Author's Note: Hello! First Mystwalker story here as requested by a reviewer. I never had anything against the couple, I've just never delved into it before. This was a nice change of pace. Hope you like it!
Fairy Tail does not belong to me. It belongs to Hiro Mashima.
It's All an Illusion
Requested by: Jerza Fernandez
Erza Knightwalker groaned as she lowered the wooden planks onto the ground. She straightened up, dusting off her hands, and squinted at the framework for the new house she was helping build. It was the third one she was overseeing this month alone. "Looks good, people! Keep it up!" she called up to the construction crew. They acknowledged her praise with a tip of their hardhats and went back to hammering, sawing, and measuring.
Knightwalker sighed, watching a slug as it inspected the two-by-fours and left a trail of iridescent slime over the wood grain. She felt as slow as a slug. The new king assured her that three houses in the course of a month was great progress, but she knew that with magic she could have tripled that rate.
"This is good for the people," King Jellal told her frequently. "They need to learn how to operate without magic. Rebuilding their houses using their own two hands is a good way to do that, not to mention symbolic. After all, they're going to have to reconstruct their entire way of life. It's an adjustment for me, too, Erza. I've had magic at my disposal for as long as I can remember. It's tough to go without it, but in the end it will be worth it to stop the fighting."
She just reminded him to call her Captain Knightwalker, not Erza.
Knightwalker didn't like the new king. She didn't mind having to help with the reconstruction of Edolas, physical and political, but the king's talk of doing whatever it took to prevent war made him sound like a blubbering coward. She wondered just how far he would go to keep his precious peace. Would he fight for it with his own two fists, now that he didn't have his wealth of magic to hide behind? She didn't see him breaking up the riots in the streets, or scrambling to quench fires that threatened to burn down everything they'd rebuilt. He talked big, but Knightwalker had yet to see him put his money where his mouth was. The captains were doing it for him.
She didn't bother turning around at the sound of her name. She knew who it was, and she had no desire to speak politely to him. In fact, she had no desire to speak to him at all. All she said was, "I told you to call me Captain Knightwalker, Your Majesty."
"Yes, but I asked you to call me Jellal, which you did not," he replied, stopping behind her.
At this, the captain did turn. "Only after you failed to comply with my request."
"But we both know you would have called me Your Majesty either way," Jellal said. "Honestly, I find all the honorifics a bit…cold. Not to mention troublesome. Wouldn't it be easier just to call me Jellal?"
"But not appropriate."
"Why not? I'm king, I say it's appropriate."
"That's why," Knightwalker said, pointing a finger at him for emphasis. "You say that now, but just as quickly you can say it's inappropriate. Because you're king."
Jellal frowned. "I wouldn't do that. I stand by my word."
"Even so," Knightwalker sighed, "we wouldn't want you getting me confused with the other Erza."
"I wouldn't do that, either," said Jellal. "I didn't even talk to her much. Although to be fair, from what I can tell you two are very similar."
"You cared for her enough to hide your face for seven years," Knightwalker pointed out. "In fact, she was the entire reason you didn't talk to anyone much. Her history with the other Jellal was too painful. Or at least you thought so. If she's anything like me at all, she would have been able to handle it."
Jellal was stunned into silence. He hadn't exactly discussed this with her. She had overheard him talking about it with Coco, who shared a strange sort of kinship with the king—after all, they had both been saved from a miserable fate by the Exceed, Pantherlily.
Knightwalker was glad she had stanched his flow of words. She found it hard to believe that his false identity had practically been mute. It seemed that Jellal was making up for Mystogan's years of quietude.
"Anyway," she finished, "I don't want you caring for me like that."
"I care for all my citizens."
"Well, not all of your citizens care for you."
"I don't expect them to," Jellal said. He grabbed her arm as she made to walk away, scowling at her. "But I do expect them to show me a level of respect, Captain."
Knightwalker smirked at him. "What did I tell you? Changing your attitude already, not even five minutes after you preached how you're a man of your word." She looked down at his hand grasping her arm. "Tell me, Jellal—would you consider this appropriate?"
The king blinked and immediately released her. Knightwalker was gone before he could even think of stumbling over an apology. Kings, she thought bitterly. They're all the same.
Knightwalker had to suffer through King Jellal's presence at her construction site for the rest of the day. Occasionally he took a break from his political reform and did some actual reconstruction. He probably got more done in his office than out on the street, but he claimed that he liked the physical excursion and the contact with his people. Knightwalker rubbed her arm. "Contact," she snorted to herself. "Right."
At least he seemed to receive her 'stay the hell away from me' vibes, because he was doing just that. She only saw him once or twice through the day. It was really her workers' chitchat about him that got under her skin. There was no escaping that. Where ever she went, praise about how amazing he was for hammering a nail or handing someone a bottled water drifted from all directions.
"It's just nice to see royalty out here working with the common folk," said her foreman to his buddy as they ate lunch.
Knightwalker couldn't stomach it any longer. "I know I'm not royalty," she sneered, "but I'm out here every day and no one says anything about that."
"That's because you're forced to be here," Foreman retorted.
"I'd be here anyway."
"Yes, really. Haven't I proved that much to you? Maybe I'm not easy to work with, but I pull my weight and I know what I'm doing." Knightwalker rolled her eyes. "That guy, he's just doing it for publicity. He doesn't know the first thing about building a house."
"Actually, he seems pretty competent," the foreman's friend remarked. "He said he has some past experience, and I believe it."
"Aren't you supposed to be his right-hand man or something, Knightwalker?" said Foreman, raising his eyebrow skeptically. "What do you got against him? There something about him we don't know?"
"You know plenty," Knightwalker snarled, standing. "You just refuse to see it."
The men blinked at her. "See what?"
"Forget it," she muttered. "Just forget it."
She stormed off, abandoning her lunch and the two bewildered workers. To be perfectly honest, Knightwalker was even having trouble understanding why Jellal irked her so. It wasn't as though his father, Faust, was any better. Maybe that as just it—maybe it was that people treated Jellal like he was so much better, and he even acted like it, when indeed the two men were equally devious.
Maybe she just missed her magic. For all his faults, Faust had at least been able to supply that. Knightwalker hated to think that she detested Jellal for taking it away from her, but she had grown enraged over pettier things. The other Erza had shown her how severe her dependency had become. She had put innocents in danger to keep her magic. She had killed innocents.
But was Jellal leading her down the path of redemption? Knightwalker didn't think so. She had to find it for herself, if there even was one. It would have to be a long path. She had a lot of redeeming to do.
Suddenly someone bodily shouldered her out of their way, breaking her reverie. Knightwalker was so taken back that she would have landed flat on her ass if someone hadn't caught her. She looked up and saw Jellal's unmistakable tattooed face.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Fine," she snapped, pushing herself out of his arms. She scowled at the passerby responsible for her embarrassment. Her scowl only grew deeper as she realized the pedestrian was only part of an agitated, seething, and rapidly expanding swarm of people. Knightwalker knew the beginnings of a riot when she saw one. She turned to Jellal. "Go back to the construction site, Your Majesty. Now."
Jellal shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere. You're not handling this alone."
"But you could get hurt—"
He was already running toward the crowd, completely ignoring her argument. He paused and looked back at her. "Are you coming?"
Knightwalker felt like strangling him. If anything happened to the king, she would get the blame. There was nothing she could do but follow, though, if he insisted on being difficult. She propelled herself forward until she was a little bit ahead of him. Jellal had never handled a riot before—he didn't know how nasty they could get. He didn't know to get to the root of the problem as quickly as possible, even if you had bruise a few ribs to get to the center.
The outer mass of people was like a semi-solid wall. Once inside it would be like a current—the trick was whether it would spit them out or suck them in. Both could be dangerous. Knightwalker hit the outer wall and grabbed the shoulders of two people, wrenching them aside. "OUT OF MY WAY!" she shouted in her loudest, most authoritative voice. She didn't leave time for complaint. She slipped through two people, then shouldered aside another man, shoved a rabid woman out of her way. It was a spit-out riot. She dug her boots in the dirt and pushed forward, shouting the entire way. Soon she was near the middle of the swarm, where people were crouched on the ground around something, grabbing something.
No, not something. Someone.
"HEY!" she grabbed the nearest men by the collars of their shirts and heaved, pulling them behind her, kicking them when they tried to grab her hips to bring her down. Frustrated, she pulled a hammer out of her belt and wielded it at them. They backed off, eyes reeling and wild with adrenaline. Like animals, she thought. She turned to the mob, where three more people were piled. "THAT'S ENOUGH! EVERYBODY, BACK OFF!"
Knightwalker began kicking, pulling, pushing, punching. She never hit anyone with the hammer, but no one else knew that. They scampered away when they saw it. Luckily the brawl wasn't mature enough for anyone else to have a weapon.
Eventually she dug deep enough to see the cause of all the ruckus—a kid, probably ten or twelve at the most, skinny, with hair the color of lavender blooms and wide, frightened eyes. The girl was dirty, bloody, bruised all over from the adults who were attacking her.
Knightwalker felt the absolute fury in every pore of her body. She lifted the hammer in her hand and wheeled around, swinging it above the heads of the adults. "GET THE HELL AWAY FROM HER, YOU FILTHY BASTARDS! GET THE HELL AWAY!"
Spooked, the rioters disbanded, sprinting away from her outrage and her hammer. Knightwalker spit in the dirt after the last of them and then turned to help the kid, if she hadn't split already. She froze when she saw that Jellal was gently talking to her, lifting the shaky girl out of the gravel. "Hey, it's okay," he whispered, putting an arm around the sobbing child. "They're gone now. We're not going to hurt you. Don't cry."
"I c-can't stop it," the girl sniffed.
"That's fine. What's your name?"
"Luna. That's a beautiful name. I'm Jellal, and this is Erza. Can you tell us what happened?"
"I was just doing a trick," Luna whimpered, wiping tears from her eyes. She lifted a brightly colored handkerchief, delicate floral pattern soiled with dirt and blood. She took it in her fingers and tugged at each corner. Two more handkerchiefs of different colors appeared tied to it, and then another two. Knightwalker felt her heart skip a beat. Magic. This girl was doing magic.
Jellal gazed at the five handkerchiefs for a moment. He held out his hand, and the girl flinched. Knightwalker saw the muscles in his jaw flex. "May I?" he asked, showing no indication of his gritted teeth. Luna nodded and passed him the rope of handkerchiefs. Jellal folded them in his fist. When he opened it, only the first hanky was in his palm.
"You know it!" Luna giggled.
"I do," Jellal admitted, taking the handkerchief and dabbing her bloodied lip with it. "I knew a boy with a similar trick. It takes a lot of practice to get it perfect. You must work hard."
"Yes, I like illusions," Luna chirped.
Knightwalker frowned. Illusions?
"You have to be careful with illusions, though," Jellal warned, handing her back the deceptive handkerchief. "People get very excited about them, especially when they're perfect. Sometimes they don't realize they're illusions."
Luna looked down at her feet. "Okay. I'll be more careful."
"Good," said Jellal with a smile. "Go home and get yourself cleaned up, then."
"Alright! Thanks, Mr. Jellal!" Luna turned and smiled at Knightwalker. "Thanks, Ms. Erza! You're a lifesaver!"
They watched the girl skip down the road, her handkerchief trick stuffed in her back pocket. Knightwalker felt foolish for not realizing the silly thing was just some cheap illusion, not real magic. Real magic didn't exist anymore. Not in Edolas.
Jellal sighed, running a hand through his blue hair. "Wow. That was…intense. I didn't realize that people could get so worked up about some childish illusion."
"You handled it well," Knightwalker admitted.
"I handled it well?" Jellal laughed. "You're the one who handled it. I've never seen anything so incredible, and I was part of one of the greatest guilds of all time. I can believe you just took on a mob of at least thirty angry people—with nothing but a hammer that you didn't even use."
Knightwalker shrugged, sliding the hammer back into her utility belt. She could feel her face getting warm. "I'm used to it. Riots happen all the time. The streets get pretty crazy. Thanks for taking care of the kid, by the way. She probably would've run off by the time I got to her and I wouldn't have been able to make sure she was okay or known what the riot was about."
"I had to do something," Jellal laughed. "You were making me look bad."
"It's not that hard," Knightwalker retorted. She felt her lips tug upward. "Besides, it looks like you got some of the action." Before she knew what she was doing, she reached up and touched a cut on his forehead, right above his left eyebrow. If Jellal was startled by the contact, he didn't show it. He smiled and brushed his fingers along her jaw, where a purple bruise was blooming.
"You're going to look like a grape tomorrow," he observed. "A strong, fearless, terrifying grape."
For a second, Knightwalker thought—hoped, she realized incredulously—Jellal was going to kiss her. His eyes grew softer, and he leaned forward until their lips were almost brushing. Knightwalker felt herself leaning forward…but then Jellal shook his head and stepped back. He dropped his hand, gesturing to the road that led back to the construction site. "Shall we, Erza?"
Knightwalker didn't even bother to correct him. Heart pounding, she just walked in silence with him to the construction site. She might look like a grape tomorrow, but at the moment she reckoned she looked more like a tomato.
As she watched him walk in front of her, she wondered if maybe magic did still exist in Edolas. She knew that she would never find it hidden in a hanky, but she knew it was somewhere. With someone. Because what she was trying not to feel right now, she knew it couldn't be just an illusion.