Unlike  the silence of the pod, which was broken only by the pods own humming,  Dakarai's head was full of tumultuous, confused thoughts.

They'd looked. They'd kept looking.  They hadn't give up.

The last few days...or was it weeks? He wasn't sure.  Either way, it had been a seriously unpleasant blur.

He'd hurt Zara.  He glanced sideways at her, perched nervously on the  comfortably worn seat beside him.  That had been the start of the  downward spiral.  They'd been training, he couldn't understand the  technique Juan was showing them.  Zara picked up everything so easily.   Frustration was normal, but then it had been intolerable.  He hadn't  meant to hit her that hard.  Then Juan had confronted him about his stim  usage.  Dakarai bristled slightly.  Juan wasn't his father, he didn't  have any right to tell him what to do.

But he didn't give up.

He'd gone to Megan.  She was scared of him.  Megan was scared.  Of  him.  The girl he loved more than life itself was scared of him.  Andrew  wouldn't leave them alone, he'd been scared of what he could do to  Megan.  Dakarai would never, ever hurt Megan.  Ever.  And yet he'd  punched out Andrew over the insinuation.  One of the two best friends  he'd ever had.  Megan had dumped him then.  He was mad at them.  But  then again, he deserved it.  Dakarai inhaled deeply, exhaled slowly.

Juan had called.  And called.  And called.  And when he finally  seemed to get that Dakarai wasn't going to answer, the texts had started  coming.  Then they'd petered out, the last one simply requesting that  he at least tell them he was all right.  By that stage the smokes and  the pot and the junk food had chilled Dakarai out enough that he had  been starting to miss them, so he had responded that he was alive.  It  had taken a monumental effort to then ask if he could come home.  It had  been an immense relief to get an affirmative response.

And then Zara had showed up.  She didn't know the friend he had been  crashing with.  He didn't know how she could have tracked him down.

She'd told him everything.  How Juan had smashed through the bamboo  grove in the backyard and then not treated himself afterwards after  Dakarai had left.  How he'd gotten mad at her because she didn't want to  condition too hard the following day as he had huge bruises and welts  on his limbs, then apologised afterwards and explained as best he could  that he felt like a failure as a parent because he didn't know how to  cope with Dakarai's drug use, and had toyed with the idea of giving them  up in the hope that they would be fostered by someone more "qualified"  for the job, but in the end he was willing to do the best he could, and  would fight for them if he had to.  She told him how Juan had gone out  every night searching for him, how she had heard him venting his  frustrations on the punching bags.  She had taken a couple of days to  convince him to let her go and look instead.

She'd started at the obvious place, going to see their mutual  girlfriend, then trawling the fight circuits starting with his manager  (the bastard who had gotten him onto the stim to begin with...but he  could have refused it...), and trawling networks before finally tracking  him down to where he'd been crashing.

His own father hadn't searched that hard for him.  All his own father  had to do was check in with Family Services and they would hand him the  information he needed to find him.  His own father had, as far as  Dakarai could tell, not only given him up for dead, he hadn't even  bothered to see if there was a body to collect.  His adoptive family had  searched relentlessly until they'd found him.  It was confusing.  It  was humbling.  It was painful.  No wait that was the stim withdrawals.   He desperately needed a smoke.

"Dak?" Zara's voice stole timidly into his maelstrom of thoughts, offering a sactuary.  He latched onto it.  "You right?"

"Yeah."  He made himself look her in the eye, which he had been  unable to do since she had rocked up on the doorstep.  The light was  right in the pod so he could see her luminous eyes through the red  lenses of her goggles, filled with concern and a touch of fear.  Her  posture was nervous but not defensive.  She was not afraid of him.   Perhaps she was afraid for him.  Or of what could happen as a result of  his stim usage.  The twins had said something to that effect before he'd  left them.

He needed to apologise to Megan.  He might have muffed things too  badly for her to forgive him, but it needed to be done, nevertheless.   He needed to sort out with Juan.  That would be soon.  He needed to do  something about Zara.  He hated that she was so nervous around him.  It  felt all kinds of wrong.  And he really, really needed to sort himself  out and clean up.

"Zip," he said.  She murmured in response, tilting her head, the  striking red head feathers floating behind.  The sight of them filled  him with a deep loathing for what they represented.  The feeling was  fleeting.  He had loved her for so long, he could overlook them.  He  made himself loosen his posture, put one arm across the seat back.  "I'm  really, really sorry.  Please...?" he left it hanging, not quite sure  what he wanted to say.  She gazed at him for a moment, her expression  unreadable, then she scooted to his side, resting her head on his  shoulder.  He curled his arm around her shoulders, the shudder of  revulsion at the touch of the feathers on his bare arm suppressed with  practised ease, and rested his head on hers.  She forgave him, at  least.  It would make it easier to get through whatever else had  to happen.