"So, can I pick my own grown-up name?"
Apollo hoped he hadn't winced visibly. "No, Boxey," he said. "You may not."
"Why not?" he whined, proving that he might be old enough for his permanent name but that that hardly made him a grown-up.
On the other hand, Apollo reflected, whining wasn't unknown in grown-ups. Look at Starbuck. "Because," he said to his son, "you might pick something that would embarrass you hideously later in your life."
"You mean, like Greenbean?"
"Exactly." Silently Apollo blessed the lanky pilot for being such a good bad example. "Don't worry, we won't stick you with something you hate. You know I've told you you get to pick from our list, and if you hate them all, we'll come up with something we can all live with. Okay?"
By the sound of it, he might actually be going to accept it this time. A good thing, too, Apollo thought, tucking the blanket in around the little boy. After all, Boxey's Name Festival was only a secton away.
"Can I have anyone I want there?"
Apollo repressed the shudder that was his first reaction to the thought of Boxey's friends and their probable behavior during the ceremony. And their poor parents, terrified of messing up the Commander's grandson's Naming Ceremony... "We already talked about this," he said. "Your guest list for the party is all set. Did you forget someone?" How could he have? Were there any children on the battlestar he hadn't asked?
"I don't mean for the party. I mean for the ceremony. To be in it, I mean."
"The ceremony is for your family," Apollo responded. "Your grandfather and I will be there, and your Aunt Athena."
"Yes." Apollo still wasn't sure how he felt about his baby sister getting so serious about a man. But serious she was, as he'd never seen her. "They're probably going to be Sealed soon, so he's practically family."
And Boxey said, "So Sheba's coming?"
"No, I don't think so," Apollo said. And, in fact, ever since Athena had presented him with the opportunity to ask Sheba, and he hadn't, he'd seen in the other pilot's brown eyes the knowledge that they weren't going anywhere. Lately, she'd been busy when he called more often than not. He couldn't say he was upset, even after almost a yahren of seeing her. He'd tried, but his heart had never been in it. Frequently he wasn't even sure why he was trying at all, except for Boxey. And now he wondered if he should have been trying harder. "She's on duty," he excused her. And she could have asked off for this. Would have only a couple of sectares ago. He could still take care of that, though. "Do you want her?"
"No," Boxey shook his shaggy dark head. "Well, I don't mind if she comes. She's all right, I guess. But I want Starbuck to be there."
"Don't you want him to come?"
"Of course I do. But you already asked him."
"I said, not to the party. I mean I want him to come to the party, but I want him to come to the ceremony, too." In the face of his father's continuing silence, he added, a little worriedly, "Don't you?"
"The ceremony is for family," Apollo repeated. "Starbuck's not family."
"He's like family, though. Grandfather invites him to family dinners."
Apollo shook himself out of his memories and said, carefully, "That's a nice idea, Boxey, but he might not want to come."
"Starbuck likes me," Boxey said confidently.
"Yes, he does. But that doesn't mean he'll want to come."
"Why wouldn't he?"
Oh, Lords of Kobol. "There are many reasons, Boxey," he echoed his own mother's words. "None of them would mean he didn't like you."
"Did you ask him already?" Boxey's tone was apprehensive.
"No. No, I didn't."
"Then, can I? I know he'll come."
He might, at that, Apollo realized. He might find it too hard to say 'No' to Boxey. "Yes," he said finally. "You may ask him. But, Boxey, if he says he can't, don't badger him."
"Okay, Dad. I won't badger him."
Looking down at his son, Apollo understood that Boxey didn't think begging and making big eyes counted as 'badgering'. He started to tell the boy to ask once and then let it drop, but then changed his mind and said, "Fine. Just understand that he might say 'No' for a lot of reasons that don't have anything to do with you, okay?"
"I know. He doesn't come to Temple. But he does, sometimes. Like weddings."
"I know. Just remember what I said. And go to sleep now." He bent over and kissed Boxey's cheek and then left, putting out the light as he did. Out in the front room he sat on the sofa, hoping he'd done the right thing. He couldn't tell Boxey not to ask Starbuck to come. But Starbuck did like the boy; he'd probably come even if he didn't want to. And maybe by now whatever reasons he'd had before would have gone away; after all, he did come to dinner at Adama's. And even if he didn't, if he told Boxey the same thing he'd said before, the boy would probably have the bad manners to ask him what he meant.
That almost made Apollo smile.
He hoped Boxey wouldn't hesitate to tell Starbuck he was like family. He could probably get away with it. And Starbuck was, even if the words hadn't been said. Whether he wanted it or not.
And Apollo wasn't entirely sure if Starbuck did. That was the problem. Oh, he came to dinner, still, maybe not as often as he once had but more often than not. But the night Apollo had announced his engagement to Serina he'd lost that easy acceptance. Now he couldn't ask him in advance, and even spur-of-the-moment invitations got a sometimes amused, sometimes wary, always to be answered "Dinner? What's the occasion?" Apollo tried to tell himself that was a good sign, but he didn't always believe it, any more than he always believed the "No, sorry, can't tonight"'s were just the price of asking a social butterfly like Starbuck at the last moment.
Didn't he want Starbuck to come, Boxey had asked. That was not the issue, had never been the issue as long as he'd known the other man. He wanted Starbuck to come everywhere he went, wanted to look across whatever room he was in and see that shining blond head, meet those even more shining blue eyes. He wanted Starbuck near him all the time, wanted that support and that ceaseless watching of his back and all that went with friendship as deep as theirs. He wanted him around 'from his rising up in the morning to his lying down in the night.'
What was new, though not so very new, was his realization that he wanted Starbuck around the rest of the time, too. From his lying down to his rising up... He knew when that had finally crystallized for him: too late, in every way, for it to make any difference at all.
'Jonathan liest slain in thine high places. I am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.' At least his Jonathan had come back. But even after Serina had died he hadn't said anything. He had to at least go through the motions of mourning her; she'd truly loved him. And there was Boxey to consider.
And then, later, well... he didn't know if Starbuck felt the same way. Obviously not much passed the love of women for him. Though Apollo knew Starbuck was capable of fidelity. Great fidelity. And not just because of what he'd taken staying with Cassiopeia, until they'd broken up, her idea. Because in his own way, Starbuck had always been faithful to him.
He sighed. Had David's Jonathan been content to be his brother? (Even if that's what David had meant, actually. If he hadn't just been one of those misogynistic old tribesmen who thought women were for one thing only.) Maybe more importantly, had David worried that Jonathan would think he was only trying to get in good with a prince? And it was David who'd married Jonathan's sister...
He sighed again, half in rueful amusement. It wasn't a good fit, this analogy, and why should that surprise him? As if anything to do with Starbuck was ever easy to figure out, or carry out. If he were to tell Starbuck that his name should be David, he knew what the blond would say. He'd shrug it off with, "Any giants I ever killed you helped." And if he were to suggest Jonathan? Starbuck would dismiss that with a joke, if he was in a good mood, something like, "I don't know, Apollo. I don't think I'm the sort of God's gift that means." If he wasn't, he'd snap that he wasn't the one whose father was the king.
And that would take them straight back to the worst fight they'd ever had, the one that had scared Apollo the most...
Zac's naming day was coming up, and Apollo had realized that it would fall during a secton-long break. He'd had to miss Athena's, but he could come home for his little brother's. Their father might well have to miss this one, too, and Apollo knew how that had made him feel. At least Zac would have his brother there.
He did wonder if Zac would be driving their mother up the wall by insisting that "I'm Zac!" if Adama were there now. But he probably would, he acknowledged to himself. Even at seven, Zac was strong-willed and not the slightest bit amenable to giving in. And he hadn't yet learned the art of wheedling, at which he would become a past master. His chosen tactic was to take his position, state it firmly, and repeat as often as necessary.
"I'm Zac. Not Aeolus. Not Atlas. Not Asklepios. Zac!"
Ila had tried to find a compromise. "Well, my grandfather's friends call him Zac."
And Adama had agreed. "If he wants Izakirah, that's fine."
But: "Zac! Just Zac!"
And, of course, what had Ila and Apollo worried was the very real possibility that Zac would, loudly and decisively, refuse to accept his new name at his Ceremony. Apollo didn't know what would happen if he did. He doubted he'd find out: he'd die of embarrassment first.
But he'd have to go, in case Adama couldn't. It might annoy Athena, but there was no point standing up Zac just because he'd had to miss hers. He was concentrating on the furlon form so much he didn't hear the door open and his first clue that Starbuck had finally come in was when the blond boy leaned on his shoulder. "Hey, watcha doin'?"
He jumped. "Oh, f-f-fractal!"
Starbuck laughed. "Getting closer," he said. "Just drop the 'tal'."
"Easy for you to say." He crumpled up the form, now with a nice black line jagging across half its width, and lobbed it at the trash-chute.
Starbuck snagged it with the grace that made him such a good Triad player despite this being the first yahren he'd ever played at any level. "You startle too easy," he observed, tossing the wad over his shoulder from behind his back and catching it. "You need to cultivate a calm demeanor if you're going to be a commander. Plus," he tossed it at Apollo, who flinched but caught it with only a slight fumble. Starbuck shook his just-exactly-regulation length blond mane and stretched out on his bunk as he finished his comment. "You need to be ready for anything. At any time."
"Living with you will do that for me, thank you very much." ("I can't have no room-mate!" he'd objected, furious at the presumption. "There's only one left unassigned..." "Fine," he'd snapped. "I'll take him." And his life's pattern had been disrupted and redrawn...)
"You're welcome." Starbuck gave him a flashing grin. "So, what are you doing? Don't tell me you don't already have your midterm papers written?" He sounded shocked.
"How could I?" Apollo answered in spite of himself. "We haven't had all the lectures yet; I don't know what" Starbuck's snort cut him off.
"Don't know what? What they want you to put down? You're starting to sound like me."
"Take that back!"
Starbuck just laughed, and Apollo was unreasonably happy to hear it. They'd been on uneasy terms at first, as different as two boys could be, but by now, halfway through their first term, he felt like he'd never have a friend this close. Like David and Jonathan, he sometimes thought, and then he'd shake off the bad omen.
"So, what? Don't tell me a love letter!"
"No. A furlon application, for the autumn break. Hey, Starbuck," a thought struck him. "Why don't you come?"
"Home with me for the break. We've got plenty of room, after all, and my mother's been telling me she wants to meet you."
"Check out who's sharing her baby's room these days? Look for bad influences?"
"The first time I swear in front of her she'll find them," Apollo said, trying to dispel the undertones he wasn't sure of the meaning of. "And for your information, I'm the oldest."
Starbuck snickered. "It's probably not a good idea," he said after a centon.
"Oh, Sagan, Starbuck, why not? We're roomies, and you're a cadet just like me"
"You take that back," Starbuck put in.
"Well, close enough. Don't tell me you have other plans. And hanging around the campus annoying the female staff doesn't count."
Starbuck mimed injury but didn't mention any plans. And he went home with Apollo, displaying a faint reluctance that Apollo put down to his room-mate's notion of manners. Starbuck had manners, rather nice ones once Apollo had gotten used to them; he was learning the truth of his father's warning that it wasn't only going to be those from other tribes he'd have to adjust to. He was charming to Ila, who Apollo could tell really liked him. And he was so good with Zac and Athena that they both adored him almost at once, taking him inside that 'us two against the worlds' team of theirs. Apollo could foresee them teaching the blond their secret language over the long winter break.
Starbuck being there for the break, for all the breaks, seemed so inevitably right it didn't occur to Apollo to question it.
"How do you do it?" he asked that night as they sat in the dark in Apollo's room, not exactly at the torch-under-the-blanket level but not that far over it. Starbuck had slipped in from the room Ila had given him and was sitting cross-wise on the bed, his shoulders against the wall and his outstretched legs pinning Apollo's blanket-covered ankles. In the dark he seemed closer, and something Apollo wouldn't understand for yahrens moved between them, something warm and good.
"With the imps. They're virtually human. It's not like" he broke off.
In the dark he couldn't see Starbuck's expression, but the chuckle reassured him. "I didn't exactly have the orphanage all to myself, you know, you idiot."
"No, I suppose not."
"Besides, they're nice kids. Especially that Athena. She told me I was the most beautiful man she'd ever seen"
And instead of commenting on her lack of experience Apollo heard himself say, "Starbuck, she's only nine!"
Starbuck's laugh caroled out. "You're so easy. If you're going to be a commander you're gonna have to learn to control your emotions."
"I hate you," Apollo said comfortably.
"I know." Starbuck's grin was audible. "But you'll thank me the day you pin that starburst on."
"Maybe. If I can find you," he added, prompted by he didn't know what.
"Oh, you'll find me," Starbuck promised. "I'm not that easy to misplace."
And because he was nineteen he answered, "Oh, I'm learning that." After a quiet moment, he added, "Besides, maybe I won't make commander."
"Fishing," Starbuck answered. Then, "You're not really thinking that, are you? Of course you will. You've got everything they want."
"My family connections, you mean?" He knew Starbuck had been wary of the commander's son, at least at first. Now he wanted to know what Starbuck thought of him. In the dark, he could ask.
"Yeah, sure. Breeding and education and blood. First pass stuff. But you should know that's not all. Brains and courage and heart. You've got it all, Apollo."
"You really think so?" He blushed, glad for the darkness.
"Frack, yes. I'd fly your wing into Hades," he said lightly but seriously.
To Apollo's Kobolian ear it had the ring of a vow, or prophecy. "God forbid," he said quickly, hoping it was quickly enough.
"The Hades part, you idiot."
"Well, I won't say I wrote it down on my Career Plan as a Long Term Goal. But if it's called for..."
"Thanks." He was shy of saying more, though no one had ever paid him such a compliment before.
"Don't mention it," Starbuck said.
Apollo lay quietly in the darkness, thinking. He didn't remember falling asleep, but the next thing he knew was the morning light filtering into the room. He yawned and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and discovered Starbuck sleeping curled up on his bed. He froze, not wanting to wake him, but too late. Though Starbuck could, and did, sleep through most things, having the bed move under him apparently wasn't one of them.
"Morning," he said, sitting up. In the darkness Apollo hadn't realized Starbuck had only been wearing loose sleeping trousers. In the dawn's light he was very golden.
And it wasn't like they hadn't already shared a washroom, not to mention the locker room, but somehow the sight of his friend, tousled and half-naked and on his bed in his childhood room in his parents' house flustered him. "Were you here all night?" Apollo asked inanely.
"Well, I sure didn't sneak in here to see if you were awake and then decide to go back to sleep myself. I'd have dressed first." He stretched. "And gone for your mother, 'cause if you'd slept longer than me you'd be sick."
"You should have gone back to your own room. I mean, that can't have been comfortable."
"I slept all right. But I should have, you're right." Before Apollo could sort out how that ready acquiescence made him feel, Starbuck added, "After all, that is on my Career Plan. Medium Term goal: get senior enough to have my own room. And here I get a chance for a sneak peak and I blow it."
"You'll get more chances," Apollo said.
"Yeah, thanks, by the way. I'll store this secton up."
"You can have it next break, too. In fact, I'll ask Mother if we can't just make it your room, for whenever you come."
"Whenever?" Starbuck actually froze in place, staring at him. "Next break?"
"Sure," said Apollo. "I mean, you can't spend Midwinter's Fest cluttering up the academy and you don't have anyplace else to go. And Midwinteryou should spend that with family if you can and mine likes you. Zac's glad you're here and"
"I don't need your charity."
The cold tone was like a slap in the face. "My what?"
"Scholarship boy," Starbuck said bitterly. "No money, no connections, no family. No fracking family at all. No name. No place to go. Nothing. But that's all right, that's what you don't understand. I'm all right. Just me is fine. I don't need somebody else's family. I stand on my own feet."
"I just meant," Apollo stammered, "I just thought, I mean we have plenty of room and my parents won't mind, not for my friend"
"I don't want to get something out of our friendship, don't want to make a good thing out of it," Starbuck said hotly and with more than a little hurt. "I thought we were just friends."
Sectares later, the author of that phrase would find himself pinned under Apollo's very best imitation of his father's good friend Tigh's steeliest glare, but right Apollo could only stare in a mixture of confusion and guilt. He didn't think it now, but he had for a day or two.
"I'm not on the make, and I don't need your family, and I don't want your fracking charity." Starbuck was on his feet. "I don't need you feeling sorry for me, you hear me? I don't want you to be kind. I don't"
And then he was gone. Apollo wasted a few centons being surprised and hurt and then regained the ability to move. But by the time he was out of the bed and into his clothes and out into the hallway, Starbuck was really gone. Flinging himself away in a huff, Apollo thought. He looked around the garden for him and then waited for him to come back, using the time to figure out what to say to reassure Starbuck that they were 'just friends'.
But he didn't come back. By nightfall it was obvious he wasn't. A well-worded, polite, if somewhat vague regrets arrived by the last post ("a young cadet asked me to bring this up, Siress") along with a present for Zac, a present Apollo knew Starbuck couldn't afford especially if he had to get himself back to the Academy. If he had. Apollo fretted about calling to see if he was there (first yahren cadets did not have in-room comms) but was afraid of getting him in trouble if he wasn't: his furlon was specific. Much later he would have to chuckle over his simplemindedness; it never occurred to him to pretend to be someone else calling.
The sight of the package made him feel even guiltier: he'd told Starbuck no one would expect him to buy a present"you don't even know my graceless brother, after all"and now he wasn't sure why he'd said it. Had he been thinking about Starbuck's financial situation? Was he really offering him charity? Being kind?
Although since when had kindness become so bad? Starbuck didn't have anyplace to go, and he didn't have any money. Apollo did, both, and lots. Was it really so bad?
He asked his mother. She thought about it for a while, and said, "You know, Apollo, there are probably many reasons he's upset. That he doesn't want to take charity is only one. And don't mistake me: charity is often hard to take. It so many times comes as contempt in disguise that sometimes people can't tell the difference. Your friend is still so very young, I'm sure he's proud of what he's accomplished and doesn't want to be told it's not enough. And no, darling, you don't need to tell me you didn't mean that. But you have to try to see it from his point of view, which will be hard for you. But try."
She sighed. "Quite probably he doesn't want to be accused of sucking up, or of using your friendship for his gain. He may not care if others say it, though that would argue a strength of character very rare in someone his age, but even so he is probably afraid you might come to think it, if he takes and never gives, even if all he takes is what you give gladly and will never miss." She smoothed his hair and added, "He may also be afraid he'll be rejected if he gets too close, presumes too much on friendship; I don't know if that's happened to him in the past, but if it has it'll make him wary. And he may also feel afraid he'll forget his parents if he gets too close to yours."
"He already has forgotten them," Apollo protested.
She shrugged. "Then that's probably not in the mix. But unless he's a very simple boy, a mix it is. You'll have to be careful." She paused. "If you want him as your friend."
"I can't do without him," he admitted. "I think he's my Tigh, Mother."
She smiled. "Then go carefully, sweetheart. But don't take no for an answer."
As it turned out, he hadn't had to. When he got back to the academy, Starbuck was there, safe and, Apollo knew him well enough to see it, sorry he'd run off. They hadn't really discussed it very much because Apollo found it hard to put anything into words and was afraid he might chase Starbuck away for good if he screwed up. He'd thought about it and had come to the conclusion that maybe it was harder to take something from someone who gave it off-handedly than from someone who was sacrificing. At least, if you wanted that someone to be your friend. What he wanted Starbuck to know was that it wasn't one-sided; he wasn't trying to buy Starbuck and he didn't think Starbuck was using him. So what he said was, "Look, you idiot. You're my friend. My best friend. I don't have half as much fun by myself as when you're around. Come stay for MidWinter, just because I want you to."
And Starbuck said, "Okay. Thanks."
And somehow that was enough. Somehow they were all right again. But they hadn't ever talked about it. And maybe they should have, Apollo had been thinking lately.
Though Starbuck said 'okay' to Boxey, too.
Apollo stood, with Boxey quiet in front of him, listening to the priest carefully enough to not make any mistakes in his part. But he'd gone over the words so often in the last few days that he was finding them too familiar to really pay attention to. He ought to be thinking about Boxey, he knew, but instead his mind was wandering to its favorite place. He could see Starbuck out of the corner of his eye, standing next to Omega. He'd seen the blond neatly evade Athena's attempt to put him between her and Adama, a move so skilled it looked inadvertent. You always do that, he thought as though his wingmate could read his mind. You won't come in no matter how often we ask. A new thought struck him; for a moment he wondered if Starbuck had put it there. But you don't go. He thought about that until the priest's words deflected his attention.
"We give this child a name in this ceremony. In this act we declare that the child is an individual, a unique and separate person with a dignity and life of his own. Our children come from us, but they are not ours. They are of us, but they are not us. They are gifts from the gods, and not to us only, but to the whole world. They are themselves, individuals inside the community, to be cherished for their own selves and their own worth. In giving this child a name we declare that we will respect him as himself and give him the freedom to grow. We perform this ceremony publicly to declare that you, as parents and family, and all of us as representatives of our community, are responsible for the care and development of all children. It is our task to give them a world of peace and justice in which to grow. It is our task to share with them our ideals and our hopes."
A world of peace? Fat chance, as you'd say. But we are trying, and we can't do more. Remember that, Boxey. He glanced down, and then a movement caught his eye. Athena had slipped her hand into Omega's. Today wouldn't give her an easy answer to her dilemma, whether it was right to bring children into what she'd called this half-life of fear, fighting, and flight. But we can't give up, he told her silently. If we give up, we might as well open the airlocks. He looked back in time to meet the priest's eyes as he was addressed.
"By presenting your child here, today, you, the father, acknowledge that the child is more than your private possession, but is a new being in which we all have a responsibility, and whom we all welcome to the community."
He'd never thought of Boxey as his possession, but his? Oh, yes. And it wouldn't end here, today, no matter what. He glanced sideways at his father, but the only emotion he could read was loving pride. He thought about Zac then, wondered what it was like to outlive your child. Boxey was a bit like Zac today, shorter of course (or am I taller?) and quivering with suppressed excitement. He remembered Zac telling him, when he was getting ready for his own first yahren at the academy, that Starbuck had been on his side. "'Stick to your guns, kid,' he said. 'This name thing's important so be who you are.' I asked him if he'd picked 'Starbuck'."
"What did he say?" Apollo had been curious.
His brother had shrugged. "Said Starbuck is who he is."
As if in answer to that memory, the priest now addressed Boxey. "By accepting this name, here, today, you the child acknowledge that you are more than the vessel of your family's hopes, or of your own, but are as well a part of the community, with an important role to play in the future of our people, and your own unique contributions to make to us."
You never did this, did you? he thought, looking obliquely at Starbuck standing there focussed on Boxey, listening to the words. No one ever offered you the chance to say you wanted to belong without giving up being yourself, whoever that was.
"And by giving this name, and witnessing the giving and the accepting, we, as representatives of the community, acknowledge our responsibility in providing a safe haven in which the child may grow daily in wisdom and strength, until he is a full member of our number. May this precious life, which we have accepted into our community of ideals and friendship, receive abundantly the blessings of health, love, knowledge, and wisdom, and in its turn give back richly to the common heritage that endures from generation to generation."
No one ever said any of that to you. I know you were safe, technically, but were you protected? Accepted? Were you lonely? His thoughts were interrupted by the priest. "Name this child."
Apollo put his attention where it belonged on his own son, and took a step forward. He laid his hands on the boy's dark head. "I name him Akira, shining mind."
"Akira, we welcome you." The priest bent and kissed Boxey's cheek, and then the rest of the officiates and witnesses did the same. Boxey put up with it with better grace than Apollo remembered he'd had. But he was more demonstrative than Apollo (not that that was hard), much less shy (and that wasn't hard either), just as his mother had been, often enough embarrassing Apollo with her public declarations. He watched as his son moved from one person to the next and listened to the words. "Akira, we welcome you into the fellowship of life, and dedicate you to the service of freedom and righteousness and of love. May your life be rich in vision, full in accomplishment, and afire with the highest of ideals."
"May it be so," came the slightly uneven chorus from witnesses and family, Omega's "Lord, let it be so" just different enough to be harmonious.
The priest placed his hands on BoxAkira's shoulders. "Let us pray: Lords, for the gift of childhood, whose innocence and laughter keep the world young, we all rejoice and give thanks. May this life which you have given and which we have accepted into our community of ideals and friendship, receive abundantly the blessings of health, love, knowledge, and wisdom, and in turn give back richly to the common heritage that endures from generation to generation, to be a credit to the family that bore and nurtured him, but also to himself, and to the children that he in his turn will bring into life. And may the Lords of Kobol watch over him from this day forward, blessing him and strengthening him in their service, so that he may walk on the path set before him without hesitation and without faltering."
"May it be so," Apollo said with a sudden fierce surge of protectiveness, and he opened his arms to hug his son close. "I love you," he whispered.
"I love you, too, Dad," the boy said, grinning, and then went to be hugged by the rest of his family. Including Starbuck.
And then they adjourned to Rejuv Center 2 and the party.
Vague memories of Athena and Zac had kept Apollo happy that he didn't have two children. By the time the party was a centare old he was ready to thank the Lords of Kobol fasting and on his knees that he didn't, and half-ready to offer Akira to the first person who looked interested. He'd broken down once and confessed that sort of feeling to his father, and been immeasurably relieved when Adama only laughed at him gently. But the party ended, as they all, thankfully, did eventually, and Apollo carried his thoroughly exhausted son home with Starbuck beside him and just tucked him straight into bed.
"Good night, Dad," he said drowsily, mostly asleep already.
"Good night, son," Apollo kissed him gently. "Sleep well."
"I'm here, kid," Starbuck said. He bent over and kissed his cheek. "Sweet dreams, Akira."
"Night..." He didn't move when Starbuck ruffled his hair, or when Apollo turned out the lights.
"Starbuck, stay a bit."
Starbuck hesitated, and then grinned. "Sure. You look beat."
"Boxey is exhausting in a group situation."
"Akira. Yes. I'm going to have to get used to that. I'm trying to remember if my mother messed up with me."
Starbuck's grin changed, becoming more wistful. "I'd be surprised if Ila messed up with any of you. At all."
"Well, Zac made it easy," Apollo said, deflecting the melancholy he still feltthey both still felt, he knewwhen Ila's memory came on them. She wouldn't have wanted them to cry over her this long, but she'd made it hard not to. "I think she did with Athena, a few times, but I don't remember it with me."
"Well, honestly, Apollo. They called you 'little one' didn't they?" And Starbuck was the only one he'd ever told that to. The blond was continuing, "Would you have noticed 'Paul'?"
"You have a point," he said. "I probably wouldn't have. It was only Athena who ever called me 'Appy'."
"So what was she before?"
Apollo had to think. "Arie. 'Cause she was so cranky as a baby. 'Fierce' Father said, but it was cranky, I thought."
Starbuck snickered. "Been a while since you said that to her, hasn't it?"
"I'm not stupid," Apollo said. "Or not often. I'm glad you came this time."
Starbuck got very still for a micron, and then his grin flashed out again. Apollo wondered how many people wouldn't have been deceived. "Akira's a persuasive brat. You're gonna have to watch him when he gets older."
"I know. But I'm not really talking about him."
"I'm talking about us."
"Oh?" Starbuck said again.
"You never had a Naming Ceremony, did you?"
"Sure I did," he shrugged. "I just don't remember it. Like a lot else."
"Come on. You weren't eight when you lost your parents. You know you weren't. Frack, you'd be older than me if you were."
Starbuck paused. "Okay. Maybe you're right. What difference does it make?"
"They didn't do ceremonies like that at the orphanages." Apollo put his guess into words, knowing he was right, wishing he weren't.
Starbuck laughed shortly. "We didn't exactly have parents, remember, Apollo. Or communities waiting to take us in. Just a bunch of really overworked staff who had as much as they could do to keep us fed and clothed and educated. They were our community. And they didn't have to take a day and throw each of us a party to show us that, or our place, or where we belonged."
"At least that's not a baby name."
"The soldiers called you that, didn't they?"
"Them or the EMTs," he shrugged again. "It's not like it matters. Nobody else was ever going to," a micron's pause, "care where it came from."
Apollo took a deep breath. "You mean nobody provided you with a safe haven, or welcomed you"
"Hey, I'm not complaining."
"You don't have to. You didn't get it. And you should have. And," Apollo added, "that you're not complaining means you really do care."
"Don't psychoanalyze me," Starbuck said warningly. "I'm fine. The orphanage was as safe a place"
"As it could be, I know. But it wasn't a family."
"I don't want to talk about this." He seemed to hear himself and he produced a smile. "It's the past. It doesn't matter any more. It doesn't bother me, so why should it bother you?"
Apollo let the lie go unchallenged and answered the question. "Because you deserved better. You deserved that haven, that welcome. I know you didn't need it, as it turns out, but you did deserve it."
"And that bothers you why?" It was only a faint echo of his bitterness yahrens ago.
"Because... Starbuck, don't you understand why? Because you never heard those words, never felt that warmth. And I didn't know how to give it to you back then"
"I'm not a child, Apollo. I don't need some stupid ceremony to feel good about myself now. And I can stand on my own two feet, thank you."
"I know you can. I know you do. Do you know you don't have to?"
Starbuck blinked at him. "What the frack does that mean?"
"Starbuck, you know, don't you, that you did it?"
"Did what?" Starbuck was poised in the dim light like a wary wild thing, but he wasn't going anywhere.
"Gave back richly to the common heritage that endures from generation to generation," Apollo said. "Became a credit to the family that bore you, even if you don't know who they are. Became a credit to yourself. And even without a blessing, you did everything set before you. And just about perfectly, may I add?"
"You mean that?"
"Absolutely." He stepped closer. "I wish you'd had the ceremony, Starbuck. I wish you'd had your family. But I'm selfish, so I don't wish it as much as I should."
Starbuck swallowed. "What do you mean?"
"I mean if you had been raised by your family you might never have joined the service. I might never have met you. And my life would have been immeasurably poorer."
"I've been thinking about things, Starbuck. Lots of things. Especially what you said that day." He knew he didn't have to identify which day. "Just friends, you said. And you're right." He thought that was disappointment that flashed, just for a heartbeat, in the blue eyes, but all Starbuck said was,
"Of course I'm right."
Apollo pretended he hadn't spoken. "We're just friends, in that I'm not a patron and you're not a protege. And I'm not Sire Bountiful and you're not the deserving poor. And I'm certainly not an easy mark, and you're definitely not looking for a meal ticket. And that's good. But it's not good enough. I hope by now you know I'm not offering you charity. And I'm not trying to be kind. Well, not impersonally kind. And I don't think you're trying to suck up, though" he stopped before he got ahead of himself. "But I do want you in my family."
"Apollo." That was all Starbuck said, but his tone had changed.
Emboldened, Apollo stepped even closer. "You're not running," he said.
"Running is the last thing on my mind," Starbuck whispered. "Though it ought to be."
Apollo paused, and then stepped back. "Why?"
"Your father," he said. "Your son..."
Apollo waited, but that seemed to be all. He shook his head. "Father is very fond of you and he always has been. He'll be glad we're happy. Don't run on his account. And Boxey? God knows he'll be happy. Don't run on his account, either. In fact, on his account you'd better stay."
"Just on his account?"
"Hades, no. This isn't about him. Or Father. Or Athena or Cassie or Serina. It's about us. You. Me. Forever."
"That's who I am," Apollo said, taking the last two steps and reaching to touch Starbuck's cheek gently. "I know you can, if you want, and I'm going to love you so hard"
"I already want to," Starbuck said. "You mean it? You want me forever, in spite of everything?"
"I don't know anything about you that needs an 'in spite of', Starbuck," Apollo said deliberately, "and you know I know you better than anyone. I love you."
"I love you. I want you in my family. In my life. In my arms. Forever."
When they kissed Apollo tasted the salt of his lover's tears. Holding Starbuck's shoulders, pulling him close, he kissed the tears off his face. "I love you," he whispered.
"I love you," Starbuck said softly. "I love you."
"Forever, Apollo. Forever."
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