"I feel stupid. Why do I have to do this?"
"Because it will make your father happy and when you love someone, you sometimes find yourself doing stupid things for that reason." Like calling up a man you have nothing against and singing Happy Birthday, loudly and off key, even though it's NOT his birthday and you know this.
Jazz tugged at the tie around his neck and gazed into the mirror. "I look like an accountant."
"Not a very good one." Heero glanced at the boy's feet, clad only in socks. "You can't even afford shoes."
"Not my fault my feet grew. I can't get into mine at all. Pops says he'll find me some on Dera. They do wear shoes, right?"
"They wear shoes." Heero confirmed. "Very comfortable ones and we'll find you some that fit." He examined the boy. "You look very nice, shoes aside. Now you know what would really make your father happy? If you let me do something with that mop on your head."
Jazz sighed. "Okay, you can do a pony-tail but NO braid."
"No braid." Heero promised, gathering up the soft tangle of hair and slipping a rubber band around it. He stretched it down till it laid against the boy's neck. "There, see? Painless."
Jazz looked in the mirror again. "Hey, I look sorta like Pops." He noted.
"You look a lot like your father." With his hair tied back the resemblance was indeed strong. "Especially with those 'Who, me?' eyes." Heero snorted, but smiled. "Come on, my little baka. We'll be landing soon." He led Jazz from the room.
Duo glanced up from his seat and did a double-take. "Okay, who is this and where have you hidden my son?" He demanded.
"You're funny, Pops." Jazz said sarcastically.
"You're not my kid. My kid is ragged little wild man. You're obviously a gentleman." Duo argued.
"Yeah, well, don't get used to it." Jazz scowled. "I don't like ties."
"You're going to break every heart on Dera." Duo promised his son, reaching up to squeeze his shoulder. "When we leave we'll have to search the ship for stowaways, lovesick girls willing to follow you across the stars."
The ships comm-link beeped. "Enter identification code."
Heero leaned over and typed in something quickly.
"HEERO? Is that you?" Came the startled reply.
"Who else would it be? I've got company. This ship contains two adult males, one male child. Ship two contains two adult males, ship three one adult male."
"He was too good to ride with the rest of us." Duo offered.
"I told you I was coming back." Heero said into the comm.
"Yeah, but no one believed you. Thought once you got home you'd kiss the ground and never leave again." The voice chuckled. "We're locking in on the ships and guiding you down. Can't wait to meet your friends. Did you bring the one that never shuts up?"
"Yes, he did!" Duo called out indignantly.
"Signing out, Marti. See you on the surface." Heero closed the link.
"Just what kind of a reputation do I have on this planet, anyway?" Duo asked suspiciously. "Will they all greet me with ear-plugs handy?"
"Only if they're smart." Jazz piped up.
"Thank you, peanut gallery!"
Heero was staring at the floor, and muttered something.
"What was that?"
"They were interested in knowing about our world. I started writing articles and it turned into books. I wrote a book about the war, and about all of us, and all that happened. I was only going to show it to a few people, friends like Sheld. But, it became popular. Very popular. Almost everyone on Dera knows who you are, and the others as well."
"Am I in the book?" Jazz demanded.
"No, because I didn't know about you. But your mother is mentioned. Your parents gained something of a fan following. The fact that you resulted from their love will make a few people swoon."
Duo began laughing so hard he almost stumbled and Heero caught him. "I was just thinking... poor Wufei. He doesn't know about this, does he?"
"No, neither do Trowa and Quatre."
"Well, let's let them be surprised. So do I get to read this book?"
"If you really want to, but why? You lived the story. You might like how I ended it though." Heero said softly. "That I had finally realized where my heart was, and that I would soon be returning to claim it. And I was very clear that I not referring to Relena."
"Oh, Heero... "
"Hey, if you guys are going to start necking let me know so I can go in the other room." Jazz interjected.
"Jazz, go in the other room." both men said at once. The boy sighed but left, grinning. Man, he was good.
"So any plans for a sequel?"
"Possibly." Heero stroked Duo's hair. "Interested in helping me gather material for it?"
Jazz reentered the room, averting his eyes. "Pops, I can see the planet! And it's really big."
"Really? Lemme see." Duo went to the viewing window. "Whoa! Will you look at that?" The world loomed ahead of them, greener hued than the earth and far larger.
"Seta is even bigger. We'll have to go there too before we head back into our own space. It's mostly water, but with a lot of small islands all over it. Land mass is still 8 times that of our world." Heero remarked.
"Coolness. Hey, there's Wufei's ship. One last time, Pops?"
"One last time." Duo agreed. "But you pick, I'm fresh out of ideas. What else can we do to the poor guy?"
Jazz opened up a small cabinet and pulled out a vid-disk case, handing it silently to his father. Duo glanced down. "JASON!"
"It's not mine! I found it on the ship. I didn't watch, the cover is gross enough." Jazz wrinkled his nose.
Heero peeked over. "Yikes! That has to hurt."
Duo smirked and popped the disk into the computer. "Sound only. How bad can that be?" He dialed Wufei's ship.
"YES?" Wow, he sounded really tense, Duo noted.
Duo hit the sound button.
"OH STEVE, OH DARRELL, OH DEMETRIA, YES YES, OH YES!! YES, USE THE PLUNGER. RIGHT THERE. OH YES, TOUCH ME THERE, JOSE!" Duo flipped it off suddenly. Jazz was staring wide-eyed at the speaker. "Pops, remember when you told me the facts of life? I think you forgot a few chapters. I don't remember nothing about plungers..."
Wufei's ship was deadly silent, and Duo wondered if they'd gone too far. Then Wufei actually laughed. Duo's jaw dropped. "It appears I've been riding on the wrong ship. Steve, Darrell, and Jose may stay where they are with my blessing, but please let Demetria and the nameless one know to look me up when we land. I'm the handsome one. I'll be holding the plunger." The comm closed.
"Well, how do you like that?" Duo fumed. "He's taking all the fun out of it!"
"Now, koi, you had fun with him for two months. People have been known to adapt under harsh conditions. Look, we're entering the atmosphere."
"Shouldn't we sit down?"
"No need. Look, there's Kia, the capital city of the main continent. That's where I live." Heero pointed.
Live, not lived, he had said. Duo reflected on that for a second. "It looks like... Earth? How can that be? The buildings and stuff look the same."
"Sheld has some theories about that... I'll let her explain, she understands it better than I do. It has to do with racial memory, things people in our world thought they were inventing, when they were just remembering how it was done here." Heero shrugged. "It made sense. It knocked me for a loop at first, too, when I saw electricity."
Jazz was gazing at the window at the world below them. He shook his head to clear it. For a second he'd felt odd, like deja vu but not quite. A weird image of a woman, crying, popped into his mind, and then back out again.
"Are you okay, son?" Duo put an arm around his shoulders. "You look a little spooked."
"I'm fine. You're right, it looks a lot like Earth." Jazz agreed. Duo looked sharply at him, like he knew he wasn't telling the whole truth, but didn't press.
The ship touched down on a small black-topped area a few minutes later, and finally slid to a halt, it's long journey over. The other ships quickly followed suit.
Heero pushed open the hatch and took a breath. "Man, I've missed fresh air." he sighed.
Duo leaned close to Heero "Yup, smell that Dera Air." he whispered in his ear.
"Behave yourself or you can stay in the car." Heero scolded. "And I'll turn around and take you right back home."
"What did he say?" Jazz asked.
"Never you mind. Come on." The Japanese man led them down the ramp.
"Hey strangers." Quatre called, loping over to them. Trowa following behind. "Looks like we all made it in one piece."
"Barely." Wufei joined them. "No thanks to them." He jerked his thumb and Duo, Jazz, and Heero. "They've completely ruined Heero, you know. Destroyed all redeeming value in the man."
"We reprogrammed him." Duo corrected. "Fixed a few bugs, cleared up a few glitches, updated his operating system. Better than new. Oh, and by Dera law we're married now. You might want to be the first to congratulate us."
"Very funny." Wufei remarked.
"No, he's serious." Heero draped an arm around Duo's waist. "I made an honest man out of him." Mindless of the three other former pilot and Jazz, he kissed Duo deeply on the landing pad.
"They keep doing that." Jazz sighed, noticing the stunned looks from the others. "You get used to it."
A small metal building stood near by them. A second later a door opened and a man stepped out. Jazz examined him. He was tall, kind of skinny, with short black hair grey at the front, and wearing a white jump suit. The boy was disappointed; he had hoped in spite of Heero's words the aliens would look more... alien.
"Heero. Excellent to see you again, my friend." he said and embraced the Japanese pilot. Heero had explained to them that shaking hands was unknown on Dera; an hug was considered the proper greeting.
Heero hugged the man back. "Marti. Good to see you too. How are Sheld and the small ones?"
"My girls are doing well. Sheld is... Sheld. She was experimenting on some such thing or other a few days ago and ended up burning off all of her hair. I have a bald maclen. Linra thought it was funny, but Rosemary didn't recognize her mother at first and screamed murder when Sheld went to pick her up."
"Poor baby." Heero chuckled. "It will be a few years yet before she develops her sister's acceptance. Come, meet my friends now."
"You described them well in your book." Marti noted. "This would be Quatre Winner." He embraced the blond man and Quatre hugged him back. "And Trowa Barton." Trowa accepted the embrace a little stiffly. "Chang Wufei." Marti did not hug Wufei. "Forgive my rudeness, but given what I know if you from your friend's book you would be uncomfortable with our greeting." He offered his hand instead and Wufei shook it, then stared at Heero. "What book?" Heero gave him an innocent look in return.
"And the famous Duo Maxwell." Duo's hug was the most enthusiastic. "Hey, thanks for taking care of him for us." Duo grinned. "And for giving him back."
"But this young man, I don't know." Marti glanced down at Jazz.
"Jason Maxwell. Everyone calls me Jazz." The boy threw his arms round Marti's waste, almost toppling the man. "Nice to meet you."
"Jazz is Duo's child. And mine by pledge." Heero said softly. He put a hand on Jazz's shoulder proudly.
Marti grinned. "So you finally took a maclen, did you? About time. Excellent. Welcome to Dera, all of you. If you'll come with me, I'll take you to my house. There are others who will want to meet you but for tonight you belong to my family."
"WHAT book?" Wufei said in a loud whisper as they followed Marti.
"I'd like to know that myself." Quatre grinned. "Heero, what have you been up to?"
Duo linked his arm around Heero's. "Now, leave him be. He just got home you know."
Heero looked up, taking in the slightly greenish sky, feeling the warm breeze on his face. Yes, I'm home.
On to part nine. Back to part seven.