Chapter Sixty-One: Distractions- Part One

(April 14th, 2018, Saturday Night)

Natsu stared with wide eyes at the closed door. 'Did she just—' He gaped, realizing Lucy had in fact shut him out, literally.

He stood there for a moment, frozen before lowering his gaze. He didn't know what to do. He knew what he wanted to do, which was to knock on the door again and ask for Lucy to reconsider, but it was starting to set in that she wasn't going to be easily swayed.

'She's going to get herself hurt. Or worse...' Natsu swallowed, hands shaking before he shoved them in his pockets.

With a heavy heart, Natsu turned away, every step hurting as he left Levy and Cana's room.

'How long is she gonna stay there?' he wondered, remembering how his chest had ached when he went to grab his dishes for dinner, only to see Lucy's bedding gone. Knowing she didn't want to even sleep in the same room as him, it crushed him.

Natsu had a hard time breathing when he first found out, and even now he struggled with wrapping his head around the idea.

'Why can't she just sleep in our room tonight?'

He groaned, knowing the reason.

It was him. He was why she didn't want to be in their room. She probably assumed he would try to talk her out of being a runner, and...

'She'd be right.'

He frowned, withdrawing a hand to rub against his chest to dull the pain, but it didn't help. He gripped his scarf, wishing he had the right answer.

Lucy as a runner didn't make sense, at all. She had never expressed wanting to leave the base, aside from the time she ran away because of Gray's yelling or last night when she suggested going on a mission with him.

He had... laughed at her.

Natsu's heart sank, wondering how badly that hurt her. He hadn't meant for the comment to sting, honestly thinking it was a joke of some sort. He never imagined she would be the type to go off base.

She knew it was dangerous? Right?

Natsu shook his head as he wandered down the hall, no destination in mind. He couldn't go back to their room, his restless mind flooding with thoughts, most of which contradicted themselves.

Just like the argument earlier, he kept going back and forth, repeating some of the same thoughts while occasionally new ones surfaced. He lost track of time as he walked, needing to keep moving.

Lucy had to know being a runner was dangerous, yet she wanted to do it? That made no sense to him. There were other people with more experience able to get the job done. Why did she have to join them? She could contribute to Fairy Tail in other, more safer ways.

'Is she trying to get herself killed?'

Natsu dismissed that thought immediately, thinking about the woman who he faced off with earlier. There was a determination in those eyes he had never seen before, a fire in her that, under other circumstances, would have made him proud.

Lucy had stood up for herself, but did she have to take a stand on something like that?

They were talking about life and death, and she was tiptoeing around that line like it was nothing.

'No, that's not true,' Natsu thought just as he entered the school. He furrowed his brows, wondering when he even went outside. His thoughts were out of control, his mind a flurry as he aimlessly walked.

He couldn't stop. He didn't know why, but something deep down told him to keep moving, so he did. Natsu turned down another hall, closer towards the other side of the school.

With a deep breath, he mumbled, "She... she admitted she might die."

Natsu's nails dug at his chest, needing that pain gone. He couldn't, wouldn't allow himself to think about that. He had lost too many people, three roommates and countless others. He wasn't going to lose Lucy too.

He refused to let her die.

Lucy said she thought it through, but had she really? Based off what she told him, he wasn't convinced. Their fight was becoming more of a blur the longer he replayed it in his head, Natsu confusing what they actually said with what he had been thinking at the time, but he remembered the gist of it.

She had told him she would be fine, but if she wasn't, then that was it. He couldn't accept that. He didn't see why she had to give herself a senseless death as a runner. She could stay safe within Fairy Tail and actually live.

He frowned, another contradicting thought popping up. 'I wouldn't be happy stuck on base.'

But, they were different. Natsu had the experience, had the knowledge of how dangerous those creatures could be.

But... Lucy also faced monsters herself, and survived.

Her monsters were humans, Ivan and his group hurting her, so much so that it left marks on her body. Natsu swallowed, hating that he hadn't been able to help, but he knew there was nothing he could have done.

Aside from grabbing her and dragging her away at the gas station before the outbreak began, he had no control over her outcome.

Natsu snorted, the smallest bit of humor bubbling up at the thought of that going down. Lucy would have probably hit him if he tried taking her away in that gas station. She would have surely thought he was a creep.

Natsu furrowed his brows, wondering who the creep she was on the phone with that day. He couldn't remember the voice clearly, but he was sure it wasn't Loke. Besides, Lucy confirmed Loke never hurt her, aside from apparently cheating on her?

That was a story he would have to hear another day, if—

'If she ever talks to me again.'

Natsu gritted his teeth as he stopped, the wind brushing past him letting him know he had ventured outside again. More contradicting thoughts popped up, and he hated them. He hated that he could see Lucy's side of it, because it made no sense.

Why would she risk her life when she didn't have to? She needed to be safe, be protected.

He couldn't possibly protect her if she endangered her life at her job. Sure, maintenance wasn't that glamorous, but someone needed to do it.

And if not maintenance, there were other jobs!

She would do well as a teacher. She got along with kids since they were less threatening than adults, and she was pretty smart. Natsu frowned, realizing she didn't seem timid like she had been before he left.

She did a little last night, but after they talked about him telling her secret, she seemed mostly better around him. Still shy, which bothered him. Why was she so comfortable with everyone else but him?

Natsu pressed a hand to his head, wishing he could dull the incoming headache from all the persistent thoughts. Before he could venture down one path too long, another thought popped up, taking control until another one stole his attention.

It was a vicious cycle that left him overwhelmed, Natsu's breathing picking up as he pushed himself to move again. His thoughts seemed less wild when he was walking, like it took them a moment to catch up to him.

He had just gotten back last night, but it felt like ages ago with how much stuff had happened since arriving. At the very least, Natsu could celebrate the fact that all his friends were still alive and well.

That was something he hadn't worried about, but now he realized he could have come back to find out Lucy had already—

Natsu's body shook as he suppressed his emotions. He would not let them surface. Lucy was alive. Breathing, thriving. Fuck, she had been so fiery when they were fighting, so stubborn and even though it tore him up inside that they weren't seeing eye to eye, he had to admit, there was something about Lucy standing up for herself that had him...

Well, he couldn't explain what he felt, because it was tangled in with the utter frustration that she wasn't listening to reason. He just wanted her safe. Couldn't she see the logic in that?

Natsu walked past the arena, brows dipping when he thought he heard his name being called. He looked over, eyes widening when he spotted Loke at the steps.

"Hey!" the man said with a wave, coming down the steps when Natsu stopped. "What're you still doing out?"

Natsu's mouth opened, but he needed a moment to collect himself before he could speak. His thoughts were still raging, barely lulled when Loke approached.

"Is it late?" Natsu asked, his voice sounding foreign to him. Had he even spoken?

Loke confirmed he had, looking at his watch before saying, "It's almost ten."

Natsu's jaw went slack. He hadn't realized that much time had slipped away from him. 'That's what I get for roaming around stuck in my head.'

The worst part, he had gotten nowhere.

Literally and figuratively.

Despite the tension he felt yesterday after seeing how casual Loke was acting with Lucy, and even after their disagreements during dinner, Natsu still found himself turning towards him.

"What are you still up for?" Natsu asked, watching as Loke nodded towards the arena. He looked that way, spotting some people lingering around the steps, mostly talking and smoking. Natsu paid them no mind, directing his focus back to Loke when he heard the man speak.

"I was helping clean up," Loke said, causing Natsu's brows to furrow.

"I thought you start tomorrow?"

"I do." With a shrug, Loke added, "But I wanted to get familiar with the people I'll be working with." He smiled as he said, "Mira and Lisanna have been very welcoming."

Natsu didn't want to know what that meant. Knowing Loke, he already had his eye on one of the sisters, if not both. "Such a horndog," Natsu muttered, earning a laugh from Loke.

"What? Can't blame a guy for trying." He shrugged before looking at the school. "Are you heading back in?"

Natsu frowned, unsure what he wanted to do. "I... don't know."

"Did you fix things with Lucy yet?"

Suppressing a groan of irritation at the situation, Natsu said, "No. She's actually sleeping in another room tonight. Won't even talk to me."

Loke's voice cut out when a laugh roared behind him. Both him and Natsu looked towards the sound, surprised to see four people looking their way.

"Dragneel's in the doghouse?!"

Natsu's cheek twitched at hearing Nobarly's voice, but before he could send him a glare, someone else spoke up.

"Hey, if Lucy's looking for company, send her my way," Rocker called out, causing Nobarly to shove him.

"No way! If anyone's getting her it's me." He laughed before nodding to Natsu. "How about it? Wanna send her to me? She can back that fine ass up and—"

"HEY!" Natsu growled, fists clenched as he took a step closer, but a hand on his chest kept him in place. "Why don't you shut the fuck up you dick!"

That only caused the others to laugh, Rocker actually slapping his knee before putting out his cigarette. "Come on, let's get outta here." He looked at Natsu before shaking his head as he suppressed another laugh. "We're just joking. Geez. Get a sense of humor."

Natsu didn't know how to respond, his chest rumbling as another growl resonated. He watched with narrowed eyes as the four took off, but not before one of the others made a crude gesture that involved thrusting his hips in the air.

"Didn't realize Lucy was so popular here," Loke said, snorting as he watched the others retreat into the school. "But I guess it makes sense. She's always had heads turning."

"I should go after them," Natsu mumbled, but he barely heard himself, too focused on the door they used to enter the school.

Loke raised a brow as he dropped his hand, his head cocking as he asked, "You okay?"

Natsu wanted to scoff. "Do I look okay?" He sighed when he saw Loke's unamused expression, realizing he was lashing out at the wrong person.

"Sorry, I just—" His nose scrunched as he replayed their words. "No one talks about Lucy like that. They shouldn't get away with it."

That had Loke blinking in shock. "Really? But she's gorgeous."

Natsu's eyes widened, but before he could respond, Loke crossed his arms over his chest and said, "Though, that doesn't give them the right to say such things. A little flirting is fine in my book, but they were definitely insinuating some crude things."

Natsu didn't know which thought to follow as multiple crowded his brain. He wanted to ask when the hell Nobarly switched from thinking Lucy was gross to wanting to spend time with her. He forgot Nobarly's exact words, but he implied Lucy was unattractive and therefore unworthy when she first got to Fairy Tail. Now he acted like he wanted to be alone with her, which Natsu would never allow.

That slimy bastard had no right to even look at her, let alone make those types of remarks about his friend.

Natsu also wondered when the others had changed their minds about Lucy. Natsu couldn't speak for two of the guys, but Rocker worked in the weapons room with Nobarly, and he had been there when they were making fun of Lucy's appearance and smell.

Natsu didn't realize he was breathing so quickly until Loke put a hand on his shoulder, asking if he was alright. He didn't respond, instead thinking about what Loke had said moments ago.

'Lucy's... gorgeous?' His stomach twisted as he fought with himself on that one.

Back when Natsu was still a teenager, he had decided it was easier to ignore the norm of dating and romance and things of that sort in favor of focusing on his friends, family, and his future career.

Relationships seemed to only slow people down, and he got enough love through his platonic relationships that he didn't feel the need to seek out more.

And thus, Natsu suppressed the part of him that found people attractive. That was a distraction that would cost him dearly if he accidentally found himself ensnared by an individual.

He had seen his friends go through some heartbreak, and even saw how devastated Igneel had been when his wife passed. He hadn't known the woman long, her falling sick shortly after Natsu and his brother were adopted, but it had crushed his dad. He didn't want that pain, didn't think it was worth it.

So to hear someone call Lucy gorgeous, it had him rethinking, and he didn't particularly like where that train of thought went.

Sure, when he met her in that gas station almost a year ago, Gray had asked if she was attractive and he had replied with something like, "I guess."

The more he thought about it, the more he realized that in the traditional sense, Lucy was considered pretty, but did that matter?

Shutting the thought down before he could explore it further, Natsu took a deep breath as he shook his head. "I should get some sleep," he said, though he didn't want to go back to his room.

Even with Happy there, he already felt lonely knowing Lucy wouldn't be waiting for him.

His chest ached again, wanting to seek her out and see if she would consider sleeping in the same room, even if they didn't share the same bed, but he dismissed the thought.

He knew the answer, and asking would surely make things worse.

It seemed the more he talked to her, the bigger the rift between them became.

'Why can't she just see things my way? She could be safe on base, but she insists on endangering herself.'

"I'll walk with you," Loke offered, Natsu barely nodding as the two moved towards the school. Even with Loke's light conversation, Natsu couldn't keep out of his thoughts.

'I put myself in danger too, but I've been out there since day one. She acted stunned when she saw a zombie when I found her. How would she react if she got near one again? Can she really kill one?'

He had been told she did take some down, but that didn't bring him any comfort. He was stuck on her lack of experience, but, to be fair, no one had experience when they started out.

He didn't know what to think, distracted by his thoughts until they reached Loke's room.

"Look, I don't know the full story," Loke started, waiting until Natsu met his gaze before continuing. "The Lucy I knew before isn't the same person she is now, and I can't even begin to imagine what she went through between then and now, but if she says she wants to be a runner, you're going to have to live with that."

Before Natsu could respond, Loke held a hand up. "Remember, it's not our place to decide what others do with their lives."

Natsu gritted his teeth as he muttered, "You didn't see how she was when I found her." He imagined her broken, battered body. She was so fragile, so timid. "She... was barely alive."

Loke frowned, offering a small nod. "I noticed the scars."

"Did she tell you what happened?" Natsu asked, surprised when Loke said she hadn't. Considering they were close once, he thought Lucy might confide in Loke.

But since she chose not to say anything, Natsu didn't explain what he knew she had been through. He wasn't going to make the mistake of telling her business again.

"Lucy doesn't need to be—"

"I'm worried too," Loke said, the solemn look in his eyes silencing Natsu. "I don't want her to get hurt, and I can see you care a great deal about her."

"I do," Natsu murmured, refusing to imagine a world without Lucy in it. Knowing there was a chance she could have been killed out there while he was away at Hargeon—

It tore him up inside.

He would never forgive himself if Lucy got hurt because he wasn't there to protect her.

"Then take some advice from me, or don't. I can't make your decisions for you, but I hope you really think things through. What you're doing is only going to harm your friendship with Lucy. You're worried you'll lose her?"

Natsu nodded, causing Loke to sigh. "If you keep fighting with her, you're going to lose her anyways."

"How?" Natsu asked, narrowing his eyes.

Loke didn't look threatened, merely shaking his head. "Lucy certainly found some interesting comrades." His low volume let Natsu know he wasn't talking to him until he raised his voice. "If you want to try to change her mind, she's going to push you away."

Natsu frowned, realizing that was more or less the same thing Cana said. "But..." His voice trailed off, unsure if there was anything he could say to change Loke's mind.

In the end, it didn't matter. Loke's mind wasn't the one needing changed.

"I don't have the answers, but I do know no one likes being told they're decision is wrong, or however you're putting it." Loke paused before shrugging. "I really don't know, but next time you talk to Lucy, try listening instead of changing her mind. You might get somewhere if you both actually talk it out."

Natsu swallowed before admitting, "I did, kinda come in too hot yesterday..." His eyes fell to the side, a pressure he couldn't shake off settling on his chest. "I shoulda calmed down from my fight with Gray first. I—"

"You fought with Gray?" Loke asked, raising a brow. "I thought you two were best friends?"

"We are," Natsu said before asking himself if that was still true. He wanted it to be true, but could he live with the decisions Gray made? "He... He knew about the experiments."

That had Loke's eyes widening. "Really?"

Natsu nodded. "Yeah, and I just, I don't know how to deal with that. Also, he... he said he never saw any old people or disabled people there who weren't already criminals." He thought about saying more, but he was at a loss for words.

Loke spoke up, though what he said brought Natsu no comfort. "Honestly, I'm not even one hundred percent sure it's true. I just heard it from people who I deemed as trustworthy, but people do embellish a bit, or maybe they had their facts wrong? I don't know, but I saw enough at Hargeon to decide it wasn't for me."

"Even if..." Natsu dragged a hand over his face as he grumbled. "Even if it's not completely true, Gray confirmed they are experimenting on prisoners, and I don't... I don't know how to handle that."

"I wish I knew what to say," Loke whispered, earning a nod from Natsu. "I'm literally at a loss for words."

"You and me both," Natsu mumbled, his head pounding. His headache wouldn't let him rest. "I'm really confused."

"I bet."

After a moment of silence, Loke moved. With a pat on Natsu's shoulder, he opened his door. "I don't know about the Gray situation, but with Lucy, think about what I said, okay? Have a good night, Natsu. I hope things get better after a night's rest."

And then, Loke was gone, Natsu once again staring at a door in silence as his thoughts raged in his head.

'Am... I going to lose her?'

Natsu shoved that thought so far down he nearly slumped, taking in a shaky breath before he moved towards his room. He took the long way, stopping outside for a brief cigarette break.

He delayed going into his room until his phone read eleven at night. No matter how uncomfortable it was, he had to get some sleep.

With a heavy heart, Natsu went back to his room, taking his time when it came to letting Happy out for a bathroom break. His nightly routine went by as normal, but he hesitated when it came to writing about his day in his journal.

His throat tightened as he jotted down in a few words about the fights he got into today, starting with Gray, going to Lucy, then ending with the irritating encounter with Nobarly and Rocker.

'Seriously, why the fuck did they change their minds. She's still the same person she was when she arrived.'

Though, even he knew that wasn't true. His weird feeling yesterday proved that last thought wrong, and seeing how she carried herself destroyed the notion that she was still that shy, timid girl he saved from a basement all those months ago.

'Six and a half months.'

Lucy had been at Fairy Tail for over half a year, and he could honestly say she had come a long way.

Which only furthered his contradicting thoughts. For so, so long he wanted her to make progress, to gain confidence in herself, and now that she showed him she could hold herself tall, he was—

An ill feeling spread through his limbs as his stomach knotted. Disgusted in himself, Natsu shut his journal and fell into his bed, the one he had gotten earlier that day.

He stretched his arm out, but he couldn't reach the other side of the bed. It was big.

Too big.

He curled on his side, hand resting where Lucy would normally sleep. His fingers scraped against the mattress, ignoring the pang in his chest as he shut his eyes.

Maybe if he couldn't see how empty the room was without her, he wouldn't feel so alone?

Natsu called for Happy, frowning when the cat made no effort to come his way. When he finally opened his eyes to search for the feline, he found him sitting on the edge of Lucy's bed, snuggled up.

'Traitor,' Natsu thought bitterly before rolling over, facing the wall.

Despite needing sleep, there were still too many thoughts in his head. Most of which started, but he never finished because more took their place. It left him exhausted and frustrated, keeping him up much later than it should have.


Natsu's alarm had gone off fifteen minutes ago, but he couldn't pull himself out of bed. He stared at the space beside him, hand occasionally reaching out, only to find nothing. He frowned, smothering himself with the blankets before swallowing, wishing he knew what to do.

The bed was so cold, and he was alone. Happy still wouldn't join him, the cat preferring Lucy's bed, which sat empty a few feet away from his bed.

'Our bed.'

It was meant for them, for Natsu to share with Lucy. However, she didn't want to sleep beside him. She didn't even want to be in the same room as him, and that hurt.

He tried reminding himself he wasn't the only one hurting, having spent a good two hours last night agonizing over what happened yesterday before finally having sleep put him out of his misery.

The talk with Lucy had gotten out of hand quickly. Hell, he couldn't even call it a talk. He never gave them a chance to be civil, going in fires blazing, ready to burn anything that didn't sit well with him.

Lucy... was a runner, and that absolutely terrified him.

He was going to lose her. It was only a matter of time before one of the undead got their hands on her. Natsu gripped the blanket, his eyes squeezed shut so hard he saw white dots beneath his eyelids.

"Why?" he whispered, slowly loosening his hand until it shook, wishing there was something he could say to convince her to stay at Fairy Tail.

Part of him knew his offer of a compromise wasn't going to work. He didn't figure she would want to be a water gatherer, and Natsu wasn't too keen on her taking that job anyway, but it had to be safer than being a runner. At the creek there was a guard in charge of keeping watch over the gatherers, but the runners didn't have the same luxuries.

Sure, Rogue was there with a rifle to keep watch as he helped, but runners went in and out of houses, in backyards, sheds, alleys. Rogue couldn't possibly keep an eye on everyone at the same time, which was why the runners needed to be trained well for their job.

Two months.

Was that enough time to learn how to be a successful runner?

The timeline was fuzzy to Natsu, seeing as he was missing key details like when Lucy started training and when she actually started the job.

He didn't like thinking about those first few months when the outbreak started. They had made so many mistakes, lost so many people. Natsu hadn't been the best when things started, but he learned quickly. It helped that he had been in shape when it happened. Lucy—

Apparently she was working up to being a runner before he even left, but she never indicated to him she wanted to go off base.

Had she?

Natsu spent time last night searching his memories, trying to find signs that Lucy wanted to switch jobs, but he kept drawing blanks. Natsu kept circling back to Hibiki, wanting to put the blame on him. He was an easy target after all, but Lucy said she wanted to be a runner before she became friends with the flirt.

Natsu's cheek twitched, not happy with the idea of Lucy hanging out with him alone. What if he tried something? Would she be able to put her foot down if he got handsy with her?

Hibiki was certainly comfortable getting in her personal space, Natsu's chest burning when he thought of them, sitting there cozy with their books yesterday.

Natsu gnashed his teeth, thinking, 'I can read books too. He's not special.'

With a pang in his chest, Natsu released his anger, only to breathe deeply for a solid minute. He knew he was being unfair, but he couldn't stop himself. Perhaps Cana was right. He was a bit jealous. He wanted to be Lucy's main friend, the person she wanted to hang out with, but she chose Hibiki.

He had a hard time accepting her logic, still frustrated she didn't just tell him about her job change from the beginning instead of waiting. Would it have even made things better? He wasn't sure, but he would never know now.

Natsu grabbed the blankets before yanking them downward, sucking in a fresh breath of air. He rolled on his back, but that only had him groaning when he saw the various stars stuck on the ceiling. The sun had begun peeking up, so the stars glowed softly.

He could still remember how happy Lucy had been when she saw them. It was like her eyes shined as brightly as the stars, or maybe he was so high he imagined that?

Natsu's brows furrowed, wondering if Lucy had been wanting to be a runner that far back? Why hadn't she told him? His eyes fell to the side, deep down knowing the answer, but hating it.

She didn't tell him because he wouldn't be supportive, but to be fair, what she wanted wasn't safe. She was timid and shy, and got stuck in her head often. There were times she could read a book while he moved about the room, the girl so focused she didn't notice him.

What if she found a distraction and didn't notice danger heading her way? What if a zombie came up from behind her and—

Natsu's stomach jerked as he forced himself up, casting that thought far out of his mind. With a snarl, he got dressed, refusing to let anything bad happen to her. Lucy said she didn't need his protection anymore, but screw that. He wasn't going to let her get killed.

Not when he could do something about it.

"She wants to be a runner, fine. But she's not doing it alone." He tied his boots before tucking the laces under the tongue. He briefly wondered if Lucy did the same thing, worried she might create a trip hazard for herself.

"Does she wear gloves?" Natsu asked, setting his pair on the edge of the desk, ready to grab them after breakfast. "What about eye gear? Does she wear her hair down?" Natsu paled, hoping she had enough sense to put her hair up so the infected couldn't get their tainted hands on it.

Natsu tried thinking back to any memories of Hibiki. He had joined the runners late, transferring jobs after some incident involving making out, or was it sex on the job?

A low growl resonated in Natsu's throat, hoping he didn't pull any stupid stunts like that with Lucy. His fingers curled, but he stopped himself before he could form a fist. 'Get it together.'

Rogue had trained Hibiki, and he was a decent runner, right? He couldn't recall any specifics, but that was probably for the best. At least he hadn't been called out for being a terrible runner, meaning Rogue had to be a competent teacher.

Right?

The uncertainty bothered Natsu, but there was little he could do now.

He would just switch his job to full-time runner, watch Lucy and make sure she didn't get hurt while off base. He would continue protecting her, because that was what he was supposed to do.

He could feel it in his bones, the need to keep her safe. She was important to him, and Igneel always said to keep precious things safe.

Of course, his dad meant things like his phone, computer, wallet, and truck, but the logic felt sound when it came to Lucy.

Happy was precious to him too, and he would do whatever he could to keep him safe.

Somewhere along the lines Lucy had become precious to him, and he couldn't see his life without her in it.

He downright refused to give it a solid thought.

Lucy would be safe because Natsu wouldn't settle for anything less.

He continued his morning routine, bringing Happy back in after a potty break before heading to the arena for breakfast. Natsu stopped by Levy and Cana's room first, hoping the lack of an answer meant they were already on their way to get food.

He hurried, taking the steps two at a time as he dashed towards the arena. It wasn't hard for him to spot Lucy when he entered, finding her at their normal table, surrounded by Levy on one side and Cana on the other.

A frown found its way on Natsu's face, wishing there was an empty space next to her where he could sit, but he supposed being able to see her was better than nothing. Eating dinner without her yesterday had felt too strange, even after doing so for two months.

People told him food tasted better with the right company, and last night he had found out that was true.

Natsu made his way through the line, thanking the cooks as he accepted his breakfast. He blinked in surprise when he got towards the end, finding Loke passing out pieces of biscuits. He thought it would be some time before he made bread.

With a raised brow, Natsu asked, "Already baking?"

Loke gave him a wide grin, nodding as he explained he had been up for three hours making preparations. "There's more flour here than I thought there'd be."

Natsu nodded, knowing that was a good thing. Loke wouldn't have to rely so heavily on making his own flour right away, thus giving him some slack.

"Probably helps that there's not as many of us here," Natsu said, earning another nod before he had to move along in the line.

However, before Natsu could move, Loke asked, "Have you talked to her?"

Natsu frowned, shaking his head. Loke gave him a sad smile before adding, "Good luck today. Remember what I said."

With a noncommittal nod, Natsu moved down the line. "See ya." He got a short wave before his eyes flitted in the direction he was going, almost snorting at how weird his emotions had been the past few days.

While in Hargeon, Loke had been a good friend to keep him company, but shortly after arriving at Fairy Tail, Loke had annoyed the hell out of him. Now, he was finding he liked talking to Loke again, even if he didn't particularly like the topic.

It was strange, but he didn't dwell on it for long since he left the line to head towards the table. He weaved through other survivors finding their places as he made his way over, only to stumble for a moment when he saw Gray sitting at the table.

Natsu held in a groan, deciding it was best to bite his tongue. He didn't want to be angry at Gray, but man, his mood further soured as he thought about their argument yesterday.

In hindsight, it wasn't the best idea to go confront Lucy about her job change right after his fight with Gray. He was riled up, and he admittedly took some of his frustration out on Lucy.

He was going to find a way to apologize when he got her alone, but with how close Levy and Cana were sitting next to her, he didn't see himself getting a chance until later.

"Morning," Gray greeted as Natsu took a seat, across the table from Lucy.

Natsu tried ignoring the discomfort from not sitting next to her, shooting Gray a quick look before dropping his eyes to his food without a word.

"Got it," Gray mumbled, a hint of annoyance in his tone.

Natsu ignored it, ignored everything as he focused on eating. While he didn't get a good night's sleep, he could still fill up on food to get some much-needed energy for the day. Being at Hargeon had made him soft, his strength and speed not tested much while in the safety of the military base.

"Everyone," Erza greeted when she reached the table, Jellal already pulling out his seat next to hers. "Since our movie night from Friday was postponed and last night didn't seem suitable, are there any objections to watching the movie tonight?"

She looked over everyone before adding, "The laptop battery should be good for tonight, but every day we put it off we risk losing the charge."

"It shouldn't die if you're not using it," Gray said before shrugging, "but either way, I'm down."

With a nod, Erza turned towards the group of girls. "Thoughts?"

"I'm good," Levy said, looking at Lucy, then Cana.

Natsu had glanced up, mouth full of food as he awaited their answers.

"Sure, I don't have anything else going on," Cana said while Lucy offered a simple nod.

"Excellent," Erza started, turning to Natsu. "And you?"

Natsu kept his eyes on Lucy, willing her to look his way, but she kept her attention on her food. "Yeah," he said, chest aching as he lowered his gaze. "I'll be there."

"Good. I trust everyone's still okay with the scary movie?"

While the others discussed movie preferences, Natsu found himself sinking further in his seat. He knew he messed up yesterday, but a stubborn part of him didn't want to admit he did anything wrong.

Things just didn't seem fair. Sure he was gone two months, but did everything have to change? Out of the three people he considered his closest friends, only one was acting normal, and that was Erza.

Gray and Lucy had shown him he hadn't known them as well as he thought he did, his whole world turning upside down yesterday.

It was a motion no medication could fix, Natsu feeling queasy the longer he thought about Lucy and Gray's decisions, both dealing with life or death.

Breakfast carried on, thankfully without anyone bringing up his fight with Lucy yesterday. He figured it was more for Lucy's comfort than his, but either way his stomach settled after some time.

However, his anxiety came rushing back as soon as he saw Lucy licking her plate, signaling she was done eating. He finished off what he had left on his plate, cleaning it the best he could before standing.

He needed to put away his dishes before going to check his weapon. Natsu said his goodbyes, not waiting for replies before making his way out of the arena.

Despite knowing he had time, he wasn't risking getting left behind. He practically ran to his room, almost dropping his plate in the process before hurrying back to the arena.

He was the first waiting outside the weapons room, other survivors joining as the minutes trickled by. Natsu's eye twitched when he saw Hibiki show up, but somehow he felt some relief seeing he was unaccompanied.

When Lucy finally arrived, she was by herself, dressed in a way that had Natsu breathing easy. Cargo pants, sturdy boots, and a jacket adorned her body. Her long blonde hair was braided, pulled into a tight bun against her head. She didn't wear gloves, but he hoped she had a pair stashed away in one of her side pockets. The pants were certainly bulky in some places, hiding her true form.

It was a welcomed sight, Natsu gulping when he recalled seeing her yesterday on the football field.

He had been full of rage after his argument with Gray and finding out Lucy was not only a runner, but had hid that fact from him. He had marched onto that field in a blind fury, but one look at the tight clothes on Lucy's body rendered him speechless.

He had recovered quickly, refusing to let Lucy's distracting appearance keep him from the issues he needed to address.

Natsu took a deep breath, trying to dispel the image of Lucy in that tank top that was a little too snug, or the way her hips had filled out since he last saw her. He didn't normally care what people wore, but even he couldn't ignore how her jeans clung to her very shapely form yesterday.

His throat went dry, Natsu wishing he had filled a water bottle before leaving the room. Surely the lack of water was the reason he was feeling a little flushed, Natsu rubbing at the back of his neck to wipe away a few beads of sweat.

He chose not to wear his scarf, not wanting to get it ruined like it had the first month or so when the outbreak started. Not only was it prone to tears, it was a safety hazard having something the undead could grab. The less loose items he had on his person, the better.

Natsu looked over at Lucy again, realizing she hadn't noticed him yet. He let out a sigh, feeling an odd relief at not getting caught thinking about her clothing choice yesterday, as if she could have read his mind.

He did well at suppressing the desire to seek out what he found attractive. Aside from his porn stash, Natsu didn't typically care what people looked like. He didn't really care what the people in his videos looked like either, more focused on the sounds made than anything.

Natsu breathed a little heavy, wondering how long it had been since he last relieved himself. It had been quite a while, but with how tense he felt lately, maybe it would do him some good to get that pent up energy and aggression out.

Natsu gulped when brown eyes met his, Lucy's narrowing as she realized he was there. He hadn't mentioned going off base today to anyone, so he could understand her surprise.

He thought she would ignore him, which would have hurt, but somehow he still felt startled when Lucy started making her way towards him from the other side of the group gathered.

"What are you doing here?" she whispered when by his side, the woman not making direct eye contact with him anymore. She moved to face the same direction as him, but he saw the tilt of her head so she could hear him better.

The fact that she was talking to him at all had his chest lightening, hope taking root. Since the outbreak began, he had been hoping more than he ever had in his whole life, and that said something when he spent a portion of his childhood in foster care.

"It's Sunday. I'm a runner on Sundays," Natsu said, taking Loke's advice. He kept his voice even, not wanting to rile either of them up.

"I thought you were getting a few days off," she whispered back, causing Natsu to nod.

"I got bored."

"Alright," Lucy started, but her tone suggested she didn't believe him. She didn't call him out, instead saying, "Good luck out there."

Natsu's throat tightened, thinking he should be saying that to her. "You too."

"Next!"

Both Natsu and Lucy looked to see a line was forming to get their weapons while multiple guards stood around the group, making sure no one wandered off after receiving theirs.

They entered the line, Lucy in front of Natsu. He had to keep his mouth shut more than he cared to admit, resisting the urge to say the first things coming to his mind. He wanted to convince her to stay on base, but he knew deep down she wasn't going to budge.

At least with him there, her risk of danger went down. He could watch her back and his, that way she was safe.

He would protect her, even if she said she could handle herself.

Natsu nearly growled when Lucy went up to the counter to accept her weapon. He saw Nobarly there like usual, but instead of asking her name or anything of the sort, the man looked her up and down before leaning against the counter. "Hey girlie. Havin' a good morning?"

"I am," Lucy said, her voice neutral. "I'd like my weapon."

He nodded, eyes roaming down once more before moving away from the window. "Lucy!" he hollered over his shoulder, checking her name off a list before someone handed him a machete.

Natsu's eyes widened when that weapon was handed to her. For some reason, Natsu had the steak knife she arrived with stuck in his head as her weapon.

In hindsight, he should have realized that wasn't a wise weapon and they had most likely tossed something so frail when she first handed it over.

Natsu watched as she accepted the machete, attaching it to her belt with a strap of velcro. His eyes fell to see the act. She handled it with care, but it still worried Natsu. She didn't have anything protecting herself from an accidental cut, the weapon not sheathed like his two knives were.

The two knives he thankfully got after Nobarly handed them over. It had been a while since he had to use them. While in Hargeon, they were stored in a safe location until it was time for them to leave, and yesterday while off base he hadn't encountered any danger.

He took a subtle breath as he secured his belt, the two additional weights feeling odd yet comforting.

Natsu had countless undead kills, knowing how to use his weapons and skills to stay alive.

Natsu moved to the side as they waited for the others to get their weapons. He wasn't expecting Lucy to stay near him, but he would be lying if he said it didn't bother him that she went to the opposite side of the group.

'At least she didn't go stand near Hibiki,' Natsu thought, seeing the man on his side of the group in his peripherals.

Part of Natsu wondered if Lucy was testing him, to see if he would follow, but he tossed the thought away. He didn't have to keep an eye on her on base, only when they went past those gates.

Though, he did eye her a few times when he noticed her talking with someone else, surprised to see Lyon next to her. To his knowledge they weren't friends, but what the hell did he know anymore?

Everything kept changing, and he wasn't a fan.

Natsu furrowed his brows when he realized there were a lot less people around than he remembered. In fact, he looked at the different faces, recognizing most as runners, but he didn't spot any clearers.

'Maybe they left earlier?'

Natsu didn't ask, and before he knew it, the guards escorted them off base. Rogue called for everyone to follow him. When Natsu left two months ago, they would climb into trucks and trailers to start their journey to their neighborhoods, but today he was led to a zombie chariot, and it once again gave him the creeps.

Why he thought that would be a good idea was beyond him. Actually seeing it in person had him shivering, wondering how many things could go wrong if one of them got loose.

Even with the precautions they took, how safe could it really be?

That fear he carried over the monstrosity was exactly why Natsu's stomach fell when Rogue loudly asked Lucy, "Up for leading the herd today?"

"You bet," she said, a determined smile on her face as she moved to stand in front of the chariot while the others piled into the two trailers in back, connected to each other.

"What the hell are you doing?!" Natsu asked, more panic than anger laced in his voice.

Lucy furrowed her brows before looking at the zombies, who were busy trying to reach Lucy with no luck. "I'm going to lead them?"

Natsu's jaw dropped, unable to say anything until Rogue walked up to them. "You can't be serious," he said, earning a cocked head from Rogue.

"It's pretty safe," Rogue said, though his words brought Natsu no comfort. "We can't exactly steer them like a car, so we take turns walking ahead to lead 'em where they need to go."

Rogue looked over at Lucy before giving her a nod. "She usually volunteers."

The way Rogue said it sounded like he thought Natsu ought to be proud, but he was only dumbfounded.

Who would volunteer for such a dangerous job?!

"Do you want to walk with her?" Rogue asked, putting a hand on his stomach. "I know you get motion sick too."

Natsu looked between Lucy and Rogue a few times before shaking his head. He wanted to say Lucy should go to the trailer and he'll lead the damn thing, but there were a few problems with that plan. He didn't know where they were going, and there was no chance in hell he was taking his eyes off her while they were off base.

With a thick swallow, Natsu nodded. "Y-yeah. I'll walk with her."

"Great." Rogue moved towards the chariot. "You two ready?"

'No.'

"One second," Lucy said, walking past Rogue to grab something hanging off the side of the chariot.

Natsu's body froze as she got close to the zombies, a mere black sheet of cloth separating her from those undead things, but she didn't seem to care. She hugged whatever she picked up to her chest, some clanking noise sounding before she got it under control.

Lucy moved quickly in place, approximately ten feet in front of the chariot before attaching a belt around her waist. Natsu didn't think his stomach could fall any further, but it was headed straight for the ground when he realized what she had put on her body.

As if his trepidation wasn't enough, Lucy shook her hips once, loud ringing coming from her that alerted all the zombies. They snarled and reached, unable to get her.

Natsu nearly lost his breath, skin crawling at what he saw. Rogue moved to the side of the chariot, asking, "Ready?"

Natsu thought he was talking to them, but when he turned around he noticed someone else on the other side of the chariot. When the girl said yes, they both kicked at the bricks that held the chariot in place, the whole thing moving forward as the zombies pulled at their restraints.

Only then Natsu was able to move, muttering a curse as he walked backwards. He knew he would move faster if he faced the front, but for a moment he couldn't take his eyes off the mindless zombies, all trying to reach Lucy and her freaking bells.

All last night he wanted his endless thoughts to end, and now he got his wish, unable to think. Everything felt out of place as he moved beside Lucy, struggling to breathe evenly as they led the zombies away from Fairy Tail.

They walked two minutes before Natsu finally turned around, but his fear didn't let up. All it would take was one of them getting loose and they were done for. How would they even notice one coming closer with all the sound Lucy was making.

The ringing seemed to echo through the empty streets, but Lucy didn't look fazed by it. Hell, she didn't even turn around to confirm the zombies hadn't escaped, confident the restraints would hold up.

Natsu gulped as he pulled out one of his knives, deciding he needed to be ready in case something went wrong.

And considering how horrifying that chariot was, it was only a matter of time before they were in harm's way.

.

.

.

.


Up next, Chapter Sixty-Two: Distractions- Part Two

We have one more chapter before we get a little time skip, lol. Thank you so much for reading! What did y'all think of this chapter? Natsu is trying to see the errors of his ways, but he's also stubborn and thinks it would be better if she stays on base.

I know some might dislike the way Natsu is portrayed right now, and that's totally valid. He's being problematic and disrespectful, and after some more stuff happens, he's going to see he was wrong, admit to Lucy his mistakes, and consciously make an effort to be a better and more supportive person. Lucy's gotten a LOT of character development during this story, but Natsu hasn't, and it's his turn to grow as a person and face his fears of change and deeper emotions, because shrugging everything off isn't healthy and will only make his problems pile up. Thank you for sticking with me! I hope you like Natsu's journey to becoming a better person! Let me know what you thought of this chapter! Hopefully the next chapter won't take long to finish and post!

I wanted to post this chapter on my birthday, but it wasn't ready yet. :/ I hit 29 years old a few days ago! :D Last year in my 20's, so that's something! I know the time goes by fast, so I'm trying to find some enjoyment in every single day.

Also, I feel healthy again. My sense of smell isn't 100% where it used to be, but I can mostly smell, so that's good. All the other symptoms are gone, which is awesome because I can be overdramatic when I'm sick, lol. Even with a common cold I feel like death, so I'm relieved to be feeling good again. :) Thank you so so so much for all the kind words! Y'all are seriously awesome! Thank you!

Speaking of thank yous, shout out to all the awesome people who gave me feedback last time: stranger1999, nalu20, Stavroula99, sammecham50, helloimsandy, Ana Heart, dareaderreads, samurai of sunflowers, Wadeparker, sakshishetty3003, Man idk, llendais, valerioux, ElementalMiko12, Stardustadventurer, shootingstarssel, Evah33, SaraphinaK, Meow Orbit, Gl, Sakura2bloom, Guest, sonikastalker, Stellar Spirit Mage, Doginshoe, lovelyleveret, ottermadness, SheWhoLeavesCrappyReviews, PanadeineForte(x2), alexmalik15, AnnLuVazzel, Xfangirl123X, Guest, FlameDragonHime, justyourtypicalbookworm, Ryu of Konoha, SistershoOk, CathJorda, AbsentAngel, Sydneste, guest, GoingAnonToShare, Lady Of The Sphinx, aiyannaliszkap, Duchixx, Abi6ail, Gerp, AnnLuVazzel, and sthokat!


Sneak peek of the next chapter:

"Natsu, I'll have you go to the house past that. With the green mailbox."

Natsu nodded, readying himself for his task. He took a few steps that way, expecting to hear Lucy behind him, but he stopped when Rogue added, "Lucy, you take the opposite house, with the car in the lawn."

"Wait," Natsu mumbled as he turned, seeing Lucy trying to leave. "What? No, Lucy's staying with me."

Rogue looked his way, blinking before shaking his head. "Oh, Lucy's on houses by herself."

Once again, the way he said it suggested Natsu should be proud of her accomplishments, but he put his foot down. "No way. I'm not letting her out of my sights."

That had Rogue jolting before narrowing his eyes. "Natsu—"

He shook his head, refusing to let up. "No."

Rogue and Natsu had a staring contest for a solid twenty seconds before Rogue looked away. "I really must insist you stay in different houses."

"Not a chance," Natsu said, staying firm. He would raise his volume, but he knew they had to keep their sounds to a minimum so they didn't attract any zombies that may have roamed in the area. "I'm not leaving her alone."

Rogue let out a sigh before looking at Lucy. "It's your call."

That only agitated Natsu. Why was Rogue dismissing him but would listen to Lucy's opinion on it? Besides, it didn't matter if two people cleaned out one house. With the extra help they could finish sooner and start on another house afterwards.

Before Natsu could bring that point up, Lucy shrugged. "Whatever, I don't care."

Lucy started walking just as Rogue muttered under his breath, "This is why I hate working with couples."

Before Natsu could respond, Lucy whirled around, her eyes narrowed as she said, "We are not together."

Natsu didn't understand the hurt he felt at her words. What she said was true, but the way she said it sounded like she took offense at what Rogue said. He didn't get a chance to look further into the pang felt in his chest, noticing Lucy heading to the remaining shopping carts.

.

.

Remember to let me know your thoughts on this chapter! :D