Author's Note: This is a fic of a fic? I guess that's a thing! The story won't make much sense if you don't go read "as we still do" by thir13enth (I would link myself but this site is horrible and I can't). It's amazing and I became super obsessed (obviously) and this just kinda happened.

He doesn't tell her until the next morning (because he doesn't know how she'll react and he selfishly can't even think about leaving her bed). Her lips are always slightly parted when she sleeps. She's never truly made a choice between breathing through her nose or mouth at night and when it's cold like this she's been known to do both (even at the expense of twice as much lip balm – the beeswax variety). Erza is awake before he notices. His fingers still drag through her hair and his eyes have become fixated on the snow outside.

She pulls the blankets under her chin and gazes up at him with all of the hundreds (thousands) of questions they never ask. He doesn't smile so she doesn't smile and the moment is as frozen as the crust of ice on the window glass. The words lined up on his tongue suddenly jumble like cars on the highway.

"I have nine more months," he says. It isn't what he wanted to say and she blinks three times in succession.

"To live?" Her fingers clutch the blanket between them.

"No." His mouth curls into tiny smile. "That came out backwards. I have nine months left of my commission."

Erza sits up in the bed and he watches the messy curls of her hair pull from his fingers and fall against her back. He rolls flat and folds his hands behind his head and waits. Her posture indicates nothing but the blanket is moving (Erza has always taken to fidgeting). She doesn't face him when she speaks.

"What does this mean?"

"It means in nine months, I'll have to find a new job." He watches her snag a strand of hair from over her shoulder and twirl it around her finger. "One that doesn't require travel or –"

"Possible death?" She finally glances backward at him. He smiles at the way her eyebrow quirks upward (He knows she can read him but he can read her too).

"That would be a perk, yes." He doesn't stop smiling when she nods and turns back around.

"How long will you be gone, then?"

Jellal sighs and his smile finally fades. Erza has never been one to prevaricate (it's one of the things he loves about her even though it's one of the things that hurts the most).

"Six months."

"And let me guess," she adds with a watery laugh. "You leave today?"

"Thursday," he says (he could pretend to be nonplussed, they've had this part of the conversation so many times). Erza nods and grabs the (his) t-shirt from the foot of the bed and pulls it on. He thinks maybe this could be intentional. She's taking something of his and marking it for her own without apology or offer to give it back (completely fair).

She leaves him alone in the bed and grabs a hair tie from the glass bowl on the dresser top. He watches as she twists the mass of scarlet into a knot he knows is just for show (more taking).

"I don't know why you bothered to tell me, Jellal. You know how I feel. You should've just called me in nine months." Erza still hasn't looked at him and his chest stings. He doesn't hold this against her (he does know how she feels). She sweeps from the room with an unconvincing casual air.

The sweatpants he finds on the floor are cold. The woman he finds in the kitchen is holding an empty tea kettle just shy of the water flow. He crosses the small apartment and pulls the kettle from her hand. She frowns at him but doesn't protest. The full kettle is placed on the burner before he fills the palms of his hands with her shoulders. Erza's arms circle his middle (her cheeks are wet and he has no shirt to soak them up).

"Why are we like this?" she asks.

"In nine months, we won't be." It's the best promise he can make (better promises are on the list of things he wants to do in nine months). She finally looks up at him and his heart overflows with affection for the woman who owns all the pieces of him that don't have a military stamp on them.

"I don't know what's worse," she whispers. "You leaving and me not knowing how I'm supposed to feel about it or you leaving and me knowing exactly how I feel about it."

It was always the same for him. Leaving Erza behind whether she was his girlfriend or ex-girlfriend he still loved and sometimes shared a bed with, was always a hardship. Yes, they'd broken up... but not really. Not completely. Not all the way.

Without warning, her hands press to either side of his face and she rises on her toes to kiss him with a possessive force. His fingers tangle in the former bun of her hair and slide down to her hips. He lifts her easily to the edge of the counter and she (just as easily) divests him of his sweatpants.

Erza's legs are strong and easily anchor him to her. His fingertips dig into the perfect swells of her rear as he (very quicky) slids inside. She clings to his shoulders and her breath warms his neck before she kisses him again. When she comes, her teeth sink into his bottom lip.

"Nine months," she whispers, letting her forehead fall to his shoulder. His reply is to leave a trail of wet kisses along her neck.

Jellal's Captain texts him at 0500 on Thursday morning. Erza (still wrapped in her pajamas) watches him fold his rucksack closed for the last time. The snow hasn't let up since he arrived at her apartment exhausted and hiding a promise in his pocket. He doesn't have to peek through the blinds to know there's a sedan with military plates waiting for him in the parking lot.

She doesn't tell him not to die. He doesn't tell her he'll call when he can. There is only her lips and the cling of skin. Her eyes linger on his and finally she steps away. As the door closes behind him he works out two new promises in his head. One he'll make in six months, and another in nine. Both will be in person.