Elaine, Jacob, and Vasquez had been playing cards. Jacob took the trick, and it was Elaine's turn to deal. She shuffled the cards a moment, then set them down on the table.
"I'd like to meet Gus," she says.
Jake looked at Vasquez first, then back to his mother. "As you wish. Gus won't be expecting it at this moment, but he's ready in general."
Vasquez blinks. "You mean now?"
"She does," Jake says, knowing his mother's tone and looks. Elaine nods in confirmation.
Jake takes the hands of both his mother and Vasquez, removing his hand from his mother's after a squeeze. And then he withdrew to let Gus emerge.
Elaine watched in agony as her son's form and features changed in front of her. She had never witnessed her own transformation (and had declined watching the video that Remnant had). From within, it simply felt like a battle lost, a falling asleep and then discontinuity. But to an outsider it looked painful.
To a mother, even more so.
Finally a man with bright red hair opened his eyes and looked at her. He looked surprised, but immediately recovered. "Mrs Stevenson. I'm glad to meet you at last." Elaine's eyes flicked to where his hand was still in Vasquez's, and she wondered what relationship the Commander had with her son's Other.
"What is Gus short for?" Elaine asked. She had an inherent dislike of nicknames.
Gus was a little puzzled. "I'm not sure. I don't even remember how I chose the name."
"Augustus then. Does that work?"
Gus looked at Vasquez, a little lost. "I... suppose?"
Elaine steepled her fingers. "Tell me, Augustus. What do you think of 'Billie'?"
"Oh she's nuttier than a bag of squirrels," Gus says. "But... anyone would be, if they'd been through what she has."
"What has she been through?"
Gus looked at Vasquez, as if for permission. "I think Elaine should know," Vasquez says.
Gus sighed and pushed his fingers through his hair. "She's spent most of her life on the streets, working as a prostitute. She's been through it all - drugs, physical and emotional abuse. She killed her first pimp in self-defense, and that isn't the only life she's taken. Every time she woke up, she was in a different city, having to start over with no contacts, no one she could trust. It was some time before she learned about your existence, and knew what happened during the missing parts of her life."
"She knew you had an idyllic life, compared to her, and she hated you for it. Then after Jake was born, she hated you even more, and hated Jake for being your son instead of hers."
Elaine answered in an icy voice. "Are you blaming me for this?" Her cold tone masked the sick feeling she had inside. She had only been with one man in her life, but her Other had sold her body (my body!) to the lowest of the low. She hadn't been prepared to hear that, and she felt unclean.
"No ma'am." Gus said. "You didn't try to reach out to her, but she didn't try to reach out to you either. You both chose warfare. I chose warfare. Jakey's the only one of the four of us who did the right thing."
Elaine smiled faintly. "He gets that from his father. Henry was a good man."
"I know. I wish I could have met him,"
"So do I," Vasquez said.
Elaine lowered her eyes and put her hand to her necklace. "I tried so hard to keep her away from Henry and Jacob. I never thought..." That there was a person I was doing that to.
"She would have done the same, if she'd had the husband and child," Gus said. "I would have done the same to Jakey."
"But Jacob chose to talk to you." Elaine said. "I... I want to see Jacob again, please."
Gus took her hand, and kissed it, trying to appear gallant. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Mrs Stevenson. Give my love to Jakey."
In a moment, Elaine was holding the hand of her son instead of the hand of a near stranger. And in another moment, she was hugging him tightly.