9. I didn't turn back to Lavi until he was gone. His hand was lowered from his face, but he was very red where he had been hit. I reached up, placing my cold hand against his cheek, frowning. "I'm sorry, Lavi."

"Why are you apologizing?" he asked, smirking slightly. "You didn't do anything wrong. Actually, what you did was great. I'm happy you were finally able to stand up for him, even if it's just this once."

I continued to frown, not feeling the excitement that he was. "I didn't do enough, though. After all he's put me through and what he just did to you, I practically said nothing at all!"

"Would he have walked away if it were 'nothing at all'?" Lavi asked, raising his eyebrow. "He seemed pretty shocked that you had spoken up. You should surprise him again and do it more often."

I thought about it for a moment, trying to picture myself standing up to Leverrier again. I wondered if I could do it. Just then, I hadn't been thinking about talking back to him, I just had. Leverrier had provoked me. Could I still stand up for myself and the people I cared about, even if I wasn't pushed to the limit? Did I have that confidence yet?

Lavi leaned down, looking into my face. "You seem to be deep in thought."

I blinked, looking up at him. "I guess I'm just a little surprised. I mean, I've had this problem with Leverrier for years, and suddenly, I was able to stand up for myself. I don't know if I'm more excited or confused!"

He wrapped his arm around me, pushing me back into the room. "Either way, you should go lay down. Your head's bothering you, remember?"

I allowed Lavi to guide me back into the room. I sat on the edge of the bed, looking at my lap, lost in thought again.

"Think we'll get in trouble?" I asked.

"For what? Not going to this stupid ceremony? I doubt it."

"I mean for yelling at him. You know, speaking back against authority or whatever."

Lavi rolled his eye, picking up the tray of soup again and sitting next to me on the bed. "I highly doubt it. It wasn't that big of a deal."

"Just a moment ago, you made it seem like it was."

Lavi laughed, a little exasperated. "That's because I'm proud of you, Lenalee. I doubt Leverrier really cares one way or another." He stirred the spoon around in the soup, concentrating on what he was saying next. "I think that no matter what you say or what you do, you're always going to be one of Leverrier's victims. That's just how it is. He picks people to target and he attacks them at any chance he has – Allen is like that, too, for him. Guys like him who have too much power feel the need to use it at any chance they have, and bossing around lower ranked people is just one of the ways he does it." He looked back up at me, flashing his reassuring smile. "All you can do is continue to stick up for yourself. It may cause you problems, but you'll feel better that way than constantly allowing him to walk all over you."

He scooped up some of the soup in the spoon and held it out to my mouth. I leaned forward, accepting it. I wasn't sure why I needed soup for my blackouts, but it still tasted good, so I wasn't going to complain.

Lavi placed the bowl in my hands and stood up, looking over at the door. "What the hell's taking Allen so long to get here? Did he make a stop at that ceremony on the way down?" He groaned, reaching for the doorknob. "Maybe he got lost. We don't really know our way around here yet. I should probably go look for hi-"

"No!" I cried suddenly, looking up with a jolt. Lavi turned around, shooting me a curious glance. I looked back down at my lap, feeling a little flustered. "I…I mean, I think it's better if you stay here. The last thing that you need right now is another encounter with Leverrier." I looked over at him, eyeing the spot where Leverrier had hit him moments ago.

Lavi followed my gaze, his hand raising to his cheek, before dropping it once more and rolling his eye at me. "Lenalee, I'm fine. As if one little hit is going to bother me. I need to get you the matron so we can find out what's wrong with you."

"It may be a little hit to you, but it bothers me a lot." I kept my gaze anywhere but at him, feeling my cheeks reddening still and my voice shaking a bit. "I feel just terrible about it. I hate that you've become one of Leverrier's 'victims' as you call them, just because you were trying to help me!"

Lavi walked away from the door, taking a seat next to me again. I still didn't look his way. "Don't be silly. There was no alternative there. No matter what happens, I'm always going to help you, no matter what."

The sad thing was that I knew he was telling the truth. No matter what happened, ever since Lavi had seen my weakness, he had been there to guide me along, and to help me overcome my fear of Leverrier. More and more, Leverrier began to dislike Lavi, especially after the incident with the level 4 akuma, but that never scared him away. Through it all, Lavi had been there, and I had him to thank for keeping sane through these times. What had I done to deserve him?

I didn't like it. I hated that Lavi was in trouble, too, just because he had been protecting me from Leverrier. I'd rather have had Leverrier hit me a hundred times than to ever have him hurt Lavi. Even if Lavi wasn't bothered by it, I was. I didn't want to cause Lavi pain, not after all he had done for me.

Yet still, I kept him near me. Even though I had known all along that he would be endangering himself being around me, I never told him to leave. There was something about having Lavi there – smiling at me, laughing with me, cheering me on – that I couldn't give up. The feeling of his hand in mine, or his arm around my shoulders – even though I knew it would get him in trouble, he being a bookman and I an exorcist – I never pushed him away, not even once. If there was anyone in the world who could put a smile on my face and chase away the rain clouds that surrounded me, it was Lavi.

It wasn't fair, I knew, to keep him around like that for my own good, even though it was going to hurt him in the long run. I was being greedy. Yet, I just couldn't let go.

Placing my soup bowl on my nightstand, I finally turned back to him, and I was able to send him a natural smile that wasn't forced at all, and it didn't hurt to make it. Watching my smile, he began to return it, seeming even more excited than before. "Thanks, Lavi. Thanks for everything. I don't know what I did to deserve it, but it means a lot to me." I leaned forward, wrapping my arms around his waist and burying my face into his chest, holding on as tight as I could. I wanted to show him just how grateful I was, to pour out all the emotions I was feeling into this embrace. I wondered if he knew what I was trying to tell him.

He put his arms around me in return, his grip tight around me as he held me close to himself. He rested his cheek on the top of my hair, rocking me slightly as we sat there, holding on to each other.

There was something I was feeling as I leaned my head against his broad shoulders, his large hands brushing through my short hair, and mine holding onto him. It wasn't the first time I had felt it, but because there was so much less on my mind than before, it was a lot more obvious than before. Behind my shut eyes, all I kept seeing was Lavi's grin, his beautiful lopsided smirk. As my hands clung onto him, I knew that I didn't want to ever let go. I felt my heart rate accelerating and my cheeks once again being flooded with heat and color, and I began to open my mouth again, ready to tell him what I was feeling

He responded to what I had said before, interrupting what I was just about to say. "What are friends for?" he asked.

My heart slowed down to its usual pace and my cheeks began cooling off. I felt my grip on him slipping as I slowly pulled out of his embrace.

What had I been expecting, though? Lavi was a bookman. To even say that I was a friend was a huge step for him. He wasn't even meant to have friends, let alone anything more.

I smiled again. "Thanks."

"Seriously, though, you should get some more sleep. I'll go find the matron and Allen, and I promise to be careful in the halls. All right?"

I nodded. "Fine."

Just as he was about to sit up and leave, I leaned forward, planting a quick kiss on his cheek. Before he could react, I pulled myself underneath my bed covers.

Lavi smiled back at me before turning and leaving the room. "I'll be back soon, I promise," he whispered as he blew out my candle.

I was alone now. I rolled over, burying my face in my pillow, trying to sort out my confusing thoughts and feelings.

Lavi was a bookman, and calling me his friend was a huge step for him. I was surprised he had even made that. Breaking down the restraints that he has with his job as a bookman was going to take a long time, and I knew that. But thinking about Lavi and his smile, I knew that it was worth it. It didn't matter how long it was going to take, I was going to get close to Lavi, because I knew now that I couldn't let him go.

I didn't blackout next. A real, innocent sleep crept up on me, and I allowed it to take me away, drifting off into a natural unconscious state.

This time, I didn't have any nightmares.

Author's notes: Thanks everyone so much for reading this story through to the end! I hope you all enjoyed it and were happy with the way it ended! Please review and let me know what you think!