Author's Note: I've taken creative liberties with the Wizard Saints.
Erza thought the riverbank to be a pretty view at any hour but there was something about sunrise that appealed to her the most. When the first breezes of the day kissed her skin and face, she couldn't possibly be bothered by petty irritations like Mirajane's promotion to S-Class. Or the infuriating grin Mirajane sported as she hung over the second floor railing in the exact same wolfish manner as Laxus.
It was all too simple to close her eyes and focus on the sound of the rushing waters, the cool grass, and other wonderful things – like the feel of Jellal's hands in her hair and his lips on hers and how absolutely solid his body had been when he'd pressed her against the door of his apartment the night before. She was tired of goodnight kisses. Erza wanted good morning kisses and fewer layers of clothing between them. She wanted –
"Hey." Jellal's voice was casual when he joined her in the grass. Erza's face burned. She sat up quickly and cleared her throat.
"Uh, yeah. It's morning." Jellal raised an eyebrow and offered her a muffin. "Hungry?"
"Starving." The parchment paper peeled away easily revealing her new favorite, raspberry cheese. Dusting the top of the muffin was a layer of brown sugar crumble. If not for Jellal, she'd probably have strawberry cake for breakfast every morning and call it good. The muffin was warm and she devoured it quickly. He took the wad of parchment from her and stuffed it into his pocket.
"So what were you daydreaming about?" he asked, nudging her shoulder with his. "You're always out here in the morning with your eyes closed and a smile on your face."
"Oh, you know –" Erza picked apart a clover blossom. She'd rather not admit how often her mind strayed to the low lit room in her imagination where her hair spread over his pillows and his hands spread over her. "Nothing, really. Stuff."
"Stuff," he repeated. "I see. That's so specific." Erza focused her eyes on the water. Her cheeks felt hot and her heart jumped when he leaned in so his lips brushed the shell of her ear. "You're blushing," he whispered. Erza wished she wasn't so easily embarrassed. For all her racy fantasies, just the hint that he was possibly aware of them set her skin aflame. He laughed softly and kissed her cheek. "I'm sorry, I'll stop teasing you. I actually wanted to talk about something else."
"What about?" she asked, still trying to dial back her galloping pulse.
"Master Makarov wants me to go to Era with him this week. He's petitioned for my place as a Wizard Saint." Jellal's eyes were wide and Erza smiled.
"He believes in you. I do too."
"It's a stretch. They could kick me out on my ass for being so young and impudent. Sixteen isn't much to speak of when I hear some of the others are practically ancient."
"Your heavenly body magic is powerful and unique, Jellal," Erza said. "Your range of mastery is incredible, as well. Gildarts and Mystogan –"
"Mystogan," Jellal muttered. "There's something off about that guy."
"I don't know how you can feel anything about him at all. He's never around."
"He doesn't need to be." Jellal's eyes were on the river but his expression was one Erza knew well. When his thoughts lingered heavily on magic, his brow furrowed and his lips turned down slightly. She knew there were a million little cogs turning in his head. Sixteen or no, Jellal's understanding of magic was unmatched by anyone in their guild.
"When do you leave?" she asked, breaking his concentration.
"Tuesday at sunrise." He finally turned his eyes back down to her and smiled. "Care to see me off or does the mighty Erza Scarlet have plans?"
"I suppose I could drag myself out of bed at that unholy hour to shake your hand goodbye."
"Shake my hand?" he asked with a laugh. "Is that all? I was hoping for something a little more..." Jellal trailed off and his fingers found the ends of her hair. "Maybe you could stay with me Monday night?"
"Stay with you? Like –"
"Like overnight." He smiled and curled her hair around his finger. Erza stared at him and wondered if mind reading was a new skill he'd picked up. She blinked to dispel the notion. Of course he couldn't have seen her inner most thoughts of them both tangled together and – "Erza," Jellal said, tugging on her hair. "You don't have to if you don't want to."
"I do!" she blurted. "I mean, yes, I'd like that. Sorry, I'm distracted this morning."
"More stuff?" he asked with a dimpled grin. Erza unsuccessfully fought back another blush.
"How long will you be gone?"
"I'm not sure. I guess it really depends on how things go."
"Will you have to appear before the Magic Council?"
Jellal laughed quietly. "Maybe I should've brought you along when the Master asked to see me. It seems I didn't ask enough questions."
"I'm sorry," Erza said pressing a kiss to his shoulder. "I'm just curious."
"Curious or worried?" He turned his head to face her. She reached up to brush the stubborn strands of his hair off his forehead. Her finger lingered on the top most tip of his tattoo.
"Both. There's been more rumors about your teacher. They're getting weirder, Jellal. I'd like to think the Council wouldn't interrogate you but..." Erza grimaced.
"I've heard rumors, too." Jellal sighed. "I don't know anything, though." He scowled and brought his knees up against his chest, the parchment paper crinkled in his pocket. What he'd seen during his time with Brain and his little guild still bothered him. Strange words, strange prayers, a hodgepodge of oddities and artifacts, and reverence of the man himself – all of that could be interpreted in any number of ways. His work had even been mostly sanctioned.
Mostly. Such a tricky word.
If given half the chance Jellal would've questioned Brain himself. So many loose ends dangled senselessly they were beginning to take up more than one row of shelves in the library of his mind. The word Nirvit haunted him even more so than Sorano's hedge around the Six Prayers.
"Jellal?" Erza tugged on his shirt sleeve insistently.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm fine." His eyes were still stuck on the river and his thoughts were in a far away castle covered in vines.
"Really? Because I've been trying to get your attention and you didn't even flinch."
Jellal's eyes slid back over to Erza and he smiled. All the messy boxes in his head were shoved back into place. "Sorry. I guess I'm distracted today, too."
"You have better reasons than me." Erza bit her lip and grinned. "A Wizard Saint," she whispered playfully. "You'll outrank me by miles."
"I cross my heart that I'll never take advantage of my position over you."
Erza snorted. "You couldn't take advantage of me if you tried."
"No," she said flatly. "I'd slice you to pieces."
"You'd have to catch me first," his mouth curled into an arrogant smirk.
"So you'd use Meteor and cheat?"
"Using everything at my disposal is hardly cheating, Erza." He closed the space between them and Erza's breath caught in her throat. "That accusation is pretty funny coming from someone with an entire arsenal in her pocket."
Erza's eyes fell to his lips and her thoughts scattered. "You're cheating right now."
"I can't help that you're so easily distracted." He kiss burned slowly through her and made her head spin. An idea began to form out of the chaos, though, and Erza grasped the shoulder seams of his shirt. Predictably, Jellal's fingers clutched in her hair. She enjoyed his surprise when her thigh slid over his lap and her knee came to rest in the grass beside him. "Erza –"
"Hm?" She hummed against his lips, pushing him backwards to the ground.
"We're –" His breaths were coming faster. "We're kind of in public." Despite his protests, he made no move to stop her.
"So?" She smiled and her fingers closed around something cold. "This is as good a place as any to prove a point." The blade of her dagger poked at his chin. "I'd hate to take advantage of you, though."
"Erza," he breathed carefully, eyes falling to the metal gleaming in morning sunlight. "That's cheating." She sat up on his hips and sent the dagger back where it came from.
"We should declare ourselves equals, then." Erza held out her hand and caught a glimpse of his earlier arrogance when he grabbed her and pulled her down. Before she could stop him, she was in his place on the bottom.
"You're too proud, Erza," he teased, nudging her nose with his. "Too quick to declare a victory and unwilling to accept defeat. It might get you into trouble one day."
"Trouble like this?" she asked in a low voice she didn't entirely recognize as her own. "What are you going to do?"
Jellal's didn't move an inch. The breeze coming off the water ruffled his hair and Erza's skirt. His fingers were still curled around her wrists and his knees were still planted between hers. The sun rose steadily and soon the street above would be filled with the citizens of Magnolia. He finally kissed her and Erza felt his body relax ever so slowly.
An awkward cough disrupted the moment. Erza watched Jellal's eyes rise up the gentle slope of the embankment and settle on the interloper.
"Simon," he said with surprise. Jellal squeezed her wrist once more before jumping up and offering a hand to Erza. "Did you just get back? How was the big city?"
Erza felt Simon's eyes on her as she brushed her skirt free of any grass remnants. She didn't look up at him until she'd taken Jellal's hand once more. His expression was nearly blank – nearly but not quite.
"It was alright," he said in an artificially light tone, still watching Erza. She wanted to ask after his sister and if he'd found any leads but kept her mouth shut. Her friendship with Simon had been strained as of late. He could be perfectly pleasant around Jellal but with her there was always a heavy air of cloying desperation. "I missed Magnolia, though." His eyes flit back and forth between Erza and Jellal. "I didn't mean to interrupt."
"It's fine," Erza blurted, finding her voice. "I was just leaving anyway." She could feel Jellal's frown. "I'm taking a job in Hargeon today."
"You are?" Jellal asked, all his attention back on her. "But –"
"I'll be be back tomorrow afternoon." She squeezed his hand and smiled. "Nothing's changed." Erza released Jellal and climbed up the embankment. "I'm glad you're back, Simon."
She didn't have to turn around to know Jellal and Simon both watched her go.
"Jellal." Her voice was a delicious whisper. She was hot and slick and smelled of freesia. He dropped kisses along her jaw and the slope of her neck one after another – he couldn't stop. Vibrant strands of moonlit scarlet stuck to her skin and his. Jellal never wanted to leave her orbit.
"Jellal," she breathed again. He took her lips in a kiss that made every inch of him tremble with barely restrained anticipation.
The room suddenly shook and he froze. His forehead hurt.
"Jellal!" It was the sharp jab to his ribs that started him awake and he realized he'd been pressed against the window when the train jerked. "You awake over there?" Master Makarov's voice grated. He definitely preferred Erza's.
"Yeah," Jellal managed. His skin still prickled with his dream and he shifted in his seat. "Are we in Era?"
"No, we still have several hours." Makarov eyed him from the opposite bench. "Don't get lost in your daydreams, son, these proceedings could make your career as a wizard."
Jellal's eyes fell out of focus as he watched the scenery pass. "Will I appear before the Magic Council?" He felt the Master's hard gaze.
"Yes, but not all Saints sit on the Council, and not all Council members are Saints. It's the Magic Council who will appoint your title officially." Makarov paused and sighed. "And they'll likely ask you if you've had contact with Brain."
"None at all?"
"Not for a long time."
"No one is going to interrogate you, Jellal. Technically Brain isn't a criminal but he is under suspicion."
"There's some new blood on the Magic Council. She's been dropping hints that he's experimenting on mages. Children in particular." Makarov's eyes never left Jellal's. "The allegations paired with his unusual guild that consists mostly of former child slaves who escaped from a Zeref worshipping cult are kicking up suspicious dust."
"Your magic is..." For the first time, Makarov's gaze wandered. He studied his hands with a frown. "Well, it's distinct."
"And it doesn't help that I came from the same situation as the others and exclusively trained with a man already on the edge of technicalities for two years?" Jellal mused.
"No one thinks you've done anything, I'm only warning you of what might come up."
"What did you mean by new blood on the Council?"
Makarov's eyebrows furrowed in a way that belied distaste above anything else. "There's a woman called Ultear. Her mother was quite powerful and respected."
"I didn't realize the Magic Council had a legacy obligation."
"It doesn't. Ur Milkovich never sat on the Council nor was she a Wizard Saint. I suspect she could've held that title if she'd ever bothered to leave the north."
Jellal's mind connected a few dots and be blinked in surprise. "Ur Milkovich? That's –"
"It is. I wouldn't bring it up with Gray, though. It's a sore subject."
"So her daughter is on the Magic Council?"
"For the last few months, yes. Normally junior members don't have much sway but Miss Milkovitch is in a class all by herself, from what I hear."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"Not bad," Makarov said somberly, locking eyes with Jellal once again. "Just something you should be aware of."
Jellal felt it the instant he stepped off the train. The space between his temples began to throb dully and there was a pressure – an insatiable, but curious, pressure. His headache persisted throughout the afternoon, faded as the sun set, and returned with a force the next morning. Jellal opted to say nothing to Master Makarov. He didn't want anything to derail their purpose in Era. This was partly because he wanted the title of Wizard Saint, and partly because he'd rather not return on a second trip when invasive pressure turned out to be something other than a natural headache. He didn't use the magic often but Jellal knew a mind probe when he felt one.
The Ten Wizard Saints were not part of the acropolis-style building the Magic Council occupied. Their location was much older and commanded a very different type of pretense. Jellal had been given directions by Makarov who told him he'd need to go alone. Though they were not saints in the religious sense, the structure very much resembled a temple. There were a cluster of pillars under a stone roof with metopes covered in carved designs. As Jellal slowly mounted the steps he could see they were actually people – mages. The carvings were a mix of brutally violent scenes and mages bent over desks and books. Jellal knew the tedium of study well.
His headache disappeared as soon as he stepped among the cluster of pillars. Shadows lurked and hung from every scalloped edge and hard jut of stone. Jellal felt alone but knew he wasn't. The shrouded panel of Wizard Saints appeared at the far end of the temple beyond the pillars. All around him the air thrummed with magic. For a moment he didn't understand what they wanted from him but as his clothing and hair were ruffled by a passing breeze, he realized he didn't need to do anything. He'd already been measured and judged before ever setting foot in Era.
Whispers filled his ears, each voice overlapping the other until their words were so tangled he almost missed it.
"Occludere," one of the voices hissed. Jellal closed his eyes and tried to focus but the wind suddenly stopped. When he opened his eyes again, the temple was truly empty. Sunlight streamed through the gaps in the pillars and his headache had returned.
That night he paced the length of his hotel room over and over again. The word Occludere stuck in his mind. It sounded vaguely familiar but Jellal couldn't quite place it. The sky was already turning purple when he finally fell into his bed and slept.
She had a hungry sort of gaze. Hungry and something else he couldn't name. The uncomfortable feeling of not knowing what was happening around him had already begun to irritate. Jellal didn't care to hold her eyes for too long but Ultear had no qualms about openly staring at him. The first time she smirked he had no doubts this woman was the cause of his headache. He'd never met her before but she felt familiar. Not her person but the way she brushed against his mind – it set him on edge.
The Magic Council entertained his confirmation in a room resembling a court. Jellal couldn't decide if this was common – not that appointing new Wizard Saints was common at all – or if the nature of the room had anything to do with the questions he knew were coming. Chairman Seam's beady eyes focused on Jellal but it was Councilman Org who spoke.
"Saint Fernandes." Councilman Org's voice echoed off the walls and Jellal had to squash the impulse to quirk an eyebrow. He hadn't realized the title would be applicable immediately. "It is our understanding that you studied under Brain, the former head of the Bureau of Magical Development."
Jellal cleared his throat awkwardly. "Yes, that's true."
"To the best of your knowledge was Brain loyal to his position and did he conform to all known regulations regarding said position at the time of your tutelage?"
"Yes." The pressure between his temples suddenly increased and Jellal bit the inside of his cheek harshly. Councilman Org frowned.
"Care to elaborate on that, Saint Fernandes?"
"Brain was a strange man," Jellal began. His eyes flit to Master Makarov who betrayed nothing, and then to Ultear who only continued to smirk. "His research was broad and bordered on the outlandish but from what I understand that was the nature of his position."
"Did you at any time see evidence of coercion amongst the members of his guild? I'm sure I don't have to explain the subtext to someone of your background."
"No," Jellal bit out. "They weren't slaves." Councilman Org turned to Chairman Seam but the Chairman's narrowed eyes never left Jellal.
"Have you had contact with Brain since you left his care?"
Jellal almost snorted. What an odd word to describe his time with Brain. "Nothing significant, no."
"Define significant," Chairman Seam finally spoke.
"He sent me a letter maybe five months after I returned to Magnolia inquiring after my health and progress. I always meant to respond, but didn't."
"Why?" the Chairman persisted.
"I was –" Jellal faltered for the first time. "Distracted." Chairman Seam sat back in his chair, satisfied. Jellal didn't need to glance at Ultear to know her smirk deepened into a full grin.
Councilman Org scratched something onto the pages of a docket Jellal couldn't see. With a wave of the Chairman's hand, he'd been dismissed.
"How does it feel?" Master Makarov asked.
"Your prize, son. You earned it."
Jellal gazed down at the glittering medallion. He didn't think he'd ever actually wear it even though it hung from a thickly woven ribbon. "I feel the same, I guess."
"I'm curious what you thought of Lady Ultear."
"I don't like her," Jellal blurted. He scowled and returned the medallion to its velvet box. Makarov sighed and leaned back against the bench that lined their train compartment. "Can I ask a strange question, Master?"
"The temple." Jellal pondered how best to word his question. "I heard things. Whispers." Makarov grunted and his eyes closed.
"Anything in particular?"
"I'm not sure, to be honest."
"If I were you," Makarov muttered through a yawn. "I would try and unravel whatever it is as quickly as possible. Could be important."
"Right," Jellal said as Makarov very clearly dozed off.
The train raced through the country side and Jellal's thoughts began to drift further away from the Saints' temple and closer to Erza.