Prometheus had been teaching for a long, long time. He’d seen students come, and students go. He’d been vilified by the ones who didn’t want more than a rubber stamp on their way out the door, and thanked by those who genuinely wanted to learn.
No single student had made a very deep impression until Matthew had entered his class on the first day of this year. The kid had the fire in his eyes that Prometheus remembered from the early days of his existence—the fire that built nations.
Thin, pale, with a shock of straw-colored hair that stuck up every which-way, brilliant green eyes that snapped and sparked when his interest was caught, Matthew grabbed Prometheus’s attention from the moment he sat down in the center of the front row, arranged his notebook and took out a pen. The kid had sat there, taking notes for the entire class, then dominated the question and answer session at the end of the lecture (not that he’d had any competition—no one else really seemed to care).
And then, he’d started missing class—a day here, a day there. His pale complexion had faded into sickly, and his hair had taken on the texture of straw as well as the color. His eyes, though, hadn’t dulled.
And Prometheus had worried.
Turned out he was right to.
“Matthew, could you stay a moment, please,” Prometheus had asked earlier in the day.
“Sure, Mr. P,” he’d answered, sinking back down into his seat.
Prometheus stood by the door, waiting silently for the rest of the class to make their escape, and closed the door behind them. “I’ve been a little worried, Matthew,” he began, sitting on the front edge of his desk, a few feet in front of his student. “You started out this year with such promise, and you’ve been absent more than a student like you should be. You have begun looking…unwell,” Prometheus finished. “If there’s anything I can do, please ask.”
Matthew’s eyes dropped from Prometheus’s face as he started to speak; by the time he was finished, the boy glared at the floor. “It’s nothing you can do anything about,” he said, voice low and hollow. “I look ‘unwell’ because I am. My kidneys are failing, and the doctors don’t know why, or how to stop it.”
Prometheus sucked in a sharp breath, then moved to kneel next to his student. “Do you mind if I call your parents?” he asked gently. “There are all manner of possibilities. Don’t give up hope, Matthew.”
The boy squeezed his eyes shut, slouching in his seat, ducking his head down to rest his chin on his chest. His hair, while not long, was long enough to hide his face in this position. It didn’t hide the drops of water that began falling onto his tightly crossed arms. “It’s not that I’ve given up, Mr. P.,” he whispered. “It hurts, and I’m scared.”
Prometheus had knelt there, helplessly, but there, while his student had gathered the shreds of his control, then had stood and written the boy a note for his next class. Then, during his planning period, he’d called Apollo.
“Hey, Prometheus, long time no hear,” Apollo said. “What kind of kids will I be looking at in a few years?”
“Same old same old,” Prometheus replied “with one exception. This kid is extremely bright, questions everything, and has the fire in his belly that’s been so lacking lately.”
“Really,” Apollo said, intrigued. “You got a world-changer? Send him on to me or to Athena—you know what kind of scholarships are out there for him, so money shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Money’s not the problem,” Prometheus said soberly. “Kid’s kidneys are failing, and nobody can figure out why, or what to do about it. I was hoping you’d make room in your schedule for him.”
“I can do that,” Apollo said slowly, “but I can’t do it on your request. It has to come either from his parents or a referral from his primary care doc. Unfortunately, a referral will take a couple months to get through the bureaucratic layers around my office, so that probably isn’t the best way to go to get him to me quickly. Tell you what, why don’t you give his parents my cell phone number? I’ll do this pro bono. Least I can do for a world-changer.”
“Thanks, Apollo. I owe you one.”
Apollo laughed. “Sure you do. That one, as soon as he’s graduated, unless he’s more suited to Athena.”
Prometheus slowly stacked the essay tests he had yet to grade, and turned to erase the board. It was long after school hours, and he wondered if Matthew’s parents were home, or if he’d be interrupting dinner if he called. He decided to wait a couple hours longer—give them time, and give himself a chance to seek his own dinner.
There was this lovely Italian café, just right on his way home. He hadn’t eaten there in a while, and their tiramisu was better than ambrosia. Sounded just the ticket, he told himself.
Seven thirty found him looking up Matthew’s parents’ phone number, and dialing. A woman picked up, sounding exhausted and distracted. “Hello, Shepherd residence.”
“Mrs. Shepherd? I’m one of Matthew’s teachers, Prometheus. I was calling in regards to his absences,” he began.
“Look, Mr. Prometheus,” she said, voice sharp and angry. “My son is sick. He can’t help being absent as much as he has been. I’ve been assured by the principal and superintendent that, so long as he keeps up with his work, there will be no issues, and I’ve been assured by Matthew that he is doing his best.”
“I agree,” Prometheus said gently. “He’s doing quite well in classes. He told me today a bit about his illness, and I was calling to offer the services of a friend of mine.”
“Unless your friend is God himself, I doubt it will do any good,” she snapped. “The doctors can’t find anything wrong with him, besides the kidney failure. They can’t find a reason for that.”
“No, not God,” Prometheus said quietly. “Just Apollo.”
Silence met his statement. Then, “Apollo. The doctor that made the breakthrough in treating shaken baby syndrome. That Apollo?”
“Yes, that Apollo.”
“How soon can you make the appointment?”
“I can’t. I tried this afternoon. But he gave me permission to give you his private cell phone number so that you can.”
Her voice broke. “Please.”
He recited Apollo’s phone number, then cleared his throat. “The other reason I was calling was because I wanted to offer in-home tutoring for the evenings of the days Matthew can’t make it to school. He’s an extraordinarily gifted student, and I can’t stand the idea of him not meeting his potential.”
A choked sob met his offer, then her voice, trembling, accepted. He smiled, wished her and her family a good evening.
He waited near the phone, finishing up his grading, for two hours for the call he was expecting from Apollo. “Yes?” he said.
“I’ll be seeing the kid tomorrow. I’ll be getting his records faxed to me tomorrow morning—his mother said she’d camp out in the doctors’ offices until it was done,” Apollo said, sounding tired. “Is there something to this besides what you’ve told me?”
“Besides a boy with the potential to shape the world being deathly ill? No,” Prometheus answered, insulted. “I prefer my company much older, as you know.”
“I know, but I needed to be able to justify that to anyone that asked.” Apollo sighed. “I kind of miss the old days, when we weren’t questioned.”
“In some ways, maybe,” Prometheus replied. “But then again, I also like my liver where it is.”
Unsurprisingly, Matthew was absent the next day. Prometheus spent his day going through the motions of teaching—lecturing, answering questions, maintaining classroom discipline, assigning homework—and pointedly keeping his mind off of his favorite. After classes were over, he made the rounds of the boy’s other teachers, collecting homework, and headed out to his bright red Volkswagen Rabbit. He navigated through the early rush traffic, headed toward the address printed on the outside of the manila folder holding Matthew’s homework.
He also had collected, as suggested reading, some Dover Thrift copies of some early philosophical works, and early political system treatises. There was a project coming up in his class, and all of the relevant texts were checked out of the school’s library.
He parked the car at the curb, behind Apollo’s white Jaguar convertible, glad to see his friend was taking the case so seriously.
Then again, Apollo loved a puzzle.
He gathered the bag of books, and the folder, and stepped out of his car. The medium-sized, grey brick ranch with the burgundy metal roof was impeccably landscaped and maintained—the walk up to the front porch was lined with low-growing flowering groundcover in a similar burgundy to the roof, and white. The metal railing surrounding the level porch had white climbing roses obscuring the pattern. The paint on the trim, window frames, and door was fresh and unmarred.
An outsider would never know that their teenage son was so ill, Prometheus noted.
He knocked on the door, waited for a moment, then opened the storm door and knocked again. A man in his mid forties answered. He had Matthew’s sharply intelligent eyes, but in brown, and if his salt-and-pepper black hair weren’t cut so unforgivingly short, would likely stick out in all directions, like Matthew’s. “Mr. Shepherd? I’m Matthew’s teacher, Prometheus.”
“Tim,” the other man said, holding his hand out. “Mr. Shepherd is my father, and my wife Angie says that you put us in contact with Apollo. We can’t thank you enough,” he finished, shaking Prometheus’s hand with both of his.
“Well, your son is too bright of a flame to be doused so easily,” Prometheus said, a little uncomfortable with the urgency in the man’s greeting. “It’s my privilege to help.”
“Dad? Is that Mr. P.?”
Prometheus hid his dismay at the weakness in Matthew’s voice. “Not a good day, I take it,” he murmured as Tim led the way through a sage and tan living room to a small bedroom lined in bookcases near a three-quarter bath.
“Not at all,” Tim replied quietly, then turned to head into a different part of the house.
Prometheus turned away from the door, frowning after Tim’s abrupt departure. Apollo sat in a rolling desk chair next to the bed, legs stretched out in front of him, reading through a three inch thick file. “That certainly was unexpected,” he muttered.
“Dad doesn’t like to see me like this,” Matthew said. “Mom said you offered to tutor me while I was sick. Is that my homework, Mr. P.?”
Prometheus sat down on the floor next to the bed, nudging Apollo back over toward the desk. “It is. I brought some materials for the project due at the end of the year, too. Since all of the library’s copies were gone,” he said, fishing around in the white plastic bag with THANK YOU printed repeatedly in red down both sides, “I brought you your own copies of some of what I think the most useful texts might be.”
Matthew’s eyes lit up, but his smile was more exhausted than Prometheus had ever seen. “Thanks, Mr. P. I think that might be the best thing a teacher’s ever done for me. I’ll read through those as quick as I can, and get ‘em back to you.”
“You misunderstood: those are your copies,” Prometheus said kindly, pulling the manila folder out. “How about we go through what your classes did today, and you can ask me any questions you have?”
Matthew struggled to sit up a bit more, and Prometheus rose up onto his knees, lifting him by the shoulders and tucking his pillows a bit more firmly under him. A sharp inhalation from next to the desk brought both of them to glance at Apollo.
Apollo didn’t notice. He hunched over one of the later pages in the medical records, finger lightly tracing a line, then another, then another. “Matthew,” he said absently, “how old were you when you were having these repeated UTIs?”
“I think I was in third grade, or so,” the boy said after a moment of thought.
“Uh-huh. Several instances, all long-running, of a particular antibiotic—nitrofuranotonin—that can cause renal issues. Then, methylphenidate. Long running, again. Then paroxitine, which I assume is to combat the nervousness—“
“Panic attacks,” Matthew corrected, “if I so much as stepped out of my room.”
Apollo made a note in the file. “Panic attacks, then. Caused by the ADHD medication that has since been discontinued, I hope.”
“Yeah, Angie said my mom was full of something I can’t say if I don’t want her washing my mouth out with soap,” Matthew said wryly. “Mom thought I had ADHD, and wouldn’t hear otherwise from my teachers, the various doctors she took me to, or anybody. Three years ago, when I started having problems, she hunted Dad down, and dropped me on him.”
“We didn’t know of his existence until then,” a woman’s voice broke in. “How are you feeling, Matt?”
“Better,” he said, smiling tiredly. “This is Mr. P.,” he said, waving an eraser toward his teacher before rubbing out an incorrect step on his algebra.
“Charmed,” Angie said, glancing back at Apollo. “You have an idea about what’s wrong.”
“I do,” Apollo said, looking somber. “It’s a cascade of issues, really, where each built on the one previous. I’m afraid that, while I know what’s causing the problem, there’s nothing I can do to reverse it, short of a kidney transplant.”
Angie turned white, swaying, and grabbed the door facing. Apollo jumped up and took her by the elbow, guiding her to sit down, then pushed her head down to her lap. “Breathe, Mrs. Shepherd,” he said softly, glancing over toward Matthew.
The boy looked surprisingly unsurprised, Prometheus thought, following Apollo’s line of sight. “You expected that,” he said quietly.
Matthew nodded. “Mom said that kidney failure is permanent, and that it was probably something genetic, but not her.”
“It wasn’t genetic, and it was her,” Apollo snapped. “What was she thinking?”
“That she wanted a girl, and I wouldn’t act like a girl,” Matthew said flatly. “So, she tried to medicate me into it. With judicious application of therapy, of course.”
“Why would she do that?” Prometheus asked, aghast.
Angie sat up with a smile of thanks for Apollo. “Matthew’s biological mother is a big name in feminist rhetoric,” she said. “Tim left donations at a sperm bank because I can’t have children, he doesn’t want to raise them without me, and didn’t want his genes to die with him. Matthew’s mother was the one that received his particular lot. She wanted a girl. Matt is a wonderful boy, but all she saw was boy.”
“So she tried to ‘fix’ him and wound up nearly killing him,” Apollo said. “I hate ‘parents’ like that.”
Matthew sighed and laid his head back. “Mr. P., would you mind coming back tomorrow?” he asked. “I’m kind of tired.”
Prometheus smiled gently. “Of course, Matthew. Get some rest.”
Apollo stood, closing the file sharply. “Let me get a blood sample, and I can start looking for preliminary matches,” he said, pulling a syringe out of nowhere and approaching the bed. He wrapped his hand around Matthew’s wrist, expertly slid the needle into a vein on the back of his hand and quickly drew blood. He was done before Matthew had time to flinch.
Angie Shepherd ushered both men out of her stepson’s room, closing the door behind them. “Thank you so much for your help, gentlemen,” she said, trying to smile. “I hope you don’t mind if I show you to the door. Matthew isn’t the only one tired.”
Prometheus grabbed Apollo by the arm, smiling at Matthew’s stepmother. “Of course we don’t mind. Please give Matthew’s father our regards.”
Before Apollo had time to say anything, the two of them were out on the front porch, and heading down the walk to their cars. Prometheus climbed behind the wheel, and followed his younger friend down the road, around the corner, and through the interesting little dimensional shift that Hephaestus had come up with for travel in vehicles. He parked on the street, paralleling his Volkswagen between Apollo’s Jaguar and Artemis’s Hummer. And then he did a double take—yes, that was Artemis’s car. “I guess the rumors are true, then,” he muttered as he climbed out of his car.
“What rumors?” Apollo asked, absent-mindedly. He glanced up, then noticed the behemoth parked behind the Rabbit. “Oh, those. Yes, those rumors are true. Now. Why did you follow me?”
“I want to be a compatible donor to my student,” Prometheus said.
Apollo waved a hand toward the front door. “Why don’t you come in? And what gave you that crazy idea?”
“Think about it, kiddo,” Prometheus said kindly, brushing a thumb over the bottom of his ribcage, reminding Apollo of his long punishment. “I can give up a kidney and have it back the next day. Matthew’s are gone.”
“So, what: are you planning to donate a kidney to every kid that needs it?” Apollo asked, unlocking the door.
“I certainly don’t see why not, since it’ll grow back,” Prometheus replied. “And why limit it to a kidney? I’ve got a perfectly good liver, too.”
Apollo let out a sudden bark of laughter, shoving the door open. “Come on in. Kat’s got a night class to teach, and Artemis is cooking.”
“Beats yours,” Prometheus agreed. “If you said you’d fix me supper, I’d have turned you down flat. Now, about my student…”
Apollo held up the vial of blood. “Already assumed you were going to offer. I can’t call and tell the Shepherds that I’ve found even a partial match for a few days, and won’t tell them it’s you when the ‘testing’ is done.”
“Probably for the best,” Prometheus said, grimacing. “Stupid, cockbiting pedophile perverts creeping into education,” he growled.
Slim arms slipped around his waist from behind and Artemis propped her chin on his shoulder. “Tell us what you really think, Prometheus,” she said, smacking him on the cheek. “Long time no see.”
Prometheus shrugged Artemis off his back and turned to hug her. “Indeed. Maybe if you were more likely to go near a school, I’d see you more often.”
Artemis shuddered. “Not likely. So, what did you have Apollo off doing today?”
Apollo started hopping in place with excitement. “Prometheus found a world-builder, and brought him to me for help.”
Artemis eyed the two worriedly. “Help? He’s sick?”
Prometheus grimaced. “Some people shouldn’t be permitted to care for their own children. His biological mother nearly killed him. He needs a new kidney.”
“And Prometheus is going to provide them,” Apollo finished.
Prometheus raised an eyebrow and looked at Apollo carefully. “Them?”
“Why not? You’ll grow them back, the kid’s body won’t reject them, and it’ll give him a better chance to fully grow into his potential,” Apollo reasoned, ticking off the reasons on his fingers as he gave them.
Prometheus shrugged. “Guess you’re right.”
“So…”Artemis drawled. “Anyone up for Chinese tonight? I promised Kat I’d take her some when I picked her up after her night class office hours.”
Apollo fast-tracked the testing for compatibility, partially because it seemed Matthew worsened by the day, partially because there were no compatibility issues—Prometheus made sure of that. Once he got a good sample of Matthew’s blood, he aligned his own body to be more compatible than almost any organ donation could possibly be, short of an identical twin.
Apollo scheduled the transplant for early morning—long before dawn—and had the procedure finished before noon. He woke Prometheus not long after, looking thoughtful. “Did you know,” he said slowly, “that you already have regrown your kidneys?”
Prometheus, still groggy from the sedation shrugged, then winced. “I s’pose I’m not s’prised,” he mumbled. “Vultures ate my liver all day. Shoulda known that medical help would make it go faster.”
“Let me help you roll over, and I’ll heal your incisions. You can go home and sleep a bit, and come back later to visit Matthew after he’s been awake awhile. We’ll talk about other possible beneficiaries of your particular ability later.”
Prometheus grunted assent, and cooperated, flopping down onto his stomach. “How am I to get home?” he asked, face half buried in the pillow.
“Athena is coming to pick you up after a bit,” Apollo said distractedly as he worked his magic in Prometheus’s wounds. “She wants to pick your brain about students, and how to inspire them into what they could be, instead of what they are.”
Prometheus groaned as the warmth of Apollo’s healing washed away the lingering discomfort in the swiftly healing incisions, basking in the comforting sensations. Then the sense of Apollo’s words filtered through the fog in his head. “What? Why?”
“Because we think the world is going to need them,” Apollo answered.
“I don’t have any ideas,” Prometheus confessed. “Why do you think I was so desperate to save Matthew?”
“I’d kind of guessed. Try sitting up, now.”
Prometheus rolled slowly onto his side, then over onto his back. “Still too dizzy,” he said.
“Let’s raise the head of the bed, then. We need to get you out of here sooner than later. I told the Shepherds you’d called in to work today to come see him when he gets out of surgery. I was supposed to have called you,” Apollo said, pressing the button on the bed’s railing. He dropped one of the rails, and perched his hip on the edge of the bed, reaching out for Prometheus’s head.
Warmth enveloped his ears and his balance abruptly reset, then spread throughout the rest of his body, chasing the last effects of the anesthetic from his system. “Thanks for covering for me,” he said. He gingerly sat up away from the bed’s support, then scooted forward to swing his legs around to the edge of the bed as Apollo moved out of his way. “I think I’m good, now.”
“Good,” a cool alto said from the doorway behind him. “Might want to change into street clothes, though. Doubt you want to be showing that much off, nice as it looks.”
Both men turned to face Athena, Prometheus with a blush he could feel to his toes. He reached around behind himself and held the gown closed. “Ever heard of knocking?” he asked, irritated.
Athena smirked. “I have, but the door was open.”
Apollo rolled his eyes. “This area is supposed to be restricted to medical personnel only,” he said patiently. “You were supposed to wait for Prometheus to come out.”
“I only have so long before my next batch of office hours, which I really need to be there for,” Athena said, shrugging. “Ready to go?”
“I will be in five minutes,” Prometheus snapped. “Starting when you at the very least turn your back so I can get dressed.”
“You know, I think he was less short tempered when the vultures were eating his liver without anesthetic,” Athena whispered loudly to Apollo.
“Anesthetic does affect some people like that, but then again, you do, too,” Apollo replied, taking Athena by the elbow and steering her into the hall. He reached around behind him and slid the curtains across the sliding glass door of the recovery wing, and slid the door shut.
Prometheus walked back into the hospital four hours later, as a visitor, this time. He and Athena hadn’t come to any conclusions, except for noting the possible factor that the cultural disregard for intellectual achievement and curiosity that started in middle school. Prometheus had shrugged helplessly and said he couldn’t stand children much younger then the young teens he saw in his high school freshman classes, and suggested they recruit Charion for his district’s middle school, where he could watch for any improvements in the students’ attitudes toward school and learning.
It wasn’t much, but it was the best the two could come up with in a twenty-minute car ride between the hospital and Prometheus’s home.
He shook off the slight depression that that discussion had brought on as he stopped at the information desk to ask after Matthew. He listened attentively, then headed for the elevators and the third floor recovery wing, room 30.
He stood outside the door, out of sight, for a few moments, listening to see if Matthew was awake. He heard a low murmur of a woman’s voice, then a man’s, before he heard his student’s voice in a cracked mutter. He raised a hand and knocked.
Angie answered the knock, and smiled brightly, tear tracks still tracing her cheeks. She stepped out into the hall and closed the door behind herself, then flung her arms around Prometheus’s neck. “Thank you, so much, for putting us in contact with Apollo,” she whispered. “Matthew’s only been in our lives for three years, but I can’t imagine a world without him anymore. Neither can his father.”
Prometheus smiled, gently disengaging Angie’s arms from his neck and taking her hands. “It was my pleasure to do what I could. Truly. Matthew is a very special boy, and the world would be a poorer place without him.”
The rest of the school year passed uneventfully, but for the project Matthew turned in at the end of the semester: a sixty page thesis about the cycle of civilization that was far beyond the scope of all of the projects handed in by the seniors, much less those handed in by the freshmen in Prometheus’s Western Civ-style world history course. More telling was that Matthew projected, based on past civilizations, the direction that current Western thought was taking.
Of course, he sent it on to Athena, and she was eagerly awaiting the boy’s arrival into her own class.
Wrapping up the year hadn’t taken any more or less time than usual, but it was finally all over until fall brought the children back to his classroom. He knew he’d have Matthew for his AP Western Civilization class, and likely in his Classics class the next year.
Night had fallen, and Prometheus sat out on his small patio behind his modest ranch home in the suburbs near his high school, listening to the neighborhood children chasing fireflies. The air felt like silk against his skin as he sighed, relaxing into his padded patio lounger he’d pulled out only that day.
A twig at the side of his patio snapped, and his eyes drifted back open to see Apollo standing at the edge of his patio, glancing around his back yard in obvious approval. “So, this is why you didn’t answer your phone,” he said.
Prometheus nodded, then sighed again, completely boneless in his post-teaching relaxation. “Go on in through the French doors and take the doorway on the left. There’s beer in the fridge.”
“I could use one,” Apollo agreed wearily. “I need your help. I’ve got a patient that’s six, and desperately needs a bone marrow transplant.”
“What do you need me to do?” Prometheus asked, sitting up.
Apollo held up a small vial of blood. “Same thing you did with Matthew, only we need a sample of bone marrow from your femur, not an organ.”
“Yeah,” Apollo sighed. “We’ve been looking for a match for a while, then I thought of you.”
“Why didn’t you think of me first?” Prometheus asked. “I thought I’d made it clear before we took care of Matthew that I was willing to be a standing organ donor.”
Apollo shook his head, opening the door. “Because I totally forgot that part,” he said, chuckling wryly. “Mind if I sit a while here with you? It’s peaceful here, and both Kat and Artemis are having their moon time.”
Prometheus shuddered. “You know, if you need something stronger than beer, my whiskey is in the cabinet above the fridge,” he offered. “There’s a reason I’ve never lived with women. Too high of maintenance, and they never know when a relationship is over.”