Author's Note: I've had people ask me how everything is connected, and I know it may not seem that way, but it all is. I'm trying to lay out how the pieces fit together, and I thank you for your patience in that. Rachael, Laura, Dusty, Brin, they are important. Think of it as a spider web. Each line all leads to the center.
Dusty received a very brief mention in "Here There Be Dragons", although not by name. I'm hoping this chapter will provide some clues to who he really is.
She was waiting up for him. He knew she would be, and as usual the boy felt that strange mixture of pleasure and resentment. In a way, it felt good that she loved him enough to worry about him, but he was fifteen now, not a little boy any longer, and he wished she could learn to respect that.
She was sitting on the couch reading when stepped out of the transporter, and he could see her quickly trying to mask the relief and concern in her eyes. "There's dinner still in the oven." was her greeting to him, that and a smile, and he smiled back, his hand brushing against her shoulder as he walked past.
He was glad she hadn't asked where he'd been, because he disliked lying to her and he knew that she wouldn't approve of his meeting with the Pure. She didn't like him doing anything risky like that, and again he felt that love/resentment stir within him. She was great, better than any of his friends' mothers, but he knew she would never understand why he wanted to be a part of something like that.
He grabbed the plate out of the oven and took it down the hall to his room, careful not to wake up his sisters and his pledge-father as he passed by their doors. Zane would definitely want to know where he'd been and whom he'd been with. Zane wanted to know everything these days, and he was a hard person to lie to. If he found out what Dusty had been up to, he would probably throw the boy out of the house.
Zane was always tense, always nervous about everything. He worried about what Dusty and the girls ate, how much sleep they got, if they were wearing warm enough clothing, if chemicals in their food might stunt their growth. In a way, Zane was more of a mother than Dusty's own mother was. And she didn't mind; she was content to leave most worrying to her maclen. It may not have been a typical relationship, but they appeared to have a happy one.
Dusty laid back on his bed with the plate on his chest, picking at the cold meat moodily.
He guessed he was lucky; he had always gotten pretty much everything he'd asked for, and his room was crammed with books, games, VR equipment, and clothes. Even when it had just been himself and his mother, he'd always had a lot of cool stuff. He guessed her parents must have sent her the money for it; certainly his real father had never contributed anything to his care. He'd gotten his mother pregnant as a teenager and then dumped her. She'd moved to Dera on her own when Dusty had been a few weeks old, and he could count on one hand the number of times he'd met his grandparents on Seta. Until he was three, it had just been himself and his mother.
All he knew about his real father was that the man was Irnao-born, and he knew that not from anything his mother had told him, but from what he knew about himself. That was the only reason he could think of for the fact that unlike Derans and Setans, Dusty's mind was a huge blank before his third year. Unlike his friends, Dusty forgot things.
He didn't look like his mother either; she was tiny and blonde and frail-looking, with enormous blue-eyes. His pledge-father was blond as well, and so were his sisters. Dusty always felt like a freak when he was out in public with them, like people were always whispering that he had to be adopted.
There was a knock on the door, and before he could respond Zane entered, giving him a steady gaze. Dusty sighed and put the plate on the stand next to his bed, staring back at his pledge-father.
"Where were you?"
"I called your friends' house at 11. No one knew where you were." Zane sat down on the end of the bed, his fingers twitching against the blanket. Dusty realized that he was making the exact same motion himself, and stopped.
"I was with a new friend. His name is Tad."
"Tad? Does he go to your school?"
"Nah, he's older. He's in college. He's pretty cool."
"Dusty... you know the rules. You know you're supposed to call us if you're going to be late. We don't have a problem with you hanging out with your friends, but we expect to know where you are and what you're doing."
Dusty shrugged. "I'll call next time, okay?"
"I'm not sure I like you hanging out with an older boy." Zane wasn't done with the conversation yet. "College students aren't known for their overwhelming self-control. He might not be the best influence on you."
"Zane, he's fine. He studies computer stuff. He's a geek, not some party animal."
"So convince me. Invite him over for dinner tomorrow night."
"He's my friend, not my boyfriend! I'm not planning on dating the guy!"
"I want to meet him anyway. The same way I like to meet everyone you hang around with."
It was on the tip of Dusty's tongue to announce that fine, he would invite the entire branch of the local Deran Pure over for dinner and his pledge-father could see for himself just exactly the kind of people Dusty had decided to befriend.
"You worry too much." He ended up grumbling, and then grabbed a piece of meat off the plate and stuffed it into his mouth.
"You're the only son I have, you know." Zane squeezed his arm. "And you'll be out on your own in a few years. Humor me. Let me meet your friend."
"Fine, I'll ask him to come over for dinner if I get the chance. You'll see for yourself that he's not planning on leaving my violated corpse on our front lawn."
"Don't talk like that, please. That's not something you should even be joking about. Things happen to kids your age all the time."
"Zane, nothing is going to happen to me, okay? I promise."
Zane still didn't look convinced and ran a hand through his thinning fair hair. "I trust you. It's..."
"The rest of the world you don't trust, I know."
Zane gave him a looking of loving exasperation, and then left, shutting the door behind him.
Great. He'd wanted Tad to think he was cool; now he was forced to call the guy up and ask him over for dinner, making him look like some little kid desperate to make a new friend. Maybe he could lie and say that he'd asked and Tad had turned him down.
No, he'd bite the bullet and do it.
He reached for his phone.
I know that you probably don't want to see anyone else tonight, and I can completely understand why. That doesn't mean I don't want to be with you right now, but that at least for the moment I'm going to respect your decision. Meishel told us that you were okay when she left your house, as okay as you could possibly be after something like this.
I think maybe we shouldn't ever have any more parties.
All hell broke loose after you and the twins left the club. Everyone just started yelling at each other, hurling accusations, blame. It was a royal mess. Joey is probably sorry he heard of any of us.
Wufei is livid, Gage. You know how he gets when someone hurts one of his kids, and he loves you like his own now. He told Lucrezia that Meg is never allowed back in his house again, and Lucrezia and Amy took her to a hotel to sober up. Between Shan's threat and Wufei's anger, I think Lucrezia may be afraid for her daughter's life right now. Hell, I want to kill the little bitch too.
The reason for this letter isn't any of that, though. I keep thinking about what I learned tonight, what you went through, and oh God I wish I had known earlier because I could have given you what no one else in your family could or would have; I would have talked to you about it.
My mother died when I was very young, so young that I barely remember her. I lived with a bunch of other boys in a big, condemned house for a while. You would think that what I'd remember most is the hunger, the lonliness, the fear. But what I remember most is the men.
They still come for me in my sleep, even after all these years. I can smell them, I can hear their laughter, I can taste them. Sometimes they'd use us as ante in card-games, just little boys and girls they'd picked up off the streets for a while. Sometimes we were slaves for a while. They sold us, sold our innocence, over and over again.
Heero knows this, because I told him everything. Jazz knows bits and pieces, because I talk in my sleep and he figured it out on his own. But we never talk about it. I can't talk to Jazz, because I just don't want him to know more than he already does; I wish he didn't even know that much. And Heero... it makes him uncomfortable and angry if I try and talk about it. Oh, he'll listen, but he doesn't really understand why I need to bring it up sometimes.
For a long time, I blamed myself for it all. I told myself that I could have fought back harder and stopped them. I think about the times some of them offered me food afterward and I took it, or let me finish up the night in their bed instead of outside in the rain and cold, and I accepted their offer.
Chester took advantage of an innocent little boy, Gage. Not one single thing he did to you was your fault. You should have heard that, over and over, until you believed it. They should have been there to hold you when the nightmares came, they should have been there to chase them away. Instead they left you to deal with the best way you knew how, and then couldn't understand why the only recourse you had was to lash out at everyone around you.
You may not think like this, but the others took advantage of you too. I know you slept around before coming to Dera. Every one of those adults was just as bad as Chester. Every one of them took advantage of you, even when you thought it was the other way around. It breaks my heart that there's nothing I can do about it.
So you take all the time you need to get yourself together, and I'll be here if you ever want to talk about it.
The night you came to see me, the night you almost took the drug, I should have brought up Chester.
The truth is, I did not know how. Maybe I thought it no longer mattered, that there were so many other things going on in your life that you'd nearly forgotten about what was done to you. I was wrong, and I hope in time you can forgive me for that.
I'd listen now, if that's what you wanted. The one thing I will not do is let this tear apart the friendship we've worked so hard to build over these past few years.
Keep in mind that I did know this; that I'll look at you no differently tomorrow than I did yesterday. I will continue to see you as the man my son loves, the man I've come to love as another son. A survivor.
Nataku Keep You
Please call me. We need to talk.
Very proud to be your sister.
Please don't turn away from us again. Gerry and I are so sorry for everything, for hurting you like this. We did what we thought was best at the time, but hindsight is 20/20. We're going to come over to your house tomorrow morning; we can talk then. We can talk as much as you want to. What did you mean about becoming a junkie?? Please, I'm worried sick about you.
"So now they all want to talk about it."
"It seems that way. What are you going to do?"
"I thought about leaving."
"Packing up, vanishing. Starting a brand new life somewhere else. Somewhere where people don't know anything about me. Maybe it would be better that way."
"You'd leave me that easily?"
"No, that's why I wouldn't do it. I couldn't. If it weren't for you, I'd already be gone. I couldn't hurt you like that, though. And I couldn't ask you to come with me, not after last time."
"Gage, I would. You know that. If you need to get away for a while, just say the word and we're gone."
"No, not this time. God, I just feel so... humiliated. How can I ever look at them again, Shan? How can I look at them when I know they're thinking about Chester and what he did to me?"
"I wish I could answer that. But I've known for years; you don't have any trouble with me knowing, right?"
"No, but you're different."
"How am I different?"
"You just are, that's all. You're... you. But now, Heero and Duo know. Joey knows. Your mom knows. Heck, even the Poppet knows. And I never, ever wanted any of them to know. If I wanted them to know, it should have been my choice to tell them, not Meg's."
"I'm really considering killing her, you know. I'm not joking around. I want to snap her neck."
"I wanted to hurt her back. I thought about calling the hospital and telling them not to let her in to see my father any more. I can do that; I'm the one in charge. I can keep them all away from him if I want to."
"Would that make you feel better?"
"No. I can't make myself do that to them, to him. He killed Chester for me; he found out what Chester was doing to me and he killed him for it. I know he killed people back in the war, but this was different. A man died because of me."
"Chester wasn't a man, Gage. He wasn't human."
"Maybe he was, once. Maybe someone did the same stuff to him when he was a kid, so he thought it was okay."
"Are you defending him?"
"No.. I hate him for what he did to me, but I want him to be in prison for it, not dead. I don't want his blood on my hands. I know what I said before, about not being sorry that he was dead. I guess I'm not sorry that he's dead, I'm just sorry I had something to do with it."
"We'll have to disagree on that. If your father hadn't killed him, I definitely would have after I found out."
"Yes, well you Changs are a violent lot anyway. Not all of that wretched pacifist blood went merrily skipping past me, it seems. Sometimes all I want to do is rip people to shreds, and then I get this damnedable urge to pet small children and read bedtime stories to kittens."
"We'll call an exorcist first thing in the morning."
"Maybe, Shan, maybe it's that since I don't think of Chester as human, maybe a part of me was able to forgive him for what he did to me. But as hard as I try, I can't seem to be able to forgive myself."
"Do you want to try and get some sleep now? Flour can stay with us again, if you want."
"Sleep in a little bit. I need you first. Not to help me forget... to help me remember where I am now."
"You got it, Sweet Prince."
Once upon a time, I loved a child.
I had no children of my own; this was not allowed. My job was to care for the children on the station, not rear my own, and I accepted my lot in life as such. I believed in what I was doing; raising these children to overcome the taint of the Setan in their blood, and grow up to be good and productive Wronith boys.
There were some, of course, that I liked more than the others, but it wasn't until the green-eyed boy named Pronal was placed into my care that I really knew what it was like to love a child.
He was the brightest and the best, and I sensed immediately the awesome potential in this little man. I had dreams for him, the dreams of a father, I suppose. I imagined him as a great warrior or moving up the ranks of the Wroni government. I tried to imagine what he'd look like as a grown man, or what his children would be like.
I knew that he was different in other ways, and the fault was mine for overindulging him. When he would vanish for hours at a time, I did not go hunting him down. I knew that in time he would always return, and I believed that allowing him freedom to do as he pleased would help him develop into a better man eventually.
When I was forced to leave him behind, I very nearly considered snatching him up and running away with him. Things might have gone so different for him, for all of us, if I'd obeyed that instinct. Instead, I did as I was bidden. I left him there, with tears in his eyes, and I promised myself that as soon as I was able, I would return for him.
I never imagined that he would reward my love for him with betrayal.
The child I had adored, the child I had taught the very basic skills of life, betrayed me, betrayed his people, betrayed himself in the long run.
The deaths of each Wronith are on his head now, each one of our kind that falls to the Deran Pure fell because of what he did. Because of his cowardice.
There is no love for him any more within me. My Pronal is dead, he died many years ago. This new creature, this Setan, this Rylan, only resembles my boy.
The Maxwells killed him, my Pronal. They took him, and brainwashed him, and changed him into this stranger with Pronal's face. They too are responsible for every death.
My people are different now than we were in those days. Not weaker, not defeated, but we have found another planet closer to Wroni to settle, this one ours alone. Seta and Dera no longer hold much interest to us on a whole, and as such my government has little interest in what goes on here. If our kind choose to live on these worlds, the feeling goes, then they must accept the risk that living among the Setans and Derans poses.
But some of us still care; perhaps not many, but enough to fight back. I intend to bring down the Deran Pure alone if I have to, but more than that, I will personally be avenged against those who stole my boy from me.
I look at the younger Maxwell, the redhead, as he tells Rylan and I of his meeting with the Deran Pure tonight. Not such a sacrifice, this one, I think. With him I'll get what I want on both counts.
Blood for blood.
A son for a son.