It's been a long time since I last updated this story! Hey, at least I didn't wait a whole year like I did the last chapter, bahaha. I don't think anyone is even following this story anymore. It's two years old and Fairy Tail is done and over with, but I want to try and finish this story, even if it's only for me. A lot of things have happened since my last update. For example, I am now a college sophomore (I managed to skip freshman year, yay). I'm really loving school right now and it's been pretty easy and consistent. Hopefully, I'll be able to work more seriously on this story, others I haven't continued and others I'm yet planning. Please enjoy this chapter, and I'm sorry for the long wait.
Lucy opened the door to her apartment and sank down into her couch. She put her feet up and closed her eyes. Thoughts swarmed in her head and her body ached.
Going up the stairs had been like hell. Her legs quivered with each step she took and standing in one place was just as difficult. Even laying down, her legs felt like jelly. Any slight movement, and she'd come apart as a whole.
Sure, she hadn't danced in years and her last official dance class had been when she was ten, but-
"Oh! What was I thinking?" she groaned, "Of course I'm horrible!"
Lucy opened her eyes when she felt her fingers beings licked. "Oh, Plue!" She sat up and yelped, "Ow, ow, ow!"
Plue leaped into his owner's lap and licked Lucy all over. She stroked his white fur and he barked happily. Beside her couch was a nightstand and on it a pile of papers and envelopes covered with dates messily written in smudged black gel ink. Lucy shuffled the papers and looked among them, addition and subtraction happening in her head. She looked at her bank statement and then at the paper with the big red letters stamped across it.
Lucy held onto Plue tight and buried her face in his fur. Her eyes felt unusually warm, so she cried.
"How was the first day of class, idiot?"
Gray and Natsu sat on Erza's couch on opposite ends, mindlessly watching whatever was on TV. They were waiting for the girls to come back from the store with snacks.
"Boring as always, Ice Princess," Natsu replied with a grin, "You're lucky your plane landed after class. I heard some of the Fashion Department girls say that the girls' tutus this year will be extra sparkly and pretty. The light blue color will really make your eyes pop!"
Gray scowled and Natsu smirked. Calmly, he replied, "Huh? That's funny, I heard that you've become a big fan of mine recently. You went as far as to wear a black wig for the freshman orientation."
"Hey! You know well I didn't do that because I like you! I did that because I danced a lead role while you went on some stupid backpacking trip to Europe like the homeless man you are!"
"I was studying abroad, you idiot."
Natsu coughed loudly and muttered under his breath quickly, "Avoiding Juvia, you mean."
Gray sputtered. "I-I," he stuttered, "No I wasn't!"
"Yes, you were!"
"No, I wasn't!"
"You were, you coward!"
"If you don't shut up, I'm going to punch your face."
"Bring it on!"
Both boys stood up from the couch, their show long forgotten and raised their fists in the air. They yelled, ready to attack the other, but fell back instantaneously.
"What the-" Gray groaned, but he was cut short by Natsu's whimper of fear. He looked up and saw Erza. He stood up quickly and forgot about the pain in his back. "Erza!" he greeted the redhead, "You're back!"
She raised an eyebrow at both boys. Studying them carefully she said, "The girls and I came back with the food. I'm sorry I pushed you both to the floor. You see, I thought you two were about to get into a fight."
She was glaring at them now, so Natsu was quick to pipe up, "Fighting? Of course not, Erza!"
Gray moved to Natsu's side without a moment's hesitation. "Natsu and I love each other!"
"We're best friends!"
"We were gonna hug each other!"
"We haven't seen each other all summer!"
Natsu heard a giggle and looked to the direction it came from. Levy, Cana and Lisanna were all huddled together giggling and whispering to each other, no doubt making fun of the two boys. They were all about strength and anger around each other.
Until Erza came in.
"Do you two think you can bring down the testosterone just for a bit?" Cana rolled her eyes.
Levy grinned, "Just enough so we can all eat in peace. Hearing the TV would be nice too."
On the table, the girls had set down three bags, each filled with chips and drinks. While Levy reached into them and took out their goods, Lisanna walked into the kitchen. She reached for bowls in the top cabinet and laughed. "What are the chances of that, girls?"
A large pop came from the table. Taking no time at all, Cana had unscrewed the cork from the cheap bottle of wine in the bags. She took a swig from the bottle and let out a gratified sigh, "Smaller than the chances of me giving up this wine to any of you."
"That's a fancy way of saying 'going sober', right, Natsu?"
Natsu ignored Gray's remark. He furrowed his brow and left the living room, moving quickly into the kitchen, "Hey, Lis. Watch out."
Being 5'3 meant that tall places required extra effort to get to, and Lisanna knew that. Unable to get the bowls, she had climbed onto the countertop to give herself an extra boost. "I'm fine, Natsu," she looked down and pat him on the head like a dog, "Nothing is going to happen."
"That's exactly what you said when you climbed that tree to rescue Happy!" he reminded her.
"Well, what was I supposed to do? The poor cat was terrified out of his mind!"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe you could've let me gone up instead!"
"But you said you didn't want to!" Lisanna was now raising her voice in retaliation.
"Of course not! I had literally just gotten my cast off my arm, remember? Igneel would've killed me if I broke another limb within a week!" Natsu raised his voice too, unwilling to back down.
"Which is why I climbed the tree! What are you trying to get at?"
"You fell down and broke your leg: that's what I'm trying to get at!"
"Natsu, we were ten. I climbed a tree several feet of the ground, and I had no upper body strength!"
"But-" Lisanna shot him a glare, ending his train of thought. He turned around and stalked out of the kitchen. Gray snickered at his sour face and he opened his mouth, ready to insult him with a clever thought, but a shriek rang about the apartment.
Before anyone could shout, Natsu had already run back and captured the falling girl. Around them, glass bowls fell and shattered onto the tile floor. Her face was buried in his chest, and her arms were around his neck.
"Oh my god!" Levy was the first to speak, "Lisanna, are you okay?"
Lisanna's response was a laugh so loud, so contagious everyone burst out laughing together.
Everyone but Natsu.
Glass crunched beneath his shoes and he sat her down on one of the table's chairs.
"You could've gotten hurt, you know," he scolded his friend lightly.
Her blue eyes were dancing with joy even though she had just narrowly escaped getting hurt, "But I wasn't."
"Because I was there," he reminded her sternly.
"Because you were there," she reminded him softly.
"I-" he stared intently at her, the words at the tip of his tongue, but never ready to leave his mouth. Finally, he sighed and let the conversation go. "Where are the beers?" he asked Cana, "I need to relax."
She answered quickly, "We didn't buy any."
He frowned, "You didn't buy… any?"
"She drank them all on her way over here. We should've known better than to just buy a six pack."
"Way to throw me under the bus, Erza!"
Both girls began to argue and Levy sighed as she reached took out her wallet. Giving Natsu some bills, she said, "Here, go buy some more."
He took his debit card out of his wallet and waved it in her face. "It's fine, Levy. I just got my paycheck last week."
"It's my turn to take care of drinks this week," Levy shoved the money in Natsu's hand, "Go and take Gray with you, it's dark out."
Natsu grinned and rolled his eyes playfully. "Alright, if you insist. Let's go, Gray."
Gray, happy to leave the bickering Erza and Cana, tagged along without uttering an insult. Both boys left the apartment, but not before Natsu shot Lisanna a quick smile and goodbye.
"Yes, I'm okay, Ms. Spetto. As great as ever," Lucy rubbed her eyes with the sleeves of her sweater, "Huh? No, I-I haven't been crying. I'm just a little sick. No! You don't have to worry about me. Yes, I know your chicken soup will cure me right up, but I'm already getting better. Don't worry about me, you don't need to come over. I'm going to the convenience store right now to buy some medicine. Yes, I promise I'll call you if I get worse. Alright, Ms. Spetto, take care."
Lucy hung up and looked at the time: 9:30 pm. All she had done after class was cry and sleep. 6 entire hours of crying and sleeping. She sighed, breathed deeply, and took a moment to center herself.
She needed to get out for a moment, walk out in the city for a bit. Sure, she was poor, at risk of being kicked out of her apartment, and her dream became a little more unachievable, but God damn it. She had taken unbelievable risks to attend Mavis', to move out to Magnolia, to cut her ties with her father. She had left Ms. Spetto and everyone else behind in that large, frigid mansion with him.
Lucy locked the door and headed to the corner store. Now was not the time to give up. The cold night air hit her face and for a moment she almost regretted not wearing a sweater.
She laughed and ran in the street, sprinting, doing her best to not trip on cracks and lifted sidewalk edges she still didn't know by heart. She pumped her weak arms, and her legs still ached, but the burning in her heart made her keep moving forward.
"She's gone crazy," many people wanted to remark when they saw her running towards them, her face streaked with dry tears, wearing nothing but pajama shorts and a cropped t-shirt in Magnolia's fall weather. But when she came closer, they saw the shine in her eyes, how she panted with each stride, the strength with which she ran, the way she looked up at the heavens. They heard her laughter and the cry of joy she gave when she almost tripped but didn't. They saw her long golden hair flailing behind her, lifting like golden wings. She was hopeful, energetic, alive.
For Natsu, the sight was no different.
He had been walking out of the convenience store when Lucy arrived. Her breathing was loud and her face flushed pink. They looked at each other like it was the first time. She shot him a grin.
"Hey, Lucy," he spoke softly.
She took a second to breathe deeply and sputtered, "H-hey, Natsu."
"Are you… okay?"
She let herself fall to the concrete and groaned. "N-never been… ugh, better…"
"Um," Gray furrowed his eyebrows, confused, "I guess I'll go back to Erza's place. Give me the bags."
Natsu had completely forgotten about Gray. He gave him the bags, "Yeah, here. I'll be there soon. This is Lucy, by the way."
Gray looked down at the girl and raised an eyebrow. "Hey, I'm Gray."
He turned back to look at Natsu and grinned. "You don't have to go back, you know."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"You're stupid," Gray rolled his eyes and shook his head, "Whatever, I'll tell everyone that something came up."
"But I'm going ba-"
Gray turned his back and walked away from the store.
Natsu was ready to yell at Gray for being such a confusing idiot, but Lucy's gasps for air stopped him. He crouched down in front of her and frowned. "Are you okay?"
She took a moment to control her breathing. "Y-yeah, I'm much better now. I just… s-sprinted like crazy on my way h-here."
He offered her his hand, and she took it. Finally, Natsu noticed her clothing. A tight black crop top, pink satin shorts reaching her mid-thigh and a pair of pink slippers on her feet. He raised an eyebrow, "Sprinted? Here? In this weather? In those clothes?"
Lucy looked down and she felt her face become a shade pinker than it already was. "I… I guess I did."
"You're not cold?"
"No, I feel like my body's on fire."
Natsu laughed. "You're not going to soon. It's 60 degrees, you stopped running and you're not wearing anything warm. Come on, I'll buy you a drink."
"Thanks, but I'm good."
"Let me treat you. I owe you one after today."
Lucy was confused. "Today?" she asked.
"I made you run a whole lot to Aquarius' class."
"But that wasn't your fault. I lost track of time, and I was late."
Natsu grinned and rolled his eyes playfully. "Come on, Luigi. Just let me be a nice person!"
He bought her a cup of coffee, despite Lucy's many protests. They walked through the nearby park and sat on a bench. When a cold breeze passed through, Natsu noticed her shiver. She argued with him again when he offered his hoodie but stopped when another small wind arrived.
They talked like old friends conspiring together. When they both ran out of things to say, they sat still, like statues, comfortable with each other, with the silence, with the idea of staying like that forever.
A bell rang in the distance, signaling the arrival of midnight. Lucy stood up from the bench, "I should probably get going. It's dark."
"I'll walk you home," Natsu said.
"Thank you, but don't you have somewhere to be? Your friend-"
"Forget Gray. I'd rather make sure you get home safe."
They both became silent and Lucy took a moment to look at the boy beside her. Natsu walked with an air of confidence, his back straight, always looking forward, and his steps were sure and steady. He wasn't just a dancer, he looked like one too.
"How'd you become a dancer?" she asked her burning question.
Natsu looked up at the sky. "I don't know to be honest. I always liked music. I mean, I had my whole band back in middle school and high school too. I always swore I'd become this huge rock star and all the girls would swoon over me, and I'd be rich and I'd be able to help my m-" he cut himself off.
"Nothing," he whispered but then he laughed, "My freshman year of high school Lisanna made me learn to dance. She's been dancing since she was four, by the way. She wanted to do ballet for the school talent show and wanted a partner. She begged me to learn for her."
"And you did?"
"Because she bribed me. Her sister, Mirajane, is an amazing cook, so she told me she'd give me her lunches for the next 6 months. The funny thing was, I actually loved ballet and I was pretty good at it given that all my dad would have me do was play sports. The summer after that, I told him I wasn't going to join any teams. He helped me find studios, and all I did was dance and learn different techniques and styles. Sophomore year I joined the dance program and the rest is history."
Shocked, Lucy asked, "Your dad supported your dancing?"
Natsu broke into loud laughter, "Igneel supports me in everything, you know! I could tell him I'm dropping out this very moment to join the circus, and he wouldn't care. Hell, he'd tell me it took me too long to realize that my true calling was getting paid for the clown I am."
Lucy was awestruck, "Your father sounds like a great person."
Natsu was silent for a moment and looked at his feet. "Yeah," he finally said with a smile on his face, the words almost breathless, "He really is."
They finally arrived at Lucy's apartment, and she said goodbye as she opened her door. Natsu waved his hand and head down the stairs. She walked in and dropped her keys onto the nightstand with the tear stained bills and bank statement from hours before. Suddenly, they didn't seem so daunting.
She had begun walking towards her room when someone knocked at her door. She looked at the time. Who would visit her at this late hour?
The peephole answered her question: Natsu.
He had his hands buried deep in the pocket of his jeans, his head tilted back. When she opened the door, his eyes grew wide for a moment.
"Hey," his hand rubbed the back of his neck.
"Hey," Lucy tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.
"I know we just said bye, and this is kind of weird but…"
"I just wanted to tell you that you did good in class today. You weren't nearly as bad as Aquarius made you seem. She says a lot of harsh things, but she doesn't mean half of it. Her standards are high, and she expects people to meet them, is all."
Lucy smiled. "Thanks, that actually means a lot to me. I got home, and all I could think about was how bad I was," she did her best to laugh, "I really don't know how I'm going to make it through next week's elimination."
"Actually, I came back to offer you help. If you want it, that is. No pressure."
Lucy gasped excitedly and held his hands, "Really? Why wouldn't I want the extra help?"
Natsu look away from their intertwined fingers. Lucy noticed and blushed. "S-sorry, I got a little excited," she laughed nervously and put her hands inside the pockets of Natsu's hoodie.
He cleared his throat, "N-no, you're good. And, I don't know, I figured that maybe you didn't like me or something."
"Of course I like you! I just spent time with you!"
"Yeah, but you lied today when you said you weren't the same Lucy Ashley in the article I talked about."
Her heart racing, Lucy gulped. She had completely forgotten about that, and her plan to steer clear from Natsu. "I wasn't lying to you," she did her best to steady her voice, to speak clearly and look him straight in his eyes.
"See? You're still lying to me. I don't know why you're doing it, but do us both a favor and stop," he rolled his eyes and sighed, "I was searching for the article to show everyone but it just happened to disappear when you went outside to make a call. I figured you asked them to take it down."
"That could've been a coincidence!"
"Look, Aquarius showed me the article days before today. She told me herself that you were joining the program."
"Aquarius?" Lucy sputtered, "Why would she know about me?"
Natsu struggled to look for an answer, "I… I don't know. You said you applied to the program last minute, right? I'm guessing Makarov told her about his appointment with you since it is herprogram."
"Okay… but why tell you?"
He opened his mouth, ready to answer, but quickly shut it. For a few seconds, she could see that he was deeply thinking and weighing whatever options he had. He nodded his head to himself and answered, "I don't know… you're reading too much into this."
Lucy raised an eyebrow, "Maybe, maybe not, but thinking about it isn't going to do me any good."
"Unlike practicing, so are you going to take up my offer?"
"Yes, definitely," she answered cheerfully and Natsu couldn't help noticing how bright she looked.
"Let's trade numbers, then."
They did so and decided that it would be best for Lucy to practice daily until the eliminations arrived. Again, they said goodbye and Natsu walked down the stairs. Lucy was about to go back in, but she saw the thin long sleeve he was wearing and remembered she hadn't given him his hoodie back.
"Hey!" she called to him, "Your sweater!"
She could see him nod his head and laugh. He walked out onto the streets and headed home. Confused, Lucy walked inside her apartment and closed the door. Her phone buzzed.
"Keep it," Natsu had texted, "It looks better on you anyways :)."
Thank you having reached the end. I promise to make updates more consistent and not so spread apart like I've done every single chapter, oops. Reviews and feedback are largely appreciated. Until next time :)