"So are you taking the Mrs. with you?" Starbuck asked.
Apollo was busy packing and was only half listening. "Huh?"
"On your furlon. Are you taking Sheba with you?"
"Yes, I'm taking Sheba. And she isn't my 'Mrs.,' as you call it. We're not married."
"Not yet," Starbuck answered quietly, half-hoping his wingmate wouldn't hear him, and half-hoping he would.
The Galactica personnel who were scheduled for furlons this sectare had the good fortune of actually being able to leave the Battlestar and spend their time on a planet. The fleet was currently in stationary orbit around a planet whose inhabitants were friendly and who had offered to let the warriors spend their holiday time there. Apollo and Sheba had immediately taken them up on their offer, along with most of the others whose furlons were coming up.
Starbuck wasn't one of the lucky ones. His furlon wasn't for another few sectons yet, and he had to stay on the battlestar.
"Not yet, no," Apollo answered. He didn't elaborate. He still didn't know exactly where Sheba fit in his life.
"Why not?" Starbuck wanted to know.
"Why not what?"
"Why aren't you married yet?"
Apollo pushed his bag to one side and sat down on his bed. "I don't know exactly how I feel about her."
"How can you not know?" Starbuck asked. "I don't understand."
"I was in love with Serena. That's why I married her. I don't feel the same way about Sheba as I did about Serena. I guess that means I don't love her."
Starbuck shook his head and sat down next to his wingmate. "Look, Apollo, just because you don't feel exactly the same way when you're with Sheba as you did when you were with Serena doesn't mean you don't love her. You don't love two people the exact same way. Serena was your first real love. There's no way you're going to feel the way you felt about her with someone else." He smiled. "I don't feel the same way about Cassie as I do about Athena." He also didn't feel the same way about Apollo as he did about either of the women. Nor did he feel the same way about Apollo as he did about his other friends.
"Then why can't you decide between them?" Apollo asked.
"Don't ask," Starbuck groaned. "You know, everyone's expecting that you and Sheba are going to announce your engagement sooner or later. Probably sooner."
"I know," Apollo sighed. "But I'm not ready to make that decision yet. Assuming Sheba would say yes if I asked her."
"I don't think you have to worry about that," Starbuck answered. "You're quite a catch."
"Catch? Lords, Starbuck, you make me sound like something you pull out of a river on a hook."
Actually, that was the way Starbuck pictured it: Apollo being hooked and reeled in by Sheba.
"How long will you be gone for?" The Lieutenant changed the subject.
"A secton. An entire secton planetside. I can hardly believe it. I'll have solid ground under my feet instead of a deck."
"What about Boxey?"
"He's dividing his time between Athena and my father. I thought about taking him with us, but Sheba said that we deserve some time to ourselves."
"He'll miss you," Starbuck pointed out.
"I know. I feel bad about leaving him, but Sheba.... Well, he'll be fine. We grownups do like to have some time alone without, er, interruptions. You know what I mean."
What Apollo meant, Starbuck thought, could not have been clearer if he'd elbowed Starbuck in the ribs and gone 'nudge, nudge, wink, wink.'
"He gets kind of insecure when you're gone for very long," Starbuck said. He sometimes babysat his wingmate's son when Apollo paid overnight visits to Sheba, and had cared for him when Apollo had gone missing on patrol one time.
"You mean like when I was stranded on Equellus?" Apollo asked.
"Yeah, or even when you're just delayed returning from patrol. He's afraid you're not going to come back. After what happened to Serena...." Because of his mother's death, Boxey needed extra reassurance from time to time that he wasn't going to lose his father too.
"But this is different," Apollo pointed out. "He'll know where I am."
"I guess," Starbuck conceded. "Think the Commander and Athena would let him spend a night with me? I have my own quarters now. Better than the Bachelor Officers' Quarters."
"I don't see why not," Apollo told him. He checked his wrist chrono. "Time I was in the shuttle bay. Sheba's going to be waiting for me." He stood up and slung his bag on to his shoulder.
It struck Starbuck all at once: Apollo was going to be gone for an entire secton. They weren't going to see each other for seven days. They hadn't been apart that long for as far back as Starbuck could remember. He swallowed hard and cleared his throat. "Have a good time," he said.
"I will," Apollo replied. He suddenly realized that he was going to be away from the fleet, from the battlestar, from his family and especially from Starbuck, for a secton. They'd been apart for a few days at various times, but never this long, at least not that Apollo could remember. For some unknown reason he felt oddly self-conscious standing there saying goodbye to his wingmate. He felt as if he were going to start to cry any micron.
"I'll miss you," Starbuck admitted.
The Captain put on a brave face. "You'll hardly even notice I'm gone. You'll have lots to occupy your time, since you're Blue Leader in my absence."
"I'm going to be Blue Leader, and you think I won't notice you're gone? Think again, Apollo."
Apollo tried to smile, but he still felt like crying. He was going on holiday with the woman he was practically engaged to. He should be happy. Why did he feel this way? He put down his bag and threw his arms around the other man. "Take care of yourself, Bucko. I'll be back before you know it."
Suppressing his own tears, Starbuck accepted the hug. He told himself he was being ridiculous, getting all weepy just because his best friend in the entire universe and the man he loved more than anything was going to be gone for a secton with the woman he was most likely going to Seal with.
When the two of them reluctantly released each other, Starbuck offered to walk Apollo to the shuttle, trying to delay actually saying goodbye to him for as long as possible. When they reached the shuttle bay, Starbuck asked, "You're taking a radio, aren't you? I mean, you're going to be in contact with the Galactica while you're planetside — right?"
"Of course," Apollo assured him. A thought occurred to him, and he took a piece of paper from his jacket pocket, hurriedly scribbling a note on it. "That's the frequency if you need it in an emergency." He didn't like to think about what kinds of emergencies there might be. His father had had open heart surgery not that long ago; there was no telling what kind of childhood accidents Boxey could get into; and Starbuck would be flying missions without Apollo there as his wingmate.
As he sat down next to Sheba in the shuttle, Apollo suddenly wished he was staying on the Galactica.
A few days later....
Boxey put down his Pyramid cards. "I don't want to play anymore," he said.
"But you're winning," Starbuck pointed out.
"I don't care."
Starbuck didn't like the tone of voice he was hearing. "What's wrong, kid?"
"I want my dad to come back."
"He'll be back soon. Just a couple more days."
"I want him back now."
"What, I'm not good enough for you?" Starbuck teased, trying to make the boy laugh.
Boxey looked like he was about to start bawling. Starbuck had an idea. He went to a cupboard and took out an old radio. He'd built it as part of an assignment when he was at the Academy, and though it was old, it still worked. He found the piece of paper on which Apollo had written down the frequency of the radio he'd be using on the planet, and started turning dials.
"What are you doing, Starbuck?" Boxey asked, temporarily forgetting what he'd been upset about.
"Calling your father," Starbuck told him. "Galactica to Captain Apollo. Come in, Apollo."
Sitting in front of campfire while Sheba slept in their tent, Apollo heard the radio crackle. He jumped up and ran to answer the hail.
"This is Captain Apollo. Come in, Galactica."
"Apollo, it's me."
"Starbuck? What's wrong?"
"Boxey wants to talk to you."
Apollo frowned. "Is that all?"
"Isn't that enough?"
"Starbuck, I told you only to call me in case of emergency."
"Your son misses you. That qualifies as an emergency in my books."
Apollo was about to disagree when he heard Boxey's plaintive, "Dad?" He suddenly realized how much he missed his son. He'd been trying to ignore the feeling so as not to upset Sheba, who didn't want to hear about Boxey &mdash she'd planned this trip specifically to get away from him. Though she hadn't told Apollo that, he suspected it.
After he'd talked to Boxey for about half a centare, he signed off with 'I love you,' and asked him to put Starbuck back on.
"Apollo?" came the Lieutenant's voice on the radio.
"Starbuck, I just wanted to say thank you."
"For reminding me what's important."
Starbuck didn't know what exactly Apollo meant by that, but he said, "You're welcome."
"I miss you."
Surprised, Starbuck said, "I miss you too."
Not knowing what else to say, Apollo signed off.
Sheba came out of their tent. "Was that the Galactica? Is something wrong?"
"I just wanted to talk to Boxey, and Starbuck was kind enough to arrange it for me," Apollo replied. Okay, he stretched the truth a little.
"Boxey? For frack's sake, can't he even go a secton without you? I swear, he is going to end up the most spoiled kid in the fleet. There were plenty of times when I was growing up that my father was away from home, and I didn't have to talk to him every few days. Sometimes I didn't see him or talk to him for sectares. He didn't have to call home whenever I missed him. I didn't expect him to."
That had been the case for Apollo and his father as well. It had been expected of Colonial Warriors that they spend long periods of time away from their families. Few people ever questioned it; that was just the way it was during wartime. But Apollo didn't want things to be like that for him and Boxey. Yes, he would have to be away from his son at times. That didn't mean he had to cut off communication entirely.
"I don't want to be that kind of father," Apollo said without thinking.
"'That kind of father?'" Sheba screamed. "What's wrong with being that kind of father? What's wrong with my father? He loves me!" She turned and stormed back into the tent.
Stunned, Apollo returned to his seat by the campfire. He hadn't meant to set Sheba off like that. He didn't doubt that Cain loved her, just as he didn't doubt that his own father loved him. The two commanders were simply products of their time.
He wondered how his mother had handled it. Probably she'd had support from the spouses of the other battlestar commanders. Military wives usually stuck together. Of course, that was before women began accepting combat roles of their own. He knew that his parents had loved each other, but his father had been away from home so often that he hadn't taken their marriage as a role model for his own.
Thinking of love and marriage brought him back to the conversation he'd had with Starbuck just before leaving for his furlon. Starbuck had said that just because he loved Sheba differently from how he'd loved Serena, it didn't mean that he didn't love her at all.
But Apollo was now quite certain that he did not love Sheba. He knew she'd planned this trip to get them away from Boxey. But Boxey needed him. Once they were back on the Galactica, it would be a lot harder to avoid him. Maybe when Boxey was a little older and his mother's death wasn't still so painfully recent for him.... It had been more than a yahren, but Apollo knew that it was still very hard for Boxey. Thank goodness that Starbuck was there to take care of him, and had been there every time he was needed.
Sheba wasn't what he and Boxey needed in their lives after all, Apollo decided. Boxey didn't need a mother that badly. He wondered if Boxey would accept a second father. The more he thought about it, the more Apollo knew that Starbuck had been wrong about his loving Sheba, but he'd still been right about love. He didn't love Starbuck the way he had loved Serena, but he did love him. Funny how it had taken being away from Starbuck to make him realize that.
Apollo put out the campfire and started to break camp. When he told Sheba to get her things and get out of the tent, she demanded to know what in the name of Kobol was going on.
"We're going back to the Galactica. Furlon is over."
"What do you mean, furlon is over? We still have another three and a half days!"
"I'm cancelling both of our furlons, effective immediately," Apollo replied. One advantage of being Strike Captain, he thought to himself.
"But.... But...." Sheba sputtered.
"No buts. Start packing."
Furious, Sheba did as she was told. Apollo was Strike Captain, and that meant that he was her superior and she had to do what he said, even on furlon.
Apollo went to the radio and asked for Starbuck to be given a message to meet him in the shuttle bay. Boxey would still be in Learning period for another centare or so. Hopefully that would give him enough time to say what he wanted to say to Starbuck
Once he was back on the battlestar, Apollo looked around for his wingmate. Starbuck had been kept busy by his duties as Acting Blue Leader, and it was perfectly understandable that he wouldn't be able to leave his duties right away.
That didn't necessarily make Apollo feel any better.
And then Starbuck was there. Apollo caught his breath when he saw him. 'Starbuck is beautiful,' he thought to himself. No wonder so many women wanted him. No wonder he wanted Starbuck himself. But he had more reasons than just Starbuck's outward appearance. "Starbuck!" he called.
The Lieutenant heard the call and hurried to meet his wingmate. "Welcome back," he said. "How come you cut your furlon short?"
Without answering the question, Apollo took Starbuck in his arms and hugged him. Then, on impulse, he kissed him. He'd wanted to kiss him goodbye, too, but had suppressed the urge. Now, he decided, he'd act on his impulses more often.
Completely gobsmacked, Starbuck returned the kiss as well as he could when a thousand questions were running through his mind. Number one was 'Why is my best friend, wingmate and Captain kissing me?' The answer to that was, 'I don't care. I'll kiss him for as long as he wants me to.'
Apollo finally, reluctantly, ended the kiss.
When he could breathe again, Starbuck asked, "What was that all about?"
"I missed you," Apollo responded.
"I missed you too. What does that have to do with your kissing me?"
"Come with me, and I'll explain." Apollo took his wingmate's hand and led him on to the shuttle. They could be alone there, he knew &mdash the cleaning crews weren't scheduled for another centare.
Sitting with Apollo, still holding his hand, Starbuck said, "All right. Explanation time." Part of him was screaming that he shouldn't ask for an explanation, fearing he'd be disappointed. He should just accept this new affection from Apollo for as long as he could have it.
"Remember that conversation we had before I left, when you said that just because I feel differently about somebody from how I felt about Serena, it doesn't mean that I don't love them?"
"We were talking about Sheba, as I recall."
"But I don't love Sheba," Apollo told him.
"What I was trying to tell you during that conversation...." Starbuck began. Apollo cut him off.
"I don't love Sheba," Apollo repeated. "I love you."
Starbuck mentally thanked the Lords of Kobol that he was in good physical shape, because otherwise he didn't know how many more surprises like the last two he could take.
"Starbuck?" Apollo was concerned when the other man didn't respond right away.
"I can't say I'm not surprised," Starbuck began. He suddenly felt shy around his wingmate. It wasn't an everyday occurrence when the one he'd loved from afar for the past several yahrens suddenly confessed to returning that love.
Apollo groaned. This wasn't turning out like he'd hoped. "I'm sorry. I guess I shouldn't have said anything." He hung his head in disappointment.
"Why the frack not?" Starbuck asked. "I love you too, you know."
Apollo's head sprang up. "You do?"
Starbuck grinned. "I said I was surprised. I didn't say I don't love you. I do love you." This time it was he who initiated the kiss.
They remained in the shuttle, kissing, for awhile, until Apollo noticed the time. He got up, pulling Starbuck with him. "Come on. We've got to go."
"Go where?" the Lieutenant asked, knowing he'd follow his wingmate anywhere.
"First we're going to pick up Boxey from school. Then we're going to your quarters so that you can pack."
"Pack?" Starbuck asked.
"I still have three days left on my furlon," Apollo reminded him. "I'm giving you a three-day furlon as well. You, I and Boxey are going to take a holiday. Rank has its privileges."
"Not that I don't enjoy spending time with Boxey, but I was kind of hoping to spend some time alone with you."
Apollo stopped so that they could kiss again. "You and I will share a tent. Boxey will have his own tent. He can sleep through almost anything. How does that sound?"
Starbuck returned the kiss with enthusiasm. "That sounds like it will be the best holiday I've ever had."