Chapter 5: Spun Gold and Starfire
"Thank you for gracing us with your presence, your highness," Mira says in greeting. She rises to stand beside the table and offers a quick curtsy.
Lucy tries to stand as well, but Natsu catches sight of her bandaged foot and stops her with another quick tousle of her hair.
"Mira, please sit down," Natsu asks, but he isn't looking at the seamstress. He's distracted by the blonde's injured limb propped up on the chair. When had she gotten hurt?
Mira does as he asks and Natsu reluctantly stops touching Lucy. He glances around the room, his fingers brushing against the hilt of his sword.
Natsu has never been a fan of enclosed spaces. There are too many unwashed bodies, too much alcohol, and far too many who might recognize the Crown Prince and greet him with a dagger to the back.
Fiore is peaceful but no nobleman is loved by all—a fact that Zeref continuously points out. The thought of his brother slips his mouth into a slight scowl. If Zeref were here, he'd have words with him—about how Natsu has a knack for putting himself in potentially dangerous situations, and not always at the king's command.
Natsu doesn't think this is exactly fair. He might be a tad headstrong at times, but he's far from stupid. He's a trained soldier and a damned good one. He never gets careless, never lets his guard down. It's one of the main reasons why he's still alive and whole.
Hasn't he always done whatever Zeref has needed of him? He has led his men to victory time and time again. He has thwarted small coups and mediated peace between warring duchies. He's earned the right to wander off on his own every now and then, with or without his brother's approval. Zeref worries far too much about his safety. Besides, he likes this strange inn named Fairy Tail. No one is paying him any mind. It's refreshing.
"What brings you here, your highness?" Lucy asks.
"It's been a rather interesting day," Natsu says, ignoring the scoffing noise that Mira makes as he commits the faces in the crowd to memory. An old habit that makes him feel slightly more secure in unfamiliar surroundings. "I felt like taking a walk after I visited Black Steel. I don't fare well in carriages."
"I remember well," Mira replies with perfect equanimity.
He rolls his eyes at the seamstress. He isn't surprised that Mira remembers his severe motion sickness.
"I didn't know you were on such familiar terms with the royal family, Mira," Lucy says with something like reproach in her voice.
"Oh yes, I've known the king and prince for years." Mira can take the dullest of news and turn it into tongue-wagging gossip. It's one of her many gifts.
Natsu resists another eye roll at Mira.
The truth is far plainer: Mira is an old family friend and they have known each other since they were young. Mira's mother was a dressmaker for Natsu's mother and all the children played together. Mira has always been like an older sister to him.
It's an odd thing, Lisanna is closer to his own age and is certainly kinder, more understanding, but it's Mira he likes the most of the Strauss siblings.
He turns to Lucy to regale her with this oft-worn tale and truly looks at her. He suddenly can't speak. Can't move.
Lucy is beauty and fire.
This can't be an ordinary frock.
Lucy's gown is simple but the delicate embroidery somehow gives the impression of sunflower petals scattering on a breeze. The neckline plunges shockingly low, but in a way that is most pleasing to the eye. With her flaxen hair and eyes of liquid amber, she is all heat and sunshine.
Natsu drags in one long breath that burns all the way down.
"Milady, you look lovely," Natsu finally manages to rasp out—the words as thick as honey on his tongue, but lacking sweetness. He winces. His mind is too scrabbled to find poetry.
"Thank you. Mira lent me this dress."
Lucy casts a baleful glance to her corseted bosom, so much of it exposed, as if questioning if Mira has gone too far. She looks perfect, though. He would not change a thing about her and if she were to ask him if it's too much, he would lie and say all the courtiers at court are wearing such daring attire. Then he would commission Mira and every clothier in Fiore to make it so, just so Lucy never felt the slightest tinge of embarrassment.
"It suits you well," Natsu says.
Lucy offers him a shy smile and his whole spine melts.
Fates heed him. He's only known her a handful of hours yet he's already acting like a besotted fool.
From some far off distance, Mira says, "That gown is for sale, if you would like to buy it."
"Done." Natsu pulls a coin purse out from the inner pocket of his surcoat. He tosses the entire thing to Mira.
"Natsu!" Lucy yelps.
"I can afford it," Natsu tells her. The dress and the woman in it are both undeniably gorgeous. She deserves to have such pretty things.
"That's hardly the point," Lucy grouses, picking up her spoon and poking at her stew. A curl of steam rises from the bowl but she doesn't take a bite. "And Mira...why do you encourage him?"
Mira shrugs, utterly unrepentant. "I own a business. I have to make a sale when the opportunity arises."
"You've had a lot of opportunities today. The Queen, Aquarius, the prince..." Lucy rattles off.
"I seem to get by," Mira says demurely, finding a pocket somewhere in her voluminous skirt to store the coins. "Come sit with us, your highness. And since our Lady Lucy here seems to think ill of our bargain, let me buy you a drink to celebrate our good fortunes today. What will it be?"
"Fire whiskey?" Mira repeats, her grin fading away. Fire whiskey is expensive.
"Perhaps you can pretend you're using someone else's money to pay for it?" Lucy suggests blandly.
Mira lets out a choking laugh that sounds more like a cough.
"I very much enjoy your company, Lucy. I'm going to find you something else to drink rather than that weak ale you're only pretending to sip. Then we can all share a toast." To Natsu she asks, "Single or double?
"Double," Natsu says. Since Mira has taken all of his money, he might as well get a decent drink out of it.
Mira tips her head in acknowledgement and disappears into the crowd. The minute she's gone, Natsu slides into the chair next to Lucy. With no subtlety whatsoever, he pushes Mira's meal and beer across the table. Her seat is now his.
"I'm sure if you had asked to sit next to me, Mira would've let you," Lucy tells him.
Maybe, maybe not. Even for minor things, Natsu has never found Mira predictable. The seamstress flits in and out of his life like a moth on the edge of a lantern.
"Perhaps you're right," Natsu agrees as he mulls it over. "I guess I'm not in the habit of asking permission for things."
"I can believe that. I seem to remember you stealing my first kiss earlier today."
There's an implication there, something hidden beneath the surface. Something he hears, anyway.
"Did I? I can't recall that." Natsu tries his best to look wide-eyed and innocent.
"Liar." Lucy elongates the word so that it sounds almost like an endearment. "Or are you such a rogue that you flit from shop to shop, delivering kisses to all the ladies that you happen to stumble across? I must admit, I would be most disappointed if that were the case."
"I don't have any other ladies...at least I don't think I do. I am often told I am quite forgetful," Natsu says. Lucy arches an eyebrow at him, disbelief etched on her features. "I do not jest, you can ask anyone! However, if you are to insist we shared a kiss, perhaps you just need to freshen my memory."
Lucy aches one slender eyebrow in speculation. "And how do you propose I accomplish that?"
"Perhaps you can describe this earlier kiss in great detail? I feel like that may trigger a flashback," Natsu suggests hopefully.
Lucy shakes her head, chuckling. "I am a lady, good sir. I couldn't possibly speak of it."
"Of course, of course. It was only my first idea, though certainly not my best one," Natsu assures her. "Perhaps you will find this more agreeable: why don't you sketch a picture of us? You seem to have an artist's hands and I'm sure I could find a piece of charcoal somewhere." Natsu pats at his pockets, shows her his upturned, empty palms. "I guess I don't have any writing materials on me."
"A shame, truly," Lucy agrees, the bronze flecks in her tawny irises dancing like flames.
"Yes, it is." Natsu laments for a moment, pretending to think, then snaps his fingers. "I have the perfect solution!"
"How fortuitous. I cannot wait to hear it."
"I'm not just a prince but also the lord commander of my brother's armies. As such, I know myself to be a man of action," Natsu tells her. It's not even a lie. "In light of this revelation, might I suggest we take the most direct approach and you bestow another kiss upon me?"
Lucy laughs, the sound luminous and clear.
"I think I misjudged you. You are not a rogue but a cad. A young prince who makes off with the hearts of young ladies, discarding them like dropped flower petals," Lucy says. There is no sting in her words and he takes no offense.
"She loves me, she loves me not?" He asks. All the pieces of him could be put in Lucy's hands, dropped at her feet. He would not mind such a fate.
"I didn't realize you'd be familiar with such a simple game played by lowly peasants such as myself." Lucy catches herself and looks horrified by what she's just said. She speaks in a rush, "I didn't mean to imply you have ever treated me with anything less than kindness. Please accept my apologies, Natsu. I am often told I speak too plainly."
He thinks he could forgive her anything if only she continues to say his given name. He likes the way her mouth seems to break it apart into two pieces, like a sweet.
"On the contrary, I find your speech, as well as the rest of you, positively delightful."
"The rest of me?" Lucy asks, sparing another fretful glance at her décolletage.
Natsu keeps his eyes politely trained on her face. He feels himself grow overly warm. Her assessment of him breaking hearts is not entirely inaccurate. He has had courtiers titter and fawn over him in the past, but he has never been the one to do the chasing. Never been the one who had to confess his true feelings and intentions.
No matter. Fortune favours the brave.
Natsu screws up his courage, drops the formal speech. He says the first thing that comes to mind. "In case I haven't been obvious, I should be clear: I like you."
"Yes," Natsu affirms quietly. "And I was hoping you might feel the same way."
"I do." Lucy confirms, punching all the oxygen from his lungs.
Natsu senses they are on the precipice of something important, that whatever he says or does next might well determine the future of his relationship with Lucy. He doesn't want to make presumptions but he has never been able to do things by halves. He is all or nothing.
Lucy is spun gold and starfire. She is all.
Natsu leans down slowly, giving Lucy ample time to pull away, to speak, to stop him, if that's what she wants. Lucy's breath fans over his face, minty and warm. She stays close to him.
"I wouldn't mind another reminder of that kiss," Natsu tells her, letting the sincerity show in his voice while trying to hide how deep it goes. He doesn't want to scare her off.
"Truthfully, neither would I," Lucy whispers, shocking him to the core with her boldness.
There is purity in Lucy that is unlike anything he has ever known. There are no facades, no artifice, no hesitation. Her petrichor scent has him aching for something he cannot name. She feels so familiar to him, almost like—
Lucy's nimble fingers traipse up his forearm, curling around the thickest part of his bicep, and his thoughts shatter.
Natsu cups her face, his thumb running over Lucy's plump lips, his heart doing a painful flip when they slowly part and something in him burns.
Maybe this is how the universe was born...with one simple touch.
She is beautiful.
Mindful of her injured limb, he drags his chair next to hers until they is no space between them. Natsu offers his hand, his tug more suggestion than force, and Lucy willingly leans up against him until she's practically on his lap. Their noses graze and Natsu can hear her heart thumping inside his own chest.
Natsu takes a moment to admire her. Lucy's thick lashes fluttering down, the straight nose, and those full, ruby-stained lips. She has a tiny dark freckle at the corner of her mouth, dotted just high enough that if someone were to kiss her properly, they would kiss it, too.
He would like to kiss her again.
"Oh no! You need to stop that right now," Mira warns, banging his tumbler of fire whiskey on the wooden surface in front of him.
Lucy jolts with a guilty look on her face. She tries to slide away from him, but she's unbalanced by her awkward position, with her one raised leg and most of her weight still on Natsu.
She is light and it takes almost no effort to steady her upright. When he pulls back, he captures Lucy's hand, hidden underneath the table. They can have this much, at least. He has only just found her and something greedy and ravenous is opening inside of him.
Natsu straightens himself as turns to face the seamstress. "You have lousy timing, Mira."
He isn't expecting Mira to hit him but she does. A sharp rap upside the head—the type his tutors used to give him when he wasn't paying attention—which was often.
"Mira!" Natsu shouts, more out of surprise than any sort of pain. He was wrong. Mira's not his favourite, Lisanna is. Or even Elfman. Mira is the worst.
"Are you the crown prince or a common whore?" Mira seethes. "In case it has escaped your notice, we are in a very public place. Could the two of you at least try to maintain a sense of propriety?"
A deep blush spreads across Lucy's cheeks. "I'm truly sorry, Mira. I don't understand myself today. I'll be on my best behaviour from now on."
Mira rounds on him, her eyes bright and snapping. "And you, your highness?"
He could have her executed, he could.
Mira isn't the least bit fearful of him. If he could bottle her glare, he would never have to worry about marching into a battlefield ever again. She could wield that glower as a weapon, cut down entire armies—armour would be useless. If Natsu were younger, he would undoubtedly be cowering before her.
Natsu is older and made of sterner stuff now. He refuses to say anything, meeting her eyes in a level gaze. The silence takes on a sharp edge as it deepens.
"Hmph," Mira finally huffs out, "I guess I should be thankful for small favours. At least this time there wasn't a curtain to pull in front of my face."
"Oh, how I wish there were," Natsu growls. He gives an exaggerated rub to his scalp.
Mira looks as though she wants to smack him again for being an insolent brat.
"Don't be surprised if the next time you come into the shop, I've replaced that curtain with an iron door."
"That suits me perfectly," Natsu replies, tart and honest. "I'll buy that from you, too."
His words trip her up. Mira freezes, her spine going ramrod straight. She gives him a slow blink and an even slower smile.
"You have yourself a deal."
"Mira!" Lucy interjects.
"Deal," Natsu repeats. They even go as far as to shake on it, which is absurd. Mira knows his word is good.
"Natsu!" Lucy bleats out in protest.
"What?" Natsu turns to Lucy. "I have a special fondness for that curtain."
"You really need to stop doing this," Lucy mutters, twisting a napkin between her hands in an uneasy gesture.
Natsu isn't sure if she's speaking to him or Mira. Both seem equally as likely.
Mira sets a goblet before Lucy. "Try this instead of the beer. You might like it more."
"What is it?" Lucy asks, peering into the glass.
Lucy takes a small sip and smiles happily. "Oh! You're right. This is very good."
Mira lifts her pint. "A toast then. To old friends and new beginnings."
The sound of the glass rims striking together makes a musical tinggg. Natsu takes a deep swallow. The fire whiskey is smooth, spilling down his throat with more smoke than burn. High quality. He vaguely wonders how many coins were in that pouch if Mira is feeling this generous.
In the next instant, a server appears at his elbow, setting a meat pie down in front of him.
"Enjoy your dinner, sir," he offers with a quick bow before whisking away.
"I remembered that you're always hungry," Mira says by way of explanation. "It wouldn't be polite for Lucy and I to eat in front of you."
With his unspoken suspicions confirmed, he gives a nod of thanks and they all delve into their suppers. Natsu inquires about Lucy's ankle and discovers that she sprained it in a small moment of clumsiness.
Natsu nurses his whiskey and doesn't say much. He tries to concentrate when Mira speaks, but can only see her mouth moving, the sound of her voice like raindrops hitting a glass pane. Natsu eventually gives up. He is strangely content to sit there, letting little pieces of himself unravel and become wholly undone by Lucy's brief glances and flashing smiles.
Natsu is certain that Mira can tell his focus is off and, as punishment, is regaling Lucy with childhood stories designed to maximize his embarrassment. Mira has a litany of such tales that she pulls out like a magician's scarves from her sleeves.
There was the time when he was five and tried to run away because he didn't want to spend a sunny day trapped inside the castle walls, learning of his ancestral history.
Natsu had thought himself crafty and wise, but he didn't even make it to the edge of the palace gardens before his prune-faced governess had caught him.
Or there was the time when the King and Queen of Bosco were arriving for a visit. His parents had put him in a stiff suit with a cravat practically crushing his windpipe. They had warned him to stay in the parlor with Zeref acting as chaperone.
While they had waited, Zeref made some passing remark about how Natsu was too small to ride the palace horses. When they toured the grounds with their guests, Natsu would be stuck sitting on a fat pony named Reedus.
Natsu hated Reedus.
He had immediately balked at the idea of being left behind with only plodding Reedus for company. He had outran Zeref down to the stables to prove he could ride a real horse.
The palomino he had chosen was temperamental. No sooner had he gotten his bearings on the saddle before she had bucked him off with one quick jerk of her hips, causing him to fly over her shoulders to land straight in a mud puddle. His outfit had been ruined and their parents had been furious with both of them.
There are probably more stories he's unable to recall, but Mira has an elephant's memory and a viper's bite. He had learned long ago it was best to just take the poison.
"Your highness, are you alright? Should I get the smelling salts?"
It takes Natsu a long time to realize Mira is talking and longer still for the sounds to coalesce into anything meaningful.
"I beg your pardon. Whatever do you mean?" Natsu says, trying to bluff his way back into the conversation.
"I was trying to introduce you to Miss Marvel." Mira's words are polite, but he can hear the long-suffering sigh beneath them. "Miss Marvel is a healer. She'll be fixing Lucy's ankle now."
Sure enough, a waif of a girl is standing near him. She has long azure hair in twin pigtails and is wearing a high-collared jade dress.
Natsu struggles to remember if Mira had mentioned getting a healer earlier, but draws a blank. Mira clears her throat and he remembers his manners.
"Miss Marvel, thank you for coming this evening."
"Not at all, your highness. It is my duty to serve," Miss Marvel says with her head lowered and a deep curtsy.
Natsu is accustomed to deference but he's never learned to enjoy it. Each time he is confronted with his station, he wants to throw his hands in the air and declare that he is naught but a simple soldier. Who lives in a palace. With fortune at his feet and only fair winds at his back. He can hear how ridiculous he would sound.
Natsu swallows his sour sigh, pushes the familiar sense of irritation back into his bloodstream. It isn't truly directed at Miss Marvel. She is young and innocent and here to help Lucy.
"Since this is an informal visit, why don't you call me Natsu and I will call you…" Natsu gives a small flourish of his hand to prompt her.
"Wendy," she whispers, staring at the floor and looking positively scandalized.
"Wendy," Natsu repeats, trying to sound gracious and reassuring. Zeref is better at this tone, but he hasn't had as much practice as his brother. "Wonderful. Please proceed."
Wendy places her medicine bag on the floor and gently unwraps Lucy's injured ankle. The appendage is bloated to twice the size of her other foot.
Wendy touches it gently and Lucy sucks in a hiss. The healer gives a sympathetic grimace.
"It is badly sprained. If you were to have a few days rest, icing it every hour or so, it would heal, but Miss Strauss has stressed that you need a far faster solution. Do you have any objection to me using magic?"
Natsu's eyebrows shoot up in surprise. Magic isn't well-known in the kingdom, but healing magic is the most sought-after of all. Natsu assesses Wendy again. She seems shy but she gives off an aura of quiet confidence.
"I'd love to see how your magic works." Lucy gushes, squeezing his hand in excitement.
Wendy hovers a hand over Lucy's foot. Natsu isn't sure why he's expecting something dramatic to happen, but he is. He thinks there should be a floral scent, the world tilting at an odd angle, an image superimposed over his mind and then disappearing in a puff of dandelion fluff. That's the way it is when Mavis casts a spell.
He is slightly disappointed when all that happens is Lucy's ankle deflating slowly back to a regular size and losing the puffed-pink hue.
Wendy mutters no words, does no conjuring. There are no sparks on her fingertips, no evidence of fairy magic.
"That is amazing!" Lucy exclaims beside him.
It is the complete opposite of what Natsu thinks, but he can't fault Wendy's skill, even if he feels she lacks showmanship.
Lucy rotates her ankle and stands up, full of gratitude and effusive thanks for Wendy's aid. The small healer seems to stand straighter with each new word of sparkling praise.
At Wendy's suggestion, they take a turn around the crowded inn to ensure that Lucy's leg can bear her weight. Wendy stays near Lucy, which makes sense, but it means he is paired with Mira.
"Don't look so disappointed," Mira chides him, threading her hand through the crook of his elbow.
They walk at a sedate pace around the room with Wendy and Lucy ahead of him. He follows her like a trained dog, not willing to take his eyes off of her.
"She is something special, isn't she?" Mira asks softly.
"Yes, she is."
They continue to make their way in silence. It is on their last turn before they will reach their table that Mira slows, tightening her grip on his arm.
"Lucy will be working with me for the next week until I have to depart for Crocus," Mira says conversationally.
Natsu tries his best to keep his expression neutral, even though his mind fires at the news. "Is that so? I am sure she will work hard."
"I only mention it because I grow weary of stumbling across the two of you mid-embrace."
Ah, there it is. Trust Mira to cut him to the quick.
For once he doesn't know how to respond, his usual wit abandoning him, but Mira speaks again.
"However, if someone were in need of a pair of gloves around lunch hour tomorrow, I think my assistant might be conveniently finishing up her work and able to escape for the rest of the day."
Natsu stops walking and Mira halts beside him. She gives him an impish grin, her blue eyes crinkling at the corners. Natsu is once again reminded of why she is his favourite childhood friend.
"I'd love to take Lucy out tomorrow."
"Somewhere other than the changing room of my dress shop," Mira stresses.
His mood is far too good to let Mira's small barb stick to him.
"I know the perfect place."
A/N - Happy Birthday, Satyrykal! Happy Birthday, my dearest Chibi! :D I'm a tad late, but it's still her Birthday month. That counts for something, right? I'm sorry. I love you!
Please go over to Satyrykal's stories for more Nalu goodness! Every writer loves people reading their work and Satyrykal is phenomenal. Please check her out!
I haven't written much from Natsu's POV before, so please let me know how I am doing! In true Natsu fashion, he cheerfully destroyed my outline. (Looks over tattered remains). This is fine (sob).
I participated in Nalu Week 2020 and would love to hear your thoughts on how I did!
You guys are unbelievable! Thank you so much for staying with me on this story. All my love and thanks go to you.
Thank you to my reviewers from last time! BrokenAngelWings83, Anna5949, Rein Serenity, LucretiaKonwrath, JAKEDSNAKE, Hikariko93, MamaBearKat, Guest, AlexandriaLunaStClaire, Guest, Stubenhocker, MissVarta (x2), firelover11, artistofthemind, ecogirl20, N I, ShanaHollows, Dark Shining Light, StellaHeartfilia, stranger1999, Firefly9917, Slash2014, S N Doucette, Lucy H Lover, Duchixx, wordsaremyspells1331, Imadogperson, Katnibal94, Guest, kaystar92, itsxoi, Breathlessmoments, aspiringgeek, noseinabook145, Professor of Gallifrey, loubu202, LovetoreadFF (x3!), stellarflame, LovelyLovelyLove, Bs trinkets, YukiMC, Fireshifter (x4!), alice 0, ToukaKanekiUlle, ManderNaner, ken0320, hajaebo93, AzmariaMinohi, LucyintheSunshine, AnnieBananni3, Lady Otaku bish, thebestweeb, ghostini, FairyTailxFanGirl and the Birthday Girl herself, Chibi Satyrykal!