CAN'T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU
(inspired by the Jimmy Somerville cover version, although for the purposes of the story I've slowed the tempo. Listen to Jimmy and melt. The song's pure Starbuck singing to Apollo.)
"This has to be the worst idea you ever had, Starbuck."
They shuffled forward a few more feet in the queue.
"Lighten up, will ya? This is a bit of fun, that's all. Just fun. Relax. Enjoy it."
Apollo sighed deeply.
"Well, at least stop sighing like a force ten gale," Starbuck hissed irritably. "What's the matter? Scared that Daddy will find out?"
"The thought had crossed my mind, yes."
Starbuck gave it a micron's consideration. He, too, could imagine Commander Adama's expression at hearing of his son's visit to this particular entertainment venue, and he banished the image as fast as he could. It wasn't the sort of image to ensure a successful night on the razzle. It would put a definite damper on things on a night when Starbuck was praying for fireworks.
"They won't even recognise us," he said reassuringly. "We're not in uniform. We could be anybody."
Apollo squinted down at the new clothes that Starbuck had made him buy for this little adventure, and Starbuck grinned to himself at the gloomy expression. Apollo was not exactly a dedicated follower of fashion, and fashion decreed tight black trousers and silk shirts in rich jewel like colours, with huge full sleeves falling gracefully over the wrist and little stand-up collars held in place with silver pins. Elegant and romantic, the salesman had said. Apollo had looked at his reflection in the mirror, wondering aloud how he was going to keep the sleeves out of anything he was eating or drinking. Starbuck and the salesman had exchanged pitying looks, and having his lack of fashion sense - or any other kind of sense, Starbuck had hissed crossly - forcibly pointed out to him, Apollo had sighed, given in and bought the shirt. His was emerald green, Starbuck's blue. To match their eyes, a satisfied Starbuck had said, complacently. Apollo had merely grunted, but Starbuck thought he looked wonderful.
"I feel like a Yule tree," Apollo said now, evidently still resentful about having to get dressed up. "All I need is a set of fairy lights."
Starbuck sighed. "Look, Apollo, I know it's hard, but try and relax, okay? I know that I virtually had to have your uniform surgically removed, but for once in your life you look smart and fashionable. Can't you get any sort of satisfaction out of that? It was achieved against almost insurmountable odds, after all."
"I'm more comfortable in uniform," Apollo said doggedly, tugging at his collar.
"You don't say. Why? Are you scared you'll forget you're the captain if you can't see the pips on your collar?"
"That's unfair," said Apollo, sounding slightly hurt.
"I didn't mean that you ram your rank down our throats." Starbuck shuffled forward a few more feet. "Just that you never let up, Apollo. It's like you're always on duty, always responsible, always the model captain, model parent, model son. Why not just try being Apollo tonight? An Apollo's who's dressed in the latest style, looks good, and is here to have a good time."
Starbuck grinned at him. "Look, no-one will find out. It's not like we're that well known. No-one will recognise us out of uniform. No-one will tell your Dad on you. Besides, you're all grown up now. Your Dad can't ground you any more."
"I know he's pretty uptight about sex, but, geez, Apollo, he must realise a man's got to get some now and again. Celibacy is not healthy."
"He's Kobolian, remember? I told you, I got one hell of a lecture when he realised that Serina and Boxey had moved into my quarters." Apollo grinned reluctantly. "It was like some bad Sagittarian farce, Starbuck. In between thunderous denunciations of my lack of morality, Dad kept asking me what my intentions were. He really didn't like it when I told him that the only intentions I had were strictly dishonourable."
"Liar." Starbuck managed a grin, but he'd been as taken aback as Adama had been, although for vastly different reasons.
"Yeah, I know. I couldn't keep that up for long. I had to tell him that we were intending to get Sealed, just to keep him quiet. He was giving me a headache. That's when he set up that family dinner to force us to go public. I think he primed Boxey's little speech."
"Just as well you'd told him the truth."
Apollo's grin broadened. "Yeah. Poor Dad. His religious tendencies went past me at light speed. Maybe Zac would have become the religious one in the next generation."
"Zac!" Starbuck said with a crack of laughter, remembering Apollo's dead younger brother with real affection. "About as much chance of that as of me becoming a monk."
"I never could work out how Dad noticed almost every single one of my youthful indiscretions - which were really not very numerous - but developed this complete blindness to Zac's. I fell from grace now and again…"
"Not that often," Starbuck said dryly.
"I'm not arguing, Starbuck. I know I'm not that hot with the ladies. But from Dad's reaction, you'd think I was you. But Zac! Zac fell so often he was in free fall most of the time. Dad didn't even notice."
"Your Dad has such a touching and deeply misplaced belief in the innocence of youth." Starbuck made no comment on the completely warranted slur on his character and reputation. "At last!"
They were finally at the head of queue. Starbuck handed over their entrance money and pulled Apollo into the club. The narrow corridor behind the entrance door was blocked by the biggest man either of them had ever seen. The man's mother must have mated with a shuttle craft.
"Welcome to Heaven, gentlemen." The big bouncer looked them over. "House rules are simple. Food's free. Drinks are moderately priced. No drugs unless you buy them from the bar. Rooms are twenty cubits for two centars: pay at the bar, take a ticket and wait until your number's called."
"Fine," said Starbuck, eager to get in. "We'll be good."
The man looked at them more closely and smiled. "Oh, we're honoured tonight, I see. If it's not Captain Apollo and the famous Lieutenant Starbuck."
"You're not supposed to know who we are," Starbuck said hastily, avoiding Apollo's accusing gaze. "We're in disguise."
The man laughed. "No need for disguise in Heaven, Lieutenant. Everything's up front here. You're both very welcome. First drinks on the house, Captain. I'll pass the word onto the bar."
"Er - thanks." Apollo gave Starbuck a cold look as they went on. "No-one will recognise us, you said."
"Well, he was very discreet about it." Starbuck turned his head and watched as the bouncer spoke rapidly into a headset.
"Discreet? Starbuck, the man has a voice louder than a red alert siren. The entire Fleet probably heard him." Apollo looked around as they went through into the main room. "Lords!"
"Told you," Starbuck said smugly, watching Apollo's reaction closely. "This is the place to come for a night out."
The room was dimly lit, but gave a sense of opulent luxury, of a sybaritic sumptuousness that wouldn't have been out of place in a rich man's brothel, all gold leaf carving and scarlet velvet, silk and brocade. There was even an enormous crystal chandelier, its bulbs dim and romantic, and the metal walls and bulkheads were hidden away, hung with gauzy curtains and glittering with mirrors, the frames dully gold and rich. The whole place was so ostentatiously lavish, Starbuck was willing to take any bets that Apollo, a victim of his austere upbringing, felt sinful just looking. He hoped so. Very sinful was what he had in mind for later in the evening.
Heaven was enormous, and it was packed. The music was loud, the beat repetitive and hypnotic, and dozens of men were dancing to it frenetically. Quite a lot of them, as Starbuck pointed out, were in tight black trousers and jewel-like silk shirts. At least they'd blend in, then. That was something. Maybe they would have stuck out a bit, in uniform, didn't Apollo think? And while he was about it, wouldn't the captain like to admit that Starbuck might have been right about that? As usual?
Apollo merely looked at him, face expressionless. The sort of face he wore whenever he was about to put his wingmate on report for some minor infraction of regulations.
"Great, huh?" demanded Starbuck, giving up and shouting over the music.
"Uh-huh," Apollo said. "How in the seven hells did they manage to keep this place looking like this after the Great Destruction?"
"Used to be the intimate exotic entertainment area when the Rising Star was launched," Starbuck said in Apollo's ear as they worked their way through the crowd to the bar. "I'm told the entertainment was very intimate and very exotic."
"It looks like a bordello," Apollo said.
"And how would you know, Sire Responsible?" Starbuck reached the bar and leaned over to attract the barman's attention. He waved the man across. "Read about it in books?"
The barman gave them a quick look. "Captain Apollo? The Boss said to give you drinks on the house."
"Now then!" said Starbuck, expansively. "Free drinks! What'll it be?"
"Bee - " Apollo started, then shut up rapidly when the barman reached under the counter and brought up an ice bucket with a bottle of nectar buried in the ice shards up to the neck. They both stared. That bottle had to be worth a secton's pay, even at captain's rates.
"Nectar?" Starbuck croaked. He looked at Apollo and grinned, knowing that the abstemious captain had been about to ask for a beer. "A modest lifestyle with modest requirements has its virtues, but not when free nectar was offered, huh, Apollo?"
"The Boss said to give you this, Captain."
"That's very.. er... nice of him," Apollo said lamely.
The barman nodded satisfaction. "We like to look after our special customers. Follow me, sirs."
The man opened the bar hatch and pushed his way through the crowds. Apollo and Starbuck followed meekly in his wake to a small, secluded table, roped off from the rest by a silken cord. The barman set down the ice bucket, produced two glasses from somewhere and opened the bottle. God alone knew where the cork ended up, but the man was an expert. He didn't waste a drop. As the nectar foamed up out of the bottle he caught it neatly in the glasses, allowing the bubbling wine to settle slightly before offering the glasses with an extravagant flourish.
"Thank you," Apollo said.
"My pleasure, Captain." The man leaned forward and added in a confidential tone: "Tell me when you want a room. I'll make sure you don't have to wait."
He nodded and moved off before Apollo could do more than gasp with surprise.
"Did you hear what he said?"
Starbuck shrugged. "Apollo, this is a club. A sex club. Of course they have rooms. You don't expect people to have sex on the dance floor, do you? At least, not this early in the evening. Things might get hotter later on."
"But… ." Apollo swallowed the rest of his protest unsaid, cheeks slightly pink.
"Although… ."Starbuck said, thoughtful, with a nod towards a nearby table.
The two men seated there were locked into a passionate embrace, and getting down to some serious osculatory exercises. A few metres beyond that another couple were dancing so close together that Starbuck reckoned that their atoms had probably fused. They weren't holding each other's hands as they danced. They were holding each other. It just wasn't by the hand.
Apollo looked at the kissing men and grew a little pinker. Starbuck moved his chair a fraction, to put himself between Apollo and the dancers. He didn't think Apollo had noticed them yet. He watched Apollo covertly, wondering how he would react to all this. His best friend was, as he knew, a little inhibited at times. Starbuck put it down to his upbringing. Starbuck stayed cool himself. After all, he knew exactly what Heaven was, and the Lords - and Apollo, if it came to it - knew that he'd had affairs with men before. But he wasn't quite sure how uncomfortable it would make Apollo to think that the bar-man had assumed they were lovers. Or how long it would take for Apollo to work out why he'd been persuaded to come for a night out in the only gay bar in the Fleet.
"Cheers." Starbuck clinked his glass against Apollo's and took a sip of the golden wine. "Oh my. Oh my, but that's good."
"Mmn," said Apollo distractedly, taking a drink. A slow smile spread across his face and he turned his full attention to the wine. "Lords, yes. It's not often we get to drink anything this good."
"Just don't tell me that the bubbles get up your nose."
"I'm not that unsophisticated!"
"Close." Starbuck was cheerfully honest about his best friend's social shortcomings. "You know, this could be a really good night, Apollo. Nectar, free food, dancing - we could have the time of our lives in here."
"Maybe. What did he mean, the bouncer?"
"Which bit? I thought he was pretty clear on the free food, no drugs stuff. What bit didn't you get?"
"The famous Lieutenant Starbuck bit. Have you been here before?"
"I have not," Starbuck said virtuously. He was fleetingly puzzled. "I guess it's because I'm a hero and an ace pilot, and I'm devastatingly handsome. Maybe he's a fan."
"I suppose you have to have one somewhere." Apollo reached into the ice bucket and refilled their glasses. "So, what's your plan?"
"Plan?" said Starbuck, so ingenuously that Apollo looked suddenly suspicious.
"The itinerary for the night. I don't see any gambling tables."
"Not in here. That's for the more mundane entertainment rooms on the main deck. I told you that things were more exotic down here."
"Exotic?" Apollo's thoughtful gaze fell on the kissers again.
"But for Sire Responsible, I thought food, wine and dancing. That's all."
"And who am I meant to dance with?" Apollo looked around. "You?"
"I don't see why not," Starbuck said cheerfully. "Shall we grab something to eat? That buffet looks marvellous."
"I'll be along in a centon. I need to go." Apollo had spotted the discreet sign he was looking for and nodded towards it. "Don't steal all the mushies."
"I'll save you one," Starbuck promised, and watched Apollo thread his way through the crowds towards the turboflushes with a speculative look in his eyes. "Well," he murmured to himself. "So far, so good. At least he hasn't run for it."
He took another sip of nectar and thought about it. He'd waited a long time. It had been almost two yahrens since he'd realised that the feelings of deep affection and friendship he'd always had for his best friend had turned into something even more powerful. Serina had been the trigger, the catalyst. Before then there'd been a few women in Apollo's life, not many and nothing serious or lasting. Starbuck had never before had to share him. Serina changed that. Starbuck didn't like it. He didn't like it at all. And he definitely didn't like Serina.
They'd been in Adama's quarters, and Apollo, prodded both by his father and Boxey, announced he and Serina were getting Sealed. As Apollo had said the words, Starbuck had carefully put down his ambrosa glass, undergoing some kind of revelation. His heart felt like it had stopped, cold in his chest, and he knew why. Serina had caught his eye and she smiled at him, a cold, cruel little smile that told him she'd won. She'd known too.
It had taken almost everything he had to hide the jealousy and angry passion that almost overwhelmed him, not to shout and scream at the thief who was stealing the most precious thing he had. He wouldn't give her that satisfaction. But in the end she hadn't kept Apollo long. A few days of smouldering resentment and almost unbearable pain, and then Serina was dead, and he was trying to comfort Apollo and face up to his own feelings of relief and release. He knew he ought to be sorry that Serina had died, but was secretly so happy that he had another chance with Apollo that he was walking on air. He'd been most unusually patient, waiting for Apollo to recover from Serina's death. Now he thought Apollo was ready.
The last few sectars he'd often noticed the way Apollo watched him, looked at him. There was something… as if Apollo was slightly surprised by something. And there had been more overt, but still tentative, signs of affection. Apollo was more inclined to touch him, a hand touching his as they played Pyramid and not withdrawn too quickly, a contact in Triad held a micron longer than it needed to be. It was as if Apollo was beginning to realise what Starbuck was feeling, maybe even starting to return it. Well. Now was the time to find out.
He finished his nectar, took a sneaky sip or two out of Apollo's glass - reasoning that the captain would never notice - and headed for the buffet table, sighing rapturously when he saw the culinary offerings. To a man inured to battle rations, this was a wonderfully tempting display, and he spent several centons prowling up and down the long table filling his plate with every delicacy he could find.
It was still early in the evening, and most of Heaven's decidedly un-angelic clientele were on the dance floor, still working up an appetite. But there were a few guests at the table. Starbuck could never concentrate on one thing at the expense of everything else that was going on around him. Even if most of his attention was on the food, a part of his mind noted the interested glances, the smiles and nods of recognition that he was getting from his fellow diners. Odd. He didn't think that he knew any of them. He smiled back at them, turning on the charm. They all seemed to melt. Puzzling. Gratifying, but puzzling.
"There you are," he said when Apollo joined him. "Have you noticed the way they're all looking at me?"
"No," Apollo said, not bothering to look, and added urgently: "I wouldn't eat any of that if I was you, Starbuck."
"I think there's a problem with it. I've never seen so many people in the turboflush before. Maybe it's food poisoning." Apollo looked and sounded deadly serious and Starbuck looked down at his plate in consternation.
"Yeah It's really crowded in the 'flushes. It's so bad that there's at least two guys in every cubicle."
A centon's pause whilst Starbuck stared at him.
"Oh very funny," Starbuck said, cross that Apollo had, for once, succeeded in turning the tables on him. "A joke! An Apollo joke! You think they've got a public address system? I've got to tell everyone you loosened up enough to remember the sense of humour."
"It's no joke, I can tell you." Apollo grinned at him. "Next time I need to go, you're going with me. It's dangerous in there, Starbuck. Too dangerous to go on your own."
"Cheaper than twenty cubits a room though." Starbuck handed Apollo a plate. "Eat here or back at the VIP table?"
"The table." Apollo seemed finally to have noticed the looks he and Starbuck were getting, the increasing excitement of the other diners. He filled up his plate rapidly. "Thing is, I'm just a bit curious about how they're managing. Do you have to be more or less inventive in such a confined space?"
They retreated in good order back to their table and the nectar. Apollo looked at the nectar in his glass with a slightly puzzled expression.
"Both, I guess," Starbuck said quickly, before Apollo could make sarcastic remarks about the way nectar evaporated when his back was turned for a few centons. "I mean, positions are limited, but you do the best with what you've got. Contortion rather than athleticism. How was it really in there?"
"Pretty much like those dancers." Apollo had noticed them after all, then. Starbuck breathed a sigh of relief that it hadn't scared him off. "There were queues of impatient boys waiting their turn for a cubicle. Some of them were very impatient. Some of them wouldn't need a cubicle by the time it was their turn. Most of the time I really didn't know where to look." Apollo looked at Starbuck over the rim of his glass. "Am I being punished for something, Starbuck? You know how things like that embarrass me."
"This is not a punishment," Starbuck said patiently. "This is a night off duty. A night out on the razzle. We're sitting here with good food and free nectar, about to dance the night away. Where's the punishment in that? Look upon it as a widening of your horizons."
"If the three propositions I got in there are anything to go by, it's not my horizons they want to widen."
"No! You didn't get propositioned!" Starbuck was thrilled. Then a stab of anxiety hit him. What if Apollo had accepted?
"And did you take them up on it?" He got a cool look from Apollo. "Only joking," he said hastily. "What did they say?"
"Apparently, I'm very pretty." Apollo drained his glass and refilled it again. "How come you never told me that?"
"I was saving it for later." Starbuck laughed gently. "I told you tonight would be fun!"
"We'll see," Apollo said. "What about the dancing?"
"What about it?"
"Starbuck, if a man can be propositioned in the 'flushes when he's doing nothing more provocative than taking a leak -"
"I was never into water sports myself," Starbuck said thoughtfully.
Apollo ignored that and ploughed on, with only the tips of his ears growing red at Starbuck's comment. " - then the Lords alone what might happen if we're out there dancing."
Starbuck looked wistfully out at the dancers. "But I like dancing, 'Pollo. We're at least as pretty as that lot, and we look after ourselves just as well as they do. We should be out there showing off our perfectly honed bodies."
"Lords, yes. They work out a lot."
"Pulling purposes. You can't pull a date if all you have is imperfectly honed flab. Gay men like nice bodies. Ours are nice, 'Pollo. It's all the exercise we have to take and playing Triad. I want to strut my stuff out there."
"I'm not saying you can't strut, Starbuck. I'm just saying that if you're strutting with anyone tonight, it's with me. I wouldn't dare dance with anyone else. There might be an etiquette to these things that we know nothing about. What if accepting an invitation to dance is the equivalent to accepting an invitation to have your horizons widened? Then we'd be in trouble."
Starbuck laughed, very well aware that there was no-one else he'd rather strut with. Or widen horizons with, given half a chance. "But you're a lousy dancer, Apollo. You'll cramp my style."
"That's the deal," Apollo said stubbornly.
"Okay," said Starbuck, emptying the bottle into his glass. He shook the bottle, disappointed at its lack of contents. "Oh. How did we get through that so fast?"
"I'm not entirely sure that I got through my share all by myself."
Uh-oh. Sometimes it was impossible to divert the man. "It was just a sip, 'Pollo. It tastes so good."
"Then make the most of that last glass and keep your paws off mine. I'd reckon that no matter what the guy said about how moderate their prices are, that cost about a secton's pay. From now on we drink beer."
"Starbuck?" A shy voice from behind them.
They both twisted in their seats to look. It was a young man with a mop of dyed blond hair and a very hopeful expression on his face.
"Are you really the Starbuck?"
Starbuck stared. The kid couldn't be more than twenty, and he looked younger. He was very good looking in a baby-ish kind of way, beautifully made up.
"The last time I looked, I was the only Starbuck."
"Another fan?" Apollo said with faint resentment.
"You got the nectar. I get the adulation." Starbuck grinned encouragingly at the kid. "Seems fair."
"The trick is to keep the nectar," Apollo said pointedly.
The boy smiled back at Starbuck. "Wow," he said again. He looked at Apollo. "And Apollo? You're really Apollo?"
"Yeah," said the captain, guardedly.
"I don't believe you're really here! It's marvellous. Really, really marvellous."
"Yeah," said Apollo again.
The boy laughed. "Well, there's no point in having the competition tonight, is there? Shame. I thought I might win it tonight. But I can't believe I talked to you both! I just gotta tell my friends."
He nodded delightedly and disappeared back into the crowd. Apollo and Starbuck looked at each other, and swivelled back round in their chairs.
"Have you set me up for something here, Lieutenant?" Apollo asked coldly.
"No, I have not!" Well it was half true. This wasn't the set up Starbuck had planned and he was as confused as Apollo.
"This has all the hallmarks of a classic Starbuck scam, this does. What competition?"
"How the fuck should I know?" demanded Starbuck. "Honest, Apollo, I have no idea what's going on here."
"Uh-huh. No-one will know who we are, you said. We're out of uniform and not that famous, you said. No-one will ever recognise us, you said. But the bouncer knew the micron he saw us and half the guys in the place are staring at us and now we have babes-in-arms with dyed hair and lipstick coming up to us and babbling about competitions."
"We got the free nectar," Starbuck offered tentatively. He'd hoped Apollo hadn't noticed the lipstick, but at least Apollo didn't seem too shocked by it.
Apollo picked up the bottle and inverted it. Not a drop.
"Well, I'll buy you a beer." This offer was even more tentative, an attempt to mollify.
"I don't want to drink beer. I've got a taste for nectar now."
"Tough." Starbuck stopped being tentative. "Look, forget about all this weird crap. I don't know what's happening, so let's just forget about it and have a good time. Let's go and dance."
Apollo gave him a long measuring look and got slowly to his feet. "All right. But if I find out you've set me up for something here, you'll be piloting the shit wagon until the day you retire, you hear me?"
"I told you I'm as much in the dark as you are. Why don't you believe me?"
"Too many long and painful yahrens as the only man in the universe who would forgive you all the insults, scams and injuries you've dealt out to me, that's why." Apollo looked at the heaving mass of bodies gyrating in front of him. "Can't we get into the middle?"
"That way fewer people will notice that the Lords gifted me with two left feet." Apollo started working his way into the crowd. "I'll feel less exposed."
Starbuck sighed and rolled his eyes, but followed him in. It took a few centons, but they made it to the centre of the floor, just under the chandelier. And just as the music stopped.
"Oh, what a shame," said Apollo with towering insincerity. "And I really, really wanted to dance."
"You'll get your chance." Starbuck nodded towards the sound booth. "He's just putting on something new."
And Heaven did have a public address system.
"And now a special number for tonight's special guests: the real Starbuck and Apollo," the DJ intoned. There was a loud, excited cheer from the dancers. "Welcome to Heaven, boys. Glad you finally came to join us."
They stared at each other in consternation, then at the smiling faces in the crowd around them. There were cheers and clapping, people pointing at them in apparently genuine delight.
"Real?" Apollo said, wonderingly.
"What the …?" Starbuck started blankly.
Then the music started. Slow, sensuous, sexy. Compelling.
"What the hell do we do?" Apollo demanded in an anguished whisper as the crowd of bodies suddenly metamorphosed itself into couples, holding each other close and shuffling around slowly in time to the music.
"Dance," Starbuck said, holding out his arms and catching Apollo around the waist. He felt the captain start in surprise. "Just hang on to me and let me lead."
"I'm half an inch taller than you are, far better looking and I have at least a rudimentary sense of rhythm."
"Oh. As long as there's good reasons." Apollo, as tentative as Starbuck had been five centons earlier, linked his hands around the back of Starbuck's neck.
Slowly, they started moving, Starbuck setting the pace, swaying gently in time to the song.
"I like this number," he said quietly.
"Mmn," said Apollo, not quite looking him in the eyes.
"Relax, 'Pollo. We've been friends for yahrens. You've touched me before. Think of it like Triad."
"Triad's not quite like this," Apollo mumbled.
"Well maybe not, but it's kinda nice." Starbuck inched slightly closer, his hold on Apollo tightening. His hands slid further round to meet in the small of Apollo's back. Apollo's skin felt warm through the green silk.
"Mmn," said Apollo, with slightly more conviction. When he looked at Starbuck his eyes were very wide and the lieutenant couldn't quite gauge their expression.
"Pol?" Apollo repeated, surprised.
Starbuck knew that Apollo didn't really like nicknames. He even got a bit sniffy when people dropped the initial 'A', although he tolerated it from Starbuck. So far as he was concerned, there was nothing wrong with his full name. As he said, it wasn't that hard to remember. But Starbuck was pushing at some boundaries here. His plans for the night demanded it.
"Well, Apollo's the stuffy, responsible, uptight, model captain, parent, son etc. etc. etc. Pol's the fashionable, relaxed guy I'm dancing with."
Apollo looked at him steadily for a centon, then shrugged. "Okay. But if anyone else calls me that I'll cream them all over the nearest bulkhead."
"That's nice," Starbuck could feel the tips of his ears burning. "You mean, it's a special name only I can call you?"
"If you like," Apollo said, and his ears were a little pinker than normal too.
"Pol, I was wondering. Given where we are tonight and everything… I mean, you know my catholic tastes, but have you ever… ? With a man, I mean."
Now there was no mistaking the pinkness of Apollo's ears. The wide, wondering green eyes met his again.
"Yeah. Yahrens ago."
Starbuck stared, astonished. He hadn't really expected Apollo to say yes. "You have? When?"
"At the Academy. Well, on my final year 'prentice flight on the Atlantia."
"You never said anything!"
"What's to say? I was very young and very drunk and very stupid."
Apollo shrugged. "You know what happened during my 'prentice flight, Starbuck. The Atlantia ran into two baseships, and we almost got wiped out. I was incredibly lucky… the two Vipers in the tube behind me got vaporised as they came out. The closest I'd ever come to a fire-fight was a simulator, but this was for real and I was scared shitless. People were getting blown to atoms all around me. We were really outnumbered and God alone knows how we beat them off. Half the Atlantia's pilots died that day."
"Yeah, I know."
Starbuck's hold tightened comfortingly and Apollo leaned into his embrace. Apollo had come out of that fire-fight a hero with a chestful of medals, but thinking back ten yahrens, Starbuck remembered vividly the bad dreams that had afflicted his room-mate for sectars afterwards. Two of the cadets on the same flight as Apollo hadn't survived. It had been a bad battle, a real baptism of fire, and it had taken Apollo some time to get over it.
"I was okay until after I landed. Then I lost it. Delayed shock, I guess. The Strike Captain didn't have time to do much other than turn me over to one of the lieutenants to look after. Jack's idea of dealing with an hysterical twenty yahren-old suffering from traumatic stress was to pour the better part of a bottle of ambrosa down my throat then get me into bed. His bed."
Starbuck stared in disbelief. Some shit had done that to his Apollo? Got him drunk and used him like that? Anger surged up in him. "Shit! That was rape!"
"Well, I wouldn't go quite that far. I wasn't completely unwilling, though I guess he took advantage. I was young enough and stupid enough to think it meant more though. I thought he was wonderful. I was on the Atlantia for another three sectons. It was a hot three sectons. I fell into bed every time he wanted it."
"And then I got back to the Academy and never heard from him again. He was killed a few yahrens later. Just before Cimtar."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Starbuck was slightly hurt by Apollo's reticence. He thought Apollo trusted him with everything. For the first time he wondered if it had only been the battle that Apollo had had to get over.
"A bit ashamed of myself, I guess."
"Ashamed of having sex with a man?" Oh God, was that a crucial question!
"Not of the sex, and not because he was a man. Just for being stupid enough to let him use me like that. That's why I never, ever, leave rookies with only one person after their first fire-fight. They're vulnerable enough without being taken advantage of."
By this time Starbuck was holding Apollo so close that he could feel the captain's heart beating. He suddenly felt mean, manipulative and as predatory as the unknown Jack. He'd had every intention of trying to get Apollo into bed himself that night, to finally find out if Apollo felt anything for him the way he wanted, the way he felt about Apollo.
"I'm sorry, Pol," he said.
Apollo grinned at him slightly. "Don't be. It didn't really hurt me. It did me some good. I grew up a lot in those sectons on the Atlantia, in more ways than one. God knows I needed to."
"Didn't it? Hurt you, I mean."
"Well, it put me off men for a while," Apollo said, and laughed. "For about ten yahrens."
"And I'm sorry, because I did sort of have a plan for tonight. Sort of."
"You expect me to be surprised? Did you set me up tonight, Star, with all this weird stuff?"
"Do you really think I could afford a bottle of nectar?" Starbuck was deeply regretful about the relative poverty that prevented him from buying Apollo the moon and stars if that's what Pol wanted. "I wish I could. No. Honest, Pol, I've no idea at all what the weird stuff is, or why they're all so interested in us, but I did set you up a little bit. I genuinely thought that no-one would recognise us, and here, miles away from the Galactica and everything, you'd really loosen up and I'd get you to myself for a while."
"I mean," Starbuck said, and by now he was really red-faced but determined to carry the plan through, come what may. "I mean, I can't afford the nectar, Pol, although God knows I'd like to be able to buy you nectar every day for the rest of our lives, but I can afford one of the rooms."
"Oh," Apollo said again, blankly, eyes so wide Starbuck felt he could fall right in. Then after a micron, "At least it's a step up from a turboflush cubicle."
"Credit me with some sense of style," Starbuck protested. "I've every intention of seducing you tonight, Pol. Somehow turbo-flush cubicles don't quite hack it in the romance stakes."
"Listen to the words of the song, Pol. That's what it's all about."
The singer sang of love, of need, of finding the Only One, the one he couldn't take his eyes off.
Green eyes stared into blue.
"Oh," said Apollo, again. "Really?"
"Really. I love you, Pol. Didn't you realise?" Starbuck held his breath.
"I thought it was just… I mean, you've been my best friend for ever."
"Well, I wondered. When Serina was alive, you seemed.. no, you were jealous. But you've not said anything since she died and I wondered if I was wrong."
"I was waiting. I had to give you some time, until I thought you were over it."
"I'm over it," Apollo said.
Starbuck's heart started thudding. "Are you still off men?"
Apollo appeared to think about it. "Well, in general, yes. I think I am. I mean, I can't imagine me disappearing into a cubicle with any of this lot."
It was Starbuck's turn to say it.
He tried to hide the chagrin and the hurt. It was a blow, a real blow. He felt sick, and hurt and humiliated. He was making such a fracking idiot of himself.
"But in particular…" Apollo still sounded thoughtful. "Well. Sometimes you annoy the frack out of me, Starbuck. You're insubordinate, devious, not entirely honest when it comes to card games and betting with my hard earned pay, always late for everything and I spend half my time covering up for you so you don't get cashiered. And you're completely loyal, you've stuck with me for yahrens and I'd trust you with my life. I can't even begin to imagine life without you. It would seriously hack me off it anything happened to you or you got serious with any of the people you go out with."
"So? In particular?" Starbuck couldn't keep the hope out of his voice.
"So, in particular, I love you too."
Starbuck came to a halt as the music did. His breathing came to a halt as the music did. He'd dreamed of this moment for so long, that he really couldn't believe it.
"Oh," he said again, not letting go of Apollo, still holding him.
"Yeah." Apollo was smiling at him. Their faces were very close together. "But you knew that, Star. Why else did you think I said yes to coming down here?"
Starbuck started breathing again. "Well, I kinda hoped," he said, almost shy.
"Me too," Apollo said. "I've been hoping for quite a while, Star."
Starbuck smiled at him, and used one gentle finger to trace the line of Apollo's cheek and jaw.
"He was lying, the guy in the flushes. You aren't pretty. You're beautiful."
For a first kiss, it was gentle and undemanding, his lips just brushing Apollo's, tasting them for the first time. It was a kiss that was about love and devotion, tenderness and the deep affection that would always outlast any mere physical passion. The kiss said I love you. Not just that I want you, or desire you, but that I love you.
"Mmn," Apollo said when they broke apart, apparently oblivious to the cheers and intense interest of their fellow dancers. "What now?"
More music started playing, the dancing resumed. Starbuck reluctantly let Apollo go, and offered him his hand. His heart turned right over when Apollo accepted it, enclosing Starbuck's hand in his.
"Well, I figure we play this cool. We go back to our table, and get something else to drink, and eat some more, and we maybe dance some more and we don't rush things."
"Caution, from you?"
They were walking slowly across the dance floor, hand in hand. As they passed, the dancers patted their shoulders, called greetings and congratulations. They barely noticed.
"This is too good to rush, Pol. It means too much." Starbuck had never spoken to one of his light-of-loves with such heartfelt earnestness. He wondered if he was happy. He felt too stunned to know. It was like someone had given him the most precious, fragile object in the universe. If he handled it all wrong, it'd break.
Apollo stopped them on the edge of the dance floor and kissed him again. "Me too."
It took a few centons to get to the table. Apollo seemed to be incapable of going more than three steps without needing another little kiss. They were still gentle and undemanding, loving and cherishing little kisses. They were getting-to-know-you-in-a-different-way kisses. They weren't I'm-desperate-for-sex kisses yet, although the temperature was definitely beginning to rise. Starbuck loved them. He loved Apollo. Apollo had said that he loved him. He was beginning to realise that he was terrifyingly happy.
They were so absorbed in each other that they barely noticed the bar-man was replenishing supplies. Only the popping of the cork made them realise he was there. Another bottle of nectar.
"Thanks," Apollo said, absently, his gaze returning to Starbuck's face almost immediately.
He was staring at Starbuck as if he'd never seen him before. Starbuck stared right back, definitely feeling that the next few kisses would be heading into the I'm-desperate-for-sex territory. He didn't think Pol would mind. Dear God, don't let him mind!
"No problem, Captain. It's nice to see you boys enjoying yourselves." The man deftly refilled the glasses. "Don't forget about the room. We're holding room ten for you. It's the best in the house."
"Yeah?" Starbuck raised an eyebrow at Apollo, grinned when he saw Apollo nod agreement. Maybe they could pick up the pace a bit. No rushing. This really was too good to rush, but maybe they could just move things along. No one said they had to hurry it. Just savour it. "Can we take this through with us?"
The man nodded.
"Then we'll go through in a centon or two. Tell me something. What's with the free booze, and the special songs? Why's everyone so pleased to see us?"
"Come on!" The man laughed disbelievingly. "You're the best known couple in the Fleet. Shit, you're icons in here! Every secton-end nights are Apollo and Starbuck nights."
"Icons?" Apollo said.
Starbuck trod hastily on his true love's foot to shut him up. He didn't want Apollo blurting out anything about how recent an item they were - like ten centons recent. Just in case the man took the nectar away again.
"How did you all know about us? We've never said anything."
"You're kidding right? The way you two play Triad? We show every one of your games here. Place gets packed."
"Contact sport," Apollo murmured, and the bar-man laughed.
"We're flattered," said Starbuck. "We hadn't realised, that's all. So what's the competition?"
"The Apollo and Starbuck Lookalike Competition. We hold one every secton-end."
"Very flattered," Starbuck said, after a centon's shocked silence. He remembered the boy with the dyed blonde hair and realised that he'd been looking at a sincere imitator. For a micron he felt vaguely indignant. He didn't mind the dyed blond hair, but he never, ever wore lipstick. He was far too handsome to need artificial beauty aids. If he was an icon, they damn well ought to know these things and get it right.
"What's the prize?" Apollo asked, fascinated.
"The winners get a free session in one of the rooms," the man said.
"I guess we were the winners tonight." Starbuck grinned at Apollo, and almost melted when Apollo smiled back. The lieutenant's heart flipped over and he felt dizzy. Oh God, yes. An I'm-desperate-for-sex kiss was coming right up. A lot of things were coming right up, particularly in the groin area. "How long have we got the room for?"
The man shrugged. "As long as you want. You two being here is great for business. The Boss said to tell you he was grateful and this is the least we could do Tonight's a special one for us. Apollo and Starbuck actually here." He sighed gustily, romantically, nodded and walked away back to the bar.
"Pretty special night for us too," Apollo said softly, fingers tracing little patterns across the back of Starbuck's hand.
Starbuck looked down at his hand, confidently expecting to see sparks. The touch of Apollo's fingers burned his skin.
"I can't get over how all these guys knew before we did. That we're a couple, I mean. Maybe we were too close to it."
"Maybe. Where are we taking this, Star?"
"Into room ten. As soon as I subside enough to be able to walk."
"I didn't mean that. What about after room ten?"
After room ten? There's an after room ten? Starbuck couldn't think beyond slipping that emerald green shirt off Apollo's shoulders and kissing him senseless. In his imagination he was already scattering little kisses down over Apollo's chest, biting gently on a nipple….
"I'm not just here for room ten, Star."
Starbuck concentrated hard. This was important. If he got this wrong, the fragile thing he'd been given would break.
"How are you about us being icons together?"
Apollo looked around the room and smiled. "Well it would be a shame to disappoint them. What was phase two of your plan, Starbuck?"
"I'm thinking regular dates, dinner and candle-light, gradually letting people know how iconic we are. That way a certain individual in a command and parental capacity will have the chance to get accustomed to us being the most famous couple in the Fleet."
Starbuck's heart did another little melting into marshmallow trick at the look Apollo was giving him. He knew that Apollo wasn't one for casual meaningless affairs. He had to tell him how he felt, that this wasn't casual or meaningless for him, either.
"I'm thinking the rest of our lives, Pol. I've never told anyone I love them before, and it scares me a bit, but there's no-one else but you. I love you and I need you, and God knows, I want you so bad I'm about to come just sitting here and looking at you. Forever?"
"Forever," Apollo agreed, and leaned forward for another kiss.
Oh, that was definitely in the I'm-desperate-for-sex category, with an undercurrent of love and affection and devotion that had Starbuck's head spinning. Apollo's tongue attacking his mouth had him breathless, desperate for more. Apollo was a good kisser. Apollo was a damn good kisser, and Starbuck never wanted it to stop. Apollo was a damned sexy kisser, when he got down to it, the kiss such a promise of the passion to come that Starbuck was dizzy.
"Don't stop," he said, faint and breathless when Apollo finally came up for air. The only air they'd had for the last few centons had been recirculating between them. and they were both a touch oxygen-starved.
"Room ten," Apollo said, sounding as breathless. "Right now."
Starbuck smiled and grabbed at the bottle. "I love it when you have a little nectar and come over all uninhibited."
Apollo picked up the glasses and prepared to follow him. "I don't need nectar, Star. All I need is you."
"Forever?" Starbuck said again, feeling agonisingly shy.
His best beloved, his one and only love paused and looked at him, looking about as serious as Apollo could ever look. That was pretty serious.
Another kiss. And another. It was hard to walk holding onto the nectar and the glasses and trying to kiss each other on every other step, but they did it. Another very big bouncer was pointed them in the direction they wanted, and within a centon they were looking around a room that taken up almost entirely by bed, and was so obviously intended for noisy and energetic sex, that any well brought up Kobolian boy should have been blushing and stuttering.
But Apollo was smiling at him. Apollo was putting the glasses down and taking the bottle away from him. Apollo was reaching for him with both hands. Apollo was pulling him down onto the bed, and Apollo's hands were starting their fiery magic, each touch burning on his skin, and Apollo was kissing him again.
A my-God-he's-tearing-my-clothes-off kiss.
A I'm having-sex-right-this-centon-and-I'm-loving-it kiss.
No wonder they called this place Heaven.
Can't take my eyes off of you.