Dragon Guardian

A/N: I didn't expect to get so swamped with work and other things, so expect even slower updates. I'd love to write more (and I can, quite easily), but I've gotta get other things finished first! So here's a long chapter just to tide you over.


Lucy wants to take back her words. She wants to turn back time and not have ever asked Natsu if he wanted to learn how to read. It's their third session so far, but Lucy has quickly figured out that Natsu is a natural. A natural idiot, that is. She's grateful he keeps her company—that's not something she's complaining about at all—but his idiocy can really get on her nerves sometimes. Lucy has always been smart, and it was never hard for her to learn anything at all (well, if you ignore her mishaps with magic ...), and she was well versed in knowledge she has gathered over the years in the library. But Natsu? Natsu is as dense as a rock. No, he's probably denser than the rock, because during one of their sessions, Natsu had bragged about busting open a rock with his head because Happy bet him he couldn't do it. Needless to say, Natsu was stupid enough to prove Happy wrong.

How could they let anyone this stupid look after the princess of the kingdom? Was her father really out of options that he had to take these two as a last resort? Well, to be fair, it's not like he could order any humans to protect her; that would kill her.

Lucy eyes Natsu in the corner of her eye, looking at him suspiciously. He doesn't look like a dragon, but everything that has happened to far points to the fact that he is in fact, the dragon in her castle.

"Yah got a lazy eye or somethin'? You're looking at me funny," Natsu says.

Lucy's face heat up with a rosy colour and she puffs out her cheeks. "N-no I don't!" she sputters, embarrassed he caught her staring at him. "Now pay attention, what letter is this again?" Lucy points to her many papers on the floor, to one with a huge letter L written on it.

"Uhh." Natsu crosses his arms and squints his eyes at the picture. "It's an M! Definitely an M."

Lucy sighs. "No, that's an L. Remember? That's the first letter of my name."

Natsu laughs nervously. "Oh, right—I knew that!"

"Okay, can you point me the first letter of your name?"

Natsu looks around, and Lucy can tell he doesn't know the answer. He then randomly slams his hand down on one of the parchments and picks it up. "This one!" he says in a very confident voice with a matching grin, holding up the letter Y.

Lucy shakes her head. "Nope, that's a Y. That's actually the last letter of my own name." Lucy starts collecting the papers off the ground, and rearranges them next to each other so that it spells her name. "L-U-C-Y," she says, pointing at each letter as she pronounces it.

"Oooh," says Natsu in awe. "Now do my name!"

Lucy picks up the remaining letters, and places them in a vertical line above her own, so that her name and Natsu's name share the letter U. She kind of feels like she's playing some sort of word game, but if this is how Natsu will remember the alphabet, then so be it.

Natsu grins and points at the U. "We share a letter together! What does that mean? Does it mean we're special?"

"Hm, no, it means names are made up out of a limited amount of letters. There's only twenty six letters that we can use to write a name with, so that means people end up sharing a lot of letters in their names. For example, Happy shares the latter A with you, as you're called Natsu. Happy also shares the letter Y with me, from Lucy. And—hey, who told you to doze off!" Lucy angrily claps her hands to wake Natsu up, who had managed to close his eyes and snore in record time as she was teaching him.

"W-what!" Natsu says, startled. "I'm awake! Totally awake." He leans in closer to Lucy. "What were you saying again?"

Lucy sighs yet again. "I'm going to take a little break and ... freshen up. Why don't you try and memorize your own name while I'm at it?" Before Natsu can answer, Lucy briskly walks out of the library to cool her head. Any longer and she would have flown off the handle and scolded Natsu for his irresponsible behavior, and how he's really such an idiot. Fortunately, Lucy has a great deal of patience, so she's going to walk around for five minutes before she'll try another attempt again. Teaching Natsu how to read is really hard ...

"Lucy!" says a child-like voice.

Lucy screams, feeling her heart jump out of her throat, and she looks next to her, seeing little Happy suddenly appear out of nowhere and tug on her skirt with his paw. "S-stop doing that, Happy! It scares me."

"Hehe, I know." Lucy glares at him, and he innocently looks down at the floor. "So, how's it going with Natsu? Can he read yet? Will he be able to read stories for me?"

Lucy shakes her head and starts to walk again. "Don't count on it. He is rather ... challenged, when it comes to learning things, I guess. It'll take some time."

"How long?"

"I don't know, maybe a year or two?"

"Whaaat? Are you sure? Sheesh, Lucy, and I thought you were smart and could teach him super fast."

Lucy huffs, taking offense to that. Happy is always giving her some kind of backhanded compliment. "I am, it's Natsu that isn't," she immediately says.

Happy stops walking along with her, standing in the middle of the hallway, suddenly a gloomy expression on his face. "It's not our fault. We just never had anyone teach us," he says. "I know we're stupid ... but I thought Lucy could help us ..."

When Happy looks at her with such big round eyes, Lucy can't help but feel sorry for him. She turns around and crouches down to his level. "Oh Happy, I didn't mean it like that. I know the both of you didn't have the same life I had. I was blessed with many teachers, and I learned how to read from an early age, but mostly it was my mother who taught me everything. Didn't you have any parents who taught you things?

Happy shrugs. "I don't know my parents. Natsu says he found me when I was still an egg."

Lucy frowns. An egg? What. Do cats hatch from eggs? Then again, do cats even fly and turn invisible? She shakes her head. Some things are better left unsaid. "So you never knew your family?"

"No, but I don't mind. Natsu is my family! Aye!"

She smiles sadly at that. It makes her miss her mother and father again. She really wants to see her father, it's been way too long. "What about Natsu?"

"Hmm, Natsu was already separated from his pack when he met me, so I don't really know. But I do know his dad was supposed to be the strongest dragon of them all!"

"Haha ... strongest ... dragon." Lucy still can't see him as a dragon. He just looks like a normal boy to her, albeit one with pink hair. "So does that mean you've never seen a dragon besides, you know, Natsu?"

"Aye. Natsu's the only dragon I've met. I haven't met that many people either ... Lucy is the sixth person I've met!"

The more she talks to Happy and finds out information about their old lives, the more Lucy regrets asking. It all sounds so morbid and depressing. Were they honestly slaves in her castle? Was it true? Were they really locked up under her father's orders? "So Happy, um, before you came to this castle, where did you live?" Lucy decides to ask anyway.

"In the castle, of course!" Happy then scratches his butt. "Uncomfortable sleeping on the floors though. I usually slept on top of Natsu's belly."

"Were you ... were you sleeping in a cage?" Lucy's voice almost tears up.

"Aye!"

Lucy feels torn. She's heard her father swear to her he'd never hold anyone as a slave—her mother made sure of that, but hearing this from Happy ... it all points to one thing; Natsu and Happy were slaves. They slept in cages, with no beds, they had no formal education, and have barely met another human being aside from herself, and a handful of other people. She can feel tears well up in her eyes at realizing her father had lied to her.

Happy suddenly pats her on her shoulder. "Don't be sad Lucy. It makes you look ugly."

Lucy pulls at Happy's ears, making him meow in pain and profusely apologize. She immediately lets go when something white whizzes past her face. Lucy turns into the direction it flew off in, and sees something white land on the cobblestones of the hallway. She quirks her eyebrows at it. Then suddenly, another one flies right by her again, this time landing even further.

"Oh, Natsu's making birdies! Yay, I love birdies!" Happy rushes towards the library, leaving Lucy to stand there, bemused.

She walks over to the spot where there's a folded paper resting on the ground. It's got wings on the side. It doesn't look like a dragon, nor a bird, so Lucy doesn't know what it is. She picks it up and inspects it even further. It's got a lot of lines and hidden detail that pretty much makes it proof it's made by Natsu. Over these past few days, Lucy has accepted the fact Natsu is the one who made her all of the origami. She's not exactly happy about it, though.

Lucy then cocks her head to the side as she sees black ink on one of the wings. She unfolds it, and sees the letter Y. She growls. "Natsu!" Lucy stomps back into the library, and sees that Natsu has folded all of the paper into different shapes, and is now throwing them around, causing them to glide in the air for a very long time. It almost looks like he's controlling them with magic, but Lucy knows Natsu's too stupid to know any magic.

"Natsu!" she calls out to him. Natsu's in the middle of the room, and he immediately stands up straight, dropping the latest entry of the batch behind him, in the hopes Lucy didn't see it. "What are you doing? We're using these to help you learn how to read! D-don't play around with them!"

"But don't you like them?" Natsu says, shuffling his feet on the ground.

"What—you made fun of my work, why should I—" Suddenly another one of the origami flies by her face, this time gracefully gliding through the air and going around in a loop before it lands the right side up. "—How'd you do that?" she asks, suddenly mystified. Is Natsu using magic or not? That thing practically flew like it had a mind of its own!

Natsu grins, and then grabs one from the floor, throwing it up in the air, and having it circle around the large chandelier in the room, coming down in a spiral. "I've gotten pretty good at making these! See, the way they glide through the air all depends on how you fold them, and stuff. See this one?" Natsu hops over to Lucy, eagerly showing her one folded origami that looked like a bird's beak, since it was so long and pointy. "This one is build for speed and distance, it'll fly really far! Here, throw it, it's fun!" He shoves it into her hands.

Lucy looks at it suspiciously; should she really be encouraging Natsu to fool around and skip out on learning? She looks into his eyes, those sparkling bright eyes, that are so eager and happy, and Lucy loses her resolve. Alright, she can indulge this idiot for a bit. She pulls back her arm, clutching the paper in her hand, but suddenly Natsu stops her, placing his warm hand on top of hers.

"No, no, you have to pinch it with your fingers, like this," he says. His fingers smoothly move over hers; they feel gentle and attentive. Is he always like this when he handles his origami? Lucy finds it hard to imagine, considering how hyper he is all the time, he doesn't seem to be the kind to slow down and treat something with care. But right now, he is, instructing Lucy how to hold the paper, using her index finger and her thumb to hold the flap in the middle. "And that's how you hold it, now throw it!" Natsu pulls his hand away, and takes a step back, eagerly waiting for her to throw.

Lucy bites her lip, then looks straight ahead, seeing Happy flying around and throwing more of them around as well. She aims at him, pulling her arm back once more, and then flinging it forwards, letting go of the paper and seeing it pierce through the air like an eagle. Within a second, it crashes against the wall on the other side of the library from where they were standing. It went as straight as an arrow. Her lips curl up. That was kinda ... "Fun," she says, looking at Natsu. "Can I get one that did the loopy thingy?"

Natsu laughs, and he quickly dashes off to find one that fits her description, swooping it up in his arm and bringing it back to Lucy like a faithful dog. She takes it from his hands and launches it. This one moves a lot slower in the air, but it's actually flying up higher, until it circles around in a loop, and lands on the floor.

"Wow, you're good at these!" she says.

Natsu seems to brim with happiness as she says this. "I had a lot of practice, hehe." He picks up another paper from the floor, an unfolded one with the letter N on it. "Here, I'll make you one that returns to you."

Lucy, curious as to how Natsu has always gone about his paper folding skills, tentatively watches him sit down on the floor. His cheerful expression is momentarily replaced by one that's more serious looking; he's focused. Then his hands get to work, and they move based on muscle memory, Natsu has definitely gotten a lot of practice indeed. He's quick and accurate, his technique, even though Lucy hardly know anything about it, is flawless. She can tell because there are no wasted movements in his fingers, it's like he's done this a thousand times. Within a minute, Natsu's serious expression morphs back into his old goofy one. He smiles up at her and offers the origami to her like some kind of token. "Try it!" he says. "It should return to you like a boomerang."

Lucy takes it from his hand, and smiles at him. He seems to be having a lot more fun than when she was trying to teach him how to read. But hey, she's having a lot more fun as well! And it's all because of these pointless folded papers.

Who is Lucy kidding—the origami she has received over the years had never been pointless to her. They had given her hope and a sense of warmth. And the one she's holding in her hand right now, feels like all the other ones; it was made with care and purpose. It was made for her. She'll treasure them all.

Lucy flings it in the air. It's fast as it glides towards one of the bookcases, but just before it hits a book, it curves to the right, until it's done a complete u-turn, and is rushing back to her. Lucy catches it in her hands with a laugh.

She turns to Natsu, holding it in her hand. "It really did come back!" she gushes. "And you didn't even use any magic at all."

"That's because I'm awesome!" Natsu says, showing her a thumbs up and grinning at her. She can't help but grin back.

Then Lucy gets an idea. "Hey ... what if we do add a little bit of magic?"

Natsu's interest is peaked. "Such as ...?"

Happy finally stops circling around the room and lands on the floor. "What are you two whispering about?" he asks.

Lucy simply puts a finger to her lips and winks at him, leaving the cat confused. She then holds the paper in front of her chest, remember the spell she had used on Happy not too long ago. She properly breathes in to steady herself, then she looks at the paper with focused eyes.

"Limione," Lucy says.

The instant her chant was executed, the paper tears itself out of her hands and flies ahead at full speed like a bird soaring through the sky. Natsu jumps up in the air, letting out a roar.

"Whoa, look at it go!"

"Aye, I've never ever seen it go that fast before! Go, go birdie!"

Lucy's smile grows bigger as she sees it nearing the other end of the wall, but it's not losing speed at all. In fact, it's still going! The paper finally disappears out of their sights when it exits the window. All three of them rush over, worried they had lost the 'birdie' as Happy calls them. Lucy pushes her hands up against the magical barrier—the one preventing her from escaping through the windows—and looks outside. She sees the small white object still flying straight, until it's flying over the tops of the trees, and slowly starts tilting to the right.

"It's coming back!" she says eagerly, turning to Natsu and grinning at him.

Natsu squints his eyes into the distance. "You're right, it is! Wow!"

Happy is the one who catches it mid-air when it flies through the window again. All of them erupt in cheers and ohs and ahs. Lucy is smiling and giggling, and Natsu is throwing his fist in the air. He then throws an arm around her in this state of cheerfulness, pulling her close until she's awkwardly pressed up against him. Lucy can't help but feel happy. This is probably the stupidest thing ever—seriously, who likes throwing around paper birds?—but it's the most fun she's had in years. She's been waiting for this, longing for this, companionship, laughter, touch, she's all wanted it, and Natsu is now here, giving it to her. She doesn't even think twice about it when she throws both her arms around Natsu and hugs him close.

"Thank you," she whispers in his ear, low enough so Happy won't hear.

Natsu places a hand on top of her hand and ruffles up her blonde hair. "You're welcome."

Lucy sees the window over Natsu's shoulder. She sees the trees of the forest, and the blue of the sky. She pulls away from Natsu and looks at the clouds longingly. "It'd be nice if I could fly outside, too," she muses.

Both Natsu and Happy look at each other, understanding what she meant. After all, Lucy is unable to leave the castle.

oOo

"Lucy, you're staring again."

"Huh? Oh sorry, I was just looking at the cherry blossoms. They've just started blooming, so they look really pretty."

Natsu pouts at her. "You're supposed to be giving me attention though!"

"Alright, alright." Lucy holds up a card (using paper around Natsu always seems to turn into origami at one point) with the letter B on it. "What's this one?"

"K!" Natsu declares.

"Wrong!"

"Ugh. But they look so similar ..."

Lucy draws loops around the letter. "The B has closed round edges, see?" She then picks up another card, this time with the letter K on it. "This one is all straight, and there's no closed edges."

"Yeah, yeah, I get it. I just can't seem to remember it ..."

Lucy tilts her head a bit sideways, as she ponders about Natsu's ability to learn. If the past has been any indication to how fast Natsu learns to pick new things up, it'll be quite a while until he'll finally get it. Cooking good food took him four years. Folding really detailed origami took him three years. Yup, this is definitely going to take a while. But it's alright, Lucy doesn't really care. She's happy now that she's spending time with someone, and each day that passes, she feels a lot more cheerful and happy. Their sessions together is pretty much the only thing Lucy's got looking forward to during her day.

Her eyes end up wandering over towards the window again, looking at the bright blue sky and the small pink buds on the trees. Lucy sighs. She wants to go outside.

oOo

A sudden thunderous sound awakens Lucy. She bolts upright from her bed and tries to look in the darkness for whatever that sound was. Is it a storm brewing? Lucy slips out of her bed and tip toes over to her window. It's dark, but she can see the full moon high in the sky, with only a few clouds. It's a clear sky. How odd. Did she imagine the sound? No, she definitely heard something loud alright. Should she call for Natsu to check it out?

Lucy shakes her head; since when has she ever relied on someone other than herself these past few years? She's not about to start now, not when she can easily investigate herself. Yes, there is no need to call for Natsu, that's silly. Perhaps Lucy has become more complacent with him now that they've been spending so much time together. Every day, really. Maybe she's trying to come up with excuses to spend more time with him, and that really doesn't sit well with Lucy.

Then, not a second later, Lucy hears it again. A loud and muffled sound, like something is being dragged across the stone floor. Something heavy. It scares her yet simultaneously excites her; what could it be? It's not like the sound could be anything dangerous as Lucy is still able to breathe, so it's definitely not some idiot knight coming to save her again. Something probably fell over in the hallway—maybe it was Happy who knocked things over. So Lucy claps her hands to turn all the candles on in her room and she pulls on a robe to keep herself warm in the night as she enters the cold hallway. Candles light up one by one as soon as Lucy passes them by, they're quite convenient to have around, those magical candles. She holds in her breathe as she looks around for anything that fell over, but finds nothing out of place.

What could it have been?

Maybe she really should call Natsu ...

"No, that's stupid Lucy, stop relying on him so much," Lucy tells herself. Besides, it's not he could do something that Lucy couldn't. So far, she hasn't actually seen Natsu do anything, aside from folding origami and being bad at reading. All in all, he's been a regular human boy to her, and if he can do anything, so can she. Lucy doesn't need help.

This time a ruffled sound is heard, it's almost like Lucy's hearing the trees of the forest swaying in the wind, but she knows she can't hear anything within these walls. In fact, it seemed to have come from the library ... Lucy pulls her robe together around her body and sneaks her way across the dimly lit hallway. She hears it again; the rustling of leaves. It's getting the louder the closer she gets to the large arched doors of the library. Despite being used to the unusual things in the castle, Lucy's heart is still thumping like mad. The closer she gets to the sound, the quicker it goes. Then as soon as she's near the door, the sound stops.

Lucy has to be honest, she's a little scared here. Alright, she's kind of really freaking out and afraid of what it might be. Is it an animal? A large animal that will eat her? A boogeyman she read about?

Her fingers reach for the large metal handle, but she lingers, stalls long enough to rethink her actions.

Calling Natsu right not doesn't seem like a bad idea anymore.

Ah, who cares! Open those doors, Lucy!

With a forceful push, Lucy barges into the library—subsequently tripping over something on the ground and falls down to her knees, her hoodie falling down over her head so she can't see anything. She immediately tears it off, and stands up straight. The candles in the library burst into flames at the sign of life, illuminating the very big ...

"Ah, it's Lucy!" says Happy.

Both Happy and Natsu are standing in the middle of the room, looking like they've just been caught. But that's not the weird thing about this entire scenario, not even when Natsu desperately tries to blow out the candles, no, the unusual thing that stands out to Lucy, is the giant tree rooted up from the floor, hitting the tall ceiling of the library. Its roots are sprawled across the floor, and there's pink petals scattered around the base. The cherry blossoms gently sway in the wind that's coming from the open window. It's entirely majestic to Lucy, and she's absolutely stunned, at a loss of words. She takes a few tentative steps forwards, making sure not to trip over any of the roots again, her eyes locked onto the pink petals. Her face is glowing with a bright smile, and when she reaches the trunk, she turns her head to Natsu, who's still trying to run across the room to blow out the candle, despite them turning right back on.

He feels her eyes on him, and turns to face her. He sighs loudly and slumps against the wall, looking defeated.

"You weren't supposed to see this until the morning ..." he says.

Lucy spreads out her fingers and her tips touch the bark—she hasn't felt a piece of nature like this in a long, long time. It's organic and real, and the boy and cat in the room with her are also very real. "How, how did you manage to get this in the room?" she asks in complete wonder.

Happy suddenly flies over her head, and seats himself on a low hanging branch to speak to her. "He carried it through the window!"

Lucy's mouth drops open. He carried it!? This entire tree? It was taking up half the library! How in the world did he pull off that trick?

Suddenly Natsu appears next to her, grinning from ear to ear. "So, what do yah think? Cool, right?"

"Yeah ..." Lucy says. "Cool." She giggles at what she's saying. It's still such a shock to her, Lucy can't help but be amazed by Natsu's strength, as well as his ability to be able to give Lucy exactly what she needs. "Why did you ...?" she starts to ask.

"You kept looking at 'em outside, so I figured you'd want to see it up close, or something." Natsu then looks down, sheepishly. "And then maybe you'd stop spacing out so much and ignoring me," he mumbles.

Lucy faces him, her eyebrows lowered. "I do not!" Okay, that's a lie, she has been spacing out a lot and looking outside. "Alright, I might have, a little."

Not like it was her fault; the cherry blossoms this year simply looked beautiful. And now it's in front of her, for real, and Natsu and Happy did it all for her. She can't stop herself from wrapping her arms around the trunk, giving it a weird hug, despite the tree being too big for her arms to close all the way. She presses her cheek up against the hard bark, and smiles. It smells like nature, a scent that calms her down. She slowly pulls away, and sees a fully bloomed petal on her shoulder, which she slides onto her finger. It's so pink and pretty, Lucy would have never thought she'd see it up close like this again. So she giggles and steps over towards Natsu, her outstretched hand holding the petal. She stuffs it behind Natsu's ear, pinning away some of his pink hair. He frowns at her, but then laughs as he pulls one of the flowers from a branch, and does the same thing to her.

Happy starts flying around, throwing petals all around them, like it was magic raining down on them.

Lucy, now completely covered in pink petals, yanks on Happy's tail so she can straddle him in her arms and hug him tight. "Thanks, you guys," she says. "Thank you so much."

oOo

Lucy hums a song to herself as she turns the page of her book. She's having a break underneath the tree, which is giving her shade from the sun that's streaming in from the windows. It hadn't taken her that much effort to use some magic and bind the tree to the stone floor, so it could still grow, provided it had sunlight. So now she has a real life tree in her library, one that is absolutely beautiful.

She still can't figure it out how Natsu managed to get it inside. Not only is it a huge tree, but this is also the second floor. It is unlikely Natsu had uprooted the tree, and simply carried it on his back and jumped through the window—the image alone makes Lucy laugh. But then how else did he get it here? Lucy has a theory Natsu knows some magic. There's no way an ordinary boy could have gotten this tree inside, so obviously he has to know magic. She wonders who taught him, considering he can't even read.

Natsu's been improving though. He can now remember most letters of the alphabet, and can actually write his own name. It had taken a few weeks, and a few lectures coming from Lucy on how to properly write, but he's finally managed to do it. And after Natsu was finally able to write his name, she had gotten an idea.

"Lucy!" Natsu hollers as he crashes through the doors. "I got you the knife!" he says excitedly, holding it in his hands and rushing over towards her like he's going to kill her with it.

"Natsu, careful! Don't fall down and stab me!" Lucy shields her face with the book, afraid Natsu's going to show off his infamous clumsiness.

"I-I wouldn't do that!" Natsu says indignantly, flaring his nostrils at her. He hands her the knife, the handle pointing at her. "Why'd you want it anyway?"

Lucy puts down the book and carefully takes the large knife out of Natsu's hand. Natsu and knives don't really go together, just putting them together in a sentence spells disaster, but to actually have him playing around with some makes Lucy very cautious indeed. She stands up and makes sure Natsu is an adequate distance away from the knife, before she turns around and faces the tree.

"Back at home," Lucy starts, setting the tip of the blade against the bark. "We'd carve our own names into a tree." She scrapes the knife down, creating a vertical clean line in the tree. "And then every year we'd compare how much higher the tree had grown, because our names would be higher." She makes a few more scratches, until the name 'LUCY' is spelled into the tree. She smiles at it satisfactorily, and then turns to Natsu. "Since you didn't know how to write your own name, that means you've never done it before. So I figured ... this could be your first time."

"I see!" Natsu exclaims happily. "I wanna do it, I wanna!" He quickly snatches the knife from Lucy's hands—she immediately splutters in protest and starts to ramble off a lecture about safety and knives—and then quickly starts hammering down the tree trunk with the knife. A bunch of splinters fall away onto the ground, and Lucy is horrified Natsu might cut off his own finger, and she tugs onto his vest to get him to stop.

And right as he pulls away, he shows her the result.

LUCY
NALSU

Lucy giggles, but immediately covers her mouth. She clears her throat and tries not to laugh again. "Natsu, hand it to me again," she says. "Carefully."

Natsu rolls his eyes and drops the knife into her hands. "It's not going to kill you, you know. I work with knives every day! Being the cook and all."

Lucy ignores Natsu, and corrects his mistake, carving a horizontal line on top of his L to turn it into a T. She nods her head at it. "There, fixed."

"Oh ... right. I knew it was written like that. I was just checking to see if you knew how to write my name correctly. Hah. Haha."

Lucy glares at Natsu. "Well anyways, it seems there's still a lot of work left for me to do, so let's continue. Sit," she commands Natsu. He bends down, crosses his legs and end up leaning against the tree, his eyes not focused on her book, but on their names carved into the tree. She carefully stows the knife away in a safe place before returning to her spot again.

"I wonder how long it'll take before it'll grow!" Natsu says.

"A while, Natsu. You probably won't even notice it. Now, let's begin again."

"Fiiiine."

Lucy continues her lessons with Natsu, metaphorically hammering his name into his head, since he still seems to have difficulty with it. At first Lucy thought she was a bad teacher, but it's pretty easy to see that Natsu is just really, really slow at learning. He's nice and sometimes sweet, but the boy's got the intelligence of a cow—Lucy can't possibly know the reason why her father hired him, it couldn't be his wits. Then again, if what Happy said is true, they weren't hired, they are ... slaves. Lucy still doesn't like that thought, but it's been nagging her, eating away at her. There's so many things she wants to ask, but she's afraid Natsu can't answer, or worse, doesn't want to answer. Or perhaps everything they're telling her is a lie, but Lucy won't let herself continue that paranoid line of thinking. She has to find out the truth.

"Natsu ... what was your life like before you came here?" Lucy asks carefully.

Natsu, happy that Lucy stopped drilling him the alphabet, scoots closer to her. "It was awesome!" he exclaims. "I rode around on my dad's back all of the time, and pulled a lot of pranks."

"Your dad?" Lucy inquires.

"Yeah, Igneel. He's the one who gave me this scarf." Natsu points at his belt. Lucy blinks—that wasn't a sash? It was a scarf ...? "Made with his own scales!" Natsu says proudly.

Lucy can't help herself as she touches the fabric in curiosity. She'd expected the silver shiny sash to feel rigid and hard, but it feels like any ordinary fabric. It actually feels like silk as her fingertips slide over the scale pattern. "They don't feel like scales," Lucy says. She feels a bit silly for thinking they're dragon scales. "So your dad was just a regular human like you."

Natsu shakes his head. "He was a fully grown adult dragon! His scales are actually black, but for some reason, they turned silver when he made this scarf for me ... not quite sure why."

Maybe that's because his father wasn't really a dragon. Lucy keeps her lips shut, if Natsu wants to believe his dragon fairy tale, then he can keep living in his delusion. What she really wants to know though, is what his life was as a slave.

"But uhm, how did my father find you?" Lucy asks.

Natsu folds his arms, squeezing his eyes shut as he thinks deeply. "He didn't," he says. "Some lady did. She was real nice, you know. Had blonde hair just like you. She took me to the castle. That's when I met Happy, too."

"Oh? I thought Happy mentioned you two have been together all your life."

Natsu smiles at her. "For him, yeah! I met him when he was just a wee little egg. He hatched after I heated it with my fire for a while. Actually, at first I thought it would just make a very yummy meal ... but don't tell Happy that!"

Lucy suddenly has this image of Natsu in her head as a mother hen, sitting on top of her eggs and brooding them. And that he tried to make lunch out of Happy afterwards. It's a ridiculous image, and she chortles at it. Natsu glares at her, sticking his nose up in pride.

"Please don't tell me you tried to eat Happy ..." Lucy says, amused.

"I didn't!" Natsu says. "Well I mean, he wasn't a chicken, so of course I didn't eat him."

"So you would have if he were a chicken? Oh this is good, I'll have to tell him that." Lucy waves at the door. "Oh look, there he is!" she lies.

Natsu immediately pushes her up against the tree and covers his mouth with his hand. "Shh! Don't tell him! Not a word!"

Lucy laughs this time, the sound being subdued by Natsu's warm hand. That boy is always so damn warm—do all boys have a naturally higher body temperature than girls? She eventually bites his thumb, to which Natsu shrieks and pulls away, looking at Lucy with accusing eyes. Lucy shrugs, but then smirks at him. Natsu can be such a childish idiot sometimes, but Lucy has to admit it definitely cheers up her boring days.

Perhaps one day she'll get the full story of Natsu's past.

oOo

"You're doing great!" Lucy cheers Happy on.

The blue cat is hovering mid-air in front of the cherry blossom tree, his nails clawing away at the trunk, right below Lucy's and Natsu's name. Natsu has taught Happy how to write his own name when they were spending time together on the first floor. Lucy has absolutely no idea how Natsu managed to do this, but Happy has indeed learned how to spell 'Happy'. Lucy will have to remind herself to compliment Natsu as well for his progress in reading and writing. Finally, after about five minutes, Happy lowers himself down and proudly struts around to show off his work.

It looks like chicken scratch.

This makes Lucy remember that Happy came from an egg, and that Natsu did all the brooding. She promptly bursts out into laughter.

"I think she's gone mad," says Happy. "We can still make a run for it, she'll never know."

"Maybe the food's gone bad or something," says Natsu, looking strangely at Lucy's random behavior.

"Stop it you guys! I'm fine," Lucy says after she's finally stopped thinking of the chick and the mother hen. The image is just too funny though, it's hard not to chuckle when thinking about it. She turns to Happy and pats him on the head. "You did a good job little boy."

"Hey, I'm not little!" Happy protests.

"Hey, why don't I get pet by Lucy!" Natsu protests as well.

Then Lucy stands up straight and pats Natsu on his head. "You did a good job as well." Natsu smiles happily at being treated like a dog. She'll never understand his simplistic personality. "I'm very impressed by the both of you," Lucy says. Even if Happy's handwriting isn't legible, and it doesn't really look like much of anything, she's still proud of their effort. It's taken several weeks, but it's definitely progress.

Lucy looks at their names; Lucy, Natsu and Happy, all right below each other, though Happy was written down further, leaving a small gap between their names. Suddenly, she's overwhelmed by the feeling of belonging and acceptance. It's almost like ... they're a family. She misses her dad so much, but having these two with her, takes off a load from her shoulders. She doesn't feel alone anymore, and each day is actually getting more and more fun. Lucy wishes that she'd met them sooner, that she wouldn't have had to spend six years all by her lonesome, while they lurked in the shadows.

Now, she isn't alone anymore. She's got an idiot and a cat to keep her company, and right now, to Lucy, that is the best thing in the world. She hugs them both very tightly, prompting another remark by Happy that there's definitely something wrong with her food.

oOo

"A ... nd he valcut."

"Walked."

"And he walked ... to da ... w-w ..."

"And he walked to the well."

"Well!"

Lucy's eyes dart over towards Natsu, whose face is right next to her, as they're both reading from the same book, all huddled together. "You're doing really good!" she compliments him.

"Lucy, what's a well?" Natsu asks, completely serious.

"Huh, you don't know? It's a, uhm, it's this water source that's underground, and people dig holes to them to get the water out, and they call them a well."

"Oooh, I see! We've had those where I came from too!"

"What did you call them over there?"

"Holes!"

Lucy laughs. She can see how Natsu grew up to be so simplistic; his entire environment had been catering to simple things.

After their lesson for today is done, and Natsu has left the library, Lucy notices something about her tree. In fact, she's amazed she hadn't seen it sooner; someone had carved a new addition in the tree. It was the shape of a heart, surrounding Lucy's own name and Natsu's name. Lucy narrows her eyes at it; Happy definitely pulled off this prank. She'll have to scold him for it later—it's not like she can erase this. This is permanent, and that embarrasses her more than it should.

She really needs to stop reading fairy tales, it's messing with her mind.

oOo

"I didn't do it," Happy lies. Lucy can tell he's lying because one, Natsu doesn't even know what a heart is after she confronted him, and two, Happy always looks down at his feet whenever he's lying. "Maybe the tree fairies did it."

"Tree fairies don't exist," says Lucy.

"But you believe dragons do!? What a hypocrite."

Lucy's cheeks flash with pink. "I-I'm not going to be lectured by a blue cat! Now apologize for vandalizing that tree. It didn't deserve that."

"But doesn't it look prettier that way?" Happy says. "It means you love each other!"

This time Lucy's cheeks turn red, and stays red for a long time. "I-I don't! Happy, you can't just suddenly say that! That's inappropriate."

Happy wobbles on his feet. "But it's like ... like we're a big family. You're like the mother."

Lucy blinks at him and is a bit taken aback. "... And what, Natsu is the father?"

"Yeah!" Happy's tail sways excitedly. "I've never had a family before ..."

Lucy heart sinks at Happy's words. She can't possibly stay mad at him when he says it like this, because Lucy hasn't had a family in years either, and Happy hasn't ever had one. He was born and raised with Natsu only. So Lucy sinks down to her knees and gently pats him on the head.

"Alright, it can stay."

oOo

Things had almost gotten into a routine. It's been three months since that fateful encounter due to a mishap with the dumbwaiter, and Lucy's been spending each day with Natsu and Happy. Some things didn't change—Lucy would still get meals three times a day (she'd see Natsu politely excuse himself as he went to prepare it, then came right back up and ate the meal with her), and she'd still get some origami. She had gotten into the habit of making requests that Natsu could make for her. It had started when he'd personally asked her if she'd wanted anything in particular, and now she's been making requests on her own volition. Her collection has been growing, its latest entry a copy of the cherry blossom tree in the library, whose pink petals had finally disappeared and turned into wonderful lush green leaves.

Natsu's progress in learning how to read and write has gotten tremendously better. He has finally learned all the letters of the alphabet (Lucy is glad to have that over with), and is now able to read all three letter words he comes across. Bigger words still pose a problem, but at least he remembers his own name now. When Natsu and Happy aren't on the second floor, Natsu tells Happy what he learned from Lucy, and in turn, teaches him a bit how to read and write as well.

Lucy had offered to teach him as well, but the cat said he liked it more when Natsu did it, and didn't think she'd be a good teacher anyway.

Needless to say, Happy had to spend all day to wash the pink dye from his fur that Lucy conjured.

When Lucy isn't busy entertaining Happy, or teaching Natsu, she's practicing her magic. Somehow, with Natsu around, she feels more energized to work harder. If he can learn how to read, she can learn to be better at magic. Lately she's been interested in barrier magic—like the one that's cast on the second floor, keeping her trapped. These spells take a while to write, but they can be very specific. Lucy wagers that this castle has a spell that disallows her—and only her—to never stray outside of the barrier. Everyone else is free to come and go.

At first Lucy wonders why they couldn't have done a barrier for the entire castle, and prevented people from coming in, when she realized this wasn't actually possible. Barriers work on specific conditions (i.e. don't let people with blond hair leave), and they don't work as an actual barrier ... but more like a cage. Once inside, the barrier can never let you leave, but it can't prevent people from getting in.

The section about breaking one of these barrier spells was long and technical—Lucy doesn't even need to finish reading it to know it's way too advanced for her. She could never hope to break her own barrier to go outside. Only the original magician could take it down, or someone who's highly advanced in magic.

Someone like her mother perhaps.

Lucy shakes her head; she shouldn't be thinking of her mother. She's not here anymore, and never will be again. Instead, Lucy should think positive, and that she might get to see her dad sometime in the future.

Lucy had tried to pry out more information out of Natsu, about her father, the state of affairs, if anyone's gotten close to cracking her curse, but Natsu doesn't know much more than her. They hadn't told him many details about how it happened—simply told him there's a princess who couldn't be around humans, and that he needed to protect her. Afterwards, he's only had contact with someone from the castle twice in all these years. They were letters that Happy picked up at the nearest town.

Except Natsu and Happy couldn't read, so they threw it away.

Lucy had wanted to slap the both of them when she heard this, but Natsu says the last letter was three years ago, and they couldn't possibly get it back now. But she couldn't stop thinking about it; what if they were letters from her father to her? What if they found a cure for her curse!? Happy managed to calm her down after he said that if someone did find a cure, they'd be coming over with trumpets blaring and all—they wouldn't send a letter. Lucy concurred; that does seem plausible.

Doesn't make her fret over it any less though, she's super curious about what it said.

So other than the occasional prank by Happy (he still likes to move things around when he's invisible) or Natsu (who thinks fart jokes are the greatest thing in the world), this was pretty much Lucy's new life. She's grown accustomed to it, rising early in the morning, and going to bed late at night.

The one thing that seems a bit off to her, is the lack of knights trying to 'save' her again. She hasn't seen one in forever, not since that day three months ago. Lucy doesn't think too much about it; it's better they leave her alone, but it does make her wary when she hasn't seen anyone in a while. It makes her think they're plotting something. The knights so far had all been rather ... of low intelligence. Kind of like Natsu, actually. If a smart one happened to come along, Lucy might actually be in trouble, because who would fight them off? Natsu isn't smart enough, and while he does seem to be in the possession of brute strength, this wouldn't matter much in a planned ambush.

And it's not like she believes the dragon to be real anymore. Lucy has finally given up on the idea that there's a dragon living in her castle. Gone are her fantasies of a green scaled dragon patrolling the first floor and blasting knights away. She'd let her imagination gone wild, she projected her wishes and desires on something that didn't even exist. She so badly wanted to be protected by a dragon, but he was never real in the first place. All of the things she attributed to the dragon, were done by either Natsu or Happy.

Not that she believes Natsu is a 'dragon'. After spending these three months with him, she's more than convinced he isn't. He seems to have an active imagination, that's all. It's not like Lucy stayed sane all these years either, she can imagine that Natsu started to conjure up fantasies about his own life to get through the day, because reality just wasn't worth facing. No, Natsu isn't some dragon, he's just a boy. A boy immune to her curse. Or perhaps it's the other way around, perhaps Lucy is immune to Natsu.

However, even if she's convinced Natsu is a regular boy, this still doesn't explain the flames that she saw.

Lucy chalks it up to them being illusions, or perhaps even delusions.

"Lucy!"

Lucy snaps out of her thoughts and looks up from her book. She'd been spacing out a bit, and hadn't noticed that Natsu had come into the library for another session.

"You didn't eat lunch, not hungry?" Natsu asks as he sits down next to her. Happy comes flying in right behind them, and ends up sitting on top of a very large bookcase, folding 'birdies' as Natsu dubs them, and throwing them down. Lucy will have to tell him to clean up after himself later.

"Yeah uhm, I was just thinking. Sorry. Didn't notice the time."

"Haha, you airhead!"

Lucy pouts at him; doesn't Natsu realize half the things he says are actually insults? But he says it with such a happy face ... "Anyways, I'll eat dinner later. Let's start where we left off yesterday."

"Lucy, open the windows please! I wanna throw out the birdies," Happy asks. He's still happily perched on the bookcase, apparently excited about testing out how far his paper birdies will fly.

"Alright, but you can only throw out one!" Lucy warns him. She doesn't want him littering the place.

Happy sighs. "Fine. Just one. Open it, open it!"

Lucy rolls her eyes, but quickly commands the window behind her to open. The sudden breeze accompanying it turns the pages of her book, causing Natsu to suddenly read an entirely different sentence, and he doesn't even notice. No matter what Lucy may think of his intelligence, Lucy's got to hand it to him; he's got quite the concentration. He seems to put every ounce of concentration he's got in his reading, forgetting everything else around him. But then suddenly, he raises his head and stares at Lucy. Lucy looks back at him, wondering what he's doing. Then he sniffs her hair.

"W-what are you doing!?" Lucy asks bewildered.

"You smell different," says Natsu. He's got a complete serious look on his face. "Kinda like a flower."

"Oh ..." Lucy shyly brushes her blonde hair behind her ear. "I found a spell that scents my shampoo with lavender ... that's probably what you're smelling." She's amazed Natsu noticed it! And kind of happy, too.

"It stinks!" Scratch that about being happy.

"Well I didn't ask for your opinion!" Lucy barks at him. "Not like I wanted to smell nice or something. Especially not for you." Right as she says that, a paper flies right above Lucy's head, which pisses her off even more, and she gives Happy the death glare.

"No I mean, it makes it hard to smell you," says Natsu. He leans in closer again, this time taking a lock of her hair and pressing it up to his nose. That's gross!

"Stop that!" Lucy hastily yanks her hair out of his hand and reminds herself never to use lavender scented shampoo again. It makes Natsu turn even weirder than normal.

"Yeah, definitely stinks." Natsu nods his head, and Lucy glares at him. "You definitely smell better than some flower." Aaand Lucy is somehow undeniably happy again, her flushed cheeks betraying her feelings. Wait, she smells better? What does that even mean? "Don't use it again, I use scents to know where you are, you know. If I can't smell you, I can't find you."

"W-what kind of logic is that? And that's creepy that you smell me to find out where I am! Are you some kind of dog!?" Lucy asks. She feels weird with how close Natsu still is, and how he's still sort of sniffing the air around her, and he had just outright said that she smells better than a flower. It's just weird. Lucy doesn't know how to handle boys ... especially weird odd boys with pink hair. He definitely doesn't understand the concept of personal space.

"Dra-gon. I'm a dragon!" says Natsu exasperatedly. "Dragons got really good noses!"

"No, no, a dog makes much more sense. I mean, anyone who thinks it's a great idea to bash their head open against a rock can't be anything else other than a dog."

"T-that happened once! And you weren't even there!" This time it's Natsu whose cheeks match the colour of his hair. "Anyway, I'm no stupid dog—I'm a dragon! Dragon! Arr!" He throws his hands up in the air, like they're claws and he's preying on her. "Grr, I'm an awesome dragon feared by all!"

"Whatever makes you sleep at night, doggy boy." Lucy sticks her tongue out at him. She enjoys getting back at him whenever she can, considering the many times he's insulted her, or embarrassed her, or pulled his stupid pranks on her. Yup, payback time.

"Seriously, how many times do I have to te—"

Natsu's voice is cut off as something pierces through the open window at lightning speed, and the force of it causing Lucy to fall off the couch. Suddenly, her throat starts to close up, and she can barely register what happened. But then she sees it; a large metal claw hooked around the base of her tree, with a rope attached to it that lead right outside of the window.

"No, our names!" Lucy says. She sees that the metal claw had dug itself into the bark, right where all of their names where. It had destroyed it. And the sight of that alone, hurts more than her burning throat. She starts to cough this time, as the familiar sense of her breath being taken away from her takes over her once more.

"Happy, take her out of here!" Natsu commands as he stands in the window frame, looking down.

"Aye!" Happy says, and he flies down towards the ground and scoops Lucy up, then carries her out of the library.

The last thing she sees, is Natsu jumping down from the window.

"No!" she cries out. "Natsu! H-he—cough—jumped! No, turn back Happy, we have to see if he's okay!" The further away they are from the library, the better Lucy can breathe again.

Whoever was there, they mustn't be that close to the castle, but they had definitely managed to sneak up on them. Regardless—Lucy had to go back and see if Natsu was okay! No way could he have gotten away unscratched from a fall of that height. There's fear instilled in the bottom of her stomach, and it's not her own life she's fearing, it's Natsu's. His stupidity could get him killed!

Finally Happy puts Lucy down now that they're on the other side of the castle. "Lucy, wait here, don't go anywhere! I'll be right back, Natsu needs me!" And with that, the little cat flies away again.

Like hell will she wait right there! Screw being a good princess and listening to commands when the boy whom was the closest thing she had to a family right now had just jumped out of a two-floor high castle.

Lucy gives chase; running after Happy who didn't seem to notice she was following him. Unfortunately, Happy is much faster than her (damn those wings!), so Lucy trails behind. It's actually quite a huge walk from one end of the castle to the other end, so it takes her a bit before she's nearing the library again. She can feel her throat start to tingle the closer she gets, until it's burning and choking her up. No, she has to prevail, she has to see if Natsu was alright! She runs through the open doors, and promptly drops down to her knees from both shock, and the tight hold on her throat.

She gasps for air, but this time she seriously cannot breathe anymore, because there's a human not even five foot away from her. There's two knights in her library, swords drawn and armour clad, they were dancing around the tree, cowering away from ...

Natsu.

Lucy doesn't know whether these are illusions, or she's delusional from the lack of oxygen, but there he is, standing, no—perched atop of the bookcase Happy was sitting on earlier like he's some kind of dangerous animal, and he's covered in fire. And scales. And fire. Fire everywhere. He's a literal walking ball of fire. His skin is completely replaced with shiny scales that glow up orange and yellow and then back to a deep red, ever changing their colours. Even his hair seems to be changing colours. She sees ashes fall down from him, and they float up in the air, burning like little magical wisps. His clothes remain untouched, but they glow red from the fire.

Lucy continues to gape for air, her entire world spinning for her. It's so damn painful, and she can't even manage to utter a word.

Natsu finally notices Lucy, and she sees his cat-like amber eyes stare at her in shock. He then pounces down onto one of the knights with ease, grabbing the man by his shoulders and flinging him out of the window with enormous strength. The second knight swings his sword at Natsu, but he punches it away without a flinch. He raises his fist, which is covered in a huge flame, and slams it into the knight's helmet. The knight goes flying through the wall, breaking it into pieces. Natsu jumps right after him, with Happy following.

That's how they all left Lucy alone in the library. But she could breathe again—the knights were far enough to take in a small amount of oxygen. Enough to keep herself from losing consciousness. She manages to pick herself up again, and stagger over towards the window to see what's going on. Finally pressed up against the barrier, Lucy looks down.

One of the knights seemed to be unconscious, and Happy had taken him by his shoulder and tries to carry him away, but the armour is too heavy for the poor cat, so he ends up dragging him.

The other knight is limping, but he's upright, and he's pointing his sword at Natsu.

Natsu ...

Lucy can't take her eyes off of him. His scales shine and reflect light everywhere, his hair is swaying upright from the heatwaves that his flames create, and Lucy sees just how much stronger he is like this. He then starts to spew fire from his mouth. It's a huge tidal wave of flames—exactly like the one she had seen several years ago. But she'd never seen this before. Natsu creating those flames, Natsu fighting those knights, Natsu moving around with the agility of a cat, and having the strength of an ox. This is not the pink haired boy she came to know anymore.

Natsu manages to land one direct hit on the knight's chest, and sends him into the sky, flying across the dense forest with a speed much greater than her spell Limione could ever achieve. She sees Happy return, and he flies right back up towards the window. Natsu grabs a hold of the rope that's tied to a tree from the forest, with the other end being tied around her tree, and sets it on fire. Within seconds, the entire rope has burned to ashes, and the metal claw falls to the ground as well. Happy enters the library again, not saying a word, but it's not like Lucy can manage to say anything herself either.

Natsu is still down there, fire blazing around him, though it seems to be slowly disappearing. He braces himself against the ground, spreading his legs, and then launches himself upwards like a cat, shooting up high in the sky with a single jump. He easily reaches the second floor, and climbs in through the window. He holds onto the damaged post, but the fire on his skin doesn't burn the wood at all. He looks at Lucy, and she doesn't recognize those amber eyes at all. The flames finally subdue, and slowly, one by one, his shiny red scales starts peeling away from him, revealing his normal skin as they fall onto the ground and disappear into tiny flames. His amber eyes turn back to his emerald coloured ones, and the slit-shaped pupils morph into circles. His pink hair falls back into his eyes where it belongs. He blinks at her, and she blinks back. He doesn't have a single scratch on his body. Not a one.

Finally all of his scales have peeled away, and there's not a trace of them to be found anymore. There's not a trace of anything at all, like it never happened.

Natsu holds his hand out to her. "Are you okay?" he asks. He's back to normal again. He's back to being the pink haired boy.

But now, Lucy knows.

That Natsu has always been her dragon guardian.