Card Games

One of the cards caught a flash of starlight as it spun. Starbuck reached out and took it from its descent, plucking it with two fingers and spinning it across the back of his hand. With a smooth motion he slid it into the deck again and dealt another card, flipped it into the air.

The card caught a flash of starlight. This one he let fall, holding out his hand to catch it flat on his palm. He brought the deck together and stacked the cards, dealt again. This time he didn't throw it. Staring at the card he turned it, one way and then the other. It was a new deck, cards still slippery to the touch. He'd sat down to play with them, wear them slightly so they wouldn't slide off the table when hands were dealt. Some gamblers preferred fresh decks, knowing they would -- or, at least, should -- not be marked. Starbuck preferred a slightly worn deck, one that felt familiar and comfortable in his hands.

Maybe it made the deck lucky, handling the cards before playing a game. Maybe it just settled him, giving him this chance to sit alone, in near-total silence. Watching the cards spin as he flicked them into the air always relaxed him. He didn't know why -- he didn't care why. As long as it worked. He caught the final card and shuffled the deck, turning the chair towards the table. He dealt a quick hand, gathered them up and dealt again. His hands moved quickly as each card landed in a cascading pile. If he played tonight, he knew he'd win.

He didn't particularly feel like playing. He had a feeling he would end up at a game, either here or on the Rising Star, just because he had the time free and he usually *did* end up playing cards when he wasn't spending the time with Cassie. She had her hands full this week, helping out at the school while two of the teachers were out sick. It wasn't difficult work, or so Cassiopea told him, but it and her regular duties were taking up most of her time. Starbuck didn't mind, though he hadn't tried finding another woman to play around with. He was content to hang out with his friends, or, like now, sit at a table playing cards, thinking. Wondering how he was going to get himself invited to weekend dinner.

It wasn't a serious matter, and truth be told he was grateful for the number of invitations he'd already received. It wasn't like they had any reason to include him more often than they did -- Apollo invited him at least once a month, and that was really more than a friend could ask for.

He couldn't explain to his best friend how it made him feel. For a couple of hours at those dinners he could sit back and be part of a family, be part of something he'd never had. He knew if he said as much to Apollo, the other man would extend the invitations more often. Simple. So why couldn't he ask?

Admittedly, part of his silence came from not quite believing Apollo's family wanted him there every week. He might think of them as the only family he had, but that didn't mean those feelings were returned. Sometimes he suspected, when Apollo or Adama would say something that made him doubt. Other times -- like last months' Dawn of Caprica celebration -- no one had said a word about his joining them. True, the Dawn festival was a small occasion, one which only half the Capricans in the fleet bothered observing. Perhaps they'd thought he wouldn't be interested in a small, family gathering.

But that made him not part of the family, didn't it? If so, then inviting himself over more often would quickly wear out whatever welcome he had. Besides -- and this was the main reason he didn't ask, or so he told himself -- he ought not need to be there. Over 45% of the Fleet's residents were without a family. It wasn't anything uncommon, not anymore. He shouldn't expect special treatment because, like so many others, felt lonely. Adama had too many things to take care of, to be concerned with adopting another son into the family. Keeping the Fleet traveling in the right direction, both literally and figuratively, took most of the older man's time. He didn't have the energy to spend on someone who was, even Starbuck had to admit, often a troublemaker.

Strangely enough, the fact that he was in love with Apollo had nothing to do with why he didn't ask to spend more time with Apollo and his family. It would have made things easier if his friend were the type to accept another man's advances. Starbuck would then *be* a part of the family, and he wouldn't have to ask.

He knew Apollo loved him. Friend, brother, whatever. The love was there and had the attraction been as well, there wouldn't have been a doubt in his mind that Apollo would invite him to share his life. That particular invitation would not be forthcoming, however -- it wasn't as if Apollo hadn't had plenty of opportunity by now if he'd wanted to do so.

Starbuck sighed and flipped another card into the air. This wasn't helping anything. Sitting here alone, dwelling on something he couldn't have was a waste of time. Just as well he didn't get this way very often, getting more morose until he hauled himself off for a tankard or three of ambrosia and then slept his free day away. He ought to get his butt out of the chair and go find a game, let the thrill of the gamble draw him out of his reflections.

He really didn't feel like seeing anyone, though. Maybe it wasn't so bad, losing one evening to a little depression. He flipped another card. It wasn't like anyone would find out.

"Hey, Starbuck, I was beginning to wonder where you'd gone off to."

Starbuck closed his eyes, grimacing, before wiping his face into a grin and spun the chair to face Apollo. "What can I do for you, buddy?"

The other man stepped closer, and Starbuck could see that measuring stare take him in. Apollo would probably have been seeing more than Starbuck would be comfortable with, if he weren't so certain of his game face. "Is everything all right?" the captain asked.

From the concerned frown on Apollo's face, Starbuck realised that perhaps his friend knew him well enough to see through said game face. He shrugged anyhow, still smiling. "Why wouldn't it be?"

For a moment Apollo just watched him, then he seemed to find something that satisfied him. "When I couldn't find you I got a little worried. No one knew where you were."

"Is that a crime, now? Can't a guy sneak off to be by himself?"

"Sure, Starbuck."

After another moment, when Apollo said nothing more, Starbuck sighed. "What is it, Apollo?"

"Well, it wasn't anything important, I just thought... well, I wondered.... This might sound a bit strange--"

"It doesn't sound like anything yet, chum. Spill it already."

Apollo gave him a look, and continued. "Boxey's been reading about ancient Colonial cultures, in instructional period. And apparently they've been reading about the tradition of celebrating the half-years."

"I remember. Used to love that class -- Daarian sat right behind me, and she used to--"

"Starbuck."

"Oh. Sorry. What's this got to do with me?"

Apollo shifted a bit, looking uncomfortable. "Well, he's decided he wants to celebrate them. You know how kids are -- they get all excited about things, and if you don't take 'em seriously they ignore you for days."

With a grin, Starbuck shook his head. "You're telling me *you* never dragooned your folks into silly stuff when you were a kid?"

Now his friend almost looked embarrassed. But he answered, "Yeah, I suppose I did. That's why I want to do this 'half-year' party up right. It's important to Boxey."

"OK. So what do you need from me? Steal refreshments from the quartermaster? I think your old man will catch me, if he finds 'em on his own table."

"No. Boxey wants us all there. Extended family, you know. I was hoping you could come."

"Sure, I'll be there." Starbuck smiled easily, casually -- answering quickly to cover his surprise. Half-years were a sort of birthday celebration for the family, a individual Newyear-type party for the family where the actual Newyear was celebrated by the Colonies as a whole. As late as three centuries ago, it had been a time for aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, siblings and parents to get together for a celebration. Stories would be shared, family lore passed along to the next generation. New additions to the family would be introduced, lost loved ones remembered. The practise had died out as the war took its toll on the population, scattering families and taking too many loved ones away to make the gatherings as joyful as had been the holiday's intent. Most people only heard about it in school, and then promptly forgot all about it. "When is it, anyway?"

Apollo grinned. "Next week. I've already swapped our patrol with Boomer and Jolly so we can be here."

"You did? You just figured I'd say yes?" Starbuck teased his friend.

"If you'd said no, I would have let Boxey ask you."

Starbuck just smiled. After a moment he said in a thoughtful tone, "You know, I've been meaning to talk to him anyway. He's about the age I was when I learned to play Jumpback." He referred to a juvenile's card game, a common predecessor to more serious gambling games.

"You do, and I'll see to it you're flying the prison barge for the next yahren."

"Hey, Apollo, relax. I wouldn't teach him all the rules. Just enough to have fun."

"And beat the other kids?"

"Well," Starbuck shrugged. "Winning is what makes it fun."

Apollo gave him a fierce glare, then he laughed. "You know, I played Jumpback when I was a little older than Boxey is now."

With a grin, Starbuck swung his chair towards the table. "I just happen to have a deck of cards right here...." Jumpback's easy transition to gambling came in part to its use of the Pyramid deck.

Without another word Apollo sat down, matching Starbuck's grin. As Starbuck began to deal the Pyramid cards, Apollo asked, "Are we playing Squatter's rules or Temporary?"

"Apollo! I'm shocked you have to ask." Starbuck finished dealing five cards each. He gave Apollo a dangerous smile. "Squatter's rules, or course."

"Oh lords, I'm going to lose *all* my lunch money, aren't I?"


The next day Starbuck was headed away from the launch bay, whistling. The patrol had been long and boring, which in their on-going state of flight-for-escape was a nice change. Apollo had been in a good mood, and they'd traded stories about kids' games they'd played back on Caprica. The night before they had been up rather late playing first Jumpback and then, with a soulful promise from Starbuck not to use real cubits, Pyramid.

Starbuck had won most of the hands, but was in the end glad they hadn't played for gold. Apollo had a sneaky tendency to win rarely, but well. Starbuck would've have lost his stake for tonight's game if he'd been playing for real.

"Careful, Lieutenant." Apollo came up beside him as they left the decom rooms. Starbuck glanced over and saw a grin. "If the civilians catch you enjoying your patrols they'll *all* want to fly them."

Starbuck laughed. "Yes, sir. I'll try to control myself." He worked at a trodden-upon expression, which must have worked because Apollo started laughing. He let the captain laugh himself out, then asked, "Hey, Apollo, you wanna join me for an post-patrol drink?"

"I can't. Meeting with Boxey's teacher, which," he checked the chrono on his wrist, "I've almost time to make." They were headed down the hallway which led first to the officer's club and, if one continued on, towards the school corridors. Apollo picked up his pace and Starbuck matched his stride.

"He's not in trouble, is he?"

"No, just the usual parent meetings they have every section. Last time I was late, though, his teacher threatened to keep me after school." Apollo grinned.

"Well, don't let me keep you." Starbuck grinned, veering off to head for his drink. He didn't envy Apollo the meeting. The young woman who was Boxey's teacher this term was a Scorpio named Alis. He'd tried to date her a few months back and had been almost rudely turned down. Once he'd finally *accepted* the rejection she'd become fairly friendly if distant. Starbuck decided he didn't understand her at all, and no longer saw her very often. The rejection didn't really bother him -- he had only asked her out because she was pretty, after all. It was just rare that anyone turned him down. For a first date, anyway.

The young woman left his thoughts as he entered the officer's club. A quick glance around the room showed he knew, but wasn't particularly fond of, those already present. He headed for the bar, considering his choices. Put on a grin and start messing with their minds -- he hadn't set anyone up for a Ghost Patrol in a long time. That would be fun, but it would require more attention than he felt up to giving his surroundings. The mental high he'd been on since last night was shallowing rapidly. Had been ever since... oh, right.

Since Apollo took off in the other direction, leaving Starbuck alone to wind down from patrol. That made his other option look better -- grab a mug of whatever the bartender would sell him, and find a quiet stool at the bar to drink it.

Drake, the bartender, was already handing him a mug he didn't remember ordering, so he had to decide fast. Luckily, there was an empty stool near the corner, with a smattering of empty seats nearby. He took the mug and, with a sip to find out what he'd been given, headed over.

Fortunately, he knew if he failed to respond to the first few greetings, he'd be left alone. The drink turned out to be yahren-old ambrosia. Either Drake was feeling good, or Starbuck had overpaid his tab two nights ago. He'd won a few extra hands of Pyramid and had offered to treat his companions to a drink. He didn't care, either way he had something decent to drink and in another moment, the solitude to do it in.

"Hey, buddy! How's it going?" Delian had wandered over, mug in hand and obviously an hour or more offduty. His uniform was, it would only polite to call it, askew. If anyone higher ranking than Starbuck had been in the room, the guy would be given a handful of demerits and sent back to the barracks.

"Ensign, isn't that your chair he's stealing?" Starbuck pointed over the man's shoulder, at the far wall.

The drunken warrior turned, and started. "Oh! Hey, put that down!" He staggered off to be rescued from a nasty confrontation with the bulkhead by his friends, who got him seated and started feeding him proteins and water. One of them sent an apologetic smile Starbuck's way.

Starbuck just nodded, and turned his back to the room. After a centon he realised that maybe this hadn't been the best choice. The morose feelings he'd been hit with yesterday seemed to be ready to return -- and sitting alone, drinking, wasn't the best way to fight that. Another glance around the room confirmed there was no one here he wanted to sit with, no one with whom he cared to share quiet conversation. That settled it. Finish the mug he had, and then leave.

He had to find something else to do besides drown his sorrows. They weren't supposed to be *sorrows* anyhow. Just... annoyances. Irritations. Small problems like sand fleas burrowing into your bag when you camped out on bivouac.

He glanced into his mug and found he had only drunk half of the ambrosia. He couldn't very well leave without finishing it, not good stuff like this. Drake might think he didn't appreciate it. With a sigh, Starbuck resigned himself to waiting until he'd finished the mug. It was a waste, really. He didn't even *want* it anymore. Resolving himself, he took two long, deep swallows. His mood made it taste sour, like day-old ambrosia. He didn't try to think about where he wanted to go, what he wanted to do.

'Just finish this and get out of here,' was all. Ignoring Drake's odd look, Starbuck took three more drinks and nearly drained the mug. 'Good enough,' and he set it down and stood. He didn't ask if he owed any money -- Drake would either holler at him before he reached the door or not. For now he'd go find a game and drown his preoccupations in gambling.


The following week Starbuck fond himself standing in the hallway outside Apollo's quarters. He held a bag of Gemonese mushies, a treat he'd won from a trader the night before. He'd deliberately played the hand for the confections, knowing how difficult they were to come by on the Galactica. A suitable offering for a half-year celebration, or so his history books assured him. He'd done a bit of research the day after Apollo's invitation. As much as he'd enjoyed his history class, he hadn't paid much attention to the teacher. A little reading and now he knew what to expect, what might be expected of him.

What he'd read, though, only confirmed his confusion. Half-year's was a celebration for extended family -- that shouldn't have included him. Friends of the family weren't family. Apparently Boxey didn't see it that way. *That* had kept him preoccupied all week. For now he was going to stop thinking about it, and enjoy himself.

He raised his hand and knocked. Athena answered the door, took the mushies from him, and ushered him inside. Starbuck's forced grin because genuine as he looked around. Boxey had his relatives wrapped around his finger -- that, or everyone was as eager as the child to celebrate *something*. The room was wildly decorated with hand-coloured streamers, crossing the ceiling in creeperweb patterns. He hadn't seen anything like it since Marda's third birthday party last month.

Adama and Apollo were standing to one side of the room, conferring about something that didn't look work-related -- both men were smiling, and casting looks at the boy running through the room with streamers in his hand. Athena laughed, and handed Starbuck a glass of juice.

"Starbuck!" Boxey leapt into Starbuck's arms, his daggit yipping loudly behind them. Starbuck caught the boy, barely able to avoid dropping his glass. "You're here! Now we can start!" Boxey grinned and then jumped down and ran back to his father.

"Yes, Boxey, we can start." Apollo gave his son a smile, glancing up at Starbuck as he was taken by the hand and tugged away from his conversation.

Food served on small platters so they could forego a more formal dining table in favour of sitting around the room. While they hadn't gone all out with the refreshments (Starbuck briefly regretted having not conned some from Supplies) they did have lots of finger foods and confections. All of them, he noted, were favourites of Boxey's. Apollo and Starbuck sat on the floor with Boxey, trying to prevent Muffit from knocking over any of the platters or cups.

After everyone had filled his or her plate, Adama told them about a party this one reminded him of -- Apollo's seventh, when he'd demanded an 'Hours of Caprica' themed party, a popular children's show at the time. The party had been done entirely in silver, from balloons to serving ware.

Starbuck vaguely remembered the show -- but from Apollo's expression, *he* remembered it clearly. He was trying to pretend he didn't, but his father's story was embarrassing him. Athena was laughing -- she'd been too young at the time to remember much of the party and was now enjoying hearing about it all.

When the story was over, Boxey set his plate aside and bounced up onto his knees. "Grandad! Do you know any more stories? You're supposed to tell us, you know. All our ancestors."

"Yes, Boxey," Adama smiled. "I've been well-briefed." He sent his son a quick smile, and then asked the child, "Now then, which would you like to hear? More stories of when your father was young?"

"No, please!" Apollo protested, laughing.

"All right... I could tell you about some of your famous relatives, men and women who you might find in your history classes."

At this the young boy perked up. "Really? Famous people? Who?"

"Oh, there have been several members of our family who did great things. Some were warriors, some diplomats. Even an inventor, whose engineering achievements helped create the very first modern battlestars."

"Oh! I wanna hear about that!" Boxey nearly jumped into the air. The other adults listened attentively as well -- Starbuck had never heard about this particular relative of theirs, but from Apollo's and Athena's expressions this was a familiar, and favourite, story.

Stealing a mushie from Apollo's plate, Starbuck listened as Adama began the story. He'd never had this particular experience before -- sitting around the patriarch's feet, hearing stories. He felt suddenly uneasy. Hiding those feelings from his face, he reminded himself that he *had* been invited. This might not be his real family, but it was as close as he was likely to get. Besides, Boxey at least considered him enough a part of the family to want him here for half-year's. He watched Boxey listen to the story, his eyes wide and asking questions every centon or so, receiving patient answers from his grandfather.

Soon though it ceased to bother him. The stories swept him up as much as they did the eight-yahren-old, and he could see these figures from ancient times coming to life. By the fourth story he had forgotten these weren't *his* relatives; he was reminded that he was sitting in Apollo's quarters in fact only when Apollo suddenly interrupted the latest story.

"Wait a minute, you said this was great-grandfather's brother?"

"Yes, Apollo. Canan's brother Eron."

Starbuck saw the look of confusion, but didn't understand it. Neither, apparently, did Adama.

Apollo slowly shook his head. "You said he was married to Adar, the Commander of the Aurielle?"

"Yes, he was." Adama still didn't seem to understand Apollo's confusion. Starbuck didn't either -- Capricans had been including same-sex unions in their society for the last two hundred years. Other colonies varied in their acceptance, from the Virgons' 3000 year tradition of same-sex unions to the Saggitarian's continued refusal to admit such couples. Starbuck had never heard his friend speak out against same-sex pairs -- but then, as he thought back on it, he'd never heard Apollo say *anything* about them.

For a moment Apollo didn't clarify his confusion. Finally, in an odd tone, he said, "Mom said Eron died very young."

Adama looked startled. "She did?"

"Yes," Athena spoke up. "She never said anything more about him... I always thought she didn't know any more than that."

Adama shook his head. "She knew quite a bit." He looked somewhat uncomfortable, and explained, "She didn't think persons of the same gender ought to marry. She thought it was wrong."

Starbuck saw Apollo and Athena give each other a long look. Finally Apollo turned back to their father and said, "We know... I mean she never tried to teach us it was wrong, but she always said...." Apollo sounded confused, again. "She always said you agreed with her. So why are you telling us about Eron?"

Adama's eyes went wide. "Agreed with her? No.. I never agreed with her. She and I knew we'd never see eye-to-eye on the matter so we agreed to not discuss it."

Starbuck didn't understand the cold silence that fell, nor the look Athena gave her brother. He did, however, understand that more needed to be said and that it didn't need to be said in front of others. He stood up, catching Boxey's shoulder. "Come on, kiddo. Our cue to leave."

The boy stood up, but looked from Starbuck, to his grandfather, to his father. "Why?"

Starbuck held out his hand. Boxey took it, but remained where he was standing. "I'll explain later. Come on, I'll tell you about some of *my* relatives."

Boxey followed Starbuck towards his room. Halfway there he looked up, surprised, "I thought you were an orphan."

"I am. But that doesn't mean I don't know any stories." //Especially since I'll make them all up.// Aloud he said, "My mom used to tell me stories when I was little. I still remember some of 'em." He didn't look back as he ushered the boy inside the bedroom. As soon as the door closed, Boxey turned and looked at him with wide, concerned eyes.

"Are they gonna fight?"

"No, they aren't going to fight." He knelt down beside Boxey, putting one arm around the boy's waist.

"How do you know?" Boxey looked as though at the first confirmation of trouble, he would start to cry. "I think my dad's mad at grandad."

"Because even though Apollo might be angry, Adama isn't mad at him. It takes two people to fight."

Boxey thought that over, then slowly nodded. "I guess."

Starbuck picked the boy up, and walked over to the bed. He sat down length-wise on it, letting Boxey settle comfortably. "Trust me, kiddo. Have I ever lied to you?"

"No. Not to me."

"Then you can believe me when I tell you, they aren't going to fight." //Lords, please don't let them fight!//

"Well... OK." Boxey looked up at him, troubled expression changing fast to anticipation. "What stories do you remember?"

"Oh, there's my favourite, about mom's uncle Estion. He was a pilot, flew a shuttle between Caprica and Virgo. Now, I know that doesn't sounds very exciting but...."


While Starbuck was telling Boxey stories, Athena and Apollo were confronting their father. They'd waited until the door closed behind Starbuck and Boxey, then Apollo had turned to Adama. He'd stood up and was now looking down at his father.

"Why did you let us think you thought it was wrong?"

With a shake of his head, Adama tried to explain. "I didn't realise you did. I don't recall ever saying that I believed such. Apollo, why--"

"You never said you didn't! You never told us you disagreed with mother."

Adama spread his hands, trying to apologise or explain. "I suppose the matter simply never came up. She and I dealt with our disagreement when you were just an infant, Apollo. It never occurred to me to speak to you children about it. I knew she wouldn't teach you to believe as she did... she respected my wishes in that, at least."

"Yes, but that didn't--" Apollo stopped, and looked away.

"That didn't what, son?"

There was a pause, then calmly Apollo finished, "That didn't help. We were told-- mother said she was opposed. We thought you were, too." With a glance to his sister, who gave him a nod, he said, "We thought it best not to disappoint you."

For several moments there was only silence. Athena watched her brother with a concerned and unhappy expression. Apollo looked at the floor, and Adama stared from one to the other. Finally he asked, "It would have made a difference?"

"Yes!" Apollo glared at his father. The shout died away. "It would have made a difference, father."

"Oh lords, Apollo. I never... I am sorry." Adama stood and reached out for his son. Apollo made no move towards him, turning away again. Athena stepped over to his side and took his arm, and faced her father.

"Yahrens, father. Yahrens he's been afraid to let you know. Why didn't you ever tell us?"

The shock on Adama's face was shadowed by pain. He took a single step forward. "Apollo, I didn't realise. If I had... son, it never occurred to me. You must know I would never have let you think I would disapprove, if I had once thought it mattered."

Apollo looked up, tears unshed shining in his eyes. "Do you know how hard this has been? I could never tell someone I was interested because I knew it would get back to you. Once I was assigned to the Galactica I had to.. it was like I had to stop living."

Swiftly Adama walked over and took his son in an embrace. Apollo allowed it, putting his arms around his father and burying his head on Adama's shoulder. "I am so sorry, Apollo. I never imagined. I never knew."

Apollo said nothing. Athena rested her hand on his back, and Adama looked at her, questions in his eyes. She shook her head. "We always talked... he couldn't tell anyone else but Zac and I. It didn't make a difference to us. Not the way it did for Apollo."

"I'm sorry... I don't know what else I can say." Adama looked at his son as he stepped out of his embrace. Apollo rubbed at his nose, obviously trying to regain his composure. "Apollo... is there... is it too late?" He sounded as if he hated to ask, hated to hear the answer.

In reply Apollo glanced towards his son's room. Softly he said, "I don't know."

Adama followed Apollo's gaze even though he understood perfectly well. He looked at Athena. "Perhaps we should get Boxey."

"Father, I don't--" Apollo cut himself off. After a moment of thought, his eyes cleared and he nodded. Athena went to the closed door and knocked. Apollo turned to his father. "I don't..."

Adama gave his shoulder a squeeze. "Good luck."

Apollo blushed, and only nodded again. He didn't look up as Athena came out, Boxey in her arms.


"Well, then the pirates came flying back with--" Starbuck broke off as the door opened. He'd had Boxey well-enthralled with his story, stolen from one of the kids he'd known at the orphanage whose name he didn't recall. The boy had always been telling the story, purportedly about his father. Starbuck always figured the story was made-up. It made a good tale, though, and had distracted Boxey from the conversation in the outer room.

Boxey had looked over when the door opened, and jumped up when his aunt came in. "Is everything all right?" He sounded breathless, as if all his worries had hit him again.

Athena smiled. "Everything's going to be fine." She held out her hands, and as Boxey took them and climbed off the bed, she gave Starbuck a smile. It was an odd smile, one Starbuck had never seen on her face before. If he'd been at a Pyramid table he'd say she was about to play a full Pyramid with capstone and didn't want anyone to know.

"Going to be?" Boxey picked up instantly on the statement. "It isn't yet?"

She looked at him, her smile softening. "There's nothing to worry about, Boxey. You, me, and your grandfather are going to take your party to his quarters. Apollo and Starbuck have something they need to discuss."

Boxey glanced over his shoulder at Starbuck, but Starbuck could only look puzzled. "What do we--?" he stopped, realising he was probably not supposed to talk about it in front of Boxey. Why, he didn't know. What did any of this have to do with him? A story about long-gone relations, confusion over a marriage between two men.... It didn't make sense. Starbuck followed them out, though, to find Adama gathering up some of the refreshments, and Apollo standing in the middle of the room.

Athena helped her father pick up the food, handing some of it to Boxey. The boy looked bewildered and upset until his father spoke to him quietly. Starbuck remained in the doorway of Boxey's room, waiting. Soon the three were at the main door. Athena gave her brother a quick hug and said something to him which almost made him smile. Then, with no further explanation, they left.

Apollo still hadn't looked up at him. Starbuck walked over, clearing his throat. "What is it we're supposed to discuss?" He saw how his friend grew even more uncomfortable and wondered what he had done. "Apollo?"

"I'm not sure this is a good idea, actually."

"What isn't?" Starbuck felt like he'd been thrown into a cockpit without a working oxygen-generator. Otherwise he'd be thinking clearly and he would understand what was going on.

"I don't know exactly how to say this." Apollo was staring at the wall to Starbuck's right, an odd mixture of discomfort and calm.

"You're beginning to worry me, Apollo. What's going on? Last thing I hear, the Commander's telling us about some two of your relatives you never knew existed... and now we're standing here alone in the middle of a half-year celebration? What's the connection?"

Suddenly Apollo looked at him, and his eyes were open wider than Starbuck had ever seen. It was like shutters had been drawn over his friend's soul that he'd never seen until they'd been removed. He wanted to reach out and touch him, find out who was in there whom he'd never seen before but he didn't know if he could. Then Apollo spoke, and the nervous tone worried him again. "I always thought that my father disapproved of same-sex marriages. Mother always did."

"So that's what that was about? He mentions them like they were--"

"I never wanted to disappoint him."

Starbuck stopped as Apollo interrupted. The meaning of his friend's words only took a second to come clear. He stared at Apollo, found his best friend staring back. "And now you won't?" He wondered what, if anything, would follow this admission.

"Now I find I won't," Apollo repeated. The calm shattered abruptly, and Apollo shook his head. "Yahrens I've thought I had to deny what I felt... and it turns out he doesn't care. Lords..." He stepped away, and Starbuck took a step to follow him.

"Apollo?" Was there more, or was this the only thing Apollo had to tell him?

The other man looked back, an unreadable expression on his face. "It's hard to believe. Most of my life I've tried so hard to be what I thought I needed to be, in order to please him. Now in one night, everything changes. One word and my life's turned right-side-up again."

"Hard to believe," Starbuck agreed. He waited, then asked carefully, "So now what?" He couldn't tell if there was more anger than pain in his friend's voice, or whether it was simply shocked wonder. He usually was so good at reading Apollo. Perhaps Apollo didn't know, himself.

The unreadable expression suddenly cleared. "Now I guess I tell you."

Starbuck started, then forced himself into neutrality. //Have to be certain he means what he's saying.// Starbuck asked, "That you like men? Over women?" He said it as if that were all that mattered, just in case it was.

"That I love you."

For a moment Starbuck simply stared. He'd known this already. He'd known all along that Apollo loved him. Loved him like... not like this. Apparently he hadn't known anything. "You're kidding?"

Apollo shook his head. "I suppose there might have been a better way to tell you. I don't exactly know what you're going to *do* with this bit of information." Without warning the confused, uncertain man was gone, replaced by the calm and competent warrior. It was like getting a briefing before a mission, Starbuck thought. //Should you run into a Cylon patrol, here's what we want you to do.//

Aloud he asked, "Do you mean that the way it sounds like?" He was surprised to notice he didn't sound shocked. He almost sounded as collected as Apollo. Behind Apollo one of the streamers had fallen. He could see the uncoloured back, recognised printouts of daily reports.

"Yes. I do." Apollo was watching him now, as if *he* were the one under duress; as if Starbuck were the one who had received the blow and now had to find his way through fire.

Starbuck considered, gauging the sincerity of his friend's composure. He seemed calm. He seemed to know what he was saying. He seemed to *mean* what he was saying. Starbuck made a decision and took a step forward, full turbos. He raised one hand. "I hope so. Because otherwise you might not appreciate this." He placed a hand on Apollo's face, and kissed him.

For a brief second there was no response and he thought he'd made a mistake. Then Apollo's mouth opened slightly, and hands pressed against his back. The feel of Apollo's body against his told him all he needed to know. They broke apart, and Apollo looked at him, suddenly uncertain again.

"Starbuck...you know how I am. I don't take relationships lightly."

With a sigh, Starbuck shook his head. "Apollo, don't you know anything? Don't you know why I never fell in love with anyone I ever dated?" He continued, as Apollo gave him a confused look. "I was already *in* love. Have been ever since the Academy. Knew I couldn't ever have you but I didn't figure on being celibate all my life. Still, no one's been able to get into my heart because you were already there."

"You're not mad at me?"

"Why would I be mad?" Tomorrow he'd stop and look back on this, wonder what had happened and why. But for now he was moving, and didn't want to stop.

"For never saying anything. For never trying... despite what my parents felt. What I thought they felt...."

"No, I'm not mad. Disappointed, maybe. We lost a lot of time. But you've always been um, how do I say this so we don't get into our first big fight? Sensitive to what your family thought about you. Whenever you think your father disapproves of something you've done, you always get so guilty that it's impossible to reason with you."

"I do not." Apollo almost smiled.

"Yes, Apollo. You do. I don't mind, really. I corrupted you pretty well in spite of it."

"You call this--?"

"Nah, I don't mean this. I never once laid a hand on you.. not like that anyway." Starbuck was feeling much too good to corral his mouth. He kept talking, knowing Apollo was going to think he was crazy, or nervous, or both. "I mean like the time I got you to provide the first stake in the Cargo Races back when we were first-line ensigns." Bored warriors had bet on everything, including races made with cargo shuttles.

"Starbuck."

"Yeah?" He stopped his babble long enough to look at Apollo. That look stopped him completely. Apollo was watching him, a small smile on his face, shutters still gone from his eyes so that Starbuck could see what he'd never been allowed to see before. An expression he'd only ever seen on Apollo's face when he'd spoken about Serina, for those few short weeks they'd had each other.

"Are you through?"

"I suppose."

"Good." Apollo moved forward and kissed him again. This time there was no hesitation on either man's part. Starbuck opened his mouth and felt Apollo's tongue slide in, not quite boldly but it didn't matter, he felt his body shaking regardless. Apollo's hands were still at his back; his own were somewhere on Apollo's arms, trying to touch through the thick, padded material of Apollo's uniform.

"Apollo."

"Yes?" All the confusion was gone, all the pain and anger tucked away as irrelevant for the moment.

"Do you want to continue this? Now, I mean?"

Apollo nodded. "Yes."

Starbuck grinned at his friend's solemnity. "You wanna go someplace more comfortable? I don't know about you, but party streamers kinda put me off."

"This from a man who's had sex in the back of a garbage scow?" Apollo grabbed his hand, and pulled him towards the second bedroom.

"It was clean! Right off the building docks." Starbuck stopped. "Hey! How'd you know about that, anyway?"

"You're kidding, right? Duri told *everyone* about it. Granted, you were gone by then, training on the Ohrkos."

"He told *everyone*? Geez... I don't believe--" He was stopped by another quick kiss. When Apollo let him go, Starbuck followed him silently into the bedroom.

The room was lit only by starlight, but Starbuck could see the uncertainty in Apollo's stance. He had no idea whether, or how often, Apollo had ever done this before. He stepped forward and caressed his lover's face, slowly leaning in to kiss him again.

He felt Apollo relax slightly, and when he broke the kiss he asked, "May I?" His hands rested on the closure of Apollo's shirt.

"Yes," came the nervous response. Starbuck smiled, and carefully opened the shirt. He touched Apollo's skin as he bared it, light fingertips across the collarbone and down towards his chest. With a glance, he saw Apollo had closed his eyes so he leaned forward and kissed where his fingers had been, drawing forth a soft inhalation.

"May I?" He asked again, and Apollo nodded. Starbuck pulled the shirt fully open, seeing nothing he had not seen before but which he had never been able to touch -- he touched now, slowly drawing his hands along Apollo's body, feeling the muscles tightening beneath his fingers. He wanted to feel more of that skin, and quickly moved back and shed his own uniform shirt. Apollo opened his eyes as Starbuck moved close, pressing his body in for an embrace.

Apollo felt warm, and strong -- like everything he'd pretended it would be, when he'd dreamt that this would be real. Like holding a friend, it was totally familiar, as if every sensation were long ago memorized. When Apollo brought his arms around Starbuck the feeling was shattered and it became completely, utterly new.

"Touch me again."

Starbuck complied eagerly, keeping his movements slow he caressed Apollo's back, ran his hands along Apollo's arms, feeling goosebumps rising as he went. He smiled, and placed a kiss on Apollo's neck. His head was taken, hands entwining in his hair to raise his face to Apollo's for a fierce kiss. Deep, searching, Apollo held him there as Starbuck continued to caress him -- the gentle touch in sharp contrast to the kiss.

"Touch me," Apollo whispered again. Starbuck nodded, and placed his hands at the waist of Apollo's uniform. Apollo stopped him with a brief touch. "Hang on." He stepped back and placed a hand on Starbuck's shoulder, balancing himself as he removed his boots. Grinning, Starbuck took the opportunity to remove his own, and then stepped back in to place his hands on Apollo's waist.

Deftly he opened the pants, not giving Apollo time to think about what was happening until he was standing naked before him. The dim light made it difficult to appreciate, but it didn't matter -- Starbuck would have gladly done this blindfolded, if it meant being able to touch him. Resuming the caresses, Starbuck soon had Apollo whimpering and shaking where he stood. Now wasn't the time to test his resolve, so Starbuck eased him towards the bed, lying down on top of him.

"Starbuck... get rid of those." Apollo tugged at Starbuck's uniform pants.

"Oh yeah." For a moment the tone had frightened him -- practical and not at all distracted, as if Apollo had changed his mind. The request, however, had quickly told him otherwise. He gave Apollo a quick kiss and stood back up, stripping quickly and crawling back onto the bed. He was glad Apollo had been married once, the large bed was a luxury for lovemaking Starbuck hadn't had for a very long time.

Lying beside Apollo, he found he could no longer find the will to think. Apollo's presence, the way he was now returning those earlier caresses, forced his brain to shut completely off until he was just a body of sensations. Warm, shivering, turning to liquid fire -- he moved his head and grabbed a tiny piece of skin with his teeth, and bit. Apollo gasped and hands clutched at him. Starbuck began to move; lying on top of Apollo he could feel his lover's erection next to his own. For a moment a thought appeared and it took over completely.

//I'm making love to him.//

Then Apollo moved beneath him and the thought shattered into action. Starbuck pushed himself up a bit, taking his weight onto his arms, and thrust slowly against Apollo. Apollo reached up and grabbed Starbuck by the waist, hanging on as he returned the motion. Head back and eyes closed, Starbuck let out a moan. Reality was dancing behind his eyelids, threatening to send him over before he was ready. //Apollo. Apollo!//

He forced his eyes open and looked down, saw his lover staring up at him, breathing hard and beginning to clutch at him with desperation. Starbuck went down and gave him a kiss, moving his hips back and forth as Apollo brought his legs up around Starbuck's thighs. Hands on his back and tongue in his mouth, Starbuck felt the trembling taking over. Straining to keep himself up, Starbuck suddenly threw his head back again and thrust harder. Apollo was holding onto him, matching the thrusts and Starbuck heard himself crying out.

It shocked him -- he never made noise when he made love. He tried to listen as he felt the orgasm hit, and as it blasted him to smithereens he heard his own voice calling out.

"Apollo!"

When he was able to open his eyes, he found himself lying on Apollo. His lover was caressing him, brushing slowly up and down his back, and whispering his name along with something else. He listened in, and heard, "I love you."

He gave Apollo a hard hug, letting go only when it sounded as if his lover wanted to breathe freely. When he moved, Apollo rolled sideways -- hanging onto Starbuck with one hand, and reached towards the endtable. He came back with a small cloth, and quickly cleaned them both up. Starbuck smiled. "I knew I loved it that you're always so practical." Apollo laughed. After tossing the cloth across the room, Apollo took him back in an embrace and settled down. Starbuck gave him a moment, then cautiously asked, "Apollo?"

"Hmm?" The other man was heading towards sleep.

"This is probably too late, but..."

He felt Apollo come awake. "But what, Starbuck?" His voice was concerned, and the hug tightened.

"Are you sure your father's OK with this? I mean, with me?"

He heard Apollo smiling as he answered, "He's the one who left us alone, remember?"

"But he.. I mean, he knew it was *me* you were interested in." Starbuck wasn't sure why he was worrying, unless it was just a sudden fear that this would all be taken away.

Apollo gave him a kiss. "He knows. And if he minded he'd have said... believe me, he'd have tried to talk me out of this if he minded at all."

Starbuck leaned up on one elbow, looking at the shadows that made up his lover's face. Before he could ask again Apollo put a hand on Starbuck's face.

"I love you, Starbuck. That's all that matters."

Finally reassured, Starbuck smiled, and lay back down. Snuggling into Apollo's embrace he heard his mind kick in and begin a thousand questions. With a yawn, and a tight hug, he ignored them all and fell asleep in Apollo's bed.