A/N: Hello, lovely readers~! Stele here with another chapter of FTH! At last! I know, you've all been anxiously awaiting the next chapter—I deeply apologize for my crappy updating lately! I think that is about to change, however... I have pulled in a fellow reader and friend of mine, MorriganFae, to help me out with this story. From now on, she will be co-writing with me, so everyone be extra nice! She helped me out AFREAKINGLOT with this chapter (seriously, a lot). She's a really beautiful writer and I am excited to have her on this journey with me!

Fairy Tail High

Chapter 25: Threads of Time

A brilliant white light, hotter than flame, encompasses my body to the point I am certain I will bleed into it, become one with the light—with the pain. I try to scream, but when I open my mouth no sound comes out.

Natsu… I have to find Natsu!

The white light is getting brighter, hotter, heavier, weighing me down until I feel like it will crush me.


A sound penetrates the white nothingness, but I am unable to go to it. I cannot find the voice! I try to open my eyes—to see, but my body does not obey my commands. I am frozen; I am nothing.

This feeling… reminds me of another, when I was stuck in Midnight's thrall. Perhaps… I am still there? Maybe all of the events that have happened since we beat him have been but a dream he put into my head. Am I still inside the nightmare that man created? Will I ever escape?


Again, that voice. Familiar… welcome—like a soft breeze on a warm spring afternoon. I feel it trying to wrap around me, to pull me from this hell, but I still can't meet it.

I'm sorry, I think to the voice, I can't go to you

"I will find you… Keep thinking… Don't… stop…"

Keep thinking? I can't think! The pain… it's everywhere. How do I escape it? How do I free myself?

Natsu… think about Natsu.

Pink hair; green eyes; tanned skin; warm touch… Soft lips…

"Lucy… open your eyes…"

Hands on my skin, stroking lightly, warm and strong and—


Her eyes flew open and her body gave a hard jerk. Pink hair and dark green eyes looked down at her, face full of concern.

"Lucy, are you okay?"

Lucy… right, my name.

She sat up with a wince of pain; her head throbbed something fierce. "Ow." She rubbed at her temples.

"Do you know who you are?" Came another voice, this one female, soft and melodic.

"Lucy," she answered after a moment.

"Do you know where you are?" The voice prompted.

"I…" Do I? She glanced around her, saw Natsu, as well as Mira who had been the one to speak, Makarov, Erza, Jellal, Gray, and… Ultear all looking at her with mirroring expressions of concern. "Oh. Ultear, what happened? Why am I back here? I need to go back! I have to talk to Celia—!"

"Hush now," Mira shushed her gently and placed a hand on her arm.

"I have to get back there!" she insisted. She tried to stand but was pushed back by Mira and Natsu.

"You need to relax," Mira told her. "You were out cold for a good five minutes."

"I was?" She couldn't remember that… had she passed out? Wait… Yes, the white light, the hot wave that crushed her. She groaned. "I think I'm going to be sick…"

"Are you certain?" Mira asked in concern.

Nausea rolled inside of her, threatening to become a real issue, but she forced it down with some deep breaths. Her stomach was knotted in anxiety, her face felt flushed with heat. Her eyes screwed shut as she concentrated on simply breathing.

In…and out. In...and...out, in...and out. She opened her eyes slowly. She blinked several times, registering those around her. With legs gone to rubber, she tried to stand, but her knees buckled. A tanned hand quickly reached out, grabbing her arm, supporting her as she found her footing.

"Natsu…" She gave a shaky smile and leaned closer and wrapped her arm around his waist, needing support, yes, but mostly wanting the comfort of his solid body next to hers. Everything in her head felt surreal yet far too real, like a nightmare she had yet to completely wake from. Natsu felt real. Natsu was real. She could feel their bond connecting them, anchoring her to this place.

Natsu slung his arm around her shoulders and Lucy found her other arm snaking up to wrap around his firm torso, her hands joining at his waist to hold him closer. Her eyes fluttered closed as she breathed in his campfire scent.

"Ahem." Gray cleared his throat loudly.

Lucy opened her eyes, finally registering her and Natsu weren't alone—not by a long shot. She resisted the urge to pout. It was far too easy to get trapped in a bubble with this pink-haired boy.

You okay? Natsu's glance seemed to ask her.

I'm okay. She smiled up at him. His easy grin back caused her heart to stutter.

"Have you suffered a blow to the head?" Erza queried, her domineering voice cutting through Lucy's thoughts.

"What?" Lucy pulled her thoughts away from Natsu.

"Your recovery seems to be exceedingly slow, I merely wished to know if you suffered an injury that may account for your disorientation," Erza asked smoothly.

Mira fixed the requip mage with a sharp glare. "Oh? How many times have you traveled to a past life, Erza?" Mira arched her brow at the redhead.

"I was merely expressing my concern for Lucy here." Erza crossed her arms in front of her chest.

Jellal stepped forward between the love of his life and the silver-haired take-over mage.

"You're both right." His glance darted between the women. "We have never seen this magic before," he nodded towards Mira, "and Lucy took far longer than Natsu did to regain consciousness," he conceded to Erza.

I did? Lucy peeked up at Natsu for confirmation. Natsu let out a warning growl at Jellal, his arm tightening around her protectively.

"Tell us what happened, child," Makarov said kindly. He offered her a chair, but Lucy shook her head, not wanting to let go of Natsu.

She looked around at each pair of eyes in the room, all showing concern—for her. A lump raised in her throat and she felt the corners of her eyes glisten with tears. She felt her chin being raised, Natsu's hand lifting to brush the hair off her face. His long fingers caressed her cheek.

"You alright, Luce?" he asked tenderly.

"I'm just…" she searched for the right word, "overwhelmed. I've never had so many people care about me before."

Gray stepped forward. "That's what it means to be part of our gang. We will always protect our friends."

Everyone in the room nodded in agreement, save Ultear who simply looked away. Lucy felt a few tears slipping down her cheeks. Natsu's warm hand gently brushed them away, his emerald eyes radiating warmth and a deeper emotion she couldn't describe.

"Tell us what happened," Ultear urged, not unkindly.

Lucy told them all she could remember about Celia, about the bond and how Celia had seemed comfortable talking with her almost immediately. Natsu added the few things he had observed, such as how scared Celia had looked when they first mentioned Luk. When she'd finished talking, she broke free of Natsu's hold, walking to Ultear.

"Why did you bring me back? I haven't gotten all the answers I need from Celia!" Her voice desperate, her eyes pleading.

To her utter consternation, Ultear tilted her head to the side, looking equally confused.

"I didn't pull you back, your own body did," she said.

"What do you mean?" Lucy asked.

"Souls aren't meant to travel to past lives. It's only your soul bond with Natsu that allows such a thing. The body gets… anxious, shall we say when the soul leaves, even if it's only for a few seconds."

"Wait? How long were we out?"

"A minute, maybe two?"

"It felt like hours."

Natsu cleared his throat and admitted sheepishly, "I didn't really feel much of anything."

"How is that possible?" Lucy turned to him in surprise. She had felt everything so strongly, she couldn't understand how Natsu hadn't.

"Did you ever feel time passing?" Ultear asked, frowning in thought.

Natsu shrugged, indifferent. "Sometimes."

Lucy's eyes sparked with something like wonder. "Yes, I felt it! I was there! Natsu, you were there!"

Natsu scratched his neck underneath his white scarf and shrugged. "I was there, but I didn't feel anything. I don't know why. Maybe because I'm a Dragon Slayer."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Erza demanded.

Gray rolled his eyes. "Oh, you think that's the answer to everything, don't you, ash breath?"

"That has nothing to do with it," Ultear voice cut through the others. She cautiously approached Natsu. He tilted his head in curiosity but stayed silent as she reached out and held his wrist.

"There's something here. I can feel…" Ultear trailed off.

"Feel what?" Natsu was getting annoyed at this cryptic woman.


"What are you talking about?" Natsu growled.

"There's so much light in your soul right now, but I can feel a blackness; something buried deep, but old, hidden within." Ultear fixed him with a piercing stare. "I can't see everything, but I know there's something lying dormant inside of you. Curled up; torpid, but waiting."

"The hell does that mean? Are you weird?" Natsu tugged at his scarf, looking down at Ultear.

Lucy was losing patience. So what if Natsu couldn't feel what she had felt? She was crushing hard on the guy, but everyone knew he was a bit dense. "I need to see Celia again! I want to know how the soul bond works! If I could just talk to her…"

Lucy felt the words dry up in her throat. Ultear's look was a warning. That look meant danger. Lucy froze like a woodland rabbit, ears pricked, waiting.

Ultear narrowed her eyes at the younger girl. "I must have failed to warn you how dangerous it is to muck about with time," she hissed.

"But—" Lucy tried.

"No, Lucy. You do not understand the severity of this magic!" Her tone was urgent.

"Then explain it to us, please," Jellal requested.

Ultear nodded. "Let me tell you a story."

"Like, a bedtime story?" Natsu deadpanned. Lucy glowered at him. He shrugged.

"This isn't the first time I have helped someone dig into their past," Ultear continued, ignoring Natsu. "A few years ago, a small girl was brought to me. She was no older than thirteen at the time, though her frail appearance made her look much younger."

"What was wrong with her?" Gray asked, folding his arms over his chest as he leaned against the wall.

"She… had a rough childhood," Ultear answered vaguely. "That is not the point. This girl was brought to me by an old friend of mine. He begged me to help her—to look into her past."

"What the hell for?" Natsu asked. Lucy shushed him.

"She had a severe case of amnesia," Ultear snapped. "She… looked to be poorly mistreated, also."

"This friend of yours…" Lucy began uneasily.

Ultear shook her head. "The fault did not lay with him. He found this girl one night in a pile of rubble, half dead."

Mira and Lucy both gasped.

"That's… horrible…" Mira breathed. "Who would do such a thing to an innocent child?"

"That was the question," Ultear agreed. "My… friend, wanted me to find out who had done this and, more importantly, why."

"And were you able to reach into her past?" Jellal prompted.

Ultear's expression was grave. "I… was, and I wasn't."

Natsu scoffed. "What does that even mean?"

"You were able to access her memories, but you did not like what you saw," Jellal guessed.

"Something like that." Ultear sighed heavily. "I cannot see everything in the same way that the person whose past I am trying to uncover will, but I do get glimpses—flashes of colors and sounds."

"What happened?" Lucy whispered. A sense of dread shrouded her as she took in the woman's words. She could tell from her expression alone that something horrible must have happened to this girl.

Thirteen… What could possibly be in this child's past that has Ultear so somber?

"I cannot give voice to the things I saw," Ultear murmured.

"I'm getting real tired of the way you talk, lady," Natsu groused.

"Natsu, don't be so rude!" Lucy hissed, smacking him lightly in the chest.

He grumbled something unintelligible under his breath. Everyone in the room pointedly ignored him, their focus entirely on Ultear.

"It is not something I can discuss in detail," Ultear insisted, glowering at the pinkette. "I had only used Arc of Time a handful of times prior to this and wasn't confident in my abilities to successfully enter this child's mind without repercussions. However," she took a deep breath as if steeling herself to continue, "my friend was insistent so I decided to at least try, for his sake but also for this child who had no other memories up to this point—not even her name.

"I used the spell on her and, at first, it seemed to be working. I felt the magic power envelope me—felt it reach out and… cocoon this girl inside. But…"

"There's always a 'but,'" Natsu grumbled.

"But, when she pulled out of the memory…" a shudder ran up Ultear's spine, "her face was absolutely traumatized. Silent tears spilled from her cheeks, and her hands clawed at her arms as if desperately trying to rip something from her skin."

"What did she see?" Erza asked quietly, face pale.

Ultear shook her head. "Like I said, I am unable to say… but, I can say this: there are some things that are not meant to be remembered. Sometimes, our minds use memory to protect us from past traumas, from the things that are too terrible to live through a second time."

"That's why you didn't want to help us," Lucy realized. "You were afraid that would happen to us."

"Partly, yes," Ultear agreed, "but also, Arc of Time is a dangerous magic that, if not performed perfectly, can have fatal consequences. That wasn't the case with this girl, but… perhaps there are fates even worse than death."

Lucy shuddered at the words. "What do you mean by that?"

Ultear fixed her with a look; there was an urgency in her gaze. "The last words that child ever spoke were, 'I remember'." Ultear paused, then her voice broke as she added, "That was seven years ago."

A collective gasp filled the room.

"You mean…" Natsu coughed, "she hasn't said a word in seven years?"

Ultear shook her head. "Not a single syllable. I keep tabs on her—my friend gives me updates—and so far she has shown no progress in her current state."

"Which is…?" Erza asked.

"She has been in a catatonic state. She cannot feed, clothe or bathe herself. She doesn't speak. She doesn't walk. My friend once accidentally spilled some hot soup on her but she had no reaction to the pain."

"That's…" Mira trailed off, unable to finish the thought. Tears were running down her cheeks now.

"Horrible," Lucy finished, brushing away her own tears. "But, I still need to see, Ultear. I need to see what happened in my past and how it brought me to where I am now."

"Me too," Natsu agreed. Lucy glanced up at him. He wasn't crying, but there was a hard determination in his gaze. The hand he still had around her waist had tightened, fingers clenched around the fabric of her shirt. "It's fucked up what happened to that little girl," he said, "but I won't let that happen to Lucy. I'll be there to protect her."

"Do you think time cares about things like friendship, loyalty, soul bonds?" Ultear scoffed. "Time simply is. We are all slaves to time. Arc of Time really is an arc, with a keystone that holds everything together. Time isn't like a thread unspooling behind you, it's more like a body of water. You don't look back along time but are plunged into it, sometimes face first. And memories are like dreams: sometimes you wake up gently, other times gasping for air."

Natsu clenched his other fist, this time igniting a flame in his anger. "I don't give a damn about time! I'll protect my friends. Time can go to hell!"

"Natsu…" Lucy choked out, fresh tears pooling in her eyes at his determination.

"Calm down, my boy," Makarov gently chided. "There's no need to get so worked up."

"I'll help you," Ultear began slowly before Natsu could react, "but I need time to research this further, and your bodies need time to recover."

Lucy shook her head, trying to comprehend all that had happened to her. On the one hand, she felt exhausted, on the other, she wanted to go see Celia instantly, to reassure her, somehow. It was all too complicated.

"How long before we can go back?" Natsu asked.

"Can we stay for longer next time? There's so much I need to know." Lucy's thirst for knowledge, for understanding, was overriding any sense of caution.

Ultear raised one eyebrow at the small blonde mage in front of her. "The Celia you met is like an echo of Celia's real self."

"What do you mean?"

"I can only bring you to your past lives a certain number of times," Ultear told them. "Your souls are connected through time but I cannot resurrect the dead. The first time you go back is always the strongest, but like an echo, each visit will get shorter and fainter, until eventually you won't be able to hear or see your past lives at all."

"Bummer," Gray said flatly, not looking the least bit concerned.

Natsu looked ready to punch him in the mouth with a flaming fist, but Lucy laid a restraining hand over his arm. "So what does that mean, exactly?" Lucy asked.

"It means," Ultear said, "that each memory you go into takes a little more out of you. Your body can only handle so much, Lucy. The memories won't last as long and you will remember less each time you come back," Ultear said gravely. "Also, you will become less of yourself."

"What are you blabbering on about now?"Natsu was just about at his breaking point, between this Arc of Time threatening Lucy, the crowdedness of the confined space that was making his nose itch, and the way this Ultear was acting like the harbinger of death.

"The more Lucy goes back, the more of Celia she'll bring back with her," Ultear finished succinctly.

"I don't want that!" Natsu blurted out. "I want you."

"What about Natsu, will he bring more of Luk back each time?" Lucy asked.

"No, he's fine," Ultear snapped irritably. "I don't know why exactly, but he's not affected the way you, and everyone else I have helped, have been, but he also won't remember much of what he saw. For Natsu, it will be like waking from an unpleasant dream; trying to capture those memories will be jumbled, thoughts turned slippery as water through hands. Sending him back in time as anything other than a reminder of your soul bond with him is useless. The longer you go back in time, the further your soul is 'stretched' and Natsu, as your soulmate, can use your bond to remind you to go home.

"However, each time you come back, the rebound of your soul will be more painful—more scar tissue will form," Ultear continued darkly. "That scar on your soul is your past life. You want to embrace Celia, but if you're not careful, she will take over your bond. She is a soul without a body right now, and she was too surprised to think of what that meant when you first came to her. Next time, she might not be so ill-prepared.

"I will concede to sending you back once more and only once more, anything other than that is far too dangerous."

"Thank you, Ultear—"

"Do not thank me yet, Lucy. You have not seen the things that I have seen; experienced things that I have. Those moments in time… they may be hidden from you for a reason. You must keep that in mind."

There are some things that are not meant to be remembered. Lucy recalled the words Ultear had spoken earlier. Maybe there were things in her past that she didn't want to remember, but that didn't mean she didn't need to.

"I think it's worth the risk," she decided at last.

"I think so too," Natsu agreed, unhesitantly.

Ultear gave a resigned sigh. "Very well. If you will not heed my warning, I suppose I have no other choice. After all this is your life, not mine. I don't have a say in how you choose to remember, or how you don't."

Lucy wasn't sure what that meant exactly but decided not to press the issue further. "Thank you," she said instead.

Ultear sighed again, expression grim as she stared at the clock on her wall. "Time is a delicate thing…" she murmured, more to herself than to them. "There's so much of it, yet at the same time none at all. It can be gone in a flash—eradicated in the blink of an eye—as if it was never there to begin with." She turned back to them with a sad smile. "I think we could all use some time to rest," she said, clearly dismissing them from her home. The group thanked Ultear for her help and slowly made their way outside.

"Now what?" Lucy wondered aloud when the group was a ways from the cottage.

Natsu gave her hand a tug, pulling her to a stop. He leaned down and whispered in her ear. "Now, we get the hell away from these freaks." She arched an eyebrow at him in suspicion. He grinned. "Come on, let's go for a walk. I wanna talk to you."

A/N: So... what did we think of our first co-written chapter of FTH? I think it turned out pretty amazing! Special thanks to MorriganFae for helping me write this, you're awesome! XD

Alright, guys, who can tell me who was the girl in Ultear's story? Let's see how many of you can guess correctly.

Grizzly98, Aaaaan even more to take in XD

NekoSkittles, Hi there! I've seen your name around, good to see you on this story! Thanks so much for your support, it means so much to me that you took the time to not only read TOF but this one as well. I hope this chapter made up for my terrible updating as of late!

By: xSteleAliniax and MorriganFae