Lucy Heartfilia woke suddenly, bolting upright in bed. She turned to her window and noticed the sun streaming in through her sheer curtains. Birds chirped, greeting one another as the start of another lovely day dawned. However, this was no ordinary day. This was the beginning of summer! No more boring lessons with her tutors and no dreary weather to bundle up against. Today was also the day he arrived for the first time in eleven years. Lord Natsu Dragneel of Magnolia was coming to spend the summer in his family's old country home. He would be coming with only a few workers to help keep the large house in order. His father, the last remaining family he knew of, had passed eleven years ago in the same year as her very own mother had passed. Since that year, Natsu had not once visited the little village he used to spend every summer in.

Lucy was both excited and nervous. She and Natsu had been best friends when they were little but time and loss change people. She was quite afraid that he would no longer remember her, for she had changed as every girl does when becoming a woman. Her personality had evolved as well, mostly due to her mother's death and her father's withdrawal from her life. Lucy had always been kind but her wild energy had been tempered by the need to mature fast to take care of herself. She had always been a bright girl but now her mind was as sharp as a needle; it had to be thus so that she would not fall into the traps her scheming father would casually lay for her.

Jude Heartfilia had withdrawn from society but still tried to rule Lucy's life from the shadows. He would set her up on "meetings" with clients for the railroad which usually turned into proposals from suitors. Lucy could never find it in herself to accept such proposals. She wished to marry for love as her parents had done and also, she couldn't help feeling like she was waiting for something, or someone. Jude also threw himself into his work, spending long hours locked in the offices of the train station, for he was the stationmaster of their tiny village. His position was thought of as just as powerful as the mayor of the town. Jude controlled what goods could come in and leave the town and scheduled the passenger trains as well. Offending him may mean sacrificing a vacation or child's birthday gifts.

Lucy dressed herself in a simple blue frock and pulled her somewhat unruly hair back into a sophisticated bun. She slipped into her brown boots and smoothed her hands down the front of her dress. Smiling at her reflection, she stood just a little straighter and headed down to breakfast.

Breakfast was made by their cook, Mrs. Supetto. She was part of a very small set of household help including one maid, a butler and a librarian who also managed the accounts. Mrs. Supetto became like a mother to Lucy once Layla Heartfilia died. They would eat breakfast together since normally Jude couldn't be bothered to come home and eat. Today was different.

When Lucy entered the small dining room of their home, the first thing she noticed was her father sitting at the head of the table. Immediately, Lucy dropped into a shallow curtsey as she demurely greeted her father. "Good morning Father."

She received no answer and the two ate in silence. As the meal was being cleared, Jude stood and looked down at his daughter. "I'm sure you are aware of today's event. Lord Dragneel is coming to stay for the summer. The mayor has informed me that he and his daughter Annalise will be greeting Lord Dragneel when he arrives. Of course, I will be unable to attend as I have business matters to attend to but I expect you to be there in my stead. His train arrives promptly at ten o'clock this morning." He instructed his daughter.

For once, this was a task Lucy was happy to perform. She knew that her father would be sure to compete with the mayor on anything. Jude Heartfilia was all about advancing to the next position in life. He was always looking up the ladder and didn't stop to rest on any one rung. Layla Heartfilia had been different. She balanced her ambitious husband out perfectly. Layla would often walk the village talking to the citizens and making friends. When Lucy was very young, she remembered her mother taking her walks and allowing Lucy to join them. It was this way that Lucy met Natsu…

Layla Heartfilia was deep in conversation with the baker's wife. Lucy loved visiting the baker since she often got a treat or two. This time, she'd been given two sweet buns and was happily eating the first one. However, as the conversation continued, Lucy found herself growing bored and restless. Adult conversations were impossible for her to follow and she frankly didn't think they were interesting in the least. Instead, Lucy began to take in her surrounding, being the curious girl that she was. As she looked across the street, she saw a boy with interesting pink hair sulking on the curb. Looking both ways, as her mother taught her, Lucy crossed the street and approached him.

"Excuse me! What are you doing sitting here by yourself?" Lucy asked politely. Mama said she should always be polite, even if the person was rude.

The pink haired boy looked up, seeming surprised that somebody had stopped to talk to him. "My dad kicked me out because he's having boring meetings all day! I was gonna go fishing but my rod broke and now I don't have anything to do." He complained.

Lucy nodded in understanding, "My Mama's talking to the baker lady. She's really nice but they keep talking about boring stuff. She gave me a sweet bun though! Do you want my other sweet bun? I don't think I can eat two of them."

The boy's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates. "Really?! I love sweet buns! I'm super hungry too because I couldn't catch fish to eat!" he exclaimed. He took the offered bun and bit into it, moaning happily in delight. Lucy joined him on the curb and the two ate their sweet treats in companionable silence. When they had licked the last of the sticky sweetness from their fingers, the pink haired boy looked over at her and grinned with a grin that split his face from ear to ear and seemed to make the street a little bit lighter. "I'm Natsu! Do you want to be my friend?"

Lucy's cheeks turned a little bit pink, though she didn't know why. "My name is Lucy. I don't mind being your friend." She answered a bit shyly.

Lucy found herself smiling at the memory. She and Natsu had played all day that day and Natsu had walked with her back to the Heartfilia residence. He had been taught by his father that true dragons didn't let ladies walk home by themselves. Lucy had laughed when Natsu first explained that he and his father were dragons. It was a notion springing from the Dragneel coat of arms and Natsu's personal love of the mythical beasts. Igneel Dragneel used it as a platform for teaching the wild boy many lessons he otherwise would not have paid mind to.

The pair had quickly become the best of friends and were both distressed when they had to be separated come fall. However, Igneel brought Natsu back each summer and for two years that was how things were. Each time Natsu would arrive, he would find Lucy somewhere in town and Lucy would always have a sweet bun to share with him. This idea made Lucy gasp. She grabbed a small green purse and rushed out of her house. She could make it to the bakers and still have time to be at the train station before Natsu's train arrived!

Natsu sat on the train feeling miserable. He had terrible motion sickness that would come about even at the thought of transportation. The only exception to this rule was the small hamlet train station he was bound for. This particular station brought up thoughts of its stationmaster which brought up thoughts about the stationmaster's daughter. Lucy. Or Luce, as Natsu had called her when they were little. He had missed her during his eleven year absence. Becoming Lord of a vast amount of property (he basically owned all of Magnolia) at such a young age was hard on Natsu Dragneel. Luckily, Igneel's accountant, Makarov Dreyar, was willing to help the seven year old boy keep other prying hands away from his father's lands and wealth until Natsu himself was old enough to take over.

Sadly, this meant no more trips to the summer home. Natsu absolutely refused to sell the place. Makarov brought up how much money they could get for it but Natsu always insisted that he would one day be able to make the yearly trips to the summer home once again. Today was that day. His assets were secured and now that he'd done several favors for Princess Hisui, his position as Lord of Magnolia was completely secured. Magnolia became rather slow and boring during the summer as many families vacationed to the nearby port of Hargeon or on Mount Hakobe where it was nice and cool. It would not be thought of as lazy if the Lord of Magnolia took a vacation of his own.

Natsu's thoughts drifted back to the image of the smiling blond girl he remembered from his youth. Would she still be the same girl he left all those years ago? He had heard some time ago that her mother had passed in the same year as his father. He knew this was going to be hard on her and he wished he could have been there for her. Igneel's death had forced him to change and tame his wilder nature, although he still couldn't quite follow rules. He wondered how much Lucy had changed in his absence. She was a lady now, what if she didn't wish to have fun with him anymore?

The young Lord was brought out of his thoughts by the train's whistle blowing and the conductor announcing their arrival in the small hamlet at the end of the line. Once the train stopped, Natsu felt his nausea recede allowing the butterflies to replace it. He found himself itching to get off the train and go find out the answers to his questions.

His luggage was being handled by the butler who had traveled down with him. Natsu stepped off the train and looked around. The station was not busy in the least. He was one of the only people to get off the train and the others that did quickly vacated the station. Other than the ticket lady, there were only three other people in the station. Natsu was quickly approached by the mayor and his daughter. What was her name again? Belize? He didn't really want to talk to them, he was anxious to get to the third person, a blond with a small green purse and a nervous smile on her face.

Natsu exchanged pleasantries with the mayor, promising to have dinner one night with his family. He smiled politely at the mayor's daughter whose name he learned was Annalise. Thankfully, the mayor announced he and his daughter had other matters to attend to and excused himself. Natsu straightened his vest and quickly made his way over to the blond. Even though she was dressed simply, she was quite obviously a beauty. She'd grown up well and looked like a real lady even if she was from a small village not many had even heard of.

Looking at her, Natsu realized he didn't know how to greet her. Should he be polite or could he greet her like he had when they were little? It turned out, he didn't have to make the decision. Lucy curtseyed to him and said, "Welcome back Natsu." She held out her hand and when he looked down, a huge smile bloomed on his face. In her hand was a sweet bun from the bakery in town. Natsu was surprised to feel the warmth of tears in his eyes as the simple gesture touched him and brought back all the memories of their childhood. He took the sweet bun and then wrapped Lucy in a tight hug.

Lucy felt his warmth envelope her and had to blink away moisture in her eyes. She brought her arms up around his torso and hugged him back. "I missed you Luce." She heard his voice for the first time in eleven years. It was deep and rich but held the light notes of his exuberant personality. His words made the last of her nerves fade away.

"I missed you too Natsu. Do you want to eat the treats here or shall I show you around the village?" Lucy offered.

"Let's walk towards my house. I have a lot to tell you." Natsu decided. The pair walked side by side, not touching but closer than was normal for a Lord to walk with a common girl. Neither of them noticed this, or if they did, they paid it little mind. Lucy informed Natsu of the things that had happened to her in the eleven years they had been apart and listened while Natsu did the same.

There was a pause in their conversation during which Natsu looked as though he was trying to figure out how to say something. "Luce… are you out yet?" he asked finally.

Lucy couldn't fathom why that question was so hard for him to ask. "Yes. Father had me presented to the King and Princess Hisui just after I turned sixteen. He was in Crocus on business and brought me along to have it done. I honestly think he did it so he could brag to the mayor about how his daughter was a member of society before Annalise."

Natsu looked slightly uncomfortable again. Lucy was about to change the subject when he spoke, "Why would your father have you presented when he keeps you in this little village? Most of the girls I've heard of get sponsored by some other family and live with them so that they can experience the Season."

Lucy sighed. "That would never sit well with my father. He wouldn't want to rely on the sponsorship of others. After I was presented, we went straight home so I never experienced the Season. That hasn't stopped Father from parading suitors in front of me. I wish I could have gone to some of the parties at least. I've heard they are amazing." Lucy said wistfully.

"Eh, they are rather stuffy and boring if you asked me. I would much rather be on some kind of adventure than at one of those insufferable parties." Natsu said with a frown on his face.

Lucy looked up at him with confusion all over her features. For some reason, Natsu seemed angry and she couldn't think of a thing she might have said that would upset him. Maybe he really did think the parties were that bad? She couldn't imagine how though, Natsu had always liked having fun.

The pair continued on their way to Natsu's country home. Lucy listened to some of the stories Natsu had to tell about life in Magnolia. A soft smile adorned her face as she walked with the boy she had thought would remain a fond memory of her lost childhood. "Hey Lucy what's wrong? Did I say something to offend you?" Natsu's voice suddenly broke through her reverie and Lucy realized that tears had begun to fall from her lashes.

"Oh goodness how embarrassing!" Lucy mumbled, wiping her eyes briskly with her fingers. She was surprised when her fingers were replaced by warm thumbs clearing her cheeks of moisture. "It's silly of me I know. I just never imagined that I would walk with you ever again and I guess I just can't quite believe this is real. I am afraid that if I blink all of this will disappear." Lucy confessed.

Natsu lowered his hands from her face in favor of grabbing his stomach as he laughed. The sound startled Lucy at first but her surprise quickly turned to indignation. "Well I'm glad you find this so amusing!" she huffed as she turned and began to march down the lane towards the grassy fields behind the country home.

Natsu ran to catch up with her, still chuckling. "Oh come on Lucy I'm sorry! Don't be angry with me, please? It's just… you haven't changed very much at all have you? Still saying weird things like talking about this being a dream. Of course it's real! I wouldn't play with you like that would I?" Natsu entreated her.

Lucy continued marching forward but she allowed him to catch up with her. Natsu threw his arm over her shoulders and pulled her into his side. He began to poke her cheek and ribs to entice a smile back on her face. The tactic worked and Lucy shoved him off of her as a giggle escaped her lips. "Stop it you goof!" she whined.

The couple had reached the meadow in the back of the country home. There was a bench under a large cherry tree at the top of a small hill that the pair sat down on. It was pleasantly quiet between the pair until Natsu's thoughts began to wander back to conversations he'd had with his advisors before he left. An awkward tension began to grow between them and Lucy began to fidget, wondering how to make things normal again. "Lucy… would you… do you like living in this tiny village?" Natsu asked slowly.

Lucy took a moment to form her answer. "It is a quiet little place which has its charms. However… I have too much time to myself and there really aren't many people my age to spend time with. Father introduces me to business partners but they are only ever in town for a day or so and they are so… stuffy and boring." She said finally.

"So if I asked you to come back to Magnolia with me at the end of the season, would you come?" Natsu asked. He avoided looking at her though he didn't quite understand why.

Lucy's eyes lit up. "Oh Natsu really?! I would love to come! Oh but it wouldn't be considered appropriate for a young maiden like me to stay with a bachelor like you. And Father would never let me go…" she said.

Natsu frowned at that. "I'll find a way. There are people who owe me favors so I'm sure I can find a way to get you invited out for the Season. I bet even I would enjoy the parties more if you could be there. And… I'm not sure how often I will be able to visit this place." He confessed.

Lucy could no longer stop her curiosity. "Natsu is everything alright? You keep zoning out and even if it has been a while even I know that something is bothering you." She finally asked. She watched as a myriad of expressions crossed his face in mere seconds. She couldn't pick out all of them but Natsu was clearly stressed about something.

"Things in the capital are not all they seem. There is a lot of unrest in our country Lucy and powerful people are trying to make big moves. I really wanted to get away this summer and come to a place where I can relax and just be myself. I haven't had that for a very long time. But it is a lot quieter here than I remember." Natsu answered.

It wasn't really the kind of answer Lucy had been hoping for. He provided little information and steered the conversation back to a more neutral topic just like those embroiled in politics are trained to do. Lucy sent him a look that told him she knew what he was up to but did not question him further. There was a pause in their conversation then and Lucy took the pause to gaze up at the clouds passing overhead. "Why do you really want me to come back to Magnolia with you?" she asked finally.

Natsu's cheeks took on a red glow and he turned away from her to hide it. Internally panicking, Natsu searched for a way to answer her question without thoroughly embarrassing himself. He felt a soft touch on his hand which he had unknowingly clenched into a fist. Turning back to face her, he saw Lucy looking up at him with curiosity and a bit of surprise on her face. Slowly, Natsu opened his fist and laced their fingers together. Lucy's face went pink and Natsu found that he rather liked the expression on her face in that moment. "Magnolia is getting restless. My advisors say that everyone can sense the storm brewing and they say that it would be a great relief to the people if… if I found myself a bride." Natsu admitted reluctantly.

"B-B-Bride?!" Lucy cried, face exploding into tomato sheens of red and heartbeat speeding up exponentially. Natsu could have laughed at her reaction if he wasn't being serious and a bit embarrassed himself.

"All the girls in the capital are either spoken for or wretched people. I find myself having a hard time spending time with many of the opposite sex but… well it's different with you." Natsu continued, still with pink cheeks but gaining a bit of confidence since she had not yet pulled her hand from his. "I can be just Natsu around you, not the Lord of Magnolia. You don't have requirements I must fill before I can speak with you and I know you won't betray me. Of course, my advisors save one were all against me coming here and spending my summer with you but I told them to buzz off. I've never cared what people think of me and besides, I'm the Lord of Magnolia so they have to do what I say."

Lucy looked down at their joined hands and took a deep breath to calm the loud beating of her heart. Of all the suitors she'd had, none had made her heart race like Natsu did. However… "Natsu do you love me?" she asked quietly. Underneath her hand, she felt Natsu tense.

"Well… I have thought about you these past eleven years since we've been apart. I wanted to come back here every summer and a few times I almost ran off to do it. I think you're the most beautiful woman I've ever met and you're kind to me. I… I care about you a lot Lucy. I… I just… I'm not sure if it's love. I know you want to marry for love and I do too but both of us are running out of time. I may have a rebellion on my hands and you are reaching the age where your father will force you to marry." Natsu pointed out. Lucy nodded but still looked dissatisfied. Natsu squeezed her hand to garner her attention. "I promise I will never lie or deceive you in any way Lucy. If in one year's time I can't make my feelings clear to you, I will let you go. But for now, will you do me the honor of allowing me to court you?" he asked.

Lucy was silent for a full minute which seemed to be the longest minute of Natsu's life. "I care about you as well Natsu. However, I too do not know if this feeling is love or not. I've always thought fondly of you even when we were apart. And I know you will treat me well no matter what the outcome. So, I agree to your terms. If in one year we cannot decipher our feelings, we part on good terms. Until that time, you have my permission to pursue me." She said finally.

Natsu grinned at her and drew her in for a hug, finally releasing her hand so that she could place it on his broad back as she returned the hug. "Thank you Lucy! I'll ask your father's permission when we get back to your home. For now, shall we retire to our hovel?" Natsu suggested.

Lucy grinned up at him, excitement filling her features. "You remember the hovel! I've been keeping it up since you left so that if you did ever return, we could still use it. I hope you'll like what I've done with it. I made some new curtains as the old ones were getting moth eaten. I also made a tablecloth for the small kitchen table and there are napkins and oven mitts! Oh! I even got some dishes and a few cooking pots and pans just in case!" Lucy enthused about the hovel. She stood as she was talking and pulled Natsu to his feet. She continued to tell him about the home-y touches she had made to the secret home in the glen as they walked and Natsu felt himself fully relax as he listened.

The hovel was a small, abandoned home that Natsu and Lucy found in one of their adventures. They made it their "base" when they were pretending to be spies or soldiers in a war. It was where Lucy ran when something bad had happened and it was where Natsu knew he could always find her if she was not in town. Nobody else knew of the small hovel or it would have been taken down. It was removed from town and would not be an ideal place for someone to live, even if the glen around it was beautiful.

The glen was in the forest that bordered the town on three sides. It had small patches of wildflowers growing in it and was grassy as well. The hovel stood in the middle of the glen and Lucy had been trying to maintain the flowers and grass as well. It was hard since she had to cut the grass by herself. Lucy didn't want to reveal her secret to anyone since she could keep all her favorite memories with Natsu safe with that secret.

Lucy began to run ahead, taking Natsu's hand and pulling him after her as they neared the glen. "Hurry up slow poke! Did all that time as Lord of a big city make you slow?" Lucy teased him.

Natsu frowned playfully at Lucy's smiling face. Increasing his speed, he shot past her and began to pull her along. "You asked for it Luce!" Natsu failed to see how his speed was making Lucy trip over her own feet. She was about to ask him to slow down just a bit when an unseen root snagged her toe. Natsu turned his head at her shriek and gasped. Lucy was airborne and going to fall even as her grip on his hand tightened. "Luce!" Natsu cried. Thinking fast, Natsu yanked her towards him but he overestimated his own strength and when she plowed into his chest, he was sent falling backwards again.

Lucy gripped Natsu's vest in fear of a hard landing but was startled to feel Natsu wrap his arms around her and his large hand come up to cradle her head, protecting her from harm. They did land hard but Natsu took the brunt of it. They slid a few feet before coming to a stop. Lucy lifted her head when she felt Natsu's arms release her. He'd flung his arms out to the side and let out a relieved sigh. Lucy rolled off of him and flopped off onto her back, looking up at the sky. It started with a giggle that bubbled up in her throat but suddenly Lucy was gasping for breath as she laughed. Natsu joined in her mirth as laughter of his own came bursting to the surface.

They calmed after a few minutes and were left to catch their breath. "Are you alright Natsu? You took the brunt of that. I'm sorry." Lucy said eventually.

Natsu turned his head to look at her and the look in his eyes took Lucy by surprise. He had a soft look in his eyes while a smaller version of his grin was spread across his face. "I'm fine Lucy. How's your ankle? Did you twist it on that root?" he asked, a bit of concern coming into his eyes.

Lucy felt her cheeks heating up. Natsu sure had changed from his usual wild persona since he was young. Ordinarily, Lucy would have to tell him she was hurt before he realized that anything was wrong. Lucy was surprised to see him asking about her until she remembered that they had both grown and matured. "I'm okay Natsu. You caught me before anything could happen. Thanks." Lucy replied.

….

The couple spent the rest of the day working in their hovel. Natsu wanted to add a couple of rooms and add a second floor. He drew up plans and got Lucy so excited for the plan that she began adding in what she would like for each room. The sun was beginning to go down when Natsu reluctantly suggested that he take her home. Lucy nodded and looped her arm through his as he walked with her.

Natsu went to meet with Mr. Heartfilia when he dropped Lucy off at the small manor home. Lucy ate her dinner with Supetto and retired to her room soon after. Her romping with Natsu had worn her out more than she initially thought it would. Lucy had originally planned to eavesdrop on Natsu's conversation with her father but was so tired after supper that she was sure she would either be caught or would not be able to pay attention. It turns out, she would be glad to have missed that conversation.

Natsu left the manor with a clenched fist. "How dare he?! I may not be next in line for the throne but I'm a better match than Lucy may ever get!" he grumbled to himself. He immediately felt bad about what he'd said though. "It's not like Lucy wouldn't attract someone of a higher position than me but… If he never lets her leave this little hamlet how will she meet anyone? And how can he think of her like a thing to be used for his own advantage?!"

Natsu continued to stew over his disappointing conversation with Jude Heartfilia as he readied himself for sleep at his own home. A determined look bloomed on his face as he frowned down at a picture of young Lucy. His gaze softened as he thought about the day he had with Lucy. "I won't bow to him! I won't market myself as someone he can just sell his daughter to. After all, if I do propose, I'm gonna be asking Lucy, not him. It's Lucy's feelings and opinion that matter so that's what I'll go for!"

So I have a new story... I would love to know if you all would like me to continue it. I know I'm super slow at updating but that is because I have a very busy life. This creative writing is an outlet for me and a hobby that I enjoy. I like sharing these little stories with you all because I know that your criticism and advice will help me improve as a writer. So thank you all for that. Please leave a review or PM me and tell me if you think I should continue with this story.

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