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Dancing Lessons From God

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After a few moments, Athena got up. "I'll be back out in a couple of centons," she said. "Wait here, okay?"

He nodded. He didn't feel like moving, let alone like going back to his empty quarters to wait with only himself as company. Much as he usually enjoyed being left alone, today no. And if he were honest, he even less wanted another confrontation with Starbuck.

The blond man was volatile, no two ways about it, but it was rare that he really lost his temper. In the fifteen yahrens that he'd known him, Apollo couldn't couldn't remember more than a handful of times. If that many. Over Chameleon. Over the Ortega thing. Over that kid on Etaoine, the one that had gotten arrested. When Starbuck had attempted to run away after he'd broken out of the brig, back when he'd been accused of terminating Ortega, and Apollo had tried to stop him... And even that hadn't lasted long enough to mention if the total hadn't been so small. Not even five. And never over anything personal. Anything between them.

Until now.

Apollo closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. Starbuck could hold a grudge, though he'd always forgiven Apollo, even things that were, frankly, pretty damned close to unforgivable. Things that were only not unforgivable because Starbuck in fact forgave them. If that was what he'd meant about being tired... By all the Lords of Kobol, he thought wearily. How can you be such a cautious, sober officer and such an impulsive idiot in your private life? How can you know what you have and do exactly will make you lose it?

He thought about what 'Theni had said about love and loss. She was right. If Starbuck died he wouldn't wish he'd never loved him. But, came a thought from somewhere, if you had died down there on that planet part of you would have been wondering with your last breath how long it would take him to replace you. Part of you would have been wondering who he was with right then, while you were dying.

He shook his head sharply and got to his feet. That's not true, he insisted. Starbuck loves me.

So why do you want to lock him up?

I don't!

In the skeptical, accusatory silence that followed that Apollo faced facts for the first time in... when? Ever, probably, he admitted. At the very least, since the Academy, and that night he only thought about by admitting he'd done something wrong, and not by thinking about why he'd thought it was right...

And he also admitted that he did want to lock Starbuck up, keep him away from everyone else. But what he recognized now, finally, was the disconnect between the questions and the answers. It's me. It's not him, he'd told Athena and he'd said variations of it to Starbuck over the years, but he'd never really stopped and thought about it. Now he actually understood how true that was.

Apollo sank back down on the couch. It's me, and it's always been me. He would have been wondering that, hell, he'd been thinking variations of it the whole time he'd been on the planet. He'd even spent how long worrying about Bojay... because he didn't trust Starbuck. Or, more accurately, he didn't think Starbuck could mean it. Didn't see how Starbuck could keep on doing what he did, loving and forgiving...

Sagan. Apollo thumped his head against the wall a couple of times. Sometimes things that seem too good to be true are. And sometimes they aren't. Sometimes they are good and true together. Had he ever been able to accept that? He wondered; it seemed, looking back, that he'd spent a lot of his life looking for the catch. Funny, because he could remember talking about that with Starbuck some yahrens ago; Starbuck was the one who frequently actually lost things, yet he had the gift of living in the moment without asking if he should or when it would end.

Of course, that capacity for enjoying what he was doing had frequently annoyed Apollo. Sometimes you should ask if you should be doing whatever it is... and sometimes you shouldn't be. No matter how much fun it is. But, he admitted to himself now, only sometimes.

He sighed and deliberately thought about something else. Sheba. Not why he'd found it so easy to believe her about Starbuck, but why had he let her push him into that confrontation with Athena? He'd let her nearly destroy their new relationship... why had he been so quick to believe everything she'd said? It didn't make much sense, when you stepped back—remember deciding to do that, Apollo?—and looked at it. Had he really thought he was so incompetent as Strike Captain that he wouldn't have noticed if Bojay had a drinking problem? He'd noticed with Orion, quick enough, and that man wasn't even a section leader. Bojay was a squadron leader...

He frowned to himself, remembering, suddenly, Athena's words. Some of them, anyway, and he had the feeling he was going to be waking up in the middle of night for a while remembering others. Like Your son adores him, for instance. And He held your crying son in the middle of the night and promised him you would never, ever, stop loving him. That one, especially... But at the moment he was thinking about her saying that Bojay was the one who stopped her calling you names. And according to half the Wing, he's the one that kept Giles from being locked up for insubordination if not worse by drawing her fire onto him. He thought about that for a few centons. Boomer hadn't mentioned... of course, he wasn't Giles's commanding officer any more. Or Sheba's, for that matter. But what in the name of seven hells had been going on, that Giles was in danger of "worse"? Had that been in front of forty pilots, too?

And why did he have the awful feeling that his father was not just sitting back and watching? Starbuck and Athena had both said Adama had been trying to get Boxey... and putting on the Wing on alert as a move in that. Frack. That can't have been much fun for Starbuck.

He remembered, now, when it was too late of course, what Starbuck had said: You weren't here. You don't know what was going on. He'd been too focussed on his complaints to even ask, but... He pissed off the Commander, Boomer had said and, a real bastard, just like the Commander's been, lately. And Boxey, too: Grandfather was a bully.

He hadn't followed up any of that; he'd let himself be distracted by his concerns over Boxey. Well, not distracted, he defended himself; Boxey was the most important thing. He couldn't take care of himself; Apollo had to make sure he was looked after. And properly. But still...

And then his mind went back and pulled out that sentence of Boomer's again, this time stripping it of the nonessential words: You can be... just like the Commander.

He sat there, paralyzed, for a centon, and then found himself on his feet, knocking on Athena's sleeping room door.

"'Theni!"

Her door opened and she came out, in uniform and carrying one of her boots. "Apollo? What's—"

"Athena," he didn't wait for her. "I am so sorry. I am so sorry. I've been acting just like Father."

"Apollo?"

"I mean it. I didn't mean to, but I have been... trying to make people do what I wanted, listening to anybody who supported me and ignoring everyone I should have been listening to, threatening to withold my approval, using emotional blackmail... trying to cut the Universe to my pattern. I am so sorry."

"There he is," she said softly, "there's my brother, back again." She dropped the boot and hugged him.

He hugged her back, ignoring the throb in his arm. "Can you forgive me?"

"I expect so," she said, her voice husky. "Just don't make a habit of it, Appy, okay?"

"I promise. I'll try, anyway... Slap me down if you see me starting again, please?"

She laughed against his chest and stepped back to look at him with dancing blue eyes. "I promise. Believe me, I promise."

He reached out and touched her cheek. "I hope you're happy with Bojay. I truly do."

"Thank you. But," she said, bending down and picking up her boot, "while you're in this mood of clarity, you'd better go talk to Starbuck."

"You're right," he acknowledged. "We parted badly, but not unfixably... not if I beg hard enough."

She eyed him, sitting on the arm of her chair and pulling on her boot. "Get down on your knees if you have to," she advised. "If you screw this up, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. And so will he. And frankly, Boxey may never speak to you again."

"I'm convinced," he protested. "I'm going... 'Theni," he added. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it," she said. "Just don't make me have to do it again." She stood up and stomped her foot into the boot, then looked up at him through her cloud of dark hair. "Are you coming to my wedding?"

"If I can," he promised. "When is it going to be?" Half of him was hoping for a date sectares in the future.

"I don't know," she said. "We have to pick a day... he's off sixthday and seventhday, and I'm off eighthday and First Day... it doesn't match up. But I think I can swap my off days with someone else on First Watch, when I get back with them in a couple of sectons, after Lorela's back on duty... and I might be able to swap off once anyhow. If I can, sixthday?"

"I'll be on second shift," he said. "And so will Starbuck... If you have it in the morning that would work." Then, because he couldn't help it, he asked, "Not in Temple, then?"

"Very much not," she agreed. "He's a Diwest; you know how many sectares instruction they'd insist on him getting. If he wanted to."

Apollo refrained from commenting because, after all, what he really knew about Diwesm he could have written on his thumbnail. He also refrained from asking if she was still going to attend Temple, herself. "I'm sure Starbuck will want to come," he said. "And I do, too. So try and schedule with us in mind."

She smiled. "I will. Now—"

"I know. Go find my promised and make sure he still is."

 


Apollo started towards his quarters and then paused. Starbuck probably wasn't there. After the way he'd left, with that "we can call it off" hanging in the air. And it wasn't as though he'd really gotten used to it being his home before... before. And how many people had said "twenty-four/eight" to him already today? Starbuck still hadn't spent but that one night there. He was probably still thinking of it as Apollo's quarters. Hell, he'd just done it; of course Starbuck was. So Apollo turned and headed back towards the barracks.

He glanced into Blue's section but didn't see Starbuck. He went on down to the lounge and still didn't see him, though he did see a couple of Blue pilots he could ask. He also spotted Bojay down the hall near the ready room. He hesitated a centon and then decided he would do well to begin as he meant to go on, particularly while he was in this mood of clarity.

Green's squadron leader was leaning on his right shoulder up against the wall, all his weight on his left leg, effectively minimizing his height while he listened to tiny Keili, who barely came up to his elbow. As usual, she was very animated, hands waving and emotions chasing themselves across her expressive face while she talked. Which made it all the more apparent when she caught sight of Apollo; her face blanked and she glanced quickly between the two men.

Bojay turned his head, saw Apollo, and straightened. Keili said something, quick and soft, touching his arm, and then headed for the watch office. Bojay nodded and said, "Apollo. Good to see you up."

"Thanks, Bojay. Do you know where Starbuck is?"

Bojay looked slightly surprised at the question but shook his head. "Nope. I saw him leave but he didn't tell me where he was going."

"Thanks... And listen, Bojay: thanks for... everything." There. That hadn't killed him. Of course, it hadn't been very specific either; Apollo had been raised on Ila's drilling that one should always mention at least one thing specifically to show you really were grateful. That was for birthdays and MidWinter and such but still... "Especially for looking after Boxey," he finished.

Bojay smiled. He actually had a nice smile, Apollo noticed. "I didn't mind that a bit," he said. "He's a very nice child, and he was in a bit of trouble. But you're welcome."

"I mean it," Apollo repeated. "I really appreciate it." He took a deep breath, then said, "Bojay... Athena see—" he stopped right there and changed to the correct verb. "—is happy." He stopped, biting back an admonition.

Maybe Bojay heard it anyway, or maybe he just knew what brothers thought. "I'll do my best to keep her that way," he said.

"I'm glad you two are together," Apollo said, and that didn't kill him either. To his surprise he heard himself continue, "The two of you will have to let us take you to dinner or something one night soon."

Bojay looked startled but pleased. "That'd be good."

"We'll talk," Apollo said. "But I have to find Starbuck now."

Bojay nodded. "Sorry I can't help; I think Giles is hanging around the ready room, still. He might know."

"Thanks." Apollo walked to the ready room and did indeed spot the short pilot, still in uniform, talking with Rex. "Giles?" he called.

Giles broke off in mid-sentence and, tapping Rex on the chest, came over to Apollo. "Yes?"

No greetings, no 'good to see you up'. Of course, he'd seen him already today, plus been on a picket flight with Starbuck and nothing to do but talk... Apollo asked, "Do you know where Starbuck is?"

Giles bristled up slightly. It was his usual posture, though, nothing new like Keili's precipitate flight. "He's at home," he said, as though Apollo were an idiot for asking.

"Home?"

"Yeah. Your quarters. He does live there, doesn't he? He thinks he does."

"Of course. It's just, I didn't think..." Apollo let that trail off, unsure why he was explaining himself to Giles, anyway.

"He's off duty. He went home." Giles's tone and body language added, you want to make something of it?

Apollo didn't. He really didn't. At least, he thought, so much for the Giles-is-trying-to-move-in-on-Starbuck theory; it is pretty obviously more like Giles wants to drive you back to Starbuck in a hurry... with a stick if necessary. He shook his head. "I didn't look there," he said. "I guess I will. Thanks, Giles." He hurried off, leaving the other man standing staring after him.

Home? he was thinking. Starbuck thinks of it as 'home'? That was promising... unless it was Giles's word choice, and Starbuck was cleaning out his closet. He willed the turbolift to go faster and not stop on any intermediate levels. So, of course, six other people got on and off before he reached his. He almost trotted down the hall and keyed himself in.

At least there was no box on the kava table, and Starbuck's books and pictures were still on the wall unit, even that depressing one of the Thorn Forest; Apollo was actually glad to see it sitting there where it belonged. "Starbuck?" he called.

The door to the sleeping room opened and Starbuck came out, wearing casual clothes.

"You're here," Apollo said intelligently.

Starbuck strove for matter-of-fact but just barely missed it. "Where else would I be?" He walked on into the front room and dropped into the corner of the couch.

"After the way we left it this morning, I just wasn't sure..."

Starbuck glanced away and then back. "I wanted to get your attention."

"You did," Apollo confirmed ruefully. "In purple... Too bad for you Giles came in. Athena got to smack some sense into me."

"She's gotten good at that," Starbuck said. "Maybe not good enough—"

"Oh, no," Apollo cut in. "She did a fine job... And Boomer; he told me to talk to the people I need to talk to. I don't know why I listened to Sheba, Starbuck."

"Because you wanted to believe her," Starbuck said simply. "You feel guilty over making her think you were gonna marry her, and you wanted to believe she'd forgiven you, and you wanted to believe the rest of what she was saying, too."

"Not all of it," Apollo protested. "I swear to God, Starbuck, I did not want to believe all of it. I didn't believe all of it. I love you."

Starbuck sighed heavily. "That's never been the issue, Apollo."

Apollo paused, then realized what he needed to do. For the first time since he'd met him, he went down on his knees to Starbuck for something besides sex. He put his hand on Starbuck's leg and said, "Please, Starbuck, believe me: I trust you. I trust you with my life, my heart, my son, my soul... I trust you. I'm so sorry I said anything to make you doubt that. Please..."

Starbuck stared into his eyes and swallowed. "Oh, gods," he whispered. "Apollo... don't. I forgive you."

"I mean it," Apollo insisted. "I trust you."

Starbuck reached out and laid his hand on Apollo's cheek. "I believe you. Please don't..."

Apollo turned his head and kissed Starbuck's palm. "Will you marry me day after tomorrow?"

"I thought I already answered that... Yes, yes, I will." Starbuck leaned forward and kissed him.

Apollo slid around in between Starbuck's legs and pressed closer, kissing him deeply. For long centons they clung to each other, kissing mouths, throats, eyes, and then Starbuck suddenly pulled away just as Apollo's hands were reaching for his belt. "No, I don't think so," the blond said.

"Starbuck!"

"It's a bad idea."

"No, Starbuck, please—"

"You're injured."

"Not enough to fracking notice," Apollo protested frustratedly. "Starbuck, don't you dare stop now, not on that account."

"I don't know," Starbuck said. "You probably need to sleep."

"I slept twelve fracking hours last night," Apollo said, reaching for Starbuck.

But the blond used the leverage of his position, and Apollo found himself on the couch, pinned, but not how he wanted to be. "Starbuck!"

"Dr. Salik said you weren't supposed to exert yourself." This time the undertone was clear.

Apollo stopped worrying that he was serious, but he wriggled and protested anyway. "Starbuck, don't you dare—"

Starbuck laughed. "And what if Boxey comes home?"

"Boxey can't come home till one of us fetches him. Starbuck, don't you dare—"

Starbuck let go, leaned over and kissed him, hard. "Apollo," he said when he pulled away. "Shut up."

"Starbuck..." Apollo pulled him back for another kiss. "Make me."

"Oh, yeah? Okay..."

And Apollo suddenly found himself hoisted in Starbuck's arms and carried into the sleeping room. Starbuck laid him on the bed and straddled him, pulling Apollo's shirt off over his head and scattering kisses and nibbles across his torso. When he began sucking on one of Apollo's nipples, he'd won. Well, almost. Apollo wasn't quiet, even though he couldn't come up with any words.

In short order they were both naked, hands and mouths reclaiming familiar territory missed for days. Apollo couldn't remember missing Starbuck so much even when they were yahrens apart. Is this what commitment means? he thought before Starbuck's mouth drove all thought out of his head.

When he opened his eyes again, he found Starbuck lying next to him. He leaned over and kissed the blond and said, "Remember, I'm not supposed to exert myself," and rolled over onto his stomach.

"No promises," Starbuck breathed against the back of his neck. He slid a hand down Apollo's back and then inside him, prepping him with a gentle urgency, and then he was inside, moaning with desire. Apollo, too, moaned, needing Starbuck's presence inside him like he never had before. But it was over quickly; Apollo sighed but didn't complain. In a way, it was very nice... and they had lots of time.

"Sorry," Starbuck said, catching his mood. "Been waiting for that." He kissed Apollo's neck. "Are you up for again?"

Apollo thought about Boxey, but very, very briefly. "Hell, yes. Don't go anywhere."

Starbuck shifted just slightly, and rested his head on Apollo's shoulder. "At the moment I never want to move again." He pulled the blanket up over them and kissed the shoulder under his head. "Think Boomer would notice if I wasn't there tonight?"

Reminded, Apollo said, "Didn't he tell you? Tigh said the alert's lifted. You don't have to be there till six."

"Ummmm... nice."

"Me, too," Apollo said.

"You, too, what?"

"Have to be there at six."

"Apollo—you're kidding!" Starbuck jerked his head up. "You're hurt. And your squadron's off anyway!"

"'Sokay," Apollo said, tugging on the arm encircling him. "I get fifthday."

Starbuck relaxed. "That's nice... hey. Want to get a room on the Star?"

"Yes."

Starbuck chuckled. "No 'that's extravagant'?" he asked. "No 'who'll watch Boxey'? No 'how much will that cost?' No—"

"So what, 'Theni, and I don't care," Apollo interrupted. "I'm never getting married again—"

"Got that right," Starbuck dropped a quick kiss on his shoulder.

"And besides, a little extravagance never hurt anyone."

"What have you been doing with yourself all day?" Starbuck asked, mock seriously. "That's a rather profound conclusion, and unlike you."

"I've been figuring myself out."

"Oh?" Starbuck sounded wary but interested. "Can you tell me? In twelve words or less?" he added.

Apollo laughed shortly. "Easy. I'd leave me. So why don't you?"

There was a long silence. Starbuck nuzzled Apollo's neck but seemed to understand this wasn't the moment for jokes about great sex. After a while he said, "Why would you? Leave you, I mean?"

"Starbuck, you know what I'm talking about. I'm a stubborn fool, and I don't treat you well. I ask you to put up with a lot, and you do, and I never appreciate it. Never show you I do, anyway. And I hurt you... and you forgive me. I wouldn't forgive me half—a sixth what you do. And some of the things I've done—"

Starbuck said, quickly, "Shhh." He kissed him on the back of the neck. "It's over. They're done. Don't fret."

"But I wouldn't have."

Starbuck sighed. "So you think I shouldn't? Or—" the light came on. "You think I won't."

Apollo nodded. "You could have anyone. And almost anyone would treat you better than I have."

"That much I can't argue with," he said, and it was oddly reassuring. "But it doesn't matter, Apollo. You're the one I want. And anyway, most of what you do isn't..."

"Isn't what?"

Starbuck sighed; Apollo could feel his breath warm on his neck. "That bad. Or your fault. It's easy to forgive."

"What about the rest?"

Starbuck sighed again. "It's not easy. But it's what I want to do."

Apollo reached up and stroked Starbuck's arm. "I don't want you to have to do it any more."

Starbuck laughed a little and kissed Apollo's shoulder. "I can get behind that program."

"I don't know how well I'll do," Apollo admitted. "But I intend to try. I want you to understand, you're the most important thing to me, next to Boxey. Maybe even not next to him. You really are."

"And that," Starbuck said, "is why I don't leave." He shifted his body a bit on top of Apollo's and Apollo felt him, ready again.

He bent his head and nibbled gently on Starbuck's forearm, then spread his legs a little. "Take me again," he husked. "Now, please."

Starbuck dropped a kiss between his shoulderblades. "I can get behind that, too," he chuckled. He tried to pull his hand away but Apollo clung to it for a moment.

"Just, now, Starbuck," he said. "Now."

Starbuck hesitated a few microns, but then apparently decided it was soon enough to be all right. Apollo let go and felt his lifemate adjust the position of his legs slightly. And then he felt the pressure, the penetration, the possession and the yielding. He sobbed once, for the almost having lost this forever, and raised his hips, thrusting back against Starbuck's brief hesitation, trying to become one being. "Gods, Starbuck," he got out, "now, please."

So Starbuck thrust forward, filling him, and Apollo cried out in pleasure. Starbuck leaned forward and kissed his back, once and gently, and then began to drive in and out, taking Apollo to the edge of ecstasy and then right over it into the oblivion of pleasure. If the first time had been too short, this time made up for it.

They collapsed again, their legs entwined and Starbuck's head on Apollo's back, his breath in hot pants between his shoulder blades. "Love you, 'Pol," he said after a centon. "Love you so much."

Apollo moaned, not yet able to speak.

Starbuck chuckled and lapped up some sweat off his shoulder. "Missed that sparkling repartee," he said, then grew serious. "Missed you. Missed you a lot."

"Me, too," Apollo managed. "More than ever before."

"Good." Starbuck's tone was smug.

"Miss me worst of all?" Apollo asked, hoping it didn't sound like begging.

Starbuck was quiet for a centon, then said, "Nope. Almost the worst, but I knew you'd be coming back."

"I wish you'd told me," Apollo said, finally turning over and running his hands through that tawny hair.

"Well, I thought you were," Starbuck admitted. "You frackin' scared me to death yesterday."

"Sorry."

"I know."

After they kissed, Apollo returned to the topic, too curious to let it lie. "When?"

"When what?" Starbuck said.

"When did you miss me the worst? When I was on the Aquila?"

"No," Starbuck said. "When you promised yourself to Serina."

Oh God, thought Apollo, and then said it out loud followed by, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you."

"Shhh," Starbuck said again. "I know. You had to. I always knew you would, you told me so from the beginning, remember? It's just when I missed you most, that's all. And it's over. Don't fret about it."

Apollo sighed. "Is that all you're going to say? Don't fret about it? It's over?"

Starbuck was quiet for a half-centon, and then Apollo yelped in surprise as his lifemate's sharp teeth nipped, hard, at his shoulder. "Feel better?"

Apollo rubbed the spot and laughed. "You've made your point... but, Starbuck—"

"I know what you mean. And the answer's no. We're together now, Apollo. We're getting married. Once that happens, you lose a lot of your ground..." Starbuck raised his head and fixed Apollo with that burning blue gaze. "Understand? All the rules are changed now. All of them."

Apollo sighed happily. "I understand. I really do. And I love you."

"Good. Because I love you, and I couldn't bear it if I lost you. Is that straight in your head?"

"Yes," Apollo nodded.

"Good," Starbuck repeated. "Because I think we'd better go get Boxey and Dhani before the instructional center calls his mother and the boy walks in on us."

"Oh, gods, you're right."

 


Starbuck watched Apollo get dressed, thanking all the gods that his lover hadn't lost that singular grace of his, that ability to look at what he was doing and stop. To go back and admit he'd been wrong. To make it right. He'd learned a long time ago that Apollo didn't see his own strength. What he hadn't realized was that Apollo didn't really understand how... how lovable he was. That all he saw was his few flaws, and thought they were all he was.

Starbuck saw those flaws too—it wouldn't have been possible for him to miss them, all things considered—but nobody was perfect. Like him, for instance. And anyway, Apollo's biggest flaw, in Starbuck's opinion, wasn't his jealous streak, or his possessiveness. It was his tendency to blame himself for everything that went wrong, anywhere around him.

Apparently, thought Starbuck, he was going to need to work a little harder at convincing Apollo that he wasn't really at fault. Apparently, offering him forgiveness only made him uneasy. Odd, the things you didn't know about the people you loved...

And that was the thing he really thanked the gods for: Apollo was back, alive and (mostly) unhurt, and still in love with Starbuck.

"Hey, Starbuck, what are you looking at? Is my hair messed up or something?"

"You. Just you," Starbuck said. "Haven't been able to for a while..."

Apollo looked at him, those green eyes warming. "I know," he said. "I missed looking at you, too..." He chuckled, suddenly and softly. "Are we a pair?" he asked. "Standing around just looking at each other, like lovesick teenagers."

Starbuck had to laugh, too. "Nice, though."

"Yes, it is..." Apollo smiled. "I'm just starting to get used to the notion that I can look at you whenever I want." He paused and added, "I know, I know. But I mean how I want. Couldn't exactly undress you with my eyes in staff meetings before."

Starbuck pushed down the regret that Apollo hadn't been willing before—easy enough to do when he considered how much it was costing his lover to do it now—and said, "You still can't."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't think you're ready for my reaction. Not in a staff meeting."

"Ummmmmm," Apollo said, "don't tempt me."

"I don't think your father would approve. I know Colonel Tigh wouldn't."

"You're right." He sighed. "We'd better go get Boxey."

Starbuck hesitated, but he knew he should say something. He'd almost brought it up earlier, but then Apollo had gone off on that tear about Bojay and... well, never mind that. He followed Apollo out into the hallway and then said, "Look, 'Pol."

"Uh-oh," Apollo said. "How much money did you lose this secton? Maybe we need to keep a separate fund for Pyramid."

"I won," Starbuck said, defending himself without thinking.

"Starbuck, can't you do anything but gamble?"

Apollo's words were complaining but Starbuck could tell he wasn't serious. He grinned and answered in kind, "I can do a lot of things besides gamble, but they wouldn't have made you any happier."

Apollo heaved a mighty sigh. "I can see reforming you is going to be an uphill struggle."

"You've still got time to back out," Starbuck offered, half joke and half test and all scaring him to death.

Apollo shot him a smoldering emerald look through long dark lashes. "Not a chance in Hades, Bucko. Even unreformed you're all I want." Their eyes locked for a long moment. "Maybe even especially unreformed," Apollo finally added and Starbuck found himself breathing again. "So, 'look, 'Pol', what?"

Starbuck was reluctant but he needed to. "About Boxey," he started.

Apollo sighed. "I know," he said. "Athena told me."

Starbuck paused. "Told you what?"

Apollo sighed again and looked at his wrist chrono. Then he stopped and leaned up against the wall. "About Boxey crying at night," he said. "Worrying about me, whether I was coming home. Whether I wanted to come home."

"He knows you did," Starbuck said, wondering why Athena hadn't told him. Probably because there wasn't anything he could have done about it. And because she hadn't been mad at him, which, he was sure, she had been at Apollo. He put his hand on Apollo's arm. "He really does, 'Pol. He's just been through a hell of a secton."

"That's what 'Theni said."

Starbuck looked at him closely. "She told you he's crazy about Bojay, too, didn't she? Cupboard-love, 'Pol. You're the most important person in his life. Couldn't you tell by the way he jumped you last night?"

"And I wasn't here."

"You couldn't have been... I screwed up, too."

"Oh? I doubt it." Apollo sounded serious. "Not as bad as me. I should have listened to him this morning."

"About Sheba?" Starbuck said. "Probably so... but I did."

Apollo turned partway around to look directly into his eyes. "Okay, Starbuck. Tell me."

"I let him down pretty badly. I lied to him."

"Starbuck, I can't believe that. You don't lie to him when I wish you would."

"I did," Starbuck said. "I let him down."

Apollo blinked at him and then, not even looking to see if anyone was coming down the hall, he reached out and grasped Starbuck's shoulder and held him tightly. "Come on, Starbuck. You love Boxey, I know that. So does he. Forget what I said this morning, which was all felgar anyway: you're as good a father as I am. You know I couldn't have made it without your help almost from the beginning. It's not like I had any practice... or any decent role models. Now, tell me what you did."

"You know what the last thing I said to him for four days was? 'I am always going to be here, from now on.'"

Apollo was quiet for a moment. Then he shook his head. "Starbuck, Boxey knows what you meant. And he knows why you weren't there. You can't tack 'if humanly possible' onto the end of everything you say to him. And you don't have to. If ever there was a kid who understands about the job taking people away, he's it. And Athena told me he knows where the blame goes. And it's not on you."

Starbuck looked at him for a centon. If there was one thing Apollo wouldn't cut him slack over, it was Boxey. (There were probably more than one, but if there were only one...) But he meant it. Starbuck sighed in relief. "I've been thinking," he started.

"Oh, no," Apollo said.

"Maybe we shouldn't go away after we get married."

"Starbuck, we're not going 'away'. We're spending the night on the Rising Star. And we should, because Boxey knows that when people get married they go on a honeymoon. For 'the mushy stuff'. We need to be as normal as we can. That's what'll reassure him."

Starbuck pondered that. "I suppose you're right," he agreed.

"Besides, I don't want him around on my honeymoon," Apollo stated. "I want to be able to focus on you." He leaned forward and kissed Starbuck quickly. "Got that?"

"No arguments here," Starbuck agreed.

"And this is why..." Apollo said after a moment, his voice husky. "Let's go get him, okay? Before we get... sidetracked."

"Probably a good idea," Starbuck nodded.

 


Boxey charged out of the Instructional Center like a guided weapon, smashing into Apollo and hugging him tightly. Apollo pried him loosed after a moment and picked him up. The boy stared at him and said, "Did she try to make trouble this morning?"

"She did," Apollo admitted, "but it didn't work." That was an acceptable condensation of the day's activities, he thought. Boxey didn't need to know every time he and Starbuck fought, especially since they'd made up.

"Good," Boxey pronounced. "I hope you never talk to her again. 'Cause she's mean."

"Well, I'm going to have to talk to her," Apollo said, "because we're both squadron leaders. But I promise I won't let her talk me into anything. Okay?"

"I guess," Boxey said, then brightened. "Maybe Aunt 'Theni will beat her up real good this time."

This time? Apollo looked from his son to his lifemate. Do I even want to know? he asked silently.

Starbuck shrugged, grinned, and said, "Later. Where's Dhani?"

Dhani. Apollo had forgotten that. "We're picking him up again?"

"Yeah," Boxey said. "His dad got tired of doing it."

After four days?, Apollo thought, but knowing Dhani, not to mention Myron, he wasn't entirely surprised to hear it.

Boxey was continuing, "He's helping Miss Lyllat put away the books today. He'll be right out. Can we go to the Rejuv Center for a while, Dad? I've got a saved game on level seven and it won't save for two days if you don't play, please?"

"Yes, we can," Apollo surrendered. At least Dhani would be there; he wouldn't have to listen to that inane music on the video game. "For a centare and a half, no more, and then we'll have to take Dhani home."

"Okay," Boxey agreed readily.

"Boxey, get down now," Starbuck said. "Your dad's arm is hurt, remember?"

"Does it hurt bad?" Boxey said, letting go of Apollo and dropping to the floor.

"No," Apollo said. "Hardly at all."

Dhani came out, his red hair sticking out in all directions as usual and lugging two book bags. "Hi, sir," he said. "Did a lizard bite you?"

"You didn't tell me you got bit!"

"Bitten," he corrected, and was immediately sorry as the boys began pelting him with questions about the lizards and their teeth. "Boys... boys... Boys!"

They stared at him.

"Okay, look, I did not get bitten. They didn't bite anybody. They used weapons. I was shot with an arrow."

"Cool," said Dhani, shifting the book bags to his other arm. "Did the doctors dig the arrowhead out of your arm? Did they save it for you? Was it poisoned?"

Apollo regarded his son's friend with some displeasure; he'd forgotten what a repellent child he was, really.

"If it was poison, he'd be in the Life Center," said Boxey to the other boy and then turned to Apollo. "Did they give you the arrowhead, Dad? Can I bring it for Show-and-Tell?"

They were both repellent. "No. They didn't give it to me."

"And no, you may not go to the Life Center and pester Dr. Paye, either," said Starbuck. "The arrowhead is still on the planet. And it's staying there. Boxey, why is Dhani carrying your books?"

"'Cause I lost the bet, Lieutenant Starbuck," said Dhani cheerfully. "I have to carry 'em all secton."

"Let's go," Boxey said, anticipating Apollo's probable reaction to that. "Race you to the turbolift!"

Starbuck reached out and slid the bookbags off the redhead's arm and watched as he caught up to Boxey halfway down the hall.

"Don't run," called Apollo with no hope of being obeyed and turned to Starbuck. "And you want him on our honeymoon?"

"Not both of them," Starbuck protested. "And anyway," he grinned as he started walking, "I never said I wanted him."

"You reassure me... But who'll watch him?" Apollo said, suddenly remembering. "I mean, Athena's on second shift that day though she said she'd take him..."

Starbuck shrugged. "Anybody from Blue can, now. Or Red," he added. "Though he doesn't know them. Boomer, Giles, Jolly... anybody. I'll nail someone tomorrow. And we'd better make reservations, too."

Apollo sighed comfortably.

"Reservations for what, Dad? Dinner? Are we eating out tonight? Can Dhani come?" Boxey had already punched for the turbolift.

"Not for dinner and I'm sure Dhani's mother is expecting him home tonight," Apollo said.

"For their honeymoon, stoopid," said Dhani as the doors opened. They entered, crowding a couple of shuttle pilots to the rear.

"Are you going on a honeymoon, Dad?" Boxey's disapproval was plain.

Apollo wanted to sink through the floor of the turbolift.

"We kind of have to," Starbuck said, amusement rippling through his voice. Apollo couldn't even look at him; he just stared straight ahead at the doors and wished he were invisible. "It's what married people do," Starbuck finished.

"Where are you going?"

"We don't have a lot of choices," Starbuck said. "The Rising Star."

"Do I haveta come?"

"No. You have to stay here. You have instruction, remember?"

The turbolift stopped; it wasn't their floor but Apollo was mightily tempted to leave. And the feeling grew stronger when two teenagers, their hair in purple-streaked equitails, got on.

"Who's going to stay with me? Aunt 'Theni and Bojay are both on duty."

Too late. The doors closed. The teenagers giggled and one of them whispered something to the other, both of them not-so-covertly eyeing Starbuck.

"Don't worry," Starbuck said. "We'll find somebody. Or maybe we'll just stuff you in a closet till your aunt's free."

The boys laughed; so did the teenagers. One of the shuttle pilots snickered. Why did I think this was a good idea? Apollo thought.

"Hey, Dad, if Aunt 'Theni has a baby will we get to watch it?"

He so did not want to think about that. Starbuck came to his rescue. "You're jumping the gun a little, kiddo, but sure, we'll watch your cousins when they come along."

"Cool. I hope she has boys. But I bet Bojay wants girls."

"Maybe she'll have both," suggested Dhani. "And you can marry one."

"Ew," said Boxey. "Never. I'm never getting married to anyone especially not an icky girl."

The teenagers giggled again. The doors opened. Apollo fled.

The boys ran past him, jostling each other, into the Rejuvenation Center. The girls came by, looking at him and giggling even more, and then Starbuck caught up leisurely. "You're so cute when you're embarrassed," his lifemate said.

"Starbuck, if that gets back to Father—"

"Relax, if that's possible," Starbuck said, pushing him towards the juice bar at the far end from where the boys where dropping tokens into a game machine. He dropped the bookbags on the bar and sat down, his back to it and his elbows on it. "There's not a seven-yahren-old boy in the universe who wants to get married."

Apollo sat down and sighed. "I suppose you're right..."

"Of course I am. Now. Do you want me to get us a room, or do you want to?"

Apollo shook his head. "You'd better... I have the feeling you're far more familiar with what's available than I am."

Starbuck flattened his hand on his chest. "Moi?" he asked. "Now why would you say that—no, don't answer. I'll be right back."

Apollo watched him walk over to the public comm and smiled. They'd actually just joked about it, and he hadn't felt jealous. He remembered back to the day he'd been ordered down to the planet, the thought that had crossed his mind then: If we can get through this, it might just be the best thing that could have happened. They had got through it; by the skin of their teeth, maybe, but they had. And he thought he'd been right.

Maybe he should thank his father the next time they spoke... No, Apollo. Don't push it.

He heard giggles that sounded vaguely familiar and turned to see the purple-haired girls with a couple more, orange and green streaks in their hair. They were young and (granted the hair) pretty and full of life, and he knew what they were watching: Starbuck. But he leaned back against the bar and smiled at the whole room.

Because Starbuck was walking back to him.