in utter surprise. "Are you sure? I mean, I can still pack…" But, then, she winced, rubbed the side of her stomach, and then muttered, "But I don't think I can bend over…" Another flinch. "Or move," she added.

Man, Natsu thought as he looked her up and down. Lucy was tougher than most people realized. He could see that she was grinding her teeth again, her mouth twisting down in a grimace. And yet she was expecting to pack a bag and then walk to the hospital? It was a good distance away, a half an hour's walk, probably longer since she'd be waddling to get there.

She wouldn't make it, he thought seriously. No way, there was no way she was going to be able to walk to the hospital in this condition.

"Oi, Lucy…" he started slowly, not sure how to breach the subject. Was it best to tell her she wasn't going? Or was he supposed to just make a suggestion first and then insist?

"The bag is on the upper shelf in my closet—the big, blue duffel bag. And, um, my underwear is in the first drawer on the left of my dresser…but I think you already know that," she mumbled with a blush, thinking back to the times where he'd broken into her room and stolen her underwear with Happy. That had been so long ago… "And the, uh, the baby's clothes are in the first drawer on the right. Everything's in there. The bottles and the toys and stuff are in the kitchen and living room, so…"

"Lucy," he said again. "Maybe…maybe you shouldn't go to the hospital…"

"…What?" Her golden head whirled back around, coffee eyes staring at him as if he'd gone utterly crazy. Not go to the hospital? No. No, no, and just no. That was beyond totally asinine. "No, Natsu, that's nonnegotiable. I'm having this baby in a hospital, I decided that a long time ago—I have a birth plan," she informed him haughtily.

Natsu faltered at that. A birth plan? She actually had a plan on how she was going to have the baby? Did normal women do that? He didn't know.

"Well, Luce," he figured if he was going to make her angry, he might as well let loose the familiar endearment in hopes to earn a few brownie points, "there's no way you're gonna be able to walk to the hospital like that. You can't even bend over."

With a frown, she insisted, "I can make it there. Watch me."

And then she stood up to prove her point. She probably would have remained standing if another contraction hadn't hit her with the speed and the strength of an entire train and its cargo. Whimpering, sucking in fast, light breaths like the magazines had instructed, Lucy eased herself back down. Her neck bent forward as the contraction continued, and her breathing grew stronger, and again, Natsu could only watch.

"You're gonna have to stay here," he finally murmured once he saw that her shoulders had relaxed and her breathing had settled.

"No, I can't stay here. Don't you understand? I have a birth plan, Natsu, a birth plan," the woman hissed at him repeatedly. "I was supposed to start feeling light contractions in two weeks to a month, and then go to the hospital early, and then wait for the labor to start so I would give birth naturally in a clean, sterile, sheltered environment where nothing can go wrong, and where doctors who know what they're doing are just around every single corner." Lucy lay back into her bed, moaning and running a hand through her tangled hair. "I am not giving birth here," she said firmly, finally, leaving no room for argument.

Natsu frowned. Now she was just being unreasonable. "Lucy," he began, tone soft, "it'll be better for you to stay here. I can get Porlyusica and she'll take care of everything."

"You really think that she'll come and help? She hates people!" She flung her head up to glare at him, cheeks pink and flushed from the mild amount of pain and yelling that she'd been doing.

He just didn't understand… She was already nervous about giving birth, and the thought of giving birth at home where there were no doctors…terrified her. Something could go terribly, horribly wrong and nobody would know what to do. At least if she were in a hospital there would be people with experience who knew how to handle just about every situation. That was why she wanted to be at Magnolia Central. And it helped that the hospital was as pristine as Mira's bar counter—the barmaid scrubbed that thing constantly, day and night.

"Porlyusica wouldn't abandon us, she's helped us before right? She even fixed up Jiji that one time," he reasoned, completely oblivious to the way she began to grit her teeth and twist the bed sheets with both hands.

"Natsu, I told you, I am not having the baby here."

"Well why not?" demanded the dragonslayer as he crossed his arms.

Her face was blood red up to the roots of her golden, blonde hair, and she slammed her eyes shut. "Because I said so!" she shouted.

His eyes narrowed into little green slits, and for a moment, he almost looked like Gajeel when he was in a brooding mood—which was always. "Well, you're not leaving." He tightened the muscles in his arms as a display, his tanned skin rippling like he was showing off his dominance.

Lucy almost scoffed. Instead, she snarked, "Says who?"

"Says me, that's who," Natsu said, nodding.

"Newsflash, Natsu, you can't stop me."

Though, in actuality, it wouldn't take much to stop her… All he had to do was block her path and she would be done for. Lucy was in no condition to parkour her way around his solid frame that was a good five inches taller, and much wider—due to his sheer muscle mass—than her own.

"Oi, oi, I could tie you to the bed if I wanted," grunted the fire mage, his mossy eyes flashing in the evening light. They glinted like razor-sharp jade fragments, belying just how serious he was about this whole thing—he really would tie her down if push came to shove.

Though, considering this was Natsu she was arguing with, that wasn't the most outlandish thing he'd ever suggested doing.

Lucy, half-stunned, could only blink at him owlishly. "You'd tie a woman in labor to her bed? You could get arrested for that, I hope you know!" Actually, she doubted he could get arrested; but he didn't need to know that. All she had at her disposal were empty threats, after all.

Natsu, his face hardened and his eyes steely, shrugged his massive shoulders at her like he didn't really care. "As long as you're safe, then I don't care if I get arrested and locked up for the rest of my life," he replied. And the shocking part was that he sounded like he was telling the truth; it was fairly easy to tell when Natsu was lying and when he was being honest. He just had a certain way of talking, a lilt to his voice, that announced when he was truthful.

Here, he was being absolutely truthful—painfully so.

It only made Lucy more angry with him. "Oh, really?"

Why the hell would he be willing to do that for her? Get arrested for her and go to jail for her? After everything they'd been through? Really?

He was a bigger idiot than she'd initially taken him for.

"Yeah, really!"

Soft knocking interrupted the two mid-feud, leaving Lucy breathing heavily and Natsu blowing air out through his nose. Both turned their heads to glower at Lucy's bedroom door, their eyes all but burning little holes through the oak in hopes that they might singe the person who had actually interrupted them.

"Um… Natsu-san, Lucy-san?" Juvia's voice came from the other side of the closed door, sounding concerned. "Juvia doesn't mean to interrupt, but Juvia heard a lot of yelling… Is everything okay?" the water made questioned.

Lucy deflated on her bed, sighing. She rubbed her temples with both hands. Great; not only was she in labor, but now she was starting to get a headache. And she couldn't take any pain-killers because of the risk those stupid things caused the baby. "Yes, Juvia."

Everything was absolutely dandy.

"Oi, Juvia, don't listen to her," Natsu commanded suddenly. "I need you to get Porlyusica for me—Lucy's in labor." He was blunt, as usual, and not at all fazed by the murderous glare than Lucy threw in his direction.

"Natsu!" Lucy shouted as her eyes blazed. The way she was now, she looked as though she could kill a man—a man named Natsu.

A breathy gasp sounded from the other side of the door. Lucy could imagine the look on Juvia's face—a look of awe, anxiety, and excitement; probably a little worry, too. "Lucy-san is in labor? Juvia will do her best to fetch Porlyusica-san right away," the water mage promised, tone sturdy unlike her raspy breathing that signaled her general anxiety. A pause, and then, "Stay strong, Lucy-san!"

"Yes, thank you, Juvia," Lucy replied. And as the other woman's footsteps hurried down the hall, sharp thumps that almost shook the whole apartment, the celestial spirit mage fixed her unhappy gaze on Natsu, who was standing at the foot of her bed. "…I hope you're happy," she muttered to him. "My birth plan is ruined now, thanks to you. Do you know how much time I spent on that thing? Hours! I had everything worked out, even which outfits I was going to bring, and which pacifiers I would use on which days…"

Arms still crossed, he wrinkled his nose as though he'd smelled something sour. "…That's a little weird, Luce."

Seriously, no normal person was that organized.

"It is not weird! Lots of women draw up a birth plan. It makes us feel more in control of an uncontrollable situation," she explained.

Although, he wasn't the only one to have questioned it. Honestly, at first when she'd seen the suggestion in the magazines, she'd been totally skeptic, too. After all, there was no way that simply writing things down and planning everything out would make her feel less nervous, and uncomfortable, and frightened about giving birth. But, she'd done it anyway. And just like with her speeches, having everything written out and planned and organized made her feel like she had everything under complete and utter control—though, that control was but an illusion.


"Well, it looks like no matter what you do, you're not gonna be able to control this, huh?" Natsu said, and surprisingly, he was very, very right.

She couldn't control any of this, no matter how badly she wanted to or how hard she tried. This was out of her hands. It had never been in her hands to begin with, now that she was looking back on it.

"Yeah… I guess so. It's just… I'm so…" She paused to take a short breath, mentally chalking herself up for what she was about to say to him. From the end of her bed, he saw the change in her face immediately—how it went from hard and stubborn, to soft and…fearful. "I'm scared, Natsu… I'm terrified, really," she murmured. "Because what if something goes wrong? The baby's coming two weeks early and I…" Her voice cracked, breaking her off before she could finish.

And Natsu couldn't bring himself to look at her with such a hardened expression anymore. His own face softened, eyes drooping, and he uncrossed his arms after debating for a brief moment. "Oi, Luce, look at me…" He held out a hand and pointed to the floor. "I'll be right here, right by your side if you want me to… I can stay here," mumbled the fire dragonslayer as his eyes averted to stare blankly at the corner.

She had a crack in that corner of the wall, he realized with a frown. That was something that he needed to fix—had to get kind of drafty in her room.

Lucy gaped like a gutted fish for a second time that day, mouth falling open, eyes widening to the point that they burned. Or maybe that was the familiar sting of tears. Happiness filled her chest, and she felt…lighter. "…I want that," she stated eventually. "I want you to stay here, that'd make me feel a bit better, I think…"

Natsu grinned. And that familiar, warm grin of his only made the weightlessness in her chest expand. "Okay," he agreed. But, then, the smile faded and his nose twitched in the particular way it did when he'd scented something unusual. Lucy, though, knew exactly what he was smelling—her. "…But," he picked up again, tone wavering with unease, "don't you wanna take off those pants? Not—not that I'm asking you to strip or anything!" he defended. "I just figured, you know, that it can't be very comfortable."

She smiled wanly and shifted her legs. "It's not comfortable at all…" she admitted. While Natsu had said she looked as though she'd wet herself, she actually felt like she had done just that. Her thighs were sticky and the soft, clingy material of her maternity pants were no longer agreeable. "Would you mind getting me a dress out of the closet?"

"A dress?" He frowned, but moved to her closet anyway. "Why d'you want a dress?" he asked as he stuck his head inside and rooted through, what seemed to him, like, hundreds of hangers and outfits.

Gray really hadn't been kidding that one time when he'd said that girls loved clothes.

Huffing, Lucy irately said, "What else am I supposed to wear? A towel? I'm not putting on another pair of pants just to have Porlyusica tell me to take them off. And I'm not going to be able to wear these dresses again since they're maternity wear, so it doesn't really matter to me if I wear them now."

The dragonslayer lifted out a creamy sundress-looking thing, scanned it over, and then glanced at her. In his opinion, she'd look absolutely beautiful in the sundress—but if she was planning on wearing it throughout the whole ordeal… "…So…you're gonna wear it while you're…?" he asked, wincing at the thought, and held out the outfit for her to take.

She took the dress, ran her fingers over it, and said, "Yes, Natsu," as she clutched it to her chest. "Like I said, I'm not going to wear a towel—or Mavis forbid, do this naked." Her eyes rolled. Getting naked was never something she'd planned on doing—and thankfully, she still had control over that tidbit. "Now, turn around so I can change," she directed, waving a dainty hand at him.

Natsu complied without a word and spun on his heel to stare at her pink walls. It was funny and a bit daunting to think about, but, just a little over eight months ago, he'd woken up to the sight of these same exact walls… If only he'd known then what, exactly, would transpire…he supposed he would have done things a bit differently.

He would have been there for her all day, every day, without hesitation or question for starters. And, more than likely, she wouldn't have gotten hurt either of those times because he would have been there to protect her. Galahad wouldn't have been able to get under his skin so easily either and he wouldn't have caused so many problems.

Funny, he thought to himself. He'd never really been one to dwell on the past. But it was like he couldn't help himself now.

Natsu tried not to listen to the ruffling of clothes and sheets, to the little, feminine grunts, directly behind him. He tried not to think about the fact that Lucy, his sort-of-mate, was naked behind him. And he tried, desperately, to squash the little voice in his head that beseeched him to turn around and take a quick peek. Because it would be harmless, and she probably wouldn't even know, and he was curious. But, Natsu knew better. And he respected her enough. And he kind of, if on the off chance that she did catch him, didn't feel like being bludgeoned with the nearest household-item-turned-weapon in her reach.

After a few minutes of those same grunting noises and the same rustling, however, Natsu grew a little more than curious. "Do you, uh, need help?" His voice, Mavis, it croaked like a frog.

Lucy's response was huffy and irritated. "No. No, I can do this myself. It's just…a bit tricky trying to take off pants when you can't bend over," she said exasperatedly, puffing again. The rustling sounds grew more hurried and insistent, as if she were embarrassed about the fact that she was having trouble with her own pants.

"…You sure you don't need help?" he offered, feeling bad for her. Mavis knew he'd be mortified if he couldn't take off his trousers by himself.

"Oh, for the love of—yes, I'm sure I don't need help," the blonde hissed. "What I need is for you to – " But, she never finished. Her angry voice was cut off and replaced with a low, pained moan that gave the dragonslayer spine-tingling shivers.

"Lucy?" He spun on his heel, turning fully around. She would kill him for peeping at her, he realized, but whatever; at this point, there was nothing really holding him back. However, the sight of Lucy hunched over on the bed, the white dress clutched in her hands and barely covering her nakedness, made him kneel in front of her in worry. The fact that she was naked was utterly irrelevant to him now. "Oi, you okay? Another, er…?" he mumbled, forgetting the particular word she'd used.

Lovely brown eyes peeled open, glazed over with pain, and she panted, "Contraction. Say it; it's not a dirty word."

"Contraction," Natsu hastily mumbled.

A pause settled in, in which Natsu lingered on his knees in front of her while she continued to ride out the waves of the almost-paralyzing ache. It was…nice having him so close, she thought vaguely, nice that he was finally here. Even though he was blatantly staring with wide, owlish eyes at her…breasts? And then, through the pain-induced fog, Lucy remembered that she was still very much naked.

"Turn around, you pervert!" she yelped and lashed an open palm out at him.

Her small hand connected with his cheek, a crack echoing throughout the room. Natsu, more startled than pained by the outburst, just blinked. She'd hit him, he realized faintly, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw her reaching out to strike again. Hastily, he lunged back, but she still managed to graze him with her sharp, filed nails.

"Oi! Stop hitting me, it was an accident, I didn't see anything!" he insisted as she continued, with her eyes glued shut, to flail at him. She didn't stop, however, and was able to smack him again—this time on the other cheek. The light zip of pain didn't faze him, but it was apparent that she would continue to strike at him as long as he was within the vicinity, so he snorted to her, "I'm turning around, I'm turning!" and finally, respectfully, turned and showed her his back.

Lucy stopped clawing at him immediately afterward, her harsh breathing evening out as she collected herself. Rustling-sounds met his keen ears, the shifting of fabric, and he could just imagine her—lifting the dress up, sliding her slim arms through the arm-holes, tugging it over her head, patting her lap down to straighten it and smooth out the wrinkles. Natsu gulped. Even he knew that it was slightly a little less than inappropriate to be thinking about her, and her provocative manners, at such a time.

He really hoped she couldn't see him sweating.

A breathy sigh, a sound that Natsu found he loved, came from Lucy. Her voice was soft when she said, "Okay, I'm finished now… Sorry for overreacting, I didn't mean to hit you so much…"

"It's fine," he said over his shoulder. Was he supposed to turn around now? Or would she hit him again? He would have to take his chances, it appeared. "You hit like a girl, anyway," the dragonslayer mumbled as he, hesitantly, pivoted back around. Only to find his partner narrowing her eyes at him, like a cat—she probably hadn't taken too kindly to the whole hit like a girl thing. He laughed nervously. "So, uh, you want me to take that to your laundry room and clean up…that?" Natsu sheepishly offered, pointing to the almost-forgotten puddle.

The irritated glower on her face quickly fell, only to be replaced by one that looked like awe. "…You're offering to clean up the water?" Her nose wrinkled as if she, of all people, found it unpleasant. "You don't have to; don't think that you're obligated to do it or anything. I'm sure I can clean it up myself, or get Juvia to do it, or something…"

"Why bother? I'm here, aren't I? And it's not like I haven't gotten down and dirty before—this is nothing." Besides, while he was at it, he could take off his shoes and dry his feet.

And now that he was thinking about his shoes…he was still wearing them. Odd, really, considering that Lucy hated it when people wore shoes inside her house. Claimed that she loathed having to clean up all the mud-tracks and shoe prints on her floors and carpets. That she hadn't noticed the fact that he was still wearing his sandals spoke loudly for her level of distraction, and her unease.

"…You really don't mind?" the blonde asked. She blinked those eyes of hers—big and brown, like a lamb's—at him again.

A funny feeling, like his insides were turning to mush, overwhelmed Natsu at that moment. It was strange… His heart sped up at least double, maybe triple, than its usual pace, his hands were suddenly slippery from sweat, and it felt like a fish was flopping around inside his stomach. What was wrong with him? Was he sick? That didn't make much sense, seeing as he'd been fine just a few moments before. But it did feel like he had a fever… Or maybe the room had just gotten a lot hotter. Or, actually, maybe it was just him—he sometimes amped up the temperature of a room when he wasn't paying attention to his body heat; it liked to flare when he got emotional.


Was this the "butterflies" that people talked about? He'd never experienced such a reaction before, but he figured that it had to be the explanation. It was…the only word he could think of to describe the experience was strange. But, at the same time, it wasn't exactly an unwelcome feeling, not at all.

Finally, he smiled at her, his canines poking his bottom lip. "Nope."

Everything's out on the table now. Galahad's deception is revealed, Natsu and Lucy are working together to fix their bond, and the baby finally decides to make its appearance?

KUDOS TO ALL WHO REVIEWED: brittonkrystal, gamergirl luvs you, whatsinamasterball, Kittyneko, Becca, Guest, Pink-Fire-Dragon, kotymer2 0, Disappear500, Karyunohoukou, nekogirl017, nekogirl017, whatgoesupgoesdown, Mimi-Kiki-Dits, Fearxgodlike, unnownreader134, Guest, DeeaVali, nekogirl017, PureAngelHeart, Heather, TakeMeAdventuring, EviI-Cupcake, Mimi-Kiki-Dits, crazydemonchild, Guest, guest, XrokzyX, XXGureSoraXX, jaclynkaileigh, Unicorn, Sesshy's Rose, Adrepok, Professor Nebilim, Guest, Me, RottenLenka, Lolibeagle, Crunchycrackers, Kitsuri Mizuka, Guest, Ykla, OmegaFoxy, VerticalForeverElevator, LoveIsARose, WolfGirlHowlsAtMoon, Minastara, Moriyasha Neko-hime, QueenP19, angel yang92, pandasxpocky, Ms Bloodmoon, NatsuDragneel4669, TheTerryman, Person, nessa, Whip and Fangs, raydark182, MagicalPillows, Tanzanite-Lotus, OtakuLover43, coolkeda, Guest, Toni Boloni, mrs Zala, I always smile, Pink Angel Feathers, mandy42489, luv-chan, DeathBerryHime, ineptia, Rummy88, lucinda, shelbyshoe, melt0928, KHLostEmpress, Aslan9001, leoslady4ever, alldaylong, Animefun17, skelekc, Pikaskye, kuteluver, DarkFae7, AlchemicGoddess15, LilyAlina, somewhat intriguing, DD42, ElyseexD, Catwho, LuvlyLadyLexi, Psychana, The Bewitched, Guest, ashlieswifty, kyia12, Mon, Theimmortalfoxx, Whaddafuhhhdude, maloni, Smuthermuffin, NeverMakesSense, TVfreak7, Llaelien, JaylatheCerealKiller, lilpumpkingirl, WildestHeart4ever, maimid17, xX ShadowDragonSlayer Xx, Dawnie'B, Guest, stormbringer9001, XxFairy-chanxX, recoveringauthor, Guest, Darklight0303

Also, I completely forgot to do kudos last chapter! So terribly sorry about that, to all who reviewed!