A/N: Here is my belated submission for the last day of 2015 Jerza Week! This was initially meant to be a one-shot but it became so unbearably large that I decided to split it into two. It's not quite finished - it's at about 90% at this point.
First, let me say that this is one of this kind of things that sounded a whole lot better in my head than they do on paper. It's a bit wacky and different from what I usually do but I figured what the hell. The prompt was 'future' so I figured it fits like a glove.
Well, enjoy the read. Part 2 should be up before the end of the week (although I am starting to work full-time tomorrow...).
"Before I say anything else, let me assure you that Jellal will be perfectly fine."
Those were the first words Meredy said when Erza opened the door of her house. And obviously, rather than being relieved by them, their effect on Erza was just the opposite.
"Where is he? What happened?"
"The others are bringing him over. I came ahead to warn you."
By 'others', she meant the rest of the Old Crime Sorciére. On occasion, when the mission called for it, their guilds and the council would allow them all to join forces like old times. Such had been the case that time, when a Dark Guild started wreaking havoc down south: Angel and Midnight had come from Sabertooth and Racer and Richard from Lamia, joining forces with their Fairy Tail group, consisting of Jellal, Meredy and Cobra.
"'Bringing him over'?!" Erza questioned in alarm. "You mean he cannot walk himself? Is he unconscious?!"
"Just a tiny bit," Meredy told.
"What is that supposed to mean?!"
"It means don't worry about it. It's a non-issue," the pink-haired girl waved it away. "Basically, what you need to know is that he got sort of hit by some creeper's magic…"
"What type of magic?!" But then, she shook her head. "Forget it – I'll see it myself!"
And, immediately, she tried to make it out of the door, moving past Meredy… who latched onto her arm, pulling back.
"Wait! Where are you going? I told you he's fine! And isn't Sieg-chan in the house? Are you planning to leave him alone?"
The mention of her son seemed to work on stopping Erza from her mission of hunting Jellal and the disbanded Oración Seis down. She pursed her lips together, conflicted, and then looked at Meredy, a serious look on her face. "Promise me he's fine."
"I do! I really do! Trust me, we covered all the bases – Cobra got everything he possibly could out of the guy concerning his magic." He might or might not even have resorted to methods that bordered on illegal, but everything was acceptable to ensure the well-being of their leader. "He's not harmed physically beyond a bunch of minor scratches and bruises. He's just a tad… confused."
"Confused? I thought you said he was unconscious," Erza pointed out.
"Well, yeah, sure, but that was after the fact. Just ignore it altogether."
"Ignore it?! How am I supposed to do such a thing?"
Meredy shrugged. "I dunno. Just do! Like I said, it's not important. Anyway, as I was saying, he got hit by some spell. Physically, it does nothing – it's just meant to disorient people for a bunch of hours… basically, leave them so confused that they couldn't possibly fight back. We were around, though, so we covered for Jellal and captured the guy. Cobra searched his thoughts from top to bottom and he said the effects usually last something like seven to eight hours. It happened this morning, so it must have been… six, maybe six-and-a-half hours since then, which means he should be back to normal really soon. In the meantime he's just… well…"
"Yes?" Erza pressed on.
Meredy sighed. "Remember how I said the guy incapacitates people by confusing them?" she asked, getting a nod in return. "Well, he does it in a pretty strange way. Basically, he sends them back."
Erza frowned. "Back to where?"
The pink-haired girl scratched the back of her head. "Not where… when." There was a moment of silence after she said that. "Basically, he thinks he's ten."
Again, silence. For a whole minute.
"He thinks he's what?!"
"It's totally temporary!" Meredy shouted defensively. "I swear, if it wasn't, it would be the first time it happened. Doranbolt even looked him over when we handed the crooks to the Rune Knights and he said the memory block was already straining to hold together, so please, please don't kill us!"
… and Erza was back to her silent self. That was, until a new voice sounded.
"Oh, good, there's a bench outside. Just dump him there and be done with it."
It was Angel, having snuck up behind Erza to stand at the bottom of the stairs leading up onto the porch alongside her old guild and Jellal… who was supported on Cobra and Racer's shoulders, head slumped forward in complete unconsciousness.
"Oh, God!" Erza said in alarm, that time unable to stop herself from running all the way to them. As soon as she reached them, she went for Jellal and touched his face, softly shaking him. "Jellal? Jellal, wake up." He didn't respond, dead to the world. "Jellal! Can't you hear me?! Wake up!" And, again, nothing. Her eyes widened and she turned around to glare daggers at Meredy, who was mostly hiding behind Richard's large body. "I thought you said his unconsciousness was not an issue! So why won't he wake up? Why is he unconscious in the first place?!"
"Because I made him so." That response did not come from Meredy. It did, instead, come from Midnight, who was casually inspecting the black varnish covering his nails.
Erza inhaled sharply and summoned a sword into her hand, pointing right at the man's face so that it was about an inch from his nose. He didn't seem fazed at all. "Give me a reason not to put this through your face."
Midnight just looked bored. "He was being annoying."
The redhead blinked. "Eh?"
"In his renowned youthfulness, our leader may have been slightly… too enthusiastic for some of our tastes," Richard provided.
"He wouldn't shut up!" Cobra growled, starting to move towards the wooden loveseat so he and Racer could dump Jellal onto it. "And his head was even louder than his voice. It was so goddamn maddening!"
"He tried to give us last names based on the color of our hair," Racer stated, sounding disgusted. Then, he shot Angel and Richard resentful looks. "Those of us who don't have last names, anyway."
"Hey, don't act like we weren't victims too!" Angel (a.k.a. Sorano Aguria) spat back. "He kept pulling on the feathers of my dress and asking if I was a bird. A bird! If he doesn't change back, I vote that we kick him out of the guild!"
"We're not really a guild anymore…" Meredy quietly pointed out. "And we're not kicking him out of anything. He'll be just fine."
"Whatever – if he touches my feathers again, I will break his fingers," Angel said, bitchy as ever. Then, she turned to Erza. "You married the idiot, so he's your problem now. I'm out. Eyeliner!" she called and, apparently, Midnight seemed to turn to face her, said title being one of the many derogatory nicknames she had for him. "Come along. We're getting back to Sabertooth – I'm not leaving Yuki-chan alone with those perverted Dragon Slayers any longer than I have to."
Midnight just shrugged and followed her as she walked away, either resigned to obeying her or eager for the opportunity to take a nap that the train ride provided.
"Hey!" Meredy called after him. "At least wake him up, you ass!"
"Hmm… I think I'll wait to release the spell at least until we reach the station," he announced while retreating with his back turned to them.
"I've got a thing too," Cobra informed them, walking past Erza after his two previous guild mates. "So, yeah… see ya."
"Erik!" Meredy scolded, disapproving of him making a run for it as well.
Erza didn't look much impressed either.
"Erza-san," Richard said. "If you require assistance in handling Jellal-san, I would be happy to stay behind and help."
Racer shrugged. "I guess I won't mind helping around too, as long as the boss doesn't try to rename me again," he mumbled. "If he does, I'm running as fast as I can."
"But you might have to provide us with lodging for the night, Erza-san," Richard warned her. "The last train to Margaret Town should be running shortly. There won't be another until the morning."
Erza was torn… the help could come handy but if Jellal really thought he was ten and mostly acted like his ten-year-old self had before, then that would mean… no social bearings, no filter, innocently wandering hands, invasions of personal space… her cheeks colored. Maybe she'd take her chances by herself. "Thank you, Richard, Sawyer… I'm touched by the offer but there is no need for you to put off going home. So, I think I will be able to handle him myself."
"Are you sure, Erza-san? You also have your little boy to look after."
"Add the boss to that and you'll have two brats rather than one," Racer commented.
"It would not be my first time dealing with a ten-year-old Jellal, so it should not be too much of an issue."
Richard sighed. "Well, if you are sure… "
"I am," Erza stated. "Give my regards to Lamia."
"We will, Erza-san. We'll get in touch as soon as we arrive, to see how Jellal-san is doing," he informed her, already starting to retreat.
Once they were gone, several yards down the road, Erza turned to Meredy. "You don't have to stay either, Meredy. You have been gone all week – you must be looking forward to going back to Fairy Hills and relaxing a bit."
"Hmmm… you won't hear me arguing with that. But hey, at least give me the chance to make the least selfless offer of help ever by suggesting that I take Sieg-chan off your hands for a little while. I make no promises about him being returned before he gets spoiled rotten – Fairy Hills has a few too many eager aunties for that to be possible."
Erza sighed. "I'd be tempted to take you up on that, but it's taken me hours to get him to take a nap today, so it's best not to wake him up until he does it on his own. Teething has kept him very fussy lately… he'd probably just cry and cry as soon as he woke up and I wasn't around." It was too bad – she had no idea how to explain the baby to a version of Jellal who didn't remember anything past age ten. Hopefully – just hopefully – her son would simply sleep peacefully until his dad was back to normal.
"Aw, poor thing…" Meredy said, just a tad disappointed that she wouldn't get to spend time with the baby she saw as her nephew for all intents and purposes after all. Then again, she wasn't sure how well she would be able to handle the baby if he was that fussy… "I guess it is better to let him sleep it out while you can," she mumbled before changing. "Anyway, there's something I'd been meaning to ask you all day: was Jellal actually like that?"
Erza raised an eyebrow. "Like what?"
"All cheerful and talkative!" Meredy said. "He kept shooting questions in all directions and if there were any walls to climb, he would have climbed them – it was kind of adorable at first, to be honest. So, is that it? Was he really that way before Ultear… well, you know?"
The redhead sighed. "Yes. That is how he used to be like," she confirmed, sadly.
Meredy frowned. "Well damn… I knew he'd been dealt a pretty crappy hand back then but to see the difference…" She paused, shaking her head. "Anyway, I should probably warn you: those questions he asked… a bunch of them were about you and your friends. You know, Milliana, Wally, Shô…"
"…Simon and Grandpa Rob," Erza finished for her, starting to look pained. "What did you…?"
"I said they were away, travelling," Meredy told her. "I didn't specify which ones of them I was referring to. It just seemed… kinder that way. I know he'll probably get mad that I didn't tell him at least about Simon once he remembers, what with his whole 'must live with my sins for the rest of my life' thing, but… he was just so cheerful. I'd never seen him that way before! I couldn't just crush him all over again by telling him! If you want him to know, though…"
Erza shook her head. "No. You did the right thing. Jellal is often too hard on himself… you saved me from having to cover it up myself."
Meredy let out a breath of relief. "Good. So… be sure to tell him that after he remembers, okay? Maybe then he'll go easier on me…"
"I will," Erza vowed.
"Well, I guess I'll be going, then," the pink-haired girl said. "If you need anything, I'm just a com-lacrima call away… and if you don't, call anyway when he's back to normal. Just in case."
Erza nodded and, with that, Meredy started turning around… until she paused.
"Oh, take a look at who's starting to wake up!" she said excitedly, pointing at something behind Erza – something that could only be Jellal.
The assumption was confirmed when she turned around and found Jellal indeed stirring on the loveseat.
"Well, I'll let you guys catch up, then! Bye-bye!" she heard Meredy announcing behind her and as she turned around to face her, she saw the girl was already several yards away.
A groan came from the general area around the loveseat and she found herself turning around to look at Jellal again. By then, he was not only stirring but also sleepily rubbing his eyes with his hands.
"Mmm… when did I fall asleep?" he mumbled.
His voice was soft – that was the first thing that Erza noticed. Much softer than usual – not like a child's, as he had obviously grown up and his voice had naturally deepened in his teenage years, but he was certainly not using his usual tone of voice. It served to indicate that something was, indeed, off with him – in that case, memory.
After he was done rubbing his eyes, he blinked sleepily and looked around. "Hey, where did those guys g…?" He ceased speaking when his eyes finally focused and landed on Erza. His mouth gaped open like a fish as his eyes were filled with recognition. "Y… you… you're… are you…?" he paused for a moment and when he spoke again, he managed not to stutter. "You're Erza. Grownup Erza."
She could not get used to hearing him speaking so softly, yet looking just the same as he's had three days ago when he'd left in his mission. "Yes," she managed to reply, almost in a whisper.
His eyes were wide like saucers. "Wow…" he mumbled, still staring at her. "You're so…" And he paused again.
…Old? Erza tried to guess what he was about to say. She recalled being a child and thinking everyone over age twenty must be ancient. It was no wonder he would think the sa…
"You're so pretty!"
Eh? she thought in disbelief, eyeing him like he had grown a second head. Had he just called her pretty? She felt her cheeks starting to redden like a tomato. She should have seen it coming – it was basically the old Jellal, blunt and oblivious as ever. And it just made no sense that the compliment would affect her this much – they were married, after all. He called her things like 'pretty' and variations of said adjective all the time. So, why in the world would she feel embarrassed by that? In a way, it felt like she was interacting with somebody else entirely even if she knew she was not.
Before she could register him moving, she found Jellal right by her. Right by. And again, she beat her perception of movement when she suddenly felt him touching the long strands of hair, a purely delighted look on his face.
"Your hair is so much longer…and thicker! It's even nicer like this!" he commented, completely oblivious to the fact that he was standing a tad too close to her.
Her face was burning, finding that he somehow had the same effect on her as he used to have all those years before. And somehow, that made him giggle.
"It's so funny. You still get really red all of a sudden when I touch your hair."
The poor, clueless boy… It tugged at her heartstrings to see him like that again: so innocent, so naïve about certain things, so utterly joyful. Before she could help it, she found herself leaning forward and wrapping her arms around him in a hug. "I missed you," she whispered without thinking.
He blinked, his chin resting just above her right shoulder and his cheek pressed against her hair. "What? Why? Aren't I around anymore?"
She sighed. "You are… but it's different. Not bad different. Just… different."
"Oh," he mumbled. "Should I… apologize?"
Her lips curled a little. "No. People change as they get older. It's only natural. I l-like older you as well."
"You seem the same to me," he remarked, lowering his chin to her shoulder.
He had no idea… none at all, she thought, taking a breath. "I am not. I've changed too."
"You're still Erza enough – I can still see plenty of the Erza I know in you. Just in a bigger package."
Erza felt herself blushing a little at the word 'bigger'. Stop being silly, she told herself. Certainly he only meant her height rather than… other bigger things. She had grown quite an amount ever since she was…
"Hey, how come your chest is so squishy now?"
She let out a pained shriek and jumped back unexpectedly, staring at him with wide eyes. He on the other hand, had his eyes on her breasts, as if trying to confront that sight with his memories of little Erza.
"L-let's just… go in," she mumbled, turning on her heel and walking in into the house through the door she had left open. Hopefully – just hopefully, he would drop that line of questioning.
Thankfully, it worked. Once he was in, his eyes widened and looked everywhere as if in wonder. "Wow, this place is so nice! Do you live here alone?"
"No," Erza replied after a moment of hesitation. I live with you and our baby, she thought. But she couldn't say it, could she? It was just too awkward… and he was supposed to remember it on his own soon enough, so it might not even need to come up, as long as Sieg just slept through it, so… yeah, it was best to leave it at that.
"Good – this place is too big for just one person," he said.
The house wasn't even that large, really – it was only a couple of rooms upstairs and another one downstairs, which was about half of what, for instance, Mira's house. Of course, only recalling having lived in a cell shared with six other people for several years, anything with more than one room would look big in Jellal's eyes.
"What's that?" Jellal asked, pointing at a random item in the room.
It was the first of many. For the next ten minutes, Jellal just used up his time by finding random things (the sort that he probably hadn't had around in his childhood such as movie lacrimas and Erza's trident-coat-hanger) whose purpose he could ask about. The one that fascinated him the most had been the lacrima-vision, which he regarded with amazement, his face inches away from the screen to assure himself that the people in it were not trapped in the crystal like Erza had assured him.
"Wow… the future is full of great things… too bad I have to get back," he mumbled, downcast.
Erza frowned. "Eh? The future? And go back where?"
"You know… the past. 'Cause I travelled in time to the future."
The redhead blinked for a moment. "You did what?! Who told you such a thing?"
"That guy with the scar on his eye… I think his name was Snake or something. He said I traveled to the future and if didn't quit asking questions, I'd learn too much and destroy the space-time continuum. The bird girl called him a genius when he said it, so I guess he knows about that kind of thing."
She covered her own face with her hands, seeing through the ploy clearly meant to just get Jellal to shut up… which, apparently, had not really worked, even though his ten-year-old mind was innocent enough to believe what he had been told. Honestly, the lengths those idiots would go just not to have to deal with child-who-wasn't-quite-a-child's questions. She was going to have to have a word with Crime Sorcière about their methods… especially Cobra, who appeared to have been the main culprit.
"Hey, Erza, you don't think I have ruined too much of that time-continuum thingy already, do you? 'Cause I'm trying not to ask too much, but I just can't help it! It's not going to end the world, is it?"
Erza groaned. She had her work cut out for her alright.
To be continued...