~ Precious ~
Aquarius slipped away in the midst of Jude Heartfilia's announcement. She didn't see what happened between Dan and Lucy but she saw the look on Lucy's face when the girl ran out of the ballroom and that was enough to know the speech was a farce.
The light-haired blunette combed the gardens for the blonde. When she did not find her by Layla's grave, she made her way to the girl's room only to discover that the door was locked. She considered breaking in, but after putting her ear to the door, she decided against it. Instead, she grabbed a chair from the next room and sat outside the door, guarding Lucy's room all night.
When Lucy awoke the next morning, Natsu was still snoring next to her. She didn't know when she had dozed off or who fell asleep first but her memories of last night were otherwise crystal clear.
I need to talk to him. With recollections of the previous night and spurred by an urge to lay it out with her father, she got out of bed. She yanked the door open in one motion, reassured by the fact that Dan should had been gone by then, only to find Aquarius seated outside in the corridor, nodding off.
"H-Huh?" The woman immediately jolted upright, and Lucy came to realize.
"Have you been sitting out here all night?"
"What time is it?"
Aquarius' face changed to one of mild surprise as she stood to her feet. "Well then, seeya."
"What? That jerkface already left last night."
"I know," Lucy replied. But even though he's gone, she sat outside my room all night… Hang on. "Then how come you're still...?"
"At least one of us should get to be with the one we love last night, right?"
She knows about Natsu? Her hazel eyes widened fractionally. How does she know?
Then she realized, this was Aquarius' way of showing her concern and the expression on Lucy's face softened into a comforted smile. "Thank you."
"I'll be off now," Aquarius turned and walked away.
The blonde had something else to add so she yelled, "Wait!"
Slightly irked, the female bodyguard turned around. "What now?"
"I'm going to have a talk with my father," she told Aquarius. "I think… I've decided."
"If you have already thought things through then go ahead. Just don't come crying to me about the consequences afterwards."
"For a moment I really wonder if you already know what I'm going to do."
"I watched you grow up so I will always have some idea," Aquarius replied. "But I'm not worried. Because Layla was smart, and you are Layla's daughter."
Lucy smiled, heartened by Aquarius' words. Then the blunette turned and, this time, she really walked off.
The two of them went their separate ways; Aquarius headed for the front door while Lucy embarked on one final walk down the hallway to her father's study.
Lucy rapped on the door and entered before Jude had a chance to say "Come in." The middle-aged businessman looked up from his desk and frowned at the unkempt sight of his daughter.
"Can I have a word with you?" She asked, merely out of courtesy. She was determined to say her piece even if he didn't want to hear it.
"Not now, Lucy," he busied himself once more.
"Look at me." She steeled her voice and he was forced to look up.
"I already have. And I see you haven't changed out of last night's clothes." He quickly returned his attention to his paperwork.
"...fine," she resigned. "Just listen then."
Lucy took a deep breath and then began.
"Someone once told me, that the saddest thing in life is to be given wings but not being able to fly. The thing is, I was fine with it; I was fine with being a caged canary… until last night."
Sensing something was amiss, Jude set his pen down.
"Last night made me realize how pointless all of this is. You, restricting me with money and power, and me, constantly yielding and waiting for things to change. I thought I understood why you're always so high-handed. I thought it was simply the way you chose to care for me so I let it be. However, last night, I realized that's not the case.
"You pay for everything yet you care about nothing. You keep me by your side but you don't even see me. That's not how a family works." The girl paused for a moment to suppress her rising emotions. "I thought you would come to understand some day and set me free of your own accord, but I am done waiting around for you to open your eyes… So I am setting myself free."
"Are you forgetting that I–"
"That you what?" Anger rose within her as she already knew what he was going to say. "That you provide for the clothes I wear, the food on my table and the roof over my head? No, I haven't forgotten. You'd never let me forget anyway. And that right there, is my whole point. Do you still not get it?" She looked at him as his brow increasingly furrowed.
"I don't care about any of that! What I want is not wealth nor pretty clothes!" Overcome by emotions, she ripped apart the top-half of her dress. "In a household that is so filthy rich, so financially able, it's a shame that you – the head of it all – constantly neglect what's really important. Ever since mom died, you have always put your work before anything– before anyone else, and I've had enough. If this is what the Heartfilia family has become, then I'd rather not be a part of it. Threaten me, cut me off, cut my friends off, but never again will I let myself be controlled by you."
"Controlled?" Jude's forehead was deeply creased.
"I will move out of Fairy Hills by the end of the month," she turned to leave. Tears had welled up in her eyes and she felt her throat begin to tighten. "I will move out of Fairy Hills… but I won't be coming back here anymore," she said without turning around. "Farewell, father."
And she left.
Three months later
"I'm home!" Natsu shouted.
The front doors shut loudly behind him but there was no response to his call. He found it a bit odd but nonetheless trudged up the stairs upon sensing that the first floor was void of presence. When he entered the bedroom, he saw the reason why his girl hadn't responded; she was lying in bed, watching a movie on her laptop with earpieces stuffed into her ears. Announcing his presence, the pink-head walked up to the bed and closed the lid of the laptop.
"Natsu!" She pulled the earphones out of her ears.
Without saying a word, he pushed the laptop aside, scrambled into bed and smothered her with his feverish heat. In one seamless action, he swooped down, claiming her lips, and Lucy let the kiss steal her breath.
"I'm home," he whispered when they parted.
Lucy smiled. "Welcome home," she whispered back.
"What are you watching?" Natsu asked, pushing himself off of her to lie beside her instead.
Now leaning against his shoulder, the girl retrieved the laptop that had been shoved aside onto the mattress. She set it on her lap again and opened the lid.
"The Great Gatsby," she told him as she tugged the earphone wire out of the jack and unpaused the video.
"Hehh, I see," he replied. He didn't know the story but he at least knew it was a piece of literature since he had seen it before on Lucy's shelf. "Movie assignment?" He asked.
"I just felt like watching it since I had nothing to do. How was work today?"
"Booooring. I hate when we have separate shifts."
Ever since Lucy left home, life for her had changed, for better or for worse. Everyone move out of Fairy Hills. No one blamed her for it but there was a period of days when they wondered where were they going to live and whether they could continue to stay in Magnolia. Then, Gildarts caught wind of the situation and he invited them to stay at The Tavern. However, there were only enough beds for six people in the basement of the bar, and knowing Lucy, she automatically gave them up to her friends, of course.
At that point, Natsu approached his father for help, and while Igneel (being a father himself) did not approve of the teenaged girl running away from home, he could not bear to let his son be stranded so he made the down payment for a cosy apartment house by the river on Strawberry Street.* Lucy moved in with Natsu and Igneel left the two of them in charge of paying their own monthly rent. Hence, they both got a part-time job at the Magnolia branch of Yajima's 8-Island restaurant.
Staying alone with Natsu had been somewhat intimidating in the beginning. At first, Lucy didn't know how to act around him. She was overly conscious, becoming all stiff and nervous whenever he was near. Natsu, on the other hand, was his usual self; he jumped into bed with her the very first night. It was like scandal night two. Nevertheless, as time passed, she warmed up to the idea of having him around constantly and eventually, she realized, staying with Natsu was actually really fun.
Suddenly, there was a loud growl from his stomach.
"You're hungry?" Lucy turned to him.
"Yea, the old man was around today so I didn't get to eat anything."
She giggled. "You shouldn't eat anything even if Yajima-san wasn't around." Then she shut her laptop and asked, "What do you want for dinner?"
"Ramen!" He instantly replied.
"Ok." Lucy set her laptop aside and climbed over Natsu to get out of bed. She went down to the kitchen, intending to boil some water for his favourite spicy instant ramen. But when she opened the dry cabinet, she realized they were all out of instant noodles.
"Natsu?" She reappeared in the bedroom.
"Yeah, I'm coming down." He had just come out of the bathroom.
"We're out of ramen."
"Then, I'll eat whatever you cook."
"Our fridge's empty too."
"Oh. Then, let's go grocery shopping!"
"Eh, now?! But aren't you hungry?"
"Yea, but I suddenly really wanna go grocery shopping."
"Let's go!" Snaking an arm around her waist, Natsu ushered her down the stairs. Lucy grabbed her scarf from the coat stand on their way out and she was glad she did, for even though it was nearing the end of winter, the wind was still chilly in Magnolia.
When they arrived at the supermarket, Natsu insisted on using a trolley cart. Lucy thought a basket would've been enough but she just went along with him anyway. Their elbows touched as they pushed the trolley together. They – or rather Lucy – decided to go to the vegetable section first.
When she casually grabbed a packet of carrots, Natsu abruptly exclaimed, "No carrots!"
She narrowed her eyes at him. "What are you, a kid?" She said, and simply threw the carrots into the trolley, ignoring his protest. She picked a bunch of other vegetables and added them to the cart too. Despite complaining about it, Natsu didn't stop her. They went to the meat section once they were done.
At the meat section, it was Natsu's turn to go rampant.
"That's too much for one week," Lucy stared at the growing pile of packed meat in their trolley.
She bent over and picked up one of the packets of beef. She looked at the packaging – it was premium beef, and the price was also 'premium'. Natsu had put about three or four packets of that into the trolley.
"Natsu…" She tugged at his sleeve.
"Yea?" The pink-head was busy deciding between chicken filets or chicken sausages.
"Can we afford this?" She asked in an undertone.
"Don't worry about it." He flashed her a smile and decided to get both chicken filets and chicken sausages.
"Ok, stop!" It was Lucy's turn to exclaim. "That's enough!" The meat pile was beginning to make the vegetable pile look sad. Before Natsu had a chance to add anymore, Lucy took charge of the cart and swerved into the cereal aisle. The pink-head followed.
Lucy already knew what she wanted at the cereal aisle. Natsu didn't eat cereal anyway. But when she got to that aisle, she saw a short elderly lady, struggling to reach for a box on the higher shelves. Without a moment's further thought, she went up to the elderly.
"Are you alright? Is this the one you wanted?" The blonde retrieved the box from the top shelf.
"Oh, thank you, dearie." The old granny took the box from Lucy and put it into her basket. "I'm getting on in years and my back isn't quite what it used to be," she added while gently pounding her back with a closed fist.
Lucy smiled weakly at the elderly lady and asked, "Was it just that one box? Do you need to get anything else?"
"Oh, no, I got what I needed," the old lady smiled back. "Thank you."
"Hey, Lucy, is this the one you always eat?" Natsu reappeared by the blonde's side with a box of cereal.
"Oh! Yeah!" Lucy was pleasantly surprised that he noticed.
"You have a lovely wife," the elderly lady abruptly said to Natsu with smiling eyes before sauntering away.
"Eh?!" That unexpected compliment caught Lucy off guard.
"Thanks!" Natsu beamed, happily accepting it.
Lucy, on the other hand, was red with embarrassment. "I'm not your wife," she said bashfully. Do we look like a married couple?
"Close enough," Natsu shrugged and went to put Lucy's cereal into the trolley. He then pushed it to the last section of dairy products while Lucy walked next to him, suddenly self-conscious.
"Fresh milk… Yoghurt…" She said as she picked up the items and put them into the trolley. "Anything else?"
"Look! There's a one-for-one sale for ice cream!" The pink-head looked so animated as he was choosing two flavours that Lucy couldn't say 'no'.
"Alright, put it in," she gestured to the trolley.
"Yeah!" Happy as a child, Natsu added the two tubs of ice cream in the trolley and then gave Lucy a hug in a spur of the moment.
"W-Wait! There're a lot of people...!" The girl was flustered even though Natsu had released her already.
"So?" He defiantly said. "I could even kiss you right now but I don't want other guys to see that face you make when we kiss."
"Wha– That face I make?"
"You become sooo cute yet kinda sexy at the same time. Ah– what will I do if they see that and fall for you too?" He continued teasing her.
"Huh–?! Me?!" Lucy panicked. "I don't make such a face!"
"Are you kidding me? Do you know how many times I've taken a cold shower because of that look?"
"Stop! This is going in a very wrong direction!" She exclaimed.
"Oh my! Lovers' quarrel?" said a very familiar sweet voice, and the two of them turned around.
"Mira!" They both chorused.
"Good evening!" The white-haired beauty smiled. She had a basket on her arm with a few items in it.
"What a coincidence!" Lucy exclaimed.
"Yes! I usually do my grocery shopping in the mornings but I just ran out of soy sauce."
"We ran out of ramen so we came," Natsu shared.
"I see! Looks like you two are getting along as usual. Drop by The Tavern once in a while, 'kay?"
"Ah, okay!" Lucy replied.
"I'll be leaving first! Bye bye!" Mirajane waved as she walked away.
"Seeya!" "Bye bye!" The coupled waved after her. They then pushed the trolley to checkout.
As they stood in line, Natsu slung an arm around her shoulder while keeping one hand on the trolley. Although Lucy wore a sweater, she could feel his body emanating heat since he stood so close and her heart went off on its own.
"AAAH! WE FORGOT THE RAMEN!" The pink-head yelled out of the blue.
Natsu reached into his back pocket and fished out his wallet. "Here," he handed it to Lucy.
"In case you get to the front of the line while I grab the ramen." With that, he bolted off, leaving Lucy staring at the brown leather wallet he'd left behind.
How can he entrust his wallet to me so easily? The girl was bewildered. She hadn't planned on opening it, but it was already her turn and soon she needed to pay.
She flipped open his bi-fold wallet, intending to count enough money for their purchases, but the first thing she saw made her heart melt. It was a photo of him as a child with (she's guessing) his father, Igneel.
His smile was so adorable even back then, Lucy smiled to herself. Seeing the photo, she realized how she didn't have any photos with Natsu and she made a mental note to change that. She was about to go for the cash compartment when her eyes skimmed across the cards and came to rest on one in particular. It was greyish-white and Lucy kind of had an inkling as to what it was, but she wasn't sure. She pulled it out a little and, seeing the word 'PLATINUM' embossed on the card, confirmed her suspicion. Natsu has a platinum credit card?
"That will be a total of 48 dollars and 70 cents," the cashier interrupted her trail of thoughts.
Just then, Natsu returned with half a dozen packets of instant ramen.
"Sorry! Can you scan these too?" He told the cashier, who quickly counted them into the new total price.
"Lucy, pay her," he nudged his girl who had been in some sort of a daze.
"Oh, right." The blonde took out a couple of notes from his wallet and handed it over to the cashier. While she was at it, she couldn't help noticing that Natsu had a lot of big notes. There was a nagging voice at the back of her mind now but she shut it up and returned Natsu his wallet.
When Lucy grabbed the grocery bags, Natsu's stomach rumbled again and the blonde laughed. "Just hang on until we get home, alright?"
As they walked out of the supermarket, Natsu smoothly took half of the bags from her, freeing up her right hand for him to hold. Lucy smiled at this little action and realized that, maybe it wasn't so farfetched for that elderly lady to assume they were married.
Seeing the saccharine smile on her face, Natsu smiled too. The couple walked home under the sunset-streaked sky.
When Natsu and Lucy were back, they carried all the stuff into the kitchen and Lucy started a stove fire to boil water for the instant ramen. As she waited for the water to bubble, she went about keeping their groceries.
"What are you gonna eat?" Natsu asked.
"Hmm, I'm feeling kinda lazy so I think I'll eat instant noodles too."
"Can you handle the spiciness?"
"Well, if I don't use the whole packet of seasoning, I can still manage."
"What about you? You won't be full with just instant noodles, right?"
Natsu shrugged. "Cook me two packets then."
"Rejected," Lucy said. "Eating too many packets of instant noodles in one day is not good for your health." She frowned.
"Ehhh? It's not like I do that every day," Natsu whined.
At that point, the water in the saucepan had come to a boil so Lucy ripped open a packet of instant noodles and threw it in. As she stood by the stove poking at the yet-to-be-softened noodles with chopsticks, Natsu watched her domestic backview from the island counter. Lucy could feel his eyes on her and she wondered if he was just gonna stand around idly but she didn't complain. Then slyly, he slid his arms around her waist and embraced her from behind, the warmth of his torso feverishly heating up her back. He nuzzled into her hair and took a deep breath. For some reason, this action of his felt very calming to Lucy, not that her heart ever stopped racing around Natsu but relatively speaking. Maybe it was because this was the last thing he did before that whole Christmas fiasco unravelled.
"Smells good as usual," he whispered, and Lucy felt her butterflies flutter.
"I'm still not cooking you two packets," she said quietly.
Natsu sulked but didn't move away. "Then I'll just have to eat you." He rebelled and nibbled her ear.
"W-Wha–" She turned red on the spot. "Wait, N-Natsu…"
"This is punishment for not listening to me," he whispered right next to her ear before proceeding to lick it and this really made her go weak.
"S-Stop! Geez, alright, fine! I'll add extra ingredients to your noodles, okay?"
"Yesss!" Natsu rejoiced.
"Can you get the sausages and some vegetables from the fridge for me?" She asked. "Oh, and an egg too if you want one."
"Roger!" He let go of her and went to the fridge. He set the ingredients down on the countertop next to the stove, including two eggs. Then he wrapped his arms around her again. He was squeezing her slightly but now rested his head obediently on her shoulder.
"...you're distracting me in here; go wait outside," she ordered.
"Ehhh?" Natsu whined, but then complied, "Ok." And right before he let go, he told her, "You should add some to your own noodles too."
"But I can't finish all of it."
"Lucy, you have to eat more or there'll be less of you to hug."
"What's with that?" She turned to meet his eyes.
"You lost weight."
"No, I didn't." She was confused.
"Yea, you did. I can tell from hugging you."
"What? There's no way you can tell just like that."
"I can, so eat more," he said and then left to wait in the living room.
Half an hour later, Natsu and Lucy were settled in front of the TV with their dinner. As they both sat on the floor with their bowls of ramen on the low coffee table before them, Lucy flicked through the TV channels and came to a variety show.
"Eat before it gets cold," Natsu told her before tucking into his noodles.
The girl did as she was told but her eyes never left the television screen. It wasn't long before Natsu finished slurping his noodles. He leaned back against the sofa to rest and watched as Lucy slowly ate and intermittently giggled at something funny on the TV. He loved the sound of her laughter, and maybe it was all in his head but, ever since she left home, the ring to her laughter had become sliiightly different. Natsu couldn't quite put his finger on how it had changed and whether it had changed for better or for worse. Nevertheless, he wasn't too worried. He just knew that he was gonna have to look out for her more.
Gradually realizing that Natsu was staring, Lucy turned around.
"Why are you staring at me?"
"Because I can."
"..." She didn't know what to make of this. Then a thought occurred to her. "I'm not sharing my noodles with you."
"Hah!" He laughed. "I don't want your noodles!"
"O...kay…" She narrowed her eyes at him dubiously. Natsu saying he doesn't want any extra food was as weird as seeing Gray with a shirt on, until she remembered what he'd said earlier and realized. "Are you watching me eat?"
"Just eat, alright?"
"Stop watching me eat. It's creepy."
"Ok, ok, I get it already."
"Watch the TV or something," she said, and went back to her nearly-finished bowl of ramen that was no longer piping hot.
Natsu turned his eyes to the TV screen. A commercial for an insurance company came on and they both watched.
Can simply looking at someone for 4 minutes improve your relationship? These words appeared in black against a plain white background. The font then faded away to show two people entering a studio – a mother and a son. The mother was aged with wrinkles while the son seemed to be in his mid-thirties. There was awkward laughter when they first faced each other, but before long they were both looking into each other's eyes to try out the social experiment and the commercial skipped forward.
Having studied his mother's face – the crow's feet at her eyes and her sunken cheeks – the son's eyes started to well with tears and the mother spontaneously pulls her son into a hug. The commercial fast forwarded to the end where the mother-son pair share their experience.
"I didn't expect four minutes to do anything," the son said. "I thought it would just be very awkward."
"For many years, we haven't done this, simply because we were too busy with our own lives to look at each other properly," the mother added.
"Yeah, but those few minutes were actually pretty emotional for me," the son said. "In that short amount of time, I realized that 'oh, my mother has actually aged a lot…' and I wish I had spent more time with her."
"And so I hugged him because I haven't done so in a very long time," the mother smiled as she wiped away a tear from the corner of her eye.
The commercial ended with the words 'Relationships are precious' flashing across a white background.
Hmm… Lucy was pensive with regards to that commercial.
"Does it really work?" Natsu thought out loud.
"Who knows?" Lucy was done with her ramen and she put her utensils down before leaning back. Her shoulders rested against Natsu's arm that was stretched across the sofa.
"Let's try it."
"What?" She shot a weird look at the pink-head sitting next to her.
"C'mon!" Natsu eagerly got into a cross-legged sitting position directly facing Lucy.
"What for? It's not like we're estranged. We see each other every day."
"Just do it!"
"Alright, fine," she gave in; otherwise he would never stop bugging her about it.
"I'm setting the timer on my phone to four minutes."
"Four minutes is too long," she grumbled but nevertheless now sat up straight, facing him.
Natsu ignored her complaint and started the timer. Then he tossed his phone onto the sofa and looked at Lucy.
"Ah, a zit."
"Tch," she clicked her tongue. "If you're just gonna make fun of me–"
"Alright, alright." Lucy had moved to stand up but Natsu grabbed her wrist and made her stay.
For real this time, the two of them stared at each other. Lucy's eyes darted away for a split second out of awkwardness, but then she delved into his infinitely obsidian eyes and without realizing it herself, a faint smile had lifted the corners of her lips. A moment later, she let her eyes wander off, tracing the face she already knew so well. After all, this was the face she saw when she woke up in the mornings and before she went to sleep at night.
When her gaze returned after darting away for that split second, Natsu managed to look into her dark umber eyes. He was pleased to see that their glint and sparkle had not faded, but there was also an added hint of melancholy and Natsu's heart sank a little. Next, he let his eyes trace the outlines of her face, first down the straight bridge of her nose. Impulsively, he reached out and pinched her nose.
"Ow! What are you–"
"You have a small nose," he said and let go.
"H-Huh?" Her hand instinctively reached to feel her own nose.
Gently, Natsu took that hand, guiding it away so as to not obstruct his view of her face. As he stared at her some more, he kept her hand in his and the expression on her face softened at this touch. His gaze fell upon her lips – those sweet lips he had tasted so many times. Unconsciously, Natsu's other hand moved to cup her face and he brushed his thumb across her soft lips. This light, feathery touch sent the blood rushing to Lucy's cheeks as they ever so subtly pinkened. It was unusual for Natsu to do this, but all the same, it made her heart race.
The sight of her blushing face resonated with something within Natsu and he swelled with pride knowing that he had that kind of effect on her. He felt like he never wanted to let her go, and that was when it hit him…
And effortlessly but wholeheartedly, the words slipped from his lips.
"I love you, Lucy."
The TV was still on and there was a low humming from the refrigerator in the kitchen. But over all that insignificant noise, Lucy heard him clearly and as a new, different kind of warmth enveloped her, she smiled a heartened smile.
Didn't really know what to write… Then I saw that commercial on TV (yes it's a real commercial) and decided to adapt it. I actually live on a tropical island so I'm not sure if I got the seasons right, like 3 months after Christmas, would that be end-winter or start of spring? Well, anyway, it's somewhere around there :x
Hope you've enjoyed this chapter! Thank you for reading ^^
* That's Lucy's apartment in the original Fairy Tail