Starbuck was getting seriously annoyed at his superior officer, who just happened to be his best friend. Apollo had been on his case for the past secton about every slight infraction of the rules regarding warriors' conduct, and Starbuck was getting sick of it.

For his part, Apollo wished that he could just be Starbuck's friend and not a senior officer. The last time he'd hugged his friend, Starbuck had informed him that it was against regulations to hug a junior officer. Anytime that Starbuck got pissed at him, the Lieutenant would call him by his rank, "Captain," rather than by his name. But since he was a senior officer, and squadron leader, it was up to him to inform Starbuck that his conduct was, well, unbecoming an officer.

It wasn't that Starbuck wasn't good at what he did. He was the best warrior in the fleet. His flying skills had gotten him and Apollo, and the rest of their squadron, out of some pretty tight spots. In fact, if it were only based on his skills, Starbuck would have been promoted long ago. The reason he hadn't been was that he simply didn't pay attention to the rules. He was late for patrol. He took unnecessary risks. He was overly familiar to his superiors, though not really insubordinate. He just didn't show proper respect.

Starbuck didn't know why Apollo had to be so hung up on rules. Why couldn't the Captain relax and stop being a Captain once in a while? Why couldn't he just be Apollo, Starbuck's best friend and the man he loved more than anything?

Apollo had just finished lecturing Starbuck about the fact that the Lieutenant had tried to keep dates with both Cassiopeia and Athena at the same time. When he had heard the story from Starbuck he hadn't known how he should react. As a friend, he should try to be sympathetic. Maybe he should even find it funny. As a superior, he should explain to Starbuck that two-timing his Commander's daughter, who also happened to be his squadron leader's sister, might not be a good career move. Most of all, as someone who was in love with Starbuck, he was jealous.

"Starbuck, you have to be more careful. If you ever want to be more than just a Lieutenant...."

"What's wrong with being a Lieutenant?" the blond man demanded, his eyes flashing.

"Nothing! It's just that if you keep on like this, one day you'll find that Boomer and Sheba and I - and everyone else - have been promoted above you and you'll have been left behind."

"You're already above me," Starbuck reminded him.

"You know what I mean."

"Yes, I know what you mean, and I'm sick of it. I'm sick of you telling me what to do and how to behave as if I'm some cadet you can just order around. I'm your wingmate and deputy squadron leader, and I'm tired of you pushing me around! As a matter of fact, I'm tired of *you* !" He turned and started to walk away.

"Starbuck, wait!" Apollo cried as his friend turned and started to leave. He hurried to catch up to him. "Don't go. Please, let's talk about this."

Starbuck turned to face him. "I don't want to talk to you. Right now, I don't even want to see you."

"Can we talk later, then?" Apollo asked, trying not to sound like he was begging.

"Apollo, right now I don't care if I never see you again. In fact, I think I might prefer it that way."

With those words, Starbuck left. He decided to go and see Dr. Wilker. The scientist had a new viper design he'd been working on, and as the fleet's best pilot, it would likely fall to Starbuck to test it, just as he'd done with C.O.R.A.

"This one has a laser generator, right?" Starbuck asked.

"It has the same components as all the other vipers. It's identical in almost every way. The only difference is speed. It's much faster than the other vipers. I'm hoping that with this viper, a warrior - or a team of warriors, once we've built a few more - will be able to warn the fleet in a hurry if they run into Cylons or other dangers when they're out on patrol."

Starbuck was excited about the new machine. He quite liked his own viper, of course, but he wouldn't have to give it up. Once Wilker had perfected the new engine, it would be installed in all the existing vipers. They didn't have the equipment or supplies to build a whole fleet of new vipers.

He was about to go find Apollo to tell him about the new machine when he remembered their falling out. He also remembered the harsh words he'd used. He regretted them already. He couldn't imagine never wanting to see Apollo again. He'd just been angry. Still, it wouldn't hurt to steer clear of his wingmate for awhile, just until he cooled down.


Apollo could hardly believe what he'd heard Starbuck say. Starbuck didn't ever want to see him again? How had they gotten to this point? They were supposed to be best friends. Had he just ruined their friendship forever?

He waited until he was back in his quarters, alone, before he allowed the tears to escape.

Neither he nor Starbuck was on duty the next day, and he noticed that his friend wasn't making any attempt to seek him out. Not that he really expected Starbuck to apologize. More likely the other man would just act as if nothing had happened, and they would go on as before. Apollo knew when Starbuck was sorry for something, even if never actually said the words, and he would accept the unspoken apology. If it ever came, that was, and it didn't appear to be coming any time soon.

It wasn't until the following day that he saw Starbuck. A group of Cylons was attacking, and Blue Squadron got the call. Apollo noted that Starbuck was trying out the viper with Wilker's new experimental engine. He didn't like that Starbuck was trying this new viper for the first time in a battle, but held his tongue. Starbuck was already mad at him. No use making it worse.

Starbuck did well with the new viper. Contrary to what Apollo believed, he had taken the new viper out on a short patrol the day before. He just hadn't told his wingmate about it.

He wondered if Apollo was angry at him. His words had been overly harsh, he admitted to himself. Still, now was not the time to discuss it. They had work to do.

Just then, he saw a Cylon bearing down on Apollo's viper. He quickly dispatched it with laser fire. He was so busy taking care of that one, however, that he didn't see the other until it was too late. The Cylon fighter managed a direct hit on Apollo before Starbuck could take care of it.

"Frack!" he heard Apollo swear.

"Apollo, are you all right?" Starbuck demanded over the radio.

"I'm hit...." his wingmate's voice crackled over the radio.

"Apollo, your signal is breaking up!" Starbuck called. There was no answer.

"Going... try ... land..." came over the radio amidst the static. The other warriors could do nothing to help their squadron leader. They had Cylons to deal with. It wasn't until they had finally finished off the last one that the squadron re-grouped and realized that Apollo wasn't there.

"He has to be somewhere," Boomer observed.

Starbuck felt a chill go up his spine. What if Apollo had crashed? What if he was hurt, or worse? The last words he'd said to Apollo came to mind: I don't care if I never see you again. I might prefer it that way.

He mentally shook himself. With Apollo gone, he was squadron leader. The other warriors were waiting for him to tell them what to do. He wanted to just take off and go look for Apollo, but he had a job to do. They had to return to the Galactica. Adama would want to know what had happened, and it would be Starbuck's job to tell him. Once he was off-duty, then he could go look for Apollo.

"All right, everyone, let's go in," he told the squadron.

There were immediate objections. "Apollo's missing! Shouldn't we go find him?"

"Does anyone have enough fuel to go and scan every planet and asteroid in this sector?" Starbuck asked.


"I thought not. Come on, let's go. Once we're back on the Galactica, we'll see what we can do."

Once they were back on the Galactica, it was time for debriefing. This too fell to Starbuck. He gave his report as required, feeling numb. When they had been dismissed, Tigh held him back.

"I thought you'd still be out there looking for him," the Colonel commented.

"I'm squadron leader when Apollo's not around. I have a job to do." No matter how much he wanted to be out there looking for Apollo, he would do his duty.

"But you want to be out there, don't you?"

"Yes, sir," Starbuck replied, not letting his feelings show.

"Come on," said Tigh. "Let's go talk to the Commander."

This was the part that Starbuck had been dreading: telling Apollo's father - the man who was the closest he himself had ever come to having a father - that Apollo was missing and could be dead.

The Commander took the news stoically. He knew that every time Blue Squadron went out, there was a chance that Apollo would not come back. He'd accepted it. People who only saw the act Adama put on would occasionally accuse the Commander of being unfeeling. They didn't know how deeply he did feel.

"Sir, permission to take Blue Squadron out again," were Starbuck's first words once he'd explained the situation.

"And do what?" Adama demanded.

"Look for Apollo, of course!"

Adama sighed. "I'm afraid I can't let you do that. Some of the civilian ships were damaged in the raid. The fleet has to stop and wait while they're repaired. As long as we are in this sector, we're vulnerable, especially if we're not moving. No, I'm afraid the warriors have to stay here."

Starbuck was furious, but chose not to say anything. The Commander had a responsibility to the fleet. It couldn't have been an easy decision for him to make, putting the fleet's safety above the need to find his son.

That didn't make Starbuck feel any better, though.

Colonel Tigh left and Starbuck was just about to follow when Adama called him back. "Lieutenant, that new viper design that you're testing - how's it working for you?"

"Fine," Starbuck answered, surprised.

"Do you think that it might need any further testing?" the Commander wanted to know.

"I don't know. Not really - I've used it in battle. That's pretty much the biggest test."

"On the contrary. I think you should test it some more. In fact, I think that when you leave here you should make certain that it's fuelled up and ready to be launched. Just in the case the Commander sends you on a mission."

"And is the Commander planning to send me on a mission?" Starbuck asked, getting an idea of what Adama was planning.

"Oh no, of course not. Like I told you, all warriors have to stay with the ship. However, if you feel the need to test that experimental viper some more, I won't stop you. Who knows, we might need it."

Starbuck grinned. "You know, sir, I think that I should test that viper some more. May I be dismissed?"

"Certainly, Lieutenant. Oh, and Starbuck...."

"Yes, Commander?"

"You're a fine officer. I hope that Apollo has told you that."

"Thank you, sir," Starbuck replied as he left.

A fine officer? No one, least of all Apollo, had ever called him a fine officer. A good warrior, sure. The best warrior, definitely. However, as far as being an officer, the only time that was mentioned was when Apollo was tearing a strip off him for something.

Starbuck was about to head to the viper bay when he had a thought. He changed direction and headed for Apollo's quarters.

When he arrived he found Athena there with Boxey. "Starbuck, is there any news?" Athena asked him frantically.

"Sorry, Thee, no news yet. But I plan to change that. Can I talk to Boxey for a centon?"

"Of course, but listen, Starbuck, Boxey is frightened. All he can think of is that he's going to be an orphan if his dad doesn't come back. Be careful. I'd rather you didn't upset him any more than he is already."

Starbuck went into Boxey's room. "Hey, kid, how are you?"

Boxey didn't look at him.

"Excuse me, young man. Is that any way to greet a superior officer?"

Listlessly, Boxey said, "Hi, Starbuck."

"You going to tell me what's on your mind?" Starbuck asked.

"My dad's gone."

"Since when?"

"Since your last patrol. He didn't come back."

"Just because he's not back yet doesn't mean he's not coming back at all," Starbuck pointed out.

Boxey looked at him hopefully. "You think so?"

"I know so. What does he tell you every time he goes out?"

"He says he'll always come back."

"He hasn't broken that promise yet, has he?"

"No," Boxey admitted.

"Then I don't think he'll start now. But I'll tell you what: I'll go look for him and make sure he does come back. Is that okay with you?"

"Yeah," Boxey said, showing a bit of a smile.

Starbuck hugged him. "Your dad and I will be back before you know it. In the meantime, you have to help your grandfather take care of the fleet, okay?"

"How do I do that?" Boxey asked.

"Have you ever heard the word 'morale' ?" Starbuck asked.

The boy shook his head.

"Morale means how everyone in the fleet is feeling. If everyone is feeling good and hopeful about finding Earth, that means that morale is good. If everyone is feeling lousy and doesn't think we'll ever find Earth and wants to give up, that means morale is bad. The Commander prefers it when morale is good. I want you to help make sure that morale is good. You can help with that by being brave and thinking good thoughts. Can you do that?"

"I - I think so," Boxey stammered.

"Good. At ease, cadet. I'm going to go find your dad."

As he left, Starbuck wondered if he'd been too optimistic in telling Boxey that he would find Apollo. He had no way of knowing if Apollo was even still alive. Or did he? It almost seemed as if he could somehow feel that Apollo was alive somewhere. He'd know if Apollo were dead. Still, if he wanted to find Apollo while he was still alive, he'd better hurry.

Colonel Tigh met him in the viper bay. "I wish you weren't going alone," he said to Starbuck.

"I wish I weren't either, but you know the situation. The fleet's in danger. You need all the warriors you can get."

"Without Apollo here, you are Blue Squadron's leader," Tigh pointed out.

"I know, but Boomer can do just as good a job at it as I can."

"I'm just sorry that you can't take a shuttle. If Apollo is hurt...."

"Then I'll just have to stay with him until the Galactica can catch up to me. A shuttle has no defences. I might run into Cylons out there."

"Be careful," was Tigh's last warning.

"I will be," Starbuck assured him.

He didn't tell Tigh that he would only be careful until he found Apollo. If Apollo was all right, or at least in one piece, then he'd continue to be careful. If Apollo was dead, then he'd stop being careful and let the Cylons take him. It had happened before. He'd lost Apollo to Serena, and hadn't cared what the Cylons did to him. If he lost Apollo now.... Best not to think about that.

He supposed that if he didn't come back, some people would miss him. The Commander would, maybe Tigh. The other members of Blue Squadron. Cassie and Athena. Even Boxey. The last gave him a slight twinge. Funny how he'd fallen into the role of surrogate parent to Apollo's son.

Without Apollo, though, nothing would matter. At least if he died he might go to the same place as Apollo. Or maybe not; Apollo was good, practically a saint compared to him. What was he compared to Apollo? He was lucky that his friend had put up with him for as long as he had.

A sudden blip on his scanner caught his attention. From the looks of things, there was a ship of some kind on a small planetoid nearby. He headed down to take a look.

He found the crashed viper almost immediately, but Apollo was not inside. Hopefully this meant that the Captain wasn't hurt and was just hanging around somewhere awaiting rescue.

So Starbuck started to search. It took him more than a centare, but finally he spotted someone - something? - lying on the ground.


He ran to where his friend was lying on the ground. From the looks of things he'd managed to climb out of his damaged viper, but hadn't been able to walk far. There were marks on the ground that indicated he'd dragged himself the last few metrons before passing out.

"Apollo! Can you hear me, Apollo? Can you hear me? It's Starbuck. Wake up, 'Pol. Please, wake up."

There was no response from the Captain.

"All right. Listen to me. I'm going to go back to my viper and get some supplies. You stay here. Don't go anywhere. It took me long enough to find you the first time."

He ran back to the viper and returned with a med kit that he'd cajoled from Cassiopeia. He tended to Apollo's obvious, external injuries as well as he could, and just had to hope that there were no internal injuries, or that if there were, they weren't serious. He had no idea how long it would take for the Galactica to even get within radio range so that he could tell them where he and Apollo were. He supposed that if he had to, he could fly Apollo back in his viper, but there was no real "passenger" space in a viper. It would be cramped and horridly uncomfortable, especially for someone who had been injured. He decided to leave that as a last resort.

Fortunately, he had the necessary items to make a fire. There were some small trees and bushes around the crash zone, and he had his fumarillo lighter in his jacket pocket. Soon he had a warm fire going. He sat staring into the flames and wished Apollo would wake up.

Eventually his wish was granted as the Captain did wake up. He moaned, and Starbuck was at his side instantly.

"Apollo? How are you feeling, buddy?"

"Starbuck?" Apollo whispered.

"Yeah, pal, it's me," Starbuck answered, grasping his friend's hand in his. "Can you move?"

"Why.... here?"

"Why is what here? Why am I here? I came looking for you after your viper got hit."

"I thought you wouldn't come."

"Why wouldn't I come? Don't you know that I can't stand for you to go anywhere without me?"

"You said...."

"Forget what I said, Apollo. I didn't mean it. Not any of it. I will regret saying those words for the rest of my life."

Apollo seemed to have either fallen asleep or passed out. Starbuck removed his jacket and tucked it under Apollo's head as a makeshift pillow.

Now he had to wait and see if Apollo woke again. He suppressed the desire to hold the other man in his arms.

He hadn't brought much with him in the way of food, not having anywhere to store it the viper. He had some emergency rations, and that was all. He wasn't hungry anyway, so he continued to sit and stare into the fire.

Apollo woke again after about a centare had passed. He was cold, in pain and frightened. He wanted Starbuck, but he didn't know if his wingmate was still here. "Starbuck?" he called out.

Starbuck was instantly there. "How are you?"


Starbuck reached into the med kit and pulled out some pills. "Take these," he said, raising Apollo's head and shoulders with one arm and holding a bottle of water to his lips with the other. When Apollo had swallowed the pills, he lowered him back down to the ground. "They should start to work in a few centons."

Apollo didn't like that Starbuck had let go of him. He grabbed Starbuck's arm. "Cold," he said.

"Do you want to move closer to the fire?" Starbuck suggested. "I don't think I should try to carry you - I don't know what kind of injuries you have, and I don't want to make them worse. Can you stand?"

Apollo shook his head. He didn't think he could manage standing at the moment.

After a few microns' thought, Starbuck wrapped his arms around Apollo. He told himself he was only doing it to keep him warm. "Is that better?" he asked. "Are you warmer?"

"Mm-hm," Apollo answered. Then he asked, "Stay with me?"

"Always," Starbuck promised.

"Love you," Apollo murmured before he fell asleep again.

Now where had that come from? Was Apollo delirious? Had he meant that he loved Starbuck in the way one would love a brother or a best friend? Apollo was his best friend, after all. Surely it was too much to hope that Apollo would love him the way that he loved Apollo.

If only he did. Everything in Starbuck's world would be perfect then.

He continued to sit and hold Apollo securely in his arms. He allowed himself to doze off for awhile, but came instantly awake when the other man stirred.

"Starbuck?" Apollo cried out.

Starbuck tightened his arms around his friend. "Right here, buddy."

"Don't leave me," Apollo said in a pleading tone.

Starbuck didn't know why Apollo was so worried about his leaving, but he tried to sound reassuring as he promised, "Never. I'll never leave you, Apollo. Wherever you go I'll be right behind you."



Apollo seemed about to doze off again when he asked, "Do you love me?"

Starbuck didn't know how to answer the question. He finally decided to be honest. If Apollo even remembered this conversation when he was better, Starbuck could always say he'd meant that he loved Apollo as his best friend.

"Yes, Apollo, I love you."

"Always?" Apollo asked again.


Apollo was about to doze off again, but first Starbuck insisted that he drink some water. He'd only had a little when taking the pain medication earlier, and Starbuck didn't want him to get dehydrated.

"Thanks," Apollo murmured after drinking the water.

"No problem, my friend. Go back to sleep now. I'll be here when you wake up."


"I promise."

Apollo sounded a lot like Boxey when he used that needy, pleading tone. It was easy to forget that the two of them weren't related by blood.



"I love you."

"I love you too, Apollo. Always."

As Apollo slept again, Starbuck pondered the word that Apollo had kept using: always. It wasn't a concept he was overly familiar with. He'd never promised any of his lovers "always." Always meant permanence, and there hadn't been anything permanent in his life. Not a family, not a home, not a lover. Except.... Well, except for Apollo. Perhaps Apollo was permanent. It hadn't exactly seemed that way when Apollo had been engaged to Serena. Since then, though, Apollo had stuck by him even when things didn't look very good, such as the time he'd been accused of murder.

Surely, though, this would only last until the next love interest came along. It was beginning to look as if Sheba might be that love interest. The one who would come between him and Apollo, intentionally or unintentionally. Married men just didn't spend a lot of time hanging out drinking and gambling with their bachelor buddies. But Apollo had been the one to use the word "always" and to say "I love you."

As time passed Starbuck began to think he should try to contact the Galactica. They had been out of radio range when he'd landed, but it was possible they'd started moving by now. However, in order to use his radio he'd have to go back to his viper, and to go back to his viper he'd have to temporarily leave Apollo. He'd already promised the other man that he wouldn't leave him.

Apollo definitely needed medical attention, though. He had a fever, and gods-knew what internal injuries. They didn't have any food other than the emergency rations Starbuck had brought. Apollo needed to get back to the Galactica, and for that to happen Starbuck needed to communicate with the battlestar.

"Apollo?" Starbuck asked gently. "Are you awake?"

"Umm," murmured Apollo. "Where am I?"

Oh dear. This did not sound good.

"Apollo, do you remember your viper crashing?"

Apollo groaned. "Oh Lords, yes."

"I have to try contacting the Galactica. Do you think you'll be okay on your own for a few centons?"

"Don't leave me!" Apollo instantly answered.

Frack. "Listen, 'Pol. I have to contact the fleet and try to get a shuttle out here to pick you up. But to do that I need to leave you for just a few centons. It won't be long, I promise. I'll come right back. Do you trust me?"

"With my life," Apollo answered. He reached up, drew Starbuck's head down and kissed him. It was very soft, very gentle, and nearly blew Starbuck's mind. If Apollo kissed like this when he was seriously injured, Starbuck wondered what he kissed like when he was at full strength. Now was not the time to think about that, though.

"Apollo," he sighed. "I have to go. But I'll be back before you know it. Try to rest."

Apollo smiled at him. "I love you," he said in a voice that was barely a whisper.

"I love you too, 'Pol."

Starbuck hurried to his viper and tried the radio. No luck. The Galactica was either out of range or maintaining radio silence so as not to give away their location to the Cylons. There was nothing to do but go back to Apollo and wait some more.

When Starbuck got back to their makeshift campsite, he saw that Apollo was still sleeping. He gathered his wingmate into his arms again, and, leaning back against a tree, allowed himself to sleep. When he woke a few centares later, he saw that Apollo was still asleep.

"'Pol?" he asked, giving his friend a gentle shake.

No response.


Still nothing.

"Apollo! Can you hear me? Wake up, Apollo!"

There was no response. Apparently Apollo was not just asleep, but unconscious.

Frack. Now what could he do? He had no way to reach the Galactica. Should he fly back and meet the battlestar and ask them to send a shuttle? He could fly escort to the shuttle and protect it from the Cylons.

No, that would take too long. Even if his viper was the fastest they had, he'd have to go at the shuttle's pace. Besides, if Apollo did wake up, he didn't want him to find himself alone. He'd promised to stay with him.

There was only one thing to do. He carefully lifted Apollo in his arms and carried him to the viper. "This is going to be pretty uncomfortable, 'Pol," he warned, though he knew Apollo couldn't hear him. He placed Apollo in the small space behind the pilot's seat. It was big enough - though just barely - for a passenger, but there were no restraints, nothing to hold him in place if things got rough. At least he'd thought to grab Apollo's helmet from the crashed viper, giving his wingmate some protection if he hit his head.

"Hang on, Apollo. This may be a bumpy ride."

He took off for the Galactica, thanking the Lords for the fast viper. He hoped and prayed that he hadn't added to Apollo's injuries by carrying him to the viper. He reminded himself that he hadn't had much choice.

"Almost there, 'Pol," he said to his unconscious friend. He was within sight of the fleet when he spotted the Cylon ships approaching.

Wasn't this great timing. He could try to outmaneuvre them, but doing that would shake up poor Apollo even more. He grabbed his radio. "Lieutenant Starbuck to Galactica," he called.

"Galactica here, Starbuck," Omega answered.

"Omega, am I glad to hear your voice. I'm just a few hundred kilometrons from the fleet, and I have Apollo with me. He's pretty badly hurt, and there's a fleet of Cylons bearing down on us."

"I'll tell the Commander to scramble Blue and Red squadrons right away," Omega answered immediately.

"Omega, I could kiss you."

"I don't think you want to do that, Lieutenant. Captain Apollo might not like it. Galactica out."

Now what had that been about? He'd have to ask Omega what he'd meant - later. Right now he had Cylons to deal with.

"It's probably a good thing that you're unconscious, Apollo, because this is not going to be at all comfortable."

For the next fifteen or twenty centons Starbuck did his best to avoid getting hit by Cylon fire while leading them away from the fleet. Fortunately the speed of his viper worked in his favour, and he was able to stay far enough ahead of them that they couldn't catch up. Soon Red and Blue squadrons had been launched.

"About time you guys got here," Starbuck grumbled over the radio.

"Nice to see you too, Starbuck," Boomer answered. "Now how about you let us deal with these gol-monging Cylons and you take our Captain home."

"Sounds good to me, Boom-Boom." Starbuck turned his viper and, making as wide an arc as he could around the Cylons, headed for home. The Cylons that followed him flew right into the Galactica's squadrons and were quickly dealt with.

Apollo was rushed to the Life Centre as soon as they arrived on the Galactica. His family was there with him, and all Starbuck could do was wait. It was at times like this that he remembered he wasn't really part of Apollo's family. They were at the Life Centre. He was waiting in the Bachelor Officer's Quarters. He didn't think that Adama excluded him on purpose; the Commander just hadn't thought to ask him to stay. He was too preoccupied.

Eventually, he managed to get a hold of Cassiopeia. She told him that Apollo had suffered some organ damage in the crash of his viper, but that thanks to Starbuck's getting him to Life Centre in time, he would suffer no permanent damage.

"When can I see him?" Starbuck asked.

Cassie sighed. "I don't know. It's family only right now. If it were up to me I'd just tell Dr. Salik that you are Apollo's family as much as anyone, but..."

"I know. It's okay, Cassie. I should go take care of my duties. I'm squadron leader until Apollo is back on his feet."

"Starbuck, what exactly is going on with you and Apollo?" Cassie asked.

"What do you mean?"

"I'm not blind, Starbuck. Anyone can see how much you love him."

"They can?" Starbuck asked in surprise. First Omega's comment, and now this - what did everyone think he and Apollo were to each other?

The med tech smiled sympathetically. "Poor Starbuck. You really have no idea, do you? The way you two look at each other hasn't exactly escaped notice around here."

"Cassie, I don't know what you or anyone else is thinking, but Apollo and I are friends, and that's all."

"Well then, Starbuck, I think it's time you did something about that, don't you?" Giving him a peck on the cheek, she left.

Between his extra duties and the "family only" visiting rule, it was a few days before Starbuck was finally able to see Apollo. When the 'family only' rule was lifted, he was at Apollo's side in a micron.

"I was beginning to wonder why I hadn't seen you," Apollo commented when he saw Starbuck for the first time. He noticed that his friend looked tired and drawn.

"I've been busy, and only family was allowed to visit you until today," Starbuck replied. Even though he hadn't had a choice, he still felt guilty for not visiting Apollo.

"I was afraid that you meant what you said the last time we talked before my accident - that you didn't want to see me."

"I told you after I found you on that asteroid that I didn't mean that, Apollo. I'll regret saying it for the rest of my life." Changing the subject, he asked about Apollo's condition.

"I could ask you how *you* are," Apollo answered. "Are you all right? You don't look well."

"I'm fine - just had a busy schedule lately, I guess." Not to mention that he'd been so worried about Apollo that he'd barely eaten or slept in the past few days. "Now, answer my question - how are you?"

"A lot better than I was when you found me on that asteroid," Apollo replied.

"What do you remember about that?" Starbuck asked with a mixture of curiosity and dread.

"Not a lot," Apollo admitted. "A few fragments, mainly. I remember being cold, and in pain, and alone. Then you found me, and you took care of me. You kept me warm and gave me water and drugs for the pain. I knew then that I'd be okay."

Feeling suddenly self-conscious, Starbuck tried to shrug off Apollo's thanks. "I'm your wingmate. It's my job to look out for you."

"I was afraid that you'd meant what you said about never wanting to see me again."

Starbuck could see the pain in Apollo's face as he remembered the harsh words. "I'm so sorry for that, Apollo. I didn't mean it. I was angry."

"Why did you say it?" Apollo wanted to know.

"You're my best friend, 'Pol, but it seemed to me like you'd forgotten all about our friendship and were just acting as my superior officer. I do my best to forget about our different ranks, but the way you were acting reminded me that you *are* my superior. That's a big difference between us."

"I know," sighed Apollo. "I don't like it, either. The thing is, Star, that the Commander and Tigh have been talking a lot about promotions lately. I may be up for a promotion sometime soon, and I'm afraid that if I got promoted and you didn't, we'd be separated. That's why I've been on your case. All I could think of was the reasons that the brass might give for not giving you a promotion." He looked deep into Starbuck's eyes as if he were searching for some sort of sign. "I don't want to be separated from you, Star. I love you."

"I love you too, 'Pol. Like I said, you're my best friend."

Apollo looked suddenly disappointed. "Is that all, Star?"

"What do you mean, is that all? I don't understand."

"I love you, Starbuck. I'm in love with you. That's why I kissed you when we were together on the asteroid."

"You remember that?" Starbuck asked in surprise.

"It's the last thing I remember before waking up here. When you didn't come to see me, I was afraid it had been a fever dream. But being this close to you now makes me quite sure it wasn't a dream." He looked away. "All I want right now is to kiss you again. But if you don't want that...."

"Is that all you want, 'Pol? To kiss me? Because I don't mind telling you that I want a lot more than that."

Apollo stared at him, open mouthed. "Starbuck...." he began, then stopped. He didn't know what to say.

Starbuck moved closer so that their faces were microns apart. "I love you, Apollo. I'm in love with you, too. Now, are you going to kiss me or what?"

Apollo kissed him. Starbuck found it even more mind-blowing than he'd found their first kiss. His trousers were suddenly uncomfortably tight. He moaned.

"When are they going to let you out of here, 'Pol?"

"Tomorrow," Apollo answered.

"What happens then?" Starbuck wanted to know.

"I don't understand. What do you mean, what happens?"

"Where do we go from here? Do we continue being buddies, pals, wingmates? Do we become lovers?"

"I want you to move in to my quarters with me and Boxey. Would you do that?"

"I'd be happy to do that."

"Why don't you move in tonight? Then you can stay with Boxey and give Athena a rest." Then he hesitated. "I don't want to make it sound like you're just a babysitter, Star. I mean, Boxey loves you, and he'd be thrilled if you moved in."

Starbuck grinned. "I love him too. I'd be happy to stay with him tonight. Tomorrow night, though, I'd appreciate it if we had some privacy."

"Why? What happens tomorrow night?" Apollo asked.

Starbuck ran his hand up his lover's thigh. The hospital gown didn't hide much. He leaned over and whispered in Apollo's ear, "What do you want to happen?"

Apollo turned pink, but didn't move Starbuck's hand away. "There's a lot that I want to happen, but I don't think this is the place to discuss it."

The two warriors kissed again, only breaking apart when Cassiopeia walked into the room and cleared her throat loudly. This time it wasn't only Apollo who turned pink.

Starbuck moved into Apollo's quarters and anxiously awaited his mate's homecoming. When Apollo arrived the next day he greeted him with a hug and a kiss. Of course Apollo then had to spend time with Boxey, so they spent most of the evening together as a family.

After Boxey had gone to bed, it was Starbuck and Apollo's turn. Apollo turned to his mate and held out his hand. "Let's go," he said. Starbuck took the outstretched hand and followed him to the bedroom.

"Gods, I can't believe I'm so nervous," Apollo groaned. "I feel like a virgin and I'm thirty yahrens old."

Starbuck smiled just as nervously. "I feel it too, Pol. I haven't been a virgin for a very long time, but I've never been with someone that I feel this strongly about, let alone with a man."

"You've never been with a man before?" Apollo asked. "I haven't either. Guess that makes us both virgins."

"You're my first, 'Pol," Starbuck told him. "First, last and always."

"Always," Apollo repeated. "I love you, Star."

Starbuck took Apollo into his arms and lowered him to the bed. "I love you too, 'Pol."

The two undressed each other, taking their time as they looked at each others' bodies. It wasn't the first time they'd seen each other with no clothes on, but it was the first time they'd been free to look as much as they wanted.

Apollo reached out and lay his hand in the middle of Starbuck's chest almost timidly. "You're so beautiful," he breathed.

"So are you," Starbuck answered.

The two men kissed and caressed each other until Starbuck moved down and took Apollo into his mouth.

*For someone who's never done this before* Apollo thought, *he's doing pretty good.*

That was his last coherent thought before he felt himself exploding into his lover's mouth.

When he came to, Apollo said, "Make love to me, Starbuck. I want you inside me."

"Are you sure? I've never done it, but I have the idea it might hurt. I don't want to hurt you. You just got out of Life Centre."

"I didn't have any injuries to that part of me, Star," Apollo laughed. He removed something from the discarded jacket on the floor. "I borrowed this from Life Centre." He handed the tube to Starbuck.

"You came prepared," Starbuck commented. Hesitantly at first, then more confidently, he prepared his lover to receive him.

Apollo gasped at the sudden intrusion, but Starbuck stroked and soothed him as he entered. Soon Starbuck was all the way inside, and Apollo's discomfort was soon gone, replaced by the delicious sensation of having his lover inside of him.

Suddenly Apollo felt an amazing burst of sensation inside. "God, Star, what was that?"

Starbuck stopped moving. "Did I hurt you?" he asked worriedly.

"Just the opposite. That felt amazing. Don't stop!"

So Starbuck continued, adjusting the angle of his thrust so that he continued to hit the sweet spot inside of Apollo. Feeling his mate's cock spring to life for the second time that night, he stroked it in time with his thrusts from behind until Apollo let out a muffled cry as he came. Apollo's spasms of ecstasy drew a similar response from Starbuck, and soon both men were spent.

Lying curled up together, the lovers kissed each other good night. "I love you," Starbuck whispered.

"Always?" Apollo asked.

"Always," Starbuck promised.

"I love you too. Always," Apollo told Starbuck as they fell asleep wrapped in each other's arms.

A couple of days later, Starbuck was summoned to the Commander's office. "Are you in trouble for something?" Apollo asked in concern.

Starbuck frowned at him. "Apollo, must you always think the worst of me?"

Apollo was instantly apologetic. "I'm sorry, love. I shouldn't think that way. I guess it goes back to when we were in the Academy and you kept getting called to the headmaster's office. But what do you think it's about?"

"Beats me, but I don't think the Commander would object to my bringing my wingmate along, do you?"

"He'd better not," was Apollo's reply as he followed Starbuck.

Starbuck hadn't admitted it to Apollo, but he was worried. He couldn't recall having done anything that was in too great a violation of any rules, especially since he'd been squadron leader. But he didn't know why he had been summoned.

Colonel Tigh was with the Commander when Apollo and Starbuck arrived. "You wanted to see me?" Starbuck asked.

"Starbuck, come in. It's good to see you. I don't think I've thanked you properly for rescuing Apollo," the Commander greeted him.

"Just doing my duty as a warrior," Starbuck demurred.

"Your actions were above and beyond the call of duty, Starbuck," the Commander answered. "Which is why Colonel Tigh and I agree that you should be rewarded - not just for this particular incident but for all the times you've shown extraordinary loyalty to your wingmate, your squadron and the fleet itself. You are one of the best warriors in the fleet, and it's time that was recognized. You are hereby promoted to Captain."

Stunned, Starbuck shook the Commander's hand and Colonel Tigh's, then accepted the new insignia for his uniform. "Wait a centon," he said. "What does this mean? How does it affect my position in the squadron, in the fleet?"

"I'd like you to take over Red squadron," Tigh told him. "As a Captain, you shouldn't be a deputy squadron leader. You've shown that you are more than capable of being a squadron leader."

Starbuck handed the insignia back to the Colonel. "No," he said.

"Pardon me?" Tigh asked.

"I don't want a promotion. I'm perfectly happy being Apollo's wingmate. I don't want us to be split up. We're a team, and that's how we function best."

"Apollo, do you have anything to say?" Adama asked.

"I don't want to be separated from Starbuck. He saved my life," was Apollo's reply.

Adama and Tigh looked at each other. "Is there any precedent for this?" Adama asked his executive officer.

"I don't think anyone has ever refused a promotion before," Tigh answered.

"Will you accept the promotion if you can stay wingmates with Apollo?" Adama asked Starbuck.

"Sure," Starbuck answered.

"Apollo, would you mind sharing squadron leader duties with Starbuck?"

"Not in the least," Apollo answered with a smile.

"Then, Captain Starbuck, you and Captain Apollo are now joint leaders of Blue Squadron," Adama declared. "Congratulations."

Starbuck took the insignia this time and accepted the congratulations.

When Starbuck and Apollo had returned to their quarters, Apollo started to laugh.

"What's so funny?" Starbuck asked in amusement.

"I was so concerned that I might be promoted, and I never even considered that you would be." Then he frowned. "And I should apologize, because I never told you that you most definitely deserve a promotion. I got on your back for no reason."

Starbuck smiled and took his mate into his arms. "You were concerned that they would split us up. They didn't know that we won't let them. We belong together, and we'll always be together."

"Always," Apollo agreed.

They sealed their vow with a kiss.