Section Three : From The Ashes

 

3.1 Returning from the Dead

It had been a longer day than usual, the bitterly cold weather playing havoc with some of his older patients. He'd seen more than his usual number of people, too, most of them suffering from colds and other seasonal ailments, very little of it serious but all meriting the same meticulous attention he gave to any patient.

A longer day and more patients, and still one difficult home visit to make. Jerry knew Ruth was as aware of that as he was. Consequently, he was mildly surprised when his secretary returned to his consulting room after ushering out the last satisfied customer.

"I thought the Siress was the last appointment today?"

"She was. There's a boy here, wanting to see you." At his raised eyebrow, Ruth said quickly, defensively, "I tried to get him to see one of the others, but he insisted that he wanted to see you."

"A problem?"

"Well, he's very well spoken and polite, but he's not quite – I mean, I don't think he can possibly afford the one of the others, much less you. He looks... poor."

"It's not a crime, you know, even around here. What's his name?"

"Fee, he says, spelled F-E-E. He said it's short for Phoebus."

"Phoebus?" said Jerry, considering. "I don't think I know anyone called Phoebus."

"There's no-one of that name in our records and he's not from around here, I'm sure. Shall I get rid of him?"

Jerry almost nodded, then said, "What else did he say? Did he give you an address or anything, or any idea of the problem?"

"No, just some nonsense about you knowing who he was."

"Phoebus," said Jerry, thoughtfully.

"It's an old fashioned name," said Ruth. "Unusual."

"Very. Mythological. He was a sun god or something."

As he said it, he realised : Phoebus Apollo, the Brilliant Sun.

Jerry looked away quickly, frowning, staring out of the window to the leafless trees in the winter-laden square outside. The streetlights were coming on, driving back the gathering dusk and making the snow swirl an unnatural orange in the light. He watched as his last appointment walked across the square, noting as she moved from one pool of light to the next that she was walking much more easily after the last change of medication he'd prescribed. He wondered how the part of his mind that was the doctor was able to do that, to concentrate on the professional things it needed to. The rest of his mind was slipping and sliding like a skater on ice, trying to get some purchase.

Apollo. It was Apollo.

He couldn't work out if he was relieved or so furiously angry that he could barely think, remembering the distraught woman he'd been treating for the last few days. At least Ila's distress had forewarned him. He hadn't known whether to believe her half-hysterical insistence that she'd seen her eldest son, but Adama's grey, strained face had convinced him. Apollo was alive. Somewhere, despite all the odds and after God alone knew what experiences, the boy was alive.

"I'll see him," he said. "Give me a couple of centons and show him in."

"We don't know what he wants. Should I get one or two people to stay close, just in case?"

He smiled at that. "I don't think that will be needed. Thank you, Ruth."

He used the short respite to pull up the old records, even though he didn't need to. The mental picture he carried was undimmed and he was sure that he'd know, one way or the other, the instant he saw the boy. He didn't have time to read the records, but then he didn't have to. This was one that had cost him a great deal of sleep over the yahrens. He looked up expectantly when the door opened and Ruth, patently disapproving, ushered in the revenant.

Yes, he knew without needing the old records for reference. A boy no longer, although it took a deliberate mental wrench to adjust between the child of memory and the man. This young man was tall and he'd filled out. Lords, but he had grown tall! When Jerry got slowly to his feet, the wide, bright green eyes were on a level with his. For the life of him, Jerry couldn't guess what emotion provoked the glitter.

"Hullo, Uncle Jerry."

"They were right then." Jerry still didn't quite believe it. This was a chimera, a shadow of a shade, something that would dissolve away at a touch.

"I thought they'd tell you."

Jerry fought down the impulse to leap around the desk and shake some sense into him; to hug him breathless; to scream at him for the yahrens of agony he'd caused; to cry and hold and thank the Lords that he was alive and well, that he wasn't more than six yahrens dead. But the eyes fixed on his were wary. A man, but a very young one, and one who was scared.

Jerry was suddenly scared too. If he touched Apollo, if he did any of those big, expansive, emotional things that sprang from love and anger and a relief so profound that he could feel the pain of it in his chest and gut, the chimera would vanish back into the past he'd come from. If a low key approach kept Apollo from spooking, then calm and quiet and the lowest of low keys would be what Jerry would do.

So he kept his voice even, conversational, making sure it didn't wobble too much and resumed his seat, waving Apollo into a chair opposite. "I've visited every day since they saw you, working to get your mother back on an even keel. It set her back quite a bit, the shock of seeing you. She's a bit fragile, really. She never really got over things."

The young man, the stranger who looked like the boy he'd known, frowned. "Has she been ill or something?"

"Your mother had a severe breakdown, Apollo, when you ran away from home. She lost it for a considerable time and she's been delicate since." He waved Apollo – Fee? - into the patient's chair, and resumed his own. "You can understand that. They didn't know if you were alive or dead, and she and your father were devastated when you vanished. The strain and the constant uncertainty was too much for her then – and now."

His visitor nodded, but his expression was wary, closed. It didn't betray what he might be thinking and feeling. "A family trait then, needing to be strapped down for the happy medication."

Jerry felt the flare of angry relief again. "Your unkindness last secton didn't help," he said, sharply. "Why did you just walk out on them like that?"

"I didn't walk. I ran. Running away's an old habit and I always had trouble kicking my habits." There was some wry amusement there that Jerry couldn't quite gauge. "They weren't the only ones in shock, you know. I never expected to see them again and I hadn't exactly planned out the reunion speech. I didn't know what else to do."

Jerry looked down at the computer monitor on his desk, seeing the bright fourteen-yahren old face in the records and trying to reconcile it with the wary young man sitting across from him. Oh, he could see how the child-soft features had matured and hardened into the good-looking face before him, but there was nothing of the child's openness and warmth visible now. Lost and gone forever, or just hidden away, who could tell?

"Where have you been, Apollo?" he asked.

"I'm not Apollo. Nobody calls me that."

"And you don't answer if they do?" At the indifferent shrug he got for an answer, Jerry nodded. "All right. You're not Apollo anymore."

"Fee."

"I see. So where have you been, Fee?" He put the right amount of sceptical emphasis on the name.

It hit home. Fee flushed slightly. "Around."

Jerry wasn't in the mood for games. "Why have you come here?"

Fee pushed the chair back and sat frowning at him. He ran a hand through his hair, catching at one over-long lock and chewing on it briefly while he considered. Jerry's throat tightened. That was the child's nervous tic, manifest in the man. He'd forgotten it until now, that little habit Apollo had had when faced with something daunting or difficult or just plain interesting.

"You were always kind to me, when I was a kid," said Fee. "Even after Pieter, when no-one else was. I thought that – " he stopped, chewed some more, then said, more slowly, more consideringly, "I've a doctor of my own. You know him, actually. Alex has been trying for yahrens to make me get in touch with them. He says I have issues I need to sort out." A swift, very attractive grin invited Jerry to share that little joke, that masterly understatement. "He persuaded me to come. I don't want to see them, but I thought I might talk to you."

The clock in the tower in the centre of the square chimed four. Jerry sighed, scrubbed at his face with the heels of his hand and opened the desk drawer to retrieve the bottle of ambrosa. "It's early, but you're a bit of a shock, Apollo – sorry, Fee - and I don't mind admitting I need a drink. Do you want one?"

"No thanks. I'm not too keen on ambrosa. I used to drink a lot. If you mix it with the Shadow you can get one helluva kick, as good as taking a fix and a couple of Bliss tabs, and cheaper. Then you don't care how many men it'll be before morning."

"What?" Jerry stared, then put the bottle down carefully, unopened. "Oh shit."

"The habits I mentioned earlier," said Fee.

Jerry made the connexion. "Alex, you said. Doctor Alexander at the Fenice Clinic, by any chance?"

Fee nodded. "That's Alex. He's my new family. The old one didn't want me."

"Nonsense! If they didn't, you tell me why I've spent the last six yahrens carefully monitoring your mother's mental health!"

Fee's expression was, very briefly, troubled. "I didn't know that," he said. "I didn't know. I thought..." He scowled at Jerry. "I heard you, you and him, talking about it. He was going to send me away again."

"They couldn't cope," agreed Jerry, a little less sharply. The child had been dreadfully ill, after all - depressed, grieving and suicidal. They'd taken Apollo home from the hospital, but he was too ill for them to manage, not with Ila's nervous breakdown mirroring Apollo's.

"He didn't want me there. I hadn't been punished."

"You weren't being punished," said Jerry, patiently. "You weren't being sent away as punishment."

"Why else did he send me to military school? I didn't want to go back there or to the hospital."

"It wasn't going to be Pasquel or even the hospital. I'd got you a place at a clinic, run by a friend of mine. She specialises in paediatric psychiatry."

"You mean that she looks after mad kids. I was mad, then. I thought so."

"You were depressed and ill," said Jerry, carefully. "You weren't mad."

"I wanted to die," said Fee, green eyes distant. "I wanted Pieter."

"Yes," said Jerry, and sighed. "He did you a lot of damage."

Fee shook his head, silenced suddenly. His eyes were very bright. Even after all these yahrens, he could cry for Pieter, then. Jerry gave him a few microns of silence to regain control, watching him carefully. The reference to Pieter had obviously upset him, or was it the past, whole and entire and crowding in on him that had done that? But he quite evidently wasn't psychotic. Jerry's last memory of Apollo was of a child who'd taken refuge in total silence, so drugged on anti-depressants that he was like a zombie. Whatever else had happened, Apollo – Fee – had found some sort of balance since then.

"It doesn't make much sense," said Jerry. "If you didn't want to be sent away from home, why did you run away?"

"We've just agreed I wasn't exactly rational," said Fee. "Nothing made much sense."

There was no arguing with that. "Does it now?"

Fee shrugged. "Mostly. Thanks to Alex."

"Then I've a lot to thank him for. I'm glad he persuaded you to come." It was the truth. Jerry was suddenly infinitely glad.

Fee sat up straighter, and the brief regression into grief seemed to be over. "Poor Alex. He spent a couple of yahrens, you know, persuading me to speak again and all he has now is me talking at him for six solid days. He must be regretting the day he succeeded."

"I don't know him well, but he strikes me as a patient man. He'd have to be, to run the Fenice. And at least you are talking. When did you start again?"

"Like I said, it took a couple of yahrens. Every time I tried - " Fee stopped and shrugged. "I just couldn't, not even when Alex put me back together again, after Pieter and the Shadow." The earnest eyes slid away, refusing to meet Jerry's. Fee turned his head to stare out of the window, and Jerry noticed the long thin scar running along the line of the set jaw, almost, but not quite, invisible. "There's been other things to be silent about," said Fee, very quietly. "I was nothing worth talking about."

Jerry got up and came to him, taking Fee's chin into his hand, tilting his head towards the light. "A knife?" he asked.

Fee nodded. "I guess. I don't remember it."

How could anyone not remember being slashed with a knife? Jerry ran a finger down the scar, testing it, feeling Fee tense like a nervous horse. It had healed beautifully and would fade almost entirely with time.

"Did Alex fix this?"

Fee nodded.

"Beautiful work. He's one of the best surgeons I ever knew."

Fee's eyes widened slightly. "Alex?"

Jerry traced the scar lightly. "Oh yes, before he founded the Fenice."

Fee said nothing, his mouth twisting slightly.

"Is this scar one of the things you had to be silent about?" Jerry let his hand stroke Fee's hair, very briefly, reassuringly, and went back to his seat. "Do you want me to be silent?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"I mean, do you want me to treat this as a private and confidential consultation, doctor and patient?"

That earned him the first smile he'd seen on the sombre face. It was brilliant, lighting Fee up, making him beautiful. "Am I still your patient?"

Jerry smiled back. "Of course. Did you think I'd just erase the record?"

Fee's smile disappeared as if a switch had been thrown. "They did," he said. "They just wiped me out. I wasn't sure if everyone did."

Jerry frowned. "What? I don't understand."

"Erased me. Airbrushed me out of the family."

"I still don't understand. They've mourned for you for six very long yahrens, Apollo."

Fee moved, twisting sideways, hunching a shoulder against Jerry. It put a distance there again, a difference, as if each tentative step towards some sort of rapport was kicked from under them. "It doesn't matter," said Fee, distantly. "It was a long time ago."

"It does matter. Of course it matters. What did you mean?"

"That they didn't want me back." Fee shot him a look from under lowered black lashes, a flash of brilliant green. "When I was well again, when Alex sorted me out, they didn't want me back."

"That isn't true. I know it isn't. I was with them most of the time, Apollo. Where did you get such a crazy notion!"

"We come at things from a different viewpoint," said Fee. "I mean, about what constitutes craziness."

Jerry waved that diversion away. "How can you believe they'd have turned you away? You never came back. You never contacted them."

"I didn't need to. There are other sources of information, you know."

"And how reliable are they?"

Fee only shrugged. "There were several, some were public, and they weren't inconsistent."

"Then it seems odd to me that you're here at all," snapped Jerry, losing patience with this guessing game. "If all you expect is that they'll turn you away."

"Odd to me, too," said Fee. "But Alex is very persistent when he thinks he's doing something for my good." He looked uncertain, suddenly. "And I guess I was – I don't know – curious, maybe."

"Curious!"

"I haven't seen them for a long time. Seeing ghosts makes you wonder about things, that's all."

"Curious!" Jerry blew out a loud sigh, impatient. "Suppose you tell me what you're curious about. I haven't got all day. I've got to go and see your mother."

"Of course," said Fee, politely, distant again. Then he hesitated, the brief bravado, if that was what Jerry was seeing, fading away. "I guess that what I want is to know what they think. What they – what they want. I thought you might know."

Jerry nodded and eyed the bottle of ambrosa wistfully. The strain was getting to him. "All right, although I'm damned if I really understand why I need to explain it to you. For the last six days your mother's been really rather too ill to do very much but cry and beg everyone around her to find you. You know your father. He's not one to sit and wait. In between caring for your mother, he must have dragged in every private enquiry agent in the country. He's had one of the last holographs they had of you aged in a special process so that it gives everyone an impression of what you look like now, and he's harried the people doing that until he's satisfied it's as like the glimpse he got of you as he can get it." Jerry gave Fee a considering look. "Actually, they've done a pretty good job with it. If it wasn't that he can't leave Ila, he'd be searching the city for you himself; on foot, if need be. He's doing everything he can to find you. It's driving him as nothing else could. Is that the answer you're looking for?"

Fee frowned. "Dad's doing that? I mean, I know Mama would be upset, but I wasn't so sure – " He looked so uncertain again that Jerry felt sorry for him, anger draining away. "He was so angry with me," said Fee, forlornly.

Jerry said, very carefully, "I think that your dad would be the first one to admit he made some terrible mistakes with you. Finding out about Pieter shocked him to the core, you know. And if he was angry with you it was because he didn't understand your behaviour, or that you really loved Pieter, and he couldn't even start to understand how a man could groom and manipulate a child so you felt what you did – no, let me finish this, Apollo, because it's important. He misunderstood a lot and misinterpreted a lot, but he was at a loss in how to deal with you. You were really out of control, you know, and he genuinely thought that sending you to military school was the only option."

"He killed Pieter," muttered Fee.

"Your father did nothing of the sort," said Jerry, sharply. "Pieter killed himself because he was caught out and he was too frightened to face up to the consequences of seducing a fourteen-yahren old child. I'm sorry that you found him, sorrier than you can know, but your behaviour afterwards – well, I didn't know what to make of it any more than your father did. You never shed a tear. If I didn't know what had happened I wouldn't have thought you had any feeling for Pieter at all. Don't you blame your father for making the same mistake! You didn't tell him anything."

"He was never bloody well there to tell!"

"And that's a different issue. It doesn't mean he didn't care. It means his job kept him away from home more than he would like. Grow up, Apollo! You can't be so childish as to equate that with neglect and indifference."

"I'm all grown," said Fee, as sharp as Jerry had been. "And if what I remember is different than what you do, then maybe it's those bloody pills you doctors shoved down me that warped everything."

Jerry winced. Fee - because he was right and this wasn't Apollo – Fee had gone straight for the jugular. Jerry knew he should have protested louder, that he shouldn't have let that fool of a psychiatrist talk him out of his doubts over the medication Apollo had been prescribed. Guilt swung him the other way, too. He'd failed to protect the boy properly from misguided psychiatrists and uncertain, grieved parents: he owed the man. He watched Fee for a micron, seeing the effort the younger man was making to calm himself, aware that Fee's flash of temper came from the strain. What ghosts had Fee faced down to get this far?

Jerry said, more gently, "I've known your father for yahrens. You were only a baby when they moved here, and we've been friends since then. Apart from when Athena and Zac were born, I've seen him cry three times, did you know that?"

Fee blinked, surprised, and shook his head.

"There was the first time you tried it, when you took all those pills at school. You were still unconscious when he got home, and he realised then just how much he'd missed and misunderstood and misinterpreted, what a mistake military school had been, and he realised that you thought that being sent to school was a punishment, that you'd been banished, cut out of the family, that you didn't belong any more. He cried when he got to the hospital and saw you."

"Did he."

"Yes. He did." Fee's eyes slid away from contact with his, and Jerry, fighting his own irritation, ploughed on. "And then there was the time after you'd vanished – oh, a good six sectons after you'd vanished. He was still at home, of course, on special leave while he hunted for you. The police had pulled a body out of the river. They didn't think it was you but they had to be sure, and he had to wait a day for the results of the DNA matching. He couldn't wait. He had to see for himself. I went with him to the morgue, because no-one should have to go alone to the morgue to look for his son."

"Uncle Jerry – "

"He knew when he saw it, that the body wasn't yours. Six or seven sectons in the river does a lot of things to make a body unrecognisable, and he couldn't tell from the face or the hair because no-one, not even God, could tell anything at all from the face of the poor rotting thing in that morgue drawer. But he did know it couldn't be you because not even six sectons in the river could have made you five inches taller." Jerry looked him up and down. "Six yahrens have done that, of course. He threw up and then he cried with relief that it wasn't you."

Fee shrugged, looking a little dazed.

"The police really ballsed up on that one. It wasn't enough to drag Adama out to the morgue to see that poor child, but some idiot clerk made it a positive ID and closed the case. We didn't find out for a yahren."

"That must have slowed down the search," said Fee, acidly.

Jerry ignored the scorn. "It didn't stop him looking, of course. He gave up command of the Atlantia to do that."

Fee looked away, his face scarlet.

Satisfied he'd scored the point, Jerry went on, "No-one ever identified the body, by the way, so your father had that poor boy buried. Very like him to do that."

Fee mumbled something that may have been assent.

"He went to the funeral. I think it helped a little bit, but although he buried that child, he didn't cry then. He did cry last secton, the day they saw you in town, because he'd long ago given up any hope at all, except one. His one hope has been that someone like him had given you a decent burial, like the one he'd arranged for the boy in the river. He thought that was the best he could hope for. Finding out that it wasn't, that there was much better than that poor best – well, I don't know how to tell you how he felt about that. If you can't guess, then no-one can tell you." Jerry leaned onto the desk, clasping his hands on it, looking down at them to avoid meeting Fee's eyes. "This isn't just about you and what you feel, you know. You didn't used to be so selfish."

Fee sat very quiet. Jerry opened the bottle of ambrosa and poured himself a small glass. He put the bottle away again, sipping the liquor and staring out of the window. It made a pleasant picture, the window black except for the shafts of snowy light. A few people were about, walking to and fro quickly, heads down against the snow, bulky shapes in their winter clothes. The snowfall was thickening. It was going to be a cold night.

"There's water in the cooler, if you want it," he said, eventually. "Or I can get Ruth to make you some caff or something."

Fee shook his head.

"What do you want me to tell them about this visit, then? Anything or nothing?"

"Would you say nothing, if I asked you?"

"You can trust me. You've always been able to trust me." Jerry took a deep breath. "I'd do as you ask me to, Apollo, but I don't think I'd forgive you for it. You don't know the devastation you caused. You were ill when you disappeared, no-one could hold you responsible for that. But you're not ill now."

"No," said Fee, slowly. "No. I'm not. They can't take that away." He sat quiet for a centon or more. "I agreed with Alex what to do," he said, coming to some sort of a decision. "I won't meet them, not until they've talked to Alex. He knows all about me, you see. I've asked him to show them the records he has at the Fenice, so they understand what happened. Will you go with them, if you can?"

Jerry resisted the temptation to throw back his head and howl in sheer relief. "To do what? Translate the records?"

"They don't know Alex. They don't know they can trust him."

"All right. What then?"

"They won't like it. They couldn't cope with Pieter. I don't think they'll cope with a smackhead rentboy who can't remember how many men have fucked him."

The bitterness made Jerry wince. He hoped the sickness he felt wasn't showing. He wasn't surprised. There was no way that Apollo's life when he ran away could have been anything but dreadful. No, he wasn't surprised, but even the little Apollo was saying was even more despairingly dreadful than Jerry had feared.

"We'll have to find out, don't you think?" said Jerry, as calmly as he could.

"And what do you think?"

"That they want their son back."

"We'll see," said Fee, expression shuttered again. "I don't think he's around to be taken back, or if he wants to be. Why should I be? They banished me once and they were going to do it again. And I expect they'll be a little less enthusiastic when you tell them what I've told you. I expect they'll wish it had been me in the river."

"I don't think you really believe that," said Jerry.

"You don't know," said Fee.

"Neither do you. If you really believe that, why are you here?"

Fee looked faintly surprised. "Damned if I know." The sudden brilliant smile caught at Jerry's heart, it was so brittle. "Those issues Alex always talks about, I guess. When they say they're not interested, then I can maybe make him forget about them and I can just get on with my life."

"Do you mean that you can maybe make yourself forget about them?"

The closed expression was back. Fee shrugged.

Jerry sighed. "No more than you can forget about yourself, I'd say. But, I think they will be interested. Very interested. What then?"

"Damned if I know," said Fee, again. "I don't know."

Jerry drained the glass and put it down. "As you say, we'll see. One step at a time – that's trite, but true. Take that jacket off and roll up your sleeves."

"What?"

"Just do it. If you want me to broker some sort of deal, I want to know what I'm offering them."

Fee's smile was faint. "I told you. Alex put me back together." But he did as he was told. He bared his arms and presented them for inspection, holding out his hands.

Jerry took them in his, turning them to study Fee's inner arms. He had to look hard to see where the long gashes had been, the ones that had almost ended Apollo's life on the floor of that fool of a psychiatrist's office, bleeding to death while his mother screamed.

"Do you remember this?" he asked, curiously, touching the scars. Apollo had been dazed and disorientated by the medication, and he wondered how much real memory there was.

"Those I remember," said Fee. "The window."

Jerry nodded. "That must have been one hell of a family therapy session, to make you put your hands through it."

Fee just shrugged.

Jerry pushed it aside, after a moment's remembrance, taking Fee's hands again. When he'd arrived at the hospital, summoned because Adama had lost faith in any other medic, Apollo was in surgery and Ila, still half hysterical, had her son's blood on her face and in her hair. Adama's clothes were sticky with it. The scars were thin and white now, almost invisible. Ap... Fee healed well.

Jerry concentrated on the Shadow signs. The traces of needle tracks, the scars from lesions and sores and infections were as faint as the old scars from Apollo's second attempt within a secton to end his own life. They were old and faded, like the scar on Fee's jaw.

"Shadow, you said, earlier?" Fee nodded, and when he tried to pull his hands away, Jerry tightened his grip and said, warmly, "Then you should be proud of being able to kick that, Apollo."

"Don't call me that."

"You should be very proud."

"I am," said Fee. "But Alex did it."

Jerry released Fee's hands. "I'll be going to see your mother as soon as I finish up here. How much do you want me to tell them?"

Fee shrugged. "What I told you."

"Not that that's much."

It wasn't a real laugh. "You think? Life in Osaiya's a lot less sheltered than I remember, then."

Jerry ignored the jibe. "All right. Then I'll call the Fenice to arrange to see Alex. They won't want to wait, I know that. And then what? Will you meet them?"

"If they still want to see me, then yes, I guess so. I suppose so." The doubt was back, the uncertainty. Fee slowly rolled down his sleeves and pulled the thin jacket back on. Jerry saw that it was really too thin against the cold and the snow. Whatever Apollo had made of a ruined life, there wasn't much pecuniary advantage to it.

"I'll see to it. I know Alex, a little. We'll arrange something."

Fee sighed audibly. "Thank you, Uncle Jerry." Unexpectedly, he flushed. "Can I still call you that?"

"I'd be very upset if you didn't," said Jerry, quietly.

Fee nodded, and got up. "Thanks. I'd better go."

Jerry watched him to the door. "Apollo!"

He paused, and Jerry got to him quickly. He pulled Fee into a fierce hug, holding the stiff body until it finally relaxed against him, hearing the soft sighing breath. He rested his forehead against Fee's thick black hair.

"I'm glad to see you," he said. "I can't tell you how glad I am to see you. You've been very much missed, Apollo. By everyone."

 

 

3.2 Face Value

It had been an abnormally quiet day at the Fenice.

No assault victims, no overdosing Shadow addicts, no alcohol poisoned children. Instead, most of the day's patients had been the older vagrants suffering from the baleful effects of the freezing Primus weather – the New Yahren had been bitterly cold and the weather showed no sign of changing - and most of them had been seen before lunch. It was most unusually quiet. It allowed Alex to spend a painful afternoon in a futile attempt to bury his anxiety in research, studying medical records he'd rather never have looked at again.

"When I signed on, you promised me excitement," said his deputy, spending his time reading the newslines instead of ministering to the non-existent sick.

"Mmmn?" Alex dragged his thoughts away from unprofitable worrying and focused on Marcus. "Excitement? Here?" he said mildly, looking around him for inspiration. "You had a stabbing this morning."

"I did not! You can't make it exciting by pretending what happened was a stabbing. An irate Leonid housewife nicking her husband slightly to scare him into not straying... "

"Cleone scares me."

"And me, but from the number of scars on her old man, I think Job's less intimidated."

"You had the two girls come in."

"Ladies of the night – very exciting, I don't think. One whose pimp had been a bit rough and the other with untreated syphilis. Oh, I suppose I might count Kieran popping in for his usual chat. He had on fourteen layers of clothing today, down to his wife's corsets."

Alex smiled slightly. "Let's see, you've only been here five or six yahrens. Amazing that he's let you that far down the layers this early in his relationship with you. He's taken quite a shine to you, Marc."

"I don't want him to take a shine to me! That's too exciting. Although I'll admit that one of the real joys of this job is the number of mental quirks we get around here. Kieran and his corsets, that weird old Aquarian lady who will only talk backwards – "

"And Fee, who didn't used to talk at all."

Marcus said, gently, "He'll be all right, Alex."

"Mmn." Alex pushed aside the monitor and made another effort to concentrate. Perhaps if he turned all his attention onto Marcus, he'd stop worrying. "What's on the news?"

"Football, Triad or athletics?" At Alex's hard stare, Marcus grinned and turned back to his own computer screen. "The President of the Council of Twelve is welcoming in the New Yahren by making a speech about the War."

"What about the war? Ending it would be good."

"He's a politician - does it matter what he says? It's the fifteenth anniversary of the Cylon attack on Umbra, though, so he may have something to say about that. I don't remember that one."

"There have been so many, I can't say that I remember it myself. What singles Umbra out for special mention?"

"It's a feature piece about the impact on the local community. A lot of them got killed – well, there's a surprise. The article bangs on about how they've rebuilt everything since. Who the hell writes these things? You can almost hear the violins and it's relentless about the indomitable human spirit. I think," added Marcus, "that the President probably needs a nice human interest story as a counterpoint to his speech."

"Cynic," observed Alex, but with approval. He always maintained that cynicism that was any doctor's best armour against daily heartbreak

"I wish I could say that I learned from the best, but you're far too soft hearted," said Marcus with an odd little bow that seemed to indicate that he wasn't making a criticism. "Okay, what else? The Sagittarian Senate is sending a delegation to the Council to complain about the state of their planetary defence system. It's got so many holes in it that it wouldn't defend them against a drunk shuttle pilot, much less the Cylon hordes. It needs several squillions of cubits to repair and they say they can't afford it. Looks like they expect the rest of the Colonies to pay for it for them."

"Every Sagittarian I ever met had a combination lock on his wallet."

"Now who's the cynic? But since we're on to money matters, stocks in the Piscean Trading and Scientific Corporation and Mutual Trading Company are up three and half points and their trading profits are going to be at record levels, all due to their persistence in exploring the bits of space no-one else wants."

"Remind me to speak to my broker." Alex's gaze dropped to the table top, and for a centon or two he idly watched his hands twist together.

"I'd do the same if I had one." There was a silence while Marcus scanned the headlines and Alex worried. "I don't think that my attempts to divert you are working," said Marcus.

Alex looked up, feeling unaccountably guilty. "No, sorry. But I appreciate the effort."

Marcus gave up on what had to be the tenth attempt to divert Alex's thoughts and plunged into a full discussion of them instead. "I was astonished when you told me. I went away and looked him up in the military section of Who's Who. Commander of the Galactica, member of the Council of Twelve ... did you know that he was appointed the Caprican member of the Council at about the same time as Fee arrived here?"

Alex nodded. "I know."

"The key word is 'appointed', as in by the military. Why didn't we get to vote?"

"It's known as a democratic deficit," said Alex. "There's a lot of it about."

"Well, I suppose he hasn't abused the privilege - yet. There's quite a piece on him in the reference books. That's one of the richest families on Caprica, Alex, that's what's so ironic. How long have you known he was Fee's father?"

"Three yahrens. Fee told me when he started work." Alex glanced briefly at the record he was supposed to be reading. "I looked him up, too, when Fee told me."

"There's nothing in there about him being shy of one son, a lot about his military record. Did you notice that he gave up command of the Atlantia at about the same time Fee came here and was on Caprica for a yahren settling in to his Council duties and overseeing the refit of the Galactica. What was all that about, do you think?"

"I don't know."

"You know," said Marcus, after another centon of silence. "If I were a sarcastic man – "

"Sarcasm is the last resort of the terminally unintelligent," said Alex, sententiously.

" – which I'm not, I'd make some comment about you being too involved and losing all perspective."

Alex shrugged.

"But since you've never had much perspective where Fee was concerned, why should I bother commenting?"

"No, I haven't," admitted Alex. No perspective at all. "Don't bother."

"I remember the night Kes brought him in and a pretty woeful scrap of humanity he was, too. I didn't realise that he was so young."

"He claimed to be sixteen, remember," said Alex, looking at the monitor and the records scrolling there.

"Too many of them do."

"And they get away with it because there's no way of telling their age with any precision even when, like Fee, you think he's a small sixteen."

"Too many Eastside kids are undersized."

"Bad nutrition. Most of them live on junk food."

"And Shadow," said Marcus, wryly.

Alex thought of his failures. Some, like long-dead Charlie, dead from a badly-prepared, over-strong dose of their favourite addiction, cut with something inadvertently poisonous by a dealer keen to maximise profit; others pulled out of the river because some customer getting his jollies out of being violent, went too far

"They don't do very much living on Shadow, Marc."

"No," said Marcus, uncomfortably, and he seemed almost glad to get away when a volunteer finally disturbed them with a patient, another lady of the night in need of some assistance following a catfight with one of her working sisters.

Alex closed down the record and locked it tight so that only he or Marcus could access it. He reflected that Marcus's backhanded advice about involvement was all very well, but Fee was Fee and not only was Alex in too deep now, but he had been for yahrens. He had to force himself to stop thinking about the one ex-Shadow addict who wasn't on the premises and, seeking activity to occupy his thoughts, went up to the Shooting Gallery on the top floor to see to those addicts who were. There were a few there, not yet ex- and many never would be, one or two reluctantly shooting up on the substitute drugs that Alex prescribed and which they found, well, no substitute for the real thing. The others were using the Shadow they'd brought in with them. As long as no dealing happened in the clinic they weren't breaching the terms of Alex's licence, so he let them be, merely checking over the little pouches or boxes in which they carried their "works", replacing blunt and dirty needles where needed and offering advice when it was asked for and sometimes when it wasn't.

It kept him busy until he was called back to his office to take the call that he had been both dreading and hoping for. He agreed the arrangements for the meeting with outward equanimity and a great deal of formal civility, and spent the next centar burying himself in work to hide the inward perturbation that the outer calm could only mask. He was forced into his final resort for keeping anxiety to one side, the sovereign remedy for it: catching up on the unconscionable amount of paperwork the Government imposed on charities. Especially, Alex contended, on those charities it suspected of some sort of libertarian subversion of the common good. Organisations like Fenice were prime targets of official bureaucracy; not least because Alex focused Fenice's efforts on the hungry and homeless, the powerless, the addicts and alcoholics who – in the Government's view, at least – infested the Eastside of the city and formed a dark inchoate mass of non-citizens who were disconnected and dangerous. Alex thought the bureaucracy had to be a punishment of some kind for his temerity. He'd have less trouble running a charity for lost daggits.

He'd have less trouble, and undoubtedly better funding. Most of the public would rather donate to save a puppy with doleful eyes than a fifteen yahren old Shadow addict with fleas and an attitude.

He only stirred from the papers when a cold arm snaked its way around his shoulder and a cold face pressed briefly against his. He smiled, delighted. He hadn't heard Fee come in.

"You're late," he said, turning his chair and catching Fee's hands in his. "I expected you a couple of centars ago."

"The buses took forever. The snow's really heavy now and it's slowed all the traffic."

"You should have taken the subway," said Alex.

"The bus is cheaper."

"And colder." The hands he was holding were half frozen, and he chafed them with his own, warming them. He brought Fee's hands to his mouth and breathed warm air over them. Fee smiled at him and let him. "That jacket's not meant for this sort of weather, either. You must be frozen."

"I put the things I had last winter into the clothing store here. They're too small for me," said Fee, still smiling. "I'm a growing boy. It's all that stodgy food they make us eat at work."

"If half you tell me is true, you burn it all off." Alex frowned. "Listen, you shouldn't need to be worrying about things like the subway fare or not buying yourself proper clothes. You should give me less of your salary, Fee."

"I don't have a salary," said Fee. "I have wages."

"There's a difference?"

"It's a status thing. Only officers have salaries."

"Whatever," said Alex, refusing to be sidetracked. "I get enough donations to get by here without taking every spare cubit you have. I'd rather you didn't beggar yourself."

"I want to do it," said Fee, so earnest that Alex smiled despite himself. "I want to help, Alex. And I have to give you something for letting me stay at your place."

Alex only nodded, unable to resist that coaxing voice but determined that as soon as the shops opened on the morrow, Fee would have his new winter jacket if Alex was the one beggaring himself to do it. He would not have his Fee freeze. After a centon, he said, wryly, "We've covered transport, the class divide, charitable donations and fashion. I think that's enough displacement activity to last us for a couple of sectons, don't you?"

Fee grimaced. "I'd rather we kept on displacing, if you don't mind."

"I do mind. What did Doctor Jerome say?"

Fee stared at him unhappily. "Do we have to talk about this?"

"Yes." Alex stood up and reached for his overcoat. "Tell me on the way home. I've had enough bureaucracy for one night."

Fee sighed, but he followed Alex from the office docilely enough. Marcus had left for home a centar or more ago, leaving Fenice to one of the volunteer doctors, and the medical rooms were closed now except for emergencies. But the big warm reception hall was crowded, each of its long trestle tables full. Fenice would be open all night, the staff keeping up a constant supply of blankets and hot soup; counselling and help, too, if people wanted it. Alex cast a quick measuring glance over the people sheltering there out of the snow storm, making sure that no-one needed attention before he went.

He checked on one familiar, elderly vagrant with a chronic chest infection and said his goodbyes to the staff, Fee quiet at his heels all the while. When they got out into the snowy street, Fee came up close and tucked his arm into Alex's. The wind blew the snow in their faces and it was bitterly cold. Alex was relieved that his house was only ten centons away.

"Well?" he said, as they started trudging through the settling drifts. Suddenly struck by an anxious thought he looked down quickly, relieved when he saw that Fee was wearing his combat boots.

"It was all right."

"The devil," said Alex, "is in the detail."

"He told me things – I didn't know that my mother was sick and they really did look for me." Fee twisted his head to look at Alex, snowflakes whitening his hair and eyelashes. "I didn't know that."

"No."

"You reminded me of Uncle Jerry, when I first came here," said Fee. "He made me feel safe, too."

Alex smiled. "Did he?"

"I loved my Uncle Jerry. He was the only one I thought cared about me. I thought he might be gladder to see me."

"Wasn't he? I'd have thought he'd be delighted to see you."

"I don't know. He hugged me when I left but he was a bit sharp with me sometimes." And as if he were defending Jerry, Fee said, quickly, "He likes my parents. They've been friends for yahrens."

Alex considered that and what was implicit in it. That was the first time that Fee had conceded that a friend of his parents may have cause to be sharp. He listened quietly to Fee's account of the meeting.

"He's going to talk to them and call you if they want to see me." Fee finished up, and grinned at him. "I wouldn't hold your breath."

"They called over a centar ago," said Alex, deliberate and matter of fact. "Presumably as soon as Jerome had time to tell them he'd seen you. I spoke to Jerome and your father."

"Oh!" said Fee.

Alex let it sink in. They were silent, struggling on until they could turn into the street where Alex had his little house, one of a row of old cottages, built centuries ago for the poor, a canal at their backs and more mean houses facing them across the narrow street. In some parts of town, even in parts abutting onto the Eastside, cottages like this went for hundreds of thousands of cubits. Alex had bought this one cheaply. Like all the Eastside housing stock, it was a little dilapidated and run down, but solidly built. He and the house suited each other.

In the porch, Alex shrugged out of his coat and shook the snow off it. Fee, silent, shook himself like a daggit shedding water, still hunched into the thin jacket, too cold to take it off yet. He followed Alex into the kitchen. The little house was gloriously warm inside.

"Hungry?" asked Alex.

"No. What did he say?"

"Doctor Jerome?"

"My fa— him. The commander."

"That he was sorry he couldn't come over at once, but your mother really wasn't up to it. I believe," said Alex, reheating the left-over caff from breakfast. "And that he would have come to see me tonight and spared her, giving her some edited version of whatever tale I tell him, but she won't be left behind. They're coming over in the morning, with Jerome. Or should I call him Jerry?"

Fee sat shivering in his chair, despite the warmth. "Yes. Unless you want to be Alexander-ed back. If she's not well..."

"I know. I'll edit what I tell them, if I need to." Alex's hand closed on the mug, so tight that his knuckles whitened. His eyes blurred with the remembrance of the afternoon's research, but he kept his tone even. "I spent some time going over your records. I know what I might need to exclude. Trust me."

"With my life," said Fee, instantly. Alex turned and smiled, but Fee was quiet with unhappiness. "I wish I hadn't done it."

"What? Run away from home?"

"Too late to worry about that and I don't think I could help it. No. I meant, I wish I hadn't seen them at all and I wish I hadn't gone to see Uncle Jerry. I don't want Mama upset. They have their lives without me around to screw things up again the way I did before. I've got mine sorted out. What's the point?"

"The point is that it's time you faced up to your responsibilities," said Alex, putting a mug of hot caff in front of Fee. "It's time you faced your family. You're strong enough."

He sat down at the table and Fee turned to him blindly, arms reaching out. Alex pulled him in close, shivering himself at the touch of cold clothes that had to be leaching what little warmth was left in Fee. He got him out of the jacket without releasing the death grip Fee had on him and wrapped his arms around him, rubbing comforting circles on the boy's back. Not entirely selflessly, he knew. It made Fee press in closer, and Alex could feel the warm breath on his ear.

"It's the right thing, Fee."

"Is it?"

"I think so. I've always thought so. It doesn't mean that everything will be as if it all didn't happen - of course it doesn't. But they are your family. You need to sort things out with them."

"It's a very long time since I whiled away a spare centar imagining the grand reconciliation scene," said Fee dolefully. "I don't need them, Alex. I've got you, and I like things the way they are. I don't have to see them."

*I've got you.* The assertion warmed Alex. "You should have thought about that before going to see Jerry today."

"I know. You can still tell them not to come, though. I've changed my mind, Alex. I don't want to see them."

"That would be cruel, Fee. They want to see you. Your father was— " Alex paused, searching for the mot juste, "— surprisingly emotional. I wasn't expecting that."

Fee pulled back and stared at him. "No. Scary." Alex hitched an enquiring eyebrow, and Fee said, slowly, "My memory of him being emotional isn't a pleasant one."

"You may be surprised."

"Mmnn," said Fee, and snuggled in closer. "Very surprised. What should I do?"

"Let's see what happens, shall we? Play it by ear." Alex chuckled. "Besides, they know how to find you now. I don't think you can hide any more. If you refuse to meet them, I rather think I'll have your father camped outside of the clinic until he catches you."

"Sting him for a donation, then," said Fee, with a sudden tinge of anger. "He was always good at handing out money. He thought it made up for everything."

"Well, I might just do that." Alex refused to be drawn into that argument – it was Commander Adama that Fee needed to take that shot at, not him. "I'd find a use for it." He said, deliberately provocative, "You aren't afraid of him, are you?"

There was a very long silence while Alex thought longingly of the comfortable sofa in the living room. Sitting on a hard kitchen chair, even with armfuls of Fee... well, he was getting too old for this and he liked his comforts. He shifted slightly and cast a regretful glance at the caff, cold again without him having managed more than a mouthful.

Fee sighed and stirred, disturbed by Alex moving. "All right," he said, tiredly. "I don't suppose I can back out now."

"I don't think so, no," said Alex judiciously.

"I don't want to disappoint you." The emphasis was unmistakable, and Alex again felt warmed by the confidence Fee had in him. "I don't know why I thought this might even be a marginally good idea, though."

"You don't have to be enthusiastic about it, I suppose," murmured Alex.

Fee grinned, then his expression sobered. "I'm not. Can we talk about something else?"

"Whatever you like."

The tips of Fee's ears went pink. "I'm sorry we didn't get our lunch. I wanted to talk to you about something important, before all this blew up."

"You've done nothing but talk for days," said Alex. He grinned. "It's just as well that I've the patience of a saint."

"Jerry said so, but I already knew that," said Fee, with a momentary regression into uncertainty. "I wanted to talk to you about... well, I wanted..." Fee sighed, and said, in a rush, "Do you remember the time that you turned me down?"

"Yes," said Alex, surprised that Fee could think that he would forget it.

"You said to come back when I was worth something. Does doing well at the history course count?"

Alex sat up abruptly, releasing Fee with a suddenness that had the young man catching at the table top to stop himself falling. "What did I say, Fee?"

"To come back when I was— "

"No! What did I actually say?"

Fee frowned, then said, very slowly, "To come back when I believed that what I was offering you was worth it. Oh." He flushed slightly.

"You have always been worth it," Alex said, harsh with unaccustomed anger. "Always! Your problem was that you didn't believe that you were and maybe you still don't. I don't ask for much, Fee, but I do want something that you value as well."

"Sorry."

"Stop apologising!" Alex shook his head. "That's quite an object lesson in the frailty of memory. You should bear that in mind when you're raking over the old grievances you keep in yours."

"I am sorry. Really." Fee sighed. "I suppose that the offer's back on hold?"

Alex felt old and sick. "More displacement activity?"

Fee flushed deeper. "No, as it happens. I was going to ask you at lunch, the day I saw them. I wanted to – oh, I don't know. It was a new beginning kind of thing. I thought we could celebrate the exam result and start something new." He added, resentfully, "They fucked that up as well."

Alex had had his own hopes for that day, not entirely blind to the wary circling, in a metaphorical sense, that Fee had been doing for sectars now, like a cat circling something that simultaneously frightened and fascinated it, testing the air while it decided whether to pounce or to run. He'd had his hopes, and his own doubts. He said, very gently, "I'm far too old for you, Fee."

It was a very rude noise he got in return. Fee held his gaze, serious and yahrens older than his real age with the kind of experience Alex himself had only lived second hand, dealing with the consequences. Except in actual age, Fee wasn't young.

Fee said, intense, "What you wrote in my book – is it true? Do you love me?"

"You know I do!"

"I don't know if I love you quite the same way, Alex, but I do love you. Do you still want me?"

Alex gave it up. "God help me, yes."

Fee's eyes were bright, and he was so beautiful when he smiled.

 

 

Fee curved his young back like a bow to reach Alex's mouth, balancing neatly on his buttocks, his legs securely wrapped around the older man's waist with Alex kneeling between his thighs.

Alex tasted of caff, faint and elusive on the tongue. Fainter and more elusive still was something meaty and spicy, traces of whatever one of the faithful staff had insisted he eat at lunch, most likely. But most of all, he tasted of love and security and comfort, and Fee needed that more than he'd needed anything; even more than he'd once needed Shadow and Bliss and ambrosa and cheap strong cider to get through the daily ordeal of breathing.

In everything he'd gained for himself, even in the tough and dangerous work he carried out, he still needed that little core of comfort that was Alex. It kept him sane and steady.

He sighed against Alex's mouth, moving slowly on the fingers that were stretching him, preparing him, trying not to hiss with discomfort. It had been a while since he'd last let a man touch him like this, a long time, more than three yahrens. At eighteen, with a job that had paid him enough to start giving Alex back some of what he was owed for a life, Fee had finally stopped selling himself to any man who would pay him.

Alex knew, of course. Alex knew everything. Alex would have known that Fee had continued to prostitute himself even after he was clean of Shadow, less often than before maybe, but Fee didn't value what he had to offer and hadn't cared who used it if he needed money for something. His body was an asset to be sold, that was all. And Alex would have known the moment that Fee began to appreciate the value of who and what he was, the day that he'd taken his Oath and closed the door on the addict for ever. The long period of near celibacy since then – well, it probably matched Alex's own.

Fee had merely reckoned that he'd earned the rest. Now, he hoped he hadn't lost all his old skill, however dearly he'd bought it. He hoped he'd make it good for Alex.

The pain and the burn melted away as Alex's fingers touched the smooth little nub inside him, and now Fee's hissing breath came from the sudden rush of pleasure. He'd forgotten that, how wonderful it could feel. He kissed Alex again, not gently now but demanding, and the fingers started scissoring inside him, stretching the tight anal passage, opening him up. And again, Alex twisted his fingers to touch the little gland, and it was like a bolt of lightning surging to Fee's cock and tightening the muscles of his stomach. This time, he moaned against Alex's mouth, and pushed back hard onto the fingers, tightening the grip his legs had on Alex's waist and hips. He rubbed his hands down Alex's back to smooth down the older man's buttocks, rubbing his hard cock up against Alex's belly.

He sighed when the fingers left an ache in him.

Alex shuffled forward a little on his knees, and Fee gasped when the hard cock breached him. Alex moved slowly, but Fee was having none of that. Still balanced on his buttocks, the only leverage he had was to use Alex to pull against. His hands moved swiftly up to Alex's shoulders and he pulled down hard, pulling their bodies together in one swift movement, sinking down to impale himself fully.

"Oh."

His head fell back as they joined, and he could feel the harsh little scrape of public hair against the skin of his arse and inner thighs. He let himself fall back, pivoting on his buttocks so that Alex fell with him, Fee's cock trapped tight between their bodies.

"Fee."

"Don't stop," said Fee. "Don't stop."

Alex said, "Give me your hands," and he moved, so slowly, pulling back an inch or two, and surging forward, letting his legs slip down so that he was lying between Fee's thighs, all his weight on the body beneath him.

Fee's hands came down from the shoulders to grip Alex's. Still thrusting slowly, Alex took one of Fee's hands and turned it, and kissed the palm before raising it above Fee's head to the pillow; then he kissed the other palm and raised that too, holding him down. Fee didn't struggle. He liked being held like this, all his energies on the upwards surge of his lower body to match the thrust of Alex's cock, tensing the muscles of his rectum each time to increase Alex's pleasure, giving him a tight channel to rub his cock against on each push.

Alex's mouth covered his as they moved, not with the gentle kisses of before but harder, wetter, their tongues rubbing against each other as urgently as their bodies were. In and out, faster and harder, until Fee was gasping and arching his back on each thrust, pushing to get every inch of skin pressed up against Alex, wriggling to get his wet nipples, sensitised by the biting kisses that Alex had bestowed on them centons before, rubbing against the bigger man's chest. Each little rub sent another jolt down to the cock that was bobbing up against Alex's stomach.

Alex picked up the pace, no longer gentle, pulling back his face away from Fee. Fee watched him. Alex had his eyes closed, head thrown back, mouth open and jaw tensed. He was nearly there. Fee waited for the next thrust and clamped down hard, tightening rectal muscles and those in his legs, pulling Alex in closer and tighter with them. Alex yelled and came in three viciously hard surges, hitting like a hammer against Fee's prostate each time until Fee was yelling too, arching his back to keep them connected, to keep Alex as far inside as he could, his own jism forced out to be trapped between their bodies.

They collapsed together. It was a long breathless time before Alex released Fee's hands with another kiss to each palm. Fee wrapped his arms around the older man, holding him, loving the feel of the weight on him. Alex kissed him, slow and deep and loving again.

Fee sighed. No one had made love with him for yahrens, not since— He bolted down the trap door over that Demon King of a thought. Not for yahrens.

"I love you," said Alex, very softly.

No-one had said that for yahrens either, and it sounded good.

Fee smiled.

 

 

He had his heart's desire.

He loved Fee, and had ever since a mute, dirty, Shadow-addicted street kid had been dragged into Fenice by an exasperated policeman and thrust into his willing care. For yahrens he had supported and helped and loved, believing that having Fee in his life at all was reward enough. This was more reward than he'd expected or knew what to do with. He was far too old to be this happy. Only boys Fee's age expected to be this happy.

Although perhaps it wasn't an expectation Fee shared with his age-mates. What he shared with Alex, though, was a belief that nothing came of right, not even happiness. It had to be earned and learned.

He may have earned Fee, with more than six yahrens of unselfish love and support. What was left now, of course, was learning to store up the grace he'd need when Fee eventually left.

He studied the young face, relaxed and innocent in sleep, and smiled. He was more than twice Fee's age, a great deal more than twice, and he had no illusions about the future. The boy would grow older, wiser, restless. He'd move on, one day; probably not without regret, because Fee was loving and affectionate with the very few he loved and trusted, cautious and shy with those he didn't know. Fee would regret hurting him, the way that Alex regretted the inevitability that he would be hurt. The best he could do was hold on to Fee for as long as Fee was willing to be held, and hope he'd have enough dignity left not to make a complete idiot of himself when Fee slipped away.

He had his heart's desire. For now.

 

 

3.3 Jackanory

Adama hadn't been on this side of the city for more yahrens than he cared to remember, not since he and a group of other young and foolish Academy cadets had come down to the Eastside to see how the other half lived. Drinking in crowded and none-too-clean Eastside bars and clubs had seemed adventurous and fun. Now, peering out through the window at the bulky buildings dark against the new snow, Adama had serious doubts about leaving the hovercar here, even with Duncan in charge. He'd be lucky if it was still there when they came out.

"I'd better drive her around until you're ready to go back," said Duncan: chauffer, gardener, all-round factotum and mind reader.

"And where's your sense of adventure?" asked Jerry from the front seat beside Duncan.

"I'm not having my car stolen," said Duncan, firmly, and Adama, desperate enough to cling to any amusement, even Duncan appropriating the family car as his own, smiled thinly.

"I'll call you when we're ready to leave, thank you, Duncan. Is this the place?"

"That one," said Jerry, indicating a big, run-down building across the street.

Adama helped Ila out into the deep snow. It had been an unusually harsh winter. It had snowed hard for Yule and often since, giving them the coldest Primus he remembered for yahrens. The older snow had frozen itself solid, the old grey ice buried under new fall, hidden and treacherous.

"Careful," he warned.

"I'm fine," she said.

His smile deepened for her. Astonishingly, although she was a long way from fine, she was better. Jerry's news the previous day had thrilled her, and she'd thrown aside all the parts she didn't want to concentrate on—that Apollo had been addicted to Shadow, that Apollo had sold himself to pay for it, that Apollo thought they didn't want him—and focused on the one huge positive. Apollo had come to them. Through Jerry, maybe, but he'd come. Hope had done a lot more for her than the anti-depressants. Adama prayed she wouldn't be disappointed. It would kill her.

"We're early," said Jerry, taking Ila's other arm as they ploughed through the snow.

They were very early. Even though hovercars coped well with snow, skimming lightly over the surface, it was still wise to drop the speed and they hadn't known how long it might take them to reach the Fenice. Adama had not wanted to be late.

"Do you think he's here?" Ila looked around eagerly. Her expression sobered. "It's not very nice around here, is it?"

"No, it's not," agreed Adama.

"Will it be open?" she asked. Someone had cleared the steps of ice, and she stamped her feet to shake the snow from her boots. Adama held her steady while she did it, afraid that she'd slip.

"The Fenice is always open." Jerry led the way, pushing open the big double door.

The heat roiled out to meet them, the air inside warm and far too redolent of deprivation and poverty. There were a surprisingly large number of people in the room for so early in the morning, several dozen. A very large proportion of them looked as if soap and water were complete strangers and they didn't care for an introduction.

"There's Alexander," said Jerry. He dropped Ila's arm and went forward to meet the tall, distinguished-looking man who was talking to the nurse at the reception desk.

Adama reviewed quickly what he knew about the man, all of it from Jerry. Doctor Alexander had been a yahren or two ahead of Jerry at medical school, and had to be about Adama's own age or older. The only child of rich parents, he had turned his back on the kind of career path that Jerry had taken to sink his considerable fortune into this clinic for the dispossessed. * No-one knew why* , Jerry had said, * and a damned waste it was too. He could have been anything he wanted and headed the field .*

Adama shook hands gravely when they were finally introduced. Alex – not Alexander, apparently - took Ila's hand in his, and Adama didn't miss the swift, measuring look he gave her. When they'd called to arrange this, Jerry had told him that he needed to exercise caution but it seemed Alex took nothing on trust.

"Is Apollo here?" she demanded at once.

Alex smiled and shook his head. "Fee was still in bed when I left this morning. It's amazing how much sleep the young need."

Ila's face fell, and to cover her disappointment, Adama said, quickly, "Apollo's staying with you?"

"Fee usually stays with me when he's on Caprica, yes."

Wondering why his son would ever be off-planet, Adama said, coolly, noting the pointed correction, "I suppose we will have to get used to calling him that."

"Yes," said Alex, equally cool. He changed the subject. "If you've left your car outside, I'd better get someone to watch it. The local youths like nothing better than hot-rodding hovercars."

"Our driver will return when we call," said Adama.

"Is it bad around here?" asked Jerry. He grimaced when Adama caught his glance, evidently uncomfortable. This was light yahrens away from Jerry's clinic in Osaiya.

"Not too bad, since one local family returned to Leo a few yahrens ago," said Alex. "Those boys were incorrigible." His cool grey eyes met Adama's. "It kept them off drugs, though." Before Adama could respond, Alex turned and led them into the clinic. "Fenice is, as you probably know, Old Caprican for Phoenix. A literary conceit, of course, as what we're about is helping people rise from the ashes."

"Very... er, appropriate," said Adama.

The grey eyes raked over him, giving him the impression of a great distance between them. Alex waved a hand, ignoring Adama's embarrassed comment. "This is the reception area, with the kitchens behind. We provide three hot meals a day here, for up to a hundred people at a time. The medical rooms are all on the floor above: treatment rooms and a small surgical theatre. We operate a drop in clinic for the people who live in the area as well as the homeless, so it's usually pretty busy. The top floor houses the soundproofed quarters we use to get people through withdrawal. The Shooting Gallery's up there, too."

"Shooting gallery?"

Alex grinned. "Another literary conceit, another pun. It's a safe place for the addicts to take their Shadow, to shoot up under supervision. We give them clean needles and Shadow substitutes for those trying to come off the stuff. We don't allow them to shoot up anywhere else in the clinic."

A door at the back of the crowded room led through to a hallway. The stairs were here, brightly lit, but Alex led them past the stairs towards the back of the building.

"You give them drugs?"

Alex paused and turned to face Adama. "If they need it, yes. Does it bother you?"

"Well, yes, I think it does. I don't see the point. And I think it's wrong."

"Do you? I don't think I'm as judgemental as that, Commander. I don't judge my patients. They're not all of them weak and despicable and disgusting. They've come to a dependency on Shadow or alcohol or both for all sorts of reasons that I haven't experienced myself so I've no basis on which to judge them. In the same way, I don't judge the families that may have neglected them, or abused them, or didn't know how to help them. We just deal with consequences here."

Adama felt his face flushing red.

"That was not meant to be personal," said Alex.

He ushered Ila into a small office. Behind his back, Jerry put a hand on Adama's arm, and, after a micron, Adama nodded and followed, swallowing down his anger. The frack it wasn't meant to be personal!

The chairs were ready around a small conference table. Alex had already helped Ila into one of them before Jerry and Adama joined them, and was pouring mugs of caff from a percolator on his desk. He handed around the caff and took the seat nearest the desk.

"I talked to Fee last night about what to tell you. I've a pretty full record here; written, audio and some visual."

"Visual?" said Jerry, surprised.

"It's useful to have the treatment rooms monitored. Not all the clients appreciate our efforts, and the CCTV system links through to the main desk so help can reach me or one of the other doctors if we need it. We usually review the day's recording and retain anything that helps augment the other records we have on a client."

"Have you ever needed that?" asked Adama. "To be rescued?"

Alex's eyes crinkled when he smiled. "Oh yes, often."

Good, thought Adama, then I'm not the only one who thinks you're a self righteous bastard. But he'd been self-righteous himself, and he knew it. He wondered, given what little he did know about what had happened to Apollo, what in heaven's name had possessed him to pontificate on about the right and wrongs of treating drug addicts. He rubbed a hand against his pants leg, to try the dampness in his palm. He wasn't usually so nervous.

"The question is," said Alex, and his sideways glance was on Ila, "how much detail do you want? You may find some of it distressing."

"Do you?"

"Frequently." The grey eyes met Adama's gaze and held it, challenging. "Even though I'm used to it."

"I'd rather know the truth," said Ila. The smile she gave Alex was tremulous. "I've not been well," she said to him. "But that was because I thought Appy was dead, and then suddenly he wasn't and he ran away from us again. It upset me."

And that was the understatement of the millennium, thought Adama sourly.

"He was taken by surprise too, Lady Ila," said Alex, giving her the old fashioned form of her title. He was gentle and courteous and Adama forgave him the self-righteousness when he saw how Ila relaxed under the soothing voice. "He didn't know what to do, and— well, he's still very young and a little thoughtless. Like all the young, his instincts for self preservation are strong. Running seemed the best option. But he thought better of it, and now we've a chance to patch things up a little."

He patted her hand and turned to the desk, swivelling around the computer monitor to face them and moving the keyboard to sit in front of him.

"Is that something you want?" Adama asked, abruptly. "For him to patch things up?"

"I want Fee to be whole," said Alex. "He almost is, but not quite. He needs to find Apollo and make his peace with him. He knows that, too, or we wouldn't be here." He switched on the monitor. "Now then, Fee first came to us around three sectars after he left home. We aren't entirely sure, because he's a little hazy about when that was."

"Seventeenth of Septimus," said Adama, promptly. It was a date he'd rather not have to remember, but one he couldn't forget, burnt into his memory. So was the nineteenth of Sextus when Apollo had broken a plate glass window in the psychiatrist's office and dragged his wrists across the jagged shards while Ila had screamed and screamed at the blood. And the tenth day of that same sectar, when he'd taken every pill he'd been able to steal from Ila and two days later Adama had cried at his unconscious son's bedside. Some days you just don't forget, however much you want to.

"It was late Nonus when I saw him. Not quite three sectars, then." Alex folded his hands on the desk. "Getting his story out of him took me a long time. I think that you're aware that by the time he came here, he was an elective mute?"

Adama nodded, swallowing hard against the lump in his throat. Days and days of coaxing, talking, pleading, and getting nothing but a dulled green glare in return. "He stopped talking before he ran away."

"Yes, I thought so. It took a couple of yahrens before he trusted us enough to start talking again. I did get a little more out of him then about what happened, but he's always been reluctant to talk about the past. I'm quite torn about that tendency in him. Part of me thinks we should confront our demons if we're going to conquer them; another part of me thinks what matters isn't so much what happens to us, but our response to it."

"What does Fee think?" asked Jerry, quietly.

Alex smiled, sadly. "Oh, Fee's still caught up on what happened. I'm trying to get him to be more philosophical."

"Good luck with that," said Jerry.

"Yes." The smile faded. "It seems to me that it would be useful to be sure that what he has told me is consistent with your memories of that time, so that we're starting from a common base. Is that acceptable?"

"Yes," said Adama.

Alex nodded. He steepled his fingers, keeping his gaze and apparent attention on his hands. "My understanding is that when he was fourteen, he was abused—although I should stress that Fee doesn't think of it or see it that way—by his tutor, who hanged himself when he was found out and was facing police action. Fee found the body."

"Yes," said Adama.

"And a couple of sectons later you sent Fee to military school." The eyes that were raised briefly to meet Adama's were very cold, as grey as the ice he and Ila had stumbled over to get to the Fenice. "I hadn't appreciated that such schools are uniquely situated to care for abused, depressive and suicidal children, but unlike yours, mine is not a military family and I don't have any experience of places like Pasquel."

Even Jerry looked startled at that, but he'd said pretty much the same thing himself if not quite with such acid precision. Alex didn't give Adama a chance to respond, even if Adama had wanted to. But Adama didn't consider he owed an explanation to anyone but his son. He stared at the doctor, hoping his face didn't show his resentment. As little as he liked it, this man was the gatekeeper to his son. Adama couldn't afford to alienate him. Not yet.

"Once there, he took an overdose of tranquillisers that he stole from you, Lady Ila, I think, and, when that failed, tried again a few days later. He slashed his wrists on some glass."

Ila said, her mouth trembling, "We were with the psychiatrist at the Children's Hospital, for a family session. He got very upset." Her voice quieted to a whisper. "There was so much blood. So much blood."

Adama took her hand in his and squeezed it gently. She turned to him, resting her forehead against his upper arm. With his other hand, he stroked her hair, glaring at Alex.

His memories of bringing Apollo back to Caprica City from Pasquel all those yahrens ago were still horrifyingly vivid. He hadn't been able to take Apollo home, not immediately, but to the Children's Hospital for psychiatric assessment from a man who certainly hadn't been Jerry's choice. Jerry was an old fashioned man: he liked to recommend people he knew and trusted. He knew nothing about the psychiatrist assigned by the Children's Hospital and was less than impressed with Doctor Bannion's choice of medication, protesting not only at the irony of giving Apollo the selfsame pills he'd overdosed on the secton before, but genuinely concerned that new studies suggested that the medication could actually induce psychosis in adolescents.

Not that Bannion had been any more impressed with Jerry's doubts and Adama had allowed himself to be persuaded that the specialist knew better than a local doctor could. He regretted it bitterly, counting it as another damned and bloody mistake. It may not have been the medication, it may have been as Bannion later claimed and that the medication hadn't had time to take effect, but a few days later Apollo put his hands through a plate glass window and sawed his arms over the jagged pieces of glass, screaming curses at his father while he did it.

Curses and the last word they ever got out of Apollo, the very last word before the silence closed in.

Murderer.

When he focused again on Alex, the doctor was talking to Jerry about the medication Apollo had been on. "It was supposed to help him function normally," said Jerry, acidly, "But they kept changing it about every secton to try and get the best one. Some had him so doped it was like having a drunk in the house, they affected his balance so badly he fell over constantly; others made him hyperactive and he couldn't sleep. It was crazy."

Alex agreed wholeheartedly. "I get all sorts here. Most addicts and alcoholics have underlying mental health problems so of course we prescribe and administer anti-depressants, and I've prescribed them for Fee in the past, but to administer them in that strength to a child? You're right, that is crazy."

"It was that fool of a specialist at the Children's Hospital. I should have had him struck off the medical register, the idiot." Jerry huffed for a micron or two, his indignation at Bannion undimmed. "Do you know a paediatric psychiatrist called Jancis? I'd got Apollo a place in her clinic. She's the best I know of."

Ila straightened up. "But he ran away before we could get him to her. He ran away from us. Why did he do that?"

Alex hesitated. "I know what he thinks you were doing in sending him away to the clinic, Lady Ila, but I think that it's best if you discuss that with him. Anything I tell you is second hand."

"Punishment," said Jerry quietly.

"But we'd never do that! We wouldn't!"

Alex frowned. "From his point of view, you already had when you sent him to Pasquel. Wasn't that what it was all about? Punishing him?"

"He thought so," acknowledged Adama.

"Didn't you?" asked Alex, softly.

Ila covered her mouth with her hand, shaking her head. Her eyes filled with tears.

Alex watched her, and Adama was surprised at the way that his expression softened. "I'm sorry, Lady Ila. I know that this is painful for you."

She nodded. "I get upset about it," she said. "He ran away from us and came here and then—"

"Yes. Then the drugs, and everything that goes with it." Alex studied Ila's face, then said, so gently that Adama forgave him everything, "This will not be pleasant to listen to. Would you rather not allow the Commander to tell you?"

"No." She faltered slightly then said, with much more firmness, straightening her shoulders. "I'm only hearing about it. He went through it. I'd rather know, Alex. Please."

Another of those assessing gazes, then Alex nodded. "Very well. Stop me if it gets too much." He glanced at the screen. "Many of the Eastside's addicts and homeless gravitate here eventually. Fee was brought here by one of the local police officers, Sergeant Kes, who's a regular helper here now. Kes found him soliciting outside one of the bigger drinking clubs, a couple of miles from here. Clubs like that stay just inside the law. They don't allow prostitutes to solicit for custom inside, but turn a blind eye to what goes on in their back alleys. It's an added attraction for their customers."

Ila choked slightly and Adama tensed, ready, but she kept her attention on Alex and from somewhere, he didn't know where, she found the fortitude to listen.

"Kes had already warned Fee off but he didn't want to arrest him. Fee had been arrested previously and Kes didn't want to do it again, to put Fee in the cells for the night. He'll tell you that this wasn't on altruistic grounds but because the law requires them to take the Shadow away from addicts in custody, and Kes didn't like listening to the screaming." At Ila's wide-eyed look, he said, still very gentle, "Withdrawal hits fast and is very painful, Lady Ila. Kes, for all his tough talk, didn't want to put Fee through that. He brought him here instead."

To someone who wouldn't judge him, the way that Adama had judged him. Adama looked away, staring down at his hands for a micron.

Alex hesitated, and Adama looked up quickly, wondering. He watched as Jerry shook his head, warningly; and the slight tilt of the head that Alex gave in acknowledgement. The Lords only knew what Alex had thought about showing, but the record he brought up on the screen was written and innocuous looking; visually unshocking at least.

"He was very high when he arrived, and we put him into one of the treatment rooms for half a centar, until he'd come down enough for us to talk to him. This was just our preliminary assessment of him: a guess at his age, which we thought might be sixteen."

"He wasn't quite fifteen," said Adama. "He was born in early Decimus."

"It was snowing then, too," said Ila.

Alex gave her a sharp look. "I know now that we were deceived about his age, but we didn't have a lot to go on then and even the medical scanner can't be definite on age, only give you a range. He lied when we asked him."

"About his age? Why?" asked Ila

"At sixteen, the law deems you old enough to leave schooling, leave home and find work. Child protection services won't get involved if a kid's sixteen and because they're so overworked around here they don't ask too many questions. He didn't want to come to any official notice." Alex shrugged, and resumed his narrative. "The assessment showed just how malnourished he was, noted the general bruising and contusions—life on the streets is very rough—logged the evidence of sexual activity and the extent of his addiction, which was considerable." Alex looked thoughtful. "How brave are you, Ila? Some of the pictures may distress you."

She looked uncertain. Adama put an arm around her and turned her towards him, away from the screen. No matter what courage she'd found, he didn't want to put her through that. She looked at him for micron, and put her head down on his shoulder.

"I'll tell you if you need to look," he said, and kept his own gaze on the screen when he would have preferred to look away.

The quality of the pictures was excellent, no pixillation at all. The thin, dirty, tattered child sleeping on the treatment table wasn't Apollo, he decided. It might be Fee. The slack-jawed, expressionless face and dull green eyes weren't recognisably Apollo. It had to be Fee. The arm turned to the camera so a record could be taken of the bloody injection tracks, the lesions and ulcers, wasn't Apollo's arm. It was definitely Fee.

"Both arms," said Alex, "and his thighs." He moved the record back to the written version, and Adama released Ila, smiling at her reassuringly.

"It's all right," he said.

Jerry said, "Most drugs you can take with a hypospray, getting the dose under the skin to be absorbed into the blood. Hyposprays don't leave any marks, don't cause any lesions. Shadow has more effect delivered directly into the bloodstream."

"You can use a hypospray with Shadow, of course, but it's not as efficient and the hit isn't so intense. There's no point in taking it if you're not looking for the hardest hit you can get, and you get that injecting it straight into the bloodstream." Alex might be lecturing to a conference, he sounded so calm and unmoved. "Old fashioned, but effective."

"Damnable stuff," said Adama.

Alec nodded. "You'll get no arguments from me. With many drugs, even other, less potent opiates, users can live a reasonably normal life. Some of my patients, the ones we've moved onto opiate substitutes – well, I'd defy you to notice that some of them have any addiction problems at all. They function normally, many of them are even able to hold down jobs. But with Shadow ... no, there's nothing normal with Shadow. Not that. It's totally destructive, totally absorbing. A Shadow addict doesn't have a normal life. They have Shadow, and they may have a centar or so between hits when they're lucid, when they're coming down from the last one and before the craving for the next one hits. It destroys mind and body and spirit and leaves nothing but ash behind. If ever you're looking for pure wickedness, Commander, you'll find it embodied in a hypo of Shadow."

Adama met the cold grey eyes, his heart hammering in his chest with an agitation he hoped wasn't showing on his face. But he suspected that it was. The frost in that icy gaze softened with something that Adama thought must be compassion. Compassion for Apollo – for Fee – and all like him, a compassion that Alex allowed to spread to those families who had... what was it Alex had said? Those families who had neglected them, or abused them, or didn't know how to help them. Adama looked away. He had neglected Apollo and he hadn't known how to help him. Two out of three was a depressing score.

"How did he get started on it?" asked Jerry, soberly.

Alex shrugged. "I'm not sure, and neither's Fee. What you have to realise is that he has very few real, coherent memories of those sectars he was living on the streets here. He was always too high for clarity of thought." There was a wry, bitter amusement in the doctor's tone. "We'll never be certain, but I'd guess that when the medication the psychiatrist had given him wore off, Fee probably got a little uncontrollable and someone out there gave him his first shot to calm him down. And, of course," added Alex, dryly, "probably to take advantage of the side effects. Shadow releases all inhibitions and users get a high sexual charge out of each hit."

"Oh," said Ila, and her wide eyes closed briefly.

Alex patted her arm again, much as he'd done before. "He's clean. He hasn't used it for yahrens."

"I know, but—" she choked and wiped her eyes. Adama put his arm around her shoulders again. He looked steadily at Alex, until the doctor nodded.

"I don't want to draw this out and upset you," said Alex. "He was using a great deal. Whoever had started him off, started at a high level. He was very dependent. Luckily, we're here. For the next few sectars Fee was a regular. He got a free meal every day, we gave him some new clothes and medical treatment whenever he needed it. Of course, he wasn't talking then and I added 'elective mute' to his notes not long after he first came here and I had time to check his throat and larynx, but he occasionally wrote messages to me when he actually wanted to communicate. That's how he told us his name, that he was called Fee. It was a slow business, dragging his story out of him that way."

"Did he tell you how he was paying for his drugs?" asked Adama, with a glance at Ila.

"He didn't need to. They all do it, Commander. There are literally hundreds of them out in the streets, selling the only thing they have." Alex added, dryly: "And usually there's no shortage of buyers."

Adama swallowed against the lump in his throat and nodded.

"Even though he claimed to be sixteen, we still tried to give him some sort of medical almost every time he came in." Alex looked suddenly distant again. "Even sixteen is too young for what he was doing. There was usually plenty of evidence to show how he was paying for his Shadow."

Adama winced, and Ila turned in her chair to bury her head into his shoulder again. Her shoulders shook. Adama sighed and rested his chin on her hair, wishing to God that she'd stayed at home, the way he'd wanted. He knew that they were getting a highly edited version of events. He wasn't certain he wanted more. The mental pictures he had were evil enough, but the option was being taken from him with Ila's welfare to consider.

"How did you get him to stop?" Jerry had one hand curved over Ila's wrist. He nodded reassurance at Adama.

"He stopped for himself, not for me. I just helped him." Alex hesitated, met Adama's gaze and shrugged.

Adama got the message. He wondered if he wanted to know. He didn't think it would be pretty.

"I want to know," said Ila, voice muffled.

"I think not," said Adama. "We'll let Alex tell Jerry."

"Oh for heavens sake, I'm not a child, Adama!" Ila pulled free and straightened in her chair, wiping her eyes dry. "Apollo was selling himself to how many men each night, Alex?"

"I don't know. Neither does he."

She nodded. "But a lot of them."

"Yes."

Her eyes filled with tears again, and she batted them away with her fingers, almost angrily. "What made him stop?"

"Something happened." Alex waited for Adama's reluctant nod before going on. Adama knew the doctor was choosing his words carefully. "I don't know exactly what, although I can guess. He isn't sure himself. It was Quartus, six yahrens ago. We didn't see him for several days. When Kes found him and brought him back, he'd been— " Alex paused, and grimaced. His hand drifted over the keyboard, and back again, coming to rest on the tabletop. Adama noticed that his fingers were trembling. "He'd often been hurt by the men who were using him. They were paying – they saw no need to be gentle. This time there was a lot of damage. He'd been beaten up and raped repeatedly."

"Oh," said Ila, and closed her eyes again for a micron, probably to try and blot out the same images that were insistent in Adama's head.

"The scar on his jaw?" asked Jerry.

"Yes. Whoever it was had used the knife, quite deliberately and cleanly. I mean, it wasn't just a slash done in a fight, but quite precisely done. He had two matching cuts over his ribs, here." Alex demonstrated. "Again, precisely and deliberately done but like the one on his jaw, intended to be painful and messy but not serious."

"Who would do such a thing?" wondered Jerry.

"I don't pretend to understand how some men get their sexual highs, Jerry. Luckily, Kes has always taken an interest in Fee and had put the word out that he would be seriously displeased if anything happened to him. Kes is one of the few policemen around here who is a real force to be reckoned with, and I think that some pressure was brought to bear to find Fee. Kes got an anonymous tip-off that Fee had been dumped down near the river, near the old docks. He found him and brought him here." Alex's gaze turned inward, became reflective and, Adama realised, almost unbearably sad. "We cleaned him up, stopped the bleeding, sorted out the worst of the damage. The next day he went into the bathroom on the treatment floor and overdosed. He did it deliberately. I almost didn't get to him in time."

Adama watched in fascination as Ila reached out and turned Alex's own gesture back on him, patting him comfortingly on the arm. It was surreal, he decided. That was the word. Surreal.

"But you did," she said.

Alex looked startled, then actually laughed, evidently seeing the irony for himself. "Yes. I did. He didn't thank me for it, at first. But, to cut a long story short, as soon as he was over that, we persuaded him to try and give it up. I locked him into one of the rooms upstairs and Kes and I took him through withdrawal. A lot of my colleagues will tell you that substitute drugs are the only humane way of helping addicts. I do that for those who don't really want to give up, but who want some control back over their lives. Fee really wanted to stop using, and there's no humane way to do that. Controlled withdrawal is the only thing that works. Whatever had happened to him, however imperfect his memory of it, it got through to him, wherever he was hiding. It was a degradation too far and it was enough to decide him to try. It was hard. You will never know how hard." Again his hand drifted to the keyboard, and Adama knew that the records of that time would be too painful for him to read, impossible to read with Ila there. "Given how young he was, it was quite an achievement. You should be proud of him."

"I think we are as proud of him as you could be," said Adama, pointedly.

Alex shot him an odd look. "Maybe. Well, over the next couple of yahrens we got him stable. He stayed clean, by some miracle. He started talking again, and although he's shy and doesn't talk much with people he doesn't know, that's another mental tic we've got under control. He did a lot of casual jobs by day: building sites, a local café, a fast food place. I got him back to school at nights. He did well."

"He was very bright at school," said Ila.

"He still is. He's very bright. Kes helped him into a proper job as soon as he was eighteen—really eighteen, I mean, when he eventually told us the truth about his age—and he's done that ever since. He's well and strong, he doesn't like so much as an aspirin if he has a headache and when he got the job he finally stopped working the streets. I think that's all. The life of Fee, as I know it."

"Dear God," said Adama, after a centon, letting it all soak in. He knew that he'd been given the good-parts version. He wondered what damnable, dreadful information lurked on Alex's computer.

"One thing," said Jerry "Do you know why he thought he couldn't come home?"

"I've a pretty good idea. About three sectars after we'd got him clean, I'd just about got him agreeing to contact you – not that I knew who you were then, you understand, but I'd got him to agree to contact his family - when it all went belly-up. Something upset him badly. We had a bad time with him for a couple of sectons, but he stayed off the Shadow, thankfully. I was struck by what he said had upset him, so I kept a facsimile of it." Alex found what he wanted on the records and brought it up onto the screen.

A very familiar, untidy scrawl. Four words, over and over: and their two children, and their two children, and their two children....

"What does it mean?" asked Adama.

Alex said, coldly, "I thought perhaps you'd know, Commander."

"But I don't understand it," said Ila. "We have three children, Alex. Apollo's the eldest."

Alex's mouth tightened. "That isn't always clear, as you'd be aware if you looked."

Adama frowned, wondering what Alex meant by that.

"Later, when he told me who he was, I did some research of my own. You need to read your own publicity, Commander. It may clarify things for you. Add what you learn there to the fact he believes you send him to Pasquel to get rid of something that disgusted you too much to keep him in the family, and you'll understand his point of view."

Adama sighed. "It wasn't that. He misunderstood."

Alex switched off the monitor. "Well," he said, and he sounded tired now, "perhaps you might have explained it better. It'll be something to talk to him about if you decide you want to see him."

"Of course we want to see him!"

"Do you?" said Alex.

Adama met the cool grey eyes and held the gaze steady. "Very much."

Alex inclined his head. Adama counted that as a victory.

"I'll stay and sort out the details with Alex," said Jerry. He and Adama had already agreed that he'd stay to go over the records properly without taking the risk of distressing Ila more than was strictly necessary or more than she could cope with. "You take Ila home."

Adama nodded, signalling to Duncan with his mobile communicator. He was glad Jerry was there to do this for him. He'd get a fuller report later, he knew it.

"I want to see Apollo!" protested Ila. "Won't he come and see us? Won't he come here?"

"I don't think he will see us, love," said Adama, tired and sick at heart. "I don't think he will. Not yet."

"Not until he's asked." Alex said, with a certainty born out of a knowledge of Adama's son that Adama resented intensely. "It's taken a lot to get him this far. He doesn't believe that you'll want to see him. He doesn't believe that after what happened, what he did, that you will want to acknowledge him. If you do, then the invitation will have to come from you, Commander. He won't ask."

"I am willing to beg," said Adama, and meant it. He was rewarded by the smile he had from Ila. She looked more her old self than she had in a long time.

"He'll come," she said, confidently. "He'll come when we ask, when he knows we want him."

"Of course," said Adama, reassuring.

They waited in silence for only a few centons before Duncan signalled that he was back with the car. Ila's goodbyes to Alex were tearful and grateful; Adama was more guarded. Alex's protectiveness was clear, and while Adama couldn't argue with that, he didn't count the doctor as friendly. For all his protestations, Alex was judging him and finding him wanting. Adama didn't like it.

He was willing, though, to admit that he wasn't sure if it was Alex who was judging him or if he was judging himself and projecting that onto Alex because it was more comfortable that way. He knew he'd been found wanting. He'd failed Apollo miserably.

Apollo had called him a murderer, and so he was. But not Pieter's, as Apollo had meant. Adama had no regrets about that man's death, other than the effect on Apollo. But he had, in one sense, murdered his son, and he knew it. He had lived with the remorse for more than six yahrens. He brooded on this unpleasant truth until Duncan signalled that he was outside, and Adama could take his leave of Alex at last. He refused Alex's offer to see him to the door, eager to escape.

Fenice was serving its first hot meal of the day and the big reception room was even more crowded when they passed back through it. Adama thought of himself as a charitable man. He subscribed to many appeals and charities, but always, he now realised, from a safe, genteel distance. He had never before been so close to those who needed his generosity. The thought that once Apollo had been so destitute as to need charity like this hurt, almost like a physical pain. He glanced around the room, fixing it in his memory, trying to imagine his son in here. On the edge of vision, the door into the kitchen swung closed as one of the helpers retreated through it, burdened with trays.

Adama put an arm around Ila's shoulders and guided her outside. Duncan had the car at the bottom of the steps, and Adama put her into it. "I won't be a centon," he said. "I should mention to Doctor Alexander that I'd like to support and help in some way."

"Don't be long," she said. Her expression, as she looked around at the streets, was hovering just this side of uneasy and frightened. She wasn't comfortable in the place.

"I won't," he said, and went quickly back inside, already chilled by the freezing air. The warmth of the building was welcome, even with its underlying smell. He went through the reception room and into the corridor behind.

He hadn't been mistaken, in that fleeting glimpse he'd had of the helper with the trays.

His son stood with his back to him, facing Alex and listening intently to whatever the doctor was telling him. As Adama approached, he saw the look on Alex's face, saw the way that Alex lifted a hand to caress the dark hair.

"Doctor," said Adama, quietly.

His son started visibly, and spun around. He stared at Adama, mouth open in surprise. Alex looked grim. He put his arms around Apollo—no, around Fee—and pulled him back against his chest. Adama didn't misunderstand. There had been nothing fatherly about that caress.

He said, without a tremor, "I'm sorry to startle you, Doctor. I only wished to say that I am very grateful for your time and trouble, and that I'm aware that an operation like the Fenice is always in need of funding. I'll speak to my lawyer about adding Fenice to the family charitable trusts."

Alex's only response was a raised eyebrow.

Adama shifted his gaze to meet his son's. Fee—Apollo—Fee... his son, dammit! His son. His son hadn't drawn breath, frozen in place in Alex's protective hold, wide-eyed. It was the same startled, unhappy gaze that had so unexpectedly met his in the café, when Lazarus was reborn from the grave before his eyes.

Adama said, very gently, "Your mother and I want to talk to you, Apollo. Jerry will make the arrangements with Doctor Alexander, for a time and place that you're comfortable with. Please, please try and do this, try and meet with us, at least. We want that very much. We've missed you, very much. I can't even begin to tell you how much."

He didn't attempt to touch Apollo. Instead he held the startled gaze for an instant longer, nodded, and turned away. He was a few feet away, heading back for the main room, when he heard the audible intake of breath and he could feel that intense gaze boring into his back until the door closed behind him.

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