Author's Note: This is it! I had to make some changes and then I became indecisive and then I just scrapped it all and started over. Anyway, I truly appreciate everyone for taking this ride with me. It's been a pleasure!
The samurai returned to the countryside where his daimyo granted him leave to properly recover. A royal mission, such as protecting the body of the princess, earned Jellal a great deal of respect – despite his personal misgivings regarding what he saw as a failure at the safe house.
His lady welcomed his return and sniffed out the apples in his satchel immediately. Though she'd been cared for in his absence it was clear only the bare minimum had been allowed. Jellal fell back into a routine with her easily and the repetitive motions of running the brush over her coat helped him regain function of his shoulder. She never spoke, his lady, but she had strong sense of how he felt on any given day. Most of his afternoons were spent in her company.
Jellal made a valiant effort not to fixate on the princess but still hadn't removed her sash from the hilt of his katana. Instead, he considered simply acquiring a new blade. That would be easier than removing the silk from the handle. On the nights he dreamed of her, he woke dazed and breathless. Even though he was tormented with memories he still could not regret falling in love with her. Erza represented everything he didn't think himself capable of. She'd trusted him and proven herself trustworthy in return. Not only that but she'd bared her heart to him knowing what he had to give was bruised. He doubted he'd love again in this lifetime.
"You're not an easy man to find, Samurai." Jellal didn't startle. He recognized the voice that spoke out of eyesight.
"And that is exactly how I prefer it, Prince." He didn't spare Laxus a glance even when The Lightning Dragon Prince offered his horse a sugar cube. "You should know that treats won't earn you love from my lady. She'll take them from you and offer nothing in return."
"So she is not unlike most women I meet at court."
"I imagine she is a much quieter companion than the ladies of your grandfather's court, but no less troublesome." The horse snorted and nudged Jellal with her flank.
Laxus laughed and sat heavily on a tack trunk. "If she's quieter than you I'd say it's a notable accomplishment. We need more stoicism in the royal city."
Jellal continued to brush the horse without comment.
"I'm here to offer you a position in my Raijnshu, Samurai. Have you any thoughts?"
"No," he replied firmly. Such a rank would have him in the company of an unattainable desire far too often.
"And why not? Your daimyo would never oppose me and I imagine you'll be pastured for quite some time out here in the farmlands. No thirst for action rests within you?"
"I've had enough action for a while."
Laxus sighed dramatically and scraped his foot over the dirt on the ground. "I suppose this means my sister will marry General Justine." Jellal's hand froze. "It'll be an awkward affair, of course. He isn't what she wants at all and he's... well. She's not his type either."
Jellal stepped around the horse's side and stared at Laxus in shock. The mare nudged his shoulder – she apparently wasn't quite through being brushed.
"Grandfather will be disappointed. He has this ridiculous notion of more babies toddling around the palace. The idea of Freed impregnating Erza..." Laxus barked a laugh and smiled up at him. "My own bride won't be delivered until next winter."
"What? Forgive me but... delivered?"
"Yes, we've secured a political treatise with a western country. I've been told she has hair the color of the moon. The wait will kill me, I think. Curiosity is a terrible demon."
"As lovely as all that sounds, you'll understand when I decline out of hand."
Laxus blinked and shook his head. "You have a terrible sense of humor, Samurai. For all your bravery and skill with a sword you truly cannot comprehend a joke."
"It wasn't part of my training," Jellal said dryly.
"Come back to the royal city with me. My sister pines for you and I cannot stand her the chill of her silence."
Jellal shook his head and went back to brushing his horse. "Such a thing can't possibly be allowed. I am not even a lord here –"
"The weight of the kingdom will never fall on Erza's shoulders, Samurai. She may have been adopted into my family and be treated as a royal but she hasn't the blood to sit the throne. Her children will be allowed a spot in the line of succession once my grandfather passes but she is free to marry whom she pleases."
"And what of my own desires?"
Laxus appeared beside him and pushed his katana to his chest. The sash fluttered in the breeze. "I think it's clear what you want. Will you come back to the city with me on your own or shall I have you trussed up and brought in a cart as an unwilling bride?"
The sun slowly fell beneath the horizon as Jellal stalked through the palace grounds with his quintessential humorless expression. Passing attendants quickly bowed and stepped out of the way. A white ribbon of silk trailed behind him from the hilt of his blade – it's presence easily identified him. The story surrounding the princess's marriage and their romance was a popular subject of gossip amongst citizens of the royal city. He'd arrived in mid-spring and the flower petals that fluttered from the trees like pink snow guaranteed spring would remain his favorite season even after witnessing a year's worth of changes.
He found the bed chamber empty and left his armor and weapons on the waiting racks. The hot water soothed his aches and Jellal recalled again why he hated breaking in a new horse. His position in the Raijnshu sometimes required travel and his lady was not capable of such rigorous milage. She'd come with him to the palace and roamed the pastures at her leisure but did not accompany him on official business. His new mount was a young stallion and the two of them had differing opinions on whom was in charge of whom.
After submerging himself and shaking his hair free of droplets, Jellal rest against the side of the bath. Pity Erza wasn't present but he didn't have the stamina to look for her currently. Bickslow exhausted him with his jokes and the General even more so with his rebukes. Evergreen simply ignored them both and the Prince did the same – even if he kept a passive finger on the pulse of the back and forth. Between his obnoxiously spirited stallion and the Raijnshu dynamic Jellal wanted nothing more than a quiet bath.
Despite his want for solitude he smiled when Erza's fingers feathered through his wet hair. The air stirred with the swirl of silk robes as she knelt beside the edge of the bath.
"You've returned," she said softly.
"I have and not soon enough. My patience for this trip wore down to threads long before we arrived at the palace."
"Which troubled you more? Bickslow or your horse?"
"Both in equal measure," Jellal said with a dramatic sigh. He rolled his shoulders and grimaced.
"You're in pain."
"Everything hurts when you've been on a horse for days." He smiled up at her and tugged on the ends of her hair that brushed his forehead. "I'll survive."
Erza leaned down kiss his forehead. "Come to bed soon, husband. I'll wait."
Jellal didn't leave her waiting for long. He found her peering through the gap in the window shades that over looked the city. She enjoyed the view at night best. So many twinkling lights captured a romance invisible during the day. Jellal gathered the mass of her hair and swept it over her shoulder. He pulled back the loose collar of her robe and kissed the side of her neck.
"I hate being away for so long," he murmured into her skin.
"It is better this way. The alternative is not having you here with me at all." Erza turned to him and placed her hands on his chest. "A fortnight is nothing compared to forever."
"I would tolerate these frustrations one-hundred fold just to be with you, Princess."
Erza grinned and bit her lip. "Do you think it charms me to still be addressed that way, Samurai?" Jellal smiled, as well, and touched the pink apple of her cheek.
"I know it does." He ducked his head to kiss her and she leaned into him. Erza's fingers slid beneath the lapels of his robe and pushed it over his shoulders. Her own followed his to a heap on the floor. Jellal backed her up to the edge of their bed and Erza fell gracefully into the mattress. He crawled over her body and wove his fingers into her hair that spread over the white blanket.
"My dreams are red when I'm away from you," Jellal said absently. Erza pushed him onto his back and mounted his hips.
"Perhaps next year you'll be away less? I have an incentive."
She smiled down and him and grabbed his hand. "My grandfather will have to stop questioning your virility once the word gets out." Erza pressed his hand to her stomach and the realization slowly dawned on him.
"I've sworn my physician to secrecy until I could tell you myself." Jellal sat up quickly and took her lips in a fierce kiss. "Are you pleased?"
"A child was never necessary for my happiness, Erza." His thumbs brushed her cheeks and he kissed her again softly. "But yes, I am pleased. I never thought –"
"Don't," she whispered. "The past cannot be changed. Our future is bright like the sun, Jellal. You once spoke of love and sharpened edges. I think maybe you weren't completely right." Jellal raised an eyebrow. "Love can be used as leverage. Press the edge against your darkness and cut it away. Don't allow it to hold you hostage any longer."
Jellal wrapped his arms around her waist and pressed her back into the mattress. Her hair tumbled over the edge of the bed and brushed the floor. He hovered over her and was besieged with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. The universe hadn't always been kind but he'd been granted possession of Erza's love and that meant everything.
Her legs encircled his waist tightened as he lowered himself and pushed into her. She didn't speak but in gasps and Jellal lost himself in the feel of her body.