We Are Young

24 Jun 2015
Part 1 of We Are Young

They’re teenagers, they’re young and they can worry about love and life.

A collection of character and relationship-centric, interrelated stories about some students of Fairy Gakuen.

Teen (13+)
Chapters: 23
Words: 377,513

We Are Young

Chapter 22
I Melt With You


…aka “Natsu Ends the Bets”

Chapter Notes:

First of all, I am putting this fic on indefinite hiatus until further notice and—

I’ll stop now. Please don’t cry. Please don’t flip that table! The chapter’s here. No really, it is!

First of all (for realsies now) — thanks to everyone who left reviews and encouragements. You don’t understand how much those helped. Basically I read them whenever I’m down or when I start thinking I can’t keep up on writing anymore. So yes. Thank you thank you thank you mwah mwah mwah *gross kissing noises here*.

Second and last of all — Natsu chapter. Long. Really long. It has everyone because it’s the last chapter so it should have everyone — but ultimately it’s Natsu and Lucy. We’re down to that. And it’s really fun ’cause We Are Young started with a Bowling for Soup song, and it kinda ends with another one too (spoiler tho: it’s like the Loke chapter. Track changed midway.) Also before I get scolded, I know that BfS was not the original artist for this song, but they were the ones who tweaked the lyrics to what fits best so yep.

Almost everyone writes Natsu as this dense, immature guy who all of a sudden turns really serious because he ~fell in love~ and suddenly wants to start smoochin’ Lucy or suddenly!dragon-mate-senses-activate!…or something that involves him not being the goofy adorable sucker we know. I tried a kinda different approach. I do believe there’s more to him than that.

This is the chapter where he talks. Like, talks the talk. How I wrote it was kinda the opposite of how I wrote Loke’s chapter. That one involved narrating long and hard about Loke’s thoughts, while the guy himself said little out loud. This one is how I see Natsu. Hard to read, hard to get inside his head. But if you’re worth it, he’ll tell you himself. He’ll say it aloud. If he knows that he could trust you, that is.

So. What everyone’s been waiting for. There’s a sports fest. FairyGaku fam being cute. Everyone on board with the ship. Tree climbing. Fluffy phone conversations and fluffier NaLu heart-to-heart stuff I don’t even know anymore they’re so fucking sweet. I hope you enjoy this because I sure as hell did.

Track 22: I Melt With You
…aka “Natsu Ends the Bets”

“Moving forward using all my breath,
being friends with you was never second best.”
— Bowling for Soup


In the beginning, Max bet that it would probably take just another month, while Laki said that it might take a wee bit longer (but not too long; she wasn’t blind) — so she bet that maybe it would be two or three months… at the most. It was a simple bet. If Natsu and Lucy become an item by the next four weeks, Laki will treat Max to a drink at Mira’s. Otherwise, it was the gentleman’s treat.They were both confident that if it wasn’t one, it would be the other because there’s just no way that the two would take any longer than THAT — I mean, just the other day, they caught Lucy in Natsu’s jacket.It happened all too fast. They didn’t think the developments would stop anytime soon.

One day Natsu just went to school with this pretty blonde girl that none of them have seen around the school before. As the story went, she was a new student trying to find her way around Magnolia, looking for FairyGaku but almost got mugged on her way (well, she was… shiny, and that pair of ruby-and-gold earrings was a magnet for trouble) — until that weird pink-haired boy who she shared her breakfast sandwich with earlier that very same morning came to her rescue.

‘You mean you were literally running late for your first day at school with a piece of bread on your mouth?’

‘I know it’s cliché! But I was trying to run from my bodyguards and everyone else in the house… Then I gave half of my breakfast to the guy walking like a zombie complaining that he was hungry. That’s kinda different.’

‘Why didn’t you just go with him to school?’

‘He ran away fast after he ate it. I hardly recognized his uniform too, it was so messy.’

Next thing she knew, after punching the living daylights out of the snatchers, the pink-haired boy was asking her what she was doing there because wasn’t the school in the other direction? He’d never seen her around, was she new? But then he sucked at remembering names and faces so was she just skipping classes?

After clearing things up, they walked to school together, Natsu leading the way. When they got there was the fun part.

It was one thing to see Natsu walking with a girl to school — there had been Lisanna, usually there was also Erza, Levy, Cana… he hung out with a lot of them, really. However, it was an entirely different matter to see him with the new girl. The transfer student. Their close-knit circle of childhood-and-junior-high friends had stayed ‘exclusive’ since they all started high school. It has been long since they had an addition.

But by day one, when they walked in through those school gates, Natsu proudly showing off the school building ( “Welcome to FairyGaku! Uh, whatsyername, Luigi?”) before pulling a baffled but excited Lucy by the wrist because the bells were already ringing… it was pretty much set.

Natsu continued to be his usual silly, goofy and cheerful self, only with the addition of a beautiful, just-as-cheerful but more sensible blonde girl constantly beside him. Nobody actually knew why but the two grew to be inseparable by then on. It didn’t become a problem to their close friends either — Lucy was polite, friendly and exuded an almost unbelievable level of charisma, so she it was just plain… difficult… not to like her. She got along great with the others.

By day two, Lucy was sitting with Erza for lunch. By day three, she was racing with Natsu and Gray to get to the classroom first. Day four, Levy had exchanged book recommendations while sitting on the bleachers with Droy as they watched Jet and Natsu in track practice. Day five, she was well-acquainted with Warren, Max and Laki. Day six, Natsu had dragged her to Mira’s, Cana was fixing her a special milkshake and Loke had already completed his first (partly-successful) attempt at flirting with her. Day seven, her new friends have collectively encouraged her to ‘GO FOR IT!’ when she said she was interested in the cheerleading club tryouts.

If their group of friends had been closed, it was like Natsu just punched the walls down and made way for Lucy and then they all sat together with no one complaining.

In those first five months, Lucy had been introduced to the family, both the immediate: Igneel and Happy, and the extended: Romeo and Macao, Makarov, Raijinshuu, the Strausses, Gildarts, and Yajima-san. The two walked home together after track and cheerleading practice. They chill out with the others in the arcade. They go out for movies or window shopping on weekends. They play video games at Gray’s and serve as Romeo’s chaperones to Raijinshuu’s gigs.

By the sixth month, when Lucy was promoted to co-captain of the cheerleading club, and as Natsu bagged several record-breaking wins for the track team along with Jet — their closeness has been noted by people outside their immediate circle of close friends due to their respective popularity in the school.

People talked. But there was nothing too out of the ordinary, they were still playful and goofy around each other, too comfortable one would think they were childhood friends.

Until one morning when Lucy came to school in a red-and-white varsity jacket that everyone recognized as the track team’s — with ‘DRAGNEEL’ in big bold letters printed on the back… On Natsu’s side, the others noted that he was wearing the same pink wristwarmer that all the cheerleaders have been issued a pair of. It wasn’t quantum physics, concluding that he was wearing half of Lucy’s pair.

People teased them — some even asked directly — and the two brushed it off heartily. Taking no offense to it, not being defensive either.

So Max and Laki started the bet. Just between the two of them. That was when Erza laughed, shook her head and told them that they were being silly before shrugging it off and saying ‘Alright, I’m your witness’.

Things didn’t go as planned, however — because two weeks since Max and Laki started the bet (just another two before Max will lose) — Erza told Cana the story, and Cana told Mirajane.

Things like these tend to fall in either of two scenarios when Mira was involved. Either it was kept buried in the abyss, or it spread like wildfire.

You probably knew which of the two happened, as the bet was still going a year and a half later.

When both Max’s four weeks and Laki’s three months lost, they both decided to call it a draw, have a truce and sit this one out — they’d just help Mira tally — because they really didn’t expect it to take so long.

Maybe they were exaggerating a bit. Both of them agreed that it was possible for two people to click instantly as friends and stay that way.

It was just that, with the way things developed, for a while the ‘more-than-friends’ stage seemed inevitable. Everyone simply thought it would go that way. Both Lucy and Natsu were honest, outspoken individuals and surely if they felt something more, they would have screamed it at the top of their lungs already, right?

So by the twelfth month of what seemed like suspended animation, Laki and Max were grateful that they’ve called it quits early on. Because maybe this ‘bestest-of-the-best-of-friends’ stage was as far as their two friends would go.

And there was definitely nothing wrong with that.

So yeah — Max and Laki have both decided that they were just going to enjoy the show.

After all, as things are going, it looks like the landslide has stopped in a perfectly reasonable place.

What they didn’t know, though, is that the landslide was not over just yet.It was a Friday night, and Loke was just making his way back from a short trip to the nearest convenience store. Lucy had asked him to buy instant coffee when they ran out. His mistress was no doubt planning to stay up late writing again. Lately Lucy has been on a streak, working on her novel after a sudden burst of inspiration.As Loke climbed the stairs of the apartment building, he came across Natsu.“Hey.” the bodyguard greeted. “Going home now?”

That evening, Natsu had come over to cook and eat dinner at Lucy’s. It has been a routine lately. Loke didn’t dare complain. He himself was an average cook and as for Lucy… well, stars forbid. So it was a good thing that they have a willing chef serving delicious meals for dinner and also providing fun company.

“Yo.” Natsu greeted the other guy back, casual as ever. “Yeah, Dad just called. Gotta go now before he calls again and starts freakin’. Laters, dude.”

“Take care on your way.” Loke said, watching the student’s back for a while before continuing his trip up the stairs.

When he got back to Lucy’s flat, the blonde was sitting by the dining table where she had set up her workspace: a laptop and a lot of papers — crumpled ones, neatly-stacked ones, drafts marked with comments and notes in differently-colored pens…

However, Lucy was not writing, or typing. She had her back turned to her makeshift desk, sitting slumped on the chair and staring down at her fluffy pink star-paterned slippers blankly.

“Lucy, I’m back and I have the coffee you-… Lucy?”

She didn’t respond. The girl just kept looking at the floor…

Loke put the paperbag down on the table and peered close to the blonde’s face. He asked, “Darling, anything wrong?”

Slowly, Lucy put her hand on his shoulder and gently prodded him to distance himself a bit as she looked at him.


“Natsu kissed me.”

The bodyguard blinked. “…Pardon?”

“Well, not really—”

Loke stepped back. “NATSU DID WHAT?!”

Lucy rubbed her temples. “No. No, wait—”


“Accident! It was— I don’t think he meant to—”

“How can it be an accident—”

“BUT IT WAS! It just—”

“I met him on my way and he was—”


“But you said he kissed you!”



Both of them found themselves abruptly stopping midway their sentences as they just stared at each other, equally distraught and at a loss of anything more to say.

There seemed to be an eternity of silence before Loke breathed deeply and slowly calmed himself. Then he cleared his throat and said, lamely, “Please explain, Lucy.”

“It was… so stupid.”

“Sweetheart, I’m sure it wasn’t—”

“Like, we were cleaning up when you left, right?” Lucy started, sighing. “So, I washed the dishes, and he was just… doing whatever on my laptop and… then I finished washing the dishes and I started drying them and—”

“Lucy, I know how you do dishes, please—”

“—shut up. So. Natsu said that Igneel sent a text. So, um, he has to go home now ‘cause it was getting late. And I said ’sure, go ahead, take care’ and all that. And… and then he went to me and — it’s nothing new, you know? He was about to kiss me. On the cheek. He does that! We always do that, right?”


“Problem is, I thought he was just… you know, going to say something or whatever, so I turned to kiss ’im on the cheek goodbye. I always do that, right?”

Loke stared at her. “So it was intended for your cheek but you turned and…”


They looked at each other blankly.

“…and then?” Loke prodded, as gently as possible.

Lucy buried her face in her hands. “Nothing. It was like one second and then we broke apart and he just stood there and then he just smiled like always and then he said ‘okay bye lucy!’ and then he left. Like nothing happened. I-… fudge.”

He waited for her to say something else, but Lucy just stayed silent and unmoving. Loke stared for a while as the blonde simply sat there, her face still covered by her hands, making no sound.

After a full minute, the girl finally looked back up and snapped, “Say something!”

At that, Loke burst out laughing.

Lucy looked at him and gaped, her expression part-disbelief and part-scandalized. “H-Hey, I didn’t tell you to laugh!”

The bodyguard just laughed harder, but upon seeing his mistress pouting at him — almost angrily fuming, really — he tried his best to stop laughing until he was able to conceal the last of his chuckles into a cough and say “I’m sorry, Lucy. You were just so cute.”

Lucy didn’t seem pleased as she repeated, “Cute.”

He could only hold his laughter back for so long.

“Oh my God, stop it.”

“Stopping.” Loke said guiltily, although he was sure there was still this silly grin plastered on his face.

The blonde’s eyes rolled heavenwards. “Unbelievable.”

“Okay, I’m sorry, I just… couldn’t help it. Kinda.” the apology was more sincere this time. When Lucy just huffed and looked away from him, he peered closer again with an understanding smile this time. “So you said it was an accident. Accidents happen all the time, love. Did this one really upset you that much?”

Lucy sighed. “You don’t understand…”

Loke nodded, knowing that she was getting ready to open up to him. “Then elaborate. I’m listening.”

“It’s just so stupid.” she groaned, resting her chin in her hands and frowning deeply, her expression troubled. “It’s just-… ugh. You know, I like this guy. And it’s so stupid because that happened. I like him and we-… we… yeah. That. And it shouldn’t even count BUT I WANT IT TO! But it was an accident and it was NOTHING. And now I don’t know how to feel about it. I don’t know what to think about it! I know it shouldn’t be a big deal because he sure as heck didn’t think it was. It was just something that… happened. No big. Not like he stole my first kiss, not like he ruined it either ’cause that wasn’t it. But I keep… mulling… over it!”


“Argh. Thinking!”

“I know what it means—”

“Then why’d you repeat it?!”

“It just sounded oddly like something someone would write, rather than say, out loud.”

Lucy looked at him as if she didn’t know whether to be annoyed at him picking on details, or if she should just continue.

“What’s your point?” she asked instead.

“My point is,” Loke said slowly. ‘You are being too cute— ah. Nope, wait, there’s more.’ — he didn’t let her interrupt — “Aside from that, it’s okay to think about things like these. It’s okay to like these little accidental kisses and whatever other stuff you do together. It’s okay to feel good about it. It’s okay to want to remember them, accident or not.”

“But it—”

“—is okay. To like someone. Who’s nice to you and treats you right. And Natsu fits the bill. It’s okay to like him, Lucy.”

“I know that! But—”

“—you don’t know how he feels and it’s okay too. For now. What’s not okay is you thinking too much into your own feelings because, sweetheart, if you try to make sense of each and every emotion you feel, you’ll probably end up insane. Let go a bit. I know it gets alarming at times, but you just have to give yourself a chance to get to know how you feel before judging whether it’s right or wrong. For now, it’s okay to be happy about the little moments you spend together because if you’re not, what’s the point?”

“O… kay?”

“What I’m trying to say is, you don’t have to beat yourself up for having a crush like any normal girl. It’s part of growing up.”

Lucy looked at him, narrowing her eyes. “You’re talking to me like I’m ten.”

“You don’t like it?” he blinked.

To his relief, Lucy shrugged. “No, I do. Makes this shit easier to understand.”

“Language, Miss Heartfilia.”

She just shook her head in resignation and then turned back to the table, where her laptop was waiting for her to continue typing in the latest update of her novel. “Coffee, Mister Bodyguard.”

Loke simply chuckled, knowing that he had done his part and that it was now up to his mistress whether to accept his advice or not. She’s a smart girl, he was sure she would sort it out.

For now, she was demanding for coffee, and her wish will always be his command.

Meanwhile as Natsu jogged home, he noted a familiar figure on the sidewalk several meters ahead, walking towards the same direction.He looked around first to make sure he wasn’t disturbing the neighborhood, then called out, “Oi, tattoo-face!”The young man stopped walking and turned around before raising a hand in greeting, smiling pleasantly. He waited for Natsu to catch up to him.“Hey.” Natsu said, grinning as he turned his jog into a walk.

“Good evening, Natsu-kun. On your way home?” Jellal asked as he began walking again, matching his new companion’s pace.

“Yeah. You? It’s late, man.”

Jellal sighed. “Ultear and Meredy. Karaoke.”

“Sounds fun.” Natsu sniggered.

“Please don’t ask.” the scholar sounded really tired. He then turned to Natsu. “You?”

“Ah, just came from Lucy’s. Helped her make dinner and stuff.”

“You two really are like a couple…” Jellal said softly.

“Y’could say that. Keyword’s ‘like’.” Natsu shrugged. “Did ’ya bet?”

“My twin did.” Jellal answered. He hesitated before continuing. “…and fine, I did too. Only so Erza would. Your friends were trying to get us to join, and Erza said she would if I did it too. So we kinda bet together.”

Natsu gaped. “Aw, man! Must’ve missed that! Erza never does this stuff!”

“Hence why I was willing.” Jellal chuckled. “You should have seen her face. She called me ‘traitor’.”

“Score.” Natsu casually pat the young man on the arm. “That’s when you know she loves ’ya.”

Jellal just shook his head and sighed.

“Hey, you’re comin’ to the games tomorrow, yeah?” Natsu asked.

“Of course.”

Magnolia’s annual sports festival was much like the kite fest. It was mostly small-scale, non-profit, fund-raising event for the local charities and public hospitals. FairyGaku by tradition sponsors the venue. The sports clubs usually also use the event as a send-off for their third year members as it was always held just before the graduation ceremonies. The participants were usually the sports clubs from the schools in Magnolia and some occasional guest teams from other towns, although it was not as exclusive as the formal ones like the regional and national events. Some graduates and non-club members were free to participate in the games. Town establishments and other guests usually volunteer to chip in for foods, snacks and the like. It was more of a community thing than an all-out contest, from what Meredy told Jellal when he asked about it.

Erza invited him to come last time they met, although Jellal really didn’t need the invitation. As part of Sorciere’s student council, he was required to tag along to support their clubs. Plus, he had already promised Wendy that he and Mysto will come with her and Chelia to cheer for Romeo (he was in the junior high’s track team) and to see Lucy’s cheer routine.

“‘Ya should. Erza’s playin’.” Natsu continued, bringing Jellal back to their conversation.

Jellal raised an eyebrow. “Is that right? I thought there’s no kendo tournament? That’s what she told me…”

“Yeah, yeah, ’cause no way she won’t get the champion award again. No one could beat her anyway.” Natsu rolled his eyes. “I mean she’s gonna have a friendly sparring thing with one of yours, right?”

“Ah, that. Yes. Just a friendly match with Kagura.” Jellal finally nodded. He remembered that well. “They’re both looking forward to it. I heard they almost always end up in a tie.”

“Yeah. They’re kinda hardcore, those girls.” Natsu yawned. “If you guys are goin’ tomorrow then, I’ll tell dad and Macao to bring snacks for you too. You and Mysto and Wendy, right? Are your ‘rents comin’ too?”

“A-Ah, please don’t bother! Mysto said he’ll prepare our bento.”

“Nah, we’re already packing for the four of us and Lucy and some others. What’s three more mouths to feed? And you’d be crazy if you don’t want one o’ those awesome muffins from Macao.”

“Are you sure? I… We can bring ours, really…”

“Go ahead then, but dad always makes lots of extras ’cause of the gang and all, so he’ll probably still give you some.” Natsu grinned. “This one’s gonna be your first one, right?”

“Right. I don’t know what to expect, really.”

“Hah, it’s gonna be fun, I tell ’ya. Didja know last year, there was a water fight.”

“W-Water fight?”

“I dunno who came up with it, really. The pool got busted, right. But there’s still a bunch of people from the swim clubs and someone maybe wanted to see girls in swimsuits runnin’ around so there. Water balloons and water guns and there was a flag involved somewhere. Juvia and Bisca kicked ass, right, like Juvia’s this waterbender but there’s this crazy Sabertooth chick — whatshername, Mina? Maria-… starts with M…”

“Sabertooth? Is it Minerva?”

“Yeah, that one. Minerva — she found the hose they use for waterin’ the lawn and got everyone wet, basically. Then the others started joinin’ in too. Like, the cheerleaders even. Lucy and her girls had a whole formation just for balloon-throwin’. Erza was so pissed when some o’ the guys damaged her cake, man — she just stripped and grabbed the biggest bucket and started splashin’ water at everyone.”

Jellal didn’t know how to respond to that. He couldn’t quite picture it—

“Next thing we know, Cana found a way to bring the fire truck in.”

Okay, somehow he could see that one. Jellal’s answer was a single stunned “Wow.”

“Yeah, t’was awesome.”

Jellal listened to some more tales from the previous year’s sports festivals (and he seriously couldn’t tell if Natsu was telling the truth or was just messing with him on some parts) during the rest of the way home.

Natsu gave him an enthusiastic “See you tomorrow, man! Bring extra clothes!” as they parted ways in front of the Dragneel residence. Jellal took that seriously and made a mental note to tell Mystogan and Wendy to bring spare shirts and at least one towel.

As soon as Natsu got home, he was greeted by his father who was watching some late-night news, drinking coffee. Happy was curled up on the man’s lap.“Tadaima.” Natsu said to no one in particular, abandoning his shoes and coat by the doorway.“Okaeri.” Igneel didn’t look at his son as he greeted back. “We’re gonna be up early tomorrow. Set your alarm or I’m leavin’ you here.”“You won’t. ‘Ya need help cookin’ and carryin’ the food.” the teenager said with a grin, then walked past his old man to head upstairs. “Oh and yeah — the twins and Wendy are comin’ too. Met Jellal just now.”

“Romeo told me earlier.” Igneel said absently. He barely glanced when Happy hopped off from his lap to follow Natsu. “I’ve already talked to Grandine, she told me she’ll just ask her boys to help us ’round here and bring the drinks.”

“Oh. Great. M’going to bed, then.” Natsu said, scooping his cat up from the floor.

Natsu was already midway up the staircase when Igneel called out to ask, “How was Lucy-chan?”

“Uh, still same ol’ Lucy-chan.” Natsu answered, pausing for a bit before shrugging. “Liked the food and stuff.”

“That’s all you did, eat dinner?” Igneel asked, curiosity obvious in his voice.

“Yeah, and kissed a bit.”


Natsu made it all the way to his room before he heard his father shout. “NATSU! WHAT DID YOU SAY?!”

The teen laughed out loud.


Natsu just shouted back, “I was tryin’ to see if you were really listenin’, old man!”

He sniggered when his father just cursed and grumbled and then apparently went back to watching the news again. After setting Happy down on the bed, Natsu laid haphazardly beside the cat, looking up at the ceiling.

“That’s right. Just tryin’ to see if dad’s listening.” he said to no one in particular, then turned to Happy, who was watching him with a curious expression. He just smiled softly and stroked the cat’s fur. “Ne, Happy…”

The cat blinked. Natsu interpreted that as ‘Aye?’

“D’you think Luigi thinks it’s… something?”

The cat blinked again. Natsu took that as ‘Aye.’

“What’s that ‘Aye’ mean?”

Another blink.

“Great, you don’t know either.”

When Happy simply curled up against his chin, Natsu chuckled and pat the cat softly.

“Alright, let’s sleep on it. Maybe it’ll make sense tomorrow, huh.”

One of the first ones Cana convinced to join in the bets were Jet and Droy.They both bet that it would take longer than expected — another year maybe, and that Lucy would be the one to crack first. She’ll probably punch the guy in the face and then shout her confession.They said that Natsu would be too dense to see it unless it was shoved at his face.“He’s just… y’know. Natsu’s like a kid. He doesn’t think of these things.”

“I bet we have to explain everything.”

“Complete with diagrams.”

“And subtitles.”

Levy, unexpectedly, took her time before joining in. She told her boys that they give Natsu less credit than the guy deserved, and that he’s more sensitive than he lets on.

And everyone knew that Levy was almost always right.

The next morning when the crowds were starting to gather and find their places on the benches, and while the organizers were finalizing the day’s preparations to start the event, Natsu and Mystogan found themselves trailing after Lucy and other girls, carrying some cheerleading paraphernalia.“I’m really sorry for making you two do this.” Lucy said, sincerely apologetic. The two found the blonde looking for extra hands a few minutes prior, while they were helping Igneel, Grandine and Macao set up their picnic blankets on a nice spot with a good view of the sports field. Jellal was dragged away by Meredy while Wendy stayed by the school gates waiting to meet up with Chelia.That was when Lucy approached them and asked if Natsu and Mystogan can lend her and the cheerleaders some spare five minutes and help them carry some of their stuff from their club room. It turned out one of the first-year girls injured herself practicing earlier in the morning and their only two male members had to rush her to the infirmary, while their captain looked for a substitute.“It’s no problem, really.” Mystogan said earnestly. The box of pom-poms he was carrying wasn’t even heavy. The girls themselves took the heavier loads.

“Yeah, s’not like our parents can’t lay out those blankets by themselves, Luigi.” Natsu continued, adjusting the big rolled-up banner he was carrying on his shoulder. “So what happens if your leader can’t find a sub?”

Lucy groaned. She was carrying a bunch of giant cardboard cut-outs of the FairyGaku logo. Probably for the audience. “That girl’s one of the three leads for the routine so no one can just take her place that easily. But it’ll break formation if she’s not there either. If there’s really no choice we’ll have to make last-minute arrangements… But they practiced hard for this routine! We don’t want to screw up, it’s the third-years’ last one with the team.”

They finally got back to the cheerleaders’ bench on the side of the field and started to set the props down. The other girls thanked their temporary helpers, and one of them asked Mystogan if he could help them put up a large streamer. The young man gladly obliged, missing the light blushes on the girls’ cheeks as he went with them.

“Tattoo-face has fangiiiiirls~” Natsu sang. “And he doesn’t even notice~”

Lucy just shook her head as she took one end of the rolled-up banner from Natsu and began unrolling the cloth. “No surprise there. Mysto-kun is very handsome. And a gentleman to boot. But above all, he’s tall and they need someone tall to put that streamer up.”

Natsu then faked a hurt face. “I’m tall too…”

“He’s taller. And they probably think you’re unavailable.” Lucy laughed. Together they waved the banner a bit to smooth out small folds and wrinkles.

“GO FAIRYGAKU…” the young man read the inscription out loud, then looked at the blonde. “Whatcha mean I’m unavailable? I’m here, right?”

Lucy shrugged. “They think we’re together.”

“We’re always together.” he said, confused.

“They think we’re together-together, idiot.” Lucy answered simply, but before Natsu could reply, she said, “Now follow my lead, we’re folding this so it’ll be easy to bring it up later during the routine.”

“Righto, boss.”

They were still in the middle of folding the big banner when a young woman Natsu recognized as the current cheerleading club captain came running towards them. “Lucy! You’re here!”

“Captain! Yes, I thought I’d lend the girls a hand.” Lucy smiled. “They told me what happened. How’s our froshie?”

“Leg injury. Nothing permanent, but she can’t perform today, and the others who can stand in really can’t come in today. I don’t think I should pull one of the girls to take her place, though… the formation…”

“It’ll be ruined.” Lucy sighed. “…What’s the plan? I was thinking we can still come up with a new routine — a simpler one — just for that one part—”

“Lucy, won’t you do it?” the other girl asked urgently. “I know you can. You’re still part of the team, you know… unofficially maybe, but—”

“Captain, I-…” Lucy laughed nervously. “I’m out of practice—”

“Nonsense, you practically came up with the whole thing yourself, and you were always there during practice! Not cheering like the rest of us, but I’m sure you did some of the moves on your own while making it—”

“That’s different! I don’t think I can—”

The cheer captain rolled her eyes. “We cheered together last year, ex-co-captain. I know what you can do.”

“I’m not sure about that…” Lucy said weakly.

“Think of it, this isn’t a contest, or a formal event. It’s just a volunteer thing! Besides, one last cheer? Before graduation? I really don’t want this one to go to waste. And I’d love to perform with you again.”

Lucy looked at the other girl uncertainly. The captain was a good friend of hers and it was true… Lucy thought that if she could just warm up and stretch a bit, she may be able to do it… She knew the routine by heart… Maybe a quick practice with everyone else before the actual thing…

“Come on, Luigi.” Natsu finally said, breaking his own silence. Lucy looked at him and he flashed his easy cheerful grin at her. “You know you wanna.”

“See?” the captain said, smiling at the guy. “Natsu-kun wants to see it too! Right, Natsu-kun?”

“Whatever gets her to say ‘yes’, captain.” Natsu shrugged.

Lucy breathed deeply, then let out her last defense: “I don’t have a uniform.”

“You know we always keep tons of spares in different sizes.” the captain reminded her. “Everyone wants to see you cheer again, Lucy.”

That did it. “Fine. I give in. But give me time to warm up.”

“You got it.”

That was when the male members of the cheer squad finally came back and Mysto and Natsu were free to go. They waved Mysto off when he made his exit being pulled away by Wendy and Chelia.

Meanwhile Natsu just helped Lucy finish folding the banner before excusing himself. However, before he turned around, he noted his best friend’s expression.

“Hey, what’s up with the face?” Natsu asked, while Lucy hugged the banner close to her chest and looked down.

The blonde sighed. “I’m nervous. I might mess up.”

Natsu snorted. “Pssh, you’re bein’ a weirdo. You’re gonna kick ass out there.”

“You can’t blame me! It’s been so long since I’ve cheered in front of an audience!”

“Ya know what? Here.”

Lucy was surprised when he took her hand and lifted it, and then slipped on a familiar pink wristwarmer on her free wrist. She blinked. Now she had both wristwarmers on both of her wrists, but the one from Natsu felt so much warmer than the one she always kept on.

Natsu leaned forward to press his forehead against hers, and then smiled. “You’re back in the team. Be a lil happier ’bout it, will ya?”

Lucy just looked at him, blinked again and then finally chuckled; parting from him so she can take off the varsity jacket — Natsu’s jacket — that she wore.

She handed it to her best friend, and the other teen just accepted it as easily. “Take this, then. I have to warm up.”

“Heh. Good luck!”

She watched him put on the jacket while jogging back towards where Igneel and the others were. With the feel of the wind in her arms and the nostalgic feeling of the warmth in both of her wrists, she felt like it was one year ago again.

No impending feelings of saying goodbye to her friends anytime soon. No worries about having to move to university dorms in the following months. No nagging on her mind that maybe it was time to grab her best friend and ask him straight out if maybe by some miracle he felt the same way about her. It was as if there was another school year ahead of them again, that graduation was not two weeks, but still one year ahead.

The event wasn’t a grand one, but the audience was a roaring, lively crowd anyway. Such was typical in Magnolia. Principal Makarov opened the games with a short speech, followed by some greetings from Magnolia town’s city head. The event was not a series of tournaments for different sports being held in different spots in the school, like a typical sports festival. It was simply a series of one or two rounds per sport one after another, held on the school’s football field.But before the games started, it was time for an opening number by FairyGaku’s cheerleading club.Igneel, Grandine and Macao were engaged in friendly conversation while waiting for the cheerleaders to get into formation.A few feet from them, Mystogan, Natsu, Wendy and Chelia were sitting on their own picnic blanket, munching on some muffins that Macao brought with them.

“Hey, mind if we sit in?”

They all looked up to see Cana smiling down at them, carrying a grocery bag of canned drinks. Behind her, Gray was carrying a paperbag of Yajima-san’s treats.

“Sure thing.” Natsu grinned, and the two newcomers settled their things down and sat with them. Then he turned towards Wendy when she tugged at his sleeve.

“Natsu-san,” the girl started. “Is this the routine that Lucy-san has been working on?”

“I think so. For the mornin’, anyway. They got another one for later.” Natsu answered, casually patting the girl on the head. “And ’ya better watch closely. Might catch someone you know among ’em.”

Wendy blinked, about to ask him what he meant by that, when another voice spoke up from behind them.

“Hey, that’s Bunnygirl in there.” the girl looked up at Gajeel, who stood behind them, then turned towards the group of cheerleaders in the field, wearing winning smiles and getting ready to officially kick off the games.

Juvia, who sat on Gray’s other side, turned towards Natsu as well. “I didn’t know Lucy-san will be cheering today!”

Natsu shrugged easily, chuckling. “Me neither.”

“Liar.” came as a mumble from Gray, who only let the smug expression on his face last for one second before turning towards the show again and smiling lightly. It was nostalgic, seeing Lucy in that blue-and-white cheerleading uniform again.

Quite a crowd of viewers who couldn’t get spots in the benches have gathered in front of their sitting group. Wendy and Chelia both stood up excitedly to get a better view as the music blasted from the school speakers and the cheerleading routine started.

Smiling at the girls’ enthusiasm, the others also stood up to get a better view.

The routine started simple enough, the cheerleaders moving in perfect sync as they waved their pompoms around and did a series of basic, pretty easy moves. A minute into the routine, the performers fell into one straight line, paused for a beat, and then all of them raised their right hands, their fingers forming an inverted ‘L’ shape. The signature gesture of the FairyGaku sports clubs.


The line was broken as the performers jumped, flipped and cartwheeled into another, more dynamic formation, each of the moves precise, three girls — Lucy among them — impressing the crowd as they, with some of the other members giving them a boost, did perfectly-timed split jumps. After that, the team broke into even more impressive set of stunts and formations, hardly pausing for breath, which made the audience roar with applause.

“Damn.” came from Jet, who had snuck his way to stand beside Natsu. Natsu blinked at him — when did Jet get there? “Lucy can still cheer.”

“I know, right?” Natsu replied, a grin on his face.

Jet punched his friend’s arm lightly. “I think I know now why you agreed to join in the track relay later.”

Natsu frowned. “Hey, it’s not ’cause of—”

“Whatever, loser.” Jet said, trying not to laugh. “Just, y’know, show up for team warm-up after this number, okay? Gotta get you in winning form, ’cause I’d hate to lose after this kickass routine from the cheer club.”

“Got it, ex-captain.” Natsu said mockingly, and they remained silent to watch the rest of the cheerleading routine.

On the other side of the field, under the tent meant for the event organizers and hosts, Erza looked up from the paper she was reading when she heard Levy’s exclamation just a few steps in front of her.

“Oh my gosh, that’s Lu-chan!” the blunette squealed. “Erza, look!”

Erza looked up and watched the cheerleaders. She didn’t notice it at first but it was indeed Lucy, up front and center, performing with her old team.

“One of the freshmen got injured but the captain told me she got it covered and found a substitute…” the red-head muttered under her breath, then her lips broke out into a smile. “She didn’t tell me who.”

“It’s like she never stopped at all.” Levy marveled, eyes fixed on the impressive flips and jumps that their cheerleaders were throwing out one after the other. Levy had seen Lucy cheer a lot of times before, but it has been a year since the last time.

It sure as hell didn’t seem like it.

“We’re getting this on tape, right?” Levy asked.

“Of course we are.” Erza answered, taking her eyes off from the routine to look towards where some video and computer club members were capturing the moment. Among the crowd were Warren (who was one of the volunteer helpers for the event) and Droy (for computer club). Warren caught Erza’s look when he looked around, and gave her a thumbs up sign. Erza simply smiled and nodded.

That was when another young woman stepped forward to stand beside Erza. “Our cheerleaders won’t back down so easily, but damn this one will be a tough act to follow.”

Erza turned to smile pleasantly at the raven-haired student council president of Sorciere. “I’ll tell them you said that, Ultear.”

“They deserve the compliment.” Ultear answered. “Thanks for the invite, by the way. Last year was Sabertooth, right?”

Erza chuckled. “They’re a rowdy crowd. I hope Sorciere won’t make us bring out the fire truck this year.”

“Ah, I heard about that one, too.” Ultear laughed, then put her arm around the other young woman’s shoulders casually, patting her in consolation. “Don’t worry, we’re a bit more low-key.”

“Thanks.” Erza mumbled, turning back to the performance just in time to catch a particularly impressive spinning jump from all three leading cheerleaders. The crowd roared in applause, while a crowd of young men actively screamed ‘WE LOVE YOU LUCY!’. The red-head sighed. “Around here, we definitely need low-key.”

The performance went off without a hitch. As the games were about to start, Levy ran towards where her friends were having a bustling picnic. She stopped in front of them and couldn’t help but giggle at the scene unfolding before her.“DID YOU SEE THAT?! That was so cool! That was awesome! Sherry-nee said that Lucy-san was a cheerleader but I didn’t know she was that GREAT!” Chelia was saying, while Wendy nodded fervently. Both girls talked about the performance enthusiastically, obviously not noticing that they were shaking Mystogan in the process because they were both clinging to him.“Cana, Erza says she needs you at the tent.” Levy said as she approached the crowd.“Is Max there already?” Cana asked, standing up and dusting off her miniskirt.

“Yep! They’re waiting for you.”

“Alright. See ’ya, gorgeous people!” the brunette saluted towards them before walking away. She stopped by Igneel and the other parents to grab some of Macao’s muffins before finally heading toward where Erza was.

“What’s she up to?” Gajeel asked, rummaging through the paperbag of pastries that Gray had begun passing around.

“Max and Cana will be commenting.” Levy answered, then accepted the paperbag when he gave it to her. She sat down with them, taking Cana’s place in the blanket.

“God help us.” Gray rolled his eyes. “Those two are a team.”

Levy giggled, taking out a piece of pastry before passing the paperbag to Juvia. Juvia was already eating a sandwich though, so she passed the bag to Natsu. Natsu quickly took a piece before standing up. He handed the paperbag to Mystogan. “Right, I’m off now too.”

“Hey, you’re wearin’ your own jacket for once.” Gray remarked, raising an eyebrow. “And where are you goin’? I don’t remember you volunteering.”

“Secret!” Natsu grinned, grabbing his bag and strolling away.

“You’re gonna run, are you?” Gray called out. “With Jet and the team?”

Natsu simply stuck his tongue out at his friend-slash-rival before jogging off.

“Jet didn’t say anything about Natsu running today, though…” Levy said thoughtfully. “It’s cute, him running again. Lu-chan cheering. S’like last year.”

Gray smiled, and Juvia watched his expression and smiled as well.

Then he looked up at the raven-head still standing behind them. “Oi, Gajeel. You gonna stand there all day?”

Gajeel just groaned before he sat with them. Levy looked at him as soon as he settled beside her and then chuckled. “What?” Gajeel asked gruffly. “Somethin’ on my face?”

“Mm-hm.” Levy nodded, still smiling. She picked up a tissue and handed it to him. Gajeel accepted it easily.

They missed Juvia tugging silently on Gray’s shirt and subtly pointing towards them.

“On your chin.” Levy said. Gajeel started wiping, but didn’t catch the small smudge of sugar and icing. “No, uh, a little to the left. Yea— Oh, MY left! So um, your right. Uh, a bit— um— there. That’s fine now.”

“Thanks.” Gajeel said in a mumble.

Juvia looked at Gray with a giddy expression, and he looked back at her, shrugged then simply smiled smugly. She couldn’t help but giggle.

“Get a room, you two.” Gajeel said pointedly. “There are children watchin’.”

“Oh, no, we don’t mind. Please continue.” Chelia said dreamily, sighing against Mystogan’s arm. Wendy half-hid behind big brother’s other arm, smiling shyly with a blush on her face. The guy just looked down at the girls and sighed.

Gray scowled. “We’re not doing anything!”

Everyone else said, “Exactly.”

Gajeel finished that with “…and we’re still gettin’ diabetes.”

“Then hold off on the pastries.” Gray deadpanned.

More poking, prodding and good-natured teasing ensued, then everyone’s attention was caught when a familiar voice spoke up through the loudspeakers. “ALRIGHT, MAGNOLIA! Let’s start this!”

“I’m sure Cana-san will hold back on her usual Cana-san antics a bit while commenting…” Juvia said considerately. “Max-san is there to keep her in check—”

But that was followed by the aforementioned guy’s voice: “We’re going to be your hosts for the day. I’m Max Alors—”

“Broom Enthusiast, Poker Genius and Best Damn Salesman in town.” Cana provided, before continuing. “And I am Cana Alberona—”

“Resident Crane Game Goddess, Creator of The Strauss’ Killer Milkshake, and Reigning Magnolia Beer Queen!”

Juvia instantly took her words back. From then on, the duo was unstoppable.

FairyGaku won the first game. It was a game of volleyball, the teams consisting of the combined forces of both Sorciere’s and FairyGaku’s boys and girls teams. It was a tough match, FairyGaku hardly managing to break the tie — but in the end they managed.The second game was Sorciere’s victory. They had always boasted of their great soccer team and it looks like they live up to the reputation.That was followed by a one-hour lunch break, when it was the Sorciere Academy’s cheerleading team’s turn to impress. It was also when Lucy managed to get back to her friends.“Here’s our head cheerleader!” Igneel announced with a flourish as Lucy came up to join them, still in her cheerleading uniform, a towel draped on her shoulders. Igneel, Macao, Grandine and Makarov were sitting in a circle with the other teenagers and they were all just getting started on their meal. Lucy also noted that Romeo was sitting with them, eating enthusiastically for his run in a while.

“Aw, don’t call me that. I’m a sub!” Lucy chuckled. “Were you guys surprised?”

She laughed when her friends responded with all sorts of compliments, and simply took all their praises in stride, down to earth as always. As she settled herself between an enthusiastic Wendy and a cheerful Juvia, she said, “Alright, I’ve been cheering for two games after that routine. I agreed to sub for the whole day. I need sustenance!”

“Ask no more, Lucy-chan!” Igneel said with a goofy smile as Grandine handed a plate for the blonde. “There you go. Eat lots!”

Lucy accepted the plate gleefully. “Thanks, these look yummy!”

They all turned to watch the routine of the Sorciere cheerleaders. Her friends said that the team was impressive, but Lucy’s routine was still better, to which she thanked them all again. After that, it was a loud, all-too cheerful big lunch among their circle of friends and family.

A little late into the hour-long break, Jellal joined the group, followed by Ultear and then Meredy, who was wearing her own cheerleading uniform, using a towel to wipe sweat from her neck and face. The two girls didn’t need too much introduction as most of the group knew them well enough from either being Jellal’s friends, or Gray’s cousin and her sidekick.

Meredy glomped at Lucy right away to tell the blonde that her team tried their best but Lucy’s routine was simply amazing, to which Lucy responded by saying that the Sorciere team didn’t do too bad themselves. After that, Meredy proceeded to chat with Juvia, who like a doting mother stuffed the younger girl with food right away. Meredy didn’t complain. She was tired from the routine and from cheering for the first two games, and the food was great.

Ultear talked to Gray, and then entertained some questions from the adults who asked about her plans after high school. Meanwhile Jellal ate quietly, just watching his friends interact, smiling and laughing easily with them.

It was then that Lucy noticed that Igneel was putting some food away on spare plates and a separate bento. When she asked, the man smiled at her and answered, “Well, it’s better to go save some for Natsu and and Erza-chan, just to be sure.”

“Hey, come to think of it, where’s Natsu?” Lucy asked. She already knew that Erza was prepping for her friendly kendo match with Kagura in a few minutes. The volunteers were already in the field setting up the stage for it.

Gray answered, “Off with Jet. We don’t know what he’s up to.”

“I think he’s running.” Levy piped up, tentative. “I think. Not sure.”

“Running? For the track team?” Lucy raised an eyebrow. “He didn’t tell me anything about that.”

“Maybe he’s just hanging out with his old team.” Romeo suggested. “’Cause he’s graduating and all…? Our sempai were with us when we were warming up.”

Lucy simply shrugged, “Well, that’s fine, I guess. But he really shouldn’t miss lunch.”

“He’s a big boy, don’t worry ’bout ’im.” Igneel simply said. “Oi, Romeo — don’t eat too much. You’re running for the junior high track, right?”

“But it’s so good.” Romeo protested, but slowed down anyway. The others agreed with him and thanked their adult companions for the food again.

As their group commenced their meal, Cana’s voice rang out from the speakers again. “Alright, folks! For a little entertainment during our break — we’d like to invite you to watch this little something we got right here…”

There was a rush of silence in the audience as they all turned curiously towards the portable stage that was set up in the middle of the field.

“On this very rare, special event, we’ve got two of the best kendo champions in Magnolia — or in all of Fiore, for that matter.” Max continued for his partner. “As you have noticed, we don’t have a kendo tournament this year, but our sports festival ain’t complete without it so we’re giving everyone a special friendly sparring match!”

“Everyone give it up for Sorciere Academy’s Kagura Mikazuchi, and our very own Erza Scarlet!”

There was a roar of applause as the two ladies stepped up the stage, both aided by co-students while they shifted and adjusted their gear as last-minute check-up before the match. While this was happening, everyone could hear a certain supposed-to-be-hushed conversation between the hosts.

“So Max, who d’you think Jellal-kun’s rootin’ for?”

“He should cheer for his own school, but… Erza.”

“Yeah, Erza. Wow, tough life.”

“I don’t exactly envy him right now.”

“We really should start the bets already.”

“Not while there’s still one going on. WITH NO SIGNS OF ENDING, UGH.”

As she put on her headgear, Erza sighed. She wanted to throw her bamboo sword at those two but Kagura was already there, poised, ready and above all, not distracted. The match should take priority. She decided that she’ll deal with them later.

While in the audience, Juvia said softly, “Juvia thinks Cana-san and Max-san are fully aware that the mics are on.”

Beside her, Gray breathed a heavy sigh of resignation. “That’s the whole point of this thing.”

“Yeah…” came from the rest of the group.

All Jellal was able to say was: “Bury me.”

“What, right now?” Mystogan didn’t bat an eye at the remark, all too used to his brother’s suffering… and the subsequent attempt of asking people to please make said suffering end. “But I kind of want to watch this, brother.”

Jellal groaned. “Fine, right after, maybe. Thank you in advance.”

“Actually, better not. I’d like to see you suffer some more.”

“What kind of brother are you?”

“Yours.” — yep. Mysto was enjoying his pain.

“So who’re you actually cheerin’ for?” Gajeel asked, as the match started and everyone’s eyes trained on the two figures moving calculatingly around each other on the stage.

Watching the first impressive exchange of blows from both of the girls, Jellal sucked in a breath in fascination. He had never seen either of them fight before — but watching them right now, they were both brilliant.

“I’m neutral. Or actually, I’m Team Ladies-Kicking-Butt-At-Kendo.” Jellal answered, an easy smile on his face. “As long as they enjoy themselves in friendly competition, I’m good.”

His companions shouted at him, asking him to stop being so perfect before they find themselves in love with him as well.

Thankfully, the running commentary became an advertisement to join the FairyGaku or Sorciere kendo clubs and to register for lessons in the local dojo for the young people interested in the fine martial arts of kendo. Jellal took comfort in the fact that for the meantime, the Jellal-Erza bets seem to be off.

Erza won the match, but again it was a close call. As the portable stage was being put away from the field, Lucy stood up to head back to the cheerleaders. Jellal, Ultear and Meredy also returned to their duties.The only event for junior high school students for the day was a track and field event, and Romeo was one of his team’s most competent runners. He left to the cheers of his companions.“Go get ’em, son!” Macao said, ruffling the boy’s hair.Wendy also clasped her hands in front of her chest as she said an earnest, “Good luck, Romeo-kun!”

The others also wished him luck. “Win this round, bud.” came from Igneel and “Don’t let us down now!” came from Levy.

The boy merely grinned and thanked them before jogging towards the field with his waiting teammates.

Lucy stood with the other cheerleaders to the side of the field as the junior high school runners prepared. This time she let their kouhai take the lead in cheering for the kids. There were also some friends and family members of the runners behind them bringing the supportive noise.

Suddenly there was a bustle of activity as a group of young men who wore the FairyGaku High School Track Team jackets almost crashed against the starting formation of the cheerleaders. “Excuse us, ladies!”

“What the-? GUYS?” came from the head cheerleader as the guys fell into a messy, clumsy line beside the cheerleaders. The team watched as the boys — who they recognized were both current and former members of the track team — raised their arms to brandish a huge banner made out of paper.

In the banner was a hastily-written statement in vivid blank ink using all-too obviously borrowed tools and supplies from the calligraphy club…

They didn’t have to struggle to read the sloppy text as the boys had already screamed it at the top of their lungs: “GO FOR IT, KOUHAI!”

The cheerleaders simply gaped, while Jet winked at them: “Some of these kids are prolly our new recruits next year!”

As the high school track team jumped in place and proudly waved their banner, and their kouhai in the field answered their cheers with equally enthusiastic shouts and teary eyes, the cheerleaders simply looked at each other and shrugged, smiling.

“It IS pretty sweet.” their head cheerleader chuckled, to which the others laughed and agreed.

It was then that Lucy noticed Natsu among the crowd of track team members who still won’t shut up while Cana was already shouting at them over the speakers to do so. She bet they were just trying to annoy the brunette. But back to the matter at hand… “Natsu?!”

“Heya, Luigi!” Natsu grinned, as if it was a typical occurence to see him cheering junior high school students with the rest of the FairyGaku track team. “Like the banner? We had to bribe the calligraphy people!”

“What are you doing there?” Lucy asked, an eyebrow raised imploringly.

“What? I’m cheerin’! My lilbro’s in there!” Natsu answered easily. “Ain’t it nice? Sempai noticin’ ’em?”

Lucy simply sighed. “Alright, but you guys keep a bit of distance between us,’kay? We got a formation to maintain!”

“Aye, Luigi-sir— oops! Aye, ma’am!”

Then came Cana’s voice. “Just shut up for a bit now so we can start this thing! CHILL! Am I callin’ the firetruck again? Hm?” — silence — “There, that’s better. Fine? All fine? Okay, we’ll start now. Junior Track and Field event — let’s do this!”

Needless to say, it was a riot, with the combined forces of the cheerleading club and the all-too-hyper track team both cheering on their kouhai.

When Lucy got a chance to look at where their friends were gathered in the audience, she had to suppress a laugh at the sight of Romeo’s very own cheerleading team: Macao shouting his lungs off for his son, Igneel and Grandine not as loud but still loud anyway, Wendy and Chelia who for the best seats in the house were sitting on Mysto’s and Gajeel’s shoulders respectively, and the rest of the gang: looking like a mismatched set of teenage older siblings cheering for their baby brother.

Lucy preferred to think that all the borderline embarrassing cheering was good for the boys’ morale because the Magnolia Junior High team won. Both cheerleaders and track team members practically crashed against each other in some sort of victory celebration for their kouhai. Lucy almost lost balance for a while, but a strong arm wrapped around her waist and pulled her upright again. She uttered a small ‘oof!’ as her face bumped against Natsu’s shoulder.

“Keep yerself together, Luigi.” he smiled, teasing.

Lucy just pouted up at him, not pulling away as she playfully hit his face with one of her pom-poms. “You guys broke our formation!”

“But we won!” he said, childishly jumping a bit.

She laughed and nodded, jumping with him. “I know, Romeo did great!”

Right then, the junior high team approached their crowd of high schoolers, and most of the cheerleaders and track team members gathered around the younger students to congratulate them. Natsu and Lucy also stepped forward, but first, Natsu said, “It’s our turn now.”

Lucy blinked. “Oh. Yeah.” Then she looked around, finding another familiar face… “Hey, Jet!”

Jet was busy ruffling a younger student’s hair and telling the boy he did a great job, but he quickly turned towards her when he heard his name being called. “Yeah?”

“Good luck out there!” Lucy said, smiling. “Kick some butt!”

Jet smirked, giving her a confident thumbs-up. “Yeah, we will! Just tell your not-boyfriend over there to not screw it up!”

Lucy looked back at Natsu, who just grinned at her silly. “W-What, you’re running?”

“Alright team, assemble! Let’s go!” someone called out, and the track team, Natsu included, quickly withdrew from the crowd to jog towards the field.

Lucy called after him. “Natsu! Hey!”

“Cheer for us, Luce!” was all he said, waving cheerfully as he jogged with the rest of his team.



In the audience, as Wendy and Chelia got back down to their own feet after sitting on Mystogan and Gajeel’s shoulders, they heard Levy shout, “Hey! That’s Natsu! He’s with the team! He’s gonna run!”“It is Natsu-san.” Juvia remarked.Gray smirked. “I knew it.”Mysto and Gajeel automatically looked down at both Wendy and Chelia, who were looking up at them solemnly.

Both of them sighed, about to decline. Wendy and Chelia weren’t exactly feather-weight little girls anymore…

Then they all heard Igneel: “Hey, isn’t that Jellal-kun?”

Followed by Grandine… “What? That’s not right, he told me he’s not—”

“But it’s Jellal-kun!” Macao said.

Mysto and Gajeel simply were unable to say no when the girls tugged at their shirts and pleaded, “We have to seeeeee!”

And then Cana’s and Max’s voices rang out again from the speakers.

“What do we have here, folks?”

“Natsu and Jet, back in the track team!”

“Hey, that blue-haired tattoo-face is Erza’s BF.”

“BF, Cana?”

“Oops! Missed another F! I meant BFF. You can put down that sword now, Erza!”

Yes, there was an angry red-head on the other side of the field waving around a bamboo sword threateningly.

“So it’s your turn to feel torn? Your BFF or our very own track dream team— okay, okay put the sword down nice and easy, we’ll shut up now. NO NEED TO GO HERE! Oh my God—”

“Ooohhh look up! Cake!”

That one second that Erza stopped in her tracks to look up at the alleged cake from the sky was all it took for the hosts to go back to their programme and start the high school track event.

The runners from both teams all shook hands before lining up. As Natsu clapped Jellal on the back, he said, “Didn’t know you were in the team.”“I wasn’t.” Jellal sighed. “But Ultear saw YOUR lineup, thinks it’s formidable… you and Jet-san, to be specific and… um, let’s say our best men didn’t come today because they’ve already been scouted by universities — early recruitment and trainings and all that. Meredy spilled some dirt about me being a runner in my previous school so here I am. Couldn’t say ‘no’ to Ultear when she claims to have Erza’s number PLUS embarrassing snapshots of me on her phone. I bet those are from my evil twin.”“Sounds like them.” Natsu laughed. “When’s your last practice?”“Uh, 15 minutes ago? A warm up?”

“Great. Mine’s 2 hours ago. Good luck, man!”

Lucy was — for the umpteenth time that day — hit by a sense of nostalgia. She had been here, just a year or so ago, standing with the cheerleaders, saving breath and voice for when the run starts. And there was Natsu and Jet, grinning, determined, as they prepared to run. They were the star runners of the team, back then. Natsu was the heart, always with an easy grin, all fired up and lifting the team’s mood with him. He had that kind of effect on people. Jet was the ace, further boosting the team’s morale — they had Magnolia’s fastest runner up their sleeve.Juvia once told Lucy that she couldn’t help but feel bad whenever people talk about Jet and Natsu not being in the team anymore. Jet was hospitalized and Natsu was suspended after the Phantom incident back in second year. When they came back, Natsu was cut from the team, while Jet chose to spend the rest of the year resting. The following year, Natsu didn’t join in and Jet chose the computer club instead.Those things were in the past, Lucy always heard Erza say. Nobody wished for those to happen. They’ve all moved forward. “We’re alright now.” — was the red-head’s words, and Lucy knew that Juvia held on to those words dearly.Lucy took one glance at the audience again: Gajeel complaining about Chelia’s weight while the girl laughed with Wendy, Juvia happily talking to Levy, Gray listening in with an easy smile.

Yes, they were all indeed alright now.

Now — recalling Erza’s determined kendo match and Bisca’s tie-breaking spike in the volleyball round, looking at Natsu and Jet preparing to run, and feeling at ease in her cheerleading uniform, standing in formation with pom-poms in hand — it’s as if all those crazy things from the past year never happened, as if all the big changes for the following months weren’t about to come… and they were just kids again.

Lucy was snapped out of her thoughts when their head cheerleader ordered for them to prepare to cheer as soon as the whistle sounded.

And there it was: as the sound of the whistle rang out and the students broke into a run, the cheerleaders sprang to life as they jumped… and Lucy cheered from the top of her lungs.


“You… guys. Are… monsters.”Natsu and Jellal looked behind them, towards Jet who was panting even after the celebratory cheers and sweaty group hugs with the team.“W-Who, me?” Jellal asked, obviously confused.Natsu raised an eyebrow as well. “What’s yer problem? We won. You won, how d’you run that fast, man?”

“Almost didn’t!” Jet exclaimed, still panting and looking at them disbelievingly. ‘Well, obviously I’m fastest but you two gave me a run for it.’ — and then after the beat: “Pun intended. Catching up so close to my record like that… I can’t believe it’s been a year since you two last did anything like that.”

“I jog to school everyday?” Jellal tried.

Natsu thought for a bit before he said, “I get lotsa practice runnin’ from Erza when she’s pissed?”

Jet just groaned and shook his head, and waved Jellal off before dismissing his team — they have to wash up if they wanted to look presentable again for the awarding.

Natsu trailed after the team to head for the locker room, wishing the basketball team good luck on his way. Like his teammates, he took a quick shower and changed into spare clothes before they all set off for the field again to catch the rest of the event. They knew there was still the girls’ track and field event.

While they walked through the halls, Natsu realized that he had forgotten his jacket (which had his phone and wallet in it) in the locker room. He told Jet and the others to go ahead without him and went back to retrieve the items.

He got his jacket and stuff without incident, and also decided to bring his bag and the rest of his things with him so he wouldn’t have to go back to the locker room when it was time to go home. He decided that he can just dump his bag in the audience with Igneel and the others if it became too much of a hassle to carry.

On his way back through the empty school corridors, he heard the principal’s familiar voice, obviously in conversation with someone.

“…honored that you would personally come here, Heartfilia-san. Usually, you send Capricorn-san in your stead.”

Natsu paused. Heartfilia? Lucy? But the principal calls her ‘Lucy-chan’, right?

Then, another voice — this one unfamiliar — was heard, “I do think it was about time I paid a personal visit, Principal Dreyar. The Heartfilia Foundation has been sending regular donations during this event, after all. It’s just that this is the first time I had time off.”

Natsu blinked, quickly figuring things out. Lucy’s dad was there? As the footsteps and voices sounded clearer and louder, Natsu realized that the two men must be getting nearer. If it were anyone else, he would have tried to look for another way, or to hide behind something to make way for the principal and the guest, but it was Natsu, so he continued to walk in his original direction.

A few seconds later, he met the principal, walking with Jude Heartfilia. Natsu never personally met the man, but he had seen him on photos, TV and on the papers.

They were in the middle of conversation when Makarov noticed the student, who stopped in front of them. “Ah, Natsu! Going back to the event?”

Natsu nodded, smiling easily at the old man. “Yeah, would hate to miss the girls’ run.”

When he looked towards Jude, Makarov instantly spoke up. “Heartfilia-san, this is one of my students. Natsu Dragneel. He’s a very close friend of your daughter; they’re in the same class. Natsu, I take it you know—”

“Lucy’s dad.” Natsu answered, then bowed politely. “Hello, sir.”

“It’s good to meet you, young man.” Jude nodded, eyeing the young man critically. He has never met any of Lucy’s ‘new’ friends before. His daughter seemed to think that he didn’t have to.

He also recognized the young man’s jacket. Lucy was donning the very same one just a week before…

“Natsu ran for the track event earlier.” Makarov supplied.

“Lucy cheered.” Natsu said. Makarov fell silent. He almost never saw Natsu holding back, but there it was — the usually energetic, bouncing boy was standing straight, unmoving, looking right into the man that was his best friend’s father. His tone was serious and dignified, forceful but not angry. One would think, for all the times that Natsu said that he didn’t like Lucy’s dad, that the student would lash out at the man if they ever met. Surprisingly, however, Natsu managed to remain polite.

Because this was Lucy’s dad. Lucy loved her dad, despite everything. Natsu gave hell to anyone who hurt Lucy… but he wouldn’t do anything that meant hurting Lucy too. Even if they deserved it. He would always put his best friend’s feelings first.

Makarov saw this, and he was proud.

“Did she?” Jude asked, raising an eyebrow — and it almost took Natsu aback because that was such a Lucy thing to do, that elegant eyebrow raise—

He kept his composure and nodded. “Yeah. She’s great. Cheered a lot of people on, and up. I hope you don’t get mad at her for makin’ others happy.”

“Why do you think I would ‘get mad’ at my daughter, young man?”

“She quit it for you. Cheering. She gives up on a lot of stuff ’cause of you.”

“Those things are her decisions, entirely.”

“Yeah, but I think she made ’em for you.” Natsu said, tone sharp. “I wish you’ll give her some credit for that.”

Jude heaved a sigh, then looked back at the young man straight in the eye. “How my daughter and I deal with these things are none of your concern. But thanks for the advice, albeit unsolicited. Anything else, so we may all proceed with our day?”

“Um,” Natsu paused. He expected the man to be… angrier, grumpier than this — after all, he had been quite rude, giving that unsolicited advice out of the blue…

“Just say it, Mr. Dragneel. You can’t possibly be any ruder than my worst business partners.”

Natsu blinked, then, carefully he said, “You… kinda suck at the ‘dad’ thing, you know…?”

The answer was surprisingly calm. “I’ve been told so. By my daughter herself. We’re working on it.”

“She told me ’bout that. She’s real happy ’bout it.”

A nod.

“Lucy’s last cheer today — y’should see it. She worked really hard.”

“Duly noted. And?”

“She knows you love her, y’know. She’s worried that you think she doesn’t. But she does.”

Another nod.

“And, err… please — PLEASE stop making her go on those sucky lunch dates with, uh, she calls ‘em ’annoying rich snobs’… ‘cause I’m the one who’s gonna suffer from her complainin’ after.”

“I’ll think about it. It’s good training for business, however. Neither of us actually like those ‘annoying rich snobs’ any more than you do.”

“Uh. Really?”


“Then go tell her that, geez!”

“I can’t. I’m teaching her the virtue of patience by practical application.”

“Oh. Okay…” — then after a moment’s hesitation, Natsu scratched his head and asked, “So is it true what Loke said, if Lucy gets a boyfriend below your standards, you’re prolly gonna send your army of bodyguards after ’em and prolly make them wish they’ve never been born?”

Jude raised both eyebrows this time, and to Natsu’s and Makarov’s surprise, a corner of the man’s mouth was tugged up in what looked like a semi-amused smirk.

“Mr. Dragneel,” the man started, clearing his throat and straightening his coat. “I’ve raised Lucy to be capable enough of setting her own boundaries. Her boyfriends need only adhere to her own standards, as I am quite sure that she has set hers better than I will ever be able to. Besides, she is fully capable of, I quote — ‘making them wish they’ve never been born’ herself.”

Natsu and Makarov simply gaped.

“If there is one person that these potential boyfriends of hers should be wary of, it is not me, but my daughter. I have been told — and I would have to agree — that my daughter is what you and your friends would call ‘badass’. Does that answer your question?”

Natsu nodded. “Y-Yes…” — and after a beat, he added, “Sir.”

“Now I do believe that I have some things to discuss with the principal. Have a fine day, Mr. Dragneel.”

“U-Uh… yeah. Okay.”

With that, Makarov and Jude went on their way, heading towards the principal’s office…

But Natsu wasn’t quite done just yet. “Um, one last thing!”

Jude sighed, perhaps growing impatient. “Yes?”

“Just ’cause she grew to be badass doesn’t mean all those shitty stuff you put her through is okay, y’know.”

“I know.”

“You’re gonna make up for it?”


And with that, Natsu finally grinned and nodded. “Great. Don’t forget to watch her cheer later!” He didn’t wait for the reply, and simply jogged his way back to the field.

As Natsu dumped his things beside his father in the picnic blanket, Igneel handed him the bento that he set aside for his son. “Here, eat up. Good work out there.”“Thanks, dad.” Natsu smiled, accepted the food and then sat beside Erza and Jellal. Erza was eating her late lunch, while Jellal had changed into a spare shirt and was drinking water. Their other friends were busy watching the goings on in the field.“Hey. Good job.” Erza said.“Your boyfriend almost beat me.” Natsu replied, shooting a smug grin towards Jellal.

Before either of his companions could retort, the hosts were already introducing the FairyGaku cheerleading team again, for their last routine of the day.

Natsu watched as Lucy stood in formation with her old team, and silently wished her luck. He knew that she would do her best, like always. This time though, he knew that a special person was watching as well.

‘Go make your dad even prouder, Lucy.’

The Raijinshuu were roped in to betting one lazy afternoon at The Strauss’ when they arrived too early for a gig. They were having snacks and drinks while Mira and Bixlow shared the latest juicy gossip in town when Mira mentioned that there was a bet going on for Natsu and Lucy.Laxus, who had known Natsu ever since he was that puny kid who started hanging out with Erza, Gray and Cana at their house, raised an eyebrow at that. “Who, that blonde bombshell of a cheerleader he’s always with?”“Laxus, she’s sixteen.” Evergreen pointed out.Laxus looked at her innocently. “What?”

The vocalist continued. “You sound like she’s your type.”

Bixlow quickly cut in — “His type is green hair, medium build, red velvet coats, dazzling eyes—”

They ignored him completely. “I don’t have a type.” Laxus said. “I was just askin’. ‘Cause this is Natsu. Boy only cares about running, or cooking, or pranking and playin’ around.”

“Lucy-chan is fun, though.” Bixlow chimed in.

“Whatever, she looks like a normal girly girl to me.” Laxus shrugged. “She was draggin’ him away from trouble last time I saw ‘em. Natsu’s known for likin’ trouble.”

“BUT! They’re still together!” Bixlow argued.

“Ohhh…” Evergreen nodded. “I see your point. He likes her so even though he should be annoyed, he lets her do what she wants.”

Laxus blinked. “Huh. Okay, makes sense.”

They completely missed Freed’s sigh of resignation and Mira giggling at the band’s antics.

Bixlow concluded: “I think they’re cute. I’m gonna join in this bet thingy.”

Evergreen raised an eyebrow. “What, like he’s cute and she’s cute? Or like—”

“Like ‘Mama and Papa’ kind of cute.” he turned towards Laxus and Freed, who were both looking at him with unimpressed expressions. “Whaaaat? Look at you, looking at me like disappointed parents! Matching faces! So adorable!”

“Yep, they ARE cute.” Ever teased.

“I know, right?!”

Freed just rolled his eyes. “I don’t like bets. You go join in. I’m gonna pass up on this one, Mira.”

“Don’t worry.” Mira smiled. “Nobody’s forcing anybody.”

“Let’s do this, then.” Laxus said, making everyone look at him. “What? It sounds fun. I’M BORED.”

Bixlow clapped his hands. “Yay! Papa loves me!”

“Haha. No. So I’m in. So’s Bixlow. Freed’s a killjoy. Ever?”

The brunette shook her head. “Nah, not right now. I’ll take it into consideration, though.”

“Kudos. Not as much of a killjoy as you could have been.” Laxus nodded, and Evergreen accepted that as his version of ‘Whatever floats your boat, dude’. Then he looked at Mirajane again. “So how does this work, then?”

“It’s quite simple, really.” Mira started, taking out a notepad. “You just let me know WHEN you think they’re going to be together. And by together, I mean OFFICIALLY together, like they’ve both acknowledged that they’re dating. It doesn’t need to be an exact date. It can be a period of days, a certain week on a certain month, or this whole month. There’s a maximum limit of a period of 1 month only… because of course it would be just plain unfair if we accept someone saying ‘Anytime next year’, right? Also, it’s not a really serious bet so we can have multiple winners.”

“How much do we have to put in?”

“It’s up to you. Sky’s the limit! Though of course we have a minimum just to be fair. Some of them put in some useful stuff too. Like, Cana said she’ll treat the winner to milkshake here. Yajima-san said he’ll give out cake. We’re trying to get Erza to join, see.”

“Hm…” Laxus thought about it, while Bixlow rubbed his chin in thought. “Who have already joined?”

“Let’s see, there’s Levy, Jet and Droy… Gray and Cana… Warren, Macao, Sherry, Jenny, Loke… even Romeo added something… Oh, Gildarts too! Igneel said he’ll gather intel first before betting. I think he’s trying to win by knowing what his son is up to.”

“That’s unfair!” Evergreen said.

“I know. That’s why we set a No-Intervention rule. No one’s going to force those two kids into anything. Igneel swore on hot sauce that he’s just, I quote — ‘sniffing around and not doing anything sneaky’ — unquote.”

“But sniffing around is sneaky.” Bixlow pointed out.

Freed raised a hand and they all looked at him. “Has anyone considered that it may not happen? At all?”

“How dare you! Don’t you want them to be a cute happy lovey-dovey couple!?” Bixlow explained. “Just ’cause you and Papa refuse to kiss in front of us kids doesn’t mean—”

Laxus shoved a sandwich in the guy’s mouth to shut him up before talking. “Yeah, he’s got a point. I mean, maybe these kids are just messin’ around, nothing serious.”

“About that…” Mira considered for a bit. “I don’t think anyone would get upset if we just give them back their money. Or maybe just donate it to charity if it’s too much trouble redistributing.”

“Sounds fair.” Laxus shrugged. “So who’s winning?”

“More like who’s losing?” Mira chuckled. “Those two are just taking sooooo long that the last ones standing are Levy, Jet, Droy, Gray, Cana, Loke and Romeo-kun. Jet and Droy will be next losing if ever this keeps up, because they said it will take another year, and now they’ve only got four months to go.”

“A lot can happen in four months.” Freed remarked.

“Yeah.” Laxus agreed. “I mean it’s been what, more than a year, right? And they’re still actin’ like lovebirds WHILE denying it? Sign me up for… let’s see… five?”

“Five more months?” Mira asked, ready to jot it down.

Laxus simply nodded. Bixlow bounced in his seat. “I’m with Papa! It can’t take that long! Also, why don’t we have a bet going on for Freed and Laxus? Freed’s single again—”

“That’s ’cause you claiming that we’re your parents is bad enough.” Laxus grunted, while beside him, Freed just quietly looked down and pretended to be interested in his salad.

Bixlow was unruffled. “Also, Natsu likes Lucy-chan for realsies, right? Like, it’s so obvious? But he ain’t saying anything yet?”

Mira didn’t look up from writing on her notepad. “You can say that, yes…”

“And Lucy-chan’s this really rich ojou-sama, yeah?”

Mira smiled lightly. “Only the sole daughter and heiress of one of the largest corporations in Fiore.”

Laxus whistled. Bixlow sniggered, before saying in a low voice, “I betcha Natsu’s just holdin’ back ’cause of that.”

Mira looked up at him and raised an eyebrow, confused. “I’m sorry?”

“I mean Natsu don’t wanna confess ‘cause he’s… uh, right, he’s this ordinary boy and she’s a princess? Like, they’re soooo different, but they’re friends and she’s not like the other royals and maybe he really likes her but he’s just not tellin’ ’cause he knows it’s no use ’cause of course princesses marry princes and—”

“Hold up, this ain’t your TV dramas.” Laxus stopped. “You’re sayin’ he’s not doing anything ’cause she’s rich?”

Bixlow nodded, expression serious. “Yeah, I mean you’re completely in love with Freed but you don’t want to meet his parents because they’re scary rich people and we are mere peasants, right?”

“Please never speak again.” Freed said, glaring daggers.

“No, no wait — he’s got a point.” Laxus said, and everyone stared at him again, gaping. “Not the peasant bit, because I am not a fucking peasant, screw you man. I mean, we’ve all been friends with Freed for a long time now but — no offense, F — we don’t exactly enjoy hanging out at your big mansion ’cause your parents don’t exactly like us? So yeah, it’s kind of a deterrent.”

Freed nodded mildly. Mirajane and Evergreen just looked down.

To lighten up the mood, Bixlow continued — “See! So what more if Laxus walks in and asks Mama and Papa Justine for Freed’s hand in marriage?”

Laxus looked at him, pissed. “I’m gonna kill you—”


“Then make it. Now.”

“Okay. Here goes. Maybe it’s just like that. Our Natsu’s not makin’ his move yet ’cause making it official brings in the possibility that he’ll hafta talk to Lucy-chan’s scary rich family and they might not like him because they’re Lucy-chan’s scary rich family. That’s it.”

They all fell silent.

“Shit, it’s a valid point.” Laxus groaned. “I can’t hit you now.”

Bixlow smirked and declared, “So I’ll give ’em the same advice that I will give you: maybe you and Freed should just elope.”

That did it. Laxus said, “Oh wait, I can.” before taking the notepad that Mira was holding and smacking the drummer upside the head with it. While Bixlow screamed in pain and agony, the band leader gave the notepad back to the barmaid. “Back to business, how much is the minimum for this bet again?”

Silently, Mira considered that Bixlow and Laxus had a legitimate point. Natsu wasn’t the kind of person to care about what other people thought, yes. But even he should find Lucy’s very prestigious and practically royal background hard to ignore at the very least.

‘Maybe that was indeed what’s taking them too long?’ Mira thought to herself.

They were wrong, of course. Natsu was perfectly aware of his best friend’s family background. He’d snuck past the battalion of guards and had seen her big princess room himself. He knew that she was rich.He knew that her dad probably didn’t like him. Maybe. Well, if her dad sometimes acted like he didn’t like his own daughter, he probably wouldn’t like a scruffy small town boy whose future was simply cooking at a family restaurant.But like hell will that ever stop Natsu, because he knew that if there’s someone whose opinion of him he should care about, it was just Lucy. No one else.And soon he would have that face-to-face conversation with Lucy’s father of all people, to prove that he was right.

Because even Jude Heartfilia had honestly stated that Natsu shouldn’t factor him in the equation so much, because just having Lucy in it would be scary enough.

As weird as it may sound, Natsu agreed on Lucy’s dad on that one.

So maybe — maybe he was on the right track.

“Ah, it’s so happy to have everyone in here like this!” Mira said happily, setting drinks in front of Bixlow and Laxus before the two could even take their seats in the bar. The two blinked, and both simply shrugged before thanking the barmaid and picking up their drinks. Laxus walked away with his and two more for Freed and Ever, while Bixlow stayed in his seat. Beside them, Max chuckled as he looked at Mira’s ecstatic expression.The Strauss’ was packed full, particularly because of the assortment of students, teachers, parents and friends who came from the sports festival that day.On one table, it was Gildarts’ and Igneel’s treat as Macao, Wakaba, Grandine, Makarov, Yajima-san and Bob-san listened to their drunk tales about work and the kids. At some point during her shift, Cana sat in and ended up drinking with them too. She claimed it was to stop Gildarts from blurting out anything embarrassing about her.The usual bunch of teenagers was having a good time on their own in another corner of the place. Jellal, Meredy and Ultear had joined them. The group was huddled in the couches and tables nearest to the pool table, where Gray, Ultear, Bisca and Gajeel were playing billiards, all equally determined to ‘completely destroy’ their competitors. Standing nearby were Meredy (who was cheering Ultear on), Alzack, Jet and Droy (who didn’t want Bisca to lose), Juvia (who was rooting for Gray, and then for Gajeel second) and Natsu and Lucy (who were watching the thing just for kicks).

Freed and Evergreen were there, too — both happily accepting drinks from Laxus before the three turned to talk to Levy, Erza, Jellal and Mystogan about university.

Romeo was chatting with Elfman while Wendy was talking happily with Laki, both of them smiling and laughing as Laki tapped away in her phone. Maybe they were looking through pictures from the day’s events.

To Mira’s surprise, even the guys from Blue Pegasus were present and had seemed to be intent on relocating their ‘operations’ to The Strauss’ for the night. Most of the ladies they were entertaining were having a good time, so Mira let them be. Jenny had settled herself on the bar after Mira served her a cocktail and was now talking to one of the patrons about something…

Lyon dropped by shortly too (it involved him and Gray throwing ice cubes at each other until Juvia kicked both of their asses gracefully and made them both back down — Ultear filmed the whole thing and Mira made a mental note to ask her for a copy). The guy was simply escorting Sherry when the woman picked her cousin Chelia up.

“What, you missed how loud we can get?” Bixlow asked Mira. Beside him, Max sniggered.

Before the barmaid could answer, they heard a loud, “WHAT?! HOW DID YOU DO THAT?!” and “NO FAIR, YOU’RE SO GOOD AT EVERYTHING?!” from the pool table. When they looked, they saw Gray and Gajeel complaining, while Ultear was laughing heartily, Bisca was taking a bow and everyone was clapping their hands at her victory.

Mirajane turned to look back at Bixlow and Max and smiled. “Yes, indeed. I missed the chaos.”

It was then that Max leaned in and whispered to both of them. “Guys, activity from our not-couple over there.”

The two quickly looked for the ‘not-couple’ in the crowd.

There they were, standing beside each other a good distance from the pool table. Natsu was holding a half-full mug of beer, while his other arm casually rested across Lucy’s shoulders. Lucy had opted out the beer and had contented herself with a tall glass of iced tea. Both of them were still wearing their sportswear, Lucy with her cheerleading uniform and Natsu was donning an old track team jersey, although it was Lucy who wore the varsity jacket this time.

The ‘activity’ that Max pointed out was Lucy tugging lightly on Natsu’ jersey and leaning up to whisper something, while Natsu leaned down to hear her better. He said something in reply, and they talked for a while like this, faces almost touching in their private conversation. At one point, Lucy even hit him playfully on the chest before laughing and then saying something again.

“Ah, to be young and in love…” Mira sighed.

Bixlow agreed, sighing as well, “…and totally messing up bets because they still won’t admit that they’re practically together already… I really want those free Yajima-san cakes.”

Both Max and Mira groaned.

They watched as Lucy took Natsu’s arm off her shoulders so she could transfer one of her pink wristbands to his wrist. Natsu said something, and Lucy just ruffled his hair before clinging to his arm and leaning against him comfortably.

Damn. Those wristwarmers. That jacket. The head cheerleader and the star of the track team. Those were what sparked the bets in the first place.

“Do we have a… err, ultimatum or anything?” Bixlow asked his companions. “Like, a time limit? When do we call it quits and accept that they’re just… uh, really lovey-dovey BFFEEEBNL’s?”

“They’re what?” Max asked.

“Best Friends Forever and Ever and Ever and Ever But Never Lovers.”

“I dunno.” Max sighed. “I mean, Laki and I, we called it quits when we first lost.”

“But these things take time, man.”

“THIS long, though? Look at them. They’re THERE already. Look. LOOK—”

They looked. The two were still whispering to each other, this time Lucy’s free arm had snaked around Natsu’s torso and Natsu was idly playing with one of her pigtails.

“Aw, man. That’s awfully close.” Bixlow whined.

“See?” Max groaned in frustration. Then they saw Natsu pull Lucy even closer, whispering something to her ear and then smirking when she nodded. “They’re like this and they’re still saying they’re best friends so maybe that’s it. Nothing more— wait.”

Lucy was shaking. Lucy and Natsu were both-… oh hell, they were… giggling? They withdrew from each other and then they were laughing…

“What was that?” Mira asked, clueless. “What just happened? Did he say something? Maybe he told her something funny?”

“I think…” Bixlow started, narrowing his eyes. Natsu and Lucy paused, and then looked towards their direction, before laughing again. “Those cheeky little-! They were messin’ with us!”

Just then Lucy handed Natsu her empty glass and pat him on the shoulder in thanks as he started to walk towards the bar.

Bixlow pouted at him, Max glared, and Mira was still confused. Natsu laid the empty mug and glass on top of the counter as he sniggered at the three. “You three shoulda seen yer faces.”

“You didn’t!” — Mira

“I knew it!” — Max

“How could you-! We were-…! U-Uh—” — Bixlow

“Gossiping?” Natsu asked, smiling slyly.

“No! Discussing your future!”

Natsu snorted, then laughed. “T’was priceless, y’know. You three were gapin’ and lookin’ at us like we were dancing aliens in there—”

“We hate you.” Max said, shaking his head.

“Nah, you love us.” Natsu said, bluntly.

Mira took the empty mug and glass, then sighed. “That was mean, Natsu.”

“What’s meaner is you guys discussing our future without us.” Natsu said, crossing his arms across his chest and faking a hurt face. “Why are y’all so pushy about me and poor lil Luigi?”

“Fine, since you’re here and all, we’re just going to ask you.” Max decided. He looked shortly at Mira and Bix before he continued, “Are you even thinking — even in the slightest bit — of taking this ultimate-bestfriendship of yours to another level, and by this other level, we mean: are you or have you and-or Lucy considering-slash-considered even the smallest possibility of dating each other?”

Natsu just said, “Two glasses of water, please.”

“Only after you answer the question.” Mira said, smiling deviously.

“Aww, you’re taking the water hostage? Seriously? The poor innocent water?”


“Fine.” Natsu huffed. “Look at Lucy, friends. Look at her.”

They did. Lucy blinked when she saw them staring, but relaxed when Bixlow waved happily. She simply smiled and waved back.

As this was happening, Natsu was saying, “She’s the prettiest girl in the whole wide world and she’s got the best smile and she’s a lotta fun to be with and it doesn’t look like it but she makes really crazy life choices — and I dunno ’bout you, but that’s metal as heck. She’s awesome overall, just don’t let her cook.”

“…and?” Mira prodded. She liked where this was going…

Natsu continued, “And she actually likes me very much, can you believe that?”


“So! If ’ya think I never thought — even once — that she’s the best thing since hot sauce, then you gotta be kidding me.”

They just looked at him.

“So…” Bixlow started slowly. “That’s a yes, right?”

“’Course it is.” Natsu rolled his eyes, then pouted at Mira. “Where’s my water?”

He got the water.

They watched as he walked back to his friends and handed the other glass of water to Lucy, who flashed a peace sign towards the gossiping trio at the bar. Lucy walked towards Erza and the others when they called for her, while Natsu looked down at Meredy who tugged at his sleeve and talked to him. Mira, Bixlow and Max figured that the girl was just asking where the restroom was because Natsu proceeded to gesture towards that very direction after.

Bixlow looked at Mira. “…So we’re not calling it quits yet, yeah?”

“But we do need a limit. His answer’s too vague.” Max said.

“What about graduation?” Mira asked. “If they’re not together by the high school graduation ceremony, we call it off.”

“No, there’s the summer.” Max said, shaking his head. “They hang out a lot. What about when university starts? Lucy’s essentially moving out. Natsu’s staying. If they’re not together by then, we call it quits.”

“I agree with that. There’s no one who bet on them getting together while Lucy-chan’s already in FU.”

Mira looked at them. “That’s it, then? When the last person loses, we’re calling it off.”


“Sounds fine to me.”

The three of them all heaved a collective sigh.

“You old men don’t learn!” Natsu groaned as he and Lucy helped Igneel inside the Dragneel residence. The man was practically dead weight on both the teenagers’ shoulders. “How many times did we have to tell ‘ya: you’ll always lose a drinkin’ game with Cana.”“B-But I wash… wash winnin’… forreals…” Igneel drawled. “Forrealsh!”“No you weren’t.” Natsu snapped. “You actually did bad.”Lucy sighed. “I can’t believe he was under the table even before Grandine-san was.”

“Grandine-san was the last challenger standin’. Wow.” Natsu said, calmer now, perhaps because he himself couldn’t believe that it was their kindly neighbor woman who managed to outdrink the other men. Even Gildarts lost by one mug. “You should be ashamed, dad.”


“Yeah you are.” Natsu laughed. “And we’re lucky that we got Lucy ‘cause all our very responsible drivers were passed out drinkin’ with a high school girl.

It was true, too. Igneel, Macao and Grandine had all gotten wasted in the contest. So much for responsible adults. Jellal and Mystogan both knew how to drive, but didn’t have their licenses yet. It was a good thing that Lucy volunteered to drive the minivan for them. So when they arrived home, Jellal had to carry his mother, while Mystogan and Romeo helped Macao, and Lucy and Natsu dealt with Igneel.

“S-sorryyyy…” came a pathetic whine from Igneel as the three of them started to climb the stairs. “Am a bad dad…”

“Great, you’re gonna cry.” Natsu complained. “Don’t cry.”

Lucy frowned. “Is he the crying type of drunk?”

“Yeah. Talks about mom till he passes out. Geez, dad. Lucy’s right here listenin’, don’t make a fool of yourself.”

“C’mon, Igneel. You can do this. We’re almost there, and you can go to sleep in your bed.” Lucy encouraged kindly.

“Yeah, dad. Go fight.”

Igneel sniffed, nodding weakly. “Lucy-chan… shtayin’?”

“Loke will pick me up later.” Lucy answered, assuming that the man was asking her if she was staying the night. It was incredibly late, after all. “Don’t worry ’bout that.”

“Thirtybabies… Widdle babies…”

“Err, no. No babies yet.” Lucy chuckled uneasily.

“We’re not givin’ you thirty babies until you fix yerself.” Natsu huffed.


There was quite a struggle in tucking the man to bed properly, leaving a glass of water by his bedside and making sure he was comfortable. As soon as Igneel was sound asleep, Natsu and Lucy went back downstairs. Natsu offered to make Lucy some hot chocolate, but she declined, yawning.

Natsu just nodded and asked, “Wanna come up, then? Lie down a bit while waitin’ for Loke?”

“Yeah, sure.”

They went up to Natsu’s bedroom, where Lucy instantly slumped down on the bed, and Natsu sat down beside her.

Lucy blinked when Natsu reached out to straighten down a portion of her cheerleading skirt that ended up riding too high along her thighs in her carelessness when she laid down.

“Thanks.” she said, patting his knee softly.

“You really wore it the whole day, huh.” he chuckled, referring to her cheerleading uniform.

“Gajeel dared me. I know he was just kidding, but hey, sometimes I get competitive.”

“You kicked ass out there, y’know.” he mused quietly, lifting both his legs up on the bed. “This one guy on the track team — he’s a first year so that’s the first time he saw you cheer — he got heart eyes watchin’ ya. Then he said I’m lucky I got a hot girlfriend.”

She laughed, looking up at him. “What did you tell this poor freshman then?”

“I told ’im my hot girlfriend’s also a big nerd.”

Lucy hit him this time, pouting. “I’m not a nerd!”

“No, you hafta hear the rest.”

“Okay. What’s the rest?”

“He was like, ‘oh maaaan, she’s smart and hot wow score!’ Then he asked if the track team helped me getcha and I said ‘yeah kinda’ ’cause how else am I supposed to answer that? And now he’s all fired up thinking that running really fast will get him a girl.”

Lucy snorted, rolling her eyes. “You think you inspired that poor boy.”

“He stopped interviewin’ me, and now he’ll work hard for the team. Win-win!”

“And the track team didn’t help you ‘get’ me, firebutt.”

“Yeah, what did?”

“I don’t know what did, but if some poor girl in my team asked me how I landed my fast-running boyfriend, I’ll just maybe tell her that you make me laugh.”

“Huh? S’that a normal answer?”

“Yes. They will usually stop there and accept it.”

Natsu thought about that while he slid down on the bed to lie beside the blonde. It wasn’t a big bed, but they still fit in fine enough.

After a while, he said, “Wait. Gray doesn’t make Juvia laugh.”

“Those two work on a completely different plane.”

“Okay, then.”

Lucy heaved a heavy breath before shifting, rolling to lie on her stomach and lean on her elbows, so she can look down at her companion’s face. “When did we give up correcting people?”

“Correcting them what?” Natsu asked cluelessly, looking up at her.

“When they say we’re together.”

“We’re always together.”

Lucy rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean.”

“I do?”

She stared.

“Oh. You mean together-together.”


“I dunno.” he shrugged. “It got tiring when I had to correct everyone. I mean everyone I talk to. So I just… stopped. Not like it’ll upset anyone? Unless you got this boy you like and you don’t want ’im to think you’re unavailable. ’Ya get me?”

“I get you.” Lucy sighed. Her gaze travelled lazily around the room, then landed on the wall just above Natsu’s study desk.

It was practically a scrapbook page. A huge collection of photos, notes, little souvenirs and mementos, all pinned or taped to the wall. From the distance, Lucy could just make out the faces in the close-up photos. Natsu’s mother. Igneel with a baby Natsu bundled up in their arms. The girls all huddled in a group photo. A selfie of Natsu and Happy. An old picture of Lisanna, Cana, Erza and Levy together. The long-distance shot photos were harder to make out, but some were easy to figure — the track team in their jersey and jackets, a group photo of the gang in the arcade, the staff of The Fire Dragon, Natsu and Romeo and their kite from one of the many kite-flying competitions they’ve joined, more kites flying in the sky, Lucy and Natsu with the Raijinshuu in one of their gigs…

“I still can’t believe that you’re a scrapbook kinda guy.”

“I like photos.”

“Even a solo photo of me?” Lucy asked, eyeing a stolen shot of her, sitting on her desk in the classroom, looking out the window. “Where did you get that one?”

“Cana gave it to me.” was all Natsu said, not taking his eyes off her.

“And you really put it there?”

“I like it.” he said easily. Then after a bit, he added, “I like you.”

She looked down at him, and momentarily stopped when she realized that he had probably been staring at her all this time. There was something about Natsu’s eyes during moments like these, when he just looks at her with that unreadable expression on his face. They were a really dark shade of brown — almost jet black, and sometimes it was difficult to look away.

When he was holding her — pinning her down — with that look even when he was just lying there, unmoving and just looking at her… she knows at the back of her head that he wants to tell her something. He was saying something… but never in the few times that this happened had she actually heard what was being said.

This Natsu was unfamiliar. Serious and quiet. He wasn’t angry, not intimidating either… but this Natsu scared Lucy.

Because somehow Lucy knew that this Natsu was someone that only opened up to her. Someone that only she got to see, to know…

And she didn’t know what he meant by this. She didn’t know how to… approach this.

She wished he would just tell her, dammit.

“I like you, too.” she said, slowly. She hated that she sounded so… calculating.

He nodded, still with that strange, serious and quiet Natsu look.

Then he said, “You’re my best friend.” — just a fact. Plain as day.

‘Yeah? And what?’ she wanted to ask. She couldn’t. Lucy tried to smile, to laugh… but it came out as a nervous chuckle instead. But that was good enough. “Yeah? You’re my best friend too.” she replied, and just to break the tension, she raised a hand and poked him on the nose lightly. “And I… if I… if I had a photo wall, I’ll put you in there too.”

It seemed to work, because serious, quiet Natsu was gone as her companion blinked up at her. Familiar, childish Natsu was back as he smiled and said, “Yeah? A solo photo too?”

“If you had one, yeah.” she said, managing to laugh lightly this time as she played with his hair.

“You should ask the girls. They take pics of everyone.”

“I will. Maybe in uni, on my dorm room with Levy and Erza. The three of us can make one. They’ll like that.” Lucy smiled. Then she blinked when he raised a hand to pull at something in her hair. It was a blue ribbon, the one she was using to tie her hair up. “Hey!”

“It was falling off! Your hair’s a mess.” he defended.


“Yeah.” he said, grinning a bit as he reached up to run his hand through the long blonde hair. “Luigi, you’re awfully tired, aren’t ’ya?”

“I am.” she yawned again, and then turned so that she was lying on her back again, their shoulders touching.

Natsu lifted his hand to look at the ribbon. “I’m keepin’ this.”

“What, the ribbon?”

“Yeah, I’ll put it in the wall — ‘Lucy’s awesome cheer routine’.”

“I’m s’pposed to scold you, I think… but that’s sweet so I won’t.”

“I… uh, I wanna talk. With you.”

“About what?”

“Something. But you’re tired. And I’m sleepy. So maybe next time.”

“You sure it can wait?”


“Dead sure? It’s not… uh, urgent or important or anything? Because you rarely ask to… uh, ‘talk’. I mean, we always talk but you don’t say ‘I wanna talk’ before we do so this must be… uh, different?”

“Kinda. Important, I guess?” he shrugged. “But it can wait, yeah.”

“Okay.” she chuckled. “I wonder what kind of important thing can wait, though.”

“Pssh, just go sleep.”

“Can’t. Waiting for my ride.”

They fell silent, both looking up at the ceiling almost blankly.

Until Natsu spoke up again. “Graduation’s next week.”

She breathed heavily. “Yeah. Graduation’s next week.”

“We have to take a lotta pics.”

“A ton of ’em.”

“With everyone.”



Somewhen in the course of their conversation, their fingers had twined against each other’s.

“Are you scared? Or nervous, at least? Or are you just plain excited?”

“Hmm… lil bit of each. You?”

“Same. I’m not sure I’m ready.”

“We just hafta be.”

“Will you miss me?”

“Probably. Will you miss me?”

“Honest? I just want to take you with me everywhere.”

“You’re a weirdo.”

“I’m being honest.”

“An honest weirdo then.”

“This honest weirdo is saying that she will miss you. Respond properly.”

“Mm… let’s see…” he thought for a while. “Ah.”


“I’ll miss you, really. You’re my favorite weirdo.”

She sighed. “Just this one time, I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Just then they heard the sound of a car engine outside the house, and they both got up to see that Lucy’s ride has arrived.

If either of them noticed that they both didn’t go for their usual goodbye kiss on the cheek that night, they didn’t talk about it.

Hidden Track:
“You Are In Love”

“One night he wakes, strange look on his face.
He pauses, then says, ‘You’re my best friend.’
and you knew what it was: he is in love.”
— Taylor Swift

The FairyGaku high school graduation ceremony finished without incident.Erza was worried that something — SOMETHING! ANYTHING! — will go wrong (because of course there is no smooth sailing possible if we’re talking about her bunch of friends) — but surprisingly, they managed without a hitch.She will forever remember it as the day that Natsu managed to sit still quietly throughout a long ceremony, that Gray managed to stay fully clothed for three full hours, Cana didn’t get anyone else drunk (of course having no drinks to spike alcohol with helped) and Gajeel and the other guys didn’t get into any sort of trouble. It was practically a miracle.

But from there on, it was camera time.

Of course graduation would be camera time.

After the ceremony, the school yard was of course filled with families and groups of students celebrating and taking commemoratory photos. Camera flashes and clicks were everywhere.

Erza found herself being approached by other students — co-graduates and underclassmen alike, asking her if she would kindly take a picture with them, some even asking for autographs! Just for the day, Erza humored them.

By the time she was finally free from admirers, Laxus was already calling for her among the crowd.

“Oi, future lawyer! C’mere and take a pic with gramps while he’s still standin’!” her brother said, waving a digital camera to make his point. Makarov was standing nearby, gesturing for her to come over. Freed waved at her too.

Erza rolled her eyes and said, “Coming!” as she waded through the crowds of students and families.

She stood next to her guardian, holding her diploma proudly as Laxus took a photo. After the first shot though, Freed laid a hand on the blonde’s shoulder and said, “You should join them.”

“What? I don’t wanna—”

“There should be a family picture.” Freed insisted, smiling as he grabbed the camera from his boyfriend and Erza stepped forward to pull Laxus by the arm.

The blonde stood grumpily next to his sister, Erza and Makarov trying not to laugh at him.

“Alright, smile!” Freed said.

Erza had to appreciate her big brother smiling a little bit, every once in a while.

After the family photos, she scanned the crowds to look for her friends.

Levy, Jet and Droy were suffering under the combined forces of their families taking pictures and talking about how they were so proud of the three kids.

Gildarts was having the time of his life snapping pictures while Cana brandished her diploma like a trophy, Gray stuck with no choice but to join her because she had his arm hostage. He was smiling despite it all, though. Ultear watched them with an amused smile on her face.

Juvia and her dad were busy taking pictures of Gajeel, who was being smothered by attention from Juvia’s mom.

Meanwhile, Lucy was the appointed camerawoman of the Dragneels. Erza had to resist herself from laughing out loud at how much of a riot the father-son duo was making. Natsu was struggling to carry his father bridal style while the man raised his son’s diploma high in the air.

Soon Erza let herself be pulled in by her friends. The girls were quick to snap a quick set of group photos huddled closely together — before Natsu bulldozed his way in to join them, followed by Jet, Droy and the others. Gildarts, Igneel and the other parents were more than happy to snap pictures of the kids fooling around and having fun.

When the massive bout of picture-taking was finally slowing down and some students started leaving earlier than the others, Erza stood with Lucy and Levy as they browsed through the recent pictures in Levy’s camera.

The three of them were too busy laughing at the funnier photos so they didin’t notice it when someone approached their group and stopped in front of them.

“Lucy.” came from a voice strong, clear and authoritative, foreign to Erza’s and Levy’s ears, but no doubt familiar to Lucy’s.

The three of them looked up at the same time. Erza and Levy failed to hide their surprise when Lucy exclaimed, “Dad!”

Jude stood in front of them, presence commanding in a formal suit, Loke standing behind him and casting the girls his usual gentle smile. The Heartfilia Family Head nodded at his daughter. “Congratulations on your graduation.”

“You came!” Lucy said happily, launching forward to embrace her father, who hugged her back, a soft smile in his face. When Lucy pulled away, she looked up at him and said, “You said you wouldn’t be able to make it.”

“I only said I might miss the ceremony because of urgent matters at hand.” he replied. The man sounded very formal even when he was talking to his daughter, but from the way Lucy took this in stride, this must be normal. “I don’t remember cancelling our lunch plans.”

“Oh. Right.” Lucy nodded, perhaps just as shocked as her friends were. Erza remembered Lucy smiling sadly when the ceremony had just started, saying that her dad wouldn’t be able to make it — like always. It was obvious that she didn’t get her hopes up at all. “Um-… you… you should meet my friends!”

Lucy turned towards Erza and Levy, both of whom by instinct stood straighter than usual and bowed politely.

“These are Erza and Levy-chan. They’re the ones I’ll be sharing a dorm with at uni.”

“Nice to meet you, sir!” Levy said, voice shaking slightly. “Um, Lu-chan-… I mean Lucy, is a good friend.”

Erza continued, “We swear we’ll take care of Lucy while we’re together.”

“The honor is mine, young ladies.” Jude said, bowing slightly, taking the two girls aback by the formality. “I trust that you two will have a fruitful stay in Fiore U. along with my daughter.”

“Y-Yes, sir…”

Then they were cut off when Cana’s loud voice rang out — “OI, LUCY! Your not-boyfriend took a bad pic of me and WON’T DELETE IT! Tell ’im to-… Oh. Beer.”

The brunette had stopped at the sight of a man she only ever heard about in the news or in Lucy’s break-down-in-tears moments. She had Natsu in a headlock on her side. The pink-head was struggling, but also paused when he looked up to see what made Cana stop. Beside her, Gray had stopped short, too.

“Um…” Cana started, then came up with nothing. “…sir. Aftern-… Morning— Day. Good day. Sir.”

Lucy intervened. “Um, dad — uh, more friends? This is Cana. We, um… we worked part-time together. Gray’s in my class. He’s an artist.”

“It’s always pleasant to meet more of my daughter’s peers.” Jude said with a straight face, nodding at both teenagers. Then he looked down at Natsu, who was struggling against Cana’s arms. “…and Mr. Dragneel.”

They all stopped. Nobody expected that. How did Lucy’s dad know Natsu?

“Oh, you’ve… met Natsu?” Lucy asked, raising an eyebrow, glancing at her best friend and father.

Gray gave Cana a nudge and the brunette finally let go of Natsu’s head. The guy patted his shirt as he grinned at the man. “Lucy’s dad!”

“Call me Jude.”

“Hey, Jude.” Natsu said, adapting quickly. “What’s up?”

“I am going to assume that you are asking how things are doing. They’re fine.”

It was then that Makarov decided to save the day by calling out towards Mr. Heartfilia. The man excused himself and then walked towards the principal. Lucy followed him, taking the arm her father offered as they joined the group of parents engaged in an animated conversation.

From the teens’ view, with how the adults were talking to Jude enthusiastically while Lucy held on to her father’s arm, looking down with a blush on her face, the other parents must be telling the man how much they absolutely love and adore his daughter.

“So…” Cana started, as they all looked slowly at Natsu.

…who blinked innocently.

“Her dad knows you personally and you’re on first name basis?” Gray asked, curious.

“Uh, I met ’im once, last week.” Natsu answered. “Not that scary, really.”

“Dude.” was all Gray was able to say. In his head, he continued, ‘You’re on first-name basis with one of the richest people in freakin’ FIORE.’

“So… they’re okay right now?” Levy asked, directing the question towards Loke, who had joined their group in the commotion.

“They’re actually doing pretty good these past few months, particularly after the ball.” Loke answered, smiling as he watched the father and daughter interact with the other parents.

Perhaps it was a habit that Lucy had developed from always appearing together with her father in formal occasions, because even in such a casual gathering, she kept her hold on her father’s arm. It depicted their relationship well, Loke thought. Lucy was her daddy’s girl, no matter how distant they might act. She might complain about his misgivings and shortcomings as a parent, but innately, she also trusted her father to protect her no matter what, so she always took comfort in his proximity and presence. It was the same with Jude. He always offered his daughter a part of him to hold on to and always made sure to walk on a pace she can keep up with. They might not always meet eye to eye, but they still trust the other strongly.

Igneel must have said something relatively embarrassing, because Lucy shouted at him bashfully before blushing and pouting. Jude looked down at his daugther’s expression with a discreet smile. She was so comfortable with these people…

“What did you tell him?” Loke asked Natsu. The others nodded, also curious, urging their friend to answer the question.

“Just that he should appreciate Lucy more, I think.” Natsu shrugged. “Make up to her, y’know…”

They accepted his answer easily.

It was then that Gray slung an arm around his proclaimed rival’s shoulder and said, “So — we just graduated. Any plans of ending the bets?”

“Yeah, talk about perfect opportunity, with Lucy’s dad here and all.” Cana added. “You could ask permission or whatever.”

To their surprise, Natsu nonchalantly shrugged at them and answered all too easily — “Nah, he said that I don’t need his permission ’cause Luigi does what she wants anyway. Also that she’s way scarier than him.”

They nodded, accepting his answer easily because Natsu was always straight to the point anyway—

“Wait.” came from Erza, before the group slowly absorbed the information, and all turned to look at Natsu, gaping.

Gray was the first one to snap. “YOU ALREADY ASKED?!”

“Yep.” Natsu said, proud of himself.

“Seriously!?” Cana practically shouted, grabbing him by the collar and shaking him back and forth… Natsu just grinned his silly grin as Cana practically nagged at him to spill everything he had done so far.

“What’s happening?” Juvia asked when she joined them, a haggard Gajeel in tow. He finally escaped Juvia’s mom’s motherly pampering.

“Lucy’s dad came to pick her up and turns out he gets along with Natsu fine.” Gray explained shortly, watching in amusement as Erza tried to stop Natsu and Cana from roughhousing but ended up in the tussle herself.

Gajeel whistled. “Looks like there’re no issues in the family department. His dad wants to adopt her already, for shit’s sake. So what’re they waitin’ for-… What?” he asked, weirded out because Gray and Levy were staring up at him.

“What happened to your hair?” Gray asked. Beside him, Levy covered her mouth with her hands to stiffle her giggles.

Gajeel’s hair was combed, gelled back and tied into a low ponytail.

FairyGaku’s mighty Iron Dragon glared at his friends pointedly. “Juvia’s mom. Juvia’s mom is what happened to my hair.”

Gray chuckled while Levy hid her face in his arm, shaking — then both of them burst into laughter.

“It’s not funny! I feel harassed!”

“Hey Gajeel!” — that came from Natsu, and when Gajeel turned towards him, he was in another headlock courtesy of Erza this time. “You look ready for your job interview!”

Cana and Erza couldn’t help but laugh with him after that.

Pretty soon most students have left with their families to go home or to celebrate by having lunch out. Igneel invited his son’s friends and their parents to eat lunch at The Dragon — his treat and a celebration of sorts for his only son’s graduation. They all enthusiastically accepted his offer, except Jude and Lucy, who politely declined because Capricorn had already booked them a reservation somewhere else.

As Jude and Loke headed to the car first, Lucy cast a grateful smile at her friends and their parents. “Maybe we’ll drop by next time, Igneel.” she said.

“No problem, Lucy-chan. It looks like you and your father need to have some time to yourselves, anyway.” Igneel replied. “I hear he doesn’t have much free time. Make the most of it.”

“Thanks.” Lucy said, stepping forward to give the man a hug. Igneel hugged her tightly and she laughed when he lifted her up a bit before setting her down again.

“We’ll hang out soon.” Natsu said, raising his arms to indicate that he wanted his own hug.

Lucy obliged smiling, to the friendly cheering of their friends to “NOW KISS!” and she just stuck a tongue out at them and said, jokingly, “Not while my dad’s watching, you dorks!”

Everyone just cheered some more, claiming that she would’ve done it if her dad wasn’t there.

Someone from the crowd shouted, “Just end the bets if Natsu won’t do it!”

The two broke apart for a bit, Natsu still keeping an arm around the blonde. To his surprise though, Lucy simply laughed at the comment, patting his shoulder as she replied, “Nah, this guy’s having fun messing with you all. Not gonna ruin that.”

There was a collective disappointed ’Awwwwww…’ from their audience as the two laughed, sharing a high-five before Lucy finally stepped back and jogged towards the waiting car.

As soon as they were on the road, Jude spoke up.“So I have been told that there are people placing bets on you and that Dragneel boy.”Lucy gaped, and then shot Loke as disbelieving look. ‘How dare you?! Traitor!’ Loke smiled that smile that told her he was guilty but not sorry.“Oh. My God. Dad, I—”

But she was cut off when her father looked at her with a raised eyebrow, and a genuinely confused expression. “I do not understand why either of you are holding it off — aren’t you curious about who will win?”

The teenager just stared at her father, at a loss of what to say.

After a bout of silence, Lucy found enough of her voice to be able to ask, “Y-You mean… you approve?”

“Would my answer make a difference?”

She looked down, then out the window. “Um… no.”

The man shrugged coolly, clearing his throat before speaking up again. “Layla and I used to bet, every year, on how many women will try to flirt with Capricorn during the annual ball.”

That made Lucy look back up. “…You did?”

“She always won. I tend to underestimate our noble butler. Layla, however, knew exactly how charming he can be. Capricorn, for his part, was always reduced to a bashful, blushing mess whenever your mother teased him.”

Lucy chuckled, seeing the image clearly in her head. She remembered the times when Layla would tease Capricorn to “live a little!” and try her hand at silly jokes that would make the usually serious and stern butler laugh once in a while.

Finally, Lucy turned towards her father excitedly. “Next year, let’s have one.”

Jude had a small smile on his face as he nodded. “Very well, young lady. Very well. Let us hope our butler doesn’t melt under the pressure.”

It was easy for Mira to get Juvia to join in the bets.It was even easier to get Gajeel because one set of puppy eyes from Juvia was all it took and he caved in to mostly everything. He was whipped like that. Mira thought it was adorable.The duo said it would probably take longer than they anticipate. They gave it 8 months, considering that they also joined in late in the game.“Why?” Mira had asked. “It won’t be in the records. I’m just curious.”

“I heard Bunnygirl’s dad is a terror.” Gajeel said.

“…and Natsu’s probably intimidated.” Mira finished for them, smiling and shaking her head. “Bixlow said so too—”

Juvia raised a hand to interrupt. “No, Juvia doesn’t think so. Natsu-san doesn’t seem like he will let that stop him…”

“Yeah, that guy doesn’t hold back.” Gajeel shrugged, absently stealing a slice of strawberry on top of his best friend’s parfait. Juvia glared at him. He rolled his eyes and made a show of opening his mouth wide to show the half-chewed fruit. “What? You want it back? I can give it back—”

“No, Gajeel-kun can keep it.” Juvia pouted, digging in to her dessert with more force than necessary.

“So… it’s not Natsu?” Mira asked.

“I don’t think it’s firebutt.” Gajeel said. He took another slice of strawberry and as soon as Juvia opened her mouth to scold him, he threw the piece into her mouth instead. The girl blinked, and just continued on her dessert, having forgiven him quickly. “I think it’s Bunnygirl scared that if her old man finds out, they’re dead meat. ‘Ya know, if there’s someone who knows — and s’prob’ly bothered by how different they are, it’s gotta be the star princess who’s obviously tryin’ to fit in with us normal folks.”

Juvia considered it a bit, and then nodded.

And of course, they were wrong, too.If they knew Lucy better then, they’d probably know that she was prepared to ignore whatever her father’s opinion will be, if it came to the people who really mattered.Because if there’s one thing Lucy knows how to do, it was to argue — and then, win or lose, keep going.

Lucy was used to seeing moving trucks around the apartment complex. It was, after all, a nice building that offered their accommodations at a fair price. Many people moved in and out the units regularly. During her short stay in the building so far, she had seen one couple, a working single man, and one family, all of which were her neighbors from the same floor, move out.Lucy did not help them move out. She had said her goodbyes, but they did not ask for her help. They didn’t look like they needed help either. The moving truck guys did the work for them.For this one, however, Lucy found herself as one of the people helping carry boxes of stuff down the stairs.Juvia and her parents were moving out. Gajeel was, of course, helping them. So was Gray, who was considerate enough to take a day-off from work to see his girlfriend off. Cana wanted to help out too but she had her part-time job. Lucy, with nothing better to do that day, decided to help as well.

It was never a big deal, giving her friends a hand. She stopped at the top of a staircase for a bit to see Gray helping Juvia’s dad lift one of the bigger, heavier boxes a few steps ahead. She had been climbing downstairs faster than them, so of course she caught up.

“Lucy, need help with that?” Gray asked when he noticed her, even though he obviously had his hands full.

“Nope, I’m good.” she said, shrugging. Her box was heavy, but not enough to make her struggle. She shifted a bit as she waited for them patiently to gain some distance before she started climbing down again.

“Ah, I’m sorry for making you wait, Lucy-san. This old man can’t quite catch up to you young ones.” Juvia’s father said, smiling apologetically.

“It’s no problem, sir.” Lucy shook her head. Juvia’s parents were so nice — she finally discovered where the girl got her amazing sweetness from.

Pretty soon they were done loading all the family’s belongings in the moving truck. It was a bit past noon when the family, along with Gajeel, Gray and Lucy, all gathered by the car that Juvia’s dad rented for the day. Juvia’s parents were just offering to eat lunch out before leaving, to treat the kids as a way of thanks for helping them, when a familiar voice spoke up.

“Hey, so um I got a delivery for a Miss Juvia Lock-… Locker? Laser? Whatever. I got no unit number ‘cause they said she’s movin’ away?”

They all turned to see Natsu standing nearby, with a big paperbag with The Dragon’s logo on it, and a plastic bag with two family-sized drinks.

They all blinked at him.

He shrugged. “Aw c’mon, I thought people’re always happy to see delivery guys? Or is that just for pizza?”

Juvia blinked again, trying to remember if she ordered anything, while Gray sighed and Gajeel just snorted.

Lucy chuckled and decided to play along. “What you got there, delivery guy?”

Natsu smiled. “Well, this one dude wanted to help carry stuff but he woke up late so he decided to order ’em lunch instead. With Miss Juvia’s fave Fire Dragon dish. So she’ll have a reason to go back and visit Magnolia often. And I also have a flier so she can call The Dragon if her stripper boyfriend screws something up and she needs backup to kick his teeth in or something.”

“I’m right here.” Gray warned.

But Juvia seemed to ignore the alleged stripper boyfriend’s annoyance because she just sniffed and then launched herself at the delivery guy. “Natsu-saaaaaaaaaannnn!”

Natsu suffered a death hug from the girl who totally ignored the boxes of takeout in his arms. “Oi, oi! You gonna crush your favorite food! Waita—”


“Okay— Wait, are you cryin— YOU’RE CRYING! What did I do?!”



While Lucy was busy giggling at the interaction, beside her Gray leaned sideways to ask her in a hushed voice. “How else did he think she was going to react?”

Natsu was saved when Gajeel finally decided to pry his best friend from the guy. Juvia’s parents thanked Natsu and then they all ate their lunch happily. When asked how he knew they were still there, Natsu simply said that he has a reliable source and they all just assumed it was Cana.

Cana was always the ‘reliable source’.

Then it was finally time to say goodbye. While Juvia’s parents headed back to the building to give their regards to their landlord one last time, Juvia turned towards her friends.

Natsu was given another death hug, but this time he hugged her back just as enthusiastically. He was a big hugger, when he wasn’t carrying food in his arms. He said that Magnolia will miss her.

Lucy received a gentler, but just as tight a hug too. She wished the other girl luck and Juvia wished her the same as well. She also thanked Lucy for being a great friend and apologized for all the times she called the blonde a ‘love rival’ when she so obviously wasn’t one.

Gray received a hug, this one lighter. He smiled down at Juvia and simply told her that her wait shouldn’t be long. Juvia simply nodded, smiling back. “Juvia knows that.” she said.

Lucy couldn’t help but smile. Had this happened a year earlier, Juvia would have clung to Gray for dear life, and cried hopeless tears and told him to text and call every day and that she’ll even come back to help him pack and pick him up.

Looking at their comfortable, assured exchange now, Lucy just nodded to herself. ‘Yep. They’ve grown really close, alright.’

Then it was Gajeel’s turn.

Lucy lost track of how many times the raven-head said ‘no’ after the tenth time he said the word all in the two seconds it took for Juvia to turn towards him and wrap her arms around his torso, burying her face in his chest.



She looked up at him and pouted. “Juvia’s just hugging Gajeel-kun. Juvia won’t get to hug Gajeel-kun anytime soon.”

“I don’t do hugs.” Gajeel groaned.

“Juvia doesn’t hear anything~” was what his best friend sang, snuggling closer. “Juvia will miss Gajeel-kun most of all because Gajeel-kun is Juvia’s bestest best friend forever!”

“I’m not.”

“You are!”

Gajeel sighed, finally giving in and wrapping an arm around her shoulders, patting Juvia’s head awkwardly with his other hand. “Fine, yeah unfortunately I am.”

“Awwwwwww…” came from Natsu, Lucy and Gray.

“Shut up all of you.” Gajeel snapped, but didn’t let go of Juvia. He looked down at her. “Oi. Juvi. You can’t hug me forever.”

Juvia just sighed as she tightened her hug and started saying all sort of things that the others had trouble deciphering as her voice was muffled by Gajeel’s shirt. It had something to do with ‘hugging’, ‘take care’, ‘hair’, ‘work’, ‘plans’ and they heard some stuff that sounded like ‘guitar’, ‘principal’, ‘laundry’, ‘Lily’, ‘ramen’ and… did she say ‘underwear’? They seem to have heard Levy’s name too…

Meanwhile, Gajeel was dying of embarrassment and has already sent a dangerous glare towards Lucy and Natsu who were tapping on their phones trying to snap a photo of the rare moment.

And then Juvia was crying.

Gajeel panicked, automatically turned to Gray for help, and got flat-out ignored when the other raven-head just whistled and looked away. ‘This one’s on you, man.’

His awkward patting got a little more hurried. “Oi. Oi, Juvi! You can’t go cryin’ on me now! You’re just movin’! Y’know how to go back, you can visit! I will visit! Call me everyday! I’ll text! I swear on Lily’s kiwi salad!”

In the background, Natsu leaned towards Lucy and whispered, “I swear I won’t do that to you when you leave.” to which Lucy just nodded at him and said, “Thanks, that’s thoughtful of you.”

But Juvia just cried harder. “Juvia loves Gajeel-kun so muuuu-huh-huh-huuuuuchhhhh-!”

“I know that!” was what Gajeel replied, rolling his eyes. “You don’t hafta scream it out like that.”

Juvia withdrew a bit to look up at him, face red and tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Don’t make me say it.” he said. Then he followed it with “Please. Pretty please? Uh… with Gray on top?”

“Nah, just do it, dude.” Gray advise. “L-word’s overrated. I said it once. World didn’t end.”

Gajeel snorted, then looked down at his best friend. He just shook his head in resignation as he used the sleeve of his jacket to wipe the girl’s tears away. “Look. You’re one loud, clingy, crazy little kid but you’re MY loud, clingy, crazy little kid because you claimed that spot because you’re loud, clingy and crazy.”

“…Is that good or bad?” Juvia asked, lost.

“The fuck are you askin’ me that now for? Point is, you’re crazy and my life will be a lot more peaceful without you.” he said, then poked her nose lightly. “But it’ll blow. Seriously it will. Now stop cryin’, ‘cause your parents are comin’ back, and they’ll think I’m being mean to you. So now you’re gonna leave this town and go out there and kick ass just like I taught you to.”

She smiled, finally letting him go, sniffing. “Juvia won’t have to kick anyone in art school.”

“Y’know what I mean.” Gajeel said.

Juvia simply laughed, and turned towards her parents who said that they should get going.

She nodded, then let go and then stepped towards Lily, who had jumped Gray’s arms earlier when Gajeel was first tackled. She scratched behind the cat’s ears and it purred sweetly. “Take care of Gajeel-kun for me, Lily.” she said, then dropped a small kiss on the cat’s forehead. Lily blinked in response.

She gave her friends one of her sweet smiles as she stepped back and bowed. She didn’t say anything, and simply followed her parents to their rented car.

Her friends waved and watched as the moving truck, followed closely by the Locksers’ rented car disappeared down the road.

She was the first of them to go.

Max followed a few days later. Laki came next.Natsu and Lucy were there everytime. Lucy really had nothing to do, so she decided to be there to send as many of her friends off. The goodbyes weren’t particularly sad. They were going to be in the same university and she can keep in touch with them easily anyway. Natsu tagged along, making the most out of his vacation. He said he would start working in The Dragon on the following month. He cooked them lunch or snacks every time.They went to the arcade a few times, but none of their usual friends were there. Cana and Gray appeared to be both busy. Gajeel had just moved in with the Dreyars and perhaps that was why Erza was occupied as well. Levy, Jet and Droy were making the most out of their last summer together, going on trips and hanging out.Natsu hung out at Lucy’s when she wasn’t hanging out with him in his place. He purposely ignores the empty luggage bags and unused cardboard boxes in the corner of her bedroom, although he idly wondered when she would start packing too.

Then it was Bisca’s turn. Natsu and Lucy stood to the side while Alzack wished her good luck, sad but proud smile reaching from his lips to his eyes.

After that, they hung out at Natsu’s.

That afternoon, Natsu sat on his chair while Lucy sat on his desk, adding little notes, doodles and cut out shapes on Natsu’s scrapbook wall while Natsu went through a stack of new photos from the girls. They made it a habit to always give him a copy of the best ones. And there were a lot of good ones from graduation day.

He smiled down at a wacky picture of their group of friends huddled together, arms and hands linked, pressed closely against each other, all smiling and laughing. He handed it to Lucy wordlessly.

“You like this?” she asked, smiling at the photo as well.

“Yeah.” he said, looking back down at the other pictures. “You pick where it goes.”

Lucy nodded quietly, turning back towards the wall of photos to pick a good spot for the new picture. She picked a free spot beside the photo of the others during their middle school graduation, finding it fitting. Lucy almost squealed at how cute everyone was, and then smiled as she noted how much everyone had grown, too.

That process continued for a while, Natsu commenting at the pictures and handing Lucy the nice ones, then she would stick it to the wall, looking fondly at the shots.

They mostly stayed quiet.

Most people would think that with how the two always talked about anything and everything, going on about having fun hanging out together and telling silly stories and jokes about each other, that their time alone would be loud ones filled with nonstop chatter, hysterical laughing and friendly (but safe!) item-throwing.

Most people were wrong.

Sometimes Natsu and Lucy just spend their time in lazy, comfortable silence, just doing whatever in each other’s company.

After a while, Natsu spoke up. “Hey, Luce.”

Lucy was busy taping a photo to the wall so she didn’t look at her companion when she said, “Yeah?”

“Y’know, uh-… okay, hang on. I got a question. But it sounds cheesy in my head.”

Lucy chuckled, glancing at him scrutinizing one of the group pictures with a focused frown on his face, before she turned towards her little scrapbook-on-the-wall project. “Please. I’m the one here writing a sappy romance novel. Try me.”

“Okay.” he said tentatively, then breathed heavily before he continued. “Y’know sometimes there’s like, two people you know just got together, like, it’s not even a year yet but they look like they’ve been goin’ for like fifty years already? I mean, it’s just a pic but man, I feel like I’m disturbin’ them. They’re not even makin’ out or anythin’. S’like they sparkle. And they’re in the background. They sparkle in the background. It’s so weird. They’re so… there.”

“Hmm…” Lucy mused, focused on sticking little cutouts to frame a cute photo of Wendy and Bixlow with Happy, Charle and a giant white kitty plush that Lucy gave the girl once. “Are you talking about Gray and Juvia? Or is this Alzack and Bisca?”

“Max and Broom, actually.”

Lucy turned towards him, letting go of the photo and the cutout as she gaped.

Natsu laughed out loud before he waved a picture around. “I’m kiddin’! It’s Alzack and Bisca!”

Lucy just rolled her eyes in exasperation as she picked up the items she dropped and went back to decorating the wall. “Dummy.”

“No I’m bein’ serious. It’s so weird. S’like, they wouldn’t even be together if we didn’t knock some sense on Al. But now they’re so… I dunno, together and I can’t even see them NOT together now, and everytime I look at them they’re just so… WEIRD.”

“Natsu, they’re just in love with each other. No need to feel bothered ’bout it.” Lucy said, as if explaining to a pre-schooler.

“I’m not bothered. It’s just it’s so weird like I’ve known ’em for years as Al and Bis and then they get together and suddenly they’re this weird person with two heads and four arms and four legs y’know. Like even if they’re standing ten feet apart, if they look at each other I’ll back off because it’s so weiiiirrrdd it’s like they’re still stuck. But they’re okay to talk to. But they’re so together I dunno what to say about it anymore.”

Lucy sighed. “I dunno, sweetie. Love is weird.”

“Aw, you think I don’t understand, do ya?”

She blinked, looking down at him shortly. “Why? Do you?”

He just shrugged and then continued, “Then a while ago when Bisca was leavin’! That was a surprise.”

Lucy paused, looked at her handiwork to assess it and decided it was cute enough, then shifted in the space she occupied in the desk. She looked at Natsu. “I know, right? I mean… Waitaminute.” Her legs dangled the edge of the table a few inches above the bedroom’s floor. It felt uncomfortable, so she used one foot to nudge Natsu’s knee a bit. He got the message quickly and shifted in his chair so his lap was more accessible for the blonde to prop her bare feet up on it. “Thanks. So back to Al and Bis. Uhhh… kinda agree with you. They took me by surprise a while ago.”

“They’re always hidin’ stuff and just whisperin’ to each other so I really didn’t think they’d do that.”

Before Bisca left with her mother, Alzack had swept her off her feet and the two shared what Lucy would only describe as a breath-taking kiss.

Complete with sunset and birds chirping and all that.

Natsu had pretended to cover his eyes, which was useless since at the same time he was also trying to catch the whole thing on video. That was until Bisca threw a hairclip at him and hit him square in the forehead ( “OUCH! No fair, you’re a ninja sniper cowgirl you shouldn’t use violence ’cause you’ll win!”)

Long story short, Natsu, Lucy and some others were treated to a very rare and romantic moment that obviously left Natsu having a crisis. (Erza was another story. Erza blushed like crazy and looked about to faint.)

“I know.” Lucy chuckled. “Have to admit though, it was so romantic.”

“Yeah it was, but… uh. Uh. I dunno. I just didn’t expect ‘em to be that lovey-dovey. I mean she’s just goin’ to live in the dorms too right? She’s not goin’ abroad or anythin’.”

“Just leave them be. It’s how they work. They’ll miss each other. They’re at that stage in their relationship where they like being…” she blushed a bit, looking down. “…physical. Kisses are normal. I guess it just took us by surprise because they’ve been so private until now and then they just… did that in front of everyone. Be happy for them a bit, will you?”

“I am!” Natsu said, almost horrified that Lucy implied that he wasn’t happy about his friends. “I’m just surprised too. S’just I’ve never thought ’bout it even though it’s all everywhere and stuff, but I yeah, I got curious I guess.”


“Curious about… those stuff. Smooching stuff.”

“Okay, we’re talking ‘kissing’, amirite?” she asked, just to be sure.

Lucy couldn’t believe that they were having a decent, serious conversation about kissing.

Well, they’ve had crazier conversations than this.

Once, they talked five hours about glue. Glue.

And you don’t always get to talk to your friends like this, and maybe it’ll be a nice talk, so Lucy didn’t stop her companion from talking.

“Yeah. I mean, I don’t unders— Wait, I do. I think I understand, also I think I don’t. ’Cause like you just look at these two people, right? And you can tell that they’re all over each other already. But they also have to do the kissing stuff. I’m stupid like this and I never thought of these stuff before. Is it required?”

“What’s required?”


“Smooching what? Who? Natsu, ask actual questions.”

“I dunno, everyone’s just always sayin’ ‘Just kiss the girl!’ or ‘Ahhhh a couple! Have you kissed yet?’ and it just annoys me ‘cause. I dunno. Is it that important? Is it like a boss fight? D’you get extra points? I’m like, why’s stuff gotta be sealed with kissin’ and those stuff? Like it’s some proof or something?”

Lucy blinked down at him. “It’s a normal way of expressing affection and… um, attraction?”

“I know that’s what normal people do. I just-… Okay, I get hugs. Hugs feel nice, they’re warm and they remind people that they’re together because they can hold each other. Like, I’ll hug you anytime, y’know.”

“I’ll hug you anytime, too?” she said, trying to guess where he was going with all this and coming up with nothing. “…What are you asking, really?”

Natsu shrugged, fiddling with the photos in his hands a bit before he abandoned the stack on his desk and just crossed his arms in front of his chest. When he looked down, his view was that of Lucy’s bare feet propped on his lap, crossed by the ankles. Her toenails were perfectly painted light blue with white tips. He ignored how he had no idea how the hell nails could be painted like that, and as he found himself staring at them absently, he spoke up.

“What I wanna know first thing is… do you think, when people look at us, they get it too? Like, do they uh… see the same kinda stuff even someone as slow as me can see when I look at Al and Bis lookin’ at each other with heart eyes?”

Lucy couldn’t help but chuckle as she reached out to take a small strip of tape that somehow ended up in Natsu’s hair. “You’re asking me if I think people look at us and see us looking at each other with heart eyes?”

“Yeah.” he nodded.

Lucy paused to consider the question.

“Second thing is, if they believe that it’s really heart eyes, s’that why they always say we should smooch already? ’Cause at first, t’was fun, yeah? But it’s been so long I’m starting to think they’re not really kidding.”

Lucy nodded, also considering it. Natsu was posing valid points here, for once. In a real Natsu way, though. Which means only a chosen few would understand. “And the third thing?”

“Third thing — is smooching really supposed to be the third thing?”

“What do you think?” Lucy asked, curious.

“Think of what?”

“The third thing? Smooching?”

He paused for a beat before warning her, “This is gonna be cheesy.”

“We’ve already gone way past cheesy, firebutt.” she assured, reaching out to ruffle his hair. She couldn’t help it. He didn’t move away and just shrugged at her.

“I think… it’s… important. And. Special? I dunno what’s the word. Uh. It’s not somethin’ easy, like, it’s… it’s risky.”

Now that’s a new way to put it. “Risky?”

“I’ll explain later. You go try and answer the first thing and second thing.”

“Alright,” Lucy shrugged, withdrew her hand. Then, she answered as best as she could. “First thing. I honestly don’t know what our friends see. I just know that whatever look I send you, heart eyes or not, it’s ’cause you’re you.”


“Second thing — I wouldn’t be able to answer for the heart eyes. I mean, we’re always looking at each other like… each other, right? But I do admit sometimes I do feel like I’m your other head, and the two pairs of arms and legs bit — I guess I just got so used to being with you. Maybe… maybe they take that as being something like Alzack’s and Bisca’s, so they insist. I’m pretty sure they mean well, though.”

“Okay. The third thing?”

“Third thing — no. I think this is what you meant to ask, but a romantic relationship… is not always the third thing. It’s not a zone, like friendship isn’t a zone. Because they can overlap and separate. Not all friends who grow to be really close end up as lovers, you know. There’s nothing wrong with staying that way.

“And… and the kissing part? If you can’t prove or express your feelings for someone without kissing them, then I think you’re doing it wrong. So nope, it’s not a boss fight or bonus stage you can access when you get to a certain point in the game. I don’t see it as extra points that disappear the moment you claim it. I think, something like that — as you said, risky, special — it’s more like an Easter egg. You find it — sometimes by accident, sometimes because you look for it. It’s always been there, even before you knew it’s there. Once you find it, you can go back whenever you want to. If you want to. It doesn’t change anything, not after the first time, but you get kinda better at coming back to that one point, and it’s nothing more but a hidden message or an inside joke in the game but that doesn’t matter. What you make of each time you go back to it is what matters.”

Natsu stared.

Lucy just smiled. “You asked, I answered.”

“You’re awesome, Luigi. I can’t believe you used video games to teach me the facts of smoochin’.” he said, in awe.

“Heh.” Lucy smirked. “I’m a writer, after all.”

“…which makes me think.” Natsu said, slowly, then narrowing his eyes as his best friend. “You ever kissed someone? S’that why you know stuff?”

Lucy simply looked down again and shrugged. “Once. Or was it twice-… I think that was three times? I didn’t count exactly.”

“Who?” he asked, all curiosity. It almost stung, Lucy kinda wanted him to at least be suspicious… a tiny bit jealous? But she shrugged that off because she was just being selfish that way.

She just said, “That’s a secret to you.” as she poked his nose as if he was a small kid again.

“What’sitlike? C’mon!” he insisted.

“It was special. From someone who cares about me very much. I loved it.”

It took him exactly two seconds to figure it out. “It’s Loke, isn’t it?”

Lucy kept her lips sealed.

“Was is a… thing? I see him givin’ you heart eyes. A while back you were… giving him heart eyes too.”

“I have this crush on him.” she admitted. Then after a beat, she corrected that to “I’ll forever have this crush on him. Do you mind?”

“Do I get a say in it?” he countered.

Lucy laughed. “You’re good! And no — it wasn’t a thing. Okay, it was a bit of a thing but we’re both past that now.” she answered truthfully, knowing that they really was little she could do now. Huffing haughtily, she continued, “And I appreciate those heart eyes very much, thank you. They’re very honest and trustworthy heart eyes. From a very charming guy. It’s a privilege. How ’bout you?”

“What ’bout me?”

“What do you think of the heart eyes?”

“For you?”

“Yeah? Honest opinion from my sometimes-really-protective best friend?”

“I think they’re… err… reasonable heart eyes?” he tried.

Lucy let out a small chuckle. “Reasonable.”

“Yeah! ’Cause you’re cool and fun and awesome and all that and I get why you get those heart eyes from him. From anyone.”

“Thanks.” Lucy said, content with her best friend’s answer. She yawned a bit from her perch on the desk before turning towards her companion again. “Look at you. I thought you were just going to complain about Alzack and Bisca giving everyone diabetes. How did this little chat end up being about me?”

“Hey.” Natsu started, looking up at the blonde. “I… uh, I like that we can talk like this, y’know.”

His companion raised an eyebrow (one of these days he’ll tease her about getting that from her dad) and leaned down, peering at his face. “Talk like what? Wait — is this what you wanted to talk about last time?”

He nodded mutely.

“You wanted to talk to me about… kissing?” she asked, completely confused. “For like weeks now?” — because that was before graduation and now the summer was almost over.

“D’you think that’s weird?” he asked back, looking up at her.

Lucy shrugged smiling understandingly. “Talking about these things? I think it’s normal. Just… I’d expect someone to ask for advice from a grown-up or someone experienced, and not from… their best friend of the opposite sex and the same age and who everyone teases him as having feelings for.”

“Does that bother you?” he asked. “You asked me last time, and I said no, but you didn’t tell me what you thought ’bout it.”

“You’re asking me that now?” she raised an eyebrow. “We’re waaaay used to it that we play along most of the time. Nope, not bothered anymore. So —” she heaved a breath and then cast him a pointed look. “Let’s talk.”

“So…” he started. “Well… D’you think I’m childish?”

She blinked. “Childish? In what way?”

“Like I’m, what, eighteen freakin’ years old and I haven’t thought about kissing and all that stuff seriously. Everyone else was already talkin’ ’bout wanting a girlfriend at like middle school. S’like so easy for ’em. Well, besides Erza but she’s Erza. Even Gray had, like, a type or something I dunno, but he thought ’bout it anyway. Cana had… dates. Not like everyday dates but some. And Lisanna’s all about princesses and princes, forbidden love and all that. And I don’t really get it. I was… just fine, y’know? Just fine without it.”

“I can see that.” she said, considering.

“Igneel didn’t really get that I wasn’t too interested with it. But it’s really just… it just really took time and stuff before it kicked in. Betcha Dad just thinks that I didn’t want to talk ’bout this stuff ’cause I’m embarrassed.” he said, leaning back against his chair and staring at the ceiling. He sighed heavily. “Well, I’m not. If that’s how it is, I wouldn’t be able to talk to you ’bout it, right? It’s just… I just don’t think about it as much as the others do. Sometimes I feel like I’m this slow stupid-…” he cut himself off before he could finish that sentence.

There was silence as he stopped abruptly.

Lucy was, for lack of better words, surprised. Because Natsu wasn’t talking like Natsu. Natsu was beating himself up, feeling down about… about something, about being him and—

She never thought that he took it to heart, how others saw him being… himself.

What got her the most was he was talking normally. It sounded like any other normal rant but somehow there was a tinge of… of hurt. In his voice.

She almost never seen or heard Natsu hurt.

“They think it’s childish. I’m just being a kid. Or I don’t wanna grow up ’cause I don’t want to stop having fun or whatever.” he said, finally. “Or I’m immature or something—”

“Natsu.” Lucy said before he could continue. She brought her hands to either side of his face, forcing him to look straight at her face. “You are a kid. And you are childish, okay? You’re fun and playful and optimistic, and we love you for that. But when it comes to these things, you’re not immature. You care about a lot of people. Heck, you’ve been seeing everyone off with hand-made lunch and snacks! You’re a great friend.”

“Um, thanks—”

“And all this fuss about the heart eyes and kissing? Don’t beat yourself up about it. Everyone goes on their own pace, the pace they’re comfortable with and-… and some people take the time…”

She faltered for a bit. Where was she going with this again? She had a point — a point to make, but their faces were so close and she can see him turning to serious quiet Natsu, the Natsu that scared her…

But Lucy kept going. She had to. “People… they take the time they need to settle their feelings and that’s… that’s not childish. That’s responsible. I think, on that department, you’re actually very responsible.”

Now he was looking at her. The serious quiet Natsu. Just holding her down again with that stare. It made her panic a bit. It made her want to spill her feelings out right then and there, to scream ‘Hey, I like you — maybe I more than like you!’ but she put her feelings aside.

Her best friend was kinda confused and somewhat upset and what will letting out her pent-up feelings do? Add to the pile of stuff they were trying to sort out?

‘I can wait.’ — she decided.

“You’re just…” Lucy tried her best to continue. “You’re just making sure of things first. Our teachers always say that, right? We should ask questions while we’re still young, while we’re still entitled to answers because later on we’ll be expected to be the ones answering them. It’ll be our turn.”

He nodded timidly.

Lucy went on, closing her eyes this time to recall something… something important that she wanted to share to him at that very moment: “And… also… someone once told me… he said, ‘Maybe being careful won’t be as exciting, but sometimes the wait is worth it.’ So hesitate. Ask questions. Think about stuff. Just… don’t let anyone else force you into being ready. Don’t let yourself get pushed. Jump on your own—”

“Lucy.” he called, gently.

She opened her eyes, and there was serious quiet Natsu with… normal Natsu’s smile.

He was looking at her with a look in his eyes that said, in that dorky happy fun — affectionate — Natsu voice — ‘yay, you get me!’

This was the first time she actually got serious quiet Natsu’s message.

She realized that he wasn’t that different. He wasn’t a different Natsu, just… a part of her best friend that was harder to read.

“I’m okay now.” he said, raising his hands to remove hers from his cheeks. He didn’t let go of her hands as he settled them by her lap. “You get it. Me. You get me. You’re the best. I’m good with that. Thanks.”

She nodded slowly. “O… okay.” It was followed by a nervous chuckle. “You’re welcome, I guess? What just happened?”

“You happened and fixed me right up.” was all he said, smiling his goofy grin again.

Lucy laughed, squeezing his hands in hers. “Next time, you don’t go hiding those… those sad thoughts on me, okay?”

“Yes ma’am!”

“Great.” she nodded approvingly. “What have we learned today?”

He answered dutifully. “Our friends think we’re exchanging heart eyes so we should smooch, but it’s okay to let ’em suffer a bit more and mess with the bets ’cause they’re not the boss of us.”


“Lucy.” he called again, this time tugging at her hands a bit to make her look at him again.

That caught her slightly off guard. “Y-Yeah?”

“I mean it, y’know. You’re the best.” he said, looking down at their hands.

“I know.” she said, a quirky smile on her face, relaxing as she bent down to press her forehead against her companion’s. ‘I know you mean it. You always do.’

“Thanks, too.” Natsu continued, voice softer this time. He still didn’t look at her. “For that. Umm… this.”

She looked at him and stayed silent.

Then he said, “For being patient. I know it sucks.”

“What’re you talking about? You know I’ll always listen when you have a problem—”

“I mean for waiting.” He looked at her this time. “For me to make up my mind.”

Lucy stopped, brows furrowed, feeling lost. Just… lost. And another, more vulnerable feeling.

She reached out for the right word and it came easily.

She felt, above all else, naked. Defenseless. She felt like he could see her — all of her — and she didn’t know how to cover up.

“…W-What-… what do you mean—”

“Sorry, y’were always faster than me.” Natsu smiled apologetically. “But I’m catching up, see?”

“W-Wait, are we talking about what I think-… Natsu.” she drew away, and he looked up at her. “You know?”

“Hey, you were the one who said it.” he shrugged, consciously. “If you still hafta kiss someone to make them know, then you’re doin’ it wrong.”

Lucy was putting the gears in her head together, figuring things out slowly. As she was doing this, she just stared at her best friend’s expectant face while a blush slowly bloomed on her cheeks.

“Oh my stars.” she breathed.

Natsu himself was blushing a bit, she noticed. He was smiling down, sheepishly. “You’re… you’re good at this stuff, so I think you’re doin’ it right. I think you got it figured out.”

“You know.” she said disbelievingly, not a question this time.

Natsu chuckled nervously. “Uhhhh, yeah…? A bit.”

“YOU KNOW?! That I-… I’m—”

“Kiiiinda…” he sounded guilty.

Lucy quickly backed up a bit, withdrawing her hands from his grip so she can cover her face. Natsu stared at her as she just stayed still like that for several seconds.

Then she groaned. Miserably. “Noooo… No no no no nooooo—”


“I’ve been so obvious?!” she cried, still covering her red face and trying to scoot away from him.

“Nah,” Natsu laughed, then wrapped his arms around her waist to pull her back towards him, because she was moving precariously close to the edge of his desk. “Hey, why’re you hidin’? You’re gonna fall.”

She fell silent again and just looked at her companion, blushing.

“What?” he asked, amused.

“I can’t believe you.” she said, shaking her head. And just for the heck of it she hit his shoulder and meant it.

“Ow, Lucy!” he complained, but didn’t let go of her.

She didn’t know what else to say, so she just stopped there. “How long? How long have you known that I’m-… I can’t say it.”

“I dunno. It just kinda clicked one time and stuck ‘cause… yeah, you ain’t doin’ anythin’ to prove it wrong?”

“You didn’t even tell me?”

“I thought you knew that I knew so… yeah. Then a while ago I figured you actually didn’t.”

“And?” Lucy asked, having calmed down when he explained. That was a very Natsu thing to do, though. To figure things out on his own and then trust her to know him well enough to… well, know him. Well, he overestimated her this time.

“And what?” he asked back.

She sighed, smiling a gentle smile as she raised a hand to stroke his messy hair. After that, she rested her hand on his cheek and when he didn’t draw away, she asked, “Now what?”

“I know it sucks.” he started, looking up at her. His gaze was faltering, like he was trying really hard not to look away. “Y’know, waiting. But I swear it sucks more, askin’ you to wait a bit more—”

If Lucy was to say that she wasn’t a bit disappointed, she would be lying — but at the same time, it pulled at her heartstrings that he was being so honest with her.

“I just wanna make sure. S’like what you said.” Natsu said quickly, as if afraid that she would run if he so much as said one wrong word. “Tryin’ to be responsible for once? Y’see, I… I want to tell you a lot of things.”

“You can tell me right now—”

He shook his head. “No. Not yet, ’cause it’s all crazy in my head, all jumbled up—”

“I bet I can work it out—”

“I know you can.” he said, earnest. “I’m sure you can, but… but all the stuff I want to tell you, they’re not-… I’m not done yet.”

And, somehow, Lucy understood. She nodded, smiling a reassuring smile at him. “Okay.”

“S’okay, really?”

Lucy nodded again, this time with a more resolute answer. “Really.” Then she chuckled. “Under one condition, though.”

“Yeah? What is it?” Natsu asked, blinking up at her innocently.

“I want to kiss you. Right now.”

He blinked again. “Wha—”

“Because,” she started, raising her hands to pinch his cheeks as if he was one of those cute little children she always doted on… “I’m in love with you and you actually knew and you’re being so freakin’ understanding about it — you’re unbelievable.”

Lucy was surprised that it came out so easily, just like that — but then it also felt so good, just saying it.

And before Natsu could say anything about it, Lucy pulled his face towards hers and then placed a sweet kiss on his forehead.

When they parted, he just looked up at her, a bright blush on his face this time as he blinked. “T-T-That’s… it?”


“Y’scared me, I thought you’ll steal my precious first kiss.”

Lucy just giggled. She may have been prematurely exposed, and her feelings were, for the moment, unanswered, but she still felt damn good about it.

“Be careful, I might just do that.”

“Aahhhh, harassment!”

“Oh, do grow up!”

Lucy knew that sometimes, you don’t have to win right away. Sometimes, what’s more important is that you haven’t lost yet.

As for Natsu, well, he just looked at his best friend. Really looked at her, smiling at him with that pretty smile that spreads from her lips to her eyes, and he knew that all the crazy thinking he’s done — and all the crazy thinking he was still about to do, was and will be worth it.

Gildarts was easy, Mira always thought. Bring in a few of the kids, have them send him puppy eyes and tease him about being an un-fun old guy, and he’ll give in. If that fails, they had the not-so-secret weapon named Cana Alberona.They got him to join in the bets and he voted for the two kids getting official after three or four months.When asked why he thinks it will take long — but not too long, he said — “Maybe they’re just too shy right now — but that won’t be for long! I’m sure they’ll shake it off soon enough…”“SHY?” everyone and their grandma had exclaimed. “ARE YOU BLIND?”

He wasn’t blind. But yes, he was wrong.

Natsu and Lucy were very far from SHY when it came to each other.

Scared or terrified or nervous — WEIRDED OUT (?) — maybe. But shy? Nah — not their style.

The ride home was quiet, Loke noticed. Lucy acted normal enough when he picked her up from Natsu’s, but after he answered her usual ‘how was your day?’ and ‘everything good?’, she had stayed suspiciously quiet.After a while, he finally decided to ask.“How about you?” — he glanced at her, head leaning against the passenger seat window. “Everything good?”There was no pretense and he was not prepared when she said, “I’m about to talk feelings.”

Nevertheless, Loki nodded. “Alright. Feelings. Go ahead.”

“Do you…— wait.” she started, stopped abruptly as if quickly considering her words, and then went on. “Okay. Have you ever… um, felt this… weird, quiet some-sort-of feeling about something— someone… when you know — you just know — that they want to tell you something and no matter what you’ll just wait for them to say it because you trust that if they’re keeping something from you, it’s for good reason?”

Loke didn’t even blink, or pretended that his mistress had been successfully cryptic. “Natsu giving you hints?”

“Not exactly.” she lied, then sighed. “It’s just… I never… I never thought he’d ever keep anything from me long enough and I always trusted that if he wanted to say something, he’ll tell me. He just would. And… I told you before, right? I… feel it. That he feels the same — or as same as this could get. Ugh, it’s sappy.”

Loke chuckled. “Love, believe me — I know sappy — I’m a professional sap. If I say you’re not being so, then you’re not.”

“Okay, then.” she just nodded. “I believed you when you said that you just know that he returns my feelings, y’know.”

“I know.”

“But I decided to wait because… well, because I was so sure that there’s a reason why he hasn’t told me yet.”


“And tonight, he kinda told me.”

“That he feels the same?”

“No. He told me why he hasn’t told me— urgh, I’m not making sense—”

“No, no. You’re fine. I understand. So now you know why you’re waiting. Good for you.”

“Yes, but… I just realized that… all this time I was waiting for him to be ready to come out with it, y’know… when… when I didn’t even know what was holding him back.”

“Lucy.” Loke sighed, shaking his head and smiling softly. “Really?” he said, glacing at her with his ‘oh you poor hopeless child’ look.

“What?” she asked, blinking at him. “What really?”

“Tell me. What are you worried about again?”

“It’s just so weird!” She didn’t bother filtering her thoughts this time. “It just freaks me out because I was willing to sit around and wait for this one guy to pull his act together because I know he’s working on it even though I don’t know what’s taking him so long but I didn’t care because I know it’s important for him to do it by himself and-… and that’s awfully nice of me.”

“It is.” Loke nodded, amused.

“I never even thought of… what, like, giving him a little push or anything! Or demanding like HEY. I LIKE YOU OKAY? WHY DO YOU EVEN HAVE TO THINK ABOUT IT?! I never even considered those.”

“Yeah, as far as I know — never.”

“So I wait for him to come ’round, and he does. He really does, you know.”

“He did? Good for him.”

“Why was I so sure that he’ll come around for me? Why did I trust him so much?

“Lucy, you’re going in circles.” Loke chided.

“It’s so weird that I know him so much and I’m so sure I do — I MEAN, WHY—”

“What’s that thing you always tell each other, again?” he said, cutting her off effectively.

Lucy was so distracted that all she was able to say was, “What? What thing?”

“Sometimes he’ll ask — ‘You get me?’ And then you always answer—”

“Yeah. I get you.” she continued, using the words she always always used whenever Natsu asked that question.

Loke nodded pointedly. “There you go.”

“I get him.” she repeated, leaning back against her seat and staring forward blankly. “I get him. And I understand him. That’s why I know. That’s why… I trust him and… and I wait.”

“I thought you already knew all that. Seems like you needed a little recap on just how close the two of you are, after all…” Loke mused.

She fell silent.

Then she said, “My best friend and I are in love with each other. It’s nuts.”

Loke chuckled. “So… now that that’s all cleared up, when do we get to see the bets end, then?”

Lucy looked down, smiling a light smile before looking out the window, up at the night sky. “When Natsu ends it, of course. I’m ready when he is.”

“And why do you insist on waiting for him?”

“Because,” — she smiled at this. “I get him.”

Gray and Cana have always been partners.Even on the bets, they were an alliance.Contrary to most of the other betters’ opinions, the two believed that NO — Natsu and Lucy weren’t that dense. Or shy. Or worried about their differences. Anyone who said that Natsu and Lucy were the least bit bothered by the whole commoner-princess gap apparently just didn’t know them well enough.Gray and Cana both think — wait no, they believed — that the two are perfectly aware of just how close they were. The two probably knew about their attraction to each other. Heck, they must have already talked about it.

When Mira asked Gray and Cana about why they think that Natsu and Lucy were “taking so loooong!”, the two said that “meh, we bet based on gut feeling.”

They weren’t exactly lying.

But the thing is, both Gray and Cana somehow believe that the two weren’t ‘taking long’. Natsu and Lucy were already THERE. And they know it. Whether they simply refuse to acknowledge it or just dancing around each other about it, or just plain messing with their friends… Gray and Cana didn’t know.

But they have a good, mutual guess going on.

Maybe Natsu and Lucy just didn’t want to put a label on whatever this thing between them was.

Because sometimes, as Gray and Cana knew from experience, there were things that are better off unlabelled, simply because one solid, general description won’t suffice.

They were kinda right.

Not surprising — after all, they’ve been there.

“Aren’t you supposed to be packing, Fullbuster?”Cana was answered by curses and shouts from both her roommate and Natsu, who were busy shooting virtual zombies as they sat on the floor of the living room, in front of the TV screen.The brunette simply threw her shoes to the side and walked past the boys and towards the kitchen.After a while, Gray answered her. “Someone challenged me to a game and like hell I’d back down when he’s claimin’ that he’s sure I got ‘rusty’ because all I do is ‘be lovey-dovey with my girlfriend’.”

“Suck it, Natsu.” Cana backed her roommate up, opening a can of beer and taking a large gulp as her companions switched the game for a racing game instead. “Where’s your other half? Aren’t you two supposed to hang out today, scrapbookin’, wrecking the arcade, burning towns or something?”

“Cancelled.” Natsu answered, as he and Gray watched the opening sequence of the game. They never skipped this stuff. “Got ’nother one of those lunch dates her dad sends her on.”

“You know, she’ll have an easier time sayin’ ‘no’ to those guys if she says she has a boyfriend.” Gray said.

Natsu snorted. “Dude, I’m all for kickin’ jerk ass who try to look at our girls wrong but I’m sure they don’t need a boyfriend to say ‘no’. No’s a no, man. Plus, Luce wouldn’t come if she ain’t confident she can put the dude in his place if ever.”

His companions looked at him.

Natsu looked back at them and smirked. “Hashtag-Natsu-Dragneel-For-Girl-Power-2k15. Oh, and her dad told me he’s sendin’ her on those not ’cause he likes the dudes. He’s just… uhhh… teaching her patience, I think. Good for business, patience.”

Gray just shook his head. Cana laughed before saying, “Lucy deals with you everyday, I think that’s enough patience training.”

“Hell yeah, it is.” he huffed.

“Oh, crap.” Cana said then, setting down her can of beer. “I forgot to buy my stuff.”

“Girl supplies?” Gray asked, turning to her. “Y’need me to go grab some at the store?”

“Nah, I’ll do it. Still got my clothes on, anyway.” the brunette said, rummaging for her wallet and keys in her bag. She stopped right behind them. “You guys want anything?”

“I’m good.” Gray said.

Natsu got some money from his pocket and handed it to Cana. “Chocolate milk for me. Thanks!”

“You’re what? Seven?” Cana rolled her eyes, but accepted the money anyways and ruffled the guy’s spiky hair like he was the kid she said he is. “Be good, you two.”

Just as Cana left, Gray had abandoned his controller and excused himself to use the toilet.

Left unaccompanied in his friends’ flat, Natsu looked around. It was mostly bare now. There were boxes in the corner. Most of the kitchen utensils were either stacked neatly in a corner or put away in the open box labeled ‘KITCHEN’. The small living room was bare, too. The cheap second-hand carpet was rolled neatly in one corner, along with the couch, where the bean bags and throw pillows were stuffed inside big plastic bags. The curtains have been folded neatly in a stack beside them. The old and rickety coffee table has also been taken apart and was stored in a box. The only functional part of the living room now was the TV set and game console that Natsu and Gray were using.

Because Cana left her bedroom door wide open, Natsu could see that her army of crane game stuffed animals were in a big plastic bag as well. The brunette’s things including most of her clothes were put away in boxes. Shoes and shoeboxes were stacked on one corner. The bedframe was taken apart and the pieces were lying in a messy pile near the boxes. All that was left was her mattress which was on the floor with a pillow and a comforter, used like a futon.

When Natsu took a peek at Gray’s room earlier, his room was in an almost similar state, except there were less boxes and more travel bags, and stacks of Gray’s clothes were still waiting to be put away in the bags and boxes. There was no bedframe or mattress, either — he was told that Gray sold it to Makarov and they set it up on Gajeel’s new room in the Dreyar house’s attic.

When Gray returned and sat himself next to Natsu, he noted how silent his companion was. “Dude. What.”

“Nah, just thought it’ll be weird, this place not being yours anymore.” Natsu shrugged. “Y’know, it’s been like a hideout or something… Everyone goes here to hang out or cool down ’cause it’s got beer and games and no adults or siblings.”

“Yeah.” Gray couldn’t help but smile lightly as he looked around at their flat. What Natsu said was true. Whenever their friends were in trouble, the Alberona-Fullbuster flat was always open to welcome someone from a fight with their family, or from one of those delinquent squabbles, or if they just wanted to get away somewhere quiet. Gray was good company. He never really asked much. Cana will always have a drink and an ear ready if their friends wanted to talk. And whenever they need cold compress for their bruises, Gray’s always got chunks of ice on the freezer.

“S’cool, though. We’ve always got Mira’s. And s’not like we all still get in trouble every other day.” Natsu grinned. “Good luck out there, man.”

Gray chuckled. “Are you going emotional farewell on me?”

“Shut up.” the pink-head grunted, pretending to glare at his friend-slash-rival. “I’m tryin’ not to kick your ass right now. S’called ‘consideration’.”

“Big word.” Gray said, trying to look impressed.

“Big word.” Natsu nodded. Then he looked down at the controller on his hands again. “Seriously, though. Go be awesome at art school.”

“Yeah, I kinda have to.” Gray shrugged. “I have to keep being good at it, else they’ll make me pay. Literally. Cash.”

“Heheh.” Natsu sniggered. “Scholar dude. Really didn’t see that comin’.”

This time Gray was the one to grunt, “Shut up.” He glanced at his companion, then at the start screen of their game. Suddenly he didn’t feel like playing anymore. “And you? The Dragon?”

“Yeah, that’s it for me.” Natsu nodded, putting his controller down on the floor and leaning back on his hands. Gray wasn’t the only one who had seemingly forgotten about the video game. “Y’think it’s lame?”

“No, man.” Gray shook his head, as if the thought was just absurd. “You love that place. It’s cool. Nothin’ wrong with stickin’ it out for something you care a lot about.”

Natsu just nodded again, thankful about his friend’s positive answer.

“Hey.” Gray started. He heaved a sigh first before he continued, “When… when I go, there’s something I want to ask you to do.”

“Are you going emotional farewell on me?” Natsu chuckled.

“I’m serious.” Gray said firmly. Natsu shut up. “I won’t be around as often as I’d like. And I just… Can you… Can you check up on Cana for me?”

Natsu looked down. That was unexpected, but he wasn’t really surprised. “S-Sure, man.”

“She’s strong, everyone knows that. But… still. The two of us, we’ve always been together. Every step of the way. So I can’t help but… worry a bit. I know we all know how she is, she can handle almost anything you throw at her. It’s just… for me, it’s different. She’s been my best friend for God knows how long, and she’s my family and it doesn’t matter how many times she tells me she’ll be okay. I’ll still worry. ’Cause… well, that’s what families do, right?”

Natsu nodded timidly.

“I’ve talked to Gildarts. Told him the life hacks, how to deal with her when she’s being difficult or closing up and all that. He really loves her, and I know he’ll try his best to make it work. But, y’know. You’ll be around when I’m not, so… lend ’em a hand from time to time, will you?”

“Pssh, of course I will.” Natsu said, smiling an easy, goofy grin that reassured Gray. “You know I will. Why’d you even hafta ask, man? I won’t do be doin’ it for you anyway. I’ll do it for Cana. She’s one of my best girls, y’know.”

Gray just chuckled and rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Just do it.”

“Don’t go orderin’ me around now, Queen Elsa.”

“Okay, don’t use that one.”

“Let it go, Gray~ Let it goooo…”

“Shut the fuck up.”

Don’t hold it back anymore…!

“I swear, even Gajeel’s been singing that to me. Juvia made him watch it like a hundred times.”

Natsu just laughed at him and kept singing. “LET IT GO! LET IT GOOOOO-!

“Horrible falsetto.”


“God, I’d tolerate it if you guys actually sang it IN TUNE.” Gray groaned. “Hey, in speaking of Juvia—” but his companion was still singing off-key. “Shut up, oi, this is important.”

Natsu stopped singing and looked at the raven-head. “Yeah, whatsit about Juvia? Ya miss her already?”

“Yeah. But it’s not about that.” Gray shook it off quickly. “Remember that time I asked you about Juvia because we were… uh, having problems?”

“Yeahhh-… what’s this, when I said she’s a dolphin, right? I remember that one. Dolphin. Man, I’m good.”

“Right. Specifically, the part about Lucy.”

Natsu thought for a bit. “That… she… ain’t a dolphin ’cause she… drowned?”

“No, not that one.”

“…I don’t remember anything besides the dolphin part.”

“You said you were happy together without making out.”

“Ah, yeah.”

“And, uh, not knowing is fun.”

“Uhhh… yeah?”

Gray sighed. Did he really have to spell it out for this dude? “You said that… it’s fun and, err, exciting ’cause you don’t know exactly what happens next, and maybe one day you just realize you love her.”

“Ohhhh. Wow, I said that?”

“Yes, something like that. It was surprisingly sensible.”

“So what ’bout it?”

“The thing about it is,” Gray started, trying to be patient, bracing himself for the answer. “I’m curious. Did that happen yet? The waking up one day and feelin’ different?”

Natsu paused and looked at his friend with a blank expression. “Oh wow, you’re puttin’ me on the spot here.”

Gray smirked. “I figured that’s the best way to get you to just answer directly.”

Natsu simply shrugged and looked down at the bare floor for a bit, then at the TV screen. Gray quickly ejected the disc from the console and so the display turned back to the standard startup screen that said ‘Insert disc here’.

Finally he said, “It didn’t happen the way I thought it would.”

Gray kept silent.

“Like, everything was still normal. We hang out and stick together ’cause it’s fun, she’s kinda crazy, and goes along with me even though I think some of the stuff we get up to will get her in big trouble with the people in the big house… Y’know, normal stuff. We found the bets funny ’cause somehow you guys think we’re together-together, when we’re really just having fun.”

“You just don’t get how close you look—”

“No, we get it. Lucy gets it.” Natsu cut him off quickly. “I get it, too. I’ve done some stuff for Lucy I’ve never done for anyone else. And we talk a lot and I tell her stuff I don’t tell others. And she gets me and she trusts me too, y’know. And I just shrugged it off and I decided I’m real happy ’bout it. I got a new best friend. It’s great.”

“You never thought that you could be more?”

“Y’mean with the way all of you’re tellin’ us to hook up, nah, we didn’t think that at all.” Natsu said, tone dripping with sarcasm. He snorted at Gray’s unimpressed expression. “Duh, ’course I did. I just didn’t think too hard on it at first.”

“So what happened?”

“There’s just… I dunno when it started, yeah?” Natsu sighed, struggling to explain. “Y’know, she’s great and all. And uh, I started thinkin’ ‘bout that more and more. Like, Lucy’s… great. And then, I didn’t know, I started, just… not getting it when some other people say she’s not. Like, maybe back then if someone said ’Nah, she’s just okay’, I won’t complain? But then it just… crept up on me that now if someone said that, I’ll go ‘Whaaat? She’s MORE THAN okay. Lucy’s cool. Like, cooler than most people!’ D’you get me?”

Gray paused. Then he said, “I think I need you to talk more clearly.”

“Okay.” Natsu groaned. “Just, y’know, I’ve always known that Lucy’s awesome.”

“Yeah, you said that.”

“And I started not getting it when people say or think she’s not. Like, I’ll literally go ‘WHAT? NO.’ if they don’t treat her right. Like, how the heck do they even do that?”

Gray started to chuckle. “I think I’m getting it.”

“You’re so slow. Lucy would get it, like, one sentence in.”

“There’s a reason I’m not your future girlfriend. Continue.”

“Y’know, when she does these… stuff. Like, smiling at her laptop while she’s typin’ her novel. Or playin’ with Happy. Or that impossible thing she does where she can find her cup of coffee without looking while doing homework. And then, y’know, I look at her, right? And then I look at everyone else and I just… y’know, I just think ‘Oi world, why aren’t you looking at her too?’

Gray was trying not to laugh. “Are you-… are you serious?”

“Yeah, and… and y’know what? When I noticed that I was thinking those thinky thoughts, that’s when I realized I was in deep shit. ‘Cause one time I actually thought ’How the hell does anyone look away from Lucy when she’s smiling like that?’ like… like a legit question. Like, I seriously asked that. No kidding. One time I just couldn’t… wrap my head ’round it. So — well it hit me that… holy shit, that’s not normal, right?”

“Oh, man.” Gray said, shaking his head in amusement. He was able to successfully keep himself from laughing, but he couldn’t stop the smile on his face. That was the best he could do. He would die before admitting that he actually found Natsu adorable. “She’s got you good.”

“‘Ya think?” Natsu huffed, then scratched his head. “There’s your answer, though, right? Sorry to say I was kinda wrong, didn’t wake up one day feelin’ sure. I just noticed that I was thinking weird. Then I figured, ‘Ohhhh, maybe it’s THAT!’ That thing with, what’s she always talking ’bout? Butterflies and heartbeats whatever? I’m sure skipping heartbeats is unhealthy I mean, you might die from that. But it’s kinda the same, like, I’ll have this random I WANNA DIE feeling sometimes just ’cause she. freaking. did that one thing she does with her face. Like it’s the cutest shit and if anyone says otherwise, I’ll fight ’em for it. So yeah, I think it’s that. That, or I’m really going nuts.”

Gray sighed. “Have you told her?”

“What, that I don’t understand why the rest of the world’s not freakin’ crazy over her? No.”

Gray laughed. “You have to tell her that. She’ll probably think it’s romantic.”

“I think it’s creepy.”

“Then you’re creepy.”

“You’re creepier, thinkin’ it’s romantic.”

“It is! In a… ‘you’ way.”

“In a what way?”

“Argh, you’re stupid.”

“You’re stupider.”

“No, really. Why don’t you tell her?”

“I dunno.” Natsu huffed. “Actually I do. Just easy to say I don’t.”

“So why?”

“I just think… well… y’know, for one thing, I wanted to make sure I’m not just givin’ in to pressure, with everyone tellin’ us to just get together. We don’t like that.”

The raven-head sighed. “You should know that we might push you guys around a bit, but we don’t really care about the bets. Whatever you two do, as long as it’s not hurt each other, we’re good.”

“I know that.” Natsu said, nodding. “Another thing. It’s just… hard, y’know. ‘Cause sometimes I think that… if I tell her, it’s gonna change a lot of things. And, like I told ’ya, we’re real happy right now, right? We’re, like, super best friends and like more than friends at the same time. It doesn’t have…— we don’t bother calling it anything, right? And that works. Why lose that? I feel like, it might… limit stuff. So… I think I’m tryin’ to make sure I know what we’re doin’. ’Cause y’know… putting a label on something, that… that sorta goes ahead and defines it. Like, it will suddenly be called something and all these… rules… come with it. I don’t wanna ruin stuff just because this thing we have suddenly got rules. That’ll suck. D’you get me?”

To Natsu’s surprise, Gray simply said, “Yeah.”

“…Wait. Ya do?”


“For real? How?”

“I’ve been there, idiot.”


“Not telling.”

“What the hell, you’re unfair, man.”

Gray just rolled his eyes and then finally noticed something. “Hey, how long’s Cana been gone?”

Natsu blinked, taking out his phone to check the time. “What time did she leave? How much girl supplies did she buy anyway?”

“Maybe the store didn’t have her brand.” Gray groaned. “She’s picky with that.”

As if on cue, the door opened and Cana was back. She was fuming. “Three stores. THREE STORES!”

“Told ’ya.” Gray mumbled, shrugging.

“Good thing I ran into Alzack and he had his bike.” Cana sighed. She took out the chocolate milk drink that Natsu asked for her to buy and handed it to him. Natsu accepted with a quick ‘Thanks!’ She noticed the display on the TV and raised an eyebrow. “You boys done playing?”

“Yeah.” Gray answered easily, exchanging a look with Natsu, who was already sipping his own drink. He noted the time and then asked his roommate. “You goin’ to bed already?”

“No, I need a shower after walkin’ that far.” Cana answered from her room. “And I wanna finish up packin’ my stuff. You should, too! Big day tomorrow!”

“Yes, ma’am.” Gray answered lazily. He then looked up when Natsu stood up. “You’re goin’?”

“Yep.” Natsu said. “I’m cookin’ lunch for you two tomorrow, right?”

Gray rolled his eyes. “Y’know you don’t have to do that.”

“Nah, I did it for everyone else. ’Sides, Igneel wants me to do it.” Natsu waved him off, checked that he had his stuff with him and then started to leave. He passed by Cana’s bedroom to tell the brunette that he was leaving, and then he was gone.

While Cana was in the shower, Gray turned the TV off and cleaned up, then headed to his room. He had finished packing up the rest of his things by the time his roommate was done with the bath.

It was systematic, how they worked on the rest of their flat that night. First off, they packed the rest of the TV set and the curtains in the living room. After that, they packed the rest of the things in the kitchen. They’ll just have instant noodles in the morning for breakfast, they both decided.

Then Gray helped Cana pack the rest of her things except the mattress and sheets that she will sleep on for that night.

After everything was neatly packed up, Gray found his roommate standing by the doorframe of her room, looking at their semi-bare unit.

“Hey,” he said, standing beside her and leaning on the other side of the doorframe. “We should go to sleep. Big day tomorrow, you said it yourself.”

But she just walked towards the fridge, got out two cans of beer and when she returned, handed one to her roommate. Gray accepted it wordlessly, sliding down to sit on the floor, still leaning against the doorframe while Cana sat down on the mattress on her room.

They shared a toast before their first gulp.

“I never thanked you.” Cana said softly. The lights were already out — but there were no curtains anymore, and the streetlamp and moonlight filtered in easily from the window, so Gray could barely make out the brunette’s face.

“For what?” he asked, looking at the ceiling. The whole apartment was quiet in a heavy sort of silence.

“For sticking with me, duh.” Cana chuckled. “And, uh, all those nights way back when, sleeping on my bedside and holding my hand because I won’t stop cryin’. Dealin’ with my mood swings. Getting me nice dresses every year. Takin’ extra shifts at work when my jobs fall short. Everything, really.”

“It’s nothing.” Gray simply replied. “You do all those for me too.”

Cana looked at him and smiled. “Partners, right?”

Gray just smirked. “Heh. Partners.”

Cana sighed heavily and stayed silent for a while before she spoke up again. “You. Don’t get yourself in trouble out there. Don’t make Juvia call us.”

“I should be tellin’ you that. Take it easy on Gildarts.”

When they started living together, they were just kids, really. Cana was surviving off whatever her mother left to her. She had no other relatives (except Gildarts, but that was another matter altogether), and she knew she’d have to take on the world by herself then. She thought she was prepared, but it was still a struggle. Gray almost failed to convince his guardians to let him go and live separately. They only let go after Gray agreed to accept money from them regularly, and Makarov, Macao, Igneel and the Strauss parents promised to look after them regularly.

It wasn’t easy, living together. It was all fine, putting up with each other’s mood swings and little quirks, but it got difficult when people asked.

What were they, exactly? Why are they together?

Friends? Of course they were. But they’re way closer than that. Best friends? Well, that might do. Because in their circle of friends, they were closest to each other. But do best friends… well, live together, normally? And Cana was perfectly comfortable glomping at Gray, peppering him with kisses on his face whenever she gets oddly affectionate (read: really drunk). When the nights get bad, sometimes she slips under the same covers as him and he just holds her close without complaining. On Gray’s part… well, it wasn’t as often but there were times when he would just sit beside her and lean on her shoulder. When things were tough. When he wasn’t feeling strong enough. And Cana says nothing and just holds him. Does that make them lovers? Well, it was all pretty much platonic… until the phase when it wasn’t, when the attachment bordered on romantic. But they both shrugged it off then, because it made things a bit awkward, and they were too busy trying to survive, earning their keep, that they had no time for awkward. Things returned to normal soon enough.

Were they family? Well, not by blood, not by ink either. An honorary family of sorts? Because that’s what you call the people you go home to, right?

It was easy to settle on ‘partner’ or ‘roommate’. But sometimes it sounded too limiting. Partner? Doesn’t it sound too professional? Roommate? So they weren’t family, then?

This was why Gray understood Natsu when the guy was talking about labels.

The thing about words is that they have definite meanings, and there are not enough words in the world to define everything.

Gray understood — fully — when Natsu admitted that he was scared that things might change if he settled for one word to define whatever it is between him and Lucy.

Some things are better undefined, unlabeled. It makes everything more flexible… It was just that most of the time, people preferred certainty — and the labels help with that.

For him and Cana, they settled for a simple solution. It was a hassle to refer to each other as ‘my roommate best friend, sorta-kinda-life-partner and found-family’ every single time. So they were just Gray and Cana. He was her Gray, and she was his Cana. They don’t own each other, but they have each other, and that was that.

Plus, the people that really matter to both of them… they get it. They know, and they understand. That was enough.

Gray hoped that Natsu and Lucy will find a solution soon, too.

The next day, Gray moved out of Magnolia, accompanied by Ultear and some of their relatives.Lucy and Natsu were there to see him off, and then they helped Cana move in with Gildarts.They didn’t stay too long. They both left after they helped Cana and Gildarts carry the brunette’s boxes and things inside the house. Both Natsu and Lucy agreed that should probably leave father and daughter to start this new phase in their lives together, just the two of them.Natsu headed to the Fire Dragon, saying something about the staff needing an extra pair of hands in the kitchen. Lucy went straight to The Strauss’ to meet up with Erza and Levy.

When Lucy got there, she was quickly able to spot her friend’s brilliant red hair. But what made her stop was the fact that Erza apparently had company, and it wasn’t Levy.

They were sitting on the far corner of the bar, an area with a small oval coffee table between two couches facing each other. It was one of the quieter spots in the establishment.

Erza was laughing. She held an iced beverage. There was a plate with a slice of cake in the table, another with some cookies and biscuits, beside a small used paperback that Lucy recognized as a book from a series that Erza had been reading lately. Across her, Jellal was smiling, holding a tea cup in one hand.

Lucy didn’t want to interrupt so instead of heading straight for them, she headed to the bar to order something for herself first. Mira was about to greet her cheerfully, but Lucy quickly gestured for the barmaid to hush, cocking her head to indicate at Erza and Jellal still engaged in conversation and oblivious to her arrival. Mira simply smiled and then nodded.

“Anything I can get you, dear?” the barmaid asked softly.

“Lemonade, please.” Lucy said.


“Nah, not hungry. Maybe later.”

Lucy sat on one of the stools as she waited for her drink, while out of the corner of her eye, she watched her two friends on the far corner of the bar. “How long have they been there, practically emitting sparkles?” she asked the barmaid nearby.

Mira laughed lightly. “Hm, two hours, give or take? They said they came from the library.”

“Library.” Lucy smiled, shaking her head. It was so Erza and Jellal. ‘This one guy I had a lunch date with, just that one time, he found out I loved books, so he invited me to go with him to the library after. I thought it shouldn’t be so bad, but he was so busy recommending all these… sucky bestsellers and he had no idea about the stuff I really liked, and won’t even pretend to look interested. I had to endure it. It sucked. My only library date sucked.’ she sighed, then glanced at Erza and Jellal again. She didn’t notice it the first time, but Jellal also had a book on his lap. “Erza’s lucky, I doubt Jellal-kun could ever ruin a library date.”

Mira placed a tall glass of lemonade in front of the blonde. “Well, you can always chaperone.”

“Aw, no — I’m not going third-wheeling.” Lucy laughed. “Besides, I’m sure I can take Levy-chan anytime and we’re gonna have a blast.”

“Not a literal one, I hope.” Mira quipped mischievously.

“I’ll take Levy, not Natsu. So yeah, no explosions.” Lucy replied with a smile.

“You and Natsu came to see Gray off?”

“Yeah. Natsu’s really determined to cook everyone lunch.” Lucy rolled her eyes. “We were betting on who would cry first, y’know, between Gray and Cana. But we both lost. Maybe they used it all up last night or something.”

“They’ll probably only cry when no one’s looking.” Mira shook her head. “Anyways, that’s them.”

Lucy nodded. “Mm-hm. That’s them.”

The blonde glanced at Erza and Jellal again, and simply smiled before taking a sip of her drink. A few moments later, a familiar figure settled on the chair beside her.

Lucy turned and greeted her friend with a cheerful “Levy-chan!”

“Lu-chan!” Levy smiled happily before ordering her own beverage. “Soooo~ How long are we waiting around for before joining those two oblivious lovebirds in there?”

Lucy thought about it for a bit. “I think we should wait for them to notice us.”

“Aw, when will that be? They’re in their own world!” Levy giggled.

Lucy was about to laugh with the her friend but then they both stiffened when they heard a familiar voice call out to them, “I heard that!”

Both turned towards the source, and saw Erza smirking at them, while Jellal was just smiling a shy smile. Lucy and Levy sighed, took their drinks and finally decided to join them. Levy sat beside Erza, but before Lucy could sit beside Jellal, the guy stood up carrying his things with him.

Lucy raised a hand. “Uh, you’re leaving? You’re really not intruding or anything, I swear—”

Jellal shook his head good-naturedly. “No, I really was just leaving. Mysto asked me to drop by the grocery to fetch some things for dinner.”

“Okay then.” Lucy said, sitting down on the couch across her friends. They bid Jellal goodbye as the guy left.

“Soooo, library date?” Levy inquired towards the red-head beside her, nudging Erza mischievously.

“W-Well, he asked, and I thought ‘why not’?” Erza simply replied, hiding her blush behind her hair. The red blended quite perfectly. “The library was… interesting.”

“The library is always interesting.” the two said firmly.

“Point.” Erza sighed. “Jellal and library aside, are we a ‘go’ for the move next week?”

“I’m a ‘go’.” Lucy answered quickly. “I’m moving out the flat in two days, will finish packing up on the big house.”

“I don’t really have much…” Erza said.

“Except books.” Levy added.

Erza chuckled as she agreed with her friend. “…except books.”

“First thing we should do when we get there is buy a bookshelf.” Lucy said. “Capricorn said the unit didn’t have one. Study desks, yeah. But shelf, none.”

“What, like just a small shelf for the wall, or—”

“It’s pretty spacious so I think we can get a big one, floor to ceiling so there’s space not just for books but for some other stuff too…” Lucy mused.

Erza and Levy exchanged looks before they both turned towards the blonde again. Erza smiled awkwardly. “Umm, Lucy… I’m not sure if I’ll have enough money to buy something big right away—”

Lucy waved it off quickly. “Oh, don’t worry! I’ve got a lot saved up from my jobs since the past few months, dad’s been paying for my flat’s rent. Plus, Capricorn said I’m getting my credit card back—”

Levy shook her head. “Lu-chan, we really don’t want to owe you!”

“We’ll find a cheap one — second-hand. I know a lot of thrift shops at Crocus.” Lucy promised. “I can pay up front, then we’ll divide it and you two just pay on installment! Does that work?”

“…Well, okay, that will do, I guess…” Erza said, still hesitant. “Just the shelf and necessities, though! We don’t want to make you spend so much…”

“Don’t worry, I’ll let you guys pay me.” the blonde laughed. “In speaking of that — first thing we should do after we settle? We should go ’round Crocus! I know my way around. I’ll be your tour guide! There are wonderful shops — and yeah, thrift shops — and some old bookstores downtown…”

“Well, someone’s excited…” Levy smiled.

“Of course I am! It’ll be the first time I walk around that city without guards tailing me.” Lucy rolled her eyes. “And it’ll be with the two of you! We can get Laki and Bisca to go with us-… oh, Max too. They’ll be in town, right?”

“Laki’s with her cousin there. Bisca told me she’s staying in another dorm just outside the campus.” Levy supplied. “One of Max’s relatives owns an apartment complex a few blocks away and he’s getting a discount for his place there.”

Erza nodded. “Jellal and Mysto will be on the same dorms as us. Just a different floor.”

“We’ll invite them too.” Lucy said. “Ah, you guys will love it there. It’s a lot busier than Magnolia, but you can find some interesting places to enjoy the quiet if you know where to look…”

“It’s good that we have you with us, then!” Levy cheered. “So! We’re a ‘go’ next week!”

“Yep. Capricorn said we can use our vans.”

“They have more than one van.” Erza mumbled under her breath.

“Hm?” Lucy blinked.

“N-Nothing! Uh, just… I think one van will suffice?”

“Okay, so one van then. We’ll be coming from the big house, and then to Erza’s. Then to Levy’s. We’ll be at Erza’s by, like, 9 AM, is that okay? Then at Levy’s by 11 AM. Hopefully. Natsu said he’ll cook us lunch.”

“I heard he cooks everyone lunch.” Levy chuckled.

“That’s his way of expressing his well wishes.” Lucy shrugged. “At least he doesn’t wave around a banner saying ‘GOODBYE I WILL MISS YOU GOOD LUCK’ or something as ridiculous.”

Erza almost spit out her drink. Levy coughed. “Don’t let him hear that. He’ll do it.”

The three of them laughed together and then spent the next hour talking about their friends and making more plans for when they leave. When they had finished their drinks and snacks, the girls decided it was time to go.

Erza and Lucy left together, while Levy stayed to order a take-home beverage from the bar.

Mira raised an eyebrow when she did this. “You just drank a latte, right?”

“It’s not for me.” the girl said. “I just thought I’d drop by and give Gajeel something during his break at work. He helped us out a bit at Droy’s the other day when we were packing some stuff and he left before we could bring in some snacks, so… I figured I’ll just send him a little thank-you token.”

“That’s very nice of you, Levy-chan.” Mira smiled as she went to fetch the order quickly. “Want any snacks with that?”

“Oh, I plan to stop over at Yajima-san’s.” Levy waved it off quickly. “I’m getting some pastries for mom as well.”

Mira nodded, keeping up the conversation while working. “Gajeel-kun’s on the construction site, yes?”

“Mm-hm. One of my uncles work there… Told me Gajeel’s been a real help ’cause he’s really strong. Looks like he’s getting along well with the Dreyars, too.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“And it looks like Juvia-chan’s been bugging everyone to look after him.” Levy laughed. “I sent her a text a while ago? Told her I’ll bring him something to eat at work and she called me — called me! — to say I was an angel.”

Mira also laughed. “Juvia-chan hovers.”

“A lot.”

“A whole lot.” Mira said as she finished the drink and set it before Levy. She smiled. “Here you go. It’s in the house.”

Levy gaped. “M-Mira! I—”

“Just send Gajeel-kun my regards.” the barmaid said. “I wish him luck too.”

Levy looked down at the beverage, then up at Mira again before she grinned sheepishly. “It was supposed to be a thank-you token from us…”

Mira simply smiled her winning smile before waving the girl off. “Oh, just cover for whatever cookies you buy him at Yajima-san’s!”

Levy just sighed, knowing that there was no way to win an argument with Mirajane anyway. “Alright, I’ll take it for free. And I’m telling him it’s from you. Thanks, Mira.”

“Anytime, sweetheart!”

Levy adjusted her little shoulder bag, grabbed the drink, and left.

Gajeel helped out when Lucy moved her things out from her apartment and back to the big house. Lucy had insisted that she can handle it, there was Loke, Aries and Virgo helping her out, but Gajeel insisted.“I carry steel bars and hollow blocks at work, no big. ’Sides, I owe you some, Bunnygirl.” was what the raven-head said. “Where’s your other half, anyway?”“Seeing Droy off.”Gajeel snorted. “With lunch?”

Lucy nodded. Looks like word has gotten around about Natsu’s latest modus. “With lunch.”

It didn’t take too long. Soon, she was waving Gajeel goodbye after they ate the rest of the instant noodles in their cupboard together. Then she was in her car again, a van trailing behind them — and then she was in her room unpacking her things — transferring them either to their old places in her bedroom, or to another box or bag if they were coming with her to uni.

It was while she was doing this that she came across a thin stack of photographs bound with a thin piece of red yarn. The photos that she asked Natsu to give her a few days back — spares and extras from their little photo wall activity.

She recalled their conversation that day and couldn’t help but blush just a bit.

How could she not notice that Natsu knew how she felt for him?

And guessing from their talk, he had known for a while!

’Gods, Lucy — and you pride yourself for being sensitive…’ she thought, rolling her eyes as she tucked the photos in one of the bags. She’ll get Erza and Levy to help her put those up when they move in…

She looked around her room for a bit, remembering the first time she had a friend over in this very bedroom.

It was Natsu — of course it was — after the Phantom incident, and he looked so small and lost as he stood hesitantly by her doorway, ushered there by Capricorn himself. He had some bandages on his head and arms, and she herself had her share of bruises.“So… this is you, huh.” he asked, smiling a little awkwardly. It was his first time in such a big estate.“Yeah.” she said quietly, looking down. She was sitting up on her bed, back leaning on her doorframe. “This is me. I guess you didn’t exactly know…”“Nah, we figured you were rich, just… not the royal-type rich.” he was fiddling, but he was getting visibly more comfortable.

“You can come in, you know…” Lucy offered.

He shrugged, then stepped inside and sat on the bed by her foot, facing her. Natsu yelped when he almost fell over. “Whoa, your bed’s a freakin’ carnivore!”

For the first time in days, Lucy laughed. “It’s just soft!”

“Are all rich people’s beds like this?”

Lucy found herself laughing some more, shrugging. “I… I don’t know, really…”

“It’s a princess bed, Luigi. You’re an actual princess.”

That made her stop, looking down again to avoid his eyes.

“Hey what did I say?” Natsu blinked.

Lucy sighed. “I guess now you think that I’m just another rich, spoiled daddy’s girl, huh…”

“Why, are you?”

She looked at him.

“I don’t give two shits about your princess bed. Except that it tried to kill me, but I think we’re okay now.” Natsu said, bouncing a bit from his seat at the foot of the bed. “You’re Lucy. The royal status ain’t gonna change the fact that you’re a weirdo and I like you.”

Lucy just stared.

Natsu shrugged nonchalantly as he looked around, taking in the spacious room that could be the same size of all their bedrooms combined for all he knew, and then he turned back towards Lucy again with an easy grin that told her that nothing has changed between them.

“Hey, I saw a piano on m’way here. Who plays it? Or is that just there?”

“Mom used to play it.” Lucy said softly, a smile passing on her face. “I can play a bit, but I’m not as good. I’m content singing.”

“Ehhhh, you sing?”

“Yes. I… my mom taught me some of her favorite songs, and dad would sit nearby to listen, but that was back then…”

For the first time since their move to Magnolia, Lucy opened up about her family.

That was also the first time Lucy thought that there was more to her new friend than all fun, games and mischief. Because he listened. Natsu — impatient, couldn’t-stay-still Natsu — just sat there and listened to her, holding her hand. He didn’t say anything, but she just knew that he would keep listening for as long as she needed him to.

She didn’t know how, but after that lengthy chat, Natsu was able to convince her to sing one of her mother’s songs.

Smiling fondly, Lucy hummed the song as she recalled the memory. Her friends really never made a big deal about her background. And Natsu didn’t lie — after that talk it was as if nothing happened. They were okay again.She had been humming while working when a gust of wind from outside blew away some papers and envelopes she placed on her desk. Lucy hurriedly turned around to close the windows but to her surprise (she screamed — actually did), she had a visitor.Natsu was sitting on the tree branch right outside her bedroom window.Again.

He laughed at her reaction, while Lucy dropped the books she was holding on the bed and stomped towards the window.


“I was wonderin’ when you’d notice!” Natsu said between peals of laughter. “You totally went ‘AAAAHHHH!’ Hahahaha!”

“Natsu!” Lucy scolded, crossing her arms across her chest in pouting. “How long have you been there?”

Natsu thought for a bit as he shifted, his feet dangling from the tree branch. “Hmmm, since you started singing?”

“I wasn’t singing.”


“Fine.” she rolled her eyes. “Now please tell me what you’re doing in there.”

“Uhhhh…” he seemed to have forgotten the answer himself as he looked down at the ground and then back at her. He looked at the open bags and boxes in her bedroom for a moment before grinning his silly grin. “…Surprise?”

Lucy shook her head and sighed in exasperation but accepted the answer easily. Other people wouldn’t accept such a strange answer and claim that Natsu was lying, but his closest friends all knew otherwise. “Fine, then. What’s the surprise for?”

“Nothin’, just wanted to hang out I guess?” he said. “What’s up?”

“Well,” Lucy started, glancing at the mess in her bedroom. She shrugged. “I’m packing.”

“Okay. Don’t let me bother ’ya.” Natsu said, making himself comfortable on the tree.

“You’re just gonna sit there and watch me work.” Lucy deadpanned.

“Yeaaah. I’d go there, but I’m tired from cooking and running ‘round town, so if I jump right now I might miss your window. And die.” he declared boredly. “And it’s too much trouble goin’ down and then climbin’ your grand palace staircase to get there. So I’ll just stay here.”


“The tree’s comfy, man. Also got a nice view. Y’can see the river from here. I mean, y’can see it from there too, but it’s a better angle from here.”

Lucy eased herself up to sit on her windowsill, choosing to take a break from packing. “I’ve never climbed a tree before.”

Natsu looked at her, mouth wide open. “…N-Never?”

“Nope, not once.” Lucy sighed, making herself comfortable on the windowsill as she propped her legs up and hugged her knees to her chest.

“Wow, Luigi — you haven’t lived.”

She chuckled. “I know, right?”

“Before you leave Magnolia, y’should climb a tree. I’ll help you find one.”

“Really?” she smiled.

“Yeah.” he nodded, and then looked towards the view of the town. “Then I’ll leave you there and you don’t know how to get back down.”

“I’ll have Loke after you.”

“I’m not scared of Loke.”

“I’ll have Erza after you, then.”

“Okay, now that’s just mean.”

They laughed and then fell silent for a few moments.

Lucy’s eyes then settled on a little jar sitting on her windowsill, filled with some dried flowers and paper leaves, tied with a bow on top.

She sighed, recalling another good memory. Dammit, she was being too nostalgic lately.

“Lucy?” Natsu called, blinking. “You okay?”

She smiled reassuringly. “Nah, I’m just remembering some stuff.”

“Are you gonna go dramatic farewell on me?”

“Shut up.” she laughed lightly. “Hey, Natsu?”


“Remember when you offered to uproot a tree for me?”

He stared.

She looked at him expectantly.

“I did what?”

“You offered to uproot a damn tree and float it down the river so I can see it!”

“Oh, that! T’was your fault, getting sick on Rainbow Sakura festival.”

“Oh really.”

“I didn’t do it though, right? They all stopped me.”

Lucy rolled her eyes. Yes, thankfully her friends were able to stop Natsu indeed. While the festival was happening in town, Lucy just sat on her bed holding her laptop, on a video call with Levy who laughed in the background while she took footage of the celebrations and Natsu narrated the happenings. The next day, she got the jar from her friends. Natsu said it was Gray in Artist Mode who came up with it and made him deliver the souvenir.

Lucy found that she really had nothing to say — but at the same time, she wanted to say a lot. That left her on a blank. All that came out in the end was, “Thanks.”

He blinked. “Uhhh, what for?”

She shrugged, avoiding his gaze as she looked down at her feet instead.


She mumbled her agreement, closing her eyes as she buried her face on her arms.

“…Are you really okay? What’d I say? D’you want me to go?”

Lucy’s head snapped up again. “No! No, it’s okay, it really is!”

Natsu stared at her for a bit before nodding quietly and then relaxing against the tree branch again.

Their peaceful silence was interrupted when a voice from below said, “Ahem.”

The teens looked down to see Loke standing there, looking up at them with an expression that was both amused and unimpressed.

The bodyguard sighed. “Will you two please take a walk on the park or go cuddle somewhere or watch a movie together? Just-… Just entertain normal date ideas for once? Something that doesn’t involve me worrying about one of you falling from a really tall tree or from a second story window? Please?”

They looked at him for a beat, then snorted and laughed.

Loke rolled his eyes. “I mean it! Natsu, get down from there. You’re lucky I’m the one who caught you.”

“Don’t tell me what to do, mom.” Natsu sassed, which made Lucy giggle, but he obeyed anyway and started his climb down the tree.

The week passed by quickly.Their group of friends had always been an active, close-knit party in their online social networks, but this time they were posting nonstop. Maybe because it was the easiest way to keep in touch.Juvia was always online, posting a lot of photos while the vacation lasted. She was thrilled to be on a brand new city, visiting shops and restaurants and doing simple errands with her parents before they left again, and going to the local parks, museums, art supply stores and hangouts with Gray and Lyon. Cana told them that Gray had found a part time job in the new town.Gajeel would admit it only over his dead body, but he liked all the pictures and kinda got teary over it. He was lucky it was only Erza who caught him.

Bisca, Max and Laki toured campus together, they posted a group photo of the three of them and behind them was a large Fiore U. banner.

Ultear had uploaded a picture of Meredy, Wendy, Jellal and Mystogan in the twins’ new dorm room, all messy bags and boxes. The twins were smiling their identical reserved smiles while Wendy hugged Mysto’s torso and Meredy clung to Jellal’s arm.

Droy had been posting photos of the view in the countryside, while Jet complained that it was all concrete and buildings on his part.

Natsu had started to work in the Dragon, and his snapshot of his official staff nameplate got a lot of upvotes.

Meanwhile, Lucy got busy reconnecting with some old acquaintances of the same age group: friends from her previous schools or children of business partners who were confirming her attendance in Fiore U. so that they won’t be as surprised when they come across her once the semester starts.

Then pretty soon it was the big day. Lucy and Loke stopped the car in front of the Dreyar residence, where Erza was already waiting by the gates, her bags and a few boxes already stacked outside the house. A large van followed closely behind them, one of the Heartfilia family bodyguards quickly getting off to open the back door of the vehicle.

“Mornin’, Erza! All ready?” Lucy asked, smiling brightly as she greeted her friend.

“Almost.” Erza answered, smiling back before she turned towards the house. It was then that the door opened and Makarov stepped out the house, followed by Gajeel who was carrying a big box. The raven-head put the box down on the yard with the others. “…and that’s all of it.”

“Great. Let’s go load up the van.” Loke said, taking initiative to pick up one of the boxes. The other bodyguard followed his lead, and Gajeel only took a breath before picking up a box and trailing after them as well.

Erza picked up two of her bags and followed suit. All the while, Makarov simply watched them with a light smile on his face. Lucy bowed deeply in front of the old man. “Good morning, principal Makarov.”

“No need to be formal, Lucy-chan.” the man said. “Now, I’d love to go with you to help my Erza settle, but I’m afraid Porlyusica said I should avoid long trips for the meantime. I have to count on you girls now.”

“That’s no problem, sir.” Lucy assured. “We have Loke, Gajeel and one of my dad’s guys. And I promise I’ll take care of Erza.”

Makarov nodded. “Ah, I know you would, dear. I’ll be going with you until the McGardens’ at least. I would also like to see Levy-chan off. But just for extra help, I informed Laxus and the band that you will be moving in today. I’m sure they’ll come in to help. Just give them a call, if they aren’t waiting there yet.”

“That’s noted, principal.” the blonde said, then saw that her companions were already picking up the second batch of luggage. She quickly excused herself to help Erza carry the other bags.

Erza, Makarov and Gajeel then hopped in the car’s backseat and they were off to their next stop.

When they got to Levy’s, Natsu was already there, being helped by Levy to serve their lunch.“No way, he really does that?” Gajeel asked, shaking his head. Lucy and Erza just chuckled at his reaction. He simply watched as Levy welcomed Erza and Makarov, then waved at him happily. Lucy went straight to glomp at Natsu, who cheerfully hugged her back and then puffed his chest to boast about their lunch courtesy of him.The bags and boxes were ready by the front gates of the McGarden residence too, so they got to carrying them to the van quickly.Shortly afterwards, they all went inside the house for lunch.

While the adults complimented Natsu’s cooking, Levy looked around and noticed someone absent from the dining table. She leaned towards Lucy to whisper, “Where’s Gajeel?”

Lucy blinked, noticing the raven-head missing too. Even the driver of the van was inside, sitting beside Loke and enjoying the lunch. “I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure I told him to come inside.”

Levy looked down at her food shortly before telling the blonde that she will go check on their friend. Lucy just smiled and nodded, and then joined the others’ conversations.

Gajeel was leaning against the back of the Heartfilias’ van, tapping away at his phone, when Levy found him.

“Hey.” she greeted.

“Hey.” he said, pocketing his phone before crossing his arms across his chest. “Y’need something from the van?”

Levy shook her head. “Uh, no. Um… you… weren’t there with us, so I thought I’d check if there’s something wrong.”

“Nah, I’m not hungry.” Gajeel grunted. “You done eating?”

“No, but… y’know, you could… come inside, grab a drink at least? It’s noon and you’re out here.”

“I’m fine. Swear. Just go back there, finish your lunch.”

She stared at him.

Gajeel rolled his eyes. “Look, I don’t—” he cut himself off before he said something harsh. “Thanks. For the offer. But I’m fine here.”

“Is this about…” Levy started, but trailed off weakly. “Me? Because it’s fine now—”

“Levy.” he said, and that made her stop, because he seldom called her by her name. “I put you in the hospital. For a month. I know you’re being nice about it, but I can’t face your parents like—”

Levy didn’t let him finish. “They don’t even know who you are.”

“That doesn’t change anything.”

Levy stopped, looking down at the ground.

“Sorry, I just… I can’t, not yet.”

She nodded mutely, just standing there for a while, before she looked up at him. “Do you remember what I told you back then?”

“You talk a lot.”

“Well, I… I told you that I won’t forget what you did to me, because that way someday it’ll be worth it to see how much you’ve changed for good.”

“Yeah, there was something like that, I guess.”

“Well, I just thought that you should know that… well, it’s been that way for a while now. You’re better — much better, really, than I could’ve ever hoped for. So… there’s that. Please don’t-… Don’t beat yourself up anymore.”

Gajeel stayed silent.

“We’re friends now, right?”

He just nodded.

“If you’re still working on… on the whole repentance and self-acceptance thing, I’ll respect that. I just want you to know that I’ve already forgiven you—”

“I know.”

She stared at him.

“I know you already did.” he sighed. “You’re kind like that. I just… sometimes it’s just hard to see why I deserve it.”


“Don’t worry, I’m working on actually believing that we’re… okay. I’m-… It’s good that we’re okay and I know that. Really. Just, y’know… still working on it. Coping.”

Levy looked at him shortly, then closed her eyes as she breathed deeply. After that, she simply said, “I’m glad to hear that.”

He didn’t look at her, but he smiled a little smile. “You’re really something else.”

Levy just smiled back gently, before her expression turned scolding, “And I’ll bring you something to eat, so eat, okay?”

Gajeel just groaned. “Fine, whatever. So demanding, shorty.”

Levy smiled, knowing that they’re okay, and everything’s fine. With that, she went back inside. A few minutes later, she managed to sneak out some food and a glass of water for the raven-head.

Then, it was really time to go.Levy’s parents gave their daughter a tight embrace. When it was Makarov’s turn, he held Lucy’s and Levy’s hands and wished both girls luck and safety. Then he hugged Erza and told the girl that he’ll be fine and she should stop worrying about him. Natsu wrapped all three girls in a warm bear hug all at the same time saying he’ll miss them around. He also said that Igneel wished he could see them off.He stood waving beside Makarov and the McGardens as the three girls got in the car with Gajeel and Loke, and they all watched as the vehicles disappeared down the road.Natsu breathed out heavily. “Well, that’s the last of ’em.”

“No more lunches?” Makarov asked the young man.

Natsu nodded, chuckling. “Now I’ve got no excuse to slack off and disappear from the Dragon at lunch.”

Makarov simply gave the boy a reassuring pat on his arm. “You did good, son.”

The young man grinned. “I did?”

“Yes. Now maybe you can keep me company on my walk home.”

“Roger, old man.”

Mira was used to seeing Natsu arriving alone, but it was just that his friends usually were already waiting for him, or would follow just behind him.This time, he was only accompanied by Happy.“Hello, Natsu.” she greeted as the young man sat in front of her.“Heya, Mira.” he greeted back, setting Happy down on the bar.

Mira laughed when the cat immediately launched towards her. She caught Happy happily and scratched the feline’s chin. “Well, here’s someone I haven’t seen for a while! How are you, Happy?”

“He missed ’ya too.” Natsu said, smiling.

“Well, what can I get for you?” Mira asked, absently stroking the cat’s fur. Happy purred against her sweetly. She had a soft smile as she said, “Lucy’s not around to tell me.”

“Lucy’s probably gonna say that I want iced choco.”

“Comin’ right up.” Mira said with a smile, putting Happy down in the bar again before she went to fetch the order.

Right then, Cana arrived at the bar wearing her casual clothes. She came up to them and ruffled Natsu’s hair before slinging an arm around her friend’s shoulder. “Hey. I wanted to be there to see the girls off, but I was stuck following Gildarts around the mall because otherwise he’ll get himself killed just to buy a freakin’ study table. I don’t even want a study table. But he said I should have a study table. It’s stupid.”

Cana had taken some time off work to help Gildarts turn his place into a home for two. The father and daughter were also making plans to go out of town to visit some of Gildarts’ distant relatives. Cana confessed to her friends that she was nervous about meeting extended family for the first time in her life, but they assured her that everything should be fine if she has her father with her.

Natsu grinned back at the brunette. “Don’t worry. Y’know those three will go post a ton of pictures right away. Y’know them. They’ll be fine.”

Cana then went over to the other side of the bar, greeting Mira shortly before she fixed herself her own drink. On principle, she always served herself when she was in The Strauss’, whether she was on-duty or not. She had worked at the place since junior high and was unofficially considered the fourth Strauss sibling anyway.

When Cana went back to Natsu she had a mug of beer and a small bowl of milk for Happy. She stroked the cat’s fur when Happy dug in. “So. You should probably know that the bets are off now.”

Natsu blinked. “Eh? Really? Who won?”

“No one won, silly.” Mira said, joining them and handing Natsu his iced choco. “Or maybe Freed did. He always said there’s a possibility of two people not getting together—”

“But he didn’t bet, right?” Cana asked.

“He doesn’t bet, on principle.”

“Psh, if he said that, like, a year ago, he was probably just sad because back then we still didn’t know that Laxus was gay.”

Natsu blinked. “He’s gay?”

“They’re… dating? You didn’t know?” Mira said, confused about Natsu’s question.

The guy shook his head. “No, I knew. Just… I just thought he swung both ways.”

“Oh yeah, maybe he’s bi.” Mira considered. “Do you think I should ask him?”

“Look, Laxus is not the point.” Cana said, cutting off further debate. “I’ll just rephrase. Maybe Freed was just sad because back then we still didn’t know that Laxus is so not straight. But point is, Freed didn’t win. He didn’t bet. Nobody won.”

“But why’d you call it off? I didn’t know there was a time limit…” Natsu pouted.

Mira sighed. “Well, we don’t know if you’re just messing with us or if you two are really just… there.”

“Aw, it was fun messing with you guys.”

“See?” Cana rolled her eyes. “So, yeah — bets are off.”

“What happens to all those stuff in the pool?”

“We give back the money, but if that’s too much trouble, ’cause we all know almost everyone’s moved out and all, we’ll just ask if we could donate it somewhere.”

Natsu considered. “Hmm… Sounds fair.”

“Why d’you look upset?” Cana raised an eyebrow.

He shrugged. “I dunno, just… you guys were having fun.”

“At your expense.” they reminded him.

“Yeah, but… I actually wanted to see who would win, y’know?”

Both girls looked at him, and he just looked down and sipped his iced chocolate innocently. Mira and Cana looked at each other before they turned towards Natsu again.

“Natsu, darling…” Mira started, voice sweet and understanding. “Do you mean that you were actually planning to…?”

“Ah, Lucy loves me.” Natsu said simply. “She told me. Oh wait, more like, I asked and she— wait, that’s not it. Um, s’like, I told her I knew, and she didn’t deny it?”

“And then…?” Mira encouraged.

He shrugged.

“Natsu, what did you do?” Cana asked, tone suspicious.

“Nothing.” he said.

“I mean, what did you tell her? Because when a girl tells you something like that, you reply. You say something back—”

“Oh, I said something like ‘okay I’m thinking about it please wait’.”

“Aaaarrrggghhhhhh-!” both Mira and Cana groaned. Cana even banged her head on the bar top while Mira looked like she was going to tear her hair off.

“Okay, fine.” Cana said after a bit. “That’s how you roll.”

“Eh, that’s it?” Natsu blinked back at the two girls, while they stared at him.

When the staring between the three of them got uncomfortable, Natsu repeated, “No, really, that’s it?”

“Why, what do you want us to say?” Cana asked.

Natsu shrugged helplessly. “Um, like you were gonna flip and then tell me all sorts of stuff?”

“Well…” Mira considered. “I could say a lot, but… I don’t know, I don’t feel like scolding you, I guess.”

“Yeah, just…” Cana looked down at her now-empty mug too and then at Natsu. “Just fix your shit, dude.”

“Oh.” Natsu nodded. “Well… okay. I expected a lot more… pushing and… pulling, but this is fine too.”

The two just smiled their cheerful smiles at him and Natsu grinned back.

Then after a while, Cana said, “Okay, let’s stop this looking-at-each-other-and-smiling thing now, it’s getting creepy. I’m gonna get more beer.”

The girls had plenty of help as they moved in. Laxus and Bixlow came over. Jellal and Mystogan also provided their assistance. Laki and Bisca helped them organize their closets. The day went by so fast, but all the needed unpacking was very quickly done with all the extra hands that helped. By the end of the day, they all had dinner in the new dorm room, Max bringing takeout food from a nearby restaurant.The three thanked Gajeel, Loke and the van driver for all their assistance before the men got in the van and drove back home to Magnolia.Lucy leaned on her car, looking shortly at the keys dangling by her belt. She pat the car’s hood fondly. “Looks like it’s you and me now, bud.”The blonde turned to look at her new roommates, and Levy and Erza just smiled at her.

“So… what now?” Levy asked.

“Now we go to bed because I am so. Sleepy.” Lucy said, and Erza just laughed at the two and then led them by the shoulders to go back to their dorm room.

They were home. A new, different home, but hopefully they’ll get used to it in no time.

“They’re both asleep? It’s earlyyyy…” Natsu complained from the other side of the call.Lucy was already lying on her new bed, under the sheets, when she called Natsu. “Well, they’re tired.” she said, looking towards Erza’s and Levy’s sides of the room. Both were fast asleep on their own beds. Levy slept with her head under the covers, while Erza was hugging a cute sword-shaped pillow. “We finished unpacking everything today, y’know. Tomorrow, we’re going shopping.”“Ew, shopping.”“For necessities!” Lucy corrected in a whisper. “Not girl stuff. Just… supplies, and a bookshelf if we can find one.”

“Oh yeah you’re all bookworms in there. How’s it? ’Ya met up with the others yet?”

“Laki, Bisca and Max helped. Jellal-kun and Mysto-kun are just a floor below us. They came over too. And Bixlow’s on the next building. We’ve already been to Freed’s apartment once, so we know where that is, too.”

“Great. You girls’re all settled. Cana and Mira says ‘hi’, by the way.”

“Oh! Um, hello?”

“Got it. Hung out with ’em a while ago. Cana wanted to go see you off but she’s with Gildarts.”

“Yeah, she texted us ’bout that. Tell her it’s no big. It’s easy to keep in touch anyway. And Erza will go home every weekend, I think. I dunno about Levy-chan, but I’ll go back as often as I could too. Although I’m double majoring so I might be loaded with stuff sometimes…”

“Yeah, uh, ’bout that…”

Lucy shifted in her bed, raising an eyebrow. “About what?”

“When are you goin’ back?”

“I just got here and you want me back already?” Lucy chuckled.

“Lucyyyyy, just tell meeeee~” he whined childishly.

“Fine, uh, it’s just two weeks before classes start, and we have to fix our schedules and get familiar with the campus… I also promised the girls we’ll go ’round Crocus… And next week, there’s this business event thingy and dad wants me to attend with him.”

“So ’ya won’t be going back soon?”

“Three weeks, at least.” Lucy considered. “Yeah. Maybe I can go back on the first weekend. That way the classes shouldn’t be keepin’ us busy yet, and I think Erza would like a lift home.”

“Three weeks.”

“Yep. Why?”

“Hmm… Will you get a boyfriend in three weeks?”

“Uh, what?”

“Nevermind. Don’t get a boyfriend yet, okay?”

“Natsu, what?”

“Because, um, I’m thinking and… planning and… no, really, please don’t be engaged to some smartypants bishie dude by the time you come back ’cause I’m, err, you know. What we talked about and I told you to wait a bit, and… erm, yeah…”

That made her stop.

“…and that I wanna tell you a lot of stuff, and I’m gonna ask you… you know. The question.”

“Wait, what, now?”

“No! NO, like we’re in the phone and stuff and that won’t work ’cause I’m, err-… I wanna ask you NOT on the phone, like, face to face. ’Cause I’m-… fine, I’m a sap.”

“You are. So what were you really sayin’?”

“I said, when you get back, I’m gonna… uh, I want to talk. Again.”

“Okay… we’re going to talk.”

“Yeah. And I found your tree.”

“My tree?”

“I toldja I’ll find you a tree and I’ll help you climb it, yeah?”

“Oh, that… um, okay—”

“So, we’re gonna climb that tree and then… then we’re gonna talk.”

“Talk about what, really?”

“You KNOW what! Urgh, stop askin’ already.”

“Well, you’re not making much sense so—”

“That’s ’cause I’m blushing.”

“You’re b-… You’re blushing? Right now?”

“Right now. ‘Cause of all this I’m sayin’. Lucy, you’re makin’ me bluuuuush, how dare you, that’s eviiiil~”

“Don’t turn this on me, you’re the one getting embarrassed!”






“What are you really talking about?”

“Noooo, I can’t tell you right now! I hafta-… I hafta practice.”

“What? Practice?”

“Urgh, ’cause it’s still all jumbled up words and stuff and I can’t-… Okay, just go away and I’ll go practice, and my face is red. I can feel it. My face is all red and stupid. So stupid. Urgh.”

Lucy giggled. “I hate you.”

“Hey, don’t do that. This won’t work if you hate me!”

“Okay, then I love you.”

There was a crash on Natsu’s end, and Lucy raised an eyebrow at the noises that followed.

“S-Sorry, I… uh, I dropped my phone. Then I fell off m’bed. I think I kinda fainted, just a bit. I don’t faint. Haha… hah. I think I broke something. Like, like the lamp. I dunno, don’t mind that. This is unfair, wait, I-… Shit, why am I-… I FEEL LIKE DYING.”

Lucy was trying so HARD not to laugh. “What’s happening?”

“I’m dying.”


“Why did you say that?!”

“What-… oh. Ohhhhh… Yeah, what if I said it?”

“I can’t say it back!”

“Why not?” she challenged. “You’re unfair, you won’t say it back even though I kinda know already.”


“Payback. Hah. And I said kinda. Now you’re just proving it!”


She couldn’t help it. She asked, “What, that I love you?”


Lucy had to give it to him, the pain and suffering sounded legit. “It’s so fun to say it when you’re being all flustered like that-!”

“Stop it, I FEEL funny! And and and and blushy. Urgh—”

“Oh my stars, I’m making you blush!”

“Yeah I said that already, geez. Urgh. Uuuurrrgghhhh.” He made a noise that sounded like he was trying to bury himself alive headfirst.

“You sound like a lovesick teenage girl.”

There was silence.

Then Natsu said, “Does that mean I sound… cute?”

Lucy had to smother herself with her blanket so she won’t wake her roommates up with her laughter.

“Oi, you okay?”

As soon as she caught her breath again, Lucy replied. “I’m okay. You sound cute, yeah. You win. I won’t bug you anymore, and I’ll go back in three weeks and climb a tree with you and then we’ll talk. Like, talk feelings and stuff because you’re dying and blushing-… what happened to you? I’ve only been gone a day!”

“I dunno, s’just, I’m not used to it, and nobody told me that people get blushy even though I’m just alone and planning sappy, and it was real different when you just say it like that and—”

Just to mess with him, Lucy cut him off and said, “I love you, very much.”

“LIKE THAT! Urgh, hold on, I hafta get a pillow—”

“A pillow? What?”

“I’m gonna blush and scream on the pillow.”

Lucy laughed. “Okay, go blush and scream on your pillow.”

“I will. Now go to sleep now you gotta go bookshelf shopping tomorrow and please don’t get a boyfriend before I confess— shit, I said it. I really need that pillow, uh, good night Lucy.”

“Good night, Natsu.”

She hung up, and for a while, just stared blankly at the ceiling. Lucy didn’t need a mirror to know that there was a stupidly wide cheesy smile on her face.

That’s when she heard shuffling from the other side of the room, and saw Levy peeking her head out from under her fluffy blanket and looking at her sleepily.

“Lu-chan, you do realize that you were on speakerphone, right?” she yawned.


Erza opened one eye too. “I didn’t hear anything, don’t worry.”

“Um, okay, thank you…”

“Please go sleep now; you’re our designated driver tomorrow.”

“Sure, sure. Good night, Erza.”

Lucy thanked her lucky stars that her roommates were dead tired and went to sleep quickly.

Then there was a beep on her phone, indicating a message. She tapped on it automatically and then just stared open-mouthed at the screen.

[ ‘i love you too. now u cant call me unfair.’ ]

And Lucy finally grabbed her own pillow to blush and scream on it.

‘Three weeks.’ Natsu thought. ‘I got three weeks to get this jumbled mess organized.’He can work with that. He really could.As he looked back at the message he just sent, he sighed, then groaned into his bed again.He remembered what Gray said: “Oh, man. She’s got you good.”

He doesn’t know much about all this love stuff, but he hoped that the sudden unreasonable ‘I’m gonna die’ feelings and urges to scream and the uncontrollable blushing was something that would wear off over time.

Because otherwise, he was doomed.

Three weeks pass by quickly when you work on a restaurant full-time, with only Sundays off.It was a Saturday, and Natsu was working in the kitchen when Romeo who was working part-time peeked inside and called out to him.“Natsu-nii!”Natsu turned towards the younger teen and said, “Yo, what’s up?”

“Someone ordered the Dragneel Special. Igneel says you go ahead and start working on it already.”

“Yeah, and…?”


“No, I mean we got a bunch of Dragneel Specials, so which one is it?”

“I’ll confirm.”

Natsu shrugged, taking out some pans and a chopping board.

Romeo was back in less than a minute. “They said they want the one with salmon—”

“Dude, we don’t have salmon.” Natsu said.

“…pink hair and a silly old white scarf, and that this one owes ‘em a… tree. A tree? Seriously, a tree-? Whatever that means.” Romeo was looking towards the direction of the counter, obviously being fed words by someone, and the kid raised an eyebrow. “And Igneel’s sayin’… something about… thirty… babies— Babies? I don’t know anymore. You guys are so weird. I’m gonna go back to work.”

Natsu was quick to follow the kid out the kitchen and head towards the counter.

And there, chatting up his old man, was Lucy, who instantly noticed him.

He crossed his arms across his chest and pouted. “Someone ordered the Dragneel special, and since when was ‘Natsu’ on the menu?”

Lucy just smiled her big stunning smile.

Then before Natsu could complain that she was disturbing him at work hours, Igneel clapped his son’s back and said, “Go on now, you’re off for the rest o’ the day.”

Natsu stared at his father. “But—”

“Just go. A customer asked for you so I got no choice but to serve, right?”

“We’re not that kind of restaurant!”

Lucy laughed. “I’m that kind of customer, though.”

Natsu just rolled his eyes and said, “I’m gonna go change.” before he left for the locker room.

“So,” Igneel started, looking at Lucy. “Is this a date?”

“Mm, kinda.” Lucy said, blushing a bit. “You… don’t mind, do you?”

Igneel laughed heartily before patting the girl’s head. “Back in my day, it’s the gentleman who’ll arrive with flowers and chocolates to pick up the lady, with permission from her father. Now my son’s being fetched by a lovely young woman with a really impressive car and who’s asking for my approval.”

Lucy laughed with him, then took out a thin gift bag and then offered it. “Here’s my version of flowers and chocolates, then.”

Igneel raised an eyebrow as he accepted the bag and then took out an expensive-looking bottle of wine. “Lucy-chan, I can’t accept this!”

“Nah, it’s not really from me. We were at this business function a week or so ago and both dad and I got one. Now I’m not really a wine person, and this would just waste away at the big house, so I thought I’d give it away.”

Igneel looked down at the label again, shaking his head.

Then Lucy added, with a cheeky smile, “And maybe to get on your good graces as I take your delicate son out on this wondrous afternoon?”

The man simply laughed again as he jokingly praised the blonde for her little ‘bribe’.

When Natsu returned, having changed into his casual clothes with his bag slung over his shoulder, Lucy turned to him. “Hey, Natsu. Your dad’s asking if this is a date.”

He stopped for a beat before huffing haughtily and saying, “Nah, it’s a field trip!”

Romeo chimed in, leaning on the countertop, a tray in his arms. “So, what’re the plans? Romantic movie? Dinner by candlelight? Walking hand in hand by the river?”

Natsu and Lucy exchanged looks before they smiled sheepishly. “Tree-climbing.”

The kid blinked repeatedly, confused. “Is that code for something, or…?”

“No, really, we’re tree-climbing.”

This time it was Igneel and Romeo who exchanged looks before giving up and telling the two to go on ahead on their weird field trip and “WHATEVER, IT’S A DATE.”

The tree was in a tree grove up on a hill on the more rural part of Magnolia. It was where students were usually taken by their teachers for a short out-of-campus trip for science or art assignments because of the abundance of flower fields, fruit trees and different plants. It was also a usual weekend spot for friends, couples and families.The drive was not a long one, but the two managed to quickly catch up.Lucy told Natsu that Levy loved and spent a lot of time in the Fiore U. library even outside of school days, that Erza and Jellal shared many classes and the two spent much time together, and that Max was her new buddy on her business courses. Freed was pretty popular in the law department, and the Raijinshuu and Elfman were always around and were great help during the first week.Natsu told Lucy that Cana had started taking a course in the local college and she was really determined about it, that Gajeel was kinda like Makarov’s new bodyguard, and that he himself was getting the hang of being an actual employee in The Dragon. He couldn’t wait until his first paycheck.

During the drive, Natsu had kept his gaze on the road and stuck his head out the rolled-down car window to deal with his motion sickness. So when they got off at their destination, it was the first time that he really got a good long look at Lucy since she came back.

She was wearing her usual star-themed tank top with short shorts and simple sandals along with his varsity jacket. That was normal enough. Then he noticed her hair.

“Oi, Luigi. You’re hair’s really long.”

She had let down her hair from its usual ponytail, and the blonde locks reached down until her hips.

“Like, Wendy’s hair kinda long.”

Lucy smiled as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Yeah, but I don’t feel like cutting it yet. D’you like it?”

He simply shrugged. “You got prettier.”

Lucy looked down with a slight blush on her face, then looked back up. “So, where’s this tree that I’m about to climb?”

Natsu just grinned excitedly and then grabbed Lucy’s hand as they made their way up the hill, where the trees were abundant. “Here, let’s go.”

The climb uphill was short and easy, Natsu leading the way. Lucy watched his back as they walked in silence, hand in hand. She always liked it when they did that. His hand was always warm and his grip was firm and steady. When they walked, he had a habit of swinging their hands back and forth like they were kids. Lucy was used to formal dates and keeping safe distances so a comfortable kind of companionship like this was something she highly appreciated.

When they got to the tree grove, Natsu and Lucy stood under the shade of an apple tree, a tall one, just a bit taller than the tree in the Heartfilia mansion’s backyard.

“Why this one?” Lucy asked, looking up at the sturdy branches of the tree.

“You’ll see why when get up there.” Natsu answered, dropping his bag on the ground, settling it on one of the tree’s large roots.

Lucy looked down. “Should I take my sandals off?”

“Mm… yeah, might make it easier.” Natsu replied. Lucy quickly slipped out of her footwear, then took her car keys and phone from her back pocket and slipped the items in a pouch in Natsu’s backpack. As she did this, Natsu also took his sandals off.

“What now?” she asked, tying her hair up with the scrunchie that she wore in her wrist.

Natsu looked up and then pointed up. “I’ll give you a boost, go grab that one branch, then put your feet on the trunk and use that for support to get on the branch, then start climbing.”

“You make it sound simple.” Lucy deadpanned.

“You can do it.” he said, then bent down a bit. He cracked his knuckles before linking his fingers, palms up and offering it to Lucy for a foothold. He blinked down when she put her bare foot on his hands. “Your nails have little ribbon thingies, what the…?”

“Evergreen’s hobby is cuticle care.” Lucy chuckled, then laid her hands on his shoulder, ready for the jump.

“Ready?” he asked.

She said nothing and just nodded.

It was quick, and much easier than Natsu expected — Lucy had jumped high, and with the boost from below, she was able to reach the target branch smoothly.

To Natsu’s surprise, she didn’t need any other foothold or support as she just swung for a bit before easing herself easily up on the branch using just her own arms, as if it was just one of those monkey bars in the playground.


Lucy looked down at him and laughed, catching her breath. That was not easy, but it wasn’t the most difficult trick on the book either. “Are you forgetting that I’m a cheerleader and I’ve done human pyramids and I can do somersaults in the air?”

Natsu slapped his forehead as it dawned back on him. “Oh, yeah…”

“But hey, thanks for the boost.” she said, feeling around the branch and the tree’s trunk as she looked up. “I’m going higher. Join me?”

“Coming.” he grinned, then started his own climb.

As he watched from below, he raised an eyebrow. “Oi, I’m pretty sure that Spiderman stunt you’re pullin’ right now’s not used in cheer club.”

Lucy just shrugged. “I’ve gone wall climbing before. Follows the same principles.”

“You’re better than me at this! And it’s your first time!”

“Oh, stop being a sore loser and catch up!” was all she said, laughing some more.

Lucy settled high up the tree, sitting on a sturdy branch as she looked at the view of town from her position. She held her breath. “I know why you chose this tree now.”

“You betcha.” Natsu grinned as he stopped climbing, settling on a lower branch that was just a good distance from where Lucy chose to sit. He was able to stand up and rest his arms on the branch Lucy was on. That way they were able to share the view.

She looked down at him and ruffled his hair. “Thanks.”

“No big. I promised, right?” he replied.

They looked out at the scenic view. From up the tree on the hill, they could see the flower fields surrounding the tree grove, the path that led to the hills and back to the urban road. They could see the river, the bridge, the town square, even FairyGaku. The big Heartfilia mansion also stood out from the other houses in the area.

“Is this what you meant when you said you had sappy plans?” Lucy asked. “Because it’s sunset and this view is just going to get even prettier.”

“Hey, I’m taking tips from you.” Natsu shrugged.

“From me?”

“Your novel thing. All the lovey-dovey stuff happen in sunset. Or under the stars. Or the sunrise. But I don’t wanna keep you up too late, and I don’t wanna wake up too early either, so we’re goin’ with sunset.”

Lucy raised an eyebrow. “So you’re going for a romantic setup?”

He looked away a bit. “Y-Yeah, I just thought you’d like it?”

“Are you kidding? I love it.” she exclaimed, looking out at the view again. She sighed. “Now I wish I brought my phone with me. The view’s perfect.”

Natsu rolled his eyes. “Girls and pictures.” he mumbled, but he used one hand to reach into his back pocket and take his phone. He offered it to the blonde. “Here ’ya go.”

“Awesome.” Lucy grabbed the gadget quickly, entered the passcode she knew by heart and then started snapping photos.

Natsu just stood there and laid his head on his arms, watching the blonde silently. Lucy took a few snapshots before deciding that she was too busy capturing the moment instead of savoring it.

When she turned to her companion, Natsu already had his face buried in his arms, looking like he just slept right then and there.

“Hey.” she prodded, poking Natsu’s elbow with his phone. “What is it? We’ve climbed the tree, you want to talk too, right?”

He nodded, still not looking up. Lucy was prepared to give him a full minute but after ten seconds, he finally raised his head to look at her.

“So…?” she encouraged.

His words were simple, and straight to the point. “I wanna be your boyfriend. Like, for real and not just ’cause we’re too lazy to correct everyone.”

Lucy couldn’t help the smile that spread to her face, and she held it for just a second before she gave in and laughed. “You’re already my boyfriend, slowpoke.” she said, poking him lightly on the nose.

A frown. “No, I mean the one without the space between boy and friend.”

“Yeah, I meant that one too.”

He blinked, then gaped. “WHAT? SINCE WHEN?”

“Since you sent that stupid text which Levy-chan wanted to print out and frame for display on our wall.” Lucy rolled her eyes and shook her head in resignation. “I thought it was as good as official right there, you know.”

“You forced my hand.” he said solemnly. “I had to get back at you for making me fall off the bed and then need a pillow to scream on.”

“You’re really a sore loser.” she snorted. “But to be honest, it was kinda effective. I screamed on my pillow too.”

“Hah.” he huffed proudly.

“So,” she said, getting back to the topic of conversation. “Now that that’s been cleared up, it’s my turn now. May I be your girlfriend?”

Natsu grinned, and Lucy couldn’t quite tell if he was blushing a bit, or that was just the light. “No spaces?”

“No spaces.”

“What d’you think?”

“I think you should say ‘yes’.”

“You’d like that?”

“I’d like it very much.”

“Eh, really?”


“Really really?”

“Natsu please say yes it doesn’t look like it but I’m about to cry.”

“Okay then.” he laughed. “Don’t cry now. Girlfriend, no spaces.”

“Not gonna cry, boyfriend no spaces.”

“We’re not sticking with that. Right?”

“Totally not.”

“Will you let me call you ‘babe’ just to piss everyone off?”

“Totally. Let’s have all these disgusting nicknames to make them all sick and get back at them for all the teasing.”

“I’m in. Like, like gummy bear or honey bunny or sugar marshmallow or fluffy monkey or sweet potato.”

Lucy laughed. “That’s great. We’ll use those. Except sweet potato.”

“What’s wrong with sweet potato?”

“It’s ridiculous.”

“I thought that was the point?”

She gave it a thought. “Ah. Yeah, it is. Okay, we’ll do sweet potato.”

Then they watched the sun set in silence, as the skies went from brilliant orange to tinged pink to light purple to dark blue in a matter of minutes.

“Lucy?” he asked after a bit, when the first stars appeared in the sky. He glanced at her and caught that she had turned to look towards him, so he continued. “I really thought long and hard about it, y’know.”

“About this?”

“Yeah. And I’ve got a lot I wanna say. I toldja already, right? They’re all jumbled up and still not finished but now I think I can say ’em, though they’re still kind of all over the place.”

“I’m good at puzzles. Figuring things out.” she said softly, reassuring. She shifted a bit to sit closer to where he was resting his arms. “Go on, tell me. I always get you, right?”

He just looked at her and wordlessly moved himself closer too, enough so he can rest his head comfortably by her waist. Lucy ran a gentle hand through his hair, as if she was just stroking a sleeping Happy curled against her hips. The feeling wasn’t that different.

And so Natsu told her.

“I could just tell you, you know. I could just say I love you and get it over with, it’s that simple. And I’m simple. And this one-… this one’s not really just simple. I know, like, I’ve heard all sorts of things from the grownups and from the others and they say it’s three words that mean a lot more than just the eight letters, and I get it. I know it. It’s what you say and how you say it and how you mean it. And I think, I really think that if I say it to you, it’ll make you happy.”

Lucy nodded. “It will.”

“So I love you.” Natsu looked at her, and Lucy was a bit taken back by how direct it came out, but she also saw that Natsu wanted to say a lot more. “And I mean it, I do. But I didn’t feel like just sayin’ it like that, y’know. I feel like it’s not enough—”

“It is.” Lucy said soothingly.

“No, I mean… I want to explain.”

“Natsu, you don’t need to—”

He did anyway. “You’re my best friend. And you’re… you’re awesome. And I don’t think that the others really… get it, when they ask me ‘bout it all and I always tell ’em I’m not interested in all the lovey-dovey stuff. Like what we talked about, everyone just mostly thinks I’m being a kid and bein’ immature, but no I understand them most of the time, see? I just… It’s just different for me.

“For me, y’know, when I meet someone, everything’s… I looked it up, the big word: platonic. I’m… I’m like that. I like my friends, and I have great friends, and you’re a great friend. And I dunno, people can call it slow, or dense, or what — but when I become friends with someone I never never really think about them as anythin’ else.

“It was the same with you, Luce. You were this… I knew right away that you were this really absolutely super pretty girl—” she chuckled as this, and he couldn’t help but scratch his head bashfully too — “…who’s girly and all but you were just there hangin’ out with me and I couldn’t understand why, ‘cause ’sides from the racing games at the arcade we got nothin’ in common but t’was fun. And… and you always said I was annoying but you never pushed me away. You were fun.”

“You taught me to have fun.” Lucy said.

“Not hard if you go with it so easy.”

She laughed and nodded.

“So…” he continued. “So when they started, y’know, teasing us. I thought it was stupid. We’re fun without all the couple stuff. I liked you, but not like that. Back then. I know it’s weird, but I didn’t feel it. But, like, why’s everything gotta be about that again? Like bein’ best friends is not good enough? Like that matters any less? Like, you’ll matter less if we just stay friends? And for me, it’s like, that’s just not how it works.

“But I really thought, I swear I really did, you’ll be the best girlfriend anyone could ask for ’cause you’re you, just not for me. But I wouldn’t mind, not really.

“So… so we were like that. And it was amazing, y’know — I didn’t expect you to take ‘em all so easily. You didn’t let all the teasing get to you, didn’t let it change anything. So I didn’t let it too. As long as it’s okay with you. And you take care of me and you just kid around with the others and that’s how things were. And you get it, you get me, you understand that that’s not how things work, that it’s not as simple as ’will they or won’t they’.

“You’re my best friend and I’ve… I’ve never felt any stuff past that before so… so when I started… I think it’s cheesy to talk ’bout it this way, but you’re still listening so what the hell, but-… when I started feeling… stuff… for you… It’s-… Y’know, I think you’re, what they say, my first love.”

Lucy was thankful that she was holding his head against her because if she wasn’t, she probably would have fallen off the branch. And for the first time in their conversation, she stammered. “N-Natsu, I—”

“Stop me if it’s starting to creep you out.” he said quickly, and he meant it. “So yeah. Um. That corny first love thing, I dunno. ’Cause it’s all different, see? I’m… They can tell me slow and dense and childish but I’ll just throw it right back at them ’cause I’m always sure of how I see people so when it… when something changes, I know right away that this one’s turning different. That’s how it works for me.

“So even though I wasn’t sure what it was… maybe I was just getting attached ‘cause we’re always together and it’s not really that thing yet… it still scared me shitless. ’Cause you’re so… nice. And kind. And fun and pretty and awesome and you’re Lucy. You’re my best freakin’ friend — how many times will I say that? — and you’re so so so very nice that you’re always there and… I was scared. ‘Cause I felt — at first — that maybe I’m considering you, tryin’ too hard to look at you that way, that more-than-a-best-friend way. That I’ll say the three simple words because they’re simple enough and it’ll be so easy to tell such a nice person like you. I was scared and upset and confused because I felt like I’m only givin’ in to the pressure.

“‘Cause it’s my first time, see, and I didn’t trust myself enough. I felt like I’m usin’ you to get them off my back and prove to myself there’s nothin’ wrong with me. ‘Cause the way people talk about it? They say ’Why can’t you see?’ or ‘It’s impossble to be just friends after all that’, it feels like that’s how things normally work— should work— and if it doesn’t turn out like that, there’s something wrong with me. And I didn’t want to — to use you, just so I could say ‘HAH. I’M NORMAL!’. That’s what took me so long, ‘cause I didn’t wanna just cave in to all the teasing, so I wanted to be sure-… so sure. ’Cause you’re Lucy and I… well, I love you and it’s crazy ’cause then I realized that I was just goin’ in circles.

“Then… then you were… there. Being you. And t’was easy to get over the upset and scary and confusing ‘cause you were always with me and all I hafta do is be there with you and you just make me feel so… so fucking warm, and… well, loved. And y’know what’s crazy, even though you’re the reason why I’m beating myself up, you’re also the only one who can make it feel better. ’Cause when you hug me back after I hug you without askin’ why I was hugging you, or when you just hold my hand and listen to me talk nonsense or you just laugh at something stupid I did? Or just you… being there and just freakin’ smiling. It always looks so easy for you to make me feel… up. Positive. Happy. And when you do it it’s like I can hear you sayin’ you really really love me very much and I got no reason to doubt it. That’s, y’know… that’s how I figured it out.

“And so. So… when you told, well, when I got you to admit how you felt for me, it made me scared again because if I say it back, yeah you’ll be happy but I’ll be unsure and that might not end well and ‘ya know what? I’m scared shitless — AGAIN — that I might screw it up. And I think that’s how I… I knew. That this thing’s… it. Maybe it’s not just the pressure gettin’ to me. ’Cause I don’t know how to work it out, I was scared to start, ’cause I don’t know what the hell I’ll do if it ends. And I don’t want it to.

“And then, then I look at you, not just look, but really look. Like, right now. And d’you know what I think? I think that I love you, I really really do and I don’t understand why I’m the only one.”

He paused for a bit, hesitant because this was something he thought was just weird, but Gray told him to tell her this, and whatever maybe he can trust Gray’s gut for once—

“I look around and I wanna ask everyone why they’re not in love with you too. And maybe it’s like… it’s like I’m putting you on a pedestal or something? But it’s not that. I’m not saying you’re perfect. It’s just that right now I can’t even remember how to feel anythin’ besides this. And I dunno how… I look at you and I lose any idea I have on how to love you any less.

“So if that doesn’t make this shit real, I dunno what will. So… err… I love you, Luce. And that’s what I hate about it, it’s three words and it can’t even begin to explain all that but maybe. Maybe that’s enough, maybe you’ll understand? ’Cause you… you always do.”

He didn’t look at her, and just looked down at the view of town where the little dots of lights were slowly illuminating Magnolia.

The first thing that Lucy said was, “That was really long.”

“I know, like really long, what the fuck.” Natsu grumbled, scratching his head again. “And I dunno if I made sense.”

Then he looked up when he heard her sniffle. “Lucy?”

Lucy was trying to wipe tears from her eyes using the back of her hand. She laughed nervously and leaned away to hide her face when Natsu eased himself up at the same branch to sit beside her and peer closely at her face.

“I give a speech and YOU CRY?”

“Shut up, it was a really good speech!” she insisted stubbornly, turning away from him.

“Like hell it was!” he snorted, reaching out to his other pocket and taking out a rumpled handkerchief.

Lucy accepted it wordlessly, calming down as she wiped her face. She finally looked at him after. “How do I look?”

“Like you cried.”

“I’ll push you off that branch.”

“Uhhh…” he thought about it harder this time. “Red eyes, red cheeks, red nose?”

“Ugh.” Lucy groaned, preferring to just hide her red face behind the handkerchief. “I’m not kidding, though. It was a good speech.”

“Did you get it?”

“I always get it. And thanks for… uh, thinking about me a lot.” Lucy smiled lightly offering her free hand for him to take. He took it easily, both of his hands engulfing hers as he set it down by his lap. “How many times did you practice that?”

He looked down at their hands in his lap, absently looking at her fingers which were fancily painted like her toes. “I tried writin’ it down like three times and then I said ‘screw it’.”

“Sounds just like you.” she sighed. Finally, when she was quite sure that she looked decent, she finally gave him back his handkerchief. “Please don’t put that on your wall and label it ‘Lucy’s tears from our first date’.”

He let go of her hands to take his handkerchief and tuck it in his pocket. “Why’d you give me an idea?”

“Natsu.” she warned.

“I won’t!” he laughed. Then he looked down again. Now that they were just sitting side by side, and their feet were dangling high above the ground, he decided to swing his legs back and forth. It unsteadied the branch a bit, but the tree kept strong. “Uh, hey, will the girlfriend-boyfriend thing change much? I was worried about that. ’Cause… rules and meanings and other stupid stuff.”

She shrugged, swinging her legs as well, her feet crossed by the ankles. “Not really? I think. It’s just a label.”

“Labels have instructions.” he said.

“Well, okay.” Lucy nodded, seeing his point. “My only instruction is never to call me the ridiculous nicknames outside our plan to get on everyone’s nerves. The other one is if you ever cheat on me I will require a written explanation in proper margin and in thesis format. I think that will scare you off more than any threat of violence.”

“Yo. Calm down, Satan.”

Natsu now fully agreed when Jude Heartfilia said that his daughter was more terrifying than him.

“Don’t call your new girlfriend ‘Satan’.” she snapped. “What about you?”

“Uh… I don’t have any.”

“You’re not going to tell me to stop going on dates with other guys?”


“You’re not going to require me to go home every weekend?”

“Who am I, your dad?”

“What about the nicknames?”

“If you call me one, I’ll call you one right back.”

“What if I demand a date with expensive flowers and presents every day?”

He looked at her. “You won’t do that.”

She looked up at the night sky and then sighed. “Ah, yeah. I won’t.”

“See?” then Natsu blinked, seeming to recall something. Then he grinned. “Oh wait, I have one.”

“What is it?” Lucy turned towards him, eager to hear his side. It seemed unfair when she set her rules while he let her do whatever she pleased…

“Please never cook for me!”

Lucy’s eyes narrowed. “I am really going to push you off this tree.”

“Oi, I’m just tryin’ to stay alive!”

Lucy faked a hurt face and turned away from him, covering her mouth as if to sob again. “I thought you said you love me!” she exclaimed, all too dramatically.

“Yeeeeahhhh, but let’s face it, you’re deadly like that…” Natsu laughed, scooting a little closer and wrapping his arms around the blonde comfortingly. He tucked his chin on her shoulder. “…and we both know who wears the apron in this relationship.”

Lucy pouted, not withdrawing from the warm embrace. “I try, you know.”

“I know. And you fail a lot.”

“You’re being mean now.”

“I’ve never met anyone who can’t even fry simple hotdogs, Luigi. Even Cana can do it. And she can’t crack eggs.”

“I can crack eggs.”

“Good for you.”

“Take me seriously here.”

“I’m serious.” he said. “Don’t worry, Erza’s a good cook. You’ll survive uni.”

“You just wait and see. Someday, I’ll learn. And you’ll eat it.”

Natsu simply shrugged, as if humoring a child. “If you say so, Luigi.”

“You’re making fun of me.”

“I’m not.”

“You are.”

“Am not.”

“Are we gonna argue about my cooking skills on our first date? Seriously?”

“Yeah, uh, but we’ve gone through the checklist.” Natsu said blankly. “Tree, then the long talk I’m never gonna do again ever ’cause it’s so long…”

Lucy stayed silent for a while and just leaned in to her companion’s embrace. Natsu didn’t let go and just snuggled closer.

After a while, Lucy said, “We should kiss.”

He blinked, sitting up straight so he can look at her directly. “I thought you don’t kiss on the first date. ’Ya told me that. I remember.”

“Well, those other first date guys are not my boyfriend.” she grinned, raising both hands to poke at his cheeks playfully.

“Ohhh, it works like that?” he teased.

“Shut up.”

“But I dunno how. I’ll prolly be bad at it.”

She laughed. “Don’t worry, I’ll try to be nice.”

“Okay then.” Natsu said, looking down hesitantly. He didn’t expect they’d go this far tonight, but what the hell, he was always flexible to schedule changes. “All yours, Luce.”

Lucy smiled, liking the sound of that more than she expected. Gently, she took his hands from her shoulders and rested them on her waist. He obediently pulled her closer. Then, she placed her hands on his shoulders and she said, in a whisper, “Close your eyes. Breathe in.” And when he did, she leaned up to lock her lips with his.

He followed her lead meekly, almost shyly. His hold on her was tensed, but it quickly eased as she deepened the kiss, wrapping her arms around his neck.

When they parted, Natsu just looked at her while she smiled and said nothing.

He raised a hand to tuck strands of hair behind her ear and he grinned. “Okay, that was cool. Can we try again?”

Lucy just chuckled under her breath, kissing the tip of his nose once before she nodded. Natsu took the initiative this time, holding her flush against him as they shared another kiss. This was shorter because he drew back after a bit and raised an eyebrow.

“Why do I taste—”


“Why d’you taste like—”

“Lip gloss.”


“You’re letting lip gloss stop you?”

“Hell no.”

And there goes their third kiss.

There were no fireworks or roaring rain. The sky wasn’t even the beautiful stargazing kind. The moon wasn’t full nor was it a perfect crescent.

The confession was simple and Natsu’s speech was messy. It wasn’t a grand declaration in front of all their friends and he didn’t sweep her off her feet when she said ‘yes’.

It was all very anticlimatic, very unlike Natsu’s explosive nature, or Lucy’s hopeless romantic daydreams.

It didn’t matter, though.

Who needed fireworks or rain when they had a perfect view of town from high up a tree, where the cool breeze was sweet against their skin? Why wish for a sky for stargazing when they were too busy enjoying each other’s company to even bother looking up and looking for constellations? Why require a perfect moon when it was already a perfect night?

The confession was simple because it just is, it should be — and the speech was messy but that goes to show that he didn’t hesitate when he spilled his heart out. They didn’t need a grand show in front of everyone, they knew they were committing to each other anyway and not to anyone else.

And it doesn’t have to be a climax — no, not yet. Their story was not ending anytime soon, anyway. They always say that the best is yet to come, after all.

After the third kiss, they just sat there, holding each other close, foreheads pressed together, neither of them speaking.

Yes, Lucy thought. Theirs wasn’t a sweeping romance, but it was theirs, and it was epic. In that silly, Natsu-and-Lucy kind of way. They were together, and it’s always more fun when they’re together.

Then there was a loud ring from Natsu’s phone, and they both yelped and grabbed onto the tree branch for dear life when they almost lost balance in surprise.

The two looked at each other and then laughed.

“I… I thought I was gonna die!” Lucy breathed.

Natsu sniggered. “How’s that for a first date?”

“We really should take Loke’s advice and entertain more normal ideas.”

At that, all Natsu could say was, “Agreed.”

“I think we should get going.” Lucy said. “I promised your dad I’ll get you home before curfew.”

“My, what a gentleman, Heartfilia-san!” Natsu joked, hiking his pitch up and trying to sound like a damsel-in-distress. He stopped when Lucy rolled her eyes and hit him playfully on the head. “Wait, I have a curfew?”

“No, but I do. I’m back in the big house, remember?” she pointed out. “And you might wear the apron, but I have the car, so my curfew is your curfew too.”


“I have to get back home. I’m joining my dad for late dinner.”

“Oh.” he said, considering. “Let’s get down then.”

Getting down from the tree was easy. They even had spare energy to chit chat.

As soon as they got down, they hurried to slip on their shoes. While they ran downhill, Lucy rummaged for her things in Natsu’s bag. When they got in the car, Natsu was the first one to speak up.

“Any plans tomorrow?”

“Me? Nope, none so far.”

“Whatcha say we hang out at Mira’s and start Operation Sucky Nicknames and piss ’em all off for once ’cause they called the bets off just three weeks before we hooked up?”

She just looked at him solemnly. “I am so there.”

“And you understand now why they lost their minds and fought the wars;
and why I’ve spent my whole life trying to put it into words.
— Taylor Swift




Chapter Notes:

FIRST: THANK YOU FOR READING ALL THAT. Was it long as fuck? YES. Did I scream and blush on my pillow while writing? YES. Did you? Tell me if you did!

Second: yes. Yes, I just did that. Yes, I wrote Natsu as demiromantic and demisexual. It’s great representation and it makes sense for his character. I’ve always entertained that possibility, but it was while I was writing him here that I really saw that it worked great for him. I tried to balance his goofy and serious side as best as I can. Because it is possible to write this sweet guy being both at the same time. It was difficult. Natsu’s not an easy character to pin down. But boy was it satisfying as fudge when I got him.

Third: Please do tell me. Or yell at me, whatever. If it worked well or if I fucked up big time.

Fourth: Natsu and Lucy = Relationship Goals 2k15.

Fifth: If you really stuck with me until now? Until that 40 thousand word mess? I love you. Whoever you are. I don’t give a shit. I LOVE YOU.

This is the last chapter. Officially. But We Are Young has one last hurrah and I don’t think this one will take me 3 months to finish because: Fun Fact — the epilogue was the first part I wrote on the drafts back when this thing was just supposed to be a oneshot. Now I just have to pull it up from the dumps and brush it off nicely.

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