part two


the Colonies

Bos remained their main base, but they moved around a lot. There were many places left that they could get working again, enough for a secton or so of the hit-and-run they'd perfected over the past two sectares. They were down to eighteen again, Winder and Arras both having stopped breathing—the term they now used. Winder had gone during their first strike on the tinheads, against a refueling station orbiting Pisco. Arras had caught it two sectons later, unable to get enough distance between himself and the Cylon troopship he'd taken with him. A good trade, they judged that, one Ghost for a couple of thousand Centurions.

A couple of them let Trent cut their hair, but most of them didn't bother any more, even those whose hair had been on the long end of the range. The only uniform items they worried about were pressure suits, though most of them kept their jackets and boots. Rank insignia had been tossed back at Cimlak in a deliberate statement that Kestrel, the sergeants, and Trent were the equals of the officers. And they'd stripped the ship patches off their jackets and sewn the ten of them, from the Galactica's triangle-studded circle to the Accipitrida Rufa's scarlet sword-bearing raptor, onto a banner to which Trent had added his station's logo and kept in the tanker. Before every mission they touched it, not speaking, each their own ship's. After Winder left them, they each touched the Misty's little cloud-cloaked avian as well.

For lack of medical expertise, Kestrel's arm wasn't up to combat. But he and Trent got along well and he'd accepted the support role more easily than some would have. Starbuck thought Trent might be substituting the youngster for his dead grandson, but what was the harm in that, after all? Several of the younger pilots looked to Trent for family. And to each other. Eliseadh had become their sister, to Starbuck's relief, and most of them treated each other like brothers, or how he thought brothers treated each other. Most—no brothers he'd ever known slept together, like Ilya and Ruslan, or Lynx and Hastur. He found himself watching that last pair carefully, since they hadn't known each other before, but he was soon enough satisfied that the boy wasn't being taken advantage of.

He let them fly together. Why not? The Ghosts (so they'd named themselves back at the beginning, after Onyx's remark) didn't have morale to be ruined, or a chain of command to be defied, or regulations to be broken. And frankly, if someone's lover stopped breathing, Starbuck wanted the someone to be responsible for it.

The other fourteen of them showed no particular tendency to pair up. Starbuck suspected some of them fell into bed together to relieve tension, but he didn't know. Nor did he care, as long as they didn't come looking to him. Apollo's loss was still a raw wound, and he wanted it to heal. He wanted it to scar over, become something he never thought about. And that wouldn't happen if he was being reminded.

So he focussed all his energy into killing Cylons and didn't think about the future or the past as much as he was able not to.

Killing Cylons, planning how, was his main job. Keeping the Ghosts functioning was the other, but he shared that one. Trent and Boomer had become his de facto seconds, Boomer's calm giving him a place to brace against and Trent's knowledge of the Colonial systems and long life's experience proving invaluable in more things than just Bos. Boomer was more than that, though: he'd met Boomer the same day he'd met Apollo, and the dark Leonid was his touchstone to the past, the good memories. He was the only one left who knew who Starbuck was.

Giles was off the Galactica, too, of course, but he'd been a sergeant. Officers and non-coms hadn't socialized much, so Giles knew the outer Starbuck, the surface one. Starbuck had to admit he didn't know the russet-haired pilot much better, though they'd often flown together. Back on the battlestar, Giles had been around a lot, but Starbuck had never paid him much attention. That was different now: they flew together and Starbuck relied on that sergeant's training to keep things running smoothly. And though he understood Boomer's occasional need to talk about their common loss, he really appreciated Giles's never mentioning the Galactica. Or anyone on her.

Eliseadh and Marcus were their mainstays in keeping Vipers flying, fueled, and firing. Some of the other pilots willingly fetched and carried and tried to learn—after all, if they lost their mechs they'd lose what future they had. Others turned their hands to comms mapping, tracing which tinheads were where when. And others became handy at scavenging.

They lived on scavenging, especially after they hit a little Cylon post and, leaving behind nothing even as alive as a Cylon ever could be said to be, got off with three Cylon supply vehicles. Hastur and Lynx became their experts on those; they took one completely apart and learned to fly the others in accepted tinhead fashion. It allowed them to slide in and grab supplies; it also, more importantly, allowed them to lure Cylons into ambush, using the tapes Carter pieced together from intercept.

Because that was what it came down to, after all.

The tinheads had taken quite a while, in the Ghosts' opinion, to realize that their losses weren't normal, that out on the edges of the herd were new predators. Even after they'd hit the second station, nothing changed in Cylon routine. It took their using the intel they got from Carter's intercepts to ambush a base star on the Piscon side of Caprica, getting lucky in that no guard ships at all were out and, apparently, no gun turrets were, in this conquered territory, even manned, before the tin cans started to behave as if they needed to take care. And even then, they didn't seem to believe it.

No one ever said tinheads were smart.

aboard the Galactica

Apollo looked across the table at his sister. She seemed older than her twenty-two yahrens, somber and subdued compared to the bright, even cheerful girl he remembered. He wished he knew her better; the decade between them wasn't much now that they were both grown, but it had separated them more surely than distance in their childhood, especially after he went into the service, leaving her, not even a teenager yet, at home. She and Zac, only a yahren apart, had been close... Apollo missed Zac, but Athena still grieved for him more deeply than Apollo had ever done.

Athena took a drink of her kava and then smiled at someone across the room. It was a shadow of the incandescent smile Apollo remembered from before the Destruction, but at least it was a smile. He turned to see who it had been given to.

Bridge Officer Omega was getting kava to go. That was almost a given, Apollo thought, the man spent more time on the bridge even than Tigh, whose ship the Galactica was, technically. Before the Destruction he hadn't been that obsessive about it, he and Apollo had even occasionally run into each other in the O Club, or at yermolash games. Now... You never saw him off-duty. Someone else with no life, Apollo thought moodily, not going through the motions but certainly turning his job into his everything. Like he had before Boxey, and Serina. Like Athena was... He hadn't meant to get too personal with his sister, she didn't appreciate it, but he heard himself say, "You two should get together."

She stared at him, her pale blue eyes, a legacy from some forgotten ancestor, widening. "Who?" she asked in bewilderment.

Well, he was committed now. He topped off his kava and said, casually, "You and Omega." Normally he wouldn't have suggested such a thing—well, normally he wouldn't have dared to get into Athena's private life at all—but nowadays wasn't 'normally'. Nowadays Omega's fifteen-yahren edge on her wasn't much to consider. Not that it was that much anyway, Ila had been even younger than Adama than that, though older than Athena...

His sister stared at him still, and then shook her head and almost laughed. "No, thank you," she said. "I suppose you know what you're doing with your own life, but if you think I want to be married to a man who wants to be married to you, you're very wrong indeed."

He stared at her, his cup halfway to his mouth. "What?"

"Oh, lords," she said. "You really didn't know? Frack."

"You're serious."

"I'm sorry. I thought you must know," she said. "You were always with Starbuck, he never said anything to you, and now, of course..." She shrugged, her eyes momentarily brighter with Starbuck's name. "But he's flit, more flit than you I guess, and he's always been crazy about you. So I don't think we'd suit. Thanks for the thought," she added. She glanced at her wrist chrono. "I have to go," she said. "Thanks for breakfast."

He watched her leave. He hadn't done anything to make her feel better, maybe had made her feel worse. About his usual standard with her these past few sectares. And now he had another thing to think about. Omega... He had managed to miss it, though he could reassure himself that the bridge officer was a past master at self-containment. Now he was glad they rarely met any more, he wouldn't know what to do with his eyes. One thing he'd always envied Starbuck was the ease with which he could deflect attention... though, to be fair, Omega had never bothered him or given him any attention to deflect. How could he have been bothered, when he'd never known anything until today?

Starbuck... he'd probably known, so little escaped him. But he'd never said anything, just the occasional gentle teasing that Apollo wasn't as unsought-for as he thought... Oh, gods, how he missed Starbuck. He didn't know what he was doing in his own life; he loved Boxey, but Serina... Far too often he wished for blue eyes instead of brown, blond hair instead of brown, broad shoulders instead of... He shook himself. Starbuck was dead and Serina was his wife, and that was that.

But that night he woke himself from a dream of dark eyes that had nothing to do with either Starbuck or Serina.

the Tauran moon Bos

Trent looked at Boomer very seriously. "Starbuck's losing it," he said simply.

Boomer stared at the old man. "Bizarre tense choice," he said. "We all lost it sectares ago, or didn't you notice?"

"No," he shook his silver head. "I mean he's losing what he had. He's gonna die."

Boomer still didn't get it. "We all are. In a very real way, we all have already. You know that." Despite his age, or maybe because of it, Trent didn't entirely accept the pilots' mantra of we're dead already, what more can happen?

"I mean like tomorrow. He wants to."

Boomer gave that some consideration. "You may be right," he acknowledged. "I've noticed him sort of drifting away."

"And that won't be good. He's our anchor, Boom-Boom. If he's cut loose, we're all gone."

Boomer found himself thinking that should bother him more than it was. But it did bother him enough that he said, "You have a suggestion?"


Boomer blinked at him. "Sex?"

"You know. He needs to get laid."

"I do know what sex is."

Trent laughed. "Well, then. That's what he needs. Have a nice torrid affair. Get himself something to be interested in."

Boomer could see the reasoning, especially for Starbuck, but... "And just who are you suggesting for the role? Eliseadh?"

"It would be better if they enjoyed it," Trent said. "Or at least could make him think so. Some flit guy, if there one was available, who could make him forget women."

Boomer stared, and then remembered. Trent hadn't been on the Galactica. Trent hadn't even been in uniform. "Starbuck is," he said. "Flit, I mean. He was partnered with our captain."

Trent treated that like the ancient history it was. "Good. Then he'll be receptive."

"Not if he thinks whoever is just going through the motions. Starbuck always did want his bedpartners to be happy about being with him." Boomer spoke with the authority of having known him for ten yahrens.

Trent shrugged. "Then we pick someone who can fake him out. I was thinking, Giles."

Boomer gave that some thought. Giles wasn't anything like Apollo physically, but that might be to the good. And he'd always been... well, Boomer didn't want to say the sergeant had followed the lieutenant like a pup, but there hadn't been much to choose between him and Zac, who had done so openly. Starbuck would probably buy it.

The question was, would Giles?

And a bigger one: who was going to ask him?

"You are," Trent said as though it were self-evident. "You've known him longer. Both of them."

So Boomer shook away his misgivings, the whispery voices of his parents calling this pimping, and went looking for Giles. He found him in the common room.

He was sitting on the window ledge, leaning against it, his arms wrapped around his knees, looking out into the night. He looked up when Boomer approached. "Giles. Got a centon?"

"Sure," the youngster answered.

Boomer leaned against the window and looked at his boots.

"What is it? Need someone for a suicide mission? I'll do it."

"I'll bear that in mind," Boomer promised. "But no, not exactly... you might prefer it."

"To what?"

Boomer paused, and then decided to just say it. "To Starbuck. I mean, having sex with Starbuck."

There was a long pause. "Having sex with Starbuck? You mean, he wants—?"

"If you mean, has he said anything to me, no. This is my idea, well, Trent's, but when the man's right, he's right. Starbuck's losing it. He needs..." Giles's voice had broken off, words unsaid; Boomer's trailed off, words unfound. He took a deep breath.

Giles said quietly. "I see."

"It's just," Boomer said, "we need him. We need him sane, or at least as sane as any of us."

"I understand, I do. But... What if he puts me through the nearest window? Though as I was just volunteering for a suicide mission I guess I shouldn't let that worry me."

"He won't."

"Well, hell. Maybe it would relax him," Giles said.

After a startled moment, Boomer realized he was joking. He relaxed himself. "The main problem we have is... lots of us would do it, hell, I'd do it, but he's known us too long. He'd know we didn't really want him. And nothing puts him off faster than that. It's why he doesn't even look at Eliseadh... he knows she doesn't...and he'd never believe one of the others had broken up for him, so, what I mean—"

"I know what you mean. And, Boomer—I've thought about it on my own."

"You have?"

Giles shrugged. "Yeah... I mean, not seriously, you know? But... I'd do anything for him."

"Starbuck? Got a few centons?"

Starbuck turned and looked at him for a centon. Giles hadn't really looked at the other man's eyes in the last secton or so; the desolation he saw there shocked him into the moment, scared him enough to make him swear silently that he wasn't leaving this room until he'd done what Boomer and Trent said needed doing. What he himself now saw needed doing.

Starbuck had turned back to the window. "Yeah," he said. "I guess. What do you need?"

"It's what you need, really."

"Me?" His voice wasn't interested. "What would that be?"

"You need to relax some."

"Relax?" Starbuck laughed. The sound had no humor in it.

"Yeah. Ease up some. You're too strung out." Giles had closed the distance between them, and was now standing within arm's reach.

Starbuck looked at him sharply. "Ease up?" he demanded. "How in Hades am I supposed to do that—Why would I?"

"You need to—" That was as much as Giles could get out before Starbuck grabbed him and pointed at the sky, at the bright flickering disc dominating the night. "You know what that is?" Starbuck said savagely.

Giles swallowed. "Libris. Burning."

"Right. Enough ordnance went into her to fracking catch her atmosphere on fire. Gods know how long it'll burn, but one thing's certain: there's nothing left there. Nothing."

"I know..."

"And Libris may be the lucky one. No fracking Cylons there... And you want me to fracking ease up? How do I do that, you tell me."

Giles looked into the blazing blue eyes, so close to madness, and felt that same madness sweep through him. 'Not seriously' he'd told Boomer, but that had been a lie. 'Hopelessly' was how he'd thought about it, hopelessly, longingly, constantly. Now there was nothing to lose. "You could try sex."

"Oh, yeah? With who?" Starbuck demanded.



"Why do you think I'm here?"

Starbuck's grip tightened on his arm. "And that solves what?"

Giles took a deep breath and said it. "Your death wish."

Starbuck laughed that humorless laugh again. "Come on, Giles. We're all going to die, don't you understand that?"

"We were always all going to die. All we have now is how we do it. Taking as many of them as we can. Putting it off as long as we can to hurt them as much as we can. And we need you to do that. If you kill yourself we'll never make it... Damn it all—I'm Libran. That's my world burning out there. I need to avenge it. I need you."

Starbuck swore. "You want to be fracked? Fine. I can oblige." He dug his fingers in tight enough to bruise and kissed Giles savagely, his other hand dragging at Giles's jacket sleeve.

Giles offered no resistance, letting Starbuck take what he needed. He hadn't figured on this, though it couldn't be rape, not when he'd asked for it—hells, demanded it—but whatever Starbuck needed, however he needed it... Yet to his chagrin his body wasn't paying any attention to his resolve. He was trembling, and no matter how he tried to concentrate he couldn't stop. He hoped Starbuck wouldn't notice, or would take it for passion...

Then the blond stopped, pulling back far enough to stare at him. "Damn," he said. "You've never..." He didn't finish, just let go.

Giles grabbed at him, pulled him back. "Don't stop," he said, willing Starbuck to hear the truth in his voice. Their eyes met; he didn't know what Starbuck saw in his, but he saw the desolation and the madness fade somewhat, and an unfamiliar expression softened the fierce blue.

Then Starbuck bent his head and kissed him again, this time almost gently. Hungrily, his hands reaching under Giles's jacket. And this time Giles's body was completely in tune with his mind.

And over their heads, Libris burned.

And in the hallway, Boomer was keeping watch over them. Listening, worried, hopeful. As the centons passed, ten, twenty, and Giles stayed inside and no sounds of violence erupted, Boomer sighed with relief.

There... that was taken care of. Boomer had never done anything quite like it before, but then, things weren't exactly normal anymore. You do what you have to, he thought. Starbuck might still go insane—why should he be any different from the rest of us?—but now he's got someone smaller than him, younger than him, ready to crawl inside his protection and stay there, and that'll steady him for a while. And since a while's all we can hope for, that'll do.

He looked out the window at the perpetual night, raised his eyes to the stars and said his last prayer. "Lords of Kobol, I know there are some who'd say what I just did is part and parcel of why you sent this on us, but... if you are so vindictive, if God will just stand by and watch what happened happen, then... then by damn, you just be that way. You made us like this, out of flesh and animal ancestors, with needs and emotions, and you turned us loose out here, and now you punish us for being as you made us? Well, damn you. We may die and go to hell, but by, by us, we'll die as we were created: erect, on our feet, with weapons in our opposable-thumbed paws, and hatred, vengeance, and battle-joy driving us on. We may die drowning in our own blood, but it'll be hot blood, and we'll know we shared it with our dead and avenged them before we joined them. And if we end in hell—how is that worse than a heaven filled with gods who'd let this happen? Take us as we are, as you made us to be, or leave us alone: we want nothing more to do with you."


"You don't know what you're doing."

"Yes, we do." Those light brown eyes stared into Apollo's, angry and proud and just maybe a little afraid. "Fighting for our commander. And our lives."

"For better or worse there can only be one leader," Apollo said.

"That's right. And we've got the wrong one."

Apollo felt rather than heard Jolly shift at his back, and was peripherally aware of the other pilots standing in the bay, but all his attention was focussed on the man in front of him, hand resting on the butt of his blaster. Apollo knew his own hand had gone there: in God's name, why? These weren't Cylons, they were Colonial Warriors. Mutinous, maybe, but so far they hadn't... but Bojay was on the edge of it. Even Cain had submitted in the end, ungraciously perhaps but nonetheless, to Adama's orders, but this man and he might start shooting at each other any micron. He wasn't at all sure how it had come to this, so fast...

Finding the Pegasus at Gamoray had been like finding Kobol, a blinding coruscation of hope in the darkness of their wandering. Discovering that Cain was still alive—even more so. Cain, Adama's good friend and Apollo's idol, brought his flashy persona into the gloom of the Galactica and raised everyone's morale just by being there, as if the gold braid on his unorthodox (but legal) tan fighter's uniform was drops of the sun.

But it didn't take long for Apollo to dimly perceive what his father had, as usual, realized long before him: Cain was no man's second. And he wasn't ready to even tacitly admit the error of his retreat from Molecay by following Adama's conservative plans.

'You forget who our skipper is: he doesn't know the meaning of the word run.' How had Cain managed to convince Bojay of that? And not just Bojay, all of them? What was retreating from Molecay and hiding out for two yahrens if not running?

And then Cain had sent Blue Squadron off on a wild goose chase and 'accidentally' shot the Cylon tankers out of the sky. Sheba had been at the debriefing, though Bojay had been at the planning meeting; Apollo wondered now if that was because Bojay was too hair-trigger for Cain to trust him. Or, the thought crossed his mind, is Bojay too proud to say they'd hit the tankers by mistake? Or too honest?

Not that it mattered just at the moment. Because whatever his motivations, Bojay didn't intend to let Apollo take any of the Pegasus's fuel. And somehow the situation had escalated to near laser fire.

Apollo had another reason to wish Starbuck was alive, now; he'd been good friends with Bojay, who was like a pardos prowling on the edge of everything Cain and Adama did. But it was Cain, not Bojay nor his disturbingly beautiful daughter, who'd failed to bring back the Cylon fuel tankers, Cain who was the one disobeying Adama's orders. Bojay was just following his commander. Following him into mutiny... and Apollo felt he shouldn't have let it get this bad.

But before anybody drew on anybody, the alarms went off. God bless the Cylons, Apollo thought as he ran into the shuttle on Jolly's heels. At least we didn't start shooting at ourselves.

The ensuing combat was short and violent, and underscored the desperate need of the Fleet for fuel. Cain's original plan—an assault on Gamoray—was the only option they had left. And Adama sent Cain back to take over the Pegasus.

"It's the right thing to do," Adama told his son. "Cain is good for morale."

"That's all he's good for," Apollo said savagely. "We wouldn't have to be trying this insane plan if he knew how to follow orders."

"Not many people have ever given orders to Commander Cain," Adama observed.

"Well, he was a captain and a colonel, wasn't he? And a lieutenant."

"Yes, he was. And insubordinate even then," Adama smiled, and then sobered. Whether the same comparison had come to his mind, Apollo didn't know, but he was grateful to be distracted by the next thing Adama said. "But nevertheless, son, we must get that fuel. Cain's sent over the charts of Gamoray, so your team will be able to land in the right place. I don't have to tell you to be careful, do I? Or that we need you to be successful."

"No, sir," Apollo said. "We will be. Both."

"Good." Adama embraced his son. "Come back to us, Apollo."

"Yes, sir." Apollo left quickly, before his emotions got loose, and headed for the locker room to change into drop leathers. Jolly and Slate were already there, dressing. Apollo allowed himself four microns to wish for Starbuck and Boomer and then pushed that thought out of his mind. He was nearly dressed when the locker room door opened and Sheba and Bojay came in. Jolly blushed, even though they were pulling the leathers on over their uniforms; it was the concept of a woman in the locker room getting him. Apollo looked at the two Pegasans. Sheba, defiant and beautiful—if he'd had to marry a woman, why couldn't she have been like Sheba? He shook himself mentally and got rid of that thoroughly disloyal thought. And Bojay, looking as though he hoped Apollo had forgotten the last time they'd met but not ready to back down if he was called on it. Their blasters were over their shoulders, as if in tacit promise that this time they'd behave.

"Is this where we check in?" Bojay asked.

"For what?" Apollo said, looking at Sheba, who was leading.

But Bojay answered, with a quick look at her. "We've been assigned to the Galactica ground force."

"By whose orders?" Apollo asked.

"My father's," Sheba answered. "We are, after all, the only people in this room familiar with the target."

"You've been there? On the ground?" Apollo couldn't believe Cain hadn't mentioned that in the briefing.

"No," she admitted, "but we've been over it. Many times." Her voice got a little sarcastic, matching the look in Bojay's eyes. "And since we'll be making free-fall jumps, it might be nice for you to know where you're going."

"No reflection on your ability," Apollo said, "but I'm just a little surprised at your father risking you on such a—"

"One way mission?"

"Hey," said Slate, "not so much emphasis on the probable chance of us all getting killed, please. And speaking of which, where's our medtech? Aren't we on the clock here?"

"We're not taking one," Sheba said.

"That's right," Apollo cut in. Frack it, who was in charge here? "We won't have time for a medic. We are on the clock."

They finished dressing in silence and headed for the shuttle. In the landing bay they were stopped by a mech. "Lieutenant... you're not going to the Pegasus?"

Sheba shook her head. "No. Why?"

"Your father wanted to make sure you stayed here." The mech sounded defensive.

"Sheba, come on," Apollo said.

"No," she said again. "Where's my father going?"

"Hey," he grabbed her shoulders. "We're in this together, remember? Your father's orders."

"No," she said. "Actually, he doesn't know anything about this. It was my idea. And if he said that... he's not planning on coming back. I have to get to the Pegasus."

"What happened to pointing out the Cylon command center?" Not that Apollo was sure that was why he wanted her to stay.

"Bojay can do that," she said.

"Sheba," Bojay started, and then stopped. It was clear she was oblivious to his feelings, though it was impossible for Apollo to tell if they were for a wingmate or something stronger. "Yeah, I can take us down," he said, shaking his brown head.

"So that's okay," she said. "Get my Viper prepped," she told the mech as she strode off.

Bojay watched her walk away without speaking.

"Come on," Apollo said.

"Right," he turned towards them. "On the clock." They boarded the shuttle in silence.

The mission went like a charm. Apollo and Bojay dropped first, followed by Jolly and Slate. Bojay might never have been on the ground but he'd put them in the right place. He and Apollo went for the Command Center while the other two spread confusion by blowing up everything they could reach. After the Command Center went up, Jolly vectored in the shuttles and they raided the fuel dump successfully.

And then they were, against all odds, all four of them on a shuttle and heading back to the Galactica. Apollo studied Bojay covertly; the other man was sitting slewed sideways, staring out the window, searching the skies for the Pegasus. Apollo was puzzled; Cain had seemed to value him, let him fly wing to his daughter, brought him to pre-mission briefings. Surely he wouldn't just abandon him, without a word?

But he had. Cain had reverted to type as soon as he was back in command of his battlestar. He and the Pegasus had dived into the oncoming Cylons and vanished without a trace, leaving Bojay an unwilling member of the Galactica's crew.

Apollo had to deal with him. In some ways he was a great acquisition: a brilliant pilot and an obvious leader. But Apollo felt like a man who'd gone to buy a dagget and come home with a lupus. He couldn't forget how close they'd come to shooting at each other. And despite Bojay's seniority, which meant he ought to get a squadron, Apollo just wasn't comfortable with the idea.

And then, a sectare after the Fleet had left Gamoray, Athena brought Bojay to the sectonly family dinner. He was polite to Apollo, deferential to Adama, friendly to Boxey, courtly to Serina. And at the end of the meal, when Adama offered them nectar, he put his hand on Athena's and asked Adama's permission to marry her.

Apollo almost choked on his nectar. Serina gasped and hugged Athena, who suffered it politely. Adama also seemed taken aback, but when his daughter disengaged herself from his daughter-in-law and took Bojay's hand again, he smiled at them. "Of course you have my blessing," he said. "I'm delighted to hear it. Simply delighted."

Apollo shook Bojay's hand and then hugged Athena and hissed in her ear, "What are you doing?"

"Not now, Apollo."

"Tomorrow, then. Breakfast."

She pulled away and smiled at him. "Thank you," she said, and returned to sit beside Bojay on their father's couch.

Apollo repeated his question the next morning after Serina had taken Boxey to instruction and headed for the IFB studios. Athena shrugged and looked sideways at him. "Getting married."

"Athena, you barely know him."

She shrugged. "I know him better than a lot of people we grew up with knew who they married. I know him at least as well as you knew Serina."

"That's different," he snapped.

"Oh, of course," she said. "But I know the important things. He's straight. He's not married to somebody else, and he's alone. Desperately alone."

"Athena," he said. "Why rush into this?"

"You'll trust him better, won't you, once he's family?"

He stared at her, unable to believe what he was hearing. It was true, probably, but... "That's no reason to get married. To further his career."

"Maybe it's to make things run a little more smoothly," she said. "Maybe it's as much for you and Father as him. Maybe it's what I can do."

"Athena—" he broke off. He'd never understood her moods, never had the nerve to ask her anything. Now he had to. "Why are you really doing this?"

"I told you. Don't think it's all selfless sacrifice, big brother," she added. "We're very compatible, Bojay and I."

"Listen, if he reminds you of someone—" he ventured.

"That is none of your business, Apollo," she said coldly. "I'll remind you, it's my life. Not yours."

"Love gives me an interest, Theni," he said. "I do love you. I care what you do."

"I know," she said. "But I know what I'm doing. Bojay will be good for me, you'll see."

"He'd better be. And to you, too."

"We'll be all right, Apollo," she said, smiling at him suddenly. "You'll see: we'll be fine."

near the Cylon base at Caprica

The tinhead base on Caprica was a target just waiting to be hit. Four planets worth of activity was coordinated out of it. Thousands of tinheads were in it. And it was on the ruins of Caprica City. Starbuck dreamed of destroying it, literally. Once he woke from such a dream to find Giles looking at him in the dimness of their quarters (Giles had moved in after two nights) with a sad smile on his face. Starbuck had reached out and stroked his cheek. "What's wrong, Gi?"

"That was no nightmare."

Oh. They both woke each other up with those, though Starbuck had been startled at how suddenly he stopped dreaming of Apollo once someone else was in his bed, someone to hold on to, who meant he wasn't alone. He'd shaken his head. "No," he'd said. "It wasn't. We were taking out the Caprica base."

Giles had looked as if a lot had been explained, but he'd only smiled more warmly. "Sounds nice. Wish I could share."

Starbuck had wondered then what he'd been saying, but he'd just pulled Giles close and said, "We'll do it for real soon enough."

And the time was coming. In fact, Starbuck worried that the time might soon be past. If they kept on doing what they were doing, the Cylons might wake up enough to put too many guards on it. Dying wasn't a reason not to do it, but dying if you didn't have to just yet was wasteful.

Giles had been right, Starbuck thought absently, staring at the diagrams Carter and Onyx had worked up. He had been losing sight of the big picture, looking to go join his dead sooner than he needed to. Before he'd taken every drop of what passed for blood from the Cylons that he could take.

Boomer sat down next to him, dropping a data file on the table and putting a cup of kava down more gently. "Here," he said. "Kava and bad news."

"I don't like bad news."

"Don't I just know it?" Boomer grinned at him.

"What is it? Tinheads moved ships in?"

"No. Carter got an intercept that says they've got some prisoners in the base."

"Oh," Starbuck said. "That's nothing. I mean, they've been there, right? None of the defenses are changed?"

"No," Boomer shook his head. "Nothing's changed. We can still go in tomorrow, just as planned."

"Well, that's okay then."

"They're humans," Boomer said. It was an observation, nothing more.

"I know. There's what?" He looked at the file. "A dozen? Upwards of five thousand Cylons, not to mention their core control for four planets. It's acceptable."

"Yes." But he was shaking his shaven head.

"What?" Starbuck asked warily.

Boomer grinned at him. "You're right, of course. It's acceptable. But it's one more reason why you make a better leader for the Ghosts than I would have."

Starbuck shook his own head, with the hair kept out of his face by the slender braids Giles had spent a centare plaiting. "They're worse than dead now, Boom-boom. They'll welcome death when it comes."

"I said you were right," he said mildly.

Starbuck blinked at him, aware he was missing something, but decided it wasn't important. He picked up the kava. "We go tomorrow then."

the Ship of Light

Athena was in the launch bay when they got there, her midnight-blue uniform out of place amidst all the brown. Bojay broke stride when he saw her, and angled to meet her. She took his arm, talking intensely. After a moment, he shook his head, touched her cheek and said something. She turned from him to grab Apollo's arm and drag him several steps away. "You'd better bring him back."

He really hoped Bojay hadn't told her where they were going. Though, on second thought, why shouldn't he? She was a bridge officer, after all... in fact, she probably had known when she came down here. Whether it was in the blood or not, she hadn't trusted Iblis any more than Apollo had.

"He can take care of himself," he said conciliatorily. "That's why he's wing second, after all."

"This isn't a routine patrol," she said. "You're taking my husband to chase your wife."

He glared at her, for the moment hating that her cold-blooded marriage had turned out so well. But her worry over her husband's return had nothing to do with the numbness he was feeling over Serina's being gone. It was hardly Athena's fault, much as he'd like someone else to blame. And she'd never liked Serina anyway...

"Yes," he said. "We're going after them. We have to—if Father's right about Iblis—"

"Why did you let her go in the first place?"

"It wasn't my idea," he defended himself. "She went on her own. Iblis offered her the chance of a story—"

"Is that what it's called now?" she snorted, and then dropped her eyes. "I'm sorry."

"Why?" he said, facing it. "She didn't go for a story. But we have to go after her. After him, really."

She looked at him for a long moment, and then sighed and patted his arm. "Both of you better come back."

"Have you thought about ordering your husband around like that?"

She smiled mischievously. "Boj promised to look out for you."

"Oh, thanks."

"Isn't that what wingmates do?" She batted her eyelashes innocently.

"We'll be back," he said. "If you let us get gone."

She hugged him quickly and stepped back. He glanced at Bojay, who was already in his Viper, and climbed up into his own. "Bridge, Viper patrol ready to launch."

It was Omega's calm tones in his ear transferring from Core Command. As he punched for launch, he wondered if that was an omen. And if so, for what.

They had decided that Iblis had most likely gone back to his ship. "If things are even half as bad as Father suspects," Apollo told his brother-in-law over channel two as they headed back to the planet where they'd found the mysterious count—only a few days ago? Could it be such a short time?—"then maybe that ship isn't even disabled."

"We should have shot him when we had the chance," Bojay answered. It was a joke, but like all Bojay's jokes it rested on a bitter foundation of seriousness.

"Well, we won't make that mistake again," Apollo promised.

The Galactica shuttle was indeed on the planet, near the wrecked ship. It didn't look exactly as Apollo remembered it, but he couldn't quite put his finger on the difference. Bojay, when asked, could. "Less smash," he said succinctly, "more shrubbery."

Yes, that was it. The ship looked less damaged, but as if it had been there much longer. "Cover me," he said. "I'm taking a closer look."

Bojay drew his blaster. "Watch yourself," he said. "I don't want your sister on my case."

"Don't worry." Apollo approached carefully. He looked into the gash in the side of the ship and saw— "My gods," he said.

"Who is it?" Bojay said. Visions of their missing pilots were probably flashing through his mind.

"It's what," said Apollo. "And I have no idea."

Bojay joined him. The two of them surveyed the charred corpse with mounting revulsion. "It looks like a nightmare," Bojay said finally. "Something from the Dark Ages."

Apollo nodded. "Is this the company Iblis keeps?"

"Only when I must," came the count's answer from behind them.

They spun to see Iblis and Serina approaching them, walking as casually as if they were at home. Serina didn't seem to notice Apollo; all her attention was fixed on Iblis. Looking at her, Apollo could no longer wonder if she'd slept with Iblis; it was obvious. She might as well be doing so now.

"How kind of you to come, Captain," Iblis said. "You've saved me the trouble of looking for you."

"What do you want, Iblis?"

"Where are your manners, Captain?"

"I'm not afraid of you," and that was, surprisingly, true.

"Because your heart is pure?" Iblis mocked him. "You and I both know the truth of that."

"I don't claim purity," Apollo said. "I claim knowledge."


"You couldn't fool my father. You can't fool me." Apollo took a deep breath and hoped Adama was right. "It's over, Iblis. I know who you are."

"Oh?" He repeated with exactly the same inflection and eyebrow raise.

"You're the Prince of Darkness."

"A prince..." Serina's voice was soft, enraptured.

Apollo swallowed, hard, and Iblis laughed.

"We should shoot him." Bojay offered his solution passionlessly. He probably could just kill Iblis, human or not.

"Hold on," Apollo said. "This isn't that simple, Bojay. Remember what we just saw in his ship. Killing him is probably not that easy."

"Only one way to find out."

"Hold on," Apollo repeated. "It's too dangerous—"

"But he would die to save your people," Iblis said. "Would you not, Lieutenant?"

"Don't say anything," snapped Apollo, and Bojay obediently kept quiet, his blaster in his hand. The air seem charged with Iblis' words, and Apollo found himself analyzing them, more worried about Bojay than Serina. Finally he spoke. "Maybe, but would his death here and now save us?"

Iblis laughed. "Nothing will save you now, Captain," he said. "Your people are mine. They've come to me of their own free will."

"You're a liar," said Apollo.

"Oh, but of course I am. That doesn't change the facts."

Bojay shifted his weight behind Apollo, taking a step to spread the targets. Apollo was glad, suddenly, for his ingrained Pegasan distrust of everything. There was no one else on the Galactica who'd be better at his back. In front of him Serina suddenly moved, a bizarrely sensuous slinking step towards him, her hand held out. "Why are you being so stubborn, Apollo?" she asked. "Count Iblis is going to lead us to Earth." She looked at the count with open adoration.

He ignored her, keeping his eyes on Iblis. "Wherever you're going to lead us, I doubt it's Earth. And I'll fight you every step of the way."

"Yes, you will, won't you... You and your sire, and the female of your blood. And this one, though he would fight anything, even—" Iblis broke off with an irritated gesture. "It's perfectly pointless, though, Apollo. And it will cost you. It will cost you a great deal."

"Maybe it's worth it," Apollo said. Quite suddenly he was very calm. Maybe this was why he'd survived Cimtar, to face down Count Iblis in defense of the Fleet. Of the race. If it took his death, he really didn't mind.

"Ah, ah," said Iblis. "I don't think you know what I mean. Not your death, Apollo: the deaths of those you love. Like her—"

He raised his hand and a bolt of energy leapt the space between him and Serina. She crumpled. From behind Apollo Bojay fired, and Iblis shimmered in the plasma stream, his outline seeming to alter and reveal him as a creature like the body in his ship. Otherwise he was not affected, spinning on his cloven hooves to raise his hand in Bojay's direction.

Without thought, Apollo leapt sideways and felt an amazing pain...

When he opened his eyes, all he could see was whiteness. He could feel hands on his shoulders, big, strong hands. "Starbuck?" he said, but he couldn't hear himself.

"Apollo?" That sharp voice wasn't Starbuck's. It was...


"You're alive." And that didn't sound much like Bojay; it was awed, quiet.

Memory suddenly assailed him. "Serina?"

Bojay's hands tightened on him. "No," he said, and for some reason there was almost a challenge underlying that.

"We are sorry," someone said, a voice which resonated oddly in his ears. "She was a willing follower of Iblis and as such he had every right to dispose of her as he wished, for she had granted him that right."

"Unlike you," another voice added. "Iblis had no right to kill you. That is why we have restored you."

Apollo struggled to sit up. His uniform seemed to have been changed; he was wearing white instead of brown, though otherwise... His head was spinning and he was grateful for Bojay's arm supporting him as he stood up. He didn't recognize his surroundings. Everything shimmered in light, and facing them were several—he couldn't be sure how many—beings luminously garbed in white. "Who are you?" he managed.

"We have long known your people," one said.

"We instructed the ancient peoples of Kobol," said another, "and gave them our guidance."

"I think this is one of the lights that had been dagging us before Iblis showed up," Bojay said softly.

"That is true, although we failed to turn him from his purpose."

"What is his purpose?" Apollo asked.

"The corruption of the children of Kobol," said one.

"Their ultimate destruction," added another.

"How do we stop him?"

"He has been stopped, for he overreached himself. He can do nothing more."

Apollo blinked. Somehow he didn't doubt them. But there was something else. "What about our pilots?"

"They will be returned to you."

"And more—we have shown you the way that lies before you."

"The way?" Apollo asked. "The way to where?" And then he knew. "Earth?"

"It's real?" Bojay's question sounded involuntary.

"It is indeed."

There was a susurration that Apollo couldn't make out, and the figures of light began to recede. Apollo tried to follow, but he was as weak as the proverbial three-day-old kit; if Bojay hadn't caught him he'd have fallen.

One of the beings turned back. "You must go now."

Apollo wanted to follow them, ask them who they were, what they'd meant, but they were gone.

"Come on, Apollo," Bojay urged him, his arm around Apollo's waist. "Let's go."

He leaned on his brother-in-law and went, wondering what had happened and why he felt so weak and dizzy. "Where's Iblis?" he asked after a centon.

"Gone," Bojay said.

For once he wanted more, missed chatter for more than personal reasons.

"I'll fill you in," Bojay said, "but we'd better not waste time. I think they're the good guys, but I don't want to be caught in their wake, so to speak."

Apollo nodded and wished he hadn't. When his head stopped spinning he could see that Bojay was also clad in a white uniform, his rank pins shining silver and his changeable hazel eyes gone a colorless grey. It was almost startling to see his brown hair, though Apollo was conscious of spasm of relief that he probably hadn't gone white-haired himself. And immediately he berated himself for the thought. Is this the time for vanity?

A Galactica shuttle loomed in front of them; Bojay helped him in and began powering up at once. He was in a tearing hurry to get gone, and Apollo didn't know enough to disagree. He fumbled with his straps and got the buckles closed as the engines roared to life, an oddly muted sound. And then there were stars around them and they were in flight.

Apollo watched Bojay for a centon, listened to him fruitlessly calling the Galactica, and tried to collect his thoughts. Pushing its way into his mind was a thought he didn't want to have, but after a few moments more he had to acknowledge it. He ought to get up and look, but... "Serina's dead?"

Bojay nodded. "I'm sorry. Those... Fair Folk. They brought you back but they said they couldn't do anything for her."

Fair Folk. That rang a bell somewhere, but he wasn't sure. It was a name, though. "I remember." She was a willing follower... Then he blinked. "Brought me back? What do you mean?"

"You were dead," Bojay said flatly.

"That's not possible." Apollo was equally flat. "I can't have been dead."

"I know dead," Bojay said. "You were dead. Iblis went berserk when you went down. He cursed, threatened to return and kill us all, and then he just... wasn't there any more. You and Serina were both dead. I couldn't bring you both back in a Viper, not without—" he broke off, and then resumed, "so I took the shuttle. And then we were surrounded by those lights again, and the next thing I knew I was onboard that, that Ship of Lights. Or whatever." He looked at Apollo sideways. "And then you and I were outside the shuttle, and you were on that, that bed or altar or whatever it was, and one of them was touching your head. I didn't know what to do... I mean, you were dead. And they told me they were bringing you back, that you were important. And that Iblis didn't have the right to kill you. That he'd done himself in by doing that."

Apollo shook his head.

"You were dead," Bojay repeated. "I shouldn't have shot at him, you'd said to hold off."

"If I'd had the chance I'd have shot him myself," Apollo said. It wasn't strictly true, but Bojay didn't need to carry guilt for being himself. "Besides, if it got rid of Iblis—"

"But you were dead."

"I'm not now," he pointed out.

"No," Bojay finally nodded at him.

"What's really bothering you? Assuming that me being dead isn't enough..."

"You jumped in front of me," Bojay said.

Apollo paused. "It's... It's what you do, isn't it?"

"Apparently it's what you do. Without thinking about it."

"Maybe you shouldn't either." Apollo reached out to touch Bojay's shoulder briefly. "We're brothers-in-law. Wingmates. Friends. Right?"

Bojay nodded, his eyes a bit too bright. "Right." Then he mustered a grin. "At least it wasn't permanent. Athena won't be too mad." He put his hand on Apollo's shoulder, and then grimaced at the sight of his white suede sleeve. "Just what I need," he said, "to have to buy a new uniform."

"I'll convince Father to issue one," Apollo said. "He'll think it was cheap at the price. Or he'd better." But despite his words, he still didn't believe he'd been dead. Near death, maybe. But not dead. That was... If they'd brought him back, why not Serina? What was he going to tell Boxey? He hunted for another, less emotionally charged topic. "What did they mean, they'd given us the course to Earth?"

Bojay shrugged. "They didn't give it to me," he answered. "They said they were giving it to you. Said you were important to us, had a mission."

"A mission? Did they say what?"

Bojay shook his head, adjusting course as he did. "No. Just that you had one."

"Great... Can I convince you to keep that between you and me?"

Bojay regarded him seriously for a centon. Apollo felt a frisson of unease. He had not been dead, that notion was ridiculous (as ridiculous as thinking Bojay doesn't know a dead man when he has his hands on one?); he couldn't bear it if people began treating him like some sort of religious icon... "I think the commander should know."

"I'll tell him. But no one else."

Bojay nodded. "Don't blame you," he said. He looked out over the stars again, tried calling the Galactica. "Who knows where we are?" he asked. "I hope I'm going right."

"You are," Apollo said without thinking how he knew it. And then a course heading burned in his mind, heading and declension, and he knew it was the course to Earth. He sighed and leaned back against the seat. If that was true...

But Bojay misunderstood him. He looked sideways at him again and said, haltingly, "I'm so very sorry about Serina. I know Boxey will be devastated."

"Yes, he will." And I'm not. What kind of icon does that make me? "Thank you."

"Athena and I will do anything you need."

"Thank you," he said again, and then the speakers crackled with the Galactica's bridge calling them, and they were back.

part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5


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