Gage stood back, unnoticed, watching Duo nearly knock Heero to the floor. Heero, he saw, wasn't objecting to this at all. His arms were wrapped so tightly around his... what was their word for it? Macadamia? mackerel? that he was nearly choking the other man.
"God, I missed you." Duo said at last. "Don't do that again." He drew back, staring up at Heero happily.
"Missed you too." Heero smiled. "Hey, I want you to meet someone." He motioned Gage forward.
Duo creased his brow, and looked at Gage in surprise. "Is that... Relena's kid?"
"This is Gage Drummond." Heero confirmed.
"Man." Duo immediately grabbed Gage's hand and shook it. "You were just a little squirt last time we saw you! This is a surprise. Welcome to Dera."
Jazz had joined them, after giving Heero a huge hug. "Hey, Gage. Remember me? Jazz Maxwell. You were at my Pledge. Nice to see you again."
"Likewise." Gage slide his eyes up and down Jazz's body in appreciation. "Oh, Congrats. Heero tells me you finally knocked up your old lady. Way to go!"
"Yeah, thanks." Jazz stepped back, giving Gage a strange look.
"Let me show you where you'll be sleeping." Duo was a little taken back himself, but quickly recovered.
"Lead the way." Gage bowed. He gave Jazz a last, lingering glance. Too bad he was straight. Then again, with a pregnant wife, he probably wasn't getting all that much these days. He might not be picky right now.
When Gage's back was turned, Duo shot Heero a puzzled glance over the boy's head. Heero gave him a helpless shrug in return.
"This was our son's room. You'll have plenty of space. Bathroom is down the hall." Duo turned on the lights, and pointed. "You probably want to rest up a bit after your trip."
"Actually, no. Not that the company and ambiance wasn't five star, you understand, but ships can't help but be a bit unstimulating, don't you think?"
Duo blinked. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that Heero was trying very hard not to laugh. "Agreed." the man said at last. "So what would you like to do?"
"Well sir, if you wouldn't object, I'd like to take a bit of tour around your lovely property. I'm sure that you've made some changes in the years since I was last here, and I find myself eagerly wishing to take them in."
"Certainly." Heero seemed relieved. Duo wondered what exactly his mate had been expecting Gage to ask for.
"The fields are through that back door. Jazz's house is over that way. We'll be having dinner in a few hours, if you want to be back by then."
"I shall take my leave if you, in that case." Gage bowed again. He glanced at Duo. "By the way sir, I must ask. Do you have any pigeons on your planet?"
"Yes, pigeons. Smallish birds that enjoy defacing statues with their feces."
"No, Gage, we don't have any pigeons on Dera." Duo promised.
"Excellent. I don't have pretend to be afraid of them, then." Gage explained. "Farewell for now." He headed for the kitchen. "Oh, and Heero?"
"Try and go a bit easy on him. He's bound to have tightened up after all this time."
Before Duo could even begin to formulate a response, the boy had left.
"Heero?" Duo turned on his mate.
"Umm... surprise?" Heero asked meekly.
"That is NOT a surprise. Seeing Rosie again would have been a surprise! That's..."
"Now, love, he's not THAT bad..." Heero started.
Duo sat down on Gage's bed. "Would you like to explain why you felt the need to bring him here?"
"Because he was driving his parents insane."
"So you decided he should drive us insane instead?"
"Relena was at the end of her rope. She won't discipline him, and he's totally out of control. I thought it was a win/win situation. She'll get a chance to rest, and we can be good for him."
"A two-by-four to his ass would be good for him." Jazz spoke up. He had been standing in the doorway listening, and they had forgotten his presence.
"Probably." Heero agreed. "Look, I'm sorry if he's a pain. But I was serious; he's really not that bad. He's smart, and he can really be very funny." Heero rubbed his forehead. "I like him." He said at last. "I don't know why, but I do. I think he's got a lot of potential, and it's really not his fault that he was allowed to run wild. And Relena... she looked terrible."
"All this time, and you'd still do anything for her, wouldn't you?" Duo smiled. "Okay, okay. He can stay with us. But he better learn to behave himself."
"You do have to admit." Heero grinned. "That the look on Jazz's face when Gage started checking him out was a riot."
"Not from this end." Jazz grumbled.
"He's gay?" Duo asked.
"From comments he's made, I guess he's bi. I know from Relena that he's sexually active. She's caught him a few times, but she didn't say if it was with girls or boys. Knowing him, probably both at once."
"Well, we'll have to make it clear to him that we're not going to tolerate it here." Duo stated firmly. "I didn't let my own kids screw in my house; I'm not letting someone else's."
"Thank you." Jazz nodded. "I might have had a small problem if you did." He laughed. "But if you hadn't been so strict with me, I'd probably have a few small problems by now."
He shook his hair out of his eyes. "And speaking of small problems, Mr. Drummond could be headed toward my house at the moment. I'm going to go and try and head him off before Linra meets him and gets shocked into early labor."
"Bye." Heero waved. "Oh, come for dinner tonight? We're asking the Changs as well."
"Sure. I'll see you then. I'm glad you're home, Ojisan. It was lonely without you."
When Jazz was gone, Duo flopped back on the bed and moaned. "Did you know that earlier I was going around moping about how quiet the house was without any kids?"
"See?" Heero stretched out next to him. "I'm such a good maclen that I anticipate all your needs before you even know then."
"Oh?" Duo leaned closer. "And what are my needs right now?"
"Let's go down to our own room and discuss them."
It was odd seeing a green sky, Gage thought, glancing up. As much as this place looked like Earth, that sky was a constant reminder that you were somewhere else.
The air was different here, too. It felt and smelled different. He couldn't explain it better than that, but after considering, he decided he could learn to live with it. It wasn't unpleasant; just not what he was used to.
In the distance, he could see another house. It was complete now, and had been for a long time. He remembered when it had just been boards and nails. He'd howled his head off later that night when his father held him down and his mother used a needle to dig the splinters out of his feet.
Off in the other direction, beyond the fields, he saw a glimmer of blue-grey. A lake? He hadn't noticed one last time he was here, but his curiosity was aroused and he headed toward it.
As he got closer, he could see someone already there, sitting by the shore. A white sketch-pad was on her knees, and her pencil was moving rapidly.
"No." She muttered, and erased a line. "That won't work."
"Hello there." Gage called out, and the girl jumped, the pad falling to the ground.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you." Gage stepped closer.
"Can I help you with something?" She stood up, and he was surprised to see how short she was. She couldn't have grown much at all since the last time he was here.
"Michelle, right?" He deliberately mispronounced her name.
"Meishel." She corrected. "I'm sorry, but have we met?"
He was enjoying her confusion. "Here." He reached into his pocket. "I have a message for Shan."
"Oh, you're a friend of Shan's?" She relaxed a little.
He handed her the red rock, and she turned it over, puzzled. "I want you to give that to your brother when you see him." Gage continued. "Tell him that I've kept my promise."
"I don't understand."
"Don't worry. He will." Gage smiled at her. "I've got to go. I'll see you later, Chang Meishel."
He walked back toward the house.
Shan was laying face down on his bed, thumbing through a book, when he heard a familiar knock on his bedroom door.
"It's open, 'Shel." He called.
His twin entered the room, and gave him an odd look.
"Okay." Shan closed his book. "What'd I do now?"
"You have weird friends. Do you know that?"
"Probably." Shan said slowly. "Why?"
"One of them came up to the lake while I was there drawing. He had something he wanted me to give you, and a message."
Meishel handed him the rock. "He says to tell you that he kept his promise."
She watched her brother turn the rock over his palm, a look of wonder on his face. "No way..."
"What did he look like? This guy?"
"Tall guy. White hair. Funny eyes." She shrugged.
"It IS him." Shan laughed. "He still remembered... I thought he'd forgotten about me a long time ago. He must have been Heero's surprise."
"Sorry. You really didn't recognize him?"
He could tell she was starting to get mad now. "No, Shan, I didn't recognize him." She said through clenched teeth.
"That was Gage. Gage Drummond. Relena's son. Remember? I punched him at Jazz's wedding for calling you stupid?"
"Yeah... and then you took off with him. Mom said it was just proof that men were lunatics."
"We had a lot of fun. I gave him my rock before he left. I can't believe he still had it."
"Well, he's probably at Duo's right now." Meishel muttered. "We've got some nice paving stones in the front yard, if you think he'd be interested in those."
"No." Shan seemed to think she was serious. "But I'll bet..." he went to his dresser and opened the top drawer, rummaging around, and pulling something out. "that he might like to see General Stephen again."
"Hi, sorry we're late." Denea sat down at the table, Wufei at her side. "The twins were working on some project and it took forever to pry them away."
Duo shook his head sorrowfully. "Meishel I can't speak for, but a teenage boy who won't drop everything for a free meal is a disgrace to the entire species."
"Maybe your teenagers, Maxwell." Wufei said smugly. "My son has other interests besides eating and sleeping."
"Well, don't take it personally." Duo soothed. "I'm sure you did your best. No parent is perfect."
Gage had to clench his jaw to keep from snickering.
Wufei looked over at Gage, and started. Heero quickly made the introductions.
"Uncanny." Wufei pronounced. "It was remarkable when you were small, but it's truly uncanny now."
Gage looked over at Denea. "I remember YOU." He said happily. "You punched my mom!" He reached out and grabbed her hand, shaking it with great enthusiasm. "I never got to thank you for that! Could you come home with me and do it again? I'll hire you to do it on a regular basis if you like."
Denea looked delighted. "Oh, don't worry. I'll deck anyone who calls me a bad mother for free." She looked over at Heero."Well, he's a little unconventional, but I like him."
Meishel entered the dining room. "Hi. Dingbat will be here soon." She rolled her eyes. "Hello again, Gage. I'm assuming that's who you are."
"Miss Chang." Gage stood up and pulled out a chair for her. "I trust you are well this evening, ma'am?"
"Very much, thank you." She laughed.
"And did you relay my message to your sibling?"
"Yes, I did." Meishel nodded.
"And his response?"
"Ask him yourself. He's right there." Meishel pointed.
Gage turned around, and swallowed hard.
The picture just hadn't done Chang Shan justice, was his first thought.
He was tall, and on the slender side. You could tell that he wasn't pure Chinese, but the blending was perfect. His hair reached the bottom of his neck, and was ink-black, like his eyes. He wore small, wire-rimmed glasses, and he had long, narrow hands. He was dressed simply; jeans and a white tee-shirt, but the shirt contrasted wonderfully with his bronze skin.
"So it was you..." Shan broke the silence.
"I told you I'd come back." Gage reminded him. "It just took a little longer than I expected."
"Yeah..." Shan agreed. "Oh, this is yours, I think." He reached into his pocket. "I've taken good care of him."
Gage would have stated that nothing could have surprised him right now, but that was before a plastic soldier was placed in his hands. He stared at the toy in shock. It wasn't in perfect condition; Shan had obviously played with it a lot, but it was still amazing to see again.
"General Stephen." Gage managed after a minute. "Well, I'll be damned."
They seemed unaware that anyone else was watching them. Heero shook his head slowly in amazement. It was the first time since meeting Gage that he had seen the boy truly touched about something. For a minute, his mask slipped, and Heero saw a glimpse of the child he tried so hard to hide.
"Come on. Let's eat." Shan broke the awkwardness.
"Yeah." Gage shook himself. He clapped Shan heartily on the back. "We'll stuff ourselves with some of this... well, I suppose it's food. And then, Shanny Boy, you can tell me about all of the fun-filled, exciting things to do on your planet."
Wufei was looking at Gage in disapproval, but Meishel and Denea were grinning. They obviously thought that Relena's oddball son was charming.
But there was something about him that Wufei instantly didn't like, didn't trust. There was something behind those eyes... something that said that Gage was more than just obnoxious and as Denea put it "unconventional."
He was also dangerous.