Part Three

 

"You want us to what?"

"Just for a few days, Starbuck," pleaded Apollo. "I just need some time to myself, to sort this out."

Starbuck stared at him. "Are you telling me it's over?"

"Gods, no! I don't mean that at all. I love you, Starbuck. It's just that I'm not very good company these days, and I - "

"It's those bloody angels, isn't it? Just what is this all about?"

Apollo wouldn't meet Starbuck's eyes. "I can't tell you."

"Can't or won't?"

"Both, maybe." Apollo's voice was flat.

Starbuck swallowed. This was turning out to be dreadful. Apollo had eventually turned up having taken a centar to get from the OC back to the duty office. He'd been subdued and quiet, offering no explanation and shutting Starbuck out when the lieutenant tried to talk to him. But as soon as their shift had ended, he'd asked Starbuck to join him in his quarters. Starbuck had hoped that this meant Apollo was going to open up at last. He was devastated when Apollo, who was looking increasingly pale and ill, asked that they didn't see each for a few days instead.

"You used to trust me, Apollo," he said sadly.

"I do.."

"Really? And it looks like it!".

Apollo said nothing for a centon, then in a low tone: "Starbuck… Starbuck, I'm just scared, okay? If you find out what I've done…I couldn't bear losing you. Leave it, Starbuck. Please."

"Apollo, that's the most stupid thing I ever heard! Nothing you could do could ever make me leave. You're stuck with me for life - "

Apollo wouldn't let him finish. "I'm not risking it. I know. I know it's not fair on you, not telling you. I should give you the choice, and I'm sorry if this changes things between us a bit. But it's better than what I'd have if I told you."

"You aren't making any sense!" complained Starbuck. "And for frack's sake, don't you think all this uncertainty and the hints about some dark secret isn't damaging us? I don't care about your secret, Apollo, but I do care that you won't trust me. Please, please, trust me with this. I love you. You're all I want, and I don't care about anything else. But I'm getting fed up with you living in some sort of wasteland and not letting me in to get you out. It makes me feel that you don't value me much anymore"

"Oh, it's me I don't value," Apollo said moodily. "Are you going to make this some sort of test, Starbuck? I talk or we're finished?"

"I wasn't going to be quite as unsubtle as that," said Starbuck. "And I'm damned if I'm letting you go. But I won't let up until you start talking".

Apollo shook his head. "And if I do, you won't be able to let me go fast enough. You'll never want to speak to me again. No. This is my problem, Starbuck. I'll handle it."

Starbuck took a deep breath. "If that's the way you want it, Apollo. But you can't just let me into little bits of your life, and close me out in others. I love you, and God knows, I don't ask much, but I do think I've the right to share your problems and help you see a way out of them. If you can't do that, if you can't trust me enough to do that, then that's a major problem for both of us. One that could scupper us making something out of this." He headed for the door. "You'd better give that some thought."

 

 

The one thing for which Lieutenant Bojay usually thanked the Gods, was that while he was often on the same shift as the captain, they rarely shared a spell in the duty office together. He was willing - under extreme and painful torture - to admit that the captain had his good points, but in Bojay's view these were more than counterbalanced by the fact that Apollo was captain at all.

It wasn't that Bojay was ambitious or anything… Oh no. It was just that Bojay thought that he would make a far, far better Strike Captain than Apollo ever could. But for some unaccountable reason, Apollo met all of Bojay's helpful suggestions on how he could run the squadrons better with a stony silence and often, a cold look from green eyes that could look as hard as chipped ice.

Having to share the office and watch Apollo being captain struck gall into his soul. It left Bojay with an more-than-ordinary sense of grievance at the way fate had dumped him on a ship where the captain was the commander's son. Short of Apollo buying it in battle - which, of course, Bojay would naturally regret - there didn't seem much opportunity for advancement.

He didn't derive much comfort from Apollo's philosophy. The captain, too, regretted the circumstances that had prevented his own advancement. If the Destruction hadn't happened, he'd have been looking for a colonelcy after over five yahrens as a Battlestar Strike Captain – a thought Bojay had choked on even if it would have left the Galactica Apollo-free and Bojay's run at the captaincy clear - but the Cylons had put paid to that. He knew that Apollo comforted himself with the reflection that things like rank were immaterial in the fight for survival; he'd heard him say it.

Bojay, whose nature was built on envies and competition, didn't share that viewpoint at all. He was always delighted when it was his turn to man the duty office. Sitting in the captain's chair, at the captain's computer, he could just pretend for a few centars that he was really there by right. It pissed him off to have to hand it back.

But what really intrigued and delighted him this time, though, apart from his chance to play at captain, was to arrive at the duty office within twenty centons of Apollo's departure on a tour of inspection to find that the joker had wrecked the place.

Completely.

And, incidentally, had left another message.

 

 

"I've told core command," said Bojay, as Apollo stood on the threshold and looked around at his wrecked office.

Apollo said nothing, just nodded. Everything was turned upside down, chairs and cabinets pushed over, only the desk still in its right place and that only because it was screwed into the floor. Files had been opened and their contents showered all over the room. The computer sat in the middle of the desk, strangely untouched by the devastation.

The angel was gold again, again the larger size, sprayed onto the wall behind the desk. If Apollo's chair had been where it was supposed to be and he was sitting in it, it would have been directly behind his head, watching over him. Its expression was calm and remote, eyes downcast and pensive, hair rippling back in some unseen breeze.

It was very beautiful.

It made Apollo feel sick.

"It's a hell of a mess," Bojay went on, a faint edge of satisfaction in his tone. "I guess you saw nothing before you left?"

Apollo stirred out of his stillness. "Well, actually Bojay, I just sat here and let him rip the place apart around me."

"He wouldn't have had much time," Bojay said, ignoring the sarcasm and determined to score the point.

"He'd have had no time at all if you'd been here when you were supposed to be," Apollo snapped, unfairly. He'd given Bojay permission to see Salik about a troublesome tooth, knowing that would make the lieutenant late on duty. He wished, savagely, that Salik had extracted the tooth with rusty pliers and no anaesthetic.

"You knew where I was, sir. He left a message. I assume it's for you. I mean, he seems to save his gold angels for you. Your locker... yesterday in the OC... here. They're pretty in gold."

Apollo threw him a dirty look. "What message?"

"On the computer. He didn't damage that."

Apollo turned the screen on its turntable and looked at the message scrolling over and over. He closed his eyes for a micron, hoping against all hope that it was a dream, that the message wasn't there. When he opened his eyes again, the words were still scrolling over the screen, hard edged little black letters on the white screen, sharp and spiky.

With the greatest effort, he managed not to scream at Bojay to get out. Somehow. Instead, he turned the screen away with careful hands.

"God alone knows what that means," he said with a calm he most definitely did not feel.

Bojay looked disappointed, and once more innate pride came to Apollo's rescue. He would not break down in front of Bojay, not if his life depended on it.

"Thank you, Lieutenant. You can return to your squadron. Security will contact you, I expect."

"You sure?"

"I'm sure." Apollo looked up as a large figure appeared in the doorway. "Commander?"

He and Bojay snapped to attention as Adama surveyed the devastation.

"At ease. You found this, I think, Lieutenant?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, you'll find Security Chief Reese on Alpha deck, looking at another Angel visitation there. Please report to him and tell him what you found, and ask him to join me in my office in half a centar."

"Yes, sir." Bojay saluted smartly and left. The glance he threw Apollo as he went made the captain's day for him.

Adama stepped into the room and closed the door.

"Sit down, Apollo. When Bojay reported this to the Bridge, I thought I'd come and look at it myself." Adama looked around the wrecked room. "What's the damage?"

"A mess, but I don't know that anything's been destroyed," Apollo said, trying hard to sound normal. He pulled his chair back into place and half fell into it, sitting beneath the gold angel.

His father carefully put the other chair upright and sat down. "Still getting to you?" he said gently.

Apollo nodded.

"We've talked about this. It's just a co-incidence. You mustn't let it affect you like this, son. It was a long time ago."

"It's not a co-incidence," said Apollo through a throat so dry that his voice sounded strained, even to his own ears. "I wanted to believe that it was, the way you do. But it's not. You heard about the OC yesterday, the message. It was for me, Dad. We both know it's aimed at me. There's no doubt."

"Apollo, no-one knows but us."

"Someone else knows, Dad."

"I can't believe that," said Adama.

"He's started talking to me. The message in the OC yesterday, the message he left in here after he trashed this place."

"What message?"

Apollo turned the screen around again. Adama watched the words scroll across the screen. He got up quickly, came around the desk to put his arm around Apollo's tense body.

"See?" Apollo said dully. "Someone knows. Someone knows I'm the Angel."

Hello, sweet Angel. Remember me? Hello, sweet Angel. Remember me? Hello, sweet Angel. Remember me? Hello, sweet Angel. Remember me? Hello, sweet Angel. Remember me? Hello, sweet Angel…

Hello, sweet Angel.

 

 

Reese, the head of Council Security, was never quite sure how he ought to think about Commander Adama. On the one hand, Adama was a Colonial Warrior, and therefore to be despised and, whenever feasible, terrorised, bullied and threatened with arrest for any trivial offence that security could pin on him. But on the other, he was also head of the Council and therefore Reese's direct superior, and ought to be the object of veneration and respect. Reese usually settled for a demeanour that was half-truculent, half respectful and which left him feeling uncomfortable. He suspected that it left Adama feeling amused.

But Adama didn't seem amused now.

"Anything at all?" he asked.

Reese shrugged. "We've a list of about twenty people who've joined the Galactica in the last three sectars, sir, mainly low-grade support staff. Half of them wouldn't have cause to go anywhere near the troop decks and would be challenged if they tried."

"Let me see." Adama took the list and studied it for a centon. "Hallam - he's the tech who called Captain Apollo down to the hanger on Alpha, when the Viper stores were sabotaged."

"Joined us from the Alcestis about six sectons ago. Nothing against him at all, nothing to suggest he's anything other than a damn good tech."

"He's the right age," Adama said half to himself.

Reese's ears pricked up. "The right age, sir?" he asked.

Adama looked up from the list and shook his head. "Nothing, Reese. Just thinking aloud." He returned to the list. "I don't know half of these people. This woman, Kaye, is a medtech, I think?"

Reese nodded.

"And Barnaby I've met when he's been my duty steward."

"He was duty steward the morning the angel was painted onto the table in the Briefing Room," observed Reese. "He brought the coffee up. But again, there's nothing, no history, to suggest anything against him."

"What are you doing about them?"

"Just watching them for now, sir, and increasing the security patrols on the troop decks. But whoever he is, he's clever and he's observant. He chooses his moment very carefully."

"I've noticed." Adama sat back in his chair, and rubbed his hand over his eyes, a rare gesture of tiredness and irritation. Reese hid a grin. He'd seen Captain Apollo do that countless times. There was a lot to be said for genetics, after all.

"Of course, we don't know that whoever's doing this has only recently joined the ship." Reese pointed out. "They might have been here all along, and only just started this campaign."

"If that's the case, why wait for over two yahrens?"

"Who knows?"

Adama sighed. "Reese, this is getting the warriors spooked and nervous. They're getting more convinced that this is a campaign aimed at them, that someone's going to get hurt if this man - or woman - continues to damage essential spares and parts. We've got to find him. If necessary, check out every civilian on the ship, no matter when they joined us."

"It's a priority, sir, but there's damned little to go on."

"I know. Well, do your best."

It was a dismissal, and Reese knew it.

"Sir," he said, politely and went, leaving Adama studying the list again carefully.

The name Adama was looking for wasn't there. He checked not once, but twice, three times. It wasn't there.

For a few centons he sat still and quiet, lost in his thoughts, then turned to the computer terminal at his desk. It took him several centons to search through the Fleet records. The name he was looking for wasn't there either, not listed in amongst any of the 120,000 survivors.

Which left him with two possibilities.

The first was that the name had been changed. It wasn't unknown. They'd found people in the fleet before carrying names they hadn't been born with: Karybdis, for one, who had almost succeeded in pinning a murder on Starbuck. So it was entirely possible that the ghost who haunted his son had indeed survived the Destruction and had lain hidden and quiet for over two yahrens, building a new life and a new identity, and was now moving against Apollo. For whatever reason, the ghost had decided to haunt Apollo again.

That was a disturbing enough possibility, and Adama didn't like to think of the implications, that this was indeed aimed at his son. He didn't want to think of someone that malevolent stalking his son, watching him, waiting for the chance to harm him, to damage Apollo again.

But the alternative was worse.

Only a few days ago, at lunch, Adama had assured Apollo that neither of them were running around the ship with cans of paint and a spray gun. Since then Adama had tried to avoid questioning what he'd said, had shied away from even letting himself begin to think it, but for the first time he faced up to the fact that that might not be true.

Sixteen yahrens before, haunted by guilt, Adama had despaired that Apollo would ever recover, and for a long time afterwards watched his son carefully for signs of stress or for the abnormal, disturbed behaviour that had so frightened him. But there'd been nothing, and gradually Adama had accepted that although Apollo had changed for ever, had become quieter, more thoughtful and reserved, he had recovered fully. Adama had never forgotten that time - God knew, he could never forget - or could ever quite conquer the intense feelings of protectiveness and guilt he felt towards the eldest child he believed he'd failed so badly. But it was yahrens since the Commander had seriously worried that the stability that Apollo had achieved was uncertain or fragile.

Apollo had not only coped with the tensions and stresses of the Academy and of a demanding career, he'd excelled at both. When so many had despaired at the Destruction, Apollo had been rock steady, despite his own grief about Zac and his mother, and then Serina. And not even the guilt Apollo felt about Zac's untimely death had threatened his balance and control. Adama had had no qualms at all about trusting and relying absolutely on Apollo's rational judgement. Over the last couple of yahrens, he'd come to trust in Apollo more and more, giving him more command responsibility. Apollo had performed exactly as Adama had expected, showing an appetite and aptitude for command that reminded Adama of himself at Apollo's age.

Now Adama went over and over their conversation at lunch, looking for signs and signals that might make him regret the decision he'd made all those yahrens ago. Apollo had been edgy, it was true, but there was little to wonder at in that, given the significance angels had always had for him. Nothing there to make Adama wonder if he'd done the right thing, all those yahrens ago, in suppressing the evidence and wiping clean the records. As Apollo had acknowledged, if the truth had been known, he'd never have been accepted at the Academy. Adama still had nothing to convince him that he'd been wrong to use - to misuse - his wealth and influence to hide the past.

He was still more than half convinced that he was being stupid, that his fears and anxieties were groundless. But he forced himself to face up to the possibility. He laid it all out and looked at it, as coolly and analytically as he could.

If Apollo were ill, was heading for a breakdown through grief and the unrelenting stress, for whatever reason… if Apollo was.. was mentally unbalanced, then Adama could understand that fears and terrors that had lain hidden for such a long time could re-awaken, that these images and words could be some outward sign of inner trauma and disturbance. It was possible, for all Apollo's love for Starbuck, that the relationship with the Lieutenant has been the trigger. The angels had a deep, a very deep, significance for Apollo. If he was losing his grip on sanity and reality, for whatever reason, it might just manifest itself in this way. Just possibly.

No-one would ever challenge Apollo's right to be anywhere on the troopdecks at any time. He had every opportunity to get at the Viper spares, could over-ride the OC security codes, could have trashed his own Triad gear, had had every opportunity to vandalise the duty office knowing that Bojay was going to be delayed. If it was him, he might not even be aware that he was doing it, but might, subconsciously, be providing the cause of his own breakdown.

It made perfect psychological sense.

 

 

"Thanks for coming to see me, Starbuck. Sit down." Adama waved a hand at the chair set opposite his desk in the Bridge office.

Starbuck allowed his body to relax after the salute and dropped into the seat with his usual loose-limbed grace, looking interested, but innocent.

Adama could almost see the thought process in action. Starbuck wondering what the authorities had found out about and were, in the manner of authorities, going to come down on him for doing or not doing or just thinking about doing, and then being asked to sit down... Adama could read the minute changes in posture and expression that signalled Starbuck interpreting that request, correctly, as proof that this wasn't a bawl-out-the-lieutenant session.

Adama studied him for a centon, feeling a little fond amusement at the expression of spurious innocence. Starbuck and Apollo went back yahrens, meeting when Apollo had gone to secondary school when he was fifteen. He'd wanted his quiet, shy, reserved eldest son to make friends, to be more like the average teenager, but the advent of Starbuck had alarmed him. A streetwise, cynical, rule-bending, troublesome orphan wasn't exactly what he had had in mind.

If it hadn't been for the fact that Starbuck, for all the little kicks against authority, was very good for Apollo, able to get behind the barriers and force Apollo out of himself, Adama thought he'd have put his foot down and forbidden Apollo to see Starbuck again. But he'd hesitated, and the next time he'd returned home on leave it was to find Starbuck a de facto extra member of the family, a firm fixture in Apollo's life. And the improvement he had seen in his son, the occasional glimpse even of the old Apollo, was reason enough to accept that. It was reason to welcome it, and Starbuck.

Over the yahrens he'd become fond of the brash young man who hid his own problems behind a set of barriers that were different to Apollo's, but almost as difficult to get through. He had seen how close they were, how automatic it was to think of them together. He wasn't surprised that they'd become lovers. Adama thought that it was only Apollo's fear that had kept it from happening yahrens before, and although he might have preferred another, more traditional mate for his son, he and Apollo had shared some deeply unhappy experiences that had left Adama determined never to be judgmental or demanding, but to accept whatever situation made Apollo happy. God knew, his son deserved it.

"This is a private matter, Starbuck, not work, so you're under no obligation to stay or discuss this with me."

"Yes, sir," said Starbuck with the bright attentiveness that had Adama's smile broadening. Starbuck was the only person Adama knew who could signal, simultaneously, insouciance and insubordination without departing once from correct military behaviour.

"I wanted to talk to you about Apollo, Starbuck, as you've probably guessed. And I'll start out by putting some of my cards on the table: I know about you and him, so you don't need to pussy-foot around trying to keep me in the dark about the pair of you. I know."

Starbuck's jaw dropped slightly. "Oh," he said, for once bereft of words.

"And no, he didn't tell me. I guessed."

"Right," said Starbuck.

"And I don't mind. So we'll start with your relationship with Apollo and my acceptance of it as a given, shall we?" Adama was still smiling slightly. It wasn't often he blind-sided Starbuck.

Starbuck nodded dumbly.

"Good. Then let's talk about Apollo."

Starbuck hitched his chair forward. "What's this all about, sir? He's getting me really worried the way all this stupid angel stuff is getting at him. People are noticing how antsy he is."

"I can't tell you, Starbuck. I've worked hard to win Apollo's confidence and I can't jeopardise that, even for you. But I will tell you it's serious, and he is deeply affected by these angels. They symbolise something for him, something terrible. It's an understatement to say they upset him. This could be devastating for him."

The lieutenant made an impatient noise. "You won't tell me. He won't tell me. So where do we go from here?"

Adama looked down at the papers stacked on his desk, and carefully neatened the edges of one pile that had slipped to one side. "I'm trying to persuade him to tell you, Starbuck. I think if he and you are to have any chance at all, you need to know, to understand why Apollo is the way he is."

Starbuck's frown deepened. "He's always been the way he is."

"As long as you've known him, yes," Adama agreed.

"Cryptic, Commander, and not exactly helpful. And it brings me back to where I was before. Where do we go from here?"

Adama sighed. "I'm an interfering old man, Starbuck. Your relationship with Apollo is your business, and no-one else's. But I know it's important to him and the last thing he needs is to think he's losing you. So I want to ask you to be patient. I truly think he's trying to find a way to tell you, and that he will do it. It's just very hard for him, and he's going through hell at the moment."

"I'll be patient, but you know that he's cooled things off with me? For a few days he said, while he thinks about things."

Starbuck's pain and bewilderment were so acute, so obvious, that for a micron Adama was tempted to explain. "I didn't know," he said. "But I do know he needs you and loves you, Starbuck."

"Not enough to trust me."

"Starbuck, something hurt Apollo so deeply that he can barely talk about it even to me, and I know all about it."

It was as far as Adama dared go, but Starbuck's head jerked up. The blue eyes were wide with shock and a dawning understanding. Starbuck was no man's fool.. Adama shrugged, signalling everything he could without words, giving Starbuck the cryptic non-message that he was sure the lieutenant could decode.

Starbuck didn't disappoint. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and nodded. "All right. I think I can make some guesses." He swallowed hard. "He must have been very young."

"Very young," said Adama, past the lump in his throat.

Starbuck flinched, visibly. "I can't believe he's never said anything to me. But I do know what you mean about when he's hurt. He goes sort of still and quiet and those barriers come down like steel. It's like he's in some sort of wasteland, lost, the way he was when Serina died. I suppose I can see that if it was something so horrendous, he might still be trapped in the wasteland over it, hiding even from me."

"That, Starbuck, is the perfect analogy." Adama looked at Starbuck with respect. "Except that you were there for him when Serina died, Starbuck. You got him out of the wasteland. These last few sectars, I've never seen him so happy. I owe you some thanks for that."

"Me too. I've been happy, too, I mean. He means a hell of a lot to me, Commander, so I'll wait for him to tell me. But I won't wait long. If I have to, I'll force him to tell me. I can't wait for ever. He'll be ill if this goes on."

"It worries the life out of me, too." Adama was carefully stacking his papers again, lining up the edges just so. "Starbuck, I want to ask you something. I know that he's affected by the angels, is rattled by them. When did you first notice that, how jumpy it's making him?"

"When Cree and Meade came to tell us about the storeroom." Starbuck's reply was prompt, unstudied. "The first time we heard of the angels."

"Sure? Not before then?"

"No. Why?"

Adama shook his head, but Starbuck wasn't known as one of the brightest bulbs in the box, for nothing.

"What are you after, sir?"

"What do you think?"

"That you're wondering if he was jumpy before the angels appeared."

"Was he?"

"No. No he wasn't." Starbuck narrowed his eyes at Adama. "He wasn't. What's bothering you, sir?"

"I don't know. He's badly affected by this, Starbuck. He's not sleeping, and he's not eating, and that's a sure-fire sign he's under stress."

"Caused by the angels," said Starbuck.

Adama said nothing. He found he had nothing to say.

 

 

"I don't know why I'm bothering talking to you," Boomer said in disgust. "You aren't listening to a word I say."

Starbuck looked up from the drink he'd been nursing for two centars now. He was trying, without success, to banish the fears that Adama had implanted.

"You were talking about the joker wrecking the office," he said wearily. "Give me a break, Boomer. Everyone's talking about the joker wrecking the office. Can't we talk about something else?"

"You can't blame us for being interested, Bucko. Especially given the message that Bojay says was left for Apollo."

"It had Apollo's name on it?"

"Well, no, but who else would it be for? It was the same as in here. Something about ‘sweet Angel'. What do you think?"

"Boomer, I love Apollo to death, but I'd never describe him as sweet, would you? He's beautiful and he's hot and sexy, but he is not sweet. And anyone that bad tempered is no angel. Bojay's just stirring it, as usual. I wish he'd give it a rest."

"He's told the entire OC," Boomer said, looking around the crowded - and repainted - club.

"He would." Starbuck scowled over at the table where Bojay was talking loudly about the latest and most exciting developments.

"What does Apollo say about it?"

Starbuck sighed. "Boomer, he won't talk about it. You know what he was like when you told him about the angels in here. He really doesn't like what's happening. And if he found out that Bojay has everyone in here talking about him, he'd go spare. He hates it when people gossip about him."

"They will, until the mystery's solved." Boomer glanced up as someone approached their table. "Hi Barney. What can we do for you?"

Barney grinned at them. "A message from the captain for Starbuck. He says he's been trying to get you on your communicator, but it must be malfunctioning. He wants you to join him down on Beta deck, in the hanger."

"What the hell for?" Starbuck demanded, forgetting for the centon that he and Apollo had more than once made use of the shadowy hangers when lust overcame their better judgement.

"He didn't say. But I suppose it has something to do with all this." Barney's hand gestured at the now angel-less walls.

"Now?"

"He said so."

"Thanks."

Barney nodded and moved away, back to the bar.

"Want me to come along?" Boomer asked slyly.

"Gooseberries, Boomer old son, are round and hairy and green. You miss out on all three characteristics." Starbuck downed his drink. "See you later."

"Maybe. But not if you can help it, I bet."

"*I* do the wagering around here, thank you very much." Starbuck grinned at him, and headed for the door.

 

 

"Where's he off to?" Giles asked, joining Boomer at the table.

"Guess."

"Let me see - Apollo calls."

"Got it in one." Boomer finished his drink and looked at his Triad partner expectantly. "Mine's an ambrosa, Giles my boy."

 

 

Unaware that most of Blue Squadron, at least, had a fair idea of his relations with the captain, Starbuck headed up to the main flightdecks, housed in the wings on either side of the huge central engines. It took him some time to reach Beta deck: Galactica was a big ship.

The deck itself was busy, bustling with techs and pilots as one group of picket ships came in from their tour of duty, and another group were taking off to replace them. The ground crews were swarming over the returned Vipers, carrying out the post mission systems checks and getting them ready to be lifted into the overhead gantries and transferred into the immense hanger at the side of the bay.

Starbuck picked his way across the deck, avoiding the worst of the activity. He skirted a pile of bales and boxes of supplies, waiting for the Deck-master to arrange transfer to one of the civilian ships, and ducked into the hanger.

It was a cold place, cavernous, dark and shadowy but for a far corner where a tech worked on a Viper under some stronger, but localised lighting. Starbuck looked at the man sourly. Well, whatever Apollo wanted it wasn't sex, not with the tech watching, that's for sure.

"Apollo?"

No answer.

Starbuck looked over to the tech. "Hey, have you seen Captain Apollo?"

The tech didn't even look up. "Not tonight. Sorry."

"Oh. Thanks."

Starbuck hesitated, then sighed and settled down on the edge of a storage bin, facing the door and readying himself for a long wait. The tech worked away busily, seeming to respect Starbuck's silence and didn't disturb him. The faint tech-y noises the man made as he worked on the Viper were soothing.

For a few centons Starbuck sat lost in thought, staring down at the toe of his combat boot where it was tracing patterns on the floor, thinking hard about what Adama had said. He thought that the commander was over-reacting. Yeah, Apollo was antsy, but there was no way that he'd lost it to that extent. He wasn't mad, or ill. Starbuck thought about Adama's hints. Maybe he'd misread the man? He couldn't believe that Apollo would keep anything from him, certainly nothing important. And if Starbuck's guess was right, and it had affected Apollo so badly, how come Apollo had ever accepted him as a lover? And how the hell did those bloody angels fit into the picture?

It's all such a mess, Starbuck thought, and I was always lousy with detective novels. I always have to cheat and look at the back page.

He shivered, chilled. The hangar was an uninviting place: too big to be comfortable on any human scale, too cold and dark. Even when he and Apollo had made love in the shadows behind the storage bins and most of his mind had been taken up with the giving and receiving of pleasure, Starbuck had always been conscious of the fighters hanging in their storage racks ten metres above his head, silent and shadowy. He looked up at them, just able to make out their black shapes against the dark ceiling.

Enough. He'd waited long enough, watched by the Vipers. He glanced down at his communicator, and raised it to his mouth.

"Core Command, can you locate Captain Apollo for me, please?"

Pause. Wait.

"Off duty and his communicator's on standby," the duty bridge officer answered after a centon or two.

That usually meant Apollo was at home with Boxey. Putting the communicator on standby meant that only emergency calls got through, if there was a red alert or Colonel Tigh wanted an immediate weapons count or whatever it was that colonels needed immediate reassurance about.

"Okay, thanks." Starbuck looked at his communicator in bewilderment. He'd forgotten for a micron that Apollo had told Barney that he hadn't been able to get through to Starbuck, but there was obviously nothing wrong with the communicator.

Something was extremely fishy about this. Very fishy indeed. He wasn't going to wait around any longer. Time to go and find Apollo and get things out in the open with him. And if he was lucky, they could discuss this in bed and get other things out in the open.

Starbuck jumped to his feet. He never made it the door.

 

 

"Hallam! Col!" The Beta Deck-master's yell echoed across the flightdeck. "Get the systems fired up in there, please."

She signalled to the ground crews to start loading the Vipers. Rows of computer-controlled cranes on huge gantries closed their metal arms around the sleek fighters and lifted them up onto the overhead rail, started them rolling into the hanger. The techs and crew walked "their" Viper towards the hanger, doing last-centon visual checks to the underside of each ship, concentrating on making sure that the little fighters were in perfect condition. So much hinged on these ships and their pilots, and both were useless without the techs and ground crew to support them.

"On my way." Hallam quickened his pace, leaving his partner to look over the Red Squadron fighter they'd been checking.

Col jog-trotted across the deck to catch him up at the hangar door. "I'll take the port system."

"Done. And I'll get the lights."

They separated just inside the door, heading for the bank of controls on each side of the door. Hallam set the lighting from the starboard console. It took only microns for the huge overhead lights to flicker into life, and the hangar was suddenly brilliantly lit, the shadows banished.

"Hallam!" Col's voice was hoarse with alarm. "Quick! Over here."

The tech turned quickly. Col had abandoned the port console and was running across the deck towards the still body huddled beside some crates.

"What the hell?"

Hallam hurried to join Col to stare down at the warrior in surprise and consternation. He knelt down beside the body, taking in the blood matted in the blond hair, the angel painted on the floor.

"Who is it?" Col asked.

"Lieutenant Starbuck, I think. Warn the Boss."

"Have you seen it?" Col nodded towards the angel on the floor beside Starbuck's head. "Is it blood?"

Hallam, intent on trying to find a pulse, gave the red angel only a cursory glance. "Don't be a fool. It's red paint. Get a medic, fast."

Col took a few steps backward and spoke rapidly into his headset.

Starbuck lay on his side beside a storage bin, his face covered in blood from the ugly gash on his left temple. The blood was still seeping from the wound, and there was a little pool of it on the floor beneath the lieutenant's head, very bright red. As he knelt beside the still body, desperately feeling for a pulse, Hallam could smell its thick, warm saltiness, the unmistakable metallic tang. For a few microns he thought that the joker had claimed his first victim, then he found a weak, erratic pulse and saw that Starbuck was still breathing.

Barely.

 

 

"No news yet?" Adama asked, taking the seat next to Apollo.

Apollo's face was in his hands, his voice muffled. "No."

"He'll be all right." Adama put his arm around Apollo's shoulders, pulling him close, comforting. "It takes a lot more than this to get Starbuck."

"My fault. It's all my fault."

"Don't be stupid, Appy," Adama found himself using his son's childhood nickname almost automatically, and skated hurriedly on, hoping Apollo hadn't noticed. "How can it possibly be your fault?"

"I should have told him."

Adama rubbed the shaking shoulders comfortingly. "Well, you know I think you should tell him anyway, son, but for different reasons. Starbuck loves you: he needs to understand, and he's hurt and scared by you pushing him away. That's the reason to tell him. But, if you had, what difference would it have made to what's happened now?"

"Why do you think he was the one who was attacked? That bastard's out there somewhere, watching. He must know about me and Starbuck."

Adama scowled into the air above his son's bowed head. There was no arguing with that. Since the message in the wrecked office, he had stopped trying to persuade himself that the attacks were random coincidence.

"If I'd told him, he'd have been more careful." Apollo straightened up, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand. Adama dug into a pocket and handed him a handkerchief. "Thanks," said Apollo gruffly.

"And I thought that Boxey was the only snotty nosed kid I needed to carry around extra handkerchiefs for these days."

"Maybe I'm regressing."

Adama's mouth tightened against the fear that that was indeed the case.

Apollo didn't seem to notice Adama's silence. "What the hell was Starbuck doing down on Beta anyway?"

"Boomer said that he got a message from you to join you there," said Adama.

"From me?" Apollo stared at his father, his astonishment genuine and obvious. "But that's nuts! I didn't ask him down there. I was at home with Boxey and if I wanted to see him, I'd have asked him to come to me in my quarters."

For a centon, Adama warred with the voice that said that a psychotic could forget the injury he caused, could be genuine in his belief in his own innocence, could be two personalities inside the same skin... and then common sense took over. He didn't believe that Apollo could hurt Starbuck any more than he believed Apollo could hurt Boxey. It wasn't feasible. There was fright and fear and anguish in the green eyes that looked into his, but not madness. Apollo hadn't hit Starbuck over the head and left him to die. It wasn't in him.

No. The ghost was back, stalking Apollo, coming ever closer to him. Any relief about Apollo's state of mind was definitely tempered by the fear of what was menacing his son. This was aimed at Apollo, the whole angelic host was aimed at Apollo. The attack on Starbuck made a twisted, malevolent kind of sense.

He nodded. "Starbuck was tricked down there. Someone impersonating you."

"He fell for that old trick?"

"The message was relayed through Barnaby, in the OC. Whoever it was, suggested that Starbuck's communicator was out of order. Barnaby passed the message on in good faith. Boomer said it was so casual it was very convincing."

Apollo gave his father a sharp look. "What are you getting at?"

"Barnaby's the right age."

"It's not Barnaby." Apollo shook his head. "I'd know."

"He could have changed a lot in sixteen yahrens," Adama pointed out. "And Barnaby was there when the storeroom was vandalised, as well as being instrumental in sending Starbuck down to Beta hanger."

"He couldn't change that much. I'd know if it was Barney. Shit, Barney's been my duty steward for the last two sectars. I see him every day. I'd know."

Adama nodded acceptance. "What about Hallam? He's the right age too, and he was around for several of the incidents. He found Starbuck."

"Too tall," Apollo said, no hesitation. "He could change but he couldn't grow taller. And I'm sure I'd know, no matter how much he'd changed. I'm not saying he's not here on the Galactica, Dad, I'm just saying it's someone I haven't seen too much of. If it was someone I saw often, I'd know."

Adama nodded again. "Someone who you might have seen occasionally, but not had anything to do with? We've over three hundred civilians on this ship, and only a few of them are likely to come into contact with the warriors."

"But not all of them could be him."

"True. Reese has compiled dossiers on everyone who's come onto the Galactica in the last three sectars. No one else on that list is a feasible possibility, if you're sure about Barnaby and Hallam. Reese will have to widen the net to look at all of the civilian staff, and I'll give him a nudge in the right direction. Without telling him everything, of course."

"No." Apollo looked towards the closed waiting room door, and sighed.

Adama followed his gaze. "We'll find him, Apollo."

Apollo hunched a shoulder. "I just care about Starbuck," he muttered.

"Yes," said Adama, understanding.

He and Ila had sat in a room like this once, waiting to find out if the son so unexpectedly found was going to live, joy corroded by a most terrible fear. For days they had lived - existed - in a quiet little room in the intensive care ward in the children's hospital, the only sounds the humming of the machines that were keeping Apollo alive and the harsh, laboured breathing, each painful breath preceded by the mechanical gasp of the ventilator in Apollo's windpipe. His son had looked so very small and helpless attached to the life support machines, intravenous lines in both arms. Adama hadn't left Apollo's side for over a secton, sitting stoically through all the crises, seeing the doctors' concern as Apollo struggled to survive, watching the thin white face with its dark bruises and the glazed, unseeing, green eyes. Even now, yahrens later, Adama still quietly celebrated the anniversary of the day when Apollo had finally focused those eyes, so like Ila's, and recognised his parents. Despite all the horror and distress that followed, that was still a day of deliverance that Adama remembered on his knees in the chapel, in grateful thanks.

He pushed away the memories. He still had Apollo. Amid his losses, that was one thing to still give thanks about. And be thankful, too, that his son still needed him.

"They won't be long," he said, and tightened the arm he had kept around Apollo's shoulders. "And we both know how tough Starbuck is."

"There was so much blood," whispered Apollo.

"Head wounds always bleed out of all proportion. You know that. He's getting the best treatment."

"I just want to be in there."

"I know, little son," Adama said, and pulled him in close. "I know."

 

 

Starbuck drifted in and out of the dark for the longest time.

Sometimes he stayed out of it long enough to see Apollo or Cassie, and long enough to try and respond to Apollo's pleas to stay awake. He'd frown and try, once even managed a word or two, Apollo's name. He worried about the anxious look on Apollo's face. But someone was jabbing a long thin knife into his head, over and over, and the light hurt his eyes. Every time he closed them to rest them, just for a micron, he faded out again, his whole head reverberating to the gigantic drum beating in inside his skull.

This time though, he managed it, managed to stay, cranking open eyelids that felt like lead weights and squinting against the lights that were dim enough but which still stabbed painfully through his eyes.

Someone was holding his hand.

He moved his eyes sideways to see. Apollo sat next to him, leaning forward with his head resting on the edge of Starbuck's pillow, obviously asleep. It was his hand holding Starbuck's.

It took Starbuck a centon or two to work out where he was, in one of the small rooms in the Life Centre. Everything was quiet and peaceful and he was just thinking of closing his eyes again, when a soft voice spoke.

"Well, I see you've finally decided to wake up and join us."

Starbuck managed to turn his head. If he did it very slowly, there wasn't any real danger of it falling off. Not if he was very, very careful.

Starbuck was careful. Cassie stood by the bed, smiling, but her eyes were watchful.

"I suppose," said Starbuck cautiously. He tried to lick dry lips, but his tongue felt dried and furred. Horrible. Without him asking, Cassie leaned down, a little bit of ice on a stick in her hands, and moistened his mouth with it. "Wha - ?"

"Let's wake up Apollo and he can tell you," said Cassie, and jabbed Apollo in the ribs in a very unprofessional manner. It had to have broken bones.

Shocked awake, Apollo snapped upright, bleary eyed.

"Hey," said Starbuck, doing the slow head turn back again. It still didn't fall off.

Apollo's face lit up. "Starbuck? Oh God, you scared me." And despite Cassie being there and despite Cassie being armed with a very pointy finger, he leaned forward and kissed Starbuck, very gently. Cassie didn't even blink, just gave them both an indulgent smile.

"Apollo!" Starbuck protested.

"Secret's out," said Cassie. "The way he carried on down here when you were brought in, me and Dr Salik guessed that something was in the wind. You don't get that hysterical over someone you don't care about."

"I wasn't hysterical!" protested Apollo.

"Running around yelling wasn't hysteria? Classic case. At least now I know who I lost out to."

"Sorry Cass," Apollo said perfunctorily.

"Just as well for you I don't bear grudges, How do you feel, Bucko?"

Starbuck raised his free hand to his head, touching a dressing on his left temple. It hurt. "Dunno. What happened?"

"You were found in the hanger on Beta, out cold on the deck floor," said Apollo. "Someone had hit you pretty hard. You've been out of it for thirty centars, all told."

"If we count the way you've been playing around waking up and falling asleep, teasing us for the last ten." Cassie looked intently at the scanner in her hand, and nodded, satisfied.

"He always has problems waking up." Apollo's lips brushed Starbuck's again.

Apollo smiled at him with such obvious love and relief that Starbuck was warmed by it. He'd never had anyone to love him the way Apollo did. But his head hurt and he was mixed up, his sensors scrambled, and he didn't know what to think about Apollo kissing him in front of his ex-girlfriend. In the end, he settled for just staring at them and feeling confused and plaintive.

"You'll be fine." Cassie gave the scanner another satisfied little nod. "You've a severe concussion. Serious enough, but nothing was broken, and the brain scans showed no permanent damage. Of course, you need a brain to damage in the first place."

"Always said you had a thick skull," said Apollo. His free hand stroked Starbuck's cheek gently, something the bewildered lieutenant found soothing, but, paradoxically, distracting. It reminded him of other things those long fingers could stroke.

"Why'd anyone want to hit me?" He pressed his cheek against Apollo's hand. If Cassie was okay about it, he didn't mind, and Apollo's fingers felt nice.

Apollo grinned, but he still looked strained. "We've compiled a list. There's the odd rejected lover or ten, several thousand bad losers at cards… lots of people. Not that we're suggesting that you have any kind of reputation or anything, Starbuck, but let's say that of all the people in the Fleet who might get whopped over the head and you'd be surprised to hear it, you'd be the least likely to be in that company."

"Very funny," said Starbuck when he'd worked that one out.

"We thought so." Cassie bent and kissed his cheek. "You two can have ten centons, then you, Starbuck, need some sleep. Don't exhaust him, Apollo."

"Fat chance with this headache," Starbuck grumbled as she left. He watched Apollo. "Our friend with the spray can?"

Apollo looked away, nodded.

"Oh great. Tell me what happened, Apollo."

"Hallam found you. You were out cold, and there was nothing near you that you could have hit your head on. Someone walloped you with that old cliché, a blunt instrument. He left the calling card sprayed onto the deck beside you. Do you remember anything about it, Starbuck? Did you see anyone on the deck?"

Starbuck frowned. He could remember that the hanger deck had been very quiet, but for the slight noises coming from a nearby starfighter, where the tech had been making some repairs. He couldn't remember anything else.

"Well, I got your message to meet you there from Barnaby - only I guess it wasn't really from you?"

Apollo shook his head. "No. Reese thinks it was a decoy, a trick to get you down there. Honestly, Starbuck, you should have known. Anyone would think that we hadn't spent long rainy afternoons when we were kids watching all those old films on the vid…"

Starbuck felt a brief flash of interest. "The vids where the heroine gets decoyed by the villain with a false message and ends up tied to a railway track with the express on its way? I musta slept through ‘em. Besides, I'm the wrong shape to be a heroine."

"I like your shape just as it is."

"Still love me, then?"

"So much," Apollo said. "So very much."

And Apollo leaned in to kiss him.

As medical therapy, it probably wasn't up there in the handbook, but Starbuck reckoned Apollo's kisses could wake the dead. It was several centons later before he could respond – verbally, that is – after Apollo's medicine had worked its magic. "Good. I was beginning to wonder. Love you too, Apollo, and I love it when you kiss me and you can do it again any time you like, but you don't get out of this that easy. This guy hitting me: decoying me down there means it wasn't a random attack, with him hitting the first warrior he came across. He really wanted to hit me."

"Looks like it." Apollo sighed and grinned. "Why do people think you're frivolous?"

"Because I am?"

"No. You're only ever distracted if and when you want to be."

"Deep. Too deep for me; I have a headache. Are you going to tell me what this is all about?"

Apollo nodded. "Yes. I should tell you. I owe you that much. But not right now, okay? Cassie would kill me."

"When I get out of here?" Starbuck was too tired and headache-y to challenge yet one more delay, one more evasion. When he felt a little bit better he was going to pin Apollo down on this. Preferably somewhere where they wouldn't get disturbed and he could kiss Apollo into submission.

"Promise."

"Good." Starbuck settled back on his pillow, hoping that the softness would soothe his aching head. "Okay, to get back to me being whopped. The flight deck was pretty crowded, as usual, and the picket ships were just coming in. Loads of people would have seen me heading for the hanger. It was pretty quiet in there, but there was a tech working on a Viper at the other end. He must have seen something."

"Did you know him?"

"I don't think so, but I don't know all the techs. I only spoke to him to ask if he'd seen you. We didn't get into swapping life stories. You think he was our man?"

"I don't know. I don't know what showed on the security scanner. I think we'd better get Reese to check him out."

"Reese!" snorted Starbuck. "A lot of bloody good that'll do! Reese couldn't check in his pants to make sure his equipment's still there and get the same answer twice running."

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