Hello! I have a new chapter for Redemption! I love all of you who reviewed, followed and favorite this story! I would have updated sooner but I got slapped with a paper in the first week of school after break! So that kinda delayed the creative process. But it's here now so please enjoy it!

The First of Many Days

"Listen up guys! There's a reporter coming today to watch us practice. She's doing a story about the regular life of famous athletes. I agreed to be the subject of the story but there are a few things you should know." Natsu was standing in front of the stadium with the other members of his team surrounding him. The Magnolia Dragons were less of a team and more of a family. That was one of the reasons they played so well. Each of them knew the others so well and could tell what Natsu was going to do just seconds before he did it. Jet, the wide receiver, knew when to go long or stay a bit closer. Gajeel, a tight end, knew where Natsu was at all times and was better able to protect him. Gray, another receiver, barely even had to look when Natsu threw the ball. He just knew where it was going to be and was able to catch it almost every time. Their closeness was no coincidence. The team did not use to get along. Natsu had been the unifying force behind them and he also kept them together, though he did get into fights with teammates all the time. So when Natsu had called this early meeting, nobody complained about having to get up earlier. He wouldn't do this without a good reason and they trusted him.

The coaches were also there and so were some of the cheerleaders, well, those that were dating or married to a member of the team or staff. "Her name is Lucy Heartfilia and she has a kid. I think she had some kind of messed up marriage or something but whatever it is she has to bring the kid with her for this week." Mirajane, the head cheerleader and also Laxus' wife (the defense coach), jumped up and down in excitement. "Oh my gosh a kid? How old? Is it a boy or girl?" she asked, grinning from ear to ear. The men all shook their heads. Mirajane loved kids and romance. "Yes. Three. And she's a girl." Natsu answered calmly. Mirajane squealed as did several other females present. "There's just one thing. The girl, her name is Emily, is afraid of men. Something to do with the marriage I think." Natsu added.

Gray spoke up sardonically, "Dude where did you meet this reporter chick?" Some of the others snickered and Natsu frowned at the man who was his best frienemy. "On my evening jog! She was in the park with the kid and needed to figure out a cool story for the paper. I suggested profiling an athlete and she liked it. Now, you guys have to be really nice to the kid because she sure does have a set of lungs and can deafen you for years." He replied. Suddenly there was a dark aura coming from the girls' corner of the group. Natsu flinched when he became aware of it. "W-what?" he asked timidly. A red head named Erza stepped towards Natsu threateningly. "Did you scare the girl Natsu?" she asked. Natsu blanched. "She started screaming when she noticed me near Lucy that's all! Lucy said she does that to all men that get close to her or her mom!" he said, waving his hands in front of his face. Jellal, another member of the team, stepped forward and put his hand on her shoulder. Erza calmed down and stepped back.

At that moment, Mirajane gasped and pointed saying, "Is that her Natsu?" Natsu turned around to see Lucy walking towards him. She didn't have Emily with her which was the first thing he asked about when she got close enough. "She's in the car. I just wanted to make sure you'd warned the team about her… disposition. It looks like you have though. I'll go and get her but if she doesn't want to do this then I'm out too." Lucy warned. Natsu nodded, knowing he couldn't argue with her. Lucy returned a few moments later with Emily in her arms. Setting Emily down, Lucy knelt and said, "Emi these are the people I was showing you earlier. I promise none of them will hurt you ok? Emi do you trust mommy?" The little girl was shaking a bit and clearly trying as hard as her three year old self could not to cry. She nodded at her mother's question.

Natsu joined Lucy at Emi's level. "Hey Emi, remember me?" he asked, poking her tummy gently. This brought a tiny smile to her face as she said, "Nice man." This made Natsu grin and he nodded. A couple of tears slid down Emi's face and Lucy grew worried. "Emi scared." Emi said softly. The women melted into little puddles of cuteness at those words even though they were also heartbreaking. Natsu held out his arms and to Lucy's amazement, Emi walked into them. She then realized that Natsu was the perfect hiding place for her little girl since he was so much bigger than she was. "Emi you don't have to be scared. These guys might look big and scary but they're really huge teddy bears underneath all that." Natsu said. He tried hard not to laugh at the expressions on his team's faces hearing themselves be described as teddy bears.

Natsu stood with Emi in his arms and turned to face the team. "Alright guys, I think we should just run some drills and maybe later you can meet Emi when she's more comfortable with it. Is that alright with you Lucy?" he asked. Lucy nodded, a relieved expression on her face. This many men all at once was sure to overwhelm her daughter. Mirajane approached them and Emi fisted her hands in Natsu's gray V-neck. "Me and the girls can watch her while you work Lucy." She offered. Lucy shook her head and Mirajane looked deflated. "She isn't comfortable with people she doesn't know." Lucy explained. Emily reached her arms out for her mother and Natsu handed her over and followed his team. Lucy looked at Mirajane's sad face and said, "You know, maybe on a break you could come and say hi. I can't promise anything but the more Emi sees that you are a nice person, the more comfortable she will be around you." Mirajane brightened at this and nodded. "I'm Mirajane by the way. You can call me Mira." She said. Lucy nodded and went to join Natsu who was waiting for her at the door.

As they walked through the tunnel and toward the field Lucy asked, "How long do these things usually last?" Natsu grinned and said, "Usually all day. We all love the game so we practice for half of the day and then the rest of it we spend in the screening room going over plays and talking over strategy." Lucy was surprised at the dedication but nodded. "Alright. Well I'll see what I can do with Emi here and all." She said. They reached the field and Natsu showed Lucy where she could sit to take notes. Emi sat on her mother's lap playing games on her tablet and drawing pictures.

About two hours later, Mira approached her and said, "Those are nice pictures Emi." Emi's eyes widened. She hadn't seen Mira coming and the woman took her by surprise. But this woman had a gentle smile on her face like Mommy did so Emi shyly smiled back. Mirajane sat in the seat next to Emi and watched the girl draw. Lucy nodded and indicated that Mirajane try to talk to her daughter. "Say Emi? Do you think I could have a crayon to draw with you?" Mira asked. Emi looked up to her mother who smiled down at her daughter and nodded. Emi looked at her crayon box and gave Mira a pink one.

Mira had been drawing for about twenty minutes before she earned a blue crayon and it was only a matter of time before she accumulated a share in the crayon box. Then about an hour into their drawing, Emi began babbling to Mira about the pictures and which colors she should use. Mirajane was delighted in her progress with the young girl. Then she was made ecstatic when the little girl hopped off of her mother's lap to climb up onto Mira's. Lucy grinned at the woman beside her and motioned to the other women. Emi wasn't as afraid of women as she was of men. Women hadn't done anything to her she just was afraid of strangers. To her, if Mirajane was ok, then so were the other women that were with her that morning. The others came and soon a massive coloring project was started. Lucy was relieved because with the project she could pay better attention to what was happening on the field. She took some notes for the first part of her article and then sat to watch.

The team took a break a short time later and Natsu jogged up to where they were seated. "So how was that?" he asked. The grin on his face was contagious and Lucy began to smile as well. She could see how much Natsu loved playing the game and being outside. "You guys look great. It looks like you're going to have another great season." She said. "Do you follow us?" Natsu suddenly asked. Lucy laughed. "Of course I do! You guys are the saviors of Magnolia and a darn good football team. Why wouldn't I follow you?" Natsu smiled then noticed the epic coloring project. "She looks happy again." He said. Lucy followed his gaze and he watched as her eyes softened as she looked at her daughter. "She just needs time. She is a really sweet girl once she lets you in. I know she can seem like a brat when she pushes people away but it's really my fault. If I had done things differently…" she trailed off and her eyes gained a new emotion: pain. Natsu didn't like seeing that look in her eyes. He sat down at her feet and leaned against the bench. "Hey." He said softly so only she could hear him. "She's going to be fine Luce. And it isn't your fault. People make mistakes. All we can do is make sure we learn from them and try to fix them."

Lucy looked down at the pink head near her left knee. Who knew he had such good advice. He tilted his head to look up at her. Onyx eyes met brown and Lucy felt heat rise to her cheeks. Why am I blushing?! Lucy shook herself to clear her foggy mind and began fiddling with her tablet. Natsu touched her leg to gain her attention again. "Do you think she would be ok meeting one of the other guys?" he asked her. Lucy looked over at her daughter who was surrounded by the women. "Emi?" she called. Her daughter's head snapped in her mother's direction and she jumped off of Mira's lap and came, somewhat unsteadily, over to her mother. She came close but was moving too fast and tripped over her own little shoes. The way she was falling, she would hit her head on the bench. Natsu was faster and closer to the toddler than Lucy and he caught her before she could hit the bench and swung her high in the air before landing her on his lap. "Whoa there pretty girl! Mommy just wanted to see if you wanted to meet one of my friends. You don't have to if you don't want to." He said. Emi was giggling at her short flight and the nickname he had called her but stopped when a new person was mentioned.

Lucy looked down at her little daughter's face. The girl was nervous but still wanted to please her mother and so was quite conflicted. "It's ok if you don't want to Emi. Mommy wants you to be the one to say yes or no." she said. Emi looked at her mother and at Natsu and at the other women. All of them were nice people. She wriggled closer to Natsu's chest which momentarily startled him but he did what she wanted which was to put his arm around her to secure her to his chest. She looked up at him and said, "Nice man friend?" Natsu nodded. Emi considered this for a moment before she said, "Ok. Emi will do it. Nice man has to stay!" she demanded, the scared look coming back into her eyes. Lucy sighed in relief at her daughter's consent. She knew Emi was trying for her even if she was very scared and she hated distressing her daughter.

Natsu motioned to Gray Fullbuster who came over. "What's up Natsu?" Gray asked. "Sit down Gray. You are going to scare her." Natsu replied. Gray seemed to just notice the little brunette sitting in Natsu's lap. He seemed a bit nervous as if he didn't know how to react to the little girl. Sitting down, Gray looked at the girl who was peeking one eye out at him from her hiding place. Lucy said, "Gray this is my daughter Emily. She likes being called Emi. Emi this is Gray Fullbuster. Do you remember the picture I showed you this morning?" she asked gently. Emi's face came into Gray's full view as she looked at him. "No shirt man!" she cried eventually.

Natsu burst into gales and gales of laughter at her pronouncement. Gray flushed with embarrassment before he joined in the laughter. After all, he knew when a fair point was made and he had been photographed more times without his shirt than with one. Lucy had also flushed but couldn't help laughing along. "I tried to find her a picture online with a shirt but you just don't have one!" she said in her own defense. Even Emi was laughing once she saw her mother laughing. Lucy didn't laugh very often these days and whenever she did Emi knew that whatever made her laugh was a good thing. The night before, Natsu had made her mother laugh and now this new person was making her laugh again.

Natsu finally stopped laughing and caught his breath. Looking down at Emi's smiling face he said, "I like you Emi!" Emi grinned and Natsu was surprised at how like her mother she was when she smiled. "Emi likes nice man too!" she said. Lucy's breath caught at Emi's words. Emi hadn't said that about a guy since the early stages of her marriage.

The rest of the afternoon went by inside the screening room. Emi was sleeping on the lap of "Auntie Mia" when Natsu decided to wrap things up. Lucy had had a great time with the team. She had made some friends. The guys on the team were very kind and for the most part they were good with her daughter. Emi had met just about all of them and while she was still nervous around most of them, she seemed to like Natsu, Gray and Jellal. Natsu was good with her while Gray was actually pretty good at calming her down when she became overwhelmed. Jellal was quiet and gentle with her and with his girlfriend Erza there to oversee the three of them, Lucy knew Emi was in good hands when she was with them. Meanwhile, Levy, Mira, Juvia, and Erza were Emi's new adopted aunts who doted on her and made it possible for little Emi to become more comfortable around all the men. Lucy felt that the team might just be able to help Emi heal from her own traumatic experience with Lucy's marriage.

It was about five o'clock and Emi had woken up a few hours ago to play. It was, however, time for everyone to go back to their homes. Lucy was gathering all of her things while the other women said goodbye to Emi. Emi got lots of hugs and kisses from all her new aunts and promises of fun for the next day. Lucy had just finished packing up when she realized she and Natsu were the only people left. Most of the others had dates to get ready for and had said goodbye earlier. Emi had some energy from her nap and she was currently being chased by Natsu who threatened tickling if he caught her. She saw her mother and darted behind Lucy's legs to hide, peeking out with a big grin on her face as she thought she won the game. Natsu, however, had a different plan and darted around Lucy faking Emi out while he came back around to scoop her up in his arms and swing her around. Emi laughed and laughed but it was clear that the rough housing had worn her out and she laid her head on Natsu's shoulder when he brought her down to his chest. She was asleep in minutes.

"You're good with her." Lucy said from behind him. "Well I like her mother so I figure getting to know her kid was a good idea." He said, shocking both her and himself. But it was true. Even after an evening and a day he knew there was something special about her and he wasn't likely to find that again. He'd thought once that he had had something but it turned out that the feelings were one sided. He'd been hurt but meeting Lucy, who also had a rough background with relationships (or so it appeared), he felt like something was different. He knew if he let her slip through his fingers he would regret it for the rest of his life. "Y-you what? You can't know that after only one day!" Lucy protested. Natsu turned to face her and something in his eyes both scared and exhilarated her. "I don't know what it is about you Lucy but there is something special… I know you don't fully trust me yet but I'm going to work hard to earn that Lucy. I don't know what happened to you in your last relationship but I am not like that and I'm going to prove it." He said seriously.

Lucy was stunned. She couldn't honestly say she wasn't attracted to Natsu. He had been nothing short of a gentleman and he treated her daughter like a princess. But her last relationship was supposed to last forever and it had all gone horribly wrong. She wasn't sure she was ready to trust her heart to another man just yet. Natsu could see the conflicted look on her face and he took a step towards her, placing a warm hand on her arm. "You don't have to say anything Lucy. I just wanted you to know where I stand with this. I'll get it if you don't want to continue the article." He said softly.

Lucy came out of her stupor with those words. He was willing to let her walk away if she didn't want him. But the problem was she wasn't sure she wanted to let him go. A part of her was saying she would regret it if she let him go this easily. But another part of her told her to keep him at arm's length and protect herself. "Hey, hey Lucy. You really don't have to say anything!" he said when he saw her face grow more conflicted. Her eyes watered as she looked up at him. "But I want to. I really, really want to Natsu. I just… I'm so… so scared." Lucy whispered, hanging her head in shame.

Natsu found himself again wondering who the bastard was that hurt her. Right now though, that wasn't important. Lucy was hurting and needed someone to help her through her pain. Natsu took another step toward her and wrapped his arm around her. Her response was immediate. She tensed up but Natsu refused to give in. He rubbed small circles on her back and pulled her closer to him. After a moment she relaxed and he felt her tears come. She cried quietly into his chest and her thin arms came around his torso for support. Emi, luckily, slept through it all against Natsu's warm shoulder.

Lucy finally calmed and said, "I don't want to leave. I want to write this article and I want it to be about you. And I want to find a man who will love me for me, unconditionally. I want my baby to have a good father but I'm afraid of getting hurt again. So if I agree to explore this… thing we might have, you have to understand that I want to take it slow. Really slow." She did not look at him for fear of seeing rejection and regret in his eyes. "Ok Luce. We can go as fast or as slow as you want." Natsu said quietly. Lucy looked back up at him and saw the serious look on his face. He was telling the truth. She took a deep breath, "Alright." She said. Natsu smiled at her and grabbed her hand. "Come on, I'll walk you to your car." He said.

So? What did you think? I bet nobody expected Natsu to confess in the second chapter! Haha! Well remember that this story is entitled "Redemption." Let me know who you think needs redeeming and why! In other words... leave me a review! And please look forward to the next chapter!

CC22