Disclaimer: I do not own Fairy Tail or anything associated with it.

A/N: The original idea for this fic was inspired by Wacko12's own Beginning of END.

warning(s): AU. Genderswapped Natsu. END!Natsu. Possible instances of OOCness. Mentions as well as instances of violence/blood/gore, etc. Swearing. Obviously END's backstory will also be different to what it is in canon.

Enjoy!


Awakening


Natsumi Dragneel, daughter of the King of Fire Dragons, was absolutely not in denial. There was nothing special about the way sweat dripped down the exposed planes of the ice mage's chest and glistened over his abs like someone had thrown glitter on him.

Not at all.

Just like there was no meaning behind her looking forward to going to the guild hall everyday just to look for the guild's serial stripper, so she could admire how toned his body was. Nope, nothing special about Gray Fullbuster in the slightest. If someone were to ask her if she liked the walking ice dispenser, she would make a disgusted face crying 'NO!'. Then whip herself in his direction and proceed to punch him in the face for being at least partially naked (because come on, Gray is always missing a piece of clothing somewhere on his body).

No, Natsumi Dragneel was most definitely not in denial.

In the days since she'd first met the stripping ice wizard, there had been something about him that had slowly crept its way into the back of her mind. Squeezing at her heart in an uncomfortable, but manageable manner.

Despite her pitiful attempts at trying not to notice him, he somehow always managed to catch her attention. Always on the periphery of her vision and it wasn't just his unusual habit of taking his clothes off for no apparent reason. Even on the days they'd fight, bicker, and (on the rarer, or forced, occasions) work together that same strange goosebump inducing feeling would come over her. Whispering to her with words she couldn't quite decipher.

So, she said to herself, over and over again as reassurance:

He was her friend.

He was her comrade.

He was her Nakama.

Yet, no matter how many times she repeated those words to herself, all she could do was hide the feelings she got whenever he was near. Those same feelings that would set her heart racing when she would find herself staring at the stripping wizard. Eyes unconsciously finding the man without her really noticing because he's always there.

When Gray would suddenly finds himself in the midst of danger, her breath catches in her throat and her heart seized painfully.

The long, tree-like body turned, intent on cracking the ice shield Gray had erected to protect the guild masters and Lucy.

For a moment Natsumi found herself wanting to rip Gray apart for throwing himself into harm's way so easily, but she knew that he would protect others over himself anyway. Even if he didn't particularly care for them. Then there was Lucy and Gramps too, his Nakama. He cared for them. She couldn't hate him for that.

He was a hero.

He was her hero.

Yet he was about to die, and no one—not Lucy, not Gramps, not even Erza—could get there in time.

"GRAY!" Natsumi screeched—feet locked in place, legs stiff and impossibly heavy—as Gray's barriers were shattered in seconds, shards of ice splintering everywhere. Why couldn't she move? Her fists ached to bury themselves into that bastard's wooden face, but she found herself frozen where she stood and an unsettling feeling wrenched at her heart and body telling her of how she had failed him—failed everyone, and there was nothing she could do.

Flashes passed by her gaze, Gray stumbling back with arms held up to protect his face, shouting to Lucy to escape while he gave her as much time as he could buy for her to do so. Despite the blonde's protests she froze, probably taken in by fear and the realization that they were all going to die.

She had to do something! Even the guild masters had deserted Gray, fleeing the battlefield as the ice-mage risked his own precious life for theirs. Then she looked up and lost the ability to breathe again as she gawked.

Lullaby neared her nakama like a—well—demon, ready to swallow whole what she held so dear in a single gulp. Gray stepped back, gritting his stupidly perfect white-as-snow teeth.

And she couldn't move.

"Move, move, move, or he'll be gone!"

A whisper, harsh as ice and rougher than stone grated on her ears and echoed through her body. She found herself glancing around briefly to see if anyone else had heard it, only to find it was a pointless endeavor as everyone was panicking in their own way at the terrible situation before them.

Am I going insane? She wondered fleetingly as it would certainly be easier to think about that than admit Gray was about to die!

She gripped her head and yanked at her hair as her attention was split between the powerful voice resounding throughout her whole being and Gray in the perilous position he'd put himself in. Confusion and absolute terror at the forefront of her mind.

'I don't know what to do….'

"You know what to doyou've always known, just forgotten. Speak the words of what you will accomplish."

It was then that something opened a door in her mind and said, 'Oh, that's right,' and she realized the truth. Only she could stand between Gray and his impending demise and there was nothing and no one who could stop her now. Not Erza, not the guild master, and certainly not that feeling of fear trying to weigh her down again. Not even the whispering from the rational part of her brain saying that Lullaby was too powerful.

The voice's words having given her permission to unseal the prison surrounding the furnace that was her heart and all her fears and doubts shrivel in its increasing heat.

No way was she going to let that icy blockhead die! Not at the hands of some lowlife demon trash!

Without realizing what she was doing, Natsumi's lips began to move, screaming as a screeching tone of voice followed her own, yet she agreed wholeheartedly with it.

"I WILL NOT ALLOW HIM TO DIE!" It was an inhuman roar that scorched the landscape and turned it to smoldering embers. Rocks clattered about from the shockwaves of power that the foreign voice commanded.

And then Natsumi began to change, her eyes glinted and changed from onyx black to a blazing fire of glittering gold. Her body became lighter, enabling her to move faster than she'd ever been able to before.

Lullaby was already dead, it just didn't know it yet.

What transpired next remained in her memories as hazy fog, ever present but not really clear. Consumed by the fiery trenches of this newfound power she lunges forward in a sudden rush—no longer frozen—leaping on her feet with impeccable balance, a single thought taking over her mind.

Save him. Save him! Save him!

And like a demon possessed, Natsumi raised her hand outward, guided by a force unknown. She would end this now, for a raging inferno had taken over her heart and given her a moment of near impossible clarity.

And within that clarity she had her answer.

She needed to make a decision.

So, she decided to win.

"GRAY!" Natsumi shouted again.

Just when its fist was about to make contact with Gray's being, it was abruptly severed. A clean, singular cut running from the shoulder down. Purple light poured from the new wound as the limb dropped like dead weight, shriveling with Lullaby now roaring in pure agony.

It was in that moment Gray found himself looking up at his savior, blinking in disbelief (and more than a little shock). His impossibly wide eyes registered that it was none other than Natsumi standing solidly like a wall, between Gray and the roaring Lullaby. Her back was to him so he couldn't see her face and its changes. Gray did notice, however, that Natsumi was holding a weapon in her hand, recognizing it as a sword.

'Where did she...?' The sword looked like a cross between a standard broadsword and a zweihander, the cross guard resembled a mini pair of bat-like wings with the top half of a skull in the center. Both the handle and the handguard were a crisscross pattern of black and blood-red, what looked like scales wrapped around the top and bottom. The pommel at the bottom was shaped with a circle, and inside a five-pointed star. Gray saw the blade glow blood red, showing carved characters that seemed to fade away, a pitch black scabbard now resting on Natsumi's back with little chains wrapping around it.

"O-oi, Natsumi where did you-"

"Get back Gray."

Gray watched his longtime friend and rival raise her demonic looking sword to her side, racing off towards Lullaby at a speed he'd never seen her achieve before. The demon had recovered enough from her last attack that it was now glaring down at her tiny form with absolute hatred.

"Why, you—! I'll kill you for that!" Lullaby roared again, hurling its remaining fist directly at Natsumi.

The fist hit the ground, shaking the nearby mountains and causing the ground around them to leap and lurch beneath them with Natsumi disappearing from sight. The dragon slayer almost instantly reappeared on what was now little more than a stump from the severed arm. The dragon slayer ran across its shoulder heading straight for Lullaby's face. All the while gripping the sword with both hands, letting it drag along the exterior of the beast's shoulder creating a deep crevice in the wood.

Lullaby howled in excruciating pain while thrashing wildly, "Damn you, human! You cannot defeat me!" it cursed, slamming its remaining hand down on Natsumi's form.

"NATSUMI!" Gray cried out while his knees buckled, forcing more of his weight onto Lucy who had scrambled over to his side when Natsumi had attacked as they both witnessed the girl they thought of as a dear friend and guildmate be crushed to death.

A mournful cry permeated the air around them as the seconds following stretched out to a seeming eternity before a 'CRACK' split the air and Lullaby's hand splintered, fissures of purplish energy seeping out just as it was blown to pieces. The outraged demon could only screech in more pain as it staggered backwards waving the splintered stump (like that would stop the excruciating feeling of where its hand had exploded) before something caught its attention at the edge of its vision. Suspended in midair was Natsumi, sword poised to deliver the final blow.

Time seemed to slow down again, but this time Lullaby was going to be the one to die. Its current helpless state of being down two limbs was no longer at the forefront of its mind as its focus narrowed down to the being that would be ending its life in short order.

'H-her eyes! …Her eyes!' Lullaby's own thoughts had reduced it to cowering in fear.

Natsumi's eyes were not their warm, inviting brown, but a cold, ruthless glittering gold with slitted pupils. In them lurked a raging inferno capable of incinerating everything in its path without mercy. The eyes of something so horrible Zeref could not fully contain it. Only two beings could have the power to make Lullaby feel such fear, one being Zeref himself, its creator, and the other...

The runes inscribed along Natsumi's blade flared to life, pulsating waves of power vibrating through the air, the middle of the blade cracking open like a demon's eye opening for the first time in centuries—fiery orange in color and a black-slitted pupil.

Natsumi's grip tightened on the blade, speaking in a voice not entirely her own, "Oblivion."

The ensuing shriek of pure agony from Lullaby was truly deafening. The following slash cleaved the demon in half, right down the middle, causing any splinters to go flying while shaking the surrounding terrain with tremors. No one even had time to breathe a full breath before Lullaby's two halves fell with a shuddering 'WHUMP', adding another tremor to the ground roiling below everyone's feet. It then dissipated, burning away to ash that was scattered in the wind. The spectators could only look on, horrified and dumbfounded, at what Natsumi had just accomplished. With a single blow, the dragon slayer had decimated one of Zeref's most feared demons.

None of that was of any import to Natsumi however. Standing up and sheathing the blade, the dragon slayer's sole focus became finding Gray, spurred on by the voice in her head. Just as she took the first step to find the ice mage, the immense surge of power she had felt washed right out of her, leaving behind her exhausted body. Natsumi fell, already slipping into the realm of unconsciousness, her eyes reverting to onyx and slipping shut. The last thing she saw was a flash of navy blue and pale looking skin diving forward to catch her as she fell and a crowd of people swarming around them.

~x~

"The issue of Eisenwald may have been dealt with, but the root of the problem still remains," a member of the magic council announced to the rest of the members, Org the second seat, discussing the recent event involving Eisenwald and Lullaby.

Another member commented, "There are as many dark guilds as there are stars in the sky."

"Then we should devise a plan that will wipe them all out at once," another member named Hugo stated. He wore a dark navy-blue cloak that had patterns of the moon and silver stars along the edges. Only one silver-colored eye was visible through his hooded face.

"And how do you propose we go about doing that?" a tall middle-aged man called Leiji asked, his hood up, eyes concealed by small, round black glasses.

"Regardless, I will not stand for Zeref's magic falling into their hands again!" Org declared. He was a tall, elderly man with a considerably long beard and mustache. He had pointed ears and what seemed to be a bat on his head.

"How was it that they were able to attain such magic in the first place?" a fourth member of the council asked, this one named Yajima, a small, short old man with thick light-brown eyebrows and a toothbrush-like mustache. A three-pointed hat covered his head.

"Blame runs all the way up into the administrative level," a fifth member, Michello, responded grimly. A small man with distinct cat-like features. "Rather, we should be grateful such an artifact was destroyed."

"To Fairy Tail, the guild you have all dubbed as a thorn in our sides, for saving us." They all turned towards a young man with light blue hair and a red tattoo going above and underneath his one eye.

"They managed to wipe out a dark guild with only four or five people. Impressive," the woman beside him, Ultear, added. She had a rather voluptuous looking figure, wearing a long revealing dress sporting a striped pattern. The rest of the council made a noise of annoyance.

"I realize it is difficult for you all to accept, but it is a fact," Siegrain said, "in fact this may even just call for a reward of some kind..."

"Like hell we would!" Org snapped, his composure slipping. "It's true we would have been in dire straits should anything have befallen those guild masters, however we must not overlook the damage that was done unto Clover Town!" he added, earning a laugh from the younger. "This is no laughing matter Siegrain. Do you have any idea how much it will cost to rebuild that one town?"

"If you are so troubled by it, then why not send someone to confront the girl responsible?" Siegrain suggested.

"Girl? Didn't you just say it was a group?" the council woman, Belno, queried.

"It was a group that destroyed the guild at Oshibana station, however a large part of the destruction, as well as Erigor's defeat, and the complete destruction of Lullaby were all done by one girl," Ultear explained. The rest of the council looked shocked at this.

"Who?" Michello asked. "Who would possess such power?"

A projection lacrima was brought up in the center of the gathered council members, projecting an image of the wizards during the fight against Lullaby eventually showing a certain pink-haired dragon slayer administering the finishing blow. The surrounding council men and women watched with varying looks of awe.

"Natsumi Dragneel, also known by her title of 'Salamander', is Fairy Tail's Dragon Slayer. According to the eyewitness accounts we received, she was the one who completely decimated Lullaby," Siegrain explained after the image faded, the lacrima sinking back down.

"I propose we send a representative immediately to investigate, and I nominate myself or Ultear to go."

"Why one of you?" Yajima asked. He couldn't help being suspicious.

"Natsumi Dragneel is clearly far more powerful than we have given her credit for," Ultear commented, addressing the remainder of the council with a mask of indifference. "From the time since I first joined the council, all I have been hearing is talk of how annoying and troublesome Fairy Tail is. Siegrain and I are curious, more than anything," she added.

The other council members looked at one another, low murmurs being heard, before finally reaching a decision. "Very well! We will send you, Siegrain, to investigate this at once. Where are they now?"

"The rune knights are holding them at where the Guild Masters meeting was held, they have permitted no one to leave. Apparently right after Lullaby's annihilation Natsumi Dragneel fell unconscious." Ultear said.

"I will head out immediately," Siegrain announced.

"Alright. Remember, we expect a full report on your findings, especially about this Natsumi Dragneel character. Any person capable of killing a demon of Zeref with such ease, should have a close eye kept on her. Exercise caution around her too," Org said. He looked a tad more disturbed than the rest.

"Of course," Siegrain said. The magic circle beneath his feet shimmered, fading out of existence allowing him to descend back onto the lower level, Ultear following right behind him. A noticeable smirk came onto his face once the two of them were alone.

"So what do you make of this development?" Ultear asked. Siegrain shrugged.

"It is as Org said, someone who can kill a demon of Zeref so easily, even if it was a weaker one is someone to be cautious of. That being said, she certainly is an interesting one, that Natsumi Dragneel," Siegrain said. He folded his arms. "Up until now her mannerisms and magical levels seem different."

"Indeed," Ultear commented with a nod. "While she may not have been anything to completely dismiss, she was nowhere near the level that we saw just now. That sword that appeared also piqued my interest," she said, recalling the blade Natsumi summoned.

"You noticed it too?" Siegrain asked.

Ultear nodded.

"When she ran in to protect that ice mage it appeared," Siegrain stated, holding his chin in thought. "I wonder what the relationship between the two are?"

"You mean Gray Fullbuster?" Ultear asked. Her only response was a nod, watching Siegrain leave the room to head out to where Natsumi and the others were. She watched until he left, a sinister grin of her own forming shortly after. 'Even Master Hades would be interested in Natsumi Dragneels sudden development, I should report to him as soon as I am able. Whether it's the sword or even Gray himself. For the sake of creating the Great world of Magic I will find out!'

~x~

"Get up."

When the Dragon Slayer didn't immediately move, she felt several sharp nudges to her side. Causing her to stir awake, the foot stopped its nudging and she blinked with weary eyes. She slowly sat up, scratching her head and shaking it, a wave of dizziness washing over her.

"Ugh," she groaned, "where the heck am I?"

The first thing she did was check to make sure her precious scarf was still intact and around her neck. Upon seeing it still there in pristine condition, the pinkette looked up and noticed her surroundings were rather… empty? Everywhere she looked there was nothing. Complete whiteness. An endless void. She was confused by this weird place.

"W-what the hell is this?" she asked aloud, head whipping in either direction. "Happy! Lucy!" she yelled, distraught at the thought of being alone. 'D-don't tell me...did Lullaby-!?'

"At last you hear my voice," someone said from directly behind Natsumi.

She whirled around, half expecting to find someone from her team. The thing she saw didn't really look like a person. It looked inhuman. It somehow looked like her, but also didn't. For starters there were what looked like horns protruding from their head, and claws for hands. Their whole body was enveloped by flames, but they didn't look to be in pain from them. It was almost as if the flames were part of their very being. The most striking thing about them though, were the gold eyes.

Natsu's eyes narrowed, backing away and trying to light her fists on fire. Only nothing happened. "What-why can't I use my magic?" she cried out, frustrated. "Did… did you do this? Where the heck am I?!"

The being didn't look at all fazed by Natsumi's anger, "In response to your second question, this area is a space you created shortly after coming into possession of the blade, Apocalypse." As if on cue, a familiar looking black scabbard, with inter-linking chains covering it, flashed in midair slowly falling into Natusmi's upheld hands. "Do you not remember?"

Natsumi blinked, flashes of the fight with Lullaby pouring into her mind. Her, Erza and Gray fighting. Her and Erza getting knocked back. Then finally Gray, about to be crushed to death—her fingers clenching around the sheathed sword. It suddenly felt heavier. She swallowed with difficulty.

"Who...are you?" she asked, not entirely sure she wanted to know the answer.

"I am you. The 'you' that you were once meant to be. Created and brought into being by-"

"No way!" she spat vehemently, "you are not me!"

"Let me finish!" the being growled dangerously, the flames covering their body fanning out like a pair of wings meant to cover the sky. Natsumi folded her arms together, giving a 'tch!', but saying nothing more.

"I am the you that was sealed up, meant to be locked away until you were ready."

"Ready for what?" Natsumi asked, not really liking the vague answers she was getting.

"Are you sure you're not Lullaby or something?" she asked skeptically, eyes narrowing suspiciously. "Yeah, I bet that's it, you're just trying to confuse me!" Natsumi yelled, "and where are my friends, huh? Where are Happy, Lucy, Erza, and Gray?"

"They're safe. All of them. Thanks to you waking me when you did," the being said, "As I said before, I am you. The you that was acknowledged as the greatest of all Zeref's creations, E.N.D."

Natsu froze. Her eyes became wide, the other being's words hitting her like a blow to the gut. "Did you say...Zeref? Y-you mean I'm-"

Natsumi felt like her world had suddenly come to a grinding halt. Realization and shock washing over like a bucket of ice cold water.

"Yes. You and I, we are the same person and, while we are similar in some respects to Lullaby, we are also something much greater. We are superior." The being raised one of its clawed hands, flames fanning along the edges, but never touching the fingertips forming to spell a single word: END.

"Your true name is Etherious Natsumi Dragneel, or rather E.N.D." Natsumi stared at the letters. "You are the strongest and most feared of all of Zeref's creations."

Natsumi felt horrified. She couldn't be a demon, much less one of Zeref's personal ones. The notion was too far-fetched, even for her imaginative mind. She had to be human, yeah, this thing clearly had no idea what it was talking about. She couldn't be anything but human. Otherwise she would remember.

Right?

As though reading her thoughts, the being cloaked in fire spoke up again. "As I mentioned before, the part of you that knew and acknowledged itself as a demon was sealed away. That is why there is no recollection of it. It was shortly after the time where Igneel, king of the fire dragons failed in killing you. Your powers, memories, even magic reserves you had built up were all sealed away leaving you as just a regular human. All of this occurred over what is now the span of 400 years ago."

Natsumi didn't say anything, shock evident on her face.

"I am but a small representation of all that, including your feelings for the Ice Make Wizard, without whom I never would have been awoken in the first place," the being explained off-handedly. "Of course, when I say small I do mean 'small'. I am less than even a fraction."

Natsumi however was more focused on the bit about the ice mage. The horror and shock melted away into embarrassment and denial as she dropped the sword and waved her hands frantically. Bright tomato red blush covering her entire face including her ears, turning them darker than her pink hair.

"W-what!? N-no way! I don't-I can't have feelings for Gr-that stripper!" Natsumi yelled, seeing the demonic being looked unconvinced. "I-it's true! Besides, w-what would something like that have to do with you anyway, it's personal!" she huffed, crossing her arms and jerking her head to the side like a child.

"The reason it has to do with me is simple, because the feelings you possess for Gray are similar to the feelings you had over 400 years ago for another man, Asher," the being said, catching Natsumi by surprise.

"Didn't you feel it when you first laid eyes on him back when you first joined the guild? The sensation of longing, like he was someone you should miss and wanted to be around?" Natsumi swallowed, feeling an uncomfortable lump form in her throat. "Isn't that why you always picked fights with him? Why you constantly try to make yourself stick out to him?"

"It was because of those feelings that the seal broke. It did so because you wanted to save him. Do not lie to yourself any longer."

Slowly, Natsumi's hand ebbed its way towards her chest, clutching where her heart was, feeling it hammer in her ribcage. Thoughts of Gray, when Lullaby broke through his shield, filling her mind. She was so confused back when she had first walked into the guild and saw him. There was an undeniable spark that she felt, accompanied by an almost nauseating bout of deja vu.

Only, Gray didn't seem to have any reaction to her appearance. Back then she had simply brushed it off as the deja vu feeling that it had initially been with a slight amount of irritation at the boy who had then stripped bare right in front of her. The two wound up in physical fights as a result of their non stop bickering and were ultimately dubbed by the other guild members as being rivals of all things.

Was it really possible for her to suddenly acknowledge these feelings that made her heart palpitate even now? Doubting they were even true to begin with? Though the name Asher, somehow it just made her heart ache with a different kind of pain that seemed more sorrowful than the nervous fluttering from before.

"And now, you have a choice to make," the being said, tearing Natsumi from her inner thoughts.

"A... choice?" she asked, confusion seeping in as they nodded.

"You can accept your origins. By doing so you would become what you once were, everything would be returned to you, or... " at this they leaned in close, their demonic golden eyes bore into hers, "I take control of your body and ensure what happened to Asher 400 years ago does not happen to Gray."

Natsumi's eyes widened before falling into a heated glare, "What? Like hell I'm letting you take over my body! There's no way I'll let you anywhere near Gray or my other friends!"

The demon scoffed, waving a dismissive hand. "Believe me, those others are worth less than garbage to me. My only concern is the one who looks like Asher. As for the others? I'd kill them myself if they got in my way. Humans are disgusting by nature, selfish, greedy, and cowards. They are all the same, only Asher proved he could be different." Natsumi frowned, her brow settling into a scowl.

"How did Asher die then? Was he attacked?" Natsumi asked, curious more than anything.

"Human greed. It was their insatiable lust for power and ignorance that led to Asher's death." The being answered, voice going soft, "Which is why I will not allow it to happen again. I will kill anyone who gets in my way." The more the being spoke, the hotter and brighter its body got. The flames came alive, spreading throughout the infinite white space, reaching higher and higher. It was like a miniature sun about to blow.

Startled by the other's seeming conviction of the human race, Natsumi took a moment to let everything sink in. She really wanted nothing more than to deny herself being in any way, shape, or form a demon, much less one with relations to Zeref.

Still, everything the being said, even the stuff about her feelings for Gray, it all made some sense to her and answered questions she hadn't even known she'd had. Somewhere in the back of her mind it also dawned on her that without this being, without this power, Gray would have been killed by Lullaby. Just the thought of her longtime friend's death brought an unpleasant feeling to her chest and raised gooseflesh all over.

This could also be her only chance to actually learn about where she came from, before Igneel, like who her parents were.

After what felt like a good long time (because forever without Gray would have felt much worse than this), Natsumi finally spoke, "Alright. What is it you need me to do?"

Satisfied with her answer, the being inclined its head, "For now? Nothing. Do not tell anyone about what you have learned here. In the meantime, I will begin sorting through your memories, once that is done your powers should start returning to you relatively soon." Natsumi nodded.

"For now though, you should return."

"Return?" Natsumi parroted, confused.

"Remember what I said? This is a space you created, here magic is null, its primary function was a prison of sorts." Natsumi took another look around in awe. "Ah, one more thing: The sword. Do not let anyone ever take it."

Natsumi looked down at the sword on the floor then back up to stare, confusion clear on her face as the being only shook its head. "You'll find out what I mean and about Asher too. For now, return to Gray."

With those words, and a small blush of pink on her cheeks, Natusmi snatched up the sword and the white void surrounding them faded. A faint voice reached her ears.

~x~

"...su...! Na...umi!" a familiar voice kept calling.

Natsumi grunted, feeling oddly soothing cold fingers brush against her cheek. Her fingers and nose twitched, picking up the familiar scent of minty forest pine and the smallest hint of cinnamon.

Reluctantly, her eyes cracked open, only to be slammed shut at the near blinding light that greeted her. She risked opening them a second time, and was a tad surprised when she saw several pairs of eyes staring back at her. All with equal amounts of concern and relief in them, one particular pair of dark blue standing out to her.

"Natsumi!" Happy cried out in delight. The little blue cat bulldozed into her chest, giving her a hug as crushing as his tiny paws could manage. Crying and snotting everywhere as he was prone to do when he got emotional.

Her senses were overall still a little blurry, clearing up almost immediately when her eyes met familiar navy blues. Her heart definitely skipped a beat upon seeing him standing beside her bed, hands in his pocket and a smile of obvious relief on his face. Lucy and Erza were there too, along with Master Makarov. However, the only one Natsumi could bring herself to really pay attention to at that moment was Gray.

Living. Breathing. Alive.

"Natsumi, thank goodness!" Lucy said, her voice conveying her absolute joy that her friend woke up.

"It is good to see you finally awake," Erza added, smiling.

"You had us worried, flamebra-" Grays words were abruptly cut off when Natsumi unexpectedly yanked him down by the arm as she sat up (throwing Happy into her lap where he just clutched at her waist and continued crying like he hadn't been moved). Engulfing him in a hug, leaving the rest of the room blinking in surprise and mild shock at what they were witnessing. The raven haired ice mage could only blink wide-eyed and sputtering a bit at the unexpected contact.

"N-Natsumi?" he finally squeaked out, and he was swearing up and down in his head that he felt her shudder a bit.

"I'm so glad you're safe," she whispered, (voice softer than Gray has ever heard it) feeling profoundly grateful for the ice mage's presence in her life and in this very moment. Beside them, the other four all shared a soft look of realization, all but confirming a few of their suspicions some of them had over the years.

The pinkette's words sounded so genuine and full of unabashed relief that Gray couldn't help the small tint of pink that was dusting his cheeks. He tried to play it off with a chuckle that came out more nervous than he wanted and hoped that the dragon slayer didn't notice.

"Y-yeah, well, it was thanks to you really..." Gray mumbled quietly, finally managing to free himself from the tight embrace. "After you defeated Lullaby, you just kind of… collapsed. You were out for almost a whole day. A bunch of Rune Knights showed up after you passed out, asking what hap-"

"They didn't hurt you?" Natsumi cut in, eyes narrowed.

"What? No, of course not!" Gray said quickly, still a bit confused by everything.

"Natsumi."

Said girl turned, looking at the little guild master who spoke. He had a serious look on his face.

"There are a few things I'd like to ask you. The first order of business however, I'm glad you're alright." Makarov said sincerely, the stern expression dissolving for a quick moment or two. "Next, mind telling me where that sword came from?" Natsumi followed his gaze, seeing the same blade as before. The Apocalypse lying harmlessly next to her.

"What do you mean, it's a sword…?" Natsumi stated, raising a brow. "Erza's got tons of them, right?" At this both Makarov and Erza frowned a bit.

"Yes Natsumi, you're right. Still, I don't own any swords quite like that one, nor have I ever seen one crafted like it. On top of that I've never seen you wield a weapon that isn't your fists," the scarlet haired girl remarked. Beside her Lucy looked between them all, confused.

"Natsumi, is that sword... the reason you were able to defeat Lullaby?" Lucy finally asked.

Natsumi looked like she was quickly becoming annoyed with all the questions aimed at her. She had just woken up, after all. Just when she felt she was going to snap at them, familiar cool fingers brushed against her without meaning to.

Her eyes immediately shot to Gray, who seemed to catch this and, blushing, shoved his hands as deep into his pockets as they could go. Effectively keeping his traitorous digits away from the pretty dragon slayer as he averted his eyes to a corner of the room.

Makarov noticed this silent exchange, his eyes softening just a bit and his lips twitched as they worked to keep the smirk off his face as he looked between Natsumi and Gray. The moment was ruined though, when Natsumi's stomach decided to let everyone know just how empty and in need of food it was.

The rest of the team gained a visible sweat drop at the back of their heads, some heaving a sigh of exasperation. Only Gray seemed to chuckle a bit, his features softening back into the small smile from before, pink gone from his cheeks. Natsumi thought it was adorable.

"Sorry guys, guess I'm hungry!" Natsumi said loudly, rubbing the back of her head as she stretched. She reached for her sword so she could sling it onto her back once she got up from the bed, but was stopped by the pleasantly cool touch on her skin, pressing her to lay back down. Gray scowled slightly at her.

"Idiot, you still need to rest," The ice mage scolded lightly.

"I feel fine," Natsumi argued, trying again to get up (it totally wasn't a ploy to get the ice mage to hold her down—nope not at all).

At this, Erza decided to get involved. Hands on her hips she shuffled over until she was towering over the pinkette, "Gray's right, Natsumi. Even though you defeated Lullaby there's no telling the kind of strain that was placed on your body when you used... whatever magic you did."

"I said I'm fine. Besides, I had to do something. It was gonna kill Gray!" Natsumi declared hotly, not noticing the shamed flush overcoming the man as he turned, trying to hide his face.

Makarov couldn't resist the urge to tease after seeing how easily flustered the ice mage was becoming, "Oho~! So long as Gray is fine, nothing else matters, eh Natsumi?"

"G-Gramps!" Gray yelled.

Before Natsumi could fire back with a retort of some kind, there was a knock at the door. A second later it opened revealing a Rune Knight. "Members of Fairy Tail, I am here to inform you that in light of recent events, a member of Era's own magic Council is on their way to assess both the damages done unto Clover Town for which Fairy Tail is responsible as well as one Natsumi Dragneel's involvement with the destruction of Lullaby. They will be arriving shortly."

"A member of the council is coming here?" Makarov said, clearly shocked.

The Rune Knight nodded. "Yes. I will inform you of their arrival."

Natsumi and the others watched him leave. Each showing different reactions; Natsumi looked indifferent, not at all concerned. Makarov and Lucy looked a bit more apprehensive, with Makarov starting to look almost nauseous at the realization that he would most likely be the one to have to pay for all the damages. Erza appeared calm on the surface but was having more of an internal dilemma.

"It's just like those bastards to come all the way out themselves," Gray commented, making Natsumi smile a bit.

"Aye," Happy piped up, looking more like his namesake and less like he had allergies.

"Oh no, they're punishing us for doing all that damage to Clover Town! Aaaahh! What do we do?" Lucy said, her thoughts of punishment from the council causing her to become more scared by the second.

"I don't think they're coming to punish us," Erza said, "Natsumi destroyed Lullaby, a demon of Zeref and we successfully subdued Eisenwald. All in all, the good outweighs the bad. They are probably coming to confirm whether or not Lullaby is actually destroyed."

"Y-you think so?" Lucy asked, feeling slightly relieved.

Erza nodded, "It would cause a panic should such magic be allowed to fall into the wrong hands again. We were lucky this time."

"Still, how the heck did flamebrain manage to beat it?" Gray asked.

Natsumi shrugged, seeing all eyes turn on her. Erza's and Master's lingering on the sword she had slung onto her back. Natsumi took this opportunity to approach Gray.

"Gray," The ice mage blinked, shifting a little uncomfortably under the other's intense stare. It was suddenly replaced by Natsumi's signature grin. "Are you hungry at all?"

"Uh...wha...?"Gray stammered. He looked a bit thrown off, a tint of pink dusting his cheeks once again.

The rest of the team blinked. Why was Natsumi suddenly so focused on Gray?

"She liiiiikes him~!" Happy piped up, holding a paw to his mouth.

"Stop saying that!" Lucy yelled.

The words of her demon half were still fresh in Natsumi's mind. 'It was because of those feelings that the seal broke. Because you wanted to save him. Do not lie to yourself any longer.' She still wondered about the blade as well and how it was forged. When she wielded it against Lullaby, it felt like it was somehow made for her. The way the demonic being spoke also made it sound like there was some connection between it and her feelings for this Asher person. Then there was Gray.

"Er, I just thought, ya know...since we're a 'team' and all..." Natsumi added, stealing a glance at his face.

"Now that you mention it," Lucy interrupted while looking thoughtful, her own stomach giving a rumble, "we haven't eaten since we all left the guild, have we?" Erza and Makarov's stomachs resounded through the small room, confirming the pressing need to get sustenance.

"Well!" Makarov said. The others turned to look at him. "I suppose we can hold off on this conversation for now. I believe there are still some hors d'oeuvre and such in the hall."

Natsumi grinned heading for the door, "Really? What're we waiting for then?"

With a toothy grin she proceeded to kick open the door as though it were their own guild doors. However, instead of the door bursting open with a bang, the feeble wooden door had shattered completely, the surrounding wall around it cracking from the pressure of Natsumi's kick.

There was a moment of heavy silence. The rest of Team Natsumi, Makarov and the surrounding Rune Knights outside all stood gap jawed. The rest of the Guild masters were all there as well, having returned from their rather shameful display of cowardice when they ran earlier. Natsumi herself was a tad bit shocked before remembering that this was more than likely part of her 'returning power'.

After another long moment of silence, Natsumi smiled bashfully while lowering her leg and biting her lip as she hadn't actually intended to break anything (not that she's actively trying to break stuff, she just gets a little overzealous when she's excited). "Ah, sorry! Guess I got a little carried away!" she said, laughing nervously.

The guild masters, Erza, Gray, the Rune Knights—some of them shaking their heads in exasperation—Makarov and Lucy were a little slack-jawed.

"A-a little!?" Lucy yelled, probably overreacting as she tended to do in situations like these (Lucy says her reactions are appropriate but Natsumi has yet to see how).

"In any case, let's go find some grub!" Natsumi cheered, redirecting everyone's attention back to the real issue here, and without really thinking her arm looped around Gray's as she pulled him along and towards the meeting hall where the all important food was supposedly located.

"W-wait Natsumi!" he squawked as he was forcibly dragged down the hall, color more prominently adorning his cheeks.

Meanwhile, the demonic entity Natsumi had encountered was watching everything from the girl's mindscape, looking between the pinkette and Gray. Their eyes lingering a few seconds longer on the ice mage. It watched as Gray continued his protests until he succeeded in pulling his arm free of hers, then moved on to teasing her as she shoveled in food like a starved mutt.

"He looks so much like Asher," The being commented, softly shifting its gaze back onto Natsumi.

"Natsumi, this time for certain. You must protect him. It will be a harsh road from here on, the sins of the past cannot be easily forgotten by some. Especially those that hurt the ones we love," they finished grimly.


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