Blue Squadron was in battle. Cylons seemed to be everywhere. Strike Captain Apollo was feeling overwhelmed. Suddenly he realized that there was a Cylon fighter on either side of him. He could take out one, but he knew that whichever one he chose, the other would take him out. He said a silent prayer to the Lords of Kobol and aimed at the fighter on his port side.
Out of nowhere, his wingmate flew down and took out the one on his starboard side.
When he'd finished off his target, Apollo picked up the radio. "Thanks, Starbuck," he said simply. He knew he didn't need to say anything more. Starbuck took his job as Apollo's wingmate seriously. Apollo knew he was lucky to have the fleet's best warrior as his wingmate. He knew he was even more lucky to have Starbuck as his friend.
"Anytime, pal," Starbuck said as he flew off to take care of more Cylons.
Another voice came on the radio. It was Boomer. "Are you all right, Apollo?"
"I'm fine," Apollo answered. "Thanks to Starbuck." He knew he'd said that many times before. As long as Starbuck was around, he had a feeling he'd be saying it many more times.
As Starbuck cleaned himself up after the battle, he breathed a long-suppressed sigh of relief. It had been close. He could have lost Apollo. He hadn't, thank the Lords. Starbuck wasn't a religious person, but at times like this he found himself thinking about God and the Lords of Kobol, wondering if they really were looking out for the rag-tag group of refugees from the colonies. He especially wondered if they were looking out for him and Apollo, because the two of them had survived many close calls over the yahrens.
He was Apollo's wingmate, and that made it his job to protect the Captain. He hoped that the job never went to anyone else, the way it had to Serena when she and Apollo were about to be married. He didn't trust anyone else to keep Apollo safe.
He was also Apollo's friend. He wasn't even certain how that friendship had come about. He and Apollo had met in the Academy. Apollo had been very aware of his father's reputation, and had been quite uncertain of his ability to live up to it.
Apollo, Starbuck and Boomer had all been assigned to the same quarters. None of them had met before. Starbuck and Boomer bonded over a mutual love of Pyramid and had undertaken to teach the game to Apollo. They'd been quite chagrined when their roommate had beaten both of them not long after they'd taught him the game. The three of them had soon become close friends. After two yahrens, the upperclass cadets were allowed to share quarters with just one other cadet instead of two or three. It had been hard for the three to separate, but eventually Apollo and Starbuck had chosen to bunk together, and Boomer had chosen to bunk with Jolly, who the three of them were also close to.
The four of them were still close to this day. Starbuck wasn't even sure if he could define their relationships. If asked, he would say that Apollo was one of his closest friends. He'd say that about any of them. He'd even go so far as to say they were as close as kin. But he didn't have any kin, and he didn't know what it was like to have kin. So how could he say that anyone was like a kinsman to him when he didn't know what exactly that meant?
Maybe it was because Apollo was the only one of them to marry, but he'd never felt jealous of the time Boomer or Jolly spent with women the way he had when Apollo had been with Serena, or the way he did now when Apollo was with Sheba. He'd never felt the absolute terror of losing Boomer or Jolly that he felt at the possibility of losing Apollo. Yes, he worried about them, and yes, he'd be very, very sad if anything happened to either of them, but it wasn't the sheer terror he felt when it was Apollo.
Starbuck told himself he was being irrational, and returned to the bachelor officers' quarters.
In his own quarters, Apollo tried to think of a way to thank Starbuck for saving his life. The problem was that he was quite sure Starbuck wouldn't accept. He would say it was his job as Apollo's wingmate and leave it at that. It was true; it was Starbuck's job to keep Apollo safe, just as it was his job to keep Starbuck safe. But he still wanted to thank the Lieutenant. But he didn't know how.
It probably wasn't any use to try to plan any kind of surprise for Starbuck, since he probably had a date. Starbuck never lacked for female companionship. Sometimes Apollo felt a bit jealous when he saw Starbuck with a woman. He didn't know why that was. It was silly, he told himself. He didn't have any claim on Starbuck's time.
He'd always known of Starbuck's effect on women. It wasn't exactly a secret. When he, Starbuck and Boomer had bunked together in the Academy, he and Boomer had sometimes had to cover Starbuck's absences after lights-out when their roommate was on a date. When Starbuck came home with him during mid-term breaks, it hadn't taken him long to get together with Athena. Starbuck and Athena had been engaged once, but had broken up after the Destruction. Apollo had been relieved at that. The relationship had never been smooth, and he hadn't been looking forward to trying to mediate between his best friend and his only sister.
His best friend? Was Starbuck his best friend? It wasn't really something he'd ever spent time thinking about. Starbuck was his friend, certainly. Starbuck was always there. Well, always there except when he was with a woman. Starbuck was his wingmate. Starbuck came to family events with him, which Boomer and Jolly seldom did. It didn't seem at all odd for Starbuck to be at family gatherings. It would be odd if he wasn't there.
His son came in the door, back from Learning Period. "Boxey," Apollo said, "who is your family?"
Boxey gave him a look that said, as it often did, "Grownups ask weird questions," but he answered. "You, Grandfather, Aunt Athena, and Starbuck. Why?"
Apollo hugged him. "Just thinking about things," he said.
"What kind of things?" Boxey asked.
"Things like how lucky I am to have the family that I do."
Red alert sounded. Apollo made a call to Cassiopeia on the Stellar Com, asking her to look after Boxey. She agreed, and Apollo dropped Boxey off at her quarters on his way to the viper bay.
Starbuck also headed to the viper bay. He hoped, as he always did, that all of them made it through this alive. They didn't often lose people to the Cylons, but they did often enough that there was no such thing as a "routine" engagement with their enemies. He especially hoped that Apollo made it through. He didn't worry much about himself. He wouldn't want to live without Apollo, and if he had to sacrifice himself so that Apollo would live, he would do it.
They were relatively fortunate this time. There were fewer attackers than there had been last time, and it didn't take long to dispatch them. Apollo and Starbuck sent the rest of Blue Squadron back to the Galactica while they did a recon to make certain there were no more squadrons of Cylons lying in wait for the fleet.
The two warriors didn't talk much while they were doing their patrol. Their friendship was such that they didn't need to talk. They were comfortable simply being together. Each man let his thoughts drift off. They didn't know it, but they were thinking about the same thing: each other.
Then, suddenly, a Cylon fighter appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. The cockpit alarms in the vipers went off, but they were just a split-second too late. Apollo's viper was winged before Starbuck could take care of the Cylon. But he did take care of it.
Starbuck frantically called to his wingmate on the radio. "Pol! Are you all right? Are you hurt? God, I'm so sorry. I should have been paying attention." He waited desperately for an answer.
"I'm fine," came Apollo's answer. "It's not your fault. I wasn't paying attention either."
"Can you make it back to the Galactica?" Starbuck asked, worried.
"I think so, but I'll have to take it slow."
"Take all the time you need. I'm right here, and I *will* be paying attention. You can count on it." Starbuck swore to himself that he wasn't going to let his guard down ever again. Nothing was going to happen to Apollo on his watch. At least, nothing more than had happened already.
Back on the battlestar Starbuck insisted that Apollo be checked out in Life Centre to be sure he hadn't suffered any injuries. The Captain insisted that he was fine, but he did as his wingmate asked. He found Starbuck's fussing to be kind of amusing. But he also felt something else, a kind of warmth that came from knowing how much Starbuck cared about him.
The two warriors went their separate ways after Apollo received a clean bill of health from the med techs. Apollo had to pick up Boxey from Cassie's, and Starbuck had a Pyramid game waiting for him in the BOQ. "I'll see your for patrol tomorrow at 1300," Apollo said as he started to leave Life Centre.
"Look, Pol, before you go, I just wanted to tell you again how sorry I am that I let that Cylon get past me. It should never have made it anywhere near you."
Apollo squeezed his friend's shoulder affectionately. "Don't worry about it. We've all had times when we've let our minds wander during patrol."
But Starbuck did worry about it. He worried about it during his Pyramid game, so much that he folded before he'd been playing long. He retired to his bunk, but he couldn't relax. All he could think about was what could easily have happened during that recon mission. He wouldn't blame Apollo if the Captain decided to replace him as wingmate. He was sure that Sheba would be happy to get the position. Maybe he didn't deserve to be Apollo's wingmate anymore. But he still didn't trust anyone else to do the job.
After tossing and turning and beating his pillow for awhile, Starbuck left the BOQ and headed for Apollo's quarters. He had to talk to his wingmate, let him know - again - how sorry he was for letting his guard down and how determined he was that it would not happen again. If he had to, he'd beg Apollo not to replace him as his wingmate.
Apollo was relaxing in his quarters after tucking Boxey in for the night. In spite of the close call earlier, he felt good about the day's events. They'd defeated a Cylon attack with no casualties. He had only suffered minor viper damage from the surprise encounter with the lone Cylon fighter, and he felt good after seeing Starbuck's concern for him. He did feel a bit bad about Starbuck's obvious guilt, but he didn't know what he could do about that other than reassure his wingmate that he hadn't been hurt, and tell him that he hadn't done anything that every other warrior had probably done at one time or another. He was just as guilty as Starbuck. It was his job to look out for Starbuck just as much as it was Starbuck's to look out for him. That Cylon could have taken out either of them. It was just dumb luck that it had been him. He didn't blame Starbuck, and he wished that Starbuck wouldn't blame himself.
While he was sitting there, Apollo heard the door chime sound. He got up to answer it and was surprised to find Starbuck standing there. He ushered him in, asking, "What brings you here?"
"I want to talk about what happened today," Starbuck said.
Apollo sighed inwardly. He'd been afraid of this. "What happened today was that you saved my life, remember?"
Starbuck bowed his head. "But not long after that, I put you in danger. I lost concentration. I was daydreaming. I shouldn't have been."
"All that happened was a little minor damage to my viper. Not a big deal."
"It could have been!" Starbuck realized he was shouting, and he lowered his voice. "It could have been a lot worse." He sighed. "You have every right to replace me as your wingmate,."
"But I don't want to replace you," Apollo told him. "You're the best wingmate anyone could have. I'm damn lucky to have you."
Starbuck shook his head. "I put you in danger," he repeated. "I was careless. Do you understand, Apollo? Careless. But I promise that I won't ever be that careless again."
Apollo stepped into his friend's space and put his hands on the other man's shoulders. "I am not going to replace you. I was just as careless as you were. I'm supposed to look out for you too, remember."
Starbuck relaxed just a little. "You always do, Pol. I know that you say we were both careless, that we both got a bit complacent. But I still feel guilty."
"I don't know what to say to you, Star. I don't know how to take that guilt away from you. What can I do? What do you want from me?"
"I want to marry you." The words were out before Starbuck realized it. He hadn't even known that was what he wanted until he said it.
Stunned, Apollo stammered, "You-you want to marry me? M-marry? But - but why?"
The look on Starbuck's face was one of great seriousness and concentration. He had never put these feelings into words before, and he had a struggle to articulate what had been running through his mind all day. "Because I can't imagine my life without you in it."
"But I'm already in your life. We see each other every day."
Starbuck shook his head. "That's not what I mean. When you were engaged to Serena, and when you married her, I felt.... I felt left out. Like you weren't there anymore. I was jealous. Now you're with Sheba, and I feel the same as I did then. I don't want to share you. I don't want us to go our separate ways when patrol is finished. I don't want you to go home to Sheba, or to anyone else. Anyone else but me, that is. I want to share your life. I want you to share mine. And yes, that includes sharing a bed. But most of all, I want to marry you because I love you."
Stunned, Apollo was silent for several moments. He didn't know what to say. He'd been thinking similar thoughts to the ones Starbuck had just expressed, but hadn't yet decided how, or even if, to act on them. He was so lost in thought that he almost didn't hear his wingmate's next words.
"Pol? I guess I kind of surprised you. I'm sorry if I've made you uncomfortable in any way. I'll.... I'll leave you alone for awhile until you've had some time to think."
Apollo was snapped abruptly back to the present. "Wait, Star! Don't leave!" But he was too late. Starbuck had already left. Apollo quickly grabbed the Stellar Com.
"Athena? Thank the Lords you're off duty. Look, could you come to my quarters and stay with Boxey for just a few centons? Please? It's important. You will? Thee, I owe you one. No, I owe you several. Thank you so much."
As soon as his sister arrived, Apollo was out the door. He apologized to her for not having an explanation to give her, but promised her that she would get one, just not right now.
Apollo realized that he didn't actually know where Starbuck had gone. He could only guess. He decided to try the Bachelor Officers Quarters first. No luck there. His next try was the Officers Club. Sure enough, there was Starbuck, sitting at the bar. He slid in to the seat next to him.
Starbuck was surprised to see Apollo come into the OC. "Apollo, you didn't have to come after me," he protested. "I know you weren't expecting to hear what I had to say. I didn't even know I was going to say it. You don't have to do anything. Nothing has to change. We can still be friends - can't we? We can still be wingmates. We can...." His next words were cut off by a firm kiss from Apollo, much to the surprise of the other officers present.
"Yes, I will marry you," Apollo said when the kiss was finished.
And they lived happily ever after.