A/N: And I am back with another chapter to this story. I am having mixed feelings about it as I realize as it goes on, it will become less and less cheerful and it will start to focus more on real issue. But that is for another chapter, in this one, I had to build up the reason why everyone is fighting and this is my culmination. Thank you all for your continuous support, I am eagerly expecting to hear your opinion of the story. P.S. I am probably gonna realize I made one or two or ten grammar mistakes and if I did I will fix them ASAP.


Large stamp pressed against back of Natsu's right hand and red mark appeared on it. One, little red fairy. He looked at it and quickly turned.

"Yo Lucy! Check it out, I got a mark, now I am part of Fairy Tail!" He almost yelled, sporting his usual big, dumb smile. Lucy couldn't help it but feel the odd sense of nostalgia. In his eyes she saw herself, long time ago when she first came to the guild, when things were far more innocent and dreams were big. He looks so happy, so unbelievably radiating as he is looking at his mark with pride. She couldn't help but to smile. No words were shared but in her own, new-found way, she is congratulating him… and at the same time, offering her sincerest condolences.

"Just make sure you don't wave it around like a flag." Jake commented with voice low but sharp.

"What the hell is your problem, man?" Natsu turned head, sending a cold glare at the wizard.

"You people are my problem." He answered sharply "We bleed everyday on the streets and when the little goldilocks brings her friend, everyone gets excited as if we won the fucking Magic Games."

It didn't take longer than half second for Natsu to simply appear in front of Jake, eyes wide, cold, nostrils about to send embers through his every breath. Unlike his appearance, his voice was everything but hot, it was one that sends chills to the bones "Her name is Lucy, you got that?"

"Natsu, don't start." Erza commented and dragon slayer instantly took a step back but look didn't move for one millimeter "Jake has a point; the mark is not something that you can show on the street."

"You know, we used to be proud of being Fairy Tail wizards." Natsu turned, looking toward Erza who looked as if she is on the very edge of her nerves, fingers slowly rubbing her temples.

"We are proud." She said "But for the sake of keeping everyone else safe in town, we must act as if we hate everything we stand for. Safer for us, safer for the people."

"Yeah, that also means you have to keep yourself inconspicuous, if you even understand that word." Jake commented again, not missing a single nerve on Natsu who looked as if he was about to explode. He probably would have but Lucy grabbed him just under his elbow and waved head, pleading with her eyes not to.

"You think I can't?" Natsu asked, calmer because of Lucy's touch but still very close to him bursting.

"I know all about you, Natsu Dragneel." Jake continued, voice still carried tone of hatred "You might have been something in the past but you are far too volatile to be useful. Yea, you might be strong but that means jack shit if you can't follow the plan."

"That's enough Jake!" Erza shouted, shooting a glare at wizard.

"No, not this time! You know best what he can do and he's gonna create a fuss on the street more often than not! Who else we have to lose? Do I have to remind you what happened last time?"

Erza's teeth gritted hard. Her hand instinctively reached for the hilt of the sword. Even though she seldom resorted to violence when resolving guild issues, her anger clouded her judgment. She would have simply threatened Jake to fall in line but before her hand could pull out sword, Jake's voice turned into loud groan and cough. Natsu was quicker, sending a strong punch into man's stomach and with left hand he grabbed his throat, pinning him against the wall.

"You may know Erza but I grew up with her, so no one is allowed to annoy her but me and Gray!" Natsu growled, tightening the grip.

"Natsu, let him go!" Erza ordered and pinkette complied with great reluctance. "Jake, this is not the time for this, what's done is done."

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Natsu asked "Why do you hate me? I haven't even done anything yet."

"I don't hate you, you jackass!" Jake growled at Natsu as he was recovering from the tight grasp. His eyes looked away toward Lucy, brows furrowed and gaze cold "I hate her."

"Lucy?" Natsu looked toward Lucy with wide eyes. She was just standing, eyes on her sides and head bowed down "Why would you hate Lucy?"

"Because…" Lucy started, losing her composure with every second "Several people died because of me."

"Yeah, good people. All that so we would save your useless ass."

"Jake!" Erza shouted, slamming hand against the heavy table, making it tilt in the process.

"I am not saying anything that isn't already true. How long are you gonna tolerate that? Silvia, Reva, Gordon. They were all great wizards, true fighters that you threw away because of her. She cannot even use magic anym-"

"Apologize…" Natsu barked, interrupting him in mid-sentence, standing dangerously close to his face.

"Why should I?"

"Because I am sure she didn't mean all that."

"Bullshit!" Jake growled, tightening his fist. He was ready to fully confront Natsu.

"I don't care what you think of me or her, but if you so much as whisper another bad word about her while I am around… I'll kick your ass so hard they'll think you are a shooting star. Go ahead, ask Erza if I can do it."

For good ten seconds Jake was silent, taking the shots from Natsu's eyes that constantly bombarded him. He realized that fighting against Natsu wouldn't end up well so he just snorted, moving step back.

"Yea, I'm sure you can. They gave you Priority 1 without a second of consideration. Not all of us can be dragon slayers after all. I'm done for the evening…" He turned and made his way out of the large room, slamming doors behind himself. Natsu was no less angry, he still fought the urge to rush out, beat every last bit of sense out of him and then back in. Pinkette however had to calm down as Erza shouted his name one more time, making him snap out of his thoughts.

"He said something about… Priority. What was he talking about?" Natsu asked.

"It is system we created recently. It allows us to place wizards into roles that would be most suitable for the need of the guild and missions. There are three Priorities and importance is in descending order." Erza answered Natsu's question. He took few seconds to deeply ponder on this and like an enlightenment, it hit him.

"Oooh I get it! It's like S-Class and those under it, right?" He asked.

"Sort of…"

"Wow." Natsu cheered, looking at his hand where mark was placed. True to the explanation, in the center of the fairy there was "I" imprinted.

"Awesome." Natsu smiled wide, showing bit of pride as he looked back at Lucy "About time I get to the S-Class."

"Yeah… you could say that…" Lucy responded, gaze turned away from him.

"It is not like that, Natsu." Erza interjected and pinkette looked at her. He could see pained expression on her face as she was explaining "Priorities are based on exact roles in guild along with levels of importance. Priority 1 is given to wizards that are of utmost importance to the guild, without them, there would be no point in fighting. As it happens, there are only four with that level… Wendy, Gajeel, Lahar and myself. You are fifth one."

"So all the big shots eh?" Natsu asked, suddenly feeling as if he was pushed into position of great importance without having to earn it. It was also a point when he realized that Lucy was not as important as he initially thought. Truth be told, he expected her to be among them since she was smartest person he ever knew. With master gone along with so many others, brain the thing that mattered. He glanced back at her and there was still the pained expression on her face.

"Priority 2 is given to all supporting wizards, logistics officers, advanced scouting parties and others who make all our operations run a lot easier. Hibiki and Warren would be best example of it since they are able to coordinate assaults teams from distance and allow us to navigate without being detected."

"I get it." Natsu nodded.

"But there is another thing about it. It also gives us perspective on wizard's importance. If for example multiple wizards are captured… we look first for those with higher priority to save."

The cheerful grin on Natsu's face disappeared, lips lost the pleasant curve and brows furrowed.

"No… you are not telling me that you are going to just use that to see who you can save and who you will not."

"We must." Erza continued "It is our way to survive in this war, we have to prioritize who is going to be worth the resources to sav-"

"Bullshit!" Natsu growled loud, slamming hand hard against the wooden surface of the table "You are choosing now? What happened to helping all our friends?!"

"We did!" Erza snarled at Natsu who took a step back from her angry expression. She was looking down but he could clearly see rage building up in her "But we began losing more and more people and soon it became a bad trade. More died than we rescued and we saw that losing numbers will end our fight faster than we can muster a proper plan for attack!"

"That's not the point! You are creating a value on life by making someone more important than others!" He took deep breath, hand moved across his face "So now I am more important than Warren? Than Elfman and Evergreen?"

"I know it sounds cruel Natsu… trust me not a day goes by without me reminding myself of it but you have to understand this." She looked up at him "Dragons cannot be defeated easily. It takes a lot of wizards to just stand on equal ground to one dragon. We learned the hard way that only dragon slayer can stand up to a dragon… and we lost all but Wendy and Gajeel. Without them… without three of you, we have no hope of winning."

Erza walked around the table, standing before Natsu. Her hand rolled up her left sleeve, showing Fairy Tail mark with same "I" that Natsu had. "It pains me more than you can imagine when I have to sit here and wait for others to do difficult missions… I would rather be there, outside, but only reason why I am here, why I bear this curse is because I am now leader of Fairy Tail and I cannot allow it to fall apart."

Natsu kept glaring at her. There was a small tint of understanding, small whisper inside his head that kept saying that she is right. He couldn't even imagine what Fairy Tail was going through while he was gone and with so many people dead, so many friends lost in this chaos… Someone had to make difficult decisions. He knew, although he didn't want to admit it so openly, that Erza is probably strongest one… not physically although she is with good reason to bear her reputation… but rather, mentally strong, one who can bear the heavy responsibility. He remembered something. Practically everyone in Fairy Tail would be in this Priority 2. He wasn't brightest crayon in the box but even he could see the progression. Small fear appeared inside of him.

"What about last one? He asked but no one answered. "What is number three then?"

"Expendable." Lucy said, seeing that no one else is. "It means those with Priority 3 are first line agents and… fodder. If anyone of Priority 3 is captured, no effort will be made to rescue them. They are considered as dead the moment they are captured and expected to not reveal any information."

"No, that is not right!" Natsu growled again, glaring at Erza, showing his teeth. "What kind of sick joke is it to count someone as dead and not even try to help them?!"

"It is… necessary…" Erza responded calmly but he could see her swallow hard. No matter how much she tried to hide it, it was all too obvious to dragon slayer.

"So who is in this group?"

"I am." Voice reached him, and suddenly a chill went down his spine, as cold as Gray's ice. Slowly he turned his head and watched as Lucy gazes up at him with her bright wide eyes, hand up in front of her showing the mark of Fairy Tail with "III" in center. "Among thirty others, I am one of them."

"No…" Natsu uttered in low tone as he was watching her. She had a very soft smile on her face and eyes that belonged to one who already gave up on all hope. He said it again "No…" and again "No!"

"Everyone here knows what we are up against and what is our duty, no one is forced to-"

"Erase this!" Natsu came dangerously close to Erza, arm raised showing new guild mark "Erase this mark, I am leaving the guild!"

"What?"

"You heard me Erza! I am not staying one more minute in guild that is looking at its members as cannon fodder! This is not the Fairy Tail I was in years ago."

Erza was shocked but she kept her composure "Natsu, you cannot-"

"Like hell I can't! Either you put Lucy as 1 or you erase my mark!"

"Natsu, enough."

"No!" He barked again, both first showing thin smoke erupting from between fingers "I already lost one Lucy, I will not lose this one! If you can value someone based on how good they are instead who they are, then so can I… and I say I am gonna save her before anyone else!"

Erza sighed, turning around. She took several steps before she turned and pulled out her sword, pointing directly at Natsu. He knew this look, all too well. It was look of Erza who was past negotiations, one who was prepared to step up to the line for her friends. She was now stepping against one. Her eyes flickered, begging for him to back down, pleading him to stop but his anger was reaching its last threshold.

"You wanna throw down, alright! Bring it on!" Natsu finally erupted; hands were engulfed in intense flame that almost everyone present could feel on their skin. He was about to launch himself at her, to beat the living crap out scarlet warrior but before he could make a single millimeter, pair of arms wrapped around his chest, pressing tight.

"Please… don't…" Lucy pleaded as she tightened her grip, leaning head against his back.

"Lucy… I… I can't…"

"I know you can't but I know what I am getting into. We need you, now more than ever…" Her voice broke, thin and soft, begging for fiery slayer to calm down. "If we lose you now… we might as well lose all our hope. Please, don't…"

"Dammit!" He yelled loud, lowering his hands. His eyes lost all the fire they held and his breaths became fast and hard. Erza placed her sword back into sheath, knowing that whatever she says wouldn't be enough to comfort him. Lucy seemed to be doing well.

"I know how you feel, Natsu." Erza said in sympathetic tone "You cannot begin to imagine what I would give to never have to lose another Fairy Tail member. If my life could replace it, I would gladly plunge this sword into my chest right this instance, without remorse, without hesitation… if only it would make sure everyone else is safe."

"You mentioned teams." Natsu looked up at Erza, finally calming himself down enough to think clearly.

"Yes, every team is composed of various members with different magical abilities to give maximum amount of mobility and ability to adapt to as many situations as possible."

"Good." Natsu said quickly, pushing Lucy away from her current position and placing her beside him, arm around her shoulder. His eyes were lit again. "Then I want Lucy on mine."

"Natsu, this is ridiculous." Lahar interjected, rubbing his eyes under glasses. "You cannot-"

"No, I can. I am Priority 1 and that makes me the most important person in this guild."

"One of them…" Lahar corrected him "But… yes."

"That means I can make a call. My first call is that I am making a team and I am choosing Lucy to be in mine."

"N-Natsu…" Lucy muttered as she looked up at him. Her heart began beating hard and fast as she was gazing up at his face. He oozed confidence, aura so warm that were telling her that everything is going to be alright. Right there under his arm, for the first time in years… she felt completely safe.

"I made my choice!" Natsu said loud, attracting everyone's attention in the room. "If there is need for me to add another one, I will do so but for now you will either allow me to make this team or I will quit Fairy Tail and go to beat Rogue myself!"

"This is ridiculous." Lahar commented.

"You are level one right?" Natsu asked former Rune Knight and after few seconds he nodded.

"Without him, rest of knights cannot be gathered, what's left of them are training, gathering more members." Erza answered Natsu's question. She let out a long sigh "Granted, you can make the team with Lucy but I expect you to be cooperative."

"Yeah, no sweat." He smiled wide "I don't like new Rogue any more than you and if you got a plan to take him down, I'm in."

"We'll kick his butt!" Happy commented, flying over to Natsu.

"I guess we have no other choice. You cannot go your house tonight and we are expecting more people to come tonight… it will be crowded here."

"That's alright; I'll take him to my house." Lucy said, snapping out of her comfort zone. "For the night, it might be best for him to be there."

"It is curfew outside…" Lahar added.

"So?" Natsu smiled wide, turning toward the doors "I bet no one looks up on the roofs."

"And you are allowing this?" Lahar asked Erza, watching Natsu rush out through the doors, followed by Lucy and Happy. He was far from content with situation that just developed.

"I am." Erza said in firm tone, walking back to her seat by the large wooden table, filled with papers and maps.

"He will cause trouble."

"That he will. He has a point though. We were so focused on this war and we forgot value of our closest ones. I have seen Lucy get hurt over and over in the past, frankly, only reason why I am still allowing her to part of the guild is because she can take care of herself."

"Even after the incident?" Lahar turned himself, facing Erza fully, adjusting his glasses. Her gaze suddenly collided with his and he could see her anger in eyes.

"She is still my closest friend and if it was up to me, I would've thrown her out of the guild to be as far away from this war as possible. Lucy suffered more than anyone for us and paid every price to keep us running. How did we repay her kindness? We branded her, expecting the news of her capture so we can scratch her name from the list of our members…"

"We had to. You know that. It is not our fault she lost them."

"No. Jake has a point but he is also wrong." Erza continued after a very long sigh "Lucy is still our friend and if there is a place where she would be safest while helping us most… it is by Natsu's side. I am glad he is still loyal to his friends because we need all the light we can get in days to come."

There are few absolute certainties in this world and one of them is that when Natsu sets his mind on something, there is nothing that can stop him. While considered one of the least stealthy person in guild or… several guilds, his still juvenile imagination was nothing short of a genius. Much like a 'real ninja' in his mind, he knew how to travel without a single sound, jumping from one roof to another with almost unnatural grace. Happy followed his best friend from above, holding Lucy tight. They did however had to stop couple of times for Natsu to make a small ritual of fixing the scarf that kept falling over his eyes but that was all part of the play. Eventually they reached Lucy's house, managing to avoid every patrol on the street. He was right; no one expected anyone to run on the roofs so no one bothered to look up. Fear did most of the work and kept people from the streets.

Natsu pushed window of Lucy's apartment and jumped into darkened room. Soon after, Happy and Lucy went inside. The look was nostalgic, bringing smile on Natsu's eyes as almost everything was as he remembered. Chairs, couch, tables and plenty of paper all around.

"I guess you're hungry." Lucy said as she moved toward kitchen.

"Actually, we ate just before we got here. Not gonna lie, forests got some nasty animals… not tasty at all."

"You want to take a bath?" She asked, looking over to him.

"Yeah but we'll unpack first, got something to show you." Natsu answered and Lucy nodded. She took towel and went straight into the bathroom. Slowly, she entered hot water as tub was filled, leaning back to catch a moment of rest. So many things happened today, things that she couldn't have predicted would happen. Her hand reached up and pinched her cheek, just to see if this is not the dream. Sharp pain confirmed that she is very much awake.

After long twenty minutes she stood up and wrapped towel around herself. It only then occurred to her that she forgot her clothes outside. Fear entered her stomach… she had to walk out in nothing but towel. Knowing Natsu, he is probably too tired and just fell asleep on the couch. Maybe, just maybe…

She opened doors and peeked outside. Pinkette and Happy were nowhere to be found. He is probably in her bedroom, a notion that would usually irk her beyond comprehension but in this case a preferable option. Slowly, she went outside of the bathroom and closed doors, making way to her bedroom.

"You know, all these magazines are from last year." Natsu said as he was going over several magazines, right index finger extended, providing small flame to shine light upon the pages. She yelped lightly, eyes widen as she stared at Natsu sitting on her bed "Thought there would be more of those with you in."

"Redaction closed after Legion took over Magnolia. Can you please leave the room?" She asked, moving hands, and placing them on her shoulders.

"Hmmm? Oh, you can change." Natsu said almost nonchalantly, still looking at the magazine.

"No I can't while you are in here."

"Come on, not like I didn't see you naked." Natsu chuckled lightly "I practically did so almost every week."

"Sometimes he did that on purpose." Happy added, making Natsu shoot a glare at him though that didn't bother Exceed at all.

"I know… bathroom is free, you should go and clean yourself before you go to sleep."

"Yea yea, fine…" Natsu said with exasperated voice, dragging himself toward the doors as if he was given order by a parent. As soon as he approached door, he glanced over to Lucy. His eyebrows furrowed slightly as he kept gazing at her. Lucy felt discomfort rise in her with every second of his intense stare.

"N-Natsu?"

He said nothing, instead, he walked over to her, standing in front, looking down at her with same piercing eyes. Her breath began trembling as he took both of her hands and placed them to her sides. Fingers reached up and grabbed edge of her towel. One quick move and towel opened, falling down on the ground. Lucy was standing there, as naked as the day she was born, in front of Natsu. There was no blush on her face, no smile, no frown, only eyes that gazed down.

"Oh my Natsu!" Happy added as he flew over to mock his friend "At least you should wait unti-"

Happy's words vanished suddenly, not completing sentence he started. His eyes grew wide as he watched his best friend. Natsu's hands moved to Lucy's neck and slowly down, palms and fingers brushing against her skin. She closed her eyes, feeling his touch move down over her chest, down to her stomach and sides. No words came from her, not a single flinch as his hands caressed her. It felt more like if hundred razors traversed across her body. He was struck, lips slowly parted as he watched her with gaze that he never thought he could… Horror.

"How… where… How did you got all these?" Natsu asked as he kept looking at her front. There was almost no place on her chest or stomach, or thighs that wasn't covered in scars. Slashes, cuts, even healed burns; her body was filled with it. Some short, some reached size of over ten centimeters in length and all of those looked like they were done long ago with great care to ensure scars remain. Lucy closed her eyes and from corners, small streams of tears began flowing.

"We… we tried to see how Legion communicates with Rogue… about six months ago Cana and I tried to enter their building undercover and… find any information. We miscalculated and they captured us and dragged us in the dungeons of their guild hall… They tortured us… day and night…"

She stopped for a moment; every second of recollection was another knife that pierced her mind. Natsu just listened, watching her scarred body with horror in his eyes.

"They knew we are from Fairy Tail but they didn't know where our base is located… they wanted to know how many more dragon slayers are alive, where they are and how to get to them. We said nothing and that angered them. They started cutting us, shallow… On every cut they poured salt… then they washed it only so they can pour again and again. Cana was… screaming so much… they were a lot more brutal to her…" Lucy stopped for few seconds, her hands reached up and grabbed her arms just above elbows, covering her chest. She was trembling, not from cold but from fear, from pain that she now had to remember.

"When that didn't help… they would take hot iron and press against us… each time to another place… Pain was excruciating… we were screaming… pulling, wanting to break the chains but all we could do is cut the shackles deeper into wrists... a-and when that didn't help… they began breaking our fingers… one by one…" Her hands moved down, rubbing one palm against another. The friction felt like sandpaper as she continued. "Just to be sure that we don't get any rest… during the night they wou… they would…"

"They would what?" Natsu asked in soft tone as she watched Lucy cry, holding hand over her mouth with eyes shut tight.

"They would rape us…" Lucy said in low, trembling voice "And once they would get tired… they would…" She slowly turned, showing her back to Natsu. Her back was not a single sliver less scarred. One mark beside another, going from her shoulders down to her lower back. Natsu's hand slowly moved closer, fingers barely even touched her skin but she jerked forward, fearful of the foreign touch. With long hesitation, Natsu moved hand over her skin again, this time with less resistance. Fingertips moved across the scars… there were at least one hundred of such, one beside another.

"For hours they lashed us, demanding to know where you are… but we said nothing… I was told that we were in there for three days but it felt more like years to me… On that third day… I…" She began crying again into her arms.

"What happened?" Natsu asked.

"I couldn't do anything Natsu!" Suddenly Lucy turned, burying her head into Natsu's chest. Pinkette just looked down at her, not knowing what to say. All he could do is wrap his arms around her and listen "Cana… s-she… she stopped screaming… I called for her over and over but she didn't answer… she couldn't take it anymore Natsu… her heart… it was too much to endure… it gave up…"

"That's when I heard doors open. Others came, knocked out guards and led us out… there was a fight, rest of the guild returned and… we lost four members… trying to save me and Cana, but only I was rescued… And I am useless now…"

"No you are not." Natsu said in sharper tone, not knowing what else to say. The news of Cana being dead managed to pierce him right through his heart.

"I am. I lost all my keys and I cannot use any other form of magic… They made priorities and I was placed in third one. Lahar says that… we cannot afford to lose any more members, especially not during rescuing others."

"You are not useless Lucy." Natsu repeated "I don't know who convinced you of such but you are not just someone to be thrown away! We are a team; we always were a team and whatever everyone else says, I won't allow anyone to forget about you."

"Thank you…" She finally smiled, a small curve on her lips, nothing more "I cannot begin to tell you just how much that means to me…"

Within the next half hour, Natsu was already in the bathtub, leaned against the wall of it with legs bent up. Near his feet, Happy was floating, tilting from side to side, looking up at the ceiling of the bathroom. They were silent, both of them but then Happy broke the silence.

"Thinking about Lucy?"

"Yeah…" Natsu answered, looking into the water at his own reflection.

"It must have been hard." Happy said moving over to the edge and placing front paws over the bathtub to keep himself from sinking.

"Yeah…" Natsu said again "Before you hatched, Erza used to torture us… me and Gray. When we crossed the line she would drag us outside of Hall and punch us over and over until we apologized to each other. I used to think that there is nothing worse than that but… Now that I see Lucy like this…" He closed his eyes and in low tone said "This is my fault."

"It's not."

"It is, Happy. We should have come sooner."

"Aye, but we didn't know where we were. We were running in wrong direction. What are we gonna do now?"

Natsu's gaze rose and met Happy's "We are gonna find those who killed Cana and did this to Lucy and we'll make them regret the day they were born. After that, we're going after Rogue. Plain and simple. Are you with me, buddy?"

"Aye sir!" Happy added cheerfully. It was time for them to finish bath and walk out. Usually, this would be the time when Lucy would be asleep and he would think of some mischievous way to have fun and make her angry in the morning. Most often it was the drawing on her face but now, he just wanted to see where she is. He opened doors of her bedroom and peeked inside. She was lying on her bed, covered with blanket that he clenched with her both hands. Her entire body was trembling and it didn't take him much time to realize she wasn't cold… no… she was having nightmares. Slowly, he walked over to her bed and sat on it, placing hand on her still shaking shoulder. He could hear her; quiet cries escaped her lips and small wet area on pillow could be seen under the light of the Moon.

Natsu shook her gently, enough to wake her up from the terrors that chased her in her dreams. She turned her head and looked up at him.

"Natsu? Is that you?" She asked as if wondering if all that happened today is just another dream

"I'm here, don't worry." Natsu smiled, moving hand from her shoulder to her head, slowly caressing her on her hair. She turned to face him, arms quickly wrapped around him and she whispered "Please don't go…" He said nothing, not a single word, not a single sign of affirmation. Instead, he lowered himself and stretched across her bed, holding her tight in his arms. No sleep came to him that night but he was content because she finally fell asleep. Like a magical amulet, he somehow managed to disperse all her nightmares with just his sheer presence. For now, that is enough.