Title: Salamander and the Naked Prince

Author: Risa

Pairing: Natsu/Gray, Gazille/Levy, Erza/Jellal, Lyon/Juvia, possibly others

Rated: T

Disclaimer: Fairy Tail is Mashima's and this is a bit of a Cinderella ripoff, but whatevs.

Summary: Every maiden in the land is called forth to attend his highness Prince Gray's ball. Now, this shouldn't have anything to do with Natsu, an orphan that lives and hunts on the outskirts of the kingdom, but when he should chance to meet this dashing ice prince then everything regarding Gray suddenly becomes his business.

FIVE: Caught

When last our attentions were on this woeful tale, newly established lovers Natsu and Gray were discussing their admittedly few options, this time with words and not so much with fists. One was but the son of a dragon, or so he claimed, who lived as a humble civilian on the fringe of their small kingdom with two others. The other was crown prince of this kingdom, and he would be forced to ascend the throne after years of fighting it. Or rather, his true problem was that he would be forced to marry, as it was decreed in the establishment of the Kingdom of Magnolia that the crown prince must take a wife before his ascent, thereby enabling him to produce a legitimate heir to keep the bloodline pure.

But Prince Gray was not the least bit interested in women, and his family was not the least bit interested in his plight, for he was the only one "suited" to ascend the throne, or so he was told. This was, after careful consideration, a load of hogwash. But for his cowardice Lyon did know the art of command and authority more than Gray, and he had no disgraceful stripping habits. With some will and effort he would be a successful king, and he certainly never complained of ladies as Gray had, so taking a wife ought not to be an issue for him.

The more time Gray spent out of his cage, the more he knew the life of a king suited himself even less than his brother. And he would fight him every step of the way. Gray might have been born into royalty, but he was no tool to be tinkered with. He was as human as his subjects, and he found it near impossible to just let go of his desires so to supposedly make people happy. The topic of legitimate heirs was mere politicking and squabbles among nobles. If Gray were free to ascend without marriage, he would remind those chittering chimps who the boss is.

But enough of that. Gray was apt to choose a wife in three nights time. It was custom for a male heir to choose any lady in the land, regardless of upbringing, though high class women were preferred for their riches. Gray desired no part in this debacle, though the entire town painted him as the most eligible bachelor who welcomed but every maiden with arms wide open.

He only had room in his arms for this lovely fire mage who had literally come crashing into his world, though.

"Natsu, I have time and again tried to reason with my family. Not once have I ever desired a wife, and not once have they received notion that perhaps I could be the first queenless successor. I find myself divided between their desires and my own. As a member of the royal family I really ought to disregard my own desires, for once I am king my only obligation is to this land. But I am not strong enough to make that commitment, and frankly neither is my brother. It is but a tug-of-war, and one of us will lose. Since I have no one on my side, I am at a disadvantage. I do apologize for getting you involved."

"Don't apologize, stupid!" said Natsu, and Gray braced himself for another swing at his cheek that never came. "That's like being sorry that you feel the way you do about me, and that's not right! And don't say that you have no one on your side. What about me? Quit making excuses and stop letting these bastards walk all over you, moron! And if I ever meet this brother of yours I'll be sure to beat him within an inch of his life for being such a roaring sack rot!"

Gray couldn't help but laugh out loud, for the only person in the world who ever dared to call the great general shitpants a "roaring sack rot" was he himself. Sadly his mirth was brought to an end at once, when a flash of red darted from the wood, and before his mind could process the sudden addition to their company Erza's iron fist was bedded into Natsu's gut. He had been knocked unconscious before his eyes could even catch up.

"Erza, what is the meaning of this? Who sent you?" demanded the prince. He was foremost concerned with Natsu's health, for he knew those bare hands of hers alone were lethal, never mind the devastation they could cause with a weapon or nine. He took note of a tear line drying against her cheek, though that concerned him little, because she was always able to act against her personal feelings if need be. She was strong in every conceivable way. That was why father took her in.

"Do not concern yourself with that, highness. This fool has just threatened your brother and must be taken into custody for treason."

"Do not even think it!" said Gray, his magic twitching beneath his frozen fingers like a cannon whose fuse was newly lit. "Do not deign to charge him so high as treason. You know he will be hanged."

"Perhaps it is for the best," said Erza, her voice devoid of feeling. She could not possibly mean that for even a moment. Gray knew her well, but he also would not put it past her to do what she honestly felt was best for the sake of her prince and their kingdom. "He has been but a distraction to your grace, and his arrest was already ordered for property damage anyway."

"By whom? I demand you tell me. You have a sworn duty to answer to me above all! Or would you betray me, and force me to charge you with treason?"

"With all due respect, highness, my sworn duty is only to protect you. I do not answer to you before higher authority until you have become a higher authority which, might I remind you, is fast approaching. Though you choose to have clandestine relations with some barbaric oaf," said she, as she thoughtlessly swung Natsu about by his vest as though he were some sort of doll. This enraged Gray to the point where he slammed his fist into her jaw. She did not block it as he knew she could, because he would have broken his fingers on her gauntlets if she had, so she would accept the bruised cheek and the sore neck to come.

"You are certainly one to talk. To this day you continue to pine after that convicted felon, do you not?"

"That... that is absurd!" said Erza, and now there was a crack in her countenance. It served her right, as far as Gray was concerned.

"Do not call my Natsu a barbaric oaf and wish to have your own demons concealed. You fucking hypocrite. I will have you excommunicated the moment I am forced to marry and ascend as my first order of business if one hair on Natsu's head is harmed. If he is charged with treason I cannot be held accountable for the misery I bring to your life, and Lyon's as well, for I know he is the one behind all of this and I will have a word with him."

"You are being most unreasonable, and unbearable," said Erza, and then she sighed. She had not for a moment defied orders. Natsu was in her custody, and Gray was before her now. Perhaps Natsu's sentence could be but a slap on the wrist, and any suggestion of his affiliation with the prince could be covered up. Anything that would get her tenacious highness to cooperate. "Very well. My orders were to arrest Natsu and bring you back to the castle. Please cooperate, for once he is out of my hands I cannot guarantee Natsu's safety if you refuse to return with me."

"Do not make threats, for my patience is as thin as black ice."

"It always is."

So that was that. Gray deeply regretted this, but per Erza's request he cooperated and followed her back to the castle. He would be going back whether he liked it or not anyway, because he could not fight her, especially while she carried Natsu. She had already shown blatant disregard for him by swinging him about before his eyes. It simply was not right. How could she? Erza's sworn duty was to protect him, but what exactly was she protecting him from here? Certainly not heartbreak.

But he couldn't help but take the smallest bit of comfort in the weight his malice-laden words had on her heart. She was reluctant to side with the royal family, because if anyone knew how he must have felt, it was her. She still harbored feelings for a man that had been sentenced to exile two years ago. It was hard to associate the crimes committed to that man who had once been fiercely loyal to their family. She certainly did not believe it, even to this day. Nevertheless, she avoided the topic, and with good reason. It was her ultimate weakness.

"I want your word that no harm will come to Natsu. Not his body, nor his reputation."

"Sadly, I cannot promise that," said Erza.

"Bullshit! You are a person of tremendous might. Why do you refuse to promise? Why do you betray my trust in you?"

"For goodness sake, your highness. I only have so much power! And you know well that... that man's might was even greater than my own, but that did not save him from his fate. What makes you so naive as to suggest that might alone will protect this fling of yours?"

"Because if Natsu is sentenced to anything that will harm him, or his reputation, I will take drastic measures to put a stop to it if I must. And if my own men are to turn on me, it is your sworn duty to protect me, is it not?"

"I... suppose it is," said Erza, and that was where the conversation had ended. You see, Gray could not reach for a solution that satisfied everyone at this time, and was forced to consider things that would make him unhappy. It was possible that he had to concede to his brother's wishes in the long run. It was possible that he was fated to a miserable, loveless life. But suddenly there were worse things that could happen, and he had to be sure that such things would not transpire.

TBC

A/N: I thought I'd update this fic if anyone needs a pick me up from recent events in the manga. Mashima's up to something, I think, and it could wind up being epic, or I might rage quit this manga and just stick with Naruto. We'll see what happens. I'll finish this and Gladys, though, definitely. It might be slow going, but we'll get there. Thanks for all the support and reviews, everyone!