Two Divided By Zero
by Lasha Lee

She thought she'd held it together well up to this point.

She'd spent most of the night crying, but only when she had been alone, when no one else could see her. Crying in front of her parents was not an option, especially in front of her father. Baba hated weak women, and although she was furious with him, she still needed his approval. Anger was acceptable. How many times had she screamed at him and her mother when all she wanted to do was break down and sob? She'd learned early, and learned well, how to mask one feeling for another.

They all thought she was tough as nails.

Today, she didn't even feel as tough as a fingernail.

She had been the one to tell Jazz the news, at her own insistence.

She had tried to hold on to her composure, but suddenly the tears were coming and she couldn't stop them. She was trembling, and biting her lip, trying to stay strong. She was a warrior, she was a Chang, there was no room in her for weakness, not now, not when Shan needed her to be strong.

Then Jazz was pulling her onto his lap, the way he had when she had been a small child, and he was crying as well, not hard, but tears were rolling down his cheeks as he held her and rocked her. He knew that she had let Shan go, and he understood. Her understood more than her parents ever would, that the bond between the twins superseded anything else; that lying, cheating, stealing, killing for the other was something they would do again and again without hesitation.

"You did what you had to do." He was whispering. "It's not your fault. None of this is your fault. No one could expect you to betray Shan."

"My parents did." She managed to get out, still in his arms. "They'll never forgive me..."

"That's their problem." He said fiercely. "We both know who you are, Meishel. You stayed true to that."

"What if he gets hurt?" She was sobbing again.

"Meishel." he tilted her face up. "I understand why you let Shan go, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to help try and find him. I am, and I'm going to find Gage as well, and bring them home. But..." he quieted her protest. "First I'm going to make sure those numbskulls aren't going to separate them. I'm not angry with you, but I can't promise that I'm ever going to speak to your father again. Right now I am so angry with Wufei that it's all I can do to keep from going over there and calling him out."

"So why don't you?" She asked.

"Because it's not good for you, and it's not good for Shan and Gage." He stroked her ponytail. "Little one, when I was your age, everything made me mad. I lost my temper all the time. But I grew up, and I learned to control it. Sometimes it's not easy, but going over there and threatening to kill your father isn't going to solve anything. It's not going to bring the boys back home."

She looked disappointed. "But I wanted to hear you yell at them." She admitted.

He laughed and hugged her. "Quiet anger is a lot more effective sometimes. They'll know how I feel, don't worry."

"Thank you."

"For what? I didn't do anything."

"Yes, you did. Thank you for just being Jazz." She was calmer now. "Thank you for being the one person in my life that always understands."

"Come on, let's go back to my Dad's house." He stood up, smiling at Linra, who was watching them from the doorway, and had heard everything.

"Do you really think they're going to be okay?" She asked. "They're just kids."

"So were we." Jazz reminded her. "And we turned out okay." He tugged on Meishel's hair. "And one of these kids is the nefarious Gage Drummond. The boy's probably conned his way into a mansion by now."

Linra sighed. "No doubt. They should be easy enough to find though. I don't know how many Chinese boys are on this world, but I think it's safe to say that we only have one Gage. They broke the mold making that one."

"No, sweetie, they broke the mold WHILE they were making him." Jazz corrected.

Be safe, Shan. Meishel thought, hoping that somehow he could hear her. Stick with Gage. And keep going. I'll do everything I can to make sure they don't find you.

God, we were idiots.

Of course, we didn't think so at the time. We thought that we were very brave and self-assured; two young adventurers striking a blow against the injustice of the world, against those who opposed us. It was very simple; we were good, they were bad. And the world was just waiting for us to lay claim to it.

Like I said, we were idiots, but you have to cut us some slack. We were only fifteen when we undertook this little journey of ours. There are times that I'd love to know as much now as I thought I did back then.

That first afternoon, I found myself laying on my side, Shan's arm around my waist like I was some kind of large Pooh Bear, watching a pair of little tan mice-like things scatter around the floor. They were bigger than Earth mice, but not the size of rats, and their ears were pointy. One of them had a black spot on his (her) head and from here it looked like a yarmulke. I wondered what they possibly find to eat here, given that there probably hadn't been much food in this dump for a while. I suppose it had once been someone's office, and then a temporary shelter for someone down on their luck (that explained the mattress, and believe me, it smelled so bad that the person had to have been very down on their luck). Every now and then the mice-things would glance over at Shan and I, their tiny little black eyes glittering thoughtfully, rubbing their tiny hands across their faces and squeaking at each other. They were probably discussing us, wondering why humans had come here, why they wanted anything to do with that sorry excuse for a bed, and if we might be the kind of humans who had anything to eat on them.

I didn't know much about Deran wild-life. I hadn't heard anything about boy-eating rodents, but it suddenly occurred to me that for all I knew, the mice were discussing which part of my anatomy would go best with the wine they had stored in the cellar.

I shook Shan awake. "No." He shoved my hand away. "Don't wanna go to school."

"Dearest one, at this moment that is irrelevant. We are nowhere near a school, and even if we were, I have no inclination to force you into an education. I need to ask you a question."

He sat up, blinking, looking around the building. I offered him his glasses and he slipped them on. He had dust on his cheek and in his hair, and it made him look so adorable I almost forgot the rodents. Almost.

"Look at those." I pointed at the creatures, which were now watching Shan avidly. Too avidly, I thought. Just what I needed; Deran mice in the mood for Chinese food. Well, they were in for the fight of their little rodent lives if they were planning on eating my Shanny Boy.

"You woke me up to look at brallies?" He asked, sounding not quite pleased.

"Are they dangerous?" I pressed.

"Sometimes." He nodded. "They don't like sudden movement. As long as we stay calm and quiet, they won't hurt us."

I held my breath and tried to calm my heart, eyeing the little pests with a lot more respect than I had before. "Do they carry diseases?"

"Most of them. As long as their teeth don't break the skin, then you have an excellent chance of recovery. If they do draw blood, most people are dead within the hour."

"So what do we do?" I asked, whispering, still frozen.

He winked at me. "Pass the time telling more tall tales?"


He was laughing hysterically. "You should have seen your face. Thinking those poor little brallies were going to eat you or something." Tears were running down his cheeks. And I swear those rodents were laughing as well. "Oh God, I'm sorry Gage, I just couldn't resist..."

I was embarrassed and upset and climbed off the mattress. The brallies scattered back to wherever they came from, no doubt to mock me in private.

"Oh, don't be like that." Shan stood up, and I felt his arms go around my waist. "It was just a joke. You'd have done the same thing to me. You know you would." He rubbed his cheek against my back. "Forgive me?"

"I guess so." I grunted, still not completely mollified. "So I take it they're not dangerous?"

"They're curious, but cowards. And they don't eat anything but plants and insects. I don't think they'd bite someone if their life depended on it. I used to have some as pets when I was little, but they finally got old and died and I never got around to replacing them."

"Well, it's not as if I'm a native to this world." I said in a huffy tone. "I don't know these things."

"So I'll teach you." He offered, still snuggling me from behind, and it was impossible to stay mad at him. I suppose that I had looked ridiculous, and I laughed. "I'll pay you back for that, you know." I turned around to face him, brushing the dirt off of his cheek.

He was giving me an odd look. "Gage, are you afraid of rodents?" He asked with some surprise.

I considered. "Afraid, no. Not really. But I don't like them very much. They creep me out." I forced myself to admit a little sheepishly.

"Hey, look, there's one behind you!" he gestured.

He'd only meant to tease me, but my response slipped out before I could stop it. My inner jackass coming out to play.

"Hey, look." I gestured back. "The walls are on fire!"

He drew away from me, and the look on his face now broke my heart. I felt horrible. "Shanny Boy, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that..."

"No, it's okay." He shrugged, giving me a half-smile. "I'm the last person that should be making fun of someone for something like that. I'm sorry too. Truce?"

"Truce." I agreed, taking him in my arms again, reaching up to tangle my fingers in his thick black hair. I knew girls who would kill for hair like that. Everything about him was perfect, and just touching him was enough to have me ready for action. I wasn't getting any objections from him, and his hands had moved down over my rear, kneading me. His stomach, however, was not willing to wait while he indulged other hungers and immediately voiced a protest.

I pointed. "I think it's trying to tell us something."

He glanced down at his belly in irritation. "You couldn't wait fifteen damn minutes?"

"Come on. We'll splurge on a late lunch somewhere." I offered. "Then we'll try and find some work."

"Sounds good to me." He agreed. "We could probably use a shower too."

"That might be harder to find, but I shall do my best." I put my arm around his shoulders as we headed for the door. "Oh, we can't give our real names. I've taken the liberty of coming up with some aliases for us."

"Oh lord... who am I?" He asked warily.

"Jack Crawford."

He blinked in surprise. "Well, that's not too bad. I like that. Who are you?"

"Jame Gumb. And before we arrived here, we worked for an elderly farmer by the name of Thomas Harris."

I paused. "That's from..."

"Gage, I grew up with Duo for an uncle. Do you really think that I've never read 'Silence of the Lambs'? Not to mention read all the sequels and seen all the movies at least thirty times?"

"My apologies." I bowed. "You are truly an aficionado of the decadent."

"Right now I'm a aficionado in need of a burger." He teased, as we stepped outside.

The sun was still shining brightly and we were alive and together, if a bit disheveled and smelled more than a bit ripe.

We were idiots about a lot of things, but we still knew enough to appreciate the small blessings of life. We were idiots, but we were a pair of idiots. And that beats being a single idiot any day of the week.

I remember, so many times when Gage was a child. We'd be coming back from spending the day together and he'd turn to me and say 'Please, Uncle. Please let me stay with you. Please don't make me go back home.' And every single time it broke my heart to have to tell him no. All the light would go out of his eyes. So many times I was tempted to just break down and tell him the truth. Instead I told him that little boys belonged with their mothers and fathers, not their uncles.

I made a mistake. I made a terrible mistake and my son has paid the price. The sins of the father revisited upon the innocent child. I should have never let him go. I should have bit the bullet, told my wife the truth, hoped for the best.

I know it's not too late. I know that I can still be his father. I need to be his father, and he needs me to be.

My daughters are grown now. The break-up of their parents' marriage would hurt them, but not destroy them.

And it is time to stop hiding it. Gage's wishes are touching, but to continue this lie benefits no one. Amy and Megan have a right to know they have a brother, and Lucrezia has a right to know that I betrayed her.

I have the right to proclaim Gage as mine. I gave up that right once; I will never do it again.

He's out there, somewhere. My beautiful, wild, uncontrollable son.

I wasted fifteen years of his life, you see. And if I had a dozen more fifteens to give him to make up for that, I would.

But I do not.

I have, at most, another five years to get through to him, if even that. No one knows that; not my wife, not my daughters.

No one needs to know; this is my other secret. Five years isn't enough time to make up for the wrongs I've done in my life. But I swear, before my time is up, I will correct this one.

All I want is a chance.

On to part twenty-eight. Back to part twenty-six.