somewhere in space
For a centon, Apollo thought he was dreaming. One micron they were fighting Raiders, and the next the Cylon tankers at the edge of sensor range were going up in mismatched explosions that showed one of them to be nearly empty and strange Vipers were slicing through the combat, taking the Cylons by surprise and turning the tide of battle abruptly and decisively.
"Holy frack, Starbuck," someone's voice came across channel two. "It's the
"Starbuck?" Apollo couldn't believe his ears. "Starbuck?"
"Apollo?" That wasn't Starbuck, it was...
"Boomer?" Apollo had a momentary fear that he, too, was dead. "Starbuck? Where did you come from? We thought you were dead!"
"We are dead," Starbuck answered, and his voice sounded as though he meant it. "But you're not..."
"I hate to break up this reunion, boys," Bojay said, "but there are still Cylons out
"Hey, Bucko," another voice cut in, "you want to introduce us?"
"Leave that supply vessel alone," Starbuck ordered. "It's ours."
"Captain?" Slate asked.
"Leave it," Apollo confirmed. "It's unarmed either way."
He couldn't believe it. Starbuck! Where had he come from? How had he gotten there? Apollo fought the rest of the action on automatic, he didn't even know how many kills he got. He felt drunk, almost. Starbuck wasn't dead.
Who knew what Athena had told him, but Bojay took over the post-combat recovery. After ordering the Galactica's squadrons in and naming the pickets to stay out, he started, "Guest squadron--"
"That's Ghost Squadron," someone corrected him.
"Right," he acknowledged. "Ghost Squadron, follow Green and Blue into the portside landing bay."
Bless you, Boj, thought Apollo. The time it would have taken to get the width of
the battlestar would have been aeons too long.
Apollo waited impatiently as the Ghost Vipers landed. Eight of them, plus a battered old Caprican Systems tanker and a Cylon supply vessel. Two young men jumped out of the latter, and one of them, shaggy-haired, dark, and rangy, got down on his hands and knees and kissed the flight deck. Both of them were wearing flight jackets and boots, but with civilian shirts and trousers. The tanker let out two as well, a tall grayhaired man too old, surely, to still be on active duty unless he was a flag-ranker and he didn't look like one, and a much younger one wearing a Warrior's flight jacket, much patched up; his right arm was stiff and only his index finger wasn't curled up to his palm.
And then the Vipers, bearing a motley mixture of battlegroups' paint jobs, landed, and their pilots climbed out to join the other four. The hair and mixed clothing was typical, Apollo realized; he couldn't have picked the civilians out. Some of them went beyond shaggy, in fact; one had a queue and another an equitale. Well, cut them some slack; it's been more than a yahren and they probably don't have a barber. Or a quartermaster. Boomer was third in; he'd shaved his head but Apollo recognized him at once.
The dark man looked around and flashed a broad smile, coming up to Apollo with his hand out. Apollo took it and pulled him into a hug. "Boom-boom," he said. "Gods, we thought you were dead."
"We were," Boomer said, pulling away to look at him and then hugging him back. "And I don't know if we can recover from it. But damn, you look good. We thought you were all killed at Cimtar. The commander?"
"My father's fine," Apollo said. "But I'm sorry. Risha died when we took a couple of
Boomer nodded but didn't seem too upset. Well, of course, to him she'd been dead more than a yahren.
And then Starbuck was there, striding up to Apollo with his arms open. "Damn, Apollo," he said, pulling him into a hug. "You're alive."
"And you are. My gods, Starbuck." Apollo had never been one for public displays but he wanted to kiss Starbuck for the next five sectons. But at the same time he felt constraint, as if he didn't really know the man he was holding. Wasn't their time apart supposed to fall away, become meaningless? Maybe it would, if there wasn't Serina. And Omega... That thought stiffened him, and Starbuck let go, stepping back to look at him.
"You look about the same, Apollo," he said. "Good. Really good."
"I can't say the same," Apollo said. "Good, yes, but..." His voice trailed off as he got his first real look at his former lover.
Starbuck, like all the rest of them, was wearing a flight jacket and uniform boots. The shoulder patch and rank pins were missing from the jacket, though, and the shirt under it was a very non-regulation light purple, with dark grey trousers tucked into the boots. The most eye-catching difference, though, was Starbuck's hair: that tawny mass probably hadn't seen scissors since Cimtar, and he was sporting six slim braids, two on each side dangling over his shoulders and two more tied together at the back of his head. Three or four eye-catching bits of metal were woven into each braid in a fashion statement Apollo didn't much care for. Those blue eyes were fever-bright with what he hoped was a battle high, and now they went to his left and he reached out and grabbed the man behind him. "Hey," he said, slinging his arm around the man's shoulders. "Look who else made it."
Apollo had to look twice to recognize Flight Sergeant Giles, and he might not have if he hadn't been red-headed and short. Giles tossed his head to get that heavy russet mane out of his face and gave Apollo a look through very long lashes out of brown eyes that were almost hostile. But then the expression faded, if it had indeed been there, and he said, "Apollo. Good to see you."
"You, too. Anybody else--" Apollo turned to look at the others, who'd come up while
he and Starbuck were talking, but he didn't recognize any of them.
"No," Starbuck said. "We three are it for Galactica. Which reminds me, did you
see?" He turned to Boomer. "Onyx went, but really well."
Boomer closed his eyes a micron and raised his fist. "Ave, Columbia," he said.
"We who are dead salute you," said the man at his shoulder, a dark-haired youngster almost as shaggy as Giles, his own fist raised. As were all of theirs. Then he added, turning the fist into a wave of his open hand, "So, we're here. Can we eat?"
Boomer laughed. "You're just tired of cooking."
"That's fair," said Giles, finally taking his eyes off Apollo. "I'm tired of his cooking,
The other pilot punched at him, not quite feinting, but Giles ducked it. The rest of
the newcomers laughed.
And then a new voice. "Starbuck?"
Starbuck whirled, his braids flying. "Commander?"
Adama embraced him. "Lord, son, but it's good to see you." He held him tightly for a moment, then let go a little, holding his shoulders. "It's a miracle."
Starbuck bit something back and looked over his shoulder.
Adama followed the look and held out his hand. "And Boomer. Wonderful."
"Commander." Boomer took his hand.
"And Sergeant Giles, isn't it?" How Adama could recognize every person who had ever served with him Apollo had never understood, but here was another example of it.
Giles took the commander's hand, but it was Starbuck who said, "Not sergeant."
"Later, Bucko," Boomer intervened. "Monty's hungry."
Starbuck laughed. "We all are, actually, Commander. Oh--let me introduce you. My
Ghosts." The names came too fast for Apollo to match them to faces. "And I think we'd all appreciate turbowashes."
That got him laughs and affirmatives.
"I think we can take care of that," Adama said. "Colonel?" He turned to Tigh.
"I think we can accomodate them in Special Team Gamma's section," Tigh said. "It's empty, and that way they stay together."
Until you decide what to do with them, Apollo realized. It might be complicated.
"Thanks," said Starbuck.
"And," Tigh gestured at the woman.
"Eliseadh is with us." That was not the tone a junior officer was supposed to take with a colonel.
Tigh didn't push it. Special Teams had separate rooms, not open bays. The Ghosts went off, chatting together. Starbuck lingered a moment, clearly trying to decide if he should say something. Adama guessed. "Athena's fine. Married and..." He smiled. "See for yourself."
Starbuck turned just in time to see Athena running across the bay. She hugged him
fiercely. "Starbuck!" She looked up at him, pushed his braids over his shoulders, and took hold of his face for a kiss. He returned it, and then laughed gently at her and said, "Married, your father said?"
"Yes," Bojay had made it over from the starboard landing bay. "So take your hands off my wife, Bucko." He was grinning.
"Bojay?" Starbuck said, sounding incredulous, and hugging the other man. "Is the
Pegasus here too?"
"No." Bojay shook his head; Athena slid her arm through his and he smiled at her. "It's a long and kind of depressing story, but the bottom line is, it's just me."
"But married to the most beautiful, not to mention the smartest, lady on the battlestar. You landed on your feet."
"That I did," Bojay admitted. "It's good to see you." He turned to Apollo. "I can take the debrief it you like."
"Thanks, Bojay." He looked at Starbuck. "I'll take you to your quarters, Starbuck."
"That one's yours, Bucko," one of the Ghosts said to him as he and Apollo turned into the corridor. It had been another ten centons before Athena and Bojay had let Starbuck go, and then Apollo had taken him the long way. He had been tongue-tied coming down here, but Starbuck had chattered away about the way they'd tracked the Cylons chasing the Galactica. He'd made it sound like a lark; Apollo wanted to get him alone and find out how he really felt. And then... But he had to talk to Omega first. It was only right.
"They left us uniforms," the pilot added, gesturing at the Starfighter tan he was wearing, though it was bare-collared. "And someone was around asking us our ranks."
"Yeah. They had rank pins already for you and Boomer and Giles... guess they can't wait to get us back in uniform."
"I've been wearing this for four days now," Starbuck said. "I can't wait to get out of
it. Don't much care what I put on, but don't worry about the rank pins, Marcus, we'll
work something out."
The man grinned. "Okay, Starbuck." He went inside a room a couple of doors down.
"What rank is he?" Apollo asked.
"He was a sergeant," Starbuck said, "like Giles. Not that it's relevant now." He pushed open the door and looked in. "Oh, this is nice. I was expecting the barracks again."
Boomer came up to Starbuck and Apollo and interrupted without an apparent thought. "Bucko, what do we do about this rank business?" Apollo noticed that Boomer, too, was bare-collared.
"Nothing," Starbuck shrugged. "We don't wear it. We don't say you, me, Giles, Trent, Eliseadh, are different. We know."
"We should wear something," Boomer said, "so these guys'll know we're not privates. Especially the ones they don't know. So they'll know to keep their distance. Not think we're theirs to order around."
Starbuck considered that. "Yeah," he said. "It'd be easier."
"So I was thinking, one pin, a lieutenant's, for everyone. On the right collar. Upside down."
"Blade in?" Starbuck grinned.
"Blade in," Boomer grinned back. "But then Trent had an idea."
"He would, the old vulpine. What?"
"He went down to the tanker--had a little trouble getting on but got it sorted--"
"For the moment?" Starbuck's eyes flashed then he shrugged. "I'll deal with it."
"Brought up these."
"Pack rodent," Starbuck said admiringly.
"What are they?" Apollo asked. The gleaming triskelions looked vaguely familiar.
Boomer and Starbuck looked at him as if they'd forgotten he was there. "Something we found in a Cylon outpost," Starbuck said. "Very nice. Okay. One each, right collar."
"You need two," Boomer said. "They'll need it," with a jerk of his head toward Apollo.
"Okay," Starbuck accepted it. "I'll need six then," he added confusingly.
"Have a dozen, we've got a centuron."
Starbuck took a handful of the pins. "'Kay," he said. "Hand 'em out. Tell Trent, damned good idea."
Boomer nodded and started down the hall.
"Boom-Boom!" Starbuck called. "Tell everyone to come here when they're dressed."
Boomer hit his left shoulder with his right fist, bringing it away with two fingers out
in an adaptation of the Colonial salute that looked casual but meant.
Apollo hadn't figured out exactly what to say. Starbuck wasn't waiting for him, though; he turned to call into the room he'd been given. "Gi. Got new collar pins out here." He started to pin two onto his jacket collar.
After a moment, the door to the turbowash opened and Giles came out, his thick redbrown hair still damp. He had a towel around his waist and a few drops of water gleamed on his shoulders, the right one of which showed scars still slightly pink. "We're all getting promotions?" he asked, ignoring Apollo's presence as completely as Boomer, and with much less cause. "Oh-ho. Nice..." He took the pins from Starbuck and added, critically, "Are those supposed to be straight?"
"They're straight enough," Starbuck said.
"Oh, like hell, Bucko. Still can't dress yourself... here, let me." He reached up and
repinned one of the triskelions. "There."
Apollo managed not to say anything, though the casual assumption of possession Giles was showing, not to mention Boomer's evident acceptance of it—to say nothing of Starbuck's, standing there patiently while Giles adjusted him--shook him. He thought about the conversation Boomer and Starbuck had had, the implications of some of the phrases... For the first time it occurred to him that everything might not just easily resolve itself into the way it had been before.
"I thought you were going to turbowash," Giles added pointedly.
"Oh, damn... Well, I am. When the others get here, tell 'em I'll be right out." He reached out and ran his fingers through Giles's thick hair. "I'm gonna wash mine, too," he added.
For some reason that made Giles smile. But when Starbuck, dropping his jacket and blaster on the way, disappeared into the turbowash, Giles's dark eyes looked up the twelve centimetrons difference into Apollo's and the smile vanished. "If you'll excuse me," he said pointedly, and shut the door as soon as Apollo had taken a step backwards.
Apollo headed for the bridge, some disquiet spoiling his joy over Starbuck's return.
Things weren't going to follow the little fantasy he'd allowed himself during combat.
He should have known then that they wouldn't: without knowing anything about Starbuck's last yahren, he'd known his own situation was different. He'd married. He had a son. He had a lover... He snorted at himself. Hard to get ticked off about Giles when he'd spent last night in Omega's bed. Starbuck hadn't known he was alive.
He knows now. He shook himself. Be fair. Starbuck was with you when they put
Giles in his room. Starbuck didn't know. He just looked in and saw Giles's jacket and
blaster and stuff. He couldn't toss him out without talking...
The door opened onto the bridge and Apollo saw Omega talking to his father. He felt like someone had punched him. He was going to have to get Athena to take Boxey tonight. And talk to his current lover himself.
He detoured to her position. She looked up at him, radiant. "Isn't it wonderful? Oh,
why am I asking you?"
"It is. Athena, can you and Boj take Boxey tonight?"
"Tonight?" She almost turned her head but then didn't. "Probably; I'd have to check with Boj..."
"Please," he begged. "I really need to talk to Omega before any more time goes by."
"Yes," she said. "You do. Before he gets the wrong idea. Of course we can. If Boj has other plans, he'll just have to change them."
He didn't tell her what he was planning on saying to Omega; it was private. And she'd get the gist, anyway, once they were no longer together...
Damn, but that hurt. Still, he'd always known good things cost, and having Starbuck back, that was worth the pain of losing Omega. He just wished it wasn't going to hurt the other man.
He took a couple of deep breaths on his way to join the two blue-clad men at the top of the bridge. "Apollo, good. I want to talk with you, Bojay, and Colonel Tigh. They're in my office." He let his brown eyes drift between his third in command and his flag adjutant. "Join us in a centon, Apollo. You'll have the bridge, Omega."
Omega spoke before Apollo could. "Starbuck back is wonderful."
"Yes," Apollo said. "I still can't believe it. Listen, can you make dinner tonight?"
Omega looked at him. "This is short notice. What about Boxey?"
They'd discussed when Apollo should tell Boxey he was dating someone. Replacing Serina, especially after such a short time, was going to hard for the boy to understand at all, let alone replacing her with a man. Though Apollo wondered if maybe that might be easier than with another woman, he wasn't sure. And the time frame made him nervous. Omega was understanding, so this wasn't pressure or a hint of any sort, just a genuine question. A couple of times in the last sectare Boxey had suddenly asked to spend the night with a friend, and Apollo and Omega had managed to take advantage of it. If, on the other hand, Boxey was going to be showing up at 8:50, Omega wanted to have his expectations properly
Apollo sighed before he could stop himself. "He's going to Athena's. We need to talk."
"About Starbuck?" Omega guessed. "We probably don't. I understand."
"No, we do. Please?"
Omega closed his eyes briefly and nodded; when he opened them he glanced away, over the bridge before looking at Apollo. "Yes, all right. I'll come."
"Thanks," Apollo said, feeling it to be wholly inadequate and possibly cruel.
Omega nodded and gave him a quick smile. "Go see the commander."
Apollo opened the door in time to hear Tigh say, "--but aside from the emotional
uplift, what do we do with them?"
"I hope," said Adama, "come in, Apollo; sit down. I hope we can integrate them into our Viper squadrons."
"I hope so, too," said Tigh. "But I have my doubts. Are they settled in, Apollo?"
That confirmed it; this was an informal meeting.
"And what about that woman? What is her name? Is she a Warrior?"
"Well, Sheba was a pilot."
"Sheba," Adama said, "was Cain's daughter. Patronage like that is rare, and women pilots are not technically accepted by the Service. Women in any combat roles..."
"She's not a pilot," Bojay put in.
"She looked like one to me," Apollo said, remembering the combat.
"Yes, she did, but she's off the Pardia, and three people in Red as well as a mech
recognized her: she's a tech sergeant. A Viper mechanic."
"A Viper mech?" Apollo said, startled. Though after all, several of the Galactica's
mechs could fly a Viper, had been trained to to test them...
"Well, whatever we ultimately decide about allowing her to continue in combat," Tigh said, "she'll have to undergo proper flight training."
Apollo remembered Starbuck saying, We don't say they're different... and that
Marcus's rank (and Giles's) wasn't relevant. "I think Starbuck will want her to stay in his squadron."
Tigh shook his head. "Starbuck doesn't technically have a squadron. That's something else we have to make a decision about. He has--" he broke off and laughed shortly. "He has me doing it now. They comprise ten pilots, assuming we allow the woman to stay. And they only have eight Vipers. That's not a squadron. And Starbuck's not a squadron leader."
"I'm not sure they'll agree with you, sir," Bojay said; informal or not, he hadn't grown up thinking of Tigh as an honorary uncle.
"I'm sure they won't," Apollo agreed. "And the two civilians, too; they treat them like squadronmates. In fact, Starbuck just countermanded your decision to put them back into uniform. At least," he amended that, "he came up with his own set of rank pins, like they were from a different fleet, and he put them on all twelve of them. The same thing, too, regardless of whether they were sergeants or lieutenants before. Or even civilians."
"Their own battlegroup?" Tigh said. The first thing he'd done after Cimtar was take all the pilots they'd managed to recover and switch off their rank pins for the First Fleet's. Apollo glanced sideways at Bojay; he knew from Athena that he'd kept his from the Pegasus. Starbuck's people were from a lot of different fleets and battlegroups, and they hadn't kept any of their insignia, but he had a feeling that now that they were defining themselves as not-Galactican they'd hang onto what they'd come up with.
"We don't have to decide anything today," Adama said. "I'll want to talk to Starbuck and Boomer at least. For the moment, Tigh, keep them where they are and tell them they're on stand-down. They've been fighting a very long time and they need a break, whatever else is true."
Tigh nodded. "When do you want the lieutenants here?"
"The day after tomorrow, I think. That will give me time to consider all the ramifications of rank and training. And, Apollo? Can you make sure that Dr. Salik takes a look at the one whose arm is injured? He may need to be medically discharged."
"I'll... Yes, Father, I will." Apollo reconsidered saying he'd try. Surely medical
treatment wouldn't push any buttons, not if he didn't mention a discharge.
"Good. Tigh is already looking into what's to be done about pay and other entitlements."
Tigh stood up. "I'll make sure that's underway," an unnecessary statement if ever one had been made, but a graceful way for him to leave.
Bojay didn't bother with an excuse; he just rose and followed the colonel out. But he let his hand brush Apollo's shoulder. Apollo didn't turn to look at him, but he was grateful once again for the twist that had delivered Bojay to the Galactica. He
hoped his brother-in-law hadn't had something planned for the evening.
"I can only imagine," Adama said when the door shut behind Bojay, "how you must be feeling at this moment."
"I'm not sure I do," Apollo admitted. "It's... complicated."
"Yes," Adama nodded. "I'm overjoyed that Starbuck is alive. I always loved him, very much, and to be frank, if it were legal I would have welcomed into our family with more pleasure than I did your sister's choice, though I'm fond of Bojay now. But it's been more than a yahren, and both you and he have gone through very different, and very shattering, experiences."
"That's true," Apollo said. "But does it matter? I mean, you and Mother were apart for longer than a yahren several times."
"Not thinking each other was dead," Adama said. "You've been married; you're a father; and your sister tells me that Omega at least is very serious--"
"Now that's not fair, Father," Apollo protested. "I was serious before today."
"I'm sorry, of course you were. All I mean to say is," he paused. "I suppose what I mean to say is, I hope you get what you want, because I want you to be happy. But I hope you don't shut one door before you know if the other one will open."
"Father, surely you can't mean you think I should lead Omega on while I'm trying to get back together with Starbuck!"
Adama winced. "No. Of course not... I expect I should just shut up and let you handle your own life," he said after a moment, smiling at Apollo. "You're a grown man, after all. Just take care, Apollo."
"I will, Father. But I have to get Starbuck back. I love him."
"I know, Apollo. I know."
The door chimed and Apollo opened it to find Omega standing there. He was earlier than Apollo had expected, and still in uniform. Looking at him, crisp and correct and civilized, Apollo had a sudden urge to do exactly what he'd rejected earlier and try, for a while at least, to hold on to him while he tried to recapture Starbuck. At the very least, he wanted to put off the breakup until the morning. What could it hurt, one last time for goodbye?
"Come in," he said. "You're early." And what does that mean?
"I know." Omega came in, but not very far. "I'm sorry. I've been thinking about this for centares and I don't think I can stay for dinner."
Apollo protested, "Omega, we really have to talk."
"I know," he repeated. "We can talk now. What did you want to say?"
This wasn't how he'd planned it. No nectar to ease them into it, no buildup... "I can't see you anymore," he said. "I don't think--"
"I understand." He shrugged. "It's been fun. I'll see you around."
"Omega," Apollo reached for him but didn't quite touch him. "It's nothing to do with you. I'm--" he silently cursed his inexpressive nature. "I'm very fond of you. I've
enjoyed seeing you. I wish things were different--"
"I understand," Omega, mercifully, cut him off. "I really do. What's two and a half
sectares compared with four yahrens? Or was it more?"
"Omega, I'm sorry. If he hadn't come back--"
"But he did, didn't he?" That was as sharp as Apollo had ever heard Omega speak. "And you want him back and I understand it but I'm not ready to be civilized enough to eat with you tonight."
"I'm sorry," he said again, knowing how inadequate it was.
"I know you are. It's one of the reasons I love you. But I'm not staying. 'If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly.' I believe in putting things out of their misery, not letting them linger. I don't want to feel like..." He paused. "I want you to be happy, Apollo, and I hope you are. But don't ask me to pretend like I'm not hurting over this. I can't. And I'm sorry for that, but I simply can't." He walked over to the door and looked back. "Go well, Apollo." And then he was gone.
And later that night Apollo lay alone in his bed and told himself that Starbuck was
worth anything at all, and finally managed to sleep.
Starbuck walked into his quarters feeling an immense relief to be able to shut the door. Who'd have guessed that dealing with the command structure on the Galactica would be so annoying? There was something to say about just killing Cylons instead of trying to argue with them. And getting nowhere. He'd never worked so hard to stay in the same place in his life, but at least he hadn't lost any ground: Eliseadh wasn't back in a mech bay, not yet, and Kestrel wasn't out of uniform, and Trent wasn't shipped off somewhere, and Eliseadh, Marcus, and Giles weren't back as enlisted.
And Giles wasn't here. Starbuck stopped with his blaster belt in his hand and surveyed the room. He was used to Giles being at his heels all day, and if he wasn't, already in whatever place they were going to sleep. Even when all they did was sleep, at a temporary base where they all slept in the same room, Giles and he slept on the same bed. Even at Tructa, when Giles had been so badly hurt, Starbuck had slept next to him, his hand on the redhead's body... He couldn't get to sleep alone any more.
But a quick look around relaxed him. Giles's jacket was lying where he'd tossed it on the desk, and his boots were next to the locker. He was around somewhere. He'd show up.
Starbuck finished undressing and pulled on his grey trousers, efficiently laundered already. Then he climbed onto the bed and stretched out, trying to relax. When he'd seen Apollo, he'd felt a rush. And then Apollo had gone stiff in his arms and looked at him with a stranger's eyes, and he'd realized: Apollo could still take his breath and tear out his heart, but they were strangers. Like the first time they'd met, except that this time memories were interfering, fooling him into thinking that he knew the other man... He sighed. It had been easy to get the stewards who'd served them their off-schedule meal to talk about Apollo. He was a hero; half of the things they'd mentioned didn't make much sense (who was Iblis?) but the general tenor was clear, and unsurprising. What was surprising was that Apollo had been married and was a widower with a son. That he couldn't imagine.
He sighed again. He didn't believe in the gods, despite all this talk he'd heard today about Kobol (So it was real? What did that prove?) but if he had, he'd have been like Seth and believed in gods who were, at best, indifferent. But he had to admit, bringing the Ghosts to the Galactica and confronting him with a married Apollo: that was a real piece of work.
As was expecting him to get a haircut and fade into obscure lieutenanthood while his people were shuffled around, demoted, discharged--the doctor who'd seen Kestrel had been pretty blunt--deported--Trent kicking his heels with a bunch of oldsters on this Senior Ship--and generally denigrated. Anger had been seething inside him most of the day instead of the joy he'd been expecting to have. And he couldn't stop wondering: why hadn't the commander gone back to Cimtar? Why had he collected these thousands of civilians and not given a thought to Warriors left behind, fighting a battle that would leave them too short on fuel to make the double jump home?
He'd tried to file that one with all the other whys that had no answer, but this
one had to have.
A soft sound at the door turned his head. He smiled. "There you are. What have you been doing?"
Giles halted in the doorway. He'd changed, too, and looked, Starbuck thought with some amusement, particularly unmilitary in his open-necked dark green Libran shirt, mahogany trousers, and bare feet, that russet mane of his falling over his strong shoulders. He could have been on the cover of a historical romance vid, as long as they picked a very short woman... He shrugged. "Just checking out the available real estate."
"What--we didn't get the best room? Trent and Boomer are slacking off already," he grinned.
"No," Giles said. "I was just looking..." His brown eyes weren't meeting Starbuck's, and Starbuck was immediately worried. A Giles trying to hide something was a worrisome thing. And then it hit him: the one thing possible that was worse than everything else, and so almost certainly bound to be true.
"Giles," he said, very carefully. "You never ever talked about the Galactica. Did
you leave someone here? Someone you found?"
That brought those eyes up. "Hades, no," he said, still not coming into the room. "But you did."
Starbuck wanted to laugh, but he didn't. This wasn't a Giles mood for laughing at, and it would take too long to explain what he was laughing at. "No, I didn't." He shrugged. "I'm not the same man, and neither is he."
"You barely spoke today."
"Gi, would you wait till I ask you to leave before you do?" Starbuck held out his hand.
Giles smiled, the smile that showed his teeth and dimples. He came in and shut the door behind him. "Okay," he said, crossing to sit on the bed and take Starbuck's hand.
Starbuck tightened his grip and pulled his lover down onto the bed.
"Starbuck!" Apollo finally saw him, with a group of his squadron (or whatever), come
into the officers' mess. He'd begun to wonder if they ate.
The blond turned his head and smiled when he saw Apollo. That's a good sign, Apollo thought as Starbuck walked over. He'd forgotten how, how beautiful Starbuck was, how graceful yet strong, how easily he moved. No, not forgotten, just convinced himself he was exaggerating. He hadn't been.
"Apollo." Starbuck halted in front of him. He'd put on the uniform today, with his
two little triskellion pins on the jacket and probably the shirt underneath, though you couldn't see them with the jacket on. His little braids (was it Apollo's imagination, or were they somewhat different today?) gleamed as bright as the uniform braid against the dark suede jacket. He looked like some foreign mercenary in a vid set in the Late Revivesence, and good enough to eat.
"Are you settling in?" Apollo asked inanely.
Starbuck shrugged lightly. "So far, so good. A few problems, but, well, we'll see how it plays out. We could all use something else to wear, but once we pick up our back pay that shouldn't be a problem. Boomer, Giles, and I should be on the records."
"Colonel Tigh's working on that, it shouldn't be a problem." Apollo didn't mention that Giles would get paid as a sergeant; no point in bringing that up again since he didn't have the authority to change it. Starbuck was looking at the others, who were waiting for him and causing a slight back-up in the line; Apollo's gaze followed his and he was nearly scorched by Giles's glare. He blinked and it was gone... was he just imagining it?
Starbuck started to step away and Apollo reached out to take hold of his arm. The other man's hand came up, like a striking serpent, to grab Apollo's wrist in a bruising hold, but he controlled the reaction before he did anything else. His grip gentled, and he said, "Startling me's not the best idea in the galaxy. Sorry." He rubbed his thumb along the inside of the wrist in a light caress before letting go.
"Sorry," Apollo apologized. "Starbuck, eat with me."
Starbuck blinked at him in surprise and looked over at his friends again, then smiled suddenly and nodded. He made a shooing motion at the group and they started through the line without him as Apollo and he made their way to the back of it. "Funny," Starbuck said, "I haven't eaten with somebody new in... a long damned time."
"I guess there wasn't anybody," Apollo said.
Starbuck's eyes flickered but all he said was, "No. We didn't meet new people, we just lost old ones."
"How many of you were there to start with?"
"Twenty," Starbuck said. "Almost half of us have gone on, but we've made the tinheads pay pretty high."
Over a yahren with twenty people, watching them die... Apollo shook his head. "I can't even imagine."
Starbuck shrugged again. "You miss 'em, of course, but we were all dead already. It was always just a matter of time. This--" he waved his hand around. "--is something we never dreamed of."
Apollo chose his breakfast without paying much attention; it wasn't as though there was a huge selection, after all. Starbuck gave it his full regard and Apollo wondered what they'd been eating. He didn't say anything, just waited until Starbuck had loaded up his tray and then led the way to a small table against the wall farthest from where Starbuck's friends had settled.
Starbuck drank some kava and began eating. After a moment he looked up. "How did you get away from Cimtar? We thought all the battlestars were lost."
Apollo shook his head, remembering back to the holocaust. He had been on the bridge, reporting the Cylon treachery, Councilar gullibility, and Zac's death, and then his father had made one of those nearly psychic leaps from partial information to complete knowledge, and the next thing Apollo had known, the Galactica had been heeling over, deserting the battlezone and their squadrons of Vipers. No other battlestar had been able to accompany them, and by the time they'd arrived in the Colonial Systems it had been too late, anyway. He might never forget the broadcast of Serina under fire in the center of Caprica City, nor the centares spent assembling the refugees, tense with waiting for a Cylon second strike... "Father figured it out, the Cylon plans. Too late, as it turned out, but we were able to collect civilians, as many as we could. In whatever would fly. We had solium leaks and overcrowding and supply distribution problems for sectons, maybe sectares."
"By the time we got there," Starbuck said in a calm voice, "there weren't any civilians left. At all."
"Oh my gods," Apollo said softly. He'd known from what he'd heard that it had been bad, but... "Everything?"
"Yes," Starbuck nodded. "Extermination was the policy, and they were thorough. We took payment as we could but," he shrugged and finished his bread.
"You seem so close, all of you."
"I guess we do cling a bit," Starbuck nodded. "Better than being at each other's throats."
"That's true," Apollo said, immeasurably heartened. They cling because they didn't have anyone else. That's all. We just have to take it slow.
"You didn't come back by Cimtar on your way," Starbuck observed.
"No. I don't know what made Father pick this course, but I think he always had an idea of where we going. I mean, of how to find it; he did always know our destination."
"Journey's end?" Starbuck said lightly. "That would be Earth, I gather."
"Still a heathen?"
"More so, with more reason. But I hear you've been to Kobol, so maybe it's history instead of theology."
"Father thinks it's both," Apollo said. "He's sure that Earth exists, that the Thirteenth Tribe went there from Kobol. And we've been given the course."
Starbuck leaned forward. "I heard a bit about that. What--" he broke off as a loud
clatter erupted across the room.
Apollo turned to look and saw a table overturned and one of the Ghosts punching Kelvin, one of just off-duty Green's pilots. He jumped up and headed over there, thinking as he did that this was probably bound to happen. Interestingly, though Starbuck was following, he wasn't in as big a hurry. Probably, Apollo realized, because it wasn't spreading, and two other Ghosts had pulled off the aggressor and were holding him. But just as he thought that, one of those let go and lunged for Kelvin himself, slamming him into the floor.
Now Starbuck sprinted the rest of the way, Apollo right behind him. "As you were," he yelled, hoping to stop anyone else from joining in, especially Starbuck. The command froze Green in their tracks, but not the Ghosts, though Apollo was relieved to see Boomer put his hands on the one trying to drive Kelvin's head through the deck and then the woman joined him and the man let go.
"As you were," Apollo repeated, with no particular effect on the Ghosts. The first
assailant, a mousey-haired man in his late twenties, was rubbing his jaw and glaring at Kelvin, whose squadron mates were helping him up with that peculiar look that said they supported him but wished he was somewhere else. Boomer gave Apollo an inscrutable look and kept his arm around the shoulders of the other fighter, a much younger man with heavy blue-blackhair and red-brown skin. The woman dragged the back of her hand across her mouth and looked at the blood there with distaste, dabbing at her lip again once or twice. Kelvin was still dazed, plus he was going to be several shades of black and blue in a day or two. Honors about even, Apollo thought, and glared impartially at them all. "Would someone like to tell me what happened?"
"Kelvin mouthed off and they didn't like it," his wingmate, Zorn, said after a moment.
"Seth punched somebody?" Starbuck said mildly.
"After he hit Eliseadh," the mousey-haired one, presumably Seth, answered.
"She hit me first," protested Kelvin and then clearly wished he hadn't. Half Green
snickered and pretended they hadn't.
"You hit her?" Apollo demanded.
"It was a reflex, Captain. If somebody hits me, I hit them back."
"That reflex must get a lot of work," said the other Ghost. "Starbuck, he asked Eliseadh if she could work him into her schedule sometime. She told him to get lost and he asked what, she did all of us? So she hit him, and he hit her, and Seth decked him."
"Good man," Starbuck said. "And you hit him why, Lynx?"
"Man asked Seth didn't he want to share, he sure didn't look like he could keep her busy all night."
"And you didn't rip his tongue out by the roots?" Starbuck asked.
"Starbuck, don't make it worse..." Apollo shook his head. "Kelvin, you got about what you deserve. Your squadron leader will have something to say to you. What's your name, Eliseadh?"
She stiffened but nodded.
"I'm sorry you were insulted by one of my pilots. Believe me, it's not the sort of thing I tolerate."
"Thank you," she said.
"You might want to have someone in the Life Center take a look at you. All of you," he added.
"I'll walk with you," said Starbuck.
Apollo realized he'd lost him for the moment. But only for the moment, he vowed.
As the Ghosts left, en masse, for the Life Center, he suddenly realized: Giles hadn't been there. For a moment he thought about that, then hardened himself. It was too bad, but he couldn't worry about Giles. The sergeant would have to look out for himself.
From Starbuck's point of view, the day, except for one bright spot, went downhill from there. He'd been enjoying breakfast, looking at Apollo across the table, those eyes greener than he'd remembered, at least awake, and that lean, broad-shouldered frame, and the voice that had haunted his dreams for so long.
And that had made him remember waking up in the middle of the night from a nightmare of agony and destruction and Apollo dying just beyond his reach, and Giles being there to bring him back to reality without questions or reproaches. He'd kept his confusion inside where Apollo couldn't see it and asked him another question, and then Apollo had started talking about Adama and his religious quest for Earth. Torn between disbelief and the need to know what he was committing to, he'd wanted more details but then the fight had broken out, and that was the last he saw of Apollo for the rest of the day. Nobody was badly hurt, and he felt no obligation to reprimand anyone, though he did say they should try to avoid punchups in the mess. "Or the O Club, for that matter," he added. "With liquor involved, it could get worse."
"Or better," Hastur said with his irrepressible grin.
"They probably won't let us in the O Club," said Marcus.
"Oh, yes, they will," Starbuck said silkily.
"We should give them the chance to say no, shouldn't we?" asked Boomer.
"I suppose you're right," he admitted. "So, let's do it tonight, shall we?"
"Sounds good to me," Boomer agreed. "Before we chat with Adama and Tigh in the morning."
"Best to have all our issues to hand, eh?"
"Speaking of which," Boomer said. "Kestrel. Ask Salik if he's of the same opinion as he was yesterday."
Salik was. Kestrel's damaged elbow could be treated enough to allow him some movement, maybe half normal range, but his hand was beyond treatment. "Medical discharge," he said. "I presume with a pension, though I honestly don't know what system is in place now. There are several ships he could be sent to."
Starbuck was glad he'd sent the others on back to the section, keeping only Trent and Boomer with him. Sending Kestrel away was not going to happen, but the youngster didn't need to hear it; yesterday all that had been mentioned was the discharge. Trent had already heard all about the Senior Ship, but he was less easily disturbed than the young'uns.
"You making a list for me, Boomer?" Starbuck asked as they left the Life Center.
"Trent is, right?"
The old man chuckled. "Like you'd forget any of it... Best we visit the ships. I damn
near didn't get on board the tanker yesterday."
And in the shuttle bay they found guards on the Cylon supply ship and the tanker. "Sorry, sir," the guard on the supply ship said. "No one gets on board this ship. Sorry, sir; colonel's orders."
"These are our ships," Starbuck said. "We flew them here. Remember?"
"I'm sorry, sir. Colonel Tigh said to keep everyone off this ship."
"And the tanker?"
"No, sir, you can go on the tanker. It's the Cylon technology the colonel's concerned about."
"How magnanimous of the colonel," Boomer said.
Trent pushed past the guard and unlocked the tanker's door. He ducked inside and came out again in a couple of centons, shaking his head. "Everything's there except the weapons."
Starbuck didn't trust himself to speak. Boomer caught his mood, as he usually did, and said it for him: "The colonel?" At the guard's blank look, Boomer shrugged and said, "One more for the list."
"Someone will down later to fetch things off this ship. You're going to let them on,
The guard said, "Oh, yes, sir."
Trent rejoined them, carefully folding their honor banner. They walked to the Viper
bay in silence. At least there nobody denied them their ships, but they weren't launch ready yet, still in need of fuel and ordnance. But it was here that the day's bright spot occurred: Jenny, her hands and jumpsuit oilstained as usual and her hair a little grayer than he remembered, climbed out of the starboard engine of his Viper and embraced him with a wide smile.
"Lords, boy, look at you!" She laughed and hugged him again. "They told me right, didn't they? This one's yours?"
"I thought you told me you could always pick mine out," he said, hugging her back.
"You must've been teaching those children," she said. "All of these but Boomer's look like they've been rode hard."
"Thank you," said Boomer.
"Yours is still a mess, though, mind," she said. "No mechs?"
"Just one. No nice bays like this one, though," Starbuck answered.
"I'll just bet." She let go of him and flicked one of his braids. "This is a nice look
for you, by the way."
"When will they be flight-ready, Jenny?"
She grew serious at once. "I don't know. They're last on the list."
"You're here, though?"
"I'm off today," she said. "In one way, they only need fuel, well at least six of 'em.
Obviously you've been flying them. On the other hand, they offend me and I wouldn't send my worst enemy out in one. Give me my crew and a secton, I'll have 'em in alpha-one. As it is, I just don't know. Depends on how often anyone else gets shot up."
"Thanks, Jenny," Starbuck said. "I mean that."
"Phtt. Don't mention it."
But after that brief peak, once again downhill. They were invited to use a private
dining room for lunch, and when they didn't, they were avoided so thoroughly they might as well have. After lunch they'd gone to the shooting range; small arms ammunition had been so plentiful they had shot every day, and it had proven very useful on several occasions that they were far better than Warriors usually were. Unfortunately, today they seemed to be worrying people, judging by the looks they got.
And by the two black-uniformed men that always seemed to turn up wherever they were. Starbuck was ready, after only one centare, to jump them and find out just what the frack was up. It took all Boomer and Trent's combined persuasiveness to convince him to wait, unless they did something other than loiter in the Ghosts' neighborhood, and take it up with Adama and Tigh in the morning.
At dinner they were invited again, very politely but very pointedly, to eat in one of
the private rooms. This time they accepted. Starbuck thought it was for the best; just about everybody was ready to throw punches by then, himself included. It was difficult just having other people around, even if they weren't obnoxious jerks. One more person was okay, but dozens...
The O Club was worse. He stayed there as long as any of the rest did, but he didn't
enjoy it. Surprisingly, a lot of enlisted were there so the question of Marcus and
Eliseadh didn't arise, but though a lot of people stopped by their table to speak to
him or to Boomer, nobody stayed. Starbuck drank too much, and knew it, and couldn't stop: the noise and the crowd were more than he could stand. He doubted he'd come back.
He had dreamed of finding others ever since Carter had burst into his room, and now that they had, he almost wished they hadn't. Maybe they should have stayed in the Colonies and just held the knowledge of the Fleet in their hearts, or better still, gone toward the Imperial Center, either drawing the pursuit back to hunt them or cutting it off so completely that the Galactica had been able to defeat them. Either would have been a worthy way to go. Now he was left to wonder what would become of them. Dying here had never been a plan. Leaving seemed too much a betrayal of Carter's hard work.
And he knew one reason he was on edge was because Giles hadn't been around till dinner, and was one of the few who hadn't gone to the O Club afterwards. He remembered telling Apollo they were maybe a little clingy. Maybe they were worse than that; Apollo had certainly looked as though he'd been afraid Starbuck would have to be surgically removed from the others for breakfast. Maybe he shouldn't need Giles around. He'd refrained from asking where he was, or even remarking on his absence, knowing that Boomer and Trent had to know where he was or they'd have done so. Giles was his lover, not his dagget; he didn't have to be at heel twenty-four/eight.
But it made Starbuck edgy.
And it made him shy off of making love that night; he climbed into bed and lay there, not asking anything. Giles took a while to settle, but eventually slept, and only then did Starbuck slide his arm over for the comforting touch that allowed him to sleep himself. And though he thought Giles relaxed and turned into the contact, he wasn't sure. Of anything.
Apollo was jerked out of an uncomfortable sleep by his comm. "What?" he answered it.
It was third watch's bridge officer Charis. "Sorry to disturb you, captain," she said,
"but Lieutenant Omega said to notify you if anything occurred involving Lieutenant
Starbuck or his--" the bridge officer hesitated over the phrase "--his people."
Bless him. "Yes?"
"One of them terminated a crewman at Temple this evening."
"Frack," Apollo said involuntarily.
She pretended she hadn't heard him. "The Commander and Colonel Tigh have been notified by Security. They're on their way."
"I am, too. Thank you." He cut off the comm and began dressing. Sweet gods, Starbuck, can't you control them at all?
Starbuck woke suddenly. Remnants of his dream floated through his mind: Apollo dying at Cimtar and, worse, Giles nowhere. But Giles was right there, under his arm, tossing restlessly. It was Giles's nightmare that had woken him, not his own. Immediately he moved his hand to shake his lover's shoulder gently, then a bit harder. "Gi. Come on, Gi, wake up."
"Starbuck!" Then the brown eyes opened and blinked. "Oh..." he sighed, catching hold of Starbuck's arm.
"I'm here," Starbuck said. "You're all right."
Giles nodded. "Yes."
Starbuck was tempted to say something pretty, something sweet, but he never had to Giles and was afraid if he started now it would be taken for... a leash or something. But he didn't want to leave the other man alone with his nightmare, he'd never done that either and couldn't start now. So without saying anything at all he leaned over and kissed him, his hand sliding over Giles's shoulder to pull him closer.
Giles came to him eagerly. Between them they wiped out not only the dreams, but the bad taste the day had left in Starbuck's mouth. And when the glory passed and Giles subsided, his breath ragged, onto Starbuck, his face against Starbuck's throat, he knew the center of the universe was holding even if the edges were fraying and spinning off. He wrapped his arms around Giles, resting his chin on the thick soft hair, and sighed in contentment.
"Ummmm?" His hand was lazily tracing the scars on Giles's shoulder and he was drifting off to sleep again.
"There's something I want to say."
For some reason, that didn't make him tense. Probably because Giles's tone was all wrong for it to mean 'we have to talk' with all the implications, or maybe because Giles was nuzzling his throat and stroking his ribs gently. "Hmmmmm?" he invited more.
"I never said it before because, well, there wasn't any need. And the time was never right. And it just seemed... I don't know. Wrong or something."
Starbuck blinked himself back awake. "What, Gi?"
"Starbuck!" Boomer hit the door once and then came in; no doors were ever locked among the Ghosts.
"Damn. Hold that thought, Gi." Starbuck sat up as Giles, tensing as he was himself, rolled off of him and onto his knees. "What's it?" He said to Boomer, who looked thoroughly pissed off.
"Sorry to disturb you," the dark man said perfunctorily, "but we've got trouble. We've got people here looking for Seth--they say he killed someone--"
That was as far as he got before a stranger's voice interrupted. Giles had his blaster in his hand before the man finished his first sentence. "You won't mind if I check this room, lieutenant? I'd put that down if I were you, sergeant."
Starbuck didn't care for the man's tone or the look on his face, but Boomer had let him in, and Seth wasn't in the room, so he put his hand on Giles's thigh and said, "Not sergeant. But, no, of course. Check the lockers and look under the bed if you want."
Giles reholstered the blaster but left it within easy reach. Starbuck felt his presence
comfortingly at his back as the three Ghosts watched the black-uniformed man check the room.
"Fine," said Boomer. "I told you he wasn't here."
"Had to check," the man said. "Have a good night."
That was an insult, but Starbuck was too focussed on Boomer to answer it. As soon as the door shut, he said, "What the frack?"
"You know Seth didn't come to the O Club with us?" Boomer said. "Said he didn't feel like drinking. He decided to go to Evensong Service at the Temple. Well, I mean... Seth."
Starbuck nodded. Seth had been orthodox before. "Did he go alone?"
"No," Boomer shook his head. "Monty went with him. They just brought him back."
"Who brought him back?"
"Those blackshirts, whoever they are. Monty says they were questioning him for centares, trying to find out where Seth went."
"Frack," Starbuck repeated and got out of bed. "Tell me before I see him." He opened his locker and pulled out his purple shirt, picking his trousers up as he headed for the turbowash. "Talk loud."
"They say we're confined to the section."
"They can say whatever they like. What the hells happened?"
"Seth killed someone."
"At Temple?" Starbuck washed off quickly.
"Well, after. They got into an argument, the guy kept pushing Seth, and finally... Monty got a bit roughed up, but he's okay."
"They looking to execute him?" Starbuck cut off the water and shook his head like a dagget.
"No," Boomer said. "These guys say they've got a prison ship."
"What a waste of resources..." Starbuck toweled off and began dressing. "So they want to lock him up?"
"And lose the key," Boomer affirmed.
Starbuck came out, looking for his boots. Wordlessly, Giles took the towel he'd left
around his shoulders and began drying his hair while he buckled his boots on. Starbuck stood up then and dragged a comb through his hair and then left it, reaching for the blaster Giles held out. "I'm talking to Monty," he said, "and then I'm going to the bridge and talking to the commander."
The comm on Adama's desk chimed. "Sir? Lieutenant Starbuck is out here. He insists on seeing you."
"I ordered them confined to their section," Tigh said. "How did he get up here?"
Apollo shrugged. "I expect he wouldn't take no for an answer, sir. Did you order use of force?"
Tigh shook his head.
"Is Starbuck accompanied by security?" Adama asked.
"Yes, sir," the bridge officer answered.
"Send him back to the section and send Starbuck in."
The door opened. Starbuck came in, bringing an air of antagonistic tension with him. If he'd looked like the Late Revivesence before, now he looked even earlier. His purple shirt and grey trousers were not in the least military, nor was his hair, and his jacket with the Cylon pins on it looked like some spoils of war. Especially given the blaster he had belted on. He was making a statement, Apollo realized: I don't belong to you. I belong to them. And I'm dangerous.
"Sit down, Starbuck," Adama said. "Please."
Starbuck hesitated a moment and then dropped gracefully into the nearest chair. One of the charms, or whatever they were, on a braid knocked against the two triskelions on his collar and the little ping made Apollo think of a ring-fighting match. Round One.
"Do you know what happened, Starbuck?" Adama asked.
"What possessed that man?" Tigh opened.
"He was provoked," Starbuck countered. Apollo wondered if he really thought any insult was provocation enough.
"Please, gentlemen," Adama intervened. "Starbuck, can you explain to us?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I can try."
"I heard what the argument was about; Monty was there. Seth overreacted a little, but to be honest, only a little more than the rest of us would have. Most of us wouldn't have been in the conversation in the first place, because we'd have told 'em exactly what we think about them and their damned gods, but not Seth. Sorry," he added perfunctorily to Adama.
"Don't worry about it," Adama said, unnecessarily in Apollo's opinion. He was surprised that Starbuck had bothered to apologize. Then again, he'd always cared what Adama had thought.
"Seth, though," Starbuck continued, obviously not worried about it all, "Seth was an
orthodox believer. It was hard for him, facing the truth. It was hard, believing in
benevolent gods and waking up every day and looking out at the Colonies, nothing moving but Cylons, worlds burning..." He stopped, took a breath, and said, "But he'd done it too long to junk the noun. He changed the adjective. And now, finding the Galactica, hearing all this about Kobol and Earth--" his tone made it clear he put no stock in what he'd heard "--and then to be told we didn't deserve to be here, that we'd been left at Cimtar for a reason and we should have stayed there, died there, that we'd never be let onto Earth because we were condemned sinners, the kind that earned the, the Destruction, you call it? That everything we've done is worse than worthless, it's actually ... Like I said, it was an overreaction. But in strength, not in kind. I'd have bounced the man off a wall."
"And we could have let that go," said Tigh. "But termination is a different matter."
"I understand that. I'm just telling you, if you don't want this to happen again, you'd better rein 'em in, your people. I've talked to mine, and told 'em to watch what they do, but, well, we haven't exactly been in a situation where we've had to practice restraint. I don't know how well we'll do. Lack of provocation will be a big help."
"At the moment," Adama said, ignoring Starbuck's talking as though he were Tigh's equal, "I'm more concerned about Seth himself. And anybody who runs into him."
"He won't shoot people without provocation," Starbuck said. "But I agree he needs to be found."
"Security is looking for him. They'll find him," said Tigh.
"And then what?"
"He'll stand trial and, if convicted, he'll be sent to the Prison Barge. He'll be well
treated, Starbuck," Adama said.
"I'm sure you mean that," Starbuck said. He stood up. "I need to get back to my people. Considering you've confined them to the section, they'll want to know what's happening."
Apollo jumped to his feet. "Starbuck, wait a centon." He caught up to him in the corridor. "Starbuck, wait."
Starbuck turned to him sharply, two of those braids whipping over his shoulder. Apollo had a sudden and very out-of-place impulse to slide his fingers down one of them. He quelled it and said, "We need to talk."
"Talk? About what?" Starbuck sounded very impatient.
"This whole thing."
Starbuck looked at him for a long moment out of bright blue eyes and then shook his head. "You have the damnedest sense of timing, Apollo. We do, but just now I don't have time to waste." And he turned around again and strode off. Not, Apollo noted, in the direction of the turbolift back to Special Teams Sections. He stood a moment, indecisive, then instead of following Starbuck he went to the Ghosts' section himself. Starbuck wouldn't be turned from his purpose, that was clear, and it would help if he brought Seth in. And though he wouldn't talk, maybe Boomer would.
After leaving Apollo, Starbuck headed for the section of the shuttle bay where their
tanker and supply vessel were parked. He was pretty sure that's where Seth had gone. He had to find him first. If necessary, he had to get him off the battlestar.The guard was gone from the tanker; the supply ship, at the other end of the bay, had only one man on it.
"Seth?" Starbuck called softly.
The man came out from from the shadows. "They want to lock me up, don't they? I mean, I did kill him."
"I know," Starbuck said.
"I didn't go there looking for a fight, and I didn't get into the fight looking to kill
anyone, but..." Seth paused, looking for words.
"You don't have to explain anything to me," Starbuck said. "I've been there. I am
Seth ducked his head, grinning a little. "I don't want to go to prison, Bucko."
"That's not going to happen."
"I don't think you can stop it."
"Have faith, Seth. Of course I can."
"It'll cost too high..." He shook his head again and rubbed his fingers over the little
triskellion on his collar. "I've been thinking."
"You always were good at that. Reach any conclusions, or are you as lost as the rest of us?"
"You know what it was about?"
Seth ran his fingers through his hair, looking lost. "Faith... Why did this all happen,
Starbuck? Why did they let it?"
Starbuck sighed and put his back to the wall, reaching out and bringing Seth with him as he slid down it to sit on the floor. "I don't know. I don't even know if they did. Hell, Seth, I don't even know if they are."
"You know what they say here, don't you? That it was a punishment for humanity going astray. That Adama is leading them in the steps of the Lords of Kobol to the promised land."
"I've heard that." Starbuck sucked on his teeth. "Don't know how true it is."
"They went to Kobol."
"Yeah. And we left Kobol a long damned time ago."
Seth drew a long shuddering breath. "But if it's true... Starbuck, you and the others
have to stay with them."
"Seth, you're one of us. We don't abandon you."
"You can't fight with them over me."
"I can't let them lock you up, either. You'll never get out."
"I know. But... if I go on, there won't be trouble."
Starbuck wasn't so sure about that, but it would be a lot easier to deal with. He put his hand on Seth's shoulder and looked straight into his troubled blue eyes. "Are you sure that's what you want? We'll fight for you."
"No, you mustn't. You have to stay with them, Starbuck. Maybe we don't have the right to be here, but we are here. And we earned it. So if Adama is leading them to the promised land... We're dead already, but maybe you guys can get better."
"Maybe," Starbuck said, though he wasn't sure. Of that or, well, almost anything. Except that nobody was locking Seth up for the next hundred yahrens.
"You have to try, Starbuck."
"So you're sure this is how you want to do it?"
He nodded. "There's just one thing..."
"If they're right... I mean." He stopped. "Suicide's a sin."
Starbuck reached out and wrapped him in a hug. "I'll do it. Don't worry about it."
Seth smiled. "I guess I should shoot at you, huh?"
"Try to miss," Starbuck advised him.
"I'll aim at you, then you'll be safe." Seth wasn't able to laugh. "Maybe I'll catch up to Onyx, you think?"
"He hasn't been gone long," Starbuck nodded.
Seth sighed and stood up, offering Starbuck a hand. Then he pulled his blaster and fired it at the wall. "Whenever you're ready."
Starbuck hugged him again, ruffling his mousey hair, hearing running feet from the other end of the bay. "Be seeing you," he said. Then he drew his own blaster and backed up about three metrons.
"I don't understand what happened," Apollo said. "I don't understand Starbuck's attitude. I mean, I realize you have been through a lot together, that he feels some loyalties to this man, but, Boomer, he terminated someone."
"No," Boomer said, running a palm over his shaven head. "You don't even begin to understand us."
"I realize that. That's why I'm asking. Starbuck just stared at me and said he didn't have time to waste. I thought maybe you'd be a bit more rational."
Boomer laughed. "Don't count on it," he said. "We're none of us very rational. Not the way you mean it, anyway."
"I've noticed," Apollo said with some frustration. "You're not making much effort to fit back in, even to simply refusing to let sergeants be sergeants, or that one, I forget his name, be discharged—"
"Kestrel," Boomer said, and his voice had gone very hard. "And we'll let go of him when we take our last breath, not sooner. Not one micron sooner."
"That's what I mean. It's not like Tigh's talking about spacing him. But even mention a discharge and any one of you gets ready to—" He broke off. Kill was an unfortunate word at the moment.
"You don't understand," Boomer said, his tone back to patient. "You can't. You didn't die with us. You weren't in Hell with us."
"Boomer, it's a catchy metaphor, but you aren't dead."
"Yes, we are," he insisted gently. "Just still breathing."
"And you wonder why Father wants you all to get counselling?" he asked rhetorically.
"No," Boomer answered him. "I don't wonder at it at all. I just know it's probably useless. And I know that Seth did pretty much what any of us would have done. And I know you have absolutely no idea, any of you, what we are."
"What you act like," Apollo said frustratedly, "is a bunch of madmen."
Boomer smiled. The expression raised the hairs on Apollo's neck. "That'll do as a working model," Boomer said gently, "if you can't understand the truth."
"What is the truth?"
"The truth is that we accepted our deaths, not as a probable future but as an accomplished past, so long ago we can't stop. We are dead, in a very real sense we are dead; we just some of us are still breathing. You wonder why so many of us ignore you? It's because you're not entirely real to us, not yet. You're like a dream we're afraid we're going to wake up from and so we won't invest anything in it. Maybe that's how ghosts always see the living," he added with another one of those scary smiles.
"Boomer, I'm real. We're real, and we're alive. All of us are alive. Acting like you're not—"
"Is how we got through the past yahren. And too much a part of us to shed on your say-so. On anyone's, though for Starbuck we'd try. Did try."
Apollo blinked at him.
"It would have been better if we'd hadn't. That man might not have pushed Seth. See, we're all about this close to the line between madness and sanity," said Boomer. "And what makes it interesting is, we're none of us sure which side we're on."
"You can't understand, Apollo. You think I'm rational because I'm talking to you so calmly, but I'm no different than the others. I just remember you, and they don't, so I can pretend a little better."
"Starbuck remembers me, and he's—" Apollo didn't finish that. It wasn't relevant to the topic.
"Mad?" Boomer guessed wrong. "Of course he is. Probably the maddest of us all. The decisions he's had to make," Boomer shook his head, "I couldn't have made them. Nobody could have without letting go of everything, or damn near."
"How did he end up in charge, anyway?"
"He was the man for the job," Boomer said. "He patched us back together and gave us a purpose, and fired us to do it. Don't think we'll ever follow anyone else."
"Even if he ends up discharged?"
"You can't discharge him, Apollo. He's not in the service anymore. None of us are. We're something different, and we belong to him."
"We've followed him through the seven canonical hells and five or six others. We followed him here. We'll follow him wherever he asks. Even if he doesn't."
"Was it that bad?" Apollo dreaded the answer, but at the same time he craved it. Anything to justify their flight with so little time given to preparation, to take the burden of all those deaths off his father.
"Worse than you can imagine. Than you should have to imagine. You're the lucky ones, but you have no idea where we've been, what we've seen, what we've done... Of course he's mad, Apollo. So am I. We all are. You can't spend sectares in hell and emerge unscathed. Let alone more than a yahren."
Apollo stared at his oldest friend and again felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise, the warning that something dangerous was near. Boomer sounded so rational, his tone was so calm, his statements so coherent. Yet his words, his thoughts... Can a madman discuss his madness? Is that how they all really feel, underneath? Before he could find something to say, he heard running footsteps. Boomer's eyes widened and Apollo turned to see one of the newcomers approaching, with a Council Security officer at his heels. Frack. What now?
"Boomer." The young pilot, one of the few whose hair was still regulation-length, roughly cropped and spiky in fact, stopped in front of them and ignored Apollo, the way he'd been complaining about. Did the boy really look at him like he was somehow not as real as Boomer? The thought was scary.
"What's it, Hastur?" Boomer asked calmly.
"You need to come to the shuttle bay."
"Frack. Trouble over the supply ships again?"
"No. Seth's gone."
"Gone where?" Apollo said. "And how? One of your ships?"
Boomer and Hastur both stared at him as though he'd said something incredibly stupid, and then Boomer caught on. "No, Apollo. Gone. Dead." He turned to Hastur. "How's a good question though."
The Security man who'd followed Hastur answered that. "Starbuck shot him."
"What?" demanded Apollo.
"He said he was trying to bring him in, but..." He shrugged, clearly not believing it.
Apollo didn't either, especially not after all that he'd just been hearing from Boomer. "Why would he do that?" he asked.
"If Starbuck sent him on," said Boomer, "he had damned good reason."
"Yeah," said Hastur. "Like they—" he jerked his head at the Security man, "were planning on locking him up till he was older than Trent."
"Well, no wonder," said Boomer. "The shuttle bay?" He turned and the Security man was in his way. He literally snarled. The man moved, and the two Ghosts stalked off.
"You think Starbuck—" Apollo couldn't quite get the words terminated him out of his mouth. Not Starbuck. Not even this Starbuck.
"There's a blaster shot on the wall," the Security man conceded, "and the perp's blaster had been fired. But, Captain, I'm finding it hard to believe one of those lunatics would shoot at another. If they would, they ought to all be locked up."
"But you've no proof it didn't happen like Starbuck said?"
"Will there be charges?"
"For stopping a confessed terminater?" The man shook his head. "No. Whether there ought to be is a different story, Captain."
Apollo nodded. "I'm going to the launch bay."
"Captain—the Commander wants to see you."
"I'll be there. Thanks."
When Apollo got to the bay, he saw the whole group of the Ghosts there, including the old civilian and the crippled pilot. The other ten were gathered around in a protective circle; Starbuck must have been in the middle. Giles registered his arrival at once and took a half-step closer to Starbuck, then moved back again, an annoyed expression crossing his face momentarily. His movement drew the eyes of others, including Boomer and the old man who turned to look at Apollo. Boomer said something, and Starbuck stood up. As he did he spoke, and Apollo was close enough to hear him.
"I don't know what to do with it."
Nobody, it seemed, had an answer. Apollo asked, surprised, "You never had casualties before?"
Starbuck gave him that look they'd patented, the what-a-stupid-thing-to-say look, though it was tempered by something Apollo hoped was fondness. "We never had a body before," he said. For some reason that made him look at Giles and Apollo unwillingly remembered the sergeant's scarred shoulder. Starbuck's gaze had gone back to the body, which Apollo could see because the Ghosts had shifted, standing now at Starbuck's back.
"We burned those at Cimlak," Eliseadh said.
"I don't think they'd like that," said one of the ones Apollo remembered the name of, Monty.
That caused a slight stir, but the old man quelled it. "I don't expect it matters much to Seth. He's gone on, what does he care? Let 'em do what they want."
Starbuck nodded. "Trent's right. Eliseadh?"
The woman looked at him.
"You want to three up with someone? Or," he thought of something else, "you could fly with Giles and I'll fly on my own—"
"Like that is happening," said Hastur.
"Give it up, Bucko," added Boomer.
Eliseadh smiled. "I'll fly with Giles. On your other wing."
That drew a laugh from the group. Apollo figured this was not the moment to point out that Tigh was insistent that Eliseadh go through formal pilots' training before she climbed into a Viper again. If.
Nor did it seem the moment to point out that neither Adama nor Tigh—nor himself and Bojay, for that matter—thought it was particularly wise to let them fly at all. Especially since they now had only nine pilots at best; he couldn't imagine a worse fate than to be tossed in with them. Not that breaking them up seemed particularly feasible. He sighed. He needed to talk to Starbuck. About so much.
"Starbuck?" he said.
"Yes?" Starbuck looked back at him over Eliseadh's red head; he'd caught her in a hug.
"I need to talk to you."
"I have to go to the bridge right now... Dinner?" And then he remembered tonight was Boxey's school presentation; his son would never forgive him for missing it. "Tomorrow?"
Starbuck shrugged. "Sure. Will you get Seth taken care of?"
The blond turned his head, and the little metal bits on his braids clicked together. He raised an eyebrow.
"One thing, though, right now?"
It was Boomer who said, "Come on, guys. The Captain wants to be alone."
Trent's eyes slid to Giles but the rest of them left chuckling. Apollo couldn't believe how quickly they'd apparently forgotten the body lying on the floor. Starbuck, too, ignored it, walking over to say, "What?"
"Did you kill him?" Apollo hadn't meant to be so direct, but now it seemed best. Maybe Starbuck would respond to directness.
"What? That kid, Hastur, he said—"
"I sent him on," Starbuck nodded. "But kill him? No. That was—Who are those boys in the black uniforms?"
"Council Security. What are you saying?"
"Council Security? Oh, nice," Starbuck sounded just like his old lightly sarcastic self. Apollo felt his heart clench. "No, I'm not saying one of them shot him. I did. But the Cylons killed him, with more than a little help from our beloved Council and the High Command."
"Starbuck," Apollo said frustratedly, "that's interesting but irrelevant. Why did you shoot him?"
Starbuck became very still, inspecting Apollo carefully. Then he cocked his head to one side and said, "Seth absolutely was not going to prison. There was no way he was letting that happen."
"He shot at me." Starbuck gestured at the wall. "Probably didn't mean to hit me, but in a fire-fight do you notice?"
That was all he was going to get, he could tell. So Apollo shook his head and said, "I have to go to the bridge. Be careful, will you?"
Starbuck shrugged. "If I remember."
Apollo watched him walk away. Had Starbuck really... No. He couldn't have. The man had shot at him, after all. Starbuck had probably known that he was trying to avoid capture, and he hadn't sounded like he trusted Adama's assurance of good treatment... Apollo shook his head. Starbuck had had special teams training; he knew you didn't leave people to be taken by the enemy, and it was all too clear that half the time, if not more, the Ghosts considered the Galacticans to be the enemy. And in a way, wasn't it kinder? He remembered Seth from—gods, was it just that morning? He had been so young still, he might have been on the Prison Barge for ninety yahrens or more.
He sighed and hoped tomorrow wouldn't be too late. Maybe he should have blown off going to the bridge, called in sick; he was owed time off. But despite wanting to get Starbuck alone, to talk to him, reach underneath that we're-all-dead facade to the real Starbuck, the one he loved, he just couldn't do it.
Starbuck had always been irrepressibly insouciant, careless of what he characterized as the "trivia" of duties. He'd never fail to show up to fly a mission or to report anything that needed it, but routine after-mission papers might take days to trickle in, and his discipline was outwardly casual at best. Living together had brought their polar tendencies out more strongly as they reacted against each other's style, and now that Starbuck was so far in excess of anything he'd ever been before, Apollo could feel himself becoming more correct by the centon. But knowing what was happening wasn't the same as stopping it, and Apollo really had no desire to be different, anyway. This was who he was, for better or worse.
But he'd loved Starbuck to almost to distraction once, and Starbuck had loved him... And if only they could get together, alone...
But now wasn't the right time. He sighed again as the turbolift doors shut on Starbuck, swore softly, and headed for the bridge.
It was later than he'd realized. First shift was reporting, and to his intense discomfort he shared a car for the last part of the turbolift ride with Omega, Athena, and two other bridge technicians. Thank the gods, it wasn't with just his sister or his ex-lover, though. Athena didn't do anything more than glare at him icily and remark that Bojay had gone to Apollo's to get Boxey's costume, since he hadn't had it with him when she'd picked him up the day before and hadn't mentioned it until breakfast. Omega said nothing whatsoever.
When the doors opened Apollo headed straight for his father's office. Tigh was still there, or there again. "Apollo, there you are. Good," said his father. "You've heard?"
"I've been to the shuttle bay."
"I think we need to disarm them," Tigh said, his tone revealing that this wasn't the first time he'd said it. "I don't think we can afford to have them walking around with blasters."
"Seth shot at Starbuck," Apollo protested. "He didn't have any choice but to defend himself."
"You believe that's how it happened?" Tigh asked.
"There's no evidence it happened any other way."
"Well, Memnet didn't shoot at Seth last night," Tigh said. "He was a food service tech; he didn't even have a weapon."
"I know," Apollo said.
"Fistfights are one thing," Tigh concluded. "But if they're going to escalate them to deadly force—"
"Tigh," Adama put in almost gently. "Seth didn't shoot Memnet. He broke his neck. His being armed has no bearing on that case; it only matters in the Starbuck shooting, which even Security is inclined to accept."
Tigh snorted his opinion of that.
"Father, I don't think they'll give up their sidearms," Apollo turned to Adama. "Not willingly."
"I don't like it, Apollo, but I do have to agree with Tigh. I'd prefer they weren't armed until they've settled in a bit better than they're showing signs of at the moment. I'm ordering them confined to the Special Teams section, and their Vipers are off limits."
"Isn't that redundant?" And the first thing he'd thought was, My dinner with Starbuck! He forced his mind back to the matter at hand.
"I don't plan on confining them for very long, a few days. It's as much for their protection as anything else: Tigh informs me that feeling is running high. Especially given their propensity for settling disputes with their fists..." Adama raised his hands. "I'd as soon not have any more fights until I can be assured that nothing worse than a few bruises will be the result. On either side."
"That makes sense," Apollo had to concede. "But why put their Vipers off limits? You can't think they'd attack us?"
"No, of course not. And I should have said, their ships are off limits. In fact," he glanced at Tigh, "I think the entire launch and landing complex should be off limits, the ready room as well." Tigh nodded as Adama turned back to Apollo. "But they might easily decide to leave, and I don't want them doing that. They are my responsibility whether they want to admit it or not. They don't fit in, and how could they? But it's my job to keep them here, to stop them from taking the easy way out and running away, because that will ultimately be their destruction. We have an obligation to help them whether they want it or not. And whether they make it pleasant for us or not. I don't consider them criminals, but I do consider them hazardous, and to themselves no less than others."
Leave? That hadn't occurred to Apollo, not after listening to Starbuck's once-over-lightly account of how hard and long they'd looked for them. But it was likely that in this case the having wasn't as good as the wanting. "They can't leave," he said.
"Then we're in agreement." Adama's tone was lightly ironic. A glance at Tigh told Apollo the colonel might not have minded all that much. "But putting areas of the Galactica off limits is easy, and confining them to the section is not difficult. Asking them to disarm will be an equinus of quite a different hue."
"I'll ask them," Apollo volunteered. "But what if they say no?"
There was a silence. Adama and Tigh looked at each other; it was clear they didn't agree on what to do then. Adama shook his head. "If they won't we won't push it. But if there's another... incident, then we'll disarm them by force if necessary." He paused. "Apollo, are you sure you want to ask them?"
"I'll be happy to," Tigh said.
"No," Apollo shook his head. "If Starbuck's not a squadron leader that's too big a jump in the chain of command. Even if he is, I'm his next higher. If you talk to him, sir, you'll be validating his position, and I don't think we want to do that. Do we?"
"No. We most certainly do not."
"Not just yet," Adama temporized. "I was going to talk to Starbuck and Boomer today, but I think now it should wait until passions have a chance to cool. And," he added, "I have a chance to think of something that will work out for us all. When I talk to them, I'd like to have something to offer them besides ultimata."
"I'll talk to him, then."
"And I," Tigh said, rising, "will see about posting guards to keep these Ghosts from the bay areas. Apollo," he nodded and left.
"How are you, son?" Adama asked once they were alone.
"I'm fine, Father. Really."
Adama leaned back in his chair. "I imagine things aren't working out quite as you had hoped."
"I imagine they aren't working out quite as anyone had hoped."
"No. I think you're right. Don't hold Tigh's attitude against him, Apollo. The Galactica is, and must be, his first concern."
Apollo rose to his feet. He didn't want to have this talk now; he needed time to think about what he was going to say. "I understand, Father. As the Wing is mine. I'll get over there after I talk to Starbuck. Bojay will be at the morning meeting."
Adama accepted it, saying only, "You'll be at dinner tonight?"
"Of course, Father. Barring unforeseen circumstances."
"Then I'll see you tonight."
As predicted, Starbuck didn't take it well. He met Apollo in the corridor with Boomer, Trent, and Giles. All four were dressed in Warrior's jackets over civilian clothes, as they had been when they arrived, though they were wearing the little triskellion pins. Apollo read that as meaning we'll meet you halfway, though he wasn't sure that their half was the same as his. No matter, he chose to take it as a good sign.
Starbuck spoke before he could. "Look, Apollo, we already know we're confined to the section here; there're four guys outside the doors to keep us in. What do you want, our first-born?"
"No. It's... the commander would like to ask you if you'd give up your sidearms. Just for a few days," he added hastily. "Until things cool down."
"Disarm?" Almost reflexively his hand moved to rest on the butt of his blaster. So did Boomer's. Giles's had already been there. "No fracking chance. Not for anyone."
"No." Starbuck was angry now. "Disarm? What's next? Vipers and the tanker are already off limits. Confined to our rooms? Locked up in the brig? Put down, like a pack of mad daggets? We're not disarming. Period. End of discussion. Try to take our weapons and we will use them."
Déjà vu, Apollo thought. Except he didn't want to shoot back. "Starbuck," he said, "nobody's going to attack you."
"You don't know that. We were abandoned, weren't we? And we haven't been welcomed here by everyone—look at what they said to Seth. You don't know it, and I don't intend to lose someone. I know your problem: Tigh said you had to disarm us. We'll leave first."
"Starbuck, your Vipers are not—"
"We will leave first."
"All right," Apollo raised his hands in front of him in surrender. "It's not an order, Starbuck. It was a request. Keep your blasters."
"Why, thank you. I think we will."
"Just don't shoot anybody else or there'll be real trouble."
"Don't shoot at us, we won't shoot at you." And Starbuck turned on his heel and stalked off. Giles hesitated a moment, looking at Apollo as though he wanted to say something, but then he turned and followed.
"Leave?" Apollo said to Boomer. "Where in hell would you go?"
"It wouldn't matter. No place could be worse than where we've already been," Boomer answered.
"I don't understand you," Apollo said. "You came all this way and you're ready to leave before you've been here four days. It's like you'd rather fight than get along."
"Getting along hasn't been a big priority with us. We've kind of forgotten how."
"Don't you want to fit in? Don't you want to be part of the community?"
Boomer shrugged. "Of course we do. But we don't know how any more, and you're not giving us time enough to relearn it. You're asking us to take the last yahren and just lock it away and forget it. We can't. Apollo, you've spent the last yahren alive. With all the peripherals that come with that. Like hope. Like a future. Like children—I saw one, an actual child—and a community and structure. We've spent it dead. All right—" he held up his hand. "Not dead dead. But knowing that any centon we might die, and that the only thing that mattered was making that death count for something. Not putting it off so we could live, but picking the right moment, like when Koris and Felix caught the chance to take two basestars up. What a way to go—glorious! We're not afraid of dying, Apollo. We've accepted it. Dying done right is winning. Dying is our goal. And now I'm scaring you, aren't I? Of course I am. Ghosts always scare the living."
Apollo shook his head. "Scaring me? Kind of. You'd rather leave than work at fitting in. You'd rather break a man's neck than argue with him. You'd rather abandon civilians who need your skills and protection than stay and honor your duty to them. That is scary. The Boomer I used to know wouldn't have done that. The Starbuck I used to know wouldn't have thought of it."
"We aren't them."
"Yes, you are. Whatever's happened, it can't have changed you that much. Starbuck was just threatening mutiny. He was talking about shooting his way off the Galactica. That would just end in all of you dying. And don't tell me you're already dead, because you're not. And you know it, I can tell you do."
"Oh, Apollo," Boomer shook his head. "You don't understand, still. You're talking to me as if I were your man. I'm not. I'm talking to you because that's my function: I'm Starbuck's second. I'm supposed to point out problems and alternatives. If he chooses to listen to me, fine. If he doesn't, fine. But I'm warning you. I'm not on your side. I'm on his. And I'm not as close to you as you think I am. Oh, I can listen to you. I can hear what you say about civilians and the Fleet and need and duty and ... I don't care. Maybe I could learn to care again but right now the only thing I care about is Death. Vengeance. So, if he tells me to do something insane, well, I am mad. If he tells me to do something suicidal, what the hell, I'm dead already."
"Oh, I'll put it to him. That's my job. But he's not in the mood to listen. And I know, soldiers aren't supposed to have moods. But we're not really soldiers anymore. It's there, somewhere, underneath, but it's too far for us to reach just now. If we wanted to, which Starbuck doesn't at the moment. He just had to—" Boomer paused, bit his lower lip, and then said, "He just had to kill Seth. He just had to kill one of his people. Sending us off to die killing Cylons is one thing, we all agreed that was the way it was going to be. But he just killed Seth with his own hands to keep him safe from you, from your people. He's not in the mood to listen to you, let alone do what you want. He needs some time."
"He can have all the time he wants if he just stays put and doesn't cause any trouble. All of you."
"See, we kind of think that guy that tangled with Seth caused the trouble, like that mouthy one who hit Eliseadh."
"Maybe. But, Boomer, you know that was not just an overreaction. Just like you know, I don't care what you say, you know armed mutiny is not the answer. Shooting your way to your Vipers... It's suicide. You can't all be that crazy."
"You're right about one thing: I'm one of the reasonable ones. But you've missed the important thing: it's Starbuck you have to deal with. In the end, it comes down to him. We belong to him, and he to us. We won't let you take us and scatter us around, different squadrons, different ships even, Trent and Kestrel... We stay together, and we follow Starbuck. Period. If he tells us to shoot our way into the launch bay and off this battlestar and out of the fleet—we'll do it. Without a second thought. Some of us without a first... You can't scare us. We don't have anything left to lose."
"Are you serious?"
"Dead serious, Apollo. You'd better believe me, and you'd better convince Tigh. Disarming us is killing us, and a lot of you. You don't disarm people you trust, and if you don't trust us, why the frack should we stay here? You'd be better off just letting us go."
"Boomer, two people have died since you got here."
"And one of them was ours. Are you disarming?"
"That's not—" he stopped. "That's your point." He sighed. "Gods, Boomer. I don't know what to tell you. You're not fitting in, and we don't... we can't be flexible enough to accommodate you without being unfair to everyone who's been here all along, without losing control ourselves of what's not that steady a situation in the first place."
"You're in a hard spot," Boomer nodded. "But we don't care about your problems. Don't think we will. We can't. That's our problem."
"That sounds very pessimistic."
"We might fit in again," Boomer said. "Sort of. I don't know... Sometimes I feel this unfamiliar emotion, this... I don't know what it is. I mean, sometimes I just want to put you through the nearest window, but sometimes I know you're making sense. I'm angry, don't make that mistake, but..." he blew out a breath. "Give us half a yahren, Apollo. Maybe we'll get better."
"I honestly don't know if we have half a yahren to give you."
"Find it, or let us go," Boomer said simply.
"May I make a suggestion?" the old man said.
"Any time, Trent," Boomer said.
Apollo nodded. He'd have taken a suggestion from Muffy.
"This place," Trent circled his hand in the air. "It's set up for three teams. I know why we're in this set of rooms; it's the furthest away. But we could have been in any of them. You have no special teams. Unless you moved them all out, and not only do I think you didn't have time, these rooms don't look used."
"No," Apollo said. "We were going to an Armistice signing."
"Oh, right. Well, now you have a special team. Surely they were outside the regular chain of command? Had some leeway?"
"Not entirely," Apollo said. "But... it's an idea. Boomer, can you, can you find Starbuck? Can you just" he raised his hands in front of him and made a calm-down gesture "keep everyone here? Not let anyone go pushing, not today? Father's trying to think of a way to accommodate you."
"I'll keep everyone here, Apollo. For tonight. Unless we can't convince Starbuck to stay put, and I think we can. We don't want to be on our own again if we don't have to. No matter what we're acting like at the moment. But you have to convince Tigh and Adama to meet us halfway."
"I'm seeing my father tonight," Apollo said. "I'll talk to him."
"Disarm? Who the frack does he think he is?" Starbuck snarled as soon as the door shut.
"The Strike Captain," Giles said. "He's just doing his job."
"I don't want to hear you defend him." Starbuck was pacing the width of the room and he glared at Giles, who had settled on the foot of the bed.
"Don't worry," Giles said with a little laugh, "I can stop easy enough."
"Good." He reached the wall, turned and paced back, snarling. "Disarm. Then what?"
"I don't think they know. And I think we scare them. Maybe even make them feel guilty."
"Funny way they have of showing it."
Giles shrugged. As Starbuck passed in front of him he reached out and grabbed his sleeve. "Come here," he said. Starbuck shrugged away from his hold and Giles stood up and took a firmer one. "Come here," he repeated.
Starbuck held still while Giles pulled his jacket off, but then he pulled away again and resumed his pacing. Giles let him make a half pass and then stopped him again. "Sit down," he said. "You're as tense as tyllium steel and you're going to explode in about five centons."
Starbuck almost shook him off again but he knew his lover was right. He was wound way too tightly and now was definitely not the time for him to lose his temper. So he sat. Giles knelt behind him and began massaging his shoulders. Starbuck felt his muscles, almost unwillingly, begin to relax.
"Lie down," Giles said after a while, and this time Starbuck just did as he was told. Giles's hands were hard and skilled on his neck and shoulders, and he was throwing his whole weight into the massage. Starbuck grunted softly and closed his eyes.
"Why did Seth ask you to?" Giles asked after several centons. "Don't move."
"How do you know he did?"
"I know you. But I can't figure why he didn't just do himself. I would rather than ask you."
Starbuck laughed without humor. "Seth was afraid it was a sin."
"Hmmmm." Giles leaned a little harder into his work. "You had to."
"I don't know."
Giles moved down to Starbuck's ribs. "Yes, you do. It hurts."
"Of course it does. It was different. Nothing was gained, no payment was extracted. He's just gone, and you did it. But it was the only thing to do. So let it hurt, but don't beat yourself up over it."
His hands felt good even through the fabric. The pressure of his knees against Starbuck's hips, his legs along Starbuck's. Starbuck began to relax for the first time in centares.
"He asked you," the soft voice that had never lied to him continued, "because he knew you would and he needed you to. It's all right. Hurt, but remember it's all right."
Starbuck began to reach for his blaster belt.
"Don't move, you'll just tense up again. Let me." Giles tugged on the belt until he could unbuckle it and then pulled it away and dropped it somewhere. Then he moved and began unbuckling Starbuck's boots. He tugged them off and began kneading his right calf. "Just relax. Everything's all right now. Let tomorrow's problems wait till tomorrow."
"And today's?" Starbuck couldn't help asking.
Giles leaned forward and stroked Starbuck's hair. "Let them wait, too," he said softly into the ear he uncovered. "Let everything wait. There's all the time in the universe." He resumed his massage.
Starbuck sighed. "Seth wanted us to stay here. He thinks we're redeemable."
"He might be right. We've got time to decide. Let it wait."
Starbuck sighed again. He was so tired. He hadn't slept more than a few centares in more nights than he could remember, and yesterday had been so stressful and today even worse, what little there had been of it so far...
"It will all keep. Sleep for a while."
"Ummmm," he agreed, moving his shoulders under the hands that had returned and were now stroking rather than kneading. Sleep sounded so good... "Giles?" Starbuck remembered. "What did you want to say?"
"Never mind. Later. This is virtually the macropedia definition of 'the wrong time'."
Starbuck was just as glad, but, "Are you sure?"
Giles rubbed Starbuck's shoulder. "Later. It, too, will keep. Sleep now."
"If needed. Don't worry."
Starbuck sighed and closed his eyes. "Stay here?"
"Don't worry," Giles repeated, kissing his shoulder blade.
Bojay looked up when Apollo entered the office. "Nothing at the morning meeting you don't already know about," he said.
"Thank goodness for small favors," he said, sitting heavily behind his desk.
"I chatted with Phoenix," Bojay said.
"Oh?" Apollo realized he should have done that already. "Thanks. What do you tell him?"
"That he'd better sit, hard, on Kelvin. And conspicuously. And I reminded him that women weren't in combat because all they could do was sex." He smiled, one of his less friendly smiles. "I offered to ask Athena to give Green a briefing on the topic if he thought they needed it; he didn't seem interested."
Apollo laughed. "I'll bet." He sobered. "What did he decide?"
Bojay gestured at the desk. "Letter of reprimand in his folder for a year, docked a secton's pay, extra OOD for two sectares, and confined to the Galactica for the same time. He wrote up the recommendation."
Apollo whistled. "You put the fear of the gods into him."
"I've no use for it. And Kelvin's an idiot. Besides," he added, "time's coming when we're going to have to break down and let women into Vipers on this battlestar, too."
Apollo nodded slowly and started looking through the files on his desk. This battlestar. Sometimes he forgot Bojay wasn't a Cimtar vet. He'd flown wing to a woman. A woman who'd been good enough to get target lock on Apollo.
Bojay... Apollo thought about him for a moment, remembering his early days, and how he, Apollo, had felt that he, Bojay, had been like a lupus, or a pardos, or some other wild creature loose on the Galactica. Just like the Ghosts. True, he hadn't ever gotten into a really serious fight, but still... Athena had tamed him, Athena and Adama, who had been quick to accept him... And now he was Apollo's second, his best friend, insofar as he could be said to have one these days. That was a good sign, wasn't it?
Of course, Bojay hadn't had reinforcements, and he'd never been anything less than militarily correct...
"What?" Bojay said, and Apollo realized he'd been staring at him. "Is there something wrong with my uniform?"
"Athena told you she's pregnant and you're deciding whether you want to kill me?"
"No," and then it registered. "She is?"
"She said she was going to tell your father and you tonight, but I thought she might have changed her mind if she saw you on the bridge," Bojay said. His tone was just a bit defensive, and Apollo realized he'd never really gotten over the way the they'd married. Which was ridiculous. Athena was happy, and that was what mattered. Envying her her luck was stupid.
"That's wonderful," he said, jumping to his feet and holding out his hand. Bojay took it, and Apollo pulled him into a hug. "That's really wonderful. Congratulations."
"Thank you," Bojay said. Then, when he was sitting again, he asked, "So why were you looking at me like that?"
"Like what?" Apollo temporized.
"I don't know, exactly. Like I was a puzzle you were trying to figure out. Without, I might add, much success."
"Sorry... I wasn't really even thinking about you."
"I'll bet. I'll leave you alone to worry that." He stood up. "Want some kava?"
"Yes, thanks." Apollo went back to his semiannual fitness reports, trying his best not to think about anything else.
Boxey heaved a sigh and looked up. Jaxon was not his best friend. He wasn't even really his friend, except Miss Lyllat said all children were friends. "What do you want?"
"Is it true that Starbuck has braids in his hair, like a girl?"
Boxey had heard the name: early this morning his aunt had said to his uncle that something his dad was doing was "because of Starbuck, because he wants—", but then his uncle had seen him and they'd stopped talking about it. He didn't know who Starbuck was or what his dad wanted or was doing, though he bet it had something to do with his spending the night with his aunt and uncle twice in a row. And he knew his aunt was irritated by it. "I don't know," he said. "I've never seen him."
"Your dad has."
"My dad says—"
Boxey cringed inside. Jaxon's dad was always saying stuff and most of it was pretty hateful. Back when his aunt and uncle had gotten married, Jaxon's dad had kept saying Bojay ought to be broken for mutiny. That had really bothered Boxey till he finally asked his own dad what mutiny was and what parts they broke if you did it. That had been a hard time anyway, 'cause Boxey's mom had thought his aunt was being so romantic, but his dad had thought... Well, he wasn't really sure what his dad had thought but he'd agreed in that way he had which meant he didn't really agree. At least him and Uncle Bojay were friends now. But Boxey didn't want to hear what Jaxon's dad said.
"—your dad is subberting justice."
"What does that mean?" Amneris said scornfully. She was Boxey's best friend even though she was a girl. Sort of; some of the instructors called her a tomboy.
"That Starbuck terminated somebody."
"He did not," she said with all the authority of her own father, a Security watch commander. "He apprehended a fleeing criminal. And you mean subvert, anyway, you mongo."
Jaxon glared at her but didn't answer. Amneris had a quick wit, a sharp tongue, and two pretty good fists. He turned back to Boxey. "My dad says, all those freaks are dangerous. He says, the only reason they haven't all been locked up is that Starbuck used to be your dad's lover."
"What do you mean?" Boxey demanded.
"Your dad used live with that Starbuck, that's what I mean," said Jaxon.
"That's stupid," Boxey said scornfully. "He married my mom, didn't he?"
"So? My dad says he's dating Lieutenant Omega from the bridge now."
Boxey knew his dad was dating someone, because he showed all the signs other kids' parents showed. He didn't know who, yet, so he couldn't answer that. But, "Then why would he care about Starbuck?"
Jaxon paused. "He's just throwing his weight around, 'cause he's the commander's son."
"Don't you mean," Amneris said sweetly, "your dad says he's just throwing his weight around?"
"Yeah," said Boxey. "And anyway, my dad doesn't. He doesn't do anything anybody else can't."
"Does, too. What about that stupid drone dagget of yours, huh? Drones aren't legal but your dad got one."
"Muffy's not illegal!"
"Is not," Boxey insisted. "And he's smarter than you are, anyway!"
He never learned, Boxey thought, lying on the floor and looking up. He'd expected Jaxon to say 'is too' again, but instead, he'd hit Boxey. Amneris jumped in and punched Jaxon in the stomach just as he drew back his foot. He fell down and got up with his fists clenched. But Boxey knew better than to get back up and fight with him (he'd only lose), and Jaxon had learned two things about fighting Amneris: one, she fought dirty, and two, hitting a girl got him in much worse trouble than pounding Boxey did. Jaxon glared at him and said, "That what your dad taught you? Let a girl do your fighting?"
"Girls can fight," Amneris said.
"No, they can't."
"What's going on here?" Miss Lyllat demanded. "Boxey, get up off the floor."
"Girls can too fight, can't they?" Amneris appealed to adult authority.
"All too obviously," the instructor said. "You two, sit down. Jaxon, come over to your own group. I don't want any more trouble today! Not with everyone's parents coming in just over a centare! So sit down and be quiet."
"Girls can fight," Amneris insisted softly.
"You can, anyway," Boxey agreed. "Thanks."
"But? You don't think girls can fight?"
"My dad says," Boxey started and then giggled.
After a micron, Amneris giggled too.
"Is Starbuck one of those new pilots?" Boxey finally asked.
"Don't you know?"
"My dad sent me to my aunt's, and they don't talk much around me. Not about stuff he doesn't want me to know. Did he used to live with Starbuck?"
"Well, I think so. Back a long time ago, before the end of the world. It doesn't matter now, I guess."
Boxey thought about that. He didn't like it when his dad kept secrets from him. Sure, he hadn't sent him to the Orphan Ship when his mom died, like Jaxon had said he would, but he wasn't his real dad. He didn't have to love him 'cause they were blood kin (how many times had his mom grabbed him and shaken him and said 'If you weren't my blood kin I'd skelp you right into tomorrow, brat!' and it hadn't mattered, 'cause he was so she couldn't). Boxey considered it just being on the safe side to find out all he could. One thing his mom had taught him was that if he wanted to know something, he should go and find it out, just like she did. And he knew for certain it was easier to get adults to forgive you, especially if you gave them big eyes, than to get them to say you could do something...
"Do you know where they are?" he asked in a whisper.
"Who? The new pilots?"
"I'm gonna go see him."
"Boxey! You can't. What about the presentation?"
"It's not for a long time. And I'm just a stupid tree. I don't even have any lines."
"Well... I don't know if I should tell you."
"You have to," he said. "I have to see him. I think my dad wants to date him again, I think that's what my aunt and uncle were arguing about this morning... You have to."
She nibbled her lower lip and tugged on a strand of nearly-white hair.
"You could come," he invited. She hesitated. He said, cunningly, "My uncle said they have a girl fighter pilot."
"Really?" Amneris's green eyes sparkled. "Okay."
"Miss Lyllat?" he called. "Part of my costume's not here."
"Oh, Boxey, how could you do that?"
He got a little sorry-for-himself. "My dad sent me to my aunt's yesterday and I didn't know and my costume was at home and my uncle went and got it this morning but he didn't ever see it before and he left part of it and I just now found out."
"Well, I suppose we'll have to call your father..."
"He's not home, he's working. I could go get it." He batted his eyelashes at her.
"I don't know."
"I'll go with him," Amneris said. "I'll make sure he comes right back."
"Miss Lyllat! Dillon tore my costume!"
"Oh," Miss Lyllat raised her eyes to the ceiling and called, "I'll be right there. Boxey," she said to him, "Can I trust you to come right back?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said. Miss Lyllat was so easy.
They managed not to giggle until they were outside and running down the corridor.
At the entrance to the Special Teams section stood two black-uniformed men. The children peered around the corner and then Boxey leaned up against the wall. "Oh, footy," he said. "They won't let us in."
"I know them," she said. "I'll talk to them and you can sneak past when they aren't looking."
"Just tell me what she looks like."
"Okay, I promise."
"Is my dad here?" he heard Amneris ask as he snuck past and into the next corridor. He was halfway down it when a door opened and someone said, roughly,
"Hey! What are you doing here?"
"Relax, Ilya," another man said, "he's just a kid. What are you doing here?" this one asked, dropping to sit on his heels.
Boxey looked at him. His hair, pretty short in a rough way like Moley's when his brother had cut it for him, was mostly black, except for a crooked white stripe on the right side. His skin was pulled up that way, too, stretching his eye a little, and much paler and funny looking, like a scar but really bad. The other one, an angry-looking blond whose hair was much longer, stood behind him, his hand resting on the butt of his blaster, which he was wearing even though the light blue clothes he had on weren't a uniform. Suddenly Boxey wasn't sure he should have come, but he plowed ahead anyway. "Are you Starbuck?" he asked.
The black-haired man laughed. "Not hardly. My name's Kestrel. What do you want Starbuck for?"
Boxey remembered his manners. "My name's Boxey. I want to see Starbuck."
"This isn't a zoo, kid," the blond said.
"Ilya, come on. He's just little. Why do you want to see him?" Kestrel turned back to Boxey.
"My dad knows him. My dad's Apollo," he added in case they didn't know. "He's the Strike Captain."
"You're his son? You've got his nerve, that's for sure."
"Ilya!" Kestrel smacked backwards at the other man's legs and nearly lost his balance. Boxey realized his right arm didn't work right as Ilya reached out and steadied him without comment.
He hadn't seen anybody disabled in so long he'd forgotten they existed. "What happened to your arm?" he asked.
"I got hurt," Kestrel said.
"Couldn't the doctors fix it?"
"We didn't have any doctors."
"Where were you?"
"In Hell," Ilya answered.
Boxey stared at him. "You were in Hell?"
"We were at Cimtar," Kestrel said. "It's much the same thing."
"Cimtar first, Hell second..." said Ilya. "Why do you want to see Starbuck?"
"I told you, my dad knows him. They used to live together."
Both men got very still, the way Uncle Bojay sometimes did. Boxey had learned not to say anything right off when he did that, so he waited.
"I don't know," Kestrel said after a centon, more like he was answering something Ilya had said than Boxey, except Ilya hadn't said anything.
"Well, I think so. I'll tell him you're here, kid." Ilya turned and walked off down the corridor.
Boxey watched him, then returned to his new question. "Does it hurt? Your arm?"
"A little," Kestrel said. "Not much. Your dad used to live with Starbuck?"
"Yes. Was Hell awful?"
"It wasn't really Hell," Kestrel said. "We called it that because, yes, it was awful."
"Where was it?" Boxey had gotten a good look at Kestrel's hand now, and it was pretty awful, the fingers too skinny and curled up... He looked up into the man's grey eyes and got a little nervous at the expression there.
"It was..." Kestrel hesitated. "It was someplace really far away, Boxey."
"My dad was at Cimtar," Boxey said. "But the Cylons won."
Something in Kestrel's tone told Boxey to stay away from that topic with him, just like Uncle Bojay wouldn't talk about Molecay. Footsteps gave him the excuse to look away. Ilya was back, with two men. One was medium height, with dark skin a little lighter than Colonel Tigh's and no hair at all. The other one had to be Starbuck: he was taller, with long dark blond hair and braids, just like Jaxon had said. Boxey stared at him. He was pretty good-looking, all right, but even with braids he didn't much look like a girl.
"You're Apollo's son?" he asked, coming down on one knee next to Kestrel.
"Yes. Are you Starbuck?"
The man smiled. "I am."
"Did you used to live with my dad?"
Kestrel drew in a sharp breath and glared at him, so Boxey knew he'd guessed right. They wouldn't have gotten Starbuck for 'somebody said he used to live with my dad.' They'd have just said, 'No, he didn't,' and sent him away.
"That was a very long time ago," Starbuck said finally.
"Are you going to now?"
The dark man raised an eyebrow like he'd been wondering the same thing. As Starbuck took his time thinking about the question, he said, "Does your father know you're here?"
"No. Who are you?"
"My name is Boomer. I used to know your father, too."
Kestrel stood up. "I didn't. Maybe we should—"
"Stick around," Boomer said. "It was a long time ago."
"Yes," said Starbuck. "It was. Why do you ask me that... what's your name?"
"Boxey. My aunt and uncle were having a talk this morning and that's what it was about."
"Oh. Well, I don't think so. It's been too long. I was very different back then."
Boxey cocked his head and decided to ask. "Is it 'cause you went to Hell and Dad didn't?"
Starbuck paused, then said, "Yes."
"Were you really in Hell?"
Behind him, Boomer shifted but didn't say anything.
"I thought you had to be dead to go to Hell."
"We are dead," Starbuck said. "That's why your dad and I don't have anything in common."
"You're dead?" Boxey stared at him.
"We're all dead, Boxey," Starbuck said. He didn't show any signs of pulling Boxey's leg or in any way not meaning exactly what he was saying. "We died a long time ago. That's why we're called Ghosts."
"You're ghosts? Oh, wow... Really?"
Starbuck grinned and behind him Boomer shook his head, laughing.
Boxey looked at him carefully but he was laughing at Starbuck. Boxey said, "So you don't want to date my dad?"
"Did he tell you he wants to?"
"No," Boxey said disgustedly. "He never tells me anything like that."
"Well, I don't think he and I would get along any more," Starbuck said.
"Oh. Why do you have braids in your hair?"
"To keep my hair out of my eyes. Are there a lot of kids in the Fleet?"
"I guess so. There are a lot in my instructional center, and there's a whole ship of orphans."
"Orphans?" Starbuck asked, and the other three looked at each other. "They have a whole ship filled with children?"
"And one of old people," said Boomer, "and criminals... What else? And maybe you don't care about the prisoners, but just one lucky Cylon hit and you lose all the kids."
"The Cylons couldn't do that," Boxey said. "My dad wouldn't let them."
"Your dad can keep the Cylons from hitting any of the ships in this Fleet?"
"Well," Boxey hated to admit it, but even the Galactica had been attacked several times. He could remember the fire that had trapped him with Athena and Jolly and lots of others, could remember it vividly...
"Never think the Cylons won't kill you deader than dead if they get the chance," Ilya said.
"That's true," Starbuck said. "There's dead, like us, and there's dead and gone, like the Colonies. And the Cylons will never give up."
"We won't either," said Boomer. "But there are a lot more of them."
Boxey looked at them. Kestrel was rubbing his elbow, and all four of them looked... scary. Their eyes were cold and far away and they weren't looking at him at all. Dead and gone like the Colonies. Boxey hadn't thought about that awful day in a long time, but now it came back to him, the Cylon ships everywhere, bombs and blasters and buildings burning and Muffy running off and not knowing where his parents were... Suddenly he wanted his dad. He turned and ran.
"Boxey!" He heard Starbuck call but he just ran harder, past the two startled guards, who chased him a few steps before remembering what they were supposed to be doing. He forgot Amneris and the presentation and everything and just ran to his grandfather's as hard as he could.
Apollo spotted Athena walking down the corridor ahead of him when he got off the turbolift and hurried to join her. She smiled at him when he caught up. Knowing what he did, he thought she did in fact look radiant. He almost said 'congratulations' but decided not to let her know that Bojay had jumped the start and settled for, "You look good for someone who's been stuck with Boxey two nights in a row."
She was much less annoyed with him than she had been that morning. "Oh, he's not that bad, really. Bojay's not you, but he is your wing second, which gives him some clout with the kid."
"Glad to hear it." He shook his head.
"You had a rough day, I understand," she said.
"You could say that."
"Starbuck and the rest are not adjusting as fast as you and Tigh hoped, are they?"
She ignored the signal of the shortness of his answer. "I don't see how this can work out."
"It'll work out," he said firmly.
"I don't care what Bojay says," Apollo cut her off.
Her pale eyes flashed anger. "It's not Boj's fault," she snapped.
"I never said it was," he responded before he could think to ask what wasn't.
Now there was a flash of triumph in her eyes, but all she said was, "Fine. But you could try acting like it. Just because he got through it and they haven't and might not."
He shook his head. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"I loved Starbuck, too, remember?" Athena shifted ground on him. "I wish he wasn't like this now, too. But he is, Apollo. You'd better start facing facts. That's not the same man you, we, used to know. Nor is Boomer. Nor any of them."
"You think I don't know that?" he cried. "You think I haven't noticed?"
"I think," she said almost gently, "that you're ignoring what you see, what you know. I think you need to pay attention to it. And," she added, "I think you're throwing away happiness to chase a delusion."
"Starbuck's not a delusion," he snapped. "Even if he's changed, he's still Starbuck. And he's real."
"I don't dispute his reality. Or your pain. But you're not thinking clearly, Apollo."
He cut her off. "That's none of your business, Athena. Like you told me when you decided to marry, it's my life. Not yours."
"And like you told me, love gives me an interest."
He capitulated suddenly. "Athena, try to understand. I've loved Starbuck for yahrens. I felt like dying myself when I lost him. And now he's back again. How can I not do anything I can to get him back?"
He shook his head. "I'm sorry about him. I never wanted to hurt him, God knows."
"He's loved you a long time."
"Athena, don't. I feel guilty enough about what I did to him."
"Guilty? Are you sure that's the right word?"
"I know what you're saying, and there's some truth in it, I admit it. But..." He paused, looking for the right words, trying to explain it to himself as much as her. Finally only one would come. "Starbuck."
She sighed and nodded. "I hope you're right," she said. "Gods know, I want you all to be happy."
"I know you do."
She smiled at him, a little sadly. "Come on, brother mine. I think we're going to be late for dinner if we don't hurry."
Apollo waited until after dinner to raise his subject. He had to concentrate on the small talk that accompanied the meal, but he thought he carried it off well. And fortunately Athena was looking at their father when she announced her pregnancy; Adama's unfeigned joy and surprise gave him plenty of time to seem just as surprised. He didn't have to fake the happiness.
"Nectar all around," said Adama, "to toast the new one. Except for you, of course," he looked at Athena. "I'm sure I have some juice."
She leaned against Bojay and smiled. "I'm sure you do, Father; you keep Boxey sometimes. And we're counting on you to keep ours, too. Not to mention you, Apollo."
"When he's Boxey's age," Adama smiled.
"Same here," Apollo said. "After all, I didn't inflict a baby on you."
"We'll see," said Athena. "At least I can continue to work."
"Oh?" Adama said, sounding surprised.
"I'm not a Viper pilot," she said. "Nothing in my job is hazardous, no extra gees or anything. Dr. Paye says I can work up to the birth."
"Well, not right away, Father. But I'm not staying at home with nothing to do, and depriving the Galactica of a bridge officer. It's not like you can just get a replacement."
"No, I suppose not."
This was probably a good time to change the subject, Apollo thought, until Adama had a chance to get used to the idea, which he would. Especially since it was obvious Bojay had no intention of arguing the point.
"Father," he said, "I had an idea this afternoon. Well, to be honest, one of Starbuck's people suggested it, but I think it has promise."
"Oh? I'll listen to anything that has promise."
"Instead of making them into a squadron, which would mean finding more pilots and Vipers, and also involves problems with their non-combatants, perhaps we could assign them as a Special Team. They've been doing it for the past yahren, really, and it would stop us having to send pilots on ground missions."
Adama thought about it for several centons. Bojay got up and brought Athena some more juice, and poured himself another glass of nectar, raising the carafe in silent offering to the others, who, as he'd probably expected, shook their heads. He settled back down on the couch. Finally Adama said, "You're not taking into consideration that Special Teams are directly subordinate to the ship's colonel. I don't think that would work."
"No," Apollo was forced to admit.
"I have a great deal of sympathy for them," his father said. "They've been through a lot, and it's hurt them. But we can't yield to them, even in the apparently little things. Those are the things that cement authority."
Bojay nodded, making one of his rare contributions to what he always viewed as Adama-Apollo talks. "Everyone has been through a lot, though it's all been different. Many of the people here will resent favoritism, or what they see as favoritism. If Starbuck's people can get away with the little violations, everyone will want to. And there'll be no stopping it."
"Precisely," Adama approved. "But there's another solution. First, we accept that Starbuck inherited a certain level of command authority, and that his promotions of his sergeants is valid. If they're all officers, they can all resign their commissions."
"And then what?" Apollo asked, because surely Adama wasn't advocating writing them off.
"There is a long tradition of the military contracting with specialists," his father said. "We do that; we take the Ghosts on as contractors, house them where they are, and let them do what they are obviously very good at. With luck and patience and a lot of effort, they'll reintegrate. But that process will be long and gradual, if it happens at all: they can't be tossed back in and change overnight. As contractors, they'll be subject to common law but not military regulations, though I think we'll want to write that contract carefully. Starbuck can hire whom he wants, Trent or Eliseadh or Kestrel... and their equipment will be theirs."
"Father, that's a wonderful idea."
"I hope so. We need them, their skills and experiences. We don't need some of their attitudes, particularly the 'we're all dead already'—"
"Or the 'nobody is real but us'," Apollo nodded.
"No. But with time I believe they'll come back to us, if we reach out and show them we want them. I've spoken to the chaplains aboard the Galactica and they've agreed to speak out on this wrong-headed idea that anyone who was left behind, whether one of the Ghosts or not, was unworthy," his voice packed that word with scorn, "of being saved."
"Pernicious nonsense," Athena muttered, but before anybody could ask her to expound on that, the door opened and Boxey ran in, heading straight for Apollo and leaping onto him, holding tight and crying.
"Boxey? Boxey, what happened?" Apollo rubbed his back and then pulled him away enough to see his face. "What's wrong, son? Did someone hit you?" he asked, seeing the bruising starting to come up on Boxey's face.
"You won't let Cylons get us, will you?" Boxey sobbed.
"Cylons? Of course not," Apollo said. "What brought that up?"
"Cylons got the Colonies," the boy said, wrapping his arms around Apollo's neck. "Cylons killed everybody. They even killed the Ghosts and sent them to Hell."
"Who's been talking to you about that?"
"Starbuck said so."
"Starbuck?" Apollo couldn't believe Starbuck would deliberately terrorize a child. Or hit one. They were confined to their section, anyway... "How did you hear what Starbuck said?"
"I went there. I wanted to see him..."
Apollo carefully pulled Boxey's arms loose and stood up and handed his son to his father.
"Apollo, where are you going?"
"To talk to Starbuck. Really talk. I've been putting it off and I can't any longer. It's time to have some things out with him."
But he didn't wait to hear the rest.
Apollo strode up to the Special Teams area and angrily waved off the guards. He opened the door. "Starbuck!"
A couple of microns only, and Starbuck was in the corridor. "I thought you'd come."
"We have to talk. Now."
Starbuck nodded. "We can use one of these rooms," he said, "they're all empty."
Apollo waited until Starbuck had chosen one and then followed him in.
Starbuck negligently leaned against the desk, crossing his legs at the ankle and his arms across his chest. "How's the boy?" he asked, his voice light and casual. It would have fooled anybody who hadn't lived with him for four yahrens.
"How is he? Scared out of his mind."
"I was afraid of that, the way he took off."
"Did you hit him?"
"Hit him? Of course not," Starbuck lost his casual attitude in a hurry, taking a couple of steps in Apollo's direction before bringing himself up short. "He had that bruise coming up when he got here. How could you think I'd hit a little kid?"
"Somebody hit him, and all he'd say was he'd been here. And that you scared him talking about Cylons and being dead—Sagan, Starbuck, he's only seven! He doesn't understand metaphors."
"That didn't scare him, us being dead. He thought that was cool. Cylons, that scared him, and it's not like he didn't already know about them."
"Frack it, Starbuck," Apollo said, "I've done my damnedest to keep him from thinking about that. Kids shouldn't be scared all the time."
"Well, he wasn't scared when he waltzed in and asked me if I used to live with you. Said you never talked to him about important things."
"I don't need advice from you on raising my son."
"I'm not giving you any, I'm just saying what he said. Damn it, Apollo, I didn't go looking for him, he hunted me up. Wanted to know if we were getting back together."
"And what did you tell him?"
And suddenly the room was very still. Starbuck was within arm's reach, those blazing blue eyes staring into his.
"That I didn't think we'd get along. What do you think?"
"That I can't stand it any more, seeing you—" The anger wasn't gone, but it wasn't the only thing he was feeling. That one hug, so long ago, such a short time ago; Starbuck's nearness, his beauty, his strength, his anger, all their time together... He reached out and put his hand into that long hair. "I think I love you." He took a step forward and kissed him.
It was like an explosion as past and present collided in his mouth. He pulled Starbuck closer, feeling the hard length of his body against his own, wanting everything and now.
"Love me?" Starbuck said. "You don't trust me..." He broke off his words for another kiss, his hands dragging at Apollo's jacket. "You don't know me, how can you think you love me?" The words would have worried Apollo if they hadn't accompanied Starbuck's overbearing him onto the bare mattress of the bed. Starbuck paused long enough to shuck his own jacket and blaster and then kissed Apollo savagely, grinding his hips against Apollo's. "But if you want to be fracked," he almost snarled against his throat, "I can do that."
Apollo growled back, his hands scrabbling at Starbuck's shirt until he got enough of a hold of it to pull it over the other man's head.
And then the door opened and someone said, "Starbuck, that girl—Never mind. Sorry. Never mind."
Starbuck pulled away, fighting Apollo's hold. "Gi—" But the door was already shut. "Damnation!"
"Starbuck—" Apollo was sorry for Giles, but he'd lost. He might as well know it. "Come back."
"Come back? I don't know what the frack I'm even doing here in the first place," Starbuck snapped at him, evading his grasp and standing up.
"Starbuck—" Not holding him was a physical ache.
"I'm fracking a memory. I'd be better off jacking off in the turbowash." He grabbed his shirt and pulled it on.
"Starbuck, there's more here than memory," Apollo protested.
"Sure. You're sexy as hell. Even if I'd never seen you before I'd want you. But it's the memory making me think it could ever work. It's the past. It's dead. You're the one keeps saying I'm not dead, aren't you? You want to know why?" he demanded. "Giles. He's reality. Hells, Apollo, I can't even get to sleep without him. I'm not losing him for a memory, no matter how sweet." He grabbed his blaster and jacket and was gone.
Fracking a memory. Was that what it was?
Was that really all it was?
He sat up slowly, regaining control of his body and mind. Lust. Desire. And his memories making him think it was more than that. Was that all?
The door opened again, and this time Boomer stood there. At least, Apollo thought, all he'd lost was his jacket. And my sanity... but I think it's back. "You two burn it out?" he asked without preliminaries, without any of Boomer's customary shying away from getting into someone else's personal life. Apollo shook his head. Who the hell knew what was customary with Boomer now? "Yes," he said, finding his jacket on the floor and putting it on. "I think we did."
"Good. It's a complication we don't need. Giles is good for him."
"So was I, once."
Apollo sighed and stood up. "I'm going home."
"Good. You can take this girl with you."
Boomer shrugged. "She showed up right after your kid left. As soon as she decided we didn't chase him off, she wanted to talk to Eliseadh."
"Amneris," Apollo said with weary amusement. "She's Boxey's friend and a real tomboy. Wants to be a Viper pilot when she grows up."
"Yeah? She's fierce enough."
"She's a handful."
"Yeah?" Boomer said again. "If you don't take her home, Lynx and Hastur may adopt her."
A little idea stirred in Apollo's mind but he was too tired, too upset, too angry at himself and the Universe in general to pursue it just then. "I'll take her home," he said, then looked at his chrono. "Back to the instruction center, I mean," he corrected himself.
"Good. Kidnapping we don't need to be charged with."
"Amneris? Nobody would believe it." He followed Boomer to their briefing room where Amneris was chatting away with seven Ghosts. He didn't know who else was missing besides Giles and Starbuck, Trent and Eliseadh and Hastur and the crippled corporal were the only ones he could recognize yet and they were all there. He guessed, not caring much, that the black-haired one whose legs Hastur, on the floor, was sitting between was Lynx, but all he said was, "Amneris."
"Oh. Hi, Captain Apollo." She didn't even have the grace to look abashed. "Sorry," she said to the Ghosts, "I have to go now. May I come back, please?"
"Any time," Trent assured her.
She let them hug her, which wasn't much like her. Apollo noted they handled her like she was beyond precious.
"What were you doing there?" he demanded as soon as they were in the turbolift alone.
"Boxey wanted to come, so I came with him," she said.
"Why didn't you leave with him?"
"Because," she said, pointing out the obvious, "I hadn't gotten to talk to them yet."
"You shouldn't have, and your father is going to clobber you."
She shrugged. "He'll just yell and ground me. It was worth it. They're strange but they're nice."
"I'll bet your father won't agree," Apollo said, but he didn't pursue it. Let Amon deal with this changeling of his.
"Amneris!" The instructor bore her away in a flurry of scolding.
Apollo stood there looking at the seething mass of children and thinking. He didn't wish that Starbuck wasn't there, but... how fair was it to bring him back and make him so different? So unattainable? And how badly had he screwed up his own life? He was getting ready to go home, being only mildly interested in this presentation when Boxey was in it, when he heard his name. He turned and saw Bojay approaching. "What are you doing here?"
"I lost," Bojay said. "No, seriously, your father said he something to do. And Athena's at your quarters in case you decided to go there. We'd better get out front so we don't miss Boxey's big moment: I understand he's only onstage for five centons."
"And he has no lines," Apollo said. "I don't think we'll recognize him... He's here?"
"Sure," Bojay said. "He perked up right after you left... not that I mean that the way it came out. Your father calmed him down. Then he was afraid his instructor would get mad at him, so I brought him down here. She seemed to assume he'd run into me at your place so where he'd been just didn't come up."
"Just as well." Apollo sat down and wondered how long this thing was going to last. He'd made up his mind what to do.
Starbuck headed by blind instinct, not for their quarters, but for the shuttle bay. The old tanker; that's where Giles would go. He had no doubts, he knew the other man too well. Memories... damn. He could remember Apollo, so many things: the taste of him, the desire that drowned his sense when he saw that lean, elegant body; the victorious thrill of making him laugh on duty; furlons under alien suns... He could remember loving him. But memories of emotions weren't the emotions. And Apollo wasn't the only thing he could remember.
He could remember as though it was yesterday Giles's body trembling in his hands while Libris burned in the sky above them. He could remember a hundred nights when Giles brought him back from nightmares, many when he did the same. He could remember that hard, fierce soul in that tough, strong body wrapping him in warmth, making love to him as though it were the only thing in the universe worth doing. Turning in his sleep to be closer...
Sleep. He might want to frack Apollo, hell, he did want to. But he wanted to sleep with Giles. Live with Giles. Be with Giles...
He swore, hoping he hadn't screwed up, and overrode the turbolift controls—he wasn't sure which surprised him more, that he remembered how or that they hadn't changed the codes. And he evaded the posted guards by taking a circuitous route through the tech maintenance bays, a route which he'd used countless times in the five yahrens he'd been on the Galactica. Giles would know it better than he, he was sure. On the bay deck he made his way through a crowd of techs, barely noticing how quickly they got out of his way. He noticed even less when he was at the empty storage end where they'd tucked the tanker out of the way.
He saw Giles at the tanker. He'd guessed right. But he hadn't anticipated that Giles would be leaning up against its battered side, looking out through the shielded bay into the starfield, with his blaster drawn and resting on his bent knee. Cold fear swept through Starbuck. "Giles!" he called.
Giles turned sharply. Starbuck could see the tension in that compact body that he loved so much, the knuckles white on the blaster grip and the unnatural stillness that meant he was ready to run. "What are you doing here?"
Starbuck didn't waste time trying to explain what had happened. It wasn't edifying, and it was over. Instead he demanded, "What in Hades are you doing?"
"Getting out of your way." It was a simple statement.
Starbuck was startled. He hadn't expected that, though on reflection he wasn't sure why not. "What? Gi, you're not in my way." When Giles looked doubtful he elaborated. "I'm not going anywhere but you."
"Apollo," Giles started.
"The two of you." Now Giles was elaborating the obvious.
"But still breathing?"
"No. That was..." he shook his head. "That was us burning it."
Giles shook his head slightly, biting his lower lip, but didn't speak.
"It's gone. Beyond recall," Starbuck insisted, and knew it was true.
"Not the way he's been acting. Not—"
"Giles, no," he shook his head, "Sure, we remember. But now... no. I scare him. And he sure doesn't want me around his kid."
Giles thought about that for a few centons. "It'll change," he offered.
Starbuck could hardly bear it. "Maybe. I don't care if it does. I don't want it to."
He would not let Giles put it into words, couldn't stand what he'd almost done. "Do you remember what you said to me, the first time you came to me, back on Bos?"
Giles shook his head. "I was winging it," he admitted.
Starbuck laughed, then sobered. "Among other things, you said you needed me."
"It's true... But it doesn't matter. You and Apollo—"
"Gi—" Starbuck interrupted him. "It's reciprocal." And then, into the silence that followed, "Apollo and I have nothing in common any more. We're strangers. But you and I, we've been through all the hells side by side. We're the same. You've kept me as sane as I am—" Ah, good; that got him a little smile. "I need you to stay sane. I need you to stay alive. I just need you."
Giles's brown eyes, usually as uncomplicated as a dagget's, remained a little doubtful. "Apollo," he began and then paused.
Whatever he was going to say next, Starbuck didn't let him. "You know, if I were a sensitive guy I might start thinking I was being rejected."
"Well, we can't have that," Giles finally smiled. And closed the remaining distance between them, tossing his blaster onto a tool chest as he did. "You don't handle that well."
"No," Starbuck agreed, putting his hands into his lover's thick russet hair and looking down into his eyes. "I don't."
After a few centons Giles sighed softly, leaning into the embrace. "You handle me pretty good, though."
"Only if you stay put."
Giles looked up at him. "Not going anywhere you don't."
"Make sure you don't," Starbuck sighed and held him close, resting his chin on that dark russett hair, feeling life taking hold of him once more.
Apollo stood outside Omega's door indecisively for a couple of centons. He had no business being here, no business assuming—even hoping—that the man would take him back. But... Starbuck was right, as he so often was, even this version of him. Athena, too. And Boomer. And his father...
Everyone, in short. This Starbuck wasn't the same one who'd... died at Cimtar. Might as well use the word. It was the right one in a lot of ways. He and this Starbuck no longer had anything in common. More importantly, this one didn't want him anymore. There was a physical attraction, nothing more. Nothing less, but... Apollo couldn't live his life on only sex. Love was what he needed. To get, yes, and to give; the latter even more than the former.
He knew that he was still in love with the memory of Starbuck, the golden man who'd loved him back. He would probably love that man, at least a little, for the rest of his life. But that man was gone, with Thebes the almost as golden, and wouldn't come back. And it was time and past time for Apollo to stop dreaming of the past and live in the now.
And this time to really live, not run from life to someone like Serina.
Love. He'd seen it in Omega's eyes when he left him for the apparent miracle of Starbuck. Was it still there? He prayed it was, that he hadn't thrown away his best chance for happiness.
And then he signalled at the door.
In the several centons it took for the door to open Apollo lived through a dozen scenarios, all ending with the door shutting and him still in the hall. But when it opened, and Omega, sleepy-eyed and half-dressed, saw who was standing there, he was greeted with a smile and a "Come in."
They stood in the front room in silence for a centon and then Omega, blinking himself awake, offered Apollo something to eat or drink: "I can brew up some tea for you; it's no trouble."
"No, thank you," Apollo said. "I didn't mean to wake you..."
Omega smiled at him again, those dark eyes warming. "That's all right. I don't mind."
Apollo took heart from that. He'd been rehearsing what to say on his way up and out in the hall, but now he just let go and said, simply, "I've come back. If you'll have me, I want to stay."
"What about Starbuck?"
"We don't even know each other anymore," Apollo said. "It's over."
"Over for the moment? Or later, when things are different..." Omega let that trail off.
"Things will never be that different," Apollo said. "It's over. It's been over since Cimtar; I just wouldn't see it. But I know it now. You're real... If you'll have me," he repeated, "I want you."
And maybe Omega had known it, too, and been wise enough to let him find it out for himself, because there wasn't any doubt or anger in his eyes, only relief. And the love Apollo craved. Omega sighed happily and touched Apollo's face. "Have you? I'll always have you, if you really want me."
Apollo leaned into the touch and then reached up to pull Omega down for a kiss. "Want you? How about for the rest of my life?"
"That can be arranged," Omega said softly, his arms tightening around Apollo.
Starbuck and Giles walked back slowly, arms around each other.
A figure was standing near the Special Teams section, a figure in dark clothing in the shadows. They paused a moment and the figure stirred, then stepped forward. Midnight blue and silver uniform, silver noble's medallion, silver hair... Starbuck kept his arm over Giles's shoulder.
Adama waited until they reached him. "Starbuck, Giles," he greeted them. "I think it's time, and past time, that we talked, Starbuck."
epilog: on the road to Earth
Adama looked around the briefing room. "It's confirmed that the Antarids are holding our long-range patrol hostage. Their demand that we turn over a jump-capable freighter is not acceptable. Negotiations are getting nowhere. Starbuck, have you had a chance to look over the schematics of the Antarid base yet?"
Starbuck nodded. "Yes, sir. We've identified the most likely places for the hostages to be, and teams Gamma-one, -two, and -three are ready to go. Because we need all three teams on the ground, we'll have to have cover from the regular squadrons."
He nodded. "Blue and Red are ready to go."
Starbuck nodded. "I'll be taking Gamma-one," he said. "Giles, Marcus, Eliseadh. I think we'll be the lucky ones. Just in case, though, Boomer's taking Two down with us and hitting the second choice, that'll be Monty and Dietra and the new kids, Cefyn and Ewan. And Lynx has Three in the tanker, Hastur, Ilya, Marcus and Kee. Their target's over here—" he tapped the overhead shot. "I don't think it's the right one, but we need to hit all three at the same time. We'd appreciate a helluva lot of distraction, Apollo."
"Count on it, Bucko," Apollo said.
"Then," Starbuck said, standing up, "we might as well get moving. No time like the present."
"Fine," Adama said. "It's in your hands now."
And it was. It all was. Things had worked out much better than he had expected when he'd talked to Starbuck that night nearly nine sectares ago. That they'd been excellent at special combat missions had been no more than he'd known. It was the rest that pleased him so.
Freed of the demands of military discipline, the Ghosts had been able to abide by the rules of civilization. Slowly, over sectons, they'd made a few friends, begun to do things with Galacticans, stopped clinging quite so much to each other. There hadn't even been a fist fight in three sectares, at least not one that merited a report to command.
The Ghosts had even grown: two women shuttle pilots had resigned their commissions to join them a few sectares back, citing opportunity to do something meaningful as their reason. There was more to it than that, but all Adama cared about was that it was tying the Ghosts more closely to the rest of them. That Dietra was a hot hand in a Viper didn't hurt, of course. Someday fairly soon his pilots, not to mention his colonel, would have to look at Eliseadh, Dietra, and Sheba as proof that women could outfly most of the regulars.
And most encouraging of all: the Ghosts, under Apollo's urging, had gotten involved on the Orphan Ship, and just this sectare had finally been cleared as fit parents. They'd brought fifteen kids home with them, settling them into the Special Teams section, and two more old enough to enlist had chosen to join them. They had regained their sense of community.
Adama watched them leave: Apollo in command, going first, stopping for a brief word with Omega, who watched his lover go into danger with supreme confidence, never missing a thing that was happening on his bridge; Bojay, leaving his wife and daughter, but moving surely to do his duty; and Starbuck, going into battle almost joyfully, taking most of his family with him to defend the greater number and, once again, intending to return.
They were going to make it. Adama smiled to himself. Thanks be to the Lords of Kobol, they were all going to make it.