Author's Note: Here I am again fulfilling my own wishes. Fairy Tail as a story has a lot of moving parts and this is where I'll be examining what might have happened if Ultear had failed to possess Jellal. I won't be hitting every plot point in the manga, just the ones particularly relevant to Erza and Jellal and the bond they share. Chapter lengths will be inconsistent and as episodic as I can make them. Posting schedule will be erratic and unreliable.
The sound of whipping ricocheted off the walls of the stone hallway. This place had never been anything other than a haven of death and violence. Spatters of blood seeped into every inch of rock, and the screams of slaves would haunt the island long after The Tower of Heaven was nothing but a pile of rubble.
Erza clenched her fists as the guards shoved her further and further from the rooms of punishment and Jellal. Tears leaked from her remaining eye and she thought that one eye would never be enough. She could spend the rest of her life trying to fill the buckets of shame she felt over allowing herself to be dragged away after Jellal had worked so hard to free her.
They said he'd committed murder to get to her – Erza did not feel even a shred of remorse for the dead – and in return she'd been too weak to even warn him of the approaching guards. A sickening slap of leather against skin oozed into her ears and was followed by laughter.
It was enough. More than enough.
Erza spun around and swept her foot into the ankles of her surprised captors – it hurt more than she anticipated and overshadowed the lingering pain where her right eye used to be. Their boots were thick leather and the impact would likely leave a deep bruise but it was worth it to see them topple into one another. Before she could decide against it, Erza curled her fingers around the shaft of a fallen spear and buried the end of it in the side of the first guard. She didn't think – only acted. Thick, dark blood seeped from the wound. He groaned and Erza twisted the spear.
Beneath the first guard, another writhed. She wasn't strong enough to shove the dead weight aside, so she simply jabbed the spear through the space between twitching arm and body. The blade stuck in something hard and Erza leaned all her weight against it. Finally, the spear sank down and a soft gurgle could be heard under the mound of dying flesh.
Her breaths came hard and painful. She'd never pondered taking a life before, even though she'd considered her own death more than once. Erza's teeth dug into her cheeks and she tasted blood. They were dead.
She exhaled heavily and spied the hilt of a sword poking from the belt of one of the dead guards. After pulling it free, Erza focused her gaze back down the hallway. Peals of laughter carried. Finding Jellal before more guards arrived was paramount. As she made her way toward the one cracked door, her heart crashed against her rib cage. She'd had the element of close quarters and surprise before. Jellal's captors would see her coming this time. Fear began to work it's claws into her chest and the sword slipped against her sweaty palm.
Suddenly the door swung all the way open and Erza made a snap decision. She saw his gut first and didn't hesitate to ram the sword – and all her body weight – against his heavy form. With a strangled gasp her prey fell backward onto his partner who squawked in surprise. These two were not the same as the men who'd dragged her away before. They were in robes and unarmed.
"Hey!" a muffled voice screeched. His arms flailed in an attempt to push the larger man off but nothing budged. Erza slashed at the mass of limbs until her vision blurred with tears. These were the ones who'd been whipping Jellal. They deserved every cut, every flare of pain, every –
"Erza!" His voice echoed in her head and she paused. Jellal's eyes were wide when she met them. He frantically tugged on the ropes that bound his wrists. "Erza, stop!" The tip of her sword struck the floor and she felt the blood from the blade begin to pool at her feet. "They're dead," he whispered.
"Jellal." His name fell from her lips and a frustrated gust of wind ruffled her tunic. The fabric was cold now, and stiff. She was crying again.
"It's just rope, Erza," he said quietly. "You can cut it, okay? Just come cut the rope and we'll get out of here."
Erza glanced down at the sword still in her hand. She didn't quite recognize it. It was too big for her and covered in blood. Erza dashed forward into Jellal and wrapped her free arm around his middle before wildly swiping upward. The sword's hilt slipped from her fingers and the blade clattered to the floor. Jellal's wrists were still tied together but his arms circled her.
"Don't think about it," he whispered into her hair. "We just have to get out of here."
"What about the others?"
"We'll get them, too." Jellal released her and tore at the knot around his wrists with his teeth. The scraps of rope fell free and he took her hand. "Today is the day we take back our freedom."
The moon was full and bright. Erza fell backwards into the sand and blinked away her tears. The skin surrounding her empty eye socket twitched instinctively and she wondered if her body would ever adapt to the loss. Her eye slid shut and Erza saw Grandpa Robb falling to the ground. She'd seen – and caused – so much death but his absence stood out harshly against the blur of blood and salt water.
"You were worth it, Erza." The soft voice beside her interrupted the replay. "He gave his life for you, and I think after tonight he wouldn't like it if you cried over him."
Erza let the tears spill over her cheek and into the sand before rolling her head to the side. Jellal smiled at her and peeled the trapped strands of her dirty hair from the edges of her eye patch.
"How can you smile?" she whispered.
"Because it's all I know how to do. Everybody expects me to smile and Milliana cries when I don't."
"She'll cry anyway."
"Maybe." His smile widened and he poked his fingers in the damp sand. "I care more about you crying, though. How's your eye?"
"It's fine." Erza watched him purse his lips. He knew she was lying.
"Tomorrow we'll find Grandpa Robb's guild. They'll know what to do."
"Will they take all of us?"
Jellal shrugged and stretched out next to her in the sand. "I don't know but we've gotta go somewhere."
Erza's gaze drifted back up to the moon. The air tasted different on the mainland. She'd forgotten what it was like to not be a slave. "I don't know if we could've gotten through today without you, Jellal," she whispered.
"You'd have done just fine," he said with a quiet laugh. "I've never seen anyone fling swords around like you. I know you'll be a great wizard and make Grandpa Robb proud." The sound of their companions rustling around in the grass just beyond the shoreline finally quieted and Erza felt the weight of the day bearing down. "I haven't seen the sky like this in a long time," Jellal muttered.
"It's pretty," she offered.
Erza didn't like Fairy Hills. Her bed was too big and sleeping alone was hard. Erza thought maybe something was wrong with her because Milliana loved her new room and slept through the night without waking in a cold, lonely sweat. Blood soaked dreamscapes haunted her mind and it was these horrors that pushed her over the edge of reason and rules.
Even though she'd done it before, Erza's heart still raced with the fear of being caught when she silently slipped from the building. Magnolia was never completely dark but she didn't need anything more than the yellow street lamps to reach her destination. There was no equivalent of Fairy Hills for boys. Master Makarov had secured rooms for Simon, Jellal, and Sho with his own credit and a promise-to-pay.
Jellal's room was four doors down on the first floor. Erza didn't count anymore. She knew which was his by touch. The hinges didn't squeak and the floorboards didn't creak. As always, he was awake. He lay facing the ceiling with his arms crossed behind his head. When she crawled next to him, Jellal rolled to his side and tucked the blankets around them both before pressing his forehead to hers.
Erza breathed a sigh of relief. Her entire world had changed except this one thing. Jellal's finger brushed the edge of her eyepatch and she didn't flinch away. She knew he felt guilt over her missing eye, but didn't hold him responsible. Jellal said nothing and Erza welcomed dreamless sleep.
When she woke, she was alone in the bed. Erza turned under the blankets to find Jellal shuffling his belongings around from dresser drawer to dresser drawer.
"What are you doing?" she asked softly.
"You overslept," he stated, not looking up from his stack of shirts and socks.
"Did I?" Erza sat up and leaned forward to see out the window. The sun was higher than she'd have liked. "I should go."
"You don't have to." Jellal slid the bottom drawer shut and stood.
"I don't want to get you in trouble..." she trailed off and picked at the loose fuzz of his blanket.
"This place isn't like Fairy Hills, Erza," he said, pulling out the top drawer that was now empty. "I won't get in trouble for having guests. Unless you really want to go?"
"Good." He pointed to the drawer. "You can keep stuff in here if you want. I don't mind."
"What kind of stuff?"
"I don't know." He shrugged and slid his hands into his pockets. "Whatever you want, I guess. Clean clothes, soap, a toothbrush. Running across town just to change and brush your teeth seems silly when we're both going to the same place for breakfast anyway." Jellal met her eyes with new seriousness. "You've been sleeping later and later. I hate to wake you."
Erza blinked in surprise. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and joined him in front of the dresser. The drawer was big enough to hold all the contents of a small knapsack.
"Are the dreams that bad?" he asked. Erza's fingers curled around the edge of the drawer. She'd never said why she came to him at night. Not once had she mentioned nightmares but he'd guessed all the same. "I have them too."
"I wake up and I can't breathe," she whispered. "I hate it. I hate being so cold and – and by myself. I wasn't ever alone before."
"I'm sorry you have to come so far but –"
"It's okay," Erza exhaled heavily and turned to him. "I think the matron at Fairy Hills would squash you on sight if you got caught sneaking into my room."
"We can't have that," he said with a grin. Jellal suddenly reached out and touched the fine strands of hair that were starting to grow past her shoulders. "I'll leave the drawer empty for you."
Erza and Jellal left the building together. It didn't escape her attention that when Simon joined them outside, his lips were firmly, disapprovingly pursed.
Jellal peered into Erza's new eye. He knew it was made of a magical glass but it didn't really look any different than her other eye. She blinked and broke his concentration.
"Can I see the mirror now?" Erza asked nervously.
"Oh, sure, right." He handed over the small looking glass and watched her take a deep breath before scrutinizing her own reflection. Jellal panicked when her shoulders began to tremble and tears leaked from her one natural eye. He set aside the mirror and took her hands in his. "What's wrong? Does it hurt?"
"No," she said. "No, it doesn't hurt."
"Then why are you shaking?"
"Because I never thought I'd look like myself again."
"You always looked like yourself to me. Even with the eyepatch you still looked like Erza," he said quietly. Jellal felt Porlyusica's gaze on his back.
"Well?" she asked harshly. "Can you see through it?"
"Yes," Erza whispered. "It's fixed."
"Well, go ahead and get out, then. I can't stand you humans."
Jellal set aside the mirror and moved toward the door. Porlyusica's annoyed gasp stopped his hand just short of the knob.
"Your eye!" she exclaimed. "That shouldn't be happening. I made no mistakes with the medicines or spells. Why are there tears only coming from the one?"
Erza finally smiled and swiped at her wet cheeks with her shirt sleeves. "It doesn't matter. I've already cried half a lifetime of tears anyway."
The change in Erza was palpable and Jellal's chest felt lighter as they made their way back to the guildhall. Master Makarov had been silent since leaving Porlyusica's tree. He didn't speak until their group of three reached the edge of town.
"Erza," Makarov said carefully. "Would you mind giving Jellal and I a moment?"
"Of course, Master!" Erza smiled fully and Jellal couldn't stop himself from smiling, too. He'd never seen her so bright. Once they were alone Makarov turned to him with a somber expression.
"How are you settling in?" he asked frankly.
"Pretty good, I guess."
"I've done some asking around and it seems the other children who escaped with you have found guilds of their own. " Makarov paused and hoisted himself to a bench. "There's been reports of former slaves popping up here and there. Dark magic cults continue to be a blight."
Jellal fidgeted when Master Makarov eyed him seriously.
"Your magic is quite curious. I don't believe I've seen anything like it before."
"I'm still learning."
"Learning is a thing that never stops, Jellal. Even masters of their craft have new skills to pick up."
Makarov laughed and broke the tension of the moment. "Yes, even an old man like me can learn new tricks. The reason I pulled you aside is along these lines, Jellal. You need a teacher. Your potential is immense. I felt it on you the moment we met."
"Is... is that good or bad?"
"Potential is neither good nor bad. It's a thing that hasn't happened yet." Makarov sighed. "What I'm trying to say is that there's someone who might be able to help you. He used to work under a somewhat obscure branch of the government but that ended badly from what I've heard."
"Nothing to be alarmed about," the old man said with a grin. "I'm told a fire broke out and destroyed the entire facility. Only a few were able to survive. At any rate, he's taken up residence west of here and –"
"You're sending me away?" Jellal asked breathlessly.
"You don't have to go anywhere, of course." Makarov shrugged but his expression was grim. "But you'll never realize your full potential if you stagnate. Is there something keeping you here?"
Jellal poked at a rock with the toe of his shoe. "Well –"
"If you're worried about Erza, don't be. She's a strong mage on her own but, like you, needs to grow."
"I want to be a valuable member of the guild."
"You are now but I have a feeling that with the proper instruction you could be a very powerful wizard. There is one important thing you should know before making the decision to go." Makarov shifted uncomfortably. "I don't want to cloud your view but there's always rumors floating around and Brain's work is no exception."
"I don't know what you mean."
Makarov met Jellal's eyes soberly. "I mean, he's sometimes regarded as unorthodox. I'm told by my contacts on the Magic Council that Brain is a strange man. He hasn't explicitly broken any laws or protocols but he does toe the line."
"When will I have to go?"
"Whenever you like." Makarov relaxed again and hopped off the bench.
"So I can have time to say goodbye?"
"It isn't really a goodbye, Jellal," he said softly. "You'll be back, I have no doubt. You and Erza are all part of my family now. That red stamp on your shoulder blade means you're a Fairy Tail wizard. Becoming a pupil to an outside master won't change that."
Jellal's eyes swept the riverbank and found Erza alone. Her ankles were crossed and the breeze coming off the rushing water fluttered her scarlet hair. He missed her already but if he didn't leave now, he didn't think he ever would. Jellal crossed the walkway and fell into the plush grass beside her.
"Hey," he said, catching a strand of hair between his fingers. In the last year it had grown longer, and thicker. He'd also noticed that she'd put on a healthy amount of body weight – they both had. "Are you busy?"
"Nope." Erza smiled up at him and the same smile that always tugged at the corner of his mouth whenever in her company, showed itself. He didn't even care if that made him a sap. Erza sat up and scooted backwards to sit next to him. "Are you going to tell me your secret?" she asked bluntly. "I know you've got one."
Jellal's smile turned sheepish. "I'm so obvious?"
"Only to me." Erza nudged his shoulder with her own. Jellal sighed and tugged on the stalks of grass. "I know whatever it is keeps you up at night."
"You noticed that?"
"Of course I noticed." She fell silent and her questioning eyes stung him.
"The Master found me a teacher," he said quietly. "A while ago, actually. I've been dragging my feet."
He glanced up and her expression was soft and not at all judgmental. "Because I'll have to leave Magnolia."
"Soon." He hesitated and sighed. "Tomorrow."
"Why didn't you tell me?" she asked. Hurt had seeped into her voice.
"Because I don't want to leave and talking about it out loud made everything more real." He watched her nod in understanding. She ran her fingers through the grass and he didn't prod for a response.
"Do you need help packing?" Her voice was barely audible.
"No, but I do need to know that the person I care about most forgives me for keeping a big secret from her."
"Jellal," Erza began with a sad smile. "There's nothing you could do that I wouldn't forgive you for." He slumped sideways against her and let his eyes fall out of focus. Erza's hand found his and squeezed.
"My train leaves at eight in the morning," he muttered. "I'm going to miss your birthday."
"It's okay. We both know it's not my real birthday."
"I got you something." He sat up straight and reached for his pocket. Erza grabbed his hand back.
"You can give it to me tonight."
"If you think I'm sleeping alone on the last night you're in Magnolia for who knows how long, you're gravely mistaken."
Jellal smiled and pulled her into his side. "Fair enough."
The earrings sparkled in their box and Erza smiled just as bright.
"I'll get my ears pierced right away!" Jellal's face fell. He hadn't thought of that. "I love them and once I have them in, I won't ever take them off."
"You don't have to promise me anything like that, Erza," he said running his hand through his hair awkwardly. She took him by surprise with a tight embrace and her lips brushed against his cheek.
"I do promise, though. Thank you, Jellal," she whispered.
When Erza was asleep and her breaths fanned over his neck, Jellal's brow furrowed intensely. He'd only been alive for thirteen years – many of which he couldn't remember clearly at all – but he was very certain with regard to Erza.
He loved her.
He loved her enough to leave her. Makarov's words had stuck with him. His magic was growing stronger and there were times when he didn't feel altogether... safe.