Lucy crouched low against a tree as she came out of the thick forest just east of Magnolia. She smiled happily when she looked at the scene before her. A thin and winding dirt path led to an old monastery at the top of the hill. She was hoping with every fiber of her being that the lost tome she was searching for was there so that she could get her reward money and make it home in time to have a much needed girls' day with Erza the next day as she watched the sun setting in over the horizon.

She sighed as she made her way down the path, taking her time and keeping an eye out for any danger that was lurking nearby. So far, she hadn't come across anything on this mission, but she didn't have a team to back her up anymore. Team Natsu had been forcefully disbanded three months ago. Gray and Juvia paired up when they started dating, and Lisanna had joined the team in his place. Due to the amount of damage that was still happening, even with Gray on a separate team, Master Makarov had been forced to disband them in the hopes of saving the guild some money. They were still allowed to take missions together, but nowhere near as frequently as they all wanted to, and not with all of them in the same group. Lucy took a couple S-Class missions with Erza, thoroughly enjoying their girl-time after they had finished. Natsu stopped sneaking into Lucy's house and eating everything in sight after she moved, but it wasn't a big deal. Nothing else had changed, aside from her having to work alone.

The only thing that Lucy working alone had changed was her. She had joined Fairy Tail as a bubbly young woman, always with a smile on her face. Her first solo mission after Team Natsu was no more had shown her that the world outside of her loving guild was a cruel place. She had almost failed. Lucy's failure would have cost a young boy his life, and what she saw during that mission had changed something inside of her. She still smiled, but she knew that the brilliance of it had dulled. She still looked lovingly at her friends, but she also knew there was a sadness behind her eyes. She fought to sleep every night for fear of having the same nightmares of failing that mission. Everything had worked out, though; she had found the antidote that the dark mage was keeping from the family, and she had gotten it to the boy just in the nick of time. That dark mage was arrested, and the family was able to sleep peacefully knowing that they were safe. However, the other person he had captured hadn't been so lucky, and Lucy was the only one that knew the woman was there.

Lucy sighed, her heart heavy with the burden she carried. She had felt so alone for the past three months. It seemed as if she was slowly floating away from those she cherished most, even though they were usually the first to welcome her to the guild with bright smiles and hugs. There was a part of her that felt empty. Hollow. She had spent her free time training with her spirits, knowing that if she had been stronger during that first mission, it would have gone by much more smoothly. She wouldn't have had to see the torture that was inflicted on the woman that mage held captive. Lucy had tried to talk to Erza about it, but every time she found the courage it would quickly disappear behind her walls. She had succeeded on the goal of the request, to save the young boy and stop the mage who had hurt him. But, Lucy had failed that woman, the one whose name she would never know.

As Lucy neared the monastery her wandering thoughts were shut out as she heard boisterous laughter coming from inside. That's weird, the requestor said that this place has been abandoned for years. She crouched down and hid behind a marble pillar as she heard footsteps approaching the entrance.

"Is it done?" a slender hooded figure asked.

"Yes, he's secure. Tell them we can move on with the next phase." While the second figure was also wearing a matching black cloak, the voice was decidedly female.

"You've said that before, Ansa," the first person retorted. His voice was deep and gravelly, and it sent chills down Lucy's spine in a way that made her want to vomit. "Three weeks we've had him, and he's broken through everything. How can I know that this will work?"

"Don't underestimate me, Victor," Ansa hissed. "It will work. He's incapacitated entirely, unable to use his magic, and even if he was able to break the barrier… he'll be in too much pain to do anything about it. He's already tried for the past week, and I think we've finally broken his spirit." She gave a soft and snakelike laugh, her breath hissing between her teeth.

"A week? Very well, I'll inform them to move on. I'll be back soon." With that, Victor left down the path that Lucy had been walking on.

Lucy watched intently as Ansa turned around and walked back into the monastery, her shoes barely making any noise on the stone floors. What did I stumble on?! I wish my team was here… Lucy thought over the conversation again. These people had someone inside, being held hostage. He was a mage, and had been missing for three weeks. He must be pretty strong if he keeps breaking out of their grasp. Lucy flinched as she heard the sharp snap of a whip. She would know that sound anywhere. It was followed by a masculine cry of pain, then more jeering laughter from the men inside. I can't just sit here, I have to help him!

Lucy's sole focus was on getting inside without being spotted. She had no clue how many other people were in the monastery aside from Ansa, but she couldn't leave this man to be tortured. Memories of the times she had been tortured flashed just behind her eyes. Gajeel while he was with Phantom Lord, Minerva at the Grand Magic Games. Even Erza Knightwalker in Edolas. Lucy had never given up hope, and she held a deep respect for this man that had clearly never given up either. She crept inside quickly, listening as the halls echoed with masculine laughter surrounding the snapping whip and the man's cries.

Lucy made her way quietly down the darkened hall, her hands gliding over the uneven bricks used for the wall. She could see the flickering light of a brazier at the end of it, coming from the room beyond. She stopped at the corner and listened.

"Take that, you piece of shit!" a man's voice hollered.

"Ha! Look, he's trying to break free again!"

The noise of the rowdy men was silenced, then Ansa's voice rung out clearly. "What's the matter?" the woman seethed, her rage at the man's refusal to speak to her leaking from her. "Don't have anything to say to me?" She raised the whip again and quickly flicked her wrist, watching with glee as another deep gash spread across his bare chest, and he let out another grunt of pain.

Lucy watched the shadows on the wall in horror. She heard Ansa's words, and could almost feel the venom she poured into her actions. She saw the shadow of the man as he was struck by the leather whip, his body tensing as it hit his skin. Her heart broke when she heard him, and she knew that she had to stop whoever this Ansa person was.

"Here," Ansa whispered maliciously. "Let's see if this will make you talk…"

Lucy peered around the corner just as she heard Ansa shuffling around again, and her eyes widened in horror at the scene. Around fifteen men were surrounding a runic barrier, laughing at the man's suffering. They all wore the same hooded cloaks as Ansa and Victor, but she could tell that the woman was in charge.

Ansa lowered her hood, her raven black hair hanging down to her chin and her yellow eyes gleaming in the light of the braziers. She walked slowly over to the barrier surrounding her prisoner, and she looked up at him for a moment, sneering at the condescension still evident in his face. She had beaten him, tortured him in every manner she could think of, for three whole weeks and he hadn't broken. As she bent over to pick up the sword that laid discarded on the ground she smirked. "You know how it works, I know you do. I'll just… touch the barrier, and we'll see what you say. I hope I don't hurt you." She brought the sword to the barrier and laughed as the man started to scream. His agony was music to her ears.

Lucy was filled with so much rage at what she watched, that her body shook. Never in her life had she expected to see someone treated so cruelly. The man was suspended in the air in the middle of the room, surrounded by a glowing purple runic barrier. His hands were shackled at the wrists by heavy metal handcuffs that led to sturdy chains and pulled up and away from his body, while the rest of him dangled there. He had what appeared to be light grey boots on, though they were spattered with his blood, and a pair of dark trousers tucked into them. He was shirtless, and his slim body was littered with fresh wounds from the whip, trickling blood. Lucy was able to see several scars already formed on his chest, the pale slender marks catching the flickering light in an odd way. Though his head was down, obscuring her view of his face, she tilted her head to the side as she tried to place why the curtain of light green hair that almost reached to his knees was so familiar.

His head shot back, his eyes wide as the pain coursed through him. Ansa hit his sword against the runes that surrounded him, and the attempted breach had sent an electrical current that could have rivaled his idol's down into his body. He felt his muscles tense, contracting spasmodically in tandem with the current that flowed through him, and he watched in horror as the image of his team dying before his eyes played out across the room. One after the other, they were slain. Calling out to him for his assistance, but there was nothing he could do to help them. First, his dearest friend was skewered from behind by a dark entity, the sword slashing up from his stomach through his heart and finally out of his shoulder. The man watched in horror as his friend's glowing eyes dimmed and the small wooden totems surrounding him fell to the ground. Then the woman who considered him a brother was pinned to the wall, her wings being torn from her along with the rest of her clothing. She squirmed and fought, throwing her glasses to the side in a last attempt at defending herself, but the same dark entity rushed up to her, slitting her throat and ripping her head from her body. Finally, his leader. The man fought with the strength of an army against an enemy he couldn't see. He watched as magic shot across the room, and felt a small spark of hope that he would win. Until the darkness that had consumed the other two dove into his leader's mouth and burst from his chest, leaving a human-sized hole in its wake. He felt tears cascading down his cheeks as he watched them die, their blood mingling into one large pool that slowly rose from the ground. He shook in utter terror as his own image was recreated from the blood of his friends, and his copy only smiled evilly at him before raising his sword to his own throat. Before it swiped the blade across its throat, it whispered to him "You're weak. You should have helped them… But, you killed them instead."

He screamed as the blade ran across his mirror image's throat, and the other him fell to the ground. His friends' cries echoed through his head.

"Why didn't you help us?"

"We needed you…"

"Weak… Traitor…"

Lucy backed away from the corner, and silently summoned Taurus and Scorpio. She whispered her plan to them, and they nodded firmly. She turned and gave them the signal, smiling with pride as they jumped into the room. Scorpio let out his Sandbuster attack, and Taurus quickly controlled it with his axe, sending most of the men that surrounded the runes flying into the walls. Lucy readied herself to spring into action as the sand still fell to the ground, quickly following both of the spirits into the fray to dispose of the remaining enemies. I can't use too much more magic, Lucy thought as she felt her magic drop dangerously low. She had told them to give it everything they had, so she wouldn't have to face too many herself in a head-on collision. Her whip lashed out violently, pulling enemy after enemy into the attacks of her spirits. The prisoner's cries shattered Lucy's heart as she fought, but it kept her fighting spirit alive. I'll save you. I promise! She heard Taurus and Scorpio let out strangled cries as the last man fell, and she looked up angrily to see Ansa smiling at her. The only sound in the room was the softened whimpers of Ansa's captive, still dangling in the air above them.

"Be careful, Luuuuuucy!" Taurus yelled as he dissipated.

"I'm sorry, Princess."

Lucy shot into the room, her whip lashing out violently at Ansa. She caught the woman's hand that still held the sword, and it clattered loudly against the stone floor. Lucy smirked, thinking the fight was nearly done.

Ansa reached down for her whip, lashing out and catching Lucy by surprise. In quick succession, she knocked Lucy's Fleuve d'Etoiles out of her hand and across the room, then ran at the blonde with surprising speed. She picked the sword up from the ground, hitting Lucy's ribs with her whip and then slashing at her with the sword.

Lucy backed up, dodging as many attacks as she could. Clearly Ansa was using the whip as a distraction so she could hit Lucy with the much deadlier attacks of the sword, but everything was moving too quickly. Lucy cried out in pain as the whip snapped against her ribs again, feeling her blood trail down her stomach. She stopped moving and barely registered the evil smirk on Ansa's face before the blade came slashing down across her face.

Ansa laughed when the blonde fell. She was limp and almost lifeless. Clearly no match for a Speed mage. She walked slowly over to the crumpled mage on the ground, and kicked her in the ribs over and over. She heard a glorious cracking sound as her boot connected with the girl's ribs for the last time, and marveled at the wheezing breaths she was letting out. Slowly, she turned around to see her captive was glaring at her, tears still running down his cheeks. "Are you ready to talk now?" she whispered to him as she walked back to the barrier.

"I won't tell you a thing," he ground out between gritted teeth before his body gave out and he dropped his head in exhaustion.

Lucy knew that voice. She quickly put the pieces together of who the man was, and could have smacked herself for not realizing it sooner. One of the few people that she hardly knew in the guild was being tortured in front of her. Freed Justine. She wasn't worried about the details of his capture, the reasons for his torture, or where his team was at. Lucy was only concerned with making the vile woman that was inflicting such pain and suffering on him pay. And she would pay dearly. She slowly pulled herself up to her knees, checking the drain on her magic. She had just enough for one more summon, but she couldn't waste it. She controlled her breathing as she stood, wincing and wanting to scream out as the pain in her ribs and face nearly floored her. Using Capricorn's training, she transferred that pain into rage.

As Ansa continued to berate Freed, Lucy gathered her strength and assessed the situation. She couldn't see out of her left eye, and the right side of her torso was badly wounded. She slowly raised her hand to her head and felt a gash marring her once cherubic face. The wounds she was suffering from were nothing in comparison to Freed's, and she knew that she had to get him out of there quickly. Shoring up the last of her resolve, Lucy lunged at Ansa and tackled her to the ground. Lucy didn't use her magic against the woman. There was a fire burning deep within her that had fueled the rage she used against her enemy. She grabbed the hand that held the sword and used a strength she didn't know she possessed to snap the wrist in half.

"You bitch!" Ansa shouted, holding her injured wrist closely against her body. She kicked Lucy off of her and rolled back to her feet, glaring at the beaten and bloodied worm that wouldn't just die.

Lucy's magic flowed through her, and her will the fight was boosted as her keys vibrated in anticipation and support against her hip. She lunged at Ansa again, and used a move she learned from Erza. One hand shot up in an uppercut, used as a distraction, while the other grasped Ansa's hair firmly and slammed her face into the stone floor. Lucy pressed a knee into the other woman's back as she pinned her, and roughly pulled her head up. When she saw that she had knocked Ansa out with the single hit, Lucy dragged Ansa's limp body to a podium that held the book she needed for her mission. She quickly grabbed the book and shoved it into her bag.

Lucy turned back and nearly wept at the sight of Freed. His head had dropped back down, his body heaving as his breath came in heavy pants. She heard the rattling of his chains as he shook in fear, and saw tears traveling down his cheeks. She listened for any other signs of life in the monastery, and when nothing happened, she walked around the runic barrier and inspected it. Her brows furrowed as she tried to find the weak point. Every barrier had one, you just had to know where to look, and what to look for. She looked back up at Freed and whispered his name.

He was nearly unconscious, but he could tell that someone was staring at him. His vision had gone hazy. He heard his name softly whispered, almost as if it was a dream. The voice was light and filled with something he couldn't name. When he tried to look up at who his newest torturer would be, he only saw a bloody face and blonde hair before completely losing consciousness.

Lucy smiled sadly at her guildmate, then decided she had to get down to business. She had to figure out how to get him out of those shackles and the runes so that they could get out of that monastery. "Rules. There are always rules…" she whispered as she continued to inspect the runes. She slowly picked up the sword, looking at it and smiling softly when she saw the Fairy Tail symbol engraved in the hilt. Freed's sword…

She looked back up at him, knowing that if he was still conscious he could help her. Shaking her head and scowling, Lucy remembered that she had to depend on herself. There wouldn't always be someone to save her, and she couldn't let herself forget that sad truth. She walked around the barrier again, then looked up at the shackles that held Freed's wrists. There were deep gashes in his wrists where the shackles had chafed against them, rubbing his skin raw. She felt a deep sadness beginning to fill her at the ill treatment of one of her guildmates. What has he done to deserve this? She followed the path of the chains that held him in place, seeing them go up to the ceiling, then running across it and down into a dark corner. Lucy ran over, ignoring the protests of her ribs, and smiled widely when she saw a small mechanism to lower him to the ground. She spun the crank slowly, keeping an eye on Freed to make sure he didn't hit the ground too hard. When he was finally lying down, she walked back over and thought over what she had seen before the fighting had started.

Ansa touched the runes with his sword.

She had hit him with her whip before that, though.

The gears quickly turned in Lucy's head and she realized the first rule. "Ansa said she hoped it didn't hurt him… No weapon can pass through the barrier, unless it is sent with the intent to harm," she whispered. She wanted to hurt him with the whip, and her intent sent it through. She didn't intend to hurt him with the sword itself, and her intent made him get hurt.

She looked down at Ansa's unconscious form and sneered. Lucy bent down and searched her pockets, assuming—and turning out to be right—that Ansa held the keys to Freed's shackles. Lucy checked her thoroughly, and sighed in relief when she found no hidden weapons on the woman. With the key in her own pocket, Lucy placed her hand on the barrier. I'll save you, Freed. She recoiled as an electric current shot through her hand, muffling her pained cry. She looked up when she heard Freed's shackles rattling, and saw that the same current had gone through him.

When he had stopped moving, she watched with bated breath for a sign that he was still alive. His breathing was shallow, and shaky, but it was there. Intent to harm… Lucy thought sourly. She grimaced as she looked down at the sword, then back at Freed.

"Freed, I'll cut your hands off if that will help free you," Lucy said firmly as she took a step forward. She shut her eyes tightly, and when nothing happened they shot open. She turned around to see that she had safely passed through the barrier. It worked! "The second rule," she whispered. "No person can pass through the barrier, unless they have intent to harm." She was sincere in her statement that she would cause him harm if it set him free, and it worked.

Lucy dropped to her knees beside Freed, pulling the key from her pocket and quickly unlocking his restraints. "Freed," she whispered as she dragged him from the barrier. "Freed, look at me." She laid him on his back just outside the barrier, placing her hands gently on his face. She brushed his hair out of his eyes and smiled softly when his eyes started to open. "You're going to be okay. I'm getting you out of here."

He could hardly see anything. He heard that same sweet voice and saw blonde hair and a bloodied face hovering over him. Everything was a blur, but he used the last of his strength to raise a hand to whoever his savior was, his thumb rubbing across her cheek. He gave her a grateful smile, tears falling from his eyes again. He felt himself slipping back into the dark abyss of sleep, and just before it took him, he whispered. "An angel…"

Lucy's breath caught in her throat at his words. Two small words that he'd whispered as he looked at her, his thumb running along her uninjured cheek so gently she could barely feel it. Deciding it was time to get out of there, Lucy summoned Virgo with the last of her magic, knowing that she had about two hours worth of time that Virgo could stay out without completely draining her.

Virgo appeared in a flash of golden light and bowed. "Punishment, Princess? Oh! You're injured!" she said, dropping to her knees at Lucy's side to check her master's injuries.

"Don't worry about me, Virgo. I need you to tie these people up. Make sure they can't use any magic. That one," Lucy pointed to Ansa, "Needs punishment. And I think it would be best if she was punished with her own torture device." She pointed at the shackles that she had just released Freed from.

Virgo smiled softly. "I will return to you shortly, Princess."

Lucy stood up and found the rest of Freed's belongings in a makeshift cell in the corner: his shirt, and a small bag that held a communication lacrima. She gathered them and walked quickly back to Freed. Lucy tore his shirt into strips and wrapped it around his torso, bandaging him the best she could. I'll fix this when we're safe.

"Is there anything else I can help you with, Princess?" Virgo asked softly as she returned.

Lucy looked up at her loyal spirit and gave her a small smile. Their reprieve was cut short when loud footsteps came rushing down the hall.

"Ansa! We've gotta go! They're hot on our trail!" Victor shouted as he ran into the room.

Virgo spun around, diving into the ground and popping up behind the hooded man before he had time to react. She quickly incapacitated him, and tied him up with the rest of his cohorts.

Lucy gave Virgo an appreciative smile as she lifted the lacrima out of Freed's bag. "Virgo, please keep watch. I'm going to call Master and have him send someone to question these guys." When Virgo gave her a short nod and walked to the entrance, Lucy grimaced as she turned back to the lacrima. She sent a small amount of magic into it, thinking of Master Makarov, and placed it on the floor while she waited for him to answer.

"FREED?! Oh thank goodness! We've been—Lucy?!" Makarov shouted, the relief that his voice had started out with disappearing and filling with concern. "What has happened to you?!"

"Master," Lucy said solemnly. "I've found Freed. I didn't even know he was missing, but I found him in the monastery I was searching for my mission."

"Is he alright? What's happened?" Makarov asked sternly. He had been so worried when Laxus had told him that Freed had disappeared, and that the Raijinshuu wasn't returning until they found him.

"He was captured and tortured—"

Makarov gasped, his face going pale.

"—But I've taken out his captors, and they're tied up in the monastery. He's going to be fine, but he'll have some scars."

"Lucy, are you alright? Do you need help?"

Lucy frowned and said, "I'm fine. Just a flesh wound. I suggest you send the Raijinshuu down here to question the leader. She's tied up in the prison they had set up for Freed." Lucy turned the lacrima so that Makarov could see Ansa suspended from shackles, trapped in a runic prison. When she turned it back to face her, Lucy smiled sadly. "Have them come to my house after they're finished. I think they captured him for a reason, Ansa—that woman—said something about moving onto the next phase…"

Makarov sighed and said, "Alright, please be careful, child."

Lucy gave him a soft smile, then shut off the lacrima, placing it back in Freed's bag. She removed her own shirt and tore the bottom half of it, wrapping it around her head and covering the gash on her face. Lucy looked at her shirt, knowing the shredded remains would barely cover her breasts. She shrugged and wrapped it around the gashes in her side, adding pressure to her cracked ribs. She pulled Freed slowly into a sitting position, putting his bruised arms through the sleeves of his jacket. Then, she put his arms over her shoulders and maneuvered so his chest was pressed against her back. Lucy grunted as she pulled them both up to a standing position, then bent forward and grabbed his legs, pulling tightly against her waist. Well, looks like Freed is going to get a piggyback ride, she thought as she felt the strain on her muscles under his weight.

"Virgo," Lucy whispered as she walked up behind the maid. "Please stay here until the Raijinshuu arrive, then bring them to the house when they're ready." She handed Virgo the key to the shackles and told her the rules for the barrier, then started on her journey home.

"What do you mean, Blondie found Freed?!" Laxus shouted at the lacrima image of his grandfather.

"It is as I've said. She was on a mission, and found him being tortured. She saved him and has asked that you go and question his captors," Makarov said softly, smiling at the strength Lucy had shown.

"Why can't someone else do it? We need to get Freed," Laxus growled. How could Blondie beat the people that captured Freed? He's too smart to get captured in the first place, and too strong to stay that way.

"Laxus, my boy. She said they were talking about his capture being only one phase of a plan. He is safe under Lucy's care, and she has asked that you go and see them after you have gotten the information from their leader." Makarov grinned as he thought about what Lucy had shown him.

"Why are you grinning, old man?"

Makarov laughed and said, "Well, it seems our young Lucy decided to tie their leader up in the confines of Freed's prison."

"How is that funny?" Bickslow asked.

"You'll see when you get there. The monastery isn't far from Magnolia." Makarov gave them directions to it and shut off the lacrima. As he sat in his chair and looked at the much smaller pile of paperwork he had to go through he whispered, "It seems disbanding that destructive team has been a good change for our young Celestial mage… And the guild's pocket!"

Lucy grunted in pain as she shifted Freed's weight again. She was almost home and couldn't wait to put him down. Her whole body was feeling exhausted, pain throbbing in her face and ribs with every move she made. When her house came into view, she smiled sadly.

When Lucy had gotten used to taking solo missions, she found that she had a lot more money to spend after her rent since none of her reward went to pay for damages. Instead of rushing into a fight like they had always done with Team Natsu, Lucy planned things out. She took her time, using her father's insistence that she learn about so many different subjects to her advantage. Her tactics had saved her more times than she could count. Knowing where an exit was at, how many enemies she was up against, and their strengths and weaknesses had been a godsend. After two months, Lucy decided that her apartment was a symbol of her beginning in Fairy Tail. It held memories of Natsu, Happy, Erza, and Gray. Memories of Phantom Lord, the GMG, her father's death. She had begun a new chapter as a solo mage, and felt that she needed to make a change. Instead of spending her extra money, Lucy had inadvertently saved it and she was glad that she did.

She bought the small cottage as soon as she stumbled on it, getting a great deal because of its location just inside of Magnolia and because it was in need of some serious care. Loke and Virgo had helped her move in and fix everything up, and she immediately told her old team and Makarov that she had moved in case they needed to find her. So far, no one had come to her home.

Lucy walked up to the door and shifted Freed so she could unlock it. Once inside, she quickly locked it again, dropping his sword and their bags on the couch, and made her way to the bedroom. Looking down at her dark blue comforter set, she sighed. His wounds need to be cleaned and redressed before I can lay him down, she thought as she grabbed some of Gray's discarded clothes from her dresser and walked to the bathroom. She carefully bent over, turning on the bathwater and setting it at a warm temperature, and hissed in pain as she stood back up. Her vision was spotted with black dots as the pain in her ribs faded to a dull ache again, and she pushed it out of her mind. Carefully, cautious of the injuries Freed had sustained, Lucy knelt down and sat him against the wall.

"This would be so much easier if you were conscious, Freed," Lucy whispered as she removed his blood-stained red coat. She grimaced as she removed the poor attempt at bandages, already splotched with his blood. Once they were thrown away, Lucy choked back a sob at the sight of his battered body. Scars littered his torso, all of them clearly from Ansa's whip, crossing over one another in some sick cross-hatched pattern. His arms were the same, fresh gashes and scars running all over them. She pulled Freed away from the wall, and saw that even his back was injured. "Freed… I'm so sorry you had to go through that…" Lucy said softly as a tear fell down her cheek.

Once the water was at the right level, she turned off the faucet. Turning back to Freed, Lucy removed his boots, then looked at his pants. Then, she blushed. She hadn't thought about the fact that he would have to be naked when she brought him in here, but she was too far along to stop. Lucy looked at the long green hair that was covering his face and gave him a sad smile. She leaned forward and pushed his hair back behind his ears, admiring the striking features that she had never noticed before. The small beauty mark under his eye, his thick eyelashes, and his striking cheekbones. Lucy cupped his face in her hands as tears continued to fall. She knew what it was like to have to endure torture, hoping you could find a way out or that someone would save you. She never wanted anyone to have to go through that pain, and it broke her heart that Freed had been forced to do just that.

Gathering her nerves together, Lucy resolved to help him in any way she could. It would be hard on him, she knew it. If the physical scars that were left weren't bad enough, his screams that echoed through the monastery were proof that there was more to his torture than a lashing. She didn't know what it was, but she knew that she would help him if he allowed her.

You can do this, Lucy said to herself. She kept her eyes averted as she unbuttoned his pants, slowly sliding them and his underwear down and off of his body. She threw the remaining clothes onto his jacket, and then picked Freed up by wrapping her arms around his waist and hugging him close to her body. As his skin pressed against hers, Lucy's blush deepened, but she still got him into the bathtub.

"Well, that's done…" she said tiredly and she grabbed a small washcloth and put some of her vanilla bodywash on it. She carefully cleaned each of his wounds, removing any remnants of dirt that coated him as gently as she could. Lucy refused to pay attention to the feel of his skin under her fingers, or his muscles that had clearly deteriorated while he was held prisoner. She acknowledged that they were there, but couldn't allow herself to dwell on it. The situation was awkward enough without her ogling the unconscious mage. Once Freed's chest, back, arms, and face were clean, Lucy looked up at the ceiling as she moved down to his feet. She never went higher than his knees, refusing to even consider washing such a private area. That was a breach of his trust, even though he didn't know she was caring for him. She blushed again when an errant thought danced through her mind: What would it be like to touch him there?

Lucy sighed in relief once his body was cleaned—well, mostly cleaned—and grabbed her shampoo. She pulled him into a sitting position, laying his head on her shoulder as she massaged the shampoo into his hair. This was the only time she allowed herself to observe what she was doing. She smiled at the feel of his silky tresses gliding through her fingers, wondering how he managed to handle so much hair when she could hardly stand her own being past her waist. As she tipped his head back into the water to rinse it, she heard a soft moan spill from his lips. She looked down and saw a content, but pained, smile barely gracing his features and his lips parted as he exhaled. She repeated with the conditioner, gaining another soft moan from him as her fingers ran through his hair, then leaned him back so she could empty the water from the tub.

Once the bathtub was drained, Lucy grabbed a towel and immediately threw it over his hips, then let out a breath she hadn't known she was holding. She felt her blush finally leave her face, making it feel strangely cold in the absence of the heat it had radiated while she bathed Freed. Lucy dried him off, patting the open wounds on his body as tenderly as she could. She pulled him against her again as she dried his hair, wringing out the excess water and running a towel over it. When a third soft moan left him, she chuckled. Well, I guess he likes having someone mess with his hair, she thought.

Lucy pulled him from the tub and dressed him in the new pair of boxers—thank goodness she had bought Gray some underwear that he never used—and the shorts she had grabbed, then carried him to her bed. Once he was in place, she quickly returned to her bathroom and pulled out her medical supplies, ready to bandage him up.

Laxus sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose as his team followed him into the monastery. Forty-five minutes of listening to Bickslow and Evergreen worry about Freed was giving him a headache. "Can you guys just shut the hell up? We're here!" he shouted.

The three mages walked silently into the monastery, and gaped at what they saw. Sixteen men were shackled to the walls, separated by at least ten feet. Their restraints were run through a large metal ring jammed firmly into the wall, and they were all unconscious.

"How did Blondie do this?" Laxus asked in awe.

"Oh, you have arrived," Virgo said as she walked out of the shadows.

"What the fuck?!" Laxus shouted, jumping back. How did I not notice her?!

"My Princess asked me to stay here and lead you to her location after you had interrogated their leader." Virgo gave them a small, almost imperceptible smile, that didn't go unnoticed.

"What? Cosplayer had you stay here?" Bickslow asked, looking around at the unconscious men again.

"Yes," Virgo said softly. "She has taken your green-haired friend to her home to tend to his wounds, though I'm concerned she may be pushing herself too hard with her own injuries."

"Blondie's hurt?" Laxus asked. "Why didn't she just stay here then?"

Virgo sighed and shook her head. "Because she is stubborn. She said it wasn't safe here, and refused to wait for someone to come and help them."

"Where's the leader?" Evergreen asked softly. She wanted to get out of there and check on Freed. And Lucy now. Evergreen didn't know much about the young blonde, but she had saved their friend and was taking care of him even though she was hurt as well. Evergreen had a new-found respect for the little blonde.

Virgo grinned, dropping her stoic façade as she turned and looked into the air at the center of the room. "Ansa," she began, "Is being punished."

The three mages followed the spirit's gaze and blanched at what they saw. The raven-haired woman was glaring at them, her wrists shackled and pulled up and away from her body while the rest of her weight hung heavily from her restraints. There was a large runic barrier surrounding her. "What the fuck is that?" Laxus asked quietly.

"That is the prison your friend was being tortured in when my Princess found him," Virgo said solemnly. "She has asked that I explain to you the rules of the prison, and give you the key to the shackles holding their leader." Virgo turned back to hand Laxus the key as she gave them Lucy's message.

"What did she do to Freed," Laxus growled out after Virgo had finished.

"She used her whip. And then used his sword to activate the runes and torture him further."

"This won't take long," Bickslow said with a sadistic smile as Laxus stalked toward the bound woman. It was a matter of seconds before they heard her screams tearing through the air.

Lucy taped up the final bandage and tucked Freed under her blanket. "You rest now, Freed. I'll be right back." She turned and walked to her desk, writing him a small note in case he woke up and she wasn't in the room.

Lucy walked back into the bathroom, picking up Freed's clothing and placing them into a bag for Virgo to clean. Then she removed her own bandages and clothes, avoiding the mirror like the plague, and jumped into the shower. She didn't want to take too long, since Freed could wake up at any moment and his team would be there soon. She looked down after cleaning her face, grimacing and feeling her stomach churn as she felt the gash there, and was relieved to see that her ribs weren't as bad as she had thought. The skin was already bruising from at least one of them being cracked, and there were only a couple lacerations from Ansa's whip. After she got out of the shower, Lucy dried off and walked into her room, putting her hair into a messy bun as she walked. Freed was still asleep, so she dropped her towel and threw on a pair of lacy black underwear and a matching bra, then her favorite grey yoga pants.

"Princess," Virgo said softly as Lucy walked out into the living room in a bra and pants.

Lucy jumped, pressing a hand to her chest. "Hey Virgo, you scared me! Everything alright?"

Virgo's eyes glinted mischievously, a look that Lucy didn't see, then she said, "Yes, Laxus and his team are walking up the steps now. Do you need anything else?"

"Yeah, could you clean what's left of Freed's clothes?" Lucy asked sheepishly as she handed Virgo the bag.

Virgo smiled at her and bowed. "I would be honored. Please take care, Princess." With that, she left. Not even a minute later, there was a knock on the door.

Lucy threw her shirt over her shoulder, not caring in that moment who saw her as she walked over to the door. She was exhausted, both physically and magically, and couldn't be bothered with putting her shirt on before she had a chance to bandage herself back up. "Who is it?" Lucy asked through the door, smirking—and then regretting it when her face started throbbing—at the image in her mind of an upset Laxus.

"It's us, Blondie. Open up."

Lucy rolled her eyes playfully and opened the door. "Come on in, guys. He's asleep right no—"

"What the hell happened to you?!" Laxus, Bickslow, and Evergreen shouted in unison.

"What? I got into a fight." Lucy shrugged as she walked back inside. "I'll be fine."

All three mages looked at each other, then walked inside and closed the door. They followed Lucy's lead and sat down in the living room, staring at the young blonde. They could see the extent of her injuries, and each of them were shocked that she was still standing. Her ribs were covered in dark blue and black bruises. She had long lacerations on her sides and stomach. The worst though, and the biggest reason for their concern, was her face. From her hairline to her chin was a nasty gash that crossed diagonally through her left eye and down across her lips and finally ended on the right side of her chin.

"Lucy, are you sure you're alright? Your… eye…" Evergreen whispered, leaning close and placing a hand on the blonde's knee.

Lucy gave her a small smile. "Evergreen, I appreciate your concern, but this is nothing. At least, not in comparison to what Freed went through…" Her smile faltered at the end and she fought to keep her sadness and tears hidden from the group in front of her.

Laxus stared at Lucy intently for a minute, studying her and trying to figure her out. He couldn't understand how anyone was capable of pushing past the pain he knew she was feeling. He knew from experience just how painful that gash on her face was, and when he had been healing from having the lacrima forced into his skull, he had cried for days until it was better. "Ever, go get supplies. Bix, make some tea. I need to talk to Blondie."

Lucy watched with wide eyes as Evergreen and Bickslow jumped up and walked off into her home. Evergreen walked into the bathroom, most likely getting the bandages that Lucy was about to grab for herself. Bickslow went off into her kitchen, and she heard him rummaging in her cupboards while he tried to find what he needed. She looked back at Laxus and raised her uninjured eyebrow at him. When he sat there staring at her for too long, Lucy said, "Can I help you, Laxus?"

"How are you not a blubbering mess right now?" he asked softly. It was uncharacteristic of him, he even knew that. There was no arrogance in his tone, no smirk plastered on his face.

"What? Because of a few cuts? I'm fine," Lucy insisted.

"Blondie, can you even see out of that eye?" he asked, leaning forward and furrowing his brow as he looked closely at her injury.

Lucy huffed and put a hand over her eye, looking through the injured one and said, "Yes, I can see. It's a little blurry right now, but I'm sure it'll be fine once it's healed." She dropped her hand and shrugged. "Like I said, I'm fine."

"You know you don't have to be strong all the time, right?" he whispered. He could see the walls she had built slowly crumbling under the weight of the day's events. If he hadn't had them himself, he never would have noticed. "You can let it out, and none of us will judge you. We're all family."

Lucy dropped her gaze from his stormy blues and twiddled her fingers. "That's not why I hide it, Laxus." She sighed, deciding maybe it was time to confide in someone, even just a little bit. "Ever since Team Natsu was disbanded, I've had to do things on my own. I haven't had anyone there to have my back or baby me. No one to take care of me if I get hurt." She looked back up at him, and saw sadness in his eyes. "I don't want pity from anyone. And, I'm just fine alone. So, I appreciate your concern, but Freed needs you guys more than I do." Lucy had spent too much time relying on everyone in her old team to take care of her, and she knew it would never be that way again. She wouldn't allow herself to have that weakness.

Evergreen walked back in and sat down next to Lucy. She pressed er fingers lightly against Lucy's ribs and frowned when Lucy hissed in pain. "You've got a cracked rib, it might be broken."

"It doesn't hurt to breathe," Lucy whispered, looking at the floor again.

"That's because you're blocking the pain out, Blondie," Laxus said firmly.

Lucy only shrugged. "I can do this, Evergreen. Don't worry about me."

Evergreen grabbed Lucy's hands before they could stop her preparations to bandage her. She moved her face into Lucy's line of vision and gave her a sweet smile. "Lucy, Freed is like a brother to me. You saved him and took care of him. Please let me do this for you?"

Lucy looked at the never-ending gratitude in Evergreen's eyes, then sighed and gave her a short nod before looking away again. She sat as still as possible while the Fairy mage wrapped her ribs tightly, applying an antiseptic and extra gauze to the whip's lashes.

"You really should just let Wendy heal you," Laxus said as Evergreen finished wrapping Lucy's ribs. "Before you say anything, I know. You're fine. I'm just saying, it's what she does. She'll even make sure you don't have a scar."

Lucy looked up at Laxus, her eyes hard and unforgiving. "I won't go to Wendy. I deserve to have a scar." When she saw his eyes widen and Evergreen pause, she sighed. "It's a lesson. I should have been faster. More prepared. It was a stupid mistake on my part, and Ansa's trick worked."

"What happened anyway, Cosplayer?" Bickslow asked as he brought the tea into the living room.

Lucy added honey to her tea, took a sip, and then said, "She had Freed's sword and her own whip. She used the whip as a distraction, still getting a couple hits on me in the process, and then I paused. I hesitated. That was my mistake. She took that opportunity to slash at my face with his sword." Lucy took another sip of her tea, then added, "Like I said, I deserve to have a scar."

The three mages just stared at her. What had happened to the happy and bubbly blonde they remembered? Lucy had hardly smiled since they had arrived, and her demeanor was nowhere near what they would have expected. She used to be optimistic, always finding the brightest light in a situation.

Lucy looked over at Evergreen, her expression softening, and her lips going up into a painless half-smile. "Thank you, Evergreen. I do appreciate your help, even if I was too stubborn to accept it right away." She turned slowly and grabbed her discarded shirt, then looked at Bickslow as she put it on. "You know, I'm surprised…"

"By what, Cosplayer?" Bickslow asked as he watched her, concern etched on his hidden brow.

"You haven't made a single comment about me being half-naked. Are you feeling alright?" Lucy asked, giving him a soft chuckle as she playfully pressed a palm to his visor.

Bickslow gave her a normal smile, no tongue hanging from his mouth, and said, "Maybe next time, Cosplayer."

Before Lucy could throw back a retort, all four of them jumped when they heard a bloodcurdling scream from Lucy's room. Lucy jumped to her feet, vaulting over the back of the couch and dashing down the hallway, following the sound of Freed's screams. She threw the door to her bedroom open, turned on the lights and ran over to the bed. "Freed! Freed! What is it? What's wrong?!" she shouted, as she pinned him to the bed to contain his thrashing.

Freed's head shook back and forth. His nightmare a repeat of what he had seen while he was a captive. His team dying in front of him, blaming him for their deaths. Again and again, he watched them die in new ways every time. The only similarity was that their blood would turn into him, and that copy would say the same thing over and over. His eyes shot open and he saw a flash of golden hair, felt small hands pinning his shoulders to the bed. Golden hair… a bloody face… the one that saved me?, he thought as his movements slowed. "Angel?" he whispered. It was what he called that savior, though he was almost down for the count when he said it, he still remembered what he thought she was.

"Not an angel, Freed. It's just me. Lucy," Lucy whispered to him.

"Lucy…" Freed said softly, furrowing his brows as he tried to remember why that name was so familiar.

Lucy gave him a soft smile, brushing his hair away from his face. "Yes, Lucy Heartfilia, from Fairy Tail," she whispered as she raised her right hand and showed him her guildmark.

His eyes widened in recognition. "Lucy!" He looked around quickly, trying to figure out where he was at, then back up to look into her eyes. "Where am I?"

"You're in my house. I brought you here after tying up Ansa. I'll explain everything later, but first… How are you feeling?"

Scared, lost, confused, intense pain. Absolutely terrified… He just stared at her wide-eyed, unable to choose just one emotion. "I…"

Lucy nodded then let go of his shoulders. "I understand. You're safe now, though." She had seen the absolute terror in his eyes. It was strange that his face wasn't the normal stoic expression she always saw, but under the circumstances, she didn't blame him. "Would you like me to get you anything?"

Freed studied Lucy as she hovered above him. Her hair was pulled away from her face, her brown eyes staring into his green. He frowned when he saw the gash on her face and said, "What happened?"

Lucy looked away from him then, lowering her eyes in shame and turning her head away from him. "Ansa. I wasn't fast enough. I hesitated, and she got me with your sword." Lucy had sworn to herself that she would help him, and could have gotten seriously hurt in the process because of her mistake. She was lucky that Ansa only got her face. I deserve to have this as a reminder…

Freed raised his hand, wincing at the pain in his shoulder as he moved, and turned her face back to him. "Does it hurt?" he asked when she looked back at him.

Lucy shrugged noncommittally and said, "I'm blocking it out. Besides, I'm more concerned with you right now. You took a serious beating from her."

Taking his cue from Lucy, Freed shrugged. Then winced as his body protested the small movement. "I will be fine."

Lucy nodded again, knowing that Freed wasn't going to tell her anything unless he wanted to. She didn't know what to say to him. He needed to rest, but he might be thirsty or in need of pain killers. Or even hungry. She had no clue what he needed, but wouldn't push him.

Laxus stood just inside the room with Evergreen and Bickslow, and silently watched the interaction between Lucy and Freed. They had never seen him so scared, but Lucy's presence had somehow calmed him down. Angel? Laxus thought. What happened to him?

Evergreen silently gasped when Lucy touched Freed's hair. The guy preferred his space, never letting anyone get too close to him, yet there Lucy was straddling his waist like it was no big deal and stroking his hair. Freed had always refused to let Evergreen touch his hair. It didn't even seem like either of them knew what position they were in.

Laxus, ever the tactful one, cleared his throat to let them know they had company. When Lucy turned to look at him, clearly surprised by their presence, he raised an eyebrow and smirked at her.

Lucy looked at Laxus in confusion. She couldn't understand why he was giving her that look, but when his eyes traveled lower on her body, she followed his gaze and squeaked when she saw that she was straddling Freed. Lucy launched herself off of Freed, then collapsed to the floor as her ribs protested the sudden jolt. She gritted her teeth, holding onto her ribs as she pulled herself onto her hands and knees.

"Lucy!" Evergreen shouted, running into the middle of the room to help Lucy.

"I'm fine," Lucy grunted. Her block on the pain was starting to fail, and she could feel it slowly returning to her.

"No, you're not!" Evergreen said, pulling Lucy closer to her. "You need to be healed!" She turned to Laxus and said, "Tell her! She really needs to let us call Wendy!"

"No!" Lucy shouted, then grunted again when the strain on her ribs was too much. "I'm fine, just give me a minute."

"Lucy, there's no need to be a fucking martyr," Laxus said sternly, crossing his arms over his chest. "Just let Wendy heal you."

"I'm not a martyr! I just don't need anyone's fucking help!" Lucy yelled, ripping herself from Evergreen's grasp. "I'm doing just fine on my own, and I don't need you guys to tell me that I'm too weak to do it! It's my fault that I got hurt, so just let me deal with it!"

Everyone watched Lucy break down into a fit of sobs, curling around herself and holding her aching ribs as her body was wracked with tremors. No one moved. No one dared to go near her. No one, except the one person that hoped he could get through to her. Freed sat up slowly on the bed, keeping the pain he felt from his face as he knelt down next to her. He looked at his team, and smiled internally when they nodded absently and left the room, closing the door behind them. "Lucy," he whispered, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Why won't you let Wendy help you?"

Lucy flinched away from Freed's touch, not wanting to take any comfort from him. She needed to face her problems herself, and couldn't use anyone as a crutch. "Why should it matter what I do?" she asked softly between sobs.

"Because you're suffering and you won't let anyone help you," he said, placing his hand back on her shoulder.

"I'm not a weakling. I can take care of myself…"

He smiled sadly and said, "Even the best of us need help sometimes." When she looked up at him he brushed her tears away and said, "If you had not helped me, I would still be in that prison."

"That's different, you —"

"I also would not have been bandaged and cared for while I was unconscious," he whispered, keeping his hands cupped carefully on her cheeks.

"You needed help, what was I supposed to do? Leave you there?" she whispered. "I couldn't do that… Besides, I don't see why they care so much what I do…"

"Laxus, Evergreen, Bickslow, and I are a very close-knit group," he said, wiping her tears away again. "You saved me, for which I will forever be thankful, and they feel the same way. They just want to repay you for the kindness you showed me."

"So, because I helped you, they want to force me to see Wendy?" she asked with a frown. "I'm fine with calling Wendy to help you, but I figured I would wait until morning, since it's pretty late. I don't need anyone's help."

Freed sighed, closing his eyes as he tried to figure out how to make her understand. "It isn't a weakness to accept help," he whispered, his head starting to feel heavy. He felt dizzy and slightly disoriented and his brow furrowed as he tried to regain his focus.

"Freed? Are you alright?" Lucy asked, placing her hands on his shoulders to steady him.

"I'm fine. Don't worry about me," he said, then felt himself falling forward.

Lucy caught him quickly, pulling his head to rest on her shoulder. She brushed his hair out of his face again, and heard him sigh contentedly. "Come on, you need to lie back down. You shouldn't be moving around anyway," she whispered and carefully stood up with him. When he was steady, leaning onto her for support, she walked him back to the bed and sat him down. "You need to rest, Freed."

He felt her lift his legs up onto the bed, heard her sharp intake of breath when she moved to quickly. Lucy pulled the blanket back over him as he laid back on the pillows, and his eyes opened lazily. "Thank you, Lucy," he whispered before closing his eyes again.

Lucy watched as Freed's breathing evened out. She smiled as she brushed a stray hair from his face, then leaned down to give him a soft kiss on the forehead. She didn't know why she did it, but it felt like the right thing to do. "I'll be out in the living room if you need me," she whispered before standing up to leave the room.

The living room was silent as the three mages sat down after leaving Freed with Lucy. They had no clue that anything had changed with the young blonde, but they were seeing firsthand just how wrong they were.

"Why was she on a solo mission, anyway?" Evergreen asked. "Where was her team?"

"Gramps broke up Blondie's team because the others were too destructive. He was tired of footing the bill," Laxus said with a stern expression on his face. "He broke them up three months ago."

"Well, why didn't she join up with someone else?" Bickslow added.

Laxus shrugged, "Who else could she have teamed up with? Gramps said they could take missions together occasionally, but even then it couldn't be more than two of them together.

"So, Cosplayer's been going solo this whole time?"

Laxus nodded. "Gramps said that, if anything, it would give her more confidence in her abilities. But, I think it might have done more harm than good."

"Because she's not like she used to be?" Evergreen asked sadly.

Both of the men nodded. They all sat in silence again, not knowing what to do.

Laxus continued listening in on Freed's conversation with the blonde mage. He had never heard Freed talking as much as he was with Blondie, and he had never used that tone before. It was gentle, consoling, like there was something that only the two of them understood.

"I still don't understand why she won't accept our help," Evergreen whispered. "We're all part of Fairy Tail. It's what we do. She knows that better than anyone…"

"That might be the point, though," Bickslow said. "Cosplayer thinks that she's weak if she asks for help from anyone."

"But that's not a weakness! It shows a lot of strength to admit that you need help!"

"Ever," Laxus cut in. "She was essentially kicked off of her team with no one to turn to. What did you think would happen? The world isn't sunshine and roses and little happy bunnies. It's hard as hell and doesn't give a shit what you think, or say, or how you feel. She's doing well for herself, but it's lonely as hell when you take mission after mission with no one by your side."

"He's right," Lucy whispered as she walked back into the living room. "I hate being alone more than anything, but it's just how it is." She carefully made her way over to the couch, sitting down and taking a sip of her lukewarm tea. "I'm sorry, you guys. I know you were just trying to help."

"Will you let us help you then?" Evergreen asked. She couldn't explain it, but there was something about Lucy that made her feel like the girl was the sister she never had. She saw the sadness in the blonde's eyes and wanted to make it go away. Maybe it was the fact that Lucy saved Freed. Maybe it was how quickly Lucy forgot her own problems to go and take care of him when he needed it. Evergreen didn't mind, regardless of the reason, because Lucy had captured a small part of her heart.

Lucy sighed, looking at each of Freed's teammates. "I'll let Wendy heal my ribs and my eye. But that's it. The cuts and scrapes can heal on their own. I messed up and I deserve each and every scar I'll have."

Laxus sighed. It's not great, but it's a start. "Alright, I'll go call her."

Lucy pinned him with a glare and said, "You will not call that little girl at two in the morning! I can call her in the morning so she can treat Freed. Only after he's been healed will I let her work on me."

Bickslow's jaw dropped as he looked between Lucy and Laxus. What's Laxus gonna do? No one ever talks back to him that way.

Laxus pinched the bridge of his nose again, his irritation growing by the second. "Fine. Call her in the morning."

"Thank you," Lucy whispered. Her body finally caught up with her and she yawned, stifling it as much as possible so she didn't hurt herself.

Evergreen gave Lucy a knowing look, and said, "We should get going. Keep us updated, alright?"

Lucy smiled at the brunette and nodded. She stood and walked the three to the door, then stopped Evergreen and handed her a key.

"What's this for?" Evergreen asked, looking from the key to Lucy and back.

Lucy smiled and said, "How about you guys bring Wendy over in the morning, and I'll tell you all what happened over breakfast?"

Evergreen grinned at Lucy. "We'd love to. See you then."

Lucy waved as they walked down the stairs, wishing them a goodnight. After they had left, Lucy locked the door and sighed, her head hanging low. "I don't know what's wrong with me… Why can't I just accept their help?" She looked at the clock again, causing another yawn to wrack her already exhausted body. Looking over at the couch, she frowned. She would never be able to sleep on it comfortably, but she hardly slept as it was. She walked back into her bedroom to check on Freed before she forced herself to sleep on the couch.

He was already tossing and turning, his brow creased as he dreamt. Lucy sat down on the edge of the bed and ran a hand through his hair. It had always helped Natsu relax after he had a nightmare—back when he had slept in Lucy's bed—so it was natural for her to do it. Well, it was natural if it was Natsu. With Freed, her hand automatically made the motions, but her mind was reeling with confusion. First I save him, then bathe him, and now I'm stroking his hair?! Before she could get lost in her thoughts, she saw Freed's eyes slowly opening, and a soft smile playing across his lips.

"Lucy," he whispered, hiding his disappointment that she pulled her hand away. He rolled onto his back and looked at her for a moment before asking, "Is something wrong?"

Lucy simply said, "You looked like you were having a bad dream, so I…"

"I was."

"Do you want to tell me about it?" she asked softly, not able to meet his gaze when she had been caught running her fingers through his hair.

"Maybe some other time. I'd rather not think about it right now," he said, looking off to the side.

"I understand. It's hard remembering what you went through every time you close your eyes…"

Freed's eyes shot back to Lucy, her deep understanding of the situation piquing his interest. "How do you know that?"

She smiled sadly and said, "Gajeel in Phantom Lord, Erza Knightwalker in Edolas, Kain on Tenrou, and Minerva at the Grand Magic Games. I don't have the best of luck, it seems." Before he could say anything, she placed her hand on his and said, "Get some rest, alright? I'll be sleeping on the couch."

When Lucy tried to stand up, Freed grabbed her hand before she could get too far away. He searched for something in her eyes, but he didn't know what it was. He saw a deep sadness in her, loneliness that she fought to hide. A small part of him wished that he was able to take it all away from her, but his mind refused to listen.

"Yes, Freed?" Lucy asked softly, turning back to look at him.

"Don't go," he said, his brow furrowed as he tried to figure out what was so compelling about her.

"You and I both need our rest if we're going to heal. Wendy will be coming over in the morning so she can help you… and then help me a little, too." She gave him a half-smile, the most she could manage without causing herself any more pain. "I'm taking your advice."

Freed smiled at her words and said, "Good." When Lucy turned to leave again, he squeezed her hand and sighed when she turned back around, her eyes expectant. "I… Well…"

"Freed," she asked, sitting back down on the bed and looking into his sea green eyes. "What's wrong?"

"Would you…" He blushed, almost losing his nerve. "Would you be willing to sleep in here?"

Lucy couldn't have been more shocked at his request. She looked around the room, wishing she had a chair that she could agree to sleep in. "There's nowhere for me to sleep in here."

Freed's blush darkened and he looked away from her. "Y-You're right. My apologies."

Lucy couldn't help but smile as she realized what he had been trying to ask her. "Freed," she whispered, forcing him to turn and look at her, "Did you want me to lay down in bed to help you sleep?" She couldn't help the small blush that dusted across her cheeks.

"N-No, that would be… Just…" He couldn't believe that he was at a loss for words. Her hands running through his hair had helped end his nightmare. It was such a simple act, so small that most would have found it negligible. He didn't understand why, but something about Lucy set him at ease. Maybe it was that she understood what he was going through, or just her compassionate nature in general.

Lucy rolled her eyes and patted his hand. She quickly stood up, grimacing as pain shot through her torso, and walked into the living room. She turned off the lights, made sure everything was locked, then walked back into her bedroom, turning off the light when she walked past the switch. She walked around the other side of the bed, taking her still-damp hair out of the messy bun she'd made earlier, and carefully crawled under the covers.

"… Lucy?" Freed whispered, not sure what to make of her actions.

Lucy smiled again. She moved Freed's arm and nestled herself into his side, laying her head on his shoulder. She was glad that she was able to lay on her right side so her injured face wouldn't be in pain. She wrapped her arm lightly around his torso and leaned up to kiss his cheek. "Goodnight, Freed."

His cheeks were on fire as Lucy pressed her body against him. Her bare legs gently grazing against his. He tentatively wrapped his arm around her shoulders as her breathing evened out. When she didn't pull away from him, but moved closer and slid her leg over his, he let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding and pressed a soft kiss to her golden hair. "Goodnight, Lucy," he whispered as he drifted off to sleep.