He ran, with no direction and no purpose. The Chang house was in a residential neighborhood, a few miles from the Maxwell farm, but it was still on the edge of the rural district.
He ran through damp fields and crashed through small patches of woods, branches tearing at his clothing and skin. One tore open his cheek, and blood ran into his mouth, causing him to choke, but he barely noticed.
He ran until he could run no more, and then fell to the ground. A storm was brewing, and the branches of the trees crashed and waved above him, moaning and throwing shadows here and there. They'd been there a long time, these trees. The broken heart of one teenage boy meant nothing to them.
Bastard! They seemed to hiss. Accident! Someone's drunken mistake! Your life is meaningless, a lie. No one wanted you! All you did was destroy lives from the moment you were conceived! Your own mother's first thoughts were how quickly she could be rid of you!
"He should have let her!" Gage yelled back at them, too blinded by pain and tears to see. "He should have let her kill me! He shouldn't have stopped her... I hate him!"
He couldn't hate Laura, though. At least she had been honest about not wanting him. She'd never made any pretense of doing so. He wondered if she had another more children. Did he have brothers and sisters?
Two sisters, he thought, feeling the knife twist in his heart again. One that had always seemed to like him, and another that despised him. Amy and Meg. What would they do if they knew? Would they be horrified? Would they be pleased? Would they even care? He wasn't even a full brother to them; half their brother, half nothing. And it was the nothing that threatened to overwhelm him right now.
He wanted Shan. He wanted Shan to come and pick him up and hold him and tell him that it was going to be okay, but Shan was miles away, beyond his reach at the moment.
A worm crawled over his outstretched hand, leaving a trail of ooze. How easy it would be to stay here, in the mud and leaves, to let more worms come and devour him. To erase all traces that someone named Gage Drummond had ever existed.
Drummond? Hell, he didn't even know what his real last name was. Landagren? Peacecraft? Who was he?
Yes, to lay here and die would be easy, but suddenly he was angry. Easier on them. Then they wouldn't have to worry about what to do with him anymore. They'd never have to give him another thought.
Images of Shan came back to him. Shan would grieve for him, Shan would miss him, want him, long for him. It wasn't ego that caused these thoughts, but the simple and pure knowledge of how deeply in love they were. Shan needed him.
He pulled himself up on his hands and knees, and the trees whispered louder.
"I WON'T GIVE THEM THE SATISFACTION!" The boy shook his fist at the sky. "I WON'T! I'M ALIVE! DO YOU HEAR ME, GOD? NATAKU? WHOEVER YOU ARE? I'M GAGE AND I'M ALIVE!"
For a moment, the trees were silent, and Gage stood up, every scratch on his body burning. "I'm alive." He whispered softly now. This he knew. "I'm alive and I love Shan. Shan loves me." He took in a shuddering breath. "They won't take him from me!"
He looked up at the few stars he could see through the gathering clouds. How strange they had seemed to him at first, when he'd arrived on Dera. But now he loved them; they were Shan's stars. He wished he could fly to one; take Shan and go where no one knew them, where they could live and love as one, and in peace.
He got his bearings, and started walking.
Most of the guests had departed soon after Heero and Duo had raced out, sensing that matters were happening best left to the family alone to deal with. Now all that remained where those who by blood and bond had a right to be here. This included Quatre, Trowa, and Rylan. Rosie was holding Nadia, and Jazz and Linra were holding tightly to each other.
They'd sat in stunned silence as Duo related the happenings of the evening to them, Heero adding a detail or two every now and then.
"So we don't know where Gage is right now. We may never speak to Wufei again, not if he sides with Zechs and tries to take Gage away from us. Shan is no longer a virgin, and seems very proud of that fact. You should have seen the look on Wu's face when Shan started bragging about being, in his words, queer. It would have been funny if it wasn't all so crazy." Duo shook his head in bewilderment. "And Wufei didn't even notice the matching tattoos."
"Didn't anyone suspect that they were involved?" Rylan asked.
Jazz raised his hand. So did Linra, and then Luke. "I knew about the tattoos." He admitted with a sheepish grin.
"I caught them kissing." Jazz offered.
"I suspected." Duo muttered. "Hypothetically."
"What about Zechs being Gage's biological father?" Quatre wanted to know.
"The idea crossed my mind this afternoon, when I saw the two of them together for the first time." Heero stretched his legs out in front of him with a groan. "But I had no proof."
"Can he take Gage from you, legally?" Trowa asked.
"I don't know. I do know that he's in for the battle of his life if he tries it. He may not have legally signed away Gage, but there are other issues. Gage's birth certificate, for one thing. If Gerry is listed as Gage's father on that, and I can't see what he wouldn't be, then it will be difficult for him. He'll not only have to prove his paternity, which we will question, just to irritate him, but he'll have to prove that it's in Gage's best interest to live with him. I doubt any judge is going to be overly sympathetic to a man who cheats on his wife, abandons his son, and then lies about it for fifteen years."
"We'll help in any way we can." Trowa promised, and Quatre nodded. "We've known Gage most of his life. He's always thought of Zechs as some sort of god. To find out this..."
"That's another thing we have to consider." Heero said thoughtfully. "The fact that up until tonight, Gage did love Zechs with all his heart. He may decide that he wants to live with his father and give their relationship a chance. If he does, then we won't stand in his way."
"I still don't see how he could have done it." Duo said sadly. "How could he hold his son in his arms, and look down at him, and then just give him to someone else?"
"Because you're a better man than he is." Luke sat down next to him and embraced his father tightly. "Never once in my life have I sat down and thought 'he loves Jazz more because Jazz is really his'."
"Exactly." Rosie added gently. "I don't think of it like my real parents and my adoptive parents. All four of you are my parents."
Rylan looked at Quatre and Trowa proudly. "I will always honor my mother's memory. She was brave, and she was kind, and I will never stop missing her. But it doesn't make me love my fathers any less."
"It's not blood that makes a family." Jazz agreed. "It's love."
"And we've got more than enough to go around." Linra smiled, rubbing her daughter's back. "For whoever else happens to join us. And for Gage."
Yes, Heero sighed. There was more than enough love here for that young man.
They just had to keep him here to make use of it.
"May I come in?" Wufei asked, knocking on Meishel's door.
A second later it opened, and his tiny daughter was glaring daggers at him. "I might as well say yes." She snapped. "You'll just kick it down if I don't. I swear, we go through more doors in this house... do you and Mom own stock in a factory or something?"
"Very funny. I need to speak to your brother. Alone." Wufei folded his arms. He could see Shan over her head, laying on his back staring at nothing.
"Maybe Shan doesn't want to speak to you."
"It's okay, 'Shel." Shan said quietly. "I'm not afraid to talk to him."
She did not looked convinced, but finally moved aside and let her father enter her room. "I'll be downstairs with Mom. Yell if you need me. Or put a hole in the wall or break a window or something; if we're going to need to call a carpenter we might as well get our money's worth."
She stomped down the steps, and for a small girl, she could stomp very loudly when she wanted to. Not quite as loudly as her mother, but she was still young, after all.
Wufei shut the door and stood for a minute, staring at his son, gathering his thoughts.
"Shan, I've read that it's not uncommon for boys your age to become..." he searched for the right word. "Confused about their sexuality."
"Confused?" Shan laughed. "No, Baba. I'm not the one who's confused." He did not look at Wufei.
"Are you aware G... that boy has had multiple lovers on Earth?"
"His name is Gage, and of course I am. He told me everything. None of that matters now."
"And what makes you think that you mean any more to him than any of those other boys and girls?"
"Well, for one thing, he didn't Pledge any of them." Shan closed his eyes wearily.
"We Pledged tonight, before we made love."
"That's absurd! Children cannot Pledge. Otherwise we'd have eight-year-olds running around with maclens!"
Shan tilted his head, and opened one eye. "Maybe it's not legal, but it's real to us. And you know what? When we're eighteen we're going to Pledge again. And there won't be a damn thing you or Milliardo Peacecraft can do to stop us. We will be together; and you can accept that or not."
"I will never accept that!"
Shan opened the other eye. "You told me that a man was only as good as his vow. Well, here's my vow, Baba. If you hurt Gage... if you go after him in any way, if you harm a hair on his head, then you will not only lose me, but I will destroy you."
"Shan, losing you WOULD destroy me." Wufei was biting his lip.
"Then accept my choice." Shan rolled over again. "Because if you make me pick between you and Gage, I will pick Gage every time. Goodnight, Baba."
Wufei started for the door, but then turned around. "I love you."
Shan did not answer.
"Son, I was forced into a marriage at fourteen. I was far too young to understand love or sex or commitment..."
Shan sat up then and pulled off his shirt, and Wufei choked at the mark on his back. "Gage has one too. It means infinity. We're committed to each other, Baba." He laid back down.
"You're having that removed! And I want the name of the person who did that to you! I'll have his license revoked."
A harsh laugh. "Go to bed, Baba."
Wufei stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Meishel's voice carried up the stairs. "That better still be standing!"
And in spite of himself, he began to laugh. His children were so precious to him. And someday, they'd thank him for being so hard on them.
If they all made it to that point alive.
It was after midnight when the back door of the house opened. Heero and Duo were sitting at the kitchen table finishing off the left-over party food.
"Christ on a cracker!" Duo jumped to his feet at the sight of Gage. He grabbed a towel and ran it under hot water, dabbing at the boy's lacerated cheek. "What happened?"
"I fought the law and the law won." Gage muttered. "Well, actually I fought some bushes and the bushes won. The trees, however, were most helpful. Remind me to send them a thank-you note."
"Huh?" Heero asked.
"Never mind." Gage smiled. "Heero... I'm sorry about your party. I really wanted tonight be perfect for you and Duo."
"Gage, no one cares about a stupid party. It's you we've been worried about! We were afraid that you might... well, that you might do something crazy."
Gage thought about that. "Once upon a time, I would have. But that was Gage Drummond."
"I'm just Gage now. And I've got something to stay sane for."
"Gage, it seems to me that all your life, people have been deciding what's best for you." Duo put an arm around him. "But they keep forgetting to ask you what you want. What do you want? We want you with us; your father wants you with him. But as far as we're concerned, only you can make that choice."
"I wouldn't live with him if he paid me five million dollars. I might be tempted if he offered to throw in the alcohol and throw out my step-mother, but in the end, I'd have to decline."
Duo laughed. "Okay then. You need to know that it's probably going to end up in court. They're going to ask you to testify as to where you want to live."
Gage placed his hand on an imaginary Bible. "Your Honor, I'd like to live in Narnia."
"Well..." Heero considered. "Would you settle for Dera?"
"I suppose it's livable. We just need to spruce it up a bit. A few witches. A lion. And a lamp-post, right there." He pointed. "And some fauns. Fauns are incredibly handy at vacuuming, you know."
It was his way of telling them that he had been shaken to the core, but not broken, and Heero understood. "Gage, about Shan..."
"Yes, about Shan." Gage said briskly. "Are you for or against us?"
"For, but for a non-sexual relationship. That's our rule and we expect you to obey it."
"However." Duo cautioned. "Wufei and Denea are Shan's parents. If they forbid Shan to see you... I'm sorry, Gage, but there's nothing we can do to force them into it."
The boy was silent. "I understand." He said at last. "You've done, the both of you, far more than anyone could expect. I also understand that you feel some discipline must be applied for my actions regarding Shan. But can that wait until tomorrow?"
"I think you've had all the punishment tonight anyone could expect you to handle." Heero agreed. "Why don't you go to bed?"
He nodded, and gave them both a smile. "Thank you for everything."
He headed back down to his room.
"He thinks we're going to lose." Heero glanced at Duo. "He has no faith in anyone anymore."
Duo shook his head. "He has faith in Shan. He had faith in the one person we can't give him."
And suddenly that didn't seem enough.