They stood in the chaos of the Shuttle Terminal, watching children tumble over each other, watching families exchange greetings, watching a sobbing woman turn her back on a pleading man and storm away.
The shuttles purred outside of the glass windows, waiting to take the passengers to Earth, or Seta, or the Colonies. The people here were a mixture of races and colors, and languages. There were even a few Wronith mixed in here and there, to Shan's surprise.
The Shuttle Terminal near Shan's house was much smaller; there was no internal port; you just went outside and got on the shuttle from there. He smiled, remembering the happy games of tag he and Meishel had played on the tarmac when they were small. Baba was always "it" in those days; completely against his will.
He suddenly felt tiny and alone. He wanted his sister, wanted Meishel's teasing grin and unfailing strength to lean on. He taken her for granted so much in their lives; he wondered now if she'd gotten in trouble for not stopping him from running away. Great, now he felt guilty on top of everything.
Gage was studying the people thoughtfully, but Shan noticed his attention going to the various boutiques and shops the Terminal offered. It was really more like an Earth shopping mall than a transportation hub. And the older boy was smiling; an evil, self-satisfied grin that immediately put Shan on edge.
"What are you plotting?"
"To get us to Seta, Shanny Boy."
"And I suppose you have a plan?"
"Oh, several plans. The problem has been deciding which one to use. Both have risks... but I know what we're going to do." He laughed suddenly. "And any time in the future, dearest one, if you ever doubt my love for you, I want you to remember this. Remember what I did today to keep us together."
"I think I'm going home now." Shan turned to walk away, and Gage grabbed his arm. "I promise; it won't hurt a bit. You may even get a chuckle out of it."
"What do you want me to do?" Shan relented.
"Go sit over there. Try to look bored. You're going to be John Connor, on your way to Seta much against your will. You want to go to Earth."
"Okay, and who will you be?"
"You'll see." Gage squeezed his wrist. "I'll be back in about a half an hour. Oh, I need my card back."
Shan handed him the card. "No billing to my dad?"
"Not this time. But oh, I would if I could..." He squeezed Shan again and headed for the shops, whistling.
Shan sat down in a leather chair, idly watching the other passengers. Under his hat and dark glasses, no one recognized him. He wasn't even, for one of the few times in his life, the only Asian in the place. Two young boys, although different sizes alike enough that they must be brothers, were chattering happily in Mandarin Chinese about what they were going to do when they got to Seta. An older Chinese couple trailed behind him.
"I get the window seat." The younger boy suddenly told his brother.
"It's my turn! You got it last time!" The older boy argued back. "Tell him it's my turn, Baba!"
"Your mother gets the window seat!" The older man said sternly. "And if I hear one more word about it, you ride with the luggage."
It was so familiar, so much a page out of his own life, that behind his glasses, Shan's eyes suddenly filled with tears. He wanted to go talk to them; ask them where they were from, how old the boys were, how they had liked Dera.
But the family disappeared, the boys now clamoring for hot Brani bread, and the mother complaining that they'd ruin their dinner.
Others came and went, and he did not have to fake his boredom. He looked every now and then at the stores, hoping to spot Gage, but the other boy had vanished completely.
Shan felt a twinge of unease. What if Gage had abandoned him here? He already was feeling guilty about Shan running away with him. What if he had decided that Shan would give up and go home if he wasn't around?
No, Gage wouldn't do something like that. It wasn't his style. But what was he up to then?
He glanced at the ticket counter now, drawn by the sound of a booming voice with an accent it took him a while to place; Earth, British.
The speaker was a thin woman in a garish red dress, topped by an enormous red hat, and swinging a red handbag. Even her pumps were bright red.
"Two tickets to Seta, the first shuttle!" She was snapping at the clerk. "And I don't want to wait. And make sure it's a clean one! My son has been sick and I don't want him exposed to any garbage like the LAST time we traveled with your shuttle company." She handed him the card.
"Yes ma'am, I apologize that your last trip didn't meet your expectations." The poor clerk tried to soothe her. "May I have your name?"
"Sara Connor. S-A-R-A. No H at the end. Connor. C-O-N-N-O-R. Don't spell it with 'er' like the other numbskull did."
"Here are your tickets, ma'am. Your shuttle departs in half an hour."
"Well, I suppose it's the best you can do. And I simply don't have time to wait for your manager." The woman snarled. "But if the conditions aren't pristine, I'll make sure everyone on Seta knows about you."
"Thank you for traveling with Deran Select, Mrs. Connor. Next?" The clerk asked hopefully.
The woman was marching toward Shan now, narrowly missing an elderly man with her handbag. Her eyes were hidden behind red heart-shaped, dark glasses, and her mouth was shiny with crimson lipstick.
"Well, come along." She snapped. "I won't miss another shuttle because of your nonsense, young man!"
Shan swallowed and got shakily to his feet, and the woman leaned close to him. "Pick your jaw up, Shanny Boy. You'll ruin everything."
"Sorry... er... Mom." Shan tried to steady himself. "Where's our gate?" He knew he had to stop staring but it was almost impossible. Gage looked nothing like himself; he had become an overdressed, middle-aged woman in a matter of thirty minutes.
"Gate 3. They always give me the furthest one." Gage huffed as they walked through the terminal. "I'll never fly this company again."
Shan suddenly scowled as they neared their gate. "Why do we have to go to Seta anyway? There's nothing to do there but look at water. I want to go to Earth!"
"You'll go where I tell you to go and like it, young man." Gage/Sara returned. "I didn't put up with that kind of attitude from your father and I'm not putting up with it from you!"
"Maybe I'll leave like Dad did." Shan muttered sullenly.
They stood in line at the gate. Shan had hoped to find the Chinese family here, but they were not. Every now and then Gage/Sara would shift in front of him, muttering under his breath about insolent children, uncomfortable shoes, and making decent paying people wait needlessly.
He held his breath, watching the guards at the gate DNA checking anyone who looked young and was not accompanied by an adult. Not that it was a guaranteed rejection; the parents would be called. If permission was given, the children were allowed to board. A group of older boys were making fun of one of their friends, who had been scanned. He looked only about Shan's age, but scanned as an adult, so he was let on board. The other boys trailed on behind him, still making cat-calls.
Sara/Gage handed the guard his tickets. "I expect an in-flight meal. And a good movie; not anything over a year old."
"Yes ma'am." The guard looked weary. "Is this your son?" He peered hard at Shan.
"I don't suppose I'll be able to get away with denying it. Yes, he's mine. At least, according to the blood test. Come ON, John. You're holding up the line."
Shan gave the guard a "help me" smile, and the man chuckled in sympathy, moving to let them on board the shuttle.
Gage had done it.
The stars zipped by the window of the shuttle as Shan reclined in his seat, sipping a glass of fruit juice. He looked bored, but in reality his mind was very busy.
He was plotting Gage's death.
Once into the role of Sara Connor, the other boy had decided to have as much fun with her as he could. And most of that fun was at Shan's expense. And Shan couldn't do a single thing in retaliation or he'd risk blowing their cover.
Although Shan only had juice, "Mom" had been offered a cocktail, which she happily accepted, ignoring Shan's dark and dangerous look.
"Don't suppose you'd consider sharing that?" He asked sarcastically.
"Oh, how rude of me." Gage/Sara sniffed. He handed Shan the olive.
"You're too young to drink." Gage/Sara smirked, sipping the cocktail. "Oh, this does taste good." He left a ring of lipstick on the edge of the cup.
He also felt the need to strike up conversations with the other passengers, who were either too polite or too afraid to ignore him.
One of the other passengers was a young a woman with a cranky baby, who honestly seemed charmed by the obnoxious older woman. "Honri's got a diaper rash." She was explaining to Gage. "She's been up all day. I've tried creams but nothing works."
"My Johnny was the same way." Gage nodded. "It seemed like no matter what kind of lotion I used, it made his little bottom sore."
Shan choked on his juice. "MOM!" he sputtered.
"I think I've embarrassed him. You were such an adorable baby, Johnny." Gage continued. "And the worst oral fixation I've ever seen." He turned back to the young mother. "He was always putting things in his mouth. If he didn't have something to suck on, he just wouldn't leave me alone."
"I think I've gotten over that." Shan said coolly, giving Gage a look he hoped was very meaningful. "I can't imagine anything I'd want to suck on right now."
"How old is your son?"
"He's fifteen. Not that he ever acts like it." Gage sighed. "He's a handful; always arguing with me, sneaking out, getting into trouble with the law. Once I even found him taking mail out of people's mailboxes and putting it back in the delivery truck!"
Shan choked again. "Take small sips." Gage advised. "And don't drink too much of that. You'll wet the bed. Johnny's got a weak bladder." He explained to Honri's blushing mother.
"We will be arriving on Seta in approximately twenty minutes." A voice announced.
Shan sincerely hoped that Gage enjoyed those twenty minutes.
They were his last ones.
The tickets to Seta, as well as Gage's disguise, had almost completely strapped their funds. Finding work on Seta was now critically important; Shan knew he could use Baba's account in an emergency, but he really didn't want his father to get wind that they had made it off the planet.
Gage, despite their poverty and the fact that he was getting blisters, was in an excellent mood; almost bursting in pride over the fact that he had gotten them here. Shan was proud of his boyfriend as well; still feeling homicidal towards him, but proud nevertheless.
They had taken a public transporter to a near-by beach, and now walked together, the water lapping over their feet, Gage carrying the red pumps.
"So what are we going to do now?" Shan wanted to know. The Shuttle food had not been very filling, and he was starving. And the night was starting to grow chilly. They needed to find food and a place to stay. Soon.
"I've got a plan." Gage shrugged. "Don't worry."
"Well, your last one worked." Shan had to admit. "You never cease to amaze me, do you know that?"
"I amaze myself at times, Shanny Boy." Gage smiled. "But let's go find shelter. I need to change out of these clothes before I get used to this underwear."
"Come. Trust the master." Gage headed for a row of houses on the beach, and stopped a passerby. "Excuse me, sir. How much would it cost to rent one of those?"
"Those? Those aren't rentals. People own them." The man explained. "You want rentals, try Experia beach."
"Thank you kindly."
"We can't afford to rent a beach cottage." Shan hissed.
"Exactly. Which is why we're not going to." Gage returned. "Dearest one, without bragging, I was raised with money. I know how people with money live." He stopped before the houses, examining them. "They buy lovely things like these, and then only use them a week out of the year. The rest of the year, they sit empty."
"That house." Gage pointed. "Was used recently. However, it's empty now. They've had their week in the sun, and they've gone home."
"How do you know that?"
"Just look at it. It's obvious."
Shan stared at the house, but gave up. Gage was definitely seeing something that he wasn't. He followed the other boy to the back door, where Gage glanced around, looking for witnesses.
"My bag." He instructed, and Shan handed over his knapsack.
Gage rooted around for a moment, and then pulled out a small, leather pouch. "Lock picks. Top of the line. Illegal to own, but I've found that a minor detail."
He inserted two pieces of metal into the lock, and fiddled for a moment. There was a click, and the door opened up. "After you, Shanny Boy."
"Where did you learn to pick a lock?" Shan had to ask, stepping gingerly into the kitchen of the house, expecting to be attacked by a home-owner any second.
"I'm self-taught." Gage shut the door behind them. "You don't need to tiptoe; there's no one here." He turned on the lights.
He was right; the house had a hollow, deserted feel to it.
Gage opened the refrigerator. "And see? They've been kind enough to leave provisions that will last us for at least a few days. None of it's gone bad yet, either."
"Now let's review." Gage smiled. "I've gotten us to Seta; I've gotten us a place to stay, and even a meal for the night. Not bad, if I do say so myself." He attempted to pull Shan against him, but the other boy wiggled free.
"What's the matter?"
"I can't... not with you dressed like that. It's too weird." Shan admitted.
"Well, I wasn't planning on wearing it the entire time!" Gage sulked.
"Tell you what, Mom." Shan sighed. "Why don't you go change and get a hot shower? I'll fix us some dinner."
"You're a good boy, Johnny." Gage took off the sunglasses and winked at him. "Much better than your father." He took off toward the bathroom, and Shan began pulling food out of the refrigerator.
"Hey, Shanny Boy?"
Shan turned around. Gage had taken off the dress, but was still clad in lady's underwear and a bra that appeared to be stuffed with socks. "I can't get this stupid thing off." He tugged helplessly on a bra strap.
Shan burst out laughing.
"Come on, it's cutting into me. Give me a hand." Gage pleaded.
"Oh no, I'm too busy wetting the bed and putting everything in my mouth."
"I'm sorry I teased you."
"Are you sorry about the drink?"
"And the lotion comment?"
"No I am not. It was true!"
"Come here." Shan moved around Gage and undid the clasp on the bra, still giggling. "You know, if I had a list of the things I never expected to do in my lifetime, unhooking my boyfriend's bra would be at the top."
The garment fell to the floor, and Gage immediately crossed his arms over his chest in mock embarrassment. They both cracked up, and a moment later, Shan found himself in Gage's arms again.
"You are something else." Shan sighed.
"But you love me anyway, right?"
"With all my heart."