Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tale or its characters. If I did, there would be romantic moments everywhere.
From the moment they returned, Lucy knew something was wrong with Natsu. He was unusually quiet when they entered the guild. Whenever someone talked to him, he gave a noncommittal grunt and continued staring off into space absent-mindedly. Such behavior was so unlike the rose-haired mage, and Lucy didn't understand why he was acting like that. Their mission had gone just fine, they'd gotten paid and returned home just fine. Erza and Gray had been in high spirits on the train, and even Natsu's motion sickness wasn't troubling him to the extent that it normally did. Had something happened on the mission? Lucy tried to think, but nothing came to mind. They had reunited a man with his wife, who had been kidnapped. Lucy had found it cute how loving the two were, always affectionate and cheerful. Then she remembered how Natsu had refused when they offered to give them dinner before they left. Although she had never seen Natsu turn down food before, she had thought nothing of it at the time. Was it possible that it was related to how he was acting now?
"It would seem that we've lost our second nakama." Erza said, Lucy not taking notice due to being lost in thought. "Perhaps it's contagious."
"Nah, I doubt it." Gray said, not particularly interested. "But if it keeps the flame head quiet, I don't care what it is."
"Silence is golden, they say." Erza said, still looking concerned for Lucy and Natsu. "I wonder what's on their minds?"
"Why don't you just ask them?" Gray said.
"I don't think they'd notice." Erza answered. "They haven't noticed a word of our conversation. We could say anything and they wouldn't know the difference."
"Really?" Gray said, a mischievous glint in his eye.
"I hope you're not going to test that out..." Erza said, trailing off when she realized that her words wouldn't be able to stop Gray from taking advantage of the situation.
"Hey, Natsu!" Gray said in a loud voice. "Just because it's called 'hot pink' doesn't mean it suits a fire-user! Dye it a normal color, maybe you'll look like less of an idiot!" When Natsu didn't reply, Gray continued to taunt his rival. "Have you ever heard of a breath mint? The stench of your breath is more dangerous than any flame you make!" No reaction. "I bet your mom abandoned you so she wouldn't have to live through the shame of having you for a kid! I bet that's why Igneel abandoned you, too!" Still nothing. "I would say you're like this because your flames finally melted your brain, but you'd need a brain for that first!" Natsu still had yet to notice Gray, but he wasn't deterred. "I take that one back. You're obviously coming to terms with the fact that nobody could love a loser like you! Not even L-!" Gray never finished that sentence, Natsu's fist knocking him clean out of his seat. Without a word, Natsu stood up and walked away, not even looking at his teammates.
"I warned you." Erza said, looking at Gray. He lay on the ground, winded and momentarily stunned, trying to figure out which insult had been so effective. Lucy, returning to reality, saw that Natsu wasn't at the table. Looking around, she managed to see him leaving the guild, and stood up to go after him. Ezra's metal hand firmly grabbed her shoulder, forcing her back into her seat.
"Let him go." Erza said. "He must need some time alone."
"What's wrong with him, anyway?" Lucy said as Gray finally got back up. "And what happened to Gray?"
"Gray? He provoked Natsu until he snapped." Erza explained. "Serves him right for saying what he did."
"It was totally worth getting knocked to the ground." Gray said.
"Did Natsu's punch knock your clothes off, too?" Lucy said, causing Gray to realize he wasn't wearing his shirt or pants. While Gray scrambled to pick up and put on his clothes, Lucy stood up, heading to her apartment.
When Lucy entered, she wasn't surprised to find Natsu sitting there. He was facing away from the door, not moving at all. At first Lucy thought he was asleep, but she changed her mind at the sound of Natsu's voice.
"What are you doing here?" Natsu asked, looking at her. He looked legitimately confused and surprised, as if he actually didn't know the answer.
"BECAUSE I LIVE HERE!" Lucy shouted, glaring at Natsu. "You're the one who shouldn't be in here!" Natsu hesitated before replying, much to Lucy's surprise.
"But normally you stick around at Fairy Tail with the others after a mission." Natsu said. "You never come here right away." Lucy sighed. Natsu had a point, but she wasn't about to admit that she left because he wasn't there.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" Lucy said, realizing Natsu was at her writing desk. Thankfully she had hidden her book in a locked hidden compartment of her desk, one she knew Natsu wouldn't find.
"Nothing." Natsu said, abruptly standing up and climbing up to the window he had entered through. "See you tomorrow." With those words, he left. Lucy sighed, worried about him. His voice had seemed emotionless, and he was acting really strange. Putting aside those thoughts, she began to undress so she could shower and go to bed. She was tired, even if it was a bit earlier than normal. Perhaps that was why she hadn't noticed the pen, blank pieces of paper, and letter envelopes that were on her desk, all of which were tucked away when she had last been in the apartment.
She awoke later that night to the sound of someone opening her window and entering the apartment. Sitting up, she waited, hearing soft footsteps. Grabbing her whip and Loke's key, she began to head towards the noise, ready to deal with the intruder. When she found Natsu there, she wasn't sure whether or not she should have been surprised.
"Natsu, you scared me half to death!" Lucy said, laughing. "What are you doing here?" Normally she'd be furious at the dragon slayer for breaking into her house at night, but it was convenient to find him there. She had wanted to ask him what was wrong.
"I was just leaving something for you." Natsu said, handing her a letter and turning to leave. He was stopped by Lucy grabbing his wrist and shouting for him to wait. He turned around and looked at her, not expecting to see the concern and worry that were so apparent in her eyes.
"What's wrong, Natsu?" She asked. Natsu simply shook his head, wrenching his wrist out of the Celestial Mage's grip. He turned to leave again, but was met by Loke blocking his path to the window.
"Where do you think you're going?" Loke said.
"I was leaving." Natsu said.
"Sorry, but you can't." Loke said, crossing his arms. "Not until you explain why you've been acting weird and making Lucy worry so much." Natsu sighed irritatedly. He had thought his plan out so thoroughly, but now it was ruined. If only he hadn't woken Lucy up.
"I'm leaving." Natsu said after about a minute of silence.
"No you aren't." Lucy said, pulling Natsu towards the couch stubbornly.
"I mean I'm leaving Magnolia." Natsu said. "For good." Needless to say, Lucy was stunned. Natsu was leaving? Her closest friend was just going to abandon her without warning or saying goodbye. Or at least, not in person. Without even opening it, she knew that's what the letter would say.
"Why?" Loke asked, since Lucy wasn't able to form words on her own due to shock.
"It's none of your damn business." Natsu growled, standing up. Lucy stood up sharply, standing in front of him and glaring at him. Tears were welling up in her eyes, threatening to pour out at any moment.
"Like hell it isn't!" Lucy shouted. "I thought you trusted me. Now you're leaving without even telling me what's wrong or why you want to leave?"
"It's not like I didn't want to tell you!" Natsu said. "I just couldn't bear to see you hurt... by me."
"And you thought that this would make everything okay?!" Lucy screamed. "Leaving with no warning, explanation, or indication of when you'd return?!"
"Lucy, I'm not going to return." Natsu said.
"Why not?" Lucy said. Tears had begun to slowly run down her cheeks, but she wasn't really crying yet.
"Because you're better off without me." Natsu said.
"That's the dumbest thing you ever said." Loke said. "And it's a shit reason to hurt your friends like this. Why would you think that?"
"It's just..." Natsu said hesitantly. "I don't know if I can stand being Lucy's friend much more." Loke growled, seeing Natsu's words cut Lucy's heart. In one sentence, he had inflicted more pain on Lucy than any sword or spell ever could. Before he knew it, Natsu was pinned against a wall by Loke, both of his hands around Natsu's throat. Natsu gasped for air, writhing and trying to free himself from the Spirit's grip, but to no avail.
"Loke..." Lucy said, her voice barely more than a whisper. "Let go of him." Loke looked stunned by this, but he dropped Natsu to the ground. Natsu coughed a bit as he took deep breaths, his throat sore from Loke's grip.
"If you don't think I'm worth your time, maybe I'm the one who should leave." Lucy said. "Stay and have fun with your other friends, maybe you'll be able to stand their company."
"Wait, Luce!" Natsu shouted.
"Why should I?!" Lucy shouted. Her eyes were red and puffy, but she wasn't crying anymore.
"Because I wasn't done talking." Natsu said. Lucy stood, waiting for him to finish. "I can't stand being your friend anymore, Luce. I can't take it. It's too much... no, it's not enough. It's not enough for me, Luce, but it's better if we stay friends at the most."
"What do you mean by that?" Lucy said, perplexed. Her anger had faded, replaced by confusion and curiosity. Natsu hesitated, opening his mouth to speak and closing it again multiple times as if he wasn't sure what to say. Finally, he spoke, saying something Lucy didn't expect at all.
"I mean that I love you."
"You... what?" Lucy said. She had heard him perfectly well, and understood him completely. She knew what he said and understood it, but it didn't make any sense. It was as if her brain just didn't register what Natsu had said.
"I love you, Luce." Natsu said, meeting her gaze with an intense look of sincerity. "I love you more than anything in the world. I'm not satisfied just being your friend anymore. But you deserve someone better than me." Lucy looked stunned, but she began to move closer to him.
"Natsu..." she said, her face inches from his. "I don't know what to say..."
"Lucy..." Natsu said. "Do you understand now why I can't be around you any longer?"
"I understand, Natsu." Lucy said, their lips almost touching. "But you're wrong. It might seem to you like I deserve better, but..." A loud SMACK followed those words as Lucy slapped Natsu with all of her strength. "You're an idiot."
"What was that for?!" Natsu shouted, nursing his cheek. The red mark in the shape of her hand stung, and a small bruise was beginning to form.
"For being an idiot." Lucy said, glaring at Natsu. "Didn't you even stop to think that maybe I felt the same way? That I wanted you so badly that I couldn't stand being just a friend?"
"You... you what?" Natsu said. Now it was his turn to be confused. By this point, Loke had already returned to where he had come from, leaving Natsu and Lucy alone.
"I. Love. You. Too." Lucy said as if she were teaching a child a new word.
"Then why didn't you tell me before?" Natsu said, stunned.
"Because I was scared you'd reject me." Lucy said. "I didn't want to hurt our friendship."
"Luce... this means more to me than I can put into words." Natsu said. His eyes were alight with happiness, no longer void of all emotion. Lucy smiled at him, and without thinking, Natsu pulled her over to him and kissed her. When their lips separated, the stood gazing into each others eyes, their embrace yet unbroken.
"Planning to leave without warning and anything more than a letter, but being discovered before you could..." Lucy murmured. "This is such a strange way to say 'I love you'." Natsu laughed, and soon Lucy's laughter joined his.
"I'm not leaving, Luce." Natsu said. "I have more reason to stay than ever now." They kissed again, happiness welling up inside them both. In the end, it had been worth all the pain, Natsu's physical pain and Lucy's emotional pain, because the happiness they felt would last a lifetime. As they broke their kiss, Lucy yawned broadly, reminding them that it was the middle of the night. Natsu, much to Lucy's surprise, picked her up and carried her to her bed, placing her back in it and making sure she was comfortable. He then left her room and closed the window he had entered through. When he returned, he found Lucy already fast asleep, an expression of joy on her sleeping face.
An expression that brought more happiness to Natsu than any other person had brought him.
Lucy awoke the next morning to find Natsu asleep, curled around her with an arm clutching her protectively to his chest. As she tried to lift his arm off of her, she felt him pull her against him more tightly, hearing his voice in her ear.
"Good morning, Luce." He murmured. "My love." There was only one other matter to take care of regarding their relationship.
When Natsu and Lucy entered, there was nothing that could have indicated what had happened that night. Of course, they had both suddenly gone from extremely quiet and thoughtful to happy, but people didn't give it much thought. Lucy spotted Gray sitting alone at their normal table, so she and Natsu sat across from him.
"Where's Erza?" Were the first words out of Natsu's mouth. Lucy was also surprised that the crimson-haired mage was absent, but she had refrained from asking.
"And a good morning to you too." Gray responded. "She's looking for a job for us. Thought it might help you two cheer up. Obviously, that isn't necessary. The hell happened?" Natsu and Lucy exchanged looks, smiling broadly.
"I think we'll tell you once Erza gets back." Lucy said. "She needs to hear it." Gray shrugged, walking off to get a drink from Mirajane while they waited. As if on cue, Erza arrived, taking Gray's abandoned spot and smiling at Natsu and Lucy.
"It seems my nakama have returned." Erza said. "What's brought this change of attitude?"
"Certainly not that." Natsu snorted, indicating Gray arriving with drinks but without clothes. Erza and Lucy couldn't help but laugh, causing Gray to instinctively look at himself and discover his clothes were missing. Shrugging, he sat down, not caring as much because he still had his underwear.
"So, mind telling us what's got you two so happy all of the sudden?" Gray said.
"Well, it's a long story..." Lucy said, proceeding to explain what had happened last night. When she finished, Gray and Erza looked at each other, surprise evident in their expressions. Erza looked genuinely pleased, while Gray, in stark contrast, looked mortified.
"I think you know what this means." Erza said. Gray scowled, muttering curses under his breath. Seeing Natsu and Lucy's confusion, Erza proceeded to explain.
"Gray and I made a bet after you left." Erza said. "He was saying how obvious it was that you two liked each other, but you were both too oblivious to ever realize it. I personally knew you two were destined to be together, so I told him it would happen within three days. We made a bet. If you hadn't, I would have had to change from wearing armor to wearing a bikini for a whole week." Natsu snickered at the thought of this, but Lucy looked as if she thought Gray was an idiot for thinking of that punishment.
"And what does Gray have to do?" Lucy asked. "Since he did lose."
"Gray has to go a week without saying anything mean to Natsu or fighting with him." Natsu smiled evilly, but a glare from Lucy prevented him from shouting an insult across the hall to Gray.
The bet, however, was soon forgotten. Gray and Erza were both delighted (in their own way) to hear of Natsu and Lucy's relationship. Mirajane was as well, because she had heard while walking past. Word of the new couple spread like wildfire, and everyone was happy to see them finally together. No one was happier about it, of course, than the lovers themselves. They didn't care what happened, because they were together, and they planned to keep it that way for the rest of their lives.