Gold

part four - in progress - parts 1-12 completed


rule

That night most of Blue and all of Green, the squadron that had moved into Silver Spar's tandem position six days ago, were on the shuttle for the Rising Star. Green had lost their break in the reorganization, and they were ready to party. Silver Spar was on the third shift, but Sheba was tagging along. Apollo usually left early anyway. Some nights he didn't even come, but mostly he did, because it was tradition, and tradition was sacred to him. Even traditions that he'd found out were made up just to con him into doing something, like this one: Hafez had never gone drinking with the newly-off squadron even when they'd been somewhere where he could have. But Apollo had believed Starbuck, with Boomer backing him, and gone out with Blue, and now he couldn't have stopped without a major effort on his part. Boomer and Starbuck counted that among their biggest triumphs.

Green's Pegasan wasn't, she was one of the retread shuttle pilots trained after Boomer's fever-induced lapse of judgment had laid out the Viper pilots. Starbuck had wondered about Blue and Green both getting only one each from Silver Spar and Green getting Robin. True, eleven pilots into seven squadrons meant some got only one, but it had looked to him like Apollo was trying to isolate Bojay. Like Apollo had taken him seriously when he'd said getting through to Bojay would break the back of the whole thing. Starbuck knew that was true, but he was still just a bit guilty, because that wasn't really his objective. It was a nice-to-have side effect of what he wanted. He glanced at Apollo, who was sitting and listening to Sheba, and wondered what was really going on inside that dark head.

A peal of laughter came from the rear of the shuttle, where Robin was sitting with her squadron mates and being the life of the party. She had been very unhappy in Silver Spar, and she wasn't shy of showing how much she liked her new surroundings. Starbuck had a feeling she wasn't endearing herself any to Sheba, but he found it hard to care. He wasn't sure anybody on the shuttle did, with the exception of Apollo. And maybe Bojay, though it was very hard to tell what Bojay thought about anything nowadays. Sheba had sure been upset when Bojay was injured, back on that gall-mongered ground mission on Gamoray, the one Cain had forced them into—the one where Bojay had nearly died—but since then she'd definitely transferred her affections to Apollo. And, Starbuck remembered—Hades, had noticed at the time even amidst the emotional turmoil he'd been engulfed in—when she'd left the O Club after her father and Cassie had come in, Bojay hadn't followed her. That argued a certain lack of interest, surely. Starbuck hoped Bojay wasn't, behind that cool facade, eating his heart out over her. Much as he didn't like her, if she was choosing between Apollo and Bojay, Starbuck wanted her to pick Apollo... Apollo could take care of himself, after all.

He almost laughed at that. Lords of Kobol knew, Bojay could too. But Starbuck didn't want him messing around with Sheba. Not any more...

He looked out the window at the stars and tried to chastise himself for being greedy. But after a moment, he decided he wasn't. If Boj fell for someone else, Athena or Cassie or someone like Dietra, he wouldn't mind. Much. Hades, who was he kidding? He'd mind a lot. But it wouldn't be the same as Sheba... daddy's princess, Iblis's disciple, insincerity incarnate. At least Apollo knew how to play her games, they were the same class if nothing else alike.

Gods, this wasn't productive. He shook himself like a dagget coming out of water and put the whole subject right out of his mind. Instead, he glanced sideways at Bojay and tried to figure out what it meant that he was sitting next to him. It wasn't that the shuttle was full; there were actually a couple of empty places. If Bojay had taken a seat by himself, he'd've probably been left that way. But he hadn't. Was it because they were wingmates? Or what?

Of course, back in the old days, it had been Bojay who'd sat by the wall and Starbuck on the aisle. He'd sometimes kidded Starbuck about wanting a clear escape route, but as a matter of course he'd sat down first. Starbuck had lost track of the number of times they'd fallen asleep on a long shuttle back up from some liberty planet and woken up when the shuttle maneuvered into the Galactica's landing bay, Bojay leaning against the wall and Starbuck against Bojay...

But now, he was against the wall and Bojay was next to him, all the way on the edge of his seat, it was true, but next to him. Silent as the grave, but there. Starbuck didn't know precisely what that meant, but he decided to take it as a positive sign. "Seven-and-eleven good for you? Because," he continued when he got no answer, "there's this new dealer there, and she's got a tell. I think. So far, watching her, I can usually see when she's got nineteen or better. You in?"

"Usually?" Bojay said as the shuttle settled onto the bay floor.

Starbuck shrugged. "Mostly. You in?"

Bojay shrugged and stood up, letting Starbuck lead the way. He headed for the Gold Lounge, chatting enough to cover the fact that it was a one-sided conversation.

Things were going fairly well, Starbuck was ahead and Bojay about even, when Apollo was paged away from the booth where he was sitting with Sheba, part of the group though not playing. Almost at once, a big man in dark gray coveralls approached the booth. Starbuck saw it but wouldn't have paid any attention if he hadn't felt Bojay tense up beside him. He stopped paying attention to the dealer and listened.

"—Cain's daughter?" the man was asking.

"Yes," Sheba said with more than a touch of pride.

"That frackin' bastard got my brother killed," the man snarled.

Bojay left his seat half-way through the sentence. Starbuck was so mesmerized by the play of emotions on Sheba's face—fear turning to relief that changed so fast he almost missed it to self-satisfaction—that he was still in his own seat when Bojay ranged himself between the man and her. "Get on," Bojay said.

"Frack that. And her. And you if you're one of them," the man snarled; seeing the smug expression on Sheba's face Starbuck couldn't blame him. He wanted to smack her himself.

Bojay, his back to Sheba, couldn't see her; all his attention was on the civilian. "Get on," he repeated. "Leave her alone."

"Little bitch," he said, shoving Bojay aside. Or trying to. Starbuck came up out of his chair in time to join the fight along with two more civilians and Giles, who probably would have preferred a different excuse but liked fighting too much to sit it out. And a good thing, too: the civilians fought as dirty as he did, dirtier than Starbuck and much dirtier than Bojay.

By the time Apollo got back, the Lounge's bouncers were there and it was over. It wasn't hard to put the blame for starting it where it belonged, and the Star's security men dealt with the freighter crew, as they turned out to be, but Apollo decided that it was the wisest course of action if Blue, at least that part of Blue that was in the Gold Lounge, left. Starbuck went back to the seven-and-eleven table and cashed in his and Bojay's chips while Apollo gathered up the other three pilots and made sure Sheba was all right.

She was, Starbuck was sure. Better than all right. It hadn't escaped his notice how she'd sat there, watching the fight, a smile on her face and her eyes wide-pupilled... getting her rocks off by having people hurt each other over her. He was going to have to have a long talk with Apollo about that woman, who was now clinging to his arm and looking in need of protection. Long, and serious, and soon. But not now. He kept his mouth shut all the way to the shuttle bay and after they'd boarded.

Bojay's breath hissed in between his teeth as Jolly bumped against him. "Sorry," the burly pilot said.

Bojay didn't answer, just changed seats. He was moving a little gingerly. Apollo noticed, the way he always noticed, and started to get up. Sheba put her hand on his arm, shaking her head. Apollo hesitated, and then leaned over the aisle and asked, "You okay, Bojay?"

"I'm fine," he said. "I don't need any help from you guys. Now or then."

Apollo looked at him quizzically but didn't push it. As he sat back next to Sheba, he turned and looked at Starbuck, one eyebrow raised. Starbuck made a 'yeah-I-know-later-okay?' face at him and Apollo nodded. Starbuck leaned back in his seat. At least Apollo didn't seem to feel that Bojay needed to be chewed out... but then, Apollo had always been a fair man. He might tear you into tiny pieces, but you would have earned it. He wasn't looking for reasons to rip into Bojay, even though they didn't like each other. At all.

When they got back to the Galactica he anticipated Apollo. Stopping by Bojay's seat he said, "Okay, come on. Life Center for you."

"I'm all right," Bojay said.

"Sure you are," Starbuck said. "You always walk like you're a hundred and ten. Come on, wingmate; let a doctor fix that."

"I am all right," Bojay repeated through his teeth.

Starbuck shook his head. "Felgarcarb," he said. "But say it's true: they'll let you go. And if Apollo gets involved—and he's thinking about it—you'll be confined to quarters until he thinks you're okay. And he's a frustrated tyrant."

"Yn wir," said Bojay under his breath, which Starbuck remembered as meaning 'true enough'. "All right, all right. I'll go."

"Good boy." Starbuck earned himself a glare with that comment but didn't care. He was pretty sure that freighter crewman had connected hard when he'd kicked Bojay. Ribs were easy; he just hoped it wasn't anything more serious.

He managed not to take hold of Bojay on their way to the Life Center, just walking within reach in case his support was needed. It wasn't, but Bojay didn't draw away. Or couldn't, of course, but Starbuck preferred to think didn't. Dr. Paye was sitting in the front of the Life Center, his medtech apparently on break. In his usual calm way he took charge, leaving the door to the examination room open so he could hear the comm when he took Bojay in to check him over.

Starbuck took a seat and tried not to think about the last time he'd taken Bojay to the Life Center. It was impossible. Not showing that he was thinking about it was a lot easier. Though when Paye carefully peeled the pressure suit down to Bojay's waist in full view of Starbuck in the waiting room, well... he was glad he was wearing his own. The damned suits could be inconvenient, but they came in handy for hiding awkward physical reactions. "A couple of cracked ribs, Lieutenant," he heard Paye say. "Somebody's got a kick like an equinus. Am I expecting him next?"

He missed Bojay's answer in the wave of relief. He leaned back and watch Paye run the bonesetter over his wingmate's ribs and tried to stop wondering what it would be like to run something else over them. Like his hand. Or his lips... Stop. Not now.

By the time Bojay came out, fastening his tunic at the shoulder, Starbuck was back in control of himself. Paye followed, telling them to wait a moment. They did, in a silence that felt somehow different from the ones they'd been in earlier. After a few centons, Bojay said, abruptly, "Thanks, Starbuck."

"For wha—oh. Well," suddenly he didn't know what to say. "Don't mention it. I mean, what else... I mean, damn it, we're wingmates. I mean—"

Bojay laughed; Starbuck almost fell over in surprise. "I didn't think it was for her," he said. "You don't like her any more than I like him. It's—"

And then Paye came out of the back, earning Starbuck's immediate hatred. He had a small packet of pills in his hand. "Take one now, Lieutenant," he said, "and another in the morning. The third's in case you're still sore at noon. If you're still hurting after dinner, come in."

"I don't need those," Bojay said.

Paye snorted. "The lords of Kobol deliver me from young men and their idiocies. You don't need to be in pain and you prove nothing by doing it. Take it."

Bojay almost protested again, but didn't, swallowing the pill instead and tucking the packet into the pocket of the jacket Starbuck had been holding for him.

"Are you on duty tomorrow? No? Good. Don't drink tonight. Now go away."

They did, heading back to the BOQ. Halfway there Starbuck couldn't keep silent any more. He had to ask. "Is it Sheba, then?" he said abruptly.

"Sheba?" Bojay stared at him. His hazel eyes were a bit wide-pupilled, probably from the pain-killer. That was probably why he was talking, too, but Starbuck wasn't above using any weapon he could. "Starbuck, what are you talking about, Sheba? Is what her?"

"Why you don't like Apollo?"

"Hell, not likin' him is why I hope he does end up with her." Bojay stopped walking and looked up and down the empty hallway, and then looked at him. "You think I want—"

"I know you're not, but... you kind of seem to want to."

"What a tone."

"What a notion," Starbuck said, his tone even more incredulous.

"Come on. You made a pass at her yourself."

How did he know that? She must have told him... who else had she told? He dismissed that while he was replying. "Please. It was before I knew her." And that was why talking to even this Bojay was more congenial than talking to Apollo or Boomer: neither of them could have heard that without reacting; even if they'd managed not to say anything, it would have shown in their eyes, their body language. Bojay, on the other hand, knew all about the peculiar joy inherent to making a pass at someone you didn't know. Hell, some of their best furlons had come about from making passes at people they hadn't even met before... "Do you?" he asked again.

"Sleep with Sheba," he repeated. His lips twitched and there was a glint of Bo in his eye. "Well, I'll tell you how it is."

Starbuck almost missed 'how it was' realizing how much he'd missed hearing that phrase despite having ragged Bojay about it unmercifully for over two yahrens.

"I did, and I wish I hadn't."

"Well, that sort of goes without saying," Starbuck responded. "For the gods' sake, though, why?"

He shrugged. "She wanted to."

"And you just had to oblige? You used to have some taste."

Bojay laughed, but not as though it were particularly humorous. "On the Pegasus, Bucky," he said, "you did what Cain wanted. Then what Sheba wanted. And god help you if they weren't the same thing. Cross either one of them even before Molecay and they'd make your life a living hell... or worse. The first thing Cain made clear to me was, his precious daughter was off limits to low-born lieutenants. And the first thing Sheba made clear to me was, she liked the way I looked. And the first thing the rest of the Wing made clear to me... he'd killed her previous wingman."

"What?" Starbuck felt his jaw drop.

"Sure. 'Friendly fire'... friendly fire, my astrum. Cain found out he was in his baby's bed. End of the road for Daro. And, no, I wasn't there, but that doesn't mean I don't believe it. I know the truth when I hear it. You'd been there, you'd believe it too."

"Holy frack." Starbuck was silent for a centon. That was... wow. Adama hadn't been that crazy about him dating Athena, though after the Destruction he'd actually relaxed about it, but Starbuck had never felt endangered. He looked at Bojay, serious and still in the dimly lit corridor, and asked, "What did you do?"

"Well, I'll tell you, but you'd better keep it to yourself."

"Sure," Starbuck offered him his own reassurance, realizing as he did how long it had been since he'd said it. "What?"

"I wasn't very good."

Starbuck blanked for a centon and then understood and snickered. "Not—not very good?"

"Nope," Bojay was almost complacent about it, the old gleam in his eyes. "I disgraced myself; you'd have been ashamed of me. Insensitive, hurried, and terrible at taking direction, though earnest and eager—"

It was earnest that did it; Starbuck lost it totally. He could just picture Boj, all orthodox and fumbling and completely unaware of what a woman needed and denser than tyllium about it all, and Sheba losing her patience and picking another bedmate-victim, though hanging on to the best wingman she'd see in her lifetime. It was a ludicrous picture, and he could hardly stand up he was laughing so hard. "Oh, gods..." he gasped, and then he felt Bojay's arm offered for him to hold on to and he did, laughing harder than he had in longer than he could remember. Finally he managed to gasp, "I cannot believe you did that..."

"You couldn't have," Bojay returned, laughter in his voice as well. "It would have offended your amour-propre."

"Amour-propre? And what the hell's that when it's at home?" Starbuck asked, using another one of Bojay's phrases.

"Self-love," Bojay said. "You couldn't have been clumsy in bed—"

"To save my life? Maybe not," Starbuck admitted, leaning back against the wall.

"Vanity, thy name is Starbuck."

"Hey," he protested. "It's a hell of a sacrifice."

"Well, self-preservation was always my strongest character trait."

There was enough truth in that, though it wasn't exactly so, that Starbuck found himself asking what he'd wondered about for four yahrens. "Is that why you left?"

Bojay stared at him, what looked like honest confusion in his hazel eyes. "Why I left—Bucko, I left because I got transferred. Orders, remember? I didn't exactly want to go even before I got there."

Starbuck stared back, feeling as confused as Bojay looked. "Hafez said it was by request." He hoped that sounded neutral.

"Not mine, that's for sure... I wonder why he said that?"

"We'll never know." But he'd find out: Hafez had told him that from Tigh. "It was sure in a hurry, though."

Bojay shrugged. "Cain's MO. As usual, the Pegasus was passing through."

Starbuck took the subject change. "Did you guys really never get any shore liberty?"

"Frackin' little," he nodded. "There was a war on, after all."

"No, was there?" That was safer than asking what Bojay had meant by 'didn't exactly want to go.' Or going back four yahrens to an unfinished conversation that almost hadn't happened then.

"Yeah, that's what they told us. Since of course we were a bit too dumb to notice."

"Blue-suiters," Starbuck said unfairly.

"You know, I never saw Cain in blue."

Starbuck snorted. "Hades, no. Wouldn't have suited his legend, would it?"

For just a few microns, he was afraid he might have pushed too fast. Bojay stiffened, but it was reflex. After he'd had a moment to think, he laughed. "No. It wouldn't have. Hard to be dashing in blue."

"That's true."

"But," Bojay added, "it's all true." He paused a minute and then said, "I think he told me not to drink a bit too late. I'm turning in."

It was a retreat, but Starbuck didn't chase him. Too fast and he'd lose what he'd gained. It hadn't escaped his notice that they never had discussed why Bojay didn't like Apollo. Or why he'd done what he'd done if he didn't like Sheba, or even if he didn't. In fact, many more questions had been raised than answered.

Nonetheless, when Starbuck went to bed that night it was in a better frame of mind than he'd been in for... frack. Maybe yahrens.


When Starbuck woke up, the bunk above him was empty. Damn. He'd hoped Bojay's coming along to the Star the night before had meant he was going to stick around for the break... he got out of his bunk and visited the turboflush, and then did a quick reconnoiter around the BOQ. No Bojay, even in the turbowash. Hell. He'd run again. Probably realized how much he'd said...

It was all right. He had to come back eventually. He had to go on duty in two days.

Starbuck opened his locker and pulled out a random shirt and trousers. A trick he'd learned early in life for looking good on limited funds: everything goes with everything else. No real thought required. He pulled his shirt on and stood for a moment, wondering. He put his hand out on the keypad to Bojay's locker and paused, and then looked around the room. He wasn't sure which would be worse: someone seeing him open it or someone seeing him try to open it. But nobody was around, so he yielded to temptation and let his fingers remember the old combination.

The door opened for him. The locker was fairly empty. Not surprisingly, after all; as he'd reflected at the beginning of the duty cycle, the Pegasans had been dumped on the Galactica in what they'd been wearing. For Bojay, unconscious and nearly dead, that had been nothing, just the jacket he'd left here when he geared up for the Gamoray ground mission... He'd drawn a couple of uniforms, and a few civilian shirts and trousers hung next to them. Two pairs of lieutenant's pins lay on the open shelf next to a couple of books; one was his old Fifth Fleet set, the star and pentagon instead of the First's star, rose, and dagger.

Go where you know you shouldn't and you'll see what you'll wish you hadn't, Matron's maxim came to him. He put his hand out and almost touched the pins, and then pulled it back. He wished they weren't there, but they were. He closed his eyes for a centon, and then shut the locker. At least it looked like Bojay was just gone to wherever he'd been spending all his off duty time before last night.

And anyway, he needed to talk to people today anyhow. Apollo, if he was in the mood for it. Tigh for sure, though that would have to wait a centare or so; he needed to know why the colonel had told Hafez Bojay had asked to be transferred. Somebody had lied, was lying... he didn't think it was Hafez. It wasn't his style. But it wasn't Tigh's either.

Frack. Boj had sounded so sincere... Once he'd known when the other man was leaving something out, let alone lying. Now? He just wasn't sure.

And something else was nagging at him, something he couldn't quite get his finger on. He'd let it come to him on its own rather than fret about it, because he'd suddenly come to another decision. He was going to talk to Robin. She could tell him what had been going on in Silver Spar the last four sectares. He couldn't believe he hadn't thought of that before. He buttoned up his shirt, grabbed his new grey leather jacket, and left.

Starbuck signalled at the door to the women's section and identified himself. "Come," someone called out. He went in. Half a dozen pilots were there, in various stages of dress. He'd been right, Silver Spar and Yellow hadn't gotten off yet, so nobody was still asleep, though for a couple of them it was still obviously a close thing. Lalage went by him as he made his way inside, imperfectly wrapped in a man's robe that trailed on the floor, her flaxen hair escaping in wisps from its night-time braids and her eyes half closed. "Hi, sweetie," she said as she walked past, touching his arm; he'd have given long odds she didn't know who he was. He grinned after her and then found Robin, who was standing in front of her locker staring at her civilian clothes as if trying to decide which shirt she should put on.

"Wear the purple one," he suggested.

"Hey, Bucko," she said, yawning and wrinkling up her nose. She ran her hand through her short ebony hair. "What can I do you for?"

"I need to talk to you, if you're free," he said.

"Sure. What about?" She yawned again, showing small, even white teeth and a very pink tongue. "Buy me some kava and I'll sell out the fleet." She reached out and got the purple shirt and pulled it on over her head.

"With pleasure," he said.

"Let me find my shoes," she said, tugging the shirt down and looking around. "They hide... aha." She pulled them out from under the bunk and sat down to put them on. "Okay," she stood up. "Lead on."

They found a corner table in the O Club, taking advantage of Red and Gold's having already headed for the ready room, and ordered breakfast. After she'd had a couple of drinks of kava, she looked up and grinned at him, her nose wrinkling again. "I hear," she said mischievously, "that Sheba got Blue into a spot of bother last night."

"Sheba?" he repeated, surprised.

"Well, that's what Jolly said. Gi said it was Bojay, but although he's adorable he's not exactly the most observant man I've ever known."

Starbuck wondered when she'd talked to them, considering Green had stayed on the Star. It would be like them to wait until Apollo had left the hangar bay and then jump on the next shuttle and head right back over, arguing that staying out of the Gold Lounge was following the spirit of the command. He also wondered how Giles liked being called 'adorable'. "Some," he answered her. "Sheba provoked it, sort of," he amended scrupulously, "but Bojay got in the way."

"Pshoo," she said, "you'd better get used to that. He does that. They all do, really, but him most. I guess because he was her wingman so long. It's probably a good thing Spar's not tandem with Blue anymore; he might not remember he's with you now."

Her words, slightly joking, cut him. He hoped it didn't show. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about."

"Oh?" She quirked an eyebrow. "I thought you two were flying together okay."

"We are," he hastened to say. "I meant, about Silver Spar and him."

She shook her head decisively. "Don't ask me. I mean, I'm the wrong person."

"You were in Silver Spar—"

"For four sectares. That's not very long. And I was in Spar but not of them, which," she added slowly, "is actually a good description of him, come to think of it."

Starbuck blinked at her, feeling a certain amount of satisfaction. "Really?"

"They're weird," she said. "When I first got there, they were... I don't know exactly how to describe it. They treated me like... uh..." she nibbled on her lower lip and stared up at the ceiling. "Sagan, I don't know—yes, I do! My brother, at university, he joined a fellowship. Mom wasn't happy, said they were barbaric and a waste of time, but Rubio insisted it would help him later in life... anyway, he was hazed and initiated, and I kind of think Spar thought they could do that to me. I set 'em straight, and then they were all real distant. Even Nokio. My wingmate," she added. "It was like that. Like they were some sort of private and slightly off-center group."

"Like a cult?"

"Yeah. Exactly. And Bojay, well... that was weird, too. Like they didn't know exactly what to do with him? I mean, he was Sheba's wingman, which meant, I could tell, that he was important. Almost as important as Rustam," she named Silver Spar's old exec, now with Gold. "Maybe even more important. I mean, he was the one they looked at first, if she wasn't there." Starbuck remembered Apollo's puzzlement over Bojay's taking Sheba's place at the briefing Cain had given him and Adama before that fracked-up attack on the Cylon tankers. "But at the same time, they weren't as... easy with him as they were with Rustam." She paused. "I don't know if I'm making any sense. But they didn't like me any more than I liked them, so it's not like I was in any inner circle or anything." She shrugged and bit into her second pastry.

Starbuck was quiet for a couple of centons, thinking. She let him. Finally he said, "But he got along with them?"

"Of course he did." Her surprise was evident. "He was part of them, when push came to shove. They listened to him. They did what he said, if he said something. And he came out with the Party line as much as any of them, if not more. And meant it."

Well, that wasn't really news. Starbuck grasped at a straw. "He got along with all of them, then? With Sheba?"

"Oh, Hades, Bucko," she said, "she owned him. All of them. It's just..." She blew out a long breath. "I think maybe he didn't like it." She finished her kava. "Anything else I can tell you? 'Cause I told Giles I was going to find him this morning, and I'd like to do it. He said he could beat me at Settler, and I'm going to make him eat those words."

"He's got enough patience to play that?" Starbuck was surprised; it could take five or six centares for two evenly matched players to finish a game.

"So he says," she said.

"Must be the competition," Starbuck grinned.

"Maybe," she said complacently. "Anyway, I want to find him, so is there anything else I can do for you?"

"No, thanks. He was still in bed," he added helpfully, "when I left."

"Huh," she said. "I'll have him out." She stood up, said thanks, and left.

Starbuck leaned back in his chair and stared at his kava, thinking. This was like working some horribly complicated jigsaw puzzle, and he kept finding new pieces that didn't really fit. Gods, he'd give anything for the box cover, so he'd have an idea what the picture was supposed to look like. He sighed. Maybe Tigh would be a key piece. As long as he didn't have two totally separate puzzles, which he could, so easily could...

He drained his cup and stood up. It wasn't really late enough; Tigh would still be in the morning meeting most likely, but if he went up to the bridge now, maybe he could get in before something else took the colonel's attention. Hafez's words played again in his mind: I couldn't have stopped it. It was a request transfer. He went over my head. Colonel Tigh told me, and it was an accomplished fact by then. And Bojay's: Bucko, I left because I got transferred. Orders, remember? I didn't exactly want to go even before I got there. They didn't fit.

Nothing fit.

Of course, nothing had fit for more than four yahrens.

He leaned back against the turbolift wall and watched the deck and section indicators flash. After a moment, he called up the words from that letter, that one letter, the one he still had, folded a dozen times and not opened in yahrens. Sorry I didn't get to say goodbye, Buck. Things happened in a hurry, and you were off on Galsa... I couldn't have bought a half-day with my heartsblood. Anyway, take care of yourself, remember to watch your back, and someday we'll run into each other again. See you 'round the waró Bo

If Bojay hadn't asked to leave, that letter was so very different. The door opened just as he was reaching for the thought that had been nagging at him and he lost it again. Oh, well; it would come back. He walked onto the bridge. Omega was at the In Charge of the Bridge station, which meant the morning meeting was over already. Starbuck checked his chrono; still early. Good. That meant there wasn't much to occupy Tigh so far. He walked over to ICOB, nodding at his friends but not stopping.

"Lieutenant?" Omega looked up at him.

"I need to see the colonel. Privately."

"He's in his office," the bridge officer said. "Wait a moment..." He touched a panel and spoke into his headset. "Sir, Lieutenant Starbuck is here wanting to see you." He listened, nodded, and said, "Go on in, Starbuck."

Starbuck did. Tigh, seated behind his desk, looked up and asked, "What do you want, Starbuck?"

"I want to talk to you about Lieutenant Bojay's transfer, sir."

Tigh shook his head. "You'll have to take that up with Apollo—"

"No, sir," Starbuck cut him off. "I mean his first transfer. To the Pegasus."

Had Tigh stiffened slightly? Starbuck wasn't completely sure. "That was a long time ago."

"Four, no; a little more than four yahrens ago."

"Why didn't you ask then?"

That was the wrong thing to say; Starbuck could smell the evasion. "Because," he said precisely, "I was told by Captain Hafez that you told him that Bojay asked for the transfer. There was nothing to ask about. But Bojay tells me he did not. Captain Hafez wasn't a liar."

"Are you saying I am?"

He could hear it in the colonel's voice. He nodded. "Yes."

Tigh didn't say anything.

After a moment, Starbuck said, "I have a right to know what happened."

"Do you? Why?"

"Bojay and I were wingmates. I know that's just a word to you, Ops doesn't have anything like it. Nothing else does, maybe in the infantry—your lives depend on each other. Even if you don't like each other you're tight. And Bojay and I were best friends. Closer than..." he paused. Hell, Tigh was Caprican. He might even have been Adama's attachment. Starbuck plunged ahead: "We were one conversation away from being a lot more than that. And then he was transferred, and I was told he wanted to go, and I have a right to know why—"

He stopped dead. It wasn't because Tigh had closed his eyes for a moment, though he had, and it wasn't because the next words he'd planned on saying suddenly seemed too melodramatic, though they might well have been. It was because that thought had suddenly appeared, clear and plain before him: if Bojay hadn't wanted to go, and then Starbuck had abandoned him. Starbuck had told him, I'm glad you're gone; you're right; I don't want to be your wingmate or your friend any more; you have done something to come between us...

Oh, gods. Starbuck closed his own eyes for a moment, and then opened them and stared at Tigh. "I have a right to know why."

Tigh was still for a centon or two, and then sighed. "Sit down, Starbuck," he said, gesturing at the chair beside his desk. "Omega," he spoke into the desk comm, "I don't want to be disturbed."

"Yes, sir," the bridge officer said, his tone incurious as usual.

"I didn't know," Tigh said finally, "that you and Bojay were... involved. It wouldn't have made any difference in what happened, more than likely. Still, you'd have known the truth, and that would have made a difference. You're right: Hafez didn't lie to you. In my defense, though I grant you it's not much, I didn't precisely lie to him, either. I chose my words very carefully, and he drew the inference I intended. It was a request transfer. But it wasn't Bojay's request. It was the commander's."

"Adama?"

Tigh nodded. "Cain wanted you, as a matter of fact. He said he needed a new wingman for his daughter and he'd heard about the Angels of Death even in the Fifth. Adama said, at first, that neither of you were who'd he want as his daughter's wingman—"

Starbuck felt a momentary pleasure that he had bedded Athena.

"—but Cain said he could take care of his daughter's social life, it was her combat life he was concerned about. He wanted you because you were the wingman, not the leader."

"Why did he get either of us? Adama didn't have to give him anybody."

Tigh raised his eyebrows and shrugged. "Adama and Cain were always like you and Apollo. He's done a lot of things he wouldn't have otherwise—" 'trust me; you won't be sorry' 'I hate when you say that; I always am' "—just because Cain asked him to." He didn't sound approving; clearly, he was the Boomer of the three. "But he told Cain he couldn't have you, told him Bojay was used to flying wing and would do just as well."

Not that Starbuck wanted to have gone, but, "Why not me? And why the lie?"

"Apollo," Tigh said as though it were all the explanation needed.

"Apollo?" It wasn't.

"Apollo was coming here. He had just been nominated for the Staff College, and Adama had pulled strings to get him assigned to the Galactica afterwards. He told Cain Apollo was an introverted young man with few friends, and that it would be easier on him if he had friends here. You were his best friend and since you were here, Adama wasn't sending you away." There was a pause while they both contemplated the next step. Tigh finally addressed it. "He could have refused to send your best friend away, but..."

Starbuck nodded. "If he had, I wouldn't have been... available for Apollo."

"Who knew nothing about it."

"Of course not," Starbuck agreed instantly. "That much you don't have to tell me."

Another centon or two of silence, and then Tigh said, "I'm sorry, Starbuck. I didn't know."

"We barely did," Starbuck said, wondering why he was making it easier for the man. Maybe because he wasn't the instigator?

Tigh nodded, said, "If I had, I'd have told you. I hope you believe that."

"I do." And he did. Tigh would have told him when he came back from Galsa to find Bojay gone. And he'd have found a way to keep in touch; frack, it wasn't like he didn't know where his family lived. If Boj couldn't get mail from him, he could have asked his mother to pass things on. And he wouldn't have fallen for Apollo, except maybe after Molecay... And that couldn't have hurt any worse, really, though maybe if he'd understood it he could have handled it better. Not leapt into that insane chase to find someone who'd stay, not having had Bojay run... Gods, he thought. Oh, Bo... can I make you understand what happened?

He looked across at Tigh. There really wasn't anything else to say to him. To Adama, maybe, but Starbuck knew he never would. It wouldn't solve anything, put anything right. And he didn't want to find out just how calculating the commander had been, to put a polite word on it. Adama was the backbone of the Fleet, its moral center. His best friend's father. His own friend... And if he felt like he'd been blindsided and beaten up, well, he'd get past it.

Besides, if he ever brought this up to Adama, he would most likely find himself in the brig for assaulting the commander.

"Thank you, sir," he said, standing up. "I appreciate your candor."

"If there's anything I can do..." Tigh's voice trailed off.

"Thank you," Starbuck repeated and left.

He headed for the information center. He could be alone there; too much risk this time of day of his storage closet being opened by somebody. But at the IC he could punch up a display and put on headphones and be left alone. And gods knew, he needed to think.

He'd meant to look up Apollo today, but not now. If he'd seen Sheba licking her fangs with a forked tongue last night, he wouldn't have been able to think about Apollo's problems. The man wasn't even promised yet, there was plenty of time to set him straight about her. His own problems... Gods. He didn't even know where to start.

He made it to the IC on autopilot, remembering nothing of the walk. He hoped he hadn't ignored anybody on the way. He signed out headsets, grabbed a corner carrel, and sat down, logging in and pulling up a spreadsheet of Viper specs. Then he sat back and stared, unseeing, at the screen.

First things first: Bojay had not asked to go. He hadn't taken off, for whatever reason. Starbuck hadn't scared him so badly that the Pegasucks was a better alternative. He hadn't done any of the things Starbuck had thought of: been afraid of Starbuck himself, of violence, of his upbringing; rejected Starbuck as not enough to throw his whole life away for; just panicked and done the first thing he could think of. He probably hadn't even known it was going to happen. Hell, hadn't even gotten any notice... Starbuck sighed to himself, the whole sequence unrolling in his mind: Bojay can't fight it any more and confesses. Starbuck stares at him and gives him no response at all. Bojay panics, afraid he's lost everything, and then Greenbean shows up. Next thing Bojay knows, he's on his way to the Pegasus... and he never hears from Starbuck again. What in God's name was he to think but that he'd been right to fear that Starbuck didn't want to even know him any more, let alone stay his wingmate. His friend... Gods, I'm sorry, I never meant to say anything... Too little, too late. What else was there?

Starbuck closed his eyes, running both hands through his hair as it hit him like a physical pain. What else? How about: Starbuck took the commander to Galsa. Starbuck knew the commander, was close to the commander's son... and if you're a Piscon, where they'd throw you in jail for five yahrens for mentioning it, being transferred to another ship probably seems like a measured and reasonable response.

That probably hadn't occurred to Boj (if it had and gods how he hoped it hadn't, hoped the other man's talent for paranoia wasn't as well developed as his) for sectares, until it became clear that he'd been... abandoned. That was the word. Starbuck knew he should have known something was wrong. And even if he'd believed what Hafez said, what Tigh said, he could have reached out, should have tried, should have done something to make Bojay change his mind. Hell, that letter... Buck, he'd said, and Bo. And the end... Sorry I didn't get to say goodbye. Things happened in a hurry. I couldn't have bought a half-day with my heartsblood. Anyway, take care of yourself, remember to watch your back, and someday we'll run into each other again. When Bojay had written that, he'd thought Starbuck knew the truth. That letter meant I meant it.

And it got no response whatsoever. Abandonment. Gods, they'd both been abandoned. If it hadn't been happening to him, he'd have laughed. Talk about a comedy of errors. And who was it said 'Tragedy is when I fall down; comedy is when somebody else does'? Gods, oh, gods.

"There you are. Don't you have those things memorized?" The only person who'd interrupt him did so, tapping his shoulder and speaking loud enough to be heard over the presumptive audio.

"It never hurts to review," Starbuck said, pulling the headset down around his neck and looking up. "I'm kind of busy."

"You don't need to study that," Apollo said. "I need to talk to you."

"I've got a few other things to do today."

"And as soon as we've talked, you can go do them." Apollo actually blushed as the students in the row ahead turned to glare at him. The fact that both of them were, on recognizing him, embarrassed didn't help. "Come on," he said. "Let's get out of here."

Starbuck gave up. Logging off, he followed Apollo to an empty corner of the IC. Leaning against a desk, he asked, "So, what do you want to talk about?"

"Last night."

"Oh?"

"Don't 'oh' me, Starbuck. What happened last night?"

Starbuck rejected the idea of saying, 'I don't know, I wasn't with you.' Now wasn't the time. He shrugged. "You heard."

"What really happened?"

"What? You think we, everybody there, was lying?"

"Giles said—"

Starbuck interrupted. "Giles wasn't paying any attention to the beginning of it. You want to know what happened? Some guy who wasn't too fond of Cain rousted Sheba over it. Bojay got in the way and told him to move on. He tried to—at her through Boj. Two of his buddies came to help, and Giles and I did, too, and a good time was had by all." And what the hell, strike while the iron's hot and other metaphors for flexible strategy. "Especially by Sheba."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"That she enjoyed it," Starbuck said precisely. "That she didn't do one fracking thing to defuse the situation, in fact she made it worse. That she probably had an orgasm watching people fight over her."

"Starbuck!"

"You think I don't know what one looks like? Apollo, I'm telling you, she was getting her rocks off. She's just like her father."

"So are you, some say."

Low blow, whichever way he'd meant it. Starbuck didn't let it rile him, and answered the less personal interpretation. "I may be reckless and insubordinate on occasion, but I'm no gloryhound. And maybe she isn't either, either, but she fracking well does want everyone to worship the ground she walks on, just like Cain did. And the only person she cares about is herself. No, listen to me. I've been meaning to say something for a while now, and this is as good a time as any. You'd be better off with damned near anybody than with her."

"That is none of your business, Starbuck." Apollo's tone was frosty.

"It is my business. We're friends. I happen to care what happens to you. Which is more than Sheba does, by the way. She's a predator, Apollo, that's all. She wants power and position. She wants to be like she was on the Pegasus: important. She wants you because you're Adama's son, the Strike Captain, third in command, not because you're Apollo. For the gods' sakes, man, look at her sometime. Ask anybody."

"Starbuck, you're out of line." But he didn't sound really angry. Starbuck hoped some of this had penetrated before and just been ignored.

"And think about Boxey," he added. "Maybe he doesn't 'need a mother' but he sure as all seven hells doesn't need a stepmother who's... hostile. Yes, that's the word," he cut off Apollo's rejoinder. "You think she wants to spend any time on your first wife's son by another man? And if you get her pregnant with a boy, fur will fly. She will not want Serina's brat taking precedence over her little princeling."

"Starbuck."

"Okay, maybe too far. But, Apollo, please: ask anyone. You know how she was about Iblis. She's two-faced, and that's being polite."

"Are you jealous?" he asked for the second time in their relationship. "Is that what this is about?"

"No." Starbuck shook his head. "I was jealous of Serina, but did I ever say anything like this? I'm not jealous of Sheba, because I'm not in love with you."

Apollo's green eyes widened. Starbuck cursed silently even as the dark-haired man said, "You mean, you were—"

"Focus, Apollo," he cut him off. "I care what happens to you, and letting you seal with Sheba without saying anything would be like letting you walk into a lionet's den, or off a cliff. You want to get married, have a family, kids, you always did and you still do. Fine. Just pick a woman, for Sagan's sake, not a monster out of Caprican mythology. I know your father likes the idea—" and tread carefully around that topic, Bucko! "—but he's thinking about her father, not her. Or you, really... come on, can you honestly say she makes you feel like Serina did?"

There was a long silence, and then Apollo said, "I'll think about what you said, Starbuck. But I didn't come here to talk about Sheba."

Starbuck shrugged. "No. You came here hoping to get something on Boj—" He stopped for a micron. "But what happened last night wasn't his fault, unless you'd rather he'd let that civilian maul Sheba." I would...

"Of course not."

"Well, if he hadn't done something, that's what would have happened. Old habits die hard, I guess; he was her wingman."

"You'd have sat there?"

Instead of risking injury for Sheba? Hell, yes. Starbuck said, "I wouldn't have noticed till he had hit her, and then I guess I'd have gotten involved."

Apollo looked at him for a couple of microns. "On which side?"

Starbuck grinned. "We'll never know, will we?"

"And for the record, Starbuck: I was not hoping to 'get something' on Bojay. I was hoping there was nothing to get."

That's your story and you're sticking to it. Good move. He grinned at Apollo. "Glad to hear it."

Apollo shifted his weight. "I did some reading, you know. Old records, I mean... notes my predecessor, Hafez?, left me."

"A bit late for that, isn't it?" Starbuck said, tensing inside. Lords only knew what Hafez had thought necessary to say.

"I thought I knew about you and Boomer," Apollo said. "Didn't need his take. Had forty-some other people to read up on, after all..."

"Well," he said breezily, "I'm not worried. Hafez adored me."

"I could tell," Apollo replied dryly, and then paused. "So... you're all right, then?"

Starbuck paused. "I've been better. But I've been worse a lot more often."

There was another long pause. "Okay, then," Apollo said. "If you need to talk—"

"I know where you live," Starbuck said. "And you."

Apollo nodded. "So, get on with your studying. Or whatever you're up to, and I'm sure I don't want to know." He left before Starbuck could say anything else.


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