And so, we went on another adventure. I never once thought when I first started my career as a mage that I would cheerfully go on a one hundred year mission. I especially never would have thought of it back when I first joined the guild and had first hand experience with all of the crazy that comes with being a member of Fairy Tail. But so much has changed in the years since then. I had grown and matured as a mage and as a woman. I was not a scared and naive seventeen year old girl. I was a powerful and accomplished twenty year old who had helped win a war with a powerful nation, who had fought demons and dragons, wrote a successful novel, and who had even gone to an entirely different world.

At first, it seemed like it was going to be just like any other adventure I had gone on with my team, but I was still more naive than I knew at the time. I should never have expected things to be like they were before the war with Alvarez.

The first thing that caught me off guard was Gray's situation. It came as a surprise to all of us, except for Wendy, I think. One night about three months into the mission, we had camped out under a thick copse of trees. Gray normally went out to get the firewood for us, so we never thought anything of him leaving the camp every evening. It turned out that he wasn't just getting firewood. That night, he wasn't as careful as he had been, and he allowed himself to stay in Natsu and Wendy's hearing range. Natsu was all too happy to spill the beans that Gray was talking to Juvia on a lacrima phone.

Gray was so embarrassed at getting caught, but he finally broke down and confessed that he and Juvia were officially a couple. I couldn't contain my blushing, nor my feelings of relief that maybe Juvia would finally leave me alone about being a 'love rival'. I had always kept a small fear in the back of my mind that she really would end up drowning me one day. Wendy admitted that she had overheard Gray and Juvia's special moment back at my award party. Natsu congratulated him, but still made sure to tease him about his crazy girlfriend. The sad thing was that Gray couldn't honestly defend Juvia against that one, and he knew it. When it came to him, Juvia was the definition of crazy. Erza became the voice of reason, sort of, when she kicked Gray through a tree and started berating him for leaving on a hundred year quest so soon after getting a lover.

Gray had the grace to look abashed and admitted that he might not have thought the whole thing through.

"At least," he said. "This won't actually take a hundred years."

That was something that was easy to forget with a name like a hundred years mission. It referred to the difficulty level of the mission, not the actual time it takes to complete it. It meant that it was far above S rank. This was why Natsu wanted it so badly. It was a top level challenge, which was something he craved very badly. Everything seemed so easy after Tartaros, the Dragon Cry craziness, Alvarez, and Acnologia, and he was burning with pent up energy that wasn't getting satisfied.

The next thing revealed itself a few months later. We learned that Erza had been staying in contact with Jellal. Like Gray, she was communicating with him through lacrima phone. They still weren't actually together like Gray and Juvia, but they were slowly working on it. They had so much to work through, Erza had explained, that is was best for them to take their time.

The next revelation, as horribly embarassing as it was, was Wendy being a woman. Both Erza and I were stuttering messes when we found out. It wasn't a recent thing for Wendy, but Erza and I had it stuck in our heads that Wendy was still a little kid. We had no idea that she could possibly be experiencing...womanly things...like the one that happens every month. It was a blow to my perceptions that felt like a sledgehammer. It did make it a little easier to deal with when I saw that Gray was way more out of his depth than I was. Damn Natsu for having to mention that he smelled Wendy's blood.

And damn Natsu for being so unpreturbed by the whole thing. He just seemed to take it all in stride. Gray remarked that Natsu probably didn't understand what it was or what it meant. This ended in a brawl that was quickly broken up by Erza and knowledge that Natsu actually did understand how reproductive related things worked. I could have gone my entire life without hearing his crude and vulgar way of explaining himself. It was way too much information, and way too blunt. Then again, Natsu wasn't the type to treat such private things delicately, like when he would mention if I had been constipated right out in front of everyone.

After all of that, I started feeling strange. I couldn't put my finger on what it was exactly, but it felt like a hollowness, a yearning. I didn't understand at the time what was going on with me. It was easy to ignore at first because it was so vague and weak.

We continued our mission. Other than Gray's talks to Juvia, and Erza's talks with Jellal, most of our adventure was very nostalgic, right down to the fun I had with my two closest partners, Natsu and Happy. But the nagging feeling inside of me never stopped. It continued to slowly fester within my heart. If anyone noticed that something was eating at me, they never said anything.

It began to come to a head, though, when we finished our mission and came back to the guild. At that point, we had been gone for nearly a year, so some things had changed in our absense. These changes fanned the spark that had been smoldering within me.

The key one being when I was introduced to Levy and Gajeel's two adorable little twin babies and finding out that my friend had gotten married to the big lug while I was gone. The two babies were only a few months old, and so tiny. I had never really been around tiny babies before, and I couldn't help but hold them and coo over them. I'll never forget Natsu's reaction. He held the twins like he was holding something priceless. His grin nearly split his face in two. He was so amazing with children. It was always so surprising to me to see him around them. He would make a good father one day...

And that's when things fell into place for me. I pieced together what had been tearing at me for so long. Seeing my friends moving on with their relationships and finding love, seeing Wendy growing up, and now seeing new life in such a way, I realized that I had started wanting more in my life. I wanted to have love and marriage. I wanted to move on to the next stage in my life. I wanted children of my own.

Of course, it was something I had always wanted and planned for. I had never made it a secret that I wanted to be a wife and mother one day, everyone had to know with how often I screamed about not being fit to wed when someone, mostly Natsu, would see me naked, but I had put it off for in the future. Except, the future had come a little sooner than I had expected. It's a hard thing to fully explain to another person, but I could finally think about the yearnings without becoming an instant steaming tomato of blushing. I had matured, and I felt ready to settle down and have what Levy and Gajeel, not to mention Bisca and Alzack, were already enjoying.

I looked again at Natsu, watching him as he held the girl twin and made her giggle with his silly faces, I wondered if maybe he wanted that, too. That thought brought up a lot of other thoughts that I kept under firm lock and key, only this time I didn't flinch back from them. I will be the first to admit that I was in complete denial of my crush on my best friend for such a long time. It wasn't until he left after Tartaros that I began to acknowledge the more than friends feelings I had for him instead of trying to pretend they weren't there at all, but it wasn't until Alvarez's invasion that I could begin to see that they were quite a bit more than friends. That I was in love with him. But things didn't quite work out to allow me to fully embrace my feelings, and after everything returned to normal so quickly after the war, I buried them again.

They started seeping out of the box that I had sealed them in, and I could no longer hold them in and not acknowledge them. But there was a huge problem with that.

Natsu obviously didn't feel the same way.

Natsu still treated me as his best friend and partner. He did nothing that I could see giving a hint of him having feelings of something more. It was hard to deal with, but I worked through it by myself. I didn't tell anyone else of my feelings. I dearly love my family in Fairy Tail, but none of them are exactly the descrete type. I also didn't want them to unintentionally give me false hope like that time Mira tried to convince me that Natsu had a crush on me.

After working through my feelings as best I could, I started making plans. Since I knew that having Natsu wasn't a possibility, I would just have to find a man that would be able to be what I wanted and needed. Someone I could have that family with that I wanted.

The first step to this had to be putting some distance between myself and Natsu. No man wants to date a girl that has another man constantly popping up and even sleeping in her bed. Of course, Natsu meant nothing by it, and I had realized long ago that his nearly constant invasion of my bed was purely platonic, but most people wouldn't see it that way. Even other members of the guild didn't see it that way, and they all knew very well that Natsu is dense.

The first step was hard to implement, but I did. I started locking my window, and I stopped hanging out with Natsu outside of the guild so much. He noticed something was up, and started redoubling his efforts to hang out with me. It was always so hard to tell him no, especially with how sad and heartbroken he would look each time. I will admit that I gave in more than I was able to stay strong with a 'no'.

The next step was to start putting myself out there more. I already dressed cute, and my looks were just as good as any of the other beauties Fairy Tail had to offer, but I never really put any effort into attracting a man enough to date me. I was always with Natsu, and that seemed to repel guys. More than once, I would be in a bookstore or restaurant, and a man would come up to me while Natsu and Happy were out of sight for a few minutes, but before he had spoken more than a few sentences, my partners would be back. Natsu would throw his arm over my shoulders like he always did, that big grin on his face as happy as ever, and Happy would make a comment about my weight that would send me into a rage. By the time I would look up from dealing with Happy and his big, fat, rude mouth, my potential suitor would be long gone.

I was determined that things would be different.

I started sneaking off to go places by myself, like the bookstore and grocery store. I took the extra time and effort to go places I didn't normally go to in hopes of running into someone new.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, it took me well over a month to realize that there was nowhere in Magnolia that I could escape the mistaken title of 'Natsu's girl'.

I hadn't realized it was that bad. I thought more people understood that we were platonic. These people had known Natsu since he was about eleven years old. They should have known he wasn't interested in that kind of a relationship.

I already knew from years of experience that no amount of denial or attempts at reason would dissuade anyone from believing that he and I were in a relationship, so I went with a different plan. I began to act more flirty with guys that seemed interesting while on missions.

This also didn't go as planned. I had to keep dealing with Gray and Erza throwing me weird looks, and Wendy actually asked me if Natsu and I were fighting. Happy made fun of me more relentlessly than usual, but Natsu didn't act any differently. I couldn't see how they couldn't see that.

After only two weeks, I gave up my foolish idea of being flirty. Men would only meet my eye and respond positively for a minute or two before abrupty ignoring me. I never had a chance to demand an answer because immediately after, I would have one of my team mates demanding my attention. Most of the time, it was Natsu, but Gray and Erza did their share. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought they were, as Cana would say, "cock-blocking" me. Even after all this time, just thinking such a word can still make me blush. Natsu is right. I am a weirdo...

I began to become depressed. All my life I had wanted to one day be a bride. Levy and I had gushed over the topic, with Erza and Juvia often joining in. Levy wanted small and sweet. Reza only seemed to care about the cake and dress. Juvia went into such fine details that she even knew what thread count the brides maid's bouquet bindings had to be.

I didn't want anything small or big. I wanted my family to all be there as I say my vows of undying devotion, faithfulness, and love to the man I would spend my life with. The vows were especially important to me since a Celestial mage can never break a promise. It's a key part of me that makes me who I am.

Cana would always scoff when she would over hear us. She had no aspirations for ever being married. Some people never want to settle down, which is fine, but not for me.

I sat back silently and watched as pairs of my friends got married one after the other. Gray and Juvia. Erza and Jellal. Elfman and Evergreen. The weddings came so frequently for a while that it felt like Fairy Tail was even more of a nonstop party than usual.

Unconsciously, I guess I began to show a bit of my in happiness. I tried very hard not to let anyone know. I don't like burdening my family with my petty problems. And I will admit that I was more than a little afraid that I would be laughed at, especially by Natsu, Gray, and Happy. Especially Happy. He already made fun of me enough about my weight, I didn't need him to make fun of my inability to find someone to love me as well.

It was obvious that my team knew something wasn't quite right. Erza began taking me out on girls days more often, and she tried, painfully awkwardly, to get me to open up about my feelings. She was trying so hard to be subtle, but subtle and Erza just don't go together.

Gray very awkwardly and bluntly asked me what was going on with me. Knowing how Gray is with anything emotional, I just replied that I was dealing with personal things. The difference with Gray and most of my other friends, is that he has a lot of respect for privacy, unless it's my apartment, and he didn't pry. He just told me he was there if I needed him, and that was that. I appreciated it at the time.

Happy seemed to tease me less and even offered me one of his fish. It smelled like it had been in his pack for a month, but it was the thought that counted. It reminded me that no matter how much of a brat he is, he still loves me, and I love him.

Natsu dealt with it by becoming a human (demon? Not sure anymore) tick. He tried to stick to me constantly. He broke the locks on my window that had kept him out. He redoubled his efforts to sleep in my bed, tried more often to take baths with me, and became more obnoxious in his antics at the guild which was normally something that would make me laugh. I tried to pretend to laugh,but he was more observant than people gave him credit for. He could always see through my false smiles even to this day.

I knew something had to change, and it had to change with me. My petty, unimportant pain was hurting my team. It wasn't their fault I wanted what I couldn't have. At that point, I was nearly twenty-two years old. I had never had a kiss, never been on a date despite almost two years of actively trying. It was clear that having a husband and children was not going to be in my future.

Things came to a head when Levy announced her second pregnancy, and Juvia joyously joined in saying that she was pregnant, too. It already hurt so much to see Levy's twins, doubly hurting because I felt ashamed for being jealous of my friend's well deserved happiness. I found myself crying along with the other women of the guild, but they were the bad tears, not happy tears. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Natsu look at me with alarm, and I knew I had to leave. There was no way that I was going to let my misery taint the happiness of two of my closest friends.

I slipped out when Natsu's back was turned. I wasn't really sure where I was going, just that I needed to get some distance before my pathetic tears began to fall.

I found a quiet, hidden place in the park behind one of the larger trees. Making sure no one was around, I sat down, put my face on my knees, and let it all out. And let it out some more. I was full on ugly crying.

And of course, that's when Natsu showed up.

I didn't know he was there at first. I didn't know until I felt those too warm arms wrap around my shoulders and pull me into his hard chest. At that point, there was no way I could stop crying, so I let out the rest of my sorrows on his shoulder.

I don't know how long I cried. It must have been quite a while because my eyes felt horribly puffy and hot by the time I began to slow down. Natsu remained silent the whole time, trying to lend me strength in whatever way he could even without knowing what was wrong.

Despite a firm belief that he wasn't interested in romance with me, I never once had a single doubt that he cared for me.

"Lucy, please, tell me what's wrong," he asked after I had worked my way down to sniffles. "I know something's been bothering you for a while now. I saw that look on your face in the guild. I know something's wrong." His tone became more pleading. "I can't help you if you won't talk to me. Don't you trust me to help you anymore?"

My heart broke at his words as I stayed tightly secured in his arms, like he thought I would get up and walk away. I never really thought about how my actions could be perceived from his point of view. He didn't understand. All he could see was his best friend becoming colder to him.

I pulled away from him just enough to look into those beautiful sharp eyes of his. Eyes that always reminded me of dragons with their almost reptilian angles. He made sure I didn't pull away very far, keeping our faces close together.

"Of course I trust you, Natsu. I trust you more than anyone. I just didn't want to burden anyone with my stupid problem that isn't worth calling a problem."

"Anything that's kept you this upset isn't stupid, and nothing from you is ever a burden to me. We're partners, right?" He finished that statement with a hollow version of his usual mile wide smile.

"I don't know how to put it in words. I don't know if you'll understand."

"Try me."

I took a deep breath to steady myself.

"It's hard to see Levy and Juvia announce their pregnancies. I know it's petty, and it's wrong to be jealous of my friends, but I want what they have. I want a family of my own." I looked at Natsu's eyes to see that they had widened slightly, but otherwise there was no change in expression. "So, that's what's been bothering me. I want to settle down and have a family. It's something I wanted my whole life."

Natsu let go of me enough to sit back and put on what we all called his thinking face. It was a hilarious expression most of the time. He looked like his brain had broken. But the mood was too serious for it to be funny this time.

"So," he started. "Basically, what you're saying is you want a kid?"

"Well, there's a bit more to it than..."

"Why didn't you say something sooner." A more genuine grin broke out over his face as I glared at him for interrupting me. "That's an easy one to fix."

"...What?" My brain froze in confusion. Was he magically going to materialize a husband for me out of thin air? Knowing Natsu, I wouldn't put it past him to try.

Natsu kept grinning as he stood and yanked me to my feet. I was so stunned that I wasn't able to react until we were in my apartment. When Natsu let go of my hand to start shucking off his shirt and then his pants, I screamed.

Natsu winced and gave me a dour face.

"Geeze, Lucy. What the hell was that for?"

"Why are you stripping?"

"I know you know how babies are made. I've read your porn books."

I thought my heart was going to explode, if I didn't faint first.

"We...we can't do that!" Then I remembered the rest of what he said. "Those are romance novels. Not porn!"

Natsu tilted his head in that puppy dog manner I adored.

"Are you wanting to get married first, then? And those books are porn. I've seen things in Gildarts' books that have less in them. At least they ain't as bad as what's in Erza's books. She's into some freaky shit."

"Get married..." I struggled so hard not to faint. I couldn't believe the things coming out of his mouth. My brain had nearly completely died from shock, and I was half convinced I was in some kind of stressed induced hallucination.

"Yeah, getting married first would probably be better," he continued like my strained near-whisper was an actual answer. "Erza is so bitchy about stuff like that. Gajeel told me that she beat him so hard for knocking up Levy before marrying her that he was sore for a month even after Wendy healed him. You always talked about wedding things with the girls, so I guess you want one."

I finally found my voice.

"You really want to get married? To me?"

"I don't see much point to the whole ceremony and whatever, but I have no problem with it if that's what you want."

"Natsu," I said as calmly as I could while trying to tame my racing heart and restart my brain. "It's not right to get married unless you love the person."

He rolled his eyes at me. The pink haired creep rolled his eyes at me. I was close to stamping an indignant foot at him.

"Of course I love you. I wouldn't 've stayed with you for so long if I didn't."

I rubbed my temples to stave off the massive headache that was inevitable.

"I don't mean the love between friends. I mean love like what Levy and Gajeel or Alzack and Bisca have."

He rolled his eyes again.

"I'm not a complete idiot. I know what you mean. You know I love you. I know we've been together a long time, and I've never said it with words, but I made sure to show you."

"What do you mean by 'been together'?"

"That we've been a couple for a long time," he asked in a confused tone. "What'd you think I meant?"

"Since when have we been a couple?"

"Since we became partners!"

"I thought that was just team partners, not partners partners!"

"Well, I was trying to be sneaky and catch you before another guy in the guild did. They were all talking like they were going after you, and you were mine."

The headache was arriving with a vengeance.

"How was I supposed to know we were together if you tricked me and never told me about the trick?"

Natsu opened his mouth to answer, but his brain apparently kicked in if the dumbfounded expression on his face was any indication.

"I guess I forgot that part..." He said this while scratching the back of his head showing what passed for shame coming from him. "Everyone else caught on a long time ago, so I never thought I needed to tell you. I guess that's why you freaked out when I tried to kiss you?"

"That and it was in front of a little kid."

"You know we're together now, so let's get married and work on that kid."

I didn't have a chance to reply as Natsu, still in just his scarf and underwear, pulled me to him and gave me the mother of all first kisses. It was mind blowing, tingling all the way down to my toes. I grabbed his hair to keep him close for longer, and couldn't hold in the moan as he pulled away.

"Make a sound like that again," he said, his voice a husky timber I had never heard from him before. "And we'll be working on the baby tonight and getting married tomorrow."

I should have felt scandalized by such a statement, but I felt warm and weak instead.

"Let me have a little time to get used to the fact that there is an us first. I never thought you were interested in me."

"But I did everything everyone at the guild told me to do! I gave you flowers, we ate together, slept together."

"...Now things make even more sense." The guild probably didn't make it clear how to do the things they told him to do, and Natsu, being his usual self, went overboard.

"Just let me have some time, and we'll have an adventure together."

Natsu smiled.

"I'm all fired up."

"Okay...now get your pants back on.

UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

And here is that one shot I promised. The ending is sooooooo weak, though... I'm considering adding another part to round it out better. What do you think?