"It all worked out in the end. My parents paid for the damages to the wall and the delivery truck and the missing geese and tried to ground me, which is a joke, I'm afraid, even at the very best of times. I made a map of escape routes when I was but a babe in arms. It's merely for show on their part; they have to at least pretend to have some control over me.
The voice drifted out of the living room and into Wufei's study, and he gritted his teeth, trying to go back to his book. Which wasn't easy when he heard his children laughing loudly at Gage's story.
"If we'd done anything like that, we wouldn't be alive to tell about it." Shan was saying.
You're right, Wufei nodded silently. Do you have to sound so damned impressed, though?
"I got an early start. I saw a special on television when I was a child. About what to do if a stranger grabs you in public and tries to kidnap you." Gage continued. "So the next time I was out with my mother, I must have been about four or so, I suddenly threw myself to the floor of the store and started screaming 'THIS ISN'T MY MOMMY!' It probably would have worked out better if she wasn't famous and the people watching us didn't know darn well she was my mother. Let me tell you, she was horrified though. Absolutely beside herself, she was so embarrassed."
There was the sound of the candy jar opening and closing, and the next words were muffled. "I did it to her again last year, the poor thing. The last time we were out in public together, I might add."
"I wonder why." Meishel said dryly.
Wufei couldn't hold back his thoughts any longer. "Why didn't your parents ever send you away to school?" He called out into the other room. "They certainly had the funds to do it."
"Come out here and I'll tell you." Came the instant reply.
Wufei stood up and walked into the living room. The twins were on the couch and Gage was sitting on the floor at their feet. His head was resting near Meishel's knee. Too near, to her father's liking.
Those blue-steel eyes met his own and Wufei felt a chill. Gage was still smiling, but it was frosty, and the man suddenly realized that his dislike of Zechs' nephew was mutual. He knows I see through him, Wufei thought privately. He knows he can't fool me, and I'm the enemy.
"Would you mind terribly repeating your question again, Mr. Chang? I seem to be losing my hearing." Gage tapped his ear.
"I said." Wufei tried to control his temper. "Why didn't your parents ever ship you off to boarding school? That's the best place I can think of for out of control teenagers."
"Oh, they've considered it. My aunt was quite enthusiastic in gathering information on them. But then again, you know how my aunt is. After all, there must have been some reason the two of you were such good friends."
That didn't seem like a compliment. Gage continued. "I decided that boarding school wasn't quite what I wanted, and I was informed that I didn't have a choice." He folded his arms. "So I gave my parents and my dearest Aunty a very graphic description of what I would do if they tried to send me there. I spared no details. After that, they saw it my way."
"What did you threaten to do?" Meishel asked.
"That's not important. And I never would have done it. Well, most of it. But they believed it. When you already think the worst of someone, it's easy to think them capable of all kinds of crimes, aren't I correct, Mr. Chang?"
"I suppose. But you're only fifteen! Adults run a household, not children. To reverse that is just asking for trouble."
"I agree entirely." Gage leaned forward, cocking his head to the left. "Which is why your little ones are the ever-obedient angels they are." He grinned up at Meishel and patted her on the leg. Wufei's eyes narrowed.
The twins were watching the exchange between their father and their friend, uneasy.
"Egads." Gage grabbed at his heart. "It appears, my darling, that I've sullied you with my touch. Does this mean the wedding is off?"
"Of course not." Meishel teased back. "He doesn't have to attend if he doesn't like it."
"Excellent. I don't have to cancel that Mariachi band. They were beastly hard to book."
"Really, Baba, you should be nicer to your future son-in-law." Shan couldn't resist putting in. Wufei's glare could have frozen oil.
"Hey, the program is probably done creating by now." Meishel glanced at the clock. "Long done. We're supposed to take Gage on a tour of our new house, remember?"
"Yeah. Come on. You'll love it. It's our biggest one yet." Shan got to his feet.
"Why don't you to go upstairs and get set up?" Wufei said suddenly. "I want a word with Mr. Drummond here for a second."
"Certainly, my good man. I shall join you shortly." He nodded at the twins. "Have plenty of food and spirits handy." He paused. "And a few lap dancers wouldn't be frowned upon, either."
Still not sure they were doing the right thing, the twins headed up the stairs, but stopped on the top landing to listen. There was silence. Shan glanced at his sister and tip-toed to his room, shutting the door loudly. A moment later they heard their father begin to speak.
"You know, they say that appearances can be deceiving. I suppose that when other people look at you, they see your uncle. I want you to know that I do not."
"Oh?" Gage asked politely. "Good thing, that. Because I'm not him. Wouldn't want to be him either, not with that harpy he's married to trying to get in my knickers."
"Your uncle did things I didn't agree with. Things I still cannot condone. But he never did anything, never took any action, that he didn't believe in with all his heart. He had honor and he had purpose. He wasn't always a good man in deed; but he has always been in spirit."
"Your point, Mr. Chang?"
"You're a pale imitation of him. A mockery of what he believed in. And to what your mother believed in and fought for so hard. You may look like a Peacecraft, but there isn't a drop of Peacecraft in you. Which I find very sad. I pity you. I look at you and I pity you for what you could have been."
The twins stared at each other in shock and growing anger, but Gage spoke up.
"I'm sorry you feel that way, Mr. Chang. And I do hope you feel better now that you've let your true feelings out in the open." He spoke up slightly so that the twins would be sure to hear him. He knew they were listening. "And I'm sorry that you seem to feel my presence here is a threat. That one fifteen-year-old boy can, in one summer, undo fifteen years worth of your loving guidance where your beautiful children are concerned. I'm sorry that you're that insecure."
Wufei began to sputter, and Gage leaned very close to him, making sure that no one else heard his next words. "I know what you did to your son. You make me as ill as I make you, and then some. But there's a difference between us, you and I. I'd never harm a child." He drew back and winked.
"Well, I'll be going on that tour now. Good day, Mr. Chang. It's been lovely chatting with you."
He'd been set up, Wufei realized in shame. He could hear the twins now, sneaking back down to Shan's room. Gage Drummond had played him like a harp from hell and he'd been an idiot and walked right into it.
And how had he found out about... that? Had Shan told him? No, of course not. The twins never mentioned that incident; it was a taboo subject even between themselves.
Suddenly, it hit him. He'd come full circle. He remembered being Gage's age, in his first battle with Gage's aunt, Noin. Hadn't he mocked her? Hadn't he felt she was foolish for underestimating him because of his youth?
And he'd done the same thing. He'd looked at his enemy and saw a child, and made the mistake of thinking that he'd fight like one. But Drummond wasn't a child any more than he had been at 15.
He made up his mind. He would talk to Denea tonight and make her see reason. He would make her understand that to protect their children, they needed to keep Gage Drummond as far away from them as possible.
At least, he hoped he could make her understand.
"I think I'll trash his study tonight." Meishel said thoughtfully, chewing on the end of her hair. "It's been a while since I've done that, and I'm really in the mood for it."
Gage gave her a startled look. "You trash your father's study?"
"Well, not exactly... " Meishel picked up box full of disks and removed one. "I created a VR of his study. When he makes me mad, I go into there and wreck the place. His study is his sacred place, you see. He'd blow a gasket if he knew I had this program of it, just to wreck."
They had finished the tour of the new house a few minutes ago, and Gage had been deeply impressed. Every detail had been perfect, and for the first time he realized that it wasn't just a time-killing hobby for the Chang twins. They really did intended to make their living off of this. He thought about the kids on Earth, and couldn't think of one with that much drive and determination, let alone two. Including himself.
Gage began thumbing through the disks in the box. He plucked one out. "Oz?" he asked, looking at the label. "Wow. That is ambitious. Can't say that Heero, Duo, and your dear Baba will be thrilled, but I say more power to you! Let Oz rise again! I know a dealer who can get us some cheap Leos."
Shan grunted. "No. Oz as in the Wizard of Oz. Toto? Dorothy? Lion?"
"You actually liked that drivel?"
"Nope." Meishel said cheerfully. "We despised it. That's where that comes in." She pointed at the disk.
"We have a perfect recreation of Oz on that disk, complete with the Witch, irate apple trees, and flying primates. We go in, and we make improvements to the storyline."
"For example." Shan picked up. "We felt sorry for the witch. I mean, if Meishel keels over, I know she's going to want me to have her stuff. I'd want her to have my stuff. And I'd be plenty ticked if some strange bimbo showed up and tried to make off with it."
"Not to mention the little fact that said bimbo just dropped a freaking house on top of her head." Gage grinned.
"Exactly. As our father is fond of ranting , injustice!"
"And you corrected this by... "
"Oh, lots of ways." Shan considered. "Once the witch took her to small claims court. Sued her for the shoes and damages. The judge chewed Dorothy out for 20 minutes before ruling against her."
"Another time we had a gang of thugs jump out and jack Dorothy for the slippers. They stole Toto as well."
Gage fell off the bed laughing.
"And the sky-writing."
"We thought 'Give me back my shoes, you fucking bitch' made a much better statement than 'Surrender, Dorothy'"
"Oh, absolutely." Gage was wiping away the tears.
He looked at the box again. "Middle Earth? Do I even want to know?
"The elves were cannibals. They ate the Hobbits."
"Ahhhh. I thought there was something a little shifty about them. Krynn?"
"Raistlin runs the joint. And Par-Salian is a cocker-spaniel."
"As it should be." He paused for a second, and then said quietly "Narnia?"
"Narnia." Shan touched the disk. "No good stories there. Narnia we left alone. Some things are sacred. Ya know?"
"Yeah... can I borrow this? I'll bring it back tomorrow."
"Keep it. We've got back-ups."
"Thanks." He slipped it into his pocket, fighting to keep from showing how his heart was racing. He felt stupid; small and childish, but warm as well, and he couldn't stop smiling.
"You can create VR programs on the spot, right?" Gage asked.
"Sure. And save them. Or create an idea and go view it, like our houses. What did you have in mind?"
"Want to see where I live?"
"How do I do this?"
Shan handed him the helmet. "Put this on, and think about your house for a second. When it beeps, it's ready for the rest of us."
A second was all it took, and Gage opened his eyes.
He was standing in the foyer of the mansion, Shan and Meishel next to him, gazing around in wonder. "Wow." Meishel spoke up, her voice echoing. "How did you keep from getting lost here when you were small?"
"I tried to get lost. Lots of times. But there's always so many maids running around dusting this and vacuuming that, that it's hard to stay hidden for long." He had not recreated any people with the house, the twins noticed.
He led the way down the hall and through a large wooden door.
The room beyond was a small museum of paintings and vases, and exhibits under glass.
"I was not allowed in here. So naturally I escaped here every chance I had." Gage explained.
Shan was studying an expensive-looking urn, making a face. "That's art?" he asked doubtfully.
"My dear boy, you are looking at a one-of-a-kind, priceless work of crap."
Something seemed to occur to Gage at that moment. This looked like his house and felt like his house, but it wasn't. So he could do whatever he wanted.
He picked up the vase and gave Shan an evil grin. "Hey, go long."
Shan began to run, and Gage threw the vase in a perfect spiral. Shan tried to catch it but fumbled, and it shattered against the marble floor.
"Oops." Shan said in a dead-pan tone, and his sister and Gage howled with laughter.
"Come on." Gage ran toward the door. "We've got antique china!"
They played Frisbee with Relena's best dinnerware until there was nothing left to break.
This was followed by a food fight with the contents of the refrigerator.
They ran though the house afterward, destroying everything they came across, and Shan was having the time of his life. He felt good, alive. Like he had been pretending to be civilized all this time, but now he didn't have to be.
He also noticed that Gage led them past the door to his own room, and did not even open it. He was curious about what was inside, but didn't ask. Instead they went to his parents' room.
"How many feet does your mom have???" Meishel stared at the teeming shoe rack.
"She never wears half of this shit." Gage was busy throwing handfuls of lacy undergarments out the window. "She just collects it."
He tossed his head back and began singing in a falsetto "It's raining drawers. Hallelujah it's raining drawers."
Meishel suddenly glanced up from writing bad words on the full length mirror in bright-red lipstick. "Potty break. Be back in a minute." She vanished from the room.
Shan flopped back on the bed, laughing. "God, I feel terrible. I know this isn't real, but I don't know your parents. Geesh. What is wrong with me?"
Gage laid down next to him. "Still waters run deep, Shanny Boy, but they say the devil's beneath."
"My father's right. You're a bad influence on me, you know." Shan's face was close to Gage's.
"Probably." Gage agreed. "But admit it. You haven't cut loose like this in years."
"You're right." He sighed. "It's easier on Meishel, I guess. She's exactly what my parents wanted. She can be a perfect lady at times, but she can also kick ass if she has to. My father's satisfied with her. Sometimes, I just feel..."
He blushed, admitting all this to someone he barely knew.
"Sucks, doesn't it? Feeling?" Gage asked gently. "Maybe what you need is to start being Shan instead of Chang Shan."
"I don't understand."
"You're not your family, Shanny Boy. You don't have to be like them, not if it's not you. You're trying to so hard to be who they want you to be. But who do you want to be?"
The room was quiet except for the sound of their VR breathing. "I don't know."
"Maybe we need to find out." Gage suggested. "Meishel was just having fun with us and going along with what we were doing here. But you... I definitely saw some demons in there, Shanny Boy. Something needs to come out."
"And you're going to help me, I suppose?" Shan chuckled.
Gage swiped a finger across his lips suddenly and Shan was startled. "I'm no one's savior, Shanny Boy. But you've got a ton of angels. Maybe what you need is a good dose of the devil."
He leaned closer, and his breath drifted across Shan's nose.
"Hey, I'm back." Meishel called, and the two rolled apart quickly.
"And so you are, my darling." Gage waved hello to her. "I believe we haven't been to the library yet. It's full of boring tomes just waiting to be torn to smithereens. Shall we?"
It's not real, Shan told himself firmly. I'm not really doing these things. It's all in my mind.
But even as he followed the other two to the library to cause more damage, Gage's kept coming back to him, and he had never been more confused in his life.