The house was dark when he closed the door behind him. He left his cloak on the rack and his boots nearby. Laundry bins lined the short walkway that led to the kitchen and Jellal grabbed a fresh smelling pair of pajama pants and a t-shirt from the basket nearest the door. A small population of used dishes were piled in the sink and the sight of them made him smile. Reminders that he lived surrounded by family brought him happiness – even if the reminders were messy.
A pair of small legs were draped over the arm of the couch. Jellal noticed them as soon as he stepped into the living room. The sleeping boy had an open book across his chest and one arm dangled lazily off the edge of the cushions. His hair was of a familiar blue shade; Erza often joked that he looked so much like his father she would have a hard time telling them apart when he grew up. Jellal crouched beside him, carefully removed the book, and set it aside. The boy stirred and his eyes fluttered open.
"Hey, dad. Did I make it?" he asked quietly.
Jellal chuckled and helped his son into a sitting position. "Did you make what?"
"I wanted to wait up for you." Ren rubbed his eyes and squinted at the clock above the fireplace. "Have you just come home?"
"I did, and I'm afraid you were sound asleep." Jellal put on a more serious expression. "Did your mother approve of this plan?"
Ren smiled sheepishly. "I didn't exactly ask her permission."
"I see." He took up the book and examined the binding. "Elemental Magic Theory and Practical Application, huh? That's pretty heavy stuff for a kid your age."
"I wanna be just like you dad. I figure if I work really hard I can be a Wizard Saint by the time I'm fifteen!"
Not wanting to dampen the boy's spirit, Jellal simply reached out and tidied Ren's sleep ruffled hair. "Take it easy on yourself, okay? There's not a rush."
"Mom told me you'd say that."
"She knows me pretty well, I guess." He stood and pulled Ren to his feet. "Let's get you to bed. You don't want to get caught out here in the morning and give yourself away."
Ren paused and glanced up at Jellal. "You won't rat me out will you, dad? I just wanted to be the first one to see you when you came home."
"It'll be our secret." Jellal followed Ren into his room and brought the blankets over him when the boy settled on the bed. "Listen, Ren, about the magic books... magic can be very... consuming. It's one thing to wield a weapon, but it's another to know how to use it."
"I promise I'm careful." Jellal stared down into his son's earnest face and smiled. He sat on the edge of Ren's bed and folded his hands together.
"I'm very proud of you." Ren's face lit up. "And I know you'll be able to accomplish whatever you set your mind to do. Just don't forget to enjoy being a kid."
"I won't, dad." Jellal leaned over to ruffle his son's hair once more before leaving him to sleep. When he reached the door, Ren spoke again very softly. "Dad?"
"What is it, son?"
"Will you be home for a while?" Jellal turned back around to face the dark bedroom. "I think mom misses you a lot when you're gone on long trips."
Jellal felt his chest tighten. "I know she does, and I miss all of you when I'm called away."
"I wish the council wasn't so selfish," Ren muttered.
"Would it make you feel better if I told you I won't be going away again for at least another several months?"
Ren yawned widely and rolled over under his blankets. "Yeah, but you should probably tell that to mom."
"I'll handle your mom." Jellal watched as Ren's eyes slid shut and his face slackened in sleep. His son showed great promise as a wizard but his real love wasn't in the doing but the learning how. His thirst for new things wouldn't be quenched with only the heavy book that still sat on the table in the living room. With Ren there would always be a new hunt and a new chase.
On his way down the hallway toward the bedroom he shared with Erza. Jellal stumbled over a stuffed bunny that squeaked when his foot landed on its belly. He sighed and kicked the toy aside. So much for a stealthy approach. He realized once he peeked in the master bedroom that the bunny hadn't given him away after all. However, it appeared that there would be one last thing he had to take care of before climbing in bed with his wife.
A tangle of red hair, too dark to be Erza's, fanned out over his pillow. The body the hair was attached to took up an astonishing amount of room, as well. Hoshi commanded quite a bit of room in general, though. She reminded Jellal of himself when he was much younger. His daughter may have been similar to Erza in appearance but her personality was just as audacious as his used to be. At three years old, Hoshi was already a force to be reckoned with.
Jellal slid his arms around her small form and, even in sleep, Hoshi wrapped herself around him like an octopus. He tossed his pajamas on the bed before heading back down the hallway to put his daughter to bed. Her hands had to be pried from his clothes and once he pulled away, Hoshi's eyes flew open.
"Daddy," she whispered loudly. "Where's Fufu?" Her question seemed to come from nowhere but she had no understanding of context. Jellal pressed his finger to his lips in a shushing motion and stepped back outside her room to grab the stuffed pink bunny he'd tripped over before.
"You can't leave Fufu in the hallway, okay? She'll get lost." Jellal handed over the rabbit and Hoshi clutched it to her chest with a giggle.
"Silly daddy. Fufu is a boy!"
"Boys can get just as lost as girls." He poked her in the belly before pulling the blankets up to her chin. "Get some sleep, okay?"
Hoshi reached out to him and tugged on the front of his shirt. Jellal stretched out next to her and she smiled sleepily as she touched the stubborn strands of hair that always hung in his eyes.
"Your hair is softer than mommy's," she said quietly.
"Yep. I like it better. How come you gave your hair to Ren and not me?"
Jellal smiled and nudged Hoshi's smaller nose with his. "You have your mom's hair and it's the most beautiful hair in the world."
"That's what makes it special." Jellal curled a strand of Hoshi's hair around his finger. "Did you know that your mom's hair was the first part of her I ever loved?"
Hoshi sighed and smiled. "Will you tell me about it?"
"Soon. For now, though, you need to go to sleep."
"Okay, daddy." Hoshi held Fufu against her chest and stuffed her hands beneath the pillow. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight." Jellal kissed her forehead and eased out of her ridiculously tiny bed. He shut her door as quietly as possible and sucked in a surprised breath when a pair of arms slid around his waist.
"You're home," Erza breathed into his back. "I missed you."
His hands covered hers and gently squeezed. "So I hear."
"Ren is too observant for his own good," she huffed. Jellal turned in her embrace and smiled down at her.
"You don't think it's a good thing for him to see that you miss me?" He couldn't stop himself from drawing his fingers through her hair. He'd been doing it without thought since he was a child and now that Erza was a permanent fixture in his life he had no intention of stopping.
"I suppose it's not the worst thing." Erza moved her arms from around his waist to his neck. She leaned up to press her forehead against his. "I'm glad you're back."
"I hate being away for so long," he said brushing her cheek with his lips.
"It's only a few times a year and I don't want you to feel guilty about it." Erza pulled back and looked up and into his eyes. He smiled and kissed her mouth.
"I'll try to reign in the guilt."
"I'm serious, Jellal. Just because I miss you blatantly enough for Ren to notice doesn't mean I don't understand why you're gone." She hugged him close again and sniffed his shirt. "You smell like the road."
"Well before you accosted me in this hallway, I'd planned on bathing before you had a chance to smell me." Erza smiled up at him and pulled him down the hallway and into their room.
"You do that and then I want to show you something."
"Yes, Jellal, something. So hurry up."
The hot water was exactly as refreshing as he wanted it to be. The side-effect, however, was exhaustion. By the time he stepped from the spray and wrapped himself in a towel all Jellal wanted was to fall into his pillows and sleep for ten hours.
Erza had different plans. As soon as he was next to her she slid her hand below the waistband of his pants.
"You shouldn't have bothered with these," she purred. Even though he was beyond tired, and even though he'd been awake for the better part of the last forty-eight hours, Erza's touch awakened a primal need within him.
Jellal grasped her wrist and pinned the exploratory hand above her head as he rolled over on top of her. His hand moved upwards and his fingers pressed between hers. He kissed her slowly but with building vivacity. When his tongue brushed against her lips, Jellal felt a low moan in her chest. He knew her body was strong but she was still soft beneath him. His hand at her waist skimmed over her rib cage to settle over her breast. Erza arched her body into him and wrapped a leg around his hip.
"I'm not feeling especially patient, Jellal," she whispered against his lips. Though he would've been happy to slowly bring his wife to the heights of trembling ecstasy he knew himself capable of he obliged her with a quick entrance. Erza gasped and he used the opportunity to take her open mouth in a plundering kiss.
Erza's fingernails dug into the back of the hand that still held her in place and her breaths were laced with sharp-edged gasps that shot straight down to where his own desire was seated. She tightened her fingers in his hair and her legs about his waist. He knew she wouldn't last long if he pressed the right buttons.
His mouth moved to her neck and Jellal sucked in the soft skin there forcefully. Erza let out a mixture of mostly inaudible words and he felt the first flutters of her impending climax.
"Erza," he groaned softly against the reddened skin of her neck. The quiet tone of voice directly contrasted with his firm grip on her breast and the strength of his thrusts.
He pulled away from her shoulder to watch the tension break across her face in the most erotic way he'd ever seen. Her eyes were closed and her lips were slightly parted – the bottom swollen because her teeth had been digging into it only seconds before. Jellal kissed her softly but didn't even try to hold back on himself. He couldn't imagine surviving the slow seduction he'd been attempting earlier. Not anymore.
Jellal's head dropped and he winced as he slid out of her and to the side. Erza rolled over as well and pressed her body against his. She kissed his forehead, his cheeks, the dark tattoo that still marked his face and finally his lips.
"I love you," she murmured. His hand snaked over her hip and around her waist lazily.
"I love you, too," he managed just before falling asleep.
The next morning as Hoshi attached randomly selected clips to his messy bed hair during breakfast, Jellal thought himself the luckiest man alive. Yes, Erza was a gift he never thought he deserved, but it wasn't just about them anymore. Together they'd given each other a family and that overshadowed everything that had ever been taken.