There was little noise in the forest at this time of day. It was unusual for it to be this silent at this time of day and especially on one as pleasant as this too. The midday sun streamed through the foliage, through the broad green leaves and thick branches that as the light shone down created unique patterns on the grass below. The blooming flowers and other vegetation below seemed to glow in the sunlight and swayed gently in the occasional breeze.
Usually on a day such as this plenty of animals and creatures would be scurrying through the greenery, foraging for plants or berries or other small beings to feed on. They'd be collecting bits of twigs, leaves and thick strands grass to make repairs to their homes or simply sunbathing in the warm light that cascaded down from above, filtering through the trees and settling. Yet today there were no animals making their appearance in this area of the forest. There were none of the usual visitors such as deer, rabbits, foxes or even the odd forest Vulcan. There wasn't even any birdsong.
However, there was a reason for this strange absence of any animal life in the forest. The reason being that not too far away, just off the edge of the trees in a large clearing, sat a new, larger creature. Magnificent, mythical and most definitely very out of place from the normal wildlife, this new character sat peacefully in the middle of the clearing as he basked in the warmth of the day, allowing the heat to soak in to this thick and scaly skin. He closed his eyes in content and let himself simply relax. Far away from the troubles and annoyances of both dragon and human life, Igneel had come here specifically to unwind.
The fire dragon would sometimes visit this clearing if he was nearby and every time he had arrived here it seemed the other creatures were frightened off by his presence. But Igneel didn't mind. It simply meant more peace.
Only that peace was about to be interrupted in a rather… unexpected way.
In the thick trees of the green forest, small footsteps made soft crunching sounds as they trampled over the dead leaves in their path and kicked over the growing grass that tickled their ankles. A weak, wavering voice cut through the silence.
Igneel's ears would've perked up had he not been so tranquil. A dragon's sense of hearing was excellent and was perfectly capable of detecting the faintest of sounds, but when the old, red beast was in such a calm state as this, he would let his mind begin to wander which often caused him to miss out on tiny details.
This time the voice was so close to the clearing that the dragon's ear twitched, but he still did not move from his position.
The owner of the voice made an effort to reach the edge of the clearing, taking the biggest step forwards they possibly could and accidently stumbling over a fallen tree trunk. They coughed and spluttered as the decaying, mossy bark tickled at their mouth and chin and shook some of the nasty stuff out of their hair, wiping it away with a hand. When they were satisfied with the amount of moss that had been removed from their person they leapt straight back up and took that final step through the trees, ending up on the very edge of the clearing where the old dragon still sat in the lush grass.
At last, Igneel slowly opened his golden eyes. Blinking once or twice in the light, he cast his gaze over to the direction of the noise. Down on their knees in a patch of particularly long grass was a small child who stared straight back at them with wide, onyx eyes.
For the first few seconds neither knew quite how to react. There was the child, who shook a strand of rose pink hair out of his eyes and blinked at the grand creature, his mouth slightly hung open and grasping at the plants around his body. Then there was Igneel who just continued to watch the boy – he was fairly sure that this was a human boy as opposed to the other kind – with a calm air about him. He eyed the child's face, searching for clues as to his next movements, but found nothing. He did notice that the boy was dirty. His cheeks were streaked with a little mud and he could smell even from this far away that they hadn't washed in perhaps a few days. It was common knowledge that humans liked to be clean and hygienic. Maybe this child was just different? Or maybe he was lost. The fabric of his dark shorts – his only clothing – had been ripped and down the sides, suggesting he'd been struggling to make his way through the forest.
Igneel's thoughts were broken by rustling as the boy rose to his feet, all the while not taking his eyes off of the dragon. He was a little unsteady as he was stood, but he was steady enough to take a few small steps forward. His face showed clearly that he was completely awestruck. He had never seen a dragon before and now he was stood before one.
Igneel craned his neck forwards to observe the child in closer detail, but when he did so the boy quickly stepped backwards and shrunk back into his patch of long grass. Despite his attempts to hide himself, the child's oddly coloured pink hair failed him, standing out like a light in the darkness. For a brief moment the fire dragon felt a hint of remorse and pulled his head back as far as it would allow. He hadn't meant to scare the poor thing.
After wondering what on Earth to do next in this situation, Igneel took a breath so deep that the vegetation around him swayed with the sudden flow of air. Trying to keep his voice quiet enough so as not to frighten the boy again, he finally spoke up.
"There is no need to hide yourself, child."
At first he was unsure that his sentence had been heard, but the breeze seemed to have carried it over to the boy's hiding place. Eventually he raised his head to peek over the tips of the grass, his eyes watching the dragon's every move as if he were hesitant to trust him.
"There is no need to hide," Igneel reassured him, speaking as soothingly as he could, "I said it is perfectly fine for you to come out."
After another moment of quiet between the two, the pink-haired boy slowly stood up again and stepped further into the clearing.
"Do not be afraid of me."
The dragon's words made the boy jump a little, but he didn't run back to cover himself up again which was quite a relief. He took a few more tentative steps towards the huge, red giant in the centre of the empty space and finally spoke back.
"Are you… a dragon?" the boy asked, tilting his pink head to the side and blinking in curiosity. His words were quiet and were at least understandable, but his pronunciation led Igneel to believe that he couldn't have been speaking clearly for very long. He was no expert on human young, but he knew that this one was maybe around four or five years old.
Understanding that he would never have seen one of his kind before, the fire dragon nodded, but said nothing in response. The child didn't seem to mind though and his face lit up. His wide grin surprised the dragon to say the least. Looking down at the beaming kid, there was a moment where he felt a small sense of satisfaction. That smile was just so warm and he was just so impressed with the fact that he had met a real, living, breathing dragon.
Moving on, Igneel decided to try and get to the bottom of the mysterious boy's identity. "What is your name, young one?"
The boy's expression quickly changed. He placed a finger on his chin and his brow creased in hard thought. "Mmm…" he struggled to remember such a basic detail. "Natsu…" he finally replied, taking the finger away from his chin and nodding confidently. "Natsu!"
"Natsu…" Igneel echoed.
But before anything more could be said, there was a flash of pink as the boy – Natsu – sprinted forwards, closer to the dragon who twisted his neck round to watch the child crouch down by his enormous tail.
Natsu's beam returned as he placed his hands on the tail of the dragon, running his hands over the rough scales and staring at them in pure fascination. "Awesome!"
Igneel tried not to flinch or swish his tail unexpectedly as the two hands tickled against the softer skin on the underside.
'This child likes my tail…'
"You've got an awesome tail, mister-" the grin suddenly faded and Natsu focused on the tail again, bending his head downwards to hide his sheepish expression, however a dragon with such enhanced senses could feel the boy's thumping heartbeat as he placed a hand over his skin once more.
"Igneel." He told him, his tone gentle as he tried to show Natsu in his own way that there was no need to be embarrassed. "My name is Igneel."
Raising his head, the pink on his cheeks had started to fade and he attempted to repeat the word. "Ig… neel..?"
A nod confirmed this and the beam returned. It wasn't too long before Natsu stood up again and moved round to come and sit beside the beast's giant forearm. He plonked himself down in the grass and leant a hand on the side of the dragon's arm, admiring the pattern and colour of the scales.
"Scaly…" he murmured to himself, lowering his head to get a closer look.
Igneel had to chuckle at the boy. He was so drawn by the simplest of things. Or were all children like that? He didn't know, but he never really needed to.
Above all else though, he was pleasantly surprised with the fact that Natsu was being rather gentle. Normally he would expect any child to launch their self at him (if they weren't afraid to that is) and to prod and pull at him in any way they could. Natsu on the other hand wasn't even pressing down, just carefully feeling the texture of his unique body. Not that he could do much damage if he was rough, a dragon's scales were tough, thick and his were fire-resistant. He was just a glad to be treated with what appeared to be some sort of respect and to be able to sit here with his dignity intact as he was stroked. He knew that other dragons certainly weren't as patient as he was and would never in a million years allow any child to touch them like this.
Natsu then leant his arm on Igneel's forearm and turned his head to gaze up at the giant's face, stretching his small neck back so far that it must have hurt.
In that curious voice of his, Natsu looked Igneel straight in the eye and asked, "What kind of dragon are you?"
"I'm a fire dragon." Was the reply. This immediately widened the boy's eyes and that look of awe appeared once more.
"Really? You're a fire dragon?" He waited for a nod in reply. "That's so cool!"
"You think so?" Said fire dragon asked, amused.
Natsu nodded vigorously. "Mm!"
Chuckling again, Igneel extended his arm, gently pushing Natsu aside and allowing him to sit on it. The child awkwardly clambered on and focused at the scaly pattern on his perch that fascinated him so.
Once a few minutes had passed by and once Natsu had begun to look elsewhere, indicating that scales would only hold his attention for so long, Igneel decided to bring up the question that had been nagging him at the back of his mind ever since the boy had appeared in the clearing.
"Natsu," Natsu looked up again at the mention of his name. "Where did you come from?"
At this there was a heavy silence, save for the slight rustle of leaves in the breeze. Natsu cast his gaze downwards and that cheerfulness he had shown earlier vanished.
"Nowhere…" he whispered so lowly that it was almost inaudible, but of course enhanced hearing came in handy.
Something along the lines of concern flashed across the ancient creature's face. "Nowhere?"
"I come from nowhere… I don't live anywhere… I've been lost…"
Igneel frowned down at the strange one on his arm. It was only then did he notice how small he truly was, especially now. In his little lost, sorrowful, nearly broken state, it really sunk in just how tiny this boy was in comparison to the red dragon he sat upon. The difference was astounding.
Natsu nodded slowly. "I don't know where I'm going… I don't know where I am…" he looked back at the dragon with almost pleading eyes.
Something echoed in Igneel's wise mind: "Where?"
"So you have no home?" he eventually said with an unusually hard tone. A meek nod was all he got in return.
Yet again there was that concern for the boy and his wellbeing. That explained his state, Igneel decided. That explained why his body was covered in that thin layer of dirt, why his clothes were in such condition and why the soles of his heels, now that the older male could get a closer look – were red and sore from all that wandering aimlessly in the outdoors.
"You most definitely have nowhere to go?"
Igneel sighed. Now he was left with a great decision. What should he do with this small boy? Leaving him out here by himself with no place to go was unacceptable - unthinkable. He wouldn't do that. Dragons looked down upon humans, but he knew that not all of them were as bad or disgusting as some made out and he definitely recognised that none of them should deserve to just be abandoned in the woods at such a young age. Of course, he could consider taking him to a nearby town or village and dumping him there, but there was no telling what kind of people he would be left with…
Though he knew a few places… There were towns east of here that he knew would be suitable and had an orphanage of sorts. That couldn't be so bad, could it?
Deciding that he'd made his mind up, Igneel gestured for Natsu to stand which he did so. He was still quiet after having to give a vague explanation of his situation and had become increasingly intrigued by a spot of heavily caked-on mud on his knee. His sympathy for the lost kid who'd stumbled out of the forest seemed to grow.
The mighty dragon finally raised himself from his position in the grass and he slowly eased himself up until he was stood. The sadness on Natsu's face faltered for a second as he marvelled at the full size of the living myth, stood in the gigantic shadow that it cast over the area.
"Come," Igneel told him, bending down slightly and offering his forearm a second time. Natsu appeared to get the message. He hopped on and made his way upwards to sit on his back. Once on top, Natsu stared back in wonder at the length of a dragon's body, not including the tail. He really was miniscule – a pink speck against red.
As the body straightened itself up again, young Natsu grasped tightly on to the bloody red spines that lined Igneel's back, grinning widely as he enjoyed the ride and the view of the forest he was getting.
Before preparing to take flight, Igneel strained is neck to look over his shoulder where he could just about see his passenger who was having the time of his short life. Child's laughter filled his ears. He'd never heard a sound like that in all his years on the planet. Such a joyful, jubilant and innocent sound had never met his ears ever before and he had to admit that it was one he'd be gladly willing to hear again. And that smile. That toothy, beaming smile that the young boy had been giving him throughout their encounter with each other. It was just like his laughter; full of happiness and life – something this one was definitely full of. It was a new experience for the old, wise dragon and it was such a pleasant one that he wasn't really sure that he wanted to let it go. When else would he ever witness something like this again?
Taking another glance at little Natsu, Igneel this time had definitely, one hundred percent made his decision.
He couldn't take this kid to any town and just leave him in the hands of strangers. How hard could it just be to… keep him? Not that he viewed Natsu as a possession, but how hard would it be to look after him himself?
"Natsu," he said. The laughter stopped and the rosy-headed boy on his back looked over. "You remember me telling you that I was a fire dragon?"
"If you would like, I'll show you fire.
A smile quite unlike any that he'd given so far appeared, his dark eyes shining brightly. "Seriously?"
"Of course." Igneel replied. "How would you like to be taught to use the magic of a dragon? Dragon Slayer magic. If you would like to stay with me then I shall teach you."
Natsu uneasily crawled further up the dragon's back to get closer. "You would teach me?" he almost squeaked in excitement.
"Yes. Now, shall we go?"
The cheer from the boy caused another chuckle to form in his throat. "Hold on tight." He told him. If he fell off when he took off into the sky then all of this would be pointless.
Igneel turned, the laughter still ringing in his ears and prepared to take to the air. He was positive that this was the best move. He had a feeling that Natsu could be a potentially very powerful mage.
He spread his two massive wings, faced the clear sky above and launched himself up and into the air. The grass in the large clearing swayed, the rustling of the leaves in the surrounding trees was deafening and the lost child clung onto those spines for dear life, although still he felt elated.
The two soared through the air, the huge shape of the winged beast's body becoming gradually smaller and the tiny smudge of pink against red vanishing from sight.