Beta: Satyrykal

Prompt: Stranger

Stranger


"She was just another girl

who liked to play with magic.

And he was a boy,

in need of a reason

to believe in it."

— a.r. lucas


Lucy had just finished twisting part of her freshly washed hair into a messy bun when her phone buzzed with a new text. She reached down to glance at it as her friend rounded the corner of the changing room, leotard slung over her shoulder.

"Hey Lu, want to go for dinner tonight?" Levy asked, shoving a towel into her backpack.

The blonde scanned her message, a pang of dismay flooding her veins. Her friend paused, still waiting for a response. Lucy wet her lips before raising her screen between them. Mutely, she showed Levy what it said.

The small blunette's posture slumped, a grimace on her lips.

"Oh Lu, I'm so sorry," she whispered, her praline irises troubled. Lucy just shrugged even as her heart stuttered and squeezed in her chest. She rubbed her palm against her breast absently to ward off the too familiar ache.

"Thanks, Levs. Honestly though, I'm not sure why I expected anything else from him."

Levy hesitated, a wrinkle set between her brows.

"Want to still go grab a bite to eat? Maybe a margarita to go with it?"

Lucy shoved her phone back into her purse, then took a long swig from her water bottle as she stalled to frame a polite refusal. She swallowed thickly.

"Is it okay if I take a raincheck? I really just feel like being alone tonight."

Her best friend laid a reassuring hand on her arm. "Of course."

Staring straight ahead at her locker, Lucy fought the sting of tears that threatened, grateful when the blunette quietly left before they could fully form. Lucy warred within herself, trying to fight off old bitterness and fresh disappointment.

She wanted to slam doors, throw things, scream until her voice was raw.

She wanted to weep the pain out – tear out this ugly dark thing caged within her ribs.

She did none of these things.

Instead, Lucy straightened her posture and gathered her gear, stuffing everything into her workout bag. She closed her locker with far more care than necessary, gentle as a mother's kiss.

Then she left the dance studio.


Lucy wandered the corridors of Magnolia University, her footfall heavy as she passed by deserted classrooms, the locked library and the dark monitors of the computer lab.

Rehearsal had gone late, and by this time on a Friday night, most students had other places to be.

She was almost to the exit, resigning herself to the too quiet solitude of her apartment, when her feet trailed to a halt.

The wide double-doors of the auditorium were still flung open. She caught a flash of jet-black in her peripheral. There, set on the centre stage—

A grand piano.

As if in a trance, the blonde moved towards it, walking down a flight of stairs, winding through the narrow aisles before she climbed the stage steps towards the gleaming instrument.

Before she even knew what she was doing, she'd kicked off her sneakers, then her socks, wiggling toes that spent far too many hours confined to ballet pointes.

Once upon a memory ago, her music teacher Mavis had always taught lessons barefoot. Odd as it was, Lucy tried it once – after that she hadn't wanted to play any other way.

It had been seven years since Mavis and those lessons. She hadn't touched a piano until now.

She sat down on the ebony bench. The theatre was silent—filled with the type of quiet that only comes from being surrounded by instruments—as through the empty room was holding its breath.

Waiting.

Lucy folded her hands and rested them between her thighs, worrying the inside of her cheek until she tasted copper. After her mother died, she'd shunned the instrument.

Why?

She knew that answer. Her mom had always adored her playing, and the very idea of filling a room with music without Layla there to hear it had repulsed her.

But now, a handful of years later, bastioned by the healing powers of time, it all fell away. She regretted the years lost when she could've taken solace in the instrument they both loved.

Granted, her life had been busy, but there were moments such as these, when she had nothing but her black thoughts to accompany her, that the sound of the piano would've been comforting.

When the feel of the keys would have soothed – a balm against old scars.

Upon the stand above the keys were a few abandoned pages of sheet music. She flipped through them, running a hand over the ink, until one familiar page caught her attention.

Biting her bottom lip as she scanned the notes, stopping and restarting her reading until she was able to get to the end, the melody firmly etched into her mind.

She knew these notes. She had never quite forgotten – couldn't forget these chords that were so firmly imprinted along the ragged edges of her heart.

Lucy touched the brass pedals, cold and smooth beneath her bare feet. She lightly ran a finger from right to left across the ivory keys without pressing any of them down.

She was ready.

The first notes shimmered through the shadowy room, harp-like and haunting as she found the familiar combinations and struck them.

Für Elise.

Her mother's favourite song.

She had always thought the song started out melancholic, but the middle swoops in, joyous as a woodland sprite. Beethoven had written it for a woman he had wanted to marry but never did.

Why Lucy had chosen it now she neither dissected nor cared. The compulsion had struck and she'd responded, rusty as she was on this instrument. As she played, the tentativeness left her fingers, the tension left her shoulders and soon she began to feel what a runner feels when hitting her stride, the immense sense of well-being that comes from baring one's teeth to the wind and utilizing some capability that has laid dormant far too long.

She was unaware of the stranger's presence until she ended the last note, the song fading even as he spoke out of the shadows.

"Sounding good."

"Oh!" Lucy gasped, and lifted herself an inch off the piano bench. She swiveled around and saw a tall man watching her at the edge of the stage, his crossed arms braced against the lacquered wood as he glanced up at her. At her exclamation, he straightened, climbing the steps towards her until he was fully illuminated.

His hair was a mess of spiky coral, its jagged edges falling across his temples. Eyes of summer sage met hers – vivid and long-lashed, his grin lopsided and dimpled.

He was beautiful.

"I'm sorry, I didn't realize anyone else was here," she told him, tucking a stray flaxen lock behind her ear.

"I just forgot my stuff," he said, gesturing down to the worn leather satchel he had dangling between his fingers.

Lucy rose from the bench, disturbing the sheet music in her haste.

"Oh, don't do that. Didn't mean to disturb you. I just really like that song." He promised, scratching his cheek. His smile never quite fading, laugh lines bracketing his lips. "I'm Natsu by the way."

"Lucy."

Natsu sauntered toward her, tilting his head towards the piano. "Do you know any duets?"

"Some," she admitted.

He sat down on the bench and dipped his eyes to the space beside himself.

Lucy gingerly perched next to him, not sure why she was doing so. But it had been a strange day and like when she danced, there were times she just didn't want to stop. It was the same here. She wasn't ready to walk out of the room and leave the music behind her.

She wanted to play.

She put the sheetbook back on the music shelf from where she'd accidentally dislodged it.

"I can improvise. Pick whatever you want," Natsu told her.

She didn't have the proper music sheet in front of her, but she felt flushed with her earlier success and picked a song she'd practiced thousands of times, but still fit with her mood – Time by Hans Zimmer, a modern work rather than a classic.

It started off with low chords so she had to reach across Natsu, but he immediately picked up what she was doing, crossing behind her as he stood, adding some high notes to the hauntingly beautiful refrains.

As they played the music seemed to swallow her entirely, filling up and easing some hollow place inside of her. She had forgotten how easily music heals, its ability to make you whole.

It was wonderful.

One song led to two, to three, and Lucy lost track of time as she and this strange boy found different chords – each note a question asked, the answer given in harmony.

Lucy sometimes wondered how music could tear apart your soul, rebuild you from the ashes, and lift you to soaring heights, but she knew that it did. Questioning the how was futile, and it was best to just give yourself over to the melody and let it carry you wherever it needed you to go.

It could convey tragic loss to harkening angels and everything in between. The full range of human emotion condensed down to a few simple chords. Laughter, pain, joy, dread. Hearing the notes you felt these things, heavy as touch.

They were creating magic.

Eventually her hands tired and she was unable to keep the rhythm, hitting the wrong keys and jarring her out of the spell their playing had placed upon her.

She removed her fingers, laying them in her lap and letting Natsu finish the song by himself.

When the last lilting chord faded, she noticed their thighs were brushing against each other.

"Thank you, I needed that." Each syllable she uttered was a colossal effort as she tried to reset her brain into speaking. Music was a different language. Words felt clumsy and coarse by comparison.

"Can I ask why?" Natsu asked, dropping his own hands and turning his head toward her infinitesimally.

Lucy loosed a breath, rolling her neck to ease her stiff muscles.

"It's my dad," she explained, "I'm a ballerina and I asked him if he would come see me dance in our production of Swan Lake, but...he said he was too busy with work."

The pain was still there, but a dull thud compared to the sharp cut it had been earlier.

"That sucks."

"It does, but I'm okay." Lucy played a low-register C, holding it down until it diminished into silence.

"I'd love to come see it," Natsu said inexplicably.

Lucy's hand crashed on the keyboard in shock, sour notes squawking.

"Why would you want to go?"

He shrugged, eyes of loch and heath wide under the heavy fronds of his lashes.

"I like the ballet. Besides, you've heard me play the piano, only fair that I get to see you dance."

She wasn't the lead, she wasn't even in every act. "I'm not playing Odette, that's my friend Levy. I'm Siegfried's mom."

Natsu waved a hand like this was irrelevant. "When is it?"

His leg flexed slightly against hers, warm and firm and reassuring in a way she couldn't explain.

She cleared her throat, "Next week, it starts on Thursday."

A new type of silence filled the room, but one thick with anticipation.

With purposeful intent, Natsu reached up to tuck a stray lock of her hair behind her ear and her blood burned.

"Are you okay with me coming to see you?"

"Yeah. It's okay," she breathed.

And it was.

After all, her and this stranger had already made sweet music together.


A/N - Putting Natsu and Lucy in different settings with different backgrounds was the best part of this challenge for me. Six of my seven one-shots are modern, which surprised even me.

Thank you again to my radiant friend, Satyrykal for editing this for me! She writes extraordinary Nalu stories so please check her out!

Other authors participating in Nalu Week are: ShanaHollows, wordsaremyspells1331, and Professor of Gallifrey! It's super fun to see different writers spins on the same prompt!

Thank you to everyone who has read these chapters! I appreciate it so much!

Extra thanks to my reviewers from last time! stranger1999, guest, BrokenAngelWings83, Lovetoreadff, MissVarta, ShanaHollows, JAKEDSNAKE, Shadow365, Daydream-wannabewriter, FireShifter, Professor of Gallifrey, and Slash2104 (x 3!)

Last prompt will be out tomorrow!