A long time ago, in a land far away, there lived a Fleet Commander and the Siress, his wife, who were childless.  They had been married for several yahrens and still there was no sign of the child they longed for.  Every day they sighed and wished for a child, but they never had one.

Now, it happens that the kingdom of Caprica, and all the other kingdoms of the Colonies, were at war with a desperate, dreadful enemy whose Imperius Leader had sworn to destroy them utterly.  Command Adama was often away defending the Colonies in his great Battlestar, the Battlestar Galactica, leaving his wife alone and sorrowful and thinking sadly that if she had a child, then her days wouldn't be as long and as lonely. 

One day, when Commander Adama was away fighting the war against the Cylon enemy, Siress Ila was bathing.  Not in the bathtub, obviously, because a frog hopped out of the water onto the land and spoke to her.

As frogs do.

"Your wish shall be fulfilled," croaked the frog, who was a startling shade of bright green.  "Within the yahren, you shall have a child." 

A talking frog that apparently could read the future or maybe had been smoking too much pond weed.  Right.  I leave it to you to decide if this was the same frog who got kissed until he turned into a prince and whether or not even a thick-skulled military grunt should fall for that one.

Not, of course, that I mean to imply the Commander was a thick-skulled grunt, but he was away on his Battlestar a lot.

What the Siress thought about having a talking frog prophesy her pregnancy isn't recorded.  Neither is what happened to the frog.  But lo! what the frog had said came true, and the Siress had a little son almost exactly nine sectars later.

Now Adama was so pleased that he had the son he'd wanted for so long, that he ordered a huge celebration to mark the boy's christening into the Kobolian church, of which Adama was a very prominent and devout member.  Adama invited everyone who was anyone – friends, family, political acquaintances, military colleagues, Supreme Commander, priests and High Priests. the lot.  In fact, he asked the Supreme Commander to be the boy's godfather, because not even upright and devout Kobolians were above sucking up to the boss. 

The reception was held in the Adaman family mansion on Caprica.  It was quite the society affair of the yahren.  The child—named Apollo, because Adama thought a noble name would ensure a noble man to live up to it—wisely slept through most of the event, which may (or may not) be the first indication of his lifelong abhorrence of (a) being the centre of attention (b) long church services (c) any social occasion where he was forced to interact with people and (d) lace.

The Adaman family christening gown was a froth of white lace.  Apollo looked very sweet in it. 

Now then, Adama didn't invite everyone.  In particular, he didn't invite Count Baltar of Piscea, partly because the Count was something of a parvenu and Adama was definitely old money and old aristocracy and snobbish with it, but also because the Count insisted on wearing a poisonous green suede form-fitting outfit that was at least thirty yahrens too young for him and which Ila said clashed horribly with her décor. 

But everyone else who was anyone came.  They ate a lot, drank a lot and told Adama and Ila how lovely and intelligent the baby obviously was, as if they were conferring blessings on Apollo's small, fuzzy-haired head.  He'll be a great warrior, just like his father and godfather, said one.  He'll be intelligent and a credit to you academically, said another.  He'll be a good and virtuous man, said a third.

And so on and so on and so on.

Then when most people had made these fatuous remarks, suddenly the party was gatecrashed.  Baltar, hugely offended at being left out, came anyway.  Thinking about it later, Adama suspected that Sire Uri, a noted hedonist who was only on the guest list because he might be useful when Adama ran for office as the Caprican member of the Council of the Twelve, was probably the one to tip Baltar the wink and arrange for him to be sneaked in.

However he got in, Baltar stooped down over the crib, made baby Apollo cry by poking him in the chest with one green-gauntleted hand (the man was a walking fashionista, right?) and said, in a terrible voice: "He'll be dead before he's thirty.  The Cylons'll get him."

And without saying anything else, he laughed an evil laugh that froze the hearts of those who heard it, turned around and left the room.

I can't swear to it (because I wasn't actually there), but it's quite possible that the skies darkened and there was a crash of thunder as he went.  He was just that wicked.

Everyone was terribly shocked–"I mean, dahling, who was the man's father, really, but a trader of some sort and I heard that he bought that title of his.  So under-bred."—but luckily, the Supreme Commander Godfather hadn't said anything yet.  Now, he was a gruff man, but fundamentally he was a good Supreme Commander, and a powerful one, and he'd been flattered that Adama had asked him to be Apollo's godfather.  What’s more, he had rather a soft mushy spot for babies that got especially soft and mushy when baby Apollo opened eyes that were a startling bright green, looked intently at his Supreme Commander Godfather and gave him a gummy little smile.  And although he couldn't undo the evil wish Baltar had made, the Supreme Commander Godfather could make it less potent with a wish of his own, diverting the ill-wish into something less life-threatening. 

Apollo will be a warrior, said the Supreme Commander Godfather, and we'll give him a warrior's skills to help him survive.  But he won't be able to avoid heartache and loss, so his heart shall sleep, a deep sleep to try and avoid the pain.  He may not be happy, but he will be alive, and one day True Love shall wake him with a Kiss.

Adama and Ila were sorry, of course, that their son might grow up to be sad and lonely—because they knew that not everyone met their True Love—but that was better than the fate Count Baltar had predicted.  So they tried to forget the unfortunate social faux pas, and Adama gave orders that no-one should ever mention it again. 

So they didn't.

 

 

Apollo's birth broke the natal dam, so to speak, and within a few years he had a little sister and a brother.  Athena, too, was given a noble name to live up to but Siress Ila put her foot down when it came to little Zac, declaring that at least one of her children should be able to live without the burden of parental expectations weighing him down.  Not to mention, she said, getting through elementary school without getting beaten up in the playground for having a silly name. 

So I won't mention it. 

Whether the frog reappeared in relation to either the genesis of the younger Adaman children, or any annunciation pertaining thereto, is not recorded.  Commander Adama, though, was still away on his Battlestar an awful lot and all three children were excellent swimmers.

 

 

Meanwhile the blessings and prognostications of the Christening guests came to pass, and Apollo grew up to be every bit as intelligent and good and virtuous as they'd predicted, and his academic record was impressive.  In due time, he followed his father into the military and attended the Academy, where he did very well indeed and Commander Adama often found that his chest swelled with pride at his firstborn's achievements and he had his uniform buttons attached with extra-strong thread.

But Apollo was also quiet and shy; he didn’t make friends easily and he was a little afraid of girls.  He was gauche and clumsy in the sort of social situation that his birth and breeding should have made easy for him: his face grew hot, a little stammer appeared in his voice and, quite often, he fell over something. 

He was lonely, although he didn't know it, and he did live a little apart from everyone else.  It was as if his heart slept as deeply as the Supreme Commander Godfather had predicted, and all around him grew a hedge of thorns, which every year became higher and at last grew close up round him and all over him, so that there was nothing of the real Apollo to be seen.  Oh, the outer form was visible and very attractive it was, too, but the real Apollo was hidden away, safe where his Supreme Commander Godfather had put him to wait for True Love's Kiss.

From time to time people came and tried to get through the thorny hedge to reach the Apollo beneath, but they found it impossible, for the thorns held fast together, as if they had hands and had laced their fingers together tightly.  Behind those sharp defences, Apollo's heart slumbered and dreamed.

This isn't to say that Apollo didn't have friends, because he did, but he was quiet and shy even with them, and if pressed they'd tell you that Apollo was a nice guy, but really, they didn't know him very well and that he was hard to get close to.  And if that was true of friends, it was ten times truer of Apollo's True Love.  There was no-one special in his life who could wake his slumbering heart with a kiss, and on the face of it, no prospect of anyone.

Then one day, Apollo met the Golden Prince.

 

 

By coincidence, the Golden Prince lived on the Battlestar Galactica.

Apollo was a captain by then and had been sent to his father's ship to be its Strike Captain.  Apollo hadn't been entirely certain that was a good idea, but he was (as prophesied) a good and virtuous man and an obedient officer, and after a quiet moan to Siress Ila about how he'd never get away and just be himself, you know, Mama? he'd accepted the posting and resolved to make the best of it.

Lieutenant Starbuck was definitely the best of it.

Starbuck was tall and blue-eyed and, well, golden.  He was very good looking and very, very charming, but I won’t use the old cliché and call him Prince Charming ™.  I don’t want to be hackneyed, and I especially don't want to be sued for copyright infringement.  But still, I think I can get away with saying that Starbuck was very charming, without getting a Cease and Desist Notice. 

And, more important than either charm or lawyers' letters, Starbuck liked Apollo.  He made friends quickly, and it didn't take him long to realise that there was far more to Apollo than met the eye—the Golden Prince was as perceptive and intelligent as he was handsome and charming.  He noticed that Apollo let him in closer than, he thought, anyone else was allowed, but even Starbuck could only look at the thick thorn hedge and wonder how to reach the real Apollo who slept on the other side, without getting caught and tangled and scratched to death.

He was a persistent beggar, was Starbuck.  He thought long and hard about how he might make himself thorn-proof.  Eventually, after watching and waiting, he realised that he couldn't do it.  Only Apollo could do it and Apollo, thought Starbuck, would only bring down the thorn hedge if he had to come out of it get something that was more important to him than anything in his life had ever been important before.

So Starbuck went about making himself important. 

 

 

Important to Apollo, that is,

It was easy for Starbuck to be important to Apollo as Apollo's wingman, making sure that Apollo's back was covered in every firefight, because Starbuck was the best (and luckiest) pilot in the Colonial Fleet.  That was just the exercise of skill and training, and Apollo grew used to Starbuck at his wingtip, Vipers dancing about the sky in formation and Starbuck's sharp reflexes keeping the Cylon raiders at bay and allowing Apollo to get on with his job of directing the fighting.

It took a little longer for Starbuck to be important to Apollo as Apollo's best friend—as I said, Apollo wasn't easy to get to know and was shy and quiet, and Starbuck couldn't be sure he was making progress.  Still, he was always there when Apollo needed him and often when Apollo didn't.  He listened to Apollo, talked to him (incessantly, according to Apollo), played Triad with him, offered advice and tips on life, love and Pyramid.  He knew, though, that he'd done it the day that Apollo listened, enthralled, to one of Starbuck's adventures—involving one of the nurses from Life Centre, a metal comb with eight broken teeth, two packets of pancake mix (one with reesleberries), a case of heatstroke and a loofah—laughed like a drain and then uncomplainingly lent him a secton's wages to lose on a Pyramid system that Starbuck swore was a sure thing… well, that was the day that Starbuck realised he really had done it.  He'd become Apollo's best friend.

He proved it the day the Colonies went.  Starbuck, shocked and grieving himself, forgot everything in the need to support and comfort an Apollo who'd lost Zac and his mother.  Starbuck hadn't lost anyone back on Caprica—orphans seldom have anything to lose other than their orphanage and he couldn't work up much sorrow for a municipal institution—but for a while he feared that he'd lost Apollo into some dreadful wasteland.  The thorn barrier was so thick and spiky, the thorns like spears of ice, that it took Starbuck a long time to coax Apollo back to the edge again, but coax him he did. 

Straight into Serina's arms.

"Well," said Starbuck, nonplussed. "I wasn't expecting that!"

 

 

Even after Serina was gone, leaving her small son behind her and long after Apollo had proved himself to be a very Unwicked Stepfather—it's only stepmothers who get the bad press, remember—Starbuck remained nonplussed.  Starbuck, there for Apollo during this loss the way he'd been there for the others, still couldn't quite work out why he was so put out by the whole Serina affair. 

The refugee fleet carried on, Starbuck drifted into a relationship with Cassiopeia and out again and in again, watched Sheba and Apollo circle around each other—and didn't that cause another nonplussed centon or two—and still he hadn't come to any conclusion about why he didn't like either Serina or Sheba.

He knew that he didn’t like the thought that Serina or Sheba might be the one to break through the thorny barrier and reach the real Apollo inside and wake the sleeper.  He didn’t like that at all.  That was his job, and he'd be damned before he'd let anyone take it from him. 

Bad enough that Serina had wormed her way in as Apollo's new wingman.  Bad enough that Sheba hinted at it and failed to usurp Starbuck there.  Bad enough that Serina had wormed her way in to Apollo's bed.  Bad enough that Apollo was at least tempted with Sheba.

He'd be damned if he'd let either of them worm her way in to Apollo's heart.  It belonged to Starbuck.

Oh.

Oh.

So that was why his plus was so nonned!

Starbuck was the important wingman.  He was the important best friend.  And both these things were enough to tempt Apollo right up to the inside of the thorny hedge, if not yet tempting him to tear it down and let Starbuck through.  Starbuck had it wrong.  He didn't have to be important.  He had to be indispensible, so woven into Apollo's life that the thorns would melt like ice in the sun.

He wasn't yet indispensable.

He wasn't yet the indispensable wingman, friend and lover.

But oh! he realised, with an epiphany that shone like a sunrise, how he wanted to be!

 

 

It took a while, but Starbuck was a surprisingly patient man under that charming, golden exterior.  Now he knew what he was doing, he worked slowly and carefully to make the importance he knew he already had, even greater and more significant.  He worked to make himself indispensable so that the thorns would part for him.

First, he made sure that Boxey liked him.  Serina's small son was an undemanding child, and it wasn't hard for Starbuck to become genuinely fond of him.  Boxey liked him so much that Apollo began turning to him for care-taking help, and within a few sectons Starbuck found that he had a family for the first time ever in his life.  He kind of liked it.  He thought Apollo did, too.  Often when he was there, helping with Boxey, he'd look up and Apollo would be watching them, smiling slightly, his eyes warm with something Starbuck didn't dare put a name to.  Not yet, anyway.  Starbuck would smile back, and the centon would just hang there, frozen in time as they looked at each other, until Boxey said something or did something to bring their attention back onto him, breaking the mood as if snapping a thorn from a rose stem.

Starbuck made sure he was just there whenever it was needed.  He was there when they put out the fire in the Galactica, launching himself into space after Apollo when the support broke and Apollo floated off.  I don't like you going places without me, he said, and Apollo smiled and said he was grateful but that the next time the Lieutenant disobeyed orders he'd be sorry.  Starbuck only shrugged and grinned, because as they'd floated there waiting to be rescued he'd felt the pressure of Apollo's fingers through their space gloves and he knew Apollo had wanted him there, had needed him there.  He'd been indispensable support that day, all right; and another thorn had snapped away.

He was there when Iblis came, although in afteryahrens he was never able to say very much about it, even to Apollo.  He offered his own life in exchange for Apollo's without a second thought.  And when it was all over, and they were back on the Galactica, he found himself having to constantly go and see Apollo, to check that he was still alive and safe.  He'd put out a hand and close his fingers over Apollo's forearm, feeling the warmth behind the rough fabric of Apollo's uniform jacket and the play of living flesh as the arm muscle flexed and relaxed.  It reassured him, reminded him that Apollo lived and he still had his chance and each time he touched Apollo like that and got an understanding, fond smile, another thorn was snapped off close to the stem.  In later yahrens, Starbuck was inclined to think that Iblis snapped off whole branches for him.  He was almost grateful.

More thorns went with the Alliance, with the attempt Baltar made to escape from the prison ship where he'd been sent for his treachery against the Colonies (still in that awful green suit which appeared to be something of a leitmotif for him), at the trial when one of Baltar's allies tried to have Starbuck himself arraigned for murder.  Another thorn snapped off when Starbuck and Apollo prevented a war on Terra, and an uprising on the Celestra.  Each time the thorns snapped off and fell to the ground, opening the hedge little by little.

Then they went aboard a Cylon baseship together—because Starbuck really did hate Apollo to go anywhere without him—and got back by the skin of their teeth.  And as they stood there on the Galactica's flight deck, laughing with relief and hugging each other (it was totally against regulations for a senior officer to hug a junior, unless he meant it) and ignoring the Sheba and Cassiopeia who were hovering there, waiting to be allowed in, Apollo was so warm and vital and alive that Starbuck let everything he knew and felt show in his face.

"Hey," said Apollo, looking puzzled.

Starbuck let him go and let Sheba pull him away, watching as Apollo allowed himself to be pulled away and seeing that Apollo looked over his shoulder, craning his neck to see Starbuck.  And although Apollo laughed and explained and exclaimed with the others, he was constantly turning to look for Starbuck, and every time he turned and looked, Starbuck was there, smiling at him and letting Apollo see who and what Starbuck was and could be and wanted to be.  And every time Sheba or Commander Adama or Athena tugged at Apollo until he had to turn away again, for a little while at least.  And in the end, Apollo grew solemn and wide-eyed and escaped to the Celestial Dome, where the hedge grew thickest and the thorns were sharpest.

"Hiding?" asked Starbuck, because of course he followed Apollo there.  He really didn't like Apollo going places without him.

Apollo's smile was crooked.  "From Sheba and my father," he admitted.

"Not from me?"

Apollo turned to face him, a little frown wrinkling his brow in a way that made Starbuck want to kiss it away.  "I don't think so," he said, a little doubtfully.  "I don't… what is it you want, Starbuck?"

Starbuck grinned and took a step forward.  "You," he said. 

He put his hands on Apollo's shoulders, resting them there for a micron while he looked into Apollo's eyes and let Apollo see again everything Starbuck was and felt and wanted.

Apollo's frown melted away, but he looked a little uncertain, as if he couldn't quite believe it.  So Starbuck moved his hands to smooth up the sides of Apollo's neck, feeling Apollo shiver, and he cupped Apollo's face in his palms, and leaned right in.

And finally, when the Golden Prince came near to the thorn-hedge, it was nothing but large and beautiful flowers, which parted from each other of their own accord, and let him pass unhurt, then they closed again behind him like a hedge, every stem smooth and safe and thornless.   Apollo was there, so beautiful that Starbuck could not turn his eyes away, and he stooped down and gave him a kiss.  But as soon as Starbuck kissed him, the real Apollo opened his eyes and awoke, and looked at him quite sweetly.

And Starbuck?  Starbuck knew then he'd done it.  He was indispensable and the thorns were gone.

In. Dis. Pens. Able.

So he laughed and kissed Apollo again and again and again, because he could and because Apollo wanted him to and everything was splendour and glory and the triumph of True Love's Kiss. 

And they lived contented to the end of their days.

 

 

But neither of them was fond of frogs.

 

 

March 2009

3850 words