You are ice and fire, the touch of you burns my hands like snow
Amy Lowell

"Do you think it will snow?" asks Starbuck

Apollo pauses in the difficult task of tugging off a glove with his teeth (he's found that the thickness of the gloves makes getting them on and off a bit of an issue, but since the extra effort is infinitely preferable to frostbite, he perseveres).  "Inside the ship, d'you mean?"

Starbuck nods.  He has a woollen hat pulled down over his ears and his hair's sticking out under the edges of it in a way that would make Apollo laugh if he wasn't worrying that his own looks just as ridiculous. 

"It's bloody cold enough," he complains, reaching up to pull the hat down further.

Apollo knows it's cold enough.  His breath steams in the air and on the other side of Apollo's desk, Starbuck is sitting huddled in his chair, so swaddled and rotund that Apollo suspects he's wearing every piece of clothing he possesses.  Starbuck's nose is red and his eyes watery.

"No," says Apollo, dredging up the patience he's learned when dealing with Boxey.  "I don't think it'll snow inside the ship."

"Just wondered," says Starbuck.  "I mean, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that we've developed our own internal weather system, is it?"  He meets Apollo's stare and grins lopsidedly.  "All right, it is.  But still.  I miss snow."

"You'll have to go on missing it."  Apollo tries his computer terminal again, but the power's still out.  He tugs on his glove again.  "Look, I'm going to go down to engineering and see how they're getting along—"

"Control freak."

"—and then I'm going up to the Bridge.  Go and check on the troops for me, would you, and make sure no-one's frozen to their Viper controls or anything, and then you're off-duty.  I'll meet you at home in a centar, after I've handed over to Boomer."

"You're coming off duty as well, are you?" asks Starbuck, a note of cynical disbelief in his tone.

"There's been no sign of the attackers for two days, Starbuck.  The Commander thinks we're out of their space now and can take the time to regroup."

"I know that," says Starbuck, patiently.  "You explained all of that to us two centars ago when you downgraded the squadrons to yellow alert.  If I sound surprised, it's because at times like this you normally have to be kicked off duty by the Commander when he gets fed up with you being all noble and too damn dedicated for your own good or when you fall over when the stims run out.  Whichever annoys him the most at the time."

"He's already ordered me off duty."  Apollo swallows his resentment at effectively being told that the squadrons could get on without him for eight centars.  "I've got to do this check and then I'll be home."

"Is that right"?  Under the improbable woolly hat, Starbuck's face brightens and Apollo has to suppress the urge to kiss him.  They're still on duty. 

It isn't a flattering hat.  Apollo wonders whether or not to tell Starbuck that he has the wrong-shaped head for pull-on woollen hats.  It makes him look like his head is shaped like a bean. 

A very nice bean, of course.

"Well, then.  I'll get the bed warm," leers Starbuck.  The sexy come-on's a little spoilt by the sniff he gives an instant later and the unpleasant honking noise he does into a handkerchief. 

"You do that," agrees Apollo, trying not to find it simultaneously repulsive and endearing.  "Try not to do it by sneezing all over it, though."

"It's not my fault that I have a delicate constitution and I'm ailing from the cold."  Starbuck gives one last honking snort into the handkerchief.  His cheeks are flushed when he looked up.  "I'll probably warm it with my fever.  I think I'm sickening for something."

"Go get something to eat and go to bed, Starbuck," says Apollo.

He gets a wave of the hand in response as Starbuck struggles out of the chair.  Apollo watches as Starbuck waddled to the door, trying not to laugh in case Starbuck catches him at it.  There's no denying that wearing three pairs of trousers doesn't do a lot for Starbuck's normally svelte figure and plays havoc with any attempt at a slinky, sexy gait.  Apollo fears that it's reflection on his own sad lack of morals, character and principles that even the waddle makes him think longingly of that warm bed.  It occurs to him that there's also no denying that he's sadly indiscriminate when it comes to Starbuck.  Something about Starbuck saps all his moral fibre.

Apollo can only be thankful for it, whatever it is.

 

He catches up with the group engineers in the second power relay station, talking through their next steps.  Apollo leans against a bulkhead and listens in, trying to make sense of how far they've come in repairing the battle damage.  The metal of the bulkhead is cold under his shoulder, penetrating even his thick, padded clothing.  He glances at the wall, seeing the tiny little coruscations as the lights reflect and refract through the ice crystals forming there.

There's no urgent work, or Viper flight, or Starbuck in his silly hat to distract him now.  He hunches his shoulders against the threatened shivers and closes his eyes for a micron.  Flashes of the last two days play out against his eyelids like a demented vid; a montage of attacking ships swooping down on the Galactica and the fleet, of the explosions along the Galactica's sides as she took the brunt of the attack, the Brandenburg exploding into a shower of gold sparks, thankfully after they'd managed to evacuate the surviving refugees and crew.  It's been a miserable two days already and Apollo is just grateful it hasn't been worse. 

He wonders if this is what his life will always be: fear and cold and danger, lurching from crisis to crisis and trying to keep the fleet together and moving, always slightly hungry and tired and God! sometimes so bone weary with the relentless struggle to keep going that he just wants to lie down and let it all wash over him, letting himself freeze into stillness.

There's a value attached to living, he thinks, and some days, after the battles and the deaths and in the cold spaces inside his head, he wonders if he's in negative equity yet.

 

It takes him more than a centar to get home, by the time he climbs the emergency ladders all the way up to the Bridge, reports on the engineers' progress to his father and Colonel Tigh, watches as the bridge crew tests the restored shields and weaponry (which, to his relief, are finally working), climbs down to Deck 12 to where all the children on the ship (including his son) have been herded into one of the few warmish rooms for a sleepover until power's restored and resigns himself to Boxey not missing him much, climbs down to Deck 7 and gulps down some wonderfully hot soup in the Commissary (heated with a laser, something that Apollo finds appeals to his sense of irony), chats briefly with old Sire Anton who's also seeking comfort there, leaves Anton and climbs down farther to Deck 18 and the Duty Office to hand over to Boomer and then climbs up fifteen decks to his quarters.  By then he's sweating from the exercise and his knees ache.

His quarters are almost dark, only one emergency light glimmering in the ceiling like an anaemic glow-worm, and as bitterly cold as the corridor outside.  His breath steams every time he breathes out.  There's just enough light to grope his way across the room towards the bedroom door without falling over the furniture and he moves as fast as he can, intent on getting into bed where, please the Lords, Starbuck and at least some warmth waited. 

The bedroom's just as cold as everywhere else.  Every blanket they possess, including the ones from Boxey's bed, are piled up on their bed and Starbuck's nothing more than a mound under the covers, not even his hair sticking out.

Apollo hesitates at the side of the bed, deeply reluctant to get out the layers of clothes that are at least less cold than the air around him.  He drops his gloves onto the floor and takes a deep breath, nerving himself.  He sheds everything as fast as he can get each garment off, stripping down to a tee and shorts.  It takes less than a centon, he reckons, and he's still shaking with cold by the time that he burrows under the covers.

Starbuck mumbles something and reaches for him.

"In a centon, Starbuck," he says, jaw tensed against the shivering.  "I'm too cold."

"C'mere," says Starbuck, wrapping warm arms and legs around him like an octopus.  Starbuck has found some longjohns from somewhere, the lucky beggar—he won't let on even to Apollo where he found them—and he's wearing them in bed, along with a sweater and socks.  And his hat.

"You do know," says Apollo, "that even on you, this get up isn’t sexy?"

He gets a brief press of lips against his cold mouth in greeting.  "Frak sexy," says Starbuck, and Apollo thinks that's entirely the point.  "It's too damn cold to be naked and I hate sleeping in wet long-johns."  He yawns.  "We'll just have to cuddle, instead.  Share body heat."

"Well, if that's all I'm going to get." says Apollo, disappointed. 

He makes himself relax, forcing muscles that want to tense up and shiver into a laxity instead, that he tries to persuade himself is because he's warm and slipping into a sated sleep.  Starbuck settles against him, sighing.  Slowly Apollo starts to thaw, little tendrils of warmth creeping up his spine and curling around the back of his neck the way that Starbuck's hand curls around it when he kisses him.  Starbuck doesn't touch his neck tonight.  Instead hands fist in his tee, reaching for the skin that Starbuck likes to touch when Apollo's moving slowly against Starbuck, their mouths and bodies joined and Starbuck's hot breath mingling with his.

Starbuck turns slightly and throws an arm over him.  Starbuck's fingers rub little circles over Apollo's forearm and he makes a contented little snuffling sound that makes something in Apollo grow warm with tenderness.  Starbuck raises his head, eyes still shut, and his mouth moves down the line of Apollo's jaw while he murmurs nonsense in a voice thick with sleepy pleasure.  The warmth jags down to Apollo's groin like fire.

He turns his cheek to bury his nose in that ridiculous hat, and knows that this is his life, the fear and cold and love and light and heat and Starbuck, and that he's come home and he wouldn't change an atom of it.  He closes his eyes and lets Starbuck warm him.

 

1823 words                                                                      January 2009