"Bye. See you tomorrow." the boy called, shutting the front door behind him. In his hands he carried a basketball, and his tee-shirt clung to his thin chest. He glanced left and right, and then dribbled the ball a few times on the hardwood floor of the hallway.
"Not in the house." A voice called from the next room.
The boy grinned. "Sorry, Papa." He put the ball in the closet.
"Rylan, come in here for a second." Another voice called.
Rylan jogged lightly down the hall to the study, where the door was slightly open.
His parents were leaning back on a leather couch, and Trowa was holding a thick card in his hands. "How were your lessons?"
"Okay." Rylan shrugged. "Glad it's summer, though. I need a break."
For the three years he had lived with them, Quatre and Trowa had employed a private tutor for the boy; the education he had received from the Wronith so different it would have been hard to integrate him into a regular class. His quick mind, coupled with his willingness to learn all anyone wanted to teach him, had resulted in him being better educated at 12 then most boys were at 20.
"What's that?" He pointed to the card.
"It's what we want to talk to you about. It's an invitation. Jazz and Linra are pledging in a couple of weeks. We're invited to the ceremony on Dera."
Rylan did not speak, but Trowa saw the flash of emotions on his eyes.
Quatre stood up and tilted his son's chin in his hand, forcing Rylan to look at him. "Everyone is really excited about seeing you again. But we're not going to force you to go, not if you're not ready. We have to go; Jazz is our godson. But whether or not you attend is completely up to you."
"I want to go." Rylan nodded the best he could. "I mean, I've got the same right to be there as anyone, I guess."
"You have the right to go wherever you want." Trowa assured him.
The changes in Rylan over the past few years had been marked and incredible.
They had brought him here nearly three years ago; a small, pale, frightened child who had spent his entire life on a spaceship. A boy who trusted no one, and lived in terror that someone was going to kill him for being part Wronith.
Although he was still quiet, he had lost that hunted look that had broken both of their hearts. His nightmares had all but ceased, and he had even begun seeking out other near-by children as playmates. And they had finally managed to convince him that nothing he did or said was going to cost him their love.
But that was here, on Earth, where even if people knew about the Wronith, no one really cared very much. It wouldn't be like that on Dera; where there were people who quite literally didn't think he had a right to live at all, or not be under constant lock and key.
"Jazz and Linra are my friends." Rylan continued. "Their feelings would be hurt if I didn't show up."
"That's my boy." Quatre hugged him tightly. "If anyone says anything to you, we'll break every bone in their body."
"Oh, yeah, we got his as well." Trowa held out another card.
Rylan opened it, and burst out laughing. In flowing, engraved script the card said "Woof woof woof. Bow wow. Whine. Whimper. Bark bark bark. Pant pant. Woof. Rufff. *wag wag *"
"I guess this is Osmar's invitation." Quatre was laughing too. "It was probably Duo's idea."
"Okay, but I don't think he owns a tux." Rylan handed Trowa back the card. "When are we leaving?"
"I don't wanna go!" The little boy stuck out his lower lip. "Not gonna go."
"Oh yes you are!" Relena yelled. "You're going to go, and you're going to behave like a perfect gentleman!"
"Gage, come on. These people are good friends of ours." Gerry said in a reasonable tone. "You'll have fun. There are lots of other kids there. Two of them are your age, even. And you get to ride in a big spaceship. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
"No!" Gage returned. In honesty, the ship did sound like fun, even if the other children did not. However, his mother hardly ever got mad enough to yell at him, and he was getting a perverse pleasure out of seeing her face turn red.
"Gage, why don't you want to go?" Gerry tried, running a hand through his thinning black hair in exasperation.
"Because." Gage offered. "Mom wants me to." He had decided that the truth was better than a lie in this case; it would cause more interesting results.
"Gage." Relena whispered. "Go to your room. Right now. Right this second."
"Sure, Mom." Gage said sweetly. "Bye." He calmly walked off.
Relena sank down into a chair, cradling her head in her hands.
"Are you okay?"
"No, I am not okay." She gave her husband a weary glance. "What are we doing wrong with him?"
"Nothing. He's just going through a difficult phase."
"He's been going through a difficult phase for over five years now!" She rubbed her eyes. "Do you think we did the right thing?"
Gerry knew exactly what she met, and he stared at her in shock. "Maybe we shouldn't have..." she continued.
"No. Don't say that! Don't even think that!" Gerry protested, crouching down next to her chair. "Yes, we did the right thing!"
"I hate myself whenever I start to think that way. the woman admitted. "But sometimes, the way he looks at me. I swear, Gerry. He knows."
"Of course he doesn't know. How could he know?"
"He senses it, then."
"You're being paranoid." Gerry pronounced. "He's just high-strung. And it's nothing he won't outgrow. You'll see."
"I hope you're right. I've got visions of him completely wrecking Jazz's ceremony."
"We'll tie him up or something." Gerry smiled. "Animal tranquilizers might work."
"For him or for us?" Relena gave him a watery, half-grin. "Because I need them right now."
"How about a strong Scotch instead?"
"Make it a double." She chuckled. "I've still got to tell him he's wearing a suit."
Gage sat on the floor of his room, near his bed. A line of toy soldiers stood in front of him, and he galloped a plastic horse across the floor, sending them scattering. Although he didn't mind leaving the rest of his toys scattered about for the maid to clean up, he would make sure each soldier was accounted for before he went to sleep.
He had thousands of toys, but the plastic troops were his favorite. His uncle had given them to him for his last birthday. "These were mine, when I was a little boy." Uncle Milliardo had told him. "When I went back to my old house, after I was all grown up, I found them under the floorboards in my old room, where I'd left them. Your aunt would think I'm being sexist because I never gave them to your cousins, but Amy and Megan aren't exactly the soldier type. I wanted you to have them instead."
He hadn't seen Uncle Milliardo for a while. The last time he had been over at his house, he had thrown a tantrum about something, and Aunt Lucrezia had said that he wasn't welcome back until he had learned how to behave himself.
Angrily, the boy bashed two of the soldiers together. "Die, die, die." He muttered to himself.
He missed his Uncle, although he wouldn't admit it to anyone. His father just wasn't the same to play with; Gerry did his best but he had all the imagination of an apple. And Mom's idea of games usually involved some of moral and lesson, which he detested.
He liked going places with his uncle as well. Everyone could see that they were related; Gage had the same white hair and silvery-blue eyes as Milliardo, and figured he'd probably look just like him when he grew up. Which was okay; his uncle was handsome. Not like Gage's dad. Gage definitely didn't want to grow up looking like him.
Suddenly tired, the little boy gathered up his soldiers and placed them back in their box carefully, all except for one.
"This is General Stephen." his uncle had told him. "He's their leader. Sometimes his ideas are a little funny, but his troops love him just the same, and he always looks out for them."
General Stephen did not go in the box with the others. Each night Gage placed the plastic figure on his pillow. A general was much better to sleep with than something stupid, like a teddy bear. And this way, if someone tried to sneak into the box to get to his men, General Stephen would be able to see them, and stop them.
He changed into his pajamas, and crawled into bed, turning out the light. He knew that he was going to end up going to Dera whether he wanted to or not, and he found himself wondering what the other planet would be like.
That night he dreamed that he was on the spaceship, when suddenly the doors burst open, and his troops, now real men, burst in. General Stephen, who looked just like Uncle Milliardo, had picked Gage up and told his parents that the boy was going to live with him now.
And Gage shifted his head uncomfortably on the pillow, because it was now damp with tears.
I remember that day.
I'm half Deran. I remember everything. Some days stand out more than others in my mind though, and that day is crystal clear.
I was five when Jazz and Linra both came of age and decided to pledge.
Now going by Deran tradition, it wouldn't have been any big thing. But Jazz wasn't Deran (not by birth, anyway), and he wanted a big ceremony. Linra didn't have a problem with it; she thought it was very appropriate to have something to celebrate both of their heritages.
And there was the small fact that if they'd refused an Earth-style wedding, Duo would have throttled both of them.
So for weeks, everyone ran around like maniacs sending out invitations, calling caterers, and making everything much more complicated than it probably needed to be.
There were some nice bonuses to this for those of us who were too young to do much but get in the way. As long as we were quiet, we were pretty much left to our own devices. Well... for a while, anyway. Meishel got bored one day, and decided we should go "visit someone". She picked a number from random out of the directory, punched it into the teleporter, and we ended up in an elderly couple's living room.
And of course, neither of us knew our own code so they could send us back.
Our parents were furious with us, which we could take. However, Jazz was upset with us as well, and that was enough to make us behave for a while.
We would have done anything for Jazz. We still would. He's one of the most amazing people I've ever known.
As the Pledgeday grew closer, I noticed that Meishel was in a horrible mood most of the time. At first she wouldn't tell me why; which was something that had never happened before. We're twins, and we told each other everything. But finally, she confessed that her heart was broken. She had been trying to grow up fast so that she could marry Jazz herself, but he wasn't waiting for her. She also threatened to break my nose if I told anyone. I swore to her that I would not.
But by some stroke of luck, we all made it to the Pledgeday, and all in once piece, even if Meishel couldn't stop sniffling.
She was the flower girl in the ceremony, and I have to say that anyone who knew what was going on in her head and her heart would have stood up and applauded her. Even if Jazz was pledging someone else, she was determined not to do anything to make the ceremony less than perfect for him. There aren't many adults who understand that true love is putting someone else's happiness above your own; my sister understood that at five.
Luke and I were ringbearers. Jazz hadn't wanted either of us to feel left out. We each carried the velvet pillows down the red carpet, with the sun in our eyes, both afraid we were going to trip over our own feet.
And then we all stood there, and we watched Jazz and Linra put the rings on each other's hands, and promise themselves to each other forever. Meishel was crying, but no one cared, because Duo was making so much noise in the front row himself. And Heero kept patting him to calm him down, but his own cheeks were wet. My father was weeping as well, although he later blamed it on the bright sunlight.
And as for me? I was a small boy, and as much as I loved Jazz and Linra, I was starving. I wanted them to hurry up so we could all go eat.
Being that I was a member of the Pledgeparty, I hadn't had a lot of time to mingle with the guests before the ceremony; I'd barely had time to hug Trowa and Quatre before my mother pulled me away to get ready.
But I watched them now, gnawing on the side of my cheek as I did. The kid that had stayed with us for a while was with them, and a lot bigger than I remembered him. He seemed calmer, too. When he had been here before, we hardly ever saw him because he kept running and hiding.
And there were other people I didn't know. Jazz and Linra's friends from school, and some other adults. I knew that the blonde woman was an old friend of my Baba's, but that was all.
Beside of her was a boy about my age. His hair was blond too, but white-blond, not dark like hers. He wasn't watching Jazz and Linra, and I saw that he had a toy soldier in his hand, making him march around the edge of the chair. His mother looked like she was torn between taking it away from him and ordering him to pay attention, or letting him do whatever he wanted. A man on the boy's other side gave him a look I recognized (I saw it enough) and the blond boy sighed, and pocketed his toy.
Finally the ceremony had ended, and music started to play, and we all made a dash for the food. Meishel and I, being the shortest, ended up behind everyone else.
We were suddenly lifted high in the air. "Okay, out of the way folks. Hungry rugrats coming through. Excuse me, pardon me." Jazz held us both easily, one of us in each arm, as he took us directly to the buffet table, and made everyone else wait until we each had full plates.
"Thanks, Jazz." Meishel sniffed.
"Can't have you starving to death before you're big enough to pledge to someone yourself." Jazz told her, and he reached out to wipe away one of her tears. "But I'm going to warn you; whatever guy you pick is going to have to be pretty good to impress me. No losers for my Meishel; got it?"
"Got it." She nodded, and looked a little better.
"Goes for you too." Jazz waved a finger in my face. "I'll chase away anyone I don't think is good enough for you."
"Given that it's still going to be quite a few years before my son is old enough to shave, let alone think about getting married, would you be so kind as to let the rest of us get to the food?" Baba asked irritably.
"Nope." Jazz shook his head. "It's my Pledge and my food. Go find your own. Shoo, scat. Go away. Mine." He held out his arms to block the table.
"Jason!" Linra had her hands on her hips.
"I mean... help yourself!" Jazz stepped back politely.
"Not Pledged for ten minutes and she's already acting like a good maclen." My mother noted. "Sheld would be so proud..." her voice trailed off.
Everyone was busy eating, and my sister and I headed off to a small table where Luke and Rosie were already eating. A few minutes later, Rylan showed up and shyly asked if he could join us. Rosie, who had been staring at him since he arrived, blushed and quickly pulled out a chair for him.
I noticed the blonde woman, Relena, talking to her son, and pointing at our table. He was shaking his head no, and she pointed again and said something else. It must have worked, because he stormed up to us, holding his plate. He sat it down with a loud thump on the table, and began shoveling in his food.
He was quiet while the rest of us talked. Even Rylan joined in the conversation, much to Rosie's delight. He was older than the rest of us; and when you're five anyone over the age of ten looks like an adult, so Meishel and I were very impressed with him, as well.
"I want a ceremony just like this." Rosie said suddenly. "With all my friends here, and you guys too."
"We're your friends!" Meishel was offended.
"No. You're my family." Rosie corrected. "Of course you'll be there. You can be my maid of honor, Meishel."
The music changed, and we all noticed that Jazz and Linra were dancing together now. "They look so cute, don't they?" Rosie sighed. "Aren't they perfect together?"
My sister didn't answer, and glanced down at her plate.
Rosie has always been perceptive. My mother says she's exactly like Sheld was; that she knows what you're thinking before you do. And she didn't need too much time to figure out why my twin wasn't radiant with joy right now.
"Oh, 'Shel, don't worry." She leaned over and hugged her. "I know it hurts, but there's someone out there just for you. You just need to find him."
Meishel hugged her back, but she was crying again.
We all turned around to stare at the blond boy. "What did you say?" Rylan asked in amazement.
"I said that she's stupid." The boy pointed at Meishel. "Cryin' over a grown-up getting married to someone else. That's just dumb."
Now let me say right now that I'm something of an oddity in my family. Both of my parents have very bad tempers, and it's easy to set them off. And Meishel is the same way. Say boo to her on the wrong day and she'll bite your ears off.
But I'm hard to provoke. I like things to be nice, and calm, and simple. I don't think that losing your cool usually gets you very far. Even I, however, have my limits.
No one, not then, not EVER, told me that my sister was stupid and got away with it.
I jumped to my feet and ran over to his chair, and he gave me a startled look.
"You take that back!" My fists clenched into balls.
"I won't. And you're stupid too. And your sister is just a big cry-baby!"
I knew two ways to fight. There was my father's way; sort of an ancient, graceful dance, with a lot of carefully practiced hand and foot movement. And there was the way Jazz had taught me, which Duo had taught him. Pure gutter-style.
I lunged at the other boy and his chair toppled over backwards with both of us. We rolled out onto the ground. His fist connected with my nose, and I tasted blood, but my own fists managed to get in a few good blows to his eyes and stomach. He was bigger than me, and a little older, but I had both training and motivation. Dimly I could hear Meishel and Luke cheering me on. Rosie was yelling at us to break it up.
Rylan, bless his heart, was laughing. I wasn't sure why at the time, but now that I look back, seeing two five-year-olds in tuxes trying to beat each other to a pulp probably does look pretty darn funny.
"Okay, enough! Separate corners!" Big hands were pulling us apart. We tried to get to each other again, but Jazz had us each now by our belts.
"Shan, what is the meaning of this?" All of the adults were around us now, and Baba was glaring at me.
"He attacked me!" the blond boy accused.
"He called Meishel stupid! He said she was dumb and a cry-baby!" I protested.
Meishel nodded. "He did, Baba. Honest."
"Gage, you are in so much trouble!" Relena snapped at her son. "You are going inside for a time-out, mister! And as soon as we get back home, you're grounded for a week."
My mother was kneeling next to me, wiping the blood off my nose. "Are you okay, baby?" she asked.
"Maybe we should take him to a doctor?" Baba fretted. My father doesn't have a problem with the sight of blood in general; but he flips out when he sees our blood.
"Wait a second." Relena was staring at them. "I'm punishing my son. Aren't you going to punish yours?"
"Why would we?" Wufei glared at her. "His sister's honor was insulted and he defended it. I'd punish him if he hadn't."
"If Gage doesn't want to get hit, he shouldn't insult people." My mother added. "My kids look out for each other. If he'd insulted Shan, Meishel would have jumped him. I'm proud of him my son." She squeezed my shoulder.
"Why you..." Relena obviously did not agree with my parents' defense of me. She yelled something nasty, and my mother yelled something nasty right back at her. A second later, our fathers had joined in, each accusing the other of being an unfit parent.
I looked over at Gage. One of his eyes was swollen almost completely shut, but I caught the other one. To my surprise, he smiled at me, glanced at the adults, and rolled it upward.
I couldn't help smiling back, in spite of myself. They were pretty funny.
Without speaking, we slipped away from the others, back toward the towering fields, until we were hidden in tall, green, stalks.
"Sorry about what I said. About your sister." He muttered.
"Sorry about your eye." I said back, staring at the ground.
We didn't speak for a minute, each of us taking in the other, in the manner that small boys often do.
"Hey." I blurted out. "Do you want to go see where the house is being built? Duo and Heero are building a house for Jazz and Linra on the other end of the farm. I'm not supposed to play there, but..." I gave him a look that said I found that rule a minor inconvenience.
"Sure." He agreed. "Let's go."
It's hard to run in dress shoes, so we took them off, and ran barefoot through the crops until we reached the construction site. It was just a skeleton on that day of the house it would one day become, and it would still be a few months before it was completed. I love that house; it was while watching it be constructed that Meishel and I had developed our interest in architecture and design.
I began scaling the boards, getting splinters in my feet as I went, and Gage climbed behind me, until we reached a wide beam near the top. We were too far away from the ceremony to hear the fight any longer, or the music. In fact, it was so quiet out here all we could hear was our own breathing.
"So... your name is Shan?"
"Yeah. Chang Shan."
He made face. "So Shan's your last name?"
I had to think for a minute on how to explain it. "No. Chang is my family name. In our family, our family name comes first, then our own name. So my sister is Chang Meishel. Get it?"
"Weird. I'm Gage Drummond. Gage is my first name." He added. "Are you Japanese?" He was staring at my eyes.
"No. My Baba is Chinese."
"What's a baba?"
"My father. That's what he wanted us to call him, cause that's what Chinese kids call their fathers."
"Okay." He had an expression that clearly said he thought my whole family was crackers, but this time he refrained from commenting.
"How old are you?"
"Five. How old are you?"
"Five and a half."
He looked around. "This is going to be a big house."
"Yeah. Linra's going to have her office here so it has to be big. She's going to be an animal doctor."
"Do you think our moms punched each other?" He asked suddenly.
"Maybe. My mom would, if your mom made her mad enough."
"Your mom likes you." He remarked.
"Well, of course she does! She's my mom."
He stared down at the ground far below us. "My mom doesn't like me at all. I think my dad does, a little, but my mom hates me... "
I didn't know how to respond to that, and I don't think he wanted me to. I think now about how much it must have cost him to admit that to a stranger, and what a burden that was to carry around at five. And it wasn't true; Relena didn't hate him. But his belief that she did had already left marks on him.
He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out the toy soldier. "This is General Stephen." He explained. "The rest of his troops are back on the ship, guarding it, but he came here to make sure there were no spies."
"So far the fort is secure, but enemies are everywhere." I told him. "We should do a perimeter check."
"Yeah. They might come from underground, too."
The hours got away from us as we went deeper and deeper into our fantasy, and before I knew it, the sun was sinking over the horizon.
"We better get back or we'll be in trouble." I said reluctantly.
"Yeah." He didn't look thrilled.
We walked slowly back through the fields, and before long we could hear the music again, as well as my father and Gage's father calling for us.
"Can you come and play tomorrow?" I asked.
"I can't. We're going back home tonight. Mom and Dad have to get back to work." He explained.
"Oh." I dug my big toe into the ground. "Well, bye, I guess."
He paused, and reached into his pocket, pulling out General Stephen. "Here. This is for you."
"But this is yours."
"Nah, I don't need him." He explained. "He says that he wants to stay here and set up a new base."
I thought for a minute and reached into my own pocket. "This isn't as good, I know." I handed him a red rock. "This is my lucky rock. Red is lucky for Chinese people. I found it on the ground a few months ago. You can have it, if you want it."
I expected him to turn me down; who wants a rock, anyway? But instead he looked at in delight, turning it over a few times, before putting it into his pocket.
We started back toward our fathers, when Gage spoke up suddenly. "I'll come back someday. Maybe not tomorrow, but I will come back. And we can play together again."
Linra and Jazz were dancing again in the twilight, kissing, and Rosie was dancing with Rylan. My mother was nibbling on a tiny sandwich, and I noticed one of her hands was swollen slightly. The cause was easy to see; across the yard sat Gage's mother, holding a pack of ice against her eye.
Gage and I grinned at each other.
"Well, I see you two have made up." My father remarked, biting his lip.
"Ready to go home?" Gage's father asked him.
"I guess. Bye Shan." He waved.
"Bye, Gage." I waved back. He stood by himself, watching his parents say their farewells to all the guests (my mother excluded). And then, they headed into the house to use the transporter.
Gage turned and gave me one last look before following them inside, and I will never forget the wall he appeared at that moment. Small and dirty, with one swollen eye, and wearing a tux with no shoes. I wish I had a photograph of it; because it would be a very long time before I saw him again.
Oh, he kept his promise to me. He came back. And proceeded to turn my entire world upside down when he did.
Gage Drummond was a nightmare to the people he didn't like.
And far worse to the people he actually did.
There was a saying that blonds had more fun.
As a general rule of thumb, Gage didn't think that was necessarily true. Fun was a matter of perception, and one's capacity for fun was based on much more important factors then the color of their hair. You had to take into account background, economic status, cultural expectations...
He had seen a tee-shirt once that said "Blondes have more fun because ignorance is bliss." Once again, he had to disagree. Hair color definitely had no basis on a person's mean intelligence.
Most people, be they blond, brunette, or carrot-top, were idiots.
He walked along the edge of a bridge tonight, staring at the water rushing below, and the lights of the boats. Every now and then a car came by, but it was almost three AM so traffic was slow.
He wondered idly what movie he might be cast in right now, if suddenly someone got the urge to stick him into one. Old movies were one of his passions; and his room was full of vid-disks.
Let's see... river. Bridge... What about "It's a Wonderful Life?"
No, he mused. He was wearing his brand-new boots, and jumping into the water probably won't be very good for them. He'd have to go through the trouble of breaking into the department store again and swiping another pair. A lot of hassle for nothing.
Well, there was always "A Clockwork Orange." One of his personal favorites. He smiled, imagining himself leading a gang of "droogs" on a wild spree of ultra-violence.
Then he rolled his eyes. Who was he kidding? He didn't have a gang of droogs. He didn't even have any real friends...
Oh, he had people he hung around with sometimes. They even went into the stores with him, but he didn't delude himself. They went because Gage knew how to disable the alarms, and had a lower chance of being caught than most people. Some of these "companions" had been lovers at one time or another, but not any longer.
Maybe that was his problem, why he had been so restless lately, the young man decided. Maybe he simply needed to get some.
Well, if that was all there was to it, that was easily enough fixed. He knew bars that won't question him about his age; he could go there right now and pick someone up. No, even that sounded boring right now. Somehow the idea of being petted and pawed by some lonely divorcee, or a drunk cowboy, held no appeal.
He heard tires behind him, but didn't think much about it until he saw red and blue flashing lights, and heard a car door slam.
"It's Drummond again." He heard one cop tell another one with a sigh.
Suddenly an image burst into his head. Himself, yelling "You'll never take me alive!" in a thick Cockney accent, and jumping off the bridge. The thought was so bizarre and unexpected that he burst out laughing.
"Oh, something's funny, is it?" The first cop asked. "Come on, Drummond. You know the drill. Get in the car."
"I'm just walking!" Gage protested. "Minding my own business, Officer Mitchell, sir!" He added that in a military chant, saluting stiffly.
"Drummond, all we're doing is taking you home. You're not under arrest, but right now you're trespassing and violating curfew."
"Don't forget drunk and disorderly conduct." Gage offered.
"You're not drunk." Mitchell's partner pointed out, rather testily.
Gage staggered against the rail of the bridge. "I onny had three ossifers, Mr. Beer."
"Cute, Drummond. Now get in the car and go home, or I'm taking you to jail."
"Well, sir, if it's all the same to you, I'd prefer jail."
"I'm serious! It'll cheese my mom off to have to come and get me. She gets this little vein in her forehead that starts pounding. It's hilarious."
"And then we've got to explain to her why we arrested her baby boy. Come on, Gage. I want to get home to my kids. Cut me some slack. Don't make me book you." Mitchell pleaded.
"Fine." Gage sighed. He followed them back to the car and slid inside. "Hey, got a new air-freshner, I see. Nice. Really covers up that pukey smell."
"Can we run the sirens?" Gage wanted to know.
"No, we cannot run the sirens!"
"You used to let me run the sirens."
"You're fifteen now! You want to run sirens, join the police academy."
"No thanks." Gage waved his hand. "I'm not overly fond of donuts. Or bullets for that matter. Although, I do have to say that making sure the youth of this town aren't loitering on bridges in the middle of the night is a very honorable profession. I thank you for your attention to and concern for my safety."
He leaned forward until his head touched the screen. "Can we at least break the speed-limit?"
"Ever seen 'A Clockwork-Orange'? There's this one great scene where they're driving down the wrong side of the road and people are scattering left and right."
"Son, have your parents ever considered getting you professional help?" Mitchell's partner wanted to know.
"Oh, sure. I've been to a ton of shrinks. It was fun; one of them spent four months trying to cure me of my phobia of pigeons."
"You're afraid of pigeons?"
"Of course not. I just told her that. Another one I didn't speak to at all; I just smiled at him for an hour a week. My favorite was Margie."
"Oh, and why is that?"
"I slept with her."
They pulled into the long driveway leading up to Gage's house. "Home sweet home." He leaned forward again. "Can I come home with you, Officer Mitchell, if I tell you that my parents beat me and starve me?"
"Of course not. But can I come home with you if I tell you that? We've been friends for so many years now, after all."
Mitchell stopped the car, and went around the side to let Gage out. "Come on, smart alack. Let's get this over with."
"You don't have to escort me." Gage assured him. "All kidding aside, I am in no way intoxicated or otherwise impaired, and as I have lived in this dwelling for most of my life, I'm sure I can find my own way to my room and the security of my bed. However, if you'd like to come tuck me in... or maybe sing me a lullabye, I'm sure that can be arranged."
Mitchell took Gage firmly by his shoulder and marched him to the front door, ringing the bell.
They didn't have long to wait. In his blue bathroom, Gerry Drummond opened the front door, blinking sleepily.
"TRICK OR TREAT!" Gage called in a childish voice. "My friend is a powice ossifer and I'm a cwiminal."
"Gerry? Who's at the door?" Relena called out.
"It's Officer Mitchell. He's got Gage. Again." Gerry called back.
"Well, I'll leave you now. Goodbye, Gage." Mitchell shook his head and started back down the steps.
"Wait! Don't you want to see her vein jump around? We've got donuts in the kitchen..." Gage called after him. Mitchell slammed the car door loudly. "WHAT ABOUT MY LULLABYE?" The boy yelled.
"Gage, get in here, and close the door." Relena had appeared at the top of the steps. Her voice was deadly quiet.
"Mom, you look terrible." Gage felt he needed to inform her. "Are you sure you're getting enough sleep?"
"Go to your room. We'll talk about this tomorrow!"
"Well, as it's past midnight, it's already tomorrow. So you probably mean we'll discuss it later today."
"I'm going. You don't need to worry; I'm very tired at the moment. I've had a wonderful night slaying the villagers and protecting the dragons, but being a good citizen does tend to wear one out."
He walked up the stairs and passed her, blowing her a kiss along the way. Yup; there went that vein.
He noticed that another door had opened, this one to the guest room, and that someone else had been watching everything quietly.
"Well, Heero. You're up bright and early. Probably still on Deran time." Gage stopped to greet his parents' guest. "The bed in there is very comfortable, don't you think?"
"Very much." Heero was biting his lip, and Gage would have sworn the man was trying not to burst out laughing. "I think you should probably go to your room right now, though."
"And right you are, as in spite of my very repeated requests, they still haven't found a way to make it come to me." Gage agreed. "I'll take my leave of you then, Mr. Yuy." He leaned closer, so that only Heero could hear his next words. "Let me know if her eyes turn bloodshot. That only happens when she's really, really ticked. I'm keeping score. One more time this month and I'll break my record." He winked at Heero and went to his bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
Heero coughed into his hand. Relena looked like she was ready to explode. "Excuse me a moment." Heero managed, and slipped back into his own room. He could hold it back no longer and sank to the floor, his shoulders shaking with laughter, and tears streaming down his cheeks.
Okay, it was mean to laugh. If Gage was his kid, he'd be ready to choke him to death. No wonder Relena and Gerry were at the end of their rope...
He wondered suddenly if Relena's eyes were bloodshot yet, and that sent him off again.
He finally managed to pull himself together, and could hear Relena and Gerry talking in hushed whispers. He shook his head.
Duo would get such a kick out of this. God, he missed his maclen right now. The thought was enough to sober him completely. He would have traded anything be back home right now.
But one of them had to stay on Dera right now, and as an ambassador, he had been needed here for the MWC, or the Multi-World Conference. So that meant that he was sleeping alone, and Duo was on the other end of the galaxy.
The trip hadn't been bad. He had managed to get a chance to stop in and check on Rosie, who was currently attending a university in London.
And living with Rylan Barton-Winner.
Not that he minded that, he sighed. Rosie had been madly in love with Rylan for years, and the boy bent over backwards to treat her right. He just wished that they'd go ahead and Pledge already, make it official. But Rosie was adamant that she was going to graduate first, and so he just had to live with it.
And Rylan was a good kid. Trowa and Quatre had done an amazing job with him. He was intelligent and kind, with a strong sense of humor, and a way of making all around him feel like they were the complete center of his attention. No, he couldn't fault Rosie for her choices. She'd made a good one.
He missed her terribly, though. Earth was far from Dera and it wasn't easy not having her around.
A knock on the door startled him. "Heero? Are you still awake?"
He wiped the tears off his face, and put on a serious look, opening the door.
"Heero." Relena began. "I want to apologize for that."
"Don't worry about it. I've raised four of my own. I know how it goes." Heero waved his hand. "Luke was an ogre to live with for years."
"I could handle an ogre." Relena admitted. "You know, it's nuts. If he came home and was surly, and told me to go jump, I think I could handle it. But this... it's all a game to him. Nothing we say or do phases him in the slightest. We ground him, he goes out the window. We take away his allowance, he steals what he wants."
Heero took a breath. "Maybe, the solution is that the next time he gets arrested, let him sit in jail a while." He offered.
"That's not an option. I've been very outspoken about the Juvenile Crime Bill. If it gets out that my own son has been indicted on charges..."
"Relena, you seem to want my advice and I'm giving it to you. If you buy Gage's way out of trouble every time he gets into it, of course he's not going to stop. Kids need consequences. It's good for them."
"There has to be another way." Relena argued. "A way to handle this without messing up his life, or mine. Or Gerry's."
God, she was just a stubborn now as she had been at fifteen. Heero glanced at her in exasperation. "You're asking for miracles, then." He paused suddenly, an odd though occurring to him. There was nothing wrong with Gage that some old-fashioned discipline wouldn't cure, he was sure of it. And it was pretty obvious it wasn't going to happen here.
"Maybe he needs a change of scenery, then."
"What do you mean?"
"He's out of school for the summer. And our kids are gone. Luke started his college term early, Rosie is here, and Jazz and Linra have their own house. We've got plenty of space, and it would be fun to have kid around the house again for a while."
Relena was giving him a "you've completely lost it this time" stare. "Heero, I appreciate your offer, but... you've met him! I couldn't do that to you." she protested.
"I like him." Heero shrugged, and her jaw dropped. "Duo won't mind, I'm sure of it. We can ask Gage later if he's willing, and if he is I'll take him back with me tomorrow night. I'll keep him for the summer, and return him in time for school."
"I think it would be good for him." Gerry had been silent the whole time, but finally spoke up. "What can it hurt?"
Relena sighed. "Okay. I won't deny that I could use a long break from him. If he agrees, he's yours for the next couple of months."
"Perfect." Heero nodded, and yawned. "I think I'm going to go back to bed, now that we've settled that."
Relena leaned over and hugged him tightly. "Thank you for being such a good friend." She whispered.
He returned the embrace. "Any time."