21 Mar 2016

Juvia came to the big city to get a spot in a prestigious dance company. But not everything goes as planned as she meets a ragtag crew of performers struggling to make ends meet, shooting for an opportunity to show the world what they have to offer.

Teen (13+)
Chapters: 17
Words: 117,566


Chapter 8
I’m Not Your Hero

Chapter Notes:

I think it’s finally time we highlight Erza. Again, this chapter happens roughly at the same time as the past two chapters, so basically this is what Erza is up to while Gray and Juvia were bonding, Levy and Gajeel were singing, and Natsu and Lisanna went to break the DDR machine.

Won’t keep you waiting long — it’s pretty straightforward and shorter than the others.


I’m Not Your Hero
( “…but that doesn’t mean
we’re not one and the same.”)
— Tegan and Sara


There were only two people in the studio that afternoon.

One was a young woman with pink hair in a neat high ponytail, wearing a dark red ballet leotard, pink tights and practice pointe shoes. She had just landed in a graceful plie as the music stopped. The other was a man with blue spiky hair, wearing a white shirt tucked into black tights. He was standing to the side, a spectator.

“How was it?” the young woman asked, panting as she relaxed her posture.

The man smiled. “It’s brilliant, Meredy. Your closing act’s a lot stronger this time around.”

Meredy beamed as she skipped across the room. “Ya think so?” she asked, stopping by the window where she left her bag to retrieve her towel.

He nodded. “Ultear won’t complain about that part now. But just to polish up, let’s do a round or two more?”

“Sure thing!” she said, wiping herself with the towel. As she did this, she also threw the glass window open to let in some fresh air. She looked out the window and immediately spotted a familiar figure. “Hey, Jellybelly—”

“Meredy — we’ve talked about this, when we’re in the—”

“—studio, I call you properly— I know, I know.” she rolled her eyes. “But Jellyyy—”

He looked at her pointedly.

“Sir Mister Teacher Premier Danseur Noble Jellal Fernandez-Scarlet, Sir!” the girl declared haughtily.

“You know that nobody even uses half of those titles anymore.” Jellal just sighed and shrugged, knowing he had no way to combat Meredy’s sass anyway. “What is it?”

“Your bae’s outside, Mister Scarlet Sir.”

He raised an eyebrow and walked towards her. “What?”

When he looked out the window, he indeed saw his girlfriend standing outside on the sidewalk. They were on the third floor, so Erza was looking up at them as she leaned against a postbox. When she saw them, she took off her earphones, smiled and waved.

Jellal waved back, smiling uncertainly. Was she waiting for him? Did they have an appointment with each other today? He doesn’t remember receiving any call or text from her. Actually, he was quite sure she told him she’ll be busy during the next few days choreographing a dance video with the others on the Guild so he made a point not to disturb her too much.

“Come on up!” Meredy shouted, inviting the woman in. “It’s just me and Jelly in here!”

But Erza just shook her head and stood up straight. “No, thanks! It’s fine, just passing by!”

“You sure?” Jellal asked. He was uncomfortable with how loud he was speaking, but it was necessary so his voice could reach her. “Do you need me to come down there?”

“No, no!” Erza insisted. “I gotta get going, anyway!”

Not really the shouting type, he mouthed, “Where?”

“Mira’s!” she answered, already walking away. The red-head waved at them. “Nice seeing you, Meredy! Good luck with the recital!”

“Thank you!” Meredy replied, waving back cheerfully. Both she and Jellal quietly watched as the red-head jogged down the path and disappeared around the street corner.

Jellal’s gaze lingered there for a while, until Meredy snapped him out of his reverie. “Sooo… Another round?”

Jellal looked back at his student — she was more of a younger sister to him, really, but in the studio they used more technical terms. He nodded, watching her skip back towards the center of the room.

“I’m ready, Mister Scarlet Sir.” Meredy chimed energetically, getting into first position.

Jellal simply shook his head and sighed, following her to turn the music on.

If the ballet studio was mostly empty, the ballroom studio several streets down had plenty of dancers when Erza arrived.

She stood to the side of the dance floor as she watched Mira preside the dance practice. It was a basic cha-cha routine, and dancing were six elderly couples along with Alzack and Bisca, who were doing their usual job as teaching assistants.

They were well off in the middle of the dance when Mira noticed her friend and housemate standing in the corner. She made a quick signal to Alzack and Bisca to continue dancing while she approached the red-head.

“You didn’t have to stop for me.” Erza said with an apologetic smile.

“It’s fine. We’re doing great time.” Mira replied.

Erza cocked her head to indicate the dancing couples. “What’s the routine for?”

“Oh, they’re going to have this event soon, said they needed to present a special number. They thought it’ll be nice to do a ballroom routine, so I’m coaching them.” the other woman explained, smiling fondly at the couples. Then she looked at her friend. “What’s up? It’s been a while since you dropped by. No practice at home today?”

At that, Erza looked down, a sheepish smile on her face. “Well… yeah. Um, something’s up…”

Watching the usually headstrong red-head trail off helplessly by the end of a sentence made Mira frown. She has known Erza long enough to know when something has gone amiss.

“Erza,” she started. “What happened?”

But instead, Erza smiled at Mira and simply said, “You should go back. Finish the session.”


“I’ll wait right here. I want to watch this, anyway. Taking a bit of a break.”

Mira looked at the other woman in understanding. This was something Erza wanted to talk about in silence, without distractions. So she just nodded and said, “We’ll be done in an hour.” before returning to her lessons.

Erza helped Mira, Alzack and Bisca clean up in the studio after their customers had left. Mira didn’t own the place, she was only one of the many instructors for the many dance styles that the studio offered. It was an old but established studio in the city. A nice place to work at.

Mira told Alzack and Bisca that they could go and head home, as she had some papers and stuff to sort out regarding her next sessions and schedules in the studio. Erza stayed behind so they could talk in private.

They sat down on the dance floor as Mira sorted her papers out and Erza retold her what happened that afternoon during practice.

“But is Gray right?” Mira asked, after patiently listening to the younger woman. “Were you really out of it?”

Erza sighed, running a hand through her hair. “No, he’s wrong. My head’s in the game. But… too much in the game. And focusing on the wrong parts of it. I think they all notice it. That I’m slipping. Gray’s just the one who can’t take it because he’s already stressed enough. I feel bad for snapping at him when he’s the only one honest enough to call me out.”

“Just tell him you’re sorry. I’m sure you two can talk it out. Just let things cool down tonight.” Mira reassured.

Erza nodded quietly.

“But more importantly, what’s troubling you? You said you’re thinking too much about this?”

“Yes. I’ve been thinking a lot about it.” The red-head looked down. “…and it’s just… I don’t think I’m the right person to lead this team.”

“What? But Erza, you’ve always been the one leading—”

“I know. But Mira, it’s just because I know almost every style.” she reasoned out.

Mira looked at her. “Well, of course that’s one of the factors…”

“See… Before Max even announced the contest, I’ve already been thinking a lot about… settling.”

“Settling?” Mira blinked. “Settling down? With Jellal-kun?”

“No!” Erza immediately cut her friend off. “No, no, God, Mira— I mean, not that I wouldn’t be happy but-… not yet. I’m pretty sure Alzack and Bisca would be the first of us.” she chuckled.

“Oh.” Mira laughed softly. “Sorry. So… what’s this talk about settling? You’re gonna…?”

“Settle.” The red-head closed her eyes and breathed deeply before she her companion’s eyes. “Like you. Get a… job in one studio, focus on a specific style. Like you did.”

Mira’s brows furrowed, trying to understand what her friend was trying to convey. Erza wanted to do things… like her? As a teenager, Mira used to be a teaching assistant to one of the older instructors in the studio. Even though she was self-taught, she managed to work her way up and establish a decent name for herself. She was one of the best amateur ballroom instructors in town. As much as everyone who had seen her knew that she was definitely professional level, she had busied herself with staying in the local scene. She knew she could look after her younger siblings and the others in the Guild that way.

Yes, she settled on a single job, under a single employer. That was because she knew it was the safe route. She couldn’t risk looking in a different direction because she had to support Elfman and Lisanna.

But Erza’s situation was different, Mira knew. So she asked, “Why do you think you need to do that?”

“Look, I… I know a lot: hip-hop, contemporary, ballroom, a bit of broadway and jazz, basic tap…” Erza ran a hand through her hair again. “You know… Jack of all trades, master of none? And I was thinking, how long will I keep switching studios and styles? I don’t know if I can settle on one, but I should, right? I never worked full-time anywhere… but I can’t part-time forever.”

“So… you felt like you should choose one style and stick with it?”

“Yes. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. Everyone… they dance, but they have their day jobs. And me, I dance. That’s it. And maybe it’s more than what I could ask for — I’ve got it lucky, I know — because I’m making a living just dancing and I don’t need another job. But lately, moving between different studios, I can’t help but feel like I don’t belong anywhere.” she sighed. “Maybe I could even come back here. I had nothing but good times working here.”

Erza smiled, remembering some memories, working with Mira. She learned her ballroom from assisting Mira in this very same studio before she moved on and then Alzack and Bisca came along. She learned her hip-hop from the streets with Gray and Natsu. Tap basics from Cana. Contemporary, broadway and jazz from a quick self-study, a bootcamp of sorts for herself, using just videos and some performances for her reference. She had no specific style. She liked switching things up.

“Lately I’ve been feeling like… I’m adrift or something. Like I’m going nowhere. It’s okay, most days… I’ve got lots of studios that always call on me if they need me to teach something there, but I never last too long in just one style, I have to switch so often because I don’t like being constricted too much.”

“Erza,” Mira started, a frown on her face. “You’ve been feeling like this for a while now?”

“Months, really.” she laughed uneasily. “I love dancing, but it’s just that the switching things… it also makes me feel so aimless.”

“You’re not aimless, sweetie. And if you ask me, the way you switch styles just makes you really versatile and that just means you’re… free.”

“Yes, I’m free. And versatile. But what if that’s the reason why we never win, Mira?” and when Mira blinked in confusion, Erza just continued. “Those things I can do? I’m not the best at any of them. Natsu can breakdance better than anyone on the team, Gray’s our finest hip-hop guy, you’re the best in ballroom. But you guys always want me to lead just because I have all sorts of experience, because dancing is my job. What if that’s where we fail at?”

“Erza, you’ve always been—”

“No, Mira. Everyone trusts me to make us a winning piece because they expect me to be good at everything, but I’m not. Honestly, they might not be dancing for a living, but their jobs are more stable than mine. I’m a drifter. I’ve been thinking about this, and I realize I can’t just keep on doing this, and I was distracted but all of you put me in charge. Like always. But all those times… All those other dance contests we joined where I led the team? We never won. We land places but we weren’t the best. What if that’s because I’m not the best leader for us?”

Mira looked at her friend. Erza has always been their confident but humble general choreographer, and Mira was sure that no one ever complained about how the red-head did things. She didn’t know that even Erza had doubts. She always thought that Erza was great, switching her jobs like it’s no big deal and excelling at each one. She thought it’s because Erza was always open to trying new things, she didn’t expect that it was because her friend was feeling tired of doing the same things.

“Maybe Gray should do it this time? He’s the best dancer we have for this kind of—”

“Erza.” Mira cut her off this time. “Gray and Natsu might be our best dancers, but you are our best choreographer. And we need you for that, we don’t need the best in the style — we need someone who cares enough about what we can all do and knows how to balance those out to come up with a routine that fits everyone. And that’s you.”

“You really think that?” Erza asked, having a hard time believing.

“Yes. And sweetheart, you should have told us what you’re dealing with. You could have used someone to talk to about all this.” the silver-haired woman said, reaching out to take her friend’s hand. “You know we’d understand. That’s what we’re here for. If one of us falls short, everyone else supports them, remember?”

She stopped when her phone went off, and she bit her lip when she looked at the time. Mira sighed. “I have to finish these papers and bring them to the office downstairs. I’m sorry, I’m going to have to leave you for a while…”

Erza nodded quietly.

“Do you want to stay here?” Mira asked, standing up.

Erza looked around the empty studio for a while, her gaze stopping at her reflection in the mirror. She smiled up at Mira. “Will you be gone long? I was hoping to borrow the room for a bit, get some dances out to clear my head. I just… didn’t feel like doing it at home—”

“Sure thing.” the older woman didn’t even let her finish. She just agreed fully. If that was what it would take for Erza to feel better, to be comfortable in her skin again… “I have to talk to my boss anyway. 1 hour, tops. You know this floor as much as I do. Feel free to use it ’till I get back.”

“Thanks, Mira.”

Mirajane picked up her papers and with one last smile for her friend, left the room.

Erza sat down in the middle of the dance floor for a while, just staring at her reflection in the mirror. It’s been a long, stressful day — and she wasn’t used to escaping to the studio. She wasn’t used to fighting with the others — she was usually the peacekeeper. But everytime this happened, she just went out somewhere and danced. It always made her feel better.

Yet there she was, drawing a blank on what to dance. She just sighed and plugged in her earphones again, tapping the play button in her phone without really looking at it. She knew her playlist was on shuffle, so she let it just pick a random song.

When it played, Erza found herself smiling bitterly. Her phone was messing with her.

((Standing where I am now, standing up at all…
I was used to feeling like I was never gonna see myself at the finish line.))

She hugged her knees to her chest and let herself drown in the music for a while.

((Hanging on to parts of me, hanging on at all…
I was used to seeing no future in my sight line.))

She was grasping at straws on their contest entry routine too. She was supposed to make hip-hop work, with the usual team. She knows her friends can all pull it off. They were all great dancers and had their own brand of charisma. It was just with all her distracted thinking about future plans and stuff… Erza was finding it real hard to make up a routine fitting for everyone.

((Sometimes it feels like they wanna remind me,
send all those villains after me.))

Not to mention, it’s been a while since they all danced together for a contest. A year, really. They still danced together sometimes. Whenever she came up with a nice little routine, most of them all go for it. Maybe even take a video and upload it somewhere. Erza’s connections from her different jobs like them. But the others… mostly they were too busy with their day jobs, dancing on their own space as much as they could.

Maybe that was the problem. Erza lost touch with them a bit. She was busy juggling different dance gigs, she couldn’t balance what to have them all dance because she didn’t quite know they each moved individually now.

((I’m not their hero, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t brave.
I never walked the party line, doesn’t mean that I was never afraid.))

Whenever she gave them choreography, they usually followed her instructions because it fit everyone… but she never really saw them lately dancing on their own without her given steps.

((I’m not your hero but that doesn’t mean we’re not one and the same.))

Was that what Mira was telling her about? Balance? They relied on her to know them well enough to balance their strengths out? But those easy dancing sessions they used to have… where all of them just joined in and danced carelessly on their own style to show the others… those rarely ever happened these days anymore. Erza wondered if the others have realized that yet…

She breathed out, trying to get herself together. There was still the rest of the song, and she wanted to clear her head by dancing something, right? This song was what she had been given. She just had to work with it.

She stood up then, kicked off her shoes and removed her socks. Erza slipped her earphones off and set her phone down nearby, hurriedly putting it on max volume. She let the second verse pass, and listened carefully to the chorus. If she can come up with something quick enough, she can make it to the bridge.

So Erza just surrendered to instinct and started moving. She didn’t even decide what to do. Hip-hop? Contemporary? Her first moves somehow came out as some jazz funk steps.

((Sometimes it feels like the side that I’m on
Plays the toughest hand, holds the longest stand.))

She did some dynamic arm extensions and leg movements in the center of the room, but she knew that the song was too loud for that — so she switched to another style, going for a high leap, followed by some pirouettes when she landed.

((Sometimes it feels like I’m all that they’ve got
It’s so hard to know I’m not what they want.))

She moved around the room in a series of flips, turns, quick floor work and jumps — maybe she was treating it as an exercise. It’s been long since she had to do really complicated contemporary steps.

((Sometimes it feels like the side that I’m on
Plays the toughest hand, holds the longest stand.
Sometimes it feels like I’m all that they’ve got.
It’s so hard to know I’m not what they want.))

She mixed in some funk movements to catch her breath from the jumping and turning, but didn’t let it get too boring. She just kept moving, then came up with quick lyrical hip-hop steps for the last chorus.

((I’m not their hero, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t brave.
I never walked the party line, doesn’t mean that I was never afraid.))

It must look weird, putting some contemporary extensions and pirouettes in between the quick pop-and-lock steps. She shook that off, shoved it to the back of her head. She was improvising, and nobody was looking anyway.

((I’m not your hero but that doesn’t mean we’re not one and the same.
I do my best to walk the finest line ’till I’ve had all that I can take.))

For good measure, Erza just danced contemporary for the rest of the song, sneaking in just little jazz in some beats. She did several pirouettes as the song’s outro faded.

She panted as she finally stopped, ignoring the next track that was now playing from her phone. It was one hell of a dance. She didn’t even remember how half of it went. All she knew was that she must have crammed everything she knew into that routine out of frustration.

But what the hell, she felt a lot better. There’s still the matter of the routine, making up with Gray, settling on one style… but now her head was clearer and she was already starting to sort her priorities out again. She can put some of the personal stuff behind her for a bit. She had to focus on getting the team in order. They were counting on her—

Then a familiar voice — and not Mira’s — cut through her thoughts.

“If that’s what you’re using for the contest, you’re going to win.”

She whirled around to see an unexpected guest standing by the doorway of the studio, leaning against the wall calmly. The blue-haired man wore casual clothes now, his bag slung across his shoulders and his hands on his pockets.

“Jellal.” Erza blinked, running a hand through her hair. “Um… hey?”

“Hey yourself.” he smiled as he walked towards her.

She met him halfway, maybe still a bit dazed from dancing because the next thing she knew, he had placed a hand on her waist and dropped a kiss on her forehead. That snapped her out of it, and she drew back. “Wait, I’m all sweaty! Seriously!”

He laughed. “I don’t mind.” He leaned down to give her another, but she dodged.

“I do.” she rolled her eyes, but let out an amused chuckle, pushing him gently off her so she can grab a towel from her bag. On her way, she also picked up her phone to turn the music off. He followed her, sitting on a nearby chair as she wiped some sweat from her neck and forehead. “What are you doing here?”

“You told me earlier you’ll be here. I thought I’d drop by and see if I could catch you. I met Mira downstairs, she said I could come up here.” he answered. “What about you? Was that the routine you’re working on for the contest?”

“No, the contest is for street dance. That…” she paused for a bit, thinking. “That was an improvised, frustrated mess.”

He raised an eyebrow. “It’s pretty impressive for a mess.”

“You think?” she asked, obviously skeptical.

Jellal nodded. “I can see it was indeed improvised and frustrated. But you never stumbled or missed a beat and everything transitioned smoothly. I’d say it looked like an experimental mashup of styles, really. Could use a bit of polishing, but it’s great.”

She turned towards him this time as she put her hair up in a ponytail. “Why do you say it so much better?”

He shrugged. “Dance instructor here. Mastered the art of coming up with critique.”

She pouted at him and reached out to poke his nose quickly before going back to making herself presentable again. “Well… now you’ve found me. What’s next?”

He looked straight at her, expression soft. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Talk about what?”

“Whatever it is that’s got you dancing an improvised, frustrated, albeit impressive mess.”

Erza didn’t answer that as she finished tucking her towel, brush and phone back in her bag. Jellal waited patiently until she was done, and even after that as she just fell silent, thinking.

Mira was right, their friends counted on her not necessarily to choreograph a winning piece, but just to come up with something they can all dance to their hearts’ content. She needed their help for that — she had to know what they all can do now. And Erza knew that keeping it all in wasn’t the right way to deal with that. Mira said so too. Erza should have told the others, or someone at least. She knew that she only had to ask, and they’ve always got her back.

Erza didn’t even know how she could forget that. She faced her new companion then, somehow managing to let out a relieved expression on her features. “I think… I’m feeling better now.”

“Really?” Jellal blinked.

She nodded, reaching out a hand. He caught it and tugged her gently towards him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and leaned down to press her forehead against his. “Really. I talked it out with Mira, and she’s right as always. Plus, you’re here.”

“I’m here?”

“Everything’s better when you’re around.”

He smiled, pulling her closer.

“And I’m hungry.” she added.

“You would be, after dancing like that.” he chuckled. “Dinner? Or do you have to be home early tonight?”

She placed a short, sweet kiss on his lips before standing up straight again and giving him an answer.

“Dinner would be great.”

Chapter Notes:

I know the story is going a bit slow right now, but hey, Erza’s fine now, we’re moving on next week!

Mister Jellal Fernandez-Scarlet Sir’s leotard is made of waifu material. Meredy checked. Erza confirmed as well.

Also — Ultear is a prima ballerina, if you should know. I mean I can’t imagine her as anything else, really.

Dance/Musical Notes:
— My inspiration for Erza’s really experimental and athletic dancing style is SYTYCD’s Mollee Gray. Watch her solos because maaaan look at that girl do her flips yo she can kill people with those lines. So. Erza.

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