1. Point of Ignition
The howling of sirens filled the air, loud and penetrating as it echoed off the sooty walls in the parking lot.
In what was left of the building that once had been a proud office complex, another wall collapsed, scattering rubble and dirt over desks, skeletons of chairs, and lumps of indistinguishable piles on the floor which were now barely visible in the chaos. Any papers and important documents had long fallen victim to greedy flames - as everything had.
Overpowering everything was the smell of ash and melted plastic, of hot steal beams aching under their unvoluntary freedom, of thick dust - and singed flesh.
The screams that had filled these rooms had long since vanished, after flames had licked along walls, clothes and skin alike, leaving nothing in its wake but destruction.
The smoke that still rose and billowed around the surrounding rooftops spoke of a tragedy far more potent than any in this series of burnings.
It spoke of death.
“Who is he, and why is he here?”
“Name’s Natsu Dragneel, 24 years old, formerly convicted for arson charges, incarcerated for 7 years. Current main suspect. Was brought here by request of Gray Fullbuster.”
Sheets of paper rustled busily as they were shifted in the hands of Detective Lucy Heartfilia, who walked the corridor with a face as sharp as the sound her heels produced on the linoleum.
“Current main suspect, why?”
She turned into another, more narrow corridor to her right, and the small woman beside her sprinted around the corner to keep up, busily pushing a pen behind her ear. Levy McGarden was in her element.
“He was convicted for laying a large-scale fire seven years ago and was only recently released from prison. Gray was involved in the case back then.”
“I see. Thank you, Constable McGarden.”
“I could tell you more about-“
“This will do for now,” Lucy interrupted with a smile. “Save me his complete file for later. Maybe with a coffee?”
“At 2 o’clock?”
“Same place as always.”
With a grin and a nod, Levy was about to turn – but then hesitated. “And Lucy. Good luck.”
The door in front of her loomed heavily. Lucy mused that it looked far too ordinary to send a shiver of anticipation down her spine. She gripped the folder in her hand tighter.
With one last deep breath, she pushed the doorhandle down.
And was greeted by a pair of feet.
Everything else of the man ‘sitting’ at the table - if that was even the appropriate word - was obstructed from view. His legs rested on the table, propped up high, while the rest of him had apparently decided to slide so low that he would probably drop from his chair and beneath the table any second.
But before that could happen he stirred, warned by the sound of the door, and slammed his feet onto the ground with such force that she thought his dirty and worn out sneakers might come loose at the seams.
An ironic grin adorned his face when he lifted it to give her an assessing stare.
She couldn’t tell what he was thinking.
What she could tell, however, was that Natsu Dragneel was sporting pink hair, a tshirt with a dragon print that was at least one size too small, and sweatpants - and that he was very attractive despite all those facts. Mentally scolding herself for that last assessment, Lucy cleared her throat. Way to act professional. This was neither the time nor the place to even be remotely infatuated by someone’s looks.
He seemed to take the sound the wrong way though, and his face lost all bitter humour.
It was easy enough for her to shake off these thoughts of hers when their eyes met.
He wore a heavy scowl and glared at her like she was the world’s most evil entity. With the way his lips tightened, she wondered if maybe he really thought she was.
“You cannot be serious,” he spat.
“I’m here again? You guys brought me in two months ago too, for some puny supermarket fire or some shit. Don’t you get it: I don’t burn stuff anymore. Tell that to that ugly bastard of a cop!”
“I assume you are speaking of Detective Fullbuster, and I would welcome it if-”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t forget an ugly ass name like that.” He glared at the wall before turning his head back towards Lucy, who was slowly but surely losing her patience.
“Well, this isn’t some ‘puny supermarket fire’, don’t you think? People died.”
She hadn’t expected him to sober up as quickly as he did. She caught the way his face fell for an instant, the belligerent attitude gone before he forced his enraged look back on.
“Well, nobody told me about that.” he mumbled under his breath, avoiding her stern gaze. With a sigh, she finally walked the last steps towards the table and proceeded to sit down as gracefully as possible.
Though she hoped it did not show, Lucy was nervous. This was her first big case, and there were enough people who would just love for her to slip up. She had to do this well.
Of course she’d get assigned the interrogation of this raging wildfire of a man. Figured.
But she could prove herself to anyone.
And sympathy or assumptions certainly had no place in an interrogation room.
Still, Lucy Heartfilia trusted her instincts.
For some reason, as crude and blunt as he seemed, she immediately was sure that in this case, he was innocent. But of course, trusting her instincts was one thing - she had to be professional nonetheless.
“My name is Lucy,” she tried, smiling at the man. An air of suspicion and distrust radiated off him, and Lucy got the impression that it had less to do with her personally than with the job she held down. Their eyes met.
“Natsu.” He reluctantly reached his hand across the table, and she took it firmly despite her surprise. “But you knew that already.”
“Yes. I did.” Calmly, she pulled back her hand and placed the folder on the table.
“What else did they tell you?”
Lucy hesitated. The first answer that had come to mind was a remark that she could not allow herself on the job, and an educational voice in the back of her mind reminded her that she had to keep control of the situation. She was the one asking the questions.
“Mr. Dragneel, I know you’re more than aware of how this conversation works. I’ll ask you a question, and you’ll answer it. If you do so without a fuss, you might be able to leave sooner. Shall we start?”
She watched as the grin from earlier returned to his face, but he almost seemed a little more relaxed - she guessed he was used to the process.
And something like approval had flashed in his eyes for a second there.
Feeling much more confident than before, Lucy pulled out her pen.
After they had gone through the usual procedure of standard questions, Lucy leaned back in her seat. He had answered every question with ease, but not with rehearsed slickness. His behaviour further strenghtened her resolve.
She was ripped out of her thoughts as he yawned loudly and proceeded to get up off his chair. Taken by surprise, Lucy furrowed her brows up at him. But he already was on his way to the two-way mirror, examining his hair from the looks of it. His damp hair.
“Geeze, you ripped me right out of my shower. Can I sue you for that?” he asked as he ruffled a hand through his curls - and then proceeded to grimace at the mirror.
He was well aware what was behind it. Or who.
Leaning in closer, he exhaled on the surface and drew a smiley with his index finger.
Lucy – not without a trace of amusement - could only imagine what Gray was doing behind the mirror. Somebody was probably restraining him, or else he’d long have stormed into the room.
Control. She had to take control.
And this cheeky clown was getting on her nerves.
The temperature in the room dropped by several degrees, and the tall man slowly turned in her direction. She could have sworn he flinched when his eyes met her fiery ones. His shoulders slumped; his lips pulled into a grumpy pout that almost made her laugh - but he made his way back to the table nonetheless.
She bit back a self-pleased smile, but was quite sure he noticed it as he sat back down opposite to her. He still looked sulky, almost like a young boy, and Lucy’s lips twitched again. She harrumphed before moving her hands on the table.
“If you would please take a look at these photos,” she opened the folder and got the crime scene photos out of their plastic wrap, “and tell me if you recognize this place. Or anything that might be of help.”
Natsu leaned forward to inspect the content of the photographs as she pushed them towards him.
A mess of blacks and greys, of ashes and rubble. His trained eyes found patterns in the chaos though, and his mind was calculating before he knew it. He felt almost triumphant as he came up with the formulas, and a small smile appeared on his face. You just didn’t forget some things.
But then his eyes detected something black and charred that, the longer he stared at it, resembled human limbs.His stomach turned .
And here he had been, feeling proud of himself.
His jaw clenched, but he manged to calmly push the pictures back towards her.
“So now you’re showing me photos of dead bodies? I should charge a fee for doing your work.”
Lucy’s brows rose in disbelief. He watched her take a deep breath - and made the mistake of dropping his gaze too low. His eyes bulged as her chest rose and her breasts pushed against the material of her jacket, their size becoming far too apparent. Swallowing, he looked away.
“So does that mean you got some information out of it? If you’re confident enough to ask for money.”
Her voice was controlled, but he felt as if she was straining. Why, he wasn’t exactly sure. Had he made her angry, or was she trying to hide a smile? Her face seemed like a mixture of both these emotions.
“Well, for one, I can tell you that there was only one point of ignition, and from the looks of it, it wasn’t just an even spread from a control burn either. I’d say a small explosive, likely a bomber.”
They both blinked at each other, rather surprised that he had actually coughed up information.
Natsu squinted. How had she done that?
Without even thinking about what he was doing, he slipped his hands into his pockets, fumbling with coins and empty wrappers. But then his fingertips brushed against something cool and familiar. His hand gripped the lighter, bringing it into sight as his elbow came to rest on the table.
Snapping open the flame guard with his thumb, he gave the spark wheel a good shove. The little flame sparked, dancing happily before he puffed it out. His eyes moved back to the photos, and he pursed his lips.
The lighter clicked as he ignited it again, repeating his earlier process.
He then let it roll through his fingers until it came to a halt in his palm. Nothing soothed him more than trailing his thumb over the smooth metal. When he caught Lucy staring, confusion took a hold of him. Until realization settled in.
With a nervous harrumph, he slid the lighter back into his pocket.
“Uh. Anyways. Only one point of ignition.”
“How does that help us?”
Her sharp eyes remained on his right hand for a moment longer before returning to his face. He kept his gaze on the paperwork.
“Well, detective, it means this was the work of a pro. And that that pro wasn’t me.”
Obviously pleased, he leaned back in his chair.
Lucy simply raised a questioning brow, not ready to give him the satisfaction he so obviously displayed already - just waiting for her to make a fool of herself.
“I never used explosives in my fires,” he explained. “Too dangerous. They’re fucking unpredictable, what with all the shrapnel and shit. People who use bombs don’t give a flying fuck about what happens after they detonate. They don’t care how the fire spreads - or if people die.”
Slowly, Lucy nodded, processing the information. He could be lying, a small voice in the back of her head whispered. But he knew they had his file, he knew they could check on every word he said. What if he used bombs on purpose, to confuse the police?
It was a valid question, one she tugged in with many others. She could not find an answer to it as of now. She could only trust her instincts - and they told her she could trust him.
He’d seemed angry when he had talked about people dying, and even more so when he had seen the photos. It was a kind of anger one could hardly pretend. Raw, genuine, where your fists balled all by themsleves and the veins in your forehead bulged like angry snakes.
Lucy had seen them before, the liars, and there had been good ones. But if there was one thing she excelled at, it was this. No one had ever lied to her face without her seeing right through them.
And Natsu Dragneel had not been lying.
He was scanning her face, waiting for a reaction. She liked his eyes. Not for their surprisingly green colour or sightly slanted shape, but for what was burning inside. His gaze was straighforward, honest. They were good eyes.
“So we are dealing with a bomber.”
He nodded curtly, relaxing a little now that she had acknowledged his words.
“A batshit crazy one.”
Something about the way he spat the words made Lucy falter. The contempt in his voice had sounded too targeted, as if he had known exactly who he directed them at. She leaned forward, reducing the distance between them.
“You think you know who it is?”
His eyes widened for a split second, as if she had caught him by surprise.
“I’m not gonna do your work for you, detective,” he growled lowly, and the tone sent shivers down her spine. But she held his gaze, trying to stop the sensation that rushed through her.
It was like a cord pulled taut between them, straining under pressure.
Neither would let go.
Lucy couldn’t tell how long they stared before reality came back to her. With a small start, she leaned back, realizing just how close they had come. He licked his lips.
“If you can collect the remains of the bomb and identify the shrapnel, you might be able to find out more about that bomber. They often have a signature mix, much like us firebu- like all arsonists usually do.”
Reserve was crawling back onto his face little by little, probably caused by his slip up just now. But Lucy didn’t mind if he still saw himself as an arsonist or not. Her impression had been made, and she stuck to it. Plus, the fact that he had just told her this was almost like a peace-offering. She had done something right.
“Thank you for your cooperation,” she said, and surprisingly enough, really meant it.
He gave a grumpy nod, diving his hand back into his pocket. He almost seemed confused. It was obvious that he felt very uncomfortable in that chair of his, and Lucy couldn’t really blame him.
Most people were anxious when sitting on it, but him? His history with the police went far beyond uneasiness. He hated them. She had seen it in his face.
And he knew more than what he had just told her, that much was obvious.
Maybe there was a way…
Surpressing a sigh, Lucy straightened herself.
Everything had been said for now. She knew by the way his eyes had become hard that she would not get more information out of him. And they could not keep him here with not a single piece of evidence.
So far everything had spoken in his favour. The only thing left to do was to check his alibi for Friday night. A few calls and witnesses to be questioned, and then nothing could be held against him. Somehow Lucy was sure they would have no troubles confirming his testimony.
Gray would probably get a small beating for this by the higher ups.
It was unusual for him to loose his cool, she mused. Bringing Natsu in on suspicion alone. He really must harbour some kind of deep-rooted issue with him. She wondered what had happened between them seven years ago.
But this was not the time to get lost in thought.
Opening the folder once again, halfway only, she quickly scribbled something into her notes. Then she got up, pulling a small business card from a sheet protector.
She held it out to him with a polite smile.
“Alright, Mr. Dragneel, that’s it for now. In case we need you again, my colleagues will let you know. But feel free to contact me in case you think of anything of importance.”
He snorted ironically, but after a moment of hesitation, he took the card out of her hand anyways, slipping it into the pocket of his sweatpants.
He reached out his hand again, to where hers still hovered in midair. His handshake was firm, calloused fingers gripping onto her tightly. They moved over her skin as he shook once, up and down, and then let go. His touch lingered, and she resisted the urge to stroke over it.
His grin was back on his face, now that freedom awaited.
“Sure thing, detective.”