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Jacopo had never had a panic attack before, but he was pretty sure this was what it felt like. His breathing was involuntarily shallow, like he was incapable of drawing enough air to fill his lungs. His hands were shaking and he couldn’t seem to make them stop. He felt distant from himself, out of control of his own body, as if his soul had been projected outwards and was watching with a frown. You’re messing this up.

What was wrong with him? He’d never been this way before, not even when he’d been arrested – both times. Then he’d felt a strange sense of calm at having his freedom removed from him, as though a better driver had just taken the wheel. Now it felt like he was still in the driver’s seat but was paralysed, unable to move, while his sixteen year-old daughter was in the passenger seat beside him.

‘Surprise’ didn’t cut it. Jacopo now understood the phrase in shock. It wasn’t an emotion; it was a state of being.

He stepped back from the bars and sat down on the bed, gripping the edge of it with his hands. All of this was wrong. Olive should have been too young to understand his predicament, even by the time he got out. Assuming he’d been allowed to have a role in her life, he shouldn’t have had to explain himself until all of this was a distant and unpleasant memory. And yet here she was, stood in front of his cage. Sixteen. Pregnant.

He bit his tongue, hard, a physical rebuke against the questions forming on the tip. Who was Cypress? She’d said her sister, but was that a twin – did he have two daughters – or had Birch moved on to another man in her new world? How was Birch? Where was Birch? And Olive – pregnant – how – why…?

I’m going to be a grandfather before I’ve been a father. Pause. Assuming I’m invited to be either.

Jacopo swallowed his desperate curiosity down. If there was one thing prison taught you, it was your place in the social hierarchy. Criminals were somewhere down on the floor with the rats. And even if he weren’t incarcerated, scum of the planet, a scourge on society, worthless, ineligible for human rights – or whatever else people said about prisoners these days – he wouldn’t have the right to put himself first now. If she wanted to update him, she could have written him a letter – or Birch could. This was Olive’s time now.

What the hell was he supposed to say?

He rubbed his temples with his fingers, conscious of the silence which had passed between them when she finished talking.

“Olive, I…” He was going to fuck this up. He fucked everything up. “I don’t know what Birch told you. My name is Jacopo Agani. I’m Italian – from Earth. I trained with the Divine Scribes to be an archivist.”

He frowned at his hard, calloused hands, well aware that he looked anything but a paper-pusher.

“I loved your mother.” He said quietly. “I’ve loved you since I knew you existed. I’ll answer honestly any questions you have.”


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