It started when Natsu came into the guild with her hair raggedly chopped away. It was the worst haircut Gray had ever seen, a hack job done with shitty scissors and he suspected not even a mirror had been involved. The ends were uneven, but for the most part, stopped just at the base of her neck. Her bangs were a touch too long for the style, hanging over her eyes, despite how much she tried to push them back, unable to just tuck the hair behind her ears like she was used to. To match the terrible haircut, a fearsome scowl twisted Natsu’s features as she marched in, and clearly she was upset about something.
Perhaps the terrible haircut.
“Natsu!” Erza rushed towards her. “What happened to your hair?”
Natsu brushed past her, not even sparing her a glance, and Gray’s eyes widened. Not even Natsu was crazy enough to brush Erza off, but evidently, she didn’t care today. “Cut it off…” she mumbled.
“Well I can see that!” Erza shouted, grabbing her shoulder and spinning her around. “Why would you do that? It was so pretty! Beautiful, even!”
Gray was inclined to agree with her. Natsu’s hair really had been gorgeous, and she’d always kept it so long, at least down to her waist, so for her to suddenly cut it all off without an explanation or even an inkling that she’d been thinking about it…
Was strange, to say the least.
But as soon as the words left Erza’s mouth, Natsu’s shoulders hunched, and she ducked her head. “Well maybe I was just tired of it.”
Now Erza was scowling. “That’s understandable, I suppose. But why would you do it yourself? It looks dreadful. We should go somewhere, have someone professionally do it!”
“No!” Natsu shook her head, and brought her hands up to tangle them in her hair. “No, I don’t—Just leave it alone. Please, Erza.”
“Uh…” Erza took a step back, though the concern was evident in her features. “Alright. But I can try and fix it for you myself, if you want.”
Natsu bit her lip. “Maybe… I’ll think about it.”
Erza nodded, and stepped aside, letting Natsu get to where she had been going, which apparently had been coming to sit next to Gray. “Hey…”
“Hey…” Gray raised an eyebrow. “You doing okay?” Sudden, terrible haircuts done alone usually weren’t a sign of anything good. But he genuinely couldn’t think of anything that might have made Natsu upset recently.
“I’m fine,” she insisted. “But… I was wondering… Could you… Could you fix my hair?”
“I tried—” She shifted, obviously uncomfortable, and that set off a million little alarm bells in Gray’s head, because Natsu did not normally act like this. “I was trying to cut my hair like yours. Can you fix it?”
Normally, Gray would tease Natsu over something like that. But quite obviously, that wasn’t something she needed at the moment. “Sure, I can try. We’ll find some scissors after we get some breakfast.”
Gray ended up taking a few more inches off Natsu’s hair. She’d simply cut it too short in certain areas to do anything else. So she ended up with some of the shortest hair in the guild, the pink locks sticking out in wild directions. “There.” Gray set the scissors down on the table, and brushed the pieces of hair off Natsu’s shoulders. “I’m no barber, but it's better than it was.”
Natsu’s entire body relaxed. “Thank you.”
“Yeah, no problem.” He sat down next to her. “But what the hell even made you do that in the first place? You seemed fine yesterday.”
She shrugged, her expression not giving a single thing away. “I just wanted to.”
“Sure. If you say so. But it looks good on you.” Gray reached over and tapped the side of her face. “Makes your jaw look nice. Not so soft.”
Immediately, Natsu perked up, her usual grin returning. “Thanks, Gray!”
And then Gray began to think…
The second clue was when a large portion of Natsu’s wardrobe seemingly disappeared within the span of a few weeks. She rotated between two pairs of puffy pants, and a pair of baggy shorts, no sign of a single skirt or pair of jeans she owned. Her regular shirts began to make less appearances as well, replaced by a few jackets and hoodies, despite it being the middle of summer. Two weeks, and there hadn’t been a single piece of form-fitting clothing, let alone any of the skimpy stuff she used to wear during summer, claiming she wanted to feel the sun on as much of her skin as possible.
“Natsu, you’re going to get heat stroke walking around in that stuff in the middle of July,” Erza scolded one day. “Do you need to borrow some clothes? What the hell happened to all of yours?”
Natsu leaned against the window of the train, her cheek smashing against the glass and squishing her face. “Nothing. Just don’t feel like wearing them.” She pressed her hand against her mouth the second the train began to move, her cheeks already tinting green.
Gray’s eyes narrowed. At first, he told himself he was thinking too hard about it. Natsu had just wanted to cut her hair, and maybe wanted a little style change. But how excited she’d been when he mentioned that thing about her jaw… and the sudden want to hide her curves and chest (not that Natsu really had a lot there to begin with anyways), was starting to feel a little too familiar. Besides, after the thought had first entered his mind, Gray had been paying more attention, to Natsu’s little reactions to things.
The thing that really convinced him was when the lady paying them for their last job request had called Natsu sir. She’d practically beamed, and thanked the woman for their reward, before deflating and shrinking in on herself after the woman profusely apologized for mistaking her for a man after hearing her voice.
It was a feeling Gray knew all too well. At this point, he could pass perfectly fine, but he still remembered how much those kinds of things could hurt.
So yeah, he was pretty sure he knew what was going on with Natsu. The issue was that he didn’t know how to address it. Natsu had never been one for keeping secrets, so surely she would talk to him about it eventually, right? Who else would she go to? Gray was the obvious choice, being her best friend, and trans himself, right?
But then again… Natsu could be pretty oblivious, and it was completely possible that she hadn’t pieced together why she was feeling the way she did, or doing the things she was. And if that was the case, Gray wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to be the one to send her down that spiral if she wasn’t ready to confront it.
Natsu groaned as the train really began to move, her body slumping over as the motion sickness really took hold. Gray sighed, and tugged her into his lap, carding his fingers through her hair. It was almost better when it was so short, there weren’t so many tangles to snag his fingers on. “Erza is right, you know. You really shouldn’t be wearing that stuff in the summer.”
Natsu glared up at him, and flicked his thigh, as weak as it might have been.
But Gray just rolled his eyes. “I’ll give you some of my clothes. How’s that sound?”
“Really?” Natsu asked.
“Really, dumbass. I’m sick of seeing you in this damn hoody, and god, it’s starting to smell like sweat and BO, when was the last time you washed this thing?” he teased.
Natsu flipped him off, but he could see in her eyes that she was grateful.
“Oh! So you’ll wear Gray’s clothes, but not mine?” Erza asked, crossing her arms and turning her nose up. “I see how it is.”
Gray shook his head, tuning out Natsu’s half assed reply. Maybe he should have a talk with Erza, before she accidentally said something to Natsu that hurt her, because the redhead could be every bit as oblivious as the dragon slayer.
Yeah… he’d do that later.
When he gave Natsu the clothes, he was sure to throw his old binder in with them. Obviously he didn’t need it after top surgery, and he kept it tucked in the middle of the bundle, so hopefully Natsu wouldn’t notice or question it until she got home. He wasn’t entirely sure if it would fit Natsu, her chest was a little smaller than his had been, but it was more just to… see if that was really what was going on, if Natsu was even interested in something like that. If she decided she wanted to bind, they could get her one that would fit her properly.
It’d been four days, and Natsu hadn’t said a word about it, much to Gray’s disappointment. But… maybe that also meant something. Because if he was dead wrong, and Natsu wasn’t experiencing dysphoria or even thinking about this, wouldn’t she have just given the binder back to him?
On the fifth day, Natsu came into the guildhall wearing one of Gray’s shirts, and her chest was flat.
“Um… thanks… for the clothes,” she said awkwardly, rubbing the back of her neck, even though she’d already thanked Gray when he originally gave them to her.
“Yeah, no problem.” He turned his attention back to his lunch, not wanting to make Natsu anymore uncomfortable by prying. “You know not to wear it for too long, right?” He certainly didn’t trust the moron to take proper care of herself regarding binding if she decided to start doing it more often.
“Yeah, I know,” she said, one hand drifting up to her chest.
“Good. Now hurry up and eat so we can head out on that job.”
“God, yeah, yeah I’m going. Fucking calm down.”
Gray disentangled himself from Erza’s limp body. She’d fallen asleep about an hour ago, midway through the movie, and clearly wasn’t going to be moving until morning. “Mm?”
Natsu slid off the couch and onto the floor, crossing her legs and ducking her head, obviously trying to avoid looking Gray in the eye. “How… um… How did you…” She growled through gritted teeth. “Why is this so hard?”
Gray sat down on the floor next to her, patiently waiting for her to get her thoughts together.
Natsu took a deep breath, before shouting, “I think I might be a guy but I don’t know for sure and everything is just really confusing right now!”
Gray blinked, mildly surprised by the small outburst, but then again, this was Natsu. The exclamation was so loud that Erza had stirred, even if she didn’t wake up.
But he just nodded. “Yeah, I thought something like that might be going on. You… doing okay?”
Natsu threw her head back to rest it against the couch. “Maybe? I… I don’t know. I’m just confused.”
“Confused,” Gray repeated.
She nodded. “I… Well I just… If I really was a guy, wouldn’t I have… wouldn’t I have figured it out forever ago? I mean, I’m fucking nineteen. You knew when you were a little kid!”
“Ah.” Gray leaned back, interlocking his fingers behind his head. “Well, everyone’s different. Yeah, I knew when I was pretty young, back before I even joined the guild, even if they were the ones who helped me transition and stuff, but a lot of people don’t realize until they’re older. Besides… Gender has been weird for you since you joined, right? You told me dragons didn’t really have genders.”
“Well… well no, they don’t,” she said. “Igneel never… He did use to call me his son, and I always liked that more than when he called me his daughter…” She reached up to tug at her hair, probably a weird translation from when she twirled it around her fingers before it’d been cut too short for that. “And he never cared about all the weird things people think and do with gender, about that stuff.”
Gray nodded. “Right. You’ve always thought gender stuff was weird. And honestly Natsu… you look pretty androgynous, you have your whole life, and have actively gone out of your way to do so, even if you didn’t really notice.”
Gray couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah, you really lucked out, man. Your face structure? Like if someone just showed me your face and nothing else, I would have no idea if you were a girl or a guy. People just went with the assumption that you were a girl because of your long hair and the way you used to dress. And now, from what I’ve noticed anyways, since you cut it and started wearing my clothes, a lot of people assume you’re a guy.”
“Until I talk…” she muttered, her expression falling.
“Well, yeah… Unfortunately you do have a pretty feminine voice.”
“And I’m short.”
“I’m not exactly tall either, you know.”
“You’re taller than me! I’m only five-five! Erza’s got like seven inches on me!”
“Yeah, and Erza is a giant by anyone’s standards. But Natsu, that stuff doesn’t really matter. I mean, it does if you… decide you want to transition or anything, but as far as regarding if you are a girl or a boy, no, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “That’s for you to decide.”
“Well what do you think?” she asked, tilting her head.
Gray frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Do you think I’m a boy?”
“Uh…” How the hell was he supposed to answer that? In his opinion, no, Natsu was not cis in the least. Gray had never thought so, especially when Natsu had explained how much the whole gender thing confused her as soon as she’d joined Fairy Tail. But Gray couldn’t tell her if she was a trans guy or not. “I think that gender is confusing to you, and that’s okay. I think that you’ve seemed lighter on your feet since you’ve cut your hair and started dressing differently. And I don’t think it would surprise me if you decided you were a guy.”
“Hm…” Natsu frowned and crossed her arms. “Can you… Uh…” She cleared her throat. “I don’t want to be called a girl anymore.”
“Okay. What do you want to be called?”
“I want… I want to…” She pressed her hands against her face. “I don’t know! I think I want to be called a man? I don’t think I want to be called she anymore. At least… not right now, but… but I don’t know…”
Gray twisted around to nudge at Erza. “Hey, Erz.”
“Don’t wake her up!” Natsu exclaimed. “I don’t—I’m not ready to—”
“Natsu is coming to some self revelations,” he continued, not actually intending or trying to rouse the requip mage at all. “He’s been due for one for a while, I think.” His eyes darted back to Natsu, a small smile on his face.
Natsu’s face went slack, before his eyes lit up. “I… I liked that.”
“Thought you might. So he/him from now on, unless you want something else?”
“No, no, I liked that!”
“Okay, cool.” Gray scooted closer, letting his head fall on Natsu’s shoulder. “We’ll go get you some new clothes sometime soon, too. Something closer to your style, so you’re not stuck wearing mine all the time. And we’ll get you a better binder, too. I mean, you can keep mine if you want, but it’s probably a little loose, right?”
He nodded. “Yeah… Thank you. For all of this.”
Gray snorted. “Hey, trust me, I know how weird this kinda shit can be. I’m here to help you out, man.”
“Do I…” Some of the ease left Natsu’s expression again. “Do I have to change my name?”
“Do you want to change your name?” Gray asked.
“No, I like my name.”
“Then of course not, dumbass.”
“But I thought… I mean, Lisanna and Evergreen changed their names,” he said.
“Yeah, and Lisanna and Evergreen had really masculine names that they didn’t like,” he pointed out. “They changed them because they didn’t like them, not because trans people have to change their names. I didn’t change mine.”
“No, you idiot! You thought I did?”
“I don’t know!” He threw his arms up. “I just assumed! And didn’t want to ask! I thought that would be rude!”
Gray couldn’t keep his laughter down for a second longer. He clutched at his chest, his shoulders shaking as he laughed. “You really are dumb sometimes.”
“But, I guess it was nice of you never to ask. But no.” He shook his head. “I never changed my name, and you don’t have to change yours. You don’t have to change anything if you don’t want to.”
Natsu shifted, and leaned down to rest his head on Gray’s. “Thank you… This helped, I think. I already feel… better about all of it. A little more at ease, even if I’m still confused.”
“I’m glad I can help you get even a little bit of this all figured out,” he said. Sure, the figuring out part of it might have been a little easier for Gray himself, but it was really the friends he’d made here that had helped him actually feel settled and sure of himself. So he’d be damned if he couldn’t do that same for Natsu.
His friend still had a lot to figure out, even simple decisions like if or when he wanted anyone else to know, but Gray would make sure he was there for him no matter what. He took Natsu’s hand, and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“Wait! Does this mean Gildarts can stop using the I don’t hit girls excuse when I try to fight him?” Natsu asked, practically vibrating with excitement.
“Dear fucking god, Natsu, of course that’s the first place your brain goes. And tell him that’s sexist anyways.”
“Yeah!” Natsu raised his fists, a determined expression on his face. “I stand up for women, because I’m a good man!”
Gray laughed so loud that Erza actually startled awake.