Section Five : Family Fortunes

 

5.1 Adventures in the Exotic East

 

Zac had never been so far East before, and certainly not alone.

He stared out of the subway train window, seeing only his dark reflection against the tunnel walls. Thenie had said she didn't care one way or the other, and he believed that. She blamed Apollo for their mother's long illness and nothing would shift her. She was scornful of Zac's interest, almost seeing it as some sort of treason, he thought. But Zac wanted to know why Apollo had gone and what had happened. He had a right to know, and his curiosity was a strong counterweight to the demands of his sometimes difficult sister.

He knew that his mother would be beside herself with fright and worry and he was sorry about it. He wasn't so sorry though that he didn't evade Duncan, who usually came to collect him from school as if he were an infant, by cutting his last two classes and heading for the nearby subway.

It was his mother's own fault, and Dad's. He wouldn't have done it if they'd tell him and Thenie about Apollo. During the one meeting they'd all had, at that funny strained meal, every real question he'd started had been ignored by Fee or evaded, deflected by his father or Jerry. His memories of Apollo were patchy, a child's memories, and he was hard put to it to reconcile them with the reality of Fee. He'd spent his time watching this stranger that his half-forgotten brother had become, wondering about him. All his parents would say, though, when finally Apollo had gone—he needed to get to work, he'd said—and Zac had demanded answers, was that the story was Apollo's to tell, not entirely theirs. They wouldn't even explain why Apollo wasn't using his own name anymore.

It infuriated him, this unnatural reticence. The only conclusion he could come to was that they weren't telling him because they thought he was still just a kid. They certainly treated him like one, and he was pretty fed up with it. All it did was make him more resourceful in getting his own way. A chance word overheard between his mother and Uncle Jerry, the name of a place in the Eastside, and he had enough to start with. It wasn't eavesdropping, not really. It was more like gathering intelligence.

The Fenice had been surprisingly easy to find. As the subway streaked east, Zac carefully unfolded the prints he'd made of the street maps, rehearsing the route from the station, committing it to memory. He'd looked it all up and he knew where he was going and even if he got a little lost, when he reached the right station someone would tell him the way. He had a tongue in his head and he wasn't afraid to ask. He was pretty sure he had the right place, despite the unfamiliarity of the word: he hadn't found anything else in the city vid-phone directory that came close and it was certainly in the right part of town. It had to be right.

The journey took longer than he expected. It was more than a centar before he was on street level again, trying to orientate himself. It was still quite light, a typical late-Tertius Spring evening; but where at home in Osaiya the thin Spring sunshine reflected off trees and green leaves, here it was swallowed up by dark, sooty buildings. There weren't many green and growing things in the Eastside streets.

Zac set off confidently, enjoying the frisson of excitement and adventure, eyes darting around to take everything in. There were quite a few people around. This quarter seemed to be very Leonid, he thought, with lots of immigrants wearing brightly patterned Leonid dress, although he could see quite a few Gemonese, Librans and Aquarians too. He didn't recognise half the things for sale in the food shops. They looked exotic and the smells were spicy and pungent, and he became very aware that he was overdue a meal. Maybe he could bum a meal out of Apollo—Fee—while they talked.

He practiced the name under his breath again and again as he walked. The most he'd gained out of that strange, unreal meeting five sectons earlier was that Apollo just wouldn't answer to his real name, as if that person no longer existed. Even his parents had carefully, if unconvincingly, called him Fee. Zac would have to get used to it.

That big building in the street of strange shops had to be the Fenice. He quickened his pace, and crossed the road, nipping deftly between the lines of traffic. Back in Osaiya, Duncan would be looking for him right about now and the excretory material would be hitting the artificial air-cooling device. Well, the sooner he saw Fee, the sooner he could get home and face the music, he supposed. But until then, he was making the most of his freedom.

The inside of Fenice was drab. If Zac had thought about it at all, he'd have realised that he was expecting a clinic to look like Uncle Jerry's place, but here... well, although it was clean, it certainly didn't have the same white walls, expensive minimalist décor and bright artwork. It was rather full of people, too, but Zac was not shy. He marched up to the reception desk and demanded to see his brother.

Fee? I didn't know he had any brothers and he isn't around today. Isn't he still away? Oh wait. Alex was late in and was very cheerful, which might well mean that Fee's back as we all know what puts a smile on the old man's face. Or - this said with a smile for Zac that had him squirming with indignation at its condescension - it might not mean anything really, and I shouldn't gossip. Alex will be here in a centon, and wait over there so I can see to the next patient, please. And don't touch anything.

Zac thanked the nurse politely and did as he was told. Alex. He knew that name. Apollo's—Fee's—friend, his mother had said; adding with that infuriating vagueness that Zac had come to associate with those frequent occasions when she didn't want to tell him anything meaningful, that Alex was very nice. He considered that, putting it alongside the nurse's suggestive humour.

The voice made him jump. "You, I take it, are Zac."

He didn't know what to expect, but the one thing that had never occurred to him was to guess at Alex's age. His mother had said 'Fee's friend', and the nurse had been so coy, that he'd began to assume... but Alex was old, easily as old as his father. Probably a lot older, not that Zac came to look more carefully. That banished the speculation. Fee was only just twenty-one.

It was getting easier to think of Apollo as Fee. Practice did make perfect, after all.

Zac smiled and held out his hand to be shaken. Alex took it gravely. "Hi. I wanted to see my brother, please."

"You came out here alone?"

Zac kept the polite smile in place. "Kids a lot younger than me manage the subway, you know."

"Of course," said Alex, with corresponding politeness. "It's just that I don't think you were expected, that's all."

"No, not exactly. But I'm sure he's around and he'll see me. Mama told us he called her just before breakfast and said he was back. Is that right?"

Alex nodded. "He got back very early this morning."

"Great. Can I see him, please? I'd like to talk to him."

"Fee isn't here today."

Zac hadn't considered this possibility. "Oh."

Alex grinned. "But I can contact him, if you like."

"Thanks," said Zac, realising that Alex may be old, but he wasn't too bad, really. Reasonable, didn't ask too many questions, wasn't too condescending, unlike that nurse. Alex, in fact, was more like Uncle Jerry than he'd seemed on first impression although, reflected Zac, his fees probably weren't as high. His patients looked... well, poor, and Zac felt uncomfortable around them. He was happy to wait in Alex's office as the doctor made a couple of fruitless attempts to call Fee.

"I think he must be sleeping. He seems to have turned the comm off."

"Sleeping?" Zac eyes went involuntarily to his wrist chronometer.

"Sometimes his work is very difficult," said Alex. "This last job was really hard and he hasn't had a lot of sleep in the last few days. He was very tired this morning and I hoped he'd sleep for most of the day."

"Oh," said Zac, again. He said, with a sly assumption of an innocence he certainly didn't feel but which he hoped would fool the doctor into giving him some information, "Doesn't he work here for you? What does he do then?"

"I think that's for him to tell you, not me. He will, when he wants you to know."

Zac blew out an impatient sigh. "No-one will tell me anything without his say-so, not even Mama. I'm getting pretty fed up with being kept in the dark."

"I can imagine," said Alex, seriously. "The problem is that my hands are tied. Fee trusts me, and I won't do anything to jeopardise that. It's too important."

Zac considered that and nodded. "Like Uncle Jerry never tells on me and Thenie? Isn't it some oath you doctors have to take?"

Alex looked like he didn't laugh a lot, Zac noticed, but he laughed at that. "Something like that," he agreed.

Satisfied that he'd come across as essentially harmless and suitably childlike, Zac laughed too. "Okay. I still want to see Apollo, though."

"I don't really know Apollo, Zac, but I can take you home to see Fee, if you like?"

Zac did like. It took a few centons for Alex to find his deputy and pass on some instructions and by the time they got outside it was darker, the brief spring evening already over. The shops spilled brilliant light out onto the pavement as well as the unusual smells. Zac trod pretty closely on Alex's heels, slightly afraid of getting lost. They went in the opposite direction to the subway station and his printed out maps didn't cover this bit. Next time, he'd need to cover a larger area.

Alex didn't talk much on the way, except to draw attention to one or two items of interest. Zac tried to be enthusiastic when the only Borellian Caste House in Caprica City was pointed out to him, but his interest was fleeting and mainly confined to wondering if the Borellians were allowed to carry their laser bolas on the streets. He'd never seen one except in pictures—Alex hadn't either, to Zac's disappointment—and he would have loved to know if the bola was as odd as it looked and how it matched up against a real laser. Alex seemed disinterested in the comparison, merely remarking that as a doctor he had enough trouble patching people up without adding exotic weapons to the mix. Undaunted, Zac watched eagerly for sight of a Borellian as they passed but everyone he saw looked depressingly human and normal. The Caste House door was shut.

The street Alex took him to was just off the main shopping thoroughfare and full of small houses. Zac was quite taken with the canal that ran behind it but apart from a brief micron hanging over the bridge to look into the dark water, didn't pause to explore. He'd maybe get the chance some other time. Instead, he let Alex usher him into one of the houses and into the kitchen at the back. The little garden had to have the canal running at its foot, but it was too dark to see enough to be sure.

Zac had never been in a house this small. The entire ground floor would fit into the kitchen back home. He sought for something to say that was polite. "It's very nice," he said, after a micron or two taking it all in. "Cosy."

Alex laughed. "We think so. I'll go and wake Fee. Have a seat."

It was a very little house and Zac could hear them upstairs. Mainly it was Alex's voice to begin with, an indistinguishable murmur answering him, then unmistakably Apollo (Fee, Zac reminded himself) saying, loudly and clearly, something that had Zac grinning as he repeated it silently and stored it away into his memory for later use; although not, perhaps, in front of his mother. He was smiling when the two men came into the kitchen to join him, really pleased to see his brother again.

The pleasure may have been a little one sided. Fee was barefoot, dressed only in a tee and shorts, and looked tousled and half asleep. The half that was awake looked cross. "Zac. It is Zac."

"I don't know why you should think I was teasing you," said Alex. "My teasing doesn't usually take the form of imaginary younger brothers."

"Ha," snorted Fee.

"Hey," said Zac, tentatively.

He got a glare for an answer and Fee fell into the chair next to him, rubbing at his eyes.

Alex grinned. "I'll get you some caff, I think. It might wake you up."

"I'd only just come down far enough to get to sleep," said Fee, and yawned.

"I thought the house looked obsessively tidy. You've been polishing things again."

Fee shrugged. "I thought it might tire me enough to sleep."

"I wish they wouldn't fill you full of stims," said Alex and turned away. "You really shouldn't."

Fee looked at him, but didn't answer. Zac wasn't able to interpret the look exactly, but he thought that Fee looked sorry. Fee looked Zac over again. "What are you doing here?"

"I wanted to talk to you. By myself, with no-one to tell me that I'm being rude and no-one to tell me that it's none of my business."

"Except me," Fee pointed out.

"Oh, I don't mind you doing that. That's your right. But I'm fed up with no-one telling me anything and treating me like I'm about six and mentally retarded at that."

Fee put his elbows on the table and propped his chin on his hands. The green eyes were heavy lidded with tiredness, but he didn't look quite as irritated. "Some things just don't ever change. When you were a kid, you followed me everywhere."

"Mama says that if you were going to get your head chopped off, I'd be right there with you," said Zac. "I don't remember that."

"Oh, it's true. You'd be wielding the axe, probably," said Fee, and grinned at last. "Does Mama know that you're here?"

Zac shook his head. "She wouldn't have let me come. They never let me go anywhere on my own. I always have to be with Duncan or her or someone. I sneaked away from school."

"A family trait," said Alex, putting a steaming cup of caff in front of Ap... in front of Fee.

Zac was really going to have to get used to calling him that. Fee. Fee.

Fee said, his eyes on Alex. "Then you'd better call her, Zac. She'll be really worried. Use the comm unit."

"Over here." Alex beckoned him over .

Zac coded in the number. "What shall I say?" he asked, rather reluctant to press the connect button and find himself at the end of a verbal barrage.

"How about: Sorry. I'll be home in a couple of centars. Fee's bringing me back?" suggested Alex.

"I am?" said Fee.

"Well, I don't have the time and he's your brother."

"What's mine is yours, remember? You can have him."

Alex laughed. "Always so generous." He paused and put a hand on Fee's shoulder. "I've got a patient waiting for me at the clinic and I'd better go back. Will you be late back?"

"On my first night home? Naw. I'll take the brat to back Osaiya and be home for dinner."

Zac looked up, delighted with the nickname. But neither Fee nor Alex were giving him any attention, grinning at each other. Feeling a bit superfluous, Zac pressed the connect button to collect his five centons of maternal hysteria.

 

 

Zac was sitting on the topmost stair when Fee got out of the cool shower that had helped the caff along in waking him up. Now he felt like he'd been rolling stones uphill for only a few days, rather than for a sectar or two.

Alex was right about the stims. Fee couldn't metabolise them properly, quite likely from the permanent physiological damage Shadow had caused to his liver, and they affected him for longer than they did most people. A bout of stim use led to several sleepless nights, as if he was constantly wired, and a persistent low-grade headache that wore him out. A pity, since the day job sometimes required stims to get through a particularly demanding raid. The reaction was something he'd long got used to, but he still didn't enjoy it.

"I need the flush," said Zac.

Fee nodded towards the bathroom door. "Don't forget to wash your hands."

"Very funny," said Zac.

He knocked on the main bedroom door a couple of centons later and looked enquiringly around it. Some things really didn't change. Zac had never been one for his own company and he stuck like a burr when he wanted something.

"You get the biggest room?" he asked, sidling in.

"Not exactly." Fee pulled a sweatshirt over his head and watched as the boy's gaze roamed the room, taking in the wide double bed, Alex's book and the old fashioned spectacles he occasionally used on one nightstand, Alex's dressing gown over the corner of the bed. He waited. Zac must have realised that the house had a smaller bedroom at the back, that this had to be Alex's room and that Fee shared it. But if Zac were putting the clues together, he wasn't prepared to comment.

"Alex gave me something to eat and said to tell you he'd gone back," said Zac. "Thanks for calming Mama down."

It had taken Fee a few centons of effort and a solemn promise he'd take Zac home personally and as quickly as possible. He felt sorry for Zac and for his mother, too. He could understand her over-protectiveness as easily as Zac's rebellion.

"You scared her."

"I know," said Zac. "But she would never have let me come to see you unless Duncan brought me. They don't let me do anything. It's like I'm a little kid, still. No-one else at school gets picked up by car every day."

No-one else at school had an elder brother who had disappeared for six yahrens, either. Fee hadn't considered before the impact that would have had on his younger siblings, with parents in super-protective mode. He felt another stab of understanding sympathy.

"Do you get any bother for it?" he asked. He yanked open his side of the wardrobe to find some shoes, not wanting to wear his combat boots. They were still damp from the scrubbing he'd had to give them to get the blood off them. He pushed his feet into a comfortably disreputable pair of trainers.

Zac grinned. "Naw. Mikel tried it once, but me and Barney—Barney's my best friend—we bounced him around the Triad court a couple of times and he stopped."

"Both of you?"

Zac caught the disapproval. "Barney kept watch, that's all."

"Mmn." Fee yanked on a jacket and checked he had his wallet. "All right. Let's be off then."

"But I wanted to talk to you!"

"Zac, we're going to be sitting on the train for over a centar. You can talk to me there."

"Oh. Okay." Zac gave him a hard look that suggested he wasn't going to be put off for ever, but followed him back downstairs and collected his schoolbag.

It was full dark outside and Zac stayed close on the long walk back to the subway station. The streets were brightly lit now, still heaving with people and, Fee realised, little as Zac knew him, he was the only familiar thing.

"It's quite exciting around here," Zac ventured after a few centons.

"It can be," said Fee, watching a drugs deal take place in a shadowy doorway at the side of one of the shops. He'd slept in that doorway, more than once. He moved Zac along smartly, hoping his brother hadn't noticed the dealers. "It's not always safe, though."

"I don't need protecting like I'm a baby," protested Zac, reading into Fee's words precisely what Fee had intended by them.

"Zac, sometimes I need protection around here. It really isn't Osaiya, you know. I don't want you wandering about here on your own."

"Does that mean you don't want me to come back to see you?" asked Zac, after a centon.

"No. It means I don't want you to come without I know in advance and I can meet you." Fee dropped a hand onto Zac's shoulder and steered him past a noisy crowd gathered around a fast-food joint, and into the subway station. "Do you have a ticket?"

"Not exactly." Zac was grinning, with all the volatility that Fee remembered: down one micron, high the next. He supposed that it was flattering, that his assertion that Zac could come back put the child on a high. "I didn't have enough money. Can I borrow some from you?"

Fee bought the tickets without further comment, although he did wonder what in Hades Zac would have done if he hadn't found his way to the Fenice and Alex. That consideration didn't seem to have occurred to Zac, who remained cheerfully ignorant of any possible consequences. Fee forbore to lecture, not certain that he had the right. Besides the opportunity passed as they had to run for the train that was just pulling in.

"Right," said Zac, the instant they were in their seats. "Please will you tell me what happened? Why you ran away and where you went and everything."

No, it wouldn't be everything. Fee swallowed back a sigh. This Zac was just as persistent as his eight yahren old counterpart. "What did they tell you?"

"Nothing at all. They keep saying that it was your story, not just theirs, and they don't have your permission to tell us. Not," added Zac fairly, "that I think Thenie even asked. She's mad with you. She says she doesn't want anything to do with you."

"I know." Fee looked down into the bright blue eyes. "Why does it matter to you, Zac? Why do you want to know?"

The boy grinned. "So I can decide if I should be mad at you as well, of course."

It made Fee laugh.

"I think I have a right to know," said Zac.

"I think you have a right to know some of it," conceded Fee. "But it's not a pleasant story, Zac."

"I guess not, if it made you run away from us."

"I mean, that you're a bit young for some of it."

"Don't be daft!" retorted Zac. "I'm the same age that you were when it all happened!"

Fee stared.

Zac said, alarmed, "Apollo? What did I say?" He flushed. "I'm sorry."

Fee forced a breath, and then another, trying to still the rush of panic. He had been thinking of Zac as a child, an engaging one, maybe less mature and independent than Apollo had been at that age, coddled and protected and precocious, all in one. But if Zac was a child, then Apollo had been a child too ... . He had a sudden almost overwhelming image of Pieter with Zac, the way Pieter had been with him, and it almost made him heave with nausea.

What Pieter had done was wrong, obscenely wrong.

He said, unsteadily, "It's all right. You made me think of something, that's all."

It wasn't very convincing and Zac stared at him, waiting and looking anxious.

"All right," said Fee, forcing thoughts of Pieter away. "What do you remember?"

"Not a lot." Then Zac said, slickly, in a way that suggested he'd gone over it and over it, trying to get it straight: "I know Dad came home on leave and you and him had a fight or something, and then you went away to a new school. Dad went back to his ship and you got sick, and they wouldn't let me and Thenie come to the hospital to see you. You must have been really sick, because Dad came back in a hurry and he'd only been gone a couple of sectons, but they wouldn't tell us anything. When he and Mama brought you home, you were weird. I mean, really weird. You wouldn't talk to anyone and you kept falling over things, like you were drunk, and your eyes looked funny. And one day you weren't there and the house was full of people Thenie and me didn't know, and Mama wouldn't stop crying, not for sectars. She gave up being on the Senate and Dad never went back to his ship. A bit later, he switched to the Galactica and was home most of the time while she had a refit. You never came back."

"No," said Fee.

"It was ages before I realised you'd run away and then Dad said that it was just possible you'd never come back. He never quite said that he thought that you were dead, but me and Thenie knew that was what he meant. We just never knew, though. We had to be very careful around Mama. She wasn't ever the same."

"No," said Fee again.

"I don't know when we stopped thinking that you might come home one day, although I think Mama always hoped you would. She still buys you birthday and Yule presents every yahren, did you know? They're in your room at home."

"Are they?" said Fee, surprised. He wondered what had kept any hope at all alive in his mother, getting a real insight into the hurt and despair she'd suffered.

"Yeah. Can I have them?" Zac grinned cheekily.

"They're nothing to do with me."

"Because you're Fee now, and not Apollo any more," said Zac, with more perception than Fee had given him credit for. "What really went on?"

Fee thought about what he could say, silent for a couple of stops, watching the people get on and off the train, wondering to himself what dark secrets they were trying to hide and if they had persistent little brothers who deserved some sort of story. Beside him Zac waited, getting more and more fidgety.

"Someone died," said Fee at last. Beside him Zac stilled and tensed. Fee added, slowly, because even with his sudden epiphany to assimilate, it was still true that he had loved and trusted Pieter even if the love and trust had been misplaced: "Someone I loved died."

"Who?"

"My tutor, Pieter."

"I don't remember him," said Zac.

"No, you wouldn't. I don't think you ever met him."

"I know you had a tutor for that exam you did." Zac turned sideways in the seat and looked Fee in the eye. "When you say you loved him, do you mean loved him?"

Fee nodded, a half smile for the emphasis Zac put on the word.

"As in, you slept with him?"

"Yes."

"Oh," said Zac. He stared for a centon, his expression hovering somewhere between appalled and admiring. "Wow. That's amazing! No-one I know my age has done it. Some of them say they have, but I don't believe them."

Fee stared back. Zac was a little too much on top of stim reaction and minimal sleep for five days. "Well don't copy me on this one," he said sharply. "It didn't exactly end happily."

"Did you run away with him?"

Bloody hell. A romantic as well.

"No," said Fee. "Shut up, Zac, and listen. When I was your age I wasn't very happy at home, all right? I hated it that Mama never had any time for me because she spent half her life in Senate meetings and the other half with you and Thenie. I'd tell her stuff, important stuff, and she'd forget; she didn't listen. She didn't have anything left over for me, because you two were so much younger and she thought I didn't need it. The only person who ever noticed me at home was Hanna. Mama didn't. Da... he was never there and when he was home he wasn't much interested either. I said shut up and listen, Zac. You wanted to hear this." Fee paused for a micron until Zac subsided, looking mutinous, then said, "Pieter knew that and he knew how to make me feel wanted and important. I was important to him."

"Did Dad found out when he got home? That's what the fight was about?"

"Yes. He was furious with me. He had Pieter arrested."

"Well—" said Zac in a tone that suggested some sympathy for their father's point of view.

Fee said, every control in place, "I was underage. What Pieter did was illegal."

"So you don't blame Dad?"

Fee wasn't prepared to answer that one. "He did what he thought he had a right to do."

"But did you love him? Pieter, I mean."

"Yes."

Zac said, so quiet that the noise of the train doors opening almost drowned him out. "How did he die?"

Fee stared out into the station watching without really seeing the people changing trains. It was an intersection with one of the other lines, a busy place. But he was seeing something entirely different to the brightly lit platform and the commuters fighting their way onto the train.

In his head, a door opened to the pressure of an eager boy's hand letting him into the narrow hall, the stairs climbing up into the dimness of a summer evening twilight. Pieter was waiting there, his body rotating slowly on the cord biting into the swollen neck. Fee could see the scratches where Pieter had clawed at it; he could see the blood on Pieter's nails, a dark rusty red under the fingernails. Pieter had always been proud of his hands, keeping them beautifully manicured. Pieter wouldn't like his nails being in such a mess, but Pieter's eyes were bulging wetly and his tongue was sticking out of a blackening mouth, the mouth that had taught Fee how to kiss. Pieter wasn't ever going to fuss about his nails again.. Fee closed his eyes but there was no release from the vision, and Pieter spun unhurriedly, almost leisurely, against the inside of his closed eyelids, face swollen and patchily red with congested blood. It was a centon or two before Fee opened his eyes again and Pieter slowly faded away back into the past where Apollo was.

"The police released him on bail after a few days. He hanged himself." Fee's voice trembled, despite everything he could do to keep it calm and even. "I found him."

Zac stared. He looked shocked, his mouth working for a micron before any sound came out of it. "Apollo."

The words tumbled out, his voice still shaking. "Apollo's not here, not since Pieter died. Even though Pieter was dead, they still got rid of me. He got rid of me. He sent me to a military school. I hated it. I didn't want to be there. He didn't want me at home—"

"Dad?"

Fee nodded, fierce. "There wasn't anywhere else, not even Jerry's, and Pieter was dead, hanging on the stairs. Pieter hadn't waited for me; he wouldn't have sent me away, but he hadn't waited." He stared as the train doors closed. The train was crowded now, and one or two of the passengers, those closest to them, stared back at him in unconcealed curiosity until he scowled at them and they looked quickly away. He'd been too passionate, too loud. He made himself level out, taking three or four deep, calming breaths, the way Alex had taught him. "I'd taken some of Mama's medication to Pasquel with me and a bottle of ambrosa, and about three sectons after I got there took it all. I think it was the drink as much as anything that kept me unconscious for three days."

Zac's mouth dropped open. "You tried to kill yourself?"

"You're not listening. Pieter was dead and I was very unhappy about that and no-one, except Uncle Jerry, let me be unhappy. I wasn't wanted at home and I wanted to be with Pieter. I thought he was the only one who cared about me. A few days later I tried it again, with some broken glass. They thought I was mad, insane."

"Oh," said Zac, obviously sharing that diagnosis.

"The reason I was so weird when they did let me home was the doctors had given me anti-psychotic drugs. I can't remember how long I was at home. A few sectons, maybe? Anyway, I heard them talking about sending me away again, to be locked up somewhere. I still wasn't wanted, so I just left. I ended up back there." Fee jerked a thumb down the track, back the way they'd come. "I lived on the streets for sectars."

"Like those poor people I saw in the Fenice? The hungry ones?"

"Worse." Fee had command of himself again, and he forced himself to slow down. He was frightening Zac. "Much, much worse. I really won't tell you how much worse, except that when the anti-psychotics wore off, I used Shadow and Bliss and booze, instead."

"Shadow," repeated Zac. His eyes were round as one cubit coins. His voice shook. "You were on drugs?"

"If I could remember it," said Fee, wryly, "I'm sure it was a terrible time. The only good thing was that eventually I ended up in Fenice, and Alex got me off the drugs and off the streets. That's all I'm telling you, Zac."

It was Zac's turn to be quiet, Zac's turn to watch the passengers come and go, and count the stations and probably wish he was somewhere else.

"Is that all true?" he asked, after a while.

Fee pushed back the sleeve of his jacket. "From the broken glass," he said.

The scars were very faint now, but still visible when he turned his wrist to let the carriage lights catch them. Zac touched them, his fingers trembling.

"That's why Dad thought you were dead, because you'd tried to kill yourself."

"I guess." Fee jerked down the sleeve to hide the past.

"Are you— are you all right now?"

"I'm fine. I'm clean, I have a job, I have Alex. That's all I need. I'm really very happy."

"You mean," said Zac, with that unexpected perception again. "You mean, that you don't need us."

Fee shrugged, trying to find a way to explain how he felt when he wasn't entirely sure himself. "I spent a lot of yahrens thinking that I'd never see any of you again. I never expected to. I was used to not belonging. I'm having as hard a time adjusting as you are. As to where this will end up... I don't know, Zac. I really don't."

Zac blew out a noisy breath, and nodded. "Okay." He said, tentatively, "We want you back."

"I don't think any of you know what you want, except Thenie. At least she's honest."

"She worries about Mama."

Fee nodded. "I know."

"I can't believe they didn't want you at home. If you were sick—"

"He sent me away," said Fee.

"But if it was to go to hospital." argued Zac. "If it was for your own good."

"Yeah," said Fee, bitterly, seeing the face in his mind's eye again, the one that had ended up blackened and congested and swollen: Pieter hanging himself for Apollo's good. "I'm sure they thought so."

Zac gave him a frightened look, and sat quiet for a few stops. Eventually he said, very quietly, "I don't want you to disappear again."

"Don't you?" Fee managed a smile. "You aren't mad at me, then, the way Thenie is?"

"No," said Zac, thoughtfully. "I'm not."

 

 

5.2 Homecoming

It was a pleasant walk from the Osaiya subway station back to the house. Zac, back on his home turf, was much more comfortable than when he was treading closely on Alex's or Fee's heels, scared of getting lost.

They didn't talk much, Fee responding only briefly to Zac's conversational forays. Zac didn't know if Fee was regretting what he'd said on the train or frightened about approaching home again, or both. Whichever it was, Fee was monosyllabic and withdrawn, and his pace slowed noticeably as they turned the final corner, walking alongside the shoulder high wall topped with an even higher iron fence, each upright set with a pointed spear tip. He stopped at the gate, taller even than he was.

"In you go," he said.

"Aren't you coming in with me?"

"No," said Fee. He leaned up against the gatepost, looking not at Zac but through the wrought iron gate to the dark shape of the house beyond. It looked deceptively small, set as it was behind huge, extensive gardens, slightly distorted by the almost invisible security field that was the real barrier between it and the outside world.

The house was built right on the clifftops, the premier site in all Osaiya. At the foot of the cliffs the tide was coming in, the surf loud against the beaches. Zac had lived with that comforting noise all his life. He wondered if Fee had missed it, far away in the Eastside.

"You promised Mama that you'd bring me home," he said.

"I have. Not even you can get lost between here and the house. I'll wait here until you get inside."

"It's not that," said Zac. "It's just that she's going to be so glad to see you that she might forget to yell at me."

Fee looked at him, surprised into a grin. "She never yelled at you."

"I think this might be the time she finally forgets I'm her baby," said Zac. He grinned back. "Come on. It would a fine, unselfish thing for you to do."

"No, Zac."

"She'll be heartbroken if you don't come in."

"I'm sorry."

"Why not?" asked Zac, serious now. "Is it something I'm not getting? You're back, it's home—"

"I'm not back, and my home's in the Eastside with Alex. Don't push it."

"I don't understand. Really I don't."

"Zac, it's very, very hard to get past six yahrens of being on my own, getting past what... what happened to me. I can't pretend that nothing happened, and this hasn't been home for a very long time. If I ever come back here—and that's a very big if—it'll be as a guest. I won't ever live here again. I don't belong here any more. Apollo's gone and dead and buried."

"You didn't tell me everything, did you?" said Zac.

"Not by a long chalk."

"Are you mad at them?"

Fee paused as if thinking about it. "I don't think so."

"I think you are. You think they don't want you."

"I don't know. I don't know what I am. I don't know what they want. Now go inside and make your peace with Mama."

"I could say the same for you!"

"Tell her that I'll call tomorrow. I've got to get back to Alex."

"All right," said Zac. He put his palm flat against the security panel and looked into the dark slot above, widening his eyes so the biometric scanner could read his iris pattern. But he made no move to go in when the gate swung silently open and the security field faded away to let him through. "You aren't going to disappear again, are you?"

"No." Fee sounded very tired. "No. I don't think I can do that."

"We don't want you to," said Zac. "Mama's happy and I like having you back."

This time Fee didn't deny he was back. Instead he put his hands on Zac's shoulders and turned him until he was pointed towards the house. He was very strong. Although he didn't hurt Zac, there was no fighting him. "Get going. I am so tired that I could sleep standing up and I want to go home. "

"To Alex."

"Zac!"

"Answer just one more question, Fee. Please. Well, two."

"You are—"

"Is Alex your boyfriend?"

The hands on Zac's shoulders were heavy. Zac could feel them shaking and he turned his head alarmed. To his surprise, Fee was laughing. It made him look not much older than Zac himself.

"I live with him, yes," said Fee.

"He's a bit old," said Zac, trying not to sound critical.

"Do you think so?"

"But Ap— Fee, I mean. He's got to be as old as Dad! Older. He's far too old!"

"He suits me."

"Oh." Zac thought about sleeping with someone that old, and shuddered. It would be like having a crush on one of his mother's friends, like Aunt Bethany, Commander Cain's wife. The very thought made him twitchy, even if the thought of doing it with a man didn't make him twitchy enough. But he didn't want to antagonise Fee. "Okay then."

"Thank you for your approval," said Fee, very grave.

"Can I ask another question? Does Thenie know about this?"

"She hasn't asked me."

"Do you think Dad and Mama might have told her?"

Fee shrugged. "I don't know. I don't think so. They said that they wouldn't tell either of you anything unless I agreed to it. I think they'll have said the same as they said to you."

"Can I tell her?"

"No. I don't think she wants to know, Zac. Don't worry about it."

"All right," said Zac, not entirely sure that Athena would listen, even if she heard about how ill Apollo had been. "Will you ever tell me the rest of it? The bits you didn't tell me tonight."

"I don't know. Maybe, one day, if I'm ever feeling brave enough. It's not a good story, Zac."

"I didn't think it would be." Zac watched him for a centon, then said, abruptly. "I'm playing Triad next secton at school, in the next round of the championship. Will you come?" He added, generously, "You can bring Alex if you like."

"I'll see. I play myself, so maybe, yes. I'll talk to Mama." Fee sounded tired. "Go inside, brat."

"All right." Zac turned when Fee's hands lifted and before his brother could step back out of reach, he caught him in a huge bear hug. He grinned into Fee's startled face when he released him. "I'm glad you're here. See you soon," he said, and started down the path. The gate closed silently behind him, shutting him in.

And shutting Fee out.

 

 

It was a bloody long walk from the subway station. Fee pushed his hands into the pockets of his jacket and trudged onwards. He'd learned a lot in the last three yahrens about keeping going when all you wanted to do was curl up somewhere and die. It was an effort, but he kept focused on the pavement ahead of him, keeping up a steady, if slow pace.

He'd called on his mobile com when he'd reached street level, and Alex was on the steps of the Fenice, waiting for him. They were neither of them particularly demonstrative in public, but for once Fee made an exception. Alex held him close, stroking his hair, breath warm against his ear. Alex did that a lot, Fee realised. He found it soothing, Alex's hand on his hair.

"Home?" said Alex. When Fee nodded, Alex took Fee's hand in his and kept it there. "I wasn't expecting you this early. You must have come straight back."

"I didn't go in." Fee let his thumb brush over the back of Alex's hand. The fingers in his tightened their grip.

"Ah," said Alex, and waited for him to tell it.

"I've been up there before. Did you know?"

"Since you saw them again?"

"No." Fee got back to staring at the pavement, focusing on that to keep going. Home was turning out to be a long ten centons away. "Yahrens ago. I went up one Yule, the first one I was clean, the one just after my sixteenth birthday. They were having a party. The house was all lit up, and half the rest of the family were there. Zac was tearing around the garden in the snow with a couple of our cousins. Everyone was having a great time."

"I expect they made an effort for Zac's sake, and Athena's," said Alex.

"I'd thought I might try. You know, see if they might want to— But it was all so happy and normal. You wouldn't ever have known I had ever been there, like I'd never existed. I wasn't missed."

"And that's why you didn't go in tonight?"

"I don't belong there." Fee glanced sideways to try and see the expression on Alex's face. "Pathetic, isn't it, that I should expect that they stop Yule because they missed me!"

"No, not really," said Alex. "A bit self indulgent, though. You can't expect them not to try and make it easier for the younger ones."

"Yeah," said Fee morosely. "They always did. Besides, I was the one who left."

"There is that," said Alex. "But you didn't have to stay away, Fee. I'd have helped."

"I know."

"You never mentioned it," said Alex after a centon.

"No. What was there to say? I was in a completely different world than theirs. Do you know what I did after I watched them for a centar or two? I came back to Eastside and went over to one of the clubs and found someone who wanted to buy himself some Yuletide sex."

Alex paused at the front garden gate. "Did it help?"

"It paid for my Yule dinner."

Alex sighed. "You were in a pretty self destructive phase, as I remember."

"For a long time," said Fee, and tugged at Alex's hand to get him moving. "I'm over it."

"I hope," said Alex, and followed him home.

 

5.3 Time's fool

"He's a nice child," said Alex, looking rather sadly at the remnants of the cheese. "But he seemed to be hungry. He hasn't left much." The crusty bread had been safe from Zac's depredations though, and he poured two glasses of a red wine so rough that it would remove paint. As usual, he gave Fee rather less than a full glass.

Fee squashed blue cheese down onto his bread. He looked exhausted, eyes red-rimmed with tiredness and his fingers were trembling. "He's the same age I was when you met me," he said.

"You weren't a child," said Alex, and he had to fight to keep the note of mourning out of his voice.

"No." Fee pushed the plate away and hugged the wine to him instead. "Pieter took that."

"Took what?"

"Being a real kid. He took that off me, along with a lot of things."

Alex waited a centon or two. "What brought this on?"

"What?"

"I thought I detected a note of criticism about Pieter. Not your normal reaction, you know."

Indeed, the normal reaction was a total insistence that Pieter had loved Fee; that no matter what else, Fee had been important to the man; that Pieter had taken nothing that Fee hadn't wanted to gift him with.

Fee gave him a sidelong glance. "Does it bother you, how I normally react?"

"Yes," said Alex, honestly. "It bothers me for a lot of reasons. It bothers me because it tethers you to the past, it bothers me because it all but ruined your life—"

Fee interrupted him. "I told Zac, on the train. Not everything, not about whoring my way around the Eastside, but I told him about Pieter. Zac is a nice child, isn't he?"

"Yes," said Alex, wondering where this was heading.

"I wonder if I was. If I was a nice child, I mean."

"I should think so," said Alex. "I suspect you were a little bit difficult when the hormones kicked in, but I doubt it was serious."

"Until Pieter got hold of me." Fee gulped down his wine. Alex, rather reluctantly, because Fee drank very little and this was unusual behaviour, refilled the glass while Fee brooded. "They're far too protective of Zac."

"Quite understandable, in the circumstances."

"I know. Don't worry, I won't offer them parenting advice."

"I wouldn't, if I were you."

"I don't think Zac's coming to too much harm. He always was spoiled." Fee looked at him, moodily. "I just had this image of him with Pieter, and I wanted to be sick. I was wrong, wasn't I? Pieter didn't love me, he just wanted me."

Alex said, very carefully, because he knew how much this was paining Fee and he always had to be careful to filter out his own hatred of what Pieter had done, "You're the one best placed to know how he felt about you, Fee."

"He just wanted sex and I was there. The nice child."

"Then yes," said Alex, frightened by the choke in Fee's voice, the rawness. "He was wrong."

"Poor little Apollo," said Fee, sadly. "He might have been a nice child, but what a little fool he was."

 

 

"Zac's smart, too," said Fee. "He's worked you out."

"Uh-huh."

"He asked if you were my boyfriend."

"And you said?" Alex pulled the sweatshirt up over Fee's head.

"That of course you were." He added, with dignity, "I can get undressed by myself, you know."

"Not when we're combining red wine with you coming down from the stims." Alex pushed gently and grinned when Fee fell back onto the bed, giggling. He didn't think he'd ever heard Fee giggle before. It made the lover smile, even as the physician worried about the mood swings. The boy's ability to assimilate alcohol was about on a par with his ability to assimilate stims: the combination of the two was having some unexpected results. "I don't know, though, why I should be surprised at the vagaries of your physiology. The wine was supposed to help you sleep, not light you up like this. You were almost asleep half a centar ago."

"It makes me horny," said Fee.

Alex laughed. "Well, there's a side benefit I wasn't expecting."

"What were you expecting?"

"Coma," said Alex, undoing Fee's jeans.

Fee obligingly lifted his slim hips to allow Alex to tug them down. "I can get undressed. Really."

"It's more fun this way."

"That's true," said Fee, and giggled again.

Alex tipped his young lover back and under the duvet. "You know, although you shouldn't really get drunk like this, it's had one good effect. You're too serious, mostly."

Fee struggled to sit up, and reached for the wine glass Alex had put on the night stand. "Do you mean I'm not a lot of fun?"

"I mean that you take life too seriously." Alex sat on the edge of the bed and retrieved his own wine glass. "It doesn't have to be, you know. Not at your age."

"You don't think it deserves to be, then, for what I did?"

"I don't think you deserve to be punished, no, if that's what you mean. You've your whole life to live, Fee, and it's a shame to waste any of it. Enjoy it."

"I think," said Fee, "that's what Zac was implying."

Alex winced. "I take it he thinks I'm too old for you."

"I told him that you suited me. You do, you know."

"I'm still too old for you."

"You're safe," said Fee.

Alex sighed. "Between safe and serious and what appears to be senility on my part, I don't see how either of us is going to get any fun."

"No?" Fee put down his glass with a myopic care that made Alex smile. He took Alex's free hand and pulled it under the duvet where it could do most good. "That's all yours."

"Well, then." Alex said. "What shall I do with it?"

Fee proceeded to show him. It demonstrated conclusively that Alex was wrong about safe and serious and that senility was a long way off. It involved a lot of giggling.

 

 

Fee preferred being on his back when they made love. He certainly wasn't averse to other positions and in the few sectars that they'd been lovers, Alex had found himself in quite a number that were new to him despite the advantage he had in yahrens, because if Fee was nothing else he was experienced and skilful. But if he had to go for a favourite, Fee preferred face to face. It had to do with liking the way Alex kissed Fee all the time he was inside him, as if he mattered. It reminded him, at those frequent times when he needed reminding, that he was no longer just another anonymous fuck who was skilled enough with his body to give the man who'd just bought him such a bloody good ride that it might just earn him a tip on top of the negotiated fee. It reminded him that he had someone of his own, a place of his own, a life of his own. It reminded him that the old life was over. It reminded him, in Alex's words, that he did not deserve punishment.

He loved the feeling when Alex's fingers left him, and there was the brief pang of emptiness and craving and need that he could make intense and almost masochistically pleasurable because a few microns later it would be filled with the big cock pushing up into him, hurting him in a different and most satisfying way. He loved clamping his legs around Alex's waist and pulling him down until he was writhing under the welcome weight, his own cock rubbing eagerly against Alex's belly, tightening the muscles in his backside to keep Alex in hard and tight, whimpering with every stroke against his prostate. He loved the slow tempo that Alex always started with, because Alex didn't want to hurt him, and he loved the way that when Alex lost himself, he pounded into Fee until Fee was screaming with pleasure.

He'd had more skilful men inside him. He'd had more energetic men inside him, primed by drink or drugs and who'd hammered away at him for centars. He'd had men with bigger cocks inside him, cocks that had taken quite some concentration to accommodate and which had left him aching for days. But he'd never—and he used the word with due care and meaning, his earlier epiphany about Pieter forcing him into an acknowledgement of a truth he'd avoided for too many yahrens—he'd never had a more gentle or loving man inside him. He'd never before had a lover.

There was no other word to describe what Alex was. Alex was gentle and loving and patient. He knew all of that. So he wondered at himself for being so surprised by this gentle, loving man's words that he could only stare, his mouth dropping open.

"I only ask because you still seem to be more lit up than a Yule tree and, as Zac pointed out, I am not as young as I was."

"He said you were as old as his dad," said Fee, not able to think of anything more sensible to say.

"The commander is your dad, too," said Alex.

Fee shrugged, but Alex looked at him steadily and he had to say something. "Not for a long time. Not since he got rid of me."

"He did explain that," said Alex, and waited, but this time Fee wasn't going to say anything at all. He did not want to be discussing his father in bed. So after a centon, Alex said, "I'm older than him, actually, by quite a few yahrens. I looked it up."

"I don't care," said Fee quickly, and because it was true. "It doesn't matter to me."

"Well it doesn't really matter to me either, except in the current circumstances. I just did my best to bang you into the middle of next secton in the hope that it would overcome the effects of the wine and let you sleep, but you're still raring to go—"

"I came!"

"Twice. But there's irrefutable proof that you're ready for more." Alex's hand enclosed Fee's hard cock, and Fee hissed and arched into the touch. "See? It is the downside to having such a young lover when you get to my age. Desire outstrips both performance and endurance, while you still have bucket-loads of all three. You never offer to top, and I suppose that may be your preference -"

"I don't know," said Fee, astonished. "I've never really had the option. I never thought about it."

It was true. Men buying a whore usually wanted to own and dominate, to fuck rather than be fucked. The expectation had always been that they would take him, that they'd paid to take and possess and, often, hurt. With many of them, too, it had been the assertion of age over his youth, Pieter included; as if he were too young to be anything other than the (supposedly) passive partner. He couldn't ever remember a time when it was the other way around. He'd never thought about choices and preferences, because his choices had never been an issue.

He'd never offered to top because he'd never expected to, he'd been conditioned not to, conditioned instead to believe that the only cock that mattered was the one inside him.. That this was an understanding that Alex had just reached, too, was obvious. He looked chagrined, almost slightly ashamed and pulled Fee in close.

"This is an equal partnership we have here, Fee," he said. "I don't have to always be on top and you don't have to always do just what I want. I like it either way. Much as I hate to prove Master Zac right in any way whatsoever, I'm just not up to it, physically."

"Bollocks!" said Fee, roundly, afraid that Alex was about to drift into angst about his age.

"Very nice of you say so, love, but it's a fact that I need a little bit longer to recover than the ten centons it apparently takes you. It doesn't mean that I don't want to make love with you, but that there's times where I want to lie back and let you do some of the work. This is one of them."

"Oh," said Fee, wondering if he'd been unforgivably selfish.

It was a bit worrying. He knew how to lick and suck and kiss the cock that was going to fuck him, to take the man to the very edge, and he knew when he'd have to press down hard at the base of the man's cock to stop him coming too fast and too early. He knew how to take a cock without complaint, tightening his lips against whatever discomfort he was put to, while letting his experienced body yield and open up. He knew what to do to make a man come inside him, and make him come yelling and incoherent with pleasure. He knew how to move, how to contract and relax muscles, at just what point to clamp down hard. He knew how to get his own pleasure out of what had been for so long an economic necessity.

Apart from the mechanics, what he didn't know was how to use his cock to give another man—no, to give Alex, not just any man—to give Alex the loving pleasure that Alex gave him. He was frightened that he wouldn't be able to do it very well.

"Have you ever done it?" asked Alex.

"No."

"Not even with girls?"

Fee laughed because he thought it would be expected of him, but really how could Alex think he could ever offer something so used and tainted? It was impossible, to tell someone what he'd done and expect them to still want him. He could rationalise loving Alex: he had no secrets from Alex, and Alex did not judge the way that most people did. Alex knew and still wanted him, and Fee had not had to make any sort of halting confession and see desire and respect vanish like mist in the sun.

"I've never had sex with a girl," he said. He didn't know if that was another option and preference he'd not thought about. He was shy of women, and of men his own age. He was safe with Alex.

Alex's hold tightened and his mouth brushed Fee's hair. "Well, it looks like I've got something to teach you. It's just as good as taking it, I promise. Different, but just as brilliant."

Fee smiled at him, hoping he wouldn't disappoint. Alex had already taught him the most valuable lesson: he knew now how to make love rather than just provide a commodity. He supposed Alex could teach him this too.

"Now?"

"Now," said Alex, rolling onto his back and taking Fee with him. "Now would be very nice."

 

 

Fee was asleep at last, a heavy and boneless weight sprawled half over Alex, his breathing deep and even. He would be out for centars, by the look of him. Thankfully he didn't snore.

Alex shifted, trying to sit up without disturbing Fee too much, although he did doubt that anything short of an explosion would wake the boy now. He winced as pain shot through muscles in his backside that hadn't been used so energetically in many a long yahren. Fee, once persuaded that topping Alex wasn't overthrowing the natural order of things and that the universe might possibly survive the shock, had taken to his new role with enthusiasm and a quite impressive stamina. Alex wasn't complaining about either the enthusiasm or the stamina, but even with the added motive of wanting to prove Zac wrong about the disparity in age, he really was getting on a bit and he lacked the.... the elasticity, that was it. He lacked the elasticity of youth. A nice warm bath would be very welcome right then.

He smiled to himself, almost able to see Zac rolling his eyes in disgust and offering him a nice cup of cocoa to go with the nice warm bath. And then he sighed, because much as he'd like to consign the cheeky young devil to perdition, there was no getting around the age difference that Zac had evidently been unafraid to point out to his brother. He was getting older, he did like his comforts and he really would like a bath, but he risked disturbing Fee if he got up and he absolutely didn't want to do that. He would just have to hope that keeping very still for a few centars would allow him to recover enough to be able to walk in the morning. Even, he thought savagely, if he had to walk like the geriatric he evidently was.

He managed to get his back against the headboard, Fee lying across him, his head on Alex's chest. Alex smoothed down the thick dark hair, thinking about the shy astonishment Fee had shown when he'd asked him to top. He should have known that Fee had been trained and conditioned into thinking that was impossible, and how stupid of him not to have thought about it! He did not deserve that Fee should forgive his crass stupidity and selfishness.

He stroked Fee's hair again. He loved that, the way that the black hair was so unruly that it needed an almost constant attention that Fee himself was never inclined to give it. He was so very lucky to have Fee, this quaint mix of jaded experience and delightfully shy innocence. It was astonishing the boy had so much courage, integrity and innocence left, but then Fee was a lot stronger than Fee himself knew.

And Fee said that he loved him. Alex thought that it was true, despite his age. He also thought that Fee was right, in that he didn't love Alex in quite the same way that Alex loved him, but it was enough. It was more than enough.

It was still relatively early. Alex stretched out a hand and retrieved his spectacles and his book. He really should get his eyesight adjusted, he thought absently, when he could make the time to do it. He bent to kiss Fee's forehead, and opened his book, content and happy, relishing the quiet and the weight and Fee's soft, regular breathing.

Love can be many things. It may not always be fireworks and passion and explosive sex. It can be serious. It can be about safety, and it can even be about age. But Alex was old enough to be sure of one thing love is not.

Love is not time's fool.

 

5.4 Trust Funds

Zac attended the same school that Apollo had.

They hadn't done anything stupid, like move the Triad court. It was still in the same place, the third point of the triangle where the gym and the swimming pool made the other two. Fee found it without any difficulty at all.

He'd been surprised at how little emotion he'd felt coming back here. He spent a centon or two looking at the low school buildings and remembering Apollo, but regret was a profitless business. There was nothing he could do about the past. He'd already lived it. It didn't warrant a second try.

The matches were already underway when he reached the Triad courts. He glanced at the posters in the lobby on the way in. These were early matches, the beginners' chance at a little glory and the spectator stands were only sparsely populated by a few dedicated parents. Fee was relieved to see that Zac's game was scheduled for the later part of the championship. He was glad he hadn't missed it. He was a pretty mean Triad player himself, and was looking forward to seeing how the brat had turned out.

Adama had called the previous evening when he got back to Caprica for his Council meeting. They hadn't talked long, but they had agreed to meet. As arranged, his father was in the centre of the second row, empty seats on either side. He looked up and smiled when Fee joined him.

"Hey," said Fee.

He was conscious of the sidelong calculating look Adama gave him. His father always managed this checking-him-over look within a few centons of them meeting again, and Fee always got the same relieved smile when it was over. He wondered sometimes what his father was looking for but would not ask about. Signs of drugs or the smell of sex, maybe? He knew that his reticence about what he did for a living worried Adama, but he wasn't yet ready to let them into every area of his life. He didn't know if he ever would be.

"Hello," said Adama and his tone was warm and pleased. "I'm glad you made it. You wouldn't believe how wound up Zac is about this match."

"I've seen him twice in the last five days," said Fee, very dryly. "I'd believe it."

Adama smiled. "So he said, but at least the lunch you had with him and his mother yesterday was authorised, shall we say. I could have killed him for sneaking out of school. Thank you for bringing him home."

"He just wanted to know what it was all about."

"He told me that you'd explained part of it to him, so I told him our side of it."

"Seems fair," conceded Fee.

"I hadn't said anything to him earlier, or to Athena. Your mother and I took the decision that the story is yours to tell when you're ready."

"He deserved to know. Some of it at least. I didn't think he was ready for all of it."

"No," said Adama and sighed. "He told me you'd had a hard time at work, and you weren't too well the night he came visiting. Are you all right now?"

Fee nodded. "I don't metabolise stims too well," he said. "Sometimes I have to use them at work, and they crap me up for a few days."

"Stims?" said Adama, alarmed.

"It's sometimes necessary. Don't worry. They're legal and administered by trained medics. I just have trouble dealing with the aftermath. I'm over it."

Adama gave him that measuring look again, and nodded, apparently satisfied. "Good. I'm sorry you didn't go into the house. Your mother was disappointed."

Fee made his mouth untwist from the thin lines it was taking and deliberately changed the subject. "Where is Mama today?"

His father frowned, but had the grace to accept Fee's diversion. "She's not a great one for watching sports. She'll be along later to celebrate or commiserate, as needs be. We're taking Zac and Barney for junk food and fizzy drinks afterwards. I do hope you're coming."

Fee remembered working in the kitchen of a fast food café in the Eastside, the yahren before he'd graduated to working in Giorgi's. While it was another time when he'd never gone hungry, he wasn't that keen on the stuff. But he appreciated Adama's offer for what it was. "Wouldn't miss it."

He stared down into the court at the four youngsters trying valiantly to play. The tall blond wasn't too bad, he thought, but the others all played like they had three left feet each. He remembered his first games of Triad, and the number of times he'd fallen over his own feet.

"Athena may come too, but she's in her final yahren here, you know, and it's severely uncool to be seen to be interested in her brother's matches. They get on well, usually, but outside of school is better."

"Uh-huh." And the fact that Fee was there was no factor in Athena's absence at all, then.

Adama looked briefly uncomfortable. Fee suspected that the thought had occurred to him, too. "It's been a long time since you were here," he said.

"Not since the day you caught me with Pieter," agreed Fee, brightly.

His father flushed a dull, heavy red. "Apollo—"

"Fee."

Adama's rigid commanderly spine sagged noticeably and his mouth tightened. Fee was sorry: the old man hadn't meant anything, had only being trying to make some sort of conversation, he supposed. Although what sort, he couldn't imagine.

"I'm sorry," he said, before Adama could speak. "That was a cheap shot."

"A fact, anyway," said Adama, and stared down at the court broodingly.

Fee wondered what Adama was thinking. His own memories kept bubbling up, reminding him of afternoons spent in this court. He and... what was his name now? Ferris, that was it. He and Ferris had been a pretty mean combination, and they'd have won the Triad championship for their yahren, if he'd stayed at this school. They'd played Triad at military school, too, but an Apollo who was half catatonic with grief and sinking into the elective silence that enveloped him for almost two yahrens, hadn't played in the three short sectons he'd been there. He wondered what had happened to Ferris.

"When did you develop an interest in Triad?" asked Fee, to fill the silence. "I thought that you were like Mama. You didn't used to watch it, that I remember."

"You mean, I didn't come and watch you play when I was on leave," said Adama flatly.

Fee said, rather to his own surprise, "I don't think I meant that."

But Adama was angry now, and talked over the top of him. "Give me some credit, Apollo. Let's just say, shall we, that even I'm capable of learning from my mistakes. No, I didn't come often to watch you. I didn't see... I never realised how little I did do things like that with you. I thought it was enough just to be home for a few sectons. But it wasn't, was it? Instead, you felt neglected enough to be easy prey for that man. I won't make the same mistake with Zac."

Fee looked away, feeling suddenly sick, his stomach churning uncomfortably. It always disturbed Fee when he saw Adama get emotional. He could never quite reconcile it with the father of his memory, the distant authoritative figure he'd not really known very well and who certainly hadn't known him. Once he'd blamed Adama and his mother for everything. It disconcerted him when Adama blamed himself.

It was Adama's turn to apologise. "I'm sorry," he said stiffly. "I don't want to quarrel."

"No," said Fee, distantly, trying to analyse the surge of satisfaction he'd felt. He was disconcerted, true, but he was pleased as well. He had the power to disturb Adama's monolithic calm. There was feeling there, then. Something was there. He just didn't know what.

"I don't know how to talk to you, you know," said Adama, with the painstaking honesty that, Fee realised, had characterised every meeting they'd had in the last two sectars, ever since the Lazarean day in the bookshop. Not many of them, Fee had to admit, this was what—the sixth?—although he'd seen a little more of his mother, as he'd promised Jerry that he would. Only half a dozen meetings, and they knew each better, he thought, than in his fourteen yahrens as number one son, even if they were just as uncomfortable around each other as they'd ever been.

"It's not easy for me, either," admitted Fee, feeling that the honesty deserved some equally candid return. "I promise myself that I'll just let everything float, you know, and not let myself get pulled under."

"And instead you feel like you're drowning?" Adama half turned and focused on him.

Fee nodded. "Scary, sometimes."

"Anything worthwhile is."

Fee looked down quickly, to hide his grin. That had to be his aphorism of the day, then.

"It worries me because I do need to talk to you about some delicate things, and I don't know how."

Fee, alarmed at his father's emphasis, returned the cool blue stare and said the first thing that came into his head, his voice low and bitter. "I know all about the birds and the bees, thanks."

Adama flushed that deep red again. "Ap— Fee, please."

Drowning again already. Fee could barely believe how little it took to get him off balance. He stared down at the court below him as the referee blew the final whistle, and watched the children, grinning and red-faced and happy, solemnly shake hands with each other, the vanquished congratulating the victors. He envied them their uncomplicated lives.

Keeping his eyes on the court, he nodded. "Okay," he said, invitation and apology both.

"Thank you." Adama hesitated for so long that Fee was almost forced to look at him and take his attention away from the court, and that would never do. "What I need to talk to you about is to do with some legalities we have to deal with."

"Legalities?" said Fee, surprised into doing what he'd just promised himself he wouldn't do, and looking at Adama. His father looked embarrassed.

"Fee, there's family money, remember? It's all tied up in trusts and there are certain regulations that we have to comply with. One of those kicks in when a trust member comes of age. You were twenty one last birthday."

Fee's stomach turned a quick somersault then sank like lead. "I know how old I am."

"What I meant was that you're legally entitled to an income out of the trust funds, and we need to talk about it."

"Is that what this is about? Money?"

"Fee, please, just listen."

"I don't want your bloody money! This is not about money!"

"Fee—"

More than one of the other parents was looking over at them in consternation and curiosity. Fee didn't care. "Leave me the fuck alone," he said.

He was on his feet and moving, almost blind with a rage he didn't even attempt to analyse. Outside the Triad hall he picked up the pace and ran, heedless of the light rain that had started to fall or even which way he was running. He ended up in one of the benches scattered around the edge of the training fields, sitting there shaking, trying to get himself under control. Instant drowning, that's what was happening and it wasn't a good thing. It wasn't good at all.

Alex wouldn't be pleased with him. He didn't think Alex liked Adama much, but Alex was capable of putting partisan feelings to one side and he never voiced a judgement; would always sit back and allow every man a chance and an opinion. Fee hadn't given his father even the smallest chance. Alex was the man for generosity and he would be sorry Fee had offered less.

So when Adama dropped into the seat beside him, breathing heavily, Fee said, dully, "I know I don't have much. I love what I do, but it doesn't pay that well. Some sectars I get so close to having nothing that I get scared. I suppose, in your terms, I'm poor." Fee turned his head to glare. "I'm not a fucking charity case, though."

"No-one said that you were. This is a legal entitlement set down by your great-great-grandfather, for God's sake. Stop treating it like a personal insult!"

Fee ignored that. "I get scared because I've been there, penniless and hungry. Most days the only thing I ever got to eat was at the Fenice."

Adama winced visibly. "Please don't."

"Have you ever been hungry?"

"Not like that, no."

Fee turned his gaze back onto the training field. Some kids were on the running track, pounding towards them. He watched them run, focused on the easy energy they all had. When they'd turned and passed along the short edge of the track, he said, so quietly that his father leaned in closer to hear, "I don't remember much about that time, but I do remember that I was close to starving."

"I saw some of the records Alex has. You were very thin," said Adama, his voice thick.

Fee nodded. "I was hungry all the time but it didn't matter. Every penny I had, every trick I turned, went on the important things, on Shadow and sometimes some Bliss and a bottle to wash the Bliss down with. I could earn the money all right. It wasn't difficult to find some guy to take me into an alley and all I had to do was turn around and bend over. Shit, with the Shadow it didn't even hurt. But not for food. That was a waste. And later, when I found the Fenice, Alex always fed me."

He noticed that Adama's face had tightened. He'd never seen his father cry before, and it made him pause. He watched, fascinated, rubbing at his arm where the faint scars were, although there was nothing there now but the memory of pain and lesions and pus.

"I didn't stop when I was clean, you know. Alex found me work, but that paid a lot less than even what I get now. I just about got by with rent and food. If I needed anything—clothes, shoes, anything like that—I could always find someone to buy me for a few centars. I didn't stop for yahrens. I don't know how many men have paid me for sex."

Adama's voice thickened further. "I know. Alex hinted at it when we saw him that day."

The rain was getting heavy. In the distance a teacher yelled at the runners and gestured to the school buildings. Fee wondered if it was a teacher that Apollo had known, if once he'd been among the runners sent in from the cold and the wet.

"I don't do it now, if that's what you're wondering," he said.

Adama nodded. "I wondered." He wiped at his eyes and sat back. Looking at him sidelong, Fee saw the relief.

"Did you think that the offer of money would save me from a life of sin?" he asked, but he wasn't angry any more. He thought he might laugh, but his eyes were stinging uncomfortably with the rain and the laugh wouldn't come.

"I don't know what you do, Apollo. I didn't know what to think." Adama glanced at him, apologetic. "I just want to help."

"I don't need help. I get by. I make enough to get by. Sometimes, like I say, it's hard to get to the sectar end, but I manage." He frowned, thinking about it. "The hardest thing's not taking money from Alex."

"Alex said, last time I saw him, that it was the opposite problem. He said you'd have no trouble managing on your salary if you gave the Fenice less each sectar."

Fee stiffened. "You've talked to Alex about me and money?"

"No," said Adama. "Not really. It just came out in the conversation."

Fee stared at him, feeling cold. "That must have been one helluva conversation."

"I was talking to him about getting the Fenice onto our charitable trust list," said Adama, and Fee could hear the edge to the patience in his tone. "That's all."

Fee considered it. It sounded reasonable. Alex did worry about him giving so much of his salary to the Fenice, and wasn't shy of saying so. He was surprised, though, that Alex had said so to Adama. Surely Alex didn't believe that Adama could influence Fee where he had failed? He nodded a reluctant acceptance. That seemed to be one offence that Adama was innocent of, at any rate.

After a few centons of silence, his father said, shifting uncomfortably in the increasingly heavy rain, "Under the terms of the trust, you're entitled to thirty thousand a yahren until you're twenty five, when it doubles."

Fee choked. That was almost twice his salary. For his father it was pocket money.

"Not that much!" When all Adama did was shrug, he said, desperately, "I'd have thought that you'd have wiped me off the family trusts."

"Of course not!" said Adama. "We always hoped we'd find you. I don't think your mother ever gave up on you being alive."

"Apollo's dead and gone. Apollo's the one who had the money, not me. I don't want it. Save it for the family you care about."

Adama froze. "And you think that doesn't include you?"

Fee opened his mouth to say something cruel and angry and smart, but closed it again. He felt tired and cold, and his jacket wasn't keeping out the rain as well as it might do. He wanted to go home. "I don't know," he said, appalled that it came out as a whine.

Adama sighed. "I made so many mistakes with you, didn't I? I suppose I can't blame you for distrusting me, but I wish I could tell you what your disappearance did to us, what it cost us."

"It cost her the Senate. It cost you the Atlantia," said Fee, thinking that everything came down to a value somewhere, to a price.

Adama brushed that aside. "That? I didn't mean that! I meant what it cost in anguish and despair, Apollo, and I am not being overly dramatic about it when I say that. I spent yahrens feeling like something had been—" Adama paused, frowning. "—wrenched," he said at last, finding the right word. "Wrenched. Twisted and warped out of shape. You weren't there. There was no chance at all of trying to learn from my mistakes and making it all right with you. Do you have any idea at all what it feels like to realise that your mistakes have lead to an overdose, broken glass and a child so drugged up on anti-psychotics that he's like a zombie?"

Fee shook his head, mutely. The rain ran into his eyes, letting him wipe at them to ease the stinging.

"I hope you never do." Adama leaned forward, his hands on his knees, looking out over the now deserted training ground. "I won't lie to you and say I'm sorry about Pieter, because I'm not. I am sorry you found him and I'm sorry, heart sorry, about the effect it had on you. And I'm more than heart sorry that I misunderstood and got it so badly wrong. But it was never because you weren't important. You were then and God knows you are now. You're as important to me as any other member of the family. Perhaps more so at the moment, because I have so much to undo where you're concerned, and so much to rebuild."

Fee waited and stared, wondering if it really was like that, if all the complicated and horrible things could be described so simply, when undoing and rebuilding were so complex that the very thought of it made his head swim.

"Let's hope I really have learned from the mistakes. You're family, you're important. I live in hope that one day you'll be Apollo again, and you are now the owner of thirty thousand cubits a yahren. If you aren't sure what to do with them, then I suggest you make your trust money over to the Fenice and keep your salary for yourself."

"Oh," said Fee. That hadn't even occurred to him.

"That way you may get to each sectar-end without being scared of being hungry again." He glanced at Fee. "And, being scared of what hunger might drive you to."

Fee flinched. Adama was showing the same unexpected perception that Zac had.

"The alternative, if you really don't want to accept it, is that we have to get the lawyers involved. It'll be long winded and messy, but I'll do what you want, Fee." Adama touched Fee's hand, the one that was still rubbing at the old sores. "Because I want a chance with you and I'll do whatever you want, to get it."

"It's an idea," said Fee, slowly, knowing just how much Alex and the Fenice could use that amount of money. "Giving it to Alex. I don't want the money."

He heard the long, almost silent sigh from Adama. "No, because I believe you when you say this isn't about money. Think about it and let me know and we'll set up a meeting with the lawyers and sign the papers. Whatever you want."

"All right."

"Good." Adama straightened up. "Do you think we could go back inside while you do your thinking? Zac's match is up in a half centar and I'm getting very wet."

 

 

It had gone no better than he'd expected, but thankfully no worse than he'd feared. He had known that Apollo—that Fee, rather, would be touchy about money. What else could he be? He quite evidently had very little of it, and it hurt Adama to see his son so obviously poor when the family was one of the richest on Caprica. He remembered Athena's scorn for the cheap clothes Fee had. He'd been sharp with her about it, but it nagged at him too. His son should not have to want for anything. It hurt him that Fee wanted for a great deal.

Fee's uncontrolled reaction had scared him. It had been instant and savage, not giving Adama a chance to protest and explain. Adama thought he could understand the fierce pride that kept Fee from accepting help of any kind, maybe particularly from the family Fee thought had rejected him. He was surprised that Fee's pride had been humbled enough for that strange conversation on the bench, the admission to something that Adama regarded as poverty even if Fee didn't quite see it in the same way. There was a difference between not having very much and having nothing at all, he supposed, although to his eyes, privileged as they may be, the difference was one of only very slight degree.

And of course, the mere mention of the subject brought to mind the real destitution that Fee had once suffered, and what he had done to survive. Somehow Adama found it easier to think of that as Fee, and not as Apollo, separating the two in a way he suspected would annoy his son considerably. Although on reflection, he doubted if Fee would be able to explain his annoyance any better than Adama could explain why he needed to make the separation.

Hardest of all was knowing that his own insensitivity, for that was how he saw it now, had created the conditions of mistrust and fear that had driven Apollo away from them. What had happened to Apollo - that was something that Adama thought would break his heart. He was astounded that it hadn't broken Fee's. His son had a great deal of courage and resilience, but Adama couldn't, just yet, get past the gut-wrenching pain of it.

Or the guilt.

"He's not bad at all," said Fee, rousing him from his thoughts. "A bit undisciplined, but he's not bad."

Adama controlled the slight start and turned his attention back to the Triad court. He glanced at the scoreboard. Zac and Barney were doing well.

"Do you still play?" he asked.

"Uh-huh. For work." Fee was watching the game avidly. "Jump, Zac! Oh good one!"

"Are you any good?" asked Adama, deliberately provocative.

The wide green eyes met his, still guarded and wary. Whatever forgetfulness Fee had found in the game was fleeting. But Adama was relieved beyond his ability to measure it when the guard lifted and Fee smiled, until he looked young and carefree and innocent.

"Yes," said Fee. "I'm good. None better."

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