Apollo looked over the list of warriors who had applied to take shore leave this secton. It was a routine check; the members of his squadron knew better to ask for leave when it wasn't coming to them.
That was why it was such a surprise to see Starbuck's name on the list.
He checked the duty logs. Yes, Starbuck did have leave coming. Apollo's surprise was because Starbuck hadn't taken leave separately from him since they'd become lovers almost a yahren ago. They scheduled their furlons to coincide -- not a difficult task, since it was part of Apollo's duties as Strike Captain to schedule leave.
The Captain sat back and thought for a few centons. Maybe he was over-reacting. Maybe Starbuck had something planned and was counting on him to schedule a furlon of his own so that they could go together. Having Starbuck as his lover had loosened him up considerably; before he and Starbuck had become lovers, Apollo had seldom taken any kind of holiday or leave, and because of that he had a fair bit of time saved up.
Probably the Lieutenant had just forgotten to mention his leave application. Apollo would bring it up tonight at dinner.
Dinner was in Apollo's quarters. After Boxey excused himself to go do his homework, Apollo brought up the subject of shore leave.
Starbuck avoided his lover's gaze. "Oh, yeah. That. I meant to mention it. I forgot. But I do have the time coming, right?"
"Of course. So do I. Were you planning to ask me to come with you?"
"Well, actually," Starbuck hedged, "I wanted the time alone."
"Alone?" Apollo asked in astonishment. "We always spend our furlons together."
"For once I want some time to myself."
Starbuck refused to look at him. "I just need to think about some things for a little while."
Apollo asked: "Is everything all right?" Meaning: are we all right?
"I don't know," Starbuck said.
"I could deny you leave," Apollo threatened, desperate to hang on to Starbuck. He didn't know what would happen when Starbuck took that leave, and he didn't want to find out.
His partner glared at him angrily. "You could, but if you did, I would just go to Colonel Tigh and tell him that you are denying me leave when I am entitled to it." Getting up from the table, he said, "I'm going to say goodnight to Boxey, and then I'm going back to the Bachelor Officers Quarters."
"You don't have to leave yet," Apollo said, jumping up after him.
"I think I do," Starbuck replied. "It's for the best."
After he said goodnight to Boxey, Starbuck headed for the door. Just as he reached it, he turned to his lover. "I just need some time, Apollo. That's all. I'm coming back." He wanted to say, "I'm not leaving you for good," but he wasn't completely sure of that.
Starbuck knew that as long as he was with Apollo he wouldn't be able to think clearly, so he needed this time alone. He needed to think about their relationship very seriously. He needed to figure out what Apollo was to him. Was he a friend he slept with once in awhile, or was he more than that? Were they actually lovers, or just sex partners?
Most importantly, did he love Apollo?
"Is my leave approved, Captain?" Starbuck asked.
"Yes," Apollo answered reluctantly. "Where are you going?"
"There's a rather nice moon just a few parsecs from here. It can support human life quite easily; it has an oxygen atmosphere, some nice plants and streams, some mountains. There are a few people going. A shuttle's taking all of us there tomorrow morning."
"When are you coming back?" Apollo wanted to know.
"A few days, maybe a secton," Starbuck answered vaguely. 'Whenever I have things figured out,' he thought.
"I wish you weren't going."
"I have to, Apollo. I need..."
"...time. I know. What I don't know is what you need time for."
"To think," Starbuck replied. "Goodbye, Apollo."
"Can I see you off in the morning?" Apollo asked.
"I'd rather you didn't."
Apollo sighed. "All right. Take care, Starbuck." He didn't say, 'I love you.' But he wanted to.
The next morning Apollo went to the shuttle bay, even though Starbuck had told him not to come. Starbuck didn't have to see him, but he wanted to see Starbuck.
What he saw, however, was something he was not prepared for. Cassiopeia was getting on the shuttle with Starbuck.
Apollo felt sick. How could Starbuck be doing this? They had made no promises of exclusiveness, he realized, but he'd always expected Starbuck to be faithful to him. Maybe he shouldn't have expected it. As Starbuck's best friend, he was well aware of the Lieutenant's history when it came to romance. He wanted to say something, anything, to stop Starbuck from leaving with Cassie. He wanted to stop the shuttle from taking off. But he wouldn't. He had no claims on Starbuck, he realized. All they were to each other was two people who shared a bed once in awhile. They had never made any promises to each other.
Does she love you the way I love you, Starbuck? Apollo wondered. Has she missed you since you've been with me? Or have you been seeing her all along?
Feeling devastated, Apollo returned to his quarters.
When the shuttle arrived at its destination, the passengers disembarked and began to set up camp. For safety, and for ease of communication with each other and with the Galactica, they set up their tents around a central, common area, which was where they kept emergency supplies, in case they got cut off from the battlestar for any reason -- a medical kit and a radio. The tents were situated far enough away from each other for privacy and close enough for safety. Cassiopeia had made a point of mentioning that she was on holiday, but that she would help out in an emergency.
Cassie had also made a point of staying clear of Starbuck. She knew that he and Apollo were together. Starbuck had never actually, officially, broken things off with her. She'd forgiven him for that long ago, but she could tell that Starbuck was still uncomfortable around her.
A few days after Starbuck and the other vacationers had left, the Galactica's bridge crew saw something on their long-range sensors: Cylons. Omega alerted the Commander.
"Where are they going?" Adama asked. "They don't appear to be heading for us."
Omega keyed the trajectory of the Centurions' ships into the computer. Then his face blanched. "Commander, they're heading for the planet's moon. Lieutenant Starbuck, Cassiopeia and several others are down there."
Adama immediately ordered vipers to scramble, but then Omega had more information to give him. "Sir, more Cylon fighters are heading for the fleet. They'll be here any micron."
"Can we still send Vipers to the moon?" the Commander asked.
"Even if they get past the Cylons heading for the fleet, they won't get there in time," Omega told him.
Adama turned away for a micron to compose himself. "Send a message to the people on the moon. Tell them that the fleet is under attack, and that Cylons are heading in their direction. Hopefully they'll be able to take cover. Maybe some of them will survive."
On the moon, Starbuck was the first to hear the radio signal. He left the fire, where he'd been cooking his lunch, and went to answer it.
"The Galactica is under attack," Omega's voice said from the radio. Then, before Starbuck could hear the rest of the message, the first shot from the attacking Cylons just missed the camp.
"Take cover!" the Lieutenant yelled as he dove for cover himself. Just as he jumped, he saw one of the other warriors from the camp fall, having been hit by a piece of debris. Cassie immediately started toward him.
Starbuck jumped up and ran toward her. "Cassie, don't!"
"He's hurt!" Cassie yelled back. "He needs a medic!"
Starbuck reached Cassiopeia and pushed her away from the wounded man. "I'll take care of him," he said, yelling for the others to head to the nearby mountains, where he hoped the Cylon ships would have more trouble finding them. When they were all heading in the direction of the mountains, Starbuck went back to help the injured man. Just as he reached him, he was struck a glancing blow from a laser bolt and went down himself. Picking himself up and ignoring the pain, he grabbed the medical kit, pulled the other man over his shoulders and headed, limping, for the mountains.
The group had managed to find a cave, and Cassie set up a makeshift medical station with the med kit Starbuck had managed to rescue. She tended to Starbuck's injuries and those of the man he'd saved. When he'd been patched up -- as much as Cassie could patch him up, anyway -- Starbuck made certain that everyone else was all right.
"Is the Galactica all right?" someone asked.
The last Starbuck had heard from the radio was that the battlestar had been under attack. "I don't know," he said. "But we have some fine warriors" -- he thought of Apollo when he said that -- "so I'm sure she'll be fine." He didn't let on that he was worried sick about his wingmate being up there fighting the Cylons without him.
"Well, when the metalheads are gone, we can radio the Galactica and find out," another suggested.
"No radio," Starbuck answered. "I couldn't carry it as well as the medical kit, and I doubt there's going to be anything left of the camp by the time the Cylons are through."
"No radio? But how will the shuttle find us here in these caves? Assuming the Galactica is still there to send a shuttle."
"They'll find us," Starbuck said. Apollo will find us. As soon as he's finished off the Cylons, he'll come looking for me. He won't give up until he finds me. He knew that Apollo would search for him, because Apollo loved him. There was no doubt in his mind that Apollo loved him. But he hadn't been so certain that he loved Apollo as anything more than his best friend, which was why he'd taken this furlon: to think about his feelings for Apollo.
The group spent the night in the cave, and the next morning, after making sure the Cylons were gone, Starbuck decided to go look at the remains of the camp. "There's a chance the radio will still be there. Don't get your hopes up, though."
Meanwhile, back on the battlestar, the Commander ordered Omega to maintain radio silence. The Cylon attack had been pushed back, but it was possible that there were more ships just outside scanner range, waiting to attack. All they would need would be a signal: the Galactica coming within their scanner range, or a radio signal that they could follow to the fleet's location.
Apollo was there on the bridge with him. "What about the people down there on the moon?" he asked. "They're going to be waiting to hear from us. How will we contact them? When can we send a shuttle to pick them up?" What about Starbuck?
Adama turned to his son. "Apollo, it's not very likely those people survived the attack. We ran some scanners over the moon's surface and they picked up no signs of life. I'm sorry, son." He didn't mention Starbuck's name, but he knew that was who Apollo was thinking of. He himself loved Starbuck as if the Lieutenant were one of his own children, and this hurt him too, but he had to face reality. "When I'm sure there is no more threat, I'll send a shuttle to the moon's surface to pick up...." He didn't finish his sentence. He had been going to say "to pick up the remains," but decided against it when he saw Apollo's face.
"No," Apollo said softly. "Starbuck is not dead."
Adama seized Apollo's shoulders and looked him in the eyes. "Apollo, we looked for life signs. There are none. You have to accept that Starbuck is gone."
Apollo gently but firmly pushed his father away. "I will never accept that," he said, and walked away.
Sitting in the Kobolian temple, Apollo prayed. He prayed that Starbuck would come back. Even if it meant that Starbuck would be with Cassiopeia, he wanted him to come back. If he had to, he would accept that Starbuck didn't want to be his lover anymore. All he wanted was for him to be all right. Nothing else mattered.
He would take a shuttle down to the moon himself. He knew better than to attempt it right now; there was no telling how many Cylons might still be in the vicinity. But as soon as an all-clear was given, he would go down there and search for the one he loved. He would not accept that Starbuck was dead unless he saw a body. Even then he wasn't sure he would be able to accept it.
On the moon....
Starbuck limped to the campsite. Cassie had tried to discourage him, but he'd waved her off. He wanted to see if the radio had survived the attack. There was little chance that it had, but there was always hope. Irrational hope, maybe, but hope. He had to know if the Galactica and her crew had survived, and the only way to do that was by trying to contact them.
Amazingly, he found the radio lying in the shelter of a large boulder. It was banged up, but it still might function. Not inside the cave, though; the rock walls would block any signals from getting through. But outside the cave there was the risk of the Cylons picking up the signal and discovering that there had been survivors left from their attack. Was it worth the risk?
No, he decided, it wasn't. He'd take the radio back to the cave, but he'd tell everyone that it wasn't working. If and when he decided it was safe to try to contact the fleet, he'd just say he'd managed to fix it.
He didn't know if the fleet was still there. He also didn't know whether Apollo was alive or not. Even if the battlestar had survived, that didn't mean Apollo had. He was Apollo's wingmate, and he hadn't been there to protect him. If anything had happened to Apollo, he would blame himself. He should never have left.
Back at the cave he explained about the radio, then excused himself and went to be on his own to think. He thought about Apollo, and he thought about himself. If Apollo hadn't made it.... The thought caused him such pain he didn't think he could bear it. He did love Apollo, he realized, and he couldn't imagine a life without him as a lover or as a friend. If Apollo was still alive, there was a chance that he wouldn't want to be lovers anymore, not after the way Starbuck had abandoned him. But he would accept that, as long as Apollo was okay.
He sensed a movement nearby. It was Cassie. She sat down on a rock next to him. "Are you sure it's safe out here?" she asked.
Starbuck nodded. "Mountains," he said. "They'll scramble any signals. The Cylons won't know we're here." Unless we use the radio he added mentally.
"If the mountains scramble signals, how will the Galactica know we're here?"
"Someone will come looking for us when it's safe. Probably Apollo. He'll want to make sure I'm okay. He won't give up until he finds me."
"He must love you very much," Cassiopeia said.
"He does. I love him very much, too." Unfortunately, he was afraid that he'd come to that realization too late. "And if he went up against the Cylons without me and got killed, it will be my fault. I should never have come here."
"Starbuck, because of you, we made it to this cave. You rescued that injured man, and he's going to survive. If you hadn't been here, none of us would be alive. When we get back to the Galactica, I'm going to recommend the Commander give you a medal."
Starbuck noticed that she said 'when,' not 'if.' He got up and returned to the cave. "I'm going to try to get a signal on that radio," he announced. "It might attract the Cylons, though, so I want everyone to move deeper into the cave, as far back from the entrance as you can go."
"What about you, Starbuck?" Cassie asked.
"I'll stay out here as long as I can. If I see any sign of Cylon activity, I'll be back in the cave in a micron. Cassie, can you help Sergeant Tracey?" Tracey was the injured man Starbuck had rescued.
Cassie did as Starbuck asked, and when she and the others were as deep inside the cave as they could go, Starbuck turned on the radio. He had to fiddle with it for a few centons to get it to work, but it did work. Unfortunately, there was no signal from the Galactica. He tried for half a centare, then finally gave up and hurried into the cave.
Fortunately, there was no sign of Cylon activity.
The Galactica had seen no Cylon activity either, and Adama decided it was time the fleet moved on. He summoned Apollo to the bridge. "If you want to take a shuttle down to the moon and look for survivors" -- he again avoided saying 'remains,' -- "you can do so. I don't think there's much hope, but since it means so much to you" -- since Starbuck meant so much to him -- "you have my permission."
Apollo thanked him and called for Boomer to accompany him on the shuttle. He didn't tell his father he'd have gone to the moon with or without his permission.
When they arrived on the moon, Apollo and Boomer took a look around. They found the campsite, or what was left of it. "No medical kit, and no radio," Apollo observed.
"They were probably destroyed in the attack," Boomer commented.
"And no bodies, either," Apollo added.
Boomer didn't mention that a direct hit from a Cylon laser blast could completely disintegrate a human body.
Apollo continued his examination of the ruined campsite. "Blood," he announced. "Someone was here, and was injured." I pray the Lords it wasn't Starbuck.
It was quite obvious that there were no signs of human life in the camp. But Apollo was not ready to give up so easily. He looked around. "Mountains!"
"What about them?" Boomer asked.
"Mountains have caves, and caves are good places to hide from Cylon attacks. They have the advantage that scanner waves can't penetrate them, so no one would know people were there -- neither us nor the Cylons."
"Are you sure this isn't just wishful thinking, Apollo?" Boomer asked. He wanted Starbuck to be alive too, but he didn't think there was much of a chance.
"Wishful thinking or not, I'm going to look for caves in those mountains. Are you coming with me?"
Boomer followed his Captain.
Just inside the cave entrance, separate from the rest of the campers -- voluntarily -- Starbuck had just about given up on the Galactica. It had been a secton since the attack. He hadn't been able to reach the battlestar on the radio, and there had been no sign of a shuttle coming to look for them. Unless the Galactica had sent one and the pilots had left after seeing the ruined camp. That would mean that Apollo was not on that shuttle, for Apollo would come to look for him.
That meant that there was even less chance Apollo was alive. He wrapped his arms around his knees for warmth, lay his head down on his arms, and wept quietly.
Making his way through the rocks and cliffs, Apollo thought he heard something. Looking in the direction of the sound, he saw a figure huddled just inside a cave. Later he would realize that there should have been no way he could have seen someone who was inside a cave, or heard him either; Adama would proclaim this the work of the Lords of Kobol. Apollo breathed the name: "Starbuck." Then he shouted it as he practically ran up the side of the mountain. "Starbuck!" Boomer hurried behind him.
Starbuck looked up; he thought he had heard his name being called. And then Apollo was standing there in front of him. Was it a hallucination?
Apollo crouched down on the floor of the cave next to his love. Starbuck didn't seem to comprehend that he was here. He wanted to throw his arms around the other man, but he refrained. He didn't know if Starbuck was hurt. He also didn't know what the status of their relationship was, now that Starbuck had been gone almost two sectons -- sectons he had spent with Cassiopeia. He tentatively lay a hand on Starbuck's shoulder. "Starbuck, it's me, Apollo. I'm here. I came for you, to take you back to the Galactica."
"Yeah, Bucko, it's me."
Starbuck didn't care at this moment that Apollo might not want him anymore. He wrapped his arms around the one he loved and pulled him into a hug, a hug which Apollo joyfully returned. "I love you, Apollo," Starbuck whispered to him.
Apollo pulled back slightly but didn't let go of Starbuck. He just looked into his eyes, seeing tears there that matched the ones in his own eyes. "I love you too, Starbuck. I love you too."
When they finally released each other, Starbuck told Apollo that the others were in the cave, too. He stood up to take Apollo to them, and winced in pain.
"You're hurt!" Apollo explained.
"It's nothing." Starbuck tried to wave off the concern. "Just a flesh wound. Cassie took care of it for me."
At the sound of Cassie's name Apollo's mood dampened a little, but he tried to ignore it. Starbuck had said that he loved him. That was what was important. And if Cassie had treated Starbuck's injuries, then Apollo owed her a debt of gratitude.
Boomer decided to leave the two lovers alone and went to explore the cave. He soon found the other Galacticans, and they were very pleased to see him. He led them out of the cave, where they were met by Starbuck and Apollo.
"Captain," Cassiopeia greeted Apollo, "Starbuck deserves a medal. He rescued Sergeant Tracey, here." She indicated the injured man she was supporting slightly. "Starbuck risked his own life, and he was hurt in the process. And it was his idea that we hide out in these caves. If Starbuck hadn't been here, we probably all would have been killed."
Apollo turned to Starbuck, who was leaning on his shoulder. "How come you didn't tell me any of that?" he asked.
Starbuck shrugged. "Didn't think it was important."
Apollo kissed him. "I'll decide what's important, okay? Now, let's go home."
"That is the best idea I've heard all secton."
Boomer told Apollo to sit with Starbuck in the shuttle; he could fly it without help. Apollo didn't argue. He sat in the back of the shuttle with Starbuck, holding his hand and just looking at him, trying to convince himself that his lover was really there.
"You didn't tell me that Cassie was coming with you on your furlon," Apollo said a bit petulantly.
Starbuck looked at him in surprise. "Coming with me? She didn't come with me. She was taking shore leave herself, and it was just luck that she was there to care for the injured."
Apollo mentally kicked himself. "I'm sorry. I misjudged you. I jumped to conclusions I shouldn't have."
Starbuck draped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him closer. "I didn't exactly give you any good reasons not to jump to conclusions, Apollo. I didn't tell you that I took this furlon to think about our relationship, and even if I had, you probably wouldn't have felt any better about it." He looked over at where Cassiopeia was sitting with Tracey. "I think Cassie has become pretty close to Sgt. Tracey there." Then he kissed Apollo. "I love you, you know."
Apollo grinned. "I love you, too."
A few sectons later....
Starbuck stood before the Commander in full dress uniform to accept the award for saving Sgt. Tracey's life and helping the others hide from the Cylons. As the Commander hung the medal around the Lieutenant's neck, he asked Starbuck if he wanted to say a few words.
Starbuck looked at the people assembled for the ceremony. Apollo and Boxey were there, of course, and Boomer was with them. Cassiopeia was there with Sgt. Tracey. And all the others who had been on the moon with him were there.
"I want to dedicate this medal to Captain Apollo," Starbuck said. "If it hadn't been for his determination to find us, we would still be stuck on that moon.
"I also want to ask him something, in front of the Commander and our honoured guests. Apollo, will you marry me?"
Stunned, Apollo stood and walked to where Starbuck and Adama stood, as everyone began to applaud. He took Starbuck in his arms and kissed him, to the great delight of everyone present. "Yes," he said quietly, so that no one but Starbuck could hear him.
With a soft laugh, Starbuck told him: "Everyone here is waiting for your answer, Apollo."
Taking Starbuck's hand in his, Apollo turned to face the audience. "Yes," he said.