Gaius stumbled over the carpet, looking for his shoes. He hissed as his leg bumped against one of the low shrines, spattering his feet with candle wax and the hot ash of incense sticks. He struggled not to curse and continued in his search. Gaius realised that he hadn’t really dressed himself in weeks. Most days he just lazed around in his dressing gown, his sandals and a pair of loose fitting trousers. There seemed little need for formality when he was living his life between his bed and the wireless radio. When he desired to leave the commune (either for a purpose or for a brief escape from the lunacy) he could never seem to find his shoes. It was hard finding anything in the gloom of the storage bay, illuminated only by string lights and dull candles, misted by the smoke that drifted over from the cooking pots.
“Over here, Gaius!” said a zealous voice in his ear.
Gaius turned to see Jeanne standing inches behind him. She had been following him like a shadow ever since she had returned from sickbay with her news. Now she was pointing him towards a corner where a pair of black leather shoes were sitting on a cushion surrounded by statues like they were some sort of holy relic.
“Thank you,” he said, carefully hiding his nausea. He sat down on the rug, slipping his shoes onto his feet and lacing them up tight. Jeanne was still hovering over him, watching his every movement with her goggling eyes.
“Are you sure it was him?” Gaius asked her.
Jeanne nodded rapidly, her stare growing even wider.
“I’m sure, Gaius!” she affirmed. “I was just taking Derrick to see the doctors for his check up when those big doors swung open and they were wheeling somebody into the emergency room. I couldn’t see who it was at first. There were so many medics crowding around. Then I heard one of them say ‘Lieutenant Gaeta’. I’m sure that’s who they said, Gaius. They took him behind a curtain and brought over a tray with knives and saws on it. They were cutting off his leg!”
Gaius winced, his stomach clenching and his fingers trembling over his laces. He couldn’t think why he was so anxious. What was Lieutenant Gaeta to him now? He hadn’t seen or heard anything of Felix since the trial. With no glimpses of him around the ship Gaius had surmised that he was among the officers assigned to the top secret Demetrius mission. He had put Felix out of his mind for the last few months. He hadn’t been prepared for this sudden news of his injury.
“I…I must go to him,” said Gaius, surprised by the stirring devotion in his voice. He hurried over to their washing lines. “Where are my shirts, Jeanne? These are all women’s shirts! I need something to wear.”
“Lilly cleaned them yesterday,” said Jeanne, guiding him over to the laundry baskets. “They are all neat and folded for you here.”
Gaius cringed with embarrassment. He knew he should tell the older women in his cult that they didn’t need to mother him. Often it seemed easier to let them take care of his chores if it kept them happy. If they thought that washing his dirty underwear brought them closer to the One True God then why should he prevent them? Gaius shook his head as he stood buttoning his shirt. He really had become the King of Fools in the months he had been living in this commune.
Jeanne still lingered by his side, her face bright and wondering.
“Do you think this is God’s judgement on him?” she asked.
Gaius lifted up his head, squinting at her. “What?”
“Maybe God is punishing him for his sins?” she said, a quiver of excitement in her voice. “For the lies he told about you in court and the time he stabbed you with a pen. Maybe he’s suffering for his betrayals against you?”
Gaius frowned. For all their outward sweetness these women took a worrying degree of pleasure in the prospect of God smiting their enemies. He liked to think of himself as a magnanimous leader but he was often reminded that the people in his flock were just as petty and vengeful as anyone else in the fleet.
“He’s a traitor, Gaius,” Jeanne asserted righteously.
“Don’t say that!” he snapped at her, his voice hitching over the lump in his throat. He took a calming breath. “Please don’t call him that again. You don’t know him.”
Jeanne stepped back from him, her cheeks flushing like a scolded child. She clasped the amulet she wore around her neck, already looking penitent. He didn't bother to hide his disappointment.
“The man’s been wounded...” Gaius continued plaintively. “He’s probably fighting for his life up in that sickbay. There’s no need for all this silly talk of judgement…”
“I…I’m sorry, Gaius,” she said meekly. “I forgot. We are all perfect in God’s love. I suppose that something in the universe must love that man despite the wrongs he has done to you.” She closed her eyes and sighed, making herself look martyred. “I too must try to forgive him for his evil deeds.”
“Yes, you do that, Jeanne,” he muttered.
Gaius pulled on his coat, preparing to leave. She clasped his sleeve.
“Should we pray for him, Gaius?” she suggested, eager to make amends. “Maybe if we prayed for him then God would grant us another miracle like he did for Derrick? Maybe God would show him mercy and heal him?”
He rolled his eyes. “Yes well, unfortunately Jeanne I’ve never known of any God or Gods who were prepared to help an amputee grow back their limbs. It’s funny that, isn’t it? Almost like God can’t really help us at all…”
Jeanne’s eyes went wide again; her faith shaken by his harsh words. For a moment Gaius thought that she might slap him in the face and accuse him of blasphemy. Instead she chewed her lip, tears threatening in her eyes.
“No, I’m sorry,” said Gaius, catching himself. “Look, I didn’t mean that. I’m just a little upset.” He treated Jeanne to a quick nervous hug, pressing his arms lightly around her tensed shoulders. “Of course you should pray for him. Please ask that God relieves him of his pain and forgives him for his failings…as he has done for me.”
“I will,” she said, nodding piously. “I just don’t know how you can be so generous in your love for that man, Gaius. He tried to kill you.”
Gaius sighed. “He was the only true friend I ever had in this fleet.”
Before Jeanne could prattle on any longer Gaius turned and marched from the storage bay. His followers watched him intently as he crossed the room and climbed up the stairs. A few of them rose to their feet, wanting to accompany him and protect him from harm on his excursion. Gaius raised his hand, signalling them to sit back down. He didn’t want an entourage just now. He glanced from side to side, taking in their stares as he left. It was like walking through a hall of mirrors. Their soft young faces reflected how enamoured they were with him, how much faith they had in him...
Gaius swallowed and hurried away. He left his new following to see what had become of the first person who had loved and believed in him.
As he raised the hood of his coat and made his way through the ship, Gaius began to feel uncertain of his intentions. He knew that he had changed since the trial. He wanted Felix of all people to see the change in him. He didn’t wish to dwell on their past transgressions any longer. He wanted them to clasp hands, to shed tears and forgive each other. He had felt the same when he had visited Galen Tyrol only a few days earlier. If he could offer that man comfort and solidarity after the death of his wife then surely there was hope he could reach out to Felix too.
Still, Gaius couldn’t help thinking of Romo’s warning. That final day of the trial he had agreed to exile himself from Felix’s company. Truly he didn’t wish to cause him any more pain. Gaius tried to listen to the dictates of his conscience. There was a small voice at the back of his mind urging him to return to the commune, to stay out of this man’s life. Yet still he kept walking. A greater force of will was keeping him on this path. He wasn’t sure what it was yet, but he had to obey it.
Gaius took a breath as he turned the last bend of the corridor and approached the wide white doors of the sickbay. Before he could get any closer the doors swung open and Sam Anders barged out into the hall. The young pilot looked tense and frustrated. His breath came out in sharp hisses. He kicked the wall.
“Frak!” he cursed to himself. “So stupid...”
Anders hissed again, wincing and peering down at the toe he had likely just stubbed against the hard metal hull. He raised his head and noticed Gaius blinking at him in confusion. He cringed back from his scrutiny and staggered away down the corridor. Gaius shook his head and thought no more of the encounter. He pushed through the doors.
Cottle was seated behind a desk close by the entrance. The old doctor was looking grumpier than usual. He was smoking a cigarette and thumbing through the pages of a clipboard whilst rubbing his temples. As Gaius came little nearer, he noticed a pair of bloodied latex gloves in the bin beside his feet.
Before Gaius could speak a word, Cottle rose to his feet, blocking his path.
“Get out of my infirmary,” the doctor said coolly.
“Doctor Cottle,” Gaius began. “I’ve come to check on an old friend and colleague of mine. Felix Gaeta. It’s still visiting hours till 1900 hours I believe.”
“Not for you, it isn’t!” Cottle told him sternly. “You’re not seeing him. In case you’ve forgotten, Mr Baltar, I was watching on those security cameras the last time that you two friends were in close confines together.”
Gaius frowned at the insinuation. Just like the lawyer, Cottle seemed to think that chaos would erupt if he and Felix were allowed to share the same space.
“My people will be offering prayers for Mr Gaeta this evening,” Gaius persisted. “I should think we’ll be broadcasting our well wishes over the wireless. Could you see that he hears it? I have hopes that it may comfort him.”
Cottle narrowed his stare. “Mr Baltar, I’ll admit your sermons have given peace to some of my patients in their worst days, but you’ll find that even in these desperate times we still have a few hardened atheists around here. You might fancy yourself a spiritual healer, but I’ve got patients on this ward who would trade in all their idols and prayer books for one good strong dose of morpha.”
Gaius deflated, his shoulders falling. He knew that Cottle was right and Felix would find his conversion ridiculous. They had been scientists together; men of scepticism and reason. In the earliest days of their friendship Gaius could remember openly mocking religion and other superstitious beliefs while Felix hung off his every word and nodded in agreement. Faith had been useless to them then.
“Will you at least tell me his condition?” Gaius asked at last.
“We took the leg as soon as they brought him in,” Cottle informed him tersely. “Cut it off just below his knee. He’s in recovery now, but I still can’t rule out infection. You know that his crewmates left him for twenty hours on that damned sewage ship before bringing him to me? Don’t ask me why. Classified mission status, they tell me. But the poor kid’s in a world of pain. Still, he’s young and he’s strong. If he can ride out the fever and the trauma, then he should be okay…”
“Trauma?” Gaius asked hesitantly.
Before either of them could speak again, another voice came drifting over the sickbay, a voice that ghosted and echoed over the walls, raising goosebumps on Gaius’s skin. He looked around at the curtained cubicles. Somebody was singing behind one of the plastic drapes. Singing gloriously as it happened. It only took Gaius another moment to realise who the voice belonged to.
Yes, he still remembered the sound of Felix’s voice, but he had never heard it like this before. He never could have imagined it, never realised...though his Six had once told him he would find a secret beauty in his lab assistant.
Cottle sighed. “He started doing that during the operation.”
Gaius was too enchanted at first to take in the doctor’s words and their implications. When they finally took root he looked at Cottle in alarm.
“In the operation?!” he spluttered. “Do you mean to say that he was awake when you amputated? Doctor, how could you let him be awake?!”
“He asked me,” said Cottle, not standing for this reproach. “I respect my patient’s wishes where I can. Kid said he didn’t want to wake up with his leg gone.” He shrugged. “Guess he couldn’t bear to sleep through the loss.”
Gaius stood in a daze. He was still listening to Felix’s song. The more he heard the more Gaius began to feel like he was the one waking up and finding that something precious to him had been lost. The phantom of their friendship hung in the air. Gaius could still feel it, but he could no longer touch. It was no longer there.
“Please,” he implored. “Please let me see him…”
Cottle exhaled and stubbed out his cigarette.
“I’ll give you two minutes. You’re to stay behind the curtain, you hear? I don’t want him knowing that you’re there. Don’t delude yourself into thinking he’d be pleased to see you. And I’ll be watching from behind this desk. If I see you getting any closer to him, it’s my pen that’ll be buried in your neck.”
Gaius swallowed and nodded. For a moment he paused, wondering if his visit had become pointless. He had come all this way and now Felix wouldn’t even know he was there. But there was still the tight feeling in his stomach; a feeling like guilt even though Gaius wasn’t to blame for his injury. He wasn’t responsible for this man, so why had he felt so compelled to come here? Gaius didn’t think he would know for sure until he saw him.
He made his way across the sickbay, passing by the bed where Laura Roslin was resting. He thought she might be asleep at first. Then he caught the faint smile on her lips and he realised that she was listening to the singing too. Gaius wondered how this lament sounded to her ears. He couldn’t help thinking that if all the lies and secrets and hypocrisies of her administration were ripped open then this was the voice that would come pouring out. A human voice wrung through with pain.
Gaius came to the curtains. He found himself a place to stand out of sight and then peered through the gap. He saw Felix lying in the bed; what was left of him at least. For a moment Gaius couldn’t tear his eyes away from the bandaged stump where his leg had once been. But it wasn’t just that. Felix was missing his uniform too. The thin papery hospital gown didn’t seem like enough to cover his body. The plastic tubing in his nose didn’t seem like it would keep him breathing. His eyes were glassy and unfocused, his forehead bathed in sweat. He looked like Derrick at the height of his fever. If he could have touched him, Gaius thought he would have placed a hand on his brow and whispered the same prayer.
Felix began his song once more, his voice rising to the ceiling, twisting in the air, spiralling up to the heavens. His voice was blessed. Gaius felt hallowed by it. He closed his eyes and he felt himself stepping inside the Opera House again. He was walking up the aisle with his Six by his side and their child in his arms. Gaius had visited the Opera House many times in his thoughts since Six had revealed it to him on Kobol. It was the most sacred place that he knew. It was a temple of notes, ripples and harmonies. And for the first time, it had a singer.
Gaius could see Felix on the stage, dressed in a suit with long black tails. He was singing all alone in a place where only Gaius and the angels could hear him. He sang his lament over and over, trying to bring an end to a long dark act. Gaius couldn’t imagine what was coming for Felix. He had never seen his friend in the spotlight before. He looked sick and daunted as he stood before the many chairs and balconies. But he wouldn’t stop singing until it was over.
Gaius felt the tears slipping down his cheeks as his voice began to fade. The lights were dimming now too. The walls did not seem so golden. The stage was covered with blood red roses. Gaius watched as the curtain descended on Felix. He knew the moment it fell he would never see his face again or hear his voice...
All went quiet and the vision slipped away. Gaius was left clutching at the plastic curtain. He blinked his eyes and saw that Felix had fallen asleep. The ward was silent now but for the bleep of the support machines, the muffled coughing of patients in nearby beds and the squeak of shoes across the floor. The ward felt terribly empty to Gaius without the singing, though he was relieved to see Felix resting, free from his pain. Yet as Gaius walked away from his bed the tears were still dripping from his chin, because he finally knew why he had come here…he knew it for certain…
Something in the universe loved Felix Gaeta.
It had taken so long for Gaius to realise it was him.