Author: StarryDiadem PM
Sickness and quarantine. Very mild ApolloStarbuck preslash.Rated: Fiction T - English - Words: 10,873 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 9 - Published: 07-18-06 - Status: Complete - id: 3052376
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Apollo doesn't think it's quite fair.
He hadn't danced at the party all night. No, indeed. He'd sat and engaged in tortuously polite conversation with the Minister and secured the trade deal. He'd eaten well, true, but he'd drunk only in moderation despite the amount of alcohol (at least, the pale pink liquid had seemed pretty intoxicating so he supposed it was some sort of alcohol)... so, he'd been very moderate despite the amount of alcohol their hosts had pressed on them at the leaving feast.
Starbuck, of course, wouldn't have recognised moderation if it had thrown a football tackle at him and brought him crashing to the floor. Starbuck wouldn't have recognised moderation if it had snuck up behind him with a two-by-four. Starbuck wouldn't – well, Apollo's run out of similes but not resentment. Apollo had glowered, but Starbuck had accepted every glass of pale pink wine their genial hosts had offered; not to mention siphoning up a few of Apollo's when Apollo's attention was claimed by the Minister.
Starbuck had partied.
Starbuck had partied with a dedication and an energy that he asserted had sprung from his commitment to the well-being of the fleet and the need to keep their hosts well-disposed. Apollo had snorted at that one. Not that Starbuck had cared. He had laughed and drank and joked and flirted, and he'd danced for centars with the Minister's daughter. For a little while (the anthropological and sociological briefings before this mission being a little on the unhelpfully terse side) Apollo had worried about the potential for cultural misunderstanding. But in the end he had decided that if by drinking flirtatiously from her wine goblet and by dancing with the lady, Starbuck had unwittingly gone through some sort of Pelaian wedding ceremony, then the Lieutenant would just have to suck it up and do his marital duty for the good of the fleet and the trade agreement. And Apollo would be the one laughing heartily at the sight of Starbuck irrevocably bound in Holy Wedlock with an alien temptress who had four arms, no hair and towered over her bridegroom by a good twelve inches.
Not that it would worry Starbuck. He hadn't seemed to mind the lady's extra hands or the fact that she could use them with practised ease – another reason, other than two left feet, that kept Apollo off the dance floor. There was a cultural disaster just waiting to happen, given where her hands were wandering. But then, according to popular legend, Starbuck had at least four hands himself and if Apollo resolutely keeps his sister from his thoughts while he reflects on the phenomenon, he can appreciate (in an intellectual sort of way) Starbuck's reputed skill with them.
Apollo had hoped that being faced (handled?) with four of the real thing, Starbuck would be intimidated. But no. Starbuck had come back to the table between dances, flushed and breathless, hair in wild disorder and eyes bright with something indefinable that annoyed Apollo exceedingly. It had annoyed him all night, listening to the buzzing whine of little night insects flying about the room and to the buzzing whine of Starbuck's drunken snoring from the next-door bed.
So, all things considered, it just isn't fair that Starbuck's putting him through hangover hell now, when he doesn't even have a hangover. Starbuck, of course, deserves it. Apollo glances aft towards the tiny fresher where Starbuck is noisily throwing up for the third time since they'd started back to rendezvous with the fleet, and for the third time Apollo wishes for a bigger shuttle with sound-proofing around the flush.
Starbuck comes back slowly, wiping his mouth. He looks pale and shaky.
"Better?" asks Apollo, as Starbuck falls into the co-pilot's chair.
"Do I look it?"
Apollo looks him over. "No. You look terrible."
"You say all the nicest things." Starbuck settles back in the chair and closes his eyes. He's shivering.
"Comes from having to do all the work." Apollo gives Starbuck one more glance before turning back to look over the flight displays.
"I'm sick," says Starbuck. "You can't make me work when I'm sick." He slumps bonelessly. "I think I need Dr Salik. When do we get home?"
"You expect him to be more sympathetic about a hangover than I am?" Apollo glances from the display to his watch. "A centar, tops."
"Great. And I'm not hung-over." Starbuck squirms in the seat and runs a shaking hand over his face. "Really, I'm not, Apollo. I mean, I know I drank a bit last night but I was sober. That pink stuff wasn't really that alcoholic, not compared with ambrosa. And you know I have a head for my ambrosa."
"You usually have a head for mine, as well," agrees Apollo. He hadn't missed Starbuck's appropriation of the pretty pink wine.
"It's for your own good," says Starbuck. "You're lousy at assimilating chemicals with an –OH ending to them. One sniff of the cork and you fall over, and you're not as good at handling the after-effects as I am."
The only possible response to that is a long slow sneer, a look from the top of Starbuck's aching head to his toes and back up again, lip curling. Apollo does it with venom and a great deal of sincerity.
"I am not hung-over," repeats Starbuck, huddled defensively into his chair.
"Sure," says Apollo, and concentrates on flying the shuttle until Starbuck's muttered curse and ungainly lurch to his feet disturbs him. He watches Starbuck's staggering run for the fresher again and after a micron's thought, the Better!Apollo ingrained in him by his religious upbringing rises up and chastises him for his lack of compassion. He puts the little shuttle onto autopilot and follows Starbuck.
The Lieutenant's face down over the flush, shoulders still heaving with dry retches. It doesn't seem possible he has anything left to give. Apollo squats down beside him and rubs his back, comfortingly.
"Better?" he asks when Starbuck's able to sit back on his heels.
Starbuck unfolds long legs, unusually clumsy, and rests his back against the wall. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and Apollo reaches up to get him one of the cleansing wipes. "Do I look it?"
"No." Apollo clears the flush and studies him. Starbuck's chalk white now he's finally finished trying to heave up his toenails, but for two red patches over his cheekbones. "Want out of here?"
"Temporarily, probably" sighs Starbuck, but he accepts the hand Apollo holds out and lets Apollo heave him to his feet.
"Ooh," says Starbuck, closing his eyes. "Giddy."
Apollo catches him just in time, pulling Starbuck up against his chest to hold him. Starbuck stutters out something that Apollo can't make out and puts his forehead down on Apollo's shoulder. Apollo holds him steady for a micron. He isn't sure which of them is trembling.
When Starbuck can straighten, Apollo doesn't bother taking him back to the co-pilot's seat. They're using the smallest of Galactica's shuttles, the Commander's own shuttle, with only three rows of seats, but even that small distance from cockpit to flush has almost been Starbuck's undoing. Instead, Apollo gently pushes Starbuck onto the back seat.
"This is closer," he says. "Less distance for you to stagger next time around."
"You're all heart," says Starbuck, but he settles readily into the seat. Maybe he's too tired to walk all the way back to the co-pilot's chair.
Apollo frowns. "You may be better lying down," he suggests.
"Waste of a perfectly good back seat," mumbles Starbuck, but he obeys anyway. He's shivering again, but Apollo can feel the heat as he helps the Lieutenant lie back.
"Cold," says Starbuck, wrapping his arms around his chest. He flinches when Apollo's hand cups his cheek and there's something in his eyes makes Apollo's chest tighten.
"You've got a temperature," says Apollo, keeping his hand against Starbuck's face. The skin's hot, papery dry, and Starbuck's lips are chapped. "Maybe it isn't a hangover, after all."
"Yeah. I believe you. Try and sleep."
Starbuck looks faintly surprised at being believed, but the surprise soon slides away, his face slackening as if he's too tired to hold any expression. He closes his eyes.
Apollo straightens up. Indecisive for a micron, he looks from Starbuck to the cockpit. "Frack," he says.
The seats are narrow, and Starbuck doesn't look all that secure. Apollo stacks the seat cushions from the other two rows into the space between Starbuck's narrow, improvised bed and the seat backs of the row in front. At least if Starbuck rolls over, he won't hurt himself by falling off. The emergency blankets are in the storage locker on the port side. Starbuck mutters something when Apollo tucks the silvery folds over him, his eyes opening for a micron. He clutches at the blanket, his hand dabbing at it blindly a couple of times before his fingers make contact and pull the blanket up under his chin. The smile he gives Apollo is peculiarly sweet.
It makes up Apollo's mind for him. He goes back to the pilot's console, keeping one eye on Starbuck.. "Galactica Core Command, this Shuttle One. Come in, please."
The Comms officer answers on his second call, but doesn't have much time to do anything other than acknowledge, before Commander Adama is on the line.
"Captain Apollo," says the Commander, in the tone of voice that Apollo associates with being twelve, unwashed and late for formal family dinners. "We were expecting you back earlier today."
Well, Apollo can't deny the charge of being late, anyway. It hadn't been a great start to the day. They'd overslept – or rather, Starbuck had been unusually difficult to get moving and surly with it – and then there'd been quite a lot of protocol to get through. Starbuck, hiding pained eyes behind sunglasses, had fidgeted throughout, like a daggit on a sunspot. His twitchiness had annoyed the frack out of Apollo at the time.
"The Pelaians insisted on seeing us off, sir. There were a few speeches. Sir – " Apollo hesitates, looking back to where Starbuck's sleeping. He can hear the Lieutenant's breathing, the same noisy breathing he'd listened to all night, but worse. "Sir, I'm calling in a Code 2 medical emergency."
He hears one sharp inhalation, but his father's voice is calm. "Details, please, Captain."
"Starbuck's sick. Copiously and repeatedly and it looks like his temperature's spiking. He's a little out of it. Could you have Doctor Salik stand by, please?"
Another long pause. "Apollo, you know the rules. Are you formally calling a Code 2?"
Apollo turns and looks to the back of the shuttle, just as Starbuck rolls onto his side, swathed in the silvery fabric. The Lieutenant's face is slack with sleep, reddened with fever.
"Yes, sir. I don't know what this is, and – well, no chances."
"Apollo – " says his father, sounding uncharacteristically helpless.
"I know," says Apollo.
The Commander clears his throat. "We're patching you through to Salik now. How far out are you?"
"Less than a centar. Seventy-five centons, maybe."
"Well – " says his father, and Apollo realises, with some astonishment, that Adama doesn't actually know what to say.
Apollo shrugs, rubbing absently at an itchy spot on his arm. There isn't much his father can say, he supposes. He takes a headset from the console and switches it on, settling it into his left ear and flicking the switch on the comms unit to activate it.
"Salik here. Core Command told me you'd called in a Code 2. What's the problem?" The Galactica's chief medical officer sounds the same as ever: irascible, impatient, almost annoyed that he has inconsiderate patients to deal with. He has a bedside manner that sucks Cylons, but Apollo trusts the man implicitly.
Apollo settles the earpiece more comfortably. "Starbuck's sick. I thought he was just feeling the after-effects of last night – our hosts were very generous – but I've seen him with a hangover. It's more than that."
Salik snorts; Apollo turns down the volume. "Symptoms?"
"He's very nauseous. He's thrown up four times now and he's feverish and sleepy."
"Any other intestinal disturbance?"
"Intest – " Apollo would roll his eyes if Starbuck would only wake up enough to notice. "Oh. No. He's just been sick, thankfully. I don't think the flush could have coped with more."
"May not be food poisoning then."
"We pretty much ate the same, and I'm not testing flushes to destruction."
"All right. You'll have to do some of this for me and report back. The emergency medical kit is in the aft storage compartment on the port side. Go over it with me."
Apollo retrieves the kit. It's reasonably well-stocked, but then he knows that Salik's paramedics are responsible for checking every one before a shuttle leaves the Galactica, and Salik isn't one to overlook any dereliction of duty. "Distilled water. Alcohol. Gauze. Bandages. Thermometer. Some cream.. anti-histamine, I think. Four boxes of pills – "
"Put the pills to one side for now. You may need them later – there's something there to control diarrhoea, mild painkillers and a non-specific antibiotic. From what you said, he won't need the gut-blockers but the painkillers have anti-inflammatory effects and might help the fever. Take his temperature for me first."
Starbuck stirs when Apollo leans over him. "Wha' d'ing?"
"Doctor Salik wants me to take your temperature, Starbuck. Just relax."
"Tem'ture?" Starbuck's eyelids flicker as he fights to stay awake.
"I'm just going to stick this in your ear. Lie still."
That wakes Starbuck up. His eyes shoot open, as if Apollo's just electrocuted him or something. "You're what?" He struggles to sit up. "Oh no, you're not! That thing's dangerous in untrained hands!"
Apollo looks blankly from Starbuck to the thermometer, wondering about delirium. "Dangerous?"
Starbuck's flagging again, the brief burst of energy over. "Look, there's other things I'd rather have stuck into me, frankly, and – "
"Oh, be still," says Apollo, losing patience. He pushes the end of the thermometer into Starbuck's ear, far more gently than he feels Starbuck really deserves for being an idiot, even a feverish delirious idiot.
Starbuck giggles. Apollo stares, and Starbuck does it again. Giggles. Like a girl.
"Oh," he says. "My ear! I thought – " He does the feverish girly giggle again and makes a gesture that leaves Apollo in no doubt at all about what Starbuck had thought.
Apollo hopes the face burn doesn't mean he's getting as sick as Starbuck. "Your thought processes are nothing to write home about, even when your brain's not being fried. I'm going nowhere near any other bit of your anatomy."
Starbuck slides slowly down again. "I live in hope," he says, tired.
Apollo ignores that. It's not safe going anywhere near Starbuck's train of thought, much less boarding it. Instead, he takes off his jacket, wadding it up into a pillow and tucks it under Starbuck's head. "Better?"
"Nnnnh," says Starbuck, indistinctly, eyelids drooping again. He closes his eyes when Apollo removes the thermometer.
Salik isn't a patient man. "Captain?"
Apollo keys open the headset. "It's high," he says, and reads Salik the result.
"Nearly three degrees of fever – yes, it's high. Describe how he looks to me."
"Suffering, but beautiful," murmurs Starbuck, who's drifted back again.
Apollo ignores that, too. "His skin's hot. It was dry, a few centons ago, but he's starting to perspire a lot. No rashes that I can see – "
"Check his chest and back. Some rashes won't show in the face."
Apollo sighs, remembering Boxey's recent bout of measles, and manages to get Starbuck's clothes sufficiently disturbed to check the Lieutenant's chest. Starbuck tries to help, but his limbs are heavy and the ineffectual pawing he makes at his own tunic just gets in the way.
"Can you roll onto your side?" asks Apollo, capturing Starbuck's hands in his with a firm 'I can manage, Starbuck.' Starbuck's hands are hot and unpleasantly damp. Starbuck flails for a micron or two and he has to help Starbuck move. "Doc? No rashes on his body, either."
He resettles Starbuck's tunic as best he can and helps the Lieutenant to lie back. Starbuck mutters something – probably obscene – and scratches at his arm until Apollo's itches again in sympathy. He bats Starbuck's hands away, despite the incoherent protests. "He keeps coming in and out of it a bit, too. Drifting."
"Is he still nauseous?"
"NNgh," says Starbuck, and Apollo takes that for agreement.
"Go back to sleep," he says, tugging off the Lieutenant's boots to make him more comfortable. "I think so, Doc."
"It sounds like an infection of some sort. You're sure you're all right?"
Apollo takes a micron to check. "Fine." He thinks about it some more. "So far," he adds, cautiously.
Salik sighs. "All right, Captain, I'm confirming your Code Two. Core Command will give you your instructions. In the meantime, give him two of the white pills with just a little water. They'll help his nausea."
"That'll be a boon," says Apollo.
"Try'n not throwp," mumbles Starbuck.
"Try harder. Here." Apollo gets an arm around Starbuck's shoulders to lift him and hold him steady. Starbuck takes a couple of retching tries to get the pills down. "Not too much water," says Apollo, mindful of Salik's instruction. He's also mindful of the meagre supplies on the shuttle. He doesn't know how long it will be before the Galactica establishes quarantine and gets some supplies to them. He lowers Starbuck down gently. "Go to sleep."
Starbuck's already half-way there, snuffling a bit, like a kid. Apollo gets a mumbled response and within a few centons, Starbuck's out of it again. Apollo watches him. Starbuck's face is damp with sweat, his hair darkening with it, but he clutches the blanket to himself as if he's freezing. Not good. Apollo takes a piece of the gauze from the medikit and wipes Starbuck's face with it. Starbuck presses his face against Apollo's hand and snuffles some more. It's oddly endearing, like having a daggit puppy.
"We're putting you into a holding pattern just short of the fleet," says Omega. "You should have us on visual."
"I have." Apollo glances at the screen. Galactica is still far enough away so that he can see her in all her glory, filling most of the screen. She isn't yet so close that she becomes the entire grey, metallic sky, scoured by space dust.
"Transmitting holding co-ordinates now."
"Acknowledged. Data received. Navigation computers locked into sequence."
"We'll be as fast as we can," promises Omega.
Even so, when Omega hails him again, Apollo's in the back of the shuttle, sitting on the floor at the end of the seat where Starbuck lies, and Omega's voice in the earpiece rouses him from an unexpected doze.
"Still here." He looks at his watch: more than two centars. Starbuck's sleeping deeply, his face flushed and his breathing hitching every other breath. Apollo puts a hand against Starbuck's face. Still very hot.
"We've prepared an airlock on the starboard side where you can dock. I'm required by law to remind you of the regulations regarding a Code 2. You and Lieutenant Starbuck will not be permitted to enter the ship for the next secton. Guards have been posted on our side and they have been ordered to shoot to kill if they see any unauthorised attempt to use the airlock. Please acknowledge."
"Understood. When can we expect some medical assistance? He's worse, I think."
"Dr Salik is discussing the protocols with the Commander."
"Great," says Apollo. "Tell them to talk faster."
"I'll do what I can. We're transmitting the docking data now. You should be in place in twenty centons."
"Acknowledged." Apollo scrambles back into the pilot's chair, taking back the controls from the autopilot. As flying goes, it's so routine as to be boring, but it takes his mind off the enormity of being docked with the Galactica but being forbidden to enter the ship. He's trapped on this tiny shuttle with a man who is demonstrably getting sicker every centon.
And who will pay for this when he's well enough, promises Apollo grimly. He doesn't relish the thought of the next ten days, cut off from everything. Boomer will handle the troops, of course, and he doesn't really worry about that. He does worry about Boxey. Boxey's adjusting to his mother's death, but the way he clings whenever Apollo has to leave him and tries to persuade him not to go on missions away from the fleet speaks of an insecurity that this damned quarantine is unlikely to help. Not even the promised presents in the port storage compartments are likely to do that – if (and it's a big if) they survive the decontamination process the shuttle will be put through.
Apollo manoeuvres the shuttle into position, matching Galactica's course and speed exactly, closing the gap until the little shuttle's caught by the docking clamps and winched in until she's tucked in, nice and neat, against the battlestar's side. He can hear it when the airlock doors connect. Much good it will do him and Starbuck, but they are connected.
"Docking complete," says Omega.
Salik's back on line. He dodges questions about when Apollo can expect to see him and has him recheck Starbuck's temperature. Half a degree up and the Lieutenant's sleep is sweaty and restless. Starbuck doesn't wake, and Salik does another of his ear-splitting snorts.
"I really need to see him," he says.
No felger, thinks Apollo, sourly. Like that's going to happen in a hurry. "When will you have decontamination in place?" he asks.
"The engineers are just finalising it now, but you know the rules, Captain. I can't come aboard for three days."
"Great," says Apollo, who does know the rules and is beginning to think that they're a little over-rigorous. He can understand (intellectually) the need to do as much from a distance as possible – too many ships in the early days had become floating morgues through allowing infection aboard and no-one wants to repeat those mistakes – but on a personal level it isn't encouraging. The rules are simple. If this is something so virulent that he and Starbuck succumb to it fast, the shuttle will be jettisoned and taken out with laser fire. If they're still here after the three days, Salik will deem the threat to be less dire and come through the decontamination barriers in a hazmat suit. The three day limit is totally arbitrary, and everyone knows it. But, equally, no-one will breach it and he and Starbuck will have to manage on their own.
"In the meantime, we'll work a system to get you supplies and whatever we decide Starbuck needs to get through the preliminary period."
What he needs is a damn doctor, thinks Apollo, but he says, more temperately: "We'll need food and water, and this place isn't the Rising Star. Pillows, some bedding – he's not very comfortable and I've got nothing here to make it better."
"As soon as the engineers have finished," promises Salik.
"Yeah. Thanks." Apollo stares down at the pilot's console for a micron. "Core Command?"
"Here," says Omega.
"Patch me through to the Commander, please."
"I'm right here, Apollo," says his father, so quickly that he must have been listening in to everything.
"Boxey. I was wondering what we tell him."
Once again, Apollo has the disorientating feeling that his father doesn't know what to say. "I don't want him too worried."
"Perhaps we could tell him that you and Starbuck are staying on Pelaia for a few days longer? We could arrange a couple of calls between you so that he doesn't feel too neglected."
Apollo rolls back his left sleeve and inspects his forearm. The little red spot is itching again – an insect bite, he thinks, scratching at it vigorously. While he talks to his father he gets up to search through the medical kit for the antihistamine cream and applies it lavishly. "I don't think that one will fly. It'll be common knowledge that me and Starbuck are stuck in quarantine and he's sure to find it out. We can't lie to him."
"You're probably right," agrees Adama, sounding a little surprised.
Apollo wonders if the Commander thinks that just saying something will make it true for the child. His father doesn't really know how to deal with kids, although he undoubtedly dotes on his grandson. Apollo resists the desire to point out that, in a yahren, Boxey has had more fathering from Apollo than Apollo got in a decade from Adama. It isn't his father's fault that his job had taken him away from the family so often and for so long. So he contents himself with being practical: "All you can do is play it down when you tell him, I guess, but it will help if he can talk to me regularly."
As long as I don't get sick as well, he thinks.
"Every day," promises Adama. "I'll keep him with me until you're back. Properly back, I mean."
"Thanks, sir," says Apollo, the 'Dad' hanging there, unsaid, but understood by both of them. "I'd better get back to Starbuck. Talk to you later."
Starbuck is still asleep, curled up on the shuttle seat. He looks smaller than usual. Apollo lays a tentative hand against the Lieutenant's face (tentative, because it seems like taking advantage somehow) but Starbuck's still hot and sweaty and his breathing's ragged and uneven. Apollo moves his head a little closer, to listen. There's a definite wheeze there, on each intake of air.
Food. Bedding. Medical supplies, including what looks like an amateur phlebotomy kit. He puts that down in a hurry and turns to assess the shuttle with an eye to making it their home-from-home for the next ten days. The thought is more daunting than launching against the Cylons, really.
He makes up the bed before moving Starbuck, taking all the seat cushions that he'd used to ensure Starbuck didn't fall off the back seat and spreading them into a makeshift mattress on the floor behind the pilot console, where there's most room. Salik – or his father – has sent through the most luxurious sleeping bags in the Quartermaster's stores. The bed may be makeshift, but it's not that much less comfortable than the one in his quarters back on the Galactica.
Getting Starbuck there is less easy. He persuades the Lieutenant to sit up without much trouble, but getting him out of the heavy, uncomfortable uniform is much more problematic. It's like undressing Boxey when his son had had the measles, only on a bigger scale. Starbuck is just as boneless and hot and cross – crosser, even, than Boxey had been, muttering sleepily at Apollo all the while. Both of them flail about a lot in their confusion, it's just that Starbuck's arms and legs are longer and more unmanageable. And difficult as it had been to strip Boxey of sweat-soaked clothes and get him into a sleep-suit, it hadn't left Apollo this embarrassed and flustered.
Getting Starbuck undressed like this – well. It's not comfortable.
Starbuck wakes up enough to try and help, once he understands what Apollo is doing. It takes three careful explanations though, which taxes Apollo's patience, before Starbuck grasps that he has to move to the front on the shuttle where there's more room.
"At least I won't roll out of bed," he says, a little more alert as Apollo helps him lie down. Salik had tutted when Apollo reported the wheezy breathing, and along with instructions on non-specific antibiotics ("They can't do any harm," he says), has sent so many pillows that Apollo can prop the Lieutenant up to try and improve it. "Oh. Comfy."
"Feeling better?" Apollo takes Starbuck's temperature again. It's been holding steady for the last couple of centons, which is something.
"No." The tired eyes watching Apollo are an over-bright, glassy blue, rimmed with red. "You're good at this."
"I got my practice in on Boxey last sectar," Apollo reminds him. "You're just reaping the benefits of that experience. I knew it had to be good for something."
Starbuck frowns. "That wasn't what you said last sectar." His eyelids flutter closed and he's asleep again in microns.
Apollo envies him. "Doctor Salik? I've got him moved."
"His temperature's stopped spiking. It's staying pretty steady."
"I need a blood sample, Captain – from both of you. I'll talk you through it."
Apollo picks up the phlebotomy set. "Great," he says, and thinks about how much his life sucks.
He settles on the edge of the makeshift bed with his back supported by the front seats, curling his legs around to keep them from crowding Starbuck. He can hear faint noises outside the hull. Salik's instructions for taking the blood samples had been precise and simple. Apollo's quietly pleased with the unexpected proficiency he showed, difficult as it had been to take his own blood with only one hand. The samples are in a lead-lined case in the airlock. The decontamination cycle must be over, allowing someone to collect the case – engineering or medical tech, or maybe one of his own warriors – and take it down to the isolation lab for testing. Salik isn't the most sympathetic of souls, but Apollo has a fair amount of confidence that the doctor will identify the infection and come up with a solution. He is confident. He is.
He checks on Starbuck one more time and opens one of the other datapads. He's been promising himself for yahrens that he'll read the great, classical Caprican novels one day. Now's his chance.
Irony. It's far more reliable than religion.
Apollo rolls over, out of reach, and sits up hurriedly. Starbuck's eyes open, dreamy and too blue for Apollo's peace of mind.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you," says Apollo. "I haven't washed my hair since yesterday."
"Mmn," says Starbuck.
Apollo rotates sore shoulders, easing the pressure on the back of his neck. He squints against the light, aware of the headache gathering behind his eyes. "You know, the intellectual content of your conversation doesn't seem to be adversely affected by a three-degree fever. Impressive."
Starbuck grunts and rolls over and buries himself into the sleeping bag. Apollo pushes himself to his feet and staggers over to the pilot console, willing his legs to work normally. He feels half-asleep and dopey, his head thick. He really shouldn't sleep during the day, he thinks, rueful. He feels like his brain is stuffed with cotton wool.
They've sent through a couple of day's worth of supplies and the shuttle is fitted with the tiniest of galleys on the port side – well, nothing more than a microwave and a sink that only unfolds from the wall when the right buttons are pressed. Still. Hot food. He sips on the scalding hot soup while he calls the Galactica for the promised check-in. Starbuck doesn't wake through all the things Salik asks him to report on and his father has left the bridge to collect Boxey from school. It's as if the excitement of quarantine has already fallen off. They're almost part of the Galactica's routine now. The low-key call sets the standard.
Salik tells him the tests have begun but there's nothing to report yet. There isn't anything else to do until it's time to wake Starbuck for the next round of anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and pain killers. Apollo returns to his classic, taking the cooling soup with him.
His headache is slightly worse, sitting behind his eyes and flaring up from a low rumble to a full-blown thump if he moves his head too quickly. He gets up slowly, taking a couple of the pain-killers and trying not to feel guilty that he's taking something that might be crucial for Starbuck. He just wants rid of the feeling that the density of his brain has tripled overnight, his head feels so heavy.
He's completed all the checks on Starbuck and is on his first cup of microwaved coffee when Salik calls him.
"It's an amoeboid infection," says the doctor. "You both have it."
"I'm all right, I think," says Apollo, wondering about the headache. "I'm not throwing up."
"You may have more natural resistance to it than the Lieutenant, but it's in your blood too. Do you have any symptoms at all?"
"I've got a bit of a headache," admits Apollo. At Salik's insistence he takes his own temperature. "Normal," he says.
The 'so far' is unspoken and Apollo clings to the thought that he has more natural resistance. He can't be sick as well.
Salik sounds thoughtful. "We need to think about infection vectors. Amoeboid infections are usually water or blood-borne –"
"Does that mean we aren't infectious?"
"Not really. They can be inhaled from water droplets from sneezing."
"We're neither of us sneezing."
"It doesn't matter," says Salik. "Do you have any insect bites?"
Apollo raises his arm and stares at it. "Um – yes. There were these little insects, like midges. They bit."
Starbuck doesn't stir as Apollo checks. He has several little bites on his arms.
"I see," says Salik, when Apollo tells him. "That's suggestive. We'll get a handle on this thing and find something to stop it."
"Yeah," glooms Apollo. "Sure. The Pelaians –?"
"I'll talk to your father about an approach to them to see if they're familiar with this and can suggest something to help," promises Salik. The doctor's cautiously pleased about the one degree drop in Starbuck's temperature. "Try and get him to drink something when he wakes up," he suggests as if it's the simplest thing in the world to persuade Starbuck to do anything he doesn't want to do. "Order him if you have to."
It's Apollo's turn to snort. Boomer listens to Apollo (well, most of the time), but Starbuck? Starbuck said once that obeying orders is the sort of thing that takes practice and he isn't naturally talented in that direction. To this day, Apollo wonders why Starbuck thought he needed to be told. It isn't like Apollo hadn't noticed.
See how it goes, anyway, is Salik's totally useless (medical) advice just before he hands comms back over to Core Command, and Apollo forgets to worry about it in the flurry of the fraught question and answer session he has with his father, who's been listening in and is paternally anxious in a very restrained way that is still more than anything Apollo remembers experiencing before. That's nice, in a way, but the warm glow vanishes after five fraught centons of talking to Boxey. Apollo finds it hard to be upbeat when his six-yahren-old son is crying on the other end of a radio and he knows that all the comfort for him is Apollo's reserved father or a sister who gives self-absorbed a bad name for lack of dedication.
It's another centar's worth of classical novel before Starbuck is awake enough for conversation, stronger than he had been the evening before.
"Lousy," he says, when Apollo asks. "I feel lousy. Better than before, but still lousy,"
"Salik's onto it. They've identified the cause. We have protozoa." At Starbuck's stare, he adds: "Don't think about it. It's gross to think of amoeba swimming about inside you."
Starbuck sighs. "Can they shoot the little buggers?"
"They're working on it. He says you should be drinking more water."
"Salik isn't here to clean up the results if I had some," says Starbuck and he grins when Apollo smiles. "You're good at this," he says.
"You said so, last night."
"I know." Starbuck runs his tongue over dry lips. "You said you'd practised on Boxey."
Apollo nods. "At least you aren't delirious."
Salik has sent some tiny little sponges on sticks that Apollo has had soaking in water. Starbuck sucks on one without enthusiasm. "You're a good Dad," he says. "Boxey's lucky."
Apollo grins, absurdly pleased. He tries hard to be a good father, tries all the harder because he never expected to have a chance at it and he's grateful to Serina for Boxey, if for nothing else. "Thanks."
"Will you be my daddy, too?"
"We're about the same age, Starbuck. I think it's medically impossible."
"Still," says Starbuck. "I would have liked a Dad like you."
Apollo uses the stylus to mark his place on the datapad and switches it off. He frowns at Starbuck. "I always wondered – why didn't you ever get considered for adoption?"
Starbuck grimaces and reaches out a hand for another watery sponge-on-a-stick. "I was about two when the raid happened. It affected me more than it would a baby." He hesitates. "I had some behavioural problems that put people off adopting me."
"Am I expected to be surprised?"
"I mean, real ones. I didn't talk, couldn't socialise, couldn't connect with people. I had to learn how to do that, Apollo, and it didn't come easy. They thought for a long time that I was borderline autistic."
Surprised, Apollo looks at him. Starbuck just looks thoughtful, a little lost and dreamy.
"I still have behavioural problems, I guess," says Starbuck.
Apollo seeks for something to say to comfort him. "No," he says. "These days you have misbehavioural problems."
Astonishingly, it's the right thing to say. Starbuck's smile is lit with genuine amusement.
"You love me anyway," he says.
Apollo shrugs, unwilling to get into that sort of conversation. "Everyone does." He thinks about it. Incurably honest, he has to qualify it. "Except maybe Colonel Tigh."
It comes through a little faster than the first set of supplies. Apollo tells them how stupid it is to decontaminate things on the way in – "I'm the one likely to infect you, not the other way around; so hurry it up, for frack's sake." – and Salik takes heed. He gets the IV to them quickly and he talks Apollo through the whole procedure, calm and remote and not at all sounding worried that Apollo's about to stick needles into veins and things.
After all, says Salik, Apollo managed it already with taking the blood samples yesterday. This is pretty much the same, and Apollo's soothed into thinking that maybe he should take up blood-letting as a hobby, or something. He seems to have the knack for it.
Starbuck's been dozing, but he wakes up when Apollo takes his hand. He eyes the IV needle with horror. "You are not putting that thing into me!"
"We did this, last night," says Apollo, patiently. "I'm not sticking into your rear or your ear – "
"Damn right! You come anywhere near me with that needle and I'll be forced to shoot you."
Apollo smirks, because Starbuck hasn't drawn his hand away and Starbuck's laser is on the back seat somewhere, well out of reach. "Salik says I have the potential to take up phlebotomy as a second career," he says. "Hold still."
But it takes four tries, this time, to get the needle in, because he's nervous holding Starbuck's hand when Starbuck's awake. Starbuck isn't impressed. He may be weak and feverish, but it hasn't made him any less eloquent when he's got something to say that Apollo would really rather not hear. Still, Apollo gets the IV line in at last and sets up the bag so it drips in some of the fluid that Starbuck needs. When Starbuck opens his mouth for more protest, Apollo uses the technique he'd perfected with a measled Boxey, and pops in a sponge-on-a-stick. Of course, in Boxey's case it was a lollipop but Starbuck's older and has to accept some of the deprivations that come with maturity. It shuts him up, anyway.
"Want me to read to you?" asks Apollo.
Starbuck glowers but nods. After five centons he removes the stick. "Did you ask someone to send that in for you?"
"Yes. I thought if we're going to be stuck in here, it would be something to do."
Starbuck shakes his head. "Why didn't you ask for the vids from my quarters?"
Apollo's stung by the tone. "Oh, I don't know," he says. "Maybe because your temperature's high enough without you getting off watching porn?"
He isn't sure if Starbuck's red face is from the fever or embarrassment. He thinks it's probably fever. Starbuck doesn't do embarrassed. He's the one who does embarrassed.
He isn't sure why the thought of Starbuck and porn should be embarrassing.
Starbuck's temperature has levelled out at two degrees of fever and he's been very sleepy for much of the day, but he doesn't miss that. "Apollo?"
"All right," says Apollo, thickly, and makes his way slowly to the back of the shuttle and the flush, holding on to the seat backs all the way. But he's not nauseous, that's something; just headachy and dizzy when he stands up too fast, and he may be a little too hot. But he's fine, really.
Starbuck's struggling to get up when Apollo gets back, on his knees and clinging to the edge of the front seats, his head hanging.
"What in Hades are you doing?"
"You're sick!" says Starbuck. "You, too." He sounds frightened and he's shaking like a leaf.
"I'm tired and I've got a headache, that's all," says Apollo, sitting back down and making Starbuck lie back again. "Stop panicking – you almost pulled out the drip."
But it's a while before Starbuck calms down and he stares at Apollo intently all the time; looking, Apollo thinks, for signs of infection and illness and collapse.
"I'll be fine," Apollo says at last, taking a couple more painkillers. "Salik says I have more natural resistance than you do."
Starbuck blows him a raspberry. "Don't I know it!" he says, looking more out-of-sorts than could be explained by mere illness. "There's all sorts of things you're resistant to."
Apollo stares, wondering what Starbuck means, but Starbuck's sulking now and won't respond when Apollo offers to carry on reading, lying like an effigy on a tomb, his arms crossed defensively over his chest. He lies quietly while Apollo chokes down a little more soup, talks to the Commander and sends his love to Boxey, and Apollo thinks that Starbuck's asleep, until much later when he's sitting tiredly in his usual spot, too tired even to read any more and he realises that Starbuck isn't asleep at all.
"Come to bed," says Starbuck, roughly. "You're all in."
Apollo knows it, but there are things to do first. He gets Starbuck to take the last lot of pills and sets up the final IV bag, and staggers back down to the flush to get out of his clothes – they're smelling too ripe for him to bear any longer – and into one of the sets of thin fatigues that had been sent through for them. Then there's enough room for him to slide into the other sleeping bag beside Starbuck's and so he does.
"That's better," huffs Starbuck, and snuggles up close.
Starbuck's hot and sweaty and the Lords know that he smells even riper than the uniform Apollo's just got out of, but Apollo's too tired to care and the pain-killers are kicking in and he doesn't even remember falling asleep.
It takes two attempts for Apollo to even get to his feet. His head thumps dully, and there's little flickery lights dancing across his field of vision. He and Starbuck breakfast on the painkillers.
"I can't see these are doing much good," says Starbuck. But his temperature's dropped by another half degree and he's brighter, more alert than he has been for two days.
"They're keeping my head from falling off," says Apollo. He's intrigued, in a distant sort of way, by the fact that the amoeba that's screwing with them is screwing with them in such different ways. He's only got a half-degree of fever himself – for which he's grateful – but he can't help envying the fact that Starbuck's head doesn't seem to be thunking in the same way that his is. Of course, he hasn't been throwing up, either, so there are small mercies.
It's a while before he can bring himself to move around much, and after he's made Starbuck drink some weak tea and swallowed some himself, reported the medical readouts to Salik and spoken to a more-cheerful Boxey and his father, all he's fit for is to huddle back in his sleeping bag.
"No reading today?" asks Starbuck, his head on the same pillow.
Starbuck has a sudden excess of piety. "Thank the Lords. That book's boring."
"It's a classic," says Apollo, yawning.
"Classically boring," huffs Starbuck, and for a while he's quiet and lets Apollo doze until the painkillers have reduced the thunking to a mild and distant drum-roll. "Apollo?"
"Can I ask you a question?"
"It's kinda personal."
"And when did that ever stop you?"
Starbuck shrugs. "Point. I was just wondering – Sheba."
Apollo says nothing for a long, long centon, until he can feel Starbuck squirming in his sleeping bag. He doesn't answer, not because he wants to punish Starbuck, but because he's thinking about all the ramifications of the decision he made sectars ago but hasn't mentioned to anyone yet. Not even to Sheba. "My father would like it," he says at last.
"No," he says. "No. I don't want that."
"She's pretty and smart," says Starbuck.
"Too much like her father," snipes Apollo, and rolls onto his side. Starbuck's lying on his back, and all Apollo can see is the Lieutenant's profile. "I don't want to get Sealed again. I don't want to get Sealed to Sheba. That's it."
"Right," says Starbuck and there's no inflection to his tone at all. None. "I wondered."
"So you said." Apollo closes his eyes against shuttle lights that are starting to hurt. "You?"
"Naw. Cassie and me have been just marking time since you and me took out that last baseship. I think she'd like something more but it's not for me. Not with her, anyway."
The question hangs there, heavy and roiling and dark. It's a very long centon before Apollo can ask, but he has to know. He doesn't ask directly, though. "Athena, then?"
"No," says Starbuck, very soft. "Not Athena."
"Right," says Apollo, and despite the headache and the way the light dances about and hurts his eyes, he suddenly thinks it may be easy to doze off in comfort.
Starbuck laughs, and just as he drifts off to sleep, Apollo remembers that Starbuck's a snuggler. Starbuck turns onto his side and Apollo's aware of the heat and the smell he's coming to associate with Starbuck, and not in a bad way.
"Okay," he says as Starbuck curls slightly to rest against Apollo's shoulder. "But no drooling."
He thinks he dreams that Starbuck's mouth touches his forehead; that Starbuck's lips touch his. Dreams. They're deceitful creatures, dreams, and almost as much of a headache as his pet amoeba, pretending to give him what he knows he can never really have.
Starbuck has drooled on his shoulder again. It's a curiously unattractive thing in someone who's charm personified, but Apollo rather likes it. It shows a level of trust that pleases him, because he's pretty sure that Starbuck wouldn't let the mask drop to drool on just anybody.
Salik doesn't say anything about their unorthodox sleeping arrangements. All Apollo can see of him is his face through the plexiglas visor, and it looks as bad tempered as normal – no more, and certainly no less. Salik wakes Starbuck. It's Cassie who he's brought with him and he gives her precisely a micron to say "Oh Starbuck!" before reminding her of that the reason she's there is to work, not get romantic about her sick boyfriend.
Apollo wonders if Starbuck's told her that he's just marking time with her, if she knows. He can see how anxious she looks, so maybe not.
"The Pelaians say that this isn't an uncommon illness," says Salik. "They've offered us some possible remedies. Boomer and Jolly are on their way back there to pick the drugs up."
"Hope they're careful," worries Apollo.
"They're in hazmat suits and we'll decontaminate their shuttle, just in case, but the Pelaians confirmed that the insects are the infection vector. Breathe deep, Starbuck."
"Does that mean we're out of here if the drugs work?" asks Starbuck
"Not until quarantine is over. Besides, I've no idea whether these drugs will work on humans or how much I'll need to engineer them. Or what the side effects are. Or how long it will take to test them –"
Apollo tunes Salik out. Instead he watches as Cassie collects another blood sample from him. She uses a large bore needle. He wonders if that's her comment on their unorthodox sleeping arrangements or if she just has a crap technique. The smile she gives him through her visor is tight. He doesn't smile back. He has a problem being polite to people who stab him in the arm.
Salik and Cassie stay for a couple of centars, prodding them and poking at them, taking temperatures and listening to their breathing. And there's the more welcome help with washing and cleaning up and generally helping them feel more human. Still, he's quite relieved when they're gone.
"Cassie was a bit off," says Apollo. His arm's still throbbing.
"Do you think she suspects about us?" asks Starbuck.
Apollo frowns and thinks about it. He doesn't even suspect about them, so he's at a loss to work out what Cassie's suspicions may be. "Dunno," he says, and yawns.
"If you're nice to me," says Starbuck, breath hot against Apollo's neck, just under his ear where it makes Apollo shiver, "I'll let you read to me later."
Starbuck's feeling a bit better, then.
They feel okay, they say. Not taking out a Viper or playing Triad sort of okay, but one helluva lot more okay than they've been all secton. It's like being on vacation, decides Starbuck, and he smiles and laughs a lot all day. Apollo enjoys watching him.
Core Command has halted transfer of all the trade goods for the centon, although Salik is pretty sure that the little buzzing insects are to blame and there's no risk of infection. Starbuck says that they'd better make the trade, given how much he sacrificed, taking one for the sake of the fleet. Apollo ignores that. He knows full well where Starbuck slept each night on Pelaia and dancing with a four-armed giantess can't be described as taking anything for anybody. Still. It would be a shame to give up on all that hard work.
Salik's still working on the drugs the Pelaians sent back, but they're well enough to move around and even eat a little, although Starbuck takes some persuading. They spend a lot of time reading and talking, and sometimes just sitting in a silence that doesn't need words to be shared communication. They both sit on the edge of the bed, backs against the front seats, and if they start out by sitting six inches apart, within a centar Starbuck's thigh is touching Apollo's. A centar after that and Starbuck is definitely leaning.
Apollo doesn't mind. It's kinda comforting.
"So," says Starbuck, after a nice long quiet time. "Not Sheba."
"Anyone else in mind?" And Starbuck's smiling at him, eyelids drooping lazily and Apollo shrugs. He doesn't know what to say.
When they're tired that night and they crawl underneath the linked-together sleeping bags, Starbuck tells Apollo that he'll speak to Cassie when they're out of quarantine and stop marking time with her. They sleep close. Starbuck's warm and he likes snuggling. Starbuck says that it's pretty nice.
Apollo doesn't mind. Because it is.
"Oh good," says Starbuck, one hand against Apollo's cheek and the other carding through hair Apollo hasn't been able to wash for days. "My turn to play doctors and nurses."
"Ask for something else. I'm sure they'll send it through."
Starbuck looks at him and his eyes gleam. "Naw. I'll save it until we're out of here. What I want doesn't come on a datapad." He smiles.
Apollo's face gets hot. Bloody fever, he thinks.
He smiles back.
"I think this will do it," he says. "We've isolated the compounds that will kill off your little friends."
"About time," mutters Starbuck. He sticks his arm out from under the sleeping bag cover. He can't hold it still, and Cassie holds it carefully as Salik gets the medication into him.
Beside him, Apollo shakes constantly, his hair sticking to his forehead. This time his temperature matches Starbuck's. He wishes that some part of him – the stupid part of him – didn't think Aaah, that's sweet! All he says, though, is that he's worried that Salik won't let them out of here, day after tomorrow.
He's not sure he wants to be out, but still –
Salik says it's all right. They're not infectious and no threat, and no matter what happens, day after tomorrow and they'll be taken out of here and can move into a comfortable room in the Life Centre.
"With separate beds," says Cassie. She smiles behind her visor. "Much more comfortable."
Well, thinks Apollo, frightened at how bereft he feels already. Less drool.
At least, he amends, not unless Starbuck's there to look after him.
Apollo still reads his classics and Starbuck bribes Boomer to bring his porn vids to him. They talk, but not about the things they talked about in the shuttle, because Cassie hovers. Neither of them want her to find out like this that she's just a time marker. She seems to have developed a dislike of Apollo. She's noticeably nicer to Starbuck. It has a faint air of desperation about it, Apollo thinks. He doesn't say anything, though.
So they're better and stronger and they're eating again and life is getting back to normal and every day their blood tests come back, getting closer and closer to normal.
Apollo misses the shuttle.
Boxey's delighted and happy and makes a lot of noise. Apollo's father touches him on the shoulder, twice, and tells him that he worried everyone and could he please not do it again, and coming from the restrained Adama that's quite the emotional display. Athena says that she knew he'd be all right, of course, but doesn't poor Starbuck look thin and wan; such a pity he had no-one to look after him when he was sick.
Then, when Boxey's asleep and Apollo's on his own, tired and weary and missing the quiet of the shuttle more than he would ever believe possible, Starbuck arrives at his door.
And, "I've told Cassie. Have you spoken to Sheba?"
And, "You will tell Sheba, won't you, that you don't want to marry her? Good. Do it tomorrow."
And, "I can't sleep, because I got so used to you being there. Even the Life Centre was better than my quarters and you not being there. Even with the vids."
And, "Apollo, you have to know – "
And this time Starbuck's mouth isn't a dream.