Dedicated to the Great God, Apollo Smintheus

Follows Heart of Glass


Section One

The thing about winning battles but not the entire war, is that the centon you’ve sat down to congratulate yourself on the Great Victory, the enemy comes out and starts up all over again, more determined than ever to get you.

My battle was of the intellect, the rational against the religious, reason against superstition.  I don’t remember that much about it, to be honest.  I’d had a shock, a real mind-numbing shock.  I thought that Starbuck was gone, you see, and nothing else mattered to me.  I think that’s how it must feel when a shell hits you in a real battle, and an arm or a leg goes.  You shut down everything else.  That’s what Trent said, anyway, when he told me how he lost his left hand.  It hurts.  It hurts like all hell, and it closes out the entire world.

Most of the Council thought that I was arguing for my freedom from restriction, for the right to live a normal life.  All of them knew that I didn’t want what the priests were offering… no, were *threatening* me with.  I saw it as a threat, although maybe others would embrace the semi-sainthood that the priests seem to think is my fate, a canonisation imposed on me because I was touched by the Lords of Kobol.  That is so much felgercarb that I can’t begin to describe how much I hate it.  I’m about as fitted to be some holy icon as my son’s droid daggit is, and Muffy’s burnt out spare parts these days.

Well, I suppose I was partly arguing against all of that, but mainly I was arguing my right to go and look for the man I love, without let or hindrance.  That’s what my battle was about.

And I got through it with most of my heart and mind half a light yahren away, thinking about Starbuck and wondering whether he was alive or dead.  The answer to that question would determine whether *I* was alive or just existing.  If he was dead, then the priests could canonise me as much as they liked.  I wouldn’t have cared, then.

I was lucky.  I won my battle and while I fought it, Boomer brought Starbuck back for me.  Somehow, Starbuck was big enough and generous enough to forgive me for being such a complete asshole and for not finding him myself.  He forgave me enough to still want me and love me, to hold me and keep me safe.  That’s all I want.  That’s my Great Victory.

The enemy retired, defeated.  At least I thought so, although Anton had warned me that everything the priests had set in motion, all the religious yearning for the certainty and the redemption that they saw in me and what had happened to me, that all that would be difficult to reverse.  That we’d won the first battle, that was all.  Not the war.

I didn’t much listen.  I was focused on Starbuck and everything he meant to me.

Stupid.  I should have listened.  He’s a wise old man, is Anton.

And, I guess, I was fooled because the enemy didn’t come right back at me, but waited and was quiet and careful about how he regrouped, how he built up his alliances and friendships until he was ready to strike.  Until he was ready to come back at me, when I least expected it, when I thought the war was over and I was safe.

I’ve been held on this ship for sectons now.  I’ve been cold and hungry and pretty damn scared for every one of those sectons.  Some of it’s been painful and none of it’s been good, but right now it’s as bad as it can get.  I know I’m sick.  I think I’m very sick, but they don’t care about that.  They’ve hung me by my wrists inside a water filtration tube again, and I’m scrabbling with my feet to keep from slipping from the filtration plates and trying to keep my whole weight being taken on the manacles that are holding me up, and really trying to keep the water from getting into my face.  It’s icy cold and it smells.  I’m at the top end of the filtration process, so you can imagine just how unpleasant that is, and I’m soaked to the skin.

I’m thinking back to where this all began.  In bed, with Starbuck, as usual, making love and loving him.  In his arms.  Safe.  Celebrating my Great Victory.

The memory is something to cling to.

Because I don’t think I’m winning this time.

 

**************

 

"I’m having trouble with Boxey and this whole wedding thing," Starbuck says, out of nowhere.

I’m straddling him, buried in him up to the hilt.  This is not the time for small talk, and I pull back, and slam into him hard to remind him what he’s supposed to have his mind on. 

Me. 

Me, and what I’m doing to him.

He grunts, and his eyes, fixed on mine, glaze for a micron.  I hit his prostate again and he groans out loud, his eyes rolling back in his head and his legs tightening around my hips.  I lean down and brace myself against his chest with my right hand, the left closing around his cock, trapping it under my belly.  As I pump it, my hand, still oily from getting him ready for me, rubs up and down the muscles in my stomach.  It feels good, like I’m pleasuring myself at the same time as I’m loving him.  Maybe I should be a little bit guilty about that.

And maybe not.  One thing’s for sure, Starbuck wouldn’t feel guilty.  He likes watching me pleasure myself, whether it’s in our bed, or in the shower, or locked in some storeroom somewhere when lust’s overtaken our good sense.  He really loves watching me do it when he’s pushing his cock up inside me, and he’s riding me hard.  That’s when he loves it most, watching me and listening to me scream his name when I come.

I like it best that way, letting Starbuck take command in here.  It makes me feel safe,  secure, to have him love me like that, feeling his thick, hard cock creating the Starbuck-shaped space inside me that reassures me that he loves me.  But he likes me to fuck him too, so I do it whenever he wants, even when I’d have liked it better to turn over for him, lifting my hips to let him in, feeling the burn as he takes me into heaven and beyond.

Maybe it’s because I have to take command out there, where I’m the Strike Leader and I’m Captain Apollo.  In here the Strike Leader and the captain don’t exist, and all the responsibility and duty stay outside the bedroom door.  Here, I’m just Apollo.  Starbuck’s Apollo. 

Please God, let me always be Starbuck’s Apollo.

I pull back again, and one more jolt against his prostate has him writhing and protesting, incoherent and gasping for breath.

"Oh?" I say.  "What sort of trouble?"

"Uuuhhh," he says.

I laugh and slam forward again.  It won’t be long, because I can feel the heat in my balls, almost as hot as the velvety feel of his arse enclosing my cock.  I’m driving hard now, pumping his prick in the same rhythm, leaning forward.  I’ve let my other hand slip from his chest to rest palm down on the bed at his side, so I can take my weight without hurting him.  I’m leaning right over him now, watching his face as I work him, and his muscles are twitching and tightening around me.  He’s so hot and tight, and I want to stay like this forever.

His hands smooth up my spine from where they’ve been kneading my backside, and he pulls me a little further down, lifting his head and shoulders to kiss me.  He loves kissing, does my Starbuck. 

His mouth is hot and wet, and too, too much.  I have to pull free after a micron, screaming with it and throwing back my head as I come.  I close my eyes and ram up into him as far as I can, shooting up into him with everything I’ve got.  His cock twitches in my hand, and he’s coming too, crying out my name.

"Apollo!"  A gasp.  "Oh God, Apollo, I love you!"

I let myself fall forward so that he’s holding me close to his chest, and I can put my head on the scars there and listen to his heart beating wildly, reassuring myself that he’s here and he loves me still.

We stay like that for a long time while I listen to his heart steady and slow, and I move my mouth on the scars, loving them as I love everything about him.  He kisses the top of my head.

"Awake?"  he asks.

"Mmmn,"  I say and lift up a bit and we kiss for a centon or two, then I slide out of him, gently, and lie down beside him.  His jism was pooled on his belly, and I’ve been lying in it.  I spread it over my own stomach, so that it will dry, sticky and crystalline, and I’ll smell and taste of him for a little while.

He pulls me close.

"That," he says, tone judicious.  "… was nice."

"Dunno," I say.  "You started talking about Boxey in the middle of it.  I figured I wasn’t hitting the spot."

"Right on it," he says, and laughs, pulling me closer.  "I was just teasing.  I wanted to see if you could do two things at once."

"Fuck you blind and talk at the same time?"

He nods, blue eyes bright with amusement.

"It wasn’t me that got reduced to inarticulate moans," I remind him.  "Although as soon as you’re up for it, I wouldn’t mind you trying."

"Anyone would think you’re some rabid teenager with terminal horniness.  You’re well past seventeen, Apollo.  You’re far too old to have hormones."   But there’s a gleam in his eyes that tells me that I’ll get my wish and he’ll be in me as soon as he can manage it.  And all the rumours about the famous lover are true.  He’ll manage it.

I can hardly wait.

"So, what’s this about Boxey?"  I ask.  "He’s really excited about the wedding."

"He was until he saw the page’s outfit his loving Aunt wants him to wear.  Boxey and me both protested, but your sister has a will of iron.  She’s one helluva lot tougher than you are, Apollo.  Boomer’s no help.  He’s too dazed to protest about anything."

"Well, he shouldn’t have got her pregnant," I say, although God knows I’m happy for them and they’re both delighted about the baby.  Everyone is.  Even my father’s stopped muttering about ‘unauthorised conceptions’ and is looking forward to another grandchild.  He’ll be happier after the secton-end, of course, and they’re legally married, but still, he’s mellowed considerably.

"Must have been one of them gaps," Starbuck says, chuckling, although I don’t know what he means.  It’s some private joke he has with Boomer, I think, and sometimes it annoys the hell out of me that he doesn’t cut me into it.  But it’s only a little thing.

"Oh?" I say, pretending I’m bored.

"Whatever.  It sparked Boxey off though.  He’s taken with the idea of you being Thenie’s protector, and wanted to know who’d be yours."

"Mine?"

"Yeah," says Starbuck.  "He wanted to know if he could be your protector when you get Sealed again."

My mouth’s suddenly very, very dry.  "I didn’t know I was.  Getting Sealed again, I mean."

"Me neither," Starbuck says, and I’m fascinated by the intense blue gaze only a few centimetres away.  I think that there’s calculation in that gaze, and maybe a touch of irritation and a kind of weary tolerance.  "I just wondered if you had any plans in mind?"

There’s nothing for me to swallow, my mouth’s so dry, but I try to sound as cool and careless as he does.  "Well, who is there, now Sheba’s shacked up with Drake?"

"Oh, she’d come running if you wanted her.  Of course, she’d make you pay for the rest of your life for your little walk on the wild side."

"I don’t want her.  I don’t want to get Sealed again."  I’m quite cross about that because it isn’t really true, but I know that I won’t get what I want.  I’m content with what I have.  Truly I am.

"Really?"

"Really."

"So where did Boxey get the idea that you did?"

"I don’t know!"  I say it sharp and angry, fear making me sick.  "I’m happy the way we are."

I tense up and wait, dreading to hear him say that I’d bloody well better be because the last thing he’d ever think of is Sealing with me.  I know it, but I don’t want to hear him say it.

"Are you, Apollo?" he says, and there’s a funny little smile on his face.  "Well, as long as you’re happy."  He captures my hand and guides it down to his prick.  "And look what else is happy."

He’s half hard already and I abandon conversation to go down on him and get him into my mouth.  In a few centons I want him inside my body, to drive out the uncertainty, and to know that he loves me.

I love Starbuck. I love him so very much that I can’t bear the thought of losing him, the way I once thought I’d lost him. I’m really very happy with him, on his terms. I’m happy with anything I can get.

So very happy, it’s selfish to want more. I’ll stick with what I’ve got.

 

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

 

I talk to Boxey about it at breakfast.

Starbuck’s long gone.  He’s on early shift this secton, and it’s over two centars since I forced him out of bed and off to work.  Sometimes I end up nagging him worse than a wife would.  He goes off grumbling that living with the flight commander means he can never finagle a day off work again.  Too damn right, he can’t.  I never fell for the excuses before we were together, and I sure as hell won’t now.

But separate work periods... that’s the downside to him being with me.  I had to negotiate with Dad and Colonel Tigh about how we’d handle me living with one of my pilots.  Apart from Sheba, who’s never stopped making snide remarks about the privileges Starbuck gets in exchange for giving me sex, and a few pilots, mainly ex-Pegasus, who act distant and cool, most people don’t seem to care much who I sleep with.  And although we talked about how it could affect the chain of command, Dad acknowledges that he wouldn’t have worried about that if I’d sealed with Sheba.  So he won’t let it be an issue with Starbuck. 

Funny, but he’s been a lot easier about this than I expected.  He seems to trying to make up to me about something, so instead of the lectures on immorality that I was half expecting, he’s been great.  Very supportive.  All that he’s insisted on are the same terms he would have insisted on if it had been Sheba.  He says that if Starbuck’s taking on joint responsibility with me for Boxey, then there’s no way, bar an all-out battle when he’ll need every pilot he has, that both of us should be in the air at once.  Boxey deserves to have one parent, at least, to get him into adulthood.  He’s open about not wanting to do it himself – he says he’s too old, but I reckon it’s the inexperience that scares him - and his preference is for both of us to be around for the whole period to bring Boxey up.  So, he separates us during working centars, just to hedge his bets.  Starbuck has had to stop being my wingman.

That’s pretty hard.  I made him my wingman just after I got here, over six yahrens ago now, and it’s taken some adjusting to spending my duty time with Boomer instead of with Starbuck, to having Boomer flying off my right wing instead of Starbuck.  There’s no denying I get more done these days – Boomer doesn’t talk half so much as Starbuck does – but I kinda miss having him there all the time.  Of course, I get to have him where it matters most.  But still, I miss him.

Most of the time our duty periods overlap, so we at least get to see each other over the noonday meal or when I’m inspecting the troopdecks, but every now and again they get out of synch for a secton or so with one or other of us on early duty.  This is one of Starbuck’s early duty sectons, so I have to get Boxey up and ready for school myself.  Just like old times when I was on my own.

Boxey and Starbuck are very alike in the mornings.  They both hate it.  I don’t like it much myself, but I’m at least human.  Those two, though, they take hating mornings to an art form that leaves us lesser mortals watching in respectful silence.

With Boxey, I go in and wake him.  And then I go in and wake him again.  And then I go in and tip him out of his bunk and he gets up, his eyes still tight shut, and lets me steer him into the fresher so I can stand over him while he pretends to clean up.  I never realised before how allergic small boys are to clean water.  I’m sure I wasn’t like that.

By the time he’s made it to the table for breakfast, he’s usually surfaced from the coma enough to be snippy and bad tempered.  Now I think back, the few mornings me and his mother actually woke up together, she was pretty much the same.  Irrefutable proof of the laws of genetics, I guess.

Waking up Starbuck involves a little more creativity.  Although, like Boxey, he hates waking up, he’s easier to coax into his usual sunny temper.  He wakes up hard, guaranteed.  I have the alarm set a half-centar early to take care of that for him.  More fun than standing over Boxey and telling him to clean behind his ears, I can tell you.  Waking up Starbuck tends to put both of us in a good mood.  Boomer told me once that the troops have all noticed that I’m mellowing.  Having your brains sucked out every morning does that for a man. 

I have to let the parental responsibilities take precedence over those of Starbuck’s lover right now, so I push the bowl of cereal towards Boxey and put the spoon into his hand.  "Eat."

"I wanted porridge," he says, crossly.

I shrug.  Only way to deal with him is be offhand.  "Get up earlier, then."

He grunts – a very horrible sound for a seven-yahren old kid.  I really must get those adenoids seen to – and starts shovelling in the cereal.  I pour his milk, wondering, if I’d known when I said I’d keep Boxey that what I’d get is this bad tempered, permanently tousled, permanently hungry question-mark-on-legs, whether I’d have done it.  Then I realise I’d had no choice.  He might not be mine in any genetic sense, but I couldn’t love him more if he was, even in the mornings.  I don’t like to think about not having him around.  I don’t even like to think of him growing up and not needing me any more.

"Where’s Starbuck?" demands the object of all this paternal affection.  "He’s more fun in the morning."

He’s an ungrateful little beggar, Boxey.

"You can say that again," I say, and mean it.  I don’t explain.  Boxey is only seven, after all, eight in a few sectons.  He’s growing up fast, but not that fast.  "He’s on patrol." 

I have my second cup of tea, warming my hands against the hot mug.  Even though there’s no real night and day here, it’s hard not to think in the old way, as if we were at home and Caprica wasn’t a burnt out shell.  So although I should say that they power down the ship during the main sleep period to conserve precious fuel, I still think of it as them powering down during the night.  Whatever.  It’s slow some mornings to power up again and our quarters are chilly.  I wonder if I should take the time to make Boxey his porridge, to warm him.

He yawns.  "I forgot.  Can I have some more?"

I’d anticipated this.  The second bowl is already on the counter, and I just hand it over.  This time I get a proper grin and he’s out of his early morning grouch and back to his normal cheerful self.  He grins at me and begins our morning litany.  Most kids like traditions and rituals, I find.  Zac was just the same when he was a kid and, because Dad could be away fighting for up to a yahren at a time, it was my job to do the other side of the ritual with him.  I was the nearest thing to a father figure Zac had.  Full-time, anyway.

"Morning, Dad,– Boxey says, and dives headfirst into the second bowl. 

I watch him wolf it down like he’s not seen food for a secton, and grin back. 

"Good morning, my son," I say and he snorts appreciation through the milk at the portentous tone.  Though I say it myself, I can do a wicked impersonation of my father at his most stuffy and dignified.   "Are we awake?"

"Uh-huh." 

"And ready to face school?"

"I suppose," he huffs, and reaches for more milk.  He grins at me through a white milky moustache.  "Do I have to …?"

"Yup," I say.  "You do."

"Why?"

I just look at him.

"Oh yeah.  Because you say so."  Litany over, he wipes his mouth and adds,  "Starbuck says kids only get sent to school because their parents want to get rid of them for a few centars.  Is that true?"

"Yup," I say again.

"Doesn’t seem fair to me," Boxey says, after giving it some consideration.

"It’s the deal," I say.  "I don’t get many kicks out of fatherhood, but forcing you to go to school is one of them.  In return I feed and clothe you and protect your innocence and…"

"You sound like Starbuck," he says.

"He’s been training me."  I grin at him and tousle his hair some more.  "He said you went to see Athena last night, while I was at the Council meeting." 

"She says she can’t see her feet anymore.  I didn’t know babies got so big."

"I’ll bet she never thought about that, either.  I hear she’s got you something really fancy to wear at the wedding."

"Starbuck says he’ll sort it."  My son’s confident in the ability of his other parent to finesse the deal for him.  "What are you going to wear?"

"Dress blues."

He knows that.  I’ve told him before, the last time he asked: which was yesterday morning.  And the morning before that.  Like I said, kids like ritual.  He gives me a little secretive smile, and this is the point of his new little ritual, to let me know he and Starbuck have been plotting.  I knew anyway.  Oh, there’s no ESP involved in that knowledge.  I saw Starbuck sneaking in the packages.  I even know where he hid them, but he’s locked the closet and I haven’t yet worked out how to get it open without him finding out. 

Boxey changes tack.  "Why’re you her protector and giving her away to Boomer?  Why not Grandpa?"

"Because he wants to do the ceremony himself.  He’s taking advantage of one of the oldest privileges a ship’s commander has.  In the old days, before we got super-light drive, you could be yahrens on voyages, and ship’s captains were allowed to perform marriages for their crew.  Seems like no-one ever repealed the legislation.  He married me and your mother, remember?"

"But we didn’t have proper priests then.  We have now."

I pull a face.  There is no way that Athena would allow the Vicar General to officiate at her wedding.  Actually, there’s no way any of us would allow it.  For form’s sake, Cantor has been invited, but he isn’t exactly top of the guest list.

"Your Grandpa wants to do it.  So I have to give Athena away."  I reflect that, given her condition, it’s a definite case of locking stable doors after the equine has bolted, but I don’t say so.  If I did, someone might want to know why her protector didn’t do a better job of it.  I’m content with a purely honorary position, believe me.

I finish my tea.  "And why did you tell Starbuck I want to get Sealed?"

"I didn’t," he says, so innocent that I start looking round for the dead bodies.

"Uh-huh."  I wait.  He’ll tell me.

He squirms a bit on the chair.  Despite nearly a yahren and a half of Starbuck’s best efforts at co-parenting, I’ve managed to imprint enough of me onto my son to ensure he’s bought into all that Caprican honour and duty and truthfulness stuff.  Starbuck’s working on undoing the damage, but Boxey’s proving remarkably resilient so far.  I leave ‘em to it, mostly.  I know from personal experience that it’s probably too late, and he’ll grow up just like me, but Starbuck’s willing to keep trying to save the kid.  Starbuck doesn’t give up that easily.

"I don’t want Starbuck to go away," he says.

I think I stop breathing for a micron.  Me neither.  Oh God, me neither. 

"What makes you think he will?"  I ask carefully, hoping that he hasn’t really seen anything, that his fears and anxieties are groundless.

"It’s just that it’s harder to get out of it once you’re Sealed," Boxey says.  "That’s what Athena said when Starbuck asked her why she’d kept Boomer dangling for so long.  When I asked what she meant, she said that if things go wrong, it’s not as easy to get up and go if you’re Sealed.  She said Starbuck was lucky that way.  But I don’t want Starbuck to get up and go."

Sometimes my sister’s mouth needs to be bricked up.  She means well, but she forgets how little Boxey is and that he has a tendency to take everything seriously. like me.  And he’s too insecure, like me.

"Starbuck won’t do that.  You only do that if you aren’t happy, and how hard do you and me work at keeping Starbuck happy, huh?"

"Yeah." 

"And Starbuck is happy, right?"  I need the reassurance as much as Boxey, I think.

"Right."  He brightens up, and nods.

"And it’s not so easy for two men to get Sealed, Boxey.  The Church doesn’t like it much."

"That’s what Starbuck said when I asked him.  But you can do it, can’t you?"

"Well, yes," I admit.  Same sex Sealings aren’t usual, but not unknown if you have a sympathetic priest.

"Well, if you do get Sealed, can I be your protector?  I did it for my Mom when she married you."

"I remember." 

"Don’t you want to do it?" he asks.  "I’d have thought you’d want him to stay."

I am so not going there.  I won’t let myself go there.  I’m certainly not going there with a seven-yahren old child.

"Me and Starbuck are happy as we are, Boxey.  You worry too much.  Everything’s just fine."  I glance at the chronometer on the wall.  "We’re late.  Get your stuff."

He does as he’s told, but he’s not giving up that easily and he knows that I was just trying to change the subject.  He never lets me off that lightly.  When he gets back from his room with his satchel, he’s still thinking about it, I can tell.  He’s quiet when we leave, letting me set the security lock in a kind of watchful silence.

"But if you *do*," he persists, as we head off down to Deck twelve and the school.  "Can I be your protector?"

I nod, pretty secure in the belief that he’ll never need to do it.  "Sure.  In the unlikely event of Starbuck asking me to marry him, you can give me away to him.  Okay?"

Boxey grins, satisfied.  "Okay."

So that’s sorted.  All okay.

 

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

I talk about it with Boomer, too.

Well, sort of.  Talking with Boomer’s a mite difficult at the moment.  He has his mind fixed on his impending doom and there’s not much room for anything else.

The duty office is really quiet.  We haven’t seen the Cylons for eighteen sectars, not since the K’far Shon helped us defeat them, and though we’ve run into other unfriendly species, this bit of space is quiet and empty.  Routine.  All the patrols and pickets are out, I’ve inspected the troop decks twice, just to keep busy; we’ve gone over yesterday’s reports; and now I’ve got my feet up on the desk, my hands behind my head, staring mindlessly at the ceiling.  Boomer is sitting in the chair opposite, the one I still think of as Starbuck’s, but he doesn’t look too relaxed.  He’s scrunched up, and a bit wild about the eyes.  Boy, does he have pre-wedding nerves.

"Hey," I say.  "Everything all right?  You’ve been staring at that report for ten centons."

He jumps and looks at me like I’ve suddenly grown two heads.  "Huh?"

"It’s a bit late to get second thoughts," I tell him.  "If you run away, I’ll just be forced to come and look for you.  This is a small fleet, Boomer.  You can’t hide for ever.  We’d find you."

"You’d kill me, right?"  He tries to grin at me.

"Don’t be daft.  I wouldn’t kill you.  I’d just bring you back so that Thenie could kill you."

He sighs.

"You just have to understand my motivation here, Boomer.  I’d bring you back because I’m delighted to welcome you into the family and because I definitely don’t want to pass up the chance of having you for a brother.  But most of all I’d do it because she’d kill *me*, if I didn’t.  My hands are tied here." 

I swing my feet down onto the floor and open my emergency stores drawer, the one I have to keep locked against Starbuck’s depredations.  But Starbuck’s smart.  I see that he’s managed to crack the drawer open again, and I’ll have to find another variation on the security code.  But let no-one say that I don’t have a considerate lover.  He may have raided my stores – probably on the principle of him having the right, however unofficial, to a half-share in all my worldly goods - but all he’s taken is his fair share.  He’s not taken it all.  There’s enough left, and Boomer’s eyes brighten at the sight of the ambrosa bottle and two glasses.

"Drinking on duty?" he says.

"Special occasion."  It’s his last duty shift before the wedding and I can afford to bend the rules a bit for him.  He’s almost family.  I push a glass across to him and raise mine in a toast.  "Luck, Boomer."

He shudders and downs his in one.  Then he looks at me apologetically.  "It’s not that I want to get out of it, Apollo," he explains.  "It’s just that I never wanted the kind of big wedding that Thenie wants.  Just a few of us, and I’d be fine.  But this – it’s the biggest society Sealing of the yahren.  It scares me witless."

"That’s what you get for marrying the President’s only daughter."  I pause.  "Eventually."

He winces and reaches for more ambrosa.  He tops up his own glass, but I don’t want any more just yet.  I don’t need it the way he does. 

"You never said much when she said she was pregnant."

"You wanted me to be surprised?"  I ask.  "How long is it since you slept back in your own quarters?"

He shrugs.  "Oh well, if you put it like that."  He nurses the glass for a few microns.  "I do want to marry her, Apollo, but the thought of that service is chewing up my insides. Didn’t you feel like that with Serina?"

I try to remember back to my Sealing to Serina, and wonder if I had it that badly.  I don’t know that I did, to be honest.  I was numb, mostly, with Starbuck missing, and I’d have agreed to anything and barely noticed it was going on.  Mega mistake, that Sealing.  I did love her, I think, but not compared to how I felt about Starbuck.  When he appeared on Kobol, it was like being hit with a missile.  I knew then that he was everything I wanted.  And in that micron, when I ran across the sands to hold him, so did Serina.  I knew it by the look she gave me when she came to claim me, to take me away from him. 

Sometimes I still wonder why she was so slow to get out of the way of that Cylon.  Sometimes I wonder if the realisation that it was Starbuck who I loved, shocked her so much that she slowed right down, her reactions dulled.  Sometimes I wonder if it was my fault.  More than just allowing her to be on Kobol at all, but that I was even more directly responsible for her getting killed.  Wondering if it was my fault kept me from doing anything about what I felt for Starbuck for almost nine sectars.  And sometimes I dread Boxey asking questions about how she died, in case he begins to blame me too.

It takes some doing, to push those thoughts away, but I do it.  "No," I say, now.  "I think if everything had been normal, I would have been as nervous as you are.  But Starbuck was missing, and I wasn’t really thinking beyond that."

He nods, understanding, I think, what I don’t actually come out and say.  "You know, the thing that surprises me now is how long you two took to get it together.  When I first found out, when you split up that time, I was surprised then that you were together at all, but really I can’t think why."

Yeah, he understands pretty well.  My turn to shrug.  "Oh?"

"I mean, it works, doesn’t it?  I’ve never seen Bucko so content and you’re almost human these days.  Look me in the eye and tell me that eighteen sectars ago you’d have given me three glasses of ambrosa when I’m supposed to be on duty."

"Three?"

"I’m about to have another," he says.

I let him take it.  God knows that he needs it, but if there’s an alert called he sits it out in the duty office.  My sister says I’ve a natural bossy streak and that I give overprotective a bad name, but I’m the way I am.  I want to get her Sealed the day after tomorrow and let someone else take the responsibility of looking out for her so I can concentrate all my own efforts on keeping Starbuck happy.  Boomer’s a responsible kind of man, notwithstanding his little slip few sectars ago when he forgot to fire blanks.  He’ll do just fine.  Eminently trainable, according to my sister, who tends to say so with a complacency that sets my teeth on edge.

But mostly he gets the third glass for a reward, for saying Starbuck’s content. 

"So," I say.  "You think me and Starbuck are working out just fine?"

He almost drops the glass and goes a bit grey around the edges. "For fuck’s sake don’t tell me I’m wrong!" His hand’s shaking as he lifts the glass.  "I couldn’t take another emotional crisis with you two.  The last one almost killed me and I’ve enough on at the moment dealing with my own."

I grin at him.  "I’m a happy man, Boomer, if that reassures you."

"Infinitely," he says.  "Just keep it that way, Apollo.  Whatever it is you’re doing, don’t change an atom of it.  It’s working just fine."

"No change at all, then?"

"If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it," he says, firm.

It ain’t broke, but pushing for more than Starbuck wants just might break it.

So that’s sorted that then. 

 

*^*^*^^*^*^*^*^*

 

Sheba comes to see me after I send Boomer off duty early. 

I set Giles and Jolly to keep an eye on him until later, when we’re doing his bachelor send-off party in the OC.  I’ve made it clear that I expect them to both comfort him and keep him relatively sober - all night - and after they leave the office, looking nervous, I have a quiet little laugh to myself and another little glass of ambrosa.  Giles is due a clip around the ears for a pretty elemental and stupid mistake he made out there on his last patrol, not concentrating.  Nothing serious as we are now, but it could have been if we’d been in a firefight.  He knows this is his punishment and that I’ve just made his evening impossible: Boomer has the look of man wanting to get on the outside of a large quantity of spirituous liquors as fast as humanly possible.  It’ll be Giles’ responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen, because he knows I’ll be mad at him, but it’s also his responsibility to calm Boomer down and get his nerves in order, because if that doesn’t happen he knows I’ll be mad at him.  Finessing those two opposing objectives will make sure he learns to concentrate.  What’s more, Jolly will give him hell for getting pulled into the punishment with him. 

Altogether, a satisfyingly machiavellian moment.  Anton and Starbuck between them are teaching me subtlety, and I’m getting better at it.

Sometimes I wonder if power corrupts.

Nah.  But sometimes it’s a lot of fun.

There’s still half a centar to go before the duty change, which I’d thought I’d be spending on my own, so I’m surprised when Sheba knocks on the door and comes in to talk to me.  Ever since I told her that I wasn’t interested, just before me and Starbuck got back together and came out, she hasn’t had much to do with me.  Usually we talk purely about work, and the few times it gets more personal, it’s usually some barbed comment from her about my sexual tastes. 

I ignore it.  Can’t hurt me, as long as I’m going home to Starbuck.  I mean, look what she goes home to.  No comparison.

"I wanted to talk to you," she says, abruptly.  She doesn’t quite look me in the eyes, but then she rarely does, these days.  Instead she looks hard at the almost empty glass and the very empty bottle in the waste bin.

I gesture towards the other chair.  "Toasting Boomer."  I wonder why I need to explain, to her of all people.  "He seems to need his nerves steadied."

"Well, he is marrying into your family," she sniffs, sitting down.

I ignore that, too.  Like, it’s not that she didn’t want to, once.  And maybe like Starbuck says, she still would, given half the chance.  Well, I’m not in the business of handing out chances.

She says nothing for a centon or two, staring at a point above my head.  I finish the ambrosa and put the glass down, and wait.

"Why’s she invited me to the Sealing?" she asks, abrupt again.  I’m surprised to see that she has her hands locked together to try and stop them shaking and she’s genuinely upset about something.  "I’d almost thought they weren’t going to bother."

Well, she isn’t alone in that.  Athena was six sectars gone before she and Boomer announced that they were getting Sealed after all, and she gave Dad four sectons to organise it.  All she said to me about it was that if the old man could expend that much energy nagging her to, and I quote, ‘do the right thing’, he could expend some energy in a more useful fashion, sorting out the arrangements.  He wanted the ceremony, he had to work for it.  I made a point of keeping my head down and not asking Dad how he reacted to that, but I can’t say that I found any fault with her reasoning.  There’s a lot to admire in my little sister, really.

"And it’s not like we’re real friends," Sheba adds.

True enough.  They’ve known each other yahrens, from before the Academy, even, and they’ve always competed with each other: both smart, both pretty, both the only daughters of famous Battlestar commanders.  Well, work it out for yourself. 

I don’t say so, because there’s no need to antagonise Sheba any more than she is already, but I think Athena’s just setting out the stall for the latest round of the competition.  Athena’s in ‘I have it all’ mode.  Father still commander and still loving and supportive, senior Lieutenant, command training on the bridge, the one who’s almost married to an eminently trainable man who adores her, pregnant and blooming with it. 

And Sheba?  Missing-presumed-dead father who effectively deserted her, no promotion, no command training, no marriage, no family.  All Sheba has, is Drake.  And, believe me, that is nothing to write home about.

I shrug, wondering why she’s taken this long to ask, if it’s bothering her.  It’s three sectons since the invitations were issued.  "Why shouldn’t she?  You two have known each other for yahrens."

"I was just surprised, that’s all."

Me too.  Sheba’s a bit of a mess, at the moment.  After Starbuck and me came out, she started working her way through the whole strike wing.  Me and Starbuck and, I hope, Boomer, given his impending parental responsibilities, must be among the few male pilots who haven’t slept with her.  The last couple of sectars she seems to have steadied down a bit.  She’s hooked up with Drake, but he’s another loser, so Lord alone knows how long that will last.  He’s not much, but if it’s what she wants, I hope it works out.  It’s just he wouldn’t be on my list if I was gagging for it, that’s all.

The one good thing is that it means Dad has never once even hinted any regret at the failure of his previous plans for marrying me off to her.  Despite having his horizons widened over the last couple of yahrens, he’s a little straight laced, my father.  He pretends she doesn’t exist.

Suits me.

"What’s this all about?"  I ask

She shrugs.  "Nothing."

"Uh-huh.  You break a vow of silence for nothing?"

A quick grin at that.  "I was pretty mad at you," she acknowledges.

"And you’re not now?"

"Oh yes.  Maybe not quite as mad."  She sighs, and looks at the bottle in the waste bin.  "Any more of that?"

"After Boomer’s been at it?  Sorry."

She sighs again and falls silent again.  So I keep waiting.  There’s something on her mind, that’s obvious.  I haven’t seen her like this before.

"It’s just…  I mean, I’ve been thinking…"  she pauses, and then throws up her hands helplessly.  "I’m damned if I want to talk to you, but no-one else even understands.  Not even… well, no-one does."

Well, it’s true enough that Drake barely understands the sound of his own name.  He sure as hell isn’t the one to understand anything emotionally delicate.

"I’ve been trying to work out what it all meant, Apollo.  The whole thing.  Why they changed me."

I blink at that.  "Who?"

"The people on the Ship of Lights, of course," she snaps, impatient as ever.

"Did they change you?"  I’ve been under the impression that I’m the one they changed.  And I don’t think that I’m suffering under any sort of misapprehension here.

She nods, serious and intent now.  "Oh yes."  She’s gone back to staring at that spot above my head.  After a centon, she goes on, acid and angry.  "Not, of course, that anyone was ever interested in what happened to me.  They were too busy fussing over you, over the Chosen One."  She sniffs, then asks:  "What does Starbuck say about what they did to him?"

I’m always uncomfortable about talking about the Ship, even with Starbuck.  I’ve never talked about it with Sheba.  I wouldn’t now, but she seems genuinely to be affected, agitated.  She looks ill, I realise.  And I feel a little bit guilty.  In all the excitement the Council got itself into over me and the routemap the Ship imprinted onto me, not a lot of attention was paid to Sheba and Starbuck.  They were called to a special session of the  Council to tell what they remembered, and that was that. 

Starbuck doesn’t resent that neglect, the way that Sheba seems to.  When he does talk abut it, which is about as often as I do, Starbuck says that the priests were a lot more interested in their memories of the Ship itself.  Mine are very fragmentary, but I was unconscious, struck down by Count Iblis.  I don’t take much account of Starbuck’s wilder theories about what Iblis did to me.  I think he was a bit hysterical at the time and his perceptions were off.  I’ll admit I must have been under pretty deep for them to think that Iblis killed me instead of Sheba, but it stands to reason I was only unconscious, and it’s no wonder I can’t remember much.

Just after we got back, while they were interested in him, Starbuck talked with the priests a lot, telling them all he could remember about what was said and done, what the place looked like, what the strange people looked like.  He saw nothing but vague figures and expressionless white masks, so he never did quite get it straight in his head who or what they were.  It was the priests who decided that they had to have been the Lords of Kobol.  It’s anyone’s guess if they’re right. 

Well, I sure as hell don’t know if they’re right.  I think they are, but I don’t know for sure.

I guess they asked Sheba the same questions, milked her for the same information.  But their primary interest was in me.  Both the Kobolian hierarchy and the Councillors were - are - far more interested in the data I carry.  Starbuck was relieved when they lost interest in him.  I know he refused long term counselling from the priests, although it was offered more than once, and after a few sectons they left him alone.  I don’t know what Sheba felt about it all.  I never asked her.

I don’t like being the centre of that kind of attention.  Even now, if I leave the Galactica, people stare and whisper.  There’s a sort of reverence in their attitude, a sort of expectation of miracles, that drives me half-insane because there’s nothing I can do to stop it.  In his little power play, the Vicar General built up a myth about me that’s been hard to die, even in the face of his political failure and my relationship with Starbuck.  But I hadn’t realised that, hard as it was to be treated as something special, it might be even harder to be treated as nothing, as unimportant and insignificant.  Especially if you’re used to some eminence because you’re Commander Cain’s one and only daughter.

"He doesn’t say much," I say now, thoughtful.  "He remembers the main bits, but he says he doesn’t feel all that much different.  Except…"  I stop.  This could get us onto dangerous territory.

"Except what?"

"Except he says that they told him what his role in all this is,"  I say, slowly.

"And what might that be?" she demands, impatient again.

"To be with me.  To keep me safe.  To look after me," I say, almost sorry.  She won’t like it.

She doesn’t.  She flushes red.  "I’m sure he does a very good job of it," she says, waspish.

I say nothing, but wait a bit more.

"I know what I have to do, too.  I know what my role  is."  She speaks with an intense passion.  "They told me, too.  They made it clear.  But you won’t let me do it!  You wouldn’t when we came back.  You still won’t."

"No," I say, as gently as I can manage it.  Whatever it is she thinks she has to do, I don’t want it.  I know what she’s offering again, underneath all the words, and I really don’t want it.

"And because you won’t, I have to find some other way, before it’s too late."

"There’s nothing we can do about this, Sheba."  I feel slightly threatened, but that’s stupid.  What could she threaten me with to force me into a liaison, a Sealing with her that I don’t want?  Stupid to be uneasy.  "I respect you a lot, you know that.  But you deserve more than that, more than I can give you."

"The Lords want it."

"I don’t think so.  And you should want what’s best for you, not some religious mumbo-jumbo reason for thinking you should be with me.  Especially if there’s no other reason to do it."

"Starbuck has other reasons!"  she shoots back.  "They told him to!"

I shake my head.  "Starbuck’s always loved me." 

He tells me so, and I love to hear him say it.  I can’t get enough of him saying it.

"So have I," she mumbles.

Geez, I can do without this!  I hope I haven’t heard her right.  "What?"

"Nothing," she says, sullen.

There’s a few centons of silence, in which she’s looking as if she’d like to cry.  If it was anyone but me here, I think she might give in and do it.  After a centon or two, she sniffs slightly and nods and I can only admire the control.

"I just have to find some other way," she says.  "I’ve got to do what they told me to do, Apollo.  Any way I can."

Oh boy.  Some people just do not take rejection well.  I don’t myself, so I know whereof I speak.

"Sheba," I say, gently, but she straightens up and scowls at me.  Contact point passed.  She doesn’t want gentleness from me, not now.

"It doesn’t have anything to do with you."

Really?  And so what the hell has this been about if it isn’t to do with me not wanting her?   "Fine," I say. 

"The entire world doesn’t revolve around you," she says.  "Despite what the priests say."

"I get the message," I say, mildly enough.

"Good."  She goes back to being abrupt.  "Can you still remember the route to Earth?"

"Whenever I want to," I say.  For an instant I close my eyes and think about where we’re going.  The numbers are soaked into my very bones, I think.  The figures, bright as the light inside the Ship, start scrolling across the back of my eyelids, crisp and clear.  It happens every time I think about them, and I know that I’ll be able to call them up at will until the day I die.  That’s the change they made to me, the task they laid on me. 

That’s the curse they laid on me.

She nods and looks down.  Her hands are locked together again, but she can’t really stop her fingers twisting in agitation.  "I thought so.  It’s inside you now.  You remember the co-ordinates, the route to Earth.  You always will, won’t you?  That’s your miracle.  Well, in the same way I remember what I need to do, too.  I wish I knew what it was all about.  I wish I understood what they did to me, why they did it.  I don’t understand it, but I do know that it’s inside me now, too.  Just like with you and the route map."

"Did they really do anything?"

She flushes again, and her face is red and somehow unattractive.  There’s a memory tugging at me, a memory of something dangerous, an eater, a predator, something red and feral with burning eyes.  But it’s gone in an instant and it’s only Sheba sitting in here with me, unfriendly, certainly, but not dangerous, not an eater.  I still shiver, suddenly cold and a little afraid, jumping at shadows.

"Of course they did!"  she snaps at me.  "Why don’t you believe me?  You aren’t holy and unique, you know.  You aren’t the only one who was touched.  Something happened, Apollo.  I’m not the same person I was.  I mean, I don’t think that if they hadn’t changed me, I’d ever have acted like the way I have… I mean, so many different… the last yahren or so…"

"No," I say.  I think I know what she means.  The Sheba I first knew wasn’t this promiscuous.  It’s like she’s snatching at something she can never quite reach, trying to… what?  Prove something?  Reassure herself about something?  Repair something that’s been damaged?  That’s how I’m beginning to think of her.  As damaged.

She looks briefly grateful.  "I wasn’t used to being turned down."

"I’m sorry."

"Are you?  I thought you liked being looked after."  Acid again.  The gratitude for understanding what she was trying to say is very brief, I see.

"I do."  I refuse to let her get to me.  And besides, I do like Starbuck looking after me.  He makes me feel safe.  "But that doesn’t mean I’m not sorry, Sheba."

"I suppose," she says, moody.  She takes a deep breath.  "Look, Apollo, I don’t care about that now.  All I’m wondering about is when they changed us, why’s the effect so different?  I mean, the changes in you and Starbuck don’t seem to have the same effect as they have for me.  Oh, I know you hate all the religious stuff, but apart from that the changes for you two seem all good, and I got all the bad stuff, as if what they did magnifies everything that was wrong and lonely.  Why did they make sure that you two came together and left me out in the cold?"

I don’t know.  How can she expect me know, for frack’s sake?  I hope to God she’s not another one starting to think that I have all the answers, that I have some sort of spiritual certainty, some sort of moral responsibility for everything.  I have trouble enough persuading myself that I can’t take responsibility for everything, without everyone else getting in on the act.  It’s taken me while to realise that ultimately I’m not responsible for anything but myself and, I suppose, Boxey and Starbuck.  I’m more certain that I’m not responsible for the way she feels about herself and what she does.  That’s entirely down to her.  And maybe down to her being the only one of us who listened to Iblis, the only one who almost fell.  Maybe that’s the damage she’s trying to repair.

She wipes angrily at her eyes.  This is really very painful.  I’m sorry for her, sorrier than she can ever know.  And definitely sorrier than I want her to know.  She’s down at the moment, but Sheba’s a proud girl and it won’t help her much if she realises how much she’s giving away. 

I wish I could help, but all I can say is that I don’t know.  I don’t think that answer satisfies her at all. 

 "Are you happy with him?"  Another abrupt, angry question.

"Yes."  I won’t lie about this, not even to spare her feelings.  Everything of love and contentment and passion and sheer joy is in that one little syllable and I can’t help showing it. 

She flinches visibly.  Brooding silence again.  "I wish my father had taken me with him," she says at last.  "I could talk to him.  He’d understand."

"The way Drake can’t?" I say.

"Drake?  What has he got to do with anything?  I don’t talk to him about anything much."

I thought she’d said that not even Drake had understood.  I say so, and she smiles suddenly, a funny, secretive little smile.

"Oh, I didn’t mean Drake.  I do have other friends, you know, who I talk to.  Good friends, who’ll help me.  They weren’t there and they can’t really understand, but they try."

There’s a few of the ex-Pegasus pilots who all stick together, loyal to Cain’s memory and Cain’s daughter.  Sometimes they annoy me, the way they refuse to integrate the way the others have, but I can understand her finding them a comfort.

"I wish I could help."

"You can’t.  Or maybe, you won’t.  But the others can."  She shrugs and gets up.  "I’d better go."

"Can’t I do something?"

She shakes her head.  "No.  You won’t say anything about this?"

"No," I promise, and I mean it.  I won’t even tell Starbuck.

She pauses, and turns just before she reaches the door.  "This doesn’t change anything," she says warningly. 

Subtext: you’re still a disgusting, perverted queer who doesn’t know a good thing when you see it. 

Fine by me.  I just nod, and watch her go.

Now what the hell was all that about?

 

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

I’ve got worse wedding nerves than Thenie does.

She looks lovely.  She always says she has the disadvantage of looking more like Dad than our mother, and she always claims to be jealous of me because for me it’s the other way around.  There’s no denying that Mother was prettier than Dad, any day of the secton, but today Thenie looks lovely.  She’s wearing the delicate silver chains in her hair that Mother wore at her wedding, one of the few things we managed to salvage out of the burnt-out house on Caprica, and I’ve given her the dress that Serina wore for our Sealing.  She only just fits into it, but it’s floaty in all the right places and it disguises the bulge a bit.  She still waddles when she walks and tends to keep her hand on the small of her back to keep herself balanced, but I refrain from saying so.  Apart from wanting her to have a wonderful day to remember, one without arguments and ill-feeling, I’ve a strong sense of self preservation.  She packs quite a punch, does my little sister.

And we’ve already had the incident with the raspberry juice, for which she’s holding me to account.  If it wasn’t that she needs me right now to get her down the aisle, I’d be dead meat.

True to form, Starbuck has found a way out of Boxey having to wear the fancy outfit that Thenie wanted him to wear.  It starts out according to plan.  Thenie’s plan, that is.  Me and Starbuck force Boxey into the suit and turn up at father’s quarters in good order, thirty centons before the ceremony starts, then the Starbuck-Boxey plan takes over.  They’ve already decided I’m safer not knowing the details – "Credible total deniability, Apollo," says Starbuck as we’re waiting for Dad to open the door, with Boxey nodding vigorous agreement, so they’ve even rehearsed this bit between them.  "That’ll keep you safe.  Leave it all to us." -  so I watch it all from a distance.  Dad, all paternal and proud of his little girl, hands out nectar to toast the happy couple.  Starbuck absent-mindedly hands Boxey a glass of his favourite sticky raspberry cordial to drink his aunt’s health, and Boxey, equally as absent-mindedly, pours most of it down his front.  He looks down at the red, red stain and then up at us, his eyes wide.

Oops," he says, so innocent that there’s a whole shuttle load of bodies somewhere.

Hurricane Athena hits and passes - with minimal damage, considering the provocation - and Starbuck’s sent off to clean him up and get him into some clean clothes.  Dad and Thenie glare at me.  Boomer’s so spaced out with terror that I don’t think he notices what’s going on.  I can see that his hands are shaking.  Mine are, too, for that matter.

"It’s not my fault," I say, defensively.  Any deniability on my part obviously isn’t total enough or credible enough.

Thenie shakes her head.  "It’s as well you’ll never have any more children," she says. She goes over to Boomer and takes the glass from him and puts it down before he spills it.  He looks at her miserably and she pats his hand comfortingly.   "Bringing up the two you’ve already got, is too much for you."

I save that one up to tell Starbuck later.  He’ll appreciate it.  But for now all me and Dad do is exchange looks and, well, I decide discretion’s the better part of valour and any innocent remarks about her mothering Boomer will result in a kicked shin.  I think Dad comes to the same conclusion.  There’s times when age and dignity count for nothing.  This is one of ‘em, and he knows it.

And then it’s time to go.  Dad takes Boomer away, to meet Starbuck and Boxey at the Chapel, but you’d think he was marching Boomer away for execution.  Honestly, the bridegroom’s nearly catatonic, and I wonder if he’ll get through the ceremony without passing out.  Five centons later me and Thenie leave and head towards the Chapel at her stately-waddle pace.  It makes my legs ache to walk that slowly. 

"Why’re you shaking?" she hisses at me when we’re in the anteroom. She’s busy twitching my collar into place and generally setting me to rights.  Practicing for motherhood, I guess. She breathes on a medal that isn’t shiny enough to meet her exacting standards, and polishes at it briskly with a handkerchief.  It feels like she’s rubbing a hole in my chest.

"Don’t like crowds," I say, explaining, but not complaining.  I know better.

"Well, they won’t be looking at you," she says.  "It’s me they’ve come to see."

Yeah.  To see if you make it through the ceremony without calving, I think, but bite it back without saying it.  A sibling spat as we walk up the aisle will not be edifying for the collected great and near-great.

"All you have to do is walk me up there and hand me over at the right centon.  Even you can’t get that wrong."

Wanna bet? as my lover might say.  Would say. 

I don’t think Athena has a nerve in her entire body.  She and Zac used to run me ragged when they were kids, absolutely fearless about everything and anything.  I spent most of my time risking my neck getting them out of scrapes.  Not this one, though.  This one she’s stuck with.  Not that she seems to mind, and Boomer will be good for her.  Whether she’ll be good for him remains, as they say, to be seen.

Still, when the priests throw open the doors at the back of the Chapel and we start down the aisle to the sound of the choir singing something high and ethereal, I begin to enjoy it.  I never did like lots of people looking at me, it’s true, but I concentrate on the fact it’s really Athena they’re looking at and I’m just a sort of appendage, like the bulge she’s carrying in front.  And I concentrate on our destination, where Starbuck, standing guard on Boomer as best man, is watching us, a smile on his face that I wish I’d put there. 

We get to the altar without incident, and Dad’s smiling at us, and I stop breathing almost until I can say that *Yes, I give this woman in marriage to this man, her family to his family, her home to his home, her hand to his hand*.  On cue, I put her hand in Boomer’s, late, as it is, for these sort of niceties, and step gratefully back into the first pew where Boxey’s waiting, almost bursting with the importance of being trusted to sit there by himself for the first half of the Sealing ceremony.

"You did okay," says my critical little son in a reassuring stage whisper that half the congregation must have heard. 

I put my arm around his shoulders and he snuggles up, watching the rest of the ceremony with interest.  I look around, catch a few glances and grins.  The Council’s seated immediately behind us, and Anton nods at me.  He’s looking old and frail, and it surprises me for a moment as I feel a sudden jolt of anxiety for him.  I’m pretty fond of that wicked old man and I don’t want to lose him.  Then he winks at me slowly and I grin back.  The frailty is just another pose, I think, to keep people from taking him too seriously.  He must be up to something on the Council again.  I really don’t want to know what. 

Eyes front again and watch the action at the altar.  Thenie’s making her vows in a calm and clear voice, Boomer’s mumbling through his.  The priests are gathered in ranks on each side of the altar, all watching me more or less covertly, and mostly reverently.  I hate this.  I hate their insane belief that I’ve been chosen by the Lords of Kobol, that I’m as religious and as holy an object as the Lords are.  I ignore them as best I can.

The Vicar General is at my father’s right hand side.  Cantor isn’t officiating, but his presence gives the proceedings a kind of legitimacy, I guess.  He rarely speaks to me these days.  We rarely meet.  I haven’t been in Chapel since the Midnight Watch held to remember the second anniversary of the Great Destruction, over six sectars ago, and if it hadn’t been for this Sealing, I wouldn’t have been in here for another six sectars and the next anniversary.  Cantor spends a lot of time out of the Chapel, Anton told me once, out amongst the people of the fleet.  Anywhere he goes is fine, as long as he doesn’t come looking for me.

For an instant our eyes meet, and he nods a cold acknowledgement, bowing his head, high priest acknowledging the Chosen One of the Lords of Kobol.  I don’t respond immediately, but take a micron to stare at the top of his head, to drive home to him who’s the Chosen One here.  He knows I haven’t responded to him yet, and exactly what I mean by it.  I can see his mouth tighten, the lips thinning unpleasantly.  That little bit of legend building on the part of His Eminence has backfired on him, I guess.  When he raises his head, we look at each other for long, measurable microns before I nod back, curtly.  If I could manage regal, I’d do it. 

He doesn’t like me.  I don’t like him.  An interesting position for the Lords’ Chosen One and the Lords’ priest.

But I don’t care about him now.  Instead I look at Starbuck, standing steady and calm beside Boomer, elegant and beautiful in his dress blues.  It suits him, makes his eyes a deeper, darker blue.  He carefully hands the rings to my father, and takes one step back. 

Dad blesses the rings, and Thenie and Boomer exchange them with their final vows.  Then Dad takes the great Kobolian star that normally hangs around his neck, its silver surface deeply incised with a stylised bow and flaming arrows; the symbol of our House, the House of Lord Aerion, the First Lord of Kobol.  That’s Lord Aerion the Heretic, a title that comforts me when Dad gets too religious for my taste.  I think I’d have liked Aerion.  We’d have a lot in common.

We all stand.  Thenie and Boomer stand hand in hand, and Dad wraps the chain around their wrists, pronouncing them Sealed in the sight of God, Lords and Man.  And it’s not the remembrance of holding Serina’s hand in mine and not the remembrance of feeling that cold chain binding us until death, the death that came within days, that makes my eyes sting suddenly.

Starbuck turns his head and looks at me, and smiles. 

That’s all it takes for me to know that what Boxey was angling for is what I want, too.  I’d give anything in the universe to feel that chain again, and Starbuck’s hand warm in mine. 

But it ain’t broke.  Don’t change an atom in case you break it, Apollo.  Leave it alone.

Leave well alone.

 

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

 

"Your problem is that you’re getting… how shall I put this, Apollo?  Sturdy.  That’s the word: sturdy.  After the party, you’re on a diet."

"I am not getting fat!"

"Did I say you’re getting fat?"  He’s all innocence, standing there watching me struggling into the pants he’s bought me to wear at the party.  "Didn’t I very carefully avoid saying that you’re getting fat?  Sturdy is what I said."

"And that’s right up there with chubby, or porky, or…"

"Stop fussing.  All I’m saying is that those pants would’ve fit perfectly when I bought them a few sectons ago."

"Maybe they shrank," I say, hopefully, trying not to think that my dress blues were a bit on the tight side, too.

"In the closet, all on their lonesome?  Besides, leather doesn’t shrink and they’re supposed to be tight.  And don’t even begin to speculate about wearing anything else.  You and me are going as a matching pair tonight.  Get into those pants."

"Am I being punished for something?"  I have to lie on my back on the bed and wriggle to get the pants on.  I take a deep breath and suck everything in – and I mean everything – so I can get the flies fastened.  And I’m being very, very careful while I do that.  It’s a potentially dangerous operation and I don’t want anything caught in the zipper that I might need to be in full working order, later.  I’m not wearing any shorts, you see.  Starbuck doesn’t want the look spoiled by what he calls visible panty lines.

Strewth.  Just as well I don’t want any more children.  A couple of centars in these pants will make sure of it.  I should tell Boomer about this next time he wants to avoid a big society Sealing.

"What *do* you get out of forcing me into these things?"

Starbuck smiles, and holds out his hand to pull me to my feet.  "Well, I’ll tell ya.  Just walk over to the door for me, Apollo."

I swear he got the wrong size.  I am not getting sturdy, and for that insult, he doesn’t deserve that I should do anything he asks for at least – oh, thirty microns.  So I wait at least two microns before I try walking, and try glowering at him instead.  He’s unrepentant, as usual, just standing there smiling at me, and he’s so beautiful that my heart melts and as usual, I give in and do as he says.  The leather pants are so tight that I can’t really walk.  I can only sort of slink. 

Oh.  I get it.

"That’s what I get out of forcing you into the pants.  Visual stimulation of the sexual kind.  Watching that cute little arse of yours in that sexy black leather is worth any amount of discomfort on your part."  Starbuck’s eyes are gleaming.  He laughs at the glower I give him for his lack of consideration.  "Come on!  It’s making me as horny as all hell and you’ll be turning heads all night.  Have you any idea how many men will want inside those pants with you?  That is the real, the original, the one-and-only, the genuine Pleasure Boy Prowl."

I laugh at that and practice walking a bit more.  It feels good, I say.  The leather’s supple and now it’s warming up, it’s sensuous and sexy.  But I’m at least ten yahrens too old to be a Pleasure Boy, and I tell him I never heard of Pleasure-middle-aged-men.

"You’re young and you’re beautiful," he says flatly.  He sighs.  "What I wouldn’t have given to be able to seduce you when you were twenty, though.  I’m trying to imagine you then.  I bet you were so innocent you shone in the dark."

"No virgin though," I say, stung a little by this, although God knows at twenty I had just and only once shed the virgin status.

"Girls don’t count.  And a one-time fumble that didn’t go all the way with a randy Museum Curator in a tent on an archaeological dig, doesn’t count either."  He dismisses the argument with a derision that makes me regret telling him my entire sexual history.  Not that it took long, mind you.  "And Cole didn’t get you until you were twenty-four.  No, Apollo.  No matter what way you cut it, at twenty you were a virgin in the only way that matters to me and I wish I’d been there to do something about it."

He pours himself into his matching pants.  I can see what he means about visual stimulation.  That is one lovely sight, and I’m stimulated on the spot.  He slinks over to me and takes me into his arms, our leather-covered groins rubbing together and his hands rubbing over my backside.  I’m hard instantly.

"Hey, careful, Starbuck," I say when I get my mouth back from his kiss.  "There’s not much room for expansion in these things."  It’s a bit uncomfortable, actually, with my hard cock straining against the leather.

"It’ll keep you hot," he says.

I’ll say.  And do.

He laughs and kisses down the side of my neck, down over my shoulder and sucks hard on my left nipple, biting at it gently.  The leather over my arse is so supple and thin, it’s like his hands are moving over it bare and I can feel their heat.  All of a sudden I really don’t want to go to the party.  I mean, I *really* don’t want to go.

"Wish we could stay at home," he says, reading my mind. 

"Me too, but you want to die?  Thenie would kill us for not turning up."  I kiss him again, diving in deep and then pull away reluctantly.  "Shuttle leaves in fifteen centons.  What else did you sneak in for me to wear?"

Starbuck laughs and goes to get the emerald green silk shirt that goes with the pants.  It feels very soft against the nipple he’s just abused and I really wish we could stay at home.  I *really*, really… oh well, there’s no point in going down that route.  So I admire the shirt instead and he’s smug about his good taste.  It’s a nice shirt.  The waist’s fitted and short, so I don’t need to tuck it in and spoil the tight smooth fit of the pants.  His shirt’s blue. 

"I’d say we look pretty good," is Starbuck’s verdict.

"I’d say we look like a couple of gay men on the make.  Best cruising gear I’ve seen in a long time."  I try to sound stern.  "And I want to know where you got to meet those Pleasure Boys."

"Ah, but I led a very sinful life before you turned me to the path of virtue."  He kisses me again, takes my hand and we go out into the main room to get Boxey.

He stares at us.  "Where’s my Dad?"  he demands.

"Oh very funny," I say.

"I mean it!  Where’s my Dad?  You’re not my Dad!  You’re not in uniform."

I look at Starbuck, who grins.   "Very, very funny."

"Out of the mouth of babes," says Starbuck, the Devil quoting the Book for his own ends.  He and Boxey grin at each other.  "What do you think?"

"Pretty smart," Boxey says.  "Even Dad."

"Yeah.  He’s really very pretty," Starbuck agrees, and Boxey pulls one of his anti-soppy faces, making heaving noises.

"Thank you," I say, acidly.  "Shuttle.  Now!"

They both salute, mocking, and we get out of there fast.  We only just make it, and scramble onto the shuttle with the rest of the wedding party just before they close up the doors.

Dad raises a very sardonic eyebrow at my party clothes. 

"Starbuck’s choice, I imagine," he says, sounding so much like me when I’m doing my Boxey-morning-ritual-bang-on-impersonation that my son collapses into helpless giggles.  Dad’s about as impressed by the incoherent explanation as he is by Starbuck’s fashion sense.

I think I know what’s bothering him.  I wasn’t joking when I told Starbuck we looked like two gay men on the prowl tonight.  We do, and I’m not usually this open and obvious about what I am.  Although Starbuck and me live together openly as a couple, we’ve always been pretty discreet in public.  We save the kisses and the hand-holding for our bedroom.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ashamed of what I am.  It took me a long time to leave the closet and tell the old man and the rest of the world that I swing both ways, if predominantly swinging in Starbuck’s direction, but it’s not shyness or caution that keeps me discreet now I’m out.  Boxey does, though.  He has enough to cope with at school with being the son of the man who has the route to Earth imprinted in his head, without me queening it all over the Galactica as well.

Besides, that’s just not me.  I love Starbuck pounding me into the mattress and I prefer sex with Starbuck to anyone in the known or unknown cosmos, but I don’t think I’ve any less testosterone than, Drake, say.  Actually, I’m pretty sure I’ve got more than him and quite a few others I could name.  I still find women attractive.  It’s just that there’s no-one as attractive as Starbuck.  He’s the one who gets my testosterone in a tizzy.

I manage to get my tizzy-fied testosterone into a seat, although sitting down brings new, and interesting, pressures to bear from the tightness of the pants, and I can feel my face getting hot.  Boxey scrambles into the seat across the aisle, beside his grandfather, and Starbuck squeezes in beside me.  Having his leather-clad thigh pressed so close to mine doesn’t do me any good at all, and I have to practice a great deal of self control.  A very great deal.  Oh, but this is going to be a long evening until I can get him home and into bed.  It’s not helped any by the way he constantly runs his hand, ever so absent-mindedly of course, along my leg where the leather tightens.  A few other things tighten as well and my face really burns.

All in all, I’m quite relieved when we arrive on the Rising Star and head off to party.  Starbuck’s at a safer distance, with Boxey between us, holding onto both our hands and swinging his arms with sheer excitement.  I’m glad that he’s staying with Dad tonight.  Too much excitement and too much rich food spells disaster, and I want an uninterrupted night with my favourite lover.  Besides, Dad could do with the experience of holding a small boy over the turboflush.  I don’t remember that he was ever there to do it for me.

"Wow," says Boxey, when he sees the decorations, and I agree with him.  Maybe not for the same reasons, mind.  I’m a bit old for this much bunting and flags and fairy lights, but Boxey’s enchanted.

So is Thenie.  It’s her day after all, and she’s making the most of it.  I think she must have insisted on Dad hiring the Star’s entire entertainment area.  Everyone’s here.  All of the Council, every warrior who’s not on patrol or picket or in the ready room, every off duty bridge crew member, captains and crew from all over the fleet, even a load of civilians. 

The civilians, and even some of the captains and crew all stare at me a lot, and despite Starbuck’s confident predictions, I don’t think it’s the pulling power of these tight pants inflicting them with unquenchable lust.  Their attitude is more about reverence and curiosity, and I can really do without it.  This whole stupid situation is all thanks to bloody Cantor.  He’s sitting off to one side with a group of priests around him.  He ignores me.  I ignore him.  It works for both of us.

I get diverted because I see that Cassie’s here with Bojay, and that’s a new one on me.  Bojay has an arm around her waist, and his other hand is fingering her long blonde curls with a familiarity that has my eyes narrowing.  I look at Starbuck and nod in their direction.  He nods back to confirm that he’s got them on his radar.  Starbuck’s a talented gossip, the best I know, and he’ll get all the juicy details to relay to me later.  Cass might tell him what she definitely won’t tell me.  She found me and Starbuck very hard to take at first, but she’s reasonably okay about it now.  She doesn’t like me, mind, but in that she’s part of a growing crowd.  Whatever she thinks, however sore she is over Starbuck, at least she doesn’t say anything out loud.  Not like Sheba.

Boj has improved since we last hit the Cylons.  I said some pretty hard words to the Pegasus people, and I think that in his heart he didn’t have anything to counter what I’d said.  He was pretty subdued for a while, but much more co-operative, and he was instrumental in helping get the Pegasus squadrons better integrated. 

He was delighted when it became clear that me and Starbuck were an item.  The poor sap thought it gave him a clear run to Sheba, and half – more than half – of his hostility had come from jealousy of her single minded pursuit of me.  The delight didn’t last long.  She gave him a fling, I think, if the gossip (ie, Starbuck) was right – and he usually is.  His sources are impeccable – before starting to work her way through the Galactica’s entire male personnel cadre.  He was pretty hurt by that, and it loosened the ties some more.  I think that’s what decided him to cut his losses and throw in with the Galactica.  I wonder, sometimes, if he realises that by integrating the Pegasus people and loosening the influence Cain had on them, he’s getting his revenge on Cain’s daughter.  Maybe, maybe not.  He’s not that subtle, but he’s not so bad, really.

Sheba’s here with Drake.  Dad wasn’t entirely pleased when Thenie invited her, but kept his objections to a short grouse to me about it.  She’s still Cain’s daughter and he finds it hard to forget that.  I guess that our talk the other day won’t stop her saying something snide and cutting if the chance comes up.  I shrug it all away.  Who cares?  I’m one hell of a lot happier than she is.  So I just smile when we all meet at the bar much later in the evening: me, Bojay and Sheba.

"I don’t think I’ve ever seen you out of uniform before," Bojay says, a grin on his face.

"Of course you have!"

"Yeah, but maybe not *this* far out." He sniggers, but there’s no malice in it.  "If I wasn’t with Cassie, I might give you a whirl on the dance floor myself."

"He’s mine," Starbuck says, a possessive hand on my waist.  I hadn’t heard him come up behind us and I jump slightly.  He’s not normally this tactile in public.  It has to be to rile Sheba.  Well, it works.

"Besides," Sheba says, with a sweet smile.  "Cassie’s lost quite enough men to Apollo."

Ouch.  I mean, I do feel a bit guilty about hurting Cassie.  Sheba knows it.

Starbuck puts his head on one side, considering.  "I’d say about six out of ten for that one, Sheba," he says pleasantly.  "Good, but not one of your best.  But I guess it makes up in spite what it misses in accuracy."

She just sniffs.  She can rarely bring herself to talk to him.  She hates him more than she hates me, I think, blaming him for what she seems to think is her humiliation at my hands.

Boj gives her an impatient look, and half turns to get his back to her.  "Stick around, Captain.  And maybe I will have that dance."  It’s probably the nearest he can bring himself to snub her entirely.  Old allegiances do die hard.

"I’ll be around.  Of course, you might have to get in the queue."  I take the bottle of wine the bartender is holding out to me.  "Catch up with you later."

He nods, grinning, and me and Starbuck slink away without saying anything else to Sheba.  Starbuck keeps his hand on the small of my back and I’m very conscious of the warmth from it.  I love the way he touches me like this.  It doesn’t have to be in any sexual sense, like when we’re making love, but this casual, gentle touch means so much to me, a kind of affirmation that he loves me and there’s an intimacy and easiness about it, a lack of tension, that reassures me.

"You’re flirting," he says, disapproving.

"You’re the one who wanted me in these pants," I say.  "And you wanted other men to find them a turn on."

"Yeah, so they could seethe with envy because you’re mine!"

"I don’t see much seething," I say.

"Believe me, there’s seething."  He sounds complacent.  "And quite a lot of drooling.  But Bojay!  Apollo, I expect better of you than that!"

"You’ll get it," I promise.  "But first…"  We’ve reached the table of honour, and I hand Dad the bottle.  "Back soon," I say to him.  "I want a dance with Starbuck."

"Yuck."  Boxey wakes up enough to pull a grimace that will suit him if his face sticks in it.  "Soppy."

"Just you wait, kid," Starbuck says.  "It’ll come to you yet."

"Please God, not for about twenty yahrens," my father prays piously.

I take Starbuck out onto the dance floor.  They’re playing a nice slow song over the sound system, a love song, and he takes me in his arms to move slowly around.  Boomer and Athena are dancing a few feet away from us.  Boomer looks a lot more like his usual self now that the worst’s over.  Ha!  Wait until he’s been married to Thenie for a few sectars.  Then he’ll know worst.

Starbuck’s humming along with the tune.  He smiles at me, and I let him take the lead, clasping my hands at the back of his neck and caressing the soft skin there with my fingers.  He shivers slightly, arching his neck into my touch, his hands moving in gentle strokes on the small of my back, warm through the silk. 

The song changes, but still a love song, still achingly sweet.  Safe in your arms.  I love this song.  I’ve never told him that, but this song says it for me.  It’s my favourite song, ever.

"Good.  He didn’t forget,"  Starbuck says, satisfied.

"Who didn’t forget what?"

"The DJ.  I told him that when he saw us dancing, he was to play this one for you."  Starbuck smiles at me, and I realise the sheer futility of trying to hide from him.  "You like this one."

"Yeah,"  I say, smiling back.

He nods.  "Thought so."

For a micron or two we’re quiet, circling slowly, with him holding me close and safe.  I lean in a little closer, wanting him so badly that I’m aching with it.

This is about as overt as we’ve ever got, not hiding our relationship in public, openly and obviously lovers for everyone to see.  In him, I’ve got something to live for, and it’s good to be holding him this close, not hiding what I feel for him because of duty and honour and decorum.  Seeing me dance like this with the man I love might just remind those bigots out there – and yes, I am thinking about the vultures at the priestly and religious table who’re watching me with shocked disapproval – that two men can fall in love, get sentimental and romantic, just like everyone else.

He grins at me when I say, "I love you, Starbuck."

"I know," he says, smug about it. 

He pulls me a bit closer and almost, but not quite, kisses me.  His lips brush my hair, instead, and it’s very sentimental and romantic and I’m happy.  We dance in silence for a little while, moving to the music, close and together.

"It must be about getting time for the speeches," Starbuck says in my ear as the song fades into a micron’s silence before the next starts up. 

I sigh, because the moment’s gone and broken, fading as the song fades.  Of course, there’ll be other moments, but I’m so very happy that I never want this one to end.  "I’d say so, the way the old man was ruffling through those closely printed pages."

"Then it’s time for Plan B."

"Plan B?"

"Well, Plan A was getting you into this gear.  Plan B is getting you out of it.  This is where I whisk you off to the turboflushes for some very, very hot sex.  They should have finished pontificating by the time we get back."

"And if they haven’t?"

He shrugs.  "The post-coital glow means I’ll be too happy to care."

"Always the ulterior motive.  And here’s me thinking you want me for myself, not just as an excuse to avoid listening to my Dad."

"You want to stay?" he demands.

"Like hell.  Lead on, Starbuck."  I let him dance us towards the edge of the crowd.  "But couldn’t you have got us a room?"

"I tried, but this place is packed.  You’ll have to settle for some al fresco sex with the added excitement of wondering if someone’s going to walk in on us."

"Okay," I say, thinking that the drink I’ve had this evening is making me a bit reckless.  Reckless enough to hold onto his hand as we slip away, not caring if anyone sees us. 

Most of them do. 

Dad looks long-suffering and rather stern, and sends a significant glance to Boxey, curled up half asleep beside him.  I ignore that.  Dad’s more than capable if looking after my son for a few centons and, after all, Athena has every intention of exploiting his grandchild-sitting capacity to the full over the coming yahrens.  He could do with the practice.

Boomer gives me the thumb’s-up, his face content and smiling as he holds Thenie close.  Well, as close as he can get with their child between them.  I’m glad she’s found someone as steady and trainable as he is.  Boomer says something to her and she turns her head to look at me.  She’s loosened her hair from the chains, and it’s floating free down her back.  She’s really very pretty, my sister, and despite the fact we spend our time in almost constant squabbling, she’s very dear to me.  I want her to be happy.  She looks happy and smiles at me, in marked contrast to the glowering face I can see beyond her.  On the other side of the dance floor, Cantor looks decidedly disapproving, and I look right back at him, keeping my face expressionless as I can.  Then I turn away from him and everything he stands for, and smile again at Thenie as Starbuck tugs me away.

Anton’s talking to Joel, and he reaches out a hand to brush my hair as Starbuck and me go past; not to stop me, but just because he’s fond of me, I think, and he shows his affection for me easily.  He treats me as if I’m his grandson, and I know that I’ve replaced, as far as anyone can, the family he lost on Taxos.  He probably has a very good idea of what I intend to do with Starbuck, and all he does is smile, indulgent.  Joel clocks the fact I’m holding Starbuck’s hand, and grimaces, but I don’t think he’ll say anything in front of Anton. 

Cassie sees us, says something to Bojay, who grins at me and raises his glass.  Beyond him, Sheba stares at me.  She looks unhappy, discontented, brooding again.  She looks down so that her hair falls over her face to hide it, and turns back to Drake as if Starbuck and I don’t exist.  That’s one very unhappy girl.

But me, I’m very happy.

I don’t care that they all see me slipping into the shadows, holding hands with my lover. 

I don’t care if they all guess why I’m slipping into the shadows, holding hands with my lover.

Come to think of it, I don’t care if anyone walks in on us, either.

 

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*

 

This isn’t the main turboflush on the entertainment level.  This is a smaller, two cubicle flush, a level down and tucked away into a quiet part of the deck where few people seem to come.

Well, there’s alfresco sex with the added spice of the risk of discovery and then there’s alfresco sex in the main flushes, which takes the risk of discovery into a new dimension.  They’re packed.  No chance of a cubicle to ourselves, and even if there was, says Starbuck, given the amount of noise I make, it’s a racing certainty of being discovered before we even get started.  He knows a place, he tells me, and brings me down here. 

It’s quiet and shadowy and it’s obvious not many people use this place even for more lawful purposes.  Starbuck fixes the door so no-one can get in – "I pay attention when Boomer’s giving lock picking demonstrations.  I just reversed the process," he says when I’m suitably admiring of his skills, reminding me that Boomer’s past isn’t quite as responsible as Thenie will make sure his future’s going to be – and turns towards me.

I’m waiting.  Oh man, am I waiting.  I run my hands down over my hips and thighs, enjoying the smoothness of tight leather, and grin at him. 

Two steps and he’s got me backed up against the wall, his hands all over the pants where they stretch over my arse, and his mouth on mine.  Now call me old fashioned, but being backed into a urinal isn’t usually my idea of romantic, but somehow when he’s kissing me, I find I don’t mind at all.  I’ve come to pretty poor pass, that’s all I can say.  Standards slipping in all directions.  Especially down.  Oh boy, are they slipping down.

His hands are rubbing over the front of my pants now, making me gasp and cry out into his mouth where it’s still pressed on mine.  His tongue is hot and demanding, running over my teeth before pushing past to lick against mine.

"What do you want, Apollo?"  he asks, bringing those wicked fingers up under my shirt to tease my nipples.  I’ve got both my hands on his backside, pulling him in close so that I can rub my cock against his through the thin leather.

"You.  In me."  It’s hard to talk when you’re kissing him as hard as I am.  I bring one hand up to thread my fingers through his hair and pull his mouth in closer.  I love his hair.

Lube.  Shit, we don’t have any lube.  There’s no way you could get a flat ten cubit note into the pockets of these pants, much less something as obvious as a tube of lube.

Oh hell, I don’t care.  We’ll manage with spit and water from the hand basin.

He pulls away from me, making me complain at the loss, and laughs at the frustrated moaning I’m making.  "Hold on."

"That’s what I expect you to do," I say, and have to touch myself through the leather so he’s under no illusion about what I expect him to hold on to.

He chuckles and watches me for a micron or two, his eyes slitting.  "Man, that’s one hot sight.  Just keep yourself on the boil.  I’ll be right back."

He opens the door to one of the cubicles and reaches inside.  I watch from the door, wondering what he’s up to.  He reaches in behind the cistern.

"Oh good.  Still here," he says.  There’s a tearing sound, and he turns around with a small tube in his hand, ducting tape hanging from it.

I stare.  Okay, I know I look stupid with my mouth hanging open, but I can’t help it.

"How the hell?"

"I put it there, you idiot," he says.  "Last secton when we were over here, I asked about a room for tonight.  When they told me they were full – something to do with some big Society Sealing, apparently – I remembered this place."

Starbuck does smug so well that sometimes I’m tempted to smack him upside the head.  Of course, when he’s smug about us being able to make some very hot love, I’m a bit more tolerant.

"I knew I was going to get you into those clothes and we wouldn’t be able to carry any supplies with us.  So I did a little planning.  You know, they never should have drummed me outa the boy scouts."

"They wouldn’t have, if you hadn’t seduced your scout master," I say.

He sighs.  "Dishonourable discharge.  I’ve had to bear so much rejection in life, it’s painful.  It was very painful standing in front of the troops while they ceremoniously cut off my badges."

He makes an exaggerated, suggestive wince, and I laugh, then say, accusingly,  "You’ve been in here before."

"Yeah."

"And used it for nefarious and unnatural practices."

He grins, unrepentant.  "Oh yeah.  Oh very yeah."

"Who and when?" I want to know.

He looks virtuous.  "What I got up to and who I got up to it with when I was a single man, is a secret between me and my trophy list."

"With one of those Pleasure Boys you’re so well acquainted with?"

"Don’t be snippy.  A gentleman never tells."

"A gentleman wouldn’t stash lube in seedy turboflushes."

He laughs at that and twirls the little tube of heaven in his fingers.  "So you don’t want to use it?"

"C’m'ere."  I lick my lips, putting on one hand to catch him by the front of the shirt that’s the same blue as his eyes, and pulling him towards me.  "C’m’ere and dare to suggest that I don’t want it."

He comes with me back out into the wash area, where there’s more room, the lube in his hand, nice and ready.  "Now," he says.  "Where were we?"

So I start kissing him to remind him exactly where we were, and my cock’s so hard against these bloody pants that it hurts, and his hands are on me again, caressing me through silk and leather.  I love a pervert, I realise, a silk and leather fetishist; and just give myself up to it.  Too late to worry about it now.  I’m a lost man.

The relief when he undoes my pants has me gasping, and my cock springs up, ready and hard.  He slides his hands in and down over my arse, running them down the crevice between my cheeks, kissing me all the while so hard that I can barely breathe and my lips feel all puffy and swollen. 

He eases the pants down over my hips with one hand, pushing the shirt up with the other so he can lick and kiss at my nipples.  I’m busy getting him undone too, but not too busy not to enjoy what’s he’s doing.  Believe me, I enjoy it.  A lot.

It’ll have to be hard and fast.  We can’t really spend too much time down here, not with our family and friends only a deck away.  Given who I am, unfortunately, I’ll be missed.  Starbuck reckons sometimes that he’s not living with a person, but with a set of social and military and familial obligations that just happen to look like a person.  Sometimes I agree with him, like now, and regret it as much as he does.  Those obligations mean there’s no time for the long slow lovemaking we both love so much.

I spend a few centons pumping him with one hand while he kisses me, the other still tangled in his hair, then he gently turns me to face the wall.  I brace myself on my outstretched hands, and straddle my legs as well as these blasted pants will let me. 

"It’ll be cold," he says, breath warm on my neck as he snuggles up behind me.

He’s not kidding.  His finger is slick with lube as he pushes into me, but the lube *is* cold and I shudder, half with reaction, half with delighted anticipation.  But as he moves his finger inside me, it grows hot with the friction and in a centon or two I’m moaning and moving my body on his hand, fucking myself on his finger and begging him for more, gasping each time his finger touches my prostate.  Two fingers now, scissoring and twisting in my arse, spreading the tight little opening, getting me ready.  He pulls the fingers away.

"Hey!"  I complain, softly.  I was enjoying that.

"Don’t worry," he says, kissing the back of my neck.  "What you want, is what you’re about to get."

The blunt flared head of his cock teases me.  He nudges it at my opening, then lets it slide against the slippery skin he’s lubricated with his fingers, and slides it back to the opening again.  I moan and push back.

"What do you want, Apollo?"

"All of it," I say.  "All of it.  Right now, Starbuck, or I’ll come on my own."

He laughs, and this time he presses his cock home, the head breaching me.  I throw my head back and gasp at the burn as he pushes into me.  Oh God, that’s good.  Oh God, that’s so good... 

"Hard," I say.

He takes me by the waist, pulls back until only the tip is still inside me, pauses, then pushes all the way in, in one smooth long thrust.

God!  It’s splitting me in half and it hurts so good, so good…  I take one hand away from the wall as he helps support me, and get the other onto my cock.  Precum’s leaking from the tip.

"Yeah," he says, approvingly, getting one hand over mine. 

We pump it together as he starts to move in me, pulling out almost all the way and slamming back in hard, so hard that I get lifted up slightly onto the balls of my feet on each thrust, my heels leaving the floor.  He loves this, helping me masturbate while he fucks me.  And I do, too.  It’s so gloriously sexy and intimate, and I love the feel of his hand on mine as I do it.

He’s moving faster now, and hard, really ramming home on every stroke, giving me what I want tonight.  Tonight I don’t want a long slow loving.  Tonight I just want to be taken.

Every thrust lands on my prostate, sending fire through every neurone I have.  It won’t be long.  It won’t be long.  And then I’m shouting his name as waves of bliss wash over me, my skin on fire with pleasure as I come, spurting all over my hand and his.  He’s an instant behind me, slamming home a couple of times more before he’s pushing in as hard and as far as he can go, holding himself rigid against my back, gasping as he floods me with heat.

And he tells me he loves me, calling my name, and telling me he loves me so much, so very much…

Safe in these arms.

That’s where I want to be.

 

*^**^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

I’m still shaking.  He’s turned me gently and taken me into his arms, holding me close and safe, like he’ll never let me go.  He’s trembling too, kissing my face and my hair, telling me he loves me, the little kisses gentle and soothing, calming me down.

I love the first few moments after we’ve come together.  That’s when all the passion condenses itself down, reduced to need.  That’s when all the desire reveals itself as love.  I tell him that, shakily, as he holds me and caresses me.  He kisses me, and tells me that I’m such a romantic and that he loves me so much.

"Good job Boxey’s not here," he says.

I’ll say.  The pants are about our ankles, and Starbuck’s jizz is running down the back of my legs, and we both look very well fucked.  Not an edifying sight for a child of tender yahrens.

"I meant, that with his built-in, state-of-the-art anti-soppiness targeting array, he’d have an easy mark with us."

Us.  Starbuck likes to pretend he’s not sentimental and romantic, but I know better.

"Happy?" he says now.

I nod, and we kiss again for a few centons, tired and satisfied kisses.  After a little while he pulls away.

"I’ll put this back.  We may need it later."  He smirks when he says it, and pulls up his pants.  He fixes the half-empty tube back into its hiding place, carefully smoothing out the ducting tape to secure it into place.

I hobble into the next door cubicle and clean myself up a bit.  "Hey!"

"I’m right here, Apollo," he says. 

"How in Hades am I going to get back into these pants?"

He sniggers.  "You’ll have to persevere, and hope that the exercise you just got sweated off a few ounces."  He watches my struggles for a micron, then comes to help.  He stands very close behind me and grabs the waistband, ready to tug hard.  "And breathe in…"

It works.  I manage to get the pants fastened again and rub my backside against his groin, in thanks.  And to tease, of course.

That works too.

"Take them off," he says, groaning.

"Can’t."  I’m regretful.  Very regretful.  "We can’t stay down here.  We’ve got to get back."  I look at him and shake my head.  "You are far too old to pout, Starbuck."

He makes his lips pout bigger and I desperately want to kiss him senseless.  "Can we come back later and do it again?" he asks, and makes the bottom lip tremble, his eyes bright and wicked.

"I’m counting on it."  I say, and reach for him.

A few more kisses to placate him, and then we’re ready to face the outside world again.  As long as the outside world keeps its eyes firmly away from the bulging groin area, anyway.  These pants leave very little indeed to the imagination.

Starbuck undoes the door and we step out into the corridor.  It’s as shadowy as the turboflush was.  I slip my hand into his as we walk along.

"Why’s it so quiet down here?"  I ask him.  "I don’t think I’ve ever been on this level."

"This is the service level.  All the kitchens and storerooms are down here.  Only the staff come here, and at this time of night they’ll mostly be on the main entertainment floor pandering to the guests."  He grins at me.  "The only other people who come here are hot men with an itch to scratch, of course.  You feeling well scratched, Apollo?"

"Couldn’t be scratched better.  You shouldn’t sing love songs to me as we dance," I say sadly.  "I fall for that every time."

"Romantic!"  he jeers, the grip of his hand tightening.

We step around the corner, heading for the turbolifts.  He has to be, at most, half a step ahead of me, but that’s all it needs for him to take the brunt of it when the world explodes into a brilliant white light.

He goes down without a sound, flung backwards by the impact and knocking me off my feet.  I get caught in the backwash, enough for it to hurt beyond anything that ever hurt before, and to leave me helpless and gasping, unable to move.

A laser stun bolt. 

That’s all it is.  A stun bolt, not meant to kill.  Meant to disable, not kill.  I know it, but there’s nothing that I can do with the knowledge.  I’m cut off inside my own head, aware of what’s going on but totally unable to do anything, to have any command over my body. 

This has that strange feeling of drunkenly inhabiting a body that doesn’t really belong to you anymore; a body that the alcohol controls, not you.  The few times I’ve been really drunk, I always knew it.  I was always locked away, helplessly watching my body do things, my mouth say things, that I had no control over.  This is the same.  Every synapse has been fried.  Nothing works.  I can only lie here.  I can’t move, not even my eyes.  Everything I’ve got’s concentrating on dragging air into my lungs.

The world’s dark and quiet again, fallen back into dim shadows after that brilliant white flash.  There’s only a faint light.  I can hear myself breathe, harsh and ragged, and there’s someone else close by.  I can hear them breathing too, loudly, like they’re frightened or excited.  But I can’t move my head to look.  All I can do is stare in front of me, as my vision slowly clears.

I’m convulsing slightly now, arms and legs trembling.  I can’t help it, can’t control it.  Starbuck’s still as stone, like he’s been paralysed by the bolt.  He took most of it.  And he could be in trouble, real trouble if he can’t move enough even to breathe.  I can’t hear him breathing.

All I can see of Starbuck is his hand, a few inches away from my eyes.  The fingers are limp and curled, the way they curl when he’s asleep and dreaming beside me, relaxed and sated.  I can see it glowing golden with that sheen that always underlines his fair skin; see a short, neatly pared nail with its white crescent.  There’s the scar he got playing Triad four yahrens ago, when the game got dirty and he blocked a punch that would’ve floored me but good; a little band of white across one golden knuckle, a small indication of how he’s always looked out for me.

His hand fills the universe.

There’s the swish of a long skirt, the sharp sound of heels.  A narrow foot in a pointed shoe kicks Starbuck’s hand out of the way as she comes close to me, the shoes filling my vision now.  Pretty shoes; party shoes; the crystal buckles catching the faint light coming from over by the turbolifts.

"Good shot," a man says, voice accented.

He must have come up on us on silent feet, soft boots muffling his steps.

She says nothing, but I can smell her perfume as she bends down over me.  Her long hair touches the side of my face, a faint tickle, like the travesty of a caress.  The sting of a hypo in my neck, and the terrible pressure in my chest eases.

"The hypo I gave you?"  he asks.

"Yes."  Her voice is low and throaty. 

I almost recognise it.  Almost.  Not quite.

I know her.  I know her, and she doesn’t want me to realise it.

Pretty dress, pretty shoes: someone from the party.  Someone I know, with long hair that had touched my face in that mockery of a caress.  I think of all the long haired women I know.  Could be anyone.  Sheba?  Cassie?  Bree?  Gillian?  Not Thenie, anyway.

"Is the other one dead?"

"No."  Her tone’s curt.

He grunts something that could be approval, or resignation, or indifference.  When he speaks his accented voice betrays that Standard isn’t his first language.  He speaks in with an almost archaic formality.  "We had better be quick.  We have very little time before the shuttle goes and we have still to get him into the crate.  You will follow?"

Her skirt swirls slightly as she straightens.  "Yes," she says, still in that throaty whisper.  "As soon as I can."

"Good," he says, and she moves away, her heels tapping sharply against the floor as she heads for the turbolifts.  The man says something, softly scornful, in a language I don’t know.  Not Standard.  Gemonese, maybe, or Sagittarian; they always sound pretty alike to me.  Another man laughs.

I can see Starbuck again, but he’s moving.  Not by himself.  A bulky man leans down and is dragging him away, deeper into the shadows.  His hand trailing on the deck is the last I see of him.

Someone takes me by the shoulders and rolls me onto my back.  I flop over, like all my bones have melted out.  I can hear a soft whimpering now.  It’s me, I think.  I can’t help it.  My throat’s so constricted I can barely get the air past it.  I hate this helpless awareness, being aware and lucid only in my head, and powerless to help myself or Starbuck.  I need to get to Starbuck.  But I can’t move, can’t struggle.  I hate being this vulnerable, this feeble, this *bloody* helpless. 

A man stoops over me, the same bulky, darker shape against the shadow that I saw dragging Starbuck away, and gets his hands under my arms.  The second man’s at my feet.  The lurch when they pick me up almost makes me sick, and I close my eyes, drifting away for a little while.  Only a few centons, I think, before I open my eyes. 

We’re in one of the turbolifts, and they have me held upright between them now, holding me up.  My knees keep buckling under me when everything gets dizzy, and each time I almost fall, their hold on me tightens and they pull me up again.  I’ve got a hand clutching at the tunic of one of them, fingers tight in the harsh, plain linen, holding on to the rough cloth as my only reality in the murky giddiness that washes over me every few microns.

I try to say something, but it’s still like I’m drunk.  I’m not even sure if any sound comes out.  If it does, it’s thick and garbled, like talking through treacle. 

"Starbuck?"

I want him.  How I want him.  I want him to be safe.

One says something to the other, then in that accented Standard in formal and slightly archaic language, his voice curiously soft and respectful:  "Do not fear, Kinan.  We are taking you to a place of safety.  For your soul’s sake."

Kinan? 

For my soul’s sake?

Kinan? 

Oh shit!  Not that.

I manage to pull back from the man whose tunic I’m clutching like it’s a lifeline.  He winces slightly as I pull on the tunic, but stands stoically, still supporting me.  They’re both dressed in linen: full sleeved shirts, laced at the throat, and wide pants tucked into soft, knee-high black boots.  The linen’s plain and unadorned, dyed cream.  Both men are clean shaven, faces painted with streaks of red on each cheek, slashes of red, like blood.

Otori.

I don’t think I’ve seen an Otori since just after the Destruction, when we rescued Cassie from that Gemonese freighter.  They’d been about ready to space her – "She should be jettisoned with the dead", one Otori woman had spat at us - their religious sensibilities outraged by the survival of a socialator.  The Otori.  A secretive sect that even the other Gemonese had little to do with and knew even less about, and who barely recognised, in turn, any secular government.

Otori.

Bloody hell, am I in trouble.

I try again.  "Starbuck" 

The man says nothing to me this time, just shakes his head.  He looks over my head.

"Hold him, Liu."

He takes his hands away from me and almost instantly I sag towards him, unable to stay upright, held up only by the second man.  He gets a plain linen cloak around me, hiding the bright clothes that Starbuck bought me.

Oh shit.  Oh shit.  Starbuck.

The other man pulls my head back, gently, and the man who’d spoken to me takes a small earthenware pot out of his pocket.  He dips his fingers into it and then runs his fingertips quickly over my face, in a diagonal line that follows the shape of my cheekbones.

He nods, and puts the paint away.  "Now, if anyone sees us, all they will see are two Otori helping a sick comrade.  I do not think that you can speak yet, Kinan, but if anyone approaches, you would be as well to remain silent."

Kinan? 

I’m not the Kinan. 

He gets a hand under my arm again and pulls me back upright.  My head falls onto his shoulder and I close my eyes again, too tired to keep them open.  He stiffens slightly, then I can feel him laughing silently.

"I am honoured, Kinan.  We live but to serve."

The turboflush doors open, and they get me out.  I’m half-dragged, half walking, and with an exclamation of displeasure, the man who’s been talking to me lifts me up with his friend’s help, to carry me in his arms.  He staggers a little under my weight, but we make faster progress.

A door opens into a vaster space, sounds magnified and echoing.  There’s the sound of activity, of machines and voices.

"Over here," someone calls.

I know that voice.  Bloody hell.  Now I really am in trouble.

It’s my favourite priest.

We veer over in the direction of Cantor’s voice, and I try to get my eyes to open, but everything’s so very far away and I want to sleep so badly.  It’s all too hard.

"Any trouble?"  Cantor asks.

"None," the man says.  "She did well."

"She should.  She’s well enough trained," Cantor sniffs.  "And her price, shall we say, is one that it amuses me to pay."

"The monitors?"  The man asks quietly as I’m laid down on something.  No.  In something.

"Taken care of.  We are unobserved." 

I get my eyes to open at last.  Cantor’s bending over me, bringing his face in close.  He smiles when he sees that I’m looking at him. 

"Don’t worry, my son.  Our friends here won’t do you any harm.  They think far too much of you for that.  I know you’ll be wondering what this is all about, but at the moment all I’ll say is that in the next few sectons you and I are going to redefine our relationship.  You have a task to do, and we will help you remember your duty and do it."  He draws back and speaks to someone else.  "Get him well under, please.  I don’t want him waking up and panicking on the way over."

I manage to turn my head to one side, to stop looking at him, and stare at the place I’m in.  The Rising Star’s freight deck is almost deserted except for Cantor, a woman and the two Otori men who brought me here.  In the distance a conveyer belt moves on automatic, taking crates out through a port into the shuttle that’ll be parked on the flightdeck beyond, its mechanistic rumbling the only other sound in here.  I watch idly as a crate moves slowly along the belt and disappears through the port.  That’s what they’re going to do with me, I think, and look to see how they’ll do it.  I’m lying in a featureless steel capsule.  It takes me a centon to realise what it is.

A coffin.  I’m lying in a coffin.

The woman bends over me, and before I can try to say anything she fixes an intravenous line into my hand, carefully laying the drip bag into the capsule with me.

"Will that work without gravity?" Cantor asks, sounding dubious.

"It has its own pump," she says.  "It will keep the edris flowing into him at a controlled rate that will keep him heavily sedated."

"Not harmful?"

"No."  It’s the man who carried me.  "A powerful sedative, that is all, and non-addictive."

"It will keep him out for centars," the woman says.  "More than a day, once I start it."

Odd.  They seem concerned about me, to make sure I’m safe.  Very considerate kidnappers, and yet I know that Cantor hates me deeply.  Yet even he’s worried about me.  Not reassuring, somehow.

I worry about it for a micron or two while she pulls thermal blankets up around me, fitting heat packs down between me and the cold sides of the coffin.  The Otori are famous for the drugs they invent and use, and I don’t want any of it.  I try to protest, fighting the effects of the stun and the first narcotic that they gave me.  It comes out as something thick and inarticulate.

"Quiet," Cantor says, softly.  "You’ll be fine."

His hand strokes my hair, an almost loving gesture, brushing it back out my eyes, flooding my mind with memories.  Most times when we were little and sick, only Mother was there to take care of us.  Dad was hardly ever around, usually away at the war when he was needed at home.  Once he was there, though.  When I was about Boxey’s age now, just before Zac was born, I was so sick that Dad was sent for.  We were quarantined for a while, Mother kept away so her unborn baby wouldn’t be affected and to keep little Thenie from getting sick too.  Dad was the one to spend days with me in the hospital. 

I can remember him stroking my hair for centars, to soothe me when it hurt the most.  I guess I must have been really sick for him to come home like that.  And for a long time after, whenever he came home on furlough that was how he said hello to me, brushing back my hair with this same little gesture, the little gesture that had been just for me and him.  Funny, but I’d almost forgotten it.  Other things to remember, I guess; other things to push that memory away.  I try to remember when he stopped doing it.  I haven’t thought about it in yahrens. 

I try to move my head away.  I don’t like Cantor doing this.  It’s my Dad’s job, not his.  He says nothing more but takes his hand away, tracing a sign on my forehead just as the woman fits an oxygen mask over my face, laying the bottle on the other side to the narcotics pump.

"There is enough air for eight centars," she says quietly.  "And the heat packs should prevent hypothermia.  As long as the freight shuttle remains on schedule, there is plenty of margin."

"Good," Cantor says.  "It will work.  Now, we don’t have much time.  Get him completely under, and then I’ll seal this thing.

She reaches in to touch the intravenous line in my hand, and in a instant the small gains I’ve made since they stunned me, ebb away.  I can’t even scream as the lid comes down and Cantor seals me into the coffin, seals me into the suffocating darkness.  My hands are trapped in the thermal blankets.  I can’t even claw at the coffin lid.  My eyes won’t stay open, they just won’t stay open…

The dark is cold and welcoming, so I fall into it.

To Heart of Glass

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