As Starbuck walked into the room, people smiled. People often smiled when they saw Starbuck. He was a good friend to many, especially to his wingmate, Apollo. He was a great warrior. He was the life of any party, and would probably be the life of this one.
People didn't always smile when they saw Apollo. He was the Commander's son, and he was the Strike Captain. He was in charge. He did "official" things. However, he had thrown this party, and this alone made people happy.
Starbuck didn't know why his friend and wingmate had thrown this party, but he wouldn't turn down an invitation. He did have a sneaking suspicion, though. He hoped it wouldn't be confirmed.
The Lieutenant worked the room as he always did, flirting with the women, shooting the felgercarb with the men. Sometimes he did the opposite. Female warriors could tell just as many wild stories as the men. And Starbuck was happy to flirt with any man who would flirt back. There weren't many of them, alas.
Eventually Starbuck sat at a table with Boomer. He gazed longingly across the room at his wingmate, who sat with Sheba. "He's going to do it, isn't he, Boom-Boom?"
"Marry her, you mean? That's what everyone thinks."
"Do you think he'll be happy?" Starbuck asked.
Boomer shrugged. "Has our Captain ever really been happy since Serena died?"
"Was he ever happy before that?"
Boomer thought back to his days in the Academy with Apollo and Starbuck. The three of them had been just about inseparable, but Boomer had always sensed that Starbuck and Apollo were closer to each other than either was to him. "Yes, I think he was. When he was with you...."
Starbuck interrupted him. "Don't talk about that. That part of our lives is over."
"Neither of you ever told me what happened between the two of you."
"Nothing happened. That was the problem. Apollo was, and is, Adama's son. He's Kobolian. Even in the Academy, he couldn't escape that. He really can't escape it on the Galactica."
"So you were never...."
"Lovers?" Starbuck gave a bitter laugh. "No. Not for lack of trying on my part. I honestly thought he wanted it, wanted me. We were a couple of giddy teenagers stealing kisses in closets, slipping into each others' beds after Lights Out. But it never went any farther than kisses and the occasional guilty grope."
"Apollo does guilt exceptionally well," Boomer commented.
Just then the subject of their conversation stood and called for attention. Starbuck had a sudden flashback to another dinner, another announcement. He knew what was coming.
"May I have your attention please?" Apollo asked the assembled guests. He looked around the room at the familiar faces: his father, his sister, his son, his friends. Two friends in particular stood out: Boomer and Starbuck. Especially Starbuck. He remembered Starbuck's behaviour the last time he'd made an announcement like this. He hoped that it wouldn't be repeated.
"I have an announcement to make," the Captain continued. "Sheba has done me the honour of agreeing to become my wife. We're going to be Sealed."
The room broke into pandemonium. Everyone rose to their feet and approached the couple, wanting handshakes or hugs and kisses. "Congratulations" was heard numerous times.
In the rush to congratulate Apollo and Sheba, no one noticed Starbuck slip quietly out of the room.
Surrounded by well-wishers, Apollo didn't notice his friend's absence at first. When he did, he assumed that Starbuck was refilling his drink or had found someone else to occupy him. But after half a centare, he still hadn't seen his wingmate. He turned to his promised wife. "Sheba, honey, I need to go talk to Boomer for a centon."
"What, now?" Sheba demanded. "Can't it wait until later, or tomorrow, even?"
Apollo kissed her. "I'm afraid it can't. Squadron business. You know how it is."
Sheba sighed, glared at her husband-to-be, and watched him leave.
"Boomer," Apollo said to the Leonid warrior, "have you seen Starbuck?"
"He was sitting with me earlier. I lost track of him when I got up to congratulate you. Why?"
"I just haven't seen him, that's all. Maybe it's too much to expect him to congratulate me on my forthcoming marriage. He wasn't entirely thrilled when I Sealed with Serena."
Boomer shook his head. Was Apollo really that clueless? Didn't he know his best friend? "That isn't quite the way I would put it, but no, he wasn't."
"What exactly do you mean?" Apollo wanted to know.
Boomer looked around them. "This isn't the time or place for it. Let me look for Starbuck. You go back to your party, and your lady."
"No," Apollo answered. "Starbuck is more important than a party."
"What about Sheba?" Boomer asked.
Realizing that he was about to say, "Frack Sheba," Apollo took a deep breath and didn't speak for a moment. "I'll tell her that there's an emergency."
With a frown, Boomer said, "Why don't you tell her the truth? If she thinks it's an emergency that threatens the fleet, she'll want to call out the squadrons and everything."
"You're right," Apollo sighed.
But Sheba was not at all pleased to hear why her fianc‚ was abandoning their party. "What's the big worry about Starbuck going off somewhere? He's either drinking, gambling or making out with someone."
"No," the Captain answered. "He wouldn't leave the party for that. It had to be something important." He couldn't explain what it was, exactly, but he knew that something was wrong. Something was wrong with Starbuck - very, very wrong.
He remembered the time Serena had replaced Starbuck as his wingmate, just after they'd announced their engagement. Starbuck had stormed off in fury. He'd taken Apollo's viper, saying that he would take Apollo's place on patrol as "a wedding present." He'd been taken by the Cylons, and everyone had thought he was dead.
Apollo had wondered if Starbuck had done what he did deliberately, as a suicide attempt. But then he'd come back, seemingly none the worse for wear. He was the same Starbuck as always: flirting with the women, making smart remarks, never showing any emotion. His only comment when Apollo had hugged him had been that it was against regulations to hug a junior officer - "unless you mean it."
He'd never known exactly what Starbuck had meant by that little addition, and had never had the guts to ask.
A horrifying thought suddenly struck him: was Starbuck going to make a suicide run? There hadn't been any suggestion of Sheba replacing Starbuck as his wingmate, but still.... He was getting married. The last time that Starbuck had gone out solo without telling anyone where he was going was the last time that Apollo had announced he was getting married.
He called the viper bay. "Has Lieutenant Starbuck been there?" he asked desperately.
"He was just here, Captain. He wasn't scheduled for any duty, but he said that you'd asked him to do a recon."
"Has he left?"
"Fifteen centons ago."
Fifteen centons. Maybe there was still time. He called to Boomer, who was asking the other guests if they had seen Starbuck leave.
"He's taken a viper out," Apollo told him. "We have to go find him and bring him back." Before it's too late, he added silently.
Before it's too late.
Apollo didn't know why he had these sudden feelings that Starbuck was in danger. Maybe it was the way he had disappeared after the announcement. Maybe it was his actions last time Apollo had been engaged. He just couldn't shake this feeling that if he didn't find Starbuck and bring him home, he'd never see his best friend again.
He also didn't know where the urge to say "Frack Sheba" had come from. By rights, Sheba should be the most important person in his life. He was going to marry her. He loved her. Or did he? Sometimes he wondered if he was with her for the right reasons. He wanted to give Boxey a mother. He wanted to please his father. He wanted to have a partner, someone to share his life with. But was she the right person? He wasn't certain of that.
Of course, she couldn't have been happy about his leaving their engagement party to look for Starbuck. She got along with the Lieutenant well enough. The two of them weren't close, but then few people were close to Starbuck He appeared to have many friends, but the reality was that only a very few people got past appearances. He was one. Boomer was another. Sometimes he thought that his father knew Starbuck better than even he did.
But how well *did* he know Starbuck? His wingmate's actions had taken him completely off-guard. He hadn't expected Starbuck to disappear. Sulk, maybe, or talk about how things between them would be different now. He knew that his relationship with Starbuck would change when he married. But why was the Lieutenant acting this way? He'd hoped to have his wingmate as his best man when he Sealed with Sheba. Starbuck hadn't been there when he and Serena had married. He'd been missing and presumed dead.
"Apollo?" Boomer's voice cut into his thoughts. "Where exactly are we going to look for him?"
Thank the Lords for Boomer. At least he wasn't searching alone.
"I don't know," Apollo sighed. "He didn't file any kind of plan telling where he was going."
"Are you sure he's in danger?" Boomer wanted to know.
"I am. I don't know how I know. It's just a feeling I have. When I was growing up my father sometimes told me that Kobolians have special mental abilities, some sort of sixth sense or something. Starbuck said it was a nice bedtime story but that he'd believe it when he saw it. Well, I saw it. My father can move things with his mind. He never did it at home. He said it scared my mother."
"Can you use these abilities to find Starbuck?"
"I don't know. I didn't even know I had them until a few centons ago. I don't know how far they go or even how to use them." He was about to climb into his viper when Boomer stopped him.
"Apollo, I think you should go talk to your father."
"I don't have time. I have to find Starbuck."
Boomer took the Captain's helmet from him. "I'll go start the search. You talk to the Commander. He might be able to help you with these new abilities you've discovered. And he also might be able to tell you why Starbuck took off the way he did."
With those words, Boomer got into his viper and prepared for takeoff.
Apollo hurried to the Commander's office. He walked in without bothering to ring the door chime.
"There you are. I was wondering why you and Boomer left your party in such a hurry," Adama greeted him.
Apollo came straight to the point. "Starbuck is missing."
The Commander's eyebrows raised. "Missing?"
"He left the party suddenly, probably right after I announced my engagement. No one actually saw him leave. He's taken his viper. He's gone off god knows where. I can't shake this feeling that something is terribly wrong, that he's in danger. I don't know what to do or how to find him." He turned pleading eyes toward his father. "Can you help?"
Adama studied his son. "Do you have any idea why he left?"
"I can only assume it has something to do with my engagement, but I don't know what."
"You really don't know?" Adama asked.
"No!" Apollo exclaimed in frustration. "I don't!"
The older man sighed. "Apollo, how did Starbuck act when you were engaged to marry Serena?"
"He acted very strangely," the Captain answered. "I accused him of being jealous."
"Was he jealous?"
"Yes. He said he was. It's not surprising. He was used to our always being together, and then suddenly I was spending all my free time with someone else."
"What does that tell you?"
"I don't know! I don't get jealous of his girlfriends."
"Don't you? I seem to recall that when he asked Athena to Seal with him, you didn't speak to him, or anyone, for days. Your mother and I were quite worried about you."
"That's ridiculous," Apollo muttered, but deep down inside, he knew it wasn't.
The Commander decided it was time to be blunt. "Apollo, Starbuck is in love with you. And I wouldn't be surprised to learn that you are also in love with him."
He wanted to deny it. He was engaged to Sheba. He was going to marry her. But he knew that his father was right. He loved Starbuck. He loved Starbuck much more than he loved Sheba, if he loved Sheba at all. He sighed.
"All right. I love Starbuck. And I have to find him. I keep getting these - these feelings that he's in danger. Could they be part of those special mental abilities you used to tell me about, the ones that Kobolians have?"
"I think that it's your love for Starbuck that has given you those feelings. Your Kobolian powers have most likely been dormant, and they've been awakened by the possibility that he could be in danger."
"Father, I'm afraid that he's gone on a suicide mission. I'm afraid that he doesn't want to be found. Can these abilities help me?"
"I think he wants you to find him. He might not admit it, but that's what he wants. And it's your love for Starbuck that will help you find him."
"But I don't know how to use these powers you speak of."
"All that you have to do when these feelings come up is concentrate hard. Concentrate on your feelings for Starbuck and how much you want to find him. It's like meditating.
"Go now, son. Go find Starbuck, and bring him home where he belongs. The Lords of Kobol will guide you."
As Apollo left, Adama added one more thing.
"Then, have a talk with Sheba."
Yes, he would need to talk to Sheba - after he found Starbuck. That was assuming he did find Starbuck. If his father was right, and his love for his wingmate would help him find him, he still had to figure out what to say when he did.
He also needed to figure out exactly what he would say to Sheba. How could he tell her that he couldn't marry her? Could he be honest with her, and tell her that he loved Starbuck? Even if he told Starbuck how he felt, there was no guarantee that his wingmate would return his feelings, no matter what Adama said.
When Apollo arrived in the viper bay, Sheba was there waiting for him. "Do you mind explaining to me what exactly is going on?"
"I don't have time, Sheba. Starbuck has taken his viper out. He could be in danger. I have to find him. If it were me out there, he'd do the same."
"But I don't understand. Why did he take his viper out? Where is he going?"
"It's hard to explain, and like I said, I don't have time. When I find him - if I find him - and bring him back, then I'll explain it all to you."
"I'll come with you," Sheba volunteered.
Apollo considered the offer carefully. If Sheba came with him, she would no doubt hear exactly what he said to Starbuck if and when he found him. He didn't want her to find out his true feelings that way. Though he wouldn't have minded another pilot helping to search, Sheba wasn't the one. "I appreciate the offer," he told her, "but there's something else I need you to do. I sort of dumped Boxey on Athena, and she has a shift scheduled on the bridge. Could you pick him up from her quarters and take him home, and look after him until I get back?"
Sheba quickly agreed to this arrangement. Apollo had to admit that she'd been good to Boxey in the time they'd been together. He gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Thank you," he said sincerely.
"I hope you find him," Sheba called after him as he left.
"I hope I do too." *I hope I find him before the Cylons do.* He still remembered those terrible days when Starbuck had been their prisoner. They'd all thought he was dead. He'd felt so guilty when he learned that Starbuck was alive and had been their prisoner. He should have known. He should have tried to rescue him, instead of going on with his wedding plans.
*I won't let you down now, my friend. I will find you and bring you back.*
Meanwhile, out in space....
Boomer had all the scanners in his viper turned to their highest settings. He was determined to find Starbuck. He had no idea what he'd say to Starbuck once he'd found him, of course. Hopefully Apollo would get here soon. He was the one who really needed to talk to Starbuck, and the one that Starbuck needed to hear from. Boomer hoped that the Commander had talked some sense into him. He could hardly believe that after all these yahrens, Apollo was still clueless both about Starbuck's feelings for him and his own feelings for Starbuck.
Fortunately, vipers left ion trails behind them when they flew. It wasn't an easy trail to follow, but as luck would have it Starbuck appeared to have been going in a straight line for most of the time.
Something appeared on the edge of his scanners. He tried to enhance the signal, but couldn't. Swearing, Boomer turned his viper in the direction the blip had come from. It might just be a sensory ghost, he reminded himself. There was no way to know for sure.
The closer he got to the unidentified object, the clearer the signal became. Yes! It was definitely a viper. Since no one other than he, Starbuck and possibly Apollo were out here, it had to be Starbuck.
Eventually he came into radio range. "Starbuck, it's Boomer," he called.
"Come on, Starbuck, I know you can hear me. Answer me."
Apollo, following his father's advice, concentrated on Starbuck as his viper left the battlestar. He didn't need an ion trail. He simply followed his feelings and soon he saw not one, but two vipers ahead. He wanted to cheer; Boomer must have found Starbuck! As he approached the two vipers, he tuned in to the radio frequency they were using. He didn't hear Starbuck, but he heard Boomer.
"For Sagan's sake, Bucko," he heard Boomer saying. "I know that you're hurting. I saw the look on your face when you were watching him with Sheba. I know that you love him and that you don't think you can bear to see him get married again. But that's no reason to throw your life away!"
Starbuck's viper suddenly went turbo and blasted ahead.
"FRACK!" Boomer swore as he took off after it. Apollo did the same.
As he chased after the fleeing viper, Apollo considered what Boomer had just said. He had said that he knew Starbuck couldn't bear to see Apollo marry again. He'd said, "I know that you love him." Boomer knew that Starbuck loved him. *How could I have been so blind? How could my father and Boomer see it when I couldn't?*
Boomer called Apollo on the radio. "He has to run out of fuel soon."
"So do we," Apollo replied.
Starbuck managed to play a tricky game of hide and go seek in an asteroid field. His friends would see him, then lose him again. Apollo kept trying to contact him on the radio, with no response. *Does he actually hear me and not answer, or does he have his radio turned off?* Apollo wondered.
"Starbuck, pleases listen to me," Apollo begged. "I want - no, I *need* to talk to you." He remembered how following his mysterious 'feelings' had led him to Starbuck, so he let those feelings guide him through the asteroid field.
There was a planet at the end of the field. It was small and barren. Starbuck had landed there. Of course, Apollo and Boomer followed him.
To their surprise, they could breathe the atmosphere of this small planet. It was amazing, but they weren't going to question it. Maybe the Lords of Kobol were looking out for them.
"His viper is here," Boomer noted. "So where is he?"
"This way," Apollo immediately answered. Boomer didn't ask how he knew.
"He's behind that pile of rocks," Apollo announced after a few centons. Then he held up a hand. "Let me talk to him. You stay back here and keep an eye on the vipers."
Apollo approached his wingmate carefully. He didn't want Starbuck to run away. He found him sitting, leaning back against the rocks. Starbuck held his laser pistol in his hand, and he was pointing it at his head.
"Starbuck..." Apollo breathed.
Starbuck lowered the gun. "Don't worry. I won't do it. Or more like, I can't do it. I tried. I had every intention of just flying my viper until it ran out of fuel and crashed. But then the two of you caught up to me and I didn't want you to run out of fuel as well. Then when I landed here I thought I'd just do it the quick and easy way. One shot to the head, you know? But I couldn't do it with you here watching me. I don't suppose you're planning to leave without me, are you?"
"But why would you want to kill yourself?" Apollo asked, shuddering at the thought that he'd almost been too late.
Starbuck sighed and stood. "If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you." He turned to head back to his viper.
Apollo grabbed his arm. "Is it because of me? Because I said I was marrying Sheba?"
His friend wouldn't look at him. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Too bad. I do."
"Can't you leave it alone? Can't you leave *me* alone?" Starbuck pleaded.
"Apparently not! Not if you're going to kill yourself as soon as I turn my back!"
The blond man looked into the frightened eyes of his Captain and best friend. "Why do you care?" he asked. "You have everything. You have a family, friends, someone to love you, someone you love. What am I, compared to all that? I don't have those things. I don't even have you, not anymore." He tried to walk away again, but Apollo grabbed him by the shoulders and turned him so that they were facing each other.
"Do you want me?" Apollo asked softly.
"Whether I want you or not doesn't matter."
"It does to me."
"Oh, really?" Starbuck said with a bitter laugh. "It didn't matter all those yahrens ago when we were in the Academy and you told me we had to stop fooling around after Lights Out. It didn't matter when I told you I was jealous of Serena. It doesn't matter now."
"You matter to me, Star. What you want matters to me."
"What, suddenly everything's changed?" Starbuck asked sceptically. "When did that happen?"
'When I realized that I was about to lose you again," Apollo told him. "When you left the party and got into your viper and took off, it was as if it was happening all over again, the way it did after Serena, the time you were captured and I thought you were dead. I couldn't let that happen again. I couldn't lose you again."
"Why not? Because I love you, dammit!"
Taken by surprise, Starbuck didn't say anything for a moment. Then he said, "No, you love Sheba. You don't love me. Oh, maybe you love me like a brother or a friend, but you don't *love* me."
"I do," Apollo protested.
"Prove it," Starbuck challenged.
At first Apollo couldn't think of any way to prove that his words were true. He couldn't blame Starbuck for wanting proof. He hadn't exactly been acting the way a lover would, considering that he was still engaged to someone else.
Then he had an idea. He took Starbuck in his arms and kissed him. Starbuck returned the kiss with enthusiasm, and Apollo hoped that this meant Starbuck believed him
But Starbuck broke away. "No," he said. "I can't do this again."
"Can't do what?" Apollo asked, bewildered.
"I can't sneak around. I can't pretend that you and I are just friends when we're around other people, then wait until we're alone to make out with each other. I can't wait for you to make up your mind about what you want and then tell me that we can't be together because you're afraid of what other people think. I won't get my hopes up only to have them smashed into pieces again."
"It won't be like that," Apollo promised. "I won't be that stupid again. I was young then, Star. I didn't know what I was giving up."
"Do you know now?"
"I do. You're the most important person in my life, Star. You're not just my wingmate, not just my friend. You're everything to me."
"If I'm everything to you, why are you marrying Sheba?"
The words struck Apollo like a blow. He had no answer for that. He could tell Starbuck that he wouldn't marry Sheba, but he couldn't tell him why he had asked her to marry him in the first place.
"I'm not going to marry Sheba. I want to marry you." Maybe that would prove that he was serious, that he didn't want to hide their love from everyone.
"Forgive me for being a bit sceptical, Apollo, but a couple of centares ago you were announcing your engagement to Sheba. Now you're saying that she isn't the one you want to marry, and you want to marry me. How do I know that you're not going to change your mind about this too?"
"I can't force you to believe me. All I can say is that I don't love her. I love you."
"If you don't love her, why the frack did you ask her to marry you?"
Apollo sighed. "I wanted a partner. I wanted to share my life with someone. I wanted Boxey to have another parent. Sheba was there. She wanted me. I thought that maybe I could learn to love her."
"You know what, Apollo?" Starbuck asked. "You're a fool. You could have had me any time you wanted. You could have had me for a partner. You could even have had me for Boxey's parent. Yet you chose her." He shook his head. "You're a fool, but I still love you. Maybe that makes me an even bigger fool. I could have said something, and I didn't."
Apollo put his arms around Starbuck's shoulders. "I am a fool. I didn't see what was right in front of me. I let what other people might think prevent me from admitting to myself that I loved you. I gave up on ever finding someone I could be happy with because I couldn't see myself with a man instead of a woman.
"But I'm hoping it's not too late. It isn't, is it, Star? It isn't too late for us to be happy together?"
Starbuck shrugged off Apollo's arms and walked a couple of metrons away. "I don't know," he said so quietly that Apollo had to strain to hear him. "I'm scared. I don't have a good record when it comes to things like this. I've never been able to have what I want. Sometimes I've had it for a little while, but I always lose it. Especially people.
"I thought that I loved Cassie. I was going to ask her to Seal with me, you know. I even told Chameleon. Then Cain came along, and you know what happened.
"And of course there was Athena. Oh, I know we weren't really right for each other. We'd probably have ended up killing each other. But at the time, I wanted her. Maybe it was only so that I could be close to you. But she broke it off after the Destruction, right around the time you met Serena, as a matter of fact.
"Before Athena there was Aurora. I lost her too. But before all of them, there was you. I loved you - love you - more than any of them. Sure we were young, but that doesn't mean I didn't love you. I thought you loved me."
"I did. I do."
Starbuck shook his head. "I don't know, Pol. I do love you. I want to be with you. But I'm scared to death of losing you. I don't know if I can take that chance. All I can think of is that as soon as I say yes, you'll slip away from me."
Apollo reached out and pulled the other man into his arms. "I won't leave you. You won't lose me. I promise you. I'll swear to it on the Book of the Word if you want. We'll say our vows in the Kobolian chapel. Marry me, Starbuck. Please, say yes to me, to us."
The Lieutenant hesitated, then heard Boomer's voice.
"Will you say yes already, so that we can get off this gods-forsaken rock?"
Starbuck laughed and left Apollo to face his other friend. "So, Boom-Boom, our Captain pressed you into joining him?"
Boomer shook his head. "No. I came on my own. It was my choice."
"You came on your own? Why? Why did you come all this way just to find me?"
The Leonid man cuffed him on the side of the head. "Because I love you, stupid. Not the way he does," he added, nodding toward Apollo, "but I do love you. If you come back to the Galactica with us, I think you'll find that a lot of people feel the same way.
"I heard you," Boomer continued before Starbuck could say anything. "You said that Apollo has friends and family and someone who loves him, and that you don't have any of those things. Lords of Kobol, Starbuck, I never knew you were so dense. You have so many people who care about you: me, Jolly, Greenbean, Giles, Bojay, the Commander, even Boxey, not to mention a whole host of cadets that you trained who practically worship you. We're not just friends, Bucko, we're family. We're *your* family. So stop feeling sorry for yourself, accept the man's proposal and let's get back to the Galactica where we belong. Where all of us belong."
After trying to wipe away a few tears that had appeared in his eyes, Starbuck hugged Boomer hard. He gave his friend a kiss, then released him. "Thank you," he said. "I love you too. I think I needed that slap. I may need a few more of them before I believe all of this.
"You guys, both of you... All of you have been so good to me. It's not that I haven't noticed. But I learned pretty early on not to get close to people or to let them get close to me. It's too easy to lose people when you're in the middle of a war. I guess for me, friendship was a casualty of the war. If you don't care about people, it doesn't matter if they don't make it.
"But you snuck up on me. You and Apollo and the rest of the squadron, and the Commander and Boxey... I can't imagine living without any of you. So you'd better plan on sticking around. Don't make any stupid moves when the Cylons are around." He turned back to Apollo. "Is your offer still open? The marriage one, I mean?"
The Captain smiled. "It is. Does that mean what I think it means?"
Starbuck swallowed hard, trying to get his words past the lump in his throat. "It does."
"Will you marry me?" Apollo asked.
"Yes. I will marry you, Apollo. I love you."
The two men embraced and held each other tightly. "I love you, Starbuck," Apollo told him. "I won't leave you."
Boomer stood to one side, looking at his two friends with deep affection. "It's about time. Now can we go home?"
As the three warriors approached the Galactica, they were met by a number of vipers. Most of Blue Squadron was there, along with several members of Red and a few from Silver Spar.
"Is that you, Starbuck?" Jolly's voice came over the radio.
"It is, Jolly. What are all of you doing out here?" Starbuck asked.
"We heard you were missing. We were on our way to look for you."
Starbuck could hardly believe it. All these people were looking for him? "The Captain and Boomer found me. But thank you."
"Where were you, anyway?" Bojay wanted to know.
"I just needed some time alone to think about some things, and I wasn't paying attention to where I was going. I went a bit further than I'd intended. Good thing my friends were looking out for me," Starbuck explained.
"You'd do the same for any of us," Giles put in.
"That's what friends are for," Greenbean added.
Starbuck's friends escorted him, Apollo and Boomer back to the Galactica. When everyone had cleaned up and gone through decon, someone suggested a trip to the Officers Club. Starbuck turned to Apollo, not knowing what his new lover had planned.
"You go ahead," Apollo told him. "I have to talk to Sheba." At the look on his wingmate's face he added, "I have to be honest with her and tell her that I can't marry her, and why I can't marry her. Saying that she'll be unhappy will be an understatement. It's something I can't avoid, and the sooner I get it over with, the better. She's in my quarters with Boxey, otherwise I'd tell you to wait for me there."
Apollo could tell that Starbuck was still troubled. He hoped that he would be able to relieve some of his friend and lover's insecurities over time. Right now, all he could do was try to reassure him. He gave Starbuck a light kiss and said, "I love you. I'll see you soon." He could tell that Starbuck was still worried, but the lieutenant gave him a small smile and whispered, "I love you, too."
The Captain approached his quarters with trepidation. He was thrilled to have Starbuck back, and to have heard Starbuck declare his love, but he still had to face Sheba. He knew that his erstwhile wife-to-be had a temper. Standing outside the door, he longed to go to the OC with Starbuck and Boomer, but he couldn't put this off indefinitely, especially not when he had promised Starbuck that he wouldn't try to hide their relationship. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and walked in the door.
Sheba looked up when he entered. "Did you find Starbuck?" she asked.
"Yes," Apollo answered, trying to avoid the kiss Sheba gave him. "Boomer and I found him. He's fine."
"Thank the Lords," said Sheba. "He's one of the best warriors the fleet has. We can't afford to lose him. And I know how much you care for him," she added.
"I care for him very much," Apollo said. "How's Boxey?"
"He fell asleep not long after I picked him up. Out like a light." She grinned at Apollo. "Which means that we're alone." She reached for him.
Apollo moved away.
"What's wrong?" she asked. "Too tired?"
He shook his head. "It's not that."
"Well, then, what is it?" she asked impatiently.
"We need to talk."
"I do not like the sound of this," Sheba commented. "Talk about what?"
"What about us?" Sheba asked, feeling as if she were playing Twenty Questions with Boxey.
Apollo decided to be straightforward. "I can't marry you."
Sheba started at him in shock. "You can't marry me. Why not?" she demanded after the shock wore off.
"I don't love you."
"And you only just discovered this."
"I knew that I didn't love you when I asked you to marry me. I thought that would change, given enough time."
"Well then, if you asked me to marry you even though you don't love me, why have you all of a sudden taken it back?" A thought occurred to her. "Is there someone else?"
"Yes," Apollo answered reluctantly. There was no use denying it. The truth would be all over the fleet soon enough.
Sheba sighed. "Who is she?"
"It's not a she."
"Not a she. Not a she? Then.... Oh. You mean it's a he." She was thoughtful for a few moments. "Let me guess. Starbuck."
"Yes. It's Starbuck. I love him. When he went missing, I realized that I can't live without him. I only wish I'd come to that realization before I asked you to marry me. The last thing I want is to hurt you."
"What does Starbuck have to say about this?" Sheba wanted to know.
"He feels the same way I do. I mean, he loves me. But he wasn't going to tell me, because I was engaged to you. That's why he left. He wasn't going to try to break us up."
"No, you did that on your own."
"I am sorry, Sheba. I never meant to hurt you."
"Then why did you?" Sheba tried to control her voice before it came out as a sob.
"Getting married wouldn't have been good for either of us."
"Then you should have thought of that before you asked me."
Just then the two of them were interrupted by a small boy coming out of his room. "Dad? Is everything okay?" Boxey asked.
"Just a grownup disagreement, Boxey," Apollo assured his son. "Everything's all right. We'll try to keep our voices down."
Sheba stood and went over to Boxey. "I'm going now that your dad's here, Boxey." She gave him a kiss on his forehead. "Good night."
"Night, Sheba," the boy said.
With a last long glare at Apollo, Sheba left.
Apollo sat back on the longseat and sighed. He had known this wouldn't go well. He didn't know what else he could have expected. But it still made him sad to have hurt Sheba this way. Now that she had left, he couldn't go the OC and find Starbuck. Athena was still on the bridge, so he couldn't leave Boxey with her.
The boy climbed up on to the longseat next to him. "Is Sheba mad at you?" he asked.
"Because I told her that I'm not going to marry her," Apollo answered.
"I'm going to marry Starbuck instead."
Boxey smiled. "That's good," he said. "I like Starbuck more than I like Sheba anyway."
Boxey fell asleep on the longseat eventually, and Apollo put him back to bed. While he was wondering how to get a message to Starbuck, the door chime rang. Maybe Starbuck had come on his own, Apollo hoped.
But it wasn't Starbuck at the door. It was his father.
"I understand that Starbuck is safe and sound," the Commander said as he entered.
"Yes, thank the Lords. He really was intending to kill himself. Boomer and I got there just in time. I understand you sent some more warriors out after us?"
Adama smiled. "No, I didn't send them. I just sent word that Starbuck might be in trouble, and they all volunteered."
"Seeing all those people out there looking for him really touched him," Apollo told his father. "He never realized that all those people cared about him."
"That's always been one of Starbuck's problems. He's tried so hard not to get close to people that he doesn't let them get close to him. When they do, he doesn't even see it. I've tried hard to change that."
"I know that you have. I've tried as well. I hope I've succeeded at least a little bit."
"Did you tell him how you feel?" Adama asked.
"Yes. I told him. He didn't believe me at first. I'm afraid that past history is the cause of that."
"What past history might that be?" the Commander inquired.
"When were in the Academy, we were..... Well, we weren't exactly lovers, but we weren't 'just friends' either. But I broke it off. I told him that I wanted to be friends and nothing else. I was afraid of what other people would think."
"Do 'other people' include me?" Adama wanted to know.
The Commander sighed. "Son, in the future, I would like it if you asked me how I feel, rather than making assumptions. Now, where is Starbuck?"
"I think he went to the OC with Boomer and the others. I had to come back here and talk to Sheba."
"How did that go?"
"Not well," Apollo admitted.
"That is your own fault," his father reminded him.
Adama decided to take pity on his son. It had been a hard day - night actually - for him. He realized that it was very late.
"Go find the one you love," he said. "I'll stay here with Boxey until you get back."
"Thank you," Apollo said in relief.
As he walked into the OC, Apollo realized that it was the very early centares of ship's 'morning.' But there were warriors there, drinking and socializing and having a good time.
Starbuck was there too, with Boomer and a few others. He didn't look too happy. Apollo set out to remedy that. He went over to Starbuck and slipped his arms around him from behind. He could feel the tension leave his lover's body as he did so. He kissed the back of Starbuck's neck. "Miss me?" he asked..
Starbuck noticed that Apollo wasn't paying any attention to the fact that other people were around. He turned in his lover's embrace so that they were facing each other, and kissed him. "Not anymore," he said.
Apollo returned the kiss, and the two men were lost in each other for several centons.
Boomer cleared his throat loudly. "Do the words 'get a room' mean anything to you two?" he asked.
The two lovers grinned at him. "What, can't we express how happy we are to see each other?" Apollo asked.
"There's a limit to how far that kind of expression can go in public," Boomer answered.
As they sat at the bar, Starbuck said, "I assume you talked to Sheba."
"Yes," Apollo stated.
"Are you all right?"
Apollo turned and smiled at the man who meant so much to him. "I am now. I'll always be perfectly fine when I'm with you." They kissed again. Before Boomer could say anything to them, Apollo suggested, "How about we get out of here?"
"My place or yours?" Starbuck asked, even though he lived in the Bachelor Officers Quarters.
"Definitely mine," was Apollo's response.
"I was hoping you'd say that."
When they arrived at Apollo's quarters they were met by Commander Adama. "Starbuck, I'm glad to see that you're all right," he said.
"Thank you, Commander."
Adama looked at his son and his son's life partner. "I am very happy to see the two of you together," he said. "A word of advice, Starbuck: don't scare us like that again."
"I'll try not to, sir."
"Good. Now, it's very late, or actually very early, and some of us have work to do. I've taken the two of you and Boomer off the duty roster for tomorrow so that you can all get some rest. Good night." And the Commander left Starbuck and Apollo alone.
The two men just stood and looked at each other for a few moments. "It's finally real," Starbuck said.
"I've been dreaming about being with you like this for a long time, " he said. "Now it's real."
Apollo kissed him. "Very real. Come to bed with me?"
"I thought you'd never ask."