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Dancing Lessons From God

Chapter Text

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.

"Dad!"

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.

"Kava?"

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."

"What?"

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?"

"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."

"Oh, yes."

"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.

Chapter Text

Starbuck had watched Red and the shuttles depart from his vantage point forward and port of the Fleet. He'd been in a bad mood for several centares after that, snapping at the hapless Giles, who put up with it for so long that Starbuck eventually felt guilty and apologized.

"It's okay, Starbuck," the ensign said. "I'll just take it out on you someday when my life's felgarcarb."

Starbuck laughed. Not that he thought Giles ever would. In a way, he was glad that Boomer had assigned the ex-sergeant to him, because he'd been pretty mean to him right after the Destruction, when he'd been shutting a lot of people out. What was sometimes hard to remember was that Giles, though an ensign, had never been a cadet, but was prior other ranks, and had made flight-sergeant pretty quickly after Shaphora. The NCO-to-officer promotion had been very rare before the Destruction, too rare to hear "ensign" without thinking "kid"... But Giles wasn't a green nineteen-yahren-old like Zac had been; he was twenty-seven, with that core of non-com no-nonsense under a lot of experience, and he didn't take much from most people. Still, for all his quick temper, he'd never taken anything out on Starbuck and wasn't likely to start anytime soon. Starbuck clarified, "It's not my whole life."

"Right," said Giles. "You know I couldn't help but hear that. If you need any spelling with the kid, let me know."

"Thanks," Starbuck said. "What I need right now, though, is time to fantasize about painful deaths for unspecified senior officers."

Giles laughed but spent the rest of the picket shift, not quiet exactly, but not talking to Starbuck, either. Starbuck was glad the ensign had a good voice, since singing to himself seemed to be his preferred method of occupying his time.

When he got back, he hunted up Boomer and demanded all the details on the mission. He came away from that meeting somewhat less disturbed; Apollo hadn't been leaving out anything that pointed at danger, though he intended to have a long heart-to-heart with his beloved about one-sentence summaries of things like this. And, if he could figure out precisely who with, another talk about things arranging themselves so Apollo got to make these decisions without talking it over first.

As soon as they were off he went to pick up Boxey. Deciding that they both needed a pick-me-up, judging by Boxey's slightly mopey expression, he suggested that they eat in the O Club's restaurant. Boxey perked up immediately.

"Dad says I'm not old enough," he said almost proudly. "He says I won't behave."

"Well, he'd better be wrong," Starbuck threatened pleasantly.

"I can behave!"

"Oh, I know you can... it's the 'will' I worry about," Starbuck said, but he never stopped walking towards the O Club and Boxey didn't seem worried.

Over dinner Boxey would-be-casually pumped Starbuck for details about whether Red Squadron was any good. Starbuck was amused by the boy's evident desire to believe that his dad's squadron was the best even though he'd been convinced for over a yahren that Blue was. Starbuck told him stories about some of the things they'd done under Boomer, and he seemed contented.

When they were done, Boxey went to the turboflush, insisting that he was too old to need an escort. And while he was gone, Sheba came in, trailed by a couple of the Pegasus crowd, including Bojay. Standing in the doorway, scanning the room for a table, she saw Starbuck and flushed angrily.

Oh, please, thought Starbuck. He didn't want to deal with her, not with Boxey liable to show up any centon. As usual, his plea was ignored, and Sheba strode over to him, Bojay trying to talk to her and being completely disregarded.

"I'm surprised to see you in here," she started. "What, are you cruising already?"

"Sheba, not now," Starbuck started but she overrode him with the ease of long practice at getting her way and the shrill edge of Cain's daughter in her voice.

"Why not now?" she asked but didn't give him time to answer. "I'd have thought you were the man in that relationship. God knows your catamite never managed anything with me."

"Sheba." That was Bojay.

She ignored him, too. "Too bad he's not the captain anymore, though—"

"Sheba."

Bojay's voice was sharp enough to make her turn around to shut him up. But it was she who shut up, staring. Boxey, even standing on the chair next to Bojay with his hand on Bojay's arm, wasn't quite as tall as the pilot, but he was tall enough that Sheba couldn't miss seeing him. She flushed. "Look, Boxey, I, I didn't mean—" she stammered, then tossed her hair, glared impartially at Starbuck and Bojay both, and stomped out.

Starbuck would have rather Boxey hadn't heard any of that, but he had to admit Bojay had shut her down effectively, given the situation. Now the brown-haired man grabbed Boxey under the arms and swung him down off the chair. "Here," he said, reaching into his pocket and handing the boy some cubits. "Why don't you go get you and Starbuck something?"

"Thank you, sir," Boxey said with the polite sweetness he reserved for strangers who gave him money—a new category, Starbuck hoped—and scampered off before Starbuck could tell him to give the cubits back.

"Thanks, Bojay," Starbuck said.

"Yeah. Look, uh, Sheba..." He bit his lower lip, obviously aware there wasn't much to say. Starbuck waited, curious as to what he'd come up with. If he still wanted her after that little display, Starbuck was going to start believing in mind control. The Bojay he'd known before wouldn't have given Sheba the time of day, and while this Bojay was different—to say the least—he couldn't be that different. That was pod person different. "She's overwrought. She wouldn't have said anything like that in front of the kid. She's..." His voice trailed off.

Daddy's spoiled princess who can't believe something didn't go her way? Starbuck thought but didn't say. Instead, he just nodded and made a noncommittal noise.

Bojay glanced at Boxey, still at the counter. "Look, Starbuck, I want to say something: we aren't getting along well any more, I know that. You've changed, or I have, or," he made a vague gesture, "something. And Apollo—I don't like him, either. But I never did. Ever. Your relationship means nothing to me. You understand what I'm saying?"

"Yeah," Starbuck said. "You may be a bastard, but you're not a bigot."

"Right," Bojay nodded, his hazel eyes clear and steady. "And you and he—well, you're a lot of things, but you're not perverts. Nothing's changed here."

"Nothing," Starbuck nodded. "That's good to know."

Bojay started to leave, then turned back. "It's not right," he said.

"What?" Starbuck asked, genuinely uncertain.

"Him losing the captaincy for this." Bojay paused, then committed himself. "He wouldn't have if he'd Sealed with her. She told me she talked to the Commander about it, in case that was... Anyway. It's not right."

Starbuck felt like somebody had hit him in the stomach, hard. He was so surprised he couldn't think of anything to say. Bojay didn't seem to expect an answer, only turned to go. Boxey's arrival delayed him a moment.

"Thank you, lieutenant," Boxey said with melting eyes and enough sweetness to give Bojay diabetes. "I bought you a mushie, too." He held out the sticky yellow square.

Bojay took it in the spirit in which it was seemingly offered, though Starbuck happened to know he hated mushies. "I'd better go," he said. "I am on duty..." That was a lie, actually, Green was on their first off day, but it got him out of the conversation.

"See you around, Boj," Starbuck said, having found his voice.

"Yeah..." Apparently Bojay couldn't figure how to end that, so he just shrugged a shoulder at them and left.

"I like him," Boxey said.

"You must have had some change left over," Starbuck said.

"I like him, anyway. Sheba was awful... what did she mean, about Dad being a," he paused, trying to remember the words.

"Don't mind her," Starbuck said. "She's mad at your dad—"

"I know," Boxey said. "She wanted him to marry her instead of you."

"Right. So don't worry about what she said, it was just her being—"

"A sore loser?"

"Nailed it," Starbuck said admiringly. "Of course, your dad's quite something to lose."

"Well, I'm glad she lost. She's bossy."

"Oh, nailed her again. But I don't think your dad ever really wanted to marry her."

"I guess not... I didn't want him to."

"Did you tell him?"

Boxey shrugged. "Nope. You can't stop your dad from marrying somebody. You can stop your mom, if you want, but not your dad... except, I guess, if he's marrying another man."

"Oh?" Starbuck looked at him. "What do you mean?"

"Tomai's brother Jaxon said, if your mom is marrying a guy you don't like, you can tell her he's peculiar."

"He did that?" Starbuck made a note to check those kids out.

Boxey shrugged. "I don't know... Starbuck, can I ask you something?"

"Sure, kiddo. Anything. I may not have the answer, but you can always ask."

"Are you going to stay with us?"

"Why do you ask that?"

"Everybody says you won't. That you never stay with anybody."

"Well," Starbuck admitted. "That's true. I never have. But I'm going to stay with your dad. That's true, too. And I guess that sounds like a paradox—"

"What kind of docks?" Boxey interrupted. His conversations with Starbuck often proceeded in fits and starts like that.

Starbuck paused. "No. A paradox... It's from Cancerian. The same 'dox' as in orthodox, which is what your dad is."

"What?" Boxey looked suspicious and acquisitive at the same time. He loved getting new words.

"Orthodox means right opinion or right thinking. Which is your dad."

"And Grandfather? I think I heard Dad call him that once."

"He might have. But your grandfather is ultra-orthodox. Actually, he's more homodox."

Boxey wrinkled his nose.

Starbuck grinned, liking the sound of it. "Yeah, that's it: same thinking."

"Are you... no. So what are you? Nonorthodox? Unorthodox?"

"It's unorthodox, and I've been called that. But what I really am is heterodox, which means other thinking."

"Okay... so what's paradox?"

"Outside thinking. Or beside thinking, maybe... anyway, a paradox is something that sounds like it can't be true. And you have to use heterodoxy to figure it out."

"I don't understand."

"Here's a classic: What if I told you that everything I say is a lie?"

Boxey sat and thought about it. Starbuck watched the struggle mirrored on the boy's face and marveled again at the way he zig-zagged his way to the point. It drove Apollo, that most linear of men, nuts, though, thought Starbuck, he should at least appreciate that Boxey stayed on a line, however crooked. He was always complaining that Starbuck jumped...

"But if everything you say is a lie, then that's a lie, and that means everything you say is true, so that has to be true, but then everything is a lie... It doesn't make sense!"

"Ah-ah," said Starbuck. "One little tweak. The opposite of everything is a lie may be everything is true, but what if only some things are true?"

Boxey thought on that and then grinned. "I see!" he said excitedly. "It's a lie if you even only tell the truth once! So it can be a lie without being true!"

"Exactly. Heterodoxy is the way to go," Starbuck grinned back at him. "So, as to the 'am I going to stay' paradox—"

"I see that, too," said Boxey. "Just because you never did doesn't mean you can't."

"Exactly," Starbuck said, satisfied. Boxey was always just that little bit happier about it if he'd worked it out himself. "I never did, because I never wanted to, because I just wanted your dad."

Boxey smiled at him. "He's pretty great."

"Yes, he is. And I'll tell you a secret, Boxey: I loved him the first time I met him."

"Really?" Boxey sparkled. "Me, too." Then he paused. "Did he—"

"Nope," Starbuck lied cheerfully, knowing his credit was good enough to carry it off. "He didn't. We were good friends, really good friends. He loved your mom before he loved me."

"Did you want him to marry her?"

"Of course. When you love someone, you want them to be happy. Your mom would have made him very happy; she was a nice woman."

Boxey looked pensive. Something else Apollo complained about—mercurialism. "Just go with it," Starbuck had advised him, but just going with anything wasn't in Apollo's comfort zone. "I'm not glad she's dead," Boxey said, "but I'm glad you're marrying him. Is that okay?"

"Of course it's okay," Starbuck said. "None of us are glad she's dead, but she is. You can't spend your life in the past. You have to keep going, and that means things change. Your dad's not glad she's dead, either, but he's moving on."

"Good. Can I have another mushie?"

"No."

"I have some cubits left!"

"Still no," Starbuck said cheerfully. "I don't care if Bojay gave you enough for a hundred mushies, you're not eating another thing till bedtime."

Boxey pouted, his lower lip outthrust enough to trip over it.

"Come on, let's go. You've got homework, right? And your vid-program?"

Boxey sighed, got up, and then brightened. "Tonight's the night they're going to try and rescue Darius from the dungeon!" He chattered about the show all the way back to their quarters.

Starbuck listened with half an ear. Sheba he'd already discounted, but Bojay's news—that was something very different indeed. There was absolutely no way to get Adama to admit it, he was sure of that, or Sheba for that matter, and Boj was hearsay, but... if Apollo were to find out. Well. Fur would fly.

Fur might fly anyway. It hurt Starbuck that Apollo had had to give up so much for him. Not just his father, but his, well, his birthright. Everything he'd worked for, lived for, sacrificed for. Gone. And for no good reason. Apparently for no reason at all. It made Starbuck mad just thinking about it.

Question was, would it do any good at all to tell Apollo? Or would it just make his estrangement from Adama irretrievable? And which outcome did Starbuck even want?

He hadn't decided by the time Boxey settled down in front of "Tales from the Word". Starbuck grabbed an ale out of the cooler and settled himself in the front room with the door to Boxey's room shut. He'd pulled one of Apollo's books off the wall storage unit, and he was paging through it, trying to decide what was so damned fascinating about the romantic adventures of a thief in the Dark Ages that the book should be so well thumbed, and failing miserably. He wanted to think it was Serina's, but unfortunately for that theory Apollo's name was written in the front of it. He was about to put it back and try for a tech manual—which would at least be useful—when the door chimed.

Adama stood in the hall. He glared at Starbuck as if he were trespassing. Starbuck resisted the urge to shut the door in his face. "I want to see my grandson," he announced.

"Ah." Starbuck paused. Well, this was interesting. Apollo hadn't said not to let him in. On the other hand, Adama had disowned Apollo. Damn. He couldn't make this decision. He couldn't drive a wedge between them—more than he already had—Apollo would have to make that decision. "Come in," he said, stepping back. "Boxey's watching the vid."

"Hasn't he got schoolwork?" Adama said disapprovingly.

"He'll do it after," Starbuck said. Adama's eyebrows drew together. "He's watching 'Tales from the Word'," Starbuck said sweetly. "They're rescuing Darius from the dungeon tonight. But I'll get him."

"I want to talk to him alone, Lieutenant."

Oh, nice. Starbuck could appreciate that. Not rude, avoids the name, pulls rank... yeah. He hated it, but he could appreciate it. Of course, he wasn't sure what to do. He could walk into the sleeping room and shut the door, which would rub Adama's nose in his son's sex life which might be counterproductive... damn, Apollo, why didn't you leave me notes for this emotional minefield? On the other hand, he was just paranoid enough to envision Adama taking Boxey off in one of those custodial disputes that he, Starbuck, would lose. And Apollo would kill him if that happened. He didn't think Boxey wanted to go, but... Damn. We should have gotten married three days ago.

"Not a problem, Commander," he said cheerfully. "I've got to run out to the food store anyway. I'll let Boxey know you're here." Because you're the guest.

He went into Boxey's room. The boy was lying on his bed, watching the vid, with Muffit lying next to him. "He got up by himself," Boxey said.

"I'm not getting into that," said Starbuck. "But your grandfather's here. He wants to talk to you."

Boxey screwed up his face. "Do I have to?"

"Kiddo, he is your grandfather."

"But he hates you," Boxey said. "And Dad."

"I don't think he hates your dad. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think he's just upset with him." Starbuck sat down on the bed, shoving Muffit aside. "He's still your grandfather, and he wants to talk to you, and I think you should. He wants to talk to you alone, so I'm going to be out in the hall—"

"Starbuck! I mean, Pop! This is your home, too," Boxey protested. "He can't make you go outside."

"He's not. I don't want him trying to walk out with you, okay, kiddo?"

"I won't go with him."

"But this way, I'll be there, just in case."

Boxey sat up and hugged Starbuck fiercely. "You'll always be here, won't you? From now on?"

"You bet, kiddo. As much as humanly possible."

"Pop, what if he says bad things?"

"Then you don't have to talk to him ever again," Starbuck said, making the decision. What the hell. Boxey was his kid, too. "But talk to him now, okay?"

"Okay, Pop."

 


Boxey watched Starbuck go out the door and then turned to look at his grandfather. "Hello, Grandfather," he said.

"Hello, Boxey." His grandfather smiled at him and sat down on the couch, gesturing for Boxey to join him. A little warily, he did. "Where are you spending the night tonight, Boxey?

"Right here, sir." Pop said, always say 'sir' when you think you might be going to be insolent.

"Alone?" His grandfather raised his eyebrows. "You're not old enough to spend the night alone, let alone get yourself up and fed and to instruction. You'd better come with me."

"Thank you, sir, but Dad and Pop—"

"Who?"

"My dad and my pop. I can't call them both 'Dad' after all," Boxey explained, wondering why no grown up had figured that out, and why they mostly didn't understand it even after he pointed it out.

"Lieutenant Starbuck is not your father."

"He will be after he marries Dad. He already signed the papers when they got their marriage license." That too had to be explained to everyone, though not to Dad and Pop anyway. He sighed with the burden of it all. "So I'm practicing."

"Don't practice with me," his grandfather instructed him.

"Yes, sir," Boxey agreed. Pop had said, after all, he wouldn't have to talk to his grandfather any more if he didn't want to. "Anyway, I can stay here because Dad and Starbuck made 'rangements. Starbuck will pick me up from instruction if Dhani's mom doesn't and he'll stay here till he has to go back to the barracks—" he shot his grandfather a dark look "—but I'll already be asleep then."

"And alone."

"Oh, no, sir. 'Cause Aunt Theni's going to sleep over here and get me breakfast and take me and Dhani to instruction on our days. So you see, it's all right. I won't be alone." He blinked at his grandfather, making what his dad called 'big eyes'.

"Athena agreed to this? Hmph." His grandfather looked like a beast in one of the animated vids he'd seen at instruction last sectare—an ursine. Boxey giggled. He looked like a peeved ursine, actually. Grandfather might be a little mad at Aunt Athena, but Boxey wasn't too worried: she wasn't any easy mark, Pop said, and Dad said she gave better than she got. Boxey remembered when he'd thought that meant she must get really awful presents since she'd given him shirts for his birthday... he sighed at how young he used to be.

His grandfather had gotten up and was walking around the room like he was trying to think of something to say. Boxey was about to say he should go do his schoolwork when his grandfather stopped in front of the pictures on the wall unit. "Where did this come from?" he asked. He sounded very mad.

Boxey got up and looked. The only new pictures were Pop's, the Thorn Forest and him and Grandmother. And Dad had stuck the Thorn Forest down where even Boxey couldn't hardly see it and anyway Grandfather was looking at the other one. Boxey didn't know why that would make him mad; didn't he like seeing Grandmother? "Don't you recognize it?" Boxey asked. "It's on Naiacap."

His grandfather stared at the picture for several centons and then took it off the shelf and laid it face down on the kava table. "You are coming home with me, Boxey," he said. "Get your things."

"But Starbuck is here—"

"He won't be. With Red Squadron deployed, Blue has to stay in the barracks, on standby," his grandfather said. "He can't be here."

"Then I'm going to call Aunt 'Theni," Boxey said, ignoring the angry look his grandfather gave him. "She'll come early."

"If so, of course you can stay here."

Ooooo, Boxey knew that tone. Grandfather didn't think she would. But she would. He ran for the comm unit in his dad's sleeping room, hearing his grandfather call the bridge on his wristcomm but not trying to listen. He punched in his aunt's number. The comm chimed and chimed but there was no answer... that was it. She wasn't home, and Grandfather knew it. Boxey started shaking. He didn't think he was scared... he must be angry. Gosh. He'd never been so angry he shook before. Oh, gosh, he thought, and then muttered, "Oh, frack." He looked around to see if anybody had heard him, and then he said it again. It felt good.

He didn't want to go with Grandfather. And he didn't want Pop to get in a lot of trouble. There had to be someone who would come if he called them. Someone. Not Dhani's mom or dad, his dad was being a real dumbhead, Dhani had said. Not Boomer or Jolly or Giles or anybody like that, they were all in Blue. Certainly not Sheba, he wouldn't have wanted her anyway, and Cassie was probably just as mad at Pop as Sheba was at Dad. Wait. What about that nice pilot from this afternoon? He'd said he was on duty, but that wasn't true. It wasn't a lie, really, it was just a grown-up thing, the opposite of asking you 'don't you have something to do, young man?' Just a way to go away. 'Cause he was Green Squadron Leader, Boxey knew all the squadrons and their schedules and Green was off today. Dad didn't really like him, but Dad thought he liked Sheba and he didn't. Oh, boy, Boxey grinned remembering how the man had muttered at her before picking him up so she could see he was there; he really didn't like her. And Boxey knew that people who didn't like your enemy were the good guys. Plus, he and Pop knew each other...

He punched in the number to the barracks, hoping the lieutenant was there.

"BOQ, Gavin."

"Can I speak to Lieutenant Bojay, please?"

"Hey, Bojay!" the man called. "You dating someone with a kid?"

"No," Boxey heard faintly, and then, more loudly, "Well, some kid's calling you."

Bojay came on. "This is Bojay."

"Lieutenant, this is Boxey. Lieutenant Apollo's son, do you remember me?"

"Yes, of course. Is something the matter?"

Boxey bit his lip. He was pretty sure his dad wouldn't like him doing this, but it was all he could think of. And he liked Bojay, anyway; the man had kind eyes. So, he took a deep breath and said, "Grandfather is making Starbuck go to the barracks early and my aunt isn't in her quarters, and I don't wanna go with him, please could you come and stay here till she comes? She'll be here by a little before midnight, and anyway you're off tomorrow, I know, 'cause I know all the squadrons."

"Whoa, wait a centon. You're asking me to come stay with you? Starbuck know you're calling?"

"No, he doesn't know what Grandfather's doing. Grandfather's a bully, but he can't get mad at you... can he?" Boxey suddenly had second thoughts.

"Nah," Bojay said easily. "It's okay. And Starbuck'll find out any centon; it just scrolled up here... I'll come right on over. Hang on."

"Thanks," Boxey said. "Really really really thanks."

"Okay, I'm on my way." The comm line cut off.

Boxey took a deep breath and tried to stop shaking. His grandfather called from the front room, "Get your things, now." He wasn't even pretending like he didn't know! Boxey didn't answer, just went into his room and shut the door, hoping he could stay in there long enough that Lieutenant Bojay would come.

Eventually, his grandfather called him again. "Boxey! Come along."

He took a deep breath and walked into the front room. His grandfather was standing near the door, holding Pop's picture. "I'm not going."

"Boxey—"

"I'm not. Someone's coming and I'll be okay and you're being mean, anyway. I'm not. And you can't have that picture, it's not yours!" He grabbed for it and tried to pull it away.

"Boxey! Behave yourself!"

"I don't have to!" He pulled on the picture. "You're not my real grandfather and I don't have to listen to you!"

"What do you mean by that?"

"You're not! You told my dad he wasn't your son anymore so I'm not your grandson and I don't have to listen and give me back Pop's picture!" He yanked extra hard and it came away from the commander, and Boxey went staggering across the room just as the door opened.

 


Bojay walked down the hall, wondering why the kid had called him. He must have given him more cubits that afternoon than he'd realized. An equally intriguing question, of course, was why had he said yes.

Though to Bojay, who knew the answer, it wasn't particularly intriguing. Damn, but the kid had sounded scared. The commander was definitely trying to break up that family, whether incidental to breaking up the marriage or not Bojay didn't know, and didn't much care. Kids should stay with their fathers, unless those fathers were trying to kill them. And from what everyone said, Apollo was a good father.

So, what the hell... Bojay couldn't have said no. He turned the corridor and saw Starbuck leaning up against the wall. He grinned to himself; this would be the last time the commander got courtesy like that from the blond pilot, or everything Bojay remembered about Bucko was totally wrong, not just some of it...

"Bad news, Starbuck," he said.

Starbuck straightened instantly, worry coming into his blue eyes. "What?"

"Sorry, not that bad. But the commander's just hoicked Blue into alert-two status. I'm guessing he's gonna give you about ten centons before he has security hunting you down. You have seriously pissed the man off."

"Oh, frack," Starbuck swore. "I am seriously outgunned... Apollo's gonna kill me."

"Relax. I'm here."

"You're here? I mean, I see that, but what—"

"I'm gonna stay with the kid till his aunt shows. He called me at the barracks. You'd better get on."

"He called you?"

"Yeah, I must've impressed him as a good sort."

"I know why he called you, but—" Starbuck's sense apparently caught up with his mouth.

"Why'd I come? I guess I was just raised not to let kids down." Bojay shrugged. "No big deal."

"Yes, it is," Starbuck contradicted him. "Thanks."

"Get on," Bojay said.

"Yeah... I mean it, Boj. Thanks." Starbuck reached over and keyed the door open, then left.

Bojay walked into a scene from a melodrama. The boy and the commander were playing tugawar with what looked like a picture, and the boy was yelling, "—I'm not your grandson and I don't have to listen and give me back Pop's picture!" With the final word, the boy won the struggle and came staggering across the room. He heard the door, looked around, and ran to Bojay like he'd seen his savior.

"Commander, good evening," Bojay heard himself say. Automatically his hand reached to cup the dark brown head buried against his thigh.

"Lieutenant." The commander had regained his composure. "Are you here to stay with my grandson?"

"Yes, Commander. I'm off tomorrow, so I can stay as long as need be, in case Lieutenant Athena is late."

The commander's eyes flickered; he was reviewing his options.

"Boxey, why don't you run on into your room and get ready for bed?" Bojay suggested.

"Yes, sir," Boxey said softly, thrust the picture he held into Bojay's hand, and ran into his room, shutting the door behind him.

"I can even get him off to instruction in the morning, if necessary."

The commander yielded. He had thought, Bojay was sure, of calling a full subalert one, putting every pilot either in the barracks or the ready room, but he didn't have the... the face for it. Cain would have done it, but, as Bojay had come to realize lately, Cain had been a raving lunatic, with a crew barely more in touch with reality than he was. Adama was pissed as all seven hells, but he wasn't crazy. "Very well, lieutenant; I'm holding you responsible."

"Yes, sir."

The commander's eyes went to the picture Bojay was holding. The kid had good instincts; if Adama had asked for it, saying it was his, Bojay would have been stuck for an answer, but he didn't. Instead, he just walked out.

Cach. The utterly taboo expletive of Bojay's youth came to his mind and almost to his lips, but he remembered the kid in time. Not that he'd know what it meant, but he might say it in front of someone who did. Instead, he glanced at the picture—Starbuck and a blonde on a beach somewhere, odd choice—and put it in the blank spot on the shelf.

The door to the boy's room opened. He looked out almost shyly. "Thank you for coming," he said. "I didn't know who else to call who wasn't in Blue Squadron so they couldn't be here either."

"That's okay," Bojay said without thinking. "I know how it is wanting to stay home."

The kid's eyes flared with curiosity and Bojay cursed to himself, but the boy was on good manners or something because all he said was, "I'll go back in my room and not bother you. Pop bought ale, it's in the cooler, and I know where Dad keeps the ambrosa."

I'll bet you do. "Ale's good. And don't worry about bothering me. It would take more than you to bother me."

The kid grinned. Plainly he thought that was an endearment. "Want to watch the end of 'Tribal Legends' with me? It's almost over, but we could see the last ten centons."

"You look old enough to have homework."

"Dad lets me do that after. As long as I do do it." He cocked his head and asked, cunningly, "Do you understand fractions?"

"Not a bit," Bojay lied cheerfully.

The boy laughed and said, "Will you tell me a story, Lieutenant? When I go to bed, I mean?"

"Sure." Why not... try to think of one, Boj.

When he went in to tuck the kid up—up? was that right?—he was startled by the oddest noise he'd heard in a long time.

"Shut up, Muffy," the boy said. "He's our friend. That's Muffy," he gestured at a fur-and-steel monstrosity crouched under his desk. "He's my dagget."

"What breed is he?" Bojay asked soberly.

"He's a Wilkerhound!" Boxey cackled, rolling around on the bed. After he calmed down, he said, "He's not a real dagget, of course. He's more like a toy. But Dad gave him to me a long time ago, when I was little, cause my real dagget ran away. Dad's real proud of Muffy even though he acts grumpy sometimes. Dad, I mean."

"I figured." Bojay put the toe of his boot on the drone's back and scratched experimentally. Of course, nothing happened.

"Whatcha doing?"

"My dagget used to get all blissed out when I did that," Bojay said, remembering.

"What happened to him?"

"She died. A long time ago."

"In the Destruction?"

"No." Bojay wished he hadn't brought it up. "A long time before that. When I wasn't that much older than you. Daggets don't live as long as people, after all. Now, time for bed."

Boxey climbed under the covers and blinked angel-eyes up at him. "Will you tell me a story now?"

"Sure," Bojay said, surrendering to the inevitable. "What do you want to hear?" Like I'll know what you ask for.

"Anything," he said promptly. "Except not religious."

"Okay. I'll tell you about Arianwen."

"Is that a girl?" he asked dubiously.

"Girls can't have stories?"

"Is it mushy?"

"Forty-two people get killed."

"Neat!" Boxey wriggled into good listening position.

Bojay launched into the story of Arianwen, the famous Piscon bandit princess of the Dark Ages. He figured any boy being raised by two men could use the reminder that women were people, though from what he'd heard of Athena, she'd make sure he knew. By the time he got to the unavoidable 'mushy' part—Arianwen's romance with the third princess, Kilhona—the story had been more than exciting enough to keep Boxey from even protesting. Or so Bojay thought, anyway.

As he finished, "—so she mounted Kilhona on the silverwhite Moon Mare and herself on the black Night Stallion, and they rode off into the forest," Boxey interrupted.

"Only thirty-seven."

"What?"

"Thirty-seven people who got killed. You said forty-two."

Bojay shook his head. "Are you always this literal?"

"You said."

"Just when they thought they had escaped the evil king, five more guards appeared and Arianwen, in a furious swordfight, killed them all. Then she mounted Kilhona on the silverwhite Moon Mare and herself on the black Night Stallion, and they rode off into the forest and lived—"

"Happily Ever After even with mushy stuff 'cause they were married."

"Even with," Bojay agreed. "The End. Okay?"

"Okay." He grinned.

"Go to sleep."

"Yes, sir," he grinned again and closed his eyes.

Bojay cut out the lights and went into the front room. After a moment's consideration, he darkened that room and left a light on in the service room and sat on the couch, thinking about the day.

Bojay hated thinking. He was happiest when life didn't require it, when someone just told him what to do and left him alone to do it. It wasn't that he couldn't think, that thinking was too hard. It was that thinking was dangerous. In his experience, thinking led to pain far more often than not. He'd loved the Pegasus, where thinking was actively discouraged. Even making captain, six sectares after Molecay, hadn't meant he'd had to think, not the way Cain managed things; it had just been like being leader of a fairly large squadron. And he'd avoided people and situations on the Galactica that threatened to make thinking necessary, more than happy to revert to lieutenant...

But now he was stuck. True, when the kid had called, he'd just reacted, not thought, but since then... especially with the commander. He sighed. With that involuntary pass of his hand over his ear that he wasn't even aware of he kicked off his shoes and swung his feet up on the couch.

It was a nice kid, though. Sheba had complained about Boxey, saying he was spoiled, whiny, a brat. Maybe he'd been on his company manners, and it had certainly taken balls the kid shouldn't have grown yet to call like he had, but the only spoiled, whiny brat Bojay had seen lately wasn't Apollo's kid.

That had been the proverbial cold water in the face. He dug his shoulders into the cushions. Goddess, but he hated the first days anywhere, and now he'd gone and forced himself to start over when he didn't have to. Too bad there wasn't a moon to blame his madness on.

But some things just weren't right. He sighed, closed his eyes, and hid in the darkness waiting there.

 


Athena glared at the turbolift control panel as if that could make it come faster. She could not believe how late she was. It was almost two...

She wasn't even sure how she'd managed to end up on the Rising Star with Cassie in the first place. At least Cassie hadn't been as bad as Sheba, who had cornered her while she was waiting for the medtech—Ah, yes. That was how they'd ended up on the Star—Sheba was confined to the Galactica. It had been a full-fledged retreat, as desperate as the fleet's. One more thing to lay at her father's door: his attitude apparently made Sheba think Athena wanted nothing more than the chance to abuse Apollo.

It was so odd, Athena thought, pushing the button again. She really did think Apollo had a lot to answer for in re his behavior toward Sheba. But the longer the Viper pilot had ranted, the less Athena wanted to blame her brother and the more she wanted to congratulate him on his narrow escape—and perhaps schedule him for a psych eval for ever having gotten involved in the first place.

But Cassie had been bad enough. Alternating between drunken, well, maybe that was harsh, sniffling about her life being over, nastily clinical diagnoses of all Starbuck's shortcomings as a boyfriend, and assertions that she'd been neither interested nor surprised, she had nearly driven Athena to drinking far more than she should, herself.

Yes, she liked Cassie and felt sorry for her, but perhaps unnaturally she liked Starbuck better, and anyway Cassie had had her chance. At least twice. And any woman who'd pick Cain over Starbuck... well. Enough said.

But Cassie had been impossible to get away from. And so drunk that when Athena had finally gotten her to move, she'd made them miss the next shuttle. And she'd been in such bad shape that Athena had been compelled to take her home; gods knew who she'd have latched onto otherwise. Athena looked at her wristchrono and swore again. Please let Starbuck have had the sense to leave Boxey asleep in his room and go to the barracks before he and Boomer got into all kinds of trouble.

Finally. She ducked through the lift door and trotted down the hallway to key herself into Apollo's quarters. The front room was dark but light spilled in from the service room. Gods. She couldn't believe it. He was still here, asleep on the couch. Without bothering with the lights she strode to the couch and peremptorily shook him. "Starbuck! Get—"

She stopped. Oh, gods. It wasn't Starbuck. Lords of Kobol knew, she was more than passingly familiar with the feel of him in the dark and this body coming awake under her importunate hand wasn't his. It was thinner, more angular, tenser and more abrupt in its movements—though that might be due to the manner of its awakening. "Oh, my God," she said, "I am sorry. I didn't mean—I thought you were Starbuck still here—I'm sorry I'm late—Oh." She stopped babbling with an effort; maybe she had drunk too much. "Lights."

Sleepy hazel eyes blinked at her from a good-looking, clean-cut face under tousled brown hair. She should know him. She really should. "Bojay." The name came first and the surprise just enough later not to show up in her voice. "I'm sorry."

"That's all right," he said. "I think I fell asleep at nine."

"Nine?" she said. "Starbuck just left you here?" That opportunistic...

"No," he yawned and shook his head. "The commander ran him back to barracks a couple of centares before that—I don't know why," he added, sitting up. "I came over to watch Boxey so he could stay here. I guess I just fell asleep."

"Ooooo," Athena growled. Obviously, whatever Apollo thought about Bojay, Starbuck trusted him, so she felt no compunction about saying, "Father is being such a complete boray about this. Thank you so much and I'm so sorry I'm late."

"It's all right," he said again. "And I think Boxey annoyed the commander, and there was something about this picture, too." He gestured.

Athena looked. "Oh, my gods," she said softly. She picked up the picture and sat down without thinking next to Bojay. "Oh, my gods." She ran her fingers across the image, and it blurred as she blinked back tears.

"Are you all right?" he asked worriedly.

"Oh, yes," she said, looking up at him and trying to smile. "It's... it's exactly how I try to remember her. And Starbuck... how he could make her laugh. She loved him so much, like another son. Like a right son. I mean—we, her own children, we were all so obsessed with Father. Well, no; Zac just was everything he should have been, without trying or caring. But I tried so hard to be what he wanted and it never mattered because I was a girl, but I didn't try to please Mother because she just always was, you know? And Apollo, he didn't want to be anything Father wanted him to be, he just wanted to be what he wanted... did that even make sense?" She bit her lip, looking down at the frozen moment of happiness. "But she loved Starbuck the very first time Apollo brought him home for a four-day furlon from the Academy." She touched the picture again, Ila's laughing eyes. "And he loved her, oh, he adored her more than we did. We loved her, but she was so second to Father. But not for him. She called him her golden gift-son... This must be after Semtek. He looks about twenty-five, doesn't he? And that's Naiacap. She took him to Naiacap after Semtek, she wrote me..." She recollected herself. "I'm sorry. You're being so thoughtful and I'm boring you with old family stuff."

"Truthfully? I'm anything but bored."

She looked back at him, into his hazel eyes. "How kind," she said automatically.

"Probably not that, either," Bojay said.

They looked at each other for several centons. "I should... really... get some sleep," she said finally. "I have to get Boxey up in the morning."

"Yes," he said meaninglessly, then, "I told them I could come back this evening. If necessary. If you had plans."

"I don't."

"Maybe you'd like to make some? Dinner? At the O Club? We could bring Boxey if..." he trailed off uncertainly.

"I'd like that, Bojay," she said. "Very much."

 


Chapter Text

Apollo walked outside the shuttle and stretched, looking at the sunrise. It had been a long time since he had seen one, he reflected; this was a pretty one, neon red sun coming up through wispy gold and pink clouds. He wished Starbuck and Boxey were here to see it, then laughed. Boxey wouldn't have paid any attention, and Starbuck wouldn't have gotten out of bed.

"Morning, sir," Feist said, appearing from the other end of the camp, where some of the techs had started to serve breakfast.

"Good morning, Feist," Apollo said. He'd already learned that Fenrir and Feist, two otherwise dissimilar men, were both big on casual discipline. At least he was assuming it was them; Boomer had never been much on being called 'sir' every time he turned around. He supposed he wasn't either, come to that; Blue had its flight sergeants, but Jolly and Giles before their promotions, and Greenbean and Rafe still, rarely let the word cross their lips. Starbuck had corrupted them, he supposed, grinning to himself; his lifemate only said 'sir' when he didn't mean it. "Everything quiet?"

"Yes, sir; nothing moving with more brain cells than Wotan."

Apollo laughed. After three days he'd learned that the young pilot, who was Feist's wingman, wasn't quite the idiot Boomer had called him, but he was definitely Red's odd man out. For one thing, his was a battlefield commission, based on numerous eyewitness accounts of his ferocity at Cimtar, and he was only nineteen now, having been a brand-new corporal. For another, he was an orphan who'd grown up outside the barracks on Kevala, practically a service brat, but one acquainted, deeply, with the unorthodox way of doing things. It was Red's way to treat him half like a mascot and half like a little brother, and he seemed supremely content as much with the head-smacks as the hugs. In fact, he was at this moment trailing after Feist, and now said,

"Hey, I resemble that remark, lieutenant."

"You need to get some new material," Feist said. "Coming to breakfast, sir?"

"In a moment," Apollo said. They nodded and walked on, the white-blond boy chattering about something. Apollo looked around. They were camped on a beach, near a river, and sea avians were wheeling above his head, crying to each other. He wondered what they made of the intruders on the beach, or if they'd really even noticed. They reminded him, involuntarily, of Avi Avian, and he wished again that Boxey was here to see them. And the ocean.

He wondered how they were getting along on the Galactica. His wristchrono told him that, although it was dawn here, it was about midnight there. Starbuck would be heading back to the barracks, and Athena would be soon be getting ready to go to sleep. He wondered, suddenly, if she and Starbuck would have talked about the picture he'd put up in the front room. For that matter, she might have known; if she'd been at Cap City Base, as Starbuck thought, their mother would probably have told her she was going to Naiacap, and why... If Boxey was going to be interested in Ila, Athena could tell him more stories than Apollo could, he was sure. Mothers were closer to daughters than sons, weren't they?

He wasn't hungry, but he decided he should go and eat, anyway. The first day of an entirely out-of-sync schedule was the hardest. He hadn't slept much, but it would be another eight centares till planetary night... this world spun more quickly than Caprica had. And breakfast would keep him distracted from wondering how Starbuck had spent his evening. Because he didn't, really. Wonder.

Starbuck was, after all, an intelligent, grown man with a strong will. He had to know as well as Apollo why he'd been sent on this mission, and he was capable of going a day without sex. He was; he had in the past. Often. Complaining bitterly about it, of course, but still...

Six days might be pushing it, Apollo had to admit. No. Even six days... he might kill Apollo when he got back, but he could hold out six days. Apollo thought about that reunion for a few centons, and then decided that now was not the time or the place for that.

Instead, he went down and got something to eat, and talked with the head of the techs about the tests they'd be running today to determine if the marine life was edible and the water potable. The fleet had tankers half-full; if they could fill them here, it would be a good thing, and if they could harvest a mass of protein from the sea it would be better. Apollo felt a trace of guilt at hoping that the entire planet was poisonous, repressed it, and hoped instead that his father might prove mildly allergic to the sealife here. Feeling better, he went to find Fenrir and discuss security procedures.

This was going to be the most boring six days of his life, he could tell.

 


"What did you do to piss off the commander last night, Bucko?"

Giles was the first one who actually said anything to him about it, though he'd gathered his shares of black looks as the rest of Blue had come in. This afternoon, while they sat around and gathered dust and got bored out of their skulls, he figured he'd really hear about it.

"Nothing," he said honestly. "I have no idea what set him off..."

"Come on," Giles said. "Don't try Starbucking me. I know that tone. What happened?"

"I don't know," Starbuck repeated. "He came to talk to Boxey and... I think he was trying to get Boxey unsupervised so he'd have an excuse to take him."

Giles shook his head. "Well, that's pointless. I mean, Apollo will be back in a few days."

Starbuck shrugged. The car stopped and the two pilots jumped off and started walking toward their Vipers. "I don't know. Maybe he figures possession is eleven points of the law. Maybe he figures he can wear the kid down—though I've got to say my money would be on Boxey in that match-up—or maybe he just got pissed off 'cause Boxey called him a bully."

Giles snickered.

"Yeah, you think it's funny," Starbuck said.

"Bucko, only you could raise in-law trouble to such a pitch."

"All I want to know is, why me?"

"Hey, you're the one who fell for him," Giles said. "You had to know what came with him."

Starbuck stopped walking. Giles took a couple more steps before realizing, then turned back. "Hey, Bucko, what's up? I didn't mean anything by that."

"I know," Starbuck said. "It's just... the flip side of it."

Giles stared at him a moment then shook his head decisively. "Don't start thinking like that, Starbuck," he said authoritatively. "Whether you knew or not, Apollo knew. Maybe not all the details, but the big picture. Hell, it's his family; he grew up with them. He knew. And he chose you anyway."

"Did he?" Starbuck asked, looking down into Giles's intense brown eyes. "Did he know he'd lose his rank, his position, his father? I don't think he did. I know he didn't, in fact."

"And what? You think he wouldn't have asked you to marry him if he'd known what it would cost him?" He grabbed Starbuck's arm at the elbow and gave him a little shake. "Don't sell yourself short."

"Giles—"

"I mean it. You're not married yet. It would have been simple enough for him to back out of it—you wouldn't have sued him, after all—but he didn't. He thinks you're worth it. He's not the only one who would." Giles broke off but didn't let go. "So don't wimp out on him, Starbuck. If he's gonna give it all up, at least make sure he gets what he wants."

"Giles—" That was in a completely different tone as Starbuck thought he read something in the brown eyes looking up at him, something he hadn't expected to see.

"Look, Starbuck, just remember the captain—I mean, Apollo. The man loves you."

"Gentlemen!" Jenny interrupted them. "Are you flying today, or was that just a nasty rumor?"

"Yeah," Starbuck said, "we're flying." He climbed into his Viper and launched, taking up picket position, all on autopilot. Giles was the first person who'd sounded like he really understood what Apollo was doing. Boomer's reaction—I really hope you know what you're doing, 'cause if you're playing with him he could get hurt—had been more typical. Some people had been even more incredulous than that. But Giles seemed to feel that Apollo was making sense... It shook Starbuck. Aurora and Cassie, both had blown hot and cold over tying themselves down to him and, probably very fortunately, neither had been hot about it at any of the few centons he had been. Athena and he had come closer, but they were better suited to be friends than anything else... and he hadn't spoken to her in the last few days, thanks to Adama. He would have last night but now he couldn't, unless he called her or she came by the barracks, again thanks to Adama; he wasn't completely sure how he felt about that. But all in all, it had been pretty forcibly borne in upon him that while people understood him, or thought they did, nobody understood Apollo.

It had made him wonder if he was doing the right thing by the other man.

But now, Giles—He thinks you're worth it. He's not the only one who would. If Apollo wasn't the only one who valued him, then maybe, just maybe, he was actually valuable.

And maybe, he realized with a start, he had a problem with his wingman he hadn't anticipated. Or maybe not a problem... he had to admit that if Giles felt like that after the way he'd treated him over the past two yahrens, especially the yahren after the Destruction, then there wasn't much he could do about it. He'd never encouraged him, and that was about all there was... Besides, maybe he was wrong. Maybe Giles meant that the way he'd mean it if he said it to Athena.

Whatever, he decided, he would just pretend like he hadn't seen whatever it was he had seen. Just go on like normal. Because Giles had also told him to stick with Apollo, so nothing was going to happen here even if there was something wondering about what it would be like if it did happen. Or something. Starbuck shook his head. He had bigger problems, or at least more immediate problems, anyway. Athena went on second shift on seconday, which meant that, assuming he could beg her into spending all of her off time with Boxey, he'd still have to find someone to watch him in the afternoon and evening for a couple of days. He still couldn't believe that Bojay had shown up, just like that, last night, and was willing, he said, to do it again today—or had been, before actually spending any time with Boxey—but Green, too, was on second shift even sooner, tomorrow.

Damn Adama anyhow, he thought.

"Uhhh, Starbuck?" Giles said. "You might want to switch to second channel."

Startled, Starbuck realized he must have said that out loud. He hit his channel selector and said, with feeling, "Oh, frack."

"Yeah," Giles agreed.

Simultaneously, Omega's calm voice came in on channel one. "Picket Blue One, did you say something? We had static; you were broken and unreadable. Please repeat."

Starbuck hit his transmission selector again. "Galactica ops, repeating message: all quiet, nothing to report."

"Thank you, Blue One. Ops out."

Changing channels again Starbuck said, "I knew I liked him."

Giles laughed.

"Hey, Gi—know anybody in Yellow who might like to baby-sit?"

"Yellow? Hmmm... off the top of my head, no. Doesn't anybody owe you money?"

"Not from Yellow. We never see them."

"True... Phyllia likes kids, but she's in Purple."

Starbuck ran a quick schedule check in his head. "Purple's off seconday, right?"

"Yeah. First Day and seconday - Yellow's who you need. They're off seconday and thirday."

"I know that," Starbuck said. "That's why I asked about Yellow first. But if Phyllia will do it seconday and somebody from Yellow thirdday, we'd be covered."

"Well, Purple will be coming in this afternoon; ask."

"Yeah..." Starbuck shook his head again. "Damn Adama."

Giles laughed again.

 


Purple and Yellow came into the barracks at four, still, after three days, snarlingly unhappy about losing the whole fracking evening. Today, of course, they ran into Blue's uber-pissed-offedness about losing their entire fracking day, and the lucky ones were Orange and Bronze Spar, who were on duty.

Correction. Silver Spar and Green, who were off and making themselves scarce, especially Green, whose last day of freedom this was before they started their six days of second shift, meaning on the new schedule, showing up in the barracks at eight in the morning—so for those who slept there, basically their entire secton would be spent here. They were not going to be happy... A couple of Purple pilots sat in on the game Starbuck had going with Jolly, Cree, and Brie; apparently Blue's superior suffering had, in fact, softened the other squadrons' feelings toward the proximate cause of their pain. At any rate, nobody seemed inclined to stuff Starbuck in the nearest airlock. Not yet.

Starbuck overhead Giles chatting with Phyllia and a couple of her friends, laying it on about Adama and getting very lyrical about poor little Boxey, all alone in the world. He wasn't really very surprised when Phyllia came up and leaned on him and said, "Starbuck, don't you worry about Boxey. Lalage and I will watch him when Athena's on second shift."

On his other side Lalage fluttered her eyelashes at him, apparently out of habit, and agreed. "The poor little thing! It's awful, just awful!"

"Well, thank you, ladies," Starbuck said. "We certainly do appreciate it. And I owe you one."

"Oh, don't you worry about that," Lalage said. "I'm sure we can think of something."

"Just don't forget, I'm a betrothed man," Starbuck responded in kind.

"Don't worry," Phyllia said. "We won't... we may ask to borrow your wingman, though."

"Well, now, that would be up to him," Starbuck smiled at them both and then at Giles. "But I certainly wouldn't get in his way."

"Are we playing Pyramid," said Purple's Dayton, "or are we running a dating service?"

"With Starbuck," said Jolly, "it's usually some of both." He looked around the table. "Cards, anyone?"

As play resumed, and the rest of the condemned pilots settled to kibitzing or occupying themselves with their own games or something, Sheba appeared in the doorway, followed by a couple of Silver Spar's other pilots. She looked around the room imperiously, her gaze catching on Starbuck for a moment, then moving on; her lip curled but she didn't say anything. Instead, she turned on Flight Sergeant Rafael, who was sitting alone, as usual, reading something. Starbuck couldn't hear what she said, but Rafe's answer got him snapped at. He put his book down and snapped to attention while Sheba went at him.

Starbuck sighed. Rafe was Cree's wingman, but outside of his cockpit Cree had a well-developed sense of self-preservation that was at the moment keeping his ensign's nose buried in his cards. Frack. Starbuck stood up, laying his hand down, and walked across the room just as Rafael started to leave.

"Hold it, Sergeant," he said. "Sheba, run your own errands."

She stared at him. "Get lost, Starbuck," she said. "This isn't any of your business."

"Well, yes it is," he said. "Because the sergeant here is in my section. Not your squadron."

"He's still a sergeant. And an insubordinate one."

Rafe? Insubordinate? Starbuck blinked, then said, mildly, "I've always found Rafael to be quite obedient... to his chain of command. Which you aren't in. Rafe, as you were. Sheba, run. Your own. Errands."

She glared at him. "Too bad Apollo isn't here to see how you conduct yourself when he's gone." Her eyes raked dismissively over Phyllia and Lalage, then she turned and left.

"Bitch," Starbuck said conversationally. "What did she want you to do, anyway?"

"Find Lieutenant Bojay," the redhead said, picking up his book.

"You would know?"

"Not a clue. Sir," he added with a slow smile.

"Cut it out, or I'll have you up on insubordination charges."

Rafe sat back down and resumed reading. Starbuck went back to the table. "What did she say about me?" demanded Lalage, her usual flirtatious manner discarded.

"Nothing, really," Starbuck said. "She implied I was sleeping with you."

"I like that! You're practically a married man," Lalage seethed. "I'll rip her supercilious heart out."

"La, honey, please," Phyllia said. "She isn't worth prison time."

"Huh." The blonde snorted. "Vermin eradication isn't a prison offense, last I heard."

Jolly laughed, and as usual, the whole table was caught in the infectious sound in next to no time. Lalage and Phyllia wandered off and the game resumed, Giles sitting in the next time they dealt.

"What did the dragon queen want, anyway?" Cree asked, apologetically.

Starbuck didn't blame him for not wanting to take her on. He shrugged. "She's looking for Bojay. I think he's gone off her."

"Really?" Jolly said. "What makes you think that?"

"Last time I saw them together, she was calling Apollo dirty names in front of Boxey and I don't think Boj approved," Starbuck said. "Sometimes you have to hit him in the head to get his attention, but once you've done that, he can change his mind. I think she whacked him pretty good."

"What a shame," Giles said with spurious sadness.

"Yeah," said Jolly. "Bojay used to be an all-right guy. If he shakes himself lose from the Cain-is-Lord bunch, maybe he'll be back like he was."

"He's okay," Greenbean, surprisingly, put in. "I mean, I've got some friends in Green; they like him all right."

"Yeah," Starbuck said. "He's all right."

"Okay," Giles grinned. "Where is he?"

"How should I know? I'm not his keeper," Starbuck protested.

"Yeah, but I know that tone."

"Me, too," said Jolly. "What's going on?"

"Well, I don't know where he is," Starbuck said. "I just know where he was last night when she was looking for him."

"Give," demanded Giles.

"Baby-sitting Boxey."

"Oh, sweet Lords of Kobol," said Greenbean. "Is he on your side against Sheba?"

"And the commander?" said Jolly, sounding stunned.

"Actually," Starbuck said with scrupulous honesty, "I think he's on Boxey's side. But I don't know where he is now."

"Who'd have thought it?" Jolly asked rhetorically.

"Are we playing Pyramid," said Dayton, "or gossiping? And don't tell me: with Starbuck it's usually both?"

"Okay," said Jolly, "we won't. Cree, come on, it's your deal."

 


"I'm sorry, lieutenant," the instructor said. "We can't just hand over children to anybody who shows up asking for them, you must see that."

Bojay nodded. He did understand. It was Boxey who was complaining.

"But Bojay is supposed to watch me!"

"Don't whine," Bojay couldn't help saying, adding, "it's not her fault. She has to follow the rules."

"Rules are stupid, Pop says so."

Bojay snickered but said, "You'll notice he's following them, anyway."

"Yeah, but—"

"No buts," Bojay said, slightly startled at how easily bossing a child came. He looked at the instructor, who was eyeing him with a slightly different look. "Who is on the list?"

"Lieutenants Starbuck, and Athena," she said.

"Not the commander?"

"No," she said. "Lieutenant Apollo took him off... but he didn't put you on."

"Grandfather can't get me?" Boxey asked.

"No," Bojay said, wondering if the woman would really stand fast against the commander. "so that's all right. We'll just hang out here until your aunt comes. It shouldn't be but," he glanced at the chrono on the wall, "another three and half centares. Maybe four, if the person she's holding place for is late."

The instructor sighed loudly. "I do wish people would realize that we're an instructional center, not a care center."

"I'm sure they'd be more inclined to do so," Bojay said mildly, "if their own schedules weren't being jerked around so much."

"Please, Miss Lyllat," Boxey said, "can't you call Pop? Lieutenant Starbuck? He could tell you Bojay can pick me up. And who else is this secton, till Dad gets back." He smiled up at her, whining gone, all angel eyes and butter-wouldn't-melt.

"Well..." she hesitated, looking at the chrono herself; Bojay bet she had a date of her own. "I suppose... after all, these aren't normal circumstances. Where is he?"

"He's at the pilots' barracks," Boxey smiled up at her.

"All right," she decided. "I'll go call him." She disappeared into the office.

Boxey took hold of his arm. "Did Grandfather make Aunt 'Theni late?"

Bojay looked down at the boy. His eyes were big again, but dark with worry. Bojay knew, he just knew, he'd been right in keeping his life clear of kids... "No," he said, "at least not that she said. All she said was someone on second watch asked her to stay late and cover for him, and she owed him, so she asked if I'd pick you up."

"So now she owes you!" Boxey grinned.

Bojay found himself grinning back. Starbuck was definitely raising this kid, even if nobody had noticed it till this secton. But Bojay wondered how Apollo coped with these mood changes; the captain—ex-captain—had struck him as a somber, even dour, person. On the other hand, he wanted to marry Starbuck... maybe he was just hiding a wacky side. On second thought... Nah.

Boxey hadn't let go, but now he was swinging himself back and forth as though Bojay's arm were a tree branch; Bojay realized he had braced for the boy's weight without thinking about it. "Are you dating Aunt 'Theni?"

Bojay blinked. Dating was more... settled... than he'd thought of. But last night, sitting on that couch with her knee touching his and listening to her talk about her mother, well, he really hadn't wanted to leave. "I guess I am," he answered.

"Grandfather wants her to get a date, but I bet he won't like it being you," Boxey observed with what Bojay was beginning to figure out was his customary bluntness. He'd never met the boy's mother, but this had to be genetic; Goddess knew he didn't pick it up from either Apollo or Starbuck.

Fortunately, the instructor came out of the office before he had to answer that. "Lieutenant Starbuck gave me permission to release Boxey to you, Lieutenant," she said with evident relief.

"Good night, Miss Lyllat," Boxey caroled, tugging on Bojay's hand.

"Yes, good night," Bojay said, allowing the boy to pull him away. The woman was already shutting up the office; she wouldn't be five centons behind them.

In the corridor Boxey didn't let go, but snugged his hand inside Bojay's, who suddenly flashed back to his own childhood and the uncertainties that came with never knowing who you'd be with, the worries about losing your father. Frack, he thought, what have I let myself in for? But he reached down and picked the boy up, as if he'd been doing it every day of his life, and swung him up onto his shoulders. Boxey giggled and clung to his collar. "So," he said, "what do you do on seventhday after instruction? Go home and do your schoolwork so it's done?"

"No!" Boxey sounded outraged.

"Somehow I figured not. Rejuv center?"

"Yes, please," Boxey said.

Boxey ate two mushies and played a video game that involved lots of shooting. He seemed, for his age, pretty good. A couple of Green's pilots came in while Boxey was playing.

"Hey, Bojay," Dak said. "I hear Sheba's looking for you."

"Yeah? Well, don't mention you saw me."

Felicia smiled sympathetically at him; she was one of the Galactica's retread shuttle jockeys, a pretty good pilot but no friend of Sheba's. "Don't worry," she said, "we won't, will we, hon?"

Dak shook his head. "I've got no desire to get into that," he said. "Nothing personal."

Bojay shrugged and watched them lean over their vid game, Felicia giggling as Dak 'showed her how', with lots of hands-on.

"You're not dating Sheba, are you?" Boxey asked, pausing his game.

"No," he answered immediately. Whatever his relationship with Sheba had been, 'dating' had never been the right word. Not that he was sure what word had been right. He wondered what the boy thought about his father dumping Sheba for Starbuck. Maybe it was easier to see your mom replaced by another man?

"Good," Boxey said. "Aunt 'Theni would be really mad. Plus, she's mean."

"Your aunt?" Bojay asked a little apprehensively.

"No," Boxey shook that mop of dark brown hair. "Sheba."

"Oh." Bojay considered that. Yes, he decided, she was. Possibly a trifle loony, like her father, but definitely mean. Frack, how many kinds of idiot have I been the past few yahrens?

"What's a catamite?" Boxey interrupted that train of thought.

"What?"

"That's what she called Dad," Boxey reminded him. "What does it mean?"

"Did you ask Starbuck?" Bojay dodged.

"Yes, but he just said she was a sore loser. What does it mean?"

"Ask your aunt."

"Don't you know?" Boxey challenged him.

"I know," Bojay said, "but if Starbuck wouldn't tell you, I'm not going to. Ask your aunt."

"It must be really bad," Boxey said with a certain amount of satisfaction.

"Don't use it."

"Not till I know what it means," Boxey agreed.

Bojay opened his mouth, then decided not to get into it. He hadn't taught the kid the word, he hadn't defined it for him, and anyway it wasn't his kid. He was just doing a favor for... who was he doing it for, anyway? Starbuck? Athena? Boxey himself?

Or another little kid, twenty yahrens gone now?

He shook himself all over, like he was a dagget coming out of water. Frack this. "Come on, Boxey," he said. "Let's get to your quarters and wait for your aunt. You should change clothes, anyway, since we're going out to eat."

 


Athena turned the scanner position over to Mako as soon as he showed up and went to her quarters. She pulled four dresses out of the closet and rejected each one. Standing in front of her remaining wardrobe she wondered why this was such a difficult choice. For God's sake, it's just dinner! And with Boxey!

It didn't help. Everything she owned was too much or not enough. She supposed she could wear her uniform, but she didn't want to be Lieutenant Athena. Of course, she realized, he might be in uniform, but he hadn't been yesterday. This morning... She felt herself flush and her stomach tighten up a little as she remembered the feel of his shoulder under her hand.

Oh, this was ridiculous. She was twenty-six, not sixteen. She'd had much more under her hand than a man's shoulder—clothed, even! Just because he sat there, all adorably tousled and sleepy and let her go on and on about her mother... She grabbed the first thing to come to her hand and put it on. So it was that icy-pink dress even Apollo thought she looked good in. So what? She should wear something she didn't look good in?

And who was she trying to convince of what, come to that? She took a deep breath. This was just a dinner. With a nice guy who was being kind to Boxey. If it went somewhere... She took another deep breath and tried to remember the last time she'd felt like this. And couldn't. She brushed her hair and grabbed a wrap—damn the cold, anyway—and left before she could convince herself to change.

She let herself into her brother's quarters. Boxey and Bojay were sitting at the table in the service room, Boxey working on—she almost passed out—schoolwork while the Viper pilot offered the occasional correction. She stood and watched them for a centon. Bojay wasn't in uniform; his shirt was a cadet blue that, she observed when he glanced up at her, made his eyes look almost the same shade. Interesting, she thought. "Hi," she said. "I can't believe you're doing your schoolwork already, Boxey."

"Bojay pointed out I won't have to do it First Day night. He's helping with stupid verbs. We're almost done."

"I can wait," she said. "I'm not starving or anything." She sat down on Boxey's other side..

"This way," Boxey added, "I can have all First Day to myself. Well, and you." He returned to his worksheet.

"What about Temple?" she asked.

"I don't wanna go," he said. "I'm gonna be a heathen. Like Pop. And Bojay."

She looked at Bojay. "I'm a Diwest," he said. "Most Kobolians I know consider that heathen. But that was his idea."

"I don't wanna go to Temple if they hate Dad and Pop," Boxey said flatly. "And I'm not gonna. You can explain to Grandfather that I'm not going so you can't, can't you? Or get someone else to stay with me?"

Athena looked at him. This was all very hard for him, she realized suddenly. And Adama was making it much harder than it had to be. She had no idea what Apollo's reaction was going to be, though she did know that some Kobolians felt there wasn't any outright prohibition on same-sex marriages... it was such a mess. But she didn't think it was her place to make the decision. Any of the decisions. She could find someone to watch Boxey while she went to Temple; she'd heard from Starbuck already that he had people lined up for seconday and thirdday when she was on second watch. Maybe one of them, or maybe she could talk Boomer into cutting someone from Blue loose for a couple of centares, or even, maybe, letting Bojay out of barracks sitting...

Or maybe just not go, herself. She could miss a day. And it would be better for Boxey. Frack. This was making her head hurt. She really, really wished Adama wasn't being so completely boray-headed about this. So far she and her father had managed to pretend that there simply was no "Apollo problem" by pretending that there was no Apollo. Adama didn't ask her what she was doing with her spare time, and she didn't ask him why he was doing his best to destroy their family. She knew their father thought he was trying to save them all and she thought that he knew she was doing what she thought best. It was just such a mess...

"Hey," Bojay said softly. "You feeling all right?"

She looked into his concerned eyes and almost cried. Instead, she made herself smile (Omega's lessons in controlling emotion came in handy in the damnedest places) and said, "Yes. Just a little tired."

"After working an extra half shift, I'm not surprised," he said. "He's only got two more to go. Then we can go eat—unless you'd rather have something delivered?"

"No," she said. "I didn't get dressed up to stay in."

He grinned at her. "I'm glad... I'd like to be seen with you, looking like that."

She smiled genuinely at him. For the first time in yahrens, masculine appreciation seemed like a good thing, not a claim of some sort or, worse, a condescension.

Oh, Lord, she thought. A Diwest? Father won't appreciate that much, either... Hell. At least he's male. And churched somewhere. Father can lump it. Then she blushed, realizing how far ahead of things that decision was. What is wrong with me, anyhow?

Then Bojay stood up, picking up his dark brown jacket with one hand and reaching to pull her chair out for her with the other, and she remembered her impulse from last night, to do something about the nervous tension she'd felt in him. She decided she didn't give a rodent's hind end, as her mother had used to say. If Apollo didn't like him, if Adama didn't like him, if no one in the universe liked him but her and Boxey and Starbuck, she didn't care. She did like him. And it was time she did something for herself.

So she smiled up at him and took his arm as they walked to the turbolift. Even Boxey hanging on his other arm didn't spoil her mood. They were seated right away, and near a window; going to dinner with a squadron leader had its perks. Starbuck had always preferred the Rising Star, where the waiters found him "very pre-war" (whatever the hell that meant) and he got good service; in the O Club he was just another lieutenant. Eating here with her father (best service possible) or brother (damned good service) wasn't very, well, exciting. But she'd never had a meal in the O Club like this one.

Boxey, she noticed half-way through the meal, was being very well-behaved. Somewhat guiltily, she realized she'd been ignoring him; his behavior was a clue, to those who knew him, and she was his aunt, after all, that he was worried. After all, he was only a very little boy, stuck in a mess that wasn't his fault (for a change) and scared about things. She might have decided to do something for herself, but she couldn't really do it at Boxey's expense. So she asked him about his vid series.

He perked up and told her all about the latest developments in the ongoing saga of the much-chastised prophet Darius. She refrained from bringing Darius's religous leanings; after all, Boxey was seeing it as an adventure story. Then he asked her if she'd talked to Apollo, and she told him she had, which was true. Red reported three times a day. Apollo hadn't thought to leave a message for his son, but Athena wasn't his sister for nothing; she made up one that sounded pretty authentic, if she said so herself. She promised to give him a message from Boxey next time they spoke.

"You know," Bojay put in, "you can call the barracks and talk to Starbuck any time you want. He'll be there, after all, except on first shift."

"Can I really? Dad always said not to bother him at work." Boxey looked happier.

"Sure," Bojay said. "He's not 'at work'. He's just stuck in the barracks. And there's a ring-down if someone else calls. You go ahead and call him if you want. He'd like it."

Boxey sighed contentedly. "Okay. I will." Then he looked up and said, "Aunt 'Theni, is Dad a catamite?"

"What?" she demanded.

"Nobody will tell me what it means," he complained.

"Where did you hear it?"

"Sheba said it. Yesterday."

"That..." Athena bit off her own choice phrase, not wanting to have to explain it to a seven-yahren-old boy.

"What's it mean?" Boxey begged.

"It's a very impolite word for a young man who has an older boyfriend," she said finally.

"Dad's older than Pop," Boxey leapt on the flaw.

"Yes, he is," she said. "Sheba's not even accurate in her insults."

"But—"

"I know what you're going to say, and you know better," she said. "You know perfectly well there are some words that mean things which aren't bad, or maybe not very bad, and yet your dad would tan your butt for saying those words."

"I know," he admitted.

"So if you use that word and get smacked for it, whose fault will it be?"

"Mine."

"Right." She grinned at him. "Somebody will smack Sheba one day."

"Somebody did, sorta," he said and gazed adoringly at Bojay, who looked embarrassed.

"See?" Athena said, and she smiled at the pilot, too, though she hoped not quite the same way.

They walked back to Apollo's together, and Boxey asked if Bojay was coming in before Athena could. She seconded it. Of course, Boxey was staying up late: it was seventhday, after all, no instruction for him in the morning. Fortunately, when she'd approached Omega about it the day Apollo had gotten sent off, he'd been more than amenable to her getting a day off for "family emergency". She'd hesitated to ask for the whole secton; she didn't want to hand Adama extra ammunition, but one day wasn't much. So they could both sleep late, not that she thought Boxey would. But he could get up and watch the vid, which Apollo had had the sense to install in Boxey's room, and not bother her.

So the three of them played Trango and ate ice cream until Boxey was yawning. Then Athena put him to bed, and she and Bojay were drafted into telling him a story. Which would have worked if they'd known any of the same ones. Bojay, it turned out, was a Piscon, as well as a Diwest, and that meant they didn't even have common children's stories. Although she thought that a bit odd, it was more important that they find a story to tell than figure out whose childhood was the weirder. They finally settled on a highly sanitized version of Kronos at the Cosmora Archipelago, which they knew from the Academy. Bojay's bits were bloodier than hers; she had to admit Boxey seemed more fascinated than appalled. Boys, she thought; I suppose Boj knows what works. She was glad it was dim in the room; she was fairly sure she blushed when she tried out the nickname, even in her mind.

Once they'd left Boxey's room, she rather quickly asked Bojay if he'd like to stay for a while longer, maybe have a drink.

"I'd like to," he said. "I don't have anywhere else to be." He paused. "I don't actually need a drink, though. Kava would be good," he added.

"Okay," she said. "I'll make some." He followed her into the service room, leaning up against the counter while she put the kava on. "I enjoyed tonight," she said. "And so did Boxey. Thank you."

"Any time," he said. "I mean that. With or without him."

She looked sideways at him. "I'll take you up on that," she promised.

"I hope so."

The tone in his voice was the last push she needed. "I don't say what I don't mean," she said, and took the step that closed the distance between them. She looked into his smoky hazel eyes and then leaned in and kissed him. She could feel his startlement, and then he responded, his hands warm on her face and then one of them sliding into her hair as he opened his mouth to her. She slid her own hands under his jacket, pulling him closer, feeling his desire. When they finally had to breathe, she stayed close, leaning against him, feeling his arms wrapping her in an embrace she wanted to last. She kissed his throat, bared by the open collar of his shirt, and heard him sigh under her lips. "Stay," she said.

"Goddess, Athena," he said, softly, hungrily; she kissed his throat again. "Boxey—"

"Boxey," she said, "knows about grown-ups spending the night. And Apollo even gave me permission. Besides, you'll be up before Boxey. Don't you have to be at the barracks by eight?"

"Damnit, yes," he said, catching hold of her chin and raising her face for another long kiss. "I don't," he added, finally, "actually want any kava."

"Good," she said, reaching out blindly to switch the brewer off.

Chapter Text

Apollo sat on his cot and looked out the window at the sunset. It was a vivid one, gold and scarlet and purple, but he wasn't impressed. That wasn't the sunset's fault; it was doing its best, and every now and then Apollo heard Fenrir and Toomy making appreciative remarks, but he wasn't in the mood for sunsets.

When he'd called the Galactica for his last report, he'd gotten someone on second watch who hadn't had anything much to say. He'd comforted himself that if Starbuck, or Boxey, had gotten in major trouble his father would have made sure he heard about it, but the fact was he was hungry for their voices. He honestly couldn't comprehend how Adama had ever spent sectares at a time away from Ila and their children. He spent some time wondering if the separations had caused his father to be distant or if the distance had made the separations unremarkable, but that particular version of the avian-and-egg game hadn't been able to distract him for very long.

He hoped everything was going fine. He was less worried about Boxey than Starbuck. His betrothed would get between Boxey and as much trouble as he could, and Boxey already relied on Starbuck. Plus, Athena would be there, and his little sister was nobody to mess with, strange as that sometimes seemed to him. But he was worried about his father, what he might throw at Starbuck to try and discourage him, change his mind... admit it: 'scare him off' is what you're thinking.

Starbuck didn't scare easily, and he was stubborn. More, if Apollo believed anything he believed the truth of their last time together, Starbuck's entire being, body and soul, shining with heart-catching love. And all for him... But Adama was stubborn, too, and he'd already proved himself unscrupulous. And there was no doubt at all who had the high ground and the big guns, and at least thought God was on his side.

Hang in there, love, he thought. Just a few more days.

A few more excruciating days...

The second day on the planet had been as boring as the first. Apollo had tried, he really had, to recapture his old enthusiasm at exploring a new planet, but his heart just wasn't in it. He did his work, no problem there, and he did what he was ostensibly there for: got to know his squadron.

He could shorthand all eleven of them now, two adjectives apiece and not the ones he'd have chosen before: steady, quiet Fenrir; quirky, reckless Feist; sober, worried Harker; pious, intense Colby; loyal, skewed Wotan; acerbic, fierce Freya; chatty, artistic Toomy ... even Megeara had gotten new adjectives, as losing the responsibility of being section leader had freed her into kooky as well as competent. One thing he had to admit, having several days to get used to flying with someone besides Starbuck on his wing was going to be useful. Megeara was a good pilot—she wouldn't have been in Blue otherwise—but he was so used to Starbuck it was as if they could read each other's minds when they were in their Vipers. It wasn't just that he didn't know her; she didn't know him, and he had to remember that.

But it was working out. He figured that starting tomorrow, he'd mix the sections a bit, make sure he got a chance to fly with every pair. You could tell a lot from a pilot's service records, but there was lot more you couldn't tell till you'd seen him fly. Of course, you didn't know the bottom line till you'd been in combat with him. Apollo hoped that day would never come again, but he knew the difference between hope and probability. Until it did, he'd have to learn as much as he could.

And they about him, of course.

But that was routine, almost. Flying escort as the techs traveled, flying patrol while they worked... Useless patrols, there wasn't anything here to patrol against, but if nothing else it was hours. And Apollo knew you could learn a lot about people by listening them chatter on second channel during long, boring patrols... Gods knew, it was during those long hours he had seen the person behind the mask Starbuck wore the rest of the time.

And that was, of course, why he couldn't make himself enjoy this planet, its long beaches where the techs were preparing to bring one of the Fleet's tankers to harvest tons of seafood; its lovely rivers, where the other tankers would eventually fill up with fresh water; its forests and meadows and mountains... It was a beautiful, unspoiled planet and he couldn't have cared less, because Starbuck wasn't there to share it with.

Not, he had to admit, that Starbuck would actually appreciate it. His betrothed was an urban boy; lights and crowds and noise were his preferred relaxants, though he'd make do with only two of them if he had to. He'd spent some summers on farms as free labor and it was possible that that had poisoned him against rural areas, but it was more probable that he just didn't like Nature. It was true enough that the only vacation spots he'd really enjoyed were beach resorts... except, Apollo remembered with a rush of emotion that weakened his knees, Naiacap in the winter. Empty, unpopulated, nothing-to-do out-of-season Naiacap, because it was just us.

Apollo lay back on the cot and pictured himself and Starbuck walking along this particular stretch of beach, wind whipping that tawny hair and the water surging up to wash bare feet clean of sand... He fell asleep hoping to dream about it.

 


Boomer was in a mood he knew too well. His grandmother had said, "The boy's got a devil in him" when she spotted the glint in his eye that he'd seen in the mirror when he got dressed that morning. He didn't care. He was pissed off, and it had been building for several days, culminating last night when he'd stood in the shuttle bay and watched Melpemone and Cassiopeia head off to the Rising Star to use the reservation and show ducats he had laid out his hard-earned cubits for. And maybe it would cheer Cassie up but quite frankly Boomer didn't care if she cheered up or not.

She wasn't who he'd bought those ducats and that meal to put into a good mood.

Not that her good mood, Melpemone's that was, would have done him any good, even letting himself be convinced that as Strike Captain he wasn't in Blue, not with him having to be back in the barracks by midnight anway. So he was pissed anyway, let alone the whole dinner and show fiasco.

Thus, when he walked into the ready room that morning and saw Starbuck perched casually on the edge of the desk, talking to Jolly and flipping a cubit absently off the desk and catching it while he did, Boomer felt the mood take over. "Good morning, gentlemen," he said, "I trust you both slept well?"

"Yep," Starbuck said. "Well, well enough."

"As much money as you won yesterday," Jolly said, "you should have slept like a baby. A rich baby."

"Pickets out?"

"Brie and Karlis," Jolly nodded.

"Good... Starbuck?"

The blond looked up at him. "Yeah?"

"Come to the morning meeting with me."

"Have you lost your mind?"

"Maybe," Boomer nodded. "But Jolly came the last two days, so it's your turn."

"Felgarcarb. I knew I shouldn't have accepted that section leader's position. Should have let Meath have it."

"Too late now," Boomer said jovially.

"Boomer, the commander is not going to be happy to see me there."

"Too bad for him—"

Jolly muttered, "For him?"

Boomer ignored him and finished, "What are you going to do, Bucko, avoid him for the rest of your life?"

"I was giving serious consideration to that idea, yes. Boomer, he wasn't at all happy the last time he saw me. You want the whole Wing yanked into sub-alert one? That's his next move, you know."

"Sub-alert one wouldn't add anything to your pain—"

"Hah," Starbuck cried. "It would probably get me killed."

"Don't be so paranoid," Boomer dismissed the idea. "Sub-alert one is so clearly over the top there might be a mutiny, but nobody could blame you."

"Easy for you to say," Starbuck challenged.

"Yes, it is. Come on, Bucko. You know you're going to run into him sooner or later."

"And what's wrong with later? Much, much later?"

"Apollo did it."

"Low blow," Starbuck said. "Besides, Apollo was trained for that."

"Then think of this as OJT. You want to be a squadron leader someday, don't you?"

"No."

"I thought so," Boomer pretended he'd heard 'yes'. "So come on. He won't bite."

"You."

"Come on," Jolly put in, grinning at the picture in his head, "if he does, I'm sure Tigh and Omega will pull him off you."

Starbuck sighed in resignation and pushed himself off the desk. "Okay, okay. But I still say this is a really, really bad idea."

"And if you're right, you can say 'I told you so'," Boomer promised him.

"Why don't I think that'll comfort me much?"

Boomer grinned at him. "Mind the store, Jolly," he said. "We'll return with our shields or on them."

But after all that angst, the meeting actually was very low key. Adama did, in fact, glare at Starbuck—if looks could kill, etc.—but he didn't say anything that acknowledged the blond lieutenant's presence. Athena wasn't there, probably a disappointment to Starbuck as her stand-in didn't seem to know where to look. Reese and the Council rep, somebody's secretary, were both grinning like daggits though neither spoke, while the infantry lieutenant was clearly pretending like he was somewhere else. Tigh's dark eyes rested on Starbuck with clear warning when the pilots came in, then flicked to Adama with a much more indecipherable message; he didn't say anything about it but he was clearly ready for trouble. Only Omega was his normal self, but Boomer remembered how distracted he'd been (well, for him) just four days ago so he got points for recovery but wasn't superhuman.

Which was too bad; it would have been nice to think somebody was unaffected by this nonsense.

It wasn't until the meeting was nearly over that Boomer's devil moved him again, this time to speech. Adama had looked around the table, somehow not looking at Starbuck, and asked his customary, "Is there anything else, gentlemen?"

And Boomer said, "Well, yes, sir; I do have a question."

Adama raised one of those white eyebrows. "Yes, Captain?" he invited.

"Does the Commander have any feel for how much longer the Wing will be in alert three status?" Boomer asked, not mentioning Blue's alert-two. That one might be justifiable, though he doubted it.

"Why do you ask, Captain?"

"Because," Boomer said carefully—even his devil was cautious, "there seems to be no immediately apparent threat to justify the alert, and, that being the case, morale is suffering. The Wing is already in a bit of turmoil and any stress which isn't necessary should, I think, be removed."

"Hmmm," Adama said, staring at him.

Out of the corner of his eye Boomer could see Starbuck keeping very still. He could feel the tension radiating off the other pilot, though.

"I tend to agree with the Captain," Tigh put in unexpectedly. "A sub-alert three would be sufficient, I think, at this point in time."

Adama looked a bit surprised, then thoughtful. "You may be right, Colonel. Captain, perhaps you'll wait after the meeting and we can discuss this?"

'We' turned out to be Adama and Tigh, closeted in Adama's office with Boomer kicking his heels in the briefing room. He didn't mind it; his devil had bolted under Adama's Hmmm and he was now wondering why he'd brought it up. Or, more accurately, where he'd found the nerve.

He amused himself by watching Starbuck try to get off the bridge. Damn, who'd have thought the man had so many friends up here? He was trying to flee before Adama came out, but every third step had some comms or scanner tech getting in his way and chatting. It was a good thing that Apollo wasn't here to see it, Boomer reflected, being aware that his friend had a jealous streak. It occurred to him suddenly that Apollo's father must be aware of that, too... was this whole thing a plot to keep Starbuck penned up until Apollo could get back?

He examined that thought for a minute and then dismissed it. Even if you thought Adama figured Starbuck would succumb to someone in Blue if they'd been on-world (and that was another few centons' worth of entertainment: who in Blue?), it would have been safer to leave him saddled with Boxey, investigative reporter's likewise find-out-and-tell child. Starbuck wouldn't have been able to make a move Apollo wouldn't have heard all about.

No, Adama seemed more intent on intimidating Starbuck than on safeguarding Apollo's investment. Probably a good thing, Boomer had to admit; he loved Starbuck dearly, though in a purely fraternal way, but that didn't blind him to the blond's penchant for falling into bed with any woman who would... He sighed. That was unfair. Not any woman. But damned near.

He really hoped Apollo wasn't overestimating his ability to put up with Starbuck's, well, Starbuckness. Apollo's jealousy might be appeased by a wedding ring, but he, Boomer, doubted it. On the other hand, Apollo had to know what Starbuck was like; there couldn't be any surprises there. Boomer felt sort of like someone seeing two hovercars heading straight for each other: powerless to stop the crash, he was actually fascinated by the spectacle. Not to mention morbidly curious.

It was just a damned shame that Apollo was giving up so much. Though, Boomer had to admit, he certainly seemed to be in the seventh heaven... possibly the eighth or ninth, in fact. Ah, well... he was a grown man. They both were. Boomer's only job was to be as supportive of them both as he could. And since he loved them both, he figured he could manage that, as long as when the smash-up came, they didn't try to make him take sides.

Starbuck managed to get off the bridge at last. Boomer sighed and looked at his wristchrono and then wondered why. It wasn't like anything was going to happen. And it wasn't like there weren't three squadrons on hand to handle it, if something did. A few more centons passed, and then Tigh came out of the office. Boomer straightened.

"Well, Captain," the colonel said, "I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that the commander has agreed that a full alert-three isn't necessary. As of now, the Wing as a whole is in sub-alert three, restricted to the Galactica. Blue Squadron stands down to sub-two."

"Thank you, sir," Boomer said heartfeltly. It wasn't perfect, but it was a lot better than nothing. And it would certainly ease the strain on Starbuck; he wouldn't have to run around trying to find baby-sitters for Boxey. The rest of Blue might be annoyed at having to be in by midnight, like fairy-tale princesses, but that would probably end when Red came back and the excuse vanished.

"Don't mention it," Tigh said. He seemed on the verge of saying something else, but reconsidered and went to his bridge station with a nod and a "That's all, Captain" instead.

Boomer walked back to the Wing whistling, but walked into a scene that killed the music. Sheba—Frack, Boomer thought briefly, she's off duty; why does she have to be here?—was facing off with Giles, who looked furious; Starbuck was coming to his feet, looking more furious; half of Silver Spar and three of Bronze Spar were ranged behind Sheba and everybody else in the room looked on Giles's side, and that included, remarkably, Bojay. Half a centon earlier and Boomer could have heard what Giles was responding to, but all he heard was the fiery ensign.

"—forget the way you were bitching about not being able to get Apollo to respond to your attempts to get him in bed, maybe I could put some stock in this felgarcarb!"

"You watch your mouth, Ensign," she snarled.

"Why don't you just take it somewhere where it's wanted, Sheba?" Starbuck demanded, grabbing Giles's shoulder.

"Assuming you can find somewhere," Giles added, shaking off Starbuck's hand. "No one here wants to hear it, that's for damned sure."

"Starbuck and his dagget," she sneered. "Or is that it?"

Giles surged forward; fortunately Starbuck was already grabbing him again.

"Watch it, Ensign," Sheba said again.

"Sheba," Bojay's voice cut in.

The room quieted abruptly. Boomer had finally found his voice, but even he fell silent at the menace in the former Pegasus pilot's tone. Sheba turned on her heel, dismissing Giles and Starbuck, to face her former wingman. Boomer was further shocked by the hate on her face.

"You want to fight, take on someone in your own weight class," Bojay invited her.

"That would be you, would it?" she sneered. "Not frackin' hardly."

"I'm a lieutenant; I'm a squadron leader. You can't have me up for insubordination. And it's me you were looking for, wasn't it?"

"Very much past tense," she spat. "I heard about you crawling in after your night sucking up to the Commander's daughter—eye to the main chance, that's always been you."

Bojay paled slightly, but his voice was steady enough. "Like you and the Commander's son?"

That shot went home, definitely. Boomer opened his mouth to stop this, now, but he wasn't fast enough.

"My father is a Commander, too, remember? Unlike yours—if Athena knew what she'd gotten involved with, she'd dump you faster than she did Starbuck."

It was exactly like watching that hovercar crash he'd been thinking about earlier... Boomer literally couldn't make a sound.

"You always did go for the particle weapons before you needed to. Just like your father."

"And you always overreach yourself. Just like yours," Sheba sneered. "Until you get slapped down."

"You're not enough to do it."

"You want to bet, you treacherous bastard?"

"Enough!" Boomer finally got it said.

"Ten-shun!" Cree had the wit to yell. The room fell still as everyone froze.

Boomer raked the room with his eyes, then turned. "Lieutenant Bojay, my office. Now."

"Yes, sir," Bojay said, saluted, turned crisply, and left.

"Lieutenant Sheba," Boomer wiped the smile off her face with as cold a tone as he could muster, "the squadron leaders' office."

She thought about saying something.

He didn't let her. "Now."

"Yes, sir," she said, sullenly, and left.

"Lieutenant Starbuck—" Boomer could hear Sheba's steps slow down. Deliberately, he waited till she was out of earshot, the office door closing behind her. "I believe you and your wingman are scheduled for picket duty?"

"Yes, sir," Starbuck said, not even protesting that they weren't due out for another three centares. Giles started to speak, but Starbuck tugged his arm imperatively. "Come on, Giles. On our way, sir."

"Good. And, lieutenant?"

Starbuck looked back at him.

"We'll talk later."

"Yes, sir."

Boomer looked around the room again, this time trying to decide who there could—would—give him a straight story. No Blues, that was obvious, and no Silver Spars—three of whom, he noticed, had managed to slip away. One glance was enough to convince him Green was partisan, as well. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised.

Frack. He'd like to pretend he hadn't seen that but when squadron leaders started eviscerating each other in the ready room, things had gone beyond bad morale. He repressed a sigh.

Then he spotted the perfect person: his own wingman, too new to Blue to care yet. He raked the room one more time, letting his displeasure show, then said, "All right, gentlemen, ladies: I'm sure you'll all be glad to hear the alert status has been changed. We're now in sub-alert three: no one leaves the Galactica."

A subdued sigh of relief rustled through the room.

"So there's no need for anybody but Blue Squadron to be here."

That was taken for the order it was. The room cleared, leaving him with the other six. "Sergeant Ferris," he said mildly, "walk with me."

"Yes, sir," Ferris said and accompanied him into the corridor.

They walked in silence for a few centons. Then Boomer sighed heavily and leaned up against the wall in the middle of a long stretch of empty hallway. "All right, Ferris," he said, "What the frack just happened?"

Ferris leaned against the wall next to him. They had been together since he got Red Squadron, almost a yahren now. The sergeant was a decade older, a quiet and reliable man who'd lost a wife and twin sons, cadets, in the Destruction. In a lot of ways he reminded Boomer of his own brother. He hadn't yet seen Ferris lose his composure, even in the heat of battle.

Now he shrugged and asked, "When exactly did you get there?"

Boomer laughed shortly. "Just in time to hear Giles tell Sheba she was a failed seductress."

"Ah."

"I wish I'd spoken then."

Ferris shrugged. "Wouldn't have stopped it, sir. Only postponed it. Better this way—unless you want to put the lieutenants in a Triad court, no holds barred, and sell ducats as a fundraiser."

Boomer grinned. Ferris was quiet but he was downright wicked, too, a quality that appealed to the Leonid's own slightly warped sense of the ridiculous. Then he sobered. "Sheba and Starbuck I can understand. Giles I can factor in easily enough. But I thought Bojay was on her side."

"She hasn't got a side, sir," Ferris corrected him gently. "She's got a following. And Lt. Bojay got moved out of that following when he got promoted. You know that."

It was true. There had been several other good candidates for Green Leader when the position had opened up four sectares ago. Apollo's opinion had been asked for by Tigh; everyone knew that, him being the Strike Captain, his opinion would be accepted, unless it was truly weird. Apollo had drawn up a list of the probables and then had asked Boomer's opinion; Boomer didn't know if any of the others had been consulted and he hadn't asked, though he might now, since he'd have to be doing this eventually. He'd looked at Apollo's list and then, after some consideration, had ventured to say, "If it was me, I think I'd give it to Bojay."

"Bojay?" Apollo's green eyes had widened with surprise, then narrowed as he thought about it. "You think that will appease him?"

"I think," Boomer had said cautiously, "that it will give him more to think about than following Sheba's lead."

"And if he interprets it as a reward for old behavior instead of an incentive for new?"

Boomer had shrugged. "That's why it's your call," he'd said, words that might come back to haunt him.

But apparently it had worked, if perhaps too well. Now that he thought about it, Bojay had been growing somewhat easier to work with over time, on those one days a shift cycle his Green overlapped with Red. Now he sighed and shook his head. "I know. But I didn't anticipate this much of a falling out."

Ferris shrugged. "It's been building to a break, but the Apollo-Starbuck nuptials brought it to a head. Very fast, very nasty... you were with Melpemone last night, sir?"

Boomer shrugged. "Part of it."

"Then you need a little background, I expect."

"I don't really want to know," Boomer lied. He was actually dying to know if Bojay had really spent the night with Athena, not to mention why Sheba had been looking for him. But gossip was beneath the Strike Captain... wasn't it?

"You need to understand the fight, sir," Ferris said with a sideways glance. "And anyway, most of it's public knowledge, or will be once all those pilots start talking. It is public knowledge that Lt. Bojay took Lt. Athena to the O Club last night, what with people not being able to go to the Star and all. And that he came in this morning in the same clothes he had on yesterday."

"Please tell me he wasn't late."

"He wasn't. He did look like he'd enjoyed his day off."

"Good for him..." Boomer shook his head sharply. "I don't want to get in the middle of that," he added, knowing how deeply Apollo distrusted most of the Pegasus crew. Dating Sheba had been a cold-blooded attempt on his part to convert them to the Galactican way, an attempt he apparently hadn't been able to follow through on... Which brought them back around to, "So, who started it? This morning's incident, I mean?"

Ferris shrugged. "Lt. Sheba came by twice yesterday looking for Lt. Bojay. She came back this morning, before first shift, and was mightily annoyed he wasn't in. That's when someone helpful told her about the O Club. She went away mad and came back madder shortly after Lt. Starbuck got back from the morning meeting. She planted herself in the middle of the room and asked, ostensibly addressing the question to one of her squadronmates, if all Capricans were rampantly immoral or if it was just the Galactica's officers."

Boomer whistled.

"Some exception was taken to the question, but Lt. Starbuck merely asked if anybody had heard anything. Lt. Sheba said she'd be happy to repeat the question, but she excused him from knowing any better, given his background; of course he was a slut and she applauded his landing on his feet. That's when Ens. Giles said what he did, and it went from there as you know."

"So the first thing Bojay said was to pull her off Giles?"

"Yep," Ferris nodded. "She'd have had him on charges in a centon; good thing he's not still a sergeant or she'd really have lost it."

"I've noticed that about the Pegasus bunch," Boomer said. Even before the Destruction, the Galactica's Strike Wing hadn't emphasized the officer/enlisted pilot rift; Apollo had pretty much felt that an Academy education didn't make the pilot anything but Academy-educated. They'd never completely ignored it, but on the Wing corporals and sergeants slid into the working hierarchy over ensigns. And now, well, now it was all pretty tangled, and going to get more so the longer they stayed out. Boomer's own feeling was that they should just promote anybody with "flight" in his rank to lieutenant and have done with it; he might even bring it up in a few sectares...

But today's problem had to be handled today.

And barring Divine Intervention, he was the one who had to handle it.

He sighed. As far as he was concerned, Sheba could cool her heels in the squadron leaders' office all day, but it sounded like Bojay was more-or-less innocent. It wouldn't be fair to make him wait too long. But he had someone else to talk to first. "Okay, Ferris, you'd better get back to the Wing. I'll be on the bridge for the next while. If anybody asks."

Ferris nodded, straightened up, and walked away. Boomer stayed put a few centons more, getting his thoughts in order, and then headed in the opposite direction. He found himself wishing, almost furtively, that Apollo was around but he knew he couldn't go running to the other man every time something difficult cropped up. For better or worse, he was the Strike Captain now, and he'd have to get used to it.

"Captain?" Colonel Tigh straightened up from looking over the bridge next to his second-string ICOB, Charis. "Is there a problem?"

"There is, sir," Boomer nodded. "If we could talk? Privately?"

"Of course," Tigh motioned him towards the briefing room. Charis's 'Colonel's off the bridge' was cut off by the door closing. "What's the problem?"

"I said at the morning meeting the Wing was in turmoil and morale was suffering," Boomer went straight to the point. "I was underestimating. I walked in on one of my squadron leaders trying to instigate a fight, which she got. Thanks to the alert, there were more than four squadrons' worth of pilots there for the spectacle of two squadron leaders trying to rip each other's throats out. Fortunately," he added, "only metaphorically. But it's bad."

"Hmmm," Tigh said. "Yes. Which squadron leaders?"

Boomer had said "she" deliberately; there were only two women leaders, Sheba and Dietra, and if the former Atlantia shuttle pilot had been pushed to that extreme, things would have been so bad Tigh wouldn't have had to be told about it. Blood would probably have been running in the corridors. But he didn't want the colonel settling this, or at least mostly didn't. "It didn't get past nasty words, sir," he said. "I'd like to resolve it within the Wing. If I can," he added honestly.

"All right," Tigh said. "What do you want from me, then?"

"Sir," Boomer took the aurochs by the horns. "The commander's behavior in the past few days is a direct cause of this. He's made the atmosphere such that anyone who has an axe to grind thinks he's free to do so."

"Captain—"

Boomer kept on. "I don't dispute his right to any feelings about this he wants to have, on a personal level. I don't even dispute his right to try and break them up. But he's messing with the Wing's morale. It's petty, it's vindictive, and it's destructive. And I think he needs to stop."

Tigh waited a centon, then said, mildly, "I happen to agree with you. But it's not an easy thing to say to him."

"No," Boomer acknowledged. "I can see that. But he backed part of the way down already—" He broke off as Tigh shook his head. "No?"

"No. He was already somewhat regretting confining Blue Squadron to barracks, but only because, and you didn't hear this, he's hoping that Starbuck will be unfaithful to Apollo before he gets back. And opportunities for doing that are limited in the barracks."

Boomer was floored. Partly by the plan, and partly by the commander's lack of understanding: Starbuck could get some during a Command Inspection, had done so to Boomer's certain knowledge. Being confined to barracks wouldn't stop him. Might in fact have helped him, given him a group of otherwise unoccupied potential partners. And that was assuming that the blond did in fact stay where he was supposed to, never a safe assumption.

"So," Tigh continued, "you see that this morning was a reversal of a sudden decision he made yesterday, one I confess I didn't know the reason for. It wasn't an admission that he shouldn't have started. I'm afraid you're stuck with the sub-alert three status for the time being. He will certainly not revoke it so soon after declaring it."

Boomer shook his head.

"I'll bring up the morale problem with him," Tigh said, "and try to make him see that he needs to keep his private life out of his official persona. I hope I'll have some success."

"I do, too," said Boomer. "Things are pretty tense."

Tigh nodded. "Are you sure you don't want me to speak to the squadron leaders involved?"

"Yes," Boomer nodded. "I'd like to keep this as low-key as possible."

"All right," Tigh said. "Hopefully, this will resolve itself in a few days."

"Fourthday at nine," Boomer said. "I'm counting the centares." Halfway to the door, he paused. "I won't answer for the consequences if something else happens to interfere. You know, Blue Squadron sent out on a long patrol, Red Squadron Leader detailed to an agroship, that sort of thing."

"You have to answer for them," Tigh smiled grimly. "You're the Strike Captain."

"Don't remind me, sir," Boomer said. "But thank you." He headed back down toward the Wing offices, mulling over the revelation that Adama was not just opposed to the marriage, he was opposed to it. Frack, those two are really up against it. Briefly he wondered how he'd have held up if Sarai's father had been that big a bastard, and had had that kind of power over them both. He had to admit that he honestly didn't know. No wonder it had taken his friends so long to make this move; no wonder they'd both tried to find some other way to live. He walked down the corridor resolved to cut Starbuck as much slack as he could over the next few days.

When he walked into the ready room, the eight pilots there eyed him as if wondering should they spring to attention. He waved them down and asked, "Sheba and Bojay still here?"

Jolly nodded. "Not a peep out of either one of them."

"Good," Boomer said. "That's what I like."

"Boomer," Brie said tentatively, "it really was all her."

"I know," he said. He looked around. "When did Bojay get so popular, anyway?"

"It's more she's not," Cree said. "You know, if she hates him he can't be that bad."

"Whatever," Boomer said. "Don't poison my mind, now." He headed for his office amid chuckles.

When he went into the office, Bojay, who'd been sitting in the other chair, did stand up. "Sit down," Boomer said, doing so himself. Bojay did, a little tentatively, running his right hand over his ear as he did. He looked composed, but Boomer thought his eyes were a bit wary. "I appreciate your pulling Sheba off of Giles," Boomer opened up with.

"She was in a mood," Bojay said, relaxing, by which Boomer could tell he hadn't been before. "I've seen it before. She wanted blood. Giles would have given her some, for real."

"I could see that. So, like I said, thanks. On the other hand, I really don't need to have squadron leaders going at each other like that. Try not to do it again, could you?"

Bojay blinked in what seemed to be genuine surprise.

"You probably didn't hear," Boomer added, "but we're off alert. Just restricted to the Galactica. So, if you're cooled off?"

"Yes," Bojay nodded.

"Good. Then you don't have to stick around. You're back this afternoon."

Bojay hesitated.

"Is there something you wanted to tell me?" Boomer asked, as invitingly as he could manage, considering he didn't really want to hear anything, particularly anything about Athena. Not now.

"No," Bojay decided and stood up.

Thank God. "Okay, then." Boomer watched him leave. That had been easy. Sheba was going to be hard.

He sat in his office a few centons, looking at the messages Bojay had conscientiously taken for him, wondering how long he could let Sheba sit before suffering himself over it, and then heaved a mighty sigh and laid his forehead on the desk. God, he thought, whatever I did, I'm sorry for it. Then he stood up and went into the squadron leaders' office next door.

Sheba was in there alone, a fact he'd gleaned already from counting the people in the ready room. He didn't know who had decided she could answer the comm if it rang, or why they'd decided it, and he didn't want to know. He could pretend they were giving the squadron leader her privacy this way, and didn't have to get into them ostracizing her or her further inflaming the situation. He opened the door and went in. Sheba was slouched behind one of the desks, staring sullenly at the ceiling. He gave her a centon, then said, "Lieutenant?"

She looked at him, apparently accurately gauged his mood, and got to her feet. "Sir," she acknowledged his existence.

At that moment, Boomer was tempted to break her, but he restrained himself. And hoped it was the right thing to do. He sat down behind the other desk; she started to sit, but he froze her with a good imitation of Tigh's 'did I say you could move?' stare. He waited until she came to attention, and then said, "At ease, Lieutenant. Do I need to say how little I enjoyed the show you were putting on?"

She flushed. "I wasn't the only one; that ensign was way out of line."

He overlooked her pretending she didn't know Giles's name, but said, "You provoked it."

"He was still insubordinate," she insisted. "I want him disciplined. Sir."

She picked a form off the desk she'd been sitting at and handed it to him. It was a formal charge of insubordination.

That was how she wanted to play it. Okay, Boomer could play hardball. Maybe he'd never been on the Pegasus, but their very own Iron Colonel gave pride of place to no man, and Boomer had been to many a lesson. "He will be," he said. "And he's not the only one. Who was out of line."

She flushed again as he tossed her words back at her. She started to speak; he didn't let her.

"I concede you have a personal grievance against Lieutenant Apollo. But may I remind you that you swore you could work with him, despite that? I will not tolerate a display like that when he returns. Period. And I won't tolerate you displacing that anger onto third parties, either. I'm not finished talking, Lieutenant. In future, I expect that you will comport yourself as behooves an officer of the Colonial Warriors. Any further conduct unbecoming an officer will be grounds for formal disciplinary action, and a formal note to that effect will be placed in your file. If you can't interact with your fellow officers in a professional manner when you and they are off duty, I suggest you avoid them. And if you can't do it on duty, I suggest you look into a transfer into another branch of service. Am I clear?"

Sheba was now pale with anger. "You are," she spat at him.

"Good."

"Did you tell Bojay the same thing?"

"What happened to Lt. Bojay is not your business, Lieutenant; that is between him and me. You can rest assured that all the parties involved in this sorry business have been or will be dealt with properly. By me or the colonel, as necessary. Do you have anything else to say?"

She probably did, but she also had the sense not to. She just shook her head.

"The alert status has been downgraded to sub-three, restricted to the battlestar. You're dismissed, and I suggest you go somewhere and think carefully about your future."

She had wit enough to salute him before flinging herself out of the office.

Boomer sat for a few centons more and then went back into his own office. After a bit, Jolly stuck his head in. "What did you want to do about Starbuck and Giles?" he asked.

Boomer took a moment to remember what he was talking about. "Oh. Leave 'em out till noon," he said, "then put Rafe and Cree out. And send Giles in to see me when they come in."

"Sure thing," Jolly said. "Kind of rough on them, isn't it?"

"They'll survive. And it'll give Giles time to cool off, and Sheba, too. Plus it'll give me time to decide what to do about this."

"What?" Jolly looked at the form Boomer flipped across the desk. "Oh, for God's sake."

Boomer shrugged. "She has a point. And about forty witnesses."

"Boomer, she practically begged him to mouth off to her."

"I know. Ferris told me. And I heard the dagget comment. Unfortunately, I also heard her tell him to back off."

"Man, Boomer," Jolly said, shaking his head. "That's not right."

"I know. She set the rules. Next time she's a hair out of line, she's in front of Tigh. Don't worry," he took the complaint sheet back. "I won't do anything serious to him. Lords of Kobol know he was provoked. But I want a quiet morning. What's left of it."

Jolly grinned wryly at him and said, "We'll hold your calls."

"Thank you." That was as heartfelt as Boomer could make it.

After Jolly shut the door, Boomer spent a centare drafting the formal complaint for Sheba's record and a very carefully worded reprimand to go into Giles's record. Then he looked over the schedules, reassuring himself that Silver Spar never overlapped with Red or Green and wondering about that one day overlap between those two squadrons, if in fact Bojay was sleeping with Athena. Not so oddly, he realized, the only man Apollo had ever been pleased to see date his sister had been Starbuck... Oh, don't think about that, Boomer, he said hastily to himself. Do not even let that thought speculate about the possibility of crossing your mind. He wrenched himself back to his squadron leader problem. He supposed, if it became necessary, he could swap Green and Orange's schedules; they were only a day off and Orange worked with Bronze on the other end.

Not that he intended to do that unless he had to. Damn, but Adama was playing hell with things. Boomer really wished he'd never started.

Chapter Text

Starbuck went directly to Apollo's quarters after his shift ended. Boomer had spent about ten centons talking to him, after talking to Giles, who'd finally calmed down enough that the news he'd been given a reprimand for trying to deck Sheba had only made him say, "Wish I'd connected; it would be worth the pay cut."

"I don't think that's the lesson you're supposed to carry away from this," Starbuck told him.

The shorter man had shrugged again. "Never did learn what I was supposed to."

Privately Starbuck wished Giles had connected, too, though for the ensign's sake he was glad he hadn't. Boomer had told Starbuck to keep a better eye on his wingman, Starbuck had rejoined that if Boomer hadn't dragged him to the stupid morning meeting he'd have been there, and Boomer had told him to go home.

So Starbuck had lost no time doing exactly that. He caught himself thinking the phrase 'Apollo's quarters' and corrected it to 'our quarters', but it wasn't a habit yet. He knew it might not be one for a time yet. He'd spent a dozen yahrens waiting for Apollo to come round to knowing where his best interests lay, and every yahren that passed had made it harder to believe he ever would. Especially after he married. That had pretty much nailed the coffin shut on it, and Starbuck had even toyed with the notion of marrying himself.

But then it had happened. Apollo had asked him the right question, and he'd meant it, and Starbuck had stopped fighting it and fallen, Apollo's gravity well yanking him into orbit around the other man with the inevitability of natural law. His mind hadn't quite caught up to it yet, but the rest of him knew he was where he belonged. The words would get to be first nature soon enough. He'd only have to try hard to remember when he was around Boxey.

He shook his head as he got off the turbolift. That surprised him, how concerned he'd been the past few days about Boxey, for his own sake. Not like the time Apollo had been missing, when taking care of Boxey had been a sublimation, something Athena had let him do because she knew he'd go mad otherwise. This was worry about Boxey, not his father. This was, he guessed, parenting.

He'd have to make sure Lalage and Phyllia knew they weren't going to be needed now, and that he really appreciated that they'd volunteered. And he should thank Bojay, too, for Giles as well as Boxey. That had to have been expected, what Sheba had thrown at him... that bitch. Thank all the gods that Apollo hadn't made the mistake of Sealing with her. He'd meant to speak to Bojay that morning, but the meeting had gotten in the way, and then before he'd gotten to it, she'd shown up. And afterward he and Giles had spent nearly six centares flying picket. He'd spent much of that time listening to his wingman bitch, and though he'd agreed with every single word Giles had said he'd felt compelled to take him task at least a little. Apollo must be rubbing off on me, he thought ruefully.

Then when Boomer had told him, unnecessarily, to watch his step because Adama was pissed off and added that Blue once again got ten centares out of barracks, Starbuck hadn't waited to find Bojay—he'd see the man again in the next day or so, after all, and maybe sooner than later if the gossip was right.

That brought him up short. Somebody should probably tell Athena what Sheba had said. And he couldn't think of another 'somebody' besides himself. Frack. Of course, it might not be true. You could certainly take one woman to dinner and end up spending the night with another one altogether. And Bojay hadn't confirmed it, though he hadn't denied it, either. Still... he sighed. He'd play it by ear when he saw Athena. He grinned. He could pump Boxey.

He keyed himself in and staggered under the impact of a small body hurling itself across the kava table.

"Pop! Pop! You're home!"

He hugged Boxey and ruffled his hair. "Hey, kiddo. Been behaving yourself for your aunt?"

"Yes," Boxey said. "Are you supposed to be here?"

"Yes," Athena echoed from her seat on the floor. "Are you?"

He swung Boxey back over the table to his side of the game. "We're back to almost normal," he said. "I'm free till midnight."

"Really?" Boxey asked.

"Really." Starbuck pulled off his jacket and unbuckled his holster, putting the latter on top of the wall unit and dropping the former on the arm of the couch. "And everybody else is back all the way to normal, well, confined to the Galactica but otherwise free. The other squadrons," he added, interpreting the glint in Athena's eyes. "All of Blue is on sub-two, not just me." He headed into the service room for an ale. "Want anything, 'Theni?"

"No, thank you," she said.

He took a good look at her when he came out and sat on the couch. She wasn't giving anything away. He supposed he'd have to ask her straight out.

Boxey had abandoned the game to climb up on the couch and snuggle up next to him. "Is Grandfather sorry?" he asked. "Is he not mad anymore?"

"Well, I saw him this morning and he didn't bite my head off," Starbuck said. "Things are better. Why? Did you miss me?"

"Yes," Boxey said. "I was going to call you later. Bojay said it would be okay."

"He was right; it would have been."

Athena swept the game pieces into their box. "So, you need me back here by half past eleven?"

He looked up from Boxey. "Yes, please," he said. "And all day tomorrow, again. Temple in the morning—"

"I'm not going," Boxey announced.

Starbuck got very still. Oh, frack, that will just tick Adama off worse. Plus, I don't know how Apollo feels about it. "Why not?" he said carefully.

"I'm going to be a heathen, like you and Bojay," Boxey said. "If the Church hates you and Dad, I hate them. And I'm not going."

"Bojay?" he said, distracted.

Athena put in, "Bojay is a Diwest. But he didn't bring this up to Boxey; it's his own idea."

"Yes," Boxey affirmed. "I'm not going."

"Look, Boxey, that's a really big decision. You need to talk to your dad about it before you make up your mind."

"Do you think Dad will still go, even though they hate him?"

"I don't know," Starbuck said honestly. "I am a heathen. I never understood the Church. But your dad's always been a believer, and the Lords of Light did save his life. I just don't know; that's why you have to talk to him."

"That didn't make you go."

Starbuck sighed. How to condense his sectares-long struggle with his disbelief into something a seven-yahren-old could comprehend? He dodged the question. "They let him get killed in the first place," he said. "And I never understood any of it. The point is, Boxey, you really have to talk to your dad. This is too big a decision for you to make on your own without doing that first."

"I don't want to go."

Gods. He did not want to get into a fight over this; not today. Not when his own heart wasn't in it; not when he didn't know what Apollo thought any more. "Okay, let's try compromise. I can get someone to come in for a couple of centares tomorrow and you can miss one day without it being a decision. When would they need to come, 'Theni?"

"Oh, don't worry about that," she said. "I can go to evening service. Might be better all the way around, anyway."

"Okay." He appreciated that, for Boxey's sake. "How's that, Boxey?"

"I don't have to go tomorrow?"

"No. But you have to talk to your dad before you two decide if it's permanent or not."

Boxey sighed and nodded. "Okay, Pop." He looked across the table. "Aunt 'Theni, why are you going when you don't hate Dad and Pop?"

"Because I'm not ready to quit the Church yet, Boxey," she said. "Not everyone there hates your fathers."

"Yet," Boxey said, smiling.

"Yes, imp," she said. "Not yet. And don't you go thinking you know more than you do."

He giggled.

"I'll be back, Starbuck," she said. "And this time I promise not to be so late."

"You were late?"

She grimaced. "I let Cassie drag me over to the Star and we missed that shuttle and then, well," she glanced at Boxey, "I needed to stop at her place. Poor Bojay had fallen asleep on the couch and I rather unceremoniously woke him up." She stood up. "I have some things I can take care of while you two bond. Will you be all right for dinner?"

Starbuck disengaged himself from Boxey. "We'll be fine. You just come by tonight so I'm not late. But I'll walk out with you; there's something I need to tell you." He didn't know whether she'd care that Sheba and Bojay had had such a vicious fight, but she did need to know that Sheba had accused Bojay of using her. Whether he told her anything else would depend on her reaction to that first bit of news. Though 'poor Bojay' sounded promising...

She raised one eyebrow over a pale blue gaze but said only, "Sure."

"Be right back, Boxey," Starbuck said. He followed her out into the hall.

"What is it?" she asked. "More idiocy from Father?"

"I almost wish," he said. "No, it's Sheba."

"Oh." Her voice was cold. "What does she want? Or is it what did she do? Claim Apollo did ask her to Seal with him?"

"At the moment, she's talking like she wouldn't have him giftwrapped on a silver platter. She probably would, but that's beside the point." He sighed. "No. She got worked up and came into the ready room and said some stuff."

"Some stuff? Starbuck, I'm not seven. I can take it. What 'stuff'?"

He shrugged. "She asked if all Capricans were rampantly immoral or just the Galactica's officers. Then," he brushed aside her attacks on him and Giles, "she said to Bojay, and I quote, 'I heard about you crawling in after your night sucking up to the Commander's daughter—eye to the main chance, that's always been you.'"

"Bitch," said Athena. "And how did she hear that?" She didn't sound particularly perturbed at the idea, or news, being out there, only at Sheba's phrasing. Though Starbuck wasn't sure that 'only' was the appropriate adverb.

Still, no reason to cause needless problems. "Not from him," he said quickly. "But you were in the O Club yesterday, and he didn't get back until this morning, so people kind of put two and two together."

"Is that it?" She didn't sound like she thought it was.

"No... Bojay asked about her and Apollo, and she said something about Cain being a Commander, too, unlike Bojay's father. I don't know what she meant, but what she said was, quoting again, 'if Athena knew what she'd gotten involved with, she'd dump you faster than she did Starbuck.' And that he needed to be slapped down... like his father, I think, though it was one of those fights where they knew what they meant so they didn't have to say it." He wasn't sure what the 'treacherous bastard' crack had meant, if it was for Bojay or his father. He thought for Bojay, so he left it out.

"Bitch," Athena said again.

Starbuck very nearly took a step back. He'd never seen her so angry. She could fly into a high rage that was like when Ila had lost her temper, but this was a cold fury. Icy, like Apollo only much, much colder. Like Adama. She wasn't angry at him, but he was actually afraid of her anyway.

"Thank you, Starbuck," she said, ice crystals almost forming in the air. "I'll be back tonight."

He watched her stride off and was almost—just almost—sorry for Sheba.

Then he went back inside, thinking to himself that the gossip had pretty much been right. And if he felt almost sorry for Sheba, he definitely felt happy for Bojay and 'Theni.

 


Athena strode down the hallway, her long green skirt billowing around her ankles. She couldn't remember being this angry. Even when Zac had died, when the Colonies had died, the anger hadn't been like this; blended with sorrow and despair it had been hot and fierce, and spread out over such a huge recipient, it had been, as anger, short-lived. This was cold. This wouldn't go away.

This was personal.

She'd have said it was 'the straw that broke the camelon's back', except that it wasn't a straw. It was more like a two-ton I-beam. But her patience had certainly suffered a broken spine—it was dead, poor thing; no hope of reviving it. And it felt very good to have a target for the rage that had been building up in her all day, even if part of that didn't truly belong to Sheba.

She didn't even want to discuss that part with her father. She truly hoped she was wrong about what she thought he was thinking, going on Boxey's unnuanced report, but she didn't think she was. She'd felt like snarling when she'd heard about it. How could he think that? Even if he'd decided that Starbuck was so totally devoid of basic morality that he'd think sleeping with his best friend's mother was acceptable behavior, or that sleeping with the closest thing he'd ever known to his own mother was—which, she thought, it went without saying that he wasn't—she hated what that assumption would mean Adama thought about Ila.

She didn't want to think about her mother having ever been unfaithful to her father. She'd accepted that their marriage wasn't very passionate, that Ila was more accepting of Adama's long absences than Athena herself would ever have been, but that didn't mean she wanted to think that either of them had cheated on each other. If Adama wanted to marry again, Bellaby or Tinia or someone, that was different. But this, this assumption made her blood boil.

Though, she had to admit, that was mostly because it was Starbuck Adama was casting in the other role. That and because it made a liar out of Ila... and a falsehood out of Athena's childhood.

But that was only a small part of Athena's anger, easily subsumed in the rest of it. Though Sheba might be a convenient scapegoat, she had earned a the lionet's share. And she was sure that there was more out there, too... she knew Starbuck far too well to think he'd told her everything there was to be told. Not that he'd shown any tells, but the very absence of them was a tell in itself; he'd been too careful. But there were others out there who couldn't hide. She just had to find one.

"Jolly," she said, advancing on the chunky, mustached pilot at the gaming table in the ready room.

He took one look at her and obviously wished he was someplace else. "Uh, hi, Athena," he said. "Starbuck's not here."

"I know where Starbuck is," she said.

"Boomer—" he tried.

She cut him off. "I want to talk to you. Walk with me."

"Athena," he said, then gave up. "Hell, I'm losing anyway." He tossed down his cards and stood up.

Once they were in the hall she faced him and ordered, "Tell me what Sheba said this morning. Everything."

"Athena," he said miserably.

She took pity on him. "For your information, Bojay spent the night with me and I don't care who knows." And she didn't; after all, when she'd asked him to stay, and then kept him late that morning, knowing he'd probably get back into the barracks just in time, she'd known it wouldn't take those gossipy fighter pilots any time at all to start coupling their names. After all, they'd seen enough of them at the O Club. She wasn't in the habit of going to bed with someone that quickly, but... No. She really didn't care if the whole battlestar had them paired. "It's the rest of what she said I want to hear."

Jolly grinned a little and said, "Well, congratulations, then. Okay, I'll tell you." And did.

He seemed a little confused by her lack of reaction. She was a little confused by it herself. She'd have expected herself to be angered by the implication that Starbuck was cheating on Apollo with Giles, or that Starbuck had been trying to advance himself by dating her, or that she'd dumped him when she'd found out. But she seemed to be so angry already that she couldn't feel any more... red zone was red zone, she supposed. All she said was, "Did Giles get into trouble?"

Jolly's eyes faltered under her gaze. "I shouldn't tell you," he said. "It's squadron business."

"You just did," she nodded. "Thanks, Jolly. Go back to your game."

"Athena—"

"Thank you, Jolly," she repeated and walked away.

It took her almost two centares to find Sheba. She checked every place on the battlestar she could think of where the Viper pilot might be, and then went back to several. Finally, on her third visit to the O Club's bar, she spotted her.

The brown-haired pilot was sitting with some of her Pegasus cronies. Athena couldn't hear what they were talking about, but Sheba threw her head back and laughed, then leaned forward to say something, her face alive with malicious amusement.

Athena walked up to the table. "Sheba?"

The pilot turned around. Before she could register any reaction beyond startlement, Athena slapped her so hard she almost fell out of her chair. The others at the table froze, staring.

"For your information," Athena said icily, "I called it off with Starbuck because we didn't love each other. I don't think being married to a man who's in love with someone else is such a good idea. Nor do I think marrying a man because of who his father is, or isn't, is particularly intelligent even if he isn't in love with someone else. I grant you, if you're incapable of love it probably makes as much sense as anything. But if Starbuck had loved me I wouldn't have let his parentage stand in my way any more than I'll let Bojay's, if it comes up."

Sheba was rubbing her jaw, but at that she snarled, "You don't know about Bojay's father."

"Don't I?" Athena let that lie in the air between them.

Brown eyes locked with blue and then dropped. "I wouldn't have thought he had the guts to tell you."

"That statement is entirely typical of you." Athena packed as much contempt into that as she could.

"What do you mean?"

"You're spiteful, that's what I mean." The other woman glared but didn't say anything. Athena continued, "You're spiteful and mean and vicious. More—you're a backbiter. And worst, you're a coward."

"How dare you?" Sheba hissed, but she didn't stand up.

"You're a coward," Athena repeated clearly, pitching her voice to be heard several tables away, "the kind of coward that baits a tethered beast and then laughs when it hits the end of its chain. You're despicable. You insult a man when he's not there in front of his young child. You hit and run. You incite those you outrank and then you report them, but you slap my brother knowing he won't do anything about it. Well, I'm a lieutenant, and I'm a woman, and I'm not anywhere in your chain of command, so I'm telling you, I won't put up with it. On my own account, or anyone else's. I'm serving you notice: if you ever, ever, again pull that kind of felgarcarb with my brother, or his husband, or their son, or their friends, or my friends, I will come after you and I will take you down. And I'm ready right now: you want to take me on, let's do it. Come on, Sheba. You wanted someone to hit you? I hit you. You want to slap me? I'll slap you right back. Come on. You want to say something cruel and hateful about Apollo, or Starbuck, or Bojay? Come on, say it. Say it to someone who can treat it—and you—like you deserve. Come on. What's the matter—felix got your tongue?"

"You know the captain put me on notice," Sheba said finally.

"Is that the problem?" Athena asked. "Well, we can get around that. Let's go to the gym, have a little workout. A little unarmed combat, one on one, me and you. I'm ready."

"I'm not going to fight with you," Sheba said.

Athena stared at her. "No. Of course you're not," she said, contemptuously. "It's not your style, is it, taking on someone who can fight back? You cowardly little... person. You just remember what I said. Ever." She stared at her, feeling the urge to knock her out of her chair, send her sprawling onto the floor. She resisted it and turned to walk away.

"Slut," Sheba muttered.

Athena turned around. "Did you say something?"

Sheba stared at the table.

"I thought not," Athena said, and left. She decided to go and work out anyway; she needed to cool off—no, warm up—before she saw Starbuck again. Or Boxey. Or Bojay.

Especially Bojay.

 


Starbuck leaned his chair back, balancing on the rear legs, and watched Boxey, Dhani, and the other boy, what was his name, Marco?, wrestling for the ball. He was getting too bored for his own good; his mind had just offered him the image of himself and Apollo engaged in that activity, and then turned it into an image entirely unsuited for seven-yahren-olds. For a moment he let it be; he could feel Apollo bearing him down onto the mat, onto his knees and elbows, feel him stripping off workout clothes... Now he shook his head again, staring at the ceiling and forcing his mind into something else... Starhound Viper, speed: Space: 73.5 mn/mi² (110.25 mn/mi² at turbo, -55.125 breaking), Atmosphere: 1,851 mpc (3,331 mpc at turbo, -1,589 mpc breaking); power: 1 Tylium reactor (1,443 trillion julons), 2 high-energy fusion reactors (584 trillion julons)... That was better.

That was more suitable to time and place, anyway. He'd wait till he got Boxey in bed and then take a nice, long, hot turbowash and indulge his fantasies. Fatherhood was going to be harder than he'd thought. Though, if Apollo were around, he'd probably be finding it easier to keep the fantasies under control. He sighed. Fidelity was harder than he'd thought...

But when Apollo got back, it would be rewarding.

At least, it damned well better be.

He dropped the chair back onto all fours and looked over at the boys. He'd been somewhat surprised that Dhani's parents had let him come; probably the public venue of the recreation center had swayed them. Plus the benefit of having the boy out of quarters, of course. He knew all about that, already... He loved Boxey more than he'd believed, but there were times he was definitely in the way.

Unless you want to spend all afternoon reciting Viper specs, stop thinking about that.

He turned his mind to what Adama was going to say in the morning when Boxey and Athena didn't show up for Temple. That was certainly enough to cool off his ardor. He sighed. Adama was going to blame him. Well, he supposed that made sense. If he weren't around, Boxey wouldn't have found out that Adama was a narrow-minded and vindictive bigot. And Apollo probably would have married Sheba. Somehow, Starbuck couldn't find it in himself to wish things had played out that way.

Sheba... He wondered what Athena had said to her. Bounced her off a wall a few times, he hoped. Athena and Bojay... Interesting concept.

He'd said something about schoolwork to Boxey, that maybe he could do that tomorrow instead of Temple, and Boxey had produced it, all already finished. "Bojay helped with the verbs," he'd said. "He spells a lot of them with Ts instead of EDs. I looked in the computer and it says that's 'regional'. What does that mean? Are they right?"

"They're right," Starbuck had said, glancing at dreamt and spilt... "Most people use ED, but T's okay. Like 'felt', or 'slept'. Bojay helped you with your schoolwork?" He'd been startled when the instructor had called him to see if it was all right to turn Boxey over to the other pilot, but he'd agreed readily enough. This was a bit more hands-on than he'd anticipated.

"Yep," Boxey had answered. "I like him. Is he gonna marry Aunt 'Theni?"

"Ask her," Starbuck had dodged that.

"Dad says you shouldn't ask people that."

"Then don't." But he couldn't resist adding, "But how does he find things out?"

Boxey had giggled and then brought up the trip to the recreation center. And Starbuck was able to sit on the sidelines and watch the boy work off his excess energy without exhausting himself. A big dinner out, two centares of vid, and then Boxey would be in bed.

And Starbuck could stop remembering Viper specs...

 


Boring. Incredibly boring.

Cruising through atmosphere at fifteen hundred metrics a centare, Apollo looked all the way to the horizon and sighed.

Up on the Galactica it was ticking over to Firstday, a new secton. At least it was halfway over. Maybe more, if the techs kept working at their current pace. But it was just so excruciatingly boring...

Apollo banked his Viper through a cloud bank and wondered, Is Starbuck starting to rub off on me? There had certainly been a time, and not all that long ago, when he'd have found this mission not only interesting, but satisfying. He'd never been an adrenaline junkie, needing excitement, something happening every dozen centons. But the undeniable fact was, he'd never been so bored in all his life.

"Sir?" Wotan's voice pushed through the cotton surrounding his mind. "Want to check out those mountains?"

The boy sounded like he was having fun, anyway. Apollo sighed soundlessly, a technique he'd perfected after yahrens of flying with Starbuck, and answered, "Right. Let's go."

"Yes, sir!"

That was part of the problem, of course. Oh, be honest with yourself, Apollo. It is the problem. Wotan's voice in his headset instead of Starbuck's. God, he hoped that this was just a symptom of being betrothed. Or separated. He was going to be rather useless if he spent all his time wishing for Starbuck. Get a grip, he chided himself; it's not like this is the first time you've been separated, or even the longest, by a hell of a lot. Like yahrens.

But it was the first time since Starbuck had agreed to marry him. Suddenly he found himself wondering if Starbuck had felt anything like this all those times before. If that so-easily granted acceptance of Serina, of being shut out of Apollo's life because of his wedding vows, had been bought at this kind of hurting hunger. If any of Starbuck's women, even Cassie, had ever stopped the need that Starbuck showed when he held onto Apollo even in his sleep...

Oh, God. Starbuck, sweetheart, I'll spend the rest of my life making that up to you. I promise... I'm so sorry— He had to laugh, remembering Starbuck's reaction to his last apology: "I know. I forgive you." "You always do, don't you?" "Always... and it's a good thing, too, don't you think?" God, yes, it was a good thing, considering how often he needed it. He snorted with laughter again, involuntarily; his 'last' apology, his eye. His latest, more like.

"Sir?"

Apollo forced his mind back onto his business. "Just a stray thought, Wotan," he said. "Why don't you drop down to the floor, follow that river on up? And try not to hit the canyon walls as you go."

"Yes, sir," the ensign said. "I'll restrain myself from finding out what would happen if I did."

"Insatiable curiosity," murmured Apollo.

"Killed the felix, I know, sir," the boy said as he tilted a wing and dropped like a stone toward the river valley below.

Apollo grinned and followed him down. It was still boring, but if he put his mind to it, maybe he could have a little bit of fun.

Even if Starbuck wasn't here.

 


Bojay had gotten off duty at ten. He'd stayed late, working on the efficiency reports he had due. Then he'd stared at the wall chrono for a few centons, and pulled out the reports he had due next quarter. But now he'd done all he could on those and there wasn't any excuse for him to still be here. Tase, Yellow Leader, was already looking at him oddly, and Seth, Purple Leader, had put his head into the office three times already. He probably wanted his desk.

Bojay wasn't fooling himself about why neither of the other lieutenants had spoken to him beyond a simple greeting. Sure, they hadn't been there that morning when Sheba had come in, but they would without doubt have heard every word repeated at least three times before they had come on duty. He suddenly realized he'd stayed too long. It was after midnight; like an idiot, he'd let Blue get into the barracks. Cach. There was no way he was going to stick around to talk to them.

Especially not to Starbuck.

He dropped his reports into his drawer and, with a quiet 'Have a good shift' to Tase, he went out into the barracks and walked quickly to his room. He changed clothes quickly, leaving his uniform on his bed, and left the barracks, trying to look like he was late for something.

Not that he had anywhere to go now. This morning, waking up in Athena's bed—well, Apollo's bed, but Athena's arms—and Athena's kisses making it impossible to leave, he'd felt more at home than he had in twenty yahrens. Her hands and mouth, her sweet strong body, her desire for him... he'd barely made it to the barracks by eight, and it was a good thing he hadn't been going on duty then. She'd asked him, and he'd promised her, to come back tonight. But that was before... And now there was nowhere.

Inevitably he ended up at the O Club. Inevitably.

He looked at the bar through the pane in the door and then went inside. Buying a bottle, he found a table in a far corner and sat. He poured himself a drink and set the glass in front of him. Staring at the amber liquid, he remembered...

The smell of ambrosa on his father's breath, permeating the house; he'd grown up with it, thought it was normal. Cooking and making sure Dad ate. Playing with his dagget and Dad in the yard. Dad's pride at his grades. Cuddling on the couch, slurred words telling old stories, shaking hands tucking him in. Finding his father passed out on the couch, turning off the vid and covering him with blankets. Getting him up in the morning, off to work when he had a job. Dad showing up at the care facility, painfully sober, taking him home. New job. Back to normal. Lost job. A Welfare worker's surprise inspection, and once again he was gone. The cycle repeating, until they gave up on his father. Crying in the dark. Blows and a ringing ear. Hurtful words and judgments. "You'll end up like your father." "Worthless drunk." "Shut up, charity boy." And the smell of ambrosa, the smell of home...

He was still staring at his glass when a shadow fell over the table. He didn't look up; whoever it was, he wanted them to leave.

"Mind if I sit down?"

He looked up, and blinked. It was Athena. "No. No, of course not," he said.

She pulled out the chair on the side of the table, not across from him, and sat down. "I was expecting you," she said mildly. "I thought you said you were coming when you got off."

"I did," he admitted. "I didn't think you'd want me to."

"I did," she said. "I do."

He thought about that for a few centons; she sat there and let him, not speaking. "You must," he started, then paused. "What about Boxey?"

"I called a friend," she said, "called in a favor. Don't worry about him; with any luck he'll never even know I left."

He nodded. "He's a nice kid."

"He likes you," she said. After a centon, she said, "I must what?"

"Not have run into Sheba. Or anybody..."

"I did, though," she said. "I gave her a piece of my mind; several, in fact."

There was silence for a another centon, then she said, "You know, it's nice. My brother would have said I didn't have any to spare."

"I never felt less like somebody's brother in my life," he said honestly if impulsively.

"Good," she said, putting her hand on his briefly. Then, "Mind if I have a drink?"

"No," he said. She started to signal for a waiter to bring her a glass, but Bojay pushed the one before him over in front of her. "Here. I haven't touched it."

She took a sip, eying him, but didn't say anything about that. What she did say was, "I know my brother's a bit much. So's my father."

"Your father..." he'd started that incredulous, but it turned more or less comprehending. He laughed a little. "I suppose this past secton hasn't been his finest at that."

"Not quite," she said dryly, taking another sip. "Why don't we agree to ignore each other's fathers altogether? I admit it's easier for me, but..." she put her hand back on his, "I really want to keep seeing you. I never felt like this about anyone before. Truly."

"Sheba told you about mine?" he asked disbelievingly.

"Well, actually, no," she said. "But even if he's Baltar, you're a Colonial Warrior."

"He wasn't Baltar," Bojay said, pulling his hand away from hers. "He wasn't that successful."

She raised a slender black eyebrow. "He did a good job with you."

He shrugged. "Depends..." He picked up the bottle and looked at it, tilting it and watching the light play on the liquid inside it. "Is this any good? I mean, do you want it? I'm not going to drink it."

"I'll give it to Starbuck as a wedding present," she said. "Apollo never has ambrosa in his quarters."

He put the bottle down in front of her without telling her what Boxey had said.

"Do you mind if I ask you," she said, "why you bought a bottle if you weren't going to drink it?"

"I was," he said. "I fully intended to drink every drop. My father made it look so easy."

She finished her drink and picked up the bottle. "If you're just going to sit and think," she said, "come back with me and do it at my brother's."

"I should tell you about my father," he said, not wanting to in the least.

"Tell me about him there," she said, "if you have to. Or don't. But come back with me. I promised my friend I wouldn't be very long. Neither of us has anywhere to be in the morning. We can stay up and talk." She reached over and took his hand. "Or not... But come back with me, Bojay. I want you to."

He hesitated.

"Come back," she repeated. "I'll brew up some kava and we can talk, if you want to. I need to get back, and I don't want you to stay here, thinking, by yourself. In my experience, that's a very dangerous occupation for Viper pilots."

That made him laugh. He stood up, pulling her chair out. "If you insist," he said.

"I do," she said. Then she smiled, like moonrise in a dark night. "I'm so glad."

His breath caught. Goddess, he thought. Thank You. Athena reached for his hand and he gave it to her and followed her out.

 


Bojay woke up. Athena was sleeping soundly beside him, all that fire banked and still, her long dark hair spilled out on the pillow and her hands holding only shadows. It took him a centon or two to identify the sound that had awakened him, and another to realize where it was coming from: sobs over the open monitor from Boxey's room.

Probably he should wake Athena, but he was awake already. If the boy wanted her, he could get her, but he'd try his own hand first. Maybe he could pay her back a little.

He slid out of bed and found his trousers. Trying to remember where the low kava table was, so he didn't bark his shins on it, he padded through the dark front room and opened Boxey's door.

The sobs were louder, but muffled. Bojay crossed over to the bed, making out Boxey's dark hair against the lighter pillow. He knelt beside the bed, putting his hand on Boxey's shoulder, feeling the shudders shaking the small body. "Hey," he asked quietly, feeling that it was inadequate but not sure what else to say, "are you all right?"

Boxey tried to stop crying but without much success. "I'm, I'm okay," he said.

Bojay rubbed the thin back. "Bad dreams?" he asked. "Or is something worrying you? Either way, if you tell me, you might feel better."

"I'm sorry," Boxey said, gulping turning his face slightly toward Bojay. "It's dumb. I'm okay."

"I doubt it. You're crying too much for it to be dumb." Bojay sat on the edge of the bed.

"Only babies cry." Boxey's voice trembled in its defiance.

It didn't occur to him until later that he might be undermining Apollo's teaching. He just said, without thinking, "That's not true, Boxey. Everybody cries. It's one of the things that makes us human."

"That's what Dad said, sorta, when Mom died... but nobody's dead."

"That doesn't matter. People don't have to die for you to be hurt or sad."

"Do you ever cry?"

"I sure do," he admitted. He pushed Boxey's hair back, glad for the darkness. "What's wrong?" he asked again.

"I miss my dad." The boy's voice was low, almost embarrassed.

"I bet," Bojay said. The Goddess wasn't giving him any way out of facing this, so he bit the bullet. "He's gone and things are up in the air, aren't they? Of course you miss him. He'll be back in a couple of days but right now I expect that doesn't help much."

Boxey rubbed his face. "I know. I shouldn't cry, he's just gone—"

"Nothing wrong with crying when you hurt," Bojay said, brushing his thumb across the boy's cheek. "It's how we're made."

"I'm too old."

"I cried for my father when I was a lot older than you," Bojay told him.

"Did he die?"

"No," Bojay said. "Not then."

"Did he go away?"

"No... they took me away from him," Bojay looked over Boxey's head into the darkness. "He'd have kept me if he could. It's not the same thing. But I missed him, and I cried for him. I was twelve. You're not too old to cry because you miss someone you love. You're never too old for that."

"I wish he didn't go!"

"He had to," Bojay said. "It was an order. Warriors have to follow orders."

"Even dumb ones?" he asked resentfully.

"Maybe especially dumb ones. You can't pick which orders you'll follow. When you put on those pins you swear to follow all lawful orders of those in authority over you. All."

"But Grandfather's giving wrong orders," Boxey declared tearfully.

Bojay sighed and ruffled Boxey's hair; the boy cuddled up next to him. "Unlawful doesn't mean you don't like them. It doesn't even mean unfair. It means illegal. And nothing's been illegal yet." He brushed Boxey's hair back from his eyes. "Your dad will be back in a couple of days. And it's Firstday already, so in two days and a wakeup he'll marry Starbuck and all of this will be over. I know it hurts now, but while you're crying try to remember that. It will be over. Pretty soon now."

"I miss him." Boxey sighed and wriggled around to put his head on Bojay's leg. "I dreamed," he said in a small voice, his fingers pleating the fabric over Bojay's knee. "I dreamed a Cylon killed him. On that planet."

A Cylon had killed his mother, Bojay remembered. On a planet. "Scared you, did it? I bet. But he's not dead. And he has his whole squadron with him, and Red Squadron is very very good. And there aren't any Cylons on that planet. This is a battlestar, Boxey, and a battlestar's ops crew doesn't miss a Cylon outpost."

"Really?"

"You know your aunt is good at her job."

"I miss Dad. I wish he was here."

"I know. I'm sure he's wishing that too."

"Did the king hate Arianwen because she was a woman?"

Bojay was caught off guard by that; he'd forgotten how the boy jumped around all over the place in a conversation. What the—Oh. "She was a bandit. If she'd been a man and trying to run off with Kilhona the king wouldn't have been any happier."

"Why does Grandfather hate it so much? Why is he so mean about it? Doesn't he still love Dad?"

"I don't know why, but I'm sure he still loves your dad. Fathers," he swallowed hard, "don't stop loving their sons, even if they get angry at them. The more you love someone the madder they can make you. If you don't care, then you don't care enough to get mad."

"So," Boxey almost whispered, as if he was ashamed, "Dad wants to come back?"

"Your dad," Bojay said firmly, "is counting the centons. He'll come back absolutely as soon as he's allowed to. Your dad loves you very much."

"I wish it was now."

"Pretty soon," Bojay rubbed Boxey's back. "Pretty soon. I bet he's watching the stars right now, trying to see the Fleet. Wishing he was back here."

Boxey snuggled a little closer and yawned. "I'm glad you're going to marry Aunt 'Theni."

"Me, too," murmured Bojay, thinking, I am? and then, If she wants me, yes. I am. He kept rubbing Boxey's back until the boy's even breathing said he was asleep. He slid out from under him, straightening him out and tucking the blankets around him. He looked down at him for a centon, then walked quietly out of the room.

Athena was sitting up in the bed when he came back in. He paused, then sat down on the bed. "He's asleep," he said.

She smiled at him. "You know, there's something quite irresistible about a man comforting a child."

"Really? Remind me to upset him again in the morning, when I've got my strength back." He smiled back at her.

"No need," she said, leaning against his shoulder. "I'll just remember it... Thanks."

He shook his head, content to sit there with his arm around her and hers around his waist.

After a few centons, she said, softly, "They took you away when you were twelve?"

He sighed and took her hand in his, looking at her fingers. Such a small hand, such delicate bones... how could it hold so tightly? He surrendered to the events of the day, and to her, and said, "No. When I was eight. When I was twelve they gave up on him, stopped giving me back. I never saw him after I was thirteen."

"Never?"

"They gave up on him," Bojay said again. "Twice a yahren he'd get sober and show up at the Welfare Center, clean and with papers proving he had a job, and they'd let me go home. We'd do fine. Even when he started to drink again, we were fine... I could get him fed and off in the morning. He usually kept the job okay..." He sighed. "Then someone would sweep in, decide he wasn't fit, again, and take me away. When I was twelve, he came to get me and they wouldn't let him have me. I cried for sectons, I think. Ran away twice, made it home the second time. They told me they'd put him in jail if I ran away again. I believed them. So I didn't. But I got a mail drop, and he wrote me. Short letters, but they came... until I was fifteen. Never got another one. Never found out what happened to him, either."

"How long did you keep the drop?" she asked after a moment.

"I think I've still got a couple of sectares..." he tried to smile, then gave up on it. "Couldn't find him. Hard to get Piscon Planetary Peace Enforcement to care about what happened to some hopeless drunk who just fell out of sight five yahrens ago. Or seven. Or ten... And nobody at Welfare cared."

"Was he really?"

"Probably... he couldn't stop—no, he could. He did it a lot. He couldn't stay stopped, though. He always started again. Sometimes I hated him for that." He interlaced his fingers with hers and felt her tighten her hold on him. "That's why I came when Boxey called."

"Boxey called?" she repeated, startled. "I thought Starbuck called you."

"No. I might not have come for him—well," he admitted, "maybe for the sheer novelty of it. But I spent too much of my life making sure I never had any small children depending on me to be able to resist one when it happened. Besides... he wanted to stay with his father. What could I do?"

She leaned close to him. "Nothing at all. And lots of people would have."

"I suppose... but Apollo is a good father. He shouldn't be put through this."

She sighed and squeezed his hand. "What happened to you? Did you get adopted?"

"Did you ever hear Starbuck on the odds of someone of unknown parentage getting adopted at the age of twelve?"

"Yes," she acknowledged.

"Well, when your father's alive and won't sign away his rights, even if they won't honor them, there's no chance of it. I was dumped into a family that took me for the state money." He shrugged. "They weren't evil. But I wasn't a family member; I was labor they had to let go to school. I wasn't supposed to have opinions or even anything to say. I learnt... I got by. But—" He was interrupted by Athena's sudden movement: raising her head, she kissed him and then settled back down against his chest. He rested his cheek against her hair and was quiet.

After a few centons, she looked up at him. "Me, too?"

He blinked at her, then was glad it was dark in the room. "Well, I didn't want to upset him."

"Oh? Is that all?"

Something in her tone emboldened him. "No. If it were true, I'd be very glad."

"Hmmm. What would it take to make it true?"

"You'd have to want me," he said.

"Then," she said, tightening her hold on him, "it is true..."

"Your father," he started.

"Didn't we agree to ignore them?" she answered. "And if we didn't, let's do. At least for tonight. Please?"

"Whatever you want," he said, sliding down to lie flat, holding her to his heart. "Whatever you want."

Chapter Text

It wasn't boring any longer. Apollo had never wished so hard for boredom in his entire life. He spared a moment to look behind him at those he'd managed to hang on to. It wasn't encouraging. Feist and Toomy, both uninjured. Fenrir, Freya, and Megeara, slightly injured. Colby, unconscious and probably dying. Harker, dead. And Wotan, bloody but, as he had said, grinning, unbowed. Apollo swallowed. At a guess, there was more blood on Wotan's uniform than in his body. And he was blinded by his head injury.

Half the squadron more or less mobile. Half down. Kris and Alita were dead; Apollo could see their bodies along with those of six techs in the pile where they'd been dumped. Aston had to be in one of the shuttles with the four unaccounted-for techs. Dead, alive, injured, dying—he didn't know. What he did know was that nobody had tried to contact him on his wrist comm, and that the aliens—the natives, he corrected himself—were going in and out of both shuttles almost, by now, casually. Almost. Clearly they were not at all accustomed to the level of technology the shuttles represented. Not that it really mattered, he reflected; their spears and bows had been more than able to kill. Not to mention those claws... And they'd been willing to take losses, too. Though they weren't suicidal enough to charge the cave Apollo and the other pilots had managed to get to. Thank God Wotan still had a teenager's limitless energy and had gone exploring.

As Apollo watched, one of the natives came out of the farther shuttle, its bobbing gait hampered by the body it was carrying. One of the techs, his dove-grey uniform soaked with blood. The native dropped him unceremoniously on the pile of human corpses and walked over to wash its hands and arms. Their own dead they had put into the shuttle nearer the cave. Apollo found himself wondering why. It seemed likely to be religious, but he knew he could be wrong. It was all guesswork—and likely to prove futile even if he was right.

It was more to the point to wonder how long the Galactica would let them be overdue. By luck—he hoped—or planning, the attack had come right after one of his reports. Eight centares to go—about five and a half, now—before the next was due. Ops would wait no more than ten centons before calling them. With no answer, normally, Tigh would send to find out immediately. Things weren't exactly normal, though...

Don't think like that, he instructed himself. Tigh wouldn't put twenty-one other lives at risk because Adama wanted to punish one person. And Boomer wouldn't sit still and watch it, either. In seven centares somebody would be here.

The question was: who would still be alive to meet them? Not Colby. Most likely not Wotan. And there was no telling about the others over in that shuttle.

Nor, for that matter, was there any guarantee that the natives wouldn't charge the cave. Even if the Warriors never missed a shot they'd drain their blasters before they killed every native they'd seen. And in hand-to-hand they didn't stand a chance.

Apollo blew out a breath. "Toomy," he said to the man sitting at the opposite side of the cave's mouth. "Keep an eye out."

The corporal revealed one of Wotan's sources by acknowledging that with a wry, "I'll try not to fall asleep, sir." He shifted the blaster on his knee.

For a couple of centons Apollo wished their handguns did still fire coherent light rather than plasma. He'd read that you could cauterise wounds with the old weapons, as well as start fires and slice neatly through walls, even if they had been cranky and easily put out of working order. Unfortunately, their 'laser blasters' were that only in name, like blueprints, or dialtones or cannons—a linguistic holdover and, though very good at killing, not helpful at the moment for anything but making the natives think twice about attacking. Which real lasers would have done, too. He wondered if Warriors with those had ever sat around and wished for bullets...

He brought himself back to the task at hand and, crouching to avoid hitting his head on the low ceiling, went to the back of the cave.

"There are about two fifty of them now," he said without preliminaries. "And one more of the techs is dead."

"Damn," said Fenrir.

"How's Colby?"

"Worse, I think," said Freya. "Hard to tell."

"How about you?"

She shrugged carefully. "Arm hurts, but it's usable. I'll live."

"From your lips to God's ear," said Fenrir.

"What I want to know," Wotan said plaintively. They all turned to look at him, where he was leaning against the cave wall. "Why don't they think we're gods?"

They laughed, a laugh surprised out of Apollo at least and probably all of them. Feist reached over and carefully ruffled Wotan's white-blond hair on the side away from the blood; Apollo noticed it didn't startle him to be touched without warning. "Probably," Feist said, "because gods don't bleed and collapse."

"Yeah, but before that," Wotan insisted.

"I don't know," Fenrir said. "Maybe we don't look like their gods."

"Maybe they don't have gods," Feist offered.

"No gods," Wotan said almost wistfully.

"Who knows?" Freya laughed shortly. "Maybe they do think we're gods, and they're atheists."

"I expect, whatever they think," put in Fenrir, "that we've messed up their worldview somethin' fierce."

"Yes," Apollo agreed sadly. He hated that, but it was true. These people hadn't even known there was anyplace else to come from, even, most likely. Now, well, they knew they weren't alone.

"Apollo," Feist said, touching his arm lightly. "The fact is, I did play a few games with Lute. If Toomy's right about them not seeing too well at night, I think I can get to the Viper park."

Apollo considered it. The natives weren't paying much attention to the Vipers anymore. When spears hadn't provoked movements, they'd apparently decided the fighters weren't anything to worry about. "I don't want to kill any more of them," he said. "I know, they've killed at least seven techs, and Harker," he paused and didn't mention Colby. "But... well, it's their world, after all."

His section leaders regarded him steadily for a moment, clearly gauging his sincerity. And perhaps his courage. Then Fenrir said, "True enough. Not that I want to die for trespassing." He and Feist both glanced reflexively at Wotan; Apollo did, too.

Then Feist said, "If I get in one, I don't have to kill anybody. I can call Galactica."

"You'll have to get off the planet." And who knew what the natives would do when a Viper suddenly woke up and took off in a burst of fire? Run? That would be nice. They were as likely to attack. Or attack the rest of the Vipers. Or even, if it left, just ignore it altogether.

"Sir," Fenrir pointed out carefully, "we really can't afford to sit here till we're overdue, even if they let us."

"LT," Wotan said, "don't go risking your life for me."

"Shut up," Feist said with affectionate roughness. "Ensigns are definitely at the little kids' table. Seen but not heard."

"Besides," Apollo put in; he was learning how to deal with this bunch. "Colby's worse off than you. And there's Aston and the rest of the techs to consider." He looked at his chrono. "About forty centons till dark. You go in a centare. We'll lay down a distraction."

Feist nodded.

Apollo leaned back against the wall to wait. Immediately, relentlessly, the events of the day played themselves out in his mind...

 


The techs wanted to move in the morning. They'd gotten excited about recon film Freya and Aston had brought back, films that seemed to show a substantial plain of wild grain.

"Certainly not a high-yield crop," Regis said, "not a crop at all, in the usual sense of the word, but it does seem to be more than just wild grass. We really should look at it."

"You think it'll be any use?" Apollo asked.

Regis shrugged. "At the very least we can try to hybridize our existing strains. Might not work, but it can't hurt. The relatively narrow base of the Fleet's grain, genetically speaking, I mean, is worrisome, Lieutenant. If a blight should sweep through we could lose it all."

"It could be useful in and of itself," Vanna added. "This planet's growing season is shorter than any of the Colonies'. Its plants mature more rapidly, are more robust. Possibly we can breed it."

"It might even taste good," put in Wotan.

That got a grin from the techs. "It might at that," agreed Vanna.

And Cory put in, "What I wouldn't give for a good malting grain..."

"Morale would improve," Apollo said dryly.

So they decided to move at dawn, or shortly thereafter. Apollo told Tigh so when he called in. He came out of the shuttle thinking about dinner to see Fenrir still sitting at the long table staring at the films. Apollo glanced around the camp, accounting for everyone with a practiced eye—no one was flying; they didn't have fuel to waste—and joined his exec. "Something wrong?" he asked.

Fenrir looked up at him, his pale blue eyes a little worried. "Dunno," he said. "Nothing I can really nail. It's just... this doesn't look natural."

Apollo took another look at the film. "I don't know," he said. "I'm not a botanist. But it looks a lot like the Monlauck Plains to me."

"Never seen them," Fenrir said, his tone dissatisfied. "But on Taura wild plains aren't so uniform. There's lots of different kinds of grasses. You'd see a lot of different colors, from flowers... This is just all the same thing."

"That's what Regis was saying," Apollo agreed, not certain where the grey-haired man was going with this.

"I s'pose it could be natural. But if it had been me, I'd have taken a few more passes. Looked for farmers."

"Farmers?" Apollo was startled. "We haven't seen the first sign of technology."

"It doesn't take much technology to plant grain," Fenrir pointed out. "'Specially not if you slash-and-burn. You probably don't even need metal."

Apollo relaxed again. People that low tech, even if they existed, couldn't be much of a threat.

It was an arrogant thought the gods punished almost immediately.

There was a sudden sound like nothing Apollo had ever heard before, a deep thrumming followed at once by a whoosh. Then, almost immediately, slender shafts of wood, a metron or more in length, fell from the sky, clattering on tables and chairs and shuttle, digging into the ground, and into bodies. There must have been hundreds of them, and they were followed in rapid succession by more flights, these accompanied by a ululation that sounded like a tremendous flock of demented birds. Shafts bounced off the table around Apollo and one seemed to sprout from Fenrir's right thigh, staining the tan material deep crimson.

Apollo had no clue by whom or even how, but it was obvious they were under attack. His blaster was in his hand without him remembering drawing it, and he was on the move. Yelling at the techs to take cover in the shuttles, he crouched over Fenrir, scanning for the enemy. The first centon or two the arrows—his mind finally identified the archaic weapons—seemed to be completely unaimed, simply death raining from above, and most of them didn't actually hit anyone. Their sheer number made them deadly, though, and terrifying, especially with the screams of those who had been hit and the cries of their as yet unseen enemy.

But as the techs tried to reach the shuttles, that enemy shifted its tactics. First the arrows became fewer, but aimed, and grey-clad bodies began collapsing. And then the enemy appeared, charging into battle, and things became even more chaotic.

The enemy swarmed over the open area between the shuttles. They were dark in color, olive green to black, with crimson crests fanning out around their heads and necks. They were carrying long spears, which were tipped with long, serrated points. But they also had raking claws on their feet and long, balancing tails which they used both as striking weapons and props to afford tremendous kicks. Apollo saw one of them slash Kris open from shoulder to hip with a single blow. He fired at once; blaster blasts definitely took them out. But they were fast, and they outnumbered the Colonials by at least a factor of ten, and there was no way into the shuttles through the horde of dark green aliens.

Feist, scrambling like an infantryman, reached Apollo and Fenrir. "We've gotta get out of here, sir; it's a damned killing ground."

Apollo had never seen a better example of that phrase. "You have a suggestion?"

"The cave Wotan was telling us about last night," Fenrir said. "If we can get there, we can hold them off."

It was a plan. They put it into effect. Apollo would have liked to say that they were retreating, but the fact was they were running. As hard as they could. There was no way to get to any of the techs, and he knew as he ran, firing at the aliens, that he didn't have all of his pilots, either. Toomy was supporting Fenrir, and Freya and Megeara were dragging Colby, though Apollo could see Freya's arm was bloodstained. Apollo himself almost tripped over Harker, who'd managed to get halfway despite having a pair of slashes through his body that made Apollo sick even as he hoisted the lieutenant over his shoulder. Fenrir and Toomy reached the cave first, and laid down covering fire for the others. As the others arrived with the wounded, Fenrir and Freya, her arm dripping blood, took them to the back. Apollo and Feist joined Toomy at the cave's mouth firing at the pursuing aliens. Wotan was the last to reach the cave; when he got there he ran right into the side of the cave.

"Watch it, young'un," Fenrir said, grabbing the boy to steady him.

"Sorry, sir," Wotan said, turning in his general direction. His face was pale and half covered in blood; more was soaked into his uniform shirt—like most of them, he hadn't been wearing his jacket in the late afternoon heat. His bright green eyes looked unfocussed. "I, uh... I can't see anything."

Fenrir swore. Feist was there in a micron, easing his wingman down to a sitting position against the cave wall.

"I'm okay, LT," Wotan said. "You'd better get up front and do something useful, like shooting."

Feist, his face grim, yielded to the necessity and handed Wotan over to Freya. Rejoining Apollo and Toomy at the front, he took a couple of useless shots at the enemy, who were hanging back just outside of range. Two of them, mottled in blue and green, had drawn a line in the dirt, behind which most of them stayed. Occasionally two of them would dash forward and drag one of the bodies back beyond the line, and every now and then one of them would fire an arrow at the cave. But in general they were at a standoff.

"Sir?" Freya, a bandage made out of her shirt sleeve wrapped around her arm, came forward. "Sir, do you know the Last Words?"

Apollo swallowed hard. "Yes," he said.

"Thought you might," she said. "Kris, Colby, or Harker usually do services for us, but..." her voice trailed off. Kris wasn't there, there was no way he could have survived, and as for the other two, the last Apollo had seen they were both unconscious. "Lieutenant Harker's woke up, sir. He wants the words said."

Apollo didn't ask; it was clear from her tone that Harker was dying. He sighed. "Toomy," he said, "stay up here, would you? Keep an eye out."

"Yes, sir," the corporal nodded.

Apollo stood up and cracked his head on the cave's ceiling. He swore softly and bent to walk back to the others. Megeara was bending over Harker; she straightened with a sigh of relief. Meeting Apollo's eyes, she shook her head once. He bent down and took the lieutenant's hand in his. "Harker?" he said softly.

Harker's brown eyes were clouded, but they found Apollo's face. "Sir," he said, his voice faint and bubbles of blood frothing with each breath. "Can you... say the Words... for me?"

At that moment, Apollo didn't remind him of his anomalous standing within the Temple. He just rested his hand on the lieutenant's forehead for a minute, then made the Sign there, and said, "Hear O Lord we beseech thee, these our prayers, as we call upon thee on behalf of this thy servant Harker, and bestow upon him the help of thy merciful consolation."

Fenrir, Feist, Freya, and Megeara murmured an Amen.

"O most merciful God who, according to the multitude of thy mercies, dost so put away the sins of those who truly repent that thou rememberest them no more, Open thine eye of mercy upon this thy servant Harker, who most earnestly desireth pardon and forgiveness. And now that thou art pleased to take him hence, take him unto thy favor." He laid his hands over Harker's eyes, saying, "Unto God's gracious mercy and protection we commit thee. The Lord bless thee and keep thee. The Lord make his face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee."

Another Amen, and then Apollo made the Sign once more and waited. Harker's breathing eased as he heard the Words, and then stopped altogether. Apollo traced the Sign once more, and said, "Depart O Soul out of this world. In the name of God who created thee and sanctifieth thee, may thy rest be this day in peace and thy dwelling-place in the Paradise of God. Into thy hands, O merciful God, we commend the soul of thy child now departed from the body. Receive him into the arms of thy mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the angels and saints of light."

He sat back on his heels, feeling the tears start in his eyes. He hadn't known Harker very long, but he'd been his commanding officer. This was his fault, and all the Words in the world couldn't erase that, even if they'd sent the man to his death with an eased soul. He could scarcely believe that Harker had wanted him to say them, even if Fenrir or Feist didn't know them as well... involuntarily he looked at Colby, who was lying as still as Harker, except for the harsh but shallow breathing. Then he glanced at the blond ensign leaning up against the cave wall.

"How are you doing, Wotan?"

Wotan turned his head carefully towards Apollo's voice. "Just fine, sir," he said almost breezily. "A bit bloody, I gather, but unbowed, isn't that how it goes?"

"That's it," Apollo said. "Hang in there. We'll get you back to Dr. Salik's tender care in no time."

"Yes, sir," he said. "I know you will."

Apollo couldn't tell if they were both lying or not... "Freya," he said, remembering that she'd had more basic aid courses than any of the others, "stay back and take care of the others, will you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Feist," he said, "I don't suppose you ever did any field work with your husband?"

"No, sir," he answered. "Sorry... the ground pounders didn't care for us flyboys tagging along..."

"Damn," Apollo said mildly. Then he went back up front to relieve Toomy, let the man come back and say goodbye to his squadron mate. Sitting alone in shadow of the cave mouth, he looked out at the enemy, trying to gather as much information on them as he could.

The aliens were clearly reptilian, bipeds with balancing tails and slender, almost delicate, hands; forward-facing eyes of bright yellow; no visible ears; and plenty of sharp-looking teeth in their long jaws. The olive green ones had a crest of iridescent skin draping from their skull over their shoulders; when they'd been attacking those crests had been stiff with pulsing blood, glowing crimson. But there were others, about a third of the total number, who were slightly larger, crestless, their bodies covered in traceries and shadings of greens, blues, and whites. None of them were wearing clothes, but they were wearing knives, bags, and pouches on leather straps, and their slender lower legs—they stood on the balls and toes of their feet—were cross-tied with narrow straps to which feathers had been attached. Their normal gait was a head-bobbing stride that covered a lot of ground, their tails lifted high behind them in counterbalance.

Only the green ones carried spears; the others were armed only with the long bows, though many of the green ones carried those as well. As they settled in, some of them began playing dice games on the ground. Others gathered in circles, chattering among themselves. Still others walked in and out of the shuttles, or examined the tables and the various tools and pieces of equipment the Colonials had left behind. These cocked their heads, turning them as if getting several different angles of view were important to understand what they were seeing; they raised the items to their faces to sniff them and occasionally tasted them with a long tongue.

Others stood in groups, staring up at the cave, out of blaster range—they were smart enough to have figured that out. The green ones were about as tall as Feist, or Giles, Apollo decided, though they undoubtedly massed twice as much, and the mottled ones were bigger. Apollo didn't know if it was a sex difference or if he was looking at two different but related species. Their hands were three-fingered, with an opposable thumb and blunt claws which were painted in lines of black and red. The claws on their toes were unpainted and much longer, and halfway up their lower legs the cross-strapping opened around the curved and very sharp looking claw that had proved a formidable weapon in its own right. A few beads were strung on the narrow leg straps as well as long, brightly colored feathers that trembled constantly in eye-catching reaction to breeze and movement. Their yellow eyes had long, narrow pupils and an unblinking stare, and Apollo couldn’t even guess what they were thinking.

Except that they were pissed off.

Not that that was hard to figure out.

 


Firstday... In groundpounder talk, one day and a wake up until Apollo got back. Three days till fourthday and they got married. Starbuck shook his head, hoping Apollo wasn't going to get angry over Boxey not going to Temple. He really couldn't have brought himself to force the boy, especially since he didn't go himself. He hoped, too, that Adama wasn't going to cause problems over not seeing Boxey today. For them, or for Athena, for that matter... He sighed. He hoped things were going well for Athena. Last night she'd been expecting Bojay, that much had been obvious, and he hadn't shown up. When Starbuck had gotten to the barracks, at least Bojay had been there, not out somewhere else. He'd meant to talk to him, but the other man had left in a tearing hurry—to meet Athena, Starbuck hoped. It would be nice if she was happy... Boj, too, for that matter.

Of course, he had a feeling that Apollo wasn't going to be at all happy to find his sister and his least favorite pilot an item. A fairly solid item, if Boxey was to be trusted. And he generally could be. It was funny, Starbuck had always thought so, how Apollo reacted to Bojay. Obviously, the most influential of the Pegasus pilots had been Bojay and Sheba, and even Apollo had recognized that. He'd promoted Bojay to Green Leader partly on Boomer's recommendation that it would "give him something else to think about", but it had been a tacit acknowledgment that Bojay was a leader, not just somebody's child. And even Cain had made Bojay captain, not Sheba...

Starbuck had occasionally wondered if Apollo hated Bojay because of Sheba. After all, he'd been seriously dating her for a while, and Bojay had been... something. At the moment, Boj seemed to be hating her somewhat more intensely than Apollo hated him, but when they'd first arrived, hell, last secton, they'd seemed to be emotionally tangled somehow. But if Apollo had, as he probably had, felt guilty over Sheba, then the initial antagonism between them would have gotten worse. At any rate, he did hate Bojay. He'd not-so-secretly fretted when Starbuck had been detailed to take Keili's place in Green. He wasn't going to be any happier, and probably more vocal, to discover that his sister was sleeping with Bojay and that everyone on the Galactica knew it.

That last, especially. And knowing Apollo, he'd blame Bojay, not Athena. And not Sheba, who he was already making excuses for. Sheba... she was like a damned crawlon, leaving slimy poisonous webs all over everything she touched. And if crawlon webs weren't slimy or poisonous, it just proved Sheba was in a class by herself. The one thing he was glad of in all this Apollo-getting-demoted-crap was that Boomer was going to have to deal with her. Not that he had anything against Boomer, but it wouldn't have been good for Apollo to have to deal with things like that felix-fight in the ready room yesterday morning.

Starbuck sighed and looked across the ready room at his wingman, who was frowning at a crossword in the Fleet's weekly magazine. Giles had genuinely been ready to hit her. That wasn't good. Not that Starbuck didn't understand... sympathize... hell, approve of that impulse, but you didn't punch out a superior officer in public if you wanted to get ahead. Lieutenants might be stalled in rank, but flight officers could make lieutenant and ensigns could make flight officer... or get busted down to flight corporal. Starbuck didn't want his wingman getting busted on his account. On the other hand, he didn't know how to suggest to Giles that, well, it was on his account. That sounded more than a bit arrogant, or presumptuous. Liable to raise topics nobody wanted raised. So he just shook his head and settled for being extremely grateful that Blue and Silver Spar were never on duty together. Or Red and Silver Spar, for that matter. He snickered suddenly; if they ended up in-laws Bojay and Apollo would have to get along, so their squadrons' overlap should work out okay.

Which brought him back to hoping that's where Bojay had spent the night, with Athena. Boxey had wanted to stay up to say good night to Aunt 'Theni's boyfriend, but Starbuck had with good conscience been able to tell him forget it, since Bojay wouldn't be there until late. When he hadn't shown up, Starbuck had figured him and Athena to be somewhere after his shift, but then she'd shown up without him and in no mood to talk to Starbuck. At least, not about that. And he hadn't had time to stay and try harder. He supposed it was the sort of thing Adama had been complaining about, him and Boxey both hoping Bojay had spent the night with Athena, but, well, hell. Why not? It wasn't like Boxey didn't know that grownups spent the night. And it wasn't like Adama hadn't hinted to both his children in front of the boy... Boxey might not get sex yet, but he got love. He got family... too bad Adama didn't.

Let's not ruin a perfectly good day by thinking about your soon-to-be-not-father-in-law, okay? he told himself. But it was too late. Starbuck found himself wondering if Bojay's being the opposite sex would compensate for his being Diwest, which he had to admit he'd never heard Adama mention but doubted he approved of. Even Boxey had called it "heathen". Plus, whatever it was about his father... Starbuck remembered slightly drunken evenings with Bojay, back when they were on the Galactica together—Bojay had never gotten more than slightly drunk as far as Starbuck knew—and Bojay, once or twice, telling him stories about his father... he hadn't sounded like a major liability but, then, you weren't likely to admit it if he was, were you? He sighed again... he was getting as mercurial as Boxey, he thought, but he hoped he wasn't going to have to try and explain to the boy why Athena and Bojay had broken up. If they had.

Hell, blame it on Adama, he thought to himself. Dumping a few more things on him wouldn't matter.

He blew out a gusty breath and looked at the wall chrono. Another 50 centons and then he'd be off. Green had already started straggling in, though he hadn't seen Bojay yet. Starbuck stretched, thinking. He and Giles had flown an absolutely uneventful and perfectly boring two-centare picket and sat around the rest of the day. Starbuck figured Boomer was making up to them for yesterday, but he'd much rather have been flying than sitting around. Giles, now, he was happy, but then he'd been expecting to pull inventory duty, or something. Lords knew, Apollo wouldn't have let him get away with the attitude he'd displayed yesterday, even if Apollo had agreed with it. Boomer, though... well, Starbuck figured Boomer hated having to reprimand Giles for being himself.

Starbuck stretched again. He supposed he should take Athena out to dinner this evening after she went to Temple to make up for having lost so much free time this secton, though she didn't seem to have lost any ground along with it. Still, he doubted that spending centares, days even, with Boxey was how she wanted to start her relationship with Bojay, so he owed her. Owed her big time, in fact. Not just for the baby-sitting and the giving up her secton, but for running the risk of pissing off her father. Dinner was the least he could do. Too bad they couldn't go to the Star. Although he wasn't sure Boxey was ready for the Star... though there was a certain temptation to leaving Boxey with someone like Lalage...

Was that paternal? he rebuked himself, and then thought that yes, it probably was.

The centons clicked off on the wall chrono as slowly as when he'd been in school before getting inducted and testing into the Academy. Nobody had ever had to convince him that Time was relative. But finally Bojay's exec, Falora, showed up and relieved Blue. Since Jolly was closeted with Boomer, Starbuck handed over to her and then left before anybody could think of some reason for him to stay.

When he got home, there was a note from Athena saying she and Boxey would be in the Rejuv Center. Starbuck considered waiting for them, but decided that didn't exactly square with his owing Athena. He did take a few centons to make reservations for dinner, and then another few to fulfill his promise to himself: getting another vid hook-up for their quarters, in the front room. He'd nearly died of boredom last night.

Athena looked happy to see him. No, she just looked happy. That answers the 'where was Bojay last night' question, Starbuck reflected as he suffered Boxey's enthusiastic greeting. "Been behaving?" he asked generally.

"Of course," Boxey said.

"None of your business," Athena answered.

"Good, good," he said. "Glad to hear it."

"Starbuck," she said warningly.

"Seriously," he protested. "I am."

"You are what, Pop?"

"Glad to hear you behaved yourself," he said. "Didn't give your aunt any trouble."

"Of course I did," Boxey said, sounding aggrieved. "I'm not a baby."

"Believe me, Boxey," said Athena, laughing, "some people can't behave when they're much older than you!"

Boxey giggled.

Starbuck ignored them both. "Do you want to go to dinner tonight, Athena? After Temple?"

"Yes," she said. "I'd like that. Thanks."

"Where are we going, Pop?"

"The Officers' Club," he said. "I still can't leave the Galactica, even though your aunt can."

"I'll meet you there after Temple," she said.

"I thought you weren't going," Boxey said.

"I think perhaps I should," she said.

"Boxey," Starbuck said, "don't try to make other people do what you think they should."

"But, Pop—"

"Boxey," he said warningly.

"Boxey," Athena said, dropping down to his eye level, "just because I'm going to Temple tonight, it doesn't mean I've changed my mind about anything except that today is a good day to irritate your grandfather. I still love you, and my brother, and Starbuck, and Bojay, and I won't give up any of you. Okay?"

"Okay," he said after a moment. She hugged him, and he clung to her. She looked up at Starbuck, her pale eyes worried.

Starbuck nodded at her. He wasn't sure what to do about it, but he knew Boxey was worried. Apollo needed to be here. Damn Adama, that boray-headed old bastard, he thought savagely. Even if he doesn't mind jerking his son around, how can he do this to a kid? A kid he's supposed to love? Hell, maybe I'm better off with no one. He brought himself to an abrupt halt. He hardly had no one any more.

And he didn't want to go back to that, either.

So he took a breath and said, "You two want to take me on at 'Legend'?"

Boxey looked at Athena. "We can beat him. I know lots of secrets!"

"Okay," she said. "I've got time to kick your butt, Starbuck."

"You wish," he grinned.

But they were ahead when Felicia showed up.

"Jump, Aunt 'Theni, jump!" Boxey yelled.

Over his head Starbuck caught Felicia's beckoning finger. Uh-oh, he thought. "Be right back," he said to Athena. "No cheating, now."

"Sir," the redhead said softly. "You need to come to the Wing." She glanced at Boxey, and Starbuck felt his heart miss a beat.

"What's wrong?" he demanded.

"We've gotten a distress call from Red," she said.

"What happened?" he said, trying to keep his own voice down.

"That's all I know, sir," she said. "Lt. Bojay's on the bridge now, but he said I should find you." She paused. "There've been casualties, I do know that."

Oh, gods. Apollo... No. "Apollo?" he said, and realized how fiercely only when Felicia flinched slightly. "Sorry..."

"It's all right, sir," she said. "I don't know. Lt. Feist made contact. You should come to the ready room."

"Yes, I—" he stopped dead. Boxey. Frack. "I'll be there in, in... as soon as I can."

"Yes, sir," she said and left.

He took a couple of deep breaths and walked back to Boxey and Athena. He was trying to put on his pyramid face, but he could tell when Boxey looked at him that he wasn't as successful as he usually was. Guess the stakes are too high.

"What's happened, Pop?"

"I don't know, exactly," he said honestly. "But I have to go back on duty. 'Theni?"

"Don't worry about Boxey," she said.

"Thanks, 'Theni."

She shook her head. "No thanks needed. We're family."

He returned her hug and then went down on one knee. "Boxey... Boxey, listen to me."

"I don't want you to go!"

"I know. I know. But I have to." For a moment he thought about lying, but then he decided that he just couldn't do that. It might be momentarily kinder, but it would cost him Boxey's trust and if the worst had happened, which it might have, might yet, he'd have to have that. They'd have to have it. "Boxey, your dad's in trouble. I don't know how bad. But I have to go back on duty."

"Is he... is Dad all right?"

"I don't know. I'll find out. But you have to stay with Athena now and do what she says. I need to know that you're going to do that, so I don't have to worry about you, too. Okay?"

Boxey swallowed, his big brown eyes full of tears just waiting to fall. "Okay, Pop."

Starbuck put his hand on Boxey's shoulder. "You know I signed the paperwork," he said. "You're gonna be okay. Don't worry about yourself, you hear?"

"I wish Dad was in Blue still... he said you were the best."

"Red's a good squadron," Starbuck said forcefully. "They're doing as good as anybody. And we'll be going. So I have to go. You mind your aunt. And I'll be back."

"Promise?"

"If humanly possible," said Starbuck, "I won't let you down." Boxey hugged him, and Starbuck pulled the small body close. "If it's up to me, I won't let you down," he repeated.

Then he put the boy away from him and left. He waited till the doors shut behind him to start running.

Starbuck punched the button for, and in, the turbolift a dozen times each, as if that would make it move more quickly. Apollo, Apollo... what have you gotten yourself into? What has the Commander—he couldn't even think the words 'your father'—sent you into? He pounded the wall of the lift. You'd damned well not better be one of 'the casualties' or I'll kill you myself.

He was headed for the office when Giles grabbed his arm. He shook his wingman off, impatiently. "Come on, Starbuck," the shorter pilot said. "Suit up—Green'll go, but you know they're short one. If you're there—"

"Yeah," Starbuck headed for the barracks instead. "Thanks, Gi—good thinking." He paused, noticing Giles was in uniform, too. "You?"

"Boomer may not want you going," Giles said simply.

"He can't stop me."

"Starbuck—"

"He can't." Starbuck said that simply as he pulled on his pressure suit. "He'd better not try."

Wisely, Giles said nothing more. He picked up Starbuck's blaster and carried it when they left. Starbuck shrugged into his jacket on the way to the ready room, and finished buckling his boots once they were there. Most of Green was there; except for Bojay and Keili, who was probably in the office. Most of them gave him quick sympathetic looks, but he knew their mood: keying up for battle, they weren't free to get too sentimental. And that was okay: he didn't want sympathy. He wanted to fly, to fight. To bring Apollo back.

Bojay came in, followed by Boomer, not in uniform. "What's up?" Rex, one of Green's section leaders, asked.

"You're launching as soon as briefing's over," said Boomer. "Red and the landing party got attacked. They've taken casualties, some deaths—not Apollo," he added with a quick look at Starbuck.

"Attacked by who?" was Starbuck's answer.

Boomer gestured at Bojay.

"According to Feist," Green Leader said, "natives. Low-tech, but numerous and deadly. The squadron, most of them, are pinned in a cave. The rest of the survivors are prisoners, being held in one of the shuttles. Feist says Apollo doesn't want any more of the natives killed; it's their world, after all."

"Frack that," somebody said, barely beating Starbuck to it.

Boomer said, "Well, he's got Command's backing, up to a point. You're escorting a platoon of infantry down rather than blowing hell out of the encampment, but you come back with our people. Bojay, it's Green's mission."

Bojay nodded. "Get to your Vipers," he said. "Full brief on the way down; cartography's loaded. One thing, Captain?"

Boomer raised an eyebrow.

"Keili's got that inner ear thing; she can't fly. I need someone else."

"Giles? Okay," Boomer said.

"And Starbuck," Bojay said. "A wing pair. Going into combat's not the time to learn a new partner's ways."

"Starbuck?" Boomer sounded uncertain.

Starbuck started to say something but Giles's elbow in his ribs cut him off.

"They're here," said Bojay. "We don't need to waste time. And he's the best."

Boomer looked at Starbuck and visibly changed his mind. "It's Bojay's mission," he said.

"Of course, Captain," Starbuck said. Green was already heading for the launch bay transport. He started to follow, Giles at his heels. Boomer grabbed his elbow and locked eyes.

"Don't make me lose you both," the dark man said. "Don't make me regret this."

"Don't worry, Cap," Giles said. "I'll watch him."

"Oh, that makes me feel much better," Boomer said, but he let go and stepped back.

"We'll be back," Starbuck said. "All of us."

"Sometime today," Bojay called.

"Yes, sir!" Giles grabbed Starbuck's arm and pulled him aboard.

"Dak," Bojay leaned over and said, loudly so as to be heard over the noise of the transport's engines, "you and Rapiey go with Rex. Starbuck, you and Giles tuck in with me and Horus. Right?"

"Right," Dak said. Starbuck nodded. "Sir," Dak added, "are we actually going in non-violent?"

"Save it for channel two," Bojay said. "It's a hundred and sixty five centons flight time to atmosphere. We'll go over it all." His hazel eyes locked with Starbuck's. "The infantry goes down and everybody comes back. Everybody. Regardless." He looked back at his squadronmate. "Just like Command says."

Dak leaned back and nodded. "Right, sir. Got it."

 


Tigh watched the Vipers and infantry landing vehicle streak away from the Galactica. He hoped to God they were in time to save Apollo. He then, immediately, felt guilty that it was Apollo he thought of, as though the rest of the squadron didn't matter. He'd let Adama's children get under his skin, which wouldn't have been a bad thing if he hadn't ended up as their commanding officer. Zac's death had hit him hard; the boy had been so enthusiastic and loving. And Athena was hard-working and intense and dedicated and yet capable of some of the most elaborate practical jokes ever to disturb the deep of the midnight watches. But it was Apollo he'd always had a secret soft spot for... perhaps, he thought now, not surprisingly. Zac hadn't even particularly noticed that he was doing what his father wanted, hadn't put out much effort. Athena had tried to get his approval, but she'd also taken to a Warrior's life like the proverbial anaseran to water. Apollo had been born to be something else, an artist or a writer or something... He was the perfect Warrior, but he'd fought for it every step of the way. And Tigh had watched him from his privileged position as Adama's old bachelor friend, and ached for him. And now he was on the verge of really being happy, and that despite all the obstacles being thrown in his way, obstacles he was taking so much in his stride he didn't even seem to know they were there. So of course, of course, this.

Be in time, he thought as he looked over Omega's shoulder at the scanner readout. Be in time.

 


Boxey snuggled up against his aunt. She wrapped her arms around him and held him, resting her cheek against his hair.

"Is Dad going to be all right?" he asked again.

"Boxey," she started, then sighed. "Yes, he will. They all will. You'll see. Starbuck and Bojay will save your dad and bring him back, and everything will be fine."

"Dad and Pop will get married and we'll live together happily ever after?"

"Yes, absolutely."

"And you and Bojay will get married and live happily ever after?"

"Yes," Athena said, smiling in spite of her worry. "We will."

"In spite of all the mushy stuff 'cause you and they are married."

"Yes," she said. "In spite of the mushy stuff. Happily Ever After."

"And Grandfather will be nice again?"

"Maybe even that," she said.

"I wish it would hurry up and happen."

"So do I, Boxey," she said softly. "So do I."

 


Apollo looked back into the cave. Feist had gotten off-world. He had. A centare ago now. It hadn't been without cost. Toomy had taken an arrow in his shoulder and another in his leg. They wouldn't kill him, not before something else did, but they had laid him out, and they hurt. And Wotan, who'd insisted on coming up to the front of the cave and helping to lay down covering fire, was now unconscious. Fenrir was right now hovering over him, helpless and angry with it. Freya didn't think Colby had many centares left...

He eased his own slightly injured arm and tried again to calculate how long it would be before relief came. A centare, maybe less. Hopefully less...

The natives are restless tonight... It was an old line from hokey vids, the kind Starbuck and Zac had both loved so much. Starbuck still did, he reminded himself. And it was a true line; they were pacing around their fires, their melodious, birdsong voices twining through the night air in what was probably nothing like as peaceful as it sounded. When Feist had reached the Viper park, he'd been spotted, but too late to be stopped. He'd taken off under a shower of spears and arrows, and a couple of dozen of the dark green natives had charged the cave. Six of them had died, and Apollo and Toomy had been injured, before the blue and white ones had managed to restore order. And the first thing they'd done then was topple the remaining Vipers onto their sides and do damage to their cockpits. How much nobody could see from the cave, but Apollo pictured spear butts and smashing tails colliding with instrument panels and figured they weren't flying out.

Pray God Feist is having them bring a shuttle, he thought. And medtechs. He looked behind him again. And soon.

He looked up into the night sky, waiting for the moving streaks of light that would be their rescue. Starbuck, he thought. I love you. Boxey, I'm sorry. I love you too. 'Theni, baby sister so much stronger than me... take care of them both.

 


Cassie looked down the length of the ILV at the infantry lieutenant, who was on the radio with the Viper leader and the Galactica, making use of the long flight time to do the planning on the way instead of before hand. Across from her, Dr. Varrus was reviewing the literature on puncture wounds, something they didn't run into very often, if ever. And Tara was nervously recounting vials in one of the emergency kits. Not that they could go back if they were short of anything. Cassie leaned back against the wall of the vessel—the seats were narrow and ran the length of the interior, leaving the center free for cargo. Or patients. From the information, there would be several of those, some in very bad shape. That was why Dr. Varrus had insisted on coming, instead of another medtech.

Cassie closed her eyes. She was so angry at Apollo she couldn't see straight, but that didn't mean she wanted him hurt. Or anybody else, for that matter, though she barely knew any of the others. She hoped he was all right. She hoped they were in time to stop anyone else from dying. She hoped none of these soldiers, not the quiet ones and not the ones tossing irreverent and obscene jokes across the width of the ILV, and not the reassuringly calm lieutenant, she hoped none of them died "extracting" the landing team. And she hoped—she prayed—Starbuck would be careful and not get hurt himself.

 


Boomer watched the colonel and Omega talking quietly and waited for some word back from Green. At least he didn't have to worry about their competency, they were a good group and Bojay had done a lot of this sort of thing. Not recently, true, but... who had? His gaze kept slipping toward the Commander's office; Adama hadn't come out yet. Boomer forced his mind away from that topic. He wished he was doing something, but Blue had been on duty all day, and scattered, and Green was there, suited and ready to go. This was the right thing to do. But he wasn't sure he should have let Starbuck go. One look into those blue eyes and he'd known the only way to stop him was by physical force, but maybe he should have done that. If Apollo died and Starbuck wasn't there, it would be bad, but if he died and Starbuck was on hand and failed to save him... Boomer sighed. And if they both died, not only would it rip an immense hole in his own life, but what about Boxey?

And that was on top of his worry about the names Feist had talked about. Kris, Alita, and Harker dead. Colby dying. And Wotan... Boomer had worried about that boy, not as much as the men who'd been in his squadron since Cimtar—before then, for Fenrir—but enough. He still did, even though he wasn't Wotan's squadron leader any longer. Blind... He couldn't picture that; he prayed that the doctors would be able to fix it. Fix them all. He stared at Tigh and Omega again, wondered how the colonel managed to be so calm so far away from the action and if he'd ever learn how to do that.

I hate this job, he thought. Bucko, don't do anything stupid. Just get back here. Both of you, damn it. Both of you get back.

 


Bojay checked positions again: everyone, including the ILV, was where they should be. Nobody had any more questions; the only chatter on channel two was typical pre-combat joking around, though it was a bit muted due to Starbuck's presence in the squadron. Bojay was pretty sure that wasn't a mistake; that Starbuck meant to do as he was told. He'd always been a little bit of a loose cannon, but ultimately dependable. The emotional mix was different this time, but Bojay figured Starbuck would listen to orders as long as he was part of the action. And there was that little boy to think of... Some might argue he shouldn't be deprived of both his parents, but Starbuck wasn't yet, not legally. What Boxey deserved was the best chance to get his father back, and Starbuck in the mix could only improve that.

Apollo. Bojay hoped like hell the man came through this all right. He was not only Bucko's betrothed, weird as that was to think about, as often as he and the blond had gone cruising for women back in their reckless youth, but he was Boxey's father. And Athena's beloved brother. They were going to be kin-in-law soon. And even if Apollo didn't like the idea, it laid obligations on Bojay he couldn't avoid. Didn't want to avoid... He'd bring Athena's brother back or know why.

 


I'm coming, 'Pol. Hold on. Stay alive. Boxey needs you. I need you. Stay alive.

Chapter Text

Bojay's voice came over the tactical channel (channel's two real purpose, as so many wing captains had tried in vain to remind chatting pilots down through the millennia) after a long silence. The planet was looming large below them; in another couple of centons they'd be in atmosphere. Starbuck was more than ready for it. Who knew what had happened in the nearly two centares since Feist had gotten out of the interference and called for help?

Starbuck hadn't known only the boosted comms of the shuttles had been able to cut through the planet's ionosphere. He didn't like that... that it was both common and normally harmless didn't calm him. After all, he needed something to get pissed off at, and the atmosphere was a safe target. The infantry lieutenant had asked the hundred-and-forty-four-thousand-cubit question: "How'd Ops miss this, anyway?"

Bojay's answer had calm and reasoned and nearly sent Starbuck back to the Galactica for blood. "Ops only did preliminary recce; the commander figured the team could handle anything that had been missed." He'd given them two centons of reaction and then shut them up. "Next-day game-calling. Our job is fix it, not critique it."

Starbuck had to admit, Bojay had taken to being a Squadron Leader a lot better than he'd have predicted. As he remembered, Boj had always preferred getting orders to giving them, like he did himself, though Boj was a helluva lot better at following. It wasn't really surprising that he'd been promoted when Starbuck wasn't, though Starbuck had never wanted any of his temporary commands (like of Red at Cimtar) to be made permanent. No, no way, not in this lifetime did he want to be in charge of people's fates. Lieutenant-for-life, that was him. He still couldn't figure out how he'd ended up a section leader...

But Bojay had never liked being micro-managed, either. Squadron Leader, with its clearly defined parameters and freedom within them, probably actually suited him well, Starbuck realized. At any rate, listening to him brief them, Starbuck thought he sounded in his element. And he'd come up with a plan that should satisfy everyone... and if Apollo didn't want natives killed and some were, well, Starbuck would be more than happy to knock some sense into that overly conscientious dark head as soon as he could get his hands on it.

It was probably going to be the least of Apollo's concerns, anyway.

Now Bojay was giving final orders, and Starbuck appreciated being pulled into the center of things. "All right, Green: heads up. Atmosphere in 85 microns. Campsite in one centon after that. Falora, with me... Rex, one centon after that. Hastur, keep that ILV as close to Rex as you can."

"Right, boss," the ILV pilot, Keili's wingman, answered.

"Prepare for atmosphere... now."

And Green Squadron hit the exosphere with the slight shudder that leaving vacuum produced and dove for the thermosphere and beneath. Good little Viper, Starbuck thought, as he always did, hold together now. Some excuse for it this time, he was in Keili's not his own... and then it happened, just like it always did, and he was riding the wind not fighting it. Worry over Apollo muted the exhilaration, but it was there.

He looked over and found Giles, right where he should be. In the other direction he saw Horus and just beyond him Bojay. Everyone right where they should be... The slightly subversive plan was for the first two sections to go in blasting, high, and move the natives out. The third section would follow, and either fire behind the running natives (best outcome), chopping up the ground and keeping them out, or (worst case) actually shooting at them. Either way, when the first sections came back around, they ought to be able to hold clear a landing space for the ILV. At that point, it was the infantry's game; the Vipers would keep the natives back. "However necessary."

Those were Starbuck's favorite words from the entire plan.

If possible, they hoped to bring back the other shuttles, the grunts had two shuttle pilots with them, but that was secondary. So was hoping that some of Red could get to their Vipers. If so, good, but the infantry's orders were to extract the landing party with all due speed. Starbuck had a feeling that, after listening to Feist (who was coming in with Rex), the grunts intended to bodily throw people into their ILV if necessary.

And he didn't blame them... There was just something about fighting reptiles that made your skin crawl. Without even considering that Cylons were...had been...whatever. Cold-blooded killers, all of them. Starbuck didn't even like little lizards.

Let alone what he saw as they sheared through the clouds and the camp appeared before them. Honkin' huge lizards, with teeth to match. And spears. The picture of Apollo attacked by those creatures almost made him sick. He swallowed hard, reminded himself that they weren't supposed to kill any lizards if possible....

"Green," Bojay's voice sounded in his ear. "Ground is answering; status essentially unchanged from last intel—"

It took about ten microns for that to sink in. Apollo's still alive! In the wash of relief he almost missed the signal to move in, but his instincts were keeping his eyes flicking between Horus and Giles, and though he didn't hear the words he saw the Green pilot dive. He followed, knowing Giles was with him, and let Bojay lay down the first laser cannon blasts. Horus and he followed up, and Giles's shots were laid down even closer to the lizards.

And then Falora's section cut into sight, and the lizards ran. Starbuck's emotions were divided, but for the moment he was glad. He pulled his Viper up in a tight climb, sticking close to Horus who was almost able to stay with Bojay, who wasn't cutting his wingman any slack today. That was a bit unusual, but so were the circs. If the lizards hadn't run, Starbuck had planned on losing Giles if necessary. Fortunately it wasn't...

They dropped down for the second pass, Bojay considerably in the lead. A handful of bluish lizards fired arrows at his viper, with no effect. He ignored them, but Horus dropped and rolled over their heads and they broke and followed the rest, Starbuck and Giles firing blasts into the ground behind them. The plan was working.

Thank God! Starbuck hovered over the camp with the other three, watching as Hastur set the ILV down. The infantry came out, rifles ready, moving in their own patterns. Starbuck glanced to his right, where the cave was. He saw movement there.

"Watch the natives."

Starbuck jerked his head around and eased up on the stick. Bojay might have been reading his mind, his subconscious mind at that. He'd been on the verge of landing... "Sorry, Boj," he said.

"No problem, just stay on the job."

And the infantry needed them on top. A flight of arrows was suddenly launched at them. Bojay snapped, "Green! Shake 'em up!"

Starbuck joined in the fire directed at the lizards. The combined firepower of twelve Vipers disrupted their attack nicely and sent them scattering. Most of them, and Starbuck couldn't find it in himself to be sorry for that, especially when a quick glance back showed some of the grunts down. A flash of grey moved across the clearing—a medtech. Cassie... Starbuck squeezed off another burst. "Keep your fracking heads down, boys," he muttered, "and nobody else dies today."

He trusted Green, he did, but he was keeping his eyes mostly on the lizards, so he only got glimpses of the infantry fighting with some that remained on one shuttle, moving the survivors out of the cave, and loading up the ILV. Then Hastur's voice came across the air, "Boss? Loaded and ready to go."

And another voice, unfamiliar, "Second shuttle ready. Third shuttle and Vipers are write offs."

"Go," confirmed Bojay.

The shuttles lifted off the surface. As soon as they were clear, Green moved into escort position. Bojay slipped in next to the ILV they'd brought with them. "Hastur," he said; on channel two his voice had that slight reverb that said he was using both channels at once. "You have Lieutenant Apollo with you?"

"Yes, sir," Hastur said.

"Put him on. Starbuck, take channel one."

"Apollo?"

"Hang on," Hastur said, "he's coming."

Starbuck hung on for what seemed like a centare. Then, "Starbuck?"

"Apollo? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," the beloved voice said. "Just fine. Now."

"You fracking scared me to death, you idiot," Starbuck said.

"Didn't mean to." Apollo sounded tired; more, there was a little undertone that said—

"Are you sure you're all right?" Starbuck demanded.

"It's nothing." He paused. "Really, Starbuck. I'm okay."

"Are you sure—Hastur, is he okay?"

"He's not listening, Starbuck. I'm flying... See, he thinks I'm okay."

"Thank God..."

"Bucko," Bojay interrupted. "I need to call in."

"Of course. Thanks, Boj. See you soon, 'Pol."

"Yes..." Apollo's voice had picked up another undertone, but he was gone before Starbuck could explore it.

Bojay was calling the Galactica as Starbuck switched back to channel two. "Well?" Giles was demanding. "Starbuck? Well?"

"He's fine, Gi." Starbuck's face was hurting, he was grinning so hard. "Thanks."

"That's great, Bucko." Giles was joined by several others, all glad.

Starbuck leaned back in his seat, watching the ILV ahead of him. There were a lot of problems waiting back on the battlestar, but at this moment, all that mattered was that Apollo was alive.

 


"Hey, Apollo—Starbuck's on comms, wants to talk to you."

Starbuck? Starbuck was here... well, there? Apollo blinked. He'd thought that was Bojay's voice that had called, sounding through the static almost like an angel of God's. And then the infantry lieutenant had taken over, and no Viper pilots had actually landed. Just grunts and two medtechs, and Apollo had sworn never again to disparage the infantry again...

"Apollo?" the pilot repeated, and Apollo realized he was just sitting there.

"Starbuck?" Apollo stood up and headed for the front of the ILV. "Starbuck? He's here?"

The pilot—what was his name? Castor? No, Hastur—nodded. "My wingman's got some inner ear thing, she can't fly, so the boss got two from Blue." He grinned; it was obvious he figured that was just a way to give Starbuck a legitimate way to come along.

He was in Green, so the 'boss' would be... Bojay? Bojay circumventing regs on Starbuck's account. Not likely. It must have been Boomer's idea. And a good one. Good old Boomer, Apollo thought. You know him too well... He sat in the copilot's seat, looking up gratefully as Hastur stepped a little bit back to give him some privacy. Their words would be audible to any pilot on channel one, of course, but he could pretend. "Starbuck?"

Starbuck answered immediately. "Apollo? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Apollo said. "Just fine. Now." And it was true. Just hearing that voice was making his aches and pains and worries fade into insignificance. It wouldn't last, of course—people were dead—but it felt good for the moment.

"You fracking scared me to death, you idiot," Starbuck said, his voice acerbic with love.

"Didn't mean to." Apollo could picture the expression on his lifemate's face, the blazing eyes, the worry. He wished they were face-to-face, wished Starbuck could hold him.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Starbuck demanded,

"It's nothing." He paused; the silence from Starbuck was eloquent. "Really, Starbuck. I'm okay."

He obviously wasn't convincing. "Are you sure—Hastur, is he okay?"

Apollo smiled at the tone. "He's not listening, Starbuck. I'm flying... See, he thinks I'm okay."

"Thank God..." Starbuck finally sounded like he believed it.

And then Bojay interrupted them. "Bucko, I need to call in."

"Of course. Thanks, Boj. See you soon, 'Pol."

"Yes," Apollo said and cut off the transmission before he ruined it. Bucko? Boj? He stared out at the stars, not really noticing Hastur slip back into his seat and not really hearing the conversation between Bojay and the Galactica. What's been going on up there?

Then he took hold of himself and took a couple of deep breaths. What had been going on was... nothing. Nothing was up. Nothing was going on. Half the people on the Galactica called Starbuck 'Bucko'. And he shortened names like... like somebody who did something a lot. It didn't mean anything. They were just friends. Nothing else.

After all, they'd had two years together before Apollo and Boomer had been transferred to the Galactica. They'd been close—very close. In fact Apollo had been glad he'd barely met the man who was half of the most infamous pair the First Fleet had known (probably had ever known). He hadn't been surprised, when he heard some of the stories, that Tigh had broken the two up. He'd figured his father had had a hand in keeping Starbuck, knowing that Apollo was coming after he finished the staff course that put him three sectares behind Boomer's arrival. Now—Apollo had to grin—he'd bet Adama wished he'd kept Bojay and sent Starbuck to the Pegasus.

It was an old friendship being revived, that was all, he told himself. Even if there had ever been more to it, there wasn't now. And there hadn't been, because Starbuck didn't sleep with other men. At least—one last (more likely one more) insecurity assailed Apollo—at least he'd never mentioned men. And it wasn't, Apollo reminded himself, as though he'd kept his women secret. Anything but...

Frack. I am such an idiot. He was Starbuck's only man. He should have seen and understood that earlier. Part of him probably had, the part that had never mentioned the man he had had an affair with when he and Starbuck were on different ships and he'd been... lonely. Weak. Something. He'd told himself he didn't talk about the women he dated either, but they'd been public and always with an eye toward finding the one he could bring to Adama. Should he mention Rohan, he wondered for the first time. It would be one more thing for Starbuck to have to forgive—how fair was that? He sighed, feeling suddenly very tired. Adrenaline's run out, he guessed. Make no decisions now, Apollo. Get some sleep first.

He should go in the back, he knew. Leave Hastur alone to fly. Be with his squadron... Colby, who might just live long enough for a priest. Wotan, still unconscious. The others, hurt and shocky and trying to shore each other up. He ought to be back there with them, but he couldn't muster the energy to stand up. He wanted to stay where he was, listen to the voices of the pilots and Galactica ops... Hoping to hear Starbuck, getting Bojay's voice instead...

Bojay... if he was in charge of this, he'd done a good job. Apollo wished no more of the natives had had to be killed, but he wasn't selfish enough to die in their place... Bojay had always been competent. He and Starbuck both, it was why they'd made it to lieutenant despite their escapades. And now Apollo had to shake his head and smile at his own paranoia: most of those Starbuck'n'Bojay stories had featured women, usually several. And if his father, he thought with a moment's wry amusement, had had any hint that Starbuck was 'a pervert' before this, he'd have never let him date 'Theni—his admonition to Apollo to marry Sheba for his 'salvation' notwithstanding. Nor would he have let him within a lightyahren of Zac...

No, Starbuck was just friends with Bojay. Apollo had finally learned how to step back and be rational. If he had the time, could make the time. That was the secret, he guessed: stepping back. He didn't know why it had taken so long, but he had. And he knew that he couldn't try to dictate Starbuck's friends, either. Maybe he wished that weren't so, in fact he did wish it, but he doubted Starbuck was going to give up his friends just because Apollo didn't like them. Though after they were married there'd be less time for that. Starbuck would be with him and Boxey. Single friends would maybe not lose their appeal but they'd lose interest. Starbuck knew that, at least he had when Apollo had married Serina. Maybe Starbuck was just reaching for a last few days of... Maybe he was changing his mind. Maybe the past few days, being tied to Boxey, had made him reconsider. Maybe Apollo was going to have start again.

Well, he could do that if he had to. It had come too easy, anyway. And after all, it was his own damned fault Starbuck had lived the wild life so long. He supposed the Lords of Kobol had had Boxey in mind, but... Well, no point in brooding over the past. And as for the last few days, well in the last couple of yahrens Starbuck had grown quieter. Almost staid in comparison to a decade ago. Bojay, too, for that matter: no longer a big drinker or partier. Just a big—Apollo clamped down on the thought. He didn't own Starbuck and he never would and he'd better learn to get along with his friends. On the surface if nothing else. Besides maybe Bojay had proposed to Sheba... That would be nice. She deserved to be happy. Maybe they would find someone for Cassie, too. And 'Theni. And maybe Boomer would ask that IFB camerawoman he was dating...

Adama had just apologized abjectly and welcomed Starbuck as his son when Tigh interrupted to say they'd found Earth and it was a garden paradise protected by angels with swords of light where everyone could live in peace and love for hundreds of yahrens, and then Apollo heard his name.

"Apollo?"

He jerked awake and looked up at Cassie.

"Come back here and let me look at that arm," she said. Ordered, more like.

"It's not that bad," he protested.

"That's why we left you to last," she said. "Come back here."

He gave in. Pushing himself out of the seat, he followed her, his right hand on the wall of the ILV over the seats to keep his balance. He was tireder than he'd thought. He paused for a minute next to Wotan, where Fenrir was brooding, his hand on the kid's shoulder. "How's he doing?"

Fenrir glanced up, his pale blue eyes cloudy with pain and exhaustion. "He's still breathing, anyways," he said. "If he can hang on.."

Apollo nodded. There wasn't anything else to say in the face of the Tauron's fierce grief. He put his hand on Freya's shoulder, briefly, where she sat next to Colby, watching the doctor check on him. Varrus's expression was too noncommittal for comfort. Toomy lay nearby, also unconscious, but that was from sedatives. The corporal was going to make it. And Freya's wingmate, Aston, was in the other shuttle... frack. He should have asked about him.

Cassie pushed him down into a seat near Megeara, not particularly gently. His wingman (damnit, he'd forgotten all about her, he was so used to thinking of Starbuck as his wing) looked over at him with a tired smile.

"Everything okay, Apollo?" she asked.

"Well," he temporized. "Not everything, obviously... how's the arm?"

"Which one?" she quipped. "Yours or mine?" Then she sobered. "Mine's fine, or at least it will be."

"Mine, too," he said. "Right?" He looked up at Cassie.

"Probably," she said, not much bedside manner in evidence as she sliced open the sleeve of his uniform. "It doesn't look too bad." She splashed some disinfectant on it. It stung like hell. He jerked and her fingers closed around his arm. "Hold still," she snapped.

Hmmm. Starbuck had said she wasn't angry. If this wasn't angry, Apollo was glad he'd never had a fight with her. He tried to think of something to say, but couldn't.

"Cassie, come here!" Dr. Varrus, who'd moved up the line of the patients from Colby to Wotan, called sharply.

Cassie grabbed Apollo's right hand and put it against the dressing. "Hold that," she snapped and hurried up the aisle to push Fenrir aside. Megeara stood up, trying for a better view.

"Stabilize this boy's head," the doctor ordered. Cassie reached in, standing behind Wotan and blocking their view. Varrus moved around, bumping into Fenrir. "Please get out of the way, Lieutenant," he said with bare courtesy.

Fenrir backed up. Freya stood up and reached for him, and after a centon he put his good arm around her and they held on. Apollo and Megeara watched, knowing that they were the outsiders here. Apollo had thought, once or twice, that Feist might be a little in love with the boy, but Fenrir wasn't. He just loved him... just.

Centons passed and then Varrus straightened up. "Get me a cervical collar... oh. Tara's on the shuttle. Somebody know what a cervical collar looks like?"

"I'll get it," Freya said. "I didn't think there was anything wrong with his neck." She sounded self-accusing.

Varrus glanced at her. "You're Rhonda's wife, aren't you? There's not. But I want to keep his head still; I've had to trepan."

"Is he going to..." her voice trailed off.

"Live? Certainly. Recover? Probably. How much longer till we reach the Galactica?"

"Another twenty centons," Hastur said, startling Apollo. He'd really lost track of time.

"There. Cassie, stay with him; keep an eye on him. I'll finish the capta—Apollo's arm."

And then they were on Galactica approach. Few things had ever looked so good to him as the battlestar bulking against the stars. Who needed a garden paradise? Starbuck and Boxey, and a battlestar was paradise enough... books, loaves of bread and jugs of nectar not required. He shook his head; he must be tired than he'd thought. Or more easily satisfied.

Hastur set the ILV down neatly, though Apollo saw Cassie reach to steady Wotan. Her bedside-manner problem was confined to him, he decided; that was okay... he had it coming, he supposed. When the door opened, some of the infantry, who'd spent the trip keeping out of the way and talking amongst themselves—their wounded were all on the other shuttle—moved back to help carry out Wotan, Colby, and Toomy. A private offered his arm to Apollo, who turned him down, and then sprinted across the deck to the group at the other shuttle. Apollo followed him more slowly. Aston and three techs who'd been his responsibility were in there; he didn't even know which techs were dead, left behind on the planet with Kris and Alita and Harker.

Movement on the platform above the deck caught his eye and he looked up, locking gazes for a centon with his father. And then Adama looked away and walked away, and Apollo continued towards the shuttle. Serpent, one each, Paradise, for the infestation of... he thought and closed his eyes momentarily. I guess he meant it. Then anger flared across him and he clenched his jaw. Damnit, he should come down here and talk to these people who nearly died, even if he won't talk to me. If he doesn't show up in the Life Center... Apollo was abruptly too tired to think what he'd do. Something. He'd do something...

Stretchers were being brought out of the shuttle. He spotted Aston and crossed over. "How is he?" he asked.

"Fine," Aston answered for himself, opening his eyes. Apollo was startled but happy; four out of twelve was a third, but three was only a fourth. He reprimanded himself at once and smiled down at the pilot. "Just some busted ribs," Aston added. "Maybe a collarbone."

"One of them smashed him into a bulkhead with its tail," said Vanna, who was walking next to him, wearing an infantryman's jacket. "He killed a couple of them; I don't think they liked that."

"Probably not," Apollo agreed and then yielded place to Freya, who put her hand on her wingman's head and said,

"Hero."

He grinned slightly. "Teach me..."

Apollo stood still and let them move away towards the decontamination chambers. He was looking around, missing... "Hastur," he said as the pilot walked up. "Where's Green?"

"Ops told 'em to come into the other bay," Hastur said. "To leave this one clear for medical." He gestured at the influx of techs and doctors, including Salik, who was moving Colby's stretcher into decon as quickly as possible. "I'm sure they'll be waiting when we get out of here."

Apollo nodded.

"Speaking of which," Hastur said, "you ought to get into decon, up to the Life Center."

"I'm all right," Apollo said.

"Sure," agreed Megeara, who'd snuck up on them. "But come on, anyway. Starbuck would kill me if you passed out under my nose."

Apollo leaned against the wall in the decon chamber and looked at her. Tight quarters, but medical emergencies did that to facilities. "You think Colby's going to make it?" he asked after a minute, instead of what he wanted to ask, which was: You think this is my fault?

She shrugged carefully, holding her injured arm. She looked as tired as he felt. "I don't know. He's bad... but he's hung on this long. If you can make it to the Life Center, your chances are a lot better, aren't they?"

"That's what they say," he nodded. "Gods, I hope he does."

She nodded. "He strikes me as stubborn, Colby does."

He nodded, too. After a centon he added, "I hope Varrus is right about Wotan."

"Yeah," she said. "It'll about kill Feist if he's not." She glanced up quickly. "It's nobody's fault, Apollo," she said. "We didn't know they were there. We had no way of knowing."

"We didn't look very hard," he said.

"Maybe... but that's not our job, is it?"

"If not ours, whose?" he misquoted at her.

"Ops," she answered seriously.

"Yeah..." He sighed heavily. "I think somebody dropped the ball on this."

"In a major league way," she agreed, then added, still seriously, "Let the captain handle it, Apollo. It's his job."

He blinked at her. "I suppose it is," he agreed after a moment.

They were quiet until the cycle finished and the chamber released them. Medtechs were waiting on the other side of the chamber, and the two pilots were hustled onto gurneys and into a turbolift before they could utter a word of protest. Though actually, it felt so good to be off his feet Apollo didn't want to protest. He closed his eyes; he was so tired...

"Apollo!"

He opened his eyes as another surge of adrenaline jolted him at the tone. "What?" he demanded. "What now?"

"Nothing," the doctor soothed. "I just needed to know you weren't unconscious."

"Not hardly," Apollo said, looking around. He was in an exam room. He didn't remember reaching the Life Center. "Well, not exactly," he amended with a rueful look at Paye.

"That's all right," the doctor said. "You can sleep soon. Just let me check you out, son."

The casually spoken word jolted Apollo. Trying for the same casualness, he asked, "Has the commander been here?"

"No," Paye said. "Look here. Don't move your head and follow my finger... Colonel Tigh is, and you've got another visitor. Okay, that's good. Just a quick look at your arm," he undid Varrus's field dressing. "We had to threaten to sedate him to make him wait outside," he added. "This looks fine." He rebandaged the wound with a much less bulky wrapping. "Let me just get you some antibiotics and a mild analgesic and you can go home."

"Home?" Apollo was startled out of contemplating how close Starbuck was at this very centon. He'd thought he'd have to stay at least overnight.

"You are entirely too healthy to take up space in the Life Center," said Paye, handing him two small pills and a glass of water, "considering the number of genuinely injured people who came in with you. Take those and I'll fetch Starbuck."

Apollo obediently swallowed the pills. The door opened and Starbuck burst into the room and then stopped just in front of Apollo. He guessed what was stopping the blond. "It's just my arm," he said, reaching out. "I won't break."

Starbuck wrapped him in a comprehensive hug. Apollo reciprocated; the feel of Starbuck's body against his was warm and real and comforting. He felt safe, finally. He laid his head on Starbuck's shoulder. "Gods, I missed you," he said softly.

"You didn't have to go to such lengths to get back early," Starbuck said, his voice trembling just a jot.

Once Apollo would have accused him of callousness or bad timing; now he heard the words for what they were: spitting in the face of death. And fear. He tightened his hold on his lifemate and said, "I love you."

Starbuck sighed mightily. "You'd better, after what you put me through," he said, then, "I love you, too."

"Good. Now that that's settled," Paye said briskly (Gods. Apollo hadn't noticed him come in.), "take him home, Starbuck, and put him to bed. He's going to be out in about twenty centons."

"What makes you think so?" Apollo said, pulling away from the embrace but leaving his hand on the blond's arm. He might be tired, but after four days away, he didn't intend to fall asleep on Starbuck quite that quickly.

"Because," Paye said, "that wasn't a mild analgesic. Go to bed before you fall over."

Starbuck laughed. "'Pol, if you could see your face... Okay, doc, you win. I'll put him to bed. Anything else?"

"Make sure he takes the antibiotics for the next few days, and if that wound gets inflamed, come in immediately. Now get out."

They did. Apollo used his injury as an excuse to lean on Starbuck all the way back to Married Officers' country, and Starbuck didn't object. "How did you get along?" Apollo asked after a few centons. "Did Boxey behave himself?"

"Boxey's been fine," Starbuck said. There was something in his tone but Apollo didn't feel up to pursuing it. It was probably nothing, really, just Boxey being obnoxious, which he certainly could be if he wanted. Just like his mother. "He was a little scared on your account today—"

"He knew what was going on?"

"Yes," Starbuck said, a bit defensively.

Apollo pursued that. "I didn't mean you shouldn't have told him. I try not to lie to him, he's too..." he couldn't think of the right word. Damn Paye, he was falling asleep in the turbolift. He shook his head. "I just wish he hadn't been scared."

"Hang on," Starbuck said, tightening his grip. "He'll be fine as soon as he sees you. If you're conscious, that is," he chuckled.

"Blackmail," Apollo murmured. The lift door opened and they made their way slowly down the hall. "Who's with him?"

"Athena."

"Good... Did he go to instruction all right for her?"

"He's been very good for everybody," Starbuck said, stopping in front of the door and keying the lock.

"Dad!" Boxey hurled himself off the couch and onto Apollo, who let go of Starbuck to embrace his son. "Dad, you're back!"

"I'm back. And I'm fine. Pretty much, anyway," he said, hugging Boxey tightly. "I missed you, son, I missed you a lot."

"Me, too, Dad," Boxey said. "Are you home for good?"

"Well," Apollo temporized, "we're not going back there if that's what you mean." Over Boxey's head he saw Athena and Starbuck talking seriously, but he couldn't hear their low voices. "Starbuck tells me you were a good boy," he said, setting Boxey down as his arm, analgesic or not, began to throb slightly. "I'm so proud of you."

"Are you all right, Dad?" Boxey asked worriedly.

"He's fine," Starbuck said. "Just hurt his arm a little bit, and the doctor gave him a sleeping pill, so he wouldn't stay up late. You'll see, Boxey; tomorrow he'll be back to normal."

"What a shame," said Athena and then she hugged him. "Welcome home, Apollo. It's so good to see you."

"Thanks, 'Theni," he said as she kissed his cheek. "For everything."

"Oh, I didn't mind. I really didn't. But you do look five-sixths unconscious; you ought to go to bed. We'll talk tomorrow." She kissed his cheek again, startling him a little. "Good night, big brother."

"Come on," said Starbuck. "Let's get you to bed. Boxey, you want to help?"

Apollo wanted to protest that, but he was too tired to. Starbuck pushed him down gently to sit on the bed, and that was all he knew.

 


Tigh leaned over Omega's shoulder and read the extremely depressing scroll. Of ten techs, seven dead, one seriously injured. Of twelve pilots, three dead, one critically injured, one severely injured, four seriously injured, two injured, one unhurt. Of ten Vipers, nine lost. Of two shuttles, one lost. Two infantrymen dead, three seriously injured. And, if anybody cared, an unknown number of natives dead or wounded. Not good; not good at all.

"No, sir," Omega agreed with him.

He was a bit startled; he must have said that out loud, and generally he didn't slip like that. Still, it had been a long, hard day, and Omega was someone safe to slip in front of. Tigh straightened up and blew out a gusty breath, looking out over the bridge. He'd missed Apollo at the Life Center, but that was good news, really; it meant the boy was well enough to be sent home. He'd spoken to those others who were awake, but Paye had told him how he'd sent Apollo home drugged, so Tigh hadn't gone there. It had been a good move on the doctor's part; Apollo would sleep instead of sitting up brooding over his perceived failures.

And speaking of... Tigh turned around and leaned against the display console next to Omega. "This," he said, tapping the list, "wasn't your fault."

Omega looked up at him. "Sir?"

He did do that well, Tigh conceded. But Tigh had no intention of settling any of this blame where it didn't belong. "I know what you're thinking, but I also remember your exact words: at this range we could miss low-tech gatherings of five thousand or less easily enough."

"We did."

"We did. But you told us we would. You presented incomplete intel clearly labelled as such. This is all on me. I should have insisted we spend more time on it, and I didn't. I had other things on my mind, and I didn't. You told me..." he sighed, looking at the toes of his boots and then back up at his bridge officer. "Understood?"

"Yes, sir." Omega hung on the edge of saying something else, but then fell back into correctness. "What now?"

"Good question." Tigh looked up at Adama's office. The man had gone down to the landing bay, but he hadn't spoken to Apollo. Still, he'd gone. He wasn't as angry, or indifferent, as he wanted to be. "I need to go talk to the commander."

"Yes, sir," Omega said again, this time his tone conveying sympathy and support.

Tigh straightened up. "You have the bridge," he said.

When he signalled at the door, Adama answered immediately. "Come."

Tigh went in. Adama was sitting at the desk, looking at a scroll of data that resembled a great deal that which Tigh had just memorized. Adama looked older than he had this morning. Tigh decided to take the bovine by the horns. "I understand Apollo wasn't much hurt."

Adama glared at him, but said, "No. Do you think there is any use in attempting to retrieve our Vipers and the shuttle?"

"I suppose we could," Tigh said. "Though unless you want to cause considerably more casualties among the natives, I expect we'd have to wait a secton or two for them to leave the area."

Adama nodded heavily.

Tigh looked at him for a centon, then said, "Adama, old friend, I've never interfered in your private life before—"

"Don't start now," Adama said.

"I have to," Tigh said. "It's gone too far. People have died."

Adama glared at him, but Tigh wasn't called the Iron Colonel for nothing. "I know you didn't mean it, but it happened, and why? To punish your son—"

"That's enough, Tigh," Adama growled.

"I'm going to say this, Adama. You wanted to punish your son for falling in love. I grant you that he could hardly have picked someone less acceptable to you, but few of us marry to please our parents. I didn't, and you didn't either. And I'm not comparing the two, but how would you have reacted if your father had threatened to cut you off? You're going to lose him, Adama, if you haven't already. And if you go on like this, you'll lose Athena, too. She's not going to abandon her brother. And she'll marry her low-born Diwest, too, if she wants, and be damned to you, and you know she will." He ignored Adama's glare and continued. "You'll lose both your children and their children as well, and grow old alone and embittered. Is that what you want, Adama? Because it's what you're asking for. And what you'll get."

"Is that all?"

"No. What you do in your personal life is your personal tragedy. But I let you send twenty two people into danger because I was letting you act out. I have to live with that. I won't live with it again."

"Is that all?"

"Yes."

"Good." Adama stared at him. "I accept your stricture on the lack of comprehensive intelligence on the planet. You're right; it shouldn't have happened. The rest of what you said is none of your business, old friend, and I don't want it mentioned again. Ever."

Tigh nodded. "I understand."

"That's all."

Tigh nodded again. "Good night, Adama." He walked back onto the bridge, wondering if he'd done any good at all. He hadn't intended to mention Athena, but it had come out. After all, Adama had growled at him this afternoon about not seeing Athena and Boxey in Temple, and what was the Fleet coming to, heathens and Diwests and who knew what everywhere. It was common knowledge, Athena and Bojay. But he didn't know if it had been a good idea to bring it up. He sighed. If Adama kept his anger in bounds, it would have been worthwhile, even if the two of them were on frosty terms for a while.

"Sir?"

Tigh looked up to see Omega. "Yes?"

"I was wondering," Omega said, sounding, for him, almost diffident, "if perhaps the colonel would like to go and get a drink."

Tigh looked at him and then smiled. "Yes. I think I would."

 


Athena loitered in the hallway outside the BOQ barracks. With Apollo home, even if he was sleeping soundly, Starbuck had told her she didn't need to stay over. Just as well, as she was long past sharing a bed with her brother. And neither the couch or Boxey's child-sized bed were all that inviting, either. She smiled to herself; she was sure Starbuck was sitting in Apollo's sleeping room—she supposed she should say 'their sleeping room'—and watching him sleep. She hoped he could tear himself away in time to be back here, because she wasn't going to go and remind him.

Various pilots coming and going had stopped to talk briefly with her, mostly about how glad they were to hear about Apollo's making it back safe. A couple of Green's pilots going off duty in the last few centons had appreciated the way she'd taken on Sheba the day before. And Giles had been frankly envious of her, which had made her laugh.

Now shift change was over, and Blue still had more than a centare before they were due in, and the hall was empty. Athena leaned back against the wall and thought about what Tigh had said to her the day before, when Starbuck had been keeping Boxey. They'd spoken about Sheba and Athena's confrontation of her, and then they'd been talking about her father and Apollo, and she'd suddenly told him she intended to marry Bojay, even though the two of them hadn't discussed it yet. Tigh hadn't seemed terribly surprised.

"I know we haven't known each other long," she'd said.

"Time isn't the crucial thing," he'd said. "You haven't known him long, but you've known him... intensely."

"Yes. Yes, that's it. I know him better than any one I've ever gone with."

"Be happy," Tigh had said.

Happy... Oddly, all things considered, she was. Not that she'd been unhappy before, but... this was something she'd never felt. She smiled to herself and then felt the smile appear on her face as Bojay came out into the hallway. He was dressed casually, his pilot's jacket, without rank pins, over a moss-green shirt and brown trousers. He looked tired, and he didn't notice her as he turned to head in the direction of Married Officers' country. She stepped away from the wall. The words came without thought, but hearing them she knew they were right. "Hey, flyboy; buy you a drink?"

He turned around and smiled when he saw her. "I wouldn't say no," he said, holding out his hand. She went to him and hugged him. "It's been a day," he said into her hair.

"I know," she said against his throat. They stood quietly for several centons, and then she said, "Thank you, Bojay."

"Thank me? For what?"

"Taking Starbuck," she said. "Bringing them both back."

He laughed softly; she was pleased to hear it. "Bucko would have gone anyway," he said. "I just had to think of a way that wouldn't get him court-martialed, considering. And something Boomer could approve of. Bringing them back..." he shrugged. "They had something to do with that; so did Green and the infantry."

"I know," she said. "But I'm thanking you anyway."

"Then, you're most welcome."

She stepped back, taking his hand. "Come on," she said.

"Where are we going?" he asked, letting her bring him along.

"An intime little place I hope you'll like," she said. "Chez Athena."

He smiled. "I'm sure I will."

When they got to her quarters she keyed them in, showing him the code. "You see what I mean," she said as the door shut behind them. "'Little' is almost too big a word."

"It's bigger than any place I've had to myself in yahrens," he said.

She figured that was true; it was bigger than the squadron leaders' rooms in the BOQ and certainly bigger than the bunk-and-locker a single pilot got. It was even bigger than seniors' quarters at the Academy, and without the room-mate (well, if you didn't count her). Then she wondered about the people he'd been with before the service... He hadn't said where he'd lived, but he had said he hadn't been part of the family... She shook that off; it was the past and it didn't matter any more. She was determined to make it not matter any more. "I hope it's big enough," she said. "I don't know if they have quarters to move us into. How much stuff do you have?"

He laughed; she looked at him puzzledly. "I don't have anything," he said.

"Nothing?"

"Not a damn thing. When I came over from the Pegasus I didn't know I was, and Cain didn't want to tip his hand. Or something," he shrugged, looking at the picture on her shelf unit. "He didn't send anything over with us. We lost it all. I've got uniforms, and a couple of changes of clothes I picked up to wear off duty... you've seen about everything I own."

"Oh, that's right." Then she said deliberately, "Well, I hope this is main enough for you."

He turned, his hazel eyes candid and almost desperate with hoping. "You're main enough for me, no matter what. I never thought—"

"I know," she interrupted him. "I know; I just want you to know I know."

They looked at each other for a long time, and his eyes cleared into simple love. "I know," he said. "And I love you."

She held out her hand and he took it, bringing it to his lips and kissing it. She tugged him down to sit on the couch and then leaned against him and sighed happily. "I love you," she said. "Let's get married soon."

"Whenever you want," he said. "I'm easy."

"I hope not," she teased, and he laughed.

"I just mean," he said, "on my part, there's nothing to set up."

"Oh," she said. "What do Diwests do, then?"

He shrugged. "We make it legal at a registrar, and then a priestess comes to the house, here I guess, and blesses us. A little fire ceremony. There are a couple of priestesses in the fleet; they'd be glad to come whenever. If you don't mind it, I mean. It's not Kobolian, but I don't think there's anything in the words—"

"I'm sure there's not," she said. "A fire ceremony?"

"Candles," he grinned. "Not bonfires. Well, not here anyway. But marriage is a hearthfire, that's the symbolism."

"That's lovely," she said, meaning it.

"What will we need to do for the Temple?"

She looked at him and snorted; she couldn't help it. "I'm not getting married by them. Not to you, anyway; they'd make you take classes till your head spun and load us up with so many obligations it wouldn't be funny... plus, we couldn't live together until we were actually married and I find myself objecting to that."

"You're sure?" he asked, a bit anxiously, running his hand over his right ear. She'd noticed that habit of his when he was nervous... she'd figure out what that was about, she vowed right now.

"I'm quite, quite sure," she said deliberately.

"Because I don't mind."

"I mind," she said. "If God is real, I don't think he particularly cares what name you call him. Or even if you call him her."

"All right," he said. "Then I suppose we can get married whenever you like."

"Good... Let's go down tomorrow and get our license."

He sighed happily. After a few centons of quiet, he said, "Athena?"

"Hmmm?"

"Who's that?"

She looked at the picture, realizing he'd probably lost any pictures or letters of his father's or anyone else's for that matter. "It's Zac," she said. "My baby brother."

"I remember Starbuck talking about him," he said. "He got into the Academy then."

"Yes," she said. "He died. At Cimtar."

"I'm sorry."

"He was a Warrior at the end," she said. "It was all he ever wanted to be... sometimes I think he was one of the lucky ones. He never knew anything about the Destruction, or, or any of this."

"There's something to be said for that," he nodded.

"Still," she looked at him, "I'm one of the lucky ones, too."

He looked down at her. And their kiss was proof of it.

Chapter Text

"Dad? Dad? Are you awake?"

Apollo wasn't awake. And he didn't want to be. He wanted to sleep longer, deeper, more... He wanted to burrow under the blankets and ignore the world. Most especially he didn't want Boxey waking him up in the middle of the night. He was old enough to sleep all the night through now, why didn't he?

"Dad?"

Damn, the boy was persistent. Apollo rolled over and his arm instantly protested; the sharp pain woke him up at once. And he remembered. "Boxey?" he said, sitting up.

Boxey, still in his sleeping clothes, flung himself onto the bed next to Apollo. "Dad?"

Apollo embraced his son, pulling him close and ignoring the throb in his arm. The chrono next to the bed told him he'd slept a good twelve centares, maybe more. "I'm okay, Boxey," he said, "and I'm awake."

Boxey hugged him tight and then pulled back to look at him. "Pop said to wake you up before I went to instruction and make sure you take your pill."

"Oh, he did, did he?" Apollo ruffled Boxey's hair and the boy let him. "Is he gone... oh, I forgot. He went back last night."

"Yep. But not counting today, it's only one more day and a wake-up until you get married, and then he can stay."

Apollo smiled. "Actually, it's only one more day, since he won't have to go back to the barracks tomorrow."

"Maybe," Boxey said. "Grandfather's been making a lot of new rules..."

"Oh?" Apollo asked, putting Boxey aside and getting out of bed. Now that he was awake, the sedative that evil doctor had given him enough out of his system, his body was informing him that it had needs he'd better attend to. And he had the feeling that a turbowash wouldn't be objected to by anyone more discriminating than a seven-yahren-old, either. "You get dressed and I'll fix you breakfast and you can tell me about it."

"Okay," Boxey said. "Does your arm hurt?"

"Not much," Apollo said. "It'll be fine in a day or two." He shut the door behind him.

When he emerged, Boxey, dressed now, was bouncing on the bed. "Stop that," said Apollo, scooping him up and hugging him before depositing him on the floor. "Let me get dressed, and you tell me what you meant about new rules."

"Oh," Boxey said, "for a couple of days he made all the pilots go to work early, not just Blue. And Blue had to stay in the barracks all the time. Grandfather was a bully."

"All the time?" Apollo pulled his shirt on and stared at Boxey. "All the time? Who was going to stay with you today and tomorrow, then?"

Boxey shrugged. "Pop found somebody. I think her name is Lala."

Lalage. Yellow's flirty little... Stop. What did you learn yesterday, Apollo? He took a deep breath, stepped back, and told himself, quite truthfully, that Lalage wasn't even Starbuck's type. He had to laugh.

"What's funny?" Boxey asked.

"Lalage," he said. "Her name's Lalage, not Lala... though Lala fits. And if you tell anybody I said that, I'll deny it," he added as Boxey giggled. "Come out and get your breakfast or you'll be late. Is Aneela picking you up today?"

"Yes," Boxey sighed with a martyred look. "Do I hafta go today?"

"Yes, you hafta," Apollo said. "I'll pick you up this afternoon."

The doorsignal chimed while they were eating; Apollo had discovered that, not surprisingly, he was hungry too. He answered the door, expecting Aneela. Who he saw was Sheba. He blinked at her.

"Hi," she said with an almost embarrassed smile. "I'm glad you're okay; can I come in?"

"Oh, sure," he said, stepping aside. He saw Aneela and Dhani coming down the hall and turned to tell Boxey he had to leave now after all. His son's expression startled him; Boxey was glaring at Sheba.

"What's she doing here?"

"Boxey," Apollo said warningly. "Get your stuff."

"Dad—"

Apollo grabbed his son's arm and pulled him into his room, where he shook him a little before letting go. "Where are your manners?" he demanded.

"Dad, what is she doing here?"

"I don't know, but you have no cause to be so rude."

"Dad, she's—"

"I don't want to hear it," Apollo said, and then suddenly thought he knew what was going on. "Look, Boxey, don't worry," he said. "I'm not going to change my mind about marrying Starbuck. Okay?"

"Okay," Boxey said. "Just don't pay any attention to her, Dad."

"I have to pay attention to her, Boxey, we work together. Just don't worry. And," he added as that mulish look appeared on Boxey's face, "don't be rude. Don't," he cut off whatever Boxey was going to say. "Go on, now; Aneela and Dhani are waiting."

He followed Boxey out into the front room. The boy flounced out like Sheba wasn't even there and started running down the corridor with Dhani, Aneela following them calling "Boys! Stop running!"

Apollo let the door shut with a rueful shake of his head and turned to Sheba. "I'm sorry," he said. "I don't know what got into him... Sit down," he added.

She sat on the couch, patting it in invitation for him to join her and smiling at him, warmly and understandingly. He did sit down, at the other end of it, and hoped she wasn't there to try and change his mind. "It's all right, Apollo," she said. "It's been a confusing time for him... Not just him, I guess."

"Sheba," he started.

"No, please," she said, "let me say this. I'm so sorry, Apollo. About what I said, and what I did. I had no right. I... I was hurt, I was angry. I overreacted." She sighed. "I love you. I do... I know you don't love me," she said quickly. "I know... I'm still hurt, and angry, a little. But I know that if you're in love with Starbuck, we wouldn't have been happy. I admit it, I'm too possessive to share you with anybody. But still... when you were in danger, I found myself really, really wishing that those hadn't been my last words to you."

"Sheba, please, don't be too hard on yourself," Apollo said. "You had every right to be angry with me. I behaved very badly toward you, I can't deny that."

"But I understand," she said, reaching out her hand and then, quickly, pulling it back. "At least, I think I do. I could always tell Starbuck was my competition... I always knew you cared about him. Just like I care about you, still, even though I know it won't ever be. I'm hoping you can forgive me, even though I, well, hit you," she said simply.

"Of course I can," Apollo said, feeling an almost overwhelming relief. "I deserved it."

"No," she shook her head, relief showing on her beautiful face. "You didn't; I was just too angry. Almost losing you for real made me see how badly I was acting."

He smiled at her. "Maybe we can just say we both did things we shouldn't have and let it go? Be friends?"

"I'd like that, Apollo," she said. "I'd like that a lot."

"Would you like some kava?" he offered.

"Thanks," she said. Then, over the hot drinks, she said, "Apollo... do you mind if I say something? I know it's not really my business, but... I do still care."

"Is this about Starbuck? he asked warily.

"Starbuck?" she said, sounding surprised. Then she laughed, but he thought there was a slightly false note to it. "No, I know better than to say anything about him. Besides, I'm sure he's not foolish enough to risk losing you by playing around with someone like Giles or Lalage. It's just his manner, that's all. No, I wanted to say something about, well, Boxey. And Athena."

That startled him. "Boxey and Athena?" he asked, letting what she'd said about Starbuck slide away. Even though... Lalage. "What do you mean?"

"Nothing," she said. "I mean nothing about them. I'm sure Athena's been taking good care of him. It's just... well, I had kind of started thinking of them as my family. And I don't want to see them hurt. Not that I know they will be, but..."

"Sheba, what are you talking about? Hurt? How?"

She took a deep breath and stared into her kava. "This is hard to say. I feel responsible, sort of... And I don't know."

"Sheba. What do you mean? Responsible for what?" Now he was getting really worried. "What happened?"

She looked up at him, her brown eyes worried, too. "Nothing," she said quickly. "Or, not much, really. It's just..." she laughed a little in self-deprecation. "I guess I should either say it or shut up, huh?"

"Say it," he said, relaxing somewhat. "You can't leave it at that."

"Sorry," she said, hunching a shoulder. "I've been up all night, started third shift last night. And yesterday was kind of stressful for all of us... it's Bojay."

"Bojay?" Apollo was totally confused. "What's he got to do with Boxey? Or Athena?"

"You didn't know?"

"Know what?"

"Bojay stayed with Boxey a couple of days while you were gone," she said. "And he's moved in on Athena..."

"What do you mean, moved in on her?" He thought he knew what she meant, but he didn't want to believe it.

"Well," she said, looking down at her kava again, "I mean, they're... seeing each other. Oh, hell, Apollo; everyone's talking about it, he made sure it was obvious."

Apollo seethed, too angry to say anything.

She added, "He was my wingman, you know; I know him pretty well... I wouldn't want my sister dating him. Or my son to be around him much."

He blinked at her, worried again. "Why not?"

"Maybe no reason, I mean, he seems to be okay... Sorry, I'm doing it again. It's just, well. He's a drunk."

Apollo was startled. The Pegasus crew had been on the Galactica about eight sectares, and he hadn't noticed Bojay having a drinking problem. But why would Sheba say so? "Are you sure?"

"Oh, I know," she said. "It's not a problem, yet. It might not ever be. I mean, we just didn't have any liquor on the Pegasus, so he's gone yahrens without drinking. Maybe he's licked it... but his father was a drunk, and he drank a lot when he got to us."

And Apollo had to admit that was true, if the stories he'd heard were even half-way accurate. He thought about that, about Athena dating any drunk, let alone this one...

"Apollo? Are you angry? I probably shouldn't have said anything..."

"No," he said. "No, I'm not. I'm glad you did. Thanks, Sheba. I mean that."

"Any time," she answered. "Well. I mean... You know what I mean. But I think I'd better go back to the BOQ and get some sleep." She stood up; he did, too. She smiled at him. "I'm glad we're friends again, Apollo."

"Me, too." He opened the door for her and then decided he'd better go talk to a few people.

He sighed. Life Center first, before he got into unpleasant truths with Starbuck about his old friend—Starbuck himself had slowed his drinking down a lot the last few yahrens, but he still did. He also jumped with all four feet on Apollo whenever he ever looked like he was going to have more than two, so he'd understand. He'd have to.

That's different, his mind reminded him. Starbuck wouldn't care if you drank if you didn't get nasty when you did... Maybe Bojay isn't a mean drunk. Maybe Starbuck knows and doesn't care. If so, Apollo decided, he'd just have to point out that things are different when a child's involved.

Or your sister. Starbuck didn't know what that was like...

So he found a jacket he could ease on over his bandaged arm and headed for the Life Center. But once there, he found himself hesitating, pacing back and forth in the hallway in front of the doors, not wanting to go in. Not wanting to hear any more bad news. He'd lost three. Four, counting Colby; even if Colby had survived to become Salik's responsibility, Apollo couldn't shake him off that easily. And Wotan...

The doors opened suddenly and an outgoing medtech almost walked into him. "Sorry, lieutenant," he said, "didn't see you. You guys got pretty lucky down there."

"Lucky?" Apollo said. "I wouldn't say so."

"Well, maybe not," the tech backtracked. "But everyone you got to us is okay."

Apollo stared at him. "Everyone? Even Ensign Colby?" The medtech barely had time to nod before Apollo was pushing past him. Feist was in there, talking to the records clerk. Apollo went up to them.

"Hey, sir," Feist said cheerfully. "You look okay... I went down to the Wing but the captain told me to clear out."

"I'll be going down there after this," Apollo said. "How're Wotan and Colby?"

"It helps to be a teenager, I guess," Feist said. "Even if Colby doesn't seem it most of the time—"

"Ensign Colby," the records clerk said, "is twenty. Nearly twenty-one."

"And still an ensign? You should do something about that, sir." Feist was sounding almost giddy.

Apollo had to smile. "He's making Flight Officer next sectare, actually. If he stays in the service, I mean."

"You're talking about young Colby?" Salik had emerged from the back. "He'll stay in the service. Unless he resigns, of course. Defiant youngster, that one. Insists on living. Actually woke up and spoke to me this morning. It'll be a few sectons before you can have him back, Apollo, but he'll recover. They all will. Freya's already gone home, like you. Your exec is going home today. Neither of them can fly for a secton, but after that you can mess them up all you want."

"And Wotan?" Apollo ventured. True, the tech and Salik had both said 'everyone', and Feist was in a good mood, but... Say the words, Salik, he begged silently. Make it be true.

"That boy?" Salik grinned broadly. "Varrus did a fine job on him. Mind, I'm not a big fan of impromptu brain surgery in field conditions, but needs must when Diabolus drives, and Varrus has fine, steady hands. I'm holding him another night, but he's really well now."

"Well?" Apollo said incredulously, remembering the last sight he'd had of Wotan, white as the proverbial sheet and looking about fourteen.

"He lost a lot of blood," Salik admitted. "He's a bit of a bleeder, that boy. Not too bad to be in uniform, but a bit... but no vital organs were damaged, and the only broken bones were in his head."

"His least vulnerable spot," Feist quipped, though his light brown eyes were still showing the strain.

"Perhaps so," Salik said, "like most Viper pilots. But, be that as it may, we've got the technology to cope with broken bones. It's cranial contusions, swelling, internal bleeding where the skull isn't broken, that causes problems ... especially in the occipital region. That's what was causing the blindness. But Varrus trepanned, and relieved the pressure on his brain. Once relieved, and once we'd healed the skull fracture Varrus gave him—well, and the other one, and replaced the lost blood— he was fine. I just prefer keeping my patients who lost consciousness for so many centares overnight. You can see him," he added to Apollo.

"And Fenrir and Toomy? And Megeara?"

"You can see them all, though Megeara went home last night, like you did."

Apollo smiled in relief. There was no way to make this mess good, but it was certainly less bad than it might have been. "Thanks, Doctor," he said.

"If you really want to thank me," Salik said, "stop bringing me patients."

"I'll try," Apollo said. "I'll certainly try."

Toomy was asleep when Apollo looked in, but Fenrir was awake and more than ready to get out of the Life Center.

"They said you were fine," Apollo said. "You look it."

"You too... damn doctors, anyway," Fenrir snarled. "I want out of here!"

Apollo laughed. "Salik just told me he was releasing you today."

"'Bout time," the grey-haired man groused. "We're off tomorrow, aren't we?"

Apollo had to laugh at that. "Yes, we are."

"And you're gettin' married in two days. Least you got back in time for that."

Apollo grinned, then sobered. "So much for all of you coming."

"Yeah," Fenrir nodded. "Colby will hate missin' it."

And although Colby was a devout Kobolian, Apollo knew he, and Harker, had planned on attending. They'd both hunted him out on the planet and made sure he knew that, Harker also sounding out whether they'd be welcome. Now Harker was gone to the Lords of Kobol and Colby was fighting to stay in this life, but he wouldn't be out of the Life Center in two days. "I'll miss having him."

"You should come by and let him say he wishes you happy."

"That's a good idea. We will."

After a few more pleasantries, Apollo looked in on Wotan, and found him sitting up in bed playing two-handed pyramid with Feist. "Hey, lieutenant!" he said when Apollo came in. "You kept your promise!"

"Which one?"

"You said you'd get me to Salik, sir. You did."

"I think it was actually Dr. Varrus," Apollo said, feeling unreasonably pleased.

"Varrus, Salik... metaphorically they're the same," Wotan grinned, his green eyes bright and laughing. "And Colby, too..."

"You have no idea how glad I am to see you," Apollo said sincerely.

"Yeah? Not half as glad as I am to see you, sir."

"I imagine that's true," Apollo nodded.

"Or that LT here got past the lizards okay."

"Natives," Feist reproved him.

"Whatever," Wotan said breezily. "I was really glad to open my eyes and see you, LT, and that's something I didn't figure to ever hear myself say."

"You were glad to see medtech Kavin," Feist said repressively, "and don't say 'whatever' to senior officers."

"Lieutenant," the boy said plaintively, "are you going to let him treat me like this? I'm injured..."

"He seems to be handling you just fine, ensign," Apollo said with grateful callousness. "Besides, I try not to interfere between wingmen."

"That's good to know," Feist grinned.

"For you, maybe..." Wotan muttered.

The two lieutenants laughed.

"You seem to be getting along just fine," Apollo said. "And I have a few other things to do, so I'll be leaving you in your wingman's care, ensign." And he left, very glad he'd gone there first.

 


Starbuck was in the ready room when Apollo finally found him. Obviously the commander had decided to forget any return to the planet; Blue was loafing around the way a squadron did when it was on duty but had nothing to do. Reading, watching vid, playing cards... that, naturally, was where Starbuck was, leaning back with that amused Pyramid-smile that turned genuine when he saw Apollo come into the ready room. He jumped to his feet, laying down his hand, and said, "You're awake! How are you feeling? Did you take your pill?"

Apollo almost chickened out right then, he was so glad to see Starbuck. But he knew they had to have the conversation before Boxey got home, so he hardened himself and said, "Yes, I am, and fine, and yes, I did. You got some time? We need to talk about something."

"Sure," Starbuck said. "A few centons, anyway. Squadron leader's office is empty, since you're not here. Don't interrupt, okay?" he added, grinning at his squadron mates.

"No fear," said Greenbean. "Glad to have you back, Apollo."

"Amen," a couple of the others chimed in.

Apollo exchanged a few pleasantries and then followed Starbuck into the empty office. The door had barely shut before the blond pulled him into an embrace, his mouth demanding. Apollo gave himself up to the moment, just as hungry and eager as Starbuck was, and he felt the little niggling doubt that had been there since Sheba had said what she had about Lalage fade away. But then, reluctantly, he pulled away. "Later, love," he said.

Starbuck relinquished his hold and sighed. "You're vicious," he said, shaking his head. "I could have killed Paye yesterday, I swear it, even though I know you needed the sleep."

"How many centons did you say you had?"

"Not nearly enough..." Starbuck shook his head; the expression on his face was the one Apollo had dreamed of. "So," he shook his head again, "apparently you really want to talk. What about?"

With an effort, Apollo got his mind back on why he was there. "Boxey, actually," he said.

Starbuck looked worried. "What's wrong with him? Didn't he go to instruction this morning? I know he had his homework done already, 'Theni and Boj made sure of that—"

"That," Apollo said.

Starbuck blinked. "What?"

"Bojay. Starbuck, you know how I feel about him. The whole Pegasus crew, really—"

"Except Miss Thing," muttered Starbuck.

Apollo decided to pretend he hadn't heard that. "But him especially. I cannot believe you let him watch my son!"

Starbuck started to say something, changed his mind, and said, instead, "It's not like there was any kind of choice, Apollo. The commander was going to take him home if somebody didn't watch him."

"Practically anybody would have been better." He paused; this was the wrong tack. "Look, Starbuck, I know he's your friend and all, but..."

"But?" Starbuck said, stiffening.

"Well, frack, Starbuck, he's a drunk. I can't have Boxey spending time with drunks."

Starbuck said, carefully, "Did Boxey tell you that Bojay drinks?"

"No. Boxey didn't even mention him. It was Sheba."

"Sheba? That frackin' witch. What the hell were you doing even listening to her?"

"Look, Starbuck, I know you don't like her, but she wanted to make up with me. Not like that," he added as Starbuck snorted indelicately. "Just to be friends again. And she cares about Boxey—"

"Like frack."

"Well, I happen to disagree. I think I know her better than you. And she had Boxey in mind when she told me about Bojay's drinking. About his drunk of a father and the problem he had when he was transferred—"

"Oh, frackin' hell, Apollo. I cannot believe you listened to a word that came out of her mouth. She'd love to see Boj hung out to dry—no, you listen, Apollo. You weren't here. You don't know what was going on. Blue got about five centons notice to be in the barracks twenty-four/eight, and what did you want me to do? Let your father have Boxey?"

"But Bojay? I mean, okay, one time, but—"

Starbuck cut him off. "You'd better get used to having him around, unless you want to cut Athena out of your life."

"Yeah," the fresh grievance took hold. "And that's another thing. My sister, Starbuck! How could you let her get—"

"Let? Let? Apollo, I don't actually let Theni do anything. Do you? Can I watch?"

"You could have told her about him."

"Told her what? That you don't like him? I think she knows that, and I don't think she dates to please you."

"Damnit, Starbuck. That he's a drunk, by heredity and proclivity."

Starbuck stared at him. "Look, Apollo," he said evenly, "I don't know. His father may have been the biggest drunk on Pisco for all of me. It never came up."

"Well, then—"

"Frack 'well then'," Starbuck snapped. "I never saw Boj drunker than I was and usually not as. And he doesn't hardly drink now. But that's not the point, is it?"

"What do you mean?"

"You're just pissed 'cause people are doing things you don't approve of, and without asking you first."

Apollo couldn't understand how this had turned out to be about him. "Starbuck," he said, "that's just not true, and you know it. I just don't want my sister, or my son, hanging out with a drunk."

"There you go with that again."

Apollo felt truly unjustly accused. "Look, Starbuck, I understand; you said you didn't know—"

"Not that," Starbuck said flatly. "'My son'. I thought he was my son, too."

Where the hell had that come from? "Of course he is."

"Just mostly your son."

"No," Apollo protested, with a guilty realization that, well, after all, what did Starbuck know about being a father? He'd said it himself, he didn't know how. And you're the expert, of course, part of his mind sneered, but he didn't follow that thought. It was more important to make Starbuck understand. "But kids are, well, impressionable. They pick up so much—"

"Maybe you should try remembering that."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Starbuck wasn't making it easy to stay calm.

"Ask Boxey what he thinks," Starbuck said. "About Boj. And about Sheba, for that matter."

"He's not old enough to understand. And that's not the point, either. Kids like a lot of stuff that's bad for them, and hate what's good."

"So keeping him away from Boj is like making him eat his primaries? That's kind of a stretch, isn't it, Apollo?"

"And you're the one making it." Apollo took a deep breath and said, "Look, Starbuck, I'm not telling you to quit being friends with the man—"

Starbuck's eyes blazed and his jaw tightened, but he stayed quiet.

"I'm not!" Apollo repeated, annoyed. "I'm just saying Boxey doesn't need to spend time with him. Especially one on one."

"You know," Starbuck said with angrily clear enunciation, "if you don't trust me we can call this off."

Apollo felt blindsided. Where the hell had that come from? "Starbuck," he protested. "Be reasonable."

"I'm tired of being reasonable," the blond said, furiously. "I'm tired of doing all the explaining, and all the understanding, and—" He broke off. "I'm just fracking tired of it."

They stared at each other, Apollo, at least, scrambling to understand what had happened and find something to say. But he didn't get the chance.

"Starbuck?" Giles stopped.

Starbuck glared at him, then swore. "Frack. Picket."

"Yeah... Are you—?"

"I'm coming."

"Starbuck," Apollo protested.

And, "I could ask Cree," Giles offered.

"No. We're done here. I'm coming. Grab my helmet, would you, Gi? I'll be right there."

"Sure," Giles said and left.

"Starbuck, we're not 'done'."

"You've got that right. But we are for now. I'm not handing Adama an excuse. When I get off." Starbuck took two angry steps away then stopped and turned back. "Apollo—listen to me. Don't talk to Bojay until you've talked to me. Or Athena. I mean it."

Apollo bristled almost automatically. "I can be tactful, you know."

"Sure. Just don't." And Starbuck left.

Leaving Apollo standing in the office, unable to comprehend what had just happened. We can call it off... Gods, had Starbuck meant that? Why had he gotten so angry over Bojay... or was it Boxey? Or Sheba? Or was it anything at all? Maybe he was just looking for an excuse... but he hadn't seemed hesitant when he'd grabbed Apollo and kissed him... Apollo shook his head. Frack. Why couldn't Starbuck ever, even just once, react like a normal human being?

Gods. He needed to talk to somebody. Somebody who'd understand.

He went looking for Boomer.

 


Because Starbuck felt like flinging himself onto the launch-bay transport, he didn't. He got on quietly, almost carefully, and put out his hand to take his helmet from Giles. "Thank you," he said to his wingman.

"Sure," Giles replied, somewhat subdued. He didn't say anything for the rest of the ride, just cast sideways glances at Starbuck through those improbably long lashes. Starbuck wasn't looking forward to whatever it was he was finally going to say.

But Giles didn't say anything when they jumped off the transport, before they checked in with Jenny, or even while they were walking toward the Viper launch rails. He waited until Starbuck was on the inside of the pair of fighters, doing his preflight walk-around, and then he said, stepping closer, "Look, Bucko, I don't know what you two were fighting about—"

Starbuck didn't bother to deny it, just cut him off short with, "No. You don't. And I don't want to talk about it."

"Well, too bad," said Giles aggressively, like the bantam he so often resembled. "You need to and you're going to."

"Yeah?" Starbuck said, finding somebody handy to take his frustration out on irresistible. When Giles took another step in, starting to say something, Starbuck fisted a hand in the shorter man's uniform tunic and slammed him bodily into the side of the Viper. "You gonna make me?" He leaned in.

Giles's brown eyes glared up into his. He grabbed Starbuck's wrist and they struggled for a moment, and then, quite suddenly, Giles went still in Starbuck's hold. His eyes weren't angry any more. That look, that... that dangerous thing was back in them. Starbuck swallowed. The universe was trembling on the edge of a turning point, and anything, anything, might happen, and he knew it. What he didn't know, wasn't sure of, was what he wanted to happen.

And then Giles said, softly, "Starbuck, you know you love him. And he loves you. So you got to work this out."

And all the possibilities shivered and collapsed into one, and Starbuck realized with a kind of horror at how close he'd come to losing it that it was the only one he wanted. He closed his eyes and, his fist turning into a hand laid flat on Giles's chest, he leaned his forehead on the other man's shoulder for just a moment. "I don't know if I can, Gi," he admitted.

"Oh, come on," Giles said bracingly. "Of course you can. You got him in the first place. I mean, as long as you didn't tell him you never want to speak to him again as long as you live—you didn't, did you?"

"No," Starbuck said, feeling irrationally happier that there were actually stupider things to say than what he'd come up with. "I just told him if he didn't trust me we could call it off." And he still couldn't believe how dreadfully final that sounded. Apollo would never forgive him for that.

"Is that all?" asked Giles. "That's workable."

"What do you mean?" Despite himself, he felt hope stirring.

"Well, if he does trust you, then it's moot. Doesn't come up. And he must trust you if he wants to marry you."

"You'd think so," Starbuck acknowledged.

"And even if he says he doesn't, you don't have to call it off. All you said was, you could call it off. You can tell him it was just, you know, hyperbole designed to catch his attention."

"I don't think it did."

"Aaaaa," Giles dismissed that. "Let him cool off. But what did he do?"

"When? When I said that?"

"No. To make you say it."

"Oh. Just... not much, really. Nothing new. His son, and I don't understand parenting..."

"Okay, then," Giles said, slapping his arm. "You let him cool down and it'll work out."

"Yeah." Starbuck sighed. "Like usual..."

"Your fault," Giles pointed out. "You've trained him to expect it, haven't you?"

Starbuck paused, replaying his last words. "I guess I have."

"Well, you've both had horrendous half-sectons. Yours was worse—"

"What?" Starbuck asked incredulously.

"Sure. His was fine till halfway through yesterday, and even then it was what? Bloodthirsty aliens trying to kill him. All open and above-board. You've been enduring some pretty grim psychological warfare, Bucko, plus all the extra worry about the kid. And not sleeping—ah, you think you haven't woken me up? You deserve to lose your temper. But you can't break him of a dozen-yahrens-old habit overnight. You gotta wean the lambet gradually."

Starbuck laughed.

"Well, that's all right then," Giles said cheerfully. "You had me worried for a centon, Bucko."

"All right?" Starbuck stared at him. "Felgar, Gi, if that's your idea of 'all right' it's no wonder—"

"Ah!" Giles held up a hand. "We're talking about your problems, 'cause you're the one scheduled to get married in just under forty-five centares."

"Scheduled, yeah," Starbuck said.

"And," said Jenny, "scheduled to fly picket in just under, oh, negative three centons."

"Frack," said Starbuck and turned to scramble up into his Viper. Giles sprinted across to his.

 


Apollo walked past the Blue pilots in the ready room, all of whom avoided his eyes. He was just as glad. He could remember Boomer's first reaction—It's just... you think he's going to stick with it? You?—and probably all of Blue had had much the same thought. He knew his father had... but they were wrong. If Starbuck had meant that, if he wanted to call it off, it was his, Apollo's fault. If you don't trust me...

Of course, he did trust Starbuck. He couldn't quite understand how it had come across that he didn't. He just didn't think Starbuck really understood how to, well, how to be a father. Or a brother. After all, how could he? He'd never been either. But that didn't mean Apollo didn't trust him...

He rapped on the Strike Captain's door, hoping Boomer was in. "Come," he heard, so he did. "Boomer, can I talk to you? I need somebody who'll understand."

"Apollo, I was hoping you'd stop by," Boomer said, then paused. "You don't look happy." He sighed, evidently reading more in Apollo's expression than he wanted to. "In fact, you look miserable. Please tell me you didn't just have a fight with Starbuck and that's what you want to talk about."

"Okay," Apollo said, "I won't... But can we talk?"

Boomer sighed. "Sure. I thought you two were... Never mind. Of course. Come in, shut the door... How are you feeling, by the way?"

"My arm? It's fine," Apollo said. He paused and then, surrendering to duty, said, "Why were you hoping I'd come by?"

"I need a report," said Boomer. "Feist filed one, but you'll need to add your input. Of course, it doesn't have to be done today. I thought, since Red's gonna be short-handed until we get the vacancies filled," he paused a moment and Apollo remembered that Boomer had known and liked the dead pilots longer and better than he had, "and the others are back on their feet, you might want to come in tomorrow and write it, and I could give you fifthday off instead."

For the honeymoon... "Thanks, Boomer," he said. "I'm really sorry about Harker, and Kris and Alita."

"I know. It wasn't your fault, though."

"I was in command."

Boomer blew out a long breath. "On the ground, yeah. It still wasn't your fault. Feist says you said the Last Words for Harker. I'm sure he went a lot more peacefully hearing them."

"It was the least I could do," Apollo said. "I was kind of surprised he wanted me to..."

Boomer nodded but didn't say anything. They sat quietly for a few minutes, and then the dark-skinned man shook himself and asked, "So, what did you want to talk about?"

Apollo blinked and tried to organize his thoughts. Then he said, "You thought we were what?"

"Thought who were what?"

"Me and Starbuck. When I came in you said you thought we were, but you never said what."

"Love's young dream, if you'll pardon the expression. Starbuck came on duty this morning smelling of flowers and wedding incense. Then you come in here looking like your father's convinced you to call it all off. Pissed and miserable, one of your best... What's up?"

"Gods, Boom-boom, I'm not sure I know."

The dark man cocked his head with a worried expression. "You are still getting married day after tomorrow, aren't you?"

"As far as I'm concerned," Apollo said.

"Well, good, then," said Boomer. "'Cause God knows Starbuck is more than ready to... Okay, what?"

"He just stormed out of the ready room without finishing a conversation," Apollo said.

"On his way to fly picket, I hope."

"Yeah, with Giles..." Apollo shook his head. Sheba was just plain wrong when she'd hinted about Starbuck and Giles. Starbuck wasn't... not with anybody. Something else occurred to him and he grabbed the topic change. "What did he mean, anyway, when he said he didn't want to hand my father another excuse? What's he been doing, anyway?"

"Who? Your father, or Starbuck?"

"Frack," Apollo said wearily. "What has he been doing, then? Why can't he just behave himself for four days?"

"Apollo." Boomer held up his hand. "Don't come in here if you don't want to hear what I've got to say. What were you expecting? That he'd be good as gold? We're talking about Starbuck, and he wasn't. He griped and he fought with Sheba and he pissed off the commander and he gambled and he drank some and he was in general Starbuckian. What did you expect?"

"You know what I mean, Boomer."

"So you had a fight, not a conversation."

"Yes. But it wasn't about him," Apollo protested. "Not like that. It was about other stuff, about Boxey and Bojay and, damn it, Boomer, you should understand." After all, it had been Boomer who'd told him what a huge responsibility Boxey was going to be, and he'd had siblings.

"Don't do this," Boomer said, very seriously. "I'm warning you. Don't ask me to take sides. Because if you do, I'll probably end up on his. Not because I like him more, but because he won't ask it."

"I'm not doing that," Apollo protested.

"Yes, you are. I'll 'understand'? I 'know what you mean'? Maybe so, but you're trying to put me on your side. You know, Apollo, half the Wing was just a little bit glad when you stepped down as Captain, not because they didn't want you as their CO but because they knew how you'd be when he dumped you. Or you got fed up with him, whichever. You can be a real bastard sometimes. You know that. A lot like the Commander's been lately, as a matter of fact. So, don't come in here asking me to take sides. I'm friends with both of you and I'll stay that way as long as you'll let me. Assuming you don't patch this up, of course."

"I don't know if we can," Apollo admitted, accepting Boomer's strictures meekly enough—hell, they were true. He had come looking for Boomer to get somebody on his side. "I don't know if he wants to."

"Oh, hell," said Boomer. "If there's one thing I've had to accept over the past few days it's that Starbuck loves you so much he can't see straight with it. So what did you fight about?"

"Well... Boxey. And Bojay."

"All right... you don't like Bojay. I have to admit I wasn't that crazy about him myself, but you've got extra reasons I don't have. So what did you do, blame Starbuck for introducing him to Athena? I don't think he did."

"Frack. Does everybody know?" He'd been hoping Sheba was wrong about that.

"Oh, come on," Boomer said easily. "You know the Wing—it's hard to keep secrets without a hell of a lot of effort. You should know that. And apparently they don't see the need."

"You mean, he doesn't," Apollo said sourly.

"I don't know. He's not the one who announced it. Or hunted her down in the O Club in the middle of the night and dragged him, I mean her, home. I mean—"

"I get the picture." And he wished he didn't.

Which Boomer could obviously tell. "And you don't like it. Well, I'll tell you, Apollo, that's between you and them. I don't see where Starbuck should even come into it. Unless you told him to stop being friends with him."

"I didn't," Apollo said, getting annoyed all over again with the way Starbuck had reacted when he'd said it. "In fact, I told him quite specifically that I wasn't—"

Boomer whistled.

"What?" Apollo demanded.

"Oh... look. When you allow somebody to do something it implies that you have the right to forbid it. And you know how Bucko is about that. But," he changed the subject before Apollo could answer, "what in the worlds did you argue about Boxey about? I mean, yeah, Starbuck wasn't with him most of the time, but he couldn't be. Your father slammed Blue in the barracks twenty-four/eight. Alert two: Starbuck couldn't bring the kid here like he did the last time. And I know for a fact he was scrambling to get people to take care... Oh. Are we back to Bojay? 'Cause you can't think Starbuck doesn't care."

"I'm sure he cares," Apollo defensively. "I'm just not sure he understands. In fact," a new idea presented itself, "I'm a little worried about him. I can't have Boxey thinking getting drunk is a good idea."

Boomer looked at him for a long centon but when he spoke all he said was, "Who's a drunk? Not Bucko; you know for all he enjoys his ambrosa he's almost never actually drunk."

"Bojay. That's what we fought about."

"What makes you think he's a drunk?" asked Boomer. "I mean, sure he used to get smashed but he's no worse than Starbuck. In fact, I think he drinks less any more."

"Yes, well, we don't know, do we? Because we're not his friends."

"One of his friends told you he drinks? Which one?"

Apollo felt a moment of hesitation, but quashed it. "Sheba."

"Sheba?" Boomer looked at him blankly. "How could you—right, you weren't here."

"Yes. She came by this morning to make up—yes, seriously. And to warn me about Bojay being a drunk. Damnit, Boomer, I can't have my son, our son," he corrected himself, "hanging out with a drunk. And I don't want my sister doing it, either. Especially not one who's making it obvious he's moving in on her."

"Moving in on... That's Sheba, too, isn't it?" Boomer straightened in his chair. "Have you talked to Bojay?"

"No, not yet."

"I know you haven't talked to Athena. Because, like I said, she's the one making it obvious. But I'm telling you, Apollo, things have changed up here, and one notion you must absolutely get out of your head, if you don't lose anything else: the notion that Sheba and Bojay like each other. They don't like each other."

"Oh, come on, Boomer. Of course they do. They were wingmen."

"Plenty of wingmen don't get along. And I mean it: they do not like each other. They hate each other. Ask anybody in the Wing."

Apollo paused. She'd seemed so sincere...

"But I don't want to discuss your sister's love life with you, Apollo," Boomer said. "I never have wanted to, and I'm not going to now. I'm just going to say that whoever seduced whom, the last time I looked, Athena was more than capable of taking care of herself." Then he actually snickered. "Ask Sheba about that."

"Boomer," Apollo said. "What do you mean?"

"Ask Sheba. Ask Athena. Ask any of a dozen who saw it... just don't ask me. In fact, I don't know why you're talking to me at all. I can't actually solve any of your problems."

Apollo snorted. "And you're obviously not prepared to say, 'You're absolutely right, Apollo', either."

"And what good would that do you? Go talk to the people you need to talk to."

"Yes, sir, Captain, sir," said Apollo, standing up. He didn't want to, but he knew he should talk to Athena.

Chapter Text

"What are you going to do today?" Athena asked when she achieved full awareness partway through her second cup of kava. The nice thing—well, one of the nice things about Bojay having been on the afternoon shift since she'd met him was that she hadn't had to wake up too early, except for Boxey, and that wasn't as bad as getting up for first shift. Bojay had been awake, which probably meant he was a morning person, but they could deal with that. She reached for another one of the Officer's Club's delicious pastries.

He shrugged. The shirt he was wearing lent a greenish cast to his eyes. Keeping track of those changes over the yahrens was going to be enjoyable. "I don't know. Spend half a centare moving in, I suppose. Go down to the Wing and see if my report needs any rewrite or additions. What about you?"

And when was the last time she'd heard a man ask how she planned to spend the day and not wanted to tell him it was none of his business? She smiled at the feeling of connection and said, "I have a few things to do. I think I'll talk to my father. I suppose I can give Colonel Tigh official notice while I'm there."

"Shall I come?"

"If you want to," she said, "but honestly I think it will be better if you don't. Of course, that's probably what Apollo thought," she added ruefully.

"I'll come if you want," he said. "The last time I saw him he was furious, but I don't want him to think I'm avoiding him."

"No, that wouldn't be good. But still—" an idea occurred to her. "I know. We'll ask him to have dinner with us. Here, tonight. You're the squadron leader; give yourself the eight meal break. Can you?"

"Not a problem," he said, sounding relieved.

"Good. Even if he doesn't come, we can eat. And I'll tell you something else you should do."

"What's that?"

"Buy some clothes. You can't get by with only two shirts—"

"I have five, really," he grinned.

"Even so. You're not going to be hanging out in the barracks with a bunch of... a bunch of pilots. You need clothes. You must have, what? eight sectares pay sitting around?"

"All right," he acquiesced. "I'll go shopping. It would be better if I could get to the Star but—"

"Oh, you don't need to get anything fancy," she said, adding, "I'll want to come with you for that."

He laughed. She loved hearing that sound. She was going to make sure she heard it at least once a day from now on. Mom, she thought a little wistfully, you were right. I wish you could have met him. And then her essentially pragmatic nature kicked in and she recognized that if her mother were still alive, Apollo wouldn't be in such a deep pile of felgarcarb, and she might not have met Bojay herself. It was a bit sobering, but what-might-have-beens had never been Athena's weakness.

He finished his kava and asked, "Which drawers shall I take?"

"I'll bet we can get another chest from quartermaster supply," she said. "If not, whichever you like, as long as they're on the bottom."

"I'll check with them," he said. "Are you finished?"

She drained her cup and stood up. "Yes. License first?"

"Sounds good to me," he answered, dropping a couple of cubits on the table.

At the registrar's office the clerk was a bit too wide-eyed. Athena could picture the word running all over the Fleet by nightfall, or what passed for it: the commander's children are both marrying outside the Temple! Well, so what, she thought. It was true enough. Deliberately she asked, "Do we need to make an appointment?"

"Not now," the woman said, "you can call anytime... oh. You mean, at all?"

"Yes."

"Oh. Well, no. You can just come in, and one of the registrars will fit you in as soon as he can, and someone in the office will witness. Is... is that what you want to do?"

"Perhaps," said Athena. "We'll let you know, one way or the other."

In the corridor Bojay looked down at her. "I'll go to the QM, then," he said, pocketing the license application in case they wanted it. He sounded reluctant.

No more than she was, she thought, reaching out to adjust the front of his jacket. "All right," she said. "I'll see you at dinner, if not before."

If there hadn't been a dozen people around, he'd have kissed her, or she him. As it was, he covered her hand where it rested on his jacket and then turned and left. She watched him walk away and sighed to herself, then snorted at herself and went on the first of the errands she had to do before she went to the bridge.

"Cassie," she said, looking into the medtech's cubbyhole. "Just who I was hoping would be here. I need a huge favor."

"Oh?" the blonde looked up at her. "Apollo's not here."

"I know. It's not about him. In any way," she clarified, knowing that Cassie blamed him for her breakup with Starbuck. And why not? she asked herself rhetorically. If he'd had the guts to ask Starbuck to marry him even a couple of yahrens ago, Cassie wouldn't have been involved with him. Of course, the pragmatic imp in Athena's mind pointed out, Starbuck might not have called in some favors and gotten Cassie this job, either... She'd have been shipped right back to the Gemini and gods knew what would have become of her. But that was moot: the blonde was annoyed at Apollo, and not likely to stop anytime in the near future, so it was a good thing this wasn't about him.

"What can I do for you?" Cassie asked.

"I'd like to look at Bojay's medical file."

Cassie blinked. "You can't do that. It's confidential."

"I know," Athena said. "I told you it was a huge favor."

"His file isn't even complete," Cassie said. "Cain didn't know he wasn't coming back; he didn't send any data over."

Athena didn't bother discussing what Cain had or hadn't intended or known. Cassie's feelings about Cain were why Athena couldn't feel as sorry for her as she probably should, and her own weren't important at the moment, since, God willing, the lunatic was long dead. Goddess willing, she tried out in her mind and rather liked the sound of it. "I'm not interested in his history," she said. "And I'm not looking for anything medically sacrosanct, or blackmail-worthy. He had to have a full physical, they all did, didn't they? When they came on duty with us?"

"Well, yes," Cassie admitted.

"Good. I just want to know if he has a hearing loss of any kind."

Cassie blinked those big blue eyes at her, clearly puzzled. "A hearing loss? But he couldn't be a pilot, could he?"

"It depends," Athena said. "It's not like color-blindness. And I don't think it's at all severe if he does. I'm just curious. Please, Cassie? What could it hurt?"

"It could cost me my job," Cassie said. "I can't let you see somebody's file... are you really going to marry him?"

"Yes."

A calculating look crossed the beautiful face. "Well," she said after a moment's thought, "I can't let you have his file. But I can't see how I could stop you from seeing what's on my screen if I happen to have it open when you come in... Hold on a minute." Her slender fingers played across the keyboard, and a file opened. "There," she said. "Hmmm, what's he do? Tilt his head?"

Athena looked at the numbers. It was clear that the lines differed, but she wasn't sure what they meant. She scrunched up her face.

Cassie grinned and then looked around quickly. "Here," she said, brushing her finger under the first line of data. "This is his left ear. Good scores, really above average hearing. Like a vulpine," she smiled. "His right ear's closer to normal in about half the range, still a bit better than average. No hearing loss, just a slightly off-balance hearing acuity."

"Thanks, Cassie," she said. "I owe you."

"Introduce me to some stable young man on the bridge," the blonde said, killing the file.

"If I meet one," Athena promised, adding to herself, and you'd be good for him.

And as she walked to one of the library branches to access the Fleet Main Personnel Database, she remembered Bojay's soft voice, in the darkness, his hand holding hers and his heartbeat under her ear. They weren't evil... But I wasn't supposed to have opinions or even anything to say. I learnt...

She snarled, not caring that she startled a couple of teenagers undoubtedly there for a term paper. Learned... she'd just bet he'd learned. Get boxed on the ear—and how quaint that sounds, try calling it 'hit on the head, hard'—often enough, and you'll learn even if you aren't twelve and ripped away from your father... Not evil? Oh, my heart, if I wanted to bring this up how I would beg to differ.

She pushed that away from her as she sat at the terminal. She knew it would come back and that she'd have to deal with it, but she could deal with it later. It was twenty yahrens old now; it could, and would, wait. She logged into the PersDB and within centons had located the two Diwest priestesses in the Fleet. She wasn't sure why she hadn't asked him where they were; probably because he seemed nervous about luring her away from the Temple. At any rate, she wanted to talk to one of them, and she might as well do it while asking when she could come and bless their quarters after they got married. They were both on one of the Piscon ships, the Moonfire Pool.

She looked at her chrono. It wasn't quite eleven yet. Half a centare there, half a centare back. That left, even if she spent a centare talking to the woman, a good centare for her father. That would probably be too long... She logged off and went to sign out a shuttle, using her mandate to get enough centares to keep her certification good. She didn't fly much any more, but she did keep her hand in, and this wasn't the first time she had combined certification with personal business. What good was having rank if you didn't pull it every now and then, she'd always felt. She and Apollo had had a few arguments about it, but then, what hadn't they?

The Moonfire Pool was a neat ship, once a passenger liner. It was probably somewhat overcrowded, every other civilian ship in the Fleet was, but you couldn't tell it from the corridors. The young man on duty in the shuttle bay knew exactly where the Diwest temple was, though he called it a 'fane'. Athena committed the term to memory and walked to the stateroom.

She was surprised when she got there. She'd tried not have any preconceptions, but the fact was, she did. She'd heard about pagan temples all her life, and the discovery that the pagans called them fanes wasn't enough to banish the images of lushly ornate decadence that should have been everywhere. Instead, the rooms were simple, certainly far from stark but just as far from lush. Nor did they much resemble the intricately designed and decorated Temples of Kobol. Instead, there was a clarity of line that greatly appealed to Athena, though she knew some of it was due to the Moonfire Pool's innate design. Still, the candles had a clean and delicate scent that welcomed instead of awed, and the colors, blues and greens and whites, soothed instead of dominated. Gold and scarlet and mass were none present, and the soft sounds of the small fountains scattered about the room added to the welcome.

"May I help you, child?"

Athena bit back the impulse to say she wasn't a child anymore and turned to the speaker. She was glad she hadn't said anything; the woman who'd come into the front room looked at least ninety. "Yes, please," she said, "I'm looking for a priestess."

"You've found one," the woman smiled. "My name is Angharad and I serve the Goddess. Please, sit." She gestured at the low couch and joined Athena on it. "How may I serve you?"

"My name is Athena," she said. "Daughter of Adama," and then, moved by an obscure impulse she added, "and Ila. I'm not a Diwest, but I want to marry one."

"A particular one," asked the woman with a little caroling laugh, "or do you want me to find one for you?"

Athena found herself laughing, too. "No," she said. "A particular one. His name is Bojay; he's a pilot on the Galactica?"

"Bojay," said Angharad. "I know him. There aren't that many of us, after all. So you want to marry him?"

"Yes," said Athena. "And I want, well, we want it, obviously. For you to come to the Galactica and hold the appropriate ceremony. When could you do that?"

"When are you getting married?"

"Well, that will depend on when you can come."

The woman smiled. It was a kind, genuine smile. Athena felt more at ease with her than she'd ever felt around a cleric before. "I can come whenever," she said. "Blessing a marriage is far more important than most of what I do. You decide, the two of you, and call me. I'll come, unless someone is dying, or being born, though unless you wait sectares that isn't likely."

Athena smiled at her. "I'm grateful to you," she said. "Would you mind if I asked..."

"Questions," Angharad said, "are the path to knowledge. We prize knowledge, therefore we prize questions. Unlike some... Ask what?"

"What is Diwesm?" It sounded so blunt put like that, Athena almost blushed.

Angharad said, "Diwes means Goddess, and the '-ism' means, as I understand it, a condition or a system of belief."

"I know you believe in a goddess," Athena began.

"We believe in the Goddess," the woman corrected her gently. "She is three-fold, yet one; single yet multitudinous. She has a hundred thousand names and faces, and yet, like the Universe, there is only one of Her. She is in every woman... she is Maiden: little sister and warrior, child, learner, helpless, the future. She is Mother and Lover: creator and nurturer and companion, the now. She is Grandmother Crone: wisdom, teacher, caretaker, the past... and death. She is," the woman shrugged, "all."

Athena thought about that for a moment and then asked, "And what about men?"

The old woman's smile, this time, was one of secrets shared and delights remembered. No Kobolian cleric had ever, in Athena's experience, looked quite like that. "You like men? So does the Goddess. How can she be sister without brother, mother without father, lover without companion? The God is twofold, yet one, born to sire and slay himself, to die at his own hand, father and son, a great mystery revealed in the dying of the year which is reborn, the sun which returns... The God, too, is part of the all which is the Goddess."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"And I am sure—sure that I do not. How can we comprehend the All? We ask questions and tell stories, because the answers are too complex. We peer with a dark-adapted eye into the mysteries of the Universe and so we cannot see the luminosity, and if we stare at the light, we can no longer see into the shadows." She laughed. "And then we go blind."

"You don't think you have the answers?" Athena asked, puzzled. Every religion she'd ever heard of had the Answer, usually written in some cryptic book and interpreted by priests.

"We have the questions, and we have answers, but not 'the' answers," Angharad responded. "We have the Goddess, and there are things we know, and things we know we don't know. I am happier seeking answers on my own than being told them."

"Or told they're not for me," Athena said involuntarily.

Angharad smiled. "Yes. You are a daughter of the Goddess... I would be very glad to teach you what we know. But when I have taught you all I can, there will still be much for you to learn on your own." She shrugged. "So life is."

"I'd like that, I think," Athena said. "But—"

"But it's not necessary for you to learn a single thing for me to come and bless your marriage, child. It's only necessary that you love him, and he you. And I can see the truth of that. He's a good man, and I'll be glad to see him happy."

And Athena found herself promising, "I'll do my best to see to that."

So now she was walking onto the bridge to talk to her father, one of the most prominent Kobolians in the Fleet, a truly devout man, and she knew, if he asked her, and she told him the truth, that she would have to say she was half a Diwest already, and planned to go all the way. He wouldn't be happy to hear it. She hoped he didn't ask.

He probably wouldn't. He'd stopped asking her so much lately, not wanting to hear the answers. She signalled at her father's office door and went in when it opened.

"Athena," he rose and hugged her, smiling. He'd gotten a bit more demonstrative over the last few days, though he'd always been a bit more with her than with the boys. He waved her into a chair and sat down himself. "I didn't expect to see you. Have you eaten your lunch?"

"I ate breakfast so late," she said, truthfully, "I'm not the slightest bit hungry."

He nodded. He didn't seem in any hurry to ask why she was there. Instead, he rolled his silver stylus between his fingers and sighed. After a moment, he said, tentatively, "I didn't see you and Boxey in Temple yesterday."

Oh, that was close to the bone. She said, "I planned on going to the evening service."

He nodded. "Did you see your brother?" he asked.

She was a bit startled; he hadn't mentioned Apollo to her in six days. "No," she said, hedging the truth a little. "Dr. Paye sent him home with a sedative so there wasn't any point in trying to see him yesterday, and I didn't need to be with Boxey this morning. I do plan on looking in on him though." She almost asked if he wanted to send a message, but decided not to.

"He stopped by the Life Center this morning," said Adama. "Dr. Salik told me he looked quite well."

"I'm glad to hear that," she said honestly.

"I didn't know," he said abruptly. "I would never have sent them..."

"Of course not," she agreed promptly, without pursuing what he would have done.

He looked at her with gratitude in his eyes. It shook her a little. He looked older today than he had the last time she'd seen him. That shook her, too, but it also gave her some hope.

After another moment he said, looking back at the stylus in his hands, "Colonel Tigh tells me you told him you are thinking of getting married."

"Colonel Tigh didn't understand me," she said gently, "if that's what he told you. I'm not just thinking about it. I'm going to. I've applied for the license already."

"You didn't tell me?"

"Frankly, Father, you haven't been in the mood to hear news like that," she pointed out.

He sighed. "You're right," he said. "Athena..."

She waited a few centons. "Yes, Father?"

"Some days I miss your mother very much," he said.

She was startled. She knew he'd loved Ila, that he'd mourned her deeply if by himself, and that he did miss her. But he'd never said so before, his credo of duty overcoming his personal emotions even in private. Even with his children. "I know," she said finally, feeling it to be inadequate. "I miss her, too," she added.

"Do you love him? This..." he hesitated.

"Bojay," she said before he had to decide on a word. "Yes. Very much."

"He's a Diwest."

"He is. And lower-class. And Piscon. And a Warrior. And a squadron leader. And a fine man. And he loves me."

"Does he drink?"

That had to come from Sheba, even though neither Starbuck nor Jolly had passed it on. If that bitch had gone on talking after... But there had been centares between the confrontation in the ready room and Athena's warning. She kept her voice calm and said, "No more than most pilots and less than quite a few of them."

"He seems to be a fine officer."

"He is."

The stylus seemed infinitely fascinating. "I can't... approve, you know."

"Do you have to disapprove?"

He was silent for a long time. "No," he said finally. "I suppose I don't have to. I suppose I can not disapprove."

She smiled in relief. "Then, please come to dinner tonight at the Officer's Club and meet him as my promised."

"At the Officer's Club?" He looked up at her, and she almost laughed at the expression on his face. He clearly recognized it for the neutral territory it was. "I think I can do that," he said with relief. "What time? Aren't you on duty?"

"I get a meal break," she reminded him, "and so does Bojay. If we take the buffet, we can be in and out in under a centare. At eight."

"The buffet?" he shook his head. "I'll go early and order for you. Find out what he wants and call me."

"Thank you, Father," she said. "I will." She hesitated a moment, wondering if she should bring up her brother, but then decided the timing wasn't right. Pushing too hard could easily make her father reverse the signs of caring about Apollo he'd shown. Later... as the old saying went, softly, softly catches simian. She rose and hugged him in his chair, kissing his cheek. "Thank you," she said again. "Now I have to go and get ready for my shift. I'll call you this evening."

When she got back to her quarters—their quarters, she reminded herself, and smiled at the words—Bojay had obviously been there. He'd gotten a chest from QM, a three-drawer section that he'd put underneath hers, taking her instructions literally. When she opened the locker to see if he was already in uniform and, therefore, probably at the Wing, she found he was. She also saw two more jackets hanging there, besides the dark brown one she'd already seen, one a dark amber and the other a slate grey, both still crisp with new. Goddess, he's efficient, she thought contentedly.

Then she saw the package lying on her pillow. About the size of a small picture, wrapped in pale green paper. What in the worlds? she thought, picking it up. She sat on the bed and unwrapped it carefully, discovering the back of a frame. She turned it over and very nearly burst into tears.

It wasn't great art, but it was evocative and recognizable, a simple pencil sketch capturing a instant of time that had never been. Her and Zac, walking together on a beach, wind pulling gently at their hair and the casual clothes they wore, holding hands and looking at something out of the frame. Gazing at it, Athena could hear the surf, the sea-avians, and Zac's delighted laugh...

She was sitting there still forty centons later when the door chimed.

 


Apollo went out into the corridor. Again, Blue's pilots pretty much avoided looking at him and he wondered, for a moment, if they were embarrassed, if they didn't want to sound like they were saying 'I told you so', or if they were all on Starbuck's side... Most of them were Starbuck's friends, after all. Not that they didn't like Apollo, but that he didn't just hang out like Starbuck did... He had more responsibilities, more duties; he was more serious; he had been their commanding officer; he had Boxey: all valid reasons, but the result was that he'd never been 'one of the guys'. And Starbuck was almost the macropedia definition of the term. Apollo had been worried about the other pilots blaming Starbuck for their curtailed liberty, but reflection had made him think Boomer's instant rejection of the idea was more correct, and so it had seemed.

How does he do that? Apollo wondered, not for the first time. Starbuck wasn't everybody's friend by any means, but most people liked him. Apollo understood what drove Starbuck, at least he thought he did; the blond didn't want to be alone, ever. In Ila's words from one long secton's furlon, after Apollo had come down with kytran fever, he 'didn't amuse himself well.' But what he couldn't understand was how Starbuck pulled it off. Of course, there was a down side to it: Starbuck was friends with some people Apollo wouldn't have spoken to if he could avoid it. And apparently didn't see any reason not to be friends with them. Or not to introduce them to others. Like Boxey. Or Athena...

Or encourage it, anyway, even if you didn't count that as an introduction. Though a man with as many friends as Starbuck did have could have found somebody else to watch Boxey that night, and then, well, then everything would have worked out better.

And he wouldn't have to fix it. Again.

His stomach growled, reminding him that breakfast had been centares ago and that he'd missed most of his meals the day before. He'd better eat before facing down Athena; he had the feeling he was going to need all the strength he could get.

"Ah, Apollo," he heard.

Apollo closed his eyes. How did Tigh always turn up just when you didn't want to see him? Maybe the rumors were true, and he had sold his soul to the dark powers. Or maybe they had taught it at senior staff courses. He turned around.

"I wanted to talk you," Tigh finished.

"Great," Apollo said. "Do you want to tell me how I screwed up, too?"

Tigh lifted an eyebrow in his inimitable fashion.

"Sorry," Apollo said quickly.

Tigh nodded and said, "Actually, no, I didn't. Do you need telling that?"

Apollo sighed. "May we start over? I'm glad to see you, too, sir. What did you want to talk to me about, and could we perhaps do it over lunch?"

"As a matter of fact," Tigh answered, smiling slightly, "Adama just called me to have lunch with him, so, no, I'm sorry, we can't. Perhaps some other time. But I hope this won't take long enough to keep you—in fact, I can walk with you if you wish."

"Please," said Apollo, and they matched strides along the corridor. Rather than waiting for Tigh to start, Apollo said, "I looked for my father yesterday at the Life Center."

"He's spoken to everyone," Tigh said, "except you."

"Are you here in his stead?" Apollo was proud of his tone. It wasn't bitter, but he thought it conveyed a rejection of that idea.

"Perhaps. Though not at his behest," Tigh clarified. After a moment, he added, "He did come down to the landing bay."

"I saw him," Apollo admitted. "But he didn't come down on the floor with us. He didn't talk to the people who nearly died."

"No," Tigh said simply.

Apollo appreciated that the colonel didn't offer any defense. It was too much to ask him to go further, considering the long history he had with Adama, and so, really, not making excuses was Tigh's way of disapproving. "So, what did you want to talk to me about?" he asked. "I'll be turning in my report tomorrow."

"That's fine," Tigh said. "That's Captain Boomer's schedule. I merely wanted to make sure that you aren't walking around carrying any undue share of the guilt for this disaster."

Apollo looked at him sharply, but he seemed serious. "Undue?" he asked. "How could it be undue? It was my command. It was my failure. It's my disaster."

"Apollo, you aren't omniscient. And you aren't omnipotent. Just because you have a 'mission' of some sort to carry out, don't make the mistake of thinking you aren't as fallible, as human, as the next man." Tigh's tone was calm, but it was his don't-argue-with-me-if-you-know-what's-good-for-you voice. The one with the core of tyllium steel running through it. "You shouldn't have been down there in the first place. We didn't provide you enough intelligence. And—" he cut off Apollo's attempt to speak, "we didn't tell you that. You went in unprepared, but not knowing that you were. The failure is ours. Not yours. When the Review Board convenes, I personally guarantee you, no one in the Wing, let alone your squadron, will collect so much as a reprimand over this."

Apollo stared at him. Tigh didn't lie, not about things like this. He'd known the man his entire life, and he was as sure of that as he was of anything. Tigh could evade with the best of them, and often you didn't even realize he was, but if he said something flat out... Relief blossomed in Apollo's mind, followed by anger he tried to damp down.

"Are we clear on this, Apollo?" Tigh asked, his tone gentler.

"Yes," Apollo nodded. "Thank you."

"It's the least I can do for you," Tigh said. "Enjoy your meal. Oh, Apollo," he added. "Although Red Squadron is short-handed, the Commander agrees that there'll be no need to keep the Wing in any alert status. You can leave the Galactica. If you have any reason to." He smiled slightly and left.

Apollo went inside the dining room and ordered a quick lunch. Athena was on second shift, so he'd have a centare or so to talk to her. He hoped it wouldn't take that long, but somehow, even now that they were getting along, he had a feeling she wasn't going to want to hear what he had to say. The waiter, an elderly man Apollo recognized by sight, set down his plate and asked, "Will you be seeing Lieutenant Athena or Bojay today, sir?"

Apollo stiffened but managed, he thought, a reasonable tone. "I'll see my sister after lunch, in fact. Why?"

The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a small medallion. "Lieutenant Bojay left this on the table this morning, when they were in for breakfast, with the tip. I'm sure he'll be wanting it back."

Breakfast... Apollo took a deep breath. At least they weren't eating in her quarters... which led to another thought. Had Bojay been at breakfast with Boxey? "I'll give it to her," he said, trying to keep his personal life as private as he could, considering that no one was giving him any help in doing so.

"Thank you," the man said and left.

Apollo looked at the medallion; about the size of a cubit, gold... too old and worn to really make out what it was. Yeah, when Bojay noticed it was gone, he would miss it. He sighed, but put it in his pocket to give to Athena.

When she opened her door to him, she was still in mufti, something charcoal and icy-blue he hadn't seen before. She looked very nice in it, actually, and there was a dreamy expression fading from her eyes that he rather wished hadn't been there. But he thought he'd heard Bojay at the Wing earlier, so hopefully he wasn't here now. That was as far as he got with that thought before his sister almost squealed his name and flung herself on his chest.

"I was going to come and see you," she said, "I called earlier but you weren't in. Oh, Apollo, it's so good to see you walking around; we were terrified for you yesterday." She pulled him inside, aiming him at her couch. "Sit down. Are you on medical leave? Does your arm hurt? Do you want something to drink? Would you like me to let you speak?"

For a cowardly centon he thought about just relaxing into this rare warmth and forgetting everything else. But he couldn't. So he shook his head and said, "I just ate, thanks. At the O Club." He reached into his pocket. "Bojay left this by accident at breakfast."

She took it from him. He wasn't entirely sure what the fleeting expression in her eyes meant, but she said, with gratitude, "Thank you. He'll be glad to get this back."

"Did he leave anything at my place?"

She looked at him levelly. "I doubt it," she said. "He didn't bring anything there except the clothes he wore. Oh, and that bottle of ambrosa we left for Starbuck."

Ambrosa. Apollo hadn't seen it; hopefully Starbuck had put it away in a cabinet somewhere, not just put it away... And just the mention of it was enough. "Breakfast," he said. "Did he eat with you and Boxey?"

"He did," she said. "In fact, he made it. Boxey was pleased—you know me and cookers."

"I'm starting to wonder how well I know you and anything any more," he said. "How could you let Boxey realize he had spent the night with you?"

"Excuse me?" Athena got very still.

"Even if I thought your... dating him was a good idea I don't want my son exposed to that. And what are you thinking? You barely know him! You should have talked to somebody who does before falling into bed with him—my bed, for God's sake. It's all over the ship now—I'm sure Father's heard. I thought you weren't going to antagonize him? And what happens when you go to break it off, because you can't possibly go on with it. You're too, you used to be anyway, too level-headed to think you can reform him." Her silence, which been encouraging him, suddenly changed, becoming clearly charged with something Apollo couldn't quite identify but which made him abruptly aware that his sister was seething. He looked into her icy eyes and realized that he had never seen her like this, almost as cold and distant as their father, but with that element he couldn't put a finger on. Whatever it was, it actually made him forget what he had been going to say next. "What were you thinking?" he repeated instead and then fell silent in the face of her wrath, definitely not too strong a word.

She stared at him and then said, her voice near enough to calm that, coupled with her eyes, it almost frightened him, "One centon, Apollo. Don't move." She stood up and walked into the sleeping room and, without bothering to shut the door, activated her comm.

"Bridge."

"Omega, this is Athena. I need a favor. Please find someone to cover my position for about a centare. Maybe less. Mako owes me, if you can find him. Something—" she looked at Apollo, "—has come up."

"I'll cover it myself," Omega replied promptly. "Don't worry. Do you need the shift?"

"No," she said decisively. "I don't."

"Take your time," he said. "I'll see you."

"Thank you."

She clicked off the unit and walked back out to face Apollo, who found himself on his feet. She invaded his personal space, coldly furious. He took an involuntary step back and she followed him. He held his ground, staring down at her, and discovered that he couldn't intimidate her—in fact, the opposite. He opened his mouth to say something, but she beat him to it.

"I want an answer—and if you lie to me I will find it out and you will be even sorrier. Have you spoken to Bojay?"

That wasn't exactly what he had been expecting, but it had the virtue of being something he could answer at once and in a single word. "No."

She stared at him for a centon and then the aura of palpable menace faded. And as it did, Apollo realized that was what it had in fact been: menace. That was what was different from Adama's anger. He'd been afraid of a physical attack. From Athena... that startled him so much he almost missed what she said. "Good." The satisfaction was plain. "That means I don't have to injure you."

"Athena," he began.

She flared at him. "Shut up, Apollo. I don't want to hear any more sermons. I just want some answers."

"Athena..." his voice trailed off. She no longer looked like she wanted to claw his eyes out, but she was far from happy. Well, what did you expect? She thinks she's in love. "What?" he asked quietly.

"Reform him of what?"

"You might not know," he admitted, "you haven't known him long—"

Anger flared across her eyes. "Don't hedge," she said impatiently. "Just tell me."

"Well, of, of drinking. Too much. His father was a drunk." He stopped.

Very carefully she said, "And just who told you that? And when?"

"Do you think I'd have promoted him to squadron leader if I'd known?" he asked. "I just found out today."

"Today," she repeated grimly. "From whom?"

He hesitated a moment. But Sheba thought of Athena like family, and Athena had always gotten along with her. "She had your best interests at heart," he said, "yours and Boxey's. I mean, you can see that I can't have my son—"

"I can see considerably more than you can," she interrupted. "The name, Apollo. Who told you?"

"Sheba." He had the unsettling experience of sensing something he couldn't see, something huge and awful, held on a very short leash. He swallowed. "She meant well—"

"No. She didn't."

"Athena," he began.

Again she cut him off. "No. She did not. She meant ill. As ill as she could work, and damn if she didn't strike the motherlode in you... Thank God, thank all the gods and goddesses there ever were you didn't throw that at him. How could you believe her? Did you even bother to ask anyone about her? Did you listen to Boxey at all? He'd have told you."

"Boxey is seven—"

"And you're thirty-two and I know which of you is better at reading people. Sagan, Apollo, did the woman or did she not try to break your jaw the last time she spoke to you?"

"She was upset. She was trying to patch things up today."

"And you are—what are you, Apollo? Egotist? Or insecure? Or just stupid? How could you believe her rather than trust the people you supposedly love? Upset, was she? Yes, I bet she was, seeing her hopes for dynastic glory and pampered privilege slide through her fingers."

"She's not—" he tried, but his sister overrode him with no effort.

"Upset, was she? Like she was when she called you obscene names in front of your son? Oh, that didn't come up? Well, she did, and he's already asked several people to define them for him, so the next time he trots one out in company you'll know who you have to thank."

"Athena, I have to think about him."

"Then why don't you fracking start? That woman has no one's best interests at heart but her own, and I shudder to think of how she defines them... If you think she wanted to mother your first wife's son by another man, you're so wrong it's not amusing."

That was so unexpected he couldn't think how to answer it.

"Only you, Apollo, only you could have believed her, even with the excuse of not being here. She's spent the last five days lashing out, trying to hurt and destroy everyone she could. She hates you, she hates me, she hates Bojay... She's always hated Starbuck. Oh, yes, she has. She hid it well, but she did. You think she didn't guess who her competition was? Why do you think she called him 'a slut with the luck to land on his feet'? Out of adoration?"

"She called him that?"

"In front of about forty pilots. And that was the nicest thing she said. She went for Bojay's throat over spending the night 'sucking up to' me... Oh, is that familiar? You might remember I have a say... And just what, by the way, is that felgarcarb you were spouting about 'exposing' Boxey to the notion that somebody spent the night with me? Apollo, you spent the night with Serina. Not to mention Starbuck. He knows about it. And, may I remind you, you actually told me I could kick Starbuck out of your quarters early if I wanted to 'have someone over for the evening', I believe you put it, but we both know exactly what you meant."

He remembered saying that. Of course, he'd been thinking of... well, anybody but Bojay.

"So don't hand me that 'corrupting the child' line. In fact, whether you want to accept it or not, Bojay being there was damned good for him."

"What?"

"It's been a rough few days on him. You weren't here, and your father was acting as if he hated you. Just like that, because you did something he thought was wrong. That's scary for a child, or don't you remember? Boxey needed you here to reassure him that would never happen to him. Starbuck can't do that, even if he wasn't locked up in the barracks twenty-four/eight. Boxey knows Starbuck can't even remember his father. He can't say how fathers act. Bojay can; he remembers his. Bojay could tell him what he needed to hear." She paused. When he didn't say anything she added, "Bojay did tell him what he needed to hear. He held your crying son in the middle of the night and promised him you would never, ever, stop loving him."

Apollo was glad he hadn't let her back him up any more, because the couch was right there. And he needed it, as his legs suddenly gave out and he sat down, hard, unable to shake that image.

Athena added, "Boxey doesn't blame you, of course. He's smart enough to put that where it goes, but even that contributed, you see... your father. Bojay helped him, even more than I could have. Your son adores him, as much for smacking Sheba down verbally as anything else, I might add."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, according to Boxey and Starbuck, he's the one who stopped her calling you names. And according to half the Wing, he's the one that kept Giles from being locked up for insubordination if not worse by drawing her fire onto him. What the frack did she say to you, anyway, that you get that little jaw-clench at Giles's name? Oh, let me guess, she hinted very gently that he's Starbuck's bit on the side?"

"No, she didn't..." he hesitated.

"Ah. The bitch didn't. I bet she very carefully didn't. Let me guess: she told you that she loved you and little Boxey and she just knew there was nothing to those Giles and Starbuck rumors, and by the way, poor Athena doesn't know it, but Bojay's an ambitious ophiucian drunk? I knew it," she snorted when Apollo, unable to deny it, had to nod. "And you bought it. Every fracking word... Oh, Apollo," she shook her head. "You are so damned stupid sometimes. And Sheba... She's the ophiucian here. She could give the original Serpent lessons. Poor thing, he only told the truth. Sheba deliberately attempted to screw you and Starbuck up as much as possible, and you—Sagan. You did. You fought with him about it. How can you possibly take her word over Starbuck's? Don't you trust him?"

Apollo had been going to say something, but that question cut him to the quick. Almost literally; he felt like looking for the blood. That seemed to be the hundred and forty-four thousand cubit question, all right. Didn't he? He thought he did, but then...

"Apollo," Athena sat down beside him and put her hand, rather tentatively on his knee.

He looked at her in surprise; how could she go from so angry to not, in such a short space of time? He couldn't; it took centares, sometimes days, for him to cool down... And then he saw, by the flicker in her eyes, that she wasn't 'not'. She'd just tucked it away, since it wasn't aimed at him, until she could unleash it on the right person. He wasn't sure how he knew, because she was speaking kindly to him, but he thought he most likely recognized it by a tag-end of the gift that had let their father ruin cutlery until their mother put her gentle foot quite firmly down, that touch of psi he didn't want and so, according to his father, had never manifested. Between blood siblings it maybe worked anyway...

"He told me once, a while ago now, that you didn't. That if you had your way you'd lock him up somewhere. I asked him why the hell he stayed with you. He said you didn't, and then shrugged and said I didn't understand. He was right; I didn't. But you must know better, Apollo. He's too strong to let you treat him that way. But I can't understand why you feel you have to. He loves you."

"I know," he admitted. "It's me. It's not him."

"Well, you'd better apologize to him as soon as he gets off."

"I know that, too."

"Good. And here's something else you'd better know, before I forget it: you do not now have, nor have you ever had, have any right to tell me who I can or can not 'date', as you put it."

"Theni—"

"No," she said, a slight edge back in her voice. "I mean this."

"I meant it for your good."

"And you know what's paved with that," she retorted.

"Have I ever before?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Except for Starbuck, no, not that you have had the chance. And you sure as hell didn't want me dating him."

He flushed. That was true. Usually he'd pretended he didn't know who she was seeing, though actually once he'd thrown his weight around to run off an ensign he'd thought was too old for her. But Starbuck had been different. He hadn't shown it to anyone else, just her, but he'd tried to discourage her, right enough. He'd been so terrified that Starbuck would find his sister close enough to settle for...

"And I know you don't like Bojay. But I'm not just dating him; I'm going to marry him."

"Athena, you barely know him."

"Mom knew within centares," Athena said. "And I'll tell you this: I told Starbuck I wouldn't marry him because I didn't want to get hurt again by losing someone. Well, now I know that means I never did love him. Because if Bojay kisses me goodbye tomorrow and climbs into that Viper and never comes back it will be so much better than never having kissed him at all."

"You do love him," Apollo discovered.

"I do. And he's not a drunk, though his father was. I've seen him drink a couple and stop, or his half of a bottle of nectar. Drunks can't do that. So lighten up. If you don't like him, that's one thing, but don't let that... Sheba," she settled on the name as if there was nothing worse she could say, "poison your mind against him as well as Starbuck."

"Marrying him?"

"You bet," she said. "Just as soon as possible. And, by the way, I'm not antagonizing Father. I won't say he's best pleased, but he's making do. Probably, I admit, because your promised makes anybody else look so good."

He managed a rueful smile at that, then asked, "So he's converting?"

"Don't start," she warned him, the edge again discernable.

"I just asked."

"Starbuck is nothing. You have no ground to stand on there, either."

He hesitated to ask about the 'either'. "Father doesn't mind?"

"Of course he does," she said. "But he'll get used to it."

Apollo laughed. It startled him to hear himself. He'd almost convinced himself he'd never find anything funny about the situation ever again. He looked at his sister. "Gods, 'Theni," he said, "I'm so very damned sorry."

"You should be," she said, but she hugged him when she did.

Chapter Text

After a few moments, Athena got up. "I'll be back out in a couple of centons," she said. "Wait here, okay?"

He nodded. He didn't feel like moving, let alone like going back to his empty quarters to wait with only himself as company. Much as he usually enjoyed being left alone, today no. And if he were honest, he even less wanted another confrontation with Starbuck.

The blond man was volatile, no two ways about it, but it was rare that he really lost his temper. In the fifteen yahrens that he'd known him, Apollo couldn't couldn't remember more than a handful of times. If that many. Over Chameleon. Over the Ortega thing. Over that kid on Etaoine, the one that had gotten arrested. When Starbuck had attempted to run away after he'd broken out of the brig, back when he'd been accused of terminating Ortega, and Apollo had tried to stop him... And even that hadn't lasted long enough to mention if the total hadn't been so small. Not even five. And never over anything personal. Anything between them.

Until now.

Apollo closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. Starbuck could hold a grudge, though he'd always forgiven Apollo, even things that were, frankly, pretty damned close to unforgivable. Things that were only not unforgivable because Starbuck in fact forgave them. If that was what he'd meant about being tired... By all the Lords of Kobol, he thought wearily. How can you be such a cautious, sober officer and such an impulsive idiot in your private life? How can you know what you have and do exactly will make you lose it?

He thought about what 'Theni had said about love and loss. She was right. If Starbuck died he wouldn't wish he'd never loved him. But, came a thought from somewhere, if you had died down there on that planet part of you would have been wondering with your last breath how long it would take him to replace you. Part of you would have been wondering who he was with right then, while you were dying.

He shook his head sharply and got to his feet. That's not true, he insisted. Starbuck loves me.

So why do you want to lock him up?

I don't!

In the skeptical, accusatory silence that followed that Apollo faced facts for the first time in... when? Ever, probably, he admitted. At the very least, since the Academy, and that night he only thought about by admitting he'd done something wrong, and not by thinking about why he'd thought it was right...

And he also admitted that he did want to lock Starbuck up, keep him away from everyone else. But what he recognized now, finally, was the disconnect between the questions and the answers. It's me. It's not him, he'd told Athena and he'd said variations of it to Starbuck over the years, but he'd never really stopped and thought about it. Now he actually understood how true that was.

Apollo sank back down on the couch. It's me, and it's always been me. He would have been wondering that, hell, he'd been thinking variations of it the whole time he'd been on the planet. He'd even spent how long worrying about Bojay... because he didn't trust Starbuck. Or, more accurately, he didn't think Starbuck could mean it. Didn't see how Starbuck could keep on doing what he did, loving and forgiving...

Sagan. Apollo thumped his head against the wall a couple of times. Sometimes things that seem too good to be true are. And sometimes they aren't. Sometimes they are good and true together. Had he ever been able to accept that? He wondered; it seemed, looking back, that he'd spent a lot of his life looking for the catch. Funny, because he could remember talking about that with Starbuck some yahrens ago; Starbuck was the one who frequently actually lost things, yet he had the gift of living in the moment without asking if he should or when it would end.

Of course, that capacity for enjoying what he was doing had frequently annoyed Apollo. Sometimes you should ask if you should be doing whatever it is... and sometimes you shouldn't be. No matter how much fun it is. But, he admitted to himself now, only sometimes.

He sighed and deliberately thought about something else. Sheba. Not why he'd found it so easy to believe her about Starbuck, but why had he let her push him into that confrontation with Athena? He'd let her nearly destroy their new relationship... why had he been so quick to believe everything she'd said? It didn't make much sense, when you stepped back—remember deciding to do that, Apollo?—and looked at it. Had he really thought he was so incompetent as Strike Captain that he wouldn't have noticed if Bojay had a drinking problem? He'd noticed with Orion, quick enough, and that man wasn't even a section leader. Bojay was a squadron leader...

He frowned to himself, remembering, suddenly, Athena's words. Some of them, anyway, and he had the feeling he was going to be waking up in the middle of night for a while remembering others. Like Your son adores him, for instance. And He held your crying son in the middle of the night and promised him you would never, ever, stop loving him. That one, especially... But at the moment he was thinking about her saying that Bojay was the one who stopped her calling you names. And according to half the Wing, he's the one that kept Giles from being locked up for insubordination if not worse by drawing her fire onto him. He thought about that for a few centons. Boomer hadn't mentioned... of course, he wasn't Giles's commanding officer any more. Or Sheba's, for that matter. But what in the name of seven hells had been going on, that Giles was in danger of "worse"? Had that been in front of forty pilots, too?

And why did he have the awful feeling that his father was not just sitting back and watching? Starbuck and Athena had both said Adama had been trying to get Boxey... and putting on the Wing on alert as a move in that. Frack. That can't have been much fun for Starbuck.

He remembered, now, when it was too late of course, what Starbuck had said: You weren't here. You don't know what was going on. He'd been too focussed on his complaints to even ask, but... He pissed off the Commander, Boomer had said and, a real bastard, just like the Commander's been, lately. And Boxey, too: Grandfather was a bully.

He hadn't followed up any of that; he'd let himself be distracted by his concerns over Boxey. Well, not distracted, he defended himself; Boxey was the most important thing. He couldn't take care of himself; Apollo had to make sure he was looked after. And properly. But still...

And then his mind went back and pulled out that sentence of Boomer's again, this time stripping it of the nonessential words: You can be... just like the Commander.

He sat there, paralyzed, for a centon, and then found himself on his feet, knocking on Athena's sleeping room door.

"'Theni!"

Her door opened and she came out, in uniform and carrying one of her boots. "Apollo? What's—"

"Athena," he didn't wait for her. "I am so sorry. I am so sorry. I've been acting just like Father."

"Apollo?"

"I mean it. I didn't mean to, but I have been... trying to make people do what I wanted, listening to anybody who supported me and ignoring everyone I should have been listening to, threatening to withold my approval, using emotional blackmail... trying to cut the Universe to my pattern. I am so sorry."

"There he is," she said softly, "there's my brother, back again." She dropped the boot and hugged him.

He hugged her back, ignoring the throb in his arm. "Can you forgive me?"

"I expect so," she said, her voice husky. "Just don't make a habit of it, Appy, okay?"

"I promise. I'll try, anyway... Slap me down if you see me starting again, please?"

She laughed against his chest and stepped back to look at him with dancing blue eyes. "I promise. Believe me, I promise."

He reached out and touched her cheek. "I hope you're happy with Bojay. I truly do."

"Thank you. But," she said, bending down and picking up her boot, "while you're in this mood of clarity, you'd better go talk to Starbuck."

"You're right," he acknowledged. "We parted badly, but not unfixably... not if I beg hard enough."

She eyed him, sitting on the arm of her chair and pulling on her boot. "Get down on your knees if you have to," she advised. "If you screw this up, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. And so will he. And frankly, Boxey may never speak to you again."

"I'm convinced," he protested. "I'm going... 'Theni," he added. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it," she said. "Just don't make me have to do it again." She stood up and stomped her foot into the boot, then looked up at him through her cloud of dark hair. "Are you coming to my wedding?"

"If I can," he promised. "When is it going to be?" Half of him was hoping for a date sectares in the future.

"I don't know," she said. "We have to pick a day... he's off sixthday and seventhday, and I'm off eighthday and First Day... it doesn't match up. But I think I can swap my off days with someone else on First Watch, when I get back with them in a couple of sectons, after Lorela's back on duty... and I might be able to swap off once anyhow. If I can, sixthday?"

"I'll be on second shift," he said. "And so will Starbuck... If you have it in the morning that would work." Then, because he couldn't help it, he asked, "Not in Temple, then?"

"Very much not," she agreed. "He's a Diwest; you know how many sectares instruction they'd insist on him getting. If he wanted to."

Apollo refrained from commenting because, after all, what he really knew about Diwesm he could have written on his thumbnail. He also refrained from asking if she was still going to attend Temple, herself. "I'm sure Starbuck will want to come," he said. "And I do, too. So try and schedule with us in mind."

She smiled. "I will. Now—"

"I know. Go find my promised and make sure he still is."

 


Apollo started towards his quarters and then paused. Starbuck probably wasn't there. After the way he'd left, with that "we can call it off" hanging in the air. And it wasn't as though he'd really gotten used to it being his home before... before. And how many people had said "twenty-four/eight" to him already today? Starbuck still hadn't spent but that one night there. He was probably still thinking of it as Apollo's quarters. Hell, he'd just done it; of course Starbuck was. So Apollo turned and headed back towards the barracks.

He glanced into Blue's section but didn't see Starbuck. He went on down to the lounge and still didn't see him, though he did see a couple of Blue pilots he could ask. He also spotted Bojay down the hall near the ready room. He hesitated a centon and then decided he would do well to begin as he meant to go on, particularly while he was in this mood of clarity.

Green's squadron leader was leaning on his right shoulder up against the wall, all his weight on his left leg, effectively minimizing his height while he listened to tiny Keili, who barely came up to his elbow. As usual, she was very animated, hands waving and emotions chasing themselves across her expressive face while she talked. Which made it all the more apparent when she caught sight of Apollo; her face blanked and she glanced quickly between the two men.

Bojay turned his head, saw Apollo, and straightened. Keili said something, quick and soft, touching his arm, and then headed for the watch office. Bojay nodded and said, "Apollo. Good to see you up."

"Thanks, Bojay. Do you know where Starbuck is?"

Bojay looked slightly surprised at the question but shook his head. "Nope. I saw him leave but he didn't tell me where he was going."

"Thanks... And listen, Bojay: thanks for... everything." There. That hadn't killed him. Of course, it hadn't been very specific either; Apollo had been raised on Ila's drilling that one should always mention at least one thing specifically to show you really were grateful. That was for birthdays and MidWinter and such but still... "Especially for looking after Boxey," he finished.

Bojay smiled. He actually had a nice smile, Apollo noticed. "I didn't mind that a bit," he said. "He's a very nice child, and he was in a bit of trouble. But you're welcome."

"I mean it," Apollo repeated. "I really appreciate it." He took a deep breath, then said, "Bojay... Athena see—" he stopped right there and changed to the correct verb. "—is happy." He stopped, biting back an admonition.

Maybe Bojay heard it anyway, or maybe he just knew what brothers thought. "I'll do my best to keep her that way," he said.

"I'm glad you two are together," Apollo said, and that didn't kill him either. To his surprise he heard himself continue, "The two of you will have to let us take you to dinner or something one night soon."

Bojay looked startled but pleased. "That'd be good."

"We'll talk," Apollo said. "But I have to find Starbuck now."

Bojay nodded. "Sorry I can't help; I think Giles is hanging around the ready room, still. He might know."

"Thanks." Apollo walked to the ready room and did indeed spot the short pilot, still in uniform, talking with Rex. "Giles?" he called.

Giles broke off in mid-sentence and, tapping Rex on the chest, came over to Apollo. "Yes?"

No greetings, no 'good to see you up'. Of course, he'd seen him already today, plus been on a picket flight with Starbuck and nothing to do but talk... Apollo asked, "Do you know where Starbuck is?"

Giles bristled up slightly. It was his usual posture, though, nothing new like Keili's precipitate flight. "He's at home," he said, as though Apollo were an idiot for asking.

"Home?"

"Yeah. Your quarters. He does live there, doesn't he? He thinks he does."

"Of course. It's just, I didn't think..." Apollo let that trail off, unsure why he was explaining himself to Giles, anyway.

"He's off duty. He went home." Giles's tone and body language added, you want to make something of it?

Apollo didn't. He really didn't. At least, he thought, so much for the Giles-is-trying-to-move-in-on-Starbuck theory; it is pretty obviously more like Giles wants to drive you back to Starbuck in a hurry... with a stick if necessary. He shook his head. "I didn't look there," he said. "I guess I will. Thanks, Giles." He hurried off, leaving the other man standing staring after him.

Home? he was thinking. Starbuck thinks of it as 'home'? That was promising... unless it was Giles's word choice, and Starbuck was cleaning out his closet. He willed the turbolift to go faster and not stop on any intermediate levels. So, of course, six other people got on and off before he reached his. He almost trotted down the hall and keyed himself in.

At least there was no box on the kava table, and Starbuck's books and pictures were still on the wall unit, even that depressing one of the Thorn Forest; Apollo was actually glad to see it sitting there where it belonged. "Starbuck?" he called.

The door to the sleeping room opened and Starbuck came out, wearing casual clothes.

"You're here," Apollo said intelligently.

Starbuck strove for matter-of-fact but just barely missed it. "Where else would I be?" He walked on into the front room and dropped into the corner of the couch.

"After the way we left it this morning, I just wasn't sure..."

Starbuck glanced away and then back. "I wanted to get your attention."

"You did," Apollo confirmed ruefully. "In purple... Too bad for you Giles came in. Athena got to smack some sense into me."

"She's gotten good at that," Starbuck said. "Maybe not good enough—"

"Oh, no," Apollo cut in. "She did a fine job... And Boomer; he told me to talk to the people I need to talk to. I don't know why I listened to Sheba, Starbuck."

"Because you wanted to believe her," Starbuck said simply. "You feel guilty over making her think you were gonna marry her, and you wanted to believe she'd forgiven you, and you wanted to believe the rest of what she was saying, too."

"Not all of it," Apollo protested. "I swear to God, Starbuck, I did not want to believe all of it. I didn't believe all of it. I love you."

Starbuck sighed heavily. "That's never been the issue, Apollo."

Apollo paused, then realized what he needed to do. For the first time since he'd met him, he went down on his knees to Starbuck for something besides sex. He put his hand on Starbuck's leg and said, "Please, Starbuck, believe me: I trust you. I trust you with my life, my heart, my son, my soul... I trust you. I'm so sorry I said anything to make you doubt that. Please..."

Starbuck stared into his eyes and swallowed. "Oh, gods," he whispered. "Apollo... don't. I forgive you."

"I mean it," Apollo insisted. "I trust you."

Starbuck reached out and laid his hand on Apollo's cheek. "I believe you. Please don't..."

Apollo turned his head and kissed Starbuck's palm. "Will you marry me day after tomorrow?"

"I thought I already answered that... Yes, yes, I will." Starbuck leaned forward and kissed him.

Apollo slid around in between Starbuck's legs and pressed closer, kissing him deeply. For long centons they clung to each other, kissing mouths, throats, eyes, and then Starbuck suddenly pulled away just as Apollo's hands were reaching for his belt. "No, I don't think so," the blond said.

"Starbuck!"

"It's a bad idea."

"No, Starbuck, please—"

"You're injured."

"Not enough to fracking notice," Apollo protested frustratedly. "Starbuck, don't you dare stop now, not on that account."

"I don't know," Starbuck said. "You probably need to sleep."

"I slept twelve fracking hours last night," Apollo said, reaching for Starbuck.

But the blond used the leverage of his position, and Apollo found himself on the couch, pinned, but not how he wanted to be. "Starbuck!"

"Dr. Salik said you weren't supposed to exert yourself." This time the undertone was clear.

Apollo stopped worrying that he was serious, but he wriggled and protested anyway. "Starbuck, don't you dare—"

Starbuck laughed. "And what if Boxey comes home?"

"Boxey can't come home till one of us fetches him. Starbuck, don't you dare—"

Starbuck let go, leaned over and kissed him, hard. "Apollo," he said when he pulled away. "Shut up."

"Starbuck..." Apollo pulled him back for another kiss. "Make me."

"Oh, yeah? Okay..."

And Apollo suddenly found himself hoisted in Starbuck's arms and carried into the sleeping room. Starbuck laid him on the bed and straddled him, pulling Apollo's shirt off over his head and scattering kisses and nibbles across his torso. When he began sucking on one of Apollo's nipples, he'd won. Well, almost. Apollo wasn't quiet, even though he couldn't come up with any words.

In short order they were both naked, hands and mouths reclaiming familiar territory missed for days. Apollo couldn't remember missing Starbuck so much even when they were yahrens apart. Is this what commitment means? he thought before Starbuck's mouth drove all thought out of his head.

When he opened his eyes again, he found Starbuck lying next to him. He leaned over and kissed the blond and said, "Remember, I'm not supposed to exert myself," and rolled over onto his stomach.

"No promises," Starbuck breathed against the back of his neck. He slid a hand down Apollo's back and then inside him, prepping him with a gentle urgency, and then he was inside, moaning with desire. Apollo, too, moaned, needing Starbuck's presence inside him like he never had before. But it was over quickly; Apollo sighed but didn't complain. In a way, it was very nice... and they had lots of time.

"Sorry," Starbuck said, catching his mood. "Been waiting for that." He kissed Apollo's neck. "Are you up for again?"

Apollo thought about Boxey, but very, very briefly. "Hell, yes. Don't go anywhere."

Starbuck shifted just slightly, and rested his head on Apollo's shoulder. "At the moment I never want to move again." He pulled the blanket up over them and kissed the shoulder under his head. "Think Boomer would notice if I wasn't there tonight?"

Reminded, Apollo said, "Didn't he tell you? Tigh said the alert's lifted. You don't have to be there till six."

"Ummmm... nice."

"Me, too," Apollo said.

"You, too, what?"

"Have to be there at six."

"Apollo—you're kidding!" Starbuck jerked his head up. "You're hurt. And your squadron's off anyway!"

"'Sokay," Apollo said, tugging on the arm encircling him. "I get fifthday."

Starbuck relaxed. "That's nice... hey. Want to get a room on the Star?"

"Yes."

Starbuck chuckled. "No 'that's extravagant'?" he asked. "No 'who'll watch Boxey'? No 'how much will that cost?' No—"

"So what, 'Theni, and I don't care," Apollo interrupted. "I'm never getting married again—"

"Got that right," Starbuck dropped a quick kiss on his shoulder.

"And besides, a little extravagance never hurt anyone."

"What have you been doing with yourself all day?" Starbuck asked, mock seriously. "That's a rather profound conclusion, and unlike you."

"I've been figuring myself out."

"Oh?" Starbuck sounded wary but interested. "Can you tell me? In twelve words or less?" he added.

Apollo laughed shortly. "Easy. I'd leave me. So why don't you?"

There was a long silence. Starbuck nuzzled Apollo's neck but seemed to understand this wasn't the moment for jokes about great sex. After a while he said, "Why would you? Leave you, I mean?"

"Starbuck, you know what I'm talking about. I'm a stubborn fool, and I don't treat you well. I ask you to put up with a lot, and you do, and I never appreciate it. Never show you I do, anyway. And I hurt you... and you forgive me. I wouldn't forgive me half—a sixth what you do. And some of the things I've done—"

Starbuck said, quickly, "Shhh." He kissed him on the back of the neck. "It's over. They're done. Don't fret."

"But I wouldn't have."

Starbuck sighed. "So you think I shouldn't? Or—" the light came on. "You think I won't."

Apollo nodded. "You could have anyone. And almost anyone would treat you better than I have."

"That much I can't argue with," he said, and it was oddly reassuring. "But it doesn't matter, Apollo. You're the one I want. And anyway, most of what you do isn't..."

"Isn't what?"

Starbuck sighed; Apollo could feel his breath warm on his neck. "That bad. Or your fault. It's easy to forgive."

"What about the rest?"

Starbuck sighed again. "It's not easy. But it's what I want to do."

Apollo reached up and stroked Starbuck's arm. "I don't want you to have to do it any more."

Starbuck laughed a little and kissed Apollo's shoulder. "I can get behind that program."

"I don't know how well I'll do," Apollo admitted. "But I intend to try. I want you to understand, you're the most important thing to me, next to Boxey. Maybe even not next to him. You really are."

"And that," Starbuck said, "is why I don't leave." He shifted his body a bit on top of Apollo's and Apollo felt him, ready again.

He bent his head and nibbled gently on Starbuck's forearm, then spread his legs a little. "Take me again," he husked. "Now, please."

Starbuck dropped a kiss between his shoulderblades. "I can get behind that, too," he chuckled. He tried to pull his hand away but Apollo clung to it for a moment.

"Just, now, Starbuck," he said. "Now."

Starbuck hesitated a few microns, but then apparently decided it was soon enough to be all right. Apollo let go and felt his lifemate adjust the position of his legs slightly. And then he felt the pressure, the penetration, the possession and the yielding. He sobbed once, for the almost having lost this forever, and raised his hips, thrusting back against Starbuck's brief hesitation, trying to become one being. "Gods, Starbuck," he got out, "now, please."

So Starbuck thrust forward, filling him, and Apollo cried out in pleasure. Starbuck leaned forward and kissed his back, once and gently, and then began to drive in and out, taking Apollo to the edge of ecstasy and then right over it into the oblivion of pleasure. If the first time had been too short, this time made up for it.

They collapsed again, their legs entwined and Starbuck's head on Apollo's back, his breath in hot pants between his shoulder blades. "Love you, 'Pol," he said after a centon. "Love you so much."

Apollo moaned, not yet able to speak.

Starbuck chuckled and lapped up some sweat off his shoulder. "Missed that sparkling repartee," he said, then grew serious. "Missed you. Missed you a lot."

"Me, too," Apollo managed. "More than ever before."

"Good." Starbuck's tone was smug.

"Miss me worst of all?" Apollo asked, hoping it didn't sound like begging.

Starbuck was quiet for a centon, then said, "Nope. Almost the worst, but I knew you'd be coming back."

"I wish you'd told me," Apollo said, finally turning over and running his hands through that tawny hair.

"Well, I thought you were," Starbuck admitted. "You frackin' scared me to death yesterday."

"Sorry."

"I know."

After they kissed, Apollo returned to the topic, too curious to let it lie. "When?"

"When what?" Starbuck said.

"When did you miss me the worst? When I was on the Aquila?"

"No," Starbuck said. "When you promised yourself to Serina."

Oh God, thought Apollo, and then said it out loud followed by, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you."

"Shhh," Starbuck said again. "I know. You had to. I always knew you would, you told me so from the beginning, remember? It's just when I missed you most, that's all. And it's over. Don't fret about it."

Apollo sighed. "Is that all you're going to say? Don't fret about it? It's over?"

Starbuck was quiet for a half-centon, and then Apollo yelped in surprise as his lifemate's sharp teeth nipped, hard, at his shoulder. "Feel better?"

Apollo rubbed the spot and laughed. "You've made your point... but, Starbuck—"

"I know what you mean. And the answer's no. We're together now, Apollo. We're getting married. Once that happens, you lose a lot of your ground..." Starbuck raised his head and fixed Apollo with that burning blue gaze. "Understand? All the rules are changed now. All of them."

Apollo sighed happily. "I understand. I really do. And I love you."

"Good. Because I love you, and I couldn't bear it if I lost you. Is that straight in your head?"

"Yes," Apollo nodded.

"Good," Starbuck repeated. "Because I think we'd better go get Boxey and Dhani before the instructional center calls his mother and the boy walks in on us."

"Oh, gods, you're right."

 


Starbuck watched Apollo get dressed, thanking all the gods that his lover hadn't lost that singular grace of his, that ability to look at what he was doing and stop. To go back and admit he'd been wrong. To make it right. He'd learned a long time ago that Apollo didn't see his own strength. What he hadn't realized was that Apollo didn't really understand how... how lovable he was. That all he saw was his few flaws, and thought they were all he was.

Starbuck saw those flaws too—it wouldn't have been possible for him to miss them, all things considered—but nobody was perfect. Like him, for instance. And anyway, Apollo's biggest flaw, in Starbuck's opinion, wasn't his jealous streak, or his possessiveness. It was his tendency to blame himself for everything that went wrong, anywhere around him.

Apparently, thought Starbuck, he was going to need to work a little harder at convincing Apollo that he wasn't really at fault. Apparently, offering him forgiveness only made him uneasy. Odd, the things you didn't know about the people you loved...

And that was the thing he really thanked the gods for: Apollo was back, alive and (mostly) unhurt, and still in love with Starbuck.

"Hey, Starbuck, what are you looking at? Is my hair messed up or something?"

"You. Just you," Starbuck said. "Haven't been able to for a while..."

Apollo looked at him, those green eyes warming. "I know," he said. "I missed looking at you, too..." He chuckled, suddenly and softly. "Are we a pair?" he asked. "Standing around just looking at each other, like lovesick teenagers."

Starbuck had to laugh, too. "Nice, though."

"Yes, it is..." Apollo smiled. "I'm just starting to get used to the notion that I can look at you whenever I want." He paused and added, "I know, I know. But I mean how I want. Couldn't exactly undress you with my eyes in staff meetings before."

Starbuck pushed down the regret that Apollo hadn't been willing before—easy enough to do when he considered how much it was costing his lover to do it now—and said, "You still can't."

"Why not?"

"Because I don't think you're ready for my reaction. Not in a staff meeting."

"Ummmmmm," Apollo said, "don't tempt me."

"I don't think your father would approve. I know Colonel Tigh wouldn't."

"You're right." He sighed. "We'd better go get Boxey."

Starbuck hesitated, but he knew he should say something. He'd almost brought it up earlier, but then Apollo had gone off on that tear about Bojay and... well, never mind that. He followed Apollo out into the hallway and then said, "Look, 'Pol."

"Uh-oh," Apollo said. "How much money did you lose this secton? Maybe we need to keep a separate fund for Pyramid."

"I won," Starbuck said, defending himself without thinking.

"Starbuck, can't you do anything but gamble?"

Apollo's words were complaining but Starbuck could tell he wasn't serious. He grinned and answered in kind, "I can do a lot of things besides gamble, but they wouldn't have made you any happier."

Apollo heaved a mighty sigh. "I can see reforming you is going to be an uphill struggle."

"You've still got time to back out," Starbuck offered, half joke and half test and all scaring him to death.

Apollo shot him a smoldering emerald look through long dark lashes. "Not a chance in Hades, Bucko. Even unreformed you're all I want." Their eyes locked for a long moment. "Maybe even especially unreformed," Apollo finally added and Starbuck found himself breathing again. "So, 'look, 'Pol', what?"

Starbuck was reluctant but he needed to. "About Boxey," he started.

Apollo sighed. "I know," he said. "Athena told me."

Starbuck paused. "Told you what?"

Apollo sighed again and looked at his wrist chrono. Then he stopped and leaned up against the wall. "About Boxey crying at night," he said. "Worrying about me, whether I was coming home. Whether I wanted to come home."

"He knows you did," Starbuck said, wondering why Athena hadn't told him. Probably because there wasn't anything he could have done about it. And because she hadn't been mad at him, which, he was sure, she had been at Apollo. He put his hand on Apollo's arm. "He really does, 'Pol. He's just been through a hell of a secton."

"That's what 'Theni said."

Starbuck looked at him closely. "She told you he's crazy about Bojay, too, didn't she? Cupboard-love, 'Pol. You're the most important person in his life. Couldn't you tell by the way he jumped you last night?"

"And I wasn't here."

"You couldn't have been... I screwed up, too."

"Oh? I doubt it." Apollo sounded serious. "Not as bad as me. I should have listened to him this morning."

"About Sheba?" Starbuck said. "Probably so... but I did."

Apollo turned partway around to look directly into his eyes. "Okay, Starbuck. Tell me."

"I let him down pretty badly. I lied to him."

"Starbuck, I can't believe that. You don't lie to him when I wish you would."

"I did," Starbuck said. "I let him down."

Apollo blinked at him and then, not even looking to see if anyone was coming down the hall, he reached out and grasped Starbuck's shoulder and held him tightly. "Come on, Starbuck. You love Boxey, I know that. So does he. Forget what I said this morning, which was all felgar anyway: you're as good a father as I am. You know I couldn't have made it without your help almost from the beginning. It's not like I had any practice... or any decent role models. Now, tell me what you did."

"You know what the last thing I said to him for four days was? 'I am always going to be here, from now on.'"

Apollo was quiet for a moment. Then he shook his head. "Starbuck, Boxey knows what you meant. And he knows why you weren't there. You can't tack 'if humanly possible' onto the end of everything you say to him. And you don't have to. If ever there was a kid who understands about the job taking people away, he's it. And Athena told me he knows where the blame goes. And it's not on you."

Starbuck looked at him for a centon. If there was one thing Apollo wouldn't cut him slack over, it was Boxey. (There were probably more than one, but if there were only one...) But he meant it. Starbuck sighed in relief. "I've been thinking," he started.

"Oh, no," Apollo said.

"Maybe we shouldn't go away after we get married."

"Starbuck, we're not going 'away'. We're spending the night on the Rising Star. And we should, because Boxey knows that when people get married they go on a honeymoon. For 'the mushy stuff'. We need to be as normal as we can. That's what'll reassure him."

Starbuck pondered that. "I suppose you're right," he agreed.

"Besides, I don't want him around on my honeymoon," Apollo stated. "I want to be able to focus on you." He leaned forward and kissed Starbuck quickly. "Got that?"

"No arguments here," Starbuck agreed.

"And this is why..." Apollo said after a moment, his voice husky. "Let's go get him, okay? Before we get... sidetracked."

"Probably a good idea," Starbuck nodded.

 


Boxey charged out of the Instructional Center like a guided weapon, smashing into Apollo and hugging him tightly. Apollo pried him loosed after a moment and picked him up. The boy stared at him and said, "Did she try to make trouble this morning?"

"She did," Apollo admitted, "but it didn't work." That was an acceptable condensation of the day's activities, he thought. Boxey didn't need to know every time he and Starbuck fought, especially since they'd made up.

"Good," Boxey pronounced. "I hope you never talk to her again. 'Cause she's mean."

"Well, I'm going to have to talk to her," Apollo said, "because we're both squadron leaders. But I promise I won't let her talk me into anything. Okay?"

"I guess," Boxey said, then brightened. "Maybe Aunt 'Theni will beat her up real good this time."

This time? Apollo looked from his son to his lifemate. Do I even want to know? he asked silently.

Starbuck shrugged, grinned, and said, "Later. Where's Dhani?"

Dhani. Apollo had forgotten that. "We're picking him up again?"

"Yeah," Boxey said. "His dad got tired of doing it."

After four days?, Apollo thought, but knowing Dhani, not to mention Myron, he wasn't entirely surprised to hear it.

Boxey was continuing, "He's helping Miss Lyllat put away the books today. He'll be right out. Can we go to the Rejuv Center for a while, Dad? I've got a saved game on level seven and it won't save for two days if you don't play, please?"

"Yes, we can," Apollo surrendered. At least Dhani would be there; he wouldn't have to listen to that inane music on the video game. "For a centare and a half, no more, and then we'll have to take Dhani home."

"Okay," Boxey agreed readily.

"Boxey, get down now," Starbuck said. "Your dad's arm is hurt, remember?"

"Does it hurt bad?" Boxey said, letting go of Apollo and dropping to the floor.

"No," Apollo said. "Hardly at all."

Dhani came out, his red hair sticking out in all directions as usual and lugging two book bags. "Hi, sir," he said. "Did a lizard bite you?"

"You didn't tell me you got bit!"

"Bitten," he corrected, and was immediately sorry as the boys began pelting him with questions about the lizards and their teeth. "Boys... boys... Boys!"

They stared at him.

"Okay, look, I did not get bitten. They didn't bite anybody. They used weapons. I was shot with an arrow."

"Cool," said Dhani, shifting the book bags to his other arm. "Did the doctors dig the arrowhead out of your arm? Did they save it for you? Was it poisoned?"

Apollo regarded his son's friend with some displeasure; he'd forgotten what a repellent child he was, really.

"If it was poison, he'd be in the Life Center," said Boxey to the other boy and then turned to Apollo. "Did they give you the arrowhead, Dad? Can I bring it for Show-and-Tell?"

They were both repellent. "No. They didn't give it to me."

"And no, you may not go to the Life Center and pester Dr. Paye, either," said Starbuck. "The arrowhead is still on the planet. And it's staying there. Boxey, why is Dhani carrying your books?"

"'Cause I lost the bet, Lieutenant Starbuck," said Dhani cheerfully. "I have to carry 'em all secton."

"Let's go," Boxey said, anticipating Apollo's probable reaction to that. "Race you to the turbolift!"

Starbuck reached out and slid the bookbags off the redhead's arm and watched as he caught up to Boxey halfway down the hall.

"Don't run," called Apollo with no hope of being obeyed and turned to Starbuck. "And you want him on our honeymoon?"

"Not both of them," Starbuck protested. "And anyway," he grinned as he started walking, "I never said I wanted him."

"You reassure me... But who'll watch him?" Apollo said, suddenly remembering. "I mean, Athena's on second shift that day though she said she'd take him..."

Starbuck shrugged. "Anybody from Blue can, now. Or Red," he added. "Though he doesn't know them. Boomer, Giles, Jolly... anybody. I'll nail someone tomorrow. And we'd better make reservations, too."

Apollo sighed comfortably.

"Reservations for what, Dad? Dinner? Are we eating out tonight? Can Dhani come?" Boxey had already punched for the turbolift.

"Not for dinner and I'm sure Dhani's mother is expecting him home tonight," Apollo said.

"For their honeymoon, stoopid," said Dhani as the doors opened. They entered, crowding a couple of shuttle pilots to the rear.

"Are you going on a honeymoon, Dad?" Boxey's disapproval was plain.

Apollo wanted to sink through the floor of the turbolift.

"We kind of have to," Starbuck said, amusement rippling through his voice. Apollo couldn't even look at him; he just stared straight ahead at the doors and wished he were invisible. "It's what married people do," Starbuck finished.

"Where are you going?"

"We don't have a lot of choices," Starbuck said. "The Rising Star."

"Do I haveta come?"

"No. You have to stay here. You have instruction, remember?"

The turbolift stopped; it wasn't their floor but Apollo was mightily tempted to leave. And the feeling grew stronger when two teenagers, their hair in purple-streaked equitails, got on.

"Who's going to stay with me? Aunt 'Theni and Bojay are both on duty."

Too late. The doors closed. The teenagers giggled and one of them whispered something to the other, both of them not-so-covertly eyeing Starbuck.

"Don't worry," Starbuck said. "We'll find somebody. Or maybe we'll just stuff you in a closet till your aunt's free."

The boys laughed; so did the teenagers. One of the shuttle pilots snickered. Why did I think this was a good idea? Apollo thought.

"Hey, Dad, if Aunt 'Theni has a baby will we get to watch it?"

He so did not want to think about that. Starbuck came to his rescue. "You're jumping the gun a little, kiddo, but sure, we'll watch your cousins when they come along."

"Cool. I hope she has boys. But I bet Bojay wants girls."

"Maybe she'll have both," suggested Dhani. "And you can marry one."

"Ew," said Boxey. "Never. I'm never getting married to anyone especially not an icky girl."

The teenagers giggled again. The doors opened. Apollo fled.

The boys ran past him, jostling each other, into the Rejuvenation Center. The girls came by, looking at him and giggling even more, and then Starbuck caught up leisurely. "You're so cute when you're embarrassed," his lifemate said.

"Starbuck, if that gets back to Father—"

"Relax, if that's possible," Starbuck said, pushing him towards the juice bar at the far end from where the boys where dropping tokens into a game machine. He dropped the bookbags on the bar and sat down, his back to it and his elbows on it. "There's not a seven-yahren-old boy in the universe who wants to get married."

Apollo sat down and sighed. "I suppose you're right..."

"Of course I am. Now. Do you want me to get us a room, or do you want to?"

Apollo shook his head. "You'd better... I have the feeling you're far more familiar with what's available than I am."

Starbuck flattened his hand on his chest. "Moi?" he asked. "Now why would you say that—no, don't answer. I'll be right back."

Apollo watched him walk over to the public comm and smiled. They'd actually just joked about it, and he hadn't felt jealous. He remembered back to the day he'd been ordered down to the planet, the thought that had crossed his mind then: If we can get through this, it might just be the best thing that could have happened. They had got through it; by the skin of their teeth, maybe, but they had. And he thought he'd been right.

Maybe he should thank his father the next time they spoke... No, Apollo. Don't push it.

He heard giggles that sounded vaguely familiar and turned to see the purple-haired girls with a couple more, orange and green streaks in their hair. They were young and (granted the hair) pretty and full of life, and he knew what they were watching: Starbuck. But he leaned back against the bar and smiled at the whole room.

Because Starbuck was walking back to him.