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CHAPTER 3 : SWEETS

'What do you mean they were attacked?' yelled Natsu, finally paying attention.

The red haired mage had been fooling around with Happy, dancing around on tables to some music when he had overheard Master Markarov's words, which -considering the fact that the master had whispered them to Gray and Lucy on the complete other end of the dining hall- was no easy feat.

Other than the obvious absence of Erza Scarlet, it had been a relatively normal day in Fairy Tail. Fights broke out every half hour or so, Cana set about her usual pace at emptying the guild's alcohol reserves, Gajeel and Levy had apparently wandered off to some part of the library and Macao was holding the 'Annual Fairy Tail Arm-Wrestling Championships'. The fact that Natsu had picked up on that particular thread of conversation through all that din was testament to his ever growing –and sometimes odd- abilities.

'Erza should've never left without us! Come on gramps.. we're the dream team! You don't split up the dream team!' whined Natsu

He stormed over to where Master Markarov, Gray, and Lucy were seated, at the leftmost corner of the dining hall, Happy trailing behind him.

'I say we go get her now!,' announced Natsu loudly 'Come on gramps, tell me where she went!,'

'You know, for once, I agree,' said Lucy 'I don't like all this talk about secret missions from the council,'

'And since when does the council hire Fairy Tail wizards to do their dirty work for them?,' added Gray, who not surprisingly, was down to his shorts , again.

Master Markarov heaved a sigh and took a seat next to Lucy, leaving the two boys standing. Even to him, Erza's request seemed strange. Never before had the girl had been so adamant to go on a mission alone. Sure, she would be with a Council agent and him but still… He remembered the look in her eyes when she explained the details to him, so fierce, so determined.

But now that word of the recent attack on the prison had reached Markarov's ears, he wasn't so sure that Erza's plan had been thought through. Sure she was a powerful wizard, but having that man involved would leave Erza emotionally vulnerable. As any parent would want to protect their children, Markarov wanted to immediately bring Erza back to the safety of the guild. But however, he also realized that denying her the chance to accomplish this would mean denying her the closure she so deserved.

That child has to face her ghosts, thought Markarov.

'I think it's time you knew the whole story,' announced the old Master.

….

It was nightfall. Erza, Jellal, and Sweets had left the ruined prison site and had set up camp for the night. The prison had been smack in the middle of a dense tropical forest, populated, of course, with all kinds of dangerous magical beasts, poisonous insects, reptiles and plants. They decided that it would be better to head into the woods and loose any remaining Grimoire Hearts agents that could still be tracking them. Furthermore, it would only take one day on foot to reach their next destination.

In a forest clearing surrounded by heavy, ancient oaks, a large purple tent was set up. A fire sat crackling a few feet away from the tent's opening and the three people who sat on the grass around the merry flames wore similar expressions of exhaustion, anger and remorse. None had much to say or talk about, not after the catastrophe of the evening.

'How's the hand?,' asked Erza, nodding at Sweets' recovered hand, which, by magic, had re-grown itself shortly after the fight.

'I never knew someone could re-grow limbs by magic. I mean, I understand Polyrusica did all those years ago, but it took her weeks to do it, not minutes,'

'Well, I was one of 'those' kids,' he looked around at Jellal and Erza, expecting a lightbulb moment, or some sort of recognition. But all he got were blank stares.

'Oh, come on. You've never heard of it? Those freaky government experiments? Project 3173?,'

'Have you?,' said Erza to Jellal, who shrugged and shook his head in response.

Sweets' shoulders drooped in disappointment before perking up again. Now in story telling mode, the light had come back to his eyes and an excited expression danced on his face.

'When I was a kid, 6 or 7 years old.. I was, well, experimented on,'

'There must've been like 50 of us kids. All orphans ya know? Back then, the craze with those science geeks was trying to infuse human bodies with artificial powers. Something like lacrima infusion, but on a larger scale,'

'Anyway.. long story short, they exposed me to Etherion. Small doses over a long term period. They hoped my body would somehow absorb it and I'd be like a living weapon or something like that,'

He turned to Jellal and in a low voice he said,

'I think, they were just trying to re-create her ,'

'Her?' asked Jellal and Erza at the same time.

'Yeah, Reesha Valentine,' said Sweets.

This time, Erza was positive Sweets was searching Jellal's face for any hint of recognition. The feeling had been there before. As if Sweets was trying to manipulate the situation, wedge himself between Erza and Jellal. But if Jellal did remember anything, it didn't show on his unchanging expression. Maybe he didn't trust Sweets yet.

'Who's Reesha Valentine?,' asked Jellal

Or maybe, he was just a good actor as he always was.

'Never mind, It's a bit of Symphonian history, you should definitely read up on it if you have the chance,' said Sweets, smiling again.

'Which we will definitely do, once I understand what's going on here,' said Jellal, looking from Erza to Sweets pointedly.

'Well,' said Sweets 'We know your memory hasn't fully recovered yet. And recent, ah.. shall we say.. evidence, has come up suggesting that the attempted resurrection of Zeref at the Tower of heaven wasn't your endgame. We have reason to believe that Ultear is up to something more sinister, something, that you might have helped create,'

'So you think I've created another world destroying machine of some sort, and you want to pick my brains and stop it before Grimore Hearts starts it up?,' said Jellal, his hackles rising.

'What he means is that,' added Erza 'We want to help you remember. I want you to remember. Not just the bad things, but all the good memories we had, back before.. you know..,'

'Before I ruined it,' said Jellal, turning away 'Yeah, I've heard,'

Erza was at loss for words. He was hurting, and she couldn't do or say anything to comfort him. She couldn't even comfort herself. Not when the truth was burned so glaringly into her memory. How could she make him see, how could she make him feel the whiplash, the afterburn that those painful memories still held for her? How could she make him understand that she wanted them both to heal, to get past their shared past, when he couldn't access his memories, and she found it too painful to watch those memories all over again.

'Oh kay,' said Sweets, breaking the silence.

'We should all get some rest. At first light tomorrow, I vote we make our move for the Magnolia-Symphonia border,'

Silence met his words.

Damn, they sure aren't happy campers. He thought

'I'll take first watch,' said Sweets.

It was late, very late. Probably even past midnight. Jellal and Erza had retired into the tent. Thank goodness he had the sense to pack a tent magically enlarged enough to be a single story hut. Otherwise, sleeping arrangements would've been messy.

Not that those two would mind

A smile tugged at Sweets' lips as he raised his newly re-grown hand, examining his handiwork. The Etherion was good for something after all. In his opinion, the magic was sorely misunderstood. It wasn't just the magic of destruction, it was also the magic of creation.

The power to turn something into nothing and nothing into something.

The fire in front of where Sweets was keeping warm suddenly crackled with bursts of magic. Lowering his hand, Sweets saw the face of Councilman Shinra staring back at him through the fire, his face tinted an ugly shade of yellowish orange, like some ugly demonic apparition.

'So?,' said Shinra in a whisper 'What do you have to report?,'

'Nothing much has happened since we left the prison site,' said Sweets in a disinterested voice, examining his hand again.

'But after all, its only been a couple hours. You should learn to relax old man. Watch your blood pressure,'

'And what of Jellal? Is he who we think he is? Does he remember?,' asked Shinra urgently.

'Wrong again father-in-law,' said Sweets, finally meeting the Councilman's gaze.

'He doesn't seem to be anybody's reincarnation. That guy probably doesn't even remember his own birthday. All he wants to do is run away with his sweetheart and elope. Why can't you council people leave them alone?,'

'I will not tolerate this insolence from you, bastard!,' yelled Shinra, his moustache flopping erratically.

'And you will not address me as family. Not after what you did to my daughter. The only reason you're on this case is because you're a walking time bomb. And I hold the trigger.,'

Sweets' expression darkened. In the end, he was a weapon after all.

And the prize for completing the mission? His freedom.

The flames had flickered and died. As soft pellets of water hit his face, he turned up to the heavens as they finally shed tears for the fallen.

'I'm fortunate that all the women in my life are stupid enough to believe what I say,'

Jellal let out a maniacal laugh as Erza swung her twin swords into the tower again, missing him, but shattering a host of lacrima crystals in the process.

'Is that all you've got? Did you perhaps use all your energy fighting Ikagura?,'

Her yell of frustration and the look of pure anger and hatred which crossed her features only served to excite Jellal more. His Erza, his warrior princess, fighting him so earnestly. When will she learn? She was playing right into his arms.

'I wasn't strong enough… to beat Zeref in the end,' how easily the lies passed through his lips. How foolishly she let her guard down and sympathy crossed her features. How stupid. How innocent.

How much he wanted to pin her down himself, to let her fear him one last time. To touch her delicious body that he would likely never feel again. To kiss her, to taste her, to thrill her.

The Binding Snake worked its magic, burning her skin, eating into her muscles, halting her movement. As she screamed in pain, he said the words that would hurt her even more.

'I love you, Erza,'

A layer of sweat moistened Jellal's skin as he bolted up from his nightmare. The memories always came back to him this way. In dark, fragmented visions. Only when his mind was quiet and calm, could he piece together the entire scene, making sense of the distorted mess that were his memories. He placed his face in his palms, taking deep breaths in an effort to calm him down.

He could hear the pitter patter of rain on the roof of the tent.

Drip drip drop

That's right, there had been a water mage at the tower too. He remembered. She –what was her name?- and that other girl, the stellar mage –the blonde-. They beat one of his assassins.

He turned and stared at the only other occupant of the tent. Erza lay in a cot a few feet away from him, her features calm and serene, her blanket riding low over her nightie and for the strangest reason, he felt the urge to kiss her.

This wasn't the first time he had watched her sleep wasn't it?

But that memory was lost to him. For now.

He got up, slipped on his shoes and made his way out of the tent, into the light rain. He needed a walk to clear his head. He noticed that Sweets was nowhere to be seen.

After a few minutes of walking through the dark forest, guided only by the fire in the palm of his hand, Jellal stopped at a cliff overlooking a lush valley. The smell of earth after rain calmed his senses. Nature always did calm him. Even back at prison, the highlight of his day would often be the daily walks the guards allowed them. And if you were good, they would let you stay out longer.

He could've been staring out into the distance for a few seconds, minutes, hours even, but the next thing he knew, he heard a soft rustling behind him and he turned to see Erza standing behind him. Now clad in shorts and t-shirt. She wore a look of relief on her face.

'Found you,' she smiled 'What's the matter? Can't sleep?,'

'Why aren't you angry at me?,' asked Jellal, ignoring her question.

At her bewildered look, he continued.

'I remember. I remember what happened that day in the throne room in the tower. We fought. I hurt you, in the worst way possible. I tried to kill you, Erza!,'

He paused, as if it pained him to continue.

'I said those horrible things and I lied to you. Made you believe me and then rip it all out from under you. You should hate me, you should want me dead,'

'So why don't you?,'

Erza looked down at the soggy grass between her feet. Jellal couldn't see her eyes, them being obscured by her bangs. He hoped, he prayed.

'You weren't you,' she said after awhile.

'You were possessed. I knew the Jellal from my childhood was a kind and gentle man. I knew he was in there somewhere. He is. He's standing in front of me right now,'

She paused again, choosing her words carefully.

'Lets not talk about this now, let's go back,' she said, extending an arm towards him, wanting him to take her hand, just like she had to his, so many times before.

She waited, and when he did not take her hand, the smile disappeared from her face.

'Jellal?,'

'Its Natsu, right?,'

'What?,' said Erza, clutching her hand to her chest.

'The way you looked at him when he pulled you out of the crystal, the way he swept you into his arms when he saved you. You looked at him like he was your savior.'

There was a look of anger and disgust on his face. The likes of which Erza was frightened of. The face of the man she never wanted to see again.

'I should have won that night. I should have won a long time ago! You should've trusted me, let yourself be with me. But you chose him over me, them over me,'

Rooted to the ground in shock, Erza stood in silence. He was spouting nonsense. No way in hell was she going to stand that, not after what he had put her through.

'Stop it!,' she yelled

'Don't you see?,' she said, tears already brimming the corners of her eyes.

'I didn't end it when I had my chance that night because I couldn't . You, Jellal, are the reason the walls around my heart are so thick that I let no one in! My fear of you is the reason I spent every single day of those 8 years wishing and wondering if my friends were alright, not daring to make a move!,'

'When you took the full blast of Etherion from the tower, and I thought you had died, a part of me wanted to die as well,'

'And when you came back, I felt happy again, like I could make everything right,'

She paused, gauging his expression for a reaction.

'There's no logic behind that is there? What I'm doing now is madness!,'

Tears fell freely from her eyes now.

'I see now,' she said softly

'There will never, truly be happiness between us will there?,'

He was silent. His face no longer bore those hateful expressions, but he made no more to console her, neither did he say anything at all. He hadn't planned the outburst, and a dead weight had settled itself in his stomach.

He had made her cry. Again.

'Stay away from me , Jellal,'

And in that moment, his world shattered.

Woots! End of Chapter 3! Im taking this as a little birthday present to myself… bwahaha..

So yup.. tons of Rave Master references here. The main reason being that Rave Master was the very first anime I ever watched in my life. And I feel like paying tribute to its greatness. In this fic, Symphonia and Magnolia are neighboring countries.

Alright, its 1.20 am, and im craving a sandwich. Please leave a review if you're free. It would definitely make my day.

Cheers!

Asianpearl!