In the end it was Wufei who finally convinced Gage go home, eat, and get some rest in his own bed. He simply pointed out that Milliardo would fret about him until he did, making his own condition worse. The doctors had his mobile number to contact him immediately if anything changed. There was an unspoken agreement in the air that when the time finally came, Gage wanted to be at Milliardo's side. He would not let his father die alone.
Privately, Wufei was more worried about the younger Peacecraft right now than he was about the older one. Milliardo had come to terms with his illness long ago and made the most of the time he had left. He was calm and accepting, especially now that his one final wish, a reunion with his beloved foster brother, had been granted. That Heero had turned out to be that brother only convinced Wufei further that Nataku was kind and merciful. Watching them together, seeing the look on Heero's face as he learned about his mother, seeing the joy in Milliardo, was proof.
But Gage was another case. Gone was the talkative, mischievous young man he'd grown to love over the last few years. Who still delighted in calling him Justice Skunk to his face, or trying to shock him by letting slip details of his bedroom activities with Shan.
This Gage barely spoke at all, obeying Shan's gentle suggestions and Wufei's somewhat sterner commands automatically. He only slept for a few hours at a time, seemingly afraid that his father would pick the one moment he was most unaware to move on.
Lucrezia wasn't doing a whole lot better, but she was determined to hold herself together for the arrival of her daughters. She was also convinced that somehow Milliardo would turn around and pull through this, no matter how bad it seemed. In the meantime, she busied herself getting to know Wufei and Heero's families.
Shan was polite to her, but still cool when they spoke. Although Gage might have forgiven her comments, Shan was not as willing. But for the sake of peace he didn't bring it up. Just watched her carefully when she was around Gage, in case she tried to attack him again. However, with everyone else she was accepted readily, and no one treated her like she had no right to be here or mourn what was happening to her ex-husband. Later, she thought. When it's all over, when he's either back home or he's gone, when everyone else is picking up the pieces, then I can fall apart.
Nataku, Meishel prayed to herself, give me strength. Help me to understand that everyone is stressed out right now, and that me strangling them isn't going to help the situation. Give me a clue how to handle this.
She had a sudden desire to go to Shadows. Her black eyes glanced up at the ceiling of her dorm room. "Dancing? Now?"
The desire grew stronger.
Hey, it was better than sitting here feeling homicidal, she reasoned, and dug around in her closet for something to wear. Who was she to argue with the wisdom of a goddess, after all?
"I'm really trying here." Her voice was muffled as she pulled on a black shirt. "I really am. I don't want to hurt anyone, you know that. What a mess." Some of what she knew came second hand, but it was all enough to make her blood boil.
The shuttle carrying Relena, Gerry, and the Peacecraft girls had arrived earlier this afternoon, and for a while everything had gone okay. The four had gone directly to the hospital to see Milliardo, and met up with Lucrezia there.
Meg started it off by making a snide comment about Gage not being anywhere around, and had been down-right shocked when her mother scolded her for it, saying that Gage had been there nearly around the clock. Meg had further gotten into a snit when instead of a hotel room, they transported to Gage and Shan's house, where Lucrezia revealed they'd all been invited to stay.
Gage shared a long, tearful hug with Relena and Amy, and an awkward handshake with Gerry. Meg had taken that moment to announce that she was going to a hotel; she wasn't staying anywhere Gage was.
His sister's scorn had sparked something in Gage, the first signs of life he'd shown since Milliardo collapsed. However, he did try. Meishel had arrived just about this time.
"This isn't the time to throw salt in old wounds, Meg." He'd argued. "We need a truce."
Meg obviously wasn't convinced, because she went into a loud, rapid diatribe about all the pain Gage had caused them over the years, hinting that if he hadn't put Milliardo under such constant strain, maybe her father, and she'd emphasized the "her father" part, wouldn't be so sick right now.
Amy countered before Gage could, calling her sister a heartless witch more concerned with her own hurt pride than the well-being of THEIR father.
Meg slapped her, and the sisters began a physical fight right in the middle of Gage and Shan's living room.
"Do know how just plain scary it is when I'm the rational one in this family?" Gage muttered to Gerry, trying to pull Amy and Meg apart with the other man's help. "All right! There will be no biting in my house without permission!"
Both young women had finally calmed down. Realizing that her choices were to either stay in a hotel alone or put up with her half-brother, Meg had agreed to remain in Gage's home as a guest.
Peace had followed for the next hour or so, as they discussed Milliardo's condition and uncomfortably brought up the subject of plans for his funeral. The Peacecrafts had a private cemetery in Sanc, where generations of them slept under the Earth. Milliardo's spot had been reserved the day he was born. Morbid, but traditional.
"I've been there." Gage remembered. "It's really beautiful. At least, I'm sure the caretakers don't get many complaints from the residents. Personally, I intend to request some frills when it's my turn, like a monthly drive in the country."
Relena sputtered, and even Gerry and Lucrezia laughed, but Meg's face turned thunderous.
"It's only for Peacecrafts." She hissed. "Legitimate ones. Look it up if you don't believe me. If we buried all the bastards our family has turned out over the years there there'd be no room left for the rest of us."
"MEGAN!" Lucrezia snapped, automatically grabbing Amy to keep her from attacking her sister again.
"Sorry, Meg, I wasn't aware of that stipulation." Gage said in a very soft tone. "I keep forgetting my place in the scheme of things."
"Don't worry. I'm more than happy to remind you."
"Get out!" Shan yelled at Meg. "Get out of our house! You're not welcome here!"
Then they'd all started shouting at each other. It reminded Meishel of Jazz's wedding, especially when with a look at each other Gage and Shan had gone to their bedroom and shut the door, leaving the rest of them to sort it out for themselves. Meishel had shown herself out.
She'd gone to the Maxwell farm first to see Luke, and that had gone about as well as it always did. His operating system was only days away from being completed, he'd explained hurriedly. She knew that he was just as upset about Milliardo as the rest of them; he had even been to the hospital several times to visit, but this was how he was handling it, burying himself even deeper in his work. She hadn't stayed long.
She took her place in the line outside of the club, letting them test her hair, nodding hello to several friends, but not joining up with anyone as she stepped inside and made her way to the dance floor.
One of the things that made her beautiful was the fact that she was unaware of it, that as she moved her body to the music more than a few sets of eyes, male and female, followed her every motion. Asians, or even half Asians like she was, were still rare here, and she stood out in the crowd like an exotic, clueless flower.
One pair of eyes in particular watched her, and noticed more than the rest. Noticed that she looked tired, distracted. Like she wasn't losing herself in the mood the way she usually did; that her brother and the young man obviously his mate were absent tonight and she was alone. The grumpy redhead she brought along sometimes wasn't here either, but Joey barely gave him a second thought.
He wondered what was wrong with her tonight, and it worried him. He didn't like seeing her like this, it felt wrong on every level. But from there, there was nothing he could do about it, was there?
He thought for a few minutes, and then smiled, hurrying over to his computer and typing instructions rapidly.
As Meishel tried to dance away her sadness, the current song cut off midway, and a different, much older one came on. It took her a moment to recognize what it was.
I could escape this feeling
With my China Girl
I feel a wreck without my
Little China Girl
I hear her heart beating
Loud as thunder
Saw the stars crashing
I'm a mess without my
Little China Girl
Wake in the morning
Where's my little China Girl
I hear her heart beating, loud as thunder
I saw the stars crashing down
It was an unusual choice for a club song, and Meishel looked around curiously, a smile tugging at her lips. Jazz had sang it to her when she was little, and she half-expected to she her friend lurking the shadows, but no one was there. The fact that they'd cut the other song short indicated it someone must have requested it.
My little China Girl
You shouldn't mess with me
I'll ruin everything you are
I'll give you television
I'll give you eyes of blue
I'll give you a man who wants to rule the world.
She was finally smiling, and Joey smiled back, rather enjoying her confusion. There was one more thing he wanted to do for her.
When the song ended, Meishel made her way to the side and ordered a drink. "Here you go. Compliments of the house." The waiter told her with a wink.
"What do you mean?"
"We got a request from management not to charge your tab for anything tonight."
"What manager? Is that what the song was about?"
"I don't know anything about that, Miss Chang." He laughed. "I just serve drinks. But this order came from Mr. Mercer himself."
"I see." Meishel sipped the drink. "And I don't suppose there's a way I could thank Mr. Mercer?"
"Sorry. I've never even met him." The waiter laughed again. "He sent me an email."
So some dirty old man had a crush on her? Her father would be livid if he found out. But geez, the guy never left his house. He had to be lonely. It wouldn't hurt to try and meet him, at least talk to him. She'd have to make it clear that she wasn't available for anything else, but she wasn't one to turn away a potential friend.
Now the question was, how was she going to corner him?
Although the palace was huge, all three children slept in the same nursery. Starboy, the eldest, could have been moved to a room of his own any time he had asked, but he liked having Sungirl and Moonboy nearby, liked having them jump into bed with him during bad storms, liked whispering to them in the middle of the night about things no adult would ever understand.
Moonboy's mother slept in an attached room that none of them ventured into much, not even Moonboy himself. It was her private place, and they respected that. The Peacecraft children would no more think of going in there to play than they would their parents' massive bedroom.
The nursery was a child's dream, with every kind of toy imaginable, from talking robots to dolls that could dress themselves. The walls were covered in cartoon character paintings and drawings the children had done. All of the corners on the furniture had been blunted to prevent injuries, and the hardwood floor was covered by a thick blue carpet. (Although for years now Starboy had been prying up both the carpet and the floor underneath to hide his 'treasures'.) The windows opened enough to let in fresh air, but not enough so that anyone inside could tumble out to the ground far below. Starboy had been given a stern warning that if any more water balloons made their way out that window, it would be nailed shut. (He'd started throwing them out the bathroom window instead.)
This was the world they knew, at least all of the world Sungirl and Moonboy knew. But like Peter Pan's Wendy, Starboy was growing up rapidly, outgrowing the gentle, safe world his nursery and his Nana could provide for him. Each day now, he left behind his sister and Moonboy to be taken for lessons. Reading, writing, math, fencing. He described them to the younger children in vivid detail, eager to share what he had learned, and getting frustrated at times that they were still too young to appreciate it. He didn't understand that his parents had allowed him be a careless little boy as long as they could; now it time to groom him for the responsibility he'd one day have, running a kingdom.
Moonboy sensed the growing chasm between himself and his friend, sensed that Starboy was moving beyond him, from the world they knew to the terrifying universe of the adults. He had no sense of himself growing older; he envisioned that Starboy would continue to grow until he was as big as his father, while Moonboy and Sungirl still remained eternal children.
It was rainy today, and Moonboy was bored. Sungirl hadn't been feeling well, and his mother was busy taking care of her. Starboy was with his tutor, and so the smaller child was left to his own devices. He wandered though the palace for while, winding up in the kitchen where the cooks fussed over him and gave him cookies. Somewhat mollified, he went back to the nursery.
Sungirl was sleeping finally, and the door to his mother's room was open. As he walked by, he was surprised to hear her calling at him to come in.
She was sitting in the window seat, staring at the rain beating down on the thick glass, and Kato saw that her eyes were ringed in red.
"Shut the door." She instructed, and the held out her arms when he complied. He ran to her and climbed up on her lap, happy to finally have some attention.
She played with his hair, trying unsuccessfully to get it to lay flat.
"What's wrong, Mama?"
"Nothing's wrong, baby. I'm just thinking, that's all."
"You look sad."
"Kato, how would you like to go on a trip?" She asked, and even a child as young as her son could tell that the enthusiasm in her voice seemed false.
"Anywhere in the world we want. Maybe Japan and see your grandmother. You haven't seen her since you were just a baby. Or maybe to England. Your Daddy's sister still lives there, and she'd love to meet you."
"Can Sungirl and Starboy go too?" He asked hopefully.
"No, sweetheart. It would just be you and me." She looked at the window again and blinked hard.
"No thank you. I don't want to go, then."
"Kato, Kato." She rubbed the tips of her fingers on the window. "Are you happy living here?"
"Uh huh. Where else would I live?" He was confused.
"There's a lot of world out there. A lot of places to live and be happy."
He understood, and climbed off of her lap. She said a trip but she was talking about leaving. Making him leave Sungirl and Starboy and live somewhere else. He was furious.
"No! I'm not going! You can't make me go!" He ran out of the room as fast as he could, slamming the door behind him and waking up Sungirl in the process.
Fleeing blindly down the hall, he ran face-first into someone, who scooped him up.
"Hey pal, what's the matter with you?" Sungirl's father wanted to know. "You're shaking."
In the arms of the only father he'd ever really known, the boy broke down completely, sobbing about how he didn't want to leave. Gently, the man coaxed the whole story out of him.
"Moonboy, listen to me. I'm going to talk with your mother. Neither one of you are going anywhere. This is your home and her home, got it? I made a promise to your daddy that I'd always look out for you. I'm going to keep that."
He calmed down almost at once, and allowed the man to carry him back down the hall to the nursery and tuck him into his own bed. "I think you need a nap right now." He explained, kissing Kato's forehead. "I'll get this straightened out."
After getting Sungirl back to sleep, Kato heard him knock on his mother's door. He entered and closed it behind him. Ignoring everything he'd been taught otherwise, Kato snuck out of bed and put his ear against the wood.
"You're not leaving."
"Andrew, I don't want to talk about this."
"Well, we are going to talk about it! Your son is terrified that you're going to take him away!"
"He's my son, Andrew, not yours! I can take him anywhere I want to."
"And break his heart in the process! Break Sungirl and Starboy's hearts too!"
"Sometimes friends move away! It's called real life."
"Look, I may not be his father, but I'm the nearest thing that boy has. Just like you're the closet thing to a mother my kids have. You know it's true. I don't think Cecilia has even talked to them in a week. You're the one that knows them. And I know you love them, Mikita. As much as I love Moonboy."
"Look, we both agreed that what happened yesterday was a mistake. But are you really going to shatter three little hearts because of a mistake WE made?"
"That's not fair, Andrew."
"No, it's not fair. Not fair to turn their lives upside down because of it. Mikita, one of the things Paul said he loved most about you was your sense of honor, of always wanting to do what's right. And I know that right now your honor is telling you that you need to pack up Moonboy and vanish. I can't let you do that. Please don't go."
"All right. You win. I'll stay."
Outside the door Moonboy started to cheer but caught himself in time.
"Thank you. I just can't picture this place without you or him."
"I wasn't sure I could leave Sungirl and Starboy." She admitted.
Kato crawled back into his bed before they could notice he'd listened in, the crisis averted.