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The Dragon Within

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“You stupid meat-headed idiot! Why do you have to strike first and ignore everything around you?”

Natsu stared at Gray and wondered exactly what he’d done so wrong. No one got really hurt, in fact, he was the only one that had been in any danger. He did get hurt a little, he guessed as he stared at the gash that was still oozing blood on his arm. It wasn’t like they couldn’t handle a B rank mission easily enough. He had no idea why Gray was so mad at him, but he was furious. He hadn’t even stripped.

“I… I mean, I didn’t…” Natsu stammered, staring at him.

The mission was simple, or at least it should have been. And Natsu had been in a really hyper mood, which wasn’t all that unusual, but today he had a lot of excess energy. There was a reason, and he could have just explained it to Gray but that would have been embarrassing. Gajeel would have understood, and he would probably go talk to him when he got back to the guild. He needed to deal with this, because as far as he knew, only dragon slayers had this problem. There was no way he was going to tell Gray why he was trying to stay so busy and why it was he kept putting distance between them. When he got near to Gray it got worse, and he was going to end up attacking his best friend. He would have to figure out exactly what he could do to stop this. Gajeel or Porlyusica would be the only two who might know, though.

“I don’t think it was that serious, Gray,” Lucy said, frowning at him, then looking at Natsu. “I mean, he couldn’t have known that the guy was waiting behind the building like that.”

“He should have damn well followed the plan and let us figure out what was happening first instead of barging around the corner like that! What would have happened if he’d stabbed you through the chest when you came down? Huh? Where would you be, Natsu?” Gray stepped toward him and Natsu stepped back, both hands coming up over his chest as he stared at him. He was so angry for such a small thing, but why? “You are a bloody idiot and you’re going to end up getting yourself or someone else killed like this! Sometimes you are so useless for some powerful dragon-slayer! I don’t know why the hells I put up with this out of you!” Gray turned away from him and Natsu felt something crack in his heart. He turned away…he really turned away…

It wasn’t like they didn’t argue a lot, but for some reason Natsu had to get away from him. He felt tears and that was unusual. He felt one slip down his cheek before he turned and took off at full speed. He had to get away. There was no way he could stand being near Gray right now, not after he turned away. He didn’t understand it, but this was the first time, and he knew it was the dragon traits coming to the surface. He knew what was happening, and it didn’t help one bit because he couldn’t tell Gray why it was he was acting out around him. He couldn’t tell him he had a need to show off, to show him how good he was, how strong and how much he wanted to be noticed. Gray wouldn’t see him that way and this was the proof.

He had been rejected and that alone was something he couldn’t stand to deal with until this time was over. Rejection by the one he’d chosen was almost worse than death to a dragon. Or dragon slayer.

As he ran he thought that maybe it was dumb that he hadn’t explained that this was the first time the dragon mating season had affected him like this. Before, he’d felt it, but he had expected to want to take a female mate like Gajeel did. That had solved Gajeel’s problems with the same thing. When mating season hit, he just had to hole up in his room with Levy. But no, Natsu had to be the submissive dragon type and in need of someone to mate him instead of the other way around. He was still angry about that. Why did he have to be in this position? He was powerful, he was strong, but he remembered what he’d been told. Power didn’t matter. It was a matter of matching mates who suited each other, and Natsu knew he needed help controlling his own power. He needed Gray’s ice to offset the fire that was threatening to consume him from the inside out. He didn’t know why, but Igneel always told him he wasn’t like “the humans” and he didn’t know for sure if that meant he wasn’t human or what. He felt it was exactly that, but he had never investigated it.

He stopped when he heard a little girl screech nearby. He ran a hand through his mussed pink hair and straightened the scarf. He could do this. He could help someone despite the fact his mind was burning with thoughts of someone who had turned away from him. No, he could be the person he always was and damn the draconic instincts that were trying to consume him. He took off in that direction to find a child of about seven who looked to have fallen in a small pit trap. She was standing in the center, somehow looking to be unscathed. She clutched a doll in her arms with brown hair and button eyes. He frowned, climbing down and pushing her out of it. She crawled up easily once he gave her a boost and then came back to the edge. She wore a ragged dress and was obviously a local child. Natsu smiled at her and started to reach up to grab the sides and hoist himself out. Before he could climb out himself there was a zapping sound and he looked up to see the little blonde-haired child staring at him with tearful eyes.

“Sorry, Dragon-man. They said they’d take my big brother away if I didn’t help them.”

Then everything went black.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

“He’s not back yet?” Gray muttered as they sat down at the guild.

“You were too hard on him,” Erza said as she sipped a drink. “He wasn’t that badly hurt.”

Gray sighed. “I know. I’ll apologize when he gets here…” he said morosely.

“Gray-sama!” he heard and groaned. He didn’t want to deal with Juvia. “Gray-sama, you’re back safe! And without Natsu?” she asked as she approached the table. “Did something bad happen?”

“He’s on his way back, he just stopped off to do something else,” Lucy said with a smirk. She had a worried expression but she didn’t want to tell Juvia something she didn’t need to know. “He’ll be along soon.”

“Oh, well, Gray-sama…” she began again.

Standing up, Gray shook his head. “I’ve got things to take care of Juvia, I’ll talk to you later,” he murmured and left them alone.

When Natsu didn’t come home that night, everyone figured he’d stayed in an inn.

When he didn’t come home by the end of the week, Gray decided to backtrack and see if he could find him. Surely, he was between here and where the mission had been. No one was really worried yet. He stood at the bar and waited for Lucy and Erza to come down.

“What are you doing?” Gray looked up to see that it was Gajeel.

“Going to see if I can’t find Natsu. He still hasn’t come back,” Gray answered.

Happy was sitting beside him. “He’s just mad because you were mean to him!”

“Natsu wouldn’t run away because I was mad at him!” Gray snapped. “I’ve said worse things and even punched that pink-haired idiot! It isn’t like he’s going to run off crying.”

“But he did run off crying, Gray! Didn’t you see?” Happy pleaded, hanging on Gray’s arm.

“Wait, when did he disappear?” Gajeel asked, his face turning a bit strange.

Lucy had just walked up when Gajeel spoke, so she answered. “A week ago, when we were on that B-rank mission a few towns to the north. Why does that matter? He just got upset because Gray was a little harsh when he got hurt because he was showing off for some reason.”

“I know the reason he was showing off,” he muttered then looked up at them. A frown creased his brows. “Because there’s a reason I wasn’t on missions last week. It was the beginning of the season,” Gajeel said as Levy came up and smiled at him. He put an arm around her and pulled her tight against him. “Levy and I were spending some time together to deal with it.”

“Season?” Lucy asked, checking over her celestial keys. “What kind of season?”

Levy snickered. “Dragon mating season, silly,” she whispered. “Dragon slayers feel it too, and the more powerful they are, the more they feel it. Gajeel is powerful, older than Natsu. I’m sure as much power as he’s gained recently that Natsu was starting to feel it this year.”

Erza had come up by then and heard Levy’s comment. “Dragon slayers feel the effects of the mating season?”

“Of course,” Gajeel said with a shrug. “More powerful we are the more we need to indulge in the primal instincts of the dragons. So, for about a week or two every year, we fuck our brains out.”

Levy blushed and slapped Gajeel’s arm. “Shush, not so loud.”

“You were pretty damn loud last night,” he muttered and looked away.

“That’s because you’re beastly during the season!” 

“What does that matter as to why Natsu’s gone? Do you think he would have found a girl and locked himself into an inn?” Gray asked, thinking that that would entirely be out of character for him. He actually had never shown much interest in girls at all. Hell, he snuck into bed with Lucy and slept all the time but he’d never once tried to touch her in a sexual way. That was odd, Gray had always thought, but he assumed it had something to do with him being a dragon slayer.

Gajeel snorted out loud and then laughed for a few minutes before he wiped the tears away. “You got the wrong idea about Natsu. He won’t take a woman, and not only that, it can’t just be anyone. We mate once, that’s it. If it isn’t in mating season, we can fuck like anyone else and it doesn’t matter. But during mating season we have one we pick out, and if they reject us then we’re kind of screwed. We get our hearts set on them and that’s that. Rejected slayers can find a substitute, but it isn’t ever the same. We always pine for the one we loved. I was lucky when Levy returned my affection.”

“So, did Natsu have someone picked that he wanted?” Gray asked, missing completely the look of abject annoyance on Erza’s face. Lucy glanced at her and shook her head.  

Makarov wandered toward them with his hands tucked behind his back. “You should try and find him soon. I have a bad feeling about the situation.”

Gray and the others left to find him, sure that it would take no time at all. They found several towns around the area that said there had been some strange weather going on, and the group thought that was extremely odd. The weather had been clear in Magnolia, and to have an area nearby see strange storms… No one was able to find much of a trace at first.

After a month of searching with no results they started to worry about what might have happened. Natsu was known for being flashy and not hiding himself. If he was able, he would make a scene to attract attention. Still, no one had seen the pink-haired dragon slayer no matter where they looked. Finally, they found a man who said there was a strange hole that had been filled in recently in the nearby forest. It was close enough to where they had been doing the mission that it was a place that Natsu could have easily ran to in his escape from Gray’s anger. They stood at the end of that month over a filled in pit trap. The magic, though faded, was still present. Gajeel and Makarov had come to see what Lucy had found.

“That’s a dragon binding spell,” Gajeel said as he knelt beside the filled in hole. “And this is the last trace of Natsu’s magic you found?”

“This isn’t good. I heard a rumor from Pegasus that there was a dark guild that was dedicated to dragons, but more like obsessed with them. If this guild got hold of Natsu…” Makarov said with a frown. “We need to continue looking. I’ll call in Pegasus and the others. I’m worried more now than ever.”

A year passed, and everyone was slowly giving up. All except Gray. He kept spending all of his free time searching for him, and then slowly began to search out any trace of dark guilds. By the time nearly five years had passed, Gray Fullbuster was known as the Bane of Dark Guilds and the Ice Avatar. He scaled the ranks of power until he was perhaps one of the strongest S-ranked mages in Fairy Tail, and perhaps the entire country. Lucy and Erza had also come a long way, going with Gray on his mission to eradicate every dark guild they came across in hopes that it was the dark guild. Erza was well known as one of the most powerful S-ranked mages in the world by that point, and Lucy’s collection of celestial keys had only grown. She, too, had become more powerful, and an S-rank mage.

No one expected that their search would come to an end when a teenager came screaming into the guild claiming a dragon lived in a tower outside a nearby town. The stranger part was the teen claimed that this tower had just appeared there three weeks before.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

Natsu woke up slowly. He felt weird, and he didn’t know why. He blinked his eyes wearily and realized that he was chained by his wrists to the wall behind him and he was completely naked except for Igneel’s scarf and some sort of metal collar. He gasped out and wriggled his arms and tried to access his magic. He was hit with immense pain, though, when he tried.

“Don’t do that,” a voice from the darkness that surrounded him.

Natsu looked around and realized he was in a round room of some sort, and there were windows, both looking out into a clear sky. The walls were stone and so was the floor. There was a light, just one, in the center of the room in a stand, and the person moved into the circle of it. It was a man with dark gray hair and a full beard. On his forehead was a strange symbol that looked like a crescent moon upside down with a spear piercing it. A guild? No… A dark guild?

“Welcome to our guildhall, Natsu Dragneel. You were a lucky find. We’ve had that trap set for years, but you are the first dragon slayer to come this way during that time. Thank you for that,” the man said.

“Who are you? Where am I? Where are my clothes?” Natsu asked, looking for anything else that could give him information.

“I’m Trayven. And our guild is named Crescent Spear. We revere the dragons, so much so that we wish to become one with them.”

Natsu swallowed thickly. “Um, well, that’s great, so go find a dragon.”

“You know that is nigh impossible. We’ll settle for a dragon slayer. See, we need to use you during our rituals. Well, we need the pheromones you secrete and your raw essence.”

“What the hell kind of rituals do you do?” Natsu asked, shocked. What were these people doing and what did ‘raw essence’ even mean?

“The kind that only work during the dragon mating season. The goal is to attract a dragon, but to do that, we need something that a dragon might find… attractive. Like a dragon in season. But to find one is impossible. So, the next best thing is to take a dragon slayer, slowly make them more like a dragon than a human, then their smell will bring down a very much real dragon. Then, instead of the dragon slayer, we will become one with the dragon and unite with them via the magic ritual we cast. We will become the ultimate magical creature,” Trayven said with a smirk. “Does that make sense?”

“No, you’re crazy! An actual dragon will kill every one of you, ugh, what…why do I feel weird…”

“Master Trayven, the magic is beginning to work,” a voice from the darkness said. “We’ve increased the effects of the mating season on him with it. I was afraid it would not work effectively, however he appears to have been ripe for the beginning of the season. This is the perfect subject as this is the first time he has needed to feel the effects of the mating. We can begin the next part.”

“Release him, then, and bring him downstairs to the ritual circle.”

Natsu felt the world spin and tilt as his hands were freed and he was drug down stairs by black cloaked figures before he was dumped in the center of an intricately written circle of spell work. He groaned because he was feeling strange sensations in his body now. The magic was making his head feel strange, and it was stirring sensations in his loins that should not be there. He’d been feeling those same sensations over the last week; he knew they were the effects of the dragon mating season. He had been able to deal with them himself, though he had to keep his chosen mate’s face in his mind when he dealt with the urges. He nearly fell into a stupor when he felt hands on his body. Too many, and as he looked up he saw faces, too many faces, and then the one who had identified himself as Trayven was leaning over him, whispering in his ear.

“This will hurt at first, until your human mind decides to recede and allow the dragon to exist purely,” he breathed and he realized too late to react what he was going to do, what they intended to do.

Time slid to a stop, and nothing seemed to end the utter pain, humiliation, and horror the dragon slayer felt as things began to unfold. The dragon began pressing into his human form and he screamed himself hoarse trying to force it back. If the dragon came free, if he became that…

The next clear memory he had was waking up in the darkness, his body wracked with pain and chained by the neck to a pole in the center of a circular room. He tried to pull the collar off but it didn’t do anything except make him bleed. He could walk a circle around the room, and he could feel with his bare feet a trap door on the floor. He could reach all the walls and found no way out. There was a nest of sorts on one side, made of straw, hay, and some softer materials. He found a hole in the floor of the other side; a toilet by the smell. What was happening? He would sleep and find food, bread and meat with water, would appear near the nest each morning.

He scratched marks in the wall with is nails, which he noticed were claws more than nails, and he clutched the scarf to his chest as the only source of a comfort he had. The collar was under where the scarf wrapped around his neck and he had no idea why. He just wanted to leave, but he was unable to even see the barest sliver of light. He felt a year’s worth of marks before he heard the trap door in the floor open and the world blackened with a blast of magic. He had expected it. He felt the season coming on again, stronger this time than before.

The rituals from the year were repeated, but this time, Natsu felt his mind edging into the draconic mindset even faster. When it was over again, he realized the portions of food began to dwindle. He was still chained in the awful room. Even when they’d removed him, none of them spoke to him or even interacted with him other than to hurt him and force him down. He wept bitterly as he curled into the nest. Where were his friends? Had they just given up on him for dead? A year had passed and now he was alone again. This time, there were gaps in his memories as the next year passed. He only knew a year had passed because the mating season began a third time, and things were repeated. He barely retained memory of it this time, the dragon in him becoming stronger. He didn’t notice the horns, or the fact his hands and feet barely resembled their original form. Only the scarf that he was allowed to keep seemed to keep his soul intact.

You have to sleep.

I don’t want to sleep. I don’t want to disappear.

You won’t. I promise. But you cannot endure this any longer. Let me take over. Let me protect you.

You are me, there aren’t two of us.

You’ve gone a bit insane, so we’ve split apart for now. Your mate will come back.

Why would he want me now?

You will see. He’ll take you, even as me.

I don’t want to sleep! Please, stop! Don’t make me!

“I’m sorry.”

No more words escaped Natsu Dragneel’s lips, for the creature that now existed in his body was not him, not any longer. To endure, the dragon roared.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

“What is that smell?” Lucy gasped as they forced open the door to this strange, black rock tower.

They had confirmed that this place just appeared nearly three weeks before. When it appeared, there had been a strange storm. None of them wanted to get too attached to the idea, but this place was only an hour’s walk from the place they believed that had been used to capture Natsu. None spoke even a word about it being possibly connected to their friend that had been gone for just around five years. The tower seemed to have four levels. The top level had no windows, but Happy had gone and looked in the others and found it empty.

Erza wrinkled her nose and approached a closet looking room. “A refuse collection,” she muttered. The place smelled also of death and decay for some reason. Fresh death and decay. There were stairs going up in a spiral in the center around a heavy pole. The ground floor was empty, though. They got to the second floor.

“What the hells…” Gray asked, knelling and touching an engraved spell circle. In the center was a man who appeared to have crawling toward the stairs in the center of the room. His blood had filled it the grooves of the spell circle.

“This is amazing,” Lucy whispered as she walked around it. “I’ve never seen something so intricate and large. This was a ritual, not a simple spell.”

Erza flipped the man over on his back. He had a guild mark on his forehead of a crescent moon and a spear piercing it. “I’ve never seen a mark like this. Some sort of dark guild?”

“How’d he die?” Gray asked, looking at the body.

“Throat’s torn out. Strange, looks like it was done with claws or teeth,” Erza said as she stood up. “There’s two more over there,” she muttered and went to find that near the window were two other bodies. These both appeared to have bled out slowly near a potion table. “It looks like they were trying to put together healing potions for themselves,” she informed the others as she surveyed the table of supplies. “What happened?”

“Whatever it was didn’t happen here, so let’s go up,” Gray said as he headed for the stairs again. They walked up to another room. This one had windows, but there were three men who had died near the stairs. The room had rings embedded in the wall with chains and shackles dangling from them. Gray saw that they hadn’t been used in a while, but there was something near them that caught his attention.

Lucy came over to see what Gray had found and he turned and showed her. “Wait, are those Natsu’s?” she gasped. Happy fluttered over and sniffed at the clothes.

“Natsu’s scent, this is what he was wearing,” Happy said fluttering toward the stair.

“Wait, Happy, let us go together.” Gray put the clothing in his bag, fear beginning to blossom in his heart. “I think we found the rumored dark guild. They all have the crescent and spear mark on them. But what were they after? And why?”

It was Erza’s voice from the other side of the room. “Look, I found something.”

Gray lit the torch in the nearby sconce, bringing brighter light into the room. A table sat opposite the chains and on it had been a spell-book. “What do you think it is?”

“Rituals for dragon summoning. Spells for binding dragons to your will. Rituals on how to increase chances of draining away draconic powers. This is definitely the guild that was rumored. The appearances stopped. They must have taken Natsu after all. But here,” she said and picked up a scroll. “A ritual to place a location in a pocket dimension. That’s why we never could find a trace of this place. They hid it. Everything here is powerful magic. The Guild Master must have been incredibly powerful.”

“No,” Lucy whispered as she sorted through other books and scrolls. “They weren’t, that’s why they needed Natsu. They were literally draining his power through a magic inducer. They were using him to power the pocket dimension, like some sort of batter. Here, this is some sort of journal by the guild master,” she said handing Gray the book she’d found.

Gray flipped through it to the last entries. “Something is off,” Gray read. “The power is fluctuating as the mating season approaches once again. If things do not work this season, as the fifth time we’ve attempted the ritual, we will discard the subject and seek out a new dragon slayer. His power may be insufficient to complete the summon. Either that, or the subject’s own power is blocking our attempts to summon one of the dragons to us. It is possible that the subject is consciously foiling our attempts.” Gray flipped the page. “The rituals have failed. Once again, the subject has not yielded results. Today, I’ll terminate his life, as much as it is since the dragon was surfaced. What remains is not human enough to bother returning. He will be a menace in his beast state.”

Gray handed the book to Erza who began looking through it again. “I’m going up,” he said as he took the stairs. Happy started to follow. Gray stopped him. “You shouldn’t go, okay, Happy?”

“Why not?” he pleaded.

“Stay here with Lucy, protect her, okay?” Erza said as she gave Lucy the book. “Just in case things are bad.”

Gray felt like his stomach had been split open, again. He had large scar there from the attempt of an enemy to disembowel him. Luckily, his ice magic had shored his gut until he could get to Lucy. Along with that, he bore a long scar down the left side of his face. He got to the top and found a trap door of some sort that was sealed with magic. He easily unsealed it and pushed it open. When he did, he heard the sound of something scrambling on the hard floor.

“Natsu?” he whispered, his heart pounding in his ears. There was another sound of scrambling. It sounded like claws on rock. Gray could see torch in a sconce nearby and reached out to take it, grabbing it and lighting it.

The room was illuminated. This one was windowless and smelled horrid. Decay and death clung to it, as well as just the smell of filth. He saw rats scurry away, and just beyond the light, he saw there was a pile of hay or straw. He could see a chain leading from the pole in the room in that direction. He heard it jangle now and then and he walked toward it.

Glad that he had Erza was an understatement because as soon as he got close, something flew out of the darkness toward him, tackling him to the floor. Erza was fast, though, grabbing the chain and pulling back and Gray found himself staring into eyes that were definitely not human any longer. In fact, he wasn’t sure what he was looking at.

Holding the chain, Erza pulled back, the creature that was attached to it fighting her and trying to escape the light into the darkness again.

“Natsu…oh…” Gray said as he stared.

He looked only vaguely like the humanoid dragon slayer. Horns had erupted from his skull, curling up and down toward his now raggedly pointed ears. His face was covered in reddish patches of scales. His whole body was covered with bits of scaling, and his hands and feet had both morphed into claws rather than their intended human appearance. From his shoulder blades, it looked like there were protrusions that were not quiet wings, more like bones that had erupted and never completed their transformation. His face was still somewhat human looking, but his teeth were jagged and feral. His eyes were bright golden and reptilian in appearance. A long, sinewy tail had emerged from him and whipped around frantically. Yet, despite all that, around the collar of metal that bound him to the chain, the scale patterned white scarf still remained.

“Natsu!” Gray screamed this time grabbing him by the face. He winced as he buried both clawed hands in Gray’s shoulders. When Erza tried to intercede, Gray shook his head at her. “Natsu, look at me, are you in there?” he asked.

For a second, Natsu’s eyes flickered, and his mouth worked for a second before he whispered hoarsely, “Gray…”

At the word, Natsu’s face contorted and his eyes closed. Gray clutched him tightly as he fell into heavy unconsciousness.


 

 

Chapter Text

 

Capella sighed as she sat on her comfortable seat that she sat when she steered the zarachelon. Unlike most guilds, Leviathan traveled through the oceans of the world and docked with various cities throughout it. The would often take missions at whatever location they were docked with, and trade with local folks for whatever they’d picked up along the way. She smiled as she patted the shell of the beast they lived on. It was funny, before the guild started living on the zarachelon, they had been subject to sharing a guild hall with another guild, of which there were several members that were complete jerks. Luckily, Capella’s bond with the gigantic zarachelon had given them the chance to build a new guild, one that moved. She was an ascetic that could clear her mind and communicate with almost any creature. That ability had allowed her to befriend the enormous beast.

The zarachelon was a huge creature that resembled a whale spliced with a turtle. The guild was a series of wooden and stone buildings that were built on the back of the creature’s shell. Using some electrical magic, they lit the place up well. There were several lightning mages that made it possible with some innovative lights that one of their glass working mages had created. The zarachelon itself was a slow-moving creature, and going between ports could take a long time. Capella was able to influence the direction it went, but sometimes the thing just did what it wanted. She could ask it to stay put at port, and usually, it was fine doing just what it was asked.

Now, they were docking in the home of Fairy Tail, Magnolia. She adjusted the simple monk’s outfit she wore and sighed. Fairy Tail. She looked up as Ashana, their guild master, approached her single room dwelling where she steered the creature. Her home consisted of two rooms, and only the essentials. Of course, it was entirely built around the quiet chair she used to commune with the beast they lived upon.

“We’re docking soon,” Capella said, yawning and running hand over her dark hair.

The two mages couldn’t have been more opposite. Capella wore a simple gi while Ashana wore next to nothing. She wore a bikini top with a pair of short shorts today. Because of her magic, her body temperature ran hot. The Phoenix Mage as she was called, was always overheated. Though she as nice and warm when the temperatures outside were cold, the rest of the time she suffered from her own magic. Her unique magic did allow her to heal with those same flames, and those flames would burn anything evil they touched.

“Will you be coming to see Fairy Tail’s guild with us?” she asked with a grin, flipping her red hair over her shoulder. She wore it up in a high ponytail that sometimes fell over her ample bust.

Capella sighed. “Ah, I’m not sure, they’re really rough there, aren’t they? I might wait here…”

“Whatever you want, I’ll go see how things are going. I know Estrella wanted to talk to them about their missing dragon slayer,” Ashana told her and waited as they docked with the port.

Before long, she and several of their number were heading toward the guild hall. The reputation for it to be raucous and crazy inside was something they’d prepared for.

What they hadn’t prepared for was the complete opposite.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

“Isn’t this place usually…lively?” Estrella said as they entered what looked like tavern room.

Ashana noted that it was almost like walking into a tomb. A few people looked up they entered, but no one really paid them much attention. With the two of them were their guildmates Diamond and Itzel. Diamond normally drew attention to themselves, having bright blue hair in a rather unique hairstyle. Their hair was super short on both sides, with two long curls descending down from the temple, and a strip of longer hair that ran from their forehead down the back that was kept pulled back in a tail. They wore a fishnet shirt and a pair of loose pants. Itzel stood beside Diamond, her dark skin in striking contract to her wild looking slate gray hair that was mostly short around her face but longer in the back. Her eyes were red and alert as she looked around the hall in quiet disappointment. Both she and Diamond had looked forward to the legendary rowdiness of Fairy Tail. Itzel wore a pair of cut off shorts, a sleeveless white short and the black bandana around her neck she always had.

“The fuck?” Diamond muttered, looking around, pausing to stare at the dark haired mage in boxer shorts that passed them to go up the stairs. Everyone else but him seemed dressed. “Thought this place was supposed to be fuckin’ rowdy as all hell?”

“That’s what I’ve always heard,” Ashana said as she put her hands on her hips. “This is…unusual.”

They approached the bar and found no one there. Estella turned when she felt another dragon slayer.

“Gajeel?” she asked.

Gajeel looked up from where he sat sipping a drink. He glanced at her and smiled. “Oh, hey there Face Melter.”

Estrella’s eye twitched and she ran her hands through her short, dark hair. “Estrella, please.”

“Yer the acid spitter, so there’s that,” he muttered.

“What’s going on? Why is this place so…dull?” she said and headed toward them, her guild mates following.

“They found Natsu. The missing dragon slayer.”

“What?” Ashana gasped. “Where was he? Is he okay? Where was he?”

“Dark guild named Crescent Spear. He’s…not okay. I don’t know what exactly they brought back with them, but it isn’t Natsu anymore. He’s… changed.”

“Ashana,” came Makarov’s voice. The busty woman with golden-red skin turned to look at the other guild master.

“Makarov, can I help?” she asked, frowning.

“Perhaps, come. Um, please, your other guild-mates should enjoy our hospitality. Have a drink from the bar. Estrella, Gajeel, you come with us. I would like to see if other slayers might be able to help with him. I don’t know if you can get near him at all. With it being that time of year, perhaps you’ll be able to get through to him,” Makarov said with a deep sigh.

Makarov led them up to a room on the second floor. They were keeping the lights low and as soon as Estrella and Gajeel neared the door, both let out a low throaty growl. Both noticed that Gray, the Icemake mage, sat in a chair outside the room. Ashana and Estrella realized that he was the one in his underwear but he was now wearing a shirt and shorts. A blue cat with wings sat on his shoulder, both of them looked morose.

Estrella cleared her throat. “Oh, I didn’t expect the legendary Salamander to be… um…well…” she muttered and glanced at Gajeel.

“Yeah, he’s the submissive one. Surprised me too,” Gajeel said with a shrug.

“What’s that even mean?” Gray said from where he sat by the door. “Why is this such a big deal?”

Gajeel sighed. “Because, I told you before all this, he’s gonna pick someone to mate with him, and they’re his mate for life. It could be male or female, but in Natsu’s case, it turns out it was a male he chose,” he said with a sigh.

“He’s chosen someone?” Estrella asked, eyes widening. “Before or after this guild got him?”

“Before,” Gajeel confirmed. “But he got rejected, so that’s why he ran off to start with.”

Estrella nodded. “Rejected huh…” she muttered. “That’s the worst. Like death.”

“Why? If someone rejected him, why not just pick another?” Gray asked with a sigh.

“Because it doesn’t work that way!” Estrella snapped. “I’ve spent the last three seasons looking for a mate and have yet to find anyone because if I’m rejected… It’s like walking death. To have the person you give your heart to crush it.” She sighed. “Who rejected Natsu?”

Gajeel cut his eyes at Gray who stared at him. “What?”

“He’s oblivious,” Gajeel commented as they looked at Makarov. “Master, what do you want us to do? I’m not sure I understand exactly what this guild was doing.”

“The season has arrived,” Makarov sighed. “The guild that had him was using him in an attempt to lure a dragon to them. They tried to convert him into a real dragon, and that’s all that is left. When you see him, you’ll understand.”

“Why am I here this time?” a voice said from behind them.

Makarov stood and bowed slightly. “Porlyusica, we need your help. We found Natsu.”

The medic stared at him. “By the look on your face it would seem you are about to give me another reason to hate people and want to return to hiding.”

Makarov nodded. “Unfortunately, yes. He was kidnapped by a dark guild. And… I’m not sure that there’s anything human remaining.”

Porlyusica sighed and pushed open the door to the room. She blinked and stared. Estrella and Gajeel both stood behind her and stared in kind.

Natsu had destroyed the bed, shredding the mattress and building a small nest area in the corner. He had been brought food, but it was scattered and he hadn’t eaten any of it. He was curled into a ball, the tail tucked tight to his body and his head lowered. He was glowering at them from across the room in his nest.

“What the…” Porlyusica whispered as she stepped in, followed by the other two dragon slayers. Natsu lifted his head, sniffing the air, the red scales glinting in the dim light. “What did they do to him?”

Makarov stood beside her. “They tried to turn him into a dragon and drag down a full dragon to use their power. His power was used like some sort of battery to keep their base between worlds where we couldn’t find it. I don’t know what happened that broke their hold on him finally, but he snapped, killing at least ten of their guild. I don’t know if any got away. The Guildmaster wasn’t there…” Makarov paused and Gajeel turned toward him, as did Gray who stood inside the door with Ashana. “He killed the Guildmaster’s son, though. This may not be over.”

Gajeel twitched. “Damn, he’s pretty far into his heat,” he muttered, stepping toward him. Natsu sat up, growling at Gajeel and Estrella, but the two dragon slayers saw that Natsu’s eyes traveled to Gray immediately, who they both were nearer to.

Estrella muttered just loud enough for Gajeel to hear. “Gray hasn’t realized what he’s done.”

“Not at all,” Gajeel confirmed with a sigh. “Well, time to let him figure it out.”

Gajeel turned around suddenly and grabbed Gray from behind him. Gray gasped as he was drug into the room. He was about to pull away but then to his surprise, Estrella grabbed his other arm.

“Nuh, take responsibility, ‘Ice Avatar’,” she said and they both shoved him toward Natsu.

“Wait, he tried to kill me when I found him, what are you doing?!” Gray gasped as he fell flat on his stomach. He pushed up and found himself almost nose to nose with the altered Natsu.

Everyone was staring in shock, but the two dragon slayers had taken up a stance between Natsu and Gray and the rest. Gajeel turned and looked at Makarov and shrugged. “Give it a minute. Gray’s the only one who can fix this.”

“Natsu?” Gray asked. Natsu tilted his head to the side, his eyes bright and fiery. They glittered at bit as they stared at him. He seemed frozen.

“You rejected him once. He isn’t gonna do anything unless you take responsibility and accept him,” Gajeel explained and crossed his arms. “You don’t get it, fuckin’ idiot. Your stupid ass is the one he chose as his mate. When you turned on him, when you let him run off, he was rejected. That’s why he was hurt, Gray. You did it.”

Gray was still staring into Natsu’s eyes. He swallowed and reached a shaking and out toward him. Natsu flinched back a little, gasping as Gray’s hand neared his face.

Gray’s mind was running a million miles a second. He’d done this? He’d rejected him? He hadn’t even realized, never thought, that Natsu would want him. They were always fighting, always arguing, and Natsu was always… Showing off. He swallowed. How stupid was he? Of course, now it all made sense. The day he turned him away, Natsu had been hurt because he was showing off. He had been trying to show Gray how strong he was, and Gray missed it entirely. He bit his lip.

“I’m sorry, Natsu, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to reject you back then, before all this. I care about you; I care about you a lot, really. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I’ll accept you if you’ll have me?” he said and pressed on hand against the roughened cheek. The scales were hot to the touch, yet Natsu’s human flesh was cool.

Natsu reached out one clawed hand and placed it on Gray’s face and his scaled lips seemed to move into a smile, revealing the sharp teeth inside his mouth. He then leaned forward and bit Gray’s arm, surprising him. Gray pulled back, yelping as the sharper teeth pierced his skin. Natsu panicked, turning and burying himself in the next he’d created. Gray came back and Porlyusica looked at the bite wound. It wasn’t deep, but it had broken the skin on his forearm.

“It is all instinct,” Estrella commented. “There’s nothing human about him,” she whispered and looked toward Porlyusica. He’s more dragon than human.”

“Capella?” Ashana asked from the doorway.

“Maybe. She might be able to get past the dragon or at least communicate with it,” Estrella noted, looking at Gray. “He’s trying to mark you as his, and he’ll expect you to mark him. He’s unhinged, alone, and he needs you to help him.”

“I can’t go getting bitten all the time, his teeth are sharp!” Gray gasped, watching as Porlyusica wrapped it.

Ashana nodded to Estrella and Gajeel. “I’ll go get Capella.”

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

“I don’t understand, I told you I don’t want to go to their guild hall. My calm is going to be interrupted at such a rowdy place,” Capella said as Ashana pulled her along toward the guild hall.

“Please, you’ll see. I told you. There’s a problem with their Dragon Slayer. We need you to talk to him,” she said with a frustrated tone.

Capella had never seen Ashana act like this, so she just went along. It was obvious that she didn’t want to explain things, and preferred to let her see what was happening. They went into the hall and Capella saw that Itzel and Diamond were both sitting at a table with some of the Fairy Tail members quietly talking. This wasn’t what she expected… Ashana led her up the stairs to a room where Makarov, a woman she vaguely recognized, and a man with a wrapped arm stood outside of. Ashana led her inside and she saw that Estrella was standing with what she guessed was another dragon slayer.

“Capella,” Estrella said and nodded toward the corner of the room. “We need you to get through the dragon and try to communicate with Natsu. Or see if you can’t talk to the dragon.”

“What?” she asked and looked over where Natsu had gotten up and was sitting on his knees and watching them.

She stared, the horns, tail, and the patches of scales catching her attention immediately. He was also nearly nude. There was a scale patterned white scarf around his neck, but it looked like someone had tried to put a robe on him. He’d shredded parts of it with the claws he had instead of his hands. His toes were also clawed, and he looked very much like a dragon in miniature with a few human features. She had never seen anything like this, and for a split second, she was shocked into silence and inaction.

Then, it was over and she walked over to him. She sat down cross legged near him and closed her eyes, reaching for the creature that she wanted to contact. At first, all she got was barriers. The draconic consciousness was protective of him. In fact, she could tell immediately why it was so strong.

“The dragon is the protector,” she spoke out loud. “His purpose is to keep Natsu from disappearing, so he pushed Natsu away. Natsu is there, underneath the stronger presence of the draconic heritage made stronger by these men. You have to unravel the changes, one by one, but not all will go away. Most importantly, you have to get the dragon to recede, so that Natsu can live again.” She paused. “He needs to have a proper mate. They’ve abused him in an attempt to bond him to someone else, but only his chosen mate will fulfill him.” She winced, feeling too many things from this dragon presence. “The violence visited upon those men was the dragon. Revenge for their violation of the dragon slayer’s body. Every year, they would repeat the rituals in a book?” She opened her eyes and saw that the room had filled with the others as well. “Ah, I can try again later, the emotions are strong.”

“What do you mean that he needs his mate?” Ashana asked.

“Yes, he has one? But that’s not consummated. So he feels like he’s incomplete,” Capella informed them as she stood up and looked them over.

“So consummate it,” Gajeel said, glaring at Gray. “You said you’d take responsibility. So do so.”

“Wait, what?” Gray gasped. “I can’t… How…” He looked between Gajeel and Estrella. “How do I know what he wants? I don’t want to do anything he doesn’t want!”

“He wanted you to fuck him into oblivion five years ago, Gray, that hasn’t changed,” Gajeel said with an arched brow.

“He isn’t wrong,” Capella confirmed. Gray stared at her. “When the idea of a ‘mate’ came up, it was your face and images of ice. When I commune, it isn’t in words, but feelings, emotions, and images. That’s why I can commune with any creature. I don’t use language,” she said gently. “No, he wants to have you take him as a mate. Desperately. I don’t know if it will help, but it may bring the human Natsu to the surface.”

“Are you sure that the human Natsu wants this?” Gray asked, wringing his hands as he looked to see Natsu staring at him still.

“Human Natsu and the dragon are the same creature. Remember that, there aren’t two beings inside him, the ‘dragon’ is just a part of Natsu.” Capella put a gentle hand on Gray’s shoulder. “What Gajeel says is true. There is pain and longing associated with you, and you are going to have to bond with him. He tried, and you rejected him again. He is in much pain.”

“I rejected him again?” Gray gasped. “How?”

Capella touched Gray’s forearm. “He tried to mark you and expected you to return it. So you’ll need to answer his needs, Gray. Or if you have no such feelings, I can attempt to help him accept that.”

“It isn’t that I don’t have those feelings for him!” he said, louder than he expected. “I mean, um, well, I do… I mean…”

“Come, let us leave them alone and sort their feelings themselves,” Estrella said with a sad smile. “Capella, can you bridge them?”

Capella nodded. “I think I can. It won’t be easy, the connection depends on the magic of the recipient, but sometimes I can bridge a creature to another human. It may ease your mind,” Capella answered and took Gray’s hand. The others exited and she once again sat beside Natsu. He stared at Gray as Capella took one of Gray’s hands and one of Natsu’s clawed ones and interlocked them. She closed her eyes. “Relax, Gray, and let your magic guide you.”

Gray wasn’t sure what to expect. He didn’t expect the world to shift and to be standing on an open field with a huge red dragon that was breathing flames on everything around it.

Fear. The world echoed off the walls of his brain. That was Natsu’s fear.  The world tilted and there was a very fragile looking pink haired boy who was crying in the belly of a dragon. Sadness. Igneel, Gray assumed as the world began shifting again. Hatred. The word was strong and the face of a man with the dark guild’s crest on his forehead was there, and leaning over Natsu’s body as he tried to escape him. Revenge. The world pounded with a heartbeat as Gray saw bodies being torn apart, and a vicious version of the Natsu he remembered standing there with bloody hands. Loneliness. Natsu sat with his head tucked to his knees and tears fell from his eyes. The room was where he’d been kept.

Pain. Gray was shocked to see himself the day he yelled at Natsu and he’d run away. That was what caused him the most pain? After everything else? Love. Again, Gray saw himself, reaching out to help Natsu stand, and the image of his smiling face filled Gray’s heart. Need. There was a pulsating heat around him, and Gray saw Natsu sitting in his room shaking and biting his lip until it bled. His arms were hugging himself.

I want you. I need you. I love you…

Gray’s eyes flew open and he was staring into Natsu’s eyes again. While he’d sat holding his hand, Natsu’s face had moved closer. Capella stood up and turned to go.

“Wait!” he asked as he scrambled to his feet to follow her. “What do I do?”

“Bond him. Then you’ll be connected to him, and you’ll be the only one to know how to help him.” Capella smiled and left quietly.

Gray turned and stared at Natsu who sat still on the bedding. He took a breath. He’d seen into Natsu’s mind, and he definitely had feelings for him. The most pain he suffered had been because he thought Gray had rejected him.

“You idiot, I didn’t reject you, I never did. You should have just told me what was happening,” he whispered as he walked toward him, stripping his clothes unconsciously as he went. He dropped to his knees in front of Natsu and put his hands on either side of his face. He leaned in and kissed the tip of the dragon slayer’s nose. “Idiot.”

Natsu’s eyes widened and he reached up to grab Gray’s face and then he leaned to nuzzle into Gray’s shoulder. Gray let him, feeling him sniff at his neck. Then he flinched because Natsu was licking him. He figured if Natsu bit him again he’d do his best not to act hurt. Instead though, he heard him growl low in his throat and then whine. Gray reached his face and tipped it up.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t realize, Natsu.”

Natsu clutched Gray suddenly, rubbing his front insistently and Gray realized that he was aroused and for a moment, Gray had no idea what to do. Should he help him with it? Wait, he was supposed to consummate this, so did he have to… Gray sighed, having wanted to have special first time with his long-term partner, but this would have to happen in this fashion. He pushed Natsu back and pushed him gently to lay on his back. Natsu looked up with wide eyes and for a minute Gray doubted himself, but Natsu bucked his hips upward toward him, and Gray sighed, reaching down and stroking him.

Natsu whimpered and wriggled a bit but he’d thrown himself into an entirely submissive position. His legs had gone wide and his arms were over his head. He was panting and his cock was leaking a steady stream of fluid. His tail was tossed to the right side, but he could see where it connected to  him just under his entrance. Gray nodded, collecting some and sliding his hand down and slipping a finger into the dragon slayer’s warmth. He nearly gasped at the heat, but he supposed that he was a fire dragon slayer… He continued, rubbing and plunging first one, then two fingers into him until the muscles began to loosen enough that he thought taking him might be possible. He thought about it and decided to work a third finger into him. Doing so made him tense and whimper even louder.

Moving up between Natsu’s legs, Gray held his own dripping length and stroked himself to coat the dripping fluids over it. He pressed against Natsu and then plunged forward. A rush of incredible heat felt like it was consuming him from the inside of Natsu’s body and Gray felt the sudden crackling of Natsu’s magic around them. So, it was true. Even though he’d seen inside Natsu’s mind, seeing the dragon slayer’s magic react like this was more confirmation that this was correct. He nearly jumped when Natsu’s voice came from the supine slayer.

“Gray, Gray…” his raspy voice whispered again and again as Gray continued to thrust into the heat that was threatening to consume him. “Love… Gray…”

“I know, Natsu, I know,” Gray panted out. “Love. You. Too.”

Natsu’s body arched and there was a release of his magic that was met, surprisingly, by Gray’s own. Without even knowing what was happening, Gray leaned forward and bit down on Natsu’s neck where it met his shoulder. Natsu came then, his essence spurting all over their bellies in a fountain heat like nothing Gray had ever experienced. It nearly burned his skin, and he compensated with his ice magic chilling him against it. The action sent Gray over with a deep groan as his own orgasm slammed into him harder than he expected. He clutched Natsu against his chest, minding the horns as he did so. He was glad they formed to his head a little. When he leaned back up, Natsu had passed out. Gray reached forward and brushed a hand over his cheek, but when he did, his hand came back covered in red scales, revealing pink flesh underneath them.

Gray found his clothes, cleaning them both up and then dressing himself. Natsu didn’t have much, but he found a mostly intact blanket. He crawled into the mass of ripped up mattress with him, wrapping his arms around the dragon slayer.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

When morning arrived, Gray had no idea how much work was yet to be done. Now, he had to deal with all those horrible things he had glimpsed before. The problem was when he wanted to, all he had to do was close his eyes and sense Natsu’s emotional state through the bond they’d forged. At first it was pleasant and happy, but then things began to worm into the dragon slayer’s consciousness.

Gray woke with Natsu shaking him, scales steadily falling off his face and neck. That was something, Gray supposed. He sat up and Natsu whimpered, still seemingly not capable of speech. He put his hands around his neck and whined. Gray sensed that he wanted something. Then the fear came roiling off of Natsu. The fear of turning on people he loved.

“You want a collar?” Gray whispered, realizing why he was holding his hands to his neck.

Natsu nodded and growled at him. Gray stood up, seeing he’d stripped again in the night and dressed. He needed to figure out how to deal with him. Just as he was about to leave, a knock on the door announced someone’s arrival. He opened it to find Lucy with a couple plates of food. She smiled at him.

“Hey, did you two…you know?” she asked, looking over at Natsu who was snarling at her. “Is he… why is he doing that?”

“I think he’s jealous that you’re near me,” Gray said as he took the trays and took them over where Natsu was sitting. He sat down and started eating from his. Natsu just glared at his before he kicked it and crawled away from it. Lucy sighed.

“He hasn’t eaten since he got here. I don’t know what to give him.”

Gray looked at him and realized that he was starving. “Why won’t you eat, Natsu?” he demanded in a tone that made Lucy look at him. It was demanding and very unlike Gray.

Natsu crawled back toward them and poked at the cooked eggs and ham and growled, shaking his head.

“He wants raw meat,” Gray said suddenly. He blinked. “Oh, that’s disgusting,” he muttered as he turned and looked at Lucy. “Um, I guess try raw meat? I don’t know if that’s safe, but he is more dragon than human right now…”

Lucy cringed, but picked up the upset tray and left again. When she returned with a piece of raw beef, she didn’t get it sat down before Natsu grabbed it from the tray and tore into it with his teeth. Lucy stepped back.

“It won’t be necessary forever,” Gajeel said as he leaned against the open door. “Once the dragon aspects fade, the need for raw meat will as well. I was hoping that wasn’t something he needed, but apparently, it was.”

“He had to eat rats,” Gray said quietly. “When he was thinking about food, that image was strong. He caught them and ate them because for the last year he was starving more than not…” Gray was getting used to this strange ability to commune with him.

Gray stood up and looked at Gajeel. “Stay with him, I’m going to get something he wants.”

Gajeel got a glare but Natsu didn’t do anything but curl into a ball in the corner when he finished the meat. Gajeel just shook his head and waited. Lucy got up and left in a hurry right after Gray. Gajeel could tell she was upset by his condition. After a few minutes, Gray returned with a bag. He sat it down and then pulled out a pair of pants and a vest like Natsu had always worn.

“Natsu, you must dress.”

Despite the initial growl, Natsu got up and crawled over toward him. Gray got the vest on him, then managed the pants, but he ended up having to cut the back for his tail to fit. Natsu picked at the vest, and Gray imagined being without clothes for five years meant clothes felt really strange on his body. Once he’d dressed him in pants and a vest, Gray pulled out a blue colored leather collar. Unlike the metal one that had left Natsu’s neck scarred, this one was soft and more symbolic than anything. Natsu needed a symbol for being controlled. This would work. He buckled it around his neck and Natsu bounced on his knees as he touched it with claws. If Gray didn’t miss his guess, the claws seemed less sharp. He looked up as he heard someone come in.

“Gray, Ashana and Porlyusica are going to see if they can’t undo some of the magic that caused this problem. Would you like to stay or leave?” Makarov asked as he walked up beside where Gray was kneeling in front of Natsu.

“I’ll stay.” Gray looked at Natsu who seemed about ready to retreat from the two women. “No, you let them heal you.”

Natsu nodded slowly, and sat still. Ashana stood behind him and placed her hands on either side of his head. She closed her eyes and flames descended out from her hands and over Natsu. He flinched but of course her flames only hurt evil things. Porlyusica knelt in front of him and placed her hands on his hands and closed her eyes, concentrating on undoing the changes caused by the rituals. The two of them, as well as Levy and Lucy, had spent the entire night researching the notes in the ritual book they had brought back. Reversing everything looked to be impossible, but some of it could be helped.

Interestingly, it was Natsu’s tail that began to shrink, and the patches of scales continued to fall off his body. After a near hour, both the mages stepped back and Natsu fell over in a dead sleep. The tail was gone, and his hands and feet had returned to nearly normal appearance. The horns, though, had remained, and his teeth were still sharp and fanged. His nails were still somewhat claw like, but they no longer looked more like dragon’s feet than hands. The same was for his feet.

“I think that is the most we can do for the moment. His mind…” Porlyusica said with a sigh. “That we can do nothing about. I have a feeling that will be up to you.”

Ashana patted Gray on the head. “Please, don’t be hard on yourself,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I sense that you want to do so already. That won’t help him.” ‘

Gray nodded and watched them go, followed by Levy and Lucy who had come by in the middle. But it was his fault. He’d rejected Natsu and because of it, he ended up with that horrible dark guild. And the leader was still out there. A leader with a dead son, one that Natsu had killed. The fear that blossomed in Gray’s belly was great.


Chapter Text

Ashana returned to the guildhall that night with the others. She was barraged with questions about what had happened at the Fairy Tail guild. It was odd for Capella to be called out to help on something, so everyone was curious.

“Can we go with you today?” Ruminavi, or Navi as he was called, asked. As usual Serafino stood beside him, their hands interlaced with each other.

Ashana smiled at the cat-like mage. His dark blond hair was patterned with round rosettes of darker color and he had a very prominent pair of ears on his head. His skin also had the various spotting of the markings on it throughout his body. Serafino was a very androgynous looking boy who had eternally messy black hair held in place by a spotted hairband. His sapphire blue eyes glittered with intelligence and interest in what was happening around him. Ashana smiled at him in his ankle-length wrap skirt that he wore in brilliant colors.

“Of course,” she answered as she nodded to the pair. “It will be fun for you to get out and meet with some other people of a different guild. I have to go back today and continue using my healing magic on the poor boy that was hurt.”

“How is he?” Serafino asked quietly, eyes centered on her.

“I wish I could say he was better, but he isn’t quite there yet. I don’t know how long it will take for him to even be able to communicate correctly again.” Ashana sighed, stretching her arms up over her head and looking out at the morning sun. Her magic energy had replenished, so she could continue trying to reverse the magic that had altered Natsu so horribly.

The three of them set off, leaving Diamond and Itzel on the zarachelon this time. As they got to the Fairy Tail guildhall, they noted that the place was a little livelier than it had been the day before. They came up to the bar where Mirajane was standing cleaning it off.

“Oh, Master Ashana,” she said with a gentle smile. “I think Master Makarov is upstairs already checking on the boys.”

“Do you know how last night went?” she asked as Navi and Serafino sat down at a nearby table together.

“I’m not sure yet. I know the Master stayed here all night along with Gray. He stayed in the room with Natsu all night I think,” Mirajane commented.

“I’ll go up and see if I can’t help any further today. Is Porlyusica here today?” she wondered.

“She went home yesterday and hasn’t been back today.” Mirajane gave her a sad smile. “I don’t know if she will come or not.”

Ashana nodded and headed to the stairs. She found Makarov was standing outside the room. He looked up as she approached. “Good morning. They haven’t gotten up yet. I was just about to check on them. Would you like to come along?” he asked.

“Certainly,” she said as Makarov knocked on the door gently.

There was no answer immediately, so he opened the door and entered. He huffed a breath because Gray was laying flat on his back on the floor with Natsu draped over him.

“At least they seem to have slept,” Ashana pointed out.

Gray obviously heard because he turned his head toward them. He grunted and realized he was pinned underneath Natsu. He gently pushed until he got Natsu off of him. He sat up and rubbed his head and looked at Makarov. He gave him a sad smile before he stretched as he got up.

“Hey, Gramps,” Gray said as he yawned.

“Did you sleep well enough?” Makarov asked as he gave Gray a smile.

“A little stiff from laying on the floor but Natsu seemed to sleep all night,” he told him.

“It is good that he was able to sleep,” Makarov commented as he tucked his hands behind his back. “Ashana will see if she can’t continue with the reversal of the magical alterations.”

“Do you think he’ll ever be back to normal?” Gray asked, running a hand over his head.

“Unsure,” Makarov sighed. “Levy has been working on the ritual book we found. She might have some more information to use for it today. I’ll go see what she has found out. I’ll leave Natsu to you.”

Ashana looked at Gray. “You should wake him up before I begin.”

Gray nodded and knelt to shake Natsu’s shoulder. His eyes flickered and opened slowly. Gray spoke to him softly. “Ashana will work on healing you again.”

Natsu’s eyes flickered over to her and back to Gray. He was obviously questioning what he was saying.

“It will be fine, Natsu. I promise. She’s trying to help you,” Gray told him, placing a hand on Natsu’s face.

Natsu nodded slowly and stayed put where he was as Ashana kneeled beside him and her magic flames cascaded down him. Gray stood up and leaned against the wall, watching as the Phoenix Mage worked. She was quite knowledgeable about these things and able to work with unknowns. She worked quietly for about an hour until she stopped, sitting back on her heels with a sigh.

Gray came closer and saw that the wing protrusions were almost gone, only a slight bump remained on his back. “What exactly is it that you are doing?”

“I’m trying to undo what the rituals forced on him. It will take time, and I can only undo a strand at a time, so his appearance will take a while to return to normal. If it can be returned entirely to normal, that is,” Ashana said as she stroked a hand through Natsu’s pink hair between the horns.

Gray could sense he was relaxed through their link. Apparently Ashana’s touch didn’t bother him. He watched as he seemed to take in everything around him as though seeing it for the first time. His eyes landed on Gray and through the link, Gray could feel the longing. He moved over and knelt in front of him, touching his face gently. Still more scales had fallen, and his eyes were looking less reptilian.

“Let’s try to eat normal food today, hmm?” Gray asked and hoped he could do it. The idea of giving him raw meat again was honestly sickening.

Natsu just stared at him. Gray was glad that he at least had been able to keep his clothes on despite having gone without them for so long. Without the tail and the wings, though, he already needed a new set of clothes because here were holes in this set. Gray looked up to see Happy come into the room flying slowly.

“Happy,” Gray said as he sat back on his heels.

“How is he today?” Happy asked tentatively, looking at Natsu with a careful eye.

“Better. Can you bring him another change of clothes? I think he should have a bath and non-ripped clothing.” Gray sighed, noticing that Natsu was staring at Happy. Was that a good thing? Was he remembering? He certainly hoped so.

“Aye,” Happy responded and flew back out of room.

Ashana, who had been standing to the side, smiled at the little interactions between them. It was a good sign of healing if he could interact with others. “Gray, I’ll leave you to help him bathe. He will feel much better for it.”

After she left, Gray got up and went into the attached bathroom to turn on the bath. The hot water would no doubt feel good to Natsu. He went back to find Natsu sitting in the corner staring after him. Gray kneeled in front of him and held out his hand.

“Let’s get you washed up, Natsu,” he said gently.

Natsu took his hand and allowed Gray to pull him to standing. He wobbled a bit, obviously not used to being allowed to walk much like this. Once in the bathroom, Gray pulled off the shredded vest and pants, dropping both to the floor. He then helped him get into the bath and sat down. Gray looked up as Happy came in and left fresh clothes for him. Happy left quickly, so it was obvious that he was upset by the state Natsu was in.

Gray helped Natsu wash himself. He was dirty and grimy from not being allowed to wash in the tower. It took a while, and by the time they were done, the bathwater had gone cold. But Gray had him mostly clean. He helped him out of the bath and dried him off. He easily fit into his clothes without the wing protrusions and the tail.

Gray was pleased with the progress so far. He found that Natsu felt calm around him, and that made him happy. He led him back into the room and sat down on the floor beside him. Natsu nuzzled against him again and Gray sighed, a little comforted by the fact that Natsu could be calmed down by him at least.

“Hey,” came a voice from the doorway.

Gray looked up to see Lucy had come to see them. She came over and knelt down beside them, and in doing so got a little close to Gray. This caused a slight growl to emit from Natsu. She looked at him but knew that it was just his way of laying claim on Gray now.

“Hey. Happy was by and we got him bathed and changed,” Gray said as Natsu burrowed under his arm again.

“That’s good. He looks a little better. I’m going to help Levy because we’re going to be researching this Crescent Spear. Master is worried about their guild master coming for Natsu again after he killed his son. I’ve got a couple from that Leviathan guild who are going to help with the research. I just came up to see if you needed anything before I got started,” she said.

“No, I think we’re fine. Other than clinging to me nonstop, he seems to be in a better place. He still hasn’t talked, though. That has me worried.” Gray scratched gently at the back of Natsu’s neck.

Lucy nodded. “Yeah, that isn’t a good sign. I can’t believe how deep into feral behavior they managed to force him. We’re still trying to understand all of the rituals they used, too. Between the ritual book and trying to dig up more information on Crescent Spear, everyone has been busy on this. Even Mirajane and Cana took turns going through a few books.”

Gray sighed. “I just wish it would go back to the way he was before.”

Lucy looked at Gray for a moment. “You know, Gray. That probably won’t happen.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, frowning deeply at her.

“I mean, what he’s been through… There’s no way it won’t change him. Especially if he retains his memories of everything that happened.” Lucy looked at Natsu sadly, watching his altered yellow eyes stare back at her. “He’ still Natsu, but we’re going to have to accept that he’s not going to be exactly the same Natsu that we used to know. We aren’t the same people we were five years ago, and we can’t expect him to be.”

Gray nodded slowly, knowing that Lucy was right. To expect him to be the same person as the one that disappeared over five years ago was too much. “Well, as long as we get him back, it doesn’t matter how much he’s changed.”

“Even if he stays like this?” she wondered, tilting her head to the side and watching Natsu mimic her.

Gray didn’t speak for a moment. He hadn’t thought about that. What if they couldn’t return Natsu to normal? What if he stayed this animalistic, feral creature for the rest of his life? “He won’t stay like this. I know he’ll get better. He just has to.”

Lucy stood up and gave a light sigh. “Yeah, he will.” She turned and headed out of the room, leaving with a lingering stare as she walked through the doorway.

She went to the library where Levy was busy going through a stack of books. She looked up as she came in.

“Ah, there you are. Do you want to start with this stack?” she asked, motioning to a smaller stack of books beside her. “I didn’t get to those last night.”

“Have you been up all night doing this?” Lucy asked as she got settled into the chair beside her.

“Yeah, I got a few leads from the ritual book, and I was chasing down them. I found some old references to some of the spells that make up the rituals, so I was tracing them back to their origin. It was somewhat enlightening, but nothing useful about reversing things yet.” Levy put down the book she was looking through and picked up another.

“Can we help?”

Levy and Lucy both looked up to see the pair from Leviathan that had come in that morning. The one with black hair was standing slightly behind the one with the feline appearance. Levy put down her book and smiled at them.

“Of course!” she told them excitedly. “Here, sit down, I’ll give you some books and what we’re looking for. I’ll put you on researching Crescent Spear’s origins,” she said as she reached behind her and grabbed a couple tomes from the other table. “We need to track them down, so we can find their guildmaster before he does something against Natsu again. We don’t know that he’ll come back for him, but since Natsu killed his son and several other members of the guild, I somehow don’t think he will let it go so easily.”

“I’m Navi,” the one with the blond hair patterned with rosettes said with a feline smile. “And this is Serafino,” he said and indicated the other one with him. “We can both help.”

“Yes, that would be wonderful!” Levy said and got them started on the books before she went back to her own.

Lucy sighed, taking a moment to breathe as she started searching for the origin of the component spells that had made up one of the rituals. So far, they had traced back several of the physically altering spells. Those had been the ones that Porlyusica and Ashana had began the process of reversing. Those were simple, however the ones that affected the mind were much more complicated. There was all sorts of forbidden magic woven into the spell work and that made it hard to track down all the spells. Still, they were making progress.

She found a reference to a spell that increased the pheromone output of any creature it was cast upon. It was supposed to be used in animal husbandry, not on sentient beings. The problem with it being used on a thinking, reasoning being was that it made the animal drives stronger. That meant that when it was applied to Natsu, it would have forced his human mind back.

She wondered if reversing that particular spell might help with the mental problems. She marked it and sat that book to the side and started searching out another of the component spells. The next one she found that might be helpful to reverse was one specifically made to suppress higher order thinking skills. It was a combat spell, so the effects were short term, but somehow, they’d manipulated the spell to last indefinitely. That alone was quite the feat, but to have successfully applied it to someone.

“Levy, do you think this might be important?” she asked, showing her the spell she’d located.

Levy looked over and took the book from her. “Hmm, I imagine if this spell was reversed, Natsu’s mind might work a little better. At least the human part of it. Put that one with the others for Porlyusica and Ashana.”

Lucy did as she asked and went ahead and dove back into the ritual book to find another lead. She let out a long sigh.

“This guildmaster must be a powerful mage to be able to put together this kind of ritual,” Lucy said as she rubbed her eyes.

“I don’t know that he’s particularly very powerful, or if he was just very good at stealing other people’s ideas and work. It seems like a lot of work for one mage to do on their own,” Levy responded. She looked over at Lucy. “Either way, he’s dangerous, and until he’s found, Natsu is at risk. As are any other dragon slayers.”

“Gosh, I hadn’t thought about that. Gajeel and Wendy are at risk too. Shouldn’t they be warned?” Lucy said, looking at Levy concerned.

“Gajeel already knows, and Wendy is due back any day now from her trip abroad. Hopefully she makes it back alright. She might be able to help with Natsu, but then again she may not.” Levy sighed, putting down her glasses and rubbing her eyes.

“But she should be the best one to help Natsu!” Lucy exclaimed, getting a look from Navi and Serafino at her volume. “Oh, sorry,” she whispered.

“She has healing magic. Natsu isn’t really in need of healing, it’s a matter of reversing the spells that were put on him. That’s different than just healing damage to the body.” Levy was quiet for a time. “That’s why what we’re doing is so important to Natsu’s condition. Every spell we identify that went into making up those horrible rituals they performed is one more that we can attempt to reverse.”

Lucy nodded, watching as Levy put her glasses back on and resumed looking through the current tome she was reading. Lucy would try to find out as much as she could for Natsu. For Gray.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

“Master Trayven?” the cloaked figure asked, stepping into the darkened room.

“What is it?” the guildmaster snapped, glaring at the person disturbing him.

“We have confirmed that our subject has been returned to Fairy Tail. They are attempting to undo what we worked so hard to do…”

“What we did caused ten of our people, including my son, to die at the hands of the beast he became.” Trayven stood up from the table he was seated at. “I find that unacceptable. Not only did I lose the subject, I lost ten of our best mages.”

“Would it not be acceptable to find another dragon slayer and begin testing on a new subject?” the guild member asked.

Trayven was silent for a moment. “You’re right. The fire dragon slayer isn’t the only one. But we have to find a true dragon slayer, not those false ones. Those are useless to me.”

“The iron dragon slayer is with Fairy Tail currently. The location of the sky dragon slayer is unknown but I can put some of our people on the trail to locate her. She would by far be the easiest to capture with our current power,” the man said with a slight bow.

“Yes, find the sky dragon slayer. Also keep eyes on the iron dragon slayer if he should leave Fairy Tail. I will take every opportunity to acquire another,” Trayven said as he walked to the doorway of the tower they were currently hiding in. “I will also have the fire dragon slayer’s life in recompense for my lost son. He thwarted my plans purposefully these last five years by refusing to relinquish control to me. I will have him watch as I take another dragon slayer and break them apart.”

“Of course, sir. I will relay the orders,” he said and left the tower.

Trayven stared out the window into the depths of the night outside. He honestly could not have cared less about his son’s life. What he cared about was losing a mage that had been instrumental in constructing the rituals. Luckily, the loss of the ritual book was only a minor setback. He had copied the book and stored it here in the off chance something were to ever happen to the original. He believed in covering all angles of a situation.

He would have to construct another ritual circle, but that was also easy enough to do. It would all be worth it in the end to summon a real dragon. Everyone had said that there was no way he could do it. They had told him that there were no more dragons to summon. They said that he was insane to believe otherwise. He knew, though, that there were dragons out there, they only needed to be tempted into returning. And when they did, he would harness the greatest power in the world.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

Porlyusica made her way back to the Fairy Tail guild hall to check on her patient. She hated that she was even in Magnolia at all, but she would go to Natsu once more. She walked through the first floor, going up to the second level and to the room he was staying in. She knocked on the door before she opened it to find Gray sitting on the floor next to Natsu. Gray got up as soon as she entered and she heard the whine from Natsu.

“Porlyusica,” Gray said as she walked over to Natsu.

She ignored him and tipped his face up to look at him. She found his eyes were returning to normal, and most the scales had fallen off his skin. The wing protrusions were gone, and the tail had receded. He still had the horns that formed close to his skull. She snorted and let go of his face.

“Ashana has been by already today?” she asked.

“Yeah, she came by this morning. She was able to reverse the wings,” Gray explained.

“Hmm,” she responded, staring at him. Natsu only blinked at her.

“Do you think that there is any chance that you can do something about his mind?” Gray asked, worried about what Lucy had said about what if he stayed this way.

Porlyusica sighed. “I don’t know yet. Depends on what those researching have found out—”

The door opened suddenly and both Gray and Porlyusica turned to see a very excited looking Levy standing there with a stack of papers. She had Lucy right behind her.

“We’ve tracked down some of the spells used by these people in the ritual,” she exclaimed and handed Porlyusica the papers she was holding.

The medic mage thumbed through them, looking over the various spells they had unraveled from the ritual book. “Some of these are meant to only be used on animals…” she muttered under her breath.

“That’s what we found. Some of them are short term spells that they’ve augmented to become permanent somehow. Those might be the hardest to get rid of,” Levy said and gave a short sigh.

There was another knock at the door and they looked up to see the Phoenix mage that Porlyusica had just mentioned. She came in and saw that Porlyusica was looking at something. She looked down where Natsu was staring up at the lot of them.

“It is probably a good thing that the majority of us are female,” Ashana commented, turning back to the other mages. “Natsu might have trouble with other males besides Gray. I have a feeling he only tolerates him as his mate. He didn’t react well to Gajeel yesterday.”

Porlyusica handed over the stack of papers to Ashana. She began to look at the lists of spells as well. “We are going to have to undo some of those spells one at a time. And people wonder why I hate humans so much…”

Ashana gave the other woman a sad smile. “It is amazing that Natsu survived this.”

“But he did survive it, so he’s strong enough to survive reversing it, right?” Gray asked hopefully.

“Perhaps,” Porlyusica mumbled as she knelt to put a hand against Natsu’s face again. “I can try to undo more of the physical changes, especially the spells applied to him that are meant for animals. That should help with his mental state.”

Levy took the papers back from Ashana quietly. “I’ll continue researching.”

“After you get some rest,” Lucy said, looking at her. “You’ve been at this since yesterday. I can keep working while you rest, and we’ve got the others from Leviathan helping us as well.”

“I don’t need to rest—” Levy started.

“You need rest,” Porlyusica said as she glared at her. “Do so.”

“Yes ma’am,” Levy said with a look at the older mage.

Lucy leaned down and patted Natsu’s face and smiled at him. “We’re doing everything we can. We know you’re in there, Natsu. We’re going to figure this out.”

She stood up and left with Levy to go back to the library. Porlyusica kept working on Natsu, trying to unravel the threads of spell work that wrapped around him. Gray got up and crossed his arms. Ashana placed a hand on him. “You should go get a drink or something. Take a break while we’re in here with him.”

Gray nodded. “I suppose I should. I’ll be right downstairs if you need me.” He knelt in front of Natsu. “I’m going to leave for a minute but I’ll be back,” he told him.

Natsu blinked at him but turned to look at what Porlyusica was doing nearby. Gray figured that it was as good a time as any to get out of the room for a little while. He’d barely left since the night before. He went downstairs and went up to the bar.

“Gray, how are you?” Mirajane said as she gave him a gentle look.

“I’m alright. Just wanted to get a drink while they’re in with him,” he sighed as he took the cup from her.

“You look tired,” she told him, cleaning the top of the bar with the rag she held.

Gray nodded, sipping his drink and sighing. He looked down to see Cana sitting at the bar drinking. He glanced out and saw Elfman sitting at a table. He saw people going about their lives while his own seemed to have stopped in time. He didn’t know how to feel about that, but he knew that he wanted Natsu to be better.

“Yo,” he heard and turned around to see it was Gajeel.

“Hey,” Gray said and gave him a half smile.

“Any progress?” he asked, hands in his pockets.

“Some, he’s looking less feral and more normal,” Gray explained and drank from his cup.

Gajeel nodded. “I think they’ve been looking up information on this guild and the origins of it. What they’ve found out about him is that he’s pretty powerful and pretty insane.”

“Really, I could have told you that,” Gray commented morosely.

“Why don’t we go see what else they’ve come up with?” Gajeel told him and grabbed him by the arm.

They went into the library where Lucy was sitting with a couple of Leviathan people. Lucy looked up as they came into the room. “Gray, you came down,” she said with a smile.

“Yeah, Ashana and Porlyusica are with him trying to undo some of the spells that were used. Gajeel said you had some success with the information about the guild and their guildmaster?” Gray asked.

“Yeah,” Lucy said, shifting over to the pile of information that came from Serafino and Navi’s research into the guild. “I’ll let Navi tell you what they found so far.”

Gray looked at the pair and the one with blond hair patterned with spots of darker blond in it. “The guildmaster is a man named Trayven. About twenty years ago, he was a member of a guild that is no longer in existence, but he was known for dabbling in forbidden magic. After his guild disbanded, he disappeared and returned with an infant son. He raised the boy on his own and nothing was ever said about where the mother was.” Navi turned a paper around to show Gray. On it, there was a list of events that Trayven had been involved with. “About fifteen years ago he started Crescent Spear. It was very quiet, and like most the dark guilds, went unnoticed. They didn’t do anything major and just gathered believers, as they called the guild members.”

“Believers?” Gray asked, frowning. “That sounds like a cult, not a guild.”

Navi nodded. “That’s exactly what it was. There are a couple reports by ex guild members that were reported to the magic council. They claimed that to be a member of the guild, you had to pledge to do everything possible to make the guildmaster’s plan come to fruition. The reports were never by members who got much information, and the only thing they could say is they were researching a lot of random spells.”

“And all those spells were used to create the rituals in this book,” Lucy added, patting the top of the book in question. “And now we’re trying to unravel those spells to figure out how to reverse them on Natsu.”

Gray was quiet for a moment. “But why did he need a dragon slayer?”

Lucy tapped the ritual book again. “From the notes that are made in here, it looks like he wanted to bond himself with a real dragon. The last ritual in the book was never used because it was to be performed on the guildmaster himself. It looks like it was an attempt to merge two physical beings.”

“So this crazy guildmaster wanted to literally become one with a dragon?” Gray summarized.

“So it would seem,” Lucy confirmed.

“And Natsu just happened to be at the right place, at the right time,” Gray said, already feeling the crushing weight of guilt on his shoulders because he had made Natsu run off that day. It was entirely his fault, he felt.

Gray jumped as someone touched his arm. “Oh, Gramps,” he said, seeing it was Master Makarov.

“I came to check in on how the research was going,” he said and looked over to Lucy.

“Good enough,” Lucy sighed. “It’s a lot of information and a lot of spells.”

“If anyone can figure this out, it’s Fairy Tail, with Leviathan’s help, of course,” he said as he turned and went back out of the library.

“We should get back to researching this, Gray. And you should go back up to Natsu,” Lucy said with a gentle smile.

Gray nodded. “That’s true,” he said and turned to head back up the stairs.

Chapter Text

The first glimmers of things returning to a semblance of normal were images of Gray. They filled his mind, and even when he was barely connected to his own consciousness, he could feel the connection to Gray. Gray had accepted him, even in his draconic form, and every part of Natsu rejoiced at it. No matter what happened, he had Gray as his mate, and there was no undoing that. Their magic had bound them together and now he just wanted to talk to him. He wanted everything to go back to normal once again.

It’s safe. Let me go.

He had no idea who he was talking to. It wasn’t like there was another entity inside him, but it felt that way most the time. There was this huge barrier between the part of him that was thinking and doing and the outside world.  It was like trying to see through a screen that was covering everything around him. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but there was something comforting there. Was it another presence or was it more?

You can be yourself again.

He felt the spells being unwoven one by one. Some, when they came undone gave him great relief. Others caused pain, but it faded quickly once he got used to them being gone. So, he could think a little clearer. It was still muddled, and like trying to fight through some sort of thick mud, but he was beginning to know the world around them. He saw Lucy! Yes, Gray and Lucy, and he felt the presence of other dragon slayers. Slayers? Two of them. One had to be Gajeel. The other one he didn’t know. What about Wendy? Where was she?

They’ll try and find you again. Or someone else.

His heart beat faster at the thought. They had wanted to kill him and try and find another dragon slayer. They wanted to put someone else through what he had gone through. They wanted to alter and torture another person, and he couldn’t let that happen again. Never again. He had to fight to be normal again so he could help protect the others! He had to!

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

Gray exited the room with the others and went back out in the tavern area. He noticed Estrella was talking to Elfman. He headed over to her.

“It’s been impossible to find a mate that fits with me,” she was saying as he walked up. “Oh, hi Gray. Is everyone else still working on the research?”

“Yeah, they are. You were saying you were looking for a mate? You mentioned that before. It’s really important, huh?” he said.

“Well, I mean, I can live without one, but it makes this time of year kind of hard. I have been looking for several seasons,” she said with a smirk.

“Find anyone here that meets with your fancy?” Elfman said as he took a drink.

“Not yet,” she said with a sigh. “But I haven’t met everyone yet,” she pointed out.

Gray looked around and spotted someone who always seemed to be by himself. “Here, have you met Mest Gryder?”

“Mest Gryder?” she said, frowning. “I don’t think so.”

“Come, he’s kind of an interesting guy,” he said as he walked her over to the dark-haired mage.

He looked up as they approached. “Gray, how are you? I heard about Natsu.”

“I’m doing as well as can be, I suppose. I wanted to introduce you to Estrella. She’s with Leviathan guild. She’s their dragon slayer,” he told him.

“Oh yeah?” he said, smiling. “I do teleportation.”

They talked for a few more minutes and Gray excused himself from them to go back upstairs.

Ashana and Porlyusica were still working when Gray came back. It looked like whatever they were doing didn’t both Natsu too much because he had fallen asleep while they were working. Ashana leaned back, looking up at Gray.

“He’s doing better. He hasn’t said anything, except to you, but that’s something,” Ashana said with a gentle smile.

Gray sat down on the floor beside him. The horns were still present, but they looked softer somehow. Porlyusica growled and looked over at him.

“I’ve done all I can today. I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said and stood up. She huffed a sigh and then left the room.

“I wish I knew what happened to him. I mean, I kind of know from the emotions that Capella showed me, and the images, but it is still so vague. I want to know how to help him,” Gray said as he ran a hand through his pink hair.

Ashana thought for a few seconds. “Well, I could have Sera try to use his magic. He can read an object. That scarf was with him, right?”

Gray nodded. “It was the only thing he had on him when we found him.”

“Are Sera and Navi still downstairs?” she asked as she got to her feet.

“Yeah, they’re helping with the research,” Gray told her.

She nodded and left the room, leaving Gray alone with Natsu again. He sighed and kept threading his fingers through Natsu’s hair until he realized he’d woken up and was watching him intently. Thankfully, his eyes were all the way back to normal now. Just that was an improvement. Gray leaned forward and kissed the top of his head between the two horns.

“Gray?” he said suddenly, and Gray gasped, grabbing his hands.

“Natsu!” he said. “Can you talk to me?” he asked.

“Gray,” he said and ducked his head and headbutted him.

Gray sighed. It was something though, even if it was just his name.

He looked up to see Ashana return with the other two in tow. The one named Navi was the cat-like one, he remembered, and the other one was Sera, with the messy black hair. Sera clutched Navi’s hand and looked around the room as he came in.

“What do you want me to read?” he said as he stared at Natsu where he sat on the ground by Gray.

“The scarf he is wearing,” Ashana said. “Gray, can you take it off of him?”

Gray nodded, reaching for the scarf where it was draped around him. Natsu’s hands came up and his eyes went wide. He clutched it and looked at Gray, breath quickening.

“Oh, silly Natsu,” Gray said gently, patting his hands. “I’m not going to take it away from you. I’m just going to let Sera see it for a moment, okay?”

He reluctantly let go of the scarf, watching as Gray unwrapped it and then carefully folded it. He handed it to Sera. He noticed that Natsu’s eyes didn’t leave the scarf. That was actually a good sign, though. He was showing extreme attachment to the scarf, so that was something of his more human nature coming out.

Sera took it and sat down cross-legged on the floor and held the scarf across his lap. Gray watched as he released a deep sigh and clutched the fabric in his hands. There was a slight glow in his hands, and he closed his eyes.

“I see a little girl. She fell down a pit. He’s going to help her. But once she’s out, something’s wrong. She says she’s sorry but they’re going to hurt her brother. Natsu falls. From around him, they come out, pulling him out of the pit and taking him away. He’s laid out, still unconscious. They start casting spells over him, take his clothes away. For some reason, they leave the scarf. The Guildmaster says something about it being draconic. He says it may help with the rituals. He’s locked in a metal collar and wrist bands that seal his power, but they do more than that. They direct his power where they want it to go. Immediately, they are drawing his power and locking the guild in a pocket dimension. Natsu has more magic than they expect. They are pleased.”

Sera gasped and clutched the scarf tighter. “Awake in the dark. Facing the Guildmaster. He tells Natsu that he’s going to be used in their rituals. Natsu tries to resist but it is no use, he’s weakened significantly.” Sera paused, frowning and his brow wrinkling. “They-they are going to do the ritual. But the guildmaster is touching him, warning him that it might hurt and they-they… I can’t!” he suddenly dropped the scarf, gagging a bit and scrambling to his feet.

Navi was at his side immediately, wrapping his arms around him and shushing him. “It’s okay, you’re okay,” he kept whispering.

“What? What happened?” Gray asked, picking up the scarf.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t go on after what they were doing,” Sera whispered as he got himself under control. “I just-I started seeing things from my own past, and it was too much for me.”

“What does that mean? What did you see? What did they do?” Gray asked, clutching the scarf to his chest now.

“I used to be a slave at an illegal brothel. That’s how Navi found me. They discarded me, tossed me in the sea, and Navi and the others found me floating, still alive,” Sera said as he buried his face in Navi’s chest and took a shuddering breath.

“A brothel? You mean… Natsu was… They didn’t!” Gray said, still holding the scarf against him.

Sera turned back and nodded. “They needed to bond him to someone, in the mating bond, to make it work. That’s why it never worked. For some reason, they couldn’t force the mating bond on him. That’s why they kept trying every year and it kept failing, only making him more feral each time they used the same spells on him.”

Ashana nodded. “That explains the strange sensation I get when working with him. There is something there, something not ‘normal’ for want of a better word. I’ve never sensed anything like it, but it’s like a barrier between Natsu and the outside world. I thought it was caused by the spells, but what if that barrier was caused by something in Natsu himself?” she asked.

“You seem to be making progress,” they heard. Everyone turned and saw Makarov standing in the doorway.

“Did you hear all that or do I need to tell you, Gramps?” Gray said through clenched teeth. Everyone could feel an extra chill to the air around them.

“I heard it, and you need to calm yourself, Gray. Your upset is causing Natsu to be upset,” he told him.

Gray turned around and saw Natsu was rocking a little and looking at Gray with wide eyes. He let out a frosty breath and nodded. He could control himself around Natsu. He couldn’t guarantee that he would be able to control himself around anyone from Crescent Spear. He took Natsu’s scarf and wrapped it back around his neck, and through the link he felt intense worry and fear. Gray knelt in front of him and smiled.

“Don’t worry, Natsu. I’m angry at those people who did this to you, not you,” he said quietly. “I just want you to be able to talk to me again.”

“Gray!” he said and grinned.

Gray kissed his forehead and stood back up. “Okay, I’m okay now. But I’m going to kill this Trayven.”

Makarov walked over and looked at Natsu. “Something is there, something outside the spells that are woven through him. I don’t know what it is either, but that something is interfering with our efforts just as it interfered with the guildmaster’s efforts to do this ritual of his.”

There was a light knock at the door and Gray looked over to see that Estrella and Gajeel had come up. Both of them looked worried, but then everyone looked worried lately. “How is he? Any progress?” Gajeel asked.

Makarov nodded. Ashana and Serafino have come up with more information on what the Guildmaster was trying to do. It seems he was trying to force the mating bond onto Natsu. My guess is that in his mind, it was the only way to create the pheromones that were necessary to draw a real dragon to him. It didn’t work for some reason, though.”

“Why wouldn’t it have worked?” Estrella asked, frowning as she looked over at Natsu. “I mean, we have the mate we choose, but the bond can be created with another. It is harder, and we are never the same, having been rejected by our chosen mate, but we’ll live. So, the question is, why didn’t it work for this guildmaster?”

She walked over to Natsu and knelt in front of him. She reached out and took one of his hands and held it in her own. Gray watched as Natsu looked at her with a curious look on his face. Of course, he didn’t know Estrella because they’d never met before. But he would know another dragon slayer, this close, wouldn’t he? Gray didn’t now if it worked that way, but he hoped that her and Gajeel’s presence helped. Gajeel came over but when he did, Natsu flinched back away from him, looking at him warily.

“He’s afraid,” Gray commented. “Of course, he would be. After what they did to him…”

“Still, something about it doesn’t sit right,” Gajeel said. “The mating should have taken if they forced it on him. With the spells they cast, there’s no way around it. He should have bonded to whoever was doing the ritual. That guildmaster, I guess.”

Natsu looked at Estrella where she still held onto his hand and then glanced over at Gray. “Gray,” he said plaintively.

Gray turned back and sat down beside him. Immediately, he let go of Estrella’s hand and scrambled over almost into his lap. He ducked his head down and despite the horns manage to snuggle into him. Gray gently put his hand on his back and rubbed it slowly.

“It’s alright, Natsu. We’re going to figure this out, I promise you,” he said and meant every word.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

Wendy smiled as they neared Magnolia. Carla walked along beside her, looking around. Both were excited to return home after their long trip. They had much to tell everyone at Fairy Tail, and they were going to be there very soon.

“Do you think they missed me?” Wendy asked as they headed down a path through a light wooded area.

“Of course, they did, girl. You missed them, didn’t you?” Carla scoffed.

“Well, I did. I wonder if they found Natsu yet.” She stopped and sighed.

“We’ll find out soon enough,” Carla said as she looked back at her. “But after five years, who knows?”

Wendy nodded and continued walking. She stopped and looked behind her. “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Carla said, turning and glancing around them. “I didn’t hear anything.”

“It sounded like someone in the trees,” she said. “Maybe brigands?”

“Around here?” Carla said. “This is a safe place, we’re right near Magnolia now. There aren’t brigands on these roads.”

Wendy stared behind her for a for a moment then shook her head. “You’re right, of course,” she said as they continued on. Still, every now and then, she thought she heard someone in the trees.

They came up over a small hill and could see Magnolia in the distance clearly. Wendy smiled and turned to say something to Carla when she stumbled and fell to one knee. Carla turned and came running to her side.

“Are you alright? What happened?” Carla asked insistently.

“I don’t know. I feel weird. Like my power is distant. I can’t… I can’t…” she muttered and fell over.

Carla gasped and shook her, then looked up to see a man in a robe seemingly melt out of the trees. “Hello there, pretty kitty,” he hissed at her.

“Wendy! Wake up!” Carla begged but Wendy didn’t move at all.

“She’s not waking up for a while after that spell I cast on her. I’ve had many years to hone it to work especially on dragon slayers. Now, the question is, what to do with you?” he said and stepped forward.

Carla didn’t think, she just took off, dodging a spell aimed at her and flying. She heard him yelling behind her, but there was nothing she could do. She ha to get help, that’s all she could do now for Wendy. She had to get to Fairy Tail.

Some time later, Wendy woke slowly. She felt heavy, like she was being sapped of all off her strength. She heard voices.

“Her powers are nowhere near the other one. She won’t be able to cloak the guild like he did.”

“Who knew there was such a weakling among the dragon slayers?”

“We could try to get one of the others. There are more.”

“No! This will work. We simply will have to have guards watch the area. Hire more mercenaries from the local area.”

Wendy blinked her eyes slowly. She lifted her head and heard the jingle of chains. She felt heaviness around her neck and her wrists. She saw she was in an open room lit only by torches. There were four figures in the room, and one turned back to her.

“Ah, you’re awake, my dear dragon slayer. I hope you aren’t too uncomfortable?” he said.

“Who are you? Where am I?” she asked, jerking her wrists in the shackles.

“My name is Trayven. And this is my guild, the Crescent Spear. We revere the dragons. So much so, that I want to become one with them. And you, my dear, are going to help me.” He pushed the hood back, revealing hair that had gone white and eyes that were cloudy.

“Help you? How?” she asked.

“It’s the mating season. The prime time to call the dragons. And we’ve already begun the process of preparing you to bind you to me. Once bound, your power will be mine to draw, and then I will perform the ritual to bring the dragons to me,” he said with a grin.

“You can’t do that!” she gasped. “It won’t work like you think it will!”

“We tried with the other one for five years, but he resisted us. We think you will yield the results we desire,” he said.

“Natsu. You’re the ones who took Natsu! Where is he? What have you done with him?” she gasped, looking around here.

“The beast that was the fire dragon slayer should be dead by now. He destroyed half my guild and murdered my son. I know that Fairy Tail found him, but there is nothing they can do besides kill him. There was nothing human left. After we are done with the spells tonight and tomorrow to prepare you for the ritual, your humanity will be sacrificed as well,” he said. “As soon as I finish the spell circle, we shall commence the ritual and if you fail me, you will be destroyed.”

Wendy’s eyes went wide and she shook her head. “No, what are you doing this for? Why?”

“I told you. I will be one with the dragons.”

“That’s impossible! They’re gone!” she insisted.

“For your sake, pray that you are wrong,” he said with a sly smile. He turned away and left her there.

They’d taken her shoes and her bag, she noticed. She looked around, not seeing any windows, and she could see a door not too far from them. In the floor, it looked like he was inscribing some sort of spell circle that took up much of the room. The other men in the room were helping him with it. She tugged on the shackles again, but she knew there was no way she was going to get out of them. She didn’t see Carla, and she just had to hope that she got away and went for help.

-oooooo-OOOOOO-oooooo-

Gray sat with Natsu as Ashana continued working that evening. Natsu had fallen asleep against him as she worked with her healing flames.

“I think I might have undone some of those affecting his mind,” she said as she worked. “I don’t know if that barrier I sense has been broken yet, though. I don’t know from where it comes, but it may be all that protected his sanity. It’s as though there’s someone else there, alongside his consciousness. It is very strange. It is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my days healing.”

Gray wondered about that, because he could sense something through their link, but he didn’t understand what it was. Natsu mumbled a bit in his sleep and Gray nearly cheered.

“Natsu?” he whispered.

“Sleepin’,” he murmured. “Gray.”

“Natsu, come on, are you there? Can you talk to me?” he asked softly.

Natsu blinked sleepily and picked up his head. His horns had receded a little so far today. Otherwise, his looks were about back to normal. The difference from when they brought him in until now was impressive, and a testament to Porlyusica and Ashana’s work, as well as everyone else’s work researching the spells that they had undone.

“Gray?” he said, brows meshing. “I’m tired, Gray,” he whispered quietly.

Heart in his throat, Gray gripped Natsu’s arms. “Come on, I know you’re tired, but if you can talk to me, I want to hear it.”

To his happiness, Natsu looked like he understood him. “I-I can a little,” he said, still looking confused though as he spoke.

Gray smiled and hugged him against him as Ashana sat back on her heels. “I think some of it worked,” she said with a smile.

“Oh, Natsu, please be coming back to me,” Gray said as he clutched him.

“Gray,” he said and clutched him back. “Gray, mate.”

“Yeah, I’m your mate, you idiot. And I would have been five years ago if you’d just told me then,” Gray said softly.

There was a commotion downstairs, drawing Gray’s attention to the open door. He frowned because things had been rather quiet lately. It was strange to hear them getting rowdy. Then he heard someone coming up the stairs at a run. He watched as Lucy came up into the room, her face stricken.

“Wendy! They’ve kidnapped Wendy!” she exclaimed.

Gray clutched Natsu. “They what? Who did?”

“The Crescent Spear. Carla came to the guild alone. Someone attacked them on the way back outside Magnolia. They knocked Wendy out and Carla got away to come get help,” Lucy explained.

“No, Wendy,” Gray said. “If they do to her what they did to Natsu…”

Natsu looked up at Lucy, mouth moving for a minute before his voice rasped. “Wendy?”

“Yeah, they have Wendy. Trayven and the dark guild that had you, Natsu. Do you remember Wendy?” Lucy said, coming in and kneeling in front of him.

“Wendy… Friend,” he said and, in the room, there was a feeling like pressure around them.

Lucy and Gray exchanged a look with each other because they both could feel it. Natsu clutched Gray tighter and through the link they’d forged, he felt Natsu’s magic surging.

“Something’s happening,” Gray said, not sure if he should get up or not. “I don’t know what is happening, but something’s happening.”

Lucy nodded. “Natsu?”

“Wendy. No, not her, not Wendy,” Natsu continue to speak in the raspy voice. “No, no, no,” he muttered.

Lucy and Gray both looked up to see Makarov standing in the doorway with Carla and Happy. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“We’re not sure. I told him that they have Wendy,” Lucy said.

“Perhaps it is the catalyst that Natsu needs to break free,” Makarov said as he watched.

“No!” Natsu said again and sat back from Gray’s arms. “Not Wendy. I won’t let it happen. I. Won’t. Let. It. Happen.”

Suddenly, the room was flooded with heat that was almost unbearable for a moment. Natsu’s eyes were glowing and his face hardened with scales on his cheeks, but unlike the previous scales, these were a part of him and not just the surface of his skin. Natsu was leaning over with his hands on the floor in front of him and sitting on his knees. He was panting and flames licked around him. He picked up his head and his eyes were burning brightly.

“No,” he whispered, and his eyes returned to normal.

“Natsu?” Gray whispered.

“Gray?” he said, looking at him with wide eyes. “I can’t let them hurt her.”

“We won’t let them, Natsu,” Gray said. “We won’t let them.”