"You look terrible," Starbuck said to Apollo when they met in the officers' mess for their midday meal.
"Boxey's been sick," Apollo said. "Keeping me up all night."
"What's wrong with him?" Starbuck asked in concern.
"Don't know. Probably some bug going around."
"Where is he now? I assume you didn't send him to learning period."
"No, he's back in my quarters. Cassie is with him because I had to do patrol. She's probably better at looking after him than I am, being a med tech."
"Do you think it's serious?" Starbuck wanted to know. "Have you taken him to Life Centre?"
The Captain sighed. "I haven't taken him because it might not be serious. I don't really know how to tell, but I'm sure Cassie will know. I'm glad she's willing to help me out so much. I'm so new at being a parent. I don't know if I'm doing anything right."
"Every parent starts out as a new parent," Starbuck commented.
"But not every parent starts out as a new parent to a six-yahren-old," Apollo replied. "When I was a kid it was always my mother who looked after me when I was sick, not my father. I just wonder sometimes if Boxey would be better off with a woman to look after him."
"You planning on getting sealed again?"
"I don't know," Apollo groaned. "I don't know if I should just choose one of the women that have been throwing themselves at me since Serena died," he shuddered, "or find some nice couple who might want to adopt a child, or...." His voice trailed off.
"I didn't just hear you say you want to give Boxey up, did I?" Starbuck demanded. "If you think his mother's death was traumatic, losing the only parent he has left will be even worse."
"But am I his parent? Does having been married to his mother for two days make me his father? I don't know if living with me is the best thing for him. I guess it's better than the orphan barge, but not by much."
"Living with you is definitely the best thing for him. Where are these doubts coming from, all of a sudden?"
Apollo put his head down on his arms. "I don't know," he said again.
"When did you last get some sleep?" Starbuck asked.
"I don't remember."
"Why didn't you stay in your quarters and take a nap when you had the chance?"
"Apollo, even Colonel Tigh would understand if you couldn't make it once in awhile."
"I have a responsibility."
"You have a responsibility to your son."
Apollo checked the time. "Speaking of my son, I have to get back to him. Cassiopeia has to go to work." He left the officers' mess without further comment.
About a centare later....
Apollo opened the door to his quarters to find Starbuck standing there. "What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Relieving you," Starbuck answered. "I spoke to Colonel Tigh. You and I are excused from duty until further notice."
"You and me both? What are you talking about?"
"I mean that I am going to sit with Boxey, and you are going to get some sleep. Now go to bed. That's an order."
"I outrank you," Apollo protested.
"Consider it an order from Tigh, then. But before you turn in, what did Cassie have to say about Boxey's condition?"
"She thinks it's a virus, but she took him to Life Centre for some tests just to be on the safe side."
"So is there anything we can do for him? Any medicine we can give him? Antibiotics?"
"No, she said that antibiotics won't work on a virus, and the side-effects might even make him feel worse. Basically, all we can do is cold compresses for the fever, children's painkillers for his aches and pains, some anti-nausea remedy if he starts throwing up." Apollo yawned.
"All right. I'll take over. Bed, Apollo now."
Apollo was too tired to argue. He did as he was told, and collapsed on his bed. He was asleep in microns.
Starbuck went into Boxey's room. He was pleased to see that Boxey was asleep, because he wasn't feeling nearly as confident as he'd sounded when ordering Apollo around. He didn't know even as much as Apollo did about taking care of a child.
Boxey stirred. "Hi, Starbuck," he murmured sleepily. "What're you doing here?"
"I'm going to look after you while your dad gets some sleep," the Lieutenant answered.
"Oh. 'Kay," Boxey said.
"How are you feeling?"
Starbuck knew this was a typical 'kid' reaction, but he figured he needed some more information. "Where do you feel yucky?"
"Everywhere," whined Boxey.
This wasn't helping. "Does your head hurt?" Starbuck asked.
Well, there was medicine for that. "What about your stomach?"
"That hurts, too."
Uh-oh. "Do you feel like you're going to throw up?"
Boxey thought for a micron. "Don't think so. Not right now."
Starbuck read the information on the medication labels. The headache/general pain reliever listed nausea as a possible side effect, so he figured it wasn't a good idea to give that to Boxey. The stomach remedy might help, though."Think you could take some medicine, kid? It should help your tummy ache."
Boxey murmured his assent, and Starbuck poured the medicine into a spoon and gave it to him. Then Boxey lay back on his pillow. "Going back to sleep, now, are you?" Starbuck asked.
"Would you read me a story?"
Starbuck didn't think he'd ever read anyone a story before, but there was a first time for everything. He chose a book from the pile next to the bed and started reading. It wasn't long before Boxey was asleep again. Starbuck watched him sleep. He was surprised that Boxey had just accepted his being instead of Apollo. But Boxey had always been very fond of him, treating him as a kind of 'uncle.'
Sometimes Starbuck wondered what it would be like to have his own child. Even though he'd always told himself he liked having no attachments, once in awhile he envied people who had families, something he himself had never had.
A few centares later....
Apollo emerged from his bedroom with a yawn. He could hardly believe how long he'd slept. He immediately went to Boxey's room, where he found Starbuck taking Boxey's temperature.
"Have a good sleep?" the Lieutenant asked, reading the thermometer.
"You shouldn't have let me sleep so long," Apollo complained.
"You needed it. You won't be able to look after Boxey if you get sick yourself." Starbuck read the thermometer. "Still has a fever." He replaced the cloth on Boxey's forehead with a fresh cold one.
"Look, you can go back to the Bachelor Officer's Quarters now. I've had some sleep. I'll be fine now. I'm sure you have plans with Cassiopeia, or Athena, or...."
"I'm staying right here," Starbuck replied. "I called Cassie and told her I'm staying here with the two of you. She was nice enough to bring us some food. Athena wanted to help too, but she has a shift on the bridge."
"Food?" Apollo said in a hopeful voice. He hadn't been able to finish his earlier meal in the officers' mess because he'd been too tired to eat.
"We even have chocolate mushies. Except those are for Boxey, if he's feeling up to eating them." Muffit barked at hearing the word "mushies." "Sorry, these aren't for you," Starbuck said to the daggit. "Go stay with Boxey while we eat."
As the two warriors sat down to eat their meal, Apollo asked, "Why are you doing this?"
"Staying here, helping me look after Boxey. Don't you have other things to do?"
"Like I said, I cancelled my plans," Starbuck answered. "As for why I'm here, you're my friend and it looks like you need my help. And I care about Boxey too, you know."
"I know," Apollo said quickly. "I don't mean to say that you don't. I'm just a bit surprised, I guess. I don't know why; you've always been there when I need you. I guess I just thought you'd have better things to do than be here with me and a sick child."
On impulse, Starbuck reached across the table and took Apollo's hand. "Apollo, there is nothing better for me to do than be here with my best friend and his son."
Apollo looked at their joined hands, and Starbuck, feeling suddenly self- conscious, took his away. He finished his meal without looking at his friend. He didn't know what had made him decide to hold Apollo's hand. He didn't even usually hold hands with his girlfriends. "Let's take some mushies to Boxey and see if he feels like eating," he said when he'd finished eating.
Unfortunately, as much as Boxey enjoyed the mushies, he threw up almost as soon as he ate them. Apollo took him to the washroom to clean up, while Starbuck gathered up the bed clothes, put them in the recycler, and re-made the bed.
"You didn't have to do that," Apollo protested when he brought Boxey back into the bedroom.
"Apollo, when are you going to learn to accept help from your friends?" Starbuck asked.
Apollo didn't answer. Starbuck wasn't really expecting an answer. He didn't know why Apollo had such a hard time accepting help, but he was going to continue offering it, and if he had to he would force Apollo to take it.
"You can go back to the BOQ now, if you want," Apollo suggested to his friend. "I've had enough sleep for now, so you should get some yourself."
"How about I just stay here? I can sleep on the longseat. It's not that much more uncomfortable than the bunks in the BOQ. Then I can relieve you in a few centares. We can take turns sleeping and looking after Boxey."
He hadn't been expecting this, but Apollo realized that it was a sensible idea. "If you're going to stay, you may as well sleep in my bed while I'm not using it."
Starbuck accepted this offer and was soon asleep in Apollo's bed.
About a centare later, Apollo woke him. "Star, Boxey's fever has shot up. I think we should take him to Life Centre."
Starbuck was out of bed and dressed in ten microns. He and Apollo rushed to Life Centre, with Apollo carrying a scarily limp Boxey.
The Life Centre staff took Boxey from them, and Apollo and Starbuck sat down to wait. Apollo was berating himself for not getting medical attention for Boxey sooner. "Why didn't I bring him here before?" he moaned.
"I thought you told me that Cassie brought him in. Surely if there was anything seriously wrong, she'd have known it."
"She didn't have the test results back yet, so she didn't know for sure if there was anything serious. Besides, I'm his parent, so I should know these things!"
"Give yourself some credit, Apollo. Like you keep saying, you're still new to being a parent. You're learning. I think you're doing a great job."
Dr. Salik came to talk to them. He told them that the tests Cassiopeia had run showed no infections, so her suspicion that Boxey's symptoms were caused by a virus were correct. He had given Boxey some medicine to bring his fever down, along with an anti-viral drug. Because the drugs had some side effects that would probably make Boxey feel even worse before he felt better, the doctor had also given him a sedative to make him sleep for the next few cycles.
The two warriors stayed at the Life Centre for several centares, taking turns going to sit next to Boxey's bed. Finally the doctor told them to go back to their respective quarters; Boxey would be asleep for a long time yet, and wouldn't know they were there. He promised to call Apollo's quarters if Boxey showed any sign of waking up.
Starbuck was going to go back to the BOQ, but Apollo told him, "Come back to my quarters. That way you'll be there if I get any calls about Boxey's condition."
Both warriors were very tired. Neither of them had had enough sleep, Starbuck because his sleep time had been interrupted by the urgent need to rush Boxey to Life Centre, and Apollo because he'd been at Life Centre during what would have been his turn to sleep.
"Go to bed, Apollo," Starbuck urged him. "I'll sleep out here. I'm sure the Stellar Com signal is loud enough to wake us if we're needed." He realized he was saying 'we' even though Apollo was Boxey's parent and he was not.
"Bed's big enough for two people," Apollo answered. It had, after all, been meant for him to share with Serena. "We can both use it."
So it was that they both slept in the same bed. Starbuck had never shared a bed with another man before; he'd only shared with women, and always because of sex. He'd sometimes had to share a bed as a child at the orphanage, because they had always been overcrowded, but as an adult he'd only shared beds with sex partners.
Boxey's recovery took a few more days. Apollo and Starbuck spent each of those days the same way. They spent almost all of the day in Life Centre. Boxey was asleep for much of that time; even though he wasn't taking sedatives anymore, his illness had taken a lot out of him. Starbuck and Apollo took turns sitting with him. Sometimes they both sat with him, but the Life Centre staff usually caught them and shooed one or both of them out. At night they would go back to Apollo's quarters, and they continued to share the same bed.
The doctors, nurses and medical technicians in Life Centre treated them as if they were both Boxey's parents. The two warriors didn't realize this at first, but eventually Starbuck realized that he was included in everything. No one acted as if he was anything but Boxey's parent, even though he wasn't.
They were able to take Boxey back to Apollo's quarters after three days. It took another several days before Boxey was back to normal. When he was, Starbuck knew that it was time he returned to the Bachelor Officer's Quarters. Boxey would be going back to school the next day, and he and Apollo were returning to duty. He would miss being here. He would especially miss sharing a bed with Apollo. He had gotten used to it, and he wished he hadn't. He should have known it would come to an end eventually. Apollo hadn't said anything, but Starbuck knew that he wasn't needed anymore.
"Where are you going?" Apollo asked when he saw Starbuck packing up the overnight bag that he'd brought with him the first night he'd stayed over.
"Back to the BOQ. Boxey's better now. You don't need me anymore. I'm sure you'd like to get your quarters back."
"Starbuck, don't go."
"I don't want you to go," said Apollo. "I want you to stay here with me and Boxey."
"Boxey's fine. You don't need me anymore."
"I want you to stay. Boxey needs another parent, and you've filled that role the way no one else could. I could really use your help in raising him."
"So you want me to stay because of Boxey?" Starbuck asked.
"Not just because of Boxey. Because of me. In the time that you've been here with me, taking care of me almost as much as you've been taking care of Boxey, I realized that I want you here with me always. I like having you share my bed, and I'd like it if you did that on a permanent basis."
"Are you saying you want us to share a bed as lovers? I've never even kissed you!"
"So what? If that's what will make you stay, then here." He took Starbuck in his arms and kissed him soundly.
Starbuck liked the kiss. He liked it a lot.
"So will you stay?" Apollo asked. "Seriously, Starbuck, I don't want you to stay just because of Boxey. I want you to be my partner in everything, not just in parenting. I want you to know that I love you, that I'm in love with you. That's why I want you to stay. I want us to be a family, and I want you to be my spouse."
"Apollo, we just kissed for the first time, and now you're asking me to marry you!"
"Is that such a bad thing?" Apollo asked.
Starbuck smiled. "No, actually, it isn't a bad thing at all. It's been a strange couple of sectons, but I really have enjoyed sharing a bed with you, and I would like it very much if I got to do that every night from now on. But I have to confess I don't know a single thing about parenting."
"Wasn't it you who said that every new parent starts out not knowing anything about parenting? Besides, you've done a pretty good job from what I've seen so far."
"All right! You've convinced me," Starbuck laughed. "I do love you, Apollo, and I love Boxey, and I want to be part of your family. So if that was a proposal you just made, I accept."