Section Six

 

Timeline Intersection 1, continued

 

“I thought you'd want to know. Anton and the others are back and Dad's hustled them straight into a Council meeting. To talk about you, I'd guess.”

Athena stood on the other side of his desk, not attempting to touch him. She looked tense; buttoned up and controlled. Hurt or angry, she never shouted, never screamed. She was too much like Adama for that.

Apollo glanced at her and shook his head. It didn't matter now, anyway. Nothing did. Seven centars. Seven long centars and Blue hadn't found him. Nothing had been worth while. Certainly not playing Cantor's game.

“You look terrible,” she said, still not touching him. She was watching him thoughtfully. “Well, I'd say this might just shoot you off the pedestal Dad's kept you on.”

He winced slightly. “He told you, then.”

She nodded. “He was very sweet about it. He said he didn't want me to hear about it any other way. I think he thought that I'd be hurt by it.”

“I'm sorry.”

“Don't be. I wasn't even surprised, except when he said you were already lovers. I never thought you'd have the nerve.” The slight smile had a touch of malice to it. “I always thought you were too fond of that pedestal.”

He said nothing. Adama's reaction was the least of his worries. Her reaction didn't matter a snuffed out candle, either.

“He asked my advice, too.” Athena perched on the edge of the desk. “He doesn't know what to say to you, you know. I think he's trying to work out what he thinks about it and while he does that, he'll leave you alone for a bit. I don't think that means he doesn't care. It's just that he never did know how to cope with family crises, did he? Give him a Cylon outpost to destroy and he's great, but you having sex with another man, with Starbuck… well, that's too uncomfortable for him to know how to deal with it. That's the kind of thing he needs Mother to handle for him. Or me.”

“What do you want, Thenie?”

“I thought you'd want to know that the Council's meeting. And I wanted to see if you really cared about him.” She didn't mean their father now.

“And?” Apollo lifted his chin, looked her in the eyes.

She reddened, and looked away. “How long has it being going on? While he was with me?”

Oh, so that was what was bugging her. He didn't doubt that she was worried about Starbuck, but this other thing… she had to work out how it affected her. He didn't really blame her. She'd allowed Starbuck behind the barriers and she'd ended up being hurt. He didn't blame her for wanting to know if he'd had anything to do with that.

“No,” he said wearily. “Just a few sectars. After he broke up with Cassie.”

“He left her for you?”

Apollo shrugged. “I guess.”

“Oh,” she said, and there was faint satisfaction in her tone. Although over the yahren, she and Cassie had forged first a state of neutrality, and then a wary, tentative friendship, she had never really forgiven the former socialator for taking Starbuck from her. “Does she know?”

He shook his head. “Does it matter?” he asked, still weary.

“I suppose not. I'm not mad at you, Appy. I thought I was until I saw you, but I'm not, not really. I guess I really am over Starbuck. I thought I was, and now I'm sure. And like I said I'm not really very surprised. You crook your little finger – anything from an extra patrol to Triad practice – and he'll drop anything and anyone to come running. And Sheba came to see me just before you launched for the raid. She hinted there was something going on and wanted to talk to Dad about it when she got back.”

“Oh?”

“Don't worry. She didn't get much out of me.”

Sheba wouldn't. Athena was as fiercely protective of family privacy as Adama was. From childhood, any external threat and they'd closed ranks; that he could rely on.

“Thanks.”

“Anytime.” She gave him a tight smile. “I owe you for all those times you played the heavy handed protective big brother. Now I know why you do that. It gives you quite a buzz. Besides, I heard what she and the other Pegasus people said about Dad. There's no way I'll do anything to help her after that. And that's what I told her to her face. She backed off.”

From Boomer. She'd heard from Boomer. He'd been so self absorbed recently he'd forgotten that there was something going on there. He hadn't seen it, too caught up in Starbuck to notice what she was up to. It was probably the first time since she hit adolescence that he hadn't taken a fraternal interest in her lovelife. He didn't think she resented the inattention, but it didn't matter just then. He'd make it up to her somehow, support and welcome Boomer into the family if that was how it all worked out. He hoped it would, but there was no denying that neither he nor Athena had a shining track record when it came to relationships. They seemed too unlucky for that.

Athena leaned forward and dropped a light, comforting kiss on the top of his head. “Boomer will find him.”

“I hope so.” Apollo scrubbed at sore eyes.

“He will.” She was silent for a centon or two. “Boxey?”

“Ford has him.” Apollo gave her the same little tight smile she'd given him. “That's about the only thing that got me out of here. Duty again. We're conditioned, you and me, like trained daggits. There's trigger words we respond to, like Duty, Service, Honour.”

She tilted her head to one side, considering. “There's something in that,” she conceded. “But we don't know any different and there's nothing we can do about it. But Boxey's more than a duty, Apollo.”

“I know. He's much more.”

“You went to pick him up from school?”

He nodded. Somehow, three centars previously, he'd made a huge effort and got himself out of his office to take up the one duty that hadn't yet become a burden to him. Boxey, wildly excited about the successful raid – “They told us in class, and are the other kids green that you're my Dad!“ – hadn't noticed the nearby security guards or how distracted Apollo was. Ford, there to collect his own son, had butted in, explaining to Boxey that his Dad still had masses to do, and suggesting that Boxey stayed with them overnight.

“He jumped at the chance of staying over with Dillon. I think Ford spoils them.”

Athena grinned. “That's quite the support system you have going for you, big brother. You're luckier than you know.” She glanced at her wrist chronometer. “Oh-oh. My break's almost over. I'd better get back to the Bridge before Tigh notices.”

He looked around the quiet office. It was full of memories of the hundreds of duty shifts he'd spent there with Starbuck. Suddenly he couldn't bear to be on his own any longer.

“I'll come with you,” he said, getting to his feet. “I need a change of scene.”

“You might try washing your face first,” she said. “Get some cold water on your eyes.”

He nodded and she waited while he used the tiny fresher at one side of the office. They left together, neither of them taking much notice of the two security men who swung into place behind Apollo. Apollo had already come to think of them as part of the furniture, but he suspected that Athena's blindness had more to do with resentment on his behalf. Even though they didn't talk on the way up to the Bridge, this mute support did a lot to comfort him.

Tigh raised an eyebrow when he saw that Apollo was still accompanied by his escort. He said nothing as Athena, murmuring apologies, slid back into the seat at the navigation station, keeping all his attention on Apollo.

“The commander told me about the Council order,” he said as Apollo joined him on the command dais. “Load of felger. I guess they'll want to talk to you.”

“I suppose,” Apollo said, and watched the big scanner screens for a centon.

“I'm calling in some of the forward and flank patrols,” Tigh went on. “Those pilots are exhausted, and need to rest.” He paused and grinned at Apollo. “I haven't called in Blue. I agree with you that the greatest risk is to our rear.”

Tigh knew. He knew and wasn't going to do anything about it, which meant that either he was giving Apollo enough rope to hang himself, or tacitly approved. Apollo gave him a grateful look, and Tigh nodded at him. Nothing more to say. Apollo leaned against the dais rail and went back to staring at the screen. Beside him, Tigh settled more comfortably into the command chair and went back to watching over the quiet, efficient Bridge crew.

The summons came within the half centar. Apollo straightened reluctantly from where he was still slouched against the dais rail. He glanced at Tigh.

“Word of advice, Captain. Keep your cool in there, no matter what. If you want these someday - ” Tigh's hand brushed the colonel's crowns in his collar. “ - you're going to have to fight for them, and you'll need a cool head to do it, no matter what the provocation. And definitely no matter what else you have on your mind.”

So Tigh knew that too. There wasn't much that got past him.

Apollo nodded, saluted, and stepped down to the Bridge floor. He paused by the Communications desk. “Any calls from Blue squadron, patch them straight through to me.”

“Sure,” the Comms officer said, after glancing up to get the confirmatory nod from Tigh.

“Thanks.” Apollo exchanged looks with his sister, and beckoning to the two security men, he headed for the turbolift and the short journey to the Council room. This was becoming such a familiar journey. The only unfamiliarity was that he hadn't ever merited a protective escort before.

Anton was waiting for him in the anteroom. The old man smiled at him affectionately.

“I told them that I was an old man whose control wasn't up to sitting through long Council sessions without visits to a nearest turboflush,” he said by way of greeting. “It gives me an excuse to be here to meet you. I wanted to have a word with you before you go in there.”

He paused for a moment, and waved back the Security men out of hearing. He put a hand on Apollo's arm, and drew closer. “I don't like this, Apollo. Cantor's in there at the invitation of Tomas and Solon: to advise us, he says, on the religious aspects. It all smells of an accommodation between him and some of the more superstitious of my fellow councillors, and I don't like any of it. I'm not including your father in this, because I'm pretty sure he likes this as little as I do. What's Cantor's price for giving you your life back?”

“My endorsement of certain measures that will come up from time to time.”

“I thought so. And have you agreed?”

“I had no choice,” Apollo said, miserably. “I thought if I agreed, he'd call Tomas off and I'd be able to get out there with the rest of my pilots, but the bastard double crossed me by sending Tomas out of reach. I think he was punishing me for being so unco-operative before.”

“A devious man, our Vicar-General. Almost a worthy opponent. Listen to me. This is no time for hot-headed temper. You're going to have to argue your way out of this, Apollo: coolly, rationally and absolutely without losing your temper.”

“Tigh said so already.”

“A wise man, the colonel. I rather think we're all depending on you to save us from some sort of undercover theocracy. You're the one they want, Apollo, because of those numbers you have in your head. You're an asset to them. So it's up to you make that a worthless asset, to make your agreement with Cantor worthless. You'll find a way to do that, if you think about it and don't let your resentment and anger get in the way. Make them realise what Cantor has in mind. I'll help, if you need it, and so will others as they realise what Cantor's up to. Remember everything I've ever told you.”

Apollo nodded. “Yeah.”

“This is important, my boy, but I have every faith in you.” Anton paused. “I know you can do this. Your father once told me that you won a major history prize when you were fifteen, competing against university students yahrens older than you. Right?”

“Yeah. He thinks of it as my hobby. What does that have to do with anything?”

“What he thinks of it? Nothing. But the logic and arguments you used there are what you need to replicate here. Use every weapon you have, Apollo. And remember, you'll have to fight them on their own ground. Use that. You know it pretty well, after all.”

Apollo looked at the devious old man, and for the first time in almost eight centars there was a small flicker of light in the darkness. He smiled, very slightly. They understood each other perfectly.

“Good.” Anton paused, and took Apollo's hands in both of his. “My son and his family was killed over thirty yahrens ago, you know, when the Cylons hit the colony on Taxos.”

“I know.”

“My grandson would have been only a little older than you,” Anton said. Pale blue eyes, still a young man's eyes in the old face, met Apollo's.

Apollo nodded, understanding and accepting.

Anton smiled and released Apollo's hands. “Then when you come in there, make an old man very proud.”

“I'll do my best.”

“That I know. I'll make a politician out of you yet, my boy.”

“I don't think so. Not even you could do that.”

“Watch me,” Anton said, and turned to go. “They'll call you in a few centons, Apollo. That's all the time you'll have to get ready.”

It would have to be enough.

 

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

 

TIMELINE INTERSECTION 2

There's no place like home. There's no place like home…

 

“How the hell are we expected to find anything in all this shit?” Jolly muttered furiously, taking his Viper around in another sweep. The normally cheerful disposition that had earned him the nickname that even the command staff used as if it were the one he'd been given on his Naming Day, seemed to have taken a hike.

The whole area of space was littered with debris, far flung from the actual battle site. Cylon baseships were huge - two, three times the size even of the Galactica - but the K'far Shon gunships had been ruthlessly efficient. The destruction of the baseships had been absolute, the ships exploding like novas, and scattering debris over hundreds of cubic kilometres. It hadn't made that area of space any tidier or easier to navigate. Jolly's shields were constantly deflecting debris.

“Are you having the same problem I am?” Giles' voice sounded in his headset.

“The K'far Shon were just a bit on the thorough side,” Jolly said, gloomily. “I've seen bigger postage stamps than most of this debris, and it's playing hell with my scanners.”

“Mine too.”

“As long as you still have a lock on Cree,” Jolly said, anxious now. He was at the end of the relay, depending on Giles to get him back to Cree, and on Cree to get them both back home.

“Locked on so hard I think his family will insist I marry him,” Giles reassured him. “Anything?”

“Not yet.” Jolly took another careful sweep around. “The Fleet must be getting out of range.”

“Don't even think about that.”

Jolly grunted, and concentrated on the scanner screen, Countless millions of bits of scrap metal, but nothing big enough to be a Viper. He reached down to refocus the screen. There was something that didn't seem to be drifting, just coming into the edge of his scanners.

“I might have something…” he said tentatively.

“What?”

“Dunno. Whatever it is, is moving under its own power. Not fast, but moving. It's heading our way.”

“Think it could be Bucko?”

“I want it to be. And it's typical of him to try and get back. He wouldn't just sit and wait for us to come to him.” Jolly thumped the scanner, resorting to brute force to get it to work better. “It's travelling at about half Viper speed. Still not close enough to make it out. Another couple of centons.”

“The tension's screwing me,” Giles muttered.

“It's not debris. It's under power.”

“Oh Lords,” Giles said.

Jolly nodded to himself, never taking his eyes from the shape that was growing bigger on the scanner, something at the edge of his range but coming slowly towards him. A ship, delta winged, high rear engine… Fuck, but that shape was unmistakeable!

“It's him!” Jolly almost screamed it out through a grin so wide his face felt like it would split. “It's a Viper!”

Giles' whoop of delighted triumph almost burst Jolly's helmet pickup as he kicked in the turbos to get to the crippled Viper.

“Starbuck? Starbuck! Starbuck, can you hear me? It's Jolly. Starbuck? C'mon old buddy. Answer me.”

“Anything?” Giles asked.

“It's pretty beat up.” Jolly took his Viper in a controlled close loop around the other ship. “Some damage to the port side, maybe a hull breach, but the sealants have got it: I'm reading atmosphere inside. His port engine's gone. Sensors picking up life signs! We've got him, Giles. We got him!”

Another whoop from Giles, then he could hear Giles relaying on the good news. Concentrating, Jolly got his ship up above Starbuck's, matched speed and rolled upside down, ignoring the momentary giddiness. Looking up above his head, he could just see Starbuck, slumped in the pilot's seat.

“Starbuck! Starbuck, can you hear me?” He thought he saw the figure stir slightly. “Starbuck! It's Jolly. Can you hear me?”

“Jolly.” A whisper, no more.

“I'm here, Starbuck. We'll get you home, old friend. Just hang on in there. You hit?”

“Yeah. Hurts a bit.”

Jolly grimaced at the ghost of the old insouciance. He completed the roll, getting right way up and still matching speed against Starbuck's. For a few centons he worked to get the grapple into place. “I'm getting a tow-line on you, Bucko. I'll have you home in a centar.”

“Apollo okay? Where's Apollo?” The pain-filled whisper still.

“The captain's fine, Bucko. He's back on the Galactica.” Between concentration on the grapple and anxiety about how bad Starbuck sounded, Jolly was frowning. “He's waiting for you.”

“He didn't come for me?”

“He sent us to find you.” Jolly sighed in relief as the grapple snapped into place. “Hang on in there. The line's attached and I'm going to get us up to full speed. Ready?”

“Yeah.” Starbuck's voice faded.

“Hold on,” Jolly kicked in the turbos, locking his course to rendezvous with Giles.

The weight he was pulling slowed him down a little, but he was at something very close to his top sub-light speed. Giles was already relaying through Boomer's orders: they were to get a second towline on when they rendezvoused and as soon as they reached Cree, they were to go super-light and get Starbuck back to the Galactica. Jolly signalled agreement. Half a centar, at most, and then it would all be over. Far ahead was the little signal that was Giles, the beacon to get them home.

“Stay with us, Starbuck. We're on our way.”

This time, there was no answer.

 

 

 

 

Adama nodded to the Secretary, apprehension a solid lead weight in the pit of his stomach. “Please ask Captain Apollo to join us.”

He glanced at Anton, sitting on his right hand. The old man smiled back serenely. Adama found no reassurance there, much as he'd hoped that Anton would be able to assure him about Apollo's state of mind. But the old man, subtle and dangerous, was always contained and gave nothing away unnecessarily, particularly in front of those he considered opponents. Anton, beyond remarking genially to the Council on his return that the captain had arrived in the ante-room, had said nothing at all about Apollo, and nothing to hint at how Apollo was.

Adama sighed. He wished, futilely, that he'd known better how to deal with his son and that he'd been able to do something to stem the raw emotion, to offer some comfort. He loved Apollo very much, but he didn't know how to do that. Ila could do it, conveying a million things in a touch or a caress or a word, her innate sympathy making the connexions that eluded him. She'd have known what to do to help and comfort Apollo. It irked him that he didn't, that he knew his son so little. It made him feel inadequate and guilty, helpless and… and human, he supposed. Ila might say that was no bad thing, but he wasn't sure he liked it, this uncertainty.

He was more than a little ashamed that he'd sent Athena to see Apollo; that he'd been too afraid to go himself. Given her own involvement with Starbuck, that hadn't perhaps been the best choice, and he'd been insensitive to both of them. So much for the vaunted reputation for wisdom and infallibility, then. Put to the test, it all faded into an all-too-human frailty that meant that he had no idea how Apollo was coping. And because of it, he'd left them both vulnerable. He was half-dreading, half expecting an hysterical Apollo to burst in on them, demanding explanations, unable to control the emotions that were tearing him up, demonstrating nothing but an ungovernable instability that wouldn't do either of them any good.

But Apollo, when he came in, was calm and quiet. He looked terrible still, Adama thought anxiously, noting the reddened eyes and the expression of strain on his son's face, but he had himself under control. Relieved, Adama relaxed slightly and waved Apollo to the chair set to face the Council table.

“Councillors,” Apollo said politely, sitting down.

“We have something to discuss with you, Captain,” Adama said.

Apollo looked at him. His voice wasn't angry and accusing, only sad; almost a tone of martyrdom, of an innocent soul calumnied. “I hope, sir, that you can tell me why the Council still has me under arrest?”

“You're not under arrest!” Tomas exclaimed, sounding anguished and surprised. “What makes you think that?”

Adama saw the rest of the Council react in the same way: startled, as if they'd been unexpectedly bitten by something they thought was tame and quiet, but with it all overlaid with a defensive guilt. He glanced at Anton, and got the faintest of smiles in return and realised what Apollo had done. He'd have put money on Apollo tearing in and demanding loudly and angrily that the Council lift the prohibition and stop interfering in his life. But with this innocent bewilderment – totally unexpected and beautifully done - Apollo had wrong-footed the Council completely, put them instantly on the defensive.

“I've been prevented by two armed Security men from doing my job, Sire Tomas, and I'm confined to the ship. I thought that meant I was in pretty deep trouble for something.” Apollo cut through the murmurs and denials. He turned to Cantor and nodded to him, and said, a little louder and more clearly, “Of course, when I was forced to accept the Vicar-General's conditions for getting the escort and prohibition lifted, I hoped it would be immediate, so I could direct the search for a missing pilot. I'm sorry that promising my co-operation wasn't enough.”

Even Adama drew in a breath at that, and he turned sharply to stare at Cantor. The Vicar-General had flushed red, and his mouth was drawn into a hard, thin-lipped line. The imputation was so clear that Apollo couldn't have been more damning if he'd stood up and accused Cantor to his face of power-hungry blackmail. That Cantor had been so unsubtle! Adama looked the man dispassionately, trying to jettison the respect for religious authority that had almost been bred into his bones. As Adama had once said to Apollo, he could separate the man he disliked from the office he venerated. Perhaps not now.

“Don't over do it.”

The almost soundless whisper came from Anton, but Adama thought that only he could have heard it. The old man caught Adama's eye and smiled. Adama let his eyes show his understanding.

“The Vicar-General has nothing to do with this,” Joel said, but he was looking from Cantor to Apollo, and Adama could almost smell the distrust and suspicion. The entire Council had understood Apollo perfectly and most of them were staring coldly at the Vicar-General.

“Really? Then both he and I must have misunderstood the situation,” Apollo said.

He left it at that, to fester, and Adama nodded appreciatively. He saw the way his son glanced at Anton; looking for approval, he thought. Anton nodded slowly, and Apollo leaned back in his chair.

“Father Cantor?” Adama asked gently. “Do you have anything to add?”

His face rigid with fury and obvious chagrin, the Vicar-General shook his head. “I think that the captain is right in his belief that we misunderstood what was going on. He was a little distraught, at the time. Post battle fatigue, I expect.”

“I expect it was,” Apollo said. He turned his attention back to Adama. “So I'm not under arrest?”

“I assure you that you're not, Captain,” Adama said.

“No, indeed!” Tomas looked distressed and wounded that he had been so misunderstood.

“Then I'm at a loss to understand the Security guards,” Apollo said.

Adama gave Anton a sour look. It could have been said by the old man, in exactly that tone of devastatingly gentle enquiry. He knew that Apollo liked Anton, but this was ridiculous. He liked Anton himself, but the last thing he wanted was his son becoming an Anton-clone. It wasn't that he was jealous or anything, but this wasn't… wasn't appropriate. That was the word. Appropriate. He refused to ask himself why.

Anton smiled back, unruffled.

“We only wanted to protect you!” Tomas said hastily. “They were sent to protect you.”

“From what, sir?”

“Getting hurt, of course. Look at you! Look what happened when you went to K'far. You could have been killed down there!”

“I'm a warrior, Sire Tomas. I'm paid to take some risks to defend our people. The point is I'm trained to deal with them, to minimise them.”

“And my point is that you're too important to risk!” Tomas shot back. “You can't possibly be a warrior. It's too dangerous. We'll appoint you to a bridge position, instead.”

“What bridge position? There isn't one,” Apollo said.

“We'll create something.”

“I believe that I am still commander of this ship,” Adama said, coldly angry that this little man could cause so much trouble through misplaced zeal and being over-biddable by dubious clerics. That this little man should dare try and tell him how to run his ship!

“But Adama, we have to do something to keep him safe!” Tomas turned the anguished expression back onto Apollo. “You've been touched by the Lords of Kobol, given the most holy and sacred gift for our salvation. Apollo, you must realise what a wonderful thing happened to you! You must understand how sacred you've become yourself. You must see that the information they gave you changed you for ever.”

“I don't know about that,” Apollo said calmly, consideringly. “I feel just the same.”

Cantor leaned forward. “May I, Mr President?” he asked, and when Adama nodded, went on, in his most measured, priestly tone: “You're an intelligent man, my son. Too intelligent not to understand the significance of what happened. We are a religious people, with a strong faith. That has been severely tested over the last yahren. What happened to you was very special, very precious; a renewal of faith and hope, a sign of our Redemption. If you like, the people see you as a symbol, Captain, a symbol of hope and renewal.”

“I don't like,” Apollo said bluntly.

Cantor gestured angrily, but his face and voice remained calm. It was as if the rage he had to be feeling at Apollo's intransigence had to be expressed somehow, in that sharp chopping motion he made with one hand. Adama watched him, wondering if he needed to intervene. He turned his attention to his son and decided to stay out of it. Apollo was clearly in control at the moment. As long as Apollo remained cool and calm, he'd let him do this on his own.

“Your likes and dislikes are really immaterial here. You were Chosen. You're no longer just Captain Apollo. Tomas is right. You've become a religious figure in your own right. Every word you say, every gesture you make is imbued now and forever with such significance…”

“Yes,” Apollo interrupted him. “So you said earlier when you reminded me of my religious duty to support the Church.”

“Really?” Piers said. “How very interesting.”

Cantor's face flushed a darker red. “You forget yourself!” he snapped. But his eyes never left Apollo and it was clear he wasn't talking to Piers.

“I don't think so. I did forget, when I was desperate to go and find Starbuck. But you tricked me. It's too late now. You took that away from me.” There was real venom in Apollo's voice, and he shook slightly. But only for a micron. Then he straightened and his voice regained the calm, even quality. “You should encourage the people to trust to better things, not in me. I'm just like them; nothing special.”

“They have faith in you,” Tomas said, but he sounded uncertain. He was looking openly to Cantor for guidance, but the Vicar-General had eyes only for Apollo.

“I'm not at all certain of the basis for their faith in me, Sire Tomas. They should put their faith in themselves and what they can accomplish, not in me. They don't know me. None of them know anything about me.”

“Your modesty is very refreshing, Captain.” Joel said, a faint sneer in his voice.

“You don't think that by giving them the way home, you've added some spiritual dimension?” Siress Tinia asked. “Met some deep seated need for spiritual certainty?”

“I don't see how, Ma'am. I don't have any myself. After all, we don't know who it was I met on the Ship of Lights on either occasion. The man – if he was a man – who took me to Terra gave me no hint of who they were.”

“Can you doubt it?” Tomas demanded incredulously.

“I can doubt a lot of things, Sire Tomas,” Apollo said.

“If they weren't the Lords of Kobol, then who were they?” Solon asked.

“I don't know, sir.”

Solon threw up his hands in exasperation. “But if they weren't, why would they help us?”

Apollo glanced around the Council. “Maybe they just felt sorry for us,” he said.

“These are matters of doctrine,” Cantor said roughly. “They are not for the laity to discuss.”

“I'm not aware that Church rules prevent any member discussing our beliefs,” Adama said coldly. He had no intention of allowing the Vicar-General off so easily. He'd be calling for a full convocation of the church elders when they got out of here. Cantor's position was strong, but not unassailable. He may just find out how assailable it could be.

“They do where heresy is involved!” Cantor looked at him for the first time since Apollo had so completely ruined his plans.

“Heresy?” Joel murmured. He gave Adama a malicious look. “A new spiritual experience for you, Commander, I should think.”

“But that can't apply to a holy and religious figure, like me, surely?” Apollo asked innocently. “I'd like to discuss it.”

“You are hardly qualified to do so,” Cantor snapped back.

“Well, I don't think I'd agree with that. If you knew anything about me, Cantor, you'd know that.” Apollo paused and caught Adama's eye. He looked steadily at his father. “I never wanted to be a warrior, you see. I did it because it was expected of me, the eldest son of my father, and it was too difficult to keep resisting so I could do what I really wanted. Duty, and Honour, and Service. They were the principles I was brought up to believe in. They were what wore me down at the end.”

Adama felt his mouth drop open in surprise. After all these yahrens, Apollo was angry and resentful about the decision they'd made about his future? But he'd capitulated so quickly at the time, never so much as mentioning it since, that Adama had assumed that Apollo had seen that he was right. Apollo had seemed content in his career in the military, had been like every other committed and ambitious young officer. There was nothing to hint that he felt it was something he'd been forced into.

“What I wanted to do, was take the research grant the Kobolian Institute offered me. I couldn't do that. My duty lay elsewhere.”

“The Institute?” Solon said, and there was a touch of surprised admiration in his voice.

Adama remembered the seventeen-yahren-old Apollo shyly showing him the glowing letter from the Institute and broaching the possibility of doing something other than go to the Academy. They hadn't fought, exactly, but Adama, deeply disappointed by Apollo's unwillingness to take up the family tradition of service, had flatly refused to discuss any alternative. For a while, it had festered between them, never quite coming out into the open. Adama had chosen a deliberate policy of keeping his son at a cool distance, to make sure that Apollo had understood fully his disapproval. Although it had distressed Ila, he'd persisted and he'd won, sure he was right. At eighteen, Apollo had gone to the Academy, quiet and unresisting, never again mentioning his own hopes and ambitions. Adama had thought he'd forgotten them, that it had been nothing but a brief teenage rebellion.

“I took my degree at eighteen, Councillor. I took Greats, double first class honours in History and Classics.” Apollo looked away from Adama to stare at the Vicar–General. “I specialised in the Exodus and early Colonial history. I know the Book as well as any priest and better than most. I can read it in Standard, in High Caprican and in Kobolian, in both the classical and the vulgate forms. I studied it, Cantor, from cover to cover. I can quote it wholesale. Not one of those thousands of verses, no matter what language I read them in, makes a single mention of the Ship of Lights.”

“This is a matter of faith,” the Vicar-General said stonily.

“Yours, not mine.”

Adama looked for a centon at the huge, ornately bound Book that took pride of place before him on the Council table. Was that aimed at Cantor or him? It was faith that had driven him, all his life; faith that had always assured him that what he did was right and proper. And, maybe, faith that had made him brush aside Apollo's point of view as irrelevant, all those yahrens ago. He'd thought that it was only since the Ship of Lights that he and Apollo had started to drift apart. Now he wondered if he had ever been allowed very close; if his unbending faith and the demands that went with that, had estranged his son a very long time ago. Since then, Apollo had maybe only told him the things he wanted to hear, and had quietly got on with his own thoughts and his own life.

Adama thought of all the things that Apollo had never told him about, things he'd found out for himself or by accident. Apollo had never told him about what he'd really felt for Serina; most definitely had never told him about Starbuck until he'd had to. What else had he stayed silent about over the yahrens? What else hadn't he shared that was important to him, given Adama's curt dismissal of what had been important then?

“And not doctrine,” Apollo went on. “Most definitely not doctrine.”

“If you're right, Apollo, then who were they?” Halath demanded.

Apollo shrugged. “How should I know? But you're all assuming they're the Lords and assuming they're sending us to Earth, on no evidence whatsoever. They could be sending us anywhere.”

“That's a very disconcerting thought,” Adama said quietly, sadly. His need to believe, his need to find some meaning in Ila's and Zac's meaningless deaths, had led him assume too much. He looked at Apollo. He knew that his certainties about the Ship and their ultimate destination had irked Apollo, and now he wondered how much long-buried resentment and anger was coming to the fore, to challenge him on his own ground.

Then Apollo surprised him.

“As it happens, I don't feel that they meant us any harm,” he said. “And on Terra, all John would tell me that Terra wasn't Earth and we still had a long way to go. That implies that Earth really is our destination.”

“There!” Tomas said, triumphantly.

“But I don't think that they - whoever they are - thought of me as anything special. I'm their messenger boy, that's all. After all, they sent me into danger on Terra. They didn't try to protect me, Sire Tomas, because they think I'm a religious and sacred figure bringing everyone salvation and redemption. They quite obviously didn't think anything of the kind. They didn't hesitate to risk me there. So far as they were concerned, my job was done.” Apollo paused and said quietly, “And I think they're right. I've given you the message. Now I'm going to get on with my life.”

Something in his voice trembled, and Adama looked at him quickly, remembering the anguish of only a few centars ago. What fucking future? I don't have any future! Not without Starbuck. He's my life...

Anton stirred for the first time. “It seems to me that the Council has acted a little hastily on this matter, and that we will need to discuss it in much more depth, with the Vicar-General.” The mild tone sounded infinitely more threatening than bluster and shouts could ever have done. “In the meantime, I move that the Council order confining the captain to the ship is revoked immediately.”

“Seconded,” Joel said, promptly.

“I don't think we need to put it to the vote, do we?” Anton glanced around at the other Council members. Most of them nodded agreement

“A majority supports Sire Anton,” Adama said. “Motion carried.”

He looked at Cantor. The priest was pale faced now, glowering down at the table in front of him.

“Oh, but…” Tomas started.

“And Captain, I do hope that when you feel called upon to exercise your religious duties, you'll let us know?” Anton added, speaking over the top of Tomas. As usual.

“If I'm ever unexpectedly pious, I've every intention of telling everyone why,” Apollo said. He glanced at Cantor. “But I don't think it'll happen.”

Cantor's face as he looked back was expressionless and unreadable, but the menace was obvious to every one of them. Adama resolved to deal with him quickly. He wanted Cantor's fangs pulled, so the Vicar-General couldn't do anything to harm Apollo.

Anton smiled. “Are you sure you won't reconsider about that career in politics?”

Apollo shook his head. “If ever I'm forced out of the military, it seems to me that I've had the way prepared for me. The priesthood has possibilities.”

“A slow promotion ladder,” Anton observed.

“Not if you start at the top,” Apollo said, and gave Cantor a very pointed look.

“Apollo,” Adama said, tone quelling. He glanced around at the Council. “Unless there's any other business, I think we should close this session. Agreed? Good. I declare this Council session ended at - ” he glanced at his chronometer. “ - at 19.34 centars. That is all, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you.”

He got to his feet, wanting to get to Apollo. They had a lot to talk about and he wanted to get his son to himself as quickly as he could. He had, he thought, a lot to apologise for. But, as ever, the closing of a Council session was anything but a neat and clean affair. The councillors used the time to talk, to network, to backbite: all the things that were the breath of life to a politician. He'd not just be able to catch his son up and get him out of there, the way he'd like to.

Apollo didn't make any immediate move. He seemed, if anything, a little surprised that it had all ended so quickly. He looked up as Adama reached him, Anton close behind.

“Is that it?” he asked, wonderingly.

“I'd say so,” Adama said, wondering how to begin.

“For the moment,” Anton said.

The old man leaned down and openly dropped a grandfatherly kiss on Apollo's forehead. Adama, not a demonstrative man and even less so in public, envied him that ease.

“Just for the moment?” Apollo looked odd, as if he was coming down from something, getting unwired.

Anton shrugged. “A battle won, not the war. Even if we stop Cantor now, what they've started will be a long time ending. I'm sorry, Apollo, because I don't know that you'll ever be free of it the way you want to be. The people out there will always believe you're special. Cantor's right. They'll always want something to believe in, that suggests they haven't been deserted. For the foreseeable future, that's you. But this particular battle, you won and won well. I couldn't have done it better myself. I'm very proud of you.”

“Me too,” Adama said, finding himself resenting slightly Anton's assumption of some right to feel it and say it. He put an awkward hand on his son's shoulder, claiming him.

Apollo nodded. They watched as Cantor, his robes swirling around him, left hurriedly, Tomas running in his wake. The other more religious members of the Council, Solon and Haleth prominent among them were talking together in a corner, looking disturbed and anxious.

“What will happen about Cantor?” he asked.

“We'll have long discussions with him about the relative roles of Church and State. We're not yet a theocracy, thanks to you.” Anton leaned down again to hug Apollo, then stepped back. “We'll pull his teeth. Don't trouble yourself about him.”

“I won't.” Apollo took a deep breath, and Adama realised with a sudden anxiety that the adrenaline had been all that had kept him going. “I'm going to look for Starbuck. I've got Blue watching our backs and looking for him at the same time. I'm going to join them.”

He wasn't asking. Adama paused, then nodded agreement.

“I don't want you out there, Apollo. Not because I think like Tomas does, but because I don't think you're fit to be flying. But I also think I was wrong to stop you when we first realised he was missing. I'm not letting you go out on your own. Go get an escort together, and I'll make sure that you get priority launch clearance.”

Apollo stared, then his taut expression relaxed. “Thanks, Dad.”

Adama's hand tightened on Apollo's shoulder. He hoped that would convey what he found so hard to put into words. “But I can't hold the Fleet here, not even for you and Starbuck. The dangers are too great. There isn't much time.”

Apollo got slowly to his feet. “I know. But I won't come back without him. Boxey…”

“I'll take care of him.” Again, just like at the time of Apollo's departure for K'far, Adama knew what his son was really asking him. “And if I have to, I'll try and do a better job of it than I managed with you. Just don't put that to the test, Apollo. My resolutions to be a good father fell well short of my performance, seemingly.”

Anton looked from one to the other. “This is unhealthily melodramatic,” he said mildly. “I take it that Starbuck is missing?”

Adama nodded. But before he could say anything, Apollo's communicator chimed. Apollo gasped and raised his hand, staring at the communicator with eyes that were widening with shock and apprehension. He didn't move.

The second time it chimed the whole room fell silent. It was something of a social solecism in the Council chamber, and quite a few of the glances they were getting showed prim irritation. Adama gently pulled Apollo's hand towards him and spoke into the communicator himself. Apollo just let him.

“Yes?”

“It's Tigh. We've got him. They're towing him in now and I've just sent out the rescue shuttle to meet them when they come into normal space. Beta deck in sixteen centons.”

“Thank God!” Adama said, and meant it. All the consequent issues that came from Starbuck being his son's lover would be sorted out later. Nothing else mattered just then but that Starbuck had been found.

“Adama?” Tigh sounded surprised, had evidently been expecting Apollo.

“Yes. Is he… any word on how he is?”

“Took a hit, Boomer said, but was conscious when they found him. Not sure, now they're in hyperspace.”

“Shit,” Apollo said, faintly, and Adama got an arm around him quickly.

“We're on our way to Beta, Colonel. Keep me posted.” Adama deftly undid Apollo's communicator and fastened it to his own wrist, still managing to keep an arm around Apollo.

“Adama,” Anton said warningly, reaching out to help hold Apollo.

“Shock, I think.” Adama said, getting both arms around Apollo's shaking body. He tucked his son's drooping head under his chin, forgetting about restraint and propriety, murmuring wordless, soothing nonsense as if comforting a child.

“And exhaustion, I'd say,” Anton said. “The boy looks worn out.”

“He is,” Adama said. “We ask too much of him.”

“I'm all right.” Apollo pulled free, unsteady but indomitable. “They've got him. I'm all right. Everything will be all right.”

Anton's smile was indulgent again. “I'm even more impressed that you were able to spike Cantor's guns, knowing your best friend was missing.”

“Not my best friend,” Apollo said, loud enough to be heard by everyone in the Council chamber. “My lover.”

Taken by surprise at Apollo's unexpectedly public leap from the closet, Adama couldn't help it: little as he wanted to care what other people thought, he flicked a look around at the Council, gauging reactions. Shock, mostly. Mouths were dropping open all over the chamber. He wished that Cantor was here to hear his Chosen One announce that another man was his lover. Cantor was a Puritan even in this most ascetic and puritan of sects. That would have put a cat amongst the ecclesiastical pigeons.

“Then why are you still here? Get yourself off to meet him.” Anton was unfazed, of course. Nothing short of a nuclear explosion rated a raised eyebrow with that wicked, dangerous, wily, consummate politician.

“We're going,” Adama said, signalling without saying the words that he supported his son in this. He had failed Apollo badly in the past. He wouldn't fail him now. He met the startled green eyes raised to his. “That is, if you'll let me, son.”

Apollo managed a brief, almost convincing smile. “Thanks, Dad,” he said. “I'd like that.”

 

 

 

Word had spread.

By the time that he and Adama reached the Beta deck, the area behind the crash barriers was crowded with techs and pilots. Greenbean was there with Kyle and Lilias, one arm in a sling but beaming delightedly. Jenny, chief of Starbuck's ground crew, was crying helplessly on Kyle's chest. Kyle held her gingerly, patting her back with an awkward hand, but he looked like he didn't mind. They all looked astonished and happy, and not even the commander's presence was enough to dampen their enthusiasm. Even Bojay, there with Sheba, looked relieved. Sheba glanced once in Apollo's direction, then turned away.

“The rescue shuttle's gone out,” Lilias said to Apollo quietly.

He nodded. He knew. All they could do was wait. He wasn't sure he could do it. He was almost sick with apprehension.

Adama was talking to Tigh on the communicator. He touched Apollo's arm. “They've come into normal space. The two Vipers towing him have uncoupled and are on their way in.” As he spoke, two Blue squadron Vipers breached the forcefield barrier and glided in to perfect landings. “The rescue shuttle has the grabs onto Starbuck's Viper. Four centons, son. That's all.”

Four centons. Apollo watched, without actually seeing, as Jolly and Giles jumped clear of their Vipers and jog-trotted over to join him while the ground crew got their Vipers straight onto the overhead rail. What he was really seeing was something different. Out there, a few thousand kilometres out there, the rescue shuttle was winching the stricken Viper in close and tight to its side. Other Vipers could tow a comrade back, but there was no way anyone could land with the deadweight of a broken down Viper dangling on the end of a cable. The chances of anyone surviving that were minimal. Instead the rescue shuttle got grabs onto the wreck and then retracted them, holding the Viper close in before bringing it the last few kilometres home to an awkward, but eminently survivable, landing.

“I talked to him at first, Skipper,” Jolly said gently. “He just wanted to know you were safe.”

Apollo moistened very dry lips. He did hear Jolly, but it was unimportant and he didn't react to Jolly's words. He felt numb, time stretching and bending in a very peculiar way. The hurrying techs moved almost in slow motion, as if the air had become as thick as treacle and they had to physically move it aside with an effort. He found himself watching everything with a queer detachment, voices and conversations coming from a very long way away. Somewhere unimportant. Something in his chest ached savagely.

“Thank you, Jolly,” Adama said for him, his grip on Apollo's shoulders tightening.

Jolly nodded. “Glad to be the ones to find him.”

He looked frightened, Apollo thought as his eyes briefly met the lieutenant's, then slid away to stare at the entrance to the bay. Of me? For me? But it didn't matter. Nothing mattered.

“Here it is,” someone said, and there was a collective intake of breath from the crowd as the big shuttle inched into the bay. A battered, scorched Viper was tucked up nice and neat against the shuttle side.

Apollo stopped breathing momentarily as everything crashed noisily and heavily into focus.

“Starbuck…” The breath he drew was ragged, catching in his throat.

“Steady,” Adama said in his ear. “They'll have him out of there in a centon.”

Apollo shook his head to clear it. The shuttle was on the deck, the grabs slowly and gently lowering the Viper to the ground. Without warning, he pulled free of Adama's hold and raced across the deck towards the Viper.

“Apollo!”

“Steady, boss.” Ford was there, directing the crews. He caught at Apollo's arm, holding him back. “Let them get the canopy open.”

Col and Tamsin, both in Apollo's normal crew, were already pushing the platform up against the Viper sides. Col darted up it and activated the emergency release, pulling the canopy aside. Salik and Cassie, burdened down with medical equipment, were hurrying towards them from the turbolifts.

Apollo couldn't wait any longer. He never had any memory of getting up there or of pushing Col aside to reach into the cockpit. Ford was just behind him, and scrambled up onto the Viper itself to come at Starbuck from the other side.

“Starbuck -”

Apollo's hands fell uselessly, as he took it in. There was blood everywhere inside the little cockpit, shreds of what looked like raw meat and the white shards of bone. Starbuck was limp in the pilot's seat.

“Medics!” Ford roared, reaching in to remove Starbuck's helmet. He tossed it to one side while Col pushed past Apollo to get at the harness release catches.

“Starbuck?” Apollo said again.

He almost cried out loud with relief when a bloody hand reached for him weakly. He reached in to catch Starbuck's hand and to support the lolling head. A pair of dull blue eyes met his, and brightened a little when they recognised him.

“Apollo.” The ghost of a voice with a ghost of a smile to accompany it.

“Hello, beautiful,” Apollo said softly, and leaned right into the cockpit to touch Starbuck's lips with his. He didn't even remember that Ford and Col were both still there, until Ford spoke to him.

“Let us get him out, Apollo,” Ford said, tone quietly compelling. “You're in the way right now.”

Apollo glanced up at him. He hesitated for only a micron, wanting to protest that he had to stay, but even dizzy with relief and exhaustion, good sense prevailed. He nodded.

“I'll be waiting for you on the deck, okay?” he said to Starbuck, and pressed the limp fingers he held in his.

Starbuck didn't reply and Apollo gently let his lover's hand fall. He let Salik in and squeezed down the platform steps to where Adama was waiting. Adama put both arms around him. He leaned up against his father's unexpectedly comforting bulk, slightly surprised that Adama was there, but too grateful to question it. He felt shaky and unsteady, and Adama was so very solid and certain.

“He's alive.” Adama didn't ask. It was a statement.

“Yes.”

It was all he could get out past the relief and dread and hope. There was so much blood. So much blood… Adama's hold tightened on him, bringing him back. Steadier, he watched as Salik reached into the cockpit with a hypo. The deck was so quiet he heard the little whoosh of noise as it was applied to the side of Starbuck's neck.

“You can move him now,” Salik said. “That will be instantaneous. As fast as you can do it, but smooth.”

“Got it,” said Ford, who, to Apollo's personal knowledge, had got one hell of a lot of injured pilots out of burnt out Vipers, and didn't need instruction. He and Col spoke together quietly, then, on Ford's nod, swiftly lifted Starbuck up in one smooth movement.

The groan that came from Starbuck had Apollo gasping with sympathetic pain. He tried to move, but Adama held him back, firmly.

“Leave them to it, son,” he said, wrapping both arms around Apollo and pulling him back against his chest.

Tamsin was up there now as well, lifting Starbuck's feet above the edge of the canopy, she and another crewman taking the limp body that Ford and Col lowered down to them. In microns they had him down the steps of the platform and onto the hover-powered gurney where a scared-looking Cassie was waiting.

With Cassie and Salik already working on Starbuck, Ford and Col had the gurney moving to the biggest decontamination chamber as fast as they could do it, the medics running alongside. One of Cantor's priests was there too, a tiny copy of the Book in her hands.

This time, when he tried to move forward, Adama let him go, but stayed close. Apollo followed so hard on the gurney that if they'd stopped quickly he'd have fallen over them. All his attention, everything that he was, was concentrated on the still body on the gurney. All he could see was one cheek and the fall of dark blond hair. It wasn't enough. Dear God, but it wasn't enough.

“What's the minimum we need to keep him in here?” Adama asked as they hurtled into the chamber.

Ford started the decontamination cycle going. Everyone who'd touched Starbuck or the Viper would go through one or other of the decontamination chambers before going into the ship proper.

“Ten centons,” Salik said. He eased off the pressure bandage slightly, pulled a face and carefully replaced it. “And I'm not touching that until I have him in surgery.”

“Apollo?” Starbuck's ghost of a voice again.

“I'm here,” Apollo said instantly, and darted to the head of the gurney, to the right hand side, away from where Salik was working. He had to lean across at an odd angle so that Starbuck could see him, and still keep out of the way of the medics. He caught the hand that Starbuck was holding out for him. “I'm here.”

The anxious, pain-filled blue eyes sought his. Starbuck relaxed visibly when he could see Apollo, and Salik grunted something that could have been relief and satisfaction. He was getting a line of whole blood into Starbuck's other hand.

“Keep him concentrating on you, Apollo,” the medic said, almost absently.

“I'm glad we made things up,” Starbuck whispered

“And me.” Apollo choked. The thought of this happening still estranged from Starbuck, not being able to hold or touch him… Gods no, that was unbearable.

“Deathbed reconciliations are just tacky,” his graceless lover went on, and grinned at him, a travesty of the charming smile that could melt Apollo's bones.

Apollo managed some sort of smile back. “You aren't dying, you idiot.”

“No? That's okay then. I always like to disappoint the priests.”

Apollo didn't even glance at the priest who was praying quietly in one corner of the decontamination chamber.

“You know what I regret most?” Starbuck went on.

Apollo shook his head. “Careful, Starbuck,” he warned. “If you think reconciliations are tacky, confessions could be worse.”

“Yeah - but think of the advantages. I can be as outrageous as I like, and no comeback.”

“Maybe, but you aren't going to leave me, Starbuck. I won't let you.” Apollo smoothed back the thick blond hair. Starbuck moaned softly at something Salik was doing and tried to lift up his head to look. Apollo firmly turned Starbuck's face towards him. “Concentrate on me, Starbuck. Just on me.”

Starbuck nodded, eyes clouding with pain.

“Well?” Apollo said. “Don't keep me in suspense.”

It was enough to bring Starbuck back. “It's just that, Apollo. Biggest regret is not concentrating on you a lot earlier. We could have had so many yahrens together instead of just a few sectons.”

There was a muffled gasp from somewhere to Apollo's left, and Salik's sharp voice, followed by Cassie's soft apologetic tones.

“Stop talking now, Starbuck,” Salik said roughly. “I'm busy down here and I need to concentrate.”

Starbuck looked at Apollo, lifting his hand to touch Apollo's wounded cheek. He had the faintest of grins on his face. “I love you,” he said.

Apollo nodded and kissed Starbuck gently, oblivious to everyone and everything, except to the fact that Starbuck loved him. Despite everything, Starbuck loved him.

“Love you, too.”

“I know,” Starbuck said, smug as you like. Then he sighed tiredly.

Apollo's free hand continued smoothing back the hair from Starbuck's forehead. Starbuck's grin was even fainter this time, and after a centon his eyes closed. The veins on the fine skin of his eyelids fascinated Apollo, the same blue as the eyes beneath. Starbuck frowned, breathing more harshly. He began to cough; terrible wet, tearing sounds that made his whole body shudder.

“Starbuck?” Apollo whispered, frightened.

“Chest hurts,” Starbuck said through the coughing. He choked, blood running down his chin. “God, it hurts, Apollo.”

“Shit!” Salik leapt forward, to get the medical sensors pointed at Starbuck's heaving chest.

“What's wrong?” Apollo said, bewildered.

“He's bleeding. Moving him's got the blood leaking into his other lung. He's bloody drowning in the stuff.” Salik scowled, and turned to Cassie. “Give me a tube, fast.”

She nodded, scrabbling in the medikit. She tore the sterile wrapping from a thick tube with a pointed end, using her teeth to get through the clear plastic.

“Out of the way, Apollo. I want you on this side of him.”

Apollo, still holding Starbuck's hand, managed to get himself onto the other side of the gurney, cutting around its head. He glanced down at the damage, where Salik had cut open Starbuck's ruined pressure suit. The torn, mutilated flesh didn't sicken him, just filled him with fear and pity. He'd give anything for it to be him instead, for Starbuck to be well and whole. He was so scared, so terribly scared.

“Keep his attention on you, Apollo. Adama, Ford, hold his shoulders and legs down.”

“What the hell?” Apollo started, then just stopped talking, concentrating on Starbuck as the terrible coughing shook the lieutenant. He leaned in close, until their faces were only inches apart. He saw his father's strong brown hands settle one on each of Starbuck's shoulders, just as Starbuck spat up another mouthful of blood. Something hot and wet hit him in the face, but he ignored it, keeping everything focused on the glazing blue eyes. He inched round so that Starbuck didn't have to strain to see him.

“Stay with me, Starbuck. Please stay with me. I love you so much, Starbuck. Stay with me.”

“What will you do?” Adama's voice was monolithically calm.

“I've got to drain the blood off,” Salik said. “Ready? This won't be pretty.”

“Apollo…” It was an agonised moan, with almost the last breath Starbuck had to have in his body.

“Shhh.” Apollo said. “I'm here. Just look at me, Starbuck, and stay. Please.”

His father shifted slightly, and he saw the white hand of the priest come down past Adama to wet Starbuck's bloody lips with the Water. Her voice was soft. The prayers for the dying.

“No,” Apollo whispered.

“Here we go.” Salik said.

Starbuck screamed, his body stiffening as his back arched. Once again, hot wetness hit Apollo, running down the left side of his face and neck.

“Hold him!” Salik yelled

“Oh, that hurts,” Starbuck said, sounding so tired that Apollo's heart skipped a beat.

Apollo blinked to clear his vision of blood and tears. “Just look at me, Starbuck,” he said, on automatic now. He kissed Starbuck again. Starbuck tasted of blood. “Ignore them. We're all that matters. Stay with me…”

“That's got it,” Salik said, satisfied. “Get Apollo out of the way, Adama.”

“Please, Starbuck.” Apollo watched as Starbuck's eyes, so glazed with pain now that they couldn't see him, rolled up in his head. “Starbuck?”

Adama's arms came around him.

“Starbuck?”

His father was too strong for him. Adama pulled him away, wrapping both arms round him. “Let them see to him, Apollo. It'll be all right. I promise, little son, it'll be all right.”

Apollo stumbled back a step, realising for the first time how much blood there was on him, on Adama, on everyone. The gurney was smeared with it. It was even thick in Cassie's blonde hair. Adama supported him, and just like on the flight deck, held him close against his chest. Apollo, his knees weakening, leaned against him, letting his father take all his weight.

“Is he dead?” he heard someone ask. It took him an instant to realise it had been him. He was so tired he could barely think.

Salik glanced up from where he was working. “He is not,” he said, and with typical acerbity that did more than comforting words ever could to convince Apollo, he added: “They usually don't if I get to ‘em in time. He's not out of the woods yet, Apollo, but he's better without all that crap flooding his lungs. The sooner I can get him into surgery the better.”

“Four more centons,” Ford said, quietly, from the other, internal door to the decontamination chamber.

Adama drew Apollo to one side of the room, to where Ford was waiting. Apollo could see Starbuck's face, relaxed now under the blood that was smeared over it. He could see the slight fluttering of Starbuck's eyelids.

Starbuck was still alive. Just.

“Stay with me,” Apollo said softly. “Stay with me.”

 

 

 

 

“I don't know how you dare sit here.”

Adama paused in the doorway, frowning. Apollo was where he'd left him the night before, still steadfastly refusing to leave Starbuck even for a centon, despite the improvement in the lieutenant's condition. He was sitting beside the life pod, holding one of Starbuck's hands. Last night when Adama had finally left, the only noise in the little room had been the harsh sound of Starbuck's breathing, each breath preceded by the mechanical wheeze of the ventilator, and the regular beeping sound from the monitors. It was almost peaceful, and only the bruised look around Apollo's eyes reminded him of how spurious that was. Spurious or not, the last thing that he expected was to have Cassie's low, spite-filled voice disturb it.

“I heard all about it. I heard that you didn't even go and look for him yourself. Some friend you are! Some lover you are!”

Apollo said nothing. He didn't look at her, concentrating on Starbuck's face.

“I'd never have left him out there, the way you did!” she said, and drew her hands over her eyes.

“Cassiopeia,” said Adama, quietly.

She started, and turned to face him. Her eyes were red, and he wasn't surprised to see the flash of guilt in them. Her hand flew to her mouth.

“Oh! Commander - “ she stammered

“I'll make every allowance for your old relationship with Starbuck and your natural concern for his welfare, but please leave us now.” Adama kept his tone calm and magisterial when what he wanted to do was shake the silly girl until her teeth rattled. How dare she!

She ducked her head and got out, scuttling past him. He watched her go, wondering if he should report this to Salik and ask for another medtech to be assigned to Starbuck, then dismissed the thought as vindictive. He wouldn't lower himself to that level. Unless she bothered Apollo again, in which case he'd lower himself so fast that a few things and people would get themselves crushed in the impact.

He bent over Apollo and dropped a kiss on his son's hair. Over the last couple of days he'd lavished more physical caresses on Apollo than in the last couple of decades. He wasn't sure that Apollo had noticed.

“Any change?” he asked.

“Huh?” Apollo finally realised he was there. “Oh. No. Salik says there won't be, for maybe a few more days.” He glanced around. “Cassie?”

“Gone about her duties, I hope. Has she been in here much?”

“Some. She still feels something for him, I think.” Apollo turned his attention back to Starbuck.

Adama stopped himself from an inelegant snort at that, only by reminding himself that it wasn't a very commander-ly thing to do.

“Have you had any sleep?” He brought his chair up beside Apollo's, and took his son's free hand in his.

Apollo shook his head. “I tried, but I was too scared he'd stop breathing again. I had to keep checking on him.” He gave his father a brief, apologetic smile.

“It's over thirty six centars since that happened. Salik said last night that he was stabilising. He said it just after you ordered the priest out, if I remember rightly.” Adama chose a tone of calm reassuring reasonableness, but he smiled as he spoke. He'd been worried about Apollo bottling everything up and even as he'd smoothed things over with the ruffled priest, the little spasm of bad temper from Apollo had relieved Adama's anxieties considerably.

“Mmn,” Apollo said, a touch self-consciously. “She was getting in the way, constantly giving him the Water. He's unconscious, for God's sake. Not even Starbuck can rack up any more sin while he's unconscious.”

“With him, that's an interesting theological debating point that I wouldn't care to have to prove,” Adama said dryly and was delighted when Apollo had to choke down a laugh. Not much of a laugh, but indisputably a laugh.

“She annoyed me.”

“So we all noticed. I'm trying to say, Apollo, that he's going to be fine. Yes, it'll take a little time, but he'll be fine. There's no reason not to sleep. Except, of course, that I think you've got out of the habit.”

“What? Oh. Well…” Apollo shrugged slightly. “I haven't been sleeping well, you know that. We split up for a while. My fault – I should have trusted him. But I got scared that I'd be just one more on the trophy list, you know?”

Adama nodded. “That's what was bothering you.”

“Yeah.” Apollo watched Starbuck in silence for a few centons. “I was really stupid about it, Dad, and so arrogant. I never asked him what he wanted or what he felt. I assumed I knew. I was just so tied in to trying not to get hurt. I ended up hurting myself even more. And him.”

“I wish you'd been able to tell me, son. I'd have liked to have helped.” Adama tried hard not to sound too wistful. “But I suppose I killed any impulse in you to confide in me yahrens ago, didn't I, when I showed you just how little I cared for what you thought was important.”

Apollo took his eyes off Starbuck for a centon to stare at him.

“I mean, that it all goes back to the time you told the Council about,” Adama elaborated. “When I made you go to the Academy.”

“I was trying to impress on them that I did know what I was talking about.”

“And impress on me that I was an insensitive bully?” Adama smiled to take the sting out of it, but he was genuinely remorseful and wanted Apollo to know that.

“I don't think I said that.”

“But it's what you meant. I did bully you. I knew it at the time, but I thought I knew best.”

“Yes.” Apollo turned back to Starbuck, and added moodily: “It seems to be a family failing, thinking that you know better than everyone else. Looks like I've got it too.”

“I'm sorry, Apollo. There's not much I can say in my defence, except that I genuinely thought… think… that duty matters and that it was the best thing, for you and for me. Although, if I'm honest, I'm not at all sure it wasn't mostly for me.”

“Oh?”

“I'm very proud boasting of my-son-the-warrior. I'm not at all sure I'd have done as much boasting about my-son-the-research-fellow.” Adama grinned at Apollo's expression, startled and slightly offended looking. “I know. Not very laudable. But I think I was hurt that you didn't want to follow me into the military. I thought that you were being selfish, and didn't see that I was. I'm sorry. And I'm sorry that it still rankles with you. You've never said anything.”

“What was the point? It was done.” Apollo shrugged again. “And if you hadn't insisted on me going to the Academy, I'd have been sitting in some basement office in the Museum when the Cylons came, dissecting a mummy or something. I'd be pretty dead by now.”

“The thought had crossed my mind. God is very good to me. More than I deserve.” Adama leaned forward and kissed Apollo's forehead.

“You're very tactile at the moment,” Apollo observed, and Adama flushed, not sure whether he was delighted or embarrassed. Apollo had noticed.

“I'm very glad to have you here,” he said defensively. “I've had a few frights about you recently. But this is important, Apollo. I want you to know how sorry I am to have bullied you into something you didn't want, however well it's worked out.”

“I'm not dissatisfied with things, if that's what you're worrying about. It wasn't my first choice, but I'm pretty good at what I do and mostly I enjoy it. I've got a lot out of it. Good friends and good times, and people I've loved, like Cole and Serina and Boxey. And above all, it gave me Starbuck. I'd forgive anything if it gave me Starbuck.”

Adama smiled then frowned in slight bewilderment at an unfamiliar name. “Cole?”

“He was my flight technician on An-Nath. We were lovers,” Apollo said. He grinned slightly. “Did you think that Starbuck seduced a good, straight little Kobolian, Dad? Not quite.”

Adama sighed, hoping he was successfully hiding his shock. “That's what I mean. Would you have ever told me that?”

“Before this? I don't know. I don't think so. Does it matter?”

“It does to me. You just tell me what you think I want to hear, don't you?”

“Everyone does that to everyone else. Total honesty's a bit uncomfortable.”

“I'm Kobolian. You know the doctrine. We're not put into this world to be comfortable. I get uncomfortable unless I'm uncomfortable.” Adama hated himself for asking, but he wanted to know. “Did your mother know?”

“About Cole?” Apollo turned to face him properly. “Not the specifics. She knew that I had relationships with both men and women though. I told her, when I was on home leave from An-Nath and Cole was writing to me every day. I told her there was someone there, and she knew it was another man. She was fine with it.”

“She would be,” Adama acknowledged, wishing that Ila had told him. “I wish you'd told me.”

“I don't think you would have been fine with it.” Apollo gave him a wry little grin.

“I'm fine with it now,” Adama pointed out. “I'm more than fine about you and Starbuck. I want you to be happy, son, and if Starbuck's the one to do it, then I'm very fine about it.”

Apollo's mouth trembled. “Thanks,” he said thickly, and looked quickly away, staring at Starbuck's pale face. “I'll be very happy, if he only…” he broke off and shook his head.

“He'll make it,” Adama said comfortingly. “Salik's pleased with his progress and I have every expectation that he'll be in there in my office trying to defend you when you and I have words about you disobeying orders.”

It worked. The threatened breakdown evaporated in indignation.

“I followed them to the letter! You told me to get the patrols out and that's exactly what I did. You didn't specify how far out, and if it was a bit further to the rear than you were expecting… well, put that down to enterprise and initiative.”

Adama sighed. “I don't know whether to put the deterioration in your morals down to Starbuck or Anton.”

“Either or both,” Apollo said. “But I shouldn't have had to do that. You were wrong, you know. Oh, I know all the arguments about the risks, but in the end we could search for Starbuck while still doing what we had to do to keep the Fleet safe. We ask a helluva lot of them, Dad. Sixteen of them didn't come back, remember. We ask a lot of their duty and honour and loyalty and the least they should expect is that they get duty and honour and loyalty back.”

“Yes,” Adama acknowledged.

“I won't ever do that again. I won't ever leave a pilot behind again. Not just because of Zac or Starbuck, but because it isn't right. And they know it's not right. It was all I could do to stop a mutiny.”

“But you did stop it. Boomer told me yesterday what you said to him, about the chaos that follows if we pick and choose the orders we'll follow, the sort of chaos that, if you think about it, would allow people like Cantor their chance. I was very proud of you for doing and saying that. And very proud of the way you found a way around it that satisfied everything… duty, honour, loyalty… and allowed you to stick within orders you were right not to agree with.”

“Thanks,” Apollo said, gruffly.

“Just don't make a habit of it.”

“Don't make me, then.” Apollo turned back to Starbuck. “God knows what he'll make of it when he wakes up. I let him down badly. Cassie was right.”

“She was not,” Adama said flatly. “If you'd disobeyed orders, Apollo, and gone to find him, you'd have ended up in the brig on charges. I wouldn't have been able to stop that. To be honest, I'm not sure I would have wanted to stop that. And you're right, then everything would be at risk of breaking down. If the commander of warriors mutinies, what could hold the others? You're a proud man, son, and honourable. I don't think you'd like to live with dishonour, and I do think you'd feel dishonoured. That would have affected you and Starbuck in the end. This way nothing gets compromised.”

“Trust you to make a moral out of it,” Apollo said, sounding as if he was only half joking about it.

“That's my job. Now, why don't you try and get some sleep?”

“I won't leave him.”

“You don't have to. We're well away with no sign of pursuit, the K'far Shon are watching our backs, everything's quiet. Tigh doesn't need me up there, so I've left him in charge for a couple of centars. Sleep here, and I'll keep watch. I'll wake you the instant there's any change.”

Apollo nodded. “All right. I'll try. I'm tired enough.”

Adama got his chair closer, and got an arm round him, pulling him close and offering a shoulder for a pillow. “I'd say so, too. Go to sleep.”

 

 

 

 

“You can stay only so long as you don't tire him out,” Cassie said.

Starbuck smiled at her, then at Boomer. “Cassie said you'd been here a lot when I was out of it. I was very touched.”

“You were in a coma in a life support capsule with a ventilator doing your breathing for you,” Boomer said dryly. “I didn't notice any extraordinary signs of delight.”

“But I would have been glad to see you if I'd known. Promise. And I'm glad to see you now”

“Well, that's nice. Maybe being sick is improving you,” Boomer said.

Cassie straightened the covers on the med-bed and laughed. “Maybe it's holiness,” she suggested.

“Holiness?” Boomer choked. “This is Starbuck, remember? Cass, I ask you, does anything – anything at all – that you know about Starbuck suggest holiness and a religious shrinking from the sins of the flesh?”

Boomer thought that Cassie looked momentarily resentful and angry, but she turned on her prettiest smile for them both. Several megawatts worth, Boomer thought cynically, safe and immune. All of his hormones were concentrated on the commander's blue-eyed daughter, and Athena left him too exhausted to have even a marginal interest in anyone else.

“I meant that there must be a modicum of holiness about someone who was given the last rites three times.” The smile faltered and she bent to kiss Starbuck's cheek.

Boomer watched with a cool detachment, eyes narrowing.

“But Cass,” said Starbuck in mournful protest “I didn't know what to * do* with them.”

They all laughed.

“That I can believe,” Boomer said. “Even after multiple applications.”

“I had to keep giving them back,” Starbuck grinned.

“No wonder the priest looked so disgusted. Ten centons, Boomer, and remember what I said about tiring him. He needs to rest.”

Starbuck waited until she'd gone before speaking again. “It really is nice to see you, Boom-boom.” He sounded more than a little forlorn.

Boomer went right to the cause of that. “He's been here most of the time, Bucko.”

“I haven't seen him,” Starbuck said, and this time it was more than a little forlorn.

“First few days, he never left. The commander had to dynamite him out as soon as you were on the mend, to make him get some rest. He's not been so well himself.”

“He's all right?” Starbuck demanded.

“Exhaustion, Salik said. He was running himself ragged worrying over you and he'd never had any time out to get over that beating. They've down-checked him from duty for a few days.”

“I wish,” Starbuck said. “I wish he was worrying over me. I've not seen him since I really woke up. I know they were careful at first, when I first woke up, but he's the nearest thing I've got to a next-of-kin. They wouldn't keep him out. Would they?”

“Of course not.” Boomer sounded slightly exasperated. “And he does come here. He just doesn't come here when there's the slightest risk of you being awake.”

“Huh?” Starbuck had the look of a man watching something go straight over his head at super-light speed.

“He's here every night, all night.”

“I haven't seen him,” Starbuck sounded miserable and weary. His voice trembled. “I thought he was here when I first work up, but I must have dreamt it. Everything was pretty hazy. But the last couple of days since they took me off the drugs, I've been good. But I haven't seen him once.”

“He won't come when you're awake, no matter what anyone says to him. You know Apollo, Starbuck. He's the man with the guilt complex bigger than a Battlestar.”

“What's he got to be guilty about?”

“Hey, this is Apollo we're talking about. What's he not got?”

Starbuck grinned slightly. “His masochism gene, you mean? But what's kicked it off?”

“Oh, of course, you don't know, do you?” Boomer sat on the edge of the bed. “Well, when you took your little side-trip, we were all fired up to come out and find you when security appeared and told Apollo that the Council forbade him to leave the ship. They were armed, Starbuck, and they grabbed him, like he was under arrest. There was virtually a stand-off fight on Alpha, and he barely stopped it. We still don't know what *that* was all about, by the way, although everything seems all right now. And then the commander was scared that there were more Cylons about and got the Fleet moving, and said we couldn't devote search time for you.”

“Oh,” said Starbuck. “I thought he liked me.”

“I think he does, but what would that have to do with it? Anyway, Apollo wouldn't let us mutiny.”

“Of course he wouldn't!” Starbuck said, nodding complete acceptance. “He couldn't. Not even for me.”

Boomer grinned at him. “Careful, Starbuck. I got a whiff of holiness there. Aren't you even a little bit angry that he wouldn't break the rules, even for you?”

“Well, I'd like to think he was tempted.”

“Oh, I'd say he was very tempted.”

“Good. But some rules are too important for that. That's one of them. Nice of you to think of it though.”

“Don't put too much on it,” Boomer begged. “I reckon most of ‘em just didn't want to lose the chance of winning back the pay you stole from them in Pyramid.”

“Never happen. The Lady is most definitely with me She got me back here.”

“Apollo got you back here, “ Boomer corrected him. “He wouldn't break the rules, but he bent them a bit to send us out to look for you.”

“How?” Starbuck brightened.

“He was ordered to send us all out on patrol, so he sent Blue out to watch the Fleet's back. But the commander hadn't said how far back. Apollo improvised. I didn't see how we could do it, but he had this bright idea of relaying us and doubling the search area. Following through on that was what found you, Bucko, and you'd have been dead without it. But he couldn't be there himself, and he went through fifteen kinds of hell cooped up here on the ship with two security gorillas riding herd on him everywhere he went, ready to shoot him down if he tried to get into a Viper. It's eating him up like acid at the moment.”

“Let me guess. He's blaming himself that I got hit, and then for me getting lost, and then for not letting himself get shot down…”

“And thrown into the brig.”

“And thrown into the brig, in some crazy mutiny to come and find me. Right?”

“That's our captain. He's as mad as hell with himself for not standing up to the commander and the Council more, and blaming himself for how long it took to find you.” Boomer shrugged. “It was really weird. He was okay with it while you were unconscious. You were one very sick boy, Starbuck, and Athena thinks he was just totally focused on you, willing you to stay with us. But as soon as you showed signs of waking up and he thought he'd have to tell you what happened, he freaked out and refused to come and see you.”

“Not even when I asked for him,” Starbuck said sadly.

“Did you?” Boomer looked thoughtfully out of the window to the main treatment area, where Cassie was working on at a terminal. “I don't think he knows that, Starbuck. When I saw him earlier today, he told me that you'd never asked to see him. He thought that Cassie must have told you what happened, and that you were so mad with him you didn't want him any more.”

“Sheesh!”

Boomer nodded. “If he hadn't been looking so rough, I'd have bounced his thick head off the bulkhead to knock some sense into it.”

“That boy's been ruined by his religious upbringing. Next time, just bounce. He might come and see me then.” Starbuck looked puzzled. “But I don't understand it, Boomer. I told Cassie quite a few times that I wanted to see him. About six times a centar.”

“Cassie's not exactly unbiased where Apollo is concerned. She knows who she lost out to.”

“Ah. She hasn't said anything about it.”

“She's not that stupid. But not above making a bit of trouble if she can.” Boomer glanced out at Cassie again. “She had something to do with him blaming himself for you, you know. Apollo wouldn't say much to me, but Thenie told me that the commander stopped Cassie having a go at him, blaming him for the state you were in when we got to you. Jealous as hell.”

“You think so?”

“You know so, so stop fishing for compliments about your deadly charm and irresistible attractiveness.”

“She doesn't matter. He does. I wish I knew what to say to make him feel safe with me.” Starbuck sighed as heavily as man with a compromised left lung could manage.

“I heard that you said it. I heard you said it in the decon chamber, when everything was so dramatic. Deathbed confession, the commander told Thenie.”

“Does she tell you everything?” Starbuck demanded.

Boomer shrugged. “You can't have sex all the time -”

“You can't?”

“- and talking fills the gaps.”

“What gaps? I don't have gaps.” Starbuck looked thoughtful. “I don't remember much about when I got back.”

“You didn't get back,” said Boomer-the-ruthlessly-honest. “Jolly carted you back, like a sack of vegetables.”

“Whatever. Everything's a bit hazy. All I really remember is Apollo telling me he loved me.” Starbuck sighed again. “Now I'm not so sure.”

“The way the commander tells it, you said it to Apollo first.”

“I've never said it before, to anyone,” protested Starbuck, a faint flush on his pale face.

“And there we have it, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. The defendant finally faces up to what it was he didn't do.”

“Oh,” said Starbuck.

“Yeah. Oh. As in, oh! guilty as charged.”

“Bang to rights. It made that much difference, Boomer? I thought he realised how I felt.”

“Even if you forget how het up and confused he was about what he feels about you, and if you forget how much self confidence he doesn't have in spades, and if you forget that he spent more than half the time worrying about you leaving him when you got bored, sometimes you have to spell these things out to Apollo. You'll have to do something, Starbuck.”

“I need to talk to him,” Starbuck said fretfully. “I've got to tell him.”

“What?”

“That's he's an idiot! Of course he couldn't mutiny and he did the very best he could to get me back and he did it, and I'd be dead if he hadn't. And that I love him to death.”

“Focus on the last message and you'll do it. If you can get hold of him, that is.. He just won't come and face you.”

“He'll be here tonight?”

“My life on it. He'll come when he thinks you'll be asleep.”

“Okay,” Starbuck said. “Give old Salik a shout. Boom-boom. I'll need his help.”

“With what?”

“I want him to forget to give me something to make me sleep, tonight. I feel a bout of insomnia coming on.”

Boomer grinned.

 

<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>

 

CONVERGENCE

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.

 

“How is he today?” Apollo asked quietly.

“Much better.” Salik looked across the main treatment area in Life Centre, to the window of the room where Starbuck was sleeping. “His breathing's easier, and he's not in as much pain. He's starting to be petulant and fretful. That's always a good sign. Actually, he nagged me for the entire afternoon, which is not so good.” The doctor gave Apollo a calculating look. “And you?”

“Fine.”

“Eating properly? Sleeping?”

Apollo just nodded, unwilling to actually speak and lie. He resented being treated as a patient himself. But as soon as Starbuck was pronounced out of danger, Salik, egged on by Adama, had turned his attention to Apollo. An indignant and protesting captain had been immediately downchecked from duty until further notice, and not even the fact that he'd spent every possible centon with Starbuck and had effectively ruled himself out anyway, made it any easier to bear. Salik had been unmoved by what he described as Apollo's histrionics. Until you look rather less like you've been repeatedly run over by a shuttle, there is no way I'm letting you into a Viper, the doctor had said grimly. You'll rest and eat and do what you're told, and then, if you're good, I might let you back on light duties in a secton. And stop arguing, or that'll be two sectons.

“But only with sedatives?” Salik persisted now.

“Mmmn,” Apollo said, reluctant to admit that after his experience on K'far he'd disposed of temptation down the turboflush. He did sleep a little, but from pure exhaustion. He wouldn't tell Salik in case the doctor decided he wasn't co-operating and carried through the threat of making him kick his heels for two sectons before letting him back on duty.

“But, I hope, only the drugs I've prescribed for you rather than stealing sedatives from my medical supplies?” Salik said, voice sharp.

Apollo deeply regretted the impulse that had led him to confess to that little lapse. “I'm fine,” he said again.

“Uh-huh. If I wasn't such an indulgent man, I'd ban you from here until you learned to tell lies properly. Are you staying all night?”

Apollo nodded, slightly unnerved by the smile Salik gave him. It wasn't that Salik never smiled… although, now he came to think of it, he couldn't remember when he'd last seen it. It had novelty value, he supposed, but it was so unnatural it made him apprehensive.

“All right. Try and get some sleep if you can. Bill's on duty tonight, if you need anything, and he'll be in to check on Starbuck in half a centar.”

“Thanks.” Apollo made his escape, still very conscious of the amusement on the doctor's face.

The little room was very quiet. Salik had taken Starbuck off the ventilator two days before, and although the lieutenant was still hooked up half a dozen monitors, they were linked through to the main medical station now to prevent them from disturbing the patient. The little visual displays were the only sign of life they gave. Apollo rather missed the regular little beeps. They'd been company through the long nights.

He settled into his chair, and took Starbuck's hand in both of his, bringing it to his mouth to kiss the thin fingers.

“Prefer the lips, Pol,” Starbuck said, opening his eyes.

Apollo stared, too startled to say anything. He dropped Starbuck's hand as if it burned him.

“Of course, it's nice to have my hands kissed, don't get me wrong on that. It's just that I like to taste you as well.” Starbuck paused, and added thoughtfully, ”And at the risk of seeming crass, I like a bit of passion with my kissing, and kissing hands is a bit, well, refined for that.”

“Uuhhh,” said Apollo, almost choking on the nausea, sick with terror.

“Ever the articulate one.” Starbuck smiled at him. The intense blue eyes were wary, though.

“Uuhhh – you're awake.” Apollo flushed, suddenly realising why Salik had been grinning at him. They'd set him up, so he'd have to face Starbuck. They'd bloody well set him up!

“Awake and waiting to be kissed properly. That is -” Starbuck paused, and went on wistfully, “ - that is, if you want to.”

Apollo was fully aware that he was being ruthlessly manipulated. He could chart it in every hesitation in Starbuck's voice, every little breath catching in the throat, every little tremble of the lips and mournful look. He knew it, and he was still floundering.

“But - ”

“Oh, Lords, you're going to be a martyr, aren't you? I know, Apollo. I know that they stopped you coming after me and that you wouldn't break the rules for me, and you stopped the rest mutinying and coming to get me.”

“I'm sorry,” Apollo choked. “Oh God, I'm so sorry.”

“What for? For deserting me? For leaving me out there? For putting your career ahead of me?”

Apollo just stared helplessly. This was worse than anything he could imagine. For none of those things, though he could understand Starbuck thinking them. For being too hampered by duty, for being too weak to break free, for genetics and upbringing, for being my father's son…

“Apollo,” Starbuck said gently. “You didn't do any of those things, and you know it. You did what you had to do. Like I said to Boomer, some rules are too important to be broken. Bent, yes, but not broken, not without a helluva lot of other important things getting broken along with them. If we didn't believe that, then we should have let the Danae go and be damned to the consequences.”

“I should have fought them harder to come after you,” Apollo muttered, but with a glimmer of hope that maybe Starbuck could forgive him. I shouldn't have let the Council stop me - ”

“Yeah, and a fat lot of good you'd have been to me locked in the brig. Look, you bent the rules as far as you could and you got me back. If you'd come after me yourself, who knows if you'd have found me? You'd have ended up being lost yourself. As it is, you found me another way.” Starbuck held out his hand, and when Apollo took it, hesitant and unsure, his thin fingers clasped Apollo's weakly. “I got back because you used your head, Apollo, and you bent what you couldn't break. I couldn't ask for more.”

“You aren't mad with me?”

“Only for going into hiding since I woke up. I was beginning to think I'd dreamt us making up at the base, and I was still being punished for something.”

“God, no!” Apollo protested, aghast that Starbuck could get it so wrong about who was being punished here. “You've done nothing. It's me - ”

“Uh-huh. I figured that I was collateral damage in you punishing yourself. For a smart boy, sometimes you really are unbelievably dumb.”

“Oh.”

Apollo thought about it for a micron. He really hadn't considered that Starbuck would misread his absence as another form of punishment. He sighed. He hadn't really thought about it at all, he realised. Another instance of the family trait of knowing best coming through.

“I'm sorry, Starbuck. I was being selfish again.”

“Yup,” Starbuck agreed, cheerfully. “That's what I love about you, my stuffy, moralistic, upright Apollo. You always see reason in the end. And you're always so beautifully contrite afterwards.”

“Do you?” Apollo asked. “Love me, I mean? Did you mean what you said when they took you out of the Viper?”

“Well, I did think I was dying,” Starbuck demurred.

“So you didn't mean it.” Apollo was dull with disappointment. He couldn't meet Starbuck's eyes.

“I meant it. I may be tacky, but I'm truthful.” Starbuck's fingers tightened their grip. “Look at me.”

Apollo obeyed, worried at the tiredness in Starbuck's voice. He was looking tired now, too, his face even paler and drawn with strain.

“I love you. Watch the lips move, Apollo, because I'm going to say it again: I. Love. You.

“Oh,” Apollo breathed. This time the flush was from almost overwhelming relief and happiness.

“I've never had anything like this before, and I got very scared and I tried to hide it. I hid it too well, I guess, so I'll take some of the blame for this stupid time we've been through. I've never felt like this about anyone, and I wish I could have told you before. I was scared you didn't want this. But I do. I want it a lot. So please trust me, Apollo. I won't ever leave you to go on to the next one, because there never will be a next one. You truly are all I ever want. And though I want us to have a lot of fun as we grow old together, it wouldn't be too funny if that's all it was. It's love I want with you, not just sex.” Starbuck smiled slightly. “Of course I want lots of sex as well, and I don't do gaps.”

“Gaps?” Apollo said, slightly bewildered, but feeling warm and hopeful for the first time in.. oh! sectons. He couldn't keep the smile down. Starbuck had said it again. He'd said it again!

“Forget it. You never were very tolerant about Thenie's foibles.”

Apollo dismissed it as typical Starbuck rambling. “Do you mean it, Starbuck? I mean, do you really forgive me for being such an untrusting, selfish bastard? I had no right not to discuss things with you, and make assumptions about what you wanted. I'm so sorry for that, so very sorry.”

“I know. Like I said, you do contrite really well. It's okay, Apollo. I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't hurt – hell, I don't cry all over Boom-boom and make your filing soggy every day of the secton – but I know I don't have much of a track record and I can understand you not being sure of me. I don't like it, mind, but I do understand it. I'm sorry you didn't have more faith in me.”

“You've never let me down, and I should have remembered that.”

“Yes. But there's no point dwelling on it. You gave us a hell of a few sectons, Apollo, and I won't hesitate to blackmail you with it every time we have a fight or I want my own way on something.” Starbuck grinned at him. “If it's not unrequited, that is?” He looked and sounded suddenly nervous.

Manipulated but loving it, Apollo shook his head, and kissed Starbuck's fingers again. “It's very much requited, Starbuck. I love you very, very much.”

Starbuck let out a deep, satisfied breath. “The lips, Apollo!” he said demandingly.

Apollo laughed, and leaned over him to kiss him gently. Despite the intravenous lines into his free hand, Starbuck got both arms up and pulled him in close, forcing his tongue into Apollo's mouth and kissing back with gusto. Despite all his resolutions to keep it light and not tire Starbuck, Apollo couldn't help himself. He just melted into it.

When he let go and fell back on his pillows, Starbuck was gasping for breath, but looked so incredibly happy that even Apollo couldn't blame himself for forgetting his lover's physical weakness. For a few centons Apollo held him and soothed, him, leaning forward awkwardly so that Starbuck could rest against him.

“Where do you want to take this, Starbuck?” he asked when Starbuck, making suggestive little noises about cool hands and fevered portions of his anatomy, was snuggled up against his shoulder.

“You have directions on the brain,” Starbuck said, disapproving. “Okay. I can do directions. It had better be the same place you want to go, Apollo.”

“Try me.”

“It's a happy-ever-after sort of place. I want us to be together.”

“Openly?”

“Yes. I'm tired of hiding, Apollo.”

Apollo nodded. “Fine.”

Starbuck stared. “You just said fine,” he said.

“I did. Can we live in my quarters? They're bigger than yours, and there's Boxey to think about. He's happy there”

“Uuuuhhh, “ said Starbuck, still staring.

“Besides, you've seen his room. Can you imagine ever trying to pack it up so we can move?”

Starbuck choked and coughed for a centon or two. “What about everyone else? Thenie, your Dad….” he said, when Apollo had soothed him back into coherence. “No, don't stop stroking my hair like that. I like it.”

“They're cool about it.” Apollo grinned at him, obediently using his free hand to smooth the thick blond hair. “What's the problem, Starbuck? Did you expect me to say ‘no, I don't want to go that way'?”

“Well. Yes. I did get the general impression that you weren't ready for everyone to know.”

Apollo grinned. “Hey, you're talking to the man who announced to the entire Council that you're my lover.”

Starbuck's eyes widened. “You did what?”

“Well, those centars while I was stuck here waiting… it was a lifetime, Starbuck, and not a happy one. It was like after Iblis, trying to decide what it was I wanted for my life. And what I want is you. I just told Anton that, very loudly. Everyone heard.”

“What'd they do?”

“I dunno.” Apollo shrugged. “I was too busy trying to stay upright. Tigh had just said that Jolly and Giles were bringing you in, and the relief just knocked me for six. Dad said that a few jaws dropped, but I was out of there so fast to get to the landing bay, I can't say I noticed. And when we got there, I nearly fell into the Viper to kiss you hello.”

“I remember that.” Starbuck paused and frowned. “I think. Things are a bit hazy. I hope I didn't miss it.”

“Well, if you did, the audience didn't.”

“Audience?”

“About a hundred warriors and most of the Fleet watching the monitors. I guess I'm outed, Starbuck. I hope you're coming out with me.”

“Well, now,” said Starbuck, in patent satisfaction. “I surely wouldn't want you to be out there on your own.”

“Oh God, don't ever leave me on my own,” Apollo said sincerely. “You scared me badly, Starbuck. I really didn't want to think about you not coming home. I really don't think that I could have got through that.”

“Oh.” Starbuck said, eyes wider than ever at this declaration. “Kiss me again.”

“I don't know,” Apollo said, anxious. “You're looking terrible.”

“That's osculatory deprivation, you idiot. And you don't look so wonderful yourself, like you haven't slept for a secton.”

“I haven't.”

“Then come up here and sleep with me. Bill will be here in a centon to check on me, but he's an open minded kind of person. He won't mind.”

“You sure?”

“I'm not going to be able to stay awake much longer, Pol,” Starbuck said, apologetically. “And I have this hankering to be held by you as you kiss me to sleep. You owe me, remember?”

Apollo sighed. Manipulated and helpless, that's what he was going to be, for the rest of his life. Oddly enough, he didn't feel too worried about it. For the first time in many yahrens, he was completely and unconditionally happy. Carefully, he edged onto the bed on Starbuck's uninjured side, and pulled the lieutenant up against him.

“Kiss!” his sneaky, manipulative, wonderful lover commanded.

Apollo grinned and obeyed. It was tender and loving, with an undercurrent of passion that would flare up again as soon as they both were fit, and Starbuck made some very appreciative noises about just how much contrition he was able to take. Apollo gave himself up to it, shutting out everything as he concentrated on demonstrating to Starbuck how much he was loved and wanted. He only stopped when he realised that his sneaky, manipulative etc lover was almost insensible.

“Sorry,” Starbuck murmured, settling so that his face was close against Apollo's throat.

“Go to sleep,” Apollo said, feeling every warm breath against his skin and finding it in him to be religious about that, in pure gratitude. He remembered, suddenly, the pale scented candle he'd lit for Starbuck and reminded himself to light another, in thanks for prayers answered.

“Stay with me.”

“I will.” Apollo leaned back against the third of a pillow that was all his lover had left him. Starbuck was already asleep. He tucked Starbuck's head under his chin and closed his eyes, his lips just brushing Starbuck's hair. “You know, I think I can sleep tonight, myself.”

 

End

(Continued in The Lords' Anointed)

Previous Chapter