A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words
“’Dear Mr. Dragneel and Miss Heartfilia. We would be honored if you both would accept our offer to participate in a ‘Strongest Partners in Fiore’ photo-shoot.’” Lucy paused in reading the letter, a letter which the guild had received that very morning. “Strongest Partners in Fiore??? It’d make sense for Natsu to go, but why me?”
Natsu threw an arm around her shoulders, “Because we’re partners!”
“He’s right, Lucy. While Gray and I often partner with you two, you two are real partners. You should feel honored!” Erza then proceeded to slap Lucy on the back in a congratulatory pat that made her stumble.
Lucy nodded and held up the letter to read the rest, “’If you should choose to accept our offer, we will be meeting at Akane Resort on June 13th. In total, there are four partners selected, with your partnership included. We hope to see you in a week!’ It’s signed by that reporter, Jason.”
Flying around Lucy’s head, Happy shuddered. “Natsu, are you going to do it?”
“You bet! So whatcha say Luce? Think of it as a redo, since we kinda messed up the last time you were offered to model.” He grinned sheepishly, remembering the time that he, Happy, Erza, and Gray had crashed her photo-shoot, making her miss it.
After a moment of thinking, Lucy grinned and nodded. “Yeah! It could be fun!”
And with that sealing the deal, Natsu and Lucy spent the next week training physically so they both looked their best, Natsu doing more so he looked his best for Lucy. On June 13th, they were waiting at Akane Resort, watching as the other partner teams showed up. There were Sting and Rogue from Sabertooth, Kagura and Milliana from Mermaid Heel, and Ren and Eve from Blue Pegasus.
Last to arrive was the actual photo crew. As the day went on, there were small sparing matches, to which the crew took advantage of and shot a few pictures. Overall, it was a good day. There were the obvious swimsuit shots, during which both Lucy and Natsu were lightly blushing the entire time. Everyone present, except for the two, could see the chemistry between them, but no one said anything. However, Rogue did have to stop Sting from asking Lucy out to rile Natsu up.
At the end of the day, each team was given a two-day vacation pass for Akane Resort. The photo crew explained to them that it was their payment for helping. There were a few playful grumbles, but everyone accepted the offer.
That night, all eight mages were sitting on the beach, sipping drinks
and joking around. “So Lucy, how do you think your pictures turned out?” Kagura
turned to the blonde girl, catching her attention from the glaring match Sting
and Natsu were having.
“Oh! Well I think I did ok. I mean, I’m sure they’re going to exaggerate certain things…” She hinted at the time from the Grand Magic Games, when the reporters, mainly Jason, made up his own stats about each of the contestants, which meant he focused on her body and looks and not her actual magic.
Milliana’s ears perked up, “But this time they’re supposed to be focusing on your looks!” She mewed softly with a smile.
“Milliana, I think what Lucy meant was that this photo-shoot was proposed to us as ‘Fiore’s Strongest Partners.’ If all they focus on is her looks, they wouldn’t be focusing on her strengths, just like at the Grand Magic Games. You can bet they will focus on Natsu’s strength.” Kagura sipped some tea, explaining what Lucy meant.
Ren and Eve joined into their conversation, “So… I guess your off the market, Lucy?” Eve hung his head just a bit.
“What do you mean?” A puzzled look crossed her face.
“Oh come on, we all saw how you and Natsu looked at each other, especially during the swimsuit set.” Ren winked at her and Lucy shook her head.
She took a drink of her lemonade, “Guys, there is nothing going on between me and Natsu. We are just partners…”
“Ha! I hear that sadness in your voice! You wish you and Natsu were more, don’t you?” Looking pleased with himself, Ren took a drink of his martini, watching as Lucy blushed bright red and glanced at the flame dragon slayer. It was obvious she didn’t want him to know.
The celestial mage sighed and seemed to give in, “Fine, yes I like Natsu. But you guys had better not tell him!” Everyone listening, excluding Natsu because he had been distracted by Sting punching him, nodded, each silently hoping the two finally realized each other’s feelings. The rest of the night passed without much fuss, excluding the scuffle Sting had started with Natsu. Sting had been listening into the conversation just like Natsu had, but when he sensed that Lucy was about to admit her feelings, he felt obligated to distract the first-gen slayer. It was up to Lucy whether or not to tell Natsu.
When Natsu and Lucy returned from the beach, the whole guild was buzzing with excitement. No one could wait for the next edition Sorcerer Weekly, which Natsu and Lucy had been told was the one they would be in.
Lucy walked by a newspaper stand, about a week after the photo-shoot, on her way to the guild, when a new cover caught her eye. “It’s the new issue!” She quickly paid the vendor for a copy and sat at a nearby bench to read it. Her eyes tore through the pages, quickly making short work of all pages that didn’t involve the photo-shoot. She even skipped past the photo-shoot section to get the pages after, so she didn’t forget about them.
At last. Here it was. The Strongest Partners in Fiore section. With shaking hands, Lucy opened it, and gasped. The first couple listed was Team Natsu! She glanced over her own pictures and bio that they had written about her. As always, they exaggerated quite a bit, but at least this time they talked about her spirits and her powers more than her body. Lucy skimmed through the other wizards, saving Natsu for last. There were several things mentioned that she didn’t know about her non Fairy Tail friends, which she took note of.
“Ok. Now to read Natsu’s bio…” With shaking hands, Lucy flipped back to the page Natsu had been on. Besides noticing it was Natsu, she had passed that page over, wanting to save it. The picture was of Natsu wearing the shredded clothes from his fight with Sting and Rogue in the Grand Magic Games, to which Lucy didn’t want to think about how they had gotten those clothes. He was holding his hand up just like he had in the games, with the words “Come on” written in flames above his fingers. Lucy couldn’t look away from the sight.
While she was staring at Natsu, not even bothering to read the short bio about him, since it would be dramatically incorrect, and she already knew him so well, she heard a group of girls talking near her. Lucy looked up and saw there was a group of three girls, all about her age, looking at the new Sorcerer Weekly. She would have ignored them, probably should have, if she hadn’t heard them say her name.
“Look at Lucy!” “What about her?” “She’s so pretty!” “Yeah, I guess.” “What do you mean, you guess?! Just look at her! I wish I had her curves…” Smiling to herself at what the girls were saying, Lucy held her own copy of the magazine up so her face would be hidden.
“It’s a shame..” “Oh? What’s a shame?” “That Natsu had to be teamed up with her. I mean, she’s so weak compared to him!” “I heard the guild master made him take her as a partner, since he was the one who brought her to the guild.” “Imagine having to drag around a wizard who is useless without her keys? All I’d have to do to make her helpless would be to take those keys of hers. She wouldn’t be able to do anything about it!” “I’m sure any one of us would make a better partner that she would! Maybe we should go and try to join the guild, to save Natsu, ya know?” “Tiffany, you’re so dense! You need to have magic to join a wizard’s guild. Do you think any of us have magic?” Lucy stopped listening after that, the smile replaced by a hollow cold in her chest. The more she thought about what those girls had been saying, the more she could see the reason behind it. Deciding the best thing to do would be to go to the guild, seeing as they always somehow cheered her up, Lucy made her way there.
Lucy called out to the guild as she entered, “Hey guys!” A few people responded in turn, and she made her way to the bar, handing Mira the copy of the magazine since she had a hungry look in her eye. Lucy knew not to keep the She-Devil waiting. Mira already had Lucy’s milkshake ready, and so Lucy started sipping it. Unknown to her, a certain dragon slayer was watching her.
Natsu knew there was something wrong from the moment she entered the guild. Her smile wasn’t as wide, her eyes held no laughter, and even now, she was quieter than usual. It annoyed him how no one was noticing these things, but he did acknowledge the fact he was, hopefully, the only one who was so attuned to her. The salmon-haired man watched as Mira circulated the magazine Lucy had handed her, and soon people were congratulating them both. Aside from the polite “thank you,” Natsu didn’t pay them any attention.
He waited for the excitement to die down before tapping Lucy on the shoulder. “Hey Luce, can I talk to you?”
“Sure Natsu! What do you wanna talk about?” The blonde faced her friend.
Natsu looked around, “Not here. Follow me.” He walked off towards the library. Lucy, confused at his odd behavior, followed. Once surrounded by books, Natsu shut the door and turned to her.
“What’s wrong. And don’t say there isn’t anything wrong, because I can tell.”
Lucy hesitated. She knew she should tell him, he was her best friend after all, but she didn’t want to appear weak in his eyes. Obviously, the girl’s words affected her. “I…”
Natsu’s eyes softened and he lightly pushed her shoulder, making her smile. “Come on Luce, you can tell me! We’re partners!”
She took a breath and nodded, “Okay… When I was on my way here, I bought the new Sorcerer Weekly. As I was looking through it, some girls nearby started talking about us and our photos. At first, they liked my pictures, but then they started calling me weak. I know I’m not weak so long as I have Fairy Tail on my side, but it hurt to hear them say things like that. Then they started saying that you were forced to be partners with me, and that they would make better partners even though they didn’t have any magic. I just left, coming here even though I wanted to be alone, because Fairy Tail always finds a way to cheer me up, whether it’s you, or the fighting, or my friends.” It didn’t escape Natsu’s attention that Lucy had separated him from her friends. That could mean either she viewed him as something more or something less, and he knew he wasn’t less than a friend.
With Lucy’s eyes down still from telling the story, Natsu began to unwind his scarf, the precious scarf that his father had given him, the scarf that had been with him through thick and thin, and wrapped it around Lucy’s shoulders. Her head jerked up, her eyes meeting his, surprise evident in her face.
“Lucy. You are not weak, even without the guild. Don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise. You may not be as physically strong as some of us, but you have more heart and more courage than half or Magnolia or more combined. And I would never want anyone else for a partner. You are my partner, no one else’s, and I’m your partner. We will always be partners, I promise.”
Lucy’s eyes welled up with tears and she let herself, for a moment, believe he was confessing to her. If only she knew how close to the truth that fantasy was. She hugged him tightly, “Thank you Natsu… You always know what to say…”
After a few minutes, they broke apart and Lucy returned Natsu’s scarf, secretly taking a sniff of his scent as she did. He smelled like fire and smoke and cinnamon. They walked back to the guild hall together, making a few who paid attention to them give catcalls and making Lucy blush.
“You loooooove him!!!” Happy laughed, circling just out of Lucy’s reach.
“Shut it, Cat!” She kept jumping, trying to grab his tail.Natsu watched for a moment, glad he could cheer her up, before shouting at Gray, “Hey Droopy Eyes! Fight me!” Which then resulted in a table or two being broken, signaling all was right in the guild again.