Adama glanced around the front room. It had been a small group for dinner. He had asked Sheba, to make it clear to her that her inclusion had never been contingent upon her being Apollo's intended, and told her to of course bring Boomer. He'd known that would create an awkward table, not in numbers (it wouldn't make it worse to be three women, four men, than two women, three men, and unless he asked someone like Tinia that imbalance was apparently not going to change in the near future at any rate) but in emotions. Still, it was more important to make sure she understood that she was wanted for herself and not for his son than to spare his son a bit of social awkwardness. After all, Apollo had made it quite clear to him that he and Sheba had never been more than friendly.
Not that Adama believed that for a micron. But it was a useful fiction for all parties. And certainly in the nearly three sectons that had passed since Apollo seemed to be anything but heartbroken. Tigh had kept him apprised of the gossip, but even Tigh had to admit that most people were a bit baffled by the apparent equanimity with which Apollo was accepting that one of his best friends had stolen his girl. After the first secton, most people had decided they'd been jumping the gun a little bit; no one could be that calm about it.
Of course, there was that small faction who wondered if Apollo was normal, after the Light Beings. Like the angels in heaven, where there is neither giving nor taking in marriage... Apollo hadn't heard that one, Adama knew, or he'd have treated the Officers' Club to a tantrum one evening just to dispel it. Adama didn't believe it, himself; whatever the Beings of Light had in mind for his son, it hadn't involved stripping him of his humanity. He just wished he knew what Apollo felt about, well, most things.
Just now Apollo was sitting by himself with a glass of nectarhalf-full, it was the same one he'd had all eveningwatching his sister and her intended play teams Trango against his son and Starbuck. As far as Adama could tell, Apollo had been more annoyed at Cassie than at either Sheba or Boomer. And Adama knew he and Athena had had at least one fight over it, which Apollo had lost. Starbuck himself seemed to accept his loss with grace, but then he almost always did unless he got angry; there wasn't much middle ground with him. At any rate, he and the women were getting along well, startling some people and confirming others in their belief that Starbuck had no emotional staying power.
One or two councilors had ventured a comment on Athena's sexual orientation to him, both wondering if he shouldn't have disclosed that he was personally interested in the outcome. He'd frostily informed them that his daughter's private life was none of their concern, and that as commander of the fleet all of his Warriors were of personal interest to him. He hadn't hesitated to use both Omega and Bojay as examples of invaluable officers who'd been punished by the old way of doing things; Omega's promotion to command the Akkadia Furious when Yadro's strength finally gave out, in a couple or three yahrens, was well established, and Bojay's performance in the battle with the base star was easy enough to praise. Apollo would likely find himself boxed into promoting the man when they had enough new pilots and Vipers to go from four squadrons to six or eight, but it wasn't as if he couldn't handle the job. And Apollo knew it, had in fact given Bojay sections to lead in the past; he was fair that way. Most ways, Adama reflected; it was only to himself he was sometimes unfair.
Boxey crowed suddenly over a dice roll. "Our empress takes out your empress, doesn't she, Starbuck?"
"Most appropriately," Starbuck said, ruffling Boxey's hair.
"Starbuck!" Athena chastised him, but Cassiopeia was giggling.
Adama felt himself smiling, knew he was probably doing what Athena had always called 'beaming patriarchally'. And why not? His daughter was happy at last, not softened but smiling and at ease; the occasional awkwardness between them was much lessened as she found her own center. As she ceased looking to him for approval, ironically, she became more worthy of it, and his love of course had never wavered. And he was very fond of CassiopeiaCassie, he would have to remember thatand looked forward to formally welcoming her into the family when Athena had decided it was time. A sectare or so, she'd said, time to let Cassie be certain. Adama thought, looking at the two women, that he'd never seen anyone so certain.
Boxey had accepted quite calmly that the blonde was now dating his aunt instead of Starbuck. Or almost calmly: Athena had mimicked for Adama the boy's tone and expression when he'd said, "You'd rather have Aunt Athena than Starbuck?"
"Unaccountably, yes, I would," Cassie had responded.
Boxey had shaken his head. "Starbuck's more fun," he said. "Aunt Athena won't let you eat mushies for supper."
"Starbuck, you're busted," Athena had said to him when he showed up this evening. "Boxey has told all. What'll you give me to keep it from Apollo?"
The proverbial bystander might well have been puzzled at how well the women and Starbuck got along. Apollo certainly seemed to be; Adama, however, was not. Starbuck's ability to keep his lovers as friends spoke to the quality of his relationships with them, which was, in the end, not serious enough to provoke anger and hatred, to be sure, but it also spoke to the man's personality. He didn't hold on, or couldn't, but he wouldn't let go, either. Adama had hoped once that Cassiopeia might be the one to break through to Starbuck, but it was not to be and now, of course, he was just as glad.
Starbuck hadn't wanted to come this evening, either. But while Adama had accepted Sheba's excuse"Boomer's on tonight, and anyway, Commander, it's time I stood on my own feet. I'm very grateful to you for everything you've done, but... And anyway, Apollo won't want to see me. Maybe next time?"he hadn't let Starbuck talk his way out of it.
"In fact," he had said, "Athena told me that I was under no circumstances to allow you to... I believe she said 'skive out of' attending. I hope you know what that means."
"I do. But it's not a good idea."
He'd immediately said, "I'm sorry, Starbuck. The girls think your breakup with Cassie was amicable and"
"It was," Starbuck had said at once. "That's not it at all. But I don't belong there."
"Don't be ridiculous, Starbuck, and don't make me repeat myself. We had this conversation once already, or don't you remember?"
"Apollo may not want me there," the pilot had said, finally.
"Nonsense," Adama had said firmly. "When has he ever not wanted you around?"
"When he married Serina."
"All right," Adama had acknowledged. "But he's not getting married tonight."
"Neither am I."
"Apollo doesn't blame you for that," Adama had said firmly, though he hadn't been sure what was going through Starbuck's mind that he sounded as if he ought to be blamed. "And even if he does, he needs to get over it or his sister will make his life hell."
That had made Starbuck grin.
"So, lieutenant, I expect to see you. 1850. Don't be late."
And he hadn't been. And Apollo had seemed glad to see him when he arrived, though not, perhaps, as glad as Boxey had been. "Starbuck!" he had caroled upon his arrival, and he'd hurled himself upon the blond pilot as though he hadn't seen him in sectons. Perhaps, Adama mused, given what the boy had said earlier, it had been, not that long but long enough for a small boy to feel it had.
Adama had abused his authority by having his batman fetch the boy from instruction when Apollo had called saying he'd be late and would come straight from the Wing, just stopping to get his son on the way. Adama enjoyed having his grandson around, and Boxey spent too much time in care as it was. Not that he thought only a mother could raise a child, but family was best... And Boxey seemed to enjoy occasionally visiting his grandfather's office and spending time with him before the other family arrived. Tonight, it was Starbuck's arrival that seemed the most anticipated.
"What about Sheba?" Adama had asked, he hoped casually.
"Is she coming?"
"Not tonight; she's busy. Do you want her to come?"
Boxey, holding dinner plates in both hands so Adama could take them one by one and put them on the table, had shrugged. "Oops." He'd grinned as Adama steadied the plates. "I don't mind her. If she comes, that's okay."
"What do you think about her not dating your father any more?"
"I don't know. She wasn't around much but she was okay, and Dad's kind of lonely sometimes, I think, but he didn't really want to marry her, I think, and I know she didn't want to marry him."
"Oh? What makes you think so?" Adama took the last plate and laid it in place
"Well, Mom told me that if you want to get a man to marry you you have be at him all the time. Sheba wasn't." The boy had shrugged. "Dad wasn't, either, but I don't know if that's what men do. Dad wouldn't say."
"You asked him?"
"Well," Boxey looked sideways at Adama. "When I asked him if he was going to date Starbuck now he got mad at me."
"Mad at you?"
"Well, he said I didn't know the first thing about why people date. I told him it was so they could get Sealed. And he said I didn't understand Sealing." He shrugged again, seemingly paying more attention to folding the napkins. "I do. It's when you don't want to be alone any more, or you need someone to take care of you and make sure you have some place to live and all that."
"There are other reasons," Adama said, wondering what Serina had told Boxey.
"Sure. Like in vids, when you want to be with someone all the time. But Dad got mad about it. So I wanted to know if there was something wrong with people, you know, women and women, in case I hurt Aunt Athena's feelings." He had looked angelic as he added, honestly, "Or got her mad at me."
"I see. Well, no. There's nothing at all wrong with it. It's not very usual, but it's not bad. It's sort of like being left-handed."
"Oh. So why did Dad get mad?"
"I'm not sure, Boxey," Adama had said. "Why did you ask if he was going to date Starbuck?"
"Well, he was dating Sheba but she's dating Boomer now, and he was dating Aunt Athena and she's dating Cassie, and Cassie was dating Starbuck, but she's not now. So Dad and Starbuck are loose ends."
Adama had had to laugh.
Boxey had grinned. "Anyway, I think he likes Starbuck better than Sheba."
Adama did, too. Especially now, watching his son pretend to be watching his son. Apollo was a private person, and not since he was a young boy had Adama felt that he really knew what his son was thinking or, perhaps more importantly, feeling about things. An only child himself and late to fatherhood, he'd thought that was normal until his younger children had come along. Athena was complex, and occasionally self-deceiving which could make her harder to understand, but Zac had been wysiwyg until his late teens when he'd learned, not to deceive, but to conceal. But by the time Adama had known he needed to try Apollo had been in his twenties and gone most of the time.
Gone from home, Adama admitted; even when Apollo had been a child Adama had rarely been there himself. Perhaps this... estrangement was too harsh a word; this disconnection between them had been inevitable. Especially given the way Apollo was around his friends: private still and self-contained. Even Starbuck, Apollo's closest friend, said Apollo may, not Apollo will...
He sighed to himself. He had heard it himself, how Apollo wished Starbuck would settle down, fall in love, get married... how Apollo hoped that since Cassiopeia seemed to have fallen for Starbuck she would be the one to get him to do it. A reasonable person would excuse Starbuck now, given Cassiopeia's (Cassie's, he reminded himself) apparent preferences. But Starbuck felt blamed. Unjustly, of course, but blamed, and it wasn't like him to completely misread Apollo. In fact, Adama had learned to use Starbuck as an interpreter. If he felt blamed, then he probably was.
Which might speak more to Apollo than to anything else.
Adama leaned back in his chair, letting his gaze fall onto the kava table and the Trango game. Boxey's red shirt provided a splash of bright color among the uniforms the others were wearing, pale brown and cloud grey and midnight blue, silver and gold and bronze, earth and sky... The playing pieces and the board itself gleamed in nearly jewel-like hues; it had been so new the secondary pieces were still in their wrappings when Athena had produced it for Boxey nearly a yahren ago, so studiously nonchalant that Adama had known Zac had brought it on board, looking to renew their endless rivalry...
Boxey was like Zac, a little. Not as fearless, or as carefree. Perhaps not as bright, certainly not as flashy with it. But of course he'd suffered in ways that Zac never had, and it was impossible to know what either of them would have been like if their situations had been reversed. But there was certainly a physical similarity, and Boxey was about the same age Zac had been when Apollo had left for the prep school attached to the Colonial Warriors' Academy... It had been Boxey, Adama remembered, who'd first caught Apollo's eye, not Serina...
That was it, Adama realized, what had been nagging at him for the last two days, still shapeless but so near. He didn't grab for it, just continued to let his mind drift. Boxey, Serina, Starbuck... He didn't turn his head or move in any noticeable way, but he let his gaze, under half-lowered lids, slide to his left, to rest on Apollo where he sat, also watching the Trango game, wrapped in his own silence and his own thoughts. From where Adama sat it was hard to be sure, but he thought Apollo wasn't looking at Boxey. He thought Apollo was watching Starbuck.
For a few moments Adama just watched him and wondered about all the pieces that simply didn't fit: why was Apollo so quick to talk about marrying Sheba and so fatally slow to actually do anything about it; what he felt about Starbuck's loss to Athena that had him arguing with her and leaving the other pilot interpreting it as blame; why he had leapt headlong into marriage with Serina after more than a dodecada of not even seeming to date, certainly not dating seriously, not a single name mentioned in a single letter... Adama had married very late, but he had never been without his 'interests' and once or twice he'd come fairly close, though he'd always recovered his senses in time. Belloby, for instance... In fact, Tigh, blissfully happy with his childhood sweetheart, had despaired of either his or Cain's ever settling down. In the event they both had, though where Adama had been more than contented with his surrender to Ila, Cain's near-child-bride had been a dreadful mistake from almost the beginning. But to the best of Adama's knowledge Apollo had never had even a passing interest in a woman before Serina.
It was Starbuck he brought home.
Adama knew very little about sexual orientation, though he'd printed off several things to read when he found the time. Now he wondered if it ran in families, if Athena meant it was more, or less, likely that Apollo... But Athena had realized the truth about herself in a relatively short time; she was only twenty-four, after all. And having realized it, she had been troubled only by whether she should put her career first and keep her true self a secret (something she'd have found hard to do, he thought). And that was like Apollo, wasn't it?: duty before self. But Athena had embraced the freedom she'd been given, just as others had, others who had apparently been managing to keep relationships secret. Adama remembered a somewhat perturbed Tigh in the turbolift to the bridge the morning after the annoucement, saying that apparently he'd been wrong, that Omega had in fact gone out and fallen in love overnight. Athena had been in the turbolift with them, her presence ignored as it often was by Tigh, who'd gotten used to her as Adama's child and who often spoke his mind before her as he wouldn't before other junior officers, and she'd corrected him, much to his relief, saying that Omega had been seeing Bojay for sectares... Tigh had been relieved mostly, Adama thought, that he hadn't misread his flag lieutenant so badly. And something Omega had said later in the secton had led Adama to believe that he'd had a relationship before the Destruction. Certainly Bojay had; Athena had excused Sheba's absence from a dinner once by saying she was with her friend on the anniversary of his lover's death. They'd all assumed it was a woman, of course, but even then it had been a bit odd that it was Athena who knew it, not Apollo...
Adama looked again at his son, the brooding green gaze resting on his wingmate and the still face that gave nothing away. Was he wrong? Starbuck thought he was. "You needn't worry, sir," he'd said all those yahrens ago. "I love him more than life, but he doesn't love me."
"I wouldn't worry if he did," Adama had said. "That uniform says all I need to know about you, that and Apollo's friendship. I'm a strict interpretationalist: if the Word says the king's son loved the shepherd passing the love of women, I'm inclined to believe that's what it means. And what I want"
"What we want," Ila had put in.
"is for our children to be happy."
Starbuck had relaxed a bit. "I do, too; but he doesn't love me"
"Ah, yes he does," Ila had said. "Never doubt that."
"I don't," Starbuck had said quickly. "He loves me, but not like I love him."
But Starbuck wasn't always right about Apollo. Just mostly. He'd been wrong about Sheba, after all.
He might be wrong about this.
Well, there was one way to find out. He took a deep breath and centered himself, readying for something he hadn't done since he'd left the Institute, and spoke sharply. "Apollo."
Apollo turned, and Adama drove a single lance of mind into those startled green eyes, and beyond them
into an aching longing that was so deep he might have been lost if he'd been any better at probing, a guilty desire, a pain-filled lossjust for a moment, and then he was back.
"There's something I need to talk to you about," he said, and then, recollecting where he was, he added, "When the game's over, Starbuck, I'm going to presume and ask you to take Boxey home and put him to bed so Apollo can stay a while."
"Of course, sir, no problem," Starbuck said.
"Is it another mission?" Boxey asked apprehensively.
"No," Adama answered him. "It's some rather boring administrative stuff that we have to talk about."
"Oh," Boxey lost interest. "I'm glad you're not talking about it now then." He turned back to the game.
When the others finally left, Athena kissing all three men on the cheek and Cassie doing the same to Starbuck and Adama and hesitating before just saying good-night to Apollo, who startled everybody except Boxeyincluding possibly himselfby kissing her cheek, there was a moment of silence. Then Apollo said, "If you want to talk to me about the new squadrons"
"That's not it."
"Oh." He was clearly trying to think of another topic so Adama said,
"It's not administrative, Apollo. Anything like that could have waited. It's personal."
"Oh," he said again, and waited.
Adama took a breath. "I've never been able to come up with a delicate way to approach this, so I think perhaps I'll stop trying. How long are you going to make yourself unhappy?"
"I don't choose unhappiness!" Stung, Apollo forgot to deny the charge.
"Perhaps not. But you don't make any great push for happiness, do you?"
"What's that supposed to mean? Do you think I should have fought with Boomer? Sheba's not a prize, Father, she's not a piece of property. She never was mine."
"Actually, I'm not talking about Sheba at all. But since you brought her up, let me say that I don't think you wanted to marry her and so I'm glad you didn't. I don't want you to marry anyone you don't want to. I'd rather you never married at all."
"You were glad I married Serina," Apollo almost accused him.
"Yes," Adama said simply. "But my happiness is not what should govern your marriage, Apollo. It's yours."
"I was happy."
"Were you? Perhaps you were, I won't argue it. You married quickly, but that's no proof you were unhappy; your mother married me quickly as I know you know. Perhaps you fall in love as quickly as she did, perhaps you were happy then and perhaps if she were alive you would be happy now. But you aren't. Happy now, I mean. And choosing someone else that I approve of won't make you happy. Choosing someone you want will."
"Not if she doesn't want me."
"No, of course not. But I can't help but think that if you'd wanted her, you'd be more moved now. Angry perhaps, or unhappy in a specific way. And I can't help but worry that you never truly wanted to marry her in the first place, which makes me wonder how much you truly wanted to marry Serina."
Apollo was silent, not looking at him.
Adama took the final step. "How much you truly want to marry any woman at all."
Apollo remained silent, but Adama saw his whole body tighten, just for a micron or two, and then he swallowed. Adama sat quietly for a few centons, watching him, accepting that his guess was correct and that, very likely, his and Ila's suspicions so long ago had been correct as well. When he spoke, he kept his tone quiet, non-judgmental, and, he hoped, accepting. "You meant to never marry," he said instead of asked. "You meant to remain alone, no liasons or love affairs. Was your career that important to you, that you'd never risk it?"
Apollo looked fleetingly, almost involuntarily, at him. His green eyes, like Adama's mother's, were filled with misery he was no longer hiding.
Adama blinked back sorrow of his own and said, "But then you did. You married swiftly, and then you meant to again. It's not necessary, Apollo. It never was, and yet I believe you still"
"I have to." That was so soft Adama almost missed it. "I know that."
"I'm not sure what you mean, Apollo. The race can carry on without you, we're not"
"You." Apollo looked at him, the veils that usually concealed his emotions gone, revealing an enormous sorrow. "I have to for you. Even more now."
Adama was startled, almost into demanding what he meant, but he caught himself in time to keep silent.
"I took your heirs away. I took Zac. It's my fault. I have to..."
"Apollo," he interrupted. "You did not take Zac. It is not your fault."
"I did take him. If he hadn't been with me"
"Apollo." It was his command voice, and it not only shut Apollo up, it brought his head around, those green eyes, bright with unshed tears, staring at him. He softened his tone and said, "You took him with you. You didn't take him away. I know it's hard for you to remember it, because you never saw it, but I once flew Vipers myself. Well, no; not Vipers, they're since my time. But the Starhound Lynyx was, in its day, the same thing. And I know from experience how important experience is. I know that a long career for a Starfighter pilot is contingent upon living through the first two sectons, and the first three combats... The odds are very" he avoided the word 'good' "high that Zac would not have survived Cimtar."
"Apollo," he reached out and held his son's shoulders. "Starbuck came to me that secton, devastated, wanting to beg my forgiveness. I told him there was nothing to forgive. 'I let him go and he died,' he said. 'Yes,' I told him. 'I let him join; I brought him here. I didn't bring him here so he could die, but he did. And you didn't let him go so he could die, either.' Apollo, it wasn't your fault, or Starbuck's or even mine. It was in the hands of the gods, not ours. And though I feel it's presumptuous to speak for the dead, I think I can safely say that Zac would not have wanted your self-immolation as his funeral incense."
"Father..." Apollo's voice broke.
Adama put one of his hands in his son's hair and pulled him into a close embrace. Apollo held on, not saying anything at all. "It's not your fault, Apollo. It's not."
After too short a moment Apollo pulled away. His green eyes were still bright, but they were easier to look at now. "Thank you, Father."
Adama shook his head, smiling a little. "There's no need to thank me for the truth."
"How about for showing it to me?"
"For that you're most welcome. And now that we have, I hope, cleared that out of the way, let me ask you a simple question. Had you Sealed with Sheba, or if you Seal with some other woman, and she gives you a son, will you disavow Boxey?"
"Of course not."
"Or expect me to?"
"Father," Apollo said protestingly.
"Good. Because I won't, you know. He will always have the position of your first child. So I have an heir. So you needn't lay your unhappiness on that altar, either, even in the most prosaic of senses. You never did have to marry to give me an heir, but if you won't believe that, at least believe that you have given me one and if I need another, there are plenty of deserving children out there."
"But, nothing. If you choose to be unhappy with a woman, I won't forbid it, but I don't want you pretending even to yourself that it's my fault."
"Who says I'll be unhappy?"
"How can you not be, when you love someone else?"
Apollo was quiet for a few centons and then gave up. "It doesn't matter," he said in a tired voice. "Starbuck loves women, not me."
"Starbuck has never loved any woman he has ever known as much as he loves you, Apollo. Which of them has he stayed with an entire yahren?"
"It's not the same thing, Father. He's known Boomer longer"
"And is it Boomer he habitually risks his neck for?" Adama shook his head. "And may I remind you you married a woman?"
Apollo looked at him, craving reassurance. "You mean he loves me?"
Adama bit back the response he wanted to make. Starbuck was crazy in love, as the saying went, but that didn't mean he would say yes. He was a complicated young man and Adama would not like to bet on his reactions to anything. And he would hate to have Apollo take his word and then get hurt. So he said, instead, "I don't know, Apollo. I think he does, and I'm not the only one. But you'll never know unless you ask him, because even if he does, he'll never force that knowledge on you, not thinking you don't want to hear it."
That was Apollo's cue to ask why Starbuck would think that, but he didn't, which told Adama that he knew quite well. Instead, Apollo said, "What if he says no?"
Adama reached out and smoothed his son's wayward lock of hair. "What if he would say yes?"
"Come on, you're gonna at least wash your face and do your teeth." Starbuck dragged a protesting Boxey into the turbowash with him.
Cassie used the opportunity to say, "Thee, we should go on. I mean, we were right there. If your father had wanted us to be the ones to stay with Boxey, he'd have said so."
"I know." Athena sounded a bit impatient, but her pale blue eyes were worried rather than angry. "I just don't think he's talking about 'boring administrative stuff'."
"He probably isn't," Cassie conceded. "But if he wanted you involved he'd have asked you to stay, and it won't do anybody any good if you and Apollo have an argument where Boxey can hear it."
"I don't care who hears me claim you," Athena said fiercely.
"I know." Cassie still couldn't believe it sometimes, how hearing Athena say things like that made her feel. She lay awake at night listening to Thee's breathing beside her and thought the Wayists had something when they said Heaven and Hell were what you made of your life... She added, "But Boxey doesn't need to hear you two fight, and anyway Apollo will get over it, if he isn't already."
"He did seem to be," Athena nodded.
Cassie pressed her advantage. "So we should just accept that your father knows what he's doing."
"I thought you didn't believe in wise old men?"
"Oh, wise old men are all right, as long as they're wise and not just Wise with a capital W, if you know what I mean. Your father's no doctrine-bound priest, a puppet to the long-dead and often wrong."
"All right," Athena said. "We'll leave after we say goodnight."
The door to the turbowash opened in time for Boxey to hear that. "You're not going?"
"Well, it is your bedtime," Athena said.
"But Starbuck said you'd tell me a story!"
They looked at him; he shrugged. "I've run out."
Cassie laughed at him. "I'll tell you one, Boxey," she turned to the boy. "Have you heard the one of The Hooligan Pigs, the Holy Priest, and the Haunted Pool?"
"No. What's a pig?"
"Get into bed," Starbuck picked him up and tossed him onto the bed. Muffy hid himself under the desk when Athena raised an eyebrow at him.
Boxey pulled up his blanket and repeated his question.
"It's a kind of susa," Cassie said. "Smallish and not very hairy."
"Smallish compared to what?" Starbuck asked. "Weigh more than I do."
Athena's lips twitched. "City boy," she said unfairly. "Ever seen wild suswine? They get twice that big, or more, with fiery eyes and tusks that get to like thirty centimetrics" She imitated them with fingers curved at her jaws.
"You know," Starbuck put his hand on his chin then pointed at her, "that looks familiar."
She growled at him.
Boxey giggled. "That sounds like a Boray."
"They look like Borays," Starbuck agreed. "Now, be quiet and let Cass tell you her story."
She sat on the bed and looked at him. She wasn't entirely sure if this story was suitable for him, but, she supposed, his father could correct any wrong impressions she made and she could always say it was just a story, after all. "Once a long time ago a village was troubled by a gang of hooligan pigs. They killed the gallies and stole all the eggs, they fought with the daggets, they chased the yowes and the bovines, they knocked down sheds and broke windows. They even chased children on their way to school. The village was in despair. Even if they managed to chase the pigs away, they'd come back the next time the moon rose."
"Like the Borays," Boxey said.
"Yes. Then one day a wandering holy priest came through the village. They fed him and put him up for the night, and the next day they asked him what they could do about the hooligan pigs. He told them the answer was simple: they should cleanse the pigs with holy water and then they would behave themselves as animals ought. He offered to bless a small pool near the village, and told the people that the next time the pigs came, they should chase them through the pool. It sounded like a good idea to them, so they agreed. The holy priest blessed the pool and went on his way. And the next time the hooligan pigs arrived, the whole village chased them through the pool. There was just one little problem: that pool was haunted by the ghosts of a gang of bandits who had drowned there yahrens before. The ghosts couldn't do anything to people, but when the pigs ran through it they turned into men. Hooligan men. And the village was worse off than they had been before."
"Even though it was blessed?"
"I guess he just blessed it for pigs," said Starbuck, an ironical glint in his eye.
"And the moral," said Cassie.
"I hate morals."
"All Gemonese stories have morals," Starbuck grinned. "But they aren't exactly like the ones your dad tells you. What's this one, Cass?"
"Don't trust anyone, no matter how holy, who wanders into your life and offers to fix it," she said, "especially when he doesn't know anything about you - and isn't sticking around."
Boxey blinked and then grinned. "I like that."
"I'm glad," she said.
"Bedtime now," Starbuck said and ruffled Boxey's hair gently. "Go on to sleep, kiddo."
"Good night, Boxey," Athena bent down and kissed his cheek, and Cassie did, too.
"Good night," she said, and followed the others out.
"Apollo might not appreciate that story, Cass," Starbuck said, "but I like it. You two really going?"
"Yes, we are," Athena said. "Some of us have to get up in the morning."
"Break my heart," he said. "Some of us are on duty in," he looked at his wrist-chrono, "thirty centons."
"Poor baby," Cass said, keeping it light. "Come to dinner with us tomorrow? Or the night after, that's when you're off, unless you've plans?"
"Tomorrow will be good, thanks, Cass. I haven't actually got plans for the break, but I plan to by the time it shows up. Something, anyway."
"Take care," Athena said, seriously. "You can't run forever."
"Oh, gods, just don't start quoting at me," he said.
"Sounds like somebody already has," Cassie added.
"Boj," he said. "And with him it's usually something I never heard before, too. I'm fine, okay?"
"Okay," Cassie said and kissed his cheek quickly, lightly. "Tomorrow, then, say, 2050?"
"Sounds good. Good night."
They started for Athena's quarters in silence, holding hands. After a while Athena said, "I tend to forget he knew Bojay before."
"I know," Cassie said. "But it's nice, isn't it?"
"Umm." She was quiet again the rest of the way.
Cassie came out of the turbowash and found Athena standing in the front room. Her arms were wrapped around herself, her sleeping shift pale in the dark room but not as pale as her skin, and her gaze fixed on a picture on the wall unit, her family at their house on Caprica. Cassie remembered that Starbuck was in that picture. She sighed to herself. The pilot was almost certainly not 'fine' but what could they do about it? She walked up to her lover and said, "Come to bed, Thee. Starbuck can take care of himself."
"I know. He's been like this forever. But I don't think he's happy."
"He's not, probably. But you can't do anything for him." She put her hands on Athena's shoulders.
"I know that, too. But it's Appy I'm worried about now."
"Appy?" Cassie couldn't help saying.
"Don't tell him. He hates it... I'm sure he didn't love Sheba, but he wanted to marry her. I don't know what he's going to do now."
Cassie leaned forward and rested her cheek on Athena's shoulder. "I don't either. But staying up late and worrying formlessly won't help him, either. Come to bed."
Athena turned around and gathered Cassie into an embrace. "My love," she said softly. "I feel almost guilty being so happy when others aren't."
"Your being sad wouldn't cheer them up, and you know it." She leaned back a little, looking at her lover. Athena was looking down but her gaze, like her thoughts, was far away. A line floated into Cassie's mind, one she'd heard yahrens ago. Raising a hand to touch Athena's cheek gently, she said, "Who is this who looks out, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?"
Athena smiled and kissed her. "Fair as the moon, bright as the sun, majestic as the starry night," she murmurred. "Yours is an old translation."
"I don't even know what it's from," she confessed. "Come to bed."
"It's from Word," she said.
"Word," Athena nodded, a smile curving her lips. "The Song of Songs. I had to memorize it, in Temple school, but I never knew what it meant before now." She touched Cassie's cheek. "Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves..." She kissed Cassie's eyes gently. "Your lips are like a scarlet thread and your mouth is lovely." She kissed that mouth, her tongue gentle inside. Cassie tightened her hold on Athena's shoulders, feeling Athena's arms holding her close, her breasts against Cassie's. "Your two breasts are like two fawns," Athena whispered into her ear, "twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will hie me to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense..."
"Will you?" Cassie said, hearing her voice sound husky.
"I will," Athena answered, her voice low and slightly roughened. She took Cassie's hands and tugged her towards the sleeping room; Cassie went willingly. Athena pulled her down onto the bed. "You have ravished my heart, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes. Your lips distil nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue." And Athena leaned over Cassie, kissing her deeply, her hands unlacing Cassie's shift and pushing it aside. "How beautiful are your breasts, my bride! your love is better than nectar, and the fragrance of your oils sweeter than any spice!"
The words washed over her in Athena's low voice, their poetic cadences making promises that Athena's hands were fulfilling. Her nipples hardened in Athena's fingers, and then the words broke off as Athena's mouth moved to suckle first one and then the other, her fingers playing gently with the wet breast her mouth had left. Her other hand slid along Cassie's belly and between her legs, and then she began kissing her way after it, tongue tracing patterns on Cassie's skin.
Crouching between Cassie's legs, Athena looked up at her. "A garden locked is my bride, a garden locked, a fountain sealed, a garden fountain, a well of living water." Her hand stroked and then slid inside. "I come to my garden, my bride, I gather my myrrh with my spice, I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my nectar with my milk..."
Cassie moaned as Athena's tongue lapped at her. Her back arched and her hands clutched at the bedclothes. Behind her closed eyelids visions of honey and nectar spilling over a pale body engulfed her mind, even as pleasure spilled over her senses and engulfed her body.
She shuddered in Athena's hands, crying out. Panting, she relaxed, trembling slightly as Athena began speaking once more, again following her words with gentle fingers and lips. "How graceful are your feet in sandals, o prince's daughter! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand; your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed nectar. Your belly is a heap of wheat encircled with lilies. Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are pools..."
Several kisses later, Athena stretched out beside her like a felix, stroking her gently. "How fair and pleasant you are, O loved one, o delectable maiden! Your stature is like a palm tree and your breasts are like its clusters of dates. I say, 'I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its dates.' O, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your kisses like the best nectar, that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and tongue."
Cassie sighed and did her best to kiss her like that.
"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine..."
"Amen," said Cassie softly. And then she ran her hand down Athena's hip and flank and back up inside her thighs. Athena gasped slightly and Cassie laughed and kissed her. "I want to play in the garden, too," she said and bent her head to tongue the nipple of one of Athena's small, firm breasts. She kneaded the other one gently while she sucked and then she began kissing her way along her lover's beautiful body. "I want to eat dates," she said, "I want to play in the fountain and drink nectar and eat honey..."
And then there were no words from either of them, and Cassie played until Athena was gasping and moaning under her tongue and fingers, and then they held each other close in the darkness. Cassie spread Athena's dark mane over their shoulders and stroked it. "Nothing about hair?" she said.
"I spared you that," Athena said without moving, and her breath was warm on Cassie's breast. "Hair like a flock of caprines, and teeth like shorn yowes, each of them with twins..."
They were quiet for a moment, Cassie's hand moving gently on Athena's hair and shoulder. Then she couldn't help it; she giggled. "Hair like a flock of caprines?"
"That move along the slopes," Athena said.
"It would have broken the mood," Cassie agreed.
"Ummm..." Athena sighed deeply, or possibly yawned.
Cassie stroked her shoulder. "Behold, thou art beautiful, my love; behold, thou art beautiful..." She closed her eyes. "I am my beloved's"
"And my beloved is mine."
Apollo made his way home slowly. After Adama had asked him the one question that matteredwhat if he would say yes?they hadn't said much. There really hadn't been much left to say. Adama had let him know, unmistakably, that his decisions had been based on a miscalculation. He'd believed that his father's natural assumptions and plans were laws carved into tyllium steel, when in fact they were no more than plans easily tossed away. Well, no, perhaps not easily; Apollo wasn't sure that was true. But Adama had made it clear that Athena wasn't the only one to be allowed to go where her nature and her heart guided her. And that, in fact, that had always been the truth.
That Apollo's sixteen-yahren struggle with his own instincts had been unnecessary.
That had been hard to hear. He'd wanted to blame Adama, but he couldn't. He'd lied to his father; he couldn't expect him to have realized that and addressed the truth. It wasn't as though Adama had fallen in love young, after all, and lots of officers waited till they'd made lieutenant to marry. It wasn't quite as bad as the old days, when lieutenants may not, captains may, and colonels must be married, but it was hardly uncommon. No, it was his own fault.
Especially the last yahren. Since Zac...
He had always hoped Zac would save him. When he was nineteen and Zac only ten, it had been a prayerful hope, but as his younger brother moved into adolescence and proved refreshingly normal, the hope became stronger. Surely Zac, better looking than he was and as well bred, would not have any difficulty finding a wife and providing their father with another generation of heirs. Not that Apollo had ever let himself think that he could actually fall in love, find someone who would be willing to live a lie for his sake, no; not that he'd ever let himself truly believe that living a lie was acceptable, beyond the variations on 'I suppose I just haven't found the right woman yet' that he occasionally offered to relatives of his parents. But he had hoped for the chance to be left alone.
And then one secton the gods had smiled on him, or so he had once believed. First had come the package from his mother with a homevid of Zac's sixteenth birthday party, with the images of him and his current girlfriend ("really a very nice girl") leaving no doubt which direction his hormones were pointing him in. And then, before the figurative smoke from his thanksgiving candles had disappeared, several new pilots had transferred in off the Accipitrida Mysteria, and Apollo's hopes for a quiet life, devoted to his career and his nieces and nephews, were utterly, but not entirely regretfully, smashed.
He'd never thought of himself as lacking friends. True, he'd never had anyone around that he missed badly when they left, but he'd always been liked well enough and never lacked people to go to lunches or vids or games with. But within two sectares he knew that he had, in fact, never had a real friend before, because now he had two: Flight Officers Boomer and Starbuck.
They were each other's friends, too, which made it a nice trio. In fact, although they were in many, many ways complete opposites, they'd been friends since their freshman yahren, at Caprican Military Academythe local, not the more prestigious Colonial Fleet Academy, which explained why, though they were just a yahren younger than him, he'd never seen them before. He met them on the Falca's Triad court, and it wasn't long before Starbuck and Apollo were a virtually unbeatable team, with Boomer goodnaturedly accepting the loss of his playing partner. Boomer was the steady one with 'promote ahead of peers' written in indelible ink on his OERs; Starbuck was more reckless, with decorations and reprimands in about equal measure. But they were nearly inseparable, and when they took Apollo in they took him in as closely. In fact, for the first time in his life, when Apollo was transferred to the Acky-D as senior squadron leader, he kept in touch with someone, and when they had all, one at a time, ended up on the Galactica, they picked up where they'd left off. He was more grateful that they'd survived than he could express in words.
But try as he might, Apollo couldn't pretend to himself that he liked them equally.
He could barely pretend that he liked Starbuck. Merely liked him, that is. He was glad he had, though, because it would have been unbearable to have had to reject the other man, cut him out of his life altogether, and that's what he would have had to have done if he'd ever let on how he really felt... It was Boomer who'd saved them that. Good old Boomer, who'd put aside his native caution and reluctance to get personal and spoken to Apollo one evening on the Falca when Starbuck had the duty. "I don't like to get into people's lives," he'd said.
"But you're going to get into mine?" Apollo had been preparing his defenses, because there was only one place he thought his life could be got into.
"Well, yeah. But mostly I guess into Starbuck's." Boomer had been quiet a moment, looking down at his hands. Then he'd looked back up at Apollo. "See, Starbuck's a lot more sensitive than people sometimes give him credit for, and, well, you haven't known him as long as I have, and... I wouldn't want him to get hurt."
"I wouldn't hurt him," Apollo had started, but Boomer had interrupted him, for which he was grateful as he heard the other man out. He was also surprised, reassured as to the strength of his own deceit but making him wonder about his powers of observation. Or maybe just his preoccupation with himself.
"I know you wouldn't want to, but sometimes people, when they're surprised by something, they... Look, Apollo, the thing is, Starbuck's falling in love with you."
"He's falling in love with you. I know, I know: he likes women, too. But it is 'too'. Though he always said since he was in the Service... But I guess not even Starbuck can choose who he falls for, or at least not all the time. And you might want to be ready, or something. Just... you know, not be startled." He'd shrugged. "Maybe even you might want to warn him off, kind of. If you don't want to deal with it. Because you know he'd never want to push you and if he knows you don't want to hear it he won't say it."
And gods help him: he'd already known he wouldn't have been able to resist if Starbuck had said, 'I love you'. If Starbuck had said, 'I don't mind lying, I don't mind keeping it secret...'
Others had managed that, he'd known, but he didn't know how and he didn't think he could. Not with Starbuck. He'd already known that he could love Starbuck more than was wise, enough to go against everything he'd been taught was rightbut not enough to turn his back on his family. He'd felt guilty about that (he still did), but it was true. It was true, too, that he could love Starbuck too much to treat him like something he was ashamed of, and that he could hurt him very badly. As he would have to if, gods forbid, anything ever happened to Zac.
And Boomer had said, "falling in love with you", and "likes women, too". Apollo could stop this, save Starbuck from ruining his own life, too. Starbuck liked women, he could fall in love with one and be happy. And though even then Apollo had known he'd hate her, whoever she was, that he'd be unhappy to see Starbuck finally settle down, he'd used that knowledge to convince himself that there was something wrong with him, not with his decision to stop Starbuck from ever saying anything. To get Starbuck to move on, as he always had...
It hadn't been all that hard to do, in the end. It had been harder to make himself do it, but he had. The Falca had been in the Colonial Systems and he'd wangled a few days for him and Starbuck and taken him home. He'd gotten a furlon for Boomer, too, but as he'd suspected the Leonid had places of his own to go this close to Home Worlds. It wasn't the last time Starbuck would go home with him, but it was the first, and he'd been aware that Starbuck had not had any idea just how rich Apollo's family was. It wasn't like it mattered in the Service. They'd spent a night in the Caprica City townhouse, meeting Ila and the brats (who'd both liked Starbuck instantly) and then Apollo had taken him out to the country place. They'd climbed a hill and looked out across the fields, lushly green in the fertile Caprican summer.
"If I was Zac, I'd hate me," Apollo had said casually.
"Oh?" Starbuck had been quiet.
"Yeah... All this'll be mine someday," he'd waved his arm vaguely around. "Pretty fourth millennium, I know, but..."
"All of it?"
"Just about. It's all entailed," Apollo had nodded. "Zac's a better agrist than me"
"I don't think this is exactly aggring, Apollo. Not as we used the term back in Umbra, anyway."
Apollo had smiled. "Maybe not. But it's funny. My father doesn't spend much time out here, and I don't see me doing it, either, but Zac loves it. That bit over there, that'll be his; our grandfather already said he's leaving it to Zac. Something of his own..."
"I thought he wanted to be a Warrior," Starbuck had said.
"Yeah, he can't help it, I guess. We all are, my father's family... As far back as we've got records we've been sending our sons into the Service." He'd made himself chuckle. "Even when it wasn't the Service, just the North Capran Alliance... And the stories are older than the records, which probably got used in the kitchen stoves during the Dark Ages."
"Sometimes it strikes me so odd, you know, Starbuck?" That was the truth, anyway. "I mean, here we are, seventy-fourth century, and yet..."
"What's odd? I envy you, you know, being part of something like this. The family, I mean, not the money, not that I'd turn down a fortune if someone offered one to me, but... I mean," he'd pointed at the village in the distance, "those people have been here as long as you. That's what counts, isn't it? Something bigger than you that you're part of?"
Apollo had nodded. "Yes, you're right. They've worked this land probably longer than we've owned it. When I'm out here, the words make sense: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end..." After a moment he'd said what he'd come to say. "My father brought me out here yahrens ago. He avoided saying, 'Someday all this will be yours, my boy,' but that's what he meant. And one day I'll bring my son and do the same thing..."
"Do you ever wish you could just give it up to Zac?"
And he'd found he couldn't actually say the lie. "That's not the way it works," he had said instead.
It had worked to perfection. Starbuck had never told him he loved him. And Starbuck had gone back to women.
After Apollo's transfer to the Aquila Dies he'd heard about Phaedra, and Lisl, and Tamiko, to name those who'd lasted for a sectare, and when they had finally all reached the Galactica there had been Romila, and Parvati, and Aurora, and Athena, and finally Cassiopeia. No men, no time for a man, not seriously. So it had worked. And yet... his father had been right, no women for any length of time. But although he knew that he kept pulling Starbuck back to him for his own selfish reasons, not able to love him but not able to leave him alone, either, he had no real reason to think that Starbuck felt differently about him than he did Boomer.
And every reason to think that he didn't.
Even if Boomer had been right, that had been a long time ago. Seven yahrens. A lot could change in seven yahrens. Starbuck had asked Athena to marry him. He'd fallen in love with Cassiopeia. At least, he'd wanted to marry her. He'd said so.
But Apollo found himself now clinging to that one anomalous thing that Starbuck had said when they'd talked about Cassiopeia and Sheba: "What do you want to hear, Apollo? Yes, I would have married her? Well, yes, I would. I would have. So it's a good thing I didn't, isn't it? 'Cause she's flit, and Athena had the nerve to ask her, and they're happy."
Athena had the nerve to ask her... That might mean that Starbuck wanted to be asked. Of course, it might only mean that Starbuck was angry at himself because he hadn't. Apollo didn't know; he didn't even remember the whole conversation well. At the time he'd just been angry, though only now was he realizing that at least some of that anger was because Starbuck was free again to look available and make Apollo's life miserablemore miserable. He'd been attributing it to Cassiopeia's fickleness and Athena's attempt to take revenge on Starbuck. He couldn't remember exactly what he'd said to Starbuck, only that the other pilot had backed down from his own anger to say, "Gods, Apollo, I'm sorry. I know you must be hurting, and angry at Boomer and not able to show it, and I'm snapping at you too." Then they'd gotten drunk...
Typical, Apollo realized now. Neither of them saying what they meant, what they wanted to say. Both of them inside the roles he'd forced on them back on the Falca. At least, he hoped it was both of them. He hoped Starbuck didn't want to be there. And he hoped it wasn't too late to get them out.
Gods knew, he had to try.
He was walking with his head down, thinking. Now he heard footsteps up ahead, slowing slightly. He looked up and saw Bojay. For a centon he found himself wondering what was wrong and why hadn't they called him, and then he remembered. Omega's quarters were up here. Odd how hard it was to remember that Bojay lived on the same deck as he did now. Or was it? Maybe that was just a way to avoid thinking about people who had found a way to be themselves, no matter what. Who had done what he couldn't, even though he didn't see, even now, how he could have done otherwise. He took another step and then realized he needed to say something, and quickly, or he'd be cutting Bojay and he didn't want to do that... "Bojay," he nodded at the other man.
"Captain," Bojay nodded back at him.
"Quiet shift, I hope?"
"It was," Bojay answered. "Nothing stirring anywhere, as far as we can tell."
"Well, that's probably good news," Apollo said.
"Better than most I can think of."
Apollo grinned a little. "You're right there. Well, good night."
And then, after Bojay had gone past him, his words registered: it was. Apollo looked at his wrist-chrono: 2254. Sagan, Blue's been on duty a half a centar already. Mindful of Bojay's presence, he didn't exactly run, but he did hurry. He hadn't realized he'd been so long at his father's; they'd eaten early for Boxey and Starbuck's sake. He realized he didn't even know how late it had been when the others left; maybe Athena and Cassie had stayed with Boxey so Starbuck wouldn't be late. Or maybe Starbuck had asked Boxey before he went to bed, gotten someone to come.
He hoped not. Not that he wanted Boxey left alone, he wanted Starbuck to still be there. He took a deep breath before keying himself in, and when he let it out a small prayer accompanied it. Passing the love of women... please, let it be.
"There you are." Starbuck stood up and then hesitated. "You look wrung out. Your father didn't give you a hard time about Sheba tonight, did he?"
"No," Apollo said, "that's not what he wanted to talk about."
Starbuck nodded, as if that was all that mattered. "Good. Boxey's asleep, no problems there, so I'll head on out."
"You have to go right now?" That was a stupid question.
Starbuck raised his eyebrows. "Have to go? Apollo, you may have been on day shift today, but the rest of Blue's on tonight. Now, tonight, in fact. I figured since your dad sent me here I could be late without getting into trouble. I called the ready room, gave myself a late chit. Tarrant'll probably want you to verify it, though, you know what an untrusting soul he is."
"Don't worry about that. Starbuck," he said as the other man turned to the door, "I wanted to talk to you."
Starbuck turned back to him, looking a little wary. Or was that just Apollo's imagination? Starbuck said, "It'll have to wait, I guess. I'm on duty and then tomorrow you're on days again, right? And I'm booked for dinner, so..." He shrugged easily. "Unless you can squeeze it in tomorrow before you go for Boxey; I plan to be asleep but I could get up early."
"I don't want to squeeze this in," Apollo objected, thinking, booked for dinner already?
"Well, then, day after tomorrow. Sometime"
"Starbuck, just stay put and we'll talk now."
He wasn't imagining it; those blue eyes were definitely wary. "Look, Apollo: I'm on duty and you're tired, and I'm not sure this is a good time for us to have what looks like one of your serious chats. I'm not really in the mood to talk about my future, and I don't have any suggestions for yours... let it wait, okay?"
"I thought your future was bright and shining?"
"Well, it's not, not just at this moment."
"Even with dinner tomorrow?"
"Yeah, well..." Starbuck shrugged. "That happens to be your sister... And Cass," he added to Apollo's raised eyebrow.
"Is that such a good idea?" Apollo asked involuntarily.
"Why not? Dinner with some old friends, where's the harm?"
"No harm," Apollo hoped, "just... you should be getting on with your life"
"Well, maybe I'm not ready to do that," Starbuck said. "Maybe you are, and if you are that's great and I'll be happy to listen to you talk about her, but don't push me any more, Apollo. I always told you settling down didn't appeal to me, and this is why, it doesn't last." He broke off. "Sorry," and he sounded it. "Didn't mean to snap at you. I'm bit more strung out over this than I want to admit, makes me tetchy, as Boomer would say."
"You said you weren't."
Starbuck shrugged. "Yeah, well... I figured you had your own problems and didn't need to hear about mine, especially since mine weren't as bad as yours." He looked at his chrono again. "You can see this isn't a good idea, and I am late"
"I'll take care of that. Don't move." He punched in the number and waited until the duty NCO answered. "Sergeant Giles? I need Lieutenant Tarrant, please... Tarrant? Lieutenant Starbuck won't be in tonight; something's come up... Thank you. Have a good shift." He cut off the comm. The good thing, though he didn't usually think of it as good, was that Tarrant was almost pathologically uninterested in anybody else. He wouldn't ask why, as long as he was covered. Apollo looked at Starbuck. "Now," he said, "now we're going to talk. And this time we're going to say what's on our minds, not just what we think each other wants to hear."
"Okay," Starbuck said slowly. "What about?"
"Us." And maybe Starbuck was right and this wasn't the best time, but Apollo was afraid that if he let Starbuck leave, the next time he saw the other man they'd be back to slick surfaces and role-playing.
"Why? Aren't we good the way we are?"
"Is good good enough?"
Starbuck blinked at him, startled though Apollo wasn't sure why. Then he answered, "Good's better than bad."
"Is bad what you're afraid of?"
"What I'm... Okay. Okay, Apollo. You want to hear what's on my mind?"
Maybe not, Apollo thought, but what he said was, "Yes."
"I'm not afraid. I've never been afraid. I've kept my mouth shut because you made it pretty clear what you wanted to hear, and I didn't want to watch you pull away and poker up into Lieutenant Leave-me-alone, like you were with most people on the Falca, but I wasn't afraid. Maybe you were, maybe you are, maybe I'm completely wrong. But you gave me a choice and I took the one that hurt least, and that's fine and if you want me to say now what you made clear you didn't want me to say before, I don't get it. But I never did, really, get it, so that's not new."
"Get what?" Apollo said.
"You." Starbuck laughed a little. "That's funny, I never got you." The smile died. "It, Apollo, everything. I don't get it. I didn't then, I don't know, I guess I didn't learn it young enough or something. But I could tell you did. I could tell you meant it, and I knew that nothing was more important to you than carrying out your duties, fulfilling your responsibilities, every single one of them no matter how insignificant or even silly it might seem to me, or how much you might hate it. But that's why I let myself have this little crazy bit of hope. Because when I asked you if you could give it to Zac, you didn't say, 'Why would I want to do that?' You said, 'That's not the way things are done.' And I know, I knew, that the way things are done is very important to you. Even if you don't like the way things are done, somebody's got to come up with a pretty compelling case to make you change. If you'd ended up on a battle wagon like the Pegasus or the Columbia where the strike captain didn't double as a squadron leader, you wouldn't have flown much even though you'd have hated it. The way things are done is, was, well, almost sacred to you. But I let myself think that what that meant was that you didn't want to do it. And I let myself have this little fantasy that someday, maybe a dozen yahrens on, fourteen, Zac would get married and have a kid and you'd pass it all to him."
He took a breath. "See, I looked up 'entail', because I didn't know what it meant. And it said you could break one, you knew that, right? If you and your father wanted to. Now I didn't know if he wanted to, or even if you did. I mean, that would have been like jumping up and down and waving your arms. But it also said that it didn't matter; if you never had any kids it would go to Zac anyway. So I let myself hang on to this crazy little hope, I didn't even let on to Boomer, that maybe the time would come that I could ask you. Maybe. If I didn't let myself get tied down, if I didn't let myself get too close to anyone. But then Zac died, and I thought, you know, 'that's it', and I asked Athena to marry me. And she said 'no' and that was a good thing in more ways than one, but back then I didn't think so. And then it just hit me. I mean it literally woke me up one night: you didn't have anybody to pass it on to, but there wasn't any 'it' any more. You didn't have anything to pass on. But you know what you did. You started talking about marrying Serina. You said you were in love. And I realized I'd been fooling myself the whole time. So I let go of it."
He plowed on. "Or I tried to. I didn't do very well. Every time you took some crazy risk, like you never used to before, you took yahrens off my life. And then you got killed. Killed. In front of my eyes. I offered my life for yours. So did she. And we got you back. It didn't cost my life, but it did cost me you. Because you came back to her. And I didn't mind that, well not much... I mean I'd rather you were alive and hers than dead. But that's when I really did give up. Not loving you, no; but thinking there was ever going to be a time when you'd want to hear me say it, let alone that I could have you. Cass was second choice, but I thought we could make it work. Lots of people are settling for second, after all; so many firsts are dead. You're not dead. You were around all the time. I figured I was lucky."
"Oh, Starbuck..." Apollo couldn't think what to say.
"You know, Boomer said the same thing. Said I should get used to it, you and Sheba. Sure, maybe he had his own reasons for being depressed about it, and over the yahrens sometimes he'd try and pick me up, but after Serina we both knew he was lying when he did. Not that he ever knew just how wrong I'd been"
"Starbuck, you weren't wrong."
Starbuck looked at him, shaking his head. "Wasn't I? So maybe Serina was the same for you as Athena was for me, a reaction without thinking. But after she died, where did you turn? Who did you go to when you went somewhere? Not me. Sheba. And at the same time you were slacking off on that whole 'way things are done' idea."
"What do you mean?"
Starbuck sighed, biting the inside of his lip as he looked at Apollo. "Come on. You're relaxing all over the place. For you, anyway. Taking all those missions you used to assign other people. Spending all your time with the Wing, or at least as much as you can; if Tigh dropped dead tonight you'd be nowhere near ready to take his place. You let Omega handle all the housekeeping you can, you know it, and you didn't use to even though you never liked it. And women pilotsDietra as a squadron leader"
"That was kind of a compelling case," Apollo said, uncertain of the reason but somehow knowing he had to convince Starbuck he wasn't getting more liberal. "What were we supposed to do, die?"
"Oh, yeah, compelling at the time," Starbuck conceded. "But after all the men came back, you're the one who tipped the balance with Tigh to keep the women who wanted to stay. Nobody was saying toss 'em out on their ears, their old jobs were waiting. And what about Robin and Giles?"
"What about them?"
"You haven't done a thing about them. The old you would have. You'd have been sorry but you'd have done something, not just pretended not to know."
"You want me to bust them?"
"No. But that's how things are done, isn't it?"
Apollo took a couple of breaths, trying to figure out how to answer that. "Things are different now," he said, knowing it was weak, wishing he'd let Starbuck go so he'd have time to think about what he was going to say.
"Maybe. But you can see my dilemma, can't you? You aren't doing things as they're supposed to be done, but you're dating Sheba."
"And when you lose her, you're angry. Yes," he said as Apollo started to deny it, "you were. You yelled at me for losing Cass, and at Athena for stealing her, and neither one makes sense, so I figure we're just catching the hell you can't give Boomer because... And that's what I'm not sure of. Because he's your friend, or you want her to be happy, or you know it was your fault, or what?"
"Well, then, what? Where am I wrong?" He was insistent, and he sounded angry, but Apollo thought maybe he could hear something else in Starbuck's voice, a genuine hope that he was wrong, a need to be convinced.
"Starbuck, I was angry because you weren't dating."
"What do you mean? Why should that make you angry?"
"Just that. You weren't dating, and Sheba had just dumped me, and..." Apollo stopped.
"And? And what? And what, Apollo? Can you even think it? You obviously can't say it. You know, I ran into Bojay at lunch today."
He jabbed a finger at Apollo. "Let me say this, okay? You don't know Boj; he has a lot of faith in other people's words. And you know? Sometimes I think he's right. Sometimes somebody already said it better than you ever could. He quoted this at me; he should've said to you, but he never will, so I will. 'I know something I ought to say, stuck here, trying to find a way, and you know that you can't get away, and you know that you can't hide it from yourself: lonely nights, traveling farthere's no escape, can only run so far.'"
Starbuck started to snap and then, suddenly, closed his eyes and shook his head. "What, Apollo?" They looked at each for a moment; Apollo couldn't find the words. Starbuck sighed. "I do know what I ought to say, but I don't think I can say it. Isn't that funny?"
"You know what's really funny? It's me, too. The last line of that, it's me... 'Lonesome tears after dark: there's no escape, can only run so far.' I think I've run as far as I can run."
"You keep saying my name. I wish you'd find something else to say. Anything else."
Apollo swallowed. He had to get this right, that was obvious.
Starbuck sighed. "I'm sorry, Apollo. I wish you'd... Never mind."
"Look, I didn't mean to. You made yourself clear, a long time ago. It's not your fault I got my hopes up. I think it'd probably be best if I transferred into another squadron"
"Starbuck, would you shut up for a centon and let me say something?"
"Let you? I've been asking you to." He waited. "What is it?"
"Look, just give me a centon." And then the right words came to him. "Starbuck, do you remember the other day? The victory celebration?"
Starbuck looked at him like he'd lost what was left of his mind. "Do I rememYes, Apollo, I remember that day. Vividly."
"Do you remember saying that I'd fallen from the hand of God?"
Starbuck blinked. "I remember," he said a little more gently. "You didn't fall far. I caught you and shoved you back."
"You caught me," Apollo repeated. "You always do."
Starbuck sighed. He didn't look angry any more. "I always will, Apollo."
"Will you catch me if I jump?"
"Will you? If I jump right out, no parasails or ropes or anything, if I just jump... Will you catch me?"
"Jump? Jump where?"
"To you." Apollo swallowed, watching those blue eyes change. "If I just jump to you, will you catch me?"
"If I catch you, I won't let go."
He might have meant that as a warning, but Apollo chose to hear it as a promise. "Oh, gods, Starbuck, that's what I'm hoping for. Never let go."
"What about your father? What about that whole heir thing?"
"I'd love to tell you that I had the guts to forget it. I wish I did, I don't know if I do. But I don't need them. He doesn't want me to" Something moved in Starbuck's eyes and Apollo felt his own growing wider. "You knew that."
"I didn't know you were in love with me," Starbuck said. "I thought you might be if you wanted to, but I thought... And after..." He swallowed. "After the Destruction he might have changed his mind, anyway. When you were all the chance he had."
"He didn't. He never told me, he thought I knew. I thought I knew, you thought... Other people's words. Who was it said 'It's not what you don't know that gets you into trouble; it's what you do know that isn't so'?"
"I don't know. Are you going to jump?"
"Are you going to catch me? No" he added swiftly. "You don't have to answer that, it's not fair. I'm jumping; I'm jumping now... I love you, Starbuck. I've spent nine yahrens loving you like an idiot. I want to do it right from now on."
"'Right' means?" Starbuck asked without moving.
"It means, in public. You move in. Tigh's your rater. End goal: we get ourselves legally tied and we're together till we're old and gray."
"What about the way things are done?"
"Starbuck, I could try to convince you I've changed, but in the first place I probably haven't all that much and in the second place, you might not love me if I did. But this is the way things are done now, isn't it? Isn't that what had you worried?"
Starbuck smiled then.
"Starbuck," Apollo said softly, "Starbuck, I'm falling."
"It's a long way down to where the rest of us live," Starbuck said. "Did you mean that?"
"Mean what? Yes. Whatever it was... You're right, I was afraid. Afraid to let you close enough to love because then I might have to hurt you. Hurt me. Afraid I wouldn't be able to do what I had to do. What I thought I had to do. Afraid to let you get too far away because I wasn't sure I could make it without you close enough... Afraid and unfair and... My first choice isn't dead, either, Starbuck."
"You are such a conflicted, obsessive idiot," Starbuck said. "I can't think why I love you."
"But you do?"
"Consider yourself caught, Apollo," Starbuck said, laughing just a little bit. "And like I said, I'm never letting go."
"Don't. I'll just get lost again. For God's sake, Starbuck, are you just going to stand there?"
"What I just said? Not letting go?"
"I didn't tell Tarrant you'd be late. I told him you wouldn't be there."
Starbuck's smile widened. "Abusing your rank?" he asked as he closed the distance between them.
"I hope so," Apollo said, and then Starbuck's hand was on the side of his face and Starbuck's lips were on his, and he didn't say anything for a long time as he gave himself up entirely to the other man.
Starbuck's kiss was nothing like Sheba's, and nothing really like Serina's either. Like hers it was knowing, and demandingno, not demanding, Apollo thought as he felt his knees weaken, as he surrendered to Starbuck, let the other man steer him backwards into the sleeping room. Serina had demanded; Starbuck askedasked hungrily, asked importunately, asked fervently, but asked. Falling onto the bed, returning Starbuck's kisses as well as he knew how, Apollo responded without hesitation. Whatever Starbuck wanted after all this time, whatever he could give him, he could have.
And what he seemed to want was Apollo. Or at least to drive Apollo insane. The darkness in the room didn't seem to slow him down, nor did their uniforms; even the pressure suits came off quickly. Or it seemed quickly to Apollo, though to be fair his senses were definitely on overload and he might not have been judging the passage of time with any real accuracy. Starbuck's hands and mouth were everywhere, finding places on Apollo's body that even he hadn't known would make him moan, writhe, or cry out in pleasure. Serina's reaction to his inexperience had been self-congratulatory and directed at making sure he knew what to do for her; he had had no idea he could be reduced to such a helpless state of quivering pleasure. And when Starbuck took him in his mouth, he completely lost control. He was only marginally aware of Starbuck's hand forcing his out of his grip on the thick tawny hair, giving him a handful of blanket he was surprised to find crumpled in his grasp afterwards, even less of the way he bucked under his lover; all he could feel was Starbuck's mouth, hot and tight on his cock, and the shuddering release it brought to him.
The next thing he was aware of was Starbuck kissing him again, hard and hungry, and Starbuck's body overlaying his. Starbuck's cock was hard between Apollo's legs, and he found himself thinking, If the truth behind 'cock-sucker' is so... sublime, then.... He spread his legs, bending his knees, and ran his hands down Starbuck's back to his astrum. Starbuck shuddered under the pull and moaned, managing to move his head far enough to say, "Pol, careful."
"Frack me, Starbuck." Apollo tightened his thighs on Starbuck. "Frack me. I want..." He didn't know exactly what but he knew he wanted it. Him. "I want you, Starbuck."
"Gods..." Somehow Starbuck slipped out of Apollo's hands, both of them slick with sweat. "Don't. You. Move." He vanished in the darkness but before Apollo could protest he heard the other man going through the cabinet in the washroom. In a centon he was back, bringing with him the cream Apollo used for Boxey's elbows and heels from the cold air, its sharp scent unmistakable. "Not perfect," Starbuck said breathlessly, "but it'll do. Are you sure?"
"Yes," Apollo said, knowing how much Starbuck wanted it, and knowing that made him want it, too.
Starbuck stretched out beside him. "Roll over," he said, "there." And then Apollo felt one of Starbuck's fingers sliding over his astrum, the cream chilly at first but warming quickly. Starbuck was nibbling his ear and pulling gently at the more sensitive of his nipples at the same time; Apollo gasped with pleasure and then felt the finger push inside him. It was another new sensation, and before he could decide whether he liked it or not, Starbuck stroked something inside him and he gasped again, his hand convulsing on the sheet. "More?" asked Starbuck.
"Oh, gods, Starbuck," he said. "Yes."
And Starbuck gave him more. Two fingers, stroking and scissoring and stretching him, preparing him, and then three. By the time he felt the head of Starbuck's cock nudging his astrum, he was so ready he couldn't keep from pushing backwards. With a moan of his own Starbuck drove forward, thrusting deep inside Apollo, filling him like he'd never even fantasized, and then began to stroke. After a couple of thrusts he found the angle and hit that spot again, causing Apollo to cry out and raise his hips. His own cock was stiffening again under Starbuck's thrusts and the blond reached around him and took it in his hand, stroking in counterpoint. Apollo crouched on his elbows and knees and felt Starbuck inside and out; there was nothing in the universe but Starbuck and him, and nothing mattered but Starbuck...
He came inside Starbuck's strong right hand, and that seemed to carry Starbuck over the edge himself. He shuddered inside Apollo, filling him with heat, and then they lay together, exhausted, neither of them moving until the chill in the room got through the haze in Apollo's mind. Reluctantly he pulled away from Starbuck's now limp grasp and managed to bring the covers over them, turning to pull the blond close to him.
"Apollo..?" Starbuck half-said, half-yawned.
"Shhh," he said, stroking Starbuck's hair. "Sleep."
"You be here?"
"I'll be here," he promised.
|Prolog||Chap 1||Chap 2||Chap 3||Chap 4||Chap 5.1|
|Chap 5.2||Chap 6.1||Chap 6.2||Chap 7.1||Chap 7.2||Epilog|
|Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans|
|Original Fan Fiction|
Star Wars |
Power Rangers |
Battlestar Galactica | The A Team
Space 1999 | Alias Smith and Jones | Jurassic Park III
|Go Back to List of Karen's Fiction|