A/N: Written for Litashe's Fairy Tail Writing Challenges.
EDIT: Does anyone get irritated by randomly grouping words together whenever you italicize things? T_T. Just discovered the glitch today.
Pairing: Gerza (JellalErza)
Rating: T for sexual references.
Genre: Hurt/Comfort/Friendship (with Romantic hint)
Details: Maximum words is three thousand.
Quotes: "After thinking and thinking, I figured out that [insert Jellal's or Erza's name here] confuses me terribly. Almost to the point of my mental-destruction." This doesn't need to be in dialogue, but you may get it in dialogue. (Lit – I went ahead and paraphrased it…you don't mind if I kinda took out part of it, too, would you? D= )
Erza doesn't remember anything except for her name. And maybe the few, scattered friends she has made in this decrepit hole. She thinks she used to have another eye, but now there's a filthy bandage sticking to it, sticky from the constant sweat and grime.
They work like dogs, but Erza isn't quite sure how she remembers that expression, when she can't even recall what a dog is.
But it doesn't matter. They work day in and day out, fighting over scraps of food and trying to find the lightest load of stone. There's no end to the building, the whistling snap of the whips, no end to the heavy, monotonous cycle.
She hasn't known anything else outside of these bars, but at the same time, she's sure that she, too, once was outside these walls. There was a word to describe it. She doesn't remember what that word was, either, except that it smelled fresher than the mildew that clung to the ceilings of the room. It had a ring to it.
Another command barks out, and she hurriedly quickens her steps, wincing when another stone cuts into her foot. She'll have Uncle check it later, once the work ends for today. She brings the stone to another barefoot, scrappy looking kid who doesn't even look at her. Behind her, Jellal pulls up with his load and deposits it to the closest Builder. The two meet eyes, then walk slowly as possible back to the pile of rock, where they'll have to start all over again. Erza's limping now because of the wound, and Jellal glances at the small smear of blood that starts to color her trail.
When they arrive back at the start, he automatically takes the largest stone from her pile and starts towing it toward the Builders again. Erza only manages a grateful smile before tiredly selecting another rock to load onto the small cart.
Later, once everyone has had their rations, they all huddle into a small circle. There, Uncle carefully takes a strip from an old shift and carefully boils it in what is left of the water. He then bandages and knots it around her small foot, and Erza thanks him for his help, as is customary.
Afterwards, all the children crowd around the elderly Uncle, as he tells them stories of the Outside in a hushed, creaking voice.
"You see, out there, there are things called cities out there", he tells the younger ones – the ones who had been born in the prison. "I once passed through one of the big ones – Magnolia, I think. There were all sorts of vendors there, people who sold everything, from soap to rich skin cream…" Erza listens to these talks with an impatient air, willing for something to jog her memory, to make her remember.
Sometimes she thinks she gets a glimpse of something. Something dry and cool, or rough and wet under her feet. But these glimpses disappear soon enough, and she can only repeat the words that triggered them – "crinkly stuff, you know, they write things on it and pass the knowledge down to others", "Nothing quite like the feel of fresh overturned earth on a cool morning day" – she's sure that she experienced these things before, what Uncle talks about. But soon she can't remember exactly what the glimpse was about, and it fades from her memory – and she wishes she had that thing called parchment, so she could write it all down before it slipped from her fingers.
Parchment. She rolls the word around in her mind, thinking of the sharp ch and the smoother –ment that follows it.
But sooner or later Erza learns to grow up, and she stops wondering about what she lost when Master threw her against the wall. She remembers how to survive here, and that's enough. The fairy tales the elders mutter about are simply stories to keep the children's eyes sparkling, and one by one they all leave the fireside to catch up on more sleep, rather than staying up again to hear the same words leave the man's mouth.
Jellal is the only one who remains in the end, but he had always been peculiar that way.
One day, she asks about the strange marking that crisscrosses across his right eye. Jellal looks surprised, but then quietly murmurs:
"It…It's something my family used to do. It was something that marked them a Fernandes…so everyone who saw us together knew that we were united, and that we would always stick together."
"What's a Fernandes?"
"…it's…a sort of second name, I guess. It says who you're related to – everyone has one. It's called a 'last name'."
"Last name," she echoes out loud. It sounds almost apocalyptic, something you'd be remembered as. Then something strikes her. "But I…I don't have one.
"I…I think I forgot it." Another thought strikes her then, and the fear leaves her body in the next breath – "Or maybe…maybe I never had one."
"It's okay. I'll think of one."
Jellal gives her one of his thoughtful looks, the one that means that he's considering something important.
"Erza…Erza Scarlet. Yes, Scarlet. That way, you won't ever forget it again." He reaches for her hair and holds it up for her to see. "It's the same color as your hair."
"But – but what if it gets dirty again, like last time? I'll forget – and I won't be able to remember - ." The fear is real, forgetting – and never knowing what you lost.
"I'll remember for you, then. I won't forget."
"How are you so sure?"
"How could I forget something as pretty as your hair?"
And with those words, a bit of the darkness in Erza bleeds away.
"The guards won't notice if it's just the two of us."
"Why should we kill ourselves over carrying stones? There's a better world out there, Erza, I just know it. Just come with me. We can do this."
"What about the others? Simon, Milliana? We can't just leave them behind."
"After we leave, we can help them escape from the Outside."
"We'll observe the guards for a while, mark out their habits, when they change shifts, that sort of thing – and then we'll bribe one of them with alcohol and boom! We'll be free."
"How are you so sure the Outside is better? How are you so sure that there even is an Outside?"
"I just know it. I can feel it" – he pointed to his chest – "here."
"…I don't remember the existence of an Outside."
"I'll wait until you remember, then," he whispered,
a fragment of a thousand promises.
They're fifteen, now, and life is the same. Well, there are some changes – she starts bleeding every other month, and those few days are the worst, as the smell of dried blood sticks to her skin like red, crumbly plaster.
Her hair is longer, now, it reaches her shoulders. After wash days, it shines deep, bold, and scarlet – just like her name. She blushes when her hair turns heads afterwards – a welcome sight after grimaces and commands.
One day, though, it all changes. Erza knows it's been long in coming – she knows that she's only been spared by her late development.
"Girl – what's your name?"
"Look at 'em coconuts! Hey, come over here Girl, show us what you got."
Erza continues to walk, ignoring them.
"HEY, I TOLD YOU TO –"
Erza starts running. At first, it seems like she'll be able to escape unscathed – after all, the men are all carrying heavy whips, and it takes energy to carry them – but then they start to catch up. Erza starts sprinting even though she knows that it'll only increase the punishment when it comes. The faster she runs, the more her vision blurs, and then –
"Bitch! Where the fuck do you think you're going?" The man glares at her as if everything is her fault.
No. Erza knows this man, knows he's only a step higher than the lackeys tailing her. She starts running the opposite direction, even though it's hopeless. She's running out of time.
Please, no. Let me escape just this once.
I don't want to be here.
They eventually catch her. They always do. It's the way it works here.
First, they throw her to the ground. Erza already knows it's too late to try struggling. Then they carelessly relieve her of her ugly shift, and proceed to whip her. Halfway through the beating, they notice how the movement makes her breasts bounce, and they forget about the first activity and simply move onto the second.
The first time hurts the most, the other girls have told her. Once that time is over, then it isn't as bad. You just have to endure.
Pressed against a wall, with strange and ugly hands against her skin, breath that smells like alcohol. She doesn't really notice the pain when he enters her – her back burns more from the whip marks. Once he's sated himself, he leaves and lets the men behind him have their turn, as well.
This is a sight that she's seen all her life, lived it, breathed it through the corners of her eyes. This…this is ordinary. Normal. She shouldn't be affected by this.
She feels useless, used.
But when has that ever changed anything?
When she gets back to her cell after work, Milliana lets Erza collapse in her arms. She guards Erza the rest of the night, not letting anyone else approach them. When the men come around to bother Erza again, Milliana puts on a steel face and tells them that Erza is sick – and they don't want to catch her demon, do they?
They don't believe her, though, so Milliana takes off her shift and steps into the lamplight with them. She returns a little over an hour later, with hard and glassy eyes, retrieves her clothes and puts them back on.
They don't talk about it.
But Erza can't look Jellal in the eye for a week, and she pulls most of Milliana's load for a couple of days.
"Damn it, Erza, look at me!"
"No, you're not. Why are you avoiding me?"
"Did I do something?"
"Is it because of what those men did?"
"So it is about that. Get over it already."
"…Fuck off, Jellal. You don't get it."
"No, you don't get it. Get over it already! It's effecting your work and you know that pisses Boss off-"
"GO THE FUCK AWAY! YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND. YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE TO USED LIKE-"
"WE BOTH LIVE IN HELL, ERZA, I THINK I WOULD KNOW."
"THIS IS DIFFERENT! THIS…
"Spit it out already!"
"…it feels like I'll never be clean again."
Apologizing just isn't heard within the slave circle. The only people who ever hear apologies are the guards, supervisors, or Boss – people with whips, people who hold the power to make or break you.
Jellal doesn't apologize. He never will.
But just like long ago, he stands and walks ahead of her. He eliminates the heavier stones from her pile before she can get to them, and takes them upon his own back.
"Why are you so good to me?"
"…A long time ago, you saved my life."
Another couple months pass. Erza draws lines in the walls of her cell, in groups of five, slowly, steadily, one every day. She marks them in groups of five because Uncle was only able to teach her that far.
There must be hundreds, thousands of those little marks etched on the wall. Every day, she runs her finger down the first five, saying the numbers in her head –
One, two, three, four, five…
She comes to the next patchwork of lines and hesitates, stroking her thin finger down the jagged mark.
What comes after five?
What comes after this is all over?
"Erza, when will you stop confusing me?"
"Nothing, Jellal, nothing – I'm just muttering to myself."
"You said Erza." Pause. "What do you want with her?"
"…I'm not sure."
"…she just confuses me, okay?"
"…I don't care what you do…
"…but don't hurt her."
When the rest of the boys run off with the slave girls, Jellal stays and wards the others off. They say,
"You just want her to yourself. Greedy little bastard."
Jellal always wins because he's bigger than the rest of them. But despite what he says, he has never touched her. Erza knows he's had flings with some blonde, and maybe a few nights with a brunette, but he has never – not even once - brought up anything suggestive with her.
She feels protected and broken all at once.
She's counting the lines on the wall again. It's a habit, something she's done every day for ten years.
Where had that come from? She had never learned past number five, why would she –
And suddenly it falls on her, everything and everyone she has forgotten for the last decade, images and scents and the feel of grass on her feet –
seven, eight, nine, ten.
Numbers, thoughts, memories – it overwhelms her, and she can barely hold in the tears that come streaming down her face – everything simply too much to take in.
The Outside existed.
She…she was from the Outside.
She repeated that to herself again.
She was from the Outside. She hadn't been born here – she had a mother. A father. She had a family. She – she had been captured, sent here for work.
She…she used to be free.
She runs over to Jellal and flings herself, clinging to his lanky frame.
"I remember, I remember everything now!"
Lowering her head, so no one can hear her, she whispers:
"I remember the Outside."
It is dark, and they feel their way through the stone corridors, feeling for the little cuts Jellal made earlier during the week, marks meant to show the direction of the exit. Over here, there is nothing but black – they had waited until the torches had burned down into ashes. The guards are drunk from the New Year's Celebration, and all is quiet except for the soft rustle of feet and mice. They've waited eight months for this moment.
There is only the two of them. Milliana didn't believe in the Outside, and Simon – Simon had died replacing Erza during a whipping a few months prior.
She wishes Simon was here, with them – but there is no time to dwell on the past. They pass the second to last checkmark, and hold their breath.
There is a single guard there, the most diligent one of them all – the only one not passed out from the celebrations.
This is the moment. They cannot turn back, not now – and the guard will see them any moment, when his pacing brings the torchlight near enough to shadow their silhouettes. Jellal's hand tightens around her own, and she breathes in, out, and clutches the sharpened rock in the other hand. She glances at his face – all pale and dirty and determined – and knows it mirrors her own.
At a silent signal, they suddenly race off, weapons raised and ready.
If the guard manages to catch them, she knows it will be the end. There is nothing else to it.
But now, hand in hand, running as fast as she can, her hair streaming out behind her, hearing the shouts and cacophony raging behind her – all of it should have made her heart pound in fear. But Erza can't find herself to be afraid, because like this -
-she has never felt so free.
You know the drill. You like, you review. You hate, you flame. You critique, you make me happy.