Part Four

 

"I've told you, Lieutenant," said Barnaby. "I thought it was the captain. He says it wasn't. That's good enough for me. It wasn't him."

"It's odd, though," persisted Bojay. "You must have recognised the voice."

"It was a bad connexion. I was mistaken." Barnaby picked up the tray of used glasses from the table and said, firmly, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got work to do."

"And what the hell do you think you're trying to do?" demanded Boomer, who'd come in half way through the public cross-examination that had Barnaby stalking away, all outraged dignity.

"I'm not trying to do anything," Bojay snapped back, "except to get to the bottom of this little mystery."

When Boomer glanced around, he could see the entire OC was quiet, watchful, listening, spooked to hell. The attack on Starbuck had them so spooked they weren't thinking.

"Well, I never thought I'd see anything that would make Reese look intelligent, Boj, but the thought of you as a detective does it by comparison. Stick to what you're good at." Then with the perfect timing he'd learned from Starbuck, a pause and, "Whatever that may be."

Several of the pilots laughed, and Boomer watched in satisfaction as the tension eased a little.

Bojay flushed a dull, unpleasant shade of red. "You can't deny that Apollo knows something about this that he's not telling. What the hell does all this ‘Sweet Angel' crap mean? He knows, but he's keeping bloody quiet about it."

"Balls," said Boomer. "Just because the guy leaves the message on the duty office machine, doesn't mean it was meant for Apollo."

This fell on less fertile ground. Almost everyone believed that the message was for Apollo and nothing Boomer could say would shift that. They had no proof of it, but who needed proof? Several pairs of eyes swung to Bojay, to see what his reaction to this would be. They weren't disappointed.

"And," said Bojay in soft, dulcet tones, "don't you think it's odd that for the past day and half Apollo's been in the Life Centre with Starbuck - such close friends, they are, as we all know - and there's been no other Angel incidents. Not one."

There was a shocked silence. Bojay's snide insinuation about what was going on between Apollo and Starbuck was outrageous enough. It was something most of them might have suspected but wouldn't have said anything about, knowing how much Apollo hated to be gossiped about. But the suggestion that Apollo was involved with the Angel incidents, might be the perpetrator of them, hadn't even begun to speculate about the merest possibility of the chance of crossing anyone's mind. Until Bojay planted it there.

"Boomer?" said Jolly, his face suddenly creased with worry as the implications hit him.

Boomer gave Bojay a look of the bitterest contempt. "Are you suggesting that Apollo has something to do with this? That Apollo - Apollo! - would do anything that might put us in danger or that Apollo would attack Starbuck? Geez, Reese has nothing to worry about at all."

The pilots swung to look Boomer's way again, and he could almost see the wheels turning in their heads. There was no way that the Apollo they knew would do anything so stupid and dangerous. All the same, it was odd how much it all affected him, how nothing had happened while he was in the Life Centre with Starbuck -

Boomer scowled. Bojay grinned at him, and lifted his glass in ironic salute, claiming the victory. All he needed was suggestion, not proof, and he could undermine Apollo just as effectively as a frontal attack.

"There might be something in it, I suppose," said Gillian, doubtfully.

"Something in what?" asked Apollo.

Boomer hadn't noticed him come in. From the starts and the guilt and surprise on the faces Boomer could see, no-one else had noticed him come in either, too intent on the discussion between Bojay and Boomer to be observant. Boomer turned to greet him, seeing Apollo's eyes narrow.

"N-nothing!" Gillian's face reddened.

"Oh?" Apollo shrugged, seemed to let it go. "I just came from the Life Centre. I thought you'd like to know that Starbuck'll be fine. You couldn't dent that thick head of his if you picked up a Viper and hit him with it."

There was a muted chorus of relief and good wishes. Apollo looked increasingly grim. Boomer caught his gaze and rolled his eyes in Bojay's direction. Apollo's mouth turned down. He'd got the message.

Apollo waited for a centon. "Your joyful surprise is overwhelming. What were you all so engrossed in that the news of Starbuck is so uninteresting?"

Boomer grinned at him. "Just this little theory of Bojay's," he said, and then he raised his glass, giving Bojay back that ironic salute. Bojay scowled back.

"Really?" Apollo turned to face Bojay. "Share it with me, Boj. Don't be shy."

 

 

"So what did he do then?" asked Starbuck, thrilled.

"He was really cool. He made Bojay cough out what he'd said, then he was just brilliant. Normally you'd expect a volcanic explosion of galactic proportions, but he did his Adama act instead, getting all cold and calm. That's really scary, you know."

"Yes," said Starbuck. "They're a lot more alike than you'd think. But what did he do ?"

"Nothing much. He looked Boj up and down like he was looking at something nasty on the sole of his shoe. Then he made some comment about the fact that Bojay seemed to have all too much time on his hands to think up half-arsed theories, and his undoubted talents would be better employed on long patrol. Apollo said there wasn't much he could do to cure stupidity, but Boj could spend the next twenty centars cooped up in his cockpit with only his malice for company, and if the said Bojay wasn't off ship within ten centons he could spend the twenty centars in the brig instead for gross insubordination. Geez, it was funny. Even those who'd been tempted to listen to Bojay laughed their socks off."

"I'm missing all the fun, cooped up in here," complained Starbuck, but it was half hearted. What really worried him was that Bojay felt able to voice his stupid theory at all, and that enough people could listen to it to start wondering about Apollo. "And he hinted about me and Apollo?"

"Hinted? Yeah, you could say that." Boomer was amused. "I think you two are going to have to come out of the closet."

"Fine by me. But I don't have an eight yahren-old kid to worry about."

"Point," acknowledged Boomer. "But when you do, don't expect many people to be surprised. Except maybe the child."

"And not even him, I bet. Apollo's overprotective there." Starbuck shifted uncomfortably in the narrow hospital bed. "I want out of here. If Bojay's stirring it against Apollo, I really need to be out of here."

"Try leaving, and Cassie will tie you down," warned Boomer. "And I doubt she'd tie your arms and legs."

 

 

"Which deck?" demanded Apollo.

"Coming in on Alpha," Core Command told him.

"On my way." Apollo headed out of the duty office at a run, Boomer close behind him.

"How long do we have?" Boomer asked breathlessly as they hurtled into the nearest turbo lift.

{{State level}}

"Alpha Bay." Apollo leaned against the wall, breathing heavily. He glanced at Boomer, answered the question. "You heard Core Command. Bojay was just past the first pickets when it blew. He should hit the outer marker in about three centons."

"As Starbuck says, the guy's a wanker, but I hope to God he makes it." Boomer took several deep breaths, readying himself for the next sprint when they reached Alpha deck.

At first sight the deck appeared to be in chaos. But it was organised chaos. The Alpha Deck-master stood in the centre of the bay, shouting orders into his headset above the noise of wailing klaxons, and people were scurrying in all directions, heading for emergency stations. The techs were rushing to get as many of the parked Vipers out of the way as possible, clearing a run to the crash barriers on the inner edge of the bay.

A group of pilots gathered behind the safety screens to one side. They looked around as their Captain joined them.

"Who is it?" one of them demanded

"Bojay," said Boomer, chest heaving. Then to Starbuck: "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Cassie just let me out of Life Centre. I was on my way to say hello when all the fun started. You okay, Apollo?"

Apollo glanced at him and nodded, then turned his attention back to the bay entrance watching for Bojay's Viper. Starbuck moved closer, ready. Out in the bay the techs and the Deckmaster ran for the haven behind the safety screens at the other side of deck. Bojay had to be there.

"Here he comes." Jolly sucked air in through his teeth when they saw how fast Bojay's approach was. "Shit, he's coming in like a rocket!"

The incoming Viper made a half roll as its pilot lost control for a split micron, was corrected at the last centon and hauled back onto alignment for a landing.

"Shit!" said several voices at once, all anguished.

"Come on, Boj," said Apollo, softly.

The Viper hit the deck with the scream of tearing metal that set everyone's teeth on edge. The landing gear was caught by the catcher lines, almost tipping the little starfighter up on her nose. The first lines snapped, the metal ropes whip-lashing across the bay to snap viciously at the safety screens. Several of the watching pilots and techs jumped back. Boomer jumped, himself. Those steel ropes would have cut them in half if the screens hadn't been there.

The second set of lines caught and held, bringing the Viper into a sliding skewing stop up against the crash barrier.

For a micron the bay was eerily silent, then to ragged, relieved cheers, the emergency crews raced across to free the pilot. Bojay popped the canopy himself and almost fell out of the his fighter into the arms of the waiting ground crew. They pulled him away without ceremony, wanting to get him clear of the Viper in case she blew. Other techs, wearing protective gear against flash fire, swarmed over the ship, securing against fire, closing down all the systems.

Half walking, half carried, Bojay was hauled to safety behind the screens.

"Stay back and let the paramedics at him." Apollo held back the pilots rushing to congratulate Bojay on his narrow escape.

"Dear God," said Bojay. His knees buckled and the paramedics let him down onto the deck.

"Head between the knees and you'll be all right," one of them said briskly, and pushed Bojay's head down. She looked up at the watching pilots and grinned at them. "He's fine. It's just reaction. He didn't cop so much as a bruise."

"Helluva landing, Boj," someone said. "Many more of them and even Starbuck wouldn't give you odds on collecting your pension."

"I don't give odds on any of us getting a pension," retorted Starbuck. "Glad you did it, Boj. Not sure about the victory roll as you came in though. You cut that a bit fine."

"Can it, Starbuck," ordered Apollo. "Give the guy some air, you lot."

Sheba knelt down to hug her wingmate. "Geez, Bojay, you scared the hell out of us."

"I was bloody scared myself." Bojay raised his head. He looked around at the ring of faces.

"What happened?" Apollo asked, giving Bojay a relieved smile.

Bojay's expression grew cold. "And why don't you tell me? Sir."

An abrupt silence fell, and grins faded. Everyone got very still and tense, the way they'd been in the microns before the Viper had landed safely.

Apollo's smile died. "What the hell do you mean by that?"

"I mean that the ship was sabotaged. Those circuits were rigged to blow."

"And you think I know something about that?"

Bojay had planted his little dart. "Of course not, sir. I'm only concerned that it was the Angel again."

"And?" Apollo's voice was icy cold.

"And it seems he's getting more desperate about getting some sort of message to you. I don't know about the rest of the pilots, but I'm not happy about the methods he's using to attract your attention. Maybe if you answered him, he'd let up on the rest of us."

Beside Boomer, Starbuck stiffened and his hands clenched. Boomer grabbed at his arm and shook his head, keeping him out of it. Apollo could handle Bojay, of that he had no doubt, but it wouldn't bolster the captain's authority if Starbuck kept leaping in doing his over-protective act. Starbuck shot him an angry look, but stood still.

Apollo regarded Bojay for a long centon. When he turned to the pilots, he channelled Adama again. Behind him, Bojay smirked, but all Apollo did was send the crowd on its way. "Most of you should be somewhere else, I think. Return to your duty stations. I want this deck clear in thirty microns."

Quietly said, calmly said, but no-one, no-one at all, was disposed to argue with the captain when said captain was in a snit. The pilots melted away like mist in the sun. Boomer stood his ground beside Starbuck. Apollo's gaze flickered over them and away again, back to Bojay.

"Nice try. But I'm not going to give you the satisfaction of getting mad with you, Bojay."

"They're still wondering. You'll have to tell us sometime," said Bojay.

"I don't have to tell you anything at all." Apollo looked at the paramedics. "Get Salik to look him over. If he's okay, I want to see him in the Briefing Room in half a centar. We'll discuss your theories there, Lieutenant, with the command staff."

The smirk was wiped off Bojay's face and Apollo grinned, a slight inclination of the head making ironic acknowledgement Bojay's sudden discomfort.

"I didn't mean - "

"No I didn't think you did. Then we'll try another tack, Lieutenant, and remember our performance assessments, shall we? You seem to need some hard-landing practice. That one was pretty sloppy. You're grounded for the next secton, and you'll spend that time in the simulators."

"Hey – "

"Your choice," said Apollo, implacable.

"I don't want to talk to the commander -"

"Fine. One secton, Lieutenant and you'll not fly patrol again until I am satisfied that your performance is up to standard – and I can have pretty exacting standards. You can spend the next few days reflecting on your unprofessional behaviour. Am I understood?"

Bojay nodded, expression murderous. Boomer relaxed and grinned. Beside him, Starbuck sniggered, but Boomer could still feel the tension in him. "We'll be up in a centon," said Boomer, as Apollo passed them on the way back to the Duty Office. Apollo's eyes flickered Bojay-wards, but he didn't stop.

Bojay watched him go, scowling. "Bastard," he said.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" demanded Starbuck. "That was a mean trick even for you."

"Starbuck, don't you wonder who really called you down to Beta deck? And don't you think it's odd that it's my ship that's sabotaged just after I started wondering what Apollo knows about these angels? You know he knows something. What does the message mean to him, eh?"

"You're nuts."

Bojay shook his head. "Not me, Starbuck. But you better get your boyfriend checked out."

"That's enough!" Starbuck leaned down until his blue eyes, unusually cold and hard, were only inches from Bojay's. "One more word out of you" he said in a dreadfully quiet voice. "One more dig at Apollo, and I'll rig your Viper myself. And you won't walk away from that one, believe me."

Bojay gaped, looked at Boomer for support.

Boomer shrugged. "I'll be first in the queue to help you, Bucko," he said. "I don't think I'll be the last."

 

 

"Given his mouth, it's unlikely that we're celebrating Bojay's unexpected deliverance this morning, so is there a special reason we're getting drunk tonight?" Starbuck drained the bottle of ambrosa into Apollo's glass.

"Do you need a reason?"

"Well, Salik told me to avoid any excitement and I've enough of a headache without adding a hangover to the mix. If I'm going to get drunk, I'd like to know why."

Apollo shrugged. He had a headache himself, and if his was stress-induced rather than from having a blunt instrument applied to the back of his head, it was potent, none the less.

It had been building all day. After Bojay's forced landing and the scene on Alpha deck, Apollo locked himself away in the Duty Office. It was quiet and peaceful in there, a haven away from Bojay and the angels and ... and the ghost he'd rather not think about. The only time he left the office had been to seek out Hallam and get him started on the checks on Bojay's Viper. The few pilots and troopers he'd seen on that trip had all gone very quiet whenever Apollo came anywhere near them. Although he tried to act as if nothing was happening, he was distressed that Bojay's poison was having its effect.

It worried him, that he was losing their trust and respect. It worried him a lot. Starbuck and Boomer had stuck with him, of course, even to the point of Starbuck standing over him at dinner and making him eat when he'd tried to say he wasn't hungry and to go on without him. But then, no-one could get rid of Starbuck if Starbuck didn't want to be got rid of. And Starbuck, never to be diverted unless he wanted to be, had stuck like a leech, reminding Apollo that he'd been promised an explanation and that sahe was looking to collect.

Cornered, Apollo had had to agree. He knew he'd put off the inevitable all too long already and that Starbuck had been almost unnaturally patient. Dread made it even harder to choke down the little food Starbuck had forced him to eat, and there was no possibility of giving any sort of explanation without as much ambrosa as he could hold. More.

He tried for more evasion, more delay. "Would you settle for me telling you that I don't like drinking alone because I've enough problems without adding alcoholism to the list?"

"It's not very illuminating, Apollo, but I thoroughly agree with the principle."

Apollo gave him a sour look. "You know why, really."

"Well, I'm hoping you're going to tell me what this is all about, but I'm a bit worried that you think you need this much ambrosa to get through it."

"It helps." Apollo's gut tightened, threatening to make him lose the ambrosa he'd already drunk. He felt like every bone was trembling inside him, shaking him to bits with the vibration. "I know I owe it to you to tell you the truth. It isn't right for me to deceive you about what I've done, to pretend I'm still worth... worth being friends with, much less worth loving..."

"What?"

He stole a look at Starbuck. His lover looked as astonished as he sounded.

"It's not that I didn't trust you, that I didn't tell you before. It's just that I've been too scared. I don't want you to...to despise me for what I've been and what I've done. I'm scared that you will," Apollo added gloomily. "I don't want you to be ashamed of me, Starbuck."

"Don't be stupid! here's nothing you could do to change the way I feel about you, Apollo"

"Don't be too sure."

Starbuck's hand curved around Apollo's chin and forced his head around to face him. "Look. You and me and forever. That's the deal, the only deal. I told you that when we started this, that I've wanted it since you were fifteen and the snotty new kid at school. I still want it – you – and I can't imagine anything in the universe that could change that. So, how about you just tell me all about it?"

Apollo wanted to believe it. He really, really wanted to believe it...

"Apollo," said Starbuck, so gently that Apollo's eyes stung. "Trust me."

I do, I do... it's me I don't trust... Apollo nodded and put down a glass that was suddenly too heavy for fingers that ached with tension. "It's all tied up with the angel stuff, but you know that."

"I know it's bothered you, out of all proportion."

"That's because they're aimed at me." Apollo breathed fast and quiet, his heart hammering. He wiped his hand against his pants and faltered out with: "I'm the Angel, Starbuck."

Starbuck sat back. "No," he said, flatly.

Startled by this flat certainty, Apollo said, very uncertain himself, "Well, I was – "

"I don't believe for one micron that you're running around the ship, stencilling angels onto every flat surface, and not just because we've already discussed how massively untalented you are as an artist. And no way in God's heaven would you hit me over the head."

Aghast, Apollo could only gasp and shake his head. "No. No.. Starbuck – I'd never – "

"Exactly!"

"I mean, I used to be. I used to be. A – a long time ago, Starbuck. I'm sorry. It's my fault that you were attacked. All my fault."

"How?"

"Bojay's right. There's someone trying to get at me, and he tried through you."

Starbuck frowned at him. "I'm getting confused," he complained. "What's this all about, Apollo? Start at the beginning."

"It's from something that happened a long time ago. When I was a kid." Apollo closed his eyes for a centon, forced himself to remember. "Not long after my thirteenth birthday, Starbuck, I ran away from home."

"You what? You? Goody-two-shoes?"

"Yeah. Only I wasn't such a good little boy then, believe me. I was obnoxious, rude, argumentative, loud and probably rife with hormones. Dad says I was a horror."

Starbuck grinned at him, but Apollo could see that it didn't reach the watchful blue eyes. "I can't imagine you as a rebellious adolescent. Zac was a horror. You – nah. You've always been my Apollo."

Apollo said, sadly, "Reserved, responsible, steady, boring?"

"Not the boring, but the first three... yeah. I guess I was wrong and you did have an adolescence after all, then? You were so damned good, I'd kinda doubted it."

"Oh yeah."

"So, why did you run off?"

"Why does any kid run away? To remind his parents that he's still there."

Starbuck blew out a breath, making his cheeks puff out. "Deep. I suspected as much. It always is with you."

"It's complicated," conceded Apollo. "I spent sectars with child psychologists afterwards trying to work myself out. I think it boiled down to being massively resentful that Dad was never there, and at the time I ran, Mama was just getting involved in politics and was barely there either. And I was the one expected to look after Athena and Zac all the time, be responsible for them. I hated that. Zac was a terror, more destructive than a Cylon taskforce and I was forever in trouble for the stuff he broke, for not looking after him better. And on top of all that I was having a bad time at school. There was a group of older boys who bullied the hell out of me. I thought no-one cared, and all I was getting from everyone was grief, so I decided that anywhere would be better than home."

Starbuck shook his head, and Apollo remembered that Starbuck had never had a home to run away from. But all Starbuck asked him was where he ran to.

"The Eastside."

The Eastside had definitely been the poor part of Caprica city. It was not a pleasant place, full of poverty and crime, narrow streets of decaying buildings. A dangerous place, especially for a kid of thirteen who'd lived all his life in comfort, never wanting for anything.

Another headshake from Starbuck, and he said aloud what Apollo was thinking. "That's a bit downmarket for a rich boy from Osaiya."

"I was down market. I was so far down market as to be out of sight. Very socially unacceptable." Apollo stopped, the bile choking him.

Starbuck's hand closed on his. "No difference, Apollo." he said. "None."

Apollo stared at him, frightened.

Starbuck twisted so that instead of sitting shoulder to shoulder on the sofa he was facing Apollo. Apollo dropped his gaze, couldn't look at him, but once again Starbuck's hand took his chin and made him do it. "I love you, Apollo. Trust me. It can't make any difference – "

Apollo shook his head. "I - "

"And I really think you need to tell me."

And the Lords knew that that was true. He owed Starbuck. Apollo sighed. "I'll try, but this is very hard."

"I know. But this is us - me and you. If you can't tell me, who could you ever tell?"

Apollo took a deep breath and nodded. He'd thought about little else all day, ever since the Alpha Bay, remembering and thinking about how he could tell Starbuck, because he knew both Starbuck and his father were right. He had to tell. He had to trust Starbuck.

He remembered how he'd talked to the doctors his Dad had got him, how he could tell them. He'd not look at them, play with something – a book, a pen, anything – and concentrate on that, and tell them about someone called the Angel who was someone who wasn't Apollo, letting Apollo hide while the Angel talked. He could do that. He could still do that. He'd thought all day that it was the only way he'd be able to do that.

He picked up his glass to play with and made his tone detached and emotionless, letting Apollo hide and letting the Angel talk. "I did okay for the first few days. I had enough money to eat, although I slept in a park at night. I had a place I found, in the bushes. It was an adventure, not having to worry about Thenie and Zac, or school, or homework, or having to do well so Dad would be proud of me. It was a scary place, but I was on a high, excited all the time. I'd never seen anything like it."

Pause.

"I'd been gone about four days, I guess when I ran out of money and the weather broke. Then it wasn't exciting at all. Just scary. And I was hungry and wet and cold, and scared to go home. I thought that they'd be so mad with me, they'd never forgive me. So when this guy offered me some money, I took him up."

"Oh oh," breathed Starbuck. His hand closed over Apollo's again. I'm here, the touch said. Here.

"You got it. I was so naïve, I can barely believe it. I had no real idea what he was going to do. I mean, I was older than Boxey and I'd had all the biology lessons, but zero practical experience. He took me to a place - I can't really call it a hotel. It was a filthy, rundown building where the owner, Todd, rented out rooms by the centar for passing trade. The guy took a room for two centars." Apollo's hands were shaking so much he had to put down the glass again, but Starbuck's grip on his hands tightened comfortingly. So he allowed himself to play with Starbuck's hands instead, looking at them as his fingertips smoothed over the golden skin, along the fingers, smoothing over the little scar on Starbuck's forefinger. He wondered how Starbuck had got it. "He was okay, really. He was very gentle with me, but he'd paid and he wanted what he'd paid for. He fucked me twice."

"But you were only thirteen! You can't have looked old enough -"

"No. He knew how young I was, but -" Apollo shrugged. "Maybe that was the attraction, that and being the first. He wasn't the last."

"What happened?"

"He left when he'd finished. I was a few centons following him. I hadn't cried when he was there, but I cried like a baby when he'd gone. I thought I could never, ever go home. They'd be so ashamed of me, so disgusted.. I wasn't reasoning too well, but I suppose I thought I'd cut myself off home for ever. Suddenly, even looking after Zac sounded wonderful, but I thought I'd never see them again."

"But Apollo, I know how much your Dad loves you. How could you think they'd blame you? Hell's teeth, what that bastard did was statutory rape! You were only a kid, after all. Why didn't you go home?"

There was a long silence. Why hadn't he? Apollo considered it, thinking back to the story the Angel had told the doctors, yahrens ago.

"He didn't know how. He was sort of lost, I think. Not literally, just... just lost."

Starbuck stiffened. "He?" He sounded frightened.

The doctors hadn't let him do that either. They hadn't let him pretend that the Angel was someone else, no matter how much Apollo wanted him to be. Apollo had to remember he was the Angel, too. "Me. I was lost. The Angel was lost. I couldn't go home."

Starbuck's eyes were as frightened as his tone had been, full of concern. "But it wasn't your fault," he protested. "No-one would blame you."

"I thought they would. But it's pretty academic, now, Starbuck. Todd saw to it that I didn't get a chance to go home for a long, long time."

"The guy who owned the place?"

Apollo nodded. He was fighting now to keep his hands from writhing over each other. There was so much tension in him that his legs were aching with it, all down his shins to his feet. He wouldn't let them start trembling, wouldn't let his feet start tapping, even to relieve the strain. If he started that then pretty soon his heels would be drumming on the floor.

The Angel could tell the story, not Apollo, but only if the Angel could use the flat voice, the one that wouldn't let through what he felt about things, the way he wouldn't let his feet start drumming because he wouldn't be able to stop them. "When I got downstairs the guy who'd bought me had gone, but Todd called me over to the desk. He said the guy hadn't paid enough and what was I going to do about it. I just stared at him, like I was stupid or something. All I had was the twenty cubits the guy had given me, and I needed that for food. I hadn't eaten since the day before, and I was starving. So Todd grabbed me and hauled me into the room behind the main desk, where he lived. He wasn't gentle at all."

"Shit!"

"I lost count of how many times... he was at me all afternoon and when he went back to the desk when the evening trade started picking up, he took all my things and locked me into the room. There wasn't any way out. The window was at the back of the hotel and was barred." Apollo listened to the Angel tell it, and nodded. That was right. It had been just like that. "He kept me to himself for about a secton before he started sharing me with one or two friends. A secton after that and I was working for him, servicing two or three different men a day. And Todd, of course. He had me every day."

"Oh God," said Starbuck, and dropped Apollo's hands, but it was only to pull him safe and protectively into his arms. "Oh God, Apollo."

Apollo couldn't relax, not even where he was safe, with Starbuck. "I was quite expensive for the Eastside, because I was so young, I guess. Todd charged the cruisers about forty cubits a time. That gave them a centar or two. I was actually quite good at it, you know. In demand."

"Oh Apollo."

"Of course, it helped that Todd kept me drugged up to the eyeballs. He used a dilute form of Shadow, just enough to keep me drifting, keep me compliant and submissive, uncomplaining. And just enough to get me addicted, of course."

"Geez, Apollo! You were only thirteen!"

"This was real life, Starbuck. There's a lot of men who prefer boys but prefer not to fight them down each time."

"Fucking perverts!"

Apollo just nodded, and Starbuck held him tighter, burying his face in Apollo's hair for a micron.

"How long?"

"At Todd's, do you mean? About six sectars."

"Lord help us. Six sectars of that?" Starbuck shook his head. "And at the end?"

"I was sick. Actually, I was really, seriously sick. The Eastside wasn't the healthiest part of the city, remember, and I woke up one morning and started throwing up. The problem is that cruisers don't bite if you're coughing all over them and as soon as they've finished with you, you pelt off to the bathroom to throw up. They tend to worry it's something catching. Or if they do bite, they won't pay as much. Todd was so furious with me that he gave me a kicking, fucked me, and then kicked me some more because I wasn't responding enthusiastically enough for him. I managed to get away in the early afternoon and ran for it. I didn't get far, but it was a police patrol that picked me up, not Todd. They saved my life. They took one look at me and got me to hospital. Another few centars and I'd have been dead. I had meningitis. As it was, it was about eight days before I was out of danger, off life support and awake enough to know who and where I was. When I woke up, Dad was there."

"Thank fuck for that!"

"I don't think he'd ever put it quite like that. He'd rushed home within a couple of days of me running away, and Headquarters agreed to give him a home posting until I was found or they had some news of me. They were scared that I was dead, you see, that I'd run into someone even more perverted than Todd and his friends. He'd spent every free centon scouring the city for me. I didn't realise until then I was that important to him."

"What? How could you not -"

Apollo's voice droned on, still that carefully neutral tone, telling the story that belonged to someone else, not him. "The police matched me to the missing persons description within centars and he and Mama rushed to the hospital. They were scared stiff. It was bad enough, but I was still alive at least, although it was sectars before I was well enough to go home."

"They knew what had happened to you, though?"

"They knew. Both of them were with me throughout all the interviews with the police, Mama cried a lot. Dad stayed with me while the doctors weaned me off Shadow, through the treatment for the diseases that Todd and his friends had left me with. And there's an advantage in being rich. He could afford the best psychiatrists for me, to help me get over it. At least, as much as it's possible to get over it."

Starbuck tucked Apollo's head under his chin and rested on it. Apollo could feel his jaw move. "What happened to Todd?"

"The doctors realised when I was taken into ER that I'd been, in polite police parlance, criminally assaulted. There was enough DNA evidence in me to get a conviction. Dad made sure that happened: as you said earlier, at that age, sex with me was statutory rape even if I was begging for it - which I can't say I ever was, even drugged up. Todd went to prison for ten yahrens. I had to give evidence, but there's other advantages in having wealthy parents who could get the best legal advice Our lawyer made sure that my evidence was suitably anonymised, given how under-age I was."

"Dear heaven," said Starbuck, helpless.

"And that's something I stopped believing in. Not surprising really."

Starbuck hugged him close for a micron. "How does the angel fit in?"

"Todd didn't know my real name, then. Not until the trial, when his lawyers would be told. His hotel backed onto an old graveyard, hundreds of yahrens old. I was quite a pretty kid, and he thought I looked like one of the angels in the graveyard, so that's what he called me. Angel. His sweet Angel."

"Poetic," said Starbuck.

"And because he said that I was heaven to fuck."

Starbuck choked.

"I got over it, mostly, Starbuck. Dad was wonderful. I thought he'd be so mad and disgusted with me… but he never acted like it made any difference, the way I thought it would. Better, because him rushing home like that and staying with me for sectons when I was found, meant I mattered to him, I was important. Not just to look after Thenie and Zac, but I mattered. He didn't mind touching me, and he spent a lot of time when I was in hospital just holding me - "

Starbuck held Apollo tighter.

"He's always been there, ever since. And thanks to him, I'm okay. I have some bad days still, but on the whole, I'm okay. I can go for sectars and not think about Todd or Eastside or any of it. But I don't like angels."

"No. I can see that. No wonder you were so freaked out. Who's doing it, Apollo?"

"It has to be Todd. He must have survived, be in the Fleet somewhere." Apollo was suddenly very tired. "Dad has Reese checking out the civilians, but so far no luck."

"Wouldn't you know him?"

"I dunno. Oh, I dunno." Apollo raised his hands to his face and scrubbed at it, trying to think. "I think so, but it was over sixteen yahrens ago. I can't say that anyone on Reese's list rings any bells. Todd will be about sixty now, I guess, maybe more. He might look very different. People change."

"Yeah. Especially after ten yahrens inside."

There was a long silence. Apollo gently disentangled himself and leaned forward to reach for his long neglected glass of ambrosa. His hands shook badly, but he managed to get the glass to his lips without spilling the wine.

"I wish you'd told me earlier," said Starbuck.

Apollo flinched. Here it comes. "I've never been able to talk about it much. When I met you at school it was the first time I'd been with kids my own age for two yahrens. I just wanted to be the same as you all were, and the longer I stayed quiet about it, the more impossible it became ever to tell you. And like I said, as I grew up it became less overwhelming. I learned to live with it." The shaking was spreading from Apollo's hands to the rest of him. "And when you and me started this, I did think about telling you the truth, but I was so afraid I'd lose you. Its pretty disgusting and obscene. Sordid."

"Bollocks!" Starbuck wrapped his arms around Apollo again. "The one who's disgusting, the one I want to tear apart for being obscene, is Todd. Nothing you could do would make me ashamed of you."

"Except selling it," Apollo choked out, and there was the crux of what tormented him.

"Not your fault, Apollo."

"You don't blame me?"

"Of course not, you idiot. You were a kid, and you were drugged up and abused. I love you very much - more than anything – and I always will. Look, it makes no difference to me at all, I swear. Except that I'm astonished that you were willing to take the risk with me, that it didn't bring up all the memories again."

"I was scared," Apollo admitted. "I wouldn't admit to myself for yahrens what I really felt about you. But when it happened… well, I loved you and wanted you, and it was all right"

"All right? Sex with me is a helluva lot better than all right!"

Despite himself, Apollo grinned when he finally looked up to meet Starbuck's eyes. What he saw there made him catch his breath. His heart thumped hard, the little knot of ice in his gut twisted one last time.

"That's better." Starbuck grinned back, then sobered. He cupped Apollo's face with both hands. This was the Starbuck few people saw, the serious Starbuck, the one who felt things, deeply. "When you started out on telling me this, Apollo, I thought that nothing you could say or do would change the way I felt about you. I was wrong. I didn't think it was possible, but you mean more to me than you did before, I'd give anything to get hold of the people who hurt you and I'll do everything I can to help you find Todd and tear him limb from limb. And that's a promise."

Apollo couldn't speak. He reached almost blindly for Starbuck and for the first time since he'd sobbed in his father's arms in the hospital sixteen yahrens before, Apollo cried for the child who'd gone forever.

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