"Apollo?"

"Uh-huh?"

"It’s Yule in two sectons."

Captain Apollo glanced up briefly from the computer screen where he was patiently and painstakingly correcting a certain lieutenant’s errant grammar and spelling before submitting the said lieutenant’s report to the bridge office.  He frowned.  Without speaking, he turned back to the computer, flicked through to the calendar and studied it carefully.

"Yeah," he said after a centon.  "Can’t fault you on that one."

"You were checking?  Oh, very touching, your faith in me."

"I know," agreed Apollo.  "And before you ask, yes, I’ve bought you a present, and no, I won’t tell you what it is."

"I wasn’t going to ask you about a present for me," Starbuck protested.  "I know you’ll get me something.  It’s just that I was thinking."

"Oh?"  Panic set in.

"About Yule and the poor kids in the orphanage on the Kruzan."

The panic receded into mute sympathy. 

"I was thinking that it’s not so much fun for them at Yule," said Starbuck.  "It wasn’t when I was a kid.  The orphanage staff always made an effort and we all got a present each, but the kids here aren’t likely to get even that in the circumstances.  Last yahren was pretty poor for them."

"It was just after the Destruction," Apollo pointed out.  "It wasn't so hot for any of us."

"I know," said Starbuck, running a hand through his hair, and frowning with frustration.  "But I don’t know that it’ll be that much better this yahren.  Finding the kids real families is slow work, and there’s still too many of them stuck on the Kruzan."

"I guess it will be bad at that." Apollo itched to stretch out a hand and smooth Starbuck’s hair again.  He repressed the urge sternly. 

Starbuck sighed and nodded.  He watched Apollo for a few microns then said, with only the slightest tinge of wistfulness and envy, "Did you always get *everything* you asked for when you were a kid?"

"Yes.  Not when I grew up.  These days, what I want doesn’t comes gift wrapped."

Starbuck grinned.  "You mean, you want peace and love to all, but all you get are Auntie Maisie’s hand knitted sweaters and enough pairs of socks for a centipede?"

"Something like that."

"I’d like to do something, Apollo."

Apollo grinned.  He was the only one who knew that Starbuck was a regular visitor to the Kruzan; a dispenser of small delights like sweets and stories, and most of all, of time and attention.  He gamely repressed the internal voice that shrieked warnings about making rash promises.  "I’ll help," he said.  "I suppose I could always donate your present to the orphans."

"You wouldn’t!  Besides, if you’ve got anything at all I’d like, it wouldn’t be suitable for children.  What’d you get me?"

"I wouldn’t, you will, it isn’t and I ain’t telling," Apollo said firmly, not rising to the bait and thinking with satisfaction of the lurid and extremely naughty Pyramid deck he’d managed to find for Starbuck’s Yule present.  The little bazaar that had sprung up on the Equus was developing into a treasure trove of the unusual and exotic.  Not to mention the pornographic.  He’d blushed buying it.

Starbuck smiled, looking equally satisfied.  For a centon they grinned at each other, understanding each other pretty well.

"Your mother was pretty hot at the fundraising thing."

Apollo shuddered.  "If you like charity lunches with dreadful women with big hair and too much time and money, happy to pay for the "right" causes."

"You mean that these women paid to have lunch with your mother?"

"And any minor celebrity she could coerce onto the charity committee to make it fashionable.  They’d pay thousands of cubits a time."

"Given the disgusting glop served up in lieu of food in our commissary, I don’t think that will work."  Starbuck sighed.  "I can’t see anyone paying to eat lunch there.  And who’d we get as the minor celebrity?"

"Well, you’re pretty celebrated yourself, Starbuck, but since we can all eat with you for free any day of the secton, I can’t see anyone coughing up a so much as a bent cubit for the privilege."

"Thanks, that’s really helpful."  An offended pause, then reluctantly:  "What else did she do?"

"Gala balls are right out, I’d guess?"

"My ballgown’s at the cleaners."

Apollo thought back and shrugged helplessly.  "Oh, I don’t know, Starbuck.  They had collections and lunches, and sales, and auctions.  All that kind of stuff.  I stayed away from it all."

Starbuck sighed and subsided.  After a few microns, Apollo went back to proof-reading Starbuck’s report.

"Apollo?"  said Starbuck, eventually.

"Uh-huh?"

"The auction idea's not a bad one."

Apollo saved the report, opened his mailbox and prepared to send the document to Colonel Tigh with a polite covering note that invited the colonel to find, attached for his attention, the latest batch of reports.  Signed, Apollo, Captain.

"I mean, I’m sure we could collect together enough things that people will be willing to bid for, and I’ll be the auctioneer and it’ll be fun, and we can have the OC to do it in and get some extra food laid on – Jolly knows all the cooks - and get some party streamers and extra drink, and Boomer will do the music …"

‘We’? thought Apollo, hitting the send button and sitting back, listening to Starbuck’s increasingly excited babbling.  It made him nervous.  Starbuck and enthusiasm: two words to make a strong man quail.  Self preservation and that internal warning voice screamed at him to be careful.

"Not bad at all," he said.  "Everyone will probably give generously for the kids."

"Especially if you do your threatening mean bastard of a captain act," agreed Starbuck.  "And scare ‘em into it."

"I don’t know what you mean," Apollo said, offended.  Everyone knew he was the easiest and sweetest tempered of men and he couldn’t understand why they pretended otherwise.  "But they’ll give even more if they have fun with it."

"So we organise an auction?"  Starbuck was looking excited.

Apollo sighed.  There was no denying that hopeful look.  "Looks like.  Tell you what, I’ll start you off with things to auction.  I’ll donate a few dozen pairs of socks."

 

*^*^*^*^*^

 

Starbuck looked around the brightly lit and festively decorated Officer’s Club with a satisfaction that was so intense he was probably glowing with it.

The auction had been a wild success.  He’d made more money than he’d ever dreamt possible, there were still two full days to go before Yule and plenty of time for the orphanage superintendents to go shopping for presents, and most of the warriors not on duty on Yule Day had promised to come and stage a party for the kids.  It promised to be a much brighter Yule for the orphans than anyone could have hoped for.

It had been a helluva lot of hard work.  He’d spent days cajoling auction-able goods out of his fellow warriors, persuading them to give up precious fripperies and even more precious necessities.  Apollo had got on with the more mundane stuff like organising the date, the room and the party, setting up the food and drink and negotiating for permission with the Powers-that-be, as embodied by a dubious Colonel Tigh – a permission graciously granted after the captain had both explained the charitable objectives and, he said in opening remarks made in a pointed and mildly threatening way, promised good and exemplary behaviour.  And yes, Starbuck, I do mean you.

Despite that gross calumny, the party and auction had been loud, noisy and terrific fun.  Most of all, Starbuck had been on top form, and he knew it.  He’d sparkled and glittered on the auction platform, outrageous and sexy and funny, and by sheer strength of personality he’d increased the takings out of all expectation, charming people into buying the auction goods at hugely inflated prices.  They’d loved doing it.  And they’d loved him too.

Starbuck glowed with the adulation and affection coming his way.

There had been one moment when he’d glowed with some other emotion, one he hadn’t analysed yet.  He’d held up a deck of Pyramid cards that he’d have given his eye teeth for; a beautiful deck, richly decorated and edged with gold, almost too beautiful to play with.  At the last centon, Apollo had casually donated it to the auction, and Starbuck had found himself auctioning off his own Yule present.  He’d known it, of course.  And he’d also known that Apollo, carrying through a carefully staged bidding war with Boomer with the rest of the warriors unusually quiet, would buy the cards back at four or five times what he’d originally paid for them, and on Yule morning they’d be handed to Starbuck again, gift wrapped.  

They were priceless, those cards.  And not because of the cash Apollo eventually handed over to regain them.

And now it was over.  There was nothing left to sell.

Starbuck, wreathed in smiles and party streamers, held out his arms to them all.  The response was loud catcalls, hooters, more streamers and it was a few centons before he’d got them to be quiet enough to hear him.

"That’s it, boys and girls.  That’s it.  There’s nothing left -"

"One cubit!"  said Apollo, loudly.

There was a burst of laughter from the assembled pilots, and Starbuck stopped, stared, and grinned, thinking that his abstemious Apollo had had one ambrosa too many.  "The auction’s over, Apollo."

"You said everything on the platform had to go.  You’re still up there."

Starbuck wondered uneasily why his pulse was quickening.  "So?"

"So I’m making a bid."

Starbuck stared, momentarily bereft of speech.  Then someone laughed nervously and broke the silence, setting off everyone else.

"For Starbuck?"  Giles called from the other side of the room. 

"Yup."

"Brilliant!"

"Apollo, I’m not for sale.  I’m the auctioneer," said Starbuck, wondering what the hell was going on and wishing that he didn’t sound so nervous.

"Not now you aren’t.  Boomer, would you please auction Starbuck?"

"Cool," said Boomer, admiring.  "You mean it?"

"Get up there.  You owe me."

"I owe you?"

"You were supposed to drop out of the bidding five cubits earlier."  Apollo gave the dark lieutenant a cold and unforgiving look.  "I could take those five cubits outa you in other ways if you like."

"It’s a good cause!" protested Boomer.

"I don’t deny it, but they were my five cubits and I had plans for them.  You’ll find it a lot easier to get up there and do as I tell you.  Auction.  Starbuck.  Now."

"Cool," said Boomer, getting to his feet, and trying not to giggle.  "Cool and evil."

Starbuck stared at them, for once his glib tongue failing him.    "Apollo!"  was all he could manage, and what it lacked in eloquence it made up for in volume.

"This is an order, Starbuck."

"What do you mean, an order?" 

Apollo sighed and took on one of his most patient, saintly expressions.  "What are these?"  He pointed to the captain’s pins in his collar.

"Bloody undeserved!"

"They’re still better than yours."

"You can’t order me to be sold at auction!"

"I just did.  Do you want to complain about my order, Lieutenant?"

"Damn right I do!"

"Permission to complain denied.  You’re for sale, I made an offer.  Get on with it. Boomer."

"Yes sir.  Selling Starbuck, sir!"

Starbuck stood there helplessly, listening resentfully to the laughter and the catcalls, and repressing the urge to step up to the captain and smack him on the side of the head. 

"Captain, is this some kind of spookily weird personality transfer?"  called Bojay from one of the other tables.

"In what way?"  Apollo was seemingly intent on going through the contents of his pockets, lining up the cubits in a neat row on the table top and using the triangular coins to weigh down a surprisingly fat wad of notes. 

"Well, there’s Starbuck and there’s you, Apollo.  This is the kinda stunt I’d expect him to pull, not you.  That’s all."

"All I’m trying to do here is raise some money for the orphans," said Apollo.  "What’s so spooky about that?"

Starbuck glared at him.  "What he means, Apollo, is that I’m the charming and funny and quick witted one and you’re  - "

"Yes, Starbuck?"

" - you’re the charming and sweet and shy one," said a lieutenant who recognised imminent danger of death when he saw it. 

Apollo gave his wingmate a cold look from eyes that looked like they were chipped from green ice.  Starbuck smiled back weakly, mutely resentful about being wrong-footed by Apollo for the second time in as many centons.  He turned on a safer target.

"Boomer, are you going along with this nonsense?" he demanded. 

"You heard the man, Bucko.  I feel for you, really I do, but I really don’t want him taking five cubits worth of revenge outa my hide."

"What’ll you do with him, Apollo?"  asked Cassie curiously.

Apollo smiled at her.  Starbuck didn’t quite know what he thought about that smile.  He wasn't sure that he wanted Apollo smiling at Cassie like that, even though he and Cassie had broken up, quite amicably, sectars ago and both Apollo and Cassie were free, romantically speaking.  When Cassie smiled back at the captain, he was very sure that he didn’t like that.  He refused to analyse why, but a persistent little memory of Cassie pronouncing that Apollo was both damned good looking and appealingly unaware of it, insisted on coming between Starbuck and inner peace and harmony.

He liked Apollo being appealingly unaware of his charms.  It meant he was blind to the feminine wiles expended on him and had more time for Starbuck.

"I’ll think of something," said Apollo. 

"Knowing you, you’ll have me doing reports and the filing," grumbled Starbuck.

Apollo grinned.  "Well, I wouldn’t say that that was first on my list, but it’ll do for starters.  What do you think, Boomer?  Twelve centars, say, of Starbuck’s time in lieu of all those miscellaneous duties he’s wriggled out of over the yahrens?"

"Twelve centars work for one cubit?"  Starbuck’s voice was loud in indignation.

"Oh, that was just to establish the auction.  I’ll bid ten."

"Ten cubits  Have you never heard of the Minimum Wage, you oppressor of the proletariat, you?  That’s less than a cubit a centar!"

"You mean you can count and I did your math all through the Academy under false pretences?" asked Apollo, mildly enough.

Starbuck’s mouth, still open to voice further protest, closed with the words unsaid.  That threat of death was back.

Beside him, Boomer called the room to attention.  "Now, I’m not Starbuck and I’m not going to pretend to be as brilliant and entertaining.  This is a serious business.  Ladies and gentlemen and the socially-difficult-to-place representative from Council Security who’s standing at the back, we have a man to sell.  And what a man!  On offer, twelve centars of servitude for Starbuck here - "

"This is ridiculous!" complained Starbuck, quite put out at being out-Starbucked.

"Shut up, Starbuck," said Apollo. 

"Yeah, shut up, Starbuck."  Boomer dug Starbuck painfully in the ribs and grinned at him.  "All right, ladies and gentleman – and security – I'm offering you one the finest specimens of Colonial manhood: handsome, brave and, by his own account, devastatingly sexy…"

"Hey!" 

"Shut up, Starbuck.  Opening bid ten cubits from the captain.  Any further offers?"

"Twelve cubits," said Cassie from where she was sitting with Athena, Sheba and a few of the other female pilots.   "And I’m not wasting him on the filing!  They used to auction slaves for far more interesting things than that."   Cassie smiled very sweetly at her ex-boyfriend and giggled when the warriors all laughed. 

"Sure you can handle him, Cassie?"  Jolly called.

Cassie’s sweet smile became very suggestive.  "Oh yes.  I think I know what to do."

Starbuck rolled his eyes.  He was too old and too cool to blush.  He was too old and too cool.  He would kill Apollo later, but he was damned if he’d let the bastard embarrass him.  He’d have to go along with it and put the best face on this he could.  And it was for the orphans after all.  It was just Apollo’s weird and wonderful way of giving to charity. 

He’d still kill the bastard later.

"Fifteen," bid the said bastard, without looking up from the cubits ranged along one edge of his table.

"Eighteen," said Cassie, with another giggle.

Apollo did glance up briefly at that.  Starbuck saw those green ice-chip eyes look from him to Cassie, then back down at the money again.  "Twenty."

There was another buzz of laughter from the assembled and well-lubricated warriors.  It had been one helluva a party so far, and the climax was proving, obviously, to be more fun than they expected.  Starbuck thought glumly that it wasn’t what he’d expected either, but somehow he was failing to garner any amusement from it.

And, listening to some of the ribald comments coming from the back of the room, and forgetting that it had been his own suggestion, he was suddenly slightly insulted that all Apollo seemed to want him for was to do the filing.

"Twenty cubits from the captain," said Boomer.  "Any more bids?  This is an unrepeatable offer, ladies and gentleman.  Just look at what you’re getting!  Handsome and brave - "

"You’ve done that bit,"  Sheba reminded him.

"You can never say it too often where Starbuck’s concerned."

"Boomer!"

"Shut up, Starbuck.  Just take a good look, everyone.  Nice hair, nice eyes, nice teeth and he swears they’re all his own.  A very fetching item."

"I’ll bid twenty one," said Cassie.

The yelled comments made even Cassie blush.

"Twenty three!" called Giles.  "It’s twenty two more than he’s worth, though!"

This time the comments made Starbuck want to blush.  I'm too old and too cool, he told himself frantically.  Too old and too – and I'm going to kill the bastard!

Apollo looked sharply at Giles, then back at his row of cubits.  "Twenty five."

"I’m out," said Giles.  "He’s definitely not worth that."

"One helluva way to find out who your true friends are," Starbuck grumbled.  "That’s you off my Yule-card list."

"But I’m a true friend, lover, " said Cassie.  "I’ll bid thirty."

"Thirty five!" Greenbean proposed, his voice a touch slurred. 

Giles laughed and shook his head.  "He's drunk," he said.

"Forty," said Apollo.

"Forty-five!"  said Greenbean happily.

"I’ll take the drunk’s bet," said Boomer.  "Ladies?"

Silence.  A gaggle of female heads went together for a centon of intense whispering, then Athena appealed to Boomer.  "Can we do a group bid?"

"You’ve only got twelve centars of his time, honey," one of the other pilots called.

"He’ll manage," said Athena, and smiled.  "He never found it a problem to run more than one of us before."  She gave Cassie a hard look.

"No group bids, Boom-boom.  Please."

"I dunno, Bucko.  Sounds like fun."  Boomer looked wistful, and the room exploded into cat-calls.

Cassie blushed again.  It worried Starbuck that Athena didn’t.  Instead she just licked her lips slightly, like a feline crouched over a bowl of cream.

Starbuck looked imploringly at Apollo, who stared blandly back, then nodded slowly.  For a micron, Starbuck stared down at his boots, and when he looked up again it was the devil may care Starbuck, the Starbuck who’d take on a bevy of pilots and give them twelve centars of bliss. 

He stretched languorously, letting his slim hips rotate slightly, sinuously, and the famous, patented Starbuck smile charmed the entire OC.  The ladies  - and more than one of the gentlemen and the socially-difficult-to-place Council security man at the back - all sighed audibly, and Apollo continued watching, his expression unreadable.

Starbuck didn’t know what Apollo thought he was doing, but he’d be damned if he’d let his best friend – his former best friend, he corrected himself grimly – either get away with it or gloat over it later.  Whatever "it" was, and whatever reason Apollo might have to gloat.  It just wasn't going to happen.

Which really left open the question about why Starbuck was going along with that slow nod.  It really did, and Starbuck had every intention of leaving the question open and no intention at all of trying to answer it.

"Okay, Boomer," said Starbuck.  His voice dropped to its best sultry and sexy tone.  "Anything to oblige the ladies."

Amid the laughter and the shouting he gave them another roll of those oh-so-supple hips, a sinuous writhe of that slender, elegant body.  There was another gusty sigh from the ladies’ table and the Council security man looked very glumly down into his pot of ale.  Even Sheba was looking interested, Starbuck noted as he performed for them, knowing that even if all he did was stand there, breathing, he was still the sexiest thing in the room.  Gyrate that groin, and he was better than exploding solenite.

Filing, indeed!

"Group bids accepted," said Boomer, judgement pronounced to resounding cheers. 

"Fifty cubits, then," said Athena.

"Fif.." Greenbean started, and was unceremoniously shushed by Giles.

"No bid," said Giles.  "He’s broke anyways, Boom-boom."

"Drunk is okay, broke is not," pronounced the auctioneer sternly.  "The bid stands at fifty.  Any advance on fifty?"

"Fifty five!" Bojay offered.

"And what do you want him for?" demanded Drake.

"Me?" Bojay was all innocence.  "I’m just trying to make sure that Bucko goes for a price commensurate with his greatness, that’s all.  That, and I’d be very disappointed to be chucked off his Yule-card list."

"Do you actually have fifty five cubits?" asked Boomer.

Bojay shrugged.  "I will come pay day."

"Not good enough!" Starbuck protested.  "The orphans don’t accept promissory notes."

"Cash bids only, please!  We’re still at fifty.  Any more bids?  Captain?"

"Sixty," Apollo said, almost negligently.  He leaned back in his chair, and sipped on his ambrosa.  He glanced from his sister, to Starbuck and back to Athena again.

Starbuck, still posing gracefully and sexily on the dais, thought indignantly that his (former) best friend looked all too casual about it.  This was important, dammit, and the least Apollo could do was look like he realised it.

"Seventy," said Athena, her eyes narrowed as she watched her brother.  There was the faintest undercurrent in her voice. 

Starbuck heard it.  He wondered what it meant, watching them both, wondering what those two were up to.  He’d known them too long to think that they’d colluded in this.  The two of them were on reasonably good terms, but that something in Athena’s tone smacked of faint resentment and challenge.  It wasn’t overtly unfriendly, but it was there.

"Seventy cubits," said Boomer, after a micron in which Apollo studied first his row of cubits and then his ambrosa.  "Any advance on seventy cubits?"

Silence.

"Any advance on seventy cubits?"

Athena began to smirk.  Apollo looked up and the two of them stared at each other, blue eyes into green; Athena smiling with smug triumph, Apollo looking faintly bored.

"Come on, people," said Boomer.  "We’re talking twelve centars worth of time from the man who claims to be the sexiest and best lay on the Galactica."

"There’s no ‘claims’ about it," snorted Starbuck, outraged.  "I am!  And that's in the fleet!"

"And he’s going to be all mine."  Athena was almost purring. 

"Ours," said Cassie, sharply, and Athena sniffed.

Apollo leaned back in his chair and stretched and yawned, eyes on the ceiling, apparently indifferent to this exchange.  Alarmed by Athena in full cry, Starbuck looked at him appealingly, trying hard to radiate his best efforts at vulnerable and charming.  Apollo didn’t even glance at him.

"No more bids?  Then the last bid, twelve centars of Starbuck is going at seventy cubits.  Going, going…"

"Seventy five," said Apollo.

Starbuck sighed gently.

Athena’s eyes narrowed with anger.  Starbuck looked from Apollo to Athena.  She glanced back at him, then turned to go into huddled, intense negotiations with the rest of her table.  Sheba was looking dubious and Bree was shaking her head.

Athena turned in her chair to look straight at Apollo.  Starbuck wondered what was going on inside her head, what demon of jealousy and revenge was keeping her in this game.  The problem was, he thought sadly, that the stubbornness was a family characteristic.

"Eighty," bid Athena.

Bree threw up her hands in disgust and even Cassie was looking worried.  She emptied her purse onto the table and started picking through the contents.

"Ninety," said Apollo.

Athena scowled.

The laughter was a little more muted now.  They were getting into serious money, far more than anything else had made all night.  And maybe, Starbuck thought exasperatedly, maybe everyone else in the room was finally picking up on the strange undercurrent between Apollo and his sister, and maybe, too, beginning to wonder what Apollo was up to.

"Ninety five," said Athena, into a silence.

"Thenie!" protested Sheba.

"I’ll cover it."  But there was a flicker of anxiety in Athena's eyes.

"Ninety five, I’m bid," said Boomer, all pretence at jocularity gone.  "Ninety five."

Silence.

"Apollo?"

Apollo shrugged, and Starbuck looked at him anxiously.  He didn’t want to be bought by that coterie of harpies, he thought, panicking and uncharitable with it.  He didn’t want to be bought by Athena.  Definitely not Athena.  If anyone was going to buy him, he wanted it to be Apollo. 

He definitely wanted it to be Apollo.

"Going at ninety five," said Boomer, when Apollo didn’t respond.

Apollo, still not returning any of the appealing glances Starbuck was giving him, and not seeming to take his attention off his sister, nodded. 

"One hundred."  He paused.  "And twenty."

"Strewth," said Jolly, quietly, looking worried.

"Apollo!"  Starbuck was thrilled, and he didn’t know why.  He saw Athena’s expression, but not even escaping that accounted for the way his pulse started racing.

The silence in the OC was almost physical, several dozen pairs of eyes switching as if hypnotised from their captain to the ladies table.  Apollo looked – well, like Apollo.  Not like a man who’d just bid an entire secton’s pay for his wingmate.  In stark contrast, Athena’s glower would have blistered paint, but even as she opened her mouth, Cassie caught at her arm.

"No," she said.  "We’re out of it.  Let him have it, Athena."

"I’d love to," Athena snapped back.  "Right between the eyes."

Oh and a very happy Yule to you too, thought Starbuck, so relieved he could have kissed Apollo right there and then.

"Okay," said Boomer, laughing nervously.  "I’m bid one hundred and twenty cubits for twelve centars of Starbuck’s time.  Any more bids?"

Silence. 

"No more bids.  Going at one hundred and twenty cubits.  Going.  Going."  Boomer threw out his arms.  "Gone to the captain!"

Starbuck sighed silently in relief, letting the sexy pose relax.  Thank God.  Thank God.  Filing was such a safe occupation compared with being hunted by Athena.  Much, much safer. 

Apollo looked down at his piled cubits, then grinned.  Boomer walked across to take the coins and notes to add to the impressive pile Starbuck had already made, counting it quickly.

"All correct.  One hundred and twenty.  Tonight’s best price!"

The cheers, catcalls and foot stamping could have been heard all the way to the Cylon capital and back.  Starbuck bowed in appreciation, almost forgetting this hadn’t been his idea.  From a lot of the comments, most people assumed that he and Apollo had set this up between them.

"The man’s all yours, Apollo," said Boomer.

There was a very odd expression on Apollo’s face.  He stood up and drained his ambrosa, and when he finally spoke, Starbuck thought that there was a pretty odd note in the captain’s voice, too. 

"Right, I’m off.  Enjoy the rest of the evening, you lot, and remember what I said about best behaviour."

Starbuck’s mouth dropped open.  "Where in Hades are you going?"

"To collect Boxey from his grandfather," said Apollo.  "Why?"

"Whaddya mean, why?  You just bought me!"

"Impulse buy," said Apollo, sadly.  "I'm prone to them.  And then I never know what the hell to do with ‘em.  G’night, all."

 

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^

 

"You’ve been avoiding me!" said Starbuck, slamming shut the duty office door and  leaning up against it, to prevent his victim’s escape.

His victim winced, and cursed the mischance that had had him at a genuine meeting (there’d been one or two false ones that he’d spent hiding in various storerooms, counting things) that had over-run until he’d lost track of the time.  He’d thought he’d have a little longer before Starbuck was back.  Time enough to think up another avoidance tactic, anyway.

"I’ve been busy," said Apollo, knowing he sounded feeble and unconvincing.  Knowing, in fact, that he sounded nervous and guilty.  All of which he was.  He was feeble and unconvincing and nervous and guilty and in a whole pile of trouble.

"Oh yeah.  Busy."  Starbuck was so sarcastic that Apollo thought uneasily of the time hiding in the storerooms and wondered if Starbuck had somehow found him out.  "So busy you had to send me on patrol with Giles!"

"Well, Greenbean wasn't so well."

"What Greenbean was, was hung-over.  Badly.  You never let me get away with that!"  Starbuck’s expression was so unfriendly that Apollo’s uneasiness became more visceral, more pressing.  "What in hell were you playing at last night?"

"Giving to charity?"

"Humiliating me in public is more like!  What if Athena had bought me?  She’d kill me, that sister of yours!  She’s a man-eater."

Apollo tried to decide if Starbuck was really mad.  "I wasn't about to let that happen," he said reassuringly.

Starbuck didn’t look mollified.  "And you expect me to be grateful for that?  I have never been so embarrassed in my entire life!  You should have heard what they said after you went!"

"I can imagine," said Apollo, ruefully.  The comments he’d heard while he had been there had been bad enough.  He really didn’t want to imagine what was said once his restraining presence was removed.

Because that’s what had made him chicken out, in the end.  He'd had every intention of following through his impulse buy, but the thought of those comments had unnerved him.

"And where in hell did you get that much money?"

Ah, much safer ground!    "Last secton when we went to the Star and you deserted me for that redhead.  I got lucky at the Pyramid table."

Starbuck’s unfriendly expression grew colder.  "And you didn’t tell me?"

"I couldn’t get a word in.  You were too busy telling me about what you got up to with the redhead."  Apollo was proud of the way that his tone remained uncomplaining.  He was often deserted when they went to the Rising Star, and often spent the return journey on the shuttle listening to the tale of Starbuck’s latest adventure.  "I thought it might come in useful at the auction."

"You gave away a secton’s pay?"

"For a good cause."  Apollo pointed out.  "Besides, winnings aren’t like real money, are they?  It’s like buying something on credit.  You don’t really have to pay for it."

"If that’s an inherited stupidity about money, how in hell did your family ever get to be so rich?" Starbuck demanded, disgustedly.  "And no wonder you’ve spent the entire day hiding from me.  Out with it.  Right now.  What the hell was that all about?"

Trapped.  For a centon Apollo just stared, wondering if he really dared do it, if he could say that seeing Starbuck up there on the platform and a with secton’s pay in his pocket, that the temptation had been irresistible.  That he’d never be given the Yule present he’d always wanted, gift-wrapped or not, and he’d seen an opportunity to buy it for himself. 

The cold blue eyes glaring at him were not encouraging.  "Well?"

Apollo sighed and took a deep breath, moistened suddenly dry lips and opened his mouth.  Before he could speak, the comunit on his desk squawked loudly.  Apollo closed his mouth again and listened cheerfully to his rescuer.

"Captain Apollo to the bridge office, immediately.  Captain Apollo to the bridge office, immediately."

"Another meeting?" Starbuck said, tone dangerous.

"Looks like," agreed Apollo, getting out from behind his desk and trying not to beam happily.

Starbuck moved slowly away from the door.  "I’ll see you when you get back, then."

"Oh yes, "Apollo said brightly.  Too brightly.

Starbuck's eyes narrowed.  "I think I’ll come with you.  I can wait outside the bridge office door, then you and me can have our little chat when the commander’s finished with you."

Apollo actually felt the brightness dim.  "Uh… don’t you have a report to write?"

"In your mail."

"Nothing else to do?"

"Like you, I’m off duty in about three centons.  What’s to do?"

"Oh."

"Other than listen to your fascinating explanation, of course." 

"Oh," said Apollo, glumly.  "Okay.  Sure."

"I mean," said Starbuck, following close on Apollo’s heels.  "I won’t make you tell me right away.  I’m sure that you’d rather prepare mentally for your meeting with the commander.  I wouldn’t want anything distracting you from that."

The pure evil in that gloating voice had Apollo looking at his wingmate with dislike.  Starbuck seemed unmoved, crowding into the turbolift with him and smiling cheerfully and dangerously every time Apollo caught his eye.  Apollo tried to do that as little as possible.

"You don’t have to come with me," he protested.

"I’m happy to.  You can take it out of my twelve centars of servitude if you like."

Apollo muttered something obscene and very, very uncomplimentary.

"What?"

"Nothing."  Apollo sighed.

He left Starbuck outside the bridge office and went in to find out what it was he’d done, or neglected to do, this time.  His despondency was so deep that it was a centon or two before he realised that the commander wasn’t bawling him out over anything, and that it was a perfectly straightforward piece of business he’d been called up to discuss.

So straightforward, in fact, that he couldn’t help wondering why the commander had bothered.  Why, if it had to be raised at all, which was doubtful, couldn’t it have waited until the next morning and the regular command meeting?  This smacked of an excuse to get him up there.

So he agreed with the commander’s proposals, watched as his father fiddled with the pens on his desk and waited to be told what was behind all this.  It wasn’t long coming.

"Apollo, Athena came to see me today.  Not officially, I mean."

Oh yes?  Apollo stiffened in suspicion, wondering what his unprincipled little sister was up to now.

"She was a little upset, Apollo."

"Really?" said Apollo, trying to be as coldly discouraging as possible and still remain with Regs.

"She felt very humiliated by what happened at the charity auction last night."  Adama said.  "I didn’t quite grasp what went on - she was really very upset and not entirely clear – but some trick you and Starbuck pulled on her, really got to her."

"But I didn’t - "

"I’m sure you didn’t mean it, but you know how sensitive she is, Apollo."

In her brother's humble opinion, Athena was about as sensitive as a shuttlecraft with its throttle jammed open.  Apollo choked indignantly, but his father went on regardless.

"And you know that she’s especially sensitive about Starbuck.  It was a little thoughtless of you, son.  I’m sure it was no more than that, and you wouldn’t deliberately set out to hurt your sister.  I’m sure you’ll go and apologise to her."

Oh was he?  Well, in that case the commander was in for a severe disappointment.  Not this side of Hades!  Not this time!

Apollo took a very, very deep breath.  "I don’t think so.  No."

"Apollo?".

"Last night had absolutely nothing to do with her.  It’s only her vanity that's talking.  That and the fact she’s an insensitive and selfish little - "

"Apollo!"

"And I would *die* rather than apologise to her.  I bid for Starbuck because I want him for myself, and I don’t give a damn about how sensitive Athena feels about it.  She had her chance with him and she blew it.  He’s mine, and I’m not letting him go."

"Apollo!!"

"Sure I’d like it better gift wrapped, but I’ll take what I can get.  And if you’ll excuse me, I’m now off duty.  I bought Starbuck for the next twelve centars, and I’m going to make bloody sure I get my money’s worth!"

"Apollo!!!"

"And happy Yule, Dad."

Apollo was out of the bridge office and half way down the corridor before he remembered Starbuck.  He turned.  The lieutenant was where he’d left him, a most peculiar expression on his face.

"You!"

Starbuck jumped.  "M.. me?"  he faltered.

"I expect you in my quarters at -" Apollo glanced at his chronometer.  " - at eighteen hundred.  You’ll get your explanation and start your servitude, then.  Understood?"

Starbuck nodded dumbly.

"Good."  Apollo swung around and stamped away.  "Be there."

 

*^*^*^*^*^*^*^*^^*

 

"It’s Yule!" Boxey yelled as a greeting, hurling himself on Starbuck.

"Well, almost.  It’s not Yule-eve until tomorrow," Starbuck temporised.  He gave Apollo an anxious glance, trying to gauge both the captain's mood and get some indication of how this hand was going to be played out with a rambunctious six yahren old child racing around the room in over-active mode.  "Slow down, kid.  Have you been drinking hyper-drive fuel again?"

"I’m going to a party.  I thought you were Dillon’s mom, coming to get me."

Ah, really?  So Boxey had plans for the evening, did he?  Plans that left Apollo alone at home?  Well, that might make for an interesting end game, after all.

"I don’t look anything like her.  She’s not nearly as pretty as me."

"Silly.  I’m staying there all night."  Boxey whirled away to fling himself onto his father.  "Will you miss me, Daddy?"

Starbuck was relieved to see Apollo grin.  The fit of bad temper provoked by the commander seemed to have passed.

"Well, I won’t miss the fight we have every night when I tell you it’s time to go and get cleaned up and go to bed.  And I won’t miss the way you get up five times to get a drink of water.  And I won’t miss the way you get up ten times to go to the flush because you’ve been up five times to get a drink of water.  And I definitely won’t miss the way you like to come and wake me up in the middle of the night, to tell me you’ve got up to go to the flush, because you’re worried I might have missed it."

Boxey giggled.

"Why does it matter if you miss it?"  Starbuck asked, deeply interested.

"He just likes me to know.  It’s one of the delights of fatherhood, my father tells me, to have your son’s full and unrestrained confidence. I think he’s being ironic."  Apollo shrugged.  "Or maybe he’s talking about Zac."

Starbuck grinned, and caught hold of Boxey, swinging him around the room.  "Aren’t you a bit young to be staying out all night?"

"I’m six!" protested Boxey, when Starbuck got dizzy and deposited him back onto his father.  Literally and with emphasis.

"The worst age,"  said Apollo, gasping with the shock of having a sturdy child land on him.

"Why?" demanded Starbuck, laughing breathlessly and falling onto the sofa next to them.

Apollo sighed and rubbed at a mark on his uniform that hadn’t been there before a Starbuck-propelled Boxey impacted on it.  "No sense, always needs a bath and he’s always so sticky."   

"I bet you were, too, when you were his age."

"Grandpa says Dad was sticky.  Stickier than Uncle Zac," Boxey said squirming on his father’s knees in a way that had Starbuck wincing in sympathy.  "He says that whenever Daddy had chocobars, he got sticky from here to here and ear to ear."

He ran his hand over Apollo’s face from hair to chin, then one ear to the other, and laughed.  Starbuck had a sudden longing to run his hand over Apollo’s face too, and had to suppress it firmly.

"That’s my Dad," Apollo sighed.  "Such a supporting sort of parent."

"He still does get sticky," said Starbuck, treacherously.  "You should have seen him in the Commissary the other night trying to eat a meringue…"

"You are not helping, here.  How am I expected to maintain discipline in the ranks?"

"Starbuck says I have to be naughty sometimes," confided Boxey.

Starbuck caught the look in Apollo’s eye and grinned.  "You teach discipline, I teach subversion.  Fair split." 

"Starbuck says it’s his job to lighten us up.  And I can help."

Apollo sighed.  "You’re turning into Starbuck before my very eyes."

"Oh, that’s all right,"  said Boxey, confidently.  "You love Starbuck."

Starbuck watched the result of that innocent remark with interest.  He’d never seen Apollo quite that pink before.

"Maybe," said Apollo, and the peculiar note was back in his voice.  "But even I couldn’t manage with two of him.  One’s more than enough."

"It’s okay, Apollo.  I’m unique."  Starbuck grinned, but before he could pursue this interesting conversation further, the door bell rang and, being unencumbered by Boxey, he got up to open the door to a slight, pretty blonde with another excitable six-yahren old clinging to her hand. 

Boxey scrambled up to grab his bag, then, evidently conscience stricken, got Apollo into a stranglehold that Starbuck rightly assumed denoted love and hero-worship and admiration.  "Will you be very lonely, Daddy?"

"I’ll take care of him, don’t worry," Starbuck put in.

"That’s not the same," said Boxey.

"No," agreed Starbuck.  "I certainly don’t intend it to be."

"Wha - ?" Apollo started, but was choked off with another crushing hug.

"I’ll be back tomorrow, for Yule," Boxey assured his father.  "And I’ll be *very* excited tomorrow night."

"I’m sure of it."

"I might even be sick."

"I’ll look forward to it." 

"Rash promise?" asked Starbuck, when Boxey had finally left, after racing Dillon excitedly around the room a couple of times while Apollo and Dillon’s mother had tried to get through the kind of parental discussions that Starbuck assumed were necessary and usual on such occasions.

"What?"

"That he’ll be sick?"

"Racing certainty," said Apollo, and his grin was very rueful.

They were quiet for a few centons.  Starbuck was content to wait, to let Apollo tell him, his earlier anger completely melted away into a wonderful sort of contentment and anticipation. 

"Drink?" asked Starbuck, when he was morally certain that Apollo, who was staring glumly at the floor, had completely forgotten his manners.

"What?  Oh, of course.  Sorry, Starbuck."  Apollo got up and wandered over to the kitchen area.  He stood there for another few silent centons, staring at the counter, obviously forgetting what he went there for.

Starbuck took pity on him.  "Apollo?"

Apollo sighed, and turned.  "Go to the OC, Starbuck.  It was a dumb idea, and you’re free.  I won’t hold you to the twelve centars: you were right, what you said to Boomer last night.  It is nonsense."

Starbuck took a deep breath and hoped that his voice wasn’t shaking too badly.  "Oh I don’t know.  It surprised the hell out of me, and I’m still not sure why you just didn’t come right out and ask me.  I mean, it was sweet of you to give all that money to the orphans, but you didn’t have to buy me, Apollo."

"I know," Apollo choked, red faced.  "I’m so sorry, Starbuck.  It was unforgivable of me."

"You aren’t listening to me, Apollo.  You didn’t have to buy me.  You only had to realise that I’ve always been yours."

Apollo stared at him.

"I have a bad habit of listening at doors.  I was mad with you earlier because I didn’t really understand what you wanted.  I never realised that I wanted it either, mind you, but I got a clue when I heard you yelling at your Dad.  Then I did.  Then I knew what I wanted.  It was kind of a nice feeling."

"Oh." 

"Time for you to get a clue as well, Apollo."

"Oh." 

"Besides, I just made a promise to Boxey."  Starbuck edged closer.  "I promised I’d keep you company tonight, and we have twelve whole centars to do it in."  He put his hands up and clasped them at the back of Apollo's neck, pulling Apollo's head towards him.  Apollo let him, looking dazed and delighted and disbelieving, all at once.   "I mean this, Apollo.  And I mean keeping company in the old fashioned way."

"Wha – " said Apollo, but stopped and shut up fast when Starbuck kissed him.

Taken by surprise he might be, but Apollo didn’t let it get in the way of kissing Starbuck right back.  Starbuck found himself being impressed by the speed and efficiency at which Apollo responded.  You could see why the man had made captain.  His reactions were pretty fast, after all, and he seemed to have a fine grasp of the strategy the Academy had taught him, if the places his hands were going were any guide.

He tasted nice, too, but that was something the Academy didn’t teach you.  And he felt nice, pressed up close, his hard cock pushing against yours, and that was definitely something that the Academy didn’t teach you.  And he kept saying incoherent things about loving and wanting, and when you said them back, he kissed you until you saw stars and you felt as bright as a comet, and that was something that the Academy definitely ought to consider the next time they revised the curriculum.

"Starbuck?" said Apollo, when they finally came up for air and in between those little murmured endearments that were turning Starbuck’s spine to water, but were stiffening other parts very nicely, thank you. 

Starbuck, wondering how in hell – and when - he’d got up onto the counter, his legs around Apollo’s hips and both Apollo’s hands in his pants, managed a small groan.  Apollo’s hands were doing dreadful things to his self control.  Dreadful.

"Do you mean it?"

Starbuck rolled his eyes.  "How much more evidence do you need, Apollo?" he asked, trailing kisses up the side of Apollo's neck, stopping to do a more thorough job on the mouth before trailing kisses down the other side.

"That's nice."  Apollo moaned.  "Starbuck?"

"Uh-huh?" said Starbuck in an I'm-busy kind of tone.

"Starbuck, what have you got wrapped around your cock?"

Starbuck nibbled on the side of Apollo’s neck.  "Apart from your hand?"

"Apart from that."

"Show you."  Starbuck kissed him again, savagely tender about it, and slid his feet back onto the floor.  "Help me get my pants off."

Sheesh, but that man had a fine grasp of how to achieve a military objective.  Starbuck didn’t have to ask twice.  When Apollo stopped kissing him and took a step back to look, Starbuck waited on his verdict.

"Gold suits you," said Apollo, and Starbuck could swear to the tears in those green eyes.  "I like the glittery bits, too."

Starbuck smiled.  "You wanted gift wrapped, gift wrapped you get." 

He took hold of one end of the ribbon and pulled, letting it fall away.  It had exactly the response he’d hoped for and it was several centons before he could get out the rest of the festive greeting, and by that time Apollo’s pants had joined his in a heap on the floor, he was back on the counter, his legs back around Apollo’s hips and Apollo was reaching for the bottle of cooking oil with a very determined expression on his face. 

"Happy Yule, Apollo."

Apollo poured the oil over his fingers in a golden stream, and smiled right back.  "Oh it’s going to be, Starbuck.  Believe me, it’s going to be."

"You mean, this is one orphan who’s getting his present early?"

Apollo shook his head, and leaned down for a kiss, his oily fingers slipping down between Starbuck’s legs to find the secret place inside him that had Starbuck bucking wildly.

"Ooh!  And often, Apollo!  Give it to me often!"

"No.  This is one orphan who’s found his family."  Apollo kissed him again.  "And I’m a responsible kind of guy, Starbuck."

"Meaning?" Starbuck threw back his head and groaned, feeling the burn as Apollo’s thick cock pushed up inside him, stretching him, filling him.  It was wonderful, it was heaven, he didn’t ever want it to stop.

"Meaning that an orphan is for life, not just for Yuletide."  Apollo pulled back, then pistoned forward again, sending lightening and fire up Starbuck’s spine.  "Happy Yule, Starbuck."

Couldn’t get happier.