History is a distillation of rumour
Thomas Carlyle, History of the French Revolution (1837)

 

 

"You do know why Cain was so mad keen on getting command of the Pegasus, don't you?"

"Other than being mad keen to get any battlestar command?  No."

"You must!"

Apollo sips at his beer.  "Bit before my time, Starbuck.  Let's see… Dad got the Galactica when I was about nine, and I know Cain was more than five yahrens behind him in the getting-command-of-a-battlestar stakes, so I must have been at least fifteen, maybe sixteen, when Cain got his command.  I hate to say it, but that was a long time ago."

"Half a lifetime."

"Hey, I'm not thirty yet!  The point is that nobody thought to tell me anything about it at the time—maybe because they knew I couldn't care less—and I don't think anyone ever thought to confide in me in the yahrens since.  So, no, Starbuck,  I don't know why he was so mad keen to get the Pegasus."

"I thought everyone knew."

Apollo shrugs.  "He had quite the reputation.  I mean, if anyone was still writing them, he'd have his place in any history of the Destruction.  He was lauded as a hero, and he was brave, resourceful, and a quite brilliant, if erratic, tactician.  They probably thought he deserved his own command and the Pegasus was the first available."

"That's the best you can come up with?  And in your book, 'tactician' comes close to a term of abuse.  That's Apollo-code for 'doesn’t see the bigger picture' and 'too focused on his own glory for the Colonies' good'."

"It may be," concedes Apollo, who's not uncritical of Commander Cain's legendary reputation.  He glances over to the table where Silver Spar's officers sit, still the cohesive little group that says they're Pegasus, not Galactica, and proud of it.  "But I'm not writing a history."

"You will," prophesies Starbuck.  He knows how much Apollo sometimes yearns for the academic career he relinquished to join Fleet.  He's the only person who knows about the datapad that has dozens of pages of useful notes that might come in handy if ever Apollo has the time to write them up.  Apollo's never told anyone else.  "One day.  But, you know, you'll have to get your research and your sources right."

"Research," echoes Apollo.  He takes another fortifying sip of beer.  "All right, Starbuck, lay it on me.  What snippet of historical research do you have for me regarding Cain and the Pegasus?"

"Why are you always the last person to know anything?"

"I'm too pure for gossip."

"Too damn oblivious, is more like it.  You must have heard this one.  Everyone's heard this one."

"Not me."

"All right."  Starbuck hitches his chair closer and lowers the volume to 'confidential' setting.  His breath tickles Apollo's ear, he's so close, but Silver Spar's table is nearby and he won't want to be overheard talking about their departed hero.  "What is Pegasus, exactly?  In mythology, I mean."

"Flying horse."

"Exactly!"

Apollo waits patiently.

"Oh come on!  Do I have to draw you a picture?"

"Yes."

"Sheesh.  All right, I heard that he wanted the Pegasus because he's—" and Starbuck's tone drops even further and there's a measurable pause between each word to ensure Apollo's impressed— "Hung.  Like.  One."

Apollo stares.  Starbuck nods.  After a micron or two of Apollo staring and Starbuck nodding, Apollo asks, wonderingly, "Do I need to know this?"

"Everyone else does."

"So you are seriously telling me that you've heard that Cain took command of the Pegasus because he's—"

"Hung." Starbuck grins happily.  "They don't call him the Juggernaut for nothing, you know.  They say that Cain likes things to match, if you know what I mean.  The Columbia wouldn't work that way, or the Atlantia or the Antiope or—".

"Are you going to list every battlestar we ever had?  Because this could take a while."

"Shush, this is important.  Now, obviously, he couldn’t have the Galactica, which would be the only other possibility so he could get in lots of puns about being galactically enormous—"

Apollo chokes.  "No, Starbuck!  I am not having a conversation about anything galactic.  This is my father's ship, for frack's sake!"

"Well, that's a bit of a leap," admonishes Starbuck.  "I didn't say that all battlestar commanders were the same about things like this.  I didn't even mention galactic sizing and your father in the same breath.  That's how rumours get started."

"You don't say," says Apollo, bitterly.

"Let's just keep on topic here, shall we?  Do you think it's true about Cain?"

"How the hell should I know?" Apollo adds, nastily: "You should ask Cassie.  She's the expert."

The reference to Starbuck's on-off-on-maybe off (again) girlfriend seems to leave him unfazed.  If Starbuck's still upset about Cassiopeia dumping him when Cain appeared and running back to him when Cain vanished again, he doesn't show it.  "Straight from the horse's mouth, you mean?"

Apollo chokes again.  "Can we please get off the subject of horses?  That was another image I didn't need."

"I don't know what you mean.  It's just a saying.  Anyhow, Cassie was the one who told me.  She said that me and Cain are alike in more ways than just being devastatingly good-looking daredevils.  Although I think she really meant me for the devastatingly good looking bit.  Cain wasn't that much of a looker."

Apollo signals to the steward to bring him something stronger than beer.  He mimes the steward bringing him the big bottle of proof ambrosa because he knows in his bones that it's going to be one of those sorts of evening.  He waits until the steward pours their drinks and departs again, Apollo snaffling the bottle from the man's hands and keeping it beside him.  It's definitely going to be one of those sorts of evenings.  "So, you are seriously telling me that you're spreading this rumour about Cain—"

"Only to you!  I never gossip."

"—just so you can boast to me that Cassie thinks you're hung like a horse."

"Well, if you put it like that, I sound sort of needy.  I'm never needy.  I only wondered if you thought it was true." 

This time Apollo swallows his ambrosa the wrong way and it's several centons before he's finished whooping for breath, Starbuck pounding helpfully on his back.  The steward sneers at him from across the room.  "Are you insane?  How would I know?"

"There's not a lot of privacy in the military, Apollo."  

"I don't look," says Apollo, stiffly.  There's the little burst of warmth in his chest that he so often gets when he's with Starbuck and which he's getting conditioned into believing is embarrassment. 

"Not even in the showers after missions, and such like?  A golden opportunity that passed you by!  You must have noticed."

"Especially not in the showers after missions," hisses Apollo, terrified they'll be overheard.
 
"Right."  Starbuck sticks a fumerillo into his mouth, and says, indistinctly, "Of course you don't look.  You're a well brought up, buttoned-up little Kobolian boy."

"I'm in a position of authority here.  I can’t afford to have people talk about me.  You know that."

"And if you're caught looking, people talk.  I know.  I understand that.  I applaud your self-restraint."

Apollo rubs at his temples to ward of the incipient headache.  "Starbuck, what is this conversation about?"

"Nothing, really.  We're just talking."

"Like with about eighty percent of my conversations with you, I have no idea what in hell is going on."

"That's because you don't listen to what people are saying."

"And people—i.e. Cassie—are saying that you and Commander Cain are hung like horses and you want my opinion.  As an historian and a scholar.  Well, Starbuck, my opinion is that in your case it's far more likely to be a donkey."

Starbuck just smiles.  "Just be sure to credit me when you write the book, okay?"

 

 

The annoying thing—and Starbuck is often very annoying—is that now Starbuck has mentioned it, Apollo is acutely aware of just how little privacy military life affords.  He's always known, of course, but while he has his coping mechanisms for making sure that he isn't gossiped about, the dangers of communal showers have slipped from his radar a little.  Now he's forced to think about them all the time.  Luckily, he's able to avoid the showers on the flight decks following missions by claiming that Colonel Tigh wants to see him immediately and running up the five decks to his quarters to shower off the stale Viper-recycled-air smell where no-one can disturb his peace by babbling on about equine anatomy.  And if Apollo takes care of his own anatomy at such times, such indulgence is between him and his shower cubicle.

But it's more problematic to avoid the communal showers after the frequent Triad practices, not least because Apollo's disappearance to take his ablutions elsewhere will be noticed by his friends and remarked upon.  Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't… all Apollo can do is be very careful to look Starbuck directly and persistently in the eye.

Of course, Starbuck notices.  And of course, Starbuck, damn him, smirks.

"Ass," says Apollo more than once, stopping his gaze from drifting.

But Starbuck, the bastard, laughs at him.  "Giddy-up, horsie" he says softly and only laughs again when Apollo, exasperated beyond endurance, throws the soap at him.

 

 

"Hey, is it true that the Council's said the Rising Star can be opened up as a pleasure ship for the fleet?"

Apollo turns from the computer where he's painstakingly reviewing mission reports and that’s right, Starbuck, working.  And isn't Starbuck supposed to be doing the same thing, or had Apollo just dreamt that he'd sent the lieutenant to count Viper spares?

"Is it true?" demands Starbuck.  "Everyone's talking about it."

"Everyone?"

"Well," hedges Starbuck. "One or two.  Is it true?"

"I don’t know how you get to hear about these things," complains Apollo.

"The steward bringing your coffee to the command meeting overheard the Commander telling you and Colonel Tigh, and he told the Mess Sergeant, and the Mess Sergeant told his buddy down in Engineering, who mentioned it to my flight chief's significant other who works on the tech helpdesk, who told my flight chief, who told me."

"It was a rhetorical point I was making."

Starbuck brushes this off.  "I don't do rhetoric.  I only do gossip."

"You might want to get word back up your little chain of gossips that if I find out about them officially, certain people who have nice cushy jobs serving me coffee will find themselves back manning a laser cannon turret."  Apollo adds a full-stop to the mission report with a vicious stab at his keyboard.  "Let's see how talkative they are after spending eight centars on their own locked up in a tylinium bubble on the outside of the hull."

"Whatever," shrugs Starbuck.

"Tell them, Starbuck.  And that's not a rhetorical threat.  It's an order."

"Of course it is," says Starbuck, indulging Apollo in his delusion that as Captain he's actually in charge and that Starbuck takes respectful care to obey his orders. 

Apollo raises an eyebrow.  Whenever he gives Starbuck an order he's assailed with a lively memory of Starbuck once telling him that he spoke Caprican, Sagittarian ("Best friend at the orphanage was from Sagittara."), enough Kobolian to get him through the odd mandatory church parade and a bit of Leonid ("Boomer's teaching me to swear.  If you call someone the Leonid for a round green vegetable, it really means 'your mother was a one-legged poxed socialator with unsavoury sexual practices, greasy hair, and dirty toe nails on her one remaining foot'.  Who knew?") but that he didn't speak Order.  Give him orders in any language you like, and somehow it all got lost in translation.  Apollo still wonders why Starbuck bothered to tell him.  He knows that he can be a little oblivious to the social niceties now and again, but he couldn’t have missed noticing Starbuck's linguistic difficulties. 

"Promise," says Starbuck, and sighs.  "Well?"

Apollo gives in.  He does that all too often to be entirely at ease with his sense of discipline, but he'd long ago learned that it made life easier (and, if a buttoned-up little Kobolian boy could ever admit it, more fun).  "We've finished relocating people around the fleet into better, more appropriate accommodations, including the people who started out camped on the entertainment decks on the Star.  The Council thought that the fleet needs somewhere to let off steam, so why not reopen the decks?  Starting this secton-end.  They'll announce it later today and there's a big launch party planned.  All off-duty personnel will be invited."

"Oh my," croons Starbuck.  "Chanceries!"

"I was thinking more about real food," says Apollo, drawn, despite himself, into speculating about the possibilities of the Star.

"Dancing!  Bars!  More chanceries!  Music!  More chanceries! More bars!  All in the same place!"

"Very poetical," says Apollo.  He knows who'll end up underwriting Starbuck's musical gambling adventures.

"We'll have a great time, Apollo.  Really, really great."

"We?  Come on, this is a momentous occasion!  There'll be wine and song and receptions and bands and banners.  I thought you'd want to take Cassie."

"You know that's all off again."

"Right."  Apollo abandons the mission reports to give him a quick glance, but he doesn't seem like it bothers him.  He wonders how long Starbuck will keep Cassie at arms length.

Starbuck displays uncanny prescience.  "I think it'll stay off," he says, thoughtfully.  "We're good friends, is all."

"Sure."

"Besides, you know I'd rather go with you," says Starbuck.

Apollo looks back at his computer, the familiar little flare of warmth spreading through him.  He wonders where it comes from, so suddenly.  Just in case, he does a quick mental inventory, making sure that nothing is out of kilter.  He doesn't want to be sick just when they have their first real prospect of some R&R since Cimtar and the Destruction.  "That's nice," he says.

"Well, I don't have to be on my best behaviour with you," says Starbuck, and there's surprisingly little sting in it.

Apollo gives in again.  "Well, they're going to start a regular shuttle service.  The first one will take the Great and Good over for the launch party."

"Seems only right that as commander of all the pilots, you're on that shuttle to inspect operations," insinuates Starbuck.  "I'll come and hold your clipboard."

"Fine." Apollo does a rapid review of who he can palm Boxey onto for the night.  His father and sister won't be available since they'll both obviously be going to the Star; his sister particularly, if she's heard Starbuck and Cassie have split again.  She's always one with an eye to the main chance, is Athena, and she wants Starbuck.  Maybe his flight crew chief?  Jordan has a son Boxey's age, and the two boys are best friends this secton.  He can ask, anyway.  "All right.  Yes."

"Great," says Starbuck.  "It's a date.  I'd better get back to work."

"That'll be a novelty," says Boomer, passing Starbuck on his way in.

"Those Viper spares don't count themselves, you know!" protests Starbuck, flipping a casually obscene gesture in Boomer's direction.

Apollo watches him go, tuning out whatever it is Boomer wants him for.  The warmth grows a little stronger.  He takes a deep breath and it eases, so maybe he isn't getting sick and it's just a temperature fluctuation or that Starbuck has embarrassed him slightly by saying he prefers Apollo's company, or something.  He grins at Boomer and it's quite a few centons before he's able to make himself stop, and only then because Boomer tells him he looks half-witted.

 

 

"You didn’t look all that comfortable dancing with Sheba."

"Who the hell came up with the idea that the fashionable thing to do is dance holding silken ropes?  It's moronic."

Starbuck pours Apollo another ambrosa.  "I heard it was some fetishist who liked being tied up, and the whole thing just caught on."

"You would," says Apollo.  "And if you hadn't heard, you'd just make it up, right?"

"Only amateurs make it up, Apollo."  Starbuck sips his ambrosa and looks around at the party, eyes very bright and brimful with enjoyment.  Sheba's dancing with Bojay now, tangling him up in the silken ropes the way she'd tangled Apollo.  "So, you and Sheba?"

"No, no, no!  You leave me right out of your gossipy rumour-mongering ways, you hear me?"

Starbuck looks hurt.  "I never gossip about you!"

"Right," says Apollo. 

"Hey, I wouldn't.  I know how much you'd hate that.  Honest, Apollo, I'm not the one spreading rumours about you and Sheba."

Apollo pauses, his glass frozen half-way to his mouth.  "But there are rumours?"

Starbuck shrugs, grimacing.  "Yeah.  Some."

Apollo puts his ambrosa down untasted.  "Great.  I was hoping to avoid that."

"In this fleet?  In this enclosed little society where you and your Dad are pretty near top of the heap?"

"Hoping, I said."

"Too bad.  Commander's son; commander's daughter… it sorta fits."

"Oh," says Apollo.

"Different commanders of course.  Wouldn't want the wrong sort of rumour to be doing the rounds."

"But why?" demands Apollo.

Starbuck looks faintly shocked.  "Because incest is kind of frowned upon?"

"Very funny.  I mean, I'm being careful here.  Why do people think that me and Sheba are a couple, or might be a couple, or could be a couple or ever will be a couple?"

Starbuck nods towards the Council table.  Apollo turns his head slightly, cautiously, to look.  His father's talking to Sire Anton and smiling..

"Has he been saying things?"

"Well not to me, obviously," demurs Starbuck.  "But let's say that he looks like he might have hopes of his own.  He watched you and Sheba dance and he looked… he looked benign, that's what he looked."

"Benign."

"Visibly and obviously and not trying to hide it.  Afraid so." And Starbuck looks as regretful as he sounds.

"And patriarchal?"

Starbuck nods.  "And patriarchal."

"Oh, that's bad."

"Yes, it is."

"I mean," says Apollo, dispirited, "that I know him and benign and patriarchal.  He's going to go all pater familias on me, the way he did over Serina."

"Well, you know, he made a big point of accepting Sheba into the family."

"That's very bad," says Apollo.

"Yes, it is."

Apollo downs his ambrosa in a one-er.  "It’s not fair.  There's nothing for people to talk about."

"People see what they want to see," says the philosopher sitting opposite him.  "Worked for me and Cassie.  Golden couple, everyone thought."

"Not if you're going to stay off rather than on.  I was sorta used to you two being on."

"Yeah, well, it was convenient, for me and her.  But we've both got our eye on other people."

Apollo feels so dispirited that he thinks he can feel his heart sink.  Literally.  His chest hurts, anyway.  "Really?  Who?"

"Giles, for her.  As for me?"  Starbuck just smiles.

Apollo's heart sinks a little further, to somewhere near his boots.  "Not Athena."

"No.  Promise."  Starbuck studies his fumerillo. "I like my life complicated, but that's a complication too far.  What'll you do about Sheba?"

"What can I do?"

"Use it.  If they're talking about you and Sheba, they won't be talking about you and anyone else, or just you.  It doesn’t have to mean anything."

"Seems a bit cold-blooded," says Apollo.

"Just be your usual oblivious self.  That should spin it out for a few sectars, at least.  No-one gets hurt if nothing's promised or said.  There's no need to worry about it until your father's a bit more obvious and he probably won't rush things."  Starbuck grins at him and tosses a couple of gambling tokens from hand to hand.  They twinkle in the bright lights as they twist in the air.  Starbuck's strong hands close over them.  "Shall we?"

"You don't think I should stay here for a while and feed the rumours, then," asks Apollo, acidly.

"Pace yourself," advises Starbuck.  "They might suspect if you look too keen.   Coming?"

"Do I have a choice?"

"We all have choices," says Starbuck.  "Even you."

"Dancing with those bloody ropes under the benign parental eye compared to losing my pay in the Chancery playing your Pyramid system?  What sort of choice is that?"

"Yours.  You dancing?"

Apollo glances sideways at his father, sighs, and pushes himself to his feet.  "No.  I'm playing."

 

 

It takes Sheba and Athena about a centar to find them.  Apollo isn't too surprised that Sheba's so slow since she's only been on the Galactica a few sectons, but he rates Athena as both quicker on the uptake and having the advantage of knowing Starbuck.  He expected his little sister to have hunted down her quarry in a quarter of the time.  Maybe she's slipping.

"Dancing?" he says, to gain time, when Sheba, smiling at him, berates him gently for running out on the fun.  He glances rather distractedly at his cards.  He wonders if he should raise the pot, but Starbuck's face holds the guileless expression that Apollo has come to associate with a good hand.  He fans the cards and frowns, wondering if the Prince's Tomb complex is a good enough suite, particularly since he's missing the Causeway card.  "I'm not very good at dancing."

"I thought you did just fine," she says, leaning up against his chair.  Her side presses against his shoulder, warm through the thin material of the pretty dress she's wearing.  The dress is vaguely familiar and Apollo thinks it's probably one of Athena's.  He isn't certain, not having inventoried his sister's wardrobe recently.

Across the table from him, Athena does a parallel graceful sag against Starbuck's shoulder, leaning down to look at his cards.  Her hair falls down in a gleaming swathe to cover her face, but Apollo can just about see the curve of her mouth.  Athena's pleased and smiling.  Apollo isn't so pleased, himself; the angle of her body means that he has a much clearer view of her chest than he's strictly comfortable with.  He isn't sure what Starbuck feels about it but he reflects that Starbuck is probably more used to it.

"We can't walk out in the middle of a game, Athena," says Starbuck.  He taps his fumerillo against the ashtray, discards a card and picks up a replacement.  His face shows nothing at all, but Apollo decides against upping the odds. 

He takes his cue from Starbuck.  "Maybe when the game's over," he says, moving his shoulder away from Sheba's side and focusing on his cards.  He eyes the discard pile, wondering if it's worth the risk of trying to gain the Causeway.  With his luck, he'll end up with something completely unusable that'll ruin even the miserable hand he has.

One of their opponents glares at them over the top of his cards.  "You have a reputation for taking the game seriously, Lieutenant," he says to Starbuck.  "I hope that wasn't exaggerated."

"No," says Starbuck.  "It's not.  I call." 

He puts down his hand, a full pharaonic spread complete with pyramid and capstone.  The gilded symbols and devices on the heavy cards glitter as he spreads the cards wide.  Unbeatable.  Athena squeals, doing an extravagant little writhe indicative of delight and joy that makes her chest undulate in a very unsettling way, and kisses Starbuck soundly.

Relieved that he hadn't made a call himself on a mere Prince's spread, and that Sheba's restrained her raptures to merely pressing a little closer, Apollo drops his cards onto the table. "I'm out."

There's a bit of huffing as the other people around the table fold with even less grace than Apollo.  Starbuck grins at him and pulls the pot towards himself.  He deliberately leaves the chips in a pile at his place and signals to a waiter to bring some consolatory ambrosa.

"Give us a couple of centons to see to the ladies, and we'll be back," says Starbuck.  He gets up and ceremoniously takes Athena's arm with a flourish and a bow, leading her a few feet away from the table.  Apollo follows with Sheba.  He doesn't offer his arm; he doesn't do flourishes.

"Did you lose much?" she asks sympathetically.

"Not that much.  The hand wasn't worth betting a lot on." 

"You'd rather play cards than spend time with us?" pouts Athena, with such a lack of subtlety that Apollo feels sorry for her.

Starbuck flashes her his most brilliant and charming smile.  "Damned bad timing on our part, I know, Athena.  But the fact is that we're committed to this game for at least the next centar or so.  It's not that long, really, and we can't just walk out.  Why don't you go back to the party and we'll do our best to join you later when we’ve made our fortunes here."  He leans so close that Apollo sees his breath stir her hair.  "Then maybe we can go and spend some of it on something pretty that will go with this pretty dress."  He trails a forefinger down the side of her neck towards the décolletage that had so discomposed Apollo a few centons earlier.

Apollo coughs gently and Starbuck's finger makes an immediate and smooth transition to go trailing back up the side of Athena's neck.  Satisfied, Apollo allows himself to smile at Sheba in as uncommitted a way as he can manage.

She smiles back.  "Don't be too long.  I'll save you a dance or two."

"Great," says Apollo.  "Thanks."

He watches as Starbuck whispers something in Athena's ear that has his little sister blushing and smiling.  He's aware that Sheba's giving him a sidelong look and that her expression is encouraging, but he has nothing to say that will justify leaning forward and letting his breath stir her hair, her décolletage isn't distracting enough to make him want to trail fingers anywhere near it and if anyone is going to end up blushing, he knows it's most likely to be him.  Very conscious of the expectations of the benign patriarch back in the other room and mindful of Starbuck's advice, he concentrates on being oblivious.  It works well enough, keeping him safe for the few microns it takes for Starbuck to charm Athena into blushing compliance.  That's rather painful to watch and he's relieved when he can give Sheba another neutral smile and go back to the table with Starbuck.

"What did you say to Athena?"

Starbuck's mouth twitches in amusement.  "Oh, just that I wouldn't be on the dance floor with anyone else tonight.  Seemed to please her."

"I wish we could get off the subject of dancing."  Apollo slides back into his seat and takes the ambrosa that the waiter had provided.

The same man who'd complained about the disruption has evidently been mollified by the ambrosa.  He toasts Starbuck genially.  "You have a reputation for being a man for the ladies too, Lieutenant.  I see that's not unfounded either."

"Well, you know," says Starbuck with a modest wave of his fumerello.

"You don't have that reputation, Captain," says the man.

Apollo shrugs and reaches for the cards he's being dealt.  "I can't dance, either.  I cope."

 

 

"I figured that it's safer in here."  Starbuck pushes Apollo's share of the winnings over and tucks his own tokens away into his belt.  They'll change them back to real money later, before they head back to the Galactica and normal life and duty.

"Quieter, anyway," agrees Apollo.  He pours them each a glass of ambrosa, only vaguely wondering how many they'd had that night.

"Far away from distractions."  Starbuck checks the door again and turns, leaning back against it, watching Apollo.

Apollo takes in a lungful of smoke.  He rarely smokes, and when he does he prefers the thin black cigarillos to the bigger fumerello that Starbuck likes.  He savours the taste on his tongue.  "No chance of been seen dancing in here."

"And hopefully no one to gossip."  Starbuck pushes himself away from the door and comes to filch the cigarillo out of Apollo's fingers.  Apollo lets him take it, watching him inhale, watching how the thin blue smoke trickles from his nostrils. 

"I hadn’t realised that they were opening up these private rooms as well," Apollo says.  "Very useful for hiding."

"Unless you're desperate to get back to dancing?"

"I'm okay about hiding."  Apollo recaptures his cigarillo.  "I thought you'd want to get back, though.  Didn't you promise my little sister that you'd dance with her?"

"Not exactly."  Starbuck sits down beside him on the wide divan.  "What I said, if you remember, was that I wouldn't go on the dance floor with anyone else but her.  I just have no intention of going onto the dance floor."

"Athena," remarks Apollo, "will kill you.  Kill.  You."

"I like a bit of excitement in my life."  Starbuck leans back and stares at Apollo.  "Do you?"

"Only so long as nobody notices," says Apollo.  Then, feeling noble, he says, "Won’t hiding in here sort of cramp your style?  You said that there was someone you were interested in.  Shouldn't you be out there, getting them?"

Starbuck grimaces.  "Not that simple, getting them."

"It's not like you not to try."  And not like Starbuck to fail, either, thinks Apollo, rather glum and foreseeing a lonely couple of centars hiding from Sheba and ropes, until it's time to get the shuttle back.

"the trouble is that I've always been interested in them.  I just never did anything about it."  Starbuck shoots Apollo a quick glance, his mouth quirking into an unfamiliar, rather self-deprecating smile.  "I know!  Not like me.  But this one's important, the most important thing ever.  There's more at stake than just the fun I had with Cassie.  I mean, if I screw it up there's more than just, say, losing a lover.  I'd lose a friend as well, a very good friend.  And sort-of family.  It gets complicated."

"Right," says Apollo, the glumness getting glummer.  He feels rather hurt.  He's always thought that he and Boomer are Starbuck's best friends and he can't understand why Starbuck has never mentioned this before.  Not to him, at any rate, and Boomer's never said anything about knowing that Starbuck's pining for someone.  He doesn’t remember Starbuck ever sounding so serious.  He's more used to Starbuck just having the hots for someone, the way he had the hots for Cassie and, the Lords forbid, Athena.  He tries to work out who Starbuck is friends with and also pining for.  He can't imagine who it might be.  Dietra, maybe?  But she's seeing Boomer.   He rubs absently at his chest, at the slight ache that's developing there and says, tentatively, "You really don't mean Athena, do you?"

"I'm very fond of Athena, but no.  It's not her.  You know, after the Destruction, when everything calmed down a bit, I decided that I'd take the risk.  I was going to ask… them, see if they felt the same about me.  I thought they did, but I wasn't sure."  He laughs suddenly, reaching for the ambrosa.  "I told Athena that's what I was going to do, but I musta been too subtle, or something, talking about how everything had made me think about what was important.  Here was me trying to break up with her as gently as I knew how and there was Athena thinking I meant I wanted to marry her.  Thankfully she decided that she didn't want to marry me."

Apollo frowns.  "How does it come out of your mouth as  'we're breaking up' and go into her ears as 'marry me'?  That takes real talent."

"I told you.  I was being subtle.  And maybe I wasn't as clear as I might have been."  Starbuck chuckles.  "Lords, it was funny, Apollo!  Maybe not at the time, but it was funny."

"It didn't take her long to change her mind."  Apollo reviews the few conversations he's had with his sister about Starbuck's intentions – or lack thereof.  He takes his big-brother duties seriously and always listens dutifully to Athena's complaints, but he finds it hard to be sympathetic for some reason.  Perhaps he just resents being caught in the middle.  He stubs out the cigarillo with rather more force than is strictly necessary.

"Yeah, well, the next day we found Cassie on that freighter and… well.  Cassie was a brilliant defence against Athena."

"And now Cassie's gone, you need another one," says Apollo, rather meanly.  "Athena will kill you."

"I don’t want another Cassie.  I think it's maybe time to have a go at the main target.  I've put it off too long.  Whaddya think?"

"Why ask my advice?"  Apollo thinks about Sheba and those ropes.  "Do I look like I know anything about people and relationships and things?  Why didn't you try when Athena turned your proposal down?"  He hooks air-quotes around the proposal word in a way that he hopes clearly signals his feelings.  He doesn't want Starbuck to marry Athena, he realises.  Or Cassie.  Or possibly anyone.

"Because they married someone else.  I had to stick with Cassie."

Apollo stares, rather shocked.  "They're married?" 

"Not now.  They're free, now.  So, should I do it?"

Apollo sometimes thinks that his upbringing has hampered his development considerably.  Kobolians, he feels, are all too keen on moral rectitude, suffering and pain in this life in order to ensure happiness in the eternal life to come.  The little ache in his chest makes his breath hitch and he's feeling tired.  He thinks he's probably had too much ambrosa, if it's making him feel that he wouldn't be averse to a little less pain and a little more happiness right now, and be damned to eternity.  He thinks that Starbuck being serious really shouldn't make him think about what he's missing, what he's never really known even with Serina.  He shrugs.  "If you think the other things are worth risking."

"I think they are.  I mean, I think that the person I'm thinking of feels the same about me, but it's hard to tell because they're not very good at showing it.  They're a bit emotionally-retarded, really.  I've tried hinting and talking, but they never respond the way they're supposed to.  What do you think I should do, then?"

"I really don't know why you're asking me," frets Apollo.

"You're my best friend."

"The best friend that doesn't know anything about girls," points out Apollo.  He shrugs again.  "And the one you haven't bothered confiding in until now.  I dunno.  If telling's not been any good, show them."  He adds in a tone he suspects shows how hurt he is by Starbuck's unusual reticence about his love-life: "Is it someone I know?"

"Oh yes."  Starbuck looks thoughtful.  "Show them, huh?  How?"

"Flowers, a date, a kiss—you know all that stuff better than me." 

Starbuck chuckles.  "Right.  I do know it."

Apollo leans back against the cushions and closes his eyes, tired of it all.  He thinks that he might be getting a headache.  He really should lay off the ambrosa, he realises; he doesn’t really have the head for it.  His chest tightens, too, and while he's never heard of people not having the chest for alcohol, maybe he's a medical first.  Beside him, Starbuck stirs, but he doesn’t want to talk to Starbuck, doesn't want to offer advice to help Starbuck show that he loves someone.  He's too tired for that, too… too something.  He doesn't know what sort of something, but it's the sort of something that makes him think that maybe he's sick.  Nothing else would explain why his gut's twisting and there's a lump in his chest like lead.  He resolutely keeps his eyes shut.

Consequently, Starbuck's mouth on his startles him considerably.

Apollo's eyes flash open.  Starbuck's intense blue eyes stare into his, lips press up against his.  Starbuck's lips are surprisingly soft and full, warm and slightly moist, as if he'd run his tongue over the bottom lip just before he kissed Apollo. 

"Wha -?"

Opening his mouth to speak while Starbuck is still pressed against it is a mistake.  Maybe.  Maybe it's a mistake.  Apollo isn't sure, because Starbuck makes this happy, humming sound and dives right in.  No more chaste, tentative touch of lips together, but instead Starbuck licks his way into a kiss that stops Apollo's breath.  Starbuck's hands close over Apollo's upper arms, so tightly they hurt; his tongue searching in Apollo's mouth for something—Apollo doesn't know what but that burst of warmth in him hopes that Apollo has whatever Starbuck's looking for.  Starbuck kisses him until Apollo's half-whimpering, the heat surging through him like lightning.  Apollo raises his hands to, oh he doesn’t know… push Starbuck away, get free or something, and his fingers curl over the hard bone of Starbuck's shoulders, digging in, pulling him in closer.  The heat pools in his groin, his cock hardening.

"What?" he says again, as Starbuck finally licks his way out again, his tongue sweeping over Apollo's lips, tasting the ambrosa on them.  "What are you doing?"

Starbuck's flushed, his mouth quirking into that funny self-deprecating smile again.  "I don't have any flowers.  I thought, maybe two out of three—"

Apollo just stares, his mouth dropping open. 

Starbuck waits, the flush on his cheekbones deepening.  Apollo realises that he still has his hands gripping Starbuck's shoulders, that while Starbuck was kissing him, he'd sunk backwards on the cushions and now Starbuck's half-lying on him, weight holding him down.  He can feel Starbuck's hard cock.  He doesn't know what to think about that.  He doesn't try to get free and his hands tighten their grip.

"You kissed me," says Apollo.

"No flowers," repeats Starbuck.  He waves a hand around.  "I managed the date and the kiss, though."

"You kissed me."

Starbuck nods slowly.  "Yes, I did."

Apollo re-runs their conversations in his head.  "Oh."

"You are just so oblivious sometimes, it's painful," says Starbuck.

Apollo stares at him, wondering, disbelieving, incredulous.  But Starbuck… Starbuck looks different.  Starbuck doesn't look like the usual version, the nonchalant, nothing-touches-me, devil-may-care version.  There's a light in his eyes but it's not the casual mockery that Apollo's used to seeing there, the light that he thinks Athena sees, or Cassie.  Starbuck's flushed and slightly embarrassed in a way that Starbuck's never, ever embarrassed.  And Starbuck ducks his head and there's that funny, quirky uncertain little smile again.

"Oh," says Apollo, again.  He's still wondering and disbelieving and incredulous, but he's stopped thinking that he's developing a headache and the warmth is spreading through him, making him feel like everything is slow and languorous and thick with meaning.

"Well, you haven't hit me," says Starbuck, a little doubtfully.

"I don't… I mean, I'm not… what I mean is, why?"

"Why did I kiss you or why you?"

"Both," says Apollo, wondering why he hasn't got himself free.

"I kissed you because it's always been you.  Always.  I just thought—" and Starbuck looks uncertain still and that's just plain wrong—"I thought, sometimes, you felt the same.  And what I said to Athena that time about going for what’s important… well, that's you."

Apollo knows Starbuck the way no-one else does.  He's never seen Starbuck like this, so unsure and tentative and serious.  Starbuck never does serious.  Until, it seems he does.  Apollo wonders what he thinks about that, but the warmth has spread until his fingertips are tingling with it.

Ah.  So that's what he thinks about it.  He wants to shout, the sudden burst of joy filling him as nothing else ever has.  It doesn't fade.  It just sits there in his chest, radiant as a sun.

"So," says Starbuck.  "What are we going to do about this?"

Apollo frowns.  "I guess I need to think about it for a while."

"Right," says Starbuck and now he looks worried. 

Apollo half-grins at Starbuck.  "And now I've thought about it, do you want to kiss me again?"

 

 

"Lords," says Apollo, breath coming in gasps, his hands fully occupied in stroking, in touching, in proving that sometimes rumour is nothing more than truth, in measuring.  "I love horses!"