Section Six: Rules of the Game

 

 

6.1 Game ploys

 

Zac was lit up, glowing with delight and triumph. He bestowed a kindly nod on his father, but his brother was the recipient of another of those swift hugs that left him breathless. Zac in affectionate mode could be wearing.

"This is Barney, Fee. Did you see the whole match?"

"Yes," said Fee, able to grin at Barney when he'd freed himself from Zac's determined and touching affection.

"We were pretty okay, don't you think? At least we're through to the next round."

"You weren't bad."

"We were good!"

Fee shook his head, trying not to laugh in the boy's face. "All right," he agreed. "You were good, although you need to do some work on getting your passing right. You fumbled the ball a couple of times."

"Do you play, sir?" asked Barney. He was very tall, taller than Fee, but as shy as Zac was exuberant.

Fee blinked at the unexpected honorific. It made him feel about ninety. "At work."

"He claims he's the best," said Adama, clearly amused. "That seems to be a shared fraternal failing."

Fee grinned at him. "Champions, I'll have you know. Me and Samn are quite a team." He looked back at the two boys. "Samn's built like a brick shi— er, well, he's a big guy, bigger and stronger than me anyway although amazingly light on his feet. We're pretty unstoppable because all our tactics are about Samn blocking the opposition and creating room for me to get about the court and score. There're other tactics you two can use to take advantage of how tall you are, Barney, that your opponents will find hard to beat."

Barney flushed pink and stammered something inaudible. Adama, though, groaned out loud, protesting against any encouragement of Zac's already tiresome obsessions, amusing Fee with this suddenly human face of the Great Commander.

"The next round is this time next secton," said Zac.

"Which translates as, are you coming to watch him?" said Adama.

Fee came back to reality with a jolt. "Can't, sorry. I've been called back for a job. I'll be shipping out in four days."

"Oh," said Zac, not hiding his disappointment. "Don't you usually have longer?"

"Yes, but there's a push on, and since I just got promoted they seem to want me to earn it." Fee grinned at him. "Tell you what, get a public court sorted out between now and then and I'll give you a training session before I go."

"Barney too?"

"Of course, since you play as a team," said Fee. "But it's not going to be for fun, Zac. I'll expect you to take it seriously."

"Because Triad's a serious business," said their father, very solemnly. But the look he gave Fee was strained.

"Very serious," agreed Fee, trying not to feel too pleased at Adama's obvious disappointment.

"It's great," said Zac. He glanced around. "Didn't you bring Alex?"

"He's at the Fenice. Besides, Alex doesn't really like Triad. He doesn't understand it. He'll come to my matches if they're held on Caprica, but he's the kind of person who has to have the rules explained to him every single time."

"Really?" said Zac, disgusted. "Beats me what you see in him, then."

"Zac!" said Adama, sharply.

Fee shot Adama a sideways glance. "I told you, brat. He suits me."

Zac shrugged, and said to Barney, "Alex is Fee's boyfriend."

Barney blushed again, clearly uncomfortable with Zac's insouciant honesty. Fee thought that was probably a fairly constant emotional state for anyone Zac called friend.

"Zac!" said Adama again, doing his scary quelling act.

Zac wasn't quelled. "Fee said so."

Fee said, rather sharp, "I believe that all that I said was that I lived with him."

Which was, of course, undeniable. Fee had lived there between jobs ever since he'd completed basic training. Alex had discovered that Fee had given up the tiny room he'd been living in for the yahren he'd worked at Giorgi's, and was staying instead in a grim military hostel. It was cheaper. Alex had descended on the hostel like a tornado, whirling Fee and his meagre belongings into the spare room in his little house before Fee had had time to draw breath, giving him the first home he'd had in yahrens. Alex had refused the payment Fee had offered. Fee shivered slightly at the memory of that gentle rejection, clinging instead to what he had now. The past was a country he didn't want to return to.

Zac shrugged off correction and continued explaining Alex to Barney, despite Adama's growling. "He's nice, but he's a bit old for boyfriend material. He's got to be at least as old as Dad."

"He's older," said Fee. He looked steadily at his father, who looked just as steadily back.

"Yes," said Adama. "But he suits you."

Fee didn't know why, but that was reassuring. He smiled.

 

 

The junk food was all it promised to be. Zac and Barney fell on theirs as if starved for a sectar, and Fee ate his because, Adama thought painfully, he was the only one who knew what it was like truly to starve for a sectar and it was very unlikely Fee would ever be picky about food again. He and Ila ate the marginally edible and left the rest.

He wondered which one of them had learned the most that day. Himself, perhaps, when he'd accepted Fee's quiet insistence on buying his own meal with no more than a nod, granting his son the pride he was glad to see. Or Fee, who'd let him buy dessert: Adama wondered about that concession, both touched and slightly amused by it. Mostly it touched him. It was an odd thing to give him hope, a small and inconsequential thing, but it was a concession, it was something. It was a shame that none of the food, dessert included, was particularly edible.

Ila had been upset when Fee had told her of his early recall to work, but she'd accepted it in the end. Once again, Adama wondered what it was his son did for a living, what job took him off world for so long and so regularly. At least his worst fears had proved groundless. Fee had looked him right in the eye when he'd said he no longer sold himself, and Adama believed him. Now he'd be content to wait until Fee was ready to tell him. In the meantime he'd just have to live with the curiosity.

And also in the meantime he could watch both his sons mapping out a new relationship that seemed remarkably like the old one, with one distinct difference. Zac was still the follower, hanging on Fee's every word and wanting attention, just as he had when he was eight. Adama thought that Zac was in a fair way to achieving as besotted a hero-worship of Fee as he'd had of Apollo. The difference was that Fee didn't ignore Zac or treat him as if he was a spoiled nuisance. He was amused by Zac, old enough now to accept Zac's need for constant attention and have infinitely more patience to deal with it. There was the potential for a real affection there, a real relationship. Fee had found a place Apollo hadn't, and there was room for Zac in it. Perhaps it boiled down to a lack of jealousy now that Fee had a life of his own that most definitely wasn't based on getting any sort of notice from his parents.

Adama grimaced at that thought, then brightened. Whatever links Fee was making with Zac would bring him closer, bind him in tighter. It all helped, in the end. He was sorry that Athena had refused to come. It would be nice if she too could be a link to bring her brother back, but that seemed quite a long way off. That was something to be dealt with later when she was ready, and when Adama had thought of some way of dealing with it. He had no idea right then.

"I'd better go," said Fee.

There was the inevitable chorus of dissent, Zac even louder than Ila in demanding that Fee stay a little longer, a lot longer. Even shy Barney expressed regret that Fee was going and blushed scarlet at his own audacity. Fee was firm, but Adama could see that he was pleased.

"If you must go, I'll drive you back to the subway station," he said; and after a little more demurring and a protracted leave-taking in which Ila kissed her errant eldest son several times without any protest at all on Fee's part and Zac delivered another bone crushing hug and a promise to arrange the promised Triad practice, Adama got Fee on his own in the car. It wasn't far to the subway. Adama wished it was further.

"I'm sorry that you have to go back to work so soon."

"So am I," said Fee.

"What are you doing tomorrow?"

"I'm at the Fenice all day. Alex has a kid going through detox. I said I'd help." Fee's mouth twisted. "After all, unlike Alex, I know what it feels like."

"Yes," agreed Adama, trying to keep his tone uninflected.

"She's only seventeen," said Fee. "And pregnant. There's not a hope in hell the foetus isn't affected, but if she's off the stuff both she and the baby have a better chance of getting through the birth alive. Then maybe they can save the baby and wean it off the crap."

"Lords," said Adama, aghast.

Fee gave him a twisted little grin. "At least I couldn't get pregnant."

Adama hid the wince. He was getting better at ignoring the little provocations Fee pushed at him. "The father?"

"God knows. She doesn't."

"Poor child. What will happen to her?"

"Alex will take care of her." Fee's tone was warm with affection.

Adama wondered if he was jealous of Alex, given the pang he felt at Fee's tone. He had promised Jerry that he would make no comment on Fee's relationship with Alex, and he'd keep his promise, even if he wondered if what his son was looking for in the doctor was the father figure Apollo hadn't found in Adama. Like Zac, he found the age difference hard to get over. Unlike Zac, and with a lively memory of Jerry threatening to ram his boot down his throat if he mentioned it, he was able to keep silent about it. He contented himself with saying, "I'm sure he will. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help."

Fee said, after a centon, "All right."

Adama didn't pretend to be flattered by the simple words of acceptance. The momentary silence was eloquent enough of Fee's surprise. Instead, he changed the subject. "If you've only got a few days, can you make some time for me and your mother? I want to make as much as I can of every opportunity to see you, you know."

"All right," said Fee again, with about as much enthusiasm as before.

"I wondered if you and Alex would come to dinner, tomorrow, when you can leave the Fenice."

"Probably we won't be able to, not with the detox. Alex said she was through the worst but it'll take a day or two yet."

"The day after, then?"

"Not at the house," said Fee, very quickly.

"No, I realise that's a step too far for you just yet." Adama drew up outside the station. "Somewhere neutral, then? In town."

Fee hesitated. "I don't have... nowhere too expensive..."

Damnation! They were getting back onto very dangerous ground. "Somewhere where that won't matter," said Adama, calm only because yahrens of training kept him that way in the face of exasperation or fear or danger. "As my guest."

"Oh."

"It will please your mother, very much. And it will please me."

"And you want Alex too?"

"I'd be delighted to have Alex join us," said Adama, dryly. "I'm aware he's important to you, even if Zac is putting a typical Zac-ian interpretation on whatever you've told him." Fee had not, of course, told him or Ila anything at all about his relationship with Alex.

Was that choke, laughter? Fee opened the door and climbed out, before turning and leaning back into the hovercar. He said, his voice shaking suspiciously, "Zac asked me."

"You mean that's the magic formula? All I have to do is ask what I want to know?"

"Zac's approach is pretty direct." Fee grinned. "I don't always tell him. I won't always tell you."

"So if I ask you what you do for a living, what will you tell me?"

"That it's legal. Some people would even say honourable." Fee's smile was faintly self deprecating. "Although I only got in by being less than candid about my past, so maybe you'd think I need all the honour I can get."

Adama bit back a sigh. "Perhaps. But I don't think so, as it happens. You've demonstrated a great deal of integrity today, Apollo. I doubt that was unusual."

Fee was silent again for another surprised centon. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Adama risked a smile.

Fee nodded, then said, slowly, as if he were thinking about it, "I don't know if I'll tell you yet. I don't think you'll be that pleased. It isn't what you planned for me."

Addiction and prostitution weren't what Adama had had planned for him either, and anything had to better than that. But Adama held his tongue and clung hard to his patience. "Whenever you want to tell me," he said, calmly. "I'll call you tomorrow about the arrangements for supper, then?"

"All right." Fee took a step back to let the door close, but before it could slide to, he stopped it. "Listen."

"Yes?"

Fee hesitated, and slid back into the seat. "I'm sorry about what happened earlier. I shouldn't have snapped at you. It's just—" He looked down and pulled at his jacket. "I know Athena's right, and they're not up to much and I know I got a bit het up about things, but I didn't want you to think that I needed anything, that I was trying to get money out of you. I've got everything I need."

So he had heard Athena's comment, all those sectons ago. Adama tamped down the annoyance.

"Alex says I shouldn't be so defensive. But it's like I said. I keep trying to let it float, but—" he shrugged and stopped.

"I think," said Adama, choosing his words with great care, "I think that if it was too easy, it would be meaningless, because that would indicate that I didn't care one way or the other. But because it means everything to me, it's difficult, the most difficult thing I've done. I'm terrified of saying the wrong thing, sometimes."

"Is it important to you?" asked Fee, very quietly.

Adama smiled. "What? That I get my son back one day? I said it was the most difficult thing, didn't I? This is the most important thing I've ever done. And I'm as scared as you are of getting it wrong."

Fee sat very still for a centon. He got quickly out of the car. "I'll see you the day after tomorrow," he said.

For the first time, Adama felt that there was some hope. He let Fee go. As he drove away he could see Fee in the rear view mirror, watching him.

 

 

"He let you buy dessert?" Jerry smiled, amused. "Well, it's a start."

 

 

 

6.2 Scoring the Trinity

"I wondered if I could borrow Zac? There's a Triad match tomorrow that I thought he'd like to see, and since school's out for the summer, it won't matter if I don't get him home till late."

"Not to mention the fact that I'm fifteen now," said Zac. "I haven't turned into a pumpkin at midnight since I was about twelve."

"If you say yes, I'll need to take him off your hands today, Mama. I expect that will be a relief."

Ila laughed. "I'm sure you'll take good care of him."

Zac wondered if he was invisible and that someone had turned off his volume control. Neither of them seemed to notice he was there. "Hey! I'm fifteen. I don't need taking care of."

Fee leaned right over him to talk to their mother. "The matches are out at Semiris, and we'll have to travel there tonight. If you get Duncan to deliver him to the subway with his things by five, I'll meet him at my end. I'll get him back to you tomorrow night sometime. Or if you'd rather not have us turning up at midnight, I'll bring him back the day after tomorrow."

Zac stared, indignation melting into excitement. It was always an object to remain nonchalant towards the adults in his life, but it took an effort this time. "Semiris? You've got tickets for Semiris?"

Fee grinned at him. "Think of it as a late birthday present. I'm sorry I wasn't here for the day."

"Semiris," said Zac, and grinned back, delighted. He remembered to not to sound too eager. "Sounds okay."

"It should be," agreed Fee.

"It's a long way back from there. It's probably better that I stay over with you tomorrow night, so we don't disturb the house when we get back."

Fee was obliging. "If mama says so, I don't mind."

"What's so special about Semiris?" asked Ila.

Zac managed a pleasingly casual tone. "It's the military championships, Mama. I must have mentioned it."

"A few million times. We don't listen when you talk about Triad," said Athena. "I thought you'd have realised that."

It was virtually the first thing she'd said over the lunch that their mother had forced her to attend, and it was typical of his sister that she had to be disagreeable. Zac thought that Fee was incredibly patient about her. It made Zac wince, sometimes, but Fee only shrugged when Thenie's bad temper and resentment broke out, which was something like an average of four or five times each time they met. She doesn't have to like me, he'd said once when Zac, torn between the sister who'd been there all his life and the brother who hadn't, made a halting apology. He felt guilty sometimes, knowing that in just a few sectars he'd come to prefer Fee's company to Thenie's. He could barely believe sometimes that it was only Septimus, that the first strained meeting had been only a half yahren ago.

Fee had been home every few sectons. Whatever his job was, it had the funny working pattern he'd mentioned at that meeting in Secundus; he could be away for a sectar and back for a secton, or away for six sectons and back for two. He'd kept his word and as soon as he got back each time, he called their mother. They all met up every two or three days, even if it was just for a centar or two, and Adama got home each time for a few days to spend them with Fee.

Having a part-time brother was better than not having him at all. Zac liked Fee. It seemed that he and Fee just spoke the same language, and both of them had trouble speaking one that included Athena, even if she wanted to be included. But, of course, she made it plain that she didn't.

Zac knew that he had betrayed Athena, somehow. He wasn't sure if he could put it into words, quite how he knew she felt it was betrayal. The closest he could come was a feeling that she considered any concession to Fee as a personal injury, as if Fee had stolen something of hers and she couldn't work out how to get it back. And because he did love his sister, the slight guilt he felt at the betrayal was enough to keep the annoyance about her hostility at bay.

So he just laughed at the little jabs she made at them. "I'll remember that the next time you go all girly on me and talk to me about what's in fashion."

Athena gave Fee a dark look. "I'm not the one you need to talk to about getting some decent clothes."

Zac thought he saw something flicker in Fee's eyes, but it was gone so fast that he couldn't be sure. Maybe Fee wasn't as indifferent to Athena's little barbs as he pretended.

"I'll have to take you shopping with me, next time," was all Fee said. "I could do with the expert advice."

Athena sniffed, and applied all her attention to eating her dessert. Fee caught Zac's eye and smiled slightly.

Nobly taking the catch, Zac nodded back. "You should, you know. Thenie always looks good. Barney thinks she's elegant." He grinned at the look his sister gave him.

"I think she's beautiful," said their mother, fondly.

"So do I," said Fee, very quietly, his eyes on Athena.

Zac thought that he looked hopeful, but Athena just ignored them all. He sighed, and turned the topic back onto Triad. "I was really put out with Dad that he wasn't going to be here to take me to Semiris."

"We thought you'd rather he was here for your birthday," said Ila. "And he'll be home next secton for the Council meeting."

"And to see Fee, of course," said Athena, unpleasantly.

"I look forward to it," said Fee.

"How did you get tickets?" asked Zac, feeling slightly desperate, and wondering why his mother didn't intervene and have a word with Athena about how unfriendly she was being. But it seemed sometimes that Ila wilfully didn't see anything other than sweetness and light in the family that had been so unexpectedly restored to her.

"Oh, they just sort of came my way. I thought you might like to go, so I got an extra one along with Alex's."

"Oh I get it," said Zac. "You want me there to help explain Triad to Alex. It's time you gave up on that."

"On explaining Triad? Maybe."

"But not on Alex."

Fee grinned. "No. Not on Alex."

Athena sniffed again, derisively.

 

 

The fast train delivered them to Semiris just before midnight. Zac was enchanted with the journey, however worldly-wise and casual he tried to appear. Even travelling second class was a new experience to be enjoyed with even more than his usual gusto, following an earlier disappointment when his mother had refused to allow him on the subway on his own and a disapproving Duncan had delivered him all the way to the door of their house in the Eastside. Fee, meeting Duncan for the first time in yahrens with more equanimity than Alex had expected, had refused the offer of being driven all the way to Semiris in a big luxury hovercar. The refusal had appeared to increase Duncan's displeasure. Alex was rather sorry about it himself. He had anticipated the train journey with no stronger emotion than resignation, but Zac had been delighted and Alex's resignation deepened on occasion during that seemingly endless journey to something closer to despair. Balked of one treat, Zac frankly wallowed in the train trip. Much tried, Alex endured it and Zac in equal measure.

The hotel was tiny and basic and Zac seemed enchanted with that, too. They had a late supper that horrified Alex. He was never fond of burgers, although they appeared to be Zac's favourite if you took the number he'd eaten on the train en route as any sort of guide, and Fee would eat pretty much anything, of course. Alex took his enjoyment from seeing Zac's and tried very hard not to allow his memory to make comparisons to Fee at fifteen. They were invidious.

"At least he seems to treat it all as an adventure." Alex watched Fee anxiously. He'd got back only the day before from his last job, and Alex thought that he was tired. Too tired, Alex thought, to be worrying about a Triad match, but he'd long ago learned that Triad was something that Fee could throw himself into whole heartedly. He had no doubt that Fee would be energised by it all in the morning and was uneasily aware that most of the tiredness was his own. He was always tired, these days.

"He's a young fifteen," observed Fee, putting out the light and inadvertently setting Alex's memory off again. Fee had been a very old fifteen.

Alex ordered his memory back into silence and concentrated on the here and now and Fee. The summer nights never really got completely dark, and a streetlight just outside the hotel shone in through the cracks in the blind. Eyes gleamed at him in the semi-darkness, curiously colourless in the dusk, and the mattress dipped as Fee joined him.

"He's sleeping like the dead. He won't hear a thing."

"Hear what? You aren't intending—" Alex stopped as a warm hand enclosed his cock. Fee certainly was intending. "Fee! What if he wakes up?"

"He's fifteen not five. He knows we live together, he knows we have sex, he knows there's only one bed in this room. Besides, I locked the door."

Alex glanced anxiously at the door that connected their room with Zac's. He wouldn't put it past his love's young brother to feign sleep and listen in, one ear pressed against the wooden door panel. A half yahren's acquaintanceship with that young man had taught Alex to be wary. Zac had a peculiar sense of humour that had passed Fee by. There was something slightly different in the genetic mix maybe; like a dash of a different seasoning in the recipe that gave the final result a different taste, something more astringent and acid. Personally he preferred sweet to acid, but it couldn't be denied that Fee could sometimes use lightening up.

"I thought you were tired," he said, Fee's ministrations driving away worries about genetics. He put his hands around Fee's and held it between them and took a deep, steadying breath.

"Not particularly," said Fee. "It wasn't a good one, Alex, this last job, but I'm okay." A warm body snuggled closer. "I'm more than okay. I'll be playing tomorrow and that'll be good, and I'm excited and horny – "

"That I can tell." Alex laughed softly, and let Fee's hand move again, keeping it trapped between his own. "No mercy for an old man, I suppose?"

"I don't know any old men," said Fee, and ducked down under the covers to prove it.

 

 

Losing himself in pleasure was one way of forgetting. It was one thing, saying that this last job hadn't been an easy one. It was another thing entirely, explaining how and why to Alex. He wouldn't really understand. Alex saw hardship and suffering every day, but it was a different order of things. Not less sharp, or less potent, or less important; just different. It wasn't possible to compare them, the constant deprivation and weeping sores that Alex dealt with, to having to pick up the body parts while making sure that the new kids, including their new lieutenant just out of the Academy, didn't fall apart under the horror. Different, that was all.

It wasn't just for pleasure though, that Fee was spread all over Alex, licking and kissing and sucking. Sex with Alex was a delight, but more than that, it was safety. It was security and acceptance and acknowledgement; and it was humanity and life and breathing.

And it was love. Fee loved Alex, very deeply.

He loved the way that Alex tasted: clean and sharp, as if all the things Alex saw and did hadn't hardened him or brutalised him, but were transmuted into the slightly vinegary taste, becoming nothing more than the smell of sweat-damp skin, acidic, overlain with the scent of soap. That taste, and the jism on his tongue when he sucked Alex's cock and made him come, were the bitterest things he knew of the older man.

He loved the feel of Alex too. It was true that skin wasn't as soft and elastic as it must have been yahrens ago, when Alex was Fee's age. It was true that muscles were slackening with age and lack of exercise, and Alex was getting just the faintest hint of a paunch. Fee loved it all anyway.

Hands slippery with lube, he slicked them over the older man's cock, again and again, gently flicking his finger on the reddened head, until Alex was moaning softly on every intake of breath. Alex could just reach him without stretching too far, his fingers parting Fee's buttocks to start probing.

Fee loved Alex's fingers. Alex had a surgeon's hands, slender and dextrous, long fingered, one of the most physically beautiful things about him. The only other thing that Fee considered as beautiful when he looked at Alex, was the line of the older man's back and the little curve it made before sweeping out into what was still a very fine backside. He'd never tried to put it into words, sure that he couldn't really explain what it was about the precise arc of that little curve that moved him and afraid to try and sound clumsy and maladroit. Sometimes Fee wondered what it was Alex saw in him in return.

Fee sighed out one long, juddering breath as the finger that had been circling his opening, teasing him, playing with him, wormed its way inside. Carefully he leaned right down, lying on Alex until he had trapped their cocks between their bodies, sliding his legs down until he was lying on top of Alex, mouths together, tasting each other. It meant that Alex could reach him more easily, and in a centon he was shivering with pleasure as those wickedly long fingers fucked him gently.

"That's nice," he said, idiotically, speaking against the lips pressed to his. He felt them curve into a smile and rubbed his chest up against Alex's like a cat, nipple to nipple, cock sliding against cock.

Alex moaned again and his tongue flickered over Fee's teeth. Fee met it with his own, sliding his tongue down the wet heat probing into his mouth. Two fingers were pushed up into him, and he arched his back as the spasm of pleasure-pain hit, making his skin prickle into goose flesh. He kissed Alex again, ready, impatient to take the big cock inside. One more squirm to rub his nipples against Alex's, one more loving kiss and then he got up onto his knees, straddling the big cock that was pushing now between his legs.

Alex reached out to catch his hands as he rose, sliding his hands down Fee's arms and sides to rest on each jutting hipbone. He guided Fee gently, pressing downwards until Fee felt the hard red head of Alex's cock nudge at the slackened ring of muscle. A deep breath, a willing relaxation of muscles and limbs, and he sank down, impaling himself in one urgent stroke, Alex's hips moving smoothly up to meet him.

It hurt, it burned like fire, it was wonderful and he was alive and he knew it and nothing, but nothing, could take this sensation from him, filled so completely that he could feel his backside stretch and close around Alex's cock, kissing it like a second warm and willing mouth.

It stopped his breath.

He took a micron to still himself, letting his head fall back, wishing Alex could reach to kiss his throat. He loved Alex kissing his throat. Instead, Alex's hands smoothed down his hips and thighs until his tensed legs were trembling with the strain, and slowly smoothed up again, caressing the his hip bones where they jutted out, the thumbs pressing gently against the softer flesh that they framed, and up his sides again, and along his arms.

When their hands clasped, it was time to move again, to inch himself up on the hard cock inside him until it was teasing at his entrance again and his trembling legs ached with tension, and to sink down and down until it felt like Alex was piercing him right through to the heart. And up again. And down.

He kept their rhythm slow at first, his breath sighing out of him on each thrust, altering the angle until the cockhead inside him brushed against his prostate and he yelled, softly, as quietly as he could. Alex's hands tightened their hold. Fee looked down at Alex as he rose and fell, letting the cock slide in and out of him, stroking it against that little nub of fire inside him until each stroke started to shiver him into pieces, into sharp little shards that cut invisibly at his blood and bone until he was wanting to shriek with it, the feeling so intense it was like lightning waiting to strike.

The older man's head was tipped back on the pillow, rolling slightly from side to side. Fee quickened the pace so that his sighing breath became jolted out of him on each downstroke of his tensed buttocks, each matching upward stroke of Alex's hips, and he curved his back to stare at Alex closely, willing him to look.

Alec knew what he wanted, what he needed. The older man raised his head and shoulders, and spread out their arms as if they were crucified. Fee felt the sweat run down the tense muscles in his arm as he tightened them, holding Alex in place, taking the weight of Alex's upper body as Alex reached upwards, seeking Fee's mouth with his.

Each breath a little grunt now, a shared exhalation of air, a time when tongues met and probed frantically, and Fee moved faster, and faster, letting that big beautiful cock smash up against his prostate, letting the shards cut him until he was yelling, no longer soft and quiet, his cock rising with the heat to pump the long strings of jism out over Alex's chest. And Alex was shuddering underneath him, his arms shaking, thrusting up hard and holding it there as his hips juddered and he emptied himself into Fee's warm, willing, writhing body.

It was a few centons before Fee could do much more than sit there, the softening cock slipping slowly and inexorably from his body while he sat with his head hanging, chest heaving, every breath rasping and satisfied. Alex fell back on the pillows, eyes closed. Trembling Fee bent down and kissed him, missing the slack mouth and connecting with Alex's cheek. Alex's eyelids fluttered and he smiled.

"I love you," said Fee, when he had breath enough. "l love you."

He was safe. Everything was all right, and he was safe.

 

 

Zac was first into the dining room for breakfast, almost too excited to sit still long enough to eat. He was followed, much more sedately, by Alex and his brother. Fee's eyes were bright and he seemed much more alive and energetic than he had the day before, less tired. Zac, flitting between their table and the servery for several helpings of breakfast, thought that Alex, in contrast, looked like a tired, world-weary martyr eyeing up a high pile of brushwood and a particularly uninviting stake.

Fee prevailed upon him to sit down to eat. That little spat resolved – Zac's condemnation of the unprincipled way in which Fee exacted obedience through catching at Zac's ear with finger and thumb being met by a bland smile and an offer to apply the same treatment to the other ear - they spent the next half-centar in amicable conversation about Triad, with Alex sitting bemused and quiet beside them. Alex did, however, profess himself impressed by Zac's knowledge when Zac explained what made the Military Games so uniquely desirable to watch.

"Fleet and MI have their individual championships, so everyone gets to see their favourites, and they run the Inter-service games at the same time – so Fleet can win, of course – "

"Of course," said Alex, gravely.

"Well, we've always been Fleet in our family. We have to cheer them on. We can't let the mudbrains win."

"I'm surprised they're allowed to play," said Alex.

"Everyone plays. Even the Transport Fleet get to play."

"Very egalitarian and yes, even charitable," approved Alex.

Zac huffed a bit, rolled his eyes at Fee, reminded Alex that he wasn't a kid to be teased like that and returned his attention to his third or fourth helping of breakfast in an offended silence that vanished when Fee said it was time to go.

The sports hall at Semiris was enormous, and the spectator turnout was huge. Zac passed critical comment on the view from his seat ("Awesome, Fee! Thanks!"), the layout of the court ("Looks like a hard one. The Trinity looks really high and difficult – the Trinity's the highest scorehole on each side, Alex and you get the most points if you get the ball into it."), and finally on Fee's views of the value of Zac's opinions ("I do know what I'm talking about! I do play, you know!") and, Fee vanquished, scanned his programme, a quick once-over to see what was on offer, then a slower, longer read while he waited for the first matches to start.

"Funny sort of day's play," he said. "It's the Frontier Guard playing all day."

"Fancy!" said Alex

"There's no other matches. We're starting out with their quarter finals." Zac scratched thoughtfully at his nose. "I've never even seen a Guard."

"I think you must have," said Alex.

"Well, I suppose Dad knows their General. He knows everybody. Dad says they're all lunatics."

Fee laughed.

"True," said Alex, apparently speaking to the referee who was checking the court prior to bringing on the first two teams.

"I never realised they played at all. I wonder why they aren't in the Inter-service matches?"

There was the smallest pause, then Fee said, "We don't get to play in the inter-service games because we can't be relied upon to make the preliminary matches. Jobs always come first, so if Samn and I hadn't got back in time, our opponents would have got a by. There's too few of us to allow us time out from work just to attend these games. So we have our own championship, held here this yahren, and the rest of the services can go home grateful they don't have to play us because we lunatics would beat the crap out of them, the way we beat them at everything else."

Zac stared.

"I'm trusting you to keep this quiet, Zac. I'm not exactly ready to tell everyone yet." Fee grimaced slightly. "You can just see what Thenie would make of it."

"You're a Guard?"

Fee nodded.

"Wow," said Zac. He looked at Alex, who smiled at him reassuringly. "The Frontier Guard."

"I enlisted when I was eighteen."

Zac continued to stare.

"I signed on for another three yahrens just before Yule. That's when they promoted me."

"A sort of thank you for staying with the firm," said Alex, dryly.

"An inducement to go career, Samn says," said Fee, and grinned. "I may yet." He leaned across Alex and pressed a finger under Zac's chin until Zac's mouth closed. "That's better. You look moronic, drooling like that."

"The Guard ! You're a Guard. Bloody hell."

"I'm trusting you not to say anything." Fee gave him a stern look and added, "And don't swear. Mama will blame me if she hears you."

"I won't say anything," promised Zac. "But I don't understand why."

"Nor do I," said Alex, this time addressing the linesman who was conferring with the judges near the penalty box.

Fee shrugged. "I'm not sure either, except I have enough of Thenie crowing without her ramming the fact she's starting at the Academy next sectar down my throat; that she'll be an officer and I'm enlisted. I'll tell them when I want to tell them. It's none of their business what I do."

His voice rose slightly as if he were angry. Zac glanced at Alex for guidance. Alex shook his head, just slightly.

"Sure," said Zac, recognising one of those inexplicable sore spots that Fee sometimes showed. It puzzled him considerably, because he'd watched Fee and their father grow visibly closer over the sectars. He put that to one side, and with quite genuine admiration, said, "You're a Guard! That is just so... so..."

"Cool?" prompted Fee, hopefully.

"Amazing." Zac grinned at him. "You're not a cool sort of person, Fee."

"Too intense for that," said Alex, apparently confiding in the crowd on the other side of the stadium.

Zac grinned. Alex was really quite funny, for someone his age.

"No cred at all, then," said Fee, rather sadly.

Zac laughed, his memory replaying something Fee had said a centon or two earlier. "You're playing!"

Fee pointed to the relevant part of the programme. "Third match, against a couple of guys from the Second Guard regiment. They're not bad but we creamed them last yahren. They won't win. We'll win in two sets."

Zac stared at the programme until the letters danced before his eyes. He blinked rapidly, trying to focus on it. Sergeant Phoebus and Corporal Samn, it said.

"Fee's short for Phoebus," said Fee. "It's another name for the God Apollo."

Zac considered that. "Crap name," he said, after a centon. "You should have stuck with Apollo."

"Maybe." Fee smiled slightly. "It was Apollo that didn't stick with me."

 

 

"Great, great pass! Did you see it, Alex?"

Alex had seen it, but he was a little hazy about the reasons for its greatness and said so, with more good nature than wisdom. He listened to Zac's explanations with great and uncomprehending patience, not helped when Fee, on his other side, got into an argument with his brother about what Fee described as Zac's juvenile opinions. It was an insult to which Zac reacted with impressive energy.

After a centon or two, when Zac had subsided into muttering, Alex turned to Fee, feeling plaintive and put-upon. "Tell me again why I come and watch you play?" he asked.

He got a very prompt answer.

"The games kit."

Alex glanced down into the court where the third set of the second quarter-final was coming to an end. The four young men, bodies gleaming with sweat, were dressed in little more than a few bandages placed in strategic anatomical areas to protect (inadequately) their modesty. He had a vision of his Fee in that uniform and had to swallow, rather hard. He dropped his hands into his lap to help hide his discomfiture. On his other side, Zac sniggered.

"Ah yes. I knew there was a good reason."

"That and the kudos of living with the Regimental champion."

"You're confident!" said Zac.

"We'll win." Fee gestured to where a tall, stocky man was standing near the entrance to the player's changing rooms, scanning the crowd. He raised his hand in acknowledgement when the man waved to him. "I'd better go. Samn's waiting."

"Good luck," said Alex. As unobtrusively as possible, he gave Fee's hand a quick squeeze in lieu of the good luck kiss he'd prefer to administer.

"We'll win," said Fee again, and took off down the steps to join Samn.

Zac's voice, Alex noted, had a peculiarly carrying quality when the boy wanted it to have. And Zac's sense of humour was, as Alex had already realised, considerably less gentle than Fee's. And Zac had just had his opinions on the noble game roundly dismissed. Zac, surmised Alex, was out for revenge.

"Fee was right," said Zac in that educated, upper class voice that cut through a lull in the crowd noise like a shard of glass. "Samn is built like a brick shit house."

Even at that distance, Alex could see the expression on Samn's face, and the reddening of the back of Fee's neck. He wondered, idly, whether Samn or their opponents would be the first to deck Fee when they got onto the court.

Zac grinned at him. "They'll be on in ten centons. I'm really looking forward to watching him play. Don't worry, Alex, I'll talk you through it all."

Alex met the boy's bright blue eyes and curbed his initial reaction, reflecting on the unwisdom of getting on the wrong side of the young demon sitting beside him. He briefly considered and rejected his second idea. He was too old to run away from children and the only reason he was there was to see Fee in that games kit; nothing, not even Zac, was going to deprive him of that pleasure. That left only one course of action.

"Thank you," he said, very meekly.

 

 

Alex had long ago come to the conclusion that it didn't matter if he didn't really understand, or care to understand, the rules of Triad. He did understand the rules of the far older game that he and Fee played. Fee looked amazing in that skimpy little games kit, and Alex knew exactly who Fee was, ever so discreetly, flirting with every time he ran a finger along the edge of the tiny little breechclout encircling the slim hips that Alex had held in his hands the night before.

That was the only game that mattered.

As for the other game, the fast-moving, less interesting one in the triangular court below, Fee had been right. He and Samn cruised all the way home, without, explained Zac admiringly, being seriously challenged: quarter finals in two sets, semi-finals in two and the championship in three, dropping one set only because, Zac said indignantly, Fee had been grossly fouled and that blind moron of a referee either hadn't seen it or had been bribed to ignore it. Not that it made any difference. Samn crushed the hulking brute from Third Guard Regiment who'd committed the foul and Fee was in the air to get the ball into the Trinity so often, it was like he had wings, his other opponent almost leaden footed in comparison. Alex was on his feet when the final whistle blew, shouting himself as hoarse as Zac, the pair of them almost dancing on their seats with excitement. Zac was incandescent with pride, stunned by how good a player Fee really was.

That was good for Fee, to have someone else love and admire him. It was very good for him to be reminded of his own worth. Alex didn't need to appreciate the game to appreciate what it gave Fee.

Or to appreciate what he gained from it himself, for that matter. It was his duty and his pleasure, to help the Regimental champion celebrate. Much, much later that night, with Zac sleeping in the little back bedroom that used to be Fee's, Alex was persuaded for the second night running that he wasn't so old after all, despite the weariness in his bones.

He kissed each bruise and contusion, understanding the adrenaline rush during the game that meant Fee never noticed any of damage happening and was always mildly surprised by evidence of rough play afterwards. He smoothed gentle hands over the aching but demanding body beneath him, understanding the primitive need so close under the surface, how adrenaline fuelled the body's demands for physical pleasure, the assertion of life and victory. He eased himself into the warm, compliant flesh, understanding the need for closeness and love.

It really didn't matter that he never would understand Triad.

 

 

6.3 Into penalty time

Waiting for Fee to arrive was often the hardest part of it.

Adama still hadn't achieved his wife's bright, almost febrile confidence that Apollo was back and would never go away again. He thought that so far they'd got through the last seven sectars by the skin of their teeth and sheer dumb luck, but he still saw Fee when he looked at his son and mourned the loss of Apollo. He didn't know if Apollo would ever be there. He hadn't Ila's confidence… no, he decided, it wasn't confidence after all, but a kind of desperation. He understood that better. He had that same desperation, but it manifested itself in a different way than hers, a more negative way; as a deep lack of confidence that Fee would continue to meet them, continue to talk, continue, however slowly, to map out a new relationship. Every step forward carried the potential of two steps back; every word had to be weighed and considered for how it might be received, what deep and potentially fatal meaning it might have, what damage it might cause. Every meeting, and the wait until Fee arrived, was as fraught as the first time.

He looked for distractions from the torment, each time. Adama, trying to make himself enjoy the late summer bloom of Jerry's garden, spent the tense half centar beating off annoying insects and equally annoying relatives. The insects, at least seemed only grateful for a potential meal. The relatives, manifested principally in his younger son, were already making the meal more actual than potential, hoovering up the edibles with a speed and voracity that, in less tense times, Adama might have found alarming. Now he just found it irritating, particularly as Zac was intent on talking to him at the same time. It was illogical to be annoyed at the distraction for merely doing its job, but it made it difficult for him to concentrate on brooding.

He brooded most on what was becoming a thorny problem. He had learned, since he'd lost Apollo, that it wasn't always enough to feel love and affection. You had to show it, too, because people didn't always know what you felt unless you told them and showed them; the way Apollo hadn't known and had misinterpreted what he had known and seen. Adama had learned to do that with his two youngest children, determined that the barriers that had been there between him and Apollo wouldn't come between him and Zac and Athena.

But the barrier between him and Fee was still there. Adama wondered sometimes how long it would be before he could touch his son and do it naturally and easily; to offer a hug in greeting or farewell and not feel awkward and uncomfortable and terrified of a rebuff. They had, he acknowledged, come a long way since the beginning of the yahren and that terrible meeting in Jerry's house. Each time they'd met there had been progress, even the times when they'd trembled on the edge of disaster, like the day he'd cursed his own maladroitness in the way that he'd broached the issue of money with Fee. Each time was easier, each time was more natural, but they weren't there yet. He'd get up when Fee came towards him and want to pull him into a hug, but he'd see each time the wariness in Fee's eyes and he'd settle instead for a slight touch of the arm, or even, once, to his own despair, they'd shaken hands like mere acquaintances. He'd thought, that time, that Fee had been too astonished to laugh, but would probably have liked to.

He brooded often over the point he would have earned to right to hold his son again. He didn't know where and when that point would be.

"Gotcha!"

He turned quickly at Zac's triumphant shout. His completely irritating younger son had evidently been stalking a wasp, and had trapped it under a water glass. It buzzed disconsolately against the glass separating it from the fruit and desserts set out on the table under the trees.

"Good reflexes, huh?" said Zac.

"Uugh. Let it go," said Athena.

"Nah. It's after the sweet things and they're mine, all mine." Zac rotated the glass on the table, confusing the insect even further.

"Well, stop tormenting it, then," said Adama, and turned back to his worrying. Jerry put a glass of ambrosa into his hand.

"I am truly glad," said Jerry, "that my vocation led me to give in to my baser instincts and minister to the rich. This is a very fine ambrosa, Adama."

"A little heavy this early?" said Adama. He sipped at it and smiled. "Very fine, old friend."

"Perhaps we should save some for the noble and self-sacrificing Alex?"

"I don't suppose—" said Zac, ever hopeful.

"No," said Adama. "You can't. You can have one glass of wine with lunch. One small glass of wine. Watered."

"And perhaps we shouldn't." Jerry took a little more ambrosa and savoured it. "It's far too good for the noble. Only we selfish and hedonistic types really appreciate a good ambrosa."

"I like Alex," said Zac.

"We all do, but he's so self sacrificing he gives me toothache. Do you know, he could have been probably one of the greatest surgeons of our time?"

"You said so once," said Adama.

"He gave it all up to look after the homeless and the addicted. No, the ambrosa will be wasted on him."

"It's as well he did," said Zac. "And he's Fee's."

Across the table from him, Athena sighed audibly. Adama felt momentarily weary. She was no more reconciled to her brother's return than she had been seven sectars earlier, in Primus. "He's not family," she said. "This is supposed to be a family lunch."

For me, she might have added, but didn't. She started at the Academy the next secton and they were supposed to be celebrating. Adama stared down at his ambrosa, trying to think of Athena and her life and not about Fee. Today was about Athena.

Apollo would have been about to start his final yahren. Fee never would.

Today was about Athena.

Adama went back to brooding about Fee.

"We had to put up with that awful boyfriend of yours last Yule," scoffed Zac. "Where's the difference?"

"Boyfriend. Exactly," said Athena. "Don't you think there should be a difference?"

"No. I like Alex."

"And there's nothing wrong with Paris! He's not awful."

Zac made a very rude noise.

"Zac!" said Adama, disturbed again by their bickering. He mentally reviewed the conversation. He was, for once, in agreement with Zac. He hadn't been very impressed with Paris himself, but he hoped he could express it with more decorum.

Zac grinned. "Oh all right. But Alex is all right. I do like him. He's got a funny sense of humour. Snarky."

"Do you like him enough to leave him some food?" asked Adama.

"There's plenty and I'm just snacking," Zac assured him. "Do you like him enough to leave him some ambrosa?"

Jerry finished his glass and regarded the bottle. "Too early for another one," he said, rather sadly.

"Too hot," said Adama, pushing his glass to one side, most of it untouched.

"I could finish it," offered Zac.

Adama ignored him, watching as Ila came from the house to join them. She was still too thin but infinitely better than she had been at the beginning of the yahren; less frail, less glasslike. After they'd lost Apollo, he'd sometimes not wanted to come home, afraid of what he'd find, but this yahren at least he'd come home to an Ila who was almost recognisable as the lovely girl he'd married almost thirty yahrens earlier. Finding Fee had done that much, at least, to give him something of his wife back along with his eldest son. He smiled at her. After all this time, she was still the core of his life. He couldn't imagine it without her.

"Fee's late," she said, resuming her seat. She looked pointedly at the ambrosa and at her empty glass. "Is this some instance of male bonding, that you wait until I'm not here before handing out the ambrosa?"

"The timing was pure serendipity," said Jerry, pouring her some.

She sipped it graciously. "I hope they won't be too long. It's so hot today that lunch will spoil."

"I doubt that Zac will give it time to," said Adama, dryly, as Zac, giving up on getting anything to drink, resumed his snacking.

Zac said, around a mouthful of something or other—what exactly, Adama didn't care to think about, given the mishmash of savouries and dessert in Zac's hands—"You needn't worry. They're here."

They'd met often at Jerry's, of course, on neutral ground. Jerry was seen by everyone as the honest broker. Fee might have been nervous the first time or two, but Adama was delighted to see that now he crossed Jerry's gardens with as much confidence as if they belonged to him. Well, as Adama knew and Fee didn't, one day they would. Jerry went to meet Fee, administering a hug when they met half way.

Adama envied his friend that ease. He didn't dare do it himself, although he'd give almost anything to. Still, it was heartening to see that Fee didn't get more than another couple of feet before Zac was bounding over to greet him. No vacillation for Zac, then, no hesitation, no worrying about how each gesture is meant or perceived or interpreted. No. For Zac there was only a growing affection and an enviable generosity in showing it. For himself, he contented himself with smiling, putting his heart into it, but limiting the physical contact to putting a tentative hand on his son's shoulder once Fee had disentangled himself from Zac. Fee let him. Fee smiled back.

A good start, then. A good day.

Alex sat heavily in the empty chair next to Ila, murmuring greetings. He and Adama shook hands, gravely, over the table. They were at a stage of acceptance, if not comfort in each other's company. Adama didn't think they'd ever have much in common. They didn't even really have Fee in common because to Alex he was Fee and Adama would give everything he had to make him Apollo again.

"Sorry we're late," said Fee, stooping to kiss his mother. "You look lovely, Mama."

From the first, he'd called her that, Adama thought, watching her bloom and come to life. He was glumly aware that he himself was still nameless. Fee managed every conversation without calling him anything at all.

"Darling," said Ila, blushing like a girl.

Adama forced a smile, remarking that it had been a long time since he'd been able to make her blush. Thirty yahrens and all the romance was gone. She laughed at him, delighted.

Fee grinned and kissed Ila again and turned to his sister. "Hello, Thenie."

He didn't offer to kiss her. She nodded a greeting, and Adama wondered where she'd learned the brittle coolness that she pulled on like a cloak every time she saw her elder brother.

"I haven't seen you since last secton," complained Zac, who wouldn't know brittle coolness if it was wrapped around his neck.

"I do have things to do other than take you to Triad matches." But Fee softened the words with a grin.

"Not until you go back to work, you don't. Can you give me and Barney another training session before you go back? Will Samn help?"

"After what you called him? I'll ask him, but don't hold your breath, all right?"

"Was he rude?" asked Adama, frowning at Zac.

"I was quoting Fee!" protested Zac.

"And didn't I suffer for it. Thank you, brat."

"I wish you hadn't taken him to Semiris," said Jerry. "I've seen him twice since then and he's bored me into a coma each time. Alex, this is a very good ambrosa that I think is wasted on you, frankly, but I was brought up to be an hospitable man so I'll offer anyway."

"I'll drink anything," said Alex, unoffended.

"That's what I meant. Far too good for you." Jerry handed him the glass and refilled his own and Ila's. Adama still had an almost full glass. "Water for you, Fee? Or some wine?"

Fee took both, though he only sipped at the wine for politeness, and sat on Ila's other side, opposite Adama. Zac, looking disappointed and evidently hoping to get Fee to himself, reluctantly sat himself down beside his father. Adama was briefly tempted to tell him that the reluctance wasn't all one-sided.

Fee showed he knew his younger brother well. In Adama's private scale, the emotional cost of such a level of knowledge came somewhere between distressing and catastrophic, but Fee bore it well. "Nice wasp, Zac."

"Isn't it a juicy one!" said Zac proudly. "I'll let it out later, when we've finished lunch. I hate being buzzed while I'm eating."

Given Zac's own wasp-like qualities, Adama thought that highly ironic. He forbore to say so and took a sip of the ambrosa. Jerry was right. It was a very fine vintage "The consequences to our sanity aside, it was nice of you to take Zac to Semiris. Where did you manage to get the tickets?"

"Work. I was able to get an extra one and thought Zac might like it."

"If only to entertain me," said Alex.

"It was great! We saw seven matches—" started Zac, only to huff in exasperation when his entire family rounded on him and demanded silence.

"Or, at least," said Adama, recognising the impossibility of that injunction. "Talk about something else other than Triad."

"If we start eating, that might keep him quiet," suggested Athena unbending a little.

"I talk with my mouth full."

"We've noticed," said Adama. "But don't."

Zac huffed again but cheered up when Jerry gave him the one small glass of wine that Adama had said he could have. Jerry didn't water it, a concession that neither Zac nor Adama remarked upon, though doubtless for different reasons.

"First a toast," said Jerry, raising his glass. "Athena, we are terribly proud of you and we know that you'll shine at the Academy. Good luck, my dear."

"It's the Academy that'll need the luck," muttered Zac, under cover of the toasts, but Adama couldn't be bothered to do much more than administer his finest commanderly glare. It didn't seem to have much effect.

"Zac," said Fee, quietly.

Zac grinned but subsided, however temporarily. Adama looked from one to the other of his sons, uncertain whether to be relieved or resentful. He caught Jerry's amused glance and shrugged. Any positive influence on Zac was to be welcomed, he supposed. They really had spoiled the boy and if they didn't rectify it soon, he'd be beyond redemption.

Athena loved the attention. The brittle sophistication that had so surprised him earlier melted back into her usual coltish gaucherie, and she reminded him of nothing so much than the schoolgirl she'd been so recently. It wasn't often that she was the centre of attention, Adama realised. Zac eclipsed anyone with a thinner skin than he had—that is, the rest of the human race—and she was making the most of being centre stage for once.

Jerry had hidden the presents behind his end of the table. Athena reddened when they were ceremoniously handed to her, exclaiming over them in delight. But her pretty face hardened when she saw the slim package from Fee and Alex. Fee must have slipped it to Jerry during the greeting ritual, Adama realised. He wondered what she'd do about it.

She put it pointedly to one side and concentrated on the others.

Fee's mouth hardened, a tinge of red on his high cheek bones. Adama didn't think he imagined the flash of hurt and humiliation in Fee's eyes.

"You've missed one," said Zac, who never missed anything.

Adama turned the commanderly look onto his daughter. "Open it up," he said lightly, but signalling firmly that he wouldn't allow her to snub her brother in public, whatever resentment she might feel.

It wasn't really possible for blue eyes to smoulder. They were the wrong colour for it altogether, but the look Athena flashed at him was scorching. Her gaze dropped almost instantly though. She did what she was told. It was a slim silver stylus, its very simplicity shrieking of expense and good taste and it had probably cost Fee a small fortune, far more than he could really afford.

"Thank you," said Athena, with that cool indifference again.

"You're welcome. Good luck." But Fee wasn't looking any too happy about her antagonism.

"Well, eat," said Jerry. "Zac hasn't left much, so grab what you can."

The food was excellent, as always, and despite Zac's snacking there was more than enough. Athena gradually relaxed and Fee seemed to forget about it, concentrating on talking to his mother and quelling some of Zac's wilder conversational flights.

"I suspect, from the number that Zac scoffed down earlier, that these are good," said Adama when they reached the dessert stage, picking at delicate little fruit tarts oozing with confectioner's custard.

"I wouldn't have started eating if Fee hadn't been late," said Zac, wounded virtue seeping from every pore.

Fee held up a hand in defence. "It was all Alex's fault. He was asleep and I couldn't shift him."

"I merely closed my eyes for a centon," said Alex with dignity. He refused one of the desserts Adama offered, still with a fair amount of savouries on his plate.

Zac eyed him, but the sideways provocative glance was for his brother. "Fee's been tiring you out celebrating again, has he? There's things you old men can take, you know, to help you along."

"Zac!" protested Ila, colouring.

Adama found himself not knowing what to say, an unusual state of affairs. He and Ila got through the reality of Alex purely by pretending that the sexual relationship he had with their son wasn't actually happening. True, Ila had gone so far as to say that Alex was good for Fee, but by unspoken mutual consent, she had stopped short of detailing all the ways in which the goodness operated. Alex himself never alluded to their relationship, not by word or look or deed, and Fee was reticence itself. Even Jerry did little more than laugh at them all, quietly. Silence was more comfortable all round.

Trust Zac to open his big mouth. Alex, only the tips of his ears reddening, stared at Zac down his long patrician nose, obviously embarrassed. Fee glanced at him, his own face expressionless, and turned his attention onto Zac. Annoyed, Adama turned to administer a rebuke.

Fee got in first. "You're out of order, Zac." He got slowly to his feet. "I think you need a lesson in manners."

Zac, not one whit intimidated so far as his father could see, jumped up, his chair flying across the grass. He whooped derisively and bolted for the far end of the garden. Fee followed him across the lawns, unhurried.

"I'm so sorry, Alex," said Ila, pink-faced. "He's getting a bit above himself."

"He's at a trying age," said Alex, composed as ever again. "Fee will handle it. He seems to have quite a way with Zac. Particularly, I have to say, the way his fingers attach themselves to Zac's ears."

Ila laughed. "Did that work last secton when you took him to the Triad match?"

"Whenever Zac got a bit uppity."

Adama grasped eagerly at the change of subject. "That's about every two microns. You're a braver man than I am, letting him go with you. As Jerry said, he hasn't stopped talking about it since. Actually experiencing it with him is worse, I know."

"I enjoyed it. Zac is a stimulating companion."

Jerry leaned forward to refill Alex's glass. Ignoring the shrieks coming from the shrubbery where Fee was presumably administering proper chastisement, he looked Alex up and down, eyes sharp. "Asleep?"

Alex returned the stare for a centon. Alex's grey eyes always looked cold. Perhaps it was no more than that. "I get tired."

Jerry wasn't easily intimidated. He looked at Alex's plate and back to Alex, and quirked an eyebrow at him. Alex picked up his fork and resumed his meal.

Jerry asked, abruptly, "When does Fee go back to work?"

"Next First-day."

"I'll come to Fenice the day after if you promise not to make me start volunteering there. I'm too old for it."

Alex's stare dropped and he grinned wryly. "All right. Although why not volunteer? You're younger than me."

And the two doctors were launched on a review of their contemporaries at medical school before Adama could work out what the conversation was about and join it. They showed considerable satisfaction whenever they could mention someone junior who had either died or merely failed to achieve his or her potential, taking it as a personal virtue that everyone they mentioned wasn't wearing as well as they were or anywhere near as notable and successful. Adama exchanged glances with Ila, shrugged, reached for his ambrosa and turned his attention to his daughter. She was still a little sullen.

Zac reappeared, filthy to the eyebrows. "You should do something about him," he said resentfully to Adama. "I need protection, here."

Adama shrugged. "You were rude."

"You look a mess," said Athena.

"Of course I do. He tripped me up and sat on me and shoved my face into a flower bed."

"I hope you were careful and didn't damage my roses, Zac," said Jerry.

Zac glared. Adama took a very un-paternal delight in seeing his verbose younger son for once lost for words.

"Your face is muddy," said Ila dispassionately. "I didn't think the flowerbeds would be that wet."

"I've a good irrigation system," said Jerry.

"I thought you must have. We haven't had any decent rain for a couple of sectons."

Adama laughed at her. "Your sudden interest in horticulture and meteorology is delightful, love."

"I should have said that he shoved my face into the pond first, before he shoved it into the dirt," said Zac.

"To make sure the dirt stuck, of course," nodded Ila. "How very thorough."

"He thinks these things through," said Alex, and smiled. "He's really very methodical."

Jerry looked rather put out. "I don't have a garden pond. I have a rather expensive designer wildlife water feature."

"Well I was very careful not to disturb the expensive designer wildlife," said Zac, with awful sarcasm. He glanced over his shoulder to mark Fee's casual stroll back to the table. "I'm sorry, Alex," he said quickly before Fee could reach them and hear him. And much louder, "Dad, that man's a menace. Aren't you going to punish him?"

Adama froze, his heart contracting. "Zac!"

But Zac hadn't finished. "It's child abuse, that's what it is – "

Fee had come to a stop, a few feet behind them. Adama didn't dare turn to face him, afraid of what he'd see. He caught Zac's arm in warning, his hand closing tightly over the wiry muscle.

"Wha—" Zac the ebullient, normally so thick-skinned that he was impervious to rain, realised what he'd said. Crimson to his hair roots he jerked free of Adama and spun around to face Fee. "I didn't mean it like that! I didn't—"

Athena said, very coldly, "You're out of luck, Zac. He doesn't get punished. Not for running away and ruining everything, and not for coming back and ruining everything again." She pushed her chair away from the table. "He gets away with it, every time. Or am I the only one who thinks it's funny that he only comes back when he can get at the money?"

"Athena!"

She shook her head and stalked off to the house.

"Athena!"

The silence could be cut with a knife. Alex looked troubled, watching Fee. Ila was wide eyed with shock, only inches away from tears. Jerry's expression was calculating, but since he was dividing it equally between Athena and Fee, Adama had no real clue to what he was thinking. He risked turning to try and read Fee's reaction.

"It's all right," said Fee.

He took a couple of steps towards Zac, who looked, like Ila, to be on the verge of tears. It wasn't often that anything dashed the boy's high spirits, but this had. While his jibe at Alex had been deliberately provocative, Adama absolved him of wanting to hurt Fee. The infelicitous words had been without malice.

"I'm sorry," mumbled Zac, not looking at Fee. "I didn't mean—"

It looked like Fee absolved him too. He pulled the boy into a hug. "It's all right, brat. I know you didn't mean anything." He looked over Zac's head at Athena's retreating back, then caught Adama's gaze. "Tell her," he said.

"Oh, Apollo," said Ila, her mouth trembling.

"Tell her," repeated Fee. "I'll take care of Mama."

Adama got slowly to his feet. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. Tell her."

Fee released Zac and went back to sit with his mother, putting an arm around her shoulders. Alex reached up and briefly covered Fee's hand with his before returning his attention to his ambrosa. Zac scuttled over to join them, avoiding Adama's eyes and not looking much at Alex or Jerry either. He sat on the grass beside Fee. It was touching, really, and Adama wondered if Fee would be the one who could tame Zac somehow.

He found Athena in the sitting room where they'd first talked to Fee back in Primus. She was crying; not sobbing, just sitting with the tears spilling over almost effortlessly.

"I'm not going to say I'm sorry," she said when he sat down beside her.

A long time ago now, a lifetime ago, Adama had sat in a little hospital at Pasquel and looked at the consequences of telling one his children that he was ashamed and disappointed; the consequences of doing it in anger and unlovingly; the consequences of not taking the time to listen or try to understand; the consequences of a failure in himself and a failure of trust. He'd vowed then that he'd never be so cruel again. Never. Even when he was tempted. So he bit back the words that would have accused her of trying to lose Apollo again, and nodded.

"Not if you aren't, no. There wouldn't be any point."

"I'm not. Why are you letting him get away with it?"

"Get away with what?"

"Oh come on, Dad!" But she sounded more tired than angry. She batted at her eyes with a handkerchief when the tears welled up again. "He tore everything apart! When he ran away he took my mother with him."

Adama couldn't have put it any better himself. "She was very unwell," he conceded.

"Unwell! Sometimes she didn't even want to get out of bed, and I had to beg her to get up. Most times she'd just sit there, staring. I'd even have to tell her what to wear and hand everything to her so she'd get dressed." Athena choked back an angry sob. "She couldn't make up her mind about anything. Anything at all. And if you asked her, she'd just sit and cry. It was like I was her mother, not the other way around. I had to be responsible for her when you weren't there. It's all his fault. I hate him!"

Adama picked his way carefully through the minefield. He had his own memories of Ila's lethargy and desperation that weren't a million miles away from Athena's. "She's much better now."

Athena stared at him as he were mad. "But it's not for us!" she pointed out. "It's not for you and me and Zac, not for the ones who didn't run away and spoil everything! It's not for the ones who stayed and looked after her. She only came back for him. Just for him. Anyone would think it wasn't his fault in the first place!"

"It wasn't," said Adama. And before she could start again, he said, reflectively, "It was mine, really, and yes, partly your mother's. She was ill because he'd vanished, of course, and because he was so ill himself that we were terrified he'd try suicide again and this time he'd succeed, and she was ill because she blamed herself for not spending enough time with him. I was able to bury it all in my work. She couldn't do that."

Athena stared at him.

"I was sure Zac must have told you."

"I don't want to know. I don't care!"

"That's not very fair, Thenie. But Apollo just told me to tell you everything, and I'm going to."

"I don't want to know!"

"Well, you're going to hear it. Whether you listen or not, is up to you. Apollo was as sick as your mother when he left. Actually, he was sicker. As ill as she was, she never tried to kill herself. He did. Twice." He let her stare a little longer while he banished the memories as well as he could.

Murderer!

And so much blood. It didn't seem possible that one skinny fourteen yahren old body could contain that much blood. Or more to the point, could lose that much blood and still survive. It was a miracle that Apollo had lived and for the second time in a secton only the machines and the incredible skill of the medical staff had done it.

"Your mother was very busy, you know, before she resigned from the Senate when Apollo left us. You and Zac took up much of her free time, so when Apollo was abused by the tutor we'd hired for him, your mother didn't notice and I wasn't even there. I blamed him for it all when I found out. Like you, I was angry with him. I thought it was his fault, and so I sent him away. I came home when he tried to kill himself."

"Did he."

"Yes. Because he thought he was being punished for Pieter, for being abused. And God help me, but I think I was punishing him. He was terribly ill, Athena. Can't you remember any of it at all?"

She frowned and shrugged.

"I wonder why you don't remember."

Her frown deepened.

"Because you don't want to, I expect. He ran away because I had to make a choice. With your mother ill as well, the stress on everyone else was too much. I had to choose which one to keep at home. Apollo was most at risk, of course, so I decided to send him to a friend of Jerry's for treatment. Apollo saw being sent away again as more punishment." Adama sighed. "I made some terrible mistakes. So yes, it was my fault and your mother's he ran away. Alex found him in the Eastside."

"Zac told me that. I didn't want him to." Her voice hardened. "A Shadow addict! That's disgusting."

"It's understandable. It's easy enough to be vulnerable to drugs when your parents have agreed to the medics doping you on anti-depressants for sectons."

"Oh," said Athena.

He hoped it was some sort of epiphany, but he couldn't be sure. "As I said, your mother and I have to bear a lot of the responsibility. He had a very terrible time, Athena. That's why what Zac said about punishment hit so hard. Knowing that Apollo is gone, maybe for ever, is mine."

"And his?"

For a centon, Adama ignored that. "Zac's still very much a child. I don't blame him for what he said, it was just thoughtlessness."

"He's a kid," said Athena, impatiently.

"He's older than Apollo was." Adama stood up. "You're much older. If you think about it, you'll make some of the connexions that I hope Zac's still too young to make. How do you think a sick fourteen-yahren-old child paid for his Shadow in the East-side, Athena? How much more punishment do you want?"

He went and left her to it, too tired even to think about it any more. Jerry and Alex had decamped to the more comfortable steamer chairs under the trees and were talking quietly. Ila still sat at the table with Fee and Zac, the latter so uncharacteristically subdued that Adama felt sorry for him.

"Here," he said, offering his ambrosa glass. "Just a sip, mind."

Fee glanced at him while Zac, pink to the ears with gratification, sipped and spluttered. Ila caught his eye. He smiled at her, trying to send her a reassurance he didn't feel, but she turned to look at the house, troubled. He bent to kiss her hair.

"It's all right," he murmured. "It'll be all right."

She patted the hand he put on her shoulder. "I'll go to her," she said and got up gracefully. She put her hand on Fee's and squeezed. "It will be all right, darling. You'll see."

She walked across the lawn. Jerry and Alex kept up their quiet conversation, but Alex was looking strained and Jerry even more quizzical than usual. Adama glanced at Zac.

"Go and sit with your Uncle Jerry, Zac. I want a word with Fee."

The real Zac would have protested loud and long at being excluded, but this one was still downcast and even a little cowed. He gave Adama the ambrosa back, and obeyed him. Adama felt like chalking the day up in his diary. Two of his children were acting so uncharacteristically, it had to portent something significant.

"I don't know," said Adama, honestly, when he and Fee were alone

"She has every right," said Fee. "I never really thought about it until I came back, what the effect must have been on her and Zac, or you and Mama."

"Zac is more than fine about you being back, but Athena hasn't adjusted to it yet." Adama looked back to the house. Ila was almost at the open French doors. There was no sign of Athena.

"And she maybe never will." Fee followed his gaze. "I'm sorry about that. I'm sorry that she's been made so uncomfortable. Maybe me and Alex should just go."

"I'd rather you didn't," said Adama.

"We talked about it, you know, me and Alex, because I don't like to make her unhappy and he's good at figuring people out. He said that this is her world, really, not mine – "

"It could be yours again," said Adama, giving the back of Alex's head a darkling look.

"Maybe. I don't know. Alex says so, but I left it once. She didn't, and now she has to feel like I'm trying to oust her from her place in it. It's understandable."

"Perhaps." Adama considered what Fee had said, and reconsidered his resentment of Alex. He should, he supposed, be grateful, instead. Fee was thoughtful and kind and most of that, Adama thought, came from the way Alex had helped mould the wreck he'd rescued. He nodded. "Yes, perhaps. She may never be happy about it, but she has to realise that you're here and I won't do anything, or allow anyone to do anything, that might lose you again." Despite himself, his voice rose. "I'm not going to let you go away again and she has just got to get used to it."

Fee gave him a sharp look, eyes widening slightly.

Adama calmed himself. All these sectars he'd been careful not to scare this bird away with over-emotional demands and protestations, letting Fee come to them at his own pace and letting Ila and Zac between them lime some of the traps with the love and affection he himself was frightened to show in case Fee scorned it. So he moderated his tone to its usual measured evenness. "It can't be helped, Fee, though I'm sorry she isn't more welcoming."

Fee's gaze flickered sideways, to where his mother had been sitting. "She has her reasons."

Adama nodded. "It was difficult for her," he acknowledged. "She feels that she lost her mother early."

"I'm sorry for that. But you can see why she doesn't like me."

Adama shrugged helplessly. Athena's point of view was as valid as Fee's, and he knew it. He had no idea how to reconcile two things so very far apart.

It seems Fee knew it, too. "I once told Zac that she didn't have to, and that's still true, however sorry I am." He looked down at the table, avoiding Adama's eyes. "Until I saw you and we started this—"

Whatever 'this' was. Adama still wondered.

"—it never really crossed my mind what it did to you all."

"I think I once told you that it was like everything was twisted out of shape."

"And now it's coming back into shape. A different shape, though. It'll never be as if it didn't happen."

"No," agreed Adama, his heart in his mouth at what he thought Fee was saying. "I'll take what I can get, Fee, if the new shape has you in it."

He saw the slight smile on the still downcast face. "Then I guess that all we can do is live with it."

He blew out a silent sigh of relief, taking that for a tacit avowal that Fee wanted to be back, in some measure and in some shape. He glanced at the house where his daughter brooded over the wrongs she'd been dealt, and he wondered what distortion had come into the shape of his relationship with her. "Yes," he said, tired with how intractable it all was.

And at least Apollo was alive to live with it. Or Fee was, anyway. He supposed the rest would work itself out somehow and plenty of siblings weren't close. However sad that was, it was a fact. Athena would find a new relationship with Fee—and, please God, one day with Apollo—and if it was a distant one, there was cause to celebrate that it was there at all.

Adama scrubbed his face with the heels of his hands and took a welcome mouthful of his ambrosa. He regarded Zac's trapped wasp, thinking that it laid its eggs and never gave a thought to its offspring, couldn't comprehend the relationship. There was something to be said for that state of affairs. He envied for a centon the simple life it had.

Fee leaned forward and lifted the glass, letting the wasp go free.

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