Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail.

my black eye casts no shadow
by.
Poisoned Scarlett

"You should be grateful, Lucy. I let you take second place."

Her words are like honey, sweet to her ear. But their weight threatens to crush her bones to ash. She can't escape the looming threat of what follows no matter how hard she swims. The globe feels depth-less to her, darker than she remembers, and her arms burn with each stroke. She pushes herself forward despite her exhaustion, her eyes fixed on the sight of the arena tiers. She can almost reach them; she can almost touch the edge of the sphere with her finger tips, she can feel the dry heat from outside—

"Now, Lucy, the game isn't over when you say it is," Minerva admonishes and Lucy is back at the starting line, back to desperately swimming to the edge of the sphere. "I decide when it ends, trash."

Lucy remembers each blow. She remembers the heat of the water, how it felt like the time she had boiled water in a kettle and accidentally let her finger graze the surface. It had stung for hours after, had hurt badly the first few seconds. But this time it is her entire body grazing the surface, every inch taking a searing brand. She remembers how the pain made her scream so loud she shook her own body with the force. Or so she thought—her scream was cut off by a blow, a sledgehammer to the gut that sent her flying to the edge, only to be teleported back to the middle of the globe.

Back to the beginning.

"Do you truly believe you can beat me?"

"N-no," she gasps, holding her stomach. Her skin feels like it has been ripped off. "But I…I won't give up. I'll take this because if I don't…I won't be able to—!"

"Face your guild? Is that really all your drive, that guild of yours?"

She remembers every blow, how her joints snapped out of alignment before another blow snapped them back in place. She remembers the hot water and how it felt like she was drowning despite the magic that allowed her to breathe. She had never been claustrophobic, but she doesn't know how she'd handle being trapped in a room nowadays. She doesn't think she can handle jumping into a pool of water, either, not without flinching or looking behind her for fear of cruel eyes staring back.

"Let me teach you something about guilds," Minerva drawls, her lips brushing her ear. Lucy can't feel her legs anymore and the numbness continues to crawl up her body. She can feel the charge of magical energy behind her, the water boiling around her. Her scream is caught in her throat. Minerva smiles against her cheek. "Only the strong deserve to be in them."

"YEOUCH!" Natsu howls, kicking back and holding his aching forehead.

"Ah—NATSU?!" Lucy gasps in shock, holding her head from the impact. She groans; Natsu had a skull thicker than concrete. Lucy sits up and darts her eyes around her, finding herself in the comfort of her bedroom and not the arena. She was home, not participating in magic games. "Wh—what the heck are you doing here? Or more like, what the hell were you doing so close to me?!"

"Jeez, Lucy, you have a hard head…"

"This coming from the guy who breaks walls with his head on a daily basis," she deadpans. "Anyway, what are you doing here, Natsu, aren't you supposed to be at the guild?"

Natsu grins at her. "I came over to see if you wanted to go on a job, but you were still sleeping!"

"Still sleeping…? It's only—NOON?" Lucy screeches when she gets an eyeful of the clock, horrified she had slept in so late. She hardly ever sleeps past nine! "Why didn't you wake me up earlier, Natsu!"

"I was gonna', except you looked like you were having a bad dream," he mumbles, looking up at her with troubled eyes. Lucy calms at the sight of wary black eyes and remembers the dream she had, the boiling water and the strands of silk hair that brushed against her arm. She remembers Minerva chuckling in her ear and she darts her eyes away from Natsu's worried ones. "Are you alright, Lucy? You—!"

"Where's Happy?" She asks instead, forcing a grin on her face for his sake.

"Happy?" Natsu repeats, blinking. He looks around, squawking when he realizes he can't find his dear companion anywhere. "That's a good question! Happy! Where'd you go? Haaaapppyyyy!"

"You don't know where Happy is?" Lucy twitches. "He's always with you!"

"He's gotta' be…" Natsu jerks his chin up, his nose twitching as he sniffs around the room. His eyes light up and he turns to the right. "AHAH! I KNEW IT! HE'S IN YOUR CLOSET!"

"…Closet? Why is he—oh, no, HAPPY!" Lucy suddenly screeches, leaping off the bed to rush to her closet. She jerks the doors open and glares down at the cat who tenses under the heat of her stare, caught red-handed with her new traveling bag in his paws. It was a fashionable traveling bag she had bought not too long ago and of which the Exceed had grown fond of—to claw on, that is. "If you ripped it in any way, I'm going to rip you in half," Lucy threatens and Happy wails, taking the bag with him as he dodges Lucy's grab and flies over to Natsu.

"Natsu! Natsu! Lucy said she's going to rip me in half! Help me!"

Natsu laughs and rubs his head roughly, taking the bag from his paws and tossing it somewhere beside him. Lucy scowls at Natsu for that, running over to pick up her bag and hug it to her chest. It had cost her a lot of jewels and she was not about to let some cat tear it up!

"Lucy wouldn't do that! She's too nice!"

"Oh ho, that's what you think," Lucy mutters, holding her bag protectively to her chest.

Natsu remains oblivious, crossing his arms over his chest. "Neh, Happy, how about you go get that bastard Gray, and Erza too, and tell 'em to meet us outside the guild for a job?"

Happy hums in thought as his friend grins down at him. "…You do it."

Natsu twitches. "No, you do it!"

"No, you!"

"No, YOU!"

"YOU!"

"YOU!"

"Happy, all you have to do is fly to the guild and tell them," Lucy interrupts their childish banter, frowning. She sets her hands on her hips when the Exceed sends her a lofty look.

"That may be so, but I had a very tiring day yesterday and I could use a massage," Happy slyly looks over to Lucy. "Or your bag would be nice—!"

"NO!"

"Lucy is mean! Mean!" Happy cries, droopily flying upwards. He glances at Natsu but the dragon slayer only smiles in response, rubbing the back of his neck and whispering that he'd let him into Lucy's bag once they started their mission.

"What?! I heard that! As if, I won't let it happen!"

Natsu only winks at Happy, something that makes her want to throw Natsu out the window for conspiring with the feline.

"Fine, fine!" Happy says, waving his paw at them both. "I'll go get Gray and Erza. I bet Erza would let me use her bag…"

Natsu grins, sitting cross-legged on Lucy's bed. "That's the spirit! We'll catch up with you guys soon!"

Lucy watches Happy fly out of her window with a frown, wondering once more why the Exceed found her bag so fascinating. She exhales a sigh, rubbing the back of her neck. She really needs a break from them, a day to herself! She drags herself over to her bed and plops down on the edge of it.

"Neh, Lucy?"

"What is it, Natsu?"

"What were you dreaming about?" He asks, gazing down at his sandaled feet.

Lucy looks away, fidgeting. They were back to that again, were they? "N-nothing. It was just a silly dream, is all."

"You were crying," he says softly. He looks up, face solemn. "Who made you cry, Lucy?"

Lucy startles at his tone, her hand reaching up to her cheeks. Her eyelashes are wet, she realizes with a drop of her stomach. She really had been crying! "O-oh, um…I don't remember. But I bet it was something stupid, like I probably didn't make it on time to buy those – ah –new boots at the mall!" She lies, her grin shaky. "I really want to buy them but in my dream, they ran out, so…"

Natsu slides off her bed, his arms still crossed over his chest. He looks contemplative and it's an unusual expression for him. Lucy wonders what he could be thinking about so intensely when he suddenly grins, his entire visage lighting up. He steps forward and grips her shoulders tight, bringing her in closely. Lucy squeaks and feels her face heat up, her heart starting to drum in her ears from their proximity, but Natsu continues to grin, his eyes reassuring.

"Don't cry anymore, Lucy!" Natsu exclaims, his hands squeezing her shoulders. "I'll protect you no matter what, okay? So don't cry anymore! I won't let anyone hurt you like that again!"

Lucy stares.

She wants to cry for completely different reasons.

She wonders if he knows how close his words sound to her heart. She wonders if he has any idea how much they help, and how they chase away the remaining tendrils of Minerva's dark magic from her soul.

"Do you…promise?"

He blinks at her nervous expression but his face lights up again when he reads the hopefulness in her eyes. He grins the very same grin that won her heart over from day one. "Yeah!"

She reaches up to place her hand over his, her smile soft and her eyes warm. "Thank you, Natsu."

"No problem! That's what I'm here for…and for your bed," he admits sheepishly, something she twitches at.

"Is that really your motivation for being here? Urgh, GET OUT! You're not supposed to be here anyway, it's too early to be dealing with you!"

"Eheh, aw, don't be that way! Your bed is really comfortable, Lucy!" Natsu cackles when she screeches for him to get out, grinning from ear to ear as she tries to force him out. She growls when she can barely move him, feels her irritation grow when he purposely digs his heels into her carpet to stop completely. She's also annoyed to find she's not strong enough to push him any further; sometimes she wishes she had Erza's monstrous strength. That would sure put him in line!

Lucy startles out of her grumblings when he pats her head, much like he does to Happy, and smiles gently down at her. "If ya' ever get scared again, you can sleep over at my place any time! That way you won't be scared! Happy was always with me when I had bad dreams about Igneel leaving," he admits grimly, his smile drooping a little. He picks up his natural cheer afterwards, however. "So I can be there for you when you have bad dreams!" He gives her head one last ruffle and hops onto her windowsill, loudly telling her to hurry up and change so they could get this mission started.

"Natsu..."

Lucy touches the top of her head after he leaps out, hearing him running to the guild excitedly. She smiles fondly and grins, too, hurrying into her clothes so she could catch up with the hyperactive dragon slayer and begin a new adventure.


A/N: Trying to write a NaLu fic is just as hard as I thought it would be. It's just Natsu; no one knows what's going on inside that boy's head half the time lol Nothing good, that's for sure. Hopefully it doesn't disappoint too much, though.

Scarlett.