Author's Note: I'm hardly an expert on baking or the Latin language. Try not to think too hard about any of it. This is for thir13enth because she is a terrible enabler.
Once upon a time, there was a girl and she loved two things very much.
The first love of her life was pastry. Some of Erza's favorite memories were of watching her grandmother spread unwieldy globs of buttercream into the smooth surface of a cake, and slicing perfect slivers of strawberry for garnish.
"Pastry is a language of love, Erza," she'd say, smiling down at her granddaughter who peered over the edge of the countertop. "Your hands are the medium by which your love flows."
Everyone loved Rosemary's Bakery. The shop sat on the very edge of Magnolia's shopping district but customers came from all over town and beyond to buy her grandmother's cakes, muffins, and loaves of their namesake Rosemary Hearth Bread. Young brides and the lovelorn alike would come specifically for the bread. Rumor had it the elder Scarlet was actually a witch and wove love spells into her hearth loaves.
When asked about it, Erza's grandmother would only smile and say, "Love is what you make of it. Rosemary Hearth Bread is best served warm."
Erza would giggle every time a young lady would leave the shop clutching a loaf of the hearth bread to her chest with a renewed glow. Rumors were one thing, but Erza knew the truth. Of course her grandmother was a witch – just like her mother before her and so on and so forth. The magic passed down through generations. Naturally, with the unspoken respect came suspicious glances from the more disapproving townsfolk, but Erza had never heard an unkind word about her grandmother.
When she was old enough to ask about the love spells in the bread her grandmother's answer didn't quite satisfy.
"Love and happiness are two very different things, my love. They come to us for hope that their situation could be better, and that's what we give them. Real magic is never so simple. Free will is not a thing to be tampered with. Every thread of magic has a price."
"Is that what happened to my mother?" Erza asked softly. Her grandmother knelt down and tucked a strand of scarlet hair behind Erza's ear.
"Your mother died of a broken heart, my love. She was so consumed by the loss that she couldn't see the gain. You, Erza, are worth so much."
Erza's grandmother passed away just before her seventeenth birthday. The funeral was large but Erza had never felt more alone in her life.
The second love of Erza's life wrapped his fingers around the edge of the shop door just as she went to close it for the day.
"Are you truly closed?" He smiled pleadingly.
"I'm afraid so."
"I've come all the way from the outside of town only to be rebuffed at the last moment. My sister will probably cry all night now." His mouth curved into a wider grin and Erza couldn't help but stare at the markings on his face. The design crinkled attractively.
"I –" A voice in her head that spoke in her grandmother's soft voice asked her if she was really going to turn down a handsome stranger who'd come to her in the rain.
"Just one loaf of the hearth bread will do and I'll be on my way."
Erza snapped from her reverie. "I'm sorry but I sold the last loaf hours ago."
"Have you really? My apologies." The young man released her door and turned back out to the rain.
"Wait!" she called impulsively. "It's for your sister?"
He whirled back around and smiled again. "It is. Her heart was ripped out by a boy at school, she says, and your bread is the only way to fix it again."
"Well –" Erza's face flushed pink and she took a step backwards. "If you don't mind waiting, I could make her one special." The young man stepped inside of her shop and pulled back the hood of his jacket.
"I don't mind waiting. I've heard your hearth bread is positively magical, Miss Scarlet."
"You'd do well not to listen to rumors, Mister..." she trailed off and grabbed an apron from the rack.
"Have a seat Mister Fernandes, and have a look around. It's just a bakery," Erza said with a smile. The young man followed her back into the kitchen and perched on a stool. He watched her prepare the yeast, herbs, and dough with fascinated interest. She deposited the dough in a mixing bowl and set it aside to rise. "So tell me about your sister."
"You know how callous school boys can be," he said with a grin. "Meredy says she'll simply die if he doesn't take her back."
"Has she considered that perhaps he isn't worth her time?"
"I've told her so at least five times today. Which is why I'm here with you, Miss Scarlet. I can't have my little sister dying of a broken heart."
Erza reached for the bowl and dumped the dough out onto the table top again and began to work it into a loaf. She eased the dough into a well seasoned iron skillet and slid it into the last of her fire. When she turned back around the young man was still smiling at her.
"I don't think I've ever made the bread by request for someone else this way. I hope your intentions are pure, Mister Fernandes," she teased.
"I would never think to tamper with love spells, Miss Scarlet," he said softly. "My late mother swore by this shop and claimed our existence in this world was because of your Rosemary Hearth Bread."
"Love and happiness are two very different things, Mister Fernandes," she reprised, dusting the flour from her apron. "I'm sorry about your mother."
"Thank you. I'm sorry about your grandmother."
"Thank you," she whispered. Erza wrapped the warm bread in brown paper and handed it over. "You'll want to hurry home. This is best served warm."
"Of course." His fingers brushed hers as he took the package and tucked it into his jacket. "Thank you again, Miss Scarlet. How much for the bread?"
"Consider it a gift from me to your sister."
"I am in your debt, then." He smiled and pulled the hood of his jacket over his head once more. Before Erza could respond, he was ducking back out into the rain.
"It's a beautiful day, isn't it?" a voice said from beside her. Erza startled and glanced up to find a familiar face.
"How's your sister?" she asked with a smile.
"Ready to love again," he replied returning her smile. "Thanks to you, of course."
"I told you it's just bread, Mister Fernandes."
"Jellal," he said easily. "Mister Fernandes is my father."
"I see." He followed her through the maze of carts that made up the Saturday square market.
"You've left me breathless, Miss Scarlet. Do I get to know your first name?"
"I think Miss Scarlet is fine for now," she said with a grin. Jellal laughed and proceeded to carry her purchases without prompting. By the time the sun was midway across the sky his arms were full and Erza led him back to her bakery. "Just here." She pointed to the empty work table.
"So it's only you running this place?" he asked unloading himself.
"I have help sometimes but it's mostly me. I don't mind being alone."
"You aren't lonely?"
Erza smiled and began to unwrap the bundles of herbs and blocks of butter. "Being alone, and being lonely aren't the same, Jellal."
"That's a very true statement." He lingered by her side and Erza tried to ignore the way his gaze thrilled her. The fact that she was often the subject of male interest hadn't ever been of consequence before. When his fingers bravely touched the tips of her hair, Erza tried to swallow her gasp. "You have such lovely hair," he said quietly. "I've never seen a shade like yours before."
"It runs in my family." Erza turned to him and gauged the sincerity in his eyes. He exuded nothing but a warm glow. He twirled the strand of her hair around his finger more daringly and continued to smile in a way that made her heart skip.
"What a lucky set of genes, Miss Scarlet."
"You should call me Erza," she breathed hastily.
"A beautiful name for a beautiful girl," he said before closing the gap between them with a simple kiss that stole her heart.
She should've seen it coming. She should've been more wary of the trap of love. Her own mother had died in it's claws. Erza should've been more careful. But she wasn't.
"I'm pretty sure the only improvement to your hair is the moon," Jellal whispered into the back of her neck.
"You're ridiculous sometimes," she giggled and placed her hand over his as it slid around her waist. He pulled her against his chest and sighed. Later she would reprimand herself for not recognizing his desperate sadness. "Did you know magic works best on a full moon?"
"I would trade anything for a spell to keep me by your side for the rest of my life." Erza turned in his arms and considered the serious tone in his voice.
"You would have to trade something," she whispered. "Magic isn't ever free. There's always a price."
"I'm going to miss you," he said in a breath. Erza's heart crashed in her chest. "I got the notice by post last week. I should've told you but I couldn't."
"I don't understand."
"I've been drafted, Erza. They're sending me on a boat to Alvarez... tomorrow."
Erza blinked. And blinked again.
"War is an ugly thing. I thought maybe I could keep it away from us but I can't."
"But –" Her eyes burned and Jellal's thumbs swept her tears away.
"Will you wait for me?"
"Only if you promise to come back," she choked out.
"I promise." As soon as the words fell from his lips, Erza took them. She kissed him with every part of her soul.
The moonlight that dappled her bedroom wasn't as bright or brilliant as on the outside but the power was the same. Jellal's naked back appeared nearly flawless and her blankets gathered at his waist. She wanted to watch him sleep but there was work to be done. Ever since he'd told her he was leaving earlier that night, Erza felt the shadow of death building in her throat. If Jellal left, he would never come back – just like her own father, and she already knew she wouldn't be able to carry on without him. Like mother, like daughter.
Her grandmother's books had been gathering dust on the shelves but the pages were still full of magic. Erza ran her fingers over the vellum pages and breathed in the scent of dried rosemary that clung to her grandmother's old bedroom.
Jellal didn't wake when the bundle of dried herbs and flowers were hidden under his pillow. He didn't stir when Erza dabbed a drop of lavender oil on the curve of his spine. Only when she slid back into the bed beside him did he roll to his side and pull her against him. His breath stirred the small hairs at the base of her neck.
Erza squeezed her eyes shut and focused on her refusal to give him up. She just wanted Jellal by her side. She'd never wanted anything so badly. Whatever the price to keep the man she loved close to her and alive, was worth it.
"Et recordare ut custodiant," she whispered fiercely, over and over. The problem with magic, she would realize later, was that the cost is never clear at the time of purchase.