part eight - in progress - parts 1-12 completed


The picket was, as Giles had memorably remarked once, a total waste of charged neutrons. Not that Starbuck was complaining. He liked a bit of excitement most of the time, but just now he was having all the excitment he could handle in his private life. He was thankful the job was boring.

Besides, it meant that he and Boomer could talk, over channel two, without anything getting in the way. And Boomer always talked better when he wasn't in the same room with you, had ever since the academy. Maybe he'd regret that, Starbuck thought, but at least he'd know where he stood.

Boomer was in a retrospective mood. He almost seemed to be reminding Starbuck that they were friends, which didn't augur well for when he eventually arrived at the present. But after Apollo Starbuck found it soothing for the moment to go all the way back to his teenaged yahrens and the splendid discoveries of friendship and heart-family and love that didn't have anything to do with bodies... Such a lovely place to visit, the long-ago.

For one thing, you already knew how it was going to turn out.

Boomer's reminisces washed over him. "...and then you showed up in our probabilities class. That should have been a warning to us, but we just thought you were bright. Not an incorrigible gambler."

"Hey, come on," he protested mildly. "I brightened up your humdrum little scholars' lives, you know I did."

"The sad part is, you did," the Leonid agreed. "First probs, then tactics. And suddenly you were always underfoot. Not that I minded," he added hastily. "And you weren't really, 'cause you were with the freshmen for most of your classes. But it seemed like that, especially after you roped me into tutoring you in history and Apollo in poli-sci."

"Get the best, I always say. And you know I got you through probs."

"True enough," Boomer agreed mildly, and then added, "And then he found out you could play Triad, and next thing I know he's asking you to be his partner."

"He said you were okay with that, but I did always wonder if you minded—"

"Minded?" Boomer laughed. "Hades, no. I was more than happy to let him rope you into that obsession. He did ask me, and I told him so. I told him I thought Triad was a diversion, not a way of life. And especially not a way of life which had academics and the military to go along with it as equally important ways of life, too. I told him, in fact, that most of us can't manage our multiple personalities as well as he does."

Starbuck laughed too. "That's true. I like Triad, but gods help us if we don't win. He sulks for days. No, that's not right; he's pissed off for days. Starts nagging me to quit smoking. If we ever lose the Fleet Championship, he'll be demanding I quit drinking and screwing around too, and probably want me to start eating more primaries."

Boomer laughed again. "It would be your fault if you do. But I was just remembering how it seemed sometimes like you spent more time in our room than either of us did. And how it was just him and me that first yahren, and it was good. And then there you were and suddenly any two of us were better, and the three of us were all we needed."

"I remember," Starbuck said, and he did. They'd never quite recaptured that feeling, but those three yahrens had been the warmest time of his life.

"He worried about you that MidWinter break. He called me twice to say he couldn't get in touch with you."

Starbuck grinned reminiscently. "He figured out where I was—"

"I figured it out. My grandparents didn't think MidWinter was a time for offworld boys with no traditions of their own—Capricans don't have any that count, after all—to be bothering decent folk."

"And he figured out how to get around the problem, too."

Boomer chuckled. "And he never knew how much taking you home with him that first long break scared you, either."

"Did not," he said automatically.

"Did so. You were scared greener than your plebe's uniform. I know you'd planned to spend all your breaks back at Umbra-Ten—"

"Little pond."

"Light under a bushel," Boomer retorted. "How many kids there just give up, take jobs frying protein or parking hovermobiles? Cadet Starbuck could show 'em a different way. But the point I'm trying to make is, his plans scared you. An estate, Siress Ila, and Commander Adama. And I don't know which of those words was scaring you the most."

"None of 'em," Starbuck admitted. "Family. That's the one. I didn't know why, exactly. I mean, I'd been spending yahrens wishing I had one. But I think it was because they were his family. Not people who'd come and picked me out of all the rest to be theirs, but people who had their own son already and he was dragging me home like a stray dagget." He shrugged. "I told myself the estate would be just another place to live, and the commander probably wouldn't be there much and the siress would be like Matron, but I didn't believe it. And the place was huge and luxurious and comfortable, and he was there for nearly a whole sectare, that first time anyway, and anybody less like Matron than Ila..." As always, the sharp pain of missing her surprised him with its intensity.

"I never met your Matron, but... I never met anybody like Ila myself. Ever."

They were quiet for a few centons, remembering her.

"But you settled in all right."

"Pretty much." Starbuck glossed over the first few days, his nervousness about damaging the casually used antiques or transgressing some behavorial code. Ila had eased him, taking him up like a third son. In fact, Ila had expected him for the long break after Apollo's graduation, an expectation altogether too serene to disappoint. "I think the commander always thought of me as a changeling, but he accepted me." A thought struck him for the first time. "In fact," he said slowly, looking at the thought as he said it, "though he didn't want me getting serious with Apollo, after the Destruction I think he'd really have liked it if Athena had wanted to marry me..."

"What do you mean? You let him break you up? Apollo never knew that."

"Of course he didn't. And not what you're thinking, either," he added indignantly. "He just pointed out a couple of home truths, that's all."

The Leonid was clearly skeptical. "Which truths would those be?"

"Nothing new and startling. Just that Apollo wasn't serious about me, and that he was going to get married some day."

"He seemed serious to me," Boomer said. It wasn't much, but it was a lot considering that he didn't get involved between people if he could help it.

"Come on, Boomer," Starbuck answered the unspoken depths. "You know Apollo at least as well as I do. Probably better. He's always been capable of being very serious about anything he was supposed to be serious about and then dropping it like a stone the centon he wasn't supposed to be any longer. Remember at the academy, how wrapped up he was in the Dramatics Club? Does he ever even mention acting any more?"

"He misses it."

"Yeah, I think so, too. But he dropped it and moved on. Sure, he was serious about us, but not long-term serious. For-the-time-being serious. Until-it's-time-to-move-on serious." Starbuck shrugged. "Did he ever in his entire life say he was thinking about not getting Sealed and having a family?"

"No," Boomer conceded.

"When the Destruction came he'd have ended us without hesitation. Sagan, Boomer, even I thought about getting sealed in the immediate aftermath. Carry on the race and all that... Oh, frack. Oh, gods, Boomer, I'm sorry."

"Ah, no, don't worry about that, Bucko. Sarai died and I've gotten used to it. Missed her a lot, and you know that, but it's been over a yahren and, well, we do move on. It's life."

"That's good. And it's my point. Remember how surprised we all were how quick he fell for Serina? It shouldn't have surprised us. The centon Zac died Apollo was out of time. He had to get sealed, so he went out and found a woman and did."

"You do know he was in love with her."

"I know. I didn't mean to make him sound cold-blooded. He didn't just ask the first woman he ran into. But he didn't know her very long. He didn't need to. For him, a wife is different from a friend, I think. You fall in love and then you get to know her. I'm not saying the marriage wouldn't have worked, anything he does he'll make work, and I'm not saying they wouldn't have been happy. What I'm saying is, when it was time for him to marry he did. Pretty much just like that. It's who he is: he does what he's supposed to."

Boomer thought about that. "You're probably right."

"You know I am. So shoot me, I didn't feel like investing yahrens in a relationship that was doomed the day it started. Fun's fun, but pain's not."

"I'm only saying," Boomer said deliberately, "that I don't think you gave Apollo enough credit. You don't know that he wouldn't have changed his plans when love came along."

Starbuck shook his head sharply even though he knew Boomer couldn't see him. "When does he let untidy things like emotion stop him from carrying out his duty? Sealing is his duty. Just because he wants to pass his bachelorhood with one full-time lover instead of a lot doesn't mean he's going to turn his back on his obligations."

"I think Apollo—"

"Knew what he was doing. If I was him, maybe I'd do the same, grab what I could when I could. Sagan, I did do that; I just made sure I never got myself wanting to hold onto what I grabbed. Not once I knew the score. Or tried to, anyway," he admitted before Boomer could bring up Cassie.

"So you don't want to hold onto Bojay?"

"Well, no. I do. The difference is, he's not something I'm grabbing for. He's what I want for the long haul."

"Huh." For something that wasn't even a word, that was very eloquent.

"You never saw us together. We were good. He was... like my other half."

"Not the better."

"Look, Boomer, I know he's changed but he's still Boj underneath."

"And that would be the problem."

"No, that would be the solution," Starbuck corrected him. "You didn't know him before."

"That's true, I didn't... But I know him now." Boomer took a deep breath and then decided. "Look, once, long ago, in a moment of ambrosa-induced confidence Jolly told me what the squadron thought had happened: you made a move on Bojay and he being phobic had transferred off the Galactica without a word to anyone. Better than breaking your neck, Jolly said like it was a real possibility, and you had more balls than brains. So I already didn't like him much way before I met him. Then when I did—" He laughed. "Then I really didn't like him. Arrogant, condescending jerk, whose only saving grace was that he was as good as he thought." He paused. "And he definitely has balls. Considering what I've heard about the strike teams he was on it can't have been easy to jump into the heart of Gamoray, and he did it with a joke. He's no coward. Unfortunately, perhaps."

Starbuck wished, again, that he'd been on that flight deck with Apollo instead of Boomer. He really didn't think Bojay would have been willing to draw on him, not face to face. It was going to be damned hard for either Boomer or Apollo to forget that moment. Hard? Try impossible. Hard would be forgiving it. (And he fleetingly wished he'd remembered what Boomer had seen: Bojay wasn't a coward. For all his jokes about self-preservation, he didn't run. Starbuck remembered telling him once, as they limped back from a furlon, that there was something seriously defective about his fight-or-flight reflex, only half of it worked...)

Boomer was concluding. "Son of a dagget wanted to kill us. I can't believe you forgot what I said."

And of course, even if he had forgotten it he'd been over this already once today... "I didn't forget. You said you'd, quote, 'never been so close to Death', unquote. I thought it was over the top at the time."


Starbuck admitted, "He's darker. But, Sagan, Boomer; that was a crisis moment. In a different life."

"And he'd do the same for Adama now?" Boomer's tone was lightly ironic.

"Probably not," he conceded, and then accused, "But then again you don't want him to, do you?"

"Do it? No. Want to? We should all want to. His heart's not here, Bucko, and you know it. Or you should."

"What do you mean?"

"You were gone for two and half days. I'm assuming you got his shirt off at least once."

"Twice," Starbuck responded to the challenge. "'Cause he only put it back on once." He held up his index finger though Boomer was too far away to see it. "When we went out to get a drink."

For just a moment Boomer seemed to have gotten more information than he really wanted, but if so he recovered quickly. "Then you know what I'm talking about. What's that saying? 'Wear your heart on your sleeve'? What do we have on our sleeves?" He slapped his Galactica patch, exaggerrating the motion so Starbuck could have no doubts. "What's he got on his arm, Bucko? His secret heart?"

Starbuck couldn't deny it, or that he was afraid Boomer had nailed it. "It's not new," he said.

"It's post their arrival here," Boomer said.

"How do you know that—how do you know anything about it at all?"

"Tara told me."

"She's the chatty one," Starbuck observed sourly. "Who else has she told?"

"Nobody," Boomer said, and even over channel two's less than perfect transmission it sounded that tell-tale combination of smug and wondering.

Like that, is it? You are moving on. But he didn't say it because it wouldn't have been kind and he knew he only wanted to because it might deflect Boomer. Might. "How does she know about him? From today?"

"I was guessing." Starbuck could hear the shrug in Boomer's voice. "She said all the others do. The men, anyway."

Not surprising, he supposed. Still, he remembered the looks Rustam and Nokio had directed Bojay's way and didn't lose hope. "New, huh?"

"Well, she said they didn't have them when they passed through the Life Center before. And now they do." He shook his head. "That's a really bad sign, Starbuck, and you know it. We broke them up too late."

Starbuck abruptly remembered something Cassie had said to him, late one night just before they stopped sleeping together again, how hard it had been telling the Pegasus survivors what had happened. Cain had told Adama he was sending "the wounded and non-essential personnel", but basically those who'd come had been those who were too injured to function—ten pilots, including Bojay; five mechs; three bridge staff—four medtechs, and one shuttle pilot. Cassie had said telling the pilots when they regained consciousness had been hard, so hard that Paye had resorted to asking Sheba to do it. And she'd delegated it to Bojay. That was what Cassie had really been bitching about, trying to like Sheba for Cain's sake and finding it hard to accept that Bojay had been hobbling around the Life Center telling his—their—fellow pilots the bad news while Sheba kept away from the messy scene and chased Apollo...

That had been unfair, of course. Sheba'd been hurt herself in the final battle, and she hadn't been chasing Apollo, not then, just getting visits from him in the Life Center. But it had been true that from the beginning the pilots of Silver Spar had been thrown together by the Galactica's crew, reinforcing their natural inclination to stick to each other. And now, after nearly half a yahren, it was harder to break them up than it would have been if they'd just been integrated to start with. Like the medtechs. Or the bridge staff: he hadn't heard Athena complain about them since the first secton.

"Maybe," he admitted.

"Oh, Hades, Bucko. Maybe. You know we did. And you know Tigh and Apollo weren't that keen on letting Bojay slide from all charges."

"The commander understood what that was about."

"The commander not only wasn't there, but he believes in consensus. It's not always a bad idea but sometimes it's a mistake."

Starbuck took a deep breath. "It's a little late to start charging him with stuff now, isn't it?"

Boomer sighed audibly even over the fuzzy transmission. "I suppose so. But it doesn't make him more trustable."

"Sagan, Boomer, what's he done since then? Damned near died at Gamoray, got taken out by the Lightship, fought like a lionet against the Cylons, and not once caused any real trouble for anybody. What does he have to do to prove he's okay?"

Boomer was silent for a long time. "I don't know, Starbuck. Maybe... maybe he can't."

"Maybe you can't."

"Maybe. Maybe if you'd been there you'd see it like us."

"Maybe if I'd been there it wouldn't have happened. Maybe it wouldn't have gotten out of hand if Apollo hadn't been so quick to get angry, whatever that was about."

"Power. Sheba. His father... but you being there wouldn't have changed it."

"Might have," Starbuck insisted. "Bojay didn't leave the Galactica 'cause he was phobic or didn't want me making passes at him. In fact, he made the first move. He got transferred, that's all. Cain wanted one of us and it was him. He wouldn't have shot at me."

"You sound pretty fracking sure."

"I am." I have to be.

"Well, buddy, I hope you're right. I still can't believe you're sleeping with him."

"I've gathered that." Starbuck laughed shortly. "Nobody can."

"It's a bit... odd."

"Well, you'd all better get used to it. It's here to stay."

Silence from Boomer.

"I'm not kidding, Boomer. I never felt like this about anybody. Ever."

"I'm not sure what to say to that."

"I suppose, 'Congratulations, I'm happy for you' is out of the question?"

"Yeah. Sorry, Starbuck, but I think it is." At least he sounded sincere.

"Then how about nothing at all?"


"Just don't mention it. Frack, Boomer; you're one of my oldest friends. I don't want to lose you. Don't make me choose."

"I'm going to have to think on it, Bucko."

"Okay... Sure." Starbuck didn't want to push him. It would just push him away. And since the odds were pretty good he'd managed to do that with Apollo already he didn't want to repeat it with Boomer. "Take your time." However long that may be.

They were quiet till the end of the picket, only operational comms passing between them. They landed and for the first time their eyes met; Boomer's dark ones were clearly confused and angry and even a little hurt. They didn't speak to each other, only their mechs—was Jenny really cool, or was Starbuck getting paranoid?— and Boomer lingered in the bay so that Starbuck found himself exiting decontamination by himself. He put up his helmet, wasting some time polishing it and playing with the comms circuits, but Boomer still didn't come. Sighing, Starbuck went to the ready room. And there he found himself sitting alone. He wasn't exactly ostracized, but nobody seemed sure what to say, so he was left on his own, playing sol-pyr and thinking. Wishing Bojay would get back. Hoping Apollo had gone home for the evening. Wondering how long it would take Boomer to decide what he was going to do, and if the rest of his friends would follow Boomer's lead.

And thinking about his life.

Not that he was enjoying it. But it seemed necessary.

Boomer had never been a man to stick his nose into someone else's business. He'd listen to you, and commiserate, and if you really pushed him he might give you a piece of advice. Good advice. But he didn't tell you about somebody else. He didn't.

But he had. Even though it hadn't been much, a couple of sentences Starbuck could have dismissed from the vast majority of his acquaintance, from Boomer it was a lecture.

"He seemed serious to me."

As close as Boomer was ever going to come to betraying a confidence. And then the kicker: "I'm only saying that I don't think you gave Apollo enough credit. You don't know that he wouldn't have changed his plans when love came along."

In other words... maybe he married because he was alone. Maybe if you hadn't dumped him, he'd have stuck with you.

Could that be true? Is that why Apollo was so... hurt, face it, Bucko, and looking so hard for a reason?

Starbuck sighed moodily, staring at the green and gold pattern on the backs of his cards. He hated examining his life, looking at his choices and the things he'd done and left undone. But maybe, just maybe, if he'd done it more often his best friends wouldn't be so hurt and angry, and so... well, what was Boomer if not hurt and angry? Confused and betrayed? Like Apollo isn't feeling that, too?

And maybe his lover wouldn't have spent all that time lost. Wouldn't be hurt and angry himself. Wouldn't have thought... what Starbuck had left him to think.

He gathered in the cards and began shuffling them, handling the cards without thought. You know, you avoid things, he thought. You always have. And then, when the thing you're avoiding happens, you tell yourself you were right. But... Maybe Apollo never said the word 'forever' to you. Did you ever say so much as 'next sectare' to him? Maybe you are right, maybe after Zac died he'd have wanted out, wanted to get married... but maybe, if he'd had someone, if he hadn't been alone, maybe he wouldn't have. You'll never know. Maybe if you'd had the guts to say you loved him, or even just asked him 'where do you see us in five yahrens?' If Boomer's right, he'd have told you what you wanted to hear, what you just wanted.

Maybe it wasn't just a passionate friendship, an interlude, for him either. Till you made it that. Avoided it, waited on him, gave him no reason to speak, and then left. A nice job all the way around, Bucko.

He sighed and dropped the cards, resting his head in his hands. No matter what he looked at over the past four yahrens, it was all the same.

Maybe if you'd written Bojay's mother you wouldn't have gotten involved with Apollo in the first place and neither of you would have gotten hurt. Neither of them... Who knows how long Bo would have stayed on the Pegasus if he thought you were waiting on him, wanting him. People transfer all the time. And even if he'd still been there at Molecay, what if you had told people how things were, how you felt, how much pain you were in? Maybe they'd have helped you. Maybe you'd have gotten over it. Maybe Apollo would have gotten over you. Maybe you and he would have gotten together then.

And Athena... She did say 'no' to you and it wasn't because she didn't want to be hurt, sure; you were right about that. But it wasn't because she didn't think you weren't good enough. That proposal came out of the blue and she had no reason at all to think you meant it. And Cassie... if you'd said you loved her before Cain showed up maybe she'd have told him how nice it was to see him but she was otherwise engaged.

Hades, Bucko, if you'd spoken to Bojay when he first got here instead of avoiding him, maybe... What did Robin say? He belonged with the others but he doesn't like it? Maybe if you'd given him someplace else to belong he wouldn't be with them. They might not even be they without him...

Frack. You've managed to screw up your life pretty good, haven't you?

He thought over that conclusion and couldn't dispute it. All he could say was, But at least I'm not avoiding things now. I finally told the truth to someone. At least I finally did say something first. After six sectares of pretending, maybe, but I did say it.

He raked the cards in angrily. Put yourself in for a medal, why don't you?

But at that point he was interrupted. "Hey, Bucko, mind if we join you?"

He looked up to see Jolly, with Greenbean beside him. "Mind? No. Thanks."

Jolly sat down with an easy grin. "'Thanks' is our line, isn't it? You're supposed to say, 'Sure', or 'Why not?'"

"Or," Greenbean added as he stretched his long legs out under the empty chair opposite him, "'It's not my table'."

Starbuck grinned back, feeling all-out-of-proportion happy. "I don't know. 'Sure' seems completely unfounded, and 'Why not?', I've discovered, has more answers than I want to think about, and... Well, maybe it's not my table but I was starting to wonder."

Jolly shrugged slightly, his expression serious. "Yeah, well. I think it's easier for Bean and me maybe. We used to know you two, back before."

Greenbean added, "Maybe he hasn't been friendly but we haven't exactly been putting out the welcome mat."

"And he was friendly, for that matter, that first day when they came over, bringing you guys back. Maybe a bit better-than-you, but, you know, friendly with it. Laughing about not having thought about a cubit, let alone used one, in he couldn't think when but he guessed he had two yahrens' back pay coming so he'd stand the first round if the bar'd take his chit." Jolly shrugged. "Before all that stuff with the fuel started."

Starbuck laughed. A few heads turned but he didn't pay any attention. "You know what I've always admired about you, Jol, all the way back to the academy? Your wonderful way with Standard. 'All that stuff'."

Jolly grinned and his wingman laughed out loud. "He is eloquent, isn't he?" Greenbean said, ducking the mock blow with the ease of yahrens of practice. "I keep telling him he should run for office."

"He was easier to deal with when he was a non-com," Jolly informed Starbuck confidentially. "He didn't talk dirty like that then."

"But seriously," Greenbean said, "I didn't socialize with you guys back then because things were, well, different. But we, the enlisted pilots and techs, we thought you were already an item."

"We thought so, too, up until he left. Actually," Jolly looked a bit embarrassed, "some still did. Thought you'd had a fight... You were acting like it." That rose at the end in almost a question.

Starbuck shrugged, shuffling. "No. We didn't. Anything, really..." He inspected the back of one of the cards. "I thought what you did. But what really happened was Cain asked for an Angel of Death to babysit his little girl, and he got Boj. Luck of the draw. And he tried to write me but I didn't get it," he discovered a limit to how openly he was going to confess his mistakes. "So I got pissed off and a little crazy about it."

"A little?" Jolly asked.

"Okay, a lot. And then he died."

"And then he came back. Whew." Greenbean shook his head.

"All of that. I didn't know what to do."

"At least you worked it out," Jolly said. "Angel of Death: haven't heard that in a long time. You two were sure good together." It had the sound of a blessing.

"You were that," Greenbean agreed, and echoed Jolly's tone.

"Yes, we were." Starbuck was startled to hear himself sounding wistful.

"Hafez knew what he was doing, putting you together." Jolly tapped the table. "Deal. I'd known Boj a good two yahrens already when you showed up. Even when he was distinctly junior, a little ought-to-keep-his-mouth-shut first-orbit cadet, he was, well—"

"Better than you," Greenbean said, looking at his cards. "Always had an edge of better-than-you to him."

"Always was better than you, too," said Jolly. "Till you." He looked up, grinning. "It was a pure pleasure to watch you two fly."

"Those were good times," Starbuck said softly.

"You can say that again."

"Hi, guys." Robin, a datapad in her hand, stopped by Starbuck's chair.

"Join us," said Jolly. "Bean, move your feet."

"No, can't," she shook her sleek black head. "I'm looking for—"

"He's on picket."

"Ha ha," Robin said flatly. "You're so amusing, Jolly, I can't imagine why you didn't hit it big on the Star Circuit before the Destruction. I happen to be looking for someone who can give me a straight answer about anti-personnel narcotic bombs." She waved the datapad in his face.

"Well, you haven't found him," Greenbean said.

"Story of my life," she sighed theatrically, and then tapped Starbuck's shoulder with the data pad. "But looks like you did."

It took Starbuck a centon to remember back to their conversation. "Oh. Yes, I found him."

"So I heard. Vale and Rohan were just a bit chatty."

"Vale and Rohan can talk a long walk off a short pier." There was more annoyance in Greenbean's voice than Starbuck had heard in a long time.

"Vale's not so bad," Jolly said placatingly.

"You were never enlisted."

"I wasn't either," Robin pointed out, "but they're still a couple of felgar-spreading snitrats."

Starbuck wondered what that was all about. So, from the look in his dark eyes, did Jolly. Well, he'd leave it to his fellow lieutenant; he'd look like he had an axe to grind. Something occurred to him. "Robin, has Sheba got a mark on her arm?"

"A mark? What kind of mark?"

"She doesn't then," Starbuck said; he hadn't thought so, because he was sure Apollo had seen her bare arm at least. She had to put on a dress sometime.

And Jolly offered helpfully at the same time, "A brand. Pegasus."

"Sagan," she said, "they really are like a fellowship. No, she doesn't. Whether that's a good sign for you or not, I don't know." She shrugged. "I hope so. You deserve a bit of things going right for a change."

"What do you mean?"

She shrugged again. "My brother—I told you about him? He had one. One reason Mom called fellowships barbaric." Her impish smile flashed out. "Of course, Mom didn't approve of tatoos, either."

They were speechless, dying to ask and not daring.

She laughed and then tapped Starbuck's shoulder again. "Well, the best of Virgon luck to you both, Bucko. I do need to find Apollo. Or Boomer. Or somebody with some authority."

They watched her walk away. Since she didn't have her jacket on, the tight belt and sleek tan trousers emphasized her hips very nicely. As she turned the corner Greenbean sighed. "And she's nice, too. Gi definitely fell into a pile of Virgon luck."

"She's about half as tall as you are," Jolly said, exaggerating only slightly.

"And what's that got to do with the price of eggs in Ichker?" the tall blond asked with a leer.

"She and Giles fit," Jolly said while Starbuck snickered.

"Well," Greenbean shrugged, "I'm just gonna say that boy better put himself in the way of a commission before somebody who's less of a romantic than the captain notices."

"Giles? Commissioned?" Starbuck shook his head. "The mind boggles."

"They made you a lieutenant," Jolly said.

"You know," Starbuck looked at him. "Robin's right."

Jolly laughed. "At least I've got honest alternate employment opportunities when we hit Earth and find it a peaceful paradise."

"Gambling will be an honest opportunity if it's really Paradise."

"And politics won't," Greenbean added.

"Sagan," the burly pilot said. "If it's Paradise there won't be politicians honest or otherwise."

"Are you insulting the Commander?" Raimi and her wingmate had been throwing them looks for a few centons. Her question wasn't confrontational, and Starbuck was glad to answer her.

"The Commander's not a politician."

"He's the President," she said.

"Exactly," said Jolly. "Join us. Safety in numbers when playing with Starbuck, even for phantom cubits."

"I'll play for real," Starbuck protested.

"Not with me," Opal said, pulling up another chair. "I'm flat."

"You really think you can be President without being a politician?" Raimi had slid into the seat Greenbean's feet were underneath without disturbing him.

"Well, I think Adama can." Jolly shrugged. "I mean, he doesn't politic. And the Council tried that stunt with Siress Tinia, and I think that was because they were afraid that the military was running the fleet instead of them."

"Well, we are," Starbuck said.

"And should be," Greenbean nodded.

"No arguments there," Raimi picked up her cards and narrowed her eyes, startlingly blue against her deep brown skin, at them. "I guess it depends on what you mean by politician. Are we using anything, or just keeping track? I bet five, whatever."

As the game, and the conversation, continued, Starbuck found it hard not to lose on purpose, especially when Giles pulled over a chair and joined in when he came off picket. There were twelve pilots in Blue, and five of them were sitting here, and one was Bojay, and one was him. Half were still talking to him. And Robin. And the rest of Green wasn't here for the opportunity. Maybe Apollo and Boomer couldn't deal with it, and it wasn't that surprising all things considered, and maybe the rest of Blue and even of Green were staying away, but he wasn't going to be alone however it went.

So just maybe he'd hit bottom and was coming back up.

Maybe it would all work out in the end.

Apollo came back before the end of the shift, shutting himself up with Boomer in the captain's office for about twenty centons. By then, all of the two duty squadrons except Brie and Orion, who were on picket, were in the ready room, and the oncoming pilots had begun to gather for their briefing. Sheba glared at Starbuck from across the room. Yellow's Glyn stood by himself, his arms wrapped around his chest, his eyes mostly on the floor with occasional glances at Sheba. Starbuck found himself a bit annoyed with Caspar, that he'd let that happen, and then remembered Rustam, Nokio, and Tyr. Maybe Caspar had tried, and Haven. Maybe Glyn didn't let them. Starbuck sighed. He didn't care about any of them but Bojay, but still...

And it was then he realized that Bojay hadn't come back. He was immediately worried. It didn't take eight centares to get a physical, for Sagan's sake.

Apollo and Boomer still hadn't come out of the office (and it was a sign of how worried Starbuck was that he didn't care what they were talking about) when Green's commander glanced around and crossed over to speak softly to Sheba. She nodded, and Aidan called out, "Okay, Green, take off. Blue, you too."

Starbuck didn't wait to be told twice. He headed straight for the barracks. Unfortunately, Bojay was not there. Starbuck dithered for a few centons, unsure. Last secton it would have been normal for him not to see his wingmate after shift. But that was before the break, before becoming his lover, before everything had changed.

Or at least before everything had changed for Starbuck. Maybe...

No. It had changed for both of them. What had Boj said at lunch? You belong to me now. Starbuck paused. Something about you and me, anyhow.

Well, hells. He wasn't going to stand around and wait any more. He'd spent most of his life doing that, waiting or avoiding. The best thing that had ever happened to him had followed his actually going after what he wanted. No one had ever said he couldn't learn... eventually.

Besides, there were a few questions he wanted to ask.

Bojay wasn't in the Life Center. In fact, according to Tara, he'd been gone for several centares. Starbuck thanked her, aware she was probably storing this encounter up for Boomer, and left. Boj had been released while he, Starbuck, had been flying picket. He hadn't come back to the ready room. Or, at least, if he had he'd left again before Starbuck got there. He supposed Apollo could have sent him somewhere else and 'forgotten' to mention it. But it was—he glanced at his chrono, 2265—over half a centare since their shift had ended; he should be back by now. He decided to go back to the barracks and wait. If Boj wasn't back by midnight he'd start a serious search.

He stopped as he came up to the information center. A couple of centons wouldn't hurt... Sitting down at a vacant terminal he pulled up a dictionary program. Of course, what he really wanted to know was what Boj had said in the turbowash that morning, but he had no chance of finding that out. He hadn't been paying much attention, and when somebody was really talking in a foreign language you couldn't tell where the words broke. Like that perthin thing: if he hadn't already known that teen meant you are and ee mee meant to me he couldn't have told it wasn't, say, teeny perthineemy.

But he could check out that arglething. He had no idea how to spell things in Cambran, he vaguely remembered they only pretended to use the same alphabet—'W' was a vowel, for Sagan's sake. Fortunately the program went both ways. He typed in gods and got duwiau. That wasn't it. Lords got him arglwyddi. Bingo.

He started to turn off the machine, but didn't. What the hell, as long as he was here. I love you. The screen promptly gave him dw i'n dy garu di. He snorted. Damn chatty Cambrans. How could that take so many words, when... He paused, and then typed in you belong to me now. The screen displayed Ydych chi'n perthyn i mi rwan. He blinked at that and then remembered that Cambran had two words for 'you'. Bojay had, of course, been using the familiar 'ti', he had even back five or six yahrens ago. So this was the formal... Wait a minute. Rwan? He hadn't said that. He'd said... befach, or something like that.

Starbuck typed in rwan and got back now, currently, at the present time. He stared at the screen for a minute and then typed befach. The machine returned word not found.

Damn. How to spell it... Shrugging, he put in now and got [general sense] rwan; [indicating change from past conditions] bellach; [phrases] up to now: hyd yma, hyd yn hyn; by now: erbyn hyn; now and then: o bryd i'w gilydd... He stared at the screen, and then closed his eyes, trying to remember. Hadn't Boj said once, yahrens ago, that Cambran didn't have a 'yes'? That you had to answer "I am" or "I do"? So what had he said this morning that he'd translated as "oh, yes"?

O heed. He blew out a breath when that came back not found and checked the pronunciation guide. Could be with an I, or a U, or a Y. Hid meant heed, probably borrowed from Standard; hud meant magic—nice thought but probably not it—and hyd meant distance; till, until; up to; as far as... Wait. O hyd meant always [since the beginning].

Well, damn. He was going to have to buy a Cambran pocket dictionary. Spend his spare time learning it. Sure, he'd gotten the gist of it and it was encouraging, but there was nuance in there he hadn't been given. You didn't use to belong to me but now you do... I belong to you since forever. He swallowed, hard, and got up. He had to find Bojay.

And then he had some questions to ask.

He'd just have to keep remembering that o hyd.

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