“It’s a boy,” she says even though it’s pointless, but I come apart and gape and gasp like it’s the news of a century. Lucy looks like she’s about to pass out, her legs finally hitting the bed from their little prop-thingies (stirrups, aren’t they?) and her limbs going all over like she’s a ragdoll that somebody’s just tossed. She’s practically drenched in sweat and her hair is tangled and matted but when she smiles, damn, it’s like a sun just came into the room, and if Lucy’s the sun, then that boy—our boy—is the moon and stars.
“Can I…?” she whispers weakly, arms out. Porlyusica shakes her head.
“Let me clean him first.” Her house is almost dangerously quiet as she goes to a wooden basin of water (that I warmed, now that I think about it) and uses a towel that I know from experience is amazingly soft to clean our kid. “You did very well, Lucy,” she praises as she works. I help her until she’s sitting up, her back against the headboard.
“You really did, Lucy,” I tell her, curling my fingers through hers and squeezing her hand softly. She gives me a breathless smile and kisses me briefly.
“That’s our boy, Natsu,” she tells me, a gleam like the sun in her eyes. “Our boy.”
Porlyusica finishes after what feels like forever, wrapping him in a fluffy pink towel, and takes him over to Lucy, where she sets him in her waiting arms. Lucy holds our boy like he’ll break, but she’s smiling and laughing quietly and I won’t trade that memory for all the world. “Do you, Natsu…want to ho…?” she asks, getting out of breath before she finishes.
“A-Are you sure? Remember, everything I touch breaks or goes up in flames or—”
“This baby is fireproof, trust me,” Porlyusica says. “I can sense his magic already. So is the towel, matter of fact—I’ve had this room fireproofed since the news nine months ago.” I have to laugh at how ridiculously prepared Porlyusica is, but I get real anxious as Lucy starts to hand our boy over.
“You support the head,” she whispers, her voice becoming hoarser and fading as she speaks.
“M’kay…” He settles in my arms like he lives there and blinks at me. His eyes are so dark I can’t tell whose he has, but he has the start of Lucy’s blonde hair. He fidgets so badly I get scared I’ll drop him, and my fear causes my arms to heat up and spark a little. My heart stops for a second, then I finally breathe again when our kid calms down, giggles even and tries to grab the sparks.
“He takes after you,” she says with a little smile. “And don’t move too much or…or else he’ll get scare…”
“Yeah, got it Luce, just don’t talk anymore.” Her eyelids fall from exhaustion.
“And you cradle him…and most of all, you make sure…he feels loved…that he can feel your love…way in your heart…” Suddenly she gives a gasp, although it’s more of a grand theatric gesture since she can barely breathe as it is, and she pitches backwards and I can barely take hold of our son before she falls back on the bed and goes still and even my dragon’s hearing can’t hear her breathing. Porlyusica gets frantic, trying to revive her while I stay half-kneeling on her hard wooden floor, flames pulsing from every inch of my body, our boy wailing in my arms and pounding my collarbone weakly, while I watch Lucy fade before my eyes…
“Excuse me, but I want to go home some time before morning,” the dark-haired owner of Crescent Bar said, startling Aldrich from his surprise nap. He blinked dazedly in the soft light of the pub as the stocky owner swabbed the table he was previously drooling on. “Eh?”
“Oh…sorry,” Aldrich muttered thickly, wiping the sleep from his eyes and yawning as he scratched at his unruly blond hair. He was overdue for a cut, but he didn’t trust himself with it. The owner raised his eyebrows at Aldrich’s obviously bedraggled and fatigued appearance. His latest showers involved a creek, which he only even managed in-between monster attacks, and his hair and clothes weren’t looking any better than him. In short, he looked like total crap.
“No,” he replied crossly. The owner chuckled a little without humor and feigned realization, leaving the soaked rag to snap his reddened fingers.
“Adventurer, right? Tried to make your own living and ended up down in the dumps—literally.”
“I’m no runaway and I’m living perfectly fine!” Okay, that was a lie and both of them knew it. The owner just shrugged with another chuckle.
“Want a meal for the road? I’ve got some leftovers I don’t mind parting with.” Aldrich opened his mouth to protest, totally against anything from such a patronizing man, but his stomach betrayed him with a loud rumble. He felt his face burn furiously as the man guffawed loudly.
“No, I don’t! I’m not even hungry!” He stood up hurriedly, planning on leaving with his last bit of dignity, but as he attempted to grab his rucksack and sheathed sword from the barstool over, a dizzy spell hit him from moving so quickly on an empty stomach. The owner caught him before he hit the ground, his expression soberer than before. “…Damn it,” he swore, straightening and adjusting his worn aviator’s jacket. “Maybe a little food?”
The owner cooked better than he expected, and despite himself he ate five full plates when he intended to settle on a few pieces of fruit. “You sure can pack it away,” the bar owner commented as Aldrich sighed with content, rubbing his stomach beneath his old t-shirt.
“It’s been a while since I ate like that.”
“Two…three hours, maybe.” The owner blanched as Aldrich bundled the remaining food to stuff into his rucksack, shrugging it onto his shoulders.
“Thanks, old man.”
“Geo,” he introduced, holding out a hand. Aldrich shook it with a small smile.
“Aldrich. If I’m ever back in Hargeon, I know where to go first!”
“Yeah, just pay next time, alright? You won’t always get a free meal.” Aldrich’s eyes widened at the realization. He released Geo’s hand to rummage in his dirty jeans’ pocket for a moment before coming up with a hundred Jewel, passing it over. “Hey, Aldrich, I said it’s free—”
“Nuh-uh. My family believes in repaying every gesture somehow,” he protested. “I’ll feel bad if you don’t take the cash, old man.”
“Frankly, this looks like all you have.”
“It is,” he admitted glumly, “but still.”
“I told you, no thanks. It was just a favor.”
“If not this, then is there any other way I can help you out?”
“Well…” He rubbed his stubbly chin for a moment. “You have a sword, I see.”
“Yeah… Sort of a relic though.” Aldrich removed the rusting sheath. The blade was double edged, however the metal was very chipped and rusting slightly. Also, it had little rubbery-looking patches from extreme heat, but Geo didn’t ask about them. “Why?’
“There’s a blacksmith in town that’ll fix that up for your hundred Jewel, and afterwards I got a little cleanup duty for you. A couple of Forest Vulcans have been messing with the town lately, and our request had just been sent out so no wizards yet. Think you can handle that?”
“Vulcans? Not sure,” he said.
“Well, do you have magic?”
“…Yes,” he admitted reluctantly.
“Then you have it handled, right?”
“Sure, old man.” Only because Aldrich owed him. Had it been anybody else, he would’ve refused outright as soon as the subject of magic was even brushed. He was a decent enough swordfighter, sure, if Freed’s teachings held up outside of “friendly” Guild sparring, but with magic he was about as adept as a bird with two broken wings and shackled feet. It wasn’t like he had anybody to teach him spells or anything.
“Great!” he said, brightening. He took Aldrich out of the bar and pointed straight down the road. “Head down there until you reach the local church, then make a left to the blacksmith’s. When you’re done there, he’ll guide you to the mayor’s.”
“Now that I think about it, why didn’t you guys put in a Guild request? There are tons of places that could’ve sent wizards to get this done in a snap…”
“We did,” he admitted with a sheepish rub of the back of his neck, “but the town’s not doing as well as it used to. The reward wasn’t as big as usual monster hunting missions offer, so I guess it was a turn off.”
“O-Oh, I see.”
“Does that…make a difference?”
“Not particularly, no. I mean, even with money, I’d still blow it in a minute.” They shared a short laugh over it before he extended his hand. “I’m Aldrich of Fairy Tail, and I’ll gladly take your town’s request.” Geo shook it with a sparkle in his eyes that may or may not have been tears, but Aldrich politely ignored it.
“Thank you, Aldrich.”
He headed into town and was a little stunned by the friendly reactions he earned, waving back stiffly and repeating low “Good mornings.” Usually, Fairy Tail wizards were appreciated, but more from afar, as only the most rural towns didn’t know of their “destructive streak.” Besides that, he spent more time out in nature than actually taking requests, so his people skills were a little rusty.
The blacksmith worked in a large building with slightly-chipped blue paint and a hammered-on banner bearing his profession. The garage was wide open to reveal the man, sweat running down his tanned muscles as he pounded a glowing substance into a navy blue katana. “Uh…” Aldrich started, but his voice was lost under the clanging of the mallet on steel. “Hey, guy… Aw man, I hate raising my voice— YO, STOP IT!”
The blacksmith paused mid-strike and Aldrich’s voice echoed through the garage. He remained unabashed as the blacksmith raised his head, wiping his face with a small towel draped around his neck. “What’cha need, little man?” he asked.
“Good morning,” he said automatically, the Guild women’s cordiality lessons acting on their own. The blacksmith chuckled but repeated his greeting with an apology. “The barman, Geo, said you could repair my sword for a hundred Jewel?”
“Depends. Is it magic?”
“It has the magic of friendship imbued, but no.” He pulled the strap over his head and handed it over. He unsheathed it and examined the chipping blade.
“Aw, yeah, this’ll take a second.” He switched blades, tossing his current one into a metal crate with a loud clang as it banged against several other weapons, and laid Aldrich’s into the table’s mold. “Old sword,” he commented, examining the scuffs and scratches.
“Kinda. It was Erza’s.” He flinched very quickly.
“One of her first, so it’s pretty patchy.” The blacksmith gained a reverent smile as he cut away the worn rubber of the grip, baring the roughly-hewn handle beneath the fairy guard. He dipped the sword in the vat of molten metal near the furnace, letting the worn metal reform slowly before pulling it out. Aldrich stared at the rolling orange and gold for too long apparently, because the blacksmith cleared his throat.
“N…No,” he said, rubbing his stomach. A few moments of cooling later and the sword was nearly the same as when he received it, the Fairy Tail emblem still emblazed upon the base of the metal. “Wow this is really good!” he exclaimed, eyes wide. “Thanks!”
“No problem,” he said, taking the rolled-up Jewel. “You’re here about the Vulcans, aren’t you, Fairy Tail wizard?”
“The mayor’s house is just down the street,” he said, direction Aldrich outside and pointing straight ahead. “The brick two-story.”
“Thank you, sir,” he said, remembering to bow. The blacksmith just chuckled as he went on his way.
He noticed that the path to the mayor’s house was down a residential street, as plenty of little children and even older ones played on the paved street. They stopped to wave at him and some of them even grabbed his hand to pull him into their game. “N-No, I couldn’t—” he started, already anxious, but the little ones cried out in protest. He gave in to his better nature and played hopscotch, “Hide ‘n’ Seek,” and “Soldiers and Dark Wizards” with them until the sun began to set. “Look, I have to go,” he apologized, backing away from them with his hands up.
“Play with us again, mister!” a small girl with red pigtails and two missing teeth called, a wide grin on her little face. Aldrich had to grin back at her, at which she began giggling. Mavis, he’d heard he had a funny smile, but it couldn’t have been that funny.
He made it to the mayor’s house a few minutes later and was greeted by the sight of an attractive young woman bending over to water some plants. He tapped her shoulder to catch her attention, however she really must not have heard him coming because she spun around in alarm, completely dousing him from the watering can. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” she apologized as he let himself drip.
“Look it’s—no, really, it’s okay!” he told her as she panicked. “Don’t have a heart attack okay? Look!” He dropped his back and sheathe and stripped off his jacket, wringing it dry, then he dropped it on the ground to take off his shirt. She turned bright red beneath her short black hair and she turned away. “What?”
“W-Why are you here?” she asked nervously.
“I’m, uh, gonna get those Vulcans, and I gotta tell the—” He didn’t get to finish before she gasped in surprise, and she dragged him inside by the arm, leaving his clothes on the dirt before he could retrieve them. The mayor’s house was very…pink, to say the least, but it was very well organized. He was sitting on the couch with a small blue-haired boy, a grey-haired man with small glasses perched in front of kind eyes.
“Merida, who’s this?” he asked, setting the boy down. The boy coughed and ran over to the woman Merida, clinging to her leg.
“He’s here for the Vulcans,” she explained. His expression visibly brightened and he rose from the couch to give Aldrich a very firm handshake.
“Why, thank you, sir! You don’t know how long we’ve been trying. It would mean a whole lot to have my daughter and grandson grow up in a more peaceful town. You would really do that for us?”
“I… Of course I’ll help you guys,” he said, his mouth moving faster than his brain. He knew he couldn’t, that the worst he’d ever fought were his friends who were about as formally trained as he, an orphan, was, but he wanted to help them, if not to ease them then to repay Geo. “I mean, what do I look like, leaving you to fend for yourselves?”
“Thank you! Thank you…”
“Aldrich,” he said. The mayor nodded gratefully and Merida’s boy cheered.
“Aldwik gonna help us!” he giggled.
“Yes, Lionel,” Merida agreed, bending down to put her arms around his neck. “He’s going to be our hero.” The word made Aldrich’s stomach turn, though he tried not to show it. “Hero” was a word used for his father, his mother; him, not as much, and after fourteen years of it, it damn near made him nervous.
“Where are the Vulcans?” Aldrich asked.
“They have been in the southern area of Hargeon the last six weeks. We have no idea how they had come—maybe they were snuck onto a boat, we don’t know—but they’ve been wreaking total havoc.”
“Well, don’t worry anymore.” He drew his sword, hearing the boy gasp in surprise and feeling Merida’s fear spike a little, and held it out, the flat of the blade to the family, letting the engraving just above the guard flash in the light. “I—or rather, Fairy Tail—have this in the bag.”
He’s really rowdy today… Well, at least I can say he takes after me, I think in irritation. Two hours of sleep in three days does that to a guy, even if said guy’s a total kickass Dragon Slayer every other well-rested day of the week. I take him up and bounce him around and walk around Lucy’s place until my sandals are wearing down but he keeps on crying. Damn, he’s more stubborn than I am! And I thought it was the terrible two years, not two months!
“C’mon, just shut it already,” I plead, already at my wits’ end. I’m tired and cranky and hungry and I feel more like a baby than he does! I finally give up and set him down on the ground, letting him play with the toys that he’s already mostly smashed into bits. (He totally takes after me.) He stops wailing, thank the Celestial Spirit King, but he still looks sad enough to throw me for a total loop. “What’s wrong anyway?” I ask, getting down on the ground with it. Man, sometimes I wish that I was born a woman, ’cause they never seem to have problems like these. Or at least I wish Lucy was still hanging around to handle these problems…
“Dude, I could hear the wailing from down the street,” Gray says, shutting the door behind him. I thought I locked it! but honestly I could put my pants on my head at this point, my nerves are so taut.
“I know…” He looks at my son.
“Why’s he crying?”
“I have no damn clue!” I say, and I’m so damn close to crying myself. “He’s been cryin’ for almost three days straight and I haven’t gotten any sleep and he’s keepin’ me too busy to eat and I’m so frustrated I keep settin’ crap on fire and—”
“Natsu,” he warns, grabbing my shoulders to force me to look him in the eyes. “Deep breath. C’mon, deep breath.” I breathe in. “Now let it out.” I slowly exhale. “Okay, that better?”
“Yes… Thanks a fat lot, Fullbuster.” Gray’s eyebrow twitches but he relents as he looks at my and Lucy’s kid. He blinks and smiles and blows a nose bubble, while Gray barely cringes at. Maybe he’s just steeling himself, having his own kid on the way and all.
“Do you see Lucy in ’im as much as I do?” I ask after a few seconds of silence.
“No, I see more.” He looks at me like he can understand us, and I guess that he can in some way.
“You know, you never told us his name.”
“Yeah… He doesn’t have one.” Gray looks at me with shock. “I just didn’t know what she’d call him. I mean, I call him Natsu Jr. right now, but that’s kinda conceited. Hey, why’d you come by anyway? Not just to pity me, I hope.” Gray shakes his head and I can smell his mood change. Sadness.
“I’m going to visit her today and I wanted to ask if you’re coming?” I look at my son, little Natsu Jr. for now, and he looks back at me and grins back at me, reaching his little fists out. I take his hand in mine, his baby soft skin against my rough palms.
“…Sure. It’s about time anyway.”
Aldrich didn’t understand their problem with the Vulcans until he reached the midtown area of Hargeon. There were families crowding into shelters and hospitals, some with life-threatening gouges in their bodies and leaving bloody trails in their wake. Children were pleading with their parents for food as long winding lines formed for various meals including bread, soup, and roasted chicken, but the rations were quickly dwindling as the lines stretched into oblivion. He ducked his head as he walked past, trying not to look at their despondent expressions as he went. He knew he wouldn’t have been able to stop himself if he saw them, but what could he do for them? He felt a little tug on his pants and looked down at the boy and girl, probably brother and sister not even ten years old.
“Do you have food…?” the boy asked, obviously the older as he held his sister’s hand. They had dark hair and darker eyes, and their faces were streaked with soot and the girl had a big bandage covering her left eye, which was leaking a thin trail of blood while the other eye leaked warm tears. He dropped to his knees immediately, hands fumbling with the straps of his rucksack.
“What’s happened? What?” he asked, his stress rising.
“Big green monsters,” the girl said, her voice unsteady, as she rubbed at her teary eye. “They tore up Mommy’s house…Mommy too…” She started wailing and her brother put his arms around her, one hand rubbing little circles in her back as he tried to calm her down. Aldrich gave a shaky exhale as he took both bags from Geo’s bar and set them in front of the kids.
“Thank you,” the boy started, but Aldrich was already back on his way, running this time. He was going to tear those Vulcans a new one, that was for sure!
He felt the change long before he could notice it: previously-picturesque homes turned into the sickly rubble of war, two-stories torn down into rugged stone walls and furniture strewn madly as if after a child’s tantrum. Aldrich slowed to assess the damage, finding lovingly-worn dolls and old toy soldiers and smashed family photos and— He had to stop, because amidst the rubble and smoke, he was finding bodies. Some were whole, some weren’t, and there was blood everywhere the further south he went. Adult bodies, teenager bodies, children bodies, and—oh, for the love of Mavis—the bodies of babies. He stopped for a moment, wanting to throw up, but the sudden sound of movement among the ruined street forced his attention back to the Earth. His nose was filled with the potent stench of decomposing vegetation as a shadow preceded a very large and bulky form approaching from the wreckage of a store/house. He drew his sword and took a fighting stance, prepared for whatever came around the corner.
He was not, however, ready for whatever came behind him and slapped him across the street. He crashed into the wreckage nearest to his previous position, his head spinning off in a dozen different directions as his sword was sent skidding away from his hand and into the center of the street. He sat up on the end table he just obliterated and rubbed his aching head, trying to clear his double vision. When his mind finally sorted itself, he saw two blurry green behemoths rounding on him.
Ooh…so those are Vulcans.
He shook his head and realized that his sword, dozens of feet away, was right between them—basically meaning that he was terribly unarmed. The Vulcans laughed, apparently sensing his distress, and started stalking towards him. He stood up hurriedly and watched one of them take a swing, backing up until he was just in front of a crumbling brick wall. The Vulcan swung, taking down the wall but slowing its fist enough that Aldrich could run past. The second Vulcan wised up and swung at him, whereas he braced himself before jumping over its large fist, landing mere feet from his sword. “I got it!” he cried, fingers beginning to close around the fresh grip. The second Vulcan, which was closer, slammed its foot down on him, taking up half of his body and slamming him against the ground so hard he saw stars.
When he came to, it was holding his sword up, the blade the size of a toy sword compared to it. It gave his sword a once-over while Aldrich wildly prayed that it wouldn’t toss it, but then it did him worse: it swallowed his sword, and without complication too. “Heh-heh, weak boy,” it rumbled. Okay, it can talk, Aldrich thought, thoroughly numbed with shock. His sword was old, but it was the best chance he had, and now it was boiling in some forest baboon’s gastrointestinal tract.
“Oi… You’re going to cough up that sword, you damn ape,” he warned. “…Or else?” The Vulcans roared with laughter, obviously undeterred. And how: he was short and skinny and didn’t even look like a threat to a flower garden. “Hey, you two, looks are highly deceiving. Exhibit A—please don’t kill me—,” he muttered as he put his hand out. “Fire—”
He was smacked by the first Vulcan, palm open, and slammed his head for the third time that day into a light pole. This time it was serious, and he could tell from the wet feeling that was slowly growing over the back of his head. His ponytail, previously wild, was getting weighed down from the amount of blood coming out of his head (“Head wounds bleed a lot, Aldrich, so be careful with them!” Wendy’d said, but honestly he was tired that day and was in no mood for anything educational or even magic-educational). It didn’t hurt much that time so much as it forced his brain to go to sleep, but he fought against the overpowering urge and instead dragged himself to his feet, his vision blurring until he was seeing double and triple.
“That ain’t…nice…monkey,” he told them. “…Oi, where did those two others come from?” One Vulcan tapped its brother and started laughing as it mimed killing a wild animal and then roasting it on a spit. Its brother laughed too and they both turned back to Aldrich and suddenly he felt like a walking appetizer. “You’re not eating—over my dead body!”
“Dead body, dead body!” they chanted, pounding their chests and roaring. Aldrich felt his nerves going but took deep breaths trying to reign his anger in.
He faltered in his spot as his vision swam again, and he just barely sensed a fist coming his way before dodging, rolling to the side as the Vulcan dug a crater into the hard-packed dirt. He watched the second Vulcan swing at him and waited until the right moment to jump, landing on its fist and crawling onto its arm. It swung around in a mad circle, punching its friend in the face but also dislodging Aldrich and sending him tumbling into a crumbling wall. He used his boots to catch the impact instead, but the weak bricks fell apart under his weight, causing him to slip and land in the path of the first. It gave him a foot in his stomach, making him want to throw up Geo’s food (which would’ve been a damn shame because that food was good) and knocking him flat on his back. The one that kicked him leaned down, giving him a good taste of its revolting Vulcan breath as it snorted in his feet.
“Personal space, bro,” Aldrich wheezed, pushing it away feebly. He needed a moment to recover with all of the pain hitting him from all angles, however the Vulcans seemed opposed to giving him even a second’s worth of break. That wouldn’t do at all, because if he didn’t get a breather soon, he would pass out, and he was smart enough to know that that would make him a dead man. He just needed his sword back, or even— “Another weapon,” he realized, looking between them. He had read that Vulcans were nature’s renditions of brawn-over-brain, which was why they more often travelled alone than in pairs or packs, families being the exception. If their first instinct was punch-gut-kill, then he could use the environment and even each other to his advantage. Oh thank Mavis that Fairy Tail taught him something that was actually educational!
He grasped his knee for a moment to take a deep breath, a breath that just barely dented his disorientation but gave him enough focus to continue. He looked back at the house behind him, which had a sturdy clay oven still standing in place, and whirled around to see the Vulcans rushing him. He dodged a fist to run through the half-blocked archway into the home’s kitchen, finding it wrecked but the pantry in still-decent condition. Food was smashed on the plaster-powdered ground but some bottles remained. He took up two bottles of Shirotsume’s Finest and dropped to the ground just as a Vulcan came crashing through the skeletal pipes remaining of the wall, nearly flattening him but tearing a pocket of his rucksack, ruining the supposedly-indestructible fabric and spilling the bag of his novelty spark balls onto the ground. He picked them up at a train station because they looked fun, but now they actually seemed like they could save his life. He held one bottle in one hand and grabbed a handful of spark balls on the ground, then he headed back towards the oven.
“Bug!” the Vulcan within the house cried, pounding its chest before throwing its fists out and ruining the remainder of the roof and walls. “Stubborn bug!”
“Oi! I’m not just some bug!” Aldrich rolled the spark balls around in his palm, feeling his body heat spike to warm them, and when they were sufficiently heated he tossed a couple at the homewrecker. Like popcorn kernels, they swelled and popped at the Vulcan’s feet, scoring blisters in its thick green hide. It howled in pain before giving Aldrich a murderous glare. Great, as if they weren’t already trouble!
“Gut it! Spear it!” it called. Aldrich dodged a swinging foot, then a clenched fist that tore up the remaining floorboards and launched him forward a few feet. He landed on the balls of his feet, and before he even regained his balance he smashed the head of the bottle and unceremoniously splashed its contents in the oven. He pulled back his arm, ready to pop the spark balls, when a Vulcan grabbed it, lifting him with a jerk that nearly dislocated his shoulder. “Me caught bug,” it giggled to its friend. They scrunched together to laugh at Aldrich as he fought and kick trying to escape its iron grip, but it didn’t help that he could only move his legs.
“Ugh…ugh…let go—of me!” He tossed a ball in its eye, causing it to shout and holler as its eyelid was burned, but it kept its grip. Still, it was distracted, and he used the chance to put two spark balls in his mouth, leaving one in his hand.
“You going die, bug,” its friend said, obviously expecting Aldrich’s head to go up in flames. Instead, he bit down on the jawbreaker-like balls as if they were chewing gum. The Vulcan gaped as he chewed them down and blew a little circle of grey smoke into its eye.
“Don’t underestimate a Fairy Tail wizard.” He spat the pellets of the spark balls in its face, except they had become red-hot and glowed with heat, creating several small-but-painful welts on its face on top of the ones on its foot. It backed away, pained, and its friend turned long enough for Aldrich to get a particularly volatile pellet deep into its ear canal, searing the sensitive organs within. It howled as it dropped Aldrich to the ground and he reared back without a moment to waste, launching the remaining spark ball into the oven. “And especially not a Dragneel!” It settled momentarily in the pool of whiskey before smoking, then it erupted into flames that burst from the mouth and the chimney. Aldrich thrusted his hands into the orange-gold fire as if expecting a hug from a mother, and he shoved handfuls of it into his mouth hurriedly. Almost instantly his pain waned, and although his head still throbbed he felt completely reenergized.
“Okay, you two,” Aldrich started, flames running off of his body in great waves as the Vulcans backed away in newfound fear. “First of all, I’ll be taking my sword back. Which of you two bastards ate it?” He assumed it was the one that took off as soon as he said it, so he braced himself before following, feeling lighter on his feet than he had in a long time. He was angry—infuriated, even—and he never felt better. On the other hand, bad things happened around an angry Dragneel.
“Not so fast, ape!” Aldrich sped ahead of it as it reached a turn and put his arms out, catching its thick leg as it went. It was like wrapping his arms around a tree trunk but he held on and, digging his heels into the dirt, upended it like he really was taking down a tree. (Which, for the record, he could regularly take down barehanded since he was twelve.) The Vulcan fell on its stomach with a heavy whump! and he relished its pain groan. “You’re going to throw up my sword—or else.” He put his hands together and made a pot-sized fireball for emphasis. The Vulcan heaved, probably more in fear than anything, and his sword came out and splattered on the ground with a healthy varnish of saliva and what look like soggy dismembered cow. “Oh…gross.” He grabbed the hilt and fried the sword with his fire first of all, burning away the Vulcan’s bodily fluids and baring the Fairy Tail insignia once more. “Now, I hope you enjoyed your last meal, ’cause now it will be your last.” He stabbed the sword into the Vulcan’s cheek, filling its mouth with blood, then sliced through its artery, killing it.
“Hooo!” the second hollered, rushing him in a last-ditch effort. Aldrich had to laugh as he sheathed his sword, adopting a steadier stance as he put his fists out. He caught its leg as it went and dragged it from its feet to spin it in a circle, his strength amplified by his Fire Magic, then braced himself before launching it into the sky. He watched it go up about a hundred feet, screaming the whole way, and then begin its heavy descent. Aldrich cracked his shoulders, savoring his time for a moment before putting his hands together, forming more and more fire until it was a great ball of rolling flames like an ocean.
“Fire Dragon’s Brilliant Flame!”
Gray and I walk down the path that we—and, as a matter of fact, all of Fairy Tail—have been walking for the last seven years. Aldrich is with us, so used to the routine that he’s leading in fact, Yuki sleeping in his arms. Juvia wanted to come too, but she was busy with a request. All of the guild has been bleeding-from-the-eyes busy the last few weeks, matter of fact, no matter what time it is, and even total lovebirds like Levy and Ol’ Ironside have to separate to take on them on. Board-warmers like Nav are steppin’ up to the plate, and although Erza’s been staying home more often to take care of her and Jellal’s Amanda, she’s had to put on the armor again recently. (Although she’s not bustin’ out of it with muscle like before…serves her right! Hah-hah! Even though she still kicks my ass to the eighth dimension…)
Even if we didn’t know which was her grave, we (as in Aldrich and I) could tell by scent, as our friends loiter around there almost as much as their own houses. It just says LUCY OF FAIRY TAIL, too, and I’m not sure why she didn’t want her last name there, but I try not to think about it because then I’ll remember that she wrote a will in the first place, two months before she’d given birth. It makes me scared and sad that she thought she would die—no, by how detailed her will was, she expected to die.
“Oh!” Aldrich suddenly cries, looking at me with his eyes wide and sad. “I forgot to bring her flowers, Daddy!”
“’s okay,” I tell him, crouching down to examine the rough carving of her headstone. “She just like it when you come.”
“How do you know?” Gray takes his daughter from Aldrich so he can bend down too, and I put an arm around his shoulders.
“’cause I knew Lucy like the back of my hand!” Knew. The pain’s still fresh no matter how many times I think it won’t be.
“…Tell me more about her,” Aldrich says, narrowing his eyes as he examines the grave. He can try, but I don’t think that he’ll memorize it better than I have—by feel, by scent, by…
“Well…what haven’t I told you yet?” I wonder aloud.
“That book,” he says. “The one you got my name from.” I roll my shoulders, a little nervous to get so touchy-feely with my son. Out of respect, Gray gives us a good amount of distance, pretending to take Yuki to a nearby lemon tree.
“Okay, um… Sorry, your old man’s not a very emotional guy.”
“It’s okay!” he says, grinning his little grin at me. My friends say that it’s just like mine, but I can’t tell.
“Well, uh, when we officially started going out, she took me to this bookstore in eastern Magnolia, trying to get me to read. I’m about as likely to read as eating one of Fullbuster’s snow-cones, but because I loved her I went along. So we were in there, and you know, ’cause it was a bookstore there were dozens of books in there, and I felt totally out of place but she got this gleam in her eyes that made me happy enough to stay there. She picked out some books while I stood there, and eventually she made me pick out just one and I did—‘The Curse of a Legacy’ by Kirby Melon. She told me he was the son of some bigshot and I just zoned out again, but we went home with it and I actually read it and it was pretty good, I gotta admit.
“It was about this boy named Aldrich who was saddled with this huge legacy from his old man, who was a famous shoemaker, and his mother, who was a precision surgeon that saved dozens. But the issue was he was just a big ol’ Average Joe, not gifted with shoes or steady of hand, so he was kind of stuck between a rock ‘n’ hard place. Still, he tried to make a name for himself even as his parents’ shadows covered his own. Then one day, he came home and found his dad shot in cold blood. The truth was that he was started in the shoemaking business by a mafia boss, who he never repaid and therefore went to ‘collect his fee.’ So Aldrich was taken away before they could hurt him, then he tried to go to his mom but found her dead and naked. Turned out, she was workin’ on the street before she was a surgeon, and the skilled doctor who saw her talent and took her in had forged her medical credentials, so even though she had real skills she had no legality. The police thought it’d be ironic if she went back as what she started as, so they raped her. And then she cut her throat with a scalpel. End of story.” Aldrich looks shell-shocked, but stories like that don’t repulse him.
“That’s horrible,” he says. “So…why’d I get a name from a guy like that?”
“Because of the lesson,” I tell him, putting a hand on Lucy’s grave. It’s warm beneath my skin. “The book ended with this line: ‘No matter the sins of the parent that have blackened the forest, the child has his own path to dig up and travel.’ The moral of the story is that no matter what your parents have done, no matter what their legacy is—”
“It’s all about my legacy, and how I make it,” he finishes. I laugh and punch his shoulder softly.
“Lemme finish my line, kid!” He starts to laugh, then he sobers up and looks down the path leading to the gates. “What’s wrong?”
“…Stranger,” he says anxiously, getting up and dusting his shorts off. I take a deep breath and catch the scent too, the smell of Dark Magic. Aldrich can’t recognize it, however I can, and I make a split-second decision. “Gray!” He quickly comes over and I take Yuki from his arms, startling him, and hand the blue-haired newborn over to Aldrich. “Take her and run,” I tell him. “Fast.”
“Natsu, what’s going on?” Gray demands. I don’t reply, staring down Aldrich as he shakes in his spot, bottom lip quivering. As much of my magic that he’s inherited, he doesn’t have my brutality and my fighting spirit. He’ll use magic if it means helping someone, like lighting the candles of birthday cakes or entertaining the other guys’ kids, but he’s just not…built for battle.
“GO!” It’s the first time I’ve ever shouted at him and I hate it, but he has to get away. Aldrich finally unfreezes and turns toward the back exit, breaking into a run just as a grey-cloaked figure creeps down the path ahead of Gray and I. As he grows closer, the clouds above us swirl into an angry point and begin to pour rain down on our heads.
“Natsu Dragneel,” he says in a passionless voice, dark eyes flicking between us. “And Gray Fullbuster. That makes my job easier.” I light my flames in the dark of the torrent.
“And what job would that be?” A knife comes out from under his sleeve.
“Killing you two.”
Aldrich is scared by the noise, then it occurs to him that it’s just the people of Hargeon—and boy could they make a sound. He heard them cheering even though he couldn’t see them, and he realized that they were keeping a safe distance, which had to have been complicated with how his fire razed the entire neighborhood. It was the only reason he used a sword: he had inherited his father’s destructive nature, even if he tried to hide it. One fire attack and bam! all of his reward money—poof. Apparently, he and his mother suffered the same way. He tried to dust the soot from his clothes but even his homemade fireproof outfit couldn’t clean itself, and he quickly gave up and returned to the townspeople.
“He did it!” somebody cheered, and that started another roar of excitement and gratitude as Aldrich was snatched from his feet and tossed into the air happily.
“Uh—you guys—,” he whimpered as he felt a cold sweat build on his forehead and his stomach rumble in protest. “I’m not—good with—motion—.”
“Wait!” the mayor called through the din with a surprisingly loud voice. He ain’t the mayor for nothing, Aldrich thought as he was carefully set down, his stomach still somewhere in the air. The mayor approached him, a somber expression on his face as he bowed his head. “Thank you for saving our town.”
“I—,” he wanted to protest, but suddenly everybody was prostrating, everybody was so grateful that they were putting themselves below him—and he hated it. “Please you all, bring up your heads,” he said, already stressing from the attention. The mayor did and stepped closer, Merida and Lionel at his side.
“I recognize you now,” he said, eyeing Aldrich. He retreated slightly, ducking his head to let his overgrown bangs cover his eyes. “Aldrich…you’re Aldrich Dragneel, aren’t you?” Murmurs rippled through the crowd as the name dawned upon them.
“Aldrich Dragneel… The Salamander’s son?”
“Now that I look closer, he does have those eyes…”
“He was using the Salamander’s Fire Magic too!”
“It really is him!”
The novelty lasted for the better part of eight seconds before realization dawned, and then all of a sudden Aldrich’s supersensitive hearing was drowned with one sonorous whisper:
“I’m sorry for your parents.”
It didn’t quite hit him for a few seconds, where he just stood there and absorbed their words as they were whispered pitifully and sorrowfully. Well, he thought, it’s one step up from “I’m sorry for your father.” Then he remembered why they were sorry, and he dropped right there when the grief hit him and started crying all over again. He was vaguely aware of the people getting herded back home and Merida rubbing his back, but he was lost again, lost in his mind—
“HELP! HELP!” Aldrich shrieked as he ran down the street, Yuki howling in his arms as she was doused by the sudden and heavy rain. He tried keeping his arms warm for her but it was hard, he was so unfocused— Store owners and a few residents looked out of their doors as he ran, looking down the direction that he came from. When Aldrich looked over his shoulder he could see the rain freezing above the cemetery, and when he looked again he saw a blaze of orange turn it all into steam.
“Aldrich, stop!” He skidded to a halt on the slippery pathway as strong hands clamped down on his shoulders. He looked up, hot tears in his eyes, and saw Aunty Erza holding him in place, Jellal right behind her with Amanda sucking her thumb at his side. Erza looked at him worriedly as she shook him a little to bring him back to his senses. “What. Happened.”
“U-Uncle G-Gray,” he sobbed, crying almost as badly as Yuki. “A-And Daddy…t-t-trouble…”
“Erza,” Jellal said when she drew her sword. “We can’t.”
“Why the hell not?” she snapped before remembering who was present. “…They need help,” she continued in a lower voice, her shortened scarlet hair whipping against her face as she glanced at Aldrich.
“We can’t be sure. Even in these last seven years, there hasn’t been an enemy Natsu couldn’t face, let alone Natsu and Gray. And even so, we have to get these three to the Guild if the enemy is really a threat,” he told her. Erza gritted her teeth as she looked at the kids again.
“…Let’s go,” she said, putting away her sword and taking Yuki into her arms. He followed Erza and Jellal towards the guild but he was still sobbing. He was scared for his dad even though he couldn’t explain it, even though he had never seen him lose a fight and there was probably a negative-one hundred percent chance that he ever would—
It took them a long time to reach the guild as the storm increased, almost becoming torrential and slowing them down exponentially before they could finally spot the building. Once there, they knew they were too late even before walking through the doors, which were wide open despite the rain and wind. Gray was sitting on a barstool, head in his hands and pointless mutterings coming from him now and then as Wendy tried to heal his extensive bleeding injuries. All eyes fell on the five as they walked in, Erza slamming the doors shut to prevent the rain from ruining the floorboards. Gramps Makarov, the old Guildmaster, turned to them for just a second before returning his attention to Gray.
“You’re here,” Gray said, raising his head enough to spot Aldrich. His eyes shrunk in terror and he pushed his wet hair from his face as he refocused, getting to his feet despite Wendy’s protests. “Aldrich…”
“Daddy?” he asked, already feeling a pit forming deep in his stomach. He gripped Erza’s hand, her strong fingers curling around his small ones reassuringly, as he looked at Gray, panic building and swelling until he felt as if he would choke on it. Gray gave a tired moan before falling back in the chair, the strength apparently leaving him as his head went back and his arms fell limp at his sides.
“A wizard appeared in the cemetery,” he started in an uncharacteristically soft voice. “We don’t know from where or why, but he showed up, and he…” He gave another moan, gripping his arms as if the pain was too much to hold inside. “Your old man… Natsu is dead, Aldrich. I watched him die myself.”
Aldrich froze, the word bouncing around in his skull for a moment as the entire guild hall sucked in a breath. He knew dead, but never person dead. That stray cat he had some years ago was dead; logs in the forest were dead; his hair was dead; his dad…couldn’t have been dead. Never. Not possible. He couldn’t have been dead, could he have…?
He didn’t know he fell there were hands around him, and he didn’t know he was crying until somebody was wiping his face with a handkerchief. He felt cold inside even as he felt warm outside, which was weird and made no sense, just like his dad dying. He regressed into heaves and hiccups, telling Gray that he was lying, that he had to be lying, that it just wasn’t possible…
He woke up in an empty room, his whole body aching but his face hurting even more from all the crying he’d done. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to relieve their soreness, then opened them. He was in some sort of medical room, plain white walls and wooden floor, and he was lying in a cot with bandages all over every patch of bare skin, and for good reason too: every little movement hurt down to blinking his eyes. Adrenaline is no joke, he thought, scratching his bandaged head and wincing from the action.
“I thought you were a goner,” Merida laughed, opening the door. Lionel ran ahead of her to sit on Aldrich’s legs.
“Lionel. Ooh. Ouch.”
“I’m sorry,” Merida apologized, trying to move him to no avail.
“N-No, it’s okay, I like pain…”
“Hero, hero, hero!” Lionel chanted, shaking his upper body as if his lower body wasn’t enough. Aldrich made himself laugh, because if he didn’t he would’ve started crying from the pain.
“Okay, okay, I think that he feels loved enough,” she said, finally picking him up and setting him down on the ground. “The town is really thankful, however.”
“I remember…” he murmured, still feeling drained. His magic levels were low, yet he could feel himself absorbing ethernano as they spoke. “And I’m sorry for…you know.”
“Don’t apologize,” she said. “I know firsthand how sorrowful it is to lose a loved one.” She touched her chest as she spoke, right above her heart, and Aldrich noticed a ruby broach pinned to her t-shirt there.
“This is from Niall, my husband,” she said softly, closing her eyes in the memory. “He died last summer in a carriage accident.”
“But everybody else in Hargeon does,” she chuckled, looking at him. “And apparently they know you too.”
“The curse of a legacy,” he muttered under his breath.
“Have you read it? The Curse of a Legacy by Kirby Melon?” She shook her head. “I never read it, but I saw it so many times as a kid that it became background of the house. Now I wish I had read it…”
“Aldrich!” she cried as he sat up and started wiggling the I.V. needle from his wrist. “What are you doing?”
“I have—to go,” he grimaced, blood dribbling down his arm as he pulled the needle free. He covered it with a cloth bandage as he swung his feet to the ground and stood up shakily. “My things—where’s my bag? and my sword?”
“My father has them—you need to rest!”
“I’m fine, promise. I just have to get back to Magnolia right now.” He started searching for his clothes before he remembered that they were torn-up and bloody. “Clothes, I need clothes.”
“Merida!” he interrupted, grabbing her shoulders. “Hasn’t there been something you needed to do no matter the consequences?” She stared back at him, startled, before her face softened into worry.
“…My house is just a walk away. You can go there to get clothes, and I’ll go to my father’s house to retrieve your bag.”
“T…Thank you,” he sighed, rubbing his arms. His muscles hurt from just that small movement.
“In return, can I ask?”
“Ask what?” She pulled Lionel away as he began playing with the I.V. needle.
“What did happen to Natsu Dragneel?” His face fell and she put her hands up. “Please, don’t tell me if it hurts too much. It’s just that there was never any report, just news of a coming funeral for him—”
“He was killed, Merida. By a dark wizard.”
“How long ago.”
“Eight…years,” he said quietly, closing his eyes for a moment to keep his composure. “Most of the time I have it under control, but sometimes it all just—just pulls me under.” She nodded in understanding, and suddenly Aldrich wanted to tell her everything—about those weeks he spent crying all night to only get about two hours of sleep, about how everybody’s apologies made him feel worse, about how he had nightmares long after, nightmares that he was watching his father get killed, about how the guild was so out of spirit and many remarked that “it was just like when Lucy passed,” about how his father was the funniest, most energetic, most loving man he had ever meant and that he had had to go way before his time, just like his mom, and about how no matter how passive he acted about it all, that death was an open wound on his heart that he could only bandage, never sew, never staunch the bleeding, never forget it was there—
Lionel was the first to put his little arms around him, then Merida was next, hugging him until he could barely breathe—no, it was because he was crying again. He held onto them, witnessing his father’s death all over again, and even though he felt like breaking they kept him grounded. “T-T-Thank you,” he exhaled, wiping his face with his hands. “Thank you…”
Merida led him to her house, a small building not very far from the clinic. It was all oranges, contrasting the mayor’s pink house, and had toys strewn everywhere. Lionel giggled in excitement as he started playing with them immediately, and Merida told him to wait on the couch as she disappeared down the hall. Aldrich wanted to sit but Lionel invited him to play with his magic trucks, and he couldn’t refuse and battled his dump truck with Lionel’s monster truck. After a few moments Merida returned with a leather jacket, t-shirt, and black pants. “Whose are those?” Aldrich asked.
“They were Niall’s,” she smiled. “I don’t think he’d mind.” The clothes were somewhat loose, however they still fit better than the old secondhand stuff he’d been purchasing on his smalltime-requests budget. The thought made him laugh, which Merida frowned at.
“Wanna know something?”
“I was supposed to be at a town north of here to help a bakery,” he admitted. “Those are the types of jobs I’ve been doing: short and easy.”
“But why? You’re so strong.”
“But what’s strength if you can’t control it?” he countered. “I’ve heard stories of how my dad could wreck a city when aiming at just one bad guy, and I’m the same exact way, except I get this bone-crushing guilt when I even kill a fly—that’s from my mom’s side, they tell me. So I use a sword, since it’s less volatile, and I choose the simple jobs to make sure.”
“You wanna know something too?” she smiled. He raised an eyebrow curiously. She prepared to speak, then a knock on her door caught their attention. She answered it, Aldrich behind her to hide against the wall of the kitchen, and he caught the mayor’s scent.
“Merida, that Aldrich boy left the clinic. Do you have any idea where he went?”
“No clue,” she said so innocently he would’ve believed her had the scent of lies not radiated from her body. “Are those his things?”
“Yes. I sort of thought that if he went anywhere in that condition he would need to rest, and that he would come here since you and I are the only two that he knows and since he wasn’t at my house. I’m not mad or anything—I can understand why he’d want a quick escape, what with everybody knowing his lineage and all—I just want him to have his things.”
“Thank you, Dad. I’ll give these to him…if he shows.” He heard the mayor laugh.
“Yes, if. Well, I’ll see you later?”
“Bye!” Lionel cried as she closed the door. Aldrich crept into the main room and she shoved his things at his chest.
“You should leave quickly if you really want to avoid the townspeople. They’ll be trying to repossess their things from their destroyed houses for a while.”
“Thank you…again.” He slipped his rucksack on and stared at his sword for a moment before slipping the sheathe into its slot. “You know, I used to think that being a Dragneel—and, matter of fact, a Heartfilia—is a curse.”
“Why?” He leaned against the door for a moment.
“Everybody expected something of me, whether it was being a brutal juggernaut or a cunning wizard, and I just—I just couldn’t fulfill either expectation. I’m just Aldrich, a boy with a hand-me-down sword and a boy that cries at sad movies and a boy that has an S-Class wizard’s store of magic but doesn’t want to use it. It’s like that book I mentioned, The Curse of a Legacy? The boy in there that I was named after, Aldrich, had these two parents that seemed so perfect while he was just so plain… That’s what I used to think.”
“So, what changed your mind?”
“I realized that a legacy isn’t something that makes you, you’re the one that makes a legacy, as trite as that sounds. The Aldrich in the book realized that his parents weren’t all that great and decided that instead of being like either of them, he would make his own legacy—that’s what I’ve decided to do as well. That’s why I’ve been taking requests on top of requests lately, doing so much that I barely get any sleep and use up all my rations before I’m even done. I want people to know me as Aldrich, not Aldrich Dragneel or Aldrich Heartfilia—just Aldrich.” She smiled and rested her hand on his cheek.
“I will remember you, Aldrich. Me and my father and Lionel will remember Aldrich.” He put his hand over hers, smiling.
“And maybe someday, you guys won’t be the only ones.” He opened the door and found the sun brighter than it was before—maybe it was sending him a message? He waved at her as he started down the pathway to the docks and she waved back, Lionel cheering from between her legs. He was still being set back by his memories, that was for sure, but he could overcome them someday, and someday soon. He stopped some dozen feet away and looked back at Merida, who had begun to go back inside. “Wait, Merida! What were you going to tell me?”
She stopped and looked at him before laughing. “Ten years ago I was in Magnolia Forest and I was almost kidnapped by some dark wizards. Your father, Natsu, saved my life, but he darn near burned the forest down in the process!” She was laughing even harder at the memory. “And you know what else? All he could talk about when walking me back to Magnolia was his son!”
Aldrich had to laugh too, tears springing into his eyes from the pain as he doubled over and clenched his sides, because it was so much like Natsu to do something like that and he missed him so much it was ridiculous. He was sure now; he was going to be perfectly fine. And even if he wasn’t there was Uncle Gray, Aunty Erza, Wendy, Gajeel and Levy and Mira and Elfman and dozens upon dozens of others to catch him if he fell. Maybe his legacy wasn’t so bad.
The dark wizard blindsides Gray and me in a moment. It’s like, we came in there ready for a fight, but this guy is always two steps ahead of us. I honestly can’t tell which enemy he is just because I’ve had so many, but I can already tell that he’s new, because I’m sure that if I ever fought him, I would remember that loss. I don’t even know what his magic is specifically, just that it creates black clouds and black waves that can destroy anything with enough force, and that he’s already destroyed my left arm and it’s getting closer and closer to knocking my head off of my shoulders. He sends Gray on his back five minutes in and I’m no better off.
“Is this what you two have to offer?” he snorts. “I’ve barely broken a sweat.” Which isn’t true, since I can smell his sweat, but even if he is making an effort, it’s a hell of a lot better than Gray’s and mine.
“Fullbuster, you still alive?” I ask, giving him a quick look out the corner of my eye. He has a nasty-looking gash on his forehead and the blood loss is making him paler than usual, but he’s toughing it out. He’s Gray, after all, and can take more than his fair share of beatings without wimping out—I would know.
“Yeah, sure,” he grunts, freezing the wound over. “Your arm?”
“Totally broken,” I reply through my teeth, gripping it. “This son of a bitch is nothing to sneeze at.”
“To be totally honest, I don’t think we can win,” he confesses.
“It doesn’t matter what you think! If this guy gets past us, he’ll wreck the guild, and you know what comes next!” Gray pales even more if it’s possible, then he pushes me aside as a flare of Dark Magic ravages the dirt where I was standing. The wizard smirks before decking Gray in the face, downing him, and then turns to me purposefully.
“You’ve gone soft, Natsu Dragneel,” he says. I want to protest, but it’s the only reason we’re even losing to this bastard. Almost ten years of pure nothing has gone by and I think it’s made all of us a little softer, and maybe it was just what guys like him were waiting for. Times like this, I really miss Team Natsu, plus the crazy missions we did every now and again, but things change: Lucy’s gone (not that I ever forget that), Erza and Gray’ve each married off, and Happy has kittens with Carla. Our other friends, even, have settled down and had their little broods with a new generation of crazy kids blazing around the hall. I always was the odd man out in the guild when we were younger, but now it feels a lot lonelier.
“Family life’ll do that to ya. Fire Dragon’s Iron Fist!” My fist misses him by a longshot as my balance is thrown off by my broken arm, and he uses the opportunity to go behind me and slam his boot between my shoulder blades. I land face-first in the muddy grass, then I’m dragged up by my scarf to get face-to-face with the guy. I realize that even if I had met him before, I wouldn’t recognize him, because he has extraordinarily plain features, so plain that I’m sure I’ll forget his face by the time we’re done.
“You rat,” I say right before spitting fire into his eye. He drops me with a hiss, hand on his smoking and bleeding eye, and I run behind him to practically throw Gray onto his feet. “Run! Run, Gray!”
“No!” he starts immediately. “You’ll—”
“I can handle myself! Just go!” I feel a shiver go down my spine right before Gray’s eyes widen, and I spin around to cover his body with mine as a wave of Dark Magic hits us, knocking us to the ground. I’ve never been burned before, being a Fire Wizard and all, but this burns like all hell and it takes every last ounce of free will in my body not to scream out in agony. I see my skin blister under the attack, then the blisters pop and start to bleed.
“Natsu!” Gray says, trying to freeze my wounds over, but there’s just too many and too little time.
“G-Go.” I hate how my voice shakes but I can’t do anything about it, weakly pushing Gray away as I get to my feet. “I can…I can do this alone.”
“You’re my best friend, Natsu,” he whispers, shock finally hitting him. “I can’t leave you here to die!”
“You’re my best friend too, Gray, but this is something I have to do.” It hurts, but I give him the two fingers, Fairy Tail’s symbol. “Number one, remember?”
“I hope you know what this means,” the wizard says behind me. I turn around and find him not even five feet away.
“I do—for you.” I hear Gray suck in a breath, then he swears before running away, down that same pathway Aldrich took. I hope that he’ll be safe, and I hope that he grows up not to be as much of a beast as his old man. I hope that he can be as kind as Lucy but protect his friends like me. I hope that he can be like both of us and be even more than that. “I’ve had this little gem under wraps for the last ten years,” I tell him, putting my hands together and letting the heat build within my body. Sensing my magic spiking, he rushes me and gives me a Dark Magic-infused punch to the face, knocking out two teeth, then he uppercuts me, making me bite my tongue, and he bruises my stomach with another kick before sending out a wave of darkness that throws me off my feet and into the nearest tree, jarring its thick trunk.
“You’re not going to defeat me. I’m on a different level than you, who’s wasted the last ten years of his life being a family guy.”
“You must be lonely,” I say matter-of-factly. “Way back when, I thought that Igneel was the only family I’d ever need, but I never realized just how wrong I was until I met Lucy and then Aldrich.” The heat keeps increasing until I light up the dead leaves around me involuntarily even though they instantly sputter out in the rain. Little flames crackle across my skin and the tree behind me starts to smoke. “Lucy’s gone now, and I’d hate to go too, but if it means saving all my friends, I’d do it.”
Wising up, he begins to back away. “You would really leave your kid alone?” he speaks, trying to distract me. I shake my head as I get up, feeling my body reach a boiling point.
“I don’t think any parent wants to, but there are just some things you have to do in life. I know Aldrich’ll understand, if not today than someday, and if he never does… Well, all I can do is repent. And if I’m totally wrong to be doing it, then it’s just ’cause I’m an idiot—that’s something I’ve never grown out of.” He tries to take off but I catch up to him, grabbing his arm with my good one. “This is gonna hurt,” I tell him as more fire appears between us, setting his cloak alight and causing him to howl in pain. “But I can guarantee that you still won’t know the pain I feel.” More fire surges from my body until we’re both covered and completely dry and the rain can’t even touch us anymore.
“A hell of a father you are,” he spits, still trying to twist out of my grip. I don’t say anything, because really what is left for me to say?
There’s a light, a bright light, and then he hits the ground but I don’t. I’m still alive and that surprises me beyond belief. His skin and cloak are burned away and he looks totally fried, and I’d be lying if I say that that doesn’t affect me, but it’s one of the necessary evils in the world. I have to turn away, and I take maybe three steps before my legs give out and I hit my knees. My blood soaks into the dirt and I feel like I might die at any second, but I believe I can make it—
There’s a sharp, stinging pain in my chest, and when I look down there’s a bloodied dagger sticking out where my heart is. I hear his grossly-contorted laugh before he hits the ground, and he keeps laughing until he finally goes. I clench my chest to feel the last of my life drain out from between my fingers, and I hit my back to watch the dark clouds swirl into a weird point. I can feel the rain, cool and soft, on my face for two seconds before my skin gets numb. Big dark spots appear in my vision, and although I’ve seen and felt it all before, I know that this time it’s for sure. I realize that I’ll be leaving Aldrich alone and feel tears run down my face with the rain. It’s not what I want for him, not at all, but he still has a family to raise him, and if I know anything, it’s that Fairy Tail can give you a big happy family when you have none. They did it for me, after all.
I know that long after I stop seeing and stop feeling, I’ll still be affecting him—or more specifically, my legacy. If he stays the same as he grows up, it won’t easy being a notorious Dragneel, but I think that he will be fine, not because he is a Dragneel, but because he’s just Aldrich.