Streaks

The glass didn't seem to be telling him anything. Nothing he didn't already know, anyway. He wouldn't have minded if it hadn't been the sort of thing he'd come in here to stop listening to. He stared into its depths awhile longer, hoping perhaps some unseen truths would be found at the bottom.

Nothing but polished metal. He sighed, and left the glass for the bartender along with a one cubit tip. It would have been more, for the bartender was a man one always wanted to remain friendly with. But he couldn't afford it, not today. Not all week, come to think of it. He considered the current state of his personal funds-- something he always knew with precision no matter his state of inebriation. The final amount he came up with was much lower than usual.. Just when *had* his funds dwindled so much?

It was something he could have corrected easily, one or two quick games on the Rising Star-- or, for that matter, here on the Galactica in one of those out of the way rooms the warriors gathered in for some of their more unobservable activities. But he wasn't interested in concentrating on a game. Everyone said that his ability with Pyramid and every other game he played was due to luck; it was a reputation he encouraged, for who would continue to play against him if they believed he won due to skill alone? It was just as well, he told himself, if he avoided games. He didn't think the unobserved rooms were all that unobserved, anyway.

Gambling wasn't illegal, on the Galactica or any other ship (except the Picons' ships, who disdained of any sort of "useless" pleasures). It was, however, strictly against regulations to gamble while on-duty. But for those whose on-duty time meant hanging about waiting for an alarum to sound, indulging in a few card games seemed harmless. Privately command agreed, but officially.. well that's why there were rooms tucked about where warriors could pretend no one was watching.

They were also useful for the occasional romantic liaision. Not that it was likely to matter to the warrior who'd just spent another week's pay in the officer's lounge, drinking two-yahren old ambrosia. Every lady friend he had was currently mad at him, or avoiding him for other mysterious female reasons and the chance of him ever spiriting away his real love was greater only than the chance of the Cylons deciding it was all a misunderstanding and couldn't they all get along now?

Starbuck sighed. Glancing at his chromometer he discovered he had just enough time to lie awake in his bunk for a few hours before he was scheduled for a patrol. Flying with Jolly today- thank the lords for small favours. He pushed himself away from the bar and turned to head out, back to the bachelor's barracks. He hesitated briefly when he saw Colonel Tigh walk in; he looked away from the man's gaze as the older man caught sight of him, eyes narrowing slightly. He made no move as Starbuck walked past, but as the pilot exited the club Tigh turned quickly and followed.

Tigh followed him down the hall, until in a semi-deserted stretch Starbuck stopped and waited. When Tigh stepped up beside him Starbuck glanced at his face and grimaced. He knew that look- concern, anger, determination. It meant Tigh was going to wheedle him for an explanation. Starbuck knew from experience that Tigh wouldn't take no for an answer-- and he was too good at detecting the conman's lies and distractions. He sighed, and stared down at his feet.

Tigh simply looked him over for a moment, then tugged at Starbuck's jacket. "Come on," and he walked down the hall, away from the club. Starbuck tailed after him. A few microns later Tigh entered an empty room, one used for storage and the occasional inspector's office. He leaned back against a wall, watching Starbuck closely. He didn't say anything at first, no doubt waiting to see what the younger man would offer on his own.

Starbuck fidgeted nervously, knowing exactly what it was Tigh had brought him here for-- the question was whether he'd be better off telling him the truth, or only half the truth and blaming his behaviour on stress. One look at the set of Tigh's face told him it would be the whole truth, sooner or later. With a sigh of surrender, Starbuck sat down on a crate and rubbed his face with his hands.

Tigh said quietly, "I know how much time you've been spending in the officer's club lately."

Starbuck nodded. "Been trying not to think about.. things." He hedged away from saying it now, not right at the beginning. For whatever reason he didn't want to say it aloud-- maybe to protect himself, maybe to pretend it wasn't true, that it wasn't serious.

Tigh didn't comment, but watched him, seeing the way the pilot couldn't keep his hands still-- fingers moving slightly as if they held a deck of cards, shuffling the round disks. It was a nervous habit few knew Starbuck had; those who saw him merely assumed he was getting ready to play a hand of solitaire. Of course, playing solitaire was a nervous habit of his as well. Tigh knew about both habits.

"Your lady friends seem to be spending their time with other companions."

It wasn't as harsh as it might have sounded. Starbuck never expected his ladies to restrict themselves to him alone, even as he dated two or three at once. "Yeah.." He wasn't really thinking about that, though.

Tigh walked over to stand next to him. "Starbuck.. what's wrong?" His tone was quiet, concerned, and encouraged Starbuck to tell him his secrets.

Starbuck looked up, seeing dark brown eyes focused on him and for a micron he forgot where he was, why those eyes would be staring at him so closely. Then he blinked and the supply room was there and Colonel Tigh was waiting for an answer. He opened his mouth to say something but no sound came out. Jaw shaking, he simply stared at Tigh for a long silent moment. Tigh put his hand on Starbuck's shoulder, squeezing gently.

"Is it that bad?"

Starbuck tried to nod. Then, without warning, everything seemed to break inside him and his head fell forward. "I just can't take it anymore. I don't know what I'm going to do!" Tigh listened to the desperate whisper but didn't respond. Starbuck took a deep breath and started talking. "I can't pretend I don't love him, anymore. I can't.. watch him with his family and not.. walk up and insinuate myself among 'em. I can't listen to him without losing myself. I can't work with him without being afraid I'm going to have to reach out and touch him..."

Tigh waited until it was clear Starbuck wasn't going to say anything more. Then he rubbed his hand along the other's shoulders in sympathy. "Starbuck.. I think you should tell him."

Starbuck shook his head. "You've always thought I should tell him."

With an echo of an 'of course' tone, he replied, "And you haven't.. but have things become any better?" Reluctantly Starbuck shook his head again. Tigh moved to sit beside him on the crate. "Starbuck.. even if he rejects everything you have to say, everything you feel-- you'll be no worse off than you are now."

"What, feeling miserable? Thanks," Starbuck interjected sarcastically.

"It'd be easier to fall out of love with him that way."

Starbuck stared at the empty grey wall opposite them. "But I don't want to," he whispered.

"I know. You're hoping he'll accept it." He sounded as if he were smiling.

Starbuck didn't say anything to that. There was nothing to say that hadn't been said already; in all the times they'd had this conversation over the last few weeks they'd always come to the same answers-- tell him or not, win his love or not, be miserable or not. There weren't any new answers, but Starbuck was discovering that not doing anything was a worse solution than any of the ones which frightened him. He looked over at his friend. "I don't suppose you'd ask him for me?" A ghost of a smile crossed his face as his words echoed those spoken long ago in happier times.

Tigh answered his slight smile. "How do you suggest I ask him without giving you away?" His tone was light but his words deadly serious.

Starbuck turned away with a frown. "I was only joking."

"I know."

Starbuck heard the tone of reproachment-- usually he didn't need to be told what a friend was thinking, he could read it off their faces as if they were starcharts. "I just wish things could go back to the way they were."

"When?" Tigh sounded surprised; Starbuck had never voiced this particular sentiment before.

"Before.. any of this. Before I felt so bad." The vague statement didn't answer the question and they both knew it. Before he'd realised his love? Before the colonies had been destroyed? Before he and Tigh had broken their own relationship off due to promotions and fraternisation rules and what they'd finally agreed was simply incompatibility? Starbuck didn't know what he meant-- he couldn't remember a time when he'd been really happy, for any serious length of time.

Tigh put his arm around the younger man's shoulders and pulled him closer; Starbuck leaned against him, grateful for the acceptance. "Maybe I'll stop loving him anyway.. if I just don't do anything." His voice was soft, whispering strangled words that he could only wish were true.

For a while Tigh remained silent, letting Starbuck worry things through on his own. Then, in an indulgent tone, he asked, "What would you do, if you could do anything at all?"

Starbuck smiling unwillingly, at the first thought which came into his mind. "Take him to the Harton's next week. Dance with him." Dreamily he closed his eyes and saw himself standing in the crowd, his lover in his arms, slowly whirling to an ancient waltz. Then he squeezed his eyes shut against the cruelty of dreaming things that couldn't come true. "I just want to hold him.. only once.. hold him against me and pretend that I don't ever have to let go."

The Colonel said nothing, he didn't have to as Starbuck began crying. He held his friend and ex-lover, repeating a scene they'd played out before with each of them in either role, crying over a breaking heart. It hadn't happened in over two yahrens, not since before the colonies' destruction. It had been so long since either had fallen in love.

Sometimes Starbuck wished he knew why neither of them had ever figured out how to fall in love with someone who would stick around and return that love. From falling in love with those who did not return the affection to those who did but were already sealed-- their love lives tended towards the short and disastrous. What they'd ever done to be so unlucky-- or unskilled, in love affairs Starbuck didn't know. He'd tried to avoid the pain by keeping his affairs light and brief; Tigh avoided them by having none at all. Somehow they'd managed to avoid the expected mistake of getting back together and ruining their friendship with the inevitable arguments. At times like this, though, Starbuck found himself wishing for more things he couldn't have than unrequited love.

Gradually he stopped crying, and was down to the occasional sniff and wiping his eyes. Tigh found a clean cloth among the supplies and handed it to him. "Yuu should wash your face.. there's a washroom not far."

"Yeah.." He felt dispirited, as if the crying had made things worse, instead of relieving some of his pain. He supposed it was because nothing had been solved, no decisions had been made. He wiped a hand over his face after he'd dried it with the cloth. "What am I gonna do?"

A strong grip squeezed his arm, then Tigh was standing. "You're going to go get some rest. As I recall, you're on patrol soon."

Starbuck glanced up at his friend, then shook his head. "I can't.. I can't sleep, and I can't go back to the barracks like this. Everyone will have a field day wondering what's wrong with me."

"Come on." He looked up at the confident tone. "You can use my quarters."

With a hint of a smile, Starbuck said, "And *that* won't cause speculation?"

Tigh answered the tease with a smile of his own. It was a relief they were able to make such jokes, for one of the fights they'd had most often was a disparity between what 'not letting anyone know' amounted to. He shook his head. "Not since I'll be on the bridge. Come on, Starbuck. You can't fly if you don't get some rest."

Starbuck let Tigh pull him to his feet, and followed him to the door. Before the door opened he stopped, reached out and placed his hand on Tigh's shoulder. When he looked back, Starbuck smiled. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." He nodded towards the door and Starbuck preceded him through. As they left the room and the conversation-- for now, safely behind, Staruck felt himself tense. Facing the truth was difficult even with Tigh. But pretending it wasn't true was much harder still. Perhaps with a few hours in the safety of Tigh's quarters he'd be able to sleep, not afraid of relaxing and saying anyone's name aloud in his sleep. Or even without sleep, being able to lie awake indulging in fantasies.. or more crying, would probably do him worlds of good.

Neither said anything until they reached Tigh's quarters; Tigh stopped outside the door, not following Starbuck inside. Starbuck turned, to see Tigh watching him, concern so clear on his face.

"I think you should tell him."

Starbuck only nodded resignedly. With a shrug, Tigh let the door close. Stabuck remained where he was for a moment, then turned away and headed for the bedroom. Briefly he thought of someone who might have accompanied him, then stamped on the thought with a flare of anger. He stripped off his uniform and climbed into bed, flicking off the light with a vengeful snap. It wasn't fair. Life was supposed to be easy for him-- didn't all the stories about him say so? The knowledge that it meant only that too few knew him at all, settled about him as he closed his eyes. Pulling the blankets over him he cried himself to sleep.

Warm arms closing about him woke him; he snuggled instinctively, long used to waking in the arms of a lover. His sleepy brain tried to dredge up a name-- even his most indulgent lovers resented being called by the wrong name. When he remembered where he was he froze.

"I thought we'd agreed not to do this?" He asked lightly, yet fearfully. He needed this, or something like it, too much and he was afraid he'd let his old friend do this and then they'd have all the fights to go through all over again. Odd that he was the one thinking this, he realised. Usually it was Tigh warning away from too intimate involvement.

"As I recall, you haven't asked me yet."

Slowly, like the illusion one got flying between solar systems, Starbuck turned. A smiling face and sparkling eyes greeted him.. as did warm, bare skin. Starbuck noticed that indeed they were both naked..in bed.. apparently by choice...

"Apollo..?"

"Yes?" He sounded happy but unconcerned, as if answering a query about next week's duty roster.

Starbuck let out his held breath. "I'm dreaming you, aren't I?"

The smile faded only slightly. "Yes, love, you are. I'm sorry.. but maybe next time?"

"Maybe next time," Starbuck agreed with a nod. Then he rolled close and captured his lover's mouth in a kiss. He had a moment to despair that he could not conjure up the taste of Apollo's mouth for having never experienced that particular touch. As hands pressed against his back, he lost himself in the dream. As he moaned, he said his lover's name again, delighting in the freedom.


Starbuck climbed into his cockpit with a sense of relief. He'd awoken feeling better than he had in weeks-- in spite of the aching sense of loss and despair he'd felt when he'd remembered his dreams. Simply having slept made it easier to accept. Certainly it made it easier to fly a duty patrol. Even Jolly had commented on his relief that perhaps he wouldn't have to haul Starbuck around by the collar to keep him awake and flying in the right direction.

It wasn't encouraging to discover that others had noticed his lack of sleep. He'd kept quiet about it though, letting them worry it over for themselves. He wasn't about to explain *why* he wasn't sleeping. Or why he had, finally, today.

He settled back against the hard seat of his viper and gave his helmet a slight push back. He'd never felt entirely comfortable with the odd shape of the thing-- the piece below his chin always seemed in the way. But it was one of the small inconveniences he'd learned to accept in his life as a warrior and pilot. Something he'd thought it silly, at the Academy, to complain about in the face of what wearing it meant.

Apparently there were more things he'd have to accept as inconveniences. He wished someone might have warned him. Solomon, his second year flight instructor, had seen fit to tell him about more than was in the flight book concerning the realities of war, flying, and being a colonial warrior. He'd thought the man a sort of demi-god, for his knowledge and fond attention to him. He'd found Solomon's advice coming back to him even now, so many years later, whether during battle or when fighting with a girlfriend.. or escaping another of a deserved punishment for infraction of the rules. Nothing covered his present problem, though. Nothing his memories of the man could tell him how to live with, and without, the man he loved.

It occured to him, as he sped away from the Galactica with Jolly at his wing, that perhaps Solomon had simply never encountered this particular problem before. Of if he had, never suspected the carefree, hedonistic young cadet would ever have need of that brand of advice.

"So what now, old man? What would you tell me if you knew?" He caught himself from whispering it; the mike in his helmet would have carried his voice to Jolly and that would have raised questions. Besides, talking to himself wasn't something he wanted to add to the stories folks liked to tell about him.

"What was that?"

Starbuck started at Jolly's words. He *hadn't* said them aloud, had he? "What was what, Jolly?" He kept his voice calm, as if he hadn't a clue what the other man was talking about.

"Oh, nothing," Jolly's voice came back at him, suddenly soothing in the blackness surrounding them. The fleet far behind, now, and only pinpoint lights ahead to greet them. "The Gemonese freighter's slipping again in her flightline. Caught it on my scanner, and didn't ID it right away."

"Oh." Starbuck glanced at his own scanners, and saw the ship Jolly had seen. The ship was one of those used to train new pilots, and often slipped around her flight path as unsteady hands learned how delicate even a frieghter's controls could be.

"Well, let's go see what's ahead of us, Jolly. Leave the fleet to itself for awhile."

"You got it, Lieutenant." Like any pilot, Jolly's voice showed the eagerness at the chance to get away from the fleet and fly into the unknown. The freedom so few ever had, even before the destruction, but felt so much more keenly now. Starbuck felt sorry for those who would never get the chance; sorrier still for those who never wanted it. But he thought of the long list of names, waiting for their lessons at the Genomese frieghter's helm, and knew that there were not so many of those of the latter kind. Unfortunate only that there weren't enough ships to provide for them all. He aimed his viper to parallel Jolly's, and headed into space. He didn't think of other freedoms he might have asked for.


Back on the Galactica, Colonel Tigh caught Apollo in the hallway, and asked him to his office. He'd waited until Starbuck was safely off the ship, as if the distance gave him some measure of safety in speaking with the Captain. But he'd been thinking carefully of what to say, and decided it had better be now, while he had the chance and the courage to do what he thought best for his friend, even if Starbuck disagreed. While older and by that supposedly more experienced, Tigh had learned quickly after first meeting Starbuck to trust the younger man's judgement in practically every matter.

Although Tigh had been the one to initially suggest their breakup, Starbuck had been the one to decide how it should go-- and that they try to remain friends after. Tigh acknowledged Starbuck had been right. But none of that meant he was right now, and Tigh felt something had to be done before Starbuck got too involved in hiding himself in drink and allowed serious harm to occur. Whether to himself or another, Tigh couldn't stand back and simply watch it happen. Besides, he reminded himself, as second in command of the fleet it was his duty to take care of personnel problems.

"Yes, Colonel?" Apollo asked him, face and manner open. Tigh had given him no reason to think this was anything other than a usual meeting; they met often enough over concerns of the squadrons. Sighing, he sat, and indicated Apollo do the same. He ignored the quizzical expression that appeared, as the other man sat on the other side of Tigh's desk.

"We have.. a problem, with one of the pilots." Tigh said it carefully, knowing there was no reason not to say it all at once-- all that he planned to say, that is. But even now his doubts cautioned him to go slowly.

Apollo's brow furled. "What sort of problem?" His voice didn't reveal if he knew who it was they were discussing, nor what that problem might be.

"A.. personal problem. A rather delicate one as a matter of fact. I.. don't want to take an official interest, but it needs to be addressed."

"I understand."

Tigh could tell that he did. He reminded himself that he and Apollo had always worked well enough together, and there was no reason to fear that he might be prevailing unjustly upon the Captain to deal with this carefully. He looked away, out the small round window that showed the stars at their flank. "It's Starbuck."

"I thought it might be." Apollo said it quietly, and Tigh realised that in some respects this might be an easier meeting than he'd thought. "I'll speak to him; I've been meaning to, but he never seems to be around when I'm looking for him. I'd rather hoped he'd have solved his problem by now--"

"It isn't that simple, Apollo."

"What do you mean?"

"I.." he took a deep breath. "I'm aware of the nature of Starbuck's problem and it won't.. Well the reason he hasn't been around is because he's been avoiding you. And a lot of other people."

"Oh." Apollo sat quietly for several microns. "Then I suppose I should be waiting for him when he gets back from patrol."

Tigh watched him for a moment, judging his still calm manner and obvious concern. He could tell that Apollo didn't have a clue as to the nature of Starbuck's problem-- it was equally obvious that Apollo was determined to step in and offer help to his best friend. Whether he'd do it in a way that Starbuck could accept.. well that was why Tigh had called Apollo in, today.

"I'm afraid it won't be that easy, Apollo. I wish it were.. But Starbuck has been trying to avoid resolving his problem, for fear of.. how it might turn out. Simply confronting him about it.. I'm afraid it won't help."

Tigh waited, as Apollo reacted to this. He saw in the other's expression the curiousity regarding Tigh's obvious knowledge of a problem of which Apollo hadn't been able to do more than notice its existence. "What do you suggest, Colonel?"

"There's little I can tell you. I'm sorry-- but I can warn you. The most important thing, for Starbuck, is to know.. that he doesn't stand to lose your friendship." He saw the startled look and nodded. "It's that serious. Before you ask him anything, before he can tell you anything, tell him how you feel. Let him know what-- if anything, there is that he could do which would make you decide his friendship isn't worth it. It's important, Apollo, that he know. Before he tells you what's wrong.. if he will. If he doesn't, tell me and I'll..." He dropped off, not knowing what the threat would be. Tell Apollo? Force Starbuck to? It didn't matter. He could solve that when it arose, for now he had done enough to ensure Apollo would not let Starbuck to continue to avoid this problem.

A shade paler, and obviously worried, Apollo asked, "Is there anything else?"

Tigh shook his head. "I know I've upset you, Apollo, but.. Starbuck needs.. something. And he needs you to help him."

Apollo nodded, and stood. "Thank you, Colonel. I'll see him as soon as he returns. Don't worry-- I won't let him off without telling me the truth."

Tigh could tell, from the determined scowl he'd seen often enough on the Commander's face, that Starbuck would indeed not be let off easily. He silently wished both men luck, and prayed he'd done the right thing.


His flight crew had been totally silent when he'd returned, and now Starbuck fidgeted nervously in the decom room. Even Jenny had simply looked at him and accepted the helmet he'd flung at her, not responding to his brisk chatter. Something was wrong, that was obvious-- but for that kind of silence to be directed at Starbuck... It was as if he'd been accused and convicted of some minor crime, during his and Jolly's absence. A major crime and Jenny'd been railing at him for his stupidity, or the judge's. But this.. this was something they believed he'd done, or hadn't when he'd supposed to.

The problem was, he *hadn't* done anything. So why the silent treatment? He shook his head, as the green light flashed. Someone would tell him, eventually. Surely whatever it was, not everyone believed it. He stepped out of the decom room and froze. Apollo was standing there, just dismissing Jolly. The look Apollo gave Starbuck, when he turned to regard him, was severe. Starbuck felt a cold stone in his throat, and wondered again just what it was they thought he'd done.

"Starbuck.. we have to talk."

Oh lords.. the no-arguments tone was not one Starbuck was used to hearing turned on him, except for his worst escapades.

"What's wrong?" He asked cautiously, for he still had no clue-- he *hadn't* done anything. Not in two months, tops.

"Not here," Apollo shook his head, and started off down the hall, one hand firmly grasping the sleeve of Starbuck's jacket. Starbuck followed, heart pounding. He'd been avoiding Apollo for reasons of his own, now he apparently had another to wish for an excuse to make an escape. But Apollo dragged him to the duty office, and chased out the ensign there, telling him his duty shift was over.

The look on the ensign's face made Starbuck renew his desire to be anywhere in the fleet but here. But he waited silently as Apollo turned to look at him.

"Ok, Starbuck. We have three hours.. and I want you to tell me what's wrong."

"What?" The request took him completely by surprise.

"I asked everyone, and no one seems to know what's wrong with you-- but everyone knows you haven't been sleeping, haven't been up to any of your usual off-duty pursuits, that instead you've been drinking and avoiding your friends. I want to know why."

Starbuck took a step back, feeling the shakes beginning in his hands and wishing he had a deck of cards to hide it with. Unfortunately he had none, and Apollo was between him and the door. He said nothing, and waited.

"Starbuck.." Apollo sighed, and Starbuck regreted the pained and worried look that crossed his friend's face. "Don't you know I want to help? You know you can trust me, you can tell me anything. You're my best friend, and I'm concerned about you. You don't have to be afraid of telling me what's troubling you." He paused, then the set of his face changed and he spoke with a level of assurance that was so typical of him. "Before you tell me what's wrong, I need to explain something to you. You are my friend, my best friend, and nothing is ever going to change that." Starbuck looked down at his feet, unable to look him in the eye, wishing he didn't have to hear this.

Apollo continued, voice softer and practically begging Starbuck to trust him. "Starbuck, you are the best friend I have; sometimes you've been as close to me.. as a brother, sometimes more. I consider you part of my family.. and whatever is wrong, Starbuck, I'd rather know so I can help you. I can't just stand back and watch you hurting.. not if I can convince you to let me help." When Starbuck said nothing, he added, "Starbuck, I can't imagine anything that would make me feel differently."

"I can." He wasn't sure he'd said it loud enough for Apollo to hear.

"So tell me." Apollo had moved closer, and was standing almost close enough to touch. Starbuck felt the yearning, to lean forward and let Apollo hold him. But he couldn't, and that was his whole problem. He couldn't. But he had to do something; perhaps he could give Apollo enough to make him not demand he speak.

"Apollo.." he stopped, swallowing, and tried again. "Have you ever wanted to make love to another man?" He kept his eyes averted, staring at the deck. Every muscle in his body was tense, knowing that whatever happened now might decide the unhappiness of his future.

"It's interesting that you should be the one asking me that." The amusement in Apollo's voice cut at him, telling him that yes, he had been right to hide his feelings. No one would ever believe that he, lover of a thousand moons, would ever have such a desire. He felt his eyes water and prayed that whatever happened now, he could salvage the friendship he still had-- for he'd still be working with the man, and hating and being hated was not something he could bear. Then Apollo continued. "But the answer is yes."

Starbuck's head whipped up, almost showing his incredulation through the fear. "You.. have?"

Apollo nodded, and Starbuck saw the way he relaxed, as if discussing it was not a thing to worry over. A glimmer of an idea began, and Starbuck saw a way to explain himself without saying what he still knew he could not. He could blame it all on this, something Apollo could understand- for even if the Capricas had accepted same-sex liaisons, other cultures had not and it would not be unexpected that a warrior would fear such desires. Especially one who, as Starbuck had, spent so much time with those from the disapproving worlds. Apollo's next words destroyed that hastily fabricated plan.

"Ever since I saw you, at the Acadmey, I've found you atttractive." Apollo half-smiled, as if the thought now amused him.

Starbuck blinked at him. "Me?"

"Yes," Apollo nodded. "Are you surprised? Everyone else finds you attractive, why shouldn't I?"

"You.. you never said." Starbuck stared at his friend, wondering just when the altimetre had flipped over.

He saw the smile appear, and saw with a start the sadness in it. "I had no intention of becoming another one of your many conquests. I wanted more-- so I became your friend. I think I got the better deal."

The smile didn't waver, and Starbuck had the feeling that he was talking to a man who only wore the face of his second oldest friend. "You.. you could have told me." He wasn't sure why he said it, wasn't really thinking anymore.

"Why? Starbuck.. even if.. if you'd taken me up on it, it wouldn't have lasted more than a week. That's not what I want from a lover. I need someone who's going to be part of my life for as long as he.. or she lives," his voice caught, and they both thought of the woman he had married. Starbuck wanted to say something, reflexively wanting to ease Apollo's pain, but the only things his mind offered were questions. Apollo went on. "I need commitment, and anyone who saw you knew.. knows you aren't the commiting kind. Not as a lover. As a friend you've been.. nearly ideal." Again that strange smile, and Starbuck found himself wondering how intense Apollo's attraction had been-- why it was he'd never noticed it. Even at the Academy he'd know of his own attraction to men, he'd known also of the many worlds who'd frowned at such behavior and learned not to show it except in the safety of others who knew. That as how he'd managed to keep his and Tigh's relationship a secret.

He found himself thinking that Apollo had stolen yahrens from them, with his refusal to speak, then realised he was right. Had Apollo told him he would have gladly had the affair.. and that's all it would have been. But Apollo was wrong about one thing, although Starbuck knew he was justified. Starbuck had never displayed, publically, anything to make a person think he was capable, or interested, in commitment.

"Apollo.. I'm sorry."

Apollo was still smiling, and Starbuck realised it meant his friend was not still suffering from an unrequited love-- or lust. So then, how would he react to Starbuck's news? Starbuck didn't know when he'd decided to tell him.

"Don't be, Starbuck. It was long ago, and we were kids. We're friends now, that's all that matters."

Starbuck slowly shook his head. "It isn't."

There was silence for a moment, then Apollo stepped sideways to sit on the desk. "What else is it, Starbuck? Tigh said it was serious, that-"

"Tigh?!" He couldn't believe it. "What did he tell you?"

Eyes narrowing slightly, Apollo answered, "He said that whatever it was that was wrong, was serious.. that I should let you know that it wouldn't change how I feel about you. He said you needed my help."

"Oh he did, did he?" The sarcasm hid the renewed surge of fear.

"Yes, he did. He wouldn't say anything else.. except to make sure I told you how I felt, before I found out what was wrong."

"He didn't.. he didn't tell you what I.." Starbuck's head was swirling. He needed to sit down and work this all out; he felt nearly out of control and he wasn't used to it.

"Starbuck.." Apollo stood up and came forward, taking hold of his arm. "It's all right.. you can tell me. Tigh didn't say anything he shouldn't have."

Closing his eyes, Starbuck surrendered to the inevitable. Without time to retreat and decide on a course of action, all he could do was follow Apollo's lead and hope for the best. It wouldn't be the first time. "I.. I've fallen in love with someone."

"A man." Apollo's voice was calm and accepting. Starbuck nodded. "Starbuck, there's nothing--"

"But that isn't the problem." He knew he'd surprised Apollo, but still wouldn't open his eyes. "I've loved men before, even.. even tried to commit to one." Then he did open his eyes, needing to see whether Apollo would believe him. He saw surprise, as he'd known he would. "It didn't work out, and even though we remained friends.. I.. well after that I never had much luck falling in love with the right person. I went back to the way I was, in the Academy, dating so many people for never very long.. so I wouldn't fall in love again. It hurt too much, you see, and I couldn't deal with it. And everyone got the idea that I wasn't the settling down type, and didn't expect anything different. Then I fell in love with someone who could never.. love that kind of person and I.. I can't.. I couldn't tell him. He'd never have believed me."

As Starbuck's whisper faded away his tension did too. Oddly, he found that having said nearly enough to reveal it all he felt at ease. It was said, and now there was nothing he could do but wait for the reaction that would tell him what he'd done.

Apollo was staring at him, not revealing anything in his expression. "Who?"

Starbuck took a deep breath, glanced away, and found he couldn't say it. Afraid even now, he waited.

"Starbuck.. do you love me?" Starbuck nodded, reading nothing in the flat tones he knew so well; remembering again how well his friend could hide his feelings, even from his family and friends, it was no wonder he'd never discovered the cadet's desires. The flat voice intruded on his realisations. "What do you want from me?"

"I don't know." It was an honest answer-- the things he'd had before from lovers had never proved to last, and this.. this felt like something he didn't want to lose.

"Do you want to make love to me?"

Starbuck glanced over, briefly, and saw a face as unrevealing as the voice. "If I can." If you'll let me, he thought.

"And if you can't?"

"I.. I want to be with you. I want to stay as near to you as I can. I want to.. spend the evenings with you alone, or with your family, or.. or with anyone you want as long as I can be there too. I want to see you first thing every morning.. last thing every night. I.. just want to touch you and tell myself I don't have to stay away."

He was crying now, but he didn't care. Apollo was right, friends shouldn't hide themselves from each other.

"Starbuck.. I never thought you were.. that you'd ever love someone like this. Let alone me." The flatness has vanished, replaced by tenderness. Starbuck turned back, his vision blurred. Apollo reached up and wiped his cheek dry. "Starbuck.. why didn't you just tell me?"

"Because I couldn't stand the thought you'd say no. Or yes, for that matter." He half-smiled.

He heard a small laugh, and Apollo replied, "I suppose I can understand that. If you've never.. had a relationship succeed you couldn't expect this one to, either."

Starbuck nodded, glad that Apollo understood-- and more, that he didn't seem to be rejecting him. In fact.. Starbuck went back over what Apollo had said. He blinked a few times, clearing his eyes. Apollo was watching him, still standing close, still smiling.. and the look in his eyes was one Starbuck recognised. "Apollo?"

"I love you too, Starbuck."

Whatever Starbuck might have said in response to that he never knew, because suddenly he was discovering something he never thought he'd know-- the taste of Apollo's mouth. He held onto Apollo's jacket as if for fear of drowning, and let Apollo kiss him. When Apollo would have moved away, he began kissing him back. A hand moved up his back, underneath his flight jacket, and his body trembled.

He broke off the kiss and leaned in against Apollo, unwilling to disturb the relished moment with thoughts or questions. He closed his eyes and was unspeakably glad that Apollo held him tightly, the truth of his words shown in the action Starbuck had longed for. To hold on and never let go.. or pretend he'd never have to. It was all he wanted, all he asked for, even when his dreams gave him more it was not what he knew he needed most. It was this, this body wrapped against his tightly, telling him he was loved and his own love was accepted, letting him forget all his failures before, letting him believe that this might be forever. A moment in love *is* forever, he remembered now old Solomon saying.

Perhaps he'd been given advice for this, after all. He grinned suddenly and looked at Apollo. The tears in his love's eyes made him pause, then he smiled. "Apollo, will you marry me?"

For a second Apollo said nothing, jaw uselessly hanging down. "I figured you were going to ask if we could sneak off to my quarters."

With a grin, and a feeling of elation he hadn't felt in months, Starbuck pointed out, "We chased off the duty officer, remember? We have to stay here for another two hours. And I know how you feel about fooling around on duty."

Apollo laughed. "So instead you decide to ask me to marry you?"

Subdued, Starbuck shook his head. "This isn't about making love to you, Apollo. I'm not asking you because I know.. well, I know you and Serina didn't make love before your wedding night." He ignored the shocked expression and mumbled demand. "I'm asking because it's what I want. Of all the things.. I can't promise you, I can promise you to be yours forever..I love you, and I want.. I want to do this right." He finished, feeling as if it weren't the most polished speech he'd ever given. But the look on Apollo's face made him think he'd done it well enough.

"So what are we going to do for the next two hours?" The joy was a delight to behold; Starbuck was rather surprised he'd caused it. He felt for a moment still out of control; none of this was happening the way he'd imagined. Except of course, late at night when he couldn't sleep, and his dreams came at him in the freedom of the darkness.

"Sit here, just the two of us. Alone."

Nothing could match the freedom he'd found, though, in the sparkle of his love's eyes.