(or five scenes from Fleet Captain Apollo's life in which he felt constrained by circumstances, and one in which he didn't)

 

Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. 
Kurt Vonnegut Jr

 

 

Scene the first:  in which our hero, at a tender age, is reminded of the exigency of religion, especially when it raises parental expectations

Apollo was happy that it was summer.  No school and every day spent down in their own private cove beneath their house, or playing with his friends on the public beaches or eating picnics and ice-creams that always got gritty with sand or persuading Mama to tell Duncan to leave his precious garden and take Apollo out in the boat that he wasn't allowed to use without a grown-up with him and float out on the ocean for centars watching for migrating whales—what wasn't there to be happy about?  Every day was bright with sunshine and endless with possibility.  Summer, when he wasn't spending Tenth-day in Chapel, was a lot of fun.

Tenth-day, though, was boring.  Chapel was hot and the air inside the dim-lit old building with its soaring roof and coloured glass windows was thick and still, heavy with the smoke of incense and candles.  The air-con was old, Mama said, and on the fritz again; your father's going to have to donate a new one.  She used a pretty little sandalwood fan to create a cool draught.  She had soaked it in cold water before they left home, wrapping it in silk so that it stayed damp and cooled the air as she fanned herself, the moving air stirring her pretty hair.  Athena leaned on Mama's knee to share it, sniffing to get the scent of the sandalwood; it was lighter than the smell of incense, more summery and less intense.  There wasn't room for Apollo—or Zac, either, although Zac never complained about being too hot—so his hair was heavy and damp on his forehead, held down for once by its own weight.  His best clothes felt scratchy and too tight.

They were at the silent part of the service and everyone was meant to be reflecting on themselves and on the Lords.  Zac was too young, at only four, to know what he was supposed to do but he'd learned to sit quiet, the only outlet for his restless energy the steady kicking of one foot against the marble wall  their pew butted up against.  He wasn't making a noise, so Apollo left him to it. 

Apollo tried to think of the things Father Diogenes had explained he should think about when it came to Silent Worship, the things he had to do to be good: not grumbling about sums at school, working hard to get top marks, walking Athena to her ballet lesson after school to save Mama from having to do it or Duncan having to drive her there, playing with Zac without being told to despite him really being too little to play with the big boys, not minding when he had to take care of Athena and Zac and look after Mama because his father was away so much fighting the Cylons.  But it was too hot to think about those things.  Besides, there was no school for sectons and his dad was home for a holiday.  There wasn't any point in thinking about it all.  Instead, he watched a bee butt its black head against the red-stained cloak of one of the Lords in the big picture window at the end of their pew.  The bee was only trying to get through the ruby-red glass to the light and air outside.  It didn’t understand that it was trapped and it kept butting and buzzing, making the heaviness of Chapel even heavier.

Zac slid a little bit further down on the pew, twisting until he was half-lying, his head on Apollo's arm.  Silent Worship was almost over, and Father Diogenes was climbing the steps to the carved wooden pulpit, and in a centon his voice rolled out over the congregation, once rich and full, now quavering occasionally as age betrayed him.  Apollo wasn't allowed to laugh when Father Diogenes' voice wobbled, although he and Athena usually looked at each other and grinned, and Athena would scrunch her white gloves up in her hand and bring them up to her mouth to hide it while her eyes crinkled and laughed above them.

The sermon went on for a long time.  Apollo didn’t really listen because the priest used ordinary Standard for this part, not the Kobolian of the main service and responses.  Apollo loved the sound of Kobolian, at once strange and familiar, and spent a fair proportion of the service picking out the meanings of the old words.  History and Kobolian were his two favourite lessons at school.  Listening to that ancient tongue and trying to speak it promised him a world that didn’t exist here on Caprica but lay out in the stars somewhere, millions and millions of light-yahrens distant and thousands of yahrens in their past. 

The sermon droned on.  Athena was drooping, and Mama had taken the wet silk she'd wrapped her fan in and was rubbing it gently over Athena's forehead.  Apollo shifted slightly on the hard wooden seat, but he had to be careful because Zac's head was heavy on his arm now as Zac slipped into sleep.  He was too little to come to a full service without sleeping, really.  Athena, neither; she was only a couple of yahrens older than Zac and she was yawning and smiling sleepily at Mama. 

It took Apollo a centon or two to shift Zac until his head was pillowed on Apollo's knees.  Beyond Mama, at the aisle-end of the long pew, Dad stirred and turned his head, frowning.  He made a movement, as if he'd get up and reach for Zac, to take him from Apollo.  Alarmed, Apollo tightened his hold, but Mama shook her head.

"Apollo will manage," she said, softly, under cover of Father Diogenes sermon.  "Apollo's very good at looking after him."  She smiled at Apollo.

Apollo relaxed, not sure why he hadn't liked the thought of giving Zac up to Dad.  It was Apollo's job to look after Zac; Apollo's responsibility.  Besides, Zac was shyer than he seemed and Apollo knew that he was a bit frightened of Dad, who was just too big and strange and… and there. Zac was too little to remember the last time Dad was home, and he was always a bit wary of strangers.  It didn't last long, Apollo knew; the instant Zac had worked out that the stranger was all right, he'd revert to being loud and noisy and so energetic that Mama always said it was like someone had wired him into the national power grid.

When the sermon was over, Apollo shook Zac awake and helped him stand for the final hymn, holding him until he was steady on his short legs.  Zac made no pretence at singing but he held a hymnbook open and turned the pages over solemnly, blinking still-sleepy eyelids.  Apollo found the right page in Athena's hymnbook for her, but she liked just humming along with the tune, not bothering with the words, her gaze turned up to the high, hammer-beamed roof with its gilded angel corbels.

Finally Father Diogenes processed down the aisle, following the altar boys swinging censors of incense, to take up his station at the door.  He had a word for all the congregation.  Apollo's family was last out, and the priest lit up when he saw that Apollo's father was with them.  "My dear Adama," he said, shaking hands, "I'm delighted to see you back."  And then there was a long few centons to wait through while Apollo's parents talked to the priest.

Apollo sighed.  He and the others were still inside Chapel, the grown-ups blocking the door to the outside.  Zac, wide awake now, jumped up and down on the spot, counting how many jumps he could do before Mama turned around to tell him not to.  Apollo didn’t try to stop him; he knew that Zac needed to get the kinks out of his legs and he wasn't doing any harm.  Athena was still humming the hymn tune and smiling up at the angels holding up the roof.  Apollo stared past his father's tall shape to the sun-bright world outside and thought about lunch, and freedom, and even if he wouldn't be allowed to meet his friends on the public beach, he could take a book or a game down to their own cove and spend a happy afternoon out there in the sun.  He didn’t look up at the dark roof the way Athena did.  He didn’t like the angels much and he wanted to get outside, to get away.

"… very well behaved," said Father Diogenes, approvingly.  He stepped up to Apollo and laid his heavy hand on Apollo's head for a micron while he mumbled the Kobolian blessing.  "Apollo does a sterling job of keeping young Zac in order."

He only said that because Apollo had stopped Zac jumping long enough to be blessed, but Apollo's father nodded and looked pleased.  Mama smiled at Apollo.

"I rely on him a lot while Adama's away," she said.

Apollo smiled back at the Father politely, wishing they'd just hurry it up and they could go home where Hanna, Duncan's wife, would have lunch ready.  He was hungry.  He wished he was little enough to jump around like Zac until it was time to go.  There wasn't much fun in standing around waiting.  He looked outside and sighed. 

That's when Father Diogenes ruined Apollo's life.

"So, I was wondering if Apollo would like to be an altar boy?"

Shocked, Apollo shot a look at his parents.  Of course he didn't want to be an altar boy!  That would mean coming for the evening service as well, and his parents didn't expect that of him although they went themselves.  Worse, it meant being up at the altar through the whole service, doing things with everyone watching him, everyone looking at him.  He couldn't do that!  He couldn't do things with people watching him!  Really he couldn't.  He'd be sick.  Besides, who would look after Zac?  He grimaced at his mother, trying to tell her.

"He's only ten, you know, Dio," said Dad.

"But very responsible for his age," said the Father.  "He'll be an excellent altar boy."

They smiled at him, all of them.  His parents looked pleased and proud, and Father Diogenes looked like he was giving Apollo a present or something.

"Uh," said Apollo, his mouth opening.

"Well," said his father, gravely.  "It's an honour, Dio.  An very great honour and we appreciate it and what it says about how much you value Apollo."

"B-bu—" stammered Apollo.  "B-"

"Apollo will be very proud and pleased," said his father.  "Won't you, son?"  He dropped a hand on Apollo's shoulder and squeezed.  "I'm very proud of you," he said.

Apollo looked from Mama to his father to Father Diogenes.  He swallowed.  He didn't know how he could get out of it.  His mother looked like she might cry, but she was smiling.  His Dad had his chest puffed out and was smirking.  His Dad wanted Apollo to be an altar boy.  That meant Apollo would be an altar boy.  Mama always said that he mustn't disappoint Dad.

Athena, wide-eyed, pointed to the altar boys waiting in the porch for Father Diogenes to finish so they could process back up the aisle.  They wore long robes, less ornate versions of the ones the Father wore. 

"You'll have to wear a dress," she said, and giggled.

Apollo thought that if he was as little as Zac or Athena he might cry, but he wasn't as little as them, so he couldn't.  Instead he set his mouth really hard and stared unhappily out at the sunshine and let his eyes sting for a micron or two.  He didn’t say anything other than a polite "T-thank you, Father," when his father prompted him, and the grownups all laughed, telling each other he was modest and shy and would be just perfect in his new role.

The bee, attracted by the light and finally realising it wouldn't escape through the glass and that the doors had opened on freedom, buzzed past his ear and was out of the door, safe.

 

^+^+^+^+^+^+^+^

 

Scene the second:  in which our hero expresses some forlorn hopes for the future and Commander Cain displays his capacity for empathy, to no great surprise at the nature of the Commander's intervention but with just the effect he was looking for

Apollo was delighted when he was told that he'd won the Arian Scholarship to the Kobolian Institute.  It was an incredible honour, to be allowed to study at the Institute and he could hardly wait.  He was less happy that the formal notification arrived two days before the annual get together took place for the Academy Graduation Parade.  He'd hoped it would come after it was all over and his father was back on the Galactica so they could get the fight over at a distance.  Because if he knew one thing, it was that his father was going to be disappointed.

His father seldom missed a Parade, taking the opportunity to come home to watch the cadets become pukka officers and spend time with the old friends who, a bazillion yahrens before, had gone through the ceremony with him and who, like him, came back each yahren.  It was convenient, Dad said, because the annual Parade fell midway between Athena's birthday and Zac's, so the family could celebrate both quite happily while he was there.  Apollo's birthday was out of that equation, but he'd long since stopped letting that bother him.  His father usually salved his conscience over the omission by making sure that Apollo's present was more then usually generous.  Yahrens ago, when he was a kid about Athena's age, Apollo had decided that in some circumstances he could be bought.  The four birthdays since then had been profitable.  The next one would be, too.

Apollo hated Graduation Parades.  Having all his toenails extracted with hot pincers would be less painful an ordeal than sitting through Parade and lunch afterwards.  They were so boring.  And his father's friends were all… all hearty and bluff and, in most cases, almost overpoweringly jovial and when they weren't jovial they were a bit scary, like Apollo's godfather, Uncle Voss, who was also the Supreme Commander and had very cold grey eyes.  Apollo cringed whenever his Dad's friends noticed him enough to josh him by telling him that it wouldn't be long before he'd be the one out there with the Sword of Honour, eh?

About five yahrens.  Never.  Apollo scowled.

"Not long at all," said Adama.  "He'll be seventeen next yahren."

Apollo didn't say much.  There wasn't much he could say as his father's cronies laughed and slapped Adama on the back and told him he was getting to be an old man, with his eldest boy almost a cadet.  More than once he thought that one or two them (never Uncle Voss, thankfully) might even go so far as to slap him on the back too, and he had to mooch behind his mother to get out of range.

They were all old men, thought Apollo scornfully, and sort of stupid with it. 

Commander Cain was one of Apollo's father's greatest friends and the worst of the lot.  He was bigger than anyone else, bluffer than anyone else and louder than anyone in the entire twelve Colonies.  Commander Cain always came back to the house with them to stay the night, and he always brought his family with him.  Apollo didn't mind Aunt Beth, who was pretty and clever, and he knew Mama looked forward to her visit.  But Cain's family meant Cain's daughter.

Having a twelve-yahren-old sister was bad enough.  Having a twelve-yahren-old sister and Sheba was a trillion times worse and they just wouldn't leave him be.  Zac was too much a kid for them to bother with him, and, besides, Zac did what Zac wanted to do and even though he was only ten, the universe bent itself around him.  Apollo's mother wouldn't help run interference for him because she was too busy with Aunt Beth.  All Mama did was raise an eyebrow and say she was sure he could cope with a couple of young girls. 

Apollo wasn't so sure.  Athena usually didn't bother him except giggle and be a bit too girly, but Sheba, a yahren older, seemed to be within a couple of feet of Apollo every time he turned around.  She giggled a lot, more than Athena.  And every time he looked at her, she did this strange little wriggling shimmy with non-existent hips that might have interested Apollo a bit if she'd been his own age and had a chest.  But her chest was as negligible as her hips and the whole thing made him feel queasy.

Mama wasn't much help over the scholarship, either, which was much more to the point.  "He knows you've got it," she said, "because I told him when he arrived this morning.  I know he hasn’t had time to say anything yet, but he's very proud of you."

"Yeah," Apollo said, "but what'll he do about it?"

Mama paused.  Aunt Beth and the girls were with Hanna in the big kitchen, helping get dinner, while Mama was in the dining room, setting the huge table.  Apollo was supposed to be helping.  She put down the silverware to give him her full attention.  He liked that about Mama, the way she focused on the important things.  "What do you want him to do about it?" she asked.

Apollo shrugged.

"You want to take up the scholarship at the Kobolian, don't you?"

"Yeah," he admitted.

"Is it really that important, Apollo?  You know it's going to cause trouble."

"Yeah."

"He won't be very pleased about you not going to the Academy next yahren."

"Yeah."

She tapped him impatiently on the nose with one beautifully-manicured finger.  "Apollo, can you at least try to articulate entire sentences?  You'll have to manage more than grunts when you talk to your father."  She shook her head before Apollo could reply.  "And no, I am not going to do this for you.  You know what he'll feel if you tell him you want to put off the Academy for… how long?"

"Two yahrens."  He filched one of the tiny savoury scones that Hanna had brought from the kitchen centons before and added, indistinctly: "It's not so long."

"Mmn."  Mama had a very direct gaze, her eyes the same green as his own.  "Apollo, do you want to go to the Academy at all?"

Apollo froze and stared at her.  He hadn't said anything at all.  There was no way she could really know—

She blew out a sigh.  "Oh dear.  That'll really upset him."

"I didn't say I didn't!" he said quickly.  "I didn't say anything at all—"

"Oh dear," Mama repeated.  She shook her head.  "You'll have to talk to your father about this, Apollo."  She added, rather grimly, "He really won't like it, so you'll have to pick your time carefully."

"Talk to me about what?" asked his father.  He and Cain were at the wide French windows leading out onto the terrace that jutted out over the edge of the cliffs, overlooking the sea.  Apollo froze again.  He'd thought (and from the brief expression he saw on Mama's face, she had, too) that his father and Cain were still walking down in the cove, re-fighting old fights and winning the war.  He'd thought he and Mama were safe to talk.  He wondered how much his father had heard.  "What won't I like?"

"N-nothing," said Apollo.  His heart thumped and he had to surreptitiously wipe his hands on his pants leg.

His father frowned.  "Apollo?"

It was said in his most Commanderly tone.  The one that said his father knew that something was up and knew that Apollo was lying.  The one his father used when Apollo was late for meals or hadn't done his homework or missed his curfew or wanted to go out with his friends on Tenth-Day instead of to Chapel.

Apollo glanced at his mother.  She grimaced back, and thankfully weighed in.  "Later, Adama.  Apollo and I are trying to get the table ready, and if you and Cain want to eat this evening you'd better get out of our way.  It's the least you can do for being too bone-lazy to help."

But his father's frown had deepened.  "Apollo?"

Aunt Beth chose that moment to come in with the girls, carrying more stuff.  Aunt Beth did a sort of double-take and glanced at Mama, eyebrows rising.  Mama rolled her eyes.

"I – I…" said Apollo.

"Leave it until later, Adama," Mama said. 

His father said, mildly enough, "I'm just curious, Ila.  I can't imagine why you and my firstborn son need to be so circumspect in talking to me—"

"I want to take up the scholarship," Apollo blurted out.  "N-n-next yahren."

His mother rolled her eyes again.  Aunt Beth's mouth opened into a silent O shape.  She looked anxiously at Apollo's mother for a cue.

Adama frowned.  "You're going to the Academy next yahren."

"I don't want to.  I want to take the scholarship."

The frown deepened.  "This is not the time to discuss this, Apollo."

"Oh, now you realise it," sighed Mama.  She didn’t look pleased.

Apollo's heart was racing, but he was committed now.  He couldn't back down now, not in front of everyone.  He hated it that his voice shook and that stupid, stupid little stammer came back.  He hadn't stammered since he was a frackin' kid.  "I d-don't want to g-go to the Academy.  I want t-to take the scholarship.  I want t-to go to the Institute and take my degree there."  He took a deep breath to get that stupid tremor under control and enunciated carefully, "I'll go to the Academy later."

"We will not discuss this now," said his father.  There was a spot of colour on each cheek and his mouth had thinned right down so that Apollo could barely see the lips.  He had straightened right up, his back rigid.  He was furious, Apollo realised.  He managed a stilted smile for Cain.  "I'm sorry, Cain, that Apollo's chosen this most inopportune moment to embarrass himself and you like this.  It's nonsense, of course."

Apollo was taken-aback.  He'd never seen his father look so angry, not with him.  Adama was usually the most indulgent of parents.  But then, Apollo had never crossed him in anything serious before. 

"N-no, it isn't!" said Apollo, despite Mama closing her fingers on his arm so tightly that it hurt.  "I just want to do my d-degree.  What's wrong with that?"

"You've always wanted to go to the Academy," said his father, impatiently.  "I'll not allow you to waste yourself on that silly hobby of yours.  Shut up about this now."

"You've always wanted me to go to the Academy.  I didn't get any say in it.. Ow, Mama!"

"Be quiet," she hissed at him.  "We'll talk about it later."

"Sheba can't wait to go to the Academy," said Cain.  "Can you, honey?  She always complains she has another five yahrens before they take her.  She wants to be a warrior, just like her old man."

"Well, I don't!" muttered Apollo. 

"Shut up, Apollo!" said Adama, his tone colder than Apollo had ever heard it.  "You've said quite enough."

Sheba did her little hippy shimmy thing and darted across the room to snuggle up to her father.  "Maybe I can go instead of Apollo," she said, looking up at Cain like the sun shone out of him or something.

Cain let out one of those big hearty laughs that made Apollo's skin crawl.  He looked down his long nose at Apollo, like Apollo was something on the bottom of his shoe. 

"I'd like to go too," chimed in Athena, copying Sheba.  She hung off their father's arm.  "Can I go, Daddy?"

"Looks like my Sheba has more balls than Apollo has," Cain said, and he sneered and laughed again, big and bluff and Apollo could see why everyone called him The Juggernaut.  Sheba laughed with him.  "Far more balls!  That's my girl!"

"Cain!" snapped Aunt Beth.

"Thank you, Cain, for that really helpful and insightful contribution to the discussion," said Mama.  "Stop being silly, Athena."

"I'm sorry to say, Cain, that you may be right," said Adama.

Stung, Apollo started up again.  "I want—"

His father's patience was evidently exhausted.  "What you think you want isn't important right now.  We have guests.  If you can't control yourself and behave like a civilised human being and stop embarrassing everyone with your selfishness, you'd better go to your room."

At which hint, Apollo flung himself out of the room, hating his father, hating Sheba, absolutely despising Cain and none too fond of anyone else; absolutely bound and determined that he would never go to the Academy, if he died for it.  Dad couldn't make him.  He couldn't.  Nothing at all would make him cave in.  Nothing in the entire Twelve Colonies.  He had his own life to live and he'd do what he wanted to do and Dad would just have to like it or lump it.

The following Autumn, Apollo started at the Academy, just as planned. 

 

^+^+^+^+^+^+^+^

 

Scene the third: in which mere captains are magisterially reminded that they are certainly not advanced enough to be masters of their own fates and that even colonels can be browbeaten into submission

The captain of the Piscean freighter wasn't very happy with Apollo.  She'd protested loud and long when Apollo announced that he was coming aboard the freighter and ordered her to heave to, and only complied with when the rest of Apollo's patrol of Vipers closed around the freighter like wasps around a honey-pot and Apollo put a warning laser shot across the Angelina's bow. 

He took his wingmate with him; a sensible precaution since the freighter's crew were waiting for him when he came in on the Angelina's small shuttle-deck and had to be persuaded to get out of the way.  Apollo had Lieutenant Benson sit in his Viper with the laser turrets trained on the group of crewmen while Apollo, unsmiling but calm and quiet, pointed out the reality of the situation to them and invited them to consider the benefits to their health and well-being if they deposited their sidearms in a tidy heap on the deck in front of him.  Right now would be good.  They had the sense to be health-conscious.  Apollo brought a third Viper onto the deck to keep watch while he and Ben went up to the bridge, herding the disarmed crew ahead of them.

"I hate my job, some days," muttered Ben.  He looked nervous, pulling a laser on another human being.

Apollo just grunted, intent on getting through the day with a whole skin and definitely intent on getting to the Angelina's bridge before Captain Ilaria wiped all the computer records.  That she was trying to was obvious when they got there: the small bridge crew was frantically working on the consoles, Ilaria shouting orders at them.  It took another threat with the laser to get them to back off and Apollo spent a couple of centons saving data and closing down the deletion, encryption and compression systems they'd been using.

"Well," he said, relieved that he'd been able to get there before Ilaria succeeded in wiping everything.  "Looks like I got here in time to prevent another computer glitch.  That's handy, isn't it?" 

Oh, but Ilaria was not pleased.  So displeased was she that she spat pejorative Piscean at him.  It sounded very impressive.  She yelled some more, threw her hands up in the air and stamped to her command chair.  She sat with her arms folded, and brooded.

Apollo left her to it.  The systems were close enough to standard Colonial electronics that it took only a couple of centons to open up a narrow-beam transfer link to An-Nath' databases and download all the navigational and communications data the Angelina's crew was trying to hide.  He got the main stuff, although he didn’t speak or read Piscean and couldn't find the captain's log; the An-Nath' computer techs would have to find it, always supposing Ilaria kept one and hadn't succeeded in deleting it. 

"Let's take her in, Ben."  Apollo spoke quickly to An-Nath control to confirm docking instructions and ETA.  "Port airlock."

Ben grinned and waved his laser invitingly at the Angelina's crew.  They obeyed sullenly with many a glance at their fuming captain, Apollo and Ben keeping a close watch on their activities from the back of the bridge.  Apollo found that laser-waving was a great encouragement to instilling a work ethic into a bunch of Piscean pirates, but he was under no illusion about how much he wanted this to be over.  Like Ben, he hated the days he was less a Colonial Warrior and more of an inter-stellar policeman. 

Too big for even An-Nath' flight-deck, the Angelina was moved slowly up against one of the main airlocks.  Two squads of troopers were waiting on the other side of the airlock.  They boarded as soon as lock opened, fanning out across the ship to make sure that all the Pisceans were accounted for. 

"Time to go, Captain," said Apollo, when the squad leader reached the bridge.  And to Sergeant Gowan: "Take them all down to the secure accommodation on level six, Sarge.  I'll be down later with the paperwork."

"You don’t know who you're crossing!" Ilaria snapped, reverting to Standard.

"Whoever owns the Piscean Trading and Scientific Corporation and Mutual Trading Company, I imagine.  Who is it?  Some of the high-up’s on the Piscean Council?"

"You don't know how high-up!"

"No, but I'm sure we'll find out.  Not that it'll make any difference to them, I guess.  All the noble merchants will wriggle off the hook, get away with it and get rich.  Their kind always do and I can’t do a lot about it right now.  Besides, they aren't here to do anything about, and you are.  I warned you away last secton; it’s your problem that you didn't take some friendly advice.  Gowan will take you down now."

She'd have hit out at him if it wasn't for the watchful troopers.  She had to content herself with more vituperative Piscean as she was escorted off the bridge and taken down through the ship to the airlock.  Apollo reflected that he ought to learn the language.  It appeared to have a few colourful expressions that might come in handy.

"Who does own the Piscean Trading-and-whatever-it-was?" asked Ben, holstering his laser with patent relief. 

"The Lords alone know and I don't care."

"They're a long way out.  There aren't that many colonies around here to trade with."

"There was a raid on the colony at Gale a few sectons ago.  I wouldn't put it past this bunch to be raiding trade routes and the smaller colonies, but I doubt I'll be able to make a piracy charge stick.  The best I'll get will be trespass in military space.  Twice.  Probably a large fine and they'll be on their way, but I'll make damned sure they spend the next few days in the brig."  Apollo sighed.  "Let's go home, Ben."

Back in space, Apollo took his Viper on a quick recce flight.  He oversaw Ben's flight into the dock before doing one circuit of An-Nath.  He'd been there too long merely to be overwhelmed by the sight of biggest static deep-space station guarding the Colonies—An-Nath sat with its face towards the Cylon Empire and its back to home, its Vipers and its guns the often-tested first line of defence, and it was big enough and powerful enough to overwhelm a lot of people.  But he still thought, as he had the first time he'd seen it, that An-Nath was beautiful; a huge silver snowflake hung against the blackness of space, made up of surprisingly delicate spires and aerial listening posts and gun turrets.  He held the Viper around a thousand metres out, enjoying the view until his earpiece squawked questions from An-Nath control about what he was up to.  Duty called.  He kicked the Viper back into an approach vector and took the little fighter into the main flightdeck.

Cole was waiting to take his helmet and close down the Viper before the rest of Apollo's flight-crew got the fighter into the overhead hoist and walked it into the hangar for the post-flight checks.

"Heard you brought some friends home for a sleepover," he said, leaning into the cockpit to help Apollo get out of the flight-harness.

"I thought they might join us for tea."  .

"Do you have cake?" asked Cole, dark eyes warm with amusement. 

Apollo grinned up at him.  "I'm sure I can lay my hands on something sweet," he said.

Cole grinned back.  Apollo could feel himself smirking, and fought it down.  It didn't do to smirk, not while he was on the flightdeck even if he could, with justification, claim to be off-duty.  He allowed the harness to retract and pulled himself out of the Viper.  Cole made room on the gantry, then followed him down to deck level as soon as he'd closed down the Viper's systems.  He still held Apollo's helmet, brushing the top with his sleeve, polishing away whatever mark offended his sense of what was right and proper for An-Nath' squadron leader.

Apollo watched for a centon or two as the rest of the flight-crew swarmed over the little spacecraft before turning away to get his stuff put away in his locker at the back of the bay.  He could do with a shower, he thought, slowly rotating his shoulders to ease the tension in the back of his neck.

Cole went with him to Decontamination.  "I'm off now," he remarked.  "I'll go through with you, if you don't mind, sir."

"Sure." 

A couple of other air-crew staff joined them in Decon.  Apollo quirked an eyebrow at Cole and sat through the fifteen centon cycle stoically, listening to the crew chatter and thinking about other things.  Despite the end of his duty shift, the paperwork for the Angelina had to be done for Colonel Marcus to review in the morning.  It would take him a couple of centars, maybe, and then he'd be free.  He stretched and grinned, looking forward to it.  Piscean pirates aside, he was content.

Cole hung back a little when they were through the other side, allowing the other air-crew to go on ahead.  "Got something to show you, Captain.  Do you have a centon?"

Apollo glanced up and down the corridor as he considered Cole's request.  The crewmen up ahead had turned a corner and the corridor was deserted.  He decided he could put off the paperwork for a few centons, nodded and followed Cole into one the nearby storerooms.

Cole had him slammed up against the door almost before it closed, his hands fisting in Apollo's flight-jacket, his mouth hard on Apollo's.  Apollo laughed against Cole's mouth and pulled him in closer, pushing his tongue past Cole's lips.  His hands slid down Cole's sides to cup his hips, and he wriggled a little to get his suddenly-hard cock pushed up against Cole's warmth.  One of Cole's hands slid down between them to add to the friction, enough to make Apollo whine and have to concentrate very hard not to come immediately. 

Cole was all over him, like a rash, hands burrowing under his flight tunic, brushing up against his hot skin; muttering curses and endearments, his mouth everywhere, hot and wet and all lips and teeth that nipped at his skin and tongue that followed to soothe the little bites.  Apollo kissed him back, working his hand into Cole's pants, closing grateful fingers around Cole's beautiful, heavy cock.

Cole grunted and returned the favour, and for a few centons they rubbed against each other frantically, trying to touch every inch of each other, both gasping and swearing and Apollo was conscious of nothing but the gleam of the light on Cole's dark skin, the heat of Cole's mouth on any part of Apollo Cole could reach, the glorious pressure as Cole's hand fisted around Apollo's cock, the strength of Cole's cock in Apollo's hand and Apollo's back arched and every muscle tightened as heat pooled at the base of his spine and then the world whited out and he was coming all over Cole's hand.  Cole grunted, and Apollo's hand was suddenly moving slickly over a come-wet cock, his thumb rubbing little circles over the engorged head as he milked every drop he could from Cole's balls.

They had to hold each other up for a centon or two.  Cole straightened slowly, still breathing heavily.  He pulled out his hand, grinning at Apollo's complaints, and licked his fingers clean.  Apollo watched, fascinated.  He could taste himself when Cole kissed him again.

"Those Piscean bastards were armed.  You take too many chances," Cole said, mouthing the words against Apollo's neck.  Apollo tilted his head back, letting Cole work down his throat.  Cole's lips were hot and wet.

"What I get paid for," said Apollo, on a gasp as Cole's tongue investigated his ear.  "Oh, that's good."

"How long?"

"I've got the paper… uuuhhh… the paperwork to do.  I'll have to do it tonight.  Couple of centars, and I'll be finished.  Come to my quarters?"

"I'll be there.  Can I stay the night?"

"I'm counting on it."  Apollo's left hand curved around the back of Cole's head and pulled him back in for another kiss, working his fingers into the crisp black curls at the nape of Cole's neck.  His earpiece chirped at him again.  "Dammit!  I never get a centon to myself—" 

"You'd better answer it."

Apollo touched the on-switch with the hand that wasn't still in Cole's BDUs.  "Apollo."

"This is Marcus.  Are your guests settled?"

Apollo grimaced silently at Cole.  "Locked up on the security deck, sir.  Did you want to interrogate them yourself?"

"No, although I want to hear all about it.  Come up to my office, please, Captain.  I need to talk to you."

"Sir.  I'll be there in five."  He switched the radio off and blew out a disappointed breath.

Cole laughed and shook his head, and took Apollo's wrist to lift Apollo's come-flecked hand to his mouth and suck it clean.  This time when Apollo kissed him, he tasted of both of them.

Cole sighed and moved away.  "If the Colonel wants you, shall I make it three centars?"

"Probably wise."  Apollo got him back for one more kiss.  "See you later."

"Can't wait."

Apollo smirked again, composed himself as best he could given the dampness inside his own BDUs, and headed up to the top-deck.  He passed several of the station staff on the way, and wondered if he looked as wrecked as he felt.  He had to wipe the stupid grin off his face and hoped his face wasn't too red.

Colonel Marcus didn't seem to notice anything amiss, just nodding a greeting and waving him into a chair.  When Apollo had first arrived at An-Nath two yahrens previously to be Marcus's second-in-command, so new a captain that he was almost still wrapped in the packaging and squeaky clean, the Colonel had been distant and formal.  He hadn't ever been unfair, but he had been wary.  Thinking back, Apollo realised that Marcus probably thought he'd been foisted on An-Nath and wanted some proof that that Apollo deserved the early promotion, to prove he hadn't got it because of who his father was.  Apollo had fretted over how to prove himself, not least because of the unfairness of the assumption of nepotism—he and his father hadn't really been that close since Apollo went to the Academy, Apollo hadn't even seen him since he graduated five yahrens earlier and Apollo had accepted the An-Nath posting in the teeth of Adama's opposition and, he was honest enough to admit, probably because of Adama's opposition.  But because this was An-Nath and the squadrons saw a lot of action, it had taken only a couple of firefights for him to pass whatever test it was that Marcus had set.  Their relationship since was cordial, based on mutual respect. 

"The same Piscean ship, of course?" Marcus asked, when Apollo obeyed.

"The Angelina, yes.  I'll buy it once that her navigation computers were on the fritz—"

"You didn't buy that last secton, either," commented the Colonel.

"No, sir, but you still made me let her go."

"I'm supposed to make your life hard," said the Colonel, but the normal rapport was strained.  "It's in the job description."

Apollo wondered if the Colonel had been given hell by Military HQ acting as proxy for the Piscean Council.  It was quite possible that Ilaria had complained the previous secton to whoever was backing her and, if she wasn't exaggerating their eminence, pressure was being applied as result.  "The trouble is, she wouldn't stay gone.  I don't know what she's up to—the techs have to decode her navigational and comms data before we'll get an idea about that—but she's twice been caught in a restricted military area.  She's fossicking about too close to Cylon lines for my peace of mind.  I've no desire to risk my pilots pulling their astrums out of the line of fire."

"We'll have to see," said the Colonel.  He shifted in his chair.  "This secton's databurst from HQ just came in."

Apollo hid a frown.  Looked like he was right about the pressure.  He'd be annoyed if it meant he'd have to let the Angelina go again.  "Sir," he said in as neutral a tone as he could manage.

The Colonel blew out a sigh.  "I lost the argument, Apollo.  I even yelled.  Got me nowhere.  Those mean-minded penny-pinching pen-pushers told me to obey orders.  Me!  They told me to obey orders like I was some scrubby little ensign!"

Apollo let the scowl show.  "Damn.  Does that mean I have to let her go?"

"Wha—?  Oh, the Angelina, you mean?  Couldn't give a toss about that.  This has nothing to do with them."  The Colonel matched Apollo's scowl and shook his head.  "I'm really sorry, Apollo, but the databurst contains orders for you.  They've given you a new posting."

"Posting?" repeated Apollo, stupidly.

"Military Command, in their wisdom, have decreed that you need more command experience than a static, defensive station can give you, even when that station is An-Nath.  You're shipping out, son.  The Pegasus is swinging by here in two days and will pick you up."

Apollo just stared.  For a moment he thought he'd gone deaf, because there was a buzzing in his ears and Marcus's voice boomed and waned, his heart was thumping with a mix of shock and fury, and his palms were damp.  He wiped them on his BDUs and forced the panic back.  "I'm leaving?  Another posting… wha—?"

"They're giving you battlestar experience.  The orders say Strike Leader.  Oh, there's no doubt it'll be good for your career and you'd have had to do this some time.  And who's going to argue that there's a difference between offensive and defensive work because damn right there is .  But dammit, Apollo, for once can't I get to keep a good captain for longer than a couple of yahrens?"

Apollo swallowed, trying to get some moisture into a dry mouth, the trip-hammering of his heart slowing down to a rhythm where each beat was just as long as a name.  "I'd hoped for at least another yahren here, sir."

"You're fast-tracked.  You know what that means.  You've had all the time here that they're prepared to give you.  Battlestars get first pick, as always, a slot came up and you were named for it.  Sorry, Apollo, I did try."

"Is there someone I can talk to?  I really don't want to go, sir."

The Colonel snorted.  "They told me to stop arguing and obey orders, Captain, and I'm the commander of this station.  Allegedly.  They'll just snap you in two."

Apollo swallowed again.  He looked away, sure his anguish must show on his face.  He didn’t want to go.  He didn't want to leave Cole.

"We knew you'd have to go at some point, Apollo.  I'd hoped I'd get at least a full three yahrens, but—" the Colonel shrugged, helplessly.  "There's not a thing I can do."

"Yes, sir," said Apollo dully.  He had always known he'd have to move on sometime.  "I understand."  Then his head snapped up as something finally processed.  "The Pegasus?"

"Will pick you up in two days."

"I am not going to the Pegasus," said Apollo, flatly.  He hadn't seen Cain for ten yahrens, not since the night when he'd realised that he was only of importance to his father if he was doing what Adama expected of him.  Apollo had contrived to miss the family reunions at Graduation Parades from then on until his own graduation, and luckily that one yahren Cain hadn't been there, the Pegasus occupied on the other side of Colonial space, in battle over Taxos. 

The Colonel blinked.  "No.  They're just taking you to Draconis so you can connect with the Galactica's shuttle."  His smile was winter thin.

Apollo choked.  "G-galactica?"

"Your father has a long reach," said Marcus, sourly.

Apollo rubbed fretfully at his temples.  He hadn't even had a split-micron to be relieved that he wasn't going to be posted to work with bloody Cain.  "Shit," he said, sounding so feeble he despised himself.

"Sorry, I should have said that first."  After a short silence, the Colonel commented that Apollo's reaction made him want to ask which option was the worst.

"I don't know," said Apollo, dazed.  "I really don't."  He looked down at the hands in his lap, twisting over themselves.  He stilled them, deliberately.  He could see his father's hand in this as surely as he saw his own trembling with impotent fury.  His father had always said Apollo was wasting his time at An-Nath.  His father had told him that he was making some disastrous career choices and his father had said he was disappointed in Apollo's obstinate refusal to turn down the An-Nath posting.  His father didn't like being disappointed.

"I'm sorry that it's either, Apollo."

"There's no appeal?"

"You know it," said the Colonel, with rough sympathy.

"He didn't want me to come here," said Apollo, bitterly, because he did know it.  "He always wanted me in battlestars."

"Well, he's got his way.  I'll make the announcement in the morning."  Marcus fiddled with the desk stylus for a centon.  "You've made a lot of friends here, Apollo.  You'll be missed."

"Thank you, sir.  I'll miss being here."  He looked down at his hands again, blanking his mind, trying not to think of loss and a bleak future.  He drew in an unhappy breath.  "There's so much I'll miss from here."

 

^+^+^+^+^+^+^+^+^+^

 

Scene the fourth: in which it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of an engaging son, must be in want of a husband

Apollo thought that despite terror and trauma and loss, Boxey was fundamentally a happy child.  Children adapted quickly.  It wouldn’t take much, Apollo had felt, to break through the shell of silence Boxey was hiding behind and restore his usual health and sunny good nature.  And of course, that meant Apollo should do something about it.

"Well, yes," agreed Starbuck.  "But only you could have come up with that bloody droid.  It's as bad as a real daggit.  It barks and runs about and, hell, it even sheds!"  He picked bright orange fibres off his pants and thrust them accusingly under Apollo's nose.  "It's just as well for the state of your health and sunny nature that it’s not so realistic that it tried to hump my leg."

"What would you do if it did?" asked Apollo, interested.

"I'd be very dignified about it," said Starbuck, practising being dignified.  "I’d shoot you with your own laser and then I'd piss on its batteries.  Let it try humping a man's leg while its circuits are spazzing and smouldering."

"And here's me thinking that you're always up for sex with anything that moves.  Reputation's a brittle thing, Starbuck."

"I prefer something less… less orange," retorted Starbuck, not one whit offended as far as Apollo could see.  "And not so close to the ground.  Why in Hades did you persuade Wilker to build that monstrosity?"

Apollo shrugged.  "Boxey had sort of wrapped up everything that happened in losing his real daggit.  I thought that a replacement might do the trick."  He watched Boxey and Muffit 2 careering around the Recreation Room, Boxey shrieking like a banshee, and added, gloomily, "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Starbuck pointed a forefinger at his own right temple and twirled it.

"I am not nuts," protested Apollo.  "I'll have you know that I'm a sensitive and caring man and I'm a credit to the human race."

"Sez you."  Starbuck pulled a fumerillo from his breast pocket and stuck it into his mouth at a jaunty angle.  Apollo looked away.  "Or sez Serina?"

Apollo shrugged again.  "She's grateful for me helping Boxey."

"But you are seeing a lot of her.  An awful lot."

"Yeah."

"You know," said Starbuck.  "I've never seen you involved with anyone before.  After three yahrens, I was beginning to wonder if you'd mistaken the Galactica for a monastery."

"Not one of the silent orders, though."  Apollo grinned at Starbuck, who had virtually to be gagged with his own flight jacket if Apollo was to get through a duty period without a constant soundtrack.

"No, seriously.  Did you take a vow, or something?"

"Something."  But in the face of Starbuck's obviously genuine interest, he said: "There was someone on An-Nath and even if there wasn't, the fraternisation rules get in the way a bit."

"Didn’t they apply on An-Nath too?"

They had, of course, but that was different.  Colonel Marcus wouldn’t have been happy about Cole, but once he was assured that no coercion of junior ranks was involved, Apollo thought he'd have turned a blind eye to it.  Marcus understood that postings that lasted two or three yahrens meant that there would always be fraternisation and the trick was to minimise the fall-out.  If he'd have known about Cole, he'd probably have moved him to another ground crew squad, so he wasn't responsible for Apollo's Viper, and yelled at Apollo a lot, and that would have been it. 

On the Galactica, though, with a father Apollo barely knew in command, and what's more, a father who was a rather austere Kobolian committed to a life of rectitude and honour, Apollo had decided not to take chances.  He hadn't thought his father would quite understand about Cole.  And while three yahrens of working together closely had eased the tension in the father-son relationship (after an entertaining first yahren, anyway) to the point were Apollo could admit that he was fond of the old man, he still didn't think that his father would quite understand about Cole.  Or, for that matter, any successor.

Starbuck's eyes, watching him over the fumerillo, were bright.  "Must have been a bummer, having to leave An-Nath.  It was important?"

"Yeah," said Apollo.  He swallowed.  "Long distance relationships are hard enough when you're on the same planet.  Doesn't work when there's a dozen star systems between you."

"You've never mentioned it.  Ever."

"It didn't matter to anyone but me.  And now it doesn’t matter at all."

"Sorry.  I shouldn't have… I mean, it's none of my business."

"It was more than three yahrens ago, Starbuck.  And An-Nath is gone now."  Apollo looked across to where Boxey was teaching Muffy to beg for imaginary mushies.  He hadn't heard from Cole for over a yahren when the Cylons attacked, and he was long over it, but it had still hurt knowing that Cole was as dead as Zac and Mama.  He rubbed his chest, to rub away the ache.  "The way everything is gone."

"Right."  Starbuck grimaced around the fumerillo.  "Still, Serina…"

Apollo hunched one shoulder, keeping his eyes on Boxey.

"She's a lovely lady," said Starbuck.

"Yes," said Apollo.  And with more assurance: "Yes, she is.  And all fraternisation is strictly legal, what with her not being under my command."

And she liked him.  Or she was grateful for his interest in Boxey.  Or she was grateful for getting her and Boxey out of some pretty bad accommodation.  Or grateful for something, anyway, that meant that she'd had no problem in responding to what Apollo knew were clumsy overtures from him.  She was pretty and sexy, and he'd be lying if he said he didn’t enjoy the nights when Boxey and Muffit were in the tiny spare room off his quarters and he was buried inside her warm, willing body.  She helped him forget the misery that was life in a refugee fleet. 

Even if she wasn't exactly the successor to Cole he wanted, she had other things he wanted; things he couldn't have without her.  And she was pretty and she was sexy… and once again Apollo rehearsed all the reasons he should be happy.

"She and Boxey seem to be over here on the Galactica a lot, these days," remarked Starbuck.  "In fact, she and Boxey have been here every day for a couple of sectons now.  A suspicious man might conclude they’ve moved in over here."

Feeling surprisingly defensive, Apollo frowned.  "The Rising Star's still overcrowded.  It's only been a couple of sectars, Starbuck, and it'll be sectars more before we sort out the refugee ships and make them more comfortable.  It was no place for a kid."

"And you have command-sized quarters.  I get it."

There was an odd note to Starbuck's voice, that had Apollo looking at him quickly.  "You can't be jealous?  Last time I looked you had my little sister and that socialator—"

Starbuck was still grimacing.  "Cassiopeia.  Cassie."

"Cassie.  You have both of them chasing after you."

"They can chase as much as they like.  I just don't intend to get caught."  Starbuck gave him a long, measuring look.  "Do you?"

Boxey chose that moment to charge across the room, scattering the few other children there like chaff in the wind.  He skidded to a halt in front of Apollo and leaned up against him, planting sharp elbows on Apollo's knees.  "I'm hungry.  Is it time to go and eat yet?"

"No.  Not yet.  Your mother and Athena are cooking supper tonight in the Commander's quarters—"

"Which is why we're nursemaiding you," cut in Starbuck, giving Muffit the stink-eye.  "Piss. On. Your. Batteries.  I'm warning you, daggit.  I'm armed."

The droid sat back on its haunches and panted, its ears rotating as if it were listening.  It looked like it were laughing at Starbuck, staring back at him with its buggy electronic eyes.  Apollo didn't think it was all that realistic a copy of a daggit but it had done wonders for Boxey.  He just hoped that Wilker had built in early obsolescence.  He hated the damn thing as much as Starbuck did.

"—which is why we're nursemaiding you to kill time before going to eat," said Apollo, easily.  "You and Muffy can play some more."

"How long?"  Boxey scrambled up to get both his arms around Apollo's neck in a choke hold that was every bit as effective as the one taught by the drill sergeant.  Apollo rested his chin on Boxey's head and put his arms around him.

"Another half-centar or so.  Not long."

Boxey sighed dramatically, squirming around.  "I'll die.  I'll die myself dead, dead, dead before then.  My tummy's so empty."

Apollo grinned at him.  "I don't think so." He gave the warm little body a squeeze.  "Nope.  There's plenty of meat on these bones."

"But I want a mushie!  I want one right now."

"Tough," said Apollo.  He pushed Boxey off to stand on his own feet and turned the child around.  "What have we agreed about you being a vexatious urchin?"

"That I'm not to do it," said Boxey, grinning. 

"You're only playing up so you can show off in front of Starbuck," diagnosed Apollo.  He grinned at his wingman over Boxey's tousled head.  "Give it up.  He's got twenty-five yahrens experience over you.  He's far more vexatious than you'll ever be."

Starbuck flipped a rude sign at him that he truly hoped Boxey didn't understand.

Boxey really was a sunny-tempered child.  He took his rebuff in good part, leaning back up against Apollo's knees and taking Apollo's hand in both of his.  He played with Apollo's fingers, pulling them apart and making Apollo form a fist.  "All right.  Can we go to the Commander's to wait, then?"

"Your mother and Athena told us to stay out of their way."

"We don’t have to do what they say," said Boxey, with a fine chauvinistic bravado.  "They're just girls."

"I'll tell them that, shall I?" said Starbuck.  "You've got to learn some sense, Tiger.  We do what the ladies tell us to do." 

"Why?"

"Because we value our skins whole and undamaged."

"What does that mean?" demanded Boxey, still tugging on Apollo's hand.

Apollo grinned.  "That your mother and Athena are scary."

"My mom doesn't want to scare you, silly!" said Boxey.  "She says you're the best bet she's seen in a long time."

Starbuck choked and coughed on his fumerillo.

"Very flattering," said Apollo, wondering why he didn't feel flattered.  "Go and play a bit longer."

"All right."  Boxey stood on tip-toe and administered another choking hug.  "See you later."

Apollo watched him rampage his way back across the room, Muffy yapping excitedly at his heels.  He was conscious of the steady gaze that Starbuck was giving him.

After a centon, Starbuck stubbed out his fumerillo in an ashtray, taking an inordinate length of time to crush it down into small bits.  Apollo wondered why he was angry, but when Starbuck spoke he just sounded tired.

"Is Boxey very like Zac?"

Surprised, Apollo darted a look across to where Boxey and another boy were playing a noisy game of tag.  Like Zac?  Not as smart as Zac, maybe, but every bit as charming.  When Zac had been Boxey's age he'd slept on Apollo's knees and Apollo had been able to look after him, to protect him.  He couldn't protect Zac any more, but he might right that wrong with Boxey.  Boxey needed him.

"A bit," he said.  "Yes."

Starbuck was still stabbing angrily at the ashtray with his shredded fumerillo.  "It wasn't your fault, Apollo; Zac's death.  You couldn't have done anything."

Apollo winced as the sharp pain that was Zac's absence bit at him.  It made his tone sharp, too.  "What does that have to do with Boxey?"

Starbuck shook his head.  Another centon and he had ground the fumerillo remains to powder.  "You really love that kid, don't you?  I think that answers my question."

"What question?"

"About whether you were going to let yourself get caught.  You're already caught.  I'm just not certain who it is who caught you."

Apollo watched him for a centon or two, before turning his head to look at the son he wanted so badly.  He smiled slightly. 

"There's no choice, Starbuck," he said.  "It's a two for one deal."

 

^+^+^+^+^+^+^+^+^

 

Scene the fifth: in which a suitable marriage to a young lady of consequence could mow a man down like the Car of Juggernaut, if he isn't careful and doesn't look both ways before stepping off the kerb

The Commander was showing signs of deep content.  Apollo hadn't seen him look this happy for almost two yahrens, not since the terror of the Destruction had left the few survivors bereft of everything they'd once had.

"If I'd known that bringing you out to dinner on the Rising Star would make you so mellow, I'd have done it sectars ago," said Apollo.  He raised his glass.  "Happy Birthday, Dad."

Adama chinked glasses, and beamed.  "Thank you, Apollo.  Although I'm not that delighted about getting old."

"You aren't as old as me," grumbled Colonel Tigh.

"There's not much in it, old friend.  Too little for me to be sanguine about it."

"Well, something's got you grinning and it can't be the ambrosa.  Weak as cat's—" Apollo caught his son's wide-eyed gaze and corrected himself.  "Weak as water.  Lieutenant Greenbean does a better home brew than this."

"Ah," said Starbuck, sniffing at his glass.  "Greenie flavours his with used hyperdrive fuel and old socks.  This one just uses old socks."

Adama laughed.  "You're always good value, Starbuck.  Where's Cassiopeia tonight?"

"Ah well, sir, me and Cassie aren't me and Cassie any more."  Adama looked grave, but before he could say anything, Starbuck went on: "It’s been very on and off for more than a yahren, sir.  And now it's off and staying off."

"I'm very sorry to hear that," said Adama, and Apollo knew why.  The mood of contentment had vanished and his father's gaze, rather panicked about the edges, sought out Athena.  But she was on the dance floor with Boomer and didn't appear to have eyes for anyone else.  Adama sighed with patent relief.  A relief that Apollo, who was growing cynical, thought would be very short-lived if his father knew how often Boomer could be found creeping out of Athena's quarters in the early centars, his boots in his hand.

Starbuck smirked.  "It's all very amicable, sir.  It happened quite a while ago and she's very happy with Sergeant Giles.  She says he's the marrying kind."

"Well, I think it's pretty well established that you aren't," agreed Adama, and somehow managed not to make that sound insulting.

Starbuck raised the old-socks distillate to his lips and his eyes smiled at Apollo over the rim of the glass. 

Adama turned his attention back to his son.  "I'm glad that you brought Sheba with you, Apollo."

Apollo blinked.  "You told me to."

"I mean," said his father, meaningfully, "that I want you to be happy."

"That's nice," said Apollo.  "I am."

"Sometimes I think you're deliberately obtuse," sighed his father.

"Dad, she's been included in all the family stuff for the last yahren and a half.  I don't see what the big deal is with inviting her.  Of course she'd be here for your birthday."  Apollo waved a hand around the table.  "The same way that the Colonel and Starbuck and Boomer are here for your birthday.  Every yahren."

"When Cain left us, I promised her she'd be part of my family."  Adama ignored Apollo's sniff of derision at the mention of Cain.  "I want that.  Very much."

Apollo felt his mouth tighten in irritation.  He fought it back and smiled.  "I'm sure she feels as though she's part of the family, sir." He added, dryly, "I don't think that you need feel you've been negligent in any way."

Adama dropped the volume.  "It's been more than a yahren and a half for you, Apollo.  Nearly two."

Even though Boxey's memories of his dead mother were faint and fading, Apollo didn't want the child upset.  He looked quickly across the table to his son.  But Boxey was elbows deep in choco-mushies with hot chocolate sauce and wasn't paying attention.  Apollo looked steadily at his father.  Adama had hinted for the last yahren about how much he'd like Apollo to marry the daughter of his old friend, but he'd never been this overt.  "I know how long it's been, Dad." 

Adama looked at him helplessly.  "You’re good friends, you've been on dates…"

"I wouldn't call them dates," said Apollo, judiciously.  He glanced at Starbuck, who was looking pensive.  "We've socialised, with a large group of friends.  Calling those dates doesn't quite meet the definition and, after all, I wouldn't want to fall foul of the fraternisation rules."

"That's just the point," said his father.  "The Council's repealed them.  There'll be an announcement tomorrow."

"Repealed them?"

"We realised the inequity of them, Captain," said Tigh, and from the look he gave Adama, Apollo was sure who'd been making the arguments—and why.  "It may be yahrens before we reach Earth, and everyone in the fleet will be wanting to make new family ties.  It wasn't fair to exclude warriors."

"It's not like when I married your mother.  Of course there were long periods apart while I was on duty tour, but I had her and you all to come back to.  I was very happy with your mother, Apollo."  Adama smiled when Apollo put a comforting hand on his arm.  "We can't expect you all not to want that too.  Indeed, we want you to have that too, and for many of you the only chance you have of finding someone will be on the Galactica."

"Right," said Apollo.  He glanced again at Starbuck.  Starbuck shrugged slightly at him.  It was an expressive shrug that belied his blank face.  "Let me get this straight.  All relationships between warriors are now legal?  No-one's going to get cashiered for having a relationship with, say, someone under their command?"

"Exactly," beamed his father, and looked over to the dance floor again, where Sheba was dancing with Bojay.  "We'll make special arrangements for reviews and such like in those circumstances."

"Well, you know, Dad, that's a really good thing that they've done."

"You sound surprised," remarked Colonel Tigh.

"This is the Council we're talking about, Colonel.  I'm surprised they can dress themselves in the morning.  I'm really astonished they can make a sensible decision."

"I see that your faith in your political masters isn't improving," sighed Adama.

"I have views on the Council that I had better not mention while Boxey's at the table," said Apollo.  "They aren't fit for infant ears.  But this… it's progressive.  It's liberal.  It’s the right thing to do."

"It's about twenty generations overdue," murmured Starbuck.

"And I can stop pretending I don't see it.  That's good, too."  Apollo grinned.  "There's a few people I can think of who'll be really pleased about this."

"Gillian and Allan," said Starbuck, with a nod.

"Lieutenant Sophie in Green and that new cadet—what's his name?" 

"Bren."

"That's it; Bren.  What about Ensigns Greg and Jared?  They'll be delighted."

"Greg and Jared?" His father turned the choke into a cough.  "Really?  Good grief."

"You said all relationships," Apollo reminded him.  "I don't have a problem with Greg and Jared."

"Of course," said Adama.  "The fraternisation rules made no distinction about sexual orientation when they were in force, so I suppose they won't make any distinction when they're repealed."

"Good."  Apollo looked over to Sheba, and smiled. 

"It's time you settled down," said his father, having followed the direction of his gaze.

Apollo turned his attention to his father.  Adama was patently genuine about this.  Apollo knew he liked Sheba, that he saw the union of his family and Cain's as something that could only strengthen them, as a family and both militarily and politically.  The Juggernaut's daughter had a position all of her own in the fleet.  Politically, of course, it would be the shrewdest of shrewd moves.

He glanced at Starbuck, and jerked his head towards Boxey.  Starbuck wrinkled his nose, sighed, and took exactly two centons to entice the child away from his mushies.  It was a joy to watch the patented Starbuck charm in action, if a little worrying about how easily Boxey could be coaxed to help Starbuck bug his aunt and Boomer.  It made Apollo wonder just how much Boxey understood what was going on there. 

Colonel Tigh raised an eyebrow.  "I'll just take myself to the bar for five centons, shall I?"  He did so.

"I didn't think my hopes were so very secret that we needed to be this discreet among friends," said his father. 

"It's still private.  To me."  Apollo leaned in a little closer.  "I'd rather not talk about my private life in front of an audience.  Listen to me, Dad.  I made one marriage for reasons that… that weren't entirely unselfish.  I didn't do Serina any favours at all, marrying her—"

"It wasn't your fault she was killed, Apollo."

"I didn't mean that.  I mean that I really shouldn't have married her at all.  She deserved better.  She deserved someone who loved her.  I wanted Boxey.  I married her because of Boxey.  That's maybe worked out fine for him—I hope so—but it may not have been fine for her.  It wasn't fair on her.  I'm not sure that I want to marry again."

Adama's mouth turned down.  "Sheba's a lovely girl.  I can’t see your objection.  It would have pleased your mother, and it would have pleased Cain."

"If pleasing Commander Cain is ever one of my objectives in life, I'll let you know.  Of course, you'll probably notice it for yourself, given the number of suns falling out of the sky."

"I really don't know what you have against Cain."

"I'm sure you don't," said Apollo. 

He had every conviction that his father didn't even remember the Arian Scholarship.  Adama, deeply disappointed by Apollo’s unwillingness to take up the family tradition of service, had flatly refused to discuss any alternative to the Academy and had chosen a deliberate policy of keeping his son at a distance to make sure that Apollo had understood fully his disapproval.  It had gone on for sectars until Apollo caved in.  At seventeen, Apollo had gone to the Academy, quiet and unresisting, never again mentioning his own hopes and ambitions.  Why should Adama remember such an inconsequential thing and Cain's role in it?

His father blew out a short, impatient sigh.  "All right, maybe I'm being a little bit hasty, but I'm only thinking of you and your happiness.  It would please me very much, but I do realise that you may need more time to think about it.  Why not spend that time with Sheba, get comfortable with the idea, get a little closer."

Apollo thought wistfully about thumping his head off the table.  It would be less painful.  He thought, amused, that his father assumed that he had to define happiness for him.  He looked again at Sheba dancing with Bojay, her expression, even at a distance, intent and focused.  A few metres away Starbuck and Boxey cavorted around Athena, making her laugh.

"I can't think why they called Cain the Juggernaut," he said.  "You could give him points." 

"Go and ask her for a dance," urged his father.  "She'd like that.  I'd like to see you dance with her."

Exasperated, Apollo stared at him and found himself starting to laugh.  "A dance.  But they're dancing with silk ropes.  Ropes!  What's all that about?"

"It's a fashion, that's all."  His father had the contented, satisfied look back.  He thought he'd won again.

Apollo felt a surge of satisfaction himself.  He wasn't seventeen any more and he didn't think anyone could ride roughshod over him.  But a dance couldn't hurt.  "I don't do fashion.  But yes, I'll go and ask Sheba for a dance, because it's your birthday and you've asked me to do it.  It's little enough to do."

Adama beamed at him as he stood up.  He put his hand on his father's shoulder  and squeezed.  The old man was in for such disillusionment that this little palliative was the least Apollo could offer. 

"You know," he said, "she used to that shimmying thing with her hips when she was twelve."  He gave Sheba an assessing look, and nodded.  "One thing that's improved: at least now she has the hips to do it."

 

^+^+^+^+^+^+^+^+^

 

Final Act:  in which our hero overcomes Fortune's cruel blows, eschews unwanted romantic entanglements and clasps the love of his life to his bosom (and other sundry anatomical parts)

Boxey, worn out by mushies and happiness and teasing his Aunt Athena about her boyfriends, had fallen asleep on the shuttle back to the Galactica and hadn't woken fully even when Apollo carried him home.  Apollo had to tug off choc-stained clothing from a seven-yahren-old child who was nothing but sleepy, murmured complaints and floppy limbs.  He tugged the covers up and sat on the edge of the bed for a centon, brushing his hand over Boxey's hair.  Boxey was getting too old and independent to allow that very much when he was awake.

He couldn't love Boxey more if he had fathered him on Serina himself.  He couldn't be more grateful to Serina for leaving Boxey with him.  He kissed his son—another thing the child said he was getting too big for—and went away to bed.

Apollo's own room was dark and quiet.  Not to mention cold, with the Galactica powering down the living quarters for the night to save fuel.  He stripped quickly, letting his clothes drop to the floor and burrowed into bed to get warm.  The long, lean naked body waiting for him shifted slightly to make room.

Apollo lay on his back for a moment, making himself relax, letting the tension bleed out.  Hands reached for him, the fingers smoothing down his neck and shoulders.  He turned on his side and met Starbuck's mouth with his.

They didn't talk.  They didn't need to talk.  Mouth, lips, skin, hands: they touched as much as they could, held eloquent conversations that didn't need words; conversations that were made with kisses, and little bites and the slow, strong unhurried sweep of familiar hands on each other's body.

After a little while Apollo turned onto his left side, drawing up his right leg up out of the way, opening himself up in silent invitation.  Starbuck chuckled softly in the dark, spooning up warm and close behind him, his lips working down the side of Apollo's neck and shoulder, licking down his arm.

Apollo tilted his head back to meet Starbuck's mouth.  He had to twist his back to reach, relishing the pull on his abdominal muscles and the way it zinged its way down to his cock, making him gasp into Starbuck's mouth.  Starbuck liked kissing.  Starbuck was a good at kissing.  He nibbled at Apollo's lower lip, his hands moving all the time on Apollo's skin, smoothing down Apollo's sides now.  Starbuck's tongue pushed past Apollo's lips just as his hand closed around Apollo's cock.  Apollo's breath shifted into a soft little gasps, matching the rhythm of the hand stroking him.  He reached down and folded his hand around Starbuck's.

Starbuck chuckled again and kissed him one more time, before pulling back and starting to kiss his way down Apollo's spine, taking his time and licking every damn vertebrae on the way to the hollow at the base, knowing that it keyed Apollo up to an almost-intolerable pitch, pausing there to lick and kiss and mouth it until Apollo started to wriggle, sorely tempted to giggle.  He shifted his lower body until his belly was almost flat on the bed, trapping Starbuck's hand and his own beneath him.  It didn't affect the long, slow sweeps Starbuck's fist made up and down his cock.  Not one iota.  He rubbed his belly against the sheet and Starbuck's hand, making little breathy noises that even to his own ears sounded needy.

Starbuck shifted on the bed behind him.  Apollo heard the sound of the tube cap being popped and smiled to himself in the darkness, anticipating what came next. 

"Gonna be chilly," said Starbuck, softly, mouthing Apollo's buttock. 

"I'm sure you'll warm me up."

"That's my job," agreed Starbuck, and slid a well-lubed finger into Apollo, probing deep.  Apollo's hips heaved to match the rhythm, pushing his cock forward into Starbuck's fist and pushing back to meet the probing finger.  Two fingers twisting in him, burning and stretching, until the burn passed into pleasure.  Lords, but he could do this for ever, have Starbuck finger-fuck him and jack him off.  Forever.

"Ready?"

"uuuhhn," said Apollo, robbed of what little eloquence he possessed, and the Lords knew it wasn't much to start with.

The fingers gave one final twist, rubbing up against his prostate again, and were gone.  Apollo pressed his belly down onto the mattress and spread his legs apart a little further, gasping at the intense pressure as Starbuck's thick cock pushed against his tight entrance, pushed again, and breached him.

"uuuhhhnnn," he said again.

Starbuck pushed slowly, very slowly, into him.  Apollo relaxed his muscles, making it as easy as he could, relishing the feeling of being filled up, relishing the whole  hard length of Starbuck opening him up and claiming him.  Once more Starbuck changed position slightly, pressing his against Apollo's back, and this time when the slow push forward came Starbuck's cock brushed up against Apollo's prostate.

Apollo gasped.  It was like lightning flashed through his entire body.

He pushed back to meet each thrust, tightening the muscles in his backside on each push forward to tighten the hot channel Starbuck was creating in him, increasing the pressure on Starbuck's cock; relaxing on each down stroke.  Starbuck liked that; his breath came hard in Apollo's ear, and he was talking now, babbling nonsense between kisses to Apollo's neck and cheek and throat; and Starbuck moved again, shifting his weight to hold Apollo down and the rhythm changed, became faster and harder and instead of Starbuck's cock stroking up against Apollo's prostate, it pounded against it like a hammer, every stroke and thrust making Apollo grunt softly.  Starbuck's free hand pushed on Apollo's hip until he rolled into completely onto his stomach, lifting his hips to give Starbuck better access.

And then the heat in his balls felt like it was exploding. Starbuck moved faster and even harder, gasping with effort, his hips pumping energetically, fucking Apollo with that long, lovely cock until Starbuck pressed in hard and close and tight, the breath whining through his clenched teeth, shuddering inside Apollo.  Starbuck spasmed once, his hips stuttering, the rhythm lost, and spasmed again, and again just as Apollo, muffled by his pillow, came all over Starbuck's hand and his own.

He collapsed, gasping; Starbuck heavy on him, breathless and panting and planting hot, moist kisses over his upper back and shoulders.  Starbuck grumbled something and slipped out, but he didn't move, lying heavy on Apollo's back.  He slipped his other hand under Apollo's side and clung on.

"So," Starbuck said, when his breathing came back to normal.  "We aren't illegal anymore."

"Still exciting, though," mumbled Apollo into his pillow.  He shifted slightly, resigned to being trapped under Starbuck and stuck in the wet patch for a little while yet.  "Stay the night?"

"All night?"

"There's no need to sneak out, right?  After all, I'm sure Dad pushed through the regs change because he's concerned for my happiness, you heard him say so.  He should be delighted I'm taking advantage of it.  I think I'll tell him so, tomorrow."

"Yeah, well won't he be surprised."

Apollo thought about that and laughed.

And then he laughed some more.  Because he was, at last, a very happy man.

 

March 2008