Section Two : Tenth Plague

 

2.1 Bereavement

 

Jerry maintained a discreet distance for the next two days. It just wouldn't do to come between Apollo and his father, no matter how desperately he wanted to comfort the child. The next day, Ila came to see him at his surgery instead, and he was shocked at the sight of her. She had always been slight and fragile looking, but now she looked like the ghost of herself, her pretty face drawn and the dark circles under her eyes eloquent of sleeplessness. This affair had shaken her to the core. Jerry worried, both for her own sake and for Apollo's: already angry, Adama would be unlikely to look kindly on his son, given the devastating effect on Ila.

On the third day, Adama asked him to come out to the house to see her. Ila was worse, could barely face going out of doors, even to visit her doctor. Jerry came, listened and soothed and, rather reluctantly, prescribed tranquillisers.

"I don't really approve of them," he said to Adama. "They only mask the real problems."

But Ila needed something to help her. Whatever inner resources that she'd drawn on to create the exacting political role she'd carved out for herself in the Senate weren't up to dealing with the present situation. Bewildered and constantly tearful, she was in danger of collapsing altogether.

"It's hit her hard," said Adama, taking Jerry into his study when Ila had been calmed and comforted and was finally dozing on the wide sofa in her sitting room, wrapped in shawls like an elegant invalid.

"The shock, of course," said Jerry, stepping a little warily. He waited until Adama offered him an ambrosa – some indication, at least, that the resentment he knew the commander had felt over Apollo's avowed preference for Jerry had died away - before asking, "What's been happening?"

Adama shook his head. "Nothing much. The police came out here the day before yesterday, but Apollo still won't admit to anything. That police sergeant has more patience than I could ever have, given how unco-operative Apollo's being. He doesn't feel an ounce of shame."

Jerry's grip on the ambrosa glass tightened. Adama was still no nearer accepting that Apollo was the victim in all this, the manipulated, groomed victim of a cunning paedophile. He said, trying to sound as calm as possible, "The problem is, Adama, that that man has persuaded Apollo to be in love with him, of course. Would you betray Ila?"

Adama snorted, almost swallowing his ambrosa the wrong way. Jerry pounded on his shoulders to help him, until Adama wiped his eyes and caught his breath. "Love! He's fourteen!"

"I fell in love with Klara when I was twelve," said Jerry. "She was eight, but I knew right then I was going to marry her. Of course, I had to wait ten yahrens or so, but I knew. Don't sell what Apollo feels short, Adama. It's the key to all of this."

"He's a fool."

Jerry sighed.

"And, as I said, not an ounce of shame."

"Do you want him to be ashamed of being abused?" asked Jerry. "Kids like him often think it's their fault that whatever vulnerability they have was exploited by people like Pieter. But Apollo's not the guilty party here, Adama."

"I wish I could believe that. If he was such a victim, why won't he talk to the police?"

"Shall we reloop this conversation? Because Pieter has exploited how vulnerable Apollo is, and has persuaded him to think he's loved and in love. Apollo doesn't need to feel guilty. He needs counselling - "

"We tried that. Father Diogenes came out here last night to speak to him—nothing I or Ila were saying has been having any effect—but he locked himself into his bathroom and wouldn't come out."

Jerry couldn't help thinking that was a perfectly reasonable response, although he had more sense than to say so. In Apollo's place, he'd lock himself into a bathroom, too, if faced with an elderly celibate priest whose prevailing characteristic was a charming vagueness about where he was at any given moment, and why. Jerry didn't have much respect for the Cloth in general and the Father in particular. He was always kind to the man when they met, of course, the way he was usually kind to strays.

He allowed himself the mildest criticism. "Well, I can't see Father Diogenes being much use in this sort of crisis, to be honest. I was thinking more about a colleague of mine who specialises in child psychiatry. She's one of the best in the field."

"Are you telling me that he's mentally deranged, or something?"

"I'm telling you he needs more professional help than I can give him. Or Father Diogenes, for that matter. He needs help, Adama. He doesn't need you so mad at him that you're blaming him for the mess a man more than twice his age has created. He doesn't need to be made to feel guilty. He needs to understand what happened and be helped to deal with it."

Adama just stared. "And who'll help the rest of us? Ila's almost out of her head with distress."

"Family therapy isn't exactly an unknown medical discipline."

"Are you saying we all need it?"

Jerry sighed at Adama's outrage. "It wouldn't hurt," he said, very pointedly. "Has Ila talked to him?"

"She tried, and came down even more distressed than before. I wouldn't let her go to him today. She was too upset."

Jerry frowned. "Have you got him locked in his room, or something?"

"It's not lockable, unfortunately. But yes, he's confined to his room until next secton. I can't get him in until then."

"In? In where?"

"The Military School at Pasquel. The Commandant there said they could take him next secton when this yahren's contingent graduate and leave, and he had some rooms freed up."

Jerry stared. "But Pasquel's clear on the other side of the country! It has to be at least five hundred miles from here."

"Yes. It should be far enough from that man."

"And it's almost the summer break, anyway—"

"The Military School's open all yahren round. It takes cadets from all over the Colonies and many of their parents can't afford to ship them home every summer. Apollo is going to Pasquel next secton and he will not be back home until Yule. I can only hope he'll have come to a sense of what he's done by then."

Jerry took a sharp swallow of ambrosa, appalled. He wasn't sure if it was shock on his own account—Apollo was undoubtedly his favourite of the Adaman children and he'd miss the boy terribly—or on Apollo's for being consigned into the harshness of Military School at such a young age. "And the counselling?"

"He doesn't seem to me to need it," said Adama, dryly. "He shows none of those symptoms you mentioned."

Jerry despaired for a centon. He concentrated on his ambrosa, wondering what, if anything he could do. The problem was that he wasn't Apollo's father. Adama was. And little though he agreed with Adama's chosen course of action, he still couldn't interfere between father and son.

They drank in silence for a few centons, and Jerry didn't refuse another glassful when it was offered. "Pieter will be released today," he said. "Didn't Sergeant Rufius say that they could only hold him for three days?"

Adama's mouth twisted. "Yes, but he needn't think he's got away with it. I've had words with the Kobolian Institute. I spoke to the Dean. Apollo might be keeping his mouth shut for whatever unworthy reason, but at the very least that man's been conniving at Apollo's truancy from school and I saw them kissing with my own eyes. I made a formal complaint about the inappropriateness of their precious Professor's behaviour and he's been suspended, pending an investigation. If I do nothing else, I'll make sure that man can't spoil anyone else the way he spoiled Apollo. I'll ruin him, first."

Spoiled. But not in the way that Adama had accused Jerry of spoiling him. Jerry's indulgence had, at least, been innocent. He would miss Apollo. He didn't think that Apollo would get much indulgence in the school Adama had chosen for him, and he just couldn't help thinking that Adama was completely misreading what Apollo was feeling and doing.

In the end, it was a centar or more before he went upstairs to see the boy. He paid another visit to Ila first, checking that she was sleeping at last, the tranquilliser he'd administered combining with her exhaustion to ensure she got some rest. Adama stayed with Ila, only shrugging when Jerry asked to see Apollo.

At least Apollo didn't lock himself away in the bathroom to hide, but he certainly was more wary than he had been, less open than he had been on the day it had all blown up on him. He was at his desk and stayed there, eyeing Jerry with mistrustful green eyes, as if even Jerry was too far off to confide in any more. When it had happened, he'd leapt across a room to reach Jerry and take what comfort and safety he could get. Now he only watched.

Jerry came to him, instead. He leant down to put an arm around the thin shoulders and gave the boy a quick, undemanding hug. There was no corresponding relaxation of the tense body.

"You shouldn't do that," said Apollo, after a centon. "You might catch something."

Jerry drew back only slightly and administered his usual admonition. "Don't be daft."

"He doesn't touch me. He just sits as far away from me as he can get and tells me what he's going to do about me. He doesn't like being in here."

Jerry had doubted Apollo would get the hug he'd prescribed. He tightened his hold again. "Your Dad's mad with you, that's all. He still loves you."

Apollo twisted free. Jerry couldn't see his face to see how that had been received but there was a cynical and resentful set about the shoulders that didn't bode well.

"Where've you been?" asked Apollo.

Jerry realised that he'd transgressed. The discreet distance that Adama had needed must have seemed a yawning chasm to Apollo. The only option was honesty. "Your Dad was pretty annoyed with what you said and I thought I'd give him a couple of days to calm down. I thought me being here all the time would just make things worse."

"Worse?" Apollo turned back to the datapads and books on his desk. History books, of course.

"Did he yell?" asked Jerry.

Apollo shook his head. "No. It was worse. He said things. He spoiled everything."

Jerry wished he had a less keen sense of irony. They both used the same word, Apollo and Adama, and meant things that were parsecs away in meaning.

"He's sending me away, did you hear?"

Jerry nodded. "He just told me he was sending you to school at Pasquel."

"Military School. He won't hit me – "

"Of course he won't!" said Jerry, shocked. For all his sternness, Adama would never strike any of his children, no matter how provoked.

"He'd like to," said Apollo, still not looking up from the book that apparently took most of his attention.

"He's never hit you, Apollo. He never will."

"He'd really like to now, but he won't. So this is the best he can get, sending me away. It won't matter that I'm a disgraceful waste of his time when I'm in Pasquel. He said that they'll hammer some discipline into me." Apollo shrugged. "He just wants to be ashamed of me at a safe distance."

Well, that gave Jerry some indication of what worse than being yelled at meant and what some of the "things" were. For two bent cubits, he'd go down and hammer some sense into Adama. There were times when that Kobolian upbringing quite evidently got the better of him. Had the man heard absolutely nothing of what the police and Jerry had been telling him?

Apollo was very composed about it all. Far too composed. The only indication of what he was feeling came in the slight, the very slight, trembling of his fingers on the cover of the book he was holding. He had caught at an overlong lock of his hair and was chewing on it as he pretended to concentrate on the book.

"Do you want to go?" asked Jerry.

"I don't want to be here, with him!" said Apollo. He shot a quick, troubled glance at Jerry. "He doesn't want me here, anyway."

Jerry waited.

"I don't want to go away," mumbled Apollo, after a centon.

"Well, then." Jerry sat down on the end of the bed, close, but not so close that Apollo, this new wary Apollo, would take alarm. "There has to be a starting point, you know. And the first one would be if you will promise not to see Pieter again."

Apollo's face was downcast, still seemingly intent on his book. Jerry saw the flush mount the boy's throat to redden his cheek, and frowned.

"No," said Apollo, softly. "I won't do that. He wouldn't trust me, anyway."

"We can work on that, you know."

"No. I won't. And I won't be sent away, either, just because he wants to spoil everything."

"I don't see what you can do about it, then. Your father has a responsibility to protect you, Apollo, even from yourself; and if he thinks that to get you away from Pieter will do that, then he has every right to take whatever action he thinks necessary."

"I don't want to go away," said Apollo, again. He looked at Jerry fully. "Pieter wouldn't hurt me," he said.

"You don't think that he's hurt you by damaging your relationship with your parents?"

Apollo frowned. "Pieter loves me."

"I know you believe so," said Jerry, very carefully, "And that you love him."

Apollo hunched his shoulders.

"But he has done you a lot of harm, Apollo. This is a terrible state of affairs between you and your dad, and your mother's getting ill with worry. Pieter's the cause."

"They just mad that they've been reminded I'm here." Apollo looked down at his book.

"I thought you wanted them to notice you?"

"Not like this!" protested Apollo.

Jerry put out a hand to rest it on Apollo's shoulder. "No, I guess not."

Apollo turned the pages of the book, idly. "Pieter will be free today."

"I expect so. Unless he's confessed."

"Pieter wouldn't send me away."

And this was getting onto dangerous ground. Jerry, casting an eye around the room, was relieved to see that Apollo didn't have his own vid-phone up here, and if Adama was even half-way vigilant, would have no way of speaking to his ex-tutor. "You can't be sure of that. He'll have had a bad three days, you know, and your father's made a formal complaint to his employers. He may find it hard to stay around here."

Apollo looked up sharply. This was evidently news. "He said something to the Institute? Why?" Then he answered his own question. His mouth twisting in that very un-Apollonian way, he added. "To get his own back on Pieter, of course."

"To make sure that Pieter can't hurt anybody else."

But Apollo was at least seventy shades of stubborn. "Peter wouldn't hurt me. Peter loves me." He turned his back on Jerry and picked up his book. "Pieter won't send me away."

 

 

When he was alone again, with the bathroom door locked shut against his parents or importunate priests or even his Uncle Jerry, Apollo picked up his schoolbag, opened the side pocket and took the small, hand-held com unit that Pieter had given him. He'd done this several times that day, but his hands still shook with excitement as he dialled the number. Pieter ought to be home by now, surely?

And Pieter wouldn't send him away.

 

 

Somehow, the likelihood of this catastrophe hadn't even begun to think about crossing his mind, even as the remotest possibility. It had never seriously occurred to him that they'd be caught. He hadn't factored it in, when deciding on his tactics; and even enjoining Apollo to secrecy had been less about keeping himself safe, and more about using secrecy as a building block in the world he was creating for himself and Apollo; another way of defining themselves as special, another damned tactic to help him seduce the boy.

It was stupid, not to have even thought about the risk, not to have applied to the whole proposition the same analytical process that he applied to his work, that he'd taught Apollo. Give him any historical problem to sort out or hypothesis to test, and he'd have looked at it from every angle, testing every assertion against known facts, seeing where there were congruencies and, more important, where the gaps were, where the hypothesis was being stretched too far: in short, where the risks were to a properly intellectual solution that had elegance and rigour and would stand the scrutiny of his scholarly peers.

He hadn't applied the same intellectual rigour to the proposition of seducing Apollo. He hadn't thought at all, really; certainly not thought beyond his need to take and bend the boy to his own desires. Consequently, when disaster hit him amidships it left him dazed and winded, as if something had punched the air out of his lungs and he'd never get his breath again. It made him light headed.

He understood, vaguely, that he faced ruin, personal and professional and financial ruin, and there was no conceivable way out of it. He was stunned by it all, unable to think coherently, unable to do anything but sit there, like a rat in a trap, going over it all over and over and over and over... and there was no way out.

And even though he kept silence, as he knew in his heart Apollo would keep silence, the shambles of what had been a pretty good life collapsing around him made his ears ring and his stomach churn.

No way out. He'd sat silent, or denying the accusations, in that horrible police station for three days, his lawyer stiff and disapproving beside him, all the time knowing that all he was doing was putting off the inevitable. There just wasn't any escape.

Even when they let him go home, the warning from the sergeant loud in his ears, he couldn't see it as a release, just a postponement of the inevitable. The house was deserted and unaccountably chilly. He sat on the stairs for a centar or two, not sure what he wanted to do or where he wanted to go even within the confines of his little house. He passed the time listening to the messages on his answer service.

His brother, cold and distant, to say that he had, as requested, instructed a legal adviser but that was to be the limit of the help and support available. The family did not intend to be drawn in any further to what seemed a thoroughly distasteful affair. Any future contact was to be with the family solicitor, but James presumed that Pieter would have sensitivity enough to keep such contact to a minimum.

The Dean at the Institute, shocked as only a vague scholar being brought up sharply against the seamier side of life could be, outlining the terms of the complaint made against him and setting a date for his hearing with the Institute's disciplinary committee.

His secretary, breathless with excitement and curiosity, telling him she'd packed up his belongings and cleared his desk and what in heaven's name was going on? That boded well for the disciplinary hearing.

And, of course, Apollo; the cause of all this ruin and devastation. Not one call, but many, growing more pressing and more urgent, imploring Pieter to be home to take the call.

Those he cut off, after a centon or two. He listened to his brother and the Dean and his secretary several times, trying to understand what the messages meant. And each time, he cut off the ones from Apollo and looped the voicemail recordings back to the beginning, and his brother's cold voice. He didn't need to listen to Apollo's messages to understand them. He understood those, all too well.

The comunit vibrated as another call came, and without thinking, he reached out to pick it up.

"Pieter!"

Apollo, of course. He didn't really know what he would do about Apollo. He really had no idea how to save anything from the ruin.

 

 

They didn't discover that Apollo was missing until supper.

Hanna had taken Apollo's meal upstairs to him, to find that he wasn't there to eat it. Although Adama hoped that she and Duncan didn't know the full extent of the problem with Apollo, they had been with the Adaman family since the move to Osaiya when Apollo had been only seven sectars old. They were part of the family, almost, and it wouldn't surprise Adama if they knew everything. Hanna certainly knew that Apollo's disappearance was catastrophic news.

Jerry had stayed for supper, as he often did. He looked almost comically taken-aback by Hanna's announcement, but his first thought was evidently for Ila. He was on his feet and darting around to the table to reach her even before her bewildered expression had time to resolve itself into horrified, pained understanding, his hand closing over hers. He caught Adama's eye and jerked his head towards the door, the message unmistakable. Adama was free to check for himself that Apollo had defied him to an almost inconceivable degree.

And Apollo had, he most certainly had. The room was empty, almost mockingly so, typically untidy and cluttered, the books where Apollo had left them on his desk. One book was lying face down on the bed. 'The First Migration Considered' : not exactly what Adama would consider a riveting read, although he expected Apollo could quote it verbatim. A nice room, all told, full of the things calculated to appeal to any teenager, but a room totally devoid of its occupant.

Jerry was waiting in the hall when Adama ran back down the wide, curving stairs. "I've given Ila another shot," he said. "Hanna's staying with her."

"You know where he'll have gone, don't you?"

Jerry nodded. "I told you that he asked me about Pieter when I was up there."

It had been two centars since Jerry had talked with Apollo. Two entire bloody centars. He'd be there by now, even using public transport. There, with Pieter.

"My car," said Jerry. "You're too mad to drive. I'll go get it."

Adama didn't waste time arguing, pausing only to make a call to Sergeant Rufius before charging out of the house. Jerry had his car by the front door, waiting, the passenger door already open for him.

"You'll have to direct me," said Jerry, half way along the main arterial road into the centre of Caprica City. "I didn't go with you last time, remember. Somewhere near the old harbour, right?"

Adama nodded. "Get us to the main harbour road. It's less than five centons from there. Can't you go any faster?"

"I'm already pushing us past the limit." Jerry was infuriatingly calm, but then, despite Apollo's wishes, he wasn't Apollo's father. "We'll be there in a half centar. Even at best, Apollo's probably only just getting there, Adama. Public transport's pretty slow."

"I called that policeman, Rufius. They'll get there before we can." Adama thought about it, and took a deep breath. "I don't care if they do. I am still going to tear that man limb from limb."

"Mmn," said Jerry, sounding slightly amused, so that Adama shot him a sharp glance. Then he added, "It's more difficult than you'd think."

"What?"

"Tearing someone limb from limb. It's the joints. They're a lot stronger than you might reasonably expect."

"What?"

"It's all the gristly bits holding them together." Jerry glanced sideways at him. "Amateur."

Adama stared, then snorted, surprised into brief laughter as Jerry had intended. In the last couple of days, he'd almost forgotten what a good friend this man was, steady and dependable. "Why else let the medical man come along if not to take advantage of his expertise? You do have your medical kit with you?"

"Of course. You'll need to borrow a scalpel, I suppose."

"If that will deal with the gristly bits, yes."

"It'll help, with a bit of brute force. I'll even show you how to use it - but mind, only if you promise not to kill Apollo immediately after you've finished with Pieter. The penalties for infanticide are severe."

Adama shook his head. He didn't know what he was going to do with Apollo. He hadn't the faintest idea of where to start. "He knows better than this, Jerry."

"Well, yes, but he's been warped and twisted into it by a very clever man. He needs help, not you killing him. Pieter, now – he just deserves to be torn apart. I'm right behind you on that one."

Adama forced a smile. "At least you're on my side. I wasn't sure."

"I'm not on anyone's side. I'm just less on Pieter's side than anyone else's."

Adama's smile metamorphosed itself into a silent sigh. "I think you're more on Apollo's than anyone else's."

"Someone has to be," said Jerry, and shut up to concentrate on negotiating the late evening traffic.

Adama let him drive, sinking into apathetic silence beside him and worrying about what demon had possessed his son, until he had to rouse himself to give directions to the small street where Pieter had his elegant old townhouse. A steep little street it was, too, quaintly cobbled, leading up from the harbour to what had been the original centre of Caprica City when it had been no more than a muddy fishing hamlet.

There were two police hovercars outside the house. Jerry pulled up behind one of them, waiting for the policeman at the door to come down to meet them.

"Commander Adama?" the man asked Jerry.

"Me," said Adama, put out that once again Jerry was being preferred to him. It was an unworthy thought about what had been an easy mistake for the policeman to have made. He shrugged it off. "Is my son here?"

"Yes. I'll get the sergeant."

Adama scowled, not intending for a centon to be left outside while the police continued to protect Pieter, and got himself out of the car, Jerry at his heels. Rufius met them at the door, standing full square in it so that they couldn't pass. Behind him, Adama could hear a woman's voice, calm and reassuring. He couldn't make out what she was saying.

"Give us a centon, Commander." Rufius took a step forward, forcing Adama back, and closed the door. "We have a problem."

"Is Apollo here?"

"Yes."

Alarmed by the police sergeant's grim expression, Adama stiffened in trepidation. "Is he all right?"

"He's not hurt, if that's what you mean. But it's a helluva mess." Rufius looked thoroughly exasperated. "The local station here got a call five centons after you called me. It was from Apollo, although the operator said he was almost hysterical and it took her quite a few centons to get him to be coherent enough to get the address from him. The local lot got here just before me. By then, Apollo had managed to cut the professor down, but they couldn't make him let go of the body. I still can't. I've got one of my officers in there, talking to him, but for all the notice Apollo's taking of her you'd think he was stone deaf -"

"Cut him down?" Adama interrupted, sifting through the flood of words to the crux of it all.

"Professor Pieter hanged himself in the stairwell, Commander. Apollo found him."

"Sweet Lords," said Jerry, and ran for his car.

"Dead?"

Rufius nodded. "Very dead, from the little we've been able to see of him. At least, I couldn't find a pulse. I'm glad you and Doctor Jerome are here. I didn't want to force Apollo to let go, but we're getting pretty close to having to do that. The coroner's people will be here any centon."

Jerry reappeared, his medical bag in his hands. "He'll be in shock," he said.

Adama struggled with it for a centon. "Pieter has hanged himself," he said, dull with surprise and, perhaps, disappointment. It seemed too easy a way out, when what Adama had planned was a couple of centuries worth of persecution: getting the man fired had been only the start.

Rufius stood aside, waving a hand at the door. "See what you can do to persuade the kid to let go of him. Please."

Adama, too staggered by the enormity of what had happened to dwell very much on it, pushed aside the feelings he had about Pieter and Pieter being dead—very dead, Rufius had said and that had a satisfyingly convincing ring to it—and focused on Apollo. Much as Adama wished he'd been the one to put the noose around Pieter's neck, Apollo should not have seen anything so horrible. He was far too young to have seen it. Adama put on a spurt of speed.

For a micron a couple of hefty policemen blocked his view, but at a word from Rufius they moved to one side, letting Adama through. A policewoman knelt on the floor, talking constantly, asking Apollo over and over to let her take Pieter, to let him go. A kitchen knife lay a few feet away, evidently where it had fallen but already carefully tagged by the police. There was a smear of blood on the blade, Adama noticed. A few feet away was an overturned dining chair.

There was the sour smell of urine on the air. He grimaced at that, and at the quiet sound of Jerry's voice in his ear.

"Sphincters usually open automatically on strangulation," Jerry said in his most dispassionate doctor's voice. "We should be grateful he evidently hadn't eaten much in the last day or so."

Adama grimaced again.

It was a micron or two before he registered that Apollo was sitting on the hall floor, his back to the wall, Pieter clutched very tightly in his arms. The policewoman was close to him but carefully not touching him, keeping enough distance to avoid making him feel threatened. Adama couldn't see Apollo's face. He had his head bowed over Pieter, Pieter's face turned in to his chest, holding on so tightly that the one hand that Adama could see was white with pressure and tension. He didn't seem to be crying or shaking, just sitting, his face hidden against Pieter.

At a gesture from Rufius, the policewoman backed away, letting Adama take her place. Thinking back to all the times he'd counselled newly-blooded pilots coming in from their first battle, Adama sat on the floor, up against Apollo, just letting their shoulders touch. He kept his voice calm but comforting, letting a touch of authority through because Apollo needed something to anchor himself to.

"I'm here," he said, very quietly. "I'm here. Let me take Pieter, Apollo."

He thought the boy shuddered slightly, but he couldn't be certain. If anything, Apollo's grip on Pieter tightened, and Adama could see the long fingers twist into a more secure hold in the fabric of the shirt Pieter was wearing. Adama had always been pleased that Apollo had inherited the genes for Ila's hands—long and elegant on her, still a little clumsy on Apollo—rather than his own, square and capable ones. It pained him to see Ila's hands clutch so convulsively at a dead man.

He repeated the words over and over, building up, he hoped, a realisation in Apollo of his presence, of comfort, of help. It worried him that Apollo didn't respond: he usually had better luck with the ensigns than this.

He heard Jerry's quiet voice. "Where's your police surgeon?"

"Out on another case," Rufius answered. "A murder over in the Eastside, and he's likely to be there for a while. It's lucky you're here. Can you examine the professor and confirm death?"

"Not just yet," said Jerry, dryly.

Adama felt Jerry's hand drop onto his shoulder, offering its own closeness, its own comfort. He tried touching Apollo, to pass some of that on. Apollo shuddered, but didn't relax his hold on Pieter.

"Adama," said Jerry softly. He indicated the hypospray and raised an enquiring eyebrow, seeking permission.

Adama nodded. He stopped speaking, letting Jerry take over.

Jerry moved to crouch down in front of Apollo. "It's me, Apollo. I know this is all pretty horrible and I've got something here that will make you relax and feel a little bit better. All right?"

He paused to allow Apollo time to protest, but it was if Apollo was blind and deaf. The boy didn't seem to realise anyone was there except the dead man he was holding.

"All right, then," said Jerry. "This won't hurt. It'll just make you sleepy." Very gently, he reached out and brushed Apollo's hair aside. He put the hypospray against the side of the boy's neck, glancing at Adama. "It will knock him right out. Get ready."

Adama put his arm around the thin shoulders and gave Jerry a nod, both of permission and to reassure the doctor that he was ready. Jerry pressed the hypospray once. Apollo jumped slightly, and almost instantly slumped sideways, away from his father. Adama had to pull him close until Apollo's weight shifted and his head fell heavily onto Adama's shoulder.

"Thank you," said Rufius. He and one of the policemen bent down, gently prised Apollo's hands out of Pieter's clothing and pulled the body out of his slackened grip. They dragged it a couple of feet away, turning it over onto its back.

Adama had never seen a hanged man before.

The face was terrible. Blood had congested just below the surface of the darkened, cyanosed skin, the pressure breaking the surface veins into the semblance of little, thread-like worms. Pieter's face was blotched with them, dark red and purple. His eyes were open, reddened from burst capillaries and bulging horribly, and Pieter's tongue protruded from between purple-blue lips and teeth that were slick with blood: he'd bitten it, savagely. At first Adama thought Pieter's throat had swollen over the thin, silky cord knotted around it, so that the cord nestled obscenely in thick, discoloured folds of skin, but realised that he was wrong, and that the noose had tightened so hard that it had caused deep impressions in the neck as it had choked off the air. The man's own weight had done that, tightening the noose as he'd swung. Most horrible of all, there were deep scratches on the skin and blood on Pieter's hands and fingernails where he'd clawed at the cord as he'd choked and kicked and struggled and died.

It had not been an easy way out, after all..

Jerry was feeling at the pulse in Apollo's neck, not taking a great deal of notice of Pieter. "He's out. You can move him."

Adama pulled his gaze away from Pieter, feeling a stab of pity that surprised him. He quashed it, coolly and deliberately, focusing instead on the fact that Pieter couldn't now harm any other man's son and that was all that mattered. He got to his knees and pulled Apollo's limp body out of the way, getting his arms around him to lift him up.

"Get him away from here, Adama," said Jerry, turning to look at the body.

"Take him through into the sitting room," suggested Rufius, focused on Pieter now.

The policewoman steadied Adama as he pushed himself onto his feet. Apollo wasn't really that heavy, but the inertia made him harder to deal with, and he was all cumbersome arms and legs and a heavy head that lolled helplessly against Adama's shoulder. Adama staggered slightly until he got the weight steadied and followed the woman into the sitting room. He made to lay Apollo down on one of the sofas, then hesitated, thinking better of it. In the end he sat down himself, carefully, holding Apollo across his lap, unwilling to let him go.

Apollo was slight and thin, barely any weight at all to hold, and it pierced him to the heart.

For the first time in days he realised he had been angry, terribly angry with a child, who thought and reasoned like a child. For the first time in days he felt something that was closer to being shame about the things that he himself had said and done, not shame of Apollo.

"We think he got the kitchen knife and cut the man down from the upstairs landing," the woman said quietly, helping settle Apollo more comfortably. "From the marks on the wood, the professor used the landing stair-rail."

"There was blood on it, on the knife," said Adama, remembering.

She nodded, taking each of Apollo's hands in turn and checking them. "He's cut himself. Not badly. I'd go hunt for some dressings but your doctor had probably better do it."

Jerry came into the room. "Sometimes you policemen ask bloody silly questions. Of course the man's dead. Anyone with half an eye can see the man's dead." He pulled a chair up close and Adama shifted the slight body in his arms to allow him to look at Apollo.

"We have to have it formally confirmed, Doctor, for the forms," said Rufius, patiently, from the doorway. "Bureaucracy's the bane of our lives."

"I'll sign anything you like," said Jerry. The *as long as you leave me the hell alone* was unsaid, but trembled in the air between them. "But right now I need to see to my patient."

"Time of death? Any guesses?"

Jerry paused. "I'm no expert, Sergeant, but death from slow strangulation can take anything up to twenty centons or more. Of course, he'd have passed out after two or three, I should think, from asphyxia. The body is starting to cool, so he was likely dead when Apollo got here – dead for a centar or more, perhaps. Maybe more, since it's a warm evening and that will delay heat loss. I've recorded the body temperature, but the autopsy will tell you more and give you a better estimate."

"Do they always look like that?" asked Adama, glancing towards the hall and its terrible occupant.

"Mostly," said Rufius.

"It's not pretty," conceded Jerry, his hand against Apollo's throat.

"Did you see his neck? He tried to loosen it," said Adama, thinking of the blood under Pieter's nails and the torn neck. "The cord, I mean. "

"From a nightrobe, from the look of it," said Jerry, peeling back one of Apollo's eyelids.

Adama nodded, remembering the robe Pieter had been wearing when he and the police had hauled Apollo out of the bathroom three days earlier. It was fitting, he decided, a lovely example of divine irony.

And, perhaps, divine retribution.

"They mostly decide it's a bad idea when the rope starts cutting in and they're dangling six inches above the floor with no way out. They panic." Rufius glanced behind him. "If you'll excuse me, the coroner's van just arrived. I'll just tell them what to do and be back in a couple of centons. I'll need to explain what's going to happen next, and then you can take Apollo home."

"Apollo's fine," said Jerry to Adama, when Rufius and the policewoman had gone. "Deeply sedated, but his pulse is strong and regular." He took the injured hand in his. "This isn't serious," he said, but busied himself over dressing it.

"Oh, I think it's pretty serious," said Adama, moodily. "What a bloody mess."

Jerry nodded. "A terrible thing for a child to see."

"They'll want to talk to Apollo about it."

"Yes, but they won't get the chance today. The centon he shows any sign of coming out of it, I'm going to give him another shot. We'll keep him under until tomorrow morning, at least. They can talk to him tomorrow, at home." Jerry finished with the hand, and laid it back in Apollo's lap.

Adama's hold tightened. The helpless lolling of Apollo's head and the unexpected slightness of his son's thin frame had touched and surprised him, and he was still reeling from the realisation. He'd failed to protect Apollo. He'd not been there, Ila hadn't seen it, and he'd failed.

"He's not really that big," he said, struggling to put his failure into words. "I was fooled by him being as tall as Ila, but really she's not that tall either. He's not very big at all."

"No." Jerry watched them both, eyes slightly hooded and unreadable. "He's within the right size range for his age, but near the bottom end of it at the moment. He's about due a growth spurt. Next time you get home, you'll hardly know him."

Adama looked down into his son's peaceful, unknowing face. "Nothing new there then. I didn't know him this time, either."

 

 

2.2 Loss of a first-born son

From the moment he woke, Apollo remembered that Pieter was dead.

He wasn't alone when he woke up, but back in his own room in his own bed, with his father sitting quietly beside him, dozing in a chair. They'd brought one of the big chairs up from downstairs, but it wasn't meant for sleeping in. Adama was scrunched up in it with a quilt over his knees, his head tilted on one side. It looked uncomfortable, like his neck would ache.

Pieter's neck must have ached.

Apart from his father sleeping there, the room was empty. But someone had been in it, unless it was his father who'd tidied his books away. That annoyed him. He didn't like having his books touched and now he'd have to search out all the references again. His clothes had been put away too, and that was more likely to be Hanna than anyone. She wouldn't have touched his books, though; she knew better than that. She knew how much he hated to have his books touched. That must have been Adama.

Watching his father and fretting over his books didn't stop him from knowing that Pieter was dead. He remembered that perfectly but neither then or later did he do anything, publicly, with the remembrance. He didn't cry, he didn't have hysterics, he didn't wail and complain, he didn't talk about it. Because he also remembered, perfectly, that words were a trap and a delusion, even if he knew what words there were in the dictionary that could explain what it meant, Pieter being dead.

Adama didn't sleep for long. He stirred almost as soon as Apollo did, throwing off the quilt and massaging the back of his neck with one hand. At first, he was gruffly kind, not even taking Apollo to task for his disobedience. He talked to Apollo, gently, for a long time, inviting Apollo to confide in him. But Apollo knew that people played with words all the time and he didn't want to be trapped. So it wasn't long before Adama was gruffly puzzled and, in the end, just gruff and as distant as he had been since he came home, disappointed and disapproving. He was offended, Apollo thought, that Apollo wasn't shocked and upset. Apollo didn't see that he needed to be. His mother cried enough for everyone, in between taking lots of pills to calm her down.

Uncle Jerry came every day and was his usual kind self, spending a lot of time sitting with his arm around Apollo's shoulders. He talked a lot about what Apollo might think and feel, trying to convince him that he shouldn't make such an effort to stay calm and composed. Apollo didn't tell him that it wasn't any effort at all to let the quiet and calm overlay everything when someone, even Jerry, was there. But he allowed the embraces, because he was fond of his Uncle Jerry and didn't like to hurt his feelings, even though Jerry had shown more consideration for Adama than for him and had left him alone with his father for two whole, endless days. Apollo just wasn't certain as he used to be that he could rely on Jerry the way he had before. He loved his uncle as much as ever, but he kept his own quiet and calm counsel. It was safer.

He let the same quiet and calm take over when the police came to listen to his account of finding Pieter. Sergeant Rufius promised that he'd try and keep Apollo out of the inquest. He said that the coroner was a decent old stick who was sympathetic and would probably play along if they had a written statement of what Apollo had found and done. He was kind to Apollo, the way he'd been at the police station, telling him that it had been the right thing to do, to cut Pieter down to see if there was a chance of saving him. But he was sure that there hadn't been and Apollo could have done no more. Apollo wasn't to blame himself, he said. Apollo didn't blame himself. He knew who'd killed Pieter.

Father Diogenes visited, as well; called there by his father, Apollo supposed. Adama was in the room when the old man arrived - they rarely left him alone except when he feigned sleep, when he could get some time to himself - and Apollo didn't have time to find refuge in the bathroom. He submitted to being prayed over, enduring that just as, later the same day, he endured the return of his siblings. When Zac burst into his room to say hello, he looked up from his book to acknowledge the brat's presence and fight off the choking hug Zac wanted to give him, then sent him away despite the disapproving look his father gave him.

Apollo didn't have to attend the inquest. Jerry had to go, because he'd signed the forms for the police to say that Pieter was dead, and the coroner wanted to check those with him. His father went too, out of curiosity or guilt or some other odd sense of obligation. When they got back, he told Apollo that Pieter's brother had taken responsibility for arranging the interment in the family plot at the big cemetery in the north of the city. Apollo thought it was odd since Pieter hadn't like his brother very much, but he supposed that it was all right. Pieter wasn't about to object. Despite Adama's expression, Jerry asked him if he wanted to go to the funeral. Apollo, after a moment's reflection, refused politely and Jerry and his father went away frowning, allowing Apollo to get back to the books he'd been eyeing wistfully throughout the entire discussion.

They argued together outside his room where they must have thought he couldn't hear them. Jerry tried to convince his father that Apollo was denying the grief he felt. Adama doubted Apollo felt any, and the disgust and disdain were back; Apollo had no proper feeling about anything, added his father, not just Pieter's death, and there was something seriously amiss with him that Adama wasn't prepared to have affect the two younger ones. Apollo listened to them fight for a centon or two, then turned back to his books and closed them out. He concentrated instead on listening to Pieter's voice in his memory, listening to what Pieter had to tell him about the First Migration: it was more interesting and it was Pieter.

Everyone – except Zac and Athena, of course, who were too full of their visit to Aunt Alicia to care very much about what had happened in their absence - had their expectations. As usual, he failed to live up to them. His father wanted him to be sorry and repentant, to acknowledge his sins. Most people wanted him to cry and he couldn't do that; he couldn't do any of that. Uncle Jerry brought people with him, sometimes, who were really very clever at trying to talk about Pieter with him, but he treated them the same way as he had the sergeant, telling them quite calmly about what he'd seen when he'd opened the door of Pieter's house. It didn't annoy them, him being calm, the way it seemed to annoy his father, but he sensed their faint surprise. One of them said that he needed to get it out of his system. Apollo didn't want it out of his system, unwilling to share the significance of knowing that Pieter had gone.

So they told him that he was in denial and explained what they meant. He wondered about that. Denial would mean pretending Pieter wasn't dead and Apollo knew that he was, that he was stone dead. Denial of his feelings, they said, but that wasn't right either because he knew, too, what they were. He just didn't see why he should tell anyone else what he felt. Besides, since his father was quite right and he didn't feel like anything at all when there was anyone there to see it, there wasn't much scope for long conversations. He decided against obliging them by making something up.

His real refuge was his books and he spent a lot of time going over them, reading and re-reading the books he and Pieter had studied together. Sometimes he made marginal notes, where he'd found something somewhere else to support or deny the theory in question. Otherwise, he ate quite normally and, once he did fall asleep, slept well each night. To his own surprise, he didn't dream much.

He wasn't confined to his room any longer. His father asked him, on his honour, not to leave the grounds without permission and Apollo just shrugged and nodded. He didn't break his word. There wasn't anywhere he wanted to go, since he wasn't allowed back at school. Instead he played Triad with Zac in the gardens where Duncan had hung hoops on the garage wall to represent the three scoreholes you got in a real Triad court. Athena didn't play Triad, but she brought her favourite doll down to watch them, so Apollo let the brat win a few to encourage him and to please Athena. He even laughed when Zac got excited by winning, although as he laughed he caught his father's disapproving look and saw that Jerry looked sad. But his mother was better, smiling as she watched him and Zac.

And then, in the very last secton of his father's leave, Adama told him to get ready for Pasquel, that they'd delayed taking him there long enough. At first, just after Pieter had left, Apollo had wondered if not being allowed back to school meant that he was still being sent away. He hadn't asked, but within a few days of Pieter's death, the day of the funeral, his father had said that he was out of Mama's control and that the Military School would do him good. Apollo knew what Adama really meant. He was being sent away where whatever was wrong with him wouldn't affect the younger ones. The memory of his father's first night home, how contented they'd all looked without him, was strong. Apollo understood.

He knew, too, that he hadn't been punished yet, for his disobedience and defiance, for the sin that Father Diogenes had been brought in to pray over. The disgrace was still there, still to be atoned for. Being sent away was punishment. He wasn't worth enough to be kept at home and he had to go and waste time somewhere else.

He understood that, too. Kobolians were strong on sin and punishment, as he knew from yahrens of bored Tenthday services; they were a little slower to forgive. Adama would never forget. It was like a birthmark, a stain you couldn't get rid of, the sign of something that was poor quality, that didn't meet Adama's standards. Adama would always see Pieter when he looked at Apollo. And all those words that had trapped Apollo—disgraceful, disgusting, untrustworthy, weak, a waste of time—they were still there, holding him fast.

So he went and packed his books and a few other important things in the backpack that he'd carry himself, leaving Hanna to sort out those things that were unimportant, like his clothes. His mother cried when they left, and Zac yelled like fury, wanting to come along. Adama took him to Pasquel himself, talking to him seriously and, Apollo thought, quite formally, as if Apollo were a stranger. Perhaps he was.

This was his chance to make good, said his father, to make up for everything, to redeem himself. He listened to the lectures with as much good grace as he could muster, looking forward to the moment when Adama would let him get out the current book he was reading and leave him in peace. In the same spirit of resignation, he went through the introduction to the commandant, the tour of the school and a leave-taking with Adama where he managed to keep a good physical distance between them. Not that Adama tried to close it, he thought, when his father walked away. The Commandant said that he'd soon see his family again. But Apollo knew that he didn't have a family now, because families didn't send you away if they wanted you, and Pieter was dead.

All of that was his public remembrance.

The private remembrance was different.

Every night since the day he'd woken up and known that Pieter was dead, when he was on his own, when he was sure that no-one else would come barging into his room to see if he was ready to talk about Pieter, or, later, when he could shut his door on the other few prisoners incarcerated at Pasquel for the summer; then he had his private remembrance. Every night he remembered what happened.

Pieter had said not to come and see him, but he hadn't liked the way Pieter sounded when he'd called: not angry, just tired and sad. Of course he wanted to go to him. It hadn't been hard to get out of the house. He'd just had to wait until Jerry and his father were safely in Mama's sitting room and Hanna busily occupied in the kitchen at the back of the house. Apollo had gone out through his window, sliding down the porch roof to drop to the ground, out of sight of the ground floor windows. The security perimeter opened to him without any trouble. He had money enough to get to Pieter's and he wasn't thinking beyond that.

Pieter hadn't locked the door against him. He'd put his hand against the security panel, remembering the day that Pieter had added his biometric data to the house's computer, granting him the freedom of the house as if he lived there. That had been a good day.

Pieter had been waiting for him in the hall, his back to Apollo. There had been something odd... he had been high up, much taller, like he was standing on something. And as Apollo stared, trying to work it out, Peter had spun around slowly—very, very slowly—until he faced Apollo, his hands dangling by his sides, and his feet turned down so his toes pointed to the floor a clear couple of inches beneath him. As Apollo kept on staring, Pieter had kept on spinning, the stair rail on the landing creaking with the strain. Something had dripped off Pieter's right foot, dropping into a little pool that sat on the polished wood and made it shine even brighter.

And Pieter's face.... In his private remembrance, Apollo would make himself think of Pieter's face, because then he could persuade himself that it might not have really been Pieter, that it might have been someone else who looked so purple-red and swollen, whose eyes bulged at him, wide open and shining wetly. It might have been someone else's tongue sticking out of the mouth that Apollo couldn't recognise as the one he'd learned to kiss. It wasn't Pieter.

In the private remembrance, he let the dullness go and allowed the feelings to come back. Every night Apollo slept at last, exhausted and thankfully undreaming, his pillow wet with the tears that he couldn't cry at any other time.

Unlike Adama, Pieter hadn't sent him away. He just hadn't waited long enough to take Apollo with him.

 

 

Jerry was waiting at the main spaceport, outside of Caprica City, pacing backward and forwards beyond the reception line, looking drawn and haggard and old. He didn't look as if he'd slept. Sleepless himself for the last two days, Adama rushed to meet him, desperate to know the worst.

"He'll be all right," Jerry said, as soon as he saw Adama, his expression tired and grieving. "He'll be all right, Adama.

"All right?" Adama's voice didn't sound right, even to his own ears, hoarse and choking.

"I promise."

Adama bowed his head, relief making his knees tremble so much that he staggered, trying to keep his balance. Jerry's hand guided him into one of the uncomfortable chairs in the waiting area and pushed him into it. For a centon he sat with his head in his shaking hands, trying to regain control. "All right," he said, thickly.

"I left the hospital four centars ago and he was out of danger by then. He's still unconscious but over the worst. He's sleeping it off right now. I don't think he'll wake up for a few centars yet, certainly not before you can get there."

"I'll kill him," murmured Adama. He rubbed at his eyes and sat up. "You were there? You've seen him?"

"Hanna called me when the news came through and I took Ila to Pasquel. She couldn't do it on her own, Adama. She was almost beside herself, and I could take the time."

Adama managed a tight grin at him. "I couldn't trust her or Apollo to anyone better," he said. "Thank you."

Jerry grinned back. "C'mon. I've got a shuttle booked for us, to take us straight out to Pasquel. They've got him in the local hospital there. We can talk on the way."

Clutching the small kitbag to him, he stumbled after Jerry. It was all he'd had time to pack when he'd got the message from an hysterical Ila, almost beside herself with fright, screaming at him to come home, so incoherent that he'd had a helluva time picking his way through the message until he understood the terrible news. Stunned, he barely remembered handing over command to his astonished colonel and ordering his shuttle to rush him to Hephaestus to catch a connexion back to Caprica. He'd spoken only briefly to Supreme Commander Voss in explanation before he left the Atlantia, barely three sectons after returning to her from the home leave that had turned out to be no rest at all. He thought, dully, that he'd have to try and speak to Voss again soon. The Lords alone knew when he'd be able to get back to the Atlantia: it could be sectars. As soon as he'd seen Apollo, he'd talk to Voss. Just as soon as he'd seen Apollo.

Jerry took him through to the public flight dock, and onto a small sub-orbital shuttle. "I chartered this," he said, coming back from the tiny cockpit where he'd given the pilot orders to take-off. "It's the fastest way to get there. We wouldn't be able to get a commercial shuttle for a couple of centars." He looked at Adama. "All right?"

"I don't know," said Adama. "I feel a bit dizzy."

"Head down, then," suggested Jerry, buckling himself in.

"I won't be sick." Adama shook his head and settled back in his seat, trying to get himself in order. He waited until the shuttle lifted off before being certain that he had voice and feelings back under control. "What happened? Ila was hard to understand, but she said something about her pills?"

Jerry grimaced. "She'd reduced the dosage of tranquillisers after Pieter died and things seemed a bit more settled, so she didn't miss them when Apollo took them and squirreled them away. Definitely her medication, though – the empty box was found in his room at Pasquel. He took them with most of the contents of a bottle of ambrosa. We think he stole that from the house, too, and took it with him."

"Dear God."

Jerry's face was expressionless. "Be grateful. A fourteen-yahren old's system isn't able to cope with that much alcohol. He was very sick, and brought up a lot of the tranquillisers with it. If he hadn't been... well. "

"Yes," said Adama.

"I'm sorry, Adama. It's partly my fault. Sectars ago he asked me about hemlock poisoning, for one of his history essays, I think. I told him he'd get the same effect with booze and pills. He must have remembered."

"Not your fault," said Adama, his voice thickening again against the lump in his throat. "You said, and I wish I'd listened to you, that he was feeling neglected and out of it. Was this an attempt to get our attention, then?"

"No," said Jerry, rubbing at his face with his hands. He looked as tired as Adama felt. "No, I don't think so. When people do it for attention seeking, they make damned sure that they're found in time, or they'll have second thoughts and call for help long before whatever they've done can really harm them. He was found by sheer luck, Adama. One of the older boys heard him when he was ill, and forced his way into the room. Without that, there just wouldn't have been time. It was touch and go for a few centars as it was."

"What you're saying is that he meant it. He seriously tried to kill himself."

"Oh yes." said Jerry. "I've no doubt about that."

"I can't believe that. Why in hell—"

"Oh, don't start! He's depressed and grieving, he's on his own in a strange place because you sent him away from home, and Pieter is dead. Why the hell else do you think he did it?"

"Jer—"

"He's been unhappy for sectars and I did everything but hit you over the head to make you realise it! Why in hell don't you listen? Instead you blame him for what happened and you crown it all by sending him away. And then you ask why he did it!"

"I don't—"

"All you saw was a disciplinary problem, wasn't it? You couldn't see what was behind it. You thought that because you gave him whatever he asked for, that he couldn't possible feel neglected and ignored, despite everything I tried to say to you. Tell me, Adama, did you do anything at all to make him feel that he mattered to you? Anything? Even something as small as taking the time to go and watch him play Triad? God knows, I went out of my way when you got home to make sure that you knew when the next match was. It was little enough."

"No, I didn't have the time—"

"You had the time to go to see Zac run races, though. You really know how to send the right signals, don't you, about the relative importance your children have for you. And you were angry with him from the micron you got home. I can just see your reasoning: you couldn't possibly reward him by showing any interest in him, of course, not when he was in disgrace from the centon you saw him." Jerry snorted, derisive. "The poor kid said that Pieter wasn't quite what he'd meant when he'd wanted you to notice him, but at least it got your bloody attention, if only to tell him how disgraceful he was. Did you hear anything at all of what we said to you about how paedophiles groom children?"

"I suppose," said Adama, slowly, knowing that it was Jerry's love for Apollo that moved him, and too anxious to get angry in his turn at the criticism being hurled at his head, "I suppose that I find it hard to believe that my son could fall for that if there wasn't something basically wrong with him, some weakness in his character. I've thought about nothing else for six sectons, Jerry."

"Well, do a bit more thinking, because you are way off beam there! And for God's sake, forget the bloody religion and start thinking rationally. You create the conditions by never being there except for a few sectons a yahren, and Ila barely knows Apollo's around unless she's off to a meeting and wants him to watch Zac and Athena, and then you blame him for looking for attention elsewhere and being vulnerable to some predator who can take advantage of it. That's rich, Adama. That's bloody rich!"

Adama frowned, wondering if Jerry was right, and he was blaming Apollo for something that was his own responsibility, and Ila's. He knew that he didn't want to accept that Apollo loved Pieter. He knew that nothing under God's heaven would have stopped him tearing Pieter apart if he could have thought it was rape, if the man had forced Apollo. But the knowledge that Apollo had gone willingly, however manipulated, into the man's bed was enough to make Adama sick. The images were just disgusting, and to know that Apollo wanted and enjoyed it was too much to bear.

Haltingly, he tried to put some of the conflict into words. Jerry, the brief flash of anger over, gave him the chance to speak, listening intently.

Jerry blew out a noisy sigh when Adama's words trailed away. Irritably, he ran his hands through his hair until it stood on end. "I did remind you that family counselling was available," he said, much calmer. "I should have made you talk to some of the people I brought in to see Apollo. They may have had more success with you than they did with him." He sat silent for a few centons, then shook his head. "I've no doubt at all that Apollo didn't have the first idea of what would happen when Pieter took him to bed. He couldn't have given informed consent, and to my mind that's every bit as much rape as if Pieter had beaten the hell out of him first and forced him. But Apollo's also a lonely, hormonal teenager. Pieter offered love, however warped we think it was, and interest in Apollo and his affairs – and, yes, sex. Kids his age are thrumming with it. It probably gave him one heck of a kick to think that he was really doing it when his school friends were only talking about it and masturbating in the shower."

"Is that meant to make me feel better?"

"It fits with everything else, you know. Not feeling important at home, Pieter offered him the chance to feel important in other ways." Jerry sighed. "Basic psychology. It doesn't mean that he's wicked or weak, just that Pieter knew exactly what buttons to press."

"I don't want to believe that he loved that man."

"Well, that's you deceiving yourself, because he does."

Adama shook his head. "He's confusing me. You know what he was like after Pieter died. He was more interested in getting back to those books. I don't think he shed one tear."

"Not when we could catch him, no," agreed Jerry.

"Not when we could catch him," repeated Adama. He looked down at his shoes, hit with the truth of what Jerry had said. "It made me angry," he said, trying to work it through. "He was so indifferent. He never showed anything. I thought that if you were right about what he felt for Pieter, then he'd be devastated."

"I'd say that washing down a box of tranquillisers with a bottle of ambrosa shows a fair amount of devastation."

"Yes. I just didn't see it." Adama shook his head. "Did you?"

"He hid it," said Jerry. "I thought it had to be there."

Adama remembered the people that Jerry had brought in to talk, uselessly, to Apollo. Jerry had always believed that Apollo was a victim to be helped. Adama knew that his own reaction had been far less clear cut. He said so, now, adding, "When he found Pieter, he was so... oh, I don't know! I realised how young he was, I suppose."

"I remember." And Jerry's tone gentled.

"All the time you had him sedated, I swore that I'd do better by him, that I wouldn't be angry, that I'd do everything you said and help him. But he didn't seem to need it. It was like he turned his back on me. It made me angry again. If he wasn't hurting, if he hadn't loved Pieter, than maybe it all really was just wickedness and lust and sin..."

"I'm not talking no for an answer this time, Adama," said Jerry. "You are all going into therapy." He snorted. "For a family that looked fine on the outside, you're bloody dysfunctional!"

Adama flinched. "He wouldn't let me help. He hid it from us. He hid himself from us."

"He didn't trust us," said Jerry. "God forgive me, but I think I forfeited his trust when I paid more attention to your bruised ego than to what he needed. He didn't trust either of us enough to let us in to help him. Me because I left him, and you – "

"And me because I did nothing to reassure him that he could," said Adama, voice flat. He remembered Apollo's resentful voice: I wish that you were my Dad, instead of him. Apollo might well have been better off if his wish had been granted. "No," he said, with difficulty, "It's obvious he didn't trust me. You said he was frightened of me."

"Yes."

"Because I treated it like a disciplinary problem, like I was chastising a sin. Because I saw it as being about punishment." Adama rubbed his hands over his face, horrified that it had taken this much to bring him to his senses and see Apollo for what he really was. He'd been angry, unlovingly angry. He didn't deserve for Apollo to trust him. "But why wait this long? It's been sectons since Pieter killed himself."

Jerry frowned. "I don't know. There may be something significant about the date but it wasn't Pieter's birthday or anything maudlin like that. I checked. It could just be that he had to get his courage up to do it. Did Ila tell you the commandant had been in touch because they were worrying that he wasn't settling in?"

Adama nodded.

"Not just homesickness. The Commandant said that Apollo was getting so withdrawn that he wasn't speaking. I don't mean that he was quiet, but that he was silent. He spoke to virtually no-one."

"I thought he was sulking," said Adama.

"Oh, that's probably at least part of it," said Jerry, and Adama was dimly grateful that he wasn't going to be criticised for another misapprehension. "The rest must have been screwing himself up to do this."

After a long time, Adama said, very quietly, "You know how much difficulty we had in starting a family. We thought we never would have children. We lost two before Apollo, and when he was born, we were both so glad and grateful... overjoyed. He's been central to our lives ever since. I have no idea how we got to this mess. None at all."

"They grow up. The problem for you is that you don't see it as a gradual process, but in a series of jerks. Last time you were home he was still very much a child. This time, a teenager. If you'd seen him more, you'd have noticed the change less."

"And maybe have been around to help the transition." Adama had his head in his hands again. "Wasn't that one of his complaints? That I wasn't ever there."

"And when you were, you didn't listen to him." Jerry grinned at him, when he looked up quickly. "I'm quoting, not criticising. His problem, Adama, is that he doesn't see himself as central. He sees Zac, and to a lesser extent, Athena, as central because they take up so much of Ila's time, and yours when you're at home. He sees himself as being on the margins. And when you came home, it was all out war and he felt even more pushed out. Yes, maybe if you'd been at home you'd have seen how out of things he felt and redressed the balance; but maybe not. Maybe is a very unprofitable word."

"What do I do?"

Jerry sighed. "Don't ask me. I'm just the maiden uncle."

"I need your help."

"And you know I'll do anything I can. The trouble is that it's got beyond simple unhappiness and the usual teen rebellion. To have tried this, he's got to be seriously depressed. I don't mean that he's psychotic, but he needs professional help and the only paediatric psychiatrist I know well is away until next sectar. The usual people I refer patients to aren't that specialised, but I suppose I could call one of them in the interim. Maybe it would be better to take him to the Children's Hospital, though, and let them find someone."

Dull with grief that it had come to this, Adama nodded. "When can we take him home, did they say?"

"Not for a couple of days, at least. They've got him on dialysis at the moment to take the strain off his kidneys and they're doing regular toxicity tests to make sure that liver function isn't impaired – "

"You said he'd be all right!"

Jerry remained calm. "It's precautionary. They used a stomach pump to get rid of most of it – old-fashioned but effective, and I doubt Apollo enjoyed it very much if he was awake enough to notice. They don't seriously think there's long term damage to his system, but they're taking no chances."

Adama nodded, letting Jerry reassure him. "I suppose I ought to see the commandant at Pasquel," he said, suddenly very weary.

"I wouldn't bother. He's already said he won't have Apollo back there, even if he was fit. I collected all Apollo's things yesterday evening. I don't see any reason for you to see him."

"Then I'll write, sometime." Adama leaned back, the seat in the shuttle feeling incredibly comfortable after the purgatory of the last two days. "Are Zac and Athena with Alicia?"

"She was glad to help," said Jerry.

"She had trouble with Jace when he was Apollo's age," said Adama. He sighed. His sister hadn't had to cope with anything as bad as this, difficult as Jason had been. "What am I going to do, Jerry?"

"You can apply the remedy I've already suggested. I think what that child needs more than anything else is for his parents to tell him that they love him, that nothing makes any difference to that and they'll help him through this mess." Jerry shook his head. "Frankly, something you should have done six or seven sectons ago."

Sub text: it may be too late now. And a centar or more later, Adama sat beside a hospital bed and thought about how nearly too late it had been. Ila cried quietly on the other side of the bed; out of relief that he was home, Adama thought, as much as distress about Apollo. She wasn't coping and her fragility was another thing to worry about. Adama listened to the hospital doctor's murmured reassurances, watching Jerry for confirmation that the hopeful prognosis was sound. But while he soothed Ila and listened to the doctors, his real focus was on the white face on the pillow.

"He didn't trust us," said Jerry again, sadly, when the doctor was gone.

No. Adama knew that, now. He remembered the look of hurt and resentment on his son's face when he'd excluded Apollo from the homecoming celebration: there'd been no trust there. He remembered the slight body trembling in one corner of the police squad car, as far from him as Apollo could get: no trust there. He remembered how thin and slight Apollo had been in Pieter's house when he'd picked him up and held him and how, when Jerry sedated him, Apollo had fallen away from Adama, not towards him: no trust there, even in unconsciousness. He remembered the words he'd used to shatter what little of anything there was between them, how he'd told his son that he was disgusting and disgraceful, a sin, an abomination that had to be sent away, sent far away: no trust there, and maybe there never could be now. And he remembered walking away from Pasquel, Apollo's green eyes, the eyes so like Ila's, watching him as he left without even the slightest attempt at an embrace, Adama still too angry to offer affection, unforgiving, leaving his son to redeem himself alone. No trust, anywhere.

Apollo had looked for redemption in a bottle of ambrosa and a pack of Ila's pills. What trust was there in that?

Adama stared at his son's pale face until his vision blurred. He hadn't cried for yahrens, but he found, somewhat to his surprise, that he hadn't forgotten how.

"Well," said Jerry, watching him. "It's a start."

But it wasn't, of course, enough. It wasn't anywhere near enough, not then and not for the grief to come.

 

 

2.3 La Fenice

The park wasn't much of a place. There were trees and shrubs enough to try and give the impression of greenness, but it was bordered by tall, dark buildings shadowing the long, unkempt grass. Patches of grass had been scuffed away over the summer by hordes of children kicking balls about in impromptu games, until the dried brown earth had shown through like scabs and lesions. The flowers in the formal gardens were straggling and meagre.

The park wasn't likely to win horticultural prizes, even at its summer best. Now, on the cusp of winter, soaked with the rains, it was a sickly place. The scuffed earth had become gelatinous mud with a few spears of tough grass struggling through, like sparse hairs on a bald brown head. The remaining flowers were battered almost flat to the ground with the wind and rain, the trees slimy with moss and algae.

Sergeant Kes hated it. He was country born and bred, and this sorry excuse for something green in the grimmest part of the city annoyed the frack out of him. He considered it mendacious, almost fraudulent, certainly hypocritical. If this really was the best the city planners could come up with to give the Eastside a semblance of green prettiness, then they really should not have bothered, even to salve their petty consciences. He'd almost rather stay with the docks and the narrow roads and alleys that made up one of the oldest river ports on Caprica: they at least were honest. The Eastside had always been poor and mean and dirty even before Caprica City had spread backwards from the ocean front a dozen miles to the west and swallowed up towns and villages into its gaping maw. The city had absorbed the Eastside, sucking it dry of its resources—mainly cheap labour, it had to be said—siting there all those dirty and polluting manufacturing industries that it didn't want marring the loveliness of the western part of town. The city absorbed, but didn't give very much back. The Eastside was as dark and deprived now as it must have been a couple of thousand yahrens ago, when it was swallowed up by its rich and prosperous neighbour.

The boy was on the park bench again, narrow shoulders hunched against the persistent drizzle, as starved and meagre as everything around him. Kes had seen him hanging around this pathetic excuse for a park for several days now: looking for customers, probably. Kes touched his partner's arm. Loren was intent on berating a group of truanting schoolchildren and he didn't want to spoil her enjoyment.

"I'll be back."

She nodded, not taking her attention from the three foul mouthed ten-yahren olds, giving as good as she got. The kids laughed, delighted, giving her reluctant respect for her eloquence. They were street-wise and sharp, playing an ages-old game with authority. Kes spared them a pitying glance that they probably wouldn't have been able to identify and would have resented if they could. He didn't doubt that like a lot of others their age, they'd eventually lose the game and end up as imprisoned or as addicted as their fathers and elder siblings. Like the one on the bench.

Kes walked away, closing out the children's graphic taunts about what it was that police officers got up to in their patrol cars. As if! Apart from the fact of Loren's husband was bigger than Kes was and enough to keep them on the straight and narrow even if they felt inclined to stray, Kes was willing to bet that even at only ten yahrens old, those children had seen the inside of enough patrol cars to know that there wasn't anywhere near enough room for the scale of activities they were suggesting. He'd heard the taunts so often in the last few sectons since leaving the Regiment to join the police, that he wasn't even flattered by the assumption that he was capable of the athleticism that would be needed. The kids didn't have much imagination, really. They said that stuff to anyone and everyone, from toddlers to grannies, only hoping to shock.

The wooden seat was wet, soaked through. Grimacing, Kes sat down, feeling the chill seep through the seat of his pants. "Hey," he said.

The boy turned his head. There wasn't much expression at all on his face, much less recognition: not for Kes personally, not for what he represented. Kes didn't think the kid even realised that he was police. Kes put out a hand to catch the boy's chin and turn his face more to the left. The bruise covered the whole of the right cheek, a purple as dark as grapes.

"Who did that?"

The boy looked faintly puzzled. He shrugged.

Kes sighed. The boy returned to staring blindly at his thin shoes, and Kes resumed the long, assessing look. Thin shoes, no jacket, clothes damp with rain. No wonder the kid was shivering.

"Don't you have anything better than that to wear?"

He took an age to register what Kes was asking. He pulled at the damp shirt with long fingers, the nails filthy. He shrugged again and turned away, hunching one shoulder to close himself off.

"He probably lives on the streets," Loren said, joining them. She shook her head when Kes offered to shuffle along the bench to make room. "No thanks. I can do without my arse being damp for the rest of the day." She watched the three kids run about on the muddy grass. "Shit, you'd think they'd have enough sense to know that school at least gets them out of the wet. Maybe they're too stupid even to know that much."

"At least they have coats," said Kes. "This one's soaked through."

"I shouldn't think that he's noticed. They don't." Loren's detachment came from yahrens working the Eastside. "Time's wasting, Kes. Move him on and get going ourselves."

"Leave him be," said Kes, getting up. "He's doing no harm."

"Not to anyone else, no," agreed Loren.

Back in the squad car, he slid into the driver's seat, putting his laser into the dash holster where he could get at it in a hurry. He didn't start the engine.

"Someone's hit him," he said, remembering the bruise.

"One of his customers getting rough, I suppose."

"You know," said Kes, angrily, "There are so many of these kids selling I can barely believe the price can be worth their while. There's too many of them."

"They do it for the price of a single hit, that's all. Loose change. There's always plenty of customers after some cheap sex." Loren shrugged. "Plenty of men like bargain hunting."

Kes liked Loren. She was smart and tough and she knew her job. She knew the Eastside, she knew the people; she knew which of them were to be trusted and which ones you never, ever, turned your back on. Tough as Kes was, he was still learning this new territory, taking his lessons from people like Loren who'd been there for yahrens. But he hoped he'd never get as cynical.

"Sometimes I wonder what the fuck I spent twenty yahrens fighting for," he said, sullen. "Not for kids to go to hell on Shadow without anybody doing something to stop it."

"There's too many of them. Kes, why do you think we just don't bother running in kids like this for possession? We'd have the cells bursting at the seams within the centar. We can't do much."

"Shit," said Kes.

"Ginny picked up that kid a few days ago. Remember all the jokes about how dumb he was? Literally. He's deaf and dumb, or something."

Kes nodded, remembering. The kid had already been in the cells for the night when he and Loren had finished their duty spell and he patently wasn't enjoying himself once the Shadow deprivation kicked in. Despite being mute, he could make some noise, if the screaming was anything to go by. All the custody sergeant had been able to give was Shadow substitute, not Shadow itself, and if that kept the kid from going completely into withdrawal, it wasn't enough to keep him quiet. He hadn't been the first Shadow addict Kes had heard in the cells. He was the first where the canteen jokes had been about how you made a deaf-mute yell. He felt a momentary blush of shame that he'd grinned along with the others.

But Kes was struck by the fact that although he was the one agonising, cynical Loren was the one who'd remembered. He felt obscurely humbled.

"I don't think he's deaf," he said. The kid had heard his questions, even if he hadn't answered any of them.

"We've got to go," said Loren. "There's no point in wasting time here."

No. And Kes knew it. But he made no move to start the car.

Loren grinned at him, one eyebrow arching up. "I know," she said. "You'll only be a centon."

"Sorry," said Kes, getting out of the car. He reached back in for his gun, too cautious to leave it behind after yahrens of depending on it to keep himself alive.

The kid hadn't moved an inch, not flinching even when Kes loomed over him. Kes wondered if the addict had even known that Kes had been there, had gone, had come back. He wondered how much of the world registered. He glanced back at the car. Loren had got far enough out to cover him if he needed it, leaning on the car roof. She grinned.

Kes turned his attention back to the kid, demanding abruptly, "When did you last eat?"

The kid frowned, mimed bewilderment.

"Judas," muttered Kes, annoyed. He pushed a bank note at the boy. "Use this to buy some food, all right? Do you understand me? Food. Not that fucking crap."

The kid turned his head at that, his expression questioning. He indicated the bushes.

"Fuck no!" Kes stepped back, appalled. "Just get yourself something to eat. And stop soliciting where the kids are playing, hear me?"

Loren was grinning when he got back to her. "Not bargain hunting yourself, then?"

Kes froze, halfway back into his seat. "There's cops that do?"

"There's cops that'd make him give it for free," she said, and shrugged.

"Shit. And I thought the military was bad."

"He'll just spend that on Shadow, you know."

"I know," said Kes. "But at least he won't have to get himself fucked for the next couple of hits."

Loren smiled. "There's my tough Warrior!" she said, mockingly.

Kes grunted, and started the engine, leaving the park behind and heading out into an average sort of day: one stabbing, three assaults, one case of domestic violence, a raid on a pawnbroker who was fencing stolen goods.

Very average, in fact.

 

 

It had been an average sort of day at the Fenice, as well. More than twenty regular addicts coming in to use the Shooting Gallery and get their needles replaced; a couple of kids in detox and withdrawal; two overdosed Shadow addicts, one of whom needed resuscitation and full hospitalisation; a dozen or so local residents who couldn't afford a regular doctor's fees and used the Fenice's drop-in clinic, coming in with everything from a head-cold to psychosis by way of measles and one case of genital warts; and a fight on the premises between a seventeen-yahren old alcoholic and his fifteen-yahren old girlfriend. The girlfriend had won hands down, being unaccountably sober. Her heavy pregnancy hadn't slowed her reflexes, either. Doctor Alexander had sutured the three inch gash she'd left in her boyfriend's head, merely remarking to the loser that if he was so drunk that he couldn't stop her using his own empty ambrosa bottles against him, then maybe he should think about cutting down his intake. The boy had sworn at him so foully that even Alex had been impressed.

Very average, in fact.

"Is it always like this?" asked the final yahren medical student doing a practice placement at the Fenice.

"Fairly ordinary," said Alex, dodging the alcoholic's wild punch with an ease born of long practice. He pushed the boy back onto the treatment couch and grinned cheerfully at Marcus. "Never a dull moment."

"I'll say." Marcus cleared away the detritus from the suturing operation. "Exciting."

Alex, who had plans for Marcus, nodded. "And satisfying."

He looked around the treatment room with loving eyes. He wondered what it would take to keep Marcus there and keep him committed. He knew what it had taken for him.

Long ago, the rich young heir of a wealthy and blue-blooded house had fallen in love. Charlie was poor. Charlie's education was, shall we say, patchy. Charlie's expectations of life were low, and Charlie's experience of life was painful. Charlie used Shadow, a great deal of Shadow, and Charlie sold himself to pay for it, offering his youth and youth's fleeting hectic beauty to any man who would pay the small price of a shot. And the price of a shot of Shadow in the Eastside of Caprica City was depressingly small, the dealers seeing more profit in selling cheap in vast quantities rather than selling quality to a few. Charlie was nineteen. He'd been addicted to Shadow for more than five yahrens and it would never let him go.

Alex had known all of that, but still he loved Charlie. Alex had been content with what Charlie could give him when he took Charlie home, where the Shadow was bought for him. If Alex sometimes worried that Charlie saw it as selling himself over and over still, he hoped Charlie knew that it was to a man who loved him. Because Alex, when he loved at all, loved very deeply. But not even love had been enough to prevent Alex coming home one night and finding Charlie dead on the bedroom floor, lying in a pool of vomit and piss and shit.

Two yahrens later, Alex had taken his inheritance and founded the Fenice, housing his clinic and drop-in centre in the city's poor Eastside within a few hundred metres of where he'd first seen Charlie, cold and forlorn and begging from passers-by. A lifetime ago, now, but Charlie's legacy had saved others just like him; life springing from the ashes, if you wanted to be romantic about it. Alex told himself that he wasn't romantic, not any more. It was simply the best reparation he thought he could make for failing to save Charlie himself.

Excitement had never come into it.

"He's out of it," said Marcus, bringing Alex's attention back to his patient.

The boy was sprawled on his back, unconscious, mouth open and snoring. Marcus blew out an exasperated breath – it was anything but an attractive, edifying sight. He helped Alex put him into the recovery position.

"It's enough to make me take the pledge," said Marcus, rather crossly. "How old is this idiot?"

"Seventeen." Alex checked for vomit, inwardly grinning at Marcus's look of disgust. "Both his parents were alcoholics. His mother died of the DTs when he was five, and his father's in a sanatorium. I think his genetics are against him. I'll get one of the staff to keep an eye on him. I'd rather he didn't choke on his own vomit while he's in our care."

"Yeah. The paperwork must be hell."

Alex regarded him leniently, until Marcus's face reddened with embarrassment. "I don't like losing patients," said Alex, mildly.

"Sorry," said Marcus.

"For what? You'll have to grow a thick skin, Marc, if you're going to do this sort of thing. Humour's one way of doing it."

"This sort of thing?" Marcus glanced around and laughed. "My tutor warned me you'd try and convince me to come back after I graduate. Won't work. I've got plans."

Alex grinned. "So have I." He looked towards the door, hearing the sound of an arrival or maybe just sensing it. "We've got visitors."

"Don't they know what time it is? Does this place never close?"

Alex laughed at him. "Of course not. Come on."

"Another one," said the receptionist, gesturing to where a policeman stood, a thin street kid draped over one arm as if the boy was boneless. "He's not been here before, so far as I can tell. I don't recognise him." She grinned. "Either of 'em."

Alex lifted the heavy, lolling head, scrutinising the dirty bruised face under the shock of black hair. The eyes stared back at him, unseeing, pupils so dilated he couldn't tell what colour they were. He nodded a welcome to the policeman. "I'm Doctor Alexander - Alex - the director here."

"Kes. I'm fairly new to the Eastside."

Alex glanced at him, and smiled. "Ah. I've heard about you. You've made a bit of an impression already – weren't you the one who broke Jaime's knife hand a secton or two ago?"

The policeman grunted. "If he's going to try and knife people, he oughtn't to try it on ex-Warriors. He's lucky it was just his hand. He won't be using a knife on anyone any time soon." He added, in some satisfaction, "He won't be using that hand any time soon."

Alex let the boy's head down gently, and took the boy's weight, such as it was. With Marcus's help he got him into a chair. Marcus, nose wrinkling, sat down to hold the kid steady.

"Jaime always had an inflated opinion of himself." Alex held out his hand. Kes's grip made him wince.

"I don't like bullies. The kid's pretty well out of it. The little bugger shot up in the back of my car." There was reluctant amusement in the police sergeant's voice.

Alex grinned. "We'll take care of him. Where did you find him?"

"Soliciting out back of the Paradisio club. Well, he wasn't soliciting exactly. He'd already solicited and I hauled him out of the alley with his pants around his ankles and a big Gemonese slobbering all over him. The guy had to be three times this kid's age."

Alex nodded, a little surprised by the sergeant's anger. It was a story so common that often all he needed to do for the records was cut and paste from the last one.

"He must have had a strong stomach, though," said Marcus. "This one stinks, Alex."

"They all do," said Alex. He turned the boy's head towards to face him. There was a flare of vague awareness in the dull eyes, fading as quickly as it came. "You're in a medical facility. We're going to take you up to the clinic and examine you, all right?"

"He's not in much state to object," said Kes.

Alex nodded. "I know, but at least I've asked him for consent. Let's get him up to a treatment room. Sergeant -"

"I'm off duty. Do you mind if I stay? I've heard about this place and I wouldn't mind a look around."

Alex nodded and looked pointedly from Marcus to their new client. Marcus sighed in resignation. "I'll do it," he said. "I'll yell if there's anything serious." He smiled sweetly. "And you can test me on it."

"I intended to," said Alex, and swept Kes off on the grand tour.

The policeman was interested and intelligent, something Alex appreciated. He was used to being treated with a certain amount of suspicion by the authorities, aware that they viewed his activities with a great deal of ambivalence. It wasn't unusual for the police to bring him strays to care for but they were rarely very gracious about it. Kes was obviously still burning to do something useful for the hundreds of street kids and addicts on his patch. Alex wondered how long that would last, before Kes was just overwhelmed by the sheer numbers. But for the moment, Kes looked at everything with bright, uncynical eyes and asked intelligent, thoughtful questions. The Eastside could use more police like this one.

"Nothing serious," said Marcus, when they joined him in the treatment room. He ticked the items off on his fingers. "Shadow, most definitely. He's still pretty high and his arms are a mess. He's had sex within the last centar or so – your slobbering Gemonese, I expect, Sergeant - and not for the first time tonight if the amount of semen in his rectum is any guide. Someone's been rough with him but there's no anal tearing. He's got some bruising; nothing's broken but he's had a bit of a beating in the last day or so. And I don't think he's eaten for a while. He's underweight for his height. You can count his ribs and every knob on his backbone's showing through."

"I gave him some money for food today," said Kes.

"He'll have spent that on Shadow. Just give him a sandwich or something next time." Alex bent over the addict, checking over Marcus's tally.

"I know," said Kes. "I know that if I give them money, they spend it on Shadow. I was just hoping he wouldn't have to do it down filthy alleys tonight."

"Yes. How do you choose between two evils?" Alex smiled approvingly at his student. "Good. You didn't miss much, Marcus. Except that he's been injecting into his thighs as well, see? He must have been finding it hard to get into a vein in his arm."

"I noticed. I just forgot to mention it." Marcus took a skinny arm in his hand and turned it to the light. "You'll need to excise some of this tissue. It's necrotic."

"What's that?" asked Kes.

Alex probed gently into one of the sores, testing its depth. "The lesions are caused by damaged and dying tissue – it comes from bad hygiene and bad needle care. We'll teach him how to look after his works better to avoid this, but if we don't cut out the lesions now, they may turn gangrenous. He'd lose the arm if they do. I'll give him some antibiotics as well."

Marcus held up a small cardboard box. Bizarrely, it was a brightly coloured gift box. The Lords only knew what present, given with love, it had once held. Not now. It held nothing given with love now.

"His works. Two shots of Shadow in here." He glanced at Kes. "Maybe the ones he bought with your money, Sergeant. The needles need replacing, and he doesn't have an adrenalin shot."

Alex brushed back the boy's dirty hair. He wiped his fingers clean on his white coat. "He's very young. Do you know anything about him, Kes?"

"One of the other teams arrested him a secton or two ago, but all we do is let them go after a night in the cells, you know that. I checked back at the station when I picked him up tonight, but they've got nothing on him. He's dumb, and they couldn't get him to answer any questions."

"Dumb?" Alex realised what Kes meant. Not stupid. "You mean, he's a mute. Deaf as well?"

"I don't think so. I was talking to him earlier and he was responding, sort of. Not speech, but I could tell he knew what I was saying." Kes frowned at the boy. "How old do you think he is?"

"Marcus?" prompted Alex.

"Scanner says mid teens, anything between fifteen and eighteen. It's not that precise."

"What do you think?" persisted Alex.

Marcus frowned. "Bottom end of the scale. He's young. How long do you think he's been using?"

Alex shook his head, slightly puzzled. Most Eastside addicts knew about Fenice and used its facilities. This one was new to him, but from the look of the kid's arms, he was using pretty high amounts of Shadow. If he was an old hand, why hadn't they seen him before? If he was new to it, why was he using such high amounts, the dosage of an addict of some yahrens standing?

He put it out of his mind. Once more he spoke to the kid. "You've got some infections and ulcers that need treatment. We're going to do that now. I'll give you a local anaesthetic."

There was no response.

Marcus was already scrubbing up at the small sink. Alex joined him, scrubbing his hands, methodically and thoroughly. The protective gloves he put on were as thin as skin, not affecting the dexterity of his touch.

He lectured quietly throughout the procedure, both to Marcus and to Kes. He allowed Marcus to clean and drain some of the ulcers. He acts like he's giving me a treat, or something Marcus said to Kes, but his eyes were eager and his touch deft and sure. Kes continued asking intelligent questions. This one was definitely worth cultivating. They both were.

When they'd finished, Alex gave the boy one more all-embracing glance and nodded, satisfied. He sniffed the air delicately. "We need to get him cleaned up." Alex smiled at Marcus's loud groan. "Your turn. Do it now, while he's still like this. He'll be harder to handle if he's awake enough to struggle."

"If this is your idea of recruitment, you're putting all the wrong inducements my way," grumbled Marcus. With Alex's help he got the kid up onto his feet, staggering under the weight as the boy's knees buckled.

"Lys is on hygiene duty tonight and she'll help," said Alex, mildly. "Careful of the dressings."

"Can he manage?" asked Kes.

"The bathroom's just down the hall. He'll manage. Excuse me a centon." Alex went out onto the landing and called instructions downstairs to one of the helpers. "We'll feed him up here," he said when he came back. "Marcus was right about him not eating for a while. He's likely to throw it all back up again and it's easier to clean it up here than downstairs."

"You're a very practical man," said Kes, grinning.

Yes. Not romantic at all. Alex shook his head slightly, dispelling the memories and focused his attention on his guest. By the time that the food and clothes from the storeroom had been delivered, and Marcus was back with his clean, if still disorientated patient, he and Kes had mapped out the first steps in what Alex hoped might be a fruitful acquaintance. He needed more friends in authority and if Kes continued as he'd started, he'd be a useful friend indeed.

Marcus wrestled the boy into the clean clothes, with Alex's help. "We should burn this lot," he said, indicating the discarded rags with a foot.

"They're his, not ours," said Alex. "Lys will clean them for him, if you give them to her."

"She volunteers for this?"

"I only hire masochists," said Alex, his attention on his patient.

The kid was coming down from the first Shadow rapture, that was clear. His eyes focused on them periodically, aware for a little longer each time. Each time he looked bemused. Kes took a seat at the back of the room and watched, a silent presence. Alex started talking, keeping his tone calm and relatively uninflected, talking the boy down to the centar or two where his body would be briefly satisfied in its craving for Shadow, before the hunger started up again.

"Well," said Alex after a few centons. "Back with us?"

The boy's eyes were an unusual green, Alex noted. They focused on him and Marcus, briefly, before resuming their examination of the room. The gaze swept over Kes with seeming indifference, but brightened noticeably at the sight of the food on the tray.

"Hungry?" asked Alex, watchful. "It's for you, if you want it."

They each got one sharp, measuring glance, as if he was testing them, but he made no move to go for the food, distrustful. On a gesture from Alex, Marcus pushed the tray a little closer and stepped well back, trying not to threaten by getting too close. The boy hesitated only for a micron.

"That's not eating," said Marcus. "It's ravening."

"He's hungry, that's all," said Alex. He walked over to the desk in the corner, where Kes was perching. "Is there a datapad there?"

Kes handed it over silently, his attention on the boy.

"If he can write, we'll see what information we can get out of him."

"And I wonder why the custody sergeant didn't bother with that," said Kes, in some disgust.

"Too busy, I expect. Were the cells full that night?"

"They're full every night."

"Well, then."

Kes sighed. "Yeah."

Alex returned to the treatment couch. The boy had slowed down a little. He was at least taking the time now to chew his food, not just bolt it down so fast it couldn't have touched his gullet on the way. Alex watched him for a micron or two. It was just possible he wouldn't throw it back up again. Alex handed him the glass of milk.

"Get this down you. It'll do you good." He watched the boy gulp it down. "You're in the Fenice clinic. I'm Alex, and I run this place. This is Marcus, my assistant here, and Sergeant Kes you know. " Alex held out the datapad and stylus. "Can you write?"

The boy nodded, slowly. He took the datapad with his free hand. He noticed the dressings for the first time, putting down the empty glass to prod at them curiously.

"Good. Don't pull the dressings off. They're keeping your arms clean where I had to do some work on them. They'll hurt a bit when the local anaesthetic I used wears off. Tell me when they start, and I'll give you something for it. What's your name?"

The green eyes met his for a long centon, that sharp measuring gaze again, thoughtful. Alex swallowed down a sigh. Whatever they were about to be told would not be the truth. The boy grinned and wrote something, his long fingers curving around the stylus with a slight clumsiness.

Alex read the datapad and handed it back. There were one helluva lot more questions to ask. "Fee."

The boy nodded.

"All right, Fee. Welcome to the Fenice."

Unexpectedly, Fee smiled. As brittle as spun sugar, the smile lit up the thin face, making it beautiful and catching, again unexpectedly, at Alex's heart.

 

 

And so Fee came into Alex's life. While he treated the lesions, got food into him, found a way of communicating, Alex had no idea how much of his life was to be given up to Fee. Alex would have done as much for any street kid - had done as much for so many that he'd lost count, yahrens ago - and at the time, a street kid was all that Fee was: skinny, dirty, half starving, sexually promiscuous and no more, really, than something to put the Shadow into six times a day.

Communications were painfully slow. Marcus may have been delighted by the mental quirks he was seeing - "An elective mute! My first!" – but it made getting Fee's story out of him a painful business. For a start, he only answered the questions he wanted to answer. Phoebus, he wrote when asked what his full name was, but they got no response to what his real name might be, where he lived, who his family was. A runaway, Alex surmised, but since Fee claimed to be sixteen – one of the few questions to which they got an unequivocal answer and therefore an answer Alex didn't trust one iota – Alex couldn't get Child Welfare to take any interest. Kes didn't have much luck either, with Missing Persons. There had been a couple of possibilities, one boy missing from Osaiya and the other north of the city. But when Kes looked up the files, it appeared that one kid's body had been pulled from the river sectars earlier, poor child, and the other had returned home. The cases were closed. Alex gave it up as a bad job. Fee was Fee, to be helped on his own terms.

Still, now he'd been introduced to the Fenice, Fee made it a regular haunt. He'd turn up most days, shy and silent, ghosting around the place, following Alex around, never intrusive but there. Like many another of Fenice's regulars, he got at least one good meal a day there, staving off actual malnourishment; he accepted medical treatment for the cuts and bruises and occasional infections that were a fact of life for someone who rented out the use of his body for the price of a Shadow fix; he let Alex and Marcus, when the latter was there, go over the little Shadow kit that was his sole possession since he couldn't, in all honesty, call his body his own; and, when the weather around Yule was so bitter that every window was white with rime frost for days, he accepted the Shadow substitute when Alex was able to persuade him not to go out looking for trade to pay for the real thing.

Of course Fee would go for centars on end, most nights, to earn enough for the next day's Shadow. No-one liked what he did, but not only was he was one among hundreds, it was part of Fenice's credo that no criticism was offered or judgements made. Alex and the staff at the Fenice dealt with the consequences, slowly building up trust enough to hope they could start to influence their clients. They were there for support, not morality.

So, irrespective of Fee's absences to work the streets, Alex got used to seeing him daily. On Alex's usual morning walk to the Fenice from the little house ten centons away in the street near the canal, Fee would often appear out of a doorway or an alley and fall in beside him, a silent shadow. Fee didn't demand much, not even recognition, always seeming pleased when Alex talked to him and let Fee walk with him. Alex wasn't sure what Fee was seeing in him, what substitution he was making. He allowed it, anyway. He found himself looking out for the boy. He'd greet Fee with his usual calm smile, talk to him on the short walk—"Marc's coming in to volunteer this secton-end, Fee. He'll be at Fenice today. I think we've hooked him." A grin in response. "I don't know what you're grinning for. You know Marcus's views on personal hygiene. He'll have you under that shower before mid-day and you know it."—and in the quiet times between clients, when he was working on his records, Fee would be around, sometimes sitting solemn and quiet in a corner of his office, sometimes wandering away for a centar up to the Shooting Gallery to take his fix. Solemn, because that smile was a great deal rarer than Alex liked, although he looked for it.

So when one day in late Spring Fee disappeared, he was sorely missed.

 

 

"I could come over," said Marcus.

"You have exams soon. You should be studying," said Alex. He looked briefly at the computer on his desk and the hundreds of records that it held. "It's not unusual behaviour."

"It's unusual for Fee," argued Marcus. "Five days, Alex!"

"Typical Shadow," said Alex, tired. "It makes people a mite undependable, you know. He's probably just forgotten all about us. He'll be back when he remembers, or when he gets hungry."

Marcus's face on the tiny vid-phone screen was only about half life-size, but none of the anxiety was lost from its expression; nor the chagrin, because he knew that Alex was right. In the last half-yahren, Marcus had come to an expert knowledge of Shadow and its destructive ways. "What does Kes say?"

Alex shrugged. "He's still looking. Go back to your work, Marc. I'll call you when Fee comes back."

"Well, it's not like I can concentrate!" said Marcus, waspish. "I'll come over."

He cut the connexion before Alex could protest. Not that Alex would have made much of a protest, really. He was fond of Marcus and the younger man was beginning to share some of Alex's own dedication to the people he served. Marcus understood.

Marcus arrived mid afternoon. Alex was dealing with one of his most faithful local patients, a gentle psychotic, no danger to anyone but himself, come in for his daily chat. Marcus faded in quietly as Kieran talked, a non-stop babble about nothing, and while Alex helped Kieran back into the fourth overcoat he was wearing, he reviewed the notes. They watched Kieran waddle out.

"He's almost spherical," said Marcus, awed.

"Under that is a ten-stone weakling." Alex managed a tight smile. "It's not so busy today, Marc."

"I'm here, anyway. I'll take the next one, if you like. Why don't you take a break?"

Alex hesitated. "Well, I'll go up to the Shooting Gallery. Dan's in, and I haven't seen him for a few days. I need to see how he's doing."

Dan was doing well, holding down a job, seeing a girl at work and even talking about getting Sealed. He and Alex spent a half centar reviewing progress, with Dan actually asking for his dosage of the Shadow substitute to be managed down. He wanted to be clean if she ever said yes. Dans were rare, and Alex found his spirits lifting. He sat and watched the others there in quiet satisfaction after Dan had gone, so lost in thought that it took him a centon to realise that Marcus was yelling for him.

The Shooting Gallery was on the top floor of the big building. Alex went down the stairs with all the speed of a man forty yahrens his junior, taking them several steps at a time.

Kes was in the lobby with Fee in his arms, Marcus already sliding gentle fingers in past the blood to get at the pulse in the boy's throat.

"He's still with us. Alex -"

"I'm here." Alex winced internally at the almost unrecognisable scarecrow in Kes's arms. "Get him upstairs, fast."

In the treatment room, he was on automatic. Hands and brain had done this so many, many times that he didn't really have to think. He and Marcus had the boy stripped in microns, starting the triage, murmuring to each other to tally what they'd found. Kes stood over by the desk, quiet and watchful.

"He's out cold. More than Shadow?"

"Probably," said Alex. "Bliss as well, maybe." He leaned down, sniffing. "And liquor. Cheap ambrosa by the smell."

"BP's okay," said Marcus, relieved. "No internal bleeding."

"Someone tried to cut his face." Alex turned Fee's head gingerly. All the blood came from a long gash that followed precisely the angle of the jaw. He frowned. That was no opportunistic slash, done in a fight. Someone had held Fee's chin and deliberately drawn a knife blade down the line of the jaw. It wasn't dangerous.

"And his ribs," said Marcus. The queer note in Marcus's voice caught Alex's attention. "Both sides, two identical cuts... Alex, they were trying to flay him, or something."

Alex peered over Marcus's shoulder, kept his tone calm and even to keep Marcus calm and even. "Shallow, but we'll need to suture them. Nothing's broken. Help me roll him onto his side."

Marcus had to turn away for a couple of microns, but Alex thought nothing of that. Marc was very young, really, and there was a lot of human wickedness that he'd yet to fathom.

"He's been raped," said Marcus, when he could.

Hands busy, brain assessing, heart on hold, Alex nodded. "Repeatedly. Possibly more than one man. We'll know if we can get some samples." He took a cold hand in his, looking at the marks of ligatures on the wrist. "He was tied down. Where did you find him, Kes?"

He knew that Kes had put pressure on people. The club managers didn't allow the street boys into their clubs, too wary of losing their licences, but they usually knew their clientele well: who was straight, who liked boys, who was violent and dangerous and had to be placated or avoided. Kes had threatened. And since he was at least as tough as any of the club owners, the managers had agreed to put word out that Fee wasn't to be harmed.

"I got a message a centar ago that he was down by the docks. They'd dumped him there and run for it." Kes moved forward slightly. "Can you handle it here, or should we get him to the City hospital?"

The hospital that served the Eastside was adequate, but not that much better equipped than the Fenice. Alex thought it over while he made the last assessments, wondering if he was right about what Fee had been drugged with over and above his Shadow. Whatever it was, Fee was deeply unconscious. There'd be no need for further anaesthetic. But his breathing was regular and even, no signs of respiratory distress.

"It's messy, but I don't think he's in any danger. We can handle it here." He stepped back and smiled slightly at Marcus. "I'm glad you're here, Marc. Scrub up. We've got work to do."

Kes stayed with them, apart from one quick trip to the street where Loren was waiting in the squad car. "She'll cover for me. She's called me in sick, told them she's taken me home. She'll go into the office and take care of some of the paperwork."

"Good," said Alex, drawing the fine stitches through the cut on Fee's jaw while Marcus held the boy's head still. It would scar, but maybe his old skills weren't going entirely to waste. It wouldn't scar badly, not if he could help it.

Kes grunted and subsided into place again, watching from the sidelines. It was a centar before they'd finished, and Fee, rolled into blankets, was left to sleep off the narcotics.

Only then could Alex sit and tremble, letting the need for mind to be clear and hands to work subside and letting his heart take over. He hadn't cried for a long time, but as Fee slept, Alex's eyes blurred more than once as he wrote his meticulous records.

 

 

The roar from Kes almost stopped Alex's heart.

They'd kept Fee in one of the treatment rooms for the night, not wanting to disturb him and Fenice was quiet enough not to have to move him to make way for more damaged people. Fee had woken twice in the night, each time more alert. By morning, he was painfully aware, sitting huddled in his blankets, trembling. He couldn't remember, he wrote, holding the datapad in hands that were blue with bruising, he couldn't remember what happened.

But he couldn't stop trembling. Whenever anyone came too close to him, he flinched away. The only sound he made was a whine, something so distressed and distressing that even tough Kes couldn't bear to hear it. The only relief they got was when Fee shot up and disappeared into the Shadow for a half-centar or more, dead to the world around him.

Only Kes was with him all the time. Alex and Marcus were taking the usual morning clinic in the other treatment room, coming in between patients to check on Fee. They were neither of them there when Kes yelled.

"Alex! Get in here!"

Alex didn't stop to think or argue. Once glance at Marcus to hand over the patient they were seeing and he was in the hallway. Neither Kes nor Fee was in the treatment room.

Another roar. "Bathroom!"

Heart hammering, Alex reached the bathroom in three steps, coming to a halt beside Kes. Fee was on the floor, lying on his side, convulsing slightly. Every breath was laboured, catching in his throat.

Too soon. It was too soon. Fee had taken a hit only the centar before. It was at least three centars until the boy needed to do it again.

He knelt down beside Fee and turned him with Kes's help, supporting him in his arms. The tourniquet was tight around Fee's upper right arm, the hypodermic still in the swollen vein in the inside of his elbow. It was empty, and a thin thread of blood was meandering down Fee's scrawny forearm from the injection site. The boy's breathing was rapid and shallow and even when Alex lifted him up slightly he didn't appear to know who was there, eyes dilated and glazed.

"Fuck," said Alex, provoked into rare obscenity.

The little fool. The bloody little fool.

Fee jerked convulsively in Alex's arms, choked, and stopped breathing. Grim, Alex shook him hard. There was no response.

"Fuck!" he said again.

"Alex?"

"He's not breathing." He dropped Fee, leapt to his feet and reached the door. "Marc! Adrenalin! Bathroom!"

He was back beside Fee within a micron. Kes had already rolled the boy over onto his back, tilting his head back, clearing the throat. Alex allowed the first five quick breaths to force oxygen into Fee, impatient, his fingers on the pulse in Fee's throat. Nothing.

He knelt to one side, leaning his linked hands onto the ribcage to the left of the base of Fee's sternum, pushing down hard with all his weight in short sharp punches to get the heart shocked into working again. He'd be better straddling the boy, but there wasn't time, there wasn't time... Kes worked as if he'd done this all his life, his hand over Fee's wrist as they worked together, desperately trying to get Fee's heart restarted, Alex counting aloud to keep them in rhythm.

Marcus skidded into the bathroom, a medical kit in his hands.

"Shit! 20 mg?"

"Yes. Hurry." Alex didn't let up, still pushing hard and rhythmically on Fee's narrow chest. There was blood on his hands where the cuts on Fee's ribs had opened up, seeping through the dressings and the thin tee Fee was wearing. Five sharp punches against the heart, counting them. Stop. Kes blows in two bursts of oxygen. No pulse. Five sharp punches against the heart, counting them. Stop. Kes blows in two bursts of oxygen...

"Ready," said Marcus. "I'll take over." He was on Fee's other side. He slapped the slim little hypo into Alex's hand as soon as Alex's hands lifted and started, ramming the heels of his palms into Fee's chest without breaking rhythm. "Three. Four. Five."

Alex did it the instant Marcus took his hands away. He didn't wait to pull up the thin tee. He felt for where he needed to be with his left hand, opening his fingers for a guide. One swift, smooth jab between them with the needle and he was through the intercostal muscles between the ribs, getting the adrenaline straight into the heart.

Fee screamed.

His wide green eyes flashed open and he stiffened convulsively, his back arching until his body was balanced on his heels and the crown of his head. Kes and Marcus both fell back, both steadying the boy as well as they could. He drew two or three very rapid breaths, the air whooping through his lungs.

"We've got a pulse!" said Marcus.

Fee collapsed, gasping, convulsing as the adrenalin coursed through him. Alex dropped the hypo and reached for the pulse in Fee's neck. It beat weakly into life under his fingers. He sighed, relief making him weak.

He nodded at Kes's silent question. "A bit weak and unsteady, but it's there."

Fee drew another thin, ragged breath, and then another, the convulsions slackening a mere trembling in his arms and legs. He began to cough weakly, but his breathing steadied and grew stronger. Cautiously, ready to leap back if they needed to, they drew back and gave Alex more room.

"That's impressive stuff," said Kes, at last. Alex could see he was trembling as badly as Fee was. He shuffled around until he was kneeling and could lift Fee's head off the cold tiles, supporting it in his hands against his knees.

"Every addict's friend," said Marcus, and laughed weakly, rubbing his hands over his face. He pushed himself onto his feet. "I'll go get a blanket."

Several of their clients and volunteers were crowding the hallway outside the bathroom. Alex only half listened to Marcus's explanations—"Yes, he OD'd. No, he'll be fine. Fee. It's Fee. One of you... Lys, you do it, please... go and get me a blanket from the treatment room, will you, and ask the kitchen to send us up some coffee? Alex will need it. Thanks. There's nothing to see, kids. You'll all seen an OD before."—before giving all his attention to getting Fee stabilised, filtering out the sound of Marcus's voice.

"He insisted on going to the bathroom on his own," said Kes. "I shouldn't have let him."

"It's not your fault," said Alex. He loosened the tourniquet and gently pulled the hypodermic from Fee's arm, keeping his finger on the vein and bending up the forearm to stem the bleeding. "There should be some dressings in that kit. Thanks."

Fee's eyes met his as he worked, glassy with the drugs, the pupils swallowing the irises up again until all Alex could see was the merest rim of green around the endless black depths. People used their eyes for more than seeing. They were a two way window, letting others see in as well as out. Fee's were tired and dazed and the Fee who lived behind them wasn't visible.

"It's all right," said Alex, smoothing back Fee's sweat-damp hair. "It's all right. We got you in time. You'll be fine."

The tired eyes closed for an instant. When they opened again, they showed more awareness, more of the real Fee looking out of them. The adrenaline was winning out over the Shadow. The boy's breathing evened out and steadied.

"You'll be fine," said Alex.

"Will he?" asked Kes, quietly. "He did this deliberately."

"I know."

"The stuff's killing him. We've got to get him off this crap, Alex."

Alex nodded. If they could persuade Fee to try, then yes. He hated losing a patient. He didn't want to lose this one. He resumed his stroking, keeping his voice soft, crooning. "It's all right, Fee. We've got you safe. It's all right. You'll be just fine."

Fee's eyes flickered with life. For a micron he stared up at Alex. Then Alex heard his voice for the first time. A wail of protest and despair that Alex had done what he had to do to bring Fee back to life.

"No! Nooooo!"

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