Here There Be Dragons
by Lasha Lee

"I don't wanna go!" Jazz looked handsome in his short blue pants and white shirt, with a neat red tie pinned down to the front. His hair was combed back over very mutinous eyes.

Duo sighed as he looked down at the child by his side. Jazz's arms were folded and his chin was stuck out in a pout. But five years together was enough time to Duo recognize the defiance as what it truly was. The little boy was terrified.

Maybe he should have taken Wufei's advice and put him in day care years ago. But... how could he? This was his child; he didn't want strangers raising him. He didn't want to miss one single milestone in his son's life, and Jazz had flourished under the personal attention.

The draw-back had been, however, that he had had very little contact with other children. The kids in their neighborhood were all either older or younger, and while Jazz had friends, he did not have many.

They stood outside of the school now, near the iron fence, and Duo shook his head. "It's going to be fun. You'll learn all kinds of stuff. Stuff I'm not smart enough to teach you."

"I don't wanna learn. I want go to the yard with you." Jazz's hand closed around Duo's. "Please, Pops? I can already read and I can write my name and count to 100. I don't NEED to know anything else." Violet eyes glistened with unshed tears.

Duo knelt down. "It's a law, Jazz. The law says either you go to school, or I go to jail. Easy as that." He straightened the boy's tie and kissed him on the forehead.

"Dumb law."

"I agree. Very dumb law. But that's how it is. And it's only until 3. I'll be right here at 3 to pick you up. I promise."

Jazz looked at the building, and then at the other children chasing each other around the playground. "Will you stay for a while?"

"Of course I will."

The Maxwell men entered the schoolyard, Jazz still clinging tightly to his father's hand, his eyes wide with terror.

Duo looked for a teacher, but realized they were all busy. Near where the Maxwells were standing, a boy was sitting on the ground, surrounded by a pile of Lok-Bloks.

"Those are like mine." Jazz commented.

"They sure are." Duo agreed. Jazz released his hand and slowly walked over to the other boy. "Hi."

"Hi." The other boy said shyly.

"I have those at home." Jazz pointed to the blocks. "I make stuff all the time."

"Do you want to play? My name's Duke."

"I'm Jazz." He sat down across from the other boy and reached for the blocks.

"Jazz, I'm going to go now." Duo called over. "I'll see you at 3, okay?"

"Bye Pops." Jazz did not look up. "We should make a big space-station with these blue ones..."

"I had the biggest lump in my throat that day. It was like everything changed the second he let go of my hand. He was never completely mine after that; a part of him belonged to the rest of the world from that point on."

"But you couldn't hold his hand forever."

"I know. I had to let him go, Heero. I had to let him start to grow up. And there isn't a day that goes by that I don't wish I'd held on just a second longer."

"I wish I knew the right thing to say to you, to make it all better."

"Just tell me that our son isn't walking into his own death. That we'll get him back."

"I promise."

Silence for a minute, and then "Where are you going?"

"To see Vire, or Jaf, or whatever his name of the day is."


"I'm not going to kill him. I just want to talk to him."

"Do you want me to come along?"

"No, I can handle this one alone. But I'll let you listen. I've found Jazz's little toys. And I promise, the one I'm going to carry with me works."

"It better. I don't like letting you go by yourself."

"I'll be back soon."

Jaf was dreaming.

In his dreams he ran the beaches near his home, a child again, full of his own energy and strength, chasing the glowfish through the waves, laughing. He was free, free from nightmares of dark cells and executions, free to just live.

And then the beach faded away, and hands were shaking him, slamming his head back into the wall. He tried to recover and a fist connected to his stomach. He fell to the floor, only to be jerked up again, and slammed down on the cot.

"MY son." Duo Maxwell stood over him, quivering in rage. "Jazz is MY son. How DARE you make decisions about what he should do with his life?!?"

Jaf tried not to wince at the pain in his gut. "Someone needs to." He said through slightly gritted teeth. "In a snit tonight, are we?"

"Jazz can make his own decisions! He doesn't need help from a cowardly murderer!" Duo shook his fist again.

Jaf rested his back against the wall of the cell, folding his legs in front of him. "When children are left to make their own decisions, they usually have a knack for picking the wrong ones. Case in point, your son growing vegetables. He is made for better things; if you will not steer him on a more appropriate path, then I will."

"Oh, you've steered him all right." Duo hissed. "He could DIE because of you!"

Jaf sat up straight. "Not because of me." He replied. "Not me, my friend."

"Excuse me?"

Jaf laughed. "You poor fool. You don't get it do you? I wish I did have that much influence over the boy. But it's not my footsteps he longs to follow it; I'm not his hero, his idol, the person he wants to be like more than anyone else in the worlds, even if he can't admit it to himself. You hold that honor, Duo Maxwell. Jazz follows in your shadow even as he tries to escape from it."

"Oh, no, you are not turning this around on my head!"

Jaf grunted. "Truth is painful at times, isn't it? Jazz cut his teeth on stories of your heroism. How do you think he feels knowing such feats may always be beyond him? He longs to be able to say to himself that he is at least the man his father is; so far, he cannot. And it gnaws at him constantly, his own feelings of inadequacy."

"Oh, you know SO much about my son, do you?" Duo scoffed.

"I know what he has told me." Jaf smiled. "He admitted to me all that I have told you. How he despairs ever measuring up to the great Shinigami. I have given him a chance to try. Let him earn his spurs, as they so quaintly put it in your part of the galaxy."

"Jazz isn't me! I took care of myself because I had to, because no one else was around to do it. I knew how to fight, how to steal, and how to stay alive. He's never had to go through any of that; he doesn't..."

The former Tren sighed. "How can you son ever believe in himself, if even his own father doesn't believe in him? Jazz isn't the only one, apparently, who thinks he'll never be the man you are."

"I don't want him to be the man I am. I want him to be better." Duo stared at the wall. "He can be better."

"Yes, he can be. He will be. As soon as he has his own success to build from, he will finally find his own way. And it may not be the path either of us would like for him. In the end, he will be golden. But he will never learn to walk if you keep carrying him."

Duo was quiet.

"I'm am all you have called me and more. A coward? I admit that freely. A murderer? Yes. But... I love you son. I believe in your son. I know that if he chooses to walk the path of Tren, he will be an excellent one. "

"I can't lose him."

"You will not. He loves you too much to let that happen." Jaf laid back on the cot. "A love I will never be worthy of. They tell me that they'll spare my life in exchange for my help. I believe none of it; if I do not die through execution, I'll meet with some accident or another. My time is very limited. Do your people believe in the afterlife?"

"Some do, some don't. What does that have to do with anything?"

"I believe that my mother waits for me there, beyond. I want to face her again knowing that for once in my life, I did the right thing. I want to see pride in her eyes. Maybe together your son and I can find a way to keep Seta safe. If I'm to be given one final shot at redemption, I'm going to take it."

Duo gave him an odd glance. "I almost believe you're sorry."

Jaf turned away, pulling a pillow up against his chest. "Wasted lives, wasted time, wasted chances." He said after a minute. "I'm here now because your son asked, all those years ago, that my life be spared. For my mother's sake, he put aside his hatred. If you must punish him for this new defiance, understand that heart that he defies you with was hammered into shape on your anvil. Unlike my father, you have wielded your hammer with love. You'll be pleased with the final result once the steel is tempered."

He sighed. "Go home now. I wish to sleep. I was having a nice dream until you interrupted it." He paused. "And hello, Heero. I'm sure you've been hanging on every word of this. Be sure to do a good job telling him what a terrible liar I am, and how all of this is my fault. While you're at it, I also attacked the caravan all those years ago, sabotaged the Ronolia peace movement 200 years before my birth, and traveled to Earth to wipe out their ancient reptiles. Oh, yes, I don't send my paper goods to the Reuse facility."

When he looked over a few minutes later, Duo was gone. Jaf chuckled to himself and put his hands behind his head with a sigh. A few minutes later, his voice could be heard softly.

In prison cell and dungeon vile
Our thoughts to them are winging
When friends by shame are undefiled
How can I keep from singing?

The Wronith had agreed to a meeting, and the former Tren and his Choice sat alone in Jaf's cell.

"Confidence is the first rule of any negotiation. Hold your head high, make eye contact, and do not back down. Compromise is acceptable; waffling is not."

Jazz threw up his hands in disgust. "How can I compromise when I don't know what it is that I'm supposed to offer? How can I learn what I need to in the next two days?"

"You are the Tren..."

"The hell I am!"

"The Council is prepared to go to war against the Wronith if the need arises. Already plans are being made. You are merely one means of perhaps avoiding that. But your age has been considered; the fact that you yourself are an alien to his world has been considered as well. No one expects you to perform miracles, child."

The boy leaned back against the cell wall, glaring at Jaf. "This is because I shorted out your damn intercom, isn't it?"

"Actually, yes." Jaf smiled. "Because you had the courage to do so. I knew that my world could be in no better hands that those of the child that defied me so thoroughly."

"You have a very strange way of showing you respect someone." Jazz stood up and stretched his legs. "And don't expect me to start liking you, either. You've done way too much I can never forgive."

"I know." Jaf sounded sad. "Which is why I don't ask for it."

He shifted, and hissed.

"Are you okay?"

"It's nothing." Jaf waved him away. He tried to lean back and his shirt lifted in the front, revealing a large bruise.

"Geez! Who did that to you?"

"Your father, if you must know. He came to see me last night. We had a nice long talk after he was done playing 'Paint By Numbers' with my stomach. He's a terrible artist, by the way. Imagine only using black and blue."

In spite of himself, Jazz almost laughed. "Pops knows how to kill a man with a punch to the gut."

"Not surprised. It hurts like a fiend. I'll venture a guess that your mother had a slightly cooler head about her. You inherit your control from somewhere."

"What control? I stunned your ass, remember?"

"Stunning a fugitive from justice isn't quite the same as attacking one already in custody. But he's understandably upset."

"What did you talk about?"

"Well, you'll have to ask him the next time you see him. But you may have an easier time than you think explaining yourself. Don't be surprised to see him looking at you with different eyes."

"Maybe that's what I'm afraid of, how disappointed he's going to be. I think I can handle facing these Wronith, but I'm NOT looking forward to the lecture I'm in for. What are my chances of staying in Setan custody the rest of my life?"

Jaf raised a hand. "As a ward of theirs, I really can't recommend it. I've been trying to teach those bulgias tricks." He pointed at some beetle-like bugs in the corner. "They're horribly untalented, but I'm rather lacking in entertainment at the moment. I race them when I'm really bored."

"You'll be allowed to come to the meeting with me, though."

"Wouldn't miss it for the world. Get it? The world?"

Jazz couldn't help laughing that time. "Cute."

"Get out of here. Go play in the sunlight or call your girlfriend or do something completely unrelated to this mess. Enjoy your freedom."

"Coming from the man who kidnapped me?" Jazz raised an eyebrow.

"Go, or I'll tell the Council that the Wronith will be offended if you show up at the meeting in anything other than a pink cocktail dress."

On to part seventeen. Back to part fifteen.