Natsu was never much of a thinker, which far too many of his associates would happily agree to, but being incarcerated for supposed arson when he barely even knew how to use fire to cook turned him into Socrates. The cold and general loneliness of the interrogation room also pushed him towards the mental, because he knew that behind the one-way glass Erza was scrutinizing him for any little reaction. He let out a tired breath as he shifted his shoulders, twisting his wrists in the very little space the handcuffs allowed to try to get some semblance of comfortable.
Finally, after what felt like an hour—actually, it might’ve been—the metal door clicked before sliding open, and in stepped the dame that damned him in the first place. Her hair was pinned away from her face to give him a great view of her lovely features, and her second-skin pink button-down and slacks gave him an even better view of her lovely assets. She sat in the chair opposite to him and spent a good twenty seconds adjusting her shirt and making herself comfortable before giving him the smirk of a cat that caught the canary, or perhaps Gajeel getting a new piercing. “Good morning, Dragneel,” she mused.
“Hello Crazy Chick, we meet again.”
“Me, the crazy one?” she repeated, still smirking. “I think you have things turned all around, Salamander.”
“I told you before, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he insisted. “And this whole situation’s batshit insane and I did nothing wrong. Can I go home now?”
“Feigning ignorance isn’t going to help you,” she sighed. “Admit it now and we’ll go easy on you.”
“I’m an officer too—I know that’s a lie! And who are you anyway?”
“Special Agent Lucy Heartfilia.” She pulled her badge from her breast pocket and flashed it, and hell if it didn’t look legit. “I’m a bit of a . . . secret weapon. The department couldn’t catch you however hard they tried, so they called me in for a little ruse.”
“Oh, so the agency’s full of rats too?” She crossed her arms over her chest.
“We’re all sick of the games, Dragneel. You’ve been caught pink-handed—just confess already.”
“Yeah, okay, I’ll confess: this is all bullshit and I want to go home.” She sighed and rose to her feet.
“If that’s how you want to play it, you can also spend the night here.”
“You can’t do that.”
“I can,” she amended. “I’ve dealt with far worse sociopaths than you and turned them into shells of what they once were. Dealing with you will be nothing more than fun child’s play.”
“Well I’m not a sociopath, but good luck breaking me,” Natsu snorted. “If Erza couldn’t do it, you sure as hell can’t.”
“Well see about that,” said Agent Heartfilia with a coy smirk right before opening the door. “Have fun freezing your ass off, Dragneel.”
He scowled as the door shut, but as soon as he was sure everyone had gone for the night he dropped his head to the table. Why would they think he was a criminal? Sure, he picked the occasional fight, and sure, he had a threatening mug most of the time, which nobody relented on reminding him of, but he wasn’t a killer—he was taught better than that. He grumbled about the general absurdity of the situation for a good twenty minutes before he resigned himself to the fact that yes, everybody had gone home for the night and he might as well make himself comfortable.
“The tapes don’t lie, Fullbuster.”
Gray simply gritted his teeth even harder, if such a thing was possible—his jaw was already groaning in complaint and most certainly needed a crowbar to open at this point. Lucy thought that it ruined his otherwise handsome face—smooth and pale skin, cutting features, dark eyes that hinted at cerulean when he was ticked off enough, and even the sharp scar just above his eyebrow, like the ideal man sculpted of ice—but said nothing about it, instead locking her eyes on the tapes that they had reviewed thrice now.
The tape was from a local convenience store a couple of blocks away from Natsu’s apartment—apparently, he didn’t believe in going far as to not leave tracks. As a matter of fact, he appeared very sly on the black-and-white footage as he rang up two bottles of Golden Grain, the same alcohol of which residue was discovered at two separate locations suspected of arson. He was wearing a worn aviator’s jacket with shades pushed atop his fresh-out-of-bed hair, and he sported a swaggering simper as he made small-talk with the cashier. The second tape was of him—same outfit, same day—at a gas station a block away buying an electronic lighter, face adorned still with that atypical smirk.
“Damn,” muttered Gray, moaning as his shoulders slumped resignedly. “I wouldn’t have believed it without seeing it. I just don’t understand why. He’s an idiot and a brute most of the time, but to burn down three houses . . .!”
“I’m sorry,” she said honestly, resting a hand on his shoulder. “But it’s those closest to us that hold the most secrets, Gray, and I speak from . . . personal experience. Just be glad that now he can’t hurt anybody else.”
“Mm,” he muttered, followed by something she couldn’t decipher at all. Then he stood, sliding past her with that cold wind that always seemed to precede his presence. “Let’s go see him.”
“It’ll make you feel worse.”
“That’s gonna be hard,” he grunted, opening the door and heading down the hall. Lucy followed behind him, hands clasped at the small of her back as she stared at his strong shoulders beneath the navy uniform shirt. He and Natsu were like polar opposites, she realized: Gray was very sculpted and emitted a distant chill, even with those he was familiar with; Natsu was loud and rough and radiated heat like a miniature sun. It would seem like a distraction from what truly laid behind that goofy grin, but his overall cheerfulness had too many levels to be phony.
She opened the door to the investigation room and, well, she was surprised. It was seven A.M. and he spent the entire night there since eleven, however he did not look the least bit tired or uncomfortable. Those sharp eyes of his focused on them as they stepped in, and something about the lustrous olive shade of his irises threw her off slightly. She ignored her nerves as she sat opposite to him just as the night before, Gray standing aside from them with arms crossed.
“Good morning, Dragneel,” Lucy greeted, meeting his eyes. “Sleep well?” He stared for a second, frowning, then that sly smirk returned.
“Sweetheart! I was starting to think you’d never show,” he said with a slightly playful inflection. “By the way, it’s Salamander.”
Gray’s fingers tightened on his arm as his eyes glinted with a strange emotion. “Natsu?”
“Don’t tell me you’re deaf now, Fullbuster. I said I’m Salamander,” he corrected coolly, glancing at Gray for a moment before looking back at Lucy. She and Gray exchanged a brief look.
“Salamander . . . are you in a confessing mood now?”
“Sure,” he said easily. “I burned those three houses down, and I enjoyed it too. Happy?”
“You sure fell from grace, ash-for-brains,” Gray managed through a smirk so tense Lucy could almost hear his facial muscles straining as much as his whitened knuckles on the edge of the table. Salamander grinned back at him, undeterred.
“That’s not what I would call it.”
“What would you call it then?” His tone instantly regressed into a snarl. “Stealing people’s homes within an inch of their own lives?”
“No . . . Not that either.” He was bordering amusement, probably the most sickening part of their entire back-and-forth. But as Lucy said, she intended to break him on behalf of all his friends he spent so long running in circles. “But you know what?” he added with a very somber expression.
“I am very disappointed with the intelligence of this so-called special department. How long did it take for you to catch on to me? I’ve made a point of leaving clues every time—”
“For what?” Lucy demanded. “Did you want to be incarcerated?” He shot her a dry smile.
“No, I did not want to be incarcerated. I do not want to be incarcerated.”
“What else did you expect to happen, huh?” Gray snapped. Natsu shrugged a shoulder, unperturbed. “Don’t just act so—” Without warning, Gray lurched forward and slammed his fist into Natsu’s face, throwing him as far back as possible without overextending his cuffed arms. Natsu’s head snapped back from the impact, and he did not have the time to recover before another hit whirled on his jaw, making sure each side had equal amounts of swelling. He earned a bloody lip for Gray’s effort as well as a swollen cheek, both of which looked highly painful.
“Gray, stop. That’s enough.”
“That’s far from enough,” he muttered, wiping his bloodied and bruised knuckles on his slacks. Natsu sniffed but kept a straight face.
“Can I get a handkerchief? Maybe some ibuprofen?”
“Let the pain sober you up,” Lucy said. “Gray, you can leave now. I’m assuming you have other assignments to get to, and this seems hard for you to take.”
“I don’t want to leave.”
“Officer Fullbuster, leave the room now,” she repeated with a firmer tone of voice. He gave her a frozen look, the cold calculated eyes of one who has killed and looked away and just lost the last thing he cared about, and she held her ground until he stood without a single word and turned his back to them. He sighed through his nose and made a sound that might have been a curse before storming through the door, slamming it shut.
“Do you see what you’ve done to your best friend, Dragneel?” Lucy hissed, slamming her hands down on the desk. The sharp noises stunned Natsu if his flinch was anything to go by. “You wouldn’t know this about me, but I value friendship and trust above all else, two things you’ve completely shit on with everybody in this building. They’ve all given me the same testament to your character: He’s always been such a nice guy, rowdy and slow but always there to help when I need it. Obviously, something has changed, and I want to know what.”
“Nothing has changed!” he growled with a sudden fervor that pushed her back against the chair. His hands fisted against the table as his eyes blazed with a new fire, lips curled back into an animalistic snarl. “This is only something that’s been coming for years! Now it’s happened and I can’t do a damn thing to change it, not me or Fullbuster or you, bitch. This is what’s been building inside of me for so long.”
“I’m the Salamander, baby—it refers to a fire dragon,” he said in a lower tone, his features relaxing. “There was a fire in my belly that I just had to get out.”
“I see—you’re just crazy,” Lucy sighed. “My question is why now? Why, after so many years of feigning companionship with everyone?”
“. . . No . . .” he whispered.
“Don’t act like you can’t fucking speak now.”
“I said no, it wasn’t fake,” he persisted. “Why would you even assume that?” He left it there, dropping his face into his hands and falling silent for the rest of the day.
His face hurt . . . why did his face hurt?
Natsu groaned as he shifted, turning his eyes towards the flickering light source. Someone really needed to change that damn bulb, and his back was stiff as fuck—
“—What,” he mumbled blearily, lifting his heavy head. There was a wad of ice swathed in pink cloth printed with golden keys that had been serving as his pillow. He dropped his head to it once more, relishing the cool feeling touching his sweltering skin, and tried to make sense of his chaotic thoughts. He thought he had been asleep, but there were odd jumbles of disjointed words and images floating behind his eyelids that he was certain he hadn’t seen before. Besides that, he probably didn’t beat himself up.
“This is all so messed up,” Natsu groaned, digging his fingers into his palms. “Why . . . I don’t even like fire, why would I do arson? I hate the damn stuff with a passion! I would never ever use it like that and especially not to endanger someone!” He squeezed his eyes shut as he felt warm tears slip down his swollen cheeks and onto the table. He rolled his face from view of those surely watching him and forced himself to stay whole. He wouldn’t break—he had promised himself that long ago. He would never break again even if he had to deny himself everything.
“I’m not a criminal,” he growled, digging his knuckles into his temples. “I’m not I’m not I’m fucking not a criminal!” He inhaled, held it for a few seconds, then released his breath slowly. He knotted his fingers into his hair and let his face hit the table, retiring until the return of Agent Heartfilia.