Section Five

 

Starbuck

Getting down our skins was fun. I'd forgotten how ticklish Apollo could be, and by the time I'd got him naked and onto his bed, he was giggling helplessly. Half of that was probably the ambrosa, but I was grinning like a lunatic myself from sheer happiness. I had him pinned down on his back, straddling him, and I wanted to spend some time taking in the beauty of the body I'd wanted for almost half my life.

He sobered for a centon and looked up at me, doubt in those green eyes again. “You've seen me naked before, Starbuck,” he reminded me, perhaps worried about the intensity of my gaze. “There's not a lot of privacy in the military.”

“I know,” I said, watching his eyes to make sure he was comfortable with this, that he wasn't just giving in to me the way he'd had to give in to Reese. “I've seen you in the turboshowers, in that sexy triad uniform…I've lost count of the number of times I've seen you naked and had to rush off to my quarters to take care of things as a result.” I quirked an eyebrow at him and glanced down at my erection, so that he was under no doubt about what things I meant. I let the wonder, and the love come through in my voice. “But this is the first time it really belongs to me.”

Those beautiful eyes widened and the doubt vanished. He actually blushed slightly, and I leaned down quickly to kiss him, to make sure he couldn't see the anguish on my face. Yeah, I knew his body almost as well as my own, and once it had been perfect. It was still the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, and God knows, I loved it and him, but now there was a nasty scar running down his ribcage where Reese or one of his goons had beaten him, he'd carry some of the injection scars on his arms for life, and I knew the mess his back was in. And no-one could miss the thin scar on his face. He was still beautiful, but he'd never lose that one either. Whatever Croft had done to Reese - which, of course, I officially knew nothing about - wasn't anywhere near enough. But scars or not, this was Apollo, my Apollo at last, and I was going to make that body truly mine before the night was out, or my name wasn't Starbuck. I had to prove to him that Reese was an aberration: that love between men could be beautiful and ecstatic - and fun.

He kissed me back, tongue probing into my mouth, and then he bit gently on my lower lip. It was unexpected and incredibly sexy, and I almost shot my load all over him in surprise. I groaned loud enough to shake cobwebs down from the ceiling and pulled back.

“Lords, Apollo!”

He actually pouted, and lifted his hips to grind his own erection against me. “Didn't you like it?” he said, disappointed.

“You almost made me come. I loved it.” I kissed him again. “But I don't want to waste any of this. I'm going to come, Apollo, but I'm going to come inside you.” Not doubt now, but a flicker of fear, and I was quick to try and reassure him. “I love you and I swear that I won't hurt you. We can stop anytime you want. I promise.”

He smiled at that. “I know you won't hurt me. It's just…” he broke off, looking both embarrassed and cross. But he was angry with himself, not me.

“I know. But you said it yourself, Apollo. What Reese did wasn't about love, or even about sex, but humiliation and control. He had to hurt you to achieve that. I could never hurt you, and I only want you if you really want me. I love you, you know. I've loved you ever since we met. Trust me.”

The smile was back, and broader. “Usually when you say that, I lose a secton's pay on one of your systems.” The green eyes were solemn now. “But I love you too, Starbuck, and I want this. Just go slow and easy since we don't have any lube.”

“Ah but we do.” I leaned down from the bed, to reach the pants I'd dropped on the floor on the way there. Well, to tell the truth, which Apollo had pulled off me on the way to bed in those few frantic centons of kissing and touching that had come after Boomer - dear, clever old Boomer - had engineered things so that I'd ended up confessing to Apollo that I loved him. I had a tube of lubricant in a pocket. I held it up and grinned at him. “I should have been a Boy Scout when I was a kid. ‘Be prepared' is definitely a personal motto.”

He was laughing now, and I loved him so much that I could feel my heart melting. I'd always been cynical about claims like that. I never really believed hearts could melt, but mine had just turned into a giant marshmallow, and the glow went right down to my toes - and other extremities. To other, pressing extremities. Very pressing. Dear God, I wanted him.

“I don't want you to do anything, Apollo, do you hear me? I want to pleasure you and get you ready for me, and I can't do that if you're distracting me. I'm having enough trouble keeping a lid on things as it is. You can do that later.”

I pulled his hand of my prick as I spoke and kissed the palm - when had he sneaked it on in the first place? When he was melting me with that kiss, I suppose. He pouted again - and where in Hades had he learned to do that? Did he have any idea how sexy it made him look? - but lay back obediently, his eyes shining and promising me that later he'd have his fill of touching and stroking.

I squeezed a dollop of lube onto my hand and gently took hold of his prick. He has one of those lovely long pricks, not too fat, with a flared head. Very tasty - and I had every intention of tasting it soon. But not yet: that was for dessert. We were both a bit too far gone for licking and sucking, and I wanted to make love to him more than anything else in the universe. Oral sex can be fun in itself, but I admit it, I was selfish. I wanted to feel his body enclosing my prick, I wanted to see him moving and writhing on it, shuddering every time I plunged into him. Oral sex at that moment would definitely have been my second choice.

So I stroked his prick for now, gently at first, then harder, watching his face as his breath came short. He was still grinning at me, watching me back as I jacked him harder. I wriggled back a little so that I was straddling the top of his legs, but could slide my other hand between them. I played with his balls, feeling their weight in my hand, rolling them gently with my fingers. He gasped at that, eyes closing, and his back arched slightly, so I slowed down again. I didn't want him coming just yet.

More lube and I was slyly inserting a finger into the tight pucker of his anus. His eyes shot open and he gasped again, half in apprehension, half, I hope, in pleasure. I leaned forward and kissed him, gently pushing my finger in further. Lords, but he was hot and tight.

“Starbuck...” his voice was a whisper.

“Just relax,” I said, running my tongue over his lips. “I'll never hurt you. But I need to get you ready for me.”

He swallowed hard and nodded, reaching up with both arms to run his hands down my back to clutch my buttocks, his mouth meeting mine in a long, very satisfying kiss. I was at a hell of an awkward angle, leaning forward to kiss him while keeping both hands busy, but I welcomed the slight discomfort. It dulled my edge a bit, allowed me a bit of self control.

I finger-fucked him gently, revelling in the way his body opened up to me. I could feel him relaxing more as we kissed, feeling the tight anal ring soften and stretch. I raised myself up a fraction, pulling away from that amazing mouth. I could barely wait to feel that tongue on my prick and balls. For dessert. But main course came first.

“Two?” I asked him, holding his gaze. There was no more doubt or fear, just love and hunger and desire. I was delighted to know that I was pleasing him. He nodded agreement, and I inserted the second finger. I gave him a few centons to get used to them before I started scissoring and twisting them to give him pleasure, massaging his prostate with my finger tips. The moan that was torn out of him almost made me come again, there was so much pleasure and delight in it.

He would have moved his arse if he could, but I shifted my weight to keep him still, wanting to intensify what he was feeling, not letting him have even the minimal release that came from moving. Very gently now I got in a third finger, and he made no protest, ready for me this time. As I moved my fingers in and out of his now stretched pucker, I hooked them slightly, and the shudders that went through him almost shook the bed.

“Starbuck…” he managed between the moaning. No sound had ever seemed as sweet as the noise he was making.

“I'm here. That nice?”

“Oh Lords....” he said. I think, from what he said later, that he meant that it was reasonably adequate. He managed to reach up for me and fastened onto my mouth like a leech, moaning even through the frantic kisses. “I want you, Starbuck. I want you right now.”

“Sure?” I teased, twisting my fingers in him and feeling him clutch at me and writhe all at the same time. I took my other hand off his prick, and managed to squeeze the lube over my own. Plenty of it. His experience of anal sex so far had been so horrendous for him, I wanted to make it as easy as I could. The last thing I wanted to do was cause him any more pain or discomfort.

“I could make that an order, Lieutenant,” he said. The loss of my hand stroking his prick made him frown, and he began to jack himself off, using the same gentle rhythm that I had.

“You're still on sick leave” I pointed out, and pushed him back against the pillows. “But never let it be said that I disobeyed a senior officer.” I slid off him and he parted his legs for me, allowing me to kneel between them. I kept up the stimulation with my fingers for a moment then withdrew them gently. Apollo cried out in disappointment, and I laughed.

I lifted his legs onto my shoulders and pressed the tip of my prick against him. He moaned softly and bit his lip as I pressed forward. .

“Slowly!” he said, a note of panic in his voice again.

“I know. I love you,” I said to him as I pushed on into his body. Lords, the heat…. “I love you so much, Apollo.” I pushed forward another inch, then paused, giving him time to get used to it. “If I'm hurting you too much, if you want me to stop, I will,” I promised, and I would have done too. I wanted Apollo only with his whole hearted consent. He'd been raped too often for me to force myself on him. We had to go at his pace, or not at all.

He reached up to put one hand against my face and I could feel him trembling. His fingers stroked my cheek lovingly, and I felt him relax to let me in. “I love you, too, Starbuck, and I've wanted this for a long time. I don't want you to stop.”

I smiled down into his beautiful face as I continued to penetrate him, wanting to see for myself that he was really okay with it. He wasn't afraid any more, I could see that. After a moment or two I was fully in, my balls pressed up against him and he was writhing and moaning underneath me as I filled him.

“What do you want, ‘Pollo?” I asked him between kisses that were steaming me up.

“Just fuck my lights out, Starbuck,” he ordered, breathlessly.

Well he is my immediate commanding officer and as a loyal lieutenant, what could I do but obey? Slow and deep at first, feeling him writhe and shiver, then he was meeting me thrust by thrust, and the pace quickened. He was whimpering now, and I had to bit my bottom lip to hold back the moans and concentrate hard on loving him.

He was so hot and wet and beautiful, and his legs slipped off my shoulders to catch me round the waist and pull me in tighter. It was amazing to watch his whole body shudder and know that I was the cause of it, that my prick thrusting and plunging into him pleased him so much. Amazing to think that we'd been made for this, that there was something so satisfyingly right about making love with Apollo. Not that I did think that then, of course. I was all sensation and emotion, no thought at all.

I leaned forward, taking my weight on my right hand, and using the left to take over jacking him off. I really wanted him just to feel and enjoy, not to have to do any work. He reached up and got both arms around me, his hands caressing my back and buttocks, fingers stroking me and matching our rhythm. I kissed him over and over, loving the taste of him, the way he was clinging to me and the moans of pleasure he was making.

Then, suddenly, he was rhythmically contracting and relaxing all the muscles in his arse and rectum, tightening on me every time I thrust forward. I almost screamed with pleasure. It had never felt so good. But it was too much for me to take for long, and I came hard and hot, shooting hot come juice into him as his arse tightened round me, milking my balls of every last drop. At the same time he came, writhing and gasping.

I just collapsed on top of him, whooping for breath and feeling as if I'd just been made to do a five mile run in a super-thin atmosphere. I couldn't say anything. All I could do was hold him and kiss him. He was panting, holding me close to him, and when I could finally take notice he was watching me through half closed eyes. He looked a little sad as he watched me come back from whatever bit of heaven he'd just propelled me into. I kissed him and slid out of him, reluctant to leave that tight hot place where heaven was, and reached down for the quilt that had been folded neatly at the foot of the bed, drawing it over us. When I pulled him into my arms he sighed and snuggled close.

“I think that was the most wonderful I've ever had,” I managed, feeling his heart beating against me. I was still grinning like an idiot. I hadn't come back from heaven at all. I was holding it in my arms.

“Flatterer.” He sounded breathless. He still wasn't fit after the Barge and the Shadow, and he was taking longer to recover.

“No, I mean it,” I said, looking into those amazing green eyes, wondering why he still looked sad. “What's wrong, love? Did I hurt you?”

“No.” He was adamant about that. “It was wonderful. I didn't think it could feel that good. I'm just…” His voice trailed off and there were unmistakable tears in his eyes.

Apart from the time we were locked up in Life Centre, getting him through withdrawal, the last time I'd seen Apollo cry was when he was kneeling in the sand on Kobol with Serina dying in his arms. He hadn't cried at her Farewell two days later. It was as though something in him had frozen solid when she'd died. Maybe now it was melting again.

“I just wish you'd been the first, that's all,” he said forlornly.

Reese. I wondered if the bastard would always be there between us, as mocking in his (presumed) death as he was in life, gloating that he'd ruined something so precious for Apollo. Maybe Apollo would never be free of him. I sought for something to say that would demonstrate that Reese didn't matter.

“I'd rather be the last,” I said.

Apollo looked at me sharply, then grinned. “No other love but you, you mean? Ever again?”

“That would do for me.” I nodded. “I love you, Apollo. I love you so much, it hurts. I always have, since we were kids at school. My one and only love. I know I'm a bit untrustworthy, a bit chancy.”

“Not with me,” he said quickly. “Not ever with me. I trust you absolutely, Starbuck.”

“That's not what you say when I lose your money at Pyramid,” I said, then I could have kicked myself for reminding him of how they'd set him up.

But he just smiled, and the sad look was lifting. “I trust you absolutely about the things that matter, Starbuck. Things that are important.”

“Then trust me on this one. Reese doesn't matter. I'm sorry that he hurt you, and I wish I'd had the chance to get at him myself for what he did to you, but most of all I'll be sorry if he's taken away any chance of you being happy. Not necessarily with me, although that's what I'd like. You can't let Reese come between you and anyone you might love. You can't let him win.”

There was a long silence. He lay up against me, very still, and I wondered if he'd fallen asleep. Then he sighed. “I keep telling myself that, you know. But he did win, Starbuck. I told you, there were times I begged him to fuck me and times I just loved it when he did.”

“He had to beat you and drug you to get you into that state, Apollo.” I tried to sound as reassuring as I could, knowing that this was what was eating at him, what he saw as his weakness, his failure to resist and endure. “Don't blame yourself over it. If you really think about it, you - the real you - were never willing with Reese. The Shadow was willing, but the real you wasn't even there. From that point of view, you could say I really was your first. The first you consented to of your own free will.”

He was shaking, and for a moment I thought he was crying again, then I realised he was laughing at me. “Given I had to write all your ethics and philosophy essays for you at school, that was pretty impressive.” He kissed me gently. “All right, Starbuck, I'll try. You do make me feel better, as if Apollo is still here, somewhere. I think you're the only person able to find me, you know.”

“Found and coming home?”

“I'll try,” he promised. “And I really did want you to love me tonight.”

“And I did it so well, too,” I prompted him

“Oh, adequate,” he said provocatively. “Lots of practice with tall dark haired men, if what Boomer said was right.”

I felt a surge of gratitude to Boomer. Half an centar before and I'd seriously thought about killing him. “Yes, but I've only ever had sex before tonight.”

He grinned at me. “And there's a difference?”

“Tonight I slept with the person I love, Apollo. It makes one hell of a difference. Tonight I didn't have sex…” I forestalled any smart remark he might make about it being odd, but that he was sure he'd just had some, by kissing him and pulling him closer and tighter. “Tonight I made love, for the first time.”

He smiled at me. Not the taut half-hearted smiles that were all anyone had got out of him since the Barge, but the real laser-bright thing that could burn its way through titanium. Melted me in millimicrons.

“You'd better get used to it, then,” he said. “I love you too.”

I thought about that for a good few centons. I wondered what he meant by it, where we were taking this. I'd hinted at what I wanted, to be with him properly, a couple. He hadn't given me any indication of what his response to that might be. I wondered, too, if this was just a stage in his recovery, some affirmation that Reese hadn't done what Adama feared and left Apollo crippled, emotionally and psychologically.

I knew I'd take this single night that if it was all he could give me, and be proud and happy to have helped him come to terms with the Barge, to have helped him not to feel polluted or despise himself. But, oh Lords, I wanted more. I sounded shy even to my own ears, but I tried to keep my tone light, retain the old Starbuck insouciance.

“Does that mean you'd like to repeat the experience then?”

He sounded very drowsy now, as if he'd had to force himself to answer. “Uh-huh. Soon….forever..”

An instant later I could feel his warm, even breath on my throat as he drifted into sleep.

I just grinned and held him. Nothing with me had been forever, except my friendship with Apollo. Mind you, when you think about it, that was a pretty good omen. I'd settle for whatever he wanted to give me. In the meantime, I told myself not to be greedy, not to push too far. It was enough that this time he hadn't felt pain and violation and humiliation, and that I'd hopefully shown him that loving with another man was not about possession and cruelty. It was enough to know I'd loved him and pleased him, and that he was sleeping in my arms, and for tonight, at least, he'd not need pills to sleep.

It was more than enough. More than that, no-one has the right to ask.

 

 

 

“You,” said Boomer in an inviting tone, “are late. You are, in fact, very late.”

“Sorry.” Starbuck gave him a dazed, happy, sated smile and Boomer could only grin indulgently.

“Luckily for you our acting Strike leader is busy right now, or you'd be up in front of the Colonel on report. Tell me about it when we get out there.” Boomer glanced around the flight deck, knowing that there were too many people around for them to talk properly.

Starbuck nodded and went through his pre-flight checks on automatic pilot and with a very silly grin on his face. Boomer watched him for a micron then shook his head tolerantly, and followed Starbuck around the Viper, doing his own checks. He didn't want any stupid accidents, especially since the two friends he loved best in the world seemed finally to have got it together. Starbuck didn't even seem to notice Boomer's protective moves.

Once launched and heading out to check the next quadrant the fleet would cross, Boomer switched the comline to the private channel. “Well?” he demanded.

“Well.” Starbuck said dreamily. He looked at his instrument panel, but what he saw was a pair of shining green eyes looking into his.

Boomer waited for a centon or two, then sighed. Usually Starbuck was only too ready to give blow by blow accounts of his previous night's escapade. While he didn't really expect Starbuck to treat his night with Apollo in the same way, or to hand out all the salacious details, he did want some confirmation that his little trick had worked.

“When did you leave him?” he asked.

The lieutenant looked over at the Viper coasting along beside him. He was willing to bet that Boomer had a very self satisfied grin on his face.

“About ten centons before I got to the launch bay. He was still asleep.” He gave a happy little sigh. “I could have killed you last night Boomer. I really thought you'd lost your mind.”

“And now?” Boomer was laughing. There'd been the odd moment when he thought he'd lost his mind as well.

“I owe you one, Boom-boom. I owe you the biggest and brightest favour in the known universe. I don't know that I'd ever have plucked up the courage to say anything to him, especially after the Barge.”

“Idiot,” said Boomer, affectionately. “And that goes for both of you. Look, Starbuck, I don't expect - or want - your usual graphic descriptions of your prowess, but I do want to be sure I did the right thing last night.”

“Well I think I must have done a few things right last night. He woke me up at some God-awful early centar this morning for more.” Starbuck's tone was smug. “That doesn't happen very often at my age any more. Very flattering.” He winced slightly as he remembered exactly how Apollo had woken him, but was grinning idiotically as he thought about their second lovemaking, how Apollo's hands and mouth had explored him, inch by inch. Apollo, he thought, had wicked hands. And a very wicked mouth. Sharp teeth, too.

Boomer sighed in relief. “Good. And what next, Starbuck? I mean, was that a one off?”

“Not if I can help it,” said a Starbuck so earnest and fervent, that he sounded as if he were praying.

Boomer laughed. “Good - although you don't need me to tell you that you'd better take things slow. I was pretty sure that all he needed was some reassurance that he's not polluted or disgusting.. he's so damn vulnerable and fragile at the moment. I thought that you'd be able to convince him that he's loved and important to us. I don't think anyone else could get our old Apollo back.”

“Uh-huh,” said Starbuck absently, but he was frowning now, staring out through the clear canopy at the stars wheeling past. There was a long silence while he thought about what Boomer had said.

“Starbuck?” Boomer asked after a few centons, wondering at his silence. Starbuck normally bubbled over with conversation: how he felt, who he was sleeping with, the last Triad game, the last hand at Pyramid, the next game, who he'd be likely to be sleeping with next ... The silence was unusual and unnerving. Boomer hoped that this particular manifestation of unexpectedly requited love would wear off. He was surprised and shocked at Starbuck's tone when he did answer

“I shouldn't have done it, should I?” he said in a dull, guilty tone. “You're right. He is fragile. I took advantage of that.”

“Felgercarb, Starbuck,” Boomer said, robustly.

“Is it? He's ill, Boomer.” Starbuck struggled with it for a centon, ignoring the soothing noises that Boomer was making. “He's come pretty close to a breakdown, and we both know it. What I did last night….Gods, Boom-boom, did I abuse him as badly as Reese did? He'd never given any sign before that he loved me that way, just that he loved me as his best friend….and he'd had a lot to drink… did he just do it to please me?“

“I doubt it,” Boomer said dryly, wondering what in heaven's name had got into his friend. He'd never known Starbuck sound so unconfident. “There's a lot I'd do to please you, Starbuck, but sleeping with you isn't one of them no matter how drunk I get. And I'd definitely not take the trouble to wake you up for more. But then, I only love you as a friend and brother. Apollo's always loved you a great deal more than that, you idiot. He wasn't so drunk that he didn't know what he was doing. And what reason would he have for waking you up unless he wanted you?”

“But what if…”

“Enough with that.” Boomer was very firm. “Apollo would have told you to take a hike if it wasn't what he wanted.”

“I suppose,” Starbuck said in a more hopeful tone.

Boomer shook his head in disgust. “I was prepared to take a lot of emotional conversation today, Starbuck, but I really can't cope with mood swings this extreme. If it comes to it, I think I preferred the sappy grin and vacant expression of a man who had his balls screwed off last night by the person he loves and who loves him. Stick with that, and stop hunting trouble.”

“Well, all right,” Starbuck said, but he didn't sound convinced.

 

 

 

Apollo

Starbuck had gone when I woke up. There was an empty space in the bed beside me where he'd slept, holding me, and an empty Starbuck-shaped space inside of me that ached to feel him again.

I'd woken up earlier, in the middle of the night, for once not thrashing in some nightmare. One of the reasons I was reluctant to have Boxey home is that I didn't like the thought of him being woken by me screaming, something I'd done every night since I'd got out of detox, despite the sleeping pills Salik had given me.

This time I woke gently and easily, aware only that I was safe and warm. I was lying with my head on Starbuck's shoulder. He had one arm around me and his mouth was nuzzling my hair. Now I came to think of it, Starbuck always had a thing about my hair. Whenever he hugged me - and we've always been affectionate friends - he managed to nuzzle my hair. Quite an achievement given that he's only half an inch taller than me. Maybe he stands on tip-toe, or something.

Just the memory of the way he'd made love to me was wonderful. For him I wasn't something to be used, but someone to be loved. What was he'd said? Oh yes, his one and only love. That was nice. That was very nice. So I'd woken him up so that he could prove it to me all over again. I'd used mouth and tongue and teeth. He tasted wonderful when I nibbled on his prick very gently. He'd woken with a yelp.

He complained later about being woken from a deep, restful exhausted sleep by sharp teeth on his one asset in life, but he'd sounded complacent and happy when he said it, so I didn't take his complaints too seriously. I seldom do. We spent a lot of time exploring and touching, kissing and licking before he entered me, gently and lovingly. He took me from behind this time, no pain, just the incredible feeling of him filling me and moving inside me. Heaven. And again I'd slept afterwards, needing no drugs. And no dreams.

Now I was awake, and remembering. For a moment I was lost, disappointed that he wasn't there, then I remembered that he had a patrol. There was no way that I'd have ever accepted a night of wild passion as an excuse for Starbuck being late for patrol - as he'd found out in the past. He'd stood in my office, supposedly at attention although in reality he was slouching up against my desk, looking at me out of spuriously innocent blue eyes that invited me to share the joke, and explained that his gentlemanly manners had prevented him leaving the lady until he'd finished what he'd started. I'd laughed and put him on report. He grumbled about it for a secton.

I was always the one he talked to, you see. He told me about his loves and his conquests, although to do him credit, he spared me the details of his time with Athena. And I'd listen and try not to analyse my reaction, try not to work out what the sudden heat in the groin, the lurch somewhere in the region of the heart really meant.

It was a long time before I admitted to myself that what I felt was jealousy and desire. It was a long time before I admitted to myself that although I knew he'd never thought about me that way - he treated me more like the brother he'd never had - I loved Starbuck. And not as a brother. It was even longer before I thought that I'd managed to get rid of those feelings, that I'd trampled them down and killed them off by concentrating on being his best friend, his brother, there to share the ambrosa and the Triad triumphs, or finance the pyramid scheme that was always the one that couldn't fail, that would make us rich. Being what Starbuck wanted me to be.

When Reese decided that it would be fun to break me and use me, and my treacherous body responded to the man, I'd lie on that narrow bunk, still tied, my arse throbbing from the bastard's penetrations and the violence with which he'd taken me. And I'd think about how much I wished it had been Starbuck, that it had been his legs wrapped around mine, his prick sliding into me, his teeth biting gently at my shoulders and neck. Not that Reese was ever gentle and he'd scarred me for life. But pretending it was Starbuck made it more bearable.

Later, of course, I didn't care. The Shadow saw to that. I'd have offered myself to anyone who wanted me if they had my next hit in their hands, and I'd lost count of the number of times I'd begged Reese to fuck me, to use me any way he wanted, to do it harder .. as long as he gave me a hit afterwards. I'd been so weak, given in so easily, been so worthless, and I really thought that it had cut me off from any hope of loving anyone, of anyone loving me. Of Starbuck loving me. That's what burned at me.

Until last night. The burning stopped last night. I laughed as I thought about that. Maybe Starbuck's copious ejaculations had put that particular fire out, but all I knew was that I was feeling okay about myself again. Not wonderful, but okay. Reese might have scarred me, but he hadn't crippled me. Not unless I let him, and after last night I wasn't about to do that. If Starbuck still loved me enough to want me, then there was still some value in me, something worthwhile. I - we - could have a future. But only if I did something about it. It wouldn't be easy but I had a father who knew more moralistic sayings than the average preacher. And Dad said that nothing worthwhile was easy.

So I got up and showered and dressed. I'd got out of the habit of eating properly and it took a bit of an effort to choke down a little food. Not too much. It was almost lunchtime, and I had something to do after I'd seen Doctor Salik, and I didn't want to spoil things. Salik wasn't expecting to see me that early, but I think he was glad to. He talked to me for about an centar before agreeing to what I wanted, but only if I saw him daily for a counselling session. I agreed to that, although this first session had been hard for me. It's never been easy for me to speak of what I feel, even to those I love and I'm close to, but if that was the price I paid for some sort of normality, I'd pay it. Besides, we both knew how close I'd come to losing it, to being a headcase. He didn't think that would happen, now. I knew it wouldn't. Starbuck wouldn't let it.

I hadn't been on the Bridge - or anywhere near it - since I'd got out of Life Centre. I'd avoided going anywhere really, but especially areas where I'd run into pilots or bridge crew who knew me well. I knew that most people knew I'd been beaten and drugged, and that the medics had had to get me through detox after I was freed. I couldn't have borne it to see the pity in their eyes - or maybe the contempt. Pride, I suppose, but I don't know any man who enjoys confronting his weakness and realising his vulnerability, and then having his failure to deal with it made public. I'd thought I'd never live it down. Now I was less worried, a bit more confident. I met quite a few people on the way, and all of them said how glad they were to see me and that they hoped I was better. I detected concern, which was nice, but not the pity I feared.

Dad's expression when I walked out of the turbolift was a picture. Apprehension, anxiety, fear - I was probably the last person he'd expected to come out when the lift doors opened. Athena, too, was staring at me anxiously, and I reflected that their lives since getting me out of prison hadn't exactly been unalloyed joy. And Boxey - I had a lot to make up to Boxey.

I smiled at Athena and then at Dad. “Hello,” I said.

He swallowed hard. I think he'd given up on me ever coming out of my quarters, ever coming out from behind the barriers I'd put up between myself and the outside.

“Apollo,” he said, still not knowing whether to smile or be frightened for me. “Are you all right?”

I considered that. “No,” I said. “Not yet. But I'm better. Much better. I wondered if you had time to take me to lunch?”

He smiled then, a huge heart-warming smile of relief and I did feel better. “The officer's mess?”

I nodded. “It's time I came out of hiding, but I need some moral support. I can't think of anyone better qualified to provide it.”

“Better even than Starbuck?” he asked with a wide grin.

“He provides the immoral support,” I said, wondering what he knew, or guessed. I'm not sure I've ever been able to fool him, and I think he's probably the only person other than Boomer who knows how I feel about Starbuck. But he won't say anything, not until I do.

“That I'm sure of,” Dad said, tone dry. He turned to Colonel Tigh, who was grinning at me. He looked pleased to see me as well, which surprised me a bit. I never thought he was that fond of me. “Colonel, you have the com. I'm taking my son to lunch, and I don't want to be disturbed, even if the entire Cylon war machine hits us.”

“Understood, Commander,” Tigh said, and for a man who probably wouldn't get any lunch himself as a result, he looked pretty okay about it.

Athena broke bridge protocol to leave her station for a moment to come and hug me. She said nothing, obviously not sure whether to laugh or cry, but I knew what she wanted to say but couldn't in front of all those very interested witnesses. She got back into her place before Tigh could remember to be outraged at her lack of decorum and discipline.

Dad laughed at that as he put an arm around me as we got into the lift. “I know how she feels,” he said when we were alone. “I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever get you back, little son.”

Little son. That was always a sign of unusual emotion with him. It wasn't that he hadn't been an affectionate father, but he'd been away so much when we were growing up that he'd missed out on a lot. He'd always seemed surprised when he came home on furlough to find that I'd grown a few more inches, and was positively dismayed when on one home leave I'd told him, firmly, that I was far too old for nicknames any more, flatly refusing to answer to the one I'd had since I was born.

Now I was a bit worried that in an emotional moment he'd regress to that old nickname, so I said quickly. “I know. I'm sorry - I must have been pretty difficult to live around.”

“We were all worried about how withdrawn you became, Apollo. We understood it, but it worried us.”

I nodded. “I've been pretty depressed,” I admitted, with what I knew was masterly understatement. “But there was something Starbuck said to me last night..”

“Oh?”

Well, obviously I couldn't tell him everything that Starbuck had said last night. He definitely had to have an edited version.

“That I'd wallowed in self pity long enough and I was beginning to get boring. He was right. I don't think, you know, that I was really out of prison. I've been carrying my prison around with me for the last six sectons. First in the point of a needle, then inside my head.”

“A little blunter than I was expecting, but obviously effective.” Dad was laughing. Starbuck's talent for cutting through the felgercarb had always amused him - when he was off-duty. “So you decided that it's time to come out of prison and start living again?”

“Starbuck will only let me be boring for so long,” I said wryly. “Then he takes action.”

We were at the mess door, and I hesitated, stopped. Too many people to face. Maybe it was too soon. Maybe I wasn't ready after all.. but Dad turned to me and smiled encouragingly.

“It'll be all right, Apollo. They all understand. They've been waiting for you to come back, too. They'll be glad to see you.” He knew, of course, that Starbuck had once persuaded me that far, then I'd cut and run. “I'll be there with you, son.”

My father has always been important to me. All my life, I've had this thing about never wanting to disappoint him, wanting his approval, wanting him to be proud of me. That left me with no choice. So I nodded, took a very deep breath and went in with him.

The place was reasonably full, and I knew each and every person in there. Jolly was there, and Sheba, Giles, Greenbean. Bojay. No Starbuck and Boomer: they'd still be on patrol. They all saw me - hell, everyone saw me and for a micron the place went very quiet, then they were calling hello and grinning at me. Well, maybe not Bojay, but he was always jealous, right back to the time we were at the Academy and I got better grades than him. And since then, he'd been resentful about the fact that I was Strike Leader and because Sheba liked me.

So everyone grinned a welcome, and Bojay's smile was little sour. I could live with that. I didn't like him much either. Besides, I had Starbuck now. Sheba would lose what little interest in me she had left once that news seeped out and that might remove one reason for his antagonism. I wouldn't bet on it though.

“Good to see you, Skipper,” Jolly said heartily as we passed their table. My usual table, and my friends were all beaming at me. Except the aforementioned Bojay. He managed a tight little grin.

I grinned back, hoping I was ruining his appetite. He'd wanted my job ever since he'd got onto the Galactica, and I just loved putting a spoke in that wheel. I let Dad go on past me to his table, and stayed with them for a centon. I was shaking a bit, but they considerately ignored that. They all tried not to stare at the scar, either.

“How are you, Apollo?” Sheba asked, brown eyes warm with concern. She leaned forward to put her hand on my arm and I managed not to jump.

“Better.” I knew they'd only been told about the beatings and the drugs, and that my recovery was so slow because I'd reacted badly to the stuff Salik was giving me to counteract the effects of the Shadow. Well that was true enough, and if they all guessed it was because I'd also almost ended up a head case, none of them would ever say anything.

“Good,” said Greenbean. “We've missed you, Skipper.” Bojay must have loved hearing that. “ When are you coming back to work?”

“Soon, I hope.” I took another deep breath. “As soon as Salik's sure that the worst of the crap's out of my system.”

I was a bit worried about mentioning the Shadow We'd all flown with pilots who'd cracked up under the pressure and used various exotic chemicals to try and keep going. Not only did such idiots eventually and inevitably get themselves killed, they usually managed to take a few of their squadmates with them. No-one trusted them and no-one wanted to fly with them. I'd always grounded any pilot I found using hard drugs, no excuses. Hell, I'd even grounded Starbuck for a couple of days once when I caught him smoking a spiked fumarillo. I wondered how the Galactica's pilots would feel about flying with me. But they all beamed and Bojay looked glum.

“Soon we hope, as well,” Giles said, and there were nods of agreement.

“Join us in the OC after lunch?” Jolly asked quietly. He knew me better than the others. We went right back to the Academy. He could see how edgy I was.

“I'll see,” I said, making no promises, and gestured to my father. “I'd better….”

“We'll see you later, Apollo,” Jolly said, comfortable and comforting. “When you're ready.” Jolly understood. He was a good friend.

I grinned and left them, joining Dad. I had to say hello to quite a few people on the way, and by the time I got to his table I was feeling quite good.

“All right?” he asked

“Mmn. I seem to be a lot more popular than I remember.”

“People like happy endings,” he said. “Maybe one day we'll be able to give them all one, on Earth. In the meantime, Apollo, what happened? Yesterday seemed such a bad day for you that I was about ready to despair.”

“Starbuck,” I said. “Starbuck happened. He managed to convince me that…” I paused, fought for calm and achieved it, kept my voice to its normal tones. “..that what happened, that what Reese did doesn't affect the real me, the real Apollo. I'm starting to believe that myself. I've been to see Salik today.”

Dad's expression brightened visibly. “For counselling?”

I could understand his relief. I'd refused all help before, adamantly and none too graciously. “Yes. I'm to go back every day, and at the end of next secton he'll decide if I'm fit for duty again. Not for flying of course - that'll take a lot longer before he's sure that I'm over the Shadow and won't look for a hit the micron I get stressed. I'm not fit enough to fly yet - I know that. I still feel pretty horrible from the remoxifen - don't you think that it's ironic that the stuff that's intended to make me well actually makes me abominably ill, while the Shadow made everything bearable?”

“But it was killing you, Apollo, destroying you.” He looked slightly anxious, wondering if I was really committed to staying clean, I think.

“There's a downside to everything.” I grinned at him and tried to reassure him. “I'm glad to be off the stuff, Dad, but all I'm saying is that I recognise that the physical effects are going to take me a while to get over. But Salik thinks that in a secton or two I'll be fit enough to run the squadrons again while I re-qualify as a pilot. That's if the job's still mine?” He was staring at me, and that unnerved me a bit. I'd just die if they'd given Bojay the job permanently.

He couldn't say anything for a centon as the mess steward brought our rations, but as soon as the man was out of ear shot, he was leaning forward and grinning. I think he had despaired of ever seeing me reasonably normal again. His hand touched my cheek briefly, where Reese had caught my face with the riding quirt that time, his fingers tracing the thin scar gently

“You're damn right it's yours,” he said forcefully, and I grinned at his language. He rarely if ever swore even mild little oaths like that.

“And Boxey - it's time he came home.”

Dad laughed and nodded. “He'll be delighted. He's been very good, Apollo, and he's tried hard to understand that you've been ill and couldn't manage with him home. But he needs his father back and he's a little insecure at the moment. He's had a few nightmares about them taking you away again.”

“I've had a few myself,” I said, struggling with the rations. One of Salik's conditions before I could be allowed back on duty was that I regained some weight, so I had to get back into the habit of eating properly. Besides, I didn't know if Starbuck had enjoyed making love to a stick insect. He seems to love me just as I am, but he'd probably prefer taking something less bony to bed. And that reminded me that I really ought to start getting to the gym and try and get fit again. There's nothing wrong with being breathless and helpless after the best sex you've ever had in your life - Starbuck was, I hope, properly flattered - but I was only thirty and so unfit after the Barge and the Shadow that I'd be lucky if I had the recovery time of a man twice my age. The recovery time of the man sitting opposite me, in fact, if Dad had a sex life, which I rather doubted. He's always been a bit straight laced. I realised he was still talking to me about Boxey, and focused rapidly on what he was saying. I didn't want to have to explain what had distracted me.

“….sure you'll be able to cope?” he was saying. “He can stay with me for a bit longer if you like.”

“Boxey and me will manage, Dad, maybe with a little help. From that damned droid, I expect.” I'd been less than delighted that Boxey had reactivated Muffit while I was on the Barge. I really regretted getting Wilker to create the blasted thing in the first place, but Boxey had needed it at the time of the Destruction, and me trying to help Boxey had brought me and Serina together. I'd hoped he'd outgrown it. I could understand why he'd reactivated Muffit, but I hoped that a few sectons of normality would see the obnoxious little robot returned to a box somewhere under Boxey's bed.

Dad evidently thought so too. “He needed Muffit when you were away, it comforted him.. If you're really back, Apollo, he'll soon outgrow it again. “

“Well I think I'm back,” I said, thinking back to the long conversation with Salik. “Today's a good day, the best since I got out. Salik says there may be less good days, but that I appear to be over the worst.” I said that in Salik's own fussy, precise tone, and Dad laughed. “So I'll pick Boxey up from school this afternoon, Dad and maybe take him to the Rejuvenation Centre for a couple of centars. I need to spend some time with him; start making up for what we lost.”

“That's a good idea. Do you want him home tonight?”

I shook my head. I had other plans for tonight and they didn't involve having a curious eight-yahren old around. I wanted to see Starbuck and, amongst other things - most definitely amongst other things - decide how we were going to play this. How Starbuck was to become a part of mine and Boxey's lives, how we'd handle telling him, and Dad and our friends. “There's something I need to do tonight. Is it okay if he comes home tomorrow?”

“Fine,” Dad said. “Just fine” And he smiled at me a bit mistily, as if he'd really like to cry as well. “Welcome home, little son. I'm glad you're finally back”

I grinned back. “Me, too.” Then I fixed him with my finest cold eyed stare, the one I'd learned from Boxey. My son is a master at the contemptuous look that children always reserve for bumbling adults. “ ‘Little son' I can just about handle, Dad, but don't you dare call me Appy!”

 

 

 

Boomer was pretty fed up with Starbuck. Despite his reassurances, Starbuck was still chewing on whether he'd been wrong to make love with Apollo the previous night, still worrying about Apollo and the effect it might have on him, coming so close after the rapes on the Barge.

He'd called Apollo's quarters the micron they'd landed, and now was worrying that he'd got no answer. And then he got started on worrying that since Apollo wasn't on duty, he wouldn't be carrying a communications link and so Starbuck couldn't get Core Command to call him…. After about the fiftieth time of Starbuck asking him if he thought, really, that Apollo was all right and where he thought Apollo could be, Boomer threw his helmet at him in frustration and frog-marched him to the OC. He even managed to outtalk Starbuck on the way, telling him - repeatedly- that he had nothing to worry about.

“And if you don't believe me, old friend, why don't you ask him ?” Boomer nodded towards their usual table, smiling suddenly when he saw Apollo in his old place, seemingly perfectly normal, talking quietly with Jolly. He watched Starbuck light up as if someone had thrown a switch. Subtle, Starbuck wasn't. Boomer grinned when he saw Apollo glance up and return the smouldering gaze that his lover had turned on him. The Captain, though, had a little more self control.

“Hi,” he said, as Starbuck dropped into the seat beside him.

Starbuck blinked at that. It was all he could do not to throw himself on Apollo and smother him with kisses - only Apollo's shyness and reserve in public and the absolute certainty that the Captain would put him onto permanent report if he did, stopped him. But for the life of him he couldn't match that casual greeting.

“Are you all right?” he asked urgently

Apollo smiled at him, slightly puzzled by Starbuck's intensity. “I'm fine, Starbuck.”

“I mean, about last night,” Starbuck said in a low voice, and Jolly gave him a curious look.

“He means that he's worried that he shouldn't have done it,” Boomer explained. “He'd done nothing but worry me about it for centars. I came pretty close to ramming a laser torpedo up his thrusters, but I thought you might be mad at me if I did.”

“Idiot,” said Apollo trenchantly, grinning at Starbuck

Starbuck sighed and relaxed, unaware that the dazed, sappy grin was back. All he was aware of was that beautiful face smiling at him. “Sure?”

Apollo's hand slipped under the table to rest on Starbuck's leg. The lieutenant choked slightly at the touch, wondering if he'd come in his pants, right there and then. Apollo's fingers ran lightly up his thigh and found his burgeoning erection. Starbuck swallowed a sudden lump in his throat as he thought about what that touch promised. In desperation he pushed that thought away and concentrated hard on the memory of the matron of his last children's home. It would take several centons of deep breathing and thinking about the matron, who'd had more of a beard than most men he'd met, before he'd be able to stand up without committing the worst possible social gaffe.

“Very sure.” Apollo grinned at him, and his long fingers gently stroked the hardness inside Starbuck's pants. The lieutenant eyes bulged slightly. “I'm just fine, about last night and this morning.”

“Are you all right, Starbuck?” Jolly asked interestedly, wondering what the hell was going on.

Starbuck nodded vigorously, incapable of speech.

Boomer was trying very hard not to laugh: he had a pretty shrewd idea about what Apollo was up to. “So fine you've sneaked out to drink with Jolly as soon as our backs are turned?” he asked.

“We're celebrating. I've been to see Salik today. He thinks I might be able to come back to work soon.”

Boomer stared, then looked at Starbuck with deepening respect. The change in Apollo was miraculous - he just hoped it was permanent. And to think that Starbuck had wrought this miracle in only one night…. Boomer began to reconsider his assertion that he'd draw the line at sleeping with Starbuck. The lieutenant's reputation was evidently not exaggerated.

“Lord, Apollo, that's good,” Starbuck croaked. He himself didn't know if he meant Apollo's news or what Apollo's hand was doing. Starbuck breathed a bit easier as Apollo squeezed his leg and then took his hand away. He thought hard about the matron for a centon or two.

“I think so,” Apollo said in a complacent tone, and he definitely meant what he'd found in Starbuck's pants. “Of course, we're not all celebrating.”

He nodded at a morose-looking Bojay who was talking earnestly to Sheba at another table. Sheba looked as though she was trying hard to be patient with him.

“I hate to say this, since it sounds like crawling to a senior officer, but come back soon, Apollo,” Jolly said. “Before Bojay drives us all to despair. Do you know he chewed me out this morning because, he says, the side roll we all do when we get out of the launch tubes is 'unmilitary'.“

Apollo had instituted the manoeuvre after seeing how the Cylons had picked off launching Vipers like sitting ducks at Cimtar. He thought that the roll at least gave the pilots a sporting chance if someone was waiting outside to bag them.

He raised an eyebrow. “His problem's guilt,” he said. “That's why he's such a stickler for the Regs these days.”

“How did you work that one out?” asked Boomer. Starbuck was gazing at Apollo open mouthed with patent adoration, and Boomer felt compelled to try and cover for the lieutenant's unusual and unnatural silence.

“Because they weren't around at Cimtar. They'd already deserted.” Apollo's judgement of Cain's actions had softened very little since the Pegasus' second disappearance. He disapproved strongly of Cain's decision to take off on his own to fight the Cylons.

“Better not let Sheba hear you say that or she'll shoot you out of the nearest airlock,” warned Jolly. “I don't care what his problem is as long as he goes and has it somewhere else. I'd hate to be in his squadron. So make it soon, skipper. We've missed you.”

“Nice,” said Apollo, and grinned. He glanced at his chronometer. “Oh-oh, I'd better go and collect Boxey from school. I want to take him to the Rejuv centre for a couple of centars.” He looked at Starbuck and said casually. “I'll be handing him back to Dad at about seven.”

Starbuck blinked and nodded. “I might drop in later then,” he said, trying to match Apollo's calm.

“Good. I'll see you then. Boomer?”

“I have no wish to be gooseberry,” said Boomer with dignity. “Besides, I'm taking your sister to the Rising Star for dinner.”

The green eyes hardened for a centon as Apollo considered that. He was famously protective about Athena. She alleged, with some bitterness and perfect truth, that he had chased away more potential boyfriends than a rabid guard-daggit. But this time he nodded, satisfied. Boomer was okay. He was trustworthy.

“Fine. You enjoy yourselves.”

“You never used to say that to me when I was dating Athena,” complained Starbuck. “You always warned me that if I laid a finger on her, you'd kick me around the flightdeck a dozen times before putting me on deep space probes for twenty yahrens.”

“With good reason,” Apollo said, not liking to say in public that his main problem with Starbuck dating Athena had been sheer unreasoning jealousy of his younger sister. He got to his feet. “But I can trust Boomer. See you later.”

Starbuck watched him go and sighed loudly. Boomer's eyes rolled heavenwards in despair. Most definitely, Starbuck was not subtle and he had it very, very badly. He might as well wear a flashing neon sign on his head.

“It's good to see Apollo out of his shell at last,” Jolly said. “I was definitely worried about him. He seemed to be taking so long to get over it.”

“That crap really messed him up, and you know how he's always felt about drugs,” said Boomer, since Starbuck still seemed dumb with happiness. “He may never be quite the same, but he's getting pretty close to our old Apollo.”

Starbuck sighed again and turned that bright, dazed smile onto his two friends. Before he could speak, Apollo reappeared in the doorway and the sight reduced him to a besotted silence.

“Oh and Starbuck…” Apollo called across the length of the OC. “Don't forget. Be prepared.”

Starbuck just melted.

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