And I Have Touched the Sky
by Lasha Lee

The boy ran along the seashore, laughing as the waves lapped and pulled at his feet. He stumbled once or twice in the wet sand, broken shells imprinting his palms and legs, but he regained his balance easily each time and took off again.

The glowfish lit up the water around him and he bent to catch one, watching it wiggle in his hands before he released it back into the pounding sea to rejoin it's friends. They were incredibly beautiful but fragile. His mother had warned him that if he were going to catch one he could only hold it for a moment, or it would die, and he would be responsible for extinguishing that wonderful light forever.

He moved away from the waves and lay back on the beach, staring up at the stars. There, that was one was Dera, where his mother lived. Where he wanted to live.

How he had begged during her last visit for her to take him back with her. And she had seemed to cave for a minute, her eyes uncertain, before she had firmly told him to start acting his age. He was ten years old; not a babe in arms, and his behavior was uncalled for. Then she had pecked him on the cheek and vanished. She might return in a few months, or it might well be another year, he knew.

He traced pictures in the sand with one finger. He supposed it was hard to miss her; he'd never really known her. She'd never seemed very interested in knowing him. Her visits were the same; a quick hug and an invitation for him to recite his recent successes in school. Then she would be off to meetings, or whatever she had really come to accomplish, and be gone again with hardly a goodbye. He loved her, at least he assumed he did since she was his mother, but she was a stranger.

He hated his father. He felt no shame at all in that; he had hated his father since he was old enough to understand what hate was. It was easy to do since his father hated him as well. This was not speculation on the child's part; his father had never bothered to hide the scorn he felt for the boy.

Father had never harmed him physically. Being who he was, he was in high profile. Someone or other would notice marks. But honestly he thought he'd prefer a beating once in a while; at least it would be better than what he did receive.

Father did not approve of laughter. He did not like noise or games or attitude. Attitude being anything the boy said, no matter how respectful he might tone it. For no matter how hard he tried he was never able to keep the contempt he felt from showing through and Father knew it. His eyes would narrow and he would dismiss the boy from sight and mind.

For the most part, the child tried to stay out of his way. His days were filled with his lessons, preparation for the position he would one day inherit. He made a face at that; who wanted to spend their days in boring meetings speaking to boring people when one could have the ocean and freedom?

Freedom. He gazed at the water, and then up at the sky. Freedom to go wherever he wanted, where no one knew who he was or who his parents were. He was the crown prince of two worlds, but he would trade it all in a heartbeat just to be able to blend in somewhere.

A cold wind blew in the from the water and he headed back to his house, his footprints vanishing as the water swallowed up the sand behind him and the glowfish danced.

He had hoped to sneak in unnoticed but before he could reach his bedroom door the hall light snapped on and he froze.

"The water again?" a voice asked coldly.

"The glowfish were out." The boy did not turn around. "I just wanted to see..."

"You look like a beach rat." the voice spat. "Covered in sand, barefoot. Do you have any idea how bad that looks for us? Don't you even care? Does my reputation mean nothing to you?"

"No one saw me..."

"Not that you know about! Look at me when I'm speaking to you."

The child turned around to face his father, trying and failing to keep the anger out of his face.

"By the stars, no wonder your own mother can't be bothered with you. She despises you, you know. She told me so herself, that she wonders how she could have produced something so wretched. A stupid, ugly, undisciplined little urchin that shames us both."

He was lying, the boy knew. His mother hadn't really said any of those things. She didn't feel enough about him to either love or hate him. He raised his head and glared at his father but said nothing.

"How can I be expected to trust a whole planet to someone so worthless? I have a good mind to name someone else my heir!"

The child lost his temper. "I wish you would! I never wanted to be your heir! Never! I hate being your son and I hate this stupid world." He ran into his room, slamming and locking the door behind him.

He had broken first. His father had won. If he could have faced him with the same coldness, he might have stood a chance, but he had acted like a little child, throwing a fit of temper. Just like his father had intended.

He had been sent to an away-school several days later, to be more "properly educated." He had graduated top of his class. His father had come for the ceremony but had said nothing. His mother had sent a letter of congratulations, but had been too busy to attend. He didn't care; he hated them both. He would do his duty, he was resigned to that now, but it would be done in his own way and to the sun with both of them if they interfered.

He would never forget the day he had been called into his father's study, several weeks later.

"Sit, Vire." his father motioned to a hard chair. To the young man's surprise he locked the door behind them.

His father had folded his hands, gazing at Vire for a long moment. "You're still a fool." he had said bluntly. "But you may prove a decent enough Tren in time. I suppose I don't have much of a choice in the matter. Our people expect you to lead them now; it would cause confusion if I named someone else in your place.

And oh, how I wish you still would, Vire thought to himself. And just let me go.

"What I am about to tell you is only known to the Trens of Seta. Since there has been a Seta, it has stayed within the confines of our office. The Trens of Dera do no know this; your mother does not know this. And you will take a blood vow here and now to take any means needed to make sure no one ever does know." He pulled out a short dagger and handed it to his son.

"And if I refuse?" the boy asked.

"You won't." his father smiled. "Your curiosity is too peaked. You're telling yourself whatever it is can't be that serious, and certainly worth a little pain to find out."

Vire grit his teeth and moved the dagger across his palm. The blood ran free. "You have my blood vow that I will tell this secret to no one, that I will never allow it to be revealed."

"Even if it means taking other lives to prevent it." his father added.

Vire hesitated. "Even if I must kill to keep it." he said finally.

His father tossed him a roll of white bandages and Vire bound his hand, stanching the flow of blood.

Tren Elemaran walked to the window of his office and pointed beyond. "Our world, Vire. Beautiful, isn't it? Rich in life. Our ancestors were delighted to come upon it, so superior it was to all they had left behind. Such a perfect place to build a life and raise families. Do you know who I speak of, my son?"

Vire frowned, his palm aching. "The Derans who came to escape the overcrowding of their own world."

Elemaran shook his head. "No, Vire. I speak of our other ancestors. Those who were here first."

Vire sat upright. "Seta was a bare world, teeming with animals but nothing to equal humans."

"No, nothing to equal humans." Elemaran smiled thinly. "We were better."

"What are you saying?"

"Interbreeding with the human invaders has weakened us, diminished what we could originally do. But what choice did we have? Women were a rarity among our kind; the invaders allowed our bloodline to continue in a somewhat diluted form, but it did continue.

"Oh, we fought back. That caravan they speak of? Our handywork. We brought the younger, healthy women on board to Seta; the men died somewhere in the middle of space. Women were too precious to waste in those days.

Elemaran laughed at his son's expression. "You feel much the way I did upon learning the truth, my son. It's rather disturbing at first to learn you're not quite as human as you thought. Of course, you have more human blood than I do. I'm pure Setan; your mother is pure Deran. I have tried to make allowances and corrections for that; you have all the failings of that race in spades, Vire."

"You're human!" Vire retorted. "Even if this story of yours is true, it's been so long ago that all traces of alien blood must have all but vanished. That's like saying we're really apes because we used to be once upon a time."

Elemaran sighed. "Must you really be so dense? Do you remember what I spoke of first? Our ancestors came here to escape conditions on their own world. That world still exists. Women are still in shortage there. They know of us, they visit us."

Vire sucked in a breath. "You would be surprised at how of their progeny live among us." Elemaran shrugged. "The Trens of Seta provide them with the women they need to keep themselves alive; in exchange they provide us with raw materials lacking in our own world and cross-produce with our people to keep the bloodline fresh. My own grandfather was one of them." he stated proudly. "A finer man no one could ask to be descended from."

"Maybe you're not human but I am." Vire jumped to his feet.

"I realize this is hard for you to accept." Elemaran said calmly. "You may take as long as you need to think about it and reconcile yourself to it, but do NOT forget your vow."

"Oh, I'll keep your damn vow. What do you mean about providing them with women?" Vire spat.

"Criminals, my son. Women who have flaunted and defied our laws. Women in good standing are exempt from the collection."

"This is sick!"

"Sick or not, you will continue to cooperate with them." Elemaran stood up. "As future Tren of Seta it is your duty."

Vire turned on his heel and fled from the room.


He watched the young father step out of the transporter, his eyes searching the room frantically for his son.

"I have a neuralizer pointed at the back of your head. If you attempt to fight me in any way I will use it on you and then on the boy. Nod if you understand me."

Duo, his back toward Vire, stiffened and nodded. "Where's my baby?!?" he hissed. "If you've hurt him..."

"The child is fine. If he remains fine depends on your behavior." Vire walked around his captive, the neuralizer pointed at him all the while. "I must say you surprised me. Running into that transporter like that, unarmed. Surely you knew it had to be a trap."

Duo raised his head proudly. "It doesn't matter. He's my son, being with him is all I care about."

"Your son is an ill-mannered brat."

"Well, what can I say?" Duo snorted. "Being held against our will brings out the worst in us Maxwells. Now where is he?"

"You are not in a position to be making demands." Vire reminded him. "But come with me."

He opened up the sealed door and shoved Duo inside roughly.

"POPS!"

Duo was almost knocked backwards by the force of his son's embrace. He knelt and held the boy close, kissing the top of his head over and over again, muttering soft words into his hair.

"Oh, Pops, you shouldn't have come!" Jazz whispered against his father's chest. "Now he has you, too."

Watching them, watching Duo ask the child if he was okay and Jazz assuring him that he was fine, Vire felt a stab of raw jealousy. A part of him had assumed as a child that all fathers treated their sons with cold contempt. Maybe the man had believed it as well. Even when he'd watched Marti Rynt gushing about his daughters a part of him never really believed it, found it impossible to accept that men could love their offspring. Love was a woman's emotion.

But it was obvious that Duo Maxwell loved this child. That he had openly expressed his love throughout the boy's life and that the boy returned his father's affection. So different than his own boyhood...

Duo stood up with Jazz in his arms, the boy clinging tightly to him. "What do you WANT with us?" Duo demanded. "Why do you need Jazz? Let him go. I'll stay with you. I'll do anything you want, I'll give you anything you want, but let my son go home."

Vire smiled, but it never reached his eyes. He had some time, not much, but a bit. Enough for a small experiment, anyway.

Like Sheld Rynt, he found the human mind fascinating; motives even more so.

He walked over to a drawer and produced a small knife; careful never to let either the man or the boy outside the range of the neuralizer, then approached the Maxwells again.

He fingered the knife handle, and the blade glittered in the office light.

"I wonder." He said finally. "Just what you would do to keep the boy safe. Shall we find out?"


"Heero."

"He should have been back long before now, no matter where he went." Heero paced around the apartment. "Something has happened. I can feel it. Someone contacted him and he went somewhere."

"Why didn't he leave us a note or a message?" Trowa asked.

"Maybe he couldn't. Maybe there wasn't time." Heero replied. "Jazz is his entire life; he wasn't in a position to think clearly if he got a lead on where he might be."

"Heero?" Linra asked.

"Humm?" Heero glanced absently at the girl.

"Do you remember when I got mad at my parents and ran away from home?" Linra asked. "How you found out where I was?"

"The transporter record!" Heero nodded. "I did a trace on it! If Duo used it I can find out where he went. I'm the one who's not thinking clearly today. Thank you, Linra."

He flipped on the computer and easily connected with the records, singling out his own transporter code from the muddle. "Got it. Come on." His hand tightened around a the butt of a gun at his waist. Trowa, Quatre, and Wufei each had a Deran neuralizer. "Denea?" He asked the woman on the couch.

"The girls are fine with me. Go. Find your family." The woman urged. "Hurry."

Heero, Wufei, Trowa, and Quatre piled into the transporter and Heero typed in the last code, transporting them to the place where Duo had last been.

They stepped out into an office, looking around, weapons drawn. No one was there.

Toward the back was another room containing a small bed. Heero dismissed it, but then his sharp eyesight noticed something lying on the floor and he walked over to investigate.

His howl of rage and despair brought his friends running into the room and they stopped cold, stunned by what they saw.

A long, severed rope of chestnut hair.


On to part twenty-five. Back to part twenty-three.