I took Toria by the arm and
pulled her up to face me. "Victoria?" I snapped at her. "Are
you kidding me? Are you out of your fucking minds? You don't bloody well
eat before you see that your damned insurance is paid! What the
hell were you thinking?"
She squirmed. She wouldn't meet my eyes. Hell, she'd taught me
that damn rule, "Things have been... hard,' she told me, looking
down at my lap. "I... took a gamble. We've been running cargo, not
doing salvage... I hoped... " She just let it trail off; she knew
there was no justification for working in the trade without insurance
on your damn ship.
"Why the hell didn't you call me?" I asked her, feeling a little
hurt. "You know damn well I would have loaned you the money."
She wouldn't answer me and I looked passed her to Hayden.
"Damn it, Duo," he murmured, his big hands toying with his drink
bulb, "Your plate was more than full... you almost took the one way
out-trip... we couldn't bother you with our damn problems in the middle
Toria patted the hand I still had on her shoulder and gave me a small
smile. "You aren't always in a position to save the damn world, buddy-boy.
Sometimes we have to take care of ourselves. I took a gamble... and I
Hayden snagged her wrist and pulled her towards him with a warning grumble.
"We took a gamble and we lost."
She settled against his shoulder and they smiled softly at one another,
then Toria flashed me one of her mega-watt grins. "Water under the
bridge, man. Now, tell me about this trip you're on?"
I really hate when she does that; takes a topic and just because she's
done talking about it, chops it off at the knees and goes on. Doesn't
matter if you were finished or not. But I had learned a long time ago
not to fight it; I always lose.
I took a deep breath and let it out; Ok... how to say I've kidnapped
the Queen of the world in a valiant but vain attempt to teach her something
about how real life works? Without sounding... insane. But around
me I could feel that strange tingle in the air again and before I could
open my mouth, Relena of all people spoke up.
"I'm afraid that I used our... friendship to... convince Duo and
Heero to take my aunt and I to L2 to see... relatives." She was flushed
and all but stuttering and I sat and stared at her. What the hell?
"Relatives, Miss Pierce?" Hayden prompted politely and my mouth
about fell open.
"Please... " Relena smiled warmly at him, "call me Lena."
Hayden smiled broadly and I wanted to reach out and smack him; I never
would have thought he would have been fooled by such a bad acting job.
What in the hell was this all about? Lena Pierce? What the hell?
Why in the world would she lie about her damn name? Unless... she was
afraid to let Hayden and Toria know who she was. Why, for God's sake?
Did she think that they would try to kidnap her in truth? I glanced at
Heero but he seemed to be as confused as I was. The look on Chezarina's
face wasn't any help either. Though not caught as flat-footed as I was
since she'd obviously been here for the initial introductions, she still
I picked my sandwich back up so I had a reason to keep my mouth shut and
just watched the scene play out. Relena spun a silly little story about
going to L2 to see her Grandmother for her 75th birthday. They
had decided to do this at the last minute and were in a hurry and had
used their 'relationship' with Heero and my dear little self, to con us
into taking them for cost only. It was actually a fairly detailed lie
but a lie all the same and I found myself getting angry about it. Hayden
and Toria were my friends and I didn't like her treating them this way;
there was no good reason that I could see for her making this stupid story
"Ever been to L2 before?" Toria grinned at 'Lena' and Relena
shook her head and claimed that Granny hadn't been living there all that
"Oh, girlie!" Toria chuckled. "You have got to let
me show you around! There's a bar on the hub-side that is to die for...
they mix up the best rum concoctions in the known universe!"
Relena... giggled. I swear to God; she freaking giggled. I blinked at
her and wondered if maybe I had passed out in that vacuum suit
and was having nightmares about pod-people.
"I have pretty fond memories of the place," Toria was saying,
"It's where I met these two after all."
Hayden actually groaned. "Torie... not that story again!"
Toria fairly chortled. "Hey! I have a fresh audience! They've never
heard the tale."
"Nobody should have to hear that damn tale," I growled at her
but could tell she wasn't deterred in the slightest.
So I got to sit and hear Victoria Brannigan spin the story, for about
the hundredth time, of how Hayden and I had arrived in the same bar as
her perky little self and her then-shipmates and been drunk under the
table. It had started with that damn vacuum suit bet, escalated to a zero-g
race and culminated in a drinking war. Hayden and I lost to Toria and
her two sisters at every turn. When the night-cycle was over I was as
sick-drunk as I have ever been in my life and Hayden was stone cold in
love. I got over it... he didn't. Toria tells a pretty damn good story
though; she even had Heero laughing and he forgot for a little while that
he had wanted me in bed resting.
In between my interjected comments and embarrassed groans, I was watching
Relena. She was laughing her ass off with her eyes watering and generally
having a hell of a good time. I was really starting to put some credence
in the pod-people theory.
The story telling wound down a little, more sandwiches were consumed and
Heero finally moved in to make me hold up my end of the bargain. He laid
a warm hand on my shoulder to get my attention while Toria was describing
to my other guests just how stupid I had looked trying to get into a vacuum
suit drunk on my ass. I turned toward him and he leaned in to whisper
in my ear, "A deal's a deal, love. You promised to get some rest."
I sighed but honestly didn't have the energy to argue the point. I nodded
my surrender and it won me an affectionate smile. "I just have to
do one thing first."
I turned toward Relena and forced a smile to my lips. "Lena... I
need to get something out of your cabin, if you don't mind?"
A vague discomfort passed over her face but she smiled bravely in her
turn and agreed to accompany me there. I excused myself and rose somewhat
unsteadily to my feet to follow Relena down the corridor. I waited until
we were in the cabin and out of earshot before I turned a somewhat angry
glare on her. "Relena... what are you doing? These people are my
friends and I don't appreciate you lying to them."
She blushed hotly but didn't drop her gaze. "Please Duo!" she
blurted, "don't tell them who I am! I don't want to be Relena Peacecraft
right now... they wouldn't... talk like that in front of me if they knew."
She was wringing her hands and gazing up at me imploringly.
I'm afraid all I managed was a confused, "What?"
"People treat me... different when they find out who I am,"
she said in a rush. "Please... I... like listening to them talk...
please don't tell."
I kind of deflated. It was so not what I had thought this was all
about and I found myself agreeing with a nod. I started to move passed
her to the cabinet in her cabin where I kept my drawing supplies but she
stopped me with a hesitant touch on my arm.
"Duo... " she asked uncertainly, "what did she mean...
I gusted a sigh and turned back to face her. "Toria spent a couple
of months working the Mars route on what turned out to be a sub-spec cruiser.
The radiation shielding was... not up to code." I didn't much like
telling this story behind Toria's back but I wasn't too keen on Relena
and Chezarina thinking what they had been thinking either. "She's...
sterile. They didn't find out until after she and Hayden were married
and started talking about having children." I sighed and turned back
toward the cabinet. "She... invented kids... and I painted them for
her. They were all over the ship." I got out my sketchpad and pencils
and closed the cabinet. "You have to understand, Relena... that was
their home. They just lost everything they owned."
She had that strange frown on her face again, the one she'd been wearing
in the galley. "I don't understand how people can live like that.
It's so... dangerous."
I chuckled. "And being the Queen of the world doesn't hold it's own
That got me a dark frown and I sighed. Guess I pushed it too far. I didn't
bother to point out that I fucking lived like that too; I guess my living
dangerously was understandable or something. I just took my things and
left, going back to my own cabin to lie down and try to get some of the
rest that I had promised Heero. I saw Relena head back to the galley.
I put my supplies down on the desk for later and went to stretch out wearily
on my bunk. It truly did feel good to lay down, my body was just not used
to that kind of adrenaline kick right now, not quite ready for that much
harsh physical activity. My muscles were complaining mightily about the
sudden abuse, my wrist throbbing in time to my heartbeat. I pulled the
sling off and tossed it aside, carefully laying the arm out flat on the
My head was just too damn full of stray thoughts for me to settle down
though. I still could not believe that calm, levelheaded, practical Victoria
Brannigan had let her damn insurance lapse. What in the hell had they
been thinking? They both knew better than that. And I had to admit to
myself that it stung like hell that they hadn't called me when they needed
me. I could have carried them for a couple of months without too much
strain. It felt like just one more thing that had been screwed up because
of that damn salvage job I never should have taken in the first place.
But then the weird thought came to me that, had I not taken that
job and stepped into the deepest do-do I'd ever been in, that I might
not be with Heero right now. I might still be out on my own, living with
my ghosts and phantoms. Might never have known the absolute... wonder
I felt whenever he touched me, whenever he kissed me or held me. I was
suddenly acutely aware that it had been a fair trade. All the pain, all
the suffering, all the fighting I was having to go through to get myself
back to some semblance of normal... I would do it all over again if it
was necessary to keep Heero with me. Do it all over again a dozen times.
Even this God damn, stupid-ass pointless trip to L2 with 'Miss Lena Pierce'.
I had to repress a laugh. God; the girl was just nuts. Completely certifiable.
She wanted to hide her identity so that she could listen to spacers use
foul language? I was a spacer and I'd been talking pretty damn foul for
the last two days; didn't I count? I certainly wasn't planning on acting
any different around Lena than I did around Relena. What in the hell was
she expecting? Damn. Another revelation in less than fifteen minutes.
I was acting different. I was doing all kinds of things that were
out of character, everything from the way I dressed to what I ate. I wasn't
playing my music. I wasn't running in zero-g. I wasn't singing.
Though I suppose I couldn't blame her presence for every damn thing; I
wasn't supposed to be spending all that much time in zero-g until my body
had recovered some of its own metabolic balance. Zero-g has some... odd
effects on bone and muscle tissue, something that normally takes months
and months of prolonged exposure. They're still testing and learning about
how the human body reacts to it. Apparently, it's not a good idea to mix
it with malnutrition and dehydration. I sometimes wondered if I would
ever be back to normal. Today's excursion, for example, was something
that six months ago would not have made me break a damn sweat.
Of course... six months ago putting on a vacuum suit would not have given
me a screaming anxiety attack. Going out-ship would not have made me almost
pee my damn pants. Floating alone in my own cargo bay would not have been
enough to make me want to yell for Heero to get me the hell out of there.
I thought about those damn sedatives and finally reached up to queue some
music, cutting it to cabin speakers only. Then I lay back down and began
doing course calculations in my head. L1 to L2. L1 to L3. L1 to L4. L1
to L5. L1 to Earth. L2 to L1... It took almost a half an hour but I finally
did doze off.
I dreamed about the dead crew of the Londonderry and woke hours later
with the sound of Solo's voice ringing in my ears, "They want their
air back, rat-boy."
I must have gotten some rest, because I did feel better, less wobbly at
least. I rose and took the fifteen extra minutes to grant myself the luxury
of a shower and then took my sketchbook and pencils and went to find my
guests. God; I don't know that I'd ever had this many people aboard at
one time before.
I swung by the cockpit to check our course and found Heero sitting in
the pilot's seat. He was dozing, his legs curled under him and his head
propped on one hand, elbow braced on the armrest. I slipped quietly back
out and let him sleep. The ship seemed almost unnaturally quiet considering
how many people were aboard and when I got to the galley I was a little
surprised to only find Toria and Hayden there.
"Hey buddy-boy," Toria greeted me when she saw me coming in.
I dumped my sketchpad on the table and went on past them to snag a bottle
of juice from the fridge. "I think I'll live," I smiled at her.
"We weren't so sure from the way Heero was hovering over you,"
Hayden said dryly, trying to hide a smirk in his close-cropped beard.
I felt myself flushed and glared at him. "He's a little... overprotective."
I thought Toria would choke to death on her soda. "Now there's an
understatement if I ever heard one!" she chuckled when she had her
throat clear enough to manage it.
I glared at her, too for all the damn good it did me and found myself
getting oddly defensive on Heero's behalf. "Well... I've passed out
on him a couple of times... since the accident. He just... worries."
I could feel them staring at me and suddenly, my juice bulb was the most
interesting thing in the room and I found myself picking at the label.
"You gonna get around to telling us about the accident?" Hayden
prodded gently and I snorted.
"Not a hell of a lot to tell... I did a stupid thing and almost paid
the ultimate price for it. Would not be sitting here in front of you today
if Heero and his partner hadn't come after me." The juice label was
peeling away in strips.
"Do not," Toria told me a little coldly, "make me come
around this table and smack the shit out of you. You can do better than
So I ended up telling them the whole sordid little story. I started out
being a little evasive but once I got started I rather surprised myself
at the details I revealed. I even confessed to the talking to the dead
part. I voiced to somebody out loud for the first time just how absolutely
freaking horrifying it was to realize that I had spent almost a full week
in the hospital doing and saying things that I did not remember. I stopped
short of talking about Heero's and my relationship despite how tangled
up it was with that damned accident. When I was done, the juice bottle
was naked as the day it was molded and there was a pile of shredded paper
on the galley table. I glanced up at them and found them both looking
like they just might cry. I felt myself blushing again and tried to stop.
Very quietly, Toria got up and came around to my side of the table, squatted
down at my side and gently wrapped her arms around me, careful of the
sling. "Damn it buddy-boy... we almost lost you... "
I grinned down at her. "Can't say I didn't come any closer than you
The look I got from Hayden was vaguely... freaked. "At least we would
have gone... clean." He actually shuddered. "Not that slow,
draw-out... " he just dropped it and I fucking shuddered.
Toria drew back and brushed her fingers through my bangs in a strangely
maternal way. "Are you really all right, Duo?" she asked me
softly and forced me with a hand under my chin to maintain eye contact.
"I'm fine," I lied.
"You are so full of shit!" she snapped almost angrily and stood
up, smacking me in the back of the head before going back to her seat.
"Ow!" I complained and had to smile at her ruefully, "Ok...
ok... I'm dealing; all right?" I rubbed the back of my head and went
back to fiddling with my juice bottle. "It's a one day at a time
kind of thing... and some days just sort of suck."
There was a slightly uncomfortable silence then and Hayden moved to cover
it by picking up the deck of cards they had been playing with and I, by
reaching for my sketchpad. They went back to playing poker and I flipped
to a blank page and began blocking in a sketch of their 'daughter' Brandy.
It was the first of the children we had created together, I had painted
her portrait on the wall next to their bed, extending the mattress into
the picture and painting as though she were asleep next to them. She had
Toria's gold spun hair and Hayden's nose and lips. She had been about
eight or nine. Toria and I had spent hours sprawled across that bed while
she had talked through the pain of facing up to the fact that these children
would never be and I had painted what she had given me. After some of
the bitterness had washed away it had become almost fun; Toria had wanted
a daughter more than anything and we had done Brandy first. I had teased
her unmercifully about saddling a kid with a name like Brandy Brannigan
and then Hayden had insisted that their 'second' child would be a boy
and he came to join us. I found that his pain was almost as deep as hers
but he kept it carefully masked so as not to make hers worse than it was.
We birthed little five-year-old Jefty between the three of us and I began
to feel... some tug at my own heart at these little faces that we were
inventing out of pain and loss and... love. They let me name their third
child, another daughter. I chose Helen. Toria insisted that Helen would
have my chestnut brown hair and I spent a couple of very strange days
feeling awkward as hell around Hayden... as though I had actually slept
with his damn wife. The youngest was another boy and Toria had been adamant
that he be named Hayden Jr. He was little more than an infant but loved
free-fall and could be found in several places throughout the ship drifting
near the ceiling with laughter in his bright blue eyes.
The 'Ragged Gypsy' had echoed first with our tears and later with our
laughter. When I was done, that ship had contained an army of children;
the four Brannigan offspring. I had felt like a damn mid-wife. They were
everywhere... tussling in the corridors, making a God-awful mess in the
galley, belted down in painted jump seats in the back of the cockpit.
I was so engrossed in recreating little sweet-tempered Brandy that Toria
had to clear her throat twice to get my attention.
"So, since we're telling stories," she grinned at me when I
looked up, "you gonna tell us how you came to be going to L2 with
There was a moment of surprise and then I grinned at her like a loon.
"Oh you have so restored my faith in you! I was starting to
think that the two of you had lost your damn minds."
Hayden snorted. "Don't ever let that girl play poker." He shook
his head sadly, "She'll get fleeced."
"Besides... " Toria snorted, "she has the most well known
face in the universe... you'd have to be blind not to recognize her."
"Then why in the hell... ?" I began and she just shrugged.
"Who are we to argue if the Queen of Everything wants to play some
strange role-playing game?"
I shook my head; what a bizarre stinking game this was turning into. "She
apparently is afraid that you won't be... your normal selves if you know
who she is."
"Well that's a relief," Hayden gusted a sigh. "We thought
she was afraid of us."
"So did I." I frowned, finishing with Brandy's face and beginning
on her hair. On a sudden whim, I decided to braid it... It was long enough.
"That's why I took her to her cabin; I called her on it. I was flaming
"Don't worry about it, buddy boy," Toria reassured me as she
nailed her husband with a full house and scooped the cards up to shuffle
and deal again. "It doesn't bother us any; it's kinda funny actually.
I think she's the only one who's being fooled."
I glanced up from tying off Brandy's new braid with a ribbon. "You
mean 'Zarina... ?"
They shared a chuckle. "We think so," Hayden confirmed with
a twinkle in his eye. "She keeps giggling around us; she has to
know that we know. We think she has a better understanding of how... high-profile
the Peacecraft's are."
I roughed in the collar of Brandy's t-shirt... she favored t-shirts and
jeans when she had a choice... and flipped the page to start on Jefty.
I shook my head again. "This whole damn trip is just getting to be
"So?" Toria prompted and I glanced up from my page at her with
a raised eyebrow. "You still haven't told us how you got out here
in this mess to begin with," she said in exasperation.
"Oh... that." I sighed and had to tell that damn story
too. I thought she was going to fall out of her chair laughing at me.
"Go ahead and yuck it up, spacer-girl," I snapped at her when
she just wouldn't give it a rest. "It's not that God damn funny."
She wiped the tears from her eyes and grinned at me. "I was just
thinking how much your big mouth gets your big ass in trouble!"
I glared. My only real consolation was that she was so distracted; Hayden
won the next two hands.
I was getting a little tired of being her source of amusement and just
bent to sketching Jefty's round, grubby little face. He was the kind of
kid who was always into something. Followed anybody around who was working
on anything on the off chance that they'd let him remove a screw or hold
"Will you autograph a copy of the magazine for me when the interview
comes out?" she chortled and I briefly considered trying to kick
her out of her chair from under the table.
"Torie... cut him some slack," Hayden warned gently and laid
down three of a kind. Toria beat him with a straight flush.
She stuck her tongue out at him and snickered, "You're just jealous
because he never hit on you." she teased and picked up the
A very strange thing happened in the room then. A strange and terrifying
thing. It went still; still and cold as death. I could see it all playing
out and I just continued to sketch. Hayden had not stopped to think about
what Heero meant before. Had not for some unknown reason made that leap
to, 'Duo likes men'. Maybe he hadn't wanted to think about it;
I couldn't see how else he would not have put two and two together...
he's a damn smart man. We had been best friends and almost-partners before
he met Victoria. We had both been saving up our money and had been talking
about going in together and buying a ship. Hayden was the only person
I had ever even thought about trying to ship out with. He had been easy-going
to my buoyant. Quiet to my talkative. We had gotten along very well and
I had let myself entertain dreams. But not like that. I had loved Heero
even then and there was no room in my wounded heart for more than that
remembered rejection. Hayden had been my friend and nothing more. I watched
him piece it together in the cold stillness, watched the almost visible
thoughts as they flashed through his eyes and feared I was seeing the
death of one of my most solid friendships. I had to stop sketching when
my eyes started to sting.
"Nah," I responded to Toria without looking fully up at either
of them, "he's not my type... too hairy."
She saw what she had done, I think, only at the sound of the tone of my
voice and her head jerked up. I sat with my eyes glued to the paper in
front of me, pencil poised over the portrait I could no longer see and
waited for it to finish playing out.
"Don't you fucking dare," she snarled at him and I've
never heard her quite that angry. And I've heard Victoria Brannigan pretty
stinking mad. "He is the best damn friend you've ever had and you
know God damn good and well that it is not like that."
Hayden sat and blinked at her for a minute, looking a little shocked.
I don't think he realizes how easy he is to read.
"Duo," Toria said softly but her eyes never left those of her
husband, "would you excuse us for a moment?"
God; I did not want this to escalate into something between them. The
last thing on earth I wanted was to see these two fighting. "Victoria...
please... just drop it," I murmured, afraid to blink for fear the
damn tears would spill over.
"I asked you for a little privacy here," she told me and there
was no arguing with that tone of voice. I laid down the pencil, closed
the sketchbook and left the galley. I headed for the cockpit without thinking,
almost veering off at the last minute when I remembered that Heero was
in there. But when I reached the doorway, he was gone and when I thought
about it, I could hear water running. He must be in the shower. I fled
to my pilot's chair and tried to take comfort in the fact that I didn't
hear any yelling.
I had met Hayden while I was still with the Sweepers. He had been working
at odd jobs around the docks and occasionally ran errands for Howard.
He was flirting with the idea of getting into the trade even then. We
had hit it off and had begun hanging out together. I think, at first,
he had been just picking the brain of someone already in the trade. Someone
from the colonies. Trying to answer some of the million questions he had
about the lure of 'out there'.
But it wasn't all one sided. I had been getting something too; I had been
relearning that I was a person now that the war was over. Learning that
I could be something besides a Gundam pilot. Hayden's friendship had reasserted
for me that I was not such an impossible person to get along with.
I think my dreaming and scheming had fired him up a little bit, and we
probably would have ended up buying that ship together and going into
the salvage business. Then we had wandered into a certain bar one night
and met Victoria Grace. Hayden had fallen head over heels in love and
ended up forming a different kind of partnership. He had indeed gone on
to buy that ship and go into the business, only with Toria. And I had
gone on to buy my own ship. It had taken me a little longer and 'Maxwell's
Demon' wasn't quite as big as the 'Ragged Gypsy' had been but it was mine.
I never really met anyone else that I thought I could ship out with and
I ended up becoming a solitary pilot.
My sexuality had never been an issue. I had still been bleeding from the
one and only place my heart had chosen to try and throw itself, and the
last thing in hell I was interested in was... that kind of relationship.
It had never come up. I guess he had just assumed that I was interested
in women, and I had never thought about it one way or the other. I wasn't
freaking interested in anybody, male, female, or otherwise.
And now he knew. He knew and he was having trouble with it. I had seen
him thinking back over the years and trying to remember just how things
had happened, just what things had been said. Looking things over from
this new perspective and it had made him uncomfortable. Damn.
I shifted my arm out of the sling and raised it across my chest, trying
to ease the damn constant throbbing. Almost idly I checked ship's status
and course, glancing over the vector map and checking for messages. It
killed a depressingly short amount of time. I ended up pulling my legs
up to my chest and burying my good hand in my hair, just wishing I could
make the last couple of days go away.
I found myself longing for the comforting stillness of being alone. I
wanted to hug my stupid bear to my chest. I wanted to talk to my Demon...
wanted to talk to my ghosts. I wanted to turn the music on really loud.
How pathetic was that? I was missing the loneliness that had been twisting
my soul to shreds for the last couple of years. I really am one screwed
up little son of a bitch when you get right down to it.
"God Solo," I let slip out on a mere breath, "I don't know
how much more I can take." It felt like my life was turning to dust
in my hands.
There was the sound of a footstep in the corridor behind me and I raised
my head and tried to plaster on a smile.
"Duo... ?" Heero called and I heard unease in his voice.
"In here," I answered brightly and ruthlessly squelched the
urge to throw myself into his arms.
"Is everything all right?" he asked as he came into the cockpit.
I opened my mouth with what was becoming my tag line, "I'm fine."
But he never let me get it out. Wordlessly, he pulled me out of the chair
and into a gentle embrace. It felt like coming home. Felt like he had
lifted some great weight off me for the moment.
"Talk to me?" he murmured after a few moments of my just leaning
"Later." I returned with a sigh.
He was quiet for a moment, only holding me, then, "Promise?"
I quirked a grin against his neck. "I promise," I whispered
and was suddenly just very tired. "You know you're all the strength
I have left, don't you?"
In that moment I could have given over to him completely, letting him
tuck me up in bed or sedate me or just what ever in the hell he wanted.
Just so long as I didn't have to interact with anyone else for awhile.
As long as I didn't have to make any more decisions.
"Love?" he murmured, disquiet in his voice.
"Sorry." I sighed and straightened, shouldering my own damn
problems again. "You know... " I smiled into clouded blue eyes,
"we really should feed our guests; it's way passed dinner time."
He opened his mouth to object but I brushed his lips with the back of
my knuckles. "Later," I reiterated and he subsided.
"That's what I came in here for. Chezarina was heading for the galley
to start dinner but... " He looked troubled again.
"She interrupted a... discussion?" I grinned tiredly.
"Something like that," he confirmed. "What is going on?"
"I guess I need to go find out." I sighed heavily and slid passed
him to start down the corridor, back into the jaws of the lion. I was
rather surprised to almost run into Hayden right outside the door. I'm
afraid I flinched slightly. I didn't mean to but he caught me so totally
off guard and I was half expecting him to verbally let me have holy hell.
They both noticed and Heero immediately went into stone cold defensive
mode. Hayden didn't seem to notice Heero, but definitely noticed my reaction.
He ducked his head and frowned at me, then suddenly looked up at me with
a crooked grin, reached out and smacked me lightly on the side of the
"What the hell was that for?" I blurted and his grin grew wider.
"Hey asshole;" he chuckled, "I got smacked for what I
was thinking... so you get smacked for what you were thinking."
A whole great big loud of shit got lifted off my shoulders and I grinned
at him full power, understanding that things were still all right between
us. Heero seemed to sense that things were ok again as well, because I
felt him relax. Hayden never even realized how close he came to getting
"So am I allowed back in my own damn galley?" I asked dryly.
"Because I'm getting hungry and I'm tired of waiting for you two
to kiss and make up."
"Oh you're allowed," he snickered in an evil manner. "But
you're going to be sorry." And he turned to lead the way.
"Why?" I asked guardedly and followed him. Heero veered off
to go and call Relena and Chezarina.
"Because I lost the poker game," he told me cryptically.
"Oh God," I moaned, "what in the hell were you playing
"You." He chuckled and I swear to God I almost ran.
"What?" I squawked but he wouldn't say any more.
We walked into the galley and Toria was sitting at the table looking damn
insufferably smug. Hayden returned to his seat next to her and I edged
in, looking between them warily. "What in the hell is going on? What
do you mean you were gambling for me?"
Toria chuckled rather throatily and it was all I could do to make myself
take my seat. Heero appeared then, ushering the rest of our guests into
the suddenly rather full room. Relena... excuse me, Lena took a
seat and Heero and Chezarina headed to the counter to start dinner.
"We were gambling for the right to ask you for a favor," she
"What?" I asked, confused as hell. "You know you can ask
me for whatever you... "
She cut me off with a negligent wave of her hand. "We were gambling
between ourselves. Hayden didn't want to ask and I did."
Oh shit, this couldn't be good. I could see Heero and Chezarina behind
them, hands working on dinner but attention firmly on the conversation.
"What favor?" I asked flatly. Hayden suddenly found his fingernails
to be the most interesting thing he owned and began studiously looking
"Look buddy-boy," she told me, "we're in something of a
bind... you know me well enough to know that our savings were long exhausted
or I wouldn't have let the insurance go."
"Toria... " I broke in with a frown, "you know you can
borrow every bloody last cent I own... but I don't have anywhere near
enough to get you into a new ship."
to Sunhawk's fic]