Section Five

 

"Hi, Starbuck," said Troy shyly as the door opened.

Starbuck’s melancholy expression lit up with delight.  "Troy!" he said thickly, pulling the boy into a warm embrace.  "Come in!"

Troy hugged him back affectionately and followed him into his new quarters.  "Bit small, isn’t it?"  he said critically. 

He looked around.  Starbuck had reverted to his old untidy self, and there were clothes everywhere.  He saw a half-empty bottle of ambrosa and let Starbuck see that he’d noticed it, widening his brown eyes and looking reproachful.

"Not bad." Starbuck sidled over to the sink in the tiny kitchen area and casually put the bottle into it.  "It’ll do.  It’s just somewhere to sleep."

Troy grinned.  "Yeah, I heard you’ve been out on the razzle a lot, since you left us.  Having fun?"

Starbuck frowned slightly.  "One night on the Rising Star doesn’t count as being on the razzle."

"Whatever," said Troy, casual as you like.  "As long as you’re having fun.  Listen, I don’t have long.  Grandpa sent me to tell you that we’re all having supper with him tonight, with Athena and Boomer, to celebrate the baby.  And to talk about how to celebrate my eighteenth birthday, I hope.  That’s only a few sectons off." 

Starbuck’s frown deepened.  "Me too?"

"You’re family," said Troy.  "Grandpa said that he wouldn’t take no for an answer and if he had to, he’ll send Reese for you.  He said it was one of the advantages of being President, having Security at his beck and call.  Pisses off Reese no end."

Starbuck grinned then sobered.  "What about your Dad?"

Troy shrugged.  "Well, he’ll be there, although I don’t know why Grandpa bothered to ask him.  He won’t eat anything."

"What?"

"Well you know what he’s like when he’s upset," said Troy with another casual shrug.  "I can just about remember when Mom died, and he stopped eating then too.  Stopped sleeping then as well, if I remember right.  Took you ages to get him sorted out, didn’t it?"

Starbuck nodded wordlessly.

"He takes things to heart too much, and bottles it all up.  Well, more mushies for the rest of us, I guess."  Troy spoke with all the callousness of youth.

"I can’t come Troy.  I haven’t spoken to your father for a secton."

"I know.  That surprised me a bit, you know?  I didn’t think you’d walk away without at least talking to him.  I guess you’re really mad at him.  Still, he should have talked to you.  You’re right about that." 

Silence.

"He’s coping better now he doesn’t have to depend on people unless he wants to, more than he wants to." Troy went on.  "That’s the way it should be, don’t you think?  The way it used to be?"

More silence.

"Shall I tell Grandpa you’re coming then?"

"It’s not as though he’s tried to talk to me," said Starbuck resentfully.

"Grandpa?"

"Your father!"

"Well, he did once, but that was the night they told him you were out having fun on the Star," said Troy said, still casual.  "I think he got the idea that you were happier that way."

Starbuck stared.  "He tried to call me?"

"I don’t suppose it was about much." Troy looked around the little room, avoiding looking directly at Starbuck.  "Maybe about that old blue shirt of yours."

"What?  What shirt?"

"The one you left behind when you went.  Dad keeps it in your  - sorry, his bedroom." Troy looked at his chronometer.  "Look I’ve got to run, Starbuck.  We’re eating at about eight.  You’ll be there?"

Starbuck nodded dumbly.

"Good."  Troy got his arms around Starbuck’s neck in a crushing hug.  "We’ve missed you, Starbuck.  We love you."  He paused in the doorway, looking into Starbuck’s confused face and grinned.  "See you later."

The door closed and Troy’s grin grew broader.  One down, one to go.







"Are you going to get ready?" 

Apollo looked up, startled.  He had been sitting on the edge of his bed, unaware that Troy had come back home. 

The first exhilaration about getting the Ship back had passed.  Instead he was thinking about what it meant, what it had done to him.  The memory of becoming one with the Mask and the Ship was very clear, very sweet, very disturbing.  But under it all, he thought, was Apollo.  He had to believe that.  He had to believe that in this strange trinity with Mask and Ship, he remained Apollo.  But he wondered how long that would last.  Whether one day he’d be swallowed up and there’d be nothing of him left.  Nothing human left.

In a sudden need to be unequivocally one thing or the other, he’d carefully taken the Mask off and put it away.  Tonight, it would be I, not we.  Tonight he’d be Apollo.  Faulty, lonely, all too human Apollo.  Very lonely Apollo.

"Troy?" 

"Who else comes in here?" said Troy.  "We’re eating at Grandpa’s tonight, remember?"

"Oh.  Yeah.  I’d forgotten." 

Starbuck would be there, Adama had said.  Apollo didn’t know if he wanted to go.  He wasn’t hungry anyway.  He hadn’t been hungry for days…oh, since Starbuck had left.

"Probably all the excitement today," said Troy kindly.  "Everyone’s talking about it at school, you getting the Black Ship going."

"They aren’t supposed to know."

Troy laughed.  "Just try and keep a secret on this ship.  Everyone knows, Dad."

"Are they giving you a hard time?"

"Some of them try.  Most don’t think there’s much difference.  A few think it’s cool and I think you may have started a new fashion trend in headgear.  ‘Course, they’re the weird ones."

Apollo smiled reluctantly.  This was virtually the most conversation he’d had out of Troy for a secton.

"I’ve just been to see Starbuck," said Troy.

Apollo swallowed hard.  "Good.  You shouldn’t have to miss out on seeing him, Troy.  He loves you a lot."

"Yeah, I know.  He tells me often."

Apollo looked down, knowing he didn’t tell Troy often.  He still found it too hard to say the words.   "How was he?"

"Sheesh, what a mess!  I couldn’t believe that anyone could get a room that untidy in only a secton."  Troy came closer, his tone becoming uncertain, anxious.  "He seemed - oh I don’t know… I think he’d had a bit to drink, Dad."

"Troy!"  But Apollo was very aware that Boomer had hinted at something very similar.

"I mean it.  Bottles everywhere."  Troy sighed.  "He’s gone to pieces a bit."  Then with a bewildering change of tone, he said brightly,  "What are you going to wear?  Not this old blue shirt?"

Apollo half turned, putting out a hand as if to snatch it back.  He hadn’t realised he’d left it lying on the bed.

He managed to sound calm.  "No.  Not that."

"You’re going to have to make your mind up soon  We’re due there in about a centar and we all know you hate being late."

Apollo ignored that.  "What did he say?"

"Starbuck?  Not much.  He’s still mad at you, I suppose."

Apollo nodded.  "I should have talked to him, but he hates it when I wear the Mask."

"You’re not wearing it now," Troy pointed out.

"I don’t need to.  I’m not on duty now,"  Apollo said, then stopped, his mouth open.  He stared towards his son, a slow grin appearing.

"Precisely," said Troy.  "There’s this teacher at school, Dad.  He takes us in citizenship classes.  Boring as hell, usually.  But he talked to us about avoiding conflict, about compromising."

"You‘re altogether too smart for your own good."

"I know." Troy was understandably smug.  "I’m definitely smarter than either of you two.  I must take after my mother.  Starbuck’s coming to Grandpa’s for supper, though.  You can talk to him there."

Apollo shook his head, and got to his feet, heading for the door.

"Hey!  Where’re you’re going?"

"This is not the kind of thing you talk about in a room full of your relations, all hanging on to every word.  I’ll go and find him."

Troy hurried after him.  "You can’t go on your own!"  he protested.

"I can and will."  Apollo turned in the doorway and held out his hand.  Troy caught it, and submitted to a hug that took his breath away.  "I should have had you drowned when you were a puppy," Apollo said, gruffly, telling Troy what he could never find the words to say.  "Let’s see if all those geography lessons you gave me work out."

"Dad!"

"I’ll be fine."  Apollo turned towards the turbolifts, one hand trailing against the corridor wall to help him navigate.  "See you later."







Troy watched him go, chewing anxiously on his bottom lip.  This was an unexpected outcome to his plotting.  He glanced down at the faded blue shirt his father had been mooning over, wondering if he was, perhaps, a little too smart for his own good.

His father disappeared around a junction in the corridor, moving with surprising speed and a confidence that made Troy grin. 

Oh well.  Nothing he could do about it now.  Nothing at all.







The first bit wasn't too bad.

Almost as soon as he’d arranged them with the Quartermaster, I’d found out where Starbuck’s new quarters were and in an idle moment I’d worked out the shortest route to them.  Not that I’d thought I’d need it.  It was something to think about when I couldn’t sleep.  I wasn't sleeping well.  I had a lot of idle moments.

Along to turbolifts 11 and 12, and down six decks.  Turn right, eighteenth door on the left hand side. 

Easy.

Except that he wasn't there.

I stood outside his door, almost resentful.  I was making a real effort here, coming to him un-Masked, to beg him to listen to me, and he wasn't even there.  I’d decided that I wanted to be human, to be Apollo and he wasn’t there to tell me if it mattered to him any more, if he cared any more.

The OC.  I’d try the OC.  I leaned against his door and tried to visualise the route.  I really needed to get to lifts 3 and 4 although it was a twisty route to get to them, and down to level twenty.  They’d bring me out almost directly opposite the OC door.  If I dropped down to twenty here, I’d have to take that twisty little route along more crowded corridors.  It was just after the duty shift change: the corridors to the OC and all the recreation rooms down there would be full of people.  I’d be better off staying up here for the difficult bits.

So back to the turbolifts, and past them… I had to get across to the other side of the corridor and turn… turn left, I think, and back to the turbolifts.

It seemed a lot longer to get back to them than it had to get to Starbuck’s door.  I began to get a bit anxious that I’d missed them and it was a relief when my hand felt the edge of the lift doors.  I realised, too, that I’d left my comlink on the table beside the bed.  If I got really lost, I wouldn’t even be able to call Troy to come and help.  I’d have to hope that I’d come across someone friendly.

A junction.  Left again and cross to other side of the corridor, and forward until the second side corridor on the right.  Cross to the other side of the corridor and forward until the next left…

It took me about ten centons to work my way to lifts 3 and 4.  It was hard work, too, keeping a map of the Galactica in my head, and it was a relief to lean back against the lift wall and think about what I’d say to him.  I hadn’t expected that I’d have to speak to him in the OC, in front of crowd.  I had to hope that he’d agree to come away with me, come back and talk in private.  If he refused…  Well, if he did, then I might have a few words to say to Troy’s teachers about the folly of citizenship lessons.

When the lift doors opened, I could hear the OC.  Lord, you could probably hear it three decks away, the talk and the laughter and the loud music.  A very human noise.

Straight ahead.  But I could feel and hear that there were people about.  All I could do was head for the OC and hope that they got out the way and let me through. 

Six steps and I could feel the side wall.  It’s astonishing in this darkness how much confidence that gives you, that tenuous connexion of finger tips trailing along the metal walls, almost not touching, touching just enough. 

"Apollo?"

I’d barely gone more than another six steps when someone was there, coming up on my right side and putting out a hand to stop me.  A  woman had been close - I could smell her perfume - but she’d turned aside without speaking to let me pass.  Embarrassed, I suppose, or just reluctant to speak to the zombie.

This was a man.  I turned my head slightly.  I’d found it easier, un-Masked, to turn so my right ear was towards whoever was speaking to me.  My hearing wasn’t bad - not as good as it had been, but not bad, and definitely better on the right.  The noise was too much for me to be sure who it was.

But it was someone who knew me reasonably well.  The OC was pretty relaxed - once in there, and off duty, even the lowliest cadet had permission to call me by my given name.  Not everyone did, of course, and military hierarchy is difficult to shake.  Usually only those I was friendly with did it with any assurance.

"Who is it?"

"Trent."  He touched my arm again.  "Can I take you somewhere, Apollo?"

"Trent."  I grinned towards him. 

I’d made him a captain just before I’d left for Dyss, appointing him commander of our small company of infantry.  He’d rejoined as soon as we’d started recruitment, when I’d agreed that the loss of a hand in a battle three yahrens before the Destruction did not rule him out for reinstatement.  Fair’s fair: the loss of a heart hadn’t, in the end, ruled me out.  He was easily the best of the infantry, and he’d done all the work of getting the company together.  He’d had a trick of pretending to listen respectfully to my advice, go and do something infinitely more sensible that meant the company operated smoothly and efficiently, then attribute the sensible decision to me.  He deserved the captaincy.  I liked him.

"Where’re you off to?  The OC?"

"Please."  I tucked a hand under his arm, my fingers touching the steel hand.  "I should have let Troy bring me.  Progress has been slow."

"But progress all the same," he said.  "How’s it going?"

"Interesting," I said, thinking about the Black Ship and the fright I’d given everyone.

"I’ll bet.  I’m glad you came down.  We haven’t seen you for a few days."

I shrugged.  He knew why.  Everyone did.  He was, of course, too polite to mention either the Mask or Starbuck, both pressing reasons for my social inactivity.

"We’re here," he said, turning into the doorway.

I could tell.  The music and voices were so loud that I hesitated, worried about getting disorientated.  When you depend so much on one sense, overload is no joke.  Then the place went almost quiet, the voices dying away, leaving only the music to pound on.  Well, that hadn’t happened for quite a while.  Once, when I first came back, I’d never been able to come in here without it falling quiet while they wondered how to deal with the dead cyborg in their midst.

"Apollo!" 

It was Giles.  Good old Giles, proving it wasn't quite the same as before.  Back then, except for Starbuck, not even my friends spoke to me.  This time they weren’t going to leave me.  Boomer had said they wouldn’t.  And even the silence in the OC was short.  The talk soon welled up again around me.  Not much of a sensation then.  Maybe they would accept it after all.  The real trick would be to get Starbuck to accept it.

Giles came to meet me.  "Good to see you, Apollo.  Drink?"

"Thanks, but I don’t have time," I said.  "I came to find Starbuck."

"Starbuck?  He’s not here.  I haven’t seen him since I got back from patrol and got yelled at for the state of my reports."  Giles tried to laugh, but he sounded a bit strained.  "I never thought that Starbuck would yell at anyone over reports.  He’s sounding like you used to.  It must be something to do with the captain’s pins."

"Not here?"  I probably sounded as blank as I felt.  Not at home, not at the OC.  Where in Hades was he, then?

"Sorry," Giles said.  "Want me to try and call him?"

"Please.  I forgot my link."  Trent was steering me towards the usual table, and got me into my seat.  The one to my right, Starbuck’s seat, was empty.  Jolly was on my left.  They were all there, except Boomer, the family man.  He’d be at home under Athena’s thumb, dutifully getting ready for supper.

"Hi Apollo.  Beer?" Jolly asked me. 

I nodded, wondering where Starbuck was, if he was avoiding me still.  It would be easy to do.  Without the Mask I couldn’t tell if he were sitting two feet away, watching me.  Ignoring me.  Except I didn’t think Giles would lie to me about it, and Trent certainly wouldn’t.

"Okay, just one.  Thanks."

Jolly pushed the glass against my hand, and I picked it up, took a sip of the beer, but it tasted awful.  I hadn’t been eating much and had nothing to absorb it, and it tasted stronger than it ought to.  Giles leaned over me as I put the glass down again, a hand on my shoulder. 

"Sorry, Apollo.  He’s not answering.  Core Command say that he signed off duty a centar ago.  Have you tried his quarters?"  There was an awkwardness as Giles said it.

"I went there first." 

"Well, it’ll be a strange sort of day if he doesn’t turn up.  Why not stay a while?" Greenbean asked.  "You can tell us all about the Black Ship."

I thought about it for a centon, then nodded.  "All right.  I’ll stay a few centons, but I’m due at my father’s for supper and I wanted a word with Starbuck before then."  I found the beer glass and took another mouthful of it.  It took some effort to get it down.

"All right?"  Jolly asked.

"The beer?  Too strong."

"I meant everything really," he said.  "Do you want something lighter?"

"This’ll do, thanks.  Everything’s all right.  Not wonderful.  Just all right.  How about down here?"

"The same," Jolly said.  "Most people are going to be okay about it, Apollo.  Not like last time,  But they’re nervous, so it won’t be wonderful.  Just all right."

"Uh-huh."  It was hard to concentrate.  Partly because the noise was so distracting, but mostly because my mind was on Starbuck.  "Did someone gag Drake then?"

It was Cree who laughed.  He was still pretty much of a kid really, and he had a light, unmistakable laugh.  "Sort of.  He tried it on, and Bojay has him on so many long patrols as a punishment that he comes in here and falls asleep in his beer before he can get started.  He has the cadets a bit jumpy."

"Cadets are always jumpy."  I tried another sip of beer and put the glass down feeling slightly sick.  "I’ve an idea where Starbuck might be.  I’ll go and take a look.  Thanks for the drink."

I got to my feet, hesitated.  I hated saying it, but there was no way I could navigate my way out of there without falling over tables and people. 

"Could one of you get me back to the turbolifts?"

I’m heading that way," Trent said casually.  "I’ll drop you off."

He was lying.  When he’d run into me in the corridor he’d been on his way into the OC, not heading away from it.  Still what was the point of arguing?  He was a pretty good set of eyes, too.  He let me take his arm, and went at my pace, and he was good at steering me around people and tables. 

"Can I take you further than the turbolifts?"  he asked me once we were out in the corridor and the noise level had fallen to bearable levels.

I shook my head.  "No thanks.  Troy’s drilled me pretty well and I can find my way."

"As long as you’re sure."  He sounded doubtful, but had more sense than to persist.  "Three’s arrived."  He steered me into the lift and stepped back.  "Take care, boss."

"I will.  Thanks."  I let the doors close.

[State level]

"Level one."

Right at the top of the Galactica it’s almost always deserted.  There’s very little up there except engineering stuff, and few people need to be there.  I’d have to be careful, but I thought I could do it.  When the lift door opened I started on the long trip aft, trying to remember how to get there.

It took me fifteen centons to find the blast door, and the small storage locker on the wall to its right.  As I took out the ear-defenders, I thought about the next stage.  Once past that door I was in the main chamber housing the central thrusters, the huge engines just below me.  The noise could be indescribable, like being inside a vast steel drum while someone bashed at the outside with sledge hammers.  Without the defenders, you could get very deaf. 

Been there.  Done that.  Don’t want it again.

The thruster chamber was enormous.  The blast door led to a narrow steel  walkway, less than a metre wide, with nothing between me and a fall of a couple of hundred metres other than a thin waist-height handrail.  The walkway was suspended from the ceiling, six metres above.  It wasn’t an enticing prospect even if you could see and hear.  With the ear defenders on, I’d be able to do neither.

I hesitated for a centon or two.  I didn’t mind admitting that I didn’t like the idea of going on, but I couldn’t think of anywhere else that Starbuck might be.  I put on the defenders, plunged at once into that dark silence I hated, and stepped through the door.

I’d forgotten how much the walkway trembled with the thudding of the great engines.  I’d forgotten how much I disliked this bit even when I could see and hear.  Shit, but it was scary!  I caught hold of the handrail, half turning to go straight back.  The only thing that stopped me was that at the end of this would be Starbuck.  He was worth it.

It took me ages, much longer than it used to.  When I could see I used to almost run this bit to get it over with and reach the ladder.  Now I went very slowly, very cautiously, clinging to the handrail with both hands.  I was breathing faster and my mouth was dry.  Funny that, because I could feel how wet my forehead was getting with sweat.  It was hard not to be very frightened as the walkway shook and vibrated beneath me.  I knew I wouldn’t fall, really, but I wasn’t absolutely certain.  I held that rail so hard that my fingers started to cramp up, and I had to stop to flex my hands, one at a time, clinging to the rail with the other.  Once I’d stopped it was hard to start walking again.  I’d rather have just sat down and clung to something safe and never moved again.

Half way across the chamber was the ladder.  It was hard to let go of the rail and reach for it, and start to climb.  The ladder shook too, vibrating to the engines' music. 

Twenty rungs up and I found the hatch.  Operating the mechanism took another few precious centons, but I did it.  I was desperate to get off that shaking ladder, off that walkway.  That God that Starbuck would be there to get me home again.

I got through the hatch, let it fall back, and pulled off the ear defenders.  Here in the Celestial Dome the noise of the thrusters was so muted, they were felt, rather than heard.

"Starbuck!" 

The Dome’s neglected and forgotten, except for the few of us who know it and love it.  It’s a special place for me and Starbuck, the place where we made love for the very first time, the place we made love again for the first time after I came back.  I loved it here.  It can be the most beautiful place on the Galactica, the most romantic.

The most deserted.

I started towards the middle, moving carefully.  We’d always meant to clear it out properly, but never had.  The floor was littered with bits of discarded equipment we’d brought up there to cannibalise to repair the Dome’s consoles, and I was scared that I’d fall.

"Starbuck?"

But I knew he wasn’t there.  Not at home.  Not in the OC.  Not in the Dome.  God alone knew where he was then.

I just knew that wherever I went to find him, he wasn't there.  Not there to hear me tell him I was sorry.  Not there to hear Troy’s compromise.  Not there to hear me say I’d give up the Mask altogether, if that was the only way to get him back. 

Just not there.







For a little while after Troy had left, Starbuck had sat in a daze, wondering what the hell it had all been about.  A few very pertinent things kept repeating themselves in his brain.  Apollo had tried to call him the one night when he’d been persuaded to go out, and he’d been miserable on the Rising Star instead of being miserable in this crummy little room.  Apollo wasn’t eating or sleeping.  Apollo was keeping his old blue shirt as some sort of shrine.

And that added up to Apollo missing him.  Wanting him.

That acted like a red alert.  Starbuck jumped up, and hurried through the turboshower.  All the time he was soaping and rinsing he was thinking of other things, of Boomer’s trenchant comments about him being over-possessive, smothering Apollo.  Over the last secton, he’d thought a lot about that.  Maybe Boomer was right.  He’d loved Apollo, loved doing things for him, but Apollo had always hated being wrapped in cotton wool.  Maybe he, Starbuck, had been over the top.

But the most important things were that Apollo had called him; Apollo wasn’t eating or sleeping; Apollo wouldn’t let go of that old blue shirt.

Once out of the shower, he looked through the various piles of his belongings, picking out clothes that at least looked half-way clean and decent, and hurried out.  He needed just a little reassurance, and there was one person apart from Apollo himself that he could turn to and rely on for that.  He spent the few centons waiting for Cassie to answer her door trying to smooth out the worst of the wrinkles and creases from his shirt, in between ringing the bell impatiently.

Cassie raised an enquiring eyebrow at him, holding a wrap closed across her chest.

"Can I come in, Cass?"  he asked, tone urgent.  He gave her his best thousand-gigawatt smile.

She glanced over her shoulder.  "No," she said flatly.  "I’ve got a visitor."

"Oh."  Taken aback, Starbuck felt slightly hurt.  "Oh. Okay.  Can I have a word, then?"

"A quick one."  Cassie frowned, and twitched his collar into place with one hand, keeping the other on her wrap.  "You look like you’ve been dragged along behind a Viper for a secton or two."

"It’s the cleanest one I have,"  Starbuck said thinking rapidly.  No time for subtlety here if she was - er - busy.  He had to go straight in to test Troy’s hypothesis.  "Cass, I wanted to ask you.  Is Apollo okay?  I mean, I saw him earlier today, and he was looking a bit thin."

"You are so transparent that I can see the corridor wall through the back of your head."

"Cass."  He tried for one of his most winning smiles.

"He’s all right, I suppose.  He’s a bit stressed, of course, and not eating or sleeping much."

"The Mask?"  Starbuck held his breath.

"No."  Cassie cast another look over her shoulder.  "Let’s say that all he will admit to is that there are other reasons."  She gave him a big, significant smile.

"Oh."  Starbuck grinned at her, caught hold of her and kissed her roundly.

"Starbuck!" she protested, clutching vainly at the wrap.

"Nice," he said, approving of assets that, even if they weren’t of primary importance to him any more, he could still appreciate.  "Thanks, Cassie.  Thanks a zillion."  Another smacking kiss and he was halfway down the corridor.  "Oh, and have a nice time!"







Cassie smiled after him, shook her head in amused disbelief and retreated, closing and locking the door. 

"What was all that about?"

"Starbuck needing a little push in the right direction, that’s all."

"Good.  I’d prefer to have the senior officers on this ship concentrating on work rather than worrying about their sex lives.  Or the lack thereof."

Cassie let the wrap fall.  "You included?"

"Oh yes.  I’ve always made it a rule never to ask a junior officer to do something I wouldn’t do myself.  I’ve always believed in leading by example."

Commander Tigh smiled and reached for her.








Starbuck glanced at his chronometer, deciding against a quick drink in the OC.  He didn’t want to roll up at Adama’s quarters in any way squiffy, but he could definitely do with something to relax him a bit.  He didn’t want to get into the OC and have to be sociable and talk to any of his friends - he wanted to be somewhere quiet and peaceful where he could think about what he would say to Apollo and what Apollo might say to him.

He headed back to those chaotic quarters that had so amused Troy, and closed the door against the outside world.  He had to have a little time to himself.  He had to have just a little shot of ambrosa to loosen him up.  He looked around, wondering where he’d put it, then grinned, remembering Troy’s raised eyebrow and faintly disapproving air.  He fished the bottle out of the sink and poured himself a small one.  The glass was a bit grubby, but they were his own germs after all.  He’d live with it.

But he barely touched the ambrosa.  He spent most of the next half centar sitting with his chin in his hands, thinking.  He was trying to put aside his hurt at Apollo not consulting him, and trying to decide if the Mask really did make that much difference. 

He knew what he was really scared of.  Unlike the cadets, he wasn’t worried by the cyborg stuff, or fears that Apollo might once have been dead.  Those were fears and anxieties he’d faced and overcome yahrens before.  He knew more than anyone how human Apollo was… and how inhuman he could become.  What he was scared of was the influence he feared that the Mask had, that the more Apollo wore the Mask, the further away he’d get.  That one day, Apollo would just slip away from him.  That took some thinking about, how to tell Apollo what scared him without provoking the very withdrawal he feared so much. 

He sighed and looked up at the wall hung chronometer.  Time to go.  Time to decide what he’d do when he saw Apollo.

Unlike Apollo, Starbuck was never punctual for anything if he could help it.  Over the yahrens, military discipline and the tedium of punishments for contravening it had convinced him of the need to make an extra effort to get there on time for patrols or briefings or parades.  But once off duty, he made up for the effort by being even more unpunctual than he might have been otherwise.

Despite the difference in their temperaments, he and Apollo had rarely fought.  The one thing, though, that could get Apollo tight-lipped with temper, was kicking his heels somewhere waiting for his dilatory lover to join him.  That had led on occasion to some quite spectacular fireworks and, it had to be said, some equally spectacular peace-making later.  Starbuck wanted to avoid the fire works, at all costs, although the peace making had potential.  He wanted Apollo sweet tempered and reasonable and he had every intention, therefore, of getting to Adama’s quarters on time.

He made it.  He had to run, but he made it.

It was exactly eight when he leaned on the buzzer, pleased with himself.  Apollo would be proud of him, should recognise the gesture for what it was.

"Starbuck." Adama sounded slightly surprised, couldn’t help but look at his wrist chronometer to double check.

"Hey, I can be on time now and again," said Starbuck, hurt.  "Can I come in?"

Adama stood to one side and Starbuck went into the big living room, excited as a boy half his age, looking eagerly for Apollo.  Athena and Boomer were already there with all three of the children, both vainly trying to restrain Zac’s enthusiasm for running around shouting, Boomer slightly hampered with Meriel dozing in his arms.  Troy, sitting on the sofa with Appy parked on his knee by his uncaring aunt, looked as if he were holding something that smelled very, very bad. 

There was no sign of Apollo.  Starbuck stopped abruptly, his smile fading, the eagerness draining away into hurt confusion.  Apollo had refused to come.  Apollo had realised that he’d be there and had refused to come.

Troy looked up, a big smile on his face when he saw Starbuck.  It was wiped clean in an instant.  "Where’s Dad?" he demanded.

"What?"  Starbuck doubled over as a sturdy four yahren-old hurled himself onto a favourite uncle, shouting gleefully.  "Hi Tiger.  Pipe down, now.  I’m trying to talk to Troy."

"Where’s Dad?  Haven’t you seen him?"  There was a note of panic in Troy’s voice and he struggled to his feet, unceremoniously pushing the baby head first at his aunt.

Starbuck stared, holding Zac upside down in an attempt to stop the child using him as a climbing frame.  Zac shrieked with delight, as fearless and adventurous as his namesake.

"Why should I have seen him?" he asked over the noise.

"He went to look for you more than a centar ago.  Geez, I was sure he was with you!"

Starbuck shook his head and upended Zac to set him carefully on his feet.  He felt suddenly very afraid.

"Shit."  Troy closed his eyes for a centon.  "Where would he have gone?"

"I’ve been in my quarters most of the time," Starbuck said, bewildered.  "He didn’t come there."

"Too bloody clever for my own good."  Troy was looking really scared.  "Far too bloody clever.  I shouldn’t have let him go on his own."

"What’s all this about?" Adama asked  "Why the melodrama?"

"He’s a big boy now," said Athena, apparently a little ruffled by the casual way Troy had handled her precious offspring.

"Sure, but he’s not wearing the Mask."  Troy was walking around agitatedly.  "It was the compromise, Starbuck.  He was coming to talk to you about not wearing the Mask when he was off-duty, if that would be okay with you, if that would be enough to get you back.  It’s only about five centons from here to your quarters, so where the hell is he?"

"Don’t swear," said Adama automatically.  He looked anxious.  "Where could he have gone?"

"You said you were home most of the time," said Boomer.  "Does that mean you went out?"

"I went to see Cassie for a few centons.  I was gone ten centons, tops."  Starbuck was nervous.  Troy was making Starbuck very nervous. 

"He must have just missed you.  I guess that the first place he’d try is the OC."  Boomer handed Meriel over to her grandfather in preparation for action.  "I’ll speak to Callan."

"I’ll check back home," Troy said and left at a run while Boomer called the OC. 

They could all hear Callan shouting his reply over the loud music and the amazing amount of noise that a couple of hundred warriors could make without barely trying. 

"He left here with Captain Trent over forty centons ago," Callan told them.  "Trent’s back… hang on a micron.  Trent!  Trent!"

A centon of confused noise then Callan’s voice asking Trent where Apollo had gone.  Trent’s reply was less intelligible under the noise.

Callan was back.  "Get that, Boomer?  The colonel left, like I said, must be at least forty centons ago.  He waited here for Captain Starbuck for a few centons but didn’t stay long.  Trent says he got him to the turbolifts, but the colonel didn’t want any more help and didn’t say where he was going.  All he said was that he knew where Starbuck might be and that’s where he was headed.  Want us to do anything?"

"No, thanks, Callan.  He’ll turn up.  Thanks anyway."  Boomer closed the comlink.

Troy had got back in time to hear most of what Callan had said.  "He’s not at home.  And he hasn’t got his link with him."

"So where is he?"  Adama looked and sounded anxious.  There were all too many places on this vast ship where a blind man could come to grief.

"Oh shit."  Starbuck had a sudden clear image in his head of that narrow, dangerous walkway over the central thruster chamber.  "He’s gone to the Celestial Dome."

"Without the Mask?"  Boomer couldn’t go pale, but he did look suddenly grey-faced.  "He wouldn’t, Starbuck!  It’s dangerous enough when you can see -"

"Where else would he expect to find me?"  Starbuck stared at Boomer, then shook his head.  "I’m going up there."

"Me too," said Troy.

Boomer nodded.  "We’ll all three go, okay?"

"I’m not staying here," Adama protested.

The doorbell sounded, and they all spun round to stare at the door.  Troy was nearest and he lunged at the door control, hurtling out into the corridor.

"Dad!  Dad, are you all right?"

Apollo was leaning tiredly against the corridor wall, covered in dust, a nasty cut and bruise on his right cheekbone.  He shook visibly.  Troy caught at his hand, scared that the long fingers he was holding were trembling so badly.

Starbuck was speechless with relief and, he realised, anger at the fright Apollo had just given him.

"Are you all right, Dad?" Troy asked again, anxious.

"No.  I couldn’t find him."  Apollo’s mouth twisted slightly and there was an odd note to his voice, something between despair and panic.  "I couldn’t find him anywhere."

"I’m here, Apollo."  Starbuck found his voice at last, anger fading into the need to comfort, moving forward fast to reach him and completely indifferent to the fact that he unceremoniously shouldered the President of the Council of Twelve out of the way to do it.

Apollo stiffened slightly.  "Starbuck?"

Troy let his father go and took a step out of the way, letting Starbuck in.

"I’m here," Starbuck said again, and caught hold of him. 

Apollo seemed to have forgotten that anyone else was there.  Cool, remote Apollo, the one who found it so hard to show any feelings, just clung helplessly to Starbuck, shaking to bits. 

"Where were you?" he demanded.  "Where were you?"

Adama grinned at Boomer and retreated back into his quarters.  Troy, though, wasn’t inclined to give his two fathers any privacy just yet.  He had no intention of moving until he was sure all his efforts had paid off, watching with an affectionate tolerance that almost drove Starbuck to distraction when what he needed to do was hold and soothe Apollo.

"I think you just missed me, Apollo."  Starbuck pulled Apollo close and stroked his hair comfortingly.  "Where’ve you been?"

"The Dome.  I thought you might be up there."  Apollo laughed shakily.  "I scared myself stupid getting there, Starbuck."

Starbuck felt a flash of concerned anger, but as he opened his mouth, Troy caught his arm and shook his head urgently.

Starbuck gave him an impatient look.  "Excuse me a centon, Apollo," he said, releasing his lover. 

He took a hold on Troy’s ear, and helped him firmly through the door back into Adama’s  quarters.

"Hey!" Troy protested.  "I’m still under eighteen.  That’s child abuse!"

"Starbuck?" asked Apollo.

"Close the door, Troy, and stay out of this," ordered Starbuck.

"What was that all about?"  Apollo asked.

"A lesson in basic maths for our son," Starbuck said, getting back to what Starbuck did best: holding Apollo. 

Apollo stopped shaking, and settled himself comfortably into Starbuck’s embrace.   "From you?"  Apollo sounded awed, and well he might. since he’d spent school and Academy days doing Starbuck’s maths for him.

"Very basic.  About two being company and three a crowd.  And as for you, you idiot - "

Apollo sighed and waited.

" - serves you right."  Starbuck managed to sound unsympathetic.  It was an effort, but he made a fair stab at it.  "What happened?"

"I fell over," Apollo said. 

"You probably deserved it.  You’re going to have a lovely black eye."  Starbuck touched the bruise gingerly.

Apollo winced.  "That was walking into a door."

"Uh-huh.  You ever thought about just calling me on the comlink?"

"You weren’t answering."
 
"Then write me a note next time."

"Better still, don’t leave me, Starbuck.  Please don’t leave me."

"I won’t." Starbuck kissed him, pulling him close.  "I won’t.  We’ll talk about this idea of Troy’s - "

"He told you?"

"He’s a smart kid. A hell of a lot smarter than his old man.  Why the hell didn’t you think of it?"

"I don’t know," said Apollo.  "Comes to that, why didn’t you?  It makes sense, Starbuck.  At least it means I won’t feel so helpless and useless, that I can get back to work, and I don’t mind not wearing the Mask when I’m off duty with you.  Please can we give it go?"

Starbuck hesitated a fraction.  "Apollo, I’m not going to lie about this to you.  I hate the thought of you wearing it, I hate seeing you in it."

"Oh," said Apollo. 

"And I am never going to change my mind on that.  I hate the Mask and everything it’s done to us.  But God knows, Apollo, I hate being apart from you even more."

Apollo looked slightly more hopeful.

"I’m not happy about it, but I’ll live with it.  But it has to be just for when you’re on duty, Apollo. I really don’t want to see you wearing it all the time."

"Promise," Apollo said.  "We’ll try then?"

"I don’t see why not,"  Starbuck said, and held him close.  It was only now that Apollo was back where he belonged, that Starbuck realised just how deeply unhappy the last secton had been.  No amount of ambrosa - and there had been quite a bit - had been able to dull that.  "One condition, Apollo."

"Whatever."

"No more heading off to the Dome on your own, y’hear?"

"Promise that too," said Apollo fervently.

"Good."  Starbuck cupped Apollo’s face with both his hands, looking into the wide green eyes that couldn’t see him.  Despite his anxiety over what Apollo had done, he was aware of what an effort it must have been for Apollo to go to the Dome alone to find him.  It wasn’t often he’d seen Apollo that scared.  It said more than words could what he meant to his lover.  Unlike Apollo, however, Starbuck had no hang-ups about saying it:  "I love you, Apollo, and I missed you."

Apollo nodded.  "I don’t like it much with you gone either, Starbuck."

It was Starbuck’s turn to sound awed. "Lords!  Shouldn’t there be a background of romantic music and heavenly choirs?" 

"Huh?"

"From you, that’s almost a declaration of undying passion."

Apollo grinned and nodded.  "I guess it is," he said, almost shyly, and laughed when Starbuck pulled him tighter and kissed him, hard.

"Ah, sweet," Troy pronounced indulgently.  "But do you really think old people ought to behave like that in public?"

His parents separated reluctantly.

"I thought I told you to buzz off?" said Starbuck.

"Go away, Troy," echoed Troy's father, without heat.

"I can’t.  Grandpa sent me with a message.  He wants to know exactly when you two drama queens are likely to finish this and allow those of us who live on more mundane emotional planes to get something to eat?"

In the background, Adama sighed audibly.  "Do you have to quote me verbatim?"

"It’s more fun that way," Troy explained kindly.

Starbuck gave him a look of dislike.  "I distinctly remember, Apollo, that when I agreed to move in with you, your son was safely out of the way living with your father.  Why in hell did you let him come back?  We were soooo happy without him."

"He was our son a centon ago,"  Apollo reminded him.

"A centon’s sentimentality that I’m already regretting.  All I’m saying is, I don’t remember you asking me if I minded the little tyke coming back.  And yes, I do bloody mind!"

"Well, it’s a bit late to complain to me about it now."

"If you two are going to fight again, please go back to your own quarters and do it," Adama said, sighing again.

"We aren’t fighting.  Starbuck has a very valid point.  I was just remarking on his timing."

"Yeah.  Besides, we’re in making up phase," said Starbuck.

Troy sighed as heavily as his grandfather.  He turned to Adama.  "Can I stay here with you, tonight?  Either way, they’re going to be far too noisy for me to get any sleep and I’ve got tests in class tomorrow."







"Oh boy was I right," said Starbuck, licking the salty sweat from the back of Apollo’s neck.  "I knew that make-up sex would be stunning."

Out of politeness, as Starbuck had been at pains to point out to his host, he and Apollo had stayed the course at supper.  Apollo had allowed his sister to fuss over the little cut on his cheek, played with the children and had even been coaxed into eating something, a victory that had everyone so grateful that no-one protested when he and Starbuck made their excuses and left before most of them had managed to finish dessert.  The one advantage of their good manners, as Starbuck had noted in pleased tones, was that the food had evidently fired up all of Apollo’s thrusters.  They’d been kissing madly before they’d even made it all the way down the corridor to their door, and had virtually fallen into their quarters, tearing at each other’s clothes.  They hadn’t wasted time talking when lovemaking was infinitely more eloquent.

Now Apollo gave Starbuck’s words some thought.  Not much, because post-sex exhaustion had him sated and lazy, drifting in a pleasant haze, and with Starbuck still firmly lodged exactly where Apollo thought Starbuck ought to be.  Starbuck’s weight pinning him down felt wonderful, Starbuck’s strong legs coiled around his felt wonderful, Starbuck’s cock, hot and hard inside him, felt wonderful.  Everything was wonderful.

Starbuck was right.  It was stunning.

"Noisy, too, with all that whimpering you were doing." 

"I heard a few yelps from you as well."  Starbuck ducked his head to bite gently at Apollo’s shoulders.  "Or were they moans of passion and pleasure?"

"Oh definitely pleasure."  Apollo smiled and sighed.  "Just as well the child stayed with his grandfather.  I’d hate to explain to his teachers why he failed those tests."

"Every kid should fail a few tests," said Starbuck.

"I never did," Apollo pointed out., then promptly lost all interest in his son’s scholastic achievements, the satiety draining away rapidly as Starbuck’s sharp teeth found a spot that was hot-wired directly to his groin.  "Oh - that’s nice, Starbuck.  Bite me there again."

Starbuck complied.  "Are you telling me that your right shoulder blade’s a hitherto unknown erogenous zone?"

"With you, everything’s an erogenous zone."

"Very flattering.  I take it we’re an item again?"

Apollo turned his head to smile at Starbuck.  "If we’re not, I’ve just been screwed under false pretences.  Forgive me?"

"This time," said Starbuck, but added seriously, "It really rocked me, Apollo, that you didn’t discuss it with me.  I never thought that you’d do anything that important, that affected us both, without talking it over first."

"I know, and I’m sorry.  It’s just that you were smothering me, Starbuck.  I knew you’d hate it, but it was like I was suffocating."

"Yeah.  So good old Boomer pulled no punches in telling me.  He called me an emotional incubus, at one point.  I had to go and look that one up."

"Impressive.  That means you used a dictionary.  I wasn't sure you knew how, given the state of your daily reports."

"Very funny.  I'm serious, here Apollo.  I was scared.  I almost lost you once and I couldn’t have gone through that again."

"I know."

"But I’m willing to admit that I over-reacted and I’ll try not to do it anymore.  We were both wrong, Apollo.  You know what really pisses me off though?"

"What?"

"That smart arse kid of yours.  He’ll be insufferable for sectons."

There was no arguing with that.  Troy had been as smug as hell over supper about the success of his stratagem, and was telling his admiring aunt the tale for the third time as his two fathers left to continue their reconciliation in private.

"That smart arse kid of ours.  You had a hand in bringing him up, Starbuck.  It’s not all my fault.  He’s a manipulative little beggar, though.  We’ll have to find some way to make him suffer."

"I’ll give it my full attention when I can drag it away from you, my love."  Starbuck resumed his ministrations on that hot-wired right shoulder blade.  Apollo writhed under him, which had the sad result that Starbuck slid out.  "Unfortunately, I’m getting too old to keep it up much longer.  I need a rest." 

Apollo smiled and rolled onto his back.  "Lucky I’m still hard as hell then," he said, holding out his arms invitingly. 

"You came."  Starbuck accepted the invitation to snuggle, but he sounded aggrieved all the same.  "You came.  I heard you!.  And if you didn’t, someone else in this bed shot all over my hands.  You can’t still be hard."  He snuggled, his hands exploring.  "You are hard.  You have to stop this, Apollo.  You’re almost forty and you have no right to have the recovery time of a kid Troy’s age."

"You’re complaining?"

"I’m just jealous,"  Starbuck said and sighed.  "I’m getting older.  You don’t seem to be."

"It’s still you I want, though."  Apollo got both arms around him, pulled him close.  "Right now, Starbuck.  My turn."

"Oh well, I suppose I can be persuaded," Starbuck conceded.  "What does it matter that I’ve had zero sleep?  I’m not actually on patrol tomorrow.  I don’t have to fly a Viper.  I don’t have to do anything but doze in the duty office."

"That’s dereliction of duty,"  Apollo said, raising an eyebrow.

Starbuck laughed.  "Well now, let’s see if I can persuade my senior officer not to put me on report."







I didn’t start exactly where he expected me to.  He lay on his back, and I know my Starbuck.  I couldn’t see it, but I knew there’d be this big, expectant grin on his face as he pushed his cock up toward me, inviting me to take care of it for him.  Oh I will, Starbuck.  I promise I will.  But not yet.

I started with his toes, the big toe on his right foot, slipping it into my mouth and licking it from nail to base.

Starbuck giggled.  "Shit, Apollo!  That tickles…."

I kept going, sucking on those toes, first one at a time, then two or three together, with Starbuck giggling and protesting.  Moving from one foot to the other, I did it until he started thrashing around on the bed, and his protests were more like come-ons, begging me to do more. 

So I did.  I owed him, anyway, after the fright I’d given him and then seeming to choose the Mask over him.  So tonight I’d do anything he wanted to help him feel loved and wanted and cherished again. 

I started licking up the calf of his right leg to his knee, trailing my hot wet tongue up over the taut muscle, working my way through the light golden hairs.

"Oh Lords," Starbuck said faintly.

I ducked back down to his left foot, licking along the side and feeling him wriggle, and repeating the treatment on his left calf.

"You’ve got nice knees," I said, working round to the soft, sensitive skin behind them.  He gasped and writhed.

"Uh-huh," he said, tense.  He knew now where I was heading, and he was beginning to get breathless, both legs bent up, with me kneeling between them.  He knew what came next.  He moved his knees outward, inviting me to continue. 

The skin on the inside of his thighs is a soft as a girl’s, and almost as hairless.  I started with his right thigh, working slowly and steadily up to his groin, licking and kissing every centimetre of the way.  He was trying not to thrash too much, trying to contain it, intensify it, but when I started with my teeth he was crying out with it, the breath coming harsh and rapid.

My nose came up against his groin, that unmistakable musky Starbuck smell filling my nostrils.  He smelled wonderful as I licked round his right ball, taking it into my mouth and getting as much saliva onto it as I could.  He reached down to hold my head in place, but I shook him off and pulled away.

He groaned in disappointment.  "Apollo…" he said imploringly.

The sound was enough to get my cock twitching in anticipation.  But oh God, I wished I could see him.  I wanted to see those blue eyes vague and distant with desire and pleasure, see that mouth drop open for my kiss, see how hard he was getting for me, see the precum leaking from his slit as well as smell it.

"Soon, Starbuck, soon," I promised him, and ducked down again.

I started on his left thigh, hiding my face so that he couldn’t see what I was thinking.  I kept my right hand on the slippery ball that had just filled my mouth, rolling it in my fingers, keeping him stimulated and hot, and forgetting the miserable little thoughts that had just come, unbidden, into my head, while I worked my way up the soft skin, kissing and biting, concentrating on pleasing him.

I had been careful not to touch his cock with mouth or fingers.  But when I was repeating the little trick on his left ball, taking it into my mouth and breathing on it, licking it, the hardness of his shaft was pressing up against my face.  For all his complaints about being old, he could still react like a kid who’d overdosed on testosterone.  If that was anything to go by, Starbuck was enjoying himself.  His hips were lifting and falling rhythmically on the bed, and whatever he was trying to say was lost in incoherence and little moans.  Oh yes.  Starbuck was enjoying himself.

But I wasn’t ready yet to start on the main course.  I let my tongue slide over the base of his cock, and down to the sensitive spot beneath it, the little space that ran down between his parted thighs to his pretty little pucker behind.

"Apollo!"  he managed coherence for a micron, then fell back writhing.  "Oh God, yes."

I burrowed down, both hands playing with his balls now.  I had my eyes closed - why I don’t know, but it was as if I wanted to pretend a voluntary blindness, willingly closing off sight to concentrate on touch and scent.  I tongued around his opening lightly, and in an instant he had his legs bent up and back, holding them against his chest with his hands behind his knees, giving me unrestricted access.

"Oh God, Apollo..." Starbuck said, his voice faint as his hips thrust at me, bumping my nose and making me giggle while I licked him.  The sensation must have been good, because all he did was laugh and do it again. 

I licked him for a little while, playing with the heavy balls, rolling them around in my hands, licking his opening into softness and pliancy until my tongue could push inside, making his hips buck frantically.  But I was still teasing, still not touching his hard cock.

I took one hand away from his balls, using the other to play with both, licked a finger and started playing with him.  I’d lick around the opening, then tease with the wet finger, the lightest of touches, smoothing a finger tip around the muscle that kept him closed.  He loved it. 

At last I straightened up, and worming one finger into the softened opening so that he gasped, using my other hand to guide the weeping head of his big, beautiful cock to my mouth.

"Ready"?  I ran my tongue over the slit, tasting the precum leaking from it.  It was better than the yellow wine of Dyss.  I could get drunk on Starbuck’s juice, savouring its heady saltiness.

"Please."  He was whimpering again, thrusting down his hips to get more of my finger inside him, fucking himself on my hand.

When I took him into my mouth he sighed and lifted his hips up, pushing himself into me, and for a few centons he was writhing and helpless, fucking my mouth and my finger in rhythm.  His legs came down on each side of me so that he could pump his hips properly, and his fingers were tangled in my hair, holding me on him.  Each time his hips came up he arched his back, and he would press down hard on the finger that was moving in him so easily now.  He barely noticed when I got in the second finger, but I was rubbing the finger tips against his prostate now and it was doubtful that he was conscious of anything else.  I know I never am, when he’s getting me hot and ready for him, and it’s his greased fingers that are inside me, opening me up for him.

I took my other hand away from his balls to grope for the lube, cursing that I hadn’t thought to have it ready.  It should be here... right here...

The tube was at the furthest reach of my outstretched hand, and it took a little bit of effort to reach it, but I managed it without having to take my fingers from his stretching rectum, or my mouth from his cock. 

The lube was cold on my cock, but I was so hot that the coolness was welcome, helping me stay in control.  Kneeling between his legs, I slid the fingers out of him, and pressed up against him.  He wriggled to get into the right position.

He pulled his legs up to his chest again, tilting up his ass so that I slid inside more easily.

"Apollo," he said again, as if all he could say was my name.  The special name only he had for me.  The name that meant he loved me.

Once I used to love watching my cock slide into his arse, seeing the way he opened up for me, let me into his secret places, watching as he slowly swallowed me up.  I couldn’t see that anymore, but I closed my eyes and concentrated on the feeling as I pushed slowly up into him, first the blunt head of my cock forcing the entrance, followed by the shaft, every inch of it gripped by his tight hot arse.

When my balls were pressed up against him, and I was all the way in, I paused for a centon, just feeling how completely he trusted me, how completely he took me into himself.  His legs slid down again, to hook around my waist, pull me in tighter. 

He reached a hand up to touch my face.  "I love you, Apollo,"  he said, and I could hear that he was smiling at me.  "I love you."

I pulled back until I felt the muscles of his anus catch on the head of my cock, held it for a micron, then drove forward again.  I leaned down, looking for his mouth with mine, and we kissed for a long time, Starbuck holding me close to him as I moved in him so slowly and deeply, pulling almost all the way out and making him whimper, then driving in to fill him again, angling so that I was stroking against his prostate on every long, slow thrust forward.

If ever there is a heaven, then this is it.  I could make love with him all night like this, never wanting it to end, loving the feel of him as he pushes up to meet me on each stroke, the way his arse muscles clench around me to hold me in tight and hard.

I wish I could tell him, but it’s so hard for me say.

This way, I can show him that he’s my heaven.

This way I can love him.







"So," said Boomer, leaning over speak quietly in Starbuck’s ear, ignoring the pre- briefing buzz of conversation from the assembled command staff.  "The Great Romance is on again, is it?"

"It is."  Starbuck had a sated, exhausted look about him.  The look of a man who hadn’t spent his rest period sleeping.

"Good.  The rest of us were getting a bit pissed off with the pair of you.  I was having to restrain Thenie from banging your heads together."

"She always was one for direct action," Starbuck observed.

Boomer grinned.  That he knew.  He still had vivid memories of Athena deciding that it was time he stopped prevaricating and proposed to her.  Right then, right there, and be quick about it…

"Did you get any sleep at all?" he asked, remembering that he and Athena hadn’t the night he had proposed.  Actually, now he thought about it, the night she’d proposed.

"Not a mite."

"Just as well you’re on office duty today, and you have a sympathetic tolerant boss like me."  Boomer looked as sympathetic and tolerant as he knew how.

"Not half," agreed Starbuck.  "I can barely sit down as it is.  Being stuck on the hard seat of a Viper for centars …well, I’d have to be lifted out, I guess."  He grinned happily at Boomer. 

Boomer stared back at him, and Starbuck’s face showed his astonishment.  He brought his face closer, looking more intently at his friend.

"Boomer!"  he said, delighted by his discovery.  "All these yahrens I’ve known you and I didn’t know that you could blush!"







I didn’t leave for several days.  I couldn’t.  It just wasn’t….wasn’t convenient.

Starbuck moved back in the next day.  There was just time before we were both on duty for him to run back to his new quarters and gather up most of his belongings to bring them back.  Just time, if we skipped breakfast for more sex, anyway.  Starbuck said he did all his running and clothes gathering with a very broad grin on his face.  I know he wasn’t exaggerating, since several of the people he passed that morning took the trouble to tell me.  I got so many pokes in the ribs from well-meaning people like Dad, Boomer, Trent and Jolly, that I had bruises.

But that meant I couldn’t go straight away.  I had to take some time to made sure that everything was all right, that he could accept Troy’s clever little compromise.  That he could share me with the Mask.  And that he’d understand when I left.

We’d never fought that badly before and it left both of us bruised.  Actually we rarely fought at all, although sometimes he infuriated me about little things - how untidy he was, gambling too much, always late when he’d promised to meet me somewhere.  I probably irritated him too about being too tidy, always on time.  But never before had we let it cause problems between us.

The secton apart had scared both of us.  We were wary with each other now, more conscious of the power we each had to hurt the other.  So the first few days were tentative, circling around each other cautiously, mapping out the new edges to our relationship.

At least part of the mapping process involved a lot of physical reassurance and sex was nothing short of stupendous.  I can’t say I minded.  I’ve never been able to decide between my two ideas of heaven: me coming inside Starbuck or him coming inside me.  Both are amazing.

I doubt if Troy got a lot of sleep those few days.  He may even have failed a few tests.

I seriously doubt if I cared.







"We’ve bolted in a seat for you," Ford said, leaning over the edge of the cockpit to make some final adjustment.  "We had a bit of a debate about which way to put it."

Apollo stood on the deck below him, watching him with remote affection.  Ford had been his ground crew chief since the first day of creation, it seemed like.  Almost fifteen yahrens now, since he’d first been posted onto the Galactica and had arrived there as its youngest ever captain, still wet behind the ears and aggressively determined to prove that it hadn’t been his father’s influence that got him there.  He liked Ford.  They had an uncomplicated relationship based on mutual respect.

"Who won?"

"The traditionalists who thought you ought to be facing forward," Ford straightened up.  "Not that it matters, I suppose, but one or two innovative souls thought we could stick the seat to a side wall for all the difference it makes when you’re hooked up."

"It would only matter to whoever would have to clean up after us.  We’re likely to get space sick at that angle."

"Then thank God I was in charge," Ford sounded pious.  "I was the traditionalist.  All ready for you, sir."  He dropped down from the platform and grinned at Apollo cheerfully.  He was one of the few to have accepted Apollo back nine yahrens before.  "Where’re you going to take her?"

"Oh, it’s just a little test flight," Wilker said, bustling past.  "Time to get ready, Apollo."

Ford gave Wilker a cool look.  "I didn’t know you could sound just like Wilker, Apollo," he said acidly.

Apollo grinned.  "Like the man said, it’s just a little test flight."

"Yeah, but the nerd has no sense of occasion," Ford grumbled.  He thought the Black Ship’s maiden flight demanded some sort of acknowledgement.

Apollo let his hand rest on Ford’s shoulder for a micron, then followed Wilker over to the corner of Beta deck that acted as an adjunct of Wilker’s laboratory fifteen decks away.  Once there, he sat patiently whilst Wilker attached the tiny sensors to his left temple, the Mask held lightly on his knee. 

"Nervous?"  Adama asked, excusing himself from where the assembled Council was watching with excited interested, and joining his son.

"No.  Do I look it?"

"No.  I was living in hope."

Apollo looked fleetingly puzzled.  "As Wilker keeps telling me, it’s only a little test flight."

"I was thinking more of it’s… it’s philosophical significance," Adama said sadly.

Apollo didn’t pretend not to understand.  "It is still me, you know." he said.  "The Ship and the Mask overlay that, but they don’t control me, Dad.  It’s the other way around."

"If you say so," Adama said, and sighed.  "I hope you’re right, Apollo.  God knows I do."







For over a secton, I waited.  I did my half day’s duty on the bridge every morning; spent every afternoon on what Wilker called the little test flights, taking the Black Ship out for a centar or two at a time; and spent my nights with Starbuck, bodies locked together for most of the time, loving each other. 

That was the good part, the loving with Starbuck.  But even when he’d fucked me into exhaustion, it didn’t stop the dreams.

He, the one with the Mask, was getting impatient.  It felt a lot like the Ship had felt when I had to sneak down to see it: the little tug in that empty cold place inside me where once something else had been, the sudden longing.  Longing so intense that sometimes I woke up crying with it, struggling against Starbuck’s hold, not really hearing his soothing voice telling me It’s just a dream, Apollo.  Just a dream

He thought I was dreaming of Dyss. 

He was right, but not the Dyss he was thinking of.  Not the planet, not the city, not the people.  But the reason they were all called Dyss.

But still I waited.  I had to give Starbuck more time, to help him understand.

As I said, I spent my time in test flights in the Ship.  The flights were never more than a centar or so, short little flights around the edges of the Fleet, barely touching the Black Ship’s potential, keeping it within the limits Wilker set me.  I was good and tractable, not complaining about the tedium of the experiments.

Lulling their suspicions until we were ready. 

Until it was time to go.







"All done," Wilker said fitting the last of the sensors to Apollo’s temple.

"Do they tell you anything?" Apollo asked abruptly, fingering the Mask where it sat on his knees, the claws curved around his hand.

"What?  The sensors?  They measure brain activity, that’s all.  It tends to fluctuate when you’re wearing the Mask."

"Not telling you much then." Apollo was dismissive.

"Enough," Wilker said, the puzzlement in his tone growing.  "You’ve never asked before, Apollo." 

"Asked?"

"About what Salik and I were doing."

Apollo smiled, very aware that Wilker and all his technical tricks had barely brushed against his considerable defences.  "Just making conversation, Doctor."

"I see," Wilker said, every bit as unsettled as Apollo intended him to be. "Here’s your escort."

Apollo looked down momentarily, hiding his reaction.  Starbuck and his patrol were to be his escorts for this flight.  The great double doors between the landing bay and the Viper launch bay were open and he could hear Ford shouting orders to the ground crews as he oversaw the preparation of the Vipers.

"Ready, Apollo?"

"Yes." Apollo stood up but didn’t yet put on the Mask.  "Starbuck, can I have a word with you?  Alone?"

"Ah," said Jolly to no-one in particular, and sighed sentimentally.  "The fond farewell." 

"We’ll all turn our backs," Cree promised.

"Very funny," said Starbuck, slipping a hand under Apollo’s arm to guide him over to a relatively quiet corner of the deck.  "You’re getting indiscreet, Apollo.  They can all see I can hardly walk most mornings."

"Complaining?" asked Apollo but there was quite some effort behind the lightness of tone.  He knew exactly what he was about to do to Starbuck.

"I’ll live.  Look, we launch in five centons, Apollo."

"I need to talk to you.  When we get out there, switch to a private channel and I’ll explain it all properly then, when we can’t be overheard.  But all I wanted to do..."  Apollo paused, then most unusually demonstrative in public, he got one hand around Starbuck’s neck.  "Starbuck, listen to me.  Please, please, trust me.  Trust me."

"Apollo?  What in heaven’s name has got into you?" 

"Nothing," Apollo said, and gave him a little hug.  "Talk to you out there, okay?"







Starbuck wasn't used to Apollo being affectionate in public.  Oh, of course everyone knew that they were lovers and had been together for yahrens, everyone must know about – or at least speculate about – what they did in the bedroom.  Neither of them had ever felt it was necessary to make any of that public.

So when Apollo kissed him, properly, in public, he didn't know what to do about it.

He watched Apollo fit the Mask into place and walk towards the Back Ship, then Jenny was calling him impatiently and Ford was pushing a helmet at him and suggesting that the captain just might like to get into his Viper before it launched without him.

Starbuck went through his pre-flight checks on automatic, most of his mind taken up with wondering what Apollo had been talking about and only a fraction on his responses to Core Command.  He had a very sick feeling in the pit of his stomach.  What the hell was Apollo up to?  It had to be something to do with the Ship... but what?

"Launch when ready."

He jabbed a thumb on the turbo button as soon as Rigel gave him launch authorisation.  His Viper hurtled down the launch tube, the roar of the thrusters and displaced air audible even through his canopy.  The instant the slim little ship flashed out into space, the sudden familiar silence fell.

For a micron, Starbuck stared at the billions of stars, savouring as he always did the deep content that flying gave him. Then he turned the little ship almost on its own length, heading for the shuttle deck, watching the space scarred hull of the old battlestar slide past his clear tylinium canopy. 

"Colonel Apollo lifting off in one centon," Rigel’s familiar voice sounded in the ear piece of his helmet.  "Blue squadron to take position at 13.2 alpha 7.81 to assume escort."

"Acknowledged," he said, and got his Viper to the designated co-ordinates.  He glanced quickly to each side.  Jolly was on his right, Cree on the left, just where they ought to be.

"The Black Ship has lifted off," Rigel said.

"I see it," Starbuck said, watching as the Black Ship emerged from the bay. 

The Ship was beautiful, he supposed he had to admit that much.  Almost invisible against the blackness of space, a shape that blotted out the stars behind, it moved towards him slowly; Apollo, evidently, barely accelerating.  There was something about the way that Apollo flew the Black Ship: almost a kind of arrogance, something knowing and slightly mocking.  As if he was playing with them.  Starbuck wondered if that was sheer prejudice.  Too many had died protecting the Fleet against the Enemy’s Black Ships for him to be objective about it.

Apollo had died protecting the Fleet against the Enemy’s Black Ships.  How could he ever be objective about that?

"Starbuck?"  The whisper sounded in his headphones.  "Switch to channel 10."

"Done,"  Starbuck said instantly.

His ship fell into place in Apollo’s wake as the Black Ship took up the designated flight path.  Jolly and Cree took up position on each side.  The Vipers looked tiny against the Ship they were escorting.

"What’s this all about, Apollo?"

"You aren’t going to like this, Starbuck, but, please, remember what I said back there.  Please, trust me."

"Apollo?"  The sick feeling was worse, making Starbuck feel slightly giddy.  There was the sudden coolness of sweat on his forehead, and he blinked rapidly to keep it from stinging his eyes.

"Starbuck, I’m going away for a few days.  I promise I’ll be back.  I swear it.  Please believe me..."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Another short silence, then the voice that was the Mask’s, not Apollo’s own, said, still  quiet and restrained:  "I haven’t been quite honest with everyone, Starbuck.  I haven’t ever lied, I’ve just not told the whole truth.  I remember more about Dyss than I said.  They did it deliberately, Starbuck; the Dyss.  They poisoned us deliberately."

"But why would they do that?"  Starbuck looked down at the Viper’s communicator console.  His fingers hovered indecisively over the control that would cut Core Command into their conversation, would warn the Galactica that something was seriously wrong.  He did hit the record button, a gesture, at least, towards the sense of duty that Apollo himself had at last succeeded in instilling in him and that told him he should abort this mission and escort Apollo back to the Galactica, that there was something seriously wrong and Apollo was about to do something irrevocable.

"I don’t know.  I don’t know.  Listen, there were some strange Dyss down there, always dressed in black, their faces hidden.  They followed me everywhere, and when we’d drunk the wine they poisoned, they came to our quarters.  They came for me.  And someone else came with them.  Someone Masked."

"Shit!"  The enormity of that left Starbuck breathless.

"He did this, Starbuck.  He blinded me and killed the others, and he didn’t care.  He talked to me.  He told me to come to him on Dyss.  I know where he is.  There’s a special place on Dyss, an unusual place... that’s where he is.  So I’m going back to find out what this is all about."

"But that’s crazy!"  This time Starbuck’s indecision was resolved.  He signalled the Galactica on another channel, a wordless alert signal that he knew would have the coms desk shrieking for the Commander.

"You signalled them."  Not surprised or even hurt.  Just a statement.  And a statement that demonstrated just how powerful the Mask was, that it could monitor and filter every frequency and feed the information to Apollo instantly

"Apollo -"

"It’s too late, Starbuck.  They can’t stop me."  Apollo sounded sad.  "I wish you hadn’t done that, though.  I wish you’d trusted me."

"They’ll kill you, you idiot!" shouted Starbuck, bringing his Viper up as close as he dared.  He rode along only metres away from the Ship, but he couldn’t see anything through the dark canopy, no sign of Apollo.  He felt obscurely guilty at having signalled the Galactica as if it were a kind of betrayal of the trust Apollo had asked for. 

"No," Apollo said, in an odd tone.  "They’ve already done that once.  I don’t think they’ll hurt me.  I think it’s something else.  "  A pause.  "The Galactica’s hailing us.  You’d better answer.  Try and explain to Troy for me."

"Abort the flight," said Starbuck, desperate now, ignoring the flashing red lights on his coms display.  "Apollo.  Please, don’t do this.  Abort the flight."

"No, I don’t think I’ll do that."  Apollo sounded as if he was giving the suggestion earnest consideration.  "I need to find out why it was necessary to blind me, Starbuck.  I need to find out what this is all about.  Please, don’t worry.  I’ll be back in a few days.  I promise.  Trust me."

"Apollo!"

"Trust me, Starbuck.  I’ll come back.  I came back before."

The Black Ship pulled away with contemptuous ease, flashing into a speed that left the Vipers standing.  In a micron, it was beyond the outer reaches of the Fleet.

"Apollo!" 

A swirling cone of light, the Black Ship silhouetted against for a micron, and then it was gone.  The cone collapsed into darkness.

Apollo had gone.

"Apollo," Starbuck said, stunned.  "Oh, Apollo."

 

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