"I'm hungry." Natsu kissed Gray's cheek. "Want anything?"
As Natsu moved toward the kitchen, Gray stayed still, letting Natsu's hand slide from his. His stare was blank.
Normally his lack of response would have his partner concerned, but considering the times… Natsu said nothing, just got his food and returned.
Watching Natsu eat, staring at the details of his face, which Gray knew so intimately, loving every single piece of him… Anxiety flared beneath Gray's skin, hot and unstoppable. This could all end tomorrow. This beautiful thing, this place of happiness, of home. It could be gone. Gray might lose his own life—that was okay—but the idea of losing Natsu…what a cruel joke that would be, for the town and the house and their guild to be intact, their friends alive, but Natsu…not.
Gray could not handle it. Like a buzzing in the back of his head dragging him down, down, deep underwater until he couldn't breathe.
"Tomorrow," Gray gasped out, unable to avoid the topic that had him so on edge. "You sure you won't need me?"
"I'll be okay." Natsu didn't look up as he speared a piece of meat with his chopsticks. "I have a plan."
"I know," Gray sighed.
Natsu wouldn't tell him what it was. Just asked Gray to trust him. And Gray did, always did, but this time was different. He knew if Natsu had to do something Gray wouldn't like—such as, for example, sacrifice himself—he'd say something like "trust me" and smile to put Gray off his nervousness. It was how Natsu tried to love him.
These last few weeks, Natsu had been calm despite the invasion of his nation, but it was a fey calm—the way Gray assumed he'd act in a hopeless situation in order to make others not panic.
It was why Gray was so close to panic the last few days.
"Serious, Gray." Natsu paused and waited until Gray met his eyes. "Remember last night? This is going to work out."
When they'd fucked, Gray had felt a brief surge in power and had glimpsed the edge of something enormous. Natsu came, and came undone, and as he pressed against Gray, Gray was suddenly surrounded by a vast aura of potential fire.
So yes, he knew. He knew Natsu's secret involved incredible magic power. But it didn't clear the itch from his skin.
Squeezing his biceps until it began to hurt, Gray stared down at the carpet again.
"Part one is over, at least," he murmured. It didn't make him feel better.
"But you want to go after Zeref. This isn't the same as the Spriggan, Natsu. I wish you'd—" Gray rubbed his lips. "Let me come along. We always do ten times the damage when we work together."
"You gotta help the others with the rest of the battles. With your magic…Gray, you're strong enough to kill a Spriggan on your own. They need you. And I don't."
Natsu smiled and shrugged as he said it, as if it were reassurance, but Gray just felt his heart squeeze.
"Oi." Natsu frowned, suddenly, darting across the sofa and snatching Gray's hands. "Don't."
Gray stared down. He'd been scratching his arms hard enough to leave lines. The indents from his nails were dark red.
Unfolding suddenly, Gray stood up and walked toward their bedroom.
"I'm exhausted. I just need to sleep. Come join me?"
"Give me a second to eat, and then absolutely. I could use you being close."
Gray shivered. In light of everything Natsu didn't need from him, that was the scariest proclamation of all.
Gray stared at the stars through the window. Beside him, Natsu was snoring, hand flung haphazardly across Gray's stomach.
He knew his partner well enough to know when Natsu was omitting truths. They both knew this war was dangerous; were living simultaneously as if they'd pull through just fine and as if they needed to make every last second count. So anything Natsu wasn't saying…that was bad.
Not to mention that Natsu, who was usually insatiably horny before a battle, had been incessantly cuddly instead. He'd wrapped Gray up in his arms and not let go even when Gray was certain Natsu's hand had fallen asleep under Gray's weight.
And now here they were.
Gray didn't want this to be the end: the two of them not saying everything that needed to be said, letting silence linger between them. Lying to each other. Being anything other than wholeheartedly trusting and in sync, like they'd always been.
It felt like they'd lost something.
He dug his nails into his arms again, sharp, pinching until the pain made starbursts in his head. He did it over and over, feeling his nails grow damp, feeling the satisfaction of that pain, like scratching an itch until it bled away.
Natsu would be pissed tomorrow when he saw. But maybe he wouldn't see. Maybe—what if Natsu left before Gray woke up? To avoid saying goodbye, to keep Gray from following or trying once again to talk him out of it.
If Gray slept at all, it was going to be a miracle.
"Gray." A hand on his shoulder, shaking him. "Rise and shine, lovely."
Gray blinked, bleary, and focused on his partner.
"You're leaving," he said, voice dead.
"Eventually." Natsu's smile was gentle and chipper. "I made breakfast."
Gray followed him out of the bedroom and couldn't help a soft chuckle when he saw what Natsu had made. Natsu had covered Gray's egg in natto, like Gray loved to do when Natsu wasn't home.
Natsu hated the smell of natto. He'd really pulled out the stops…
As Gray ate, he kept his hand on Natsu's fist, unwilling to relinquish him. He watched the way Natsu heaped food on his spoon like it was an art form; the line of his jaw, which could use a shave; the crease at the corners of his eyes which would bend upward if he were to smile.
"Come here," Gray said suddenly.
Natsu blinked and looked up, and it took a moment for him to register Gray's arms and hug him.
Exhaling, Gray closed his eyes into the embrace.
Natsu was warm against his chest, so warm like always, just like home. It was things like this that Gray couldn't bear to think about losing. The selfish things. All the little ways Natsu was embedded into his life.
"I really like your arms," Natsu murmured.
"Yeah?" Guilt stirred in Gray's gut. "I hurt them. A little. Last night."
Natsu didn't startle, freak out, or any other usual reaction. Leaning back, he inspected Gray's biceps, then embraced him again.
"I still love you," he whispered next to Gray's ear. "That isn't going to change because you hurt yourself."
Gray's inhale was shaky. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me," Natsu said, incredulous. "That should all go without saying. Snow-brained idiot."
"Baka," Gray said affectionately.
"Look, Gray." Natsu cleared his throat. "I know you're nervous and that's why you did it. I don't like it when you…but I understand. I'm anxious too, to be honest. I don't know if this will help, or if you even still trust me at all, but I want you to know I plan to survive this fight. I'm planning on both of us surviving, and helping our friends, and that tomorrow we'll all sit at Fairy Tail and laugh and joke and eat, and it'll all be normal. I can't promise anything but…that's the plan."
"That does make me feel better." Gray returned to his seat to continue eating. He teased, "You should've led with that yesterday."
"Sorry," Natsu laughed. "That's bad communication: another thing I'm guilty of."
Smiling, Gray watched him for a long moment as Natsu dug back into his food.
"I will eventually forgive you for keeping this big secret from me, Natsu."
The Salamander blinked rapidly.
"Thanks. I'm not sure I deserve that."
Smiling, Gray shrugged. "We're both of us a little messed up, right? Or a lot. But we figure it out. Even when we make mistakes or there are no right answers."
"There are always right answers," Natsu said, deadpan.
"I might have to fight you over that one," Gray laughed.
Natsu's eyes lit with mischievous fire. "Bring it on, snowflake."
And suddenly, they felt like them again.
Yes, they could get through this.