"Starbuck!" Apollo finally saw him, with a group of his squadron (or whatever), come into the officers' mess. He'd begun to wonder if they ate.
The blond turned his head and smiled when he saw Apollo. That's a good sign, Apollo thought as Starbuck walked over. He'd forgotten how, how beautiful Starbuck was, how graceful yet strong, how easily he moved. No, not forgotten, just convinced himself he was exaggerating. He hadn't been.
"Apollo." Starbuck halted in front of him. He'd put on the uniform today, with his two little triskellion pins on the jacket and probably the shirt underneath, though you couldn't see them with the jacket on. His little braids (was it Apollo's imagination, or were they somewhat different today?) gleamed as bright as the uniform braid against the dark suede jacket. He looked like some foreign mercenary in a vid set in the Late Revivesence, and good enough to eat.
"Are you settling in?" Apollo asked inanely.
Starbuck shrugged lightly. "So far, so good. A few problems, but, well, we'll see how it plays out. We could all use something else to wear, but once we pick up our back pay that shouldn't be a problem. Boomer, Giles, and I should be on the records."
"Colonel Tigh's working on that, it shouldn't be a problem." Apollo didn't mention that Giles would get paid as a sergeant; no point in bringing that up again since he didn't have the authority to change it. Starbuck was looking at the others, who were waiting for him and causing a slight back-up in the line; Apollo's gaze followed his and he was nearly scorched by Giles's glare. He blinked and it was gone... was he just imagining it?
Starbuck started to step away and Apollo reached out to take hold of his arm. The other man's hand came up, like a striking serpent, to grab Apollo's wrist in a bruising hold, but he controlled the reaction before he did anything else. His grip gentled, and he said, "Startling me's not the best idea in the galaxy. Sorry." He rubbed his thumb along the inside of the wrist in a light caress before letting go.
"Sorry," Apollo apologized. "Starbuck, eat with me."
Starbuck blinked at him in surprise and looked over at his friends again, and then smiled suddenly and nodded. He made a shooing motion at the group and they started through the line without him as Apollo and he made their way to the back of it. "Funny," Starbuck said, "I haven't eaten with somebody new in... a long damned time."
"I guess there wasn't anybody," Apollo said.
Starbuck's eyes flickered but all he said was, "No. We didn't meet new people, we just lost old ones."
"How many of you were there to start with?"
"Twenty," Starbuck said. "Almost half of us have gone on, but we've made the tinheads pay pretty high."
Over a yahren with twenty people, watching them die... Apollo shook his head. "I can't even imagine."
Starbuck shrugged again. "You miss 'em, of course, but we were all dead already. It was always just a matter of time. This" he waved his hand around. "is something we never dreamed of."
Apollo chose his breakfast without paying much attention; it wasn't as though there was a huge selection, after all. Starbuck gave it his full regard and Apollo wondered what they'd been eating. He didn't say anything, just waited until Starbuck had loaded up his tray and then led the way to a small table against the wall farthest from where Starbuck's friends had settled.
Starbuck drank some kava and began eating. After a moment he looked up. "How did you get away from Cimtar? We thought all the battlestars were lost."
Apollo shook his head, remembering back to the holocaust. He had been on the bridge, reporting the Cylon treachery, Councilar gullibility, and Zac's death, and then his father had made one of those nearly psychic leaps from partial information to complete knowledge, and the next thing Apollo had known, the Galactica had been heeling over, deserting the battlezone and their squadrons of Vipers. No other battlestar had been able to accompany them, and by the time they'd arrived in the Colonial Systems it had been too late, anyway. He might never forget the broadcast of Serina under fire in the center of Caprica City, nor the centares spent assembling the refugees, tense with waiting for a Cylon second strike... "Father figured it out, the Cylon plans. Too late, as it turned out, but we were able to collect civilians, as many as we could. In whatever would fly. We had solium leaks and overcrowding and supply distribution problems for sectons, maybe sectares."
"By the time we got there," Starbuck said in a calm voice, "there weren't any civilians left. At all."
"Oh my gods," Apollo said softly. He'd known from what he'd heard that it had been bad, but... "Everything?"
"Yes," Starbuck nodded. "Extermination was the policy, and they were thorough. We took payment as we could but," he shrugged and finished his bread.
"You seem so close, all of you."
"I guess we do cling a bit," Starbuck nodded. "Better than being at each other's throats."
"That's true," Apollo said, immeasurably heartened. They cling because they didn't have anyone else. That's all. We just have to take it slow.
"You didn't come back by Cimtar on your way," Starbuck observed.
"No. I don't know what made Father pick this course, but I think he always had an idea of where we going. I mean, of how to find it; he did always know our destination."
"Journey's end?" Starbuck said lightly. "That would be Earth, I gather."
"Still a heathen?"
"More so, with more reason. But I hear you've been to Kobol, so maybe it's history instead of theology."
"Father thinks it's both," Apollo said. "He's sure that Earth exists, that the Thirteenth Tribe went there from Kobol. And we've been given the course."
Starbuck leaned forward. "I heard a bit about that. What" he broke off as a loud clatter erupted across the room.
Apollo turned to look and saw a table overturned and one of the Ghosts punching Kelvin, one of just off-duty Green's pilots. He jumped up and headed over there, thinking as he did that this was probably bound to happen. Interestingly, though Starbuck was following, he wasn't in as big a hurry. Probably, Apollo realized, because it wasn't spreading, and two other Ghosts had pulled off the aggressor and were holding him. But just as he thought that, one of those let go and lunged for Kelvin himself, slamming him into the floor.
Now Starbuck sprinted the rest of the way, Apollo right behind him. "As you were," he yelled, hoping to stop anyone else from joining in, especially Starbuck. The command froze Green in their tracks, but not the Ghosts, though Apollo was relieved to see Boomer put his hands on the one trying to drive Kelvin's head through the deck and then the woman joined him and the man let go.
"As you were," Apollo repeated, with no particular effect on the Ghosts. The first assailant, a mousey-haired man in his late twenties, was rubbing his jaw and glaring at Kelvin, whose squadron mates were helping him up with that peculiar look that said they supported him but wished he was somewhere else. Boomer gave Apollo an inscrutable look and kept his arm around the shoulders of the other fighter, a much younger man with heavy blue-blackhair and red-brown skin. The woman dragged the back of her hand across her mouth and looked at the blood there with distaste, dabbing at her lip again once or twice. Kelvin was still dazed, plus he was going to be several shades of black and blue in a day or two. Honors about even, Apollo thought, and glared impartially at them all. "Would someone like to tell me what happened?"
"Kelvin mouthed off and they didn't like it," his wingmate, Zorn, said after a moment.
"Seth punched somebody?" Starbuck said mildly.
"After he hit Eliseadh," the mousey-haired one, presumably Seth, answered.
"She hit me first," protested Kelvin and then clearly wished he hadn't. Half Green snickered and pretended they hadn't.
"You hit her?" Apollo demanded.
"It was a reflex, Captain. If somebody hits me, I hit them back."
"That reflex must get a lot of work," said the other Ghost. "Starbuck, he asked Eliseadh if she could work him into her schedule sometime. She told him to get lost and he asked what, she did all of us? So she hit him, and he hit her, and Seth decked him."
"Good man," Starbuck said. "And you hit him why, Lynx?"
"Man asked Seth didn't he want to share, he sure didn't look like he could keep her busy all night."
"And you didn't rip his tongue out by the roots?" Starbuck asked.
"Starbuck, don't make it worse..." Apollo shook his head. "Kelvin, you got about what you deserve. Your squadron leader will have something to say to you. What's your name, Eliseadh?"
She stiffened but nodded.
"I'm sorry you were insulted by one of my pilots. Believe me, it's not the sort of thing I tolerate."
"Thank you," she said.
"You might want to have someone in the Life Center take a look at you. All of you," he added.
"I'll walk with you," said Starbuck.
Apollo realized he'd lost him for the moment. But only for the moment, he vowed.
As the Ghosts left, en masse, for the Life Center, he suddenly realized: Giles hadn't been there. For a moment he thought about that, and then hardened himself. It was too bad, but he couldn't worry about Giles. The sergeant would have to look out for himself.
From Starbuck's point of view, the day, except for one bright spot, went downhill from there. He'd been enjoying breakfast, looking at Apollo across the table, those eyes greener than he'd remembered, at least awake, and that lean, broad-shouldered frame, and the voice that had haunted his dreams for so long.
And that had made him remember waking up in the middle of the night from a nightmare of agony and destruction and Apollo dying just beyond his reach, and Giles being there to bring him back to reality without questions or reproaches. He'd kept his confusion inside where Apollo couldn't see it and asked him another question, and then Apollo had started talking about Adama and his religious quest for Earth. Torn between disbelief and the need to know what he was committing to, he'd wanted more details but then the fight had broken out, and that was the last he saw of Apollo for the rest of the day. Nobody was badly hurt, and he felt no obligation to reprimand anyone, though he did say they should try to avoid punchups in the mess. "Or the O Club, for that matter," he added. "With liquor involved, it could get worse."
"Or better," Hastur said with his irrepressible grin.
"They probably won't let us in the O Club," said Marcus.
"Oh, yes, they will," Starbuck said silkily.
"We should give them the chance to say no, shouldn't we?" asked Boomer.
"I suppose you're right," he admitted. "So, let's do it tonight, shall we?"
"Sounds good to me," Boomer agreed. "Before we chat with Adama and Tigh in the morning."
"Best to have all our issues to hand, eh?"
"Speaking of which," Boomer said. "Kestrel. Ask Salik if he's of the same opinion as he was yesterday."
Salik was. Kestrel's damaged elbow could be treated enough to allow him some movement, maybe half normal range, but his hand was beyond treatment. "Medical discharge," he said. "I presume with a pension, though I honestly don't know what system is in place now. There are several ships he could be sent to."
Starbuck was glad he'd sent the others on back to the section, keeping only Trent and Boomer with him. Sending Kestrel away was not going to happen, but the youngster didn't need to hear it; yesterday all that had been mentioned was the discharge. Trent had already heard all about the Senior Ship, but he was less easily disturbed than the young'uns.
"You making a list for me, Boomer?" Starbuck asked as they left the Life Center.
"Trent is, right?"
The old man chuckled. "Like you'd forget any of it... Best we visit the ships. I damn near didn't get on board the tanker yesterday."
And in the shuttle bay they found guards on the Cylon supply ship and the tanker. "Sorry, sir," the guard on the supply ship said. "No one gets on board this ship. Sorry, sir; colonel's orders."
"These are our ships," Starbuck said. "We flew them here. Remember?"
"I'm sorry, sir. Colonel Tigh said to keep everyone off this ship."
"And the tanker?"
"No, sir, you can go on the tanker. It's the Cylon technology the colonel's concerned about."
"How magnanimous of the colonel," Boomer said.
Trent pushed past the guard and unlocked the tanker's door. He ducked inside and came out again in a couple of centons, shaking his head. "Everything's there except the weapons."
Starbuck didn't trust himself to speak. Boomer caught his mood, as he usually did, and said it for him: "The colonel?" At the guard's blank look, Boomer shrugged and said, "One more for the list."
"Someone will be down later to fetch things off this ship. You're going to let them on, right?"
The guard said, "Oh, yes, sir."
Trent rejoined them, carefully folding their honor banner. They walked to the Viper bay in silence. At least there nobody denied them their ships, but they weren't launch ready yet, still in need of fuel and ordnance. But it was here that the day's bright spot occurred: Jenny, her hands and jumpsuit oilstained as usual and her hair a little grayer than he remembered, climbed out of the starboard engine of his Viper and embraced him with a wide smile.
"Lords, boy, look at you!" She laughed and hugged him again. "They told me right, didn't they? This one's yours?"
"I thought you told me you could always pick mine out," he said, hugging her back.
"You must've been teaching those children," she said. "All of these but Boomer's look like they've been rode hard."
"Thank you," said Boomer.
"Yours is still a mess, though, mind," she said. "No mechs?"
"Just one. No nice bays like this one, though," Starbuck answered.
"I'll just bet." She let go of him and flicked one of his braids. "This is a nice look for you, by the way."
"When will they be flight-ready, Jenny?"
She grew serious at once. "I don't know. They're last on the list."
"You're here, though?"
"I'm off today," she said. "In one way, they only need fuel, well at least six of 'em. Obviously you've been flying them. On the other hand, they offend me and I wouldn't send my worst enemy out in one. Give me my crew and a secton, I'll have 'em in alpha-one. As it is, I just don't know. Depends on how often anyone else gets shot up."
"Thanks, Jenny," Starbuck said. "I mean that."
"Phtt. Don't mention it."
But after that brief peak, once again downhill. They were invited to use a private dining room for lunch, and when they didn't, they were avoided so thoroughly they might as well have. After lunch they'd gone to the shooting range; small arms ammunition had been so plentiful they had shot every day, and it had proven very useful on several occasions, so that they were far better than Warriors usually were. Unfortunately, today they seemed to be worrying people, judging by the looks they got.
And by the two black-uniformed men that always seemed to turn up wherever they were. Starbuck was ready, after only one centare, to jump them and find out just what the frack was up. It took all Boomer and Trent's combined persuasiveness to convince him to wait, unless they did something other than loiter in the Ghosts' neighborhood, and take it up with Adama and Tigh in the morning.
At dinner they were invited again, very politely but very pointedly, to eat in one of the private rooms. This time they accepted. Starbuck thought it was for the best; just about everybody was ready to throw punches by then, himself included. It was difficult just having other people around, even if they weren't obnoxious jerks. One more person was okay, but dozens...
The O Club was worse. He stayed there as long as any of the rest did, but he didn't enjoy it. Surprisingly, a lot of enlisted were there so the question of Marcus and Eliseadh didn't arise, but though a lot of people stopped by their table to speak to him or to Boomer, nobody stayed. Starbuck drank too much, and knew it, and couldn't stop: the noise and the crowd were more than he could stand. He doubted he'd come back.
He had dreamed of finding others ever since Carter had burst into his room, and now that they had, he almost wished they hadn't. Maybe they should have stayed in the Colonies and just held the knowledge of the Fleet in their hearts, or better still, gone toward the Imperial Center, either drawing the pursuit back to hunt them or cutting it off so completely that the Galactica had been able to defeat them. Either would have been a worthy way to go. Now he was left to wonder what would become of them. Dying here had never been a plan. Leaving seemed too much a betrayal of Carter's hard work.
And he knew one reason he was on edge was because Giles hadn't been around till dinner, and was one of the few who hadn't gone to the O Club afterwards. He remembered telling Apollo they were maybe a little clingy. Maybe they were worse than that; Apollo had certainly looked as though he'd been afraid Starbuck would have to be surgically removed from the others for breakfast. Maybe he shouldn't need Giles around. He'd refrained from asking where he was, or even remarking on his absence, knowing that Boomer and Trent had to know where he was or they'd have done so. Giles was his lover, not his dagget; he didn't have to be at heel twenty-four/eight.
But it made Starbuck edgy.
And it made him shy off of making love that night; he climbed into bed and lay there, not asking anything. Giles took a while to settle, but eventually slept, and only then did Starbuck slide his arm over for the comforting touch that allowed him to sleep himself. And though he thought Giles relaxed and turned into the contact, he wasn't sure. Of anything.
Apollo was jerked out of an uncomfortable sleep by his comm. "What?" he answered it.
It was third watch's bridge officer Charis. "Sorry to disturb you, captain," she said, "but Lieutenant Omega said to notify you if anything occurred involving Lieutenant Starbuck or his" the bridge officer hesitated over the phrase "his people."
Bless him. "Yes?"
"One of them terminated a crewman at Temple this evening."
"Frack," Apollo said involuntarily.
She pretended she hadn't heard him. "The Commander and Colonel Tigh have been notified by Security. They're on their way."
"I am, too. Thank you." He cut off the comm and began dressing. Sweet gods, Starbuck, can't you control them at all?
Starbuck woke suddenly. Remnants of his dream floated through his mind: Apollo dying at Cimtar and, worse, Giles nowhere. But Giles was right there, under his arm, tossing restlessly. It was Giles's nightmare that had woken him, not his own. Immediately he moved his hand to shake his lover's shoulder gently, and then a bit harder. "Gi. Come on, Gi, wake up."
"Starbuck!" Then the brown eyes opened and blinked. "Oh..." he sighed, catching hold of Starbuck's arm.
"I'm here," Starbuck said. "You're all right."
Giles nodded. "Yes."
Starbuck was tempted to say something pretty, something sweet, but he never had to Giles and was afraid if he started now it would be taken for... a leash or something. But he didn't want to leave the other man alone with his nightmare, he'd never done that either and couldn't start now. So without saying anything at all he leaned over and kissed him, his hand sliding over Giles's shoulder to pull him closer.
Giles came to him eagerly. Between them they wiped out not only the dreams, but the bad taste the day had left in Starbuck's mouth. And when the glory passed and Giles subsided, his breath ragged, onto Starbuck, his face against Starbuck's throat, he knew the center of the universe was holding even if the edges were fraying and spinning off. He wrapped his arms around Giles, resting his chin on the thick soft hair, and sighed in contentment.
"Ummmm?" His hand was lazily tracing the scars on Giles's shoulder and he was drifting off to sleep again.
"There's something I want to say."
For some reason, that didn't make him tense. Probably because Giles's tone was all wrong for it to mean 'we have to talk' with all the implications, or maybe because Giles was nuzzling his throat and stroking his ribs gently. "Hmmmmm?" he invited more.
"I never said it before because, well, there wasn't any need. And the time was never right. And it just seemed... I don't know. Wrong or something."
Starbuck blinked himself back awake. "What, Gi?"
"Starbuck!" Boomer hit the door once and then came in; no doors were ever locked among the Ghosts.
"Damn. Hold that thought, Gi." Starbuck sat up as Giles, tensing as he was himself, rolled off of him and onto his knees. "What's it?" He said to Boomer, who looked thoroughly pissed off.
"Sorry to disturb you," the dark man said perfunctorily, "but we've got trouble. We've got people here looking for Seththey say he killed someone"
That was as far as he got before a stranger's voice interrupted. Giles had his blaster in his hand before the man finished his first sentence. "You won't mind if I check this room, lieutenant? I'd put that down if I were you, sergeant."
Starbuck didn't care for the man's tone or the look on his face, but Boomer had let him in, and Seth wasn't in the room, so he put his hand on Giles's thigh and said, "Not sergeant. But, no, of course. Check the lockers and look under the bed if you want."
Giles reholstered the blaster but left it within easy reach. Starbuck felt his presence comfortingly at his back as the three Ghosts watched the black-uniformed man check the room.
"Fine," said Boomer. "I told you he wasn't here."
"Had to check," the man said. "Have a good night."
That was an insult, but Starbuck was too focussed on Boomer to answer it. As soon as the door shut, he said, "What the frack?"
"You know Seth didn't come to the O Club with us?" Boomer said. "Said he didn't feel like drinking. He decided to go to Evensong Service at the Temple. Well, I mean... Seth."
Starbuck nodded. Seth had been orthodox before. "Did he go alone?"
"No," Boomer shook his head. "Monty went with him. They just brought him back."
"Who brought him back?"
"Those blackshirts, whoever they are. Monty says they were questioning him for centares, trying to find out where Seth went."
"Frack," Starbuck repeated and got out of bed. "Tell me before I see him." He opened his locker and pulled out his purple shirt, picking his trousers up as he headed for the turbowash. "Talk loud."
"They say we're confined to the section."
"They can say whatever they like. What the hells happened?"
"Seth killed someone."
"At Temple?" Starbuck washed off quickly.
"Well, after. They got into an argument, the guy kept pushing Seth, and finally... Monty got a bit roughed up, but he's okay."
"They looking to execute him?" Starbuck cut off the water and shook his head like a dagget.
"No," Boomer said. "These guys say they've got a prison ship."
"What a waste of resources..." Starbuck toweled off and began dressing. "So they want to lock him up?"
"And lose the key," Boomer affirmed.
Starbuck came out, looking for his boots. Wordlessly, Giles took the towel he'd left around his shoulders and began drying his hair while he buckled his boots on. Starbuck stood up then and dragged a comb through his hair and then left it, reaching for the blaster Giles held out. "I'm talking to Monty," he said, "and then I'm going to the bridge and talking to the commander."
The comm on Adama's desk chimed. "Sir? Lieutenant Starbuck is out here. He insists on seeing you."
"I ordered them confined to their section," Tigh said. "How did he get up here?"
Apollo shrugged. "I expect he wouldn't take no for an answer, sir. Did you order use of force?"
Tigh shook his head.
"Is Starbuck accompanied by security?" Adama asked.
"Yes, sir," the bridge officer answered.
"Send him back to the section and send Starbuck in."
The door opened. Starbuck came in, bringing an air of antagonistic tension with him. If he'd looked like the Late Revivesence before, now he looked even earlier. His purple shirt and grey trousers were not in the least military, nor was his hair, and his jacket with the Cylon pins on it looked like some spoils of war. Especially given the blaster he had belted on. He was making a statement, Apollo realized: I don't belong to you. I belong to them. And I'm dangerous.
"Sit down, Starbuck," Adama said. "Please."
Starbuck hesitated a moment and then dropped gracefully into the nearest chair. One of the charms, or whatever they were, on a braid knocked against the two triskelions on his collar and the little ping made Apollo think of a ring-fighting match. Round One.
"Do you know what happened, Starbuck?" Adama asked.
"What possessed that man?" Tigh opened.
"He was provoked," Starbuck countered. Apollo wondered if he really thought any insult was provocation enough.
"Please, gentlemen," Adama intervened. "Starbuck, can you explain to us?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I can try."
"I heard what the argument was about; Monty was there. Seth overreacted a little, but to be honest, only a little more than the rest of us would have. Most of us wouldn't have been in the conversation in the first place, because we'd have told 'em exactly what we think about them and their damned gods, but not Seth. Sorry," he added perfunctorily to Adama.
"Don't worry about it," Adama said, unnecessarily in Apollo's opinion. He was surprised that Starbuck had bothered to apologize. Then again, he'd always cared what Adama had thought.
"Seth, though," Starbuck continued, obviously not worried about it all, "Seth was an orthodox believer. It was hard for him, facing the truth. It was hard, believing in benevolent gods and waking up every day and looking out at the Colonies, nothing moving but Cylons, worlds burning..." He stopped, took a breath, and said, "But he'd done it too long to junk the noun. He changed the adjective. And now, finding the Galactica, hearing all this about Kobol and Earth" his tone made it clear he put no stock in what he'd heard "and then to be told we didn't deserve to be here, that we'd been left at Cimtar for a reason and we should have stayed there, died there, that we'd never be let onto Earth because we were condemned sinners, the kind that earned the, the Destruction, you call it? That everything we've done is worse than worthless, it's actually ... Like I said, it was an overreaction. But in strength, not in kind. I'd have bounced the man off a wall."
"And we could have let that go," said Tigh. "But termination is a different matter."
"I understand that. I'm just telling you, if you don't want this to happen again, you'd better rein 'em in, your people. I've talked to mine, and told 'em to watch what they do, but, well, we haven't exactly been in a situation where we've had to practice restraint. I don't know how well we'll do. Lack of provocation will be a big help."
"At the moment," Adama said, ignoring Starbuck's talking as though he were Tigh's equal, "I'm more concerned about Seth himself. And anybody who runs into him."
"He won't shoot people without provocation," Starbuck said. "But I agree he needs to be found."
"Security is looking for him. They'll find him," said Tigh.
"And then what?"
"He'll stand trial and, if convicted, he'll be sent to the Prison Barge. He'll be well treated, Starbuck," Adama said.
"I'm sure you mean that," Starbuck said. He stood up. "I need to get back to my people. Considering you've confined them to the section, they'll want to know what's happening."
Apollo jumped to his feet. "Starbuck, wait a centon." He caught up to him in the corridor. "Starbuck, wait."
Starbuck turned to him sharply, two of those braids whipping over his shoulder. Apollo had a sudden and very out-of-place impulse to slide his fingers down one of them. He quelled it and said, "We need to talk."
"Talk? About what?" Starbuck sounded very impatient.
"This whole thing."
Starbuck looked at him for a long moment out of bright blue eyes and then shook his head. "You have the damnedest sense of timing, Apollo. We do, but just now I don't have time to waste." And he turned around again and strode off. Not, Apollo noted, in the direction of the turbolift back to Special Teams Sections. He stood a moment, indecisive, and then instead of following Starbuck he went to the Ghosts' section himself. Starbuck wouldn't be turned from his purpose, that was clear, and it would help if he brought Seth in. And though he wouldn't talk, maybe Boomer would.
After leaving Apollo, Starbuck headed for the section of the shuttle bay where their tanker and supply vessel were parked. He was pretty sure that's where Seth had gone. He had to find him first. If necessary, he had to get him off the battlestar.The guard was gone from the tanker; the supply ship, at the other end of the bay, had only one man on it.
"Seth?" Starbuck called softly.
The man came out from from the shadows. "They want to lock me up, don't they? I mean, I did kill him."
"I know," Starbuck said.
"I didn't go there looking for a fight, and I didn't get into the fight looking to kill anyone, but..." Seth paused, looking for words.
"You don't have to explain anything to me," Starbuck said. "I've been there. I am there."
Seth ducked his head, grinning a little. "I don't want to go to prison, Bucko."
"That's not going to happen."
"I don't think you can stop it."
"Have faith, Seth. Of course I can."
"It'll cost too high..." He shook his head again and rubbed his fingers over the little triskellion on his collar. "I've been thinking."
"You always were good at that. Reach any conclusions, or are you as lost as the rest of us?"
"You know what it was about?"
Seth ran his fingers through his hair, looking lost. "Faith... Why did this all happen, Starbuck? Why did they let it?"
Starbuck sighed and put his back to the wall, reaching out and bringing Seth with him as he slid down it to sit on the floor. "I don't know. I don't even know if they did. Hell, Seth, I don't even know if they are."
"You know what they say here, don't you? That it was a punishment for humanity going astray. That Adama is leading them in the steps of the Lords of Kobol to the promised land."
"I've heard that." Starbuck sucked on his teeth. "Don't know how true it is."
"They went to Kobol."
"Yeah. And we left Kobol a long damned time ago."
Seth drew a long shuddering breath. "But if it's true... Starbuck, you and the others have to stay with them."
"Seth, you're one of us. We don't abandon you."
"You can't fight with them over me."
"I can't let them lock you up, either. You'll never get out."
"I know. But... if I go on, there won't be trouble."
Starbuck wasn't so sure about that, but it would be a lot easier to deal with. He put his hand on Seth's shoulder and looked straight into his troubled blue eyes. "Are you sure that's what you want? We'll fight for you."
"No, you mustn't. You have to stay with them, Starbuck. Maybe we don't have the right to be here, but we are here. And we earned it. So if Adama is leading them to the promised land... We're dead already, but maybe you guys can get better."
"Maybe," Starbuck said, though he wasn't sure. Of that or, well, almost anything. Except that nobody was locking Seth up for the next hundred yahrens.
"You have to try, Starbuck."
"So you're sure this is how you want to do it?"
He nodded. "There's just one thing..."
"If they're right... I mean." He stopped. "Suicide's a sin."
Starbuck reached out and wrapped him in a hug. "I'll do it. Don't worry about it."
Seth smiled. "I guess I should shoot at you, huh?"
"Try to miss," Starbuck advised him.
"I'll aim at you, and then you'll be safe." Seth wasn't able to laugh. "Maybe I'll catch up to Onyx, you think?"
"He hasn't been gone long," Starbuck nodded.
Seth sighed and stood up, offering Starbuck a hand. Then he pulled his blaster and fired it at the wall. "Whenever you're ready."
Starbuck hugged him again, ruffling his mousey hair, hearing running feet from the other end of the bay. "Be seeing you," he said. Then he drew his own blaster and backed up about three metrons.
"I don't understand what happened," Apollo said. "I don't understand Starbuck's attitude. I mean, I realize you have been through a lot together, that he feels some loyalties to this man, but, Boomer, he terminated someone."
"No," Boomer said, running a palm over his shaven head. "You don't even begin to understand us."
"I realize that. That's why I'm asking. Starbuck just stared at me and said he didn't have time to waste. I thought maybe you'd be a bit more rational."
Boomer laughed. "Don't count on it," he said. "We're none of us very rational. Not the way you mean it, anyway."
"I've noticed," Apollo said with some frustration. "You're not making much effort to fit back in, even to simply refusing to let sergeants be sergeants, or that one, I forget his name, be discharged"
"Kestrel," Boomer said, and his voice had gone very hard. "And we'll let go of him when we take our last breath, not sooner. Not one micron sooner."
"That's what I mean. It's not like Tigh's talking about spacing him. But even mention a discharge and any one of you gets ready to" He broke off. Kill was an unfortunate word at the moment.
"You don't understand," Boomer said, his tone back to patient. "You can't. You didn't die with us. You weren't in Hell with us."
"Boomer, it's a catchy metaphor, but you aren't dead."
"Yes, we are," he insisted gently. "Just still breathing."
"And you wonder why Father wants you all to get counselling?" he asked rhetorically.
"No," Boomer answered him. "I don't wonder at it at all. I just know it's probably useless. And I know that Seth did pretty much what any of us would have done. And I know you have absolutely no idea, any of you, what we are."
"What you act like," Apollo said frustratedly, "is a bunch of madmen."
Boomer smiled. The expression raised the hairs on Apollo's neck. "That'll do as a working model," Boomer said gently, "if you can't understand the truth."
"What is the truth?"
"The truth is that we accepted our deaths, not as a probable future but as an accomplished past, so long ago we can't stop. We are dead, in a very real sense we are dead; we just some of us are still breathing. You wonder why so many of us ignore you? It's because you're not entirely real to us, not yet. You're like a dream we're afraid we're going to wake up from and so we won't invest anything in it. Maybe that's how ghosts always see the living," he added with another one of those scary smiles.
"Boomer, I'm real. We're real, and we're alive. All of us are alive. Acting like you're not"
"Is how we got through the past yahren. And too much a part of us to shed on your say-so. On anyone's, though for Starbuck we'd try. Did try."
Apollo blinked at him.
"It would have been better if we'd hadn't. That man might not have pushed Seth. See, we're all about this close to the line between madness and sanity," said Boomer. "And what makes it interesting is, we're none of us sure which side we're on."
"You can't understand, Apollo. You think I'm rational because I'm talking to you so calmly, but I'm no different than the others. I just remember you, and they don't, so I can pretend a little better."
"Starbuck remembers me, and he's" Apollo didn't finish that. It wasn't relevant to the topic.
"Mad?" Boomer guessed wrong. "Of course he is. Probably the maddest of us all. The decisions he's had to make," Boomer shook his head, "I couldn't have made them. Nobody could have without letting go of everything, or damn near."
"How did he end up in charge, anyway?"
"He was the man for the job," Boomer said. "He patched us back together and gave us a purpose, and fired us to do it. Don't think we'll ever follow anyone else."
"Even if he ends up discharged?"
"You can't discharge him, Apollo. He's not in the service anymore. None of us are. We're something different, and we belong to him."
"We've followed him through the seven canonical hells and five or six others. We followed him here. We'll follow him wherever he asks. Even if he doesn't."
"Was it that bad?" Apollo dreaded the answer, but at the same time he craved it. Anything to justify their flight with so little time given to preparation, to take the burden of all those deaths off his father.
"Worse than you can imagine. Than you should have to imagine. You're the lucky ones, but you have no idea where we've been, what we've seen, what we've done... Of course he's mad, Apollo. So am I. We all are. You can't spend sectares in hell and emerge unscathed. Let alone more than a yahren."
Apollo stared at his oldest friend and again felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise, the warning that something dangerous was near. Boomer sounded so rational, his tone was so calm, his statements so coherent. Yet his words, his thoughts... Can a madman discuss his madness? Is that how they all really feel, underneath? Before he could find something to say, he heard running footsteps. Boomer's eyes widened and Apollo turned to see one of the newcomers approaching, with a Council Security officer at his heels. Frack. What now?
"Boomer." The young pilot, one of the few whose hair was still regulation-length, roughly cropped and spiky in fact, stopped in front of them and ignored Apollo, the way he'd been complaining about. Did the boy really look at him like he was somehow not as real as Boomer? The thought was scary.
"What's it, Hastur?" Boomer asked calmly.
"You need to come to the shuttle bay."
"Frack. Trouble over the supply ships again?"
"No. Seth's gone."
"Gone where?" Apollo said. "And how? One of your ships?"
Boomer and Hastur both stared at him as though he'd said something incredibly stupid, and then Boomer caught on. "No, Apollo. Gone. Dead." He turned to Hastur. "How's a good question though."
The Security man who'd followed Hastur answered that. "Starbuck shot him."
"What?" demanded Apollo.
"He said he was trying to bring him in, but..." He shrugged, clearly not believing it.
Apollo didn't either, especially not after all that he'd just been hearing from Boomer. "Why would he do that?" he asked.
"If Starbuck sent him on," said Boomer, "he had damned good reason."
"Yeah," said Hastur. "Like they" he jerked his head at the Security man, "were planning on locking him up till he was older than Trent."
"Well, no wonder," said Boomer. "The shuttle bay?" He turned and the Security man was in his way. He literally snarled. The man moved, and the two Ghosts stalked off.
"You think Starbuck" Apollo couldn't quite get the words terminated him out of his mouth. Not Starbuck. Not even this Starbuck.
"There's a blaster shot on the wall," the Security man conceded, "and the perp's blaster had been fired. But, Captain, I'm finding it hard to believe one of those lunatics would shoot at another. If they would, they ought to all be locked up."
"But you've no proof it didn't happen like Starbuck said?"
"Will there be charges?"
"For stopping a confessed terminater?" The man shook his head. "No. Whether there ought to be is a different story, Captain."
Apollo nodded. "I'm going to the launch bay."
"Captainthe Commander wants to see you."
"I'll be there. Thanks."
When Apollo got to the bay, he saw the whole group of the Ghosts there, including the old civilian and the crippled pilot. The other ten were gathered around in a protective circle; Starbuck must have been in the middle. Giles registered his arrival at once and took a half-step closer to Starbuck, and then moved back again, an annoyed expression crossing his face momentarily. His movement drew the eyes of others, including Boomer and the old man who turned to look at Apollo. Boomer said something, and Starbuck stood up. As he did he spoke, and Apollo was close enough to hear him.
"I don't know what to do with it."
Nobody, it seemed, had an answer. Apollo asked, surprised, "You never had casualties before?"
Starbuck gave him that look they'd patented, the what-a-stupid-thing-to-say look, though it was tempered by something Apollo hoped was fondness. "We never had a body before," he said. For some reason that made him look at Giles and Apollo unwillingly remembered the sergeant's scarred shoulder. Starbuck's gaze had gone back to the body, which Apollo could see because the Ghosts had shifted, standing now at Starbuck's back.
"We burned those at Cimlak," Eliseadh said.
"I don't think they'd like that," said one of the ones Apollo remembered the name of, Monty.
That caused a slight stir, but the old man quelled it. "I don't expect it matters much to Seth. He's gone on, what does he care? Let 'em do what they want."
Starbuck nodded. "Trent's right. Eliseadh?"
The woman looked at him.
"You want to three up with someone? Or," he thought of something else, "you could fly with Giles and I'll fly on my own"
"Like that is happening," said Hastur.
"Give it up, Bucko," added Boomer.
Eliseadh smiled. "I'll fly with Giles. On your other wing."
That drew a laugh from the group. Apollo figured this was not the moment to point out that Tigh was insistent that Eliseadh go through formal pilots' training before she climbed into a Viper again. If.
Nor did it seem the moment to point out that neither Adama nor Tighnor himself and Bojay, for that matterthought it was particularly wise to let them fly at all. Especially since they now had only nine pilots at best; he couldn't imagine a worse fate than to be tossed in with them. Not that breaking them up seemed particularly feasible. He sighed. He needed to talk to Starbuck. About so much.
"Starbuck?" he said.
"Yes?" Starbuck looked back at him over Eliseadh's red head; he'd caught her in a hug.
"I need to talk to you."
"I have to go to the bridge right now... Dinner?" And then he remembered tonight was Boxey's school presentation; his son would never forgive him for missing it. "Tomorrow?"
Starbuck shrugged. "Sure. Will you get Seth taken care of?"
The blond turned his head, and the little metal bits on his braids clicked together. He raised an eyebrow.
"One thing, though, right now?"
It was Boomer who said, "Come on, guys. The Captain wants to be alone."
Trent's eyes slid to Giles but the rest of them left chuckling. Apollo couldn't believe how quickly they'd apparently forgotten the body lying on the floor. Starbuck, too, ignored it, walking over to say, "What?"
"Did you kill him?" Apollo hadn't meant to be so direct, but now it seemed best. Maybe Starbuck would respond to directness.
"What? That kid, Hastur, he said"
"I sent him on," Starbuck nodded. "But kill him? No. That wasWho are those boys in the black uniforms?"
"Council Security. What are you saying?"
"Council Security? Oh, nice," Starbuck sounded just like his old lightly sarcastic self. Apollo felt his heart clench. "No, I'm not saying one of them shot him. I did. But the Cylons killed him, with more than a little help from our beloved Council and the High Command."
"Starbuck," Apollo said frustratedly, "that's interesting but irrelevant. Why did you shoot him?"
Starbuck became very still, inspecting Apollo carefully. Then he cocked his head to one side and said, "Seth absolutely was not going to prison. There was no way he was letting that happen."
"He shot at me." Starbuck gestured at the wall. "Probably didn't mean to hit me, but in a fire-fight do you notice?"
That was all he was going to get, he could tell. So Apollo shook his head and said, "I have to go to the bridge. Be careful, will you?"
Starbuck shrugged. "If I remember."
Apollo watched him walk away. Had Starbuck really... No. He couldn't have. The man had shot at him, after all. Starbuck had probably known that he was trying to avoid capture, and he hadn't sounded like he trusted Adama's assurance of good treatment... Apollo shook his head. Starbuck had had special teams training; he knew you didn't leave people to be taken by the enemy, and it was all too clear that half the time, if not more, the Ghosts considered the Galacticans to be the enemy. And in a way, wasn't it kinder? He remembered Seth fromgods, was it just that morning? He had been so young still, he might have been on the Prison Barge for ninety yahrens or more.
He sighed and hoped tomorrow wouldn't be too late. Maybe he should have blown off going to the bridge, called in sick; he was owed time off. But despite wanting to get Starbuck alone, to talk to him, reach underneath that we're-all-dead facade to the real Starbuck, the one he loved, he just couldn't do it.
Starbuck had always been irrepressibly insouciant, careless of what he characterized as the "trivia" of duties. He'd never fail to show up to fly a mission or to report anything that needed it, but routine after-mission papers might take days to trickle in, and his discipline was outwardly casual at best. Living together had brought their polar tendencies out more strongly as they reacted against each other's style, and now that Starbuck was so far in excess of anything he'd ever been before, Apollo could feel himself becoming more correct by the centon. But knowing what was happening wasn't the same as stopping it, and Apollo really had no desire to be different, anyway. This was who he was, for better or worse.
But he'd loved Starbuck to almost to distraction once, and Starbuck had loved him... And if only they could get together, alone...
But now wasn't the right time. He sighed again as the turbolift doors shut on Starbuck, swore softly, and headed for the bridge.
It was later than he'd realized. First shift was reporting, and to his intense discomfort he shared a car for the last part of the turbolift ride with Omega, Athena, and two other bridge technicians. Thank the gods, it wasn't with just his sister or his ex-lover, though. Athena didn't do anything more than glare at him icily and remark that Bojay had gone to Apollo's to get Boxey's costume, since he hadn't had it with him when she'd picked him up the day before and hadn't mentioned it until breakfast. Omega said nothing whatsoever.
When the doors opened Apollo headed straight for his father's office. Tigh was still there, or there again. "Apollo, there you are. Good," said his father. "You've heard?"
"I've been to the shuttle bay."
"I think we need to disarm them," Tigh said, his tone revealing that this wasn't the first time he'd said it. "I don't think we can afford to have them walking around with blasters."
"Seth shot at Starbuck," Apollo protested. "He didn't have any choice but to defend himself."
"You believe that's how it happened?" Tigh asked.
"There's no evidence it happened any other way."
"Well, Memnet didn't shoot at Seth last night," Tigh said. "He was a food service tech; he didn't even have a weapon."
"I know," Apollo said.
"Fistfights are one thing," Tigh concluded. "But if they're going to escalate them to deadly force"
"Tigh," Adama put in almost gently. "Seth didn't shoot Memnet. He broke his neck. His being armed has no bearing on that case; it only matters in the Starbuck shooting, which even Security is inclined to accept."
Tigh snorted his opinion of that.
"Father, I don't think they'll give up their sidearms," Apollo turned to Adama. "Not willingly."
"I don't like it, Apollo, but I do have to agree with Tigh. I'd prefer they weren't armed until they've settled in a bit better than they're showing signs of at the moment. I'm ordering them confined to the Special Teams section, and their Vipers are off limits."
"Isn't that redundant?" And the first thing he'd thought was, My dinner with Starbuck! He forced his mind back to the matter at hand.
"I don't plan on confining them for very long, a few days. It's as much for their protection as anything else: Tigh informs me that feeling is running high. Especially given their propensity for settling disputes with their fists..." Adama raised his hands. "I'd as soon not have any more fights until I can be assured that nothing worse than a few bruises will be the result. On either side."
"That makes sense," Apollo had to concede. "But why put their Vipers off limits? You can't think they'd attack us?"
"No, of course not. And I should have said, their ships are off limits. In fact," he glanced at Tigh, "I think the entire launch and landing complex should be off limits, the ready room as well." Tigh nodded as Adama turned back to Apollo. "But they might easily decide to leave, and I don't want them doing that. They are my responsibility whether they want to admit it or not. They don't fit in, and how could they? But it's my job to keep them here, to stop them from taking the easy way out and running away, because that will ultimately be their destruction. We have an obligation to help them whether they want it or not. And whether they make it pleasant for us or not. I don't consider them criminals, but I do consider them hazardous, and to themselves no less than others."
Leave? That hadn't occurred to Apollo, not after listening to Starbuck's once-over-lightly account of how hard and long they'd looked for them. But it was likely that in this case the having wasn't as good as the wanting. "They can't leave," he said.
"Then we're in agreement." Adama's tone was lightly ironic. A glance at Tigh told Apollo the colonel might not have minded all that much. "But putting areas of the Galactica off limits is easy, and confining them to the section is not difficult. Asking them to disarm will be an equinus of quite a different hue."
"I'll ask them," Apollo volunteered. "But what if they say no?"
There was a silence. Adama and Tigh looked at each other; it was clear they didn't agree on what to do then. Adama shook his head. "If they won't we won't push it. But if there's another... incident, then we'll disarm them by force if necessary." He paused. "Apollo, are you sure you want to ask them?"
"I'll be happy to," Tigh said.
"No," Apollo shook his head. "If Starbuck's not a squadron leader that's too big a jump in the chain of command. Even if he is, I'm his next higher. If you talk to him, sir, you'll be validating his position, and I don't think we want to do that. Do we?"
"No. We most certainly do not."
"Not just yet," Adama temporized. "I was going to talk to Starbuck and Boomer today, but I think now it should wait until passions have a chance to cool. And," he added, "I have a chance to think of something that will work out for us all. When I talk to them, I'd like to have something to offer them besides ultimata."
"I'll talk to him, then."
"And I," Tigh said, rising, "will see about posting guards to keep these Ghosts from the bay areas. Apollo," he nodded and left.
"How are you, son?" Adama asked once they were alone.
"I'm fine, Father. Really."
Adama leaned back in his chair. "I imagine things aren't working out quite as you had hoped."
"I imagine they aren't working out quite as anyone had hoped."
"No. I think you're right. Don't hold Tigh's attitude against him, Apollo. The Galactica is, and must be, his first concern."
Apollo rose to his feet. He didn't want to have this talk now; he needed time to think about what he was going to say. "I understand, Father. As the Wing is mine. I'll get over there after I talk to Starbuck. Bojay will be at the morning meeting."
Adama accepted it, saying only, "You'll be at dinner tonight?"
"Of course, Father. Barring unforeseen circumstances."
"Then I'll see you tonight."
|part 1||part 2||part 3||part 4||part 5|
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