It was just another day for the young, now seven year old, Natsu finished his morning training with Gildarts. The two of them finished their routines as Natsu grew anxious hoping that today Lucy would come on down and go to the lake with them. He had not seen, nor played with her for the past week, and as each day passed the boy began to grow more and more anxious. On this day, he had hoped that she would appear, but to his dismay she didn't.
Gildarts could see the look of disappointment on the boy as he packed up his things. "What's wrong, Natsu?" Gildarts asked as he saw the young boy sulk after practice. He lifted his bad to see the boy sitting off in the corner resting his elbow on his knee.
"Nothing," Natsu sighed to himself shaking his head. He didn't want to mention that he really missed Lucy to his mentor.
"Come now," Gildarts said as he took a couple of steps near the boy, "you're not fooling anyone. Tell me what's wrong with you."
"I was," he sighed, hesitant about admitting the truth to Gildarts. "I was just hoping that Lucy would come down today so we could go to the lake together again. That's all.
"Oh, I see," Gildarts chuckled as he took a seat next to the young boy. "Well Natsu you see, the princess has a very important day coming up. From what I hear, tomorrow is supposed to be her birthday, so everyone in the kingdom is getting ready to celebrate it."
"Birthday?" Natsu asked with a puzzled gaze. "What's a birthday?"
"Wait, you mean to tell me you don't know what a birthday is?" Gildarts asked skeptically raising an eyebrow at the young boy.
"Does it hurt?" Natsu asked him.
Gildarts burst out into laughter at the boy's question. "No, no, it doesn't hurt, Natsu. It's nothing even remotely painful, until you start to get older, then it's more of a pain the ass than what it's good for. It's a day that celebrates the day you were born. It means that Lucy is turning another year older, and those people closest to her commemorate that. It's a very special occasion."
"Do you have a birthday?" Natsu asked him eagerly.
"Of course I do," Gildarts chuckled. "Everyone has a birthday."
"Even me?" Natsu asked, his eyes going wide.
"Yes Natsu, even you," Gildarts laughed nodding his head.
"Then how come I've never heard of it?" Natsu said eying the older man skeptically.
"What, you mean you never had a birthday before?" Gildarts asked becoming serious now. He knew that the boy had just told him he hadn't ever heard of a birthday before, but he hadn't even celebrated it.
"No," Natsu said shaking his head. "So, what do people do for their birthdays?"
Gildarts was a bit taken back by the boy's question. Natsu seemed to be completely content with never having celebrated his own birthday, if he even knew what, or when, it was. Then again Gildarts hadn't really celebrated his own birthday in a very long time, but that was different, he was an adult and Natsu was still just a child. Maybe he was forgetting that Natsu was a slave, but still, even the slaves took the opportunity to get festive once in a while when of their own people had a birthday.
"Usually, they give presents to whoever's birthday it is," Gildarts told him.
"So, does that mean that I should get Lucy a present?" Natsu asked him.
"If you want to," Gildarts chuckled. But then again the more he thought about it the more he realized that maybe it would have been such a good idea. After all, Natsu was just a child, a slave child to make matters worse. "But perhaps you should—"
"I'm gonna go look right now!" Natsu cried as he leapt to his feet and dashed back towards the town. Gildarts extended his hand to catch the boy, calling out his name, but by then Natsu had already gone. The old man sighed scratching the back of his head. "Uhm, Gildarts?" he heard Natsu ask as he saw the boy walking back towards him. "What's a present?"
"It's something that you give someone. It's supposed to have meaning to show that you care about them," Gildarts said pinching his eyes.
"Oh, okay, thanks!" Natsu shouted as he sprinted back off into town. This time Gildarts didn't even try to stop him, knowing that there was no way that he was going to prevent the boy from running off. He figured that it was better for him to figure things out on his own.
Natsu ran into town frantically looking at different shops and stores only to suddenly realize. He had no idea what he was looking for. Then a sudden awareness struck him. He had no idea where he would even get a gift, nor how one went about getting a gift. He wondered if he should go back and ask Gildarts for more advice. He decided against it, thinking that it shouldn't be too hard, but then he wondered what exactly little girls liked. What should he get the princess for her birthday?
He walked by one store and saw some flowers in the front of the shop. He wondered if girls liked flowers, they seemed too from what he saw around town. After all, Lucy seemed to be quite fond of them whenever they went to the lake, playing in them and picking them to smell and put in her hair. But she could get flowers whenever she wanted. Then he remembered what Gildarts had told him, that a gift was meant to show just how you care about a person.
He wanted to get her something special, something meaningful that she would really like. He walked down the road and came across a cart covered in barrels. "Would Lucy like a barrel of ale?" he asked himself out loud. "Is that something girls like?" He shook his head at his silliness, of the idea. "Of course not don't be stupid Natsu, Lucy can drink all the ale she wants back at the castle."
He wondered around thinking that perhaps Lucy would like a large fish from the lake, or maybe some apples that were growing on the tree. But those were things that she could get on her own. Eventually his journey brought him to the edge of town and not one store had something that he saw that would possibly work for Lucy. He slouched outside next to one of the water barrels the blacksmith kept outside his shop, trying desperately to think about it.
As he sat there pondering it over he heard the sounds of footsteps as the town's blacksmith appeared from behind his doorway to fetch a bucket of water. He was short plump man with a clean shaved head, and thick burly eyes that almost appeared to be shut at first glance. His blubbery skin glistened with sweat under the sun's summer light, with cheeks of rosy pink. A small patch of hair hung down on a thick layer of skin he called his chin.
He wore a worn out brown leather apron, covered in smut and grease. His porky belly pushed the apron a little father than it would on a normal human as the spaghetti straps of it sank deep into his pudgy shoulders. The seeped into his flesh, as they almost appeared to be consumed. That wasn't the only thing Natsu saw unusual about his shoulders; there tattooed on both of them was a small set of wings. Nothing like birds wings, but more of a small fairy type of wings. The man was a bit out of the ordinary, but he seemed kindly enough.
"Why, hello there young boy," he greeted Natsu kindly, "what are you doing here today? Come to take a drink from my barrel? Please, help yourself. All slaves are welcome to quench their parched thirst in my waters. You folks work just as hard as any of us."
"Oh," Natsu said blinking his eyes. He was a little surprised at the man's friendly gesture. "Thank you."
Natsu stood up noticing a small wooden ladle that hung on the edge of the barrel. He hadn't even realized just how thirsty he was until the rotund man mentioned it. He was so focused on finding a present for Lucy that it had completely voided his mind that he really needed a drink. His throat was dry and scratchy and it would do him some good to get some water in him.
He took the ladle and drank some of the stagnant water within. It was a bit rancid and stale, slow going down that he practically had to force it. He breathed heavily once he had finished, coughing a bit from the horrid aftertaste. He could tell that it had been sitting outside for a couple of days, but it was still nourishing to get some of it into his system. He had worse, most slaves usually did, but all in all it wasn't terrible.
"There you go my child, I know it isn't the best, but it's better than dying of thirst if you ask me," the blacksmith giggled, placing his hands on his hips.
"Thank you sir," Natsu said nodding his head.
"Oh, come now," the blacksmith said waving the gesture off before placing his hands back on his hips, "I am no sir. I am just an ordinary man as anyone else in this town. Besides, nobody refers to me in such a formal manner anyways. Call me Bob," He extending out his hand towards Natsu offering him a friendly handshake.
"Natsu," the young boy said taking the man's hand in his and shaking it.
"Oh, you're the dragon child," Bob said enthusiastically. "Well you're a special young man now aren't you?"
Natsu was a bit surprised, nobody had ever referred to him in such a kind manner before. He liked this guy, he was a bit strange looking, but he had a nurturing and caring demeanor about him. He grinned widely at the old man before letting go of his hand.
"Thank you . . . Bob," Natsu said as he cut himself of from saying sir.
"You look like you have something on your mind young lad," Bob said examining him over. "What seems to be troubling you?"
"I'm trying to find a gift for someone," Natsu sighed as he slumped back down on the ground.
"I see," Bob said scratching the few pieces of fuzz on his chin. "Well is this someone special to you?" He asked raising an eyebrow.
"Yeah, she's pretty special I guess," Natsu exhaled as he sagged his elbow on his knee looking down at the ground.
"Oh, a she?" Bob giggled with excitement as he took a seat next to the young boy. "Now things are getting a little more . . . interesting."
"It's not like that!" Natsu whined at Bob's tease. "It's just that we're friends, and I want to do something for her. Her birthday is coming up soon, and I really want to get her something she likes."
"Well, what does she like?" Bob asked him.
"I don't know," Natsu sighed shaking his head. "Do you have any idea what girls like?"
"Oh, I think I may know one or two things about what women like," Bob giggled coyly, winking at Natsu. The boy gave him a blank stare, having no idea what the old man was talking about. "Well, for one thing, many girls just love jewelry."
"What's jewelry?" Natsu asked gazing at him with confused and intrigued eyes.
"Well, jewelry is usually made of rare metals like gold, silver and gems," Bob told him.
"What are gems?" Natsu asked him.
"They're like rocks, only they're polished and look very, very nice," Bob told him. "Unfortunately, they're very expensive and most people can't afford them. They're mainly for the rich nobles and upper class."
"People get all excited by rocks?" Natsu asked skeptically. "What's the big deal? I mean if it's just rocks and metal why would people care so much about them? They sound pretty useless to me."
"You know something," Bob said as he pondered Natsu's words. "You're right. But they just look really nice."
"So do flowers, but I see most people with those," Natsu grunted.
"It's not the same you silly boy," Bob giggled. "Gems and what not are considered to be very valuable."
"By who?" Natsu demanded, leering a skeptical eye at Bob.
"By everyone," Bob cried, bursting into laughter as he did so.
"And when did everyone determined that a bunch of rocks were all of a sudden valuable? They don't do anything. They just sit there. Why would people care so much about some useless stones?" Natsu grunted as he folded his arms against his chest.
"I think we've gotten a bit off topic," Bob giggled, offering the boy a friendly smile. "You obviously can't afford jewelry, so how about we think of something else? A nice necklace perhaps?"
"Maybe?" Natsu said thinking about it. "But where would I get one of those things?"
"You can buy one," Bob suggested, but he stopped himself as he remembered that Natsu was just a slave, "or you can make one."
"How would I do that?" Natsu asked.
"Well, as a blacksmith I can show you how to make one of your very own if you would like," Bob offered.
"Really?" Natsu asked getting more and more excited. "Thank you so much!"
"Now, come along young lad," Bob said leading him inside the shop.
Natsu gazed around the building getting a better feel for it. It was small, not much more than a fire place off in the corner, an anvil in the center with a couple of barrels full of swords and other weapons. There were a few pieces of armor on tables in the far back that he assumed were for sell or brought in for repairs. A bucket of water for cooling rested near the anvil between the stone fireplace. A stack of logs rested next to the stone fireplace. Hay lined the dirt covered wooden floor with boards that creaked with every step Natsu took.
"Well let's see here," Bob said as he trifled through a box of metals. Natsu stood on his tiptoes to get a better view of what the pudgy old man was doing. "Ah, here we go," Bob said, as he pulled out a long, chrome chain. It was thin strand of metal that Natsu could only notice it by its glint in the firelight.
"Is that the necklace?" Natsu asked eagerly.
"Not quite," Bob said as he cut a small piece of the long chrome chain off. He took it in his hand and placed it down on the table. "What we can do is try to mold something creative on it. You don't want to just this special young lady a piece of metal do you? There must be something unique about it."
"Like what?" Natsu asked as he took a couple of steps closer. His eyes barely above the table, he actually had to stand on his toes to get a good view of what the blacksmith was doing.
"Well we need to put a trinket on it, something that will remind her of you," Bob giggled. "How about, we make a little dragon for it? A little dragon from the dragon child himself! Oh, won't that be a fantastic gesture!" Bob giggled joyfully. Natsu grinned wide and nodded his head in approval of the suggestion.
Bob proceeded to dig in his box some more. He reached in and pulled out a small metal cube. Natsu liked the look of the small piece of metal; it was shiny and sparkled elegantly despite the darkness of the room. After he set it on the table he reached back into the kit rummaging around for something. Natsu reached up to pick up the shiny piece of metal but had his hand knocked away by Bob as the old man continued to look through the bag. Finally, he found what he was look for; a casing in the casing of a small dragon.
"Here we go," Bob said as he grabbed the two objects and walked towards the fireplace. The fire was dimming now, the log all but burnt out, but there was enough there for some light to fill the room. "We'll just have to get a better fire going," he said as he threw in a wooden log.
Natsu didn't hold back, the moment Bob was out of the way to reach for some kindling he belched out a cascade of flames that erupted in the hearth. Bob shielded his eyes from the roaring fire, blinking in utter shock at what just happened. The logs were still aflame but they were almost burnt up completely.
"Well now, isn't that something?" Bob laughed in delight as Natsu grinned proudly at himself. "I think your skills can come in quite handy. Now, if you can control your flame breathe on this piece of metal for me."
As he spoke Bob placed the piece of metal in an iron ladle and held it over the hearth for Natsu. The boy quietly obeyed trying his best to keep his fire under control. Like a whisper, he slowly breathed the fire from the purse of his lips as it soared around the metal chunk, slowly melting it. Once it had been completely melted, Bob poured the residue into the metal casing and clasped it shut. He then walked over and dipped it into the bucket of water, causing an outburst of steam to come forth.
"Is it ready yet?" Natsu asked impatiently as he jumped towards the bucket to get a better view.
"Not yet child," Bob chuckled. "We have to let it cool first, then it will be finished."
"Ah," Natsu moaned as he dropped his head on the table in disappointment.
"Oh, hush yourself child," Bob laughed waving his hands at him. "It will all be done in due time. Just be patient."
"I know," Natsu groaned but he was still too anxious to hold his composure.
"So, you're the dragon child everybody talks about huh?" Bob said as he took a seat on a chair that was situated next to the table. He motioned his hand for Natsu to sit next to him as he wiped the sweat off of his forehead.
The boy complied as he walked over and took a seat on a raggedy wooden chair next to the plump man. He plopped himself on it staring at the fat old man, as Bob just offered him a friendly smile.
"You know," Natsu said coyly, "you're one of the only people that's been so friendly to me. Why?"
Bob peered at him, not letting his smile fade in the slightest. "People fear and hate on those they don't understand," he said. "You and I are very similar in that aspect. So when I saw you sitting there I figured you might need a friend. Heck, I think I could do with one as well."
"Why do people hate and fear you?" Natsu asked staring at him with puzzled eyes. Natsu wondered how could anyone hate him? The man was so friendly and kind.
"Because I am different," he told the young boy. "You're too young to understand now, but when you're older, you'll see why."
It was a good couple of hours before Bob finally pulled the casing out of the bucket and placed it on the table. Natsu was jumping in eagerness as he waited for Bob to open it. Once the small piece of metal fell on the table, Bob picked up a hammer and chisel and began to sculpt the features. He gave the dragon savage eyes, a gaping mouth with rows of sharp teeth, as well as four claws with and two wings. Nastu watched in anticipation as the old blacksmith went about his work. Finally after a few hours it was done. It wasn't perfect, but to Natsu it looked exquisite.
"There we go," Bob said as he tied the dragon onto the chrome chain. "Now that is a nice necklace if I do say so myself."
"Wow, thank you," Natsu said with a wide grin as he snatched the necklace from Bob's hand. He began to sprint out of the shop before catching himself. "Uhm, sorry, I don't know how I'm supposed to pay for this."
"Don't worry yourself about it child," Bob said softly. "How about you just come in and work at my shop for a few hours everyday, after your normal chores, and we'll call it even? Deal?"
"Deal," Natsu said nodding his head. With that he ran out of the shop, Bob watching him disappear behind the door. The pudgy old man just giggled to himself as he returned to his own work.
For the next couple of days Natsu held onto the necklace never letting it out of his sight for an instant. Then one day after practice, to his great joy, he saw Lucy rushing down the stairway from the castle, followed by Iwan. The boy was giddy with excitement as he immediately stood up to greet her. Gildarts saw the nobleman approach, and still, after several months, he hadn't become any friendlier towards the nobleman. Natsu didn't care though; he was thrilled to see Lucy again. The two of them almost hugged each other, had Gildarts not stepped in between them.
"Gildarts, my friend," Iwan said with a wide smirk as he approached. "Can I trust you to take care of Lucy at the lake today?"
"It would be a pleasure sir," he growled, but made sure he still bowed his head respectively. "As it has always been. Come now Princess."
The young blonde nodded her head as she rushed up and stood by Natsu as the small group made their way out of the gates. The two of them practically ran to the lake, Natsu ahead of Lucy as she tried to keep up. Wearing her light blue sundress didn't really help her as she nearly tripped over herself.
When they got to the lake Natsu stopped near the water's edge grinning in self-admiration. Lucy was breathing heavily, but she had long since given up on the race. Gildarts made no attempt to keep us, he just walked as usual, pulling out a pipe from his pocket it and lighting it as he went.
"It feels good to be back here doesn't it?" Natsu said as he peered out over the lake. He really did enjoy the setting, it was so unlike the castle or town. The air was cleaner and smelt better with no residue of manure and human body odor. The best thing about it was that there was no one else around and no one that would mistreat him for being a slave.
"Yeah it does," Lucy said as she walked up next to him. She smiled at him holding her hands behind her back, peering over the still water.
It was in that moment Natsu remembered the present he got her. He pulled it out of his pockets concealing it in his palm as he raised his fist up to her. She blinked in confusion as she stared at his balled up hand wondering what exactly he was doing. Gildarts saw the two of them from a far, but he didn't pay them any mind. He simply made his way over to one of the trees that he normally sat under, and pulled out a book to read. Throwing a fishing line out into the water before settling back.
"What's that?" she asked starring at his fist.
"It's your birthday present," Natsu answered with a wide smirk; opening his hand to reveal the chrome necklace.
"Natsu!" Lucy said admiring the necklace, "It's beautiful!"
The young boy smiled as he tied the necklace around the back of her neck, letting the necklace settle on her supple blonde hair. He let it drop as the small pennant fell around the base of her collar. The little girl giggled as she picked it up with one hand to admire its craft. She examined it closely twirling it around in her fingertips as Natsu watched her, unable to contain his own joy.
"Thank you," she said softly, before kissing the pink haired boy on the cheek.
Natsu's face flushed a deep crimson red. The blonde haired girl found herself blushing lightly as well as she bit her lip in embarrassment. She had no idea what compelled her to do that, but she then reached down and grabbed Natsu's hand to lead him back towards the apple tree to help her climb it.
Natsu's mind was all abuzz as they moved. His mind completely focused on the kiss. His cheek was still a bit moist from where she kissed him, and his heart beat frantically in his chest. He had no idea what he was feeling, but at the pit of his gut he felt a warm sensation. Not like when he breathed fire, but something else completely different. He liked it, and the more he thought about her kissing him, the stronger it grew.
"Lucy? Lucy? LUCY!" the girl heard someone shout her name.
She shook her head snapping back to attention as she realized all the surrounding eyes at the table were focused on her now. She bit her lip as her cheeks flushed a little form embarrassment. She could see her father scowling at her from the corner of her eyes, knowing that he was probably upset about her getting lost in her daydream. She realized that she was also holding the small dragon pennant attached to her necklace in her hand before she slowly placed it underneath the bosom of her dress.
"I'm sorry, what?" Lucy asked with a blank stare, still feeling slightly embarrassed.
"King Duke was asking you a question," her father grunted.
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry," Lucy said as she turned next to the young king sitting next to her. "What was it that you were asking me?"
"I was asking you what your thoughts on the Draconan slave situation was?" King Duke told her as he raising an eyebrow. "Do you think that the others would serve loyally as your other slave has? If so, then we would have the fiercest army in all of Fiore, however I am concerned that the other Dracnoan slaves will not do as they are told, like your slave does."
"The Draconans are a weak and feeble people," Lucy hissed, the mere words that she spoke stung her heart. "Controlling them would not be so difficult, as we have clearly managed to control the rest of their people with the utmost ease."
"Indeed, well said princess," King Duke said smiling before turning back to Lucy's father.
Once Lucy felt all eyes removed from her she placed her hand at the base of her throat where the trinket rested. She smiled to herself as she reflected back to her memory of that birthday so many years ago. Her father had been too busy to attend her party, which in of itself was nothing more than a bunch of noblemen and their children there to suck up to her and shower her with gifts. She should have been happy that day, she knew she should have, but she wasn't. The absence of her father hurt more than anything.
It was the days after her birthday that she remembered dearly. Memories of how she and Natsu would climb the apple tree to the top. It was in those days that Gildarts had taught her and Natsu how to fish. Often time the boy grew too impatient for the line, and often dove into the shallow waters in an attempt to catch the fish with his bare hands. It frustrated Gildarts as he would grab the boy and pull him back onto the land complaining that all he was doing was scarring off all the fish. She could see Natsu now, on the bank reaching in finally snagging a fish only to have it leap out of his arms as he tried to haul it in. Gildarts yelling as the fish swam away and they had to start all over again. She giggled as she saw Natsu sitting with his face turned towards a tree, sulking angrily as he was put in timeout and forced to leave the fishing up to Gildarts and Lucy.
She rubbed the dragon again as the rest of the world seemed to have faded into silence. That was until she was shaken from her daydream by a small hand that nudged her shoulder.
"What are you thinking about my Lady?" Levy asked her seeing that Lucy lost in her memories again.
"Just remembering an old birthday from long ago," she told her with a wide smirk. "Back when I was little."
"Is that where you got that necklace from my Lady," Levy asked as she peered over the young princess's shoulder to get a better look at it.
"Yes," Lucy whispered softly. "Don't tell anyone, it's a very special gift from someone I care about."
"Oh, I see," Levy giggled quietly. "Don't worry I won't tell anyone your secret."
"If only you knew," Lucy told her before she heard her name called out again. "If only you knew."