Ties of Kinship

I have known friendship pure and golden
but ties of kinship, I have not known them
I know no father, no mother, no sister, no brother:
I am an orphan...
"Orphan Girl", Gillian Welch
Starbuck leaned back in his chair, lit a fumarillo, surveyed the room from behind a smoke-covered smile, and tried to figure out exactly why he was in such a rotten mood. After a couple of centons, he decided it must be because the lovely and entirely unvirtuous Lyra had decided it was time to have a baby. And while he didn't have anything against babies in general, or Lyra's in particular—though he did rather think that having a baby right at this particular time was pretty selfish—what annoyed him was that Lyra had decided to buy into the growing fundamentalist movement in the Fleet. Instead of just having a baby, which she was certainly capable of, and then continuing with her job (Viper pilot, a fairly important job, after all), she'd picked herself out some engineering tech type who wanted her to stay home, and gotten sealed.

He stared at the glowing tip of the fumarillo. What was wrong with people, anyhow? Here we all are, stravaging across the stars... we ought to be trying to create a new future, not harking back to the same old past we were smothering in.

"Hey, Starbuck." Apollo slid in to the seat across from him. "No plans?"

"Nothing firmed up," he answered, pulling his legs under his chair, away from the casual contact. "Just mulling my options."

"You always have them, don't you?" Apollo grinned at him.

"Secret to my success," he nodded.

"Oh, now what is he doing in here?" Apollo's green eyes slid past him.

Starbuck turned to see who it was and watched the young pilot hesitate in the doorway before walking to the bar. "Who, Chairos?" Starbuck shrugged. "Having a drink."

"He hold up all right today?" It had been first action for several of the replacements.

"Ahhh, he did fine."

"What do you think of him?"

"He's a nice kid. A little solemn, a lot young, he'll probably be dead in a sectare."

"Starbuck," Apollo rebuked him.

"Okay, maybe not. He might get lucky. He might get lucky tonight, as far as that goes," Starbuck grinned. "C'mon, 'Pol, he's cruising. Look at him. Like a puppy... I'd pick him up myself if we weren't in the same squadron."

"What?" Apollo stared at him.

Oops. That had slipped out without thought. On the other hand, it was getting that time again: time to give Captain Apollo a good hard shove, get him back out to arm's length where he kept refusing to stay. "Hey, don't worry. Like I said, if."

Apollo was staring at him.

"Besides," Starbuck added, "he is way too young. Plus he worships me already." It was a delicate balancing act, push him to arm's length, grab his shirt to keep him from getting too far away...

Apollo grinned at that. "You never let up, do you?"

"I can't help it if I'm irresistable to man, woman, child, and beast," Starbuck said complacently. "Besides," he added, just to keep Apollo a little off balance, "guys who hit on me are usually a lot more refreshingly honest about wanting short-term fun."

"It's been a long day, Starbuck. I'm not up to figuring that one out."

Starbuck shrugged. "Just what it sounded like. Women may say that's what they want, but it turns out they're just trying to set you up half the time." Now what was that? he thought, spotting a flare of something in Apollo's green eyes. Never mind, tonight we don't try to make Apollo feel good. Tonight we remind him who exactly we are.

"Like Athena?" Apollo asked curiously. He'd never stopped trying to find out exactly why she'd suddenly stopped pursuing Starbuck and settled for having him every now and then.

Starbuck drew on his fumarillo. "Complicated woman, your sister. Ask her yourself." Apollo probably wouldn't, and if he did, and she told him, that was their business. He wasn't going to tell him that all it had taken was reminding her that he was an Orphan, with a capital O, a ward of the state with unknown bloodlines, an unidentified mother and an unknown father, not even a surety of which tribe he belonged to... not the person Sire Adama wanted fathering his grandkids even if Commander Adama appreciated his skills and just plain Adama was fond of him. Not in seven hells did those words pass his lips to Adama's son.

"Yeah, when I'm tired of living I'll start prying into 'Theni's private life," Apollo was saying. "Was that it with Cassie? Fear of commitment? I thought you were actually in love for once."

Cassie... oh, Cassie. That still hurt, though dully now. She said 'forever' but, like everyone, what she meant was 'till something better comes along'. And something better—Paye—had; something better always did. He was by all the lords of Kobol so damned tired of 'forever'... And he wasn't going to answer Apollo, so he needed something else to say. "You really ought to know better by now," he settled on. Then he spotted someone he hadn't expected to see here, and smiled.

"Hello, there, Starbuck. They said you were in here. I owe you a night on the Star. And I'm flush tonight... you game?" Omega, tall and dark and patrician - and spectacularly out of place in the pilots' part of the Officers' Club - flashed the sudden smile that transformed his face.

Starbuck could feel Apollo's surprise. He probably couldn't picture the flag lieutenant and Starbuck at the same gathering. Not many people could... except on the Rising Star, where they had acquired a certain reputation in the, well, less reputable parts of the pleasure ship. Omega was definitely a dark equinus. "Sure. What are you thinking about?"

"The Lapis Lounge," the bridge officer said, with emphasizing hand gestures. "Dancing clowns. With ambrosa. And flambé."

"Flambé what?" he asked, ignoring the way Apollo had stiffened at the name of the club. "No, don't tell me."

"I won't. I wouldn't anyway. This you simply have to see to believe."

"You are a lunatic," Starbuck pronounced. Then he carefully stubbed out his fumarillo, pinching off the end to save it for later, and said, "I like lunatics. They're my kind of people. I'm in."

He stood up, grinning. Omega glanced at Apollo, but before he could extend the automatic invitation, Starbuck said, "Ah, I don't think the good captain is quite up for this kind of night. Are you, 'Pol?"

"Probably not," Apollo said acerbically.

"See you later, then."

The two headed down the corridor away from the O Club. "I'm guessing we change out of uniform for this evening?" Starbuck said. "I'll meet you at your quarters, Megs."

"Okay." Omega's bachelor office suite was further from the O Club than the single pilots' barracks.

Starbuck dressed with care but speed. He'd heard of the Lapis Lounge, but never quite worked up the guts to go there. It was the sort of place sane men went to in pairs, if they went at all. It was under constant threat of being closed down, and half the time it was Off Limits to Warriors as it was. He trusted Omega to know it was, temporarily, back on the approved list. He snickered as he headed down the hall. The not-disapproved list, anyway.

He rang at the door. He didn't get an answer, so he keyed in the pass-code. Omega hadn't changed it, and the door slid open. Oh, my. Oh, my oh my. Starbuck resigned himself to still never having been to the Lapis Lounge.

Omega was standing in the middle of the small front room of his quarters, dressed to go out in a very nice charcoal and icy blue outfit that would have had people killing to get to him. Them. Starbuck's own outfit was ivory and gold... Night and Day, they got called over on the Star. But at the moment Omega was just standing, his jacket in his hand and a lost expression on his face.

Frack. What just slipped up and hit you over the head, Megs? Starbuck took a quick look around the room; his gaze settled on the wall chrono, displaying the time and Caprican Standard Date the Galactica still ran on. It was right in Omega's line of sight. Frack. Starbuck moved between him and the chrono. Omega blinked, realizing for the first time that he was even in the room.

"This is one of Those Days, isn't it?" Starbuck pronounced the capitals. Lord, it's not often I rejoice in having no family, but, Megs, you can make me every time...

Omega stood there for a long moment more; Starbuck was just preparing to goad him a little when he spoke. "My youngest... his birthday. He would have been five."

Starbuck regarded him compassionately. Then he took the jacket away from the dark man and tossed it at the nearest chair. "We're not going to the Rising Star tonight, then," he said. Because you are no longer in a party mood. You are about one dancing clown away from suicide.

Omega looked at him, a fragment of concern showing on his face. "You want to go, Bucko," he said.

"You know me." He took off his own jacket and tossed it after the flag lieutenant's. "All days are alike to me, and they're all just lead-ins to the nights, which means I can go to the Rising Star any time and it'll be just like this time. But you don't want to go. You don't need to go. In fact, Megs, you need not to go." And you know I'm right. And you know I won't leave you with this. And I won't.

"You go—"

"No chance, Megs. Now," Starbuck took his arm and sat him down. "So what do you want to do?" He wouldn't want a woman. He never did when his family was the Black Daggit on his back. When he did, there was no one Starbuck would rather go hunting with; his dark elegance complemented Starbuck's blond beauty to perfection and guaranteed success. But Omega didn't need a woman tonight. "Do you want to drink yourself into a coma, talk about it and drink yourself into a stupor, or have me fuck you into tomorrow?"

Omega looked at him sideways. "I couldn't talk about... him, I couldn't bear it. And drinking doesn't help anymore."

Starbuck felt relief at that. If Omega had finally figured out that drinking was supposed to be recreational instead of therapeutic, his life would be a lot longer. Or a helluva lot shorter. He pulled himself up; he wasn't going there tonight. "Okay, then," he said.

He rose to his feet and took Omega's hand, pulling him upright. He held the hand between them and unbuttoned the cuff of the icy blue shirt, kissing the palm and nibbling on one finger when he was done. Keeping that finger in his mouth, and his eyes on Omega's dark sorrowful ones, he reached for the other hand and unbuttoned that cuff. He could feel Omega's thumb caressing the line of his jaw; he smiled and began unbuttoning the shirt's collar and front.


He pulled away enough to say, "Shhh." He put his hand on Omega's mouth, felt the other man's teeth close gently on his fingers. "No talking. And no thinking."

"I can't help it."

"No talking," he repeated. "And trust me. I'll stop you thinking." He slipped the shirt off Omega's shoulders, let it drop, and ran his damp fingers down the throat to a nipple. Omega drew in a sharp breath and let it out with a heartbreaking sound of need. Starbuck caught his hands and led him to the bed, pushing his shoulders gently to seat him on it, and dropped to his knees to get at his shoes. As soon as they were off he climbed onto the bed, grabbing the blankets and yanking them out of the way for later, and finished stripping Omega, moving quickly but carefully.

Omega's body was perfect. The first time Starbuck had seen it, he'd thought so, and closer acquaintance had only intensified that impression. It was athletic, and responsive, and when it was his turn it could send him screaming into oblivion. But that was then, or later. Now he had to take care of Omega. Not that it wasn't going to be a pleasure. He leaned over and tongued the nipple he'd dampened earlier.

He knew every spot to hit, and he hit every one of them at least twice before he finally slid a hand onto the straining cock. By then, the dark-haired man was well past thinking, writhing under Starbuck's hands and tongue. Gauging his moment, Starbuck took Omega in his mouth, planting one hand firmly on his hip to hold him down. When he came, Starbuck could get whiplash if he wasn't ready.

As the other man subsided, trembling and moaning, Starbuck moved into phase two, licking a trail upward to a nipple. He curled up next to Omega, suckling gently, while his right hand began caresses designed to bring him to arousal again instead of gentling him into sleep. His own body's demands were getting insistent, but he'd had yahrens of learning how to control himself when need be. He moved to devour Omega's mouth, tongue delving deep, and this time it was slow and passionate.

Afterwards, his mouth drifted, depositing small, tickling kisses as he pulled off his own clothes. By the time he reached for the lube Omega kept in the drawer for bad nights, the man was a nearly boneless pile of contentment who needed almost no prepping—just as well, for Starbuck's own body was screaming its need. He satisfied himself quickly, taking the edge off for later, and collapsed on top of Omega for a catnap, cuddling even as he drowsed. It was the next time, just before midnight, when he took all the time he could, prolonging it until Omega was literally whimpering with need beneath him. No way in eight hells was he thinking about a dead child. No way he was thinking at all.

Starbuck fell asleep on Omega's chest; Omega's slumber was so profound Starbuck wanted to hear his heartbeat to be reassured he was still alive.

Omega was on early shift, apparently. When he got up he tried not to wake Starbuck, but Starbuck always woke when someone left him. He didn't show that he was awake, he knew Omega would regret disturbing him, he just lay there with his eyes barely open and watched the other man pad around the sleeping room, head for the turbowash, get dressed. It was enjoyable.

And then the outer door hissed open.

"Omega?" The voice from the front room was Tigh's.

And the sleeping room door is wide open.

And, "Is Starbuck—" Oh, frack. Was that Apollo?

"Colonel? Why are you here?"

"I think you owe me an explanation, lieutenant." Tigh sounded pissed. Starbuck instantly decided to pretend to still be asleep. Until someone yanked him out of bed, anyway.

"With all due respect, sir," oh, nice. That was Megs's bridge voice, the we-have-only-ten-centons-till-we-all-die-fiery-deaths-sir-shall-I-order-tea voice. The there-is-nothing-that-disturbs-me voice... "I can't imagine what gives you that idea."

There was dead silence for a centon. And then—yes, that had been Apollo's voice earlier. Oh, frack, thought Starbuck again.

"I want to talk to Lt. Starbuck."

"Captain, stop." Omega was still calm. "These are my private quarters. You have no right to be here uninvited."

"Starbuck—" That was half a call and half the beginning of a sentence.

And entirely stomped on. "He, I assure you, was invited. Now, I am not yet on duty, and neither is Lt. Starbuck, and you have no right to be here. Unless you have a writ from the Council, I'm asking you to leave."

"I want—"

"I don't care what you want. These are my quarters, not the barracks. If you take one more step, let alone go into my sleeping room, I will have you arrested."

How did Megs get a sentence like that out without losing his calm? If the man understood probability better, he'd kill at pyramid.

"Lieutenant, I'm sorry," Tigh apologized. "You're correct. But I'm sure you can understand that the captain was concerned for one of his pilots."

"With all due respect, sir, the captain can see that his pilot is safe. And with all due respect to you, captain—no. There's actually no way to finish that sentence. Leave."

"I am going to talk to Starbuck."

Frack. He was truly pissed. Thank Sagan that Megs doesn't work for him. Or even with him.

"Starbuck is asleep," Omega said. "You can wait for him in the hall." The faint stress on 'you' made that so insulting Starbuck almost got angry.

"Apollo." Tigh was using his 'I-am-not-kidding' tone. "I'll see you on the bridge, Omega."

"Yes, sir. For my shift. Sir."

The door hissed shut. They'd actually left. Point, game, and set to Omega.

The flag lieutenant spoke, and his voice was alive again, warm with just a trace of amusement—another tribute to his self-control; in his place, Starbuck had to admit, he'd have been laughing his ass off. "I have to go. You stay as long as you want to, Bucko."

"Is that offer good for the rest of my life?"

Omega laughed, and Starbuck relished the sound of it. He'd accomplished his mission. "If you want... I'll think you'll go crazy, but I'm not sure I'd notice. See you later."

The door hissed again. Starbuck rolled over in the bed and stared at the ceiling. There was nothing Tigh could do to him—well, actually, there wasn't anything anybody could really do to either of them, they were so completely not in the same chain of command even if that concept hadn't been shot down when Adama let Apollo's fiancée be in his squadron—but he did not want to face Apollo. On the other hand, he's definitely pushed. And that's what you wanted.

He rolled over and reached for the other pillow. Deal with it later, Bucko. He crumpled the other pillow up and, his nostrils filled with the scent of male sex, he reacted to yahrens of experience in knowing that you never know when you're going to get another chance and slid back into sleep.

Apollo actually waited in the hallway outside Omega's quarters for half a centare before realizing that Starbuck wasn't coming out to talk to him. He waited a half a centare more before realizing Starbuck wasn't going to come out at all. Then he stomped off to his office, where he intended to redo the duty schedules to make sure Starbuck and Omega weren't off at the same time ever again in their natural lives.

Except that would give the superior bridge officer something on him. And anyway, it wasn't like he gave a damn who Starbuck slept with.

Was it?

Of course not.

And a good thing, too, since Starbuck had slept with... half? two-thirds?.. of the women on the Galactica, maybe the in the whole damned fleet. This was completely not about who Starbuck chose to...

Although that supercilious damned bridge officer, that chair pilot ... standing there cool as could be in that no-guts blue uniform while Starbuck lay naked in his bed. Apollo knew full well that nothing, nothing, said 'possession' like being dressed while the other was naked. The only times he'd made it with Serina—because she died. That was that was about. They'd only been married a day and she died.

And. That. Was. Not. The. Point.

(so what was?)

The point was... the fracking point was that Starbuck said he was going to the Rising Star, to that bar, that Lapis Lounge. Which was about to be closed down, again. And then when he, Apollo, acting like a good commanding officer, tried to check that he was all right, then he wasn't there. And when Apollo, acting like any commanding officer would act if any of his men was unaccounted for after announcing plans that an idiot would have known better than to think of, had searched the Rising Star, unobtrusively, then Starbuck wasn't anywhere. On the whole damned ship. Though plenty of people knew who he was talking about... "those two, oh they've been here. Not tonight, though, captain." And when Apollo, still acting just like any commanding officer with a missing man, had checked the barracks, Starbuck wasn't there. In fact, checking the shuttles—like anybody—Starbuck had never come back to the Galactica. And when Apollo had gotten that flag-lieutenant's commander involved, and they'd overridden security to get into his quarters—not patrol, just two concerned officers—what had they found?

What had they found?

Apollo growled at the duty rosters in front of him. He wasn't even going to think about what they had found, or that damned lieutenant—flag-lieutenant, jumped-up son of a daggit—and the way he'd spoken, to a full colonel no less, or the tangle of Starbuck's tawny hair against the black sheets (pale skin on black sheets) and the gold and ivory clothes piled on the floor by that bed or the icy blue shirt in the front room...

He. Did. Not. Care.

He only cared that Starbuck had lied to him. Gone missing. Wouldn't have been found if they'd had to scramble. It was that simple.

And it was at that moment that Boomer put his head into the office and said, "I saw Ruby in the mess. He said you were here, so I'm assuming you found our missing boy?"

Later, much later—too late, in fact—Apollo recognized this as the crucial moment. If he'd had more time to cool off, or if he hadn't been so angry to start with, or if he'd just thought for a centon before he answered, the whole thing would have blown over in half a day. Less. If only he'd said, 'Sure. You know Starbuck, when did he ever do what he said he was going to do?', Boomer would have laughed, they'd have spent a couple of centons good-naturedly abusing the absent Starbuck, and that would have been that. Oh, maybe he and Omega would have had problems, but given how infrequently their paths crossed, who would have noticed? Tigh and his flag-lieutenant would have worked out their own issues on their own time, nobody else would have gotten involved, and he and Starbuck would have... whatever they would have done, they would have had time and privacy to do it in.

Of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are: it might have been...

Unfortunately, he was too angry, it was too soon, and he wasn't thinking at all. So what he said was, "Oh, I found him all right. Apparently he and Omega didn't actually need to go to the Rising Star and get drunk before they climbed into bed after all." Boomer's face took on that blank look that meant he'd been blindsided. And Apollo almost instantly wished he hadn't said anything at all.

Especially when he realized that his voice had been carrying, and that Boomer was standing in an open door, and that the outer room was filled with pilots from Green and Gold Squadrons...

When he walked into the ready room five minutes before the mission brief, he found out just how bad it had already gotten.

Sheba's particularly penetrating voice reached him first. "Who would have thought it? I knew Starbuck was a slut, but I didn't realize he'd lie down for anybody. Of course, you do have to wonder—"

Boomer, with the attitude of a man who's only half certain he ought to be speaking, interrupted her. "A word to the wise, Sheba. You haven't been on the Galactica long enough to know everybody yet. That 'flit flag-lieutenant' will eat you for breakfast if you cross him."

Sheba snorted and sneered at the same time, an unattractive combination she had apparently mastered in childhood. "Starbuck's boy?"

"Make up your mind," Greenbean seemed pleased to get on somebody else's case for a change. Plus, he had never liked her much. "If he's Starbuck's boy, then Starbuck's not the—"

"That's enough." Apollo put an end to it. "A little decorum if you don't mind." It had been all he could do not to slap Sheba across the room for that 'slut' comment, despite what he'd said himself earlier. And wouldn't that have encouraged morale and such... He hadn't missed that half the squadron had agreed with her about at least part of what she was saying.

The squadron quieted and looked at him, but they weren't chastised. He looked at his wrist-chrono; Don't be late on top of everything else, he thought, and wasn't sure if that was a plea, an exasperated command, or a prayer. Then the door opened and Starbuck slid in to stand in the back with twenty microns to spare.

The mission was rough. Not operationally; thank the Lords of Kobol, they encountered nothing on their way to fuel the tankers, or on the flight back. Apollo had half-way hoped for a little bit of action—he'd have liked to shoot at something, watch something explode—but he had to admit that tensions were high. The wrong thing could have been blown up if lasers had been deployed.

But he couldn't remember the last time he hadn't heard Starbuck's voice on the air during a mission. And he couldn't remember the last time he hadn't wanted to. And he had never had to tell as many other people to shut up as he did today. So when they got back, he went and hid in his office, door closed.

That evening, something did explode. Apollo had been aware that there were a lot of tensions. What he somehow hadn't expected was for an actual fight to break out in the barracks. Fists. Feet. Blood. Starbuck and three other pilots. What dismayed him was that nobody got involved in it—nobody else jumped Starbuck, but nobody, not even Boomer, wanted to help him out, either.

Colonel Tigh—the man was psychic, everybody knew that, he was always where you didn't want him to be—beat Apollo to the scene by centons. By the time Apollo got there, Tigh was handing out on-the-spot disciplinary actions, which was a slap in his face. He accepted it; he should have seen it coming. He was going to have to fix it.

If only he knew how without transferring half of his squadron. Or half of himself. Oh, frack, Starbuck, he thought with sudden resignation. Why couldn't you just be... normal?

He stared at the paperwork on his desk without seeing it.

Or why couldn't I? But what he wished he wasn't, he still wasn't ready to admit. So he grabbed his uniform jacket and went home, looking for Boxey, and family, and noise.

Starbuck stood in the hallway. He didn't feel up to keying himself in, because he felt less like finding out the combination had been changed. Several officers had gone past; none had spoken. This is shaping up to be the worst secton of my life, he thought wearily. Sagan help me if it keeps up like this.

Omega turned the corner. "Hello," he said, and then broke off and took Starbuck's chin in his hand. "Why didn't you go to the life center with this?"

"It's not that bad," Starbuck shrugged. Omega's fingers tightened on his jaw and didn't release him. Starbuck sighed. "Besides, the other guy was in there."

"I'm sure. All right, come in here and let me take care of that. Unless," he paused and let go in a hurry, "you came here to say 'it's been fun, but.'"

"Not exactly," Starbuck said.

Omega keyed in the door and went in, waiting for him. "I'm changing that today, by the way," the dark-haired man said. "I was thinking of 4478."

Starbuck took a centon to process that—the fact that Omega had pronounced it four-four-seven-and-eight helped—and laughed. "Sagan," he said, "is nothing sacred to you?"

Omega shrugged. "Not anymore. Sit down here."

Starbuck complied. At his most irreverent he wouldn't have chosen the 4thBook, 4th Chapter, seventh and eight verses—Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.—for a keypad mnemonic. It made him laugh, which hurt.

Omega came out of the bathroom with an herbal salve, which he applied with a delicate touch. "What happened?" he asked neutrally.

Starbuck shrugged. "Let's just say I'm no longer the most popular guy in the barracks. Which is why I came by..."

"Yes?" Omega sat down next to him.

"I'm broke. Got to get into a game before I can afford a room somewhere, and I'm confined to the Galactica. For fighting." He gestured at his face.

Omega looked at him. Starbuck wasn't entirely sure what his eyes were saying; he was trying for casual hit-up-a-friend-for-a-loan, but it had been a long day and he didn't know if he was succeeding. "I'm not really that flush myself, enough for a night but I don't know how much you could win on it," Omega said, adding, before Starbuck had time to do more than begin to react, "but you're welcome to stay here. I told you so the other day."

"I thought you were joking." Not since he'd graduated the academy had anybody invited him to their home, and never, never open-ended...

"In context, I suppose I was," Omega acknowledged. "But think back on everything I've ever said to you: how much of it haven't I meant?"

He stood up and went to put the salve away. Starbuck did just that and realized it was true. It wasn't the sort of epiphany that made you turn handsprings down the hall, because Omega hadn't said all that much, really, no great declarations—no little ones for that matter—but it was true that what he'd said had always been so. But if handsprings were out, relief wasn't. He'd been unhappy at the thought of needing to find a game to pay back a stake—Sagan knew his luck was out (though maybe turning)—and way more than unhappy at that of spending another night in the barracks. He'd contemplated sleeping in a chair on the Observation Deck. Tigh or no Tigh. He sagged back into the cushions and closed his eyes.

"Staying then?" Starbuck looked up to see Omega leaning against the door jamb, smiling.

Suddenly Starbuck knew this was a bad idea. "Look, Megs, you don't want to get stuck with me—"

Omega snorted. "Bucko, if you think you're sparing me the gossip, everybody on this ship has got our names coupled. Granted, the people I work with haven't punched me out, but two of them did tell me I was a lucky daggit, one hoped I wasn't serious, and one reminded me of the scriptures against perversion. If you don't stay, people will only think we broke up. Probably that one or the other of us is scared of public opinion."

Starbuck contemplated that for a while. "I guess so. You don't mind?"

"I don't give a damn, Bucko, you know that. You're the one whose reputation will be shot."

"I have no reputation," Starbuck said bitterly. "At least not one that can be ruined."

Omega flashed that incandescent smile. "So, surprise them all. Stay put." He straightened and added, "Besides, having you around is not the worst thing I can think of. You're decorative. You're amusing. You're the kindest person I've ever known."

"You have had bad luck in friends."

Omega grinned, and then sobered. "And it's my fault you're out of a place to sleep."

"Felgarcarb," said Starbuck. "Apollo wasn't looking for you. And if you mean what I think you do, don't even start." But that in fact made him feel better. If Omega had decided to quit drinking to kill his pain, he'd need someone around to watch him for a while.

The darker man shrugged. "We both know what happened. But regardless, you should stay."

"I will. Thanks, Megs."

"Don't mention it. You can have the couch if you want, though even for you I think it's short. Or you can have your half of the bed. No strings."

"I don't want to cramp your style," Starback said. Of course, a room-mate sprawled out in the front room wouldn't add much to the ambience. Never had for him, at any rate.

Omega's smile was bittersweet. "I don't bring them here, Bucko. Only friends get through that door. Well," his tone turned ruefully amused, "as a general rule. Don't let me forget to change that code before we turn in. Do you need to go get anything?"

"I rented a locker," Starbuck said. "I'm giving them time to cool down."

So they went to the rental center and collected Starbuck's meager possessions—at least Omega actually had less, since he'd been only temporarily assigned to the Galactica when the Cylons had changed the universe. Then they went to the O Club for dinner, sitting on the blue side for a change, where everyone was cool and civilized and the nectar was golden and the music soft, and went back to Omega's quarters where it was Starbuck's turn, and Omega, whisperingly gentle on the bruises, stopped him from thinking about anything whatsoever.

And Starbuck went to sleep wrapped in Omega's arms, and he didn't dream at all.

In one of the smaller conference rooms near the bridge, Athena swallowed nervously and looked over the assembled bridge officers. All of First Watch had shown up, and they were sitting, neatly ranked by position and duty, only a few talking quietly among themselves. She couldn't remember seeing them like this before. Ever. She wasn't sure this was really her place, but as Adama's daughter she carried more weight in this sort of moral grey area than perhaps she should have. In any case, somebody needed to say something, and say it soon, before the tensions infesting the Viper pilots got into the operations staff as well. Colonel Tigh had set a good tone the day before, behaving as if nothing whatsoever had occurred—he and Omega both had carried themselves so normally that no one on First Watch had known anything had happened until they went off duty. And heard the rumors running the Galactica's corridors like rodents.

Apollo had brought Boxey over for a while the night before, and she and he had spent one of the most unpleasant evenings she could remember. Boxey had been upset and whiny, and while you could excuse that in a child of seven, in his father it had been a lot less tolerable. Frankly, she was sick of his attitudes, and the way he tried to force the people he loved to behave the way he thought they should; he was getting more like their father every day. And the thought of him as head of her family made her think about grabbing the nearest single man she could find and getting sealed. And when Cassie had called, looking to see if she'd heard anything about Starbuck, and Athena had forced her brother to tell her about the barracks fight... well. Viper pilots were creatures of violence and adrenaline and reactions. But the Lords of Kobol wouldn't be able to save this fleet if the Galactica's operations staff fell apart like that.

Besides, on the topic of her father, those same Lords of Kobol knew Commander Adama could be a stiff-necked man. Like his son, unwilling to back away from a publicly taken position. It wouldn't hurt to preempt him, or at least show him what First Watch thought. Always assuming she was right. Or could make herself right. She wasn't her father's daughter for nothing, even if he had always preferred the boys.

"Okay," said Athena. "Good of everyone to show up early. No need to be coy about this: we all know what's up. I think we need to be together on this."

"On what?" Altair, one of the long-range comms techs, asked.

"On where we stand," she said.

"And where is that?"

"With Omega," put in Rigel. "Isn't it?"

"That's what I say," nodded Athena. "The man's been through six kinds of hell since he hit this ship and never once has he let it bleed through into his job. He deserves to know we appreciate that."

"Him." The voice was unexpected.

"What?" Rigel turned.

Dathan blushed to the roots of his red hair. He was a devout Kobolian, and shy as well; this topic had to disturb him, and the number of times he'd volunteered anything besides what his scanner's job required in the past two yahrens could have been counted on one hand with fingers left over. But he repeated, firmly, "Him. Appreciate him. He's a good officer."

"Yes," Athena smiled at him. "He is. Are we agreed?"

Everybody nodded. Altair said, "Sagan knows putting on brown lowers your IQ by forty points. Let's prove the midnight blue adds points on."

There was a general murmur of agreement. And even Athena, whose brother was the leader of those who "put on brown", couldn't argue the point. Didn't even want to.

"Sagan," said Falco, a software support tech who'd had his share and half of several other people's dressing downs from the flag lieutenant. "We aren't living in a theocracy, after all. People's private lives ought to be just that."

Athena liked the phrase. She looked around the room and saw no disagreement. "Okay," she said. "Rigel, you distract Omega when he comes in—"

"I can screw up your board from my position," Falco volunteered.

"Good. And I, and Altair and Dathan?" she checked; he nodded; she continued, "will corner the colonel." She double checked that First Watch—the cream of the Galactica's ops crews—were in agreement and found not a single averted gaze. "Okay, then. Let's go to work, people." She watched them file onto the bridge, taking over from third watch, getting quiet updates, staying calm. She felt so proud, she could hardly stand it.

"Do you mind?"

Athena jumped, and then turned with a rueful smile to Rigel. "Sorry. I was a million light yahrens away... But mind? Why should I mind?" She shrugged. "Starbuck and I haven't dated in a yahren. Maybe longer."

"I actually meant Captain Apollo."

"Oh." Athena shrugged again. "My brother's acting like a bigoted idiot. You'd think he was a as devout as Dathan—except Dathan doesn't care."

"Dathan isn't best friends with the flag lieutenant, like your brother is—was?—with Lieutenant Starbuck."

"It's Apollo's problem," Athena said. "He's not going to make it mine." And she meant that as surely as she'd meant anything in her life. "What about you? You knew Omega's wife."

"Clementia would have wanted him to have what he wanted," Rigel said. "She always did. I think it's odd he wants Starbuck, but then again, it's not my business. I just hope Starbuck isn't going to hurt him. He can't take much more hurt."

Athena was in such complete agreement with that it startled her, but what she said was, "Anybody who takes up with Starbuck expecting forever hasn't been paying attention. Omega always pays attention. We'd better go; the colonel will be here soon."

When Tigh came on duty that morning, on the stroke of the centon, he was greeted by just exactly what he needed to ease the tensions from the mess the night before: a brisk "Colonel's on the bridge!" and the welcome sight of every single one of his bridge crew at their positions, those who could springing to attention and those who couldn't still managing by their body language to say they were waiting on him even though their duties weren't on pause.

He smiled as he surveyed the bridge. "As you were," he said, and watched as they resumed their jobs. He hadn't expected many of them not to show up today, but after the way the Viper pilots were reacting... at least one of First Watch was a devout fundamentalist, and others belonged to tribes who were even more disapproving of same sex relationships than Capricans. But not a one was missing. He was proud of them. Duty before emotions: that had always been his credo. Maybe that was why he'd never sealed, but it was also why the Galactica had held together the way she had in the face of everything that had been thrown at her. Duty first...

He was aware of Omega's tall figure bent over one of the comms...no, Viper control positions, the tech—Rigel—gesturing at the readouts. No tension in either of them, just annoyance: another bad board. He turned to look at the night shift's reports, giving one last once-over to the bridge, and realized that Athena, Altair, and—speak of a nightflyer—the fundamentalist, Dathan, were standing in front of him. Frack, he thought, taking in their body language. I can't have been this wrong.


"Yes, lieutenant?"

Athena took a deep breath. Before she spoke, Tigh realized that every person on the bridge—except Omega and Rigel, the former just becoming aware that something was happening—had risen to their feet and were watching. This was a united front.

"Sir, First Watch felt it was if not necessary at least prudent to let you know that we feel we do not live in a theocracy." She paused.

Tigh raised an eyebrow. That was an interesting way to put it. However, it seems I wasn't wrong, and that's good. All the ways there are. "I'm aware of that, Lieutenant. Nonetheless, I appreciate your bringing it to my attention."

"I hope so, sir," she said. "I hope you understand us."

"I do, Lieutenant." He looked over her shoulder at his flag-lieutenant, standing like an elegant piece of sculpture but alive and taking the measure of the room. Tigh appreciated loyalty more than any other virtue, and he always had. Looking around the bridge, he made a decision. He'd been thinking about it all night without reaching any firm conclusions, ever since he'd had to break up that fight in Blue Squadron—the premier squadron in the fleet, the Strike Captain's Own. The original decision had been made nearly two sectares ago, scheduled for next secton. But now he felt it couldn't wait. It wouldn't be long before he, or Adama, or both of them were called in by the Council. A day, maybe two... This wasn't a theocracy. No more was it a democracy, or a republic. It was a military. He wanted to head this thing off before it even started. He reached into his pocket and then raised his voice just the slight bit necessary to carry the bridge and get everyone's attention. Adama might be annoyed at his precipitateness—frack, Adama might be pissed off—but this was his bridge, and he was going to do it anyway. "Lieutenant Omega. Front and center."

If the bridge had been still before, now it was silence incarnate. When the man was before him, he began, as he had countless times before, "Attention to orders." Incredibly, the silence grew deeper. He paused, and then looked out over the crew. "Rest," he said. "Ladies and gentlemen. As you are aware, the bridge of a battle star is the care, normally, of a flag lieutenant. But a battlestar's group is, as a general rule, no more than six or seven ships, combatants all, with trained crews of their own. The Galactica is the caretaker of a civilian fleet, and that fleet holds our entire race. It has long been realized that the bridge and operations personnel of this battlestar have duties above and beyond the normal call. And it is also known that you have met them, with courage, with skill, with dedication, and with grace under appalling pressure. You have saved our people time and over. I wish I could promote you all, but—" he let himself smile for just a moment "—you know how that goes. Still, it's fair to say that the actions of the group are both reflected in and reflections of the leader. This watch, this operations staff, is far and away the best I have served with. Ever. In no small part, that is due to your flag lieutenant. Attention to orders!" he snapped again. "Lieutenant Omega, you are hereby promoted to the duties and privileges of the rank of captain, with all the attendant duties and responsibilities of the position of flag-adjutant to the commander of the Battlestar Galactica, effective immediately." He held out the rank insignia to Omega's subordinates, the ones who'd just put themselves on the line for him. Athena snapped up the left one, but Altair held back, allowing the youngster Dathan, rising to his tiptoes (as did Athena, for that matter), to pin on the right one. As soon as that was done, and they'd stepped back, Tigh saluted.

When Omega returned the salute, the bridge erupted in cheers. Adama looked out of his office, but he didn't join them. Tigh wasn't surprised, but he wasn't disappointed either. This was their moment, not the fleet's. He held out his hand and Omega took it. "Long overdue," he told the new captain.

"Thank you, sir."

"It was posted a sectare ago, for next secton, so you won't get paid for it till then."

"Isn't that always the way, sir?" Omega smiled slightly.

Tigh nodded and stepped back, allowing the others to offer their congratulations. He'd caught the glint in Athena's eye that meant she at least realized that Omega now functionally outranked Apollo: both captains, with the pilot's date of rank earlier, but flag-adjutants outranked all others of their grade. It added a new dimension to the mess, and Tigh wished he hadn't felt compelled to publicly award the promotion early, before the Council took a notion to step in and make an example of someone. He wished more strongly that he didn't think that was exactly what they were going to do. Well, he thought, watching his staff return to their places, the light murmur of conversation replacing the silence, I've protected my man. I hope someone is looking out for Starbuck. I don't know what I can do for him...


Part one Part two Part three Part four Part five


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