Sometimes, we encounter things that make us wonder if life is real. Often are those moments that make us deny reality and try to escape the facts. The cold, hard facts. Death, sadness, the loss of love. But then, there are the far rarer kinds of events that make us question existence. The days that are so wonderful, when we finally realize that it was real, we desperately wish we had spent more time cherishing them.

As a girl's fragmented memories of her two best friends dying resurfaced, along with the memories of that one boy who had made her happy to be alive again, tears welled up at the realization that she might never see him again. When she realized that she wasn't giving any thought to her dead companions, the tears streamed in full force. It was all over. Why couldn't she have been allowed to die? She knew that there was less than a one percent chance of anyone surviving that kind of ship explosion long enough for a passing ship to pick them up. Now, she was alive, and nothing more. It would have been better to die than to live with the thought of being worlds apart from the boy she loved.

Distantly, she heard voices murmuring above her. She could care less. If this was going to be the rest of her life, then she'd do all in her power to end it quickly. There was nothing left for her at all in this world. The Seven would never take her back if she was too injured to fight, and had lost her prized ship and co-pilots. Oh God, she could still hear them screaming. At worst, Hazanko would make a point of killing her for her weakness. She was just about to let out a choked cry of despair, when it broke through.

A voice she recognized. A voice that was different from the others. A voice that was quietly assured despite her own slim chances of survival. This voice felt like it was calling out to her, somehow. Just hearing that voice made her feel...Optimistic. Desperately, the girl's hand raised up. It took all of her strength to raise her small, pale hand, crisscrossed by scars like just about her entire body. Voices hushed in shock and awe. Then, a rough hand, giant by comparison, wrapped its fingers gently around the tiny digits.

The girl could dimly see through her swollen, bruised eyelids that someone kneeled down beside her. As she began to calm at the familiar smell that surrounded this man, the earthy scent of garden soil overlaid by the faintest sulphurous tinge of gunpowder, the blood stopped pounding in her ears. She could hear him speaking to her. "...Kid? Kid, do you hear me? Hanmyo? Hanmyo?" Her hand went limp. It nearly ripped her heart to shreds for that name to come up now. "Ayaka?" She jumped. If there was a single doubt as to who this man was, that name spoken now obliderated it.

She'd not heard that name since her family had been killed before her. When she'd first heard her cats' voices. When she'd stolen an experimental ship, taught herself to pilot it in a fortnight, and gone after the pirates who had destroyed her life so as to end theirs in penance. Only one man knew her name now, and he was supposed to have died fighting the very group of people she'd suffered in combat against. Her lips parted in a tremulous cry. She forced out a series of inarticulated grunts and mewls, crying like she'd never cried before, until she could at last manage the name: "L...Lei...Long..."

Another hand laid over hers. "It's okay, kid," he said quietly as the doctors all chattered to each other. For all intents and purposes, they could have been miles away. "I'm here. The rest of the Seven didn't make it through. Hazanko bit the dust." A somber chuckle. "Good riddance, I know." Leilong fell silent as he gently held the tiny, fragile hand. His touch imparted all the care of someone handling a porcelain doll - And judging from what she had come away from, he was wise to treat "Hanmyo" Ayaka as if she could crumble under just a little more force than would be necessary.

For several excruciatingly drawn-out minutes, Leilong held Ayaka's hand in his own and never once thought of letting go. Coming close astride death had finally let this girl be free of the Anten Seven, like himself. She deserved a chance to live a happy life, without being made the tool of some bastard who was too blinded by greed and ambition to see how precious human life was. This girl had a right to a second chance, a fresh start, and Leilong would be damned if he didn't do all in his power to get her there. It was at that moment that he remembered what it was like to want to give one person everything in the Universe...I guess this is why Starwind is alive today, he thought with a wry smile.

This went on for hours and hours on end. Leilong felt hunger gnawing at his stomach, but he was no stranger to ignoring those kinds of sensations for the sake of a mission. Ayaka's face was bruised and scratched beyond all belief, and her left eye had a surgical eyepatch over it. The doctors had said she might never see out of that eye again; they had also said that she would have to spend over a year in a wheelchair to promote the safest possible recovery. To Leilong, it was a more than worthy exchange for the girl having a new lease on life.

With the head doctor's consent, Leilong set up a little training area in an adjacent, unused lounge. He found this absolutely necessary to dispel his nervous energy. Every blow that connected with the wooden practice dummy vented just a little bit more of Leilong's anxiety, and it wasn't long before he was able to wipe the sweat from his brow and return to Ayaka's side. She immediately gave a quavering moan, just as he'd done when he told her he had to leave for a little bit, and groped for his hand.

Gently taking her hand in his grasp as he'd done before, Leilong tried to comfort her. But how do you comfort a girl who's lost everything for the second time in her life? Leilong honestly didn't know whether anything he was doing could be of actual help to Ayaka, now. That was until the corners of her mouth twitched upwards at his description of the Outlaw Star's crew.

Particularly the small, sandy-haired boy who'd been so close to Gene Starwind.