HUGE WARNING : One very short scene in this story involves sex between a minor (aged 14) and his tutor. Two paragraphs in over 300 pages – but be warned that it happens.

Fenice is Italian for phoenix, and pronounced "fen-ee-chay"

 

Prologue: Lazarus Rising

 

Alex was late.

Alex was often late, even when it was a special meeting, like this one. Fee didn't mind. Alex had likely been caught up in some crisis, inevitably involving blood and tears and wrecked humanity, and was too engrossed and too involved to get away. He really didn't mind, and he'd say so when Alex eventually arrived full of apologies and regrets. If Alex hadn't been engrossed and involved all those long yahrens ago, it would have been Fee they'd have found dead one day in some dank and noisome alley, a dirty needle in his scrawny teenager's arm. The very place that Alex had found him, in a metaphorical sense, barely alive, and if he hadn't always been a gracious recipient of Alex's large-hearted compassion, he had eventually been a successful one.

He stretched out his arms across the table as he thought about it and stared at them, the past leaping up to face him, less often than it used to perhaps, but still potent. They were a man's arms now, no longer thin and scrawny, but the scars were still there if he looked closely enough for them, the evidence of veins that were once damaged almost beyond repair.

But most of the scars Fee carried couldn't be seen. Even he couldn't see them. He just knew they were there.

Fee grinned at the sombre train of thought, dismissing it, and picked up the big expensive book again, revelling in owning something so outright luxurious. And something so very personal, bought for him. Alex was one of those people who believed that books had more value when the giver inscribed them with a message. Fee liked that. He liked the message Alex had left him.

Fee counted over the blessings. He was just twenty one yahrens old, healthy and despite all the odds, he was happy. He had his life back, even if it was one where he'd developed a bit of an aversion to needles. He had a job, one he was damned good at and they'd just promoted him to prove it. And if he would never be rich, he had enough for himself and to help Alex. He'd just got back that morning, in fact, from the latest job, arriving in time for breakfast and he was in one piece and it hadn't been too bad. Quite a few blessings already, and to add to it, Alex had been waiting, beaming with pride and delight, holding out the letter from the university that had come while he was off-planet. He'd taken honours in the history course that Alex had insisted he do, long distance, working on essays and his thesis in between centons of high exhilaration and drama behind enemy lines. Another couple of yahrens' study, maybe three, and he'd have the degree he'd always promised himself.

Alex was the greatest blessing, of course. He was sorry that he'd missed Yule itself. It was the one holiday that Alex really loved and Fee would have liked to have been there. They'd have to celebrate a late Yule, that was all. The book was Alex's Yule present to him, a symbol of the pride and delight, something Alex must had taken real trouble to get for him. Really, Alex was more than compassionate: books, real books, were dreadfully expensive and sometimes the generosity scared Fee. But Alex didn't want him to be grateful. Alex just wanted him to be alive and happy.

In truth, Alex just wanted him.

And now Fee was comfortable enough with himself to admit that Alex was going to get him.

Fee grinned down at the inscription. His book. He stroked the gilt edged pages lovingly and reopened it at the chapter he was reading. He didn't mind waiting at all, lost in this wonderful volume of the History of the Kobolian Peoples. It was so much more real, more believable somehow than the datapad version that he had almost worn out.

He was, he'd admit, a little uncomfortable waiting here in the west end of town, far from his usual down-market haunts. He didn't often come back to this side of the city. It was perhaps a little too close to the past that was never more than a day away. But he'd promised Alex lunch, and the local restaurants near the Fenice might be affordable but they didn't quite match up to his expectations for a celebration. The offer he was going to make deserved the best possible setting; if only to take Alex's mind away from the unworthiness of the person making the offer.

But the really regretful thing about waiting so long in this crowded café was that he wasn't able to find a table to himself. It was an annoyance, but not crucial: this was where he intended to meet Alex, not where he intended they eat. He had shared the table briefly with a shabby elderly woman. She sat huddled in her chair as she drank down the caff, her eyes watching him over the rim of the cup. They'd had that much in common, the woman and him. She looked as if the caff and the thin biscuit she took with it was all her lunch, that she was carefully hoarding hard-won cubits with her frugality. He was a little financially stretched himself. It was getting towards the end of the sectar and although the next payday was coming up, the last one was far behind, and if he was to buy lunch, he couldn't afford to be too profligate and buy more than one cup of tea at a price that would have bought him an entire tea plantation in the Eastside.

The second woman to approach him when the first was gone, was of a different kind altogether. Facing the wide windows, he couldn't see clearly against the light, but he was aware of a slender, expensively dressed silhouette and the subtle, expensive fragrance.

"Do you mind if we use these two chairs? It's awfully crowded today."

The voice was soft, a little difficult to hear over the conversations going on around him. But warning tugged at the edge of memory. There was something... but in the circumstances he could do nothing but agree. He kept his head down, unaccountably uneasy. "Of course. Please do."

Hands, manicured and soft, gripped the back of a chair with a suddenness that betrayed her shock, as if she'd had to catch hold so that she wouldn't fall. She ducked her head quickly to stare into his face, her own draining of colour under its delicate make-up. It was the eyes that he recognised first. She'd changed and aged much more than he would have expected. Her hair was shorter than he remembered, the tawny gold of it laced with pale grey, and her face didn't have the smoothness it used to have. But the eyes were indisputable, as wide and as green as his own.

Fee's heart thumped hard, once. He dropped the book and stared back at her, bile rising in his throat. Not now. Not after all these yahrens. The ghosts had no right to come back now.

She tried to say a name, the thin, beautifully-shaped red lips moving into the right shapes, but no sound came out. One hand wavered up to touch her mouth, a gesture that was a horrible parody of girlish shyness, but curiously moving at the same time. Her whole body shook, and he knew she'd faint in a micron.

"Frack!" he hissed, and jumped up. He caught her arm, guiding her into the chair.

He lips moved again, but this time her hand obscured the shape they were making. The same word, he guessed, the name of someone Fee knew to be dead. She stared at him, eyes wide and dark with shock, pupils dilating. Her eyelids fluttered, and she fell slightly forwards, only just getting her elbows up onto the table in time so she could support herself, hiding her face in her hands. She was shaking still.

"Careful," he said, making sure she wouldn't slip sideways, before collapsing back into his own chair. He kept his hand on her arm, steadying her, although his own hands were trembling. His heart made another huge thump again. "We", she'd said. We as in her and Athena, or her and Zac, or God forbid...!

"Ila?"

Commander Adama. The famous Commander Adama, the great commander of the Battlestar Galactica, the Caprican member of the Council of the Twelve, the leading light of the Kobolian church, the Good Man. Fee had seen that face often over the last few yahrens on the vid or the newslines, always looking remote and self contained, not letting anyone see what he was thinking. Now, as Adama spoke his wife's name, his voice was sharp with alarm. He put a tray onto the table quickly and bent over her, ignoring Fee for the moment. Fee put his shaking hands on Alex's book as if it were some sort of talisman, and wondered how to get out, trapped as he was behind the table with these unwelcome interlopers between him and escape.

It was too late. Ila raised her head, face blanched and pinched and wretched. Her hand caught reached up to touch the commander's where it lay on her shoulder. "Adama!" she said, and turned the piteous gaze onto Fee.

The commander's eyes followed hers. He stiffened and stared, keeping his hand on his wife's shoulder. She winced visibly when it closed hard on her, his fingers whitening with the pressure. The grip probably left bruises.

Fee took a deep breath and prayed that his voice would stay steady. "It's the shock," he said. Then, relieved that his voice had worked at all, it had failed so often when faced with this man, he added, "That's all. She'll be all right in a centon."

Adama sat down so abruptly, it was like someone had kicked him behind the knees.

"It can't be!"

Fee grimaced. "It doesn't need to be."

"You're alive."

"No," said Fee, picking up his book and stuffing it back into his bag with hands that shook as if he had a palsy. "No."

"Where have you been?"

"Down with all the other dead people." Fee pushed back his chair

"Oh, darling!" said Ila, and the tears were starting.

That cut like a shard of glass. Glass was sharp and pitiless and cut like razors. He had the scars from that, too. He caught up his bag, the sleeve of his jacket riding up until he could see the thin white lines on the inside of his wrist.

"I'm sorry," he said, not knowing what else to say. "I'm sorry."

"Don't go!" said Adama, in that sharp voice again, making it a command.

It took everything Fee had not to react. He swung the bag onto his shoulder, trying not to look at Ila's helpless tears. It was easier to look instead into the blue eyes that had been nothing but condemnation incarnate the last time he saw them, that had been filled with contempt and derision. They looked bewildered now.

"Please," Adama said, more conciliatory.

"I'm not the person you think I am. I'm not. He's dead. He's dead and he's not coming back."

They were too shocked to stop him or follow him, he thought, if he left right then. If he delayed even by a few microns, the commander would have recovered enough to try and stop him or follow him, to try and argue with him.

Fee ran.

Heedless of the looks he was getting, the people he barged past, he hurried to the door. He thought he heard his mother's thin, wavering cry from behind him as she gave way to hysteria. No. He knew that he heard it, but he bolted anyway. He bolted because of it.

Alex was just coming into the café as Fee reached the entrance and he clung to him like a drowning man to a straw. Sometimes Fee was reminded of Adama. Alex was a similar build and age and class, but light yahrens apart in all other ways. Alex loved him. Alex had always loved him.

"Hey!" said Alex, protesting.

Fee clutched at him. "We need to get out of here." He was stronger than the older man, and he turned Alex bodily and bundled him back out into the cold, snow-grey streets.

"Fee, what's wrong?"

"Ghosts," said Fee, looking fearfully over his shoulder, as Alex caught hold of him and held him. "Ghosts. It shouldn't be allowed, ghosts of the living haunting the dead. It shouldn't be allowed."

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