"I talked to Gerry. He's very happy for you, that things are working out."
Gage glanced up at his mother and shrugged. He knew that he should feel something for the man who raised him; the man whose last name he had shared, but he couldn't bring himself to feel much but indifference. He and Gerry had never been close, and he couldn't miss something he never had. He didn't hate him, but if he never saw him again, it wouldn't break his heart. He suspected it was the same for his foster father.
He wasn't sure he'd ever be used to calling himself Gage Peacecraft, but he had no right to Drummond, and he had to be something. There were, he rationalized, a lot worse things to be. And it meant a lot to Milliardo.
"I'll be coming back in four months to see you." Relena continued. "And I'll expect Dera to still be in one piece when I do."
They were all crowded into Duo's living room. Empty pizza boxes were everywhere. Luke was sprawled on the floor with a goofy grin on his face, and Meishel was rooting around for food someone might have missed.
Gage was leaning against the wall, full and content, with Shan's head pillowed on his chest. He still couldn't get over the fact that no only were Shan's parents not objecting to this, they were even smiling at him every now and then.
The biggest thing had been their first night back, however.
Alone, in his bed, Gage had been unable to sleep. There was too much on his mind; the knowledge that his father was going to die, missing Shan. He felt alone and afraid, much too small for the size of his world.
So he had left Heero's house and slipped into the Chang's, creeping up the stairs into Shan's room. He wasn't surprised to find that Shan had been waiting for him. Shan held him tightly as he wept, not insulting him by telling him that it was all going to be all right; just letting him cry. They'd fallen asleep together.
Gage awoke just as sun was rising, and heard footsteps passing by Shan's open door. His heart racing in fear, he had remained silent.
Through slitted eyes, he watched Wufei appear in the doorway and pause, and then enter the room, approaching the bed. Gage lay there tense, waiting for the tirade to begin.
Instead he felt the blankets being lifted, tucked around himself and Shan gently. "It's okay." Wufei whispered. "Go back to sleep. I understand." And Gage had, feeling warmth he hadn't experience since his earliest memories.
Now three days later, he still felt that sense of ease and security as he had that night. And his fears about Milliardo had dimmed as well; Deran medicine was awesome; someone would find a cure in time, he was sure of it. Milliardo was going to be with them for a long, long time.
Their peace was disturbed by a knock on the front door, and all of them groaned.
"Whose turn is it to tell them off?" Heero asked.
"Mine!" Gage sat up. "Please?"
"Gage, you mooned them last time!" Relena exclaimed.
"They wanted a picture of me. I gave them my best shot. Come on, let me handle it. It's me they want anyway."
"Okay." Duo agreed. "But keep your pants on, Cowboy."
Gage ambled to the front door, pulling it open with a sigh.
He was expecting a crowd of reporters, but instead there was merely a lone woman. She was somewhere between thirty and forty, and pretty in a sharp, angular way. Her hair was auburn, but he could tell immediately it was dyed.
She opened her mouth to speak, but Gage cut her off.
"You've come at a bad time. We're busy sacrificing goats to Chtullu right now and committing atrocious acts of sodomy, so no comment. Thank you for your interest. See my agent for your free tee-shirt and coffee mug." He started to close the door, but something stopped him. Her foot.
"Hello Gage." She smiled, flashing very white teeth. "Do you know who I am?"
From behind him, Gage suddenly heard his father curse loudly.
"Well, someone obviously remembers me." The woman chuckled.
Relena had appeared at Gage's shoulder. "What the hell are you doing here?" Her voice was colder than Gage had ever heard it before.
"I'm here to visit my son." The woman replied.
Gage felt as if he'd been hit in the chest with a ballbat. His mother? This was the woman who'd given birth to him? He wanted to close the door again, to run and hide, but he wasn't able to stop staring at her, searching for signs of himself. Something to mark them as mother and son, but he saw nothing. He felt weak from the shock.
"You aren't welcome here." Milliardo had reached the door now, and was shaking slightly. "You lying, conniving, bitch!"
The reporters had gathered around close, almost in a frenzy at what was happening.
Laura was looking at Gage now. "You're so big. You were so tiny the last time I held you. Before they took you away from me. You could have fit in one of my hands. I knew you were going to be handsome. And smart too. I heard about what you did when you ran away. You outfoxed them all." She moved closer to the boy, and he backed away. "Sh, I know you don't trust me. How could you, with all the lies they've told you about me? But don't believe them. I'm your mother, Gage. I was the one who felt you kick for the first time, roll over. I felt every hiccup. I was the one whose voice you heard first. I'm the one who gave birth to you, and they stole you from me!" Her voice cracked. "Ripped you right out of my arms!"
Heero watched the scene unfold, watched the confusion and uncertainty in Gage's eyes. He wants to believe her, Heero thought. He wants so much to be able to believe her, to believe that his mother loved him and wanted him. That she didn't turn her back on him willingly. How well he understood that desire.
"Gage, she blackmailed the Drummonds." Duo interjected. "Why would she have done that if she's telling you the truth now?"
Laura reached for Gage but Relena stepped between them, her eyes blazing. "You heartless witch! Hasn't he been through enough? So what if you gave birth to him? I'M the one who changed his diapers, and held him when they stitched up his hand! I'm the one who nagged him to do his homework, cried myself to sleep worrying about him! You're nothing but a cheap slut who thought sleeping with a Peacecraft was your way to easy street!"
Laura's eyes flashed, and she moved like lightning, shoving Relena backwards. Heero and Milliardo cried out in anger, but before either of them could react, Laura had been slammed against the doorway.
Gage held her by the front of her shirt with his good hand, trembling. "Don't you EVER lay a hand on my mother again! EVER!" He shook her.
"I'm your mother." Laura hissed.
Gage released her and laughed scornfully. "Like hell you are."
"Like hell I'm not." Laura looked satisfied, the Earth Mother mask no longer needed. "I've followed you in the news, Gage. You're exactly like me. You see people for exactly what they are, and you realize just how easy they are to manipulate. I was surprised at that; I figured you'd grow up just like her." She jerked her head at Relena. "But the blood will tell, baby boy. You come from a long, long line of people like us; people who know exactly what it takes to survive in life. My father could have charmed a starving man out of his last crust of bread. People are fools."
"What do you want?" Gage held up his hand to stay inference from the rest of his family. "Why are you here?"
"Because this is the biggest story of the century. A mother and son, cruelly torn apart and then reunited. They'll believe anything we tell them." She whispered so the reporters couldn't hear. "I've got lots of ideas. Do you know how much they'd pay to hear your adoptive father molested you?"
Gage stared at her in disgust, looking ill. "You're right about one thing. I know how to get what I want out of life. I can lie, and I can manipulate, and I can cheat my way to the top with the best of them. And maybe I do owe that to you, maybe it is in my blood. But there are other things there too. Love, loyalty, honor. I've fought them, I've denied them, I never wanted them. I wanted to be like you, and I tried, but I can't. Not any more. Go home, Laura. Go home and tell them whatever you want, sell your story to everyone. I don't care; it doesn't affect me one way or another. But don't ever come here again."
"You're only fooling yourself." Laura moved away with a shrug. "And them. Go ahead; convince them what a good boy you are. Make them believe it, but you'll never be able to make yourself believe it. You're bad to the bone, and I couldn't be prouder. Later, baby boy."
She moved away through the reporters, ignoring their questions. Gage silently closed the door.
"Gage... " Relena asked.
Gage was giving Milliardo an odd look. "Christ on a cracker, Dad! How drunk WERE you?"
It broke the tension and everyone burst out laughing, including Gage.
"Pretty drunk." Milliardo admitted sheepishly.
"She's wrong you know." Relena hugged him. "Those things she said about you."
"No... she's right." Gage smiled. "It's there, it's in me. But there's a difference; I can control it. She doesn't want to."
He looked at all of them, his eyes lingering on Shan. "Please note for future records that I said I can control it. Not that I always will. It's unhealthy to deny one's true self for very long."
"Just no naked football games." Heero pleaded.
"No naked anything!" Wufei spoke up for the first time, and Denea laughed.
Shan hugged Gage tightly. "We love you the way you are. You're ours now. Warts and all."
Gage kissed him deeply, and continued so long that Heero cleared his throat. "I have a feeling she'll be back, though." Gage said at last, a smirk on his face.
"Like a bad penny." Milliardo grumbled.
"That." Gage agreed. "And the fact." He reached into his pocket and pulled something out. "That sooner or later, she's going to realize her wallet is missing."
"Oh Shanny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling... "
Shan buried himself deeper in the satin sheets, curling closer to Gage, and muttered something.
"Come on, lazy." Gage slapped his rump and Shan yelped. "Time to go."
"Call them. Tell them we can't make it." Shan groaned, rolling over on his back.
"Dearest one, don't you think it might be just a tad rude to stand up a party in your own honor?"
"Meishel's there. It's her honor too. They don't need me."
Sharp teeth nipped at his ear. "If you don't get up, I am going to carry you there exactly as you are right now, in all your glory."
Shan rolled his eyes and climbed out of the round bed, reaching on the table for his glasses. Gage came into focus.
He was reclining back on the bed, his arms behind his neck, eyes traveling in appreciation over Shan's nude body. He had let his hair grown out and it was the same length as Shan's now, reaching the bottom of his neck. His hair, Shan thought to himself, wasn't the only thing that had grown longer in the past three years. The young man winced slightly as he walked and Gage's grin grew wider.
Okay, those kind of thoughts weren't helping his motivation to get dressed, Shan decided, pulling on a pair of black jeans, and a blue cashmere sweater Gage had given him. He reached for his shoes, and stubbed his toe on a cardboard box.
"We should really stay home and unpack." He offered.
"Yeah, like that's what we'd be doing." Gage scoffed, climbing off the bed and sliding on his own shoes. "Come on. We just have to stay for a few hours, and then we can come back here and 'unpack' all we want."
Shan sighed and locked his arms around Gage's neck, burying his face in his shoulder. "Promise?"
They left the bedroom together, stepping over more boxes as they went.
Their house, Shan looked around, swelling in pride. He and Meishel had designed it, and Gage had used his trust fund to bring it to life. It had been completed several months ago, but Gage had continued to live with Heero and Duo until Shan was able to share it with him.
The past few years hadn't been all pleasure for them, Shan remembered as Gage let him toward the transporter. Several times they'd come close to breaking their promise to their parents, but something had always stopped them at the last minute. Tougher to deal with was the fact that Gage's birthday was nearly six months before Shan's. Those were the hardest months of Shan's life, in more ways than one.
The press had sort of them left them in peace, but Gage was still a big news story and would continue to be so for the rest of his life, they knew.
Laura Landagren had never bothered him again. Gage still had her wallet as a souvenir. It had been filled with money, which he had never bothered to count or touch, and credit cards, pieces of ID, phone numbers. But the one thing it lacked were pictures, momentos of home and family. And whenever Gage got the desire to hate his biological mother, all he had to do was open the wallet and feel pity for her instead.
"There they are." Duo called, as the boys stepped out of the transporter. "We were beginning to wonder if you were going to make it."
"That's probably why they're late." Jazz called out from near the table, where he was piling a plate high with food. "You know newlyweds."
Gage laughed and squeezed Shan's hand tightly as they approached the food. He knew that the family was a little disappointed that they had opted for a traditional, private Deran Pledge than a full wedding. But although they shared almost everything with the people they loved, they had wanted the renewal of their vows to be their own.
"Happy birthday, baby." Denea hugged Shan tightly. "I'm so happy for you."
"Thanks, Mom. For everything."
"You two certainly didn't waste much time." Wufei pointed out.
"Sometimes, you don't know if you're going to have time to waste." Gage replied, looking across the room at where his father and Heero were talking. Milliardo was still hale, still strong, still unaffected by the silent death inside of him. But how much longer, Gage wondered. Would they be able to do something before it was too late?
Shan had wandered away to greet Meishel and Luke, who were teasing him, and Wufei motioned Gage aside. "I want to talk to you about something."
"You and Shan are going to be graduating in a few months. Shan knows what he's going to be taking at the University, but I was wondering if you'd made a decision yet."
"Not yet." Gage admitted. "But I'm in no hurry. I mean, look at Luke. It took him nearly two years to decide he wanted to start his own software company. And it's not like I really need the money; my trust-fund is plenty for Shan and I to live on."
"Well, I've been giving it a lot of thought. I've been watching you, you know. You've blown everyone away at the school. You were raised in a completely different format, and you're still graduating at the top of your class."
"I told you before. I take school seriously."
"Yes, you do. And you have other qualities as well. You have a frightening understanding of how the human mind works, you're an expert story-teller, and you like nothing more than being the center of attention." Wufei paused "Have you ever given much thought to becoming a teacher?"
Gage gaped in surprise. "I'd be happy to recommend you for a position once your education is completed." The older man patted his arm. "Just give it some thought, that's all I ask. It would be perfect for you."
"And ironic." Gage finally blurted out. "Considering how desperate all the parents on Earth were to keep their kids AWAY from me. As well as a few Deran parents I could mention."
Wufei laughed loudly. "You've come a long way. And I'm proud of you. But now that I'm your father-in-law, I'm going to nag you every chance I get."
"You do that anyway."
"Oh, you haven't even begun to see nagging."
"So once again." Jazz turned the page in the comic book, and showed Nadia the pictures. "Squab's evil plans were thwarted, and Justice Skunk was able to save the town."
"Of COURSE he did, Daddy." Nadia sighed. "Squab can never win. He's the bad guy."
Jazz laughed and kissed her head. "Of course Justice Skunk won. How silly of me."
So simple in her world, so easy. While he himself had always seen life in an array of colors, Nadia saw things in the strictest terms of black and white. Something was either good, or it was bad. There was no such thing as in between.
So it wasn't surprising to anyone how much she adored her yeye, Wufei. And the older man was delighted to finally have an ally after all these years of, in Duo's words, being the only anal retentive one in the family.
"Are you calling my little girl anal retentive?" Jazz had huffed.
"Son, how many two year olds do you know that color-coordinate their underwear?"
"So she has fashion sense. And she's almost three."
"She chewed me out the other day because I hung the toilet paper roll up the wrong way!"
"Means nothing." Jazz waved that away.
"She bit Heero's head off because he tucked her in at 7:01 instead of 7!"
"Okay, okay, so she's a little retentive."
"And Stalin was a little overbearing." Duo muttered.
But for now, Nadia was content to relax in her father's arms, watching the party around her. A moment later her mother joined them, and Nadia crawled into her lap, snuggling close.
She was nearly asleep when she heard loud voices from across the room.
"When?" Meishel was yelling at Luke. "When will it be time?"
"'Shel... " Luke held up his hands in supplication.
"It's always something, some excuse! I'm tired of it!"
The girl stormed into the transporter, leaving her boyfriend to stare after her in dismay.
"Luke?" Shan asked.
"I don't want to talk about it." Luke brushed the younger boy off and entered the transporter himself.
"What's up with them?" Denea asked.
"Not a clue." Shan admitted.
"If I had to venture a guess." Gage offered. "I'd say that Luke is being a perfect gentlemen, and your daughter is getting fed up with it."
Denea snickered. "That's what it looked like to me as well. Think they'll work it out?"
"Of course they will." Gage was sure. "Sooner or later. You really think Luke has a chance of winning against her?" He wrapped his arms around his lifemate, nuzzling him. "Any more than I had a chance of winning against the stud here."
"I think it was the other way around. You went after me." Shan teased, nuzzling him back.
"You made me believe in forever."
Someone had turned on music, and they swayed together, Shan's back against Gage's chest, and Gage's arms around his waist.
"Forever." Gage breathed in his ear. "No matter how many times we die, no matter how many times we're reborn, I'll always find you. We're infinity, Shanny Boy. We're two divided by zero."
So that's how it happened, anyway. How once upon a time, when I was very small, I went to a wedding and met an obnoxious little boy who would change my entire life.
He's asleep now, sprawled out in our bed face down, his face half buried under his hair, and he looks like an angel. And if I tell him that, he'll laugh "Yeah." He'll say. "Lucifer."
He thinks the dreams we've had, mine about being trapped in the mine, and the one we shared, are really memories. Not racial memories, but memories of past lives. He says that's why we were so drawn to each other right away. Maybe he's right; I don't know. I'll never know. I just know that I have him in this lifetime, and that's plenty.
He wakes now; looking at me from under snowy bangs, and gives me a diabolical smile, the one that always makes my knees weak. "Come to bed." He urges. "Whatever that is will wait until tomorrow. I can't."
I smile and move across the room to join him, and we slid together, fitting as perfectly as if we were custom designed for each other. He kisses me hungrily and whispers to me what he wants, and turns over so there can be no misunderstanding.
I do what needs to be done, quickly, and then seal myself to him, in him, on him, and he cries out, begging me for more.
There is a fire in me, but I am not afraid. Fire has not frightened me for a long time now. I let it overtake me, let it feed on our sweat, our cries, our words of love, before I at last fall heavily on top of him, pinning him to the bed, kissing the tattoo on his back.
My best friend. My lover. My forever.