Part Six

 

"I understood from the captain that his work was being affected," said Salik. "I expect that's why you're here."

"I want to understand better what's happening to my son," said Adama, swallowing the implied criticism without protest. He was realising for the first time that he was as responsible as anyone for the gossip that had so offended and embarrassed him.

Salik shrugged. "It's an aneurysm, where the blood vessel wall's weakened and ballooning. A slow bleeder. It's caused several mild strokes. That means that among other things he's been suffering blackouts, dizziness, sickness, an inability to concentrate and crippling headaches."

"Dear God. That explains a lot."

Adama sat silent for a moment, thinking that his reaction had made things so much worse. He should have guessed that something was seriously wrong. He should have known. He'd been too eager to assume that any drop in Apollo's performance was due to the private life he disapproved of. He should have known better. He should have known his son better. It was with deep shame that he remembered that Tigh had apparently known his son better then he had himself.

"And it's causing motor difficulties," Salik said, falling back on the medical profession's love for unwieldy euphemism.

"The limp? I thought that it was a Triad injury." Adama tried to suppress the inconvenient memory of berating Apollo for that too, for allowing his sport to interfere with his duties. One more stick to beat him with.

"So did he. You were both wrong."

"You said he'd had some mild strokes?"

"Minor haemorrhages - the bleeder's leaking. He almost certainly had a more severe one this morning when he missed the Command meeting. He blacked out for a centar and a half, a considerable time by anyone's standards. It indicates that things are worsening."

"All classic symptoms," Lyre cut in from her side of the desk where she and Salik were working late, finalising plans for the next day. She looked gravely at the commander. "Made worse, of course, by the amount of stress and overwork he's experienced recently."

"The problem is that it's bordering on the inoperable. I'm really worried that we'll cause more damage."

"If you can't operate?" asked Adama.

"I have to," said Salik, as grim as Adama had ever seen him.

"We've no choice," Lyre said, studying the scans in a way that Adama couldn't miss as pointed. "If we don't, then a massive, fatal stroke is only a matter of time."

"We just don't have any choice but to try. But I won't give you any guarantee that we can get him through it or that if we do, he'll recover fully. No matter how you cut it, Commander, that young man is very seriously ill and you'd better plan on doing without him for a few sectons." Salik glowered. "Maybe sectars if there's long term effects."

"I see," said Adama quietly. "He's not complained of being ill."

"No. He put it down to stress," said Salik, and there was no mistaking where his sympathies lay. "Something he thought that he had to cope with. Understandable in the circumstances since he's evidently been under a great deal of stress lately. You seem to have been monitoring his performance very closely from what he tells me, so I'm surprised you didn't notice. It's undoubtedly exacerbated his illness and worsened some of the effects."

Salik's condemnation couldn't have been more cutting if he'd sat down and thought about it for a sectar. Adama winced but said nothing.

Salik glanced at his chronometer. "Lyre and I have a lot to do. We're operating at ten tomorrow."

Adama nodded. "Thank you, Doctor. I'll be there."

Salik gave him a cool look. "Not if it upsets my patient, you won't," he said flatly.

 

"My, oh my, oh my," said Athena, admiring. "A new look?"

It would take a very keen ear indeed to hear the catch in her voice. I've got very good hearing. She was putting on a good act, was Thenie.

Apollo glowered at her.

"Don't mention his hair," I pleaded with her. "Please don't mention his hair."

"What hair?" she asked with the evil little grin that I remembered only too well, and ran her hand over Apollo's head. "Mmmn - nice. Shorter even than Boomer's."

"Get me a mirror," said Apollo, crossly.

"Now look what you've done." I was reproachful, and I had every right to be. "You'll start him off again. We've had one tantrum already this morning."

"Good one?" she asked.

"Foot stamping, arm waving, full throttle tantrums are always the best and he has a talent for them."

"Get me a bloody mirror!"

"Now, now, Appy. Don't be petulant. You can start a new trend. Prison Barge Escapee can be all the rage this yahren. I'll even buy you some prison denims to go with it."

"Mirror!" he said, peremptorily. "And stop calling me Appy!"

"Stop being childish, then. And no, I'm not going to get you a mirror." Athena grinned at him and turned to me. "What caused the tantrum? The haircut?"

"Oh yes," I said. "Oh very yes. Didn't you hear what he said when he realised just how much hair they were going to shave off him? I figured that everyone in the Fleet must have heard. Salik told him they'd only need do one side, but Apollo - well, I was taught very good manners in my orphanage and I won't repeat what Apollo said to that idea. His opinion of Salik's fashion sense was very pithy. Very pithy indeed. Loud too."

"He's good at tantrums, my big brother." Athena was still admiring. She took another look at the cropped head and I saw that her eyes were wet. "This has all the hallmarks of a Kennedy."

Kennedy, the sergeant who ran the Galactica's gym and did the hand to hand training, had a profitable little sideline in barbering to the follicly-challenged or those who favoured the shaven head look, even giving his name to the… the - well, no-one could really call it a style, exactly: process describes it better - giving his name to the process. Once he'd realised just how much hair he'd have to lose, Apollo had sulkily agreed to have a Kennedy, and the sergeant had just left. Salik would shave the actual operation site once they had him in surgery, but Kennedy had done a good job of reducing the flowing locks to a quarter-inch stubble. I had some of his hair in my pocket. I hadn't let him, or anyone, see me take it, but I had it.

"Got it in one." I grinned at Apollo. "I keep trying to tell him that he looks good with it, but he won't believe me."

"Will you two stop talking about me as if I wasn't here?"

"And I thought Zac was the vain one in our family."

"I am not vain," fretted Apollo.

"Oh no," we both agreed, and he glowered at us.

"I look terrible."

Athena was good at doing consoling. "It'll grow back. Besides, Starbuck's right, much as I hate to admit that he could be right about anything. It suits you. You're all cheekbones and green eyes. It's not fair, you know. They're wasted on you. I'd look far better than you with cheekbones like that."

That was an old grievance that Athena had nursed happily for yahrens. She loved Apollo dearly, but thought that he'd got all the luck. He was very like his mother, the only one to inherit Ila's green eyes and bone structure. Athena and Zac looked far more like Adama, too much so for her own liking. Me, I thought she was a beauty but I liked his cheekbones exactly where they were. On him.

"Matter of opinion," I said, very quiet. I didn't want to provoke violent retaliation from Athena. She rarely fought fair.

"Can we please talk about something else?" Apollo touched his head and winced when he felt the stubble. "This is too gross."

"Nothing to run your fingers through now, Starbuck," said Athena with a tiny touch of malice.

I put my hand into my pocket, to be sure. I loved running my fingers through his hair. "He's got a nice shaped head though."

"For Sagan's sake!" said Apollo petulantly, and he would have stamped his foot if he hadn't been sitting cross-legged on the bed.

So I changed the subject for him. Teasing him to take his mind off what was to come had obviously only limited effect. Time to move on.

"Where's Boxey?" I asked Athena.

"Outside with Dad," she said, matter of fact.

Apollo's scowl deepened. Athena's idea of suitably diverting topics of conversation was worse than mine.

"What's he doing here? I don't want to see him."

"He knows that. You made that clear last night, crystal clear. But you know that nothing could keep him away, Apollo. He just wants to be close, and wait here."

"Why?" Apollo demanded.

"You're his son. You work it out."

"Thenie, he couldn't give a damn about me."

She sighed and gave him a very hard look. I think she'd run out of patience with them both, and Athena out of patience was a dangerous lady to cross. She could give Sheba points on dangerousness any day of the secton. So I tried to look as if I wasn't there, just part of the furniture, and let her run with this one - definitely one to stay out of. I didn't want to have to sacrifice myself to save him if she got really mad, so I hoped she'd remember that Apollo really wasn't well.

She might have remembered, but she wasn't about to let him off easily. She let loose with both barrels. "Please, Apollo, cut out the self pity. I hate it when you whine."

Apollo choked. "Whine?"

"You and Dad are both such men that I could hit the pair of you. More testosterone than sense. God alone knows how Mother coped."

"That's a bit unfair, ‘Thenie."

"Shut up and listen. I do understand how much he hurt you, Apollo, and so does he. He's blaming himself for you being sick, did you know that?. He thinks that if he hadn't put you under so much pressure, if he hadn't been looking all the time for things to punish you with, you wouldn't have been so stressed and you'd have realised earlier how ill you were and seen Salik sooner. It's eating him up that he was so crass and bigoted and, really, he's wanted to tell you that for sectars. He's really sorry about what he said about you two and most of all for that nasty crack about Zac. He's used to you coming to him to sort things out and when this time you got on your high horse and refused to do that, he didn't know how to start. I think he's been pretty ashamed of himself, and angry with himself because he doesn't like feeling guilty and ashamed. And that made him even angrier with you. He's a stubborn old man, and you're just as bad as he is. But last night, for the first time ever, he came to you to say he was sorry, that he'd been wrong."

Apollo opened his mouth to protest. " 'The -"

"I haven't finished."

He shut up. Wise man. I was backing off as quietly as I could manage it. I'd protect him from a lot of things - Cylons, Ovions, Borellian Nomen, the Eastern Alliance goons. You name it and I'll fight it. But Athena was downright scary. And there were so many breakable things in the room - medical equipment, scanners, Apollo, me.

"If you're right and he doesn't care about you, you tell me why he spent three centars with me after he'd spoken to you, crying like a child most of the time, and the rest of the night in the Chapel praying?" She took a deep breath and with a change that bewildered me, said in a near normal voice, "Now, do you want to see Boxey again?"

Apollo stared for a centon. She bewildered him too, I expect.

"Better not. He's upset enough. We talked earlier."

"All right. I'll take him off Dad's hands." She reached out to hold him and her voice was choky. "Love you, big brother."

"You too, brat."

She straightened up and tried to grin at him. "I'll see you later then."

A kiss for me and she was gone. She and Boomer were right for each other, and God knows Apollo and I were, but for the first time I realised what I'd missed with her. She was a very practical and lovely girl. She couldn't do any good sitting with me and waiting and worrying about Apollo, but she could do some good taking care of his son. She might look like Adama, but her character was pure Ila.

Apollo watched her go and sat for a few centons in silence, scowling. I sat on the edge of his bed and waited.

"Shall I get him?" I asked at last.

 

 

"Commander."

Adama was sitting quietly in a corner of the waiting room, looking down at the hands entwined in his lap. He looked up quickly when Starbuck spoke.

"Have they taken him in?"

"Not yet. They haven't given him the pre-med yet. Athena said that you were here."

"I just want to wait," said Adama and went back to looking at his hands again, dreading that Starbuck had come to tell him that Apollo didn't want him even to do that.

"I came to give you a chance," said Starbuck. "We both know he might not make it today. If it was just me, I wouldn't do this because I don't think that you deserve it. You've made his life hell for the past three sectars. You threatened to try and take Boxey away from him, you piled work onto him until he could barely function and then criticised him so often you almost had him convinced he was the failure you wanted him to be. Did you know that he said yesterday that he was glad it was something like this and that he wasn't as stupid and inefficient as you thought?"

Adama winced. "Don't!" he said involuntarily.

"That wasn't much to say, Commander. Not compared with telling him how disgusting he is or wishing that he'd died instead of Zac."

Adama flushed a deep red. "I didn't mean it like that and you know it."

"No, I never thought that you did. But you let him think that you meant it, to punish and hurt him. I used to envy him having a father, but at least orphanages can't do that to you."

"I know," said Adama with difficulty. He wasn't used to junior officers speaking to him like this, but he took it meekly.

"It's the last chance, Commander." Starbuck didn't let up. "If all you really care about is the fact that Apollo and me have sex, well then, you stay here. Or if he's more important to you than that - and I think he is - you can come back in there with me now and have another go at telling him how sorry you are, and make him listen to you this time."

Starbuck paused, and Adama could see how frightened and tense the younger man was. The strain was beginning to tell.

"I don't like you much at the moment, Commander," said Starbuck after a micron. "I know you've never liked me much either, but I thought you loved him. Once I would never have believed anyone who told me you could treat Apollo the way you have. It will take a lot for me to forget what you did to him. But I'm willing to beg. Apollo's worrying enough about maybe having to leave me and Boxey, and it's eating him up that you think so badly of him. He doesn't need that as well. Please come and see him and make it up."

"Will he see me?"

"He sent me out to get you."

Adama nodded and stood up. Starbuck sighed and led the way back to the small private room off the main Life Centre. He paused at the door.

"And for Sagan's sake, don't mention his hair, okay?"

"His hair?" Adama looked slightly puzzled.

"Or to quote Boomer from a very long time ago," said Starbuck with a very wry and unconvincing grin. "- the lack thereof."

 

 

"Was it just me?" I asked after a long, long silence.

They'd taken Apollo away from me a centar or more ago. He and Adama hadn't talked much before Cassie came with the pre-med. Adama hadn't said anything at first, just sat down beside him and put his arms round him. It must have been like holding a block of wood for a centon or two, while Apollo just looked at him, and I wondered if the commander was in for another metaphorical beating. But Adama just looked back at him and then Apollo relaxed and let his father hold him. I guess they hadn't needed to say much, really, not after that, but Adama had cried and Apollo had accepted his apology and they'd parted better friends.

When Cassie had come, it was me he wanted. Earlier, when he'd seen Boxey, he'd told the kid that he needed Boxey to take care of me, for a favour. Now he asked me to take care of Boxey for him.

If he thought he was giving me a reason to go on without him, he had another think coming. "Only until you're there to take him back," I'd said, very firm.

He'd smiled then and told me that he loved me and let her give him the first of the sedatives. He hadn't said anything else. I knew why. I'd known what he'd wanted his last words to be, if he didn't make it. I hadn't cared, then, that Adama was there to see me kiss him. I hadn't cared who was there. All I cared about was giving him a safe place in which he could fall asleep. Cassie, her eyes very wet, had let me hold him until they took him into surgery.

Now I decided I couldn't stand the silence and the waiting any longer.

"Was it just me, because you don't trust me?"

"No," said Adama sadly. "Believe it or not, I'm fond of you, Starbuck."

That was news to me. I just stared at him, and he managed a thin smile.

"In moderation," he amended.

"So it's a moral thing? You just don't approve of gay sex?"

"That's a part of it," he said. "I had a lot of time last night to think about it, why I was so angry. Partly because of the way I found out, that he hadn't told me himself; partly because I wanted other things for him; partly because I really was angry with you about Athena; but, yes, mostly I don't approve. I was shocked that you two were having an affair. You've always been close, but I never thought it would get physical, and when it did I just couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe that Apollo – that he could – " He shrugged. "I just lashed out to hurt him."

"You certainly succeeded."

I wasn't trying to hurt him back, really. It was a fact. But he sort of crumpled up and I knew then he really did feel bad about what he'd said. At least I didn't have that to worry about, that I'd hurt Apollo.

"Yes," he said, and his voice choked.

After a centon to let him get over that, I said: "I know you had plans for him, that you wanted him to do and be certain things, like wanting him to Seal with Sheba. But that wasn't what he wanted."

"No."

"From where I was, it looked like you were punishing him for defying you."

"Maybe. I don't know. It's all got so caught up and tangled. But I'm not used to him defying me that much." He gave me another thin little smile. "The last time I remember him being so determined to get his own way was when he was at school, and I banned him from seeing you because of the amount of trouble you two got into. He won that one, too."

Too?

"It was tough on him then, as well. He always tried so hard to be what you wanted."

Adama nodded. "I know."

"But now I think Apollo's finally realised that there's more to life than getting your approval. I don't mean to say that it isn't still important to him, but he's learned to live without it. But I think he'd like you to accept me and him, even if you don't approve. How you deal with the disapproval is your problem, Commander. Don't you think that it's time you stopped making it his?"

"Yes," he said, and sighed.

"Is that yes-you-can-live-with-it or yes-it's-your-problem-not-his?"

"Both," he said with a slight smile. "It is my problem and I'll deal with it. But the scare I've just had, Starbuck, well it did remind me that Apollo's very important to me - nothing is more important - and if you're what he wants, if he wants to spend his life with you, then yes, I can accept it."

I nodded.. "And me?"

"I thought I'd done that yahrens ago."

"I'm not so sure. Not the way you accepted Sheba." I could have kicked myself for saying that, but it had been annoying me for a while. Apollo hadn't been the only one hurt by the man's attitude, but I hadn't meant to whine about it. Just in case I started sounding like her.

Adama looked at me. "She'd just lost her father, Starbuck. She didn't have anyone else."

"I've never have had anyone but Apollo," I said and choked on it for a centon.

Geez, but I was starting to whine! Time to shut up before I started blubbing in front of him, and once I started I knew it would be hard to stop.

"Sometimes I forget that," he acknowledged. "I'm sorry. I think I owe you an apology, too, Starbuck."

I said nothing, and we were quiet again for a few centons until Boomer appeared. Boomer was a very welcome diversion. If you've ever been waiting like that you know that every centon's a day long, every centar a century. And it's not like you can try and take your mind of it by doing something else. Well, you can try. It won't work.

All the time I came back round to it, my mind running like a rat in a trap. I'd been happy, deliriously happy with Apollo these last few sectars, even knowing Adama didn't approve, and I couldn't bear the thought of being left, being on my own. What's the use of being there if Starbu'n'pollo was just Starbuck, and no Apollo? I just couldn't envisage going on without him. Oh, I know he wanted me to take care of Boxey, but I wasn't sure I could do that on my own. I wasn't sure I could take care of myself, even.

I don't know what Adama thought about. I do know that I would have hated to be in his place. At least I didn't have to feel guilty. Adama would never forgive himself if Apollo died, I knew that. But then, I wouldn't forgive him either. He didn't deserve to be forgiven.

So seeing old Boom-boom was a relief to both of us.

"Any news?" Boomer asked, sitting down beside me and putting his arm around my shoulders.

"Not yet. Not for centars yet."

He nodded, sighed. "I've told everyone, the way Apollo wanted." He glanced at Adama. "I didn't mention the suspension, sir. I couldn't tell them that and hold them back."

"Hold them back?" Adama repeated.

"They care about him, sir, and that wouldn't be… it wouldn't be acceptable to them. Besides, I figured that you wouldn't go ahead with it in the circumstances."

"I'd forgotten about it," said Adama, but he looked shocked at the hint that the warriors would challenge him. "It doesn't apply."

"No," said Boomer, and I knew that he was as mad with the commander as I was.

Adama closed his eyes for a micron, looking old suddenly.

"What's the matter?" I asked him.

"I was trying not to remember what I said to Apollo yesterday," he said, very quiet.

"It's all right. He doesn't remember." I saw Adama looking at me, puzzled. "Salik thinks he blacked out again."

Adama looked sick, and Boomer shook his head at me.

"Leave it, Bucko," he said softly. "It doesn't do anybody any good."

"I wasn't…" I stopped and shrugged. I hadn't meant anything by it, but it was less trouble to change the subject than explain. "What did they say, when you told them?"

"It was a bit of a shock, even though they'd all realised that something was wrong with him. Everyone's very concerned, Bucko, and I've loads of messages for you. But I guess it all boils down to them sending their love and telling you that they're thinking of you both and praying with you. They're all waiting in the OC for news."

"They're a good bunch," I said.

"They think the world of him," said Boomer simply.

"Boxey?" Adama asked.

"Scared. So's Athena. They're trying to watch some vids, but like everyone else, they're just waiting."

That's all we could do.

Wait.

 

 

Boomer had gone again, and Starbuck had been silent for a long time. Adama couldn't ever remember seeing the lieutenant so quiet and subdued. Much as Starbuck's usual ebullience could grate on him, the commander wished forlornly for it now.

It had been almost five centars. For most of that time they'd sat in silence, getting more and more concerned about the time it was taking. Salik had warned them it might be a long haul. It's a real dilemma. The longer it takes, the more strain on him and he doesn't have a lot in reserve. I can either go in quick and cause more damage but minimise the risk to him, or take it slower and more carefully to minimise the long term effects. We'll have to see how it looks when we get in there.

Salik had obviously opted for the slower route, Which could mean, Adama thought hopefully, that Apollo was enduring surgery better than expected.

But most of the time he couldn't feel hopeful or optimistic. Most of the time he was trying not to think at all, so caught up in his own misery and guilt and remorse, that he almost didn't realise that Salik was there.

"How is he?" Starbuck demanded, jumping up.

"Stable. Critical, but stable." Salik looked tired. It must have been a hard five centars for him as well. "He'll be in intensive care for a few days, but he's come through it better than I expected."

For a micron Starbuck stood very still. "And?"

"He'll make it, Starbuck," Salik said gently. "He's not very well at the moment but I don't think we'll lose him."

Starbuck took a very deep breath. There was a strange, dazed expression on his face, almost as if he hadn't heard or hadn't understood what Salik was saying to him. Adama put a hand on his shoulder and the younger man turned to him blindly. Whatever Salik was going to say got lost.

Adama found himself stroking the blond head soothingly as the lieutenant sobbed on his chest and acknowledged to himself that perhaps he'd wronged Starbuck all these years. The shallowness was nothing but a defence, hiding away someone who'd never had anything until now and had almost lost it. He let Starbuck cry for a few centons, fighting back his own tears of relief.

"Calm down," he said gently at last. "He'll be fine. Calm down."

"I am calm," said Starbuck thickly, and pulled away, wiping at his eyes with his sleeve. Two yahrens of grandfathering Boxey and Adama had learned to be prepared. He pulled out the spare handkerchief and gave it to Starbuck. The lieutenant gave him a watery grin and dabbed at his eyes. "Sorry. He's really all right?"

"He'll recover," Salik said. "It might take a long time, but I'm pretty sure he'll make a good recovery."

Starbuck nodded.

"How did it go?" asked Adama.

Salik looked down at his feet for a micron. "We've done the repairs, but we had a hell of a time with him."

"Another stroke?" The light in Starbuck's face was quenched as suddenly as it had appeared.

Salik nodded. "Bad one. We had to resuscitate him twice, and there is some damage. I'm sorry. We tried to minimise it as much as possible, but I thought this might happen."

"What does it mean?" Adama's voice was quiet, but the hand that he still had on Starbuck's shoulder tightened its grip comfortingly. "That there's still danger of another haemorrhage?"

"No. The vessel's been repaired. Frankly, it's better than before: that's one advantage medical science has over nature. He's not likely to have any more, although we'll monitor him carefully, of course."

"Then what?"

"There's some permanent damage," Salik said. "Most of the symptoms will be alleviated now - the blackouts, dizziness and so on. They were caused by the pressure the tiny little haemorrhages exerted on the cerebellum, and shouldn't recur. I certainly hope we've avoided permanent mental or intellectual impairment – "

Another unwieldy euphemism. Brain damage, Salik meant, although the words seemed unlikely to cross his lips. Adama's own lips shaped the words, but he found they couldn't cross there, either.

" - but the motor problems – well, as I suspected, the damage to that part of the brain is irreparable. And it may be worse than before."

Starbuck didn't say anything, just shook his head, over and over as if he had a palsy. His hands were shaking and he began wringing them together.

"How bad?" Adama asked, not sure which of several conflicting emotions he should give way to. He put a hand over Starbuck's, stilling them.

"Hard to tell until he's up and about and we can assess it properly. I don't know if he'll ever have enough mobility to resume full duties, but at the least, his Triad playing days are over."

Adama winced, knowing that Apollo would hate that. He'd hate being crippled, he'd hate not being able to play Triad and he'd really hate it if it meant he wouldn't be able to fly. But it was better than being dead.

"He'll be alive," said Starbuck, showing a fine grasp of the essentials. "And that's all that matters. Can we see him?"

Adama felt a little surge of relief at his inclusion. Perhaps it wasn't completely irretrievable. He had the chance Starbuck had offered him earlier.

"Of course. Don't get too anxious about how he looks. He's very heavily sedated, and I'll be keeping him that way for a couple of days. And I've got him on a ventilator: his breathing's still little ragged and I want to get that regularised."

Starbuck hesitated as he and Adama turned to follow Salik from the waiting room. "Thanks." he said.

Adama managed a smile. "Any time, Starbuck. It's what father in laws are for."

 

 

Apollo looked awful.

His face was as white as the pillow he lay against, a huge dressing on the left side of his shaved head. There was a thin plastic tube coming down from under the dressing, draining away fluid. And his breathing was very forced and mechanical, each breath preceded by the odd wheezing gasp of the ventilator. He must have been hooked up to every machine man ever created.

"I'm here, Apollo," I said. I couldn't kiss him because of the ventilator tube, and there were intravenous lines into both hands. All I could do was stroke his cheek with my fingers and hope that he heard me, wherever he was. "I'm here. Everything's going to be all right."

Everything was going to be all right. He was going to live.

He looked awful, but Gods, he was beautiful.

 

 

It was Adama who insisted on a second, religious ceremony. He took the view that the civil ceremony had been hurried and private because of Apollo's illness. Now that his son was well, the commander wanted all the rites and rituals, a full public endorsement of Apollo's marriage, a way of making restitution for his previous attitude. He had the Kobolian chapel decked with flowers, invited the Council and every notable in the Fleet and ignored his son's sardonic grins.

The preparations went on for days. Starbuck thought that it was hard to tell who was the more excited: Boxey or Athena. Athena was still entranced enough by her own Sealing to enjoy Apollo's wholeheartedly. Boxey was just excited by the prospect of unlimited sweet and sticky things to eat and Starbuck was devoutly grateful that for their second wedding night, Boxey would be at his grandfather's to give his two fathers some privacy. Holding a small boy's head over a turboflush all night would, he thought, have a quelling effect on any chance of romance. Adama wanted the ceremony, he could deal with the consequences.

Apollo had been brought up to the elaborate Kobolian ritual, and accepted all of the preparations and rehearsals with equanimity. But Starbuck was more vocal, complaining loud and long that he was Sealed already, for Sagan's sake, and he couldn't see the point of all the fuss.

Adama put an end to that. At supper the night before the ceremony, he dealt with Starbuck's pre-wedding nerves in his own inimitable fashion. He turned that cold blue-eyed stare on Starbuck and cracked his first joke ever about the entire business.

"You'll do as you're told, Lieutenant," he said firmly, "Just be grateful I'm not making you wear a wedding dress. I could change my mind."

As said Starbuck later, it wasn't much of a joke, but he decided to shut up and go along with everything the man wanted. He'd look like hell in a dress. He just didn't have the figure for it.

 

 

You have to hand it to the commander. When that man decides to recant, he does it in style. He'd lined up Kobolian priests, star-medallions, incense, flowers, the lot. At least he hadn't meant it when he threatened me with the frock. At least, I don't think he meant it. I'm not always sure with Adama.

Things were better between Apollo and his father. Apollo still kept him at a little distance and they weren't as close as they'd been before the quarrel. Maybe they never would be again, but it was better than it had been. Whatever his private problems, Adama was as good as his word about accepting the situation. Maybe a part of his accepting us was tied up in him deciding that he'd like us to have a religious ceremony - in his view, a civil ceremony was barely a Sealing at all. Apollo had been inclined to refuse, but Athena persuaded him into it. She's turning out to be very like her mother. Ila had kept the peace too.

Adama had wiped the record clean of all those disciplinary interviews, acknowledging openly that he'd been unfair and Apollo's illness had to be taken into account. Now he wasn't ill, Apollo was back on form. Adama's even commended him a few times. That caused a few wry smiles. Apollo still likes to know his father approves of him, I guess.

Better, then. Better for both of them than it might have been, and Adama's complacence about this formal Sealing had been both public and, I think, genuine.

So now we were outside the chapel, all our guests already assembled inside, waiting for the signal for our big entrance. Everyone was there, all our friends and family. Even Cassie had made it, although she was as big as a shuttle and threatening to give birth at any centon. We all just hoped she'd hang on until after the ceremony, but Dr Salik had brought his kit with him, just in case, and was giving her very searching glances every five centons. Me, I was just giving her nervous glances.

It was our fault we were cutting it so fine with Cassie's baby. We'd delayed the ceremony for six sectars. That was Apollo's idea. He said it was because he was determined to walk into the chapel with me.

Walking wasn't something we'd take for granted, ever again.

Salik had been right about the damage being worse, you see. Apollo could only get about now with an ungainly lurch on a metal brace that kept his weak right leg rigid and useable. On bad days, he needed a cane as well. So it took him a while to get back to work. For a few sectons he was on light duties, with Boomer doing much of the real work. Apollo let Boomer run the squadrons while he spent most of his time counting things for the colonel again. But after a while there was nothing left to count and he insisted on getting back to work full time.

And he was back in a Viper. Adama had protested at first, but as Boomer had once pointed out to Tigh at Kobol, the Viper is flown from the seated position and Apollo's a lot firmer these days about sticking up for what he wants. Adama had called in Doctor Wilker, the techs expert, and given him his instructions. Wilker had designed a light brace for Apollo to wear, one with a hinge at the knee that meant he could bend his leg if he was sitting or fasten the catches to make the brace rigid when he needed to walk. With that brace, he could fly, and his flight support team became expert at hauling him in and out of his Viper. Once in the cockpit, he was still one of the best pilots ever.

Except, of course, for yours truly. I can still fly him into the ground.

We'd all got used to seeing him getting around on the brace and he made light of it most of the time once he'd got over being self-conscious about it. He wasn't without his black moments, of course he wasn't, but he thought being disabled was better than being dead. And it could have been worse. It could have been so much worse.

Adama had cried the first time he'd seen Apollo try to walk, and I know, because he told me, that it was the greatest punishment anyone could inflict on him. I know what he meant. Every time I see Apollo lurching about on that brace, it makes my heart ache. Adama still looks bleak when he watches Apollo, and something in me nods in satisfaction each time I see Adama's face. Not nice, I know, but the old man needed the corrective. He wasn't a saint and had to be reminded of that now and again. It just galls me that Apollo had to suffer to provide it.

So although Apollo gets about pretty well, considering, he didn't want to walk into the ceremony like that. He and Kennedy had worked hard on a fitness programme that gave him enough stamina to manage short walks without the brace, although he usually needed to hang onto someone as well as his cane.

That's all right. He had me to hang on to. For the rest of our lives.

But walking into the chapel wasn't the real reason Apollo had delayed the religious ceremony. Oh no. The real reason was far less noble.

There was absolutely no way in the universe that he would consent to a set of wedding holopics until his hair had grown back.

Vain only begins to describe him.

Just as well I love him.

Just as well I always have.

Just as well I always will.

 

 

~end~

Previous Chapter