part three


the Piscan moon Tructa

Two base stars. They hung in space over Sagitta like ripe fruit on a crusty agrist's best tree, a target too tempting to resist even if scattershot was waiting. And it was; the tinheads were no longer taking being in the Colonial Systems for granted. They showed a methodical thoroughness in the way they swept across planetary surfaces looking for their enemy, but no imagination: the lesser moons didn't seem to cross their cybernetic minds. But they clearly realized someone was hunting them.

Nonetheless, Starbuck intended to take the base stars. He felt, strongly, that they couldn't be allowed to go back to the tinhead capitol unmolested. It might be a little costly, but what the hells? How many tens of thousands of tinheads were on them? How much supervision of the surrounding systems would go out with them?

How much would it hurt them?

There was no choice.

The Ghosts made their pilgrimage to the banner, each having added the Acky-F's screaming raptor to their ritual when Philemon and Arras went. Starbuck went last, touching the patches with his fingertips and then ruffling Kestrel's hair. "Watch the fasthold, you two," he said, "we may be back."

Trent nodded grimly. "Do that."

Starbuck grinned and climbed into his Viper. "You guys ready?" he asked rhetorically.

"Oww!" answered Hastur, as he always did. "Let's go, boss!"

"All right," Starbuck started his engines. "Come on, you want to live forever?"

All the answer that got was twelve Starhound Vipers tearing into the sky after him, followed by one Cylon stalking equinus.

As it turned out, it was actually relatively easy to do. Oh, there was fighting: the tinheads guard ships were there en masse and keeping them busy in close to the base stars was no joke. But Hastur and Lynx slid in close, using Carter's cobbled-up tape broadcasts, and scouted the way. Taking the supply vehicle in cold like that, with no weapons, wasn't something Starbuck would have relished, but Lynx told him once, "The kid and I know you'll make 'em buy us high." This day, though, they vectored in the Vipers and made their escape undiscovered, hanging on the edge of the action.

The Vipers rolled in salute as they came in and the fight started. But it was only centons later that Koris called over tactical, "Starbuck, do you see that? It's wide open into their fracking cores!"

And Felix added, "They're closing. We're going in."

And they did. What the tinheads were doing, open to space, was more than fighter jocks could guess, but the Ghosts couldn't have picked a better centare to attack. Koris and Felix drove straight into the open cores and took the base stars up in explosions so monstrous that Starbuck could have sworn he heard them, though he knew sound couldn't travel in vacuum. Pieces of base-star, as large as shuttles or even larger, tore through the battlezone.

"Starbuck!" Giles's voice screamed into his ear. "Cut left, cut left!"

He did it automatically, his reflexes obeying the voice before his brain had time to process what was happening. And it happened too fast to do anything else. Giles's Viper passed him on his right, and a jagged piece of base star smashed into it, instead of Starbuck, sending it spinning.

We're all dead already; it's just that some of us are still breathing.

True, true, but this hurt. At least they'd gotten reasonable payment. Koris and Felix and Giles... thousands for each.

The supply vessel slid past Starbuck, grapples out, and matched the spin. Hastur's touch, teenaged reflexes... They locked on and tore out as quickly as they dared, heading for Tructa and the base, several Ghosts in close escort. Starbuck stayed behind, with the others, taking payment of the confused tinheads.

I won't follow you too soon, I swear, but wait for me. Wait on the other side of the River... I won't be long.

At least they had Giles's body. Though those idiot kids shouldn't have risked it. So glad they did...

He was last out of the battlezone, running to Tructa before the tinheads were together enough to follow. He landed in the bay and saw the Ghosts crowded around the supply ship's open doors. Standing in the cockpit he could see over their heads, see Lynx kneeling by Giles's bloody and unmoving body, Trent climbing in shaking his head.

"Gi?" Starbuck scrambled through the others to Giles's side. He shook off Boomer's hand and dropped to his knees. "Gi..." he touched the tangled russet hair. "They paid," he said softly. "They paid big time."

"He's alive," said Boomer, gripping Starbuck's shoulder.

The words had barely registered when Giles's eyes opened, their dark brown clouded with pain. "B-Bucko?"

"Don't talk," Trent ordered.

"Shhh," Starbuck said. "Thought you were gone, that's all."

"Not goin'... anywhere... you don't," Giles managed before his eyes closed again.

Starbuck rested his forehead on Giles's undamaged shoulder and felt the breath under his hand. He sighed and didn't move till Boomer pulled him out of Trent's way.

beyond known space, on the Galactica


He turned before he realized who it was. Omega was standing there, a glass of ambrosa in his hand. He was startled; you didn't often see the bridge officer in the O Club. Of course, you didn't often see him, either.

"Off duty?" Omega asked.

He nodded. "You?"

"For a change," Omega said. He rested his elbow on the bar. "I was talking to your sister earlier today."

"Oh?" Apollo was aware he had no small talk. He'd wished once he could learn how, but then Starbuck had come into his life. The blond had had small talk enough for both of them and to spare. And Apollo hadn't needed it any more. As for Serina,she hadn't looked for it; her nature had been too direct. Conversation might have smoothed the rough edges of their marriage, but then again, nothing could have eliminated them. But over and above his natural shyness and lack of social skills was his intense awareness of the man looking at him out of the dark eyes that had become one of his marriage's rough edges... He swallowed and managed to say, "What did she have to say?"

"She said she and her husband had told you they were willing to keep your son overnight any time you had anything at all you wanted to do."

"Yes," Apollo said, brilliant conversationalist that he was.

"But," Omega added, "you never did."

"No, that's right. I don't actually have anything to do. And they've only been married, well, six sectares now, I can't put them out..."

Omega smiled slightly. "She sounded like she wanted to. At any rate, you should probably take some personal time. All work and no play, isn't that how it goes?"

"Most people think I'm pretty dull already." And where had that come from?

Omega's smile widened. "All the more reason, then. I happen to have reservations in the Golden Horn on the Star tonight; perhaps you'd care to join me?"

Join you? If you only knew... Apollo clamped that thought down. Serina had been dead precisely three sectares, three sectons, and four days. "I don't think I can ask them on such short notice," he hedged. "Maybe some other time?" He could always find some other reason to say no.

"Well, actually, she told me to tell you they'd pick the boy up and that I shouldn't let you say no."

Apollo laughed; it was startled out of him but it felt good. "Oh, she did. Then I suppose I don't have any choice."

"Well, you do, of course," Omega began.

"Oh, no. You may work with her, but I've lived with her. We do not want to get her mad at us both. If she wants us to go to dinner, we might as well give in gracefully."

Omega nodded in agreement, but there was something in his eyes that said Athena had little to do with his desires. For a moment Apollo wondered if he should back out anyway, but then something inside him cried out rebelliously, and he told the rest of himself that it was only a dinner, after all. He could be his usual stiff self and it would die on the vine.

But he couldn't carry out that half-plan. Omega was little like Starbuck, or Serina either; his naturally grave nature masked a quick, well-educated mind that was from the same class as Apollo. They had a lot in common, and it was easy to talk to him, especially as the nectar flowed in the softly-lit, softly-musicked room. He couldn't remember when he'd last had nectar with dinner (barring a glass at his father's), for Serina hadn't approved of drinking and Starbuck had been an ale or ambrosa man. He knew he was drinking too much, and somewhere along the second course (a meal with courses, another ghost out of his past) he'd stopped caring. Boxey was at Athena's. If Omega asked him to stay overnight...

What was he thinking? It hadn't been anything like a yahren. Yes, it has. Serina was a mistake, or at best a part of your grieving for Starbuck. You know that. It's been more than a yahren... He looked across the table and wondered what he'd really say if he was asked.

He didn't find out, because he wasn't asked. Omega walked to his quarters with him and said good-bye before he could decide if he wanted to ask him in. But the next day they ate lunch together in the O Club, and the next day. And the day after that, Apollo actually called the other man and asked him to dinner, since Boxey was spending the night at one of his friend's.

A secton after that, Boxey safely ensconced at Athena and Bojay's, he said yes when Omega asked him to stay the night.

on the edge of the Colonial system

"Stahbuck? Stahbuck?" That R-less south Tauran voice belonged, funnily, to Carter. "Stahbuck? You awake?"

It wasn't awake he was worried about, Starbuck knew. But it was puzzling. If their security had been breached and they had to move in a hurry, Carter wouldn't have given a cold damn whether Starbuck was getting some or not, he'd have been through the door without pause. But anything else, and he'd have waited till Starbuck came out.

Fortunately for his curiosity, he wasn't getting any. Generally he was so tired when he went to bed that he fell asleep almost as soon as he got his arm over Giles—on the now rare occasions Giles wasn't there, he found himself tossing and turning, unable to sleep unless he was completely exhausted. It was when he woke up that they had sex, especially in the 'mornings', though if he woke from a nightmare Giles would love him back to sleep and safety. Just as he would when Giles woke.

Just now, he was lying with Giles curled up next to him, listening to the now-familiar cadences of that sharp-edged voice, softened for him, lost in the details of a long, convoluted, and (he was sure) essentially pointless story about Monty and Trent. "Remember where you were," he said, and then called, "Yes. I'm awake. What is it?"

The door opened and Carter precipitated himself in. Starbuck sat up, intensely curious now. "Lights... What's the problem?"

Carter came right up to the bed and dropped a printout on the sheet next to Starbuck, who picked it up. Giles sat up as well, looking at it around Starbuck's shoulder. Starbuck flicked one of his braids back over his shoulder and looked up from the printout to his intel officer. "I haven't learned Cylon yet, Carter. What is this?"

The dark-haired man was almost trembling. "It's a reference—" and as usual Starbuck found himself wondering how he could put an R (if you could call it an R, it wasn't the H or the intervocalic hesitation, though) at the beginning of a word when he couldn't for the life of him say one otherwise, but Carter's next words drove all other thoughts out of his mind. "—to a Colonial battlestah!"

Starbuck swallowed. The printout slipped from his fingers, though Giles grabbed it fast enough to probably hide it from Carter. "A battlestar? What, what do you mean? What kind of reference?"

"Not just a battlestah, eithah," Carter was continuing. "They're calling it a fleet!"

"Carter," Giles lunged forward and slapped him with the printout. "What the hades are you talking about? The tinheads are calling what a fleet?"

"Oh. Yeah, sorry." Carter took the printout back and pointed out a couple of unintelligible lines. "Here. This is a requisition for replacement troops and Raidahs. Reason: loss of battle with escaping Colonial fleet's battlestah."

"Escaping Colonial fleet... Carter," Starbuck grabbed his arm. "This is current?"

"Yeah, boss. It's current. Somebody got away." Carter's voice was almost hushed.

"Loss of battle," said Giles, his voice creamy with satisfaction. "Where, does that say?"

"No," Carter suddenly deflated. "No clue. But we can start looking, now. If they'ah getting theah astrums kicked, they'll have to repoht it. Of course it'll be going back to Imperial Centah, not heah, but we'll find references."

"Get on it," Starbuck said. "Onyx and anybody else you need."

"Right," Carter nodded. "We'll find 'em. We have to."

"Yes," Starbuck nodded. "We will..." He watched Carter leave and turned to Giles. The lights picked highlights out of his dark russet hair, but were unmerciful to the still-red scars on his shoulder from the double-kill raid of two sectares ago. Thank whatever there was—thank Trent's medical knowledge, picked up over the yahrens—he hadn't lost the use of his arm, though he'd gone lame for sectons. Just now his eyes were looking into nothing and a smile was on his lips. "Haunted moon to Giles," Starbuck said. "You there?"

Those brown eyes snapped back to him. "Sure. Who do you think it is?"

"It has to be the Pegasus."

"She was lost, Starbuck, at Molecay."

"Everybody else was lost at Cimtar, though. Nobody came back from Molecay... what if the Peggy's jump capability went down? It'd take her near three yahrens to limp back, wouldn't it?"

"I'd've thought more... But they might have gotten it back on line... Tinheads'll say, sometime. Or we'll find 'em. Whoever they are."

"Yeah..." Starbuck only halfway cared who they were. That they were was more important. "What the hell kind of fleet, do you suppose."

"Civilian ships, I guess," Giles shrugged. When he'd lunged at Carter, he'd left the sheets behind, and he'd settled back down by Starbuck's knee on top of them.

Starbuck had been tired, but he wasn't any more. "Something else we'll find out," he said. "You remember where you were in that story?"

Giles raised his eyebrows and then smiled. "No, sorry. Clean forgot it."

"I guess," Starbuck said, "you'll have to figure out some other way to put me to sleep."

"I imagine I can think of something," Giles grinned and leaned forward, kissing him gently but thoroughly.

It took nearly a sectare, but Carter came through. "What we found," he told Starbuck and Boomer, "was a trail of references, going back to Cimtah or theahabouts. Knowing what we were looking foah, it's cleah: a battlestah's taking a civilian fleet, most with low jump and some maybe with none, away from heah. The tinheads are losing ships like a hemorrhage chasing them, even lost some base stahs. Got an old ref to Gamoray, theah new outah capitol. Neahly lost Imperious Leadah theah."

"Gamoray... who the hell would be going there?"

"Maybe they'ah being herded a little? They busted through at Gamoray, did a lot of damage."

"Do you know where they are now?" Boomer asked.

"No," Carter admitted. "But I know wheah they've been. We can follow them, through the Cylons."

"Good enough." Starbuck said. "Carter, get the Ghosts together. We need to talk this over."

"We're ready to leave," Carter nodded.

"We don't know where they're going," Starbuck said, looking out over the Ghosts. "But we can follow the Cylons. Of course, we'll have to go through their supply lines to keep ourselves in fuel and ordnance—"

"Like now, you mean?" Eliseadh said.

"And so?" Trent added.

"And so," Starbuck said, "the first time, the second, it won't be that big a deal. But then the tinheads will figure out where we're going. They'll be waiting—"

Carter nodded. "Good. Then we won't have to look for 'em."

"Of course, if we hit hard enough we can cut their lines, take some of the pressure off the Colonials even if we don't ever catch 'em up," Trent put in.

"Right," Starbuck nodded. "We'll kill to save lives for a change."

"So what are we waiting for?" Giles said it first.

somewhere in space

For a centon, Apollo thought he was dreaming. One micron they were fighting Raiders, and the next the Cylon tankers at the edge of sensor range were going up in mismatched explosions that showed one of them to be nearly empty and strange Vipers were slicing through the combat, taking the Cylons by surprise and turning the tide of battle abruptly and decisively.

"Holy frack, Starbuck," someone's voice came across channel two. "It's the Galactica!"

"Starbuck?" Apollo couldn't believe his ears. "Starbuck?"

"Apollo?" That wasn't Starbuck, it was...

"Boomer?" Apollo had a momentary fear that he, too, was dead. "Starbuck? Where did you come from? We thought you were dead!"

"We are dead," Starbuck answered, and his voice sounded as though he meant it. "But you're not..."

"I hate to break up this reunion, boys," Bojay said, "but there are still Cylons out here."

"Hey, Bucko," another voice cut in, "you want to introduce us?"

"Leave that supply vessel alone," Starbuck ordered. "It's ours."

"Captain?" Slate asked.

"Leave it," Apollo confirmed. "It's unarmed either way."

He couldn't believe it. Starbuck! Where had he come from? How had he gotten there? Apollo fought the rest of the action on automatic, he didn't even know how many kills he got. He felt drunk, almost. Starbuck wasn't dead.

Who knew what Athena had told him, but Bojay took over the post-combat recovery. After ordering the Galactica's squadrons in and naming the pickets to stay out, he started, "Guest squadron—"

"That's Ghost Squadron," someone corrected him.

"Right," he acknowledged. "Ghost Squadron, follow Green and Blue into the portside landing bay."

Bless you, Boj, thought Apollo. The time it would have taken to get the width of the battlestar would have been aeons too long.

Apollo waited impatiently as the Ghost Vipers landed. Eight of them, plus a battered old Caprican Systems tanker and a Cylon supply vessel. Two young men jumped out of the latter, and one of them, shaggy-haired, dark, and rangy, got down on his hands and knees and kissed the flight deck. Both of them were wearing flight jackets and boots, but with civilian shirts and trousers. The tanker let out two as well, a tall grayhaired man too old, surely, to still be on active duty unless he was a flag-ranker and he didn't look like one, and a much younger one wearing a Warrior's flight jacket, much patched up; his right arm was stiff and only his index finger wasn't curled up to his palm.

And then the Vipers, bearing a motley mixture of battlegroups' paint jobs, landed, and their pilots climbed out to join the other four. The hair and mixed clothing was typical, Apollo realized; he couldn't have picked the civilians out. Some of them went beyond shaggy, in fact; one had a queue and another an equitale. Well, cut them some slack; it's been more than a yahren and they probably don't have a barber. Or a quartermaster. Boomer was third in; he'd shaved his head but Apollo recognized him at once.


The dark man looked around and flashed a broad smile, coming up to Apollo with his hand out. Apollo took it and pulled him into a hug. "Boom-boom," he said. "Gods, we thought you were dead."

"We were," Boomer said, pulling away to look at him and then hugging him back. "And I don't know if we can recover from it. But damn, you look good. We thought you were all killed at Cimtar. The commander?"

"My father's fine," Apollo said. "But I'm sorry. Risha died when we took a couple of direct hits."

Boomer nodded but didn't seem too upset. Well, of course, to him she'd been dead more than a yahren.

And then Starbuck was there, striding up to Apollo with his arms open. "Damn, Apollo," he said, pulling him into a hug. "You're alive."

"And you are. My gods, Starbuck." Apollo had never been one for public displays but he wanted to kiss Starbuck for the next five sectons. But at the same time he felt constraint, as if he didn't really know the man he was holding. Wasn't their time apart supposed to fall away, become meaningless? Maybe it would, if there wasn't Serina. And Omega... That thought stiffened him, and Starbuck let go, stepping back to look at him.

"You look about the same, Apollo," he said. "Good. Really good."

"I can't say the same," Apollo said. "Good, yes, but..." His voice trailed off as he got his first real look at his former lover.

Starbuck, like all the rest of them, was wearing a flight jacket and uniform boots. The shoulder patch and rank pins were missing from the jacket, though, and the shirt under it was a very non-regulation light purple, with dark grey trousers tucked into the boots. The most eye-catching difference, though, was Starbuck's hair: that tawny mass probably hadn't seen scissors since Cimtar, and he was sporting six slim braids, two on each side dangling over his shoulders and two more tied together at the back of his head. Three or four eye-catching bits of metal were woven into each braid in a fashion statement Apollo didn't much care for. Those blue eyes were fever-bright with what he hoped was a battle high, and now they went to his left and he reached out and grabbed the man behind him. "Hey," he said, slinging his arm around the man's shoulders. "Look who else made it."

Apollo had to look twice to recognize Flight Sergeant Giles, and he might not have if he hadn't been red-headed and short. Giles tossed his head to get that heavy russet mane out of his face and gave Apollo a look through very long lashes out of brown eyes that were almost hostile. But then the expression faded, if it had indeed been there, and he said, "Apollo. Good to see you."

"You, too. Anybody else—" Apollo turned to look at the others, who'd come up while he and Starbuck were talking, but he didn't recognize any of them.

"No," Starbuck said. "We three are it for Galactica. Which reminds me, did you see?" He turned to Boomer. "Onyx went, but really well."

Boomer closed his eyes a micron and raised his fist. "Ave, Columbia," he said.

"We who are dead salute you," said the man at his shoulder, a dark-haired youngster almost as shaggy as Giles, his own fist raised. As were all of theirs. Then he added, turning the fist into a wave of his open hand, "So, we're here. Can we eat?"

Boomer laughed. "You're just tired of cooking."

"That's fair," said Giles, finally taking his eyes off Apollo. "I'm tired of his cooking, too."

The other pilot punched at him, not quite feinting, but Giles ducked it. The rest of the newcomers laughed.

And then a new voice. "Starbuck?"

Starbuck whirled, his braids flying. "Commander?"

Adama embraced him. "Lord, son, but it's good to see you." He held him tightly for a moment, and then let go a little, holding his shoulders. "It's a miracle."

Starbuck bit something back and looked over his shoulder.

Adama followed the look and held out his hand. "And Boomer. Wonderful."

"Commander." Boomer took his hand.

"And Sergeant Giles, isn't it?" How Adama could recognize every person who had ever served with him Apollo had never understood, but here was another example of it.

Giles took the commander's hand, but it was Starbuck who said, "Not sergeant."

"Later, Bucko," Boomer intervened. "Monty's hungry."

Starbuck laughed. "We all are, actually, Commander. Oh—let me introduce you. My Ghosts." The names came too fast for Apollo to match them to faces. "And I think we'd all appreciate turbowashes."

That got him laughs and affirmatives.

"I think we can take care of that," Adama said. "Colonel?" He turned to Tigh.

"I think we can accomodate them in Special Team Gamma's section," Tigh said. "It's empty, and that way they stay together."

Until you decide what to do with them, Apollo realized. It might be complicated.

"Thanks," said Starbuck.

"And," Tigh gestured at the woman.

"Eliseadh is with us." That was not the tone a junior officer was supposed to take with a colonel.

Tigh didn't push it. Special Teams had separate rooms, not open bays. The Ghosts went off, chatting together. Starbuck lingered a moment, clearly trying to decide if he should say something. Adama guessed. "Athena's fine. Married and..." He smiled. "See for yourself."

Starbuck turned just in time to see Athena running across the bay. She hugged him fiercely. "Starbuck!" She looked up at him, pushed his braids over his shoulders, and took hold of his face for a kiss. He returned it, and then laughed gently at her and said,

"Married, your father said?"

"Yes," Bojay had made it over from the starboard landing bay. "So take your hands off my wife, Bucko." He was grinning.

"Bojay?" Starbuck said, sounding incredulous, and hugging the other man. "Is the Pegasus here too?"

"No." Bojay shook his head; Athena slid her arm through his and he smiled at her. "It's a long and kind of depressing story, but the bottom line is, it's just me."

"But married to the most beautiful, not to mention the smartest, lady on the battlestar. You landed on your feet."

"That I did," Bojay admitted. "It's good to see you." He turned to Apollo. "I can take the debrief it you like."

"Thanks, Bojay." He looked at Starbuck. "I'll take you to your quarters, Starbuck."

"That one's yours, Bucko," one of the Ghosts said to him as he and Apollo turned into the corridor. It had been another ten centons before Athena and Bojay had let Starbuck go, and then Apollo had taken him the long way. He had been tongue-tied coming down here, but Starbuck had chattered away about the way they'd tracked the Cylons chasing the Galactica. He'd made it sound like a lark; Apollo wanted to get him alone and find out how he really felt. And then... But he had to talk to Omega first. It was only right.

"They left us uniforms," the pilot added, gesturing at the Starfighter tan he was wearing, though it was bare-collared. "And someone was around asking us our ranks."


"Yeah. They had rank pins already for you and Boomer and Giles... guess they can't wait to get us back in uniform."

"I've been wearing this for four days now," Starbuck said. "I can't wait to get out of it. Don't much care what I put on, but don't worry about the rank pins, Marcus, we'll work something out."

The man grinned. "Okay, Starbuck." He went inside a room a couple of doors down.

"What rank is he?" Apollo asked.

"He was a sergeant," Starbuck said, "like Giles. Not that it's relevant now." He pushed open the door and looked in. "Oh, this is nice. I was expecting the barracks again."

Boomer came up to Starbuck and Apollo and interrupted without an apparent thought. "Bucko, what do we do about this rank business?" Apollo noticed that Boomer, too, was bare-collared.

"Nothing," Starbuck shrugged. "We don't wear it. We don't say you, me, Giles, Trent, Eliseadh, are different. We know."

"We should wear something," Boomer said, "so these guys'll know we're not privates. Especially the ones they don't know. So they'll know to keep their distance. Not think we're theirs to order around."

Starbuck considered that. "Yeah," he said. "It'd be easier."

"So I was thinking, one pin, a lieutenant's, for everyone. On the right collar. Upside down."

"Blade in?" Starbuck grinned.

"Blade in," Boomer grinned back. "But then Trent had an idea."

"He would, the old vulpine. What?"

"He went down to the tanker—had a little trouble getting on but got it sorted—"

"For the moment?" Starbuck's eyes flashed then he shrugged. "I'll deal with it."

"Brought up these."

"Pack rodent," Starbuck said admiringly.

"What are they?" Apollo asked. The gleaming triskelions looked vaguely familiar.

Boomer and Starbuck looked at him as if they'd forgotten he was there. "Something we found in a Cylon outpost," Starbuck said. "Very nice. Okay. One each, right collar."

"You need two," Boomer said. "They'll need it," with a jerk of his head toward Apollo.

"Okay," Starbuck accepted it. "I'll need six then," he added confusingly.

"Have a dozen, we've got a centuron."

Starbuck took a handful of the pins. "'Kay," he said. "Hand 'em out. Tell Trent, damned good idea."

Boomer nodded and started down the hall.

"Boom-Boom!" Starbuck called. "Tell everyone to come here when they're dressed."

Boomer hit his left shoulder with his right fist, bringing it away with two fingers out in an adaptation of the Colonial salute that looked casual but meant.

Apollo hadn't figured out exactly what to say. Starbuck wasn't waiting for him, though; he turned to call into the room he'd been given. "Gi. Got new collar pins out here." He started to pin two onto his jacket collar.

After a moment, the door to the turbowash opened and Giles came out, his thick redbrown hair still damp. He had a towel around his waist and a few drops of water gleamed on his shoulders, the right one of which showed scars still slightly pink. "We're all getting promotions?" he asked, ignoring Apollo's presence as completely as Boomer, and with much less cause. "Oh-ho. Nice..." He took the pins from Starbuck and added, critically, "Are those supposed to be straight?"

"They're straight enough," Starbuck said.

"Oh, like hell, Bucko. Still can't dress yourself... here, let me." He reached up and repinned one of the triskelions. "There."

Apollo managed not to say anything, though the casual assumption of possession Giles was showing, not to mention Boomer's evident acceptance of it—to say nothing of Starbuck's, standing there patiently while Giles adjusted him—shook him. He thought about the conversation Boomer and Starbuck had had, the implications of some of the phrases... For the first time it occurred to him that everything might not just easily resolve itself into the way it had been before.

"I thought you were going to turbowash," Giles added pointedly.

"Oh, damn... Well, I am. When the others get here, tell 'em I'll be right out." He reached out and ran his fingers through Giles's thick hair. "I'm gonna wash mine, too," he added.

For some reason that made Giles smile. But when Starbuck, dropping his jacket and blaster on the way, disappeared into the turbowash, Giles's dark eyes looked up the twelve centimetrons difference into Apollo's and the smile vanished. "If you'll excuse me," he said pointedly, and shut the door as soon as Apollo had taken a step backwards.

Apollo headed for the bridge, some disquiet spoiling his joy over Starbuck's return. Things weren't going to follow the little fantasy he'd allowed himself during combat. He should have known then that they wouldn't: without knowing anything about Starbuck's last yahren, he'd known his own situation was different. He'd married. He had a son. He had a lover... He snorted at himself. Hard to get ticked off about Giles when he'd spent last night in Omega's bed. Starbuck hadn't known he was alive.

He knows now. He shook himself. Be fair. Starbuck was with you when they put Giles in his room. Starbuck didn't know. He just looked in and saw Giles's jacket and blaster and stuff. He couldn't toss him out without talking...

The door opened onto the bridge and Apollo saw Omega talking to his father. He felt like someone had punched him. He was going to have to get Athena to take Boxey tonight. And talk to his current lover himself.

He detoured to her position. She looked up at him, radiant. "Isn't it wonderful? Oh, why am I asking you?"

"It is. Athena, can you and Boj take Boxey tonight?"

"Tonight?" She almost turned her head but then didn't. "Probably; I'd have to check with Boj..."

"Please," he begged. "I really need to talk to Omega before any more time goes by."

"Yes," she said. "You do. Before he gets the wrong idea. Of course we can. If Boj has other plans, he'll just have to change them."

He didn't tell her what he was planning on saying to Omega; it was private. And she'd get the gist, anyway, once they were no longer together...

Damn, but that hurt. Still, he'd always known good things cost, and having Starbuck back, that was worth the pain of losing Omega. He just wished it wasn't going to hurt the other man.

He took a couple of deep breaths on his way to join the two blue-clad men at the top of the bridge. "Apollo, good. I want to talk with you, Bojay, and Colonel Tigh. They're in my office." He let his brown eyes drift between his third in command and his flag adjutant. "Join us in a centon, Apollo. You'll have the bridge, Omega."

Omega spoke before Apollo could. "Starbuck back is wonderful."

"Yes," Apollo said. "I still can't believe it. Listen, can you make dinner tonight?"

Omega looked at him. "This is short notice. What about Boxey?"

They'd discussed when Apollo should tell Boxey he was dating someone. Replacing Serina, especially after such a short time, was going to hard for the boy to understand at all, let alone replacing her with a man. Though Apollo wondered if maybe that might be easier than with another woman, he wasn't sure. And the time frame made him nervous. Omega was understanding, so this wasn't pressure or a hint of any sort, just a genuine question. A couple of times in the last sectare Boxey had suddenly asked to spend the night with a friend, and Apollo and Omega had managed to take advantage of it. If, on the other hand, Boxey was going to be showing up at 8:50, Omega wanted to have his expectations properly calibrated.

Apollo sighed before he could stop himself. "He's going to Athena's. We need to talk."

"About Starbuck?" Omega guessed. "We probably don't. I understand."

"No, we do. Please?"

Omega closed his eyes briefly and nodded; when he opened them he glanced away, over the bridge before looking at Apollo. "Yes, all right. I'll come."

"Thanks," Apollo said, feeling it to be wholly inadequate and possibly cruel.

Omega nodded and gave him a quick smile. "Go see the commander."

Apollo opened the door in time to hear Tigh say, "—but aside from the emotional uplift, what do we do with them?"

"I hope," said Adama, "come in, Apollo; sit down. I hope we can integrate them into our Viper squadrons."

"I hope so, too," said Tigh. "But I have my doubts. Are they settled in, Apollo?"

That confirmed it; this was an informal meeting.

"And what about that woman? What is her name? Is she a Warrior?"

"Well, Sheba was a pilot."

"Sheba," Adama said, "was Cain's daughter. Patronage like that is rare, and women pilots are not technically accepted by the Service. Women in any combat roles..."

"She's not a pilot," Bojay put in.

"She looked like one to me," Apollo said, remembering the combat.

"Yes, she did, but she's off the Pardia, and three people in Red as well as a mech recognized her: she's a tech sergeant. A Viper mechanic."

"A Viper mech?" Apollo said, startled. Though after all, several of the Galactica's mechs could fly a Viper, had been trained to to test them...

"Well, whatever we ultimately decide about allowing her to continue in combat," Tigh said, "she'll have to undergo proper flight training."

Apollo remembered Starbuck saying, We don't say they're different... and that Marcus's rank (and Giles's) wasn't relevant. "I think Starbuck will want her to stay in his squadron."

Tigh shook his head. "Starbuck doesn't technically have a squadron. That's something else we have to make a decision about. He has—" he broke off and laughed shortly. "He has me doing it now. They comprise ten pilots, assuming we allow the woman to stay. And they only have eight Vipers. That's not a squadron. And Starbuck's not a squadron leader."

"I'm not sure they'll agree with you, sir," Bojay said; informal or not, he hadn't grown up thinking of Tigh as an honorary uncle.

"I'm sure they won't," Apollo agreed. "And the two civilians, too; they treat them like squadronmates. In fact, Starbuck just countermanded your decision to put them back into uniform. At least," he amended that, "he came up with his own set of rank pins, like they were from a different fleet, and he put them on all twelve of them. The same thing, too, regardless of whether they were sergeants or lieutenants before. Or even civilians."

"Their own battlegroup?" Tigh said. The first thing he'd done after Cimtar was take all the pilots they'd managed to recover and switch off their rank pins for the First Fleet's. Apollo glanced sideways at Bojay; he knew from Athena that he'd kept his from the Pegasus. Starbuck's people were from a lot of different fleets and battlegroups, and they hadn't kept any of their insignia, but he had a feeling that now that they were defining themselves as not-Galactican they'd hang onto what they'd come up with.

"We don't have to decide anything today," Adama said. "I'll want to talk to Starbuck and Boomer at least. For the moment, Tigh, keep them where they are and tell them they're on stand-down. They've been fighting a very long time and they need a break, whatever else is true."

Tigh nodded. "When do you want the lieutenants here?"

"The day after tomorrow, I think. That will give me time to consider all the ramifications of rank and training. And, Apollo? Can you make sure that Dr. Salik takes a look at the one whose arm is injured? He may need to be medically discharged."

"I'll... Yes, Father, I will." Apollo reconsidered saying he'd try. Surely medical treatment wouldn't push any buttons, not if he didn't mention a discharge.

"Good. Tigh is already looking into what's to be done about pay and other entitlements."

Tigh stood up. "I'll make sure that's underway," an unnecessary statement if ever one had been made, but a graceful way for him to leave.

Bojay didn't bother with an excuse; he just rose and followed the colonel out. But he let his hand brush Apollo's shoulder. Apollo didn't turn to look at him, but he was grateful once again for the twist that had delivered Bojay to the Galactica. He hoped his brother-in-law hadn't had something planned for the evening.

"I can only imagine," Adama said when the door shut behind Bojay, "how you must be feeling at this moment."

"I'm not sure I do," Apollo admitted. "It's... complicated."

"Yes," Adama nodded. "I'm overjoyed that Starbuck is alive. I always loved him, very much, and to be frank, if it were legal I would have welcomed into our family with more pleasure than I did your sister's choice, though I'm fond of Bojay now. But it's been more than a yahren, and both you and he have gone through very different, and very shattering, experiences."

"That's true," Apollo said. "But does it matter? I mean, you and Mother were apart for longer than a yahren several times."

"Not thinking each other was dead," Adama said. "You've been married; you're a father; and your sister tells me that Omega at least is very serious—"

"Now that's not fair, Father," Apollo protested. "I was serious before today."

"I'm sorry, of course you were. All I mean to say is," he paused. "I suppose what I mean to say is, I hope you get what you want, because I want you to be happy. But I hope you don't shut one door before you know if the other one will open."

"Father, surely you can't mean you think I should lead Omega on while I'm trying to get back together with Starbuck!"

Adama winced. "No. Of course not... I expect I should just shut up and let you handle your own life," he said after a moment, smiling at Apollo. "You're a grown man, after all. Just take care, Apollo."

"I will, Father. But I have to get Starbuck back. I love him."

"I know, Apollo. I know."

The door chimed and Apollo opened it to find Omega standing there. He was earlier than Apollo had expected, and still in uniform. Looking at him, crisp and correct and civilized, Apollo had a sudden urge to do exactly what he'd rejected earlier and try, for a while at least, to hold on to him while he tried to recapture Starbuck. At the very least, he wanted to put off the breakup until the morning. What could it hurt, one last time for goodbye?

"Come in," he said. "You're early." And what does that mean?

"I know." Omega came in, but not very far. "I'm sorry. I've been thinking about this for centares and I don't think I can stay for dinner."

Apollo protested, "Omega, we really have to talk."

"I know," he repeated. "We can talk now. What did you want to say?"

This wasn't how he'd planned it. No nectar to ease them into it, no buildup... "I can't see you anymore," he said. "I don't think—"

"I understand." He shrugged. "It's been fun. I'll see you around."

"Omega," Apollo reached for him but didn't quite touch him. "It's nothing to do with you. I'm—" he silently cursed his inexpressive nature. "I'm very fond of you. I've enjoyed seeing you. I wish things were different—"

"I understand," Omega, mercifully, cut him off. "I really do. What's two and a half sectares compared with four yahrens? Or was it more?"

"Omega, I'm sorry. If he hadn't come back—"

"But he did, didn't he?" That was as sharp as Apollo had ever heard Omega speak. "And you want him back and I understand it but I'm not ready to be civilized enough to eat with you tonight."

"I'm sorry," he said again, knowing how inadequate it was.

"I know you are. It's one of the reasons I love you. But I'm not staying. 'If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly.' I believe in putting things out of their misery, not letting them linger. I don't want to feel like..." He paused. "I want you to be happy, Apollo, and I hope you are. But don't ask me to pretend like I'm not hurting over this. I can't. And I'm sorry for that, but I simply can't." He walked over to the door and looked back. "Go well, Apollo." And then he was gone.

And later that night Apollo lay alone in his bed and told himself that Starbuck was worth anything at all, and finally managed to sleep.

Starbuck walked into his quarters feeling an immense relief to be able to shut the door. Who'd have guessed that dealing with the command structure on the Galactica would be so annoying? There was something to say about just killing Cylons instead of trying to argue with them. And getting nowhere. He'd never worked so hard to stay in the same place in his life, but at least he hadn't lost any ground: Eliseadh wasn't back in a mech bay, not yet, and Kestrel wasn't out of uniform, and Trent wasn't shipped off somewhere, and Eliseadh, Marcus, and Giles weren't back as enlisted.

And Giles wasn't here. Starbuck stopped with his blaster belt in his hand and surveyed the room. He was used to Giles being at his heels all day, and if he wasn't, already in whatever place they were going to sleep. Even when all they did was sleep, at a temporary base where they all slept in the same room, Giles and he slept on the same bed. Even at Tructa, when Giles had been so badly hurt, Starbuck had slept next to him, his hand on the redhead's body... He couldn't get to sleep alone any more.

But a quick look around relaxed him. Giles's jacket was lying where he'd tossed it on the desk, and his boots were next to the locker. He was around somewhere. He'd show up.

Starbuck finished undressing and pulled on his grey trousers, efficiently laundered already. Then he climbed onto the bed and stretched out, trying to relax. When he'd seen Apollo, he'd felt a rush. And then Apollo had gone stiff in his arms and looked at him with a stranger's eyes, and he'd realized: Apollo could still take his breath and tear out his heart, but they were strangers. Like the first time they'd met, except that this time memories were interfering, fooling him into thinking that he knew the other man... He sighed. It had been easy to get the stewards who'd served them their off-schedule meal to talk about Apollo. He was a hero; half of the things they'd mentioned didn't make much sense (who was Iblis?) but the general tenor was clear, and unsurprising. What was surprising was that Apollo had been married and was a widower with a son. That he couldn't imagine.

He sighed again. He didn't believe in the gods, despite all this talk he'd heard today about Kobol (So it was real? What did that prove?) but if he had, he'd have been like Seth and believed in gods who were, at best, indifferent. But he had to admit, bringing the Ghosts to the Galactica and confronting him with a married Apollo: that was a real piece of work.

As was expecting him to get a haircut and fade into obscure lieutenanthood while his people were shuffled around, demoted, discharged—the doctor who'd seen Kestrel had been pretty blunt—deported—Trent kicking his heels with a bunch of oldsters on this Senior Ship—and generally denigrated. Anger had been seething inside him most of the day instead of the joy he'd been expecting to have. And he couldn't stop wondering: why hadn't the commander gone back to Cimtar? Why had he collected these thousands of civilians and not given a thought to Warriors left behind, fighting a battle that would leave them too short on fuel to make the double jump home?

He'd tried to file that one with all the other whys that had no answer, but this one had to have.

A soft sound at the door turned his head. He smiled. "There you are. What have you been doing?"

Giles halted in the doorway. He'd changed, too, and looked, Starbuck thought with some amusement, particularly unmilitary in his open-necked dark green Libran shirt, mahogany trousers, and bare feet, that russet mane of his falling over his strong shoulders. He could have been on the cover of a historical romance vid, as long as they picked a very short woman... He shrugged. "Just checking out the available real estate."

"What—we didn't get the best room? Trent and Boomer are slacking off already," he grinned.

"No," Giles said. "I was just looking..." His brown eyes weren't meeting Starbuck's, and Starbuck was immediately worried. A Giles trying to hide something was a worrisome thing. And then it hit him: the one thing possible that was worse than everything else, and so almost certainly bound to be true.

"Giles," he said, very carefully. "You never ever talked about the Galactica. Did you leave someone here? Someone you found?"

That brought those eyes up. "Hades, no," he said, still not coming into the room. "But you did."

Starbuck wanted to laugh, but he didn't. This wasn't a Giles mood for laughing at, and it would take too long to explain what he was laughing at. "No, I didn't." He shrugged. "I'm not the same man, and neither is he."

"You barely spoke today."

"Gi, would you wait till I ask you to leave before you do?" Starbuck held out his hand.

Giles smiled, the smile that showed his teeth and dimples. He came in and shut the door behind him. "Okay," he said, crossing to sit on the bed and take Starbuck's hand.

Starbuck tightened his grip and pulled his lover down onto the bed.

part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5


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