AN: To Whomever till reads this: I am very very sorry

AN: To Whomever till reads this: I am very very sorry. Time slipped away, and I didn't realize it's been since AUGUST since I last updated… I don't even have an excuse, since I have a good chunk written ahead… X-x terribly sorry.

xx

"Didn't someone say something about finishing last?"

"Second, last, it's all the same when you lose to me."

Liika and Tala had a staring match, or rather half-glaring match, that lasted at least thirty seconds. Turquoise clashed with turquoise, a traditional battle, one that had been going on for over seventeen years.

It was Marik that finally broke the spell, shifting in place, hands tucked firmly in the pockets of his track pants. "I only see two losers here," he said, eyes lidded. "And since I can't see myself, or the little hag, that leaves only you."

"Talk is cheap!" Chirped Hughes, readying his beyblade launcher.

"And so are your comebacks," Marik replied smoothly. He turned away from the opposing pair to face Liika, inclining his head to motion her back a few feet. When she stepped back a few feet, he ducked his head and spoke again. "USA 1 is obviously the stronger of the two. Anything in particular I should know?"

Liika's gaze slid from Marik to Tala and Hughes who were having a little pre-match conference themselves several meters away. People milled around them, waiting for everything to start, occasionally blocking her view of their opponents. "I'm sure you've gathered the basics of his style already: offensive type ice element. He's much like you in that he's a consummate singles blader, though he's doing better in this thing that I would have thought. Wolborg has a blind spot, just behind his right icicle wing and favors attacking the left. Tala likes to play the trap and barrage style, he has an attack that can simulate being trapped in a blizzard, it's pretty powerful, though I'm not sure he'll use it here, since it may affect his partner as well."

The tall blond nodded, eyes calculating. "What does he know of your weaknesses?"

Taking a deep breath, she thought, exhaling loudly. "Hard to say, he's the vice-captain so he probably pays close attention. I have been blading him since we could walk, so possibly as well as I know him. He's calculating, and has probably weighed the options, I doubt they'll attack me. Tala knows my weaknesses, but he also knows me well enough to know that Akala has extremely strong defense. Like me, he's probably realized that your defense has more holes in it and that if they can get around your ridiculous attack strength they can beat you."

Marik hummed, taking her critical assessment of the situation better than Liika expected. "So they will expect me to attack and you to defend yes?"

"Likely as not."

"And how do you feel about showcasing some of your more powerful attacks in this crappy event?"

Liika grinned, snickering a bit and shoving at him. "How unlike you to even ask!" She sobered then, propping one hand up on her hip. "I'll do what it takes to win, I'll expect you to do the same. This day has been seventeen years in the making."

This drew a laugh from Marik, albeit a condescending one. "How epic," he sneered. "I think I might even let you get your epic victory."

"You have a plan?"

"Yes-"

"Liika? Can I talk to you for a second?"

Liika sighed again, turning away from Marik with a somewhat annoyed frown. She found Lee waiting a few feet away, frowning and at least looking contrite. She ignored Marik's almost-growl – he apparently hated being interrupted – and strode the few paces to Lee. "What is so important that it couldn't wait?"

Lee shifted. "Sorry, but it had to be now, since I doubt you'll be free again in time for the Doubles Sync selection. I talked to Robert before dinner, but he said I had to talk to you."

"Is there a problem?"

"Not exactly," he replied, spine straightening as he threw a weary glance at Marik who was clearly eavesdropping. "It's more of a request actually."

Having other, more pressing matters on her mind – like how she was going to beat Tala into the ground – Liika was impatient and waved him on with her hand, her gaze demanding. Lee took the hint and just blurted out what he had come to say, "I want you to put Mariah in Doubles Sync."

Liika blinked, not expecting that particular phrase. Lee had been excited when she told him that he had been chosen for the event, it was strange that he would want to give it up now, just before the event was to be decided. "Excuse me?"

He grimaced, running a hand through his dark bangs. "That came out wrong. What I meant was, could you please put Mariah in Doubles Sync?"

"Why?"

"Well," looking uncomfortable, he glanced as Marik again and leaned forward, lowering his voice. "She hasn't been herself lately, especially today. I'm worried about her concentration. Maybe taking part in an event like Doubles Sync will focus her. Plus, I think she could do better than me, Galeon's leg is still hurting, I think it's still best to rest him."

She couldn't fault his reasoning, nor could she disagree with his assessment of the situation. That he didn't know the reason for Mariah's lack of focus was besides the point: he was right. Maybe he was right in other aspects, maybe participating in an event would cull her concentration and take her mind off the problem of her pregnancy. It certainly couldn't hurt.

It might also bolster the girl's confidence. It would show her that Liika had complete faith in her abilities and that she believed in her. It was really the only thing Liika could do for her best friend.

"I want you to know, first of all, that I chose you for Doubles Sync for a reason," Liika said straightly, leveling Lee with a stern look. He opened his mouth, but she cut him off. "That being said, I'm glad you came to me with this. I agree whole heartedly. So, if you are sure, I'll put Mariah in your place."

A smile broke over his face, and his eyes flashed relief. "Thanks Liika." He said, taking a step back. "Good luck! We'll be cheering for you."

"Thanks!"

"Allah, your team would fall apart if you weren't always around to baby them."

Liika rolled her eyes, and met Marik with a rather weak punch to the arm. "You have your style and I have mine. Now about this plan of yours?"

He snorted, eyebrow arching. "Are you ready to listen then?"

"Just get on with it, we have less then two minutes."

--

"Here we are, back and ready to start the final of the opening event here at the World Junior Beyblading Championships! The bladers from the United State, Egypt and Germany are taking their launching positions. It's looking to be one wild ride!"

Liika extended her sniper launcher with more confidence than she felt, steadying her hands with conscious thought. It wasn't that she was nervous per se, it was more that she was… unnerved. Marik's plan was risky, and it could mean an instant loss for them, which she would likely never live down. "This had better work," she muttered without looking at her partner.

"If it doesn't, it will be your fault."

"It's your plan!"

"Hey! I thought we told you that your fighting wasn't going to work on us?"

Both Liika and Marik threw dirty looks at the German boy who made a face back. Tala rolled his eyes. "They aren't faking it Maes. Ignore them and concentrate on launching."

The judge called the launch then and with strong jerks four strong blades flew into the large dish, circling cautiously at first. Liika, unsure of how long Marik wanted to draw it out, took only half-hearted preliminary shots at Tala. Akala flashed in annoyance at the tactic and Liika was forced to apologize silently to her blade.

"You're going to have to do better than that Icki," Tala drawled, sending Wolborg hurtling at her with accelerated force.

Ra interrupted before Wolborg could make contact with Akala, however, shooting between the two blades in a purely defensive maneuver. He blocked Wolborg but failed to see the dark brown circle of Hughes' blade before it was too late. The badger bitbeast struck at Ra in quick, ferocious slashed accompanied by a called attack on Hughes' part. Marik jerked beside her, grunting as Ra went sailing dangerously towards Marik's feet.

Two could play at that game however, and Liika reacted quickly. "Zone of truth!" She called, making a quick motion with one of her hands. Akala rose up, around her a partially opaque bubble that quickly extended outwards. She managed to get behind the hurtling Ra and the net of energy caught him, setting him down somewhat harmlessly back in the dish. "This is exactly what I was talking about," Liika grumbled at Marik, turning her head slightly.

"Not exactly," Marik snapped, "They attacked you, I was covering your ass."

Ungrateful bastard. "Well now we're even," Liika retorted, taking the offensive against the German boy as per the first part of Marik's plan. "Excuse me if I'm still a little fuzzy on the plan."

The battle was not actually going exactly the way Liika had predicted it. Instead of ignoring her and focusing on Marik, they were doing quite the opposite. They focused their attacks on her, all but ignoring Marik. This would have been dangerous for them, since an unoccupied Marik was a dangerous Marik, but in focusing on her, they had essentially forced Marik into a defensive position.

Without meaning to – and she cursed herself to oblivious for it – Liika had fallen into Tala's trap and barrage. The USA 1/Germany pair had sectioned Liika off, getting between Akala and Ra, effectively stopping any attack she could make, and any attack Marik could make. Marik was getting frustrated, she could feel it in his aura as his impatience flared time and time again as he attempted fruitlessly to spring her from the barrage attack.

It was all Liika could do to keep Akala spinning. The wolf-demon bit beast had retreated into full defensive mode, her bubble contracted so that it hovered closely around her blade while the two enemy blades slashed at it.

Fuck! Liika snarled inwardly, angry at herself. Tala had gotten the best of her, and that was unacceptable. And what was worse was that he had done it quickly and with seemingly little effort.

Unacceptable.

"Marik," Liika murmured, pitching her voice at him so that only he could hear it, somewhat of a feat considering the noise going on around them. "I think we're going to have to improvise and speed up the plan just a little bit."

He grunted a reply, hands clenching as he once more tried to break through their lines to rescue Liika. Once more he failed. "You think?" He scoffed, a snarl on his lips. "Can you even still manage it?"

"I'll manage it. It might backfire, but there's not much we can do now."

"Always screwing up my plans little hag," a dark chuckled filled the space between them.

Without another word he shuffled sideways so that his arm rested against hers, and his hip met her waist. Liika then threaded her fingers through his, squeezing tightly while taking a deep breath.

Together they flooded as much energy into their blades as possible. Their energies pulsed brightly, surrounding them like a semi-visible shield. Marik's was a deep dusky purple, inky and dark like his personality. Liika's was a brilliant white, shining in exact contrast to his. They met in a crackle of lightning-fire, struggling against each other even as the two teenagers attempted to force them to mingle.

A similar event was occurring in the dish, though it was twisted and chaotic. The dark energy that surrounded Ra beat against the hastily erected defenses of Tala and Hughes. It clawed at them, creeping through the line to touch Akala and the strands of bright light that were extending from her as well. The two boys across the dish cried out, Tala in concentration more than anything. Confusion swept his face as he attempted to figure out just what his childhood acquaintance and her partner were doing.

Wolborg was struggling, as was his badger partner, against the conflicting energies of the shadow and light element bit beasts. Caught in the middle, there was not much they could do.

The trap had turned out to be in Liika and Marik's favour. In getting themselves between Akala and Ra, Tala and Hughes' bit beasts had left themselves in a position to be right in the middle of the element clash, a surprisingly powerful one as well.

Though they had been blading all day, Marik and Liika's energies remained high. Dinner had helped, but so did the intense feeling of competition they both felt towards their opponents, albeit for different reasons. In addition, in an extremely shocking twist, though their energies clashed in vibrant sparks of unstable energy, they also fed off each other, growing and growing as they tried to mingle and coexist.

It was out of this situation that the final moment came. Marik and Liika didn't even have to look at each other to know that any longer would spell their ruin for sure. Unstable and violent, the shadow and light energies that filled the dish were an explosive powder keg. They could only hope that the resulting explosion would take out their opponents blades instead of theirs.

"Shadow-" Marik started in a low, gravely voice.

"Absolution," Liika finished, as strong as she could make it with the feeling of electricity coursing through her veins.

All at once the battling energies surged forward and ceased to be. Instead of exploding, as had been expected, they simply cancelled each other out.

However, in the aftermath of the flash that had signaled the ending of the feud, the brown and silver blades that belonged to Hughes and Tala lay still and desolate, as if forgotten in the heat of battle. Hughes' blade bore the marks of the loss, his attack ring shattered and defense ring cracked. Even his bit beast seemed to be pained. Wolborg faired batter, being the more powerful of the two, but even he suffered a broken spin gear and a singed bit.

The cheering that had dimmed a bit in the middle of the confusion began anew as the judge announced the winners of the match and thus the first gold medal of the tournament. Screaming ensued, causing Liika to wince even as she sagged in exhaustion feeling drained and spent.

Marik, surprisingly, sagged with her, apparently not having the energy to hold them both up. They remained standing mostly by leaning on each other, their hands still joined. They barely summoned the energy to lift their hands to catch their returning blades.

"My poor Elysia!" Hughes was wailing as he jumped into the dish to retrieve his fallen blade. "Ah! Don't worry! Winry will fix you right up again!"

Tala took his defeat with more dignity, virtually silent as he retrieved Wolborg from the dish. The only sounds he made were murmurings to the silver blade, words of comfort and praise while he assessed the damage. "That was pretty gutsy," he said after several long moments, looking up at them from the center of the dish. "If not a touch insane."

Liika's answering laugh was strained. "I couldn't let you win, no matter what. What's that saying? 'No sacrifice, no victory'? or something."

Tala's smile was rueful as he climbed out of the dish on their side, coming to stand before Liika. Something flashed in his eyes, something she hadn't seen since they were young children and he had beaten up the neighborhood bully who had been just a little too big for her. "To come up with an attack like that on the fly when you're backed into a corner is… impressive. Good work little witch." His smile sharpened in many ways then, but in others it softened as well. He leaned forward, lifting her arm and slinging it over his shoulder so he could prop her weight against him to help her walk. "It galls me to admit it," he muttered at her, guiding her away from Marik, who managed to catch himself and let her go. "But I'm proud of you. I think you're actually ready to be here." He then looked away, awkward. "Hughes, you wanna help him?" He called back over his shoulder as he helped Liika to descend the stairs.

"I'll walk myself." Marik replied before Hughes could even move. He was slower about walking down, but eventually he managed it and caught up to the slow moving Tala and Liika who were heading towards where the various BBA officials were pointing.

Amidst the cheering and the standing ovation, and the flashes, the four managed to make it across the stadium to where the podium had been set up during the dinner hour. It was going on seven thirty by that point.

Immediately after dinner the bronze medal match had taken place between the China 2/South Africa team and Britain 1/Canada. South Africa had proven to formidable, especially with China 2 backing them up, but in the end it was Mystel and Nicol that were victorious.

The two boys were already at the podium when Liika, Marik, Tala and Hughes arrived. They hadn't yet alighted the third step, and so greeted their fellow medalists with smiles and congratulations. Well, Nicol smiled and congratulated then, Mystel smirked and saluted, which they took to mean the same thing.

"Ugh, I feel like I've been hit by a truck." Liika groaned, pulling away from Tala to stand shakily on her own two feet.

"Not surprising," Mystel quipped, reaching out to poke at her, just to see if she'd fall over. "After that display, I'm actually surprised your still standing."

Liika slapped at his hand and moved away, following Marik to the back of the podium as they were instructed. Marik's silence unnerved her and so she stuck a finger in his back, not hard enough to make a difference, but hard enough to be noticed. "It's unlike you to not have something to say," she said.

"Tche." He replied coming to a stop directly behind the center, and highest step. "I'm not as pathetic and weak as you, but even I have my limits."

"Are you admitting that you feel like a truck ran you over too?"

"Whatever you say little hag."

The announcer on the loud speaker cut off any further conversation, that and the increased volume of cheering. Really, one would think the spectators were watching the Olympics or something. It was hard to believe that there was only just over seven thousand of them.

"The World Beyblading Association is proud to present the winners of the first event of this year's World Junior Beyblading Championships, the Singles Sync competition! Winning the bronze medal, from Britain 1 Mystel Kehl and from Canada Nicol Amarfi!"

Mystel and Nicol stepped up onto the third tier of the podium, both grinning and raising their hands in waves towards the jubilant crowd. An important looking member of the BBA took each of the bronze medals from a tray held by a young Japanese boy and looped it around each of the boys' necks.

"And winning the silver medal, from United States 1, Tala Valkov and from Germany, Maes Hughes!"

The process was repeated, though Hughes was much more enthusiastic in his waving than the other three boys. Once the shiny silver medals were placed around their necks the announcer moved on, his voice booming as he announced the final medals. "And finally, winning the gold medal, from Egypt, Marik Ishtar and from United States 2, Liika Hiwatari!"

The response to their names bordered on hysteria. It seemed that everyone forgot that they had all doomed them from the beginning. No one seemed surprised or displeased at their victory.

"You might have to carry me up the steps," Liika hissed, lifting her foot to alight the step.

"You might have to carry me up the steps," Marik returned with a leer.

Liika was annoyed to realize that he had an easier time of it, and doubly annoyed when it took Tala subtly reaching back, grabbing her arm and dragging her up the two steps onto the podium. Once up there, she had no problem smiling and waving as she was supposed to. She took particular pride in bowing slightly to receive the medal around her neck.

Her hand traveled immediately to the heavy, gold, circle of metal that rested against the material of her uniform. She lifted it and gazed at it, taking in all the intricate details.

BBA was inscribed in script in a half circle around the top. Below it Singles Sync stood out in bold, elevated from the rest of the medal, and just beneath it, wreathed in some kind of plant, probably meant to connect it with the Olympic games was 2003 World Junior Beyblading Championships, Japan.

The glee and pride hit her full on at that moment. It finally dawned on her that she had won. That she and the obnoxious asshole of an Egyptian captain had done what everyone had said they couldn't: they had won.

--

"I suppose someone expects us to say "I told you so"?"

Shikumaru was smirking as the three teams that surrounded him turned to look at him and Shino. It was Ian that answered, since a lot of them turned back to watch the ceremony that was just finishing up. "How did you know?" he said, scowling.

Shino pushed up his glasses and stood, Shikamaru with him. "You all should have known."

Robert joined him in standing, signaling the rest of the team to do the same. "Shino's right," he said somewhat stiffly, as if he didn't want to admit it. "Liika excels when challenged, and Ishtar clearly challenges her."

"I've never seen Marik blade so well with someone else, besides maybe Bakura," Anzu put in from several rows up, her voice raised to the level of a shout.

"Well, it was certainly an exciting event," Cagalli said as the group began to move towards the floor. "I can't say I expected it, but it was fun to watch."

Kai, meanwhile, was smirking, eyes already searching out Tala in the milling throng of people that surrounded the podium some two hundred meters away. "I expect the lot of you to never let Tala live it down. We lost to the B team, it won't happen again."

--

Liika remained with Marik as the ceremony broke up and people began clearing the stadium. It was verging on quarter after eight, and the announcer had come on the P.A. to state that Doubles Sync selection would be taking place at eight forty five.

What she really wanted to do was fall into bed and sleep until she was fifty. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option since she had to accompany Mariah to the selection. She could have sent Robert, but she felt that her friend needed her support. Wasn't that why she was making Mariah do it in the first place?

The pair stood in silence for no more than five minutes before they were found and duly accosted. Their respective teams converged on them, and while the Egyptian team kept their distance for the most part, the same could not be said for USA 2. Enrique immediately glomped Liika, scooping her up and swinging her around as he laughed and shouted.

Mariah and Sakura were next, each hugging her enthusiastically, exclaiming that they hadn't doubted her for a second, and whispering in conspiratory tones that she had had them worried for a few minutes. Jade and Emily congratulated her, beaming their pride, while Max gave her as large a hug as Mariah and Sakura had. Bryan ruffled her hair and smirked, remarking that he couldn't have taught her better. Shino, Shikarmaru and Lee expressed their congratulations in quieter ways, no less proud than the others. Akito made a snide remark, as per his nature, that had Liika flicking him off.

Finally, Robert brought the hubbub to a close in his firm, commanding nature. He circled an arm around her shoulder and told her quietly that he was proud and that she had done extremely well. As a good vice-captain should, he supported the majority of her weight. "That last attack took too much out of you," he chastised, though he was smiling as he did it. "I'll go to the Doubles Sync selection."

Liika shook her head, resisting the urge to beg to be carried. "No, I can do it. Oh! There's grandpa! Grandpa!"

David Granger heard her yell and made a beeline for her. Just like Enrique, he scooped her up, squeezing the life out of her. "There's my gold medal girl!" He cried, tears in his blue eyes. "Amazing ingenuity! Using your opposing elements as an attack! That's my home-girl!"

Liika laughed, allowing her grandfather to kiss both her cheeks, feeling only minimal embarrassment. "It's not that big of a deal, it's only the first event!"

"The first is often one of the most important," Robert advised, nodding wisely and self-importantly. "It sets the pace for the entire tournament."

"Where is she? Liika?"

The chaos started again when Katherine appeared, USA 1 in her wake. Kai smirked and lifted his hand in congrats, but Katherine went the extra step and hugged her, taking over from where grandpa left off. "You're really pale," she said swiftly, holding Liika at arms length. "And your shaking. Eat this, it will give you a bit of energy boost to get you through the rest of the night." A high protein energy bar appeared out of Katherine's purse and it was quickly shoved into Liika's hand and followed by a stern expression.

"Aye, aye ma'am." Liika obediently unwrapped the chocolate mocha bar and took a bite. "Where's Kakashi?"

"Here." Said man appeared through the throng, shouldering his way through USA 1 so that he could pat her head in a paternal manner. "Good work."

"Thanks."

"It's passed eight thirty Liika, you're going to have to hustle to make it to the third floor for the selection," Sakura said, glancing at her watch.

Liika groaned around the protein bar, her face scrunching into a petulant scowl. "They really should have scheduled these things better. You know, like starting earlier."

"Liika, I'm really not adverse to going-"

"Nope," Liika interrupted, taking another bite. "You're not, but I'm still going. Captain and all. Anyone have anything to drink?"

A water bottle appeared in her other hand, cap already off. Liika thanked Bryan and took a drink, sighing as she finished and was forced to take another bite of the protein bar which was getting harder and harder to swallow.

"Slow down, don't force it. It's not going anywhere," Robert remarked with raised eyebrows. "Take it with you."

Liika nodded, straightening and puffing out her chest. "Aight, come on then Mari, we have three floors to alight and only seven minutes to do it in."

Mariah, who had been watching, blinked in surprise, her eyebrows furrowing over her confused eyes. "Me? Lee's the one in Doubles Sync."

"Not anymore," was Liika's quick reply, half muffled by protein bar. "I changed the roster. You're doing it now."

"But… but," Mariah turned her eyes to Lee. "Lee?"

He smiled, patting her on the shoulder. "I'm okay with it, Galeon's still hurting anyway. Give them hell for us."

Lee's spirited words were followed by more of the same from the rest of the team, as well as some lower well wishes from various members of USA 1. Kai, and Michael with him, was already gone, leaving after the initial greeting. It was only after some further cajoling that Mariah was actually willing to leave.

--

Thankfully, for them, the stadium had cleared out enough by that point that the two girls were able to make it out with relative ease. Liika moved slower than normal, but even with the hampered movement, they managed to make it to the auditorium in enough time. They were cutting it close however.

Once again, they were seated near the back, just was well for Liika since she didn't feel like walking any further. Neither girl recognized any of the faces in the immediate vicinity and so turned inward to each other.

"Make sure you listen for our team, I don't think my ears are working properly," Liika said wryly, rubbing at one of her ears as she finished the last of the protein bar and took a drink.

"Liika, why the sudden change? I mean, you put Lee in for a reason."

The blue haired young women glanced at her friend and shrugged. "Lee was concerned about your focus and suggested you take his place. You could use the distraction."

Mariah slumped, sighing heavily. "At the rate everything is moving, we're not going to get a chance to tell Tala until after the tournament is finished."

"Hey now," Liika reached out and side-hugged Mariah, rubbing her shoulder in a comforting manner. "Maybe that's for the better. Let him focus on his task and you can focus on yours. I know it's a big burden to carry, but maybe if you don't tell him you'll be able to forget it for a couple of weeks." She pulled away then, looking sheepish as she turned back towards the stage where Britain 2 and Germany were being paired. "Of course, it may be really callous of me to even suggest it."

"I can't just forget it," Mariah replied, smiling. "But I know what you mean. Tala will be better off anyway, and it will be more fair to his team."

"That's the spirit! Just keep yourself focused on the goal. You can angst about it when we get home, I'll even help you angst."

Mariah laughed. "Thanks."

Once again, it turned out they were not drawn until near the end. USA 1 was pulled right before them and paired with Finland. Michael met his partner down on the stage and the two disembarked shortly thereafter. USA 2 was then called, and Liika gave Mariah the thumbs up and sent her on her way, just as Canada was called as her partner.

Score! It was a good match up, especially as Liika caught sight of Cagalli making her way towards the stage. Mariah seemed pleased with the match, smiling brightly and shaking Cagalli's hand with more friendliness than most of the others. They left the stage together, and both made their way towards Liika.

There were only two pairings after Mariah and Cagalli, Israel and France and Czech Republic and Slovak Republic. By the time that Mariah and Cagalli made it back to Liika, in the midst of talking excitedly, they were being dismissed.

"Shall I proclaim the gold already?" Liika said by way of greeting as people began to file past her and out of the auditorium.

Cagalli was beaming. "Well, I can't say I wouldn't welcome a shiny gold necklace like the one your wearing!" She laughed. "Congrats, by the way. That last attack was brilliant!"

"Thanks!"

"What luck that we end up paired!" Mariah exclaimed, clearly enthusiastic about the idea. "Think of all the ass we're going to kick!"

"We'll be favored, that's for sure," came Athrun's voice as he joined them. He touched the small of Cagalli's back and smiled at her before turning his smile on the other two girls. "I'm glad I'm with you this time, instead of against you."

"Believe me, the feeling is mutual!"

Mariah caught Liika as she swayed, shaking her head. "Look's like you've had it. Not surprising. Shall we head back now?"

Liika nodded. "Let's, before I have to be carried and never live down the mortification."

--