Bending Twigs


As the twig is bent, so the tree's inclined.
"Look, you think when I leave here tonight and get back to the barracks I'm not going to find the kid sitting on my bunk playing sol-pyr and waiting to ask me what's on your mind?" —Boomer to Apollo, "Too Long Nights"

So, I'm sitting here in the dark, so angry I'm surprised, I really am, that the fire in my soul isn't lighting up the room. But the only light's that coming in the window from the cloud-covered moons, shivering the darkness and fading in and out like the bad dreams we'll all have from now on. Starbuck's still out, though he passed into real sleep only about a centare ago, and Apollo finally succumbed to the strain of the day and fell asleep himself some twenty centons later, sitting on the floor next to Starbuck's bunk with his bandaged hand under the kid's.

And me? I can't sleep. It's not my hands, though they hurt. Or my ribs, though ditto. And it's not worry about what those borays are gonna say, 'cause they can't say anything. And it's not even waiting to see if Starbuck has another nightmare, 'cause I don't think he will, not with his hand on Apollo even unconscious. I can't afford to. Have to get this rage under control or I'll flat kill Frejor tomorrow if I see him. Go to sleep now and it'll just simmer inside me, ready to bust loose again. Got to get hold of it, choke it down with both hands, get back in charge...

I scared the colonel's son today. That doesn't bother me much. The colonel's son needs to be shaken up. He's a bit of a prick. A prig and a prude, a prim, proper, preaching prelate of probity... in short, a prick. But I think I scared Apollo, too. And that's different. Apollo and the colonel's son... slowly he's been looking at that persona and figuring out he doesn't have to be him all the time. And Lords know, me and the kid don't back the colonel's son. And today he took a huge step away from that. He had to, or lose us, and he did. But I wish I hadn't had to scare Apollo.

No way around it. No way at all...

I'll probably never forget the first time I met either of them, the colonel's son or the nameless orphan. The man I'd follow into the Seventh Hell and the man who'd make me laugh while we went. Apollo and Starbuck, or, as they're more usually known, Apollo & Starbuck, Ltd. With me as their junior partner and lucky to be there.

It was at the Academy. I should say "The Academy" with the very definite article. CMA itself, in Caprica City. My dad did a lot to get me accepted there instead of the one on Leonis, and my mom and my aunts made me swear to behave and not disgrace the family while my uncles were telling me to make sure I showed those stodgy Capricans how a Leonid lived life. Frankly, I was nervous.

So I picked up my room assignment and headed there. When I arrived, there was a big Caprican boy in the room already, picking out the top bunk with the first-come-first-served prerogative. "Hi," he said to me, holding out his hand. Straight brown hair; a tendency to chunkiness; a friendly, open expression... a nice enough guy, I figured. "My name's Jolly."

"Boomer," I introduced myself and claimed one of the single beds. I knew that once they started attritting—getting rid of those cadets they had to accept but didn't want as well as washing out the weak students—we'd be three in a room, but even for the four sectares of the first semester I didn't want to be sleeping in a bed under anybody, let alone this guy. Nice or not.

It was another five centons before our next room-mate showed up. I couldn't believe my eyes. I suppose, technically, he was a short, scrawny, blond kid; that's how Jolly described him later. Jolly may have meant it. He wasn't tall and he needed to fill out a bit, true, but... Lords of Kobol, he was beautiful. He got older, he was going to be drop-dead gorgeous, all male but more than merely handsome... but he was going to have to get older. I've got brothers, cousins... I know a fifteen-yahren-old when I see one, even if his eyes and his bearing say fifty is closer to the mark. I didn't know how he conned anybody into letting him in; turns out he only conned them into thinking he was a small sixteen... he came to us from the induction center, testing into pilot training and probably batting those eyelashes at some frustrated Warrior wishing he was at the front until he got a provisional acceptance into the academy. And being Caprican, it was CMA...

All that I learned later, after we'd fallen under his spell—damn, even when you see him doing it you can't help yourself—and were busting our butts as much to get him through as us. At the time, he came in, kind of wary, but introduced himself readily enough—Starbuck, named after one of the great Navigators which I learned was a kind of giveaway to Capricans that he didn't have any family. Me, I just thought it was a cool name, legendary. It fit him somehow.

And then the colonel's son showed up. At least I was better looking than Jolly. Not that Apollo was a match for Starbuck's almost ethereal beauty, but he was a good-looking kid that only needed to put on another yahren or so, fill out that rangy frame a little. And lose the captain following him around. Which, to give him credit, he did. Lords of Kobol know, he was uncomfortable being the colonel's son... he just didn't know who else to be.

Starbuck showed him. The kid could make him unbend, laugh, have fun like he apparently never had in his life. Whoever had stuck them in the same room had done them both the biggest favor they'd ever have done for them. I'm pretty damned sure Starbuck was on the short list for being gone by the end of the first semester, but Apollo wouldn't let that happen. And me? Well, Starbuck is Starbuck, and I'm damned lucky he's my friend, so I did my best with him, and for him, too. But Apollo's my captain, as we say on Leonis, the man I'm destined to follow. Every man has a captain, a friend, and a lover, even if he never finds them. I found two of my three that day, Apollo too, though he didn't realize it just yet. Starbuck... he hit the trifecta, and all in the same package.

But it didn't work out.

Lords of Kobol, I'm so angry.

Earlier this evening, just about dusk, I was cutting across the back lawns heading for the freshman barracks. I'd been down playing racquetball and was hurrying back so as not to miss dinner at the mess hall. I pulled up short when I spotted three seniors—Frejor, whom it was Apollo and Starbuck's misfortune to encounter on a weekly basis on the Triad courts, and his two rodent roomies. They were swaggering by, talking dirty, and smoothing out their uniforms—not an attractive sight and an encounter I didn't want to have. They'd been coming out of one of the maintenance sheds, and a threesome of those three was a thought to put me off my dinner entirely.

I don't know what made me suddenly wonder if maybe they'd left somebody in the shed. Probably a hunch based on rumors about Frejor's tendency to pick up townies impressed by his silver and black uniform, especially the cadet-colonel's insignia and the cape. I wasn't into stray daggits, not really, but seven sectares with the colonel's son was wearing off on me. I will thank the Lords of Kobol, fasting, every first day for the rest of my life.

Starbuck was huddled in a corner of the hut. His shirt was mostly on him still, but ripped beyond repair; his trousers were around one ankle, his body was liberally decorated with cuts and bruises... it was damned plain what had happened to him, and I heard my aunts' voices talking about not disgracing the family, and I shut them out with the anger already starting to rise beyond acceptable limits.

Because his eyes...

I'll confess to a certain amount of prejudice: I generally don't like colored eyes. Grey ones are spooky, green ones feral, and blue ones shallow and cold. Well, Starbuck's eyes were never shallow—opaque sometimes, in the early days or when he was challenged and he was hiding behind them, but never shallow—and they were far too full of life to be cold. Even angry they were a hot blue, like the heart of a flame. But when I looked into them now, they were so cold, so desolate, so... abandoned, I nearly wept for him. But they also didn't know me from the First Man. He was sweating, trembling all over, and his eyes were mostly pupil. I spared a minute to look around and found a burnt-out flash vial.

If Frejor had been there, I'd have torn his cock off and shoved it down his throat.

But he wasn't. And I had to get Starbuck back to our room before anybody else saw him. Fortunately, there were a couple of painting throws in the shed and I got Starbuck wrapped up in one. He tensed when I touched him, didn't respond to my voice, but he was too gone on the flash to be able to move. I knew from a couple of my cousins that inside the kid was totally terror-stricken, but at least he was malleable for the moment. I wouldn't have wanted to have to wrestle him down and forcibly get him back to our room.

Apollo wasn't in. I deposited the still-unmoving Starbuck in the turbowash and hustled down to the room Jolly had moved into when two of its occupants were attritted last semester. He was getting ready to head over to the mess hall and offered to wait for me while I changed if I wanted.

"No, thanks," I said. "Do you know where Apollo is?"

"Mess hall, I think."

"Great. Please snag him out of there and send him back here. Now. Tell him I'm serious."

Jolly shrugged and agreed. He is a nice enough guy, but he's not one of us three.

I went back to the room and carefully got Starbuck's uniform off. It was basically shot; the shirt torn, the trousers torn though not as badly, and both stained... My anger was getting worse. I pushed it down for the moment. Starbuck needed me functional. Apollo would too.

He showed up on the run, froze for a second, and then was on his knees beside us, helping me support Starbuck. "My gods," he said, "who'd he get in a fight with... are those bites? What the hell happened?"

"Hang on to him," I said, "I'm going to try and clean him up... what happened? Frejor and his cronies happened." I got a warm wet cloth and started washing away the blood.

"What's wrong with him?" Apollo couldn't get any more reactions than I had.

"Flash," I said bluntly.

"But Starbuck doesn't use," Apollo protested, sounding as though he thought I'd made a mistake. "He doesn't even drink—I mean, to get drunk."

"True," I said, rather grimly I expect. "But I found the vial. I expect Frejor found it easier to do him flash-fried than sober and fighting, or truly unconscious."

"Do him?" Apollo repeated. For a terrible centon I thought I was going to have to explain that to him, but then it sank in. "Did you call it in yet? Shouldn't we let security see him before we wash away the evidence? What about the life center?"

"We can't report it, Apollo," I said flatly. "Gods, what do you think will happen if we do? They'll just say it was consensual sex and there's no regs against cadets having sex with cadets, just with faculty—"

"You don't believe this is right?" he demanded.

"This?" I said, almost angry at him, but I choked it down. Don't get mad at him, he's the wrong one, save it, boyo... "This is about as wrong as it gets. Drugs, violence—"

"It's all wrong," he said.

Well, frack. Couldn't let that pass. Not knowing what I knew. "No," I said. "Listen to the Leonid, Apollo, we know things. Rape's wrong. Sex isn't."

A bit too head-on for the colonel's son. He started with that little stutter Starbuck and I had both learned to head off, fast, before he got locked into a position he would come to regret. Of course, the kid could talk him out of those... had been able to. I touched his forehead under that shaggy, sweaty blond hair; the fever was going down some. Meanwhile, I was talking. "Come on, Apollo. A mutual grope in the dark between a couple of guys who haven't been near a girl except in the classroom in a couple of yahrens? Nobody's hurt, nothing means much, everybody grows up and moves on. This," I refocussed him on what counted, on the kid still curled up in his own corner of hell, "is wrong. This we deal with." I felt my anger rising and didn't care much. "This we stop."

I think he was relieved to change the subject. Of course, he was still thinking inside that old box. "Is he well enough to move yet? Or should we go get someone from the life center? And then the commandant—"

"No, no, and absolutely no," I said. "He's stoned, Apollo. He's flash-fried. Plebes can't even drink. He'll be out on his butt so fast you won't even see him go."

"Starbuck doesn't do drugs."

"No. But were we there?" He stared at me like a pup that got kicked unexpectedly. "And as for the commandant," I added, "see above." I picked Starbuck's trembling body up and put him on his bed; Apollo got there in time to pull the blankets down. We tucked him up and sat down on the bed next to him.

Apollo blinked confused green eyes at me. Lords of Kobol, your daddy kept you safe, didn't he? "Then, tomorrow, when Starbuck's back to normal. We'll report it then." He thought he'd figured it out. He touched Starbuck's hand comfortingly and the kid latched on to him good and tight.

I shook my head. For one thing, I wasn't all that sure that Starbuck was going to be 'back to normal', and certainly not tomorrow. But mainly, "No, Apollo. We don't report it."

"We have to report it," he said reasonably. "It's against regs."

"Not the way they'll tell it, it's not."

"What do you mean?"

I thought Starbuck's muscles were starting to relax a little. Good sign. I looked back up at the colonel's son and sighed. "They'll say he wanted to have sex with them. They'll say it was consensual. Maybe a little rough, but, hey, he's—"


"They will say it. And it's not like he's a temple virgin, Apollo."

"Boomer, come on, nobody could want to end up like this."

"Who says he thought he would? Accidental overdose—"

"They beat him up."

"Some guys like it that way," I said wearily. Apollo can do that to you.

"But..." he was looking for something now. "It's not legal. You know he's only fifteen..."

"Okay, A: we think so and B: you tell 'em that and he will be out on his ear. And I'll bet even your dad couldn't get him back in. And that's without drug use on his record."

"Okay, we wait till that's gone."

"A: if we wait long enough a drug screen comes back negative, what are we reporting? and B: if we don't, they say he took it on his own. And C: either way, he's a slut and he wanted it."

"He's not. And he didn't—"

"And there aren't two people in this whole damn academy outside this room who'd believe that, and we're not talking the Dean. They're fracking seniors, Apollo. Frejor's father's a battlestar commander. Rellin's grandfather's in the Quorum. You and I—weren't there. It's their word against his, and you know who'll win. You know," I repeated a little less violently.

He swallowed the unpalatable truth. He knew Starbuck was lucky not to have been attritted first semester. Lucky in us, 'cause we'd hauled him through the academics by main force and the occasional outright fraud. "So," he said, putting his free hand on Starbuck's where the kid was hanging on to him, "we do nothing and they get away with it?"

I was rubbing Starbuck's back, like I had my brother's when he was fevered, slow circles, as calming as I could. "Oh, we'll do something, all right," I promised Apollo. His eyes got a little wider at my tone... well, it was pretty savage, I admit. "We'll go over there, as soon as Starbuck's come down enough to pass out, and we'll beat the living hell out of them."

"We can't do that." His protest was, I think, automatic.

I chose to misunderstand him. "Sure we can, Apollo. Frejor thinks he's tough, but I can take him. And the other two? Jackals. Just jackals."

"That's not what I meant."

Frack. How come he had to be the kind of aristo who believes in laws and such? "It's what there is to do. And it's what we have to do. Have to, Apollo."

"It's wrong."

"This isn't?" I gestured at the kid. "I thought you thought it was."

"Two wrongs don't make a right." He actually said that.

"Neither does one," I answered. "If we don't stop 'em, they won't get stopped." I ran my hand through the kid's hair, feeling the rage damn near break free. "They'll make him their regular entertainment if they think they can get away with it. And somebody will die, and if it's not him, he'll spend his life in prison wishing it had been."

Apollo didn't have an answer for that. I hadn't really expected him to. It was okay. I knew what I was going to do, and I thought he did, too, whatever the colonel's son may have felt. Starbuck was now unconscious. I pulled his hand away from Apollo's arm, straightened him out a little, and tucked the blanket around him. Then I stood up and headed out of the room. I didn't look at Apollo; either he was coming or he wasn't, but I wasn't in a talking mood any more. But I heard his boots on the floor of the hallway behind, and nodded to myself.

I stopped in the open door to Jolly's room; he was there, studying. "Hey, Jol," I said. He looked up and blinked. "Me and Apollo have got something to do," I said. "Keep an eye on the kid, would you? He's not feeling well; don't let anybody bother him. Okay?"

"Sure, Boomer," he nodded.

"Thanks," I said and headed out, Apollo a silent shadow at my heels. I didn't ask Jolly to come, first because more people already knew about this than Starbuck would have wanted, and second because Jolly was, well, too gentle for this work. He'd be a good pilot, sending death from a distance, but he'd never have been able to look into a man's eyes and kill him. Frankly, I didn't know if Apollo was going to be able to do it on his own, but that was okay; I knew what to say to motivate him. 'Cause this had to be done.

As it turned out, I didn't have to say anything to fire Apollo's blood. We got to the seniors' dorm and Frejor's room in time to hear him talking about "that sweet blond ass." I heard Apollo growl beside me—literally growl, an animal sound that damn near scared me. My rage was restrained by a single thread, just enough control for me to say, "You enjoyed that? Good for you, 'cause you're not enjoying anything for a long, long time. And that, never again."

"Oh, what? We mess with your property? Here's a fact of life: Plebes don't have property."

Apollo was right behind me, not a half-step back, when I hit the bastard. Frankly, I don't remember the fight. I remember smelling blood and piss and puke when I finally became aware of Apollo's arm crooked around my throat and his voice frantic in my ear. "Boomer. Boomer! Let go, you're gonna kill him. Let him go!"

I came down from it reluctantly; I could hear myself panting as I forced my fingers to unclench from Frejor's throat. Fortunately (I really don't want to go to prison) the bastard was still breathing. Apollo hauled me to my feet. Frejor's two henchrodents (even henchman is too good a term for them) were sprawled on the floor; one of them was heaving up his guts and the other was holding what looked like a broken arm. They were by-gods terrified.


"You listen to me," Apollo said, his voice still rough. "You stay away from him. You so much as think about touching him again and you'll think tonight was a cotillion. Got that?"

The one who could nodded.

I was sane enough to talk again, so I contributed, "You boys should collect that piece of trash on the floor and hit the life center. I'd tell them you got jumped in town 'cause he tried out his usual charming line of patter on somebody who had friends who objected."

"Report us, and the whole thing comes out," Apollo said. "My father against his in open court. Won't be pretty."

Damn. The colonel's son was learning to play in the major leagues.

We left. I was still a bit high on adrenaline, only guessing how sore I might be in the morning, but Apollo was limping a little bit. I took a look at him; he was trying to sort this whole thing out in his mind. "We should have warned them off everybody," he said abruptly.

I thought about that. Apollo had jumped in with that 'stay away from him' like it was all that mattered. Now the colonel's son was remembering his obligations. What's that Aquarian thing? Noblesse oblige? Well, maybe. But as far as I was concerned this was for the kid. Period. Pure and simple and we take care of our own. "You can't save the whole world, Apollo," I said to him. "You save what's close, what's precious. What's yours."

"We should do more than that," he said.

I wasn't up for philosophy. I shrugged. "They're so damn scared, not to mention damaged, they won't be hunting on campus for a long time. And they graduate sooner than that."

He looked at me with green eyes almost black with worry, but he didn't say anything. This was going to fret at him for a long time, I could tell. I was sorry about it, but there hadn't been anything else we could have done. Not without losing the kid. And we might lose him anyway.

Jolly was in our room when we got back. He stood up when we came in, saying, "He's been real restless, nightmares or something, but he won't wake up—" he stopped when he got a good look at us. "Well, I guess you can take care of it, him, whatever's going on—" He didn't want to know, and he left in a hurry before we could tell him.

Apollo leaned over Starbuck, who was tossing restlessly, moaning softly. "Starbuck," he said. "Shhh, shhh, be easy, baby." He probably thought he sounded like he was talking to his little brother.

Starbuck quieted immediately. He didn't wake, he wasn't quite asleep, more still unconscious, but he reached out and latched onto Apollo's arm. Apollo settled onto the floor.

I picked up Apollo's portable and brought it over. "You need to write his poli-sci essay," I said. "You know he hasn't done it yet. I'll copy out his calc. That's gotta hurt," I added, getting my first good look at Apollo's hands. The knuckles were raw, and some of the blood was his. He also had a nice little mouse coming up under his left eye. I fetched some liniment and treated his injuries, and then took care of my own hands and the bruises on my ribs, belly, and legs where Frejor had kicked and punched... I'm assuming that's where they came from. They didn't hurt much, but I knew they would.

Apollo one-handedly typed up Starbuck's essay. When I was done with the calculus, I sat on the edge of Starbuck's bed and tried to ease his hand off Apollo, but it didn't work. It only made him upset. I rubbed his back some more and helped Apollo remember the exact things Starbuck had been saying in class about proportional representation and multiple votes; after a while, I took over the keyboard while Apollo dictated to keep it from sounding too obviously mine... I've got a Leonid turn of phrase, as why shouldn't I? Born and bred in Leontyne and proud to say so.

When the essay was done I put the keyboard away and sat on my own bunk, watching the two of them. Starbuck had finally fallen asleep, and Apollo was dropping off with him, a dark protective figure hovering over the wounded golden one...

So, now I'm sitting here, still so angry I can almost smell the burning. In the morning Starbuck will wake up and have to deal with what happened, and I don't think he'll want help with it. Not even—most especially—ours. We may never get him back the way he was; if we get him back even close, I'll be glad, but I'm angry about it. And Apollo—he'll have to deal with it, too, and ditto. Starbuck's trust is shattered, along with whatever he had left of his innocence, and he'll have to fight the craving, though his fear of not being in control of himself lends me faith in his winning that fight. Apollo's lost his trust, too, and he's heading for a guilt trip of epic proportions—only to be rivaled by the kid's, 'cause he'll be sure he brought it on himself somehow. I don't know if I'm going to be able to keep either one of them from losing all sense of proportion.

I'll try, though. I will damned well try.

But the worst thing of all is what else died here tonight. That blaze of love, pure and absolutely right, that kindled between them the first centon, the first micron, their eyes met, the stuff of legend, the kind of love that spills over onto everybody that knows them... it's gone. Frejor smothered it in its cradle. Starbuck won't feel worthy of Apollo. Apollo won't be able to forget Starbuck's pain. He'll never be able to ask Starbuck to love him, and Starbuck won't come near it without being asked. And that potentially pyrotechnic passion, that faith, that one-soul-in-two-bodies love... it'll die, wither up, turn to ashes, and blow away on the cold wind of this evil night.

And that makes me angrier than anything else. I damn well may never stop being angry about that.

go to fifteen yahrens later


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