A/N: I am wondering if I cut the length of chapters in half... I could get more chapters published than to aim for 4000+ words per chapter. Still, I somehow find it unable to convey everything I want to say in half of the chapter as they are now. In any case, I wish you all a Happy New year and all the best! Let me know what you think.


Dawn is coming. It was the fourth day since the unwanted 'incident' that occurred after the wedding, and even though Gray's words reached Natsu's heart, he still found no rest. Sleep eluded him. Worse than that, whatever handful of hours he did manage to sleep through were haunted by nightmares. It was always the same one – black room in which Lucy stood, turned away from him and no matter how hard he tried, he could not see her face. Her body rotated as he ran in circles until, at one point, just before he would wake up, he would manage to get a glimpse of her profile. Though hair was blonde, visage was not that of Lucy. He would wake up afterward, heaving and clawing for air as if the next moment will be his last. He knew who that was. This night, he could not sleep at all, partly because of his choice and partly because dreams would not come to him despite his best of efforts. It was a bitter feeling, nostalgic. Once more in the past he felt like this and he loathed it now for reminding him of that day that defined years to come.

Tired eyes watched as sun rose in the distance, light fighting to break through the thick forest of skyscrapers. Gentle black soon turned into gray and first birds singed their song. They have awoken, welcoming new day with cheerful melody. It was a gentle serenity, a brief moment of calmness before people wake up, ready to move on with their lives. He needed to move on. Too long he has lingered in his room, surrounded by self-induced stagnation and indecisiveness. Prolonging this agony would lead nowhere and as Gray said, it is not just about feelings… it is also about choices. Natsu accepted this, he accepted the fact that he may never truly stop loving Lisanna, but he can chose what he will do… and what he needs to do is by far most difficult trial he faced so far. He will have to face three people.

First and perhaps most frightening of them all is, without a doubt, coach Elfman who has likely heard what Natsu did to his sister, and if he did not reach that conclusion by himself, Lisanna might be the one to tell him. When they broke up, Elfman was not pleased. In fact, 'not pleased' could be considered a titanic understatement and his fury Natsu felt throughout entire first year of his studies. Professor was duty-bound to maintain professional attitude toward his student, but that did not mean that he went easy on Natsu. In fact, first month was, what Natsu could only describe as, 'Prelude to hell', during which every single mistake he made, Elfman pointed out and punished him for it in the only way he could legally – by making him run twice as long, work out twice as hard and always stay behind to clear the field of equipment. Now, Natsu thought, he will likely apply same regime until Hell seems like a warm-up.

Then, he would have to face Lisanna, who likely remembers what occurred during the eve of the wedding. He dreaded the very thought of learning answers to two questions: How much she remembers of the night and will she tell it to Lucy? He did say Lucy was his friend… but if they meet there is no doubt in his mind Lisanna would want to clear that particular misunderstanding, and the door to Hell shall open, ready to swallow him whole. Even if they do not meet, even if Lisanna says nothing… what would he tell her? What sort of excuse will he have to give to her? Will she be vindictive? Will she blame him for what happened? He was not guilt-free, that much is certain… but then again, neither was she.

Lastly… even if previous two encounters go smoothly, he still needs to face Lucy and hope that his guilt will give him just enough time to swallow the rock that will be lodged inside his throat… he has to look into her eyes, he has to see the smile for which he uttered Herculean efforts to lure out and not crumble down. If she were to learn, if she were to hear it from anyone else, then the shaky bridge that existed between them will crumble to ruins, never to be rebuilt again. That part he dreaded the most, because he knew in his heart, in his bones, in very soul that inhabited his body, he will never be able to feel the same toward someone the way he feels about her… and no amount of money and accolades will mend that broken soul… Dawn is coming.

When he arrived at the university, the feeling of weight pulling down his body became all more apparent. Logic would dictate that it was lack of sleep that made his body felt as if it was made out of single piece of lead, but there was always that thin mental note, incorporeal and intangible, that was the most responsible for his sluggish steps. This day promised to be long and utterly exhausting.

"I see you decided to show up." Familiar voice reached his ears as he took a seat inside amphitheater. Natsu responded by looking toward the origin of his voice, just one seat to the right. How could he miss Gray when usually it would take but a glance to recognize him in crowded classroom?

"There's no point in staying home anymore." Natsu responded, scratching his messy hair that refused to be combed this morning "I can either prolong the inevitable or I can do some damage control… You think coach learned of me and Lisanna?"

"I don't know." Gray said quietly, air escaping through his nose "He did not seem particularly upset when he asked me about you, save for the fact you missed the practice. Then again, you can never know with him. But there is a bright side to this." Natsu turned head again, waiting in expectation for this 'bright side' to be revealed "If you die today, I'll make sure you are buried with all honors. I'll even give you proper eulogy."

The jest, no matter how witty, was not something Natsu appreciated today. Fear still gripped him "Have you seen Lucy today?"

"I have not." That thought gave him a relief. If he had to put out one fire after another, it would be best if Lucy was not around. But that was fool's hope. She would not miss her classes, not when she struggled to maintain her current status and be forced to pay full tuition. Lisanna would likely be the one to not be around. Other than to visit her older brother, she had no reason to be here, and if that is the fact, then he could talk to Lucy without fear that Lisanna would interject.

But neither Lucy nor Lisanna could be seen on the University premises. Natsu searched for Lucy, relentlessly running through the halls, trying to spot blonde hair that he knew so well by now. But it seemed as if luck has completely abandoned him, and when even slightest variation to his plans began to occur, so did his paranoia rise. Everything that could possibly go wrong did so inside his head, and it has been months, if not years, since he felt this kind of anxiety. Then, another 'bump' appeared.

"Dragneel!" voice bellowed through the halls, sending ghastly chills down his spine. Natsu turned toward the source and spotted another familiar face, leering down at young man. Massive hand rose and beckoned as words continued "Come to my office." Well if nothing else, Natsu thought, at very least he could see what Heavens looks like in person.

"Sit." Man ordered, much like a trainer orders his hound, and much like that very same obedient hound, Natsu sat down. Soon after, Elfman did the same. Silence ensued between them, a full minute passed between them with nothing but the sound of chatter that came from the outside. Despite his tendency to get in trouble, Natsu was not often called inside professor's office. The room, spacious for most professors, seemed tight for the giant of a man who had to dance like ballerina around his desk and shelves filled with memories of professional sport career, without knocking any of those down. If he could, Natsu would marvel at the numerous trophies and photos that were hanged, most of which had Elfman on them along with now very famous football players. It seemed that man in his position is beyond just 'well-connected'. When that minute passed, man spoke once more.

"I want to talk to you about what happened at the wedding." Man spoke with soft and quieter tone, prompting Natsu's every muscle to tense up in anticipation of the wrecking ball that was Elfman's fist "I noticed that you disappeared." Another pause. If he had intention to instill psychological torture, he succeeded beyond question "And I know you did not spoke much with Lisanna either. I can understand that…"

His words, previously drilling his mind, now started to confuse Natsu who still remained silent while Elfman spoke, expression turning into sour one as sentences lined up one after another "You two did not broke up on best of terms, did you?"

"N-no…" Natsu said thinly, clearing his throat before repeating same answer in clearer manner "No."

"Thought as much. You know… a lot of things happened in the past, things I wanted to protect her from as much as I could. Our family was… not exactly the best one. Lisanna came as a… surprise… a final nail in the coffin that tore family apart and I did my best to make sure neither she or Mirajane have to feel the pain of loss ever again. But Miri is another story…" Elfman cleared his throat, trying to signalize end of that topic "Lisanna was… well… she was cheerful as a child, but I think that most of that 'cheer' came from her friendship with you and I was absolutely certain that nothing could go wrong. That made things all more difficult once I heard you broke up, and trust me… I was something beyond livid."

The expression on man's face turned once more. Edges of his lips turned downward, heavy brows furrowed and eyes became filled with bloodlust "When I saw her come home, crying… I wanted to… to… strangle you!" His hands slightly rose from desk and fingers curled, mimicking the motion required to wrap around young man's neck. They began to twitch. "I really wanted to grab you and turn you inside out like a shirt." He paused, lifting eyes from his hands to look at Natsu, who at that point was holding onto the chair like his life depended on it, with eyes wide open in sheer terror that only Erza could instill with such marvelous results. Hell, if Elfman so much as barked, he was sure he'd fill his pants… and Elfman was tempted to do just that, but instead he exhaled, slowly, and placed his hands down onto the desk.

"But I understood once she told me… I did not like it, not one bit."

"Wh-" Natsu cleared his throat once again, flinching as Elfman's eyes snapped toward him "What did she say?"

"That you two simply could not continue. She did not tell me all the details but, she said that neither of you wanted it to happen. It just did. People fall in love and fall out of love. I understood, but I hated it, more so I hated the fact that you came to Fairy Tail, in my class no less, and within month established yourself as a gigolo." He was not wrong, Natsu thought.

"It was… a moment I wanted to forget."

"That much, I can relate." Elfman nodded slowly "And both of you 'bounced back' as they say. For you it was quite spectacularly, while Lisanna began relationship of her own."

"Professor…" Natsu said, uncertain if he should ask. His curiosity prevailed "Why tell me this now?"

"Because I've seen the way you look at her during the wedding." Elfman answered "And I've seen the way she looked at you. There were more than few mentions of you since she came to Magnolia, much to my protests... That is why I called you here to talk to you, not as professor to student, but as a man to another man." Another small pause ensued, clear signs of inner battle showed on professor's face as he tried to find good way to say what laid heavily upon his mind "She will stay for a while here before going back and I cannot forbid her from wanting to talk to you. I want to ask you not to judge her for things that happened in the past. What happened, happened… it cannot change but I do not want memories of our sister's wedding to be lined with bitter note. Just, please, try to overlook past and see a friend you saw before, just for a little while."

It then dawned on Natsu that Elfman was completely oblivious to what truly transpired that evening. The expression he maintained on his face, it told him that Elfman firmly believed Natsu left that private party because of Lisanna and that she did the same out of guilt. She did not reveal to her brother anything… perhaps she did not remember, or perhaps she did not want him to know. And now, Elfman asked, no, pleaded Natsu to not be judgmental? Was this some sort of divine intervention or devil's luck?

"I will." Natsu responded, sincerely so "I don't know if we'll meet but… I won't talk about the past with her."

"Good." Elfman said, small smile formed on edge of his lips "Good. Did Fullbuster give you my message?" Natsu snapped out of his thoughts and nodded "Good, and did you think about what I told you a while ago?"

"I haven't… really…" Natsu responded "Professor, if I may… why tell me that? I thought you of all people would push me more toward entering professional league."

Elfman took a deep breath. It was a question he expected to hear, but the answer was not easy to give. Not because there was no viable answer, rather, because he could not predict how Natsu would respond to it. Nevertheless, he knew that he had to tell the truth "You see this scar?" Elfman asked, touching remnant of a deep cut under his right eye that stretched down, below his ear "Semi-finals. We were in the lead, five minutes until the end. Ball ended in my possession and I ran but I did not see their center that ran toward me. We collided, straight on, with full force. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem for me… but he hit me low, below my center of gravity. My helmet flew off and I planted my face on the ground with full weight. This is not a cut from a sharp object…" He tapped his cheek again "This is laceration, caused by the force that made my face slide across the grass. I was lucky it didn't blind me but I was out of the game, for the first time in career, I was unable to see it through. I realized that all it takes is a single moment of laxity, and you pay heavy price for it. Injuries are common in this sport… if you are lucky, you'll pass through your career with minor concussions and dislocated shoulders, maybe a few broken ribs. Those severe cases end up with injuries that cause permanent debilitation and bring an end to your career. Clubs won't pay you a single jewel, because the contract you will sign has a little clause which states that you understand injuries may occur on the field and any injury sustained during the match is not club's fault."

"But let's say you survive that… Let's say you manage to avoid being caught. I can attest you are among fastest in this team and scouts will notice that. You are fast now, but eventually you will slow down. Nature catches up to everyone eventually and someone else, younger, faster, more agile will come along who will catch you and make you plant your face into the grass. But let's say you survive even that, that you don't sustain severe injuries, just some concussion every now and then. Right now, your body can heal all of that, but that 'healing' is temporary. As you grow old, every injury you sustained in your youth, both visible and invisible, will suddenly resurface… and you'll realize that every concussion you sustained during your lifetime has left a tiny scar behind. It will start to mess with your head, if you are lucky… you'll have trouble sleeping, maybe be a bit forgetful or have migraines. But those with severe cases end up with horrible mental disabilities… some even start to experience hallucinations, begin to develop stages of Alzheimer, Parkinson… percentage even commits suicide because they cannot stand what is going on in their heads. I am telling you this, because I know you, I know how much potential you have and I think you can do a lot more good from the sideline, showing way to others. It's not a glamorous job nor does it pay as much… but at least you'll get to grow old and with your mind straight. I'd rather my wife not have to worry about me, but that's my choice. I won't stand in your way if you chose to aim for big league… I just want you to consider possible consequences that can affect your life."

It was at that moment, when Natsu understood true purpose behind Gray's words. They carried weight, but not as much as Elfman's… reality struck and reminded Natsu that he is the good, that he is great, but eventually someone better will come along and cause a chain reaction that could demolish everything he was trying to build now. If it did happen… if everything goes well and one day he and Lucy become a family… what would happen if such injury were to occur? Broken arm or leg would be detrimental to his career, but he could find another job. But what if his spine snaps and he becomes paralyzed? Would he allow himself to become a burden to her? To walk as a cripple, reminiscing old days of vain glory, unable to so much as get a glass from cupboard without her help. He left Elfman's office in silence, thoughts pressed heavy on his mind. No amount of love from her would ever be enough to overcome the bitterness of self-pity and loathing he would have… all because of one, single mistake made in youth. All of this was, of course, assuming they get to that point.

As he was about to leave university premises, he spotted a lone figure standing by the outer gates; a girl, waiting for someone. He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. She was not the one he wanted to see, but one he needed to talk with.

"Hey Lis." Natsu said as he approached her. His heart began to throb.

"Hey." She responded weakly, mustering a forced smile on her lips "Do you have a minute to talk?"

"I have more than just a minute." Natsu added with a brief nod "Come, there's a bench across the street. Let's sit down."

Tension between them rose with every minute that passed, and just like with her older brother, that first one was by far the longest. He glanced at her as they sat down… she still preferred pink shirts and jeans. The only thing that changed was the size.

"I guess… we should talk about that night." Natsu finally broke the silence, prompting the inevitable to happen. The silence was eating him alive, and he'd rather just be done with it.

"Yeah." Lisanna responded "It's best we simply forget about it."

Natsu turned his head and looked at her. Those were not the words he expected to hear. He expected guilt to be placed onto him, an accusation of him abusing her weakened state of perception and clear thinking and luring her into bed and inevitable slap across the face… and yet, her thin words revealed guilt. She protected him by not revealing truth to Elfman, for the second time now.

"Do you regret it?" Question flew out of Natsu's mouth, beyond his control and want… and after a brief moment of silence she responded with a smile "No…"

Silence fell between them once more, broken only when Natsu decided to do so "What now?"

"Nothing. I'll stay here for a week, maybe two and you'll go on as you did so far. I heard some of the rumors that circle around. You are not doing so bad."

"And you? Are you still with Mest?" Another small nod came from her.

"Which is why I think we shouldn't mention it to anyone."

"Lis-"

"Natsu…" She interjected before he could say anything else "It won't change anything. Past, us… nothing we say now will change any of it. What happened, it was wonderful but… it was just a fairy tale."

"But it was our fairy tale." Natsu added, tongue still coated with bitter taste that dozens of girls could not sweeten "We made it that way. So what went wrong?"

"Does it still matter?"

"No… but I want to hear it nonetheless."

"Why?"

"Because, I need a closure. Because, we need a closure." He chuckled softly after he finished saying that "I swear I had this conversation in my head roll differently."

"How so?" She responded, with equal measure of amusement.

"I thought you'd be a bit more vindictive or that you'd want to refuel the spark."

"Would it change anything if I say it? Natsu, I know we can't return to what we were… it's best we simply forget it and move on, as friends."

"If only it were so easy." His breath caught in throat. Memories filled his mind, sweet and bitter, gentle and loud. Why is it so hard to hate her?

"I don't know what went wrong, Natsu." Lisanna said, pained expression visible on her face, crossing her arms just under her chest. She needed that small pressure to be applied to her stomach, just enough to try and calm the spiraling sensation that rose… not out of affection, but out of anxiety caused by memories she long sought to forget "We both made mistakes."

"When did you start to have feelings for Mest?" Natsu asked, turning gaze toward her once more "Was it after we broke up?"

She shook her head.

"How long?"

"Three months." She answered after a long pause. The answer tore Natsu's chest apart and he closed his eyes, bowing head forward. He did not want to hear this…

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"What was I supposed to tell you?" She looked at him, clenching her hands into fists, fighting the urge to place one of them upon his shoulder… a notion, she feared, would be met with fierce rejection "At the time I thought it was just a small crush, that it happens to everyone and that it will pass."

"But it didn't." Natsu said calmly.

"It didn't…" she repeated, just as calm "I did not sleep with him, not before you did with Sherry."

"And that's my anchor to drag… Would you have ever told me about him?"

"I would… I just did not know how to tell you… The guilt was eating me alive and he… he was very understanding and-"

"Okay." He interrupted her and leaned back against the bench once more, letting out a heavy sigh "I get. Sorry, I just, really don't want to hear the rest of it."

"I understand." Lisanna whispered softly, her mouth already dry "I hear you've been doing well." She said, trying to redirect the heavy flow of conversation.

"Yeah… I'm dating this girl." He spoke "Lucy. She has a lot going on in her life but… she's so damn strong." Smile once again appeared on his face.

"Blond girl?" Lisanna asked "One that came with you at the wedding?"

"Yeah."

"I'm happy for you." She said, slowly moving her arms aside from the tight clench. Her hand sought his and lightly placed on top of it. She was warm, soft… every bit as gentle as he remembered it. He dreaded every moment of this… If only he could hate her, if only he could stand up and walk away, with a foul word directed towards her… If only he could hate her.

Her hand moved up from his and gently touched his chin, turning it to face her. The last thing he saw before his mind went blank, were her soft blue eyes closing… and her lips touching his. Sparks lit in his head, every nerve in body exploded with numb-inducing electricity that rushed through the system. She kissed him. His eyes closed, disobeying Natsu's commands. He remained still, inhaling the gentle scent of her perfume that lingered on her skin. Lilies… lilies and apples. Her lips lingered, grazing against his in gentle motion. She kissed him… and he kissed her.

"What was that?" Natsu asked, finally opening his eyes as she moved her head away from his, breaking their kiss that he cursed for wanting to last just a moment longer.

"I'm sorry Natsu… but I cannot be with you." She said with a soft, sad smile "It's a closure… For both of us…" Her hand moved away and she stood up "I have to go, but… I would love if we could meet again, as friends. I missed you."

Without another word said, she walked away, leaving him alone on the bench, struck to the very core of his being… He breathed with unusual sense of relief. Weight that he carried upon his shoulder finally loosened and fell over, and his lungs could take air in once more. It is over now… it is, really, over now. He leaned back once more, hands moved through his pink locks as he tried to make sense of it all, trying to put together the broken puzzle for which he finally found missing piece. Her scent still lingered in his nose, her lips left their mark on his. Years of misplaced hatred vanished along with her, leaving a giant hole where the thorn used to be. He stood up, finally feeling exhaustion creeping up on him, delayed by the strong sense of fear and anxiety. Professor did not murder him, Lisanna did not betray him… The last hurdle may be easier than he thought. He took a few steps and lifted his head, looking toward the bench that was but a few meters away from the one he was sitting on with Lisanna. Lightning struck him once more, numbing his entire body and turning into petrified, pale statue. She was sitting there, leaned against the bench, eyes starring in the distance. There was absolutely no chance that she did not hear the conversation.

"Lucy…"