Sheba opened the door when he signalled. She was still in uniform, though her shift had ended several centares ago. He remembered Athena telling him how Sheba had complained about not having civilian clothes; she did have some dresses now but he supposed she just stayed in uniform most of the time. "Oh, hello, Apollo," she said.
"You might want to change," he said. "The reservations are for the Gold Room."
"I got reservations at the Gold Room," he repeated.
"You didn't mention it earlier. I'm sorry. I can't go anywhere tonight."
"But this is Third-day," he said. "We always have dinner on Third-day."
"You usually ask me, and I usually say 'yes'," she corrected him. "It's not etched in tyllium. And I can't tonight. I have something else to do."
"What?" he asked before he could stop himself.
"Something that doesn't have anything to do with you," she said. "Something I can't put off to another day. Something I can't miss. Won't miss." She'd been holding something in her hand; now she put it around her neck: the pectoral of the dress uniform.
"And won't tell me about?"
"What part of 'doesn't have anything to do with you' didn't you understand? Your always wanting to know where I am and who I'm with is almost as annoying a habit as your always assuming I'm ready to go wherever you want whenever you want."
"If you want to talk about an annoying habit," he said, stung, "yours of acting like this relationship is something you can do in your spare time, when you want to and you can fit it in, that's annoying. Worse than annoying. When we get married you'll have to be a little more full-time"
"When? May I remind you that I haven't said 'yes' yet? In fact, you haven't even asked me yet."
I was going to tonight! trembled on the tip of his tongue but what he heard himself say was, "I thought we understood each other."
"Understood what, exactly? That we'd go on like this until you decided it was time for you to get married again, and then I'd resign my commission and stay at home and take care of Boxey and have babies? Or maybe just transfer to shuttles?"
He looked at her stormy brown eyes and the flush on her cheekbones, heard the anger in her voice, and found himself without an answer. He knew what he expected, what he had mentioned to her before, what he'd said to other people that had obviously gotten back to her (probably as he'd intended). But now he didn't know if what he'd expected was what he really wanted. She'd have to quit flying Vipers if she wanted children; Sagan, some physicians said a woman should wait at least a couple of sectares before even trying. But he wasn't sure any longer if he wanted babies. A mother for Boxey, yes, but more children? And Sheba in shuttles... that seemed wrong. But... She interupted his thoughts before he could decided what he wanted to say.
"Let me clue you into something, Apollo. This," she waved her hand along her uniform, "is who I am. I'm not like Dietra, or Brie, or even Spar pilots like Deianara or Kaede; I didn't start flying Vipers because there weren't any men to do it. I've been a combat pilot for a dozen yahrens. My father believed in me, but I had to prove myself to people like you every day for the first half of my career. I may quit flying someday, but it won't be as a trophy on some man's wall. I like combat, I like it a lot, everything that goes with it, and I'll have to have something damned special to replace it. You think about that tonight. If your expectations don't have any more give in them than mine, maybe we aren't suited no matter how good the sex is."
"I mean it. And I have to go. I can not be late for this." And she tossed on her cape and opened the door. "Ask Starbuck to dinner."
"Maybe I will," he said, but she was already gone. Wasted it...
The more he thought about it, though, the better an idea it was. He'd much rather spend the evening with Starbuck than alone. Hades, he'd much rather spend the evening with Starbuck than with Sheba, if it came to that. Even if she was in a good mood. He blinked at that thought and shook his head. He'd known Starbuck longer. There weren't so many expectations between them. So many complications. Just simple friendship, no demands. That was it. And anyway, he had the reservations. He'd be damned if he was going to let that room go to waste, especially since he'd had to pay for it in advance... He punched up the BOQ barracks on Sheba's comm. "Starbuck, you got any plans for tonight?"
"That depends," Starbuck said. "What's up?"
"How can it depend? I mean, either you do or you don't. I don't want to disrupt your social life."
Starbuck laughed. "No plans I can't get out of, and whether I want to get out of them or not depends on what you have in mind. What happened, Boxey's baby sitter wised up?"
"I'll have you know she's comfortably esconced on my couch watching vid and pretending to do her homework," said Apollo. When Jolly had married a widow from Ariel and acquired a teenaged daughter, it had saved Apollo from having to ask Athena or Starbuck or his father to watch Boxey all the time. Svetlana wanted to be paid, true, but she was willing, and Boxey liked her.
"So what, then?"
"You sure you don't have plans?"
"I have reservations at the Gold Room"
"Well, Sheba stood me up."
There was a pause, and then Starbuck said, "I'll meet you in the shuttle bay. Give me about twenty-five, thirty centons, 'kay?"
Sheba walked through the corridor to Rejuv Center Three trying to calm down. She had taken off her cape and was carrying it over her arm after realizing the looks she was getting; she'd meant to carry it in the first place but somehow the iconography inherent in swirling it on had seemed the right way to end that conversation. Drama Siress, she said to herself, but it still felt right.
Sometimes she just wanted to take Apollo and shake him till his brains rattled. And she didn't expect him to know what day it was, why should he?, but that possessive streak of his was driving her crazy. Especially since otherwise he didn't seem all that serious; it was as if he thought being possessive was enough to prove he was in love.
But it always felt like he was holding back. Not because he was afraid of passion or anything like that; the sex wasn't just good. Once she'd managed to get them in bed, it had been very enjoyable. Though she had the nagging feeling that was why he was so sure they were promised, even though he hadn't asked her outright. Nice girls don't... And she didn't feel like his heart was engaged, only his head. Which would be okay, she supposed, if their ideas about marriage were the same. And they didn't seem to be.
Besides, she'd seen love, real love, up close and personal. She hadn't had it, but she'd seen it, and she wanted it. She'd hoped Apollo would be it, he'd seemed ardent enough, but... he wanted a wife, not a lover. Or at least if he did, he didn't want them in the same person. She sighed. Ask Starbuck to dinner. If the blond was her rival she couldn't very well compete. How did you against a best friend?
She'd been surprised to discover the cocky blond and the quiet brunet had only been friends for fourteen yahrens. They had the feel of people who'd known each other since before they could remember, like Bojay and Kenji had. It was hard to imagine the shy and serious teenager she pictured Apollo to have been taking a liking to Starbuck, who had probably been born boisterous, and it was harder imagining Starbuck taking one to Apollo. You could picture him battening on like a scavenger on a predator, but it was patent that wasn't what their relationship was about. She didn't know exactly what it was, but it wasn't that...
Still, only a total idiot could miss the fact that Apollo cared more about Starbuck than he did even his own family, father, sister, stepson...
Who was, of course, another thing that was making Apollo want to get married. And making her pause. Not that she hated the kid, but she wasn't sure about jumping into a ready-made family, especially with someone who was, well, obsessive or something. Athena had told her half the reason Apollo had gotten married the first time was because of the kid. And the other half because Serina had wanted to really badly.
Plus, she knew Apollo was torn between admiration of her abilities in a Viper and wishing she wasn't a pilot at all. Athena had warned her that Apollo had hated it when Serina had signed up to be a shuttle pilot, though he'd gone all grim and borne it in silence when the shuttle pilots had had to be trained to fly Vipers. She'd said she fully expected that Apollo would have done his level best to get Serina out of Starfighter Command after they'd married, if he'd had the time.
In fact, Sheba realized, Athena pretty much didn't think she ought to marry her brother, even if she hadn't come out and said so in so many words. She sighed. She and Apollo needed to sit down and have a long talk.
It was just too bad he'd picked today. And that she hadn't realized it was Third-day, or that custom was more than that to Apollo. She'd just figured that was when he could get someone to watch the boy... and she hadn't realized he thought they had a set date. Of course, if she had she'd still have broken it, but they might not have fought.
Worry about that tomorrow, she told herself, arriving in front of the Rejuv Center. She put the cape back on, running a hand under her hair to free it from the heavy suede. She was glad her hair was long enough to hide her rank pins; Apollo hadn't noticed she was wearing Pegasus star-and-diamonds instead of her Galactica compass-rose-and-daggers. All things considered, she wouldn't have wanted to get into that with him tonight.
Flyspace was chaos, was filling rapidly with debris; cruisers, frigates, destroyers, carriers drifting, shattered and broken, brief flames where energy contacted fuel and oxygen; scattered Vipers, Asps, and Cobras, dead but spinning, hazards to navigation; Raiders the same way; mid-sized Cylon ships, Enforcers and Assailers, also broken and dying; beams of charged deuterium everywhere... and every ship dead was people dead. Every cruiser a hundred fifty, every frigate ninety, every destroyer a hundred... every carrier a hundred and that many again or more fighter pilots. Plus the REOs on the intel platforms, the Owls and Ravens and Condors... Death everywhere.
And especially in her head. Not just what her eyes couldn't help seeing, what her ears had to listen to. Friends, comrades, acquaintances... those cocky boys off the Accipitrida Verda they'd competed with just a secton ago... too many, too many... Ivo, Marco, Thoth... more than her own death she feared the deaths of loved ones. Bojay. Kenji. Isobel. Daddy...
She shook it off and opened the door.
"Sheba!" Taiana was standing there and hugged her, her dove grey medical uniform a sharp contrast to her dark skin. "We were starting to worry."
"I wouldn't miss Remembrance," Sheba said, hugging her back. "I got delayed a bit, that's all." She looked around the room. All the medtechs were there already, and most of the support techs. While she counted heads in Viper brown their two Ops came in, conspicuous in the midnight blue. Anakserah and Gwen had been wounded when the bridge had been hit in the attack that had happened before they'd met up with the Galactica, badly enough that her father had sent them over with the others. It had been hard for them, especially since Tigh had split them up, him on Second Watch and her to Third. But here any divisions that existed between blue and brown were gone. Sheba hugged Gwen, her hand out to Anakserah, watched the pilots slap him on the back, Horus offering him that one-handed desert-Leonid hug.
Everyone was here. Everyone there was to be here, everyone who would be here. Those who Remembered. She shivered inside, all her dead crowding at the corners of her mind, her dead and her gone...
And then Bojay was there, his presence driving back the fears, handing her a glass of ambrosa, the first of many they'd drink tonight. She stepped forward, feeling Bojay at her back, Horus ranged slightly to his left, and the group quieted.
"Pegasans," she said. "This is the day we remember. And this yahren we have more to remember. We have the Peggy herself, and everyone else. We pray they aren't dead"
"The tincan hasn't been riveted together that could get the Skipper," said Anakserah.
"Damn straight," said Bojay from behind her.
She smiled. "That's why we won't have a day for them. Not because we forget, but because they don't need one. But today's for Molecay, and for the rest." She raised her glass. "Remembrance!" She emptied it.
Taiana and Ewan, serious and incongruous barkeeps in their medtech's grey, passed through the crowd filling glasses. Then Sheba raised hers again. "To those who died at Molecay, and those who died since."
Anakserah stepped forward and raised his. "Colonel Ganesh."
Behind her Bojay raised his. "Strike Captain Kenji."
"Engineer-Sergeant Lang," came from Yuri.
And Ewan's "Doctor Paavo," ended the first round of names.
They drank, sparingly.
There would be more.
"So," Starbuck settled himself comfortably in his seat and looked around the private dining room. "I can see why you didn't want to waste this, though a truly generous man would have offered it to a friend."
"I thought your plans were low-key."
"They were. But I didn't necessarily mean me, you know. Boomer could have brought brought Giles."
"I don't want to subsidize them."
Starbuck shrugged lightly. "Athena could have brought Omega."
"It's bad enough Sheba stood me up," Apollo said, "without my advertising it all over the Rising Star. Captain Apollo, party of twoit could have been you all along."
Starbuck tasted his nectar.
"Besides, Omega can afford this even better than I can."
"Yes, he's a nice catch."
Apollo paused. "Starbuck, did you not want to come? You didn't have to, you know."
"I know that. And I did want to come. It's just not exactly like you to even get a room like this in the first place, let alone..." He finished that with a comprehensive gesture that took in the room, the celebration nectar in the iced stand next to the table, and himself. "Looks like you had big plans for tonight."
"So what happened?"
"She stood me up."
"Yeah, you said that. I meant, what exactly happened? She didn't show? Called it off?"
"Said she couldn't come."
Starbuck blinked, and then tried not to snicker, with mixed success. "You asked her at the last minute?"
"I was trying to be spontaneous. Everybody," he glared pointedly at the blond, "tells me I'm not spontaneous enough."
"Oh, lords. Apollo, spontaneity takes practice. I'm sorry, though; this looks like it was going to be special." He poured more nectar for himself and made an offering gesture towards Apollo, who nodded. Why not? Starbuck continued, "So, why'd she turn you down?"
"She said she had somewhere else to go. In dress uniform, no less."
"I'm sure she did," Starbuck said. "This is Molecay Day."
"Molecay. That was today, three yahrens ago. You didn't know that?"
"No. Why should I? When did the war start?"
"C'mon, Apollo, you know that." Starbuck shook his head. "6298, when we got between the Cylons and the Hastari."
"Or 6287, when the Cyprian Queen was lost, though the diplomats smoothed that over," Starbuck said. "Or maybe 6190, if you believe that the Akkadia Peregrinative was lost to Cylons. Which I do."
"But you're obsessive on the subject."
Starbuck shrugged. "We all have our character flaws. That's mine, I guess."
"That? Not the smoking, or the gambling, or the" Apollo broke off. "No. I'm not getting into that tonight. My point is, this is 7348"
"Or 1," Starbuck put in.
"Hey, we've started over before. This is a bit like running from Kobol, isn't it?"
Apollo glared at him but didn't answer, staying on topic. "This is 7348," he repeated, "and that means at the least one thousand and fifty yahrens of war. How am I supposed to remember each little battle?"
"Apollo, you spent a hundred and twenty centons one day back at the academy proving to me that you could recite your pedigree"
"And I still haven't collected"
"So you said 243 names; how did I know you weren't making them up? Anyway, the point is that you can remember what you want to remember."
"If I had them memorized," Apollo said, "you owe me twenty cubits."
"Mercenary," said Starbuck. "I'm so disappointed in you. But if you're saying you did, then you could memorize the battles. And that's not even considering that Molecay is hardly a 'little battle'. We lost the whole fracking Fifth Fleet at Molecay. Plus it was only three yahrens ago."
"And the Cosmora Archipelago was eleven yahrens ago, and Asmiara was ten, and Semtek was six, and so was Farfalla, and Sarabahandra and Galsa and Pitchett were five... I remember the yahrens just fine. She wants me to remember the day. And I know you did, but you're obsessive."
Starbuck shook his head. "No."
"No," he repeated. "First, no, I didn't remember the day because I'm obsessive. I don't remember the day for Cosmora, either, though I do for Semtek and Sarabahandra and Galsa. Like you do for Semtek, I bet, and Asmiara. And the others you were in."
"You weren't at Molecay."
"No." Starbuck hesitated briefly. "But I lost one of my friends there. I'll never forget it, even though it turns out he didn't die. I don't have so many friends that their death-days escape my memory."
Apollo blinked at him, and then reached out and touched his hand. "I'm sorry, Starbuck." And he was. And not just for that, either; he was sorry Sheba didn't think she could say to him, I'm going to a service for my friends that died at Molecay. Sorry that he'd never told her he'd come to understand that what Cain had done at Molecay might not have been what he'd have done, but that he realized it wasn't simple cowardice. That the Pegasans they had inherited weren't... But he hadn't, and she hadn't, and all in all he had a sudden odd feeling that this fight with Sheba was going to be the last fight.
But he was more sorry for hurting Starbuck with a casual remark. And that was odder. Wasn't it?
Starbuck pulled his hand away and made an airy gesture with it. "It doesn't matter. He's not dead. He may not be exactly like he used to be, but he's not dead. But the point really is not that Sheba remembered the day, has plans for it, and you didn't. The point is, you still didn't."
"You've lost me."
"Until I said it just now, you still didn't know what day it was. And that means she didn't tell you. And that means the fight wasn't about that."
"Oh." He thought about that for a centon. "No. I guess it wasn't."
"So, what was it about?"
Apollo thought about that, but the waiter arrived with the dinner (pre-ordered) before he had to answer. They sat quietly while the waiter set the dishes in place. Starbuck raised an eyebrow at the food and his first remark once the door was shut on them again was, "This was going to be special, wasn't it?"
Apollo shrugged, ducking his head for a quiet grace. As usual, Starbuck didn't participate, but he waited until Apollo reached for a fork. Then, reaching for his own, he said, "Seems a shame to waste this on me."
"It was already paid for," Apollo said. "You know what I mean."
Starbuck laughed. "Yeah... But you're not going to get what you wanted."
"I'm not sure I'd have gotten it anyway," Apollo said. "Not all that sure it's what I want, for that matter."
"Oh?" Starbuck leaned back. "What did you fight about, anyway?"
Apollo shook his head, honestly uncertain. "I'm not really sure... I think - life."
"You know. What we want. What we don't want. Expectations..."
"Especially when they're other people's."
"Other people's expectations aren't necessarily bad," Apollo reproved him.
"Not if you actually share them, no." Starbuck shrugged. "Okay, then. How bad was it?"
"You don't give up, do you?"
Starbuck shook his head. "How am I supposed to help you fix it if you won't tell me what you did?"
"Starbuck," Apollo said, "why aren't you a woman?"
Starbuck laughed. "That bad? At least you don't seem broken-hearted."
Apollo paused, taking inventory. "I'm not even angry anymore," he discovered.
"Good thing, I imagine." Starbuck poured more nectar. "Because it sounds like the kind of fight that ends things."
"Ends things..." Apollo thought about that for a centon. "I suppose so. It's over."
"Well," Starbuck said softly, "nothing begins until something else ends." He raised his glass. "New beginnings, my friend."
Apollo paused a micron, and then smiled and picked up his own glass. "Yes. New beginnings."
The toasts were over and the food was out, and the music was gettng started. Sheba had been giving that some thought for the past secton or so. Somebody had to start the dancing.
Bojay had danced with Astrid, before. He was not only Kenji's wingmate and best friend, but next to him the best dancer in the wing. He wasn't, of course, anything close to as good as the captain, who could have gone on the Gold Circuit as a professional if he had chosen to. He had won medals in Fleet competitions. And the Wing had never had a party where he didn't dance, including the first Remembrance.
Until he wasn't there any more.
"You go, Ewan." Through the haze of the painkillers Sheba recognized Astrid's voice.
"What? No, you"
She cut him off. "You go, Ewan," she repeated. "I know, I know: all the women are on the list. But I'm not going; you take this shuttle."
Sheba listened dreamily, dimly aware she should care, that she was concerned, but too full of coda to be able to.
"Taiana's already on her way over with the first group. You go. Ewan, hush. Just... follow your heart. I'm staying here, with mine."
"Astrid..." Ewan surrendered. "You're sure?"
"As I could ever be. Just go. Take care of them. And yourself. And don't worry about us; we're with the Skipper, after all."
That penetrated. Sheba tried to move, to protest, but couldn't. And then the darkness claimed her again, and when she woke it was in the Galactica's life center...
Sheba shook herself slightly and looked around. So... with neither Kenji nor Astrid there, somebody else had to do it. And that somebody was her, she knew. Bojay was talking with Horus but he turned as she came up. "Let's dance, Crash," she said, using his old squadron nickname.
He looked dubious. "You sure?"
The look in Horus's dark eyes confirmed her theory. "Yes, I am. It's tradition, Jay, we have to keep it up as best we can."
He raised an eyebrow. "Tradition? After two yahrens?"
"That's exactly why we have to. None of it's rooted enough to grow by itself. If we stop now, we'll lose it. We can't do that."
"No," he agreed slowly. "No. We can't. But you and me?"
"I know. We're not exactly Kenji and Astrid. But I don't think I'll trip over my own feet. Or yours. Come on." She held out her hand and he took it.
She had never danced with Bojay before. She wondered, as they made their way to the center of the room, exactly how that had happened. You'd have thought, all the yahrens they'd known each other, all the parties they'd been to... There was a moment of silence, and she looked at him, and thought: Kenji and Astrid, then Astrid and Jay, now Jay and me... She muttered, "Forfend!" softly and quickly to put off the omen. Then the music started and she concentrated on the dance.
He was exactly the right height to dance with. We'll have to do this again sooner than next yahren, she thought, following his sure lead along the floor. Bless him, Horus hadn't picked one of those complicated, showy pieces Kenji and Astrid had gone in for; this was a simple enough dance, easy footwork. She relaxed into her wingman's hold, surrendering to his guidance, losing herself in the moment, the music, and his hands. She didn't often find someone she felt like following; it was such a relief sometimes to do it, to let go, to just be.
And then, so slowly she couldn't have put her hand on the moment it changed, she became aware of something new and different. She wasn't dancing with Crash, her sometime (and best) wingmate, or Jay, her four-yahren (and forever) friend. The body next to hers, that she thought she knew so well, the man she thought she knew so well, had suddenly become unfamiliar. For the first time she understood why dancing like this was labelled by such as the Otori 'an occasion of sin'. For the first time, or so it seemed, she was aware that Bojay was male. And desirous. And, she realized with a shock that made her stumble and miss a step, desirable.
He steadied her, looking down. His lips were parted to say something, probably to ask if she was all right, but he didn't say anything. Their eyes locked; his were the color of the ambrosa she'd been drinking. That new awareness moved between them for a centon or two, like electric current.
Then he cursed softly and stepped away. The dance forgotten, she reached out and fisted her hand in his shirt, pulling him back. He didn't come, but he stopped backing away. They stood, staring at each other, for several centons. His hair had fallen over his eyes, making their expression hard to read, but she could. "Have we been fools?"
"Not yet," he said.
"No?" Suddenly it was all clear to her. "Then tell me why we fly so well together, end up in the same place so often, know each other's mind so well. Tell me why I hurt so badly on the shuttle back from Gamoray. Tell me why you spend half your time getting in between me and danger. Tell me..." She swallowed. "Tell me why you're always here."
He looked down at her. She let go of his shirt and rose onto the balls of her feet sliding her hands up to rest on his collarbones. And then she kissed him.
"Just dumb luck, I guess," he said when he could.
His hands were covering her shoulderblades, nearly covering her whole back, and she leaned into his hold looking up into his eyes. "Dumb seems right," she said softly.
He moved a hand to touch her cheek, lightly. "What about Apollo?"
"Forget him," she said. "I have. Jay, no," she shook her head. "Apollo and I have made no plans or promises. I don't even think he'll mind very much, if at all."
"He'd have to."
"I don't think so," she said, knowing she'd never seen in Apollo's green eyes what she was seeing in Bojay's hazel ones. "He wants a mother for his son and I was handy. He'll find someone else. He's handsome and smart and sexy and important. And so are you," she added to the change in those eyes so close to hers.
"I'm not important."
"You are to me," she said. "No one is more so."
"Sheba..." He swallowed, looking down at her.
"No one ever has been," she realized.
"Valued you above any pilot in the Wing. He'd be pleased."
"Not over you."
"As a pilot? Yes, he did. And yes, he would. The worlds have changed, Jay. Apollo's the only one it matters who his father was, because his father's here. My father would approve."
"You really think so?"
"Absolutely." She tightened her grip on him and shook him sharply. "You idiot. You haven't been keeping quiet because of that, have you?"
"I'm not the best catch out there," he said with a rueful smile.
"Baka!" She delivered Kenji's favorite reproof with a light slap on the back of his head. "You're as good a catch as anybody else, if not better than most, especially now. Or even the last few yahrens. By anybody's standards. What difference does anything make now except that you're a combat officer? And as for my fatherhe let me go my own way, you know. And anybody in a uniform was fine with him, anyway. I can't believe you didn't say anything."
"You didn't seem interested."
"I didn't know you were... That's my story, Crash, and I'm sticking to it."
That made him laugh. This time he kissed her.
She opened her mouth and felt his tongue slide in, caressing hers and promising delight. She pressed closer to him, feeling the strength of his body against hers, his arm around her and his other hand on her neck with her hair caught in his fingers... I was blind but now I see, she thought, and how many yahrens lost and gone?
"Ummm... Do you two want to, maybe, go someplace?"
She was startled, and then embarrassed as she realized they were still standing in the middle of the floor in the rec center. She felt the blush on her cheeks. Making out in public... She looked away from Horus up into warm hazel eyes whose expression was so full of wonder it was all she could do not to kiss him again. "Uh, well," she managed to say.
"I got your wing, Ace," Bojay said. "From here on."
"I'm holding you to that, Crash," she smiled at him, and then turned to Horus. "Sorry 'bout that. Well, no, I'm not really. But put the music back on. It's still Remembrance Day."
"Welcome back, Ace," Horus grinned at her.
She closed her hand on Bojay's arm and smiled at them all. "Like I never left."
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