Apollo and Starbuck made their way through the refugee ship, following the inspectors.
"Why are we here?" Starbuck asked his wingmate.
"We're here to inspect the premises," Apollo reminded him.
"That's the inspectors' job," Starbuck replied. "Why are *we* here?"
Apollo sighed sadly. "We're here to protect the inspectors. There's been violence before when they're doing their evaluation of the refugee ships. The Council thought that a having a couple of colonial warriors around might discourage anyone from attacking them."
"We're the heavies," Starbuck commented.
"You could put it like that," Apollo agreed.
As he followed the inspector, Starbuck thought he noticed something. Actually, it was some*one.* He thought he saw someone among the refugees who looked a bit like Apollo. 'I must be imagining it,' he told himself.
No, there it was again. Starbuck moved a bit closer to the group of people standing watching the inspectors make their rounds. Yes, there was definitely a resemblance. It wasn't perfect. It wasn't like the person was Apollo's twin. He didn't look as much like Apollo as Zac had. But he couldn't ignore it. He nudged his wingmate.
"Pol, do you see that guy over there?"
Apollo gave him a tolerant smile. "Over where? There are lots of people here."
"Over there." Starbuck pointed toward the man he'd seen. "Call me crazy, but don't you think he looks like you? Just a little bit?"
He may have thought Starbuck had been enjoying himself too much in the Officers Club the night before, but Apollo looked.
Then he looked again.
Then he ran toward the man. "Dari!" he called out.
Starbuck ran after him. "Pol, wait! Where are you going?"
When Starbuck caught up to Apollo, the Captain turned to him and said, "Starbuck, do you remember my cousin Darius?"
Starbuck had a vague recollection of Apollo's cousin, a shy boy a few yahrens younger than Apollo who'd usually been left out of their activities at Adama's family home on Caprica. "Sort of," he said.
The younger man ignored Starbuck and turned to Apollo, who was interrogating him. "Where have you been?" Apollo was asking. "Why didn't you try to get in touch with me, or Athena, or my father? Why didn't you let us know you survived?"
Darius shrugged. "I didn't think it mattered all that much," he replied.
"Of course it mattered!" Apollo told him. "What about your family? Are your parents here?"
"No," Darius answered. "They didn't make it. I'm the only one."
"I'm sorry," Apollo said softly.
Darius nodded. "I was sorry to hear about your mother. She was nice. I liked her. Zac, too."
"Listen, Dari, I'm going to tell my father you're here. He'll find you somewhere else to live. You don't have to stay here."
"Hold it, Appy," said Darius, using the childhood nickname that he knew Apollo hated. "I don't get special treatment just because I'm related to you and the Commander. I'm one of the refugees, just like everyone else here."
"But you're family!"
Darius shook his head. "No, I'm not. I'm blood, yes, but I'm not family."
"What do you mean? Of course you're family!" Apollo exclaimed.
Just then they the inspectors interrupted. "Captain, Lieutenant, we're finished here."
"Frack," Apollo said. "I have to go. But I'll come back. I want to talk to you, find out where you've been all these yahrens."
"Don't worry about me, Appy. I'm fine."
Reluctantly, Apollo left the refugee ship and returned to the Galactica. As soon as he arrived, he went to find his father. Starbuck followed.
Adama was in his ready room when Apollo burst in. "Father, you're not going to believe this."
"Believe what?" the Commander asked curiously.
"It's Darius. He's alive. I've seen him. I spoke to him."
Adama was shocked. "Where? Where is he? In the fleet?"
Apollo nodded. "He's one of the refugees on board the Cerberus. He survived the Destruction, but his parents didn't."
"But why hasn't he tried to contact any of us?" Adama wanted to know.
Apollo shook his head. "I don't know."
"What exactly did you talk about?"
Apollo related the brief conversation he'd had with his cousin. "He said he's not family. I don't know what he means by that."
"I don't either," sighed Adama. He reached for a communications handset and spoke into it for a few microns, then he turned back to Apollo and Starbuck. "I've asked for him to be brought here."
"That may not be a good idea," Starbuck warned. "He didn't exactly seem happy to see Apollo."
"I don't care if he's happy," the Commander replied. "I want to see him, and I'm going to see him. I'm the Commander, and I get to pull rank once in awhile."
"He's not a warrior," Apollo said suddenly.
"What was that, Apollo?" his father asked.
"Darius isn't a warrior."
"So?" asked Starbuck. "It's his choice. It's not like there's a draft. There hasn't been a draft for yahrens." The Colonial fleet had always been well-supplied with volunteers ready and willing to fight the Cylons, and there had been no need for a draft.
"I know," said Apollo. "It just seems strange to me. Almost all of the men his age in the fleet are warriors. And for our family, it's been kind of a tradition."
Starbuck shrugged. "The life of a warrior doesn't fit some people. And personally, when I'm out there in a viper, I like knowing that the people I depend on to cover me are people who want to be there, not people who've been forced, either by regulation or by family pressure." He quickly turned to the Commander. "I'm not talking about you, Commander. But when I was in the Academy I met plenty of young men whose only reason for being there was that their great-grandfathers, grandfathers, fathers, brothers and sisters had been there." The Colonial Fleet had only begun accepting female warriors in the last couple of deca-yahrens before the Destruction. The idea of female warriors still met with resistance from some of the more "traditional" males.
The Commander's com-link beeped and he answered it, then turned to Apollo and Starbuck. "Darius has arrived. I don't want him to feel ganged-up on, so I think that you two should leave now."
Apollo and Starbuck left the Commander's office, Apollo reluctantly. "Why don't we go to the OC?" Starbuck suggested.
"I'd rather wait and see how things work out between my father and Darius."
"Darius might run away if he sees you lurking out here waiting for him," Starbuck pointed out.
"I'm not lurking," Apollo protested.
"Pol, believe me, you're lurking," Starbuck told him. "But if you insist on hanging around, it should at least be somewhere unobtrusive so that Darius doesn't see you."
The two warriors found a space nearby where they could see the Commander's office but not be seen. They saw Darius arrive at the Commander's office, escorted by a black-suited security officer, and go inside. The security man then left the office, obviously dismissed by Adama.
"So tell me about your cousin," Starbuck said to his wingmate. "I don't remember him being around much."
"No, he was coming around less often by the time I started bringing you home from the Academy. He would have been about fourteen then. He stopped coming by altogether when he was sixteen."
"Any idea why?" Starbuck asked.
"What were his parents like?"
Apollo was thoughtful. "Traditional, I guess you could say. His father and my father were brothers, and they were a lot alike military men all the way. His mother was kind of quiet. She didn't spend much time around the men. She was usually in the kitchen with my mother. Darius preferred being in the kitchen with them to being with the other men."
"Did you and he get along?"
"Well enough," Apollo answered. "He was younger, so he spent more time with Zac than he did with me."
"He called you 'Appy.' "
"Don't remind me," Apollo said with a grimace. Then he saw Darius leaving the Commander's office. Grateful for the distraction, he said, "Look, there he is," and headed toward his cousin.
"I suppose I have you to thank for this?" Darius said when he saw Apollo.
"All I did was tell him where you were," Apollo said defensively.
"Why? Because he's your uncle. He's your family."
"We already went through that," Darius reminded him.
"I don't care what you say. You're family. You're my cousin."
Hoping to head off a public confrontation between the two, Starbuck interrupted. "What did you talk about with the Commander?" he asked Darius.
"He offered me a job," Darius replied.
"I suppose your stubborn pride wouldn't allow you to accept it," Apollo said.
"Oh, I accepted it. Pride or not, I need to make a living, and I'd rather do it somewhere other than on the Cerberus."
"Does that mean you won't be living there anymore?" Apollo asked.
"The new job comes with living quarters. I was on my way to the Rising Star to check them out before you apprehended me."
"Rising Star?" Starbuck asked with raised eyebrows.
"I'm a cook," Darius answered. "Or I was, before the Destruction. Now I'm going to be cooking on the Star, where the likes of me can't even afford to eat."
"I didn't know you were a cook," Apollo said.
"That's because you don't know much about me at all, Appy," said Darius."Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to pick up my things from the Cerberus and take them to my new quarters."
"Dari, wait," Apollo pleaded. "Can't we get together and talk?"
"About what?" Darius asked.
"Old times," Apollo suggested.
"We don't have any old times, Appy," Darius answered, and he walked away.
Apollo sighed heavily. "I don't understand him," he told Starbuck.
"Well, you said yourself that you didn't have much to do with him when you were younger," Starbuck reminded him.
"I suppose. But he's family. I thought he'd want to be with his family. But he never tried to contact us at all."
"I don't know what to tell you, Pol. I've never had a family. I don't know how they work." But he resolved to do some investigating. He turned to his wingmate. "I have a date, so I should get going. Are you okay?"
Apollo was suddenly annoyed. First Darius had run away, and now Starbuck was leaving. It didn't help his mood to hear that Starbuck had a date. He'd been jealous of Starbuck's many female companions from their time in the Academy all those yahrens ago. "Does it make a difference to you if I'm okay? You have a date, remember? You'd better not make your lady wait."
Starbuck was completely confused and bewildered by his friend's sudden outburst, but he chalked it up to Apollo's sudden discovery of his long-lost relative, and his rejection by that relative causing him stress. "Pol, if you're not okay, if you need me for anything -- to talk to, to have a drink with, to babysit Boxey while you go see Sheba -- then I'll cancel my date."
Surprised, Apollo asked, "You'd really do that? You'd cancel your date?"
"In a micron," Starbuck answered. "You're my friend. I've known you longer than I've known anyone on this battlestar and that includes the female half of the population. Making sure that you're okay is more important than going to a play with Cassie."
"You're sure?" Apollo asked, ashamed of his previous words.
"Pol, believe it or not, Cassie knows how important you are to me. If she knew you were hurting she'd order me to find you and stay with you."
Apollo managed a shaky smile. "I'm okay. Go on your date. Give Cassie my love."
"Your love? You're not giving me competition here are you, Pol?"
With a laugh, Apollo answered, "I love her like a sister, and that's all."
"You're sure you're okay?" Starbuck asked. He was reluctant to leave Apollo when his friend had just experienced a serious shock. He didn't want to disappoint Cassiopeia, either. But he also knew that Cassie wouldn't enjoy spending the evening with him if half his mind was on his wingmate.
Apollo was about to insist once more that he was fine when a thought occurred to him. Starbuck was offering to spend time with him instead of with Cassiopeia. Why not take advantage of it? "Well, to tell you the truth, I'm a bit shaken up. Discovering Darius like that after all this time, and knowing that he doesn't want anything to do with me...."
"Say no more," Starbuck said. "As soon as we get to your quarters I'll call Cassie and tell her I can't make it."
Apollo told himself that he shouldn't be pleased about this, but he couldn't help it. Starbuck had chosen him over Cassie. How could he not be pleased?
The next day, after the two warriors had spent the evening drinking and shooting the felgercarb, Starbuck was surprised to discover that his wingmate had cancelled their regular Triad practice. "What gives?" he wanted to know.
"I'm going to pay Darius a visit," Apollo informed him. "He can't ignore me forever."
"Want me to come along?" Starbuck asked.
"No, thanks. This is family," was Apollo's answer. "You understand, don't you?"
"Of course," Starbuck murmured. He understood all too well. He knew he wasn't part of Apollo's family. Certainly they included him in many family occasions, but he wasn't a real family member.
It wasn't long before Apollo was back. "Still want to play Triad?" he asked.
"I thought you were over on the Star visiting Darius."
"What happened?" Starbuck asked.
"Did Darius refuse to see you?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
They practised Triad and didn't discuss Apollo's cousin for the rest of the afternoon.
The next day Apollo tried a different tactic. He returned to the Rising Star, this time with Boxey in tow.
"Why are we going to the Rising Star?" the boy wanted to know.
"I want you to meet someone," his father answered.
"Do you have a new girlfriend?" Boxey immediately demanded.
Apollo groaned inwardly. "No, nothing like that. I want you to meet my cousin Darius. He's your cousin too. He cooks on the Rising Star."
"Why haven't I met him before?"
"Because I didn't know where he was until now," Apollo answered.
Darius was not surprised to see his cousin show up in the dining room of the Rising Star. He was, however, surprised to see Apollo with a child.
"Captain," he greeted Apollo with a curt nod. "Who have we here?" he said, indicating Boxey.
"Darius, this is my son, Boxey. Boxey, this is Darius, your cousin. And you don't have to use my rank," he added.
"Hello," Boxey said shyly.
"Hello, Boxey. Would you like something to eat?" Darius offered.
"Sure!" Boxey agreed enthusiastically, shyness forgotten. Like most small boys, Boxey was seldom without an appetite.
"What would you like?" Darius asked.
"Mushies!" was the immediate response.
Darius shook his head. "I don't make pastries," he told the boy.
"What do you cook, then?" Boxey inquired.
"Vegetables," Darius responded.
"Boxey, that's rude!" Apollo scolded.
"Cousin, I'm quite certain you did the same thing when you were his age. In fact, I remember you doing it. Aunt Ila was quite displeased."
"Did you know my Dad when he was a little boy?" Boxey asked.
"I sure did, Boxey. Come and eat some vegetables, and I'll tell you about him."
Boxey made a face. "Do I have to?"
"Do you want mushies?" Darius asked.
"Yes!" Boxey immediately answered. "Please," he added.
"If you eat the vegetables I give you, I'll ask Roddy - he's in charge of desserts this secton - if he can find you some mushies."
"And will you tell me about my Dad when he was little?"
"If you eat your vegetables, I will."
Boxey sat down with a plate of steaming vegetables in front of him, and he dug in. He discovered that he actually liked vegetables, at least when his new cousin prepared them.
Apollo hovered nearby, hoping to hear what Darius had to say about him. But Darius said, "Appy, I can't tell stories about you while you're here. Get lost. I'll look after Boxey."
"Look, Appy, we're in a public place. There are plenty of people around. You can come get him in a centare."
Apollo left, wishing he could be a fly on the wall to hear what his cousin was telling his son about him.
Boxey giggled. "You called him 'Appy.'"
"So what? People call you Boxey, and I'm sure that's not your real name."
"What did they call you when you were little?" Boxey asked.
"They called me 'Dari.'"
"What about my aunt Athena?"
"We called her Thenie."
For the next centare Darius told Boxey stories about growing up on Caprica, about visiting Adama's house and spending time with Apollo, Zac and Athena when they were children. He told Boxey about the grandmother and uncle he'd never had a chance to meet and about the planet that was only a memory to all of them.
When Apollo returned, he asked Boxey to wait while he spoke to Darius.
"What do you want to talk about?" Darius asked.
"Why did you tell me that you're not family?" Apollo asked.
"I told you that I'm not going to talk about that."
"I want to know," Apollo insisted.
"Appy, how can you not know? For frack's sake, Starbuck is more family than I am."
"Starbuck? You barely know him."
"I was there when you brought him home from the Academy. Adama accepted him immediately, because he's a warrior. He never accepted me."
"Of course he did!" Apollo protested.
"Appy, why do you think I stopped coming around when I turned fourteen? It was because that's the age when you decide if you're going into the Academy or not. I decided not to go to the Academy, and after that it was like I didn't exist in your family or in my own."
"That's not true!"
"Appy, give it up. Let's not fight. You go on living your life, and I'll live mine."
Apollo wanted to protest, but decided it wasn't a good idea to get into a fight with Boxey nearby. "I'd like it if you were part of my life."
Darius shook his head. "We have nothing in common, Apollo. You're a warrior. I'm a cook. You've obviously settled down; you have a child. Does he have a mother?"
Apollo shook his head.
"I'm sorry to hear that. I like Boxey. I wouldn't mind if you brought him around once in awhile. But don't expect to become buddies with me. My life and yours are very different."
Boxey and Apollo left the Rising Star. Boxey was very excited about having met his new cousin, as well as having had a free meal on the Rising Star. He didn't even mind that it had been vegetables. "Why can't you cook vegetables like Dari does, Dad?" Boxey asked.
"Because Dari is a professional cook, Boxey. It's what he does best. Cooking isn't what I do best."
"You got that right," muttered Boxey.
Apollo pretended not to hear that comment.
Later, when Apollo was having a drink with Starbuck, he related his conversation with Darius. "I guess I can't really blame him for not wanting anything to do with us, if what he says is true."
"What do you mean, 'if?'"
"I don't remember things that way," Apollo said. "I know that Darius spent more time with my mother and Athena in the kitchen than he did with me or my father, but I don't remember my father or my uncle Boreas outright rejecting him when he decided not to go to the Academy."
"Maybe you remember things the way you want to remember them," Starbuck suggested.
"What are you saying?" Apollo demanded.
"Well, I only met Darius once or twice, since he stopped coming around not long after I started coming home with you. But I don't remember the Commander - well, he wasn't the Commander then - being very happy to see him, or being affectionate with him like he was with you and Zac and Athena. Your mother was obviously fond of him, though, and it looked like she went out of her way to make him welcome."
"I think it was my mother that got him interested in cooking in the first place," Apollo said.
"I always enjoyed your mother's cooking. I'll have to take Cassie over to the Star so we can try some of Darius' creations."
"Boxey sure liked what Darius made for him."
"No offense to Boxey, but a six yahren old isn't someone I'd consult as a food critic."
Apollo laughed. "Hey, he ate a plate full of vegetables without complaining. That's a first."
"Boxey ate vegetables voluntarily? Apollo, your cousin must be a genius."
"I wouldn't know," Apollo sighed. "I can't get close enough to him to find out anything about him."
"Pol, why is it so important to you that you build a relationship with Darius? I know he's related to you, but he doesn't seem to want anything to do with you. Why do you keep pursuing him?"
"Because he's a link to Zac," Apollo said quietly.
"What do you mean?"
"Darius and Zac were friends when they were younger. I'd like to have someone to talk to who remembers him. When I talk to Athena about him, she can't do anything but cry. My father just gets silent and distant. At least Dari remembers him.
"And there's also the fact that Darius is the same age Zac would be if he were still alive. Maybe he chose the right path after all. If Zac hadn't become a warrior, maybe he'd still be alive."
"Or maybe he would have perished in the Destruction along with millions of other people - mainly civilians- on Caprica and the other colonies," was Starbuck's answer. "It was Zac's choice to become a warrior. You and I both know how excited he was his first day - hell, his every day - at the Academy. We were both at his graduation. I'm as sorry as anyone that he didn't make it, Apollo, but he was happy. You know he was happy being a warrior. No one forced him into it."
"I know," Apollo sighed. "But I miss him, Star. I miss him every single day."
Starbuck put an arm around his wingmate's shoulders and gave him a gentle hug. "I know you do, Pol. I know you do."
Apollo allowed himself to lean into Starbuck for a precious few moments, accepting the comfort he offered while trying not to read anything into it that he knew wouldn't be there. Starbuck was his friend and was doing what friends do. That was all, and Apollo told himself he should accept it and not want anything more.
The next day Starbuck went to the Rising Star and asked to speak to Darius alone. Darius had no idea why the Lieutenant wanted to see him, but he was curious enough to do what Starbuck asked.
"What did you want to talk to me about?" Darius asked.
"About Apollo," Starbuck replied.
The cook sighed. "What about him?"
"You're making him miserable."
"If my cousin is miserable, it's his own fault. I can't make him feel one way or another."
"All right, then, Apollo is miserable because you won't see him or talk to him. He really wants to get to know you better."
"It's a bit late for Apollo and Adama to suddenly want to get to know me better. They had all the time in the world to spend with me when I was younger, but as soon as I chose to follow my own path rather than follow my father into the Colonial fleet, they turned their backs on me. Well, Ila didn't, but the rest of them did."
"But Apollo regrets that now. Can't you give him a chance? Or is there another reason why you don't want anything to do with him?"
Darius blinked in surprise. "What makes you think that there's something else?"
"I'm a gambler. I know bluffing when I see it, and you're bluffing."
"What could I possibly be bluffing about?" Darius snorted. "I don't even know what you're doing here. You say Apollo is miserable. What does he have to be miserable over? It's not like I'm completely ignoring him. I talked to him last time he was here."
"Long enough to tell him you don't want anything to do with him or his family. Apollo wants you to be part of his family."
"And I don't want to be part of that family."
"So tell me why not, and I'll go tell Apollo."
"Do you really want to know, Lieutenant?" Darius asked. A seductive smile had suddenly appeared on his face. Starbuck was already distracted by how much Darius resembled Apollo, and this distracted him even further.
Darius stepped forward so that he was in Starbuck's face. "I bet Apollo doesn't know your secret, Lieutenant."
"Wh-what secret would that be?" Starbuck stammered.
Darius placed one hand on Starbuck's cheek. "You say that you're a gambler. Well, I'd like to place a bet. I'll bet that you like men. I'll also bet that you haven't told Apollo."
Starbuck stepped back, trying to regain his composure. "We're talking about you, not about me."
"All right. I'll tell you about me. I'm queer. I like men. I like to touch men." He moved forward again and lightly brushed a hand down Starbuck's torso, just barely brushing his crotch. "I like to kiss men." He moved forward again so that he had Starbuck trapped between him and the wall, then kissed him, slowly and seductively.
Starbuck moaned. He couldn't help it. He did indeed like men, and he had never told anyone. He'd never done anything about it, either. He'd been trying to hide his true feelings for Apollo - and from Apollo - and had never been with another man. But Darius was obviously interested. And he looked like Apollo.
Darius was unfastening Starbuck's uniform trousers. "You know what else I like, Starbuck?" he asked. Starbuck squirmed as he felt the other man's hot breath on his cock. "I like" - Darius drew Starbuck's cock out of his trousers - "to suck cock."
Starbuck stood as if frozen to the spot. He told himself he shouldn't be doing this. He barely knew this man. He couldn't go around having sex with strangers, especially strangers who not only knew Apollo, but were related to Apollo. What would happen if Darius told his cousin what they'd been up to?
As if reading his mind, Darius took his attention away from his task for a moment and looked up at him. "I'm not going to tell Apollo, if that's what you're worried about. Why do you think I stopped spending time with his family when I was sixteen? It wasn't entirely because of my refusal to go to the Academy. It was because that was when I knew I liked boys. I knew that my family would never accept that. My father was a traditional sort, and Adama was even worse. Still is, I imagine. There's no way anyone is going to know about this unless you tell them. "
Starbuck tried to think of a suitable reply, but he felt Darius' mouth engulf his cock, and whatever he had been about to say fled from his mind.
Starbuck had had plenty of blow jobs in his time. Cassie was especially good at them. But this was different. Darius had just taken control. He hadn't asked if Starbuck actually wanted this. Not that he was objecting. Darius obviously knew what he was doing. One of his hands was gently caressing Starbuck's balls as his mouth worked on his cock. The Lieutenant began to thrust forward. His eyes were closed, and part of him was wondering what it would be like if it were Apollo doing this instead of his cousin.
The mental image of Apollo kneeling before him, his mouth on his cock, himself thrusting into that mouth, made Starbuck even more aroused. Darius' hand, the one that wasn't playing with his balls, had worked its way behind him, and one finger penetrated his ass. Starbuck thought he was going to go insane from the wicked sensations coming at him from both sides. He knew he was going to come soon, but he didn't want to. He didn't want this to end.
Eventually, however, Starbuck's orgasm took over, and he had to stifle his cries, not knowing who might be just outside that door. When he was finished and could think coherently again, he pulled Darius to his feet and pushed him against the wall. Kissing him, he growled, "My turn."
Darius grinned. "Good. I can't wait." Starbuck was unfastening the other man's trousers when there was a knock at the door. "Darius, are you in there? We need you in the kitchen."
Darius sighed and kissed Starbuck gently. "Duty calls, I'm afraid. The turbo flush room is in there" - he pointed to it - "and I suggest you clean yourself up. I don't know how long I'll be. Can we take a rain check?"
Before Starbuck could answer, Darius was gone.
After washing up, Starbuck left the Rising Star, feeling dazed. He couldn't believe what he'd just done. He'd had sex with Apollo's cousin. He was quite certain that it had been a very bad idea to do it, but there was no way to take it back, to make it not have happened. What could he tell Apollo? How could he keep this information from him? "Hey, Apollo, the reason your cousin stayed away from the rest of the family is that he likes men and he thinks you won't approve. How do I know? Oh, well, I just went and had sex with him myself. Yeah, I like men too."
He had a feeling that wouldn't go over very well.
Yes, he'd had sex with a man. And he'd liked it. That was the biggest problem. He'd liked it, and he wanted to do it again. He'd prefer to do it with Apollo, but he was pretty sure that was out of the question. But from what he'd said before leaving, it sounded as if Darius would be available. But could he keep paying visits to Darius without Apollo finding out?
As an orphan, Starbuck had always wanted a family. He felt that in a way, Apollo's family was almost his family. Almost, but not quite. He knew that he was not a real family member. However, after what he'd learned from both Darius and Apollo about their family, he wondered if not having a family at all might be better than having a family where you had to live up to certain expectations in order to feel that you really belonged to them.
If Apollo ever found out about his hidden desires, he was quite certain that he would be rejected not only by Apollo but by Adama and Athena as well. Forget being Apollo's wingmate or second-in-command of the squadron. And what would happen if and when the other warriors found out? He was certain that at least some of them would accept him whether he liked men or not, but just one or two could make plenty of trouble for him, and he wouldn't have the Strike Captain on his side.
Starbuck was beginning to wish that he'd never met Darius.
Meanwhile, Apollo was also thinking about Darius. He had another reason for wanting to get to know his cousin, one that he hadn't shared with Starbuck. Apollo suspected that his cousin liked other men. He wondered if that was one of the things that had kept him apart from the family. Apollo knew that his uncle and aunt, Darius' parents, had been very traditional, and his father was the same way. His mother, Ila, had been more accepting. He doubted Ila would have cared if her nephew or her son were queer. But Ila was no longer with them, and Apollo didn't want to find out the hard way what his father thought of men who liked men.
This left Apollo with a problem. He desperately wanted to talk to someone like him, or maybe someone who was like him but with one difference - that he'd accepted the fact that he liked men. Since Darius wasn't a warrior, he wouldn't have to worry about the men in his squadron finding out, or one man in particular - Starbuck. He didn't know if he would be able to hide his feelings forever. He might have to tell Starbuck one day that he was attracted to other men, though he wouldn't tell him that he was attracted to him. He would eventually have to tell his father and sister that he would never marry again, and why. He couldn't keep leading on Sheba forever, either.
"Now what?" Darius asked in annoyance when his cousin showed up at his door. "What part of 'I don't want to see you' don't you understand?"
"I wanted to talk to you," Apollo said. He didn't want to just blurt out "Are you queer?" He had decided to start out by talking about Zac.
Darius sighed. "What do you want to talk about this time?"
"I was hoping you'd talk to me about Zac. You were pretty close to him at one time. It's hard to talk to my father or Athena about him, so I thought maybe I could talk to you."
"So you want to talk about Zac, do you? Well, let me tell you about Zac. Actually, let me tell you about Ila."
"What about my mother?" Apollo asked, not understanding the sudden change of subject.
"She didn't want her youngest boy to become a warrior. She didn't want him to go into the Academy. She hoped and prayed that he'd choose another path. But your father wasn't satisfied with just two of his three children joining the fleet, was he? No, he had to sacrifice all three of you to the Cylons."
"Zac wanted to be a warrior!" Apollo protested.
"Of course he did," Darius answered. "After all, his father, brother and sister were warriors. He worshipped you. Naturally he would want to follow in your footsteps. I tried to talk him out of it, but I'm sure he saw how everyone treated me after I decided not to go into the Academy. Your family is really into traditional gender roles, aren't they? I can't tell you how many times Thenie complained about being expected to join 'the ladies in the kitchen,' or how many times my father tried to drag me out of the kitchen to join 'the men.' No, Zac deciding not to be a warrior wouldn't have gone over well, would it? I see that Athena isn't flying a viper."
"She has duties on the bridge."
"Of course. She's on the bridge, no matter how good she might be as a viper pilot. I'm surprised that you let your girlfriend continue to be a warrior. Yes, I know about you and Sheba. It's not exactly a secret, especially when you listen to the gossip around this place."
"What is wrong with you, Dari?" Apollo asked.
"Wrong with me? What's wrong with you? What's wrong with your entire family? I keep hearing you saying that you want me to be a part of this imaginary kingdom that you call your family. Why would I want to be part of a group that excluded me for deciding to follow my own career path, a group that forced someone I cared about to get into a viper and go up against the Cylons when he was seriously outnumbered, so that he was killed on his very first mission? Why would I want to be part of your family, Apollo?"
Apollo struggled to remain calm. "Zac chose his own path, just like you did, Dari. Remember, I cared about him too. I had to watch him die. My father had to listen to his screams. He was my brother, Dari. What was he to you, that his career choice mattered to you so much?"
"He was someone I loved."
"I loved him too. We all did."
"You don't get it, Appy. You really don't get it. I want you to leave now."
Apollo would not give up that easily. "If I don't get it, then explain it to me! Make me get it!"
Darius sighed. He was quiet for a few centons. Then he said, "I looked for him. I knew he was assigned to this Battlestar. I hoped that because the Galactica survived, Zac would have survived, too. When the fleet was all organized and travel between ships was permitted, I headed for the nearest computer databank and ran a search. That was how I found out he didn't make it. The first casualty of the Destruction, they say. I know he would have wanted to be remembered, but not for that."
A thought was beginning to form in Apollo's mind. "Dari, when you say that you loved Zac, do you mean...?"
They were interrupted by a knock on the door. "Darius, break time is over! Get out here!"
"Saved by the bell, er, knock," Darius said. All traces of emotion that had shown on his face microns before had vanished.
"We're not finished," Apollo stated.
"I am," replied Darius, and left.
Later that day, Darius had another visitor. This time it was Starbuck. The lieutenant had fought with himself about whether to come here, but in the end he couldn't stay away. He wanted Darius. He wanted more of what he'd had last time he was here.
"What the frack do you want now?" Darius growled as he opened the door. Seeing Starbuck on the other side, his expression changed. "Sorry. I thought it was the Captain again."
"Apollo was here?" Starbuck asked as he stepped inside. "What did he want?"
"To talk about Zac."
"Judging from the way you answered the door, I take it that didn't go very well."
"Apollo doesn't want to hear the truth. He wants to cling to this ideal fantasy family that doesn't exist anywhere but in his own mind. But I'm sure you didn't come here to talk about Apollo."
Starbuck grinned. "I came to cash in my rain check." He pushed Darius against the same wall the other man had pushed him into the last time he'd been there. He kissed him hard, demandingly, grinding their crotches together.
"Starbuck," Darius gasped. "I want you."
"I fracking well hope so," Starbuck answered. He pushed Darius down on to the bed and climbed on top of him. First he stripped Darius' clothes off, then his own. Darius reached for him, but Starbuck said, "No. This is my game tonight."
Starbuck wasn't entirely certain what to do, but he decided to figure it out as he went along. He knew what felt good, and he figured the same things would feel good to another man. He explored the still unfamiliar body beneath him with his lips and tongue, eliciting gasps and moans as he descended further and further down until he reached his prize, Darius' cock. He took it into his mouth and began sucking.
But his own throbbing cock wanted attention. "Starbuck," Darius gasped. "I want you. I want you inside me. Frack me, Starbuck."
Could he do that? Could he penetrate another man? Well, he was quite sure he could. But did he want to? Frack yes, he wanted to. But he didn't want to do it to this man. This was not the one he really wanted. He was available, which was why Starbuck was here. And he resembled Apollo enough that Starbuck could close his eyes and fantasize that he was making love to Apollo. But he couldn't take it that far.
"Maybe another time," Starbuck answered. He stretched out over his lover and aligned their cocks. Then he began to thrust. Lords, it felt good. He ground himself into the other man. Darius thrust his hips upward, seeking more of the delicious friction Starbuck was creating.
Darius thrust two fingers into Starbuck's ass. The Lieutenant bucked in surprise. Only an incredible amount of will kept him from orgasming right then. Again, he was getting the most incredible sensations from both ends, and he could hardly bear it. If what his cock was feeling was incredible, what he was feeling in his ass was even more so. If fingers felt this good, he could only imagine what it would feel like to have another man's cock in there. Apollo's cock, preferably.
Thoughts of Apollo fracking him senseless were enough to send him over the edge, and Starbuck came, with Darius following a split micron later.
Starbuck lay back on the bed. Somehow it didn't seem appropriate to cuddle his bed partner, which he would normally have done with, say, Cassie or Athena. He'd had his physical release, but emotionally he was more in turmoil than ever. He felt as if he were being unfaithful to Apollo, even though he didn't have this kind of relationship with Apollo.
"What are you thinking?" Darius asked.
"Nothing," Starbuck answered. "What are you thinking?"
"I'm not sure you'll be happy to hear it."
Starbuck wasn't sure he liked the sound of this, but he was curious. "Tell me."
"I lost someone in the Destruction. Someone I loved very much. He was a warrior, like you. I begged him not to become a warrior, but he had his heart set on it. It caused a rift between us, and we hadn't settled it before he was killed."
"I'm sorry," murmured Starbuck, not knowing what else to say. "But why do you think it will make me unhappy?"
"Because being with you makes me feel like somehow I'm being unfaithful to him. I know it's stupid, but I still feel that way."
Starbuck laughed mirthlessly. "Believe it or not, I know how you feel. Maybe not for the exact same reason, but I know how you feel."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, this might make you pissed at me, but there's someone I feel like I'm being unfaithful to. He's not my lover. I could never do this with him. But I want him, and I love him. I feel like I'm being unfaithful to him when I'm with you."
Darius reached for him. "Then I guess I'll have to take your mind off him, whoever he is." But Darius had a sneaking suspicion that he knew who Starbuck's phantom love interest really was. He wondered if he could compete with his cousin for Starbuck's attention. There was the fact that as far as he knew, Apollo wasn't interested in the male gender. If it wasn't for the fact that he had a son, Darius would have believed that Apollo wasn't interested in sex at all, just duty.
He wondered if he could use this information to his advantage. He didn't know how yet, but if he could, he would.
"Have you had any luck talking to Darius about Zac?" Starbuck asked his wingmate as he slid into a seat beside him in the Officers Club.
"A little," Apollo replied. "I think I've figured out why he's so angry at me and my father. He blames us for what happened to Zac. He thinks that if it hadn't been for our influence, Zac would never have become a warrior."
"Did you tell him that it was Zac's choice?"
"Of course, but he was quite determined not to listen. He wants someone to blame, and I guess the Cylons aren't good enough. Hell, I blamed myself enough after Zac died, and after Serena, too." He smiled at his friend. "But you made me snap out of it, eventually."
"Was he that close to Zac? The way you talked about him, I assumed that Darius didn't have anything to do with any of you, including Zac, after he decided not to go into the Academy."
"That's what I thought, but now I think he must have stayed in touch with Zac without the rest of us knowing. If my suspicions are correct, I believe that he and Zac were lovers."
Starbuck tried not to choke on his drink. "What makes you think that?" he asked as calmly as he could. Had Apollo always known that Darius liked men?
"He told me he loved Zac, and I don't think he meant he loved him as a family member. I think he was in love with Zac. He told me that as soon as he and the other refugees were settled, he searched for Zac, hoping that since the Galactica had survived, Zac had survived. I don't know the whole story, but I wonder if maybe he and Zac had a falling out when Zac insisted on becoming a warrior."
So that was who Darius had been talking about, the person he had lost in the Destruction. "Anything's possible," Starbuck said in a noncommittal way. "How does that make you feel, knowing that Zac liked men?"
"I don't know," Apollo admitted after a few centons. "I wish he'd talked to me about it. I wish he'd felt that he could come to me."
"What would you have said to him?" Starbuck wanted to know.
"I guess that depends on what he'd told me, whether he just wanted to inform me that he and Dari were a couple, or whether he was asking for my advice, or even for my approval."
"If he'd asked for your approval, would you have given it?"
"I don't know," Apollo said again. "Anything I say now is said with the knowledge that Zac is gone, and things like who he was in love with a couple of yahrens ago don't really matter anymore. If I could have him back, I'd approve of just abut anything. If he hadn't been killed, and was around today.... I honestly don't know."
At least he was being honest. Unfortunately, that didn't give Starbuck any clues about how his wingmate felt about men who loved other men. He didn't dare ask Apollo directly how he felt, afraid of giving away his own secret.
Apollo had another drink. "Star, have I told you how much I appreciate your being here?"
"Huh?" Starbuck had no clue where this sudden declaration had come from.
"You're always here for me. If I didn't have you to talk to about Darius, about Zac, about everything, I don't know what I'd do. Sometimes I wonder what makes you stick around, but I'm glad you do. Don't ever go anywhere, Star, please. I don't know what I'd do without you. And don't ever change."
Starbuck thought that perhaps the Captain had had one or two drinks too many. "I.... Uh.... I'm not planning to go anywhere, Pol."
"Good."Apollo drained his glass. "You know, I can talk to you better than I can talk to anyone in my family. In fact, I feel closer to you than I do to anyone in my family. I wonder why that is?"
Starbuck shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe it's just that I don't put any pressure on you to live up to a certain set of expectations."
He was rewarded with a smile from his wingmate. "That must be it. You know, Star, you're a really good friend."
"So are you, Pol."
A few sectons went by. Starbuck continued to visit Darius on a regular basis for sex. He always felt guilty after the visits, but he continued them. He knew he was using Darius. He wondered if Darius was using him, too.
Unfortunately for Starbuck, his secrecy was taking a toll on his relationship with Apollo. He started trying to change the subject whenever Apollo talked about his cousin and his futile attempts to get closer to him. He was afraid that one slip of the tongue could bring his secret out. There were times when he wanted to stand up and announce "I am sleeping with Darius" just to get it over with.
Apollo had no clue what was going on with his wingmate and best friend. Starbuck was acting secretive. That was obvious. But what secret could he be keeping? Apollo wanted to tell him that he didn't have to keep anything secret. He would love Starbuck no matter what he had done. But Starbuck had been acting so distant lately that he couldn't get close enough to ask him what the frack was going on. Apollo was afraid he was losing his best friend, and he didn't know what to do about it.
As for Darius, he was feeling more and more mixed up. He was beginning to develop some feelings for Starbuck, feelings that he hadn't been expecting. He hadn't had any intention of actually getting emotionally involved with the Lieutenant. He loved Zac. He knew that Starbuck loved Apollo. He'd figured that Starbuck would be someone to have sex with, and that was all. He'd also planned to try to find a way to use Starbuck's secret - that he was in love with Apollo - to his advantage. He'd thought maybe he'd throw it up in Apollo's face if his cousin annoyed him too much. Then Apollo would reject Starbuck, and Darius could have the blond man all to himself. But now he was beginning to rethink that plan. He knew that losing Apollo's friendship would hurt Starbuck greatly, and he didn't want Starbuck to be hurt. And if it was his fault, if he was the one to reveal Starbuck's secret, Starbuck would probably never forgive him. He didn't want that, either.
If only there was a way to separate Starbuck from Apollo. But there wasn't. The two of them belonged together. Strangely, though, Darius hadn't seen them together lately. He had his spies, his lookouts, all over the Galactica, and none of them reported seeing Apollo and Starbuck together either.
Maybe Darius could have Starbuck to himself after all. Could it be possible?
His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at his door. "It's my day off, for frack's sake!" he grumbled as he answered it. On the other side of the door stood Apollo and Boxey.
"Hello, Boxey. Hello, Captain." He didn't want to be rude to his cousin while Boxey was here. "What can I do for you?"
"We came for a visit," was Apollo's answer.
"Let me guess. More mushies."
Boxey perked up at the mention of his favourite dessert. "Oh boy! Mushies! Can I have some, Dad?"
"Only if you eat a proper meal first," Apollo told him. He turned back to Darius. "Can I buy you lunch?"
Darius laughed. "You don't need to buy, Captain. I eat free here. We all do. Of course, most of us eat our own cooking. I don't have a stove in here."
"I don't want to make you work on your day off," Apollo said.
"Don't worry about it. I have to cook for myself anyway. I don't mind two more people. Or should that be one and a half people?" he asked, looking at Boxey.
"Hey!" Boxey protested.
"He's small, but he has a big appetite," Apollo told his cousin. He and Boxey sat at a table while Darius went into the kitchen. When he returned he was carrying a platter of vegetables. There wasn't a lot of meat available in the fleet, since there wasn't a lot of room to carry meat animals and not a lot to feed them. As a result, Galacticans were forced to be vegetarians. Once in a while the fleet would acquire meat from a trading partner, which would be frozen and saved for special occasions, such as the upcoming Solstice Festival.
As they ate their meal, Boxey suddenly asked, "Dad, where's Starbuck?"
"What do you mean, where is he? He's on patrol."
"Why aren't you on patrol with him?" Boxey asked.
"I asked Starbuck if he could go it alone today. I have a lot of work to do. But I'm taking a lunch break," he added.
"I'm glad," Boxey said. Apollo felt guilty. He didn't spend nearly enough time with his son.
"Are you doing anything special for the Solstice Festival?" Apollo asked Darius.
"Special? Are you kidding? I'm working," Darius answered. "Solstice is the busiest day of the yahren." Before Apollo could say anything, he continued. "And yes, the Commander has invited me to join 'the family,' as he calls it. He even offered to pull strings to get me Solstice Day off, but I can't leave them short-handed here."
Apollo didn't know what to say to that, so he continued eating while Boxey chattered on about what he wanted for Solstice presents. Just as they were finishing, Apollo's com unit beeped. "Where's the closest Stellar Com station?" he asked.
Darius pointed one out and Apollo left them for a few centons. When he returned he was white-faced and looked deadly serious. "Darius, can you look after Boxey for the next centare until Athena's off-duty? I have to go. It's an emergency. Starbuck is missing."
"Starbuck is missing? Dad, you have to find him!" Boxey exclaimed.
"I will find him. Don't worry," Apollo reassured him.
"Let me help," Darius offered.
"Help? No offence, Dari, but you're not a warrior."
"I am, however, a trained shuttle pilot," Darius told him.
"But not a viper pilot."
"Appy, if Starbuck is hurt, do you really want to cram him into a single-passenger viper?"
Apollo thought for a centon. Darius was right. If Starbuck was indeed hurt, they would need a shuttle. There were no shuttle pilots on duty right now. It would take time to find one. Why not accept his cousin's offer?
"All right. I could use a shuttle pilot."
"I'll need a navigator, someone who knows the area."
"You've got one," Apollo answered.
"And a viper escort," Darius added.
"What about me?" Boxey asked.
Apollo had almost forgotten that Boxey was still there. Who could take care of Boxey on such short notice?
"Boxey, I'm going to take you to the bridge to help your grandfather and Aunt Athena to look for Starbuck. They'll watch from the bridge while Darius and I take a shuttle out to look for him. Boomer will help us, too." He knew Boomer would help without even asking him. It was a given.
After contacting Boomer on Stellar Com and arranging to meet him in the launch bay, Darius and Apollo dropped off Boxey on the bridge.
"Sorry for the short notice," Apollo told his father and sister, "but I didn't know what else to do. Cassie is working and Starbuck is out there...somewhere."
"It's all right," Adama assured his son. "I'll keep an eye on Boxey. Darius, what are you doing here?"
"Darius is a shuttle pilot," Apollo told him. "He's going to take a shuttle out with me in case Starbuck needs transportation back to the Galactica."
Adama looked at his son and his nephew. "Be careful, both of you. Bring Starbuck back."
"We will," Darius promised. Apollo looked at him in surprise. He was glad for his cousin's willingness to help, but Darius hardly knew Starbuck.
When they were in the shuttle and scanning all the planets and asteroids in the vicinity of Starbuck's last-known location, Apollo asked the question. "Not that I don't appreciate your help, but you hardly know Starbuck. Why are you so eager to look for him?"
"I know Starbuck better than you think," Darius answered. "I've been spending some time with him over the last few sectons. He's been trying to persuade me to be nice to you. He cares for you a lot, you know."
"I care a lot for him," Apollo answered. "As a matter of fact, that's one of the things I wanted to talk to you about."
Darius punched a course correction into the computer before he answered. "Why would you want to talk to me about Starbuck?"
"Because of your relationship with Zac. I figured you would know what it's like to be in love with a man. I'm in love with Starbuck - he doesn't know, of course - and, well, I don't know any other men who love men. But you said you loved Zac, so...."
After setting the shuttle on autopilot and making certain it would notify them if any sign of Starbuck or his viper was discovered, Darius turned to Apollo. "Yes, I was in love with Zac. He was in love with me, too, or so he said. We didn't agree on his going to the Academy, and we would probably have broken up eventually, if the Destruction hadn't happened. But when the Destruction happened, I just had to find him. I would have accepted his decision to be a warrior, just as long as he was a live warrior."
"I'm sorry," Apollo said gently.
"Anyway," Darius continued. "That doesn't help you with your problem with Starbuck. If you're in love with Starbuck, why is it such a big deal? What do you need me for?"
"It makes me feel better knowing that I'm not the only queer one around," Apollo answered. "Or whatever the acceptable term is these days."
"Gay, queer, flit, fag, homosexual.... Who cares?" Darius checked the scanner, even though he knew it would tell him if it found anything. "So why haven't you said anything to Starbuck? I assume you haven't." He knew Apollo hadn't, but didn't say that.
"You've met Starbuck. You say you've spent some time with him. Surely he's told you of his various romantic conquests."
"The subject didn't really come up." In the time Darius had spent with Starbuck, they hadn't done much talking.
"Well, Starbuck has many conquests, and they're all female."
"Appy, you were married."
"That was more for Boxey's sake. I liked his mother, but I wasn't in love with her. Boxey needed a father, so I volunteered, you might say."
"Boxey's not yours?"
"Boxey is mine, just not by birth. He's mine by choice."
"That's what makes a real family," Darius commented.
"What do you mean?" Apollo asked.
"People who are family by birth are pretty much stuck with each other, but when you choose to be with someone, that's what really makes them family."
Apollo was about to say something when the scanner started beeping wildly. Darius immediately turned to it. "There's someone down there," he reported. "I can't say for sure that it's Starbuck, but whoever it is, they're alive."
After informing Boomer of their plans, the two men steered the shuttle toward the small planetoid that the signal had come from. Each had his own thoughts. Apollo was wondering if he should tell Starbuck of his feelings. He was afraid that Starbuck would die without ever knowing of his feelings for him. Could he risk the rejection he was quite certain would come if he told the truth?
Meanwhile, Darius was wondering if he could hide his own feelings. He didn't want his cousin to know about him and Starbuck. But if the Lieutenant was really down there and was alive, Darius didn't know if he would be able to hide his relief.
Apollo was out of the shuttle almost before it had landed. He'd spotted the crashed viper. He ran to see if his wingmate was inside.
Sure enough, Starbuck was inside. He was obviously injured, though, and only semi-conscious. Darius helped Apollo to lift him out of the viper and lay him on the ground, where Apollo examined him as best he could.
"Star, can you hear me?" Apollo asked.
Starbuck moaned and mumbled something, but Apollo couldn't tell what he'd said.
"Star, where does it hurt? Can you tell me?"
Another mumble, again indecipherable.
"Do you think it was safe to move him?" Darius asked.
"We didn't have much of a choice, I'm afraid," Apollo answered. "Star, can you feel your legs?" he asked, hoping that he hadn't aggravated any spinal injuries Starbuck might have sustained.
He didn't get an answer, so he began to pinch the Lieutenant's legs. He understood the next response he got. Starbuck's leg twitched and he said, "Ouch!" Apollo sighed with relief. Starbuck wasn't paralysed. "We'll get you out of here and back to the Galactica, Star," Apollo promised. "They'll take good care of you there."
Watching his cousin with Starbuck, Darius could see the love that Apollo obviously felt for Starbuck. 'I could never compete with that,' he thought to himself. He would love to have the blond Lieutenant all to himself, but he knew that wasn't likely to happen. Starbuck and Apollo loved each other, even if they were too stubborn or just too dense to actually admit it to each other.
'I could tell Apollo what Starbuck told me. I could tell him that Starbuck loves him too,' Darius thought. But he wouldn't. He wasn't about to do anything that might mean his time with Starbuck would come to an end.
Apollo asked Darius to help him lift Starbuck and carry him to the shuttle. As they settled him in, Starbuck mumbled something. Apollo bent close to him to listen. "What did you say, Star?" he asked.
"Love you, 'Pol," the Lieutenant murmured.
Apollo was stunned. Had he just heard what he thought he'd heard? Had Starbuck really said that he loved him? He must mean as a friend, a wingmate, a brother, even. Apollo stroked Starbuck's hair and kissed his forehead. "I love you too, Star," he said gently. Then he turned to his cousin. "Can you make it back to the Galactica okay if I stay back here with Starbuck?"
"Sure," Darius said, straining to remain calm. Inside he was seething with jealousy. He knew that Starbuck loved Apollo. He knew that. But it still hurt to hear it.
Back on the Galactica, Starbuck was rushed to Life Centre. Everyone waited to hear word on his condition: the other warriors, Starbuck's current and former girlfriends, and various other Galactica personnel. Even Adama asked to be kept informed. "Starbuck is family, after all," he said to Apollo.
Starbuck family? Apollo realized that yes, Starbuck was part of his family. The two of them had been inseparable since their Academy days. Everywhere Apollo went, Starbuck followed. He was present at every family gathering Adama had. At one time that might have been because he was engaged to Athena, but that engagement had been broken off long ago, and Starbuck was still present. Apollo suddenly felt ashamed of all the times he'd said things to Starbuck like "This is a family matter" in order to exclude him. How could he have said something like that?
Apollo looked up as Cassiopeia approached. "How is he?" he asked fearfully, praying to the Lords that the news would be good.
"He had a head injury that gave us some concern for awhile, but Dr. Salik was able to stop the bleeding. We'll need to keep an eye on him for awhile, but it looks good. Once we know that there's been no permanent damage, we should be able to release him, probably in a couple of days."
Apollo breathed a silent prayer of thanks. "When can I see him?" he asked.
Cassie smiled. "Is now a good time? He's been asking for you nonstop."
The Captain jumped up."Now is an excellent time."
Cassie led him to Starbuck's bedside. "He's still feeling the effects of the anaesthetic, so he'll probably be drifting in and out of consciousness. Don't expect him to be too coherent or anything."
Then Apollo was alone with his wingmate. He leaned over the bed. "Starbuck?"
The Lieutenant stirred. "That you, 'Pol?"
"It's me. I'm right here."
"You okay?" Starbuck asked.
"I'm fine. I wasn't with you when you crashed. I'm sorry about that. I shouldn't have let you go out alone."
Starbuck smiled. "Big boy. Can take care of myself," he mumbled.
"I don't know about that. It seems to me that you get in trouble when you're alone."
"Then don't leave me alone."
Apollo sighed. "If I had my way I'd never leave you, Star. I love you, you know."
Starbuck's smile got even bigger. "Love you too," he said clearly. Then he was asleep.
Apollo wondered if it was wise for him to be so open with Starbuck. Yes, the Lieutenant had been the first to say "I love you," but Apollo had no idea in what way he meant it. Starbuck had suffered a head injury and was now feeling the effects of anaesthetic and the medications that had been used to treat his wounds. Did he even know what he was saying? Would he even remember what he'd said when he recovered?
As Starbuck's recovery progressed, Apollo was at his side almost constantly. Starbuck got stronger every day, and there were no signs of permanent brain damage. Neither of them said "I love you" again, but both of them could tell that something had changed between them. Neither man could put his finger on quite what it was, but they felt more at ease with each other than they had for some time. There had been a strain between them lately. Now it was gone. Starbuck knew that it was because of Darius, though Apollo didn't. But Starbuck had already made up his mind to break things off with Apollo's cousin.
Finally Apollo could ignore his duty no longer and had to go back to work. He reluctantly left Life Centre, but before he did he told Starbuck, "Next time I'm here, I want to talk to you about something."
"Why can't you talk about it now?" Starbuck wanted to know.
"I don't have enough time. It's important, and I don't want half my mind to be on the work that's piling up in my absence when I'm talking to you."
And Apollo left, leaving Starbuck intensely curious as to what he wanted to talk about.
While he was waiting for Apollo to return, Starbuck got a visit from Darius. He'd known he would have to talk to Darius eventually. He couldn't avoid it forever.
"Starbuck, thank the Lords that you're going to be all right." It was unlike Darius to acknowledge the Lords of Kobol, having given up his family's religion after they abandoned him. But his anxiety over Starbuck had led him to say a few prayers. "I was so worried about you."
Darius had been worried about him? Starbuck hadn't been expecting this. It was going to make what he had to say that much harder to say. He shied away from the kiss Darius attempted to give him. "Listen, Darius, we need to talk."
Pulling up a chair, Darius sat next to the bed and took Starbuck's hand in his. "Good. I've been wanting to talk to you too. Starbuck, I think I'm falling in love with you."
Starbuck sighed. "I'm sorry, but I don't feel the same about you. I thought you knew that."
"I do. I just kind of hoped that you'd give up on my cousin ever falling in love with you and give me a chance instead."
"Apollo may not ever fall in love with me, but we've grown a lot closer in the last few days since the accident. Keeping what I was doing with you a secret from him was taking a toll on our relationship. I can't live without him, even if he's only my best friend and never anything more than that."
"What are you trying to tell me, Starbuck?" Darius had a feeling he knew, but he wanted to hear it.
"I can't go on doing what we've been doing. I can't be with you anymore. I don't want to be dishonest with Apollo."
"You're saying that you don't want to have sex with me anymore."
"If you want to be blunt about it, yes."
"What about Apollo?" Darius asked.
"What about him?"
"Are you going to tell him we've been sleeping together?"
"No." Starbuck was quite certain about that.
Just then Apollo walked in. He'd heard the conversation. Starbuck and Darius had been sleeping together, and Starbuck had kept it a secret.
Starbuck was horrified to see his wingmate walk in to the room. How much had Apollo heard?
"Dari," Apollo said, "I want you to leave now."
"Look, Appy, don't be too hard on Starbuck," Darius said. "You guys shouldn't let something like this come between you. I mean, you love each other, right?"
"Leave, Darius," Apollo said again.
Apollo turned to Starbuck. "Tell me it's not true," he said.
"Tell you what's not true?" Starbuck asked, stalling for time so that he could think of something to say.
"Tell me you haven't been sleeping with Darius."
Starbuck didn't want to lie. "I have been. I have been sleeping with Darius."
"Why?" Apollo wanted to know.
"It's really none of your business," Starbuck replied tiredly.
"It is my business. You're my best friend. He's my cousin."
"That doesn't give you the right to pry into our private lives," Starbuck answered.
"I'm also your superior officer," Apollo reminded him.
"That makes no difference to my actions when I'm not on duty, Captain." Apollo hated it when Starbuck called him "Captain." The Lieutenant had a sarcastic way of saying it that almost made Apollo ashamed of his rank.
"You're still a warrior, even when you're off-duty. Your actions reflect on all of us."
"Tell me something, Captain." Starbuck was still calling him 'Captain,' Apollo noticed. "Before you overheard my conversation with Darius, did you know that I was sleeping with him?"
"No," Apollo admitted.
"As far as you know, is anyone else in the fleet aware of it?"
"No," Apollo said again.
"Then I doubt my actions are reflecting on anyone but myself. What's really going on, Apollo? Why does this bother you so much?"
"Because I wanted you for myself!" Apollo almost shouted. "I thought you only wanted women. I could never tell you how I felt because I thought you weren't into men. Now I found out that you are, and it's too late."
Starbuck was thrilled to hear his wingmate's words, but he could tell that Apollo was still angry with him. "Why is it too late? If you heard me talking to Darius, you must have heard that I was breaking things off with him."
"Because you're not mine anymore," Apollo said sadly.
"Even though we weren't lovers, you were still my best friend, my wingmate, practically my life partner in all but sex. I told myself that if you loved men, then I would be the one you loved."
"I do love you, Pol."
"Then why did you sleep with Darius?" Apollo demanded.
"Because he wanted me, and you didn't. Or I thought you didn't."
"I did," Apollo said in a quiet voice. "But I don't anymore."
Starbuck felt stricken. "Why not? I thought you said that you loved me."
So Starbuck did remember. "Oh Lords. I do love you. But when I look at you, I keep thinking of you and Darius together. He's my cousin, and he loves you. I don't want to do anything to jeopardize my relationship with him."
"I don't love him, Pol. I love you."
"I love you too," Apollo said. "But if you broke things off with him, I'd blame myself for his being unhappy."
"I can't help the way he feels!" Starbuck exclaimed. "I didn't ask him to fall in love with me!"
"You should have thought of that before you slept with him." Apollo turned and walked out. Helplessly, Starbuck watched him leave.
When Starbuck was released from the Life Centre it was the day before Solstice Festival. Every yahren since the Academy Starbuck had spent Solstice Festival with Apollo and his family. This yahren, though, he had the feeling he wouldn't be welcome. Cassie was working that day; just because it was Solstice didn't mean people didn't get sick or hurt. And of course he'd have to fly a patrol that day. The Cylons didn't celebrate Solstice.
The Officer's Mess was serving a traditional Solstice meal for the warriors, so he wouldn't have to be alone. Most of his fellow warriors would be there. But how would he explain why he wasn't with Apollo's family that day?
Apollo was wondering the same thing. His father had decided that since Darius couldn't be with them, they would be with Darius and have Solstice dinner on the Rising Star. "I assume Starbuck will be joining us?" Adama asked before making the reservations.
"No," Apollo answered.
"But why not?" his father wanted to know. "Starbuck always joins us for Solstice, and every other holiday as well."
"He's working. Someone has to patrol, even on holidays."
"You could change that," Adama offered. "There are plenty of warriors who won't have plans for that day. One of them could do the patrol. In fact, I'm surprised Starbuck hasn't traded with one of them."
"Starbuck has been a little sensitive about things like that," Apollo told his father. "He doesn't want it to look like I play favourites."
"You're sure he can't be with us? Maybe after he finishes his patrol?"
Apollo shook his head. "No. His patrol will take most of the evening, long past the dinner centare. He can have his Solstice meal in the Officer's Mess." Apollo would make certain that Starbuck was busy all evening, even if it meant playing with the schedule.
"That's a shame," Adama sighed as he made reservations for his family on the Rising Star.
Solstice night was indeed busy on the Star. Darius was working, but the Commander asked to see him, and the Commander was not going to be refused.
Darius greeted Adama, Apollo, Athena and Boxey. He noticed, though, that Starbuck wasn't there. "Where's Starbuck?" he asked. "I thought he would be spending the holiday with you."
"Starbuck has to fly patrol. He was the unlucky one whose name came up. It was the luck of the draw," Apollo explained.
Darius made a disapproving noise. "You're the Strike Captain. You make the schedule. You could easily have scheduled someone else, especially since Starbuck was only just released from Life Centre."
"He has medical clearance to fly, and I don't play favourites," Apollo answered.
Darius spent a few centons making polite conversation with his relatives, asking them how they liked the food and if they were having a good holiday. As soon as he could, though, he made his escape. He was beginning to accept his family again, but he preferred them in small doses.
Darius worked the entire Solstice evening. Eventually the crowds thinned out, and the restaurant finally closed. As soon as he could, Darius made his way to the Bachelor Officer's Quarters in search of Starbuck. He found the Lieutenant lying on his bunk.
"So tell me what happened between you and Appy. Why weren't you with him and the rest of them for Solstice?"
"Apollo decided that he doesn't want to compete with you for my attention, so he's decided you should have me," Starbuck informed him.
"Huh? What the frack is Appy up to now?"
"He's being noble. Family has always come first with Apollo. It comes before his own wants and needs. You're family, so what you want is more important than what he wants."
"What about what *you* want?" Darius asked Starbuck.
The Lieutenant shrugged. "Apparently I don't count. I'm not family, after all."
Darius sat down. "Apollo is insane," he stated. "If you wanted me, I wouldn't give you to my cousin."
"You have to understand the way he thinks. He feels responsible for what happened to Zac. He thinks he should have been able to prevent it, and he's been punishing himself for it ever since. Maybe being nice to you is his way of doing something for Zac."
"I don't think Zac would want him to make himself miserable," Darius said.
"I'm not even sure Apollo is dealing with reality right now," Starbuck told him. "I think I told you before that he has an idealized view of his family and his place in it. He did what he thought they wanted when he married Serena. If she'd lived, I think they would have been miserable together after the honeymoon was over."
Darius decided to change the subject. "Look, Starbuck, if Apollo doesn't want you, what about me? We had something going there for awhile, and I had the impression you enjoyed being with me."
Starbuck shook his head. "When I was with you I was thinking about Apollo 100 percent of the time. I wasn't being fair to you."
"I don't fracking care if you were being fair. You can think about anyone you like, as long as your body is with me."
The offer was tempting, but Starbuck refused. "No, Darius. Find someone who wants to be with you, and only you."
The other man sighed. "The only one who wanted me, and only me, was Zac."
"Was Zac your first love?" Starbuck asked.
"I don't think you can ever replace your first love. But you said you didn't think Zac would want Apollo to be miserable. I don't think he would want you to be miserable, either."
Darius left the Bachelor Officers Quarters, deep in thought. When he returned to his own rooms, he removed a box that had been hidden deep in a closet. It contained things that had belonged to Zac.
Being with Starbuck, and falling for Starbuck, had made Darius realize that he was truly "over" Zac. He would always miss him, but he had moved on. He could love again.
The box contained mainly pictures and letters. Darius re-read the letters, then discovered a package at the bottom of the box. Opening it, he saw it contained letters from Zac to his family.
They were goodbye letters.
He'd forgotten that Zac had given these to him. "If anything happens to me, if the Cylons get me, please give these to my parents, and Apollo and Athena, along with my love," he had asked.
"You realize that I'm not your family's favourite person."
"They're your family too," Zac had reminded him.
"They're not my favourite people, either. Except for your mother."
"Dari, if I don't make it, you'll need them. You'll need your family - all of your family. Things like what you want to do for a living won't matter at a time like that."
Darius had taken the letters and then had forgotten about them. Now he read them. He was sorry that only Adama would be there to read the letter addressed to him and Ila. The letters to Athena and Apollo were fairly similar, reminiscing about good times the three of them had growing up, and wishing them happiness.
But there was a piece added to the end of Apollo's letter that was very interesting. It looked like it had been put in later than the rest.
"Appy," it said, "I want you to tell Starbuck how you feel about him. I know that you love him. It's obvious every time you look at him. Believe it or not, your little brother isn't completely unobservant. He loves you too. That's obvious as well. I want you to be happy the way I've been happy with Dari. So what if anyone disapproves? It's your life. For once don't do what Mum and Dad want. Don't do what the Colonial Fleet wants. Don't do what 'the family' asks you to. Do what you want to do and the hell with everyone else! Don't make yourself miserable trying to make everyone but yourself happy. I want you to be happy, and I think that being with Starbuck would make you happy."
Then there was a closing paragraph expressing his love for his big brother, and that was all.
Darius gathered the letters and went to see his family.
He had his own letter, too. It had been included with the others, but he didn't want to read it yet. He had things to do first. Once he was finished distributing the letters to Adama, Athena and Apollo, he would read his own. Maybe he shouldn't have read their letters, but he'd done it because they had been written by Zac. He didn't have much of his former lover, and anything that had been Zac's was precious to him. Yes, he was mostly over Zac, but part of him would always love him and grieve for him.
Darius went to Adama first, then Athena. The Commander read his in private. Athena read it with Darius there, and he held her while she cried. Now it was Apollo's turn. He rang the door chime on the Captain's quarters and waited.
Apollo opened the door. "I don't want to talk to you right now," he told his cousin.
Darius pushed past him. "Too bad," he said. "I want to talk to you."
"Can't it wait?" Apollo asked. "I know it was my decision to give up Starbuck, but it still hurts, and seeing you reminds me of what I can't have."
"There's a solution to that," Darius told him. "Don't give him up."
"He's yours. I told you I wouldn't compete with you for him."
"I don't want to compete with you. If you want him, I won't stand in your way."
"He might not want you right now, but when he realizes he can't have me, he'll turn to you. He was with you before when he thought I didn't want him, so he'll go back to you."
Darius shook his head. His cousin was using insane troll logic, as he and Zac had called it when they were younger and adults had tried to explain stupid things they'd done. "I have something for you."
"What is it?" Apollo asked.
"It's from Zac. He wrote it before he left for his first assignment after finishing the Academy. He wanted me to give it to you if anything ever happened to him."
Apollo took the letter. "Why didn't you give it to me before now?" he asked.
"I forgot about it. I made myself forget. I couldn't bear to look at anything that had ever belonged to Zac. I had a box of things he left with me, and it's been sitting in the back of a closet for a long time. I finally decided that I could move on now, and I opened the box. That's where I found this letter and the ones I gave to your father and sister."
Apollo looked at the piece of paper for a long time. He was almost afraid to read it. He had no idea what his brother might have wanted to say to him.
"I'll leave you alone," Darius said as he left.
Slowly, Apollo sat down and opened the letter. He read it, then read it again. Then he re-read the last paragraph. "I think that being with Starbuck would make you happy," it said.
Being with Starbuck would make him happy, but could he risk losing his newfound relationship with Darius? Did he even deserve to be happy? He was so used to putting everyone else's desires ahead of his own. That was exactly what Zac had told him not to do.
Apollo realized that he had not been truly happy for a very long time, probably since the Destruction. He'd thought that marrying Serena and adopting Boxey would make him happy, but it hadn't. If Serena had lived, the marriage probably would not have lasted. He hadn't even been happy at his own wedding, because he'd believed that Starbuck was dead. When he'd discovered Starbuck was alive, he'd been happier than he could remember being in a long time. But part of him was still unsatisfied, because he hadn't been able to be honest with Starbuck about his feelings.
He hadn't been completely honest with Starbuck about why he was "giving" him to Darius. He knew it was selfish and unreasonable, but he hated the idea that Starbuck had been with someone else before him. He was afraid that if he went to bed with his wingmate, he would be constantly thinking of what Darius had done with him. He was jealous.
He was also protecting himself. He was, frankly, terrified. He couldn't stand to lose Starbuck. What if they tried to have an intimate relationship, only to discover it wouldn't work? How could they possibly go back to being friends? He'd rather have Starbuck in his life as a friend than not have him at all. There was also the risk that one day Starbuck would go into battle and not come back. There had already been too many close calls of that nature, including the most recent one.
Could he take the risk? Could he actually allow himself to do something that would make him happy?
He had to get things straight with Darius first, he decided. Then he would talk to Starbuck. It was possible that Starbuck wouldn't even want him anymore, but he had to take the chance, or lose his one shot at true happiness.
Meanwhile, Darius was sitting in his quarters, his letter from Zac in his hand. Hesitantly, he opened it.
"Dear Dari: If you're reading this, it means that I'm gone," the letter started out.
"Before anything else, I want you to know that I love you. I love you very much. I know that we've had our differences lately, but that doesn't mean I don't love you."
"I love you too, Zac," Darius whispered.
The letter went on to talk about various places they'd visited together, things they'd done together, and other memories that Darius had tried to repress since Zac had been gone.
"I know that you'll mourn for me, but I want you to move on. I want you to be happy. Find someone who will make you happy. Maybe you're not meant to be the lover of a warrior."
"Maybe not," Zac sighed.
"I love you very much, Dari. Maybe we'll see each other again someday. We're both Kobolian, after all. Maybe what my father says is true, and we'll join the Lords of Kobol when our lives are over."
Darius had always looked on his family's Kobolian religion as a superstition, but if there was a chance he'd see Zac again, maybe he'd start going back to the Kobolian services held on the Galactica every secton.
He thought about the changes that had happened in his life since his chance meeting with Apollo on the Cerberus. He was in contact with his family again. He'd met Starbuck. He'd fallen for Starbuck. He hadn't intended for that to happen. At first he'd thought to use the fact that Starbuck was hiding their relationship from Apollo to his advantage. But he'd given up on pulling any dirty tricks after he'd fallen in love with the blond Lieutenant.
Darius had just put the letter down when there was a knock on his door. Talk about bad timing, he thought. He opened the door to find his cousin standing there.
"Can I talk to you?" Apollo asked.
Darius let him in. "What do you want to talk about?" he sighed.
"Do you love Starbuck?"
"You know that already. Yes, I love Starbuck. So do you."
"Would it really bother you if Starbuck and I were together?" Apollo asked.
"Yes and no," Darius answered.
"I don't understand."
"I'd be happier if Starbuck chose me. But he's not going to. I want him to be happy. I want you to be happy too. If being together is what will make both of you happy, then I'm all for it. It's not really a good time for me to be involved with someone, anyway. I'm not really finished grieving for Zac. In fact, I've barely started."
"I want you to be happy too, Dari."
"I will be, one day. It will take some time, but I'll make it through. Now, go talk to Starbuck and tell him you've been an idiot, and ask him to forgive you."
Nervously, Apollo headed to the BOQ to find Starbuck. When he found his wingmate, though, Starbuck was not happy to see him.
"Apollo, I really don't want to see you right now," he said.
"I'm not surprised," Apollo said. "But can I talk to you anyway? Alone?"
"Is it important?"
"Very," Apollo answered. "Could you come to my quarters? Boxey isn't home right now, and we could be alone."
"I don't know if that's a good idea."
"Please?" Apollo asked.
With a sigh, Starbuck agreed. He could never refuse Apollo anything. No matter how hard he tried to resist, Apollo had a hold on him.
When they were in the Captain's quarters, Starbuck stood with his hands in his pockets, looking extremely uncomfortable. "What did you want to talk about?" he asked.
"Why don't you sit down?" Apollo suggested.
"I'll stand, if it's all the same to you."
"All right." Apollo took a deep breath and began. "First, I'd like to apologize for the way I've been treating you lately. I haven't been fair to you. I made a decision based on what I thought was best for everyone involved, and I didn't stop to consider what you wanted, or what I wanted. I was wrong."
Starbuck was surprised. He wasn't used to hearing Apollo admit he was wrong. "What does this mean?" he asked.
"It means that I'm an idiot," Apollo said, echoing Darius' words. "Do you remember when I told you that I love you?"
"How could I forget that?" Starbuck asked rhetorically. "I also remember you said that you didn't want me."
"I'm sorry that I said that. It wasn't true. I do want you, but I was too busy trying to make everyone except myself happy. I was jealous of you and Darius. All I could think about was him touching you. I wanted to be your first, your only.
"But that's not all. I was - and am, still - scared to death."
Starbuck moved a bit closer to his wingmate. "What are you scared of?" he asked.
"Losing you," Apollo answered. "Losing your friendship. If we were lovers, and it didn't work out, I don't know how I would function without you with me. You're like my right arm. There's also the risk of losing you to the Cylons. But I'm miserable without you, Star. If anything ever happened to you, I would be devastated. But I'd be more devastated if I never even took a chance on being happy with you. I'd like to take that chance, if you'll let me. I want us to be together, Star."
Starbuck thought for awhile. He wanted to be with Apollo. He'd wanted it for as long as he'd known him. But he had questions. "What about Darius?"
"You told me yourself that you don't want Darius. Darius said that he wants us to be happy, and he knows we'd be happy together."
"So you're still doing what Darius wants, then."
"No, for once in my life I'm doing what I want."
"Apollo, how do I know that you're not going to keep putting your family ahead of everything else - ahead of us, ahead of your relationship with me? You went ahead and decided what I should do, who I should be with, without even considering what I wanted. What if you decide to do that again?"
"That will never happen again. I promise you that," Apollo told him.
"How can I believe you, Apollo? What makes you think it won't happen again?"
"It won't happen again because I've come to the realization that I have a right to be happy, without worrying about what my father or my sister or my cousin thinks. But most of all, I've come to realize that you *are* my family. You are just as important to me as they are. I haven't always treated you that way, and I'm sorry, because you deserve just as much of my consideration as they do, if not more." He swallowed hard. "I love you, Starbuck. Would you do the honour of being my lifemate?"
Starbuck was stunned. "I don't know what to say," he whispered.
Apollo took Starbuck's hands in his. "Say yes," he urged. "Please, say yes."
"Yes," Starbuck answered.
A Few Sectares Later....
"Apollo, are you sure that Darius actually wants to see us? It isn't that long ago that I broke things off with him," Starbuck said.
"He asked to see us - both of us. He insists that there's no hard feelings," Apollo answered. "And he's giving us a free meal, too. How can we refuse?"
The two warriors arrived at the Rising Star and were greeted enthusiastically by Darius. "I managed to arrange to take my own meal break as soon as I've finished preparing your meals," he said, "so I'll be able to eat with you." He poured them each a glass of ambrosa, then headed to the kitchen.
When he came out he was carrying two plates, and was accompanied by another man who was also carrying two plates. After they'd set the plates down, Darius put an arm around the other man's shoulders and announced, "Starbuck and Apollo, this is Liam. He's my lover." Darius had decided that it was too soon to call Liam his lifemate. Maybe one day, he thought, but not yet.
Darius and Liam sat down to congratulations and questions from Apollo and Starbuck. Liam had recently joined the wait staff at the Rising Star, which was how he and Darius had met. They had been together for a few sectons. They were taking things slowly.
"I really have to thank you for this, Starbuck," Darius said.
Starbuck stopped eating and stared across the table at Darius.
"Don't look so surprised," Darius laughed. "It was because I met you - and yes, Liam knows about our history - that I realized I was capable of loving someone again. So thank you."
Starbuck looked down at his plate and muttered an embarrassed, "You're welcome."
Apollo raised his glass of ambrosa. "I would like to propose a toast," he announced.
"To what?" Liam asked.
"To true love," Apollo answered.
"To true love," the other men echoed, clinking their glasses.