Beta: Satyrykal

Chapter dedicated to nationalcarmen.

Chapter 23

"My heart is a white rabbit,

and no one has been brave

enough to follow it."

—L.L. Musings

Lucy spent a fitful night tossing and turning on her bed, mulling over her conversation with Natsu. She eventually stopped trying to fool herself into thinking she might fall asleep—if only she found the right position, if only she could calm her mind.

If only was playing a big part of her life lately.

Lucy finally gave up, kicking off the covers just as dawn peeked over the horizon.

She spent over an hour in the shower—the mind-numbing heat of the water sluicing over her skin kept her in place long after she was clean.

She had just finished dressing in some comfortable sweats and a hoodie when her thoughts flittered to her diary.

Lucy often mulled over problems for days, weeks, months in her journal entries. Maybe if she looked through it, a solution to her Natsu dilemma might be found. He was a big part of her life and even innocuous thoughts might give her insight on how to proceed going forward. Her past self would have been trying to puzzle things out, just as she was doing now.

Feeling an upswing in mood, Lucy pulled out her diary and flipped to her last entry.

Dear Lewd Thoughts about Natsu,

Please go away.

xoxo, Lucy

Lucy stared in disbelief at her own distinctive writing. Wow. With sparkling insights like these, it was a small wonder why she remained an unpublished author. Past Lucy was an idiot, Present Lucy was a mess, and she didn't even want to think about poor Future Lucy.

She did the only sensible thing she could think of and crawled back into bed.

Levy was woken up in the worst way possible.

Mira barged into her apartment like the she-demon she was, aggressively shaking Levy's shoulder. Okay, maybe Mira wasn't being super aggressive, but Levy had been in a deep, soundless sleep and she enjoyed sleeping.

"Get up, get up, it's time for your date!" Mira sang. Levy felt a slight dip in the mattress as the barkeep sat down beside her.

Levy covered her face with a pillow. Her voice came out muffled, but she knew Mira could hear her. "I already had my date last night. With Lyon, remember?"

Because she sure as hell did.

Levy burrowed a bit further under the protective layer of blankets, trying to push away the memories of Lyon Vastia. He was already slipping from her memories, though, like a handful of sand returned to the beach; ready to be washed away by the tide.

"This is a different date!" Mira declared cheerfully, plucking the pillow off of Levy's head. "Guess you're popular!"

Levy had a plethora of pillows surrounding her, so rather than fighting with Mira, Levy merely rolled to the far side of the bed to the next one. It felt plush and cool pressed against her cheek.

"Being popular is overrated. Being well-rested on the other hand…" Levy let the thought trail out, pretending to fall back asleep.

Mira didn't bother to respond, which should've told Levy something. It was never a good thing when Mirajane Strauss stopped using her words.

Mira got off the bed and a faint rustling movement caught Levy's attention. Her room was notoriously difficult to navigate, with its five-foot high, two-book-deep, maze-like walls that offered only the narrowest of pathways.

The noise ceased and Levy propped herself up on one elbow, just in time to catch Mira's smug smile as she pulled open the bedroom curtains. A vicious stab of sunlight hit Levy straight in the eyes, temporarily blinding her. Rude.

"Get up," Mira said again as sunspots danced in Levy's vision. When Levy blinked them away, she could see Mira moving back towards her.

"I don't want to," Levy whined. "I'm really tired, Mira. Can't you just reschedule or something?"

"I am not rescheduling, don't be ridiculous. So the very first date you went on wasn't all that great. Welcome to the real world, Levy. Now can you please get out of bed?"

"Nope, I'm good."

"You are impossible." Mira grabbed one end of Levy's comforter and gave a hard yank. "Young lady, it is time for you to get ready for this date I have planned!"

Levy clutched at the sliding covers and tried pulling them back. She quickly burrito-rolled herself on top of the remaining bedding.

"I don't want to date boys!" Levy yelled as she twisted up in the linens. "I just want to sleep! And read. That's my life's mission now, to be a hermit. Tell the guild. Bring snacks!"

"You. Are. Going. On. This. Date." Mira accentuated each word with a sharp tug. Levy lost several inches of fabric and was slowly being dragged towards the edge of the mattress.

Levy desperately fisted both her hands in the last remaining bits of cloth and tried to rip them back with all her might. "No! I've changed my mind! I want to be single forever!"

"Too bad!" With one last vicious wrench, Mira won the tug-of-war and tore the bedding completely away from Levy. The bare sheets now held a disgruntled solid-script mage and...more books?

"What the actual fuck, Levy?" Mira took an involuntary step back, her foot slipping on a paperback.

Mira started to fall, her wings sprouting in surprise—huge and ungainly—flapping to try to find her balance, but her wingspan was too wide and she knocked into the bookstacks on either side of her. The novels caved inwards, crashing down as Mira stumbled back. The ground shook as an avalanche of pulp paper and leather swallowed up the barmaid.

"Are you alright?" Levy screamed, jumping to her feet.

"Ouch," Mira groaned. A few more volumes toppled onto the heavy mound. The only visible part of Mira was her arm sticking out like a zombie about to rise from its grave.

"Stop moving!" Levy called out in panic, stepping cautiously towards her friend.

"I'm okay, Levy. I would know if I had sprained anything." Mira swiped away a few books, managing to uncover her head.

"They're going to keep falling if you move," Levy warned, wading into the wreckage. She picked up the novel closest to her, inspecting it and then gently carrying it to a safe location far outside the danger zone. She went to the next one and gave a sour sigh when she saw a large rip in the dust jacket.

Realization dawned on Mira's face. "Wait. Were you asking if I was alright or if the books were alright?"

"The books, of course." Levy replied, cooing over another one as she checked the spine for damage. "I knew you would be okay but these books are helpless."

Mira chuckled. "You're unbelievable. Get me out of here, Levy. I promise not to move if you promise not to fight me anymore about going on this date. Deal?"

Levy wanted to protest, even though this whole dating thing had been her idea in the first place. It wasn't her fault boys were stupid. Who gave terribly mixed signals, confessing that they liked you one day and then running away the next. Men were capricious and impossible to predict. Especially idiotic dragon-slaying ones with iron eyebrows and riotous hair.

And did anyone need to be that tall?

It was showing off, is what it was.

Levy sternly reminded herself that she had cast the spell and had talked Lucy into doing this. Besides, Mira was right: who gives up on dating after one lousy date? The entire population of the world would go extinct if that were the case. Levy McGarden was no quitter.

"We're not meeting at the guild again, are we?" Levy asked, because quitter or not, she didn't think she could take anymore public humiliation if this all went sideways again.

Mira's answering smile was very reassuring for someone entombed in tomes. "No, you are not."

Levy squared her shoulders. "Okay, we have a deal. Books first, then I'll go."

Lucy finally woke, mind blank for a blissful moment before the early morning memories rushed back in. Her eyes were thick with grit and her toes were cold. She blurrily reached for her bunny slippers. She put them on just as the last wisps of sleep slipped away from her.

It was then she noticed a piece of white fabric poking out from underneath her desk.

Natsu's scarf. She would recognize the scaly material anywhere, but had no idea how it had gotten into her room.

Did he leave it behind?

She didn't think Natsu ever took off his scarf, except to shower. Maybe. (Even this was presumption rather than verifiable fact.) Lucy padded over to the scarf, scooping it off the floor.

She had seen Natsu's scarf hundreds of times, had felt it brush against her, but had never held it as she did now. Feeling a bit like a thief, she ran her hands over the material. It was softer than it looked, more beautiful, too; up close the scales gleamed like shards of moonlight.

When she had indulged herself far past the point of decency—who was there to see, to know, to say what was decent or not?—she carefully folded the scarf, placing it on top of her desk. Her journal was still open, the lust-filled words of her latest entry staring back up at her.

Why was she like this? Why couldn't she just be happy that Natsu was her best friend? Why did she have to try to make everything into something it was not? First with Gray and now with Natsu.

She went into the kitchen and drank a glass of water, and then another one. After she had sated her thirst, she wandered back into the bedroom. The scarf lay curled up but now felt like a boundary line—innocuous but taunting. Daring her to cross the room, pick it up; surround herself in the fluffy material, and bury her nose deep.

Only a very foolish woman would do such a thing, she chastised herself.

A very foolish woman did.

Lucy looped it around her neck twice, surrounding herself in the garment she most associated with the fire mage. She inhaled deeply, but her lungs felt too tight and there must be something wrong with her heart. She didn't think it was supposed to pause like that, then flutter back to life.

Her legs felt unsteady, so she sat down at her desk. Lucy pressed her own hand against her throat, imagining it was Natsu's fingers underneath her chin, maybe tipping her head up—

Lucy managed to shut off the valve that controlled the flow of these thoughts. It was too much. Thinking about Natsu was too much. She didn't drop her hand away from the scarf, though. She wasn't willing to go that far.

Lucy kept rubbing at the material, savouring the contact and forest fire scent. This was what she could have, in lieu of what was forbidden. In lieu of what she herself forbade.

She was courting disaster.

Why did she have this overwhelming need to complicate things? Especially her relationships with men? She should know better by now. Her mind filled with the image of Natsu sitting on her couch last night, talking about Jude. Her relationship with her father wasn't a happy one, but Natsu had been right about one thing: avoiding him certainly wasn't helping things.

He wasn't the parent she wanted to talk to right now, though.

When she had lost her Mom eight years ago, she had thought the initial grief would be the worst of it. Everyone had told her time would heal all wounds, failing to mention that this wasn't the type of wound meant to heal.

Growing up without her Mom had been unbelievably hard, but now, on the cusp of womanhood, she felt as though she needed her Mom so much more. When Layla had been alive, Lucy had felt like she had a real family: mom, dad and daughter. Her dad traveled a lot, but they went with him, and the three of them returning to Heartfilia Manor together had made the mansion seem like a real home.

That all changed after Layla died.

She and Jude had tried to put time and distance between them to repair their relationship, but it didn't quite work. Lucy made cursory visits and they exchanged letters, but that didn't quite work, either. Whenever she was around her dad, they avoided talking about Layla. They crept around the edges of the subject, like they were walking in the dark with a flashlight, only illuminating the barest bits and pieces of the past. Lucy couldn't even be sure if she and her father shared the same memories, because neither of them seemed able to let the light linger.

Maybe that was why she was so resistant to going back now. Everything between them had become shadowcast.

Lucy swallowed, trying to ignore the way her own saliva felt like ground glass going down her throat.

There was only one person she could ever talk to when she felt like this.

She pulled out a fresh sheaf of paper and picked up a pen.

Dear Mom...

"What can I get you?" Kinara asked.

Natsu had to fight the urge to wrinkle up his nose. He could smell Erik all over the purple-haired bartender, their scents so merged that he wondered if Erik would soon ask her to wear his mating mark.

"Dragonfruit tea," Natsu replied, and then winced, blaming Kinara's scent on the screw up; even though he knew he was the problem here. He was at loose ends, and unravelling fast. He almost changed his order, but Cana raised one elegant eyebrow and he didn't want to explain that he only drank dragonfruit tea at Lucy's house.

The blonde kept a stash of it just for him; chosen only because he had initially liked the name, then the warm pink colour—taste had come third.

"You got it!" Kirana disappeared back into the kitchen.

Natsu pretended to study the bottles of alcohol stacked on the bar. He could feel Cana's stare boring holes into the side of his face but refused to turn and look at her.

After a while, she said, "Do you want to talk about it?"

Natsu feigned acute interest in a spiced rum label. "Talk about what?"


Cana had a way of saying single words so they felt like fish bait dangling off a hook. Natsu knew biting would only leave him a bloody mouth.

And yet…

There was a sharp curve to her lips that was all challenge and he couldn't resist biting, anyway.

Natsu gave an affable smile. "What about her?"

Cana studied him. Her violet eyes didn't miss much, even when they were bloodshot. "Just checking to see if it's time for the shovel talk."

"What's a shovel talk?"

Cana blinked, her glance sweeping from the top of his head to the tips of his toes then back up again. He had the oddest urge to gird his loins.

"Huh. You really don't know." Cana dug out her flask. Natsu took the opportunity to angle his body a bit further away, just in case.

"If we're going to do this, I'm going to need you to have a drink," Cana told him.

"Going to do what?" Natsu asked, but took the flask. The first sip tasted like gasoline and made him want to die. It was wholly unpleasant, then suddenly not. Something warm and distant curled inside of him. He had a second swig, then a third.

"Easy there, I don't want to have to repeat this conversation." Cana confiscated the canteen, helping herself to a few swallows. "A shovel talk is where I basically tell you that if you hurt my friend, you're going to have to answer to me."

He kept smiling, even though it felt like the muscles in his face were tightening like drying cement.

Natsu never knew what kind of days made Cana pour the ale into a mug and drink casually or which ones made her greedily grab the keg with both hands, guzzling down alcohol as if hoping she could drown in it, but he thought that she might be running away from things, too.

She doesn't have someone like Lucy in her life.

It was this thought, and this thought alone that compelled Natsu to stay, to not walk straight out the door, feigning ignorance or reaching for a joke to shatter the mood. He understood the gifts Lucy had given him. Talking in bed about her mom and hearing how she kept the window open all night to smell the stars had been one of them. Discussing her relationship with her dad had been another. Lucy always laughed and smiled at the guild, batting away personal questions within the group. Too perfect. Like someone had once told her showing pain would scare everyone away.

Maybe someone had.

Natsu's hand dug into the meat of his thigh. He was saved from answering by Kinara returning with his cup of tea and a fresh keg for Cana. The card mage refilled her mug, running a finger along the rim and licking away the tiny bit of gathered foam.

Cana waited for Kinara to leave before she spoke again.

"Natsu, I know you have feelings for Lucy."

Something twisted in his gut, warning signs flashed across his vision. "Course I do, we're partners."

"Don't play dumb. It doesn't suit you."

Doesn't it? He thought it suited him quite well. He reached for Cana's flask again. He only allowed himself a small, fortifying swallow before handing it back.

"I'm not playing at anything."

Cana shrugged. "Call it what you will, but be careful with Lucy. That girl is a born romantic and you don't seem to wear your heart on your sleeve."

Natsu sucked in a slow breath. Something cold and slippery slid in his arteries, Cana's words pushing into his bloodstream. "You don't think I'm good enough for Lucy."

"I didn't say that."

Right. He did.

He had been saying it ever since he met her, if only to himself. He had heard it all before: dense, hot-headed, immature. Lucy deserved better than someone like him. She deserved someone who could give her words and poetry, who could sweep her off her feet. His clumsy, inept affections would not be welcomed.

"Lucy has decided she wants to date, right? That's what her and Levy signed up for." Natsu didn't dare cast a glance towards the request board. "Hell, Levy even used magic to ensure they get matched up with people they actually like."

"That's exactly why I wanted to talk to you. Despite this harebrained scheme Levy came up with, Lucy is not a casual person. She doesn't take things lightly. She feels things very deeply, do you understand?"

"I understand she likes Gray." Natsu hadn't been a dragon-slayer for this long without developing a nice, big threshold for pain, but saying those words out loud hurt.

Cana pressed four fingers on his wrist, her expression warring somewhere between exasperation and pity. "That was months ago. I know her and so do you. Gray was just a silly crush. She wants you so badly she's dying inside, but both of you are so stubborn that you can't see what's right in front of you."

Natsu carefully removed her hand. He took a sip of his tea; it was improperly made, overstepped to bitterness. "I appreciate that you want to help, but if Lucy was ready for something like that with me, don't you think I would know?"

Cana looked as though she wanted to reach over and strangle him.

"I think you would be the last person to know."

"I doubt that. I have dragon-slayer senses, remember?"

"And I have fortune-telling magic, do you think I know everything?" Cana countered. "Are you telling me you have never sensed anything from Lucy, not even once?"

Natsu gnawed the inside of his cheek. Even if there had been times when Lucy's scent changed or when he had felt her eyes linger, she always pulled back from him. Always.

"Those were just—"


Stupid dreams from an idiot dragon-slayer who felt like he'd lost something he never even had to begin with.

"What, Natsu?" Cana asked kindly.

Something sharp and cutting tore open inside his chest, but Natsu breathed through it, not letting it show on his face. "Nothing."

Cana let out a long sigh, like she was disappointed in him. She stood up and gave him a conciliatory pat on the shoulder. "You don't have to tell me, but I think you should tell her. At the very least, she deserves to know."

He didn't answer—couldn't almost—and Cana took that as her cue to exit.

Natsu sat by himself for a long time, barely even noticing when Happy came and curled up on the floor next to him. More people came into the guild and he stayed uncharacteristically silent. He was haunted by the image of Lucy pressed next to him while they sipped tea and talked about their fathers. Haunted by the thought of sharing secrets deep into the night with a girl with sunshine hair and starlight eyes.

Natsu drank the bad guild tea, trying to burn the taste of memory from his mouth.

A/N - I'm very sorry for my long absence. I haven't been writing as quickly as I would like, but I managed to update If the Shoe Fits and participate in Nalu Week 2020. I would love to hear from you on any of my stories.

Thank you for your patience on this one. I'm still here. I'm still committed to finishing it.

A million drops of sunshine need to go to Satyrykal for editing this chapter. I couldn't do this without her support and encouragement. Satyrykal is poetry in motion and an amazing writer. Please check out her Nalu stories!

FF is not sending PM notification emails! I will need to thank everyone here!

Thank you to my reviewers: Kgvision, FreyjaBee, ShanaHollows, BrokenAngelWings22, stranger1999 (x2), noseinabook145, Ryu of Konoho, Anna5949, JAKEDSNAKE, Slash2104 (x2), savwafair, valerioux, Lucy H Lover, Stubenhocker, FireShifter, Professor of Gallifrey, Satyrykal (x2), AzmariaMinohi, Lovetoreadff, Arivahna, bonnebelle, NaLuAlways26, FairyTailxFanGirl (x2), and nationalcarmen!

Thank you to anyone who has read this.

Longer explanation for why I haven't updated this story in over a year (feel free to skip)!

RBR is my first story. As such, mistakes were made.

Obviously I love Fairy Tail and it's characters and I wanted to show various relationships in RBR: Nale, Gale, Jerza. I started this story as new writers do: full of great ideas and lots of plot bunnies. There were ships I wanted to sail and friendships I wanted to show developing. I didn't fully realize just how much time it would take to do all these plot bunnies justice. There's a reason why most stories stick to one fully developed ship (and not three or four) or the ones that fully encompass many ships are epic stories of 500K+ words. You'd think that I would've noticed that what I wanted to do would take a lot of time, but I have always had starry eyed optimism and been bad at basic math.

As I have gotten further into the story, I realized I haven't been spending as much time on the characters I really wanted to spend time with (Natsu, Lucy, Gajeel and Levy). I re-read RBR and discovered I had bitten off more than I can chew. Even though I totally respect and even love writers with huge stories, I didn't want to have so many plot lines. Fantasy stories can have many, many interconnecting books (Sarah J Maas is one of my favourite writers and does this amazingly well), but I longed to get back to my roots.

Here's how I'm doing it. (No spoilers for future chapters, just references to past ones).

1) Jellal and Erza were mentioned in Chapter 2. I wanted them to meet up in this story to sail that ship and now I have. Erza gave Heart Kreuz armour to help Lucy protect her heart (Chapter 18), but Erza cannot protect her own heart against Jellal (Chapter 22). Did Jerza meeting up need to be a spicy lemon? Yes. Yes, it did. It was a birthday gift to myself. XD

2) Soulmates were mentioned in Chapter 5, in a blink-and-you-miss-it paragraph. They were also mentioned in this chapter in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it paragraph. Gajeel has mentioned Levy's "orange and vanilla" scent many times (enough that I feel confident that I have carried that part well enough). I mention this for…reasons.

3) How the blind dates work: Levy used her solid script magic to make scrolls for both Lucy and herself to go on blind dates. Outside of Levy and Lucy (and the men that are interested in either Levy or Lucy), Mira's the only one who can read the Request Board blind date ads. These are posted not only at Fairy Tail, but all the guilds ("except for the dark ones!" as Levy says in Chapter 16). Mira sets up all the dates (explained in Chapter 17).

4) Cana has been a true friend to Lucy (as evidenced at the end of Chapter 19) and to Natsu (seen here).

5) Levy has already figured out Gajeel likes her (Chapter 17) but the big dope panicked because she figured it out and went on a mission.

6) Natsu and Lucy have bonded many times, but significant ones are that he slept over at her house and learned about Layla's death and that Lucy sleeps with an open window to "smell the stars" in Chapter 11. They bonded over their fathers (Igneel and Jude) by drinking tea in Chapter 20.

Okay, so that's the main storylines.

The reason I took a year to update is because I had to make a decision. Do I keep going forward with the many, many plot bunnies that I dropped in the early chapters as a bright-eyed but woefully unexperienced writer? Or do I distill this down to the main ships I wanted originally (Nalu and Gale) and try to wrap up anything else to just focus on them and complete the story?

I've chosen for focus on them.

I will definitely try to tidy any plot holes, but I am much more about getting Gajeel and Levy and Natsu and Lucy in the same room together. Sending Levy and Lucy out on blind dates might not sound conducive to that, but I have a firm plan to finally launch these ships without further ado.

Thanks for sticking with me. The initial reviews to this chapter have been extremely kind, lots of people have welcomed me back with open arms. That's meant a lot to me, more than I can properly say. You guys are incredible. x