No one would think that my life is often a lonely one, but it is. It's a little better now that Linra has become a mother. Our little extended family seems to suffer from a very definite lack of them.
When I was a little girl, I had a whole list of things I wanted in my life, and things that I never, ever wanted. Things I thought I'd rather die than consent to have. And a child was number one on that list.
When my aunt died, she left me a small fortune. Enough money that I never had to work a day in my life if I didn't want to. With that money came my freedom. I was able to live exactly how I pleased, go to exotic places, see new things.
And how I loved that life. I lived for a while in a island resort on Seta, in an artist colony. I spent a month with a Bandir tribe on Dera. The Bandir live off the land; no technology, nothing that they can't produce for themselves.
I spent half a year working a net on a fishing boat, and another half a year traveling from one end of the Deran main continent to the other on foot. No reason for that; I just felt like it. I slept in hotels, caves, and under the stars.
I have seen the beauty of my world and Seta from different angles, from places the average woman might not have. I've seen sunrises and sunsets and meteor showers. I once fell into a snow-bank and raced against time to free myself before I ran out of air.
But the first time I saw beauty, true beauty, humbling beauty, was the day I regained my eyesight and saw my children for the first time.
Being a mother is a thousand times more terrifying than climbing mountains, or being in a boat at sea during a raging storm. Because even when the danger has passed, the worry never does.
Shan was the cuddler. Meishel's hugs were fierce, and then she was off again to conquer the world. Shan would linger in my arms for hours as I read to him, or brushed his hair, or told him stories. He had passion in him, I saw it. But it was banked carefully. Sometimes, when I was holding him, I would look down into his little face and wonder what it would take to release that, get beyond that control. Someday, I told myself, he's going to meet someone who manages to get in. And he won't be able to hide it from her. He's going to fall hard, and love her forever when he does.
So I watched him grow up and I waited. I knew it was just a matter of time; he grew more and more handsome by the day, and he had that shy quality that girls were mad about. I would sit back and laugh to myself as Meishel's friends tried subtly and then not so subtly to catch his eye. I could never decide if he was really clueless, or if he was just playing hard to get, or if he wasn't ready for a girlfriend yet.
Apparently, looking back, I was the clueless one. You would think that spending so much time with Heero and Duo I would have suspected something about my own son, but I don't think Shan even suspected about himself. Or, rather, he had to but denied it.
If I had known, there were things I could have told him. Things that I have never told anyone in my entire life, not even my maclen. I could have told him about the nights I spent at Sheld's house when I was a teenager, laying in bed next to her, listening to her breathing, and wishing with every bit of myself that she would wake up and turn to me, and smile, and take me into her arms. Hating myself for those thoughts, those feelings. Trying to bury them and deny them and hide them.
I thought, when my parents banished me to Seta, that it would be the end of it, that she would be purged from my system, or at very least regulated to a part of it that I could control.
Love doesn't work like that. I was there when Linra was born. I remember standing in the doorway, watching Sheld nurse her as she laid back in Marti's arms. It was the perfect picture, the perfect family, and the perfect pain. That night, alone with myself again, I came very close to ending my pain once and for all.
Of course I didn't. I knew I wouldn't. Because Sheld loved me. Not as I loved her, but she loved me as a soul-mate and a sister, and my death would destroy her. Especially a death by my own hands. She would forever blame herself, wonder what she could have done, how she had failed me.
None of this means I love Wufei any less. He came uninvited into my life, took it over, and moved me on to the next level. He forced me to keep going after Sheld and Marti were killed and I was blinded. And I can say honestly that if Sheld were to magically come back and ask for my heart, I would turn from her. I'm where I'm supposed to be, with the person I am supposed to be with.
But it doesn't mean that when I wanted Sheld, I wanted her any the less. She was a fire in my blood, just as Gage was a fire in Shan's. Only my son had finally met his match in that boy; Gage pried open those iron doors, reached inside, and pulled the real Shan out into the sunlight. And once released, Shan would never consent to cage himself again for anyone.
He was, after all, my son.
But as I stood there that day, with Wufei at my side, suddenly I felt an overwhelming terror. And I knew, somehow, that it was not my own.
It wasn't the first time it had happened. When Meishel had fallen from the school roof and broken her arm, her pain and fear had been so strong that even at home, I sensed them. I was at her school and holding her even before the medics could get there. It didn't happen often; and I knew that whatever was scaring my son now had to be major.
Of course they tried to soothe me, as men do. You're stressed, you're imagining things, they'll be fine, blah blah blah.
But I looked over at Relena, and she was not saying anything. Her own face was pale, and her eyes met mine.
She knew I spoke the truth. Whatever had scared Shan had scared Gage as well, and she felt it just as strongly as I did. And I knew suddenly that I would pummel anyone who tried to tell this woman that she was not Gage's mother, including Gage himself.
Then it was gone, the panic, and I sagged in relief. My son was safe again, the danger had passed.
The men were still talking, but I tuned them out. They didn't understand.
The phone rang, making us all jump, and Duo ran to answer it.
"WHEN? WHERE?" He asked. "Are they all right?" He scratched something down on a paper. "We're on the way."
"They've got the boys! They're in a hospital in Hamston. They're okay." He added quickly, as we headed for the transporter. "Something about a fire."
"Shan... " Wufei whispered and I took his hand. I knew now the source of Shan's terror.
We stepped out a moment later into the hospital corridor, and a man in a uniform greeted us. "Where are they?" Wufei asked before the man can speak. "Are they injured?"
"This way, sir. I don't know all the details. Your son has minor burns; the Tren's son has more serious ones, as well as a lacerated hand."
Relena made a noise in the back of her throat, and I put my arm around her. Milliardo was as pale as his hair.
There was another guard outside of the hospital room, who stepped aside for us. I was afraid someone was going to challenge Wufei's right to be here, and I was going to have to go into attack mode, but no one said a thing.
My heart was in my throat when we opened the door and went into the room.
And there he was, my beautiful son. Alive and well, and I felt my knees go weak. He looked pale and tired, and his arms were mottled with tiny red burns.
Gage was lying in a hospital bed. Or rather, he was lying against Shan on the hospital bed, and he looked like death warmed over. They had an IV hooked up to one of his hands, and the other was swathed in white bandages. Other bandages snaked up his arms and around his head, and his hair was singed.
Shan's arms were around him, and they tightened at the sight of us protectively, as if we were going to rip the other boy away from him. Gage appeared as I had never seen him before; he looked small and hurt and terrified as he huddled there against Shan.
"Shan... " I whispered softly. "Oh Shan... "
He started to speak and then slipped off the bed. A moment later he was in my arms. Not crying but shaking a little. Not quite a man yet, and in that moment he didn't to be one and I didn't want him to be one. He was simply my baby.
He finally pulled away and reached up to wipe away my tears. "I'm okay, Mom." His voice was raspy, but he was smiling.
No one else had moved or said anything. Then Wufei grunted and was embracing Shan tightly, and our son returned it just as eagerly.
Relena shook herself and moved to Gage's bed. She hesitated and then reached out gently, touching his face. Gage moved his hand, the uninjured one, up to cover hers, and she looked at him in surprise.
"You look like hell." He whispered.
She laughed a little. "So do you."
"Something in common." He smiled. "First time for everything, right?"
He looked past her, at Milliardo. "Damn. They'll let anyone in here." Gage muttered, but there was no venom in it, and Milliardo chuckled.
Shan moved back to the bed and to Gage's side, holding him again. "Do you need anything?" He asked.
"Just you." Gage closed his eyes. "Just you, Shanny boy." But I saw his hand still lingering on Relena's. Tell her, I thought. Tell her that you need her too.
Heero cleared his throat. "So? What do you boys have to say for yourselves?"
Shan shrugged. "That we didn't have to let you find us. We could have been long gone before you got here." He shifted his legs on the bed. "We've decided to stop running. We're going to fight instead."
"How did Gage get hurt?" Milliardo asked. "They only said something about a fire."
For the next half hour, Shan told us his story, with Gage making a sleepy comment every now and then. About arriving on Seta, and losing their first house when they found out it had been rented. I suspected from their grins there was a little more to that, but didn't press.
"He saved my life." Shan finished finally.
Gage shook his head. "No, Shanny Boy. You saved your life. I just gave you some motivation." They exchanged another look, this one so heartbreakingly tender that I almost started crying again.
"So here we are." Shan added. "We let you find us, but if we stay found depends on you. The next time we run, it's going to be for good. I don't know what more we have to do to prove that we belong together, but we'll do it." He leaned forward and they kissed, not caring who was watching.
"Well, you have had quite an adventure." Wufei said at last. "Shan, I'm not going to even ask what you were thinking, or what you were thinking with, when you agreed to go along with this.
He rubbed his forehead. "Son, my father taught me many things. The biggest was that when a man takes a position on something, he must stick to that position. He must not allow himself to be bent or swayed by emotion; his or anyone elses." My maclen paused. "Proof that sometimes... fathers don't know everything."
Shan looked at him in surprise. And a dawning hope.
"You both acted recklessly and irresponsibility, but I have not acted as I should have as well. You needed a confidant and a friend, Shan, and instead you got anger and accusations. And I apologize. To you... " He seemed to force the next words. "And to Gage."
If Shan had looked surprised, Gage looked thunderstruck.
"Sometimes, a man has to compromise." He continued. "And that applies to the two of you as well. I want to make a deal with you, both of you."
"We're listening." That from Gage.
"My position on Shan being sexually active has not changed, and will not change. I don't want him sleeping with anyone until he's an adult, no matter what else he's done up to this point. That is set in stone."
Shan opened his mouth angrily, but Wufei held up a hand. "If you can make me a vow, both of you, that you will not sleep together again until you are both of age, then I will not only allow you to see each other... I will give you my blessing as well. And my support."
"That's not acceptable." Shan reported, but Gage silenced him with a gesture. "No Shan, don't you see? He's giving me a chance." His voice was filled with wonder. "He's giving me a chance to show that I really love you, and that I'm not just after sex."
"Gage, it's almost three years until I turn 18." Shan complained. I bit my lip and Duo and Heero were both smirking. Shan looked like a little boy who just been informed he was never allowed to have ice cream again.
"Then think of how much fun our Pledge night is going to be." Gage responded with a wink. "I can handle cold showers. Can't handle not having you."
He tilted his head back toward Wufei. "You drive a hard bargain, Mr. Chang. But you've got one. I vow to keep it zipped until Shan's 18. After that, all bets are off."
"Shan?" I asked.
"You might as well say yes." Duo was grinning. "Because I think Gage is serious about it."
"Fine." Shan grumbled. He frowned at Gage. "At least we'll be miserable together."
Gage was looking at Milliardo again. "Are you going to say anything?"
"We need to talk Gage, really talk. But not now. You need some sleep." He walked over and kissed the boy on the head. Gage flinched a little and Milliardo seemed to sag. "But you won. I'm not taking you back to Earth."
Before Gage could respond, his father was out the door.
"He's right." Relena kissed him too. "You do need some rest."
She started to turn but he reached for her again, and she stopped. "Could you stay? Until I fall asleep?"
Her eyes filled with tears and she nodded yes. He relaxed down into the pillows, and she began stroking his hair. "Stay too." He muttered to Shan. "Don't like hospitals."
"Shan, we'll be right out here if you need us." Wufei said gruffly. He motioned for the rest of us to leave them alone.
As I turned away, I heard Gage whisper softly. "Sing to me?" I don't know which one of them he was asking, but Relena's voice, sweet and low, followed me out into the hall.
You are my sunshine.
My only sunshine.
You make me happy
When skies are grey.
You'll never know dear,
How much I love you.
Please don't take
My sunshine away.