Waiting for Apollo
By Gabi-hime (pinkfluffynet )
A/N: Ancient Gabriel solo story from several years ago, posted because I wanted a complete listing and also because it's still canon because it features the advent of Lumina. AoC errata. Duriel is Ali's 3. I have been abusing him forever.
Summary: Demi and Alexei do the town broodily, meaning they feed pigeons in Trafalgar Square while Demi pines for someone else entirely. Poor guy. He just can't win.
Demi stretched gracefully and then glanced at the clock. It was half past three. Alexei was late, as usual. She didn't understand how someone who was so fastidious in all other aspects could be perpetually a dollar short and a day late. She mused that other people would find that particular aspect of his character a startling revelation. Alexei seemed to intimidate people with his extreme neatness. He certainly had a very focused character. The idea that he was ever late for anything would have stunned most people. However, most people did not know Alexei very well at all. Demi was one of the few who could claim him as a close friend. Of course, it can also be said that Alexei was one of the few that she could claim as a close friend.
"What are you thinking about, Demi?"
The question was simple and to the point, yet there was a touch of longing in the tone. Demi realized that she had been staring into space and refocused her gaze to the twelve year old boy who lay in the bed. She smiled and then answered.
"Just about my friend, Alexei."
"He's late," the boy returned matter-of-factly.
"You're right. He is late," Demi grimaced, "How did you know that?"
"You told me he was coming, and you keep staring at the clock. You stopped reading aloud more than twenty minutes ago. That means you thought he was coming."
"Very perceptive, Ramon," she smiled at him again. "What do you want me to bring you next to read."
"And now you are trying to change the subject. Why?"
"You certainly want to know all about me."
"Of course I do. You're my only window to the outside world. Except for the doctors and nurses, that is. They don't get to attached to us here, though. The only person who ever comes when he doesn't have to is Dr. Eisenreich. I wake up sometimes and he's here. It makes me feel safe to know that he's watching over me."
Demi smiled again, but this time it was staged. She didn't know how to analyze the good doctor. He somehow managed to completely avoid everything she threw at him. He confused her too. He was always cordial when he spoke with her, kind and considerate. She had overheard two of the orderlies gossiping about the two of them. It seemed that Eisenreich was the most open when he talked to her. That is not to say that they talked a great deal. It was all mundane and casual. However, Eisenreich rarely spoke at all.
Despite his apparent candor, Demi sometimes felt she could sense a chillness in his being, a shadow on his calm facade. And it never was more than a shadow, a breath of something that smelled vaguely inconsistent. To her it was a phantom of awareness. Something that skirted her senses teasingly, but always evaded. She was not used to pictures painted in layers of false transparency. In fact she was not used to people that she could not place instantly.
She read people well. It was a skill that came naturally to her, and one that her father certainly shared. It was one of the reasons he was such a good diplomat. Demi did not attempt to classify people out of malicious intent, or any feeling of superiority, she did it simply because it came so naturally. However Dr. Eisenreich deeply puzzled her.
It was not only his shadow that left her uneasy, but her own feelings toward him. She had a deep seeded instinct to trust him, despite what flags might be flown by her conscious mind. She wanted desperately for him to be a confidant, deep in her soul. However, these thoughts were buried deep in her psyche, and although she recognized them from time to time, they made her feel uncomfortable, and she dismissed them whenever possible.
"Do you like Dr. Eisenreich?"
The question startled her out of her contemplation once again. Ramon certainly had a way of getting to the point. Demi had the feeling that through his illness he had also learned to read people well. Demi studied the breathing machine that hummed in the corner behind Ramon's bed. Ramon had to have treatments three times a day at least, and whenever he felt short of breath. She knew it bothered Ramon that he was bound to the machines around him. They bound him to life, shackled him there, and to break their hold on him was to break his hold on life. He'd been active once. Demi knew because he'd told her. She was not sure that she would have picked up on it herself. His muscles were beginning to atrophy despite the physical therapy he received twice a week.
"Of course I like Dr. Eisenreich. He has never given me reason not to like him."
"That was a tricky answer."
Ramon was lean, or he had been when he was well, she could see that. Now he bordered on skinny. The hospital dietician had to be sure he always got enough fat in his diet to keep him from fading away entirely. He had dark eyes and black hair that fell into his eyes. It was generally rumpled because he spent so much time in his bed. He had a warm smile when he cared to use it, which was certainly more often, the nurses marked, since Demi had started visiting.
"Indeed it was."
The voice startled both of them, and Demi wondered how long Eisenreich had been standing there. He was a tall man of medium build, but Demi could always sense a tension in him that betrayed a more formidable strength that one would guess. He had ash grey hair that had receded at the top and now only covered the sides and back of his head, leaving a bald spot that seemed to recall a friar's shorn head to Demi's mind. He also had a neatly trimmed beard that leant an official air to his countenance. His eyes were a cloudy blue that was at once benign and unreadable. These were the things that gave Demi the most trouble. The windows to his soul were closed to her, no, the were not closed, they were covered in blinds so that he might peer out without her peering in.
Despite the fact that she could not read him, she felt, no, she knew, that he read her easily, like a familiar book. This also unsettled her, but like most things about him that left her unsettled, she dismissed it.
"I am only edgy because I feel defenseless," she thought to herself, "He means me no ill intent. It is just that I am so used to being in his position."
Demi smiled cordially and prepared to say something to smooth the sand between them. Alexei took that moment to arrive.
He entered like he always did, the dapper gentleman in his precise brown suit. His pants were creased just so and his collar was stiff and white. He wore a tie that was a shade lighter than his suit, and his shoes were fine Italian leather. He carried his violin case and a soft leather bag that Demi knew contained a present. Alexei never met anyone without a present. He was certainly always giving them to her. His hair was tousled and neat at the same time, a warm brown with a fringe of curl at the edge. His eyes were copper caught by the sun, a shining intensity that intimidated some. Despite all the warmth he presented, many thought him cold. It was true, although he was always polite, he seldom became close to anyone
Demi reflected for a moment on how the two of them were alike, Alexei and Eisenreich. They were both standoffish. They were both easily misread by someone who did not know them. They were both intimidating in their own ways. They were both relatively solitary. They were both geniuses in their own respective fields. They were both very peculiar. However, while Alexei was a man painted in warm browns and bronze touched with gold, Eisenreich was a man of subtlety. He could not be painted in bold colors, and while he had color (it was not altogether true that he was painted in transparency), Demi could never paint him with anything other than the palest greys and the lightest beige. He was the most delicate of neutrals, and through this he retained his innate ability to remain lucid yet defy anyone to gaze into his depths.
Eisenreich raised an eyebrow as the younger man entered the room and placed his case and bag in one of the chairs. Alexei then immediately turned his attention to Demi. He bowed slightly and then spoke.
"I am terribly sorry to have kept you waiting like this. I certainly did not mean to. There was an amazing crush in the tube. I missed three or four connections because they filled up."
Thus satisfied he had atoned for his lateness, he turned his attention to Ramon.
"Hello young man, Demi has told me a great deal about you. My name is Alexei Ilyitch Berzukov. However most of my friends call me Alyosha."
He offered his hand to the boy. Ramon took it easily and smiled.
"Pleased to meet you Alyosha. My name is Ramon Mendoza."
"The pleasure is all mine."
They shook hands strongly, however Alexei was not the kind of man who tested grips, he considered that crass. They released and then Alexei turned to fish around in his bag. Eisenreich watched with no expression on his face. Demi's gaze was suddenly drawn to him again and as Alexei and Ramon prattled on. They stared at each other for several heartbeats. Finally Demi brought her gaze down and for some reason she could not explain, she found herself blushing. Eisenreich continued to stare at her for another breathless moment, as if to prove he could, before slowly turning his eyes to Ramon. He and the other young man were still chatting animatedly.
Ramon had the remains of brown paper wrappings on his lap and was holding a nice leather bound book. He looked quite pleased.
"Demi told me you'd taken to reading fantasy stories. Now that you've finished C. S. Lewis I thought you might like something a bit heavier to read," Alexei explained, "This is The Hobbit. It's a book by J. R. R. Tolkien. Consider it the foreword to another great adventure."
"Wow! Thanks Alyosha. You're really nice. I love it. It's a great present, but I feel bad because I don't have anything to give you."
His eyes roved around the room until they settled upon the roses Demi had brought.
"Here, I know. Take one of my roses. You don't mind, do you Demi?"
Alexei smiled and then waved his arms in dismissal, "Nonsense, you don't have to give me anything."
Ramon would not be appeased, "No, you brought a present and you are going to leave with a present. I'd be rude if I let anything else happen. You don't mind, do you Demi?"
Demi smiled and then shook her head, "Of course not. Those roses belong to you now. You can give them to anyone you please."
"Then you take one, Alyosha. It's my gift to you."
Alexei smiled and plucked one from the vase.
"It is a great loss that it's beauty is wasted on the likes of me," he thought for a moment. "I don't suppose since this rose is now mine you might let me give it to someone who might give as much pleasure as she gets from such a present? That is not to say that I am slighting your gift in the least."
Ramon took his meaning immediately, "I don't mind at all."
Alexei then bowed lithely and offered Demi the rose, "For to me you are the sun of the world Rosura, dwarfing all the small stars around you," he quoted, giving her one of his warmest and most sincere smiles.
Demi smiled to herself, "Alya will be Alya." She reverted to her pet name for him ever as she accepted the rose.
Eisenreich watched the entire scene without making a sound.
The air was cool with a touch of moisture. It was the middle of springtime, yet the air was bracing. London had a tendency to be like that. The sky was a pasty, overcast grey and the air smelled of must, like the city was in an old trunk opened for the first time in years. Demi sighed. There were times when the word Demi most closely associated with London was mildew. Alexei noted her discontent.
"What is it, fair Guinevere?" he asked, casting a glance at her while they traced their way through the grey London streets.
Demi simply shook her head, unwilling for him to see the root of her unrest. She knew that it would disturb him more than if he didn't know. Alexei did not look kindly on any males he sensed as competition for his position as confidant and object of affection, despite the fact that Demi refused him as anything more than a friend. The signals regarding that aspect of their relationship were so blatant that he often wondered why other people didn't pick up on it. Several people at Wycliffe Academy had even asked him if she were his steady girlfriend. Despairingly, he had to reply negative to all of them.
"It's that doctor, isn't it? The one who as in the room when I came to pick you up. Eisenreich, was it?" he asked, gauging her response.
He noted her slight intake of breath, and smiled to himself. She wasn't the only one who could pick up people's moods. Years of her company had taught him some useful skills. Still, she said nothing.
"He was watching you. He looked at you for a long while," he remarked casually. The coldness in his voice betrayed him.
"Honestly Alyosha, sometimes you amaze me. Here you are, the perfect gentleman, yet you are intensely jealous of anyone that I speak to. For heaven's sake, he's over fifty. There is no chance of anything happening between us, ever," she snapped, pulling her grey woollen overcoat more tightly around her. Something about the day set her on edge. Perhaps she was just tired.
"Demi, darling, if that was true, would you so hotly deny it?" he asked with a tinge of regret in his voice. The regret quickly turned to distaste, "All that aside, I still simply do not like the man."
They continued on in terse silence. After a few minutes, Alexei felt the need to make peace.
"Darling, I know you're feeling a bit shabby, therefore, you are going to decide what we do this afternoon."
Demi pushed the thoughts crowding her mind to the side and then accepted the proffered treaty.
"All right, then I choose to go to Trafalgar Square. We haven't fed the pigeons in a while and there's a nice pub nearby where we can have dinner."
"Sounds wonderful, darling. I'm game."
For fifty pence Demi bought three cups of bird feed and settled on the edge of the stone parapet. The pigeons would come, they always did. Demi had once caught a bird with an injured wing here. She'd taken it home and nursed it, even taken it to the veterinarian. The bird had died, despite her care and attention. The spots in her life where her care had not been enough to save a life were like shadows on the sun to Demi. St. John had comforted her with phrases like, 'Everything has it's time,' and 'God doesn't forget the sparrows,' but it had been no use. It had dimmed the brightness of the world when Demi had learned that her hands could not heal, only comfort.
Alexei threw his seed with a casual but precise air. With a deft flick of the wrist he sent it in a graceful arc. He scattered the seeds with the air of a gambler playing craps. He observed her
out of the corner of his eye. She was holding the cup of seeds out from her body and staring at a spot on the stone pavement. A pigeon had landed in the crook of her arm and another was sitting on her shoulder. The most impressive of all was the one that was preening itself on her head.
"Well Daphne, have you turned into a tree already, or are you still waiting for your Apollo? From the feathered creatures that adorn you I'd opt for the former," he remarked, smiling at her.
She startled, frightening the bird off her head. It fluttered to the ground beside her.
"Sorry Alyosha, I was just thinking."
"Oh that old thinking bit again. You've been having a pensive day, darling."
"You can read me that well?" she asked, focusing her deep blue eyes on him.
"Demi, darling, in your current state, the only thing that would make it more obvious is if you were carrying a sign that said, 'Pick My Pocket, I'm Oblivious,' either that or a nice fat volume of poetry. Shall we retire to Tintern Abbey or Walden Pond? This is your evening, remember."
She smiled and then focused her attention on the birds. She tossed seeds lightly so they pattered down like raindrops. There was less chance the pigeons would squabble over a pile that way. Her movements were smooth and fluid. It never ceased to amaze him how graceful she was.
"Alya, you are wonderful, do you know that? No one ever makes me feel the way you do."
"I suppose that would mean I have what could be called 'the touch?'" he asked, a half smile on his face.
"Impudent charmer," she giggled, and then poured the remaining birdseed on the ground, spreading it so that there wouldn't be a fight. The pattern that she created intrigued Alexei.
"Interesting Demi," he remarked, studying it, "It looks rather like a flower."
"That it does, Alyosha," she smiled softly, "Does anything about me not remind you of flowers?"
He stood and offered her a hand, "Only you lovely eyes, Athena."
She accepted it and stood, stretching like a cat. "Oh?"
"Shall I tell you of storm swept seas, the autumn sky, or the silver touch of moonlight on rowan trees?"
"Quiet you rascal, before you convince me to elope with you."
"Elope? Don't think of it, I'll get your father's consent."
"Not another word, rogue. We're going to dinner."
The burden of her heavy thought lifted, she hooked her arm in his and led him away good-naturedly.
The food was warm and delicious. It took the chill away from the day and restored Demi's spirits to an even greater degree. Pub food was almost always good and cheap. The small room above the pub was lighted with gas lamps. The orange glow was a nice touch on the room. They were seated and a carved wooden table near a window that looked out on the Square.
"I hope this day hasn't been too tiring for you Ms. Nightingale. You know if the hospital bothers you that much, you needn't go," Alexei remarked.
He was eating fish and chips. They were crisped to a golden brown. Alexei thought the fish was sole, despite the fact that it only tasted vaguely fishy. Demi had ordered a fried cheese sandwich and a bowl of vegetable soup. She only ate meat on rare occasions although he knew that it was not because of any great moral standards. She had explained it to him one day.
'It's not that I don't think that everything has a time to die. I know that it does, and I also know that if nothing was killed for food our ecosystem would collapse on itself. We can't all synthesize energy from sunlight, so the majority of us are consumers. That's not the reason I don't eat meat. I simply don't eat much meat out of habit.'
It was a habit that St. John had instilled in her. He had learned it in India in seminary. There was an emphasis on fasting and of course on Lent. It was Lent now, which was why he had settled on fish instead of steak and kidney pie. Lent for Demi meant no meat at all.
"The hospital work isn't what's been bothering me. I just feel tired I suppose."
"Maybe you're anemic, Darling," he winked at her.
"There's no way that's possible and you know it. Not with holy nutritionist Sister Muriel around anyway," she laughed.
He took her hand and looked at her seriously, "But you are feeling better?"
She smiled, "Once again you've worked your magic."
"I exist only to serve," he smiled enigmatically and then turned the conversation, "That Ramon fellow is a nice little chap, isn't he?"
"I love him dearly Alya. That was a very kind gesture you made at the hospital. He was thrilled with the gift. The only books he gets are the ones I bring him."
"Then I shall have to visit more often."
"Alya, I swear, you would give away you last pence if I'd let you."
"What is money for other than to make people happy? If it doesn't make someone happy then there is no use for it. It's only paper and metal after all."
"Well, you are certainly no businessman, Alya."
"That's why my mother started me on the violin. She said I had to have a trade," he joked.
"You may have you castle by the sea yet, Alexei Ilyitch Berzukov."
"Only if I'm lucky, Demi. Only if I'm lucky."
Alexei left Demi at the doors of the Church of the Sacred Heart. He said his goodbye casually, and then was off, springing along with a light step. Demi watched him for a moment in the gathering dusk, and then pressed on into the church.
It was warm. Despite the stone walls, the church always seemed to have a blazing fire, somewhere, although the only flames apparent were those at the altar. Demi bowed towards the presence as she passed, crossing herself. Father Dayzen was sweeping the stone steps near the back of the church, and he raised his head in acknowledgment.
"Where's St. John?" she asked, taking advantage of his pause.
Dayzen nodded towards the back of the church, "In the ready room. There's um, well, perhaps he better tell you." He went back to sweeping.
Demi, mystified, made her way back to the 'ready room.' It was the place where the priests and the altar boys dressed for mass and other ceremonies. St. John had jokingly nicknamed it when he realized the similarities between mass and a pilot's missions. Demi was not altogether sure she understood all of St. John's metaphors.
The room was done in red velvet and brocade, a hold over from the old church this one had been salvaged from. It smelled like cinnamon and, for some reason, crayons. St. John was standing with his back to her when she entered discreetly. He was talking to someone. Demi waited quietly for him to finish.
"I'm sure you'll be happy, little one," he soothed reassuringly, "You must remember that God never shuts a door without opening a window."
It was one of St. John's favorite sayings, and one that denoted that the person to whom he spoke had suffered some kind of loss. Demi debated going to stand in the hall so St. John and his parishioner could finish their counseling in private, but he spoke before she could move.
"That's quite all right Demi, we've been waiting for you," his voice was cordial, but he didn't turn just yet.
"For me?" she asked, even more puzzled.
St. John turned and pulled a small girl around with him. She looked to be about seven, and she had long brown hair in two pigtails. Her eyes were blue grey and very thoughtful. She looked as if she'd been crying recently and her cheeks were red with tears.
St. John cleared his throat after a moment, and then announced quietly, "Demi Serraffield, I'd like you to meet your new adopted sister, Lumina Calloway."
The little girl looked at Demi solemnly and the said, "My mum was killed today."
Demi shot a questioning glance and St. John.
"Her mother was an archaeologist working on an excavation near Cairo. She was killed in a terrorist bombing, a Palestinian attack they think. Lumina was to be put under my care should anything happen to her."
The little girl focused very tightly on Demi, "You are all I have now. I hope we can be friends."
Demi was deeply moved by the child and knelt and drew her into a tight embrace without thinking, "Of course, child. You mustn't think of anything else. Of course I'll be your friend. Better than that," she looked up at St. John, "We'll be your family too."
Lumina clung close to Demi, and over her shoulder, Demi saw St. John mouth the words, "Time to go home."
Demi nodded, and putting her arms around her, she heaved the girl into her arms. She wasn't quite sure why she did it, she just did. It was natural. Lumina put her head on Demi's shoulder and yawned.
"You've had a rough day, little one," Demi murmured, "What do you say we head home and get some rest?"
"All right," Lumina yawned solemnly again. She snuggled her head against Demi's neck and then closed her eyes. St. John offered to take her, but Demi shook her head.
"She's not heavy, and anyway, you have to drive."
He nodded and then led the way to the parking lot near the church. Demi was reluctant to relinquish hold on Lumina, but she finally did, fastening her in snugly. The little girl was already almost asleep.
They drove home in a silence broken only by the hum of the motor and once by St. John's soft voice when he was sure Lumina was asleep.
"She's right. She doesn't have anyone else."
Demi looked at him for a long moment, "No other family at all?"
He shook his head and focused on the road.
Demi sighed and watched the grey streets go by until they reached the outskirts of London. The turned down a nicely pave street marked 'Maple Avenue' that went into a wood and finally stopped at their small house at the edge of the Maple Hall Boarding School campus.
Demi put Lumina to bed in her own room immediately. Demi's bed was large enough for the two of them and would have to do until St. John brought her personal things, and hopefully her bed. Their house only had two bedrooms, but Demi didn't mind sharing with the quiet little girl.
After she was satisfied that the child was peacefully settled with Peter sleeping at her feet, Demi returned to the den, where St. John was sitting on the couch, reading Thomas Aquinas. He didn't look up, but instead said,
"Oh, I almost forgot. Something came for you today. It's in the kitchen. It came around five o'clock, and at first I didn't know what to make of it. I decided it had to be for you, unless Muriel's suddenly taken a liking to me," he smiled wryly.
Demi was perplexed by his cryptic comment, so she went into the kitchen. There, on the counter, by the window, bathed in a pool of moonlight, were two dozen red tightly budded long stem roses. Demi paused and then took one in her hand. She was not careful enough, and it pricked her, drawing blood on her fingertip. The sudden pain startled her and she dropped the rose back with the others, putting her finger in her mouth in hope that it wouldn't bleed very much.
Still unsure of what to make of the gift, she searched the wrappings of the roses and discovered a small card. It was thick cream parchment and on it was written a simple quotation. It was unsigned and Demi did not recognize the handwriting. More uncertain now than when she had first seen the roses, she could do nothing but repeat the quote to herself and muse over what it could mean.
"Thou and I are too wise to woo peaceably."