"Duo, it's not your fault..."
"Yes, it is." Duo wearily rubbed his eyelids with the tips of his fingers. "It's entirely my fault."
"How? How are you responsible for Jazz deciding to go off half-cocked on some revenge mission?"
Duo snorted. "Because of who I am. Because of who I raised him to be."
He stood up and paced. "Heero, from the second he was born, I taught him to defy authority and think for himself. No way was my son going to end up being led in the wrong direction just because someone else thought something was right. I forced him to make his own decisions about what was right and what was wrong. Even when that meant standing up against my beliefs, I encouraged it. I TAUGHT him to disobey me, don't you see?"
"Duo, stop it!" Heero said angrily. "Jazz knows very well where we draw the line. This isn't like refusing to clean his room and going out to play Flashball instead. This is serious. You can't look me in the eye and tell me that he thinks it's okay to run off on his own because you've been lenient in the past."
"But I have been too lenient. I let him get away with too much. Well, no more! The minute I find him I'm taking a belt to his backside. Something I should have done years ago."
Heero would believe that when he saw it, but he understand that right now, Duo believed it. He was trying to mask his worry and fear by becoming angry. Right now he himself was furious enough with Jazz to throttle the boy.
"First, we need to find him." Heero said reasonably. "Now let's think logically here. Jazz has money from his crops. Enough to be able to put himself up in a reasonably good hotel for at least a week or so. And it stands to reason that he's not going to sleep on the streets. He's been raised with creature comforts and I can't see him giving that up."
"He's underage. They'll never let him check into a hotel on his own."
"Better hotels won't. But the cheaper ones honestly won't care as long as he can pay, and he would be able to stay longer in one of those."
Duo sat down at the computer and typed for a few minutes. "His account hasn't been touched."
Heero peered over his shoulder. "Not for food, either. Strange. Jazz can't go two hours between meals, let alone all day."
"So that means..."
"He's with someone else. Someone who's footing the bill for this little adventure of his."
"Who the heck does he know on Seta?" Duo frowned.
Heero laughed. "Jaf? Very unlikely."
"You're right. He was just the first person who came to mind. I called him earlier to ask if he'd seen Jazz and he hadn't. He sounded worried, though. He wants us to let him know when we find him."
Duo chuckled at the thought of the shy, quiet man participating in Jazz's plan. "So who's he shacked up with, then?"
"Not a clue. But at least he's safe."
"At the moment." Duo growled.
"So not only are we trying to find out who's been taking the girls and tried to nab Linra, but now we have to search for Jazz as well."
"No we don't."
Heero blinked. "Excuse me?"
Duo folded his arms. "Like you said, wherever he is, he's safe. We have a job to do here and Jazz is not going to interfere with that. He wants to do this on his own? Let him. Give him a few days to realize that he's in over his head. He'll come back without any help from you or I."
"Duo, is that YOU talking?"
"Yes, it's me. Amazing, isn't it? I have no idea where my son is and I'm not out overturning rocks to look for him. But he's NOT a little child any longer, as he keeps trying to remind me. So let him prove how grown-up he is."
"And what if he does manage to locate the people who tried to get Linra?"
"He won't. If I thought there was any chance of that happening I would be out looking under rocks. He won't have a clue where to start or what to do. Reading Mickey Spillane novels doesn't exactly count as detective training."
"I can see the title now. 'I, the Crazy Teenager'" Heero quipped.
Duo snickered. "Half of Mike Hammer's information came from questioning drunk guys in bars. I can see my son sauntering up to some fat tourist who's had too many margaritas and demanding information. Right before the owner calls the cops."
"' It was a dark and stormy night. I cursed under my breath as the power went out, shutting down my VR station. I fumbled in the dark for a bottle on the table, and poured myself two fingers of orange juice, knocking it back before it even finished hitting the glass.'"
Duo was doubled over laughing. "Oh God, Heero." he said at last. "I'm worried sick about him."
"So am I."
Linra did not get angry, really and truly angry, very often.
Neither of her parents had had much of a temper, and she had figured out early in life that getting upset and throwing tantrums wasn't really the way to accomplish anything.
She and Jazz balanced each other out. They always had. Her calmness and his mood swings.
She sat at the table and glanced down at the photo album she had retrieved from a drawer, images of her life frozen in time.
One of them was her favorite, taken when she and Jazz were around ten or so. He had a rose in his teeth, and was dipping her down in the middle of a wild tango. She laughed at the memory of how serious he had looked.
"Damn you, Jason Maxwell." She whispered. "Why did you go and do something this stupid?"
She knew why. It was because someone had come after her. Jazz wanted to make that someone pay. He wanted to punish someone for daring to touch HIS girl.
She closed the book with a thump.
She couldn't really say that all of Jazz's attitude was his own fault. He may have lived on Dera since childhood, but he still had the beliefs of his birth culture firmly embedded in him. Beliefs that her temporary guardian Wufei had only instilled deeper. But Jazz was worse than Wufei. Wufei readily admitted he thought of most women as weak (although not within earshot of Denea). Jazz refused to accept his own chauvinistic qualities. He claimed to view men and women as complete equals. Ha!
She didn't hold Heero and Duo blameless either, as much as she loved them. It was in them as well. She had seen with her own eyes the differences in how they raised Luke verses Rosemary. Luckily, she had been there to counter their well-meaning but misguided efforts to turn her baby sister into a lady. And they had wondered why the child howled like a demon at the merest glimpse of anything pink and frilly making it's way toward her body.
She hadn't had to do much with Meishel. The little girl was a born feminist, just like Denea. All it took was a look from his twin to make Shan do whatever she wanted.
"What would you do, Mother?" Linra asked softly. "Jazz is off on Seta alone somewhere. I can't even go after him; they'd never let me on a shuttle by myself. But I can't just sit here. If I do that I'm just as helpless as they like to pretend."
Her mother, she thought, might have found a way to get her own shuttle to Seta, located Jazz, and boxed his ears.
Linra ran her tongue over her teeth. If Heero and Duo wrapped up the investigation, they would come home. And Jazz would come with them. Was there a way she could help with that from here? She had told them all she could remember...
She sat up rigid. Derans did NOT forgot things. She had never forgotten anything in her entire life. She simply couldn't recall what had happened right now.
She had asked, rhetorically, what her mother would do in this situation.
Sheld would have done a memory walk.
Linra swallowed hard. She had watched her mother do them numerous times, had enjoyed helping her out. Although her profession of choice was going to be Animal Studies, she was still keenly interested in her mother's line of work.
She listened, and determined the little ones and the adults were asleep. Good; she would not be disturbed. And even if they did walk in, they'd just think she was playing with the VR station.
She sat down at the table and typed the information into the computer for what she wanted. Had her mother ever done a memory walk alone on herself? Linra supposed she must have when she was testing it. There was no reason for her to be nervous, and yet she was.
The key to her own attempted abduction, and perhaps the whereabouts of the missing girls, was locked inside of her mind. It was up to her to open the door.
Linra fit the helmet over her head and then froze when she heard Wufei's voice in the hallway.
"What are you doing up?"
"I couldn't sleep. I'm worried about Jazz." Well, that was certainly true. "I thought I'd do some studying."
She expected him to return to bed but instead he entered the living room and sat down across from her. "Don't be too hard on him. His honor has been offended and he's trying to redeem it. I can understand his motivation."
"What am I, his prize poodle?" Linra slammed down the helmet. "Contrary to popular belief I do NOT belong to Jazz Maxwell. I love him and I'm with him because I love him, not because he owns me."
"I didn't say..."
"You didn't have to. You think it's Jazz's sacred duty to avenge my honor. Jazz seems to agree with you. Well, no one has bothered to ask me how I feel about it!"
"You're right." Wufei nodded. "I apologize. How do you feel?"
"I feel like the person I've been planning on spending my whole life with may not be coming back alive. I feel like I did when I was eight years old and watched my house burn down, and knew that my parents weren't going to rush out and hold me and tell me that everything was going to be all right. How do you think I'll feel if Jazz gets killed over me?"
"Jazz will NOT get killed." Wufei said firmly. "He's too smart for that."
Linra snorted. "My mother was a genius. It didn't help."
"Well, I'm obviously making you feel worse, not better, so I'll return to bed." He rose from the chair.
"Wufei? I'm sorry I snapped at you. This whole thing... I just want it to be over."
"So do I."
She listened as he walked back down the hall and closed the bedroom door behind him. She heard Denea's voice raise in question and Wufei's answer, and then silence.
"It will be over. Very soon." Linra put the helmet over her head.