It was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do. Not just telling him, though Lords know that was hard enough, but watching the light in those expressive green eyes gradually darken, and then die.
I hadn't failed to notice the changes in him recently. He'd smiled more, and when he laughed, it sounded as though he meant it. For the first time in too long, he actually seemed happy. I'd just been waiting for him to tell me. So when he came to see me and asked in an uncharacteristically diffident way if I was busy, I had a fairly good idea of what it was he was going to say.
I was right. The one thing that did come as a surprise was his choice of partner. He had come to tell me that he and Starbuck were together.
Somehow I suspect that my expression gave away my shock because he suddenly laughed, his awkwardness disappearing as he did so.
"I know it's not exactly what you had in mind for me," he said, sounding almost apologetic. He knew of the plans Ila and I had made over the years for each of our children, and that all of them had involved successful careers, happy marriages, and lots of grandchildren. "But I'm happy, Father. Really happy."
I tried to wrap my mind around the enormity of this news. My son and Starbuck? I'd once thought to see Starbuck as my son in law, but never this way.
"What about Athena?" I blurted it out, my composure still shaken. I couldn't bear to see the child hurt any more than she already had been.
Apollo's eyes were steady on my face. "Starbuck's spoken to her, and so've I. She said she's ok about it, that she isn't really too surprised." A sudden smile lit his face, warmer and happier than any I'd seen since he lost Serina. "If she really did know, I wish she'd given us both a clue a bit earlier."
"You do love each other?"
"Of course we do."
I took no notice of the sudden flash of annoyance in his voice because the prospect of taking that hard-won happiness from him was tearing me apart. I knew what I had to do.
"Sit down, Apollo."
He'd been so edgy earlier that he'd declined my offer of a seat and had instead leaned against my desk while he talked to me, fiddling all the time with the ornament on it which Ila had given to me. Now he put it down to sit in a chair, and I couldn't read look he gave me. I took a deep breath and prayed for the Lords and Ila to give me the strength for this.
"Apollo, it's out of the question."
Instead of the explosion I was expecting, he went very quiet and still.
"I'm not asking for your permission, Father."
"You're his commanding officer. You know the rules: fraternisation across ranks is expressly forbidden. You know the penalty for it as well as I."
"Those rules were before the Destruction!" He was on his feet, trembling, though whether it was from rage or shock I couldn't tell. "Everything's different now, we're having to work things out as we go along. You know that!"
Yes, I knew that. But some rules are put in place for good reasons.
"And you didn't spout about rules when Serina was training as a pilot," he continued, eyes suddenly very hard on my face. "Is this really about the rules, Father, or is it because I'm with another man?"
I had to keep a tight rein on my own temper then. Could he really think me so bigoted? "Of course it's not that," I snapped. "I said nothing with Serina because it was an emergency measure. She would have gone back to shuttles once the real pilots had recovered, and would no longer have been under your direct command."
"Hold it right there." His expression was the one which regularly sent junior officers diving for cover. "You're telling me one minute that fraternisation across ranks is forbidden, and the next that it's permitted?"
"If it's outside the chain of operational command," I told him. "You spoke of adjustments to suit our altered circumstances; that's one of them."
I could see he wasn't convinced.
"Just stop and think about it for a moment, Apollo." I walked over to him and laid my hand on his shoulder. He stiffened beneath it, and for a moment I thought he would shrug me off.
"Apollo, what do you think will happen to discipline if the Captain is known to be having a fling with one of the officers he is responsible for?"
"We are not having a fling." He got it out from between clenched teeth.
"Whatever name you give it, then. It makes no difference. You know how - well, how idiosyncratic Starbuck is." I paused for a moment, unable to stop the smile touching my lips as I thought of that young man. "How long before he questions your orders, or even disobeys them?"
I raised a hand to stop Apollo's protest. "Yes, I know that's how he's been for a long time now, but as soon as you're known to be in a relationship, everyone will see it differently."
"You don't think too much of me, do you, Father?" He moved away from me, his face averted. "You really think I'd show favouritism and let him get away with it?"
"No, you're too much my son for that," I said. "If anything, you'd probably have him on permanent report."
I watched him still standing with his back to me, rigid with anger. His uncharacteristic control of his temper told me as much as anything else had how much this meant to him. It was only by a real effort of will that I kept from going to him.
"Apollo, listen to me. I know you would never take advantage of your relationship, and I don't believe Starbuck would either, not when it counted. But what about the thousands of people who don't know you like I do, who you are sworn to protect? What will they think when we're next threatened by Cylons and they suspect that you'll be too busy protecting one another to protect the defenceless?"
He swung round furiously. "I don't give a flying frack! If they don't know by now, after the way we've risked our lives, risked one another's, again and again, then they can take their suspicion and shove it up their collective small-minded astrum."
"Well, I see that being with Starbuck certainly hasn't improved your language."
As an attempt at lightening the atmosphere, it fell sadly flat. His eyes were dark with fury as he glared at me.
"Alright, then," I said carefully. "But what about when it's seen that fraternisation across ranks is accepted and the next ones pair off in a relationship? And the next and the next? We'll end up with a squadron in which pilots have so many split loyalties that there's no longer a meaningful chain of command. They'll become nothing more than an undisciplined bunch of individuals. They won't have a hope against the Cylons."
I forestalled the outburst I could see coming. "No, Apollo. Let me finish. Tell me truthfully, now: if it came down to a choice where you could either save Starbuck or one of your other pilots, who would you choose?"
I saw the slow dawning of realisation in his eyes. I knew I didn't need to drive the point home about how it would destroy the pilots' confidence in their leader. The very confidence which at the moment was one of the painfully few advantages we had over the Cylons.
"What if I wasn't Captain?"
It was so soft that it took a moment to register. Then I stared at him in shock; my son, who had graduated from the Academy top of his year, whose intelligence and ambition had all been focused on his career and on his duty, was considering throwing it all away?
His eyes were lowered, as though he didn't want to see the expression on my face. It took me a few moments to get my answer together. I had to get this right. I'd have no second chance.
"Apollo, that's not an option." I kept all inflection out of my voice. I was stating a fact, nothing more. "There's no one to replace you as Captain."
"Boomer." His head had risen, and I saw that he really was serious about this.
I shook my head firmly. "He's good, solid, second-in-command material, but he'll never make a leader. They'd obey him, but they follow you. They'll do anything for you, even if it seems to make no tactical sense."
It hit home. He knew I was right. I continued, pressing my advantage. "We can't risk putting an inexperienced man in when we have an experienced and capable one right here. We have so few Vipers that it would only take one misjudgement for the squadron to be destroyed. If that happens, Apollo, what happens to the fleet? What happens to the people you've sworn to protect?"
He swung away from me again, and I could see that his shoulders were rigid.
"So what you're saying is that I - that Starbuck and I - have to sacrifice any chance of personal happiness for the good of the fleet."
His voice faltered on Starbuck's name and I felt suddenly old as I moved across the room to him.
"As we all have to," I told him, gripping his shoulder tightly. "Remember, Apollo; when it hurts, remember how much more others have given."
He winced under my hand, and I knew he too was remembering Zac.
"All right, Father. You've made your point." His voice was husky, and he wouldn't look at me as he shook off my hand and made his way blindly to the door.
I watched him palm the control and leave, and as the door slid closed behind him, I sat down heavily in my favourite chair. Lords, there were times when I wished someone would take the burden of command from me. But I had no choice if the fleet were to survive. Just as Apollo had no choice. I knew my son well enough to know that, whatever he might want to do, he would do his duty. The relationship between him and Starbuck would be ended before this cycle was out.
My eyes were stinging as I closed them and prayed yet again for a swift end to this odyssey.