"They're back. They just snuck back into the house."
"Wu, come to bed." Denea patted the sheets next to her. "They're fine."
"I should call Heero and Duo and tell them." Wufei muttered as he crawled under the blankets next to his maclen. "They should be punished."
"Don't you dare! They're teenagers. If they were perfect, then that would be a reason to worry. Leave them alone."
"Still, they were clearly told..."
Denea laughed. "You never snuck out with a girl at night?"
"I was married at 14." He reminded her. "I had no interest in girls before that point. I thought they were incredibly silly."
"Well, I did a bit of sneaking out." The woman shook her head. "My parents were very strict. No dating at all until I was sixteen. So Sheld would cover for me. She'd say I was staying the night at her house and I'd be out on the town whooping it up."
Wufei put his arm around her waist and kissed her cheek. "Why am I not surprised? Did you ever get caught?"
She laughed again. "Oh, yes, I got caught. Apparently one night my parents decided that since I wasn't home they'd have a night out of their own. They went down to a popular nightclub. And happened to see me, 15 years old, drunk out of my skull, in a skimpy little outfit, dancing with a guy that was almost 30."
"They were less than pleased. Considering the fact that I was so drunk I didn't even recognize them. I offered to buy my mother a drink, if I remember correctly. They were furious with Sheld as well for lying. So her parents punished her, and mine almost had me executed. I was forbidden to leave my house unescorted for the next six months."
"You were incorrigible."
"It gets worse."
"Dare I even ask? How could it get worse?"
"Sheld and I decided that we were tired of being treated like kids. So we decided to run away to Seta together. We thought it sounded wonderfully exciting. And of course Marti was in. He would have followed Sheld anywhere."
"And you were how old? 15?" He gazed down at her; still amazed by the woman he had pledged to spend his life with. Her strawberry blond hair was loose around her face, and her fingers were tracing his cheek gently.
"Sheld and I were 15. Marti was 16, barely. In those days, he despised his pledge-mother and wanted away from her as well. So we packed our things, and headed for the shuttles, excited and scared out of our minds."
"What happened then?"
"We didn't stop to think about the fact that kids running away to Seta was about as common as you can get and the shuttle master knew how to spot run-aways. He let us on and then ran our prints though the main database. Within minutes he knew who we were and he'd called our parents. We almost passed out when we saw them walk on that shuttle. We knew we were in so much trouble."
"I can imagine. I'm surprised they ever let you out of the house again."
Denea was quiet for a minute. "They sent me away. I got my wish. I got to go to Seta. They sent me to live with my aunt here. I haven't spoken to them since."
Wufei was stunned. "I thought your parents were dead!"
"I never said that. I said that I lost my parents when I was a teenager. You took that to mean that they were dead."
He leaned back on the pillows. "Haven't they ever tried to contact you?"
"No. Not a word. Not since they put me on another shuttle to Seta."
"So they don't know about your eyes? Or our pledge? Or their grandchildren?"
"No, and they're not going to. As far as I'm concerned they are dead."
"Let it go, please. Rather than keep me and try and work around the fact that I was a teenager they took the easy way out. My aunt was wonderful and she was able to get me straightened out. They could have if they'd cared enough to try. I don't need them. I have friends, I have the twins, and I have you. That's all I need."
"How old were you when saw Sheld and Marti again?"
"18. I returned to Dera when I was of age. They were pledged by then and let me stay with them for a while. I got my own place soon afterward. I wish..." She turned her head away and he saw diamond tears glittering on her cheeks in the darkness. "I wish... they could have met my kids. Sheld wanted me to have a family of my own so badly. I said I'd just settle for spoiling her girls..." Her voice broke.
"Sh, it's okay." He held her, and stroked her hair. "I know."
"I miss them, Wu. I miss them so much, even after all this time..." her shoulders shook and she clung to him.
Wufei rubbed her back as she sobbed, kissing away her tears, his heart hurting because hers was. She was so strong most of the time; it was only with him, where no one else could see and there was no one to judge her, that every now and then she could allow herself to break down.
Death had been too good for Vire. He should have been made to suffer first; he should have been left alive to suffer for a long, long time. Wufei wasn't sure if what he desired was justice or revenge. In the end it didn't matter: Vire was deserving of both.
"What do you have now, Meishel?" Wufei held out his hand. "Give it to Baba."
"Mine!" Meishel stuck out her lip in a pout. "I find!" She looked like a fierce little Chinese warrior woman with her ebony hair in a pony-tail and her dusky complexion offset by a hot-pink swimsuit.
"Baba wants to see it." He gave her a stern look and she gave a hearty sigh and handed him a pink piece of cloth.
Jazz glanced over and burst out laughing. "Oh my god." The red in Wufei's cheeks made him laugh even harder. "Oh, Meishel, you didn't..."
A shadow fell over them and they glanced up at a glowering man. "I believe that belongs to my girlfriend." He pointed at the pink bikini top.
"Here you go." Jazz took the garment out of Wufei's limp hand and handed it back. "She didn't mean any harm. She just... likes pink."
The man stormed away, the bikini top in hand.
Meishel was incensed. She put her hands on her hips and yelled after him. "You thief! Stealin' wrong!"
"You tell him, kiddo!" Jazz cheered.
"Do you have to encourage her?"
"Yup." Meishel repeated and crawled on Jazz's lap. "Jazz nice." She patted his cheek.
"We need to talk." He gazed at the little girl. "When something is laying next to someone, it's wrong to take it without asking. If they say you can have it then it's okay. But you gotta ask first. When you take stuff without asking, you make me sad." He gave her a sorrowful look.
"I sorry." She hung her head. "I not take."
"Good girl." He hugged her.
Jazz sat her down and she ran to join Shan, who was getting sunscreen rubbed on him by their mother.
Wufei was giving him a strange look. "How...?"
Jazz grinned. "How do you think Pops got me to do anything? All he had to say was that it made him sad and I'd feel so rotten I'd be good out of guilt."
"He needs better tactics." Wufei leaned closer. "I saw you last night. You and Linra skulking around outside."
"Oh geez... okay, you're a reasonable guy. How do you feel about bribery?"
"Denea has convinced me to keep silent. I will for now. But I disapprove."
"We weren't doing anything." Jazz made trails in the sand with his fingers. "We just wanted some time alone together. I love her."
"I know." He squeezed his godson's shoulder. "I think that's what has your father worried. A child is something you can't take back."
"I wouldn't mind." Jazz admitted with a small smile. "It would be neat to have a kid."
"You're still in school. How would you support a child?"
"I guess I figured Pops would help."
"It's that kind of attitude that shows you are not ready. A real man supports his own family. How could you face your child with pride knowing you were still dependent on Heero and Duo for it's well-being?"
Jazz stared out at the ocean without answering.
"You know I'm right."
"Yeah. But I don't like admitting it."
"When the time is right, you'll have a score of little Maxwells running around and causing me constant grief. You have a lifetime for that."
Jazz grinned, a lock of hair falling over his eyes. "Thanks. Pops would have completely freaked out if I'd said any of this to him. Ojisan would have chained me to my bed."
Wufei pushed the hair out of his face. "They mean well. They're just a bit too close to the situation. It's hard for parents to accept certain things about their children. I still haven't accepted that I'm the father of a budding pickpocket."
Jazz glanced up. "Where'd she go, anyway? She was with Denea just a second ago."
They glanced around the beach. Shan was asleep on the blanket next to Denea. Linra was sunning herself a little ways away. Luke and Rosemary were arguing over a sandcastle and Heero and Duo were deep in conversation about something. Meishel was no where to be seen.
"Meishel?" Jazz called out. "Where are you, kiddo?"
A few people glanced up. Wufei's face was concerned. "Meishel? Answer Baba. Where are you hiding?"
Jazz scanned the beach, feeling a sick sensation in his stomach. Suddenly all of the strangers looked menacing.
"MEISHEL!" Wufei called out.
Denea had awoken. "Meishel! ANSWER US. Where are you?"
"HELP! SOMEONE HELP!" Someone screamed from the water. "THIS LITTLE GIRL NEEDS A MEDIC!"
Jazz had never run faster in his life, Wufei on his heels. What he saw made his heart stop as they reached the water.
Meishel, her dark skin blue tinted, lay unmoving on the sand where a wave had deposited her. Before he could react he saw a man grab the child and turn her over his knee, thumping her on the back. He flipped her over again and closed his mouth over hers, pumping the small chest. By then, the rest of the family had joined them.
The man breathed into Meishel's mouth again, and suddenly she shuddered and coughed. Then began to wail. It was the most beautiful sound any of them had ever heard.
Wufei scooped his daughter up and held her close. "Thank you. Oh, thank you." he choked to Meishel's savior. He passed the little girl to Denea, who was covering her with kisses. "It's okay, baby. It's okay now. You're safe." She crooned.
The tears had left Jazz's eyes long enough to get a good look at the man. He blinked in surprise.
"We meet again." Jaf said with a smile. "Although I'd hoped it would be under better circumstances. Is she okay?"
"She's fine, thanks to you." Jazz nodded.
"Jazz, is this a friend of yours?" Duo asked, approaching them. "I'd like to thank you too for what you did."
Jaf waved that aside. "I'm just glad I could get to her in time."
"We met Jaf yesterday afternoon." Linra put in, giving Jaf a meaningful glance. He nodded slightly to indicate he would not reveal their secret.
Jazz introduced the older man to his family. Wufei was still gushing in his gratitude before he and Denea took the twins to return to their bungalow. "We're meeting at Ginao's for dinner later. I insist you join us as my guest. It's the very least I can do."
Jaf looked embarrassed. "Well, it does sound nice." He bent to scratch the dog that had joined him.
"Good. We'll meet at six, then." Wufei nodded briskly and left to escort his family home.
The little ones returned to their sandcastle, and Jazz and Linra had decided to return to their bungalow. Jazz was still visibly shaken by the near accident and said he'd had enough of the beach for one day. Linra went to keep him company.
The adults sat down on a blanket, Osmar panting at Jaf's side. "So Jaf, what brings you here?" Heero asked.
"Well, I live on Sotha Island. I manage a small hotel there. Nothing fancy, but I'm considering branching out. Maybe starting a chain. Not nearly as exciting as being, oh, let's say an ambassador or a famous writer."
"Argh, our secret is out. Now we have to kill him." Duo sighed.
"Don't worry. I won't tell anyone your secret identities." Jaf promised. "I recognized your names when Jazz introduced us. I'm a fan of your books." He admitted. "The little girl's father was one of your companions during the war, wasn't he?"
Heero nodded agreement. "I think you should know that Wufei won't rest until he finds a way to repay you for his daughter's life. Honor is everything to him. Well, almost. His family is everything to him."
"The young woman with him was his wife, correct? She's pretty, but why was he leading her by the hand?"
Heero was quiet a moment. "Denea was blinded in an explosion seven years ago. The same one that killed Linra and Rosemary's parents. The one your Tren caused."
"Yes, I remember hearing about that. I mean, who wouldn't? It was all anyone here talked about for months. We were all stunned. They said he look a little boy hostage as well. Was that Jazz?"
Duo nodded. "I put a few bullets in him for that one. Jazz was only 8 at the time. It took him a long time to get over it and feel safe again. For all of us."
"I can only imagine. I have no children of my own. I suppose that's why I'm fond of other people's. I make up for it by spoiling Osmar here." He patted the dog's shaggy flank. "And he's telling me that he's hungry. Let me take him home and get him fed, and I'll see you tonight?"
"Looking forward to it." Heero shook the man's hand, and then Duo did the same, a slightly puzzled look in his eyes.
Jaf waved and jogged off, Osmar loping behind him, tail waving.
"What is it?" Heero asked, noticing Duo staring after the man.
"I don't know. Just felt weird when I touched him."
"Just... odd. Familiar, somehow. I feel like I should know him. " He shrugged. "I'm probably just losing my mind. Let's go back to the house before Jazz and Linra get over being shaken up and decide to sneak in a little make-out time."
"That boy is one big, walking hormone these days." Heero said as they walked toward the bungalow.
"Well, I'd say it's a phase and he'll outgrow it, but why should he? I never did." Duo was glancing at a muscular, tanned man napping in the sunlight.
Heero turned him around to face himself. "I can see that." He growled.
"Now, see? You immediately jump to conclusions and you don't even know why I was looking at him."
"Okay, why?" Heero asked.
"I was trying to figure out why he has a pink bikini top in his hand."