Winter made itself known as the first snowflake plummeted from the sky and landed on Erza's cheek. It was too early for the snow to make any sort of play at staying on the ground, but the mornings and nights were particularly brisk; this night was no exception. Beside her, Jellal smothered a shiver. The clothing he wore was not exactly winter-grade—a ragged dress shirt, dress pants and scuffed dress shoes.
"We should stop for the evening."
Jellal looked at her sideways. "We should keep going." He couldn't outrun his demons, but outpacing Innisfil was a fuck of a start.
"So?" He'd been worse things.
Erza rolled her eyes. "Let's just get a motel or something—"
Jellal pulled up short. "I can't, Erza."
She staggered to a halt beside him. Tonight there was no armour to whine, only a soft wool sweater and a matching hat, both dark grey so she blended in with the night. "You can't?"
He stuffed his hands deep into his pockets. "We're out of Innisfil now." Approaching Era, actually. The men and women here would know his face. Without fail. "I'll be arrested if I'm caught."
Erza chewed her cheek, drawing the courage to say her next words. "We could hide your tattoo." Seeing him without it had almost tricked her all those weeks ago. Jellal faltered and Erza's heart ached; she didn't want to talk about that tattoo and what it meant. On the other hand, she didn't want to shy away from it either. It made him who he was and she loved that man. Even if sometimes he was a monster.
"Hiding my tattoo won't fool anyone." It certainly didn't fool him. He was the same with or without it.
"Then we'll find another shelter. I saw an abandoned garage on the last street." She turned around without waiting for his approval.
"Erza." Jellal snatched up her hand and turned her around to face him. She looked so… At a loss. He cradled her cheek; even his hands were cold. "I can't ask you to do this. Run around in secret with me. Risking your reputation. Leave me here and rejoin your friends."
"Fairy Tail is gone," Erza said stubbornly. "You're all I have, Jellal. Will you deny me that?" They'd been through too much. And he'll need you. His mind was still frayed. Without Eli's help… she didn't know how long it would take for him to get better. Or if he even would.
"Fairy Tail may be gone, but your guild mates are still very much alive. I kept tabs on them every now and again. The Strauss' were in Melony before I arrived in Innisfil. The chances of them still being there is high. If you like, I'll go with you until you find them—"
Erza clutched his wrists; wrists that still had scabs on them from Madam Genève's clawing. At least he was no longer soaked to the elbow in blood, the evidence washed away in a small creek just outside of Innisfil the day before. "Stop."
Jellal fell silent.
Erza said, "If I wanted to find the Strauss', I'd look. I don't, though. I want to stay with you."
"We'll always be on the run."
"Then we'll run until we can't."
"And then what? If you get caught with us…"
"Then I get caught."
"They'll arrest you."
She cupped his face in the same way, bringing their foreheads together. "I won't leave you."
Jellal pulled her close enough that their mouths met. Tonight she tasted like winterberry tea, purchased at a small coffee shop just outside of town.
Erza eased away. "Come on."
Jellal followed her down the street, not entirely sold on allowing her to travel with him, but seeing no future in which he told her to leave. He loved her too much. He was too greedy.
The garage Erza spoke of was more of a shack. The window had been busted out and boarded up again, the door had been torn off its hinges and replaced, then sealed with a padlock. Erza grabbed the lock and jiggled it in frustration. Not to be defeated, she tugged a sword out of thin air.
Jellal grabbed her arm before she could swing. "Wait."
Erza pulled up short and stepped aside for Jellal when he took her place in front of the door. He grabbed the lock, concentrated his magic, and felt the metal pop. Bits of steel dug into his palm, some of them going in deep enough to make him bleed. He didn't hiss, ensnared by the red trekking down his palm. Erza touched his shoulder gently. He released the lock and allowed her to push the door open.
Inside, the place smelled like mildew and moist earth. It was completely barren, save for a stray block of wood and a ruined stool, the fabric used to make its seat torn and shredded by mice. Most of the floor was cracked all the way down to the soil level. The only place that wasn't was the far corner.
Compared to Gomorrah? Not so much, but it was what Jellal was used to. He closed the door. This was the exact kind of place Crime Sorciere would hole up.
"Here." Erza waved him close. Jellal stopped tugging the metal out of his hand (playing with the blood, really) and came to her. Erza did her best to dismiss the peculiar look on his face and searched through her armoury for a first aid kit. It was threadbare with only a wrap for torn muscles left inside. It would do. She took Jellal's hand and wrapped it up as best she could, blocking out the blood that had so caught his attention. "Tomorrow we'll get more supplies and fix it properly."
Jellal closed his hand on the wound, feeling the pain. "Thank you." That's what people said when things were done for them, even when they weren't all that grateful.
Erza smiled and reached into her armoury again, this time for a blanket. It wasn't the warmest, but it would do. She wasted no time in sitting and patting the place beside her. Jellal lowered himself to the ground; Erza tucked into him and placed her ear against his chest. She could hear his heart thrumming along. She played her fingers over the inside of his thigh.
"Are you warmer?"
"I'm fine, Erza."
He wasn't. She knew he wasn't. "Tomorrow I'll sell another gem from my sword and we'll get warmer clothes."
Jellal missed his cloak. "This line of work doesn't pay very well. I likely won't be able to repay anything you give me."
"I don't need money," Erza said automatically.
Still, Jellal couldn't help but think if he'd stayed at Gomorrah he could have anything he wanted… he could have dealt with Julian. He thought maybe the man could have even forgiven him for taking Madam's life. So what if Julian only got the instruction on how to make this new drug? So what if Illusion would fade into obscurity? Julian knew a good resource when it came to him. He'd find a way to make up for his losses.
You're not going to work for him. You're not ever returning to Innisfil. Not even to stare at Scarlet Lake and wonder if Madam Genève found her grave at the bottom. No. He was going to stay away. When things got bad, he'd chew through his nails until the voice in his head that screamed for blood was a little more silent. It can happen.
Erza tipped her face up and kissed him. He got caught on something else scarlet. Her hair was silken in his hands, not slippery and wet like blood.
See? You don't always have to be a monster.
Not always, no. But he didn't know if he could always be a man, either.
Later. Deal with that later. For now, Erza was finding other ways to make him warm, climbing on his lap and shimmying her hips. Her arms went around his neck. He grabbed her hips, determined to discover if she left all her sin in Innisfil.
A/N: Hello! Thanks for reading, guys, super appreciate it!
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