Oh, The Places You'll Go

Blood Will Tell

Notes: Written for the sportsbackinsn challenge. Prompt: Operación Puerto disqualifies four of five title contenders before the Tour de France even starts. Post-series. Beta by phoebesmum and lordessrenegade to whom, as always, love and thanks.


When Charlie turned fourteen he got his ears pierced three times each, dyed his entire wardrobe black, grew his hair out, started listening to bands with names like Hawthorne Heights and Sorry About Dresden, and refused to talk for two months. Lisa couldn't handle him: Charlie didn't want her to. So he moved in with Dan and Casey. "Two gay dads," he said. "And famous. It's like I'm sweet squared." Casey didn't even attempt to figure out the mathematics of that one.

Casey couldn't seem to find any points of connection with his newly hatched emo-goth son. Dan was the one Charlie could always talk to, about the general suckiness of life and girls in particular. "Isn't it the stepparent who is supposed to be the ogre?" Casey would complain on a regular basis. "It's not that I stop him doing everything he wants to, it's just I only understand about twenty percent of what he says."

So when Casey came in from grocery shopping one day to find Charlie on the edge of his seat watching the Tour de France, patting the cushion next to him and saying "Dad, you have GOT to watch this," he was so pleased that Dan got an extra treat in bed that night. "Don't go overboard now, Casey," warned Dan. "If you push it, he'll just walk away." Casey had learned the hard way that Dan knew what he was talking about and shelved plans to buy matching racing bikes and Lycra cycling jerseys — black for Charlie, of course. Dan pointed out that Lycra wasn't the most flattering material for a man of advancing years so then of course Casey had to prove that getting older didn't mean he was any less fit.

Charlie wrote a long entry in his blog that night.

They followed the whole Tour together, researching each stage on the internet, wincing and cheering over Lance Armstrong's progress.

"Because I used to live in Texas, Dad," Charlie said. "And he's Texan. So that means we have this special connection."

"Riiiiiight," said Casey.

And when the Tour was over and the celebrating was done, the speculation started. Who was going to take the 2006 Tour? The race was wide open. It was going to be a hell of a thing.

By the next day Charlie had reverted to his monosyllabic, hair-flicking self. Casey sighed internally and told himself it was only 49 weeks until his enthusiastic son came back.

***

Casey planned to watch the 2006 Tour Prologue on live feed with Charlie (the Tour was the only thing Charlie would get out of bed before noon on a Saturday for). A nice bit of father and son bonding. They could argue the merits of Landis over Ullrich, Basso over Mancebo.

It was a good plan. It was a really good plan.

"Casey, have you seen this?" Jeremy waved a sheaf of papers in his face.

"Jeremy, I just walked through the door. Also I've never been too hot on reading paper that's moving at, like, 100 miles an hour."

"Oh. Yes. Sure." Jeremy stopped waving and bobbed a bit on the spot. "It's. I really think you're not going to be happy."

"Spit it out."

"It's something called Operación Puerto — an anti-doping case. The Spanish police arrested this doctor — Fuentes his name is — on ..." he checked the papers, "the 23rd of May along with the director of Seguros-Würth, now Astana-Würth. Apparently Fuentes had all these coded notebooks and they've been trying to figure out who was involved. Now they've released names of cyclists who're allegedly involved. They won't give final numbers — we've got about thirty here." He waved the paper again.

"Show me." Casey read off the list. The news was not good. "Crap. Now what?"

"We're getting bits through all the time. Ullrich and Sevilla are already suspended."

Dan appeared at Casey's shoulder.

"What kind of doping?"

"Steroids, blood products."

"No way."

"Yes way, Danny."

"Nah. Look, Ullrich's got this whole altitude chamber in his basement so he can train clean. Why go to all that trouble and expense if you're just going to let some doctor literally bleed you dry? It doesn't make sense."

"It doesn't have to make sense. It just is."

"Do we have live feed?" asked Casey.

"No. There are satellite issues. We're getting calls. And the wires are over-heating. Look, we're going to have to do a piece on this; I've put Gina in charge of collating the details. I don't need to tell you no jokes, do I?"

Casey felt the usual twinge of 'I've been doing this far longer than you have, you young whippersnapper' that he got whenever Jeremy seemed to be teaching him to suck eggs. He knew he wasn't really — he was just doing his job, but sometimes Casey looked at Jeremy and saw the guy who couldn't swallow eggnog instead of the successful Executive Producer who had raised their ratings one and a half share points. He tensed, and felt Dan's hand on his elbow.

"We'll handle it, Jeremy," said Dan and was about to steer Casey off when they heard a loud "FUCK, NO!" from Gina (to her chagrin, still often referred to as NewKim, despite having replaced her on the team three years previously) who was on the phone twentysome feet away at her desk.

"Gina!" admonished Jeremy.

"Sorry!" Gina called, pressing the receiver into her chest. "Basso's gone. And Mancebo and Beloki."

"Not Basso," moaned Casey. "I can't believe it. You know what this means? It means that with Armstrong retired there's only one cyclist left from last year's top five. Tell me Vino's clean. Somebody tell me Vino's clean." He lifted his hands in supplication. "Please."

"So far so good," said Elliot, walking past and patting Casey on the back.

For the next couple of hours it was chaos. Rumours circulated. Tyler Hamilton, already suspended for doping, was involved. He wasn't involved. Armstrong was going to make a statement. The Tour might have to be cancelled. Or would it? Mancebo was retiring from cycling.

"Greg says it's crazy in Strasbourg. He says it feels like a witch-hunt but nobody knows what to believe. We're going to need to clear more time for this," said Jeremy in a hastily-convened meeting. "What can we bump?"

The phone rang. Everybody stilled. What now? Gina picked it up.

"Uh-huh ... Yep ... Yeah ... So that's how many? ... And then what? ... That sucks. Thanks, Greg. Uh-huh. Bye." She replaced the receiver and looked around at the expectant faces.

"Paulinho, Davis, Nozal and Contador. All gone. With Beloki that's five Astana-Würth riders. They don't have enough for the Tour. They're gone."

There was a dull thud as Casey's forehead hit the glass table.

"Oh, Vino," was all he said.

***

By late afternoon things had calmed down, the initial shock had worn off and now it was business as usual. Casey and Dan had written the usual doping-is-wrong segment to go alongside Greg's report and Casey could now say Vinokourov's name without looking like he was going to burst into tears.

Casey and Dan were in their office with Gina and Elliot going over the new, more detailed list of names released on Spanish radio.

"This is so bad. What's Charlie going to say?"

"What's Charlie going to say about what?" asked Charlie, wandering into the office and dropping his messenger bag on the floor.

"Hey Charlie," said Gina.

"'sup, NewKim?" replied Charlie, flicking his hair, then exchanging reverse nods with Elliot.

"Charles," said Dan.

"Daniel," said Charlie.

"Why are you here, Charlie?" asked Casey. "Aren't you supposed to be in the library?"

Charlie shrugged.

"I wanted to check out the Tour preparations. 's OK, right? And anyway, the library banned me from using my iPod so I, like, told them that music is to the soul what books are to the mind and they should stop thinking inside the box. They kinda banned me for a month."

Casey knew better than to get exasperated. Exasperated Casey led to enraged Charlie or it's-so-unfair-Charlie and, given what was coming, best not to go there.

"So what'll I say about what?" repeated Charlie, flumping down on the couch.

The four adults looked from one to the other. Who was going to be brave enough to take this on? Gina took a step forward. Casey decided to do something really nice for her at some point; maybe call her by her proper name. That would be a start.

"It's like this ..." she began and explained the day's happenings.

"No," said Charlie.

"I'm sorry, champ, but it's all true," said Casey, hating the devastated look on his son's face.

"No. They wouldn't. They wouldn't. Would they?" He looked up through his long bangs. Casey's heart squeezed at how young and lost Charlie looked.

"We only know what's been reported, Charlie," said Dan. "We don't know if the police are right or wrong. So far it's the cyclists' words against the investigators'. We have to let it run its course."

"Yeah. But. It's the Tour de France, Danny. It's the best race on earth and the best people don't get to compete. There's no point. There's no point in any of it." He slumped in his seat.

Casey wished he knew the right thing to say.

"Come on, Charlie," said Dan. "Let's go for a snack. It's four in the afternoon; it must be time for some meal or other. I mean, it always is with you."

Charlie looked up, a hint of a smile on his face.

"I'm a growing boy. I have to eat every two hours; it's the law or something."

"If you say so."

"I do say so." Charlie got up and followed Dan out of the door.

"Bye, Charlie," said Gina and ruffled his hair.

"Bye," he replied, blushing and smoothing it down.

"Way to go, Casanova," Casey could hear Dan telling Charlie as they disappeared.

"Shut up."

"No, you shut up."

He pressed his lips together and gave a rueful smile.

"You're a good father, Casey," said Gina.

"What?"

"You've got that 'I suck' look on your face."

"I do?"

"You do. I mean you don't suck, you just have that look on your face. But you're a good dad, don't worry."

"Thanks, N ... Gina." Casey had a sudden, unwelcome thought. "Oh god, I have to have that 'drugs are bad' conversation with him now, right? It never stops."

"Quit whining," said Gina. "Danny did sex ed."

"Yeah, and Dana did personal hygiene."

"And I did how to not get punched by a girl."

"Good points. You want to take drugs, Elliot?"

"What? In my condition?" Elliot patted his overlarge stomach. Casey grinned.

Charlie and Dan returned, Charlie with an apple in one hand and two donuts in the other. He saw Casey's look.

"Balanced diet," he grinned. "One apple weighs the same as two donuts."

"Are you OK, Charlie? With the whole—"

"Yeah, sure," he shrugged. "These things happen and it was just a bunch of cyclists anyway so it's all good. I gotta go finish my homework." He headed off to the conference room, Dan following with his bag, lifting his arms in a what're-you-gonna-do gesture. Casey stared after him, stunned at the abrupt change.

"What the? Mood swings! I used to think they were for teenage girls."

"Ahem. Careful, Casey. NewKim used to be a teenage girl," said Elliot, making the sign of the cross with his fingers and aiming it towards Gina. "They protect their own."

"This is true," said Gina. "We have ninja hormone bombs and everything. Don't make me go ninja on your ass, Casey."

"All things considered, I think I preferred medieval. Twenty-first century slang," moaned Casey. "Why does everything have to change? I talk to Charlie and I feel like an anachronism."

"Inevitable forward march of time," said Elliot. "Won't be long until liver spots, you mark my words."

"Gee, thanks, Elliot."

"You're welcome. Come on, Gina, we need to go over the VTs for the Wimbledon coverage."

"Oy, tennis. Grunts and whiplash from interminable rallies. So much to look forward to. Laters, Casey." She headed off with Elliot.

"Um. Laters?" Casey couldn't help trying, though he knew he'd never carry it off.

He went in search of his son.

"So, like, the cedar tree is a sanctuary. It's all dead and hollowed out, it's like it's separate from time itself. When they're in there, they're protected from anything, from everything. But they're not really. The world's out there, waiting to get them. It's a false security." Charlie's voice wafted out of the open door of the conference room. He sounded confident and sure. Casey loved him like this, but was only too aware of how short-lived it could be.

"I think you've got at the essence of it there, Charlie," he heard Dan reply and hesitated on the threshold of the room. He was Charlie's father, why could he never shake the feeling that he was intruding?

"Going OK, guys?"

Charlie, now scribbling furiously, grunted in assent. Dan sent Casey the smile that still had the power to make him weak at the knees. It broke the invisible barrier that was stopping him and he stepped into the room, resting his hand briefly on his son's bowed head. It pleased him that he did not shake it off. Casey sat in a chair diagonally across from Charlie and watched him as he wrote. There was so much of Lisa in that fierce expression of concentration, so much of Casey too in the way he pulled his lip between his teeth. Casey had never found his son easy to understand; maybe he'd made it more complicated than it had to be, looked too hard for shared ground rather than exploring together the new ground Charlie had broken.

It was a strange sensation to miss his son when he was right there with him every day. Casey cursed the idiots who'd been eager to make a name for themselves but not eager to do it the hard way. The stupid cyclists who had let their blood be pumped out and pumped back in, veins deflating and inflating like inner tubes. They'd spoilt it, this one thing that he and Charlie had. They'd taken it and defaced it and maybe it was just sports as Lisa would say, but this time it was worse, it was personal.

"So," he broached, as Charlie laid down his pen. "About tomorrow?"

"God, yeah, early start. You're gonna have to bring me coffee."

"Early start?" Casey's heart gave a pathetic skip of joy. "You still want to come in and watch the Prologue. Even with those guys out?"

"Yeah. It's gonna be great. It's a whole new ball game. Well, race. We'll make a book."

"No, we won't."

"How about a spread bet?"

"Since when do you know about spread betting?"

Charlie shrugged and didn't flick his eyes towards Dan. So obvious was he in his not-flicking that Casey turned to his partner and glared.

"Plead the fifth," said Dan, smiling.

"No spread bets," said Casey, catching the smile and transferring it to his son.

"Trading chores?"

"Maybe. Oh, and Charlie?"

"Yeah."

"The coffee? Not happening. You know the rules."

"Aw, Dad."

"Aw, Charlie."

Charlie flicked his hair, almost-smiled at Casey and returned his attention to his homework. Casey's heart squeezed. So maybe he was miles away from Charlie when it came to music, to fashion, to pretty much everything — the weary autobus to Charlie's breakaway leader - but for the next three weeks they would be in the péloton, side by side and Casey intended to enjoy every single second of the ride.


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