Lucy still had nightmares about her time in the Heartfilia estate.

Sometimes it was about her dad; usually it was about her mom.

She'd dream of her mother's last moments, dream of the haunting image of her frail, sickly body wasting away against the shockingly bright and colorful bedding, the contrast not doing any good for Lucy's aching heart.

She'd dream of her mother's smile, her laugh, the way she'd still make the effort to lift Lucy onto her lap and read to her despite really not having the energy to do so. She'd remember the way she'd poke Lucy's tiny belly and promise her all sorts of things; telling her how much fun they were going to have once she got better.

Only she never got better.

Lucy's mother just got worse and worse and the only thing her younger self could do was watch as her coughing fits turned into blood baths; watch as her hands trembled while she struggled to hold a book; watch as she curled up on herself, coughing up copious amounts of blood and gasping for air, tears streaming down both her and Lucy's face as her father forced her out of the room before rushing to his dying wife's aid.

He'd told her to go to her room, to wait until he got back and that her mother needed to rest.

Lucy knew he was lying, knew her mother's final moments had touched the light of day. So even as the maids were pleading with her and trying to pull her away from the ominous double doors separating her and her parents, Lucy stayed put; refused to budge no matter how much they pulled at her.

To this day, she wished she had. Her mother's final words were ones that would stick with her for the remainder of her damn life.

"Lucy," she'd croaked. "Lucy, I'm sorry." And then, to her father. "Please, please look after her. Please look after my baby, Jude- I-" she cut herself off, her coughs interrupting her desperate pleas for Lucy's safety.

Even at her deathbed, Layla Heartfilia was the best mother anyone could ever wish for.

With a shout, Lucy shot up in bed, fingers clutching tightly at the sheets as she wildly looked around. Her hair was matted down with cold sweat, her fingers trembling over the tight grip she held on her bedsheets and Lucy didn't need to check to know that she was crying. Her mother's voice was still ringing in her head, after all.

"...Lucy?" At the sound of his groggy voice, Lucy looked over, only mildly surprised to find that her living furnace had crawled into bed with her sometime during the night. The familiar shock of pink hair was a complete mess, telling her that he'd been here a while and normally she'd yell at him; normally she'd kick him out, but she just…

A sob broke through the barrier of her lips, shattering any possible façade of strength she could've had. Although if Lucy were to be honest, there was no way she'd have been able to keep it up for long anyway.

Her cries, however, seemed to evoke an almost instinctual response out of her dragon slayer because almost like fucking clockwork, Natsu sat up, worry clouding his face immediately as he reached for her; any possible sign of sleep he'd had only seconds before pushed aside without a moment's hesitation and really, she didn't deserve him.

"Lucy," his hands reached for her face, calloused thumbs brushing away at her tears. "Lucy, what's wrong?"

He sounded almost panicked, clearly not knowing what to do at the sight of the blond in utter hysterics. Under different circumstances, Lucy may have found it in herself to laugh.

Unfortunately for the both of them, she couldn't bring herself to; couldn't even bring herself to question him as to why the hell he was in her bed. What she could do, however, was frantically kick away at the sheets and climb out of bed, the combination of the humid blankets and Natsu's natural body heat only serving to suffocate her while she was already gasping for air.

She didn't respond to his calls, didn't turn at the sound of his bare footsteps padding after her. Lucy headed straight for the kitchen, her hands flying over the sink and turning the tap with enough force to risk breakage. The sound of water splashing against the tiles was almost grounding, the feeling of it as she doused her head under, both to cool off and to clear any tear stains, even better.

Please look after my baby.

Fuck, she'd never get over it.

When she felt she'd had enough, Lucy turned the tap off. She shook her hair out like a wet dog, her breathing slow but consistent.

Good, that was a good thing. She could finally breathe again, didn't feel like clawing at her own throat anymore, didn't feel like she was fucking dying-

The oh so familiar feeling of flames licking up her body was what snapped her out of her quickly spiraling thoughts; Natsu's heat enveloping her very being as he reached over her with one of her fluffy pink towels. He dropped it over her head, his movements almost too gentle as he carefully - not to mention silently - wriggled the towel back and forth to dry off her hair, for once having the sense to realize that doing things his way, with literal fire, certainly wasn't going to get them anywhere tonight.

Lucy knew him well enough to know that he was worrying himself sick. She almost smiled. A worried Natsu wasn't one you saw often.

With slightly less shaky hands than before, Lucy's fingers touched over his, nudging them off her head so she could proceed to finish the toweling process herself. "I'm fine, Natsu," she finally said, sounding decidedly not fine at all. "Go back to bed."

"Like hell you are," he grumbled. Lucy didn't need to look to know he was crossing his arms over his chest. "Go back to bed? Normally you would've kicked me out by now-"

The anger that followed was fully irrational. "Either go back to bed or go home, Natsu, your choice." She snapped, her hands stopping the movement in order to glare up at him.

Natsu flinched back at her tone and immediately, Lucy felt guilty. She wasn't being fair on him, he was just worried, she knew that, but-

With a deep, guttural sigh that had smoke coming out of his nostrils (wow), Natsu tugged the towel off her slightly damp hair, carelessly tossing it somewhere on the kitchen counter behind him. The next thing he did was snake his hand around Lucy's shaky wrist and drag her back with him; because apparently go back to bed included the both of them and honestly? Lucy didn't even have the energy to protest, the crying and the heart-wrenching pain having taken enough out of her to render her out of commission for two days straight.

So she just let him. Let him take her back to bed, let him tuck the both of them in, let him push her closer until she was cuddling up against his chest; his heat, albeit overwhelming, strangely comforting.

Natsu didn't question her further, even if he was positively bouncing to do so. His heart was beating so fast against her ear, Lucy almost thought it was going to burst.

She couldn't tell him though, didn't even want to tell him. For as much as she trusted him, this was just something Lucy felt she had to get through on her own. No matter how much he'd ask, no matter how much it hurt, Lucy was stubborn and she would stay with her decision until the end.

Her mother had wanted her to be strong. Lucy wasn't going to inconvenience anyone else with her problems.

It was the least she could do.

Lucy's other nightmares were much simpler, and definitely less haunting.

That said, they still hurt like a bitch.

The next set of nightmares were about her father, because who would've guessed?

They were about his slow but steady spiral into madness, about his simultaneously growing and emptying alcohol stash. Lucy would watch him down three different bottles of wine, whiskey and whatever other alcohol they had at hand back to back without break, his hand reaching for another as soon as the current one had given its final drop.

When he wasn't drinking, he was throwing himself into his work. The Heartfilia name becoming more and more known over the country the more he slaved over whatever the hell their family's treasures were made of and the longer this went on, the more Lucy was starting to lose her kind, sweet papa.

He became cold and maybe a little unstable, barely giving Lucy a spare glance just because of the fact she was the absolute spitting image of her late mother. She'd come to him, in need of comfort like any other child who'd just recently lost her mother, and all he'd do was turn away, calling for one of the maids or butlers to take her either to her room, the garden or wherever the hell. He didn't really care as long as she was just out of his sight.

Lucy had cried for him the first few times, had struggled against the people trying to drag her away while she continued to wail and reach for him, not understanding why he was sending her away.

Her father had turned around exactly once; the sight of her hysterical form hitting him hard enough to drop the bottle of Brandy he'd been holding at the time. Lucy remembered that day freakishly well, remembered the single tear that had fallen down his left cheek with even better clarity.

It had hurt him, seeing Lucy like that. It had hurt him a lot, but even so, he didn't stop the maids; didn't try to reach for her like she so desperately needed. He'd just looked at her, swallowed whatever lump was stuck in his throat, and turned his back on her.

That was the day Lucy had stopped trying, that gesture alone enough to split her fragile little heart straight down the middle. She'd refused to eat for days after that; had cried for even longer. It wasn't until Aquarius had summoned herself and forced her to eat before holding her close in a rare act of kindness that Lucy finally came back to her senses.

Starving herself wouldn't make her mother happy. It wouldn't make her happy at all.

Lucy stared out in front of her, deep bags underneath her eyes that owed full credit to the nightly terrors plaguing her for two weeks now.

They didn't seem to be getting any better. In fact, they were only getting worse. She'd dream of her mother's corpse, her haunting final words. She'd dream of her father's alcoholism, his neglect and emotional abuse. Back and forth, constantly, like a never-ending cycle of pure childhood trauma.


Levy was on to her. So were Wendy and Lisanna. They never asked what was wrong, easily reading how much Lucy didn't want to talk about whatever the hell was plaguing her, but they each did try to help in their own unique ways.

Levy showered her in book recommendations and would occasionally surprise her by popping up at her apartment with ingredients for hot chocolate or whatever other sweets they could try to whip up.

Lisanna would skip over whenever things got too rowdy. Be it their friends brawling over the silliest of things, or Mirajane drilling her on her ambiguous relationship with Natsu, the youngest of the Strauss siblings would easily swoop in with a gentle arm around Lucy's tired shoulders and drag her away from whatever entity was draining her already limited energy supply.

Then there was Wendy. Sweet, little Wendy.

The young girl probably felt her pain the most, her magic very in tune with her surroundings and by proxy, the emotions of the people around her. Wendy felt her pain, her sorrow, and despite not knowing what was causing it, she tried her utmost best to lighten the load off Lucy's shoulders. She'd ask Natsu to help her with the littlest of things to grant Lucy some breathing room, always made sure to bring over an extra cup of soothing tea for Lucy whenever she was brewing some for Carla and herself and one time, when Lucy had been so drained she'd passed out on Natsu's shoulder, the young mage had walked over and pressed a gentle hand against Lucy's forehead; an incantation on her lips.

Lucy hadn't slept that well in ages.

"Lucy, you want some?" Gray held a bottle out in front of him. She couldn't read the label, but the strong smell of alcohol was enough to tip her off and at the sight of it alone, Lucy almost flinched back.

She wasn't a very heavy drinker, her father's addiction largely to blame, but it wasn't like the sight or smell of a bottle was a trigger for her either. Lucy had pretty much mastered the ability to fake and hide away her pain, growing up as a noble did that to you, but that didn't mean she didn't have to make the conscious choice to do so sometimes. The more her mind wandered, the harder it was to maintain her smile.

"I…" Lucy started, mind already searching for a believable excuse as to why she wouldn't be joining them in the usual festivities today. She'd used the I don't feel like it excuse way too many times this past month and she was sure that if she went for it again, her friends would get suspicious.

"Not everyone is as addicted to drinking as you, Ice Queen," Natsu grumbled from beside her, effectively serving as the perfect distraction and bailing her out of a would-be sticky situation without even realizing it.

"Addict- who the hell said anything about being addicted, Flame Brain?!"

Natsu's grin was challenging, obviously serving to rile the other up but while this usually would be the moment where he'd either launch himself into a fight or snap back with an insult bad enough for Gray to throw the first punch, he now kept his quips pretty mild, his warm hand sliding over Lucy's underneath the table.

Lucy stiffened, realizing in that moment that, shit, maybe Natsu was on to her too. He had been with her when the nightmares started again, after all; had been keeping a close eye on her ever since then actually and Christ, when had her fiery, hotheaded idiot gone and grown up?

Natsu squeezed her hand in a manner that was purely reassuring, his fingers toying with hers even with her lack of response and Lucy had to try really, really hard not to cry just then. He meant well, he meant too well and it was enough for her to want to give up on all this being strong bullshit; enough for her to want to crack and break down, to cry into whoever's arms offered the most comfort in that moment.

She couldn't, of course. That would just negate all her efforts of these past two weeks and she refused to crack just because of a fleeting touch.

After all, Lucy Heartfilia wasn't anything if not stubborn.

Her third and final set of nightmares had her running out of her apartment in the middle of the night.

These ones were different from the others; very different from the others. The previous ones hadn't brought anything new to the table, had been rather keen on forcing Lucy to relive her worst childhood memories on constant repeat, to force her to remind everything she'd fought so hard to forget in her journey to adulthood.

They objectively sucked. Haunted her and led to countless of sleepless and teary nights but these new ones were...they were just straight up chilling.

These ones involved her losing the people she cared about, losing the people she still had.

It could be Happy getting caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, or Erza finally meeting a foe she couldn't beat. It could be Wendy getting ambushed on her own, Gray disappearing without a single trace or even Natsu losing himself to whatever demon Zeref had left with him; whatever demon was possibly still lurking inside of him.

It could be any of that, but the result always, always stayed the same.

Lucy, left alone, losing the only family she still had left.

It was the one thing she never, ever wanted in her life.

So when she woke up that night, once again sweating from head to toe and trembling like a child, only to find that her bed was cold and there wasn't any sign of loud, obnoxious snoring or an annoying flying cat using her breasts as a makeshift pillow, Lucy felt as if a bucket of ice had been tipped over her head.

She didn't hesitate, her next actions running on sheer autopilot as she scrambled out of bed, slipped on a pair of fluffy slippers, grabbed her keys and dipped; the door falling shut behind her with a finite clink.

Natsu had been heavily debating the ethics of digging through his best friend's diary and whether he could be faulted for it or not when six rapid knocks at his front door startled him out of his thoughts.

His body instantly tensed up, protective - and slightly territorial - instincts instantly flaring up and ready to get at whatever intruder dared to thread onto their property this late at night.

But as soon as that familiar, gnawing feeling had come, it disappeared; his sensitive nose taking in the signature smell of flowers and strawberry shampoo.


Quickly shushing Happy back to sleep, Natsu rushed for the door, completely neglecting to put on a shirt in favor of getting to his clearly restless blonde in record speed to see what in the actual hell she was doing here this late.

Nothing, however, could've prepared him for the sight he was met with upon opening the front door.

Lucy stood in front of him, trembling and shivering on the spot, clad only in a sheer thin top and equally as thin shorts that did absolute shit at keeping her warm in this cold weather.

Her hair was a mess, her eyes were puffy and red and there were fresh tear streaks running down her face, the occasional broken sob slipping through her lips and Natsu saw absolute red.

His vision blurred with pure rage, mind clicking into something primal and it wouldn't surprise him if Lucy later told him that he'd been downright growling because in that single moment, Natsu didn't care for anything other than hunting down whatever the fuck had made his Lucy cry and absolutely fucking decimating it to make sure it never saw the light of day again.

Or at least, that had been the plan, until Lucy crashed into his chest and wrapped her arms around him; her cries only intensifying as soon as she got a hold on him.

"I'm sorry," she cried, rendering an already stunned Natsu absolutely speechless. "I'm so sorry, I just- I woke up and you weren't there and I- I just panicked, I couldn't- I didn't-"

She clutched onto him, her rambling words turning into incoherent gibberish that Natsu couldn't hope to decipher even with his enhanced dragon slayer hearing. She was a mess, frantically trying to explain herself, obviously afraid of something and it absolutely broke him.

"Easy, Luce," he whispered, his arms awkwardly coming up to caress her matted hair because that was all he could do. "It's okay, I'm here, I'm here."

His assurances, as half-assed and uncomfortable as they might've been, seemed to work because her frantic breathing slowed to something a lot more manageable. Her almost painful grip on him lessened too; still unnecessary tight, but at least her nails weren't digging into his skin anymore, her head resting peacefully against his chest.

….at least, until her hyperactive brain reminded her of the next issue.

"Happy," she breathed, her eyes widening again as she looked up at him. Natsu could hear her heart rate picking up again. "Where's Happy?"

"He's sleeping-"

Lucy didn't even let him finish. She pulled away from him at record speed, the action leaving him feeling strangely cold as she hurried for his and Happy's shared bedroom.

And Natsu, as overwhelmed as he was, could only follow.

As soon as she saw him sleeping in his hammock, Lucy dived for Happy, shushing him much like Natsu had done as she pushed the drowsy cat firmly against her chest and carried him with her. She didn't let go even when she crawled into Natsu's bed, hugging him even tighter once she finally laid down and another sob broke through the room.

Natsu hadn't ever had to ask himself this question before, but he figured that if heartbreak really were a thing; this was probably what it felt like.

Seeing her this panicked...this broken...It did things to him; bad things.

This was the girl who'd fought dragons and gods and stared them down even when she was at a disadvantage; the girl who had thrown herself off a tower with zero hesitation simply because she fully trusted Natsu to catch her in time without even having the full confirmation that he'd been there to begin with.

This was Lucy Heartfilia, easily the toughest Celestial Spirit mage in all of Fiore, shivering and crying in his bed.

It was wrong.

It was so, so wrong.

Natsu couldn't stand to look at it.

With the excuse of going to get Lucy something warm to drink, Natsu headed for the kitchen.

His thoughts were a mess, the image of Lucy's panicked, tear-stricken face one that was sure to haunt his memories for years to come. Sure, he'd seen her cry before. Plenty of times actually, Lucy simply was a cryer, but this...this was different. This was way different.

She wasn't just sad or scared, she looked absolutely terrorized and Natsu's brain instantly flashed back to that night weeks ago, when she'd woken up with a cry on her tongue and had damn near drowned herself underneath her own kitchen sink as a result.

Come to think of it, she'd been acting off ever since that day.

Before he could think on it any further, however, his sensitive ears picked up the chilling sound of Lucy's sobbing, the noise enough to block out the new scent of someone familiar coming from his room and Natsu didn't hesitate to hurry back as soon as he could.

What he found was a familiar shock of orange crouching in front of his bed, the combination of a black tux, sunglasses and feline-like ears trademarked to only one of their friends.


He sat back on his haunches, staring up at Lucy with as much concern written over his face as Natsu felt. His hand was on the bedding close to her arm, not quite touching but ready to bring comfort should she need it.

Lucy herself was still lying sideways on the bed, expression empty as she clutched a still-sleeping Happy - damn cat could sleep through an earthquake - to her chest. She was staring blankly out in front of her, clearly looking at the spirit but not seeing him at all.

"Come on, Lucy," Loke urged, his hand reaching for her arm. Natsu almost bristled at the sight. "You can't go on like this, you know that as much as I do."

"I do," she whispered, eyes still unfocused. Her voice sounded so soft, so small, Natsu wanted to throw up. "I really do but...I just can't make it stop."

"You don't need to make it stop, what you need to do is let other people help."

"She wanted me to be strong."

"She wanted you to be happy."

"I-" she glanced up, her eyes falling onto Natsu's frozen form in the doorframe by sheer coincidence but as soon as she caught him, her blank stare started clearing up and another set of tears caught in her eyes. "Natsu," she breathed and at the call of his friend's name, Loke turned around to face him; his conversation with Lucy evidently cut short.

"Hey man," Loke sighed, his body language practically screaming 'awkward' as he got up and waltzed over to where Natsu was still standing.

Natsu only spared him a brief glance and a quick nod, eyes falling back on where Lucy was softly petting the top of Happy's head. "She been like this for a while?"

It wasn't as much a question as it was confirmation, but regardless, Natsu needed to know.

Loke gave a deep sigh, looking back at the woman that had risked her life to save his so many years ago. "Way too long," he answered, lips pulling in a grimace.

Natsu almost flinched, the answer not one he wanted to hear despite already knowing it had been coming.

"Take care of her, man," Loke told him, his palm coming down firmly on Natsu's shoulder as he passed him, before adding, "she hasn't slept in weeks."

Natsu actually did flinch then.

With that, the Celestial Lion disappeared in a flash of bright yellow light that would've been blinding had Natsu not grown used to it by then.

The room fell silent, the only sounds being that of Happy's soft snoring as Lucy continued to idly run her soft fingers through his fur.

They stayed there in silence for a while, each of them waiting for the other to speak first but neither of them wanting to break such a delicate silence as this one. It almost felt as if, should they speak on it, and either of them happened to say the wrong thing, something important would break that day.

Needless to say, neither of them wanted to risk it.

"Natsu," Lucy spoke up, after another short yet agonizing round of chicken. She was still petting Happy, still watching his bedsheets but even as she did so, she kicked half of the blankets away in a gesture that was all too obvious. "I'm cold."

Natsu scoffed, making his way over with a soft roll of his eyes, one knee on the empty space she had left on his bed. "Well then move over, weirdo."

The moment he laid down beside her, Lucy didn't hesitate to crawl into his heat.

It wasn't until three days later that Natsu finally snapped and dragged the one person he was positive knew about whatever the hell was going on out of the guild with him.

"Okay what's going on with Lucy?!"

Loke flinched back, his eyes on the floor and for the first time in all the years that Natsu had known him, the Celestial Spirit looked unsure.

" really ought to ask her that yourself," he said, looking as if it pained him to do so and yeah, he definitely knew what's up.

"She isn't gonna tell me," Natsu scoffed. "For whatever reason, she doesn't want to tell me what in the hell has got her this depressed these last few weeks."

"She's stubborn," Loke admitted, still refusing to look at Natsu's fuming form and honestly, if this kept up, Natsu just might have to set him on fire. "Doesn't want to bother anyone else with her problems. She's already upset enough about the fact that we know about it."

It didn't take a genius to realize that the 'we' here likely meant Lucy's spirits because Natsu sure as hell didn't know what in the everliving fuck was going on. He wouldn't be here if he did.

"Listen," Natsu sighed, not possessing enough energy to fight the spirit on this. "She's been looking like absolute hell for nearly a month now. I can't stand it, okay? And I'm pretty sure you can't either."

Loke, for his credit, looked very much conflicted. "Rips my soul out," he confirmed in a way that was maybe a little too theatrical, but honestly, would he be himself if it wasn't?

"And that's exactly why I need to know," Natsu stated with surprising clarity. "I can't try to help her unless I do."


"She looks like she's dying, man. I'm serious when I say I can't take it."

That seemed to do it. "She's got nightmares." Loke finally said, his eyes squeezed shut behind his glasses. "Bad ones."

Natsu paused, his brows furrowing because what the hell, that sounded a lot milder than what he was expecting. "Nightmares?"

"Well, memories, more like." Loke continued. "She's been having them for ages, really, Lucy's just insanely good at hiding how she really feels."

See that, Natsu knew. Lord knows she'd been dancing around whatever the hell was going on between them for ages now.

"I guess this time it just got too much though."

"What the hell is she remembering that has her like this?!" Natsu demanded incredulously, obviously not able to wrap his mind around the idea of a couple of dreams taking his strong, beautiful, ass-kicking best friend out of commission.

"Crazy, huh?" Loke gave a wry smile. "That's what I thought at first too, but then Aquarius talked to me, told me everything she's seen during her time with Lucy; everything I'd been missing."

Loke didn't stop talking after that, relaying all the stuff he'd heard from the Water Bearer herself and the longer he talked, the more Natsu felt his ire rising up, getting hotter and hotter until he was quite literally burning to the touch.

"Watch yourself, Natsu," Loke advised, the humor in his voice obviously forced. "Wouldn't want to burn down the guild."

"I'm fine," Natsu grumbled, forcing his fire to die down.

"Her mother's last words stuck with her to this day," he continued, eyes far away. "I think it was the desperation in her voice that did it. She was practically begging Lucy's dad to keep her safe, to have her grow up as best as she could. Lucy must've somehow twisted that into meaning her mother couldn't rest until she was independent enough to do everything on her own."

"Fuck," it all made sense now. The way Lucy refused to run away from a fight even when Natsu urged her to, the way she clamped up whenever there was just the slightest risk of her being too vulnerable in front of others, the way she'd sometimes stare in front of her with an almost haunted look in front of her.

"Yeah, sounds about right," Loke agreed with a humorless chuckle. He'd warned Natsu to keep his cool, but the more he spoke, the more his fists started lighting up with magic. "Her dad didn't make it any better. I can't fully blame him because he was mourning too and he's proven how much he cared about Lucy- hell, she forgave him know...I still kind of blame him."

Natsu didn't reply, remembering the way Lucy had broke down crying in her apartment after finding the presents and letters her father had left her during their seven years of absence.

"I mean, he practically tried to sell her off through marriage, how can you just…"

Lucy had told him about that. It'd been right after the whole thing with Phantom Lord and she'd temporarily left to visit her childhood home. Even back then Natsu had been boiling at the audacity of the man.

Still, he could understand. Regardless of his faults, the man was still Lucy's father, and if there was anything he knew about his silly little blonde, it was that Lucy valued family and friends above all else. They were similar, in that way.

Maybe a little too similar.

"Don't tell Lucy, but Aquarius is beyond restless." Loke told him. "Especially because she can't even summon herself due to the lack of her key. She's just...watching from the spirit world, nearly biting her damn nails off."

Natsu couldn't help the way his lips twitched upwards at that. There was something inherently funny about the image of that big, scary temperamental mermaid skittishly chewing at her nails out of worry for someone she pretended to dislike.

Probably because she was similar to Gray in that aspect, and Natsu knew for a fact he certainly wouldn't mind seeing that bastard nervous.

But that was a thought for later.

For now, the focus was on Lucy.

The next time Lucy was plagued by nightmares, Natsu was, once again, there with her.

He'd always had a bad habit of sneaking into her room uninvited and unannounced, but ever since that day she'd showed up in front of his door in pure hysterics (not one of her proudest moments), he'd grown almost fixated on staying with her during the nights. He simply refused to leave. It didn't matter how much Lucy hissed and complained at him, he either stayed with her or dragged her back to his place so she could spend the night there.

Lucy didn't want to think of the inherent implications them spending every night together brought with it, she really didn't want to. Her poor soul was already dealing with enough as is.

On the bright side, his constant presence did seem to help with the third wave of her hellish nightmares. It didn't do much for the memories of her parents, but it did seem to resolve the issue of her brain telling her her friends would disappear or die on her someday. It seemed that it was a lot harder for her brain to trick her if the living proof saying otherwise was sleeping right next to her.

So that was one issue down; which meant two more to go.

Although maybe...the other two were on their way to being solved as well.

Lucy had been sweating again, her brows furrowed in a deep frown as she tossed and turned in her objectively restless sleep. She was dreaming of her parents again, mind refusing to grant her the luxury of remembering all the good memories she'd had during her childhood and forcing her to only remember the bad things because apparently the vestiges of Lucy's own mind was a sadistic piece of shit that loved to see her suffer.

The blonde mage was well on her way to screaming herself awake again, followed by a possible trip to the bathroom to throw up whatever she'd had for dinner the day before but then a strong arm wound around her waist, pulling her body close to a burning, muscled chest she'd grown strangely familiar with over the years of their ambiguous friendship.

"Luce," he murmured, voice once again laced with sleep. "Luce, wake up."

When she didn't respond to his call, Natsu shook her lightly, effectively waking her from whatever impending doom she was about to fall in.

"Natsu," she gasped, wide brown eyes snapping open and frantically searching the room until they landed on his sleepy form. Lucy took in his wild pink hair, dark eyes, cheeky, yet boyish grin and in that moment, she couldn't even bring herself to feel embarrassed about their sudden closeness.

His hand reached for her face, his palm warm against her cold skin. She was shaky, her breathing bordering on heavy, but as Natsu closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against hers in the way he so often did lately, whispering soft encouragements into her hair, it was getting amazingly hard for her panic levels to rise as quickly as they usually did.

It was almost jarring, because for one, when the hell had Natsu found the time to be anything other than a pure chaotic bundle of fire she admittedly loved a little too much? And why the hell had she refused his help earlier? Christ, this worked wonders!

It was in the way he reassured her without even questioning what in the hell she'd seen in her sleep. It was in the way he'd just softly caress her stringy, oily hair without even batting an eye, clearly fighting his own fatigue but not wanting to give in until he was certain Lucy could fall back asleep without turning back into a snotty, trembling mess.

It was just in the way he...cared.

Lucy felt her heart swell.

He cared.

Without really thinking too much about it, Lucy wound her arms around his waist and pulled herself closer to him; Natsu responding by placing a single, yet meaningful kiss right at her hairline and well, that did it then. Lucy couldn't even find the time to let the stress and the sadness get to her because her heart was too damn busy doing overtime so it wouldn't spontaneously explode on her.

Distraction, it seemed, was a very effective way to counter the nightly terrors.

Lucy had to wonder if this had been his own idea, or if it had been an input from Loke (she knew damn well he'd snitched).

But as Natsu's thumb caressed over the exposed skin of her hip bone while his breathing slowly eased itself back into that of unconsciousness, Lucy really couldn't bring herself to care much.