We went to the rave that night, and danced, and kissed, like we had done before, but it was different now. I'd shown my Shanny Boy a taste of what went beyond kissing. I'd introduced him to his body, and to mine, and they'd hit it off quite nicely, to my way of thinking. He wanted more; I could see it in his eyes, but I wasn't in any big hurry. Before I'd thought we'd only have the summer, but now we had the rest of our lives. I wanted to do this right. I'd never dated anyone before and I really didn't know the first thing about it, but I did know that I wanted to spoil him.
Jazz had been paying me for the field work, but I had not been placing it in the account Heero and Duo had set up for me. I hadn't told them, but I'd set up an account of my own, under a dummy name, and been placing the money in there. Why, I didn't know. It was just a nagging feeling that it was the right thing to do. And one day, when I had good money of my own, I intended to pay Heero and Duo back for every single Deran dime they'd spent on me. They were giving me a greater gift than they realized.
They were giving me a real chance with Shan.
The next morning when I woke up, Heero and Duo were gone again, and I wasn't sure where. I thought that the house was empty, but when I went down to the living room, I saw that someone else was already there. A short, kind of fat red-haired guy was sitting at their computer. He had the "Justice Skunk" comic book up and was chuckling.
"This is priceless." He said without turning around. "How do they come up with this? They've got him pegged perfectly."
"Not be rude, but who are you?" I asked.
He tilted his head to give me an upside down look. "Who do you think I am?"
"It is way too early in the morning for guessing games." I hadn't eaten yet and I was feeling cranky. "Why don't you explain to the cops who you are?" I stomped over to the phone.
"Hey. Chill." He stood up. "I was just messing with you. I live here. Well, sort of. I'm Luke. Luke Maxwell? Heero and Duo's son? Jazz's brother? This ringing any bells?" He held his hands out, palms up.
"No, sorry." I couldn't resist. "They've never mentioned you at all. I thought Jazz was their only son. You, sir, are a liar and a rogue and I don't trust you one wit. Now unhand that valuable equipment and remove yourself from these hallowed premises before I sic my attack-pigeons on you."
"Ha ha. Cute." He closed the computer program. "I've got a break from my classes for a few days so I thought I'd come home for a while. My official excuse is that I need some time to unwind. The real reason is a nice conversation I had with Shan the other day."
He gave me a hard look. "You know, you played with Shan for one day when you were little. I played with him every day. I showed him how to ride a two-wheeler; his father thought he was too young so he used to sneak and practice on my bike. We learned to swim together out in the lake, and one day we both got lost in the electronics museum and scared our parents to death before they found us. I've known him since he was born, and he means the world to me."
"So this is a case of 'I saw him first, so don't touch him?'"
"No. I have no interest in Shan besides the fact that I love him like a brother. And I'm not about to sit back and let someone take advantage of him."
I opened my mouth to berate him, but before I could speak he continued. "I'm not saying that that's what you're doing. As he pointed out to me, I don't know you. That's why I'm here. Impress me. Show me that you can treat Shan like he deserves to be treated. It's not personal; I'd expect to see the same out of anyone he decides to fall for."
He and Jazz were no blood relation, and no two people had ever looked less like brothers on the surface, but when he talked about Shan he got the same look in his eyes. I had to smile.
"What's so funny?" He demanded, folding his arms.
"You underestimate him. You all do. Shan would never tolerate spending time with someone who treated him shabbily; as much as I hate to say it, he's like his father. His honor would never allow it."
"Shan is very innocent..."
"Shan's been kept innocent." I retorted. "He's not a child any longer."
"He's worried sick about what his father is going to do. Have you thought about that aspect?"
"I know." I ran my hand through my hair. "And on that subject, I don't have any answers. I know that I won't give him up. Not unless he tells me that it's over. I won't let him go because someone else thinks I should."
"Good. That's what I wanted to hear." He nodded, and he looked a lot friendlier than he had before. "Because if you're not up to the fight of your life, then you need to bail out now. If you're willing to go into battle with him, and for him, then you're the kind of person that I want him to be with."
"So we don't have to step outside and choose weapons?"
"Not yet." He offered his hand and I shook it, deciding that I liked him. In his own way, he was as weird as I was.
"So you're here for the summer?"
"Well, I was... but your parents have decided they enjoy the mental trauma. They've asked me to stay for good."
"Ask them yourself. I, too, am baffled, but they asked and I have accepted. Barring my mother suddenly discovering she has a maternal instinct somewhere buried in her, and showing up wailing 'Please don't steal my baby!'"
Luke shook his head in amazement. "Well, you're getting good parents, in any case. Dad and Otosan are great, aren't they? There were times a few years ago when all I could think is 'They do not deserve me. They deserve so much better.' I even told them that. They got pretty huffy with me, told me that no wet-behind-the-ears kid was going to tell them how they were supposed to feel."
"They're cool. But don't tell them I said that. My horrid reputation is already tattered beyond repair." I sighed dramatically.
"So what was it like growing up with them? With Jazz as your brother?" I was curious.
"Chaos. Total chaos. If there was one piece of cake left, we all fought like the devil for it. We could turn a room from pristine to pig-sty in under 10 seconds."
"I can imagine." I tried to anyway.
"Try living with the biggest practical jokers on the planets. My father and my brother get this unholy glee out of scaring the life out of people. So I got it all; the short-sheeted beds, hand soaked in hot water when I was asleep. A letter in the mail saying that I was being investigated for tax evasion. I was six at the time. I had to ask Otosan what evasion meant."
"And I suppose that you were a little angel?"
"I wasn't as bad as they were, but I did my share. Rosie and I were always doing things to each other. One time I got incredibly upset with her and doll-napped her favorite ones. She got them back before she noticed they were missing, but one had green spiked hair and the other no hair and a tattooed head. I think I was ten. I feel bad now, she'd had those dolls forever. She retaliated by deleting all of my favorite VR programs."
There was something very appealing about the life he was recalling, and I felt my jealousy twinge again.
"We've always got room for one more." He squeezed my arm. "Come on. We're late."
"Late for where?"
"We're doing a picnic with the Changs."
"Not a cook-out. Shan..." I paused.
"No, not a cook out. No open flames. And we use an end of the park with no grills. He'll be fine. He was ours first. We do know how to take care of him."
He smiled at me. "I guess we're brothers now."
"Jazz said the same thing."
"I was always the youngest. So everyone got to boss me around." His teeth flashed. "But you're only fifteen. So you're my little brother. This is going to be lots of fun. I've never had anyone that I could bend to my will before. Shan and Meishel don't count; they're younger, but God himself couldn't make Meishel do something she didn't want to."
"Sir, I do not respond well to threats of intimidation!"
"What about promises of intimidation?"
"That I respond very well to."
He formed his fingers into a tent. "Ex... cellent." he sneered. "Come on. Let's get the food together. And try not to jump Shan in front of his parents, at least until after we're done eating. Bloody sandwiches don't sound very appealing."
I laughed. "You know, you guys make all these jokes about Justice Skunk, but come on. What's he really going to do if he finds out about Shan and I? He'll yell a lot and try to keep us apart, but you're all acting like he'd try and kill me or something."
Luke was serious now. "Make sure there are other people around when he does find out. There wouldn't be any try to it, Gage. He will kill you if he gets the chance. Where his family is concerned, he would consider it his duty. You've dishonored his son. The law won't see it like that, but you'll still be just as dead."
No wonder Shan was so worried. I followed Luke out to the kitchen, thinking. We were going to have to be a lot more careful.
But we couldn't keep it a secret forever. Sooner or later, Justice Skunk was going to find out about us.
I could only hope that Heero and Duo were around when he did.
And had some weapons handy.
"Come on, fork it over."
"No. Foul knave. Back. Back, I say." Gage jabbed a spoon at Shan, holding container of pasta salad close to his chest.
"You've already eaten half the container. Share." Shan glared at him.
"You want this?" Gage stood up. "Come and get it." He took off in a run, and Shan raced after him. He tackled the other boy to the ground, and they wrestled for control of the container.
Wufei gave Duo and Heero, who were laughing, a dirty look. "You think it's amusing that he encourages Shan to behave like a small child?"
"Uh uh." Duo nodded. "He's good for him. That boy of yours is way too serious sometimes."
"And I like him that way."
"Oh, Wu, lighten up." Denea threw a berry at his head. "They're just kids. Shan's having the time of his life. He never stops smiling any more."
Luke began coughing into his hand, and Heero clapped him on the back. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Something just went down the wrong way." Luke managed to get out. He didn't think Shan's mother needed to hear the reason behind her son's good mood. Let her live in blissful ignorance for now.
"Never the less, I will be very glad when Mr. Drummond goes back to his own parents." Wufei stuffed a piece of bread into his mouth.
"Oh, didn't we tell you?" Duo asked casually. "We've decided to keep the little monster if his parents agree. Not only will he be over at your house all the time, but you'll get to teach him as well."
Wufei gagged on the bread, and spat out a mouthful.
"Mother always told me to Pledge a man with class." Denea said sarcastically.
"Tell me that you aren't serious."
"I am too! She told me that all the time."
"Woman, you know I was talking to them!"
"We're very serious." Heero frowned. "Wu, his life there is miserable. His parents don't like him so he misbehaves. That makes them not like him even more and the cycle continues. He's been happy here. Six months from now you won't recognize him. He's already come a long way."
The boys rejoined them, Shan holding the empty pasta salad container. Both of them were covered in it. "It was a draw." Gage explained.
"I'd say the food won." Denea shook her head. "Men."
"Hey." Luke protested. "I resemble that remark!"
"Don't listen to her." Jazz said to Linra's bulging middle. "I swear, I'm a guy and I'm not so bad."
"And if you're a good child, your father will tell you another fairy tale." Wufei told the baby. Jazz stuck his tongue out at him.
"We look like we rolled in slop." Shan looked down at his shirt. "Oink."
Gage gave him a meaningful wink. "Moooo...."
The other boy exploded into laughter and collapsed on the ground. Jazz sputtered, and bit his lip and Linra was grinning as well.
"Huh?" Wufei stared down at his son.
"Just what he said." Shan explained. "MOOOOOOOOO!!!!!"
Gage was on his back with tears streaming down his face.
"MOOO MOOO MOOOOOOO!!"
"Explain yourself." Wufei demanded.
"It's quite simply, Mr. Chang. It's jut a matter of... mooooooooo!!!!!!!"
"I'm lost." Duo admitted with a chuckle. "This is obviously something we're not going to understand."
"We're going to the bathroom to get cleaned up." Shan rolled to his feet.
"And then we're going down to cow town." Gage offered, and Shan collapsed again. The blond boy helped him to stand and they made their way toward a wooden building in the distance. Every now and then the adults could hear another moo, and loud laughter.
"Denea, precious." Duo blinked at her. "What DID you put in that pasta salad?"
They entered the empty bathroom, and Gage grabbed Shan, shoving him up against the wall, and ravaging his mouth until they were both nearly unconscious from lack of air.
"You taste like pasta salad." Gage whispered.
"So do you."
"I swear, any minute one of your parents is going to look in the wrong direction and decide that I've got a fetish for buttered rolls or something."
"This isn't fair." Shan pulled Gage closer. "We're not doing anything wrong! We shouldn't have to hide it."
"Just a little while longer. We'll tell them after the anniversary party. Surprise them."
"That's over a month from now."
"We'll just have to cope the best we can." Gage nuzzled him. "Steal our time when we can find it. Like now."
"We'd better really wash up." Shan pulled off his shirt and Gage did the same thing, turning on a sink. The younger boy pulled down a handful of paper towels.
"Your shower was a lot more fun." Gage grumbled as the water turned hot.
"I know. I dreamed about that shower." Shan admitted.
"The fun part."
"It was all fun."
"This was part of it." Shan squirted some soap on his shirt, and pressed his mouth against Gage's. Gage's arms moved to lock around his neck, and their tongues danced. Shan felt wonderful and weak, and he wanted nothing more than to pull Gage into one of the stalls and touch him everywhere.
"Sorry. Am I interrupting something?"
Shan and Gage pulled apart to see Jazz calmly watching them from the doorway.