It started out innocent. Just two friends spending time together in the Guild Hall. Natsu didn't begrudge them this – Jellal had proven himself to be a trusted ally. The Fire Dragon Slayer could come back from Quests and still talk to the redhead without feeling awkward; in fact, it was a sort of unofficial policy for him to do so, if for nothing else than to show a longtime friend, who was now his Guild Master, that he was alright. Natsu even managed to make small talk with Jellal every now and then.
And then the line started to blur between those two. Oh, it was nothing major changed at first. The two would sit a little closer together. They would occasionally hold hands. Erza would get this look in her eye whenever she smiled at the azure-haired mage. Natsu valiantly tried to ignore these cues; he wasn't in the Guild often enough to know if they had initiated anything, but deep down the pink-head knew that if they hadn't already, they were one step away. And at first, the Dragon Slayer genuinely wasn't bothered with this prospect. He was still the happy-go-lucky, feisty knucklehead that was dense when it came to a ton of stuff. The concept of love wasn't even on his brain – friendship was the most approximate thing to that deep and complex subject.
But something brewed below the surface. Otherwise, he wouldn't have started to feel slightly apprehensive every time he returned to the Guild. To feel a pang of jealousy every time the azure-haired mage shared a deep, meaningful look with Erza. To feel somewhat wounded that Erza wouldn't look at him that way. It was totally different from the deep bond of friendship shared between the Dragon Slayer and the knight; Erza trusted him to win practically any battle now without question, but once they were off the battlefield, she had this tendency to gravitate toward the man that had only recently joined Fairy Tail. In a sense, Natsu felt like they were drifting apart. And perhaps that feeling wasn't unwarranted; Erza was the Seventh Guild Master while he was 'only' an S-Class mage, albeit one that had grown to rival if not surpass the infamous Crash mage.
Natsu tried being supportive when Mira informed him the relationship became official. It wasn't for Jellal's sake that he tried, but Erza's; the scarlet knight deserved to be happy, and it looked like Jellal finally stopped moping about the past to make that happen. And yet… regardless of how hard he tried to smile for them, the sentiment never ran too deep. Natsu didn't bother to question why he felt a certain heaviness in his chest – frankly, it was just in his nature not to question feelings; if he felt a certain way, he just did. No need to wax poetically about it or somethin'. The pink-head was pretty confused about the source of this feeling, namely Erza's relationship with Jellal, but he didn't question that on some level he was feeling depression, bitterness, self-loathing… Stuff he admittedly didn't have much experience with. 'Course he'd felt them in the past, but never all-together like this. It was so complex, and so… Natsu didn't even know how to word it. Overall, it just made him feel like crap, and he wished these feelings would just stop.
And then there was that time she wasn't even in the Guild when he returned from a Quest.
"Welcome back, Natsu!" Mira chirped as she ran the bar counter for old times' sake. The Pyro had taken to wearing a cloak like Gildarts usually did, and still does. He grinned and waved at the silver-haired barmaid as he ambled on over to sit at the bar. "Want your usual?"
Natsu nodded his head out of impulse, and Mira went on to prepare some flaming meat in addition to a cup of whiskey while the Dragon Slayer looked around the Guild idly. As usual, there wasn't many people lounging around as there used to be. You'd think people would be more inclined to take a load off after that war with the Alvarez Empire, but actually a great many a Fairy Tail Wizard felt compelled to take on more job requests when they could. It wasn't so much because they feared they needed to stay in shape for unknown threats that could crop up – though that might have been a small part of it – but there was a surge in the sentiment of adventure. You never knew what day might be your last, so it was best to treat each day that way. Of course people still knew how to relax; it's just that Natsu's infectious enthusiasm finally seemed to affect everyone to the point they were gung-ho for Quests. Even when S-Class Trials weren't anytime soon.
"Where's Erza?" Natsu asked Mira when she came back with his meal. He didn't see the redhead anywhere, and she was rarely holed up in her office.
The silver-haired barmaid smiled apologetically at the Dragon Slayer.
"I'm afraid you missed her. She left for a Conference this morning, and won't be back for at least a few days." Mira didn't have the heart to tell him that Jellal tagged along. There was apparently a Quest near Clover Town that pretty much coincided with how long the Conference was.
"Oh." Was all Natsu could say to that. Mira did not miss how the pink-head's shoulders slumped the slightest amount; she wagered that the Dragon Slayer didn't even know he had come to rely on Erza being here after every Quest. Like, on some level he probably knew that returning home to Fairy Tail meant seeing Erza again, but he probably wasn't aware why seeing the redhead was important to him.
The knucklehead was finally falling in love. And he didn't even know it. To be honest, Mira felt a pang of jealousy that Erza was the lucky lady to snare the loveable Pyro; moreso when you factor in that she was already in a relationship, and had no idea she had Natsu in the palm of her hand. It wasn't like Mira herself had such feelings for Natsu, but he was a man dear to her heart. He was among the inner circle of friends there for her and Elfman when Lisanna seemingly died, and he helped make it possible for all of them to return from Edolas, including the sister they had thought to be dead. He was always so warm and willing to share the stories of his adventures with her, and even though he didn't share a bond with her like he did with Erza, they could both depend on one another regardless of the situation.
In essence, Mira might not have feelings for Natsu, but she wouldn't be adverse to a relationship with him, to test the waters. But even so… that wasn't likely to happen anytime this century.
"If you ever want to talk, I'll listen, okay?" Mira assured the pink-head, who smiled gratefully at her gesture.
"Thanks, Mira. I can't think of anything right now, but I'll keep ya in mind."
Mira kept smiling in spite of the Dragon Slayer's words. Yup. Clueless…
This would happen a few more times – never back-to-back or anything, but there would be times when Erza was away. Whenever it happened, Natsu considered waiting until her return, but then thought better of it and just went back on the road the following day, onward to his next S-Class Quest. Not that Erza seemed to notice. She certainly never commented on him being gone longer than usual.
And so it was that Natsu sank further into depression. By this point he had to acknowledge these feelings transcended mere friendship with the scarlet knight. It was a whole lot worse than that time Lucy was grieving over her father's death and wanting to be left alone; willingly or not, Erza was distancing herself from him, and Natsu hated it. He didn't want to return to the days when the only acknowledgement he got from her was when she pounded him and Gray for fighting in the Guild Hall. Despite Fairy Tail's disbandment for that one year, when they reunited it seemed like their bond was stronger than ever in the face of Zeref and his army. But now that there wasn't some amazingly powerful enemy to take down, the bond was just… loosening.
Natsu wasn't known to be a quitter. There was a period of time when he took a break from Quests. If anything, that made things worse for him than her occasional absences due to Guild Master Conferences… It became clear to Natsu that Jellal spent a great time around Erza as her boyfriend. It wasn't just meals; they would do so much together. Even when Jellal just went to do something simple for her, like deliver letters to the post office… Natsu's heart felt so much like a clamp or vice tightening in his chest whenever he watched them together.
Amazingly, he endured that kind of pain for two weeks before he decided that he needed to get back to taking Quests. Two weeks might seem like nothing at all, but for Natsu they were the most agonizing and tortuous weeks he'd had to endure in his life… and he'd done nothing but take some time off and visit with what friends he could, including Erza. The pink-head used to view Quests as painful 'cause he'd be away from the redhead, but now… Well. It was less painful when he wasn't around her, and that was really saying something.
He didn't throw himself back into those Quests alone, however. Mira had been a constant ray of sunshine in this otherwise gloomy time for him, and Natsu kinda felt bad about dragging her down in his depressed state, so they went on some jobs together. It wasn't as anything as fantastic as romance between them; just two friends taking on epic S-Class Quests together. For some odd reason, Natsu felt a lot better going on Quests with Mira than going with Gray and Lucy. He supposed that with them, his mind would drift to Erza. A lot. 'Cause the three of them, Erza, 'n Wendy (can't forget Happy and Carla) did so many jobs together, back before Alvarez and Tartaros.
At least with Mira, he could let Wendy tag along, too, sometimes. He couldn't bring himself to loathe his little Sis, never. Yet with Mira… Natsu didn't know why, but she had become a constant pillar in his life as of late. She was filling a void in his heart left by Erza, and he honestly didn't know how to feel about that.
And then that happened, and things got more muddled…
"Another job done!" Mira chirped as she and Natsu arrived back in Magnolia after dark. The Fire Dragon Slayer was currently walking the Takeover mage home, and he sent Happy back to their place at her request… with the promise of fish for his 'trouble', of course.
"Yeah. Stomping those monsters was pretty fun." Natsu grinned back at her, arms behind his head lazily as they walked.
They lapsed into a comfortable silence for a few minutes, but then they reached Mira's place, and then it came time for them to part ways for the night. Having gone on a number of missions with Mira, she'd explained his duty as a gentleman to walk her up to the front door, and so he did… still somewhat reluctantly (Natsu Dragneel and formality/decorum just did not mix well).
"Well, I had fun!" Natsu expressed honestly with a smile before half-turning to head back home. "See you tom…"
The Dragon Slayer was cut off as Mira's lips crashed onto his own while her arms draped around his neck. Natsu swore there was some kinda Lightning Magic infused into that kiss, 'cause… wow. He was tingling all over, and his face was now sporting a healthy blush. He couldn't really bring himself to kiss her back because he was caught off-guard and, well… his emotions were a jumble, of course.
When Mira parted from the heated kiss, she leaned her head on his shoulder and looked to him longingly. She just couldn't take it anymore. Maybe her feelings for the knucklehead in her arms were fully developed, but damn if she didn't want to at least try one date with the guy to see where it could go.
"I'm sorry, Natsu… I just… you… I…" Mira trailed off unintelligibly and nuzzled her head into his neck and shoulder. It was honestly nice to be so close to him…
Natsu blinked dumbly and tried his best to process all of this. He knew exactly what Mira wanted to say, even if he was a greenhorn when it came to this topic… Well, shoot. What was he supposed to do now?
Author's Note: This was going to go in my main FT fanfic, but then as I continued to write it… I dunno. Even if I don't go the harem route, I could make this a NaMi fanfic instead of a Natza one. I personally feel more 'passionate' about Natza than NaMi, but hey, I can appreciate that pairing, too. I'm open-minded to most heterosexual pairings in Fairy Tail, save for Nalu and Jerza… The only reason I paired Erza up with Jellal here was for the angst factor; it won't be permanent, even if this doesn't end up a harem. I swear there's something wrong with me, because reading/writing Natsu in pain like this is just so interesting. Gahhh. So interesting. :P
I entirely blame the fanfic 'Cold Tears' by Tempest35, 'cause that fic just seems unfinished, between you and me. The angst is great (and I bet you do not hear that often), but it has the potential for Erza to patch things up with Natsu. Just like I'm hoping to do here. Rest assured, I plan to do more actual scenes than exposition like I did here in the first chapter; I just wanted to test the waters with introspection on Natsu's part.
Future chapters might be longer than this one, this intro was more for feedback and whatnot. My main focus will still be on the Natza fic, but I won't leave this one out to dry. At this point I'm just undecided who Natsu will end up with – Mira, Erza, or both. Feel free to lemme know in the Reviews if you have a preference. I'll take them under consideration, and might reach a decision by the time I post the next Chap. Hope you enjoyed it a little!