Section Three

 

"I’m scared I can’t do this," Troy said, standing reluctantly in the doorway of his father’s room.  He stared in distress at the inaccessible, distant expression on Apollo’s face.  "He doesn’t even know we’re here," he said in pity and protest.

"You don’t have to do this now," Adama said quietly.  "If this upsets you, Troy, wait until tomorrow.  Then, please God, he will know you’re here.  He’ll be able to hear you."

"He must think that I don’t care about him at all," said Troy, tears very close.  "I should have been here all the time."

Starbuck shook his head.  "It’s all right.  I told him that Cassie said that he could only have me and your Grandpa visit."

Troy gave him an odd look.  "You lied to him?  You know I could have been here anytime but I’m too much of a coward." 

"I just didn’t want him worried about you.  It wasn't lying, exactly.  He has enough to worry about.  I don’t want him hurt about anything."

Adama sighed very slightly.  Only the night before he’d tried to talk with Starbuck about the future, trying to work out what they should do to support and help Apollo while he got back to being as independent as he could.  Adama wasn’t even certain that Starbuck had heard him, well aware that the younger man had been focused on getting back into Apollo’s room as soon as possible.  And Adama knew that as soon as Starbuck got there, he’d pick Apollo up and hold him, protective.  Starbuck’s devotion hadn’t surprised him, but it did worry him, that Starbuck would find it hard to let go.

"The point is that your father will understand, Troy," he said now.  "It’s very hard for those of us who love him to see him like this.  He knows that and he won’t blame you.  Tomorrow you’ll be able to talk to him properly."

"No.  I’ll do it now.  I want to wish him luck."  Troy straightened his shoulders, tried to feel and sound resolute.  Adama had watched, in pity and love, as the child had screwed up his courage to do this for days.  "How do I tell him I’m here?"

"I’ll do that," said Starbuck.

Adama watched as Starbuck bent over Apollo, touched his face in greeting.  His gut twisted when he saw his son's reaction, the involuntary flinch as Starbuck’s touch startled him.  He tried again to imagine what Apollo must be feeling, how frightening it must be to be suddenly touched like that without warning.  Beside him Troy started as involuntarily.

"Starbuck."  The remote expression lightened, and Apollo managed a faint smile, reaching out, knowing instantly who it was.

Troy looked uncertainly at his grandfather.  "It doesn’t sound like him."

"He’s deaf, Troy.  He can’t hear to pitch his voice the way we can.  He’ll sound more like himself tomorrow."  That was virtually Adama’s mantra.  He was pinning all his hopes on the operation giving his son some semblance of normality again.

"He looks so sad," Troy muttered.

Starbuck had taken Apollo’s hand, and was slowly spelling out the message.  He spoke it aloud, presumably for Adama's benefit, and Troy's.  Visitor, Apollo.

"Visitor?  Who?"

Starbuck squeezed his hand, then held it out, offering it to Troy.  Carefully, Troy took Apollo’s hand in his.  Adama stepped up and put a hand on Troy's shoulder, seeing how the boy was shaking.  Apollo looked towards him with those dulled green eyes, frowning now, the strained expression more obvious, as if he were trying to see through the blackness to find out who it was. 

The finger Troy ran across his father’s palm trembled noticeably.  Slowly, carefully, he spelled out the little greeting he'd practiced on Adama all the previous evening.

Hi Dad

"Boxey!"  Apollo’s face lit up and he reached for his son with both hands. 

Adama was hit with the sudden memory of the night Serina had died, everyone gathered quietly and sadly in his quarters.  Boxey, who’d been sleeping in the little spare room while the adults had tried to comfort a dry-eyed, dazed Apollo, had woken crying and inconsolable, only calming down when Apollo had roused himself to take the little boy into his arms and hold him comfortingly until they’d both fallen asleep. 

It was as if the memory had somehow been reversed by time.  Apollo was clinging to his son, Troy stroking the long black hair with a shaking hand, telling his father over and over that everything would be all right, that he was there.  That was maybe what Troy had been dreading most, Adama realised, that he couldn’t cope with seeing Apollo this helpless and dependent, realising that he was the stronger one now.  Every child came to that realisation about their parent some time.  Adama was sorry that Troy had come to it too soon.

"Boxey," Apollo said again, drawing back a centon, still smiling, looking more like his old self.

Adama laughed when he say the letters Troy was tracing on Apollo's palm.

*Troy!* 

The smile on Apollo’s face broadened.  "Troy," he amended obediently. 

"What do I say?" asked Troy, turning anxiously to Adama.

"Try wishing him luck."

Apollo shook his head when Troy had finished the message.  "I don’t need luck, now you’re here."

Starbuck, sitting on the edge of the bed, took Apollo’s other hand and started drawing little hearts into it. 

Apollo, his attention caught, turned to him.  "Nice surprise, Starbuck."

Starbuck glowed with satisfaction.  

"What’re you doing?" asked Troy.

"Telling him that I love him."  Starbuck raised Apollo’s hand to his lips.

"He knows."

Indeed he does, thought Adama, wondering, not for the first time, what would have happened if Troy's mother hadn’t died.  He never doubted that Apollo had loved her, but….  But.

"Not in front of the infant, Starbuck," said Apollo.  "You know that he disapproves of canoodling."

"It's still your Dad, see?" said Adama, quietly.  "Everything will work out somehow."

"They're always canoodling," said Troy, and spelled out another message.  He said it aloud for Starbuck's delectation. 

At your age!

"And we’ll have less of that!" protested Apollo, in that strange flattened voice.

"Tell your Dad I’m here, Troy," said Adama.

Grandpa’s here  Troy wrote obediently.

"Of course he is," said Apollo.  "There’s no keeping him away."

Adama smiled, and dropped a kiss on his son’s forehead. 

"It’s a bit crowded in here," Cassie said in slight disapproval, appearing in the doorway with a hypo in her hand.  "I hope you lot aren’t wearing him out."

Cassie  Both Troy and Starbuck wrote it together.

Apollo pulled a face.  "It’s like getting it in stereo.  Pre-med?"

"You do it," Troy said to Starbuck. 

Yes.  Ready? 

"As I ever will be." 

Adama thought he could hear fear, carefully controlled, in the oddly modulated voice.  If this didn’t work, then there was no escape.  Apollo would remain isolated, removed from them.  It didn’t bear thinking about.

"How do you tell him you love him?" Troy asked Starbuck.

"Draw a heart in his hand," said Starbuck, suiting the action to the word.

"For you too, Grandpa," said Troy, and wrote, copying Starbuck while Cassie injected Apollo with the sedative.  And he kept on doing it until the hand in his was limp, and Apollo’s head had drooped onto Starbuck’s shoulder.







"Come on, Apollo, wake up.  You’ve slept long enough."  Starbuck stroked Apollo’s cheek.  "Wake up."

"Mmnnn." .

"Almost there," said Cassie, eyes on the monitors.  "Why not leave him alone, Starbuck, and let him wake up in his own good time?"

"Because I need to know, Cass."

She sighed and looked from him to Adama.  "You know," she said to the President confidingly,  "I wept buckets when he left me.  I cried myself to sleep for sectons, and I could barely bring myself to talk to Apollo."

"And now?"  Adama asked, trying to keep the atmosphere light.  But the tension was well nigh unbearable.

"Now?  Now I go down on my knees every night and thank whatever gods there are for my deliverance.  He’d have driven me to distraction, long ago.  I can’t understand how Apollo’s borne it this long without murdering him."

"Yes you can, Cass," said Starbuck, reproachfully, and turned his attention back to Apollo.  "Come on, Apollo.  Wake up."

Cassie sighed.  "He’s right," she said, still speaking to Adama.  "I’m getting cynical in my old age."

Adama smiled and shook his head.  "I don’t think so, Cassie."  He moved forward.  "I think he’s awake."

"Apollo?" said Starbuck eagerly, as the blank green eyes fluttered open again.  "Apollo, can you hear me?  Please, say ‘yes’.  Please."

Cassie frowned at the monitors.  "Maybe a bit louder, Starbuck.  It might help until the amplifiers settle down."

"Apollo!" 

"Not that loud!"

But Apollo’s head turned towards Starbuck.  "Starbuck?"  he said faintly.

"I’m here," shouted Starbuck.  "Can you hear me, Apollo?"

"Of course I can," said Apollo crossly, and his eyes closed again.

"Oh," said Starbuck.







"Time to go home."  Starbuck looked and sounded like a man who’d witnessed a miracle, whose world had suddenly come right after shaking on its axis. 

Apollo shook his head and probed at the tiny amplifier in his right ear.  "In a centon, Starbuck.  Cass, this one still isn’t right.  It’s still buzzing. "

"It wouldn’t if you’d keep your hands off it," Cassie said unsympathetically.  "I’ve told you before.  These are delicate instruments, Apollo, and do not appreciate having your dirty great fingers jabbed into them.  Keep still." 

Apollo stood obediently as she used a needle-thin probe to adjust the amplifier.

The first euphoria at knowing the amplifiers had worked hadn’t lasted very long.  It was soon clear that Apollo had regained only partial hearing and if Starbuck hadn’t been shouting at him, he wouldn’t have been able to make out what he was saying.  Disappointed but unbeaten, Cassie had called in help from Dr Wilker, to see what the Galactica’s resident electronics genius could come up with.

Wilker was a part of Apollo’s past that the colonel tried to forget, and rarely referred to.  Like Salik, the scientist had spent sectars "testing" the Mask when Apollo had first returned: he was, most definitely, not one of Apollo’s favourite people.  But this time Wilker came up with some modified amplifiers within a day of being asked.  Easy little job, he’d said dismissively when Cassie had thanked him.  When she reflected sourly that Apollo’s dislike was perfectly understandable, and if there was anyone on the ship who lacked humanity it certainly wasn’t Apollo, Apollo had agreed with alacrity.

She’d given Apollo a day or two to get over the first operation before fitting the modified amplifiers.  He withstood the second operation well, and the little amplifiers did the trick in giving him near-normal hearing for the first time in sectons.  More than that, they’d given him the confidence to believe that he could retrieve something of his life.  Within a day of getting the new amplifiers, he was on his feet for the first time, moving slowly and cautiously around his little room, learning where everything was by counting the steps in between them, mapping out his new world and beginning the slow process of coming to terms with his disabilities. 

He’d been delighted when Troy and Athena came to visit, even allowing his sister to cry all over him in a display that would normally have him retreating into his shell.  Boomer was allowed in soon after, bringing Jolly and a host of messages from the warriors with him.  Within a few days, Apollo’s room had stopped being the silent little mausoleum that he’d lived in for over a sectar. 

His progress was slow at first, and he still had moments of despair and anger, but Cassie was delighted she’d achieved this much.  Her one concern was what she called Apollo’s typically stubborn refusal to accept counselling.  Her offer to bring a blinded war veteran across from the Alcestis to talk to him had met with flat refusal.  Apollo didn’t think of it as being stubborn.  It was just that he preferred to work things out his own way.

Cassie switched off the probe and stepped back.  "How’s that?" 

"Better, I suppose," he said, a touch ungraciously.  "They still hurt."

"You’ll get used to them.  Or should I take them out again?"

Apollo grinned at that.  "No thanks.  I’ll put up with them."

"I thought you might.  Well, if we’ve met your exacting customer service standards in the buzzing department, you can go home.  You’re to take things easy for a while yet, do you hear me?"

"I feel fine,"  he protested, putting out a hand to find Starbuck.  His lover was there instantly.

"I know you do, but you were in a coma three sectons ago and I do not want you over-doing things.  Am I understood?"

"Yes ma’am." 

"I’ll make sure of it, Cass," Starbuck said.  "Don’t worry."

Apollo sighed slightly.  They were all determined to box him in, put limits on what he could do before he worked out for himself what those limits might reasonably be.  They were all determined to protect him, wrap him in cotton wool, get counsellors and other people in to tell him what he could do when what he wanted was to find out for himself.  He wondered how long it would be before he stifled.  Or exploded.

"Good."  Cassie kissed his cheek.  "I want you back in here tomorrow at ten for a check-up, but until then I don’t want to see anything of you.  You’ve infested my Life Centre for long enough."

"And I thought you liked me."

"I do.  It’s the five sectons of Starbuck that I find it hard to forgive you for.  Until tomorrow."

"Thanks, Cass."  Apollo nodded, and tucked his arm through Starbuck’s.  "Try not to walk me into any walls," he said.

"I’ve been practising, I’ll have you know."  Starbuck steered him carefully out into the corridor. 

"How?  Did you blindfold Boomer for a centar or something?"

"Something like that," Starbuck admitted.  "I just wanted to be sure I got it right."

Apollo wished that Starbuck would let go a little.  "The point is to learn to do it together, Starbuck,"  he said.  "I don’t mind the odd wall as long as you start breathing again."

"Uh?"

"You’re concentrating so hard that you’re holding your breath.  It won’t help me much if you asphyxiate before you get me home."

"I am breathing."  Starbuck exhaled noisily.  "See?"

"No," said Apollo, the dark mood kicking in as it so often did, without warning.  "I don’t."

"Apollo,"  Starbuck protested.  He stopped them dead in the corridor, luckily reasonably clear at that time of day.  "That’s unfair!"

"Try it.  Try how unfair," Apollo said savagely. 

Starbuck said nothing, waited.  Apollo couldn’t see it, but he just knew that there was a look of patient forbearance on Starbuck’s face, an understanding look.  Well, dammit, Apollo didn’t want to be understood.  He wanted to be treated just as Starbuck had always treated him.

"Are we staying here all day?" he asked, pushing at the limits Starbuck was putting on him.

"No.  We’ll go home," Starbuck said after a micron.  There was the merest hint of hurt in his voice.

Apollo sighed again, and gave it up.  He squeezed Starbuck’s arm.  "I’m sorry, Starbuck.  It just that sometimes…"

It happened every time.  A flash of temper, and where once Starbuck would have given him it back in kind or laughed him out of it, now Starbuck was so busy understanding him that there was never any challenge, and for him to continue to be bad tempered was impossible, an emotional vandalism akin to kicking something soft and helpless.  Apollo gave in every time, very aware of the devotion, the long days Starbuck had spent in the Life Centre with him.  So he gave in and apologised, and now they could go on pretending that the balanced relationship they’d once had wasn’t badly skewed.

"I know," Starbuck said, sunny again, and started walking.  "I know it’s hard, Apollo."

"Mmn," Apollo said morosely, mentally kicking himself for ingratitude and resentful about having to feel grateful.   

"But at least you’re still here," Starbuck said.

"Unkillable." Apollo managed a faint smile.

"Thank God."  Starbuck steered him into the turbolift and hugged him.

Apollo leaned up against him, and tried to relax.  "Everyone’s there?"

"Your Dad, Thenie and Boomer and the kids, Troy.  You don’t sound too pleased about it."

"Well, I was hoping that we’d find some time to be on our own.  As soon as we’ve had lunch, I’ll fall into a strategic faint and be the feeble invalid needing his rest, and you can shoo them all out and take me to bed."

He felt Starbuck stiffen, but not exactly where he hoped Starbuck would stiffen.

"Cassie said to take it easy," Starbuck said uncertainly.

"I intend to.  I intend to make you do all the work."

"I’m supposed to notice a difference?" Starbuck muttered as the lift came to a halt.

Once in the corridor, Apollo turned to the right and paused.  "Six doors along,"  he said, reflecting that when he could see, he wouldn’t ever have noticed how many doors it was.  Now it was vital mapping data.  As they walked, he trailed one hand against the wall, counting.

"Here." 

"Not bad,"  Starbuck said.  "I’ll get the door."

"No.  Let me." 

Apollo’s long fingers had always been sensitive.  Now they were learning to be even more so.  He found the security lock and his fingers ran over the numbered buttons, as he reminded himself of the sequence.  Starbuck hovered anxiously behind him, itching to help.  Despite not being able to see him, Apollo knew.

"I can do it, Starbuck."  He punched in the code.

The door slid to one side.

Apollo put his hand over Starbuck’s.  "See?"







Not without much grumbling at the perverse timing, Adama left for a meeting between the Council and the Dyss that would put the final seal on the much delayed agreement to pass through Dyss space.

"Don’t be too late, Troy," he said as he got himself  reluctantly away.

Apollo seemed to look enquiringly at his son.  Starbuck thought, not for the first time, that it was weird, that Apollo didn't look blind.  There was only a slight blankness in the wide green eyes, that was all.

"I’m staying over with Grandpa tonight," Troy explained in a tone that tried to be casual, but was so laden with significance that he couldn’t have signalled his reasons for leaving his two fathers alone more clearly if he’d winked conspiratorially at Starbuck and nudged Apollo knowingly in the ribs.  Starbuck grinned at him.

"I’ll see you tomorrow?" asked Apollo. 

Starbuck winced at the way that so many casual, common phrases would remind Apollo of what he’d lost. 

"I’ll call in after lunch," Troy promised.  "Even if I have to skip maths to do it."

"In your dreams.  Starbuck and me spend enough parents’ nights hiding from your teachers, thank you very much."

"We’ll be going too," Boomer said with a glance at Athena.  He followed Troy’s example and hugged Apollo.  "Glad to have you back, you know." 

Apollo grinned.  "So I imagine, from all these unexpected displays of affection.  Don’t forget your son, Boom-boom.  I have enough trouble with my own, and I don’t need more."

"He’s asleep.  Even Zac doesn’t get into trouble while he’s asleep."

"An interesting debating point for some future time and one that should keep the theologians busy.  Nice try, but he's all yours." 

"Oh well – "  Boomer leaned down and took the sleeping child from Apollo’s lap.

"Take care, big brother," Athena kissed him and shepherded her family to the door. 

"See you, Dad," Troy said over his shoulder, inexorably herded out with the rest of them.

The door closed and Apollo leaned back with a sigh of relief.

"Tired?" Starbuck asked anxiously.

"No.  Just glad we’re on our own at last."   Apollo held out his hand invitingly.  "It seems a long time since we were canoodling on this sofa."

"A lifetime or two," Starbuck agreed.  He kept Apollo’s hand in his.

For long time they were silent, Starbuck in that mindless state that follows a period of great emotion, when he knew underneath everything that he was happy, rather than felt it.  Apollo was alive and he was home.  Everything else would work out somehow.

"Starbuck?"

"I’m here, Apollo."

"I really hate this."  Apollo spoke with unusual vehemence, for once letting the mask slip, feeling Starbuck’s hold on him tighten.  "I hate being like this."

"I know, Apollo."  Starbuck said comfortingly.  He pulled Apollo in closer, kissed the thick dark hair.  "But you’re alive."

Another silence.

"I suppose," he said, sullenly ungracious. 

"It means everything to me, Apollo."

"I’m glad you’re here," said Apollo.  It was, perhaps, the nearest that he could come to telling Starbuck what was always implicit, never said.

"Always, Apollo.  I promise."  Starbuck felt a little surge of happiness.  It was what he wanted, all that he had ever wanted, for Apollo to need him, rely on him.  If he was necessary, needed, then Apollo would never leave him again.

"I know."  Apollo sighed slightly.  "I need you right now, Starbuck.  Let’s go to bed."

Starbuck hesitated.  "Cassie said you were to take things easy."

"Starbuck, being blind is limiting me enough.  That’s hard enough to cope with without it stopping my sex life dead as well."

"But Apollo, do you think you ought to rush things?"

"I feel fine, Starbuck.  I’m not tired and I’m not ill, and I don’t see that blindness ought to equate to celibacy."  Apollo pulled away.  The green eyes seemed to looking directly into Starbuck’s.  "Do you, though, Starbuck? "

"Of course not!"

"I still want you.  Question is, do you still want me?"

"Of course I do!"  Starbuck was beginning to feel more than slightly bullied, that Apollo was taking very unfair advantage here.

"But not just now?"  Apollo persisted.  "When do you think I’ll be sexually attractive again, Starbuck?  Tomorrow?  Next secton?""

"Apollo, you’re not being fair!"

"Maybe not, but this is important, Starbuck.  Look, I do understand how scared you were, and I do understand you’re trying to do - "

"I couldn’t have got through it if you’d gone again," said Starbuck.

"But I’m here, Starbuck.  I’m here, and I’m all right.  I can’t see, but I am all right.  You’ve got to stop worrying about me so much."

"I love you, Apollo." Starbuck said simply.

Apollo nodded.  "Yes.  Loving me is exactly what I want, Starbuck, but I don’t want to be comforted and cosseted.  I know things can never be the same again, not really, but I want everything to be as normal as it can be.  If you want to comfort me, for God’s sake just take me to bed and fuck me senseless."

Despite his anxiety, his near-overwhelming desire to care for and protect Apollo, that had Starbuck grinning.  "Well now -"

Apollo smiled at him.  "Why not kiss me, Starbuck, and see where that gets us?"  He held up his face invitingly.

Starbuck cupped Apollo’s face in his hands, tracing the line of the jaw with his thumbs, thinking yet again, with that slight wonder that he’d never quite got over, of how beautiful Apollo was.  The kiss wasn’t anything like the gentle, undemanding kisses that he’d been giving Apollo for the last few sectons.  It started out that way, true, but Apollo took mean advantage of him.  He dived down Starbuck’s throat as though his lover had inadvertently swallowed something that had to be retrieved at all costs, and when they eventually broke apart, Starbuck was gasping and as horny as Apollo could reasonably ask for.

"My! Maybe you are feeling better, at that," he said breathlessly.

Apollo laughed, fell back on the sofa, pulling Starbuck with him, and reached for him. 

With both hands.







"And to get to the Bridge?"

"Left out of here, turbolifts on the left past the sixth door - Bojay and Sheba’s door,"  I said meekly.  "Up to level 2 and at least this turbo-lift opens out onto the Bridge itself.  Easy one."

Troy laughed.  He was turning out to be a hard task master, my son.  Every day he drilled me like Sergeant Kes back in the Academy trying to turn a bunch of recruits into something vaguely military.  Troy wasn't as foul tempered or as foul mouthed - Kes’ use of invective left most of us awe-struck at the depth and breadth of his vocabulary - but he was just as relentless.

"You’re doing okay," he said, grudging with his praise.  "I’m getting hungry, Dad.  Why don’t you take me to the mess for lunch?"

Ah.  Another test from my drill sergeant.  It was pretty obvious that he expected me to take the lead to get to the Mess, not him lead me there.  Well, I didn’t mind trying and at least he’d be there to stop me from walking into walls.  But somewhere where there were lots of people - 

"You wouldn’t rather eat here?"

"No.  I hate cooking and you were always so bad at it, you could burn water.  I never had a decent meal until Starbuck moved in.  He’s got a lot of faults, has my second Dad, but at least he can cook."  A little pause, then softly challenging:  "Not scared, are you, Dad?"

He definitely takes after his mother, and in more than looks.  She was equally as determined to cut straight through the felgercarb.

Starbuck had taken me to the OC for a couple of centars the night before, for the first time since I was ill.  It had been okay, I suppose.  I mean, they tried.  The place went silent when we came in, the way it used to the last time I was this isolated, but then no-one tried, except Starbuck.  This time Boomer jumped up to hug me and say hello, and that started them all off. 

Actually, it hadn’t been okay.  I hated it. 

I hated everyone looking at me and wondering how I felt about it, and what I would do now I was blind and helpless. 

I hated them being extra careful about what they said to me.  I could almost hear them mentally reviewing what they were going to say to excise any word at all that might be connected with seeing, as if to do so was some unforgivable social solecism.  Giles has a bit of a habit of ending every second sentence with "… if you see what I mean."  I think Starbuck must had said something to him, because he was so afraid to say it and upset me that he sat silent for most of the night. 

And I hated it that Starbuck thought that he had to stay with me every micron we were there.  Normally, he’d have wandered off to play Pyramid, or chat to someone else.  Even when we were first lovers and every centon together was precious and rich with potential for touching and feeling, we’d not hung on each other in public.  Now he was tied close with some sort of emotional umbilical cord.

I really was going to have to do something about this.  It wasn’t as though there wasn't a way out for me, a solution.  The thought of that solution stopped me from getting completely depressive, although I could find myself shaking with a sudden anger that could sweep over me without warning, and re-learning to do things I’d taken for granted all my life had me almost screaming with frustration sometimes.  Knowing that there was a answer meant that I had something that kept me from giving in to it all, meant I didn’t need their well meaning counselling, that I didn’t have to be helpless and reliant on other people.

The only trouble was, knowing it and being able to do something about it were two entirely different things.

Starbuck would hate it.  He loved me, I knew that, and he willingly gave up some of his own freedom: the freedom to just go off and play Pyramid whenever he wanted, the freedom to be angry with me when I deserved it, the freedom to be himself and instead be my eyes, to help and support me.  I don’t think he realised that he took some of my freedom with him, that I paid for his sacrifices, but he meant well, he meant only to love me.  The solution to my difficulties, the negation of my disabilities, would be very hard for him to accept.  All that held me back was worrying about the effect on Starbuck.

Well, that, and the difficulty I might have persuading those in authority to agree.

"Well?" Troy said, bored with waiting for me to come to a decision.

"If you’re buying, you’re on." 

"Cheapskate."  He let me take his arm and we headed for the door.

We didn’t talk much on the way.  For one thing, mentally visualising the route took all my concentration: Troy knew that and only spoke to confirm the route if I hesitated.  For another, a part of my mind was wondering whether I could persuade him to take me down to Beta deck after lunch, to see the Black Ship, and make him promise to keep quiet about it.  I hadn’t been there for sectons, since just before I left for Dyss.  Nearly eight sectons now.  The Ship was being uncomfortably importunate, and there was no way I could get there on my own.  He might take me, if I asked him.

We got to the Mess without mishap.  People called hello to us as we went in, and I tried not to show how much I hated the subtle change in the way they spoke to me, the compassionate gentleness, as if I deserved some special consideration.  I’d stopped being Apollo.  Now I was just blind.  I really did have to do something about that.

Troy put a plate in front of me.  "God knows what it is, Dad.  If you ask me, I think we’re starting to eat some of the civilians.  But there’s some unidentifiable stringy grey meat at six o’clock, tubers at about two o’clock and other overcooked vegetables at ten."

Boy, had he been around Starbuck for too long.

"At least you didn’t get spaghetti."

Troy laughed.  "Never thought of it.  Next time, maybe.  So, how did I do as a guide daggit?"

"Excuse me?  What guiding?  Who got us here?  You made me work every step of the way."

"You’d hate it if I didn’t," he said, and it was odd that a kid could see what others couldn’t.  "If you want a nice compliant daggit who’ll do as he’s told, I’ll let you reactivate Muffy."

I put down the fork.  "Well that’s turned me right off that stringy grey meat.  I’d get lynched if I did that.  You have no idea how much people hated that droid."

"I can guess.  I can remember that party you gave when I deactivated him when I was eight.  Are you telling me that was coincidence?"

"Reparation," I said.  "I owed a lot of people for that little mistake."

I could almost feel him smiling at me.  "So if you hated Muffy that much, why did you give him to me?"

"Madness."

"Apart from that." 

Lords, he was persistent.  I thought back almost twelve yahrens now.  To Serina, dirt and tears on her face as she watched Caprica burn, the small, shell-shocked boy at her side begging to ride in my Viper; the crowded saloon in the Rising Star that had a couple of hundred people packed into it, the smell and the dirt and a kid who was too traumatised to eat or sleep; Wilker’s lab, when I still thought of him as a reasonable human being, and that damned droid he created when I asked him to.

"You have no idea what a pathetic little mortal you were, Troy.  Your mother was convinced that if I didn’t do something to help, you’d die, and it was just after your Uncle Zac was killed and you reminded me of him so much.  I suppose I was always a bit soft hearted where kids were concerned."

"Is that why you kept me, when she died?"

I frowned at him, wondering what he was getting at.  "When I married your mother, I became your Dad.  As I remember it, you two came as a package.  I loved it, Boxey.  I always wanted kids.  There was never any question at all but that we’d stay together when she left us."

"Troy,"  he said.

"Troy,"  I agreed.  "What’s all this about?"

He sounded very thoughtful, as if he were thinking it out as he spoke.  "I suppose I just wanted to get it straight in my mind.  I can’t remember my other Dad at all.  I don’t know if I ever even saw him.  You’re the only Dad I’ve had.  I suppose you’ve not done too bad a job of it."

I’ve had a lot of practice since I came back at not showing what I feel.  It was the only effective armour I had at a time when I couldn’t walk down the corridor without the hostile catcalls about cyborgs and zombies following me.  But I had to turn away at that one, to hide.

"Thanks."

"I mean, I don’t mind.  I know you were worrying about me giving up my free periods from school to get you around, but I don’t mind."

"I know."  I said, knowing what he was too shy to say.

"Especially now Starbuck’s back at work.  So we can go and do anything you like.  I’d like to, Dad.  It’s a long time since we had this much time together."  He leaned forward and in a rare show of affection, he got his arm around my neck for a micron.

For a kid his age, he has a peculiar kind of innocence.  Starbuck says that’s rubbed off from me, and although he’s not my genetic son, he can be uncannily like me.

I don’t know.  I think that innocence was stripped away from me, a long time ago when I was Masked and came back, expecting that people would see beyond the Mask and remember me underneath.  But I’d rather his wasn't stripped away by bitter disillusionment as completely as mine was.  Not yet.  Not until it has to happen.

It made me realise that I couldn’t and wouldn’t ask him to take me to Beta deck.  Not after that.  It would be too much like taking advantage of him.  The Ship would have to wait a little longer, until I’d sorted myself out. 

Soon, I hoped. 

Very, very soon.








Starbuck hurried along the corridor from the turbolift, anxious, Boomer struggling to keep up with him.

"Slow down, Bucko.  What the hell do you expect Apollo to have done?"

"I asked you to keep him company," Starbuck said angrily.  "You knew I wouldn’t be back until late.  It’s not too much to ask!"

"Setting aside the fact I have a wife and family I’d like to spend some time with and that Athena’s due any day now, I did go along and see him and ask him to come to the OC for a centar.  He said he was fine and he would prefer a little time to himself."

Starbuck stopped dead.  "That’s what I mean!  Troy’s not there, either, tonight.  He was going to Dillon’s."

"So?  Apollo’s a big boy now.  He’s spent evenings alone before, waiting for you to come back from late patrol."

"That was before!"

"Starbuck," said Boomer, gently.  "He’s not helpless.  He’s blind, but he’s not helpless.  He has to get on with it, learn to live with it."

"Very supportive," said Starbuck.

Boomer shook his head.  "Stop it, Starbuck.  I’m not going to let you pick a fight with me, so you can forget it.  But you give some thought to what you’re doing to Apollo, not letting him do anything for himself.  You’re trying to make him helpless, and I don’t think he likes it."

"Really?"  Starbuck resumed the half-run towards the door of his and Apollo’s quarters.

"Really.  Apollo’s always liked working things out for himself, Starbuck.  You know that."

"I know that I left him to you to look after and you let us down.  If anything’s happened to him, I’ll never forgive you."

He punched in the code angrily.  The door slid aside.  The living room of their quarters was in darkness, but the light flooding in from the corridor showed Apollo relaxed on the sofa, listening to some music. 

Apollo turned his face towards the door.  "Starbuck?"

Starbuck had the grace feel a little embarrassed.  "Hi," he said, in as natural a voice as he could manage.  He avoided Boomer’s eye.  "Lights, sixty per cent."

The computer brought the lights up.

"Sorry - never thought," apologised Apollo.

Boomer just looked at Starbuck, shook his head again and walked away, not needing to say another thing.

"Not been to the OC?"  Apollo’s head tilted to one side, listening. "Someone with you?"

"No." Starbuck glowered after Boomer’s departing back, and stepped inside the room.  "I thought you’d be with Boomer."

"He came by, but I was too lazy to do anything."  Apollo made to get up.  "Hang on a centon.  I’ll just switch this off and we can talk properly - "

"I’ll get it," Starbuck said, happy that there was something he could do to make up for Boomer’s neglect.

When Starbuck turned away from the sound system, Apollo was smiling at him again.  "You didn’t have to rush back, you know.  You didn’t used to, even from a late patrol.  I can manage, if you’d like to go and have a drink with the guys."

"I’d rather be with you, love."  Starbuck leaned down for a kiss.. 

"Nice," said Apollo.  "How was the patrol?"

"Boring." Starbuck settled down beside him and pulled him in close.  "I wanted to be back here with you."

Apollo shook his head sadly.  "A distressing lack of dedication to duty, there, Captain, which I might just have to remember when it comes to your annual performance review.  But the thought is appreciated."

"Depends which performance you’re grading," said Starbuck.

Apollo grinned, and reached out to touch his face.  Starbuck ducked his head to make the contact, enjoying the feel of those long fingers tracing their way over his cheek.

"Gold star for that one,"  Apollo said.  "As you know."

"Yes."  Starbuck was complacent.  "What did you do while I was gone?"

"Had lunch with Troy in the mess, then he took me on a training run all over the ship."

"Training run?"

Apollo laughed.  "Yeah.  You know.  ‘We’re outside the Life Centre, Dad.  Get us to the Alpha Bay.’  He’s worse than old Kes - remember him?  I don’t think there was a corridor on this ship I didn’t get lost down today.  I was amazed at how hard it was.  I’ve been running all over this ship for what, fifteen yahrens almost, and I never realised before how much of that you do on automatic pilot."

"He didn’t tire you out, did he?"

Apollo’s smile faded a little.  " ‘Course not, Starbuck.  I’m fine, really I am.  And I need to do this stuff if I’m ever to be able to get around on my own."

Starbuck ignored this last part.  "I was expecting you to be with Boomer and Athena.  I was worried that you were too tired to go."

"I just wanted some time to myself.  Zac’s pretty demanding you know, and Meriel is always sick all over me, without fail -"

"She’s only two," Starbuck protested reproachfully. 

Athena’s little daughter, named for Boomer’s mother, could wrap an adoring Starbuck around one tiny finger.  He melted into marshmallow-y mush whenever she climbed into his lap and when Apollo had once accused him of genuflecting before her, he hadn’t denied it.  Starbuck loved Troy a lot, but it was when he was around Meriel that he regretted most that he’d never have children of his own.  He was completely committed to Apollo, he knew he couldn’t go on if Apollo ever left him again, but he wished he had a Meriel of his own sometimes.

"Well, we can hope she grows out of it." said Apollo, who wasn’t fond of babies and most certainly didn’t regret missing that period of Troy’s life.  "And Athena’s a bit full of how much her back aches and complaining that she hasn’t seen her feet for sectars.  I preferred the peace and quiet in here."

"Mmn," Starbuck said, making a mental promise to have a word with Troy about running his father ragged.

"Promise.  I’m not tired."  Apollo was grinning now.  "Take me to bed and I’ll prove it.  Troy’s out for the night.  Why not make the most of it?"

Starbuck grinned and leaned in for another kiss.  "You’re on, beautiful.  Best offer I’ve had since …oh -"

"Since the one I made you at breakfast,"  Apollo reminded him.

"Since you ambushed me at breakfast." Starbuck smiled reminiscently at the memory of the door closing behind Troy as he left for school and the almost instantaneous attack that Apollo’s hands made on him.  "Come and do it again."








"Where to today?"  Troy asked.  "More practice trips around the ship?"

I shook my head.   Last night I woke up aching with it, the Ship calling for me, and I could hear its bewilderment and loneliness.  Starbuck had been holding me, rocking me, trying to quiet me down, soothe me.  It was a centon or two before I realised I’d been crying aloud, trying to respond to the Ship.

Starbuck thought that I was dreaming, about Dyss maybe, and what I’d lost there.  I let him hold me, and after a while he made love with me, and then I pretended to sleep.  When he was quiet and breathing softly again, I lay beside him and thought about what I had to do, to get to the Ship and to get back, in some measure, what I’d lost at Dyss.

I hadn’t said anything to Starbuck.  I didn’t really know if I could manage this, and it would devastate him if he had any idea what I was planning.  I knew just exactly what he would think about it - and me.  I’d tell him if and when I had something to say.  How I’d tell him, I still didn’t know.

"I’ve got a few things to do today," I said now to my son, mentally apologising to him for using him the way I was going to.  I wished I could do it some other way, but I still couldn’t get around this ship by myself.  "First stop, though, is Life Centre.  Your grandpa called to tell me Athena’s holding court and we’re on baby inspection duty."

Troy sighed.  "I don’t have to touch it, do I?"

"Admiration from a distance is all I require from you, my son."  We were already on our way, Troy letting me take the lead, ready to help if I needed it but not interfering.  "All you have to do is make gurgling noises at it."

"Grandpa will do that.  He goes all gooey with babies.  He says it’s because he missed it all with you and Aunt Athena and Uncle Zac, and he has to make up for it with us."

Yeah, and that was an old bone of contention between me and my father, that I’d seen so little of him when I was a kid.  At one time I’d begun to equate that with indifference, but I think now I was unfair about that.  He couldn’t help it, that his work had taken him away so much.  If I was glad for one thing the Destruction had done, it was that I’d not had to miss out with Troy the way Dad had missed out with us.

"That sounds like him.  Every time I complain about how much he spoils you, he tells me it’s a grandfather’s privilege."

Troy laughed.  "Will you be like that when I have kids?"

"I think it’s obligatory.  I’ll try and restrain myself if you try not to have any kids for a few yahrens yet.  I don’t think Starbuck could stand the shock of joining the grandparent generation.  He’s antsy enough about his age."

Troy laughed again and promised, and a few centons later I had my new nephew pushed into my arms by his doting grandfather, who swore that he looked just like me.  Troy kept a discreet distance, leaving me to admire little Appy at closer quarters.  Athena’s burst of sentimentality over my recovery had extended to her asking me shyly if I minded her and Boomer calling this one after me.  I didn’t mind at all.  I was quite pleased about it, actually.  But it still didn’t mean I liked babies overmuch.

We didn’t stay long.  Athena was tired and we all thought she and Boomer deserved some time to themselves.  But before we left, I arranged to meet Dad for lunch in his quarters.  If the day’s plans went well, his support was crucial.

"Well, that wasn’t too bad," Troy said.  "Where to next?"

This was it.  I took a deep breath, then said as casually as I could,  "Doctor Wilker’s lab."

"Wilker?"  Troy knew how much I disliked the man.  "Trouble with the amplifiers?"

"No.  They’re okay.  I just need to talk to him."

There was a short silence, and I could sense that Troy was uneasy.  "Which way then?"

I’d never thought before how many different routes I had taken around this ship, not until it was necessary to think of them.  I must have walked around in a blind stupor most of the time.  Now I really was blind, I’d had to wake up and actually think about what I was doing.  Sometimes the unaccustomed activity made my head hurt.

We didn’t say much until we got to level eight.

"I had some quarters along here somewhere once," I said, remembering the tiny little room that had been so convenient for the laboratory, when I was a lab rat fighting to stay alive.  If a zombie could be said to be alive.

"When?"  Troy sounded puzzled.  He’d lived all his time on the Galactica in the troop decks albeit on the command level. 

"When I came back.  They wouldn’t let me onto the troop decks for sectars."

Troy stopped us.  There was a short silence, and his tone was a little odd when he spoke again.  "I didn’t know that.  I mean, I never thought about it, where you lived when you first came back.  Grandpa never said."

"No.  He wouldn’t."  I was thinking of all the harm that coming back from the dead had done to my relationship with my father, and I suppose I sounded grim.  Let’s just say that he hadn’t seemed to be quite as delighted to get me back as I might have liked.  Although it was better between us than it had been, there were still times I found it hard to forgive him for his reaction to my return, and most of all for what it did to Boxey and me… Troy and me, I mean.  Dad and I had never quite got back to where we’d been before and it had been a couple of yahrens before I called him anything other than "Commander".

"I can only remember bits about how I felt about it all," Troy said.  "Being scared and not sure if you really were my Dad, and what the kids at school said.  I never thought… and you don’t talk about it.  I’ve learned more about it from Starbuck than from you.  It must have been hell for you."

"Moderately," I agreed.  I never did like talking about it - what good did talking do? And why burden the kid with my anger and resentment?  As he grew, he’d find plenty to be angry and resentful about on his own account.

"Are you still mad with Grandpa about it?"  He was a perceptive kid.  He had Serina’s enquiring mind, her ability to dig down and look at people’s motives, sharpened, I think, by yahrens of close contact with Starbuck.

"I was.  I was very angry with him once.  Not so much now."

"With me?"

"Not with you.  Never with you."  I hope I sounded reassuring, and it was mainly true, what I was saying.  Boxey’s reaction had nearly broken my heart, but it was a long time ago and I had him back, and I’d never blamed him.  I had blamed my father and Athena.  "Never with you.  You were just a kid, and I knew you couldn’t understand what was happening.  I didn’t myself."

He was sounding worried and I regretted bringing this up.  I don’t know why I did, really.  Maybe it was because of what I was going to do, because of me going to see Wilker and what I wanted him to do, that brought it all back.

He touched the implant and I jumped slightly at the unexpectedness of it.  Apart from a little bit of curiosity when we’d started rebuilding the father-son bit, he’d rarely mentioned the implant, maybe respecting my reticence about it.

"Did it hurt?" he asked abruptly.  "Did it hurt when they did it?"

"I don’t remember."  I thought about it, about the cold uninhabited place inside me.  "I don’t really think I could have known anything of what they were doing, Troy.  Sometimes I dream about being very cold and trapped in the dark, but that’s all, really."

Troy still had his fingers against the implant, tracing the design.  "I bet it didn’t hurt as much as what happened when you came back.  I’m sorry Dad."

"You don’t have anything to be sorry about."

He sighed.  "I do.  And I have a bad feeling about us going to see Wilker."

"Why?"

"Because I don’t think you’ve really forgiven us all properly yet.  I think you’re really still mad at us all."

Amazing how sharp that kid is.  I think that wherever she is, his mother must be very proud of him.  I know I am.







Wilker’s laboratory was small and crowded, and rather smelly, with a sharp tang of solder and hot metal in the air.  He sat at a bench in the middle of it all, surrounded by machinery, droids and drones, bits of obsolete or experimental equipment, wires and circuits, looking not unlike one of his droids himself. 

"Oh it’s you," he said.  "I got your message."

Troy glanced at his father, a touch outraged.  Almost everyone else on the ship would have asked Apollo how he was, how he was doing.  Wilker didn't care.  Apollo had said Wilker wouldn’t care, that there was something reassuringly consistent about Wilker’s indifference and rudeness.

"Thank you for agreeing to see me," said Apollo.  "Troy, do you want to wait outside?"

"I’ll stay, if that’s okay."  Troy poked curiously at the innards of some unidentifiable piece of equipment.   Wilker carefully and pointedly moved the equipment out of harm’s way, and Troy grinned apologetically. 

"Fine."  Apollo turned to face Wilker and got straight to the point.  "I have a proposition for you, Wilker."

"What proposition?"  Wilker sounded faintly interested.

Apollo held out a hand to Troy, and gripped his son’s arm firmly.  "I need your help.  I need your support to get the Mask."

"Dad!"  Troy protested, but he’d known, deep down, what his father was planning.  As soon as Apollo had asked to be brought here, he’d known.  He thought back to what Cassie had said about the Mask, about it taking over sight and hearing.  The long fingers on his arm tightened and he stayed quiet.

"I don’t see how I could help."  Wilker sounded unenthusiastic, but his cold grey eyes were gleaming, speculative.

"You have a number of contacts still on the Council, those who were on the Research Sub-committee when I came back.  They were very reluctant to stop the tests on me.  The Council is more likely to agree to let me have the Mask back, if I agree to resume the tests you were conducting with it."

"I can see that," Wilker conceded.  "And will you?"

"Yes.  And more."

"More?"

Apollo’s face was expressionless, but Troy could feel the slight trembling of the fingers on his arm.

"I’ll give you the Black Ship, Wilker."

"The Black Ship?" Troy said.  "But I didn’t know we still had it."

The two older men ignored him.  He watched Apollo, trying to hide his distress, trying to hide the repugnance at the thought of his father, Masked.  He was a lot older than the nine-yahren old Boxey, but it still scared him.

"It’s dead," Wilker said, but he couldn’t hide his interest.  The grey eyes had lit up with something - almost greed, Troy thought.

Apollo smiled.  "No.  It’s not.  It’s on standby, Wilker, the way I left it when I brought it in."

Both Troy and Wilker inhaled sharply at that.

"You mean that you brought it in under control?" demanded Wilker.

"It’s my ship," said Apollo.

Wilker got up, unable to sit still any longer.  He paced up and down impatiently, his long arms wind-milling in his excitement.  "God damn it!  Do you mean that you can get it working?  I’ve not been able to do anything with it."

"I know."  There was no missing the superiority in Apollo’s voice, the faint sneer.  "I know exactly what you’ve tried to do with it.  Every now and again you’ve tried to open it up, tried to examine it.  But it won’t show you anything will it?  The K’h’n failed to find out anything about it, and you’ve done no better.  You don’t know how to access any of its systems, how it’s powered, what it can do.  You know next to nothing about it.  But I do.  And I could let you share that.  If I get the Mask back."

A pause while Wilker walked distractedly around his laboratory and Troy watched his father sadly.

"Just think what you could have, Wilker.  Just think about, say, the propulsion system.  It can open a jumpgate of its own, small as the Ship is."  Apollo’s voice was soft, enticing.  "Fit that to every ship in the Fleet and triple, quadruple our maximum speed."

"How can I know you’re telling the truth?"

"How can you afford not to try it?"  Apollo said, smiling slightly. 

Wilker scowled. "I’ll need Salik’s help."

"All right.  As long as Cassie’s there too."

Wilker thought about it for a few centons.  Apollo waited, outwardly relaxed.

"Why?" Wilker asked.

"I’ll be blind all my life without it."

Troy bit his lip.  He'd noticed that already his father wasn’t looking directly towards the people he was talking to, but was turning his head to listen more carefully.  He’d started looking more obviously blind.  He wondered, not for the first time, what it must feel like.

Wilker nodded again.  "Done," he agreed.

Apollo squeezed Troy’s arm reassuringly and leaned back in his chair, releasing his hold on his son.    "Good," he said.

Wilker gave him a cold little smile.  "But let’s just run over exactly what we’ll be telling the Council, exactly what you’re signing up to, Colonel.  I’m not having you wriggle out of it this time."







When we got outside, Troy was very quiet.  We stood in the corridor outside Wilker’s laboratory, me still shaking a bit with excitement and hope, him silent and, I think, scared.

"Do you have to?" he asked after a centon.

"There’s no other way."  I took his arm, relieved when he let me.  It was only fair that I let him see why.  "I hate this, Troy.  I absolutely fucking hate not being able to see.  Not being able to see Starbuck, or you, or Athena’s baby…it’s eating me up."  I was shaking with the sudden anger that swept over me, trying to fight it down.  "I hate waking up every day feeling useless and hopeless, having nothing to do, having to rely on somebody else to get around, being this bloody dependent…"  I had to stop, choking on the words that he didn’t deserve to have thrown at him.  It wasn’t his fault.

He had his arms around me.  "I know, Dad." he said awkwardly.

"No.  You’re trying, but you don’t really know."

He couldn’t say much to that.  But I knew he wasn’t happy with what  I was doing.  "But the Mask!"

"It’s the only way I’ll ever see anything again."

"Starbuck will hate it," he said, and there was a catch in his voice.  He knew as well as I did that Starbuck would be devastated, how much Starbuck hated and feared the Mask.

"I know." 

And I did know.  I knew how much Starbuck loved me.  I knew that how much everything he was, was bound up in me.  But he was choking me, so scared he’d nearly lost me, so determined to protect me, that I could barely breathe sometimes.  I had to stop that.  I had to stop that before he swallowed me up and all there was left was poor Apollo, Starbuck’s blind partner.  Not me.  Not the real me.  Just Starbuck’s dependant.  I couldn’t live like that and one day I’d take it out on him and there’d be nothing left for either of us.

"I know," I said again.  "But it’s the only way I’ll be free again."

"Other people have managed," Troy said.

"I don’t have to.  I have the Mask."  I pulled free of him.  "I want to go and see Tigh, now, then we’re due at your Grandpa’s for lunch."

"I don’t like it, Dad," Troy said, quiet and intense.  "I don’t like the thought of you wearing that thing, and I don’t like what you’ve agreed with Wilker.  And I really don’t like what you’re going to do to Starbuck."

I ignored that.  I didn’t like what it would do to Starbuck either, but I couldn’t see my way round that.  I still couldn’t see how I was going to tell him, either, and I didn’t need Troy to jab at my conscience about it.

"The Mask isn’t anything ominous, Troy.  It’s just an enhancer, nothing more.  And as for Wilker - well. I’ll let him have a few scraps, but I’ll only tell him what I want him to know.  He won’t get very much out of this at all."

"You’re very sure of that."

I know I smiled, because it was the funniest thing to have happened in sectons, since Dyss.  Wilker was sitting in that lab, rubbing his hands together in glee, because he thought he had me, that I was so desperate to get at the Mask and see again that I’d give him the Black Ship on a plate. 

Poor fool.  We’d not give him very much, and we’d be together again.

And then they couldn’t touch us.







"Well, what have you two been up to all morning?" asked Adama.

"Plotting," said Troy and pulled away from his father.

"Ominous," murmured Adama.

"Him, not me," said Troy, sounding angry now.

"Troy - "  Apollo said, almost imploring.

Troy shrugged angrily.  "I’ve told you what I think.  I don’t like it, and I hate the way you’re being all smug about thinking you’ve fooled Wilker and you haven’t given Starbuck a centon’s thought."

"I have," protested Apollo.

"Like hell," Troy muttered and threw himself into a chair.

"What’s going on?"  Adama was the one to guide Apollo to a chair, from where Troy had abandoned him near the door. 

"I’ve been to see Tigh about going back to work," said Apollo.

"But how -" Adama chopped the words off. 

Apollo felt his mouth twist.  No doubt it had been worrying the old man, what they could find for him to do, to make him feel useful and needed, to give him some independence; what crumb of normality they could find to throw at him.  Well, he had his own crumb; the whole damn loaf.  It was his.

"Tell him, Dad," said Troy.  "Tell him what you did."

"Troy."  Adama was quelling.  "Apollo?"

"I’m going back to work as soon as I can," Apollo said, a touch defiantly.  "I've been to talk to Tigh and he's going to raise it at the Council meeting tomorrow.  I want the Mask, Dad."

Tigh had surprised him.  If he was honest, he'd thought that Tigh would stop this idea in its tracks by flatly refusing to have him back, but the commander had only given it a few centons thought before agreeing.  Tigh had been under no illusions about the potential difficulties, particularly the reaction most people would have if Apollo was Masked permanently, but he had, in the end, decided that the benefits would outweigh them.  All Tigh had wanted to be sure of was that Apollo, too, had worked out that equation.

Well, he had.  He had.

"See?" Troy said.  "That’s why he went to see Wilker today.  To get his support."

"Wilker?  Wilker!"

"He’s willing," said Apollo. 

"Willing!  I’ll bet he’s willing!  Apollo, have you lost your mind?"

"Just my sight," Apollo said tightly.  "And I don’t have to stay blind.  Not with the Mask."

Adama sat down heavily.  "Do you know what you’re saying?  What the effect of this will be?  The effect on all of us, not just you."

"I’m blind, not stupid.  Of course I know.  I got it all when I came back, remember?  You weren’t the only one to think I wasn't human."

"That’s out of order," Adama said, quietly.

"Is it?  It took you sectars to acknowledge me, and even then it was grudging.  Have you any idea how many lifetimes long a sectar can feel when your own family shuns you like a leper?"  The harsh bitterness, even after all those yahrens, kept Adama silent.  Apollo heard Troy exclaim, but ploughed on.  His son had wondered earlier how bad it had been for Apollo when he’d come back.  Now he was getting a glimpse of it.  "Did you think I’d forgotten?"

"I knew it," Troy muttered.  "I knew you were still mad at us."

Apollo’s mouth was drawn into a hard line, holding back the angry words as the memory flooded his mind.  A child’s frightened face, a child’s voice that stabbed at him: You’re not my Dad, you dead thing you!

"I’m not mad," he said, when he could speak without spitting out vitriol. "What’s the point?  I can’t change what I am, what they made me.  I can’t change the way you all think about me.  I have to live with it, as much as rejuvenated corpse can live with anything.  Because that’s what I am, Troy.  A cyborg.  I’ve a machine for a heart and another in my head that connects me to a piece of alien technology that gives me the chance to see again.  And I’ll be damned before I give that chance up just because my family’s afraid of what people will say.  Isn’t that the effect you’re worried about, Dad?  The one that threatens your position, having a dead cyborg for a son?  Nothing changes, then."

It was if he was once more waking up from the Mask to find that everyone was afraid of him, hated him, saw him as something foul and disgusting.  A cyborg.  They’d had so many of these angry conversations then, conversations that neither of them had ever forgotten, things said that could never be forgotten or wiped out.  Fear slammed at him, and anger and a bitterness he'd thought long since put behind him.

"If you believe that, Apollo, then I’ve just wasted the last nine yahrens.  I thought I’d persuaded you how sorry I was, how much I care about you."

Apollo shrugged angrily.

"It’s not that," said Troy.  "It's not that we're scared about what other people will say.  That... that thing took you away from us.  It wasn’t much fun thinking you were dead, and it hasn’t been much fun seeing how people have treated you since.  None of us are going to enjoy seeing you wearing it.  It’ll always remind us of what we did to you."

"I don’t blame you, I told you that," Apollo said quickly. 

"I think you do," Troy said, sadly.  "But we love you, Dad.  We all do.  You didn’t see Grandpa when you were sick and we didn’t know if you were going to make it.  Nobody ever thought about you being a cyborg, or about the implants.  That stuff doesn’t matter any more.  I don’t want you to wear that thing.  It’ll be like you’re gone and only the cyborg is left."

"I am what I am," Apollo said, quieter now.  "I don’t need to make any excuses for that.  I didn’t ask for it and I can’t change it.  But Masked, I won’t be this damn helpless.  I’ll be able to see, better than before."

"And that’s all that matters?" Adama asked.

"It matters a hell of a lot.  What use am I, blind?  What is there for me to do except sit in the dark and wait for Starbuck to come home?"  Apollo was shaking again with the anger he could barely control.  "I’d be better off dead."

"Oh Apollo - "

"But I don’t know how to do it.  I don’t know how to stop this damned machine from working - " Apollo choked and stopped, knowing he was saying too much.

"Dad!" Troy scrambled to him, sounding like a frightened child.  He let Troy put his arms around him.

"Apollo - "  And he could hear the helplessness in his father's voice, but he wouldn't let it change the dark mood, the mood that had come more often since Dyss, in which he could only think of past injuries and cling to them as if they defined him now.  Perhaps they did. 

Adama put a tentative hand on Apollo’s arm.  Apollo straightened up, taking a deep breath.  "I’m sorry," he said, struggling to keep his voice even.  "Sometimes it all gets on top of me and I just lash out."

"Better than bottling it all up," said Adama.

And there was his platitude for the day.

"At least you come back at me.  Starbuck just sits there, and I swear to God there’s this saintly expression on his face and he’s so busy understanding me that he won’t fight back."

"Is that what this is about?  Getting Starbuck mad?"

"No.  Although he will be.  But it’s partly about making him let go a bit.  I can’t be this dependent.  It’s driving me nuts.  I need to be able to see again, to have something to do, to stop being so useless.  I’ve got to have the Mask.  There’s no other possible way out."

No.  No other way.  No way out.







"Home?"  Troy asked in a quiet, subdued sort of tone.

"Not yet."  I couldn’t believe, though, how tired I was.  I felt like I’d been through a wringer, all the emotion forced out of me.  I was sorry, too, that I’d had a go at Dad like that.  I guess that the thought of the Mask, talking to Wilker, had brought it all flooding back and I just couldn’t help it.  I was really sorry that Troy had been there to see it.  Not the most edifying image of his family.  Of me.

"Where to then?"

"Beta deck, just for a few centons.  Then home."

"What’s down here?" he asked me in the turbo lift.  "Why Beta deck?"

"The Ship," I said.  "I just want to look at it for a centon.  That’s all."

He sighed and said nothing, but when we got out of the lift in the Beta deck he let me take his arm again.  The decks can be dangerous places, always teeming with ships and people, and you have to keep a sharp lookout to keep out of the way especially when they’re getting the Vipers up into the overhead racks to move them into the vast hangars.  Troy took over there, guiding me around the perimeter of the deck, keeping us as far away from the action as he could.  I had to tell him which hangar the Ship was in, one of the little hangars that would normally have held one of the shuttles, the last on the starboard side of the deck.

"Locked," he said, sounding relieved.  "And there’s a security lock on it."

"I know."  I reached for it, feeling my way around the locking mechanism.  The code came easily.  I’d done this many times over the yahrens, slipping in here to see my Ship.

"How’d you find the code?"

"Hacked in."  I let the doors close behind us.  "The control console’s to the left of the door.  You can turn the lights on from there if you want to see it."

I was already walking towards it, one hand stretched out in front of me.  When I touched the side of the Ship it was like a little electric shock.  There was a micron’s stillness, then it was if something rushed to meet me, the greeting cold and passionless as always, but comforting, known, familiar.  I got as close as I could, and rested the implant on it.

"Soon," I said to it softly.  "Very soon now."

I heard Troy flick on the lights and stepped back a pace, keeping my hand on the Ship’s side.  I didn’t think he’d like to see me cuddling up to the Ship, and it needed no more than that micron’s connexion.  I could feel its satisfaction.  I was there.  It was there.  The Mask would soon be there.  That was all it needed.

He gasped.  "It’s huge!"

I suppose it must seem big, to someone used to Vipers.  The Black Ship is significantly bigger, almost twice the size of a Viper.  Much faster too, and more deadly.  Infinitely more deadly.

"And it’s so beautiful," he went on, obviously surprised.  "Why didn’t anyone ever tell me it was so beautiful?"

I smiled at him. 

"Yes, it is, isn’t it?  And it’s mine."

I chose my words very carefully.  He’d had enough to contend with that day, my poor son.  He’d had to accept that I’d make a pact with an enemy to get at the Mask, that I’d risk what I had with Starbuck, he’d learned at firsthand just how bitter and angry I could be about the past, and that I could be so despairing about what had happened to me.  That was enough growing up for one day.  I didn’t want to scare him any further.  So I was careful.

Because what I wanted to say was something quite different.

We wanted to say that it was very beautiful.  And that it was ours.







"Computer.  Time?"

[Nine forty and fifteen microns]

Apollo leaned back on the sofa, one of the volumes of the History in his hand.  He loved those books, loved the feel and smell of them.  But his inability to read it wasn't the first priority.  Starbuck was.  He would have landed forty centons ago from routine patrol.  Ten centons in decontamination, then debriefing on the bridge with Omega… he should be home any centon. 

There was an unaccustomed dryness in Apollo’s throat, a trembling in the long fingers.  He was nervous, he realised, anxious about hurting Starbuck.  He couldn’t see any way that Starbuck would accept what he’d done that day.  Starbuck would see it as a betrayal, maybe the ultimate betrayal.  And given what Starbuck had endured for him all those yahrens ago, maybe Starbuck would be right.

Apollo felt slightly sick, and the forehead he leaned against the old book in his hand was clammy with sweat.  Dear God, was it worth it?  To risk everything with Starbuck?  To risk everything to feel normal again?

Apollo’s mouth twisted slightly.  Normal.  Being Masked was normal?  Well, Starbuck would recognise that as the irony it was.

Maybe he shouldn’t do it.  Say nothing to Starbuck now and tell Tigh and the others that he’d changed his mind.  That he’d stay blind and useless and dependent -

"Hi, sweetheart."  The door opened.  "Miss me?"

He leaned down over Apollo, kissed him hello.

"As always,"  Apollo said.  "Good patrol?"

Lord, did they have nothing to say any more but these platitudes?  Would that be his life from now on?  Some little job, teaching the recruits maybe, with him always waiting at home for Starbuck to come back from all the exciting missions?  In the sudden rush of tangled emotion, Apollo forgot that ninety percent of patrols were unmitigated tedium.  What did it matter if you were flying?

"So-so.  We flew a patrol with the Dyss.  Queer beggars, aren’t they?"  Starbuck took the book from him.  "Would you like me to read it to you?  I should get them transferred onto voice readers for you."

"Which one is it?" Apollo asked.

"A History of the Kobolian Peoples.  Volume 48."  A pause.  "Volume 48?  Lords, Apollo, how many of these do you have?"

"A full set.  There’s sixty two volumes.  Mother bought it for my graduation present from the Academy, remember?  It must have cost her a small fortune.  It’s hundreds of yahrens old."

"It smells like it," Starbuck said with typical irreverence.  "I remember.  You tossed the Sword of Honour onto a chair like it was a piece of scrap iron and went into raptures over a box of old books.  No sense of proportion.  Have you read it?"

"Several times." 

"Sheesh.  The whole thing?  Impressive.  If I start at volume one, there’s enough reading here to keep us going until we both retire."

"I think I already have.  Retired, I mean."  Apollo allowed the bitterness to show.  He had to make Starbuck see how he felt, to get him to understand.

"Apollo, there’ll be things for you to do," Starbuck said awkwardly.  "They won’t want to lose you."

"There’s not much I can do, like this," Apollo said, resentful.  "Teach the cadets?"

"Colonel Lee didn’t do so badly," Starbuck said reminding Apollo of the head of the Caprican Academy, blinded in a firefight yahrens before they’d even been born.

"He was forty yahrens older than me," Apollo snapped back.  "He was used to it.  I’m not.   I’m too young for this, Starbuck.  I’m too young to be sidelined into a civilian job.  I don’t want to do it.  I want my real job back, doing real work.  I want to be back in command again…"  his voice trailed away, and he fought for control.  Blowing up now would be a mistake, a real mistake.  "And so I’m going to do something about it."  He spoke very quietly.

He’d decided now.  He’d do it.  He’d tell Starbuck and really go through with it.

"What?"  Starbuck sounded tired, wary.

Apollo hesitated, then said in a tone he tried to keep neutral, tried not to sound defiant, "I went to talk to Tigh today, Starbuck.  There’s a way that I can go back to work, a way to see again and be useful -"

Never let it be said that Starbuck was slow in the uptake.  "No!  Not that!"

"Starbuck, please listen to me.  I know you won’t like this, but it’s a chance for me. A chance to see again…

"For fuck’s sake, Apollo!  Just think about it!  You can’t be serious about using the Mask!  Not after everything they did to you!  Not after everything it cost you -" 

"I have thought about it!  I’ve thought about it for sectons.  Ever since I woke up and found myself like this.  I can’t bear it, Starbuck.  I hate it.  I hate being blind.  I hate being poor Apollo.  I hate being so bloody dependent on you or Troy to get around this ship.  I hate not being able to read my books.  I hate not being able to see your face.  I hate it that you even have to tell me what’s on my plate before I start to eat it.  Shit, Starbuck, I even hate it that I can’t see the crap they broadcast on IFB.  And I’ve had enough of it.  I don’t have to be like this.  I can do something about it."

"But not this," Starbuck protested, getting angry in his turn.  "Not the Mask.  What’s it ever done for you except make a leper out of you?"

"Wearing it won’t make much difference, then," Apollo said sullenly.

"Of course it will!  Most people don’t think about it.  But they sure as hell will with it sitting there all the time!"  Starbuck dropped the book and caught hold of Apollo’s hands.  "Listen to me!  You don’t need this, Apollo.  We’re together and we’ll work something out.  I’ll take care of you -"

"I don’t want you to take care of me!" Apollo snapped back. 

Starbuck let go of Apollo’s hands.  "Oh." he said.

Apollo fought to get the temper under control, to repair the damage.  "I can’t be that dependent, Starbuck, not even on you," he said more gently.  "I want it to be the way it was, equal partners, not me being helpless and a burden."

Starbuck shook his head.  "I thought it was like being Sealed," he said in a flat tone.  "You know, the promise to love and care for you in all things, sickness and health.  I know you probably don’t feel the same -"

"Starbuck!"

" - but that’s how I felt.  I was happy to take care of you, because I love you.  Not as a burden or a dependant, but because I love you and I love doing things for you.  I was proud to do it.  I thought you’d feel the same way if anything like that happened to me.  That’s what loving someone means, I thought.  Maybe I was wrong."  There was bewilderment and anguish in his tone.

"Starbuck, it doesn’t change the way I feel about you,"  Apollo said urgently.  This was worse even than he’d anticipated.  He’d expected Starbuck to get angry, not be this hurt and defenceless and bewildered.

"Whatever that is," Starbuck said, still dull and flat.  "You never say anything."

A pause.  But Apollo still couldn’t quite bring himself to say it, still dreadfully hurt about the way that everyone he’d ever loved had once turned against him.  Except Starbuck.

"No,"  Starbuck said sadly.  "Maybe they were right, the ones who said you weren’t Apollo any more.  Maybe you can’t love me or anyone any more."

"Because I haven’t got a heart," Apollo said, savagely.

"Maybe.  So who’ve you told about this?  Tigh, and your father I’d guess.  Who else?"

"I had to get Wilker’s help," Apollo said reluctantly.  "And Troy was taking me around  today."

"Troy?" There was anger and contempt now in Starbuck’s tone.  "Couldn’t you keep you own son out of it?"

"I’m blind, Starbuck.  Someone has to take me wherever I want to go.  Is that what you want for me for the rest of my life?"

"I wanted my Apollo back," Starbuck said, sad again, the brief flash of anger over.  "But I don’t think I ever had that, did I?  I suppose I ought to be grateful that you got round to telling me at all.  It’s a wonder you just didn’t appear with it.  I guess I don’t merit anything else."

"Please don’t do this, Starbuck.  It wasn’t some plot to exclude you.  I knew you’d hate it, and I didn’t see any point in upsetting you until I knew whether I could get the Mask.  You’d have just tried to make me promise not to try."

"What difference does what I think make to you, Apollo?"  Starbuck stood up.

"Everything.  Please try to understand, Starbuck."

"Don’t call me that, Apollo.  It doesn’t really mean anything, does it?  Well, I guess I know where I stand.  Somewhere below Tigh and Wilker and you being Colonel, but above Boomer and Jolly and the boys.  Well, that’s not good enough for me anymore.  I think I deserve better."

"Starbuck, please don’t do this.  Where are you going?"

"You don’t need me, Colonel.  I thought you did.  And God, was I happy to be needed!  Stupid of me, because you don’t need me.  You only need the Mask.  Well, I think I always knew that you’d try and get it back, one day.  I’d hoped that I was wrong."

"Starbuck!  Where’re you going?" 

"I don’t know.  I’ll get my things tomorrow."

"Starbuck!"  Apollo struggled to his feet.  "Starbuck... please…!"

The door closed.

Apollo stared towards it.

"Starbuck?"

Nothing.  Apollo took a step forward, his foot kicking something on the floor.  Volume 48 of the History skittered across the floor, making him jump.  When the book came to rest, the room was painfully silent but for the sound of his own breathing.  Starbuck had gone.

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