After spending the last few days on the ship with Gage, Heero half-expected the boy to pull anything at dinner from reciting obscene poetry to a graphic description of his sex life. However, the only thing one could predict about the boy was that he was unpredictable.
His table manners were flawless. Obviously Relena and Gerry had tried, at least at some point, to make sure that he was well brought up. He knew how to behave around other people if he wanted to.
He was also unfailingly polite when questions were asked him, although he asked none of his own. Heero gave Duo a look that said "see, I told you so?" Duo returned the look with one that said "the night is still young."
Duo, Heero thought sourly later, had missed his calling as a psychic advisor.
"Linra? You want more?" Jazz held out a dish.
"No thanks. If I eat another bite this baby is going to pop out right now." Linra leaned back in her chair. "She gives her compliments to the chef, however."
Wufei chuckled. "That child is a Maxwell. The two things you will never hear from her are 'I'm full' and 'No, I wouldn't do that. That would be wrong.'"
"Wu." Jazz waved a finger. "Don't make me rig your toilet to say thank you again."
"You did what?" Gage blurted out.
"Rigged up a voice box to his toilet." Jazz helped himself to some pie. "Every time it received an offering it thanked the person. Took him almost a whole day to figure out how to turn it off."
Wufei frowned. "Jazz, let me tell you again how thrilled I am that you're about to become a parent."
"I was a problem child." Jazz explained to Gage.
"Oh, you were not." Duo protested. "You were just like me."
He blushed as everyone at the table suddenly burst into laughter.
"Your point?" Wufei asked.
Gage gave Duo a sympathetic look. "A bit of a reputation, I see? I've got one of my own, but only for the things I've been caught doing. They don't know half of the stuff I've pulled."
Heero felt the warning bells start to go off, but Denea had to ask.
"Well..." Gage thought. "Last year there was a large football game at my school. A lot of mucky-mucks there, you understand. Showing how they supported the city's young. My own dear Mother and Father were in attendance. I, being the obedient lad I am, was at home in my room, grounded. Which was done on hearsay and with no evidence, I might add."
Everyone was listening intently now. Gage, seeing his audience captive, especially Shan, continued. He considered embellishing for a moment, then thought better of it. The truth was good enough.
"Well, the game began, and everyone was watching. When suddenly, from the locker room, came running another player. No one could see who because he was wearing a football helmet." Gage took a bite of pie. "And nothing else."
Heero's fork clattered to his plate. Gage continued. "This unknown person ran out onto the field and snatched up the football. He ran it into the end zone, threw it down, did a victory dance, and then left." He smiled at them sweetly. "Let me tell you that it was total chaos. A couple of old women passed out; the cheerleaders were hysterical, and 70 people used their cellphones to call the police. Sheer madness."
He was focused on Shan now. "Well, my parents can be a bit clueless at times, but it didn't take them very long to figure out just who might be behind, pun intended, this prank. They drove home as fast as they could, and burst into my room. Only to find me fast asleep."
"Oh, don't tell me they believed that!" Heero protested.
"Of course not. But they couldn't prove anything. It made all the papers the next day, and I pretended to be extremely put out that I'd missed the festivities."
"Wow." Jazz managed. "I am in awe. OW." Duo had kicked him in the shin.
"I mean." Jazz coughed. "That was a very bad thing to do."
"Oh, I agree. Unforgivably wicked." Gage nodded. "I deserve to be tied up and beaten within an inch of my life." He glanced at Shan again. "What are you doing tomorrow night?" He cocked his head. "I've still got that football helmet."
"Anyone want more pie?" Heero held out the plate.
Shan could feel the vibes coming off of his father as the meal wound down. Baba was clearly not impressed with Gage's story of the night he became a football star, or Gage in general for that matter.
To be honest, Gage wasn't quite what he had expected either. He knew that was just silly; Gage had been five the last time they had seen each other. Who was the same at fifteen as they were at five, anyway? He certainly wasn't.
But there a definite difference to the other boy now, an edge behind his smile. Shan tried to think up a good analogy for it but couldn't.
Gage talked, but he also listened at the same time. It seemed to Shan that the boy was studying everyone carefully, taking notes. It could be chalked up to him being nervous around strangers, but to Shan it looked more like a scientist observing lab animals. It was a manner that said he was beyond all of them, and that were under his control and simply didn't know it.
He also noticed that Gage's attentions seemed focused on him most of the time, but maybe that was because Shan was the only person here that Gage had considered a friend, at least for a little while. And there had been no mistaking his delight at getting General Stephen back.
Who are you really, Gage Drummond? Shan wondered. And why are you so determined that we don't find out?
"You didn't answer my question." Gage said suddenly, startling Shan out of his musing.
"What do you guys do for fun around here?"
"Well, there's always VR." Shan explained. "You can do just about anything with that."
"What about something outside of the house?" Gage pressed.
"Dera isn't like Earth." Heero cut in. "We get almost everything transported so you won't find many stores here. A few clothing stores, but it's not like what you're used to. However, not far from here are some restaurants, a few museums, and some clubs. Minos is the youth club."
"We go to Minos all the time." Meishel added. "It's pretty cool."
"What about adult clubs? Where might a gentleman such as myself be able to find more... mature entertainment?"
"No where." Jazz cut in firmly. "Trust me, Fort Knox would be easier to break into than any of the adult clubs."
Gage did not look convinced. "Details." He waved his hand.
Jazz folded his arms. "And just how do you plan to get in?"
"The way I would anywhere. With a fake ID." Gage smiled.
"Well, once again, you're not in Kansas any more, Dorothy." Jazz laughed. "They don't check ID's here, and haven't for a long time now. They do DNA tests at the door. They pull a hair out of your head, no bringing your own, and scan it. If you're under age, you don't get in. AND they contact your parents to let them know you tried."
Heero snorted. "Trust him, Gage. We got three separate calls about him and Linra trying to get in, two on Luke, and about ten on Rosie."
"She was the most creative." Duo added. "She went as far as gluing fake hair to her head, but they didn't buy it."
"And you know what?" Jazz sighed. "When we were adults, we finally went and got in, and it was disappointing. It wasn't much different from Minos; just with a bunch of older, drunk losers. We felt like idiots for wasting our time."
"Oh, sure, they TELL us that." Meishel sighed. "Just so we won't try it."
"Gage, remember our conversation." Heero warned. "You get arrested, you stay arrested this time."
"He's been arrested before?" Wufei blurted out.
"Mr. Chang." Gage wiped at his eyes. "I've led an uncouth life, sir. Alas, my misdeeds, which I attribute to being constantly locked in my toybox as a toddler, have led me to the wrong side of the law on more than one occasion. However, my sainted mother has always managed to make donations to the policeman's ball just in time to make them look the other way. Arrested? More times than I can count at my tender age. Convicted? Never."
Wufei looked appalled. Denea blurted out. "Your parents locked you in a toybox??"
"Well, no..." Gage admitted. "However, if I change that to a yes, will you go hit Mom again?"
"What kind of example does that teach?" Wufei was still in shock. "Bailing him out of jail every time? Never making him take responsibility for anything he does?"
"No example at all, Mr. Chang." Gage agreed. "Which is why I'm the miserable wretch I am today. I fear it's too late for miracles at this point in my development. I am..." he sniffed loudly, "damaged goods."
Shan bit his lip and made a choking noise, and Wufei glared at him.
"I would say that at your age, you're old enough to make your own decisions about how you want to live your life." the man told Gage.
"One would think so, wouldn't they?" Gage nodded.
"I think I'm going to have to have a talk with your uncle." Wufei continued. "If your mother didn't care enough to raise you the right way, Zechs had a duty to step in. It's disgraceful that he didn't."
Gage's entire demeanor changed. The smile left his face and his eyes turned to steel. "My problems are between me and my parents. None of them are Uncle Milliardo's fault. He did the best he could; but like you said, I made my own choices. You want to email my father and complain about me? I'll give you his email address. I'll even help you compose the letter. But you leave my uncle out of it."
"Gage, it's okay." Heero laid a hand on his arm.
"I'm sorry. I apologize for being rude, Mr. Chang." Gage said a moment later. "But I can count on one hand the number of people I've known that I would consider beyond reproach, and he's one of them."
"It's okay. I apologize for offending you; you're obviously close to your uncle, and there's nothing wrong with standing up for your family. But if you do care about him, then why do you misbehave and bring him shame?"
"That." Gage rose to his feet. "Is one of life's great mysteries. If you figure it out, please let me know. Until then, I shall probably bring a great deal more shame to him and my beleaguered parents before all is said and done. One must, after all, excel at something." He reached over and grabbed the last chunk of Wufei's pie off his plate, stuffing it in his own mouth.
"You're a trip." Meishel said suddenly, shaking her head at Gage. "I have a feeling this is going to be an interesting summer."
"Why thank you, Miss Chang. I shall do my best to make sure that you aren't disappointed."
"I'm sure you well." Meishel sighed. "If we survive it."
"Never a given where I'm involved. I drove six nannies, a butler, a chambermaid, and a mailman to early graves."
"You did not." Meishel protested.
"Of course not. But I at least deserve some credit for trying. Especially with the mailman."
"We don't want to know." Wufei said firmly.
"Yes we do." Linra was biting her lip.
"I was all of ten at the time, so my imagination wasn't yet the vast land-mine field it was to one day become. I simply followed along behind the man as he made his rounds. As he delivered the mail and went to the next house, I collected it and put it back inside his truck. The look on his face when he went back and saw it waiting for him would have won me money if I'd brought my camera."
"Oh my god..." Heero groaned.
"He wasn't overly bright. It took him four days to catch me."
"I hope you were punished for it!" Wufei said severely.
"Oh yes. I was forced to perform lewd acts on several of Dad's business partners as atonement, as well as the postal worker."
"Gage!" Duo protested.
"Well, no, not really. In addition to my other flaws, I'm a habitual liar. Literally once. I stole headdresses from some of the sisters at the local church and denied all knowledge of where they were."
"Habitual liar..." Duo moaned. "Oh, that is bad."
"Ah, but that one is true. I considered it a fair exchange, though. I left them some baseball caps with clever sayings in exchange. It isn't my fault they declined to take advantage of my generosity."
A mental image flashed into Duo's mind of an elderly nun wearing a cap that said "I only get wasted on days that end in Y." He began to snicker.
"Ah, you like that one?"
"I lived with nuns for a while." Duo admitted. "I have to say it, that's hilarious."
"Duo, we are not supposed to be encouraging him!" Heero pointed out.
"Yes, yes, I know. But still... nuns in lewd baseball caps." Duo began to laugh again.
"Heero, if your intentions in bringing this boy here were to reform him, I think you're going to be disappointed." Wufei remarked sourly. "With your mate and son around to give him ideas, you'll be returning him to his parents ten times worse than when you got him."
"I like to think of myself as quick learner. Even though, due to my mother's constant alcoholic binges and blackouts during her pregnancy with me, I suffer from Clown Syndrome." Gage had to add.
"Well, there you go." Duo pointed out. "A perfectly logical explanation for it."
Shan had been quite a while. "Mom, can we go to Minos tonight and show Gage what it's like?"
"Fine with me." Denea shrugged, still smiling.
Wufei started to open his mouth to protest, and his maclen narrowed her eyes at him. "I'm sure your father won't mind, will he?"
"No." Wufei sighed. He was just being paranoid. It was easy for a boy to get in trouble on Earth, after all. It was different on Dera; and besides, almost everyone in their town knew Shan and Meishel and would immediately step in if Gage put them in any dangerous situations.
Still, he gave all three teens a stern glance. "I want you back before 11:30. You stay in Minos or the vicinity. Got it?"
Meishel sighed, knowing the speech by heart. "Yes, Baba. We know, we know."
"Same for you." Heero pointed at Gage. "11:30, and you stay with the twins. No taking off on your own."
"Oh no sir, I wouldn't dream of that." Gage assured him. "Ever since I was five, and wandered off in a grocery store, and was abducted by a witch." He gave Heero a soulful look. "She turned me into a newt." He paused. "I got better."
"Oh, bless you." Meishel grabbed Gage's hand. "A Monty Python fan. You don't know how good it is to meet one; no one around here appreciates it."
"With good reason." Wufei said cuttingly. "How do you stand to watch that stuff?"
"It's over his head." Denea explained to Gage. "Don't mind him."
"Come on." Meishel began pulling Gage along. "We'll help you get ready. You're about the same size as Shan. I'm sure he something you can borrow."
"Be careful." Shan warned, joining them. "She's got a doll complex. She'll have you trying on clothes for hours."
"Oh, just because I'VE got taste." Meishel's voice could be heard as they led Gage toward the transporter.
"Yeah. Bad taste." Came Shan's reply.
A moment later, there was silence. Heero sagged back in the chair, holding his head. He opened one eye and looked at Wufei wearily. "Believe it or not, for him, that was well-behaved. At least he didn't start singing about Eskimo Nell."
"He's just a child." Denea sighed. "And he's obviously starved for attention. His parents must never speak to him at all."
"With good reason!" Wufei shot back. "He's horrid"
"He is not." Denea argued. "All he needs is someone to take him in hand. I know you're friends with his mother, but I certainly wasn't impressed with her."
"Obviously." Jazz put in.
"You'll see. Once he gets some positive feedback, he'll stop settling for negative."
"I hope so." Heero sighed. "Otherwise I might have to go find another war somewhere and take my chances with that."