Lucy wasted no time in beginning her search for Aquarius's key, but that didn't mean she didn't reminisce while she followed Pyxis's directions through the busy port town. The compass spirit was all too happy to make little detours here and there and listen to Lucy tell him the story behind each memorable location. His excited reactions relaxed her anxiety
They first went by the magic shop she had gone to before hearing those girls squealing about the fake Salamander, Bora. Then they went by that careful spot where she first met Natsu and Happy. They grabbed a quick meal at the restaurant where she had lost a large chunk of her cash feeding her bottomless pit former guild mate.
Fate seemed to be having a good laugh at her expense because Pyxis led her to the next major nostalgic place for her. Hargeon's harbor.
The place where Natsu defeats Bora and dragged her off to the guild of her dreams with an innocent grin and trail of destruction. The place where they set off with Gray on the stolen S Class quest to Galuna Island. The point where Master Mavis had first set foot in Fiore and crossed paths with Zeref. The place where Lucy had used Fairy Sphere to imprison Acnologia's body.
It made some sort of poetic sense for Aquarius to have made her way to a location so intertwined with so many memories.
"Pyxis, can you pinpoint the exact spot for me?"
Lucy's eyes narrowed as she looked at where her spirit was pointing.
"Of course. She couldn't make it easy on me, could she?"
Lucy just knew that Aquarius was laughing at her. It was going to be a bit of a challenge retrieving her key from the bottom of the harbor. Good thing she had a cute swim suit.
Natsu felt like he was dying. They had been on the train for what felt like forever. For once, he was thankful for Gray being there since the ice mage was the one that quickly and efficiently got off at each station to check for Lucy and got back on. Natsu couldn't get his stomach together fast enough, Erza ended up knocking out whoever she asked about Lucy before they could answer, and Happy was no good at staying focused on his own. Gray was the only viable option.
The downside, of course, was that Natsu had to stay on the train through all of its stops. And he meant all. Lucy hadn't got off at any of the stops on route, so that left only one possibility for her destination. Hargeon.
Being the surprisingly sentimental person that he was, and only the people that had been privy to the collection of keep sakes in his house knew about that fact, it wasn't lost on him how important the little fishing town was to his life.
He had met Lucy there. They had defeated the Black Dragon of the Apocalypse there.
Hopefully, he would get her back there.
Lucy broke through the surface of the water gasping for air for what felt like the hundredth time. It was hard to stay submerged long enough to look for very long, and she had a lot of territory to cover. She dove back down, missing the bright pink hair of a man running along the beach calling her name with his friends trailing behind.
"Are you sure she went this way, Ash Face?"
"Yes! I know her scent goes along this beach, but it just fades away." Natsu's nose twitched wildly trying to capture as much of the scent of the woman he loved as possible. He was so close, he could feel it, and frustration was rising within him at his lack of success.
Sending that Natsu was becoming slightly unstable, as evidenced by the smoke tendrils leaking from his mouth and the heat waves from his hands, Erza decided to step in.
"Maybe taking a dinner break would help you, Natsu. I don't think you've eaten since this began."
"I'm fine! I don't want to waste time and lose Lucy's trail." A deep rumble from within his gullet contradicted his statement. Natsu glared at his stomach in retaliation.
Erza shook her head as Gray let out an amused snicker at Natsu's expense.
"You're obviously not fine," she said. "Let's get some food in you and see if we can make progress afterwards. You know that your senses don't work as well when you're hungry."
Natsu crossed his arms and grumbled about losing time, but followed behind his team mates anyway. They weren't wrong, and there was nothing he could do without a lead or a trail to follow. Getting some food was the best option, and he knew just the place he wanted to go.
Lucy's breath was about to give out, but she was determined to make it last as long as possible. She had been on her underwater search for a few hours, and was determined to find that key before it got dark. The sun was already waning, and she didn't want to be separated from Aquarius for even one more day.
Lucy frantically moved aside rocks and recklessly stuck her hand into crevaces. Her twin pig tails whipped back and forth in the ocean currents as she pushed herself to her limits.
She would have had one or two of her spirits out helping her, but she had already exhausted their time and her magic over the previous hours.
Nearly at the limit of her breath and ready to go back to the surface for more air, Lucy turned and spotted a clam she'll out of the corner of her eye. It shouldn't have been anything spectacular, but it was an unusual color. Instead of the normal, drab blacks and browns, it was a blue so dark that it was almost black, and it had gilded finish the the barest edge of the shell's lip. It was a subtle effect, one that she would never have noticed if she hadn't been scouring the sea bed so intently, but it stood out now that she had noticed.
She swam over to the clam and started examining. At first touch, she could feel the faintest taste of Celestial magic. That was all it took for her to begin trying everything she could to pry the bivalve open, but her breath had run out, and it was obvious that her bare hands were not going to be enough.
Carefully memorizing the area around the clam, Lucy made her way to the surface to catch a breath. While she was there, she touched Loke's key, silently asking him to come through his gate on his own power. The lion spirit wasted no time coming to her call, and the two of them quickly dove back down to their target.
All was going slow but well in their attempts to pry the shell open until Loke had the bright idea, pun intended, of hitting the clam with his Regulus Impact.
It turned out that the clam wasn't just an oddly colored clam, but a giant clam monster buried mostly beneath the surface, and the clam part was just its head. And now it was angry.
Lucy leveled both it and her spirit with a deadpan, longsuffering expression.
"Of course it couldn't be simple," she thought with an internal sigh. "When have I ever been on a quest where things were easy?"
She brought out her whip, and Loke lit up his fists. It was time to fight.
As much as he hated to admit it, Natsu begrudgingly conceded that Erza was right about grabbing a meal.
The four of them sat at the restaurant where Lucy had treated him to lunch so long ago, and Natsu was chowing down like his life depended on it. In a way, it did. He needed the food to enable his body to find Lucy, and she was pretty much his life. The others, except Happy, had long finished their meals, but Natsu was still plowing through plate after plate. He had gone a long time, for him, without eating, and his high burning metabolism demanded refueling. He had been so single minded on finding Lucy and on the knowledge provided by Loke that he had forgotten about food.
Even as he ate, he still thought about Lucy and catching her trail. When they arrived at the restaurant, he had caught a whiff of her scent, but dismissed it since it was older than what he found at the harbor. There was no use in chasing stale smells.
Natsu was nearly finished with his last plate and ready to get back on the hunt when the team noticed massive commotion outside. They all looked at each other and nodded before throwing down money for their bill and running out the door.
People were screaming and running from the direction of the harbor. The place he had last smelled Lucy.
Before Natsu could get his head together enough to do it himself, Gray grabbed one of the running citizen.
"What the hell's going on?" Gray demanded of the quivering man.
"There's a monster at the harbor," he panted. "Some blonde girl with a whip and a man in a suit are fighting it."
Natsu didn't wait for more. He was already running as fast as his legs could take him to the harbor. To Lucy.
Lucy scrambled through the back alley still clad in her white and pink bikini and nothing else. After she and Loke had defeated the annoying, but not super strong monster, she had heard the all too familiar cries about the amount of damage. She took one look around at the big mess the fight had caused, and made a run for it. Loke vanished back into the Celestial Spirit realm, and she ran through any side streets she could to avoid getting arrested, or worse, billed for the damages.
"Guess that's one part of Fairy Tail that sticks with you for a while," she murmured to herself, resignation heavy in her quiet voice.
She looked down at the glinting gold prize in her left hand. Aquarius's formerly lost key.
"It was worth dealing with that gross and smelly clam to get you back."
Lucy was very tempted to go ahead and summon her old spirit and reforge their contract despite her bikini clad state in the middle of an alley, but a quick check on her magic reserves and her bruised body let her know that was out of the question. She needed some rest before being able to summon another Zodiac after all of the summonings she did that day searching.
She put her free hand on Virgo's key to signal to the maid spirit to come to Lucy under her own power. Virgo appeared as promptly as always. True to form, the loyal spirit came with new clothes in hand. She always had a knack for anticipating whatever Lucy needed.
Minutes later, fully clothes and looking much more tidy, Lucy left the alley to secure a room at one of the local inns.
She was more than a little tempted to go ahead and call it a night, but her stomach growled loudly in protest. All of that swimming and then the monster had guaranteed a hearty appetite.
She made sure everything in her room was secure. Then, making extra sure that Aquarius's key was securely in its proper place on her key ring, she went out to find a restaurant and some dinner.
Too late. He was too late by mere minutes, according to several of the people gathered at the beach. While Natsu was happily impressed by the destruction Lucy had left behind during her fight, he was more disappointed that he had both missed her and missed seeing her kick ass. He loved watching her wipe the floor with opponents. It got his fiery dragon blood pumping, and if he were honest, it appealed to his demon blood as well.
He shook his head to clear those thoughts. There would be plenty of time for that after he caught her. Being distracted on his hunt was not an option.
Erza and Gray caught up a few minutes later while he was still trying to pinpoint where her scent left the harbor. He absently noted that Erza was much more out of breath than she should have been, but pushed it to the back of his mind.
"Was it her, Natsu?"
"Without a doubt," he answered the swordswoman. "Her scent is here. I'm just trying to find where she went after the fight."
"That dog nose of yours will find the trail for sure."
Natsu sent a baleful glare over his shoulder at Gray, but didn't pause his efforts to find Lucy's distinct scent.
Natsu's sharp eyes rounded in excitement as he found her scent, and it was fresh.
"I've got it!"
Natsu ran after the trail, wearing through the back alleys with Gray, Erza, and Happy following close behind. It took them what felt like an hour, but was in reality only minutes, to chase the ghost of Lucy's scent all the way to a small, unassuming inn.
Natsu's smile was nearly splitting his face, but he couldn't help it as he chased the trail into the front lobby of the inn. He glanced back to see that the rest of the team were not without grins as well, only theirs weren't quite as big as his.
The dragon demon walked up to the front desk and rang the bell. In moments, a tiny old woman almost as small as the Master and with glasses nearly as large as her whole head was standing on the wood of the desk giving him a grandmotherly smile.
"Can I help you, young man?"
"Yes," he asked happily. "I'm looking for a blonde girl with really big boobs." Erza face palmed beside him as he made hand gestures to show Lucy's breast size.
"I'm sorry, but she already left." The old woman must have noticed how badly the groups faces fell, especially Natsu's, because her eyes softened. "But she just went out to eat. She'll be back when she's done."
Natsu brightened up again. He was so close. His fist hit his palm as a brilliant idea took hold.
He turned to Erza, Gray, and Happy.
"I'm going to need you all to make yourselves scarce for a while."
Lucy tiredly trudged her way back to the inn. It was mildly frustrating to her to be so tired even though she had accomplished her primary goal. She had only fought that one monster. To her credit, she fought it after actively using magic for a considerable chunk of the day and had multiple gates open at the same time. All she wanted to do now that her belly was full was to get a good night's rest and restore her contract with the tempermental mermaid spirit in the morning.
She slowly climbed the stairs and fumbled with the door to her room. The room was dark as she closed the door behind her, showing how late it had become while she was out. She flipped on the lacrima light.
And here is the chapter I promised. Nothing but the very last scene of this appeared in the original version of this story, so it's almost all new content. I'll be honest. The only reason it's out is because it was mostly already written a while back. I've caught a nasty cold. Working outside in damp weather and no sleep caught up to me. The kids are taking full advantage and have gone feral. So I haven't been online at all until a few minutes ago to upload this. Anyone who is still waiting for me to reply to reviews and messages, I hope you don't mind waiting until I'm better and not trying to keep the kids from destroying the house and killing each other. Having a cold plus screaming kids equals nearly no brain function. -_-
Small notes: No one has noticed the major sub plot yet.
I headcanon that Natsu gets weaker like a Saiyan when he's too hungry.
Did I succeed in yanking you back and forth with wondering if they were going to meet again or not?
Time for my cold meds. I'm hyper sensitive to meds, so I'm pretty much going to be out of it for the next half day. Thank God for inlaws coming to help with the kids. Lol I hope you enjoyed the chapter!