It was one of those odd interludes in the war. The Cylons were all gone, withdrawn far behind the lines so seemingly permanently established only sectons ago. Such things happened, time and again, as some odd quirk in the enemy, still so alien after nearly a millennium, pulled them away. The timing of the interludes varied, but their duration did not: always three sectares, always. After two sectons watching, the Fleet shook itself like a huge, tired beast, and retired to lick its wounds and restore itself. Weary Colonial Warriors drew breath, as if for the first time in yahrens, and rested.
The lucky ones drew leave on some hospitable planet. The luckiest ones went home. But even those who stayed on duty relaxed, knowing that tonight they could sleep, and that tomorrow night would come as well.
Apollo Adama's son, Squadron Leader off the Horus, was in the middle group. His ship was in orbit around the world of Cynetheria, and both Viper squadrons were on long furlon. He'd gone as far away as he could from the bustle of the planet's sprawling, friendly space port. He just wanted to be alone. He was twenty-six, and a decorated hero of the Colonies, and he was very, very tired.
He sat on the porch steps in front of the little cabin he'd rented for two sectares and looked at the moon rising over the ocean. Odd, only one moon, especially one this large, almost like a twin planet. There was no artificial light; his was the only building on the little island and it was dark. But the moon dripped silver over everything: the white sand glowed, the froth on the water was luminous, and the very air seemed drenched in a strange, eerie brilliance. It was enough to read by, yet all colors were leached into silver and grey, and the shadows were darker than the midnight sky, where the great arch of the galaxy blazed only a little less brightly than the moon.
Apollo sighed and looked again at the letter in his hand. There was light enough to read it, but he didn't need to; he had it memorized. My son: I pray to the Lords of Kobol as I write this that it will find you well when you receive it. I am looking out at the stars and wondering where you are. Zac has just gone up to bed, glowing with happiness: he's been accepted at CMA. Athena called yesterday to say she's been accepted at a course at the GenStaff school. This winter we all three will be in Caprica City, and missing you very much. I know you think of us; rest assured you are never out of my heart...
He sighed again. When he thought of Zac training for the service, a deep and unfathomable sorrow brushed across his heart. His brother was too joyous, too young... Then Apollo smiled to himself and tucked the letter under a stone on the top stair. Zac had survived the same childhood that had made Apollo feel old before his time and survived it with all that joy intact. Probably the Academy couldn't dim his spirit, either. Not everyone who went there emerged grim and obsessive.
Resolutely he pulled his mind back before his unruly thoughts could go where he'd long ago forbidden them to go. He stood up and wandered down the short distance to the beach, smelling the sharp tang that seemed to say ocean no matter what planet you were on. After a moment, he began wandering along the shore; the island was so small he could walk clear around it in a centare, and that was what he intended to do. Perhaps then he could sleep.
Out in the dark waters small pale things, glowing in the moonlight, swam back and forth. To his left, in the groves of trees, opalescent blossoms opened their richly perfumed petals to the night-flyers of the island, their heady fragrance filling the air like a tangible mist. Over his head, the black sky was scattered with glittering points of light, white and pale blue, and a blazing smear of brilliance that kept its light to itself, and the huge, dominating moon. Under his bare feet, the sand was white and cool, firmly packed and giving a little with each step. Occasionally a wave, reaching further than its brothers, washed gently over his feet.
He felt alone in the universe, a castaway thrown up on a shore a million lightyahrens from anyone or anywhere. He had no family, no rank, no responsibilities. He didn't even have a name. He was just 'the man', walking along the beach under the moon.
He liked the feeling. The man could have thoughts and dreams he couldn't have. The man could indulge himself by sleeping the whole day away (as in fact he had), and wandering at night like a lunatic... He laughed aloud, suddenly. Lunatic, moonstruck... such perfect words for Cynetheria.
His laughter had startled living things in the trees: avians fled into the night sky and small arboreal creatures hooted and fled through the branches. And something else jumped to its feethis feetand stared at him.
He stared back.
Thick hair, fair in daylight, was ivory in the moonlight, skin was pearlescent, eyes as pale and bright as stars. The body, dappled by shadows from the leaves, was tense at first, but then relaxed only to tense again as Apollo stared. It was the body the man dreamed about, here on the man's island in the middle of nowhere, bare-chested, bare-legged, altogether beautiful. Apollo felt his mind slipping between himself and the man and he didn't, for a long moment, know what was real.
And then Starbuck spoke, his voice the only thing the moon couldn't leach the gold out of, soft and warm as honey or sunlight. "I fell asleep," he said, sounding exactly as if he'd been caught out of bounds at school. "I didn't mean for you to know I was here. I'll leave in the morning."
"Why?" Apollo said; the voice had banished the man.
"Why what?" Starbuck asked, that familiar cant to his head, his body relaxing again as he failed to detect any anger. "I fell asleep 'cause I was tired. I didn't mean you to know I was here 'cause I knew you wanted to be alone. I'll leave..." he grinned suddenly, teeth another flash of silver in the night. "'Cause ditto."
"No," Apollo said. "Why are you here at all? Didn't think I could take care of myself?" He wanted Starbuck to leavehe did, he didbut to his dismay the man had slipped back through the shadows and softened that question to a near caress.
Starbuck shook his head, that thick fair hair tousled around his face, begging for a hand to put it to rights. "Of course not."
"Why, then?" Apollo said; the man pushed him forward a couple of steps. A wave reached for his feet and failed to find them, he'd come so far up off the beach, into the thick and colorless grass, soft under his soles.
Starbuck shrugged; his pale eyes were on Apollo's and he didn't seem to be able to look away. "I just wanted to be near you," he said simply.
Apollo looked at him; no, really, looked wasn't enough of a verb. He gazed, he feasted his eyes, he devoured him... moonsilvered, dreamlike, unreal. "Don't go," he said and sat down in the grass. "Talk to me."
Starbuck dropped down beside him agreeably. "Sure," he said. "What about?"
"Look at that," Apollo waved at the sky and the sea, suddenly shy. "Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?"
"Once or twice," Starbuck said, but he wasn't looking at the ocean.
Apollo sighed. The lines between the him and the man had disappeared entirely. The moon was filling his senses, the moon and the fragrance of the flowers and the breeze off the ocean and most of all the nearness of Starbuck. "Is this real?" he asked.
Starbuck raised his eyebrows. "Is what real?"
"You," Apollo said, "me, this planet, this beach, this feeling..."
"I'm pretty real," Starbuck said. "This beach seems real enough, so I imagine the planet is, too. You?" He had been leaning back on his hands; now he leaned forward, raising one toward Apollo. He paused, waiting for Apollo's reaction; when Apollo just sat there, he went ahead and touched his face, very gently. "You seem real."
"What about the feeling?" Apollo asked. "What about this night?"
"What's real?" Starbuck said, his golden voice softening, his hand staying where it was, warm against Apollo's cheek. "What is reality, what's illusion, what's fantasy? I don't know... you'll have to tell me."
"I don't know, either," said Apollo. Starbuck dropped his hand; Apollo reached for it. "I don't care."
"I don't know anything," said Apollo. "I only know you... you and me and here and now. I don't know how long it will last. Maybe only this furlon."
"If it's not real," said Starbuck, "how can it matter how long it lasts?" He raised Apollo's hand to his lips. "It's lasted forever already; it has no beginning, and it will never end."
"I know," he said. "I know. It's up to you; it's always been up to you."
Apollo sighed. The man had been alone, and it had been good; but now Starbuck was here, and it was immeasurably better. But the moonlight would pass, the madness would fade, and the day-to-day life in the sunlight, filled with other people and responsibilities and duties, would return and take Starbuck away again. He looked into Starbuck's eyes and saw the galaxy reflected in their pale depths, and the moon, and himself. And he saw love. All-encompassing, all-accepting love. "I can't resist you," he said, though in fact Starbuck only offered, never asked.
And offered now: "Shall I go, then?"
"No," Apollo said. "Not if you understand"
"I do," Starbuck said. "I always have; I always will. I know who you are." He leaned forward until their foreheads rested against each other. "I love who you are."
Their kiss was moonsilvered and magic, and the moon and the stars shone down on their love. And when the sun rose in the morning, Starbuck was still there, golden and real and the same as he had been under the moon.
The same as he was for the rest of Apollo's life: real yet magic, there even when far away, loving even when he shouldn't have, until the day Apollo truly couldn't resist him any longer.
And on that day the moon outshone the sun.
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