It didn’t feel very Yuletide-ish, not after the Great Destruction, and especially not as they were fast coming up to the first anniversary of the day that the Colonies were obliterated.  It didn't make for festive cheer.

The Galactica's compartments were only sparsely adorned with festive wreaths and garlands, and the last time that someone had tried to switch on some twinkly lights, they'd fused the power conduits to the entire nineteenth deck.  Starbuck was innocent, thank you very much for the unwarranted suspicion, and if it wasn't for the fact that he was breaching regulations in another way entirely and wasn't prepared to incriminate himself, he'd prove it.  What's more he had never needed batteries to sparkle.

Things were slightly more hopeful regarding traditionally festive food and drink.  The stewards in the Officer's Club had found some strange mix of chemicals that they added to the used hyperdrive fuel that they were serving in lieu of good ambrosa, and were calling the resultant brew 'mulled wine'.  Lieutenant Jolly had an unhealthy relationship with most of the Galactica's cooks and a lot of inside knowledge of what went on behind the galley's closed doors; he swore that they could expect rich, heavy fruit cake on Yuletide Day and that there was even enough hoarded sugar to make icing.  It was rumoured, too, that there was a glut of red berries on the agricultural ship and there may even be kissel on the menu.  So yes, things on the gastronomic front were promising.

There wasn't much in the way of presents for anyone, not even the children.  Everyone was almost pathetically grateful to be alive, of course, and that had to be present enough.  But still Starbuck missed the excitement of shiny coloured paper and ribbons and mysterious parcels.  Not that he'd ever had much of that when he was a kid, but he'd made up for it later, buying himself little luxuries and wrapping them to open on Yuletide morning, and being taken-aback when he'd found little gifts from Apollo and Boomer among them, real surprises to unwrap.  He wasn't too worried about this yahren.  He had a pretty good present, after all, and didn't need more.

These days he got to unwrap Apollo nearly every day.

 

 

And then there were the school plays…

"We're late," observed Starbuck, banking his Viper around to make the final turn into the Alpha Bay. 

"I know we're frakkin' late.  We're very frakkin' late."

"Not that you've been obsessing about it, or anything."

"You'd obsess too if you had a six-yahren old to bring up.  First Boxey was worrying himself sick in case he wasn't chosen to be an angel, then he was worrying himself sick when he was chosen to be an angel, and this morning he was worrying himself sick about us being late for the play and not seeing him being an angel—"

"Why are you telling me this?" wondered Starbuck.  "I lived through it with you, remember?  I held your parental hand through each emotional crisis."

Apollo huffed for a micron or two.  "A bit of sympathy wouldn't go amiss."

"Right," said Starbuck.  After a moment in which he thought sympathetic thoughts, he added:  "They never let me be an angel.  They didn't trust me with the halo."

"Why am I not surprised?  The point is, Starbuck, that he's far too young to be this anxious."

"Maybe you should take him to Salik and get him psycho-analysed."

Apollo laughed.  "That's a thought.  One of us needs therapy—he's driven me mad these last few days."

"Well, it is his first Yule since… you know…"

"Yeah," said Apollo.  His sigh was perfectly audible over the comm.  "I do know.  And for all he's settled in well, it's not like I've been around all his life and I'm no substitute for his mother."

Starbuck winced at his reflection in the tylinium canopy.  Mention of Serina usually made him wince. "It's been almost a yahren, Apollo.  I think he's forgetting most of what happened, you know.  I'm not saying he's forgotten her but he's a little kid and it has to have faded.  You're the one who's there for him now, and you're doing pretty well."

"I'm winging it most of the time.  I think we're doing all right but then every now and again we're back to the crying and the bed-wetting, and I don’t know what's sparked it off and I really don't know how to cope with it.  I wish I knew what in hell I was doing.  I was a pretty driven kid myself, but I don't think I was as bad as this.  I don't remember anyone warning me about this kind of thing when I signed up for fatherhood, either."

"There'll be an instruction leaflet somewhere." 

"Probably in code," said Apollo, gloomily.  "Or for a different model."

Starbuck brought the Viper round in a sharp roll, acknowledging Core Command's instructions for the final approach.  "You should try asking your Dad.  If he had you to deal with, he may have some tips for handling Boxey."

Apollo ignored the implied insult.  "Well, he'd do his best, but Mama was always the one who was there."

"At the Yuletide plays when you were an angel?"

"I was a shepherd, mostly.  Poor Dad.  He always tried to get back for things like Yuletide plays, but you could bet your last cubit that the Cylons would throw an attack whenever he was aiming to get home.  He always said that the Imperious Leader had hacked into the school computers and planned its campaigns accordingly."  Apollo spoke briefly to Core Command.  "I'm going in.  See you in five."

"Uh-huh."  Starbuck waited until he got the green light and followed Apollo's Viper in to the main deck.

Apollo had already come to a halt, and the ground crew had rolled the gantry over to him and popped the canopy.  They were helping Apollo out of the cockpit when Starbuck came to a stop a few feet away.  He watched as the crew pulled Apollo out of his Viper and lowered him down to the waiting crew chief, Jordan steadying Apollo as he bent over to fasten the knee catches on his leg brace.  It did not look comfortable, being hauled in and out of his Viper like that, but Apollo hadn't complained.  He was too grateful, probably.  Starbuck was grateful, too, in an intellectual sort of way that (as Boomer had once remarked) the Viper was flown from the seated position—an Apollo grounded because of injury was an Apollo who was impossible to live with, and at least they'd all been spared that particular trial—but he and everyone else on the Galactica would be a lot happier when Salik declared the bionics in Apollo's damaged knee were fully integrated and Apollo could lose the brace.

"You sitting in there all day?" enquired Jordan.  "Because the Skipper's just told me about the systems problems I need to look at, and I've got a school play to get to.  I'd kinda like to get there this side of Yule." 

"Dillon's in the play as well, huh?" asked Starbuck as he pulled himself out of the cockpit. 

"Wings and a halo, just like the Skipper's kid.  Me, I think they're better suited to forked tails and pitchforks."

"Apollo will tell you that's another religious experience entirely.  I think he's looking forward to seeing Boxey in the halo."

"I've been a father longer than he has.  Move it Starbuck.  I've only got half a centar and I don’t want to be late."

Starbuck grinned and moved it as instructed, wandering away to rejoin Apollo.  "You sure you want me there, Apollo?  I'm not exactly PTA material, you know."

Apollo looked him up and down.  "You're the best option I've got, Starbuck," he said, and Starbuck tried not to glow with gratification, " and you don’t get out of it that easily.  Hurry it up.  We've got an angel to support and I can't exactly run very fast in this thing."

 

 

It was pretty clear that Boxey wasn't a devotee of method acting and that Jordan had a point: the angel wasn't in character.

As soon as they'd got through Decontamination, Starbuck and Apollo headed for the compartments on Deck 18 that had been designated a school for the relatively few children who lived on the Galactica and those (rather more of them) who came from the immediately-surrounding ships.  As a parent and whatever-the-heck-it-was that Starbuck was masquerading as, they were allowed to go backstage and see Boxey before the play started.  Starbuck wasn't entirely certain that was a good idea; he always did laugh at the most inappropriate moments.  It just wasn't reasonable to expect him to come across very large and tough Infantry Sergeants talking very earnestly to tearful and sullen small boys in silver wings and a long white nightdress, and not appreciate the humour in the incongruity.

Just after the Destruction and in gratitude for his rescue from the mining colony on Sylnos, Infantry Sergeant Acer had signed back up again for active duty and appointed himself as Apollo's batman.  Apollo had objected.  Actually, Apollo had objected very loudly.  The arguments were epic, noisy and enjoyed (at a safe distance) by everyone on the Galactica, with Starbuck controlling the betting odds

Acer had based his ploy on the traditions so beloved of the military mind, pointing out that it was usual practice for officers.  Apollo didn’t care: he didn’t need a servant, he had never needed a servant, he never would need a servant, he'd just managed to rid himself finally of the corporal who'd been assigned to him when he'd first come to the Galactica...  Well, a corporal, Acer had sniffed and, impervious to Apollo's protests—Apollo had tried making it a military order to begin with, but Acer just didn’t do orders and Apollo had given up on that pretty quickly—persisted in arriving every morning to wake Apollo with a cup of tea, kept his quarters in reasonable order, made sure the Strike Leader ate properly and, as soft-hearted as they came, had taken on the role of principal child-minder following Apollo's short-lived marriage and his adoption of Boxey.  What Acer didn’t do was bother his head about who he found with Apollo most mornings; although he did start making it two cups. 

One day soon Starbuck hoped to train Acer into making it caff, but he wasn't too hopeful there.  Acer's loyalties were transparent.

Acer and Boxey adored each other—"They're both mentally six yahrens old," said Apollo, nastily. "Of course they get on."—but even Apollo had to admit that Acer's help was invaluable and made the juggling game that was his life much more manageable.  Apollo said sourly that he’d fought a gallant rearguard action, but the hurt brown eyes that met his at every refusal to be pampered had made him feel like he was kicking new born puppies or pulling the wings off butterflies.  What was more, he’d gone on, giving Infantry Lieutenant Trent a very cold look, he had his suspicions about who had encouraged Acer in this idiocy in the first place.  Trent’s air of injured innocence had fooled no-one.  Apollo had kicked and moaned and struggled, but in the end he surrendered, not without some sporadic bursts of futile resistance, and Acer was now firmly established as indispensible batman, nursemaid and childminder.  

He came in very handy when they were late back from patrol.

Acer spotted their arrival and waved a hand towards them. “See?  There he is.  Now will you believe me?"

Boxey looked towards them.  “Dad!” he roared and hurled himself across the intervening space to almost knock Apollo off his feet.  Apollo rocked visibly under the impact—Boxey was, undeniably, a sturdy young angel and what he lacked in ethereality he made up for in sheer force of nature.

"Hey," said Apollo.  "It’s all right, Boxey.  I haven’t gone anywhere."

"I know," Boxey managed, through gulping sobs.  "But I got scared!  And you didn’t come back when you should have …" 

Apollo’s hold on the little boy tightened.  "You know I can’t always be back exactly when I say I will, but that I’ll always do everything I can to get back to you.  You know that."

"I was scared!"

Starbuck shrugged helplessly at the silent appeal Apollo sent him.  He was cool about offering emotional support and all its attendant physical pleasures to the child's surviving parent, but that didn't, even in Starbuck's self-confident world, give him even a faint idea for dealing with the child itself.  He was spared having to be creative by the timely arrival, of Commander Adama, who looked almost as relieved to see his son as Starbuck felt to hand over responsibility for dealing with the emotional traumas of the day.  The Commander touched Apollo's shoulder briefly.

"Sorry," said Apollo.

"It's me you should be apologising to," grumbled Acer, folding his arms across his chest.

"I'm glad you're back," was all the Commander said.  The tension was visible about his eyes, and Starbuck thought that Boxey hadn't been the only one fretting over their late arrival. 

" 'Lo, Grandpa," hiccupped Boxey, looking up briefly and tragically.  Starbuck was impressed: Boxey might not be into method acting but he sure could do drama queen.

The Commander eyed his grandson.  "What's up with you?"

"Stage fright," said Apollo.  He tugged Boxey off to one side.  "C'mon, Boxey.  I think you and me had better have a talk about it."

The Commander turned to Starbuck, giving his son and grandson some time to compose themselves.  "You're late, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir," agreed Starbuck, managing to remain properly respectful even at the statement of the bleeding obvious.  "Sorry, sir.  We picked up some anomalous energy readings from the planetary system we're heading towards."  He tried to tune out the low, soothing murmur of Apollo's voice, amused to see that both Acer and the Commander were watching the father-son bonding moment anxiously.  "It turned out to be natural, coming from what looked like some extensive mineral deposits on the fourth planet.  Whatever it was screwed up some of the Viper systems.  We lost long-distance comms for a while and it was a little slower coming back than we would have liked – one or two circuits kept shorting out on us.  We worked out that it's emitting some sort of electro-magnetic radiation, but by the time we'd realised it, the EM pulse had affected the Vipers."

"Interesting."

"Yes, sir.  The mineral could be useful, and Doc Wilker's team will want to take a closer look.  But we'll have to be da— really careful about going to in to get samples for analysis.  We'll have to shield somehow."

The Commander nodded, and turned his attention to Boxey, who was now beaming happily.  "All serene?"

"Better," said Apollo.  He tugged gently on Boxey's wings.  "You know what you’ve got to do."

"Well, I’ve got to say sorry to Acer for not believing him when he said that Dad was all right and for hitting him," Boxey told them cheerfully.

"You hit Acer?" asked Starbuck, impressed.

"I told you not to say anything about that," said Acer.  Starbuck had to hide his smile at the self-deprecating look the Sergeant gave Apollo—not because he was afraid of what Apollo might say, but definitely because he was afraid of Acer.

"I was upset ‘cos Dad was late," explained Boxey.

The Commander tried for stern.  "So was I, but I didn’t go round hitting Sergeant Acer." 

"Very wise," murmured Apollo, grinning.  

"I didn’t hurt him, Grandpa.  Did I, Acer?"

"Didn’t feel a thing,” the Sergeant said, stoically.

"I’m sure of it," said the Commander.  So was Starbuck: he was pretty certain that Acer had been put together by the same company who'd built their shuttlecraft.  "It was very brave of you, Boxey.  I wouldn’t dare to try to hit Acer."

"Thank you, Dad," said Apollo.  "A helpful intervention nicely calculated to maintain discipline in the ranks." 

"You know me, my son.  I'm a firm believer in discipline."

"Uh-huh," said Apollo.  He looked down at Boxey.  "And the rest of it, young man."

Boxey sighed and rolled his eyes.  "You always make me say this."

"Then you should be word perfect and can't possibly fluff your lines.  Get it said."

"I’ve got to ‘pologise to you, Grandpa, and Starbuck and Acer and everyone else for being a 'fernal nuisance at the end of a long hard day."  Boxey looked expectantly at Starbuck…

… who never missed his cue.  "What's wrong with being a nuisance?  It's about my only achievement and I'm proud to have someone follow in my august footsteps."

"Oh please," said Apollo, rolling his eyes in his turn.  Starbuck grinned, amused that Boxey was living proof of the supremacy of nurturing over nature; he had not one molecule of Apollo's DNA but there was no mistaking who was raising him.

"I'm better at it than you," boasted Boxey.  "I'm so good at it Dad says that I'm turning into …into…what was it, Dad?" Boxey turned to his father.  Apollo bent down to whisper in his ear and Boxey nodded.  "Into an emotional incubus.  That's a new one.  What does it mean?" 

The Commander laughed softly and shook his head.

"That's not nice," reproved Starbuck.

"It means that you're due on stage in five centons and you'd better get yourself over there with everyone else and get ready."  Apollo glanced over to where the angels and shepherds were gathering with their teacher.  His tone softened.  "All right now?"

Boxey nodded, so cheerful that no-one would have recognised him in the little woebegone orphan of five centons earlier.

"All right.  We'll all be sitting in the front row and we'll be rooting for you.  Go and enjoy it."  Apollo stooped, a little clumsy with the brace, and hugged the child.

"I'll be great, now you're here," said Boxey.  "Really great."

Apollo sighed.  "All this overconfidence is shocking.  You’re turning into Starbuck before my very eyes."

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

"Is that so?" said Starbuck, and grinned.

The Commander raised an eyebrow.  Sergeant Acer coughed and stared off into the middle distance wearing the expression that every non-com wore in the presence of officers.

Apollo just flushed and straightened Boxey's halo. 

 

 

"I guess," observed Starbuck, with such aggressive pensiveness that his friends turned all their attention on to him, startled by the intensity, "that Yule's a time for kids, really."

"He's fishing for something," said Apollo, after a short silence in which Starbuck turned the pensive expression up a few notches, by-passing 'meditative' until it hit brooding wistfulfulness right on the button.

Boomer, unimpressed, snorted, and turned his attention back onto the game of faro he was playing with Greenbean.  "Sure he is.  He's probably after a present for his inner child."

"Ah," said Jolly.  "Something from the under-five's section of the toyshop, then."

"I just wondered if that means no-one other than Boxey gets what he wants for Yule, that's all," protested Starbuck.  "It's not that I want a lot, mind you.  Just the one thing.  But will I get it?"

"Have you been a good boy, then?" murmured Apollo.

Starbuck grinned.

"I hope you aren't expecting a present from me.  I don't have the inclination or the cubits," Boomer glanced around the Officer's Club and the stewards' rather sad attempts at seasonal decoration. "Or the festive cheer thing going for me, either."

"Everyone's trying to make merry on very little," reproved Starbuck.

"At least we're here to make merry," said Lange, leaning over Greenbean's shoulder to watch the progress of the game.  He glanced up at Starbuck and grinned.  "What’s your problem, Starbuck?  Having to spend Yuletide Eve watching school plays and not enough time spent drinking and carousing and wassailing?"

Apollo leaned back in his chair, shifting Boxey in his hold to get the child’s weight off his damaged leg.  Boxey had both arms wound around his father’s neck and his face buried in Apollo’s shoulder.  He was sound asleep, worn out by the turmoil of the day and being allowed to stay up late to celebrate the triumph of the Yuletide play, all crowned by his favourite treat of spending time with the pilots in the OC.  He was still wearing his halo.

"Be careful how you answer that, Starbuck," Apollo warned.

"He's asleep," Starbuck pointed out.  "He can’t hear me.  I'm hardly going to cause irreparable damage to his psyche if I point out that he's not exactly cut out for a thespian's career, am I?  And he's not."

"He was great," said Apollo.  "He said so."  The child stirred slightly and made some incoherent, sleepy protest at being moved.  “Go back to sleep, Boxey,” he said softly.

Starbuck felt an unaccustomed stinging of the eyes as he saw the child relax at Apollo's soothing tone.  He knew how very unprepared Apollo had felt to be a single parent, but he genuinely felt Apollo was doing a pretty good job of it. 

Boomer held out his arms.  "Let me have him for a while." he offered.  "He’s getting heavy, and he must be making your leg ache."

"Getting psychic, Boom-boom?"

Boomer grinned and shook his head.  "Naw.  Just observant.  Hand him over."

Apollo nodded.  "He's all yours." 

Boxey didn’t stir as Boomer lifted him away.  Apollo rubbed at his injured knee, straightening the crippled leg carefully to ease it.

"Let me."  Starbuck leaned forward to massage the knee ruthlessly.  Apollo’s reaction, unlike Boxey’s, was loud and anything but incoherent.  It could have blistered paint.  "Stop whining," said Starbuck. "You’ll wake up Boxey.  You know it’ll be better when I stop."

"Then stop!" begged Apollo.  "Please!"

"How did you win those medals they gave you?”  asked Greenbean, folding on the game and passing the deck of cards to Lange.

"Bought ‘em at a penny bazaar.  Ow!  Starbuck!"

"All right."  Starbuck let go and sat back in his seat.  He grinned at Apollo, who was grumbling under his breath and clutching at the maltreated knee.  Flushed was a good look on Apollo, he thought.  "Better?"

"Better," Apollo conceded, giving him a lowering glance.

Jolly shook his head sadly.  "It’s an awful thing when you find out that your strike leader's really a sissy about an itsy-bitsy twinge in his knee."

Apollo never worried about abusing his position and exacting petty revenge.  "It's an even worse thing when you find yourself on deep recon patrols for a secton as a result of pissing the sissy off."  

Jolly grimaced.  "I suppose it’s too late to say I’m sorry?"

"Buying the sissy a drink means you never have to say you’re sorry," said Apollo.

Starbuck frowned.  "I don't think that quotation was quite right."

Apollo, still flushed, wouldn't meet his eye.  "Closest you're gonna get."

Starbuck felt the smile twitch at the corners of his mouth.  "We'll see," he said.  "I still have my Yuletide present to get.  We'll see."

Sheba and Bojay bounced over to the table, hands full of bowls of something red and sticky-looking.

"Here, taste this," commanded Sheba, thrusting a bowl at Apollo. 

"Oh, kissel," said Apollo,  "I love kissel.  I heard there may be some."

"I made it."  She shoved a laden spoon at Apollo's mouth, as if he were Boxey refusing to eat his rations.  Apollo, with nary an eye roll, obediently swallowed and Sheba, looking not unlike the cat in the creamery, waited for his verdict,

"Nice," said Apollo, and took the bowl she offered him.

Starbuck blew out a noisy, impatient breath as Sheba beamed her delight at everyone within a parsec.  She was a nice enough girl, he supposed, but she didn't have a subtle bone in her body.  Her crush on Apollo was getting embarrassing.

"No thanks," he said when the spoon was waved at him.  "I'm not that keen on red glop."

 

 

Starbuck carried Boxey back to Apollo's quarters and put him to bed without the child stirring once.  It wasn't that Apollo couldn't carry Boxey, even hampered by the leg brace, but it was a neat excuse for Starbuck to leave right alongside Apollo and no-one guessed that he had an ulterior motive.  And that was pretty funny, given that Apollo said that Starbuck had an ulterior motive for just about everything.

Which was true.

And which was especially true when Boxey was out for the count.  "He's not going to stir this side of Yuletide," remarked Starbuck, closing the door to Boxey's room with precision and firmness.

"You hope," said Apollo.

"Yeah.  I hope," said Starbuck.  He smiled invitingly, joining Apollo on the couch.

Apollo was a sensible man.  He didn't need a gold-edged card with an engraved invitation.  He knew what was he was being invited to do and he did it.

Apollo kissed him. 

Starbuck kissed him right back, pushing up close and sliding his hands up over Apollo's shoulders and into the thick black hair.  Apollo made a funny little sound in the back of his throat, almost a broken sound that Starbuck matched, as if the kisses were shattering them into pieces.  

Now, while he wasn't quite up to Starbuck's expert standard. Apollo was a good kisser.  Apollo was really a very good kisser and his hot tongue tasted of mulled wine and berries.  Actually, Apollo was very, very good at kissing and tasted of kissel; Starbuck was world's expert at kissing and rather liked the red glop when he was getting it second hand like this… put the two of them together, Starbuck and Apollo, and you pretty much got the hottest kissing thing going.  Anywhere.

Starbuck tried to tell Apollo that, but Apollo's tongue was in his mouth and it came out rather garbled.  He gave it up.  Instead his hands tightened on Apollo's shoulders, pulling Apollo down until they were lying along the length of the long padded couch in Apollo's tiny 'living' room.  Starbuck didn't want to stop kissing Apollo.  He wasn't able to.  He could feel how hard Apollo was, the hot hard length Apollo's erection pushing against his thigh, and he pushed his hip back against it, his own cock heavy and throbbing.  He ground against Apollo, moaning into the kiss.

They broke apart, gasping.

"I've been wanting to do that all day," said Starbuck, resting his forehead against Apollo's and settling his hands on Apollo's shoulders.  He tightened and flexed his fingers over the warm hardness.  "Am I a bad man, Apollo?  I mean, there I was at this religious play with all those innocent children lisping prayers and singing carols, and all I could think about was how long it would be before I got you back here to myself and I could kiss you senseless."

"Not very religious, no," said Apollo, catching his breath.  "But not very bad."

"Good enough to get my Yuletide present then?"

"Oh, I think that can be arranged," said Apollo.

He kissed Starbuck again.  He still tasted of sugar and tart berries and somewhere in there was the tang of lemons, heady and clean and sharp.

Kissel, thought Starbuck, tasting its tartness and laughing inside at how apt it was.  Kissel.

The kisses weren't shattering them into pieces, Starbuck realised.  They were melding them into one.

 

 

4567 words                                                                      December 2008