Shan blurted out the first thing that came into his head.
"Not on my watch you're not, buddy boy." Jazz walked over to him, giving him a stern glance. "And watch the language."
Both boys looked terrified, and Jazz wasn't used to seeing fear in Gage's eyes. He was trying to hide it, and he was holding tightly to Shan's hand. Jazz felt like the worst sort of ogre at that moment.
"Jazz, please..." Shan begged. "You can't tell my father..."
"It's not my place to." Jazz agreed. He looked from one boy to the other. "Why couldn't you tell me?" He sounded hurt.
"You said that you wouldn't cover for me any more." Shan reminded him.
"Shan, this isn't the same as getting drunk. This you could have trusted me with. You can trust me now, though. This is serious, right? I mean, you're not just messing around?"
"Yeah, it's serious." Gage admitted. He gave Shan a sideways glance and a smile, which Shan returned. "We're not trying to give anyone any grief. We know they won't approve. But..."
"We need each other." Shan finished. "I don't know why, but we do."
"You don't need to justify it to me. Granted, I'm me." He sighed. "Does anyone else know?"
"Only Luke. And if you plan on lecturing me on treating the young Mr. Chang here properly, then save your breath. Your younger brother has already taken care of that aspect of our relationship."
"You know, I knew that something was up. Shan's been walking on clouds; I thought he had a girlfriend stashed away somewhere. This was the last thing I expected."
"Why you cheating cad." Gage sputtered, faking outrage, and Shan laughed.
"It wasn't something I planned, Jazz. It just sort of happened. He makes me laugh; he makes me like who I am. I've never known what it felt like to be this happy." Shan whispered, squeezing Gage's fingers.
"I've been fifteen. I know what it feels like. How far has this gone?"
Shan gave him an innocent look. "Just kissing."
"Uh huh. Well, I've got to be a responsible adult here. I don't want to, but you're forcing me into it. You are not allowed to go beyond kissing. If you do, I don't want to know about it. I'm having enough trouble accepting that Shan is big enough walk on his own, let alone this."
He turned his back to them and took a minute at the urinal, and then turned back around. "Made me forget what I came in here for." He muttered, and Gage snickered.
"But I'm on your side, both of you. There's no shame in loving someone." He kissed Shan's forehead. "Finish getting yourselves cleaned up and come back out. You don't want your father to come in here looking for you." Then he was gone, and they were alone again.
Gage picked up his soggy shirt, wringing it out. "Shan?
"Yeah?" Shan was busy with his own shirt.
"Was he right?"
"Is that what we're doing?" Gage paused. "Are we in love?"
Shan didn't answer for a moment, and Gage felt his heart sink. "Yeah." He said at last. "At least, I know that I am. That's got to be what this is. Nothing else would feel so... good."
"Tell me." Gage asked, ashamed at the pleading tone in his voice.
Shan turned and stared into his eyes. "I love you, Gage. I'm in love with you."
"Cool." They grinned at each other.
"Come on. Let's go see if they've left us any food." Shan started for the door.
He turned around again. "I love you too." Gage blurted out.
Shan ran back, laughing, and threw his arms around Gage's neck, and they kissed again. "I'm going to do right by you." Gage promised when the kiss ended. "I'm going to make you proud of me. No more stealing, no more breaking the laws. I won't even spit on the sidewalk."
"Well, don't change too much." Shan teased. "Because I think you're just fine the way you are."
"In that case..." Gage tossed his head. "Last one back to the picnic has to clean up."
They took off in a run.
"You're going out again tonight?" Wufei looked up to see Shan headed toward the transporter. He frowned at the short black shorts and the mesh shirt, but decided not to comment on them. It was better than some of the junk the kids wore to that place.
"Yes, Baba. I'll be back before curfew." Shan nodded.
"Sit for a minute." Wufei pointed at the couch, and Shan swallowed hard. Did his father know what had been going on?
"I want to talk to you about something."
"Is something wrong?" Shan tried to sound innocent.
"You haven't done anything... at least, I hope you haven't." Wufei sighed. "I need to ask you a few questions about Gage, and I want the truth."
"Sure." If the truth isn't going to make you shoot my boyfriend.
"Shan... there are things on Earth that aren't as readily available here. I know that they are here, but part of the reason I've felt safe raising a family here was the lack of these things."
"Earth has a very large drug problem. It's better than it was, but it's been a problem for a long time. I'm ashamed to say that our own people had a part in it, but no matter how it started it still continues.
"Are you implying..."
"Shan, has Gage ever offered you anything? Anything unfamiliar?"
"Yes he has!"
"He has?" Wufei's jaw dropped.
"He's offered me his friendship, his support, his understanding. He's offered to help me finally start to grow up." He offered me his body too, Baba. Do you want to know about that? Do you want to know how much I enjoyed it?
"You know what I mean, Shan."
"Yes, I do. Gage does not have a drug problem. He doesn't take them, he doesn't sell them. In fact, the first time we went to Minos he started lecturing me about it, saying how I needed to be careful in places like that." Well, it was the rave but that's something you don't need to know about, either. "I suppose next you think he's got bodies buried in his basement or something."
"Don't you take that tone with me. I have every right to ask you these questions. Especially if Heero and Duo are insane enough to allow him to live here."
"You don't know him, Baba. He's a good person. He's done bad things but he wants to change. He's told me that he's going to try and change."
"I'll believe that when I see it."
"Why do you hate him so much? What's he ever done to you, anyway? You've had it in for him since the moment he got here." Shan stood up.
"Gage Drummond is exactly the kind of boy I've worked to make sure you don't become. He's rude and insolent, he's disrespectful to his parents, and he's a petty criminal."
"He's also my best friend." Shan retorted. "And Mom doesn't have a problem with me hanging around with him."
"Your mother sees herself in him. She was somewhat... spirited as a teenager. She fails to see the difference in her behavior and his." Wufei closed his eyes. "Shan, you can't protect yourself the way your sister can. That's why..."
"So you think I'm weak, is that it?"
"I didn't say that!"
"You didn't have to." Shan clenched his teeth. "I'm sorry I'm not the kind of son you wanted! I'm sorry that I can't fight, and that I'm a coward. I'm who I am, Baba. And I can't change that."
"Shan, you are not a coward."
"You think I can't see it? You think I don't see how you look at me sometimes? You all treat me like that. Even Meishel treats me like that, and I'm the older twin! Well, Gage doesn't! He treats me like a man! He doesn't think I'm weak."
"No. I don't want to hear it. You can't be proud of me, well, maybe I'm not proud of you either."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You're a joke, Baba. Everyone laughs at you, even Mom. You're always going around ranting and threatening, and it's funny. No one takes you seriously."
"Oh, is that so? Well, take this seriously. You're not going anywhere tonight except back up to your room. And until you apologize, you can stay in there! I am your father, and you will not disrespect me like that."
"You have to give respect to earn it." Shan shot back. "And I'm going out with Gage tonight."
"Oh no you aren't." Denea said, entering the room.
"You heard your father. Go upstairs."
"That's not fair."
"I've told you before that you're not to speak to your father like that. You've chosen not to listen."
"It's true, Mom. You know it's all true!" Shan said angrily. "He is a joke!"
"And you just bought yourself a week of grounding instead of a night. One more word and it becomes a month." Denea folded her arms.
Shan wheeled around and stomped up the stairs. The door of his room slammed shut.
"Thank you." Wufei said sincerely.
"For backing me up."
She put her arms around him, and rested her head on his shoulder. "Well, it's so rare that I agree with you, I decided to take advantage of it."
He held her close, enjoying her warmth. "I just want him to be safe."
"I know. I'm not blind to Gage. I'm watching the situation. But as long as he keeps his nose clean, then I have no right to tell him that he can't associate with my son."
"Shan was never like this before Gage showed up here. This attitude..."
"Is part of growing up."
"Duo and Heero told me the same thing."
"They're right. He would have become a surly little monster even if there were no Gage Drummond. It doesn't mean we have to tolerate it. He'll treat us decently or he'll pay the price."
She kissed his chest. "Come on. I've got some of that oil you like. I'll give you a backrub."
"Just a backrub?" He asked hopefully, and she sighed. "We'll see. Be nice and it might go beyond that."
He followed her up the stairs, his hand on her shoulder, feeling his tension already start to drain. It was his own fault; he'd simply been too lax with Shan up until now because the boy had not given him a lot of reasons to be stricter. Now he was testing them, seeing how far they would let him go before setting limits. He had read parenting books; this was normal. Irritating, but normal. He and Denea had to simply keep stressing that while they loved Shan, they were the ones in control.
And that was what he wanted, even if he didn't know it. He was asking them to set limits for him, show him the proper way to grow into manhood. Tonight had been an important first step.
They entered their room, and Wufei shut the door behind him, his mind immediately on more pleasant matters.
Neither of the adults heard the door to Shan's room ease open, or his footsteps as he snuck down the stairs and into the transporter.
"I really hate him sometimes." Shan was fuming as they sank down on a pile of cloth bags in the corner. "Who does he think he is, accusing you like that? What gives him the right?"
Gage said nothing. Shan had been in full rant about his father the entire evening, and he needed to get it out. He didn't want to make Shan upset by laughing, but when the boy was riled up he looked quite a bit like his father. Especially that outraged, indignant look in his eyes.
"Poor Shanny Boy." Gage said when Shan paused for breath. "You have had a nasty evening." He put his arm around Shan's shoulders and squeezed. "I'm glad you managed to sneak away. I can't survive a week without you."
They idly watched the crowd for a minute. A boy their own age was showing off his arm to a group of admirers. A brightly colored lizard was inked into the flesh.
"Hey." Gage called out. "Where'd you get that?"
"Two doors down." The boy called back. "He doesn't care if you're old enough. As long as you pay him."
"I've always wanted a tattoo." Gage admitted.
"Why didn't you get one?"
Gage hung his head. "I don't like needles."
"Needles?" Shan frowned. "You guys still use needles on Earth?"
"What do you use?"
"Laser imaging. It hurts a little. At least, that's what someone told me. But I don't think it's that bad."
Gage looked thoughtful. "It wouldn't hurt to go down there and see what they have available."
They weaved their way out of the rave and down the dark street until they found the tiny shop. Bells chimed as they entered.
They had expected the artist to be one of the big, burly, greasy types, but he was anything but. He was very short and thin, and only a few years older than they were. He was also flaming.
The boys assured him that they were just looking, and examined the various designs on the wall. The artist had some definitely talent. One design in particular caught Gage's attention, and he looked closer at it. It was black and red, a series of interconnecting lines forming a pattern that he didn't recognize.
"What is that?" He asked Shan.
"That's the Deran symbol for infinity." Shan explained.
"Very popular with lovers." The shop owner winked.
The artist named a price that was lower than either boy expected.
"We'll each take one." Shan blurted out.
"We will?" Gage asked.
"Sorry, I thought you..."
The blond boy laughed. "I told you that I'd always wanted one. But I don't handle pain well. You'll have to hold my hand."
"Excellent choice. Where would you like them?" The artist began pulling down his laser and dyes.
Gage tapped a point on his upper back, and Shan nodded. "Same for me. I can hide it for a while."
The boys looked at each other. "He is." They said in unison, pointing.
"I'll go first." Gage offered. "I'm... brave." He grabbed Shan and kissed him. "Remember me, okay?"
"Are you okay?" Jazz finished off the last of the dishes, and glanced over at his maclen, who was leaning on the table.
"I'm fine. I just ate a little too much earlier, I think." Linra rubbed her middle and smiled.
"You should go to bed." He bent and kissed the top of her head. "You're looking a little pale."
"I think I will. I hope I'm not coming down with anything." She stood up, and then suddenly cried out, grabbing her belly.
"Linra!" Jazz grabbed her, his eyes widening in horror as a trickle of blood began running down her leg.
"Jazz... our baby... OH GOD." She doubled over again.
He picked her up, running toward the transporter as fast as he could. This wasn't happening, it couldn't be.
Daddy's hurrying, little one. You hold on.