"Daddy?  Are you awake, Daddy?"

Apollo groaned and buried his head under the pillow, but a small hand was shaking his shoulder persistently.  Boxey was nothing if not persistent.  Stubborn, even.

"Please wake up, Daddy." 

Apollo sighed and sat up.  "Lights.  Forty percent."

The computer brought the lights up, and he looked apprehensively at the small boy standing at the side of the bed.

"Are you feeling sick again?" he asked, patiently.

Now it has to be admitted that patience was not one of Captain Apollo’s most salient characteristics.  In fact, the captain’s temper had achieved semi-legendary status on the Galactica.  That’s not to say he was moody, exactly - at least, no-one said it if there was the remotest danger that Apollo might overhear them -  but there were always certain signs that had the troops hunting for storm shelters.  Every new recruit had it drummed into him or her from day one: the captain looks like a thundercloud, you find somewhere to hide or you’ll end up scrubbing the turboflushes with your toothbrush. 

But taking on Serina’s small son after her death had moderated Apollo’s moods considerably.  He’d had to learn to be patient.  After all, you really can’t set a six yahren old to scrubbing out the turboflushes, however provoked you are by finding that he’s whiled away a spare centar cutting all the fastenings off your spare flight jacket or - his latest effort -  used your favourite shirt to mop up a glass of spilled milk and then forgotten to put it into the wash.  Apollo had taken a deep breath and a firm hold on his temper, agreed that the fungal growth on the shirt was interesting, to say the least, binned it regretfully and had taken Boxey out to supper in the Officer’s Mess on the basis that if he spilled anything there the mess stewards could worry about it.

The change in him did not go unnoticed.  Contrary to what might have been expected, he wasn’t twice as bad tempered at work to make up for his near-saintly patience at home.  He lost his temper less, relaxed more, and things that would have had his pilots up for a chewing out - and could the captain be sarcastic! -  were now met with a shrug and indifference.  So far as he was concerned, he had far worse things to worry about with Boxey.  The warriors loved it.  Despite the twin handicaps of his little temper quirk and being Commander Adama’s son, Apollo had always been popular.  After all, despite the occasional tantrum, they had always been able to rely on him to protect them through thick and thin, hide their worst excesses from Colonel Tigh, and do his utmost to get them through every fire-fight unscathed.  They’d always appreciated his good qualities: it was just that the new Apollo was so much more relaxing to be around. 

Typically, Lieutenant Starbuck was the one to express delight in the change.  He observed that if they’d known that all it took to make Apollo human was being the father of an exacting six-yahren old, they’d have saved up their wages and bought him one yahrens ago.  *In fact*, Starbuck had said handsomely, *we’d have drawn lots to offer to have your baby.  I’d have volunteered myself, if we’d realised the beneficial effect fatherhood would have on you.  It would have been worth the pain and the loss of my girlish figure*.  The captain had laughed and proved, he said, how far he had mellowed by giving Starbuck the privilege of buying him drinks for the night by way of punishment for bare-faced cheek.  Besides, the captain had added with a disrespectful poke of his finger at Starbuck’s midriff, the lieutenant already looked to be with child, and had he thought about cutting down on the mushies?

Now Apollo looked at his son, took another deep breath - he’d found that a very useful parenting technique - and repeated his question.  "Sick again?" 

He put a hand on Boxey’s forehead, checking for fever.  It had been Boxey’s seventh birthday the previous day.  Unfortunately for Apollo, Boxey shared Starbuck’s passion for mushies and his grandfather had spent most of the day feeding him what Apollo had thought was an injudicious amount of the sticky sweets.  After the third time that night holding Boxey’s head over turboflush, Apollo had resolved to have very strong words with his father and be damned to military protocol.

"No, I’ve finished being sick," said Boxey.  "I couldn’t go back to sleep on my own, so I thought I’d come and talk to you."

Apollo gave him a dark look, then glanced at the chronometer beside the bed.  "It’s four o’clock in the morning," he said with astonishing calm.  He held up the quilt to let Boxey in.

"Is it?"  Boxey wriggled into bed beside him.  "Can Muffy come too?"

"No," said Apollo.  He shifted to give Boxey room, trying not to yelp at having to move into a cold and un-warmed part of the bed.  Sometimes, he reflected sourly, the price of fatherhood was too much to expect of one faulty human being.  Boxey snuggled in beside him.  "Lights out.  Go to sleep, Boxey."

"But I wanted to ask you a question.  It’s important."

Apollo bit back a sigh, seeing his chance of sleep disappearing.  "Well?" he asked, yawning.

"It’s about birthdays."

"I’m not going to let you have any more until you’re old enough not to get sick on mushies," Apollo warned him.  "We’ll start letting you have birthdays again when you’re thirty seven."

"Not mine, silly."  Boxey got his arms in his usual stranglehold around his father’s neck and gave him a crushing hug.  "It’s just that you have a birthday don’t you, Daddy?"

"Ye-es," admitted Apollo suspiciously.

"And Grandpa does, and Uncle Boomer, and Aunt ‘Thena and Cassie and Jolly and Giles and…"

"Are you going to list everyone on the ship? ‘Cos if you are, wake me up when you’ve finished."

"But Daddy, when’s Starbuck’s birthday?"

"We don’t know," said Apollo.  "We don’t know because Starbuck’s an orphan and no-one knows when he was born."

"That’s awful.  I’m an orphan but you know when my birthday is."

"You’re only half an orphan.  You’ve got me, God help me."  Apollo gave his son a hug.  For all his grumbles, he was pretty glad of the legacy Serina had left him.  He wouldn’t be without Boxey, even given the depredations on his limited wardrobe.  "But Starbuck didn’t have anyone to know when his birthday is.  We aren’t even sure how old he is."

Boxey thought that over.  "It’s awfully sad," he observed at last.  "It’s not fair.  We should do something to find him a birthday."

Apollo grinned into the darkness.  "How do we do that then?"

"We could ask someone.  We could ask Grandpa.  He knows lots."

"He doesn’t know not to feed small boys unlimited amounts of mushies," said an unforgiving Apollo.  "Next time *he* can spend the night in the turboflush with you."

"But Grandpa knows lots about everything," Boxey protested.  "Really, he does.  He tells me lots of stories about the Lords of Kobol."

"Oh Lord - you aren’t going to be religious, are you?" Apollo asked.

"Grandpa says he used to tell you the same stories and he can’t understand how you grew up to be such a heathen.  What’s a heathen, Daddy?  Anyway, he tells me stories of when you and Aunt ‘Thena and Uncle Zac were little like me."

"When I was little like you, your Uncle Zac was only a gleam in my father’s eye when he came home for a long furlough," Apollo said.  "What stories?"

"Oh, just stories.  He told me about when you went to school and met Starbuck, and him and Grandma Ila having to go to the Principal’s office because you were so naughty - what did you do, Daddy?  He wouldn’t tell me in case it gave me ideas, he said - and that he’s never known a centon’s peace since.  Why’s that, Daddy?"

"It goes with being a Dad," Apollo said, wondering if his father was passing on the tale of every incident that reflected badly on him as some obscure form of revenge.  "What peace do I get?"

"Anyway, the thing is that he’s known Starbuck nearly as long as you have, so he might know when Starbuck’s birthday is."

Apollo nodded to himself.  Boxey was right - it wasn’t fair that Starbuck didn’t have a birthday to celebrate like everyone else.  And the annoying thing was, even if Adama didn’t know when Starbuck’s birthday was, Apollo knew a man who did.  Although he’d promised faithfully not to tell Starbuck that Chameleon was the lieutenant’s father, that didn’t mean he couldn’t ask the old conman for more information.  In fact, he should have done.  It was unforgivably selfish not to have thought of this himself.  And it wasn’t as thought he didn’t want to do nice things for Starbuck.  Starbuck was his best friend after all.  He owed Starbuck

"Well, I know for sure that your Grandpa doesn’t know, but I might be able to come up with something.  Go to sleep now, Boxey, or you’ll be asleep all day in school tomorrow."

"I can’t go to school tomorrow!" Boxey said, outraged.  "I’ve been sick."

"Nice try." Apollo snuggled down under the quilt.  "But someone’s who’s well enough to come and talk to me about birthdays at four o’clock in the morning, is well enough to go to school tomorrow." 

He smiled blissfully at Boxey’s offended silence.  Sometimes the rewards of fatherhood were very sweet indeed.

 

 

It was several days before Apollo was able to track down Chameleon and ask him for the information that he needed.  It wasn’t that he put things off, it was just that they ran into a Cylon outpost and his attention was fully engaged in getting his pilots through the skirmishes and battles as safely as possible while neutralising the threat to the Fleet.  Events culminated in him taking down a small raiding party to destroy the outpost.  All the explosions and excitement drove the thought of birthdays from his mind completely: he’d always loved fireworks, and the outpost had provided him with a spectacular display.

It was almost a secton before he found himself on the Astoria.  The old freighter had been given over to house mainly the older survivors who were too old to work, those who had no families or who preferred some independence away from the demands of children and grandchildren.  Chameleon had a small room here, one of the privileges Apollo and Adama had been able to obtain for him.  The old man was almost embarrassingly pleased to see Apollo.

"Starbuck?"  he asked, looking past the captain as if hoping his son would be lurking in the corridor.  Starbuck did come to see him occasionally and Apollo knew that those were special days for Chameleon.

"Sorry - just me.  I needed to talk to you about him, so I couldn’t bring him with me.  Actually, he’s incredibly hard to shake.  He always thinks he has to go with me everywhere I go and he’s always so hurt when I run away by myself.  He’ll be waiting on the flightdeck for me when I get back, longing to demand to know where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to."  Apollo laughed suddenly.  "I’d have less trouble with a jealous wife."

Chameleon smiled.  "He’s all right though?"

"Fine.  He’s fine.  Won forty cubits off me last night."  Apollo settled himself into a chair.  "And you?"

Chameleon assured the captain that he too was fine, and could do with forty cubits himself if the captain was in a generous mood.

Apollo laughed and shook his head.  "No time, I’m afraid.  Besides, I’m pretty sure where Starbuck inherited the gambler’s instincts.  The thing is, Chameleon, my son was seven last secton, and he got talking to me about birthdays and how rotten it is that we don’t know when Starbuck’s is.  So I thought I’d come and ask."

Chameleon looked troubled.  "Why?  To celebrate it?"

Apollo nodded.

"But how could you do that without telling him how you found out?  I really don’t want him to know about me, Apollo.  Not until after I’m gone."

"I know, and I promise he won’t find out.  I thought I’d just organise a surprise party and tell him, and everyone else, that I chose an arbitrary day to be his birthday"

"You could do that anyway," Chameleon pointed out.

"Wouldn’t be the same."

"Why do you want to give him a party?"

Apollo was puzzled.  Why wouldn’t he want to give Starbuck a party?  "He’s my best friend.  He’s been there for me the past yahren and a half, since the Destruction and Serina’s death.  He’s always been there.  I just want to do something for him."

The old man nodded.  "All right.  Can I come to the party?"

"Of course," said Apollo.  He could see that Chameleon seemed to have expected more and he was puzzled about what that could be.  Chameleon must have seen for himself just how close they were, surely?  "You’re a friend, Chameleon."

The old man sighed.  "And that’s all I can ever be.  Well, you don’t have to wait too long, Apollo.  He’ll be thirty on the fifteenth of next sectar."

Apollo grinned.  "About five sectons away - good.  That’ll give me loads of time to organise things."

"Difficult, if he’s as hard to shake as you say."

"I’ll manage somehow.  I might just have to get stern with him and send him on a couple of extra patrols as punishment."

"For what?"

"With Starbuck," said Apollo, dryly.  "I’m spoiled for choice."

 

 

The next few sectons passed all too quickly.  Apollo was too busy to do anything at all for a little while, and suddenly woke up a couple of sectons before The Date realising that he’d better get a move on.  On reflection, he recruited Boomer to help organise things.  He had to admit that all of his duties plus looking after Boxey didn’t give him a lot of time to run parties as well. 

So Boomer was deputed to sort out the music - Apollo’s taste ran to classical music and even he would admit that wasn’t exactly party material - and to talk to the other pilots about presents.  Lots and lots of presents.  Actually, all Boomer had to do was explain that Apollo had decided that Starbuck had quite a backlog of birthdays to celebrate and that the captain expected them to be generous.  Boomer had only to look slightly apprehensive about the captain’s likely reaction if they weren’t, and the pilots, dreading the threatened long patrols, groaned and dug deep in their pockets and spent their down time roaming the various bazaars that had sprung up on some of the larger ships like the Rising Star and the Equus, looking for presents for Starbuck.  These ranged from the bizarre to the obscene, especially the obscene. 

After all, they knew Starbuck very well indeed.

 

 

Apollo himself spoke to Starbuck’s ground crew chief.  Jenny had headed the crew ever since Starbuck had joined the Galactica as a young Ensign so green he glowed in the dark, and she had a gruff affection for the brash Lieutenant.

"It’s a nice thing you’re doing," she said.

"Well don’t sound so surprised about it!" Apollo said, slightly hurt by this reaction.  "I’m a nice guy."

"Of course you are sir," she soothed.  "Presents?"

"As many as we can get."

"Okay," she said, looking thoughtful.  "I know a man who knows a woman who knows a man whose cousin’s a security guard on the Rising Star.  He can get into some of the private stores over there, and get me a case or two of fumarillos for Bucko.  All he ever does is leave the butts in the cockpit for me to clean out, but you’re right, sir.  It’s time we gave him something to celebrate."

"Oh," said Apollo, slightly chagrined.  "Nice idea." 

He’d thought about trying to get Starbuck a few fumarillos himself, but there was no way he could manage cases of them.  He obviously didn’t know the right sort of people. 

He didn’t know anyone with a cousin.

 

 

Sheba stole his next idea.  She’d offered to help when he’d first told the pilots what he had in mind, and she and several others were looking after the practical, logistical arrangements needed to provide the birthday feast.  Food was being secreted from stores to bake a birthday cake and make other goodies.  Apollo knew he ought to take official notice of the pilfering, but was resolutely overlooking it and telling his over-active conscience to pipe down.

"I’ll need to go shopping," she said, a happy gleam in her eyes.  "I’ll need something new to wear."

"And me," said Apollo, thinking wistfully of his lost shirt.  "If you’re heading out to the Rising Star, I heard that there’s a shop in the Bazaar selling luxury Pyramid decks.  Not your common, ordinary decks but real luxury items with decorative backs.  Could you…?"

"Apollo!  That’s a brilliant idea.  I was wondering what I could get him.  I’ll get him some new decks."

"But, I was going to get some…"

"Mind you, I won’t buy any that have rude pictures on the back, if that’s what you mean by "luxury".  There’s a limit to my good nature."

"But I hate shopping and I was going to ask you to buy them for me so I could give them to him…."

"I’m so grateful, Apollo, because I really didn’t know what to get him." 

Apollo sighed and gave up.  "Yeah.  Whatever.  It’ll be nice for him to have a few new decks to mark in his own inimitable way."

 

 

Cassie wasn’t much more of a comfort.  She had looked knowingly at Apollo when the Captain ran her to ground in the Life Centre.  "The party for Starbuck?  I heard.  It’s a nice idea."

"He’ll want you there, of course," Apollo said.  "We’re holding it in the OC.  I did think about hiring the club area on the Rising Star, but I just don’t have that sort of money.  At least in the OC I can afford to buy the first round and I can just order the bar steward to keep serving drinks after hours."

"You have the soul of a bully." 

"Nonsense.  One of the few compensations of command."

"Whatever you say, sir.  But Apollo - " 

"Uh-huh?"

"Me and Starbuck - it’s not working out, you know.  We’re still friends, but we don’t see that much of each other anymore."

"I know," said Apollo, awkwardly.  "I’m sorry."

Cassie grinned wryly.  "Well, he always had other calls on his time, and I guess that I got tired of coming second."

Apollo frowned at that.  "I don’t think he’s seeing anyone else, Cass."

She smiled.  "No?  Well, for once, it wasn’t another woman.  I knew he was losing interest when he’d break dates for Triad practices."

Apollo winced with guilt.  "But we’re the defending champions, Cass.  We have to practice.  We’ll lose otherwise."

"I’m not blaming you, Apollo.  That’s just the way it is with him."

"But you’re still friends and he’d be hurt if you weren’t there." 

"I’ll be there," she promised.  "What’s he getting for presents?"

"Well, Jenny’s beaten me on the fumarillo stakes, and Sheba just decided that she’d buy him a few new decks of cards, so I got wiped out there as well.  Boomer’s building him a new stereo system in his Viper, so he can listen to all the music people are buying him.  He hates the kind of music I’d buy, so I thought that I might get him some new Triad gear."

"Brilliant idea!" Cassie enthused.  "His is getting a bit worn.  Tell you what, I’ll speak to Athena and one or two of the other girls and we’ll get him a full set between us."

"But, what’ll I get him?"

He found himself biting back the more trenchant objections he might otherwise have made.  He had the feeling that he ought to make it up to Cassie somehow.  He felt quite ridiculously guilty about Starbuck spending so much of his off-duty time with his captain rather than his girlfriend - and Starbuck did spend an awful lot of time with Apollo. 

Not that Apollo minded Starbuck spending time with him, and he missed Starbuck like hell if the Lieutenant wasn’t around, but it hadn’t been fair on Cassie.  And he felt ashamed because he was glad Starbuck and Cassie weren’t together anymore.  He’d been a little surprised by the rush of happiness he got whenever he thought about the fact that Cassie and Starbuck were finished.  He put it down to his competitive instincts - if Starbuck wasn’t fooling around with Cassie, then he had more time to practice Triad.  Ergo, they’d win the championship again.  Ergo, Apollo was happy. 

Once he’d reached this reasoned, logical, convincing explanation of his reaction, he stopped trying to analyse it further.

"You’ll think of something," said Cassie brightly.

"Very comforting," snapped Apollo, and went away sulking.

 

 

Boxey, thankfully, was much easier to handle.  Apollo was able to persuade his son that Starbuck would really love having something made for him.  He suggested a picture or two for Starbuck’s quarters.

"You’ve been there," he said.  "Starbuck doesn’t have any pictures on his walls, not like us."  Apollo looked admiringly round at the evidence of Boxey’s artistic ability that decorated every vertical surface.  He was running out of walls, and Boxey had designs on decorating the duty office.  Apollo was uncomfortably aware that people thought that fatherhood had softened him: the centon they saw Boxey’s art in the duty office, they'd have irrefutable proof.  His hard-man reputation would be lost for ever.  Getting Boxey focused on Starbuck’s quarters would put off the evil day for a while.

"He’s got some holopics of you and him," Boxey pointed out.

"Yeah, but not real pictures.  Why not do some for him?"

"Okay.  What should Muffy do?"

Blow a fuse.  Melt a battery….Apollo looked with acute dislike at the droid daggit that, in a moment of complete insanity, he’d given his son.  No-one hated Muffy more than Apollo, although most of the Galactica’s crew ran him a close second.

"Maybe he can just help you out?" Apollo offered, resisting the temptation to kick Muffy around the living room a few times.  The droid yelped, and Apollo winced.

Boxey considered the proposal and nodded.  "What’ll I draw for him?"  he asked, flexing the fingers of his drawing hand like a true professional. 

"I don’t know.  How about doing his portrait?"

Boxey nodded, then grinned up at his father.  "I’ll draw him the thing he loves best in all the world," he said.

"Oh, you can draw packs of cards, then?" Apollo murmured, and went off to worry about what he could get Starbuck for a present. 

Everyone was stealing his best ideas.

 

 

Of course, it was impossible to hide things entirely from Starbuck.  He had a nose for atmosphere, did Starbuck, and he was aware that over the last couple of sectons, Apollo had taken every opportunity to give him the slip.  Apollo was definitely up to something, Starbuck knew it.  The only trouble was that he didn’t know what.

He worried about it.  It just wasn’t like Apollo to go off and do things without Starbuck being along.  Starbuck was Apollo’s wingman, his best friend since school.  They did everything together.  They always had.  They flew together, watching each other’s backs, sat out duty periods in the duty office together, drank together off duty, played Triad together (playing with anyone else was just inconceivable), went to watch other games together, played pyramid together (Apollo usually lost), went to the Rising Star together…you name it, and they did it together.  All right, there were some things that didn’t involve having your best buddy along to act as gooseberry - they weren’t into sexual threesomes - but precious few activities, all told, meant that you saw Apollo without Starbuck, or Starbuck and no sign of Apollo.  Most people never even thought of them separately.  It was always Apollo and Starbuck, Starbuck and Apollo.  Like a pair of conjoined twins.

Except often over the last two sectons it had been Starbuck, and where the hell is Apollo this time?  At first, Starbuck had asked Apollo where he’d been, why he hadn’t been available, as usual, for a game of pyramid, for a quick drink in the OC, but had been  fobbed off with vague, elusive answers that hadn’t told him anything.  Then Starbuck began to wonder if Apollo had tired of him.  After all, after fifteen yahrens almost, maybe they’d run out of things to talk about, and maybe Apollo was finding fresh stimulation somewhere new.  Of course, Starbuck didn’t like that thought.  He didn’t like the thought that Apollo might be bored with his friendship.  He didn’t like that at all.

Maybe there was a woman involved?  Serina had been dead for a yahren and a half, now, and Starbuck knew that Apollo was over the worst.  Starbuck was glad about that - he’d hated watching Apollo hurting.  Maybe Apollo had decided to look for someone new.  Starbuck didn’t need to analyse what he felt about that.  He knew what he felt about that prospect, all right.  Starbuck watched carefully, wondering who wasn’t around the same time that Apollo wasn’t. 

At first he suspected Sheba.  She’d made no secret of her attraction to Apollo, but the captain hadn’t seemed to notice and she’d recently turned her attention to her wingmate, Bojay.  Starbuck decided, after a few days of careful observation, that if the Sheba and Bojay romance was a blind it was pretty convincing, and it was unlikely that Bojay would go along with acting decoy for Apollo anyway. 

As for the other main contenders: Dietra was heavily involved with another pilot, Brie wasn’t Apollo’s type, and Rigel could yearn after Apollo until the stars went out but he’d never noticed her before and it was unlikely that even such a cataclysmic event would change things.

Boomer wasn’t much help.  After telling Starbuck trenchantly that he was imagining things, he didn’t help by pointing out that Apollo did have a life of his own to lead.  That got to Starbuck.  He didn’t want Apollo to have a life of his own.  He wanted Apollo where he’d always been, sharing Starbuck’s life.  He had to get Apollo back somehow. 

 

 

By the morning of the party, Apollo was almost frantic with despair about what to get Starbuck for a present.  Absolutely everything he’d thought up had been stolen - there was no other word for it - by his family and friends.  In the end, he awarded himself a half day’s furlough to go shopping, not his favourite activity at the best of times.  He was waiting glumly for the next shuttle to the Rising Star when his communicator chimed.

"This is Colonel Tigh, Captain.  Report to the Bridge immediately."

"But I’ve got a half day off - "

"Cancelled," said Tigh without a hint of an apology.  "On the double, Captain.  Or I might start asking awkward questions about the stores inventory."

Apollo grumbled and obeyed, resentful about the unthinking, unreasonable hierarchy that constituted military life.  On his arrival on the Bridge he found that his father had been called into a Council meeting, and Tigh was in command.  The colonel smiled thinly at Apollo and told him that life in command would be incomplete without someone to order around, and Apollo was drafted.

Apollo looked pointedly around at the forty or so Bridge crew, all of whom were available for taking orders without his afternoon off being cancelled.

"Don’t say it," Tigh advised him.  "Don’t even think it.  Look on this as good command experience, Captain, and as a warning not to lose me money in the future.  I had a secton’s pay riding on that last Triad match, when you beat Drake and Bojay.  I lost, and I don’t like the way your father smirks when he wins.  Remember what the Book says about the sins of the fathers."

"And Dad wonders why I’m not religious," said Apollo bitterly.

 

 

Starbuck was fretting.  He and Apollo had a Triad practice lined up at the end of the duty period, and he was all prepared for Apollo cancelling, the way he’d done a few times recently.  He was late already.  Starbuck was steeling himself for the disappointment, working out in his head the likely scenarios when he confronted Apollo and demanded to know what was going on. 

He worked himself up into a fine state of pained indignation, determined to be restrained about it all, although making sure that Apollo realised how hurt he was - no shouting, no hitting, no throwing things, just a few dignified enquiries about whether he’d offended Apollo in some way and calm, friendly questions about who Apollo was spending his time with these days.  Then he’d start shouting and hitting and throwing things.

Having worked himself into this state of high drama, Starbuck was almost disappointed when Apollo raced into the dressing room only five centons late and skidded to a halt at his locker.

"Sorry - Tigh’s got it in for me today.  He insisted on holding me back to go over the duty shift with me so he could point out every little thing I’d done wrong.  I barely had time to get back to my quarters and change.  I’m going to have to persuade Dad to stop betting with him on our games.  He’s a sore loser."

Starbuck grinned at him, suddenly ridiculously happy.  Apollo hadn’t cancelled after all.  "We could always lose a few matches," he suggested.

"And have Dad mad with us instead?  Do you want to spend the next sectar piloting the shit wagons to the Agri-ship?"  Apollo was shedding his clothes fast to get into the Triad kit.

"Fertiliser, Apollo.  Fertiliser," said Starbuck; primly.  He looked away as Apollo got naked, and pulled on the skimpy Triad uniform.  "I was beginning to think you wouldn’t show."

"As if!" Apollo snorted as they headed onto the court.  "We’re playing Reese and Gomez next secton, and I still have to teach you that you don’t have two left feet."

Starbuck was outraged.  "The day you have to teach me anything about Triad, is the day I *volunteer* to pilot the shit wagons!"

Apollo grinned at him.  "Fertiliser, Starbuck.  Fertiliser."

 

 

"Coming for a drink?"  Apollo asked casually, after an hour’s hard practice.

"You have to ask?  You *have* forgotten who I am," Starbuck said.  "That’s probably because I haven’t seen much of you recently."

"You see me every day."

"You know what I mean!" Starbuck shot back.  He’d noticed that throughout the practice Apollo had kept checking his chronometer.  He was doing it again, for frack’s sake!  "You sure you have time for a drink?"

"One, maybe."

"I wouldn’t want to keep you from whatever it is you’re up to these days."

"Oh, I can spare the time for this," said Apollo, apparently blind and deaf to Starbuck’s manner.  "I’ll even buy you one."

"That’s good of you," Starbuck said, still acidic, and shut up, sulking his way through the oddly deserted corridors.  All his thoughts were on what he was going to do about Apollo.  Trouble was, he didn’t know what he was going to do about Apollo.

They reached the OC door and Apollo paused, glancing once more at the chronometer on his wrist. 

"You don’t have to, you know!" Starbuck said angrily, not missing Apollo’s concentration on the time.

"What?"

"Waste time with me.  I’m sure you have lots to do."

"And zero," Apollo said, and beamed at him.  "Starbuck, you’re an idiot.  In you go"

"I’m not sure I want a drink now," said Starbuck with wounded dignity when Apollo opened the door and physically pushed him in.  "Ow!  Apollo!"

The room was in darkness and very quiet. 

"Shit!" grumbled Starbuck.  "A power cut?"

"Fertiliser, Starbuck," came Apollo’s voice in the darkness beside him.  "Now!"

The lights flicked on at the captain’s command, and there was a huge cheer.  Starbuck stood blinking, trying to take in the streamers (courtesy of Boxey), balloons, the crowds of cheering people blowing whistles and hooters at him.  His mouth fell open with surprise.

Apollo reached over and gently closed his jaw.  "Surprise!  We thought we’d give you a party."

"A party?" Starbuck repeated idiotically.  "What for?"

But Boomer and Jolly pulled him away before Apollo could explain, and Starbuck had to run the gauntlet of greetings, back-thumpings and hugs from the entire OC, people shaking his hand, pushing packages at him….  then someone hit the stereo button and the music started, drinks were pushed into Starbuck’s hand and he was pulled half a dozen ways at once by people who wanted to hug him and talk to him.  Every time he looked back over his shoulder, Apollo was standing smiling at him.

"That streamer says Happy Birthday," Starbuck said dazedly to Cassie, when she hugged and kissed him hello.

"Uh-huh.  Apollo decided that it was time you had one.  He’s been organising this for sectons"

Starbuck's ears burned.  "So that’s what he’s been up to?"

Boxey tugged urgently on Starbuck’s hand.  "Starbuck.  Do you like it?  Daddy thought you’d like a surprise."

"Yeah," Starbuck said slowly, still dazed.  "Yeah, I like it.  But we don’t know it is my birthday, kid"

"I know, but Daddy said that today was as good a day as any.  He said I could come for a little while to wish you happy birthday then I’m going to Grandpa’s.  Daddy said he’d probably be needed later on to hold your head over the turboflush, so Grandpa said that’d be no sight for an innocent child - Daddy laughed lots at that.  Why, Starbuck?  He wouldn’t tell me and Grandpa said he’s a rotten father to have."

"No!"

"Grandpa didn’t mean it, really.  Anyway, Grandpa said I’d better stay with him tonight and keep out of the way.  Will you be sick, Starbuck?"

"I might be," Starbuck said, refusing to commit himself.

"I was, on my birthday,"  Boxey said proudly.  "I was sick three times."

"Then I’ll have to do even better.  I’ll bet I’m sick four times, at least."  Starbuck was grinning happily now, the first shock of surprise over.  He really had to get hold of Apollo.  He couldn’t believe that Apollo - his Apollo! - could be so sneaky.

"You’ll be all right with Daddy to look after you.  He’s very good when I’m sick and he lets me get into his bed later."  Boxey held out a gaily painted cardboard tube.  "There’s a painting inside for you.  It’s your present from me and Muffy."

"Where is Muffy?" asked Starbuck, looking round for the droid daggit.

"Daddy wouldn’t let me bring him.  He said daggits get too excited in crowds and wet the floor.  Sometimes Daddy doesn’t remember that Muffy’s not a real daggit."

Starbuck silently blessed Apollo for that prohibition and took the proffered gift.  "Did Muffy help you do it?"

"Of course not," Boxey said scornfully.  "He can’t paint.  Oh, there’s Jolly.  He might have some mushies.."

"Well if he has, they’ll be for me," Starbuck said, but Boxey just reached up for a hug and then ran off.  "Hey! Don’t you dare eat them all, kid!"

When Starbuck turned around again, Apollo was there, grinning at him.  For a moment they smiled at each other.

"This is all your idea?" Starbuck demanded.

"It’s all Boxey’s fault.  He got a bit worked up about us not knowing when your birthday was, so I sort of invented one for you.  Do you mind?"

"No." Starbuck was grinning back.  "How old am I today then?"

"Thirty, I thought."

"No way!  Twenty-nine, maybe.  I’m far too young and handsome to be thirty."

"Thirty," said Apollo.  "This is my idea and I’m setting the rules.  Besides, that makes you six sectars older than me and gives me a pleasing sense of superiority."

"Why do I have to spend my life pandering to your ego?"

"You’re a lieutenant.  I’m the captain.  Work it out for yourself."  Apollo was grinning at him lovingly.  "Happy Birthday, Starbuck"

Starbuck held him very tight and close.  "Thanks, Apollo," he choked. 

Then Boxey was back, mouth already spread with choco from the mushies Jolly had brought.  "Come and open your presents," he ordered briskly, mimicking his father’s ‘I’m giving you an order, young man’ tone to perfection.  "I want to see them before I have to go to Grandpa’s.  They’re over here."

He dragged Starbuck away.  Starbuck, looking over his shoulder and laughing apologetically at Apollo, was astonished to see the captain looking guilty and worried.

 

 

"Thanks for helping me back with these," Starbuck said, as he and Apollo staggered into his quarters laden down with the pile of presents.  "They’re all brilliant!  Cards, and smokes, and a new kit and did you hear what Chameleon did?  He’s arranged dinner and a stateroom on the Rising Star for me and - I quote - the companion of my choice."

"That’s nice." Apollo wondered how he was going to apologise to Starbuck for not having got him anything.  Honestly, Starbuck must be so hurt.  Apollo was meant to be his best friend after all.

"And I’m not even drunk!  Three o’clock in the morning after the best party ever and I’m not drunk.  We’re both a bit merry, maybe, but still on our feet.  So you won’t have to hold my head over the turbo-flush after all."

"Who told you that?" Apollo asked, trying to smile.

"Blabbermouth Boxey, of course.  That kid of yours is turning out to be quite a snitch."  Starbuck suddenly scrabbled through the pile of presents.  "That reminds me.  He said he’d done me a painting…here we are"  He tapped it out of the tube, unrolled it and studied it carefully.  "Stick insects, do you think?" he asked after a moment.

"He said he was painting the thing you loved best in the world." 

"But I don’t like bugs.  What made him think I liked bugs?"

"Here, let me see.  After eighteen sectars of fatherhood, I’m ship’s champion in decoding Boxey’s art."  Apollo looked solemnly at the two figures on the painting.  "Easy.  That stick insect has black hair, so that’s me.  This one has yellow hair, so that’s you."

Starbuck grinned.  "He’d better not be an artist when he grows up, that’s all." 

"No problem.  He wants to be a fighter pilot like his old man."

"Let’s hope he flies better than he draws."  Starbuck poured out two glasses of the vintage ambrosa that Adama had given him, and handed one to Apollo.  "Cheers, old friend.  And thank you."

Apollo looked down into his glass at that, gathered up his courage.  "I’m sorry, Starbuck," he said contritely.

"What for?"

"I meant to get you a present, but Tigh scuppered that by making me stay on the Bridge all afternoon.  How he then had the gall to come to the party and drink at my expense, beats me.  And everyone stole the ideas I’d had anyway."

Starbuck stared at him.  "But you organised everything.  The party was my present."

"I wanted to give you something special," Apollo grumbled, still mortified and guilty

Starbuck grinned at him.  "Apollo, why did you organise me a party?"

"I told you.  Boxey got worried that we didn’t know when your birthday was so I decided to improvise."  Apollo crossed his fingers as he told the little white lie that kept Chameleon out of it.

"But why, exactly, did you decide to do that?  Why did it matter?"

"Oh," said Apollo, cottoning on.  "Because you’re my best friend."

"And?"

"And I love you,"  Apollo said with the slightest of blushes.

"Best present of all," Starbuck said, reaching for him for another hug. 

Apollo hung onto him for a moment, then his eyes widened and he pulled away.  The captain hoped desperately that Starbuck hadn’t noticed his erection.  That hadn’t happened before!  They had always been affectionate friends and Apollo had hugged Starbuck time without number.  He’d never got so.. so embarrassing before.  Apollo wondered confusedly if, for once, he’d had more to drink than Starbuck, if there was something funny about this ambrosa and that was the reason for the sudden heat in his groin, then found himself staring at Starbuck as if he’d never seen him before, at the shock of blond hair and the vivid blue eyes that made him feel as if he was drowning.  He realised that he was suddenly breathing heavily and his heart was hammering.  What had he been drinking?

Starbuck was frowning at him now, and Apollo decided that it was time to get out of there before something…anything… happened.

"I’d better go," he said, gesturing at the door.  "Boxey."

"Is at your Dad’s.  He said so."  Starbuck’s frown deepened. 

"Oh.  So he is." 

"Are you all right?  You’re going pink."

"No I’m not."

"Oh yes you are!  Very pink."

"It’s hot in here," Apollo said desperately.

"No it’s not.  What’s wrong?" Starbuck demanded.  "What’s bugging you?"

"Nothing," said Apollo hastily and untruthfully.  He sought wildly for another topic of conversation.  "So, who’ll you take to the Rising Star?  Cassie?"

Starbuck looked at him doubtfully, but let it pass.  "Naw.  I told you that’s sort of fizzled out.  She might agree to go with me, but it’d just be physical, you know?  At my advanced old age, I’m starting to look for something more."

"Oh," said Apollo, with a sudden stab of anguish that Starbuck might find that something more, might want something more than Apollo.  His world rocked.

"Are you all right?"  Starbuck asked again. 

"Fine." Apollo was gloomy, depressed, confused.  He realised that he didn’t want Starbuck to find something more.  That would mean he wouldn’t have the time to spend with Apollo.. that would be inconceivable, awful.  He felt sick.

"Did you drink too much and need your head holding?"

"I don’t think so." Apollo looked moodily at the floor for a centon, facing up to the sudden realisation about how important Starbuck was to him, despairing about it.  Starbuck was a ladies man - he wouldn’t want Apollo.  Not like that.  "I think I’m just tired.  I’ll go to bed, I think."

He was determined to say goodnight from a distance, but Starbuck, looking worried,  caught hold of him again in another huge bear hug. 

"Thanks again, Apollo," he said.

"It’s okay," said Apollo, concentrating hard.  He hadn’t prayed for a long time: as Adama said, he was a bit of a heathen.  But now he prayed.  *Please, oh please don’t let me embarrass me or him. Please don’t, please  …Oh shit.  Oh shit…*

Starbuck drew back slightly.  "Apollo?" he said in astonishment.

Apollo silently begged the Gods to let him die on the spot.  They didn’t listen to that prayer either.

"Apollo!"  Starbuck was grinning now, a strange expression in the vivid blue eyes.  "For me?"

Apollo sighed and, decidedly pink around the ears, started apologising.  "Sorry.  It’s my problem, Starbuck, not yours.  I don’t know what’s got into me.  It must be the drink.  I’m sorry."

Starbuck’s grin was widening.  "Apollo, when you said you loved me just now did you mean like I always thought you meant, like a brother?  Like with Zac, I mean."

"Of course," said Apollo unconvincingly.  He looked into Starbuck’s eyes and stopped breathing.  Why was Starbuck looking at him like that?  Why wasn’t Starbuck outraged, embarrassed, laughing at him?

"That’s all?  Because..." Starbuck released him suddenly and stepped away, turning his back on Apollo.

Apollo found that he was able to breathe again.  Just as well, because everything had started going fuzzy round the edges.  He slid a hand into his pants and eased his throbbing erection.  He snatched his hand away again, his face burning,  when Starbuck turned around again.

"Thing is, Apollo, I want to take someone really special with me to the Rising Star next secton.  Someone I can have a quiet romantic dinner with and make love to all night in that luxury stateroom."

"That’s nice," said Apollo.  He felt like he’d just taken a kick to the solar plexus.  Who was Starbuck’s someone really special?  Was there someone Apollo didn’t know about?  Why was Starbuck tormenting him about it?

"Yeah." Starbuck stepped back up to Apollo and put his hands on the Captain’s shoulders.  "So will you come to the Rising Star with me next secton?"

Apollo stared at him, mute.

"You see, Apollo, I’ve known for yahrens how I feel, but I never thought you felt the same way.  But the way you’re acting now has me wondering."

Apollo found his voice.  "Wondering what?"

"If it's not like a brother."  Starbuck stared into Apollo's eyes.

"I…Star.." Apollo stopped, thought about it for a micron.  "Oh."

"Oh what?"

"Oh, that’s why I was so pleased when you and Cassie broke up.  I thought I was just being selfish because it meant we could spend more time together practising and we’d win the Triad Championship and…" Apollo’s voice trailed away as Starbuck pulled him close again.  "Oh Lords!" he breathed.

"So it’s just the Triad?" Starbuck asked.

Apollo could only look him in the eyes, and shook his head, mutely pleading for Starbuck to do something about this.

Starbuck grinned at him, then leant forward and kissed him for the first time.  Apollo closed his eyes, opened his lips to take Starbuck’s probing tongue.  Starbuck tasted of ambrosa and fumarillos, with an undercurrent of choco mushies.  Starbuck tasted wonderful and the entire world was in that kiss.  So it was something of a surprise to Apollo a few centons later to find himself on the bed with Starbuck pulling urgently at his clothing.  He didn’t remember how he got there.

"Starbuck?"

"Shush, Apollo."  Starbuck kissed him again, planting lots of swift kisses over Apollo’s face and throat.  "Do you want this?"

"Well, yes," admitted Apollo through the distracting kisses, both hands in Starbuck’s hair as he pulled his lover’s face closer for more passionate and satisfying mouth and tongue exercises.  He wriggled to help Starbuck get him out of his clothes.  "But Starbuck… Starbuck, I’ve never… I mean, I know the theory, but I’ve never…not with a man, I mean…."

"I know." Starbuck kissed each of Apollo's eyes, and Apollo moaned with the pleasure. 

Then Starbuck's words registered and Apollo was momentarily indignant, wondering if his inexperience showed.  "How do you know?"

"You’d have told me, right?  You tell me everything, remember?"

"Oh.  Yeah.  I suppose so."

"So tonight I’ll make love to you, as a sort of demonstration of the technique." Starbuck was laughing and he looked so happy that Apollo's throat constricted.  "Then next time you can make love to me."

"I don’t know what to do."

"I do," Starbuck assured him.  "Just follow my lead."  He ducked down to kiss Apollo again, then licked his throat down to the little hollow at the base.

Apollo almost purred. 

"You liked that, eh?"  Starbuck was frantically undressing as he spoke.  "Apollo, listen to me."

"Do that again."

"I will, over and over.  Listen though.  The first time, there might be some discomfort, but you know I would never hurt you.  I want to come inside you."

"Good," said Apollo, not really listening, just giving himself up to feeling.  He was naked now, lying back on the bed and Starbuck was sitting astride him, looking down at him. 

Hesitantly at first, then more confidently as he saw how much Starbuck liked it, Apollo began to stroke Starbuck’s erection.  Starbuck moaned softly, leaned down to kiss him, then bending his back he started licking and kissing, back to the little hollow at the base of Apollo’s throat that got Apollo wriggling and exclaiming incoherently, then working his way down to lick lavishly around Apollo’s nipples.

Apollo reached up to meet Starbuck’s mouth again, hands still busy on Starbuck’s hard cock.  Then realisation hit him and he fell back on the pillow.

"My God - you want to put this thing inside me?" He gave Starbuck’s cock a gentle little squeeze.  "I’ll never walk again!"

"Flatterer!" Starbuck said, then kissed Apollo gently.  "Don’t worry.  You’ll love it.  And I’ll take time to get you ready for me and you’ll love that too.  And we’ll stop any time you want me to, I promise."

"I’d better love it.  I’d better want a great deal more of it or you, Lieutenant, are on report."

"Oh yeah?  And which bit of the Regs covers failing to satisfy your commander in bed?"  Starbuck was grinning.  He wriggled down Apollo’s body and had taken Apollo into his mouth before Apollo could remind him just who was the captain around there.

"Oh Starbuck," breathed Apollo in a state of quite desperate desire. 

"Nice?" mumbled Starbuck, licking up the length of Apollo’s shaft and lapping the pre-cum leaking from the head.  "Oh, very nice."

He came back up to kiss Apollo, to let Apollo taste himself.  He reached over to the shelf beside the bed for something, then worked his way down Apollo’s body again.  He got back to work on Apollo’s cock, then, when Apollo was writhing and surprising himself at the incoherent and rather needy noises he was making, Starbuck slid a well lubed finger into Apollo for the first time.

Apollo gasped and his back arched.  "Starbuck!" he said in vague protest, then  Starbuck’s finger found the spot, began to stroke Apollo’s prostate and anything the Apollo might have said was lost in a groan that could probably have been heard half the universe away.  A little bit of him scolded himself for sounding so desperate.

"Didn’t know about that, did you?" Starbuck said with a leer, watching as Apollo wriggled and writhed, and he got in the second finger, scissoring and twisting them inside Apollo.

Apollo answered with another moan and managed to half sit up.  He tugged Starbuck’s head up, desperate to kiss him.  "Oh God," he said, almost whimpering.  "That feels amazing!"

"Told you," Starbuck said and worked away with a will for some time. 

He got in the third finger, much more gently.  Apollo tensed up, Starbuck making soothing noises and keeping up the stimulation until Apollo relaxed again, and he began to move his fingers in and out, hooking them slightly so that on each downward pull they caught on the ring of muscles around Apollo’s anus.  Apollo started moving with him, meeting each thrust of Starbuck’s fingers with a downward surge of his own.

"Ready?" asked Starbuck gently, smothering his cock in lube.  Lots of it.

Apollo just nodded, and Starbuck lifted his legs up onto his shoulders, pressing the tip of his cock against Apollo.  Apollo caught his breath.

"Just relax. Let me do all the work" Starbuck was soothing, almost crooning the words.

Apollo took a deep breath and made his tense muscles relax.  There was a sudden sharp pain that had him gasping and his back arching again, then Starbuck was pushing forward, and he gave himself up to the incredible feeling of fullness as his lover penetrated him.  The pain just faded away.

Starbuck, eyes closed, took his time, stopping every now and then to let Apollo get used to the new sensation of having a man inside him, then at last he was all the way in, his balls pressed up against Apollo, Apollo’s still-hard cock pressing up against Starbuck’s stomach.

Starbuck opened his eyes and leant forward to kiss Apollo hungrily and lovingly.  He was breathing very heavily now.  "Gods, but you’re hot and tight.  Am I hurting you?"

"No," Apollo managed, and meant it.  His hand reached up to touch Starbuck’s face.  "It feels good."

"It is good.  The best."  Starbuck drew back then surged forward again.  Apollo’s whole body heaved and his legs slipped down to hook around Starbuck’s waist.  Back, then forward again. 

He braced himself against the mattress with his left hand and started jacking off Apollo with the right, timing the strokes of his hand with the thrust of his cock into Apollo’s body.  Apollo went wild, his body bucking and heaving under Starbuck’s, his hands slipping round to clutch at Starbuck’s buttocks and pull him in even further.  For a few centons they were one body, moving fast and hard, joined in a single rhythm; Starbuck moaning in unison with Apollo, who groaned ach time Starbuck’s cock pounded against his prostate.

Neither of them could take this for long.  Starbuck yelled as he came, as he shot his load high up into Apollo’s body, coming in spurts as his cock went into spasm after spasm, Apollo tightening on him on each spasm, milking him dry, Apollo’s legs tight around his waist.  Somehow he managed to keep going with his hand on Apollo, and Apollo came a centon after him.  Maybe not quite as noisily, but it was close.

Sobbing for breath, Starbuck collapsed on top of Apollo’s chest.  Apollo’s legs loosened their grip on Starbuck’s waist and slid away.  He got his arms around Starbuck and pulled him down.

They lay still for a few centons, then, still breathing heavily, Starbuck slid out of Apollo and lay down beside him, pulling up the quilt to cover them both.  Apollo pressed up against him, eager to have as much of his skin touching Starbuck’s as possible.

"Apollo," was all Starbuck could say for a centon or two until his breathing steadied, but he was grinning delightedly.  "That was amazing."  He looked into Apollo's eyes and said anxiously.  "Did I hurt you?"

Apollo focused on him and smiled lazily.  "No.  Loved it." 

"You sure?  I’d hate to hurt you…" 

"I’m sure.  Why did no-one ever tell me how good sex with a man is?"

"You want everyone to know?"  Starbuck kissed him again.  "Mmn, you taste nice.  So will you come to the Rising Star with me next secton?"

"You’ll be on long patrols for the rest of your life if you dare take anyone else."  Apollo pulled Starbuck in close.  "But that’s a whole secton away…"

"Oh, we’ll find time to be together before then.  After all, who can rig the duty rosters to make sure we get some down time together while Boxey’s at school?  There has to be some advantage to being in love with your commanding officer."

"You’re a corrupt man, Lieutenant," Apollo said disapprovingly, and Starbuck smiled complacently. 

"That’s why you love me."

"That’s a fact," Apollo said, snuggling in close.

They were silent for a long time, drifting, then Starbuck said, voice heavy with sleep.  "One hell of a present, Apollo.  Something really special.  Best ever."

Apollo smiled, smoothed down the tumbled blonde hair that was resting on his shoulder, suddenly incredibly grateful to Tigh for preventing him from going shopping.  "My pleasure.  Happy birthday, Starbuck."

"Oh it is,"  said Starbuck, waking up enough to be determined to get the last word.  "And believe me, I’m going to insist on many happy returns."

 

The end