Section Four : Reunions

 

4.1 Paving the way

 

Jerry closed down the data records. For a centon or two he stared bleakly down at the keyboard, letting out his breath in a long, soft sigh.

Alex, sitting quietly at the conference table, watched him with some sympathy. He'd left Jerry with the records for centars while he conducted his normal morning clinic, and he knew it wasn't pleasant reading. "Well?"

"I don't think I've ever read anything so appalling."

"Ah." Alex looked briefly at the computer, knowing that every injury, every instance of abuse had been painstakingly charted. It appalled him, too. But he'd read worse. He'd read and seen much worse.

"That assault you mentioned... thank God you didn't give Ila the details! I don't think Adama could have coped with it either."

Alex had a sudden and clear memory of Kes staggering into the clinic, the bloody body in his arms almost unrecognisable. And another clear memory, of himself pressing hard and desperately on a narrow chest, counting the beats as Kes forced air into lungs that the Shadow had closed down, the needle still in Fee's thin arm. He wondered, even now, how he had managed to write the account of Fee's condition after that attack and keep it clinical and detached. But terrible as that was, Alex found the cumulative record of abuse, of prostitution and malnutrition even more sickening. He suspected that Jerry did, too.

"Give me some credit," he said.

"How much of Apollo is there left in him after all of this?"

'All of this'? Was that polite Osaiyan argot for the rapes and the beatings and, above all, the Shadow? Alex, mordantly amused at the stark difference between their worlds, assumed it was. He didn't know the answer, although sometimes he worried that it wouldn't be very much of Apollo left there at all. It bothered him, because he did want his Fee to be whole and at peace and he held to his view that Fee needed to find Apollo.

Sometimes he wondered if he'd love Apollo, the way he loved Fee.

He settled for shrugging. "I don't know."

"Well, I don't know if Ila will be able to cope with something that looks like Apollo but isn't Apollo. I don't know if I can cope myself." Jerry rubbed briskly at his eyes. "How do you bear it?" he asked.

Alex's smile was rueful. "All of it? Or Fee in particular?"

Jerry didn't protest the name change this time. "I can understand why he's Fee now. It's quite horrible, Alex."

"Ah well," said Alex, trying to be kind. "Yours is a rich practice with rich patients."

"The rich get sick as well, you know."

Alex inclined his head in acknowledgement.

"And for you, this is normal?" Jerry gestured to the computer.

Alex nodded. "Depressingly so. Fee's not unique, you know. He's not even the worst case I've had here, not by a long chalk."

"I do hope that's an exaggeration."

"Jerry, we got to Fee very early. He'd been using for less than a yahren. And yes, of course he was in a mess and of course getting him off the Shadow wasn't easy, but in the scale of things he was nowhere even close to the worst I've seen here." Alex looked thoughtfully at the computer, mentally reviewing its whole hoard of terrible data. "Sometimes, you know, I wonder if privilege will always win out. I'm treating a couple of kids, younger than he was, without the strength and health that he had all his early life; he was strong physically and the damage was less than it has been for these two, so ravaged by Shadow abuse… well, they'll both die."

"How do you bear it?" asked Jerry again.

"Because somebody has to."

"I don't think I could do it."

"It's hard to be objective about it, true. The two kids I mentioned have been taken into care and we're working on a detox programme with the social services people, but I'm not hopeful. We might save the younger brother, if we're very lucky. Theo, the eldest, is showing signs of organ failure now. He's thirteen and he'll likely be dead in a few sectars."

"I couldn't be that calm about it."

Alex looked at him sourly. "Calm? I'm not calm. I'm so angry about it that sometimes—" He paused and shook his head. "I'm not a shouting-out-loud-angry type of person, Jerry. The anger focuses me, usually. I'll grieve when young Theo dies because of the obscenity of it, the waste and wickedness of it, but there's no point in being angry and do nothing with it. The trick is to be angry and do something about it. That's why the Fenice is here, after all." He glanced at the computer. "But Fee now, that's a different thing. He's become very important to me. I find that I can't be objective about him any more. If someone hurt him again, the way he was hurt before, I could become shouting-out-loud-angry very quickly indeed."

Jerry grimaced. Alex hoped that Jerry was under no illusions but that it was a warning. Alex wouldn't allow the family who'd failed Apollo once, to do it again and fail Fee.

"Yes. I understand that and I'll do my best to help him, Alex. I can't do less."

Alex nodded. "He trusts you," he said, and there was a warning in that, too. He wouldn't allow Jerry to fail Fee either.

"I won't let him down," promised Jerry. "Can I ask something? The records stop when he turned eighteen."

"He got his present job and his employer provides total healthcare. I just provide emergency back-up if it's needed."

"All right, but before then I saw that he had two chest infections after you got him off the stuff and what looked to me like some liver problems."

Alex understood at once what reassurance Jerry was looking for. "Mostly he's recovered very well. I really wasn't joking when I said what I did about the advantage of him having been a strong and healthy child. That's stood him in good stead, made him more resilient. There's been some physical damage, of course. He couldn't escape entirely. Yes, you're right about him being prone to chest infections; he's had pneumonia three times in the last few yahrens. And the damage to his liver is permanent, but low-level. He has difficulty in metabolising some things."

"Alcohol, for one."

"Yes. It affects him more than it would you or me. He drinks very little."

"Yes. He said so." Jerry closed the computer down completely.

"He gets drunk very quickly, and Fee hates losing control."

"Too much of that with the Shadow? Ah well." Jerry scrubbed at his eyes again. "It could have been a lot worse, I suppose."

"A great deal. Although I'm no longer his doctor in any formal sense, I do keep an eye on him. Because he's sensible and doesn't drink very much, there's even been some improvement in liver function. His job requires him to be more than normally fit and he has no problems there. Physically, I think he'll always have to be careful about some things but he's near enough normal."

"He was lucky."

"And he has the constitution of an ox."

"So your back-up care hasn't been needed?"

Alex felt his stomach clench. He wished that was true, but Fee's work was dangerous and only the yahren before Fee had suffered his first major injury. The memory of him in the Military Hospital, dazed and ill, still haunted Alex. "He got hurt last yahren, through his work and that provoked one of the bouts of pneumonia. I looked after him when the hospital released him. But other than that, no, I've not been needed, thankfully."

"What the hell kind of job is it that he got hurt so badly he needed to be hospitalised?" asked Jerry.

Alex said, as serene as he could make it, "I agreed to disclose his medical records, that's all. I don't believe that he particularly wants you all to know everything about him. In fact, I know he doesn't. He'll tell you what he wants you to know if he thinks you have earned a right to know it, and he'll tell you only when you've earned the right to know it."

Jerry looked alarmed. Alex thought that he knew what was concerning the other doctor. Alex knew, and it was so clear from the medical notes that Jerry couldn't have missed it, that Fee had continued to work the streets after giving up the Shadow. Moral questions aside, it was dangerous and Fee had been assaulted more than once over the yahrens. Alex had treated Fee after each assault and, once, for an acute and painful bout of venereal disease. Alex was still concerned that the after-effects of that illness could, ironically, have a more catastrophic long-term impact than the Shadow. Fee was young yet to maintain that he never wanted children, anyway.

Although he was sure that Jerry had read the notes and drawn his own conclusions, Alex didn't think that what Fee had done until he was eighteen was what was weighing on the other man – at least not solely. Jerry would worry about the effect on Fee of the past, but he was a pragmatic man at heart and would be more concerned about the present. Jerry couldn't help but wonder, he supposed, that reticence about the sort of work Fee did could point to him still being involved in the sex industry.

Alex wasn't at all sure about the twist of logic that kept Fee so resolutely against telling the commander and Jerry what he did for a living. He didn't understand it at all, but he respected Fee's wishes. He would do nothing to jeopardise Fee's trust in him, but he could concede a little information to counter Jerry's concern.

"I can tell you that his work is legitimate, if not as well paid as it might be."

Jerry grinned. "I evidently need to work on being less transparent. All right, Alex. Let's leave it there for now. You've reassured me that physically he's fine, but we've more than that to consider. Just how stable is he?"

"Very."

"Remarkable," said Jerry.

"Well, how did he strike you yesterday?"

"Nervous. But yes, I wouldn't have thought that he was more than that. There were no signs of anything amiss, and believe me, I was watching for it." Jerry touched the computer. "He doesn't have any right to be that stable."

Alex smiled slightly. "I said he was stable, not unscathed. Of course he's had his problems." He reached for the coffee pot from its hotplate and poured himself a cup. Jerry refused one. "The first couple of yahrens were the worst. He wasn't quite clinically depressed, never quite psychotic. But he was traumatised by what had happened and deeply unhappy. He wasn't mute for the fun of it."

"No, poor child." Jerry's eyes strayed to the monitor again. "He credits you with being the one to persuade him to speak again, from what he said yesterday."

"It took me a long time. He used silence as his last defence against what had happened, and it was a long hard slog to breach that one. It was a real issue in rehabilitating him. It affected his work prospects badly." Alex frowned at his coffee. "Most employment demands some sort of communication, after all. He couldn't get much work so if he needed anything, he continued to work the streets. Men looking for sex aren't normally looking for a conversation to go with it."

The topic came back again, like a tooth aching. He hadn't intended to set Jerry off down that track again, and he had to admit, wryly, that the ache was in him as much as anyone. He had loved Fee for a long time. It had never been easy, watching Fee self destruct.

"But you said what he does now is legitimate."

"Yes. Now." Alex drank off his coffee. "He's healthy, stable and in work. I don't know that anyone could want more."

It was a dismissal, but not enough, seemingly.

"It's just that we both know that this is going to be stressful, and I don't want to jeopardise him any more than I want to jeopardise Ila."

"She seemed less fragile than I expected."

"Just knowing he was alive and that he's agreed to some sort of contact has done wonders. If this all goes belly up, it'll be catastrophic for her."

Alex nodded. "I can understand that, of course. Fee's a bit twitchy at the unexpectedness of it, but actually he's coping very well."

"I need to talk to him about his mother. Is he coming here today?"

"He arrived when his parents were here. You could try working on the commander to leave well alone. He spotted Fee on the way out and would insist on speaking to him."

"Oh my God." Aghast and dramatic, Jerry put his head in his hands. "Adama is a law unto himself, but I'll try. I hope that there was no harm done?"

"I don't think so. A few extra twitches from Fee, but I think he'll be all right. He's down in the furnace room." At Jerry's look of surprise, he added, "The furnace is a temperamental beast – it went off a centar ago. The temperature in here takes a while to fall, but it's freezing outside and we've a lot of patients and regulars who are too frail and vulnerable to stand that for long."

Alex could feel the slight chill now. It wasn't cold enough to steam his breath, but he could feel a bite to the air.

"I can feel it," said Jerry. "I didn't notice until you mentioned it."

"Do you want to talk to him now?"

Jerry nodded and followed Alex to the door. "Fee's fixing the furnace, I take it?"

"If he's here when it breaks down, we leave it to him. He has a kind of genius for getting it to work. I'm not sure his method is all that scientific, but it's effective. He uses a hammer and a judicious amount of bad language."

"I expect," said Jerry, after a centon, "that he's pretending it's his father."

It was enough to surprise a sharp crack of laughter from Alex.

Jerry grinned. "I'm very fond of Adama, but even I'll admit that he can be a little single minded. He never expected to see this day, you know. He believed that Apollo was dead. And now he knows that Apollo is Fee— well, I hope you're lined up for a long and fruitful acquaintance with him because nothing short of death will shift him until he's healed that breach. He is a very determined man."

"Fee implied as much, with a certain amount of glum resignation." Alex started down the basement stairs. "But you might have words with him about his methods. Fee will not take kindly to being treated like the prodigal returned, begging for forgiveness. He would be the first to say that he made a complete mess of things, but he's clear that the original cause of all this was not entirely his fault and any attempt by the commander to judge or moralise— "

"Adama won't do that. He's learned quite a lot over the yahrens, not least to judge and moralise about himself first. He holds himself to blame, Alex. I don't think he'll blame Apollo."

Alex snorted. When it came to self delusion and looking for a return to personal comfort, he didn't see that the commander would be less fallible than any other man. His self-blame would last as long as he didn't have someone else to carry the burden. Fee might just be that someone else... Alex stopped himself from going any further. He knew little of the commander other than through Fee's partial and prejudiced eyes. He had been less than welcoming to the man, that day, when Adama had shown nothing but a real eagerness to find his lost son. He had, most definitely against his own code, been judgemental.

That was what loving Fee did for you, then. Alex decided not to mourn his loss of perspective. He'd gained a great deal else that was more valuable.

Unlike the rest of the building, the furnace room was still very hot. Fee had shed even the thin jacket—they had to go and get him a new one, as soon as possible, Alex reminded himself—and was head down over the furnace. It made his shirt and the worn denims strain very nicely indeed in all the right places, and for an instant Alex's memory reminded him of the feel and smell and taste of the lithe young body that had moved beneath him the night before, more than once, and again that morning. Alex drew a deep breath, suddenly and overpoweringly happy, grateful to whatever gods had given him Fee, however temporarily. Fee was beautiful, even hanging over a furnace with soot all over his face.

He smiled as he watched his young love pretend ignorance of their presence. "Not done, then?" he asked, quietly, reluctant to disturb the picture.

"Just." Fee straightened and replaced the tools in their box, flicking the switch to reset the furnace. It started first time. "We need a new one," he said.

Alex laughed. "We need a lot of things. I've more chance of being elected President of the Council of Twelve than I have of squeezing out enough cubits for a new furnace."

Fee turned slowly. There was a flicker of something when he saw that it wasn't his father but Jerry, but Alex couldn't tell if it was disappointment or relief. Or maybe both. Fee's voice was admirably even when he spoke. "Remember the offer you got today. Sting him for a new furnace."

Alex was amused. "I might just do that. Keep still."

Fee let him remove the soot, his eyes wicked and regretful all at once. Alex had no doubt at all how the manoeuvre would have ended but for Jerry's presence. He was sorry that the other doctor was there.

"Hey," said Fee, to Jerry.

Jerry smiled at him, but he looked troubled. "Hello, Fee."

Fee glanced at Alex, a sideways flash of green.

"Jerry has just finished looking at the records," said Alex. "I think his sleep may be disturbed tonight."

Fee grinned and shrugged himself back into his jacket. "So will yours."

Alex knew that he was far too old to blush. The heat in his face had to be from the residual heat in the furnace room. He returned Fee's smirk with as bland a face as he could manage. "Jerry wants to talk to you," he said.

"I want some lunch," countered Fee, wary again.

"Then my treat," said Jerry. "We passed plenty of places to eat on the way here -"

"I can buy my own lunch, thanks," said Fee.

"Fee," said Alex, gently.

Fee flushed. He looked like a guilty child for a micron, then, with an obvious effort, he said in a more conciliatory tone, " We can go to Giorgi's. It's just round the corner. It's Leonid, mind, so the food's spicy."

"I don't mind that," said Jerry, in a very neutral tone. He was too smart not to have realised that he'd just hit one of Fee's sensitivities.

"Okay. Are you coming, Alex?"

"Yes," said Alex, who knew a plea when he heard it, however casually expressed. "I'll just go and have a word with Marcus—my deputy here, Jerry—and I'll see you both at the front door in five centons."

But Fee wasn't having any of that. He evidently had no intention of being left alone with Jerry and trailed along at Alex's heels, sticking closer than a burr. Jerry, shrugging, left them to it, doing little more than sharing a raised eyebrow with Alex when Fee helpfully pointed him towards the door. Alex had his word with Marcus, running him to ground in one of the treatment rooms, and headed out, Fee at his side. Marcus gave him and Fee a very knowing look when he saw them; grinning like a loon, thought Alex, rather uncharitably. He put it out of his mind, more concerned by Fee's dependence.

"Tell me," he said. "Just what sort of big grown up job it is that you do, now? Do they let you get away with this sort of behaviour?"

"Are you suggesting I'm being a bit childish?"

"Cling much harder and we'll be conjoined twins."

"You weren't complaining last night," said Fee. "Or this morning."

"There's clinging and there's clinging – " Alex stopped when a hand slipped into his and squeezed. "Oh, all right. But Jerry's no fool. He's worrying already about the stress on you."

"You'll protect me."

Alex laughed and shrugged. "Always." They stopped off in Alex's office to collect his coat and do other, more interesting things that had a lot to do with the wicked look that Fee had given him earlier. It was several centons before Alex spoke again. He was having some difficulty in thinking with Fee rubbing up against him like a cat.

"I'd say you were feeling very protected," he said, when he could. "Who provides this for you at work? I can't say that I can see Samn letting you writhe all over him like this."

"I don't sleep with him either," said Fee, grinning. Then, more soberly, "It's different at work. What happens there can be shit, but I know it, I can handle it. This comes a bit too close."

"I know," said Alex, and he did know. The demons Fee faced at work were corporeal, capable of swift physical destruction. True, they threatened physical destruction in their turn but memory of them could be rationalised. These demons were different. They went to the heart of who Fee was, to where Apollo lurked if Apollo was still there at all.

And in the meantime, Jerry was waiting. Alex hustled Fee along to the front door to face this particular demon in the guise of a society doctor.

Even though it was close to mid-day, it was still bitterly cold outside. It had stopped snowing, but the sky was grey and lowering, promising more blizzards. Giorgi's was so warm that the windows, the point of contact between two different worlds, were steamed up completely and running with condensation. Someone had written in the steam, a rude message in Leonid about the quality of the cooking, the standard of hygiene and Giorgi's likely parentage.

"The kids I just threw out," said Giorgi, wiping haphazardly at the condensation with a tea towel to obliterate the insult.

"They were lying," said Alex. "Your mother couldn't possibly have been a walrus. That was your father."

Giorgi laughed. "One day I'll go on that diet you keep on at me about. Three specials, on their way."

Alex enjoyed the look on Jerry's face as he took in the place, everything from Giorgi's bulk encased in an apron so grubby that the regulars only had to look at it to make an educated guess at the day's menu, and the décor that ran the gamut from basic to ramshackle. A little different from an Osaiya wine-bar, he'd wager.

"Specials?" asked Jerry.

"We've worked our way through the menu—" said Alex.

"Several times," put in Fee

"—so now Giorgi just gives us whatever's the special of the day. It's a bit of a lottery, but all the food's very good here."

And indeed it was, hot and fragrant with spices; perfect winter fodder.

"It is very good," said Jerry, patently surprised. They ate in silence until he cleared his plate and sat watching Fee for a centon, his hands folded in front of him. "We need to talk, Fee."

Fee put down his fork and sighed.

"Two things. First, your parents want to talk to you very badly. Your Dad thought it might be easier if I arranged that with you. And second, I want to talk to you about your mother."

"Mama?"

"Yes. She was really very ill when you left, and although she's gradually got a great deal better, and seeing you and knowing that you that you came to see me and that you were willing for some sort of contact has had an amazing effect on her. But she isn't the same person she was when you were a child, not the mother you'll remember. She's fragile, Fee. Please, when you do talk to her, please remember that and whatever you might feel, however angry you get, please be kind to her."

Fee's mouth twisted. "Any limitations on getting angry with him?"

"None. He can take it. She can't."

Whatever Fee thought of Jerry's warning about his mother's health, he kept to himself. He picked up his fork and returned his attention to attacking the second helping that Giorgi, seeing he'd finished one plateful, turned up to press on them. Even Jerry accepted.

"And they really want to see me," said Fee at last.

"Very much." Jerry added, slyly, "Didn't your father say so?"

Fee grunted and concentrated on his food for a few centons. "What did they say? What did they say when Alex told them everything?"

Alex had already told him of their reaction, of course, in those few centons before Adama had reappeared in the hallway and later, in more detail, in between patients at the clinic while Jerry trawled the records. He wondered if Fee was checking up on him.

"Alex told me what he thought," said Fee, unwittingly reassuring Alex. "But he doesn't know them the way that you do. Do they really want it, Jerry? Did they mean it?"

"They were upset," said Jerry. "With even the little that Alex told them, they were shocked and, yes, horrified. It's only natural. Despite what you may think, Fee, and despite all the difficulties over Pieter, they're your parents and they love you. What happened grieved them - there aren't the words to say how much. They thought you were dead. To find you like this... well, they want to see you desperately. They'll agree to any conditions you like."

Fee shot Alex a glance that Alex couldn't decipher, and concentrated on his lunch for a few centons. Alex looked blandly at Jerry, silently cautioning him to wait, not to push. Jerry was smart. He sat back and waited, letting his gaze wander about the café.

"All right," said Fee, at last.

"It will be difficult," said Jerry.

"You don't say." Fee pushed his plate to one side. "It was hard enough coming to see you, yesterday."

"But this will be harder."

"Mmn." Fee looked at Alex. "Not here, because this is my place, mine and Alex's and I don't want... I have to have somewhere..."

"I understand," said Jerry. He gave Alex a speculative look. Alex ignored it. "And not back home."

"This is my home," said Fee, sharply.

"Not their home, then, I mean. And not somewhere too public." Jerry gave Fee a wry smile. "If there's no limitations on being angry with your dad, you maybe won't want to exercise that too publicly. My house?"

"All right," said Fee, again.

"When? Alex mentioned that your job often takes you off Caprica for sectons at a time. They definitely want to see you very soon, before you leave again. Your father's due back on the Galactica in a few days but he'll put that off to see you, to fit with what you want."

Fee looked— well, Alex wasn't sure. Cynical, yes, but surprised. "That's a change," he said. "That'll be the first time I was ever more important than what they wanted to do."

Jerry's pleasant expression didn't change at all. "Do you think so? Yet your father gave up command of the Atlantia, you know. In career terms, that was hardly the wisest of moves, but taking the Galactica for the last yahren of her refit was a yahren he could spend at home looking for you."

Fee flushed and looked away. The silence stood until even Alex was feeling uncomfortable, but he didn't interfere. He wasn't so biased that he couldn't see when Fee's occasional tendency to petulance needed correction.

"I'm going to be on Caprica for a while," said Fee, rather stiffly. "I'm doing some training for work."

He was going to be on Caprica for a whole sectar, starting the following secton. Alex felt that melting in his gut again, the feeling that he equated with happiness. Fee's working pattern was usually a secton, at most two, at home and anything from six to eight sectons away on a job. This would be the longest Fee had been at home for three yahrens, and from Alex's perspective he couldn't have timed it better. The thought of a full sectar with that warm body beside him every night was a better intoxicant than ambrosa. A honeymoon, Fee had said the night before, laughing. But that was precisely how Alex viewed it.

"That's useful, but doesn't get us closer to arranging a date," said Jerry. Tomorrow?"

"It doesn't have to be that fast!" protested Fee.

"The day after, then?"

Alex grinned at Jerry's relentless approach. It was quite obvious Fee wasn't going to be given too much time to brood. "I could get Marcus to do some extra time the day after tomorrow and free me up," he said.

Fee pushed his plate away. "Oh, all right!"

Jerry ignored the flash of bad temper to give Alex another one of those speculative looks. "I take it you'll be there, then?"

Fee reached across the table and took Alex's hand in his, openly. "I won't come without him."

Jerry nodded. "Then it's five for lunch. I'm looking forward to it."

Alex took in Fee's glowering face. He wished he could say the same.

 

 

4.2 First Steps

To say that Ila was overwrought with excitement was a masterly understatement.

Jerry had cautioned and advised until he was hoarse, and in the end he'd given her a mild sedative the night before to make sure that she got some rest. Looking at her now, he wondered if he should give her another. She was lit up, eyes feverishly bright, so like the green eyes that had stared into his in that strange little Eastside café, although Fee's eyes had been bright with anger and, he thought, fright, not happiness. In the end he had a quiet word with Adama and put a small dose into the glass of sherry that Adama coaxed her to drink.

"I'm just happy," she protested, but she drank it. "Why aren't you?"

"I'm very happy, although there's a long way to go yet," said Adama, but he forced a smile for her. "They'll be here soon."

He wandered away to the window. Jerry watched Ila for a few centons until she was calmer, less fluttery. She was still smiling and happy, but less febrile, a little more controlled. But it was all very precarious. His chest tightened with anxiety for her. He and Adama both knew that if this went badly, she would shatter like glass.

Adama said, from the window, "Jerry, have you any idea if Doctor Alexander is still Apollo's doctor?"

Jerry's hand squeezed Ila's shoulder until she smiled at him, the smile as brilliant and beautiful as the rare smile he'd got from Fee, so very different from the uncertain, tentative smile she'd worn for the last six yahrens. He smiled back, and went to join Adama at the window.

The weather had moderated slightly, unexpectedly. Although it was still cold, a thaw had settled in the day before; only temporary, the meteorologists said, warning of bitter temperatures to come that night, but a welcome respite from the iron bite of the freezing weather they'd had since Yule. The snow was melting fast, the gutters running with melt water and dirty, slushy snow, and water dripped everywhere from the dark tree boughs and from the corners of roofs. The lawns were still thick with snow, though, and it wasn't likely it would all go before the temperature dropped again and the next snowfall came. It was very far from being the last snow of the winter.

Alex and Fee were standing on the public path that ran along the bottom of the lawns, arguing. Fee was the one being emotional and melodramatic, Jerry saw, his arms waving as he made some vehement point. Alex looked as calm and unmovable as ever.

"Is he Apollo's doctor still?" repeated Adama.

"No, I don't think so," said Jerry. "Not from what he told me. Why?"

Alex's arms opened and Fee went straight into them, as if he was going home, Alex smoothing down the unruly hair with one hand.

"That's why. I don't like the look of that," said Adama.

Alarmed, Jerry turned his head to look at Adama. He could see only the profile, but Adama's expression was hard, the mouth drawn down. "I don't give a damn what you like the look of," he said sharply. "It's none of your business."

Adama jumped visibly, turning. He opened his mouth, but Jerry wasn't prepared to even let him get started.

He glanced at Ila, to be certain she was unaware of the conversation, couldn't be alarmed by it, and spoke quickly, quietly savage. "Shut up and listen to me. If that was Apollo out there, he was twenty-one last sectar. He's an adult and his private life is his own. Even if you'd had nothing but the closest relations with him for the last six yahrens, it still wouldn't be any of your business although, I grant you, you would probably be in a better position to ask and have some expectation that he'd talk to you and tell you. But that isn't Apollo out there. It's Fee, and you don't have the excuse of six yahrens closeness to ask him what's going on. The absolute opposite, Adama. You have no rights here, none."

"He's my son—"

"He looks like your son, and maybe he'll be your son again one day, but he's one hell of a long way away from being your son right now. If you make a fuss about Alex and what may or may not be going on there, you'll have blown any chance at all of creating any sort of relationship with him. He won't stand for it, Adama."

"I was merely going to remark that Alex is rather old for him."

Jerry huffed with impatience. "Well do your remarking to me, because, so help me, if you open your mouth merely to remark when they get in here, then I'll ram my boot so far down your throat that you'll be chewing on my knee."

Adama blinked, but Jerry was confident that he'd got the message across. "I wasn't going to say anything."

"Good. Now go and sit with your wife and I'll see if I can persuade them to come indoors." Jerry paused and turned back, and put a hand on Adama's arm, half apology for being so blunt, half encouragement. He knew that most of Adama's cantankerousness came from the same nervousness that he felt himself. They'd done nothing the day before but discuss tactics. Adama had to know better than to let momentary nervousness get in the way of what had to be done, and Jerry supposed that it was better that Adama vent his nerves and frustration on him than on Fee.

"I'll be good," said Adama, meekly, and nothing could have been more eloquent of his apprehension that this uncharacteristic submission.

Jerry left it to him to tell Ila that Fee had arrived, and went out onto his porch. Fee and Alex had progressed a few metres up the path to the point where his own pathway met it, and had halted again, once again in deep discussion. Jerry suspected he wasn't the only one to be nervous.

"Cold feet?" he called.

Alex looked up and smiled. "In both senses."

"Well, the only way to deal with both is to come inside.

"Indeed," said Alex, and after a moment's hesitation, Fee came up the path, Alex behind him.

"I'm glad you came, Fee," said Jerry, quietly, forcing himself into the calm and quiet he had enjoined upon Adama and Ila.

He would have liked to hug the boy senseless but the sincere greeting would have to do instead, because Fee's eyes were as wide as the sea that boomed in the distance as it hit the cliffs at the end of Jerry's street. He reminded Jerry of a spooked horse; one wrong move and he'd bolt. Jerry contented himself with unthreatening gestures instead - an unfeigned warmth to the voice, a hand resting briefly on Fee's shoulder, a smile that he hoped conveyed just how very glad he was that Fee was there.

Fee sighed and handed over his coat; a new one, Jerry noticed, thick against the cold weather. "They're here?"

"Yes, but I want a word with you before we join them. In here." Jerry took them to his study, firmly closing the door behind them. "Remember what I said about your mother. She's very keyed up."

"What about him?"

"Your father's pretty keyed up too, but he's promised to be good."

"Oh yeah."

"Yes. But we both know how hard that's going to be for him. It'll do him good to suffer a bit."

Fee was surprised into a grin, but it was very fleeting, fading almost immediately. Jerry grinned back at him.

"Seriously, she's very emotional and very excited. That's a fragile state to be in, Fee. What I'm asking of you will be hard. Please be generous in your dealings with her today. I know you're angry about what happened, but please don't take it out on her. She won't be able to cope with it."

Fee grimaced. "That's a bit one-sided."

Jerry hunched one shoulder, acknowledging the truth of that. "Yes, it is, I suppose. But from everything Alex has told me and what I've seen for myself so far, you're strong and healthy. You've recovered from the depression you had when you were fourteen. Believe me I was watching for it when you came to see me here and at the Fenice, and I'm delighted to see you so well. Alex told me that your job is tough and demanding and that you do well at it – that's very reassuring because it means that you'll be able to cope with today. She's weaker than you, physically and mentally. She never has really recovered. All I'm asking is that you remember that only bullies hurt the weak, Fee."

"She didn't look too well, when I saw them."

"No. The shock was too much for her to handle. Don't get me wrong, she's not a basket case or anything like that. She's just a little fragile." Jerry scratched thoughtfully at his nose. "You know, it would have been far more sensible for you to meet with your father alone first, so you could yell at each other and get the anger out of your systems. But she couldn't wait to see you. And I don't know anyone who could ask a mother to wait to see a son she's thought dead for yahrens."

Fee sighed. "I'll remember."

"Good. Now, I'll try and be as neutral as I can in all of this. If I think she's getting overwrought, or if you are, I'll call a halt; either just for us to take a break or cut things short until the next meeting."

"The next meeting?" repeated Fee, startled.

"Of course. This is the start of a process, I hope, Fee. It won't be over today."

Fee stared at him, then at Alex. "I've had a hard enough time thinking about getting through today. I haven't thought about there being more."

"I doubt we'll sort everything out in one session," said Jerry, dryly. "Miracles take a little longer than that."

"Oh," said Fee.

Jerry shook his head, wondering what young people did for brains some days.

Alex met his gaze and smiled slightly. "Let's just get through today, shall we?" he said and steered Fee back out into the hallway.

Fee hesitated on the threshold of the drawing room, reluctant to push at the closed door. Alex let Jerry get past them. Jerry saw that Alex had his hand on the small of Fee's back, and that it was moving in small, comforting circles. It confirmed his own thoughts from the meeting at the Eastside and Fee's evident dependence on Alex. Adama's suspicions looked to be as well-founded as Adama's reaction was ill-timed and, frankly, irrelevant.

"It'll be all right," said Alex. He leaned forward and his mouth brushed Fee's cheek. Fee turned into his embrace and returned it. Alex smiled at him. "You aren't on your own."

He met Jerry's gaze, his expression slightly defiant. Jerry hoped that his own face was expressionless and unsurprised: he had a childish desire to confound Alex by his imperturbability. He put a hand on Fee's shoulder and gave it an encouraging squeeze. He was not blind to the irony that only centons earlier he'd comforted Ila with exactly the same gesture.

"Ready?"

Fee nodded, slowly. He turned again to face the door and took a very deep breath.

Jerry opened the door, and went in first. "Fee's here," he said, unnecessarily, perhaps, but to give them some warning and to remind Adama of agreed tactic number one - that they had to acknowledge that this was Fee, not Apollo.

Fee followed him in. Jerry suspected that with Alex behind him and cutting off his escape, he didn't have any choice. Adama got to his feet, but Ila was faster. Despite everything they'd tried to tell her about taking things easy and slow, about giving Fee time and space to get used to them again, her only thought was to reach her son. She was past Jerry before he could stop her, throwing herself at Fee, laughing and crying together, incoherently babbling something, anything, a half-hysterical mix of greetings and exclamations. Adama was left with one hand held out, frozen in surprise and horror. Even Alex looked taken aback. Jerry, seeing their expressions, was tempted to laugh, but it was sheer nerves rather than amusement.

Fee rocked visibly on his heels, his arms automatically going out to catch his balance and to catch at his mother. He put his arms around her. He was quite a bit taller than her now, and he was leaving the skinny teen yahrens behind and starting to broaden out. Jerry doubted that he'd ever be as bulky as his father, but for a micron he looked it, in the stark contrast to his mother. Her frailty was painfully obvious. He stared down at the top of his mother's head, his face showing nothing but surprise. He made a tentative move to touch her hair.

"It's all right," he said, awkwardly. "It's all right." He bowed his head for a micron to rest it against hers.

Jerry could see how much she was shaking. He glanced at Adama, who moved, rather cautiously, to get an arm around Ila and draw her gently away, evidently afraid he'd provoke hysterics in her and God alone knew what in Fee. At the same time Alex was at Fee's shoulder, the same sort of support and vague anxiety about him. Jerry was grimly and privately amused at the unconscious symmetry.

"Let him draw breath, love," said Adama.

Fee leaned back against Alex. His eyes were so wide that they were little more than a hint of green around the enormous pupils. They met Jerry's briefly, troubled. Perhaps he was only just beginning to see the consequences of what had happened all those yahrens before.

Adama, one arm around Ila, put out his right hand. "I'm very glad to see you, Fee."

The name came out with more ease than Jerry had expected, but then, they'd practiced long enough the previous day. He watched Fee's reactions carefully. The boy stared at the outstretched hand and slowly reached out to touch it, very briefly. Adama looked relieved.

"Come and sit down," said Jerry, trying not to sigh out loud in relief.

"With me!" Ila twisted free from Adama's grip and caught at Fee's hand. She pulled at him eagerly. "Please, darling. Come and sit with me."

Whatever he was feeling, Fee had obviously taken Jerry's warning to heart. With little more than a glance at Alex, he let Ila pull him to the sofa, and sat there with her, and he let her touch him, patting his face or his hair as if checking he was real and not another figment of her imagination. Alex, quite deliberately, took the seat at the other side of him, giving him a bulwark to lean up against. Jerry and Adama took the seats opposite and watched while she touched and exclaimed and cried, until, tentative, Fee put his arms around her again. She nestled up against him, still making that strange noise that was part laughter and part sobbing, distraught and delighted.

"It's all right, Mama. Please don't be so upset."

Jerry leaned over and put his fingers against the pulse on her wrist, thinking that he should have given her a stronger dose. But still, she wasn't anywhere near as hysterical as she might have been, as she'd shown the capacity to be. She pulled her hand away.

"I'm all right," she said, with a flash of impatience, most of her attention on her son. "Oh darling!"

Fee, looking increasingly uncomfortable, gave her a strained smile. Alex's hand was once more resting on the small of Fee's back and Jerry, relieved that Alex was there, glanced at Adama. They had to cool the temperature, and fast.

Adama said, as coolly as he could, "We've a lot to talk about, Fee. But the first thing that I wanted to say is that your mother and I are so glad that you came today. There aren't words enough to tell you how glad."

"Mmn," said Fee.

"And I wanted to say something else as well, something that I hope will underlie all of the discussions we have today and, hopefully, in the future." Adama paused, then said, as calmly as possible, "There's no wiping out the past, we know that. I think we need to talk about it, so that we can understand it, but it'll always be there. That means there's a lot of baggage we all have that's going to get in the way, but there's one pretty important thing I wanted to say about all of that. We accept, your mother and I, that you've made a new life for yourself that doesn't include us or your brother and sister. Why that's happened... well, I hope we'll be able to fathom it out and put some of the misunderstandings right. But it has happened. I know that's our starting point, and we can't wipe it away, that you have a life of your own. What your mother and I are hoping for, is that we can find some way of you letting us into at least a part of that life for the future. That's all we want."

Jerry nodded approval.

"Why?" demanded Fee, abruptly.

"Because you're our son, and we love you," said Adama.

"Uh-huh," said Fee. "Felt like it when you were so disgusted with me that you got rid of me to that school. I felt really loved then." And with savage mimicry, he added, "There aren't the words to tell you how much."

Adama flushed red. "I made a mistake," he said, rather stiffly.

"Yeah, well, we all make those, now don't we? Only some of us are never forgiven for them."

"Apollo," said Ila, uneasily. The febrile brightness was gone as quickly as it had come.

"Fee," he said, but his tone was noticeably less savage, Jerry noted, seeing the effort he made to gentle his voice and not frighten her. "Apollo's not here."

"We all know that you prefer to be called Fee," cut in Jerry. "But you'll have to give us a little bit of time to get used to it. You're still Apollo to us." He grinned when Fee glared at him. "I am trying to be as neutral as I can, refereeing this match."

Fee looked sour, glancing at his mother. "Only fair, since you handicapped me."

"We're handicapped too, Fee, if that's what bothering you," said Adama. "In our case, it's worrying about what to say and how to say it in a way that's acceptable to you. I don't really know what to say."

"Well, you'd better find something. Otherwise why in hell am I wasting my time here?"

Alex's hand closed on Fee's shoulder. Fee sat back, releasing his mother, leaning back against Alex. Ila raised a hand to cover her mouth, wide eyes peering over it, frightened. Jerry watched her carefully.

Adama said, his calmness not entirely unexpected, but still impressive, "I've a lot to say, Fee. I only meant that some of it's very difficult to put into words."

Fee's eyes narrowed. "Words trap you," he said, almost to himself.

"Words are slippery," agreed Jerry. "But they don't have to be, and they can be taken back and forgiven and given new meaning, if you're willing to allow it." He leaned forward. "Give it a chance, Fee."

"I'm not stopping him from talking. I'm waiting."

Adama nodded. He took a deep, audible breath. "I wanted to say something else before we start talking about what happened and try to sort that out between us. I wanted to say that Alex told us what he could about your life after you left us—"

Fee flinched visibly.

"—and I know you told Jerry that you thought we would be too horrified by that to want to try and resolve things between us. That isn't the case, Apollo. It was terrible thing, and we—your mother and I—can't help but feel responsible and heart-sorry, but it makes no difference to what we feel about you and we'll talk about that only so far as you want to—"

"I don't," said Fee, sharp as glass. "At all. Ever. Not with you."

Adama nodded. "I understand that, and that's fine. I just want to say again that it makes no difference at all to the way we feel about you, Apollo. None."

Fee flinched again. The look on his face didn't suggest that he believed Adama's assurance or that he was even vaguely comfortable with the concepts of his past and his family being in any sort of proximity. Alex shifted slightly behind him, moving closer. His expression was grave and slightly anxious, protective. Jerry, for all that he found Alex's worthy seriousness slightly intimidating and more than slightly tiresome, was immensely relieved he was there.

Fee's wide eyes met Jerry's, questioning. Jerry nodded reassurance at him. If Jerry was sure of one thing, then it was Adama's sincerity in all of this. They had to convince Fee, or they'd get nowhere.

"My name's Fee," said the boy.

Adama accepted the correction. "Fee. I'm sorry. I'll try and remember."

Fee nodded, his manner stiff.

"But I do think that we need to talk about why you thought you couldn't come back to us, once Alex helped you get clear of the Shadow."

"You didn't want me."

"You're wrong there."

"Oh, really?"

"Really." Adama's calm was more convincing than loud protests could have been.

"You sent me away! You got rid of me to that place."

"I thought," said Adama, "that your mother couldn't manage you anymore and I wouldn't be there at home to help. I thought it was the best thing, to send you to Pasquel. It's a good school, Apollo."

"Fee."

"Fee," acknowledged Adama, again.

Fee stared off into the middle distance. "I don't remember much about it,"

"Except you think that I just didn't want you at home."

Fee shrugged. "You didn't."

"No. I didn't. I was blaming you for upsetting your mother, and I didn't think it was doing the younger two much good to be living in that much tension. I thought it would do you good, to be in a more disciplined environment. I thought I was doing the best thing for everyone." Adama looked down. "And, if I'm honest, I was irrationally angry. I was punishing you for something you didn't deserve punishment for."

Fee said nothing, looking completely taken aback by his father's ready admission.

Adama waited for a micron, sighing when it became clear Fee had no intention of responding. "All right, so that was one reason you wouldn't contact us. We spent some time yesterday acting on what Alex told us, doing a little research. We found what you had evidently seen and misunderstood. It was something I'd forgotten about."

"There was a lot of publicity when you were appointed to the Council," said Alex. "A lot of holopics."

Fee broke in. "The captions were very clear. 'Commander Adama, Siress Ila and their two children.' Not 'two of their children'. Not 'their two youngest children'. Just 'their two children'."

"Yes, we found the references."

"Just the only two you wanted. The ones you had after you got rid of the filthy thing you didn't want in your perfect family. What did I misunderstand there?"

Adama didn't rise to that bait. "Then I suppose you didn't see the corrections?"

Fee stared. "Corrections?"

"The ones where we made it clear that they had it wrong and we had three children."

Fee's mouth twisted. "No," he said, and the disbelief in his tone was ugly. "I didn't see those."

"They were there," said Adama, and waited.

Fee glared at him, his mouth still in that disbelieving twist.

Adama sighed, and left it. "As you will find, if you look. Let's leave it there, for the moment. I'll leave it by saying that was a misapprehension on your part, Apollo. We would have given everything, every penny we had, to have you back."

"Surely I'm not worth that much," said Fee, silky smooth. "Not when I wasn't worth a micron of your time even before you found out about Pieter."

Adama didn't let that faze him. "Every penny, Ap— Fee. I meant it. But since you've mentioned Pieter, I think we need to talk about him and everything that happened there. That's where the misunderstandings happened."

Fee tensed. Alex's hand moved over Fee's chest until he was holding Fee up against him, his other hand gentling the rough black hair. Adama watched that for a micron, his expression unreadable, his mouth thinning. Jerry glared at him, hoping his own expression was eminently readable. Adama nodded slightly.

Fee said, savage, "You killed Pieter. What did you want to say about that? That you're sorry for that too? That you killed him on a misunderstanding?"

Ila made a strange little sound in her throat, stricken, frightened by the sheer hostility. Fee glanced at her, impatience in everything about him, from his expression to the tension in the way he sat. He'd drawn away from her, and this time he made no move to comfort her.

Adama's self control was perfect, his voice steady. "Pieter killed himself, Apollo. I'm sorry that he died that way. But I would do again tomorrow what I did then to try and protect you. You were too young."

"Protect me?" Fee stared. "Was that what you thought you were doing? Being told I was despicable and stupid, that was protection? Killing Peter was protection? Sending me away? Five hundred miles, on my own, not three sectons after I found him— fuck! If that's your idea of protection, never ever try to have a go at me, will you? I couldn't survive that."

Adama flushed a dull red. "You were only fourteen!"

"That makes it all right, does it? Killing Pieter and sending me away and making me feel so filthy that I'll never be clean?"

Adama was lost, staring at Fee in white-faced silence. Jerry stirred, terrified that it was all going to explode in their faces when Alex said, his reasoned tone so measured that Jerry could have kissed him, "Most parents persist in thinking of children as asexual beings. It's a common fallacy."

"True," said Jerry, clutching at the lifeline. "But most adults know better than to take advantage of it. There's too much imbalance in age, experience, power. Those things all even out between adults, but makes what Pieter did with a child wrong." He met the flash of green eyes. "I don't doubt that Pieter loved you as much as you loved him, Fee. But you were only fourteen. He shouldn't have."

"I wanted him to," said Fee, crossly. The intense glare fastened onto his father. "I was important to him."

Jerry glanced at Adama. He'd been given enough time to catch his breath and remember tactic number two: whatever we personally think of Pieter, remember Apollo loved him and act accordingly. Adama didn't argue. "Yes. At the time I simply couldn't understand that. As Alex says, we want our children to remain children as long as possible. I didn't know what to do. I was lost and I got angry, I reacted badly." He smiled, wryly. "I don't like not knowing what to do. It doesn't come naturally to me. I think I looked for someone to blame and there you were." He waited, then said, with all sincerity, "I don't look for forgiveness, Apollo, not yet. But I am sorry. I'm very sorry."

"As sorry as me? As sorry as I was when I cried myself to sleep every night and you didn't care enough to even notice?"

"You hid it very well," said Jerry, gently.

It was Fee's turn to flush red, and he frowned. Adama took advantage of it to press on.

"Pieter... well, Pieter surprised me." Adama leaned forward, leaning his hands on his knees, keeping eye contact with his son. Fee stared back. "It wasn't anything I could have anticipated. I know I handled it very badly."

"It surprised you that someone could love me and want me? That I was important enough to someone for that? Not to you, I know," added Fee with venom.

Jerry closed his eyes for a micron, but thankfully Adama remembered tactic number three. No matter what, do not lose your temper. No matter what Fee says and does, stay calm. Even if Ila gets upset, stay calm.

"No, not that someone could love you. Your mother and I did. You were loved very much, Ap— Fee. You still are."

"Sure," said Fee.

Adama just kept on going. There really wasn't anything else he could do. He dropped his gaze from Fee's angry green eyes and stared down at his hands, twisting over each other in his lap. "Where we went wrong, to begin with, was thinking that because you were getting older, you didn't still need to be told and shown that, every bit as much as the younger ones. Your mama was very caught up with the Senate—"

"Meetings and yet more meetings," said Fee, sardonic. "And no time for anything else. At least, no time for anything unimportant."

Ila put out her hand. Fee ignored it, keeping his attention on his father.

Adama waited patiently for him to finish. "We didn't realise that you felt so left out and that you didn't think you were important."

"I wasn't. Not for her to realise I was there half the time, and not for you, ever."

"Oh," said Ila, jolted, and her eyes filled with tears. "No. It wasn't like that."

"That isn't true, Apollo—"

"Fee," he said, savagely. "Apollo left with Pieter."

That was so true that for a micron or two Adama floundered again. He looked to Jerry.

"We realise that, Fee," said Jerry, giving the boy his new name and making it sound as natural as he could. He reached out and laid a careful hand over Ila's, feeling how hers trembled. She looked like she'd shake to bits. "But Apollo left because of mistakes that your parents want to put right."

"It's not that easy."

"Not if you're not prepared to listen, no," agreed Jerry. Fee turned the angry stare onto him and he smiled. "Just because they're desperate, I can't let you ride roughshod all over them."

"Desperate," repeated Fee. The eyebrow he raised was so like Adama that Jerry was startled. He'd always thought Fee was far more Ila's child than Adama's.

"I think so, don't you?" Jerry went on, before Fee could respond, "So let your father finish, and then you can have your say. That's only fair."

Taking his cue, Adama came back in. "I know that you felt that we weren't interested in you, that you didn't matter. Jerry told me that, before I found out about Pieter, but I thought he was exaggerating."

Fee glanced at Jerry, who could only shrug in response. "I saw that you were unhappy," he said.

"You were always kind," said Fee. "I do trust you, Uncle Jerry."

Jerry smiled, pleased and flattered. "Then trust me a little longer. Listen to your father."

"I didn't see it," said Adama. "I knew that everything you'd ever asked for, we'd given you, and I didn't see that wasn't enough."

"No," said Fee. "Writing 'love from Mama and Dad' on the labels didn't mean anything, did it? No more trouble to do than sign the cheque and even less significant."

"It was easy for us to give you anything you wanted, yes," said Adama, carefully. "But we did it because we loved you. The labels weren't lies, Fee." He waited but Fee only shrugged angrily. "So the first thing I have to say is that I'm sorry. Your mother and I are both sorry that we didn't see how unhappy we were making you. You were very important to us. I can't understand how we got to the stage where you thought you weren't."

"I wasn't as important as your job, or hers, or Zac or Athena. Especially Zac."

They'd planned for this, too. Jerry had always thought that Apollo was jealous of all the attention that Zac had got. It was interesting to see that Fee still was jealous. So Adama, adaptable to whichever way the conversation went, tackled that head on.

"We wanted a big family, your mother and me."

Fee gaped, patently taken aback at the change of topic and the way Adama had changed it.

"Six," said Ila in a thread of a voice. "I wanted at least six." She smiled at Fee, so painfully that Jerry's heart contracted for her. It couldn't fail but influence Fee, or so he hoped. "I didn't want you to be an only child, the way I was. It's lonely."

Adama said, "I don't think we ever told you, any of you, that you should have had two elder sisters."

Fee shook his head, frowning. "No."

"Well, you should have. You're really our third child, but they both miscarried. That's why we were so delighted when you were born." Adama leaned forward and took both of Ila's hands in his. "We lost another baby between you and Athena, too. Each one of you is a miracle, really, but Zac... what do you remember about Zac's birth?"

"Nothing much," said Fee, shrugging. He looked at Jerry, his confusion about where this was headed apparent. "I was only... what? Six. Six and a half."

"I almost died," said Ila. "And so did Zac. Jerry said that I mustn't try to have any more babies. I wanted more, but I knew Zac would be the last. And he was a sickly baby too, do you remember that?"

"He was always getting sick," said Fee, reluctantly.

"He's perfectly healthy now, but there were a few times in his childhood when getting Zac this far seemed unlikely," said Jerry, rather dryly. He nodded when Fee glanced at him for confirmation.

"I know I spoiled him and I worried about him," said Ila. She was wringing her hands, something that correspondingly wrung Jerry's heart. He felt in his pocket: the hypo was there, ready. "I'm sorry if you think that meant I didn't worry about you too. I did. I love you very much, darling."

Fee's frown deepened. "You never asked, about anything. You never had time for me. Hanna knew more about what I was doing or wanted or... or anything. It was always Zac for you."

"I was always afraid I'd lose him," said Ila.

"Instead you lost me."

"Yes," she said. She reached blindly for Adama. There was no room on the sofa. Adama knelt down beside her to put his arms around her.

"Not much of a choice, then," said Fee, bitterly. "I can see why you jumped the way you did."

Adama was looking tired and strained. "I'll say it again, and again. Losing you was the most terrible thing that could happen to us, Ap— Fee. You're our son and we love you very much."

Fee scowled and looked away. Jerry hoped that it was just because he couldn't meet Ila's pleading gaze, but it was hard to tell if it was that or just anger and disbelief. Adama stayed on his knees, keeping his arms around his wife.

"I got it badly wrong, I know that. Looking back, I can barely believe why I was angry with you about what happened with Pieter -"

"Something to do with having the image of your perfect family tarnished, maybe," said Fee. "Having something so disgraceful and weak and stupid and untrustworthy in it."

"Oh, Apollo," said Ila. She was shivering, visibly.

"I know I said that," said Adama, very carefully. "I hope I can convince you that I didn't mean it, not really."

"Shouldn't think so," said Fee, with a false affability that grated more than a curse would have done.

"But I want the chance to try."

Fee shrugged.

Adama took a deep breath, letting it out silently. "I was very wrong. I didn't try to understand your point of view and I didn't believe that you could love Pieter, that you went to him willingly, because we made you feel that no-one else but Pieter cared for you. I know I was wrong. I didn't want to believe it, Apollo. That's all the excuse I have."

Fee frowned at him. "Willingly? You mean you'd have been more comfortable if he'd raped me?"

Adama grimaced. "I'd have understood that better," he admitted. "I'd have known what I was dealing with."

Fee's voice was low and intense, savage. "I've been raped. I've been held down and fucked until I was screaming and bleeding—"

Ila said something. What it was, no-one could tell. Her hands covered her face, muffling the sound. Adama tightened his grip on her, giving Jerry an anxious look.

"You're unbelievable." Fee was shaking, almost as much as his mother. "I can't believe you'd rather that happened to me—"

"Of course I didn't mean that!"

Ila wailed and sobbed passionately against Adama's shoulder. Adama himself was white faced, perhaps only realising for the first time what his own ambivalence towards Apollo's actions really meant, that the alternative he'd thought was more comfortable could be even more terrible.

"I wanted what Pieter gave me. I liked it. Pieter would never have hurt me. Pieter loved me." Fee grimaced in the effort to keep controlled, but his voice still trembled. "The only time Pieter hurt me was when he left and didn't wait to take me with him."

Jerry felt a moment of despair. It was like waltzing on the spot, one desperate cold circular dance step after another, bringing you back where you started. He glanced at Alex, who shrugged lightly in return. No help there then. Alex's face was shuttered, remote, but his eyes were cold as he watched Adama.

"We're not going to get any agreement here," said Jerry. "Let's just draw back from it for a centon."

"Good idea," said Alex. Like Jerry, he was watching Ila's distress, but with a more clinical detachment. He was more concerned about Fee's distress, and who, thought Jerry, could blame him? Fee was Alex's concern, as Ila was his and Adama's.

"Let me say one thing more first," said Adama, evidently desperate to cover the terrible gaffe he'd made. "I've tried to explain why I reacted as badly as I did. I think I've made even more of a mess of things, but I didn't mean to. It's very hard to say this in any way that doesn't hurt you further—"

"Then don't bother."

"I have to try," said Adama, simply. "I got it wrong. I've paid for that with six yahrens of torment not knowing if you were alive or dead. I know you paid even more dearly, don't think that I don't. And don't think that I believe I've paid enough, because I know I haven't. I'm sorry, Apollo. That's all I can say."

Fee twisted in Alex's hold. "I've had enough," he said, indistinctly.

"It's all right," said Alex. "We've a lot to talk about yet." He smiled at the glare Fee threw him. "You know we need to do this."

"A break, then," said Jerry.

Fee scrambled to his feet and made for the window, Alex at his heels. Alex stood with his hand on the small of Fee's back, but all Jerry could hear was the low murmur of voices, not what was being said. Alex did most of the talking, his tone even. Jerry left them for a centon, assured that Alex would do the job of keeping Fee there until things were calm enough to start again.

Instead, he concentrated on Ila. She had managed to stop crying and that was something to be grateful for, but her distress ran deep. She shook constantly. He thought she could manage without the hypo, but she did need to calm down. Giving her the stuff orally would have a less potent effect, be enough to calm her without incapacitating her. This time he quite openly mixed the tranquilliser into a glass and between them, he and Adama made her drink it. .

"He's so angry," she said, her teeth chattering against the glass.

"Swallow it all," said Jerry.

"Yes," said Adama, agreeing with her. He looked tired. "He has every right to be."

"He's holding back." Jerry glanced over to the stiff-backed figure at the window. He smiled at Ila. "He's not being as nasty as he might be, because he doesn't want to upset you."

"It's all my fault. All my fault." She was back at hand wringing again.

Adama closed his hands over hers; stilling them. "No, it isn't."

"He blames me. He thinks we loved Zac more than him."

There was no arguing with that. "When he's had time to think about what you've told him, he'll understand why you were so protective of Zac," said Jerry, as reassuring as he could. He looked at Adama. "He is holding back. Use it."

Adama nodded, and Jerry got up, joining Fee and Alex. Fee shot him an anguished look.

"All right?" asked Jerry.

"Is she?"

"So-so." Jerry glanced behind him to watch Adama and Ila for a micron. "Your father will be able to handle it. He's had a lot of practice."

Fee's mouth twisted and he sighed. "It's pretty horrible. I thought I could deal with this, but everything he said just made me so mad."

"If all the man said was Good morning, it would have done that," said Alex. He smiled at Fee's expression. "Best thing to do would be to lock the two of you into a room somewhere and let you fight it out."

"That's my civilised Alex," said Fee, but he was relaxing.

"I'm all for direct methods," murmured Alex.

And since Fee was relaxing, it was worth a try: "Give him a chance, Fee. He didn't mean it quite like it came out. You know better than that."

Fee glanced over to his parents and away again.

"He's anxious and scared and trying to be scrupulously honest with you. A little slack, that's all I'm asking."

"And in return, you being so neutral and all?"

"In return we move on."

Alex traded looks with Jerry. "That would be a good thing, Jerry, for today's meeting at least. We've only scratched the surface so far but I don't think we can expect to clear it all up in one go. All we've done is set out everyone's stall. We know the commander's views, and Fee's: they'll never agree about Pieter, and this just has the capacity to get more and more fraught. We all need time to draw breath and reflect."

"I know." Jerry put a hand onto Fee's shoulder. "I'm sorry we had to talk about Pieter, Fee, and I know it upsets you."

The shoulder under Jerry's hand hunched, but Fee didn't attempt to throw him off. "It was a long time ago," he said with an unconvincing calm, doubly unconvincing given his reaction to Adama's attempts to explain and apologise.

"Yes. I agree with Alex, though. We need to cool things for now. There's a lot still to talk about in relation to Pieter and Pasquel and everything else, but let's move it right along this time." Jerry turned and regarded Ila. "I think she can go on. How about you?"

Fee gave him a calculating look. "That depends on what's next on your agenda."

Jerry laughed softly. "Oh, you're every bit as smart as I expected you to be. How about letting them tell you what's happened in the last few yahrens, to them, to Zac and Athena, and, if you're willing, you can tell them a little about what you've been doing."

Because that was another shot in their tactical locker: to get Fee to realise the huge cavernous gap he'd left behind him, the weeping sore that only now may have a chance to heal.

"But first, your father asked me to put a proposition to you today. He's here on Caprica for another few days and wants to see you as often as you can bear it while he's here. With Alex, of course. For the future, well, Alex has told us about your working pattern and he's come up with something that might allow you to continue meeting if you want to. He comes back regularly for brief visits to attend Council meetings, at least half a dozen times a yahren. He'll schedule them to match the time you have here between jobs. All you'll have to do is tell your mother, or me, if you prefer, that you're home, and we'll tell him. He'll come back and fit the Council around talking with you."

The sardonic look he got assured him that Fee hadn't missed the way he'd worded it. He grinned, delighted when he got a faint smile in return.

"Well?"

"I'll think about it," said Fee.

Jerry allowed the delay: he had every intention of ensuring it was a short one. He drew Fee back to the sofa. Adama got slowly to his feet, putting out a hand to touch Fee's shoulder. The boy twisted, slightly but unmistakably, to avoid it.

Adama flushed, letting his hand drop. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean that, and I didn't really understand."

Fee stared at him before nodding stiffly. It was all the acknowledgement they were going to get and all, frankly, that Jerry thought either Fee or Ila could bear. Thankfully Adama didn't press it, but sat down again, keeping Ila's hand in his but his gaze was for his son. Jerry settled back into his chair, wishing that it wouldn't seem so wrong, so silly, to offer them all a caff or something. This was hardly a social occasion, but he had a momentary envy for Ila's glass of sherry. At that moment, he'd take it with Ila's tranquillisers and be glad of it.

Fee, taking his seat beside his mother again, took her free hand. She smiled at him tremulously. He made an effort, Jerry saw and approved, to keep things calm.

"I've put your offer to Fee," he said to them. "About meeting again."

"Please," said Ila, clutching at Fee. "Please."

Fee's stare was for Adama. "You want this?"

"More than anything. However mad you get at me, I want a chance to put things right."

Fee leaned back against Alex. "You were going to talk to me about what's happened while I wasn't there."

"Of course," said Jerry, this time not allowing the evasion and matching the smile he got from Alex as he did so. "And will you meet your parents again?"

Fee looked from Ila to Adama. "I'll think about it," he repeated.

"We want it, very much."

"You'll arrange your Council meetings around me?"

Adama nodded.

"Well, that'll be a first."

Adama smiled, for perhaps the first time that day. "Then we'll all have to get used to the novelty. Please, Fee."

They waited.

"Please," said Adama.

Most important tactic of all: beg.

 

 

4.3 Rapprochement

Jerry met Fee just outside the restaurant.

Fee was almost precisely on time, tempting though it was to be late or even not go at all. Common sense saved him from running away. Although he was nervous and uncertain about seeing the rest of the family again, he knew it was a hurdle he had to get over. There was no avoiding this.

Jerry, as ever, was unfeignedly glad to see him and, as ever, not afraid to show it. Fee submitted to the embrace with good grace, returning it with real affection.

"I'm glad to see you, Uncle Jerry," he said.

It never did to underestimate Jerry's intelligence. There was a yawning gap at Fee's side where Alex ought to be, and Jerry hadn't missed it. "That's nice. Is it because you want me to act in loco parentis to Alex, then?"

Fee grinned. "I don't look on Alex as any sort of parent," he said. He paused. He knew that he had always looked on Jerry that way, as a sort of extra, more understanding parent; one without authority, perhaps, but to whom Apollo had always been able to appeal, and to whom Fee may be able to turn. With no Alex there, Jerry was his best ally. He said, slowly, "Alex is on my side. When he comes to these meetings he looks out for me. You're closer to them, but I trust you to look out for me, too. It makes it easier, knowing you'll see fair play. I'm not facing them on my own."

"Are you expecting it to be such an ordeal, then? It's just the children."

Fee sighed. "No it's not. It's more than that."

Jerry didn't let him down. "You feel it's going too fast?"

Fee's agreement was instant. "You have no idea how glad I am to be shipping out tonight. I need to get away."

Jerry put his hands on Fee's shoulders. "You always knew it was going to be hard. It'll be the hardest thing you do, I expect, to try and rebuild any kind of relationship with your family. It's hard for them too. Don't cut and run at the first check, Apollo."

"Fee."

"I cannot get used to that."

"It's all that's left," said Fee, rather grimly.

Jerry looked sad. He shuffled his feet. The Secundus thaw was setting in with a vengeance now, and the streets were wet with dirty grey slush. "I'm freezing. Can we go in and continue this where it's warm?"

Fee followed him into a lobby that was gloriously warm after the streets outside. He couldn't help but stare when he got inside. He hadn't seen that much gold leaf and expensive fabric for yahrens; the carpets were so deep under his feet he felt he was sinking. His mental eye pictured Giorgi and his apron with a sudden yearning nostalgia. He allowed Jerry to take him across to one of the sofas set beneath the wide windows.

Jerry waved away a hovering waiter, and spent a centon or two regarding Fee thoughtfully. "I haven't had much of a chance to speak to you alone. Are you all right about it all, Fee?

Fee knew what he meant. "I'm not fourteen, Jerry."

"And they were special circumstances, you mean? Yes, I'll accept that, but it's been a stressful sectar and your well-being is as important to me as anything else. Maybe more than anything else."

"I am all right, really," insisted Fee, touched by Jerry's concern. "Sometimes things seem to move too fast. A sectar ago I didn't have anyone but Alex, suddenly all this... it makes me dizzy."

Jerry smiled. "I know, but listen. It has only been a sectar. That's all. One sectar after more than six yahrens, and so far you've had only had four meetings with your parents. I'll grant you, you've had four very difficult, very emotional meetings with your parents."

"You are not kidding. The day before yesterday wasn't fun."

When she'd realised that Fee was leaving for work, Ila had been almost hysterical until he had agreed to today's meeting. His father was doing as he'd promised, letting Fee set the pace, but Ila pushed constantly, wanting more and faster.

Jerry sighed. "Your mother was very ill. Adama and I try to persuade her to hold back, but... Well, two things. She works herself up to a point where she doesn't believe you're really there, so she touches and grabs to reassure herself. Time, I hope, will deal with that as long as you continue to agree to meet. And second, she blames herself very much. If you allow her close, allow her to kiss you and fuss over you, she can persuade herself that you've forgiven her."

"She crowds me."

"I know. But be fair, she's a little better each time. The meetings you've had have helped. The problem yesterday was that you had three meetings with them before your father had to go back last sector, and then there was nothing, no contact except second-hand through me and Alex, for the last three sectons. It wore on her badly. I was wondering. When you get home next, it'll take a few days for your father to arrange to come back so you can continue this. Would you be willing to spend some time with your mother in the interim? I'll be there too, if you like."

Fee hesitated.

"Besides, I'd like to see you, myself," said Jerry. "I'm very fond of you, you know."

"I know. All right. Once she's calmed down a little bit, it is easier with her than with him. There's less to sort out with her."

"True. But I do think things are better with both of them, don't you? The discussions you've had do a lot to clear the air, although I do wish you all could stop raking over old ground! But you've light yahrens to go yet. You won't do it all in an instant, and it might be a long time before any of this is comfortable. That doesn't make it any the less worth while."

"Is that my homily for the day? You should have been an agony aunt. You're wasted as a mere uncle."

"I am an agony aunt. What in Hades do you think a doctor does all day but listen to other people's problems?"

Fee smiled, rather reluctantly, but Jerry's loving good humour was a very necessary corrective to too much introspection and angst. "Will you meet me, sometimes, on your own?"

He was surprised at how delighted Jerry looked. "Of course. To talk tactics?"

"I thought just to talk," said Fee. "I've a lot to catch up on."

Jerry's hand traced the thin, almost invisible scar on Fee's jaw. This time, Fee didn't start away, but he did wonder what fascinated Jerry so much about it. "Yes, you do. When you come back, Fee, you and I will have some time to talk, I promise. Now, shall we go in? Your father booked a table and they're already here."

"Zac and Thenie, too?" Fee felt his gut clench. It was ridiculous to be nervous of seeing two kids again. They were yahrens younger than him.

"We'd have had to tie Zac down if we'd wanted to leave him behind. He's so excited he's breaching every noise level regulation in the city."

Fee smiled slightly. That sounded like the Zac he remembered. He noticed that Jerry hadn't mentioned Athena and he followed Jerry across to the cloakroom, chewing on that, wondering. He handed over his coat, not missing the attendant's look of faint scorn. The conversation with Jerry had diverted him from the opulence around him, but his doubts were back now, full force.

"It's expensive, this place," he said.

Jerry laughed. "A little different from where you and Alex took me. The food's unlikely to be that much better, though."

"I'll tell Giorgi you said so. I think he'll be flattered." Fee looked around him as Jerry shed his own outdoor coat to hand it over. "As long as he doesn't start charging these sorts of prices."

His father had insisted that Fee was his guest for this. That had worried Fee even before he saw just how unable he would be to insist on paying his own way. He couldn't possibly afford this place. It compromised something in him, the thing that had helped him survive, his... his pride, he supposed. He was uncomfortable with it.

He looked up to catch Jerry's gaze. "It's just a meal," said Jerry, making Fee wonder if he was mind reading. "Don't read anything more into it than that, and accept it."

"I don't like it," said Fee, not able to say why.

"I know. But what is it you don't like? The thought of seeing the whole family again or being beholden, however mildly, to your father?"

"Both," said Fee, thinking that it really didn't do to assume that Jerry's mildness and essentially sweet character didn't mask a sharp intelligence.

"It's only a mea. And if you feel that badly about it, don't eat dessert."

Fee was surprised into a laugh.

Jerry grinned. "That's better." He put his hand on Fee's shoulder and squeezed. "This can't be as bad as the first meeting."

"Dunno." But he knew nothing would ever be as difficult as that first meeting at Jerry's house. It was just that Fee wasn't even slightly comfortable. He wasn't comfortable about being in this expensive place where he didn't belong, he wasn't comfortable about seeing the whole family and he definitely wasn't comfortable about being beholden to his father, even if just for lunch. He missed Alex.

"It won't be." Jerry accepted the cloakroom tickets for their outer coats and tucked his arm under Fee's, guiding him through the huge, engraved glass doors into the main restaurant.

They stopped where the Maitre d' waited to greet the clientele and direct them to a table, an elderly couple ahead of them. This was a very exclusive restaurant. Not a fashionable one—it was the kind of place that scorned fashion—but expensive and worthy. In a little while it would be full of the kind of people who made up the majority of Jerry's patients, the kind of people that Apollo used to see every day back in Osaiya, the kind that Apollo used to be back in Osaiya: rich and leisured. It was still early, and the place wasn't yet as crowded as it would be. It meant that the girl's voice carried.

"He's so scruffy! Couldn't he at least wear something decent?"

Fee had one style of clothing. Everything he possessed epitomised clean and well-worn and not one item sported a designer label. He was wearing the best he had, but he was undeniably casual in this place, where the patrons were expensively well dressed. The Maitre d', while bowing and scraping to the couple ahead, was giving Fee anguished looks. He could ignore that, but the clear, well bred voice cut like glass. He looked to see who'd spoken.

They were in a booth a little way down the left hand side of the restaurant. The girl staring at him so scornfully was sitting beside his mother. Athena, then.

Embarrassed, he said to Jerry, knowing that coming here had been a huge mistake, "My pay doesn't exactly run to an extensive wardrobe."

Jerry looked as affronted as the Maitre d'. "You look fine," he said. "Nothing like that matters."

"It's all clean, anyway." Fee watched his father speak to Athena, who tossed her head and looked away. She wasn't pleased at his resurrection, then.

"It doesn't matter," repeated Jerry, tightening his grip fractionally on Fee's arm. He spoke briskly to the Maitre d'. "Hello, Charles. We're joining the commander."

The Maitre d's smile was a trifle fixed as he waved them through, and the anguished look deepened.

"He's with Athena, then," said Fee, quietly with a jerk of his head at the Maitre. "He doesn't think that I fit in here either."

Jerry glanced sidelong at him. "My dear boy, I've lowered the tone of this place myself before now. Just ignore the flunkies."

"And Thenie?" said Fee, wryly.

"For now. We'll talk about that later."

Fee sighed, only sheer pride stopping him from cutting and running. He looked the Adaman family over as he and Jerry approached the table. His mother had her tremulous smile fixed on him; Adama was his normal imperturbable self; Athena had grown into a very pretty girl with an amazing amount of dark hair, her face sulky, mouth turned down. And Zac—

Zac bounded to his feet and came to meet them. Behind him, Adama put out a restraining hand and then let it drop, the rueful expression acknowledging that Zac was already out of reach. Fee thought that unless Zac had changed drastically, it was probably an expression his father often wore.

"You've changed," said Zac, after a long, scrutinising centon.

"You've grown."

Fee was surprised. Ridiculously so, of course, as he would acknowledge to anyone who asked. The Zac of his memory was eight, skinny and small for his age. Apollo had never known why Zac was so small and coddled: Fee now understood better, of course, but he was still astonished at the self-possessed lanky teenager, almost as tall as he was, who faced him a few feet away from the table where the rest of the family sat. Zac had no right to have grown. Zac had no right to have changed. It made Fee think about how much he himself had changed.

Jerry had squeezed his arm gently when Zac bounded up to them, slipping away to leave the brothers to this odd little meeting.

Zac nodded, resumed the scrutiny. "Is that it?"

"Seems to cover it," agreed Fee.

"It's not much for six yahrens," opined Zac. He might be only fourteen, but he proved that he wasn't a fool. "It'll do for now, I guess. You'd better come and sit down. Mama's nearly beside herself with excitement." Zac grinned, rather engagingly. "I take after her that way."

Fee allowed himself to be tugged over to the table, more amused than anything else at Zac's greeting. It had been less of an ordeal than he had anticipated, but there were other ordeals to get through, greeting the others.

Jerry's hug outside was over and done with, very easy to give and receive, as undemanding and affectionate as Jerry himself. In many ways his mother was the easiest to handle; her need for overt affection, to hold and touch, so very obvious that only a brute would withhold it and Fee didn't think he was that, not yet. Jerry's words in the lobby had told him nothing he didn't already know and despite his complaints about being crowded, it was no real hardship to spend a few centons letting her fuss. Besides, he'd learned that her agitation would last all the longer if he didn't allow it. There was an element of calculation and self preservation in his treatment of her.

Until a few centons ago Athena had been a completely unknown quantity. But that sharp comment had made the distance palpable. No more than a nod, then, and no attempt to close the distance, not yet, not until he knew more about why it was there and how deep it went. From her set face and averted eyes, it went pretty deep.

Which left the most problematic of all. Fee sometimes lay awake at night, listening to Alex's soft breathing, wondering how in Hades to react to his father. If he hadn't yet prayed for guidance, it was only because praying was more Adama's forte than his, but he had come close. Each time they met, he wondered what every gesture meant and what he was meant to do to respond. If he should respond at all.

So he kissed his mother, nodded to Athena (earning a cool stare in return) and waited with all the stoicism he could muster to see what he'd be required to respond to today. Adama's face was seldom easy to read, a perfect mask against the world, so there was no clue there. Adama stood to greet him, waiting until Fee straightened from kissing Ila's soft, scented cheek, before offering his hand.

Formal, today then. Fee shook hands solemnly, wondering if he was imagining the chagrin in his father's eyes. He caught Jerry's sardonic gaze, trying not to smile when Jerry rolled his eyes in mock despair – if it was mock. Fee couldn't tell. With a hesitation that surprised Fee, his father put his free hand briefly on Fee's shoulder. Briefly. Taken by surprise because he'd thought today was to be formal, Fee dipped the shoulder quickly to get himself free. His father stepped back at once, face impassive, and resumed his seat.

Ila pulled him into the seat next to her and claimed all his attention for several centons while she got her reassurance. Athena had moved along to make room, sitting at his other side. That was something of a relief, he decided. He would find it hard to ignore his sister's disapproval if every time he looked up, she was staring it at him with all her might and main. Despite having excellent peripheral vision, he decided that she was safe enough off to one side to allow him to pretend he couldn't see it and for him to ignore her. Instead, he had Zac's bright, sharp gaze to contend with every time he raised his eyes, the boy taking the seat opposite, beside Jerry, and staring at Fee as much as he suspected Athena would have done. But this stare was merely curious, not hostile.

Fee refused wine and the silence settled uncomfortably. He didn't know what to say to break it.

Zac seemed less inhibited. "Mama and Dad said to call you Fee."

"Yes."

"What's wrong with your own name?"

Fee glanced at his father just in time to see Adama close his eyes as if in momentary pain. He was morally certain that Adama had told Zac not to raise this question and he found it almost amusing, their inability to deal with the brat. "Fee is my own name," he said.

"Of course," said Athena, ostensibly to herself. "Apollo doesn't live here any more."

"No," said Fee, as equably as he could. He caught his father's eye and shrugged. He turned back to Zac, deciding to ignore Athena for now. "Does it bother you?"

"It's just you've always been Apollo."

"Not always, no." He traded a long stare with Zac until the boy finally nodded and turned his attention to the entrée that the waiter had just served them all.

"I'll call you Fee, then."

"Thank you," said Fee. "I'll call you Brat."

Zac looked up and laughed. "You always called me that!"

"Because you were a brat. A diamond crusted, solid gold brat." Fee started on his meal. It was very good, but he preferred Giorgi's cooking. "It's good to know that some things never change."

"One of them being Zac's determination to dominate any conversation within a fifty metre radius," said Adama, recovering whatever equanimity he had.

Zac just grinned. "Dad said that you were doing some sort of training course for work."

"Yes."

"You had your last tests yesterday, didn't you?" cut in Adama, frowning at Zac. "How did it all go?"

They'd asked before and got the same non-committal answers, because if that wasn't another backhanded way of trying to find out what he did for a living... Fee grinned. "I passed."

"Good," said Adama, after a micron. "I'm pleased."

"Was it difficult?" asked Ila.

"No, not really. I was a bit surprised, how much they covered that they thought I needed to do in the classroom. My lot tend to prefer learning on the job, and most of it wasn't new. Still, it was four sectons here with Alex rather than off-planet. That was a bonus."

Zac said, with such directness that Fee wondered if he'd been primed, although it was just as likely that it was innate curiosity, "What do you do?"

Almost everyone on the table tensed and turned to watch Fee, more or less covertly. It bothered his parents, he knew, that he was being so reticent about his life. He didn't talk about his relationship with Alex and he didn't talk about work. So far, they had only ever talked about the past, never the present, and the future was so far out of their conversational orbit as to be in another star system entirely. He concentrated for a centon on his food, finishing up quickly as the waiter was hovering, wanting to clear away so he could serve the main course. He sat back and sipped at his water.

"I've done a lot of things," he said at last. "Manual work, mostly. Mailman, construction sites, fast food joints. That sort of thing."

"Really?" Zac sounded improbably delighted.

Fee caught the look on Adama's face. Chagrin, still, or something stronger? They'd talked briefly in the past about the work he'd done, but Fee had never wanted to go into detail and Adama hadn't pressed. What was the point? Whatever he'd done was quite the come down from the Academy and the glittering military career Adama had had planned for him. But Zac was interested and eager, and Fee found himself telling more than he had ever anticipated he would.

"I hated the outdoor jobs," he said. "I was always getting rained on and I was really lousy at bricklaying."

"It always appeared to me to be a soothing occupation," said Jerry, reflectively. "I quite enjoyed repairing my garden wall a couple of yahrens ago."

"In winter? Scraping the ice off the previous day's build?"

Ila murmured sympathetically but Jerry acknowledged the point with a grin.

"Most of it was casual work and never lasted long."

"Because you couldn't lay bricks?" asked Adama, with a taut smile.

"Because I couldn't talk. I was way too quiet for them."

Beside him, he heard his mother's breath hitch in her throat, and he mentally kicked himself. He really should be careful what he said. It was one thing scoring off his father, but he knew she couldn't take it.

Jerry rescued him, as ever. Sort of. "Well, I can't see much call for interplanetary bricklaying. It can't be that, that takes you off world so regularly."

"No. I definitely wouldn't be in demand for my construction skills." Fee grinned. "I'm better at deconstructing things, as it happens. I've got very good at that."

Athena said, with great deliberation, "I'm going to the Academy in Octavus." She glanced sideways at Fee. "As usual with us."

That jabbed like a shard of glass. She did the scorn well, only letting it tinge her tone as she reminded him what he'd lost. And the very slight emphasis on her last word excluded Fee so far that the distance between them could have been a parsec wide. No, she was not pleased at his resurrection.

Any slight inclination he'd been feeling to tell them what he did for a living vanished. Like the indecipherable look on his father's face, this was another sharp reminder about how much they prided themselves on the family tradition of service and honour, but service and honour on the quarter-deck, not manning the oars. It just wasn't done, not to be in command. They would be ashamed of anything less. Every job he'd had would have been so far beneath Apollo that Apollo had barely have known they existed, not for the sort of people he'd known then and definitely not for the sort Apollo expected to become himself. Uneducated manual labourers were not big in Osaiya.

Well, he had his own pride. He wasn't ashamed of what he did, only of what he'd done, but he wasn't yet ready to defend his choice of career to them. He wouldn't ever be ready to concede that he had to defend his choice of career.

He checked on reactions. Both Jerry and his father looked annoyed, he noticed, which in his father's case, at least, was food for thought. His mother made a soft, distressed noise, and Fee wondered that Athena was so keen to score points that she didn't care about the collateral damage.

Uncomfortable as he was, he was pleased that his voice remained relatively calm. "Good for you," he said as indifferently as he could manage, and was delighted when she reddened. He turned back to Jerry, picking up their conversation where it had left off. "I have picked up one or two skills that have been in demand, though. The best job I had before this one was as a cook."

"A chef?" said Ila. "How interesting."

"No, Mama," said Fee, firmly. "A cook. I don't aspire to be a chef, but whenever it's my turn to cook at work, they love it. Of course, all I can really do is Leonid food—I don't count the burger bar job—but I learned from the best."

"Not Giorgi!" said Jerry.

"I worked in his kitchen for a yahren, until I was eighteen and got my current job," said Fee. "Best job I ever had. I didn't go hungry at all that yahren."

There was an uncomfortable silence as the adults there, at least, looked down at the plates of beautifully presented, expensive food. Zac stared, frowning. Athena concentrated on her lunch, her face averted. Fee devoted some attention to his own plate, aware that had been an unseemly amount of point scoring and that he was as bad as Athena: Ila was staring at him, eyes too bright. He touched his mother's hand apologetically and smiled at her until she relaxed again.

"Who's Giorgi?" asked Adama. He pushed his plate to one side, his mouth thinning with what may have been distaste.

Jerry, his eyes on Fee, explained. He was looking anxious. "Alex and Fee took me to his restaurant -"

"Café," corrected Fee. "Giorgi doesn't have delusions of grandeur."

"Café, then. The place—forgive me, Fee, but it has to be said—the place was a dump and I seriously doubt that man had laundered his apron for a sectar."

"You can usually work out what the day's menu is by a careful study of that apron," agreed Fee. "It's an institution. You don't launder institutions."

"Well, the food was wonderful, in a solid and you're-incapable-of-movement-for-a-sectar, kind of way. You used to work there? No wonder we got such good service."

"That's down to Alex. They think the world of him around there, all of them."

"But what do you do now?" persisted Zac.

Fee ignored the question.

Zac sighed. "You're going to make me work it out, aren't you? Well, you deconstruct things and cook, off world. And you're leaving tonight."

Fee was amused at Zac's persistence, offering another clue. "I just got promoted. I don't think that I'll be doing that much cooking from now on."

"Like a foreman?" asked Zac, eagerly.

"In a manual job," said Athena, voice light and malicious.

Fee shrugged. "Sort of. You might describe it like that." He met her angry blue eyes. "Not managerial, the way you're going to be."

"Athena! Zac!" said their father, with a sharpness that would have been more convincing a reprimand if he'd intervened earlier. "That's enough. I told you not to bother Ap— Fee about this. Leave it."

"I was just wondering," said Zac. He grinned at Fee.

"I wasn't," murmured Athena,

Jerry was as bad as the kids. "When do you get back next, Fee?"

"I don't know. It depends. Jobs last as long as they need to." He caught Zac's absorbed expression and tossed the boy another crumb of knowledge. "I'll be back in six to eight sectons, if everything goes as usual, and then I'll be home for a secton or so before the next one. I'll call when I get back. I promised I would."

"I know," said Ila. She said, tremulously, "I'll miss you."

Fee smiled, not knowing what to say.

"Can't we contact you while you're away?" she asked.

"No, not really. Mostly we're out of contact range." Fee glanced at his mother's face, hesitating, wondering if it was a game worth the candle to give her his contact address, given how rarely he could pick up mail while he was away. He was lucky if he and Alex managed to exchange more than one letter each time.

"What about an emergency?" Ila's soft hands clung to Fee's. "What if something happens to you?"

Fee said, reluctantly, "Alex is my next of kin."

"Oh," she said, a soft gasp of pain.

Adama shot him an unreadable look, his eyes hooded under the heavy lids, expression inscrutable. But he was not pleased. Fee knew he wasn't pleased.

"Who is Alex?" asked Zac.

Fee ignored him, concentrating on Ila. "Someone had to be," he said. "If you need to, contact me through Alex. He'll pass on your message."

She nodded, but her face showed how hurt she was. Fee sighed. There wasn't anything he could do about it, but he was struck by the fact that he was so sorry to have hurt her. A sectar ago, before he saw them, he'd not have cared. It was ridiculous that she'd wormed her way in so fast. He thought it had to be protectiveness, or testosterone poisoning or something – or just a remembrance of Jerry's words about bullies and those weaker than he was and a conditioning that was stronger than Shadow.

"You aren't going to tell me, are you?" said Zac.

"Zac!" This time Adama was magisterially stern. Zac subsided, but from the glint in his eye, he was anything but intimidated.

Fee glanced at him. "You've got the clues. Work it out."

Zac grimaced in return, but despite Adama's comment that Zac liked the sound of his own voice too much not to dominate the talking, he allowed them all to make painstaking conversation about other things—school for him and Athena (although she said very little), an amusing encounter Jerry had had with a patient, his father's account of a recent exercise with Seventh fleet—while watching Fee with a stare that was so unblinking in its intensity that Fee's eyes could have watered in sympathy.

The waiter took away the plates and returned with dessert menus.

"Now," said Adama. "What about dessert, everyone?"

Jerry looked at Fee and raised his eyebrow, smiling.

"No, thanks," said Fee. "I don't want one."

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