Apollo knows that, despite everything, he's a contented man.
Not always, of course. Like most people he has his good days and his bad. And on the bad days it can be hard to walk with the dead, even the beloved dead. They dog his footsteps like wraiths and they weigh heavy, do Zac and Serina and his mother. On a bad day, he feels that if he turns around fast enough, too fast for them to hide, he'll be able to see them. On a bad day, he dwells too much on the losses in the past rather than what he has left in the here-and-now. Sometimes his masochistic streak is a parsec wide.
But those days come more rarely, now. He thinks of the dead less and less, and the load they represent is lightening. They're less oppressive in their accusing silence. Sometimes he doesn't think of them for days at a stretch, too caught up in protecting the fleet, in running the squadrons and running from the Cylons, in taking care of Boxey (and knowing, in his heart, that it's Boxey taking care of him), in playing Triad and Pyramid with his friends, with Starbuck.
Starbuck's an exercise in masochism, all in himself. Starbuck's guaranteed to stop Apollo moping about the dead because Starbuck makes sure that he'll be too busy moping about his lost cubits instead; or moping about the way Starbuck feels the need to bait their opponents in Triad (and Starbuck's always especially insulting when it comes to playing the bigger security personnel. He says it brings an extra level of excitement to the game but Apollo is rarely excited by nursing his bruises and plotting ineffectual revenge on his wingman); or moping about the way that Starbuck flirts with every female in the Fleet, including Apollo's besotted sister. His stupidly besotted sister.
Still, on the whole, the here-and-now kind of day is enough to make him realise that contentment is not to be scorned.
And then there's the other exercise in masochism. His father.
"A party," repeats Apollo. "You want me to go to a party?"
"Both you and Athena," says his father, in full Presidential mode. "The Council feels that a reception for the Khassians would be a fitting way to mark the trade agreement we made with them. It was very advantageous." Adama swirls the golden Khassian wine in the glass and smiles. "Very advantageous."
Apollo prefers beer because wine makes him sleepy, especially in the middle of the day like this, but he sips the wine anyway because he's a dutiful son and his father has given him a very nice lunch. Just him and Adama. Unusual.
"We don’t get anywhere near enough opportunities to celebrate, to take the time to enjoy life," says Adama. "It will be nice for us to attend something like this as a family."
A reception. Tonight. Family presence. Celebration. Got it.
Apollo sighs. "Yes," he says.
"Formal," warns his father. "Full dress uniform."
Apollo realises he hasn't worn it since Serina's funeral and before that, the day he married her. There's a momentary sting, but it’s not serious; today isn't a walking-with-the-dead sort of day. Yet.
"Fine," he says, thinking that only in the military would a man have to have two versions of a dress uniform. Still, Full Dress Blues are (surprisingly) slightly less uncomfortable than the everyday kind. "If the moth hasn't got at it."
His father ignores that. "I'm delighted that we've met these people. You did a really good job on first contact, Apollo. Thanks to you, we've restocked our supplies and have enough for the next half-yahren."
Apollo pauses before tasting the golden wine again, a little surprised at the unexpected approval. The wine wasn't half bad. "Thanks," he says. "They're nice people."
Adama's eyes close for a micron and Apollo knows he's praying or giving the Lords thanks, or maybe that's the same thing or both? He watches, assessing and critical. Adama's a warrior to his bones, but right now he looks like a priest, all white hair and spiritual certainty. Apollo wonders if that came with age. He wonders, too, how he escaped the depth of religion that his father has. He believes, of course, but not with the passion that Adama does, and nor does he believe in precisely the same things. Apollo prefers a looser interpretation of some tenets of the faith. But still, he believes enough to bring up Boxey in the right way, and Apollo doesn’t want or need more.
"So," says his father, breaking into the thoughtful silence in which Apollo has been regarding the state of his soul. "So, who will you be bringing to the party?"
"I have to bring someone with me?"
The old man's looking less like an ascetic monk, and more like a hawk, the bright eyes pinning down his prey. No escape! No escape! chants the little voice in the prey's head as Apollo looks into the glittering, powerful gaze. You’re dead! No escape.
"You'll need a date for the evening, of course. Who will that be?"
Apollo's not stupid. He's a little slow sometimes, apparently, according to his son. Of course, Boxey wasn't his son then, he only wanted to be. Apollo supposes that it's flattering that the desire for a father — the desire to have Apollo for his father — motivated Boxey to help manipulate Apollo into marrying his mother. Apollo wonders sometimes who'd primed Boxey that night, Serina or Adama? Could have been either of them. Both wanted to hustle him into marriage.
Boxey's lucky that Apollo loves him and has forgiven him. Although Apollo may remember to hold it against Boxey when the child becomes an annoying adolescent. Boxey had better walk small, then, just in case.
No, he's not stupid and he's not really slow. It's just that he's uncomfortable in social situations — a party, for frack's sake! He'll have to talk to people and he repeats it to himself to get used to the idea: talk to people — and he uses the gaucheness to hide behind. He might like to be sophisticated and suave, but it's just so not him and he knows it. But he's definitely not stupid and he knows that his father's hustling him towards another marriage. He has, after all, just come from a softening-up lunch that came with good food and fine wine and heavy hints for dessert. Adama's made it very clear whom he'd like to see on his son's arm that night.
Last time, he hadn't realised that he didn't want to marry Serina. This time he knows he doesn't want to marry Sheba.
What is it with people whose name begins with the letter S?
He sees Athena immediately after lunch, when he arrives on the bridge to take his command stint. It's a good day when Colonel Tigh's in indulgent mood and he is today. Apollo thinks that the colonel may have been at the Khassian wine as well, the old bastard's so indulgent. Tigh disappears into the bridge office complaining loudly about the paperwork. Going somewhere quiet to sleep it off says the internal, suave sophisticate that Apollo would sometimes like to be, but isn't. His father went straight off into a Council meeting to take care of urgent business — planning the hors d'oeuvres for tonight probably, snarks the sophisticate, who not only shares Apollo's belief that even this may be beyond the intellectual capacity of his government but has a much smarter mouth when voicing it.
Colonel Tigh leaves Apollo in charge. Athena takes Tigh's departure as a God-given opportunity to sidle up to the command dais and chat. She's excited about the reception, already planning what to wear. Apollo's a fond and loving brother, for all that his sister exasperates him, and he listens patiently, half watching her, half watching the rest of the bridge crew get on with the work they're paid for. Being in command is not all it's cracked up to be.
"You can't wear that!" he says, surprised, processing what she's been saying. He remembers the dress she's been droning on about. That Dress.
"Why ever not?"
He doesn’t quite know how to tell her it's because that's the dress she wears when she expects/hopes/is counting on not being in it for very long. And that she expects/hopes/is counting on it being Starbuck taking her out of it. And that the dress, frankly, is… well, pathetic in its intent and lack of subtlety.
Yes. That Dress.
"I don't like it much," he says. "Wrong colour for you, I think."
And it's not going to work. Starbuck's way too smart for that.
"And what would you know?" she snipes back. "Besides, I've loaned out my other evening dress." And she goes back to detailing her plan of campaign for this time, absolutely, without fail, nailing Starbuck's arse to the floor and getting him.
Getting him. She actually says that. Getting him, she says.
Looks like Apollo's not the only person being hustled into untimely matrimony.
Apollo tunes her out and watches her mouth move as she goes through the litany about two people just needing time with each other to realise what they really mean to each other … blah, blah, blah. He's heard it all before and it sounds uncomfortably like Sheba in the cockpit of the Cylon fighter, telling him that maybe they fight each other so much to hide the deeper feelings. At the time he just wanted to get the damn mission over and he tuned her out the way he's tuning out Athena right now. He's good at tuning out people.
He knows it disappointed Sheba that he didn't follow up on her proposition (is that what it was? He guesses so) when he and Starbuck got back from blowing up the Cylon base ship. Well, he did follow it up to the extent that he took her back to her quarters after the party that night and he thinks that they had sex. He'd had a few too many ambrosas to be perfectly certain. It might be an indicator, he thinks, that he woke up naked and there were sticky patches in the bed.
But he got away before she woke up and he's done no more following up in the sectars since, and after a few sectons he's stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop and for her to call him on it. But maybe she can't remember that night with much clarity either. She'd had more ambrosa than he had. She's never referred to it, but sometimes she looks at him and frowns, looking faintly bewildered.
Probably wondering where the sticky patches came from, he thinks. He's lucky she didn’t think to get them tested for DNA.
It was probably bad sex, anyway, given how drunk they were. He thanks the Lords for the brain-cell removing effect that too much ambrosa has and he thinks that they fight each other because he doesn't really like her that much.
Athena babbles on. She's progressed to thinking about possible hair-styles now. Apollo sighs and looks up as their father comes onto the bridge. The Council's over and presumably all the difficult menu decisions have been made.
Adama stops beside Athena. She smiles at him, conspiratorially, and Apollo remembers what she said earlier, about loaning out her other posh dress. He thinks he can guess who'll be wearing it tonight. He looks coolly at his remaining family and wonders what special hell there is for interfering fathers and sisters and ungrateful sons.
And he wonders that if is wasn't bad enough with Ss (or should that be 'S's' or 'esses', anyway?) and if he hasn't enough to worry about with one capital letter screwing his life up, what the hell is it with people whose names begin with the letter A?
Apollo catches up with Starbuck just as they're about to come off shift, when his stint on the bridge is over and he's gone back to the Duty Office to hand over to Green Squadron. Starbuck usually complains about being left in charge, but today he's whistling, happy, his feet up on the desk. The arse that Athena wants to nail to the floor and claim as her own is parked in Apollo's chair.
"Do I still have a squadron?" asks Apollo, feeling something that might be dread.
"All present and correct. I haven't lost one of them," says Starbuck, sounding hurt. "You should trust me."
Apollo lets that lie with little more than a snort of derision, because Jillia's here. He hands over command with a feeling that ought to be relief because he isn't on duty now for seventeen glorious centars, but really is something that... yes, feels very much like dread. He wonders what the penalty is for evading a Council reception by faking a full-on Cylon attack. He thinks of his father and gives that idea up in a hurry.
"You'd better make yourself scarce," he says to Starbuck as they walk away from the office. "Athena's on the hunt."
"I know. Council reception. She got to me before you did." Starbuck looks accusing. "You could've warned me."
"I didn’t get the chance!" he protests, thinking that Adama had tipped Athena off first. She must have called Starbuck while he was trapped in the lunch with his father. Or while he was making his way back from the bridge. Not that it matters: she got to Starbuck. Nothing to be done. He resolves to stop worrying about it. "Are you going?"
"Do I look like I want to die? Of course I'm going. Only a moron turns Athena down when she's that hungry." Starbuck shrugs. "A suicidal moron, at that. It's no big deal. I'll be the perfect gentleman."
"Don't let her get you anywhere alone, or you could be the perfect married gentleman."
"She's not going to wear That Dress, is she?"
"She is." Apollo smiles at Starbuck. "Don't get me wrong, but I really don't want you for a brother-in-law."
"Mutual, old buddy. Mutual." Starbuck shrugs again. "I'll handle it. What about you?"
"Me? I'm going to go find Sheba."
Starbuck laughs, the unfeeling bastard.
It's almost a relief to get back to the familiar and stop worrying about the rest of the alphabet. But really, what the frack is it about him and people whose names begin with the letter S?
Sheba looks quite pretty in Athena's blue dress. Apollo knows that Athena doesn't really like that dress, because it's pretty and it's one that their mother bought for her. The blue dress is everything about Athena being their mother's virginal little girl and frack-all about being sexy and Starbuck's girl and Apollo refuses to think about her not being virginal any more. That way lies madness.
On Sheba, the blue dress looks less insipid, but not that much less. Sheba seems to be pleased with it, though. Apollo thinks that he'd find it more bearable if the front went down a little bit further. If he's stuck with Sheba for the evening, he'd like something to look at. A bit of cleavage in full line of sight would be some compensation.
Apollo runs a finger around his collar to loosen it. He dislikes even his Full Dress Blues, really, hating the little cape that some half-arsed designer had probably created with the words 'dashing' and 'swagger' in mind. The only words Apollo ever has in mind when he wears his cape are not those he can share with mixed company. He's forever getting the trailing ends in the sauces and dips and the damn thing costs him a fortune in cleaning bills.
At least the Council has managed to make some decisions that day and, surprise! the hors d'oeuvres are pretty good, really. Despite having had lunch with his father, Apollo is hungry. For a considerable amount of time he forgets Sheba and concentrates on the food. It may not have cleavage, but neither is it trying to trap him into marriage.
Spending all afternoon repeating 'talking to people' to himself has paid off. He can do it without stuttering or blushing. Indeed, he and the waiter have a very good conversation about the hors d'oeuvres. Apollo's intrigued to find out that some of the Khassian food has been used. It tastes of lemon and some other spice. Cinnamon, maybe. Something that makes him think of languid heat and exotic rain forests and kohl-rimmed dark eyes, anyway.
Sheba's playing the social game. Her smiles are dazzling. She clings to his arm and laughs and does the pretty, acting the gracious lady. Looky here! Looky here! I'm here! I'm here on the arm of the Commander's son. I'm the princess! Looky here, everyone!
Lots of the guests obey. Maybe they're scared of Sheba. She's awfully like her father. Lots of people give him and Sheba thoughtful, indulgent looks. So, he and Sheba are considered to be an item by the fleet's Great and Near-Great, are they? He scowls towards his father and wonders how to project sarcasm. How in the world could that could have happened?
Two great military dynasties, blah blah; daughter of a family friend, blah, blah; lovely girl, blah, blah; so proud...
Adama beckons to them and Apollo steers Sheba through the crowd to join him and the Khassian ambassador. Apollo finds it easier to talk to the Khassian Ambassador again than it is to talk to people, up to and including his date and his father.
After a while Sheba tugs at his arm. She wants to dance, she says. Pouting is not a good look on her, Apollo thinks. Her lips are too thin for it. She has been rather left out of it by the Khassian Ambassador, whose own magnificent triple cleavage is in everyone's line of sight, and Sheba doesn't do being second fiddle or second any other instrument in the orchestra. She definitely doesn’t do being second fiddle to an Ambassadorial cleavage that's so overwhelmingly there.
I mean, thinks Apollo, dazed. Three!
"I'd rather not," he says, because he hates dancing and does it badly. It goes with his talking-to-people thing and he's mad at himself for not thinking earlier that he'd need to repeat 'dancing' to himself all day, to get used to that idea too. "I don't want to dance."
"It isn’t always about what you want," says Sheba, sharply.
Apollo laughs, surprised. He hadn't realised that she did irony. Sheba stands and taps her foot, and her fingers on his arm are drumming. Ah. He'd been right the first time. The Princess doesn't do irony.
Apollo glances at his chronometer as he's marched onto the dance floor. At least a couple of centars before he'll be able to get out of here and then he'll have to walk her back to her quarters and be oblivious to any invitation she might give him.
He can see his father watching him and Sheba, glowing with benevolent approval. It'll never happen, old man, he thinks, wondering how his father will deal with the inevitable disappointment. He wonders about telling the old man, straight, that he won't marry Sheba and that's that. But then he thinks that the great and good man, the religious icon who's leading them to earth, won't let that religion and morality come between him and petty military punishments, if provoked. Apollo is all too aware that Viper laser slugs do not count themselves and he doesn't want to spend the next ten yahrens doing inventory.
He looks around to see how Starbuck's doing. Starbuck is already on the dance floor, holding That Dress closely to him. Somewhere inside That Dress — thank you, Lords, she is still inside it! — is his little sister. Apollo catches Starbuck's eye and they grin at each other. Starbuck turns his wrist to look at his chrono, and then, behind Athena's naked back — and God, you can see every knob on the girl's spine and the Lords alone know what’s holding the front up — he gives Apollo the thumbs up.
They're still safe, that thumb tells him. Still not dragooned into matrimony. Mutual support, that's always comforting. Apollo puts his arm around Sheba's waist and allows himself to be swept up in the dancing. He manages not to stand on her feet. He's tempted, mind, but his mother brought him up better than that.
Dancing, he repeats to himself, over and over, until he gets used to the idea. He's just dancing with the wrong person.
It's getting to him, what it is with all these bloody people whose names begin with the letter S. Does he deserve to be persecuted like this?
Boxey's staying over with a friend for the night. Apollo's ground crew chief, Jordan, has a son about Boxey's age. Boxey and Dillon are currently Best Friends, so Boxey is delighted to spend the night. He thinks it's a treat. Jordan doesn't say whether or not he thinks the same, but Apollo has his doubts.
Still, it's quiet here in his quarters. It's quiet and he isn't engaged to Sheba and he was politely oblivious to the way she pushed her cleavage into his chest while they were dancing — come on, after the Ambassador, he barely noticed Sheba's — and he was absolutely oblivious and dense and stupid and slow when the ball was over and he walked the Princess back to her quarters. He isn't going back in there for sex, ever. He hasn't had anywhere near enough ambrosa for that.
It's quiet and the lights are dim. He stretches out his arms and legs under the cool, thin sheets and he laughs. Hands rub at him, hold him, map him out, long fingers smoothing down his sides, and he can see wide eyes in the dusk, hear the soft words, feel the touch of lips and mouth and tongue. He's dizzy with it all, the sight and sound and feel of Starbuck.
There's a thrust, and another thrust and the burn sizzles up his spine like lightning.
It's hard to breathe. He has to shift slightly to get the angle right, and he waits until the next time Starbuck pulls out, tilting his hips until it's just right. Just perfect.
Starbuck moves slowly, pushing his big cock up into Apollo; pulling back again until Apollo's frightened he's going to lose him altogether; then Starbuck's thrusting forward again, filling Apollo with his cock and with reassurance. Starbuck leans down to kiss him and Starbuck's eyes are wide and dark, so wide that Apollo can't see the blueness any more; and Starbuck's voice is broken and thin with need and something that might be love, if ever they put a name to it. He's the one who puts that look into Starbuck's eyes. He does. Him. Apollo.
Starbuck. Apollo and Starbuck. Them.
This is them and they're still here and they’re... they just are.
This is here-and-now, and Apollo knows and feels that he's more than a contented man. He's a happy one.
And that's what’s with one person whose name begins with the letter S, anyway.
He doesn't care about the others.