Night had already fallen by the time the group had finally reached Magnolia. Magnolia, the merchant city, has been prosperous in magic since the ancient era and is not too far to the north of Hargeon and the sea. Its reputation was supported by the fact that the town houses the strongest Guild in Fiore, Fairy Tail.
Sting was overwhelmed by his surroundings. The street lamps shone as bright as stars, illuminating the city. Underneath the ledge of the sidewalk was a small river streaming from the ocean. Many of the men on their fishing boats waved to them as they walked by.
Lucy noticed that Sting and Natsu were getting closer to each other ever since they had departed from Hargeon. It delighted her when she saw the young boy laughing and smiling. He and Natsu already seemed like they knew each other since forever.
"What's your name?" Natsu asked him. Lucy raised an eyebrow. She was interested in finding out his name too. It sort of bothered her that she didn't know what to call him.
Sting blinked at his question. He completely forgot that he still hadn't introduced himself after all this time. "I'm Sting… Sting Eucliffe."
"Sting, huh?" Natsu scratched his head, "Well, once we reach our guild, we'll get you guys to join Fairy Tail!"
"The guild's already closed." Happy replied.
"Oh… Well, if you guys don't have a place to stay, you can crash at our house tonight!" Natsu laughed.
"Actually, I wanted to be prepared, so I booked into an apartment already." Lucy said.
Sting turned to look at her incredulously, "Already?!"
"Yup, it's right over there." She pointed at the estate ahead of them, "It's a lot bigger than my last apartment and I'll actually be able to afford my rent!" She stretched her arms out and yawned, "It's getting pretty late… so I guess we'll see you guys tomorro—"
"Cool, let's go!" Natsu charged.
"Hey, wait for me!" Sting chased after him.
"Aye!" Happy quickly followed behind them.
"Ehh? You guys too?" Lucy sighed, but it warmed her heart when Sting's face lightened up with joy as he raced Natsu to her apartment.
She smiled, 'He finally opened up to us... He used to be so aggressive whenever someone was being kind to him, and he'd try to reject them as much as possible. He refused to trust anyone, but now… he's finally acting like a little kid!'
Sting stumbled to reach the door before Natsu. He excitedly pumped his fists in the air when he got to the door first, unbeknownst that Natsu only pretended to pass out on the door steps.
"I beat Natsu-san!"
"You're really fast!"
'He must have had a very tragic past...' Sadness struck her face as she remembered the time when Sting told her about his parents. 'It must be a miracle that he can even smile again...'
"...Lucy?" Happy waved his paw in front of her face.
She snapped back to reality, "Hmm… what? Oh sorry, did you say something?"
"Silly Lucy! We're waiting for you."
Lucy looked up to see Happy speaking to her. Sting and Natsu were watching her from the apartment. She quickly shook away her thoughts about Sting and waved to them, "Yeah, I'm coming!" She briskly walked towards the others and they excitedly entered her new apartment.
"They magically transferred all my personal belongings from my old apartment to this one!" Lucy explained as they entered the room. Sting had to admit that it was nicer than her previous apartment.
"It's much more spacious than before, and it's not so far away from the guild!" Lucy entered her new bathroom, "Well… make yourselves at home, I guess. I just need to freshen up a bit." She said tiredly as she gently closed the door.
Just as she said, the three made themselves at home. Sting sat on one of the couches in the living room and watched Happy stuff himself into Lucy's wardrobe. He was deep in thought, until Natsu suddenly sat next to him.
"Hey, Sting," Natsu grinned, "Are you excited to join our guild?"
Sting forced a smirk. He wasn't sure how he felt about joining a guild. Someone like him wasn't as strong as Natsu. He wasn't capable of destroying even a fraction of an entire city. And he just felt so useless and helpless when he couldn't even protect Lucy from that 'Salamander'.
"…Yeah." He lied.
"Great! It's gonna be really fun working with someone as strong as you!"
Sting looked away from him, feeling ashamed. 'That's when you're wrong Natsu-san… I'm not strong at all…'
Lucy was literally taking forever in the bathroom and Natsu was tired of waiting. He silently hoped that he and Sting could fight to pass some time, "So what kind of magic do you use?"
Natsu was slightly taken aback when he looked into his eyes. They had an empty, faraway look in them. "I… I don't like my magic." Sting's voice cracked.
Sting shuddered as fragments of the past flowed through his head: A loud deafening roar, vibrating in the air. A little boy crying softly, alone in the dark. Ripples cast into the mirror-like surface of a pond, reflecting a distorted smile…
Concerned, he placed a hand on his shoulder,"…Are you okay?"
"…" Sting stared at the ground.
Natsu punched himself mentally. He was good at fighting, but he wasn't the best at talking. He preferred to talk with fists, rather than words. This especially wasn't how he treated new friends. He didn't know him very well yet, but he could tell that something he had said had troubled him.
He tried cheering him up, "Lucy told me before that when she first found you, you were being beaten up by some thugs. She stepped in to save you, but she got into big trouble."
Natsu looked to see if he was listening, but to his dismay, Sting was still staring intently at the ground. He continued, "She said that when you saw her in danger, you instantly defeated the last thug with your magic."
Sting looked up at him in surprise. Natsu felt a little relieved; He had finally caught his attention.
"I'm sorry for asking… but when she told me how strong you were, I just got so fired up! She said it was unlike anything she had ever seen before!" Natsu exclaimed, "It almost sounded like you were trying not to use your magic."
Sting had a gleam of pride in his eyes. His ego flared, "They were nothing!" But, his eyes lowered to the ground again. He promised himself that he wouldn't use magic ever again. "…My magic hurts others. I don't like to use it."
Natsu gently took him by the shoulders, "You're a good person. You don't like to use magic for evil. Many people abuse their powers for selfish reasons, but Fairy Tail wizards use their magic to help others." He beamed, "I fight to protect other people because I don't want my friends to get hurt!"
Natsu's words resounded in his head. Sting didn't like hurting others with his magic, but he would do anything to protect the people he thought were important. Sting remained deep in thought, until Natsu offered him his hand.
"Sting…" Natsu smiled at him, "Let's be friends!"
Sting blinked in surprise as Natsu suddenly held out his hand in front of him. Natsu wanted to be friends with him? He let out a small chuckle; it was more like the other way around. Sting looked deep inside of himself and felt his own dragon-slayer magic coursing through his veins, To think I didn't even want this power… But if it's a power that will let me protect my friends, then…
When Sting grasped his hand, Natsu felt immense magic power radiating from him. I will use my magic to save my friends from danger! He looked at Natsu with a new determination. They grasped hands, grinning at each other, "Yeah!"
Lucy dressed into her pajamas. She finally stepped out of her bathroom to find Natsu sitting in her desk, reading her novel.
"Kyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" She screamed and kicked him away with all her might. She grabbed all her papers away and shoved them neatly into her drawer. She glared angrily at the poor dragon slayer impaled on her wall, "You can't read this! I-It's not good yet!"
She then heard a sudden, loud commotion coming from her wardrobe. A quick blue blur flew out of the drawer. Happy floated in the air, dressed up as some sort of super hero. He was wearing her socks as gloves, her pink sweater as a small cape, and a—OH GOD. He was using her panties as a mask.
Her voice shook, "Happy…"
"I'm not Happy anymore, Lucy." He said seriously, hiding behind his small cape, "I am… The Cat Fish!"
Lucy ran towards the chuckling blue cat and jumped high into the air, "YOU DUMB CAT!" She kicked him into the ground. She thrashed him over and over again until her socks were knocked off… literally. She stood beside Happy's small, fidgeting body, huffing angrily.
When she turned to see Sting in the corner of the room, her whole entire body froze. Sting trembled. He was the only survivor left. When Lucy saw him dangling her celestial gate keys in his hands, she snapped. Her vision went red. Sting was paralyzed with fear as she sprinted towards him, "KYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
Lucy huffed in annoyance. They were touching her stuff without her permission. Sure, she said to 'make themselves at home', but she literally felt like the only sane person in the room. She was still upset with Natsu reading her secret novel and Happy snooping around her clothes, but she would eventually get over that over time. If Sting broke her keys, she wouldn't know what to do.
She glared angrily at the bruised boy sitting opposite of her. He had an apologetic expression on his face and the way his bottom lip quivered was so cute, but that kid was still too stubborn to say 'sorry'.
"...stupid blondie." Sting muttered.
Lucy didn't hear him, "From now on, everything in this room is Off-Limits!"
Natsu and Happy gulped. "…Aye." They said weakly.
"I didn't do anything wrong." Sting's lips tugged into a small pout.
"Then why were you touching my keys?"
"... No reason."
"You know," A small smile crept on her face, "If you ever lie to a woman, the sky's ceiling will collapse."
"Ehh!?" His eyes widened, "Really!?"
"Answer the question."
He hesitated, "I... I wanted to see your new key thing."
Lucy blinked. She actually forgot that she had bought that new gate key. What amused her more was Sting's interest in her celestial spirits. She just thought that he was like those other two idiots randomly poking around her stuff. She giggled, "Well, all you had to do was ask. I would have gladly shown you!"
A small pink tinge crept on his cheeks. He looked away from her, trying to conceal his blush, "Tch…Whatever blondie."
'So that was it.' She laughed, 'He was just too shy to ask!'
"Well, I guess I can show you how contracts are made!" She winked, "You see, before I can summon a spirit, I must first make a contract with them… This is probably your first time seeing a contract made, huh?"
"A contract?" He asked.
"Oh, contracts are a lot like promises. I first negotiate with the spirit and go over certain conditions of when they can be used. Then we forge a pact, and I'll be able to summon them!"
"…What happens if you break your promise?"
Lucy pondered, "I… I really don't know. I never broke a single promise before—A celestial spirit mage never breaks her promises! But I can imagine that the contract between the spirit and bearer would disappear and they would go their separate ways."
Sting's eyes widened, "So you never break any of your promises?"
"Nope," She smiled. Lucy waved the key of the lesser dog in her hand, "I guess I'll begin the contract now. Open—Gate of the Canis Minor, Nikora!"
A magic portal appeared and a shaking white creature with a carrot-like nose came out. Natsu and Happy's jaws dropped to the floor, "How is that a dog?"
"I actually think it's cute!" She giggled, "Come here, Plue!"
"Puun, Puuun!" It stumbled towards her and they hugged.
Sting was fascinated by the small, white creature. He watched in amusement as they discussed their pact together. He kept her words in mind, A celestial spirit mage never breaks her promises...
When Lucy finished making a contract with Plue, he was sent back to the spirit world. Lucy yawned again and told everyone it was time to sleep. She tried to kick Natsu and Happy out, but they wanted to stay. She just didn't have the energy to deal with them, so she let them sleep on the floor.
Lucy stepped into her bed. She invited Sting to sleep with her. She looked at him expectantly, "Well?"
Sting recalled the last time she slept next to him. "I'd rather sleep on the ground." He replied bluntly.
"Suit yourself." She tossed a pillow to him. She turned off the lights and covered herself with her blanket.
Sting went up to Natsu and Happy and laid his pillow on the ground next to them. "Natsu-san…" He whispered.
Natsu sat up, squinting at him. It was hard to see in the dark, "What's up?"
"…I trust you."
What's this all of a sudden? Natsu wondered. He smiled, "Yeah, I trust you too." Natsu couldn't see Sting's face, but he saw him gently lay down onto his pillow. Natsu yawned and did the same. He closed his eyes, and fell fast asleep.
Sting alerted all of his dragon senses to the maximum. He listened for the rhythmical pattern of everyone's breathing. When he was positive that they were all sound asleep, he stealthily stood up, careful not to make a single noise.
Sting quietly crept over to Lucy's bed. The moonlight shone through the glass, illuminating her features in the dark. Her hair was again matted to her hair as she slept. Sting silently brushed aside her bangs and carefully observed her face: The smooth curves of her edges… The way her eyes were gently closed… How her mouth hung slightly open … and the lavender scent of her hair… He would remember it all. He would never forget her.
He stepped over her bed to reach the window. He silently opened it crouched onto the window sill. Sting looked back to see Natsu snoring on the couch with Happy snoozing beside him. "Natsu-san..." He murmured, "Take care of Lucy for me…"
Sting leapt out of the window and scaled up the wall. Once he climbed to the top of the apartment roof, he ran free in the cool night air. He jumped from roof top to roof top of the buildings below, remembering all the acts of kindness Lucy had shown him. She and Natsu changed him so much…
Once he jumped onto the rooftop of the tallest building and made his way to the highest point of the city, he looked up to see the stars twinkling in the night sky. He gazed over the city of Magnolia, looking down on all of the buildings until he finally spotted the Fairy Tail guild lying in the heart of the city.
A celestial spirit mage never breaks her promises!
"Lucy…" His voice shook, "From now on, I'm going to use my magic to help other people. I don't want to leave, but I need to become stronger... When I'm ready, I'll come back to see you guys again. If you keep your promises, then I'll keep mine! When you're in danger—I will be the one to protect you!" Sting shouted at the top of his lungs, "It's a promise!"