Laxus laid there in his hospital bed, starring up at the droll white ceiling while he listened to the other doctors and nurses in the room bustle about as they attended to their other patients. The clamor wasn't so annoying, after all what else was he expected to do. He managed to go a few weeks traveling on horseback with his gaping wound, but now that he was in a hospital bed with it stitched up and properly bandaged, he was expected to just sit around and do nothing. The ridiculousness of it all was astounding. But it was his grandfather's orders that he listen to his doctors and obey what they said, no matter how much he disagreed with them.
As he lay there staring up at the ceiling he remembered Freed explain that Makarov was having a council meeting with the others to determine what military action they should take next. Apparently there are rumors of Mila joining Duke's forces, and ultimately Laxus couldn't help but feel somewhat responsible for that. Not that he would apologize for interfering in the slave trade and disrupting much of Orecion Seis' operations. Those bandits and scum deserved it, but if it meant dragging more advisories into battle against his homeland, than maybe he sould have waited before taking action.
What more is that he realized that he didn't tell his wife, Mira,that he had returned home. He knew that if she found out about his injury and that he hadn't told her about anything that had happened, he was sure that he was going to get a mouthful. The mere thought of Mira standing over him with that terrifying glare that would sometimes replace the sweet innocent smile most people were accustomed to seeing, just caused the blonde captain to cringe. It was something that was inevitable, but for now he should just enjoy the peace and quiet while he could.
As he continued to lie there he overheard some of the nurses talking to one another about a prisoner that was locked in his own room at the other end of the hospital wing.
"So, what does Master Makarov plan on doing with that prisoner?" The nurse asked as she and the other nurse looked over some paperwork.
"I don't know." The other woman shrugged. "All I know is that Master Makarov plans on interrogating him about his attack on that Konvern girl that's been staying here. I think the Master believes that this man has something to do with Duke's men. I couldn't imagine why? Maybe it has to do with that Konvern girl after all."
"Though it's interesting to know that it was a woman that took him down," said the other nurse.
"I know, the girl's companion, that redheaded girl. What was her name? Emma?" The second nurse said as she thought about it. Laxus just sighed to himself. This conversation was just as annoying as it was insightful.
"Well anyways we should get back to the doctor's office and file our reports," the first nurse said. The two of them quietly made their way out of the hospital wing.
Laxus began to get more intrigued. He wondered what prisoner they were talking about. He would have to take the opportunity to find out. His grandfather, nor anyone for that matter told him about such a man. If it had anything to do with the war, he needed to know.
When the nurses left and the only other company except for the other patients, Laxus took the opportunity to find out exactly who this prisoner was. He winced as he sat up, the wound in his gut flaring up. He hadn't felt this much pain from it before today. Why was it hurting so much today? Regardless, he forced himself upright with a deep breathe as he swung his feet around and placed them on the cold tile floor. If sitting up was bad, standing became an even bigger chore. But pressing his hand on the mattress he managed to pull himself up right, just enough that he still had to lean against the bed frame to stay on his feet.
He staggered to the end of the room when he saw a guard standing in front of a door. The man stared sternly out into space as Laxus struggled to walk over to him. Obviously this must be the room where his grandfather was keeping the prisoner. The guard heard the sound of Laxus's footsteps and he looked at the half naked blonde captain coming towards him.
"Master Laxus," the guard gasped as he rushed over to assist the young captain. "What are you doing out of bed? Come sir, let me retrieve a nurse to help."
"No," Laxus said shaking the man off. "I want you to let me into the room to see the prisoner." Laxus ordered him. He glared sternly at the guard who just returned it with a blank gaze.
"I'm sorry sir, but I cannot," the guard said shaking his head. "Nobody is permitted to see the prisoner. Your grandfather's orders."
"And I am ordering you to stand aside," Laxus growled. The guard recoiled but he wouldn't step aside.
"I am sorry sir," the guard said standing his ground. Laxus was still intimidating, but not as much when he was walking around with a mass of bandages wrapped around half his torso. There was still some blood leaking through the white fabric. "I cannot allow you to go inside. So, please why don't you return to your bed sir?"
Laxus wheezed as he collapsed to his knees. "Very well," he struggled to gasp. "Go fetch me a nurse to assist me. I cannot walk on my own."
"All right sir," the guard said as he began to run back to the hospital wing. "Please wait here, sir. I'll return shortly."
With that the guard took off running down the hallway to find a nurse. Laxus watched him go and as soon as the guard was out of sight he breathed a sigh of relief and got back up to his feet. He wheezed as he stepped forward. He grimaced under the pain of the pressure on his hip but he did his best to ignore it. He made his way over to the door and entered into the room. There in the bed he saw Kuroheib asleep above the covers with bandages wrapped completely around his waist.
Laxus walked over to the bedside, half expecting the stranger to wake up, but the man was out cold. Maybe it was the medicine that caused him to be unconscious, maybe it was his own pain, or maybe it was because the man had nothing else to do while he was stuck in bed. Laxus noticed that Kurohebi's hand was tied to the bed frame with a chain. He didn't see the point, it wasn't like Kurohebi was going to go anywhere with that wound. He wouldn't even be able to make it passed the guard outside let alone the entire hospital wing.
"Hey," Laxus said as he shook Kurohebi. "Wake up." He ordered the man sternly. He shook him with such a pulse that Kurohebi was nearly knocked from his bedside.
"What?" Kurohebi slurred as he glared up at the person he had disturbed his sleep. He saw Laxus standing over him and grew as puzzled as he was furious by the sudden outburst. "Who in the plains of hell are you?"
"I am Laxus Dreyer, Captain of the Magnolia Guard and grandson of Makarov Dreyer; Lord of Magnolia. And who are you?"
"None of your concern," Kurohebi hissed as he closed his eyes. "I have nothing to say to you, Laxus Dreyer, Captain of the Magnolia Guard. Now how about you let me sleep in peace?"
Laxus growled as he grasped Kurohebi by the throat. "I don't think I made myself clear." He said as he glared menacingly at the prisoner. "I am not one who tolerates disrespect. Now I'm going to ask you, one last time politely; who in the names of the gods are you?" He let go of Kurohebi's throat so that the prisoner could speak. The bed ridden man coughed uncontrollably upon being released.
"You can't treat a prisoner in such a way," Kurohebi managed to growl through breaths.
"I can treat prisoners however I see fit," Laxus retorted. "Now tell me what I asked, otherwise your throat will be the last of your concerns." He hovered his hand over Kurohebi's wound. The prisoner's eyes went wide as he waved his hand up for the blonde captain to stop. "Tell me!" Laxus roared.
"My name is Kurohebi, I was sent to kill a girl from Konvern by my master. He did not tell me why, except that the girl was dangerous and needed to be dealt with," Kurohebi told him.
"You make it sound like you were sent on some type of mission dedicated that befitting a knight," Laxus grumbled. "You're no knight, nor are you a man of honor. No man who could call himself a man would dare try to harm an innocent girl. Then again, didn't you get that wound from another woman? She must be one hell of a girl if she managed to kick an assassin's ass so well."
Kurohebi was not happy to hear the remark as Laxus snickered at him. Though the moment was short lived as Laxus's slight grin melted back to his sinister scowl.
"So, now tell me who sent you?" Laxus demanded.
Kurohebi laughed but coughed under the pain of his wound. He smirked at Laxus. "I ain't telling you a thing," Kurohebi snickered.
"Very well," Laxus began to growl as he slammed his fist hard against Kurohebi's gut causing the man to let out a blood curling shrill as he rolled to his side clenching with at the wound with his free hand as blood began to soak through the bandages. Laxus was going to strike the prisoner one more time but was cut off as the door to the room was slammed open. The blonde captain turned around to see the guard from earlier, two nurses and a doctor standing in the doorway.
"Laxus?!" The doctor said startled as he ran over to stop Laxus from striking his patient one more time. "What are you doing in here? You should be in bed resting."
Laxus wrenched his hand away from the doctor, grumbling to himself. "This isn't over." Laxus told Kurohebi as he was escorted away by the guard and a nurse. "I will be back, and next time the doctors won't be there to save you."
"I can say the same for you, Laxus son of Ivan." Laxus spun around staring at the bedridden prisoner. "Oh, I know more about you than you do about me Dreyer. When we meet again, you will be the one on the unfortunate end."
"Says the man tied to the bed," Laxus snapped. The guard and nurse dragged him from the room. Laxus glaring at Kurohebi all the while. 'This isn't over,' Laxus thought to himself. 'Not even close.'
Later that afternoon Natus had dressed himself up in the armor he had received from Nirvit as he kissed Lucy goodbye and met with the others outside on the street. Gajeel was standing out with Jellal and Erza, all of whom were wearing their own armor. It was a special occasion and when it came to what Natsu believed to be a military council meeting so armor was a nice touch. That and admittedly it was the only ting besides rags that he owned.
When he stepped outside he met with the others as they all nodded their heads and began to make their way to the fortress. When the opportunity came up Natsu managed to lean in to Jellal and ask Jellal what Erza was doing there. He remembered her charge was to protect Lucy, so why was she traveling with them? And was she allowed to attend such a meeting?
Jellal told him that he originally insisted that Erza not go, that it was the three of them that had originally been called to go, but the redhead insisted back. There was no arguing with her, so reluctantly he had to let her come. The girl was as stubborn as a mule, but then again her stubbornness would even drive a mule insane. He had to admit that he was somewhat happy to have the girl tag along with them. He would get a chance to spend some more time with her, which was something he was looking forward to.
What more Erza was the one leading them. When did that happen? Jellal wondered, but that had always been Erza's forte. She would, and often did take control of every situation she was involved in.
When they arrived at the fortress at the heart of the city they spotted Gildarts standing out front staring at a group of young maidens who were out for a morning stroll. He smiled at them, winking occasionally, a gesture that caused the girls to giggle and blush as they waved at him. Natsu chuckled as he watched his old teacher, but Erza was not as impressed by the old man's flirting.
Unlike the others Gildarts was not wearing armor, but more casual attire. To anyone but Natsu it would be a surprise to see a man invited to an important military meeting wearing old, worn out leather pants and vest. A brownish cloak covered the rest of his body that at least had some more appeal to it. And by appeal it meant that it wasn't tattered or tearing. It was in one piece and still looked at least somewhat clean.
"Hey, Gildarts," Natsu shouted as the old man turned his attention away from the girls for a moment. Though he immediately regretted his decision as the girls continued to walk down the street. "I see you're just as proactive as always." Natsu grinned a wide toothy grin.
"Some of us weren't as proactive as others last night," Gildarts chuckled and winked as he placed a hand on the boy's shoulder.
"And what exactly does he mean by that?" Erza asked folding her arms across her chest as she raised an eyebrow at the two of them. Natsu and Gildarts snickered amongst themselves causing the redhead to become a both agitated and confused at the same time.
"Come on Erza," Jellal said attempting to offer her a calming smile. "Just ignore them and let's go." He began to walk towards the door, which Gajeel had already passed through.
"Perhaps you two should become more proactive yourselves," Gildarts teased. "You look like the two of you could use it."
Erza was still a bit puzzled, but Jellal blushed a feverish red as he understood completely what they were talking about. He just did his best to ignore them and move on.
Gildarts led them through the fortress until they came to a chamber that was full of armed men that Natsu could instantly tell were men of high stature. Though they were all old men just beyond the age of warfare. Their armor was unlike the armor of normal guards and soldiers; theirs was polished and untouched by the weapons of conflict. They wore elegant capes of various colors, but mostly a cobalt blue. Natsu only assumed that the colors must have symbolized the countries the men came from. Each one held a helmet at their side with different insignias and markings along the sides that consisted of different animals and plants.
At the head of the table standing on a stool was Makarov, who despite his size was a man that commanded respect from everyone around him. In front of him outstretched on the table was a map of Fiore. The room was a buzz with muttering as all the high ranked military officers talking amongst themselves. Some of them turned to see the new members come in, and stared at them for a moment before returning to their previous discussions.
"Oh Gildarts!" Makarov managed to speak out as he saw the other old man. "Come and join us. Now that you're here we can begin the meeting."
Everyone in the room stood at attention. Natsu and the others found their own spots at the far end of the table in the only open space available. There were no open seats but all the older, more distinguished officers took their seats as the younger, yet not that much younger, officers stood upright behind their commanders. Natsu and the others were not fortunate enough to get a seat, but that wasn't a surprise.
"First and foremost, I like to thank everyone in attendance for being here today," Makarov said addressing the council. "As you all know we are in a dire situation with the current events unraveling throughout out continent. King Duke of Junelle's army has already sacked Nirvit, and has invaded further out west and south. And now on top of all that, we hear that Mila may be attempting to join forces with them. If this is the case Duke will not only have the largest army, but he will also have the largest navy with nearly unlimited resources at his disposal."
"How far in an agreement have Mila and Junelle reached?" One of the generals asked.
"The main perpetrators are not within the government of Mila, but rather the slave traders, Orecion Seis. From what we gather they are the ones who are in leagues with Ivan, Hand of the King. If this is the case perhaps we could swindle or find a way to have the government of Mila sever ties with Orecion Seis, as unlikely as that is." Makarov sighed admittedly.
"Though there is the possibility that we could destroy Orecion Seis and that would then complicate ties between Mila and Junelle." Gildarts said stepping in. "As we've already said, they seem to be the ones behind this whole situation and political aspect. So if we want to stop this union from happening, or at the very least prolong it as long as we can, we must find a way to bring down Orecion Seis and their entire operation. As of right now we have benefit on our side. There is currently a girl living in Magnolia who used to live and work within the organization itself. Her knowledge could give us an advantage."
"Yes but Kiana was only a slave working under Orecion Seis. It's not like she had authority or knew too much about what their projects and perceived plans were," Makarov said.
"But she could still provide us with information on who the higher ups within the organization are," Gildarts retorted.
"She's not the only one," Jellal said stepping up. All eyes in the room fell on him. He was used to the type of pressure, but the glares ranged from intrigued to confusion and even disgust. He could tell that some of the officers there were wondering exactly who he was, and why this young man thought it appropriate to speak up at such an important meeting without being permitted. Regardless Jellal continued. "There is another man who is tied to the inner circle of Orecion Seis here in the city."
"What? Where?" Makarov demanded. The eyes of everyone leered at the young lord.
"I don't know exactly at the moment," Jella said almost apologetically. "But I'm sure we can find him and question him if that would help."
"Excuse me," one of the officers interrupted shaking his head in bewilderment. "Who is this young man and why does he speak up as though he has any authority at this council. I mean look at him," he said holding up his hand as he stared at Jellal in disgust, "he wears some archaic armor, does that make him some sort of soldier? And what country and rank is he? Not to mention that he has brought children and a woman to such an important meeting. I am sorry Makarov, but this type of behavior should not and will not be tolerated here."
"My name is Jellal Fernandes, former Hand to the King of Juelle. My father was Faust, he too was the former Hand of the King back when he was still alive." The introduction was enough to startle all the officers present as they stared at him and with gaping mouths. "My associates are friends and companions who have been by my side for a very long time. And this woman you speak of, her name is Erza and she is my guard and Knight Protectorate," Jellal said sternly. Erza gazed at him and did her best to restrain the smile that was creeping on her lips. Though, unfortunately, the room of officers burst out into laughter.
"A woman serving as a knight? You cannot be serious young Jellal Fernades?"
"Why on Earth are you here in this council? Former Hand of the King? Former Hand of our enemy!"
"That will be enough of that," Makarov said. "Jellal has since severed ties with Duke and has come to join our side. You should show him some respect."
"Very well," one of the officers said. "But tell me Lord Jellal, or is it just Jellal now?" He said it rather snidely. "But tell me, do you know of any of King Duke's plans or strategies or plans you might want to share with the rest of us? It would probably do us all a good service if you were to tell us what actions Duke plans on taking next."
"I am sorry, I do not." Jellal shook his head.
"Than what good are you?" The same officer said as he sat back in his chair. "Nothing more than a petty boy with a woman as his personal knight. This is an insult to the rest of us Makarov, to allow them to attend this meeting. Does he expect us to take that woman seriously? I guess nowadays you can throw armor on anything and call it a knight right? Maybe I'll give my swine armor! I'll have my own fleet of pig knights!" The other officers burst out into laughter. "That will stop Duke and his armies! She's probably just some street girl that he picked up and decided to dress up."
Jellal took a step forward, his hand immediately grasping onto the sheath of his blade. He was ready to challenge the officer for his crude remarks about him and his friends, but he felt Erza grabbing onto his elbow and pulling him back. He turned to face her, his face was fuming with rage. He could see the sincere stare in the redhead's eyes as she simply shook her head. A single tear rolled down her cheek. He wiped it away, and though he knew Erza was probably right he could not let a remark like that go. He turned to start his uproar, but Erza pulled him back as Gajeel restrained him as well, wrapping his arms around Jellal's arms and waist.
"It's okay," Erza whispered softly, but Jellal could see that she was still upset. "There are more important matters to attend to."
Makarov could see just how upset Jellal was, and he too was a bit angry with the general's remarks, but for now they were just going to have to let it go. "Well now if we can back to the business at hand," the short elderly man said. "Jellal, if you could find this man and bring him to us, that would be a great deal of help. However, the more pressing matter is what to do about Duke's armies now? He has already taken most of the west and some of the south. It's only a matter of time before he heads up north."
"If his armies are divided, or if we can find a way to divide his armies we can attack his weakest core before they have a chance to move up north," Gildarts said as he pointed at the hypothesized position they believed Duke's armies to be at. "However, his forces are too large at the moment. He will most likely send troops down south to acquire the fleet of ships promised to him by Mila. If he does that, than we can find a way to attack one of his army outposts up in the north."
"Why don't we find a way to lead him away from the north," suggested one of the officers. "Direct his attention elsewhere. Somewhere he'll think would be an easy victory, something that he wouldn't consider using his entire force for."
"We can create a distraction somewhere else away so that he has no choice but to divide his army. Then, once he separates we pounce on his weakest position and outflank him. That should dwindle his forces down enough to give us a fair advantage in the outcome of this war," another officer said.
"That is a good point, we have to bait them into going after something that they really want," Gildarts interjected.
"And what would that be Master Gildarts?" The same officer asked.
"The young man standing at the back of the room," Gildarts answered gesturing to Natsu. Everyone turned to face the pink haired teen, and even Natsu himself was a bit startled by Gildarts' suggestion. "Gentlemen may I present to you Natsu, Dragon of the Konvern."
The eyes were focused on Natsu who found himself a bit perplexed that he had suddenly become the center of everyone's attention. He could see that most of them did not believe Gildarts' words, and the rest were just skeptical. Natsu stared at Gildarts who nodded at him, a nod that Natsu didn't really understand, but he figured it must have meant that he was supposed to prove that he was. In that moment Natsu let himself go, the surge of flame erupting inside of him as his eyes began to slit. A coat of scales formed around his eyes and on his skin that gave him a more reptilian appearance.
He could see how startled they all were but they all managed to keep their composure as Natsu let himself morph back to normal. Gildarts smiled and winked at his old apprentice. Natsu grinned back at him pleased with himself.
"Well that's interesting," another officer muttered. "So, what is you plan of attack, General Gildarts?"
"General?" Gildarts laughed. "I am sorry sir, but I myself and no general. But my plan is that we send Natsu, myself and some other soldiers out to be stationed somewhere out east or south. Make sure that Duke knows about it, and when he goes after Natsu we flank them with another battalion from the west."
"That plan sounds like it could work, but what makes you think that Duke would take the bait?"
"Because Natsu and the other Draconan children are the only other thing that Duke wants apart from absolute rule," Gildarts said. "He already sacked, and burned Nirvit just for a small child. And Natsu here just so happens to be the one person he wants to kill most in this world. Trust me, when it comes to Natsu and the other Draconans, that's exactly where Duke and his forces will strike next."
After the meeting the group left the room, after all the other officers had taken their leave. Makarov was still busy chatting amongst the others that he didn't have time for to talk to Natsu and the others. Gildarts followed him, much to Natsu's dismay, but his old teacher had other business to attend to and he would probably be free to talk with Natsu later. Though the boy was still a bit upset about it and it showed on his face.
Natsu and Gajeel took their leave behind everyone else. Jellal was behind them when he noticed that a certain redhead was not with them. He stopped and turned around to see Erza sitting at the end of the table.
"You guys go ahead," Jellal told Natsu and Gajeel. "I'm going to go see what's wrong with Erza."
"Okay," Gajeel and Natsu said as the two of them shrugged. They turned and left the hall leaving Jellal and Erza alone in the room together.
"Erza?" Jellal said quietly as he walked over to her. He heard her sniff as she looked away from him. "Erza?" He said concerned as he sat down next to her. "Is everything all right?"
"Just leave me alone," Erza uttered through another sniff as she continued to look away from him.
"Come on," Jellal said grabbing her shoulder. "Talk to me."
"Just leave me alone Jellal," she sobbed.
Erza yanked her body away from him as she stood up knocking her chair over. Jellal could see that she was definitely more than upset. He could hear her crying just a bit. Now the young man was incredibly worried as he felt his heart cringe in his chest.
"Erza, please." Jellal said as he grabbed her and turned her around to face him. Her cheeks were puffy and pink, her eyes watery as she did her best to avoid eye contact with him. "Tell me what's wrong."
"It's nothing." Erza quipped.
"Erza!" Jellal snapped. He had never seen her like this before. What could have gotten into her?
"It's just—" she paused for a brief moment before continuing. Taking in a deep breath. "It's just what that jerk said about us earlier. I just . . . I just can't stand men like him. And not only him, but there is no one, nobody that believes in me."
"I do," Jellal whispered as he wiped away one of her tears. "I know what you are capable of. There is more valor in you than all the other men in this room combined. I have seen you overcome every obstacle in life. You are strong Erza. Don't let what that man said bother you."
"Just leave me alone," she said quietly as she shook him off.
"No," Jellal as he grabbed her by the chin and turned her face so she was staring into his eyes. Their faces were only inches away from one another, as Jellal felt his heart race in his chest; his eyes falling onto Erza's lips before looking back up into her eyes.
"Jellal what are—" Erza began to say but it slowly faded as she saw Jellal's lips moving towards hers, and she towards his.
Nothing more was said as the two of them closed their eyes locked their lips together. The touch of Erza's lips upon his was satisfying. As though he was weightless and his body had evaporated into the air. It was warm and it just felt all too right. He wondered why he had never done it before. Instinct took over as Jellal grabbed Erza by the waist as he pulled her in deepening the kiss, pressing her body as tightly against his as he could. Erza wrapped her arms around his neck, grasping him by the back of the head and pulling him into her. Soon Jellal felt the urge to breath, but he didn't want to break away. No, he would rather die than separate from her.
Erza finally slipped away, letting their lips separate gently. She inhaled a deep breath as she slowly began to open her eyes. Jellal did the same as his eyes lingered in hers. Their arms still nestled around one another as Erza's glided up and down his hair as his cradled her. It wasn't the same when wearing armor, Jellal couldn't really feel her body and the warmth of her skin. But this was enough for now. He was with her and that was the only thing that mattered to him. He leaned in for another kiss and though Erza was tempted she forced herself to back away.
"Erza?" Jellal said blinking in mystification.
"We can't," she said shaking her head. "We shouldn't." She ran out of the room.
"Erza?" Jellal called out to her. "Erza!"