Section Four

 

"I wanted the chance to talk to you properly, away from the laboratory," said Adama. "There's never very much opportunity to talk there."

Apollo hesitated by the Bridge Office door, uncertain about whether he welcomed this unexpected opportunity or not.

"Won't this get the Council worried?"

"I don't think so." Adama waved invitingly at the chair in front of his desk. "Who brought you up?"

"Two of Reese's goons are waiting in the corridor." Apollo dismissed the guards as the irrelevance they were. "What it this? Have I suddenly become less of a political liability than I was?"

"Maybe a bit less embarrassing," Adama acknowledged. "Let's say the strategy's working and the Council's much less concerned about any theoretical threat you might have posed and is getting infinitely more excited about the potential benefits that might accrue from the Mask technology. That gives us a certain amount of political leeway."

"Strategy? This is a strategy?" Apollo took the seat offered. "I've seen more strategic thinking in one of Starbuck's Pyramid scams."

"You're still alive," said Adama, nettled.

"Well, that's an advance." Apollo shot back.

"An advance?"

"Given the experimentation you authorised on me, I had you figured for being in Salik's camp. He doesn't care what they do to the zombie either, since corpses have no rights."

"I hope you don't really think that," said Adama.

"Well, let's say I can't see you offering up any one of your live pilots for the K'h'n to experiment on."

"I had no choice, and you know that. Was it really so bad?"

Apollo thought back to the worst day, when the probes that M'nj' had inserted into the implant had left him virtually blind. M'nj' had glanced serenely at the blood running down his face and remarked to Salik that they seemed to have over-stimulated the visual cortex. Apollo, writhing in agony on the medical couch, had not been reassured. It had been several centars before his vision cleared, but the K'h'n hadn't stopped their tests in the meantime. They'd just moved on to testing something else. Something that didn't require him to be able to see.

It astonished him that his.. that the commander couldn't see that it wasn't the actual pain and discomfort, bad though that had been, it was what it all signified. That he wasn't human enough to have any consideration offered. Nada. Nothing.

"I've had better days," was all he said. Then, curiously: "So, what did you want to talk about?"

"It's been almost two sectars. We don't really get the chance to talk in private. I wanted to know how you were getting on."

"I'm coping," said Apollo flatly, thinking that if Adama had wanted to talk to him in private, he could have made the opportunity sectons ago. "As I'm sure Wilker and Salik and any other watchers you have on me have told you."

Adama nodded. "I've just ordered that we set aside one of the simulators for you. Wilker's been working on something and they want your flying skills back up to standard."

"They were a hell of a lot better than standard," said Apollo proudly. Then with a frown: "Is he ready to link me up through the Mask?"

"Almost," conceded Adama. "He's pretty sure that he's found a way to link Mask technology to a Viper's control systems."

"Not the Black Ship?"

"No. He tells me that it will be yahrens before he understands what's going on inside a Black Ship, even with the schematics the K'h'n left him. He at least knows what's going on with a Viper's systems and he's come up with a way to link in the Mask. The next lot of experiments will test his theory. He'll start by linking you to the simulators. I wanted to give you some advance warning."

"I don't like it." Apollo was vastly relieved that he wasn't expected to fly the Black Ship again, but still wasn't happy about using the Mask. "I don't like it at all."

Adama ignored that. "The Council's quite excited about the possibilities it offers. The K'h'n, and Wilker and Salik have assured them that there's no risk of the Enemy being able to control you - your brain patterning has become more human the further away we've got from Enemy space."

Apollo thought about the cold place. It was certainly less obvious, less noticeable, easier for him to warm up. "But not fully human, still. Maybe it never will be."

Maybe not. Maybe the implant's leaving a signature that you can't erase." Adama shrugged. "The Council's prepared to accept that."

"Big of them." said Apollo sourly. He wondered if this was Adama's way of saying that he'd accept it too. Well, Apollo wasn't prepared to settle for some grudging acceptance, not from Adama. He wanted a whole heap more than that when it came to recognition. He didn't care about the Council.

"What about the rest?" he asked abruptly. "The cybernetics."

"People are easier about that, now you've proved that there's no link to the Enemy."

"Are they?" Apollo was amused. "Not that I've noticed. The most I'd say is that it's quieter now."

"Quieter?"

"Fewer catcalls when I walk down a corridor. If anyone calls me the zombie or cyborg these days, they keep it out of my hearing."

Adama looked surprised. "I wasn't aware of that."

"You don't tend to walk down corridors with me," Apollo pointed out. "And they wouldn't say it if you did." He looked suspiciously at his father. "What's all this about? You haven't bothered giving me advance warning of any other procedures the demonic duo have devised."

Adama looked a little self conscious. "All right. I think that when Wilker announces that the Viper's ready for testing, the Council will acknowledge you and return you to active duty. I thought we'd better start talking about what that means."

"In operational terms?" Apollo raised an eyebrow.

"Stop being so deliberately obtuse. What it means to you, me, Athena and Boxey."

Apollo shrugged. "What difference will it make? I notice that you carefully said that the Council will acknowledge me. I didn't hear anything about my family."

"The last time we talked - really talked, not in Wilker's laboratory - things ended very badly. I've been thinking about that a lot, whether we were wrong in what we did, whether I was wrong - "

"And you've concluded that you were, of course, right. How could it be otherwise? Commander, Saviour of the Fleet, Healer of the Sick - how could you be wrong.?"

"Oh, for Sagan's sake!" Adama lost his hold on his temper. "Can't you even listen to me for a few centons?"

Apollo grinned and shrugged. He was surprised at how easy Adama was to needle.

"I'm still not sure about you," said Adama after a moment, his voice back under control. "I'm still not sure you're really Apollo, and maybe I never will be absolutely certain, not as long as there's any Enemy patterning. You've changed in some ways. But let's just say I'm more prepared to consider the possibility. I do want it to be you."

"Well. I don't know what else I can do to prove anything to you." said Apollo, suddenly very weary of this. He had the horrible suspicion that they were going to trawl over the same old ground as before. "I've been a very good little lab rat. I've not broken my parole. I've co-operated as much as I can."

"Yes, I know. With better grace than I expected."

Apollo shook his head. "No, it's not good grace. Mostly I'm too tired to protest very much, and I don't have any choice anyway. I'm not in control of my life anymore." A slight pause, then he shrugged off the note of self-pity that had crept into his voice. "And yes, I've changed a bit. Being dead does that to you. It's still me underneath. But, we're still where we were two sectars ago. You don't think it is."

"As I said, I'm more prepared to believe it, and act accordingly. I still think I did the right thing to protect Boxey: he's a vulnerable eight yahren old. You're thirty. You ought to be able to understand that his welfare comes first."

"Oh, I do. We just have different ideas about what constitutes his welfare. I don't believe that teaching him to be afraid of me is good for him."

"I've done nothing of the sort," said Adama sharply. "And I can't believe that you think that I would."

"A sin of omission, I'd say, Commander. I don't think that you sat down and told him I'm a monster; but neither do I think that you sat down and told him that I wasn't. That can be just as powerful, just as damaging."

Adama took a deep breath and a hold on his temper. "This isn't going to get us anywhere."

"No. Tell me something. Does he ever talk about me?"

Adama paused, looking surprised. "No," he said slowly, as if just realising it. "Not much. He went through a phase just after you disappeared where he was mad with you for going away and leaving him, and that took him a while to get over. I think that Starbuck was the only person he really talked to about you then. Starbuck helped him a lot, I think." There was a small wry smile on Adama's face. "Their reaction to your…your.."

"Death," supplied Apollo.

"I'm not sure about that anymore. I don't see how you'd remember what you do if you had been dead. Disappearance. Let's just call it that. Their reaction was just the same anyway. Starbuck was just as uncomprehending about it as Boxey. He loved you very much."

Apollo merely nodded. It was the first reference Adama had made to his son's relationship with Starbuck. Apollo didn't intend to discuss Starbuck with his father, not then. Not ever.

"Well, whatever the reason, Starbuck was better than anyone at talking to Boxey about you. Then when Boxey was over the worst shock, he talked about you more, to me and Athena as well. But when you came back, he had a dreadful time at school."

"Athena told me that he was bullied."

"Badly. The school did what they could to stamp on it, but most of the teachers were as spooked as the children. I'm sorry - it wasn't handled as well as it might be, I know. F'nch's lecture to the pilots was common knowledge. IFB had broadcast what we knew about the Enemy. Everyone knew. So when we took you out of the Black Ship, there was no hiding what had happened to you."

"And he blames me."

"I suppose so," said Adama uncomfortably.

"And just what did you tell Boxey about me?"

"What I could. That I hoped it was you, but that we had to be certain that you were really free of Enemy control."

"Thanks." said Apollo dryly. "That must have been immeasurably reassuring for him." He looked moodily at his father, suddenly not envying Adama what his father had had to deal with. "Look what it boils down to is that for over three sectars Boxey thought I was dead. And for the last three sectars he's still thought I'm dead, only reanimated by the Enemy to fight for them. And what's been sent back to haunt you all isn't the Apollo who 'disappeared'. I'm not longer quite human any more. So he's had a hell of a time at school about it, and while I've no doubt that you and Thenie did everything you could to comfort and support him through that, he's heard nothing that would reassure him about me. You've never tried to convince him that despite everything I'm still his Dad, that I still love him and care about him in exactly the same way; that not having a human heart anymore hasn't made a bent cubit's worth of difference to the real me. You haven't told him that because you don't believe it yourself. So far as he's concerned, I'm still not his father, not the one he knew, and now he's deeply ashamed to be my son. What the hell do you think we can rescue from that?"

"I hope that we can at least try. Athena's bringing Boxey here in a few centons to meet you. I want to give you a chance with him."

"Too late," said Apollo.

"You're being unnecessarily pessimistic - ." Adama broke off as the door chime sounded, and an instant later Athena ushered in Boxey.

Apollo shot one swift glance at his son's downcast, mutinous face, then looked grimly at Adama, as the older man beckoned the boy forward. It was crystal clear to Apollo, at least, that Boxey didn't want to be there.

"Boxey," said Adama in greeting, holding out a hand to his grandson.

Boxey came closer reluctantly, not looking at Apollo.

"Did your aunt tell you why I wanted to see you?"

"I don't want to," he said, still refusing to look at his father. "I don't want to talk to that thing."

"Boxey!" That Adama was surprised by the boy's vehemence was, to Apollo, almost comically obvious.

"Boxey, you mustn't talk about your father like that," said Athena.

"He's not my Dad! My Dad wouldn't have flown for them, for the Enemy. My Dad wasn't a zombie."

"Boxey!" Adama was stern now. "Stop it at once."

Boxey bit his bottom lip and glowered at his grandfather. "I don't want to be here. I don't want to see him."

"And you don't have to, Boxey," said Apollo gently. Angry as he was at everything that had happened to him, he couldn't blame a child for thinking and reacting like a child. He did blame his father for precipitating this scene without preparing the child better. "It's all right. I'd never hurt you, you know that. And I love you very much. But I can only be your Dad if you want me to be, and if you don't - well, your Grandfather and Aunt Athena will look after you. It's all right."

"You aren't my Dad. My Dad didn't have that thing in his head." said Boxey stubbornly.

"I know. I know it's scary. It scares everyone, especially me. But it's still me underneath, Boxey."

"That's what Starbuck says," said Boxey crossly. "But the kids all say you're dead."

Apollo nodded, remembering his own desperate shyness and desire to belong at school. He knew how awful it was to be singled out and bullied. He could imagine how betrayed and abandoned he'd felt when they'd thought Apollo was dead, how much worse he'd felt when his father had been resurrected and he'd been teased unmercifully about being the son of a dead zombie who'd shot down their own pilots.

"I'm not dead, Boxey. But you have to realise that for yourself and decide for yourself what's more important: what you believe or what other people think. But don't worry about it now."

"You aren't my Dad. Grandpa said so."

"Boxey! I said nothing of the kind!"

"Yes you did. You said we couldn't be sure it was him because of the things the Enemy had done to him. You said so."

"I told you that we had to be sure it really was your Dad, that he was really back."

"It's what you meant." said Boxey obstinately. "It's what you meant. You don't think it's my Dad either."

"Yes, I do, Boxey. I do think it's him. He's changed a little bit, but it's him."

Boxey just looked confused. "But that wasn't what you said before!"

Apollo got up. "I told you this was a bad idea. I'd better go." He glanced at Boxey. "I'll have to leave you to pick up the pieces here, but that's the way things are now."

"I'm sorry, Apollo," said Athena. I'll talk to him."

"Leave it. There's enough damage done." Apollo's restraint towards Boxey didn't extend towards the adults he thought should have done more. He looked down at Boxey. "Don't worry about it now." he said again. "It'll work itself out."

"Then maybe I've some damage to undo," said Adama, but he made no effort to stop Apollo leaving. He went with him into the corridor where the two security guards waited. He looked at the two men in some irritation and sent them away to the end of the corridor, out of earshot.

"I really am sorry. I didn't think it would be so bad. I thought he understood better..."

"He's only eight. Of course he doesn't understand." Apollo leaned back against the corridor wall. "You, know, it's funny the way things have turned out, but I used to think that I was luckier than you. We lost a hell of a lot in the Destruction, but I thought that I'd got one good thing out of it. I thought that at least I was going to get to see my kid grow up. I wasn't going to be the detached kind of father you were…"

"Detached?" Adama repeated, sounding astonished.

"At least I'd be there when he wanted me. Do all the little things my friends' Dads did with them, and I never got from you. Stupid little things like helping with his homework, teaching him Triad - "

"But you knew that I couldn't always be there! You understood that! But you know I loved you, all of you."

Apollo ignored that. "Still, you get a second chance with Boxey. You get my chance. Make bloody sure you deserve it."

"Apollo!" Adama protested.

Apollo stared at him, his turn to be surprised. "Well, that's an advance, Commander. Maybe you are starting to believe it's me."

"What are you talking about?" Adama demanded.

"What I'm talking about is that's the first time you've called me by name since I woke up, except, of course, when you're taking me into a deep probe and you're trying to trick me into trusting you."

"It can't be," said Adama.

"Oh it is, believe me. In my uncertain social existence I'm pretty sensitive to such things. Well, we won't think of today as a total write-off, then." Apollo glanced down the corridor to the waiting guards. "I'd better go. I'm sure Wilker's got things to do to me."

"And do you really think I'd try and trick you?" Adama demanded.

"Trying to trip me over Zac's age when I graduated wasn't a trick?" Apollo faced his father, then innate honesty forced him to recognise that his own resentment and anger were making him unfair. "Maybe not," he conceded. "Maybe it was some little test you devised to help convince you, I don't know. How do you expect me to know?"

"I hoped you'd thought better of me than that," said Adama sadly. "But then I didn't know what a failure I'd been as a father either."

Apollo laughed, but there wasn't much humour in it. "How can we judge, except on how your children turn out?" He leaned in, patted Adama's arm. "Can't argue with that one, can you? Not with this shining example of parental ineptitude staring you in the face."

"Apollo, this is ridiculous – "

"Try not to crap up his life too much You crapped it up with me. Don't do that with Boxey. Just don't do that."

"I can't believe that you're saying this?"

"Saying what?" Apollo turned to go. "All I'm suggesting, Commander, is something you know is all too true. After all, what the hell do you know about bringing up kids? You were never there."






Adama saw that Boxey had been crying, and he pulled the child into a fierce hug. He'd thought he was lucky when Apollo had married Serina and given him this ready made grandson. He had always regretted how much he'd missed of his children growing up, and had hoped to recapture some of that with Apollo's stepson. He hadn't before seen it as reparation to Apollo for all he'd missed. He still wasn't sure about that.

"It's all right," he said to Boxey, echoing Apollo's words. "But you and me need to talk about your Dad."

"Do you really think it's him?" Boxey demanded. "I've got it all mixed up now." He rubbed fretfully at his forehead: Apollo's signature gesture of impatience and tiredness. It said a lot about how like Apollo Boxey was, despite the lack of any blood relationship, and Adama sighed to see it.

"Yes, I do." said Adama decisively. "And I think we've hurt him very badly, Boxey. Very badly. I think we need to talk about what we do about that."

"Are you sure?" Athena asked. "I'm beginning to think it's him, but are you sure?"

Adama nodded. "Yes."

He frowned, remembering something Apollo had just said. Zac, How could Apollo remember the questions about Zac? How could Apollo have known what had happened in the deep scans? How could he? He was supposed to be so far under that he'd remember nothing…How much could he remember? How much was he hiding?

"What's wrong?" Athena asked.

"Nothing." Adama brought himself back to the moment with an effort, concentrating on his grandson and what could be done there. "Just something Apollo said." He smiled at her, wryly. "One of the many things Apollo said."






"Ah, I thought you'd be up here," said Starbuck cheerfully, hoisting himself up off the ladder and into the Celestial Dome. "You have half Security having the vapours, Wilker in hysterics because you've thrown his schedule into disarray, and your Dad telling everyone not to be so stupid. When the tag showed you were right up at the top of the ship, he guessed where you were and sent me to get you."

Apollo turned his head at last, to look at Starbuck in surprise. "He knows about the Dome?"

"He said that he never got the chance to get up here very often, and hasn't been up here for yahrens, but it was always one of his favourite places in the ship. Next time we're up here, we'll have to remember to lock the hatch."

"I didn't think he knew about it."

"You're a lot like him in some ways," said Starbuck, coming to sit with Apollo on the edge of the dais, looking out at the starfield. "Stands to reason you both like the same kind of things."

"I'm nothing like him!"

"Well, you're mainly like your mother," conceded Starbuck. "But there's a few flashes of your Dad in you."

Apollo grinned reluctantly. "I just told him he was a god-awful father. I hope I didn't inherit that."

"That's a bit unfair," said Starbuck reasonably. "Just because you're mad at him now about things."

"You've been talking to him, then."

"He told me a bit about what happened. He wanted to enlist me to help with Boxey."

"Stay out of it, Starbuck. It's a can of worms."

"Of galactic proportions," agreed Starbuck. "And so I told him. You'll understand that I was terribly respectful - he is the commander and I've no real desire to end up in the Brig - but I told him you were my primary concern, not Boxey and he'd have to sort out that problem himself."

"After all," said Apollo bitterly. "He helped create it."

"I think so too," said Starbuck, still cheerful. "But I didn't say so. I'd definitely have ended up it the Brig for that and you'd have had to come and comfort me through the bars."

"The way you've come to comfort me now?"

"That's my job," said Starbuck, and they grinned at each other companionably. Starbuck put an arm around Apollo's still-thin shoulders. "Your Dad said he'd handled things very badly."

"An encouraging flash of self knowledge," said Apollo sourly. "He honestly thought that he could just bring Boxey in, just like that, and everything would be all right. You know, the glorious Commander decrees family harmony and everything and everybody falls into line."

"I think he was genuinely surprised at Boxey's reaction and he blamed himself for not talking to him more. He said it was because he had no idea how to bring up kids - that sounded like you on one of your more censorious days. Right?"

"Right."

"A bit harsh, Apollo."

"He didn't bring me up," said Apollo. "He wasn't ever there."

"Insurance." said Starbuck wisely. "If you'd turned out badly he could always say it had nothing to do with him."

"If I'd turned out badly? What do you call this?"

"I call it you stewing in self pity, and I'm getting a bit bored with it," said Starbuck frankly. "I'm working overtime here, and not getting much of a reaction. You're wallowing in self-pity, Apollo."

"Oh," said Apollo. "I didn't think I was being that self pitying. I thought I had a legitimate grievance."

"Wallowers usually do."

Apollo grinned at him, half twisting to face him. "Sorry, but it has not been a good day. Boxey really doesn't want anything to do with me. This just scares him to hell."

He gestured impatiently at the implant. Starbuck stared at it for a micron, then gave way to a long suppressed desire. He leaned forward and, quite deliberately, kissed the implant lovingly.

Apollo looked so startled that Starbuck laughed at him, and leaned back in to kiss him properly. For a micron Apollo didn't react, then his lips parted to accept Starbuck's tongue as it probed into his mouth, giving himself up to the feeling that he'd half forgotten, half tried to forget. Starbuck slid off the dais to kneel upright in front of Apollo, and kissed him again, tangling his hands into Apollo's thick hair and pulling him in tight and close.

"Starbuck," said Apollo, uncertain, when the lieutenant pulled back to smile at him.

"It's all right, Apollo." said Starbuck, running his hand down Apollo's chest to the groin. He grinned at the hardening bulge he found there. "Oh, nice," he said, fastening onto Apollo's mouth again, and, with a dexterity that came from long practice, unfastened Apollo's jeans and slipped his hand inside. Apollo, enthusiastically returning the kisses with interest, gave the familiar little gasp that Starbuck had once thought he'd never hear again, and reached for Starbuck's uniform, tugging at it with urgent fingers.

Starbuck shrugged out his jacket, pausing his ministrations on Apollo's erection only for so long as it took him to swap hands, and let Apollo pull off the top part of his tunic and pressure suit, concentrating on kissing and touching, reacquainting himself with taste and feel. He tugged imperiously at Apollo's jeans, and, without breaking the kiss, Apollo lifted slightly to allow Starbuck to get the jeans down over his hips. He kicked them off and spread his legs wide, hooking them around Starbuck's waist and allowing him to press in close. He reached down for the fastening to the lieutenant's uniform pants, when Starbuck, one hand still occupied with pumping energetically at Apollo's cock, used the other to unbutton Apollo's shirt.

"No!" said Apollo sharply, and pulled back. There was panic in the wide set green eyes.

Starbuck used both hands to cup Apollo's chin, framing his face. He smiled lovingly at him. "I've seen the scars. I saw them the day that they took you out of the Black Ship, when you were still Masked. I know. I've seen the other implant. It doesn't matter. It's still you."

Apollo hesitated.

"I love you, Apollo. I've got you back and I'm going to make love to you. That's all that matters." Starbuck was still gentle, reassuring. They had to get past this. He was sure now that nothing mattered to him as much as Apollo: Apollo had to be sure of that too, or they didn't have a chance. Apollo's response wasn't too encouraging.

"Don't tell me that you love me. Everyone who was supposed to love me has left me. I don't believe it anymore. Not now."

Starbuck still had Apollo's face cupped in his hands, and he used his thumbs to trace the prominent cheekbones, the line of the jaw, revelling in touching him again.

"I won't tell you if you don't want me to, but you'd better believe it. I do, Apollo. Very much. You're all that matters to me, and I'm still here. I always will be. Believe that."

Apollo hesitated then nodded. "All right. But it's not pretty."

He undid the shirt buttons with shaking fingers, staring into Starbuck's eyes all the while. Starbuck just smiled up at him, his thumbs still gently stroking Apollo's face, and when the shirt fell away, he leaned in for a long kiss before sitting back on his heels and looking openly at the scars and implant. Again with that quiet deliberation, he leaned forward and planted a kiss on the implant above Apollo's heart.

Apollo gasped.

"It's all right," said Starbuck.

He kissed Apollo again, and trailed his tongue down his throat. He knew what would happen when he got to the little hollow at the base: licking and kissing there always had Apollo jumping hot. This time was no exception. Apollo moaned softly and tilted his head back to let Starbuck nuzzle expertly at his neck, his whole body tensing. His legs tightened around Starbuck's waist, and when Starbuck's hand slid down to enclose Apollo's cock, it was hard and throbbing again. Apollo's hands reached for Starbuck, easing their way into the lieutenant's pants to return the compliment.

Starbuck's tongue worked its way busily down past the little knobs of bone at the top of Apollo's breastbone and started on its long sensuous sweeps down his chest. He carefully and gently licked each of the long white scars, biting gently on the nipples. The implant tasted slightly metallic, and he traced the pattern with his tongue, listening to his lover moan and enjoying the amount of writhing and gasping that was going on, loving the feel of Apollo's hands on him. Apollo shifted to get the angle right, raising his legs to catch them higher around Starbuck's chest.

"Put your arms around my neck," said Starbuck. "I need both hands free."

He held up his fingers and Apollo's mouth opened obediently to suck hard on them, getting them wet. This was the only lube they had, and Starbuck mentally cursed himself for not having any with him.. He'd got out of the habit of carrying it around with him on the off-chance they'd find a few centons and an empty storage locker together. Another bad habit to get himself back into, and he found himself grinning at the thought.

Apollo's body shuddered as Starbuck got a finger into him, then a second. Apollo bent forward like a bow to let him reach Starbuck's mouth, Starbuck energetically finger fucking Apollo to get him ready, kissing each other with a passion they'd both thought had gone forever. Starbuck had half forgotten how hot and wet Apollo was, how eagerly his lover's arse would close on his hand, and he knew he had to get in there. He spat on his hand, slicking his cock.

"I don't want to hurt you, Apollo," he said anxiously.

"Just get in there." Apollo added his spit to Starbuck's. "I want you, Starbuck. Please."

Starbuck nodded, shuffling his pants down around his knees. Apollo eased forward until he was balanced right on the edge of the dais, widening his legs still further. He steadied himself with one hand, the other around Starbuck's neck.

"Now," he said huskily. "I want you now."

Starbuck grinned and took Apollo's legs just above the ankle, pressing them, knees bent, up against his chest. The tip of his wet cock pushed against Apollo and surged forward. Apollo winced and gasped, but pressed forward to meet him, eager to get him inside. Starbuck pushed forward an inch, slid back, forward a little more, back again; slowly working his way into Apollo, trying not to hurt him. Starbuck watched the point at which they were joined in intense concentration, watching as Apollo's arse slowly swallowed him up, watching as Apollo stretched to take him. At last he was fully in, his balls pressed up against his lover.

For a moment he didn't move, just drowning in the heat and the tightness enclosing him, leaning forward with both hands on the edge of the dais, eyes closed. Apollo's hand stroked his cheek.

"Now, Starbuck," he said, and kissed him.

Starbuck opened his eyes to drown in vivid emerald green instead. He smiled at Apollo and began to stroke, gently at first. He moved back and pushed forward again, slow and powerful, and Apollo surged down to meet him, tightening the muscles of his rectum to grip hard on the cock that was ploughing up inside him.

"Oh Apollo," Starbuck breathed, pulling back and pushing deep inside Apollo again, looking all the time into his eyes. "Apollo."

"Harder," Apollo gasped. "Harder, Starbuck."

Starbuck laughed. That was his Apollo all right. He moved his right hand onto Apollo's erection, pumping it to their same rhythm, and leaned forward so he was resting on Apollo's bent legs. He started moving faster and harder, concentrating on getting in as far and as hard as he could. Apollo made those dearly familiar little whimpering noises that meant he wasn't far off coming, the noises that meant Starbuck was pleasing him, pleasuring him. Doing what Starbuck knew he'd been born to do.

Then Apollo had somehow got his legs free and had them tight around Starbuck's chest, his body convulsing hard at each thrust, and his cock spasming, shooting jism all over Starbuck's hand. Starbuck listened to the almost animal growl that was torn from somewhere deep inside Apollo's chest, and, as always, the sheer primitive passion in it had him coming himself. He cried out as his own cock went into spasm, emptying deep inside the man he loved.

For a few centons they clung together, Starbuck somehow getting Apollo balanced on the edge of the dais, kissing the sweaty neck and hair.

"Stay in me," Apollo managed after a centon, wrapping his legs firmly around his lover. "Just hold me."

"Glad to," said Starbuck, despite the fact that the floor, now he'd come to notice it, was hard on his knees.

For a little while Apollo just sat with his face buried in Starbuck's shoulder. "You're giggling," he said, raising his head. "I can feel it. If you're not careful, you'll giggle yourself out of me. What's so funny?"

"Me," said Starbuck honestly. "I was a bit scared of this, Apollo, in case it would be different"

"Is it?"

"Well, you taste like my old Apollo. You make the same little wriggle when you get hot, you get just as breathless and sweaty afterwards, and boy, do you make the same noises. You always were a noisy one. It's just the same."

"And that's all right?"

"That's heaven." Starbuck kissed the side of Apollo's throat. "Yeah, I guess I've got you back. That's all I ever wanted."

"We don't know how long for," said Apollo, suddenly serious. "Salik and Wilker don't know what's powering the heart, so they don't know how long before it gives out.."

"And that makes you as human as the rest of us. I don't know how long I've got either. Doesn't matter."

"I suppose," Apollo agreed and snuggled in tighter.

Starbuck realised that Apollo was shivering. "Cold?" he asked, surprised. The Dome wasn't maybe the warmest place in the ship, but it wasn't that cold. They'd been up here naked many a time without noticing the temperature.

"One thing I don't handle so well these days is temperature extremes," Apollo admitted. "I don't adjust very easily and it feels really cold up here. I'm stark bollock naked, Starbuck. At least you still have your pants on."

"Round my knees, where they're a hell of a lot of use." Starbuck snagged up his flight jacket from the floor and wrapped it around Apollo's shoulders. "So, why don't we go somewhere warmer and repeat this unforgettable experience where you've less chance of catching double pneumonia?"

"Your place or mine?" Apollo started on Starbuck's left ear and kissed the line of his jaw, little butterfly kisses that rounded the lieutenant's chin and went on up to the other ear. Starbuck wriggled and moaned at him.

"Yours," said Starbuck when he'd recovered. "I've got some serious licking and kissing to do, and somehow I can't see myself explaining that to Core Command when they ask me why I'm taking you down onto the troop decks."







"This is it," Wilker said excitedly. "This is really it."

For once they weren't in one of the simulator rooms. For the past three sectons Apollo had spent a major part of each day doing what he did best: flying. Admittedly only a simulator, with two of Reese's security people outside guarding the door and keeping the curious away, but the Galactica's training simulators were so advanced, the holographic projections so realistic, that it was almost the same as being in a real Viper. It had taken only a few days for him to regain his old skills, to be consistently scoring in the very high nineties: something only the best pilots could match.

It had been a good three sectons, inarguably the best since his return. The simulator marked a kind of upward step, a benchmark in his rehabilitation, one more step towards gaining acceptance. But that was nothing to spending every night with Starbuck, arguing companionably about his simulator scores and discussing battle tactics in between bouts of noisy and energetic lovemaking. With the door of his room locked against the outside world, pressed up hard against Starbuck in that narrow bed, arguments stopped with frantic kissing whenever one of them got bored with battle tactics and opted instead for close quarter manoeuvres of a more personal kind: it was as if he'd never been away. He was almost happy. The moments when they were making love, he knew he was happy.

Today, though, he was back in the electronics laboratory. For once the whole Research Committee was present. It had been quite a few sectons since they'd all been there - watching Wilker at one of his interminable experiments had not been a life enhancing experience and they'd soon tired of that, being content to let Salik and Wilker report progress to them instead - but this was a special occasion. Today they weren't coming to watch a seasoned Viper pilot play with the training simulator. Today they were coming to watch as, for the first time, he was to be re-Masked.

Apollo was dreading being linked into the Mask. It threatened everything. It was only the second time he'd seen it. And just like the last time, Wilker was holding it in both hands, cradling it protectively

"What will it do?" he asked. Over the past sectars he'd developed a kind of remote wariness where anyone else was concerned, particularly against the two doctors. He endured the experiments, but held himself aloof and distant, not giving the impression that he cared about the outcome one way or the other. It wasn't often that he asked what an experiment was designed to do, what Wilker was trying to achieve. But this worried him. It had the potential to divide him even further from the rest of humanity.

Wilker blossomed under this unexpected interest. "Today, of course, we'll just be measuring the effect the Mask has on you. But later, when we've mapped out the parameters, we'll link you to the simulator computers. By hooking you up to the simulators through the Mask, you'll be able to process the data direct. Normally, there's a delay while your eyes send data to the brain for processing, your brain analyses it and sends the signals to your hands to turn left - "

"I do understand the basic physiology involved," said Apollo patiently. He glanced at the Research Committee, at the absorbed, intent faces. "Oh, sorry. Was the explanation not for me?"

"Apollo." said Adama quellingly.

Apollo looked away.

"The Mask cuts all that out." Wilker went on, undisturbed. "You won't need to use eyes and hands. The Mask, I think, processes the data thousands of time faster than the human brain, and translates that into action. You should be able to react infinitely faster. You should be able to fly the simulator, and the Viper we're working on, by thought alone."

"But I have to wear that to do it." Apollo, the faint pleasure he'd had at baiting Wilker and the Committee fading fast, glowered at the Mask in Wilker's hands.

"That is the point of these experiments, Captain," Joel reminded him. "To see what defensive use we can make of the Mask technology."

Apollo sighed. He looked once at Adama, almost imploringly. He would never beg, never plead for the experiments to be ended, but he still had a vague hope that his father would one day see himself how demeaning and arid they were, and would step in and order them stopped. But not today. It was never today. Adama still didn't feel secure enough politically, he supposed. Or genuinely thought they'd be useful to the survival of the Fleet. Or thought it was Apollo's duty to submit. Or didn't much care. Apollo wasn't sure which.

Adama only shook his head, and Apollo sighed and sat back in the chair they'd set in the centre of the laboratory.

"Ready?" Wilker asked.

"I suppose," said Apollo with real dread and tried to relax as Salik set the inevitable electrodes on his left temple.

Adama stepped forward and dropped a hand on his shoulder. "Salik's monitoring this, Apollo. If there's any danger, Wilker will remove the Mask immediately."

"Very reassuring." said Apollo dryly. "Let's just hope that if anything goes wrong I'm in a condition to be grateful for their prompt intervention. If it fries my brain, though, that'll solve your problem for you."

"I promise it won't."

"Fry my brain or solve your problem?"

"I don't think it will hurt," Wilker said, advancing with the Mask.

"The lack of certainty is distressing." Apollo tried to continue to sound detached and indifferent, but the armour he'd built up over the last few sectars wasn't nearly as dense as he'd like. He hoped that no-one noticed that his hands were shaking slightly. He closed his eyes quickly as Wilker loomed over him.

There was a sudden coldness in the implant, sharp as a pain, that had him stiffening and catching his breath, choking down a cry. It was like being stabbed with a shard of ice. And almost as if someone had thrown a switch, there was impenetrable silence, something Wilker was saying cut off in mid word.

For a moment Apollo was aware only of the cold in the Mask, the answering burst of coldness somewhere deep inside him, and himself suspended between the two, strung out, momentarily helpless, floating.

Complete.

He opened his eyes. Nothing but deep blackness and the profound silence. But he knew that there was a black bar across his eyes, a cold claw touching his lips and another pressing lightly on his throat. The fourth curved over his right ear and circled around to touch the left. It felt….it felt familiar, as if it belonged to him. Almost, in some furtive, guilty kind of way, it felt right sitting over the implant because that was where it should be. He closed his eyes again. He should be afraid that the Mask had blinded him, deafened him. Should be, but wasn't.

Together.

"Can you hear me, Apollo?" Wilker's voice boomed at him, unpleasantly loud, breaking through the silence like a hammer.

"We're spiking on the Enemy frequency again," Salik said. He spoke quietly but to Apollo it was like a shout. "It's not been this strong since the first time we measured it."

Apollo thought about that, aware that it wasn't wise to let that cold back where everyone could see it. So he walled it off the cold place inside, concentrated on being just Apollo, on grounding himself, not allowing himself to float. Just Apollo taking control. Warm and breathing. Not cold at all.

"Enemy frequencies fading." Salik looked thoughtfully at Apollo. "How does he do that?" he said, half to himself.

"Human again"? asked Councillor Piers.

"Back to normal," Salik said, then added grudgingly: "Normal for Apollo, that is."

"Apollo?" Wilker's voice boomed at him again, a note of anxiety in it.

"Stop shouting at me," he said. His voice was unrecognisable even to his own, amplified hearing: a harsh, echoing, metallic monotone, distorted by the claws at throat and mouth. Not a human voice.

He reopened his eyes. The momentary blackness had cleared and he could see everything in incredible detail, every mote of dust on the computer consoles across the room, everything hard and sharp-edged. Boundaries of things in the room - computers, consoles, people - had a faint halo of icy blue light that Apollo found vaguely attractive. He focused on the technician at the console twenty feet away, in his immediate line of sight. She was looking on in a kind of horrified fascination, and Apollo watched the pupils of her eyes dilate in nervous stress at the sound of his voice. The Mask measured the dilation, told him it was irrelevant. Fear, not aggression. But he used her wide pupils as a dark mirror, seeing his tiny image reflected there, seeing himself in the Mask for the first time. He looked at the images carefully, accepting, not marvelling at, the acuity of vision the Mask had given him. He didn't look very human. But he didn't feel uncomfortable. There was a rightness about wearing it, a heightening of the senses that was distinctly pleasant.

There was a confused babble of sound from behind him, enormously loud. He frowned, wondering how… ah, that was how to control the volume.. He automatically filtered the startled exclamations out. They too were irrelevant and unnecessary.

"Are you all right, Apollo?"

Apollo turned his head. "I think so," said Apollo in that inhuman voice.

Salik was watching the brain patterning like a hawk. "Apollo," he said abruptly. "Can you see me?"

Apollo turned to stare to him. "Perfectly."

Salik frowned and bent over Apollo for a moment. "Your pupils are contracted. Your eyes are intensely green, virtually pinprick pupils."

"Does you looking into my eyes like that mean we're engaged?"

Salik grunted. "All right. If you can see so well, what am I doing?" He took a stylus and moved it from left to right across Apollo's line of vision. "You're not focusing and you're not tracking."

"You moved a stylus exactly 0.634 metres, in an arc from my right, your left. The arc angle was 33.721 degrees." Apollo watched Salik's surprise with satisfaction and added. "You're standing exactly 1.183 metres away. I've kept the measurements down to three decimal places, although I could be more accurate if you like."

"Lords," breathed Wilker, craning his neck to look at Salik's monitor.

"What's going on?" demanded Adama.

"The brain patterns show that the visual cortex isn't functioning." Salik stared at Apollo. "Almost as if it's been switched off. Apollo, exactly what happened when Wilker put on the Mask?"

"Everything went black and quiet for a moment."

"Nothing else?"

"The Mask was cold." said Apollo, reluctantly. He said no more.

"Oh boy," Wilker rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Oh boy!"

"What's going on?" Adama repeated impatiently.

"Well," said Salik, with a glance at Wilker, who nodded. "Technically, I think he's blind with the Mask on."

"Blind!"

"Technically," said Wilker.

Salik added, "I think that his brain isn't using his eyes or the visual cortex to process visual data. He's using the Mask instead."

"With amazing accuracy!" Wilker was almost dancing on the spot with excitement. "Oh Lords - this is going to be so good. Can you imagine what he'll be able to do with data from a scanner?"

"Everything went quiet as well?" Salik looked back at his monitor. "I wonder -?"

"Technically deaf, too? That way most significant sensory input would be channelled through the Mask." Wilker beamed delightedly. "Fantastic!"

Adama watched two doctors in disbelief. "You're telling us that Apollo's deaf and blind?" He sounded appalled.

Apollo filed away that interesting reaction for later analysis. "Only technically," he said, in the flat, harsh monotone.

"This is temporary?" asked Joel asked.

"Won't it be fun to find out!" Apollo couldn't sound as sarcastic as he'd like in the inhuman voice, but he gave it all he had.

"I think I'd like to be sure," said Adama, very firmly. "Take it off him, Wilker."

"Oh." Wilker was dashed, disappointed.

"We'd better be sure that the captain isn't going to suffer any ill effects," Joel said diplomatically. "If you please, Doctor."

Wilker sighed and reached for the two release catches. He lifted the Mask away. Apollo gasped as the ice shard knifed through his head again. Once again, he was plunged into dark silence. He put a hand to the implant. It felt cold to his touch.

"Apollo?" Adama shouted at him.

"I'm all right."

"You didn't answer at first."

"I only heard you the once." Apollo blinked a couple of times as his vision cleared. "I'm all right."

"You can see?" Adama demanded thankfully.

Apollo nodded. "Lost it for a centon, but I think everything's coming back to normal." He looked around the room, struck by how faded and dull it looked. There was less sharp-edged clarity than with the Mask. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"No side effects?" Salik was leaning over him, shining an ophthalmoscope into his eyes.

"Don't think so. I only had it on for about three centons."

"Everything looks okay," conceded the medic.

Wilker grinned. Apollo assumed the charming doctor was relieved that his experiments weren't going to adversely affected. "We've a lot of work to do, measurements to make," he said. Now you're reassured about this, can we get on with it?"

Apollo looked at the Mask in the scientist's hand. It looked inert, powerless: but only he knew just how false an impression that was. He was suddenly curious himself about what he'd be able to do with it. He wondered what it would be like linked up to a simulator, linked up to a Viper.

"All right," he said, then more firmly: "Sure."






In the dead, early centars Starbuck woke suddenly, staring up at the dim ceiling in momentary confusion. The little room near the electronics laboratory was dark and quiet. He listened for a moment to Apollo's even breathing, wondering what had woken him. Odd.

He snuggled back down against the warm naked body next to him. The bed was really too narrow for two, but it did result in some very intimate sleeping arrangements. Couldn't complain really. He yawned and closed his eyes. Then it happened again.

Apollo jerked convulsively and Starbuck started back into wakefulness.

"Apollo?" he asked.

No answer, but another split-micron convulsion.

"Lights, fifty percent," said Starbuck, alarmed, and sat up.

The computer brought up the lights enough for Starbuck to see that Apollo was frowning in his sleep, and that his breathing had become shallow and rapid, distressed. A dream, probably.

He watched Apollo for a few centons, growing increasingly uneasy. Whatever Apollo was dreaming about wasn't pleasant. He was tossing and turning now, muttering to himself, and there was a light sheen of sweat on his forehead. Starbuck leaned forward anxiously.

"Cold," mumbled Apollo. "Cold."

He was shivering now, badly. Starbuck touched him, realised his temperature seemed perfectly normal. But Apollo had said he had difficulty in dealing with temperature changes, maybe he really was cold. Starbuck drew up the covers but the muttering didn't stop. Disjointed words, distressed and distressing.

"Apollo?" said Starbuck again, gently taking a hand in his.

"Hurts" said Apollo, still deeply asleep. "Oh God, it hurts." There was despair and agony in his voice. His breathing grew more shallow, more difficult. His grip on Starbuck's hand was painful. "Cold. Oh God, I'm so cold…."

Starbuck debated about waking him, wondering if that would do more harm than good. Before he could make up his mind what to so, Apollo screamed and sat bolt upright.

"No!"

Starbuck caught hold of him, grunting slightly as a flailing fist caught him painfully on the shoulder. Apollo's eyes were wide and glassy, and he was shaking uncontrollably. He screamed again, fighting against Starbuck's hold.

"It's all right. Apollo" said Starbuck urgently "It's all right. You're safe now. I'm here. It's just a dream, just a dream."

Apollo struggled, the sobbing fading to a distressed whining that hurt Starbuck's heart.

"It's just a dream, Apollo. Just a dream. It's all over." He fought to get Apollo still and quiet, holding him close and tight until Apollo's struggles stopped and he was shaking in Starbuck's arms.

"Starbuck?" said Apollo uncertainly.

"I'm here. It's all right."

"What -?"

"I think you had a nightmare," said Starbuck in the most matter of fact tone he could manage. Apollo was still shaking badly, and he pulled him in tighter, rocking him gently, comfortingly.

"Nightmare?"

Starbuck nodded, and lay down again, taking Apollo with him. He pulled the covers up over them again.

"I wonder what," said Apollo, recovering.

"All I got was that you were cold. That, and a punched shoulder." Starbuck grinned at him, keeping things light.

"I hit you?"

"I'm hoping it was an accident. Want to talk about it?"

"I don't know what there is to talk about," said Apollo fretfully. "I can't remember anything much." His tone grew thoughtful. "It's about all I remember about being Masked, you know. How cold it was."

"Yeah. You said that's all the deep scans showed. So what's got you so stressed you're dreaming of that? The Mask?"

He thought back to what Apollo had told him about the first time that Willker had linked him and the Mask to a simulator. Apollo said that he'd to dampen the Mask's reactions: it wasn't meant to be linked up to human technology, and the linkage was a difficult one. It was a.. a wrongness, something to be resented and fought. That description had left Starbuck uneasy, but Apollo had enthused about the effect once he was linked in. The Mask had processed the simulator data with contemptuous ease, reading and analysing the random images with a speed that Wilker later confessed was frightening. Apollo had hit perfect scores within seconds. No matter how Wilker ratcheted up the difficulty level on the programme, Apollo defeated his best efforts. He paid for it later with blinding headaches.

Starbuck's unease grew, at the thought that the Mask may be following Apollo into his sleep. "Are you dreaming about the Mask?"

"I don't know. Last couple of sectons I've worn it for centars every day. I know since they've started linking it into the simulator, it gives me hellish headaches, but I've not had any dreams about it before."

"The Council tomorrow, then? But your Dad says that's going to be a formality."

"Sure." Apollo was bitter. "Acceptance back into the fold. ‘Oh sorry, Captain, but you are human after all. Hope the experiments didn't hurt.' I suppose I'd better practice being grateful."

"You'll be back on active duty," Starbuck pointed out.

"Starbuck, I've been away from active duty for over seven sectars now. Bojay's got my job. We both know that active duty for me will mean that instead of flying simulators, I'll be flying for real, but flying some experimental ship Wilker's working on. That's not going to make things better with everyone. It'll be worse. They'll soon realise that I'm flying Masked."

"Let things work themselves out," said Starbuck. "I think it'll get easier once they're used to seeing you in the OC and the troopdeck again, although we might get a rough ride at first. And once they realise that the Mask's being used to help -"

"I don't think that will make much difference. They're used to seeing me around now and they still avoid me. No, the Mask will make it worse."

"So that is what's bothering you?"

"Probably," Apollo agreed with a sigh. "It's a really bad idea to come back from the dead, Starbuck. It's the worst kind of social solecism."

"I'm glad you did, Apollo. Losing you almost killed me." Starbuck thought back to the sectars where he'd gone through life in a daze of grief. The days had been slightly more bearable with their relentless routine to get him through them, but the nights…the nights had been well nigh unbearable. His hold on Apollo tightened. "Getting you back's a miracle."

Apollo touched his face. "For you, Starbuck, for you. But no-one else thinks like that. No-one else I thought loved me thinks it's a miracle."

"Don't be so pessimistic. It's getting better with them. Boxey's getting used to seeing you again and things are better there, aren't they? Athena thinks so and she's doing her best to make it up to you, and the commander, he's trying."

"Nowhere near hard enough," said Apollo unforgivingly.

Starbuck was very adept at reading the signals. This wasn't something Apollo talked about very much, even with him. He looked thoughtfully at the dark head on the pillow beside him, and smiled.

"Apollo?"

"Uh-huh?"

"Sleepy?"

Apollo grinned back. "Not very," he said. "What did you have in mind?"

"Well, if you can't sleep anyway and you don't want to talk much, are you on for some hot sex instead? I've this vision in my head of me lying back with you making love to me, and it's coming between me and my sleep."

"Mmmn. Lying back and thinking of nothing or lying back and joining in enthusiastically?"

"I'm always enthusiastic when it comes to sex with you," Starbuck reminded him, and his smile broadened when Apollo's hands reached for him.

"Well, let's see how enthusiastic you can be," said Apollo, rolling Starbuck onto his back, and his tongue started at the base of Starbuck's chin sweeping up to the slightly parted lips.

He bit gently at Starbuck's bottom lip before kissing him passionately. Starbuck's lips parted for him, tongue meeting his eagerly. Apollo rolled onto Starbuck, pinning his shoulders down with his hands and smiled down into his lover's face. For a moment he said nothing, just looking, until Starbuck pouted.

"I know I'm pretty, Apollo."

"No." said Apollo seriously. "You're not pretty. You're beautiful. I'm very lucky to have you."

"That's what I was about to suggest: that you stop looking and have me. I'm getting hot." He wriggled his arse a little to remind Apollo just exactly where he was getting hot. "Put the fire out, Apollo. You're the only one who can."

Apollo laughed and kissed him again, before starting to lick and kiss the familiar body. Apollo must have kissed and licked every square inch at some time or other, and Starbuck never tired of it. Each time was as good as the very first, more than a yahren ago now, in the Dome.

Apollo slid his right hand down to grasp Starbuck's cock, pumping it gently whilst he gave some serious attention to the pert little nipples. He took one in his teeth and pulled gently, grinning when Starbuck moaned and writhed.

The other nipple had to be similarly treated, then he was working his way down across the flat abdomen, his left hand tweaking gently at a nipple, the right enclosing Starbuck's cock in long sweeping strokes from base to flared tip. The fingers of his right hand gently stroked Starbuck's balls, tickling until Starbuck was giggling helplessly, his hips grinding against Apollo's hand.

For a moment he pulled away, looking for the lube, but Starbuck had already found the tube where he'd left it under the pillow and was holding it out, ready. Apollo grinned, ducked back up for another long, passionate kiss. He slowly and deliberately squeezed out the lube onto his fingers.

"Tease," said Starbuck, wriggling provocatively.

Apollo kissed him again, and returned to teasing Starbuck more directly. Now his lube-slicked hand slid up and down the shaft of Starbuck's cock again, and when he ducked his head to take it into his mouth, his fingers smoothed down between his lover's parted legs. Starbuck's moan must have shaken dust from the ceiling. For a few centons he teased a bit more, his lips and tongue working busily, his fingers skating around and over Starbuck's anus but not pushing inside, despite Starbuck pushing up every time the finger tips got into the right place.

"Apollo!"

Apollo laughed, his breath tickling the hairs at the base of Starbuck's cock, and gave way to the pleading, got a finger into him. Starbuck's whole body heaved, and he was breathing very fast.

Apollo lifted his head, planting a kiss on the head of the cock an inch from his nose. "Nice?" he asked, finger fucking Starbuck gently. His fingertip found the right spot, began to massage Starbuck's prostate.

"Geez….." moaned Starbuck. "You've got such fucking long fingers!"

"I'll take that as a yes, then," Apollo got in a second finger, and got back down to some serious licking. His tongue flickered gently over the weeping slit, and he savoured the taste of the pre-cum leaking out of Starbuck's cock, then licked down to the base in long, sensuous sweeps. Starbuck let himself go wild.

Keeping his fingers at their work - there were three now, moving and twisting inside Starbuck's stretching rectum - Apollo worked his way back up Starbuck's body, using his other hand to keep up a gentle pumping on the cock.

"What do you want me to do, Starbuck? You choose. How do you want it?"

"Right now!"

"I'll be right there, love. But how?" Apollo kissed Starbuck, nibbled on his lips. "On your back? Hands and knees? How?"

Starbuck tried to concentrate. "I love kissing you while you fuck me, and I love feeling your weight on me when you fuck me from behind..." He moaned. "Shit, Apollo. I'm in no condition to make consumer choices here!"

"Turn over then," Apollo ordered softly.

Somehow he kept his fingers in Starbuck's arse as his lover obeyed. Lying beside Starbuck, he continued the gentle stimulation as he generously smeared lube over his own cock, then he straddled Starbuck and slid his fingers out.

"Hey, don't stop!" complained Starbuck and Apollo laughed as Starbuck lifted his hips, thrusting his arse back and up, invitingly.

"Poor baby," he said. "Something better's coming." He took Starbuck around the hips, and got his cock against the opening. "Something like this." He pressed forward and the head of his cock breached the opening and Starbuck gasped. "More, Starbuck?"

Starbuck's answer was that little sinuous, almost boneless, wriggle that meant he was hotter than hell. The lieutenant pushed backwards.

"Hurry," he said imploringly.

"Sure?" asked an Apollo who was evidently in teasing mood that night. He got one hand underneath them and began to rake his fingers along the soft skin on the inside of Starbuck's thigh. Starbuck moaned and lifted his hips higher. "Oh yes, I think you're sure."

He pushed forward steadily until he was all the way inside, Starbuck's buttocks tucked nice and neat into his groin. He paused for a second, letting Starbuck get used to the fullness, then he reached round to jack Starbuck off and carefully laid down on the lieutenant's back, pinning him down. Starbuck loved the weight, the feeling that he was giving up control. He whimpered as Apollo pulled out and surged back in again, stretching him almost unbearably.

Apollo fucked him slow and steady, gently kissing the back of his neck, his shoulders, his right, lube-slicked hand underneath them both, stroking Starbuck to the same rhythm. Pinned down, Starbuck couldn't move very much, denied even that relief as Apollo's cock, surging up into him, stroked his prostrate in matching tempo to the hand on his erection. He made little bucking movements to try and get Apollo even deeper inside, but he had little room for manoeuvred. He could only gasp and sigh, almost sobbing at the intensity of the sensation of being fucked and handled, at being touched inside and out. He felt deliciously helpless and, at the same time, completely safe and loved.

"You're so beautiful," said Apollo in his ear. "So beautiful. I love fucking you."

Starbuck just moaned back at him, beyond words.

"Do you want me to fuck you harder?"

Starbuck's moan took on a very definite pleading quality. Oh yes, now you mention it, Apollo, not a totally unacceptable notion. Oh yes, I do. Damn right I do…

Apollo's kisses on the back of Starbuck's neck became little bites, nothing that hurt, nothing that would mark the skin, but each little bite came just as his cock surged up to pound on Starbuck's prostate, just as his hand slid back on his lover's cock, pulling him back into Apollo's groin. Apollo's movements quickened, the thrusts coming harder and deeper, the biting caresses coming faster.

Starbuck got his face out of the pillow where it was pressed and the moans became sharp little cries at each thrust, the loudest cry as he came into Apollo's hand, his body shuddering and trembling. Apollo was gasping loudly now with each drive forward, almost there himself, everything concentrating on the friction between his cock and the tight channel he'd created in Starbuck. He came with that familiar growl of passion, shooting high up into Starbuck, bathing his lover's prostate in hot kism.

Breathing heavily, he collapsed onto Starbuck, managing to find enough energy to kiss the bare shoulders, lick at the sweat running down Starbuck's neck. It was a few centons before he could move, sliding reluctantly out of Starbuck to lie beside him again, and pull him into his arms. Starbuck smiled at him, sated and happy.

"Was that the kind of vision you had in mind?"

Starbuck snuggled in close, kissed the tip of Apollo's nose. "That," he said, "was definitely the vision. Actually, a first class spiritual experience. Positively the most religious moment of my life."

Apollo grinned. "Well," he said dryly. "It's good to know I didn't disappoint you too badly."






"I'll wait for you out here," said Starbuck, coming along in the role of Chief Supporter. He scowled briefly when he saw who he'd have to share the Council ante-chamber with. "Unless Reese talks to me, in which case I'll make a run for the sweeter air of the corridor."

"He's not likely to, is he?" Apollo asked, amused.

"Fancies me," said Starbuck, and nodded gravely when Apollo laughed. "It's true. You aren't the only man on the ship to think I've got a pretty and enticing arse - you do think that, don't you, Apollo?"

"Every moment of the day," said Apollo reassuringly.

"Good. I'd hate to think that familiarity was breeding contempt." Starbuck grinned happily. "Although I do like the familiarity." He glanced up as Reese approached them.

"We're to go straight in," the big security chief said by way of greeting.

Apollo pulled at his clothes, the one gesture he made that betrayed his nervousness. "Look okay?" he asked Starbuck.

"Fine. Although I don't see why you couldn't wear your uniform. Your Dad did send it along."

"Not until I'm back on active service," said Apollo firmly, grinned at him, and followed Reese into the main Council Chamber, leaving Starbuck to kick his heels outside.

Once again the Council had set a chair for him in the central space in front of the big horse-shoe shaped table, once again Wilker and Salik were sitting to one side, and once again Reese stood guarding the door behind him. At least Starbuck didn't have to worry about unwanted advances on his virtue.

This time Apollo offered no salute, but took the seat Anton waved him into, his face set and controlled.

"Captain," Anton said graciously.

Apollo nodded. Waited.

"It's some time since we last met - over three sectars now."

"Yes," Apollo agreed politely, not helping at all.

"We agreed last time that we'd meet when the Research Committee, supported by Doctors Wilker and Salik, was able to report on the tests and examinations that were intended to evaluate the extent to which you were altered by what the Enemy did." Anton gave him a small smile. "The Council has noted that you have co-operated fully with the tests, Captain. We're grateful for that, although given your exemplary military record, we expected no less."

Apollo nodded again. Waited again. He'd learned to be still and silent over the last few sectars. He'd learned that the old Apollo trait of reacting and letting everyone within a parsec in all directions know how he felt, wasn't a helpful survival technique.

"Councillor Joel, as Chair of the Research Committee, has just given us a fascinating report of the tests. From your point of view you'll be delighted to know that they confirm no trace of Enemy control, and that we don't consider you to be a threat to the Fleet."

Apollo hoped he didn't look delighted. He hoped he didn't look anything at all.

"And personally, I'm delighted with the results." Anton ploughed on. "Everything Joel has told us has been confirmed by those who have been observing you for the past few sectars. The information from the other members of the Research Committee, Doctors Wilker and Salik, and Lieutenant Starbuck, has left the Council in no doubt that you are indeed who you seem to be."

Apollo gave Anton one sharp glance, shaken.

"I'm sorry, because it must have been hard to feel that you had to prove yourself to be human. We do understand that. But I know that equally you'll understand our need to be sure."

Apollo focused, nodded. "Yes. I understand." he said. "I've always understood that."

"You're very gracious about it. The end result is that we are very happy indeed to restore you to rank and honours, and return you to active duty, effective immediately. Welcome back, Captain."

"Thank you, sir," said Apollo. He looked up to meet Adama's gaze. Adama smiled at him. Apollo looked away again. If they were expecting fulsome thanks for this belated and grudging acknowledgement of his humanity, they could wait until the stars went out. "Can I ask what happens now?"

"Joel?" Anton turned to the Councillor invitingly.

"Doctor Wilker has, as you know, been working on improving a Viper and adapting it to accept the Mask - "

"It won't be as fast as the Black Ship, Apollo - unfortunately I wasn't able to do much to improve the speed." Wilker, happily indifferent to protocol, cut right through Joel incipient speech-making. "I'll keep working on that but Viper engines are quite limited. I'll have to do a redesign when I find the time. But you'll have vastly improved manoeuvrability, not to mention sensor and offensive capability. We're ready to start test flights - first thing tomorrow morning." He glanced at Adama and added resentfully. "I wanted to do it right now, but I got over-ruled."

"You deserve some time to yourself, Apollo," said Adama.

Apollo inclined his head politely. "Thank you. And there are no longer any restrictions on my movements?"

"None," said Joel. "You've proved your loyalty, Captain."

"So I can move back into warrior's quarters?" At Joel's nod, he held up his right hand, allowing the sleeve to fall back. The electronic tag was unmissable. "And this?"

"Reese will remove it immediately," Anton assured him, looking faintly embarrassed.

Thank you," said Apollo again. He kept his face and voice expressionless. "If that's all?"

"Yes. Thank you, Captain." Anton inclined his head, gracefully. "We look forward to seeing the results from the test flights. Good luck."

"Yes. I think I'll need it."

He followed Reese outside, not giving his political masters another glance as he left. The contempt he felt for them was nothing to the suddenly burning anger that made him almost dizzy.

The unsuspecting object of that fury got hastily to his feet when they came out.

"That was quick. Everything okay"?

"Not here," said Apollo, so savagely that Starbuck jumped. "Reese. Get this thing off." He held out his right hand.

"Apollo?" said Starbuck uncertainly.

"I said not here," said Apollo, ice cold now, following Reese to the security desk. "Hurry it up, Reese."

Reece reached unhurriedly for the equipment he needed to remove the tag. "Of course, if it was me I'd have just spaced you sectars ago. Safer to get you back out there with the other carrion we dump."

"Your opinion's about as worthless as the rest of you," said Apollo, still icy.

Reese just laughed and slid the blade of a metal cutter under the bracelet. Quite deliberately, he turned it as he sliced through the tag, slicing a long gash into Apollo's wrist.

"Oops," he said as Apollo winced.

"You fucking idiot, Reese!" Starbuck leapt forward to grab at Apollo's arm, his fingers closing over the gash.

"Accident," Reese said with a shrug and another laugh.

Apollo shook off Starbuck's hand, scattering drops of no-longer human blood over the desk. "It's just a scratch," he said impatiently and started for the door.

Starbuck had to run to catch up. "Apollo! Wait up. What the hell's the matter?"

Apollo stopped and turned so abruptly that Starbuck ran into him.

"You have to ask?" Apollo was so furious he could hardly get the words out.

"I don't know if you don't tell me," said Starbuck reasonably.

Apollo glanced quickly up and down the corridor. No-one in sight or hearing. "What did you tell them Starbuck? What did you tell them to help convince them it was really me, all those sectons you were watching me? Did they laugh when you told them I still tasted the same, that I still made all those old Apollo noises when you were fucking me? Did they enjoy it, Starbuck? Did they get off on you telling them?"

Starbuck blinked. "What…?"

"They told me, Starbuck. They told me you'd been watching me. They based their assessment on what all the watchers have told them. And Lieutenant Starbuck, Anton said. Shit, I should have known better! The reception I got when I got back, I should have known. I shouldn't ever have trusted any of you."

"Apollo, I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't spoken to the Council about you. I wouldn't do that!"

"Tell that to Anton!" Apollo snapped back. "I'll never forgive you for this, you bastard. Never."

He started off down the corridor, wanting desperately to get away. He was so angry he wanted to beat Starbuck to a pulp. No matter how cross he'd been in the past with some of Starbuck's antics, he'd never, ever wanted to hit him before. Now he thought if he didn't get out of the way, he'd be banging Starbuck's face off the corridor wall.

Starbuck went after him. Catching him up at an intersection, he caught Apollo's arm.

"Apollo! Listen to me. I don't know - "

He broke off as Apollo swung round and slammed him up against the corridor wall hard enough to knock all the breath out of his body.

"Is that all it meant to you, Starbuck? All that crap about how you almost lost it"!" Apollo had his arm hard across Starbuck's throat. "What's it been since I came back? A bit of necrophilia? Did you get a thrill out of screwing a corpse?"

"Apollo!" Starbuck choked out. "Apollo, I can't breathe."

"Well now you know what it feels like," said Apollo savagely, but he let go of Starbuck, and pushed him away. "Just fuck off, Starbuck, and leave me alone."

"Apollo, please!"

"I wish to God that I'd stayed dead," said Apollo, harshly. "Then I'd never have known how little everyone thought of me. At least I died thinking you loved me. More fool me."

"Apollo," said Starbuck helplessly.

Apollo was suddenly exhausted, worn out. He turned away. "No more, Starbuck, no more. Just leave me alone."

"I love you!"

"Like hell. No-one did. That's what being dead teaches you, Starbuck. No-one does." Apollo paused and looked back. "It was hard enough losing my father, Thenie and Boxey. I thought I had you, though. I trusted you." Another long pause, then he walked away. "I loved you."

 

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