Street of Dreams
by Lasha Lee

So independent, right from the start. "No, Mommy, I do it." His little face would be fierce, and I'd feel that familiar sting of rejection. Everything from dressing himself to pouring the milk on his own cereal to doing his homework later in life. He faced it all on his own, so determined not to depend on anyone, so afraid if he did he'd find that support too weak to bear his weight. Even after what that monster did to him, he still wouldn't confide in me. That stung most of all.

I slipped into his room that morning, and for a little while just stood there watching him sleep. His head was against Shan's shoulder and their arms were draped over each other. The little bonatar laid sprawled across both of them. He's beautiful, I thought, for only the millionth time in my life. My son is so beautiful.

I hated to wake him, but I had to. His image was overlayed in my mind with the child he'd been; tiny in blue pajamas with a toy soldier on his pillow. I wondered if he'd ever know, really know, just how much I loved him. I hadn't known it myself until I thought I was going to lose him. I reached out and touched his cheek, feeling the roughness of his morning stubble even if it was too pale to really see.

"Gage, sweetie? Wake up." I whispered.

He opened his eyes in confusion, and I almost laughed because that had never changed. I wasn't ever sure where his dreams took him, but it was far, far away, and it always took him a moment to remember where he was. Seeing me standing over him, he looked quickly at Shan, as if trying to assure himself that the other man wasn't a dream, that he wasn't a child again back on Earth. As reality sank in, the faint panic faded from his eyes, and he smiled at me.

"Hey." His voice was deep with sleep.

"I thought you should know. The hospital called. He's doing a little bit better. His body rejected the gene, but not before it had a chance to repair a little of the damage. They're going to try another injection later, but they said he was alert enough to complain about being poked."

Flour yawned, nuzzled Gage's thigh, and went back to sleep.

"I'll let you get back to sleep too." I offered, and he shook his head. "Naw, once I'm up I'm up. I'll fix us some breakfast. You just need to leave while I get some pants on."

"You know, you don't have anything I haven't seen before." I remarked.

"I don't have anything a lot of football mommies haven't seen, either." He smirked. "What makes you think you're special?"

I rolled my eyes, laughing. "I'll see you in a few minutes."

He'd sat in the pew without speaking for the past three hours, even before the early morning worshippers had started filing in. He kept his head bowed low, and only responded to Pell's offers of help with a short grunt, so the young man left him alone.

There were many like him on Seta, many who came here out of a need they didn't quite understand. Even if they didn't believe in a god, they believed in what the tiny church had to offer in the name of their goddess; peace, a place of safety. A hot meal or a warm bed if that was what was needed. Pell, Adyn, and Macus turned no one away.

Sometimes the sermons, held in the morning and the evening, were about the Goddess, but other times they were about family, or life in general, or war. Whatever their followers wanted to talk about. Heero had once commented it was more like group therapy than a church, and maybe it was, Pell thought. But was that really such a bad thing to offer? Their services were at least free, funded only by what their followers could afford to give, and never requested.

Still, they did well with what they had. Above the church were two small apartments, one for the young couple and the other for Macus. Below were small, furnished rooms for those who had no where else to go. A young woman by the name of Beatrice had arrived last year to offer her services as a cook, increasing their number to four.

And in that, they were content, their little family. The Wronith men, raised to be warriors by the time they could talk, were the calm in the storm for many these days, but never more to anyone else than each other.

They had awoken early today, finding each other in the dark of their room and making love tenderly as the sky first began to turn light. Through the wall, they could hear the faint sounds of Macus and Beatrice greeting the day in a similar manner, and they laughed about that, vowing that by the end of the year they'd either see the two pledged.

They'd gotten up finally, showering and getting dressed, heading down to get things ready for the morning sermon, and that was when they'd noticed the man.

He was worn looking. Bald head, thread-bear clothing, scuffed shoes. His big hands, on the back of the pew in front of him, were scarred and cracked and calloused, the nails yellow. He had a heavy blue jacket around his shoulders like a cloak, although the morning was warm.

"Brother" Adyn asked gently again. "Is there anything at all we can do?"

The man shook his head, but finally spoke without looking. "It's the anniversary of my daughter's death today. She was 12. I just want to think about her for a while."

Adyn nodded in understanding and sympathy. "Stay as long as you like." He moved to help Pell and Macus greet the morning visitors.

There was a good turnout this morning, Pell noticed, watching the rows fill, watching the children running up and down the aisles as their parents tried to shush them. There was a festive, happy mood here instead of a solemn one like many churches, for they believed and taught that Nataku was a goddess of joy as well as virtue and fairness, that the sounds of happy children and laughter were the greatest tribute one could pay to her.

"We welcome you all here on this beautiful day." Macus began. "We hope to find you well, and ready for the day ahead, and hope we can offer peace and guidance for that. For those of you that are new, welcome. We began as always with a moment for quiet reflection and meditation."

The parishioners bowed their heads, and in the front of the church, the ministers did the same, joined by Beatrice, who held tightly to Macus' hand.

So, with their eyes closed, they never noticed the worn man stand up. Never noticed the black barrel of the gun appearing from under his coat. Did not know that something was horribly, horribly wrong until the first shot had been fired, and by then, it was too late.

On to part twenty-two. Back to part twenty.