Once upon a time, far across the universe, lived tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians, or the Toltecs, or the Mayans… far away, somewhere beyond the heavens, lay the kingdom of Galactica, ruled by its powerful and wise old king, Adama of Caprica.

Now, the kingdom of Galactica was not as peaceful and as prosperous as King Adama might have hoped for.  It was a broad, green land with high, snow-capped mountains, deep forests and sweet streams, its lush lowlands fertile and peppered with little farms and villages.  But it was sometimes hard-pressed by its enemies and its borders were held only by the courage and the steadfastness of the Warriors led by Colonel Tigh, a friend of Adama's since boyhood.

Now, in this green and pleasant land, in a house just outside of Caprica City and not far from the palace, lived an orphan.  Starbuck knew little about his long-dead mother.  He knew she had been a woodsman's daughter, living in the great Forest of Thorn that bordered Galactica's south frontier, but she had died so long ago when Galactica had been attacked by its enemies that Starbuck had no real memory of her at all.  Sometimes he thought that he remembered a fall of dark blonde hair and a voice and the scent of lavender, but he didn't really think that these were real memories.  He thought that they were little more than wistful might-have-beens.

For a long time, the child Starbuck had lived in a big house in the city with the other orphans.  It was a noisy place, full of children tumbling up and tumbling down, and Starbuck had liked it there.  There was always something going on and he was usually in the thick of it.  He had been surprised (and apprehensive) then, when, in his fourteenth yahren, out of the blue came a man who said that he was Starbuck's father returning from a long journey that he'd made to seek his fortune. 

Chameleon's fortune turned out to be a rich widow, Siress Tinia, who had two sons.  We'll all live happily together, said Chameleon, signing his name on the scroll that the orphanage superintendent insisted was needed in triplicate; one each for the Galactican Social Care Authority (GSCA), the Galactican Education and Skills Unit (GESA) and—this last one causing Chameleon to wince visibly—the Galactican Revenue Assessment Bureau (GRAB).  Starbuck had watched the signing, which was done in red ink with three witnesses, and wondered if he'd like not being with Boomer, Jolly and Greenbean and the other boys.

Still, Starbuck had a family now and he supposed that had to mean something.  They all went to live in Chance Manor, the house Chameleon had won in a game of Pyramid from its previous owner, Colonel Tigh.  Starbuck was never certain that Chameleon had exactly played fair, because his father was a gamester and a chancer—which was a little bit worrying because Colonel Tigh had a lot of Warriors at his disposal if he ever wanted to dispute the outcome of the card game.  Colonel Tigh, however, was an honest man, had an awful lot of manor houses and obviously considered that he'd lost fairly.  At least, he never rolled up at the gates with an army at his back, demanding his house back.  Whether Chameleon was a cheat or not, it was true to say that he was very, very good at Pyramid.  He taught Starbuck how to play whenever Siress Tinia and her two boys weren't looking.

Starbuck was lonely at Chance Manor.  He missed his friends from the orphanage; his two step-brothers were older than he was and they were both proud and demanding boys.  His stepmother had no time to spare for Starbuck.  Indeed, she hated him because when they were first reunited Chameleon would sigh and say how much Starbuck resembled his dead mother.  Siress Tinia might not be jealous of Starbuck's mother, but she was jealous of the attention that Chameleon sometimes gave Starbuck—it took attention from where it properly belonged, on Baltar and Karybdis.

So she carefully and craftily worked on Chameleon until he turned away from Starbuck and looked the other way when Tinia and her sons mistreated him.  And soon Starbuck was reduced to the role of a servant, working all day in the grounds and the stables, looking after the expensive hacks and hunters that Chameleon bought for Starbuck's step-brothers.  He wasn't allowed into any of the nice rooms of the house except to clean them or bring up the tea-tray after dinner, being made to eat all his meals (meagre ones, at that) and live in the kitchen among the black beetles.

So every night, Starbuck ate scraps for his supper and sat in front of the hearth staring at the embers until he fell asleep in the ashes.  The black beetles were surprisingly considerate and hardly ever ran across his face and woke him up.

Baltar and Karybdis treated Starbuck very badly.  They said he was an ill-favoured peasant with rough red hands who didn't deserve his good luck in serving them and, they said, he wears clumpy boots that just pound up and down the stairs, Mummy, and it gives me a headache and it's shameful having him in the house at all. 

Baltar was the eldest.  He was weaselly-faced and pale, and insisted on wearing a poisonous-green velvet suit that was too tight for him and didn’t hide his paunch (he was far too fond of sweet mushies and ambrosa).  He almost never took off his favourite green leather gauntlets, even wearing them at table when he ate.  Karybdis was taller and thinner but his shoulders stooped and he had a very unfortunate mullet that flopped greasy hair gracelessly over his spotty face.  He wore black and brooded a lot, spending a long time in front of his mirror practising throwing back his head dramatically so that the mullet tossed like barley in the wind.

Starbuck, though!   Starbuck was much younger than they were and Starbuck was cleverer than they were, quick-witted and silver-tongued.  And while they scowled and stormed with chronic bad temper, Starbuck had a sunny and cheerful disposition and made the best of the bad bargain he'd made when he'd let his father take him from the orphanage.  And worst of all (from Baltar's and Karybdis's points of view) Starbuck was tall and well-made, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist and his lean body was graceful and elegant, even in rags. Starbuck had a mop of dark gold hair and bright blue eyes in a face that was beautiful despite the dirt and (sadly) the occasional bruise.  In short, Starbuck knocked the socks off them in the looks department. 

The comparison with Starbuck pained them.  It pained Siress Tinia too, which made her even more strict and disagreeable and meant that Starbuck's meals grew ever more meagre, his clothes dirtier and more ragged and patched, his comely looks were hidden under dirt and grime, and he smelled of horses a lot.  He looked, not like the son of the Lord of a manor, but like the stable hand and labourer that she'd reduced him to.  And in time, their friends and neighbours thought that he had always been a poor servant and forgot that Starbuck was really Chameleon's son. 

Starbuck often forgot it himself.

 

 

One day, when Starbuck had lived at Chance Manor for many yahrens (he didn’t know how many, the same way he wasn't sure how old he was because it had been a long time since anyone had celebrated his birthday and he'd forgotten when it was), a proclamation was made across the whole of Galactica about a great ball that King Adama was going hold in the palace.

The Warriors had just turned back another incursion from the East, and Starbuck had been amongst the people of Caprica City who'd flocked out to line the roads and cheer and cheer as the triumphant army paraded home.  Starbuck had stared and cheered and waved as the Warriors went past him, bright in their dress uniforms and their shiny medals and marching behind bands brave in ribbons and loud brass instruments.  It was noisy and exciting and Starbuck hadn't had as much fun since he left the orphanage yahrens before.

Colonel Tigh rode at the head of the army, and by his side, on a white horse that plunged and skittered nervously, rode his second-in-command, Crown Prince Apollo.  Starbuck had never seen the prince before and he stared at Apollo for a long time, his mouth open.

Apollo was as dark as Starbuck was fair, with black hair that was a little too long for regulations, a finely-chiselled face remarkable for high cheekbones and intensely green eyes.  Apollo, thought Starbuck, was the most beautiful thing that he had ever seen.  Ever.  Apollo was even more beautiful than the pretty little roan mare that Chameleon had just bought to augment Baltar's hunting string; and until then, Starbuck hadn't thought anything could be prettier than that little mare.  Starbuck's heart thumped loudly in his chest and warmth spread through him.  He thought he could hear birds sing and the sun shone warm on him.

He watched Apollo ride past, seeing how sad the Prince was despite all the ceremony and celebration. Starbuck remembered that young Prince Zac had died early in the war, Queen Ila had pined away with sorrow and Prince Apollo's new wife had been killed leaving him with a small step-son to rear, so he supposed that Apollo had good reason to be sad. He wanted, more than anything, to take away that melancholy expression and make the Prince smile.  He was willing to wager anything you could mention that the Prince had a lovely smile.

He imagined that lovely smile turned to him, greeting him, coming to life because Apollo had seen him.  He imagined those green eyes lighting up, the strong mouth quirking upwards, lips opening to offer him a welcome.  His heart gave a little stutter and flutter, and, when Apollo's glance flickered over him as the Prince looked at the crowds, the warmth Starbuck felt pooled suddenly into his groin.  He took a half-step forward, but the Prince was already past and one of the Warriors lining the route on guard pushed Starbuck back into the crowd of peasants with an oath and a command for him to effing watch what he was effing doing, or he (the guard) would effing see to it that he (Starbuck) would be effing sorry.

Apollo was past him and gone. Starbuck stared after Apollo until the Prince was out of sight. 

Starbuck sighed and it was quite a few centons before he could resume the cheering and the waving.  His heart swelled within him with pride that this was his country and his brave compatriots coming home from the war, but he was overcome with a sudden sadness that he, a mere servant stable boy, could never, ever be a Warrior like them and follow the Prince to serve and protect him.  So while he cheered still and waved, the cheers had a sad sound to them and he looked earnestly into the faces of each Warrior as he or she passed by, wondering what it must be like to have such a splendid life and wear a Warrior's uniform.  He thought that he saw faces he knew: Boomer and Giles and Jolly maybe, and he was almost sure that the tall lanky Warrior on the other side of the column was Greenbean.

Starbuck's arm dropped and the cheer died in his throat, and he crept away back to his duties in the stables before the last Warrior had passed on the road and entered the City gates.  For the first time, he couldn't be cheerful; and when he'd finished work he crept into the kitchen and ate his supper (bread and cheese tonight, and not much cheese at that but he just scraped the mould off) and thought sadly that if he'd stayed at the orphanage, he too could have been a Warrior and follow Prince Apollo everywhere.  He'd have been the best and the bravest, and the Prince wouldn't have been able to help but notice him and smile that special smile for him.

The house was in an uproar and he wasn't allowed long to eat his cheese in peace.  The family had had its invitation to the ball, of course, and everyone (except Starbuck) was rushing around getting dressed in their finest clothes.  Chameleon practised card tricks, Tinia was trying on dresses of rich red or purple or yellow satin, Baltar was brushing his green velvet and Karybdis was in front of his mirror, practising his dramatic head toss.  Starbuck was kept very busy running up and down with hot water for bathing and cups of tea to calm Tinia's nerves and glasses of ambrosa for the others.  It was on a foray into the drawing room with tapers to light the candles that he saw the invitation card on the mantelpiece—thick cream card, written in gold ink, and signed by Omega, the King's major-domo, in a signature that involved a lot of curlicues and slanting italics—and noticed (the orphanage had taught him his letters) that it was addressed to Sire Chameleon and family.

And family.

Blazing with the sudden hope that he might get to see Apollo again, Starbuck turned to his father and pointed to the invitation card.

"Does this mean—?"

They all stared at him.

"Can I go too?" he asked.

"Don’t be ridiculous," said Baltar, sharply.  "You?  Go with us to the ball?"  He laughed madly.  "A stable boy?"

"You don't have a thing to wear!" said Karybdis.  "And you're a nasty, dirty fright of a thing.  You have ashes in your hair and filth under your fingernails."

All Tinia said was, "Get back to the kitchen, boy."

Chameleon said nothing at all, although he was frowning and looked a little sorry as he glanced from his ragged son to his two step-sons.

Starbuck sighed and went away, and when, a few centons later, they left for the ball dressed in their finest clothes and driving in a fine carriage pulled by the best horses in the stables, he sat on the kitchen hearth in the gloom with his head in his hands and tried to brood as well as Karybdis brooded.

He'd never get  to see Apollo.  Apollo would never, ever notice him.  Apollo would never smile at him.

Life was very hard.

 

 

 

"Excuse me," said a high, thin voice.  "You're Starbuck, yes?"

Starbuck started.  He'd had a very long day and the head in his hands had grown heavy with sleep.  He stared around wildly, his eyes widening at the sight in front of him.

The… the thing, whatever it was, was taller than any man he'd ever seen.It—he?—wore a robe of some metallic fabric that glittered and glistened in the firelight, so long that Starbuck couldn't see its legs and feet. It did have hands, although they didn't seem to be very useful, flapping about on the ends of very long arms.  But its head was the oddest thing.  It was transparent and hard, as if made out of glass armour, and it came to a point.  Starbuck could see clear to the back of the thing's mind.

"Huh?"

"Starbuck?" it said, and the red lights that made up its eyes brightened, the twinkly little lights inside its head danced and purple lights outlined its mouth as it spoke.  All in all, there were a lot of lights.

"I might be," conceded Starbuck, wishing he had a laser pistol like the one he'd seen strapped to Apollo's thigh that afternoon.  Not that he'd been looking at Apollo's thigh, of course.  That would be worst sort of lèse-majesté.  Still he thought of thigh holsters and in lieu of a gun, he grasped one of the pokers and tried to look threatening.

"Oh good.  I'm Lucifer, your Fairy IL-Cylon Godfather."

"My what?"

"Your Fairy IL-Cylon Godfather.  I'm a sort of Fairy.  And an IL-Cylon.  And although it's a stretch to say I'm really your Godfather, I grant wishes just like any regular Fairy Godfather."

"Right," said Starbuck, raising his eyebrow.  He waved the non-poker-clutching hand at Lucifer's head.  "That explains all the fairy lights, then."  He shook his head.  "No, really.  I always thought fairies look more like …"

"At least," added Starbuck, when the tightness in his leggings had faded a little and he'd got his breath back (because the fairy of his imagination was dark-haired and had nice cheekbones, looked just a teeny tiny bit like the Crown Prince and Starbuck wondered if Apollo's pecs were as well developed), "I'd like a fairy who looked that."

"I realise," said Lucifer, and Starbuck got the impression it was laughing at him, "that you've made a shocking discovery today about your sexuality and all, but can you really see me with glittery wings?"

"You've got the gauzy glittery frock," muttered Starbuck, ignoring the gibe about sexuality.  It was a snide thing to say just because he wanted to serve the Crown Prince.  "Who'd notice wings?"

"Very amusing, you humans," said Lucifer and it repeated slowly, enunciating carefully as if it were talking to a halfwit: "I. Grant. Wishes."

"Right!" said Starbuck, catching on, because he really was brighter than he looked.  "Why?"

"The Fairy Imperious Leader makes me," explained Lucifer.  "It's all by his command."

Starbuck understood being given orders.  People shouted them at him all the time.  "Okay.  Any kind of wishes?"

Lucifer's thin sloping shoulders weren't made for shrugging, but it tried.  "Anything you want."

"If you're a real Fairy Wotsit, you'll know what I want."

"Indeed," said Lucifer.  It rolled backwards slightly—no legs and feet? speculated Starbuck—and managed to make one of its silly, floppy hands wave about.  "Starbuck, you shall go to the ball!"

 

 

They argued about the clothes, but Starbuck was obdurate.  His family could go to the ball in velvet and satins and cloth-of-gold, but he was going in the splendid uniform of a Colonial Warrior or, he said, he wasn't going at all (although his heart plummeted at missing the chance of seeing Apollo again). 

Lucifer made a funny sort of noise that sounded like clockwork whirring, but within five centons one awkward wave of that useless-looking hand had Starbuck (a) realising that his clothes had vanished; (b) squawking indignantly at this magical intrusion into his privacy; (c) squawking again as he was doused in hot, scented water and scrubbed clean by tiny, invisible hands; (d) muffling his protests when a warm wind blew over him and dried him (and the kitchen floor) in an instant, the breeze taking the time to ruffle his hair into artful disorder; (e) grinning like a lunatic to see the Warrior's uniform take shape where once there had been only rags; and (f) bounding over to the fragment of looking-glass hanging on the wall to admire himself.

It was all admirable.  Everything about him gleamed and shone, from the shining wing of golden hair right down to his feet.  He looked wonderful.  He looked every inch the brave Colonial Warrior, the hero, the devil-may-care adventurer.  He didn't look at all like Starbuck the stable-boy.  He even had a laser in a thigh holster, just like the one he hadn't been looking at on Apollo.  He sighed happily.  The Prince was sure to notice him.  He glanced down at himself, toes wriggling with happiness.

Toes wriggling with…

"You forgot shoes," he complained.

Lucifer's hand waved again.

"No," said Starbuck.

"But… tradition!" protested Lucifer with that clockwork whirr again, that Starbuck thought was mechanical laughter.

"I am not wearing them.  My feet won't fit into them, those heels are a killer, they don't go with the uniform, and I'll look silly."  Starbuck looked them over and with all the fashion-sense given to him by his new-found sexual orientation, he gave a little scornful shudder.  "They aren't even Blahniks!  I need combat boots, Lucifer."

"If you insist," agreed the Fairy IL-Cylon Godfather, and waved a pair of hand-made leather boots onto Starbuck's feet. They had very nice top-stitching and fashion heels.  "Now for transport.  I could transform a pumpkin into a coach, if you like?"

Starbuck batted long dark-gold eyelashes.  "Could I have something faster?" 

Lucifer considered and nodded.  "Very well.  It's parked in the pasture."  It looked Starbuck up and down.  "Yes, indeed.  The very epitome of manly elegance.  You'll be the belle of the ball."

"Can I go now?"

"You can, but remember that this all wears off at midnight.  When the clock strikes twelve, your vehicle will be a pumpkin, all this finery will revert to rags and you'll be a smelly, dirty pony boy again."

"I'm not a pony boy!" protested Starbuck, half-heartedly, with that strange tingling and tightening in his leggings again.

"Not yet, anyway.  I understand the Prince is fond of riding though."  One more look with those twinkling red lights for eyes and Lucifer nodded decisively.  "Be off with you.  And don't forget, Starbuck.  Midnight!"

 

 

 

Starbuck reached the palace in centons, leaving his flying vehicle parked on the lawn in front of the huge marble façade.  He wasn't really late.  The ball was barely begun, and people were still getting out of coaches and carriages and streaming up the wide marble staircase into the palace.  Starbuck joined them.

Maybe it was some lingering magic from his Fairy IL-Cylon Godfather, maybe it was just that he really, really looked the part, but Starbuck wasn't challenged as a gate-crasher and thrown out of the party and into the dungeons.  Instead he followed the stream of people into the most wonderful room he had ever seen in his life, bowed on his way by butlers and footmen and flunkies.

He'd always thought that Tinia's drawing room was a luxurious wonderful place.  In comparison with this, it was a hovel.

The ball room was vast, so vast that he could barely make out the details at the other end where King Adama sat on his golden throne.  Huge crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, each carrying a thousand candles, lighting a gold and white room filled with rich, fashionable people dressed in rich and fashionable clothes.  Velvets of every deep colour, cloth of gold and cloth of silver, silk whose sheen was caught by the candlelight and gaudier satin… and the diamonds!  Starbuck had never seen such jewels, glittering like cold ice in the ladies' hair, or at their white throats, or around their elegant wrists.  There was so much sparkle that Should have brought shades he said and went with the crowd down the wide staircase to the ballroom floor, and started walking around, enjoying himself.

He was happy, so he smiled a lot.  He was handsome and a stranger, so everyone noticed him.  It didn’t take him long to realise that people were looking at him and staring, and within a few centons the crowds started parting for him, letting him through and the rich fashionable nobles nodded to him and smiled back, and some even bowed graciously.  He heard many an approving whisper: Who is that handsome young man? they said; or He must be someone very important, he looks so debonair and heroic; or Do you think he's the King of Atlantia's son?  He has the look of a Prince… so noble and handsome!

Starbuck loved it.  And if he'd been glowing before all this approbation, he was fairly sparkling when he realised that the whispers and bows and curtseys were for him, because they thought he was beautiful and important.  Starbuck really loved that.

He had one frightening centon when he ran into Chameleon with Tinia on his arm, Baltar and Karybdis slouching along behind them.  But Chameleon didn't seem to notice Starbuck standing there and Tinia had obviously heard all the whispers.  None of them recognised the dirty stable boy in the handsome Warrior standing before them.  Tinia even flicked her fan across her face and tittered girlishly as she dropped him a little curtsey.  Starbuck smiled and bowed back, the merest bow of a Prince to a favoured underling, and backed off to lose himself amongst the dancers, grinning.

Well, it was all very amusing and Starbuck enjoyed himself thoroughly.  He fostered the air of mystery by just smiling whenever anyone asked his name; he ate at the King's banquet table and didn’t even once think about mouldy cheese and dry bread; he danced with pretty ladies and princesses (mentally saluting Lucifer's attention to detail—the combat boots were also dancing boots and knew the steps all on their own); and he joined the Chancery tables and played Pyramid, remembering all the lessons Chameleon had given him and not needing Lucifer's magic one iota when it came to cards.

 

 

He still hadn't seen Apollo.

He looked everywhere.  Although he'd seen Apollo's small step-son running about the dance floor chasing a strange orange animal, and he'd seen Apollo's sister, the Princess Athena, and even, from a distance, Old King Adama himself, there was no sign of the Crown Prince.

He heard more whispers of course.  Whispers about Adama's desire to see Apollo marry again and be happy, whispers about the pretty princesses and ladies invited to the ball in the hopes that the Prince would fall in love again.  He heard the disappointed murmurs from disappointed damsels, who, like him, were looking for Apollo.  There were disappointed murmurs from some of the gathered princes and lordlings, too. 

While he was still looking, the rumours that a Prince from a strange country was there at the ball reached the Princess Athena's ears.  Athena was very pretty and very proud.  Starbuck had heard it said in the village that many men—kings, princes and dukes, lords of all degree—had come to seek her hand in marriage but she was so proud that no suitor was good enough for her. She rejected one after the other, ridiculing their inadequacies.  It was this princess who now came looking for Starbuck, to see if this was another suitor for her to refuse to marry.

She came upon Starbuck just as he was joking with the Lady Cassiopeia at the Pyramid table.  Lady Cassiopeia was golden-haired and pretty, and she too had a reputation when it came to suitors.  Hers, though, was that no suitor was ever, ever rejected and Starbuck had already consoled himself with the thought that if he never found Apollo, then Cassie might at least offer some comfort that was uniquely her own. 

Athena swept down upon them, wearing one her prettiest, most revealing dresses, her head held high and a glittering diadem bound into her dark, dark hair.  Her eyes flicked over Cassiopeia, who curtseyed slightly, and away again without acknowledging her.  She put a hand on Starbuck's arm.

"I do not know you, after all!" she said, in her best royal voice.  She smiled.  "I thought that you might be one of my rejected suitors, sneaking in to try again to win my regard and my hand!  But you are a stranger, Lord!"  She managed to make it sound as if this was some sort of negligence on Starbuck's side, and that this was his chance to redeem himself.

Starbuck bowed.  "Your highness," he said.  "This is the Lady Cassiopeia of Gemoni—"

Cassie's hand tucked itself under Starbuck's arm.  She smiled and curtseyed again.

"I am aware," said Athena, dismissing Cassie with a glance.  She smiled again at Starbuck.  "You aren't from around here, surely?"

"Not so very far, your highness," said Starbuck, thinking of his stable, the kitchen and the friendly black beetles.

Athena smiled and moved forward, neatly cutting out Cassie, who was forced to drop Starbuck's arm and step away.  "Well," she purred, "then it seems strange that we've never met before today.  I'm delighted to meet you." She waved a perfectly manicured hand at the scene around them.  "And this is the perfect opportunity to get some time to ourselves, to get to know each other better."

"He was about to dance with me," said Cassie.  There was a measurable pause.  "Your highness," she added.

"And now he's going to dance with me," said Athena, showing her claws.

"Right."  Starbuck looked from one lady to the other.  "Well, actually, ladies, I'm on something of roll here, with the cards, and, em, I think I'll, er—"

"I see," said Cassie, drawing back.

"And so do I!" snapped Athena, folding her arms across her chest (which sadly hid her chest from Starbuck's admiring eyes) and tapping her foot impatiently.

"Right," said Starbuck again, and took a couple of steps out of the way as the two ladies squared up against each other. 

Only feet away, open French windows gave onto the gardens.  Starbuck was through them and safe before either of them noticed.

 

 

The gardens were lush and grey in the moonlight, heavy with the scent of roses and jasmine.  Starbuck had managed to pick up a fumerillo from the table as he left.  He lit it, reflecting on the strangeness of women and wondering why his life was suddenly so complicated.

"Who's there?" demanded a voice out the darkness of a near-by rose arbour.  "Who is it?"

"A stranger," replied Starbuck, making his way over.  "Who are you?"

He almost laughed with delighted triumph when Crown Prince Apollo stuck his head out from the arbour and into the moonlight.  The cool silvery light limned every feature, slanting down the high cheekbones and casting a shadow over Apollo's mouth.  Apollo frowned.

"Do I know you?"

"We've not met, sir," said Starbuck, and managed a very credible salute.  He followed it up with a short bow, for good measure.

"You're not one of my Warriors," said Apollo, staring at him.  "You're wearing the insignia of my squadron but I know everyone in it and I don't know you.  I'd remember you."

"I'm not in your squadron, sir," conceded Starbuck, delighted that the Prince thought he'd remember him.  "But I really, really want to be."

Apollo gave him a long, considering look.  "Have you seen Sheba?" he asked.

"Sheba?"

"The daughter of the old Lord of Pegasus," said the Prince.  "About this high with long brown hair.  She didn't send you here to find me, did she?"  He added, gloomily, "She's determined to marry me.  She's been chasing me everywhere."

"No," said Starbuck, trying to account for the surge of anger he felt at the thought of Apollo being persecuted by Pegasean (Pegasusian?) floozies.  "I've never seen her."

"You can't miss her.  Athena has a lovely way of describing her." 

Starbuck grinned because it was really rather funny.  "Is Princess Athena right?"

"I think she might be.  Athena says that it all comes naturally to a real Princess, so she looks down on Sheba a bit." 

"Is she right about Sheba wanting to marry you, too, sir?"

"Everyone does," said Apollo, cast into gloom again.  "Because of who my father is.  But she's the worst of the lot because her father was a great friend of King Adama's and my father says Cain would have liked the match as much as he does." 

"Is that why you're out here?"

"It's safer out here.  I don't have to dance with anyone and no-one can trap me into a Sealing." He eyed Starbuck for a centon.  "Call me Apollo.  Do you… er… would you like to sit and talk for a while?"

"I’d love to, Apollo."

Apollo smiled then, and Starbuck's heart turned over.  He'd imagined and imagined how very beautiful Apollo would be if he smiled.  But he must have a very poor and very limited imagination.  Apollo wasn't just beautiful when he smiled.  Apollo was transcendently beautiful when he smiled.

Starbuck drew in a lungful of smoke, and, with a great effort, turned a stumble into a graceful saunter forward and joined Apollo in the darkness of the arbour.

"Now," said the Prince's voice in his ear, making Starbuck shiver and shudder with delight.  "What shall we talk about?"

 

 

They talked for centars. 

The Prince just laughed when Starbuck told him that because he was incognito, he couldn't give a name.  Our old friend Anon, he called Starbuck and didn't press further, much to Starbuck's relief.  That slight hurdle overcome, Starbuck settled in to enjoy himself.  He didn't miss the lights and the music or the ladies or the cards.  He didn’t miss the food or the wine or the dancing.  It was his first ever ball (and probably, he thought, his last) but he didn't mind at all missing it all and sitting out in the garden with Apollo.  Instead, he loved every micron in that dark arbour,  treasuring up every word, every glimpse he got of Apollo's profile in the moonlight, every cadence of Apollo's voice as they talked. 

They talked endlessly, sometimes about nothing much at all.  And during the talk Starbuck came to realise that the Prince he'd idealised was a shy man, a man who did his duty but who had no hope for anything better than that, a man who struggled to get from under his father's long shadow.  Apollo didn't seem to mind when Starbuck confessed to being an orphan without riches or social standing, treating Starbuck as if he were one of Apollo's noble peers.  They were fast friends almost immediately, and Apollo treated Starbuck with consideration and respect for his opinions.  For the first time he could remember, Starbuck was fully, unreservedly happy.

He thought Apollo was too, because as the evening wore on, he caught not just the gleam of Apollo's smile in the dimness of the arbour, but heard the choke of laughter that sounded as if it were too little used, felt the heat of Apollo's hand on his arm as they argued some point of philosophy or history, felt the warmth of Apollo's breath against his neck and ear when the Prince leaned in close to drop his voice to make some confidence.  More and more he delighted in hearing Apollo laugh.

But all good things must come to an end, and at last Apollo stirred and sighed and said that duty called.  He'd put it off long enough, he said, and had to return to the ball to show his face.

For a centon, Starbuck thought his heart would break.  Nothing could ever come close to the last few centars for sheer happiness, but he could say nothing.  Instead he got to his feet, and counterfeiting now the happiness he'd felt, followed Apollo back to the ballroom.  The bright lights hurt his eyes after sitting so long in the warm, scented dark, he said, laughing and blinking rapidly.  Apollo's eyes looked as if the light hurt them too.  He gave Starbuck a mournful look.

"Apollo!" trilled a girl's voice from nearby.  "I've been looking for you everywhere!"

"Oh Lords," said Apollo, under his breath.

In the background stood King Adama, an indulgent and paternal smile on his face.  Colonel Tigh was at his side, splendid in full dress uniform, his chest glittering with medals and ribbons.  But Starbuck barely noticed his king or the king's troop commander.  All his attention was on the girl with brown hair and a sharp-featured face hurrying towards him and Apollo. 

"The trainee?" he asked.

Apollo nodded.  "Oh yes," he said.  He managed a tight smile.  "Hello, Sheba."

"Where have you been?" she demanded, ignoring Starbuck.

"Er—" said Apollo.

"Oh, Apollo and I've been out in the garden blowing a cloud," said Starbuck, cheerfully.

She sniffed and gave Starbuck a sideways glance.  "Smoking, do you mean?  That's not good for you, Apollo."  She smiled in a way that Starbuck thought she hoped was kittenish.  It made him faintly nauseated.  "I'm been looking for you.  I was hoping for a dance with you."  She pouted.  "You've been missing all evening and now it's the last dance, too!"

"And it's mine, I believe," said Starbuck, surprising even himself.

"It is?"  Apollo looked wildly at Starbuck.

Starbuck smiled at him and held out his hand.  "Dance with me," he said. 

It's an old cliché that time stands still.  Starbuck knew that Time stands still for no man, not even gazing on the face he loves most in the world, but just for a centon everything faded away; Sheba's sharp expression of dismay and anger, Adama's frown, the glimpse he had of Cassie in the distance dancing with Baltar, Athena standing behind her father looking as angry as a harpy, the music fading enough so Starbuck could hear the gasps of everyone around them as Apollo slowly reached out and took his hand.  Time not only stood still, he turned somersaults and set off fireworks as Apollo, still holding Starbuck's hand, allowed Starbuck to lead him out onto the dance floor.

The music wasn't anything Starbuck knew.  It didn’t matter.  Apollo was close, closer even than they'd been in the arbour, and he let his arms slide around the Prince to bring him closer still.  Apollo was warm and pliant in his arms, his gaze fixed on Starbuck as they moved slowly around the dance-floor, neither noticing as the other couples gradually faded away.

"Thanks," said Apollo, at last.

"For what?"

"Saving me from Sheba."

"Ah," said Starbuck.  He smiled.  "I have a confession to make, Apollo.  I wasn't so much saving you from Sheba as saving you for me."

Apollo's cheekbones reddened and he made a little stumble.  "Oh."

"Just so you know," said Starbuck, in earnest.  "I know it can't mean anything.  I'm just an orphan, no name, no standing.  But I'll always try and save you."

Apollo looked down quickly, the faint blush spreading.  He smiled.  "Will you, Anon?  That's… that's rather reassuring."

"It's a bit frightening, if you want the truth.  I never expected to feel like this—"

"Me neither," said Apollo quickly.  He looked up and smiled at Starbuck.  "But I do."

Starbuck brought them to a halt.  He only vaguely realised that the room was silent now, even the musicians scraping their bows to a halting finish.  Every eye was on them, but he didn't care.

"Apollo," he said.  He smiled.  "What now?"

Apollo was so beautiful.  So very, very beautiful.  "Well," he said.  "It's almost midnight.  Maybe we could leave the ball and go back to the gardens and continue our discussion away from everyone else?"

Starbuck, still (he knew) smiling like a loon, nodded enthusiasm.  "That's a great idea… wait!  What did you say the time was?"

"Almost midnight."

"It can't be!"  Starbuck's heart plummeted down to his soft, hand-made boots.  He looked around wildly, feeling sick and suddenly very tired.  He had to get out of there before everything turned to ashes.  "It can't be midnight."

"Well, it is in a few microns.  What's wrong?"

"I've got to go.  I've got to—"  He pulled away from Apollo, took a step away.  "I can't stay.  I—"  He spun back on his heel, caught hold of Apollo's face between his hands and pressed his lips briefly against the Prince's.  "Gotta go!"

He raced for the stairs, leaving Apollo and the crowd staring after him.

"Anon!  Anon!  Come back!"

From somewhere deep in the palace Starbuck could hear a great clock whirring up to chime.  It sounded like Lucifer laughing.  

The first chime sounded.  His fine clothes seemed to be dissolving around him.  He felt his thigh holster go, falling on the staircase as he bounded up it, but he couldn't stop to grab it.  He couldn't stop to answer Apollo's calls for him to stop, to wait.  He ran on, hearing the next chime, and the next.  He burst through the door into the palace gardens and the comforting darkness as the last chime sounded, hiding himself in the shadow as the last of his finery fell away.

Starbuck the stable-boy dodged from shadow to shadow in his rags.  Behind him he could hear Apollo's voice, but he couldn't stay.  He found a place where the outer palace wall was overhung by trees and low enough to climb, and almost before the echo of the midnight chime had passed into silence, he was running across the dark countryside to the safety of his kitchen.

It wasn't raining.  It was a fine, fine night.  But for some reason, his face was wet as he ran.

 

 

The family was full of it at breakfast.  A strange lord or Prince from who knows where, they said.  Out in the garden with Prince Apollo all night, you know what that means, and then dancing the last dance, kissing the Prince and kissing the Prince on the lips, mind you! only to run away not to found by anyone although they searched ever so, and the Prince declaring he'll have no-one else, not ever, no matter what the King might say—who'd have credited it?

Yeah, thought Starbuck from his corner by the hearth.  Who indeed?

 

 

The Warriors came to read the proclamation two sectons later. Prince Apollo came with them.

Starbuck had spent the days creeping around Chance Manor in quiet misery.  He'd done a few things to improve himself—he was clean now and smelled a lot less of horse, and he'd managed to find enough thread and a needle to repair the worst of the rents in his clothes.  He wasn't the tatterdemalion he'd been before Lucifer's visit, but he was still ragged and poor.  And oh, so sad.  So very sad.

When the Prince and the Warriors rode up to the Manor, Starbuck was in the stable, the door ajar.  He gasped when he saw Apollo and took an involuntary step out of his hiding place, only to shrink back in case he was seen.  He was ashamed to be seen looking like a bedraggled ragamuffin when once he'd been fine enough to dance with the Prince in his arms and press a kiss against that strong, sad mouth.

When all the household was gathered in the courtyard (although Starbuck still hid behind the stable door), one of the Warriors stepped forward, a scroll in his hand.  Starbuck leaned forward slightly.  It wasn't!  Surely it wasn't!  But it was.  It was Boomer, good old Boomer from long ago.

"In the name of King Adama the Glorious," Boomer began, reading the scroll to them.  By the Grace of the Lords etc etc, King of all he surveyed, blah, blah, inasmuch and heretofore our beloved son hath resolved, blah blah, to give his hand in marriage only to the person who can fit this thigh holster, blah, blah thereforeunto and wherewithal we royally decree that whomsoever this thigh holster fits, blah, blah, blah, signed this tenth day of Sextus, I Adama, blah blah and blah.

Starbuck leaned up against the door jamb gazing out through the crack.  Whoever fit the thigh holster?  Apollo was going to marry whoever fit the thigh holster?

Boomer carefully lifted a small gold casket and held it.  Apollo, his face sad and drawn, swung down from his white horse and opened the casket with a golden key from a chain around his neck. 

"I've been searching ever since the ball," he said, looking around the assembled household.  "I've tried this holster on a hundred men.  It didn’t fit any of them."  His sad expression deepened.  "I don't think it will fit any of you, either, but let's get it over with."

One by one they came forward and allowed Apollo try to fit the thigh holster to them.  Some were stoic, some embarrassed, some blushing, some laughing.  And for all of them the holster was either too big or too small. 

"I'll go first," said Karybdis when all the servants had been tested and failed, and it was the turn of the masters. 

He walked up to Apollo and bowed, simpering, and fluttering his hands in elegant whirls and circles.  Starbuck frowned as he watched.  The right one of his skinny shanks looked plumper than normal, and certainly plumper than the other.  Apollo knelt and fit the holster into place.

It fit. 

Karybdis squealed and laughed and clapped his hands together, and danced on the spot in extravagant delight while everyone else stared with what could only be described as mixed emotions.

"Er—" said Apollo, looking paler than any happy bridegroom ought to look.

"He's padded his leggings!" hissed Starbuck, directing this comment at Boomer, who was a few feet from the stable door.

Boomer jumped and looked around as if seeking for the source of the information, then hurried over to whisper something in Apollo's ear.

Apollo looked coolly at Karybdis.  "Take off your leggings," he ordered.

Karybdis's mouth turned sulky.  "We aren't married yet," he protested.  "What sort of bride do you think I am?"

"Take. Them. Off," said Apollo.  And when Karybdis protested and wriggled and refused, Apollo turned to look at Boomer.  He jerked his head at Karybdis.  "Debag him," he ordered.

The Warriors pounced and had Karybdis de-legginged in a trice despite his shrieks and the tearful protests from Tinia about the way her darling was being handled by all those rough Warriors.  The only one who took no notice was Baltar, who was over in a corner of the courtyard doing something with a knife.  Boomer straightened up and waved a piece of cloth at Apollo.

"He was padded, your highness."

"Then I'm next," said Baltar, a ghastly smile on his face. 

He limped forward, dragging his right leg a little.  Starbuck frowned.  His right shank looked thinner than the other, and the leggings he wore were dark and wet.  Apollo, his expression horrified, went to try the holster.

It fit.

Baltar did what Karybdis had done, minus the dancing on the spot because he seemed to be in some pain.  Apollo was wiping red hands on the cloth that Karybdis had used to pad his leggings, and was looking far more nauseated than any happy bridegroom ought to look.

"He's trimmed off some of the fat," Starbuck hissed at Boomer through the crack in the door, and once again Boomer whispered to the Prince and Apollo ordered his Warriors to strip Baltar of his leggings. 

"He's really fixated on leggings," said Tinia, disapproving.  "Can't he wait until they're married?"

But she was silenced when the Warriors obeyed.  The sight of Baltar's bloody thigh made everyone grimace.  Except Apollo, who looked mighty relieved.

"Is that everyone?" he asked when the tumult had quietened down again and Baltar had been bandaged up and after Apollo took huge and obvious pleasure in telling Chameleon and Tinia that that was the last engraved invitation to a palace ball that they could ever expect to see.  "Has everyone tried the holster?"

"Well, there's Star—ugh!" Chameleon broke off as Tinia's sharp elbow connected with his ribs.

"There's someone else?" asked Apollo.  He folded his arms over his chest and tapped his foot, looking, Starbuck felt, rather too like his sister Athena for comfort.  "Come on, hurry up.  I don't have all day.  I've got the rest of this kingdom to go over, you know, to look for Anon and I want to get on with it."

"I think," said Boomer, "that there's someone hiding in the stables."

Apollo jerked his head towards the stable door and in a few centons Boomer and half a dozen Warriors had pulled Starbuck from his hiding place.  Starbuck kept his head down but Boomer said, shocked, "Starbuck!  Is that really you?" and tugged him over to where Apollo was waiting far more gently, Starbuck thought, than he would have done with any other stable hand.

Starbuck stood still as a statue while Apollo's long-fingered hands put the thigh holster around his leg.  Apollo's hands buckled buckles and set the leather just so, and froze in place. 

It fit.  Perfectly.

Everyone was very still and silent.

Apollo ducked to see under Starbuck's mane of hair.  "Hello, Anon," he said.  "Is this why you ran away?"

"I clean stables for a living," said Starbuck, quietly.  "And I sleep on the kitchen hearth.  I'm not a prince."

"You could save me for a living, instead," suggested Apollo.  "And sleep with me in a four poster bed with three feather mattresses.  You'll be a prince if you say yes."

Behind him, Starbuck could hear the voices raised in disbelief and anger, but he concentrated on the smile Apollo had for him.

"Well, I might," he said.  "You owe me, anyway.  I mean, I kissed you but you haven't kissed me back ye—"

So Apollo did.  With tongue and moaning and a roughly expressed desire to get Starbuck out of his leggings.  He really was a very happy Prince when he was motivated.

 

 

 

They were married that night at the Palace by the King himself at a grand ball with a feast and fireworks.  Princess Athena and Princess-in-training Sheba were bridesmaids even though they both cried with vexation over the very idea; but Lady Cassiopeia danced with light feet at their wedding, dancing with the King, and Tigh, and Boomer and most of the Warriors and..

 

 

 

Apollo and Starbuck danced only with each other.  And they lived happily ever after to the end of their days.