A/N: *Nervously pokes head out from behind sandbags, waving a white flag* Uhm…Hi everyone, long time no see, right? Please forgive me for my very long absence. I believe the last time I updated this story was right before Christmas so…yeah, that was what, four months ago? Damn.

In all honesty, for those of you who read this, I really appreciate your patience and I am grateful to you all for taking time to read my stories/writings. I really, really appreciate you guys and it makes me sad whenever I go this long without updating. It's just…things tend to get out of hand for me and I have to prioritize things.

I have no good explanation for why it took me so long to get back to this.

It was a…number of things that just distracted me, made me procrastinate, or left me with little time to no time write. You see, when I wrote that preview in the last chapter, I had written that first…and then built the rest of the chapter around it. At the same time, I was hit with a bad case of writers block so that didn't help matters. And, between starting a new story (which I'm having a lot of fun with) and trying to update my other works, my life decided to get crazier after I graduated college. Things in my personal life have been crazy, I'm still looking for a full time job, still testing for Law Enforcement, and my current job hours keep changing.

It's all just left my head scrambled and my energy fluctuating. On the bright side, I got my security guard license, so, that's some good news. Hopefully that'll start panning out for me soon.

With all of that being said…I would like to address something. I am perfectly aware that it can take me a while to update. Writing, for me, is a hobby; a hobby that I consider a good form a stress relief. However, it can be a bit tiring and slightly irritating when I finally post a 5,000 plus word chapter, only to receive reviews that say "update," "update please", or something along that line. I'm not singling anyone out nor am I trying to sound like an ass as this is addressing something that I've noticed with other stories of mine. Please know that saying that sort of thing to me won't make me update faster; it'll just make me frustrated. I am grateful that so many of you have left reviews for this story. However, I'd like it if people told me why they want me to update instead of just leaving that word. It would be helpful to me to know what you're enjoying, what would you like to see in future chapters, anything I can do to improve this story; that sort of thing. You don't have to go all out…just, saying a bit more would be very encouraging to me to see what you enjoy so much about this story. That is all that I ask, as a writer to you, the reader; thank you.

Okay, moving on.

Uhm, let's see, what else…WARNING: HEAVY NSFW IN THIS CHPATER! Yeah, sexy fun times inbound here.

Last time we left off with Natsu in pretty rough shape after West Tartarus launched a surprise attack against the East; wounding Natsu, Lucy, Happy, and Juvia while also reigniting hostilities between the two warring demon factions. For better or for worse, humanity has been brought back into the age old conflict and all that can be done is prepare for the upcoming battles. Will the West triumph? Will Natsu take back what was stolen from his people? Will Lucy live to see the wars end? And how involved will humanity become? Only time will tell for these questions to be answered. In the meantime, while there's a lull in things, our favorite Prince and Princess will focus on personal matters that were interrupted in the last chapter.

Before we continue, here is my usual shout out to those of you who left a review. A lot of you guys reviewed between then and now so I can't address you individually. But, please know, I do read every review I get:

RedFantasies, SulliMike23, peacerockgirl123, BloodRedRubies, HollyNinetales, sarara1.8, DIGIKO12, Guest, D, Lady of Eldritch Literature, Sailor Tiamat, pinkdoughnuts, tkitty23, DarkScarletMoon, Loralie Gold Dream, Lkityan02, Sakuramy, nalucreep, Galaxy Princess, Moon Stone Tiger Lily, Aliadriel, miller-valeriecamille , Otaku Sophie, ryndc-chan, Chris, Guest, AyameFT, animequeen100, godessbeauty.101, Saranu34, Leomae, FairyTailxFanGirl, Guest, Chibix315, lovelyrubies, Jcat007, Naraku's Phoenix, Rinthewolf, Guest, guest, ToLegitt2Quit, Fin-Fish Jun-Tenshi, GraceSkylaLove, Kisa7221, LoveroftheWord, devo333100, Blizzyboo, Guest.

With that out of the way, *cracks open a bottle of whiskey*, let's continue with our story.

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CHAPTER 9: Change

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The next day…

Council Chambers, Mid-Morning…

"And so that's where we stand." Natsu finished, sighing heavily as he slumped back into his seat.

Lucy found herself once more in the council room, only on the opposite side things; this time joining Natsu and his councilors and commanders. She sat next to Natsu, the demon prince having made room for her while the same went for Juvia, who sat next to Gray. Happy, however, was still recovering from his injuries and was bedridden for the time being.

She found it odd to be looking down on the two holograms of King Fiore and her father as usually, they took charge of these sort of meetings.

Not this time, however.

Natsu, shortly after recovering from his time in his coffin, had made an emergency call to Jude who in turn contacted King Fiore. Natsu had then done the same for his council, calling an emergency session, and had spent the last hour explaining to Jude and King Fiore what had happened the day before.

To say that the King and her father were as shocked as they were outraged would be an understatement.

"You want to run all that by me again?" Jude hissed. She could hear the hushed voices of her father's council outside his hologram. Her mother in particular sounded frantic with worry.

"I thought we had an agreement that your dealings with the Princess would stay between you and her." The King said, crossing his arms.

"But from what I just heard, it would seem that she was deliberately targeted to draw you out to face your enemies. Three of my subjects were attacked in your country, Lord Dragneel. An attack on them could be seen as a prelude to an attack against us. Furthermore, what's to stop this, "West Tartarus" from launching an incursion into the Alliance?"

"Their fight may be with us but I will not deny that the West has its sights set on Ishgar. Acnologia failed to destroy the Alliance in the past. I see no reasons as to why he won't try again." Natsu sighed, tiredly.

If anything, Natsu's response made the King and Jude bristle with frustration and anger.

"You assured me that you had this situation of yours under control and that Princess Heartfilia and Miss Lockser would be safe in your lands. Was I wrong to trust you with their safety?"

"No King Fiore." Natsu replied, pinching his brow, "This attack was as much a shock to us as it is to you."

"Then why did this happen under your watch?" Jude interjected, "From what Lucy has told me over these last few months, the East watched the West like hawks. How did these demons slip through your defenses and intelligence networks?"

"I had been informed that my top spy in the West had heard whispers that attack may have been in the works. But he was unable to determine the validity of those whispers. Their rather tight lipped in the West and we were lucky to hear that much. As to how they slipped on by our defenses…I can't have the border patrolled twenty four seven. Especially now that the conflict has reignited."

"Then what do you plan to do?" Jude asked, "Wait for those monsters to come to you? Let them strike you and just push them back!?"

"We're handling it." Natsu said, mouth drawing into a thin line.

"Then by all means, please; explain your plan of action. I'm very curios to hear how you intend to keep your promise to me." The King said.

"And what about my daughter? Are you going to let her get dragged into this mess too!?" Jude added.

Lucy frowned as she watched Natsu tense in irritation while his lips pulled back into a slight snarl. Looking at him from the side it was strange seeing him with one good eye, even though behind his eyepatch a small green dot glowed where his pupil once was. Gray had pulled her aside and said it was Natsu's magic manifesting itself; his aura and body compensating for the loss of the organ.

Natsu hissed slightly and Lucy knew that he was close to blowing a gasket. She set her hand atop his…but the gesture did little to calm him down.

"Natsu…" She whispered, concerned for her demon, but her voice failed to reach him under the barrage of questions from the King and Jude.

Finally, Natsu had enough of the two men shouting at him, and slammed his fist down on the table before him; startling all present.

"Enough!" Natsu barked, "Are we going to act like children having a screaming match or are we going to be civil and focus on the issue at hand?"

The King and Jude blinked in surprise, mouths agape, before their shock wore off and they tensely waited for Natsu to calm down.

"Your majesty…I know what I said. What I promised. But now I'm afraid we may have to alter that promise. West Tartarus is not just a threat to the East, it's a threat to the Alliance as well. If we fall, there'll be nothing to stop Acnologia from assaulting your kingdom and the other kingdoms. For four hundred years, we have held the line and prevented invasion after invasion…at great cost to our people. But this is a fight that I do not know how much longer we'll be able to wage on our own."

Lucy and Juvia looked to Natsu in shock at his words while the rest of his council frowned grimly. Their prince spoke the truth.

"Gray-sama…are Lord Dragneel's words true?" She asked, looking to Gray. The ice mage's frown deepened and he took her hand into his.

"It's true." Gray said aloud.

"Five years ago, we were able to repel an assault by the West that left us reeling to this day. Natsu lost his adoptive father, Igneel, our leader at the time along with members of this council and a number of our forces. Although we did deliver an equally harsh blow to the West…we have reason to believe that not only do they outnumber us but can out power us as well in terms of the strength of their top tier mages.

The battel brought about a stalemate that we were able to hold until yesterday. We knew the West was planning a new attack but we had hoped the stalemate would've lasted long enough for us to properly shore up our defenses and strengthen our forces. But…at this point in time, we are at a disadvantage against our enemies."

"We are prepared to fight to the death, make no mistake about that." Natsu said.

"But don't be surprised to find that if we fall, the Alliance will find itself being drawn into a bloody conflict of its own."

"The Ishgar Alliance defeated Acnologia two hundred years ago. I see no reason the forces of the Alliance couldn't do so now." The King countered, evidently skeptic.

"And what about the Alvarez Empire? Surely Acnologia poses as much a threat to them as it does to us…or so you claim."

"Oh please." Precht scoffed, "Ishgar wasn't even united back then. The only reason Ishgar is still around to this day is because of the efforts of Mavis Vermillion and Anna Heartfilia. It was because of them that Acnologia was defeated and the Alliance was formed. Brush up on your own history."

"You don't know Acnologia like we do." Skiadrum said, "That bastard is as cunning as he is dangerous and powerful. I have no doubt that this time around he will not arrogantly waltz upon your shores. No. He'll find a way to a deliver a blow that you'll never recover from and then strike. Yes, your Alliance may survive…but it'll be a shadow of its former self. And if Acnologia does prevail…well, we won't be around to see the end results."

"Is he really that powerful?" Jude asked, "Surely if Lady Mavis and Lady Ana defeated him then surely…"

"They surprised him, they caught him off guard, and they had help. We have reason to believe The Black Wizard himself intervened on Mavis's behalf. Either way, things have changed since two hundred years ago." Precht added.

"How dare you insinuate that Lady Mavis associated with that monster!" The King fumed, "Lady Mavis was a gift from the gods to our people; she fought to bring light into the world and would never consort with that…that thing!"

"Do not speak to me of history as if you know it." Precht said smoothly, "I've seen more of history than you will ever know."

"Oh, am I to believe that you were there?" The King sarcastically quipped.

Precht gave a tight smile, "Perhaps."

"Acnologia isn't stupid enough to attack Alvarez. Neither your Alliance nor our own intelligence specialists truly know what's going on within that Empire. What we do know has us concerned; it's what we don't know that scares us a hell of a lot more." Mystogan said.

"Acnologia is aware of this as well." He continued, "Alvarez is powerful, powerful enough to take him down if they chose to do so. But they have remained decidedly neutral in this conflict and Acnologia intends to keep it that way. Compared to the Empire, Acnologia considers the Alliance a cake walk."

"You doubt the abilities of our forces?" The King narrowed his eyes, lips drawing thin.

"Well, considering how you'd rather have us deal with your problems I'm very well temped to doubt you and your precious Alliance." Gray bit out.

"Enough!" Natsu cut in, his voice sharp and quickly taking command.

"Don't distract from the topic at hand. Your majesty, you must take our word on Acnologia. We know what he's capable of."

The King sighed heavily and massaged his temples.

"Alright…alright…so you have reason to believe war is coming once more. How do you intend to fight it?"

"We'll do as we always have." Minerva said, "We'll begin recalling our people back from the frontier and outlying towns to the safety of the city and surrounding lands. They are familiar with the drill."

"From there," Ultear continued, "we'll recall the watch at the divide between the East and West and use those forces to bolster ours. From there we dig in and wait for the West's inevitable attack to come."

"If we can repel the assault, we shall counter attack." Rogue said, "We'll press the offensive for as long as we are able to but past experience has taught us that the fighting will end in a stalemate once more."

"And we'll be back at square one." Natsu finished.

"…And if you fail?" Jude asked.

"Then most if not everyone in this room will all go down fighting or we'll be executed. My people will be subjugated and darkness will fully envelop the land. From there…well, I think I've made that point already."

Jude grimaced and looked to Juvia and Lucy.

"The fighting will be fierce?" He asked, tentatively.

"Fierce?" Silver chuckled without humor, "You've never seen demons fight have you?"

Jude blanched at the implications of the demons words and closed his hands into fists.

"Then I cannot allow my daughter and her lady in waiting to remain in your lands any longer. I will not sit by idly and watch their lives be placed at risk again."

"I concur," The King added, "they barely survived their encounter with your enemies the other day. I dare not think what should happen if they get dragged into the fighting once more. I think it would be in their best interest for Miss Lockser and Princess Heartfilia to return home to the Alliance."

"No."

The King and Jude double blinked as did Natsu and his council; all eyes turning to Lucy. The firm determination in her voice had cut through the tension like a hot knife through butter.

"No." She repeated, "I will not leave."

"Nor will Juvia." The water mage said, affirming her own resolve.

"Juvia, Lucy, surely you jest." Jude implored, "The demons that attacked you the other day nearly killed you; with little effort for that matter! Surely you do not wish to go through that madness again!?"

"Ladies, please, be reasonable." The King said.

"I am being reasonable." Lucy said, rising from her seat before looking to Juvia. Her blue haired friend did the same.

"We are being reasonable."

Lucy gestured to Natsu and the other demons around her, "They saved my life. They saved Juvia's life. Three times they have done this. They have shown that despite our differences as two races, they are willing to go above and beyond to do what's right. We owe them a great debt."

Lucy took Natsu's hand into hers, surprising the demon prince at how strong her grip was. He could feel her resolve through her touch…and it left him in awe of the woman beside him. Juvia did the same for Gray and it appeared that he too was feeling the same thing that Natsu was.

"I owe them a great debt."

"As does Juvia," The water mage added, "and she could not live with herself if she turned her back on those who have become dear friends of hers and the princesses. They hold a special place in our hearts."

"Juvia and I have talked this over, together, this morning before the meeting was called. And we agreed that if it came down to it…we will stand and fight beside Lord Dragneel and his kin." Lucy affirmed.

"Lucy…" Jude whispered.

"Those are rather bold statements young lady," The King said, "surely you realize how outmatched you are to the demons that attacked you?"

"We do." Juvia said, "But we are not afraid. We will learn how to fight those demons…we will learn to stand our ground and show them that making us their enemies was a grave mistake."

"…She's a spitfire that one." Silver smirked, nudging Gray in the shoulder and making his cheeks color.

"Surely you must reconsider." The King pressed, "Ladies please, I worry about your safety. A war is descending upon those lands…surely you do not wish to endure the horrors that are to come."

"If it's their safety you are worried about then you should have nothing to fret over." Ur smiled, looking to Juvia.

"If they truly wish to fight beside us…then we will teach them how demons fight. We will teach them how to go toe to toe with our twisted kin and ensure that victory is theirs."

"We know what is that we face your majesty," Lucy said, "and no matter what happens…we will endure…and we will prevail."

Jude's mouth opened and closed as if he were going to argue…when Layla's hologram appeared beside him and took his hand. Her features were marred with concern but she shook her head and offered a small, if sad, smile. Jude lowered his head and sighed heavily.

The King mimicked the gesture.

"Princess Heartfilia, Miss Lockser, do you remember what I said about walking a thin line between light and shadow?" The King asked.

Lucy looked to Juvia and received a determined nod in return, "We are aware of the risks your majesty. And you will receive the same response as before; we will stand and we will fight."

"I knew you would say that. But I had to ask." He lamented.

"Very well…seeing as how I nor your father can dissuade you from returning to the Alliance…how we cannot dissuade you from fighting along Lord Dragneel and his people…you have my permission to stay in East Tartarus and face whatever may come."

Juvia and Lucy smiled softly and bowed to the king, "Thank you your majesty. We will not fail you, nor will we fail Lord Dragneel."

"If you decide to change your minds-but at this point I'm sure you won't-all you need do is call your father or myself and we will arrange your return home."

"Thank you your majesty." Lucy smiled, "I am sorry we've placed you in this position."

The King shook his head and sighed heavily, "You are a Heartfilia and Lockser…things like this, standing your ground and fighting for the sake of others…it's in your blood."

The King focused his attention on Natsu once more.

"Lord Dragneel…what are the odds of West Tartarus coming into our lands and, say, targeting Lord and Lady Heartfilia as a means to get to Lucy and Juvia?"

Natsu sighed heavily and pinched his brow, "Acnologia prefers the direct approach; he's more likely to send someone after Lucy then attack her parents. However, I wouldn't put it past him to try to do so. At this point it's fifty-fifty of an attack coming directly or indirectly."

"I see…" The King hummed thoughtfully, "then in that case, Lord and Lady Heartfilia, I implore you to come to Crocus and stay at the castle as my honored guests. I could not rest knowing that the two of you would be in such mortal danger. The royal guard will defend you just as they defend me. Please, heed my request."

"I agree with the King." Lucy said, "Mom…Dad…I know my actions will have consequences, but I don't want those consequences to harm the two of you."

Jude and Layla looked to one another in silent contemplation. Lucy could see that they'd much rather stand their own ground and fight, much as how Lucy proclaimed. But she could also see how her plea had touched them, knowing that if they were to be harmed…or worse…that Lucy wouldn't be able to live with herself.

"That is…acceptable. My council and I will think of something convincing to tell the people within our lands so as to not arouse too much suspicion." Jude said, wiping away the tears that had welled up in his eyes.

Lucy and Juvia sighed in audible relief and looked to one another with apprehensive smiles.

"Lord Dragneel…Commander Fullbuster…please, take care of my daughter and Juvia." Jude said, swallowing the lump in his throat.

"I will." Natsu said, "I promise."

"As do I." Gray affirmed.

"Thank you…" Jude sighed. It was then that Layla raised her hand slightly.

"Yes my lady?" Natsu asked.

"…Although we have your assurances that Lucy and Juvia will be protected….would it be possible for us to send an envoy, of our own, to further assure Lucy and Juvia's safety? We are asking this only for our peace of mind…if that is permissible."

Layla looked to the King, who at first looked surprised by the request, but sighed heavily and massaged his brow.

"I'll allow it." He grunted, "After all…your guard is so loyal to Lucy that I'm sure some of them would find a way into Tartarus with our without yours or my consent."

Natsu looked to Precht, then Silver and Ur, and then to Skidarum and Weisslogia. They each looked to one another, silently taking amongst themselves before bowing their heads in consent.

"We've already ripped our laws a new one as it is," Silver chuckled deeply, "what's bending them a little more?"

"We grant your request Lady Heartfilia." Natsu said, bowing his head.

"Thank you Lord Dragneel, we'll have a handpicked special detachment at the ready within a few days." Layla smiled, the action a little brighter than before. There was a look of relief and hope in her eyes.

"I look forward to seeing who you send." Natsu replied, "Just…one last thing, before our meeting comes to a close. As I said before…we will be on our own here in the east. If worse comes to worse, all of Tartarus will be unleashed upon Ishgar. It would be…beneficial to the both of us if, say, we had some backup to help repel the wests onslaught should things become that bad."

"Are you implying an alliance between Ishgar and East Tartarus?" The King arched his brow, smirking slightly.

Natsu returned the smirk and gave a dismissive wave of his hand, "I'm not implying anything. I'm merely…suggesting that you give the idea some thought and…bring it up, with your fellow Alliance leaders."

The King continued to smirk and gave a soft chuckled, "I'll give it some thought Lord Dragneel. I take it that our discussion here is over then?"

"Yes…we are adjourned." Natsu confirmed.

"Very well. Until we speak again young man…I wish you all the best of luck." The King said before his hologram disappeared.

Jude and Layla gave their daughter and Juvia sad but resolute smiles before they too faded away.

Natsu sighed heavily and stood from his seat, cracking his neck as he did so.

"And with that, this council session has come to a close. You all have your orders, you all know your duties. I want the civilian council the begin implementing our emergency contingencies and dispatchers sent to the towns, villages, and frontier. Lyon, begin mobilizing your forces and come home. The rest of you, I want battle plans and assessments formed, and I want the rank and file addressed. War is coming, and we need to be ready. And I suggest you prepare as best you can as well."

"Yes my lord." The demons answered in unison. Soon, those in attendance rose from their chairs while those who couldn't attend in person, their holograms disappeared.

"If those bastards are thinking coming around here again, I need to brush up on my techniques." Silver grunted as he cracked his neck.

"Likewise." Said Ur, "I suggest we all begin training together again, just like we used to. At least, get a feel for one another's skills so we can learn to train one on one or in a group."

She then looked to Juvia and placed her hand on her shoulder.

"Juvia, my dear, why don't you join us? You said you wanted to become stronger in order to face Jackal and his cohorts when the time comes did you not?"

"Juvia…Juvia did," the water mage nervously rubbed her arm, "but…Juvia would feel so out of place. Her magic is of water and yours is of ice…Juvia doesn't know if Juvia could learn much."

"Nonsense." Ultear said as she and Meredy joined the group, "Water and ice go hand in hand. I'm sure there is plenty you can learn from us and us from you."

"Really?" Juvia asked, surprised by Ultear's bold statement.

"Really." Ultear smiled before it became sly, "And I'm sure Gray would be more than helpful in teaching you some new tricks."

"U-Ul!" Gray sputtered, making the ice demons around him snigger.

"C'mon, let's get started while we still have time to do so. With how crazy things are going to get, this may be one of the rare chances we get."

With that, Silver, Ur, Ultear, and Meredy left the council hall. Juvia shyly looked to Gray who awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck. Then…he took her hand into his and offered her a confident smile.

"C'mon Juvia; show me what you got."

Juvia blushed but returned Gray's smile with her own and nodded, "Yeah…let's do this."

Lucy smiled to herself as she watched her friend and the ice demon depart to catch up with the others. In that time, the rest of the council had departed as well, leaving only her, Natsu, and her shadow guard in the room.

"Thank you…for staying with me while I was knocked out." Natsu said, his hand coming to rest over Lucy's, drawing her attention back to him.

"I was worried about you. Even when Lisanna told me you'd be alright…I had to make sure. I had to see you wake up, move, and talk again."

"C'mon, it'll take more than that to take down Natsu Dragneel; Prince of Tartarus!" Natsu proclaimed with his trademark grin.

Lucy only frowned, however, and reached up to trace his eyepatch.

"You were hurt so bad…and you lost your eye." Tears began to well up in her eyes. Natsu sighed heavily and held her hand to his cheek.

"I will admit…there was a moment there where I thought it was all over for me. I was so worried about you that I didn't honestly care if I died or not…I just wanted to make sure you were safe."

"Natsu…" Lucy choked out, a single tear running down her cheek.

"But, I guess it's not my time just yet." Natsu wiped the tear away, "So don't worry Lucy. If it's not my time yet, that means I still have plenty of more to do. Besides, I may have lost my eye, but I can still see fine. Granted…it's going to feel weird without having an eye in the socket but my magic will compensate."

Lucy smiled and wiped her eyes before bopping Natsu on the forehead, "You're such a dunce; you know that?"

Natsu gave a cheeky grin before sobering quickly, "Speaking of things to do…are you honestly sure you want to go through with this; getting involved in the war and learning how to fight demons I mean?"

"I do." Lucy answered without hesitation.

"Then as of this moment, I will see to your training. I want you to know, we demons do not fight like humans do; we do not fight like how you've been taught to. You must be relentless and quick on your feet. If you want to survive, you have to give every fight two hundred percent. You have to be willing to kill."

"I'm not afraid." Lucy affirmed.

"…No. I don't believe you are. Not yet anyways." Natsu said after a slight pause, "But I'll teach you how to control that fear…and make it your weapon."

Natsu held his hand out and Lucy looked at him quizzically, "Give me your keys."

"My keys? Why?"

"Your magic is powerful Lucy and your keys are no exception. However, if you want to do maximum damage against a demon, your keys will need an extra bite to them in order to do so."

"These keys were passed down from generation to generation within my family. They rely on the powers of the stars…are you saying you know how to enhance this power?"

"Me, personally, no." Natsu replied, "But I do know two men who can. They are two of my finest smiths and are two out of a handful who know how to handle celestial magic. Trust me Lucy….I assure you that I do not intend to completely alter or damage your keys. Nor do I intend to corrupt your magic. But if you want to survive Tartarus, you have to learn to adapt."

Lucy looked from Natsu's eyes, to his palm, and then back before she removed her key pouch from the belt of her dress. She held out her hand but did not relinquish her keys.

"Do I have your word that you do not intend any harm nor curse to my keys and magic? Because if you're lying to me…I'll never forgive you."

"I promise." Natsu said. There was no mistaking the honesty and sincerity in his voice.

Lucy sighed heavily and smiled a soft, nervous smile.

"Alright," she let her key pouch fall into Natsu's hand, "alright."

"Thank you…Lucy." Natsu smiled. He then gestured the lone shadow guard over to him and Lucy. It was the same guard that Lucy had met on her first day of the castle. The same guard she had met protecting Natsu the night before.

And now, here it was, at her side once more.

Since it was apparent that the guard would be looking after her from now on, she had decided to give him a name. Calling him, "Royal Guard Number One Thousand, One Hundred Eighty-Four" did not have an appeal nor charm to it. So, she named him after her mother's favorite constellation, "Capricorn." Her mother always described the constellation as the defender of the stars and name seemed to fit the living shadow. When asked if he liked the name, Capricorn had simply given her a thumbs up and what she assumed to be a happy nod of his head.

"Capricorn…" Natsu said, clearly not used to the living shadow not having a name, "take Lucy to the Hellhound pens. From there, she is free to move about the castle until I send for her. I will see to things on my end here in the meantime."

"The Hellhound pens?" Lucy asked, "What for?"

"Well…you lost your horse the other day and I don't see you getting one around here anytime soon. As you know Lucy, we use hellhounds for travel around these parts instead of horses. They're faster, stronger, and tougher than any war horse. So I figured it was time you got your own Hellhound. We have fresh litter that had been born a few days ago and the hatchlings have yet to begin growing. If you want to get a hellhound that you can raise and train on your own; now is the time to get one."

"R-Really?" Lucy smiled, completely taken aback by the amazing gesture.

"Really." Natsu affirmed, "I know that horse meant a lot to you Lucy…so this is my way of helping ease the pain of that loss."

Her arms were around him in an instant, making Natsu stumble back slightly.

"Thank you." She whispered. Natsu returned the embrace before gently parting, encouraging her to get to the pens.

The beaming smile Lucy had on her lips amazed Natsu and he silently found his breathe taken away at how beautiful her smile made her. More so when she stood up on the tips of her toes…and pecked him on the cheek. Natsu went ramrod straight in an instant, earning a hearty giggle from Lucy. Even when Capricorn had guided Lucy out of the council room, Natsu remained stock still in shock…before his hand came up and smacked himself silly, knocking his senses back into place.

How the hell did that woman have such a hold over him like that? Natsu didn't know…nor did he particularly care. Lucy could've kissed him full on the lips and he would've let her, still getting the same results. Only he was sure he'd be grinning like the love-struck idiot he was.

Wait a minute? Love-struck!?

SMACK!

Natsu smacked himself again, hard, and worked to get his frantic thoughts back in line. Now was not the time to get distracted like a daydreaming child. Sighing heavily, Natsu retrieved his communication lacrima and set it in the hologram projector, quickly calling upon the Forge. Located inside the mountain upon which the castle resided, the forge was where the enhanced weapons of East Tartarus were built. From firearms, to swords, to enchanted spears and arrows, the Forge had crafted the arms that had assured over four hundred years of survival. And Natsu had no doubt the skills of his smiths to continue on that tradition.

More so today with two in particular.

"My lord, you honor us with your presence. Had I known you'd be calling I would have cleaned up a bit."

"You dude, it's been a while! We missed ya!"

"Taurus, Scorpio." Natsu greeted with a courteous bow and friendly smile. Had anyone else been in Natsu's presence, he was sure they'd be off put by the two demons that stood before him and would question whether or not they really were two of his "best."

Taurus, like his namesake, was built like a bull. Tall, imposing, and rippling with toned muscle from years spent crafting weapons in the fires of the Forge. His head was encased in a helm that resembled a bulls; nose ring, horns, and all while the eye slits glowed a fierce red. He wore a smith's apron over his bare chest and torso while heavy, ash stained gloves covered his hands. Singed, canvas work pants, a heavy tool belt, and boots completed the look of an accomplished blacksmith.

Scorpio was Taurus's protégé; the apprentice who would one day assume the title of master. He was lean and fit, his outfit resembling his masters while instead of a helm, his head was free to show his shaved head of dark hair, scarred and tattooed face, and the pair of goggles pushed up onto his forehead. It appeared he had allowed his demon form to partially appear to help with his work as evidenced by the massive scorpion tail that arched out of his lower back.

"Master and apprentice," Natsu said, "I have need of your skills."

"An order from the Prince himself; this should be wild and wicked fun." Scorpio grinned.

Natsu dug into Lucy's key pouch and produced the keys, "I need you to enhance the power of these keys. Give their wielder the power necessary to slay demons."

"Celestial Key's." Taurus said in admiration, "It has been a long time since I have handled one of those."

"Well, now you have a whole set to tinker with. Can it be done? Can you enhance these keys?"

Taurus tapped his helm but Natsu knew the man was grinning underneath, "As of the few in existence who knows how to work that magic, I'm offended that you would even ask such a question. It will take time…but I assure my lord that by the time me and Scorpio are done, the power of those keys will allow their user to go head to head with Acnologia himself."

"I hope it doesn't come to that," Natsu said under his breathe before adding, "I expect nothing but the best from you two. Tell me, would it be possible for you to get one or two keys to me today?"

"Hmmm…with such short notice as this, I'd usually say no." Taurus said, making Natsu frown. But then the man confidently placed his hands on his hips and give a resolute nod.

"But…that's not saying it isn't possible. I can only guarantee one key for today my lord."

Natsu sighed with a smile, "That's all that I ask. Thank you."

"May I ask who these keys belong to?" Taurus inquired.

"…A friend." Natsu said, rubbing the back of his neck.

"A friend? You mean your lady friend." Scorpio cackled, "Don't try to deny it dude, everyone has heard about her by now so-ACK!"

Scorpio was silenced when Taurus stuffed the rag that had been tucked in his apron into Scorpio's mouth. Natsu rolled his eyes and he was sure Taurus was doing the same.

"Get those keys to me ASAP and I'll get one back to you, ASAP." Taurus said, earning a nod from Natsu.

"Expect them shortly. I look forward to seeing your handiwork in action once more Taurus. I've never seen enhanced celestial magic before."

"Then be prepared to be blown away." Taurus grinned through his words.

XXXX

Hellhound Pens…

Lower castle levels…

The Hellhound Pens, were located near the base of the castle where it was easy for the riders to come and go as they pleased. And to Lucy's surprise, they were cleaner than she had imagined. Where she had expected dim lighting, a foul stench, hay strewn about, and just general clutter, Lucy found a stone path that led her through the space, heavy iron doors that secured the pens, workers diligently sweeping and mopping, riders storing their gear in nearby lockers, and slanted skylights that allowed for light and ventilation. The lanterns that hung on the walls provided additional light.

Looking into the pens, Lucy found that they were sunken into the floor with a few short steps leading down. The floor inside the pens were lined with heat generating magic runes, clean water ran through drainage cutouts, and fresh water was provided for drinking. More to the point, Lucy found that there was hardly any animal waste in the pens. Either the Hellhounds were a lot cleanlier than she gave them credit for or the demons seriously valued sanitation.

Capricorn tugged on her hand, snapping Lucy back to reality, and led her further down into the pens. She watched in awe as a hellhound was guided past here, the large reptile not even sparing her a sniff or glance, while a worker washed and cleaned a hellhound in its pen. For all their ferocious appearance and power, they seemed to be rather…docile.

Finally, Capricorn came to a stop before a pen on their right and created a key made out of shadow. The triple lock opened with a series of heavy "clanks" and the door opened with a well-oiled hiss. Poking her head in, Lucy found a female hellhound resting on her side, casually watching her brood of five hatchlings. The hatchlings were the size of a full grown corgi and were…cuter, in a way, compared to the full grown adults. The fact was further compounded by the fact that the hatchlings were fighting over a large piece of meat…and the smaller one out of the brood, kept on getting knocked back and dashing back in to get its fill.

"He must be the runt of the litter," Lucy thought with a soft smile, "poor thing just wants his lunch."

The mother gave a sniff of the air…and raised her head, focusing on Lucy. Her mouth opened with a hiss, exposing razor sharp teeth. For a brief moment, Lucy remembered Bora's screams as those same teeth turned him into a hellhound's dinner. The hatchlings too noticed Lucy and quickly scrambled back up against their mother for safety.

Lucy raised her hands defensively only for Capricorn to step past her and walk up to the mother, slowly rubbing his hand over the top of her head. The motion seemed to soothe the mother and after a moment, she rested her head back on the floor. Capricorn then beckoned Lucy over and she cautiously let the mother sniff her leg…and yelped when the hellhound licked her shin.

Capricorn patted her on the back and then pointed to the hatchlings.

Taking the hint, Lucy knelt down before the shaking pups and extended her hand, letting them get her scent. Only the runt seemed brave enough to get close to Lucy, who smiled softly when the little guy pressed his snout against her knuckles. She then giggled when the hatchling softly began to gnaw on her hand; its teeth had barely come in yet and all she felt were the soft gums.

Lucy carefully scooped the runt up into her arms and cradled it close, gently tracing her finger across the crest on its head. The pup made a pleased grunt and nuzzled closer into her. Emboldened, Lucy had Capricorn cut pieces of the meat to which Lucy fed to the pup until it had its fill. The pup let out a pleased belch, making Lucy laugh before sputtering when the hatchling gave her cheek a wet lick.

"He's perfect," Lucy said to Capricorn, "I'll take him to be my hellhound."

The shadow guard inclined his head and produced a small metal band from his belt, carefully fastening it to the pup's right leg. He produced a small collar, another metal band, and gently affixed it to the pup's neck. The pup squirmed in her grip but Lucy was quick to soothe it.

"He'll need a name, won't he?" Lucy asked to which Capricorn nodded.

Biting her lip in thought, Lucy gave a small smile when a trusted name came to mind.

"Sagittarius…his name is Sagittarius."

XXXX

The Sakura Courtyard…

Later that afternoon…

It was the same garden from her vision, Lucy thought with a slight gasp. Granted, it wasn't nighttime and there was no party going on within the castle, but she'd recognize the sakura trees all the same. It was beautiful with how the light glinted off of the blossoms and the air was filled with a lovely sweet scent. Reality, she found, was better than the dream this time around.

Having finished spending her time with Sagittarius, allowing the little Hellhound to imprint on her, Lucy had ventured to the library. She had been halfway through reading a story to Asuka when Laki had informed her that Natsu had called upon her and had instructed Capricorn to take her to "The Courtyard."

She was not familiar with the place and was intrigued as to why Natsu, of all times, had decided to show it to her now. Although awestruck by the beauty of the sakura trees and the magic that seemed to hum in the air, Lucy was still wondering what Natsu wanted. He had said he would call for her…so did that mean something had come up with her keys? She hoped not…otherwise she'd have to throttle the man for ruining her prized possessions.

Capricorn led her to the heart of the courtyard where she found Natsu waiting for her. He smiled when he spotted her and Lucy returned the gesture. Capricorn bowed to his master before sharply turning on his heel and leaving her alone with Natsu.

"Just us?" Lucy arched her brow.

"Just us." Natsu affirmed with a smile. He then dug into his pocket and produced a single key.

Lucy's mouth parted slightly and she slowly approached Natsu, slightly apprehensive as to what had become of her key.

"My sword key." Lucy said, "Has it truly been enhanced?"

"There's only one way to find out." Natsu said, extending the key to Lucy.

Licking her lips, Lucy took the key into her hands and gasped when she felt the magic course through her palm. It was familiar, the magic she had trained with all her life, but at the same time…she could feel there was more to it now. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end and her skin prickled from the magic all the way into the tips of her toes. And, was it just her or did the key itself feel heavier?

Taking a calming breath, Lucy called upon her magic and casted her key out. In an instant she was enveloped by the familiar blinding light of the celestial magic, however, Lucy now watched as a circle of magic runes appeared beneath her feet and rose all the way up her body. Where the runes passed, armor appeared, and the light that enveloped her seemed to enhance the radiance of the spectacle.

When the light faded in a flash, Lucy was once again covered in armor. It was sleeker than the previous suit had been-more contoured to her body-and instead of chainmail, a fabric like armor weave hugged her body. The armor was now colored with a black, matte finish and given a gold trim. Her cape had remained but was black and gold as well; but the Heartfilia family crest was still proudly displayed against her back.

Her hair, once tied back into a knot, had now become a long ponytail. And her sword, no longer a broadsword, had become a two handed longsword; the blade etched with rune after rune along the fuller.

Lucy couldn't help but smile as she curled her hands into fists. The power that coursed through her made her blood hum and quite frankly, was indescribable in its intensity.

"Amazing…this is just…amazing." Lucy grinned, looking at Natsu, "I've never felt so powerful. I feel…I feel as if I can take on any enemy in this armor!"

"Don't get carried away now Lucy," Natsu smirked, "sure, you may have the tools…but now you need the skills necessary to slay a demon."

"The skills hmm?" Lucy hummed, "And am I to assume that you are the one who will help me master these skills?"

"You catch on quick." Natsu grinned as he summoned his demon form and drew his own sword.

"Starting today Lucy…I will be your master and you will be my apprentice. I will teach you all that I know on fighting demons until…"

"Until I surpass the master." Lucy gave a confident smile as Natsu slowly put distance between them.

"Exactly. We'll start off today with spar just to get a feel for one another. Don't expect me to go easy on you." Natsu quipped, giving his sword a spin.

"I wouldn't expect you to." Lucy gave a sword spin of her own.

Natsu smiled and then bowed to Lucy. Lucy bowed in turn before taking a defensive stance. Natsu began to bounce on his feet, drawing his sword back.

"En garde Luce!" Natsu grinned and charged forward.

He came in low, his sword scraping against the ground in a shower of sparks before leaping high at Lucy. Lucy braced and raised her sword to meet Natsu's. Their swords clashed with a metallic bang and Lucy felt the force of the attack be absorbed by her armor, right at the knees. Lucy quickly shifted her weight, moving their swords aside and giving her an opening. She lashed out with an open palm strike that Natsu dodged. She then swiped her foot out, attempting to knock Natsu off his feet, but he jumped at the last second and gave Lucy a flying kick. She grunted from the impact but felt no pain, back flipping twice in order to regain her footing.

When she landed, Natsu was waiting for her and he swung out with his sword. Lucy gasped and parried the blade before deflecting a barrage of attacks from Natsu. But, she managed to keep pace with him each step of the way. She was surprised by this as the last time she had fought a demon, it had taken her all just to match him attack for attack. It must've been a benefit of her enhanced magic.

"Not bad Luce." Natsu grunted past a bevy of strikes, "You're holding your own pretty damn good."

"Thanks." Lucy said through gritted teeth, "I aim to please."

Lucy ducked past a strike, spun on her heel, and made a dash for a nearby tree. Natsu pursued, hot on her heels. Lucy took two bounding steps before leaping and running up the side of the tree, just as Natsu struck out-his sword bouncing off the tree trunk as the magic tree repelled it-and Lucy back flipped and brought her sword down upon Natsu. Without looking, Natsu intercepted the attack.

"Do you have eyes in the back of your head or something?" Lucy quipped with a tense smirk.

Natsu looked over his shoulder with a grin, "No…I'm just damn good."

Lucy back peddled before Natsu could counter and came to a stop, sword pointed at Natsu and parallel to her body.

"Care to back up those words?" Lucy licked her lips.

"Oh ho, getting feisty are we?" Natsu cracked his neck.

"Well, Aquarius always told me that if you want to make a good threat, you say, 'I'm not going to fight you…I'm going to kick your ass'."

Natsu cackled wickedly, "Oh you are just begging for trouble!"

Natsu burst forward, sword raised and ready to strike. Only when he met Lucy, Natsu heaved more force into the hit than Lucy had been anticipating and when she tried to counter-as their blades clashed fiercely-her foot caught his and their stances faltered.

The two lost their balance and tumbled to the ground, their swords scattering to the wayside. With a surprised yelp from Lucy and a pained "Oof!" from Natsu, the two landed in a heap. Natsu lay on his back while Lucy lay atop him, both blinking rapidly as they tried to process what had happened.

"You alright Luce?" Natsu asked as Lucy pushed herself up.

"Yeah…yeah, sorry about that." Lucy said, her hands splayed out beside Natsu's head.

"No, it was my fault. Used a little too much force in that last move." Natsu said with a bashful smirk.

"And I grabbed hold of you and took you down with me." Lucy countered.

"Technically, it was both our faults."

"If you say so." Natsu gave Lucy a teasing smirk, "I still blame you."

Lucy rolled her eyes, "Of course you do."

Natsu snorted and pushed himself up slightly, "Well, I think that's enough for one day. You're learning fast, I'm impressed."

"Thank you, you're not half bad yourself." Lucy smirked.

"Smart aleck." Natsu snorted.

Lucy giggled but let out a soft gasp when she felt Natsu loom closer to her as he continued to push up. It was only then that the two realized how close they were to one another. Their foreheads were nearly touching and they could see the pigments into the others eyes.

"Uhm…Luce?" Natsu said, his warm breath fanning over her, "You alright?"

Lucy felt her cheeks and neck heat.

"Lucy?" Natsu asked again, noticing her skin start to redden; the intensity of her breathing.

Lucy licked her lips and swallowed hard. This…this was the closest she had ever been to Natsu, closer than she had been during their training. Her skin felt warm, almost uncomfortably so, and Lucy found herself rooted in place. She was so close to Natsu that she found herself suddenly wanting to kiss him, to feel his lips against hers.

This feeling was only compounded when Natsu nervously licked his own lips.

She had never kissed someone before, at least, not in an intimate sense.

"Lucy," Natsu said, his voice soft and eyes searching hers, "What's wrong, you're hands are shaking."

Lucy glanced down and saw that indeed, her hands had begun to tremble slightly. She bit her lip…and summoned her courage. She couldn't hold her feelings back anymore. She was in love with the demon lord and she wanted to express that in the only way she could think of in that moment.

She met Natsu's eyes once more and brought their lips together. Natsu froze, eyes going wide, as Lucy's lips melded to his.

It was her first kiss.

Their first kiss.

Lucy's lips were soft, warm, and so very, very inviting. Lucy pressed herself flush against Natsu, her knees bending so her hips straddled his, and deepened the kiss. A soft moan rumbled deep in Lucy's chest and Natsu found himself unable to pull away. Slowly, his one hand moved to hold her hip while his other clenched against the flagstones.

Natsu let his eyes close and gave into bliss.

Although time seemed to pass the two by without consequence, the need for air became apparent and the two were forced to pull apart. They breathed heavily-deeply-and rested their foreheads against one another. Natsu's brow furrowed slightly as he opened his eyes, half lidded. Lucy's gaze mirrored his.

They stayed like that, in stunned silence, for more than several heartbeats. Then, as if a switch had been flipped, reality came back to Natsu.

"Lucy…I'm sorry…shit, Lucy, I'm sorry I should have done that!" Natsu said, eyes wide with panic, "That was stupid and-"

Lucy silenced him by sealing her lips over Natsu's.

"Mmph!" Natsu grunted in surprise before his eyes closed just as quickly.

Taking the initiative and feeling rather brave, Lucy decided to try something she had read about in the various romance novels she had perused in addition to Erza's "special" books. Tentatively, Lucy ran her tongue along the seam of Natsu's lips. Natsu shuddered and his lips parted, allowing Lucy's tongue to meet his; the two shuddering when their tongues met. Lucy felt electricity run up her spine and she vaguely registered a grating sound, as if metal was grinding against stone. Their kisses were far from perfect. They were sloppy, needy, and their teeth clinked on occasion.

But goddamn did it feel good. Lucy's blood boiled with pleasure, her heart thundered in her chest, and every nerve seemed to tingle in bliss. Natsu in turn had let out a series of satisfied grunts that reverberated into Lucy and she felt the air around them surge with his magic.

When they parted for a second time, a single line of saliva connected their lips.

"Natsu…" Lucy whispered, her voice heated, "kiss me. Please. I want this…I want you."

Natsu shuddered again as he gave the blonde a sly grin.

"Careful princess…" Natsu growled, his voice deep but husky; his eyes still half lidded but glowing vibrantly.

"It's dangerous to tempt a demon…we can lose control pretty easily if the temptation is too great."

Lucy smirked a sultry smirk, licking her lips with an amused purr when she felt him tighten his hold on her hip.

"Is that so?" Lucy's breath fanned over Natsu's cheeks, making him shiver. She bit her lip as she slowly moved her hand up his chest, then his neck and to the base of his skull; gently dragging her fingernails across heated skin before twining her fingers in his hair.

Natsu shivered again but his eyes never left hers. Lucy rested her free hand atop of Natsu's, tracing lazy patterns across it.

She licked her lips again, her smirk deepening, as she leaned up so that her lips were tantalizingly close to Natsu's ear.

"Do I tempt you Natsu?" Lucy purred coquettishly, "Do I make your control…waver?"

"See for yourself." Natsu smirked bag, giving his hand a slight wiggle beneath hers.

Looking down, she saw that his hand had partially transformed into its demon form; black armor and red scales.

"My, my," Lucy purred, "the mighty demon brought to his knees by a little kiss."

"A 'little' kiss?" Natsu arched a brow, "For a little kiss, that was quite bold of you."

Before Lucy could react, she found herself on her back having been flipped over by Natsu. A surprised gasp left her lungs but she didn't feel fear from the action. Rather, Natsu's sudden act of dominance sent a thrill through her. In fact, she felt-dare she say it-aroused by all that had happened.

Natsu's armored hand came up and caressed her cheek before cupping it. Lucy leaned into his touch with a soft hum.

"You're…you're so beautiful Lucy." Natsu's voice was so quiet it almost sounded like a whisper in the wind.

"So beautiful."

Lucy smiled gently and reached her hands up to meet Natsu; one gently caressing his hair while the other traced the scar on his cheek. She then traced over his eye patch, watching the small glowing dot beneath it.

"And you're the most handsome, courageous, and wonderful man I've ever met." Lucy replied.

Natsu shook his head, "I'm no man. I'm a demon Lucy."

"Man…demon…it doesn't matter to me. You're someone special to me…someone who I…"

Lucy paused for a moment and swallowed hard. Natsu studied her closely, suddenly feeling anxious. He watched as her lips began to form the words he had meant to tell her the day before; words he hadn't expected to hear from her but prayed she'd reciprocate.

"Who I…love." Lucy said, "I love you Natsu Dragneel."

She'd said it. She'd actually said it! She felt the same way too! He felt like he could burst into a million pieces then and there. But, knowing that was physically impossible, he did the next best thing. He dipped his head down and claimed Lucy with a soul searing kiss. Her arms instantly moved around his shoulders and pulled him close, his body practically collapsing atop hers.

"I love you." He said in between heated breathes, "I love you Lucy Anna Heartfilia."

"Natsu…" Lucy breathed, feeling tears well up in her eyes.

"I've loved for the longest time and will continue to love you…so long as you let me." Natsu whispered, his voice heavy with adoration.

Lucy smiled a watery smile and rested her forehead against Natsu's once more. She brushed the tip of her nose against his before kissing him once, conveying her feelings when words failed her.

"Lucy…" Natsu murmured when they parted again.

"I've fallen in love with you Natsu…and I will continue to love you. Nothing will ever change that." Lucy said.

She then tapped the key on her hip and her armor faded away, changing back to her dress. Did she care that the straps of her dress had fallen low on her shoulders? No…because what she had in mind next would take every ounce of bravery she had in that moment.

"But…don't just tell me you love me…show me." Lucy said as she shifted her shoulders, allowing the straps to slide further down.

"Touch me."

Natsu double blinked, surprised by Lucy's boldness. But then again, she was the type of woman who knew what she wanted and wasn't afraid to go after it.

He smirked a dark, sensual smirk, "Feeling mighty brave aren't we Princess?"

Before Lucy could respond, his lips found the heated skin of her neck, earning a surprised and pleasured gasp from Lucy. He'd taken the hint and was acting on it. He grazed his sharp canines against her skin, nipping at her pulse before soothing it with his tongue. When his mouth found the hollow of her throat, Lucy gasped and arched into Natsu who pulled her as close. Holding her, and with a little maneuvering, Natsu was sitting up with Lucy in his lap.

In the process, Natsu had used his teeth to pull the top of Lucy's dress down…thus freeing her ample breasts. Lucy trembled in his hands, her breath leaving her in heated breathes, but she made no move to pull away; her legs having wrapped around Natsu's hips while she clung to his shoulders. Natsu held her steady, his one hand flat against her back, while his other was free to gently caress her cheek.

"Lucy…" Natsu said, eyes smoldering with barely contained lust, "if you want me to stop…tell me and I will."

Swallowing hard, Lucy shook her head, "No…it's okay…I want this…I'm just nervous."

"Are you sure?" He asked. Lucy knew if she told him so, he would let her go in an instant and help her cover up. He was wonderful like that.

She chewed on her lip for two tense heartbeats before nodding her head and leaning back just a bit to give Natsu a little more leeway.

"I'm…I'm not ready to go…all the way." She stammered out, "But for now…this is fine."

Natsu blinked slowly, twice, before inhaling deeply and guiding her mouth to his. The kiss was quicker than what she would've liked, but the thought was banished from Lucy's mind as the feeling of Natsu running tongue down her throat drew her attention. He nipped at her collarbone, making her squirm in his grip, before his mouth continued its trail down. And when his mouth found the pert nipple of her right breast, Lucy couldn't help the surprised-and pleased-gasp that left her lips.

His mouth sealed over the pert nub, nipping, suckling, licking, and drawing all sorts of mewls, keening whines, and pleasured sobs from Lucy. Her hands moved to the back of his head and tightly gripped his hair; she felt Natsu smirk against her skin. He released her with a wet pop of skin before he focused on left breast, giving it the same treatment as its twin.

"Natsu…" Lucy moaned wantonly, "Natsu…"

Natsu growled deeply in response and Lucy felt a warmth flood the pit of her belly while a sore ache formed between her legs. Natsu plus growling made for quite the turn on, apparently. Unconsciously, Lucy ground her hips into Natsu's, alleviating some of the ache while further spurring Natsu on. He switched back to her right breast but his free hand came up to mold the supple flesh to his touch. Lucy groaned deeply before trying to stifle a yelp when he tweaked and pinched the hardened nub.

"Naughty Lucy…" Natsu murmured with a smirk into her skin.

"Like…like you're one to talk." Lucy rasped.

"Aye," Natsu admitted, "but you're the one who wanted this."

Before Lucy could respond, Natsu leaned up and captured her lips, earning a muffled grunt in response. His free hand lingered on her breast before trailing down the flat expanse of her stomach, briefly squeezing her hip, before his hand finally met the smooth skin of her thigh. Lucy tensed at the feeling of Natsu's hand, even more so when he returned her onto her back. Natsu assuaged her concerns by deepening the kiss and softly whispering against her lips when they paused to catch their breath. Then his hand slipped past the slit in her dress and brushed over her wet heat.

Lucy gasped, eyes snapping open as she bucked her hips into Natsu's touch and arched into him while the demon growled deeply against her throat.

"Natsu!" Lucy managed to find her voice just as Natsu's fingers moved past her curls and skimmed her slit.

Natsu growled out her name just as he trailed his mouth down to her breast and seized the hardened nipple with his tongue and teeth. At the same time, his digits traced and teased the sensitive bundle of nerves at the junction of her legs before finally delving into her core. Lucy cried out as her hands moved from Natsu's hair to grasp his shoulders once more; the hardened muscle giving her something more tangible to hold onto. The heels of her boots dug into his thighs and Natsu swore her knees would break with how tight she was holding onto his hips.

But neither fact deterred Natsu; he was too focused on pleasing his princess. All the while, Lucy continued to gasp and cry out his name like a prayer, her voice freely expressing the euphoria she felt. In the back of her mind she had noted how Erza's books didn't even hold a candle to describing how she was feeling in that moment.

Bliss.

Euphoria.

Ecstasy.

All were good choice words but for Lucy, she knew she'd never be able to truly describe how she felt as Natsu, the man she loved, pleased her and lavished her with attention.

The ache in her belly had turned into a coiled knot that burned and pulsed with every deft movement of Natsu's hand. His fingers were now drawing some rather lewd sounds from her weeping slit, the digits now thoroughly drenched, and it only served to spur him on as he focused on one particular spot inside of her while his thumb massaged her clit. Meanwhile, his mouth continued to lavish her breasts; each nip, lick, and prolonged kiss sending a jolt up her spine and into her belly. The knot continued to tighten, almost unbearably so, and Lucy found herself uttering profanity after profanity, curse after curse, as she mewled and begged for Natsu to go harder and faster with his hand.

He complied…and all it took were four pumps of his hand to finally make the knot snap. Lucy's eyes went wide, her vision blurring and going white, while her mouth opened in a choked scream. Her body locked up and quivered as Natsu held her tight; her first orgasm sending liquid fire through her veins. Soon, relief washed over her and she went limp in Natsu's arms, her breathing heavy and skin flushed.

Natsu carefully withdrew his hand and rolled onto his back, letting Lucy collapse atop him.

"Natsu…" she managed to wheeze out, "that was…that was…"

"Amazing?" Natsu asked with a slight smirk and Lucy could only numbly nod her head.

"I…I didn't know what to expect." She licked her lips, finding the strength to look up at him.

"I mean…I read about this sort of thing…but I never thought that it could feel so good."

Natsu smirked and kissed the top of her head, "Words can only take you so far. Actions, however, are something else entirely."

The two were silent for a minute, simply listening to the breeze rustle the sakura blossoms and the steady beating of their hearts.

"What…what happens now?" Lucy asked tentatively, drawing her hand up to trace the scar on Natsu's neck.

"…Well, after what just happened…and what we said earlier; there's no way things can go back to how they were." Natsu said.

"And I'm sure it won't be long before people will start to notice that things are different between us."

Lucy tensed slightly, imagining the worst. Would they have to hide their relationship? Would they be forced apart if people knew? The thought of being separated from Natsu made her heart ache.

"Which is why the next time I speak with your father, I am going to ask for permission to court you."

It took Lucy a whole three seconds to register what Natsu had said, but when she did, her head snapped up; a wide smile on her lips and eyes brimming with tears.

"Really!?" She said, unable to contain her joy.

"Really." Natsu nodded his head with a smile, his lips finding hers.

"I love you Lucy…and I want to be with you. You have become someone very special to me and I can't imagine not having you in my life. If you're father agrees…will you be mine?"

"…Yes." Lucy said, swallowing the lump in her throat, "Yes."

Natsu smiled his radiant smile and pulled her close, arms wrapping around her. Lucy returned the embrace and let her tears of joy flow freely.

"I'm glad," she said, "I'm truly glad. I feel the same way about you Natsu."

Natsu chuckled in a pleased manner and rested his forehead against Lucy's. It was then that Lucy felt a sudden wave of exhaustion overcome her. Natsu noticed this too and let Lucy's head return to resting on his chest. Her eyes felt heavy, as did the rest of her body.

"Looks like the high is starting to wear off." Natsu said, almost matter of factly.

"Yeah…" Lucy murmured, "I think you're right."

Her climax had taken more out of her than she had been expecting and she felt tired…not so much as drained but sated. She felt as if a euphoric sense of ease had washed over her. Natsu pulling her close, summoning his wings to wrap around them, and the steady thrum of his heart only added to the blissful moment. Her eyes began to flutter shut.

"Rest Lucy." Natsu whispered, "Just close your eyes and rest."

"…Okay." She breathed out.

Lucy smiled as Natsu pulled her closer, gently running his hand through her hair, and lulling her to sleep.

XXXX

She stood amongst a large garden, enjoying the warm summer air and how her gown fluttered in the summer breeze.

It was a pleasant place, the garden, set within the protective walls of the castle. But, calling it a simple garden would do the place no justice, seeing as how it covered at least two acres of land. Stone paths led through the center, all the while being lined with benches, fountains, and mighty sakura trees to offer shade. Flowers of various breeds and colors covered every available inch of ground and filled the air with a heavenly sweet aroma.

The laughter of a small child caught her attention and she looked ahead of her just in time to see a flash of pink disappear behind one of the nearby trees.

Lucy smiled and began to walk forward.

"Oh where, oh where, has my little angel gone?" She said aloud, a smile on her lips.

"I can't seem to find her. Is she hiding amongst the flowers? Is she hiding amongst the fountains?"

The child giggled again although it was apparent she was trying hard to muffle the sounds. Lucy smiled and suppressed a giggle of her own. Although they were playing hide and seek, her daughter always made it easy to find her.

"Or maybe…she's hiding behind…" Lucy said and with a burst of speed was at the tree, peering around it.

"A tree!" Lucy grinned as her daughter let out a surprised "eep!" and fell on her backside.

She was the spitting image of her mother; long golden hair, a heart shape face, and wide, doe eyes. She did, however, have her father's eyes; black sclera and vibrant, glowing emerald irises. She wore a beautiful pink and white dress and clutched a stuffed dragon plushie close to her. It was handmade by her mother, of course.

Before she so much could reach out a tap her daughter on the nose, the little girl rolled back and leapt to her feet with surprising agility; her father's grin on her lips.

"You're gonna have to catch me mama!" The little girl said in half challenge, half glee.

Then from her back, a pair of white, angle like wings sprouted and flapped, taking her to the air.

Not one to back down from a challenge, Lucy smirked and summoned her own wings. There was no tearing of fabric, indicating that the dress had an open back. Two large wings and two smaller wings flared out; the downy feathers colored black with white tips as opposed to her daughters.

Within seconds, mother and daughter were chasing one another through the air as their laughter echoed throughout the garden. But, as nimble as her daughter was, she was no match for her mother…well, not yet anyways.

"Gotcha'!" Lucy exclaimed as her arms wrapped around her daughter.

The little girl let out a peel of laughter as she and her mother glided back to the ground below. The laughter only increased as Lucy's fingers danced across her belly, tickling her and earning belly laugh after belly laugh.

Lucy ceased her attack and pulled her daughter into a hug, her wings wrapping around her and her child. She loved her daughter more than anything in this world. She was a ray of sunshine that lit her world and grew brighter and brighter with each passing day.

"I love you silly little girl." Lucy hummed, kissing the top of her daughters head.

"I love you mommy." The child replied.

Another rustling of wings caught their attention and they looked just in time to see a man land on the nearby path. His dragon like wings pulled back to reveal a man with short, salmon colored hair, an eye-patch over his right eye, and held against his chest in a sling, a baby boy with rose brushed gold hair. The baby looked up with wide, curios eyes before noticing his mother and sister. His tiny hand reached out, opening and closing, while he sucked on his pacifier in an excited manner.

"Daddy!" The little girl exclaimed as Lucy set her down, running over to her father.

"There's my two favorite girls in the whole wide world." Natsu grinned as he scooped his daughter up with one arm, kissing her cheek with rapid fire kisses and making her squeal.

"Did you and mommy have fun little princess?"

"Uh-huh, mommy and I had lots and lots of fun!" The girl grinned.

"Is that right?" Natsu asked as Lucy came to him, standing on the tips of her toes to gently kiss Natsu. They rested their foreheads against one another for a moment before the baby boy tugged at his mother's dress. Lucy smiled and took him into her arms.

"Hello little star shine," she soothed, "did you miss your mommy?"

The baby boy nuzzled his head closer to her heartbeat in response and Lucy gently kissed the top of his head.

"Brother missed you mommy." Her daughter hummed as she too placed a kiss atop her baby brother's head. Lucy wasn't sure who doted on him more; her or her daughter.

"Yeah, he was getting a bit fussy after he woke up from his nap and I could sense he was missing you." Natsu said.

"So here I am." He added with a lackadaisical smirk.

"Oh, poor boy, was daddy not giving you enough love?" Lucy teased, making her daughter giggle.

"Oi! I give you three plenty of love." Natsu harrumphed, "In fact, I'd say my heart is bursting with love; like a volcano!"

Lucy kissed him again, amidst their daughters amused giggles, and smiled against his lips.

"I know…" She said softly, "but maybe tonight you show me rather tell, hmm?"

Natsu smirked, keeping his own voice low, "I think I'd be up for that."

"Would you also be up for being a little…rough?" Lucy arched her brow with a smirk.

Natsu's response was a deep, throaty chuckle, giving her all the answer she needed.

"Mommy, daddy," Their daughter whined, "You two are being all weird and lovey-dovey again."

"Are we? I hadn't noticed." Natsu feigned ignorance as he ruffled the little girl's hair. He set her down and took her hand, Lucy doing the same for her other while cradling the baby boy close.

"C'mon," Natsu said, "let's go see if Yuki and Storm are playing with the other kids. I'm sure they'd be happy to see you."

"That's right," Lucy added, "and maybe Aunt Juvia and Uncle Gray can make you more ice and water figures; wouldn't that be fun?"

"Really?" Her daughter beamed to which she nodded her head. The little girl let out a series of excited giggles and began to pull her parents along.

Glancing at Natsu, who gave her a warm smile, Lucy couldn't help but smile in return. This, she had decided, was where she was meant to be; at Natsu's side, with their children, together as a family. This was what true happiness felt like.

With a start, Lucy awoke with a gasp, the sensations of her dream, no, her vision, still fresh on her senses.

She had another vision; it had been months since her last one. It had been another glimpse into the future, like the other ones, but this one…this one brought a heated blush to her cheeks. She had just shared her first kiss-her first taste of intimacy-with Natsu and she was already having visions of her and Natsu with children. Good lord!

"I was wondering when you'd wake up." Natsu said, prompting her to look up at him. He smiled softly and kissed her forehead.

Lucy yawned and stretched her arms, Natsu unfurling his wings as he did so, "What time is it?"

"Almost sundown." Natsu said, "I guess you really were tired after all."

Lucy blushed heavily as she remembered their afternoon "fun" and buried her face into Natsu's chest, making him chuckle in amusement.

"I didn't expect things to go that far…I'm not saying it was bad…just…" Lucy's voice died in her throat as her embarrassed flush became even more heated.

"You're adorable when you blush, you know that right?" Natsu smirked. He then stood, taking Lucy up with him and carrying her bridal style.

"Natsu," Lucy said, "I can walk on my own; you don't have to carry me."

"I know." Natsu said simply as he made their way back towards the courtyards entrance.

"But…?" Lucy asked.

"But I felt like carrying you." He smiled and Lucy felt a warmth spread through her chance. When did Natsu turn into such a hopeless romantic?

The halls were empty, save for the occasional guard or passing servant, and the dying light filled the halls with dark shadows and warm glows.

"You might want to take a bath before dinner," Natsu said, "as much as I enjoyed what we did…I don't want the whole world to pick up on it."

"Right." Lucy said with a slight blush. Demon senses were especially tuned to the world around them and she wasn't fond of other demons giving her lingering, knowing glances or silent disapproval.

The rest of the walk was silent between them, both basking in a comfortable silence before Natsu set her down outside the bathes near her room.

"I'll have someone send you some new clothes for dinner. Take as long as you need." Natsu said before giving Lucy a quick peck on the lips, his thumb smoothing over her hand.

"I'll see you soon." Lucy smiled, giving Natsu a kiss of her own. Lucy's hand lingered in his, not willing to part just yet, and Natsu gave her a rather charming smile in response. But soon enough, he was walking back down the hall to own room, more than likely to change and wash too.

With a wistful sigh, Lucy opened the doors to the bathes. It wasn't until a half hour later that she emerged, freshly washed and cleansed, and found a blue long sleeve dress and heels waiting for her. And patiently standing at attention was Capricorn.

"Hello Capricorn, did Natsu send you?" She asked to which the living shadow nodded.

Lucy picked up the dress with smile, her hands tracing the intricate patterns woven into the fabric.

"Did he pick this out for me?" But to her surprise, Capricorn shook his head.

"He didn't? Was it Mira or Lisanna? Juvia?" She asked and Capricorn continued to shake his head each time. Then, slowly, he raised his hand and pointed to himself.

"You did?" Lucy asked, honestly surprised. She didn't imagine that a living shadow could make such a decision, let alone have a sense of fashion.

"Why thank you." Lucy smiled sweetly and pressed a soft kiss to the shadows armored helm. She let out a slight "eep" when Capricorn literally deflated for a second, the shadows spilling out of his armor. But, he quickly reformed himself and gave an embarrassed rub of his neck.

Lucy couldn't help but giggle and stepped back into the bathes, "I'll be out in a jiff alright? Then you can take me to dinner."

The shadow nodded and a few minutes later, Lucy was dressed and Capricorn had escorted her to the grand hall where she found Natsu and the other demons waiting for her. Dinner was a relatively uneventful affair, with most of the discussion centering on planning the evacuation and relocation of the people from the outlying towns and the frontier. Battle plans were also discussed but from what Lucy could gather, they were preliminary in nature and were to be added to or finalized as time went on.

She sat next Natsu, stealing shy glances at him and receiving soft smiles in return. Beneath the table, her hand found Natsu's and gently traced his knuckles while his own fingers traced the life lines of her hand.

If anyone had noticed that something had changed between the two of them, they made no mention of it or were too preoccupied to really give it much thought or notice. Well, save for Juvia, who sat across from Lucy with Gray and his family. Lucy overheard Gray discussing a training regimen that he and Juvia could practice together along with input from Silver, Ur, and Ultear.

But more to the point, Lucy noticed how close Juvia sat next to Gray…how close he let her. Apparently the training she had begun earlier in the day had proved successful in more ways than one.

Juvia met Lucy's eyes and she offered her friend a small, sheepish smile. Lucy smirked, at least until Juvia gave a similar smirk aimed at her and Natsu. Now it was Lucy's turn to give an embarrassed smile…accompanied by a heavy blush.

Juvia double blinked and looked from Lucy, to Natsu, and back to Lucy. Lucy simply winked at her friend and mouthed, "I'll tell you later."

Juvia would've pressed, but she was promptly brought back into the conversation Gray was having with his father, for which Lucy was grateful for. She had to be careful in how she told Juvia about what she and Natsu had did…the woman was just a much a hopeless romantic as she was and Lucy had no doubt Juvia would be…overwhelmed by what she had to say.

Dinner continued for a while longer before one by one, the grand halls occupants retired for the night. Lucy, Natsu, and Capricorn were the last to leave, both the shadow and the demon escorting Lucy back to her room.

The gas lamps in the halls were turned down low, thus giving a warm, comfortable air to the castle. The feeling made Lucy hum softly as she held Natsu's hand, resting her head against his shoulder. Natsu gave a deep rumble in his chest on occasion, reminding Lucy of a cat purring in content. As much as they would have liked the moment to have lasted, the two lovers came to a stop outside of Lucy's room and they were hesitant to part ways. Capricorn for his part simply leaned against the opposite wall and let the prince and princess have their moment.

"Today was…eventful." Lucy said with a shy smile, looking up at Natsu.

"That's one way of putting it." Natsu smirked as he rested his forehead against Lucy's.

"Things are going to be different, from here on out I mean." Natsu said, "But…I want to see where this goes…you and me I mean."

"Me too." Lucy replied, "Not to sound like a perv…but I think I could get used to you and me becoming…closer, like before."

"Naughty Lucy." Natsu chuckled and gently pressed his lips to hers. Lucy returned the kiss and sighed when they parted.

"Goodnight Lucy." Natsu said, pulling away but letting his hand linger in hers just a moment longer. When his hand left hers, Lucy felt a slight pang at the loss of contact. She smiled however, even when Natsu gave her a look over his shoulder when he turned on his heel.

"Goodnight…Natsu." Lucy whispered softly. And it wasn't until Natsu disappeared down the hall that she entered her room.

XXXX

Later that night…

No matter how hard she tried, sleep eluded Lucy and she found herself watching the embers glow in her fireplace, the hands on her bedside clock tick by, and the day's events playing over and over again in her head. In particular, her time spent with Natsu and the intimate moment they shared. It was as lewd as it was satisfying and that mortifying train of thought made her honestly wonder if she was a bit of a pervert.

The thought of Natsu's hands and lips roaming her body, the sounds he had elicited from her…she had never felt anything like that before. Sure, she had read about men and women reaching that sort of ecstasy and emotional high in plenty of books…but to actually feel it was another thing entirely. Inadvertently, Lucy realized her hand was moving of its own accord, tracing her fingers over where Natsu had marked her. She yearned for his touch once more; to feel that white hot bliss shoot through her veins again…and again…and again.

It was only when she felt her hand brush her thigh and move up beneath her nightgown that she stopped and let out a groan of embarrassment; more so when she felt the dull ache return between her legs.

She just couldn't get Natsu out of her head; not after all that had happened within the last forty-eight hours!

With an irritated huff, Lucy tossed off her covers and got out of bed. Taking a few calming breathes, Lucy chewed on her lip as she thought over what she was about to do. Her heartbeat echoed in her ears, her chest and stomach felt warm, and she knew that she wouldn't be able to calm down until she saw Natsu. To hell with any etiquette reserved for this sort of thing…Lucy knew what she wanted and wouldn't be deterred.

So, with that thought in mind, she removed her night gown and threw on her night robe; the flannel garment quickly warming her skin. Stepping into her slippers, Lucy opened her door to find Capricorn leaning back against the adjacent wall-seemingly melded to the shadows that filled the hall-, arms crossed, and head bent as if he were sleeping.

To be honest, Lucy didn't know it was possible for the living shadow and the rest of his kin to sleep. It would seem that the more time she spent in East Tartarus, the better the odds were of her learning something new every day. But then Capricorn, without looking up, raised his hand in pointed down the hall.

Lucy swallowed hard and felt her cheeks warm, "You…you know where I'm going?"

Capricorn didn't answer; he simply continued pointing down the hall before pointing left and giving her a thumbs up. The directions to Natsu's room.

With a sheepish smile, Lucy gave her silent guard a wave as she left her room. Capricorn raised his head slightly to watch her disappear down the hall before shrugging his shoulders and going back to sleep.

XXXX

Natsu sighed heavily as he put the last set of documents down on his desk, leaning back into his chair and massaging his brow. There had been quite the stack waiting for him and not feeling tired just yet, Natsu had decided to be productive and see if he could get through the paperwork. The thing about paperwork was that it never failed to put him to sleep so he considered it killing two birds with one stone when he began to read through the documents.

Security reports, repair updates on the wall, burial planning for the fallen, intelligence reports, questions from the civilian council; the list went on and on.

It had been quarter after eight by the time he had returned to his room and he found that it was close to midnight now. He did feel tired but not as much as he would have liked. Sighting once more, Natsu stood and cracked his back, looking out his window at the star filled sky.

Their ceaseless glint against infinity always helped to calm his nerves…but as of late, they had taken on a different meaning. The stars had begun to remind him of Lucy. Not because she wielded the powers of the stars but she, like the stars, burned with an intensity all her own. He hadn't noticed it when she first met, but having come to know her-to become closer to her, intimately so-he could see how determined she was in her duty as a princess and warrior. She was steadfast, full of courage, and could fight with strength of a hellhound.

Hell, he thought with a smirk, looking back on things these had been some of the factors that made him fall for her.

A quick set of quiet knocks at his door snapped him out of his thoughts and Natsu arched a brow. He could sense Lucy; what was she doing here so late?

Opening the door, he found her cautiously looking back and forth down the hall. His lips turned up with a roll of his eyes and beckoned her in.

"Hey." She said when the door closed.

"Hey yourself," Natsu chuckled, "everything alright?"

"Yeah…I just couldn't sleep." Lucy said as she tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. Her hands then began to play with the waistband loop of her nightrobe. It was flannel and suited her, in her own unique way.

"Funny, me neither." Natsu said, walking over to his desk and retrieving a bottle full of amber liquid and two glasses.

"For when days get particularly rough." Natsu gave a sardonic smirk as he handed Lucy a glass, making her snort. He filled both glasses and clinked them together.

"Cheers." Natsu said, taking a long drink.

"What are we toasting?" Lucy asked, taking a sip of her drink. Spiced rum, Lucy thought; rum always made her belly warm and her spine tingle.

"Whatever you want." Natsu replied.

Lucy hummed thoughtfully before smiling, "To us."

"…To us." Natsu smiled, clinking glasses again, and the two shared a drink.

"This is good." Lucy said, swirling the rum in her glass. She smacked her lips twice and took another sip.

"I would hope so," Natsu smiled, "this was from Igneel's personal stock. He casked it himself, oh about, a hundred years ago I think."

"That's right, I forgot you told me that Igneel had been around for a while before he finally found you." Lucy took another sip of her drink.

"Speaking of which, you never did tell me how that happened."

Natsu gave a wry smirk and was quiet for a minute before shaking his head, "Another time. Not now, but I promise, I will tell you how that all happened."

Lucy frowned slightly. She felt as if Natsu was hiding something important from her and normally, she would have pressed for details. But, she didn't want to ruin what she and Natsu had so early on…so reluctantly, she let the matter slide.

Besides, she had more…pressing matters on her mind, she thought with a tint of pink on her cheeks.

"You sure you're alright?" Natsu asked as he pressed the back of his hand to her forehead, finishing his drink.

Lucy's cheeks darkened in color and she quickly downed the rest of her drink as well; calling upon some liquid courage to help her confidence. Natsu made to refill her glass but Lucy stopped him, grabbing his wrist before slowly intertwining their fingers. She set her glass down, Natsu did the same, and pulled Natsu by the hand so that they were standing before the fireplace.

"Lucy?" Natsu asked, perplexed. He could hear her heart race a mile a minute and thought it'd burst out of her chest.

"I've…" She started, "I've been thinking about what we did earlier…in the courtyard, I mean."

"Ah…" Natsu said, his cheeks taking their turn to color, "You're not having any second thoughts about that….are you? I mean, if I upset you and didn't realize it I-"

Lucy cut him off with a kiss, effectively silencing him. She let her nose brush against his while her lips moved in a slow and chaste manner. When they parted, Natsu blinked with a bemused smile.

"I'll take that as a no?" He quipped.

Lucy smiled softly and gently traced the scar on Natsu's cheek, "No, you're fine. I was fine before and I'm fine now. It's just…I can't get what I felt, how you made me feel, out of my head. I…I want you to make me feel like that again. I want more."

Lucy let go of Natsu and took a step back, stepped out of her slippers, and undid her nightrobe. Natsu's breath hitched when she found that she had worn nothing beneath the garment. Natsu knew Lucy was beautiful…but to see her, standing before him in all her natural glory, was something else entirely. Her skin had a rosy warm hue, her hair freely cascaded down her back and over her shoulders, her ample breasts moved in time with her breathing while her nipples perked up slightly, and there was a patch of dark curls at the junction between her legs.

"I…I stand by what I said earlier." Lucy said, crossing her arms beneath her breasts while shifting on her feet. Natsu swallowed hard at how the dying firelight made the shadows hug her body and highlight the warmth of her skin; the soft dips, curves, and toned muscle.

"I'm not ready to go all the way. Not yet. But…" She licked her lips, "that doesn't mean I don't want you to touch me."

Natsu silently regarded her for a moment before he nodded his head in understanding. Then, his hands nimbly unbuttoned his shirt and let if fall.

"What are you…?" Lucy gasped in surprise.

He smiled a rather calm smile as his hands went for his belt buckle and the buttons of his slacks.

"What does it look like?" He quipped.

Lucy began to fan her face when she noted it had become almost unbearably warm in the room and not just because the fire was still burning.

"Just because I'm naked doesn't mean you have to…" Lucy began but Natsu interjected.

"Until you're ready…I think this will be an even trade." Natsu said, shedding the last of his clothing.

Lucy, wide eyed and mouth slightly agape, openly admired Natsu's body. Battle scarred and muscled, Lucy wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch him. However, when she found her eyes lingering a little too long between his legs, she averted her gaze and felt her cheeks and chest warm to almost incinerating levels.

Her heart jackhammered in her chest.

And then Natsu was before her, taking her hand and laying it flat against his own beating heart. He smiled softly as his other hand cupped her chin between his thumb and index finger, making her look at him. She swallowed hard and licked her lips, returning a smile of her own at the sheer adoration she saw in his eyes.

He then leaned in and brought her lips to his, earning a pleased hum in response from Lucy. Her hands moved up the sculpted muscles of abdomen and chest before finally wrapping around his neck. Her fingers wove themselves into his hair. Natsu's hands circled around her, tracing up and down the length of her spine, before settling on her hips and pulling her flush against him.

Lucy gasped into the kiss when she felt a firm warmth press against her stomach. She broke the kiss, leaving only enough room for their heated breathes to mingle, as she glanced down between them. Chewing on her lip, her half lidded eyes found Natsu's burning emerald orbs once more.

"M-May I?" Lucy whispered as she shifted in place, the smooth skin of her stomach creating a delicious friction that made Natsu's hands twitch against her skin. Natsu growled deeply, his eyes taking on a fiercer glow. He didn't say no and Lucy could tell he was silently giving his consent.

Her hands slowly moved from his head, trailed down his body, before tentatively and carefully caressing Natsu's hardened length. He was hot to the touch, practically throbbing in her hands, and despite his firmness there was a velvety softness to his cock. His breathing had deepened, occasionally hitching or coming out in a hiss when her thumb smoothed over the tip or when she brushed his balls. But never once did his eyes leave hers…and his hands did not stay on her hips for long.

His left hand had moved to cup her cheek while his thumb traced her lips; Lucy had taken the bold move of gently biting down on it, making Natsu smirk. His right, however, had moved to her front and dipped between her legs; his fingers tracing her from slit to anus. The repeated motion had her wet and breathing heavy in no time; soon enough, Natsu's fingers were drenched and her thighs soon followed. Lucy, in response, gripped Natsu with both hands and began to languidly pump before making a steady pace for herself.

Time seemed to have no meaning for the two lovers as they stood there by the fireplace, letting the heat of the flames and their passion wash over them. However, everyone has a breaking point, and Lucy realized that when Natsu gnashed his teeth and growled, she had made him reach his. More so when her hands became coated in a wet, sticky warmth.

Natsu had stopped his own touches to catch his breath, sweat beading on his brow, while Lucy inspected her hands. His seed had a slightly musky smell to it and curiously, she gave her palm a lick of her tongue. Natsu's breathing hitched when he saw this, eyes wide and quickly clouding with renewed lust. Hell, they had completely turned green with a luminescent glow.

Lucy felt her arousal spike and she smiled in the most seductive way she could think of and licked her lips. Natsu had a slightly bitter, salty taste, but she found there was a spice to him as well. It was oddly fitting for him, Lucy mused, and she found that it was a taste she could learn to enjoy.

"Okay, my turn." Natsu growled with a smirk; a smirk the promised nothing but trouble.

In one quick movement, Natsu had picked her up and together, they fell onto his bed. His hands roamed over her body, caressing her breasts and delving into her wet heat, while his mouth captured hers; swallowing gasps and muffling cries of pleasure.

However, Lucy was given a surprise when Natsu's lips trailed down her throat, then her breasts, the flat expanse of her stomach and navel, before-with a devious smirk-finding her core.

"Oh gods…" Lucy gasped, not recognizing the strangled sound that had become her voice. A particularly languid lick made her hand fly to her mouth, muffling her wanton moan. Natsu repeated the action several times before Lucy finally let her hand fall away, resorting to clenching her teeth and gripping the bedsheets.

"Lucy." Natsu breathed, pressing a series of kisses to her thigh, "Don't hold back."

"But I…I sound…so…so…" Lucy gasped. She wanted nothing more than to hide her face, embarrassment at the forefront of her mind.

"You're beautiful Lucy." Natsu said, his voice both husky as it was soothing. Somehow, his voice managed to assuage her worries.

"I want to hear you. I want you to enjoy this." He continued, giving her thigh another kiss.

"Natsu…" Lucy whispered, hands moving to run through his hair, earning a deep hum from the demon.

As if to make his point, he seemed to put in extra effort with every nip of teeth, every caress of his tongue, and every kiss to her clit; making her jerk her hips or body shudder. It was this combination that made Lucy finally let go of her reservations and give into her lust. Her moans and cries freely filled the room. Natsu gave a deep growl of both amusement and pleasure and decided to add his fingers to the mix, wanting to see what new sounds he could pry from his princess.

For a second time that day, Lucy felt nothing but sheer and utter pleasure by her prince's attentive ministrations.

XXXX

A/N: So…how about that? I can only imagine what the response to this chapter will be so excuse me while I crawl behind my sand bag barrier and brace for impact.

While not as explicit as it could have been, this was an exercise in NSFW content for me as I've only started recently writing things in such detail. Hopefully I got it right. Well, practice makes perfect I suppose. Still, let me know if that got some of you hot and bothered XD.

On top of all of that, Lucy's keys got an upgrade, details of a possible alliance are brought up, and tension mounts as the next attack is awaited. Meanwhile, Castle Dragneel is about to get a few new residents. Oh… Natsu and Lucy, on top of getting closer/intimate, are both head over heels committed to one another and Lucy had a vision of the future. A possible future that involves NaLu babies…always pleasant I should assume.

So…who wants to know what the names of the future children are? That's a good question because I myself don't know. With that being said, however, I'm leaving it up to you guys to answer that question. In your review, please leave your ideas as to what the names for Natsu and Lucy's future son and daughter should be and when this story comes to a close…I will have made my choice along with the reviewer who submitted the names. I'll let this run until I post the next chapter at which point, I'll finally close the "votes"…so take your time and have fun with this. For those of you who PM as well, you can also send me a little message with your answer if you feel so inclined. Just don't get too carried away with this is all I ask.

Next chapter will focus on the changes coming to Castle Dragneel and the relationship between two other love-struck dorks. Oh…there may be some more sexy fun times too. Dare I ask if you all would like to see some more?

So, as far as updating goes and depending on how busy things get for me, I'll try to keep you guys in the loop. For now, I'm going to working on updating Songs from the Sea and Vice, then I'll hit Vendetta, and then I'll come back to this. Hopefully it won't take me too long to get back to this story but with me and my crazy life; you never know. Your patience, as always, is appreciated.

Next time; CHAPTER 10: Water and Ice

As per usual, if you guys have any comments or questions, please put it in your review and I'll make sure to respond to you in the next chapter. If you have anything else that you wish to ask me or clarify, you can PM me and I'll do my best to respond ASAP.

Until next time; read, review and most importantly of all, HAPPY READING!