Confession: I'm obsessed with r/Relationships. It's like a sickness. I was lurking the other night and saw a post so perfectly perfect I couldn't let it go. Turns out the actual story behind it was kinda boring so I had to make it better.
"One of my best friends and I matched on tinder... what to do now?"
Lucy's ringtone interrupted the previously serene afternoon. He didn't wait for her to ask the question he knew she'd called to ask.
"No," Jellal said, putting her on speaker.
"You – you can't possibly know why I'm calling!" she huffed.
"You want to know if I'm coming to the hellscape otherwise known as Family Dinner on Sundays."
"Please? I need moral support! Natsu isn't coming which means no one will be 'too polite' to mention me dropping the business classes my dad insisted I take this year."
"Sorry, Lucy, I'm doing my own avoidance. I can't take another not-so-subtle inquest into my relationship status. My mother's biological clock is not my problem."
Lucy snorted. "Just bring Erza. Problem solved."
"Nice try, but no. Mom would never fall for that. She knows we aren't dating anymore."
"Well, what about Tinder? How's that going? You don't have at least one booty call that would be willing to sit through an awkward dinner?"
Jellal sighed irritably. Tinder. He resented the app so much he had it on a separate screen by itself. He didn't want to see it or be reminded of its presence unless he was in a particularly optimistic mood. Tinder had been Lucy's idea. He should've known better than to listen to his cousin who'd been in a serious relationship since before college.
At first the experience had been entertaining. There'd been a few dates, a couple hookups, but Jellal got bored quickly. He wasn't programmed for casual dating. The tedious steps of building a relationship were exhausting when he just wanted to skip right to the part where they'd been comfortably together for ages.
"Nope. I should just delete it anyway."
"Oh, Jellal," Lucy breathed. "You make this more difficult than it needs to be."
"No, I just think dating sucks." He set the phone on the edge of his bedside table and fell backwards into the pillows. "I don't want to go through all of it over and over."
"You are." She paused and Jellal knew he'd won. "Okay, fine. Enjoy your frozen pizza alone."
"Thank you, I will."
"Just one thing, Jellal. Promise me you'll give Tinder another shot. If you and Erza couldn't make it work, I don't know how you could possibly –"
"It's been over two years, Lucy, let it go."
"We can dissect my failed romance with Erza or I can make a thin promise to not delete a dating app I hate."
"Those are awful choices," Lucy groused. He could hear her keychain jangling in the background. "I have to go if I want to be on time for dinner. Don't delete Tinder. At least let me help you."
"I promise I'll keep it for a little while longer."
"I suppose that'll do."
"Enjoy Super Happy Fun Time tonight."
"I can't wait," she deadpanned before ending the call.
The oven timer blinked in bright green numbers and Jellal wished he'd thought to put his dinner in before becoming so ravenous. He felt a twinge of guilt over bailing on the family dinner but not enough to wish he'd gone. With fifteen minutes left to wait, he relaxed into the couch and decided to follow through on his promise to Lucy.
Swiping left had become almost second nature when he had Tinder open. There was usually some fatal flaw he could spot immediately and then later he'd feel like a judgmental ass. This time he tried to be more attentive. More agreeable. Three left-swipes in and he decided dinner with his nosey mother would've been better than date-surfing. It wasn't until the twelfth swipe that his thumb froze.
He recognized the picture immediately – he'd taken it himself the previous summer. Her hair fluttered dramatically in the wind and her smile was brilliant as always. Not two minutes later he'd braided the mess of scarlet without her having to ask. Boundaries with firm enforcements weren't a thing he and Erza had ever been very good at. Despite years of jokes on the subject, they'd never seriously discussed anything beyond friendship until well into college.
Contrary to popular belief, expanding on a life-long friendship wasn't easy. Neither he nor Erza could figure out how to act like a proper couple – other than the sudden influx of kissing and sex. A friendship they'd both taken for a given, strained for the first time. The tension hurt.
Looking back, Jellal could see the problems with frustrating clarity. Dating Erza wasn't just an update to Friendship 3.0. It was a complete OS change and his system had trouble with the new software. As his friend, she'd been confident and assertive – but as a girlfriend she hesitated and flustered. There was a needy part of her he'd never seen before and it surprised him. She suddenly required validation, and Jellal failed miserably in delivery.
The breakup consisted of a mutual admission of fear of losing their friendship. Nothing was fleshed out. Nothing discussed. Just a swift brush under the rug and Jellal and Erza went back to just being just friends. The relief that came post-breakup was temporary. He missed her in a painfully new way and now felt hyper-aware of things he'd never noticed before. Erza dated around. A lot. He supposed she always had and he'd just never noticed – which only made everything hurt worse.
The men she saw were all idiots in his opinion. They fawned over her and gave her the attention she wanted but Jellal knew a hollow smile when he saw one. He didn't talk to her about that, though. He'd never asked about her boyfriends before and it felt even more awkward now.
Jellal's thumb hovered over Erza's picture. Since when did she use Tinder? His first thought was to close the app and pretend he'd never seen it but the impulse faded quickly. If he swiped left, he'd never come across her profile again. If he swiped right... then what? Was he the guy who swiped right on his friends? On Erza? And if he did what would his excuse be? Some passive aggressive nod to 'Hey, I see you out there'? Yikes.
The oven timer blared and Jellal scowled. He swiped right.
It was midnight when the text message came through.
'So when's our date?'
Jellal grinned and tapped out a reply. 'Is now good? I have left over pizza.'
'That awful frozen stuff you buy? No wonder you're still single.'
'Forever alone.' Erza didn't respond after that. Jellal plugged his phone into the charger and switched off the bedroom lamp. He felt ridiculous for agonizing earlier. She had no reason to read into his swipe at all and buyer's remorse sank in like salted ink.
The knocking didn't wake him up because he hadn't ever gone to sleep. Erza stood in his doorway wearing a hoodie over what was very clearly pajamas. Jellal held the door open and stepped aside. She headed straight for the couch and hid her hands in the front pocket of her sweatshirt.
"I couldn't sleep," she murmured. Jellal took a seat next to her.
"So you came over in pajamas?"
"I was feeling impulsive." She pursed her lips and took a breath. "Why did you do that earlier?"
"Uh," Jellal fumbled his thoughts. "Offer you frozen pizza?"
"No, Jellal," Erza said softly. "Don't deflect. If you didn't mean anything by it, that's fine but we've already learned what a lack of communication does to us."
He sighed and ran a hand over his rumpled hair. "Why are you on Tinder, Erza? And why didn't I know about it?"
"Should I give you updates on that part of my life? You never ask." Jellal gaped. Her words, though not untrue, hurt. "I'm sorry, that was –"
"No, don't apologize. You're right."
"Why are you on Tinder?" she asked pointedly. "It's more out of character for you than me."
"Because Lucy thinks I'm going to die alone otherwise."
"Look, Erza, I'm sorry. You're upset by this and that was never my intention."
"You know –" Erza paused and caught the tip of her ponytail between her fingers. "For a second there I thought that – I thought maybe –" She suddenly stood and her hands disappeared in the pocket again. "I shouldn't have come here in the middle of the night."
Erza crossed his apartment quickly and Jellal panicked. Now that she was here he didn't want her to leave – not when he had a million words on the tip of his tongue. He caught her elbow midway through the kitchen. She didn't turn around but gazed up at the ceiling.
"I miss you," he whispered. "I assumed I knew everything there was to know about you and that wasn't fair. I didn't know how to fix it."
"I couldn't lose you, Jellal." Her voice was quiet and he almost missed it. "I thought I could keep you if I let go a little bit. I never wanted to breakup."
"Erza –" She spun around and he hated to be the cause of the unshed tears in her eyes.
"I'm sorry I needed so much. I just thought you knew already. I've never had to ask you for anything before and suddenly just because we were a couple you felt a million miles away."
"I didn't think of you as needy before we dated. I just –"
"So you're that attentive with all your friends?" Erza's eyebrow quirked sarcastically. "You hold everyone's hand the way you did mine?"
"I –" Jellal blinked rapidly. "You're right."
"You do know me. I haven't changed. You just –"
"Connected the wrong dots?" He made an attempt to smile.
"Connected the wrong dots," she repeated in a whisper. "Why did you swipe right on me, Jellal?"
"Because I love you," he blurted. The words quite literally tripped from his mouth but Jellal didn't bother to retract or correct. "Because I fucked up before and I've spent the last two years trying to figure out where exactly I went wrong. Because I've been watching you date other people and I hate it."
"Why didn't you just tell me?"
"I didn't know how."
She finally returned a ghost of his smile. "You did okay just now."
"I hope so because I ran out of steam." Jellal held out his palms but Erza ignored them and wrapped her arms around his middle. The end of her ponytail caught in his fingers and his forehead fell to her shoulder.
"I love you, too."
"Can we start over?"
"I don't think so, Jellal." His heart stuttered but she smiled up at him. "I don't want to start over. I want to fix what we have and move forward."
"That's a better plan. You're so smart, Erza."
"Says the guy working on a doctorate." She grinned and bit her lip. Almost without his permission, Jellal's hand rose to her face. He ran his thumb over her jaw and pulled her lip from between her teeth. Erza's eyes didn't leave him even though he couldn't tear his own away from her lips.
"Since I'm telling you up front what I want and need now – instead of assuming you already know –" Her fingers tightened in the back of his shirt. "Kiss me."
She tasted like peppermint lip balm and everything familiar and comforting flooded his senses. Erza kissed him in a possessive way and he loved it. His hands found her waist and slid under the thick fabric of her sweatshirt. She didn't stop him when he pulled it over her head and let it fall to the floor.
"Are you staying?" he asked in a breath. Erza kissed him again and her tongue brushed against his bottom lip. He'd somehow forgotten how aggressive she could be when they were alone. Her fingers inched beneath the hem of his t-shirt before she caught herself.
"I want to stay."
"But?" Jellal desperately hoped there wasn't a but.
"Are you sure this is what you want? My heart can't take any more back and forth." He felt her question cut right though him. The palms of his hands covered her cheeks and his forehead touched hers.
"I want this, Erza. I want you." Jellal sighed and his thumb found her bottom lip again. "I'm willing to do the work."
"Then I'll stay," she whispered, taking his hand.
His bedroom was still dark and Erza slid between his sheets quickly. Her hair spilled over the pillow looking almost crimson instead of vibrant scarlet. When he joined her, she closed the space between them and took another kiss. She sighed against his lips and brushed her fingers over the shape of his tattoo.
"Is now a bad time to mention I don't have breakfast food?" he said, only half joking.
"You never have to mention that, Jellal." She kissed him once more and settled back into her pillow. "I always assume your kitchen is full of nonsense food and it's okay. I love you even though you have bad taste in the kitchen."
"Nonsense food," Jellal snorted and pulled her against his chest. "You have a bedside drawer full of candy and cake everyday."
She didn't respond. Her breaths fanned evenly across his neck and the sensation was both surreal and utterly concrete.
Jellal watched the last froth of soap slide down her body and his fingers followed in its wake. She leaned into him and wrapped her arms around his neck. Erza pulled him against her front as she backed against the tiled shower wall. His hand gripped her thigh as he hitched it around his waist.
They still fit perfectly together. Erza's tongue slid against his and the pace of her kisses fell into step with his own rhythm.
"Jellal," her whisper tangled all his thoughts and he became lost. She arched her back away from the wall and reached between them to touch herself. It was an olympic feat to not spill over the edge before her. Instead of watching her get off, his mouth latched onto her neck and he sucked hard.
Erza's breaths came short and fast and just when he thought he'd lose his mind entirely, she gasped and clenched around him. Her fingernails dug into his shoulder and her other arm fell limply to her side. Mindless with relief, Jellal finished himself off. He thought maybe she mumbled something into his shoulder but didn't quite catch it.
"Pancakes," she repeated.
"Pancakes, Jellal." He opened his eyes again and found her grinning up at him. "Aren't you hungry?"
"Starving." Despite his admission, he kissed her until the water turned cold.