The city was quiet - streets were empty and there was no sound other than the cool, crisp autumn wind that caused Jellal to shiver. He buried his face deeper into his scarf and jammed his hands into his pockets as he continued down the walkway beside the canal. The bright moonlight bounced off the calm water, creating a mesmerizing and relaxing atmosphere. This was his favorite time of day and for good reason.
Jellal often found himself taking long walks alone at night to get some fresh air and clear his mind from the day's troubles. He liked the quiet and calmness of late night and enjoyed his alone time. It was very rare to run into another person, let alone somebody he knew. But this night was different.
Pausing underneath a bridge to take in the scenery, Jellal was surprised to hear footsteps coming towards his direction. They were quiet but sounded more like a shuffle rather than a step. Curious, Jellal squinted his eyes to see who was approaching him. His heart dropped when the figure was close enough to identify.
The red head was surprised to hear his voice, let alone see him standing there underneath the bridge as if he was waiting for her to arrive. She cursed quietly under her breath and looked down in shame, not wanting him to see her like this - limping down the street, covered from head to toe in bruises and bandages. It had been a rough couple of days on a job and she had just arrived back in Magnolia and wanted nothing more than to be home, taking a hot shower and resting in her comfy bed. She took a step forward and nearly collapsed to the ground from her lack of strength. Luckily Jellal was quick on his feet and raced over to catch her in his arms just in time.
"Hello, Jellal…" Erza said, her face turning the color of her hair in embarrassment.
He looked her over with worry. "Are you okay? What happened?" he asked.
She looked away. "Nothing. I'm fine."
He raised an eyebrow at her. "Erza… you don't look fine."
"It's just a few cuts and bruises from a job, nothing to worry about."
"You can barely stand, let alone walk home by yourself. Let me help you."
"I"m not a child, Jellal. I'm not helpless."
"I know, Erza. But sometimes it's okay to let others help you. It doesn't make you weak or helpless."
She knew he was right. Spending most of her life taking care of not only herself, but others, she had forgotten that she was allowed to let down her guard once in a while and let others help her. It was an unfamiliar feeling, but she'd just have to get used to it. Of course it didn't hurt that it was Jellal who wanted to help her.
She squealed as Jellal gently picked her up, throwing her onto his back. He stood up and readjusted so she was comfortable resting on his back with her arms sticking out past his shoulders. "Jellal, is this really necessary?"
"Would you like to crawl home instead?" he challenged. Being as stubborn as he was, she would probably consider it, but he knew she was smarter than that. As if on cue she shut her mouth and wrapped her arms around his neck, but not tight enough to choke him. "That's what I thought," he said smugly.
He carried her through the streets in silence, neither knowing quite what to say but enjoyed the company of the other. It was rare they got a quiet moment together, so this was a nice change of pace. At one point Erza snuggled up closer to Jellal as the late night breeze got colder, breathing in his scent. He smells really good. She would never admit it, but carrying her home turned out to be a good idea. Jellal could feel her warm breath on his neck and was quite relieved that she couldn't see his face as it was the same color as her hair during the entire walk.
"Here we are."
Erza looked up and was surprised at how quick it took for him to carry her home. A wave of sadness washed over her as she climbed off his back, wishing they could spend more time together. "Thank you," she said bashfully.
"You're welcome." He stuffed his hands in his pockets and gave her a smile. "Goodnight Erza." He started to turn when Erza cried out -
"Wait!" He stopped in his tracks and turned back in looked down at her feet, afraid to look him in the eyes as she asked him,. "Would you… like to come inside, maybe?"
His eyes widened and a flush of red washed over his cheeks. He tried to hide his face behind his scarf but it was too late, she had seen. He swallowed hard, trying to keep his cool. "I would love to"
The two of them walked awkwardly to her apartment, keeping as much distance as possible. Erza's hands shook as she unlocked the door and walked in. The inside of her apartment was warm and inviting with a soft hint of strawberry in the air. Jellal had never stepped foot in her apartment before but an odd feeling of coming home washed over him.
"Would you like something to drink?" Erza asked as she flicked on the lights and hobbled towards the kitchen. He reached out and grabbed her arm to steady her.
"A drink can wait. Let's take care of you first." She opened her mouth to protest but he cut her off. "You should wash off all the blood. I'll help change the bandages when you're finished."
She hated how right he was, but at the same time was grateful for his priorities. Inviting him inside was a quick yet slow burn of a decision, she hadn't thought about how inappropriate the timing was. Before they could relax she had to clean herself up and take care of her wounds, not that she had a choice. Still, it was nice to know that he was putting her health and needs before his own, just like always. Despite their troubled history, he was still the sweet boy that kept her safe at night in the Tower of Heaven. Nothing had changed that.
"Fine. Make yourself at home, I won't be long." She left him alone in the living room as she limped to the bathroom. As soon as the door was shut she stripped out of her blood stained clothes and carefully unwrapped her bandages, wincing as she uncovered her fresh wounds. Turning on the shower, she stood in front of the mirror to examine herself as she waited for the water to heat up. She looked a lot rougher than she thought, no wonder Jellal was so concerned.
Stepping into the hot shower she let out an audible sigh of relief as the warm water ran over her body, washing the dirt and blood away. After a few minutes of standing underneath the water, Erza got to work cleaning herself. Normally her showers would take no more than twenty minutes, but she couldn't seem to pull herself away. It was nearly an hour when she finally turned off the water and stepped out onto cold tile, water dripping off her now warm and clean body. Who would have thought that a simple shower would make her feel thousands of times better?
Wrapping a towel around her body and hair, she wiped the mirror and took one last look at herself, making sure she looked decent. The thought of Jellal waiting for her in her living room caused her to make sure every detail of her was perfect.
A cloud of steam billowed out as she opened the door. The apartment was quiet. Had he fallen asleep waiting for her? Quietly she tiptoed down the hall and peaked around the corner, relieved to find that the blue haired man was still in fact awake. His back was towards her and he had occupied himself with one of her many romance novels she kept at her place. She prayed that it wasn't one of the more explicit ones.
She made her way to her bedroom and nearly dropped her towel at what she saw. Folded neatly on her bed was a fresh cozy housecoat and her favorite pair of bunny slippers. She certainly hadn't put them out for herself, so that meant Jellal had been in her room. Quickly shutting the door, she looked around her room but everything seemed to still be in its place. He had simply come in only to lay out fresh clothes for her. How thoughtful of him.
Tossing both towels into the hamper, she slipped into the soft housecoat and stepped into the slippers. After putting her hair up into a messy bun, she took a deep breath and prepared to face Jellal.
"Feeling better?" he asked as she walked back into the living room. He closed the novel and looked up, nearly swallowing his own tongue at the sight of her. A freshly bathed Erza in nothing but a housecoat and bunny slippers, not to mention the rare sight of her hair tied up in a messy bun. She was so beautiful.
"Yes, thank you." She took a seat on the couch across from him and crossed her legs, trying to find a comfortable position that wouldn't expose too much cleavage or legs. There was an awkward silence that was broken up by a cough from Jellal.
"Let me bandage your arm," he said, grabbing the first aid kit at his feet. He stood up and joined her on the couch, keeping his distance.
"I see you did some exploring," she teased him.
He chuckled. "Just a bit. But I promise I didn't snoop." He took out a tube of cream and a roll of bandages and got to work. "I did however find a very interesting book. 'The Princess and Her Master' huh?"
"Tell anyone and you're dead," she threatened, though halfheartedly.
"Fair enough." He squeezed out some cream and began to rub it onto her wounds, causing her to wince in pain. "Sorry, I forgot to tell you it was going to sting."
"It's nothing I can't handle."
He finished covering her wounds in cream and started wrapping them back up in fresh bandages. "All done. Feeling better?"
"Yes. Thank you, Jellal." She looked down at her freshly wrapped wounds and couldn't help but smile. Jellal placed everything back into the bag and zipped it back up.
"I should be going now. Have a good night, Erza." He stood up to leave but was quickly stopped.
"Would you like to stay awhile? I'd like to thank you for the kindness you've shown me tonight, unless you have somewhere to be?"
He didn't know how to reply. On one hand, of course he would like to stay and spend more time with Erza, but on the other hand, it was the middle of the night and the thought of staying at Erza's place at this time… alone… But then again, he did want to make sure she was okay. It couldn't hurt to stay just a little longer.
Erza motioned for him to sit back down while she got up and headed to the kitchen. He sat at the far end of the couch with his hands on his legs, nervously playing with his fingers to distract himself. What did he just get himself into?
She returned with a bottle of wine and two glasses. "I hope you like red." They smiled at the irony as she poured them both a glass and took a seat on the other side of the couch, sipping her wine. Jellal looked down at his glass and swirled the wine around before he took a sip. They sat in silence for a few minutes, neither not knowing what to say.
They had never had a moment like this before - just the two of them relaxing in one of their apartments, alone and drinking wine. It was unfamiliar yet comforting at the same time.
Finally, with a glass of wine already consumed, Erza got up the courage to speak. "You make a pretty good doctor, for a mage," she teased.
"Perhaps I should rethink my profession," he joked back.
Their conversation stayed light hearted as they finished the bottle of wine. Erza had consumed more than him and was a little tipsy, the mix of a long work day and alcohol starting to hit her hard to the point where she could barely keep her eyes open.
"Come on, let's get you to bed." Jellal placed his empty glass on the coffee table and stood up, offering his hand to her.
She looked up at him with flushed cheeks and downed the rest of her glass before taking his hand, struggling to stand up straight. He caught her and wrapped his arm around her waist to help hoist her up before walking her to the bedroom. She immediately took her hair out of the bun and collapsed onto her bed, closing her eyes and humming at how soft and warm it was. Jellal took off her slippers and pulled the blanket up, tucking the red head in. Jellal couldn't stop thinking how cute she looked all tucked in with a smile on her face as she tried to sleep.
He was surprised when his hand was grabbed by Erza who whispered, "Stay." He froze in place as a warmness washed over his body, his heart pounding out of his chest. Did he hear her correctly? Did she just… "Jellal?" Her voice pulled him out of his thoughts and finally he turned around and gave her a soft smile.
He slid out of his boots and coat and folded his coat neatly on the dresser before nervously sliding into bed, keeping a good distance between Erza and himself. He laid still on his back and stared at the ceiling, daring not to move even an inch. It felt like eons had passed before she turned around to face him, placing a shaky hand on his chest. He swallowed hard as she cuddled up to him, humming as she found a perfect spot curled up next to him.
As the minutes passed he slowly started to relax, listening to her soft breathing as she fell into sleep. Finally he closed his own eyes to join her, happy that he had made the right decision to stay.
And as the early morning light pooled in through the window, it shone bright and wrapped itself around the two slumbering lovers. She faced the window, the bright sunlight illuminating her scarlet hair, setting it on fire. And he was pressed up behind her, his face buried in her warm neck while his arm wrapped around her torso. They slept quietly and peacefully, the rise and fall of their chests in sync, the same faint smile on their lips- happy and content in the arms of their lover.