His fingers scraped over the flutes of the portico column. He never expected to hit the ground – but he did. Over and over. He bounced off the concrete porch but his head still rang from the punch so he tumbled down the steps and onto the wet cobblestone of the driveway. Jellal's head throbbed, his hands stung, and his knees positively screamed.
Acnologia's booming voice was half-drowned by the thunder. His hands closed in the front of Jellal's shirt and he dragged him to his feet.
"How long?" he shouted directly into Jellal's face. Despite the bourbon still swimming in his system and the ringing in his head, Jellal wrapped his hands around Acnologia's wrists.
"You're fucking wasted," he growled. "Pathetic!"
Acnologia's eyes lit with rage. "You would know what wasted looks like," he said in a low voice. "Wouldn't you?"
"Where's Mom?" Jellal demanded. "Where's Lucy? What the fuck is going on?"
Acnologia released him and Jellal stumbled back. The sound of manic laughter filled the driveway and courtyard, and echoed off the house. "What's going on?" he repeated back, amusedly baffled. "My son, my own flesh and blood, has been sleeping with our enemies."
Jellal blinked. He glanced over at the car again and realized how fucking stupid he'd been.
"Or haven't you fucked her yet?" Acnologia snarled, taking another swing. Jellal was prepared this time and dodged. "Are you fucking the Dreyar boy too? I wouldn't be surprised."
"You don't know what you're talking about." Jellal ducked under Acnologia's arm and made for the house.
"Don't I?" Jellal was jerked back by a hand in his collar. The sudden constriction of his throat made him gag. He jammed an elbow into Acnologia's ribs and whirled around in an attempt to push the man to the ground.
"You're ruining this family, Dad," he spat.
"This family would be ruined without me." Acnologia's fist snapped forward again and Jellal tried not to catch it, but the hit landed on his cheekbone. Jellal's elbow hit the cobblestone and a groan clawed its way from his throat as he rolled to his back. "Your mother's sister and her husband wanted to dilute us with garbage." Acnologia dropped to the ground and held him down while trying to regain balance. Jellal recognized the red-rimmed eyes, and in the dark of night and rain, his skin was ghostly pale.
"Who's us?" Jellal demanded. "You aren't even a Heartfilia!"
"How long have you been betraying me?" Acnologia hissed.
Angry, lost, and broken, Jellal smiled. "All my life," he breathed. He didn't fight back when his father pulled him up by the shirt and slammed his back against the cobblestone. "All my life I've known you were trash, and I have done everything in my power to hurt you." The lie was sharp on his tongue but the truth cut deeper. He'd loved his father once, and that loss left him empty and craving something new.
Acnologia seemed to expect this response. His fist tightened in Jellal's shirt. "You're not a Fernandes." His words were nearly eaten by the rain. "I will slice that mark right off your face."
"I never wanted to be a Fernandes anyway," Jellal said on the edge of a hysterical laugh. He craned his neck up to level his gaze with his father's. "I'd rather have a fucked up face than anything to do with you." He didn't see the knife until lightning illuminated the sky. Acnologia's expression was a picture of hell-bent, manic wrath but he hesitated with the blade. "Do it," Jellal urged. His mind was already in a loop of pain he hadn't felt yet. He wanted it.
"Stop this!" Anna's voice from the porch rattled in Jellal's skull. Acnologia froze, the knife still in his hand. "This has gone far enough." Though the rain had a din all its own and she stood several feet away, Jellal recognized the click of a round shifting into place. "You will release my son."
"He's all yours." Acnologia flipped the knife away from Jellal's face and stood. "I'm not surprised you'd defend him, mi amor. Traitors defending traitors."
Jellal stood and tried not to sway. He didn't believe for a second his father wouldn't try and strike a second time.
"This family is no stranger to betrayal." Anna's jaw flexed at his words and Jellal's heart raced. The air crackled with something terrible. Something deadly. "Everyone has always been against me. I did all the work. I brought us from the debt." Acnologia breathed heavily. "You should be thanking me!"
"Thanking you?" Anna asked. She stood under the portico, and though she was sheltered from the rain, her cheeks were streaked. "Should I thank you for burning my sister?"
"Your sister –"
"Was family!" Anna screamed. The gun shook in her hands. Jellal's eyes slid up the side of the house and thought he saw the curtains shifting in the Palladian windows that overlooked the driveway and courtyard. "You burned the theatre to the ground over business!"
"Did Igneel tell you that?" Acnologia's voice was low and malicious. Jellal swallowed his shock and inched a wide berth in an attempt to join his mother under the portico. He knew all too well what a man strung out on righteous lies and white powder was capable of. "¿Me traicionarán todos?"
"Make your accusations," Anna cried. "Nothing I've done puts me on your level." She lowered the gun and Jellal sucked in a breath. He knew the second she took her finger off the trigger it was the show of weakness Acnologia had been waiting for. Quick as a snake, he struck.
Acnologia lunged across the driveway and toppled Anna to the ground. The knife that he still clenched tightly in his hand settled on her throat and the gun went sliding across the concrete. Jellal blinked. The bourbon had slowed his reactions but he managed to snatch up the gun before it was rendered useless by the rain.
"Everyone in this house beds down with the enemy," Acnologia growled. His nose touched Anna's and his hand against her neck shook. "You've broken my heart." A drop of blood slid over the side of her neck, and Jellal made a decision.
He was surprised his mother had chosen the Desert Eagle. It was a heavy weapon. Not easy to control or fire on the fly. Perhaps she'd chosen a firearm to match her determination. The magazine floated perfectly. The tang felt at home in his hand. Jellal wrapped a supporting hand around his other and crossed his thumbs. With a readied push and pull of force, Jellal pointed the gun at his father's shoulder.
The sound of the bullet firing out of the barrel and into Acnologia's body wasn't as loud as he'd expected but it tore through the night all the same. Jellal watched as his father slumped to the side. Anna scrambled away from him clutching at the split skin of her neck. Acnologia's eyes met Jellal's and he laughed even as he choked on blood. The bullet had only skimmed his shoulder but lodged in the curve of his chest.
"Betrayal," Acnologia croaked. "It runs in this cursed blood."
"Just yours," Jellal whispered, only loud enough for him to hear his own words. He fired the gun again on a whim and the recoil nearly knocked him off his feet. His aim was poorer than the first shot and missed both Acnologia's chest and head, but left his shoulder and neck in splattered bits.
He stared at the body and the blood dripping over the edge of the concrete stairs to mix with the rain. A firm hand pried the Desert Eagle from his fingers and, though she was still bleeding, Anna turned him away from the body to pull him into an embrace.
"Are you okay?" he breathed. The world felt thin. Anna pulled back and took his face in her hands. She wiped the rain and blood from his cheeks with her thumbs.
"Are you?" Jellal tried to glance over his shoulder, but her grasp on his face was solid. "Don't look. It's over." She blinked, and tears fell from her eyes. "It should've been me to do it. The mother should protect her children, not the other way around. I'm sorry."
"I couldn't let him hurt you." Jellal lifted his hand to the cut on her neck. The bleeding had already stopped.
"Jellal," she said sternly. His eyes focused on hers. "I love you."
"I love you too, Mom." In a show of broken weakness he hid his face in her shoulder. He couldn't remember the last time he'd clung to his mother so desperately. His mind and heart had written Acnologia off years before, but the thought of losing Anna pushed him to a limit he'd never considered. It was unacceptable.
"There's work to do." She pulled back, sniffling and wiping his face again. "Work you can't be here for. This is going to be a circus."
"We need to make it so you weren't here tonight." Anna's eyes pierced him and he nodded. Of course she was right. "I'll make a call, but you have to get out of here until I can clean this up. We'll say you stayed out all night. I don't think it's a stretch, considering. Did anyone see you come home? How did you get here?"
"Uh – " Jellal felt a pull to look behind him at his father's body but strained to ignore it. "I was with Laxus at the harbor. It's Thursday." Anna nodded as if she understood perfectly what that meant. Jellal didn't have time to contemplate the implication paired with Acnologia's earlier accusations. "He dropped me off behind that apartment complex over on Amaryllis and Sage."
"And no one saw you?"
"No one ever sees, Mom," he whispered. The earth seemed to be slowing its spin, and the punches he'd taken were catching up.
"Good. That's good. We can fix this."
"What about Lucy?"
"Lucy is strong, Jellal. This is our family now." She tried to smile, but Jellal saw through her. "This is the one night that I'll accept you not coming home. Do you understand?"
He nodded and turned to head back out into the rain. Before he stepped through the gates of Love and Lucky, Jellal glanced up over his shoulder at the tall windows that oversaw everything. In a flash of lightning, he saw Lucy press her palm against the glass.
Jellal wandered aimlessly through the streets of Magnolia, considering his options. Without a car he didn't have many. Ultear was out of bounds. He couldn't risk the watchful eye of her mother. She would absolutely be on the investigation team assigned to his father's murder. It was one thing for her to shield him from the drunk tank when she had no respectable rank to speak of, and allow him use of her home after nearly overdosing on heroine. But catching her eye in a situation like this? No.
Igneel might take him in for the night, but the south part of town was farther than he thought his legs were capable of carrying him. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Jellal thought maybe the Dragon Slayers would be busy for the night – especially if Anna was the real link and not his father.
Out of breath and dazed, Jellal ducked into a bus stop shelter and fell to the bench. He gritted his teeth and tried to relax against the backrest. His shoes left wet prints on the cracked concrete. He tried to focus on that while breathing slow and shallow. It was hard enough to inhale and exhale smoothly with bruised ribs, but add in the fact that he hadn't caught a decent breath since his father's crest ring collided with his jaw, and Jellal didn't think easy breathing would come anytime soon.
A pair of headlights swung around the corner and a black car came to stop at the curb. Water from his hair dripped into his eyes, but the head of crimson revealed by the slowly descending back seat window was unmistakable. He'd never met Erza's mother before, but damn if they didn't look almost identical. The woman's lips twitched downward. Jellal imagined he must be a poor sight. The car door swung open and she slid across the seat further into the shadows.
Jellal's eyes scanned up and down the dark street before he sighed painfully and stumbled back out into the rain. He almost felt bad for getting the seats wet, but let that go as soon as he felt the padding against his back. Quickly, he pulled the car door shut and enjoyed the warmer air caressing his skin. He closed his eyes and let his jaw hang slack as the driver eased away from the curb. A towel landed in his lap. Jellal got a hold of himself enough to open his eyes again and focus on it.
"At least dry your hair," Erza's mother said in an unexpectedly soft voice. "It'll be enough of a horror for Erza to see you this way."
"There aren't many people I bother with favors for," she interrupted smoothly, her eyes pinning him. Jellal's lungs almost felt emptier than when he'd pulled the trigger of his mother's Desert Eagle. Despite her soft tone, there was cunning in her gaze he'd never seen in Erza. "If not for my daughter, I'd have told Igneel to deal with the mess he and your mother have made himself."
Her words swam in his head. The warm air sedated him to what felt like a buzz. All he wanted was to lie down.
"You're a mess, Jellal Fernandes." She sighed frustratedly. He suspected she spoke more to herself than him. "The beautiful ones are always the messiest. Snakes like my husband are more predictable—if you know when to cut off the head."
His eyes slid shut without permission and he couldn't think anymore.
The scent of freesia mingled with sweat. Jellal groaned. His feet were shuffling but his weight was propped against something hard. His eyes cracked open when his shoulders were pressed downward into a chair. Fingers brushed the hair from his forehead and over the bruises on his face.
"What happened?" a familiar, worried voice belonging to a blurry face asked.
"I don't know. I only fished him from the gutter as promised." He recognized this voice. The woman from the car. Erza's mother. The room spun into focus. Jellal thought he might vomit, but a splash of water on his face broke through the nausea.
"Hey, asshole," Laxus growled. "Wake up."
"Laxus!" a new voice scolded. A flash of platinum snagged his eye before Erza's hair swished as she stepped between him and Laxus. Something about the silver girl swearing at Laxus tugged at his memory. He almost…
"Was that necessary?" Erza's mother asked, slicing through his fuzzy thoughts. "I only just convinced him to dry off and now he's wet again."
Jellal's abdomen throbbed as he did his best to wipe his face with his palms. His hands wouldn't stop shaking. "I'm fine," he croaked. Erza spun around and knelt in front of him. Her eyes were wide, and he felt her tabulating every scrape and bruise.
"What the fuck happened?" Laxus demanded.
"My dad happened." He cleared his throat, and accepted a fresh glass of water from the girl with the silver hair who looked almost familiar. "My driver's a narc." Jellal didn't have to glance up at Laxus to know he was fuming.
"You sloppy motherfu–"
"Stop it, Laxus!" Erza took the empty water glass and set it aside. "He's had enough."
"Erza's right." The woman Igneel had called Ellie had all the authority of a nuclear bomb. If Jellal hadn't been so fuzzy he'd have relished Laxus's chastised expression. "He's punch drunk and has nothing of value to say. Get him upstairs before someone with a hinged jaw sees."
Jellal let Erza pull him to his feet but shoved Laxus off when a steadying grip grabbed his arm.
"Take the service elevator. Even if Ivan returned this second, he'd never be fast enough to catch you." Erza's mother pointed to the polished silver doors at the back of the room – a kitchen, he realized. She had Laxus nailed to the floor with a sharp look, and he only nodded and gestured toward the opposite door. The young woman with silver hair wrung her hands and stared up at Laxus. No, this wasn't the silver girl from his memories. Her hair was longer, curlier. Still, though. So, so familiar. The elevator doors drew shut and cut her off from his view.
"Are you alright?" Erza whispered.
Jellal's gaze bounced off the walls of the lift. "I'll live." He smiled at her but she didn't look relieved at all. The elevator lurched to a stop and the doors slid open again.
Erza glanced up and down the corridor before grabbing his hand. "This way," she said, in an unnecessarily hushed voice. The hallway didn't look at all as he'd imagined. Only one door was immediately visible, and when they rounded a corner, just one more came into view.
"Not a whole lot of rooms for a hotel," he mused, his curiosity getting the better of him.
"This is one of three residential floors. My mom's suites are down the last hallway on the right, we just passed Laxus', and this one's mine." Erza let go of his hand and pulled a key from her pocket. She pushed him into the room and locked it behind her. "Ivan keeps the top floor for himself. I've never been up there. The floor below us is used for visitors that aren't hotel guests."
Jellal dropped his hand from his ribs and took in Erza's room. It was larger than his, and a good deal tidier. He moved to sit on her couch, but she grabbed his arm.
"Oh, no you don't. If you sit, you'll never get back up." She directed him towards her bathroom. White marble and gold fixtures gleamed everywhere. Erza stepped in front of him and lifted his shirt. Jellal winced as he raised his arms to pull it over his head. Though gentle, her fingers still hurt. The surreptitious way she swiped tears from her cheeks didn't go unnoticed as she turned away from him.
Erza switched on the shower water and Jellal shivered in anticipation of the hot spray. She nodded at his pants but didn't wait for him to remove them before digging through a drawer.
"Here," she said, grabbing his hand. Three white pills rolled out of the bottle and something inside of him both recoiled and delighted.
"I don't think I should have these," he whispered, unable to take his eyes off the pills. The pain in his cheek, skull, and ribs begged for relief but his mind warned him off any opiate derivatives – synthetic or no.
"You're in pain and there's anti-inflammatory medication in the compound."
"Erza –" His heart raced.
"I don't want you to suffer, Jellal, but if you think you shouldn't..." She trailed off and took the pills between her fingers. Before she could return them to the bottle, he grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand toward his mouth. Her eyes were stuck on his, and he didn't even try to look away.
The pills tasted horrible going down dry but he swallowed them and pressed his tongue against the tips of her fingers. His demons be damned, Jellal wanted to be rid of everything he could feel. She popped the button at his waist free and pushed the pants down over his hips with one hand. Without a word she left him alone in the bathroom.
Jellal stepped under the water and braced himself against the marble wall. The hot water took away the sting of his bruises, even though he knew logically he should be taking a cold shower. Shivering didn't appeal to him, though. He wasn't looking to wreck even a second of the relief Erza's pills would bring. After a few moments and slow breaths, the pills began to mix with the last of the bourbon in his stomach and the pain subsided. He breathed deeply and felt gorgeously numb. This was what he'd missed. Jellal raised his face to the spray and smiled.
A pair of hands slid over his back and around his waist. He felt her lips along his spine and, with perhaps too much speed, Jellal turned. She was pink in the steam except for her hair. Wet ropes of darkened scarlet blazed a path downward to her breasts. He watched her fingers find the bruises on his ribs and arms before she took in the ruin of his face. Her touch no longer hurt. Everything hummed.
"How do you feel?" she whispered just above the sound of the water. Jellal's answer was an impulsive kiss. Erza wasn't as gentle as before. She clung to him and pressed her body against his. As much as he wanted to see her, the feel of her was good too.
The smooth expanse of white and gold-flecked marble complimented Erza's skin when he pressed her against it. He took the time to acquaint himself with her body in a way the backseat of his car would never allow. She was soft but firm. Jellal's hands gathered the bulk of her hair over her shoulder. In the process, he knocked over a bottle of soap. The humid air positively dripped with the scent of freesia. He could taste it on his tongue and on her lips and on the tips of his fingers. The humming grew both louder and softer. It was familiar and he hadn't realized how much he truly missed the sound in his ears.
Erza's arms wound around his neck and without considering the strain on his damaged body, he lifted her. Her back slid against the smooth marble and her thighs gripped him tightly. Jellal didn't wait to see if she'd hold herself up before leaning in and leaving kisses on her throat and breasts.
One thigh hitched higher on his hip when the tip of him nudged her opening. She twisted and grasped at his shoulders, trying to achieve something but Jellal wasn't ready just yet. He kissed the dip in her collarbone, her jaw, and behind one ear before dragging his tongue over the slope of her neck. Erza's breaths were furiously impatient when he took her lips.
He reached over to shut the water off before letting her feet fall to the shower floor. Erza glared up at him in frustration and he didn't think she'd ever looked more appealing. She grabbed a towel and pat them both down before taking his wrist and pulling him through the steam choked bathroom back into her bedroom. Jellal's body buzzed with anticipation and muted pain – the air in her bedroom wasn't quite as warm and agitated him. The contrast only added to his excitement.
She ducked under his arm and spun him around before pushing him into the bed against the headboard. Her pillows puffed around him. He didn't stop smiling even as the palms of her hands pressed lightly against his bruised ribs. Erza straddled his waist and grabbed his wrists. She wanted him to touch her, and he obliged.
Stretching over him, Erza tapped her finger against the base of the bedside lamp. All the lights in the room dimmed. She gazed down at him with heavy eyes and took his erection in her hand. Jellal's palms fell to her hips and held her balanced as she guided him inside. She moved fluidly, and he couldn't quite remember where he ended and she began. Unable to stay away from her, Jellal sat up and left a disjointed pattern of kisses across her clavicle, under her breasts, and on the curve of her neck. Her skin tasted like nothing he'd ever sampled before. His mind muddled further.
She sighed, and the tremor in her belly spoke volumes. Jellal's arms circled around her before he flipped her back to the bed. Tendrils of blood red scarlet fell across the mattress and his fingers tangled in them. Erza's breaths were high and shallow. Her thighs squeezed, and Jellal's ribs protested.
"Jellal," she breathed. "Please." The sound of her voice was thick and sweet in his ears. He wanted to hear her beg him for hours. Nothing else in the whole world mattered more than this exact moment. His fingers found her on the edge and her release came quickly.
Jellal's toes tingled with the numbness that always came with the high. Pills were not the same as powder. They were cheaper.
No, the rational part of his mind corrected. Better for you. Less dangerous. Less deadly. Less... less less less.
His arm slipped under her knee, and he found a new angle to stop the argument in his head. Jellal's climax wasn't an edge or a peak – it was the impact of a train into a wall. His forehead fell to her shoulder and he couldn't quite catch his breath. Erza's lips pressed soft kisses to his cheeks and eyelids. He felt her fingers brush the place on his jaw where the Fernandes family crest ring had left its mark.
He thought maybe he said something but couldn't, for the life of him, remember what it was. The utter ruination that came after sex on a high had slipped his mind at some point in the last year. Or was it the screaming of his body and muscles that sapped him of every last bit of energy? It didn't matter, really. All of his memories were now dripping in red. Erza's face replaced the others in his foggy mind. Red like her hair. Red like her lips. Just red.
His arms felt weak and useless. Erza rolled him to his side and disappeared only for a moment before covering them both with her sheets. Freesia body wash seeped into his dreams. The blooms were purple but all he saw was red.