Chapter 66

Cooling Down to Heat Up

When Gray woke up, it was a little after noon. Natsu was still in bed with him, snoring away, although his face looked worn out, with darkness around the eyes from all the crying yesterday. Gray immediately reached up to his throat.

Everything had been healed, but the memory was still potent of Natsu's hands not just choking him, but tearing into his flesh, trying to rip his head off.

Then everything Natsu said flooded into his brain.

Gray rose from the bed as gently as possible and moved away. His hand went up to his mouth. All of that … how could Natsu have hidden such a dark history for so long?

How was he supposed to accept all of that? He wanted to, but how?

Natsu had killed many people, butchered and even fucked their dead bodies. He had been insane, but he still did it. Then he tried to rape a woman. That one, Gray simply could not believe. He had been just a kid. He was obviously acting out whatever that man had done; likely, Natsu did not even know how sex with a woman worked yet. He did not dare press for details of what precisely Natsu had done to her. It was traumatizing enough for him.

Gray rubbed his forehead. He needed to think, and he needed to be away from Natsu for a while. Although he had no plans on breaking up, he was not sure if he could look Natsu in the eyes yet.

Gray pulled on clothes and walked into the next room. Porlyusica was up and reading a medical textbook. She glanced at him without a word and pointed to a sheet of paper on a table. She probably guessed that whoever woke up first, they would not be ready to talk.

Gray jotted down a quick note. Then, without a word but with a solemn bow of thanks, he left the healer's house.

Gray's smell drifting away was what woke up Natsu. He bolted up, but he could tell Gray was not there and had left over an hour ago. The sun was drifting to the west now. Despite the long sleep, Natsu felt physically weakened and emotionally worn out. He heard a noise in the adjacent room and rushed over. There, he saw Porlyusica making tea.

"Where's…?"

Before he could finish, the old woman pointed to a letter on a small table. Natsu snatched it up as soon as he recognized Gray's writing. He read through it in a rush, but stopped sharply at many parts to let out tiny, weak, dreadful cries of "No." He read it a second time to make sure he was seeing this right, and then Natsu nearly crunched it up in his fists.

"Dammit," he whispered, knowing he would have screamed much worse profanity if he wasn't 110% certain that Porlyusica would literally wash his mouth out with soap.

"Tea?" the ancient healer offered.

Natsu collapsed into a chair. Right then, he needed some sort of warmth to fill up the old chasm in his heart, and tea was the only health thing to do it. He accepted a cup, but it tasted bland. He supposed it was appropriate, because his life would be tasteless and dull for a while. He sipped his tea and looked down to read the letter once again.


Natsu,

Thank you for finally telling me about everything. I need some time to think over all of that. I also need to see my therapist about last night. I'm not mad, I don't hate you, I'm just in shock, and I don't want to screw up things even worse. Please also talk to your therapist. We need a little space before we meet again, because I really don't want to mess this up, but things right now are shitty. Let me know when you've talked to your therapist, and if you ever need to talk more about what happened to you, I'm here for you. I understand now, I can't fix you. Every time I try, I fuck it up. All I can do is stay by you and urge you to get real, actual help. So go do that, and I will too, and we'll meet up after we're done.

Please don't hide things from me anymore. Fucking up that badly makes me hate myself a little.

Still yours,
Gray


ONE MONTH LATER

It was not a breakup. It was a cool down.

They kept reassuring each other of this over the next few weeks. As Natsu returned to therapy, as he tackled a whole new set of problems with the guilt of having attacked and nearly killed Gray, as he fought panic attacks at just being within a meter of Gray, and as Gray gave himself time to recover from the trauma of almost being killed and going over in his head everything Natsu told him about his past, they were simply allowing themselves to cool down.

When times were good, they went out to eat together or would go watch a play. When Lucy sighed about money, they went on missions. They could still fight together and laugh together like normal.

Gray just pulled away a little when Natsu got too close, and Natsu feared reaching out to touch Gray. They had not hugged, kissed, or even touched one another in a whole month.

"Are you two really okay?" asked Lyon. He was in town, passing through on his way to an assignment, and he had stopped by Gray's place. "I mean, what happened, anyway?"

Gray took a long pull on his cigarette—he was only smoking because Lyon had offered one—and he thought about what he could say. Obviously, not the full truth. "Have you ever been in a really catastrophic fight that leaves you jittery, so badly that you accidentally lash out and hit someone?"

Lyon shrugged as if that was common. "You see it a lot in magic guilds. When a person nearly dies on a mission, you know to give them space."

Gray nodded; he supposed they were all a little messed up in their own ways and merely said it was part of the job. "Natsu had an experience a while back. I did something that triggered that."

"He hit you? But he seriously always hits you." Lyon paused with his cigarette in his mouth. "I see. He didn't just hit you, did he? This is Natsu, after all." He looked Gray up and down. "Wendy must have done a very good job of patching you up."

"I'd still be paralyzed if not for her."

"Paralyzed?" he cried out. "Shit! Natsu got you good." Then he teased lightly. "Loser!"

Gray punched him in the shoulder and laughed. "So yeah, I wasn't expecting him to attack like that—"

"Excuses!"

"—and now Natsu feels super guilty about it."

"And you?"

Gray let out a stream of smoke and watched it drift into the air. "Once, Natsu and I fought each other pretty seriously. We were out to kill each other, and if Erza hadn't stopped us…" That fight when Alvarez attacked Magnolia haunted him at times. At least for a few minutes, he truly had intended to kill Natsu, and Natsu … well, he was obviously affected by demonic power. "This time, though … I've seen Natsu take on some seriously bad guys, but I've never seen him like that before. Gotta admit," he muttered, reaching up to his throat with ghostly reminders of that day, "he's a strong bastard."

"Sounds like you're not really okay." Lyon removed his shirt and leaned back with his cigarette drifting up lazy wafts of smoke. "I've seen people go through war flashbacks, especially after that thing with the Alvarez Empire. Lots of people died, and those memories pop up at bad times. Lamia Scale lost a dozen guild members. It was a hard blow for us; lots of survivors are still traumatized. Flashbacks can be terrible things, especially for someone with magic. Even though you know that person is suffering, the damage they might do while in that state hurts you no matter what. You feel like you can't be mad at them, because they weren't in their right mind. You know they feel guilty about hurting others while in a flashback, so you try to forgive them even if you can't truly overlook what happened." Lyon glanced over to Gray. "You know Natsu just lashed out from some trauma, but if he hurt you that badly, it's pretty obvious that you can't just let that go."

Gray sighed and looked away. Lyon was right. That was why they had spent a few weeks playing it cautiously. No sex, no touching, although they went on dates and sometimes sat at home watching shows or listening to music.

"I don't hate him," Gray said. "I just … I'm not sure yet." He puffed the cigarette, then crushed out the last of it. "I'm not sure if I can trust him, and I know he's not sure if he's trustworthy. We'll have to work through that."

Lyon eyed Gray and saw determination in his face. "You plan to stay with him?"

Gray looked down at the jewelry around his wrist. A promise bracelet!


"Would you want to … sometime in the future … aim for that? Make it a goal?"

"Do you mean … marriage?"

"Is that something you might possibly want? Later? When we're ready?"

"I wouldn't mind. Someday."


He had said that, setting together a goal, a hope that was worth fighting for. This issue now was just another battle.

"I'm not going to surrender just because of this."

A proud smile beamed on Lyon's face. He sat up and patted Gray on the back.

"If you're determined to fight, don't give up. Approach this battle cautiously, and try to have a plan. Whatever you do, don't rush in."

"Yeah," Gray muttered. "I've done that too many times."

"Well!" Lyon smashed out his cigarette and pulled his shirt on. "Let's find your clothes before you're arrested … again. A shirt is one thing, but seriously, when did you lose your underwear?"

Gray looked down, saw his cock flopped out, and instantly covered it. "Dammit! How did that happen?"

"I've wondered that since we were kids, you idiot."


Natsu sat with his therapist. He had been going a lot more frequently since that day, and Makarov was personally making sure he went to his sessions. Porlyusica had told the guild master what happened, but they had both agreed that this incident would remain between the four of them. Gray appeared to be fine now, and those who had heard he got injured forgot about it in a couple of days. Only the distance between Gray and Natsu showed that the attack had left invisible scars.

"At least give my advice a try," the therapist told him. "If you feel any strong negative reactions, stop right away."

"So, I should give Gray a massage?" Natsu asked, confused by the advice.

"This means your hands will be on his shoulders and neck, in the zones you fear. It also means applying pressure, which may dip into the memory of what happened. It'll also show you that your hands can be used for good."

Natsu looked down at his hands. So often since that incident, when he looked down, he saw blood on his hands. This horrible attack was now a triggering issue all on its own. The therapist had spent a month working him through the rage and self-loathing. Natsu was calmer now. In a way, confessing everything to Gray freed his heart from an agonizing burden.

"He … he still pulls away, though."

That was something Natsu noticed right away. Although they had cuddled that first day, although they could sit together on the couch, there were times when Gray yanked back, or flinched at Natsu's touch. He had admitted, he had flashbacks of the attack at random times, and knowing Natsu fucked a corpse made him sick. Natsu understood; he had vomited many times since remembering that part.

"If Gray isn't ready, don't force him. This is a move you both can work toward. I'm impressed, though. You said when we started these sessions that Gray was addicted to sex and would get angry and forceful when deprived for more than a few days, yet you two have been in this cool down phase for a month."

"Well, I'm fine with sex, I think. This time, it's him who isn't ready."

"Yes, but the fact that he is determined to stay with you, even if he can't make love to you yet, is admirable. That man truly is in love with you, to stay by your side through this. I hope you realize that."

Natsu smiled to himself and felt his cheeks warm up. "Yeah, I know. I honestly thought he would leave. Even when he said he didn't hate me, I thought I'd wake up and he'd suddenly shove me away in disgust. I still wonder a bit if the truth just hasn't fully sunk in and he'll realize he can't trust me to touch him ever again."

The therapist looked worried at Natsu. "You two really do need couple's counseling."

Natsu scoffed and rolled his eyes. "If you know one for gay bondage freaks, let me know."

"Not exactly, but I looked around this past week, asked a few colleagues, and learned about a group meeting that might help you. It's specifically about BDSM. It started recently, it's still small, and it meets only once a month, but it's run by a wizard, so that might help you feel at ease."

"A wizard?" Natsu cringed; rather than at ease, he worried about meeting a familiar face. "Anyone I know?"

"My colleague could not recall his name, but she gave me the time and address." The therapist pulled out a scrap of paper. "I don't recommend this yet, not until you're comfortable again with touching one another, but sometime soon, you should look into this."

Natsu read the address. It was in Hargeon, but he was not familiar with the location. Also, the next meeting was not for another two weeks.

"I'll see you next week. If your experiment with touching Gray has any negative feedback at all, feel free to let me know immediately."

"Yeah. Massage, right? I can do that. M-maybe," he added with a frown, honestly not sure if touching near Gray's neck would make him remember strangling him.

"Don't push yourself. You both need time to get over this."

"Feels like it's been forever," Natsu grumbled. He stood and shook the therapist's hand. "See ya next time."

The therapist watched him go. He waited, then looked out the window. He continued to wait until the pink hair vanished in Magnolia's crowded avenue. Then he walked over to a communications lacrima, rubbed the glass ball, and waited for a face to appear.

"Stacy," he greeted informally. "Is this a good time?"

"Yes, I finished Gray Fullbuster's session ten minutes ago. I thought you'd call sooner."

"Natsu Dragneel's times keep getting extended. I gave him that address."

"Good, and I recommended to Gray that he take Natsu on a vacation, as well as gave him that coupon to Hargeon Marina Inn. I don't think he would have gone without it."

"And I don't think Natsu would bother with a train ride if it was his decision alone. However, if Gray invites him, and it happens to be the same place as that BDSM meeting, they'll definitely go."

"We're probably breaking some ethics rules, tag-teaming them like this."

"They're Fairy Tail," the therapist said with a chuckle. "They don't do anything without breaking rules."


The next day, Natsu invited Gray over to his house. Happy was there, so he hoped that would make things less awkward between them. Gray arrived with a bottle of sake and a box of candies for them all to share. Natsu cooked fish and rice, and they ate a simple meal. Then they pulled out cards and played a few rounds of Poker and Go Fish, while Natsu and Gray drank sake and Happy had some catnip tea.

By evening, Happy was sleeping off the buzz of his catnip, and Gray was a little flushed from the sake. Natsu had barely drank anything, worried that if he got tipsy, he might do something stupid. He just needed to be relaxed. Happy was there, although napping, and Natsu knew that if he did anything stupid, Happy could help stop him, or at least bring him to his senses.

He knew there was nothing to worry about, but he just liked having that little bit of reassurance.

They were eating the candy and still sipping alcohol when Natsu turned over to him.

"Gray, can … can I … give you a shoulder massage?"

Gray froze for a moment. At one time, Natsu would not have even needed to ask. Now, he sounded nervous, almost terrified, and Gray understood why.

"Are you sure?"

"Only if you're okay with it."

Gray knew he had been pulling away from Natsu, flinching with flashbacks to the strangulation. He looked over to Happy, a blue ball of fluff slumped in a hammock, snoring and talking about giving catnip cookies to Carla. He knew Natsu well enough to realize that he was asking now precisely because Happy was there, asleep but still close enough to wake up if anything happened.

"Sure," he replied, and he set down his drink. He twisted on the couch, able to look right at the hammock where Happy slept. Even their location was perfect. Knowing Happy was there really was reassuring.

Gray had thrown his shirt off sometime during dinner, so Natsu looked at his bare back. He had scars, and his sword pendant necklace draped around the back of his neck. Natsu's hands felt sweaty from nervousness.

It had been a month since he dared to touch Gray. The last time he did, he had almost killed him.

Natsu took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He wiped his palms on his legs, but still he hesitated.

"I trust you," Gray said softly.

Natsu froze, but those words encouraged him. He remembered what Gray said the night he told him about his past: "I accept you for how you are, right now, right here, the past be damned!"

Gray waited, but he knew this was a challenge for himself just as much as it was for Natsu. For how much he had nightmares about being choked, how much worse must it be for Natsu to know his hands had almost taken the life of the man he loved? Gray may have been flinching away, but he knew Natsu also at times began to reach out to him only to yank back with a momentary look of terror. He had seen Natsu staring down at his hands many times, as if seeing something hideous.

They really were starting fresh. Just touching one another was now a challenge.

"Okay," he heard Natsu whisper, not sure if it was a warning to him or encouragement to himself. Gray felt the heat approaching. He needed to stay still, to keep calm so that Natsu would not spook out. However, just as he felt a touch to his shoulder, Gray's whole body jolted forward and away.

"I'm sorry," he said instantly. He was so tense, and he scolded himself. 'Keep calm! Let him touch you. It's safe. Natsu won't hurt you. This is just as hard on him, so let him heal. You need to heal, too, you idiot. It's safe. Happy is right there. Look at Happy.'

Gray looked ahead at the bit of blue fur he could see in the hammock. It calmed him, and he leaned back.

"Okay," he said.

"Are you sure?" Natsu asked, sounding worried.

"Yeah. I trust you."

He needed to trust Natsu. He needed to realize, that dark moment had been done in a bout of insanity, and he was mostly to blame for it. He had pushed Natsu, despite so many warnings. Under normal circumstances, Natsu would never attack him like that. Especially now that they were in love, Natsu would never hurt him, not like that.

"I trust you, Natsu," he said again, feeling more relaxed now.

Natsu bit his lip, but he reached forward again. Those were the hands that had almost taken Gray's life, yet the therapist was right. They were also the hands that had given Gray pleasure and touched him in the most tender and intimate ways. They were his hands, and he got to choose what he did with them.

He placed his hands on Gray's shoulders, just resting them there for a moment. Gray felt so stiff, but Natsu was not surprised. He held still, and slowly the tension in Gray's muscles eased out. Natsu stroked only his thumbs back and forth over Gray's skin, feeling how smooth it was.

"I miss touching you." he whispered wistfully.

Gray stared forward, but he smiled faintly. "Yeah, me too." He had forgotten just how warm and reassuring Natsu's hands could feel. He was not moving yet, but just knowing Natsu was touching him again was nice. That heat sank in, soothing the fears. The timid strokes of his thumbs were sweet. Gray could hardly help but think, if they had gotten into a relationship the normal way, this might have been how it was like. Nervous first touches! They got none of that, plunging into bondage and sex the way they did.

Finally, Natsu's hands began to move more, sliding over Gray's back, down to the bottom of his shoulder blades, then up to his clavicle, over and down his arm to his biceps, then back up and to his spine. Gray let out a pleasant sigh. It felt good to have that warmth back.

"Are you okay?" Natsu asked quietly.

Gray felt reassured by his concern. "Yeah."

"I'm gonna … um … start massaging."

Gray felt Natsu's fingers press a little harder, and slowly, cautiously, with stiff movements that were unwilling to free up, Natsu began to rub out his shoulders.

"Mmm, feels good," he hummed, hoping to encourage him.

"You're stiff," Natsu noted, sounding saddened.

Gray knew he was. Here he was, thinking only about helping Natsu out of his rut, when he was the one ready to panic. Natsu was not doing this just for himself, but he was starting off slowly to help Gray.

"Just give me a moment," he said, feeling angry at himself that he could not relax into it, as Natsu was probably hoping.

The pressure on his muscles stopped, and Natsu just rubbed his back instead. "Is this okay?"

Gray wanted it to be, but he knew he needed to convince himself a little bit more. "Keep doing that," he suggested. If he could just get used to it, desensitize himself to the idea, maybe he could relax.

"How about this?" Suddenly, Natsu flopped heavily over Gray's back, almost crushing him down. His arms draped in front, and his cheek pressed against Gray's face. "Hiya!" he said with a playful laugh.

"You idiot," Gray chuckled, struggling against the weight on his back. He looked over, and Natsu's face was right there. He could feel his cheek, touch his nose with his own, and if he were to lean forward just a little, he could rest against their foreheads together. Natsu's lips were so close, he could feel the breath on his mouth.

"I'm not touching you with my hands," Natsu pointed out.

That was true. Instead, his chest was fully pressed against Gray's back, and his chin was resting on his collar. Gray was mesmerized by just how close he was, and yet this was okay.

"If it's just my hands," he said, and Natsu nuzzled against him, "I could touch you in other ways."

Gray laughed at just how adorable he was. "You're an idiot." Still, he leaned forward and let their noses rub together. "I think this is okay." Then he sighed and pressed their foreheads together. "It probably wouldn't have been at first, but I think I'm better. I just needed some time to let it all sink in."

"I get it," Natsu assured, hugging him with his upper arms rather than with his hands. "I needed time, too."

"Thank you for being patient with me."

"Well hell, you've been patient with me this whole time. Look how long it took me to tell you everything. The least I can do is wait for you to regain trust in me."

"I do trust you," he assured, and yet he knew he had flinched away just a few minutes ago. "My heart trusts you," he clarified. "My brain … is messed up."

"I already know you're messed up in the head."

"Shut up, bastard."

Natsu smiled, but his eyes drifted down to his hands, now just dangling slightly above Gray's legs. "Can … can we hold hands? Is that okay now?"

Gray somehow knew it was. Maybe yesterday he would have pulled back, but with Natsu draped over him, that made it okay. He reached his hand up, and both of Natsu's hands immediately grabbed it, as if he needed to hold on desperately. Natsu buried his face down into Gray's shoulder. For a moment, Gray worried that he might be crying, but instead he felt something warm, soft, and just a little wet, followed by a tiny pop. Natsu was kissing his shoulder!

Natsu had been trying to reach out to him for a while, and Gray had been pulling back. He had waited this long to touch. Gray felt in awe at how patient Natsu had been, not once complaining, not once trying to sneakily force a touch. If it had been Gray … well, he knew his record for trying to hold back when Natsu said he needed less. It was abysmal!

"Dammit, I don't deserve you."

Natsu jolted up, and his eyes looked hurt, stunned, and completely horrified. His grip on Gray's hand began to tremble.

"By all rights, you should have broken up with me that day. I pushed you so far, broke your trust, made you do something that I knew you didn't want—"

"And I tried to kill you," he countered, sounding desperate. "How do you think I feel about that? I honestly don't see how you can want me back."

"Because I lo- …" Gray flinched hard and lost his breath instantly. 'Dammit, not again!'

Natsu pouted and gently asked, "I love you?"

Even just hearing Natsu ask it grated on Gray's subconscious and made him tremble, but he nodded.

"And that's why I'm still here," Natsu whispered, rubbing his cheek against Gray's shoulder. "Because I love you, and I want to be with you. As much as we both keep screwing up, somehow I can forgive you. And for some reason, you keep forgiving me."

Gray rested his forehead against Natsu's again and squeezed his hand. "Yeah. I don't know if that's healthy or toxic or what."

"I only know what my shrink says, and he's never been happy about it. Although he gives me some great advice, on this one … fuck him."

They both laughed softly, and Natsu sighed to feel Gray's muscles loosening up.

"Y'know," Natsu said, looking down across Gray's bare chest. "I don't know if you deserve me or I deserve you. I just know I have you right now, and I don't want to lose you ever." He reached over and rubbed the promise bracelet on Gray's wrist. Every time he saw him still wearing it, Natsu was reassured that it was another day that Gray was willing to be with him. "We're two messed up idiots, and we're fighting a lot of ghosts of the past, but there's seriously no one else in this world that I'd rather fight beside than you!"

Gray reached over and also dragged a finger around Natsu's promise bracelet. "When I'm fighting beside you, I know we'll win. Maybe that's why I'm desperate not to lose you. I feel like I'm winning this battle that I've been fighting most of my life, and if I lose you … it's like I've lost everything, and the whole fight was for nothing. Trying to say those three words, trying to get over that fear … what's the point if I don't say those words to you?"

Natsu bit his lip, almost feeling like he could cry. Just knowing Gray was fighting the past to finally be able to express his love was overwhelming.

Gray began to reach up, but he paused. "Can I touch your face?"

Natsu chuckled and blushed. "You can touch me anywhere you want. I don't have a problem with that."

Right … Gray knew he was the one with a problem now, and Natsu was being patient. Gray could have touched him at any time. He could have tied up Natsu's hands and forbidden him from touching while indulging himself.

He could have done that. He had chosen to keep things balanced. It wasn't fair if he got to touch and Natsu could not touch back. Gray had decided to deny himself as much as he was denying Natsu. It was only fair.

He wanted to treat Natsu as his equal.

Gray reached up and cupped Natsu's cheek. It was so warm, so soft, and Natsu leaned into the touch with a relieved smile. He was so cute like that, his endearing beloved. Gray leaned forward, and Natsu closed his eyes. Their lips met, and suddenly it was like none of the darkness existed anymore.

Natsu's lips were so hot, and damn had Gray missed them! Immediately, he wanted more. His hand slid back into the pink hair, he pulled Natsu closer, and his body twisted toward him. Natsu had been on his knees on the couch to drape himself over, and now he swung one knee over, straddling Gray so roughly, his spine was pressed back into the couch.

Natsu was not holding back. The need to be touched was at a dire level. He had held back for Gray's sake, but he often felt like asking Gray to touch him. He was not sure if that was asking too much, so he had kept quiet. Now, Gray's hands were everywhere, clawing into his back, yanking him to be nearer. He felt Gray thrust his whole body up to be even closer, and Natsu thrust back.

He was not sure what he could touch, though. He tried Gray's hair first. Maybe that was a safe zone, or maybe Gray was too much into making out to be bothered with it. Since Gray did not flinch at all, Natsu stayed there, combing his fingers through the raven strands, clutching his scalp as he thrust his tongue in.

Then Natsu reached down. Was the chest okay? He palmed up over Gray's pecs, feeling the muscles, then glided back down, rubbing slightly over his nipples.

"Oh fuck, yes," Gray groaned in a whisper.

Natsu's hands went up to the shoulders, right where they had been before. He rubbed out the muscles, all while his body made gentle, undulating thrusts up and down Gray, feeling the excitement growing and wanting to arouse him. Finally, knowing this was the dangerous part, Natsu let his fingers ghost up Gray's neck and into his hair.

There was a small flinch, and Gray hitched a breath. Natsu paused instantly, but Gray's muscles relaxed.

"It's okay," he whispered.

Natsu kissed him and kept his mouth on Gray's as he tried it again, stroking up from Gray's biceps to collar and up along his neck. There was another small flinch, followed by a forced sigh of relaxation.

"Keep doing that," Gray breathed amidst the kiss. "Don't stop."

Each touch was accepted more easily. Natsu reached down his back, giving that massage he had promised, only to slide back up and carefully rub his neck, sometimes digging into the muscles as part of the massage, sometimes scratching with erotic need. After a few minutes, Gray stopped flinching completely. Even when Natsu brushed his fingers over the front and trailed a finger down the gulping Adam's apple, the ice wizard made no complaints or hesitant moves.

For Gray, he felt the fear crumbling. He could feel Natsu's warm fingers crackle it and melt it. The stiffness in his heart soothed, softened, drifted away, leaving behind relief.

So much relief!

Out of nowhere, a sob burst out. Natsu yanked back in shock, but it seemed to surprise Gray even more. Tears suddenly poured out, and his chest convulsed with sobs. Natsu leaped back. Gray wanted to tell him to stay, to continue touching him, yet all that came were loud, wet, uncontrollable wails.

Why was he crying? Why could he not stop?

Happy woke up at the noise and peeked over his hammock. "Is Gray okay?" he sleepily asked.

"It's fine. Go back to sleep," said Natsu. He sat on his knees on the couch while Gray furiously wiped at his eyes, frustrated at what was happening. Natsu understood, though. "That's happened to me before. My therapist told me, sometimes when you break through an emotional block, it suddenly triggers other emotional responses. Sometimes, we suddenly laugh and we can't stop. Other times, we suddenly cry, and there's really no stopping it. You just gotta cry it all out." He saw Gray still trying to fight it and getting annoyed that he could not stop. "Go to my bedroom. We won't be able to hear you there. Let it all out so you can heal."

Gray practically fled, still wiping at his face. Natsu put on a gentle music lacrima so Happy would keep sleeping, but over the music he could hear Gray in a raging storm of sobs.

Natsu smiled to himself. It meant the emotional block from his attack was gone. It meant Gray was healing! Knowing that was a huge relief to his heart.

A few songs had played when Gray finally came out. His face was dry, but his eyelids were pink with shadows underneath. Natsu still sat on the couch, and Gray collapsed next to him.

"Sorry about that," he whispered, sounding utterly worn out.

Instead of answering, Natsu reached forward. Gray did not pull away; he looked at Natsu's approaching hand with a gaze of indifference. When the fingers slid down his neck and to his shoulders, there was no fear, no flashbacks, no thoughts of that night. This was Natsu, his beloved, his boyfriend, his rival and best friend for years.

"Feels good," he said with a tired smile.

Natsu caressed his cheek and felt a slight dampness still there. "You look like you need a nap now."

Happy sleepily muttered from his place, "Gray can have the hammock."

Natsu laughed, bounced up, and walked over to his buddy. "You had way too much catnip tea. You rest. We're gonna nap in my room."

"Mmm'kay," Happy said contentedly.

Natsu waved to Gray, and he followed Natsu to the other room. For a moment, Gray thought Natsu might actually want sex, and he honestly was not sure if he was ready for that, not after that horrendous sobbing bout. However, Natsu slid under the covers fully clothed, so Gray curled in against him. Natsu wrapped him up in warm arms, and for the first time in a month, Gray felt like he was where he belonged.

"Are you okay with this?"

He smiled that Natsu was still asking that, making sure his limits were not being pushed. "I like it," he assured. "I missed this."

"Yeah," Natsu said wistfully. "I'm glad you feel better, but if anything is ever too much, let me know."

"I think touching is okay now," he decided. "Just don't put me in a headlock when we fight. Elfman did that a week ago, and I totally freaked out. Luckily, he was too busy also fighting Gajeel to notice it."

Gray felt warmth on the back of his neck, and Natsu asked, "How about kissing there?"

"Heh … yeah, that's fine." He felt Natsu peppering his neck with kisses. They were sweet and adorable. "Probably not biting, though," he added as an afterthought.

Natsu stopped kissing and said with a slightly seductive tone, "We'll get to biting later."

Gray had to laugh at that. Yes, they were starting out slow. In a way, this was how they probably should have started things. All the wild bedroom games, BDSM, collars and handcuffs, those could wait.

"I guess it's a good thing we had to stop just now," Natsu said casually. "We were really getting carried away with Happy asleep in the same room."

Gray hummed in agreement. They really had totally forgotten he was there. "Hey, um … I think I'm better, and I think we need time alone, like a mental reassurance that we're both okay, and maybe even a chance to try a little bit more. Did you maybe want to … y'know … go on vacation together?"

Natsu grinned at the offer. "Yeah! Where did you have in mind?"

"Nothing too far, but maybe a beach trip. I happen to have some coupons for Hargeon Marina Inn. It's not fancy, but it's in view of the harbor, and it's near some nice restaurants."

"Hargeon," Natsu muttered, recalling what his therapist had said. "Yeah, sounds good. Maybe make it for another two weeks."

"I was thinking of leaving sooner."

"Well, we can make sure you're actually okay now. I wouldn't want to be in Hargeon and you have a panic attack at me just touching you. How would I get you back home? Plus, there's something going on in Hargeon in two weeks. I just heard about it, and I wasn't really planning on going, but if we're going to be there anyway, it's something that could help us."

"Help? Like a seminar?"

"I'm not really sure. I can ask about it more. Also, Lucy wanted to do a mission this weekend because rent is due soon. I don't want to be rushed to make it back home in time."

"All right, then in two weeks. Find out when that seminar or whatever is, and we'll plan that for one of the days."

Natsu squeezed around Gray. "Plus, it gives us two weeks to get used to stuff slowly. Like this." He nuzzled into Gray. "I miss holding you like this. If we were to go right now, I'd want to cuddle more than have sex."

"I don't just want sex with you, Natsu," he said indignantly. Gray relaxed into the embrace. "This. This is nice."

Natsu kissed the back of his neck again. "Should we get ready for bed and call it an early night?"

"If you want. I can just take my jeans off. I'll leave my boxers on."

Natsu scoffed out a laugh. "We both know you'll somehow end up naked before morning."

"Maybe, but I'll be less tempted tonight if I'm still wearing clothes."

Natsu's hands drifted over him. "Maybe I wouldn't mind."

Gray chuckled but sat up. "I'd normally leap on you at just that, but that crazy sobbing attack really drained me. I'm honestly barely keeping my eyes open."

Natsu nodded, knowing the feeling of weariness after an intense emotional release. He got up, changed into pajamas, brushed his teeth, let Gray brush his with the toothbrush he kept over at their place, and they put away the dishes to be cleaned in the morning. Natsu whispered to Happy that they were going to sleep, and it seemed that the blue Exceed would simply sleep the whole night through. Then Natsu turned off the light and climbed into bed. Gray once again settled up against him. Although he could have taken the Big Spoon position, he really had missed Natsu's warmth pressed against his back and smothering him. For his part, Natsu seemed to be more than happy to clutch Gray to him.

"Thank you again for being patient," Gray muttered.

"No prob! Thanks for trusting me and sticking by me, despite everything."

"Right back at you."

Gray wanted to lie there and enjoy the feel of Natsu's arms, but a sinking exhaustion sucked him away. That sob storm had drained everything from him, and before he could really get enough of the feel of Natsu being this close to him, Gray was out cold.

Natsu heard Gray's breathing go deep and heavy almost instantly. What an emotional experience it must have been for him, to have that mental block shatter so suddenly! He was glad for it, and he hoped things would keep on improving from here. For now, Natsu sniffed Gray's bare back and slid his fingers along his skin, feeling hair, scars, and moles. He wanted to feel everything, but he was also happy taking his time.

That was one thing they were bad at. Both of them rushed into things unprepared, and it had led to a few disasters. Natsu hoped to keep things normal for at least a while, slowly dip back, and maybe, one day, that whole tragedy would be a memory they could laugh about.

For now, Natsu could hardly help but look at Gray's neck and recall how bloody it had been, how he had dug his nails in and tried to claw his throat out. It made him shiver deep inside.

Gray was getting over it, but the memory still haunted Natsu just a little.

"I never want to hurt you again," Natsu whispered. "I love you so much, and I want to protect you, even from myself."

End of Chapter 66


.


Author's Note:

"Hey everyone, it's Natsu. Short chapter, huh!"

"Only short for this story. It's actually a fairly large chapter."

"I know something else that's fairly large."

"Hey, aren't you supposed to do something, sulfur breath?"

"Oh, right! Hey guys, Rhov sent me to tell you that she's very sorry there's been no updates since frigging AUGUST. She got writer's block, then her husband got injured and lost his job, and then her house burned down..."

"That's not what happened, you flame-brain! She lost her apartment, that's all. It wasn't a fire."

"Waaaaaah, Rhov is homeless!"

"She's okay for now, and a friend is going to take her in. Hey guys, there's something else important that we need to warn you about."

"ENEMIES ARE ATTACKING!"

"Well, something like that. It seems that the group called Critics United discovered FMBM. They sent a warning to Rhov. However, she keeps losing power and internet, and with her life in shambles, she wasn't checking email for a few weeks. Since she did not reply fast enough, this story got reported."

"We may vanish... Graaaay, I love yoooou!"

"We're not gone yet, idiot. Look, this is just a warning, okay? This story MIGHT vanish. Or it might get buried in many other reported fanfics and be forgotten. Hopefully, nothing happens."

"Because that would SUCK!"

"However, it's on many other sites. AO3, Wattpad, Adultfanfiction: you have your choice."

*sniff* "It's not the same..."

"There, there, you baby. It'll be okay. It's the same story, just not HERE."

"But our fans are here, Gray! We have so many followers. They like us here. We're the most popular Gratsu story on the entire site."

"Which is probably why we got discovered. We're popular elsewhere. Did you know FMBM was the top Fairy Tail fanfic on all of AO3? Pretty awesome. So don't worry, they like us."

"We love you readers! Please make Rhov write more because I wanna get some action soon."

"Natsu!"

"Hehe!"

"Ahem... Rhov has been in touch with the people on Critics United, trying to figure out what she can do to make this better. Hopefully, the story gets ignored by the admins. Maybe, hopefully, nothing will happen to us. But if FMBM gets deleted... well, I really do hope you'll continue to read it elsewhere."

"It's... um... archiveofourown ... dot? ...org... /works/911674/chapters/1766349 ... is that right?"

"Let's hope so, Natsu. If that's too long, it's also goo. gl/9cqUFk ... That almost looks like a dyslexic cock fuck at the end."

"Hey Gray, did you know Rhov is dyslexic?"

"Yes, and she thought it said coq fuk at first. Her mind is totally in the gutter."

"That's the whole problem. Waaaaaah, this stinks! Rhov has enough problems trying to find a place to live. Now a story she's worked on for YEARS may vanish."

"Well, what can we do? What we do in this story is sorta against the rules."

"I don't like following the rules."

"Because you're a naughty dragon, aren't you?"

"Mmm, you like when I'm a naughty dragon."

"I like taming my dragon."

"Rrrrrrawr."

"Damn, you're hot... AHEM! So you can find us still on AO3, or on Wattpad. Just look for 'Rhov.'"

"Yeah, I mean, her name is pretty weird."

"Hey, that's rude! Also, if you can at all help Rhov get into a new home, she can't make money from writing fanfics, but she wouldn't mind if you... ahem... buy her a coffee to help make the moving process less stressful."

"Coffee? Oh yeah, Ko-Fi! It's ... ko-fi ... =dot= ...com... a slash or something... A222IHK. Yeah!"

"Links are so annoying."

"You're telling me!"

"So, please be patient with your struggling author as she gets her life back together, and just in case this story vanishes before then, please continue to follow us elsewhere. This story is nowhere near to being finished yet. Rhov will also be on Tumblr as WildRhov, and she's on Facebook if anyone wants to join Rhov Anion's Minions."

"I'm a minion! Banana!"

"Please don't..."