"Good afternoon."

Crim looked up from his books, immediately grinning and standing up. "Hey! I was wondering if you forgot."

"Of course not. Feelgood's usual rant about chastity took an extra ten minutes." Elf smiled, taking his hand and swinging it gently.

"That'd explain it." His face was a little red, but he didn't pull away from her, instead pulling her down with him so they were sitting together. "I'm glad that was it."

"What, you expected that I was no longer interested?"

His expression confirmed, and Elf merely snuggled a little closer. "Believe me, Crim, if I were uninterested, I would make that quite clear. I'm sure you realize that."

"Yeah, I know." He hesitated, then gave her a soft peck on the lips, color coming to his cheeks. Elf smiled, resting her head on his shoulder.

"How is your brother? He seemed in much better health when I saw him last."

"He's doing great. Nature's going to let him out of the infirmary tomorrow." Crim nuzzled her hair, stroking her shoulder, and Elf began to chuckle.

"That is excellent." She rested a hand on his arm. "If I didn't know you better, I would say you're trying to seduce me."

His cheeks got red, but he didn't get nervous this time, instead smiling and holding her close. "I'm not trying to seduce you. I'm not even trying to get you to make out. I just… really like touching you. Do you want me to stop? Is that too much?"

"No, no, it is fine. I find your affection charming." Elf kissed his cheek lightly. "You do not need to be so nervous, Crim. I will tell you if I'm uncomfortable. I'm not nearly as delicate as you seem to think I am."

"I don't think you're delicate. I just don't want to screw anything up." Crim smiled, wrapping his arms around her waist and nuzzling her neck, provoking another chuckle.

"Have confidence." Elf picked a book off the shelf in front of them, giving him a smile. "But don't get distracted. We still have studying to do."

"Yeah. Yeah, we still have a project." He kept his arms around her, but he picked up a book as well, opening it up.

Elf kissed his cheek, staying cuddled. It occurred to her that she had never been held by a boy before.

She rested her forehead on his neck, making a satisfied sound in the back of her throat. Crim responded by nuzzling her hair.

Elf let out a happy sigh and smiled.

"Someone's smiling."

Elf put the backpack on the ground, grabbing a brush from her desk and running it through her hair before giving Red a smile. "I simply had a good day."

"Had to do with Crim?"

Elf continued to brush, glancing out the window at the forest beyond. "We decided to have another outing this weekend. He promised to show me some places in the thicket."

"Then why aren't you still in the library?" Red smirked from her bed, pulling off her school shirt and grabbing a work shirt from her drawer. "I would have thought you guys would have your faces glued together."

"Please. We're more tasteful than that." Nonetheless, she couldn't stop smiling. "We felt it would be best to not raise any suspicion by staying in the back too long for the third day in a row. Besides, he had work therapy."

"Oh, right, he's with me. We're probably working with the apple trees again." She paused in putting on her shirt, frowning. "I think there's something weird with the apples. I tried one and it made me sick until I drank some water."

"I had a similar problem. I simply decided to not eat any." Elf stood up and went around to pick up the clothes she had discarded on the floor the night before. The students were expected to keep their rooms spotless, and it wouldn't do if there was a surprise inspection while there were clothes on the floor.

She caught sight of something tucked haphazardly underneath her desk. It was a book. It took her a moment to remember what it was.

"Yeah, I guess I'm just going to not eat any. It's too bad they look so good." Red finished buttoning her work shirt and trotted out. "It's probably because they grow so close to the Lethe and Mt. Atlas. Two divine areas in one place is bound to mess around with the plants."

She waved, walking out the door. "Anyway, I'm going. I'll tell Crim you said hi."

Elf nodded goodbye, then picked up the book from the ground, examining it. It was bound in simple brown leather, and it lacked anything to identify a title or an author.

The student sat on her bed, opening the book to the title page.

Property of Evangeline M. Strong

Elf frowned in confusion. There were hearts and smiley faces peppering the handwritten words. It didn't look like any kind of professional book of theology.

She put the book on her pillow and pulled her journal out from under the bed, flicking past notes on Morpheus and her strange trance dreams to a blank page before going back to the leather book, turning to text. It was all handwritten.

I've never had a diary before, even as a child, so forgive me, diary, if I don't understand the etiquette usually reserved for journal/writer relationships. In exchange for your lack of judgment, I will try to learn how to write to you properly.

Do we understand each other? Excellent. I'm sure we'll be great friends. My first impressions are always right, you know, and my first impression of you was most certainly a good one!

Elf frowned in confusion, wondering if this was meant to be fiction or was really the diary of a truly batty woman. Did this have anything to do with Morpheus?

Dr. Abelard, you see, told me that I should keep a record of my final week or so of pregnancy, and a few months afterwards. He says that it will help keep any post-natal depression at bay, but I doubt I'll need the help, no offense meant. How can I be depressed when I get to meet my little Agape for the first time? Or Ambrose. I'm not quite sure yet, but my Theo assures me that he'd adore a boy or a girl the same. I'm sure he's telling the truth—it's our first one, diary! Oh, I hope he or she has his or her father's eyes; his are such pretty shades of green, while mine are quite boring shades of gray and light blue. I think that we'll probably spoil the child rotten! I can't wait!

Oh, dear, my darling mother-in-law is calling me! I don't know if it's rude or not to stop writing so suddenly, so I hope you forgive me, diary, as I must do just that.

~ Evey

Her head began to spin, the name 'Evangeline' bouncing in her head. Elf lay down, her fingers brushing the parchment bound in the book. It had been a long day. Why did she have to study at the moment? She had worked hard with Crim.

She could squeeze in a little trancing. She hadn't done a lot of it the night before.

Just a little.

There was pressure on her wrists and ankles. Bound. Like she was about to be operated on.

The world around her wobbled rhythmically, bobbing up and down and side to side. Her eyes drifted open, though she couldn't see anything. The sound of gears clicked in the walls, spinning to accelerate. Accelerate something she was inside.

Her lids closed again.

"Hush, hush, time to be sleeping
Hush, hush, dreams come a-creeping
Dreams of peace and of freedom
So smile in your sleep, bonny baby…"

Someone was crooning in Ancient Elven. It took a while before her mind muddled through the muck and was able to understand the words, mixing them up like a cocktail. Sleep? Dream? Death? The words were all so close in the language.

"Summerwick N°139."

There was clicking. A door sliding out of the way. Clatter clatter.


"We stood with heads bowed in prayer
While fighters laid our cottages bare
The flames licked the clear mountain air
And many were dead by the morning."

A hand was against her face. Rough. Calloused. The air smelled like iron and wood and the hand felt like sandpaper.

Eyelids fluttered open again, struggling to see. Should be able to see through dim light. Couldn't. Eyes too tired.

A person—goblin, human, elven, couldn't tell—was standing there, running a hand down her neck to her arm, and there was a painful prick on the inside of her elbow.

"We need to readjust your dose. You keep waking up."

Her breathing slowed. Slowed. Relaxed. Deepened.

"Hush, hush, time to be sleeping
Hush, hush, dreams come a-creeping
Dreams of peace and of freedom
So smile in your sleep, bonny baby…"

"You're important to your community, aren't you? We found evidence of many divine healings on your body."

Cloud pulsed around her. Sucking in consciousness. Sucking in the light.

"To the extent where you would rack up a sizeable bill or you used to be an adventurer. Too bad the gods aren't exactly around to heal this up."

Hand on hers. Tracing her fingers. Missing. Not enough fingers. Only three.

"The right half of your head was shredded and you lost your right pointer and middle fingers. You were lucky you only got minor eye and eardrum damage. Nothing we can't fix."

The world rippled with the person's chuckle, the fingers touching her face again. "Who needs gods to fix us, am I right? Your species is lovely. Not blocky like humans or dwarves. Doesn't have the savage je ne sais quoi of the goblins, but it's more elegant. It has a Renaissance feel to the body structure. You're assigned to Dolly, so I'm sure you'll hear a lot about that."

The fingers traced every curve, every bone, eventually making it to her ear and caressing the outer lobe.

The world shuddered, closely followed by her chest, her eyes squeezing shut for a moment. No. No one should touch that. No one but… but…

She couldn't remember his name.

"Oh, right, that's an erogenous zone, isn't it?"

The fingers were gone from her ear, going back to her face, then her neck. "Sorry about that. Your people still think of your bodies as part of you, don't you? I don't really remember what that's like. I guess I'm making you feel uncomfortable right now, hmmm?"

The fingers drifted down to her hand again. "I see a tan line on your finger. Do you have someone special?"


"Where is our proud highland mettle?
Our troops once so fierce in battle
Now stand, cowed, huddled like cattle
And wait to be shipped o'er the ocean."

"I don't suppose you know anything about the person singing, do you?"

The world was fading fast.

"It was nice talking to you, Summerwick N°139. I can't wait for Dolly to give you a name. I need to take care of that singing, now."

There was the click of the sliding door. Then it closed.

"Hush, hush, time to be sleeping
Hush, hush, dreams… come…"

The voice went away.


She snapped awake, sitting up with a jolt and staring at Red as she unbuttoned her sweaty work shirt.

"You are back already?" Elf shook her head, looking down at the open book on her pillow. "I thought you would take four hours."

"Yeah. I did." Red frowned, grabbing a towel from the closet. "Elf, are you okay? You've been sleeping a lot."

"I'm fine." Elf grabbed her notebook, flicking it open and writing down notes on her newest trance. "Plenty of trance is good for me."

"I guess." Red was still frowning. Elf gave her a reassuring smile then looked back down at the notebook, keeping her handwriting neat as she wrote down every detail she could remember.

"You'd tell me if you were in trouble, right?"

It took Elf a moment to answer, only ten percent of her concentration going to Red.

Red. Why was that name…?

"Of course I would." Elf turned the page of her notebook, continuing to scribble. Red nodded, still frowning, and stripped off the rest of her clothes, wrapping the towel around her body.

"Alright. I'm going to take a shower."


Elf closed her notebook and Red left the room. Red would probably wake her up if she tranced again. Good thing, too—she wondered at how long it took sometimes. What if it was dangerous?

She pushed those thoughts out of her head and crossed her legs, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath.

"What about him makes you smile like that?"

The elf looked up, arching an eyebrow as she put away books on the shelves, and the rogue swung her legs over the edge of the table she was sitting on. "I want to understand why you love him."

The elf cocked her head, then looked back at the shelves. "Well, many reasons. It is difficult to articulate things like that."

"You're great at articulating stuff. Try."

The mage frowned thoughtfully, absently opening one of the books and leafing through the pages. "Well, he is intelligent, loving, thoughtful, dedicated, gentle… I can think of many traits of his I find attractive."

"Intelligent and dedicated I'll grant you, but I've never seen the other ones."

"Of course you haven't. He's very introverted and he doesn't like revealing himself to people he doesn't trust. He opens up slowly, but he's more than worth the effort." A distant smile formed on the elf's face as she put the book away. She turned around, leaning against the bookcase and looking at the rogue. "You may be surprised to learn that he's actually quite the romantic."

"Seriously?" Haley leaned forward, her eyebrows going up. "I don't believe that. How?"

"He's a fool when we're alone, but a charming one. He does things to make me feel loved. Mostly little things like asking me how I am or telling me I look beautiful or holding my hand when we're working together." That smile brightened up her face, smoothing away the stress lines that had started to form, and she crossed her arms across her chest. "One silly thing he does is insist on kissing me every evening before I go to bed and telling me that he loves me. He says that he feels it encourages me to have good trance memories instead of upsetting ones. It's foolish, but it makes me feel cared for."

Haley softened. "That sounds really sweet, V. Does it work?"

"I don't believe I've had a truly bad trance since he began." The elf sat beside the rogue. It occurred to her that they hadn't really had a private conversation since the Battle of Azure City, over a year ago. Yet the shared platonic intimacy felt as nice now as it did then. "He has that effect on me. He doesn't like it when I sleep alone because he gets concerned I will have a bad trance now that we are embroiled in such a bloody and uncertain conflict, so he does his best to make sure we're together when I start to trance, even if nothing happens and he has to leave soon afterwards to keep up appearances."

Haley crossed her ankles, her legs dangling now. "How did all this start, V?"

The elf shrugged, fiddling with her ponytail. "I'm not quite sure. We had to work together, so we decided to put aside the fact we were enemies and different species. Inevitably, discussion of warfare and martial politics and machines versus magic turned to discussions of theology and inter-species politics and the like. He's very well-spoken and intelligent, so it was easy to get lost in these conversations. After a while, the discussions became more personal, and one day, I kissed him in the library."

Haley arched an eyebrow, a smile forming on her face. "Wow, didn't know you were so aggressive, V."

"He mentioned in passing that he hadn't had many serious relationships in the past because he was always focused on his mission for his people and his god. I had more experience in such things, so I decided I should start it instead of waiting for him to gather his courage. We are at war—time is precious." The elf smiled at the rogue, resting her hands in her lap. "I'm glad I decided that."

The rogue nodded, leaning back on the table. "What about—"

The door swung open and Roy walked in, rubbing his temple. "V! Thank the gods; I've been looking for you."


Elf snapped awake, looking at the dripping wet Red blearily as she dried off her hair, a concerned frown on her face. "You were sleeping again."

The elf took a moment, then rubbed her face, waking herself up. "Yes. I've been feeling very tired lately—possibly an oncoming flu. I believe I'll be trancing a little more, provided you don't mind being quiet."

"No, I don't mind." Red was still frowning in worry. "I'm going to go see Patch after this. Maybe you should see Nature soon."

"If I feel ill, I shall. Tell Patch I said greetings."

As curious as she was about that last vision, she was more curious about the one she had had before. Elf jotted down the details of her latest trance, then put aside her notebook, crossing her legs and closing her eyes again, actively thinking about the rolling sensation and the song crooned in Ancient Elven.

"Hasn't anyone told you it's rude to fall asleep while someone else is talking?"

Ice water poured on her head, snapping her awake with a shout. The world spun, the dim light wreaking havoc with her fractured ability to perceive, and the throbbing pain in her ear just made it harder to concentrate.

"Excellent. I was told you have a resistance to laughing gas and morphine, so you should be more alert than the rest right now."

It was freezing. The elf tried to hide her shivers, squinting to make her sight stabilize.

"Oh, don't bother. I'm assuming your eyesight and hearing's a little off from the gas and explosions. Or it's possible it's just your inner ear that was affected, which would explain why you're leaning like that."

Leaning? She wasn't leaning.

"We can fix that once you've had a more extensive exam. Impaired slaves aren't particularly useful for delicate work, and elves aren't built for heavy manual labor. We generally leave that to dwarves."

There was a tap. She cocked her head, concentrating until her head began to pound. There was a person standing there with a clipboard, or at least that's what it sounded like. Then the world began to spin again and she couldn't make out anything.

Was the floor wobbling? It felt like the floor was wobbling.

"Andrew reported you were chatty. Probably because of the Anatac—one of the tricks of technology, see? Mix Anatac with a little mortal magic and it temporarily fixes most the stuff you pick up in the battlefield. Being half-blind, unbalanced, and drugged out of your gourd probably helped shut you up. Too bad we can't keep you that way."

She tentatively pushed her sopping hair out of her face, having to lightly put one finger on her cheek and feel her way up. She almost missed her head.

"What's fifteen divided by three?"

She blinked sluggishly, squinting again, trying to make out the person speaking.

"Fifteen divided by three. Speak up."

She slowly slid the arm keeping her propped up forward, gently letting her body rest on its side. The world still spun, but it wasn't so bad.

"In retrospect, maybe giving you a dwarf's dose of anesthesia was overkill."

She closed her eyes. Her head was pounding. It felt like there was a little creature within the delicate skull swinging a pickaxe against the bone to make an escape route.

She hadn't heard any movement, but there was a hand at her wrist, checking her pulse.

"You can't be examined like this. You're lucky you're still alive with a heart rate like that."

The hand was gone.

"I'll put down a note for the final examiner to give you the appraisal and I'll tell the captain to lower your dose of anesthetic. I'm sure he can manage to keep you quiet without killing you."

It occurred to her that they didn't know who she was. That was good. Keep it that way.

She couldn't quite remember why, but she really wanted to have anything that was red-colored at the moment.

She fell back asleep.

"Summerwick N°139."

There was a sharp prick on the inside of her elbow.

"There will be withdrawal symptoms, but this will stave them off until the end of our examination."

She opened her eyes, squinting in the dim light, the world wobbling, but her mind was back. "Where am I?"

"In a settlement." She couldn't quite make out the figure above her, but she felt it swab the inside of her elbow and put on a band aid. "Can you sit up?"

Vaarsuvius forced herself in a sitting position, grasping the edges of the table she was lying on. The world shook for a moment, then steadied, and with every throb from her ear, the dark pulsed.

"What's thirty divided by eight?"

Vaarsuvius frowned, keeping a white-knuckled grip on the table, and needed a moment to process the limited information on her surroundings before she answered. "Three point seventy-five. Don't insult my intelligence."

"Not trying to insult you. Just trying to see what got hurt in the field and in transport. Are you aware how far you're leaning to the side?"

"I'm not leaning."

"You're leaning. Possibly because of brain damage."

Her stomach sank, but she wouldn't show it. From what little that was filtering into her brain, she was a prisoner of war. She didn't know what they did with prisoners beyond the fact they had breeding camps, and if they thought of her as disabled, what would keep them from putting her into one of those? "I'm able to communicate with you, am I not? I am undamaged."

The world wobbled again under her.

"I doubt it's because of a brain stem injury because that would wreak havoc with a lot more than your balance, but I'll check while you're under just to be sure. Your inner ear was probably hurt, possibly by the grenades. So was your right eye."

Vaarsuvius grimaced. "What makes you certain of that?"

"Your right pupil isn't dilating at all according to light, and it's a different color from your left. It's navy."

She took a moment to allow that to process.

"That sounds healthy," she said dryly.

"That's what I thought. That, and you haven't looked directly at anything once this whole conversation. Focus on my face."

"I cannot see your face." Vaarsuvius scowled, glaring in a general forward direction. "Perhaps if you were to make a light, I would be able to."

"We have fluorescent lights on, Summerwick N°139. You're blind."

Vaarsuvius stiffened.

"I'm not. I can see. It is dark, but I can see."

"That's one disability you can't explain away." There was a rustle. "It's nothing that can't be fixed. What was your mother's maiden name?"

The elf squinted, struggling to see, but the details of the world were lost. "Elves do not have surnames. Even if we did, I wouldn't tell you."

"You have surnames now."

What was that supposed to mean?

"I'm just seeing if you have memory function. What is the name of the tree?"

"Assuming you mean that monster of a thing that is holding us together, Malre."

Out of nowhere, a hand smacked her cheek, not enough to leave a mark but enough to sting.

She cried out and reflexively lashed out, clawing at thin air ineffectually, and snarled. "What, by the gods, precipitated that? !"

"I'm not asking for the name elves call it. It's real name." The voice was cold and hard, nothing but flint grinding against her (admittedly delicate) eardrums. "What is its real name?"

"Do you wish for the humans' word? Yggdrasil? There is no true name for a thing; only different words!"

There was another slap, this one harder, and the elf stifled a cry. "There is only one real word for everything. One real way. Your people's," the word was spat like poison, "way is not it. Now tell me. What is the tree's name?"

The elf snarled, wishing for nothing more than a couple prepared spells. No, scratch that, just the ability to see so she could strike back. "Don't ask me, brute. I don't make a habit of researching the culture of glorified war-mongering slave traders!"

"So you don't know." Just like that, the flint was gone and the voice was the calm, clinical tone of before. "It's the Daughter Tree, for the record. Born from the Second Mother. We'll use another question. What is your identification number?"

The elf's hands clenched up on the edges of the table, teeth gritted and voice dripping with disdain. She nursed her fury with the knowledge she would blast this sorry excuse for a doctor to the high heavens the moment she had a spell book. And the moment she could see. "Assuming you mean what you and your ilk have been referring to me as, it's one hundred and thirty-nine. I refuse to respond to it, however."

"That's good enough. Dolly will give you a name when she gets you, and you'll respond to that after she breaks you in." There was a click. "I think I'm finished with the cursory exam Isabel couldn't do. You're missing two fingers and the right half of your body was damaged, but it's mostly superficial. Scars will be the worst you'll end up with after I'm through. You may have brain damage, but that's most likely just damage to the inner ear and the eyes because you seem to have a fine grasp of your higher functions and there wasn't any problem with things like your heart rate or blood pressure. I'll replace your missing fingers—you won't notice a difference besides having no sense of touch in the replacements, and if you play your cards right, Dolly might be convinced to have someone give you regeneration."

Something occurred to the elf. She rested a finger on her leg, feeling up slowly, and realized she had no clothes on.

She promptly tucked her knees under her chin and crossed her ankles to hide as much as possible. Of course, the movement made the world wobble, but it was worth it. "Don't you dare gawk at me."

"Hmm. Andrew put a note here about you acting like this. Isabel wrote she couldn't get an impression of you because you were so drugged. You'll get over yourself. Dolly has her ways."

The elf sneered, cursing her lack of sight in her head. It was a lot harder to give someone a defiant look when one didn't even know what direction they were facing. "Your dear 'Dolly' can try her 'ways' with me once I have my spell book."

"Good luck with that. Slaves don't get spell books."

A hand rested on her head, grasping her hair, and she swung a fist, only for her wrist to be caught by another hand, the strength there at least three times the amount she had felt in the hands of fighters, and it felt like it was just one struggle away from snapping her bone.

"It's time to give up the life you once had. Your name, your family, and your culture don't exist here. You're playing by our rules now."

The hand around her wrist twisted.


The elf shrieked.

"And we're rough players."

There was a sharp prick in her neck and she was unconscious again.

"Hey, how are you feeling?"

Red fluffed Patch's pillow, provoking a big smile from the goblin. "Much better now that you're here." She swatted his shoulder and he laughed, squirming in a sitting position. "What? I am."

"You just want to make out again."

Patch shrugged, grinning impishly. "Maybe. Or maybe I just like having you around." He stifled a yawn. "This place is so boring when you or Big Brother aren't here. There's nothing to do but homework and sleeping."

"Maybe you can actually read a book for once."

Patch gave a mock gasp. "Blasphemy! Only my nerdy older brother actually reads for fun!"

Red laughed, her cheeks becoming a cheerful rosy color, and she sat down next to Patch, eyes sparkling with humor. "You should learn a thing or two from him. Maybe you'll actually manage something above a C in your classes."

"Pssh. Grades are overrated." The goblin scooted to the side to make room for the human, resting his hand on hers. "The sooner we all can get out of this nuthouse, the better. All you need is good behavior, not good grades."

She looked down at his hand, smiling. "Good grades help."

"You're one to talk. Maybe they put you in the same room as Elf so you'd pick up her study habits."

"And stay in the library all day? No thanks." Red lay back next to him, snuggled up against him, resting her head on his shoulder. "I'd rather hang around here."

"You have low standards, missy."

She chuckled, making him smile, and Patch rolled a little so he could prop himself up on his arm and look at her. "Hey, you want to be my girlfriend?"

Red's eyebrows went up and she glanced at his face.

"I mean, I like you. I like spending time with you." Patch shrugged, the tips of his ears getting a little pink. "Why not do something official?"

She cocked her head, then smiled. "Sure. I'd like that."

"Good." He leaned down and kissed her softly, running his tongue along her lip. "Sealed with a kiss, right?"

"Maybe more than one." Red grinned and pulled him down again, wrapping her arms around his neck. "You're right—I have really low standards."

"Ha ha." He chuckled and nipped her lip, pressing forward with a low purr beginning in his chest.

Outside of their room, the school nurse sat at her desk, staring at the smooth wood top with her head propped on her hands and her eyes empty. Her black-haired companion stood beside her, occasionally giving her hair a soothing touch.

"Is this why I decided to forget?" the elf murmured softly, tracing the wood grain with her gaze. "The guilt? I've always been able to handle pain and fear, but never guilt."

"I only know a few reasons behind people's decisions. Reasons you know I can't tell you." The black-haired woman turned her eyes towards the window, sighing softly. "If you want to make it go away, you know how to do it."

"And just run away from my crimes like a coward, right? Is that what we all are? Fugitives from our own sense of responsibility?" The elf crossed her arms and placed them on the desk, staring through the wood to something else. "Even Dorukan. Even Girard. Even Soon. All of them. All of us. Is the only reason we're here because we can't face the things we've done?"

"Not the only reason, no. Everyone had their own reasons." The black-haired woman sighed, running a gentle hand through the elf's hair. "Do you want to go to the river? I'll take you back to your room, and you'll wake up without any memory of any of this. You won't remember Her cruelties or your shame or the conflict… You won't even be able to see the Great Tree anymore. It'll be just as invisible to you as to everyone else. And so will I."

The elf didn't respond for a while.

"I don't want to forget you. I feel like I already did."

The black-haired woman's eyes grew distant. "Another life, Lirian. You weren't the only one who forgot things."

The elf didn't respond.

The woman kept stroking her hair. "I'll stay with you until you make a decision."

And she did.

A/N: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone! :D