The guild had been withdrawn ever since Natsu left to chase after Lucy. The news had been shocking. After so long with nothing, Lucy gave the most miniscule trail and the dragon slayer had followed instantly. Though no one was against his sudden departure, the guild was nervously picking at food and drinks in the guild hall since he left. Job posting had been ignored, meaning other guilds were forced to pick up their slack. Everyone was impatiently waiting for some sort or message, a sign that they were okay.

Luckily, Magnolia and the rest of Fiore had been incredibly understanding of their predicament. Their hometown had lent Fairy Tail as much support as they could, oftentimes offering the guild members any passing information they could find out about the two missing members. Saber Tooth, Lamia Scale, Blue Pegasus, and the other guilds Fairy Tail had grown close to were offering their assistance, willing to fill the void Natsu and Lucy left in the guild hall by accompanying wizards on jobs when needed to keep morale up. The Magnolia guild became a meeting ground for other guilds quite fast, usually with a large number of dragon slayers clustered together as they discussed whatever new information they had gathered.

There wasn't much they could do besides wait and hope that Natsu and Lucy returned unharmed, but that didn't stop the rowdy bunch of guild members from trying to help in their own ways.

Makarov had taken to resting in the S Class lounge, overlooking the guild with careful eyes. He kept a watch on his children that were taking Lucy's departure harder than others. Levy had a rough couple of weeks, refusing to give up on finding Lucy even after Natsu had already left to find her. She could be found in the library more often than not with Pantherlily worryingly sitting next to her until Fairy Tails resident Iron Dragon Slayer appeared to drag her back to Fairy Hills each night to rest.

Romeo appeared just as distraught as Wendy, mirroring her horror as if he was soaking up her emotions. They became inseparable from each other rather fast and Makarov could see Carla didn't seem to mind Wendy having a companion her age as much as she acted like she did. The two youngsters clung to each other just as much as they clung to Mira and Erza lately, searching for a stable comfort from their family.

Various other members were coping in their own way, some taking obvious choices to control their emotions and some surprising everyone with their uncommon actions.

Cana had significantly cut back on her alcohol consumption, making today the fifth day she hadn't touched a drop of the guild's famous beer. She spent most of her time at home lately, and if the rumors were true she planned to follow Gildarts during his next job request. The guild master surmised it may do her some good to spend time with family, away from the doom and gloom that had wafted through Magnolia.

Elfman had gotten louder than ever, ranting and raving about Natsu and Lucy's "Manliness" at all hours of the day. Unfortunately, the constant reminder of their missing members put a damper in his praise but no one silenced him.

Mira had Lisanna under one arm and Wendy and Romeo under the other almost daily. The She-Devil had always been a motherly type, especially when it came to her siblings, so she was sure to keep Lisanna close during the guild's darker moments. Though Makarov could see the sadness looming over Mirajanes head that couldn't be hidden behind a smile. He had to commend her ability to push it aside to be a pillar for the children, something she was very good at.

His most worrisome bunch happened to be the rest of Team Natsu, who had been reduced to Gray and Erza, and occasionally Wendy, brooding at a corner table most days. While no one blamed Gray as much they did in the beginning, that didn't stop the ice wizard from blaming himself. Makarov knew the guilt would weigh on the boy for some time, until Lucy could hear his apologies straight from his lips.

Makarov didn't doubt that his family would forgive the ice mage, after all Fairy Tail had forgiven much more heinous crimes in the past. Though it still left an odd feeling in the air, afterall it wasn't the guild Gray had wronged. Whether Fairy Tail forgave him or not wouldn't ease the pain in his heart, that was up to Lucy. And Makarov honestly wasn't sure how easy it would be for Lucy to jump back to herself. None of them were aware of what the brunette had gone through since leaving, but the older man had enough common sense to know the mind can be a deadly battle field.

Erza tried her best to be there for Gray, while also comforting Wendy and Romeo, but her own guilty conscience kept her from fully providing any sense of stability. She was Titania, the Queen of the Fairies, but she was still only a human. One with feelings and emotions that overpowered her own willpower some times.

Makarov was at loss, watching his guild fall apart at the seams without the ability to prevent the downfall. Eventually The town would move on, and their neighboring guild would need to focus on themselves. The Grand Magic Games would come back around and Fairy Tail would have to sit out of the festivities if the gloom wasn't cleared up by then. Relationships were both strengthening and breaking as the depression cloud filtered through all his children, he could only hope the grief and mourning would be over quick enough for everything to be restored with care by the time Natsu returned.

"Hey Old Man," A familiar voice bounced against the wood paneling as a figure grew closer to the railing the guild master was sitting on. Makarov didn't turn to look at the newcomer as the larger wizard leaned against the wall next to him.

"Laxus," The older hummed, "How are you doing?"

"Decent," The Lightning Dragon Slayer drew straight to the point, knowing driving around the subject would only end in more of a headache than anything else. It was obvious what the question was hinting at, and Laxus wasn't as much of an idiot as some of the other Dragon Slayers tended to be when it came to serious discussions.

"And the Thunder Legion?"

Laxus let out a grunt in answer, as he thought over the last few weeks, "They're okay. Dealing with it about the same as the rest of the guild."

Makarov let out a sound of agreement, watching as Happy gloomily flew into the guild, headed straight for Wendy and Romeo's seat by the bar. Mira quietly greeted the blue cat as Lisanna pulled him against her chest for a hug that the feline reciprocated with tearful eyes.

"Do you think actually she's coming back?" Laxus asked as he watched the scene with his own eyes. He worded it in a way that suggested he already thought about the possibility of Lucy never returning, but even Makarov couldn't deny that the likelihood of it coming true seemed awfully high.

But if there's one thing he knows about his children, is that they're stubborn brats. Lucy wasn't exempt from that, no matter how innocent she was. Fairy Tail worked hard and never surrendered, even when they were headed to defeat. They gave their all, every last drop of magic power, even when their bones were broken and their flesh charred, if it meant they could protect their friends.

Lucy was a lot like Natsu in that way, always trying to be the best she can be. In her notes directed to the guild, she put emphasis on her need to be stronger to protect those she loves. It's because they matter to her, it's because she cares about her friends. She wouldn't abandon the only home she's loved so deeply, she just wants to feel like she belongs there.

Dear Master Makarov,

I'm aware you have read or plan to read the message directed to the rest of the guild, so I'll keep this note short.

Thank you for being a father for me when my own was absent. Thank you for taking me in even with my magic capabilities being so much lower than it should have been. I'm sorry for leaving so suddenly and I hope you can forgive my hastiness.

I do wish to return, if you would permit it. I don't know when that will be, but if I do return and you point me towards the door I won't hold it against you. I appreciate everything you've done for me.


Lucy Heartfilia

"I do," He stated, but his face was hard as stone as he watched Gray absentmindedly string his straw in his beverage that had melted rings of condensation to the wooden table he sat at, "But it's a matter of when."

"Makes sense," Laxus murmured in a low voice, "I don't exactly blame her. But with her and Natsu gone it's gonna make the guild depressing until they get back."

"That's what I worry about," Makarov admitted with a sigh as he brought his thumb and index finger to rub his temples, "I don't wish for my children to suffer, Lucy or the rest of Fairy Tail, but we cannot force her to return until she's ready. Until then, we are down two powerful wizards, two precious family members. Morale will be low, the air will be tense, but just as before when we lost members to various circumstances, we will have to remain as strong as before in spirit."

"You seem pretty sure about her coming back," Laxus smirked knowingly, "Not that I think you're wrong."

"I know Natsu is what Lucy needs most right now," Makarov was certain that the celestial wizard needed to see a familiar face, needed to have someone by her side until she was ready to return, "But the guild's presence is only going to hurt her more than anything else. I know things seem bleak in the present, but the future holds brightness so long as we create it."

"What's that mean?"

"It means we need to prepare ourselves," Makarov stated simply, finally turning to face his grandson with a soft smile, "We need to be strong for ourselves and for our hurt brothers and sisters. Fairy Tail needs to be a place of warmth, not a place of suffering. When Lucy returns, we will be there for her. But in order to be there for her, we need to heal ourselves first."

The passing trees were a blur as Natsu trailed after Lucy's scent. Her figure was blending in with the scenery, making it hard to pinpoint her location with anything other than the sweet smelling lilies and honey that brought Natsu to this mountain in the first place. The sun had long since set below the horizon, making the darkened woods become more of a hindrance. Natsu wouldn't have much of a problem with his heightened senses, but Lucy on the other hand would find herself struggling to escape Natsu eventually.

He hated that he had to rely on that in order to get her to stop running away from him.

He could hear her breathing, heavy and rough with barely contained gasps every few seconds. With every other step she was letting out vocal cues that only aided Natsu in following her. The ground almost felt like it was shaking as he bounded over the tree roots and jumped high above the shrubs. He wasn't far behind her, in fact he could see her short brown hair bumping into the hair in time with her movements. She was weaving between trees, attempting to trick Natsu into losing her, but even she had to know it wouldn't work. She couldn't lose him as easily as she wanted to.

He had to force himself to not let that hurt his pride. It wasn't her fault that she was like this, terrified and hurting. He wouldn't hold it against her.

He wasn't sure whether he should let her run until she either tired herself out or gave up, or if he should force her to stop somehow. He wanted to avoid that if possible, because that would only make him feel more like a villain, but he couldn't see a realistic way she would give in any time soon. She would most likely run until her legs gave out on her, letting her panic drive her to the edge.

Just as he was contemplating his choices, Lucy's high pitched yelp broke through the rustling wildlife as she went tumbling to the ground. She pulled herself into a ball as she rolled along the forest, letting her limbs take most of the damage. She came skidding to a stop as she landed hard against a tree with Natsu barely managing to slow down just a few feet away. Natsu winced in sympathy, imaging just how painful the fall must have been.

The brunette was facing away from Natsu, cradling her head as little hisses left her lips. Her fingers were delicately pressing along her skull in an attempt to alleviate the stinging. Natsu could see minor cuts littering her exposed skin, trailing all the way up her body until it was hidden by bandages or clothing. It was reminiscent of how they looked after a major battle, with bloodied limbs, torn clothing, and matted hair. It was inescapable in battle, and Lucy was no exception.

But he hated seeing her in such a state because they drove her there. He hated that she was suffering alone, that she was broken and left to piece herself back together without her family there to walk her through each step. She barely resembled the perky blonde celestial spirit mage that kicked him out of her apartment two weeks ago. She used to be so confident, so happy, so kind and caring.

But now her shoulders were trembling, her confidence was broken, she was frozen in fear and she still hadn't turned to face Natsu.

She had to know he was there, but he was hesitant to startle her. He never was one to be overly cautious, considering he destroyed the town of almost every mission he's ever been a part of, but he was trying something new, something that meant he needed to tread carefully through this issue. He didn't want to screw this up, because this was his best friend, hurting and scared.

"Lucy?" He tried his best to make his voice soft, unthreatening, as he took a slow step forward.

He could see the flinch instantly, but he tried to keep it from affecting him. Lucy was still sitting on the ground, hiding her head in her arms protectively as Natsu approached her. She had yet to respond to his presence, and Natsu wasn't going to force it. Instead he sat himself down right behind her, giving about a foot of room between their bodies.

He was here, just inches away from her, yet it felt like a mile. He could reach out his arm and pet her hair, hold her in his arms, rest his forehead on hers as he tells her how amazing she is. He can tell her how much he missed her, how important she is to the team, to Fairy Tail, to him. His heart was racing as he tried to conjure the words to say to the girl he's been searching for.

"Luce?" He tried again, his voice shaking slightly at the end.

"Don't-" She choked out suddenly, startling the dragon slayer enough to nearly jump in his own skin.

Lucy was shivering, yet at the same time she was burning up so much her face felt numb. Pinpricks of heat flashed through her body with the light shudders jostling her limbs, occasionally rocking her head to the side when the force jumped through her arms. The ground below was cooling her skin, trying to sap the warmth right out of her body but the heat remained, suffocating her as she tried to remain calm.

At first she thought the culprit of the sudden heat was Natsu, but she could feel it rising in herself. Like the blood in her veins was magnetized to the surface of her skin, letting all the warmth burn her with furocity.

She was curled up in a protective ball, yet she could feel Natsu sitting behind her, too close to her liking.

He was injured, sick, dying and it was all her fault. He was supposed to be at the guildhall recovering, going on jobs with Erza, Gray, Wendy, and Happy, the perfect team. She left him behind to be treated, to live his life without her weighing him down. He was supposed to be asleep for a week at least, had it already been a week? How had he recovered so quickly?

He was here.

Why was he here?

The warmth Natsu radiated was overbearing, mixing with her own overwhelming heat. She wished she could take comfort in his presence, wished she could be excited that he was with her again alive and well, but the fear she felt at seeing him again prevented her from a happy reunion. She didn't deserve his comfort, his warmth, his kindness or his heart. She deserved to suffer alone, in the shadowed wilderness until she could become a wizard worthy of Fairy Tail, one Natsu could be proud of.

Until then, she didn't deserve to see him.

Her body was achy and quivering with exertion, heat floating to the surface of every inch of skin until she couldn't even feel her fingers grasping at her arms anymore. It reminded her too much of Jonathon's magic, too much like the isolating burning pain she had become accustomed to that she wanted to rip her skin apart.

It almost felt like she was going crazy, like she was moments from passing out or even dying entirely. Air came in short gasps that never reached the depths of her lungs, black tinged the outer edges of her sight, her nails had dug into her wrists but the sting of punctured skin and blood did nothing to jolt her into awareness.

In the back of her mind, she could recognize she might be overreacting, she might be freaking out a little more than was warranted, but she couldn't tell that to her shaking legs or her racing heart.

"-ease. Luce it's oka- s'just me," Natsu's voice sounded muffled, distant yet louder than Lucy had remembered him being.

"Wha-" She tried to respond but was cut off by a rough cough that left her breathless, forcing her hands to catch herself from falling forward into the dirt below.

Her eyes shot open at the sudden shift, landing on her blood coated fingernails as she dug them into the forest floor for stability. It was thick and dark and red, so red, trapped under her bare nails. Suddenly she could feel everything, the tears in her wrists, the tension in her muscles, the ache in her chest and the large arms around her body.

Natsu was wrapped around her from behind, his chest plastered against her back as he gently rubbed down her arms. The feeling was coming back to her now, and the heat that was burning against her skin was dying down and being replaced with a comforting warmth as his calloused hands scratched against her. He was muttering things into her ear, though most of it was gibberish as he tried to gather her attention.

"Can you hear me?" He asked once she twitched underneath him, "Can you breathe?"

She couldn't, not well at least, but she didn't know how to portray that other than to shake her head as much as she could manage, which ended up being so slight Natsu barely noticed it.

"Okay, uh," He trailed off and his hands slowed down as he thought through his predicament, something Lucy might have found amusing a month ago, "Maybe you should turn around. You're facing a tree."

The sentence confused Lucy enough to knock her consciousness back a foot. Because yes, she was being smothered by a tree, surrounded by all angles, but she hadn't noticed. The dangling tree vines and the ground bushes tickled her skin, giving the warmth she was feeling a strange twist in sensation. Natsu pushed one of her shoulders as he tried to position her body to lean against the tree bark. She allowed him to maneuver her, finding her strength to be waning as she paid more attention to her shallow breaths.

Natsu was touching her so softly, like she was delicate, breakable, and she knew she should hate it. She should be screaming at him, furious and disgusted with the treatment, because she should take care of herself. It wasn't his job to baby her, to take care of her, to save her like a damsel in distress.

She was Lucy Goddamn Heartfilia and she needed to woman up.

But Natsu's expression stopped her from lashing out. He looked so scared, terrified, and nothing like the confident fire breathing Salamander she was used to. His eyes were wide as he raked down her figure, taking in all the damage she accumulated. He crouched in front of her, hands outstretched as if ready to grab her if needed, but also hovering as if he wasn't sure what to do.

And she would be lying if she said she didn't like his calm, soft demeanor sometimes. It wasn't something you got out of Natsu often. Usually he would joke around, break into her apartment, play pranks on her and insult her playfully on a daily basis. He saved these intimate moments for scenarios when either of them were injured or in danger. Like When Acnolgia was about to decimate Tenrou Island and all the people on the sacred ground, when Flare brutally defeated her in the Grand Magic Games, when Lucy was imprisoned by the Royal Kingdom, or even back when her father had paid for her kidnapping.

She secretly loved his serious side just as much as his playful side, and she felt guilty for wanting to experience it again. She felt guilty for being happy he was here, for yearning for him to hug her and tell her everything was going to be okay, because she didn't deserve him like that. Nothing was going to be okay because he almost died at the hand of her failure.

She couldn't hurt him again.

"Hey," his voice came out a bit higher than she was used to, tinged with worry and breath as he tried to make his own breathing pattern louder and easier to notice, "Breathe like me."

He waved his hands in front of her gesture in circles as he gave deep breaths that Lucy tried to mimic. The first few cut off too short, making panic ring through her brain but Natsu was quick to instruct her again each time she lost her place. It was after a few minutes that her lungs began working normally again, and with the air returning the tensions in her muscles slowly released leaving her limbs shaky.

Natsu had stopped speaking, taking a seat in front of the girl. She knew at this point she couldn't run away, he wasn't going to disappear and it was stupid of her to think she could outrun him, but the temptation to hide was still strong.

But then again, running away and hiding like a child isn't strong. It's something she used to do, something that reiterated just how weak she was and still is. She hadn't grown at all, in fact it feels like she took a step back. She's never felt so confused, as if she was facing death just from running away from a problem. This was new, something that she needed to fix before it snowballed into something much worse.

"Lucy," Natsu called to her, "Can you please look at me?"

She didn't want to, because if she did she was almost positive she would cry. And crying was weak. But he was Natsu, she couldn't just… not look at him. He chased her out into the woods, tracked her down from Magnolia, and calmed her down after she ran away from him.

Didn't she owe him just a decent amount of respect?

She forced herself to tilt her head up to look him in the eye, and it was like a dam of emotion broke in her heart. She felt the tears before she realized they were brimming at her eyelids. The last time she saw him he was bleeding out with sizzling magic tainting his skin, making him look like he was in a fight with a demon straight from hell. It was a horror she never realized could happen, that Natsu could one day die and never come back.

But now he was healed, healthy and fit as supported by his will to chase after her. He looked completely fine, better than he should be after the near death experience. In fact, the only thing that seemed off was the nervous energy he was displaying as he tried to figure out the right words to say, which Lucy could contribute to being her fault.

"Luce," He whispered her name again, disbelief thickening the air between them as he took in her form. She knew she looked a bit roughed up, but it was nothing compared to their normal battles. It shouldn't surprise him that she was a bit cut up, dirt caking her shoes and twigs tangled in her hair, but he still stared at her with concern and care. He reached out for her hand, the one bandaged and hiding her guild mark, which she flinched away from without a second thought. She had to ignore the hurt that passed through his face for a split second before being replaced with a small smile as he pushed the feeling down, "I missed you."

She choked back her desire to reciprocate, to tell him she wanted to see him ever since she left Magnolia. She missed his toothy smile, his wild hair, his cheeky personality, his fiery attitude, hell she even missed his reckless behavior. But admitting that would just hurt more than leaving it behind. She can't go back, not until she was on par with Wendy at the very least, "I'm sorry-"

"Don't apologize," He was quick to interrupt her. His gaze turned hard but not in a cruel way, pushing sincerity to the forefront of his tone, "Nothing was your fault."

"Don't lie," She snapped back as the anger began to rekindle inside her, but she tried to real it back. She didn't want to fight, didn't want to raise her voice at her friend because that's the last thing he needed after everything she put him through, but she couldn't hear anymore lies, especially when Natsu didn't understand what really happened. If he did, he wouldn't be here trying to comfort her, "You don't have to protect me Natsu. I know when to admit I fucked up."

"I'm not lying," He challenged, an edge pushing into his posture but his voice remained soft yet sturn, "Have I ever lied to you?"

She didn't know how to answer, because technically no he hadn't ever lied to her before, at least not about anything important. But this situation is so much more complicated, so much more complex than anything else. This was life or death, this was putting her best friend at risk because she was too much of a baby to learn to fight for herself.

"I'm not trying to argue with you," Natsu sighed, desperation shaking through his core as he tried to convey to Lucy how wrong she was about everything. He could see what Loke meant now. The walls Lucy had built were thick and covered in barbed wire, but he was especially hard headed, "But I mean it when I say it wasn't your fault."

"How are you so sure?" The brunette narrowed her eyes at the dragon slayer, "You didn't see how that wizard attacked you. You didn't feel the heartbreak when we thought you were gone. I put you there, and it's my responsibility to accept that. I should have been able to stop him, not rely on you to save me."

"But you don't rely on me!" He shouted suddenly, careful to keep his irritation out of his voice. The only thing Natsu was truly irritated with was the situation, and maybe Gray still, but never Lucy. She was suffering, and he would never willingly blame her for a situation that wasn't her fault, but he also wouldn't allow the toxic thoughts to plague her mind if he could help it, "You were facing one against five and four of those guys went down because you're a badass! And it was my choice to help. I would have done the same for any of our friends."

"You don't understand," Lucy whispered, curling her fists into the dirt they were sitting on and letting it mix with the blood soaked into her nails. Natsu eyed the bloody scratches dragged around her forearm with concern, he wished he could get Lucy to calm down enough to let him help her.

"What don't I understand? Explain it to me, Luce," He pleaded. He stared at her bandaged hand longingly, wishing he could hold it against him, wishing he could pull her into his chest and reassure her like he used to. But he had a feeling that wouldn't be enough to fix things this time around. She was closed off, just like Loke said, and he had no idea how to get her to start opening up again.

"I'm a liability, Natsu," She spat out in disgust, making Natsu wince as he realized the disgust was pointed directly at herself, "Every mission you take me on, every battle you have me by your side is just another opportunity for death and failure. Gray was right about me, I'm not strong enough for Fairy Tail if you have to constantly come to my rescue. I need to learn to fight for myself for once."

"Gray is an idiot," Natsu declared, scooting a bit closer to the brunette as she instantly began shaking her head in disagreement, "No, he is. He was wrong about you, everything he said came out of a place is fear. It wasn't okay for him to hurt you like he did."

"It doesn't matter if it hurt me, because he was right!" She shot back, looking every bit like the fiery Heartfilia he was used to. It almost made him feel nostalgic, if only the anger was pointed at him for breaking into her apartment rather than at herself for something that wasn't her fault.

"Luce, would I have come all the way from Magnolia to find you, with only a note you wrote us to guide me, if I thought you were in the wrong?"

He watched as the confusion began to fog her mind. She pinched her eyebrows as she tried to piece together that information, because it didn't fit in with her current agenda.

"You would," She mumbled, "Because you're Natsu."

He had to smile at her for that, even if it went against the point he was trying to make. Yeah, even if Lucy had somehow villainously turned against him, had shot that magic at him herself with the intention to kill, he would have still sought her out. He would have still tried to make sure she was okay, and help her in anyways he could. He was always a crazy man, especially when it came to his family, his friends, his… Lucy.

"But I didn't just do this because I'm Natsu. I did this because you're Lucy," He tried to reach out for her hand again, this time reaching for the unbandaged one. He mentally cheered when she allowed her limp hand to fall into his.

He couldn't help but notice the hand that was bandaged was the one her guild mark was imprinted on. He couldn't only hope it was intact, that she hadn't erased the mark in haste and emotional turmoil, but he couldn't be sure. Her hand could truly be damaged, and the bandages were covering an injury he wasn't aware of. But that was only a hope that he was beginning to think might be just that, a wish for something untrue.

He gently raised her hand into his lap as he let his thumb rub comforting circles over the skin, "I can't have you hurting all alone."

Lucy seemed to give up her argument after that, keeping her gaze down as she remained in deep thought. He figured she was probably trying to make sense of his words, trying to put the pieces in her puzzle. They sat in silence for a few minutes, Natsu letting Lucy sift through her thoughts until the awareness returned to her eyes. He was using his thumb to brush against her wrist just below the scratches she made moments ago by the time she looked at him again.

"Does this mean you're not going back to Fairy Tail?" She looked defeated, like she already knew the answer before she asked it.

"I'm not leaving you," he responded sincerely, making his grip on her hand just the slightest bit tighter.

She nodded in understanding, clearing her throat as she still avoided Natsu's gaze, "I hope you know I'm not going back."

He forced the disappointment out of his features. He had a feeling it would be hard to get her to leave with him, but it still left him feeling a little hollow that she had made it known so blatantly that she wasn't going back to Fairy Tail.

"Ever?" He asked, fear trickling into his question as the idea of a Lucy-less future cemented itself in his mind.

"I'll go back one day, just not today. I need to prove myself before I can show my face to the rest of the guild. I need to train, to get stronger."

He wanted to argue with her again, to tell her that she didn't need to prove herself. He wanted to nail it into her brain that she was strong, loved, and appreciated. He wanted to wrap her in his arms and carry her back to the guild hall himself, but she was a shell of the girl he knew. Doing that to her would be the same as crushing the little bit of trust she had in him, the trust that let him hold her hand.

He realized that nothing he said right now was going to get through to Lucy, nothing was going to change her mind as much as training would change her outlook on herself. What she needed was support, she needed someone to believe in her. And if that meant Natsu would be spending a few weeks, or even months, away from the guild in order to help her find herself again then he would do it. He would sacrifice whatever he needed to in order to be there for her, in order to help her build her confidence again so she could return to the bubbly blonde he loved so much.

But as he looked at the brunette hair across from him, he had to admit he loved this version of Lucy just as much. Her hair may be a few shades darker, and her bright revealing clothes may be replaced with a dark and inconspicuous outfit that let her blend in to the surroundings, but she was still Lucy. Appearance meant nothing, because eventually they would be old and gray and telling the next generation of their escapades as young wizards.

Who cared if Lucy was a brunette for a few months? She was still his Lucy.

"If it's training you want, I'm all in," Natsu smirked down at Lucy as she whipped her head up at the dragon slayer, "I'm always ready for a challenge. Why don't we train together?"

"You want to train with me?" She asked in awe, as if she hadn't thought of this outcome before, "You're not going to force me to go back to Magnolia? Back to Fairy Tail?"

"Of course not," as he spoke, he could see the relief pass through her like a tidal wave. Instantly her body relaxed, letting her shoulder slump against her torso, "I'd never force you to do anything. If you don't want to go back to the guild yet, I'll stay with you until you do. We'll do this together, just don't leave me behind again okay?"

"I'm sorry I left so suddenly," She tried to apologize but Natsu was quick to stop her.

"I don't hold anything against you, Lucy. If anyone should be apologizing, it's Gray. And he will when we get home, but he'll just have to wait for a bit."

"He doesn't have to apologize," Natsu frowned at her response.

He knew he couldn't expect her to believe his words, couldn't expect her to drop the self hated she'd developed during her long journey, but he could wait for her. He could be by her side each step of the way until she was healed. It was going to be a challenge getting her to accept that she wasn't weak, that she was a strong capable woman with many talents and strengths, that she was a valuable asset to Fairy Tail.

But he always liked a challenge.

WOW HI! I know it's been awhile but I'm finally back with Fairy Tail!

So, as for Lucy's little panic attack, I really hope I portrayed it okay? I always try to take examples from my real life to make things as realistic as possible, and that is something I experience when I get anxious. I know things can be different for different people, and I wanted to make it clear what really happened during that attack for Lucy.

The heat was literally all apart of her anxiety, not from any residual effects from Jonathon Barsoni. I don't want anyone thinking she's infected again or something lol but the feeling did freak her out and push her panic a bit more because the heat felt similar.

So anyways! Now that Natsu found her, we're about halfway through the story! We're gonna see some power upgrades and then it time to head back to the guild! Once Lucy decided to that is :)

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