Azalea- fragile and ephemeral passion


She'd been crying. Her cheeks were streaked with tears and ruddy with embarrassment. He sat beside her on the soft blanket of wood chips that surrounded the bushes and drew his knees against his chest. Her sobbing didn't lessen and Jellal picked at a scab on his arm awkwardly. He huffed in frustration and the fine hairs on his arm stirred. Sadness wasn't something he was good at. Erza's despair poked him in places that made him want to cry too.

Her shoulders stopped shaking finally and she stretched her legs out in front of her dislodging the chips and creating a small valley. Her already snagged leggings would have bits of wood in them for sure.

"You'll get in trouble for following me," Erza whispered. She wouldn't look at him. The remaining hanks of her beautiful scarlet hair hung unevenly about her shoulders.

"I don't care," Jellal offered bravely.

"My mom will be angry with me. She... she says I should stand up to them but I –" Erza sniffled and began to cry again. "I just can't. I'd rather be completely bald than listen to any of it."

"They're just jealous," he muttered petulantly. "They're jealous that you have something special and they don't."

"I don't want to be special."

"Why?"

"Because it hurts. I just want to be like everyone else."

Jellal stared at her agape. Erza tugged nervously on the longest piece of hair left. Why couldn't she see it wasn't her hair that made her special? Even if he did very much like the hair. She could hack it all off and still exude the magic that drew him to her.

Of course telling her any of that wouldn't do. She didn't want to hear those things right now. Jellal sighed and pulled something from his pocket. He scooted closer to her and held out a pair of scissors. Erza stared at them in confused silence.

"Let me help you fix it."

"But –"

"Maybe your mom won't be so mad if we even it out a little?" Jellal cautiously touched the ragged edges of her hair that had cruelly shorn off in class. If he couldn't make the bullies pay, he could at least try and nullify their efforts. "I promise I'll be careful."

Erza blinked her wide brown eyes and chewed on her lip.

"Okay," she said softly.

Jellal moved behind her and ran his hands through her hair reverently. He'd wanted to touch it since the first time he'd seen her. Hair cutting wasn't exactly something he had experience in but he'd helped his dad sheer the sheep more than once and how different could this be?

Erza's hair was fine and slid over his fingers like spun silk. She sat straight and still as he snipped off the uneven edges. Her breaths on his neck as he moved to the front were distracting but the end product made him smile.

"How does it look?" she asked when he sat back on his heels.

"It's short," he said plainly. "But it's not forever."

Erza stood, brushed the chips from her skirt, and peeked into the darkened window at the edge of the flowerbeds. She fingered a strand that slipped from behind her ear. Jellal fidgeted with the scissors nervously. When Erza finally turned back to him she smiled.

"Thank you, Jellal." Her face was still red and cheeks still glistening with earlier shed tears but he thought her beautiful all the same. Perhaps it was indulgent, but he snapped an azalea bloom from the bushes and stepped closer to her. Erza's eyes didn't stray from his as he brushed the newly-shortened strands from her face and tucked the flower behind her ear.

"I hate seeing you cry," he whispered.

"It's not forever," she replied. Erza took his hand and smiled again.