Author: Sunhawk

Obligations (cont)

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 of that."

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 lost."

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 looked... bemused.

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 up.

"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 long.

"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... about babies?"

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 dangers?"

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 bed.

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. "Feeling better?"

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 that."

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 two did."

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 her Highness?"

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 pissed."

"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 freaking... surreal."

"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 a flashlight.

"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 cards.

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 on him.

"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 head.

"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 decked.

"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 for?"

"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 told me.

"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 them over.

"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."

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