Too Long Nights

Note: Quotes are from the Book of Job, chapter thirty-eight, and the Eighth Psalm

We both have known heartache and love that's gone wrong,
When the ghosts take the shadows and the night takes too long.
—"Waltz Across Texas Tonight", Rodney Crowell & Emmylou Harris

Boxey turned eight this secton. He's been mine for more than two calendar yahrens now, and finally the adoption's official... I suppose they didn't think it was urgent. I can't believe how relieved I was when it finally happened. It's not like there was a threat, but now nobody can take him, even if his 'other daddy', as he used to call him, were to suddenly show up, out of the blue, like Chameleon did... I couldn't bear it if someone were to try and take my boy away. I always loved him more than I did his mother. I married her because of him. We might have managed to make it work for him, had she lived, and after she died ... He's my world, almost. I watch him sleeping and my heart aches with the need to keep him safe. I'd kill to do it. He's the son I'll never have. The grandson I'll never give my father. Maybe the only grandson he'll ever have, given that my sister shows no signs of settling down with any young man—or middle-aged man, for that matter.

I don't know what 'Theni wants. There was a time I thought she wanted Starbuck. She's had eyes for him since she was thirteen and he came home with me from the Academy. I know he stayed away from her for a long time, first because she was too young, and then out of respect for our mother, but when we they both found themselves assigned to the Galactica I guess he decided that she knew what she was doing. I know they slept together. She never told me so, and he certainly never did, but that's how I know. Father guessed it, too, and sent me to remind 'Theni just how unsuitable Starbuck is for Sealing with...

I went. I always go where Father sends me. I always have. Even when it's not going to be even the tiniest bit enjoyable. Like telling my sister that my best friend is 'unsuitable'. 'Theni took pity on me, though. I do love my sister, even if we aren't close, which we aren't. Which is mostly my fault, I think, though 'Theni has her secrets, too. At any rate she didn't let me keep stumbling through my little prepared speech, didn't make me suffer. She just told me she knew Starbuck wasn't on Father's short list for sons-in-law. Or his long list. Or even vaguely under consideration. But he was a lot of fun, and she would be damned if she wouldn't take her fun where and when she could, all things considered.

I was relieved. There are so many reasons I was relieved I doubt I could sort through them all even now. I did think having Starbuck as a brother-in-law would have been... awkward. That's the best word for it I can come up with. But if 'Theni had wanted him, and he'd wanted her, I'd have fought Father for them no matter how hard it would have been. How doomed a cause. But they didn't. And somehow, I didn't mind if she was Starbuck's idea of fun, too.

I know. Not much of a brotherly attitude. But, she's capable of taking care of herself. Not to mention half the Fleet. And Starbuck is my best friend.

And he hasn't had much in his life. He deserves what he can get.

And so does 'Theni, for that matter.

Hades, so do we all. Don't we?

Don't we?

Besides, his lovers are always so damned happy when he's with them, and somehow the breakups aren't bad, he stays friends with them.

Of course, things have changed now. Now Father wouldn't mind Starbuck as a son-in-law. So now of course they've moved on, don't want each other any more, or at least didn't at the same time. I'm not at all sure how I felt at the time. Now? Now I've changed too...

Poor 'Theni. She craves Father's approval more than I do, and she doesn't really get it. She can't. She made the mistake of being born a woman. She should have been the first-born son. Or any son at all. We would all have been so much happier. Poor management on Somebody's part.

Apollo reviewed his journal entry. He'd rather gotten off topic, there. Started rambling about things he probably shouldn't commit even to a private journal. He went back and erased everything after "take my boy away." The reference to Chameleon he let stand, it was vague enough. He stared at the screen, and finally finished:
I couldn't bear it if someone were to try and take my boy away. I love him so much. And now we're really, truly safe, as I'll tell him any time he asks. Every time.
He stopped himself before he got indiscreet again and saved the file. Then he stared at the walls, wondering what to do with himself tonight. Boxey was at his father's, getting spoiled with too many mushies and religious stories that Apollo would have to deal with, the former in the turboflush and the latter in long evenings of putting things into perspective... But that was for later. Tonight was his own, his one night a secton when Boxey was with Adama or Athena, and Apollo was supposed to go and have fun.

Problem was, Apollo didn't want to have fun. It had been a long time since he'd had fun. Fun wasn't, any more. Hadn't been since Apollo was transferred onto the Galactica, into the position of Strike Captain, under his father and in command of his friends from the Academy. Boomer and Jolly. And Starbuck.

Starbuck. His best friend ever. Ever. Once upon a time...

Gods, he missed the old days, back when he and Starbuck had been best friends. When the two of them and Boomer had been able to go out and enjoy themselves. Of course, he'd always been the sober, cautious one, but in Starbuck's company he'd been able to unwind. To have a few drinks, even play pyramid. When they were on Caprica, he'd even been able to get Starbuck to go to fairs, and listening to Starbuck on the topic of midways and the old worn-out games of not-quite-chance-Apollo-honestly had been fun, more fun than going to them as a wide-eyed kid with his mother and 'Theni.

Now... he sighed. He could still go out for an evening with Starbuck, drink and gamble and make sure Starbuck didn't get into trouble, but it wasn't the same. Hadn't been the same since he'd met Rohan on the Aquila and discovered that he was not the only man in the galaxy whose adolescent crushes on his male teachers or sports heroes didn't go away with his adolescence. That he wanted other men. That they wanted him, or at least some of them did.

That it didn't have to be pain and violence. That it could be sweet.

That all the warm and willing women in the worlds didn't turn him on one twelfth as much as one oblivious man. That, in fact, not even willing men could. Not when that one man was Starbuck. And when they'd ended up on the Galactica together, that had put paid to Apollo's fun. Because just one look at Starbuck in the glorious, golden flesh, one time meeting those blazing blue eyes, one time seeing that smile that Starbuck saved for those few he trusted... well, not only was Apollo reduced to thinking in clichés, but to spending all his time in reminding himself that Starbuck was, in the one way Apollo wished he wasn't, straight as the path of light outside a gravity well.

His doorsignal sounded. He sighed. He knew who was outside that door. The same man who came by every night he didn't have Boxey, and more than a few nights when he did, for that matter, because he loved Boxey, too. And he'd want Apollo to go out and have fun.

And some night, Apollo was going to lose control and do something to destroy the only thing in his life that was close to his relationship with his son.

Some night, maybe. But not tonight, Apollo, he told himself as he got up to answer the door.

"Hey, buddy," Starbuck said. "Isn't this your night off? Come on."

Apollo smiled and shook his head. "Don't you ever slow down, Starbuck?" He picked up his jacket and let the door shut behind them.

"I'm not that old," the blond said.

"You're the same age I am," Apollo protested.

"Not quite," Starbuck said. "I'm a yahren younger. At least. I like to think I'm even younger than that."

"Well, you haven't grown up yet, that's for sure."

Starbuck feinted a punch at him and they laughed and began walking to the O Club, Starbuck launching into a complicated story about something he'd heard from someone who knew someone who should know about somebody on the bridge crew Apollo wasn't sure he recognized the name of and one of the Viper mechs. Apollo listened to the beloved voice and managed with the ease of long practice to make the appropriate responses based mostly on the tones he was hearing.

No, not tonight, Apollo thought again. Tonight you'll keep your hands off of him, and you won't say anything stupid. And then you can come home and indulge yourself in the privacy of your own quarters and not ruin your life.

Starbuck was perturbed. He'd noticed that Apollo was spending more and more time off in his own corner of reality lately. Oh, he seemed to be with you, but unless he was on duty—something even Cadet Apollo had had a hard time shaking—he wasn't really. And his old friend had just said, cheerfully, "You don't say," "I sort of thought so," and "Who'd have guessed?" to Starbuck's informing him that (a) Colonel Tigh had been caught nailing Lieutenant Omega in the briefing room, (b) Dr. Salik had succeeded in cloning Commander Cain from a strand of hair, and (c) Jenny had told him that afternoon that all the Vipers had irreparable metal fatigue and they'd have to load lasers onto shuttle craft to defend the fleet... Things were not good. Not good at all.

So, he thought, looking at that lean dark face that was more familiar to him than his own (because, contrary to popular opinion, he didn't spend centares at a time staring at his own reflection, just the odd centon now and then to make sure he was still presenting the proper image to the world), now the question before the panel is, 'what's the problem?' Well, questions, really: 'what's the problem and how do I fix it?' Because that's what he did. It's what he was for.

Starbuck could still remember the almost physical rush of pleasure that he had experienced his first day at the Academy. He'd been a scared, way-the-hell-out-of-his-league kid already thinking he'd made the worst mistake of his life trying to become a pilot even if they were right at the induction center, already unsure if he could cheat his way through the academics well enough to make his skills pay off, nervous and uncertain and wary and meeting his room-mates for the first time, ready to fight back if he could and submit if he had to. He'd already realized he was younger than the rest of the first-yahren cadets. Not by much, maybe a yahren, but they were at the age where a yahren made a big difference, especially if he was supposed to be their age. That in many ways he was already older than most of them would have ever been if not for the Destruction didn't alter the facts of physical growth.

He still didn't know how room-mates were picked. Maybe it was random, maybe it was from carefully evaluated psych reviews, maybe it was the hand of the gods. Whatever, it had certainly worked out. Boomer and Jolly had already been in the room when he'd arrived. A Leonid and a Caprican, but both out of their natural place in the scheme of things. Both of them at that time taller than him. Both already with their beards growing. Both trying to look unbothered, at home... Both with that middle-class bearing he could exploit if he got the chance. Both of them sizing each other, and him, up in that transparent and ineffectual way most people did it, revealing as much or more as they learned. This was okay as long as they didn't decide to gang up on him right away, he could play one off against the other and get by. Everything was riding on the fourth guy.

And then their fourth guy had arrived, and he wasn't. He was their first guy, then and forever. He wasn't even a guy, he was a godling. He was dark and lean and tall and moved well, and he was self-assured, and he had millennia of breeding in his veins and money on his back and in his manner. And he had a captain following him just in case anybody didn't realize he was a godling... anybody like him himself, Starbuck realized as soon as the dazzle was out of his eyes.

Which was several days later.

And it was then, that first semester... who was he kidding? that first secton... that Starbuck had divined the purpose for which he had been created, the reason everything that had happened in his life up to that point had happened. What his job was, then and forever: taking care of Apollo.

Smoothing the road ahead of Apollo. Brushing the skeetons away from Apollo. Drawing the fire, taking the risks, easing the load, getting shot at, getting shot, chasing off the bad guys, making him laugh, making him rest, just in general taking care of him. Including annoying him out of his bad moods, borrowing money from him, getting into trouble, in general abandoning his whole carefully cultivated you-can't-see-me-I'm-nobody-not-here-not-around persona in favor of one that simultaneously amused and protected Apollo. One that drew the attention, the flak, and all the felgarcarb. One that gave Apollo someone to think he was taking care of who didn't really need it so it didn't take too much out of him. One whose entire raison d'être was, simply, Apollo.

Not that Apollo made it easy. Apollo wanted to take care of the world. It hurt him when he failed. And he thought he was supposed to be strong, too strong to need anyone to lean on. That was his father's doing, Starbuck had seen that the first centare he'd spent watching the two of them interact, Cadet Apollo and Colonel Adama, already a legend. Well, Starbuck had a god now, but legends were just tall tales to him... for Apollo's sake he'd charmed the old man as much as possible—not enough to be acceptable for the little sister that followed him around, to be sure, but then except for having an unassailable right to Apollo's presence as a legitimate member of his family, he hadn't really wanted sealing with Apollo's sister. Not his sister... nor the little brother that followed them both around.

That had been Starbuck's worst failure. Maybe his second worst... On the whole, whenever he looked at it, he knew Serina was the third worst. Oh, sure, he'd managed to throw such a temper tantrum that he'd kept her from being Apollo's wingman (the thought still made his blood run colder than most people thought it already was, Apollo with a green, gentle girl whom he loved as a wingman), managed to take Serina's mission, to get himself captured instead of her... Apollo couldn't risk his life coming after Starbuck, not with a wife and child... But he'd failed to keep her alive. He couldn't have done both, so on consideration Serina was failure number three. Zac was number two... maybe. After pulling in every marker he had to get Apollo transferred to the Galactica (much safer, much simpler, than getting himself onto what barge Apollo had been on at the time), he'd gone and believed The Twelve Old Loons had known what they were doing and let Zac take the last mission before the Peace in his place. He should have known better. He really should have. Not just that the Peace, being too good to be true, was therefore not true. He should have known that there was nothing, nothing that would make Apollo feel more eaten up with guilt than "leaving Zac out there alone" ... even though his only option was bring Zac back safe to a Colonial Fleet in flames so they could all die together.

The worst thing was that Starbuck knew in his bones—and knew Apollo knew—that had Starbuck been the second pilot out there, they'd have both come home unscratched, running far enough ahead of the Cylons to... well, don't make more of it than you know, he always cautioned himself. But certain sure, bet everything you have, no possible way to lose it, they'd have both come back. Zac could fly, but he wasn't a combat pilot. And not even Apollo could outfly Starbuck. He knew that, made sure it stayed that way. He had to be better than Apollo if he was going to get between Apollo and Death.

Death... His three biggest failures. Zac. Serina. And Apollo himself. Oh, the beings of Light had brought Apollo back, but that didn't erase Starbuck's failure to save him. How many nightmares had he had over that? How many times had he woken, knowing he had no reason to live? How many times had he called Apollo in the middle of the night just to hear his sleepy, annoyed voice answering a misdirected call? But those were Starbuck's nightmares, Starbuck's penance. Apollo himself didn't even remember it. That's why Zac was the worst. That's the one Apollo had nightmares over, and the one Starbuck could have so easily kept from happening.

Never again. Those were the words Starbuck lived by. It was simple and it was doable. He'd make it doable. And he'd never again double-dare the Universe.

But mostly it wasn't Death he had to get between Apollo and. For which he was duly grateful to Whoever. Though he'd have been more grateful if They'd just left Apollo the frack alone. No, mostly it was just little stuff. His father. Religion. His oppressive sense of duty. His reluctance to do anything that was even vaguely enjoyable just for its own sake. Like drinking. Starbuck had had to convince him that the men needed to see their commander as a human being before Apollo had started coming to the O Club. And you could count on the fingers of, okay both hands, but with some left over and for three yahrens, two of them on the run, that was a far too meager sum, the number of times Apollo had cut loose. He didn't like gambling, he was far too worried about losing money. And Triad—oh, lords, Starbuck was so tired of getting smashed up on a Triad court. But he wouldn't have quit for the universe on a silver platter, because Apollo actually enjoyed it. He could kid himself it was healthy and good for unit morale all he wanted, and Starbuck would feed those lines from now till the Endtimes: the truth was, Apollo loved playing Triad. And maybe he could have, would have, found another partner, but Starbuck didn't trust even Boomer to get in the way of the ball or draw the oncoming flagrant foul...

Besides, he looked damned good in that uniform.

Starbuck squelched that thought. This was Apollo. Straightest of the straight. Raised in the Kobolian Way. Follower of Regulations even more closely. Husband. Father. Man in need of a stable family life...

Starbuck could still hear Zac, when he was first posted to the Galactica... I don't know what I want, Starbuck. Apollo said, when you're seventeen and living in an all-male environment, it'll happen but it doesn't mean anything... And Starbuck had supported Apollo's word at first, but finally he'd admitted, oh not everything, but a little bit. Admitted that for some men it meant something. For some men it was still happening at twenty-seven with over two thousand women... okay, maybe not every single one of them available, but pretty close. And some of the not singles, too.

Even if they never did anything, because there was only one man... even if he'd never look their way.

So, maybe he'd eased Zac's mind before he let him die, but Zac wasn't Apollo. Apollo's mind didn't need easing on that score. Apollo had said "It happens. But it doesn't mean anything." And even if it did, even if Apollo thought, or felt, well, he wouldn't have looked at Starbuck. He'd have wanted, deserved, better. But he didn't, and that was that. (And just as well. Really.) Apollo had sealed with Serina. And someday he'd probably seal with somebody else. Starbuck had thought it would be Sheba. She sure loved him. She'd been willing to die for him. She hadn't cared much for Boxey, that was what had stopped that cold, but no matter how much people had pushed him at her, Apollo had dug in his heels. He was damned good at that. Starbuck hadn't pushed; if Apollo really wanted her, he'd get her, and Starbuck wouldn't get in Apollo's way, but he hadn't pushed. His job didn't call for that... And it hadn't happened. And Sheba had finally gotten the message, been unable to stay in love with someone who wasn't in love with her ("I don't know why, Starbuck, I just can't love her. It's perfect, and I... just... can't." "Then it's not, 'Pol. Or you would." "Gods, everything seems so simple when I talk with you. Or else so complicated that it hurts to think about it." "This is simple, 'Pol. Trust me." Trust me...). Sheba had gone looking elsewhere, given that lionet's courage to Bojay, who'd never lost his devotion to her no matter what, no matter how badly she'd hurt him, how hard she'd dropped him. Starbuck could empathize with Boj...

"Hey, buddy, you're awful quiet," Apollo said teasingly.

Frack. Starbuck flashed his second best grin and said, "Just thinking about that new seven-and-eleven dealer."

Apollo grinned back, "Yeah, she is kind of cute."

Well, that was okay. She was kind of cute, and Apollo wouldn't get serious about a dealer. She was more Starbuck's speed, but if Apollo was noticing, then Starbuck was happy to point him at her and stand back. "I was actually," he said with dignity, "thinking about the way she deals. I think I could beat her. Want to find out?"

"With whose money?" The tone was long-suffering but the tourmaline-green eyes were sparkling, shading a bit to emerald.

"Well, you're the one who gets the big bucks. Stake me and I'll pay you sixty percent of my winnings."


"Okay, okay. Seventy."

"A hundred percent of nothing is still nothing."

"Where is your faith?"

"I've seen you lose too many times to have faith."

"For shame, Captain Apollo! Faith is belief in spite of evidence to the contrary."

"No, it's not. It's belief without evidence. And I don't have any in your ability to play seven-and-eleven. I'm better at that game than you are."

"Well..." That happened to be true. Seven-and-eleven was pure math, and Apollo had always been better at math. "So you play, and I'll provide the moral support. And fetch drinks."

"You really are incorrigible, you know that?"

"So I've often been told, but," Starbuck fluttered his eyelashes, "it never gets old."

Apollo stared at him for a micron, and then burst into laughter.

That's the way. Let down that guard and let me see what's wrong. I can't fix it till I know what's wrong, 'Pol. Which was the hardest thing about his job. It could have been worse, Apollo could have been good at hiding his troubles, as good as Starbuck himself at throwing up facades and donning masks. But he wasn't. He hid behind a wall; you couldn't see what was behind it but you could certainly see it was there... Starbuck set himself to be as funny and as carefree and as much fun to be with as he could. Just relax, 'Pol. Just let me in. I'll fix it. Don't I almost always?

Well, frack, Apollo thought as he looked out at the stars. Somehow they were going to the Rising Star. He didn't remember agreeing to that. Of course, Starbuck clearly wanted to play seven-and-eleven. Or the dealer. Apollo wasn't sure which, but he suspected the latter, because seven-and-eleven wasn't really Starbuck's game. Oh, yes, this was going to be a lot of fun, watching Starbuck hustle a casino dealer... He wasn't sure he was going to be above doing his best to keep that from happening. How do I get into these situations?

He slewed a glance at Starbuck, who was sitting next to him, their shoulders touching. Apollo was sitting on the edge of the seat to avoid touching Starbuck from shoulder to ankle. Starbuck, of course, was sitting there all oblivious chatting with the frazzled young corporal taking up the rest of the seat. Only Starbuck would holler, "Come on, room for one more!" when the co-pilot was getting ready to shut the door in a young face just one micron away from tears. And then shove Apollo over in the blithe assumption that he too wanted to help out.

And it wasn't that Apollo minded helping out young love—at least that's what he thought he was doing—it was just that he'd rather have done it by staying behind and taking the next shuttle himself. Themselves. Instead of spending the entire trip to the Star with the sharp side edge of the seat digging into his butt and thigh. He probably wouldn't be able to walk by the time they got there.

Of course, he could shove Starbuck over a bit, put the corporal on the other edge. Or even just scrunch Starbuck up some... the corporal didn't have the nerve to, plus he was a skinny thing. Looked about sixteen. Apollo shook his head; the kid had to be older than that if he was a corporal already. But however old he was, he wasn't about to shove Lieutenant Starbuck over on the seat any further. And Apollo didn't have the nerve, either, though he doubted the reasons were the same. He shook his head again and tried to follow the story the corporal was pouring out to Starbuck, who was, for some reason, actually manifesting interest. It quickly became obvious he'd tuned in way too late, though; the tale was a tangled mess of pronouns and backtracking, with a liberal helping of well's and then's and you-see's... But Apollo was pretty sure the kid was chasing a girl, or trying not to be late, or changing his mind... he shook his head one last time, shifted on his now-numb butt trying to get more comfortable, gave it up as a lost cause, and settled for making up for it all by watching Starbuck's profile.

Which is how you get into these situations, he reminded himself. Because there's nothing which is permissible that you'd rather do on these nights out than look at Starbuck. Maybe in more comfortable surroundings, but... He smiled. Starbuck was always worth looking at, no doubt, but when he was being earnest and helpful he was... well, he was adorable. So Apollo sat there and adored.

"Galactica to Apollo, come in."

Apollo started. "What?"

Starbuck shook his head; the shuttle lighting made his hair tawny, but streaks of pure gold showed when it moved. His tone was wryly amused, but his speedwell blue eyes (Athena had called them that once) were worried. Apollo didn't want Starbuck worried. He wasn't made to be worried, he was supposed to be care free... So pay attention to what he's saying, you idiot, he told himself.

"Are you okay, Apollo?"

"Yes," he said. "I was just thinking..."—come up with something—"about whether it wouldn't be a good idea to transfer Gillian out of Yellow Squadron—"

"Apollo. Stop it. You're off duty, we're going to have fun tonight, you can worry about the wing tomorrow. Okay?"

Apollo made a show of reluctance that brought the sparkle back to Starbuck's eyes. "Fun? How is it going to be fun for me to watch you pick up a dealer?"

"Pick one up yourself," Starbuck challenged him. "But give me twenty cubits first."

"Starbuck, I told you I wasn't going to stake you at seven and eleven."

"It's not a stake," the blond protested with injured innocence. Amazing how well he could do that. "It's for me to lend Ricky here."

"I can't take Captain Apollo's money!" The corporal's protest was simultaneous with Apollo's.

"I'm lending you money to lend people? Don't you have any money of your own?"

"Ricky, it'll be my money, it's okay, I trust you with it. Apollo," he turned those eyes on Apollo, who figured he might as well pull out the cash now but played his part in the game anyway, "you said you wouldn't stake me, so obviously I have to hang on to my money to play with. This is just a loan, you know I'm good for a loan whether I win tonight or not. And you won't lend Ricky here any money 'cause you never met him before, and he wouldn't take your money anyway, so just lend me the twenty so he can take his girl for a nice dinner and grovel acceptably. C'mon," he put his arm around Ricky's shoulder and pointed at him; the corporal looked embarrassed as hell yet unable to break away. Apollo sympathized. "Just look at this face, Apollo. This is the face of a fool in love. He's got to do this in a big way or it's not going to work."

"Twenty cubits," Apollo said.

"Thirty would be better."

"Here," Apollo said, "before you work up to fifty."

"Have a sense of proportion," Starbuck said, taking the coins. "Fifty would be too much. She'd suspect something."

The young corporal, blushing mightily, took the money from Starbuck and tucked it away, stammering thanks and reiterating his promise to pay Starbuck back, "next pay period, lieutenant, I swear."

"I know you're good for it. And I know where you work. So don't worry," with that rather ambiguous reassurance—though it did seem to settle the corporal down a bit—Starbuck moved on to which restaurant they should go to and what he should order. The corporal hung on his words; Apollo half expected him to take notes.

Over Starbuck's shoulder he could see the Rising Star. He shifted position experimentally; he'd been right, his whole butt was numb. He laughed. Starbuck looked away from the corporal and raised his eyebrows questioningly. Apollo just shook his head and smiled, winning an answering smile as Starbuck turned to slap the corporal encouragingly on the shoulder. My butt's numb; I'm out thirty cubits and we're not off the shuttle yet; and Starbuck's going to try and find me a girl. And I'm so damned happy because he's smiling at me I don't need any drinks. Apollo, Apollo, Apollo, the man is right: you definitely need to find a sense of proportion.

Starbuck was regretting borrowing money from Apollo as he preceded him off the shuttle. He was also amusedly watching Ricky tear off down the corridor (he didn't regret helping the kid out); keeping half an eye out for trouble; and wondering why, recently, Apollo had stopped remembering the "last in, first out" rule of fleet etiquette and started letting him go first. He wasn't complaining, he was just wondering. He was also vaguely wondering why Apollo was walking like his feet didn't work, but mostly he was wondering how much money Apollo actually had on him.

Because if he didn't have very much, he wasn't going to impress the lovely but mercenary Lila. Who'd want at least an expensive dinner before succumbing to Apollo's charms. He sighed to himself. Apollo deserved better. But he didn't seem all that interested. Serina's hold on him was strong; he didn't mope over her, but he sure was faithful to her memory. Like Adama to Ila, he supposed. Though Adama was an old man, older than Starbuck himself ever expected to get, and Apollo was only thirty-two. Wasting his life on the memory of a young woman who wouldn't have wanted him to... Shouldn't have, anyway, Starbuck corrected himself, aware of his tendency to burnish Serina's image because Apollo had loved her.

Maybe he should offer to stake Apollo instead of playing himself? He'd jokingly suggested that, but maybe he should do it for real. The more money Apollo could flash, the more likely he'd get lucky tonight. And then, maybe he'd stop drifting off like that.

And why was he still lagging behind? Starbuck turned around and waited for Apollo, who was walking a good five paces behind him. At least he was walking normally again, that limpy whatever wouldn't have impressed Lila at all.

"Come on, Apollo," he chided him. "We're going to have to hurry if we want to make sure you get a seat at Lila's table."

If anything, Apollo slowed down.

Starbuck cocked his head, slightly puzzled. "Something wrong, 'Pol?"

"No," Apollo shook his head. "Nothing's wrong... I just don't want to play seven-and-eleven tonight. And I don't want to watch you play, either."

"Okay," Starbuck was willing. "What do you want to do? Pyramid? Gold Room?.. Dancing?"

Apollo blew out a gusty breath and leaned against the wall. "No... I'm not really in the mood for, you know, gaiety. Song and dance. People."

Starbuck took a long look at him and then leaned on the wall next to him, letting the crowd to and from the shuttle flow by. "Mind telling me why we came over here, then? There's not exactly much else here but gaiety, song, dance, and people. Except booze, gaming, and general carrying-on."

Apollo laughed slightly. "I know. And I don't really know. How we got here, I mean. I don't think I was paying much attention."

Well, I'm guessing you weren't dreaming about Lila and bed... "You've been doing that a lot lately," he said gently. "Want to tell me what the problem is?"

Apollo stared into Starbuck's eyes for a long moment; Starbuck felt as if something very important was moving behind that green gaze. Then Apollo shook smiled a little and shook his head. "There's no problem," he said.

"You sound like Boomer."

Apollo laughed.

"So, what do you want to do?" Starbuck returned to the problem at hand. Eventually he'd wear Apollo down. He always had.

"I don't know... Actually, yes, I do."

Starbuck sighed resignedly. "You know that place is a pain in the ass to get to."

"That's why nobody but us ever goes there."

"Well, if you don't want gaiety, song, dance, people, and general carrying-on, it's the right place to go. Come on, we can just make the shuttle if we hurry."

Starbuck hated the Celestial Dome. It wasn't just that it was a pain to get to; he could put himself out when he wanted to get to wherever it was. It was the fact that once you got there, there was nothing there but ancient, unusable technology and stars. Starbuck hated stars. Well, not stars precisely, but stargazing. Unless you had a pretty girl with you, whom you could dazzle with your knowledge of constellations and so on and then make a nice evening of it... And pretty girls didn't want to come all that way to look at stars and make out on a hard floor, even if there was any way to know what the constellations were out here. In fact, pretty girls could get all the stars they wanted from a lounge on the Rising Star. Or a luxury suite...

But just sitting alone and looking at the stars was a sure ticket to introspection. And that's what Starbuck hated. He never liked what he saw when he looked inside himself, and he didn't want to go places where that was the only thing there was to do. He could understand why someone like Apollo liked the Dome, but for him, no way. He only went there with Apollo.

And he went there every time Apollo asked.

Apollo had pushed himself up to sit on the old astrogator's position, leaning back on his braced arms and looking upwards at the starfilled sky. Which was quite the sight, thought Starbuck, Apollo against the stars. He could watch that for a while and up here, Apollo might not even notice. Might not... So, have a seat, Bucky, and try to make him talk to you.

There was a choice of sitting next to Apollo on the console, or on the floor somewhere. Normally, he'd have shoved him over and sat next to his friend, but lately Apollo was shy of contact. Not fearful, like anything had happened—Starbuck had sharpened up his eyes over that possibility—just as if he was getting tired of Starbuck's always touching him. So he sat on the cold floor by Apollo's right leg—always on his weak-hand side, a habit too engrained to lose if he'd wanted to—and leaned back against the console.

"Who set the cornerstone in place, when all the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted aloud?" said Apollo after a long silence. "Who binds the cluster of the Pleiades, and loosens The Hunter's belt?"

Great, thought Starbuck. He didn't recognize the exact source, but he knew the general... Your father been at you again? He contented himself with a questioning noise.

"You heathen," Apollo said, but fondly. "We're not much, in the end, are we? 'When I look up at the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moons and the stars set in their place by You, what is man, that You are mindful of him?' What, compared to all this?"

Starbuck shrugged, knowing Apollo couldn't see him and knowing Apollo knew what he was doing even without seeing him. Apollo nudged his shoulder with his foot and then, quite like old times, left it there, his calf against Starbuck's cheek. Starbuck leaned lightly against it, no longer trying to get Apollo to talk. There'd be time for that later.

"Who shows the morning the way to grasp the horizon when the light of the Dawn-Star is dimmed and the stars of the Navigator's Line go out one by one? Which is the way to the home of light?"

Now that one Starbuck could cap, but he didn't. At least, not out loud... and where does darkness dwell? He sighed inaudibly. I know where.

part onepart two part three


Original Fantasy:
  Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans
Original Fan Fiction
Star Wars | Power Rangers | Real Ghostbusters
Battlestar Galactica | The A Team
Space 1999 | Alias Smith and Jones | Jurassic Park III
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