Surprise! I'm going to make this a multi-chapter fic!

For a while now, I've been reading a TON of stories that try to fill in the 1 year gap that Mashima left when Natsu left. And I've read so interesting interpretations, but have yet to see anything that doesn't completely change the later plot of the manga, or seem exactly in character for Lucy or Natsu. And after writing this one-shot, my brain kept churning on the cool things I could do with it if I kept going... So, I'm throwing my hat in the ring and challenging my FT knowledge as I go! This story will chronicle the time between when Natsu left and when he returned almost a year later, AND I will attempt to keep it 99% in canon. I say 99% because I'm pretty sure it wasn't raining when Natsu left, but I've already written that scene, and I don't feel like changing it. (Plus, I kind of like the idea that Juvia is going through her own grief and would TOTALLY be making it rain all over the place...)

I won't have a set updating schedule with this story. I'm just going to trickle along with it and see what comes naturally. Most of the chapters will be short, just a glimpse into their lives on every day Natsu was gone, from BOTH of their perspectives.

Hope you guys enjoy my little experiment!

Day one of learning to catch herself was going great!

Well, sort of.

Ok, it really hadn't been what she'd call a stellar day.

In the slightest.

With the guild disbanded, Lucy had spent the day picking through the rubble with most of her guildmates, trying to find those few treasures that were worth saving. She'd found a handful of jobs that had survived the wreckage and the rain, squirreling them away (so at least she wouldn't starve while she figured out her next step, so that was good), but the storm from the previous day had drenched the area, ruining a lot of what wasn't crushed or broken. True, it wasn't too much worse than the fallout from a typical brawl, and Phantom Lord's attack even had been far worse, but knowing their guild was disbanded lent metaphorical significance to the rubble for them all. Gajeel in particular always seemed to take the destruction of their guildhall a little harder than he should.

It didn't help that the gray sky seemed to reflect the feelings of every Fairy Tail guild member.

That is, every former guild member.

But, the basement of the guild had escaped almost unscathed, and the library, with it's high Gothic arches, hadn't been damaged at all, so there had been at least one piece of good news for her and her fellow bibliophiles! Laki had conjured up a beautiful new door (or closing device, as she liked to call it) to keep it safe, carved with the symbol of their guild and surrounded by the faces of their members.

Seeing that door did wonders to perk everyone up. Lucy guessed that knowing they'd all be together in some small way made it easier to move on. They'd all decided to lock it up and leave the key with Levy. If anyone would do everything in their power to protect a room full of books, it'd be Levy.

Or Lucy herself.

She had almost volunteered to keep it with her keys, but the words had choked her into silence at the moment of decision. It wasn't fair to assume keys would be safe with her anymore. Something as important as the key to Fairy Tail's trove of knowledge deserved to be properly looked after.

She was trying really hard not to think about that, though. She only had the heart to mourn one family at a time, and Fairy Tail needed her right now. Well, former Fairy Tail.

Lucy didn't think she'd ever get used to hearing that. It broke her heart a little more each time she did.

In another stroke of luck, Fairy Hills hadn't been destroyed and would remain open until the girls could find other lodging, so they'd all be together for at least the next week. After that, everything was up in the air, but with an official guild or not, she was surrounded by family, so she had faith it would be ok.

Why would any of them want to leave Magnolia? She was sure they'd all just keep taking jobs together, Fairy Tail or no Fairy Tail.

Maybe they'd even form a new guild!

Hope blossomed in Lucy's deeply fractured soul, lighting up the parts that were still intact, creeping carefully on the fissures that weren't yet ready for healing.

Everything was going to be okay. She'd have all kinds of support surrounding her as she trained to get stronger, even without her partner.

Nothing had to change. Even without the Master, they'd be fine for the next year. Then Natsu would be back. And she trusted that her partner would know just what to do. Somehow, he always did.

Lucy shuffled the rippled papers she'd been organizing on her desk and forced a smile. The stars streaming through her window winked at her in concern. Her spirits knew what pain she bore. Seeing her attempt to smile made them long to be with her. But she couldn't bring herself to summon any of them. Not yet.

In the meantime, she had jobs for at least a month, her rent for the current month already paid, and her family around her.

But most importantly, she had faith that one day she could smile again without thinking about it.

Natsu and Happy chowed down on their perfectly flame-broiled (or in Happy's opinion, grossly overcooked) fish and breathed in the humid tropical air of Tenrou Island. It had been a while since they'd been there and the quiet noises of the jungle were nice. Different from the forest at home, but comfortably familiar all the same. The relaxed moment stood in harsh contrast to all the crazy battles that had been thrown on them recently. It felt like the old days, when he and Happy spent all their time fishing and looking for...well, they'd wasted a lot of time looking for something that wasn't there.

The wind blew through the trees then, ruffling Natsu's hair and bringing new scents on the breeze. He tilted his head back and inhaled deeply.

Fish, of course, salt, plants, small animals, sun-baked rock, and the underlying musty smell of natural decomposition. Nothing smelled out of place. Everything was calm.

Which was why Natsu was already bored.

"Hey Happy! Wanna go look for Mavis' grave? We never got to finish the S-class trials, but we're here, so we should totally finish it and see if I get to use Fairy Glitter too!"

"Aye sir!" Happy's ears perked up from their uncharacteristic slump and his tail flicked back and forth with a little more enthusiasm. " But where do we start looking?"

"Well, Cana said it was underground somewhere, so maybe we should try looking in the caves where we fought Gildarts and stuff."

"Ok! It'd be quicker to find it if Lucy were here though." Happy looked at Natsu as he spoke, but the dragonslayer hopped to his feet and turned his back on the Exceed.

"Let's go Happy! It'll be dark soon."

Happy frowned a little at Natsu completely ignoring what he'd said about their partner.

After all the missions they'd been on together, it felt weird being there without her, but Natsu had insisted. They had to do this on their own.

"Aye sir! Let's go!" Oh well, Natsu always knew what he was doing, even if it didn't look like it, and the little blue cat had to respect that. Besides, thinking about Lucy made him sad. So, he just wouldn't think about her. "Do you think there will be fish there?!"

"Sure Happy! Why not? Let's find go out!"

Together the pair raced off into the caves of Tenrou Island, oblivious to their first master sitting on the towering cliff above them. Her brow furrowed and she sat in silence, allowing the familiar sounds of her island soothe away her worries. Maybe it was finally time to tell Natsu the story of Fairy Tail.

The story that defined her life.

And his brother's.

Mavis Vermillion got to her feet and brushed non-existent dirt off of her non-existent pink dress with her non-existent hands, entirely out of habit. Casting one final look at the broken path through the brush Natsu and Happy were making, she vanished.