"Meishel..." Luke glanced over at the girl.
"What?" She shrugged, giving him a wide grin. She was wearing a pair of baggy jeans and one of Shan's old tee-shirts, making her seem even smaller than she was, and her hair was done in two childish braids. She looked as innocent as the Holy Virgin, and it was that fact alone that had Luke so scared right now.
"You KNOW what." Luke scolded. "Your parents are going to kill you!"
"Luke, listen very carefully to me. This is my brother we're talking about. My twin brother. We've been together since we've existed, and you can't possibly understand the kind of bond that creates between two people. He's in trouble right now, and I've got a chance to help him. Let them kill me; I can't live knowing I didn't at least try."
He caved, but that didn't surprise him. Meishel had always held a power over him that he still didn't quite understand. She rarely abused it, but when she did he was helpless to do anything contrary to her wishes.
Jazz was in his fields, and Linra had taken Nadia to the doctor for a check-up. The others were all on their way to Seta, and this was the only chance Meishel would have to pull off her plan. Jazz would approve of the spirit behind it, but he'd still try and stop her.
They opened the front door of Jazz's house and stepped outside, to where a group of reporters had seemingly set up permanent camp. Jazz chose not to chase them away; remarking that if nothing else, they were cheaper than lawn gnomes. He admitted to his brother that he'd seriously considered telling them that Shan had run away after finding out his father planned to sacrifice him to Nataku, but had decided that it probably would have been in poor taste.
"Miss Chang. Miss Chang. Do you have any statements?"
"Have their been any recent developments?"
"I have something to say." She gave them a winning smile, many of them thinking that this girl could not possibly be old enough to be the twin of one of the missing boys.
That, Luke thought glumly, was her intention.
Meishel licked her lips. "My parents don't want you to know the real reason Shan and Gage ran away from home. Well, I know what that reason was. I was there.
"My brother and Gage ran away because in the eyes of our parents, Shan's and mine, they'd committed a terrible crime." She paused for drama. "They fell in love." She blinked quickly. "They were so cute together, but our parents flipped out. They hated the thought of Shan being with another boy. They told Shan that he could never see Gage again. My father... he tried to kill Gage when he found out. He probably still has the bruises on his neck." A tear now rolled down her cheek. "Baba told Shan that he would kill Gage if Shan went near him again. They're fifteen years old, just like me. And they were scared. They wanted to be together, that's all. They just wanted to be allowed to be in love, but they were afraid of our father. He has a terrible temper; maybe he'd never hurt us, but he hates Gage."
She was crying hard now, and the reporters were all muttering in sympathy. "Please, if anyone sees my brother and Gage, please don't turn them in. You're not just betraying them if you do. You're betraying true love itself. And after this, my father probably will kill Gage. Please don't let that happen. I don't have a lot of money now, but one day I will. If you do anything for them, buy them food or something, I'll pay you back double some day, I promise. Just make sure my father doesn't find them." She covered her eyes and ran back into the house.
"That's all for now." Luke said curtly to the reporters, ignoring the endless chatter of additional questions. He went back into the farmhouse and closed the door.
Meishel was laying on the floor, holding her stomach from laughing so hard.
"Well, that went well." Luke offered, biting his lip.
"Didn't it just?" Meishel sat up and grinned. "Before, anyone who saw them would have called the police right away. Now they're going to be the pet cause of every hopeless romantic out there. I mean, who's going to be such an ogre they betray true love and send an innocent teenager to his death?" She began laughing again.
Luke sat down on the floor next to the girl. "Meishel, you are something and a half, do you know that?"
She tilted her head, looking up at him. "Is that a complaint or a compliment?"
"It is whatever you want it to be." He promised softly.
"Thank you for standing by me today."
"You know I always will." He reached out and tugged on one pigtail. "This look doesn't work for you."
"Repulsive, isn't it?" She agreed.
"Here." Luke's hands moved rapidly and he undid the pink ribbons, letting her hair fall loose around her shoulders. "Much better." He pronounced.
The carpet was rough under her palms, which were beginning to sweat. Luke was only about a foot away from her, and she watched his hand moved again, seemingly against his will, to touch the cloud of black around her face. "You look like Meishel again."
"Luke, what are you doing?" Her voice was barely audible.
"I don't know. Maybe I'm trying to figure out when you grew up on me." His own voice was no louder.
"Right now, all of your heart and all of your thoughts are on Shan. So are mine. I'm cool with that. But today, I realized something. Something I should have realized a long time ago."
The transporter chimed and Linra stepped out, holding the baby. The two teenagers separated quickly before the woman could notice how close they were. All she noticed was them sitting on the floor.
"You know, we do have chairs." She pointed. "And that couch is very comfortable. Ask Jazz; I've made him sleep on it before when he's being a jerk."
She looked Meishel up and down. "Honey, why in the world are you dressed like that? You look like you're about ten."
"Should we tell her?" Meishel asked.
"She's going to find out sooner or later." Luke sighed. "You might want to sit down."
"Has something happened?" Linra took a seat, and Meishel plucked the baby from her arms, cuddling Nadia. Nadia tolerated this, but from time to time her gaze drifted longingly to her mother. Or more accurately, her mother's chest. She had already determined that the young woman holding her must be broken; she didn't smell like lunch.
"CHANG MEISHEL!" Jazz's voice boomed as he stomped in through the back door. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE???"
"Well, that was fast." Meishel winked at Luke. "Why, Jazz." She smiled sweetly as he entered the room. "Whatever do you mean?"
"I had to go to my parents house. I HAPPENED to turn on the news."
"Oh, that?" She waved her hand.
"What?" Linra asked. "Will someone tell me what's going on?"
"She issued a public statement asking people to help Shan and Gage hide because her evil father was planning on killing Gage!"
"I resent that! I never once said that Baba was evil." Meishel protested. "I just said he had a temper..."
"Oh Meishel, you didn't." Linra sighed. "I know how much you love Shan, but he and Gage are in a lot of danger right now. Anything could happen to them. We need to find them and bring them back home."
"Not if they're going to be kept apart." Meishel said stubbornly. "I won't do that to Shan." She rubbed her cheek in Nadia's hair for a moment. "I just won't..."
"Your parents are going to be furious with you." Jazz pointed out.
"They already are. What's one more crime on my head, right?" She handed a grateful Nadia back to her mother. "Maybe... maybe someone will see them and feel sorry for them now. Maybe they'll have a place to stay tonight. Shan has to stay alive. He has to, because when he's old enough to Pledge Gage, I need him to come back."
Shan had to come back. She wouldn't be whole again until he did.
"We may be dealing with a teenager who would make Machiavelli blush with pride, but the fact remains, he's still only a teenage boy. And what is the number one reason that most teenage boys do stupid things?" Duo looked at his traveling companions expectantly.
"Lack of proper upbringing." Wufei answered, giving Relena and Milliardo stern looks, which they returned. "Is that why Shan went with Gage?" Milliardo asked sweetly.
"They don't have the maturity to know better?" Heero offered, not sure where Duo was going with this.
"Wrong, try again." Duo smiled.
"To impress teenage girls." Denea offered.
"EXACTLY." Duo nodded his head. "Or in this case, another teenage boy." He leaned back in the seat. "Gage knows that he's smart, and he's proud of that. Okay, so he's arrogant about it. He's going to want to impress Shan, so he's going to make sure that they live as well as possible. That's where he may screw up. He has a good sense of his own intelligence, but he seems to think the rest of us are complete idiots.
"We have the upper hand at the moment. He doesn't know we've traced him to Seta. The minute he does, they'll go underground again. And Seta is just too big to search ourselves. We'll have to make sure to have help."
"Mr. Chang? Mrs. Chang?" An attendant had entered their cabin. "You might want to turn on the news." He pointed at the monitor. "Your daughter is on."
"Huh?" Wufei turned on the vid-screen and turned up the volume.
"...is the twin sister of Chang Shan, who along with Gage Drummond, son of Earth Tren Relena Drummond, vanished sometime yesterday morning." The camera focused on Meishel.
The adults sat in shocked silence as Meishel made her public plea and ran back into the house. Wufei did make an effort to speak, but nothing came out of his mouth but a strangled squeaking noise.
"She did not just do that..." Relena whispered.
"Oh yes she did." Denea replied. "Relena, do you remember when I told you how proud I was of my children looking out for each other?"
"Right before you punched me." Relena had to smile. "Yes, I remember."
"Well, I lied. I'm going to kill her."
For whatever reason, by whatever twist of fate that connected his life to mine, for the reasons that made him fall in love with me, give up all that he had to follow me into my exile, he trusted me.
And I, arrogant SOB that I was, I had let him down.
I had been so smug about finding us the house, convinced that we could stay there for months without anyone ever being the wiser. Because I knew how rich people behaved, and no one could ever, ever live their lives by different rules than the ones set by the infamous Gage Drummond.
I screwed up. Big time. And that frightened me. It wasn't the first time I'd ever screwed up, but it wasn't just about me any longer. Shan was with me, and he was depending on me. I had made a mistake in judgment, very nearly gotten us arrested, cost us our hiding place, and still didn't have a clue how I was going to make sure he ate tonight. Not to mention that after all my boasting, I'd looked like an idiot.
So as we walked along the beach, toward a row of wooden buildings that probably housed at least one transporter, I brooded. I'd made a mistake once, and who was to say I wouldn't make more? Who was to say that I wasn't going to make a mistake that would get Shan hurt or even killed?
I looked over at him, hating the dark glasses that hid his eyes. God his eyes... almond shaped and liquid black, and so deep. He's so smart, my Shanny Boy, and you can see that just by looking into his eyes. If I met God, and stared into God's eyes, God could not possibly hope to compete.
I looked around the beach, at the other teenagers, at the parents who glanced over at them from time to time, at the little children running underfoot. Shan said he'd come often to Seta with his family; if it wasn't for me, he might be here now with his family, a bed guaranteed and a hot meal only a request away. He would be safe.
"You're wrong, you know." He said suddenly, and I looked over at him in surprise.
"About what?" I hadn't spoken out loud in a long time.
"About whatever it is that you're thinking about, whatever is making you look so gloomy."
"We're in over our heads." I blurted out. "Shan, I'm sorry about the house. I didn't..."
"How could you have possibly known? It was a brilliant idea, and we had a place to stay last night. A comfortable place." He laughed then, and his white teeth flashed in the sunlight. "Mom told me once that any crisis a person survives becomes tomorrow's adventure. Can you imagine the look on Meishel's face when we tell her about Dumpling and Honeybear?"
"Or Sara Conner?" I asked, smiled.
"Or Sara Conner." He nodded agreement. "I'm scared, but... I'm also having fun. It'll work out for the best. We just have to make sure we keep a low profile. And get some money."
"Maybe I should have booked a shuttle for Earth. I could at least pick pockets there." I kicked some sand over the top of his shoes. "I've gotten very good at that."
"I love it. The richest kid on the planet picking pockets." He put his arms around my waist and pulled me close. "Let me guess. You were bored?"
"Sometimes. Sometimes it was a game. Only it got old quickly; I never got caught and it become boring after a while." I shrugged. "I had my reason for learning, though. I made myself a promise that once I became an adult, I wouldn't depend on my parents for anything. Not one dime would I accept. Of course, my hopes were to be able to get a good job and support myself, but I like to be prepared. It isn't doing me much good at the moment."
He leaned his forehead on my chest and sighed. "Who would have ever thought we'd make it as far as we did? I don't know anyone else my age who could have pulled something like this off." His hands reached up and touched my head. "You've got enough brains for six people. You'll figure something out."
"And what if I don't?" I moved away from him and sat down in the sand. "What then?"
"You will." He insisted. "Come on now. My Gage is the cheekiest bastard in the universe." He sat down in front of me. "Where's the Gage I fell in love with, huh?"
I gave him a smile that I hoped didn't look too forced.
"I left my cheeky in my other pants." I offered.
"You know, if you just give up and bury your head in the sand, my dad wins. He's probably telling himself right now that you're going to be calling any second, begging Heero and Duo to pick us up and take us back home. Himself? He's probably telling everyone that. He never did have a whole lot of faith in you." Shan lay back on the sand and put his hands behind his head. "Seems like a shame to prove him right." He glanced at me over the top of his glasses, his lips twitching.
I pounced on him, rolling around in the sand as we laughed, the sun beating down on us, and so close to the water we could feel the spray. "See?" he grinned, pinning me down. "I knew my Gage was still in there somewhere."
"If you called your dad, you could sleep in your own bed tonight." I suggested.
"I'd rather sleep in yours." He replied casually, kissing my neck.
"At the rate we're going, we're going to end up sleeping on the beach tonight." I sighed, and then moaned as his teeth nipped at my adam's apple.
A shadow approached us, and I opened my eyes to see two older boys standing over us. They were maybe eighteen or so, and big. They were grinning, and I felt my warning bells begin to chime instantly.
There was nothing physical to mark them as Earth-born instead of from Seta or Dera, but I knew instantly that they were from Earth. This could be a problem... While homosexuality was something Setans and Derans never even raised an eyebrow about, Earth people still had a few hang-ups.
I tapped Shan. "Company."
We got to our feet, brushing the sand from our clothing. Neither of the other boys spoke, but exchanged the kind of look boys do when they're planning a grand entertainment.
Like tying tin cans to a puppy's tail.
"Something I can help you gentlemen with?" I asked politely.
"I'm sure there's a lot you'd like to help me with." One of the boys sneered. "Like taking off my pants, you little fag?"
"I resent that." I huffed. "I am most certainly not little. And while your offer is kind, I'm not interested."
"Oh look, Fagboy's getting smart with us." Thug 2 laughed. "What's in your bag, Fagboy?" He pointed at my knapsack.
"Oh, just the usual fag things." I said blithfully. "Nothing you'd be interested in. Whips, chains, leather pants, lube..." I looked at Shan.
"Don't forget the cattle prod. And the cheese grater." Shan added.
"Oh good! You remembered to pack the cheese grater. I was afraid we were going to have to stop and buy one."
"Hand it over, fag." But this time, the boy was addressing Shan.
"I don't think so." Shan smiled. "We're leaving. Come on, Jame."
We turned away but the boys blocked our path. "Maybe you didn't hear me." Thug 1 said in a cold tone. "Give me the bags, you little butt-suckers!"
His hand reached out and closed around my forearm, the fingers digging painfully into my flesh. I guess I made some sort of noise, some kind of embarrassing yelp.
And that's when I saw him.
You can't pump thousands of years of warrior-blood into someone's veins and get nothing in return. But not all warriors go looking for battle. I'd seen Shan attack his father when Wufei was choking me, but it was just that, an attack.
He moved like quick-silver now, so fast that it was hard to see exactly what he was doing, but his shoe connected with Thug 1's jaw, and the boy fell to the sand, losing his hold on my arm.
The other boy jumped at him. Without hesitation Shan's hands and feet moved on their own, raining down kicks and chops, until Thug 2 was on the sand as well, his nose bloody. Shan started toward both of them, and they cringed.
"No." I said simply. "Let them go. We don't need any more trouble."
"Get out of here!" He yelled at them, and they scrambled to their feet.
"I SAID RUN!" He yelled, and they took off down the beach.
His glasses had fallen off, but luckily weren't broken. I started to hand them back to him, and then paused.
He was sandy, and panting, still tense from the fight, watching our would-be attackers flee. "I didn't want to do that." He said softly. "Why did they make me do that?"
"I know." I put my arm around his shoulders. "I know you don't like to fight."
"I can." He looked at me. "Fight, I mean."
"I know you can." I agreed. "You just did. You were incredible."
He leaned heavily against me. "He hurt you. When you cried out... I was so angry, I wanted to kill him. I was afraid that I was going to kill him." He took the glasses from my hand and toyed with them. "If you hadn't stopped me, I might have."
"Nah, not you."
"What if you're not around? What's going to stop me? That's why I stopped training with my father. Meishel can control it; she knows when enough is enough. But me... I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to stop myself if someone made me mad. That I was going to end up killing somebody someday. But it was too late; I still remember enough of what Baba taught me that I'm dangerous."
"Is it better, Shanny Boy, to stand and watch someone you love hurt, or to know how to fight to protect them? Because those idiots might have killed us when they were done mugging us." I shook my head. "They didn't want our stuff. They wanted to beat up queers."
"No one is ever going to hurt you again." His voice was fierce. "I promised myself that when Baba attacked you." His hands were shaking. "I swear Gage. No one's ever going to touch you. I'll kill them first. I'll kill them all..."
I pulled him close and held him, not sure what to say to him. The fight had affected him almost as badly as fire did. "We better get out of here. Those morons probably called the cops on us."
He put on his glasses and nodded, still a little unsteady.
"You kicked their asses." I had to say. "A fag beat the shit out of them."
He laughed, and I could see that he was quickly returning to his old self. "I've heard that the worse homophobes are the ones in denial themselves."
"Right now they're probably dressing each others wounds. Then, their eyes will meet." I added. "And soft music will start to play..."
"They'll hold hands, and go skipping off into the sunset."
"And all thanks to us, for showing them the way. I love a happy ending." I wailed, and took his hand, and began to sing.
"And I don't even know the wrong I've done."
He chimed in. "And I don't even care anymore."
"All I know is I believe."
"That you and me."
"Stand accused of love."
"Oh my god." Someone said from behind us. "Oh my god. It's THEM."