And then Hafez got his orders. They weren't unexpected; quite the contrary, in fact, nearly overdue. Senior Captain on an Aquila-class carrier, the Sperata, in command of ten squadrons: it was a major step up in his career. Starbuck heard the news with mixed emotions, as did, for that matter, most of the Galactica's pilotsHafez was a good commanding officer and they'd mostly miss him, but he was a stickler for discipline and the new guy might be easier. For Starbuck, it was like another link to his past going, and he couldn't decide if that was good or bad.
When Hafez informed Blue, it was Jolly who asked if his replacement had been decided yet. Starbuck wouldn't have surprised to hear it was Boomer, but it wasn't.
"Captain Apollo will be your new Strike Captain, gentlemen. I trust you'll behave yourselves for him at least as well as you have for me. I hope, better, but I admit to a certain lack of sanguinity."
"Apollo?" That was one of the new pilots, Kern. "You mean the commander's son?"
"Yes, Flight Officer," Hafez nodded. "That Apollo. He's been squadron leader on a carrier for four yahrens and is now at Staff College. He has a very good record and an excellent grasp of Viper strategies. He will do well here."
"Of course he will," muttered Kern. "He's the commander's son."
Hafez affected not to have heard thatthere wasn't much he could sayand continued with the morning brief. Afterward, Kern and his wingman Bairam broached the topic again.
"Listen," Jolly said, "me and Apollo were at CMA together. He's a good guy."
"You?" Kern said. "That makes him pretty young to get a captaincy, doesn't it?"
"Nice for some," Bairam said.
"I was with him until I came here," Boomer said mildly. "We were on the Acky-D together."
"Semtek?" Kern asked, his tone changing slightly.
"Semtek," Boomer affirmed. "He's fair. And he's earned this. It's luck of the draw it's his father's battlestar, that's all."
"Maybe," Bairam put in.
"Maybe," Boomer nodded. "All I'm saying is, why don't you wait till you meet him to judge him?"
"Hey, Starbuck," Kern asked. "Did you know him?"
Starbuck paused. That was a loaded question if ever he'd heard one. Apollo had been his best friend, not just at the academy but ever, until he'd come to the Galactica. They had little in common, but that hadn't stopped the spark from jumping between them: opposites attract, after all. And in this case they'd stuck together after attracting. He and the older boy had spent every break together, usually with Boomer though the Leonid had gone home over the long breaks between academic yahrens. Starbuck, not having a home to go to, had been very nearly forcibly dragged to Apollo's the first time. After that, he'd gone eagerly, experiencing for the first time what it was like to have a family, even if it was by proxy. Apollo's younger siblings followed him around and wrote to him, and Apollo's mother, the gracious and lovely Siress Ila, insisted he come to them for his postgraduation furlon even though Apollo was long gone into the Fleet by then. In fact, Ila (she insisted he call her that) had taken him to Naiacap after Semtek... So, yes. He knew Apollo. But he didn't much think it would do Apollo any good to mention most of that, and it wouldn't do him any good, either. He settled for nodding. "Apollo's all right," he said, and then added, "He's fair, and he doesn't trade on being Adama's son. Hates it, in fact. Trading on it, I mean, not being it."
"You like him?"
It wasn't surprising his opinion was more valued that Boomer's, who was a newcomer, not to mention a fast-tracker. Starbuck shrugged. "Yeah," he said. "Like Jolly said, he's a good guy. Hard not to like him."
"Hell of a Triad player, too," said Boomer. "You think Starbuck and I are good? Wait till Starbuck and Apollo get together. They were champions at CMA three yahrens running."
So Blue reserved judgment, and most of the other three squadrons did as well. Hafez had hoped to have some overlap, but Apollo's transport from Caprica was delayed and he didn't arrive until two days after his predecessor left. There was a period of adjustment, aggravated a little by a lingering suspicion that Apollo just wasn't up to the job, that he was Daddy's boy, but their first combat put an end to that notion. Any strain that lingered was because Apollo's personal style was so different from Hafez's, and it disappeared reasonably soon. The enlisted pilots liked him from the start, as he didn't stand on ceremony with pilots: flight sergeants or corporals were the same to him as flight officers. And you could call him "Apollo" to his face...
Starbuck's life had just gotten complicated, though. The two of them had clashed often enough at CMA over Starbuck's "personal lifestyle", and that had only gotten worse. Or, as Starbuck said when Apollo called him on it, "better, Apollo. I'm better at it. I've had more practice."
"Starbuck, I don't want a Triad partner who smokes. It cuts your wind."
"Funny, I've never noticed," Starbuck said, not putting out his fumarillo. "No one's ever complained about my staying powers."
"Starbuck," Apollo said. "And you drink too much."
"I have cut down on that as much as I intend to," Starbuck said. "You're not my mother. You're not even your mother, and she never tried to get me to stop smoking. Or drinking, for that matter," he added reflectively, though had Ila seen the way he'd been drinking... Well, he'd stopped that. No point in dwelling on it. "I can play your pants off in Triad," he added.
"Really?" Apollo asked. "Mind if I ask for a demonstration?"
Starbuck shrugged. "Any time."
"Now?" Apollo asked, his eyes glinting.
Starbuck looked at him, trying to decipher the expression. It wasn't one he was used to seeing on Apollo's face, and that was throwing him a bit. But, on the other hand, how long had it been since he'd actually been in the same room with Apollo, barring the last couple of sectons of course? Comms links during the fourteen sectares their tours had overlapped in the carrier group before Semtek didn't count, you couldn't see expressions over those. "Nobody will be there," he said.
"One on one, it sounded like to me, Starbuck."
That sounded a bit smug. Starbuck saw all. "And if you win," he said, "I'm supposed to quit smoking and drinking?"
"Well," Apollo said fairly, "not quit drinking. Just cut down. Say, one a night?"
"And if I win?"
"I stop nagging you."
"You're on." Starbuck tossed back the rest of his drink. "Lead on."
Apollo shook his head but stood up. Starbuck, puffing on his fumarillo, followed him down to the practice courts. As predicted, they were empty, and the two men were able to change quickly and get onto a back court. Apollo shut the door and put on the In Use sign. "Go ahead and serve," he invited.
Starbuck shrugged. "If you insist," he grinned. "Just make the end come that much quicker."
"Yeah, we'll see, Starbuck."
Starbuck grinned again and slammed the ball into the far wall in a perfectly placed simple little serve. Apollo's return was just as simple, and Starbuck hooked his return into the tight left angle. "One-nil," he said helpfully as Apollo got up off the floor.
"Serve," Apollo growled.
Twenty-five centons later Starbuck tossed the ball lightly in the air and looked at Apollo. "Game point," he reminded the other man and served.
Apollo lunged for the return and missed it by millimetrons. Starbuck was impressed, but didn't show it. Instead he stood over the dark-haired man, where he had rolled over onto his back, and said, "Game. Thirteen-seven. Pretty convincing, isn't it? Or are you going to insist on best two out of three?"
"No," Apollo gasped.
"Good. Want to hit the turbowash and head back to the O Club, then? Always the gracious winner," Starbuck said, "I'll buy you a drink."
"You're not even winded," Apollo complained. "How do you do it? It's not natural."
"I told you," Starbuck said. "Practice. This is hardly the first time I've smoked and then played Triad... gods know," he mused, "how good I could be, assuming all you health nuts are right in the first place, if I wanted to stop doing all the fun things and just play Triad. I could probably play professionally. Star, even. Come on," he extended a hand.
Apollo took it, but instead of standing up, he pulled and Starbuck, not expecting that, landed on top of him. "Hey," he started to say, but found himself unable to go on when Apollo put his other hand on the back of Starbuck's head and kissed him.
It was startling, to say the least. It was also electrifying. But Starbuck found Apollo letting go almost at once. "Sagan," he said, "I'm sorry, Starbuck. I thought you wanted to."
Starbuck didn't move. He was replaying the last centare in his head and finding the key phrase"play your pants off." Apollo had thought...? That's what he'd meant? And how completely like him to go ahead and play the challenge out first...
Apollo put his hands on Starbuck's shoulders. "Look, Starbuck, I'm really sorry. I obviously misread you."
"Or me you," said Starbuck. "I mean," at the oddly familiar look that flared in those green eyes so close to his, "I didn't think you..." He ran out of words and settled for brushing his lips lightly against Apollo's. Electrifying. Yes...
Apollo laughed, reassured, and turned his touch into a hold. "Liked men? Yeah... Wanted you? God, Starbuck, only since I first saw you." He raised his head off the floor and kissed Starbuck again, hard and hungry.
Starbuck surrendered to the moment. Sleeping with your best friend, probably not smart; sleeping with your commanding officer, definitely a no-no; sleeping with Apollo, absolutely necessary. Apollo rolled them over, still kissing him, and then began to kiss his way along Starbuck's body, pulling the loose workout clothes out of his way. He wasn't doing anything Starbuck hadn't experienced before, but this was Apollo doing it, Apollo wanting him... And then Apollo was doing something new, something no woman had ever done, and the feel of Apollo's finger inside him while he was in Apollo's mouth took him to an ecstasy he'd never felt before.
He fully intended to reciprocate, but he'd barely touched Apollo when the dark-haired man shuddered and came, hands clenching bruisingly hard on Starbuck's shoulders. "Sorry," he gasped after a moment, bringing Starbuck's hand up to his mouth. "Sorry. This has been one of my fantasies for so longwell, not in these precise details," he admitted, laughing. "But in general... Gods, Starbuck," he said, biting gently on Starbuck's finger. "I know this is against regs, but I want to do this again. Do it right, I mean, and someplace other than the floor of a practice court. And often. I want you so much."
Starbuck extricated his fingers and moved his hand to make room for his mouth. "You know me, Pol," he said after a couple of centons, "regs aren't that important."
"I do know you," Apollo said, kissing his throat gently. "I know what you're going to say. I don't expect fidelity. This isn't a proposal for a secret marriage or something."
"A secret affair," Starbuck nodded. "I know, you could lose your rank." Apollo's not expecting fidelity was something he could think about later. Not expecting didn't mean not wanting, after all...
Apollo ran his hands through Starbuck's hair. "I've wanted to do that for yahrens," he said. "You will?"
Starbuck nodded, feeling something unfamiliar stirring inside him. It wasn't until they were back in the O Club that he named it. It was hope.
The next five sectares were good. Starbuck was the last man in the worlds to confuse falling into bed with someone with falling into love with him, but this was more than just bed. And it was certainly, three or four times over, the longest affair Starbuck had ever been involved in, his generally being, if prolonged at all, no longer than his furlon.
Not being personally experienced, he wasn't sure how it was supposed to work, but he had a good feeling about it. True, Apollo didn't say pretty things except in bed, but on the other hand, even with their duties (mostly Apollo's duties) in the way and the need to keep it secret until they were out of each other's chain of command, they ended up together a couple or three times a secton.
The hardest thing about it was that, almost as soon as Apollo had arrived, Starbuck had found himself joining him and his father for dinner once a secton. Adama had a keen eye, especially where his son was concerned, and Starbuck wasn't at all sure they were fooling the old man. Especially when he'd direct the conversation to the future, and make remarks about grandchildren...
Still, sometimes Starbuck would lie in his bunk and wonder what things would be like if he could make senior lieutenant and maybe get a command on another ship in the battlegroup so he and Apollo could be open about it. Or even just get transferred. And then he'd remember sitting in the O Club and listening to Apollo and Boomer talk about wives and children, and he just wouldn't know any more.
"Lieutenant Starbuck?" That was a runner from the bridge. Unusual. "The commander would like to see you in his office." Unsettling.
Starbuck nodded at the enlisted man. "On my way," he said, tossing his hand into the center of the table and pocketing his cubits.
"Oh, Bucko," Jolly said with a touch of vicarious anticipation in his voice. "What did you do now?"
Starbuck shrugged. "Haven't a clue," he said, glancing at his jacket to make sure it was the one he'd just had cleaned. "See you."
"You hope," Jolly said, and the table laughed.
Starbuck smiled at them and left. But in the turbolift he felt the smile disappear. He'd halfway been expecting this conversation since the first time he'd said 'yes' to Apollo. That didn't mean he wanted to have it, though.
"Starbuck, please come in. Sit down," he gestured at a chair beside the desk. Odd, that; Starbuck didn't think he'd ever sat in his commanding officer's office before. Well, except Apollo, and that didn't really count; besides, he usually didn't wait to be invited. But in Adama's? No... at his home, yes; in his office, never. This wasn't going to be good. He sat, quietly, and waited.
Adama was quiet for a moment, looking at a silver stylus he'd been holding when Starbuck came in. Finally he leaned back in his chair and looked at Starbuck. "Starbuck, I didn't call you here to talk to you as your commanding officer. I want to talk to you as, well, a friend. As Apollo's father, as well."
Okay, Starbuck thought. Here we go. He kept his face still, but he knew his pulse had picked up. "Yes, sir?"
Adama sighed. "I think Apollo forgets, or doesn't think about, the fact that you and he are not from the same"
"Class?" Starbuck cut to the chase. This was marginally better than the perversion line, though.
"Yes," Adama nodded. "Meaning no value judgment. But mores, standards of behaviorthey are different."
Starbuck resisted the urge to fight back. He could have pointed out who pursued whom in the relationship, could have said several things, none all that flattering to Adama's precious class. But even though Adama said this wasn't commander to lieutenant, it was. They weren't in his quarters, or the O Club... Commander to lieutenant, Sire to nothing, rich man to poor one, ancient noble family to nameless orphan. God is on the side of the big guns. So is the rest of the universe. He held his tongue and waited to see what was coming next. Money? Transfer to some cushy post somewhere far away? Not a threat; that wasn't Adama's style.
"I'm fond of you," Adama said, sounding sincere. "I always have been. So is my wife. And so is Apollo," he added before Starbuck could. "I don't want you to think I don't know that. But..." he looked down at the silver stylus he was still holding and considered his next words.
Starbuck contemplated asking if Adama cared about Apollo's feelings, but didn't have time to decide if he would or not.
"You don't know the rules, Starbuck," Adama said. "And if you play the game without knowing the rules"
Adama sighed. "This game isn't supposed to have losers. But no one wins what you may think you can. I don't want to see you hurt."
"Sir?" Now Starbuck was confused.
"Apollo is the eldest son of an old house. He's been brought up to do his duty. He enjoys it, generally; he does it, always." He paused, looking at the stylus again. "Young men," he said at last, "form... attachments. They always have. They always will. But the passionate friendships of youth give way to the demands of duty. Mine did, and Apollo's will. And few wives will be the only faithful one. And Apollo"
"Won't have that, no." Starbuck said that much, but couldn't think of anything else.
"I don't want you to think he's amusing himself," Adama said. "It's not that. Buthe's never said 'forever' to you, has he?"
Starbuck shook his head.
"I don't expect he realizes you're waiting for it."
Starbuck spoke without really thinking about it, defending himself and, to a lesser extent, Apollo. "I don't expect it. Not from Apollo. I mean," he added, "he wants a wife and children. I've always known that." What he'd begun to hope for, he kept to himself.
Adama looked at him searchingly. Starbuck put on his best 'yes-sometimes-I-lie-but-this-is-the-truth' face and after a few centons the commander relaxed. "Good," he said. "I'm glad to hear it. Because I mean what I say: I would truly hate to see you hurt. Without mentioning how bad Apollo would feel about having done it, however unwittingly."
Starbuck mustered up a bright, cheerful smile. "I'm not a forever kind of guy, sir," he said. "I'm not looking for it. Especially not from Apollo. He has more important things to do."
"Not more important, Starbuck," Adama said. "Just... different."
"Thank you, sir." He stood up. "I should be getting back."
"Of course. Starbuckwhatever happens, you're always welcome in my house."
"Thank you, sir," Starbuck said, sincerely. "That's good to know." And then he left. With a hell of a lot to think about.
He went back to the ready room and rejoined the game, brushing off the inquiries. The others didn't persist, having learned how well Starbuck could stonewall when he wanted, and the rest of the duty shift passed quietly. As soon as it was over, he grabbed the bottle he had in his locker and went to his thinking spot, a little-used storage closet up on deck seven. He wedged himself into the corner facing the door and contemplated his situation. It wasn't good.
Adama had been serious. About all of it, Starbuck thought. It raised some interesting questions about the commander's life, and his relationship with Ila, but this wasn't the time to go into that. Starbuck had his hands full, he could tell, with his own life. With facing facts. Apollo wanted to get married. He'd talked about it back at CMA, and he talked about it here. He wasn't in love with anybody, like Boomer was, but someday he'd pick out a suitable woman and Seal with her. And he wasn't likely to pick one who'd appreciate his running around on her even if Apollo wasn't the kind who'd take his vows seriously. Which he was. He took things seriously.
At least, Starbuck realized, and he swallowed a long drink, he took serious things seriously. His career. His duties. His family. His friendship, yes, that too; he was a good friend. But his affairsthey weren't serious. What had Adama called them? Passionate friendships, that was it. The passion would go away and the friendship would remain.
He drank some more. At least the friendship would remain this time. Unless... he sighed heavily. Unless he got so tangled up in what he wanted from Apollo, that Apollo just wasn't able to give him, that when the woman showed up... That hurt already.
"Don't be an idiot, Bucko," he said out loud. "Don't throw away the best thing in your life out of greed."
It was the right decision. But gods, how it hurt.
Two days later Apollo was staring at him, green eyes wide in shock, and saying, "What?"
"I can't tonight," Starbuck repeated. "I'm taking Athena to dinner tonight."
Athena had been assigned to the Galactica a secton ago. Starbuck hadn't seen her in yahrens, though they corresponded, and he'd been startled at how beautiful a woman she'd grown into. A bridge officer, Ensign Athena was definitely old enough to take out, and when she'd asked him to join her for a drink, he'd said yes, after remembering she wasn't fourteen any more. Like her little brother, she'd always been a tagalong pest when he and Apollo had been at their home; there was little of the pest in evidence now. Starbuck assumed she, like Apollo, was going to be making "attachments"; at any rate, he couldn't conceive of a better way to convince Apollo that things were over between them than to date his little sister.
"You and Athena?" Apollo was over his surprise and well into displeasure.
"Yes," Starbuck nodded.
"That's a bit sudden, isn't it?"
Starbuck shrugged. "Well, I've known her almost as long as I've known you," he pointed out.
Apollo tapped him several times in the chest with his finger. "Don't you forget she's my sister."
"I'm not likely to."
"Yeah, well, just... don't."
He didn't. It didn't get in the way, though, with either of them. He had a feeling Apollo quizzed Athena about him, but he had a stronger feeling that she wasn't all that appreciative of her brother's attempts to protect her. And when young Zac also ended up on the Galactica and almost immediately resumed his habit of hero-worshipping Starbuck while trying to impress Apollo, the older man gave up and just watched his siblings and his best friend with an air of bemusement.
Starbuck just wished he had taken it so easily himself. But it would fade in time. Everything faded (almost everything). Besides, he had managed to keep Apollo as his friend, not chase him away. That had to count for something. That had to be enough.
Apollo told Starbuck and Boomer, in confidence, late in the evening two days before the Peace Treaty was to be signed, that he wasn't sure what was going on. "I mean," he said, "you wouldn't think of my father as getting hunches"
"I don't know," Starbuck said, leaning back in his chair. "I can think of a few tactical decisions he's made in the last couple or three yahrens that were pretty hunch-like. Good decisions," he added, "but the kind of thing that had Ops all atwitter till they panned out."
Apollo considered that briefly, and then said, "Well, anyway. He does get hunches, and if he doesn't play them he gets all nervous and upset... and they usually, like you say, pan out. I remember when I was a kid he was stationed on Caprica for a while, at the Institute. I don't know what if anything came out of that, but it had to be more than just ruining cutlery."
Boomer and Starbuck both snickered, having heard Ila's opinion of that brief excursion into parapyschology.
"I mean," Apollo went on, "supposedly we're descended from one of the lords of Kobol... yes, I know, but maybe there's some esper strain or something. I don't have it, but Zac's a lucky brat. But the point is, Father's always said he didn't think it was a good idea for us to be on the same ship, and he's always thought family members shouldn't serve together; it's too easy for a whole family to be lost... Yet, here he is, pulling strings to get all his children on his ship. It worries me."
"Surely," said Boomer, "it ought to reassure you? I mean, if he's right about these things... it's a good idea, then, by definition."
"It just worries me."
"Everything worries you, Pol," Starbuck said. "I'd be worried if you weren't."
"Thanks," Apollo said, but he was grinning. "I guess you're right. I mean, the war's as good as over, right? What difference does it make where we are?"
"I can't believe it quite," Boomer said. "What are you going to do after? Stay in the service?"
"Probably," Apollo said. "I don't know for sure. It might be nice to go back to university, get my advanced degree in history or philosophy. I guess I don't really believe it yet, myself. You'll be getting married, won't you? Are they letting her out early?"
Boomer nodded, a satisfied look in his eyes. "She's got another yahren, but with the war over they're going to cut her loose with a two-yahren reserve clause instead. Our moms are going crazy trying to get everything set up. I don't know but what Sarai and I ought to just elope."
"Your mothers would kill you," Apollo said.
"Probably... you two are coming, right?"
"Just say when," Starbuck nodded.
"What about you? Staying in?"
"I doubt it. I don't think the peacetime military and I would agree much." He finished his grog and pretended to be wounded at the howls of laughter that understatement had provoked. He didn't know what he was going to do. He couldn't believe that the Council had agreed to end the war. Frack, these were the Cylons they were talking about cozying up to. Starbuck wasn't sure he could adjust to a reality where the Cylons were their friends.
As it turned out, of course, he didn't have to.
After Cimtar - after the Destruction - some things were simpler. Starbuck hadn't ever said so out loud, but he'd felt it. Things were stripped to their essences, and life was at its most basic: flight and survival. Oh, they dressed it up with democracy and command structures and Earth, but it was dressing up, especially if you didn't believe in Earth, and Starbuck didn't, not for a long time yet. Grief, anger, and fear ruled the fleet, or would have under anyone but Adama, but humans aren't made to live like that for long, and soon other emotions returned.
Apollo fell in love and married her. That settled it, as far as Starbuck was concerned; Adama had been right: for Apollo, forever was a wife and kids. So Starbuck had tried, too. Though he and Cass... it had never really worked, even before Cain came back. But after that, after Gamoray, he'd tried to try harder, but he'd known he was trying. And then, after he and Apollo got back from destroying the last (please the gods) base star, he and Cass actually got serious about their relationship. She'd wanted to for sectares; it had been him who'd been dragging his feet (and why? He'd never really been able to answer that). He'd told himself before that mission, watching her run off crying, that he was a fool, that she loved him, that Cain was over and done and that he should just accept the future. And, to be fair, he hadn't had to fight it all that hard; loving Cass wasn't exactly a kick in the teeth.
But it hadn't lasted. Once he wasn't going out to die, she remembered how exasperated he made her. And he remembered how pushy she could get. And both of them remembered that neither of them really loved the other one all the way... It was, after one last spectacular fight, an amicable parting, though it had one shadow on it (if you didn't count Apollo's disapproval): Cass started nagging him to talk to Chameleonwith a capital T.
It was her friend Tara who finally told him what she suspected was the truth. She'd acted slightly surprised that Cassie hadn't, and she'd hedged around it enough that he guessed she didn't know anything for sure, but she said enough that he could guess the truth Cass wouldn't tell him. Tara seemed to think that Cass would, but when she did bring up Chameleon's name, all she did was tell him he had to talk to the old man. She wouldn't tell him why, though, and he hadn't been surprised about that; she'd fallen for the old man as hard as anybody elsewell, anybody except Apollo. Assuming Tara's hints were true, that Chameleon was in fact his father, well. Considering that the man had run like a dagget at the news, he'd probably asked her to keep it secret from Starbuck. You might argue that she hadn't done that, because she'd said enough to Tara, who'd never met a secret she could keep, that she'd thought she had enough to tell him, but she'd kept the probable letter of her promise...
Not that it mattered. Chameleon was his father (what else could it be?) and Chameleon was gone. Again. On sober second reflection, Starbuck hadn't quite been able to understand how a man could hunt through the orphanages of Caprica for six yahrens (assuming that amnesia gag was real) and not find him. Sure, 'Starbuck' wasn't his namehe sort of wished, but only sort of, all things considered, that he'd asked what the man's son's name had beenbut it wasn't like he'd been shipped off-world. No, Chameleon just hadn't wanted him around, not now, not then... not ever.
And the Starbuck who'd been excited to think he'd found his father, the one who'd made plans to be with him, the one who'd lied to him in an attempt to be more acceptable (Cassie wasn't the only woman he'd ever considered Sealing with, and he hadn't considered it all that strongly even before Cain), well... that was poor damfool Starbuck.
Poor damfool Starbuck who still hadn't learned that nobody wanted him for ever, who kept thinking that this time, this person, it would be different. Poor damfool Starbuck who hadn't learned that his friends came and went, and that nobody who said they loved him stayed... they dumped him for others, or never meant anything permanent in the first place, or... or he wasn't enough for them to risk things for, hurt or censure or whatever. So they turned him down. (So they ran to the other end of the war.) Poor damfool Starbuck who was so slow to learn that he kept going back to get kicked in the teeth again, offering people a second or third chance to reject him. Poor damfool Starbuck who somehow refused to learn and kept laying himself open for hurt.
Poor damfool Starbuck who needed to be shoved out an airlock so survivor Starbuck didn't have to keep getting over what he did. Frack. He just wasn't going to listen to poor damfool Starbuck any more.
Except he'd said that before. But this time it was going to be different. This time he meant it. This time was the last time.
And with that resolve still so fresh-minted in his mind that it shone like a brand new cubit piece Starbuck walked into the O Club to find someone to drink with and found Bojay. Alone with a bottle and his own, clearly not pleasant, thoughts.
A memory flashed across Starbuck's mind like a cubit spinning in the air over a gaming table.
He sat down and said, "You know, a person with your body mass who drinks a whole bottle of that stuff will be physically unable to react to an alert."
And Bojay didn't leave. And poor damfool Starbuck got ready to try one more time.
"Galactica to Starbuck," Giles said, punching him lightly on the shoulder.
Starbuck jumped a little and turned to look at the short flight sergeant. "Sorry, Gi," he said. "I was a couple of lightyahrens off."
"Looked like more'n that," Giles said. "Looked like parsecs. But no wonder."
Starbuck raised his eyebrows.
"Well, Bojay," Giles said. "That's enough to chase anyone off. And speaking of"
"Don't take it personal, but I might have to deck your wingman."
Starbuck repressed a grin. Giles was a head shorter than Bojay at least, but what he lacked in height he made up for in aggression, and he fought street-wise and dirty. He was a bad man to tangle with. "You probably won't have to," he said, "but if you do, do. You can ask Bean, though; Bojay didn't have an attitude about enlisted pilots before. If he does now, it's Cainism, and that's what we're trying to get rid of, after all."
Giles raised one of his dark chestnut eyebrows. "We?"
Felgar! Starbuck backpedalled. "We, as in us vs. them."
The sergeant snickered. "Well, don't look now, Us, but here comes your Them, and he doesn't look happy. Pardon me for avoiding him." He ducked into the ready room.
Bojay didn't seem to notice Giles's departure. He halted in front of the bulletin board, looking at Starbuck; he was about a centimetron out of reach. "So, I'm your wingman, huh?" His tone was flat. It was impossible to tell what he thought from it, or from his once candid hazel eyes, that were now cool and opaque.
"Yep," Starbuck said cheerfully. "Like old times."
"Not exactly," Bojay said.
"Well, close enough."
After a moment, Bojay asked, "Are we yoked together again?"
Starbuck swore silently. That might have been a good idea. Or, he conceded, it might have led to one of them killing the other, he just didn't know. Anyway, it was moot, because Apollo didn't do that any more than Rollo, the senior captain on the Falca, had. He shook his head. "Nope."
Bojay made a noise of acknowledgment, as impossible to read as his tone or his eyes. He didn't move off, though, even though they were due in the ready room for morning brief in only a few centons, just stood there, out of reach, looking at Starbuck.
Who looked back, wearing his best Pyramid face. Four yahrens ago he hadn't known anything, hadn't a clue what he wanted, only that he wanted it. Now, thanks to Apollo and several handfuls of one-night-stands, he did know, knew exactly what he wanted to do to that tall, angular body, what he wanted it to do to him. But he knew something else, too, something new and more powerful: he'd give anything, give up anything, just to have that body relax and move close enough to punch him lightly on the shoulder, hear that voice say "Buck", see those eyes warm and kindle with laughter...
Just to get Bo back the way he'd been, before Starbuck had screwed up so badly and sent him running. Even if those words were never said again, just to get Bo back.
He took himself in hand. "We'd better go," he said. "One thing Apollo doesn't put up with, people late to morning brief."
Bojay said something so softly Starbuck almost couldn't hear it. And he didn't understand it, it must have been one or two of his obscure Pisconno, Starbuck remembered, Cambranwords. But he followed him. Starbuck slid into his usual seat in the back and Bojay sat next to him, tugging his jacket slightly to settle it. Starbuck blinked and then stared at Apollo, looking covertly and sideways at Bojay. That was. That was his jacket, that he'd missed when he came back from Galsa. True, the brass was shinier than he ever got it, but he recognized the burn on the inside left, up by the collar, and that long scurf on the right cuff that he'd picked up on, was it Plisessy?
He listened to Apollo with slightly less than half his attention and tried to decide what that meant. That Boj was still wearing it now, maybe nothing. The Pegasus people had come over with what they had on at the time, and nothing else. That he'd taken it in the first place, again maybe nothing. After all, Starbuck had taken his... But that he'd kept it the whole time he was gone, though they'd probably had less chance to replace things after Molecay than the Galacticans did now, hanging on to it for those first two yahrens... What in Hades did that mean? Anything? Did Bojay even remember it had been Starbuck's?
He knew better than to say anythingSagan, Bojay, in the mood he'd been in for the last four sectares, might just strip it off and hand it overbut he couldn't stop the little bubbles inside him from fizzing like a fine Aquarian celebration nectar. And he needed that fizz later. They had a four-centare picket, and Bojay said precisely thirteen words to him the whole time.
"Do I have to listen to you, too?" he demanded after forty centons of Starbuck's chatting on channel two.
Starbuck grinned. That was a fake-querulous tone, he was sure. Well, pretty sure. "Yes," he answered. "Like you said a few days ago, I talk a lot. Of course," he added, "you don't have to listen. That'll be like old times, too."
"Not really," Bojay muttered. And then he said, almost too softly to hear, "Just as well."
Starbuck's breath caught, but he didn't respond. He didn't really know how to, if he'd thought it was a good idea, because he wasn't entirely sure what it meant. Just as well that it wasn't like old times? Why not? He kept talking, but touched on nothing whatsoever that was in any way meaningful. And who would have thought it would be so hard to find four centares worth of talk that didn't? No old times, no family, no them, no nothing except cards and the Rising Star and, finally, Starbuck's own personal belief that Earth, regardless of beings of light or old books of prophecy, was just too fracking far away to be a reasonable goal. He could talk about that one till the bovines came home, and Bojay's silence was a lot better reception than Apollo's increasingly vehement disagreement.
And then afterwards, sitting in the ready room and playing solitaire, Starbuck pondered the meaning of Bojay's sitting at the same table as him. Still not talking, leaning forward in his chair with his legs tucked up underneath it and a book on the table not a hand's width from Starbuck's cards. From the way Bojay acted, he might have been alone in the room, but there were plenty of places he could have sat to spend the rest of their shift...
Mixed signals. Frack. Scrambled.
When they were relieved, Bojay disappeared and Starbuck didn't see him again until he came to bed. Starbuck, being Apollo's wingman, hadn't had anyone in the upper bunk and he'd left it open for Bojay when they were assigned together. Old times, he'd thought but he hadn't said anything. He lay on the bunk in the dark and watched Bojay strip out of his uniform in silence, and Bojay didn't so much as glance at him even when he climbed into bed. Starbuck lay quietly and listened to Bojay settle above him and eventually drifted to sleep.
That was the pattern for the first four days. Silence in the morning, a neutral greeting at the morning brief, a flight where Starbuck talked and Bojay listened (and he was listening, Starbuck could hear his breathing on the open channel two link), and then silence for the rest of the shift and Bojay would vanish until he came to bed, later than Starbuck.
Apollo asked him at dinner the third night, while Boxey was in the turbowash, how things were going.
"Okay," Starbuck lied. "You don't have a problem, do you?"
"No," Apollo admitted. "He's behaving himself. Not exactly outgoing, but not causing any problems. It's just, I don't think I've heard him say a word in four days."
Starbuck shrugged. "He's been quiet, sure enough."
And then Boxey had come back out, and the topic had been lost in a discussion of Boxey's class play.
Starbuck had been grateful. He didn't think he could have told Apollo that Bojay had said thirty-nine non-operational words since they'd been paired up, and twenty-five of them had been on their first day... He sure didn't want to explain why he was counting them.
Then, halfway through their fifth four-centare patrol, Bojay started answering. In self-defense, probably, but Starbuck didn't care why, any more than he cared that half of what his wingman said was sarcastic. He just answered as though the comments were sensible.
Towards the end of the next day's picket, after a fairly long silence, Bojay asked, sounding half-way serious, "So, if we spot Cylons, what? We run? How fast and how far?"
"Nope," Starbuck said. "We don't run. The Fleet runs; they take the Fury and the Cinders and run like hell. We stay and fight, covering them."
"Fight? This squadron remembers how?"
Starbuck shook his head. That sounded very nearly pro forma. "Come on, Boj," he said. "You know better. We've fought since you got here. We just don't spend all our time looking for fights."
"I thought," Bojay said, "you wanted to fight Cylons."
"I do. But we've got more important things to do. Like saving the race."
"That's even doable?"
Starbuck paused. "I don't know," he admitted. "I sometimes wonder myselfHades, you heard me on going to Earth. But I'm just a fighter jock, a junior officer who shoots at Cylons. I don't make strategic decisions. The Commander is sure it'll work out, and the lords of light seem to agree with him"
"What really happened on that ship, Starbuck?"
Starbuck was surprised. Hadn't Sheba told him? Of course, he realized, she was pretty much all over Apollo these days, angling to be the second wife of the Commander's son. A lot of people thought it was a good idea. He and Boxey, and maybe Bojay, were in the distinct minority there... Maybe Sheba didn't talk to Bojay much any more. Probably they didn't talk about Apollo if they did talk. And Sheba might be shy of admitting she'd fallen for the prince of darkness's line, too. He snickered at that, but to himself, and said, "They gave us the route to Earth. Of course, they sort of left out the most important bit."
"Yeah. How long it'll take. Even jumping, it took sectares to get from one end of the Inner System to the other. And most of the Fleet can't jump on their own. And the frackin' course is headed out of the cluster towards the rim... it's gonna take us a long time to get anywhere. But they seem to think we'll make it, so I guess we're going."
Bojay quoted at him: "Where am I going? I don't know. When will I get there? I ain't certain."
Starbuck laughed and finished it with him. "All I know is, I am on my way... That's about it, all right. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat, wondering if they were even the good guys."
"And, Iblis sure as all seven hells wasn't. And they did bring Apollo back. So, if they're not the good guys, they'll do till the good guys show up."
"He was really dead?"
"He was." This wasn't Starbuck's favorite topic of conversation, but he'd be damned if he was going to stop talking now. "Dead as the miller's black dagget."
"Rough," said Bojay. "Sorry."
Starbuck couldn't believe his ears. "Thanks."
"Still, I can't help thinking we'd be better off striking back, cutting the chase off, than just running like scalded felixes."
And they were back to that argument, but Starbuck didn't care. For five centons, he'd had Bojay back. Or close to back, anyway. And tonight they'd be on the Star.
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