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It was many, many hours before I finally woke up again. It seemed to take ages before my consciousness seeped to the surface enough for me to become self-aware. The first thing to register was the ache that was spread all throughout my body. My head throbbed unpleasantly, and it still hurt a bit to breathe. However, it was a far cry better than the condition I was in before I had gotten back to town. My throat was parched, which is finally what prompted me to open my eyes.

The moment I did, I gasped as burning golden orbs stared back at me. Natsu was hovering above me, smiling with his face only inches from mine. His face had red scales creeping up the sides, and his canines seemed longer and sharper than usual. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, with both hands on either side of me looking down. On the one hand, I was relieved to see him awake, on the other… something was clearly wrong.

"N-Natsu?" I stuttered out, pressing myself back further into the bed as I tried to scoot upwards and out from under him. His eyes narrowed slightly as I managed to wiggle into an upright position, raising his head so his eyes could follow me. "I'm-I'm so glad you're awake! Are you… feeling okay?"

I could feel anxiety fill my chest at the look he gave me, and I was suddenly overcome with dread at the smirk that crept onto his lips. His face crept closer to mine as he seemed to bare his teeth almost, and I reactively turned my head and shut my eyes as I tried again, "N-Natsu?"

"Explain what's happening, before I rip your throat out," came his unexpected, rough sounding reply. His voice was definitely different, and his energy was much more domineering than I had ever felt before.

"I… We just got back from the Arid Steppes? We're in a hotel room. You got hit with a spell…"

"Do not lie to me, wench!" he roared, his eyes flaring that burning gold color again. I recoiled, frightened of him for the first time in my life. Clenching my eyes shut, I hoped he would calm down, but I wasn't sure how that was going to happen.

Suddenly, I could feel his advances stop, so I chanced peeking an eye open. To my surprise (and relief), he had paused, looking at my neck as he sniffed the air briefly. I could hear a low growl resonate from deep within his chest as his brow drew together in apparent confusion. The expression only lasted a moment before an almost evil grin spread across his features.


He lunged forward, one hand bracing the back of my head and the other gripped my waist, pulling me down as his lips crashed onto mine. His mouth was burning hot, fiery, definitely Natsu, but at the same time… not. There was a strange energy to his touch, and he was kissing me with a ferver he'd never possessed before. Normally he would try to follow my lead or match my pace, doing his best to not overstep any boundaries. But now… now he was charging ahead, taking what he wanted. His touch was almost vaguely unfamiliar.

"Mmmph - " I struggled, my words muffled by his searing lips. He moved his hand from my waist upward, attempting a better hold, but instead he bumped rather roughly into my injured ribs. I tore my face away from his with a pained cry, pulling my hands up to push at Natsu's chest. My actions weren't necessary, however, as Natsu had abruptly stopped the moment I jerked away. Raising himself off me, he looked down at me with concern etched into his features.

"You're hurt." It was a statement rather than a question. But with him speaking that way, I knew something was horribly wrong and it was a direct result of that spell.

"Natsu, what's going on? Are you okay?" I asked, trying to sit up.

"Natsu?" He asked in a gravelly, unfamiliar voice, a look of confusion flitting across his features. It was gone in an instant, however, as he reached forward to push me back onto the bed. "Relax, mate."

I struggled against his hand as it pressed me backwards. "No! Something's clearly wrong! Talk to me."

At that moment, an embarrassingly loud groan emitted from my stomach, making it roll uncomfortably.

"You need food. I'll be back soon."

He didn't give me a chance to say anything or stop him as he was suddenly through the window and off into the wintery hellscape.

"What the fuck?!"


An hour later, Natsu finally reappeared (through the window, again). This time I had some backup at least. Leo had come through on his own magic, even though I summoned him with his key. He insisted I save the magic after giving him a rundown of everything that had happened since he left us in the cave. Freeing up my magic meant I could summon two more spirits if necessary. I would have already summoned them, but I didn't want Natsu to feel threatened by coming back to a room full of people.

Good thing, too, because Natsu was immediately on the offensive. After dropping the bundle he was carrying in his arms (is that blood I see?), he dashed towards the spirit, who actually seemed to anticipate this. Loke sidestepped Natsu's attack, taking the moment he faltered to whip his hands in front and yell, "Regulus Restraint!"

Bright bands of light appeared, wrapping tightly around Natsu and immobilizing him, forcing him to drop to the floor. As Loke maintained his position, he said to me, "Princess, you need to talk to him. I can't hold him like this very long."

Nodding, I looked down at Natsu. "Natsu, I don't know what's gotten into you, but please don't attack Loke. I asked him to come help me."

Natsu's eyes were narrowed, still burning that aureate color, as he sniffed towards Loke. He seemed to struggle with what to say for several moments before finally relenting sternly, "Fine, but only because he smells like you. Or, you smell like him. I don't know."

"Ugh, I'm so confused," I whined, hanging my head as I wrapped an arm around my sore ribs. Looking back up at Natsu, I asked in exasperation, "What on Earthland do you mean by that?"

Natsu was still eyeing Loke with hostility but responded to me softly, "Stardust. You both smell like stardust."

"Oh," I said, not realizing that a celestial spirit mage would carry the same scent as their spirits. "That's… Nevermind. Just… You promise not to hurt Loke? It's clear you're not in your right state of mind."

I heard him grumble affirmation, so I nodded to Loke, who released the bindings. Standing in front of Natsu with both hands on my hips, I began. "Okay, so, first thing - what's wrong with you?"

Natsu gave me a confused look, though there was still something behind his expression which just wasn't familiar to me. "I don't really know what you mean, mate - "

"Ah-ha, right there!" I interjected, pointing at him accusingly. "You keep calling me 'mate'. Do you even know my name?"

"Of course I do," he replied with a cocky lilt. "It's… Princess?"

Cold dread washed over me as I realized that I was right. His memory had been affected somehow. I felt faint, and doubled with the pain I was dealing with, it was almost too much for me. I only swayed on the spot for a moment before Natsu was on his feet, scooping me up and laying me on the bed. Loke went into an offensive stance, ready to lunge forward, but I waved him off weakly. I did my best to hold it together, trying to prioritize my questions and actions. "Natsu, you only say that because you heard Loke call me that. Now, do you know my name?"

Natsu's expression dropped. "I… Don't. But I don't need to. I know you're my mate." As he said those last words, he tried to position himself on my bed as well, but Loke placed a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.

"I don't think so," he glared down at the dragon slayer.

"Get your paws off me, cat," Natsu growled, flashing his teeth at the spirit with a glare of his own, jerking his shoulder from Loke's grasp.

"Stop it, both of you! And of course you need to know, dummy!" I screeched. "Do you have any memories at all?"

He seemed to pause and think for a long moment before finally saying with uncaring aggression, "None that I can come up with, not that it matters."

"Yet you know about mates and stuff?" I asked.

"It's natural for dragons," he said, growling just the tiniest bit as Loke took a half-step forward.

"Princess," Loke said, getting my attention. Looking at him, he continued as he nodded to the bloody lump of what appeared to be fresh kill under the window. "Based on what you've told me and his idea of food, I think we may be dealing with Dragon Natsu."

"Dragon Natsu?" I asked incredulously as I swatted at said man to get him out of the way. He had steadily inched himself in front of me in a slightly defensive stance, staring down Loke. "Stop that. Loke's not a threat."

I heard him give a low growl before sitting at the foot of the bed.

"Yes, Dragon Natsu," Loke reiterated, pushing his shades up his nose before crossing his arms. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he observed Natsu thoughtfully. "It appears that his humanity has been suppressed. With the scales, the fangs, the drive to follow instinct… He doesn't even know who you are but he knows you're his mate. He clearly is the same Natsu but not at the same time. The question is if it's permanent."

"If what's permanent?" Natsu snarled at Loke.

"Natsu, please chill out," I begged, giving him a look of irritation. Then I felt bad. This was an all-around confusing situation, and it definitely wasn't Natsu's fault. He literally saved me. If the spell did suppress his humanity, I couldn't even begin to think of what that spell would have done to me. Would I have died? Would it have put me into a coma? Would it have made me a zombie? It was terrifying to think about, so I pushed those what-ifs back into the far recesses of my mind. Softening my tone, I explained to Natsu, "We think you may have lost your memories, in a sense. You're a dragon slayer, which means you're part dragon, but you're also part human, too. We think your human part may have been… locked away."

Since he was addressing me, his tone was much less hostile as he said, "No need to worry about me, mate. I'm a dragon. I don't need humananity."

I started to reply, but I stopped myself and bit my lip before I could. From what I knew of dragons, they were fairly prideful. Explaining why he needed his humanity would probably not go over well.

"The doctor said it should only last a few weeks, at least," I said, changing the subject. "Which is a shame. We're so close to being done with this mission."

"That's good, if it only lasts a few weeks. The question is if you'll be able to handle Dragon Natsu for that long," Loke said ruefully. "Maybe you should go back to the guild? You might need the help."

"No, absolutely not," I replied instantly. I'd be damned if I had to explain what all had happened to the guild - and I doubted I could keep Dragon Natsu from calling me "mate" in front of everyone, spilling the beans before I was sure I was ready. "Natsu and I have made it this far without the guild. I wanna prove that we can handle this. Besides, Natsu knows he's my mate, so it's unlikely he'll hurt me, or even let anything else hurt me."

"Is something trying to hurt you?" Natsu demanded angrily, eyes sharp. It seemed his emotions were tied to magic much more strongly in this form, because sweltering waves of heat rolled off of him as he glared at Loke.

"What? No," I replied quickly, trying to waft away the heat. Thinking better of my words, I corrected myself, "Well, yes, but not right now."

"You have a fair point, but can you travel with him in this state?" Loke asked. "You should at least stay put until he's back to normal."

We both heard the silent 'if' bullying its way into his sentence.

At that, Natsu growled, standing. "My mate is not going to take orders from you, cat."

"Natsu, no," I said in exasperation, reaching out a hand to place on his incredibly warm arm. It was then I noticed that he also had grown scales on his hands, and they faded halfway up his forearms where I was touching him. His nails were more like talons, and I was starting to realize just how much more dangerous Natsu was in that state. "Don't get angry with him, he's only trying to help."

"We don't need help. There's nothing wrong with me!" The arm I wasn't touching burst into flames as he clenched his fist, staring at Loke. Though it was on the opposite arm, I flinched back and let go of him in surprise. Natsu seemed to notice, immediately putting out the flame and giving me what I assumed was a regretful look.

"Loke," I said, sighing and looking at the celestial spirit. "You should go for now. You're only upsetting Natsu more with your presence. I promise I'll call if anything happens."

Loke didn't seem too thrilled with that. "Princess, I'd feel better if someone else were here to help."

"Loke, I really, really appreciate your concern, but you being here isn't helping things. I'll call you if there's any changes or developments." Natsu was fidgeting, flexing his fists and making it clear he was ready for a fight. Loke seemed to sense this and finally relented.

"Fine. But please be careful."

Straightening out the cuffs of his jacket, Loke faded out in a golden cloud, giving Natsu a hard stare as he did so.

The room was silent for a long moment as Natsu and I stared blankly at the spot Loke had been.

And then my stomach growled again. Loudly.

"Right. Food," I said in embarrassment, standing up slowly while holding back a groan of pain. My body still felt very broken, but I couldn't take the time to worry about that.

Grabbing my cloak from the bed, I wrapped it around myself. As I was securing the clasp, Natsu spoke in a confused tone. "I brought us food, mate." When I looked up at him, I saw him looking at me with a tilted head, glancing between me and the bundled lump near the window.

"Oh! Oh, of course you did," I groaned, placing a hand over my eyes in realization. I forgot I was basically going to have to teach Natsu how humans survive. Pulling my hand away, I gave Natsu an apologetic look. "I'm sorry. You see, Natsu, humans need to have their food cooked. With fire. We're much more susceptible to getting sick from raw food."

Natsu's eyes lit up at my words. "Fire? I can do fire!" he said excitedly. Bounding over to the window, I saw him inhale deeply as he leaned over the bloody lump.

Before he could release the fire, I shouted with a stutter, "W-wait! Hold on!" as I stumbled from the bed, reaching out to him. Accidentally stepping on the corner of my cloak, I pitched forward, landing on the floor harshly. Fiery pain crashed through me, each nerve ending flaring in agony at the jarring sensation. A yelp escaped my lips, followed by a teary-eyed groan.

In a flash, I was in Natsu's warm arms, being lifted gently and placed tenderly on the bed. "Are you okay, mate? Why are you so badly hurt? You shouldn't get up."

"I'm… I'm fine," I wheezed, trying to catch my breath. The stabbing pain was subsiding, but my ribs ached and I knew getting up again was out of the question. "I'm okay… Much better off than if you hadn't saved me, that's for sure."

"I saved you?" he asked, cocking his head to the side.

"Well, yeah. It's how you… lost your memories." Natsu's upset expression seemed to do things to me that I'd never expected. He looked so worried and confused, it made me want to crush him in a hug. Actively ignoring that fuzzy feeling, I looked to the bedside table. On it was a pamphlet left by the hotel, which had me elated. Picking it up, I saw that it indeed included meal service. However, it was definitely pricey.

Groaning internally, I thought, 'We're basically going to have to give our entire reward to the Master to pay off his credit sphere.'

Sighing, I knew I didn't have a choice. I couldn't risk Natsu torching the place, nor did I think it was a good idea for him to go out at all. I could always call on a spirit to bring something edible, but with the way Natsu was, bringing strangers around him didn't seem like the best of ideas.

Tapping the lacrima on the nightstand, I spoke with the attendant and ordered some food, making sure to get extra in case Natsu's appetite also magnified with his condition. As a precaution, I told them to leave the food outside the door.

For the next thirty minutes, while we waited for the food to arrive, I had Natsu get rid of the kill he had brought in and then started grilling him on what he did know.

He knew Igneel was his father, and he knew everything about being a dragon. But all his human memories, his memories of his human friends, his human feelings, were all gone. He didn't remember me in the slightest, he only knew that I was his mate from the mark on my neck and my scent.

Once our dinner arrived, I asked Natsu to retrieve it from the other side of the door as soon as I was sure the attendant had walked back downstairs. And then it was a disaster. Natsu ate exactly like a feral dragon, mess and all. There were a couple of instances where I had to tell him to slow down before he accidentally bit himself. But he did seem to enjoy the food. While I was starving, I wasn't able to eat very much. Worry gnawed away at me, and I couldn't help but be concerned about how I was going to handle everything.

After dinner was finished and I instructed Natsu to set the dishes back out in the hallway, I decided it was time to call it a night. I wasn't sure how late it was, but I was exhausted, and it was dark out. As Natsu sat on the floor and picked curiously through his bag he'd found, I struggled to stand carefully and grab mine.

"Natsu," I said, grabbing his attention from where he was sniffing a pair of boxers in alarm. "I'm changing clothes to go to sleep. Don't go anywhere."

He immediately got to his feet, dropping his bag and boxers. "You shouldn't be moving. Let me help you."

"N-no!" I stuttered, backing up a shaky step. "It's okay. I can manage."

Natsu cocked his head to the side in confusion. "What's wrong?" he asked, his brow drawing together as he shifted his head slightly.

"Nothing?" I said, pausing with my hand on the doorknob to the bathroom. "Why?"

"Do you not want my help?" He seemed genuinely concerned as he waited for my answer.

"I-it's not that I don't want your help," I said, shifting uncomfortably. "I just don't need it. Also, I don't want you to… ya know… see me naked."

Natsu looked at me with that lost expression for only a moment more before asking, "Why? Do you not want me to see your body?"

"No. Well, yes. But no. Just… now's not the right time." I was stumbling over my words, his blunt questioning catching me off guard. My cheeks flamed red.

"Why not? We're mates, aren't we?" He tilted his head the other way, and I was concerned that it would just fall off his shoulders if he tried to look any more confused. He stared at me like that for just another minute before his eyes widened as he seemed to realize something. His tone dropped. "Oh, we're not actually mated."

I thought it would have been obvious to him. "Not officially, no," I said, sitting down on the corner of the bed to rest. Just standing there for those few minutes really drained my energy.

With that, his eyes flared that golden color as they narrowed. "Why not?" He almost seemed upset.

Now it was my turn to look confused. "Because we're just not there yet?"

"I don't understand."

Of course he didn't. If I was being honest, I didn't fully understand it myself. Doing my best to think of the right words, I began slowly. "Well… we're best friends. We've been best friends for a long time. Since we found out I'm your true mate, we didn't want to ruin that. And the job we're on is really dangerous, so we need to focus. So our… relationship… has kind of been put on hold."

"I still don't understand," he said in confusion. With a slight scathing tone in his voice, he asked, "We're mates so why aren't we together?"

"Because it's not time sensitive?" I tried, unsure of what his issue was.

He frowned, not liking my excuses. Leaving him to his thoughts, I went into the bathroom and changed clothes. It took quite a while, as it hurt to move in many of the different ways required. When I exited the bathroom, I paused to avoid colliding with Natsu directly on the other side of the door.

"Natsu, wha-!" Before I could even ask what he was doing, he was sweeping me off my feet and carrying me to the bed. As I tried to gather my words, he gently laid me down, and then angrily turned away and stalked to the window. Opening it, he paused, almost as if he wanted to turn and look at me. In my head I was screaming that I should tell him to stop, but even if I did, I knew he wouldn't listen. It wasn't like I could physically stop him.

In the end, he kept his gaze ahead as he hopped out the window, slamming it behind him. At this point, I was thoroughly confused. He was clearly mad with me but he still carried me to bed. I really wished we could have talked, but it was clear he needed time to sort his thoughts out.

'Or he could be going to set a village on fire,' I thought with the slightest bit of worry. Dragon Natsu was clearly very aggressive, but based on the tales I had heard, most dragons weren't savages, and Igneel definitely wasn't. That gave me hope that Natsu's dragon form wouldn't be bloodthirsty.

Regardless, I was worried. I was half tempted to have a spirit tail him and make sure he didn't get into trouble, but I quickly scratched that idea when I thought about what might happen if he caught someone watching him. I wasn't about to endanger my spirits like that. With that thought, I gave up and decided to get some rest. If nothing else, I knew that he could take care of himself, at least.


"Wake up. Wake up, mate! You're safe! You're safe."

Eyes snapping open, I looked around wildly as I was ripped from my nightmare. Absolute terror filtered through my veins as my heart tried to beat out of my chest. I couldn't remember a thing about the dream, but the all-encompassing fear that gripped me was unmistakable. Looking up, I could see Natsu, scales still decorating his cheeks, looking down at me with those strange but mesmerizing golden eyes filled with concern. I realized a moment later that he was holding me in his arms, his touch gentle and soothing. One hand came up and carefully caressed my cheek, mindfully avoiding touching his actual claws to my skin.

"Natsu?" I honestly was a little crestfallen. I was hoping when I awoke, Natsu would have been back to normal, or maybe it could have all just been a bad dream. No such luck for me, however.

Natsu looked down at me for several long moments, clearly thinking with hyperfocus. With a quick change of expression, he let go of me and placed me back on the bed as he frowned grimly. Turning his back to me, he said, "You're okay. It was just a bad dream."

With that, he stalked towards the window, which he had clearly left open when he came inside to wake me, and jumped on the sill, ready to take off again.

"Wait!" I called out, panic overtaking me. "Natsu, please."

He paused in the window, his body stiffening, though he didn't turn around.

"Is… is something wrong?" I bit my lip in anticipation of his answer. In all fairness, the question was quite dumb. Of course something was wrong. Everything was wrong. Natsu had just woken up with no memories, and didn't even know who I was. Now he was acting cold and distant, and it made my hair stand on end.

Natsu didn't respond for several long moments. Long enough that I thought maybe he wasn't going to answer at all. The bitingly cold air rushing through the open window caused me to shiver, which made my body ache all over. Right before I opened my mouth to try again, he replied roughly with his back still turned, "My mate has rejected me and… I don't understand why."

"Oh, Natsu…" Of course he was thinking like that. I had the conversation about waiting with the real Natsu, not this version. How was he supposed to understand if I didn't have the patience to explain it to him? "I haven't rejected you. I… I want to be together very much. But… We're on a very dangerous mission. And there's a good chance I might die. And I know what happens to dragons when they lose their mates. I don't want to make anything official with you because… I don't want my death to hurt or kill you… I really wish I had a better way of –"

"It's already too late for that," he said suddenly in his strange gruff tone, turning his head slightly to look at me from the side. His expression almost looked sad.

"I… What?" I didn't understand what he meant, but I could feel cold dread douse my insides.

Stepping out of the window so he could fully face me, he said with a snarling tone, "I've already found you. I've already marked you. You are my true mate. Despite not actually consummating our mateship, if something happens to you, then it could still kill me depending on how strong our bond already is – and I don't need my memories to feel it. I'm already drawn to you unrelentingly, regardless of what I know of you. Losing you, even now, would be world-shattering. I'm surprised the human me didn't explain this to you already."

My blood ran cold instantly at the implications of Dragon Natsu's words. He had to be lying. They hadn't had sex yet, so that was supposed to protect him, right? The bond was currently purely emotional, it couldn't hurt him as it was. My mind flashed to a couple days prior, when I had been so absolutely reckless when trying to find Natsu. I had almost died multiple times, not knowing that my death could have still killed Natsu. I shivered as I thought about it, partly due to the cold filtering through the still-open window, but also partly from shock.

"I… I… " Struggling to find words, I was so upset and confused that nothing coherent would come to mind.

"So I really didn't tell you," Natsu said, drawing his brow together in thought as he closed the window, obviously acknowledging my shivers. "I hate to tell you this, but human me is an idiot."

"I could have killed you," I managed in a whisper. Other worries began flooding through as well, causing me to pause so I could breathe deeply for a moment. If the actual mating didn't matter, I had basically been torturing Natsu and myself for nothing. It was honestly quite embarrassing. "We could have… But no, we still need to focus on the mission. We don't need to distract ourselves…"

"It seems to me that the only thing we've been doing is wasting time," Natsu said with a sardonic grin, his molten eyes flashing. He approached my bed, sitting on the edge as he looked down at me, using a clawed hand to gently move some stray blonde locks from my face. "If we're supposed to be together, then every moment we're not together is wasted time. And torture for the dragon."

"T-torture?" I asked meekly, raising an eyebrow. Guilt thrummed through my veins as I remembered normal Natsu mentioning how much he was working to restrain himself.

The dragon leaned down, where his mouth was right next to my ear, and said with a deep purr, "Agony."

I gasped at the feel of his warm breath gently fluttering over my ear, causing me to turn my head to look at him. I instantly regretted it, finding myself immediately lost in those golden pools of his eyes, his small smirk tilting the corners of his lips, his lengthened canines looking sharp and thrilling. He didn't seem to hesitate as he leaned over the slightest bit more and took my lips with his own again in a fiery passion.

This time, I didn't pull away.


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