Unexpected invitations to travel are like dancing lessons from God.
Theodore Lytton, "Journey to the Center of the Earth"
Apollo woke up and found himself proved right. He did miss Starbuck, after only one morning. He was pathetic, that's what he was. Hopeless. He smiled at nothing, or possibly at everything. Even having only one day off. Even being a lieutenant again...
Unless—he bolted upright. What if it had been a dream? He had to admit the whole day, as he remembered it, had that surreal quality that marked some of his odder dreams. Asking Starbuck to marry him—getting a yes right off—Tigh's confession—his father's disowning of him—Starbuck... He jumped out of the bed and opened the closet. No... not a dream. He reached out and fingered one of Starbuck's casual shirts, that ivory one he liked so much... It had happened. Thank the gods.
He sat back on the bed and thought about the more pleasant things that had happened the day before. It was probably going to drive him mad, thinking about how easily he had won. He supposed he could have asked at any time and gotten the yes, but... he couldn't have asked. Maybe that would drive him the maddest, knowing how badly he had handled his life.
Okay, not his entire life. And for a wonder, Boxey had actually remembered to ask before he came in, which Apollo quickly told him to do, before the boy came in without waiting. It's all in proper incentives, he seemed to remember his father saying...
As Boxey flung himself on him Apollo resolutely pushed thoughts of his father out of his mind and settled to be his own son's father, and very different.
After he fed his child and dropped him off at pre-school care, he went to Boomer's office. He was carrying a box full of captain's pins—in one of his more thoughtful moments, Starbuck had put a pair of lieutenant's insignia on the bedside table for Apollo—and hoped that Boomer had remembered to bring the promised quid pro quo.
Bojay was in the office with Boomer. Apollo had managed to forget that Bojay was Green's CO. Red and Green overlapped one day on the duty rotations... well, Apollo thought in his new mood of finding the up side to everything, that was much better than being Strike Captain and having to deal with Bojay six days in a row, and, as far as that went, much better than overlapping with Sheba. Bojay smiled at him when he came in, and it was a fairly pleasant smile. Maybe this is a dream and I just haven't woken up yet, Apollo thought for a centon.
Boomer did have a boxful of insignia pins to swap off with him. That done, he looked at Bojay and said, "You've got the pickets out?"
Bojay nodded. He looked at Apollo and added, almost apologetically, "Starbuck's with Hastur."
Apollo remembered kidding Starbuck yesterday that Bojay would look out for him. Apparently whatever the man might feel about flit couples, and he'd been known to tell some pretty raunchy jokes (of course, Apollo had been known to laugh at them), he'd decided that as long as Starbuck was holding Apollo's attention, his competition for Sheba was gone. Apollo wasn't sure that was true—Bojay wasn't particularly well-born or powerful—but he was willing to encourage him in the delusion.
"Thanks, Bojay," he said.
"Okay," Boomer said. "Unless they come up with something new, there's nothing for Red to do today except shake down. Boj—" he stood up, "come to the morning meeting with me. Apollo, hold down the fort till I get back?"
"Sure," Apollo said, nothing loath to miss the meeting.
Bojay jumped to his feet with a grin he didn't even try to hide and followed Boomer out of the office. Apollo moved to the seat behind the desk, reminding himself to use the article and not the possessive, and sat down, thinking about that. He'd also only taken one squadron leader with him to the morning meeting, but he'd always taken the oncoming officer on a shift-change day, on the theory that he'd need to catch up. But Boomer's taking Bojay was a complex piece of decision making with, so far as Apollo could see, no real downside. It stroked Bojay in a harmless manner; it said Boomer was his own man, without actually overturning any of Apollo's decisions that were important; it meant Boomer got to attend his first morning meeting as Strike Captain without distractions; and it meant that Apollo didn't have to face Adama on his first day in his own new position, which just might be the kindest thing Boomer had ever done for him.
He thought about the schedules for a few centons longer. Red was on with Green for a day, and then Red and Blue were together for five days, and then Red went off and Purple replaced them, while Blue had one more day on before Yellow replaced them. He and Starbuck now had the closest possible schedule for two people not in the same squadron. He was half-surprised his father hadn't told Boomer to swap him with Dietra—that way he and Starbuck would never be on the same shift. But from what Starbuck had said, Boomer might well fight that, and, anyway, it was a bit obvious. With a night to sleep on it, whatever Adama came up with next, it wouldn't be obvious.
Don't borrow trouble, Apollo. You've got enough as it is.
Nothing happened while the morning meeting was going on. Boomer eventually came back and good-naturedly bumped Apollo from behind the desk "before I forget whose it is now. But stay put—we need to talk." After they settled back in their proper chairs, Boomer said, "Did I tell you yesterday I'm really happy for you two? I told Starbuck, but I don't remember saying it to you."
Apollo laughed. "No. What you said was, 'for Starbuck?' about a dozen times. Though you did say 'Congratulations'."
"Sorry... I think I was in shock."
"It's all right."
The other man shook his head. "Not really. I mean, you're supposed to supportive when your best friend gets married."
"You were," Apollo insisted. "You practically demanded to be my best man... that's supportive."
"Not enough. I think maybe I'd have dealt with it better if there hadn't been so much other stuff connected to it, you know what I'm saying? Because I've known you both, well, as long as you've known each other, and I've always known you were emotionally dependent on each other. I never figured you were sleeping together, but, hell, that's not it... it's not because he's a man, Apollo, it's because you're you and he's, well, Starbuck, if I can say that without sounding as though I don't love him too. Like a brother, you understand," he added quickly and then laughed at himself.
"I know what you mean, actually... But a lot of his... his Starbuck-ness, for lack of a better term, is my fault, Boomer. Not all of it, by any means, but enough. And the rest of it—well, that's what I love."
Boomer shook his head again. "I don't get it. He must be as good as he says he is."
"Even he can't describe himself adequately."
Boomer shook his head yet again. "Well, anyway, I do hope you're happy with him. Gods know, he's always been your shadow."
Apollo contemplated that statement and decided it was completely backwards; he was the dark shadow to Starbuck's radiance. He didn't say so, though. "Thanks. I already am."
"And you've got to know him well enough nothing he does will surprise you."
And that was wrong, too. Starbuck had already surprised him a couple of times... because he didn't know him as well as he should. As well as he would. But again, he didn't say so. "He may surprise you."
"Hope so... Now, about the squadron. I'll let you go over the details with Fenrir, but I wanted to tell you a little about him—mostly, don't let his accent fool you. He's sharp, the best exec I ever had. And he's a good pilot, too."
"They came and talked to me last night," Apollo said. "I was surprised... but they seem like a solid bunch."
"They get along well. I halfway thought Harker and maybe Colby would want to transfer over this, they're both very religious, but they told me they'd be ashamed to let someone's personal life influence their opinion of him as a warrior. Harker even reminded me how there were hundreds of people in history who were gifted at war or diplomacy who hadn't been believers."
"They're wingmates, aren't they?" Apollo was intimate with Blue, but the rest of the Squadrons he knew only superficially.
"Yes. We're a little... were a little out of the book there, we had two sets of enlisted pilots together. It worked, though."
Apollo shrugged. He'd never been convinced that there was a need for a flight corporal to be paired with a lieutenant. Enlisted pilots didn't have an academy education, but that didn't mean they couldn't fly rings around some who did... "I told Fenrir I'm not planning on starting out with changes."
"I'm glad to hear it," Boomer admitted. "I know they're not mine anymore, but they're a good bunch. Even the idiot."
Apollo laughed. "That would be Ensign Wotan?"
"It would... picture Starbuck and Giles having a baby—"
"I'd rather not."
"Okay, maybe so. But Wotan's mostly harmless. And he's a good pilot."
"I'll watch out for him."
Boomer nodded. "I guess that's it... Apollo," he was suddenly very serious. "You're okay with all of this?"
"All of it? No. But most of it. And I'm okay with you being where you are, Boomer. I mean that. I'm not going to be a Bojay at your heels."
"Good. I feel funny about it, but I don't know what else to do."
"There's nothing else for you to do. If you turned it down, you'd piss off my father, and condemn the wing to someone from the Pegasus, both of which are things to avoid at all costs. Don't worry, Boomer. I know whose fault this is, and it's not you."
"Thanks," Boomer said. "Now, I'm standing Red down today unless something happens. I figure you'll want to get to know them, go over their records, talk to their mechs... Fenrir's waiting in the squadron's leader's office; Bojay should be in the launch bay for most of the day."
So Apollo spent the rest of the morning going over personnel records with Fenrir, whose rustic Tauron accent imperfectly concealed a razor-sharp mind Apollo would have noticed without Boomer's mentioning it, and implied a somewhat heretical religious bent which Apollo didn't feel like investigating today. Even if he hadn't been reevaluating his own beliefs he was, he thought, in a glass house.... The afternoon he spent with the whole squadron walking through their Viper bays and checking equipment. It was time well spent; he'd definitely landed on his feet. When he thought about the possibility of Sheba's getting the promotion so he ended up with Silver Spar, he wanted to kiss Tigh.
And then he and Starbuck walked together to pick up Boxey and his friend Dhani and take them home, to discover Dhani's mom Aneela had been there already to collect him. Boxey said she'd said they had somewhere to go, and didn't seem perturbed, but Apollo found his eyes meeting Starbuck's over the boy's head. They took advantage of not having Dhani to go shopping—Starbuck had to learn how wild Boxey could get in the commissary sooner or later. When they got home, while Starbuck was keeping Boxey occupied putting things away in the service room, Apollo called her.
"I'm sorry, Apollo," she said to him. "It's just, my husband, well... Don't worry, I'll pick Boxey up tomorrow as usual."
"There's no need in your doing that," Apollo said stiffly, "not if we won't be taking Dhani—"
"Oh, no, please. Dhani and Boxey are such good friends. I don't think we should keep them apart just because my husband's being a bit of an idiot."
That gave him pause. While he thought, she continued.
"In fact, the more time Boxey spends with Dhani, the sooner Myron will realize he's wrong. Do say you'll let us keep him sometimes."
"Well..." Apollo paused. He should check with Starbuck on this, he knew. "Hold on a centon, Aneela."
He went to the door of the service room and beckoned. Starbuck got up and came over. "What's up, as if I need to ask?"
Apollo said, "Yeah, but she wants to keep on taking Boxey on their days, because she thinks he and Dhani will miss each other—"
"They don't want their son in our house?"
"I know, but—"
"Oh, I agree," said Starbuck. "Boxey shouldn't suffer needlessly. What will we tell him?"
"I don't know. We'll think of something. Later."
Starbuck shrugged and went back to the service room. Apollo figured he was going to get out one of the ales he'd bought. He could have used one himself. Instead, he went back to the comm unit and told Aneela he saw no reason why they couldn't do as she'd suggested. Then he went and changed clothes.
He managed to avoid any serious conversation with Starbuck after Boxey went to bed by getting amorous. The look in the blue eyes told him Starbuck knew exactly what he was doing, but was going along with it. That was good enough. He needed to sort out what he thought before they talked; he always had, and Starbuck knew it. So they made love, much less frantically than the night before, neither one dominant and both thoroughly satisfied.
And then Starbuck got up, showered, and left, and Apollo lay alone in the bed, missing him, and thinking, again, how stupid it was.
The morning meeting was over. Adama had stood up and everyone else with him, and most had followed him out. Omega had sat down again, flipping through his notes as though looking for a particular item. That was unusual for him; generally he could put his hand right on whatever he wanted. But for all that he'd been taking notes quite conscientiously, he'd been, for him, distracted. One glance from Adama to Apollo, whose new squadron was on duty today, and then to Boomer, and Omega had withdrawn into that remote place he'd spent so much time in for the first half-yahren or so after Cimtar.
No. Tigh corrected himself. After the Destruction. After, to be precise, the unbelievably tactless Altair had punctuated the overview of the desolation of Caprica with an incredulous "Lords of Kobol, look at Natacapra. It's a fracking parking lot." For sectares Omega had barely said a unnecessary word to anyone. He'd performed his duties with his usual grace, but was somehow just not there. Even to his friends, he'd become about as approachable as a Cylon... no, that wasn't fair. There hadn't been anything hostile or forbidding about him. As approachable as a piece of sculpture, that was a better simile. And he didn't seem to sleep much, either; for sectares it seemed he pulled at least double shifts—every time Tigh came onto the bridge, there was Omega. It had got to where he'd had to order the man to take a day off...
Tigh looked at him for a moment, then decided. He didn't want that starting up again. He didn't think that Omega and Apollo were particular friends, but it wouldn't have surprised him to learn they were more than acquaintances. It would have been reasonable for them to spend time together; even though they were in different branches of service, they came from similar backgrounds. They weren't close in age, but for adults that wasn't important. Ten might not play with seventeen, but thirty and thirty-seven weren't so far apart. He hoped that it wasn't a problem with Apollo's love life...
But whatever it was, Tigh thought this time around he'd try a bit of intervention. After all, he didn't have the excuse of the world falling apart around him this time. So, he shut the briefing room door and then, in a move that would have caused nearly everyone who knew him to faint dead away, he walked over to the omnipresent kava machine and poured out two cups.
Omega looked up and said, gravely, "Thank you, sir."
Tigh put the cups down, pulled out the next chair, and sat down. "So, where were you? It looked parsecs away. And more pleasant than here," he added with the little smile he saved for the handful of people he relaxed with.
Omega smiled back, but it was barely more than a reflexive response—the boy had good manners, Tigh reflected, always had, no matter what. "It was yahrens rather than parsecs." He paused to sip at the hot kava. "I was remembering when my older daughter was born."
"Oh?" Tigh said as invitingly as he knew how. Gods knew his flag lieutenant didn't bring that subject up any more.
"I was stationed on the Celestial Fire, but I managed to get home for five days, and was lucky enough to get there just before Clementia went into labor... You have no children, do you, sir?"
"No," Tigh shook his head.
"It's... astounding," he settled on. "Terrifying and wonderful and very much a woman's mystery that I was allowed on the edges of... My father, of course, had gone through it all seven times on his own account, and then she was his third grandchild. When it was over, when Clementia was sleeping and Vespa was with my mother and grandmother and aunts and sisters, being introduced to a woman's place in our family—which is to say, center stage—and the men had been turfed out, my father and I refuged in the library. It's... was a comforting room, all dark wood and leather-bound books and deep chairs. My father opened a bottle of eighty-yahren-old nectar from our Aquarian vineyards."
He paused, thinking and drinking more kava. Tigh reflected that he'd just gotten a better look into the man's former life than he had in the four yahrens they'd served together before Cimtar. It wasn't a real surprise—he'd known Omega was patrician—but it was more than he'd thought. He wondered how that family had taken to his military aspirations.
"We were on our third glass," Omega resumed suddenly, "when he told me something I hadn't known before: that he'd bitterly disapproved of my marriage."
That was a surprise. Omega had attended a General Staff course that had ended at the same time as the graduation from CMA that had included Adama's youngest, Zac. Tigh and Adama had attended that, and Tigh had gone to the GS reception—Adama begging off to spend some time with his family, all together for the first time in yahrens—and Tigh had met Omega's wife and parents. They'd seemed to be a very happy family, gods knew you could blush watching the younger couple look at each other; but his parents had seemed genuinely fond of their rather candid daughter-in-law.
Omega caught his surprise. "They came to love her," he said. "Of course, they never met her until just over a yahren after we married; we met on the old Sanguine Expectation, married on the Atlantia after Phaedros, and then served on the Hesperian Dream until she got pregnant and resigned and went to live at home. By then, my father said, he'd grown accustomed to the notion, and she was carrying the next generation, after all, but after she got to Natacapra it took less than a secton before he adored her. My mother did from the beginning, because I did, but my father..." He shrugged. "I knew he wasn't thrilled by the news. I knew she wasn't whom he'd have picked for me had he been doing the picking, she was of no particular family and had no money or land. I was of the opinion we didn't actually need any more of either, but heads of families think differently, I suppose. Had I known how deep his dislike ran, I'd never have sent her home. He never told me."
Ah, here's what brought this on, Tigh realized. "Why not, did he ever say?" he asked, genuinely curious.
"Yes. That night. He told me he loved me too much to risk losing me." He let that lie in the air for a centon, then added, "And he told me that, even if he had been able to use the club of familial duty to break me, he wouldn't have liked the son he had afterwards."
"I suppose," Tigh said after a while, "it's a matter of what you're willing to accept."
"I suppose," Omega conceded. "And I suppose, too, that it's easy for me to say it, having never been in the position. But I know this much: if I'd lost one of my children, I'd have clung harder to the other two. And, though I barely knew my son, if he were alive, I can't conceive of anything he might do that would cause me to repudiate him. Most especially not whom he chose to love."
Tigh grunted his agreement. They sat quietly for a moment, and then the colonel said, "He really should have known better than to push this. He's had two major fights with Apollo before, and the one he lost was over Starbuck."
The flag lieutenant didn't do anything so undisciplined as ask Tigh to discuss the commander's personal life. He merely raised one dark eyebrow and waited.
"The first was when Apollo ended up in a polytech upper school before CMA instead of a liberal arts one. The second was when Adama did everything he knew to make Apollo drop his friendship with, and I'm quoting, 'the single most undesirable cadet in the whole blasted place'. Instead, Starbuck ended up spending a summer on Naiacap."
That got a real smile on Omega's face, even reaching into his eyes. "Why do I feel that wasn't something the commander enjoyed?"
"Probably because you've got a brain," Tigh said, smiling himself. "Still, he yielded to it once he had to. I'm surprised he's fighting this so hard, even given his views on the matter."
Omega shrugged elegantly. "As you said, it's a matter of what you're willing to accept."
"I suppose I'm right, as usual." Tigh finished his kava. "I also suppose we should get back to the bridge before people begin wondering what we're up to."
Omega rose. He took Tigh's cup along with his own and stacked them with the other used ones and, picking up his pads, followed Tigh back out of the briefing room. Not very surprisingly, nobody looked up when they arrived; Tigh expected his ops staff to keep their minds on their jobs. He watched as Omega moved down to his position, his eyes raking the bridge as he settled his headset on over his dark hair. Tigh smiled to himself. He had a good staff.
He thought about the meeting. From the moment Apollo had entered the briefing room the tension had been thick enough for the proverbial knife. Apollo hadn't opened his mouth, and Adama had pretended like he wasn't there, but every time Tigh had looked, his old friend's gaze was glancing across his son—who hadn't raised those green eyes of his, so like Siress Ila's, from his notepad. Athena had been miserable, Omega distracted, Boomer conspicuously careful, Reese frankly enjoying himself, Lieutenant Harper from the infantry bewildered, and Siress Tinia from the Council on the edge of saying something, though fortunately she never did. It could have been worse, true, but not much. Tigh sighed. He was going to have to try talking to Adama.
He'd decided to wait a centare or so when he spotted Omega heading for one of the Viper core control stations. He straightened and watched; when one of the long-range scanners got involved in the conversation, he decided he should, too. Omega forestalled him by looking up and saying, "Sir? You should see this."
"This" was a four-planet system several days off the course the Fleet was following. If they diverted... well, what was the point in thinking about that? Adama didn't divert. But it was possible that the delta-class world the scanners were registering might have things they needed, even though there wasn't any sign of higher civilization.
"Nothing?" Tigh repeated.
"No, sir," Omega said. "No radio, no electro-magnetic emissions of any sort. No large cities either, though at this range we could miss low-tech gatherings of five thousand or less easily enough."
Still, that was no guarantee there wasn't food there. Wild grains, wild animals, fruits in the right season... food supplies were never well enough stocked not to take a look. And other raw resources were as badly needed. Adama wouldn't slow the Fleet for a gamble, but he would for a sure thing, even if he wouldn't divert. Somebody needed to go take a look. And it wasn't days for the military vessels of the Fleet...
Tigh laid the information out for the commander, who nodded at the end of his discourse. "Clearly, we need to send someone to look. Several shuttles with techs, wouldn't you say? And of course a Viper escort. Better safe than sorry."
"Shall I send Blue Squadron?" Tigh asked. It was a reasonable assumption. It was obvious Adama was trying to keep Starbuck away from Apollo.
"No," Adama said, surprisingly. "Tell Captain Boomer to have Red Squadron deploy." He raised his eyebrow at Tigh's surprise. "It's a good chance for them to get used to their new squadron leader, after all, an innocuous but long mission."
"And?" Tigh pushed it a little.
"And," said Adama, "do you really think that Starbuck won't revert to his usual behavior in five days?"
Aha. "Especially," Tigh conceded, "if you rescind the order about pilots having to stay in the barracks."
"No," Adama shook his silver head. "I won't do that. Apollo is just fool enough to let Starbuck stay with my grandson. I want Starbuck unencumbered."
"I see." Tigh did. There was every chance Adama was right, and Starbuck would cheat on Apollo. What Adama didn't realize, he thought, was that Apollo was so committed that even finding Starbuck in bed with half a dozen people wouldn't bring him back to his father... "Are you going to toss any temptations in his path?"
"I'm going to leave him alone," Adama said. "He's never needed help finding his own way to perdition. Besides, Apollo will be looking for excuses when he comes back. Have Boomer report to me."
"You must be kidding me."
"Wish I was," Boomer said. "After all, you're going to be gone on a nice, peaceful mission. I'm going to have to listen to Starbuck bitch."
"Very funny." Apollo glared at him, and the dark-skinned man raised his hands in surrender. It occurred to Apollo that their essential dynamic hadn't changed... it might be good for Boomer to have him gone for six days. Not that that made him any happier with his father, whose motive seemed clear. Or any more resigned to six days away from Starbuck.
Or six unnecessary days away from Boxey... "Frack," he said. "Boomer, I've got to talk to Athena. About Boxey."
Boomer nodded. "You can't get started for centares yet, anyway. Shuttles need to be loaded, and so on. There'll be others in the squadron need to make arrangements."
Apollo nodded. "I'll brief now—you want to sit in?" He caught himself. "Frack, I can't really get used to this, Boomer. Sorry... what do you want me to do?"
Boomer grinned equably. "You brief 'em. Then," he looked at his chrono, "be back here at eleven for a final brief, you, Fenrir, the tech chiefs. I'll get what Ops has and we'll go over it. Then you're off."
Apollo nodded. He rose, paused. "Where's Starbuck?"
"Sorry," Boomer said. "He's on picket... I put him out for the first shift so he'd be able to leave... who knew?"
"Damn... thanks for the thought. Mind if I call him?"
"Course not," said Boomer. "Red should be in the ready room by now."
They took it philosophically enough. After all, somebody had to go. The married ones weren't thrilled, but all in all nobody seemed inclined to lynch him. And, in fact, the extra flight hours, extra pay, and the chance to walk around on a planet seemed to override most of the annoyance. Apollo figured he'd have enjoyed it himself if it hadn't been for the subtext.
After the preliminary briefing was done, Apollo headed up to the bridge. He made his way around the oblivious ops staff (amazing how quickly they got used to not noticing him, now that he wasn't third in command anymore) and leaned up against his sister's console. She looked at him inquiringly.
"Athena, I need a huge favor from you," he said without preamble.
"Oh? What?" she answered, keeping one eye on her panel.
"Red's deploying out for six days," he said, adding, "Yes," to her flash of irritation.
"You want me to keep an eye on Starbuck?"
"No," he shook his head. Though he did in fact want her to, he knew better. Letting Starbuck know he didn't trust him alone for a few days was an almost certain way to piss him off, if not lose him entirely. Apollo knew he just had to hang on and trust. If we can get through this, he found himself thinking, it might just be the best thing that could have happened. He grinned at his father's probable reaction to that notion, and then said, "No, it's Boxey who needs looking after."
"If you say so... I'll be going on second shift in three days, though."
"That's okay. Starbuck's on first this whole secton. All I need you to do, please, is go to my quarters in time for him to get to the barracks, and stay there overnight. Starbuck will put him to bed; you just need to get him up and off in the morning. Can you do that?" he asked. "You can kick Starbuck out early, if you want to have someone over for... the evening," he finished, still somewhat uncomfortable with the notion that his little sister had a sex life, even though she indubitably did.
She snickered at him, then nodded. "Sure, I can do that, Apollo. It won't be a problem. At any rate, not an insurmountable one. Don't worry about Boxey."
"Thanks, 'Theni," he said. "Can you patch me into the picket's channel from here?"
"No," she shook her head. "I can monitor them, but you need to get Omega or Rigel to patch you through."
"Thanks," he said again. Now there was an interesting choice: terminally perky or grave, masculine indifference or feminine sympathy, somebody he still outranked or somebody who now outranked him... Well, he'd had drinks with Omega, and Rigel made him nervous. He crossed to the ICOB position.
"Lieutenant," Omega said.
"I need to patch into the pickets' channel," Apollo said. "Just briefly."
"Certainly," the bridge officer nodded. He handed Apollo a spare headset and indicated where to tune in. "Go ahead." He considerately moved far enough away to at least look like he wasn't listening.
Apollo didn't hear anything, which meant that Starbuck and Giles were probably chatting on the second channel. "Starbuck?"
"Apollo?" Starbuck answered almost immediately, no longer than it would take to reset the transmit. "What's up?"
Bearing in mind that this channel was indeed open to monitoring by several people, and in fact was routinely recorded in case anything happened, Apollo watched his words. "Red Squadron is deploying on planetary recon for the next six days."
Apollo answered before Starbuck could get indiscreet. "Athena's going to relieve you for watching Boxey—" it suddenly occurred to Apollo he should have talked to Starbuck first. Too late now. "So she'll get him up in the mornings. Okay?"
"Okay? Are you out of—"
"Starbuck, open channel," Apollo reminded him.
The silence that followed was eloquent, but not actionable. Finally Starbuck said, "Yeah. Yeah, okay. Be careful, Apollo."
"Don't worry. I always am... and I won't have you along."
"That's what I'm worried about," Starbuck echoed Apollo's thoughts.
"See you in six days, then." Apollo wanted to say more, but the circumstances were inhibiting.
Not so to Starbuck, apparently. "Damn well better, love."
"I will." Apollo pulled off the headset and handed it back to Omega. "Thanks," he said.
"You're welcome, though it was nothing," the bridge officer said, a touch of unaccustomed, or so to Apollo anyway, warmth in his voice. "We're preparing the final briefing packet now. It should be an uneventful deployment."
"I hope so," Apollo said. He couldn't resist a sideways glance at the commander's office, but he didn't see his father. He wasn't sure what he'd have done if he had, so it was probably a good thing.
Leaving the bridge, he headed for the Instructional Center. There he first double-checked nervously that Starbuck was still listed as a contact and permitted to pick Boxey up, and then waited until Boxey's class had a break.
"Dad? Why are you here?" Boxey asked, worriedly.
"Well, it's like this," he began.
"Are you going away?" Boxey interrupted.
"Yes," Apollo admitted. "But only for a few days."
"How many? And where?"
"Six. And it's a reconnaissance mission, it's not dangerous. And I'm taking my whole squadron with me, plus some techs—so you can see it's not dangerous. We wouldn't be going with techs if it was dangerous."
"Six days! But you're supposed to get married in six days!" Boxey protested.
"I'll be back the day before that. And if we're held up, well, we'll just get married as soon as I get back," Apollo promised. "Don't worry about that."
Boxey looked exasperated. "You can't just reschedule a wedding, Dad."
"A civil marriage yes you can," Apollo said. "It's just us and the registrar. Don't worry about it."
"Okay. Do I have to go stay with Grandfather? Or can I stay with Aunt Athena?"
"Well, actually, you're staying home. Starbuck will pick you up after school, and your aunt will get you up in the morning."
Boxey screwed up his face, thinking. "Dad, why don't you just get married right now? Then Starbuck wouldn't be a single pilot any more."
That hadn't occurred to Apollo. He bet it hadn't occurred to Adama, either. He sighed. "Because Starbuck's flying picket and won't be back on board before I leave. But it's a good idea. It really is."
Boxey smiled, then sobered. "You'll be careful, won't you?"
"Don't worry about me," said Apollo. "I'll be perfectly safe. You just mind Starbuck and your aunt and be good. Okay?"
"Okay," said Boxey and hugged him tightly around his neck. "Six days?"
Back in the Wing's area, watching as the techs loaded their stuff into the shuttles while Kris and Alita did pre-flight checks—as Boomer had put it, "we're hanging on to two of your Vipers, it'll help Gold if something comes up"—he said, "Boomer, I need to ask you something."
"Sure," Boomer said.
"About Starbuck. A couple of days Athena's going to be on second shift... I'd rather Boxey wasn't left alone, so if you could see your way clear to letting him maybe be a little bit late back to barracks?"
"I don't know," Boomer shook his head. "I don't mind, but can you really take the risk the commander's not waiting for that? Look, what I can do is slide him back a centare in the mornings. He'll get his six centares in, don't worry."
"Thanks." He meant it.
"Yeah." Boomer shook his head. "Interesting times," he said. "We are living in interesting times."
"You don't mind if I say, I wish we weren't?"
Seized by a sudden rush of nostalgia, Apollo could only shake his head.