Part Two

-5 years later-

Steam crept out from under the crack of the bathroom door as Lucy had her shower. Natsu was still lying down, his head vibrating softly against the bed-head as the rattling of pipes shook the walls. Natsu didn't understand why Lucy had her showers so hot, or why anyone did for that matter, weren't they hot enough already? In any case he didn't feel like joining her. They'd shared a lot of showers, in the beginning, but not so much these days…

Natsu stared up at the ceiling and exhaled deeply. He hated this. These negative emotions. He never realised this is what could happen. He had been naïve. He screwed up his eyes and punched his forehead, trying to drive those thoughts out. If they stayed long enough they'd settle in, nest in his brain, affect his decisions, dominate his mood. He couldn't deal with them, every time he tried he ended up in a place he didn't want to be with an answer he couldn't accept.

It was too late.

Natsu's chest tightened, his stomach ached, his eyes stung. He'd loved Lucy so much. They were supposed to spend the rest of their lives together. But as time had passed… An unwelcome string of memories flashed through Natsu's consciousness. Disagreements had turned into arguments, and then turned into fights. The compliments had become rehearsed, routine, echoes of sentiment that grew weaker and weaker. The kisses…they used to be acts of passion, acts of impulse, they eventually turned into acts of greeting and departure, and then not at all.

Even though Natsu had his eyes shut tightly, a single tear managed to escape, rolling down his cheek. He hated it. He couldn't pinpoint where he'd gone wrong. He didn't even know if it was his fault. It had just…happened.

The shower stopped and Natsu quickly rubbed his eyes. A minute later Lucy emerged, towel wrapped tightly around her torso. Natsu averted his gaze. He didn't know why…he just felt uncomfortable.

"Your turn."

Natsu got up and walked past Lucy into the bathroom. Was she angry? Sad? Disappointed? Ice cold water streamed down Natsu's body and soon the shower was filled with steam of his own making. He felt so lonely. Even though the guild was still technically together, his friends were rarely there anymore. No one told him they'd stop seeing each other so much when they all paired off. Everyone had their own lives, their own families. Gray and Juvia. Gajeel and Levy. Loke and Cana. Happy and Carla. And Erza had the biggest family of all after she replaced Old Man Makarov as Guild Master.

Natsu had contemplated asking for advice plenty of times, but shame had always stopped him. They had all done it- achieved happiness. He felt so embarrassed that he'd failed Lucy.

"Natsu?" Lucy called out from the bedroom.


"I'm going out for a while. I'll see you later."


Natsu waited until he heard the front door close before turning off the shower. They'd successfully avoided interacting with each other for another morning. Looking into each other's eyes gave too much away. It was unsaid, but Natsu was sure the feeling was mutual, they were continuing this charade of a relationship hoping something would magically change it back to the way it used to be. And if it became said…Natsu wasn't sure what was worse, life with Lucy, or life without, and he was too scared to entertain the latter.

Natsu re-entered the bedroom and started looking around for some clothes. Was that a good thing? Fear? If he feared losing Lucy then surely that meant he still had feelings for her. Or was it just the isolation he feared? The idea that Lucy would find someone else and then he'd truly be alone.

A light flashed from Natsu's bedside table, it was his Lacrima Phone.

Fire Freak. Come meet us at Tomas's Coffee, we're heading there now.


Natsu's thumbs hovered above the keypad as he mulled his response. He hadn't seen Gray in a long time, but on the other hand he didn't like the sound of that 'us'. He wasn't sure if he could stomach sitting through an extended performance of the Gruvia love circus.

Natsu frowned. When had he gotten so bitter?

On my way.


"Lizard King."



Natsu stopped in his tracks, having entered Tomas's Coffee and been immediately assaulted by greetings. Gray beckoned him over to a booth by the window that was also occupied by Gajeel and Loke.

"What are you all doing here?" Natsu asked faintly.

"Getting coffee." Gray deadpanned opposite him.

"Well obviously!" Natsu fired up, his surprise dissipating. "I mean how come you're all here together? Where are the girls?"

"Shopping," grunted Gajeel. He looked like he needed the coffee more than anyone, dark lines spread from under his eyes.

"All of them? Together?" Natsu asked.

"Uh, yeah, duh." Loke snorted. "Didn't Lucy tell you?"

Natsu blushed and mumbled something about forgetting.

"Anyway, it's convenient for us," Gray smirked, "because we can just leech off their planning to organise our own stuff."

"Coffee though, Gray?" Loke rubbed the bridge of his nose. "It's such an adult thing to do."

"Uh, last time I checked we're all adults now." Gray sighed. "And you're the adultiest of us all anyway."

"Yes, true, but that's why I need you all to act like kids so it can make me feel younger!" Loke whined.

"I'll be starting a fight with the staff if they don't bring my coffee out soon," Gajeel growled. "Is that youthful enough for you?"

"You talk tough but I bet you haven't been in a real fight in ages." Gray needled.

"Try me." Gajeel replied flatly.

"Geez Gajeel, who pissed in your cereal?" Loke laughed, metaphorically and literally poking the bear from across the table.

Gajeel cracked his knuckles menacingly before breaking into a wry smile. "Work's gotten hectic. Lots of contracts for luxury apartments. And I can't say no with number two on the way…"

"You still haven't finished my back porch." Gray interjected.

"You still haven't paid me for the front one." Gajeel shot back.

"Ahh, that's more like it." Loke breathed in happily. "I hate it when you guys don't fight."

Gray and Gajeel burst out laughing, and Loke joined in to. Natsu watched on as his three friends continued to banter back and forth, and he shifted uncomfortable in his chair. What was he waiting for? Just jump in. Natsu opened his mouth to say something but his mind emptied and he closed it again. He had nothing to talk about. Work was the same. Lucy was the same. Life was the same. He was being left behind.

His small action had not gone unnoticed.

"Anyway, what's new with you, Natsu?"

Gray was smiling softly, one arm hanging across the back of his seat, his hair haphazardly strewn across his face. He looked so at ease with the world.

A lump caught in Natsu's throat as he tried to find an answer. A different answer, that is. He didn't need to go far to reply truthfully. With peace in Fiore, guild work had nearly completely dried up. He didn't want to admit he still spent most of his days at Fairy Tail, waiting for a disaster to occur, waiting to be called into action, waiting for the call to go out to assemble the old teams. Waiting.

"Not much." Natsu answered lamely. Gray opened his mouth to respond but was interrupted by their coffees arriving. Natsu hastily excused himself to go order his own and exited the booth.

Natsu's neck prickled as he waited in line. Were they looking at him? Talking about him? He pricked his ears to try catch their conversation but couldn't pick it up. His senses had dulled from lack of use. Maybe he should just make an excuse and leave now? Natsu wanted to avoid the inevitable interrogation, he know what would be coming next. When are you popping the question? What's taking you so long? Why aren't there any little Natsus running around yet?

"And what can I get you, Handsome?"

Flashing white teeth stretched in a cheeky smile as the barista bounced up to the counter. Natsu was momentarily taken aback, she was stunningly beautiful. Flowing, blonde hair, long eyelashes, a small, slightly upturned nose, and Natsu was drawn back down to her smile again. What did she ask?

"Oh, ah, just a cup of milk please." Natsu blurted out. Why was his heart racing?

"A cup of milk?" The barista's smile somehow grew wider.

"Aha yeah." Natsu scratched his cheek lamely. "I don't really like coffee."

"A cup of milk it is!" The barista winked at him then turned to the fridge.

Natsu felt his face growing warmer and he started fumbling in his pockets for change.

"Don't bother!" The barista called out from where she was pouring the drink. "It's on the house."

"Oh, thanks!" Natsu was confused but didn't argue. Money was scarce at the moment. The barista came back over and placed the cup on the counter.


Natsu thanked her and made his way back to the booth. He slid back into his seat and sipped slowly, his eyes flickering back to the counter every few seconds. She wasn't giving anyone else discounts.

"What's that there?" Gray asked suddenly.

"Hm? What's what where?" Natsu jumped, snapped back into reality.

"On your cup." Gray pointed.

Natsu turned his cup and lifted his fingers. It was a phone number, and a name, 'Nat'.

Loke started laughing. "Poor girl, imagine flirting with the densest guy in Magnolia."

"And the most smitten." Gajeel added. "She clearly hasn't seen Lizard Boy when Lucy cracks the whip." Natsu laughed along weakly with the others before returning to his milk.

The rest of the conversation passed relatively normally. Natsu thought he saw Gray watching him a couple of times, but every time he looked up Gray's gaze would slide past him. Maybe it was just his imagination.

After a couple of hours the group went their separate ways, although as they were leaving Natsu dawdled on the threshold. When his friends were finally out of sight he turned his head back into the shop to catch one last look at the barista- or Nat, he guessed he should now refer to her as.

She was dealing with customers, smiling, laughing. But Natsu could've sworn her smile had been brighter for him.

AN: Ah, the realities of life. More to come.