The word was said, stated really, quite calmly and firmly. A simple "no." Apollo was stunned.
"What do you mean, 'no' ? No what? I just told you that I love you - what kind of answer is 'no' ?"
"'No' meaning you can't love me, Apollo. That's all," answered Starbuck.
"According to whom?" asked the Captain.
"Everyone," stated Starbuck simply. "You're the Commander's son. People have certain expectations of you. Your being in love with another man doesn't fit those expectations. "
"Expectations? To Hades with expectations! I'm in love with you! What other people think doesn't matter."
"But it should, Apollo. So I'm giving you the easy way out - I'm refusing you."
"You can't tell me that you don't love me."
"No, I can't. That's true. I do love you. But that doesn't matter."
"It matters to me!" exclaimed Apollo.
"Apollo, listen to me. Even overlooking the very obvious fact of my gender, I'm nothing. I'm nobody. I'm not the type that the Commander's son should be with. I came from nothing. When I die I'll go back to being nothing. Just a brief blip on the radar screen. Not enough to make a difference in anyone's life."
"You make a difference in my life," Apollo stated. "You've saved my life - more times than I can count. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be here."
Starbuck couldn't come up with an argument for that. He tried, though. "I just did my job. I'm your wingman. If Boomer or Jolly had been your wingman - "
Apollo cut him off. "I have nothing against Boomer or Jolly, but you're ten times the pilot either of them is. You're the best in the fleet. Remember the time we were planting charges on the hull to cut off that fire? If it hadn't been for you, I'd have gone flying off into space. But you caught me. You risked your life for me. Someone who would do that for another person isn't 'nothing.' "
The Lieutenant sighed. "Apollo, you are a member of one of the oldest, most well-respected families in the Colonies. I'm an orphan. I have no family, no history. I don't even know who my father was. If and when you marry again, it should be to someone worthy of Adama's son. Preferably someone female."
"Starbuck, I keep telling you, you *are* worthy. You're worth more to me than anyone. I don't want anyone else, male or female. I want *you.* "
"And you can't have me. I'm sorry, Apollo. I hope - I hope we can still be friends, but I understand if we can't."
"You're still my best friend, Starbuck. Even if I can't have you as my lover, I want you in my life, and if friendship is all you can offer, then I'll accept."
A Yahren Later
"Starbuck, I have something to tell you," Apollo said as he and the Lieutenant shared a drink in the Officer's Club. "I'm getting sealed."
"Congratulations," Starbuck told him, even though hearing the news made him feel like someone had just performed open heart surgery on him without anaesthetic. "Who's the lucky woman - it is a woman, I assume?"
"Sheba. I hope you and Sheba will be very happy," Starbuck lied. "Do I get to throw you a bachelor party?"
"Only if it turns out better than my last one. Will you be my best man?"
"I'd rather not, if it's all the same to you, Pol."
"Starbuck, if you don't want me to marry her, just say the word."
"I want you to marry her. I want you to be happy." The last part was true, even if the first part wasn't.
"Starbuck, are you happy?"
"Of course I'm happy. Why wouldn't I be happy?"
"I haven't seen you with anyone, with Cassie or ... anyone. I thought maybe you were going to get back with Athena, but then she and Boomer were sealed, so ..."
"There isn't anyone. You're right about that. But I'm perfectly content to be a bachelor." Boy, this lying thing got easier the more he did it.
Apollo got up to return to his quarters. He thought he should be happy, be excited about getting married, but he felt nothing, except perhaps an acceptance of his fate. Sort of like a condemned man accepting his execution. "Come by sometime," he told Starbuck. "Come by and see Boxey."
"How's he feel about gaining a stepmother?"
Apollo frowned. "I don't know. He hasn't said anything about it one way or another."
The expression on Starbuck's face turned serious. "She'd better be good to him."
"Of she'll be good to him! Why wouldn't she be?"
"He's Serena's son," Starbuck pointed out.
"So - so - nothing. Never mind. Congratulations again, Apollo."
Another yahren later
"Congratulations, Apollo. How does it feel to have a daughter?" Starbuck asked as he looked at the baby girl being held in her father's arms.
"I don't know! It's still awfully new," Apollo answered.
"What's her name?"
"Hello, Sela," Starbuck said to the little girl. "Welcome to the Galactica."
"Starbuck, will you be her godfather?"
Stunned, the Lieutenant stammered, "Be - be - be what?"
"But why? I mean, you have a family - shouldn't Athena and Boomer be her godparents?"
"Because you're my best friend and I want you to be. Good enough?"
"Y-yes, of course. I'd be honoured."
On his way out, Starbuck encountered Boxey. "Hey, Boxey, how do you like your sister?"
"She's not my sister," Boxey muttered.
"Excuse me? She's your father's daughter. Last I checked, that made her your sister."
"If we had the same father, she would be."
Starbuck pulled the boy out into the corridor. "All right, Boxey, explain your last statement."
"Apollo isn't my real dad," Boxey told Starbuck. "So Sela isn't really my sister."
Most of the time, Starbuck tended to forget that Apollo wasn't Boxey's birth father. He didn't like this sudden reminder. Who was responsible for reminding Boxey of it ? He hoped that Apollo's family weren't showing favouritism for Apollo's biological child over his adopted one.
"Who told you that Sela isn't really your sister?"
Starbuck saw red. How dare Sheba say something like that to a child? "Boxey, who has raised you since your mother died?"
"My da - Apollo."
"Who tucks you in at night?"
"Who takes care of you when you're sick?"
"Boxey, listen to me. I never had any of that when I was growing up. No one tucked me in at night. If I got sick I went to the infirmary. I always wanted a real mother and father, people who would take care of me like Apollo takes care of you. I think it's safe to call Apollo your dad. And if Apollo's your dad, Sela's your sister. No matter what Sheba says."
"Starbuck, you're Sela's godfather, right?"
"Could you be mine too? Is that allowed?"
Starbuck smiled. "I think it's allowed. I'd be proud to be your godfather, Boxey."
Starbuck gave his new godson a hug. "You're welcome. Now go back inside and get to know your sister."
Two yahrens later
"Uncle Bucko!" cried Sela as she ran to greet her godfather.
Starbuck scooped her up in his arms. "Hey, how's my favourite goddaughter?"
"Sela, you know better than that. Starbuck isn't your uncle."
The little girl frowned. "Then what do I call him?"
"Call him Lieutenant Starbuck," her mother ordered.
"Oh, come on Sheba," Starbuck asked, "isn't that a mouthful for a two-yahren old? What's wrong with 'Uncle' Starbuck?"
"You're not her uncle. Boomer is her uncle, not you. You're not Apollo's brother or his brother- in-law."
"I'm Sela's godfather," Starbuck reminded her.
"Against my wishes," Sheba responded.
Just as Starbuck was about to say something, Apollo walked in. Starbuck put Sela down so that she could great her father.
"Hey, baby. What have the three of you been doing?" Apollo asked.
"Sela was just saying hi to her Uncle Starbuck," Sheba answered.
Starbuck seethed inwardly but said nothing. He knew that Sheba had two faces - one she showed when Apollo was around, the other when he was not.
"Where's Boxey?" Apollo asked.
"No idea," Sheba replied.
Apollo frowned. "What do you mean, 'no idea' ? Didn't he tell you where he was going?"
His wife shrugged. "He hasn't come back from learning period yet."
The Captain's mouth fell open. "Not back from learning period? Learning period was over three centares ago!"
"So? He's a twelve-yahren old boy, Apollo. Surely he's big enough to take care of himself."
"That's not the point. The point is that he's supposed to let us know where he is."
Sheba sighed. "I can't help it if he doesn't tell me where he's going."
"I'll talk to him when he gets back," Apollo said. He looked like he wanted to say something else, but he turned back to his daughter and asked her about her day.
"I guess I'll be going," Starbuck announced to no one in particular.
"So soon?" Apollo sounded disappointed.
"You should be spending time with your family, Apollo, not with a lonely old bachelor like me." He kissed Sela. "Bye, gorgeous."
"Bye, Uncle Starbuck."
Starbuck hid a smile. Maybe Sheba's indoctrination hadn't taken hold of his goddaughter yet.
Three yahrens later
"Happy fifth birthday to the most beautiful woman in the fleet!" Starbuck greeted Sela.
Sela blushed. "Thanks, Captain Starbuck!"
"Now, Sela, you know you don't have to call me Captain." He lowered his voice, "At least not when your mother isn't around."
"You got a promotion! You should be proud to be a Captain!" She smiled shyly. "I'm proud of you, and so's my dad."
"Well, you should be proud of your dad, too. He got promoted to Major."
"Someone talking about me?" Apollo asked as he came into the room.
"We were talking about how proud we are that you got promoted, Daddy."
"Starbuck got promoted too, remember," Apollo told her.
"I know that!"
"Sela, why don't you go ask your Aunt Thena if the mushies are ready yet. I want to talk to Uncle Starbuck."
"Uh oh, grownup stuff," grumbled Sela as she did as she was told.
"What's up, 'Pol?" Starbuck asked in concern.
"Star, Sheba and I are getting a divorce."
Starbuck was not really surprised. He knew that Sheba wouldn't be able to hide her true nature from Apollo forever.
"Oh, uh, sorry to hear that, buddy," Starbuck lied.
"Don't be," Apollo answered.
Suddenly a thought occurred to Starbuck. "Apollo ... This isn't because of me, is it?"
"Would it make a difference if it was?"
"Sure," Starbuck said lightly. He hated himself for the look of hope that suddenly appeared on Apollo's face, not realizing his friend would take his joke seriously. "I wouldn't want Sheba to hate me more than she already does." Apollo's face fell, and Starbuck wanted to rip his own tongue out.
"What about Sela? How does this affect her?" Starbuck asked, changing the subject rapidly.
"Sheba's going to get her own quarters, and Sela will alternate between Sheba's quarters and mine."
"I hope Sheba won't make trouble about your seeing her," Starbuck said worriedly.
"I'm sure she would if she could, but I don't think she dares. I'm still the Commander's son, and while I normally hate to take advantage of my rank or my family's status, I have to admit, it helps."
"Apollo, I really am sorry that your marriage didn't work out, if for no other reason than I want you to be happy."
"You know what would make me happy, Starbuck."
"Please don't bring that up again, Pol. You have a daughter to think of. Sheba could use something like that against you."
"Like I said before, she wouldn't dare. Besides, how would it look if she called attention the fact that her husband left her for a man?"
"Pol, please, just let's not talk about it."
"I still love you."
"I know," Starbuck sighed. "Look, Pol, you're my best friend. Let's leave it at that, okay?"
"All right," Apollo muttered, but he wasn't happy.
Later that evening Starbuck decided to talk to Boxey. "I heard about your father breaking up with Sheba," he said. "I'm sorry."
Boxey smiled. "Don't be sorry," he said. "It means I get rid of the stepmonster."
"Stepmonster?" laughed Starbuck.
"Can you think of a better term for her?" Boxey asked.
"Well yes, several, but I shouldn't repeat them in mixed company."
"Hey, Starbuck, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure kid, go ahead."
"Why didn't my dad marry you instead of the Wicked Witch of the Pegasus?"
Starbuck almost choked on his drink. He swallowed it and took a deep breath. "Boxey, your father is third in command of the Galactica. Your family is one of the oldest and most respected in the colonies. Your grandfather and Sheba's father were friends."
"And that makes a difference how?" Boxey asked.
"I don't have a family. I barely remember my mother and I don't know who my father was. Not to mention the fairly obvious fact that I'm a man. People like your father don't marry people like me. They marry people like Sheba."
"Yeah, and look how long *that* lasted. Look, Starbuck, I know my dad loves you. It's written all over his face every time he looks at you. Why won't you give him a chance?"
"Boxey, like I said, people like your dad don't marry people like me."
"He would if you asked him."
"He would, but he shouldn't. He should marry someone from a good family. A woman from a good family."
"Starbuck, most of the old families from the Colonies were wiped out in the Destruction. That's what my grandfather says. It's been almost ten yahrens since then. Things like who your family was don't matter that much anymore."
"It matters to me," Starbuck said. Then his face lit up. "Anyway, I'm going to marry Sela when she's old enough - aren't I, Sela?" he said as Apollo's daughter appeared.
Sela pretended to consider it, then she said, "I don't know, Starbuck, maybe I'd rather marry Boxey, instead."
"You can't marry me, Sela, I'm your brother."
"Mama says you're not," replied Sela.
"Well, I'm afraid your mother is wrong," Starbuck told her. "She's just a little confused, that's all. See, you and Boxey have different mothers, so that's probably how she got mixed up."
"Boxey's mama died," Sela said seriously. "A long time ago."
"Yes, Sela, my mom died a long time ago," said Boxey sadly. "But you know what? You and me have the best dad in the entire fleet."
"Yeah! We do!" said Sela happily.
"Yeah, kids," Starbuck said quietly. "You sure do."
Half a yahren later
"So, how's life as a bachelor treating you, Pol?" Starbuck asked as he lit up a fumarillo.
"Actually, I've been thinking I'll start dating again," Apollo admitted.
"Really?" Starbuck's stomach churned, but all he said was, "Anyone in particular?"
"Not really, though if it wouldn't bother you, I was thinking of asking Cassiopeia to have dinner with me some night on the Rising Star."
"Cassiopeia's a great woman, Apollo. Don't let me stop you. She and I haven't been together in a long time." He didn't say it wouldn't bother him. It did bother him - just not for the reason Apollo was thinking of. But he had turned down the opportunity to be anything other than Apollo's best friend, and he didn't have the right to stop him from dating or settling down with someone.
Starbuck realized he hadn't dated anyone in a very long time. There hadn't been anyone he wanted to date. The only person he had ever wanted was Apollo, but he wasn't good enough for someone like Apollo. Of course, Apollo didn't agree with that. It was really for Apollo's own good that he'd turned him down. How would the Commander feel about his oldest son dating or marrying another man - especially an orphan with no family, no connections? No, best not to even think about it.
Apollo finished his drink. "I should go. Boxey's babysitting tonight."
"Give my love to my goddaughter," Starbuck told him.
"I will. Starbuck - "
"N-nothing, You're my best friend, you know that, don't you?"
"Of course," Starbuck smiled. "And you're mine."
A few days later
Athena greeted Starbuck as he arrived at the Learning Centre. "Hi, Starbuck. What are you here for?"
"Apollo asked me if I would pick up Sela," he told her. "He's swamped with work. I think he's afraid if he leaves the latest group of cadets alone they'll destroy all the vipers as soon as his back is turned."
Sela was happy to see her godfather and introduced him to another little girl. "This is my friend Tanis, and this is Tanis' mum."
"Hello, Tanis' mum," said Starbuck.
The woman smiled. Starbuck noticed she was quite attractive. "My name is Mira," she introduced herself. "Are you Sela's father, Captain - ?" She'd obviously noticed his rank insignia.
"Godfather," Starbuck corrected her. "My name is Starbuck."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Captain Starbuck."
Starbuck smiled at her. He hadn't flirted with anyone for a long time, or been flirted with. He wasn't even certain he knew how anymore. "I'm not on duty," he told her, "so you don't need to include the 'Captain' part."
"In that case, I'm pleased to meet you, Starbuck." She added a slight emphasis to his name.
"And I you, Mira. I'm sure that if Sela has her way, I'll see you and Tanis again, and possibly Tanis' father?"
"Oh, Tanis' father and I aren't together," Mira stated. "We had an arrangement - I wanted to have a child, he provided the necessary, um, the necessities. I want the human race to continue, despite what happened to the Colonies, and what better way to assure that continuity than by having a child?"
Starbuck wasn't certain what kind of response was expected of him, so he just nodded.
"And what about you, Starbuck? Does Sela have a godmother?"
"I'm not married, if that's what you're asking," Starbuck replied.
"Well, then I hope to see you again sometime ... soon," she added. "But for now, we have to go. It was nice meeting you, Starbuck."
"Nice meeting you too, Mira."
Starbuck was lost in thought as he took Sela back to Apollo's quarters. He was happy he wasn't expected to take her to Sheba. As for Mira, he wasn't entirely certain what to make of her. She was obviously interested in him. He hadn't been with anyone for yahrens, male or female. Apollo was dating again - maybe he should, too.
When he arrived at Apollo's quarters he saw that his friend had managed to free himself from work and was there to meet them. "Thanks for picking Sela up, Starbuck," he said as he hugged his daughter. "Uh, listen, I know this is short notice, but would you be free to babysit tonight? I have - I have a date."
A date. Yes, Apollo was dating. Starbuck knew he didn't have any right to expect Apollo not to date. Ordinarily the idea of babysitting the child of a man he was in love with while that man went on a date with someone else would not be something he'd be happy to do, but he loved Sela as if she were his own child. "Where's Boxey?" was all he said.
"Out with his friends. He's almost sixteen, Starbuck, do you realize that?"
"Doesn't seem that long ago that he wouldn't go anywhere without Muffit," Starbuck commented. "It took a long time for him to get over losing him." Sheba had deactivated the robot daggit when she'd moved in with Apollo.
Apollo frowned. "Something else to *not* thank Sheba for," he commented, but quietly so that Sela didn't hear. He maintained a civil relationship with his ex-wife for her sake. "Do you remember when we were sixteen?"
"Oh lords, how long ago was that?" Starbuck asked rhetorically. "We'd just started in the Academy."
"And you started coming home with me on breaks," Apollo added. "And started seeing my sister not long after that."
'And I was already falling in love with you then,' each man was thinking about the other one.
"Hey, Starbuck?" Sela interrupted. "Did you like Tanis' mum?" The little girl had worked out a compromise with her mother - she didn't call Starbuck "Uncle" but she didn't use his rank either. She just called him by his name, the same as Boxey did.
"Uh, yeah, Sela, sure I did."
"Good, 'cause Tanis wants a daddy."
"Um, Sela, there's more to becoming a dad than just liking someone," Starbuck pointed out. He noticed that Apollo was paying close attention to their conversation.
"I know! You have to get sealed, right?" Sela asked.
"Yes, yes you do have to get sealed. But I think I'd like to get to know Tanis' mother before I decide if I want to seal with her."
When Sela was out of the room, Apollo turned to Starbuck. "Star, do you ever think of getting sealed, with anyone?"
Starbuck shrugged. "Maybe. Never really met anyone I thought I could seal with though."
"No one?" asked Apollo.
"You know what I mean, Pol."
"I wish you would change your mind."
"Apollo, go on your date and enjoy yourself. Who knows, maybe you'll end up getting sealed again."
"Starbuck, listen to me," Apollo persisted.
"Don't say it, Apollo," Starbuck said in a warning tone.
"I love you."
"I told you not to say that!"
"Why not? It's the truth."
"Apollo, we can't be together. We *can't.* Please stop trying to persuade me otherwise."
"Starbuck, tell me that you don't love me."
Starbuck opened his mouth to say just that, but he couldn't say it. He thought he'd become pretty good at lying by now, but saying that he didn't love Apollo would lying to himself as well as to his friend.
"I can't," he admitted. "I can't say it. It's not true. I do love you."
"Then why can't we be together?" Apollo demanded.
"Apollo, I've told you so many times...."
"And it doesn't make any more sense today than it did ten yahrens ago, or five yahrens ago, or yesterday."
Starbuck sighed. "Just go on your date, Apollo. Go on your date and forget about me, before I change my mind about babysitting."
"Actually, I don't feel like going out tonight after all. I won't need a baby sitter."
"Whatever you say." Starbuck went to say goodnight to Sela. Then he had an idea. He asked his goddaughter where he could find Tanis and her mother. Sela told him where their quarters were, on one of the refugee ships. "Are you going to ask Tanis' mum to get sealed with you?" she asked eagerly.
"Not yet," laughed Starbuck. "First, I have to ask her for a date."
Starbuck headed for the ship where Mira and her daughter lived. The refugee ships had once been crowded, dirty, unpleasant places to live. Gradually, after a few yahrens, however, the inhabitants had started working on making them nicer. They'd erected privacy screens between bunks, for example. Some of the refugees had chosen to leave the fleet and stay on some of the inhabited planets they'd encountered since beginning their journey to Earth, which made the ships less crowded.
Once he found Mira, he had another challenge: how to get her to go out with him when she had a five yahren old daughter with her. Then he had an idea.
"Captain Starbuck," Mira greeted him. "What a nice surprise."
"I've told you before, it's just 'Starbuck', he corrected her. "I was wondering if two lovely ladies might be willing to accompany me to dinner tonight."
"Two?" asked Mira.
"Yourself and your beautiful daughter, of course," he told her. Then, more quietly, "Look, I know it's not easy to get a baby sitter on such short notice, so I thought I'd ask you both to join me."
"That's very nice of you. We accept."
Over on the Rising Star, Starbuck entertained Mira and Tanis with stories of his childhood on Caprica. Most of the stories were made up, of course, since he wasn't ready to talk about the orphanage to someone he'd just met. Some of them, mainly the ones involving Apollo, were true.
He found that he enjoyed the company, so when he took them back to their quarters, he asked Mira if she would go out with him again - just the two of them. She accepted, and before long Mira and Starbuck were dating regularly.
Boxey's sixteenth birthday arrived, and he invited Starbuck to his birthday party. Starbuck was surprised that a sixteen yahren old would want his family at his birthday party rather than his friends, but he soon discovered that Boxey had two parties planned. The one for his family was intended to prevent Apollo from questioning him too closely about his plans with his friends. When he found out, Starbuck questioned him himself. Reassured that the boy had nothing illegal planned, he agreed not to say anything to Apollo.
Starbuck took Mira to the party as his date, and they brought Tanis along so that Sela would have someone her own age to play with. Cassiopeia was Apollo's date. Neither man said anything to the other about their choice of companions for the evening.
Sela invited Tanis for a sleep over, so Mira and Starbuck were left alone. Since his promotion to Captain, Starbuck had been able to afford to pay for some modest quarters of his own, so he took Mira back there, which was where their dates usually ended - in Starbuck's quarters, in bed. This evening, however, something was different.
"So, how long have you been in love with Major Apollo, Starbuck?" Mira demanded.
Starbuck choked on the glass of ambrosa he'd been drinking. "Pardon me?"
"How long have you been in love with Apollo? And does he know?"
With a sigh, Starbuck told her the whole story. "I've been in love with him, and he with me, since we were both young cadets. He's asked me to seal with him, but I turned him down."
"Why did you turn him down, if you love him?"
Starbuck explained his reasons. They were beginning to sound stupid even to him.
"And here I thought you were a reasonably intelligent man," said Mira sadly. "Starbuck, did you hear Apollo talking about marrying Cassiopeia?"
"No, I didn't." The news made Starbuck feel like throwing up, and it took him a few microns to regain his composure. "Cassie is a good woman. I'm surprised no one else has recognized that before now."
"Probably the reason no other man has asked her to seal with him is because of her background," Mira speculated. "You know, being a former socialator and all. But Apollo's not like that."
"Uh, no, he's not like that," Starbuck agreed.
"He doesn't care about her history, her background," Mira continued. "I doubt his father does, either. He seemed happy that Apollo was with Cassiopeia."
"Did he? I didn't notice."
"Oh yes," Mira said with a smile. "Of course, maybe I misinterpreted the way he was looking at her. Maybe the Commander has designs on her himself."
Starbuck choked again. Mira patted his back.
"I should go," Mira said to Starbuck. "Can I give you a word of advice?"
Starbuck nodded. He didn't trust himself to speak at the moment.
"Follow your heart. You won't regret it."
And she walked out the door, and out of his life.
Starbuck was stunned. Mira had left him. Just walked right out. How had she figured out his feelings for Apollo? Were they that obvious?
It wasn't like he'd actually been in love with Mira, he conceded. He liked her well enough; she was intelligent, funny, good in bed. And Tanis was a sweet little girl. But the only person he had ever really loved was Apollo. Apollo who was apparently going to marry Cassiopeia.
For the next few sectons Starbuck made an effort to stay away from Apollo. He didn't even visit Sela. He couldn't watch Apollo get married again. He couldn't attend Apollo's Sealing when he wanted to marry Apollo himself. So far, there hadn't been any announcements. Maybe Mira had been wrong. He supposed he could propose to Apollo himself, but surely Apollo had given up on him by now. He'd been refusing Apollo for close to ten yahrens - surely Apollo was tired of being disappointed.
Somehow, in spite of his intentions to stay away from his friend, Starbuck found himself in the Officers' club with Apollo one night. How many evenings had they spent here, drinking, talking, making plans, helping each other through bad times and celebrating good times?
"Starbuck, I have some news."
Oh oh. This was it. This was when he would announce he was getting married again.
"I'm thinking of proposing to Cassie."
"Only thinking?" Starbuck asked.
"I haven't really decided," Apollo replied. "I'm not sure how she feels about me. One centon I could swear she's madly in love with me, but the next I can tell her mind is wandering. It's almost like she's with me because she's settled - she can't have what she really wants, so she'll take me as some sort of consolation."
"That's not fair to you," Starbuck pointed out.
"No, but it's what I've been doing to her, and what I did to Sheba, and to Serena before that."
Starbuck started to say something but Apollo cut him off. "No, don't bother. I've heard it all before. I can't have you. I know."
"That's not what I was going to say."
"What, you've come up with a new reason why you don't want me?"
"Apollo - "
"No. Just forget it. Forget we ever had this conversation. Forget I ever made the mistake of telling you how I feel. Forget - "
Starbuck leaned forward and kissed him hard on the lips. How odd that they'd loved each other all these yahrens and yet they'd never actually kissed before.
Apollo sat with a stunned look on his face. He opened his mouth to say something, then closed it. He opened it, then closed it again.
"Don't marry Cassie, Pol. Don't marry anyone except me. I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Starting now."
"You mean it?" Apollo asked. "You really want to Seal with me?"
"If you want to with me," Starbuck answered. "Do you - still, I mean?"
Apollo grabbed him and kissed him even harder. "Does that answer your question?" he asked when he let go.
Starbuck sat silently for a moment. "Please say the words, Pol. I need to hear them. I need to know for sure that you still want me after all these yahrens."
"Marry me, Starbuck. Come live with me and my children and be part of our family."
"I'm not already part of your family?" He tried unsuccessfully to keep the hurt out of his voice.
Apollo hugged him tightly. "You are. You always have been. Now we'll make it official."
Starbuck revelled in the embrace. "Thank the gods," he whispered. "I was so afraid I'd lost my chance, that you'd finally given up on me."
"Never. No matter how many times you turned me down, I'd have kept asking you until the day one of us died."
Starbuck did not return to his quarters that night.
The next day, Starbuck and Apollo reluctantly dragged themselves out of bed to see Sela off to Learning Period. If the little girl found it odd that Uncle Starbuck had apparently spent the night in their quarters, she didn't say anything. Before she left, she had a question.
"Starbuck, are you going to ask Tanis' mum to Seal with you?"
"No, sweetheart, I'm not. I'm going to Seal with someone else."
"Really? With who?"
"With your dad."
"But what about Auntie Cassie?" asked Sela. "I thought you were going to Seal with her, Daddy."
"Let me tell you a secret about Auntie Cassie, Sela," Apollo said. "I think that the person she *really* wants to Seal with is your grandfather. She'll still be part of the family. She just won't be your stepmother."
"Does that mean that Starbuck is going to be my stepmother?"
The two men laughed. "No, honey, he'll still be your godfather," Apollo told her.
Sela thought for a moment. "Wow. Some of the kids in my class don't have any dads at all, like Tanis - but I have three!"
"Three?" Starbuck asked.
"Sheba and Bojay are together," Apollo informed him. "They're going to be Sealed, too."
Boxey came into the room just as Sela left to go to school. "What's all this talk about Sealing?" he asked.
"Starbuck and I are going to be Sealed," Apollo informed him.
"Well, it's about time," Boxey said with a grin. "Congratulations. And I heard that the Bi - uh, the Witch is going to get married again, too."
"Don't talk like that about Sheba!" Apollo scolded him.
"Why not? She's not my stepmonster anymore. I can call her what I like."
"She's still Sela's mother," Apollo reminded him.
"Yeah. Sela-who-isn't-really-my-sister. Right. See you guys later." And he walked out.
"Boxey!" Apollo shouted, but his son had already left. "I don't understand," he said to Starbuck. "What got into him?"
"Apollo, do you know what Sheba told Boxey when Sela was born?"
"No - I was kind of preoccupied at the time, if you recall."
"She told him that because he's not your *real* son, Sela isn't his sister."
"Sheba said that?" Apollo asked in astonishment. "When?"
"He told me about it the day you asked me to be Sela's godfather. I asked him how he liked his new sister and he told me that Sela wasn't his sister, according to Sheba."
"That bitch," muttered Apollo. "You were right about her."
"What specifically was I right about?" Starbuck asked curiously.
"When I told you Sheba and I were getting Sealed, you asked if she would be good to Boxey. You suggested she might not be, because of his being Serena's son. I should have known the day she deactivated Muffit. I admit, Muffy was annoying, but Boxey loved him."
"I have a confession to make," Starbuck said somewhat sheepishly.
"About what?" Apollo asked in curiosity.
"About Muffit. Sheba gave him back to Wilker, and I - well, I bought him. I reactivated him and kept him in my own quarters for Boxey to visit. In fact, he's still there - deactivated a long time ago, but he'll be around for Boxey's children one day."
Apollo shook his head and looked at Starbuck with an expression of deep love. "Do you have any idea how much I love you?" he asked.
"You gave me a pretty good idea last night," Starbuck answered, "but you can always show me again."
So Apollo did.
Both warriors had work to do that day, and it couldn't be avoided, no matter how much they wished they could spend the entire day alone in Apollo's quarters. They returned at the end of the day. Starbuck hadn't been certain if he should return to his own quarters or go to Apollo's, and Apollo insisted he come to his. He didn't want them to spend any more time apart than was absolutely necessary.
Sela was with her mother, but Boxey was there when the two men arrived. "Good," Apollo said in an aside to Starbuck. "I need to talk to him - tell him how wrong Sheba was."
"Should I go somewhere?" Starbuck asked.
"No. You're family. You stay." He approached his son. "Boxey."
The boy looked up. "Hey, Dad. How was your day?"
"I want to talk to you."
"If it's about what I said about Sheba, forget it. I'm sorry. I shouldn't call her names."
"Boxey, I understand Sheba said some things to you about whose son you are, who your family is," Apollo continued.
Boxey sighed. "Don't worry about it. It doesn't matter."
"It does matter, son. It matters a great deal."
"Look, I already knew you weren't my real father. That wasn't exactly news."
"But you are my son, and you're as real to me as Sela. I don't care if we don't happen to share the same genetic material. I became your father the moment I sealed to your mother. I adopted you. That makes you my son."
Boxey shrugged. "I'm adopted. Sela's not."
"That makes no difference to me, and you know it."
"It makes a difference to me," Boxey answered quietly.
"Why? Why does it make a difference?" Apollo wanted to know.
"Because I don't have a blood family. My mother was my only living relative and she died! I know that your mother died too, but at least you still had Grandfather and Aunt Thena. I don't have anyone!"
"Boxey," Starbuck addressed him.
"Oh, Starbuck, I'm sorry! I didn't realize you were here. I shouldn't have said anything."
"No, you have a right to your feelings, Boxey. I know how it feels not to have a family, a blood family. It's why I kept turning down your father when he asked me to marry him - I felt like I was somehow less worthy without a family background. But you told me yourself that doesn't matter."
"Yes, Boxey, you did. Listen, you know I'm an orphan. I never knew my own mother before she died. There are a lot of orphans in the fleet - so many people lost their entire families in the destruction. There are a lot of people in our situation - having no blood relatives. But since I met your father, he's given me a family. All of you have given me a family - you, Sela, your grandfather, your aunt. It doesn't matter if those ties aren't blood. Boxey, do you love me?"
"Y-yes," Boxey stammered.
Starbuck smiled. "Then does it matter if we're blood relatives or not? Would you love me more if we were?"
"No!" the boy exclaimed. Then he looked sheepish. "I guess that's what really matters."
"Boxey, I don't want to make it sound like it doesn't matter that you lost your mother. That's a very, very hard thing for anyone to go through. But I don't think you're being fair to your father - your *real* father, Boxey, because that's what Apollo is, whether he's related to you by blood or not. Your father loves you, Boxey, and so do I."
Boxey ran to Starbuck and gave him a hug, then did the same for his father. "I'm sorry, Dad. I'm sorry, Starbuck. I love both of you. I don't care if we're biological family or not. We're family."
"It's all right, Boxey. I understand," said his father. "And I love you too. Sheba should never have said those things to you. Now, can we talk about something else?"
"What?" asked Boxey.
"My wedding to Starbuck. I want you and your sister to be part of it."
The day of Starbuck and Apollo's sealing found the two warriors nervously fastening their dress uniforms. Starbuck had suggested he get ready in his own quarters, (which he would be giving up as soon as he moved his things into the new quarters he and Apollo would share) but Apollo wouldn't hear of it.
"Don't you know it's bad luck for us to see each other before the wedding?" Starbuck asked.
"Nothing is bad luck to me when you're here," his lover answered. 'You're my lucky Star."
Starbuck smiled at him fondly. "I'm the lucky one - lucky to have you. I can hardly believe you waited for me all these yahrens."
Apollo gave him a quick hug. "I would have waited for you forever. I don't ever want to be without you, Starbuck."
"You won't be," Starbuck assured him.
"Do you have any idea how much I love you?" Apollo asked.
Starbuck grinned. "Yes," he answered, "I do. That doesn't mean you can stop showing me, though."
"I intend to show you every night for the rest of our lives," Apollo told him.
The look on Starbuck's face turned from joking to serious. "I love you, Pol. I love you so much. You do know that, don't you?"
"I know. And I love you." He kissed the other man gently. "Come on. Let's go get married."
As they arrived at the chapel where the Sealing would take place, Apollo hesitated for a moment outside the entrance. "What's wrong, Pol?" Starbuck asked in concern.
"I can hardly believe this is happening," Apollo answered. "I'm marrying my best friend. I've wanted this for so long ... and now I'm finally doing it."
"I know," smiled Starbuck in response. "I feel the same way."
Apollo held out his hand. "Let's go in," he said. "Our family is waiting for us."
"Our family," said Starbuck wonderingly. "I like the sound of that."
EPILOGUE (Twenty yahrens later - the planet Earth.)
"Come on, Apollo," Starbuck griped. "We're going to be late for our daughter's wedding."
"I swear you're more nervous today than you were the day we were Sealed," Apollo replied with a laugh.
"Hey, it's not every day your only daughter gets married," Starbuck told him.
"I still remember the day of our Sealing like it was yesterday," Apollo reminisced. "Was it really twenty yahrens ago?"
"Doesn't seem like that long, does it?" Starbuck asked. "But we've been living on Earth for ten yahrens - uh, years now."
"I don't think I'll ever get used to the way they measure time here," Apollo grumbled. "When is Boxey getting here?"
"He and Dillon are stopping at Thena and Boomer's first," Starbuck answered. "They're dropping off a daggit pup they promised to their cousins."
Apollo smiled as he remembered the first time Boxey had encountered an Earth daggit - what the Earth people called "dogs." The young man had dropped to his knees to pet it, and Apollo had seen tears in his eyes. He and his spouse, Dillon, now raised daggits - dogs - on their small farm.
Boxey and Dillon arrived, with their latest prize daggit, Muffit III. "Dad, Starbuck! You guys ready?"
"We're ready." All four of them wore the dress uniforms of Colonial Warriors, even though they had all retired after settling on Earth. Apollo had retired with the rank of Commander, and Starbuck the rank of Colonel, after Adama had stepped down from his post, as had Colonel Tigh. Adama settled down with his new wife, Cassiopeia, just as Apollo had predicted.
When they arrived at the church the four men joined Sheba and Bojay and their two children, Sela's half-sister and brother. They were soon joined by Mira and her husband, Zaran, Tanis' father, whom Mira had married not long after breaking up with Starbuck all those yahrens ago.
They had just found their seats when the music started. Apollo and Starbuck joined Sela at the back of the church, and Mira and Zaran stood on either side of their daughter. Sela had asked Apollo and Starbuck to give her away, and Sheba had reluctantly acquiesced to her request.
Commodore Adama (ret.) stood at the front of the church and welcomed his granddaughter and her wife-to-be. Even though he was over a hundred yahrens old, he was in perfect health, and his eyes shone with happiness as he performed the ceremony, just as he had for Apollo and Starbuck twenty yahrens previously.
"I pronounce the two of you Sealed," Adama concluded as the two women kissed. Apollo leaned over and stole a quick kiss from Starbuck at the same time.
As the happy group left the church, Apollo gave his daughter and daughter in law hugs. "Where are you going on your honeymoon?" he asked them.
"We're going to that new resort on Earth's moon," Tanis replied. "I've heard good things about it. What about the two of you?" she asked, meaning Apollo and Starbuck.
"What about us?" Starbuck asked.
Sela answered, "Since it was just your twenty-yahren anniversary a few days ago, I thought you could use a second honeymoon." She handed them an envelope. "Those are travel vouchers for anywhere on Earth you want to go. I know you haven't seen much of this new world yet. So take a trip and enjoy yourselves."
After the reception was over and everyone had left, Starbuck and Apollo headed back to the small house they'd built together. "So. where do you want to go on our second honeymoon?" Starbuck asked his husband.
Apollo shrugged. "Why should I want to go anywhere? I have everything I want right here."
"Well, since Sela and Tanis were nice enough to give us those vouchers, we should use them."
Apollo pulled the man he loved down into the bed with him. "Let's talk about that tomorrow."