"I take it," Erza sighed softly, looking over the boy with evident disdain and (in his mind at least) disappointment, "that the job did not go well."
His disheveled silvery hair and completely tattered clothing were not the worst part of the boy's appearance. Rather that belong to the dark, purple bruises adorning both eyes and various other patches of skin showing. She could see some blood on what was left of his right pant leg, but had no way of telling if it belonged to him or his intended target.
As if to prove himself to the swordswoman, the young boy held up his right hand in which a sack was clutched tightly.
"This," he told her, blue eyes wide and shining, clashing heavily with the purple marks surrounding them, "was my reward."
The change in her face would have been indescribable for anyone else, but he caught it. After years of practically apprenticing under her, it was only natural.
"Ah." She nodded her head slightly. "Then you will be able to pay for a new set of clothes all on your own, hmmm? And not bother your mother with it?"
If he was good at reading her, she was even more skilled at discerning his subtleties. The way that his hand shook then and retracted some was enough to cause her to reach out and take the sack from him.
"Orion," she chided slightly at the sight of only what appeared to be stale biscuits inside the sack. "It cost more to travel there and back by train. Was this your only reward? You are not lying to me?"
Of course not. He wasn't stupid.
At the shake of his head, she moved to hand the sack back.
"And this was the reward posted on the request you took?" she asked to which he nodded. "Why would you ever-"
"Because no one else would. It'd been up there forever." He was looking her straight in the eyes too, as he spoke, as if to force her into seeing his side of things. "And they needed someone."
"Their reward clearly was not worthy of the task they presented you with," she said, referring to the heavy beating he'd acquired. "And what have you come to me for then? Hmmm?"
That time all she got was a shrug, but it wouldn't have mattered anyhow, as Erza had heard enough. Reaching out, she grabbed the arm that looked the least bruised and took to dragging him off to the kitchen, no doubt with the intention of cleaning him up a bit.
"Surely," she continued once they were in there and she was leaning down, scrubbing gently (and to his annoyance) at the grime covering his face, "you could have done this on your own."
He hissed when she rubbed too hard on an open wound. Turning his head, he grumbled out, "I can't go home."
"Why not? Were you not supposed to go out on a job?"
"Did you skip town without doing your chores?"
"Then what is it, Orion? Hmmm?"
Letting out a slight breath, he said softly, "Mom got mad at me last time I came home all beat up and said that I was too young to take big jobs and that if I came home like that again...like this...then…."
"And you wish to hide out here then?" she asked. "Until you heal a bit?"
He lifted his head then. "Can I?"
Erza grinned at him, softly, and she always looked a little odd to him, when she was just hanging around the house in an undershirt and shorts instead of her armor, but it usually helped him relax some. That was good.
She only patted him gently on the top of the head then before saying, "No."
But that wasn't fair. Because he stayed over all the time with Erza. Literally all the time. Next to his Aunt Lisanna and Uncle Elf, she was the only one that he frequently spent time without outside of his mother. And if he needed a place to stay, then why couldn't it be-
And Orion heard it then, as they both fell silent. The sound of water running, her shower no doubt, was very clear to him. Not to mention the distantly familiar immense magical power he could feel. He'd mistaken it for Erza's before, in his haste, but it was stronger.
"Besides, Orion," she was going on, unaware of his realization. "I cannot lie to your mother. Not something like this. You are the one that took this job. Now you must face the consequences. Believe me, Mirajane will not ban you from-"
"Is it Jellal?"
"Huh?" Erza blinked before frowning down at him. "What?"
"In the shower." Orion pointed then, but it wasn't relative to anything. Just as a show that it was somewhere else in the house. "Is Jellal here? Is that why I can't stay?"
His tone held more, of course, than just the curiosity of a twelve year old, his blue eyes glinting slightly. Of all the knowledge to send him home to Mirajane with, the fact that her once rival was, erm, entertaining a wanted fugitive (the only wanted fugitive that she wouldn't just turn in, anyhow) at her house was not one of them.
There was a battle then, albeit a quick one, between the two of them. No words were spoken and neither moved a muscle, but their eyes said it all. She'd long subconsciously taught him the value of a good bluffing face and, well, perhaps she was a better teacher than she thought.
Glancing off, Erza stared down the hall, where the man in question was very much so in the shower, before sighing. With a shake of her head, she leaned down to stare at Orion once more. He was about to the point that she couldn't do that any longer and, honestly, in a year, when he hit a big growth spurt, she wouldn't be able to, but she didn't know about that yet and to cherish the time she had left where she was not only vastly more powerful magically, but also physically.
"A dead man," she began hauntingly, tapping a finger gently against his nose.
"Tells no tales," he agreed with a nod of his head.
There. They were even.
Because that wasn't the only secrets he and Erza inadvertently traded. No, there were many over the years. Even before that point. He could even recall for many years, if not decades, after that, the first occasion in which the idiom was coined between the two of them.
He was probably about five. That's when he first could remember staying with Erza so much. With only Mirajane raising him and Lisanna, who'd lived with them his entire life up to that point, having long moved out, he no longer could just be left at home when Mirajane left for work. Instead, he either had to be moved to Lisanna's apartment (which Mira could no doubt tell bugged her younger sister at times), go hang out with his Aunt Ever and Uncle Elf (a completely volatile relationship that, really, Mira wasn't always so certain she wanted him around), or one of Mirajane's guild friends.
The problem with the latter was, however, that by that point, most had children of their own. Ones that for some reason, Orion just never seemed to get along with. At all. If it was possible to be awkward, even at the age of five, he very much so was.
Which paired him perfectly with Erza, who seemed to make any situation awkward at any given time. Once, when everyone else was busy, Mirajane just happened to ask her to babysit by chance and she was free, so Erza agreed. Orion liked her so much that she slowly became his regular keeper and, later, when she introduced him to archery (on accident, when she was attempting to humble brag about some of her weaponry), his mentor.
It was on one of those very days, when the hall was getting slammed and Mirajane pushed him off on the swordswoman on her way out of there that it happened.
A Natsu attack!
Err, rather, Natsu and Erza happened to cross paths on the property and he was all pumped about something and had one of his kids with him and, well, when did he ever not ask Erza to fight? Hmmm?
So they did. And it was pretty epic. And even though Laxus Dreyar, even at that age, was the only mage that Orion wished to model himself after, it was very satisfying to see Erza eventually finish with Natsu and be declared the victor. Only for once, she didn't stick around to gloat or complain about him attacking her out of nowhere (okay, so maybe it was less of an ask and more of an ambush; hence Natsu attack). Rather, she only took Orion's hand and drug him away, passed all the onlookers and quickly back to her tiny home.
"What's wrong?" he'd asked when she transformed out of her armor and into a simple undershirt. "Erza?"
"Stay," she said, no doubt wishing him to remain in her living room as she rushed off to the bathroom. There was no way that that was happening though and, following right behind her, he watched as she gingerly lifted the undershirt up to reveal a massive gash. It looked pretty gnarly, especially to a five year old. It was bleeding pretty bad too.
"Hush." She was standing there, in the bathroom, staring at the cut in the mirror. "It looks much worse than-"
"Natsu did that to you?" Orion was a tad confused. He didn't know much about Natsu other than he was loud and annoying and that he had a really pretty wife who was best friends with his mother, and that Laxus (again, at that time his idol) complained about him frequently. He'd heard a few stories, from his mother, about the Salamander, but at his age, it hadn't really connected that they were one in the same. The thought that Natsu could hurt Erza, who he held in high regard, was unfathomable. "Really?"
She let out a long sigh as she dropped the undershirt, blood staining it some more then, before moving to open her medicine cabinet. "It is rude to come into the bathroom when someone else is in it. Especially a lady."
"Are you gonna be okay? Erza?"
"Of course, Orion. As I said, it appears worse than-"
"How come you came home?" He was still staring at her in wonder. "And not let Mommy or somebody look at it? Back at the guild?"
"I tend to my own wounds."
It was actually rather simple. Erza felt as if she did a much better job dealing with such things than others did. Not to mention, it would get blown out of proportion (especially by Natsu in that situation) if she let others know that she was sporting a sanguinary injury. It wasn't so much that she wished to cultivate some sort of invincible persona (she had it either way and had for years), but rather the hassle of it all was undesirable to the woman.
"You," she told Orion with an air of annoyance, "are very inquisitive today. Now go-"
"You gotta tell Mommy."
That was a rule. Just a given. Really. If he fell down and got a cut and it was bleeding, like real bleeding, then he had to tell her. She said so. And what she said went.
It was kinda a rule too.
He was only five, after all.
"No, Orion. You cannot tell-"
"You have to."
"You have to!"
Rolling her eyes, Erza only moved to shove him out of the bathroom so that she could finally tend to the darn thing. He was rather upset by that point, thinking that she was attempting to break the rule by concealing such a thing, and sat outside the door, waiting for her.
When the door finally opened and he began to hound her again about this frivolous rule that she attempted to explain only applied to him, as he was Mirajane's child, while she was certainly not, Erza came up with a very simple solution.
"It is a….secret."
That peaked his interest.
"Uh-huh." Erza led him back to the living room, to find something for him to fill his time over at her house with. "Between you and I. You know what those are, yes?"
Of course. He kept all sorts of secrets.
But not ones that might affect the sanctity of Mirajane's rule.
"You gotta tell."
"Orion," she groaned, glancing down at him. It was then that something crossed her mind, if only for a minute and, bending down so that they were somewhat more on even ground, she stared into his deep blue eyes. "You will not tell anyone."
"Remember," she threatened then. "Dead men tell no tales."
Which had him completely stumped as to what that was supposed to mean, but he knew what dead and men were, so he pretty much kept his trap shut on the subject.
Looking back, he realized, obviously, that Erza was not being serious, but for the longest time, through out the course of months that accumulated with her as, honestly, his closest friend, when that phrase was uttered, he knew better than to tell anyone about what he'd seen. Like the time the woman ate four strawberry cheese cakes in one sitting (minus one piece that went to him because, well, she wasn't completely heartless). Or the time that it was totally her that started that very vicious rumor about poor Lucy (albeit accidentally), though Happy took the blame. Dead men tell no tales though and, well, even though he'd overheard Erza let it slip that the woman had lice (okay, so less vicious and more nasty as in gross), his lips were as sealed as a corpse's.
It worked both ways though. Or at least it did in theory. Erza, of course, could break the oath at any times (the chance of him following through on killing her were next to none), but she humored him on occasion. Such as when he would skip out on instructions from Mirajane or purposely avoid chores and claim some sort of wild excuse. He and Erza could close ranks better than a trained brigade. Erza was his beloved mentor (and occasional tormentor if he disobeyed) and he was her prized student. What were secrets between friends? Or the dead?
Much was the same that day that he caught Jellal at the woman's house. And, with a sigh, she only tended to his wounds before sending him back to the woods, to camp out for the next two days that Jellal was there and, if his wounds hadn't healed enough to head home, to return back to her place at that point.
He was just back out the door when the man in question came strolling into the kitchen, only in a towel, and making a beeline for the basket of fruit setting on her table.
"Who was that at the door?" he asked, glancing at the swordswoman, who was debating whether or not to wait for him to take a bite of the apple or tell him before hand that it had been sitting there for awhile and was no doubt rotten.
Letting his taste buds do some work, she only shook her head from her seat at the table before saying, "Only the dead."
"Mmmm- Ugh." He immediately moved to spit the apple back in his hand, ruining the very witty response he had prepared for that. Something about hoping it wasn't for him or whatever. The taste of that apple put it completely out of his mind. "When is that last time the changed that fruit out?"
"Believe me," she sighed as he went to wash his mouth out with a glass of water. "Longer than you wish to know."
I don't know, I was just kinda in the mood for some Erza and Orion because they were definitely one of my favorite parts of A Dragon's Love. Then again, writing about Erza and anyone's pretty great, so I guess that's not saying much. Heh. It only makes sense that they'd have a morbid inside joke. To me anyways. Hard to assign a chapter placement setting to this one-shot, given that A Dragon's Love was so sporadic and less linear with the story, but I don't really think it matters anyhow.