She held up the two halves of a demonstration seat belt, and showed them how to clip the buckle together, pulling on the two ends with a snap to display the belt's holding power in an emergency. She smiled, very sweetly.
She had perfect teeth, Starbuck noticed, but he'd managed to fasten his seat belt without assistance. It wasn't too technically difficult for a man who flew a complex fighter craft like the Viper. He glanced around the cabin. Mind you, some of the other passengers looked like they needed help with tying their shoestrings.
"Emergency doors are situated here, and in the middle of the shuttle - here - and at the back..."
She had nice hands too, he saw, watching them fluttering like scarlet-tipped wings in some syncopated ballet as she indicated the emergency exits and the emergency lighting.
"If we are forced to evacuate the shuttle in the ocean – "
Starbuck blinked. Ocean? What ocean? They were about six light yahrens from the nearest ocean – unless, he thought, they were being poetic about the sea of stars? He glanced out of the porthole beside him. Very poetic.
" – then you will find your life jacket under your seat – "
Starbuck checked. Yes, indeedy. There was a life jacket under the seat. That could come in very handy if he fell through six light yahrens worth of space and had the great good luck to find a convenient ocean just sitting there waiting to cushion his landing.
"Cross the tapes around you – as so – and tie them in a knot here. Pull the tab briskly – like this – to inflate the life jacket."
He decided that the reason that the Galactica's shuttle pilot who'd flown him to the transport point didn't do this routine was because the Galactica's shuttle pilot had at least one operational brain cell. That particular qualification didn't appear to have been required for the flight attendants hired by the private company contracted to provide in-flight services to the military transport shuttles. He wondered what, exactly, their contractual obligations were when it came to providing services, and smiled. Useable brain cells weren't an absolute prerequisite for a first class service.
She was prettier than the Galactica's shuttle pilot, too.
"Use the nozzle to blow more air into the life jacket, if needed - "
Well, excuse me, but if we have to be told to blow air into an inflatable jacket, then has it crossed your mind that maybe we aren't quite ready for space travel yet and that we should opt for some simpler and safer form of transportation, like stealing a ride on a child's tricycle?
"Use the whistle to attract attention – "
Well, that was plain insulting. He was usually the centre of attention anyway, and his attraction was innate. He didn't need whistles. Whistles were for amateurs.
"And please read the safety instructions. You'll find a copy in the pocket of the seat in front of you. Have a pleasant flight. We will be serving refreshments shortly. Our ETA at the Caprica City Spaceport is seventeen centars and eighty-two centons."
Starbuck sniffed, leaned back in his seat and thought instead of all the things he could do to fill up the next five sectons, all the activities that would fill his days and nights. Find a lovely companion, and hit the bars and nightclubs and chanceries – yes, that was how to fill up your holiday when there was nothing else to do - having fun, and spending the cubits.
He pointedly ignored the safety instructions and pulled the pornographic novel from his backpack instead, and within microns was happily involved in making notes, all the better to give the author some hints on improving his technique.
He shuffled down the line, eyes only partially open, the backpack clutched hard in his hands. The light hurt.
He wasn't doing too well at making the adjustment between ship's time and Caprica time. His internal clock told him he should be sleeping, but Caprica's twin suns poured cheerfully down through the glass roof of the huge Arrivals hall, burning the back of Starbuck's neck and dazzling eyes that wanted to be fathoms deep in sleep.
He dug his papers out of the side pocket of his bag and handed them over to the guard sergeant, leaning up against the counter and closing his eyes. Almost there. A few centars sleep at the hostel and maybe he'd call Siress Ila and find out how she was doing and where the rest of the family was. He might get out to see her, if she didn't mind.
It was the long silence that alerted him. He straightened up, looking enquiringly at the sergeant. She was staring fixedly at the leave docket.
Starbuck decided to be helpful. "You're supposed to stamp it. Right there, in the bottom left hand corner."
He regretted it instantly. It was never wise to diss non-coms. They had unlimited access to bureaucracy to make an officer's life unworthy of living. He smiled, as charmingly as he knew how, trying to mentally channel through to her the information that he was joking, that he knew she was efficient and knew her work and did a damn fine job of it, and didn't she have just the loveliest eyes….
The sergeant didn't appear to be receptive to psychic flattery. She gave him a cold look and leaned back in her chair, looking down the line of duty clerks checking in the returning heroes. She beckoned silently to one of her colleagues, not bothering even to speak to Starbuck. The lieutenant watched with growing apprehension as the sergeant leaned her chair back on two legs and showed the man Starbuck's papers. She glanced at Starbuck then, and raised a questioning, sardonic eyebrow.
"Could be," the other sergeant said. "I'll run a check."
"Is – er - is something wrong?" Starbuck couldn't think what. It was legal, Colonel Tigh had signed it in triplicate in three different places and in red ink, as per regulations, and Captain Buchanon had written in Starbuck's name in big, clear capital letters. It wasn't like Starbuck had had to use vanishing ink on someone else's furlon authorisation and forge the commander's signature.
The sergeant gave him a grim look. "Please wait here, sir," she said in a monotone, making the honorific sound like an insult.
"Hey! Everything's all right, isn't it?"
"That's what we're trying to determine, sir," she said, and went to join her colleague, who was now examining Starbuck's papers under a strong overhead light with a UV bulb and comparing it to another paper on the supervisor's station behind the counter.
"Are you in the felger!" said the pilot in the line behind Starbuck, cheerfully.
Starbuck sighed and ignored him. Unlikely as it seemed for Colonel Perfect, but maybe Tigh had used the wrong shade of ink, or something. Knowing the military, the precise shade of red was described in a contract specification document that was eighteen pages long and needed a colour spectrometer to determine.
He leaned over the counter. "Sarge?"
The woman shook her head. She took the papers from the male sergeant and checked them for herself, tilting them towards the UV, her lips pursed. She glanced at Starbuck, then to the other sergeant and nodded.
The big male sergeant beckoned Starbuck to the end of the counter, and opened up the barrier. Starbuck reluctantly trailed along to join him.
"Please come through. Sir."
"Look, I'm on my way to spend my leave with a very important family," said Starbuck desperately. "Really important."
"That's nice, sir, but not until you've seen the captain, sir."
"I'm going to spend my leave with Commander Adama's family." Starbuck watched for a reaction. "The Galactica's commander. I'm expected."
"Well, that's *very* nice, sir. The captain's in the back office, sir. I'm guess you'll be able to sort it out with him, sir. This way, sir."
Every "sir" was a deadly insult.
Oh frack! Oh FRACK! This just wasn't fair. It was his first furlough in two yahrens and it just wasn't FAIR! All right, it wasn't going to be the greatest furlough in the world on his own in Caprica City, but it *was* a furlough. That idiot Tigh screws it up and his leave's ruined, and it just wasn't fracking fair!
He followed miserably after the sergeant, across an office space full of troopers and non-coms who preferred to watch his progress with ill-concealed glee rather then labor dutifully at the tasks that the military hierarchy deemed appropriate to their rank and training. Glancing behind him, he saw that his female nemesis was back at the counter, terrorising the mouthy pilot who'd been next in line. Served the bastard right.
The sergeant knocked at a frosted glass door, opened it at the almost indistinguishable sound that followed, and stuck his head around the edge. "I think this may be the man you asked about, Captain. You want him in there?"
The answer was evidently the affirmative. The sergeant handed Starbuck back his papers – "You'll need this, sir." - and sent Starbuck in.
The officer had his back to the door. Furious, and tired and cross, Starbuck marched in and threw a salute at the man's back, and stood to attention.
"Hey," said Apollo, turning round. "I never thought I'd see the day you'd salute me, Starbuck. I think I'm touched."
"Oh come on." Apollo manoeuvred the hover car out of the parking space. "It was a brilliant scam."
"You bribed them!"
"Of course. They wouldn't have done it if I hadn't."
"I thought I was going to be arrested!"
"I know. I had the door open a crack, watching." Apollo sniggered. "Your face was a picture!"
"Starbuck, that's not true. My parents were married for ten yahrens before I was born." Apollo sniggered again. "Come on. Admit it. I got you that time."
"How long have I known you?" asked Apollo.
Starbuck unclamped the bared teeth from their snarl and managed to speak without peppering everything with exclamation marks. "First yahren at the Academy."
"Seven yahrens," Apollo said, from his grand old age of twenty five. "And in all those yahrens did I *ever* manage to con you?"
"Then it was my turn." Apollo sighed happily. "It was worth the wait."
"I'll get you," Starbuck threatened. "I promise I'll get you, but good. Who told you I'd be there?"
"Father, of course."
"And when did you get to be a captain?"
"Last sectar. I saved it up to surprise you."
"I didn't even know you were going to be at home the same time as me!"
"Saved that as a surprise, too. I got home three days ago." Apollo grinned at Starbuck, happily. "Aren't you glad to see me? I haven't seen you for yahrens."
Glad? Starbuck had thought his heart would stop. Joy, fear, delight, fear, and more fear – they'd rushed him until he was dizzy. He couldn't tell Apollo that, though.
Instead, Starbuck snarled at him, and Apollo laughed.
"Where are you taking me?" Starbuck demanded after a few centons of resentful silence.
"Home, of course."
Starbuck squirmed in his seat slightly. "Well, I've a room booked at the Military Hostel. I mean, I didn't know you were home and I didn't think that - I mean, I wasn't expecting that your mother would – er, I mean – "
Apollo signalled and pulled the car over so he could stare at Starbuck in disgust and consternation, without causing an eight car pile-up. "You mean you thought you wouldn't be welcome?"
"Well, you know - I didn't know you'd be home."
"And you think that makes a difference? Besides, I distinctly heard you whining to that sergeant about the important family that you were coming to visit. There was this loud clanging sound as Father's name was dropped."
"I was desperate! I could see my furlough disappearing right in front of my eyes."
Apollo ignored that. "Mother would kill you if you'd gone and stayed in a hostel. Of course you're welcome! I had to persuade her to stay at home and let me come and get you on my own. She wanted to be here to meet you."
"That's nice," said Starbuck. "She is nice, your mother."
"So you'll apologise to her for that unwarranted slur on her virtue?"
"I won't even tell her I said it. That way she doesn't get upset and I don't have to apologise."
"I can't believe you, sometimes."
Starbuck sighed. "I'm going to love seeing your mother. I'm going to love seeing Athena and Zac again. I'm going to love seeing the house, and the feline and the canine again. I'm going to love seeing the ocean, and the boats – "
"I get the idea."
"But I am not loving seeing you."
Apollo smiled. "No?"
"No," said Starbuck, very firmly.
"Okay," said Apollo. He drooped a little in his seat, turning his face away.
"Oh stop that!" snapped Starbuck, provoked, and caught hold of Apollo for the welcome home hug that he'd flatly refused to offer back in the terminal building. The bubbling feeling in his chest that had started when he'd realized just who it was in that office, was threatening to make him burst. A fraternal hug would give it some outlet.
Apollo laughed and hugged him back, pulling Starbuck in close. "I thought for a centon there that you hadn't missed me and you loved your friends on the Galactica better than me."
"They're okay," said Starbuck, gruffly.
For a micron or two he just enjoyed the sensation of being at home, and that could be a hovel in the city or the big house beside the ocean, as long as Apollo was there. He took what he could get. Though he knew this friendly embrace was all it could ever be, he made the most of it, enjoying the feel of Apollo up close against him, arms around him. Apollo's cheek was pressed against his, soft and warm. Reluctantly, he broke the clinch, not wanting Apollo to get embarrassed.
"So are you," he said, and grinned. "Okay, I mean."
Apollo laughed at him again, eyes gleaming, face slightly flushed. Starbuck frowned slightly, wondering why Apollo was so flustered, but before he could say anything, Apollo said in a soft, almost loving voice, and smiling at him in a way that made him glow, "I'm really glad to see you, Starbuck."
Starbuck swallowed hard. "I'm glad to see you too, Apollo."
They clasped hands for a micron, then Apollo sighed, glanced into the mirror, signalled, and pulled back out into the traffic streaming out towards the coast.
"It was still a brilliant scam."
Starbuck was suddenly a very happy man, looking sideways at Apollo. "And you're still a bastard."
"You really want to go into the Academy to see the kids?" Apollo reached over Starbuck to get at the hot griddle cakes that Starbuck had taken into his corner of the table in order, as he said, to look after them and make sure that they weren't disturbed.
"Manners!" Starbuck let him have one cake, only because Siress Ila was laughing at him. "And why not? I like the kids."
"They've grown," said Ila. She got up and ruffled her son's unruly hair as she passed him. "Don't worry, darling. I'll make you your own plateful."
"Starbuck always was a hog a breakfast," grumbled Apollo smearing butter on the one griddle cake he'd managed to get.
"I dream a lot. It works up an appetite." Starbuck munched happily on real food for a centon or two. "It's my first day back and I need to get some decent clothes. I thought we could go into the city, and then we have lunch with the kids at the Academy."
"Oh. Shopping. That's different." Apollo eyed Starbuck's plate longingly.
"They've grown," said Ila again, from the stove. "I wouldn't want you to be under any misapprehension about this, Starbuck. Athena's in her junior yahren, you know. She's not a little girl any more."
Apollo frowned, giving his mother an odd look. "They're still kids. And they'll be home in ten days anyway. Starbuck'll see more than enough of them then."
Ila put a plate of hot cakes in front of him. "And you should be old enough not to be so selfish," she said.
"Are you going to come with us, Ila?" Starbuck asked, still feeling a little constraint about using her name.
"Oh no, dear. Apollo's going to have to exercise a lot of self control to share you with Zac and Athena. He'd burst if he had to share you with me as well."
She smiled at Apollo very sweetly. "Eat your breakfast, dear. And play nicely with your brother and sister when you see them, or we may have to take your toys away."
Starbuck applied himself to refreshing the inner man with hot cakes and java, decided to ignore it all. He didn't understand families. He was an orphan, after all.
"White water rafting? What about that? We could go up into the mountains and come back down again on a raft on a fast, fast river. What about it?"
Starbuck made a whining sound, and turned over on the towel, letting the sun toast his back.
"Okay, not white water rafting. How about just going to the mountains and doing some climbing? We haven't done that since we were in our final yahren."
"I hated climbing," said Starbuck, into the warm sand. "I don't like heights."
"You didn't say so when we went climbing that time."
"I did! You just didn't listen."
"Well, I don't remember that."
"You never do remember the things you find inconvenient," said Starbuck. He turned over again, trying to get the tan even. He kept his eyes closed.
"Horse-riding, up at the Lake?"
Starbuck cracked open one eye, and stared out across the bay. A motor boat was roaring about out there, several hundred metres from shore, towing a figure that collapsed into a spume of white water even as Starbuck focused on it. He winced and turned to look at Apollo instead. Apollo was sitting upright on the towel beside him, dressed only in a pair of disreputable shorts that looked as though he'd owned them since he was about twelve and that they'd had a long and terrible time of it. Those shorts were too tight, too short, and frayed at the hems. Starbuck envied them like crazy.
The downside to looking at Apollo was that it was obvious that he was fairly buzzing with suppressed energy. But he also looked wonderful, and Starbuck decided to humour the man's insatiable desire for exercise.
"We haven't been to the Slit-Eyed Snake yet," he offered.
"Another nightclub?" Apollo's eyebrow arched upwards. The look he was giving Starbuck was oddly intense. "We've been out gambling and drinking every night since you got here. That's why you have to spend the day comatose when I want to do things. What about we hike up to the public beach at Rasenna? The bar there does the most amazing barbecued fish, straight out of the ocean."
"Too much effort."
"Starbuck, you can't spend the rest of our vacation just lying here on the beach!"
"Just watch me."
"There must be something you want to do. There must be some activity that you'll enjoy."
"I enjoy the nightclubs."
"Apart from that!"
"And I like lazing about on the beach."
"Why don't you want to do things?"
"Why don't you just relax?"
Apollo's eyes were very wide and very green. He looked puzzled. "I am relaxed."
"No. I'm relaxed. Look at me – this is relaxed. Muscles at rest is relaxed. Lying on your back soaking up some sun is relaxed. Doing nothing is relaxed. You're acting like you're plugged into the local power generator. Go and have a swim."
"I've just come back from a swim."
True enough, his hair was still damp, pushed back from his face by a pair of sunglasses, and there was a sheen of water on the nicely marked pecs. He was still looking wonderful and the leaden lump in Starbuck's chest that had been there for the last four days weighed heavier. It wasn't fair, to want something you couldn't ever have and have to spend all your time faced with the unattainable.
He thought back to the shuttle ride and the tentative plans he'd made to spend his time drinking and gambling. That those plans had been made as means of filling the big blank space in his life, to hide the fact that was no-one to share his furlough with, he wouldn't ever deny. But now, faced with having to spend his furlough with Apollo and keep his hands off him – well, Starbuck was finding that hard, and almost wished for the uncomplicated loneliness he'd thought would fill his vacation.
He kept the grumpy impatience in his tone. "Go and have another one and quit bothering me. I'm trying to get all golden and delicious here."
Starbuck closed his eyes and turned his face towards the sun. Beside him Apollo sighed but thankfully shut up, and eventually Starbuck drifted away to a place where he wasn't sitting in a smelly Viper cockpit waiting to go out and fight and see if today was the day he died.
Starbuck could have sworn that something brushed his mouth very, very gently and fleetingly, but when he got his eyes open again, there was nothing there. He must have imagined it. He turned his head quickly. Apollo was half way to the cliffs and the steep path that led up to his house.
Starbuck watched him go, and sighed.
Apollo was nowhere to be found when Starbuck slugged up the path carrying the towels and the water bottles and the tanning lotion, the books and tapes and all the other stuff that Apollo had abandoned.
Siress Ila was in the huge kitchen, putting dinner together. "I haven't seen him for a centar or two, dear," she said, planting a kiss on Starbuck's cheek and sending him to the refrigerator to get a beer. "He came in a bit moody and unpleasant, so I dropped a few hints about where Zac had hidden the keys and he went off on Zac's motorbike. I expected you back before now."
"I fell asleep down there," said Starbuck, feeling slightly aggrieved that Apollo had gone off somewhere without him.
"Well, the two of you got in very late."
"Ah – yes," he said, and blushed, feeling like a teenager being gently chided. "Sorry we woke you."
"Just try not to sing, next time."
"You didn't burn, did you?" She gave him a considering look. "It's very hot out there and you look pink."
"No. I'm just fine." He took a long pull on the beer and sighed, refreshed. "I didn't know Zac had a motorbike."
"When Adama's mother died last yahren she left each of them a little money."
"Mmmnn," said Starbuck. He knew about that. The "little money" represented about a decade's worth of salary to him, but to Apollo and his siblings it really wasn't a big deal.
"They can do what they want with it; it's not in trust. Zac just went out and bought the bike without telling anyone." Ila chopped vegetables with the sort of energy that told Starbuck where Apollo had inherited it. "His father was furious, but you know Zac. It all just washed over him and he still has the bike at the end of it. He leaves it here while he's at the Academy, thank the Lords. Taking it out for a spin might make Apollo a bit less moody."
Starbuck shook his head and snagged himself a baton of raw carrot to munch on. "He just can't relax, you know.
Ila smiled. "He's like his father."
"Not to look at," said Starbuck. Apollo had most definitely inherited his mother's looks. "Why can't he just lie on the beach and switch off?"
"He did - for about one day after he got back. That's about his limit." Ila whisked the vegetables out of Starbuck's reach. "What's he been doing to annoy you?"
"Trying to persuade me into vacation activities." Starbuck started counting them off on his fingers. "I got offered hiking, camping, white-water rafting, climbing, riding, canoeing and water-skiing. And if I know Apollo, that was just about one day's worth."
"He likes to keep busy, that's all."
"And I like to lie on a beach and do nothing."
Ila laughed. "You two are so incompatible, I'm astonished that you stayed friends. Maybe it's because you really haven't seen that much of each other since you graduated."
"No," said Starbuck, glumly. It was a sore point, that Apollo had refused to serve on his father's ship. A vid-letter every secton, no matter how faithfully sent, wasn't anything like the same as having your best friend around. Of course, the other side to that was that you didn't spend your entire time in a state of acute longing, the way he had for the last four days. With Apollo not physically there, the longing eventually subsided into a dull, more chronic condition that wasn't easier to bear but was a helluva lot easier to hide.
"He has to find his own way, Starbuck," said Ila gently. "I know you think he's had everything handed to him in this life, but from Apollo's point of view it's very hard for him to get out from under his father's shadow."
"I know. It's just that I was kinda expecting us to serve together. I wasn't expecting him to go off someplace else. I don't like it when he does that."
"He did well on the Arcturion. I suppose he told you he's going to the Columbia?"
"Adama wanted him for the Galactica, but there wasn't a space and Apollo would have had to be press-ganged into it anyway. He wants a Strike Captain's post, and the Columbia needed a Strike Captain."
Starbuck cocked his head at the sound of a motorbike coming into the yard, the engine cutting to a mean-sounding growl. "Would you want him on the Galactica?"
Ila paused, her busy hands stilling for a micron. "I've got two of them serving, Starbuck, and two of them getting ready to serve. What I want is an end to this war, and my family safe and at home. I just don't think I'm going to get it."
He got up, and put his arms around her. "They'll be all right. Apollo's nearly as good a pilot as me, you know."
Her laugh was shaky. "I got that wrong, didn't I?"
"How many I've got. I've got three of you serving, and five of you to worry about."
"Hey! Unhand my mother, you villain!"
Starbuck gave Ila another hug and turned. The ribald response died on his lips. Apollo had found Zac's leathers as well as the keys to the motorbike. Zac was a nice kid, Starbuck thought, and it had been great seeing him and Athena at the Academy for lunch the day after Starbuck had arrived, but Zac hadn't filled out yet to match his big brother. He was tall and gangling. Put Zac into the leathers and he'd need belts and braces to hold them up and cinch them on until they fit. Apollo, though, filled those leathers. He filled them in ways that sent Starbuck into severe respiratory distress.
"Your mother's a lovely woman and I'm going to elope with her," Starbuck croaked when his breathing steadied.
"I think I might have something to say about that." Apollo dropped the helmet onto the kitchen table, and turned away, walking to the refrigerator.
Starbuck stared. The leather pants were tight. They were very tight. They were very, very tight.
"I think your father might, too," said Ila.
Apollo glanced at her over his shoulder. He looked serious. "Yeah, but probably not for the same reason. After all, he'd be jealous of Starbuck."
Starbuck stared a bit more.
"Possibly," Ila said, and dug Starbuck in the ribs. "Close your mouth, dear. The flies will get in."
Obediently, Starbuck closed his mouth. Apollo bent down to get something near the bottom of the cooler, and Starbuck's mouth fell open again.
"Oh dear," said Ila, and turned away. She started chopping carrots with vigour. Starbuck thought that she was laughing.
"You want some juice?" asked Apollo, straightening up.
Starbuck shook his head. He opened and closed his lower jaw experimentally until it worked again. "Where've you been?"
"I just went for a spin along the coast road, right up out of town." Apollo grinned. "Zac's useless at hiding things, you know. He left the keys where a five yahren old would think to look."
Ila was definitely laughing.
Starbuck moistened dry lips. "There isn't another set of leathers, is there?"
"Don't think so. Why? Do you want a go?"
"Not too energetic for you then?"
"Oh, I think I've had my quota of supine relaxation for the day."
Apollo shook his head. "Zac's going to be mad about me stealing his bike, Starbuck. I don't know what he'll feel about you taking it."
"I'll ride pillion with you," said Starbuck quickly. He avoided Ila's eyes.
"Your cousin Jason has a motorbike," said Ila to Apollo. "I'll ring Alicia and see if you can borrow his leathers for Starbuck. I'm sure Jace won't mind."
"It's a thought." Apollo downed his juice. "You sure, Starbuck?"
Starbuck nodded vigorously.
"All right. If you ring, Mother, I'll go to Aunt Alicia's now. I'll be back in twenty centons, and me and Starbuck can go for a ride before dinner."
Ila smiled at them both. "Of course I will. Be careful now, both of you."
Starbuck snuggled up closer, his arms around Apollo. If he looked down and to each side, he could see the way that the muscles in Apollo's thighs strained against the leather. It was a very inspirational sight.
He sighed happily. The one problem with wearing a helmet was that he couldn't rest his cheek against Apollo's leather clad back, but he could think about doing it and imagine what the leather would feel like if he rubbed his cheek against it. This was pretty fine stuff, snuggling up behind Apollo, Apollo's buttocks tucking neatly into Starbuck's groin. Mighty fine.
Apollo stopped the bike, bracing it against the road with one leg. They were on a wild part of the coast, a good thirty miles north of the city. There wasn't anything in sight.
Apollo opened the visor on his helmet. "Starbuck, are you scared?"
"Scared?" Starbuck reluctantly took one hand away from Apollo and opened his own – well, Apollo's cousin Jason's visor. He quickly put his hand back. "Of course I'm not scared! I'm a Viper jock - why should I be scared?"
"Dunno, but you're holding on so tight I can hardly breathe. Why not move your hands down so that my ribcage can move enough to let my lungs inflate?"
"Oh." Very reluctantly, Starbuck loosened his hold a little, and moved his hands so that they were crossed over Apollo's stomach.
Apollo sighed. "It's just as well we haven't eaten yet."
"Well, where else can I put them?" hissed Starbuck.
Apollo said nothing, just shook his head and dropped the visor. "Far be it from me to tell you," he said.
At least, that's what Starbuck thought Apollo said, but Apollo's voice was quiet and muffled by the helmet. But he didn't get a chance to check – Apollo kicked the bike into action again and they roared off.
Starbuck stared at the unresponsive back of Apollo's helmet. Had he heard right? From any one else, that would have been a come-on. Apollo wasn't much given to flirting – he was too bad at it, for a start, despite all the coaching Starbuck had given him over the yahrens – but that little remark (if Starbuck had heard what he thought he heard) bordered on the flirtatious.
Add that to the remarks about his objections to a possible elopement, and Starbuck's head began to hurt. He started on a list, to get it all straightened out.
Item one: Disgraceful trick on him put to one side (although not yet quite forgiven or forgotten) Apollo had been mighty glad to see him at the spaceport, and had got a little bit flustered when Starbuck had hugged him in the hover car. Apollo's cheek had rested against his during that hug and Starbuck had been the one to pull away, not Apollo. Not because he wanted to, mind you, but because he thought he ought to. Apollo hadn't pulled away at all and he'd gone pink.
Item two: Apollo had shown a flattering eagerness to get Starbuck to himself. Thinking back, Apollo had been slightly impatient at the family lunch with the children and the way that Athena and Zac had tried to monopolise Starbuck's attention. He'd even remarked, in a sarcastic tone of voice, that they were like a couple of kids at the candy stall, grabbing handfuls. Well that was true of Athena - like Ila had said, Athena had grown up while everyone had their backs turned for a centon, and she'd developed a bold streak that was a little bit shocking (not to mention painful). He'd have to watch Athena, he thought. She wasn't safe to be around - but it was patently unfair to a Zac who was still at the big-puppy-eyes hero worshipping stage, most of which was aimed at his oblivious big brother.
Item three: Now that he thought about it, every energetic vacation activity Starbuck had been offered in the last three days had been of the kind that meant they'd need to get out into the remote wilderness. Alone. Together. Just him and Apollo and no-one else for miles. That was suggestive.
Item four: Something had touched him as he was dozing on the beach. True, when Starbuck had opened his eyes, Apollo was on his way back to the house, but that didn't mean it hadn't been Apollo touching his lips. With what? Starbuck ran his tongue over them, but that didn't give him the clue he needed. Circumstantial evidence of a light kiss wasn't enough. Come to think on it, a light kiss wasn't enough.
Item five: Ila said that Apollo came up from the beach moody. Well, okay, Apollo could spend time in heaven and be moody, but that too could be more than just thwarted bossiness. He could have other reasons to be upset that Starbuck wasn't falling in with his plans than just liking his own way.
Item six : So, back to the comment when Starbuck said he'd elope with Ila. No matter how you analyzed it, Apollo was saying that he'd be jealous of his mother for having Starbuck, not the other way around. There wasn't any other construction you could put upon it.
So, what did it all mean? That was the big, big question. Maybe it was time to take a risk and find out. After all, if he was wrong and Apollo objected, Starbuck could just say it was a trick, his revenge for the desk sergeants. And he could retire to lick his wounds in private, where he'd been licking them for the last seven yahrens.
He deliberately leaned forward and rubbed sinuously against Apollo's back. Miraculously, they didn't crash, although the bike wobbled a bit. Slowly, Starbuck let his hands slide sideways and down to cup Apollo's hips. Grinning to himself, Starbuck continued the slide, each hand smoothing down the leather clad thighs towards Apollo's knees.
The bike stopped so abruptly that Starbuck, who wasn't expecting it and was still travelling at about one hundred miles a centar, and whose hands were engaged in a task other than holding him on, slammed into Apollo's back. Apollo said nothing, just took the bike off the side of the road and into the trees that bordered it. Silent and apprehensive, Starbuck slid off the back of the bike, letting Apollo park it under the trees. Apollo took off his helmet, and hooked it over the handlebars, running a hand through his hair to de-flatten it. He waited until Starbuck took off his – Jace's – helmet.
"The sea's only a couple of hundred yards over this way," said Apollo, and started off for the shore.
Starbuck stared after him, flummoxed.
"Coming?" yelled Apollo, over his shoulder.
Starbuck took a deep breath, and trudged after him. He wondered if he was going to get dumped at this remote spot and be made to walk the thirty miles or so home as a punishment. Suddenly, it wasn't such a bright idea after all. He should have stayed licking wounds in private, like he always did.
"It's always quiet here," said Apollo, when Starbuck caught up to him on the edge of the pine trees. "I've never ever met anyone else this far up the coast."
They stood in silence for a centon or two, watching the sea break on the shore.
"So," said Apollo, staring out to sea. "No white water rafting."
"Not if I can help it, no."
"And no climbing."
Starbuck waved a hand above his head somewhere to indicate cliffs and other very tall things. "It's the scared of heights thing."
"Or canoeing, or water skiing."
"Not really, no."
"So what do I come up with to get you away from the house and to myself for a while?"
And Starbuck relaxed, and grinned quite happily at the sea. He very carefully didn't look at Apollo. "The bike's pretty cool."
"It's a means of transportation, not an activity."
"A means of transportation to a very quiet beach." Starbuck looked at Apollo now. "I'm not averse to all types of activity, you know."
"So I just keep on suggesting things until I hit on one you like the sound of?"
"That could take a long time. You could try showing me instead."
"You mean, like charades?"
Starbuck rolled his eyes. "I mean, you ninny, that you could just try kissing me again. While I'm awake, this time."
"Oh." Apollo went scarlet. "You noticed."
"I was dozing, not unconscious." Starbuck took a step closer. "Want to try it?"
Apollo's eyes narrowed. "Is this all to get back at me for getting you at the spaceport?"
"No. But let me get you out of those leathers and I'll get back at you. I promise that I'll get back at you." Starbuck put his hands on Apollo's shoulders and when Apollo finally looked at him instead of the ocean, he kissed him.
Properly. With tongue, with attitude and with seven yahrens pent up longing. And to his unutterable delight, Apollo grabbed him and kissed him right back. With tongue, with attitude, and certainly some yahrens worth of pent-up longing, even if he couldn't be sure of the exact duration.
He couldn't care less about the exact duration. It was Apollo kissing him, Apollo pulling at the zip on Jace's leather jacket, and Apollo's hands that were diving into places where Apollo's hands had never been before.
And that was all that mattered.
"See?" he said, twenty five centons later, as they lay on the sand in a tangle of arms and legs and sweat and other bodily fluids that couldn't be mentioned in polite society. "I love activity holidays! You just have to offer me the right kind of activity..."
For the BSGslash lists's 'going on vacation' challenge and my attempt to disguise myself by trying to write in a more US idiom. Didn't work - they guessed it was me!
Just to remind you of the BSG time units : micron second; centon minute; centar hour; secton week and sectar month.
Thank you for reading!