Starbuck hurried to the bridge, wondering at the reason for the sudden summons. When he arrived, he was told that someone wanted to talk to him, and was shown the face on the monitor.
"LUCIFER?" the Lieutenant exclaimed in astonishment. What could the Cylon want with him? Granted, Lucifer had been almost, well, *nice* to him during the time Starbuck was a prisoner on Baltar's ship, but he knew that Cylons considered humans to be quite inferior to them.
"Greetings, Lieutenant Starbuck," said the android. "It's been a long time."
"Not long enough," the blond man growled.
"You don't sound happy to see me."
"When is a human ever happy to see a Cylon?" Starbuck asked rhetorically.
"When that Cylon has information that may be useful to him," Lucifer replied.
Starbuck noticed the other people on the bridge paying close attention. "What information would that be?" he asked cautiously.
"Information regarding a Colonial Warrior held captive by my people for the last yahren," Lucifer replied.
Now Lucifer really had their attention. This was when Starbuck's talent for playing Pyramid came in useful. It was time to bluff. "I don't believe you," he said. "Cylons don't take prisoners."
"You forget your own captivity so soon, Lieutenant? Or that of your cadet on Arcta?"
The android had him there. During the Thousand Yahren War with the Cylons it had been believed that the robotic race didn't take prisoners because they simply believed humans to be completely useless, deserving of nothing but annihilation. But since Baltar had been working for them, he had occasionally ordered the capture of warriors, who would be tortured for information. Some escaped. Others simply died in captivity, and their bodies would be found inside their vipers, floating dead in space. Starbuck had been a rarity - a prisoner who had been released. No warriors were currently unaccounted for, so who could the Cylons possibly be holding?
"Say I believe you," Starbuck answered. "What would we have to do to get this warrior returned to us?"
"Release Baltar from your prison barge," replied Lucifer.
Starbuck turned to the Commander, who shook his head. Baltar had betrayed the entire human race to the Cylons. He would be imprisoned for the rest of his life.
Starbuck noticed that Apollo had arrived on the bridge and was listening to his conversation. The Captain had lost several family members in the destruction of the colonies, and his wife had been shot and killed by a Cylon Centurion on the planet Kobol.
"No deal, Lucifer," he said.
The android's eyes moved back and forth in his head. "I was afraid you would say that. I suggest, however, that you reconsider."
"And why should we?" The Cylons didn't have any prisoners. No warriors were missing.
"Because if you do not, then your Captain Apollo will never see his brother Zac again."
Starbuck heard the startled gasp behind him. Obviously Apollo had heard. Adama had, too, but controlled himself better; he was the Commander, after all, used to keeping his feelings hidden when dealing with the enemy.
Apollo pushed his friend aside and turned to the face on the screen. "Zac died in a battle with the Cylons over a yahren ago. His viper exploded."
If it were possible for a Cylon to smile, Lucifer would have. "His viper was badly damaged, but your brother is quite a pilot for one so young. He crash-landed on a nearby planet, where one of our patrols intercepted him and brought him to a base star, where his injuries were treated and he was questioned. Baltar believed that holding the son of Commander Adama would be a useful bargaining tool."
"Why didn't Baltar tell us Zac was alive when we captured him?" Apollo demanded.
"Captured? You mean when Count Iblis delivered him to you. Baltar is what you humans would consider to be a gambler. He believes in holding his trump card for as long as possible."
Adama gestured for the two warriors to allow him to continue the conversation. "Lucifer," said the Commander, "why should we believe you? Do you have any proof that my son is alive?"
"Indeed," answered the Cylon. He gestured to a pair of Centurions who had been flanking him, and they moved out of the screen's view, only to return a centon later half-escorting, half carrying a bedraggled, emaciated human wearing the tattered uniform of a Colonial Warrior. He had long, straggly hair and a heavy growth of beard. There was no way to tell if it were Zac or not.
"So you see, Commander, we do indeed have your younger son. And you have Baltar. Now, can we negotiate?"
"No." Adama cut him off. "We do not negotiate with Cylons." He closed the link.
Apollo stared at his father with his mouth open. "Father, how could you?" he cried. "They have Zac!"
"They have a human prisoner," the Commander pointed out. "We don't know if it is Zac. But whoever it is, he needs to be rescued. I assume that you and Starbuck are up to the task?"
Starbuck stood beside his wingmate. "Just give the word, Commander," he said. Starbuck had always felt guilty about Zac's apparent death. He'd been supposed to be flying with Apollo that day, and Zac had begged to be allowed to take his place. Starbuck had agreed, and Zac had been blown out of the sky by a Cylon ship as they headed to Caprica to begin the destruction of the colonies. He knew that Apollo felt just as guilty, if not more, than he did.
Of course, merely deciding to go rescue Zac, or whoever, was much easier than doing it. They didn't know where he was being held, for starters. Adama, Colonel Tigh, Starbuck and Apollo repaired to the Commander's office to discuss plans. Athena met them there.
"What's this I hear about Zac being alive? Father? Apollo?"
"The Cylons are holding a Colonial Warrior as a prisoner," Apollo told her. "They say it's Zac, but we have no way to know that for sure."
"What are you going to do?" Athena asked.
"We're going to find him," Apollo told her.
"And when we do, Apollo and I will bring him back to the Galactica," Starbuck added.
Athena glared at the blond man. "So you're going to be the hero, are you, Starbuck?" she asked in a poisonous tone. "After all, it was because of you that he was captured - or killed - in the first place."
Starbuck blanched, and Apollo turned on his sister. "How can you say that? If what happened to Zac was anyone's fault, it was mine."
"Starbuck knew that Zac wasn't an experienced pilot," she replied, "but he let him take his patrol anyway. If he had simply refused, Zac would still be with us."
Adama stepped in. "If you must blame anyone for Zac's misfortune, blame the Cylons," he told his two children. "It was not Lieutenant Starbuck's fault, and neither was it yours, Apollo."
Athena recognized the dismissal, and left. Starbuck followed Adama and the others into the office. Whatever the Commander said, he knew that he was at least partially responsible for Zac's death, or capture. Perhaps if Zac really was alive, he would forgive him.
Zac had been a friend, but Starbuck had suspected for some time that the younger man had a crush on him. He'd known Zac for many yahrens, since he'd become friends with Apollo in the Academy and his then-roommate had invited him home on school holidays, and then later on shore leave when both were assigned to the Galactica. He had decided to ignore Zac's crush and concentrated instead on Athena. The truth was, though, that he wasn't really interested in Athena. The one he really wanted was Apollo. How ironic that the one he really wanted was the only one not interested in him, at least not that way. Apollo was his best friend, and he cherished their friendship, but he couldn't stop himself from wanting more.
"Starbuck." Colonel Tigh's voice broke his reverie.
"Yes, Colonel? Sorry, I was lost in thought."
"When you were captured by the Cylons, were you able to tell anything about the ship where you were held?" Tigh asked.
"Not really," he admitted. He tried to suppress the shudder that came with the memories of his captivity.
Apollo noticed Starbuck's discomfort and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. He didn't like to remember that time either. They had all thought Starbuck was dead, and Apollo had blamed himself, just like he'd blamed himself for Zac's loss. He and Starbuck had been arguing over Serena's taking Starbuck's place as Apollo's wingmate. Starbuck had stormed off and taken Apollo's viper, saying he was going on patrol, though it was really Apollo's patrol. He'd sarcastically told the Captain to consider it 'a wedding present.'
The Cylons had ambushed him, and the Galactica had lost contact with his viper. Apollo had watched the scanners for centares, hoping that by some miracle his friend had escaped, but there had been no sign of him. He'd gone about his wedding plans on automatic pilot, numb to everything but a deep sense of loss. He'd realized then that even though he was marrying Serena, he loved Starbuck. And when the Lieutenant had returned, seemingly from the dead, he'd felt as if all of his dreams had come true. But he was still married to Serena, and he'd seen Starbuck with Cassiopeia. Surely his friend wouldn't be interested in that kind of relationship with him. So he never said anything about his feelings. Starbuck was still his best friend.
"Maybe we should talk to Baltar," Apollo suggested. "If he's willing to cooperate, that is. He's the only one who can tell us if it's really Zac they're holding, and where."
Adama shook his head. "As much as I would like to go to the prison barge and personally beat the information out of Baltar, he won't tell us anything unless we have something to offer him in return. And we don't have anything. "
"When I was being held, they took me to Baltar's ship," Starbuck remembered. "Surely the scanners can detect a ship that large if it's anywhere nearby."
"That sounds like a good idea," Tigh said. "I'll ask Omega to look for any large ships within scanner range. If he can't detect any, we'll try moving the ship in the general direction that Lucifer's message came from. He can't be far."
Apollo turned to Starbuck. "Starbuck, I know you don't like to remember your time on that ship," he began. "But if there's anything you remember, anything at all, we need to know. It will help us get around his ship without being detected."
Starbuck gave them what little information he had. He hadn't seen much of Baltar's ship. He'd mainly been kept blindfolded when moved from one part of the ship to another. Baltar had alternately had his Centurions torture him and pamper him. It was part of some sort of psychological warfare, Starbuck assumed.
Finally, Adama told his two warriors and his second-in-command to go get some rest. They'd been talking and debating and worrying for several centares. He told them to come back in the morning, when he would have decided then on their next step.
As they left the Commander's office, Apollo turned to Starbuck, noticing that his friend still looked pale and withdrawn. "Are you all right?" he asked in concern.
"I'm fine. Just - bad memories."
Again Apollo placed a hand on Starbuck's shoulder. "Look, if you don't feel up to this mission, you don't have to do it. Boomer can go with me, or Jolly," he suggested.
"No!" Starbuck exclaimed. "What happened to Zac was my fault. And even if it wasn't, I was on that ship. I can help you find your way around."
"Starbuck, first of all, what happened was not your fault. And I thought you said you were blindfolded when you were on the ship."
"I saw some things - a few times I was able to see under the edge of the blindfold; a few times they didn't bother to blindfold me. It wasn't much, but it's better than not knowing anything at all."
"All right, but please, stop blaming yourself for our losing Zac."
"Apollo, I should have been the one on that patrol, not him. I should have been the one who got shot by the Cylons. I should be the one the Cylons are holding."
"Starbuck, stop talking like that. Athena was way out of line to say those things. None of us blame you. The only thing that would hurt more than losing Zac would have been losing you when the Cylons had you prisoner. I thought you were dead, and if you had been, *that* would have been my fault."
Starbuck looked at his friend in surprise. "No, it wouldn't have been. I chose of my own free will to go out on patrol. You didn't force me to or even ask me to. I was pissed off and needed some time alone out there to cool off."
"I should have stopped you," Apollo stated. "You were angry. You weren't thinking clearly."
"And you had more important things to think of, like your wife-to-be, for example."
"No." Apollo shook his head. "Nothing is more important to me than you. Nothing is important enough to risk losing you."
"Apollo, what are you saying?" Neither of the warriors seemed to have noticed they were in a public corridor.
"Star, when the Cylons had you, when I thought you were dead, it was like everything shut down. I couldn't function."
"You functioned well enough to get married," Starbuck pointed out.
"Only because Serena took care of everything. She got everyone together and all I had to do was stand there and let myself be pronounced her husband. I didn't care about her, or about anything, really. All I could think of was you."
His friend gave him a quizzical look. "What were you thinking about me?" "That I'd lost you. That until then I'd never realized that I loved you. That it took your being gone for me to realize it, and it was too late then to do anything about it."
Starbuck's heart leaped in his chest. Apollo loved him? But wait - he said that he'd realized it too late, because he'd thought Starbuck was dead. But he wasn't dead, and Serena was no longer here to keep them apart. "So why didn't you do anything about it when I came back?" Apollo had hugged him with tears in his eyes, saying "I thought you were dead!" But he hadn't said "I love you."
"I was married," Apollo said simply.
"And when Serena died?"
The Captain shrugged. "You were with Cassiopeia. You and she looked pretty tight. I didn't feel I had the right to interfere."
His wingmate shook his head. "Apollo, you're an idiot," he said. Then he added, "But that's okay, because so am I."
"Now what are *you* talking about?" Apollo asked.
Starbuck laughed. He was suddenly very happy. "You never told me you loved me, because I was with Cassiopeia. I never told you that I love you because of Serena, because I assumed you only liked women. I didn't think you could ever love me. How much time have we wasted?"
"Too much," replied Apollo, stunned. "You really love me?"
"I really love you. With all of my heart and soul." He took Apollo into his arms and kissed him.
They stayed that way for several centons until Boomer encountered them. He cleared his throat noisily. "Don't let me interrupt," he said drily.
The two warriors broke apart, embarrassed. "Uh, hi, Boomer," said Starbuck, feeling shy all of a sudden.
"I came to ask how things were going with the plan to rescue Zac, but it looks like the two of you have other things on your mind."
"Just for tonight," Starbuck answered. "Tomorrow morning, first thing, we go back to the drawing board. We won't give up until we find him and bring him back to the Galactica."
"Anything you need, you can count on me," Boomer told them. "Just ask. I'll do anything I can."
"Thank you, Boomer," said Apollo. "I really appreciate it."
Boomer grinned at them. "I think I'll leave you two alone to get back to what you were doing," he said. "I'll see you tomorrow. Remember my offer."
"We will," Starbuck said as he turned back to Apollo to continue what they had been doing.
"No, Starbuck, wait." Apollo pushed him away.
"What's wrong, Pol?" Starbuck asked in confusion.
"You told Boomer that this was just for tonight. Does that mean that tomorrow we go back to just being friends? This doesn't mean anything to you?"
"Oh, Pol," sighed the blond man. "Look, can we move this to your quarters? Somewhere that we can be alone?"
"No," Apollo stated. "I don't do one night stands. I was obviously wrong about you. Goodbye, Starbuck. I'll you in the briefing tomorrow morning." And he walked away.
Stunned, Starbuck stared after him. What had just happened? One centon they'd been kissing, and the next Apollo was walking away. The joy he'd felt just a moment ago was gone, replaced by despair.
Starbuck returned to the Bachelor Officers' Quarters alone.
Apollo went back to his own quarters and put Boxey to bed. Then he sat in a chair and tried to process everything that had happened in a few short centares. Zac could still be alive. How he'd missed his little brother. Zac had always had an obvious case of hero-worship for him. It was why he'd become a warrior. Well, that and their father's influence.
And Starbuck. Starbuck claimed to love him, but had only wanted to be with him for one night. He didn't know what his friend had expected from him, but overnight 'relationships' were not Apollo's style.
But Starbuck had immediately volunteered for the mission to rescue the prisoner, and that meant Apollo had to work with him. How that was going to work out, he had no idea.
In the Bachelor Officers' Quarters, Starbuck tossed and turned in his bunk. What had happened between him and Apollo? They'd confessed their love for each other. He could still hardly believe that Apollo had said he loved him. They'd kissed, then everything had gone to hades in a hand basket. Boomer had made a joke about having things on their minds, and, knowing the importance of the mission they were planning, he'd responded 'just for tonight'. He'd meant that while he wanted to spend this night with Apollo, exploring this new relationship of theirs, tomorrow they had to concentrate on finding Zac. There would be time for romance later. But Apollo had misunderstood. He'd tried to get the Captain to talk to him, but Apollo had stormed off. He hadn't stayed around for explanations.
This wasn't the time to worry about his personal life. Their priority now had to be finding Lucifer's ship, and rescuing Zac. When that was done, maybe then Apollo would talk to him.
Or maybe not.
The next day Starbuck and Apollo tried to avoid looking at each other as they again met with Adama and Tigh. Omega had found signs of several Cylon ships at the edge of their scanner range. "But he doesn't know which one might be the one where they have the prisoner," Tigh added.
"That's easy enough to find out," Starbuck commented. Everyone turned to look at him.
"Scan all of the ships for human life forms," he finished.
"Of course. I should have thought of that," Adama commented. "Thank you, Starbuck." Tigh went to do as Starbuck had suggested.
Tigh was back in a few centons. "There is definitely a human life form on one of those ships. I have the bridge crew following all of them to make sure they don't suddenly sneak away. Now, let's plan our attack."
"I want Boomer to join us," Apollo put in suddenly.
Adama looked at him in surprise. "If you think he would be an asset to our mission, by all means ask him to join us. But why Lieutenant Boomer?"
*Because I don't want to be alone with Starbuck* Apollo thought to himself. Out loud, he said, "Boomer has some unique talents for picking locks and fixing electrical wiring. If we're planning a jail break, I think he'd be useful."
"I think he would too, Commander," Tigh added.
"What do you think, Starbuck?" Adama asked.
Starbuck mentally shook himself. "Uh, I agree with Apollo. Whatever he thinks."
"Very well. Apollo, find Lieutenant Boomer and bring him here, please?"
"Yes, sir." Apollo went to find Boomer, leaving Starbuck alone with Tigh and Adama.
"Tigh," Adama said to his first officer, "would you leave me and Lieutenant Starbuck alone for a few centons, please?"
Tigh did as he was asked. Starbuck wondered why Adama wanted to be alone with him.
"Starbuck, is something going on between you and Apollo?" the Commander asked gently.
*I only wish it were* said Starbuck to himself. "No, sir, nothing's going on."
"Are you sure? I saw the way he refused to look at you when you came in this morning. That doesn't seem right; you and he have always been very close. Since the first time Apollo brought you home from the Academy with him, I've considered you part of my family, like another son. If something is wrong, you can talk to me. I won't tell Apollo about it if you don't want me to."
Starbuck could hardly believe what the Commander had said. Part of the family? Another son? He'd never had a family. He was an orphan. And here the Commander of the Galactica considered him to be like a son. *Better not tell him how I feel about Apollo, then* he thought. *That would be incest.* "I'd rather not talk about it."
"Starbuck, is it about Zac?" The look on his face must have made Adama think it was. "Starbuck, I don't blame you for Zac's loss, and I hope Apollo doesn't either. As for Athena, I can only tell you how sorry I am that she said what she did and hope you didn't take that to heart. You were doing a favour for a friend. Which one of us wouldn't have done the same?"
"One who was better at following rules," answered Starbuck.
"Starbuck, I've heard stories about your days as a cadet. I know you didn't always obey all the rules. You know, I think Apollo envied that about you. He wished he could be less uptight, more relaxed about discipline. And of course, Zac adored you."
"I was very fond of him too, Commander."
They could hear Apollo and Boomer outside in the corridor. "Listen to me, Starbuck," Adama said. "Whatever is wrong between you and Apollo, I hope you can fix it. My son can be very stubborn sometimes. And if you ever feel like talking to someone, I think I'm a pretty good listener."
When Boomer and Apollo came in, Adama resumed the briefing. Tigh had found the ship with the human prisoner, and the three warriors planned their assault. Finally, there was nothing left to do but get some rest before beginning their rescue. Before he dismissed them, Adama had a few words to say.
"Gentlemen, I know that I don't have to tell you how dangerous this is. And I want you to know how much I appreciate that the two of you, Starbuck and Boomer, are willing to put yourselves at risk to find my son, if indeed the prisoner is Zac. I pray that it is, but even if it's not, it's a human and a Colonial Warrior. We owe it to him to try to rescue him.
"Get some sleep, and I will see you at 0800 tomorrow. Dismissed."
Outside in the corridor, Apollo turned to go to his quarters while Starbuck and Boomer started to head to the Bachelor Officers' Quarters. Starbuck stopped on his way, though, and said to Boomer, "I need to tell Apollo something. I'll join you later."
Boomer didn't say anything. He'd heard Apollo's version of what had taken place between him and Starbuck, and hoped to get Starbuck's version later.
The Captain turned to see Starbuck heading toward him. "I have nothing to say to you, Starbuck."
"Well, I have something to say to you. There's a chance that one of us won't come back tomorrow. There's a chance that none of us will. If I don't make it, I hope you do. I hope you find Zac and bring him back to his family. Me, I don't have a family. I know there's no one who'll miss me. If I don't come back, just remember that I love you." And he walked away.
*I wish I could believe him* said Apollo to himself. *I wish he wanted more than one night. I wish I could bring myself to have that one night with him, so that I could at least know what he's like in bed.* He wished that they could spend this night together, the night before they embarked on a mission that could result in their deaths. But he knew that he could never have Starbuck for one night and then let him go. If he went to bed with him, he would never be able to handle seeing Starbuck with anyone else.
Neither Starbuck nor Apollo got any sleep that night. The next morning they met Adama in the viper bay. He told them he didn't have anything to add to what he'd told them the day before, except for "Godspeed."
Starbuck and Boomer solemnly shook the Commander's hand. Apollo turned to do the same and his father caught him up in a hug. "I love you, son," he said. "And if it comes down to a choice between you and Zac on that ship, I won't tell you what to decide. But I've already accepted Zac's loss. I'd rather not have to accept yours."
The three warriors had vipers that had been specially modified for this mission. Each had been equipped with a special, experimental scrambling device that hopefully would prevent the Cylons from picking them up on their radar. Each also had an extra seat added for carrying a passenger.
They maintained radio silence on the way to Baltar's ship. Dr. Wilker had told them he didn't think the Cylons would be able to monitor their radio communication, but he couldn't say for sure, and they didn't want to take that risk. They landed their vipers in silence, and once inside the ship they communicated with hand gestures, speaking only when absolutely necessary.
They crept along the corridors, thankfully not encountering any Centurions. Starbuck led the way to the area of the ship where he had been held. Sure enough, there was a locked room that looked very familiar. "Is this it?" Boomer whispered. Starbuck nodded. Boomer began to work on the lock.
"We don't have time for this," Apollo muttered impatiently. He pushed Boomer aside and shot the lock with his pistol. The door slid open to reveal a young man lying in the corner of the room. Apollo knew instantly that it was Zac. He couldn't say how he knew, but he did. He and Boomer went inside and Apollo tried to talk to his brother while Starbuck stood guard outside.
"Zac?" he whispered. "Zac? It's me, Apollo."
The cadet stared at him without any sign of recognition. He had multiple scars showing through his tattered uniform and what appeared to be recent injuries as well. Apollo cursed silently. Suddenly Starbuck stuck his head in the room.
"Cylons coming! Let's get moving!"
"Zac, can you stand?" Apollo asked. There was no acknowledgement from his brother that he had even asked the question. Apollo cursed again while he and Boomer carefully lifted the younger man between them.
As they attempted to carry Zac to the landing bay, the Cylons closed in and started firing. Starbuck stood at their backs, firing his own pistol back at them. Suddenly there was a shout from Starbuck. "I'm hit!" The blond warrior fell to the floor but continued to fire, taking out the Centurions as he went down.
Apollo stopped to make sure that Boomer had firm hold of Zac, then he told the other man to go ahead while he went back for Starbuck.
The Lieutenant was on the floor, his eyes glazed, obviously in pain. When he saw Apollo, though, he said, "Pol, you should be with Zac. Leave me."
"Now who's an idiot," muttered Apollo as he lifted Starbuck into his arms.
As he drifted in and out of awareness, Starbuck could think of plenty of reasons why he would like to be held in Apollo's arms, but this wasn't one of them.
Apollo carried Starbuck to the landing bay and placed him in the second seat of his viper. "I should fly my own viper," the Lieutenant protested. "The Galactica can't afford to lose any."
"Starbuck," sighed Apollo impatiently, "your life is much more important than a dozen vipers. Now let's get back to the Galactica so I can see my brother."
Starbuck murmured, "I love you, Pol," before he slipped into complete unconsciousness.
Apollo gave his friend a long look before he started up his viper. "I love you too, Star," he said sadly. He reminded himself that this time he hadn't lost Starbuck or Zac, but it had been close. Starbuck had been hurt, and it was his fault again. If he hadn't been impatient and shot the lock on Zac's door, the Cylons might not have known they were there. How could he have been so careless?
When he returned to the Galactica, a team from Life Centre was waiting to take care of Starbuck, having been alerted by Boomer. As Apollo watched them carry his friend away, Adama approached. The Commander had a big smile on his face. "You made it!" he exclaimed happily.
"Barely," said Apollo. "Starbuck almost didn't."
"Apollo, may your father be rather nosy and ask what's going on with the two of you?"
"Then let me guess. Starbuck is in love with you, and for some reason that bothers you."
Apollo laughed humourlessly. "Oh no, you have it wrong there, Father. I'm the one that's in love with Starbuck."
The Commander was puzzled. "Starbuck is obviously in love with you. What's the problem?"
"I'm afraid that my idea of love is not compatible with Starbuck's. His idea of 'love' is the two of us in bed together for one night, and then going out to find another conquest in the morning."
"I think you've misjudged him, son," Adama said.
"No, I haven't. He said that he loved me, then he said it was 'only for tonight.' That sounds pretty clear to me."
"There must be some misunderstanding. Why don't you talk to him - once he gets better, of course. If you love each other, you should be able to work this out."
"The only misunderstanding is Starbuck's misunderstanding of what the word 'love' means. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to Life Centre to see how he is, and to see Zac."
But when Apollo arrived at the Life Centre he was disappointed to find that Starbuck was unconscious, and Zac was asleep. Dr. Salik was optimistic about Starbuck's condition, though; he was expected to recover fully. Zac was presenting a more complex problem.
"He's obviously been severely and repeatedly traumatized," the doctor explained. "Most likely tortured, judging from his injuries. His condition can only be described as catatonic. It's likely he completely withdrew into himself so that he was probably not even aware of the torture anymore."
"Can you bring him out?" Apollo wanted to know.
"I don't know, Captain. I hope that having his family here will help him. And any friends that he has should also visit him regularly. Don't give up if he doesn't respond right away. This is going to take some time."
"Can I see him?"
"Yes, go ahead. For now we're keeping him separate from everyone else in here; he probably hasn't seen any other humans in the last yahren and I don't want him to be frightened by all these new faces all of a sudden. Cassiopeia has been caring for him. She cleaned him up, so he should look a little more like your brother now."
Apollo went to the little alcove in one corner of the sick bay where he found Zac sleeping. His uniform had been removed and disposed of and he was wearing a soft, shapeless tunic and loose trousers. His hair had been washed, combed and trimmed slightly, and his face was now clean- shaven. He did indeed look much more like the Zac that Apollo remembered, except for his being extremely thin.
"Hi, Apollo," Cassiopeia greeted him. "I've just been getting acquainted with your brother."
"Thank you for taking care of him," Apollo said to her.
"It hasn't been any trouble at all," Cassie demurred. "Has it, Zac?"
Zac woke and turned his head slightly to look at her. He didn't say anything, but he did seem to be responding to his name. Apollo stepped closer to him, but Zac cringed, so he backed off.
"Zac," Cassiopeia said softly. "That's your brother. He won't hurt you."
Zac gave the Captain an inquisitive look. "Yeah, Zac, it's me, Apollo. I've missed you."
The cadet seemed to be trying to remember him. He let Apollo move closer. Cautiously, Apollo put his hand on his brother's arm. Zac flinched but didn't pull away.
"Has he had anything to eat?" Apollo asked Cassiopeia.
"Not yet. I was going to get him some broth. Judging from his appearance, he must have been starved on that ship. Fracking Cylons. Do you want to help me feed him?"
Apollo happily accepted the offer. Cassie left for a few centons, and Zac seemed to be unhappy that she wasn't there anymore. He cheered up when she returned carrying a container of soup and a spoon. Apollo didn't know if it was Cassiopeia or the food that he was happy to see.
At first, Apollo and Cassie took turns feeding Zac the soup. But soon Zac took the bowl and spoon in his own hands and carefully raised the spoon to his lips. He spilled almost as much as he ate, but he proved that he wasn't completely helpless.
Before he left the Life Centre, Apollo stopped at Starbuck's bedside. He couldn't resist reaching over and ruffling the blond man's hair. Starbuck had saved all three of them - himself, Zac and Boomer. And he'd been shot while doing so. But even then he'd been more concerned about his friends than about himself.
*If only I didn't love you so damn much, Starbuck* Apollo thought.
Starbuck stirred slightly. "Star? Are you all right? Do you want me to get Dr. Salik, or Cassie?" Of course he wasn't all right, Apollo reminded himself. He'd just been shot a few centares ago.
"Pol?" came a whisper from the bed.
"Yeah, it's me, buddy. How are you feeling?"
"Terrible," came the reply. "Zac?"
"He's here in the Life Centre too. Cassie's looking after him."
"You all right?"
"He's fine too. You saved us, Starbuck. You killed the Centurions before they caught up with us."
"Pol? When you helped me into your viper, I thought I heard you say something. Did you say that you love me?"
Apollo shook his head. "No, I didn't say that," he lied.
"Frack," sighed Starbuck and closed his eyes.
Apollo watched Starbuck sleeping for a few centons, then left the Life Centre. He knew that he'd just hurt his friend. But he couldn't admit to Starbuck that he still loved him. To do that would be to make himself too vulnerable to the man who held his heart, the man who had the power to break it.
Starbuck spent a lot of time visiting Zac, beginning while they both were confined to the Life Centre. When he was able, he helped Cassiopeia take care of him, doing the things that he thought Zac might prefer another man do. He enjoyed spending time with the younger man, and continued to visit even after his release.
As the days went by Salik and Cassiopeia could tell that Zac was beginning to recover - slowly, yes, but he was recovering. Soon he no longer cringed anytime someone approached him, or flinched if he was touched. It was cause for celebration when he was able to let his family hug him for the first time since his rescue.
It was Apollo who eventually realized that Zac might not know anything about the destruction of the Colonies. It was possible the Cylons had told him, of course. Adama decided that he should be the one to talk to Zac about it. Asking Cassiopeia to leave them alone, Adama sat next to his son's bed. Zac spent part of his days outside the sick bay now, but still slept there where his condition could be monitored.
"Zac, after you were captured, did Baltar or Lucifer tell you where the Cylon ships were going when you and Apollo encountered them?"
Zac thought for a long while. "To the colonies," he finally said. He was still having some trouble learning to talk again. He'd deliberately forced himself to 'forget' how to talk so that he wouldn't betray his comrades when the Cylons tortured him.
Adama nodded. "Yes, they were going to the Colonies. Do you know what they did there?"
A pained look crossed Zac's face. "They killed Mom," he whispered. Tears rolled down his face.
Adama took his younger son into his arms. "Yes, they killed your mother. I'm sorry, son. I don't think she suffered."
Zac sniffled a bit and raised his head. "Who else?" he asked. "Who else died?"
"Too many to count, I'm afraid," Adama told him. "If you're looking for anyone in particular, I can get you a list of who's on the refugee ships."
"No," Zac answered. "Just ... just wondered."
One day when Apollo came to visit he had someone with him. "Zac, I would like you to meet my son, Boxey. Boxey, this is your Uncle Zac."
"Nice to meet you, Uncle Zac," Boxey said politely.
For his part, Zac looked quite surprised. "How old are you?" he asked Boxey.
"Six, almost seven," the boy answered.
Zac knew he'd been gone for a long time, but not that long. He looked at his brother questioningly. Apollo suddenly realized what was troubling him, and laughed.
"Sorry, I guess I should be more clear. Boxey is my stepson. I was married to his mother."
"Was?" Zac asked.
"She died," Apollo answered.
Apollo sighed. "We weren't married long," he said. "But she did give me Boxey, and I will always be grateful for that."
Finally, several sectons after he had been brought to the Galactica from the Cylon ship, Zac was released from Life Centre, and he moved into Adama's quarters. His physical injuries had healed, and while he was still thin, he'd put on enough weight to satisfy the medical staff. Unfortunately, his emotional injuries still needed a lot of healing.
This was what brought Apollo to the Bachelor Officer's Quarters. "Starbuck," he said when he saw his wingmate, "can I talk to you for a centon or two? In private?"
"Sure, Pol," said Starbuck. What could Apollo want to talk to him about? Aside from necessary radio communication when they were on patrol together, Apollo hardly spoke to him at all.
He followed Apollo to the latter's quarters. When they were alone, Apollo said, "I need to talk to you about Zac."
"What about him?"
"You know that he went through incredible trauma when he was a prisoner," Apollo began.
"All too well," commented Starbuck. He himself had only been a prisoner for a few days. He couldn't imagine what it would be like to be a prisoner for over a yahren.
"It's because you know what it's like that I thought maybe you could help me understand."
Starbuck shook his head. "I can't help you understand, Apollo. You weren't there. I wasn't there. I know what it was like for me, but I don't know what it was like for him. No one can understand entirely what Zac went through."
"Then how do I help him?" asked Apollo.
"Just be there. Let him know that you'll be there no matter what. If he wants to talk about what he went through, don't turn away. It will be hard to listen to - probably the hardest thing you've ever done - but Zac needs someone to listen. Don't try to stop him from talking. Don't tell him to forget it. Let him know you love him."
"How did you manage, when you got back after ... you know?"
"From being held prisoner? I had someone who loved me here waiting for me," Starbuck answered.
"Cassie," Apollo said.
"You've been spending a lot of time with Zac lately." Apollo changed the subject.
"Yeah. I've always liked Zac. And like you said, I do sort of know what he went through."
"You know, I've always believed Zac had a crush on you."
Starbuck smiled. "Yeah, I got that idea too. Kid has good taste."
"Maybe, if he had someone to love him, it would help him heal. You two could be good together," Apollo suggested.
"I'm not interested in Zac that way, Apollo. The one I want isn't Zac. It's his older brother."
"We've been through this," Apollo said.
"No, dammit, Apollo, we haven't! You haven't listened to me at all. You've never given me a chance to explain. Will you sit down and listen to me for once?"
"No. I don't care what your excuses are. Just leave my quarters, Starbuck. Thank you for the advice about Zac."
Realizing that he'd been dismissed, Starbuck left.
Life went on for the next few sectares. Zac continued to recover, physically and emotionally. His family accepted that he would probably always have scars, both visible and invisible. It was quite possible that he would never fully recover from all that he'd been through. But he was back with them, and that was what mattered. Athena even apologized to Starbuck for what she'd said to him the day they'd first found out that Zac was alive.
Apollo still refused to talk to Starbuck unless he absolutely had to.
Then something happened that surprised all of them. Zac announced his engagement to Cassiopeia. Apollo and Athena were stunned, Adama less so. After all, it was his quarters that Zac didn't come back to when he spent the night with Cassie.
The night before the Sealing, Zac had a bachelor party, and he insisted on inviting Starbuck. He didn't know his brother's history with the Lieutenant, but even if he had, he probably would have invited Starbuck anyway. Starbuck was his friend, and one of the people who had rescued him.
Zac noticed how his brother scrupulously avoided Starbuck. After greeting the rest of his guests, he cornered his friend. "Okay, Starbuck, what's going on between you and my brother? Spill it."
Starbuck clutched his glass of ambrosa tightly. "Nothing to spill."
"There certainly is, Starbuck."
"None of your business."
"Oh yes it is. You're my friend. He's my brother. Now talk."
So Starbuck told him the entire story. How the two warriors had discovered their love for each other, and then his one careless comment had ruined it all.
"Why did you say it?" Zac wanted to know.
"I didn't mean what he thought I meant. Boomer made a comment about our having other things on our minds, and I said 'just for tonight' - meaning that we had other things on our mind at that moment, but the next morning we had to concentrate on finding you. But I didn't mean that I was going to drop him, that I would leave him. Just that we had to get our priorities straight. You know. Work now; play later."
"Didn't you explain it to him?"
Starbuck shook his head. "I've tried, but he won't listen."
"Apollo is ... what's the word I'm looking for ..."
"Pigheaded?" asked Starbuck.
"Stubborn," Zac answered.
"Seriously, Zac, Cassie is a great woman," said Starbuck, changing the subject. "Things didn't work out for her and me, but that doesn't mean I'm not happy to see her with you. I hope the two of you are very happy."
"I hope that things work out for you and Apollo, too," Zac told him.
"I don't think that he and I are meant to be together. But thanks for the thought."
After all of the guests had left and the room had been cleared, Apollo and Zac sat with glasses of ambrosa, talking.
"I feel like I should be giving you advice, saying something profound about what it's like to be married," Apollo told his brother. "But I was only married for two days."
"Can I give you some advice?" Zac asked. "Apologize to Starbuck for not trusting him, and tell him that you still love him."
"Zac, Starbuck doesn't want to settle down, and I don't do one-nighters."
"Apollo, I've known Starbuck almost as long as you have. I know he's got a reputation, but I also know he loves you. I don't believe for one micron that the only reason you won't accept his love is because you think he's afraid of commitment. He explained to me what his comment meant. Want to hear it?"
Apollo nodded, not quite believing that his baby brother was giving him advice about his love life.
Zac explained what Starbuck had meant by his comment about the one night. Then he added, "So, what's *really* keeping the two of you apart?"
"I don't think I could stand to lose him," Apollo told his brother. "I lost him once. He told you he was captured. I thought he was dead, and I nearly fell apart. If anything happened to him, I think I would die."
"Apollo, are you alive now?" Zac asked.
Apollo gave him an uncomprehending look. "Of course I'm alive. How much ambrosa have you had?"
"You're alive, okay, but are you living or just existing?"
This was not a conversation Apollo wanted to have at 0300 in the morning when he'd been drinking.
"Look, Zac, can we discuss this later?" he asked.
"No. One thing I learned from my captivity was that you never know what's going to happen. You can't be sure that there will *be* a later."
Miserably, Apollo realized that Zac was right. "You're right," he admitted. "Continue."
"Apollo, before I met Cassie, I was just existing. Then she came into my life, and it was like I'd been asleep and had just woken up. There's always the chance that I could lose her, like you lost Serena, like you're afraid you'll lose Starbuck. If that happened I would want to have cherished every moment we had together rather than be left with a lot of 'what might have beens.' "
Apollo tried to think about what Zac had told him, but it was late, and he'd had a few glasses of ambrosa. "All right, little brother, you've given me something to think about. Now it's late - or maybe it's early - and you're getting married in a few centares. It's time to go to bed."
"You should be saying that to Starbuck," Zac answered him.
The Captain took a playful swing at his brother and missed. "Definitely too much ambrosa," he said.
When Apollo dropped Zac off at their father's quarters, the younger man stopped him for a centon. "Listen, Apollo, when you sober up, talk to Starbuck, please?"
"I'll think about it," was all Apollo could promise.
Zac and Cassie's wedding was beautiful. Zac stood tall and proud in a new Cadet uniform next to Cassiopeia, who wore a simple but elegant dress. Adama, Apollo and Athena almost burst with pride to see how far Zac had come from the frightened young man who hid in his corner in Life Centre and cringed anytime someone came near him or tried to touch him. Cassiopeia had played a large part in that recovery, and they would always be grateful to her. They also knew that she would simply say that she'd been doing her job and wouldn't accept their thanks.
Apollo, the best man, stood next to Zac and listened to his father as he read the marriage ceremony from the Books of the Word. He remembered repeating the vows with Serena at his side, thinking that the two of them would be together for yahrens. Instead they'd been together for less than two days. He also remembered wishing it were Starbuck standing there instead of Serena, and believing that Starbuck was never coming back. But Starbuck had come back.
What if the next time they went out to face the Cylons, Starbuck didn't come back? What if Starbuck died, or he did, with everything that was unresolved between them? Without Apollo's having a chance to apologize for being a complete ass, and having a chance to find out if Starbuck would forgive him?
He realized the ceremony was over, his father having pronounced Zac and Cassie man and wife and said the ritual blessing over them. It was time for the reception. Apollo smiled. Zac had planned one hell of a party to celebrate both his marriage and his return to the Galactica.
And Starbuck would be at that party. Well, maybe this was his chance.
Starbuck worked the room at the wedding reception, helping himself to ambrosa and dancing with every woman there. Sometimes he glanced at the head table where Apollo sat with his family. His family. Well, Adama had told Starbuck to consider them his family too, and had even asked him to sit at the head table with them, but Starbuck had refused. He didn't want to be that close to Apollo. At least the Captain hadn't brought a date to the reception.
After he'd had enough ambrosa to make him feel pleasantly buzzed without being sloppy drunk, and had danced with all the women at the reception, including Cassiopeia and Athena, Starbuck began to think that it was time to leave. Truth be told, he hated weddings. They only reminded him of what, or in this case, who, he didn't have.
Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder, and a familiar voice asked, "May I have this dance, Lieutenant?"
He turned to find himself face to face with Apollo. Putting on his best Pyramid face, he asked, "Is that an order, Captain?"
Apollo shook his head. "No, just a request." Starbuck almost missed the soft, whispered, "Please?" that Apollo added.
"All right," Starbuck agreed. "You may have this dance."
Apollo took Starbuck's hand and led him to the dance floor. The band was playing a romantic ballad that had been popular on Caprica a few yahrens before.
On the dance floor, Apollo took Starbuck into his arms. He could hardly believe that he could finally hold Starbuck like this, after dreaming about what it would be like for as long as he could remember. For his part, Starbuck enjoyed the dance, but wondered what it meant.
When the song was over, Starbuck reluctantly extricated himself from his partner's arms. He muttered, "Uh, thanks," then turned to leave.
Apollo grabbed him by the arm. "Starbuck," he said in a pleading voice, "don't go yet ... please?" There was that word "please" again. Apollo seemed to be using it a lot tonight.
"Why not?" Starbuck asked, not feeling particularly inclined to stay.
"I want to talk to you," Apollo told him.
"Is there an 'us,' Pol?"
"No," Apollo admitted. "There isn't. But I would like there to be, that is, if you still want it too."
Starbuck was stunned. Did Apollo really mean that? If only he did! "All right." he said, "Where shall we talk?"
Apollo led him to a quiet corner of the room. They sat and just looked at each other for several centons.
"Okay, Pol, what's all this about?"
The Captain took a deep breath and tried to swallow the lump in his throat. "Star, Zac told me what you meant when you said we were together 'just for tonight.' I'm sorry I didn't let you explain. But that wasn't the real reason I pushed you away. It was just a convenient excuse."
"Then what was the real reason?"
"I was afraid, Star."
"What were you afraid of?"
"Of losing you. Both you and Zac were captured on what were supposed to be routine patrols. Serena was killed less than two days after our wedding. I couldn't bear the thought of anything happening to you. After you went missing that time, I thought that you were dead, and I wanted to die too."
"So what changed?" Starbuck asked, a tad sceptical.
"I was talking to Zac last night. He told me that he's afraid of the same thing - losing Cassiopeia now that he's just found her. But he's not letting that stop him from being with her. He said he doesn't want a lot of 'what might have beens.' If I deny myself the opportunity to be with you, it won't add one day to your life or mine, it'll just make me - both of us - miserable. Watching Zac and Cassie getting sealed today made me think of how much I would like to do that with you."
Starbuck tried to process everything Apollo had told him. Did Apollo really mean it? Did he really want to be with him? "Pardon me if I find this a bit hard to believe, Pol," he finally said. "I mean, yesterday you weren't even speaking to me, and now you say you want to marry me."
"You have every right to feel that way, Star. I know this is kind of sudden. I just didn't want to go another day without telling you how I feel. Either of us could go out on patrol tomorrow and not come back. I didn't want this to remain unresolved between us. I love you, Star. Can you ever forgive me for the way I've behaved?"
Starbuck shook his head. "No," he said.
Apollo felt stricken. He thought maybe he was having a heart attack. Or maybe his heart had simply broken in to a million pieces. The word "no" kept running around and around in his head, blocking out everything else. He started to get up and stumbled over a chair that was inconveniently in his way. "No?" he choked out. "Never?"
Starbuck cursed himself for saying the wrong thing again. "Apollo," he said, standing and wrapping his arms firmly around his love, "I said 'no' because there's nothing to forgive. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said it that way. I love you, and I understand why you acted the way you did. Now come sit down and have some more ambrosa."
It took a few centons for Starbuck to convince Apollo to sit down, because he was so happy to feel Starbuck's arms around him he didn't want him to let go. Finally he contented himself with just holding Starbuck's hand. "Did you really say you love me?" he asked.
"I did, and I do. What happens now, Pol?"
"We get out of here as soon as possible, send Boxey to Athena's, and go back to my quarters to make up for lost time."
"That sounds like a very good idea," said Starbuck, giving his new lover a quick kiss.
"And then," Apollo added, "when we come up for air, we tell my family that there is going to be another wedding."
"With Zac as best man, I hope," Starbuck put in.
"For both of us."