Street of Dreams
by Lasha Lee


"Hey, how was it?" Rylan asked, as Rosie stepped out of the transporter. "You're just in time for lunch."

"It went great. Mother had some really weird friends; I had a fantastic time. We brainstormed on how to combine the Walk with standard hypnosis, sort of put the Walker under and let the machine guide them wherever. I can't wait to give it a try. What's all this?" She finally noticed.

He and Nadia had spread out a sheet on the living room floor, complete with sandwiches and a pitcher of lemonade. "We were going to eat outside, but it started to rain. We figured that was a poor excuse to cancel a picnic over, so here we are."

"No bugs this way, either." Nadia noted. "Come on, Aunt Rosie. I can't eat ALL these."

"I'm surprised Heero and Duo aren't here helping you polish them off." Rosie sat down. "Or Luke isn't."

"Their editor wanted to talk about the new issue of Justice Skunk with them. They should be back soon. And Luke's eating in his room."

"Luke is extremely busy." Nadia grabbed part of a sandwich. "He's going to revolutionize the computer industry."

Rylan grabbed the other part. "I tell you, she's ready for college."

"Shan said that." Nadia swallowed. "Gage says I have to be old enough to get intoxicated first. Maybe next year."

Rylan choked.

"So what now?" Rosie asked when they were done eating and her husband had avoided death. "How long do we have the munchkin for?"

"As long as we want her. Let's make a break for home now. We can be halfway to Irnao before her parents notice."

"Electronics museum." Nadia suggested. "I want to go there."

"Honey, you go there all the time, according to your mother. Don't you want to do something different? There's an Irnao history museum. Why don't we go there instead?"

Nadia looks suspicious. "Promise it's not stupid?"

"Well, I've never been. I can't promise you anything." Rosemary threw up her hands. "If it doesn't meet up to your expectations, you don't have to stay."

"Deal." She helped them clean up the remains of the picnic, and let Rosie run a brush through her curls. "Okay, beautiful, time to go."

Nadia happened to look up and see a line of tension in Rylan's face, and her fingers closed around his. "We can stay home and play in the VR." She offered gently.

"No. I want to see it too." Rylan squeezed her hand.


"Getting bored yet?" Rylan asked about an hour later, as Nadia gawked up at a giant dinosaur skeleton.

"No. I want to stay forever."

Rosemary laughed, watching Rylan bend down to read a sign to their niece. So far everything had gone okay. They'd gotten some unfriendly looks here and there, but no one had said anything outright, and she found herself beginning to relax.

He looked so natural with Nadia, attentive to everything she said, never mocking her for using big words, never treating her like she was anything less than a total equal. Nadia wasn't the sort of child to tolerate condescension, no matter how well-intended; through her grandfather's eyes she easily saw through attempts to con her, and she demanded respect.

It made her wonder what their own child would be like. What would it be like to raise a family of green-eyed Nadias, always asking questions, trying to learn more than the world was willing to teach them?

She shook herself. When did they have time for a child? She worked well into the middle of the night sometimes, and Rylan was busy himself in the advertising department of Winner Enterprises. They had each other and careers they loved; it was better for everyone just to rent a Nadia now and then.

"Ry, I'm going back to the bathroom. Nadia, do you need to come along?"

"No, Aunt Rosie. I'm okay. What's that one say?" Nadia barely glanced at her aunt, staring at another skeleton.

Rylan read the girl the next card, and then took her over to a children's slide made of fake dinosaur bones. "Do you want to play until Aunt Rosie gets back?"

She considered her dignity for a moment, watching another little girl go squealing down into her mother's arms. "Maybe just once."

He let go of her hand, watching as she took her place in the line, allowing himself to pretend for just a moment that she was his, that the woman in the bathroom was her mother, and he had to blink quickly. He almost missed what happened next.

Nadia had finished sliding down the metal ramp, but before she could move out of the way a slightly older boy barreled down, crashing into her. Dignity long forgotten, the little girl began to wail.

Rylan reached her in a second, lifting her up to examine the bleeding lump on her skull. He turned to yell at the offending boy, but he was gone.

"Shhhhh." He rocked her. "Come on. Let's go get that cleaned off, baby, and get some ice on it. It's okay."

She continued to sob as he carried her toward the bathrooms. "I want Daddy." She managed to get out. "I want my Daddy."

"Put her down!" Someone yelled, and Rylan turned to see about five people heading toward him. "Put her down right now, you prick." The biggest man demanded.

"She's my niece. She got hurt on the slide." Rylan explained quickly. "I'm trying to... "

"Put her down!" The man yelled again. "Or I'll beat the shit out of you, Wronith. You freaks can't get any older girls now, so you have to go after little ones?"

Rylan wrapped his arms around a terrified Nadia tighter, and backed up. "I told you! She's my niece! Leave us alone!"

The men drew closer, and one began to reach into his pocket.

"What's the problem?" A security guard had approached them, and Rylan sagged in relief.

"That Wronith SOB is trying to make off with that little girl, that's what's wrong. He's trying to kidnap her!"

"He's my uncle!" Nadia yelled, the pain in her head forgotten. "Don't you touch my uncle!"

"Rylan?" Rosie ran to his side. "What's happening? Nadia, what happened to your head?" She took Nadia out of Rylan's suddenly limp arms. "Tell Aunt Rosie what happened."

"Ma'am, what is your connection to this child?" The guard asked, and Rosie looked flabbergasted. "I'm her aunt. She's my sister's little girl."

"Is that true?" The guard asked Nadia.

"Don't you call my aunt a liar!" Nadia shot back.

"And him?" The guard went on.

"My HUSBAND! Her legal uncle!"

"Some kid hit her on the slide." Rylan's voice was very tight. "I wanted to wash off the blood before she gets an infection. She was crying for Jazz. It was a misunderstanding. They thought I was kidnapping her. I'm glad they said something; a lot fewer kids would vanish if people would get involved... " He could feel the hostility from the crowd still radiating around them. Nadia was so little; if things turned violent she didn't stand a chance. Better to sound like an idiot than antagonize things further.

"Misunderstanding." Rosie repeated, taking in the look on her husband's face, Nadia's tears, and the crowd around them. "Understand this!" She extended her middle finger at the men."Come on, Rylan. Let's get her home. We'll take care of her there."

"Sir, I do apologize... " The guard began.

"No, it's okay." Rylan shook his head. "I... it's fine. Let's go home."

None of them spoke until they were back at the Maxwell farm, and Rosie had cleaned and bandaged Nadia's head. The little girl finally broke the silence.

"Uncle Rylan?"

"Yeah?" He braced himself for whatever she might ask.

"Is there any peanut butter left?"

"I think we can arrange that." He laughed, tugging on a loose curl.

"I want to look up dinosaurs online." She went on. "We can find some pictures for my room, and you can read to me about them. Aunt Rosie too."

She didn't notice the tears in her aunt's eyes, or if she did she was too polite to mention them.


The transporter in the library was broken yet again.

Of course, I didn't know this before I went there, when it wasn't pouring buckets. I only discovered it when, just as I was about to leave, someone slapped an out-of-service sign on it.

"What do you mean out-of-service?" I demanded. "It's raining! It's not allowed to be out of service!"

The tech looked at me like I was a total moron. "I'll be sure to tell it that, but I don't think it's going to listen."

I was forced to sprint across the campus toward my dorm, as the wind took pure glee in blowing the rain right into my face. By the time I reached my room I was soaked to the bone, shivering like crazy, my hair plastered to my face and shoulders, my fingers and toes shriveled. Still cussing, I stripped off everything and hung it up in the bathroom, slipping on my robe instead. It was pure silk and hot pink, a gift from my brother-in-law. On the back were black Chinese characters representing a female dragon.

Have I mentioned how much I love Gage?

Wrapped up in my robe, starting to feel human again, I was searching my cabinet for some of the special tea my father had given me when the little transporter on my wall chimed.

Inside was a plastic case containing a computer disk, with a sheet of paper wrapped around it. The hand-writing was unfamiliar, but I knew at once who it was from.

Dear Chinagirl:

I made you a copy of my VR program. The story database is on there too, if you want to play around with it. Iíve added a remote feature so we can share scenarios from a distance. Not that Iíd mind you coming over here, itís just that I know youíre really busy right now. Anyway, you seemed interested earlier. Let me know if you like it, or if you have any ideas on how to make it better. Looking forward to your feedback, good or bad.

Joey

Suddenly the rest of my day looked much, much brighter.


"I can't do everyone at once." Rosie explained. "We'll have to focus on one person at a time, with the rest of you in view-only mode. We can edit it all together when we're done. And would someone please go get my shoe?"

Shan ran across the living room and grabbed the end of Rosemary's sneaker. On the other end, Flour dug his claws into the carpet and whined.

"Flour! Drop it." Gage commanded.

"One! Two!... " Lucrezia began sternly, and the bonatar let go of his prize, racing back to Gage and hiding behind his legs. Shan offered Rosie back her shoe, which now had several small holes in the leather.

"He's sorry, Rosie." Gage had the animal on his lap now, and it did look contrite. "Aren't you, big boy? Aren't you sowwy?" They nuzzled.

She hadn't wanted to leave Rylan alone tonight after what had happened earlier, but Gage had begged, and her husband had demanded she go, pointing out that while they had a tomorrow, Milliardo Peacecraft might well not.

"Gage, you're really scaring me." She finally said. "And I didn't think you could ever scare me more than you already do."

"I strive for greatness. I never stop reaching for the stars. Hey, Daddy likes this shirt. Don't eat it."

"Who wants to go first?" Rosie slipped her shoe back on with a grimace.

"Mom's known him the longest. She should go." Gage suggested. "Plus, I'm dying to know if she's got any really embarrassing memories of Heero in there."

Relena wanted to know that herself, but she made a face at her son instead. "You just want to see something embarrassing about me."

"If he doesn't I do." Gerry quipped, and they all laughed.

Gerry had stayed to himself mostly since arriving on Dera, not feeling that it was his place to say or do anything. These were Relena's friends; they'd never really been his. No one had been nasty or rude to him, but he felt as if he just didn't belong. He'd kept himself busy exploring Dera, trying to both keep out of the way, and be there for Relena at the same time.

If he was completely honest with himself, and he tried to be, he had to admit that it was difficult being around Gage right now, harder than he had expected. It was hard looking at this polite stranger and reconciling him with the boy who'd once called him "Dad." Hard to accept that someone else had that honor now, that Gage had so quickly and easily dismissed Gerry from his life.

Maybe he couldn't be his father, Gerry admitted. Maybe he never had been a very good one; blind to what Gage was really like and what he really needed. But it didn't change the fact that he loved him, had always loved him, and that he missed him. He wanted to offer his friendship, his shoulder to cry on, to get the second chance Gage had given Relena, but he wasn't sure how to do it. Not that Gage would want that anyway; how quickly he'd changed his surname from Drummond to Peacecraft. Wasn't that enough of a sign that the boy really wanted no more part of him?

There was also the Heero Yuy factor.

The fact that Heero had been Relena's first love hadn't ever been a secret between them. He had no doubts of his wife's love for him, had never doubted that, but even after all this time was a nagging worry: did she still love Heero more?

Not that it would do her any good if she did, since Heero had a jealous spouse of his own. But Gerry couldn't help but wonder, especially now that he knew Relena's feelings for Heero had started long before either of them realized. He'd been with her when Heero had shown her his memories, hadn't missed the tender way they'd looked at each other. It stung.

She glanced over at him, and he felt as if she was reading his mind, something she'd become very good at in the course of their marriage. "Sometimes you need to really take a look at the past. It makes you realize just how lucky you are to have today." She whispered.

He kissed her, not caring where they were, tangling his fingers in her hair, feeling the rush that always came with the simple knowledge that in the end, it was him she had chosen to be with.

"Hey, watch it! You're getting straight-people germs all over my living room!" Gage complained.

"Straight-people germs?" Amy asked, cocking an eyebrow.

"Ghastly things. They infect without discretion. The next thing you know you've lost all sense of fashion, forgotten how to dance, and consider the missionary position kinky." He stroked the baby bonatar. "I'm a father now. I have to protect my child."

"Well, Gage." Gerry finally managed. "I promise you, if your... whatever that is forgets how to dance, I'll make full restitution."

"You've slept with girls." Meg reminded her brother.

"Well, they deloused me before letting me on Dera. Standard procedure." He walked over and pretended to pluck something out of her hair. "Looks as if you slipped through the cracks. Shan, go get me some kerosene. And a lighter."

"Ack!" Meg jumped up and ran over to her mother.

"He's kidding, Meg. At least I hope he is." Lucrezia glared at the young man.

"Oh, yes, it's just a joke. I'd never dream of setting her on fire." Gage tried to assure her. "Besides, I don't think we have any kerosene. Now Meggy, be honest, do synthetic fuel sources give you a rash?"

"Maybe we should just get on with the Memory Walk?" Rosie suggested hastily. "Before he blows us all up?"

"Great idea." Relena grabbed her helmet. "Are we ready?"

Gage scooped up his own gear. "Let's rock."


On to part nineteen. Back to part seventeen.