Here There Be Dragons
by Lasha Lee

"They won't know you're here." Seb Nela explained to Heero and Duo. "The mirror is one way. You'll be able to hear and watch everything that's said. I warn you, however, to stay quite no matter what you hear. I realize that may not be easy, but you must. Let Jazz and Vire handle this."

Duo grimaced at the name. "I'd rather let Vire handle a few sticks of lit explosives!"

Nela smiled, but it was a sad one. "His crimes not withstanding, Vire was a good Tren to us. And his love for Seta has never been in question. He will do what he must to protect it, and he will not let them harm your son." Her gaze focused for a minute on the empty room, on the other side of the mirror.

"How can you defend him?" Heero asked.

"Because I know him." The woman did not look at them. "He saved my life." She turned around then. "My parents were... violent people. I ran away from home when I was 14. I had little skills to speak of, no money. I resorted to the means a girl usually has to feed herself. Vire was the first man I propositioned."

She saw the look on Duo's face. "No, it wasn't like that. He didn't do what you're thinking, what I expected him to. He took me to a shelter, and made sure I was fed and cared for. And when my parents came to claim me, he signed protection orders forbidding them from ever coming near me again. Even when I was taken in by a foster family, we stayed in touch, and when I came of age, he offered me a job. I never expected to live past the age of 15, let alone become a Seb. You have seen his violence; I have known his kindness. Each time I look at my children, I realize that they would not exist if he hadn't cared enough to try and turn my life around."

"And yet, he allowed other women to be taken, impregnated against their will, killed." Duo replied.

"I know." Seb Nela agreed. "I love him and I hate him all at the same time. I don't quite understand it myself. Sh, now. They're arriving."

Two men entered the room first, and Duo thought they were Setans by first glance. Then he looked closer, and noticed there was something off about their features. Like Linra had described, it was a subtle difference. She had mentioned it like trying to describe the difference between male and female features. He agreed; it was also like trying to describe the differences between a Japanese and a Chinese face; hard to explain; harder to miss.

They were handsome men. One had thick black hair in a loose pony-tail; the other had very short blond hair curling at the edges. They were of medium build, and walked with the confidence of men who were kings wherever they went. They helped themselves to chairs, and Duo almost expected them to put their feet up on the table, they looked so relaxed.

He had seen that kind of behavior before and his hackles rose. A snake was at it's most charming before the fangs sank in. Heero's hand brushed against his and they exchanged a glance, understanding each other completely. No matter what Seb Nela had said; at the first sign of danger to their son they would be through the mirror in a heartbeat.

The other door opened and the Sebs entered first, followed by Vire/Jaf, and then Jazz.

Duo sucked in a breath at the sight of his son, and a smile of pure pleasure radiated over his face. The Wronith may have been pretty boys, but Jazz's beauty outshown them both, because there was compassion behind his air of confidence, not arrogance. He did look like someone born to lead a planet, and his footsteps never wavered as he approached his own chair and sat down, Vire/Jaf at his right hand. The Sebs stood near the door, ready for anything that might happen.

"Vire." The first Wronith nodded his head. "Been many years, hasn't it, yathi?"

"We were hardly friends, Ronial." Jaf's lips twitched. "But many years have gone by. Quiant." He nodded to the second man, the blond. "May I introduce you to my Choice, Jazz Maxwell?"

"Your son?"

"No. I have no children. Fate crossed our paths, and he was well-suited to the task."

"Indeed?" Ronial gazed at Jazz for a long while. "He is not Setan. He doesn't stink like a Deran,either. Where are you from, boy?"

"I am Deran." Jazz said firmly. The Wronith might or might not have knowledge of the colonies and Earth, but Jazz saw no need to enlighten them. And he felt he spoke no lie; L2 was a memory that faded a little more each year. Stale air, false weather, none of these had had any place in his life for a long time now; in his heart he was as much a child of Dera as Linra was.

"How old are you?"

"Fifteen."

"A bit young to go about trying to rule a world, don't you think?" Quaint commented. "Go back to your games, little one. This is no place for you."

"You took my friend." Jazz replied. "You have made it my place."

"What is this about, Vire?" Ronial asked. "Why have you asked us to come here? To approve your Choice? We're touched you think so highly of our opinion, but Setan politics have little interest to us."

"Those politics are about to change. You might be interested to learn those changes." Jaf raised an eyebrow. "Why don't I let Jazz explain?"

Jazz took a breath. "The pact between your ancestors and the Setan ancestors is void as of this moment. No more women will be offered to you in exchange for goods. If women wish to go to your world, they will not be stopped, but they will only go by their own choice. We ask that the women already taken be returned, those that still live. If you wish to establish a goods trade with Seta, that can be negotiated. I'm sure both worlds have things the other might need. But no more flesh trading. It ends."

Duo, in the darkness of the hidden room, nodded in pride. No, he did not know this poised young man, but he looked forward to getting to. He watched as Jazz reached up and absently fingered the cross."I'm here, son." Duo whispered. "I'm right here. You're doing great."

"And what if we decline your... decision?" Ronial asked, smirking. "We see no reason to change what has worked well up until now. Why should we listen to a child not even of this world? Or Dera, either, I might add. You're as alien to this part of the galaxy as we are, little one, no matter how you might deny it. What do you offer us in return? What about... the world that gave birth to you? What are the women of that world like, I wonder? Would it be in our interest to find out?"

Don't break, Jazzy. Don't let him bait you. Duo through frantically, seeing a flash of anger in his son's eyes, and a moment of uncertainty.

"Then you declare yourselves the enemies of Seta." Jazz said a moment later. "And of Dera by extension. And we are willing to do what it takes to protect the women of this world."

"You threaten us with war?" Quiant sounded disbelieving.

"I don't threaten." Jazz replied. "No one ever wants a war; but sometimes there's no way around it. And it's worth dying to protect something dear to you than living the rest of your life knowing you were too much of a coward to try."

"Those words are not your own." Ronial noticed. "Who do you quote, little one?"

"The bravest man I've ever known." Came the swift reply.

Duo blinked rapidly.

"I do believe you are serious about this." Quiant's lips twitched. "But it would not be you fighting the war, little one. Those who start wars are never those who finish them. Will you send men to their deaths for this pet cause of yours?"

"Only those who believe their wives and mothers and daughters and sisters are worth dying for." Again there was no hesitation. "And I will fight along side of them."

Ronial appeared to think for a moment. "And your parents? What would they say to knowing you are willing to die?"

Jazz smiled. "They would try and stop me. Which is why they are not here at the moment."

"Wanna bet?" Heero muttered, put an arm around Duo's shoulders.

"I see." Ronial chewed his lip. "Well, this is certainly not a decision we can make right away, or even on our own. We will return to our vessel and discuss this with our superiors. We will give you our decision in a few days."

Jazz shook his head. "You have twenty-four hours. If the girls aren't returned in that time, we will consider it a declaration of war."

"Very well. You will have our decision in twenty-four hours." Quiant said with a shrug. "I consider this meeting over." He and Ronial stood up to leave, and he glanced at Vire. "And interesting Choice, Vire. Hopefully not one you or Seta will come to regret."

"I certainly have no regrets." Vire said, his voice pride-tinged. "No matter what happens."

The Wronith left the room, and immediately Jazz changed. He sank down in the chair and buried his head in his arms.

"He needs you." Nela said. "Come."

She led the men out of the watching room and into the next.

Jazz raised his eyes when he heard the door open, and gave his father and pledge-father a weary gaze. "Hey." he said softly. "Punish me tomorrow, okay? Do whatever you want; I'm too tired to care."

Jaf glanced from Duo to Jazz for a moment, and then rose from his chair, nodding toward Duo to take it.

Duo sat down next to his son, and reached out his hand, touching his cheek gently. "We watched you. That mirror is two-way. We heard it all."

"Yeah?" Jazz looked a little embarrassed.

"Yeah. We're so proud of you. Not many adults could have handled themselves as well as you did. And I know that if there is a heaven, your mother is going around right now telling everyone that it was HER kid standing up to those thugs."

"She was here." Jazz said suddenly. "I could feel her, like her hand was on my shoulder." His eyes were damp. "I was so scared, Daddy..."

"I know." Duo edged the chair forward and pulled Jazz against his chest. "I know. It's okay. No matter what happens now, we'll handle it. And we'll handle it together." His hand stroked the honey-colored braid gently. "You promise me you won't take off again. I want you to swear to me. No more disappearing acts. Two is two more than I can handle."

"No more." Jazz nodded, his head still against his father's shoulder. "I just want to go home."

"We will. The shuttles are all gone for the day but tomorrow morning we're heading back to Dera." Heero said firmly. "You've done all they can possibly expect you to do, more than they should have ever expected." He glared at the Sebs, who shifted uncomfortably.

"Jazz, thank you. It's so clear now why you were Vire's Choice." Nela smiled at the boy.

Jazz sat up and shook his head. "No. I'll say it again. I'm not interested. I want to go back to my farm."

He turned toward Jaf. "I guess this is goodbye. We probably won't see each other any more after this."

Jaf nodded. "I believe you are right. Do you remember when we talked of paths? Of what direction we pick our lives to take?"

Jazz nodded.

"Whatever path you walk, it is the right one. I am honored to have known you."

"I wish I could say the same." Jazz shook his head. "I wish we could have been friends."

"So do I." Jaf said softly. He glanced at Duo. "My dog?"

"We'll take Osmar back to Dera with us. He'll have the whole farm to play on, and the kids to run after." Duo couldn't blame an innocent animal for it's master's actions.

"Good. He has been a good and loyal friend. I wish you the same of him. Except... he doesn't like thunder. It frightens him terribly. Let him stay close to you when it storms. Dera has such strong storms at times... " his voice trailed off.

Jazz nodded, but suddenly found himself unable to speak.

"We're going back to the bungalow now." Duo said in a "just try and stop us" voice. "Jazz is about to collapse."

He helped his son to his feet and Heero moved quickly to support his other side. The three of them walked out of the room together, and Jaf watched them leave, his smile bittersweet. He glanced at Nela and she nodded so slightly no one else saw it. Her hand clasped tightly around Jaf's and he felt something small and rough dig into his flesh. He slid it between his fingers, and leaned forward, kissing her on the cheek.

"Thank you." He whispered.

Her eyes were streaming and she said nothing.

"Well, I suppose my cell awaits. Shall we, ladies?" Jaf asked. "Oh, yes, before I forget, might I use the facilities for a brief moment?"

The Sebs glanced at each other. "I promise to be a good little prisoner and not run off. Of course, with my hands bound like this, one of you would need to assist me." He leered at them.

They snorted and led him to a bathroom they knew was windowless and undid his hands, shoving him inside. "Two minutes." One of them warned.

Jaf rubbed his wrists and closed the door behind him. He looked around the bathroom, and snorted to himself. Not his first choice, but it was better than the alternative.

If there had been another choice, he would have made it. But like the boy, he was tired. Tired of running. He wasn't up to it any longer, if he ever had been. He had always lived his life by his own rules, his own way. He knew he didn't have much time, however.

He pulled something out of his pocket and set it on a sink where it wouldn't be missed, and then sat down on the floor, opening his hand. All that it contained was a tiny white pill. "Thank you, Nela." He said softly."I knew you wouldn't let me down."

He stared at the pill for a moment, and a knock on the door startled him.

"Vire, your time is almost up." One of the Sebs called.

"Just another minute, please." He called back, and took a breath, popping the pill into his mouth and chewing rapidly before he could lose his nerve.

His eyelids began to feel heavy and he smiled to himself, leaning back against the wall. Sleep. Sleep was good. He would rest now. No more running; no more fighting. He thought about what Jazz had said, how he'd felt his mother's spirit with him today, and he imagined that he could see his own mother there, in the light that was growing dimmer, smiling at him and holding out her arms. She looked younger than he could ever remember seeing her, and as he rose to his feet he noticed that he too was younger. He was a little boy again; his feet bare, leaving impressions on the sand under them.

"Come on, darling." His mother called. "First one to the water gets the prize."

The boy laughed and took off after his mother, knowing that she would allow him to win. She picked him up suddenly and swung him around under the starlight, and their laughter melted together into the night.

"Vire! VIRE!" The pounding on the door continued, but he was beyond their hearing, and at last beyond their control. And only Nela noticed, as they bent to examine the still, smiling body, the sand on the floor near his feet. And no one saw her slip the letter he had left on the sink into her pocket any more than they had seen her give her friend his one shot at freedom.

Wherever it was that souls went, she hoped that his was at peace.


On to part nineteen. Back to part seventeen.