She'd never liked to think of herself as a coward. She knew that she was not. She was aware of her own merit, not in an egotistical way, but in a way that generally assured her that no one could take advantage of her.
Well, almost no one.
And yet, here she was, standing on a doorstep, absolutely terrified of seeing one fifteen-year-old boy again. She was frightened of her own son.
Not your son, a voice taunted in her head. Never your son.
I raised him. She argued back. He's more mine than anyone else's.
She rang the bell.
The door opened and music swelled out.
A handsome boy in his mid to late teens bowed in greeting to her, ushering her inside. "Mrs. Drummond." He shook her hand. "So glad you could make it. I'm Luke Maxwell."
Heero's son, she thought, taking in the polite young man. Not biological, but his son never the less. How could two families turn out so differently? And how could Heero be old enough to have a grown child? Wasn't it only yesterday that they were on that beach, she just a school-girl still ignorant of her own true identity, and he just a skinny boy in far over his messy-haired head.
"Please, call me Relena." She smiled at the boy. "You're making me feel like an old woman."
She followed him into the living room, where people had already gathered. Some were dancing, and some were at the buffet table. Heero could have afforded a mansion to rival her own, and yet his house was no bigger than he needed.
Heero at heart had never changed.
A knot of people were off to one side, passing around a newborn baby, a girl by the pink dress. She recognized Quatre and Trowa among them, flanked by Rylan and a plump brunette girl. Jazz and Linra were holding hands, and the exhaustion on their faces showed clearly who the baby's parents were.
She hurried to greet them, and Jazz embraced her warmly. And Relena happily accepted when the baby girl was placed into her arms.
"Her name is Nadia." Jazz offered. "Isn't she a doll?"
The older woman had to agree with the proud father's assessment. The baby was soft and warm, and smelled like powder, and Relena felt a flash of something that almost made her weep. Once... once Gage had been this small. Once he had smelled this sweet. He had smiled at her, gurgling and waving his hands. Had she smiled back? Had his smiles gone away on their own, or had she chased them away?
"You are so beautiful." She whispered to Nadia. "Do you know that? I bet you do, you probably hear that enough. Your grandparents are going to spoil you rotten."
"I'll say." Linra confirmed. "Duo wants to get her a pony. Do you know what kind of trouble it is to get a pony from Earth to here? Not to mention that she won't be able to ride it for years yet."
"Dear, you're lucky that he's not trying to get her a Gundam." Relena said dryly, and they all laughed. She handed Nadia back to her mother with a quick kiss. "Congratulations, both of you. Babies are such a blessing..."
"I'm sorry, Relena. I should have told you before the wedding, but I was afraid... I love you so much I just couldn't bear the thought of you calling it off. I was sick as a boy. It changed my body. I'm sterile. I can't give you a child of your own. This is the chance we've been waiting for. We can finally be a family. Say yes. Please."
I don't want to be a mother. I've never wanted to be a mother. It's not in my nature. I'm happy the way we are. It's enough for me. I don't need anyone but you... "Yes. If it means that much to you, then yes. I'll tell him that we'll do it."
She fought back a shiver, and excused herself from Nadia and her admirers. She craned her neck, and saw Heero and Duo dancing in the middle of the floor, holding each other tightly. There was a time when a sight like that would have filled her with almost insane jealousy, but that was long ago. She had no room in her heart for anyone but Gerry, and she missed him terribly right now. He was her salvation, her soul. The voice of reason in the chaos that still sometimes tried to drown her.
Then she heard a laugh.
She knew it, and she did not know it. The sound was familiar, but she had never heard it as a true laugh. There was no mockery in it, not sarcasm. It was happy, innocent, compelling. And she had to see the source.
She saw him standing near a wall, an egg in his hand, talking to a tall boy she knew could only be Wufei's son Shan. They were taking no notice of anyone else at the party, focused entirely on each other. The crowd parted for a second, and she saw Wufei, glancing over at his son every now and then. He did not look happy, but he looked resigned.
Gage seemed to sense her look, and glanced up. For a briefest moment, his eyes flashed with an emotion that she could not read, and she felt a spark of hope. Then the walls came down again.
He was beautiful; tall and tan, the last of his baby-fat long gone. The last of the little boy he had been long gone. She bit her lip, and approached them.
The look Wufei's son gave her was polite, but guarded as well. And slightly accusing, although he seemed too well-mannered to unveil it. What exactly had Gage told him about her? It could not have been flattering.
"Mother." Gage nodded his head. She seemed a little taken back; he'd never called her 'Mother' in his entire life.
She hugged him, and he returned the embrace stiffly.
"I'm sorry that your father couldn't make it." She apologized.
"Perhaps." Gage offered sweetly. "He should try some raw oysters?"
"Gage." Relena sighed. "Let's not do this tonight, okay? Can't we have one evening without the garbage?"
"It wasn't my idea to invite you." Gage returned, and Relena flinched.
"Gage." Shan put a hand on his arm.
"I won't ruin the party, if that's what you mean." Gage continued. "But I think it better, Mother, if we have as little contact with each other as possible. Go mingle with your friends. Leave me to mine."
"I want to make sure that you're not going to do anything to mess this up for Heero and Duo." Relena was still not convinced, and Gage turned on her.
"Mother, get this through your head. I LIKE Heero and Duo. They've treated me like a son since I've been here. I helped them prepare this evening, and I intend to see that it goes well. Now, let me put this as politely as I can under the circumstances. Bugger off."
Relena turned red and hurried away, and Gage sighed. "I'm sorry you had to hear that. But I really didn't want her hanging around me all evening pretending to be mommy of the year."
"It's okay." Shan glanced at the clock. "You can deal with her for another hour right?"
"Absolutely." Gage winked. "But no longer than that."
One more hour, and then they could finally be together.
"Relena." Heero tapped her arm, and they embraced. "So glad that you could make it."
"I can't resist a party." She forced herself to laugh, and Duo approached them. "I see that the two of you are still on one piece."
"Can we talk to you a moment? In private?" Duo asked, fidgeting a little.
She felt a flash of dread, but nodded, and followed them down the hall into an empty bedroom, and they shut the door.
"I know what you're going to ask." She blurted out.
"You do?" Heero asked.
"And I'm sorry. It was a mistake to let him come here. I knew what he was like; I should have told you no. I apologize for all the stress and grief that he's caused. I'll take him back home as soon as the party is over."
"He can't even go a month without getting into trouble!"
"He courts disaster wherever he goes."
"Relena, please!" Heero finally blurted out. "Will you just listen to us for a second?"
She shut up.
"We like Gage."
"Relena, I don't want you to be offended by this. It's in no way a condemnation of your parenting skills. But Gage has done well with us. He's not gotten into any trouble, he's been a big help around the house and the farm, and we've grown to love him. We think that..." He paused, not sure how to say it.
Duo chimed in. "We want Gage to stay with us. Not just for the summer, but for good. Dera has been good for him, and he's happy here. He's made friends, and he's excited about starting school with the twins. We've talked to him about it, and he wants to live with us very badly. We told him that it was up to you and Gerry."
They were looking at her hopefully, and she felt as if she'd walked through the looking glass. Someone was asking her if she minded them taking Gage off of her hands? Someone actually wanted to keep him?
What kind of a mother considers giving away her own child? The voice taunted.
I'm not his mother, she replied. He's never let me be his mother. He obviously doesn't want me to be his mother now.
"You probably need to speak to Gerry..."
"No. Gerry won't mind." She was sure of that. "You're willing to assume all responsibility for him?"
"Absolutely. We want nothing more. We'll even sign papers if that would make you more comfortable."
"That won't be necessary." Relena felt younger and lighter than she had in fifteen years. Free, she was free. Gage would be happy and well cared for, and she no longer had to worry about him. "If Gage is happy here, then this is where he should be." She continued. "I just hope you know what you're getting into."
"Relena, my son stole a fighter plane when he was Gage's age and joined a war." Duo laughed. "And our daughter was right there with him. We know how to handle 'em when they get out of line."
"And I don't?" Relena asked before she could stop herself.
"Hon, I didn't say that..."
"You didn't need to. It's the truth." She could not stop the tears. "I tried... I tried so hard with him... I just couldn't do it..."
Heero silently put his arms around her, and let her sob.
"How are you doing?" Trowa asked Rylan.
"Okay." He admitted with a half-smile. "Kind of homesick, though."
"Well, I'm proud of you for coming. I know this isn't your favorite place in the universe."
They watched for a moment as Rosie held Nadia up in the air, blowing on her face.
"This may cause that girlfriend of yours to want a few changes in your relationship." They hadn't heard Quatre approach, but he gave his son a level look.
"I hope so." Rylan agreed.
The party was magical, and Gage found himself loving every second of it. Not just for what he knew laid ahead for himself and Shan, but there was so much laughter and happiness in the air.
Jazz had taken the spotlight for a few minutes to sing. The song was one Gage had never heard before, something called "After All These Years." and when he was done, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Except for Nadia, who seemed to think that the best way to flatter her Daddy when he sang was to fall fast asleep. Even her mother's tears dripping on her head didn't wake her.
Duo moved to the center of the room and cleared his throat. Heero moved to stand next to him. "We want to thank you all for coming tonight. The evening is not over yet, but we have a couple of announcements we want to make while we're all here."
"No one reaches a point like this alone. All of you have helped us get here in one way or another. Your love and support over the years has been the backbone of our lives." Heero continued.
"I came to Dera twenty years ago, thinking that my son and I were coming here for a two month visit. But like Gilligan's three-hour tour, it didn't quite turn out that way. I stayed, with a little persuasion."
"I drugged him." Heero said dryly, and Duo smacked his arm lightly.
"We raised a family here. And now our son is raising a family of his own." Duo smiled at Jazz, who was cradling Nadia close.
"This year, we have been blessed. We have two new members of our family to welcome."
Next to Shan, Gage felt his heart begin to beat wildly.
"First of all, the munchkin over there. Our grand-daughter Nadia. The first in hopefully a long line of new Maxwells."
"Just what the world needs." Wufei called out, and everyone howled.
"Cute, Wu." Duo returned. "Ha ha."
"Now the next addition to our family isn't quite as cute." He addressed the crowd again. "We were only supposed to get him for a sixty-day trial, but heck, we were so impressed that we've decided to buy. Gage Drummond will be living here from now on. His mother has agreed."
Everyone applauded wildly, and Relena bit back more tears, and forced herself to look at Gage. In his eyes as he met her gaze was something she had never seen before.
She smiled at him, and he gave her a hesitant, shy smile in return. Yes, she had made the right decision.
Duo and Heero watched the exchange, but something else caught their attention.
Someone had not applauded Duo's announcement.
Someone did not looked thrilled about the change in Gage's living conditions.
This someone did not even look beleaguered and oppressed, the way Wufei did.
Milliardo was stalking toward his sister.
And he looked ready to kill her.