Section Four

 

Starbuck's relatively short life had not been devoid of bad, even tragic, experiences. His earliest memory was of running through the forest on Umbra, explosions all around him, his mother's terrified face suddenly smoothing out into expressionless immobility as the Cylon laser scythed through her. It was the only memory he had of her. Then a lifetime of fear and hunger before he'd been found a couple of days later by the Colonial Warriors who'd reached the colony too late to prevent the Cylon massacre.

They'd found a half starved little boy, badly injured himself, still clinging to his mother's lifeless body. No identification on either of them, no other survivors able to identify him. They'd thought he was about two yahrens old, but he hadn't been able to tell them very much, not even his name, shocked into losing speech and memory. The Colonial Warrior who'd found him had been called Starbuck, and he'd been named after the man who'd saved his life, even though he'd never seen him again.

Sometimes that annoyed the hell out of Starbuck. Not that it was a bad name. He liked it. Only he sometimes had the feeling that it wasn't entirely his, that he'd had to borrow it, that he didn't even have a name of his own.

For yahrens after that there was one children's home after another. More bad experiences. They'd tried fostering him, but he'd been too traumatised at first to settle. People who didn't understand how traumatised he was started labelling him as “difficult”, and the reputation stuck. So no more foster parents for Starbuck, just a succession of orphanages. Some homes were okay, others had left him more deeply scarred than the Cylon attack that had orphaned him.

By the time he'd been transferred to Caprica City secondary school when he was fifteen, he was outwardly casual, nonchalant, cynical and streetwise. Inside he was very alone. Finding an equally lonely dark-haired boy in his class who didn't treat him like he smelled bad was something of a revelation to him. From the first day Starbuck was fascinated by the other boy, within a secton he'd broken through the first shy barrier and suddenly they were friends. They had been ever since, through thick and thin. Starbuck had family and best friend wrapped in one dark-haired, green-eyed package. Apollo had become the one constant in Starbuck's shifting life.

That meant everything to him. Apollo was the fixed point around which Starbuck revolved. They were different - oh, very different - but alike in that neither could ever imagine life without the other. Apollo, who came from a religious family and never quite managed to shake off that pernicious influence, once summed up what it was all about. The Virgonans, he'd explained, had a theory that groups of souls travelled through time together. They were born together, lived and loved together, died and were reborn again to travel through eternity together, inextricably linked and bound. So , said Starbuck, rather liking the idea, you mean that we've constantly been reborn as part of the same group of souls? Apollo, already half drunk that night in celebration of his twenty first birthday, had shook his head. Oh no , he'd said, looking owlishly into Starbuck's amused blue eyes. About twenty one yahrens ago some massive cosmic accident happened and one of those souls got split into two; you got half - I got half . Starbuck had grinned at him and nodded . Makes sense. Looks like I'm stuck with you for life then. I can live with that. and they'd gone on to get seriously drunk and Starbuck had managed to ensure that Apollo finally lost his virginity with a very willing blonde cadet from Leo. It was the least he could do for the other half of his soul on his birthday.

The one time he thought he'd blown that for ever was at Cimtar when the Fleet was ambushed and destroyed. Another bad time. Starbuck had no family back home to lose, no ties there, but for a little while he thought he'd lost everything, that he'd lost Apollo because of his folly in getting Zac killed. He'd gone along with Zac's pleading to be allowed to prove to his big brother once and for all that he was as much a Colonial Warrior as Apollo was. He'd faked illness to allow Zac to take his place on patrol and, incidentally, get into a big Pyramid game that just happened to be going down in the barracks. Apollo, highly amused, hadn't been fooled for a centon on either count, but, like Starbuck, wanted to give Zac a chance. Zac had never come back, the first casualty of the Cylons' treachery. Starbuck had been eaten up with guilt, convinced that it was his fault that Zac was dead, that Apollo would blame him. He'd avoided Apollo for centars, but the grieving Captain had finally tracked him down, where he was hiding in the turboshowers in the Alpha landing bay. Apollo hadn't even asked him why he was there, but walked straight over him to hold him and cry for the dead boy. When Starbuck had tried to say he was sorry, to take the blame, to explain how guilty he felt, Apollo had wiped his eyes and tried to grin at him. You feel guilty about that if you have to, Starbuck, he'd said. I'll feel guilty about having to leave him behind. And I'll feel guilty that what I feel the most is grateful and thankful that it wasn't you. Apollo had hugged him again, and then they'd gone off to the OC together and got maudlin drunk, their close friendship closer than ever.

But this. This was the worst. This was watching the other half of your soul in the torments of hell and being helpless to do anything about it. Starbuck leaned back in the chair that he'd placed as close as he could to the narrow bed, and watched Apollo. It was all he could do. That, and staying close if Apollo needed him.

Apollo was sleeping, worn out and exhausted. Starbuck was exhausted himself, but he didn't think he could sleep. He didn't dare. He just didn't know when Apollo would wake and it would start all over again: the convulsions and sickness, the pain; Apollo screaming and sobbing, constantly begging, out of his head; or curled up like a foetus on the floor, crying; or sitting on the bed, eyes glazed, rocking backwards and forwards in pain and mental torment. If he hadn't quite needed the ear protectors, it had come close.

He winced as he remembered the worst part. Apollo clinging to him, frantic and desperate, promising he'd do anything for him, anything at all; Apollo's mouth seeking his, Apollo's hands reaching for his genitals - there was no doubt at all about what Apollo was offering him.

It had come like a stab to the heart. The one thing he'd always wanted, and it was because Apollo was desperate for a fix, desperate to get more of that damned stuff into his veins, and because that was how Reese had broken him. Not because Apollo really wanted Starbuck. All he wanted was his Shadow. Almost blinded with tears, Starbuck had pulled Apollo's hands away from him, evaded the mouth he would so dearly love to kiss and which for one dizzy micron he'd been tempted to accept, and pushed Apollo away. That had come close to breaking Starbuck's heart.

It had taken him some time both to calm Apollo and to convince him that not even the offer of unlimited sex would get him a dose of Shadow. They were in there until Apollo was through withdrawal and clean, and nothing, but nothing, would persuade Starbuck to let Apollo have the drug. Apollo had looked at him as though he hated him. That was the hardest.

“How is it?” Adama asked quietly. He had come in on one visit, centars before, when Apollo was at his worst, and hadn't been able to stay. Seeing his son in such torment, he'd at last understood how Reese had broken Apollo. He had even felt guilty about forcing Apollo into withdrawal, despite knowing it was ultimately for Apollo's own good.

Starbuck jumped and turned in surprise. He hadn't heard Adama and Salik come in. Maybe he'd dozed off for a centon. He shrugged. “I don't really know,” he said honestly in a voice so tired and drained that Adama felt a stab of guilt at leaving Starbuck to deal with this alone. “How long's it been?”

“Almost eighteen centars.” Adama leaned down and kissed Apollo's forehead, brushing back the tumbled black hair. Apollo didn't stir.

“Seems longer,” said Starbuck with a sigh. “Several lifetimes longer.”

Salik settled down on the edge of the bed, checking his patient over. “Has he stopped being sick?” he asked.

“Oh I do hope so,” Starbuck said sincerely, and Salik shot him a quick, sympathetic grin. Apollo had been abominably and copiously sick for the first few centars that he was in withdrawal. Starbuck had coped, but most certainly had not enjoyed it.

“His temperature's still a little high,” the doctor said. “Nothing to worry about yet, but if he's still sick and convulsing when he wakes up, you'd better yell for me.”

“He's been in a lot of pain,” Starbuck said. “A lot of joint and abdominal pain.”

Salik frowned slightly. “Not unexpected. It will take sectons for the Shadow to leach out of his system, and he isn't going to enjoy it as his system readjusts. I'll start him on the remoxifen tomorrow.”

“I hope it helps.” Starbuck rubbed wearily at his eyes. “Lords, I'm tired.”

“Do you want me to take over for a while?” Adama asked, wondering if he had the strength of mind to do it. He was relieved when Starbuck shook his head. “No, I promised him I'd get him through it. I'll do it, somehow.”

Half an centar later, with Apollo awake and prowling restlessly around the small room again, shaking and shivering, green eyes wide and dilated, talking incessantly about how awful he felt and how much he needed a hit - oh please, Starbuck, please I need it, I really need it, just one more hit and then I'll give it up, I promise, please Starbuck, please, I thought you were my friend, Starbuck, just one more time, please, oh god I need it… - Starbuck wondered if that was really possible. It was two more endless tormented days before he thought it might be.

 

 

 

Apollo

The first couple of days in detox, I thought that I was dying. I certainly wished that I was dying. I wished that I was dead, somewhere quiet where it didn't hurt and I didn't have to think and remember.

I felt awful. I've been injured before, although never seriously. I'd been in pain and ill before. But I've never felt so appalling as I did for those few days. I hurt all over, just a mass of aching bones and muscle cramps. Most of the time it felt as though my bones were so fragile they'd snap and poke out right through my skin, and I was hot and shivering, and so sick that it was gross. At first, all I could think about was how much it hurt, and that was bad enough. But as the time passed and the pain got less, the fog inside my head cleared away and all I could think about was just how much I'd lost. That hurt even more. And, oh Lords, but all I wanted was another dose of Shadow to take away the pain and stop me having to think and remember Reese and how easily I'd given in to him.

That's what disgusted Starbuck, I suppose, how easy I'd been for Reese. It disgusted me. It had to have disgusted him. He's always been there when I needed him, but I think that this time he must have had to force it. I was so… so weak and feeble, whining and pleading, crying all the time. I couldn't stop crying and begging even when I saw that he didn't like it, that he was appalled by how inadequate and despicable I was, how weak-willed and polluted….

He stuck by me, though. I thought that he wished he hadn't promised me that he'd be there. I think he regretted it. Because when I was better, when Salik let us out of that little room, I remembered what I'd done and how he'd turned away when I offered him myself in return for Shadow, his mouth twisting in contempt and distaste. He'd looked sick when he pushed me away and pulled my hands away from him. He hadn't even been able to look at me for a few centons while he told me that he didn't want me, that not even that would get me the Shadow. He didn't say that I might have been able to prostitute myself to Reese, but not to him, not to anyone decent. He didn't say it, but he must have thought it.

I didn't see him for a day or so after Salik let us out, when I was over the first stage. Everyone said that he was exhausted and was sleeping, but I thought that he probably needed to get away from me for a while. Not have to look at me or talk to me. I wondered if he'd come back. No, that's not strictly true. I knew he'd come back. Starbuck would never desert me. But I wondered if he'd really want to, or whether he'd just come out of duty or pity, out of remembrance of the Apollo who used to be there but who was gone now. Even if he forgave me for what I'd tried to do to him in detox, he had to despise the feeble, contemptible thing that Reese had played with, the pathetic, unworthy thing that Reese had left.

But when he did come back, he tried hard to be my old Starbuck. He came straight into my room in Life Centre and hugged me hello. I was surprised that he didn't seem to mind touching me, given what I'd done. He seemed to be the same loving old Starbuck and he never said anything at all about it, as if it never happened. Instead he talked to me about what was going on in the OC, the latest games, Triad.. the things he'd always talked about with the old Apollo. Normal things. Things that didn't belong to me anymore.

A distance grew up between us, a bigger distance between me and everyone else. I put it there. I was so ashamed of what I'd done with Reese, I couldn't bear to talk about it even with him, and Starbuck, despite what people think about him being brash and insensitive, was too considerate to speak about what had happened unless I did first. I needed the distance. I was too scared that I'd look up and see the confirmation of the contempt I feared he felt. If I kept a distance from him and everyone, I couldn't see how much they must despise me. The distance meant I could hide. But it also meant that I could think. It meant I couldn't stop thinking.

I wasn't too well after detox. The remoxifen did stop the worst of the cravings, but I reacted badly to it. Salik was quite put out about that. He'd banked quite heavily on the remoxifen getting me back on my feet relatively quickly. Instead I felt ill all the time, as though I had a bad case of ‘flu, all aches and pains. The Shadow had shot my immune system, too. All anyone had to do was sneeze within ten metres of me and I caught whatever infection they had. Unfortunately, feeling lousy all the time wasn't enough to distract me from the thinking I'd rather not be doing.

A secton after detox, Salik let me out of Life Centre. I didn't want to go. I'd been three sectons in that room in Life Centre. No-one came except my family and Starbuck and Boomer. No-one else saw me. It was quiet and safe. It wasn't outside.

I stayed for a couple of days with Dad, seeing Boxey every day. He was counting the days for me to get home, and I tried to respond to that. I did try. I love my son and I want to do what's best for him. But maybe what's best for him isn't to have such a pathetic excuse for a father.

We tried for a few days with me and Boxey at home together, but I really wasn't well enough. I slept a lot of the time, and I'd forget things like getting him up in time for school or getting him something to eat. Often I'd forget he was there at all. Looking after Boxey was too much for me. I couldn't even look after myself. So yesterday Boxey went and stayed with my father. He didn't want to go. I'll still see him every day, but I really couldn't cope with him here all the time.

I still spend a lot of my time sleeping, waking screaming from nightmares, and sleeping some more. Sleeping, even with the dreams, is better than thinking. But you can't sleep for ever and there's long centars when I can't help thinking, and remembering what Reese did and how easily he destroyed me, how easily he destroyed the old Apollo. I don't know what's left yet, although I have a lot of time to think about it and try and find out. If I want to find out. I'm not sure that I do.

I'm glad he's dead - at least I've been spared ever having to see him again. I certainly couldn't have faced trying to prosecute him. It's bad enough Dad knowing, or Starbuck and Boomer. I'd rather die than face everyone if they knew. But even knowing he's dead doesn't make the memory of how easily he broke me any more bearable.

Salik still insists on seeing me every day - to check for needle marks, although he's too polite to say so. He pretends that he's checking out the scars, to make sure they're healing. I don't blame him. The remoxifen helps, but I still have moments - many of them, every day - when I crave the Shadow and it takes every ounce of will power that I possess not to go looking for it. Or it would take every ounce if I could screw up enough energy to go looking. But I'm too tired and listless to do more than lie on my bed and whimper about it.

I see Starbuck and Boomer every day too. They bring me messages from the other warriors, invitations to the OC, offers of company. I couldn't face that though. I saw Jolly once on one of my daily visits to the Life Centre, and it scared me how far away from him I was. I couldn't talk to him. I ran away. He looked so surprised and hurt. But it was better that I didn't try and pretend. Pretend I was still worth talking to.

Starbuck and Boomer act as a kind of buffer between me and the outside world. Things with them have got easier as the days passed. They've tried hard to treat me as if everything was normal, as if I'm still their Apollo, still worth knowing. It isn't quite normal, of course, but they try. If they do despise me, they never show it. Maybe they've been able to forgive me for being such a disappointment, the way I think that my father has. I know how lucky I am to have people who still love me and who want to protect me and help me. Starbuck even seems to have forgotten how pathetic I was in detox. When I'm with them, or with Dad and Boxey, things are better. I don't feel so alone and cut off from everything, but even with them I can't believe they'll really be able to forget what I did.

I've been free for over a sectar now. That's a joke, by the way. I don't think I'll ever be really free.

 

 

They were having a case conference, meeting in Life Centre in Salik's office. The subject of it was, as had become usual, absent. He was locked away in his own quarters.

“He is better,” Adama said. “He's not as withdrawn as he was.”

“True, but you still need dynamite to get him out of his quarters.” Starbuck wasn't as upbeat. “I almost got him to the officer's mess for dinner two days ago. He made it as far as the door, then just turned round and left. All he would say was that he didn't belong there any more.”

“As usual,” Boomer cut in gloomily. “He still feels very cut off from everyone. He won't see anyone other than us. Jolly, Giles, Sheba - they all want to visit, but he flatly refuses to allow it. That day he ran into Jolly here in Life Centre - I didn't think he'd let us back into his quarters for a secton, it upset him so much.”

“He had quite a good day yesterday,” Adama argued “He kept Boxey with him for most of the day and that's the first time he's had the energy to do that. When I collected Boxey last night, Apollo seemed pretty cheerful. That's an advance.”

“I'd be cheerful too if someone was taking Muffit away,” muttered Starbuck. Boxey's attachment to the droid daggit depressed most people and Apollo in particular. He'd always viewed Muffit as one of his biggest mistakes. “I'd be bloody cheerful.”

Salik considered the evidence. “Physically, he's much stronger than when he first came out of detox,” he agreed. “His reaction to the remoxifen has slowed things down, but he's steadily improving. It'll be a while before he's fully fit, but he's getting there. And the big plus is that he's staying clean: the remoxifen is doing its work even if it does make him feel like hell. But he still won't consider counselling to help him come to terms with what happened to him. He isn't psychotic, Adama - miraculously enough - but he does need psychiatric help. He just won't accept it. And if he doesn't, if we let this drift too long, he will be psychotic. He's hovering on the edge of clinical depression as it is.”

“It's not been that long,” Adama said, almost apologetically.

“It's been over six sectons since his release, a sectar since we got him through detox.” Salik was uncompromising. He glanced at the two pilots. “Does he talk to you two?”

“Not much,” Boomer admitted. “He's never really talked about what happened. He knows we know about Reese but for obvious reasons he doesn't like talking about it and we haven't pressed him. I don't blame him. In his place, I don't think I could function at all.”

“Look, we all know Apollo,” Starbuck said thoughtfully. “If there was a Control Freak of the Millennium award, he'd walk it. When he went into the Barge he was physically pretty tough. I expect he could control his reaction to the beatings, maybe even the rape… I mean, they wouldn't break him on that alone. He'd just be mad and obstinate about it and keep fighting back. But the Shadow took away his ability to control anything, took away his ability to fight back. I think that's what's freaking him out now. That's what he can't face up to - feeling weak and vulnerable and out of control. Reese could get him to do anything he wanted - all the bastard had to do was withhold the next hit. Apollo must hate the memory of being that feeble, of being at Reese's mercy.”

Salik nodded approvingly. “Got it in a nutshell, Starbuck. His confidence, his belief in himself, even his sense of his own integrity have had a very bad knock. I suspect he's trying to come to terms with all of that. But he won't manage it alone. What do we do about getting him to accept help?”

Starbuck looked at Boomer and grinned slightly. “Well, I do have a bit of a plan,” he said. “We've been ever so loving and supportive and patient and it's not exactly getting us anywhere.”

“He's hurt and hiding, Starbuck,” Boomer said. “What do you have in mind?”

Starbuck's grin broadened. “Dragging him out of hiding by the scruff of his neck. I'm tired of being nice.”

 

 

 

Boomer

I remember that Starbuck was whistling cheerfully as we walked to Apollo's quarters. That worried me. He hadn't really been very forthcoming about how he intended to tackle Apollo, and my reminders about how fragile our friend was had been meet with all his usual nonchalance. He was so typically Starbuck that it was frightening. That made me nervous. Very, very nervous.

Adama had seen Apollo earlier that day and had said that he wasn't very well. Adama was right. Apollo did look ill. We knew that some days were better than others, better than the days when his body's demand for Shadow brought almost unbearable nausea and headaches, fever and joint pain. This had evidently been a bad day. He looked very pale and thin, very frail.

“Hi,” said Starbuck cheerfully, pretending not to notice the lack of enthusiasm with which we were met. “And how are you today?”

Apollo curled back up on the sofa. “Okay,” he said. “I suppose.”

“Good. But you don't look as thought you've eaten anything.” Starbuck looked stern.

Apollo went slightly green. He was having real trouble keeping anything much down even on the good days. “Not much,” he acknowledged, and groaned when Starbuck produced the bag of food he'd picked up in the officer's mess. “No, really, Starbuck, I couldn't.”

“You have to. I intend to get you drunk tonight, and you shouldn't drink ambrosa on an empty stomach.” Starbuck zapped the stuff into the microwave in the tiny kitchen area and kept up the cheerful grin.

Apollo said nothing, but curled up tighter, if that was possible, as if to protect himself. He looked at me beseechingly.

“I don't know what he's up to, either,” I said, sitting in the chair opposite him. “I think he just brings me along to give a respectable and reputable air to his evil machinations.”

Apollo grinned very slightly at that, then sighed as Starbuck presented him the plate with a flourish. There was rather less on the plate than would keep your average five yahren old nourished, but he went paler and shook his head. “I can't,” he said.

“I think we'll take this a step at a time,” Starbuck said, dropping onto the sofa beside him. “Now, the way I see it, we've got four options for dealing with this.”

Apollo raised a thin black eyebrow.

Starbuck counted the options off on his fingers “I could do nothing at all. Or I could spend the next centar or two coaxing every single mouthful down you. Or I could get Boomer to sit on you while I force feed you. Or you could just stop worrying the hell out of us and try and eat something.”

Apollo's wide green eyes had lightened with reluctant amusement as Starbuck had enumerated his options. “Do you have a preference, Starbuck?” he asked gravely

Starbuck shrugged. “Well, option one's a bind. You're getting too thin and if you don't start eating soon we'll end up with you in Life Centre on a drip. On the whole, not recommended. Option two will tire me out, and I've had a hard day. Option three has a certain direct charm, but will tire you out. Besides it's probably against military regulations to force feed a senior officer and you're likely to get your revenge later. You're an unprincipled bastard, Apollo, and I've no ambition to be on report - again. I'm for option four myself.” He handed Apollo a fork. “Eat”

“I'll be sick,” Apollo warned him, taking the fork reluctantly and straightening up on the sofa. He poked unenthusiastically at the food.

“If that‘s what it takes to make you happy, Apollo, you go right ahead,” Starbuck said heartlessly. “Boomer and I will hold the bowl.”

“Speak for yourself,” I objected. “I've just had dinner. But I'm prepared to be sympathetic from a discreet distance.”

Apollo sighed.

“Come on, Apollo,” Starbuck said gently as Apollo continued to hesitate.

“Please, Apollo,” I said. “Give it a try.”

Apollo gave us a pained look. “Well, all right,” he said dubiously. He looked at the fork, sighed again and forced down his first mouthful of food. The effort it took was painfully obvious. We watched sympathetically. I hadn't thought that Apollo could get much paler, but somehow he managed it.

“Well, it's a start,” I said encouragingly. I grinned at Starbuck and gave him the thumbs up in relief. The main thing was to at least get Apollo started on eating. He might not be able to eat much, but we were over the first and worst hurdle.

“More, Apollo,” Starbuck said, coaxing despite his contention that this was not an option he favoured.

Apollo managed a few more mouthfuls and put down the fork. Starbuck looked stern for a moment, tempted to make him go on, then relented.

“I'm going to get that food down you, if it takes me all night, but you can take a rest for a few centons. You're turning an interesting shade of pale green, but I think we'll get by without you being sick.”

“That would be nice,” I said. I was really quite impressed that Starbuck had managed this much.

“Bullies,” Apollo grumbled.

“Yes,” Starbuck agreed and over the next few centons, between bullying and coaxing he got most of the food into Apollo. I was very impressed, especially when Apollo decided that, on reflection, he wouldn't be sick after all. I wasn't so sure he'd manage to keep down the ambrosa though, and was a bit taken aback at the generous glassful that Starbuck pressed on him.

Apollo looked better for the meal, less frail, more alert. He sipped cautiously at the ambrosa. “So why do you want to get me drunk tonight?” he asked.

That's when Starbuck unleashed the main guns. I wished he'd warned me what he was going to do - I almost choked on my ambrosa.

He smiled at Apollo and said, in his most casual tone: “Oh, it's just a last ditch attempt to make sitting in here with you for the next three centars less boring.”

Apollo froze in shocked hurt and bewilderment. I stared from one to the other, as shocked as Apollo. I would never have believed Starbuck would say anything so hurtful, and to Apollo of all people. Starbuck kept the carefree, nonchalant expression on his face, as if he hadn't just given Apollo a metaphorical slap in the face.

“Boring?” Apollo said, and there was both hurt and anger to the edge in his voice. He put down the ambrosa carefully, but his hands had started to shake and some slopped onto the table top.

“Yeah. Bloody tedious, sitting here while you wallow in self pity all the time.” Starbuck gave him a dazzling smile. I just stared at him like he'd just lost his mind. What in hell was he playing at?

Apollo had flushed red. “I don't recall asking you to come here,” he said icily. “And I don't see why you have to stay if I'm being boring.”

“Obligation,” Starbuck said. His blue eyes met mine and I could see how much this was costing him. “You look like my best friend and you're walking around inside his clothes. I have to keep coming to see if he's ever going to be here. So far though, it's been a total wipeout. All we have is you. Self centred, whining, miserable and .."

“Boring,” Apollo finished for him, now decidedly in a temper. For the first time in days - sectons - he was roused out of the depression and lethargy. “Well, sorry Starbuck, but that's all there is. If you don't like it, you know where the door is.”

“Er…Starbuck,” I said tentatively, but neither of them took any notice of me.

“Well, I would go,” said Starbuck, seemingly with unimpaired cheerfulness “I could certainly find livelier company - probably down in the morgue. But I promised Boxey that I'd get his Dad back for him out of prison, and I hate disappointing the kid. You remember Boxey, don't you Apollo? Nice kid - happens to be your son. The one who cried himself to sleep for sectars because you weren't around and is still crying himself to sleep because you're too wrapped up in yourself to notice him and see that he needs you. Because you aren't out of prison yet at all, are you Apollo? You're carrying it around with you, and frankly, I'm getting tired of it. You aren't the only one who went through hell, you know, even if you think you were.”

“And what do you know about it?” Apollo snapped back, and his eyes were very bright. This was the most energetic I'd seen him in sectons. Almost like the old Apollo.

“Well, I know a bit,” Starbuck said. “It's obvious you never grew up in an orphanage.”

The sudden change of subject had Apollo blinking with surprise, but he soon recovered. Starbuck certainly seemed to have succeeded in rattling his cage. “Oh please,” he said, nastily “Spare me the homeless orphan routine”.

“Apollo!” I said protestingly, but it was like I wasn't there. I'd never seen these two have a fight before - their endless friendly bickering didn't count - and this one promised to be a dilly. I just hoped that they wouldn't take a swing at each other. I was stuck in the middle, as usual.

“Sure - I guess you wouldn't like a rival in the misery stakes.” Only the way his lips tightened betrayed how much that crack had hurt Starbuck. “I was just going to tell you though, that you aren't the only one, Apollo. You aren't the only one to have been held down and raped. If you'd slept in a dormitory with sixteen other boys, you'd have known that. I was eleven.”

Apollo stared at him, the angry flush on his cheeks fading, the momentary burst of energy gone. He looked white and tired again. Something - shame? - crossed his face. “I…they raped you?”

“Only two of them,” Starbuck said, still trying to sound casual about it, but I could see he was shaking slightly. Apollo saw that too, and he frowned. “Most of the bigger boys took what they wanted from the younger ones.”

I stared. I hadn't known any of this, and from the look on Apollo's face, he hadn't either. I never thought that Starbuck would have any secrets from Apollo. .

“You've never, ever said anything,” Apollo said, almost accusingly.

“I was fifteen when I met you and in a different, better children's home. I was old enough to protect myself by then, and besides, I was lucky. I'd had a good counsellor who helped me deal with all the guilt and self hatred I felt about it. I realised it wasn't my fault, and she helped me put it behind me. Then I moved schools and found a good friend. The best. It didn't matter after that, really. Nothing that went before mattered much after that.” Starbuck smiled at Apollo gently. “Only you mattered, Apollo. I'd really like that friend back”

Apollo looked away for a micron. “Are you serious, about the orphanage?”

He nodded. “Absolutely. I know what it feels like, Apollo. I know how polluted and contaminated you feel, how defiled, and just like you I blamed myself. I thought that there was something wrong with me, that it was my fault they'd done it. It wasn't, of course. But that didn't stop me feeling guilty.”

Apollo said nothing for a centon, then reached for the ambrosa. He was shaking so much that I had to lean forward to help him hold the glass. He managed to get most of it down and I hurriedly refilled it for him. I thought he'd need it. Then he turned to Starbuck. He looked thoroughly ashamed of himself.

“I'm sorry, Starbuck,” he said.

Starbuck grinned and put both arms around him. Apollo leaned into the embrace, shaking. “Don't be sorry, be my old Apollo,” Starbuck said.

“I think he's lost.” Apollo shook his head. He leaned his forehead against Starbuck's shoulder, and only I could see the look on Starbuck's face, the love and longing and the anguish about what Apollo had gone through.

“I don't think so. As Boom-boom said earlier, he's hurt and hiding. Time to come out of hiding, Apollo. Time to start living again. If I could do it, you can.”

“I don't know how, Starbuck,” he said “I don't know how to get back.”

“You could start by talking about it,” I said. “That might help. Keeping it all bottled up inside isn't helping you get better”

Apollo looked at me and thought about it. He was trembling now. “It wasn't Reese - I mean, not the rape…” He sighed. “It's so difficult to explain.”

“Try,” I invited. “We're here to help, Apollo. We're your friends, and we love you, and we want you back.”

He hesitated, and I saw Starbuck's hold on him tighten lovingly, encouragingly. “I'll try,” Apollo said in a ghost of a voice.

He leaned into Starbuck's embrace, and it was a couple of centons and most of the second glass before he could start. I kept the glass filled - if nothing else it might loosen his tongue.

“He did it as soon as I got there,” he said, and I couldn't believe that he was going to talk about it at last. “They beat the shit out of me as soon as they got me into the cell. I don't actually remember them getting me down and tied onto the bunk. I must have been out of it for a few centons. When I came to, I was already tied down and stripped, and Reese was sitting across my legs waiting for me to wake up. He was enjoying himself. He had a lot of fun telling me what he was going to do - and then he did it. He rammed straight into me.”

“Shit,” I said, seeing how badly he was shaking. This might not be too good an idea. Neither of us were trained counsellors. Loving Apollo and wanting him back were our only qualifications for this. It might not be enough.

Starbuck's hold on Apollo tightened even more. I was Sire Boring and stuck to what I was good at. I'd only ever been to bed with women, but Starbuck's taste in sex was pretty wide. I knew that he'd had affairs with men as well as women. He knew better than I did how awful that must have been for Apollo.

Apollo sounded very weary, as if his voice was coming from somewhere very distant. “No lube or anything, of course. It hurt like hell.”

“It's all right, Apollo,” Starbuck said soothingly. “It's all right” He wiped at his eyes angrily with one hand. He'd deliberately provoked this because he'd thought it was what Apollo needed, but I knew that it was tearing at him. He'd loved Apollo for a long time, and to have to listen to what Reese had done was torture.

Apollo's tone was very impersonal, at odds with the trembling body Starbuck was holding. I got onto the sofa on the other side and put my arms around him too. He had to realise that he wasn't alone.

“He did it a lot after that. They had to fight me down every time for him. He enjoyed watching that.” Apollo sounded suddenly thoughtful “Do you know, I don't think it was really about sex. I think it was more about breaking me; about power and control, violence and contempt, about inflicting pain and humiliation. Getting me under control. It was just a weapon, and he was dehumanised enough to use it. He wanted to make it very clear that he was in power and I was powerless. That I was nothing, nobody; had nothing. That I didn't even have my own body anymore - he did.” The shaking grew a little less. “I think that I'd have survived that, however long he kept at me. God knows I hated it, but I was still fighting every time, still intact. I was just so angry and I knew what he was doing. I knew he was trying to break me. That made it easier to resist, to defy him. Of course, I was being stupid by fighting them. I should have just given in.”

“Oh yeah.“ Starbuck knew his Apollo. “Very likely. You are the most stubborn person I know”

“And much good it did me,” Apollo said with a self-deprecating grin that was entirely without humour. “So one day - I'd been there maybe a couple of sectons, that's all - he injected me with Shadow, after they got me down. He told me what he was going to do, first. I don't think he wanted me to miss out on what he was planning. He wanted me to feel helpless and despairing. By the time he started in me I was so high I didn't care what he was doing. I don't think I even knew. After that they forcibly smacked me up every four centars or so to get me hooked.. In the end they got what they wanted. They got me hooked on the stuff very quickly, given how often they were shooting me up. One day they came in to work me over, but didn't smack me up. They left the Shadow in the needle for me. I managed not to use it, so they came back, kicked me some more and got the stuff into me, and then Reese came to play. A day or two later they tried again. This time I lasted a couple of centars, then I shot it up myself. They'd won. I didn't fight much after that. I was a very good little prisoner after that. Very tractable and controllable.”

“Because they could threaten to withhold it?” I asked. I felt physically sick, as much at Apollo's detached tone as at what he was telling us. And because of the memories it brought back of Mikey, screaming and weeping for a fix.

Apollo's smile was painful. “Because they did withhold it. Often. It became part of the entertainment. They'd hold off bringing me the Shadow and watch me shaking, climbing the cell walls and screaming for it. Then they'd come in and kick the hell out of me and make me beg Reese for the fix. I didn't fight back much any more.” He started shaking again. “I used beg Reese to fuck me and then give me the fix. After a while, when he came in I'd just strip before he even had to ask me. I'd do anything for the stuff by then.”

“It wasn't you, it was the Shadow,” Starbuck said soothingly. “It wasn't you, Apollo”

He sighed “Well, the Shadow made it bearable, I suppose. It sort of detached me from what was happening. I didn't care in the end. I still knew what was going on but it didn't matter. Getting beaten and raped was normal but distant. What Reese was doing was bearable, as if it was happening to someone else, not me.”

“Exactly,” I said. “It wasn't really you.”

He shook his head in frustration. “You don't understand,” he said. “You don't understand at all. Look, I've got no problems with gay sex: I'd never done it before but I don't have any moral or other objections to it. I suppose, like most of us, there'd been times when I'd been attracted to other men, but I'd never done anything about it. I never was very good at pulling girls - trying to pull the guy I was attracted to was really impossible. I didn't even know where to start.” He glanced sideways at Starbuck, and I saw what Starbuck maybe didn't and got thoughtful about that. “It wasn't even about Reese taking me by force. I was helpless about that, either tied down or drugged out of my head. There wasn't anything I could do about it. What I hate about it…”

He stopped abruptly, unable to go on for a centon.

“We're here,” Starbuck said gently. “It doesn't make any difference, Apollo.”

“Doesn't it?” he said, suddenly gloomy. “What I hate about it, what I hate to remember about it, what I'm ashamed about, is how much I enjoyed it.”

I looked at him, startled. I didn't know what he would say, but that was unexpected. He was tearing himself apart because he'd physically enjoyed sex with Reese? I was also a bit surprised at how much Apollo was saying, how much he was showing: it was like a dam bursting, letting loose all the torment he'd been bottling up inside.

Starbuck frowned. “And?” he prompted. He evidently felt the same as I did.

Apollo glared at him. “And what? You want the details, Starbuck? I tried not to, but every time he fucked me, I enjoyed it. Physically it could feel amazing - I never knew it could feel like that. And with Reese , yet!” There was loathing in his voice.

“Apollo,” said Starbuck gently. “We're men, remember? If I remember my biology lessons right, we're physiologically ready for sex at the drop of a hat. It's about perpetuating the species. We don't have to be emotionally involved. I've lost count of the number of people - male and female - I've had sex with and it's been nothing but a physical release. It's how we're made.”

“Not me,” Apollo said stubbornly. “I've never been that ..that detached about it. It's always meant something more”

That was true enough. Apollo was definitely into commitment. He and Starbuck were at opposite ends of the pole so far as that went. As I said, Starbuck had had lots of partners, boys and girls, and seemed to enjoy a healthy and prolific sex life. I could count the number of Apollo's girlfriends on the fingers of one hand. I doubt that he'd ever gone casually to bed the way Starbuck did, on a passing attraction that faded before morning. Any women Apollo had slept with, he'd felt something for.

“So,” I said, trying to work this out. “If I've got this right, what you think is because you were raped and unwilling or drugged out of your head, all you should have felt was pain and discomfort and you had no right to physically enjoy it?”

Apollo looked at me, startled. “It sounds a bit stupid, put like that.”

“Doesn't it,” I agreed. “I can think of lots of things I might feel guilty about, Apollo, but that wouldn't be one of them. I suppose I'd try and think of it as making a virtue out of necessity.”

He smiled reluctantly at that. “Oh I don't know. I don't know how to explain it. It was like Reese was robbing me of something and making me enjoy the loss. I could have enjoyed it with someone else, but he'd taken that away from me. I was just so weak and …and feeble…”

I looked at him thoughtfully, wondering who the someone else might be. Oh yes, I wondered. Mainly I wondered if I was right.

“There was nothing you could do,” Starbuck said soothingly. “They tied you down, Apollo. What could you do to stop that?”

“I just wasn't able to control it - or me. Reese screwed me most days. Sometimes he'd take me to his quarters for the night, much more spacious and comfortable. There wasn't any need to tie me down.” Apollo's tone was full of such self-contempt now. “I'd let him do anything he wanted, without me fighting. Hell, I'd beg him to do it harder. Did you know that there's quite a few positions you can get buggered in? I know them all. My training was very thorough.”

Starbuck shot me a helpless look. Maybe we were getting in too deep. “It was the Shadow, Apollo,” he said again. “Not you.”

“It's not that easy.” Apollo pulled free of Starbuck and reached for another drink. “You said it, Starbuck. You said you knew how polluted I feel - and that's exactly right. I do feel polluted - not because of what he did, but because of my reaction to it.” He stared moodily into his glass. “It disgusts me, it must disgust you too.”

“Absolutely not,” Starbuck said instantly and very, very firmly. “I think what Reese did to you was disgusting, criminally disgusting, but you couldn't do anything about it. You're not disgusting or contemptible or any of the other things you think about yourself. You were tied or drugged, Apollo.”

“Damn right,” I said, as positive and forceful as Starbuck. “Stop blaming yourself, Apollo. No-one else does.”

He looked so thin and hurt and vulnerable that I wished I could have given him Reese. Getting Greg had helped me a bit, and I think Apollo might have felt better if he could have got his revenge on Reese himself. Unfortunately, Croft left Reese polluting space quite a few light yahrens back.

“Maybe I could accept that if I didn't think it's robbed me of any future I might have had with somebody else. But even if they ever felt the same way about me, how could I ever offer them this?” Apollo gestured at his own body with contempt.

I wondered who he was thinking of. Sheba? They'd been dating for a while, although that seemed to have fizzled out before the trial. I didn't think they'd been lovers, but maybe his feeling for her went deeper than I thought. Or was it someone else? Lords, but I hoped it was.

“Anyone who loved you wouldn't care about that, Apollo,” I said gently

“Who'd want Reese's leavings?” Apollo said bitterly. “Who'd not be insulted by the offer?”

Well now. Starbuck wasn't the only one who could throw bombshells. I looked from one to the other and decided to take a risk, the most enormous risk. “I can think of one person at least who'd be proud and happy,” I said

“Sheba?” Apollo said with a wry smile. “I don't think so, Boomer. How could I ever tell her? And to be honest, I'm not that interested. She's pretty and feisty and funny, but...”

“No, not Sheba. Someone else. Someone who's loved you for yahrens and yahrens, and never said anything.” I watched as Starbuck raised his head to look at me and grinned at him. “Someone who never could pluck up the courage to tell you how much you were - are - loved, Apollo because they were afraid that you'd get scared and they'd lose you. Someone who's hidden all that love and longing in a lot of meaningless affairs, wishing that every one of his casual loves had been the real one, had been you. Do you know, before you were posted onto the Galactica, this someone had a few affairs with tall, dark haired men. But they never quite looked enough like you, or had green eyes, or laughed at the same things you did. Someone who stopped having affairs with tall dark-haired men when you were posted here, because they had the original back again, and with you here the substitutes seemed even more inadequate. But someone who still couldn't tell you how much they loved you and wanted you.”

“Boomer!” said Starbuck in anguished tone, and Apollo looked at him, eyes wide and very, very green.

“Someone who's always been there if you needed him, Apollo. At school, the Academy, at Cimtar and Kobol. If you're honest, the only one who was able to comfort you about Zac and Serina, who got you through that black time. The someone who fought to get you off the Barge and who held you for three days through detox even though it broke his heart to watch you and no-one else could bear to do it. Someone who's tried to be happy just being your best friend, but who wants a whole lot more. Did Starbuck ever tell you what Athena said when she turned him down, why she wouldn't get sealed?”

Apollo could only shake his head. He looked very white and shocked, and I had a sudden pang of misgiving, but it was too late to back out now. Starbuck looked at me in terrified astonishment, as if I was cutting his heart out.

“She said that she loved him, but she didn't want to get sealed to a man who every time he made love to her, closed his eyes and pretended she was her brother.”

“Boomer!” said Starbuck again, his face flaming red.

Apollo, still very white, looked from me to Starbuck, trying to understand and believe what I was saying.

“He's always loved you, Apollo. He doesn't give a damn about Reese, except that he hates the bastard and wants to comfort you, and love you.”

“Starbuck?” Apollo's voice was a mere whisper. He put a hand on Starbuck's arm and I could see how much he was shaking.

Starbuck shot me a look of such hurt amazement at what he saw as my betrayal, that I almost felt guilty. But not quite. I was taking a gamble here, but who'd taught me to gamble?

“Starbuck?” said Apollo again.

“Yeah, well,” mumbled Starbuck, still scarlet. “I know you don't feel the same, Apollo, so I never bothered you with it…”

“You love me?” Apollo sounded almost stern.

Starbuck ducked his head with embarrassment and nodded. “I always have, Apollo,” he said with sudden, simple dignity.

“Still?” I think Apollo asked that because he couldn't help himself, because despite what we'd said to reassure him, he still despised himself for being Reese's victim.

Starbuck nodded. “What possible difference could it make to the way I feel about you?” he asked, still unusually dignified. “Except, as Boomer said, I wish I'd been the one to get Reese for hurting you.”

“And you wouldn't feel - oh, I don't know - polluted at taking what he left behind?” Apollo seemed determined to denigrate himself, to hurt himself about it by picking at the wounds Reese had left.

Starbuck looked him in the eyes. “I love you,” he said. “That's all that matters.”

“Do you really mean that?” he asked

Starbuck nodded. “I wouldn't say it otherwise. I've never said that to anyone. I love you very much, Apollo.” He made some helpless gesture with his hands, desperate to find some way to reassure him. “Pollution doesn't come into it. How could what Reese did be more polluting than, say, all the partners I've had? All I know is that I've always loved you and always wanted you. I always will. That's all that matters. Not Reese, not anyone else you might have had sex with. All that matters to me is you.”

Apollo leaned back, face a mask. It wasn't often he managed to hide away that successfully from those of us who knew and loved him, and I wondered uneasily what was going on behind that expressionless face. Starbuck was glowering at me furiously.

Apollo was silent for a centon or two, thinking about it, then he nodded. “I don't sleep that well you know, even with the pills Salik gives me,” he said, and for a wildly disappointed micron I thought he was changing the subject, gently telling Starbuck to take a hike. “I dream a lot - too much. And when I wake up, there's no-one there to hold me and tell me it's all over and that everything will be all right. No-one to tell me that it didn't really matter, compared to what we have, and that they love me. No-one to make love with me and care for me. There's a sort of vacancy, there.” He looked at Starbuck. “Do you want the job, Starbuck?”

How I managed not to cheer is beyond me. I knew it, I knew all that Apollo needed was a little push in the right direction.

Starbuck stared at him, suddenly as pale as Apollo. “I…. You mean……Apollo?”

Apollo was serious, not smiling, but what he felt was obvious at last. “I don't think anyone else would suit me half so well,” he said. “I think I've always known that there's really no-one else for me. The job's yours, if you want it. If you really still want me after the Barge”

Starbuck slid off the seat to kneel in front of Apollo. I got quietly and unobtrusively to my feet and headed for the door. I don't think I was needed any longer. I don't think they remembered that I was there.

“What's the job involve?” Starbuck asked

“Simple. Just to love me.”

“I've about fifteen yahrens experience of that,” Starbuck acknowledged and he was looking into Apollo's eyes as if he were drowning in them. “What's the pay like?”

Apollo smiled at last. “Lousy,” he said, and leaned forward and kissed Starbuck for the first time.

All right, I know I should have been long gone, but I couldn't, not until I saw that it really was all right. I had to watch. I don't think I've ever seen anything so beautiful and loving as that kiss, or the way that Starbuck got his arms around Apollo to hold him. Mind you, I should think that they were both seeing stars after a centon or two, and I found myself almost hyperventilating to compensate for the fact that neither of them seem inclined to come up for air.

When they broke apart at last, Starbuck cupped Apollo's face with both hands. “I love you, Apollo. I love you so much.”

Apollo nodded. “I know,” he said, which was odd, because if he had known he'd kept quiet about it. But maybe that kiss had proved it to him. “Stay with me.”

“That's my job,” Starbuck said, and leaned into a kiss that probably had thermometers popping all over the ship.

I made myself scarce at that point, getting quietly outside the door. Neither of them noticed. I leaned against the door for a moment, turning my head to get an ear against the metal, but there was no sound from inside. The sound insulation was too good for that, and whatever was going on now was private and personal. I hoped it was getting very personal. I could only begin to imagine what Starbuck was feeling as he finally got his heart's desire. Which left open the question about what I was going to do for the rest of the evening. The night was yet young, and unlike the two I'd just left, I was without someone to share it with. Then I grinned. I wondered what Athena had planned?

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