A/N: Finally, this fic's epilogue is finished. It just kept getting longer and longer. It's a curse, I tell you.
Anyway, this ending was kind of... meh. I think I could have done better but I am just soooo exhausted and short on time. Overall, this was a strange, fun ride. I hope you liked it as much as I did!
Jellal woke up to the feeling of being softly shaken.
His eyes opened slowly, blearily and he found himself surrounded by a familiar room – not his own but rather his son's instead. Erza was there, crouching in front of him, her hand still resting on his arm… the arm that was not wrapped around the slumbering baby on his chest, that was. All appeared to be well.
"Jellal? How do you feel?"
Jellal blinked, a little confused. "Fine." Why was she even asking how he felt? Was there a reason for her to think he might not be perfectly well? Sure, he had just faced a bunch of dark wizards a few… wait, was it hours? Minutes? Seconds? It was weird – a part of him felt like it had been seconds and the others felt like it had been much longer. Something was off… or rather, something was missing. Something to do with… "How did I get home?" he asked. Last he remembered, he had been miles away…
"You were hit by a spell," Erza told him. "Don't you remember what happened afterwards?"
He started to shake his head, but then… flashes. All sorts of memories that made no sense and in no particular order filled his mind. It was too much, too sudden… he couldn't even understand what they meant. "Oh god…" he mumbled.
"Jellal?" she called in alarm. "What is it? Does your head hurt? Are you feeling unwell after all? Should I take you to Porlyusica?"
He shook his head. "No… it's just… everything is a mess in my head. I think I remember. I just… can't make sense of it?"
She appeared relieved by that. "I will tell you what I know. Maybe that will help you putting the pieces together," she offered.
"How long has it been since…?"
"Several hours… around a third of the day."
"A third of a day?! But what about that Dark Guild? Did we get them? And the others… Crime Sorciére…"
"They are all fine and just left to go home," Erza explained. "They took care of the Dark Guild for you. The Council has them now."
"Then what happened to me? Was I unconscious? Did they carry me all the way here?"
Erza shook her head. "I will tell you the whole story in a moment. Let's just go to our room so the baby can sleep…"
She reached to pick up their son from his chest, carefully in order not to wake him, and then carried the little boy over to his crib, where she lay him gently, caressing his silk-soft cheek before stepping away and gesturing for Jellal to come with her.
They walked across the hall towards their own room, where Erza took a seat at the edge of their bed and patted the space next to her, urging him to do the same. He did not hesitate before obeying, sitting down next to her and waiting for her to start the story. She let out a sigh and then did just so.
"A few hours ago, Meredy came by to warn me that you were being brought home in a bit of a state…"
She started by telling him what the pink-haired girl had told her: the fight with the dark guild, him being hit by a spell, what the spell had done, what that had let to… And then, only when she was finished with that part of the story, she started telling him of their interactions afterwards (leaving out, of course, the most embarrassing details). He didn't say a word through it all, just nodding and looking thoughtful, as if sorting through the memories in his mind and putting them in their rightful place. Still, his face had no expression whatsoever. It concerned her somewhat because she couldn't get a read out of him: was the story bothering him? Amusing him? Touching him?
"… you took to Sieg immediately. You didn't even know he was yours and you just… adored him without restrain," she stated, a smile on her face. "It was beautiful to see… even more so after I told you about us and him. You thought you were in heaven… that this life you have now is heaven. In fact, you told me to tell you that after you were back to normal. That your life is heaven and you should enjoy it."
His eyes were on her, watching the jubilant smile on her face as she said that. However, that didn't make him equally delighted as it usually did – it made him feel a little… down… sad, even. "I see…" he said.
Of course, knowing him well, Erza was quick to catch wind of his mood. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," he replied, looking away.
Her face hardened. "Don't lie to me, Jellal. I will not have you close up on me like that. Tell me what you're thinking."
He let out a breath. "Don't mind me, I'm just being…" He paused with a sigh, shaking his head. "The way you were smiling as you told me those things… it made me wonder if you didn't prefer him."
"Him? You mean you."
"Yes… and no. I mean that other me. The… the untainted one," he spoke.
Her face immediately shifted into a frown. "Don't speak like that – you are not tainted. I never thought of you that way. And it's not a matter of preference between versions of you. It's a matter of loving you and wanting you to be as happy as you possibly can. I know that you are happy living with me and Sieg and everything else you have now, but you are never… you are never that carefree. And you enjoying the life you have with so little restrain… it made me very happy on your behalf."
He sighed. "But that wasn't really my life, was it?" he pointed out. "My life is what I am and my sins are part of me. And you didn't tell me about what I did, did you? The slaves I kept in the tower, killing Simon, hurting you…" There was no accusation in his voice. Only sadness – regret.
"Could you really expect me to burden a child with sins he hadn't yet committed?" Or never really would, at least willingly, commit, as far as she was concerned. "Because that was what you were for those past few hours, Jellal – a child who wouldn't harm a fly. And knowing that I hardly think you deserve the guilt you deal with on a daily basis now, would you actually expect me to place that burden on a child?"
He pursed his lips together. He could understand her logic. He could even see himself applying it all the same if it hadn't been him but instead one of his comrades being hit by that spell – his comrades who, like him, had plenty of their pasts to regret. And yet… yet when applied to him it didn't feel right – his guilt just ran too deep for that to be possible. "You are always too kind to me, Erza."
"I am not," she replied easily. "You are just too hard on yourself." Now even more than usual. As she looked sideways at him, she could see that spell had done far more than just sending him 'back' for a few hours: it had rubbed raw those wounds in his heart that had taken her so long to heal. She wondered if those few nostalgic hours that she had spent with a long-lost version of him had been worth this pain for him… she thought not. It made her feel a little guilty that she had enjoyed that 'meeting' with young, joyful Jellal despite it… but since that wasn't something that could be undone, she set out to fix him despite it. The guilt was always there, as much as she despised it, but she had been able to help him through it in the past and she was set on doing it again.
Unaware of her plans, Jellal looked confused as she moved to sit farther away from him on the bed, wondering if he had upset her that much that she would want distance. He was proven wrong, however, when she stretched herself towards him and grabbed his shoulder, starting to tug it downwards in an angle that was clearly meant for him to rest his head on her lap. He did it a bit stiffly at first, her comfort only increasing his guilt at first as a more masochistic part of him wanted to simmer in the pain for as long as possible, but then, once he lay there with his head on her legs as her fingers combed gently through his hair, he started feeling himself surrendering to her nurturing and relaxing.
For a long time, she didn't speak. She just sat there stroking his hair silently, feeling him loosen up as his mind cleared little by little. It was no miracle cure for his current state of mind, but as long as he was a little more relaxed, he would be more open to letting her lift up his mood. So, it wasn't until about ten minutes of silence that she finally spoke. "Please don't feel guilty. You didn't do anything today that should make you feel so bad," she said softly.
He sighed. "I know, but… he… me – other me… he might not really know everything about my life but he did have a point: what we have together… our home, Sieg, the guild… it is heaven. And sometimes…" he paused, sighing, "… sometimes when I compare this to what someone who committed the sins I have deserves, it becomes a little hard to swallow."
"It shouldn't. Your good deeds outnumber your sins by a lot."
"One thing doesn't invalidate the other," he stated. If it did, Simon would be alive… his old friends wouldn't hate him.
Erza sighed. "I am proud of the person you grew up to be. I think little you would have been as well if I had told him and given him enough time to adjust. Your biggest sins concern things you could not control. And as for the things you can control: you are a good husband, a good father, a good team-mate, a good friend, a good mage who stops at nothing to help people… if that doesn't make a good person, I don't know what does. And even more than that, you have surrounded yourself with one of the most infamous dark guilds of all time when you recruited Oracion Seis, you deemed them redeemed of their many, many misdeeds, you call them your comrades, you hold them in great esteem now and yet you can't do the same for yourself."
It wasn't fair when she put things like that. He knew she was wrong… or rather, his mind was hard-wired not to accept her logic as 'right'. But if someone asked him to pinpoint a specific reason as to why, he wouldn't be able to. "Erza…"
"Don't," she told him. "I know this will always be something we won't agree on. I have made my peace with agreeing to disagree, even if I don't like it very much. Just tell me if you will be alright. About today, I mean. That's all that matters."
He sighed, closing his eyes, and for a moment she feared receiving an uncertain answer. What came, however, was different. Very different. "When I am with you, I become a very selfish person. No matter how much part of me feels like I don't have a right to be alright, I know I will be as long as I have you. And now Sieg too. "
She sighed, both relieved and annoyed, because she hardly thought that wanting to be happy was a selfish wish. But it was Jellal just being himself and that was certainly better than a flat 'no', so she would take that as a positive answer and change the subject. Sighing, she reached to stroke the tips of her fingers along his forehead in a caress, leading him to open his eyes. "You were amazing with him today, you know?"
"Sieg," she replied. "The way you acted towards him when you didn't remember or even know that he was yours… You were a dad even when you didn't remember becoming one, which serves to show just how deep your connection runs."
His lips curled a little at that. It wasn't quite a smile but it revealed that his mood was slowly, but surely, improving. "Would you believe me if I said that I was silently set on utterly despising his father before you told me he was mine?" he confessed.
She smiled. "Might it be that jealousy was a factor?"
"Maybe," he admitted. "Like I said, I am a very selfish man when it comes to you."
Again, she didn't respond to that. "So, I take it my assistance has helped you in sorting through your memories, then."
"Yes… things are starting to make more sense in my head. Before, it was just disjointed pieces of a puzzle, but now I can see the image they are starting to form together. I…" he paused, his mind wandering through some of the more embarrassing memories from the past few hours. His face felt hot and by the way Erza seemed amused, he guessed he was blushing. A lot. "I feel like I owe you an apology for a number of things. Starting with… that question…" By which he meant the one concerning the… origins of their son.
At that, Erza stopped looking amused and became embarrassed as well, covering her face with her hands (which had him frowning once they were removed from his head). Stork brought him in a cabbage, she recalled saying. "Oh, god, I can't believe I responded something like that."
"It… it was very creative, really," he said diplomatically. "We might want to think of something a little less… implausible to say when it's our son's turn to ask, but… well, it served its purpose, really." A purpose, he had to admit, that had been shutting him up. But at least, it wasn't as bad as 'shut up or you'll break the entire space-time continuum' as had been Cobra's excuse.
"Please, let's just forget those words ever came out of my mouth," she begged. "Please."
"Done. But… concerning the rest… like the… unwarranted touching and the embarrassing comments… not just from today – I suppose from all those years ago too…" God, he had scarcely remembered just how much of socially-clueless bumpkin he used to be all those years before – in hindsight, he wondered why Erza had even been able to stand him in the first place. "I am really, really sorry…"
"Don't apologize for that," she told him, blushing herself. "It… it was a little awkward but it was just part of your charm, to be honest. And as for today, we are married, so it hardly matters."
He knew that, but somehow it hadn't felt that way while he was all... kiddy. And judging by the way she had blushed so often in his memory, she had probably felt the same. But if she was willing to let that go, who was he to protest?
He closed his eyes as he felt her hands returning to this scalp, drawing relaxing little invisible lines on it with the tips of her fingers. He felt like he could fall asleep again right then and there, dinner be damned. It had been such a strange, overwhelming day… he really didn't think he could take much more of it.
"I missed having you home," Erza said, her smile sounding in her voice. "I'm glad you made it back alright." Confused, but in one piece, at least.
"Me too," he replied in a low tone. "I missed being home."
And as he said the word home, a very different one echoed in his mind. Because his younger self might have been a handsy, altogether-embarrassing little kid, but he'd had his own moments of wisdom: his home – his life as it was now – was heaven alright. And even if it cost him sometimes, he would gladly go on being selfish in order to keep it.