With a soft click, Lucy closed the front door behind her. She stood for a moment on the threshold, the wind whipping her hair, and breathed out a long sigh of relief. It was a prison in there.

Like clockwork, Lucy sensed the shower turn off. Natsu always waited for her to leave if he could. Not that she minded, the less she bothered him the better. He was so moody these days, so serious. She couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed, or even cracked a smile around her. There were those phony smiles, when they were at Fairy Tail or around their friends, but she hated them even more than his scowls.

Lucy's thoughts were interrupted with the tooting of a horn. A Magical Vehicle screeched to a stop in front of her and the window slowly rolled down to reveal Levy's cheeky grin. "Get in loser, we're going shopping!"

OoOoO

"Thanks for organising this, Cana!"

Levy clinked glasses with Cana as she joined them at their table in the bar. Bags and bags of shopping were spread around the feet of the four girls, Levy, Cana, Juvia, and Lucy.

"It's a shame about Erza though." Cana sighed. "She's so busy these days"-

-"But she wouldn't want it any other way!" Levy finished.

"Exactly." Cana smiled over her drink, then threw her head back and downed it in one go. "Seconds?"

"N-not for me." Lucy laughed nervously, having just taken her first sip.

"Juvia is satisfied." Juvia shook her head.

"Sure, but non-alcoholic remember?" Levy called out.

Cana left the table having barely sat down, so Juvia and Levy returned to talking about their children. The funny things that they said. The foods that they hated. How baby Blue resembled Gray. How baby Steele had grown so much recently. Lucy looked on with the same painted smile she hated seeing on Natsu's face, but she didn't know what else to do. She was so happy for her friends, but all she could feel was jealously.

"And what about you, Luce?" Levy smiled warmly. It was a teasing question, definitely not meant maliciously, but it hurt all the same.

"Ohh, I don't think me and Natsu are ready for kids just yet…"

"Natsu and I." Levy corrected.

"Oi! I paid you to edit my books, not my conversations!"

Levy and Lucy laughed, but Juvia frowned and interjected.

"Why don't you think you're ready?"

Lucy paused. There was a million reasons really, but none she felt like revealing.

"Don't you want to have kids, Lucy?" Levy chimed in.

"Yeah, of course!" Lucy hit back.

"So just…do it already!" Levy laughed. "I don't think anyone is ever 'ready' for kids."

"Aha, yeah. I guess you're right." Lucy scratched the back of her head in an orchestrated attempt at embarrassment. This seemed to be enough to satisfy Levy who diverted her attention to the returning Cana, but Juvia's dark eyes lingered, unblinking. Lucy didn't meet her gaze, instead she took another sip of her drink and entertained a thought that she'd long abandoned. Maybe she should get pregnant? That could bring her and Natsu closer together.

At that very moment, Lucy felt a sharp stabbing pain in her stomach, forcing her to wince and rub the spot slowly. Even her body knew how stupid of an idea that was. But what other options did she have? Any time she talked to Natsu they just ended up fighting. Maybe it was time for drastic action.

OoOoO

With a cheerful toot, the Magical Vehicle was gone, and Lucy was back on the front doorstep of their rental. For now, at least. Who knows how many more payments they could make? If her debut book didn't sell… Well, they couldn't live on what Natsu was making.

The sun slowly set as Lucy fumbled through her bags for the house keys. Natsu was probably a few hours away from returning, this was his money-making period, if he had one at all. Bouncing, security, surveillance, most of his jobs came after dark. It was criminal that someone so strong was so poorly off, that was part of the reason Lucy was so desperate to finish her book. It was no secret that the main character was based on Natsu, it could go along way to getting him more work. More respectable work, anyway.

Lucy finally found the elusive keys and entered the house. Those were all the jobs he told her about, she didn't want to think about the other work he was doing. She banished those thoughts quickly though and walked into the kitchen to start dinner when-

"Oh, hiya Luce!"

Lucy blinked. Natsu was home, and…cooking? Either cooking or fighting, her best apron was singed and tattered, small cuts lined Natsu's hands and fingers, and his face was smeared with what looked like pasta sauce. But none of those things surprised her more than the huge smile on his face.

"H-hi…Natsu. What are you doing home?"

"Cooking!" Natsu boasted, gesturing at the litany of mess in front of him. "I hope you like it spicy!"

"It sounds like I don't have much of a say…" Lucy laughed weakly, but was immediately drowned out by the heartiest, cheeriest, laugh she'd heard from Natsu in…years?

"Nope! You're going to feel this one twice!"

"Oh Natsu, gross!"

Lucy excused herself from the kitchen to get changed into her pyjamas, and to get a grip on reality. What had happened at lunch? Natsu never smiled, he never laughed, and he never cooked. More importantly, how could she find out what had happened without calling attention to how out of character he was being?

When Lucy re-joined Natsu in the kitchen he'd transferred the 'food' onto two plates, with a fork sticking out of each. It appeared to be some kind of pasta, tinged an alarming orange with red flakes throughout.

"It's…ora-, arobi-, no, abriata, wait, arrabbiata, it means angry!"

"Thank you, Natsu, that was so thoughtful." Lucy smiled kindly and immediately took a bite.

Pain.

But it was worth it.

Natsu started wolfing his serving down while Lucy targeted the portions of hers with the least amount of chili, waiting for an opportunity. When Natsu's plate was empty, she got her chance.

"How was your day?"

"Mm, good! I saw Gray and the others."

"Oh, that's nice, where?"

"Tomas's Coffee place."

"You don't drink coffee though?"

Natsu frowned.

"I just had milk."

"Ah OK. What did you guys talk about?"

Natsu frowned again.

"Nothing. Just stuff."

Lucy bit her lip. Normally she wouldn't push any further, but she was really curious.

"Come on, stuff about what?"

Natsu's eyes flashed. He was annoyed now.

"Stuff about stuff! Geez, we're guys. Just guy stuff! Quit nagging."

"Sorry for asking." Lucy rolled her eyes.

"Well it's annoying!"

"I'm just interested in your day!"

"Yeah well I'm clearly not so just leave it alone!"

This was more like it, Lucy thought glumly. Sniping followed by silence.

A light whirring sound punctured the room and Natsu snatched his Lacrima Phone off the bench.

"I'm going out."

"Whe-"

"Work. I have to work, every day. I can't just swan around writing all the time."

Lucy knew that no matter what, Natsu would never hit her. People change, but not that much. But that didn't mean he wouldn't hurt her.

"I'm not asking you to do this!" Lucy shot back angrily.

"Well one of us has to!" Natsu turned on his heel and slammed the front door behind him. Lucy slumped back into the chair she'd subconsciously jumped out of and unclenched her fists. Another day, another argument. And it had been going so well…

Lucy considered their brief interaction again. He had been so happy and she needed to know why. She ran over to their storage cabinet and starting rooting through all of Natsu's 'treasures' he'd hoarded over the years until she found what she was looking for. Her old keyring. She blew the dust off it and did a quick count; they were all there. The keys were all there anyway, she may have to do some re-negotiations of contracts, it had been a long time.

With a quick detour past the bedroom Lucy was ready. With her old keys, her old boots, and her old confidence. If she was going to get to the bottom of this, she needed to tail Natsu.


an: You'll have to excuse shorter chapters, they give me more motivation to write. Thank you for all the support :)