A/n: I'm meant to be writing another fic. But I got distracted by this idea. And it turned out longer than I expected. Oops. Anyway, I'm very much intrigued by the mentions of Cheng's mother in the episode "Blood Ties." And her implied relationship with Cortes (even though they were also sure to mention this was before she got involved with Cheng's father XD). Skyland doesn't delve enough into the past, I think. But there's certainly a few good hints dropped (pity they don't follow these through, and many other things...). So yeah, this story sort of wonders what would happen if some of that past looked like it was coming back... Enjoy. :P


"She said I was supposed to give the letter to a man named Cortes

"She said I was supposed to give the letter to a man named Cortes." The teenage girl fingered the small envelope in her hands nervously then slid it across the bar. "So here you go…"

Cortes picked up the offered envelope with some amount of suspicion. "How'd you know where to find me?" he asked, not bothering to look at the letter just yet. Figuring out the girl first may let him know whether the letter itself could be trusted. Cortes didn't like people knowing where to find him.

"Well, I didn't," the girl replied. "But my Dad recognised your name when I told him. Said you'd helped out our bloc with some water problems some time back… which I suppose I should say thanks for…" She glanced up again, chewing her lip and then smiled.

"No problem…"

"Anyway, Dad also knew where Puerto Angel was 'cause he'd been doing some trading, so I came along… and there's the letter…"

"Well thanks for delivering it," Cortes nodded, satisfied that she herself seemed sincere.

"Yeah, thanks," Wayan tossed her a grin.

"It's okay," the girl grinned back at Cortes. "Bye." She pushed back her stool and left.

"You know…" Wayan smirked, once she'd left. "I think she liked you…"

"What!?" said Cortes, his attention snapping away from the letter before he could even look at it. "She wouldn't have even been fifteen!"

Wayan chuckled to himself, and Cortes huffed, realising the other man was just making fun at his expense.

"Behave yourself, Wayan…" Cortes trailed off, staring at the envelope.

Only his name was written on the front. 'Aran Cortes.' That in itself made him both curious and suspicious. But it wasn't just the use of his first name that caught his attention; the handwriting was hauntingly familiar.

"Can't be…" he muttered.

"What is it?" Wayan asked.

Cortes flipped the letter over. On the other side was written the name of the sender. "Tian…?" he said, his voice barely a whisper.

"Cheng's mother?" said Wayan, recognising the name. He could tell this was deeply troubling the Captain and he thought he knew why. "But she's dead…"

Cortes looked across at the other man, for a moment seeming lost and confused. Then his gaze hardened. "This is some sort of Sphere trick. It has to be." He stood up, having still not even opened the letter.

"Maybe… but what…" Wayan didn't get to finish his sentence. Cortes had already turned and strode out of the tavern doors.

Wayan watched them swing until they were once again still. He had been going to say 'what if it's not?' But he suspected that may have been exactly what Cortes was thinking.

--

"Have you opened it yet?"

"No."

Cortes was now up in the lighthouse. The unopened envelope sat on the table in front of him. He stared at it as if that would somehow reveal its secrets.

"Well," said the Vector gently, "opening it might help us figure out if it's from her or not."

Cortes glanced up at him. "I've believed she was dead for so long… this can't be real."

"You saw her die. You told me that much. That fact should make the answer obvious. What's making you doubt what you saw now?" It was rather blunt, but the Vector knew Cortes needed the question framed that way.

Cortes stared down at the letter again. "I watched her dying. I… never saw her die." He gritted his teeth. "She told me to leave. I had to before the Sphere got there… someone had to look out for Cheng."

The Vector frowned. Cortes hadn't told him that before. But he had never spoken much about the incident. The most the Vector had gotten out of him for months afterward had been 'she's dead, what more do you need to know!?' "Maybe you should open the letter…"

Cortes let out a long sigh, then nodded and picked up the letter. He stood up, and then moved over to a window, his back to the Vector. The paper crinkled in his hands, there was no sound of tearing as he carefully opened the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of paper.

Something else fell from the envelope. It flashed as it reflected the afternoon sunlight and rolled to a stop at the Vector's feet.

The Vector bent down and picked it up.

Cortes glanced to see that he had the item, and then turned his attention back to the letter, his heart racing.

Aran,

Sorry, in a rush. On the run. Meet me on bloc J1835-B, 23rd October 2251. I know you will doubt this, have enclosed something so you know it really is me. Can't wait to see you again.

Love Tian. Xoxo

Cortes stared at the paper. The handwriting was Tian's. It was a scrawl, though her writing had always been like that, and she had said she was in a rush. But handwriting could be copied.

"Here…" The Vector had come up beside him, placing a hand on his shoulder. He held out his other hand, palm up.

In it was small ring. Cortes just stared at it, his heart in his throat. He took it from the Vector carefully, his hands shaking.

"It's her engagement ring, isn't it?"

Cortes nodded, having difficulty finding his voice. "Ye... Yeah. I remember her showing it off to me." For a moment, he had the slightest hint of a smile as he remembered. "Vector… she wants me to meet her. Soon." He drew in a breath and the smile was gone. "This could still be a Sphere trick…" he looked down at the ring. "But I have to at least check… I won't forgive myself if I don't. And if his mother's still alive, Cheng needs to know."

The Vector nodded. "I understand, Cortes. But be careful."

Cortes nodded, his attention on the ring and letter in his hands. "I won't let anything happen to the Saint Nazaire or my crew just because of this. It wouldn't be fair…"

"I don't just mean that. You know this could be a Sphere trick… don't let yourself put too much hope in it."

Cortes looked up at the Vector. "… I know."