Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail.
It was snowing when he returned.
The poor man delivering the news clambered through the guild doors, riding a blustering wind sharp enough to freeze your lungs, barely had enough time to move out of the way before chairs and mugs and people were overturned the second he made his words vocal to the crowd of rowdy mages.
Silence rang for less than a breath before the Salamander and Kurogane were yanking a disbelieving Sky Sorceress out into the fading winter sunlight.
"A dragon's outside of Magnolia."
The three dragon slayers were trailed by a number of people, but Lucy was having the hardest time keeping up. The weather was frigid and unyielding, the snow and wind snapping against her face and tangling her blond locks, she could barely spot the mass of pink hair several yards in front of her.
Lucy was nervous. For whom, she wasn't sure.
Either way, there was a dragon just outside of Magnolia's forrest and three children were eager to have their parents back.
A bittersweet memory crawls past her excitement and adrenaline, her father returning from a long business trip when she was a child. Lucy had waited at the gates nearly all afternoon, her wide smile never faltering as the sun bore down on her fair skin. Her nanny and some of the maids had tried in vain for an hour to pry her from the warm and gleaming wrought iron. Lucy Heartfilia was going to be the first to welcome her father back home and nobody would foil her plans.
The carriage pulled up, a blustering army of servants clambered past her and before Lucy knew it, she was pushed back, watching her father's pale suit pants brusquely moving towards his mansion, waving off 'welcome backs' and 'how was your trip, sir' to order the staff not to let the girl wander around his grounds so freely. It wasn't a playground, after all. His harsh voice more forceful than that afternoon's blistering summer sun.
Lucy blinked and shook her head, she was walking aimlessly and struggling through the piled snow drifts far from the group now. Natsu stood in front of her, chest heaving and smile splitting his face in incandescent happiness.
"C'mon, weirdo!" He tugged off his scarf and wound it carefully around her own neck, grasping her hand in his and taking off once more.
They streaked past Erza and Gray and Levy and Carla and Juvia and Panther Lily and then Gajeel and Wendy to take the lead. Natsu was panting and laughing and cheering the whole way, lifting her own spirits and forcing a stuttered 'whoop!' from her own mouth. Her feet were stumbling through the snow to keep up with him, but his happiness was palpable and contagious in the early evening overcast.
Gajeel slowed when Natsu and Lucy passed him, his large boots sinking and crunching into the snow with a sound of finality. He set his hand out to the side, holding it in front of Wendy, "C'mon kid, ain't us this time around."
The sky dragon slayer quirked her eyebrow at him, then tentatively sniffed at the hair. Fire danced on the air currents and swirled with the soft snowflakes. Wendy hummed her happy agreement and turned on her heel. They worked alongside each other to herd the others back to the guild for hot chocolate. She eagerly planned more than a fair share of marshmallows for her mug.
The two dragon slayers hung back several steps from the others, watching their guild mates tumble through the snow and occasionally throw snowballs at each other. One thrown by Erza completely bowled Panther Lily off his feet and into Carla and even Levy managed a direct hit to the back of Gray's head for cheating with his Ice Make Magic. Wendy rubbed her hands quickly over her arms to get a little warmth back and puffed out a cloud of frigid air before looking up at Gajeel.
"I'm glad it's Igneel."
The iron dragon slayer offered her a downward glance, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his trousers, before smirking and rolling his eyes, "Tch, there'll be no containin' him now." He blamed the crazy guild and a cat and shrimp for softening him up when he ruffled her long hair, "Ours'll come soon, I can smell it."
There was no denying the crisp breeze across their sensitive noses or the tang taste left on their tongues.
Wendy laughed, "Yeah," and raced up to Carla and Panther Lily, working her steps to align with the ones she'd previously left.
Lucy rooted her face lower into the folds of Natsu's scarf, their pace and the wind had her cheeks and nose pinking. His hand was warm and tight around her fingers, though.
"I-I-It's Igneel, isn't it?"
"Aye!" Happy sailed over them, arms outstretched in front of him, his form arching and gliding through the snowflakes. Natsu's smile only got wider, if possible.
But this confirmation gave her pause, maybe this should be a private thing? Reuniting with one's parent didn't just happen. And surely they'd want time to catch up on their own. Plus, it had been over 7 years since they'd last seen each other. Lucy started to pull her hand from his and slowed her steps.
"What're ya doing, Luce? We're goin' to see Igneel!" Natsu flicked his eyes over hers confusedly once they stopped.
"Aye!," Happy trilled from her side.
"M-maybe, I think- don't you…" She trailed off, the cold was making her stutter bad enough, but now she wasn't even sure she could clue him in to what she was thinking with her jumbled nerves. Lucy steeled her shaky nerves and let the stark air sober her senses before speaking again. "I should go back, so you can spend time with your dad…"
Natsu secured his grip on her hand once more, twisting his fingers through hers and locking them together. He yanked her closer with just enough force gained from experience and cocked his head to the side in question, "I want Igneel to meet you."
She blushed and looked away, ducking back into the safety of the scarf; a hopeless attempt to hide the blush that was snaking it's way to her complexion. "B-b-but shouldn't this-s-s-s be a p-p-p-private thing?"
He laughed and nudged her head down with his other hand, the other clasped around hers warming the slightest. The heat slithered up her arm and bled into her veins, catching in her throat and blooming near her heart.
"We want you there. Right, Happy?" Natsu looked to the Exceed for his confirmation, that unwavering grin in full effect.
Happy pumped his little blue fist into the air and soared higher, "Aye, siiiiir!"
The answer to her question shining in those gray eyes, Lucy nodded once to shake the last remnants of doubt from her mind and held tighter to his hand. It must have been what the fire dragon slayer was looking for because once again they were rocketing through the trees and kicking up snow in all directions.
His scales burned and glowed like embers even in the gray light from the cold day.
The wrinkled skin at his eyes defied the intimidating horns and serrated teeth and powerful tail that stalled her mind for the briefest of seconds. Before Lucy knew it, Natsu was no longer holding her hand, but beelining with all his might for his father. The great dragon let out a ground shaking cry, what Lucy was sure to be a laugh, as Natsu hunkered down to his side.
"You're finally back! I knew I'd find you!" He buried his face into the familiar skin of scales, the smell of charred wood seeping back into his soul.
Happy stood by Lucy's feet and screeched the legendary dragon's name into the heavens. A lump caught in Lucy's throat as Igneel craned his neck, twisting his mighty form to cradle his lost son.
This is what she herself had always yearned for, with every fiber of her heart. Someone to miss and want and love her like a parent should. Her friends had gladly, all but crudely (as was Fairy Tail's manner), into the missing chink in her heart. It was the place hollowed by her mother's death and father's neglectfulness. But friends weren't parents, and although Master Makarov had unflinchingly dubbed her as his own countless times, she couldn't help but feel it was different.
It would always be different.
She loathed jealously, but it mixed with her relief and gratefulness for the flame dragon that had taken in a scraggly runt with the wild streak. While Lucy may not ever have what her friend did, she couldn't help but think there wasn't anyone more deserving. Of such a parent and, in turn, the dragon slayer's admiration. The sight of her father waving her off and demanding faceless servants to drag her back to her studies was dispersed by the rumbling voice of the dragon.
"You have grown. And caused a lot of destruction, from what I have heard. I think that old lizard Metalicana seemed a bit jealous. Wouldn't admit it for the world, the stubborn scrap heap."
The comment forced a scoff from the back of her throat, leave it to dragons to be proud of Natsu's affinity for blowing everything up within a mile radius.
Igneel perked an ear and noted the presence he had not yet acknowledged. He knew the second his son had stepped from the guild he would not come alone. It was a dragon's pride to never be surprised or caught off guard, for them it was the line between life and death, but he was more than nonplussed by her. This tiny thing of gold, wrapped in the scarf he gave his son so long ago, smelling of paper and stardust and….embers. He rose his head from Natsu's shoulder, replacing it with his tail to curl around the boy's waist, meeting her eyes.
Lucy's breath caught in her throat, hiding further into the scarf from Igneel's striking eyes. They seared with white-hot accuracy, yet filled her with the comforting warmth she thinks she remembers from the arms of a woman that left her too soon. She vaguely thought the eyes were just like Natsu's as she eeped and stuttered out a nervous greeting.
"And who is this little one?"
"She's Lucy!" Happy flew up and pointed to the celestial mage.
Natsu drew back from his father's side and closed his eyes in his signature grin, "She's my best friend!"
"Is that so?" Igneel broke eye contact with her, a cool wave flooding her heated bones for the time being, and moved his attention back to Natsu, who had slumped along the curve of his father's side.
"Yeah! She's great!"
"She's the celestial mage that joined Fairy Tail along with you?" Igneel angled his head back in her direction, but kept his eyes pinned to his son.
"Yep! She would've never found the guild without me!"
"Hey!" Lucy puffed her cheeks and her attention too zeroed in on Natsu to notice her outburst was enough to catch the old dragon's attention once more.
"I've heard of the trouble, and good, you have done with Natsu. And no doubt pulled my son out of more trouble than is worth your years." A deep rumble reverberated through his chest at the Exceed trying to cover up his laugh and the girl rolling her eyes in Natsu's direction. "Thank you."
The sight of a horned head dipping slowly toward the snow covered hill had Lucy choking back her cry of absolute surety that she'd do it time and time again and that he needn't thank her for that, it's what friends do. It's what Natsu had taught her.
Instead she cursed her burning cheeks and pulled at the scarf with shaking fingers, "Y-you're welcome."
Igneel nodded once and looked to the Exceed swooping around Natsu. "I never would have thought Natsu would have the patience to hatch an egg."
The dragon slayer spluttered and turned from his spot leaning against Igneel's side, halfheartedly punching the hard skin in retribution. Igneel's eyes scrunched with mirth, crinkled with the familiar movement.
"Natsu and Lisanna hatched me and I've been with 'im ever since!" Happy proudly squared his shoulders and feet in front of the dragon, a single paw raised in knowing. "Although I can only do so much with that idiot!"
"Hey!" Natsu echoed Lucy's previous disgruntlement and slid in the snow at his cat's admonition and Lucy's tinkling laughter echoing in the bare trees.
Igneel reared his head back and roared from deep within his belly. He expected nothing less from his son. The sky dragon, Grandine, even cajoled him about it being a family trait of unnecessary proportions.
"Yes, my son?" Igneel moved his head back beside his son's.
Natsu's tone of endearment tugged at Lucy's shuddering heart and the gentle response from the dragon had her blinking back tears. It made her feel nostalgic, a bitter taste she couldn't wipe from her mouth. She felt ridiculous, this wasn't a time to feel sorry for herself. It shouldn't overpower the joy she felt for Natsu.
"Metalicana and Grandine are coming, right?"
"Aye, a few days behind me." He sagely nodded his head and curled his mouth upwards at Natsu's pleased expression.
"Wendy and Gajeel are in Fairy Tail too."
"Ah, we had heard. I don't know whether Grandine was grateful or mournful once she heard word that her child had sidled up with your little team." He snorted at his child's indignant pout and raised one giant claw to shove him into the snow. "She is glad her little one is kept safe and among some familiar company in the end." He paused before glancing toward the girl and back again, "Your friends are cold, you should return to your guild hall, Natsu. I'm sure the others are waiting for you too."
"A-ah, I'm fine. Natsu can stay!" Lucy had taken a step forward, brought out of a reverie that had her imagining a life with dragon mothers and fathers in the stead of ghosts and tyrants. "Don't cut your visit short on our account."
"Aye," Happy landed slumped over Lucy's shoulder, retracting his wings for a break.
"We can make it back on our own, we'll let everyone know where you're at." Lucy clutched one hand in the fabric of the scarf, offering the pair her own warm smile. She hadn't noticed that the snowfall had picked up, nor the dripping sun. She started with a much quieter voice, but there was no way the dragon slayer or dragon could miss it, "B-b-besides, he just got you back."
"Don't be silly, Luce! I can see Igneel tomorrow."
"But, your dad-"
"Don't worry about it, besides I'm sure if we're not back soon Erza'll come lookin' to drag our butts back. And Mirajane's hot chocolate sounds really good right about now."
"Do not worry about me, little one. I'm not leaving, not that my son would let me a centimeter out of his line of senses. Dragon slayers, even ones bred from flame, can catch colds as well." Natsu sheepishly chuckled from his spot on the ground, wiggling under Igneel's meaningful glance. "I will be here tomorrow. You should come again."
Lucy bit her lip and the sting of treacherous emotions rose to her eyes again as Natsu stood to punch and hug his father one last time for the night. In her mind's eye, a tall man swept his daughter into his arms. The child a giggling mess as the father held her close and kissed her cheek. If it were her, she wouldn't leave no matter what the weather was doing.
Natsu walked up to Lucy, tightening the scarf around her neck once more before turning her on her heels and pushing her back toward the guild. He waved one arm in a wide arc, yelling one last goodbye through a roaring laugh like his father's.
Igneel laid his head on his crossed legs, curling his tail inward and smirking as he watched the pair disappear into the tree line. Neither of them knew yet. He could wait, he was a patient dragon if raising Natsu had taught him anything. She had been brought along for a reason and it was clear what was silently requested of him.
His son had knowingly brought this girl to him, her eyes reflecting sorrow when he looked upon them. Igneel would accept the unpsoken, the girl made Natsu happy, clearly vice versa as well, and he would make sure that she was there by his side. Protected by a dragon slayer, you were by extension watched over by their dragon without qualm.
Before he slept for the night, Igneel took note that the star girl would need a scarf of her own.
A/N: Coordinating characterizations is slightly terrifying and an original title failed to catch my attention.
1-24-16: This is a oneshot that's always been labeled as complete.
2-29-16: Seriously, please stop. This story is a stand alone and the backhanded compliments are getting old. It's done. The choice to not continue this one is deliberate and no amount of demands will change that. This work makes a greater impact as a oneshot and that's it.