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all's fair in love and war

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Erza lifted the vat, muscles straining as she hefted it onto her shoulder and carried it to the moulds in the back corner of the forge. A few droplets of molten iron sprayed over her leather vest, and she winced – metal burns were always a pain to disinfect. Not to mention this was the third vest she'd had to buy this month alone, and leather was so costly. She couldn’t afford to ruin this one.

With a grunt, she heaved the vat forwards and poured the molten metal into the nail and pin moulds that Juvia had already put in ice water. Erza would have to remember to thank the quiet girl later – Juvia had been a huge help ever since she’d hired her.

With a satisfied smile, Erza stepped back, dusting off her hands. She’d disinfect her burns and stitch up her vest later, though she'd probably get an earful about it from Cana. At least grunt work was done. Now she could get to the good stuff.

“Lucy!” Erza called back, braid swinging as she peeked into the store room where the blonde girl was cleaning rusty swords. “Do you know who’s working out front?”

“Yeah, it’s Juvia,” Lucy replied as she scrubbed the blades. “Make sure she eats!”

Juvia had a tendency to overwork herself and forget about the basic things her body needed. Erza nodded with a little smile.  

“She did,” Cana informed Lucy, popping into the storeroom. “You done with the cleaver? Ultear came all the way to pick it up, you know.” she added, casting a sly glance at Erza, whose cheeks paled a little.

“So?” she stuttered.

It was a well-known fact that Erza had once had a giant crush on Ultear Milkovich, the prettiest girl in town, who seemed delicate until you saw the way she gutted meat – she was the local butcher. It was also a well-known fact that Ultear had a very overprotective girlfriend in the form of one Kagura Mikazuchi (who Erza had also crushed on at some point, but that didn’t matter).

To be fair to Erza, it was pretty much impossible not to have a crush on Ultear. Even if you weren’t into girls. It’s just that Kagura was… very protective. Emphasis on the very.

Erza shook her head, snapping out of her daze. Cana had said something.

“What?” she asked.

Cana rolled her purple eyes and repeated, “I said, I know you finished repairing it weeks ago. Get out front; it’ll do you some good to actually interact with another human being rather than staying locked up in that hot forge all day.”

“I interact with you,” protested Erza, but fell silent when Cana shot her a glare.

“Just. Go.” threatened the brunette.

“All right,” Erza sighed, more out of resignation than fear of Cana. After all, she knew her own temper was much fiercer than the other girl’s.

Erza collected herself and stepped back into the store room, snatching the gleaming cleaver off the wall. She gave it a once-over, checking for any scratches.

Maybe one last polish…

“Stop stalling for time, Erza!” Cana yelled.

Erza rolled her eyes, hefted the cleaver over her shoulder and stepped out, opening the door to the storefront.

“Good morning,” she greeted Ultear, who gave her a dazzling smile.

“It looks as good as new!” she gushed, taking the hatchet in both hands and examining it carefully. “Thank you,”

Erza smiled. “You’re welcome.”

Ultear pulled out her coin purse. “How much do I pay you?”

“That’ll be… eight gold pieces. Two for straightening the blade out, two for the polish, two for the anti-rusting treatment and two for taxes.”

Ultear counted out eight coins and put them on the counter. She flashed Erza another beautiful smile, tucked some hair behind her ear and skipped off.

Erza smiled and slipped the money into the Daily Earnings box by the door. She was proud of her girls - they’d been doing good business this month, and maybe she’d hand a little extra to Lucy and Juvia. They both deserved it; they’d been working hard and saving up to buy a small cottage together.

She dusted off her hands and was preparing to go back inside when a light, musical voice interrupted her.

“Uh, are you Erza Scarlet?”

Erza whirled around at the sound of her name, red braid coming up to smack her in the face, and gawked - there was no other word for it - at the gorgeous woman standing in front of her.

She had long white hair that fell to her mid-back in perfect, beachy waves. The fringe at the top was tied up into a little ponytail that would’ve looked childish on anyone else, but only served to accentuate her mature beauty. Her eyes, bluer than the clearest sky, shone like two sapphires. Her skin was olive tan and almost flawless.

All in all, she was breathtaking.

Blood rushed to Erza’s cheeks as she realised she was staring.

Coming back to her senses, she tried to compose herself and spoke calmly (or, well, as calmly as she could, given how flustered she was), “Yes, I’m Erza. Is there anything I could do for you today?”

"I heard you're the best ironworker in the area. Care to show me any daggers?" the woman asked, blue eyes twinkling like twin skies.

"What would a pretty thing like you want with a dagger?" Erza blurted, feeling her cheeks heat instantly. Behind her, she heard a faint snicker from Cana, who’d followed her back out.

The girl laughed, a tinkling laugh that sounded an awful lot like heaven's bells.

"Why would a pretty thing like you work in a blacksmith’s shop?" she asked, eyes dancing with mirth. “You can only imagine what I want it for.”

Erza went redder. "I - um, of course. Juvia," she called loudly, turning around to hide her face from the beautiful girl (and hoping the red would subside when she turned back), "bring out that new dagger I forged yesterday, won't you?"

“Yes, Erza,” came Juvia’s soft voice from inside. Erza heard a few mild clanging noises and winced slightly - Juvia tended to be just a wee bit clumsy in the store room. It would take her a while to find it; Juvia was never particularly good at looking for things.

You should have asked Lucy. You’re just stalling for time so you can talk to this pretty customer more.

Erza told herself very firmly to shut up .

“What kind would you recommend?” asked the stunning woman, drawing Erza’s attention again. She turned around to see that the woman had leaned forward, elbows on the counter, looking avidly up at Erza.

Erza took a deep breath.

Don’t go getting a crush on her now. Sure, she’s beautiful, but professionalism comes first.

When she spoke, she was proud of how calm and composed she sounded. “For a beauty like you? Something ornamental, perhaps?”

The woman shook her head. “Something more… functional. I’m afraid the ones I generally use don’t quite meet my standards any more. I’d like something durable, sturdy and strong. Just like you seem to be,” she added with a wink.

“I’ll assume it’s to ward off your many admirers,” Erza joked in spite of herself, ignoring the customer’s flirty tone and the hot flush rising to her own neck. She could feel waves of pride radiating off of Cana - the brunette was always pushing Erza to be more friendly towards customers. “Something standard, then?”

The girl hummed in dissatisfaction. “Not really what I’m looking for, you know?”

“Well, ma’am, would you mind specifying?” Erza didn’t mean to sound rude, but oh, well, she’d said it anyway. Nothing to be done now. “Not to be rude, I just don’t have much to work with here.”

The woman laughed. “I’m sorry. I should have been more exact. I’d like a dagger of standard size, with a good grip. I don’t really care about how it looks; it just needs to be light but strong. I don’t particularly like ones that weigh a lot. Oh, and none of this ma’am business. Just call me ‘Mirajane’, or ‘Mira’.” She winked at Erza, who smiled back despite her ears being redder than her hair.

Two can play at this game, she decided. She had been getting the sense that this stranger - Mirajane - was flirting with her. Why not turn the tables on her?

“That’s what we specialize in, Mirajane .” She emphasized Mira’s name, paying special attention to each syllable and watching in satisfaction as a small blush bloomed on her cheeks.

“Here, Erza,” Juvia said softly, poking Erza’s shoulder and handing her a few daggers. “Juvia heard Erza and the customer talking, so Juvia thought she should get a few more that suited the customer’s requests better.”

Erza smiled and ruffled the blue locks. Juvia was so thoughtful.

“Thank you,” she said and sent the younger woman scurrying back inside.

“Tell me, Erza ,” Mirajane asked in a low, husky voice, “are all of you who work here as gorgeous as you are?”

This time, Erza really did go as red as her hair.

“I - um-” she stuttered.

Mirajane let out a laugh. “I was just teasing. Though, you really are absolutely gorgeous,” she added with a devilish grin.

Erza collected herself and retorted, “Well, if I’m gorgeous, you must be the reincarnation of Aphrodite.”

Mirajane stuck out her tongue in a childish fashion. “I’d much rather be Athena. Smart, strong, and beautiful.”

“Athena?” Erza laid out the daggers Juvia had brought her on the counter and smiled. “Then I think I have the perfect one.” Her hand curled around the leather grip of the dagger she and Lucy had made a couple of weeks back. She considered it one of her best creations. “The grip is sturdy and strong. We used a special polish on the hilt so that it absorbs sweat rather than makes it slippery, despite the leather covering. The blade is also light, made of a nanocrystalline alloy that’s not only the lightest, but also the strongest of its kind. It’s elegant, but not flashy. The perfect weapon based on your demands,”

Mirajane picked the blade up, weighing it in her palm. She flicked her wrist suddenly, and the dagger stuck in the wood just above Cana’s head, quivering in the wood-panelled walls of the shop’s storefront. To her credit, Cana didn’t so much as flinch - though that might be because of the training she’d received from her father, Gildarts Clive, when younger.

“No dagger I’ve ever thrown has landed so perfectly,” Mirajane said quietly, staring at the leather hilt of the weapon.

“I think it’s perfect for you,” Erza admitted.

Mirajane smiled. “I think so too. How much do I pay for it?”

You’re never going to see her again, flashed through Erza’s mind. Don’t let this go!

“Consider it paid for with dinner,” she blurted, losing all control over her mouth. “Tonight. Just the two of us. I know a nice place.”

Mirajane’s rosebud lips parted slightly, and she stared at Erza in shock.

“Are you - are you asking me out?”

Erza went redder than her namesake, but she soldiered on. “Yes. You’re beautiful, and I might never see you again. What’s the harm in just one date?”

Mirajane turned a little pink, but smiled. “One date it is. But I’m paying.” She palmed the dagger, and Erza passed her a thigh sheath, which she strapped to her leg.

Erza appreciated the brief view.

Mirajane turned to leave, hips swaying just a little more than was natural, and stopped as she left, looking over her shoulder.

“I stay at the Crimson Lotus. How does eight o’clock sound?” she asked, smiling.

Erza smiled back. “Perfect,” she called, and watched as Mirajane sashayed off.

“Oh - oh my God,” Cana mumbled, bringing Erza back to Earth. “Erza, did you just do what I think you did?”

Erza nodded giddily. “I think I have a date, Cana. I think I have a date!”