The skin on the inside of Starbuck's thighs was surprisingly soft for a man's, and intensely sensitive. Just trailing a tongue down from groin to knee, or, for variety from knee to groin, was enough to have him writhing and incoherent. Apollo liked it when Starbuck was writhing and incoherent. It made him feel that he had to be getting at least some of what he was doing right.
He nipped at the sensitive skin, his lips instantly soothing and gentling the abused flesh. Starbuck burrowed his face into the pillow and moaned into it. Apollo laughed, working his way up one golden buttock, gentle little bites followed by even gentler kisses, kissing deep into the little hollow at the base of Starbuck's spine, and down the other side. Halfway down the left buttock, he changed direction and aimed straight for the sensitive little opening, using his hands to part Starbuck's cheeks and planted a kiss right on target.
"God!" Starbuck lived up to his name, bucking wildly as Apollo's tongue licked hungrily at him, probed gently into him.
Apollo raised his head for a micron. "What do you want, Starbuck?"
Starbuck's voice was trembling on the edge of another moan. "You. I was going to be the one to seduce you. Apollo!"
He had good cause to shriek. Apollo had turned his head slightly, nipping at the delicate flesh around Starbuck's anus, and Starbuck had almost bucked him off onto the floor in response. Starbuck lay trembling, arms and legs shaking in pleasured reaction.
Apollo soothed the little bite with his tongue. "Ah, feeling macho, were you, while you watched me all day?"
Starbuck's spine curved to let him throw his head back, stretching to make it more intense. "Manly, even," he said, a little gasp of air between the words.
"Shame," said Apollo. With one hand he reached for the pot of lube, not having to look for it, knowing exactly where it was. "Real shame. I've a pretty intense testosterone rush myself."
He slipped a slick finger into Starbuck as he spoke, moving slightly to one side to continue ministrations with lips and teeth and tongue on that perfect bottom, even as he probed into it, long middle finger seeking out the little gland that would have Starbuck worse than coherent, that would make Starbuck's bones melt.
Starbuck's moan would have shaken cobwebs from the ceiling if Apollo hadn't been such a perfectionist about the cleaning. He'd stopped the wild bucking, his long leanly-muscled body writhing instead, rubbing up against every point where he connected up against Apollo's body, like some great golden cat, sensuous and intense.
Apollo slid in a second finger. Sometimes he could spend centars doing this, pleasuring Starbuck endlessly, until his lover was babbling and incoherent with need, wanting more than fingers, wanting to be possessed, invaded, taken. And sometimes he just wanted to possess, invade and take; so that Starbuck could possess, invade and take in his turn.
"Don't tease," Starbuck gasped, another breathy pause between the words. "Not tonight, Apollo. Don't tease. I wanted to seduce – ohhh - you."
Apollo laughed again, softly. "And just who's the captain around here? Testosterone and rank: that's a heady mix. Too much for little lieutenants."
"Oh come on, Apollo! You can't pull rank on me! We're naked and sweaty and what we're doing definitely doesn't come within the Regs - " Starbuck's voice, momentarily stronger with indignation, failed him. He sighed and moaned again, moving his backside energetically against the invading fingers. "Oooohhh - "
"Up onto your knees," said Apollo, softly.
Starbuck scrambled to obey, arse high in the air, his face buried in his crossed arms on the pillow. He spread his knees, making access easier and getting his balance. Apollo moved with him, never letting up the teasing pressure of those long, wicked fingers. Every time that they brushed against his prostate, Starbuck groaned and wriggled.
"That's my good little lieutenant," said Apollo, getting himself into position behind Starbuck.
With his free hand, he scooped up a handful of lube and slathered it over his cock. He wiped his hand on the sheet, and laid it against Starbuck's side. Starbuck shuddered as the moving, probing fingers pulled slowly out, hooking as they came to catch on the sensitive nerves in the anal ring.
For a micron Apollo teased a little more, letting the head of his cock press against Starbuck's willing opening, then slide away again, moving frictionlessly in the lube. Starbuck moaned again, and waggled his bottom enticingly.
"Apollo. Please - " Starbuck twisted his head to turn his face to Apollo, and licked lips that were swollen with kissing. "Please."
Apollo smiled, and took Starbuck by the waist to steady himself. Pressing against the softened muscle ring, he watched as the head of his cock was slowly swallowed up, the tension in the muscle easing as Starbuck relaxed to meet the inexorable pushing. Starbuck sighed as Apollo filled him, slow and easy and gentle, giving him a centon to get used to it.
"All right?" Apollo asked, biting against his lip now to help concentrate.
"Oh God, yes."
Apollo's grip on Starbuck's waist tightened, and he began to move. Slow, deep thrusts that stroked against Starbuck's prostate, each inward thrust accompanied by a gasping breath from his lover. Starbuck rose slightly on his knees with every forward push from Apollo, coming to meet him, each joining signalled by the sound of flesh hitting against flesh as Apollo's tight balls slapped up against Starbuck's backside.
Apollo had, if anything, teased himself more than he'd teased Starbuck. He was hot for it, the aching pressure in his balls exacerbated by every stinging little slap against Starbuck's behind. After a few centons, he shifted position so that he was draped over Starbuck's upturned arse, one hand slipping down Starbuck's side, to smooth over his lover's stomach and grasp the leaking cock. Starbuck moaned his delighted appreciation of the move.
The angle had changed too. Now every stroke was hitting up against the little gland buried deep inside Starbuck, just as Apollo's slickly lubed hands pulled back on Starbuck's cock, fisting it. Starbuck responded violently, all gentleness forgotten, his body surging to meet Apollo on each thrust.
Starbuck came first, shouting as the hot jism spurted over Apollo's hand, pushing himself up suddenly so that he was supported on hands as well as knees, throwing back his head. The shout somehow transformed itself into Apollo's name. Apollo clenched his hand around Starbuck's cock, squeezing out the last few drops, taking a micron to spread the jism against the concave arch of Starbuck's taut belly, before picking up the pace and slamming hard into him. Starbuck, head hanging and sides heaving as he fought to breathe, rode him out, rhythmically contracting the muscles in his backside to make it even tighter for Apollo.
Three fast strokes that had Starbuck moaning again, and Apollo pushed in as far as he could go, and held there, gasping as his orgasm hit, the explosion of near pain in his balls making him groan. He collapsed onto Starbuck, unable to hold up any longer.
Starbuck muttered incoherently, and shifted until he could slide his feet down the bed, lying flat on his face with Apollo's not inconsiderable weight holding him down. Apollo kissed him on the back of the neck, across the shoulders.
"All right?" Apollo asked at last, still breathless.
"I think," said Starbuck, slowly and lazily. "I think that I saw stars towards the end."
"Did I hurt you?" Apollo was instantly contrite.
"No. I loved it."
Apollo smiled and resumed the soothing little kisses.
"I think I whimpered, too," said Starbuck, reviving a little under the kisses. "Maybe I don't feel so manly tonight, after all. Maybe I want to be your little lieutenant all night long."
Apollo shook with laughter. "Did I call you that? Oh my! Severe testosterone poisoning has its drawbacks." He lifted up and eased himself out of Starbuck, despite his little lieutenant's faint protests.
Starbuck rolled onto his side and then onto his back before letting Apollo settle back down again.
"Mmmn. Nice," he said, surfacing after a kiss so deep that they'd been sharing air. He reached up and smoothed back an errant lock of sweat-soaked black hair.
Apollo smiled down at him.
"I love you, Sekhet," said Starbuck, and smiled.
"You're late! Do you have time to swap notes?"
"Five centons, and then I've got to get back," said Starbuck. "Sorry. I got held up sorting out the duty rosters. Apollo's gone with some Aegyptans to do a more thorough survey of the Historia Stirpium."
Athena stared. "The what?"
"The Historia Stirpium. She's next in line to be adapted to take a Viper squadron once the conversion of the Windjammer's complete."
Athena continued staring.
"It's a ship," added Starbuck, taking the issue to its simplest form in the face of Athena's continued lack of comprehension.
"I know. Great name, isn't it?"
"How did that one get by me?"
"Most people - but not your I-have-to get-everything-absolutely-correct brother, of course - shorten it to the Stirp. She's that big Aquarian freighter that brings up the rear of the Fleet. She's normally close in to the same group as the Celestra and the Hephaestus."
"Oh! I've heard of that one!" Athena looked relieved.
"As a name, Stirp's not quite as noticeable as the full thing. Mind you, they might have other reasons for shortening it. The full name does sound like some kind of disease that you'd get if you'd had too much fun on a pleasure planet and you'd been damned careless."
"I wouldn't know," said Athena, frostily.
Starbuck grinned. "You know what Aquarians are like for choosing fancy names. The Lords alone know what it really means."
He took a coffee from the counter and followed her to a corner of the Commissary where they could talk undisturbed. At this time of day, in the middle of the afternoon, it was almost deserted except for a few people on second watch grabbing a late breakfast.
"I just wondered if you'd made any progress?" Athena sipped at her tea.
"Not that I can see," said Starbuck. "I tried talking to him yesterday, but he choked me off. So last night - I was in his quarters, last night – "
"And I am meant to be surprised?" asked Athena sourly. "When are you announcing the engagement?"
Starbuck set the cup down. "Can we set some parameters here, Athena? This is about Apollo and your Dad, not about Apollo and me."
"So, there is an Apollo and you."
"That's none of your business, Athena, until Apollo decides that it is."
"All right," she said. "I know. And there's nothing left between us but Apollo."
"Thenie," said Starbuck, more gently.
"The sad thing is that I've only just realised that there never was anything between us but Apollo" Athena sat up straighter, and added, dismissively. "You're quite right, Starbuck. This is about Apollo and Dad."
"All right." Starbuck gave her a doubtful look. "All right. What's got into you? You weren't this spiky yesterday. All I got yesterday were deep philosophical thoughts about kaleidoscopes."
"I'm human, Starbuck, or at least half of me is. That means I have moods and feelings and I'm damned if I have to be consistent. Yesterday was Aegyptan-ish and philosophical. Last night me and Cassie drank too much, so today is human and spiky. And why not? Maybe it's just thinking of all the luck Apollo has. He gets what I want, every time. Attention from Mother and Dad, adulation from Zac, and - and other things that I wanted. Sometimes I get tired of being second." Athena brooded for a centon, then prompted him. "You were in Apollo's quarters."
A micron's hesitation, then he shrugged. "I tried again last night. After we left the OC and Boxey was getting ready for bed, the kid showing me some of his treasures, you know? Things that Apollo had given him, like the captain's pin he gave him when they first met."
"And some of his mother's things," said Athena, exacting her revenge.
"Yes." Starbuck frowned at his coffee. "Anyhow, he has Apollo's Kobolian medal, did you know?"
Honour restored, Athena nodded. "Apollo gave it to him when you all went down to Arcta, to get the Ravishal pulsar gun. I think it was like a talisman: as if he were saying ‘look after this for me, and I'll get back'. He wasn't expecting Boxey to stow on board the shuttle and come along."
"He wasn't the only one. That kid's full of surprises." Starbuck took another mouthful of coffee. "So I got Boxey to tell me all about it, what Apollo had told him about your Dad giving it to him on his graduation, as a present."
"It meant a lot to Dad," said Athena. "It's a really old one, you know, centuries old. It's a family heirloom and worth a mint of money. Not that that was why Dad gave it to him, just that Apollo loves old things and Dad thought he'd love it for that reason."
"I know. Apollo told me about it, yahrens ago when he was wearing it with his dress uniform for something or other, and I kinda hoped it would remind him why he got it. But he didn't seem to like it much last night. Last night, it was just a bit of metal on a chain, according to your brother; something he should give back to the commander's family."
"Ouch! He said that in front of Boxey?"
"The kid was too busy scrabbling around inside the treasure box to take much notice. I don't think he heard or would read much into it if he did."
"Oh dear," sighed Athena. "Dad was so proud of him, that day. He'd beaten most of Dad's old scores at the Academy, and Dad was just so pleased." She paused, sighed again. "Do you know of a handy brick wall anywhere on the Galactica?"
"To beat Apollo's head against, you mean, until we can pound some sense into him? I thought of that. There's an Infantry sergeant doing his best to imitate one for us, although all he thinks he's doing is teaching Apollo hand to hand, but it's not having much effect so far." Starbuck finished his coffee and glanced at his chronometer. "I'm due back in the Duty office in a micron. Anything on your side?"
Athena shook her head. "No. Did you tell him?"
"Did I tell him what?"
"What I said, about me and Zac being jealous of him? I wondered, because he's not talking to me much."
"Athena! What do you take me for!"
Athena's smile was frosty. "My brother's."
Starbuck laughed. "A little concise. Pithy, even. But it does show a lack of appreciation of my other qualities, all of which are admirable and one of which is not telling tales."
Athena stared at him for a micron or two, then nodded. "All right. I'm sorry. It's just that he's closing me out a bit, and I don't like it. I'm not as close to him as I was to Zac, but he's still my brother. He's the only one I've got left."
"He's pretty confused about things, Thenie. That's all."
"I know. I just wish he'd get unconfused and remember he has a family. He asked me this morning if I'll take Boxey with me when I go to supper with Dad tonight, but he won't come himself. I did ask him. I even begged him. I don't want him to hurt Dad this badly, but he just ignored me."
Starbuck gave her a cool look. "You didn't actually say that to him? You did, didn't you?"
"It kind of slipped out," said Athena.
"Daddy's girl," jeered Starbuck. "Sheesh, Thenie, but subtle you ain't. That was a pretty stupid thing to say."
"Dad is pretty hurt by all of this."
"Whereas Apollo's just fine about the whole thing, I suppose?"
"I don't know what you're complaining about," she countered defensively. "I take Boxey to Dad's tonight, you get a clear field."
Starbuck paused, then nodded. "True. And I'm grateful. But it doesn't get us any further forward, now does it?"
She sighed and shook her head. A centon's quiet, and she rose to her feet, picking up the empty teacup to return it to the counter. "Same time tomorrow?"
Starbuck nodded. "Same time. Good luck, Thenie."
"You too," she said. "We're going to need it."
Life Centre sat in the very centre of the ship, deep inside one of the most protected areas, shielded by heavy bulkheads and massive titanium doors. It was a lot bigger than most people knew. Most patients only saw the huge central triage bay, with the treatment rooms ranging down each side. The triage bay itself was used to treat patients only if the rooms and wards were full and they had a lot of casualties after a fire fight, or, like the time all the pilots collapsed with an unknown bacterial infection, if someone skipped decontamination and brought a few microscopic passengers back with them. Usually, if anyone was unlucky enough to be kept Life Centre, it was in the private rooms and nursing wards. These, and the compact, but state-of-the-art, operating theatre, ran from the corridor on the starboard side. The complex of laboratories and the morgue were hidden away on the port side.
Seti was in a private room, at the end of the starboard corridor. It was perfectly possible to get into the corridor from the Life Centre's anteroom, without having to go through the triage area and without attracting much attention. There was only the civilian receptionist to get past - and she rarely offered anything beyond a shy greeting - and then, of course, Seti's guards.
The two Aegyptans standing guard over the door were both Re-Harakhte clan. The day before a crocodile-headed Sebek had been on duty with a vulture headed Nekhebet to ensure that the Horus Seti-sen-Ankhaten wasn't disturbed. The day before that, a Thoth and an Anubis had shared the honours. In all cases, Apollo had got past them with the briefest of nods. He had seen them stop the medical staff for a micron or two, until they could be announced formally and the guards could be sure that the Horus was masked and prepared for visitors. They never attempted to stop Apollo, offering no more than a soft greeting of his full Aegyptan name as he passed them.
"Is there an Aegyptan in the fleet who doesn't know who I am?" Apollo asked.
"Not one, and there never has been." Seti kept hold of Apollo's hand. "You are quite unmistakeably Aegyptan, you know, and they have all always known who you are."
"Which is more than I did," said Apollo. He glowered for a micron, then made the effort to lighten it. "They're all so very respectful."
"Another genetic trait, I think. We seem to be born with an innate sense of respect for the Clanlords."
"It's very refreshing."
"And, of course, any disrespect is punished severely."
"Oh? How severely?"
"Permanently." Seti looked smug. "It's a very comforting custom."
"Well now!" Apollo remembered a conversation he'd had with Starbuck sectons before. "How are they at genuflecting?"
"You may get a bow or two if you're lucky."
"I haven't noticed any bowing."
Seti's mouth twitched into a smile, but he looked tired and drained. "They're being discreet."
"Then that's very considerate of ‘em." Apollo sat on the edge of the bed. He made no attempt to free his hand from Seti's. "How are you, today? You look tired."
"I'll be glad when this is over, one way or another," the older man acknowledged. "I am tired. But I have to say that you don't look very lively yourself."
"I'm not sleeping too well," admitted Apollo. "Too much to think about, I guess."
"It will all be over tomorrow."
"Will it? I don't think so."
"Maybe not," conceded Seti. "I'm sorry that this has caused you so much disruption. Mene tells me things are better on the Windjammer, but I'm still uneasy about what happened there and the way you've been drawn into it."
"It's all still manageable. Father Timon's turning out to be a real help. He's making a real effort to get to know Mene's people. I think that he's a bit ashamed of his reaction before, and he's keeping things relatively calm, despite Sire Uri and his underlings."
"And your own position?"
"I don't think there's a problem."
"Yet." Seti frowned. "It could be awkward for you if it becomes known that I'm here and that you visit me."
"It's manageable," said Apollo, again. His expression darkened. "And I'm not going to stop coming, no matter what some people say."
"Ah," said Seti, and Apollo couldn't be sure if he smiled, he turned his head away so quickly. "All the same, I'm sorry that your life has been turned upside down. And believe it or not, I'm sorry that you're at odds with Adama about this. I've no love for him, none at all, but – " he hesitated.
"But," said Apollo.
"I thought hard before I decided to approach you. Everything I'd seen, or any of us had seen, suggested that you had a very good relationship with him and I was reluctant to disturb that."
Apollo grimaced slightly. "I thought it was, too. I mean we can be a bit spiky at times and when Zac died - " He pulled himself up short, and shook his head. "I thought it was."
"But you now have doubts." Not a question, but a statement.
"She did. I think she doubted it a lot. I've worked it out, I think, what she was scared of. She thought that I had to earn everything continually, that nothing came on trust, that I was only acceptable if I was the best at everything. She was always on at me to make him proud, as if the only way I could justify being there was to be the perfect son." Apollo sighed. "I never really realised until now how much that's been there all my life, how much it's defined what I am."
Seti's frown became a scowl. "I can understand that she initially wanted to please him," he said, carefully. "And that she worked to make his acceptance of you easier. She would have been sorry if it's affected you so badly. She wanted the best for you, always."
"I just don't know what to think." Apollo shrugged. "It's such a mess."
"And I'm sorry to have caused it. I'll be very honest with you. I don't care an atom if Adama suffers all the torments of hell because of this. I don't like him. He stole Nefert-ila and he stole you, and I will never forgive him for that." Seti's smile was rueful. "Or forgive my own weakness in allowing it to happen. I should have just taken you, and be damned to her and him both. But I didn't, and we've all got to suffer the consequences. No, I don't care about how much Adama hurts, but I do care about you, Sekhti. I care about you a lot."
"I just don't know," said Apollo again. "And I really don't want to talk about it." He changed the subject abruptly. "I'm really far too old for Sekhti, you know. It's like Thenie calling me Appy when I was a kid. I grew out of that yahrens ago."
Seti looked for a micron as if he'd argue, but he smiled, tired, and let Apollo have his way. "It'll be a challenge, but I'm up for it. I'll do my best to remember your advanced age and what's due to your dignity. Sekhet, then."
"It's like having a split personality."
"You'll get used to it. You'll have to. I don't see any easy resolution to this."
"That's very helpful. Thank you."
"I try," said Seti. "Seriously, Sekht- Sekhet, you'll have to learn to use the fact that you have a foot in both worlds, both for your advantage and for ours. Listen, I've been meaning to talk to you about this ever since you first came to the Usermaatre, and now is as good a time as any, particularly if things are getting tense over on the Windjammer again. Someone's seeking our help."
"Help? What sort of help?"
"Not technical, I can promise you that. So far the discussion - very short, I might say - has been very general and very vague. Given the Destruction and the changes that brought about, are we still in the same market for offering political and strategic advice? If they developed a proposal for us, would we consider advising?"
Apollo frowned. There was a significance in Seti's voice that had him thinking uncomfortably of some of that tabloid speculation he'd dismissed a few sectons before. "What do you mean? What do they really want?"
"Who knows? We've stonewalled all approaches. But I thought that you might be interested in knowing who's raised this with us."
"Very, since you don't talk to many humans."
"A pilot, Lieutenant Chelas, approached one of the Nekhebet people working on the sensor upgrades for your Vipers. She has made several attempts to make serious contact."
Apollo frowned. "I suppose it had to be a tech or a pilot. No one else would have the opportunity. Chelas. She's one of Bojay's flight commanders now, but she's originally a survivor from the Columbia, if I remember rightly. I really don't know much about her. She's pretty quiet, not very sociable, a reasonable if not outstanding pilot."
"And evidently working on behalf of someone else. It will be some faction on the Council. Really, very few others would be aware that we're ever available for anything in that line."
Another memory, this time of Starbuck's voice reading from Boxey's schoolbook, and the assertion that the Aegyptans had worked for various political factions in the past. And a memory of his mother, telling him of the history of the Colonies, hinting at Aegyptan involvement behind the scenes, but refusing to be drawn into details. I was never involved , she had said, sounding regretful . I was too young .
"What line, exactly?"
Seti shrugged. "We enjoy an intellectual challenge, Sekhet, and human politics affords us one. Didn't your mother ever tell you about it? There have always been rich and powerful men hungry for more riches and more power, and they offer an opportunity for us to influence human development. And of course, it's more than just a game. The Lords left us with quite explicit instructions about strengthening the humans, to help improve their ultimate chances of survival. We've not done too badly. They're a hardy race, a race of survivors even of the Destruction. That's due in part to us. We nudged them along until they formed the Council of the Twelve, lending our not inconsiderable resource and ingenuity to mould their political structures until they reached something that offered some stability."
"Mould how exactly? And you still do intervene? To do what?"
"We advise, offer strategic solutions to political and administrative problems. Sometimes permanent solutions."
There was no mistaking the significance of that. Apollo swallowed. "President Cleome of Scorpia?"
"Ah yes. The Sebeks dealt with that." Seti was watching Apollo, measuring. "What do you know of her?"
Shocked, Apollo shook his head, trying to bring his scattered thoughts together. "I had enough trouble keeping up with Caprican politicians. She led the nationalist party, didn't she? I know that after Cetes Base went and the Cylons moved in on the edges of that quadrant, that the Scorpias had some issues about the number of refugees seeking asylum. She had a lot of popular support for her anti-immigration policies, but I really don't know any more except that she was assassinated a few sectars before the Destruction. The assassin wasn't caught."
"That kind of populist politician is an emotional vampire, feeding on people's insecurities and nurturing those insecurities for their own ends, riding them to power. That whole sector was under pressure from the Cylons after Cetes was lost, and she threatened the stability of the entire region. Frankly, the authorities could barely cope with keeping the Cylons back. Civil unrest would have been disastrous. Her election alarmed the Council considerably. We were asked to intervene."
"By the Council?" Apollo almost choked.
"Of course by the Council, Sekhet. This is a formal, if not very well known, arrangement. We occasionally intervene, if we think that there is a problem needing us to provide a solution, and the Council hides our involvement. The Council seems content with the arrangement. After all, if we are invited in, they know we won't want the power and riches for ourselves."
"She was knifed."
Seti nodded. "It's traditional, to use a knife that carries the emblem of the Clan involved. It means that we are never remote from our killings, Sekhet, but that they have a terrible intimacy and meaning for us."
"Very philosophical of you," was all Apollo could find to say."
"Of course, normally our role is never publicised. With Cleome, the Sebek sent to - er - "
"Carry out the intervention?" suggested Apollo, with an irony that Seti appeared to ignore. Or didn't notice?
"Indeed. The Sebek was a little careless and was seen. That gave rise to rumour."
"Tabloid speculation," said Apollo, his thoughts too chaotic for him to decipher exactly what he felt about this.
"As you say. Since the Destruction, the Council has not called on us. The lieutenant's approach is the first. So far, we've refused to respond, but I'm getting anxious. We've always lived apart, but somebody somewhere seems to be working to demonise and marginalise us - witness what happened on the Windjammer. At the same time someone else is trying to use us. Or the same someone, perhaps. I'm always suspicious of coincidences and I will not be someone else's pawn. This is why we need some formal representation at the Council table. We need a formal liaison. If we had that, I could do something about both the attempts to turn the common population against us, and announce formally whenever we're in play."
Apollo stared. "Do you do that?"
"Sometimes. It's only fair, especially if you've been hired to assassinate one of them. It gives them a sporting chance. Not much of one, I agree. But it's only polite to make the announcement. And we always like to be polite."
Apollo could only shake his head.
"So, Sekhet, what should we do about this importunate lieutenant of yours?"
Apollo was silent for a centon. Despite the instinctive distaste for what Seti was implying, if there was some plotting going on, he'd rather know about it. "I think that if they want to talk to us that badly, then we should stop being shy. Let's find out what the lady wants."
"It just slipped out," said Apollo, apologetically.
"Adama, I don't mean to interfere and be personal."
Commander Adama sighed gently. "That means, of course, that you're about to get very personal indeed."
"And I intend to interfere," agreed Sire Anton. "But then, I can claim an old man's privilege." He smiled gently at the expression on the commander's face. "And I claim an old friend's privilege as well."
"You can try," said Adama.
Anton nodded, glancing around the Council Room. Adama had just called an adjournment, releasing the bickering Council members for a half-centar break; mainly, he'd said to Anton, to get some relief from the dissent and squabbling. The very breath and life of politics, Anton had protested, mischievous.
"We can do no more than try," the old man said, smiling. Then very seriously, he said, "It concerns young Apollo."
"Really," said Adama.
"I am quite impervious to discouragement, Adama," said Anton. "Really. I've heard that he brought an Aegyptan on board a secton or two ago, for treatment at the Life Centre. And, moreover, that Apollo visits the Aegyptan daily."
"Please don't misunderstand me, but these are difficult times. There are those among us here on the Council who will use snippets of information like this to cause trouble. Do you entirely trust people like Piers? There's a great deal of tension in the fleet at the centon and we all know it. The people are getting scared, Adama. They're frightened, afraid that anarchy is just around the corner, that the difficulties on ships like the Aquilegia and the Leander is going to spread. They're afraid that the fleet is getting ungovernable."
"Yes. Sometimes I wish that IFB were a little less assiduous in reporting the incidents."
The smile on Anton's thin-lipped mouth was sardonic. "IFB are, understandably, resistant to editorial control from this august Council, Adama. And rightly so, I think you've said in the past."
"I still think so. A little discomfort is good for us."
Anton laughed. "Indeed it is, but I don't divert so easily! The point is, that some of that uncertainty and hostility is manifesting itself in public unease over the Aegyptans."
"IFB have reported that, too," agreed Adama.
"And people like Piers use this kind of thing, feed on it and encourage it, because it's the political lifeblood they need. Someone's doing that, Adama. I'm not suggesting it's Piers, of course, but someone is fermenting all this trouble. I can smell it."
"Yes," said Adama. "I know that something's going on. It was Apollo who faced down a mob on the Windjammer, remember?"
"He did very well," conceded Anton. "My only point is that in the present climate, he's handing your enemies a weapon to be used."
"He brought a sick man here for treatment and that's something we should worry about?"
"He brought a sick Aegyptan here. I'm not going to waste my time and yours on mindless prejudice. We both know that both humans and Aegyptans are from the same root stock, however unimaginably long ago, but we are among the few who are neutral or friendly towards the Aegyptans. Trouble is brewing, we both know that, too. You should suggest some caution about him visiting the Life Centre."
"I have," said Adama, with a lively memory of his son's cold expression when he had, mildly and diffidently, suggested that Apollo moderate his visits to Seti or at least make them less public. There hadn't been another fight like the ones they'd already had, there'd been no bitter accusatory words, just a cold politeness he couldn't breach and a cool Your comment has been noted, Commander. Will that be all? that closed him out of Apollo's life completely. It had been like having an iceberg for a son for the last seven days.
"Good." Anton hesitated. "I suppose it would do more harm than good if I said a word to him about it? We get on very well, Apollo and me."
"I know that you do, but I don't think it will help. Not that I think there's anything wrong with him going," said Adama, hoping he'd be forgiven the lie, "but, like you, I'm aware of the current state of our relations with Aegypta. We need to do something about it, Anton. It's come to a pretty poor state of affairs if Apollo can't visit a sick man he's taken an interest in without it becoming the subject of political speculation."
Anton shrugged. "That's politics for you. There's nothing rational or even pleasant about politics, just opportunism and power."
"And is that what you like about it?" Adama's smile robbed the words of any potential for insult.
"Of course. That and the excitement. At my age, you have to take your excitement where you can get it." Anton smiled back.
"Ah, then that accounts for the age profile of the Council," said Adama. "A lot of old men getting excited."
"A few of them have been around as long as I have." Anton laughed suddenly. "We're an odd lot, Adama. Tomas has been around even longer than me. Not much longer, admittedly, but between us we have more than a couple of centuries in politics and power plays . And look at Solon and Haleth. They've been politically active for yahrens, and both were on the President's unofficial inner council and had a great deal of influence. Like me, they've preferred being in the background to being in power. Being on the Council is quite a change of approach for us. You'll have to try and make sure the sudden power doesn't cause a rush of blood to the head."
"I certainly can't afford to lose any of your expertise," agreed Adama.
"I wasn't talking about strokes or apoplexy, but that power is sweet, even to old men. You shouldn't write us off, you know, as old has-beens who don't have any ambition left. That's the mistake that the younger ones make, people like Piers, and Joel and Jethric. They think we've reached the age when all we want is a quiet life and some captive audience to listen to our memoirs, and that all our glory is in the past."
"I can believe that of Haleth and Solon, and Tomas. But you? Sometimes I could wish you were that harmless!" said Adama, laughing. "You're as old and as wicked as sin, Anton."
"I know it," said Anton, complacent. "The point is that I haven't aged inside, unlike those younger ones who are old already with plotting and planning and seeking political advantage. They reek of ambition, Adama."
"Yes," agreed Adama.
"They don't have the patience of my generation." Anton laughed again, then said seriously, "They aren't our problem, at least not today. They will be one day, I suspect, but not today. The Aegyptans are. The problem's quite a simple one. In the past, on the Colonies, they lived in a remote part of Caprica and bothered no one, and we had a formal liaison with them that meant that the Council, at least, had a level of comfort in dealing with them. That level of comfort's gone." He paused, then asked, "How many of them are aboard this ship?"
"About a hundred. There's always a lot of Aegyptans on a battlestar. They keep us going."
"With at least that many working now on the Windjammer, and that many again on the Hephaestus. Fair enough. The Council knows what they're doing, I suppose, but what about the rest of them? There's over a thousand of them altogether. What are the rest up to?"
"Research, development… I don't know," said Adama impatiently. "Nothing that will harm us, that I'm sure of."
"I'm sure you're right, but you've made my point beautifully. We're in no position to know. We have no liaison with them any more, no formal point of contact. If we had that, then maybe we'd be in a better position to counter the rumours and dampen down the hostility. We need them to send a formal representative to the Council. If we're publicly seen to be in alliance with them, in amity, then there's less room for speculation."
Adama looked around the room, at the other councillors and their aides. His eyes went from face to face. No. Not one of them he really trusted. Anton was right.
"I've had some dealings with the Aegyptan in Life Centre in the past," he said. "I suspect that he is the most senior of them."
"That accounts for the fact that his room is always guarded, then," said Anton dryly.
Adama shook his head, astonished, as always, at this old man's capacity for gossip and intrigue. As a political operator, Anton had no rival. He wished there were more of him, although idea was a dreadful one. One Anton on his side made him nervous enough.
"We'll open up negotiations," he said. "And try and ensure that people like Piers have no reason to suspect Apollo of anything other than simple humanity and concern for a sick man."
"Oh, Piers wouldn't recognise human feeling if it had him by the throat. He'll find something else to bother us with, don't you worry. That, too, is the essence of politics!" Anton smiled. "So far as Apollo's visits are concerned, Adama, it's probably harmless but we'd better keep an eye on things and be prepared to counter any nonsense from Piers and his ilk."
"Thank you," said Adama, sincerely.
Anton smiled. "You're welcome."
"Hi! How's the Stirp?"
"Big and smelly. They're really going to have to put in some work on her air recycling system. By the time we'd finished, I was really wishing my nose would drop off." Apollo dropped into the chair beside Starbuck's and accepted the glass that his lover was holding out for him. "Sorry I'm late. I called in to see Seti."
"Uh-huh," said Starbuck. "And what did he have to say?"
Apollo hesitated. "Nothing much. We just talked." For a centon he sipped at the beer Starbuck had bought him, then said, abruptly, "Do you remember mentioning President Cleome's assassination to me a few sectons ago?"
Starbuck frowned. "Did I? I don't remember. What about it?"
"Nothing." Apollo thought some more, scowling down at his glass. Then, again with an abruptness that concerned Starbuck: "The Aegyptans were behind it. It's not unusual, apparently. He wasn't the least bothered about telling me."
Starbuck whistled soundlessly. "I remember now. You told me it was the usual sort of garbage spewed out by the tabloids."
"I was wrong."
"Well, no wonder people are antsy about them," commented Starbuck.
"Mmn," said Apollo, and for a few centons he brooded over his drink, Starbuck watching him.
"Are you surprised?" Starbuck asked, at last.
Apollo hunched one shoulder in a peculiarly inelegant gesture. "I guess. I'd thought they were above all that. Something better." He shook his head. "Let's not talk about it. I picked up Boxey from school after I saw Seti. I've told him."
"Well, no, not everything. I've told him about the surgery tomorrow. I thought that was enough to be getting on with."
Starbuck allowed himself to grin, seeking to lighten the atmosphere. "Why am I not surprised? You have more capacity for putting off unpleasant things than anyone I know. It's a talent."
Apollo's only response was a deprecating, rueful shrug.
"Is he okay about it?"
"He was worried that it meant I was sick, but once we got over that, he was fine about it. I explained that they were taking the bone marrow to help someone else, but that he wasn't to say anything about it to anyone."
"And you think a seven-yahren old will keep a secret like that?"
Another rueful shrug. "I traded on the prevailing attitude to Aegyptans. Boxey knows that the man I'm giving the bone marrow to is Aegyptan - although that's all he knows - and everyone's scared of Aegyptans, so he'll keep it quiet because it's in his own interests to keep quiet."
"Not your usual socially liberal and enlightened view," commented Starbuck, a touch slyly.
Apollo's mouth tightened into the smallest of grimaces. "But it'll work. The only problem is that he wants to stay with the commander while I'm in Life Centre."
"And that's a problem?"
Apollo blinked with surprise. "Of course it is!"
"Why? You've robbed the man of his son, Apollo. Do you intend to take his grandson, too?"
Apollo gasped, the colour draining from his face. "What? Zac? D'you mean Zac?"
"Zac? Why in Hades should I mean Zac? I was talking about you!" Starbuck took one look at Apollo's pale face and shaking hands, and whatever he had been about to say was forgotten in the urge to comfort. "Apollo! You couldn't think I meant anything to do with Zac?"
Ignoring the rest of the OC, he scooted around the table to get an arm around Apollo's shoulders.
"Hey," he said, gently. "Hey."
"Sorry," said Apollo, after a moment. "I'm sorry. I thought you meant… I had to leave him behind, Starbuck."
"I know," said Starbuck. "I know. We all know that. And we all know how much it tore you up. What's brought this on?"
Apollo shook his head. "Somehow it was one of the things me and Seti talked about."
"Uh-huh," said Starbuck.
"And I got to remembering how Da-, the commander was when Zac went." Apollo scrubbed at his face with his hands for a centon, then sat back. "He closed me right out for days."
"He closed everything out, Apollo. If he hadn't had to concentrate on the survival of every last human, the way we all did, he'd have flown apart. We all would have. It's a miracle we haven't all ended up more flaky than we are."
"I know, but I can't stop wondering how he felt, knowing his real son was dead and the cuckoo in his nest had come back."
"Well, that one I can answer. I saw him in Chapel one night, not long after."
"What were you doing in Chapel?"
Starbuck raised an eyebrow at that. "Even I feel the need of something like that sometimes, you know."
"Sorry," said Apollo, shamefaced.
"Well. He didn't say much, but he did say he was thanking God that he still had you and Athena."
Starbuck shook his head. "Listen to me. I know it's a helluva lot to take in and I guess you've got to think through what all this means to you, but, shit, Apollo, why in hell are you looking for things to beat yourself with? You've enough to work through, without that. He doesn't hold you responsible, does he? Has he ever even hinted at blaming you for Zac? Shit! If there's anyone to blame, it's me. I'm the one who wriggled off patrol to play Pyramid."
"It wasn't your fault. I'm the one who made the decision."
"It wasn't your fault either! We were at war, and we were jumped. Zac was a warrior. He had every right to expect to be treated as a warrior, not a little boy you had to look after. He was desperate to prove himself, and God knows, he died a hero. You can't take that away from him."
"I don't want to!"
"Then stop trying to use him as a weapon, or an excuse or whatever else it is that you're lining him up for. Nothing that happens now can change things for Zac. He's out of the picture and it's time you let him rest in peace."
"Well, I'm sorry, but sometimes you drive me half crazy. You're putting a helluva lot of trust in Seti, an amazing amount. I can imagine that it's a bit confusing, but I really can't see why you're throwing everything with your Dad away for someone you've only known for five centons."
"Seti's my father."
"Sure. And I'm willing to take bets on Chameleon being mine, despite the line Cassie spun me about the DNA mismatch. He was, wasn't he?"
Apollo stared, his expression blank. He said nothing.
Starbuck nodded. "Thought so. But he didn't want to be. He wasn't for all my life. Him just turning up out of the blue like that, well, I don't mind admitting it went to my head a bit. I'd wanted a father and a family so badly, that I couldn't believe it was real. I was right, too. It wasn't real. I mean, if he'd turned up when I was kid, when I needed a father, when I was desperate for a father, then maybe we could have made something of it, but shit, I've got to be almost thirty, Apollo. Chameleon had the good sense to realise the truth and fade out again."
"I'm sorry," said Apollo, awkwardly.
Starbuck shrugged. "I won't deny that I was disappointed, but I've thought about it a lot, an awful lot, since I met him. It's for the best."
"You've always wanted a family, Starbuck."
Starbuck smiled. "I've got a family. I've got you, and Boomer and a few others who mean a lot to me. I've made my own family, and that's the only kind that's real. And really, there's too much happened for him to be my family. I don't know him. He doesn't know me. And all I can think of when I see him is that he can't have looked too hard for me when I was a kid. Last time I looked, all the orphanages were listed in the vidcom book."
"There's still a blood relationship," said Apollo, doubtfully.
"I know. I just don't think that's as important as all that. Is it that important with you and Boxey?"
Satisfied, Starbuck pressed the point home. "Other things are more important. The people who know you and care for you are one helluva lot more important than a few molecules of DNA. I see him every now and again. We're mapping out some sort of relationship, but I haven't told him that I've figured out he got Cassie to lie, and I don't know that I'll ever tell him. He's only my genetic father. I mean, how the hell can someone turn up and expect to create a relationship that's thirty yahrens dead?"
"Like Seti, you mean."
"Yeah. Like Seti, I mean. He's your biological father, yes. But he's not the one who brought you up and took care of you. The commander was the one who did that."
"Because he was forced into it."
"Fine. He was forced into it because he wanted your mother back. So, tell me, he's made it clear all these yahrens how much he resents and hates having to do that, has he? He's shown you how much he regrets the choice he made to take you with your mother?"
"No," said Apollo, slowly. "I guess not."
"Thought so. That really wouldn't have tied in with the man I saw in the Chapel that night. So why are you putting him through a zillion hells? What's he done to deserve it?"
"I know you've got it into your head that he's been setting tests for you all your life, things that you've had to do to prove your worthiness as his son, but honestly, Apollo, I think that's screwed up and crazy. I really don't think he's ever thought like that."
"Well maybe your mother did. But why assume he did? Just because he doesn't praise you to the skies every little thing you do?"
"It's not about praise! He doesn't even acknowledge it," said Apollo, resentful. "And you know why that's important and stop making it sound so childish!"
Starbuck grinned. "It is. You remind me of Boxey when he's sulking."
"I don't need this, Starbuck. It's bad enough without you starting in on me. I mean, everything I knew about me has to be re-evaluated, reassessed and set against what I thought I knew and what I've found out. Little things, big things. Once I thought that I look the way I do because of my mother, but I am so like Seti that I know exactly what I'll look like when I'm his age. Exactly. And it's more than just looks. I've half his mannerisms too, and it's a bit scary to see him do things that I thought were me and me alone."
"Those are things you'll get used to, and they're things that are important, but not really crucial. They just map out a bit of why you're you. I probably look a bit like Chameleon was at thirty, but what does that matter? He wasn't around, for me. Seti wasn't around for you. Different reasons, maybe, but same results. And really, I wasn't talking about Seti. I don't know him, and nor do you. I was talking about your Dad. The guy who was around."
Apollo made some helpless gesture. "I've got to decide if all it was that he made a bargain and then made the best of it, or whether I meant anything more to him at all. I don't know how to work that out, Starbuck. I mean, I guess he tolerated having me around, but how can I ever be sure if it was more than that?"
"Well, here's a hint or two. He was pretty emotional in the Chapel that night, thanking God that he still had you. And whatever else he did, that man raised you as his own and cared for you."
"For her sake. Because he wouldn't have got her back otherwise."
"Sheesh! There's no arguing with you when you're determined to feel unwanted and neglected. Shit, you should try being brought up in an orphanage for that. You have no idea!"
"It's not like that."
"It's exactly like that." Starbuck shook his head. "That's the down side to what the commander did. He raised a spoiled rich brat."
"Think about it. You're throwing a helluva lot away in a fit of bad temper, having the sulks. I'd have killed to have a Dad like him. And that's the point, Apollo. He's still your Dad."
"He never was," said Apollo, sadly. "He never really was."
Starbuck threw up his hands in defeat. "You, my lad, need a sharp lesson in the difference between real and genetic. And if I can find something to bang your thick head against, I'll try and teach it to you."
Seti took off his mask with some difficulty, hampered by the intravenous drip in one hand, but his visitor made no attempt to help him.
"I wondered when you'd come to see me."
"I didn't want to," said Adama. "I'd thought you could be relied upon to keep your promises and stay away from him."
Seti smiled slightly. "Perhaps I would have, if I hadn't realised that this is hereditary and that the boy could have - has - inherited it. Better that his doctors are aware of it now."
"If all you've come for is to sneer, Adama, I'd rather you'd stayed away."
"Not today," said Adama, choked.
Seti looked up, alarmed. "Everything's going well?"
"So far as I know. Salik assures me that there's minimal risk and Apollo is strong and healthy, but it's still an invasive surgical procedure and there's always some risk. Minimal isn't minimal enough for me."
"There's risk every time he launches," said Seti.
"Those dangers I know and can handle. It's the ones I can't compute that worry me, where I have to depend on others to keep him safe." Adama paced slowly around the little room, Seti watching him. Adama paused on one rotation, close to the narrow hospital bed. "I want to know what you think you're doing, destroying his life like this."
"Do you think this is going unnoticed? A lot of people saw that he brought you over here himself and escorted you into Life Centre, and that he has visited regularly. They're beginning to ask questions. Even some on the Council have commented on it to me, wondering why Apollo's taking such trouble. If they find out about this transplant, then we're in trouble. These are people who'll stop at nothing, Seti, use anything for their own political advantage. They'd be more than happy to destroy Apollo if they thought that would help them. They wouldn't hesitate for a micron."
Seti shook his head. "And you humans despise us! At least our politics are less visceral and vicious. And perhaps you should consider why you've allowed this situation to grow to the point where helping a sick Aegyptan can be seen as a matter of political disadvantage. Do you still resent me that much?"
"If this was personal," said Adama, grim. "I wouldn't have let you set foot on the Galactica."
"And run the risk of alienating him even more than you have already? That's a risk I don't think you want to take, Adama. He's angry enough with you at the moment."
"You're enjoying this!"
"Yes," said Seti. "I believe that I am. You stole Nefert-ila and my son from me almost thirty yahrens ago. For thirty yahrens you denied my very existence. And now she's gone and he's found out, and you've lost him too. Did he want you here with him today, before they took him into surgery? Has he even spoken to you in the last two sectons, since he realised who I am? One word? One word outside what a captain may have to give to his commander in the course of duty?"
Adama stared at him.
"No, not one word. Tell me, Adama, what does it feel like to have lost Nefert-ila and your son? Do you feel as bereft as I've felt for every day of the last thirty yahrens? Yes, I think I'm enjoying this. I've waited a long time and I'm going to make as much as I can of having my son back, and watching you realise what it is you've lost." He lay back on his pillows, exhausted. "I'll do nothing to take him from you. He'll come to me of his own free will. I've told him nothing but the truth. I've never lied to him, the way you have. He knows that."
"He's confused," said Adama, harshly. "He knows how much he means to me."
"Then if that's the case, you have nothing to worry about, have you? He'll realise that and everything will be exactly as it was. And in the meantime, I have my son, and that contents me."
"He's never been your son!"
"He's never been anyone else's." Seti made a grab for his helmet as the door opened, but relaxed when he saw it was only Parry.
"Here we are," she said, brightly. "A litre of our finest." She held aloft a plastic bag of clouded blood, looking a little taken aback to see the commander there.
"Sekhet?" demanded Seti.
"Apollo?" asked Adama in the same breath.
They glared at each other.
"The captain is fine," said Parry, with a diplomacy the medical profession often lacked. She fixed the bag to the cradle beside Seti's bed, and fed the intravenous tube into the line into Seti's hand. "He came through it all very well and is in the recovery room. We'll let him out of here tomorrow."
Adama, uncharacteristically uncertain, hesitated.
"Go now," said Seti, dulcet soft and malicious. "While he's asleep, and you can."
Adama snorted and walked out without speaking another word. He passed Salik in the corridor, barely acknowledging the doctor's presence, walked through Cassie as if she wasn't there.
The recovery room was quiet. Apollo was lying on his side, sound asleep, with Starbuck beside him, holding one of his hands and stroking his hair lovingly. The lieutenant glanced up when the commander walked in and started, looking a little self conscious and guilty. But he didn't stop stroking Apollo's hair.
"How is he?" asked Adama.
"Fine, Salik says. He won't wake up for a while yet."
Adama looked down at his son moodily. "I know he's told you all about this."
"Then I won't pretend that nothing's happened." Adama sat down on the other side of the bed and they stared at each other over the sleeping Apollo. "What's the excuse this time, Lieutenant?"
"I was impressed by the last one, but I don't see any danger of a power cut this time."
"You don't think that stroking his hair would generate a little static electricity to power the lights?" Starbuck grinned. "I didn't think you'd fallen for that one."
Adama sighed. "It was one of the things I was going to talk to him about the next day, your place in his life. And then this whole thing broke, and I'm sorry, Starbuck, but your relationship with my son, whatever it is, has become infinitely less important to me than mine, and my place in his life." Adama looked down at his hands, both loosely entwined in his lap." A place I don't have any more."
Starbuck nodded. "Well, I don't deny that I'm not sorry that other things are occupying your mind right now."
Adama said, quiet and constrained: "What can I do, Starbuck? He won't talk to me at all. I've not seen him outside of a command meeting for days, and I don't know how to reach him."
Starbuck shifted uncomfortably at this unexpected confidence.
"I'm trusting you a great deal, Starbuck. A very great deal. We've had our differences you and me, but I think we both love Apollo."
Starbuck nodded. "I think so too, sir. But, forgive me, in your case that's what he feels unsure of. He's off balance about the whole thing, and right now he can't see the difference between that and you just tolerating him for Siress Ila's sake."
"Athena told me what he'd said to her about his mother constantly pushing him to perform. It sounds so crass, but I never realised that. He must think, what? That I was complicit in this with Ila? That what I expected was constant striving for perfection to justify his place in the family?"
"Something like that," said Starbuck, awkward.
"It wasn't like that. When I agreed that he would come with her, there were no strings attached." Adama smiled slightly. "He was a very loving and lovable child, actually. After a few sectons I couldn't imagine life without him there. God forgive me, but I never saw Ila's uncertainty or the effect it had on him. I was away a lot, and all I saw was this bright intelligent child who made me very proud."
"Maybe you should tell him that," Starbuck suggested.
"When? He won't talk to me about anything other than work. And why doesn't he realise that without me telling him?"
Starbuck shrugged. "Sometimes people need to be told and you have to find the words. I'd make the effort if I were you, sir. You could start by appreciating him a bit more at work. I mean, all he ever hears is criticism."
Adama frowned. "You tell me that. So does Tigh, and Athena. So you think I'm too hard on him, as well, do you?"
"A bit. Look, sir, when Apollo came on board everyone thought the same thing. Aye aye, we all said, a little bit of family influence being brought to bear here. But it wasn't long before none of us would be inside his combat boots. You always expect a lot of us, and that's fine, we respect that. But you seem to expect the impossible from him, and he never gets any thanks for what he does."
"An example, Lieutenant?" said Adama, glacial.
"Okay sir, this idea about bringing in the cadets. You may not know how many centars of his supposedly free time he put into pulling that programme together, going over it again and again, working out how to do the impossible with virtually no resources, but I do. He did it, too. He said that Colonel Tigh was pleased with it, but that the only comment you made was that he still needed to locate some maths tutors. That's a bit less than a ringing endorsement, Commander. It wasn't even a thank you."
Adama frowned. "I thought he knew how pleased I was with him over that."
"I don't think he did know, sir. You didn't say so."
"But I know that Colonel Tigh spoke to him about it."
"Yes sir. Colonel Tigh did. You didn't. You never do, and now he's got to thinking that whatever standards you're setting him, he can't reach them. "
Adama's frown was ferocious. "And you're saying that this type of thing is feeding this belief he has that I was forced into taking him and that was only acceptable to me if he constantly tried to be the perfect son?"
Starbuck nodded. "And, most of all, that he isn't succeeding and never will succeed because, subconsciously or not, you can't, deep down, accept another man's bastard as your own"
"His words, sir, not mine."
"And he really thinks that? It's not just him looking for something else to be angry about?"
"I know he tried all the time to please you. I used to laugh at him about how motivated and success driven he is. He said it was the principles he got through his mother's milk: duty, honour and make the old man proud."
"Dear God," said Adama, tiredly. He rubbed his hands over his face. "What a shocking mess we made of it, Ila and me. And all the time we thought we were doing it for the best, for the best of good intentions."
"Well, you know what destination lies at the end of the road paved with good intentions," said Starbuck.
Adama nodded. "Don't worry, Starbuck. I'm there." He looked wistfully down at his sleeping son. "He wouldn't want me to be here, if he was awake: that's hell enough for me. Do you think I could do that for a little while? Before he wakes up?" He gestured at Starbuck's hand, still stroking Apollo's hair rhythmically and soothingly.
Starbuck stilled his hand for a centon. "Be my guest, Commander," he said, with so much understanding pity, that it was almost too much. He lifted his hand away, and sat back.
Adama let his hand rest on his son's hair. "Thank you, Starbuck. I'm grateful."
"I'm not sure I need an escort home." Apollo got cautiously and slowly to his feet. "It's only four decks away, you know."
"You aren't going to be running there," said Athena, jamming the last few things into the overnight bag. "You need an arm to hang on to, in Starbuck's unaccountable absence. Where is he, anyway? I hadn't realised that the surgery meant that he got amputated."
"He's better be on duty, if he knows what's good for him." Apollo grinned at her. "It's hardly been major surgery, but I had to chase him out of here earlier."
"Clinging like a leech, was he?" said Athena, following him out into the corridor. "He never did that for me."
Apollo didn't answer. He glanced up the corridor to its extreme end, to the room where Seti was. The usual guard were there, too, and two silver helmets were inclined towards him, as they bowed slightly.
"Going to say goodbye?" asked Athena, soberly.
"I saw him earlier." Apollo turned and took her arm. "Let's go home, then, if you think I need you to support my faltering footsteps."
"Not to mention," said Athena in dulcet tones, "offering you an excuse to change the subject."
Apollo's grin was a little less genuine, but Athena said no more. They paused only to allow him to say goodbye to Cassie, on duty in the triage room, and headed for Apollo's quarters, walking slowly. They didn't talk much on the way.
"You know, I can't see you being back on duty tomorrow," said Athena once they got there.
"I won't be." Apollo grimaced slightly, and not just with pain. "I feel like Acer drop kicked me a few zillion times. Salik says it'll be a couple of days yet."
"Uh-huh." Athena tossed the bag into Apollo's bedroom and closed the door. "And no, I am not going to unpack it and put everything away. You can manage that much on your own and I'm not as supportive as all that. Tea?"
"That'll be nice," said Apollo. He watched her cross to the tiny kitchen, and followed, more slowly. "You know, Thenie, I don't really want to talk about it."
She set the water to boil, and reached for the canister of tea. She spooned out one measure with careful exactness, but as she spooned out the second measure, her hand started to shake. She put down the spoon carefully, touched the little flakes of black tea that had fallen onto the counter with a finger, pushing them around into one pattern after another.
"Please stop it, Appy," she said. "Please stop closing me out."
He stiffened just a fraction.
"I know," she said. "I know you don't want to talk about it. But I'd like to. It affects me too, you know. You're not the only one hurting over all this." She turned, no longer hiding the tears. "I don't know what to do. You and Dad are the only family I've got left." She lifted her hands helplessly, little flakes of tea falling from them to the floor in slow, lazy drifts. "What do you want me to do, Appy? You're tearing me in two."
He closed the distance between them in a step. She resisted him for a micron or two, stiff as a block, then sighed gently and snuggled in close, her head just at the right height to reach his shoulder, pressed up against him until she could feel his heart beating.
"I'm sorry," he said a few times, repeating it until she was a little calmer. "I'm sorry, Thenie."
She rubbed her face against the roughness of his jacket, letting it dry the tears. It wasn't often she cried. She hadn't cried since the night of the Destruction, when she and Adama and Apollo had sat in the Chapel, clothes ritually torn and smeared with mourning ash, trying to make sense of the day that had reduced them by two-fifths, two very precious fifths. Apollo had held her then, too, crying with her. Adama had sat like something carved out of stone, only his eyes alive and full of the devastation that only his children had been able to express.
She felt in his pocket for the handkerchief she knew she'd find there, and blew her nose defiantly. "It's all right."
"No, it's not. It's a mess."
She nodded. "I'm not arguing with that." She dabbed at her eyes. "I didn't mean to do that," she said, ruefully. "I was going to be all rational and reasonable – but, oh, I do miss them, Appy, Mother and Zac. I wish she was here to tell us what it was all about."
"So do I," said Apollo. "Because I don't understand her, at all. I thought I did, I thought I knew her, and I didn't know her at all."
Athena looked aghast at the pained bewilderment in his voice, and said, quickly, "And Zac would say something mad and outrageous and make you yell at him and you'd stamp around a lot and swear, and Mother would scold you for that and then you'd laugh, the way you always did when Zac got a dig in at you, and Zac would leap around like a dervish and pull me around the room with him, and she'd start laughing too, and Dad would look over the top of his book and he'd be pretending to be mad at all the noise we were making and we'd be fine again." She sniffed into the handkerchief, rolled it into a tight little ball and jammed it into her pocket. "We'd have the kaleidoscope back again."
"Nothing. It's nothing." Athena turned away, the shrilling of the water heater almost drowning her out. She carefully poured water over the tea and left it to brew. Her back to Apollo, she asked, abruptly. "What's he like?"
Apollo shrugged. "I'm still trying to find out." He said, in a tone that betrayed more discomfort than the pain from the surgery would account for, "I look at lot like him, Thenie."
"No chance he's lying then."
"No," he said. "No. He's not lying."
"I suppose I'm glad that we know that you might get sick," she said. "I mean, I really am glad about that and that Salik can watch for it, but I wish he'd left us alone, Appy. They've always left us alone up until now."
"It seems like it," said Apollo, dryly. "I'm not sure that they did, really."
"They've never bothered with me, or Zac," said Athena. "I know we never got much chance to see them, but they never bothered with us. Maybe they never would have." She turned back to face him. "We always thought that the reason they dealt with you was because of Mother, didn't we? Do you remember how she always wanted to know if you'd ever met any Re-Harakhte? She always wanted to know if she knew any of them."
"But I guess that the reason they dealt with you was Seti, and the reason she always wanted to know who you met, was Seti too." Athena frowned. "I guess that they still won't bother much with me, will they?"
"I think the only reason they're interested in me is Seti," said Apollo, carefully. "Not Mother. So no, I don't think that will change, Thenie."
She nodded, and turned back to pour the tea. Apollo sat down at the little table, wincing slightly, waiting until she brought the tea and joined him. They drank in companiable silence for a few centons.
"It's all falling apart, isn't it?" she asked, calmly enough.
"I think it has the potential to," he conceded. "Too many people know. And there's something happening out there that I don't like the smell of. Trouble's coming."
"And if everyone finds out? Where will we fit then?"
"I don't know."
"I wonder if it makes any real difference? I mean, I'm just Athena, and I'll still be Athena when everyone knows about us. I won't feel any different inside." She sipped her tea. "I wonder if that means that I feel human or Aegyptan or a mix of the two?"
He shrugged. "I don't know."
"But it will matter to them, won't it, if I'm human or Aegyptan or a mix of the two. They won't know where to put me, how to classify me. Neither one thing or the other."
"The way you are?"
Apollo frowned. "I don't know," he said again. "I don't know what I am."
She watched him for a micron, eyes huge over the rim of her cup. "I wish we didn't have to hide."
"And if we get dragged out of hiding? And we might, Thenie. We might. This isn't a secret that seems too safe, to me."
"Then we get to find out who we are, I guess. Then we get to find out who everyone else thinks we are." She finished her tea, and gave him a small smile. "And then we get to find out where we belong, and who'll have us, who'll accept us and how they'll classify us."
"I'm a bit scared about that, Appy."
"I'm not thrilled, myself. I'm sorry you've been dragged into this."
The tentative smile was fixed there. "You're still my arrogant, know-it-all big brother," she said, and after a micron's pause, "Aren't you?"
He nodded, and grinned.
"Then that's all right. We'll get through it, then." She picked up his empty cup. "I should have been back on the bridge ten centons ago and Omega's going to kill me. I'd better go." She put the dirty dishes onto the counter, squared her shoulders and nodded to him. "I'm not thrilled, either. But we'll get through it. I won't be ashamed, even to get a better classification. Will you?"
"Then that's that. Heads high and ride it out, that's all we can do. And you're right. It's coming."
"At least we're prepared," said Apollo, and glanced towards the door of Boxey's room, and his expression was thoughtful.
Athena's smile deepened, became quirkier, less painful. "You think?" She leaned over and, unusually, dropped a kiss on his cheek. "This talk is a clearing the decks talk, big brother. We've a lot more to talk about, because the two of you are all I have and I'll be damned before I let that fall apart on me, you hear?"
He shook his head. "Let it go, Thenie, please."
She kissed him again. "Not a chance. You got the eyes, big brother, but believe me I got the backbone. She wouldn't let it go. What in Hades makes you think that I will?"
"You know, Boomer still hasn't forgiven you for setting him up with Acer," said Starbuck, totally lacking in tact and sympathy. "He's getting a lot of quiet enjoyment out of knowing where they took the bone marrow from, almost as much as telling people how much fun it is to witness Acer's teaching methods. One or two people in the OC are a bit disgruntled that they've been missing all the fun recently - although have you noticed how many people manage to be in the gym when Acer drags you down there for another lesson? I even saw Sheba there the other day."
"I noticed. Have you been selling tickets?"
"Naw. I decided that was a bit too Starbuckian, even for me. Still, there aren't many who've missed out on seeing you bounce all over the gym floor. We could have made a mint of money out of it."
"Mmn," said Apollo, shifting uncomfortably on the long sofa in his quarters. "Does that mean you aren't taking bets on how long it takes Acer to deck me?"
Close beside him, Starbuck smiled very sweetly and rapidly changed the subject. "Boomer asked if I can get holopics of the bruises."
"These, of course," Starbuck put a hand on Apollo's hip, but for all his teasing and the dangerous glitter in his eyes, his touch was gentle. The bruising was spectacular and painful.
Apollo sighed. "Boomer's taking one helluva lot for granted. And is anyone else making assumptions?"
"About you being in a position to be viewing my rear end."
"I already told you about your Dad making some assumptions when he came to see you yesterday." Starbuck grinned at Apollo's scowl, and shook his head. "And Boomer, of course. I don't think people really are suspicious. Don't let it worry you."
"I wish you hadn't said anything to him about the surgery."
"I had to say something, just so the rumours didn't start. And the judicious mix of facts I gave him told him nothing much at all." Starbuck smiled. "You know, it's a very humbling thing to realise how you much can mislead people with the exact truth."
"Frightening. I'm impressed."
"And Boomer won't say anything about us. He's a very discreet man. Far more discreet than me."
Apollo sighed again. "That I know. I don't worry about Boomer saying anything about anything. He's not stupid, isn't Boomer."
"He's been putting two and two together and hitting four each time. You know you were wanting a maths teacher for when the cadets arrive next secton? Boomer could do it."
"I suggest that, and Boomer's going to become a tad less discreet, don't you think?"
"Don't let it worry you," said Starbuck again. "Boomer's okay about blackmail."
"I've enough to worry about without that. Boomer's safe." Apollo leaned against Starbuck. "You're the one who should worry, and for two very good reasons. By the time Acer's finished with me, I expect to be treated very respectfully. Very respectfully indeed."
"Well, you can expect."
"Starbuck, that man is a very dirty fighter who could take out a Centurion, and believe me, he's passing on everything he knows. This is knowledge very painfully gained, and I'm sure as hell not going to waste it. I'm going to be as mean as Acer when I grow up."
"I'll try and remember that. What's the other reason I should be worrying?"
"No sex. It's going to be days before I feel like letting you do anything other than just view my rear end."
"There are ways," said Starbuck, and grinned. "Either I'll bliss you out with kisses so you don't feel the pain, or I'll just use the shot of whatever it is I sweet-talked Cassie into giving me. She said it was used for dulling labour pains and she thought it would do the trick."
"Relax. So far as she's concerned, it's just a little extra to make sure you can sleep. I didn't tell her I really wanted it so I could pound that pretty black and blue backside of yours into submission."
"And do you?"
Once such a coy question would have had Starbuck hurling himself onto his lover and proving it with a great deal of noisy thrashing around. Mindful of Apollo's injuries, Starbuck tipped him over very gently.
"You bet," he said, and started the blissing out.
If asked, Boxey would have been able to confirm that the worst thing about school was the way that the instructors not only bored the pants off you in classes, but they made you do things at home as well. It was so unfair and so stupid. Like write down ten things you had to do to recycle precious materials when you lived in space all the time on a battlestar. Who cared? That was things that only techs had to know, and since he was going to be a pilot, just like his Dad, Boxey didn't really feel that he should clutter up his mind with useless and extraneous information when there probably wasn't room for it. Starbuck had offered to help, but after Boxey had faithfully transcribed some of Starbuck's proposals about recycling air through the Council Chamber so that the politicians could use their oratorical powers to heat it properly to remove the impurities, Apollo intervened. The fact that both Boxey and Starbuck had to appeal to him for the correct spelling of ‘oratorical' might have been what did it.
"He can get bad grades without any help from you, thank you, Starbuck."
Starbuck shook his head. "You know, Apollo, you're in danger of losing Boxey's affections here. This cruel insistence on making him go to school - well, that's a bit of a shortcoming you should do something about."
"Is that so?"
"It is. It's an attribute to be regretted in an otherwise splendid father. And he is splendid, isn't he, kid?"
"Uh-huh," said Boxey, holding a simplified diagram of the water filtration plant upside down and frowning at it. "What's splendid mean?"
"It's what your Dad is. Just don't ask me to spell it."
"Uh-huh. Dad? Starbuck didn't tell me, but what's an im-purr-itty?"
"Easy," said Starbuck. "It's something all felines have."
"Starbuck! Impurity, Boxey. It's well - " Apollo paused, and frowned. "It's easier to show you."
He got up and got over to the table where Boxey was supposed to be working on his school assignments. He walked rather carefully. He was healing a little slower than usual, something that Salik had already commented on with some disapproval, as if Apollo was doing it on purpose. The doctor had boosted the drugs to restore Apollo's bone marrow, and was watching over him carefully, refusing to let him return to duty as quickly as either of them had originally expected. Apollo had been reassured that it wasn't Sysperchion's hitting him - Salik had been certain that it wasn't some early manifestation of the disease, although he didn't altogether rule out some connexion - but he was taking a lot longer to get over a simple operation than he expected or wanted.
Now, five days after the operation and the bruising was yellowing and fading, and Apollo was almost back to normal, but he'd said to Boxey and Starbuck that morning that he still felt like he'd been beaten with heavy sticks. For some reason, Boxey's sincere offer to stay away from school to look after him had been refused, firmly and categorically. Boxey didn't pretend to understand it.
"All right." Apollo picked up a datapad and worked on it for a micron. "What colour's the screen?"
"White," said Boxey. "That's easy!"
"Pure white, nothing else on it, right? And if we put these red dots into it, what do we have then?"
"Measles?" offered Starbuck, interested.
"Sorry." Starbuck winked at Boxey, partners in crime.
"Red dots," said that worthy, always willing to play along.
Apollo persisted. "We have something mixed into the white, that means we don't have just pure white any more. If they were bits mixed into the air or the water - chemicals, bits of waste material, things like that - then we call them impurities. It's something that stops the water being just pure water. Got it?"
Boxey sighed too, and nodded. He peered at the diagram, and sighed again.
Apollo smiled. "Do you want to stop that for a centon? There's something really important I need to say to you."
"Okay," said Boxey. He put down his school books and the puzzling diagram with alacrity. "What about?"
"Me," said Apollo "I want to take you to meet someone."
"The man in Life Centre. He's going home tomorrow, and he told me today that he'd like to meet you before he goes."
"But he's a Gyp!"
"An Aegyptan." Boxey corrected himself, then pulled a face. "Why do I have to say Aegyptan? It's longer and everyone calls them Gyps."
"We don't," said Starbuck, from where he was lounging on the sofa.
"Everyone else does." Boxey's grimace grew even more distorted. He crossed his eyes at his father, who seemed remarkably unfazed by it.
"Your face'll stay like that," warned Apollo.
"That'll be an improvement, then," said Starbuck.
Boxey turned his head to stick out his tongue at Starbuck, and uncrossed his eyes with a blink. "But no one likes them, Dad. Everyone says they're spooky and scary. Is the one you helped spooky and scary?"
Apollo paused. "I don't think so." He glanced at Starbuck for a centon and then turned his attention back to Boxey. "Listen to me carefully, Boxey. You and me have a lot more in common than you think. What do you remember about your Dad?"
"But you're my Dad!"
"I know I am." Apollo smiled reassurance, and ruffled Boxey's hair. "I meant your real Dad."
Boxey's bewilderment grew. "But you're my real Dad. You're the one who looks after me. Do you mean my other Dad?"
Apollo nodded, but his smile faltered a little bit. "Yes."
"I don't remember him," said Boxey dismissively. "He went away even before I was a tiny baby, my Mom said, as soon as she told him I was coming, and there was only me and her until we got you. Mom said we'd better do our best to catch you. She said you were the best chance she'd seen in a long time, and you'd look after us and be the best Dad there is."
Apollo choked slightly at this innocent revelation of some of his dead wife's motivations.
"And is he the best Dad there is?" asked Starbuck, interested.
"Yup," said Boxey, with a casual certainty that had Apollo's expression softening.
"And you wouldn't want the other one?" persisted the lieutenant.
Boxey shook his head. "I don't know him," he said. Dad's my dad. He takes care of me."
Starbuck nodded. "I'd say that was about right, Boxey. That's what a real Dad does and what an ‘other Dad' doesn't." He spun a gold cubit through air so that Boxey could catch it. "Go buy yourself a few mushies, kid. You deserve it. I've been trying to teach your Dad that little lesson for sectons."
"Thanks!" said Boxey, delighted.
"Leave it, Starbuck," said Apollo "The thing is, Boxey, that I've got another Dad, too."
Boxey stared. "As well as Grandpa?"
"You never said!"
"I didn't know. No one ever told me until now."
"Really and truly? You're not kidding?"
"Really and truly."
"But who's your other Dad?"
"And this is where we came in. He's the man in Life Centre. I want to take you to meet him." Apollo waited a micron or two. Boxey continued to stare, his mouth open. Apollo leaned forward and put a finger-tip under Boxey's chin, gently pushing his jaw closed. "You look silly like that."
Boxey stayed staring, and the micron his father's hand was taken away, his mouth dropped opened again. Starbuck laughed, and Boxey turned to him.
"The Aegyptan," Starbuck nodded.
"My Dad's other dad is the Gyp?"
"My father is an Aegyptan, yes," said Apollo
"Oh," said Boxey. "But you can't be a Gyp!"
"It's no big deal, Boxey."
Boxey's face twisted into a genuine grimace. "But no one likes them! You said that's why we had to be careful not to think and say bad things, because people hurt what they don't like. That means people won't like you! I don't want them to hurt you. I don't want it to be true. You can't be!"
"Smart kid," said Starbuck, quietly.
"You aren't!" Boxey's mouth trembled, and suddenly the tears just spilled over, like someone turning on a tap.
"Hey," said Apollo gently. "It's still me." He pulled Boxey off the chair and onto his lap, holding him close. "It's still me."
Another gold cubit landed on the table in front of Boxey. He sat shivering on Apollo's knees, the soundless, effortless tears of shock trickling down his face. The other cubit that Starbuck had given him was held so tight that, when Apollo took his hands, there was a red mark on the child's palm.
"And that's another lesson I've been trying to get into his thick skull," said Starbuck. "Well done, kid. Well done."
"You aren't helping here," said Apollo, and pulled Boxey into a huge hug. Boxey got an arm around his father's neck and sobbed noisily and with abandon.
"Sorry," said Starbuck, and got up from the sofa to take Boxey's chair and hitch it closer so that he could help hold Boxey between them.
Undeniably, Apollo's news had shocked and scared Boxey. He was a good child, and he'd made a conscientious effort to do what his father wanted, and not call people by bad names or hate them because he didn't know them, but like most human children, he found Aegyptans strange and frightening. He clung very hard to Apollo for a few centons, while his father rubbed his back comfortingly and told him over and over that everything was fine, that everything was going to be all right. Starbuck said so too, and between them they petted and soothed the child into a more sanguine frame of mind.
"Does he have a funny shaped head?" Boxey asked, when they finally arrived at the Life Centre. "Everyone says Gyps… Aegyptans have funny shaped heads."
Apollo hadn't hurried him, but Adama didn't describe his son as obstinate as a mule for nothing. Boxey had been petted and indulged for a centar or so, and given a supper of such magnificence and with such a proliferation of mushies that Starbuck, while eating all the mushies he could steal, had muttered balefully about bribery and corruption. Apollo hadn't even got impatient about going back to their quarters twice - once so that Boxey could go to the flush, and second so that he could find the cubits Starbuck had given him and which he'd unaccountably left behind and was worrying about - but they got to Life Centre in the end.
"A funny shaped head?" echoed Apollo, then grinned down at his son. "No. He wears a mask sometimes, but that's all." He led the way past the reception desk, the receptionist smiling at Boxey as they passed, and straight into the main corridor.
"I'm scared," mumbled Boxey, clutching hard at his father's hand and shrinking back, against his legs for protection. The two silver headed people looked down at him, eyes bright green through their masks. "Is Starbuck coming with us?"
"I'm right behind you, kid."
"Don't be scared," said Apollo, gently. "They won't hurt you. They're here to guard Seti, that's all."
"They're scary," persisted Boxey.
"We won't hurt you, child," said the man on the right. His mask was of a snarling lion, with silver teeth curved dangerously sharp.
Apollo grinned. "This is Kha-nes-akhat, Boxey, a friend of mine. A long time ago on Kobol, one of the Ladies, the Lady Sekhmet, sometimes looked like a lion. Kha wears his lion mask to honour her. If we were being very formal, then I'd introduce him as the Sekhmet Kha-nes-akhat, remembering the Lady at the same time."
Kha-nes-akhat bowed to Boxey. "I am pleased to meet you, little human."
Boxey pressed back against Apollo's legs.
Apollo gestured with his free hand to the other Aegyptan. "And this is one of the Nekhebet people. Their Lady, on Kobol, sometimes looked like one of the vultures that fly in the desert. I'm sorry, but I don't know your name?"
"Her-em-Aakhu," she said, bowing her head briefly. She had a bird's head mask, not a pretty one.
Apollo nodded back at her. "And this is the Nekhebet Her-em-Aakhu, Boxey. They're here to look after your grandfather. They won't hurt us."
"I hope that includes me," muttered Starbuck. "After all, I'm not in politics." He met Apollo's uncomfortable glance without flinching, and after a micron, Apollo looked away.
"They've got funny names," said Boxey. He loosened the vice-like grip on his father's legs and his free hand reached for Starbuck's. Starbuck squeezed his hand comfortingly.
"We think yours are funny too," said Kha-nes-akhat, laughing. "Boxey's a funny sort of name to have."
"It's only my nickname," said Boxey, a little bolder.
"It's Troy, really," explained Apollo. "But no one ever calls him that, not even when he deserves it."
Boxey glanced up at him. "Troy's a silly name," he agreed.
"Your Dad has a funny Aegyptan name as well," said Starbuck. "You and me are going to have to practice saying it. It's full of dots and dashes and has a kind of hiccough in the middle."
"Ignore him," said Apollo
"We always do," replied Kha-nes-akhat, gravely.
Boxey tugged at Apollo's hand until he hunkered down, his eyes level with his son's. Boxey tried to whisper. "What happens when they take off those funny heads?" he said.
Boxey freed his hand from Apollo's to wind that arm around his father's neck and get his mouth against Apollo's ear. "Are you sure he doesn't have a lion's head underneath?"
"I'm sure." Apollo didn't whisper back. "Under the masks, they look just like me. Honest."
"So you can see why they prefer to wear masks," commented Starbuck, and smiled.
Kha-nes-akhat leaned right down and Boxey flinched back against his Dad's chest. "Touch it, Boxey. It's made of silver, and it's just a mask."
Boxey looked at Apollo for help and reassurance, who nodded. Tentatively, Boxey reached up and touched the lion's mane. Apollo's fingers ran across the lion's muzzle to touch the silver teeth, and, greatly daring, Boxey followed suit. It didn't bite. He sighed gently.
"It's cold," he said.
"It's just a mask," Apollo told him. "A real lion would be warm and living."
"Hot, I'd say," said Starbuck cheerfully. "And I bet they've got bad breath and really sharp teeth." He grinned impudently at the Aegyptan. "The real lion, I meant."
"And that is why we ignore him." Kha-nes-akhat straightened up. "All right?" he asked Boxey.
"When we get home, I'll show you my mask," promised Apollo. "Mine's a hawk."
"Okay," said Boxey. "Cool."
Apollo laughed and got upright again with little more than a grimace at Starbuck to betray the discomfort it caused him. "Seti?" he said.
"Waiting for you, Horus Sekhet-an-Ankhmehit." Her-em-Aakhu bowed again.
"See? I told you he had a weird Aegyptan name," said Starbuck to Boxey, and Boxey giggled. Starbuck stooped down and said quietly, in Boxey's ear, "It's all right. He really is still your Dad."
Boxey nodded, lifted his chin, and followed his father into the hospital room. The old man in the bed wasn't wearing a mask. He looked like anyone else, but maybe particularly just like Apollo. He had the same black hair, only streaked with white, and his eyes were green, like Apollo's, only not quite so bright a green, and their faces were the same shape.
"Good lord," said Starbuck. "At least I know what to expect as you get older, Apollo."
The old man smiled, and the smile was like Apollo's, the corner of his mouth crinkling in the same way that Apollo's did. "Providing he keeps his hair," he said.
Seti turned the pale green eyes onto Boxey, and his smile broadened. "And you must be my grandson. Come and say hello."
"Dad took me to see his other Dad yesterday," remarked Boxey.
Adama put down his knife and fork with great care, pushing the plate away. "Oh?"
"Did you know he had another Dad?"
Adama nodded. "Yes."
Athena put a hand on his arm. He shook his head at her.
"He's a Gy… he's Aegyptan, and he has a helmet like a hawk. Dad has one as well, that his other Dad gave him as a present, and he let me try it on last night when we got home. It was too big."
Adama picked up his fork again. "I expect it was, if it was made for your Dad."
"He was a bit scary. My other grandfather, I mean. Dad says that's just me being silly, but I'm sure he was." Boxey negotiated his way around the plate for a few microns. "Starbuck thought so too, but he pretended he didn't because he's grown up and a warrior and warriors can't be scared. I won't be scared when I'm a warrior like my Dad and Starbuck."
"So Starbuck was with you, as well?" said Athena.
"Uh-huh. Starbuck's always there. Dad likes him." Boxey gulped down some milk. "Do you think Dad'll let me have a helmet like that?"
"I don't think so, Boxey." Adama carefully put the fork onto his plate, food untouched, placing it precisely against the knife.
"Why not? Dad has one."
"I think that only Aegyptans have them," said Athena. "Boxey, you know that this is a secret, don't you?"
Boxey nodded. "I know," he said. "Dad told me."
"And you really mustn't ever tell anyone."
"I know," said Boxey, a touch impatient. "I won't. Dad said I could talk about it to him and Starbuck and you, but not to anyone else. I promised. Dad says a Caprican never breaks his promises."
"No. No, a Caprican never does." Adama glanced up at the chronometer. "You'd better grab your things, Boxey, or you'll be late for school."
Boxey gulped down the last of the milk and ran to find his schoolbag.
"Dad," said Athena.
"It's all right, Athena. I'll take him to school." Adama spoke quietly and calmly.
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
Adama shook his head. "I don't know. I think I'll give it up." He managed a thin smile, seeing that she was close to tears.
"It's what he wants. I must have failed him very badly."
"He's just mad at you for not telling him, that's all. It'll pass."
Adama shook his head again, swallowing hard against the lump in his throat. "We'll see."
"You can't give up!"
Adama smiled tightly. "What, then? Fight back?"
"We'll see," he said, again. "Now then, Boxey, say thank you to your aunt for bringing you over for breakfast, and we'll get you to school and me to the command meeting and see if we can do it without either of us getting told off for being late."
"Oh, I don't mind, "said Boxey, cheerfully. "Who tells you off? I thought you were in charge."
"You might tell Colonel Tigh that, sometime. Ready?"
Boxey tucked a hand into his grandfather's, and chattered happily about nothing much at all, all the way to the school. Once there he darted away to join Dillon - still his new best friend, apparently - leaving Adama with a brief hug and a wave.
Adama watched him for a moment, wondering bitterly why Apollo couldn't see the parallels for himself, and walked slowly to the bridge. He couldn't remember dreading a command meeting more than he was dreading this one. Until breakfast he'd been - well, if not looking forward to it, exactly, at least relieved that Apollo had recovered enough to get back to work. He'd been aware of Salik's slight unease, had worried about it all the more because Apollo wouldn't allow him to share it, and was just grateful Apollo was well again. But now - Apollo's first day back at work, and he was dreading it.
It went as all the command meetings had gone for the last three sectons, with the addition of Bojay and Boomer to report on the previous day's activities. Apollo was, as ever, fully briefed by his lieutenants about anything and everything that had happened during his short sick leave. And he was, as was becoming ‘ever', polite and properly deferential, everything a perfect captain should be in the presence of his superior officers, and everything that irritated those superior officers most. It annoyed Tigh, Adama knew, to have an inhuman super-efficient pattern card for a captain and the constant politeness grated. It was impossible to admonish Apollo for being polite and by-the-book, but Tigh was actively working on finding a way to do it. It didn't annoy Adama. It broke his heart.
"The cadets are all on their way in now," said Apollo, as the meeting drew to its close. "I've got five shuttles ferrying them in, and the first batch arrived about half a centar ago."
"Where are they?" Tigh asked.
"Deck Seventeen is cadet territory, sir. We created a common room for them down there: compartment twenty two. The rest of the squadron leaders and the flight commanders are there to help them settle." Apollo turned to Adama. "First muster is at eleven, Commander. With your permission, sir, I thought I'd do the welcome bit and take them through the outline programme, then you're booked for the inspirational speech at noon."
"Colonel Tigh's written it for me, I believe," said Adama absently.
"And a pretty fine speech it is, too, even if I do say so myself," said Tigh.
Bojay and Boomer both grinned, but Apollo's expression showed no change. The old Apollo would at least have grinned at Tigh. This Apollo was too polite for that. "Today's mainly an orientation day, taking them around the Galactica in bunches of ten or so, until they can find their way around. Classes start tomorrow."
"Good," said Adama heavily. He looked at the expressionless face behind which Apollo was hiding, almost as effectively as if he'd been wearing the silver Hawkhead that Boxey had talked about. "Thank you, Captain. Well done."
The mask slipped a fraction, and Apollo's eyes widened.
It was genuinely meant and, he'd be willing to admit, overdue, but Adama made no more of it. He wanted this over, and find himself a centar or so of peace and quiet to try and get used to his losses before he went to Deck Seventeen to be inspirational to a bunch of children. He suspected that they'd be noisy and inattentive and excited and that they would remind him all too much of Zac and, even worse at that moment, of a seventeen-yahren-old Apollo getting into his cadet's uniform for the first time. That would be a hard one to remember, harder still to forget.
He decided at that moment that he was giving in. Apollo's anger was one thing to deal with, but this implacable resentment was too much.
He cut off further discussion. "Well, there's a great deal to get through today. We had better get started, gentlemen."
Tigh nodded and stood up. Bojay and Boomer both jumped up and saluted. Apollo made to follow them, but Adama held up a hand. "If you wouldn't mind remaining behind for a centon or two, Captain, I have something to say to you."
Apollo looked faintly surprised. Adama hadn't attempted to speak to him privately since the terrible moment two sectons before when he'd begged Apollo to be more cautious about seeing Seti. Apollo dropped back into his seat with that soulless obedience that had characterised his entire demeanour for the last three sectons. Adama thought he knew what it was all about. He thought he knew what Apollo was saying to him. You wanted perfect? Here it is. Enjoy.
He waited until the door closed and they were alone, then got up and walked over to the huge screen on one wall that looked almost like a window, the projections of the stars outside sliding past in real time giving the perfect illusion of a clear glass portal.
"Boxey told me that you took him to see Seti yesterday," he said, without preamble.
"Yes." There was a note of defiance - triumph? - in Apollo's voice.
"I don't know why you did that?" Adama made it a question, but he was pretty certain that Apollo had intended only one more punishment.
Apollo paused, and Adama turned to look at him, waiting. Apollo looked past him to the stars sliding by.
"I don't like what's happening," said Apollo, at last. "There's too much unrest and things happening around the fleet."
"Yes. We've talked about that."
"Someone's behind it all, I think, and whoever it is, is stirring up hostility against the Aegyptans. They're trying to cause real trouble. When that comes, I'm not going to sit quiet. I'll do what I can to stop it. The old secret's none too safe any more, and if it all comes out, then I want Boxey prepared. He knows now, and he's got time to get used to the idea. If he didn't know, then it might be too late to tell him when things get rough, without him being badly hurt by it."
"I see." It sounded plausible enough, and sensible, and Adama thought that it was likely to be one of Apollo's motives, at least.
"I'm tired of secrets," said Apollo. "And I don't like lying to my son."
And there was the sting, the metaphorical blow, the reminder that Adama had lied for nearly thirty yahrens. Adama turned back to the screen, watching a star slide beyond its edge into darkness. For a micron the little points of light blurred, then he changed his mind. He wasn't going to give in at all. And there were several areas where he could attack.
"I see," he said, again, blinking hard until the stars came back into focus. "I would like to discuss Boxey with you, please. I wanted to ask you what you intend to do about him."
"With regard to me." Adama paused, then said with some difficulty: "I'll say this for one last time, Apollo. I am truly sorry that I failed you so badly as a father. I hadn't realised I'd done that. I thought that I loved you and your mother very much, but evidently that isn't your belief. Well, I realise that since you appear to have decided that you no longer belong to my family, that I have no claim on Boxey at all. I suppose, since there's none of the blood relationship that you seem to think is so important, I never did have any claim. But then, you have no blood relationship with Boxey either, so I suppose that's something that's only important when you want it to be."
"I don't want to lose Boxey as well, and I don't think he would understand this. He'd be hurt by it. I think it would worry him a great deal that you believe that a step-father can't truly love his son."
He could see Apollo reflected in the screen, staring at him. His son's face had lost the expressionless quality that he hated. Apollo looked shocked, like something unexpected had bitten him. Good. He had Apollo off balance, and he'd be damned if he'd let him find it again.
"I've never said - " said Apollo.
"I think that he'll apply that theory to you and him. He'll only worry that one day you'll turn against him, as you have against me. I really don't think that he can cope with that sort of insecurity, do you? I know that you've no compunction at all about hurting me, but I think better of you than to believe that you'd deliberately hurt a child to get your revenge on me. I hope I brought you up better than that."
"I didn't - I never intended to stop you seeing Boxey - "
Once again ruthlessly overriding everything Apollo said, Adama went on as if he hadn't heard. "And, of course, he's used to calling me Grandpa, from when we were a family. If you want him to stop doing that, you'll have to explain why. I won't do that for you. So far as I'm concerned, he's still my grandson, still a part of my family."
"But, I never suggested - "
"Besides, I think you'll find that your father will have little interest in Boxey. There's no relationship at all there, not even the emotional one, and Boxey is, of course, human. So, if you agree, we'll continue as we are so far as Boxey is concerned. Athena will bring him with her for supper every secton, as she has for the last three."
He watched the reflected Apollo swallow and nod.
"Yes," said Apollo. "Of course. But - "
"Good. And now, there's another thing. Since you've made the decision that you're no longer a member of this family, I think we need to redefine our working relationship too. If I understand everything correctly, we have nothing left but the purely commander-captain relationship. That's something I'll grieve over in my own time, but you're a grown man and I respect your choices. So, all of the things I've done in the past to make sure that it was clear you've made your way on merit, rather than for being my son, no longer apply. You will, of course, be treated exactly the same as any other member of the crew. No less, and certainly no more."
"I don't understand," said Apollo quietly.
"I mean, that I've been careful not to favour you in any way, Captain. Colonel Tigh believes that I've erred in the other direction and that I've given you a harder time than any of your predecessors. He may be right, but then I didn't love any of your predecessors. I've never had anything but a professional respect for them, and never felt any necessity to try and protect them from charges of nepotism by hiding my pride in their achievements the way I've had to do with you. I'll endeavour to develop the same detachment in relation to you."
He saw the reflected Apollo's lips move, but soundlessly. It might be a protest that Apollo killed unsaid.
Adama turned and stood before the screen, holding himself very upright and erect, preparing to throw back at Apollo the bitter words that had tortured him for almost three sectons. "And, after all, if there are accusations of nepotism in the future, you will be able to refute them. We are, as you made clear a couple of sectons ago, no relation at all. Not one molecule of DNA, I believe you said."
Apollo flushed. "No," he said.
His eyes were very wide, very green and very shocked. He looked so much like Ila that Adama's throat tightened.
"That doesn't matter to me and never did from the moment your mother returned, but I appreciate that it has a great deal of significance to you." Adama looked Apollo in the eye. Apollo's wide-eyed gaze shifted uncomfortably.
Adama hid a sigh. "And finally, Captain, the Council has decided that a formal liaison with the Aegyptans is required to help us demonstrate clearly and unequivocally to the fleet's population, our confidence and trust in them. I would be grateful if you would speak to your father about it - unless I'm very much mistaken, he is the most senior Aegyptan left. Please ask him to nominate someone to attend the Council on his behalf."
"I - "
"But not you, Captain. You are still a serving officer and it would not be appropriate for you to take on this role. I'd remind you, in case you were thinking of it, that in the current state of emergency you cannot resign your commission."
"I've no intention of resigning!"
"Good. I wasn't certain where your loyalties lay in this regard." Adama came back to the desk and sat down. There were a range of holopics on his desk, of Ila and all the children. He looked at the one of Apollo, and sat up very straight. Once again he was careful to emphasise Apollo's rank, and not his name. "Thank you, Captain. That will be all."
Apollo didn't move, staring at Adama.
"I said, that will be all, Captain. Thank you." Adama hardened his heart and made his tone as indifferent as he could manage. He picked up a datapad from the desk, a list from the quartermaster of essential stores and how they might be replenished, but the words may have well have been in Kobolian - or Aegyptan - for all the sense they made.
Apollo got slowly to his feet. "What's this all about?" he demanded.
"About?" Adama glanced up from the datapad. "It's about mapping out the new relationship you wanted. You obviously failed to understand the old one, so I thought it best we made this one crystal clear. That's all."
Apollo stared for a micron, then shook his head angrily, and went for the door. Adama watched him go, feeling almost sick.
"Oh, Captain," he said, as Apollo reached the door.
"Yes?" Apollo turned quickly.
"A last word of advice. I promise it will be the last I offer on your personal life, which is, of course, nothing to do with me as your commander. You've put a lot of faith in Seti's point of view - and this whole thing, of course, depends entirely on your point of view. But you might ask him one question."
Apollo waited, looking pale and shocked. The green eyes, so like Ila's eyes, were stormy; the mouth, so like Ila's mouth, in a thin, almost bloodless line.
"You might ask him why he didn't put up much of a fight for you, twenty-nine yahrens ago. You might at least ask him that." Adama looked down at his desk, eyes on the holopic of Apollo that sat there with the others. He picked up the datapad again and studied it. After a moment he said, coolly enough, "You are dismissed, Captain."
Apollo hesitated for an instant. Adama resolutely ignored him. He looked up only when the door slid shut, then glanced back to the holopic.
"Well," he said aloud. "Let's see if any of that gets through to that stubborn head of yours. Let's just see."