Ties of Kinship

part five


Starbuck sat on the couch in Apollo's front room. He had the light on in the service room, spilling dimly into both the front room and Boxey's room. The boy had finally fallen asleep after a centare of Starbuck's storytelling and reassurances. The problem was that Starbuck didn't believe himself.

"Your dad's gonna be just fine, kid."

"But you're not there to watch his six."

"He's flown without me before. He's a good pilot. He's the best."

"He says you are."

"He'll be fine. Sheba will watch out for him."

"She's not in Blue Squadron, Starbuck."

"Boomer will watch him, Boxey. Boomer promised me he'd watch him."


"He's gonna be fine. Did I ever tell you about Sefirok? Now, that was action..."

Starbuck leaned his head back on the couch and stared up through the dim light at the ceiling, as if looking up was the secret. If he could see through the Galactica's bulkheads, it wouldn't matter what direction he was looking. Up was a planet-born reflex. He knew that, but he looked up anyway.

He was seriously worried. Normally Apollo flew pretty conservatively, well by Starbuck's standards anyway. Now and then he went mad with risk-taking, if the stakes were high enough, and that's when he really needed a wingman who could keep up with him. No. Be honest. Outfly him. So you can get between him and whatever's out there. Boomer was a good pilot, a very good pilot. But he wasn't better than Apollo. Nobody was better than Apollo. Except me. And here I sit. 'Pol, if you get yourself killed, I'll... I'll find some way to make you sorry.

He was going to go crazy now, sitting here. If Boxey hadn't been in the next room, he'd have gone to the bridge. Standing around there wouldn't have made him feel any less useless but at least he'd have had some clue what was going on. He could have conned somebody out of headsets and listened on the tactical channel... He'd have known.

Sagan, how do spouses stand it?

And how long was this battle going to last, anyway?

The door hissed open. Starbuck jumped to his feet. The only thing he felt for several centons as green eyes burned into his was relief. Thank his Lords... Apollo's alive. You're alive. Worry and love came later. Fear barely had time to think about coming.

"Starbuck?" Apollo was incredulous.

"I brought Boxey back—"

"You're here?" His voice was almost unrecognizable.

"Boxey," Starbuck repeated. "I was just staying with Boxey. Out here. He's in there."

"Starbuck." Nothing followed. And Apollo didn't move.

Which meant he was standing in the doorway, keeping Starbuck in.

"Apollo?" Starbuck's mouth was suddenly dry. He licked his lips. "I'll leave now—"

"Don't. Starbuck, you're here. You're here. Don't leave."

Starbuck's breath caught in his throat. He was paralyzed with conflicting emotions and green eyes. And then Apollo closed the distance between them and caught his shoulders in his hands. "Gods, you are here. It's you."

And Starbuck's fifteen-yahren-fantasy came true. Apollo's mouth was on his, Apollo's hands in his hair, and Apollo's body in his arms.

The next thing he knew, he was on the couch and Apollo was on top of him, kissing him frantically. He retained exactly enough wits to say, "Boxey—we'll wake Boxey."

Apollo froze for a moment, and then scrambled off him and the couch and pulled him into the main sleeping room, slapping the door controls to shut them in. He turned then, shedding his jacket and reaching for Starbuck again. They stripped each other quickly, frantically; the room was dark but Starbuck's eyes were quick to adapt and he could see Apollo's lean body well enough. It wasn't the first time he'd ever seen it, after all, only the first time he'd been allowed to look.

Apollo didn't give him much time to look, pushing him down onto the bed and kissing him, devouring his mouth, holding him as if he were afraid Starbuck would vanish if he let go, as if he were a dream or a delusion. Starbuck did everything he could think of to convince Apollo of his reality, though he was fighting a sense of unreality himself. It wasn't Apollo's existence he doubted, only the permanence of this experience. But he didn't let himself worry about that. The feel of Apollo's sleek, hard-muscled body in his hands, against his own body, the taste of him, the coarse texture of his black hair when Starbuck tangled his hands in it, the power that thrust against him: it was the stuff of his dreams made real and he wasn't capable of saying no to it, regardless of what Apollo might say or do when he came up out of the night and down from his battle high... Apollo called his name when he came, shuddering in Starbuck's hold and then collapsing against him in an exhausted and trembling heap. Starbuck hung on the edge of ecstasy a few centons longer, rolling Apollo onto his back and thrusting against him, coming in a wordless cry.

They lay together, arms and legs wrapped around each other, for an indefinite time. Starbuck raised his head and kissed Apollo's shoulder, tasting his sweat, moving his mouth slowly along the neck, nuzzling the longish hair and nibbling gently at his ear before kissing him properly. Apollo held him close, returning the kiss, but when Starbuck shifted his weight, starting to drift into sleep, Apollo shook him gently. "Don't go to sleep, Starbuck," he said.

"Don't tell me you want to talk, 'Pol," Starbuck yawned. "Later... I'll still be here."

"No. You can't be. You have to go."

That woke him. "Go?"

"You can't be here when Boxey wakes up, Starbuck," Apollo said, sounding reasonable.

"Okay," he said, "no problem. I'll just go." He sat up and tried to remember which side of the bed his clothes were on.

"You understand, don't you, Starbuck?"

"Of course," he said. And he did. Kids complicated things. On the other hand, where did Apollo expect him to go? He found his trousers and pulled them on. "You have to talk to Boxey. Among others." Like Sheba. He sighed. Your father. Or nobody...

"We'll talk tomorrow, Starbuck." Apollo kissed his shoulder.

Starbuck shook his misgivings aside. Even if Apollo never wanted to do this again, it had been the best sex of his life. He pulled on his shirt and picked up his jacket. "You should go and see Boxey," he said softly. "He was worried about you."

"He's asleep," said Apollo. "He'll be up early, that's what he does..." He started to get up.

"I'll let myself out," Starbuck pushed him back down. "Love you, 'Pol," he added softly.

"I love you, Starbuck. I really do."

Starbuck had a bad feeling about that 'really', but he just smiled and left.

And went back to Omega's quarters. That he'd been thinking of as 'home'... After all, it's not like either of us promised anything. In fact, he said 'no strings'. He still felt like a rodent, though. First time in his life for that, too.

Hell of a day all around, Bucko, he thought as he keyed himself in. Omega wasn't there. Interesting. He got into the turbowash and stood for a few centons, by which time his head had cleared enough to realize Omega was still on the bridge. He walked into the service room to get a drink to settle his frazzled nerves, and the scent of the flowers reminded him of his earlier plans.

Oh, frack, he thought, forgetting the drink and crawling into bed. Why can't things ever be simple? Why does trouble always know where I am? And who exactly Up There is trying to drive me crazy? 'Cause you are...

Starbuck had woken up when Omega came to bed, but he'd pretended that he was still asleep. Omega had leaned over and kissed his shoulder, lightly, before settling; Starbuck was very glad he'd showered. He wasn't ready for a debate on what "no strings" meant. Not tonight.

But Omega only slept about four centares. The alarm hadn't gone off, or at least that wasn't woke Starbuck. He woke when Omega slid quietly out of the bed, an old reflex. This time he couldn't get back to sleep after Omega left. Instead, he lay there, remembering the previous night, calling up every detail of Apollo's body against his. His fantasy was much more vivid now, informed as it was. He closed his eyes and pretended his hands were Apollo's... I love you, Starbuck...

That day when he sat in his cubby he didn't watch Omega. Not that he was in there much over the next four days: Tigh was off the Galactica as much as on her, checking battle damage, meeting with anxious civilian captains, shamelessly using his position to get Starbuck to ferry him and Athena to the Rising Star for dinner... Starbuck found the concept of Tigh and Athena very hard to get his mind around, but 'Theni looked a lot happier than she had in yahrens.

On the other hand, she was complaining that she was finding herself with Boxey a lot more than she thought right. "Gods know," she said, "I can't bring myself to tell the boy he has to stay home with Sheba, but Apollo should remember who's the child's parent and who is the parent's sibling."

Starbuck tried to bring the subject up to Apollo, but in public it was hard to turn the conversation to Apollo's son's dissatisfaction with the upcoming nuptials, and in private they didn't talk. Their schedules kept them from having more than a snatched centon every couple of days, which was romantic until Starbuck realized how deeply Apollo was burying the trail. Romantic shaded into vaguely sordid, but completely addictive. Starbuck found himself using Boomer as cover, dropping by the O Club after his shift to have a couple of drinks with the other pilot and then rendezvousing with Apollo.

And then heading home to Omega's quarters, a topic which was mentioned even less between him and Apollo than Sheba, whose name Apollo seemed compelled to mention every two or three days. Almost as if to remind himself that she existed.

It wasn't like Starbuck needed the reminder, after all.

He and Omega were for all practical purposes on different shifts for the present. The flag officer was working fourteen or fifteen centares a day, post-battle analysis and supervision of the long-range reconnaissance vipers who were searching for the homeworld of their still-unidentified assailants. Plus, he'd said something in passing about trying to ensure that the Second Watch felt more competent... they'd very nearly panicked the night of the attack.

Starbuck felt a bit guilty, still. He kept reminding himself of the "no strings" and the "I've meant everything I've said", and anyway, it wasn't like Omega had ever expected him to pay for staying there by sleeping with him. They'd never been lovers... just friends who fell into bed every once in a while. Sometimes more, sometimes less ... and Omega never mentioned that Starbuck was well into the less phase. After all, he'd had longer stretches than this where he was so occupied by somebody—like Cassie, for instance—that he'd barely had time to go for drinks...

It was okay.

It was Apollo he would be cheating on... Apollo, who was going to be sealed to Sheba. And when he thought about that, he would roll over in the bed and see how deeply asleep Omega was. Generally, it wasn't very.

After which, Starbuck felt guilty, again. It was a new emotion, and he didn't like it. But it was a small price pay for the dream. The dream he didn't deserve to touch, let alone dictate to.

Apollo clenched his fingers in Starbuck's hair, his other hand clutching the chair arm as he strained, bucking against the mouth giving him pleasure. "Oh, gods, oh, Starbuck..." he moaned. The words were as sweet to Starbuck's ears as his cock was. This was the best moment, when Apollo lost control under his hand and mouth, sprawled in wanton abandon, begging for more. Although it was good when Apollo took him, filling him and possessing him, especially if they were face to face, his legs encircling Apollo and those green eyes filling his sight... But knowing—seeing and feeling—that he could make Apollo so wild brought him to the edge himself and usually Apollo could barely get his hand on him before Starbuck would come, crying Apollo's name.

Essentially, the only change in the past couple of sectons was where they met. Apollo was still betrothed. Starbuck was still his secret vice. And Starbuck still couldn't keep away. He knew he ought to play a little hard-to-get, but he also knew the time for that was past. Besides, Apollo had only to look at him, only to say, "Ten centons from now? Supply?" and Starbuck would be there in six, waiting. Just as he had spent the last fifteen yahrens waiting.

But now Apollo came.

And came... Starbuck laughed and Apollo convulsed from the sensation, and came for real. Gasping for breath, he reached down and pulled Starbuck into his arms, reaching for his cock and nuzzling his shoulder with little nips as he, as predicted, brought him to climax with only a few sure strokes of his strong left hand.

"Oh, gods, Apollo," Starbuck murmured, drinking the sight of those green eyes, still faintly hazed with desire. Apollo brushed his thumb across Starbuck's cheek and fed him his fingers, one at a time; after Starbuck had slowly, sensuously licked them clean Apollo trailed them, still damp, in lazy caresses across Starbuck's chest. He curled against the darker man's body, wishing he could purr.

Apollo sighed deeply, and then looked at his chrono. "You've got to go, Starbuck. Father and Sheba are coming for dinner."

Starbuck might have been relaxed, but those words were like cold water. He stiffened involuntarily, but managed, he hoped, to turn it into the preliminary for getting to his feet. He grabbed for something to say and could only come up with, "I hope Boxey behaves."

"Oh, he's at a friend's," Apollo said.

"Lucky boy," Starbuck said without thinking.

"Starbuck, I told you—"

"I know." He cut Apollo off; he did not want to hear, again, the litany of reasons he was still going to seal with Sheba. None of them was "I can't live without her" and that was—had to be—enough to content him. "It was a joke, Apollo."

"Oh. Sorry. It's just, I never thought sealing was something to joke about."

Starbuck bit back his automatic response, and then thought better of it and let it out. "But we're still ... going to meet. Afterwards."

"Starbuck—" Apollo started, and then stopped and said, angrily, "Frack. It's bad enough I'm doing this, I can't talk about it."

The words hung in the air.

"No. Of course not." Starbuck grabbed his boots.

"Gods, Starbuck, I didn't mean that. Not the way it sounded. Starbuck, you have to understand—I did not mean that—"

Starbuck looked up. "I know you didn't. I know. It's okay, 'Pol." He pulled on his other boot. "But you're right. I understand. There's nothing to talk about. We know what's happening, we don't have to talk about it."


"You'll be late for dinner," Starbuck said, and opened the door enough to check that the hallway was clear. It was, so he left.

After he'd been walking for a while, he heard someone coming. He didn't want to be seen. Looking around for someplace to hide, he realized he was just down from Athena's quarters. It wouldn't have been his first choice as a refuge, but it would do. If she was there. If she'd let him in.

She opened the door and stared at him. Her hair was up, confined with jewelled pins that echoed the rich emerald of her dress... she was going out. Just as well. "New dress?" he asked. "You look wonderful... can I come in?" He tried a smile and wished he hadn't as her expression turned worried.

"Starbuck, are you all right?"

"Can I come in, 'Theni?" he dodged the question. "You don't have to talk to me or anything, I just need a place to sort of regroup..."

"Of course," she said, stepping back. "Gods, you look terrible. What's wrong?"

"I'm okay," he said, not bothering to try to make it convincing. "I'll be out of your way in a couple of centons."

She stood in front of him. She seemed shorter; he realized she was in her stocking feet. He remembered she hated fancy shoes; he'd asked her once why she wore them; she'd said, "Because they look good and it spoils the dress if you don't."

He realized he was completely unfocussed. Unfortunately, she did, too. "Starbuck, you look like several hells. What happened?"

"I'll be fine. I just need to pull myself together. You go on. The colonel's treating you right?"

"You need more than that," she ignored his attempt to change the subject. "You need to wash your face, fix your hair, tuck in your shirt. You look like you've been mauled—" she broke off with a sharp intake of breath. "Starbuck, is that what happened? Should I call security?"

"No," he said sharply. "I'll be fine. I am fine. Just... upset. I just need a moment." He was tucking in his shirt as he spoke, and when he'd done that he raked a hand through his hair.

She was regarding him out of very serious pale blue eyes. Her eyes were like her mother's, as Zac's had been like their father's, and Apollo's were his alone... She was speaking: "...Apollo know you're still having problems—" She broke off abruptly, her eyes widening. "Starbuck, is... is Apollo your problem?"

He didn't answer her, which was apparently answer enough. She touched his arm lightly, and then turned away and let him recover while she slipped on shoes and picked up her midnight black wrap. She paused, holding it in her hand, and then made up her mind and turned back to him. "I'm going to say two things, and you're perfectly free to ignore them if you want. Apollo... he's been acting like a crazy man for the past three sectons, more mood swings than a pregnant Gemonese... But he's not going to change much. Much more. He's not going to give you anything you don't already have. He can't." She paused a centon and added reflectively, "My brother's a decent, honorable man, with a strong, maybe too strong, sense of duty and responsibility. What he's supposed to do has always come first with him. It always will. He can't be otherwise. The other thing," she went on, not allowing him time to answer, "is, you're not on your own any more, playing these games you've always played. That man you're living with—remember him? You'd better talk to him before he finds out on his own. He's not an unobservant man." She tossed the wrap around her shoulders and headed for the door.

Starbuck exerted a considerable effort and managed to produce his best smile and charm. "Don't worry about me, 'Theni. I'm fine, and I know what I'm doing. And so do you, from the looks of it. You know I'm happy for you."

An infinitely sad expression shadowed her face for just a micron. Then she smiled at him, touched his arm again, and said, "You're always happy for everyone. You're just never happy." Then she left, the door hissing shut behind her.

He stayed there for a few centons more, leaning against her wall. When he caught himself vaguely wondering if she was going to be out all night, could he maybe crash on her couch and avoid, well, everything, he pushed himself upright and left. After all, avoidance had started this whole sorry mess...

He didn't remember walking the rest of the way, but here he was in front of the door, so he must have. He hoped he hadn't walked past anyone, but it wasn't a strong emotion. He didn't seem to have any room for any emotion at the moment. Everything was dull and grey. That was the safest way.

He dropped his jacket on the floor and sat on the couch, two nice neat verbs for what was much closer to a simple collapse. Funny... two sectons and I'm still not used to it. He closed his eyes and tried to shut his mind off.


Frack. What is he doing here? He's supposed to be on duty... I can't have been sitting here that long. He didn't answer. Maybe he'll go away again.

No such luck. Not that he'd expected it. "You look like you've been dragged though six hells and left alone in the seventh. Can I help?"

"No." Starbuck just wasn't ready for this. Not yet. If not now, when? When will it be a better time?

The cushions shifted as he sat down anyway. Damn him, anyway. Sometimes he just won't... what? Leave you in pain? "Talk to me about it?" he invited.

Starbuck shook his head, not looking at him.

"If it will help you get started, I know you're sleeping with Apollo." The baritone was completely without judgment.

Starbuck sat quietly for a centon. "No," he said finally. "I'm not." He let that hang in the air between them a centon, feeling Omega's silent disbelief turn it into the evasion it was and yet unable to detect anything other than willingness to wait for him for tell the truth as long as it took. He couldn't stand that; acceptance was wrong. He sat up and attacked. "I'm not sleeping with him; he won't let me stay long enough to sleep. It's just sex."

"I'm sorry." And he was. He really was.

"You're sorry?" Starbuck said incredulously. He was supposed to be pissed off, not hurt... no, not hurt. Please, not hurt. Angry. Angry is good. Angry is normal. I can deal with angry.

"You deserve more than that," he answered simply. "I hate seeing you like this. It makes me unhappy."

"I'll leave today," Starbuck agreed. "I'll get my stuff into a locker—"

"Starbuck, listen to me. That was not me asking you to leave."

Starbuck blinked and then looked at him. "It wasn't? You aren't?"

Omega sighed softly. His hands, which were clasped in his lap, made an abortive movement, but he restrained himself from whatever it was he was trying to do. His dark eyes never left Starbuck's face. "No. I'm not. I told you, you were welcome to stay here for as long as you want, and I told you there were no strings. I meant them then—"

"Things have changed," Starbuck said, giving him the out.

"Not that much," Omega, incredibly, refused it. "You always loved him. Now he just—" he broke off. "I mean, no strings doesn't mean as long as it's the way..." He paused again, took a breath, and said, carefully, "Stay as long as you want. I don't want you to leave. But it's up to you."

"And?" Starbuck prompted, completely confused by Omega's sudden uncertain manner. Something wasn't getting said, and Omega was afraid to say it. But if he wasn't kicking him out... what was going on?

"And... it's not like you have anyplace to go. He's not going to put you up. Sorry. But, honestly, Bucko, what, are you going back to the barracks? Sleep with one eye open? Spend your entire paycheck on a one room somewhere? Stay here. I won't touch you if you don't want me to."

Which would have been convincing if he'd said it instead of the previous false start. Starbuck knew evasion when he heard it. "And?" he prompted again.

"And nothing. Starbuck, can't you believe that somebody might just want you as much as—" he broke off again.

Starbuck stared at him. "As what?" he asked, finally. "I can think of a lot of ways that could end..."

"And you don't believe any of them, do you?" Omega sighed. "No. You do. But only the ones that end in nouns. Objects. I hate that. It... angers me."

Starbuck just stared at him.

"As much as you want him. As much as I want you. As much as possible."

"You never said."

"I didn't need to," Omega said. "And you didn't want me to. You wouldn't have believed it then, and it would have made you leave. Not have been here in the first place."

Starbuck contemplated that. It was true... after Cassie he had not wanted anybody to lie to him about wanting forever. It just hurt too much. And forever was always a lie. Always. Forever just meant 'until something better comes along', because Starbuck wasn't worth forever...

"Don't do this," Omega cut into his thoughts. "Don't think you don't deserve whatever you want. You do."

Starbuck shook his head.

"Frack," Omega said, startling Starbuck. He reached out and gathered Starbuck into his arms, turning his head to rest his cheek on the top of Starbuck's head. Starbuck came unresisting and uncomprehending, resting against him. "I love you, Starbuck. I want you to be happy. I'm angry that you aren't, that you don't think you can be. I want to make you happy; I want you to have what you want. I wish you believed you deserved more than sneaking around, that you deserved to be acknowledged in public. I wish you loved me. And I want to give you whatever you'll take from me, even if it's just a place to wait for him."

Starbuck finally found his voice. In a way, he didn't want to say anything, just wanted to rest there, surrounded by warmth and acceptance and ... love, Starbuck. There. That wasn't so hard? Except the thought of it terrified him and he didn't know why. He managed to say, "I don't deserve more. If I did, I'd get it. He'd give it to me. He'd want to," making it, he hoped, sound like what it was, a flat statement of fact not a plea for some false reassurance.

Omega made a little unhappy sound. "Oh, Starbuck... if you don't believe all that felgarcarb you say you don't believe, then you should know you're as good, as worthy, as deserving as anyone else in the fleet. And if you do believe it..." he sighed, his chest rising and falling under Starbuck's head. "Then, damnit, I'm as good as he is. My blood's as pure, my lineage as long... I could bore you with my pedigree back over two thousand yahrens. And I love you. Doesn't that make you special?"

"No," Starbuck whispered. "It makes you indiscriminate. It means you're slumming..."

"Oh, Bucko..."

"I don't even know what tribe I'm from. For all I know, I'm illegitimate."

"For all you know, you're the Lost Prince of Aquaria."


"I'm not laughing at you. I'm serious. If you don't know, you don't know, but where you came from doesn't matter."

Starbuck laughed, once, a sound with no humor in it. "It sure as seven hells matters to most people." Voices out of the past whispered it again: it's too bad; he's bright and attractive, but who knows what's in his blood? Do you have someone else?

"Not to me. It. Just. Doesn't. Matter. What matters is where you are. Where you're going. That most of all. The other not at all."

"Why?" He demanded.

"Why?" Omega repeated.

So he told him. "I'm good-looking. I'm good in bed—"

"You make me laugh," Omega interrupted firmly. "You make me want to laugh. You're kind. You're valiant. You listen. You saved my sanity. You let me remember and you make me forget. You're a light in the dark storm for me to navigate by. You're warmth in the cold. I can go on," he offered.

"I don't know!" And to his horror, he heard his voice break.

"Shhh," Omega said. "It's all right. I've got you. I've got you. Do what you want, it's all right."

He couldn't bear it. He felt as if he were shattering into too many pieces to ever be mended again. He clenched his fists in Omega's uniform shirt and twisted sideways, falling back onto the couch with Omega's weight landing on top of him. "Prove it," he said harshly, knowing Omega would taste Apollo on his skin, in his mouth, if he kissed him. "Frack me." Omega's dark eyes were only inches from his, looking into him. He closed his own, afraid of what they were showing. "Prove it," he repeated.

"Ohhhh." Omega's voice sounded so sad Starbuck had to open his eyes. "Starbuck, leave before you go back to then. Please, don't do that to yourself." He took Starbuck's hands in his, tried to loosen their grip.

Starbuck tightened his hold, panicked. "No—" frantically he hunted the right words. "Love me."

They were the right ones. Omega stopped trying to leave, took hold of him again, and kissed him. Starbuck kissed him back, every sense hyper-acute, looking for one hint of anything but acceptance and not finding it. And as Omega began undressing him, gently, as though he were something—someone—infinitely precious as well as infinitely desirable, Starbuck began to cry.

Omega picked him up and carried him into the sleeping room, laying him on the bed like a bride in a romance film. He kissed his tears away, over and over, between kissing and caressing his whole body, from toes to hairline. Starbuck hadn't expected to have any passion left in him, but Omega knew his body too well. After, spent from tears and sex and fear and love, Starbuck fell asleep almost immediately, Omega pulling the blankets over them as he cuddled Starbuck to himself.

Not fighting fair, are you, Megs? Starbuck thought as he drifted into oblivion. But all's fair...

Starbuck opened the door to find Athena standing there. Her color was a bit high and her eyes were flashing and she looked like an avenging avatar. "Omega's not back yet," he said. "And I was just on my way out—"

"Sit down here," Athena ordered him.

"'Theni, I have to be—"

"Nowhere. You have to be nowhere right now except right here, talking to me."

He sat down but he didn't intend to talk to her.

She sat on the arm of the couch and stared at him. "You didn't talk to him, did you?" She sounded like she'd expected nothing different.

"I did," he said involuntarily.

"You don't look any happier," she said.

When had she learned to do this? He shrugged. "What did you expect, 'Theni? Before I was cheating. Now, I'm... I don't know what."

"What do you mean? Starbuck, I'm positive he loves you."

"He does," Starbuck sighed. "But he doesn't mind—"

"Oh, don't give me that."

"No, you're right. He minds. It's just that he's willing..." it was no good. There simply wasn't any way to say it without wanting to blow his brains out.

Athena the ever-helpful put it into words for him. "He's willing to let you use him?"

He shrugged.

"Starbuck..." she shook her head.

"I know," he admitted. "I have to leave him."

"Because you can't do to him what my brother is doing to you?"

"It's different."

"Of course. Why?"

"Because he doesn't deserve to be used. He deserves to find someone who'll settle down and treat him... like he treats me."

"Oh, Starbuck," she said. "Do you even listen to yourself? I mean, I know you don't much listen to anyone else, and half the time you don't know what you're going to say until you do, but... I love Apollo, but he's never going to give you what you need. Starbuck, he's sealing with Sheba next secton. What are you going to do, sneak around with him hoping she never catches you?" She broke off. "Hoping she does? She'd kill you. She might kill you on general principles if she ever catches you looking at him. Is that what you want?"

"Athena, I don't know what I want any more."

"You refuse to treat Omega the way Apollo treats you. But it's okay for Apollo to do it?"

He sighed. "Okay doesn't enter into it. I can't help it. I can't say no to him. When he looks at me, I don't have any willpower. I can't walk out of the room."

She reached out and ruffled his hair comfortingly, as if he were Boxey. "Maybe that's the choice you have to make, Starbuck."


"Whether to walk into the room in the first place."

Starbuck rapped on the wall next to the open doorway into Tigh's office. "Sir?"

"Starbuck? Do you need something?"

"I wanted to talk to you, sir."

Tigh leaned back in his chair. Being with Athena had mellowed him, Starbuck thought, almost enough to be noticeable. "I told you, as long as there's an available Viper, you can scramble with the others. But I'm not satisfied enough with the situation to send you back to Blue Squadron on full-time duty. I may never be, in fact. You'll probably end up in Red or Purple."

"Purple is a better color on me," Starbuck said with a grin, and then sobered. "But I wasn't going to ask about that. I wanted to talk to you about something else." He hefted the data pads in his hand. "Something related to the Fleet defenses."

Tigh raised an eyebrow and invited him in with a gesture. "What's on your mind, Starbuck?"

"We need Vipers at the rear of the Fleet," he stated baldly.

Tigh laughed shortly. "You'll get no argument from me. But unless you've located a lost carrier or the Pegasus, I don't see any way to accomplish that."

"We have the Akkadia Furious."

"That's a frigate, Starbuck." Tigh's manner was that of a man pointing out that one tiny little overlooked detail.

"She's a frigate with Hades' own hole blown into her starboard bow where she used to store ordnance."

"This means?" Tigh asked, taking him seriously enough to listen.

"You know there's no real problem in launching Vipers off a frigate," Starbuck said. "You can't get to full acceleration, but it's not like you're going to fall off and hit something. You just have to wait to gun it until you're out. You lose a half a centon."

"You lose a half a centon," Tigh said. "Most of us lose more."

"But not enough to worry about. And considerably less, by orders of magnitude, than waiting for anyone to get the whole length of the fleet."

"Granted. But, as you just admitted—at least it sounded like you were—it's getting back onto a frigate that's the problem."

"And this is where the hole in the Furious comes in."

"Oh, no, you can't be serious."

Starbuck grinned. "Can't I? You come in dead slow, hit full retro and then kill it." He was demonstrating with his hands, and on the last phrase he dropped his hand to the top of Tigh's desk. "Like a first kiss."

"You're crazy."

"It's doable."

"In theory."

Starbuck grinned again.

"You didn't."

"Sir, I checked the regs, and I get two centares a secton in a Viper to keep my skills up. I put it down ten out of ten. And, obviously, got out ten out of ten, too."

"And the Akkadia Furious's captain didn't object?"

"Aah," Starbuck waved that off. "What is he, a hundred? A hundred and twenty? The man wants to retire. He was a little worried I might—"

"Break through an inner bulkhead and cripple his ship?"

"Bend it a little bit," Starbuck corrected. "But when I explained what I was talking about, he was more than willing to help me—"

"What, exactly?"

"Come up with a plan that would require a slightly more recently combat-experienced officer to command the Furious. Because if we put a squadron of Vipers on her and stash her at the back of the fleet, with thirty percent of her starboard weaponry out and that tiny little blind spot—"

"And that minor thrust and balance problem," Tigh put in.

"Right, right," Starbuck nodded. "You can see that he'll get to retire over to the Senior Ship if this plan goes into effect."

"Yes." Tigh looked at him. "You actually think you can train a dozen pilots to fly off a frigate?"

"It's a cinch. And only eleven. And if you give me six of the cadets who were shuttle pilots beforehand, it'll be like falling off a log."

"Complete with bruises?"

Starbuck shrugged. "Shuttle pilots put passengers down like this every day of their lives. And you know as well as I do, sir, tell a Viper pilot some shuttle jockey is better at something than he is—"

"Then why do you need six cadets?"

"Well, there is the little matter of parking space. I mean, once we get six Vipers in you are a little cramped for the others..."

"So the last two in are basically hanging over the edge?" Tigh said.

"That's an exaggeration," Starbuck protested, though it was very close to the truth. "Anyway, sir, I had the mechs paint the bay floor and I could do it without crossing the lines."

"Ten times?" Tigh said, reaching for the data pads.

Starbuck grinned. "Out of ten. It's completely doable. And that mess last sectare—"

Tigh cut him off. "I already told you I agreed with your premise. What's this?"

"Oh, well, one of the Furious's mechanics suggested that he could rig some sort of, you know, webbing or something that they could bring up between the rows of Vipers. I don't know if he can or not, ah, you know, I mean if he can, great, but we don't need it to make this work."

"No," Tigh said. "What you need is a tylium force screen generator to make your bay usable and probably a laser point cannon... and twelve Vipers. And twelve pilots. And a squadron operations crew, not to mention mechs. Oh, and a new captain. That about it?"

"That's it," Starbuck agreed cheerfully. "Except, eleven pilots."

"You want this squadron?"

"I do."

Tigh laid the pad back on his desk and regarded him expressionlessly.

"I'm pretty sure I can find eleven pilots who'd love this. Sure, the Furious is a frigate, not a battlestar, but we're not talking about the other end of the system. No reason at all people can't come back here. And we'd actually be closer to the Rising Star."

"So, you'd need shuttles—"

"The Furious already has four shuttles, sir," Starbuck pointed out. "Nice crew quarters..." It suddenly occurred to him why Tigh was looking at him like that. "And as for the rest of it, well, I happen to know that Captain Omega recommended that Lieutenant Athena be promoted to flag, to share the ICOB duties? I think you should ignore that recommendation and give her the Galactica's bridge and him the Furious." Tigh picked up the pad again, cocking his head as he listened. "After all," Starbuck continued, "you told me yourself he was in line for a frigate command yahrens ago. And he knows how to fight a ship, sir."

"Yes, he does." Tigh looked down at the pad. "So you want to take one of our squadrons?"

"Well, sir, I see it like this. The Galactica's normal complement is six squadrons with three LRRVs. At the moment, we've got seven, thanks to Silver Spar. It's... lopsided. Plus crowded."

Tigh laughed. "Looking at this," he held up the pad, "I can see you've put a lot of work into this. It has merit. It has a lot of merit."

"So," Starbuck felt relieved, "you'll argue it with the commander?"

"I'll present it to him." Tigh stacked the pads on top of each other. "Let me hang on to these. I'll bring it up at our meeting tomorrow."

"Thank you, sir." Starbuck went back to his cubby and collapsed in his chair. He honestly hadn't been sure he'd have the guts to carry through with it. But he had. The cards were dealt, the antes in, and he'd never quit the table once the game had started.

No matter how much he stood to lose.

Or if he wasn't even sure which result was loss. And which win.

Apollo was waiting when the new squadron returned to the Galactica after the last practice session with the Furious. Starbuck was feeling good; not only had every pilot mastered that little drop-and-kick maneuver for maximum launch speed, but they had landed the entire squadron perfectly in the Furious's bay without nets. Twice. They were ready. And two days early. But his good mood evaporated when he saw Apollo's angry face. Well, you knew he'd find out sooner or later. I'm surprised it took him this long... Adama must have his own suspicions. He is his father, after all...

"Lieutenant Starbuck. My office. Now." No curter than he usually was in public. The rest of the pilots gave him sympathetic looks as they headed on out of the decon chamber, but nobody was surprised at anything. Even Captain Hard-Ass being here so long after his own shift. Starbuck took a moment to wonder if Sheba was going to try to break him of that.

He preceded Apollo into the office and half-sat on the edge of the desk. He was not going to let Apollo have the upper hand from the get-go, even if he ended up on his knees again before it was over. Besides his knees were already weak. He needed all the shoring up he could get.

"I just found out you've been tapped for this damn fool frigate idea," said Apollo, his eyes worried.

"Yes." Keep it simple and don't look at him.

"This is my father's idea," Apollo said angrily. "I'll talk to him. I'll get you reassigned back here. One of the squadrons that's staying."

"Apollo, wait a centon. This isn't the Commander's idea." Starbuck took a deep breath. "Oh, he approves of it. It solves his problems—the ones he knows he has. He likes it a lot. But it's not his idea." He swallowed. "It's mine."

Apollo stared at him, shocked. "Yours?"

"Apollo," Starbuck said quietly. "You know I love you. I always have. I think I always will. But..."


"I can't live like this," Starbuck said in a rush. "Apollo, please, can't you see what it would do to me, living like you want? Even if I break up with him, you want.. I can't..." He stopped, looking at the hands he was holding out so pleadingly. He dropped his eyes, laced his fingers together at the back of his bowed head, and took a couple of deep breaths.

"I want you," Apollo said. "That's all I want. I love you."

Starbuck let go of himself and dropped his hands to rest in his lap. He looked at Apollo and tried to keep his voice steady. "You want me, when you want me. When you can work me in. A centare here, two centares there, maybe a night when you're alone and you can get someone to take your son. But you don't want your son to know. Or your father." He stopped, gulped, and finished. "Or your wife."

Apollo winced, but didn't say anything.

Starbuck continued. "Or anybody else, for that matter. I... If you had asked me a yahren ago, even just a few sectares ago, I wouldn't have even hesitated. But I... I can't be your bit on the side. Your dirty little secret, Apollo. Gods help me, I want to do it. I would do it. But it would kill me, over and over, a little bit more each time... I finally almost believe I deserve more that that. Please don't ask me to go back to being nothing. Please."

"Starbuck," Apollo's voice was almost as close to breaking as his own. "I love you. Don't you believe that?"

"I do. But you don't love me enough to let anyone but me know. You don't love me enough to let me be a real person... I don't blame you, gods no, believe me. I know what you have to lose and how much not worth it I am... And I love you enough to do it your way, if you ask me again. So please..." his voice did break and he had to stop to get himself back under control. "Please, 'Pol. Don't ask me to. Let me go back to him."

"Starbuck—" Apollo's voice nearly broke his heart.

Somehow he dug down and found the courage to admit, "I don't think I can if you don't let me. I've loved you too long, too hopelessly, too much, too... too. But he wants me every day. Every centare. In the teeth of public opinion and Kobolian anger and right up in everyone's face... He makes me into a person. I want you, but I need him. Please, Apollo." He got to his feet, bracing himself on the table, blindly reaching for his jacket. His fingers closed on it and he started for the door, a little unsteadily but going, hoping he wasn't sure which: to hear the voice call him back or not to. The door opened and he was in the hallway. He leaned against the wall, trying to regain his composure.

Déjà vu, he thought. Or is it that when it really did happen before? What's the Aquarian for 'always'? But this time it didn't take him as long to get back on his feet, start walking down the corridor, hearing the flames licking at the bridge behind him. Of course, Apollo could put those flames out with a word, with a look... but by the time Starbuck reached the corridor intersection, Apollo still hadn't come after him.

Is this what freedom feels like? Starbuck thought. Maybe it's an acquired taste. Like everything else that's good for you...

It would get better, though.

It pretty much had to.

"I wish you weren't going, Starbuck." Boxey wasn't pleading, just stating a fact, though sadly.

"I know. But the Furious isn't that far away, I'll be over here a lot, and you can call me anytime."

"Can I come visit?"

Frack. He would ask that outright. Starbuck hadn't seen Apollo in three days. He had no idea where they stood with respect to things like Boxey... "As far as I'm concerned, you can," he said. "I don't know how easy it'd be to work out, though."

"Dad probably won't stay mad at you forever." Damn, but the boy had a way of cutting through the felgarcarb.

"I hope not." He really did. And part of him even hoped that Apollo would come after him, make a declaration, do something. He knew it would never happen, but hope never needed certainty—that's what makes it hope. And that's why he had to leave. Because that hope could be tolerated with the fleet in the way. But on the same ship as Apollo, it would kill him. And he'd let it.

"Don't worry, Boxey," Athena said. "I'll take you to visit them. And if I get too tied up or whatever, I'll just get Tigh to order Starbuck to come over here for something."

Boxey laughed.

Starbuck shook his head, meeting Athena's pale blue eyes over Boxey's head. "Flagrant abuse of personal relationships," he teased her. Then, "Thanks, 'Theni."

"Starbuck," she said, "it's worth it to see you grow up, even a little bit. It makes me feel like the age of miracles isn't past. Like someday we'll all get to Earth."

"You're an incorrigible optimist," he said.

"That's why I dated you," she teased him back. "Don't be a stranger, now. Either of you."

"The same to you," he said and hugged her. Then he got down on one knee and opened his arms to Boxey, who hugged him tight. "See you around, kid," he said. "Don't forget what I taught you."

"Watch their eyes, not their hands, and always know where the doors and windows are," Boxey said.

"That's my boy," Starbuck said. "Can't go wrong if you remember that."

"It's time for school, now, Boxey," Athena said. "We have to go. Say 'good bye' to Starbuck."

"Do I have to?" Boxey pulled away and looked at Starbuck with eyes almost ready to overflow.

"Naah," Starbuck said. "Say 'see you around' instead."

Boxey managed a grin. "See you around, Starbuck."

"You bet you will, kid. It's a sure thing." He walked out with them and watched them head away down the corridor. She'd make a good mother; Boxey was lucky she was there and willing for Apollo to make use of her. He shied from that idea and settled firmly on thinking about what a lucky man Tigh was. In more ways than one.

Starbuck was in the middle of a story designed to impress the listener (in this case Omega) with his ability to fly rings around any Cylon ever born and/or manufactured when Omega's eyes caught on something over his shoulder and he realized he'd lost his audience. He turned to look and saw Apollo walking towards the shuttle. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the seat in front of him. Now what? he thought in despair.

He felt Omega's hand on his arm, and opened his eyes to look into his face. Omega's expression was... expressionless, but his eyes were infinitely kind. "Go," he said, pushing Starbuck just the tiniest bit towards the door. "You have to face him."

"Omega..." He didn't know what to say after that.

Omega smiled at him. "I know," he said. "I know. Go."

Starbuck touched his face quickly, and then rose and stepped out of the shuttle. On the pad he took a couple of steps, and then stood and waited. Apollo walked up to him and smiled in relief. "Starbuck—" he began.

"Is it different?" he asked, hopelessly, seeing in Apollo's flinch the confirmation of what he'd known before he asked. Apollo had come as far as he could come. And it wasn't his fault Starbuck almost knew it wasn't far enough.

They stood for a moment in silence, and then Apollo said his name again.

"If you ask me," Starbuck interrupted, "I'll stay. Even now. You know it. I know it. He knows it."


"So, don't." Starbuck gazed into those green eyes, knowing they would always have power over him. In a hundred yahrens, if they called him, he would probably go. "Apollo, please don't."

They stood there, staring at each other. Starbuck felt physically restrained, unable to move, almost unable to breathe. Apollo, on the other hand, was breathing quickly, and Starbuck could almost hear the darker man's heart racing. He had no idea how long they would have stayed like that, eyes locked, souls locked, if the shuttle pilot had not broken the silence.

"Lieutenant? Ah... I have a schedule. I can't wait any longer, if you're going with us?"

Starbuck couldn't look at him. He couldn't look away from Apollo at all. He couldn't even speak.

Then Apollo dropped his eyes. Starbuck felt the release so strongly his head actually snapped back while his lungs filled with a sudden breath. He swallowed and licked lips gone dry.

Apollo raised his head, carefully looking over Starbuck's shoulder. "Take care of yourself, Starbuck," he said. "Be happy." Without waiting for an answer he turned on his heel and walked quickly away, not looking back.

Starbuck stood there just a moment longer, watching him go. Then he turned, too, and followed the pilot onto the shuttle. Omega was standing by the viewport on the other side, looking out towards the stars, still, silent, waiting on Starbuck's decision. As the shuttle door was closed and sealed, Starbuck saw his shoulders rise with a deep breath, and he turned around.

Starbuck walked straight into his arms and clung to him like a found child. He could hear the steady heartbeat through the uniform, feel the embrace that surrounded and supported him. He took a ragged breath and leaned into the solid warmth and his trembling slowly ceased. "Shhh," Omega soothed him. "It's all right. It's all right."

Starbuck raised his head and looked into the warm dark eyes: no reproach, no regrets, no demands. Only welcome. He laid his head back against Omega's chest. "I love you," he said softly.

"I know," Omega assured him. "I know. We're going home."

the end...

Part one Part two Part three Part four Part five


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