It had been nearly a week since we arrived on Seta.
I looked at it, and I wished I was blind to its beauty. I wished that I'd come here before; that I'd brought my daughters here as children and let them see it. There was something pure about this world, something unhurried, and I think that if I had the time and energy, I have grown to love it.
The energy, I had. The time... that was another thing. I wasn't here to sun myself and enjoy a vacation. I was here to locate my son.
We went on television our first night here, all of us (once Wufei had been located) and pleaded with the boys to give themselves up and come home. I'm not sure they ever saw that broadcast; if they did, they certainly weren't impressed by it.
We still didn't have a clue where they were. And I had a sneaking feeling that once Gage had found a source of income he'd probably pack up and take them both back to Dera. He could possibly keep us running back and forth for years, if he was so inclined.
And as much as I longed to punish him for this behavior, there was this little demon inside of me that couldn't help but be proud of him for it. I was proud, and I admired his courage and determination in this. Not enough to let him get his own way; I still had every intention of dragging him back to Earth with me, but... damn it all, it was MY son who had pulled this off. MY boy who had all three worlds in a tizzy trying to find him.
Hadn't I always told him not to take crap from anyone? Hadn't I always preached to him that anything worth having was worth fighting for?
What a fucking hypocrite I was.
I was in pretty foul mood the morning of our third day here, and the company wasn't helping much. They'd all taken pretty much to avoiding me; we'd spend a good part of the last few days following separate leads. I was in the doghouse.
The solution, in their eyes, was to basically give in to the boys demands. Let Gage stay with Heero and Duo; allow him to date Shan, under strict supervision and conditions. To go public and let this decision be known, and hence take away Gage and Shan's reasons for continuing to run.
There was just a problem with that solution. I was NOT allowing my son to live on Dera. I would not waste what little time we had left. I didn't care how many courts I had to go through, who I had to bribe, or how many laws I might have to break in the process. Gage was coming home with me.
And so they weren't speaking to me, not even my sister. I suppose I could have lied; I could have gone public and promised Gage that I would back off and let him live where he wanted, and then proceeded to beat him over the head and stuff him into a sack.
I have such good ideas at times I surprise myself. The only problem is that they're never quite as good in practice as I would like. I could say NOW that dropping a colony on Earth might not have been appropriate behavior, especially for a Peacecraft, but at the time it seemed perfectly reasonable.
It really did. So did sending Gage back to Earth, bound and gagged, in a crate marked "Onions" but the more I considered it, the less inclined I was to try it. First, I'd see what other options presented themselves.
As to the fact that my son was sleeping with another boy, I hadn't given it much thought. I had nothing personal against Chang Shan, other than the fact that he had gone along with this crazy idea. I had offered, rather kindly I thought, to take BOTH boys back to Earth with me. If they wanted to be together, I'd said that I'd be more than happy to take over the care and feeding of Shan for the next few years.
Wufei was not enthusiastic about my proposal. His lovely wife, more bluntly, threatened to castrate me with a butter knife if I ever mentioned it again.
Have I mentioned that I consider the Changs a somewhat unstable family? Violence appears to be their answer to everything.
So back to that morning... I was sitting there alone, doing nothing, trying to think of where on Seta I might find burlap sacks or the equivalent large enough for a struggling teenage boy, let alone a big enough packing crate, when Duo approached me, and he looked a bit upset. He sat down across from me, and swallowed hard.
"Has there been any news? Have you found them?"
"No... but something has happened. I just found out a few minutes ago. You're not going to like it..." He shook his head. "I'm sorry."
"What?" I wasn't in a mind frame for guessing games.
"Gage's mother, his biological mother, has come forward. She sold her story to a tabloid. It's all over Earth. Her version, anyway."
"Her version??" I felt my blood pounding in my ears.
"She claims that she was this naive kid, and you took advantage of her. That you threatened her into giving up custody of Gage, that she wanted to keep him."
I jumped to my feet in anger. "She's lying!"
"Calm down. I KNOW she's lying. I believe you." He twisted his fingers. "But not everyone is going to. She's getting a lot of sympathy, and you're being made out to look like the Big Bad Wolf. You might want to give your wife a call."
"SHIT!" I rubbed my eyes. I had planned to tell Lucrezia the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when I returned home with Gage. "Guess what, sweetheart? You know how much you've always wanted a son? Well, we have one! Potty-trained and everything!" Well, all right, a bit more tactfully than that. Spending my few remaining years with my son might be more enjoyable for both of us if I didn't have a fork sticking out of my eye socket and divorce papers stuck up my backside.
"This is just what I need." I sighed, and went to the phone. The relays were pretty good here, and I had no trouble dialing my house and getting an immediate connection. And if that sounds simple, imagine the distance between Earth and Seta. Technology never failed to fascinate me.
"Peacecraft residence." A familiar voice answered.
"Meg? Hi, it's Daddy..."
Well, that hadn't gone as well as I'd hoped. I dialed again.
"Peacecraft residence." A different voice, but just as familiar, said warily.
"Amy, it's Daddy. Please don't hang up." I said rapidly.
Both of my daughters were adults, and had their own apartments. The fact that they were both at home with their mother didn't bode well right now.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't." Amy said softly, and her tone was like a knife in my heart.
"Honey, I know you've heard the news. All the lies that woman's been spouting..."
"Lies." Amy repeated. "Is Gage my brother? Is that a lie?"
I paused. "No honey, that part is true."
She was quiet.
"Can I talk to Mom?"
"No. She doesn't want to speak to you. Or see you. She's not stupid; she knows you didn't force that woman to give Gage up. But you lied to her, Daddy. You lied to all of us!"
"I love Gage, Daddy. And I barely know him. He broke my heart whenever he came to see us; he looked so lonely. I could have been a big sister to him. I could have made his life easier. He's my baby brother! Do you know what it felt like to find that out?"
"No, you don't." She snapped. "And you never will. So what are you going to do now?"
"Well, I need to find him. Then I'm going to bring him home..."
"To what?" She shot back at me. "Because if you think you're going to bring him here and Mom is going to welcome him with open arms, you're nuts. Both she and Meg want nothing to do with Gage, or you. Mom's already talked to a lawyer and started divorce proceedings."
"If I could just talk to her..."
"Daddy, listen to me. Forget Mom for now. Forget about yourself, forget about Meg and I. Think about Gage. Think of your son, and what he must be feeling right now. Whatever you do, do it for him. Because you owe him. You own him more than you will ever be able to repay him."
"Tell your mother that I love her. And that I'm so sorry."
She was quiet again. "I'll tell her, but I don't think it's going to do a lot of good."
I knew that she was right. I knew, in that moment, that I had lost my wife. There are some who would hate me for that immediate knowledge, for not fighting that truth. But I had my reasons.
"I love you." I said to my daughter.
"I know, Daddy. I love you too."
"I haven't lost you."
"You won't." I could hear her smiling now. "You're the only father I have, you know."
"I have to go now." I didn't want to, but I knew I was going to start crying, and she had enough of a burden without my tears.
"Bye. I'll talk to you soon."
Later that night, alone, I would weep for my wife, and long for her, but at the same time, it was better this way. She did not know that I was sick; I had no intentions at all of telling her. She'd grieve less, if at all, if she hated me when the time came.
I'd hurt her so badly already. This way I could spare her a little more pain. So I would not fight to save our marriage. I would bow my head and walk away. I'd much rather imagine her yelling at my headstone than sobbing over it.
And Meg... hopefully she would come around. I loved her too much to consider never seeing her again.
And in that moment, I reached a decision. I knew what I was going to do; I knew how to end this once and for all. I knew how to bring our lost boys home.
I went to find the others.
Another voice replied, muffled by a pillow, "Don't they ever sleep?"
There was a thump and a squeal, and a bed hitting against a wall in the next room, and a loud shout.
"Want me to go pound on their door?"
"That's kind of rude, don't you think?" The pillow lifted and Gage's head emerged. "It is their house. And they don't complain about us."
"We're not that loud." Shan laughed.
"Dearest one, if I was so inclined, I could easily make you be that loud." Gage promised. "We've never really had the time or the privacy for me to show you the full extent of my magical powers."
Shan groaned at the words, and the hand rubbing against his abdomen. "I'm going to hold you to that, you know."
Gage pulled the covers up over both of their heads. "Just hold me to you for right now."
"Are you okay?" Shan put his arms around the other boy. Something in his voice sounded odd.
"Tabby and Kelly are leaving soon." Gage shrugged. "And we still don't have anywhere else to go."
"They can afford to pay for the house for another couple of weeks. We can stay here until then."
"Shanny Boy, those girls could barely afford this house for one week. They've done enough for us. We can't ask them to do that."
Shan snuggled closer. "We'll land on our feet. We always seem to. Your good luck fairy will come through for us."
Gage snickered. "We can always count on him. Our Good Fuck Larry."
Shan snorted. "Larry deserves a raise."
The moaning and thumping increased, and Gage suddenly moved like lightning, crawling over Shan. "Are we going to let a couple of girls out do us?"
"Hell no. Let's show them how much noise WE can make."
No one in the beach house got much sleep that night.
Life had become a pleasant routine for the boys under Tabitha and Kelly's care. None of them watched the news since their first night, when they had discovered their families had trailed them to Seta. The pleas for their return had been a combination of things; emotional, threatening, guilt-inducing. But the one thing they had not included was what the boys wanted to hear,that they would not be split apart. Without that assurance, they were prepared to run forever.
Tabitha had become their most ardent fan and supporter, believing that their love was strong enough to concur anything. Kelly was more pragmatic about the situation, and not nearly as trusting as her lover. She did not believe in fate, destinies, or higher powers. The result of that was that she did not believe in happy endings being guaranteed. Hoped for, worked for, but never promised. She had grown to love her young guests, but she worried for them as well. Although she would never admit it, she believed they deserved a happily ever after more than any other couple she had ever known.
And she worried about what to do with them when she and Tabby had to go back to Earth. If she thought they would have agreed, she would have taken them with her, but that was no option at all. Gage's pictures had been in papers since his birth; the little Drummond heir. She even remembered being a small child and HEARING about his birth on television and seeing photographs of the newborn.
She had told him this, adding that he had been disgustingly adorable. Flattered, Gage had offered to autograph her lesbian.
Now, yawning, she walked into the kitchen of the beach house, and flicked on the light, drawing her hand back with a yelp as she received a mild electric shock.
Sucking on her finger, she began making breakfast for Tabby and the boys, who joined her shortly. Shan's hair was going in every direction, and he had red marks on his neck.
"Rough night?" She questioned with a smirk.
"I could ask you the same." He pointed to teeth marks on her wrist.
"Touche, pussycat." Kelly winked.
Shan sat down, rubbing his forehead.
"Are you okay?" Tabby sat next to him.
"Yeah. Headache, that's all. I get them sometimes."
"No, nothing like that. It'll be gone by noon."
"We were going to go down to the beach after breakfast." Kelly poured him a glass of juice. "But you don't look up to it."
The boy stretched. "I think I'll go back to bed and sleep it off. I'll join you when I wake up." He glanced at Gage. "No."
"I didn't say anything!"
"I don't need a nursemaid for a headache." Shan smiled. "Go with them. Get some sunlight."
"Look, the purpose of you leaving is so I can sleep. If you're here, I won't sleep. You know very well what we'll be doing instead."
"And what's wrong with that?"
Shan swallowed his juice in one gulp. "Not this morning dear. I have a headache."
Kelly let out a deep belly laugh. "Look at them. And old married couple already."
"Soon they'll be picking out wallpaper together."
"And comparing creaking bones."
"And grey hairs."
"And getting their false teeth mixed up."
"Be quite, foul wenches, or I shall smite you." Gage promised. "My love is on death's door, and you jest?" He studied Shan for a moment. "Well, maybe on Death's front porch. Death's driveway?"
Shan picked up Gage's juice glass.
"Death's curb!" Gage continued brightly.
Silently, Shan emptied the glass over juice over the other boy's head.
"Have fun at the beach. I'm going back to bed." He leaned down and kissed a still-sputtering Gage and left the room.
"WHAT IN THE NAME OF CREATION WAS THAT FOR?" Gage yelled after him.
"Men are babies when they don't feel well. They don't like to be teased about it." Tabitha explained with a giggle.
Kelly handed him a towel. "Gage, Gage, Gage. You may know the mechanics of sex, but you really don't know much about the dynamics of a relationship."
"Luckily." Tabitha added. "We do."
"Come on, eat. We'll give you a crash course today. By the time we're done with you, you'll be the King of Romance."
"First of all, the answer to the question, does this make me look fat?"
"And the answer is..."
"'I'm not able to stop staring at your eyes long enough to notice.'"
"Distracting, flattering, and guaranteed to melt the heart."
"I really don't see an instance where Shan is going to ask me that!" Gage protested.
"True. Another impossible question. If I was drowning, and your mother was drowning, which one of us would you save?"
"Is that a joke?" Gage demanded.
"Well... in your case that's a little awkward. But if he DID ask, for some reason, say 'I'd save you. My mother can walk on water.'"
"And if he's sulking, and you say 'what's wrong', and he says 'nothing', do not, I repeat, do not, say 'okay' and walk away! He WANTS you to draw it out of him. He wants you to prod for the reason he's unhappy."
"Why wouldn't he just tell me?" Gage was baffled.
"Because, he wants to know you care enough to dig for it."
"Did I mention that Shan is male?"
"The anniversary of the day you met is sacred. It must be observed faithfully every year."
"Making someone sleep on the wet spot is rude."
"He loves his parents. You will be expected to love his parents. His mother is perfect."
"I like his mother. It's his father I wish would.."
"Well, you better start liking him. Because when Daddy is old and grey, and incontinent, guess who he's going to be living with?"
"He's already old and grey. The incontinent part I've never asked about. There just isn't a way to delicately work that into a conversation."
"Flowers for his birthday are good. Flowers for no other reason than you felt like buying him flowers is even better."
"Even when it's not my fault?"
"ESPECIALLY when it's not your fault."
"Is there a manual for this somewhere? Because he didn't come with an instruction book. This is going to be a little harder than I expected." Gage admitted. "I mean, I just figured we'd... you know. Fuck, eat, sleep, fuck, work, go to school, fuck..."
"Gage, you love him, I know that. But there's a lot more to being in love with someone than just sleeping with them all the time. Relationships aren't easy; they need a lot of time and effort and work."
"Are you sure you're ready?" Kelly asked gently. "You are only fifteen. And Shan loves you enough that he'd be willing to wait until you feel like you can handle all the little ins and outs."
The boy shook his head. "I'm ready. What else do I need to know?"
The girls fired advise to him as they continued to eat, and Gage eventually excused himself, going back into his room to get his swim trunks.
Shan was laying on his stomach, breathing deeply, and Gage reached out, touching the soft black hair. "Flowers for no reason." He repeated softly. "That I can handle. But I'm not changing your Baba's diapers. You're on your own for that."
"The hell?" Shan muttered.
"Never mind. Go back to sleep. I'll see you later."
"Later." Shan was gone again.
A few minutes later, Gage left the house with his escorts, hidden as usual under a hat and behind dark glasses. In the bedroom of the beach house, Shan slept on.
And in the kitchen, where the breakfast dishes still sat unwashed, and a puddle of juice still dried on the floor, a wire in the wall began to spark.