Natsu and Salamander

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Since they were young, Natsu knew his brother was different, not just from himself, but from all the others their age. Zeref was smart, and his brains earned him prestige in school, adoration from adults, and all the praises he could want. But . . . he never wanted praise.

“Zeref, what are you doing?” Natsu asked, stopping in the open door of their bedroom. Zeref’s back was to him as he fiddled with something on his lap, and when he turned to greet Natsu with a smile, his face was red with blood.

“Look, brother, what I’ve discovered.” He spun around and held out a kitten, whose orange and yellow fur was matted with blood. Then he pulled it apart, revealing its bared innards. Natsu covered his mouth and stepped away. Zeref kept talking, but all he could manage was to keep his lunch down.

“Zeref, w . . . why would you do that?” he managed after a while. Zeref stopped mid-sentence and cocked his head to one side.

“What do you mean?”

“This is . . . sick. It’s wrong. This was a living creature just like you and me—”

“No, this creature was below us,” he interjected calmly. “Not as smart, and not as evolved. Therefore, I concluded it could serve a better purpose as a research subject.”

Natsu shook his head. “Zeref, you’re . . .”

“You don’t understand,” he protested in the same soft voice. He looked at the mutilated cat with . . . sorrow? “I was hoping, maybe, within this feline, I could find my own answers, but I haven’t had the luck yet. Maybe . . . you can help me?”

Fairy Tail’s center was designed like a big lounge area. There were lunch tables, a stage, and a bar, all of which being devoid of life save for one man. Zeref was sitting on a bench, arms crossed expectantly. “That look in your eyes . . . I suppose my plan didn’t work?” he said, observing Natsu.

“You’re damn right it didn’t,” he growled, fists clenched. “You know what, Zeref? You’ve always been pushing boundaries, ever since we were kids. Doing this—all of this—is the last straw.”

“Then kill me,” he said plainly. “Do it.”

“No,” he responded shortly. “Because that’d be what you want, and you never reward a kid for throwing a temper tantrum. I’m gonna beat some sense back into you, and hopefully . . .” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Well, I don’t know what’ll happen afterwards, but that’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get to it—unless you freaking burn it first.”

“The only one burning in this case is you, Natsu.”

“And you’re right,” he said with a tense smile before lunging forward. “Burning with anger!”

A body flashed out between them and Natsu was roughly shoved backwards. He growled as he met Larcade’s cool eyes, but the exchange wasn’t for too long as Lucy shouldered him out of the way. He stumbled in surprise before she landed a kick in his gut, throwing him back towards the doors. She gave Natsu an encouraging smirk and he grinned in return.

“You found a girl,” Zeref said. “I’m surprised, brother. But she won’t fare well against Larcade.”

“You’d be surprised how strong Lucy is. Kicked my ass fairly well, despite your oh so amazing brainwash—I mean conditioning,” he said, vitriol dripping from his words. Zeref finally stood with a sigh, stepping forward. He still wore his white sash, but now it was tied over an old-fashioned gold-embroidered black coat. Now that Natsu was paying attention, he noticed that his own borrowed clothes held the same black, white, and gold color scheme. “You’re just going to stand there?” Natsu snapped as Zeref made no further moves. He gave a world-weary sigh and closed his eyes.

“I don’t like the idea of fighting my brother, my twin brother on top of that,” he confessed before his voice abruptly rose in volume. “But if that’s what must happen by fate’s design, then I don’t have a choice.” He was close enough that Natsu could feel his breath on his face, especially since they were the same height. He raised his fist and decked Zeref across the face. His head snapped to the side and a bit of blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth as he regarded Natsu passively. “You’ll have to try harder than that,” he said blankly.

“I am.” He grabbed Zeref by the collar and threw him backwards. He crashed into the bar hard enough to displace the wooden paneling. He exhaled as he ran a hand down the back of his head, and it came back spotty with blood. Still, his eyes were perfectly aware as he glanced back at Natsu.

“You can’t hurt me,” he said, “let alone kill me.”

“I’m not trying to kill you, you fucking idiot!” He slammed his foot into the paneling just parallel of Zeref’s head. Then he hauled Zeref up by his lapels. “Look! I want you to look and see the damage you and your—your twisted frigging brain have caused to everyone around you!”

“I know the damage I’ve done,” he said coolly, his eyes as dark and bottomless as space itself. “I don’t care . . . or rather, I can’t bring myself to.” Suddenly he was alive again, grabbing Natsu’s wrists and prying them away with a newfound strength. Natsu was twisted around and hurled into the shelves of the bar. Glasses exploded as he collided with the wall, raining shards over them. He felt more than a few of those shards embed themselves in his back, and as he landed on the ground, they dug even deeper into his skin. He gave a pained shout and forced himself to his feet again—right for Zeref to grab a fistful of his hair and slam his face down into the countertop. The wood split upon impact, as did his lip.

“As I’ve said,” Zeref continued, “you can’t hurt me, let alone kill me. You’re too benevolent for that. Therefore, I have the Salamander.”

“It’s why you made me Salamander,” he corrected irately. “Just another display that you don’t care about human lives.”

“Why should I?” he suddenly snapped, eyes flashing. The true scarlet of his irises shone in the Guild’s overhead lights as a vein bounced within his jaw. “For all of my love, a human will die. Our parents did, Mavis is suffering a slow and diseased death, and Igneel burned to death, Natsu. That’s the cost of my care, and it’s not worth it. I’m not worth it.” He latched onto Natsu’s forearm and judo flipped him to the ground again, but on his face rather than his mutilated back. “Which is why you should kill me and get it over with, rather than try to save a soul that’s no longer there.”

“What, do you think I’m already crawling on your level?” Natsu sneered as he kicked both feet, knocking Zeref’s legs out from other him. He quickly scrambled forward and pinned his wrists to the ground. “I may be a little skewed in the brain, but I’m not so bad that I’d want to kill my own brother.”

“That’s a shame,” Zeref said honestly. “More than ever, I want to be facing the Salamander. Bring that one out instead.”

“Even if I could, I wouldn’t!” he growled. A glint appeared in Zeref’s eyes as his replying smile edged insanity.

“So you cannot . . . That’s a curious thing indeed.” He pushed forward and Natsu was startled to see that their positions were now reversed, he on the ground and Zeref staring down at him scornfully. “You’re not a bad person, brother, and no harsh feelings, but at this moment, I need Natsu Dragneel gone.” His hands left Natsu’s wrists and went to his neck, and he promptly began squeezing.

“Wha—leh—leggo—Zerf—” Natsu choked out, grabbing his lower arms and pushing back. Zeref persisted, his grip tightening by the second until large black spots filled Natsu’s vision. The red of Zeref’s eyes was all he could see after a moment, and he was sinking, sinking . . .

NO!” he roared, slamming his foot into Zeref’s gut. He went rolling across the ground before slamming into a support pillar hard enough that it gave a warning groan. Natsu pulled himself to his feet, his eyes alight with hellfire as he cracked his neck, rubbing out the forming bruises. Zeref sat up with a cough, clenching his abdomen as his eyes narrowed.

“You’re not the Salamander.”

“And if I have say in it—which I should—I’ll never be him again,” he said in a low tone of warning. “There’s only one guy that should have this face, and it’s Natsu Dragneel. If you don’t like it, tough shit, brother.” The word, while indulgent coming from Zeref, was said scornfully and with as much contempt as he could muster. Then he gave a slow and deliberate smile, yet with all the malevolence of a criminal. “But I do think the Salamander was onto something there—you know, as arson-crazy as he is.” He cracked his bloody knuckles and gave a dark chuckle. “I’m all fired up now.”

——————

Larcade rolled across the dirt before he quickly regained his bearings, switching to his feet and using a hand to slow his movement. “Move out of the way,” he advised Lucy, who stood in the doors of Fairy Tail.

“Not a chance, Blondie,” she retorted, cocking the gun. “You’d have to kill me first.”

“That’s an idea,” he said with an eerily serene smile. The longer Lucy stared into his eyes, the odder she felt. Then, as she tried looking away, she found she couldn’t do so. Not that she was being forced to maintain eye contact, but she felt too relaxed, and breaking eye contact over a sensation sounded a little absurd. But as she stared, she found her body relaxing even more, so much that her knees buckled and she fell forward to the ground. She could finally look away, but it didn’t mean much when it became a huge struggle to keep her eyes open. Larcade’s feet looked slanted as he stepped up to her, and she felt the cold steel of a knife against the back of her neck.

Move, move, move!

She rolled over for all her effort, but the knife left a long slice rather than completely beheading her, so she considered it a plus. She remembered why she was fighting and used that thought to give her strength. She checked Larcade with her elbow, forcing him back, and leapt into a crouch.

“You overpowered my R.I.P.,” he said, astounded. “—Not totally, it seems,” he added as Lucy listed to one side. She bit her lip hard enough to draw blood, reviving her senses.

“What in hell was that?” she asked, her voice still husky.

“Father calls it suggestion . . . I like to think of it as my own personal magic.” He searched her eyes before letting out an exhale, apparently changing plans. “And I have more than one.” She intended to look away, but his gaze caught her yet again. An odd tingling sensation started in her torso, then focused to a gnawing in her stomach that quickly grew to tear-inducing levels, even for her. She clenched her belly as she fell onto her side, curling into a tight ball.

“H . . . Hungry,” she moaned, pulling her body as small as it could go. It felt as if she hadn’t eaten in weeks, or years. She could barely think or see straight anymore, which all fell under Larcade’s intentions.

He descended on her with the knife again, but she had the common sense to have already drawn her gun. Her shot missed with her lack of focus, but he was startled backwards, allowing her a little more time to recollect her thoughts. Little was the key word, though, and she had barely uncurled when his hand slashed down her front. A long gash surfaced around her collarbone and the tops of her breasts, and on top of the pain she already had, it took all of her self-control not to scream in pain. She did tip forward though, throwing her hands out to brace herself on impact, and Larcade’s heel came down on her hand—the injured one at that. Then she couldn’t stop from shouting out.

“You should know something before your journey ends here.” He fisted his hand in her hair and jerked her head up so abruptly it sent a bolt of pain through her scalp. His face was dark and twisted with maniacal anger. “I don’t like others messing with Father’s designs.”

“Funny . . . you should mention that,” Lucy wheezed, bringing up her gun. “I don’t . . . like . . . either.”

She pulled the trigger on Larcade, forcing him to release her. Her shoulders and side hit the ground hard, but she was pleased at seeing a bloody trail following him as he moved backwards, but she couldn’t see the injury’s location. “You’ve . . . hurt me,” he said softly, staring at the blood leaking from his body. She cracked a smile as she pressed her arm to her own injury.

“No shit . . . Sherlock.”

“You’ve hurt me,” he repeated, baffled. “No . . . Father promised that I couldn’t—” He cut himself off and glared at her. She swallowed as she expected another sleeping spell, and in her condition, she would’ve been powerless to fight back, but . . . nothing happened. At least, nothing she noticed right away. He didn’t hypnotize her into thinking she had three arms or something like that. Still, she was immobilized, and . . . was there an odd feeling in her legs? It was as if something was crawling up them, and she couldn’t move her heavy arms to bat it away. The feeling went up her waist, around her torso and compressed her chest.

Things weren’t that bad until a few seconds later.

Lucy knew that sex could be a weapon—a big example: rape—but good gods above, that Larcade was something else. Starting from her legs and up to her breasts where the crawling feeling was earlier, there came the tear-inducing white noise of pleasure. Yeah, that was the only word to describe it. She couldn’t move—hell, she didn’t want to move—and could only remain there as her eyes rolled back and she gaped stupidly with erratic moans coming out every few seconds.

“Humans all fall subject to the same three vices.” She was faintly aware of Larcade’s voice resonating around her. “Sleeping, eating, and pleasure. My father taught me to take advantage of those things and use them to remove any opponents.” His words made little to no sense however—her mind was still exploding from the many facets of pleasure lighting her nerve endings. It was like a never-ending orgasm, a bit reminiscent of the one longtime boyfriend she’d had. Pleasure . . . sex. He had suggested within her mind the idea of sex—he hypnotized her with the idea of sex. That was something she never thought she’d say, especially since she was usually the one hypnotizing others.

This is going to be the death of me. I need to—break free!

It was easier said than done though. She played mind-games with criminals often enough, but not one that could be taken in such a literal sense. She was helpless to forces outside of her body as she writhed on the ground like a cat in heat watching Larcade head back towards Fairy Tail. She lifted the gun, but couldn’t hold her hand steady enough to aim at him. She turned back to her body and grabbed at her skin, as if the feeling could be removed through sheer physical strength. Hypnotism was all in the mind, so if she believed she could overpower Larcade, then she could. Oddly enough, she did feel something solid, sort of like a . . . tentacle? Well, at least her mind was working.

“Grr,” she growled as she pulled it away. Her skin was red and raw in the aftermath, but it worked. She felt two more on her body, but just the one was enough to focus her eyes, and her next bullet snapped at Larcade’s feet. He stumbled backwards automatically and she seized his ankle, wrenching him to the ground. He growled and clutched a leg of the cross pinned to his kasaya, slamming it down between them. She pushed herself backwards and let the blade of it cut away a second tentacle, allowing her to roll away and to her feet. He matched her movement and launched the cross like a boomerang. From such a close distance, she couldn’t avoid it entirely, and it slashed a deep wound into her left forearm on top of the one on her chest. She hissed, but only allowed herself a moment of grimacing before snapping her arm out and firing again. The proximity worked in her favor as well, and the bullet embedded in Larcade’s abdomen near his chest.

“Dirty—” he hissed, eyes squinted with pain as he clenched the injury. His kasaya shifted, and Lucy saw that her shot earlier landed in his chest near his heart. It wasn’t close enough to damage, but it surely had his ribcage filling with blood. The fact that he was still up and fighting proved his durability—and Zeref’s crazy treatment of his lackeys. But it helped put into perspective how insane the man was, if he could experiment on not only his brother, but his son too.

“You made two big mistakes here, ass,” Lucy said, steadying herself. “You messed with me, and you messed with Natsu—turned all his friends and the city against him. He’s slow . . . damn slow . . . but way too nice of a guy for that. You brought undue punishment on an innocent, and that’s what I hate most in the world.”

“You—” Larcade’s hand snapped out, maybe towards her neck, maybe towards her face, she wasn’t sure, but at that moment she felt the wind displace, and she dove to the side to avoid the cross as it rebounded back towards them. Larcade caught a leg of it in an easy practiced movement, and in the same motion he was up and rushing her with a wild, demented war cry.

“And as a side note,” she said as she rose to her feet, swaying a bit from side to side as she holstered the gun, “I’m getting far more pleasure from the idea of killing you than you could give me, Larcade Dragneel.”

She spun around and roundhouse kicked him right in the chest. He gagged, coughing up a long stream of blood as he fell flat on his back, the cross getting launched into the air. Lucy leapt back as gravity eventually pulled it down and it stuck point-first into Larcade’s stomach. He growled weakly at the projectile, but his hands shook as he attempted to grab it, and eventually his eyes slid shut and his body fell limp.

“Can you . . . forgive me for . . . f-failing you, Father?” he whispered into the breeze, his words almost as faint as the wind itself. Lucy tucked a loose lock of hair behind her ear as she regarded his lifeless form lying on the ground. She eventually knelt and, with a bit of effort, wrenched the cross from him and laid it in its proper stance on his chest.

“I don’t think you deserved this fate any more than Natsu did,” she said quietly, letting out a shaky exhale. She sat down, then her body gave up on her and she fell on her back, staring at the red and pink sky and the setting sun against the distant buildings of Magnolia.

I’ve done my part here, Natsu, so you do yours.

——————

“Have you had enough now, Natsu?”

“Never!” Natsu growled, swiping a hand across his mouth before spitting on the ground. A great glob of blood and saliva came out, plus a big piece of some tooth, but he wasn’t finished yet. His head spun, he could barely see Zeref through his black eye, and every limb felt weighed down with iron, but he wasn’t finished, not until he was lying dead on the floor. He ran forward, and his shaking fist was clutched by Zeref idly, and Natsu was yet again hurled to the floor, this time on his shredded back.

“I told you, I’d rather not be fighting you, brother,” he said resignedly, folding his arms across his chest. “You can stop anytime you want. You’ll be punished, but you won’t be killed.”

“Killed? Certainly not by you!” he said with a derisive bark of laughter. “Now man up and fight me seriously, damn it!” He rolled away from the center of pain and pushed himself to his feet. Zeref caught his hand again, even easier than before, and tugged Natsu close, so close that their noses nearly touched.

“Do you remember the first one you killed?” he asked quietly, his eyes more black than red. Natsu’s own jade ones were wide with alarm. “Deliora?”

“Let go of me,” he growled, but Zeref’s grip was like iron.

“He killed Gray’s parents when he was very young, and returned for Gray himself during recess. Gray saw him and froze in fear. You saw it and went to protect your friend, of course. What stuck out to me was that you had no mercy on this man, even as a criminal. You were always benevolent, too childish to hold any real grudges, but against Deliora . . . you tore out his throat with your nails, like a real animal.”

“Stop,” he warned, but his voice was weaker as the memories flooded him. Blood, blood staining my skin, won’t come out, don’t touch me, you’ll get bloody too—

“You saved Gray doing it too. A life for a life—that’s how this world works, brother. All I did was open your eyes to that universal logic.”

“What kind of jacked-up logic is that? As far as I’m concerned, no one should die! That Deliora creep would’ve been better off spending his life in a dank cell, doing nothing but thinking of what he’s done for the rest of his days. Death is . . . easy.”

“There’s nothing easy about death, Natsu. Not for anyone on any side of it.” When Zeref said that, he didn’t look like a crazed scientist, or a manipulator, or a sad shell of a person: he looked so utterly human, dejected and miserable and all, with his eyes downcast and his head bowed a little. He looked . . . he looked . . .

“For all of my love, a human will die. Our parents did, Mavis is suffering a slow and diseased death, and Igneel burned to death, Natsu. That’s the cost of my care, and it’s not worth it. I’m not worth it.”

“It gets better when you have friends to help you through. Friends, Zeref—do you still know what those are? They exist, even for people like you . . . should you choose to let them in.”

“Why? Who is left to be my friend when the universe has already rejected me?” he spat bitterly, the pools of blood in his eyes coming to a furious boil. Natsu had barely opened his mouth to reply when Zeref’s knee came up into the left side of his ribcage, fracturing a lot but most certainly breaking a couple, then he elbowed Natsu in the side of his neck. He covered his mouth but couldn’t stop the coughed stream of blood and saliva that spewed through his fingers. It was nearly impossible to breathe, then it truly became impossible when Zeref seized his neck, squeezing and lifting him at the same time. Natsu’s eyes bugged from the force he used, and he fought to take a breath.

“Z-Zer—” he hissed before Zeref tightened his grip even more. Natsu squirmed and threw a kick, trying to break free. Zeref’s other hand grabbed his leg, then he flipped him head over heels, Natsu landing on his head. He had never had a concussion before, but that felt like the real deal. His vision blacked out for an indefinite amount of time, and when he blinked back to reality, he was watching Zeref’s retreating back. “W . . . What are you doing?” he growled, bracing his hands on the wood.

“Larcade should be finishing up by now as well,” he replied brusquely, as if all was normal. He hissed at the implication and attempted to lunge before falling flat on his belly again. He was reduced to crawling, his legs too wobbly to work, his head spinning all over the place, and he was lying on his broken ribs. “You don’t quit, do you?” Zeref sighed. “Must I really kill you over this? It would be a waste of years of effort.”

“That’s all you care about, is it?” he wheezed as Zeref turned, cringing as his ribs flared up. Every last inch of his skin was burning with agonizing fire—the greatest fight wasn’t against Zeref, but with his own body, fighting to stay conscious and alive. If he passed out, Zeref would kill him, or worse, kill his friends. So he had to crawl forward, even if it wasn’t getting him anywhere—it was the best he could do.

“No.” Zeref bent down and, gripping Natsu tightly by the forearms, jerked him to his feet. He would’ve fallen down immediately if Zeref hadn’t kept his grasp. Then he pulled Natsu close, wrapping his arms around his sore muscles and open wounds. He gritted his teeth at the pain, but gasped a little with surprise. “I love you, Natsu.”

“Zeref—”

Bang!

Natsu was aware of his missing gun milliseconds before a new pain hit him. It wasn’t sharp like the other pains, more numbing, and the numbness spread with each beat of his heart. He knew he was shot, but couldn’t even tell where anymore: all he was aware of was the coldness of the ground and the soggy feeling of his clothes, now stained with his blood. The numbness took over, and his last breath came out shaky.

Is this what dying feels like?

. . .

I’m not going to die here. I—

—I can’t die here! But—but—

Only the “Salamander” can kill Zeref, right? I can’t turn into that guy, not again, even if he is me. Then again . . .

Well, “he” is me.

He had just enough energy to stand one more time, even if he was panting and wheezing from the effort. Zeref stood up to him, undaunted, as was expected of him. He stood face-to-face with his brother, cool red to flaming green, then perplexed red as Zeref found the gun out of his hand and pointed at him. “You said only the Salamander can kill you.”

“Then you are—?” he said with a boyish gasp of excitement. The sound sickened him on some core level, but he choked down his feeling to cock the gun. Gray often called him “squinty-eyes,” but he probably would’ve been surprised to see his eyes narrowed to predatory slits right then.

“I’m me,” he supplied in a low, controlled voice. “And as me, let alone as a police officer, I often have to do things I don’t want to . . . this being one of them.” He frowned, and his intact eye glistened with unshed tears.

“Do it, then!” he said eagerly, too eagerly. Now that Natsu thought about it, it was the first time he saw Zeref truly smile. His hand shook like it never did before. His brother, his own flesh and blood . . . what would Igneel think? He bit his lip hard enough to restart the bleeding, wondering if he was doing the right thing, but it seemed fate would make the right choice for him.

“. . . Natsu?” Zeref said softly as the gun dropped from loose fingers, clattering between them. Even without that extra weight, Natsu’s legs gave in, and his knees buckled for what would be the last time. Zeref fell with him, catching Natsu to soften the impact a bit, but his face was swimming in his blurring peripheral. Something wet dripped on his forehead—Zeref’s tears? “And another falls to my curse,” he whispered wretchedly, the last thing Natsu heard before his eyes shut.

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