No one even says anything.

Even though the Phantom menace has been neutralized, Erza, Natsu, Happy and Gray all follow Lucy into her apartment like a flock of filthy, exhausted ducklings (though they are polite enough to let her get the first bath, without rushing her).

"Your turn," Lucy tiredly tells Erza, tagging her hand. Erza offers her a weary smile before trudging in, though they all hear the happy exclamation as she sinks into the hot water.

At a loss since no one seems to want to talk, Lucy absentmindedly straightens up her desk, moving gingerly.

She feels Natsu's gaze on her.

"What?"

The hazel eyes narrow. "Why are you favoring your left side?"

"Oh. Umm." She laughs nervously, and now Gray's watching her too. "I, ah, I fell."

"Let me see." Natsu orders, and Lucy backs away, putting up her hands and giving him her best smile. "It's fine, Natsu, I'm okay, really-"

But then she bumps against her desk chair, and something about the way she twists to keep it from falling puts her on the floor, on her knees, clutching her side with a sharp gasp that she doesn't have a prayer of hiding from a dragon slayer's sharp ears.

Now Gray's standing, too, and Happy flies off to grab her med kit. (She'd bought one right after joining Fairy Tail, when it became apparent that not having one was tantamount to particularly masochistic stupidity).

Natsu guides her to the bed and sits her down, heedless of her mutters about the cleanliness of her duvet cover. She doesn't have the energy to stop him when he hitches up the corner of her shirt just enough to expose the ugly mark on her side, fast darkening into a bruise.

Natsu looks at her side, then at his arm- at the sore, discolored spot where Gajeel had hit him. His lips turn down.

"It's... it's not so bad." Lucy prattles, hating that look on his face. "It's just a bruise- or, well, it will be, but I really don't think anything's broken and-"

"Stop." says Natsu, squeezing her shoulder.

"I hope you kicked his ass." Gray mutters, giving Natsu a quick glare before raiding the med kit for tinctures and a compress.

"Maybe not as hard as I should have." Natsu replies, eyes riveted to Lucy's side.

Erza emerges from the bathroom as the boys are arguing over the most efficient way to wrap it, or to wrap it at all. Her eyes narrow at the injury, but she sends Natsu into the bathroom (with a succinct, "You stink!") and applies the compress herself, hands quick with experience.

That done, she bundles Lucy into bed, climbing in beside her and leaving Gray on his own to scrounge up bedding for himself and Natsu. Happy curls up between the girls, latching onto Lucy's shoulder and resting his tail across Erza's collarbone.

She is safe and warm, and for the moment, this is enough to make her content.

Her father's shadowed face and outstretched hand morph into Jose, smirking down at her. "You're weak," he says in her father's voice. "You're a burden to everyone around you."

The guild is destroyed and the others won't look at her

Bodies everywhere, coughing, choking on the rubble

Natsu, being flung across the room, spitting floor out of his mouth

Gajeel, sneering, all fists and kicks and derision; he's merely passing the time, waiting for a better punching bag to come along

She jerks awake.

"Lucy?" Erza murmurs.

"I'm fine, go back to sleep," she soothes, and tries to take her own advice. She listens to Natsu and Gray, snoring; both boys are sprawled out over the blankets that Gray put on the floor, and neither of them bothered with covers. She listens to Erza's steady breathing, feels Happy's heavy warmth at her side, absently scratches the cat's ears and smiles as he makes an indistinct, pleased sound.

She thinks of her mother and her celestial spirits, thinks of Levi, Jet, Droy, and Reedus' smiles and the unutterable relief she'd felt seeing them on their feet. She thinks of Master, of Mirajane, of Elfman and Loki and Macao and Wakaba, of the faces of guildmembers she didn't know but who had offered her smiles. Lucy remembers them shouting their defiance at Phantom's mobile guild, yelling that they wouldn't give her up, that they'd never betray one of their own. She'd felt too guilty at the time to appreciate the loyalty for what it was, but now, under cover of darkness and victory, Lucy smiles and lets herself drift off in the comfort of her friends' presence.


Yes it's unbelievably schmoopy, YES I said "Phantom menace" and NO I'M NOT SORRY.