Section Eight:
An Officer and a Gentleman


8.1 Reunion, Take 2

 

Adama watched the approach of the Guard shuttle on the main scanners, listening in his headset to the stream of reports from Isometrics assessing the shuttle's damage and capability. Its aft guns were in use, keeping a small flotilla of Cylon Raiders at bay.

"Launch all Vipers," he said, quietly. "They may need a little help to get home."

Captain Simonitz, his Strike Leader, had the Viper squadrons ready to go. The whole ship shuddered very slightly, a familiar little shake as it launched a stream of the deadly fighter craft. The shudder wasn't so familiar though that Adama didn't notice it or could be indifferent to it. He was sending out his pilots and it was entirely possible not all of them would come back.

"The shuttle's increased speed, sir, and changed course two degrees for intercept." The scanner officer leaned over her console and adjusted the fine-tuned focusing. "They've spotted us."

"Vipers will engage in four centons, sir," someone else said.

Adama nodded, resuming his quiet pacing from desk to desk – from scanners to Isometrics to communications to the gunnery officer.

"The Guard ship's in, sir! Down and safe," called the Comms officer.

There was a subdued cheer. The whole crew had empathised with the plight of the Guards ever since they'd been briefed on the mission, and would, Adama thought, have been extremely disgruntled if the Galactica had failed in the rescue. He let them celebrate.

"Good. Comms, get word to HQ that we've retrieved the Guards and we'll give them names and numbers as soon as the battle's over. Then you may make the same announcement to the rest of the crew."

"Sir!"

Adama listened to the short announcement. He expected that the relieved cheers would be echoing around the ship.

"Vipers engaging, sir," called the battle-control console officer.

"Tell Captain Simonitz to clear the enemy out of the skies, please. I don't want them tracking us."

"Done, sir."

Tigh joined him forty centons later. The Vipers were harrying the remnants of the Cylons now, the firefight having been sharp and short and entirely in the Galactica's favour. They'd hardly had to break into a sweat. That pleased Adama, and not just because Galactica's losses had been restricted to four damaged Vipers and three lightly injured pilots. Something in him had resented intensely the ruthless Cylon harassment of the indomitable little shuttle. The Cylons may have been built in imitation of their human enemies, but couldn't come close to understanding the human spirit. He glanced around his quietly efficient bridge and forbore to say so, though. Piety had its place, but he wasn't so hypocritical as to think that place was on his bridge in the middle of a battle.

"Our guests, Colonel?"

"Settling in. Salik's got everything under control with the injured and the rest have been taken to quarters." Tigh anticipated his next question. "We have twenty eight of them."

Adama grimaced at the implied losses: the briefing the Guard had given him was that it was a unit of forty warriors. "Communications, open a channel to Military HQ and tell them we have twenty-eight survivors and we'll have a list of names and ranks to them as soon as we can do it." He turned back to Tigh. "What's their condition?"

"Mixed," said Tigh.

Not the most surprising answer, but not as bad as it might be. Adama dismissed it from his mind for the moment, concentrating on the skirmishing going on outside his ship. Simonitz had things well in hand. He was shaping up to be an excellent Strike Leader.

"We'll need that list of survivors for HQ," remarked Adama, when he considered that the battle outside was effectively over.

"In hand, Commander."

Adama smiled. Of course it was. "I'll talk to them later, when this is all over. Please oversee long-range scanning for me, Tigh. Those Raiders came from somewhere and I don't want a baseship trailing us."

And that set the activity for the next half-centar. The Vipers finished off the Raiders and took on wider and wider patrols around the Galactica, checking for more Cylon activity, while Tigh and the scanner crew swept and re-swept the sensitive scanners over the approaches from Draco-Epsilon-9, looking for baseships. They did find, and sent the Vipers after, a smaller attack command ship – another small skirmish the Vipers took to with relish – but after that, Adama concluded that no baseship was lurking in the immediate vicinity.

"Recall all ships," he ordered. "Helm, set course for Hephaestus. Transit as soon as our Vipers are back."

Across the bridge, Tigh turned from the scanner desk and spoke briefly to the bridge yeoman sergeant, before starting his usual round of the command stations to collect their status reports. He joined Adama a few centons later.

"That was easier than I was expecting," he said. "I thought that an entire Cylon fleet was on its way to Draco."

"So I understand. I can only assume that they didn't think it worth sending any considerable force after one shuttle."

"Just as well," observed Tigh. "Those warriors wouldn't have made it back, otherwise. Engineering reports that the Guards must have had to nurse that shuttle every inch of the way here." Tigh smiled, suddenly. "I asked if it was a write-off and got a very dusty answer. The techs seem to think it a point of honour to repair it."

"As indeed it is. Well, it will keep our techs busy for a day or two, I expect. Anything from Salik?"

Tigh, of course, had checked as he did his rounds. "No change in the condition of any of the wounded. He's still in surgery with one casualty." Tigh signed off a report offered to him by the gunnery lieutenant and handed it back. "I've sent for the Guard sergeant."

"A sergeant?"

"Their officer bought it. Very early on, I think, from what he said when they landed." Tigh shook his head. "The sergeant doesn't look much older than our new batch of ensigns. Ridiculous that he ended up in charge."

"Not that ridiculous, surely," said Adama, used to mitigating some of Tigh's more forceful opinions. "Our ensigns are expected to command troopers, remember, even if we do hold their hands for the first yahren. And the sergeant will be a great deal more experienced than they are, if he's come up from enlisted."

"True," conceded Tigh. "But he looks barely old enough to be out of school."

"The Frontier Guard will be a hard school, I imagine," said Adama, amused. "He's probably exhausted, though. I could have seen him later, when he's had the chance to rest."

"As it happens, he asked to see you as soon as possible. I'm sorry, Adama, I should have remembered. He said he wanted to talk to you about a job."

Adama stared, and laughed. "With Fleet, do you mean? He'd be the first Guard I've ever met who didn't have to be dynamited out of the regiment!"

"I don't know what he meant. He said to give you his regards."

Puzzled, all Adama could say was "Very polite."

"He seemed a very polite young man."

"I look forward to meeting him. What's his name?"

"Guard Sergeant Phoebus."

Adama remembered, very suddenly, the lunch in Jerry's garden and the wasp Zac had trapped under the glass. He had a flare of empathy for the insect, going about its normal life and business, looking for honey and nectar, buzzing people, doing what wasps do best; and Zac comes along with an upturned water glass and there it is, cut off and trapped and helpless, unable to comprehend the invisible, impenetrable barrier between itself and the garden. For Adama, like the wasp, the world went on its way—normal, indifferent, curiously remote and silent—he could see it, but he couldn't hear it or touch it; all he could do was buzz helplessly against the glass, again and again, and try and get back to the outside.

Tigh frowned, looking alarmed. "Adama? Are you all right?"

Adama shook his head, turned away and rested his weight on the railing around the command dais. Tigh stared, the bridge crew stared, but he barely saw them.

Apollo.

Apollo—Fee—was aboard his ship. Apollo was a sergeant in the Guard. In the Guard! Apollo had been trapped on Draco, could have been killed on Draco— He watched his hands clench on the railings until his fingers whitened, welcoming the pain. He raised his eyes to watch the bridge turbolift doors.

Fee was on his way up.

Being the wasp reminded him of what he'd been thinking of while he watched it buzz inside its glass. He wasn't sure things had changed. Waiting for Fee to arrive was still the hardest part of any meeting. It was still Adama's painful experience that every meeting, and the wait until Fee arrived, was as fraught as that first time when he'd stood at the window at Jerry's house and watched Fee standing in the snow while Alex talked to him, low and fast, persuading him to come inside.

Almost a yahren since that first tense meeting. Almost a yahren and Adama still wondered, often, how long it would take, when the painful waiting was over and Fee was finally here, before he could touch his son and do it naturally and easily; to offer a hug in greeting or farewell and not feel awkward and uncomfortable and terrified of a rebuff. He still wondered, often, at what point he would have earned to right to hold his son again. He wondered, now, what he would do when Fee got there.

Then Fee stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge, following in the yeoman's wake, and all the old considerations were suddenly meaningless; worrying about whether Fee would come at all, and longing and yet dreading to touch Fee, afraid of a rebuff—none of this mattered anything at all.

Fee was here, and he was alive.

Adama wasn't sure he really believed it until he saw his son's face, pale and weary beneath the familiar shock of black hair. He heard himself make some inarticulate noise of distress mingled with a relief so profound that his heart was thumping. He covered the few metres between them with far more speed than dignity, not stopping to worry this time about how Fee might react or respond. He pulled his son roughly into his arms. For a micron or two Adama might have been holding a statue, Fee was so rigid and unmoving, then he heard him sigh, gently, and relax. Clumsily, Fee got his uninjured left arm up around Adama's neck.

"It's all right," said Adama, delighted, not caring how ridiculous it sounded. He reached up to stroke Fee's hair and, turning his head, pressed his face against it, letting it blot up the sudden moisture in his eyes. "It's all right. I've got you."

He said it again and again until Fee shuddered and, after one fierce hug, pulled back. Fee grinned uncertainly. "You have no idea how glad I am to see you."

Adama still had his hand on Fee's hair. He could feel the lump and stickiness and Fee was wincing with pain. Alarmed, he smoothed his hand down the pale face, avoiding the long bloody scratch along one cheekbone and rested it on his son's shoulder. Fee let him. "As glad as I am to see you? I didn't even know that you were on Draco or that shuttle or anything!"

Fee was looking better, less harried than when he'd stepped out of the lift and raised uncertain eyes to meet Adama's gaze. "Ah well, I had the drop on you there. I couldn't believe it when Gilly said it was the Galactica coming for us."

"Thank God it was. Apollo—" Adama couldn't help it. All the old tentative caution was thrown aside. He hugged Fee again, fiercely, hard. "Apollo, you could have been killed!"

Fee didn't protest about the use of his real name. "Tell me about it."

Adama laughed shakily. "Have you any idea what your mother would have to say about that? I'd never hear the end of it." He had a hand on each of Fee's shoulders and kept them there, taking one step back to look his son over more carefully.

Fee looked thin and tired. He also looked like he'd been playing mud pies somewhere, unexpectedly reincarnated as the grubby little boy who Adama had lost yahrens before. More worrying, and less evocative of misty-eyed sentiment, was the roughly splinted right forearm. That sleeve was still damp. With blood, Adama realised, when he touched it gently and his fingers were reddened.

"You look terrible."

Fee grinned.

"Haven't we a med tech who could look at that arm?"

"She was just starting on me when your sergeant came. This was more important."

"Hmph," said Adama. He became aware that his entire bridge crew could have given ham-acting classes in how to convey astonished surprise: most of them staring openly, eyes wide and jaws dropping. Even Tigh looked astounded. "Come and talk to me in the bridge office," he said, desperate for some privacy.

He put an arm around Fee's shoulders and steered him to the command dais, and the bridge office beyond. He was delighted when Fee let himself be steered, accepting the touch. Adama paused beside Tigh.

"I think I need to introduce you two properly." He was aware of the surge of pride as he said it, hoping that Fee heard it too. "Tigh, this is my eldest son, Fee."

Tigh stared.

Fee gave Adama an odd look. "It galls you to call me that," he murmured.

"I'm getting used to it," said Adama and reminded Fee of his manners. "You've met Colonel Tigh."

Fee smiled and nodded politely. "Sir."

Tigh blinked, but he was a damned good exec, used to dealing with the unexpected, and he recovered well. "Your son? I didn't realise."

"The black sheep of the family, of course," said Fee.

Adama still had an arm around Fee's shoulders. He felt them stiffen, and hoped he was the only one to recognise the challenge in Fee's voice. "Of course," he said blandly. "But a dearly loved one."

Fee looked at him sidelong, a flash of green under long dark lashes. Adama smiled when the tense shoulders relaxed. Tigh looked from one to the other, frowning.

"Tigh, you have the com. I really would like to spend some time with this reprobate."

Tigh nodded, and Adama tightened his grip on Fee's shoulder, urging him on. To his relief, after a micron's hesitation, Fee let Adama take him into the bridge office where it was quiet and private. He pushed Fee into a comfortable chair.

"The Guard!" said Adama. "I don't know what to say!"

"You carried it off well, out there."

"Tigh gave me just enough of a warning." Calmer now, he assessed the damage, taking in the contusions and scratches, the bruised look under the bright green eyes that Fee had inherited from Ila, the only one of the three to look like her. "How bad is it?"

"This?" Fee raised his right arm a few inches. "Broken and painful, and I've more bruises than I want to think about, and I need sleep in the worst possible way. But we made it." He sighed, letting it all go. "I don't mind telling you I didn't think I'd get them off."

"Why don't you tell me?" said Adama. "What happened down there?"

"Oh well," said Fee, and shrugged.

But Adama wasn't going to let that go, not easily. He'd had too many young officers to get through experiences that their youth should have protected them from, but hadn't, to let pretended indifference come up as a barrier between them. "I'm not a Guard, Fee—"

"No. You've never sat in a running-away-area with the Cylons pounding on the door wondering if you'll get your people off."

It was said as a matter of fact, not as an accusation, not scornfully.

"No, I haven't." said Adama. "But I've still been in more battles than you have, you know. I do know some of it."

Fee shrugged again. "It's all right."

"Maybe. I'd like to know."

"Would you." It wasn't a question. There was far too much weary cynicism in the young voice. "It's not very heroic, or noble, or all those things that I used to think being a Warrior was, when I was a kid."

"No," agreed Adama. "It never is. That's the lie we tell, to cover our mistakes."

"Is that the lie you told me?"

"Did I ever lie to you?"

Fee shook his head.

"Then tell me," said Adama.

And to his surprise, Fee did. He blinked at Adama, looking so tired that Adama's heart ached, but he talked. Adama let him, without interruption. He talked slowly at first, picking up speed and vehemence as it all came pouring out, all the people Fee thought he'd failed: Hanson's gruesome death and the long tense siege holding off the Dracks while they frantically repaired the shuttle; the dead and the wounded and the smell and the taste of death like earth and dust; the tension when they took off at last, the rows of still, quiet faces in the dimly lit shuttle, all of them, even the wounded, taut as springs in case the Drack guns got them as the shuttle lifted off, when it was slow and vulnerable in the atmosphere; and then flying through the debris of two ships and staring out at what was floating there by the hundred until he closed down the viewports because it didn't bear looking at, and instead they sat in the shuttle, every ounce of available power directed to life support and the engines, listening in the cold dark to the dead bumping against the hull, soft thud after soft thud after soft thud; the Cylon Raiders that spotted them half way out of the system and gave chase and fighting all the way out, but Guard shuttles are armed to the teeth and the Raiders couldn't get too close—

—but they chased us all the way, Dad, they chased us all the bloody way and they wouldn't give up, they just kept on coming; and we had people who were screaming and screaming until I could hardly think and it drove us all mad so I had to give them everything I could find in the medical kit but Maddy's dead and I didn't know how much, and I think I gave them too much because they went quiet at last, really quiet, but they were the lucky ones, because Mitch's breath bubbled in his chest like a pot boiling when he died and all that was left of Bron's arm was this lump of raw meat with the bone sticking through but Bron didn't make it out of the bunker and I shouldn't have either because I couldn't save her or Mitch or Maddy, or even that dickhead Hanson and I had his brains, his bloody brains, all over me and in my face and in my hair and all over my jacket and I couldn't do anything to stop it and he died, fuck the stupid bastard, he died right in front of me, Dad, with his stupid head blown right off —

And all the time Adama inched closer until he had hold of Fee again. He hoped it comforted Fee and he knew it hid his own exultation.

Dad.

That was the first time, the very first time Fee had called him that since the day Lazarus rose in the Westside café, since Pieter, really. Maybe there was some hope, after all.

He let Fee cry until the shaking stopped. At first he thought that Fee had cried himself into exhaustion, but Fee stirred and twisted in his grip. Adama was pleased when all his son did was sigh and settle back again. More comfortable, perhaps.

"How many did you get out?" he asked when Fee had been quiet for a few centons.

"Twenty seven," said Fee. He rested his forehead on Adama's shoulder while Adama stroked his hair and wondered if the stickiness was Fee's blood or Hanson's. Fee's, he thought, with a resurgence of anxiety, because the rest of Fee's hair was relatively clean. "Thirteen dead, including the lieutenant."

Tigh had said twenty-eight. Including Fee himself, of course.

"You got twenty seven people out. That's twenty seven people who would have been dead, if you hadn't been there. I'm incredibly proud of you, Fee."

Fee flushed. Adama tightened his hold for a micron, then sat back. "Very proud. Why didn't you tell me you were in the Guard?"

Fee actually smirked. "Oh, I don't know. It was a bit funny at the beginning because you just didn't dare ask."

"And you enjoyed letting me wonder if you were still—" Adama hesitated.

"That I was still selling? Yeah, well, I don't know about enjoy it, precisely. I suppose that I didn't feel I had much to punish you with."

"You think?" said Adama, very dryly. "You don't think that everything else wasn't punishment enough?"

Fee frowned. "I don't know," he said, wearily. "I don't know.

"There couldn't be a greater punishment, Apollo." He let Fee absorb this and said, remembering, "You said once, I think, that it wasn't something I'd have wanted for you."

"Did I?"

"Yes. You were wrong there. You said it was honourable, too, and yes, it's most certainly that. It's not Fleet, but I can't think of anything else that would make me prouder."

"Having a son who's enlisted?" said Fee.

"A sergeant," Adama pointed out. "Not bad in— how many yahrens?"

"Three, to make sergeant. They promoted me when I signed on for my second three-yahren term. I've been in four yahrens. Did you ever meet Kes?"

Adama shook his head, although the name was vaguely familiar.

"He's a police sergeant now in the Eastside. He was a Guard, though. He got me in, through the people he knew. They didn't ask too many questions, with his recommendation."

Or knew and didn't much care. The Frontier Guard liked misfits. The Frontier Guard needed misfits. Adama suspected that proof that Fee was no longer using was all they'd care about.

"I remember Alex mentioning him," he said.

"He helped Alex get me through withdrawal. He's okay, is Kes. I hope I'm half way as good as he is."

"You got them off Draco, Fee. I don't think he'll be complaining."

Fee nodded, looking increasingly tired. Adama let him sit for a few centons, knowing what it was like, how draining those moments of quiet relief were, after centars of relentless effort. He looked Fee over. The Frontier Guard. Well, it could most definitely have been worse. Something struck him.

"Zac! In Septimus, when you took Zac to the Military Games, it was to watch you play! Why didn't I guess?"

Fee jumped slightly. He flushed. "I thought he'd enjoy the matches."

Adama couldn't help being hurt. He had seen, and welcomed, the growing affection between his sons but to realise that Fee trusted a child before him! "You told Zac, but you couldn't tell me?"

Fee straightened in his chair. He looked searchingly at Adama, then away again and he said something so very unexpected that Adama was genuinely puzzled. "What do you think Zac sees when he looks at me?"

"Sees?"

"Yes. What he sees and what he thinks."

Adama shrugged. "I think he's pretty besotted, if you must know. He adored you when you were children, and he still hero worships you now. He's still at the age where an older brother is a divine being."

Fee's smile was painful. "I know, and really I'm more of a demonic one. I'm sorry. I know I'm not the best example he could have. I shouldn't let him, I know I shouldn't let him, it's not right… but it's sort of... nice. It's nice." He gestured helplessly with his good hand. "He doesn't know everything, of course. He knows about the drugs but he doesn't know I couldn't tell you how many men there were, not if my life depended on it. He's pretty uncritical about what he does know, accepting."

Although he hoped that Zac was in blissful ignorance, Adama didn't believe it. He thought that if his very bright younger son hadn't made all the connexions despite not having been explicitly told how Fee had survived, hell had probably frozen over somewhere. But he knew it didn't matter, what Zac did or didn't know; just how Zac did or didn't act towards his brother. He'd seen it for himself, often now, the exuberant affection that Zac had for Fee. He hadn't quite realised that the affectionate tolerance Fee had for Zac had its root in such painful gratitude.

His throat tightened. He blinked against the tears and the pity. Poor Apollo. Poor, poor Apollo.

"And you think I'm not, that I can't accept it?"

Fee flinched sharply. "Well, what do you see when you look at me?"

Adama didn't hesitate. "What I did, how badly I let you down." At Fee's startled look, he shook his head. "I see the consequences of what I did and what I neglected to do, Fee. What did you expect? That I'd condemn you for everything that happened to you?"

"I don't know."

It was frightening, that he could be so unsure. "Listen to me," said Adama, in earnest, more in earnest than he had ever been about anything in a life which he was proud of for its honesty and rectitude. "It breaks my heart when I look at you and think about how stupid I was, and what my mistakes cost you. I blamed you for being abused, Apollo. How appalling is that? And everything flowed from that, everything, because you couldn't trust me any more. I do not look at you in disgust or any of those things you're evidently dreading. I'm glad Zac loves and admires you. Your mother and I do, too."

"Oh," said Fee.

"I wish you could trust me," said Adama sadly.

Fee's voice was thickened. "I'm sorry." He rubbed at his eyes with his good hand and said, shyly, "I'm glad I ran into you in that café, Dad."

Adama thought about that, and what, perhaps, it said and what Fee couldn't yet bring himself to say. "I am, too. I thank the Lords for it, daily." Adama took Fee's uninjured hand, and added, more bracingly, because he didn't think Fee should be allowed to get too upset,"I would prefer you to be in Fleet, of course, but I can live with a son in the Guard. Although I'm a bit concerned about ground operations. Ground operations are not precisely what I would want for anyone whose family has been Fleet for generations."

"Forty generations, you used to say." Fee laughed.

"More," said Adama, relieved to hear it. Fee laughed too seldom.

"I'm a pilot too, remember. And a damned good one. It must be in the genes. Remember that every time you worry I might be turning into a mudbrain."

"I'm not going to worry about that. I'm more worried about this, at the moment." Adama tapped the splint very gently. "What happened?"

"A shell hit a bunker. I was lucky. I was standing in the doorway and the beam stopped the crap from smothering me. I got away with a broken arm and a bang on the head." Fee grinned. "Samn swears that only the thickness of the said head saved me."

"Samn?"

"He dug me out. Samn thinks he's my nursemaid."

"Ah, your Triad partner. I remember you mentioning him, that day we went to see Zac's play at his school."

"You don't forget much."

"No. No, I don't." Adama eyed him thoughtfully. "Enough for now, Fee. We're going to Life Centre. If Salik is still in surgery, one of the other medics can see to your arm. And you need something to eat and some sleep."

Fee didn't argue. "All right."

He let himself be pulled up. He was, momentarily, a little unsteady, and Adama was concerned, not sure if that came from tiredness or the bang on the head that Fee had just admitted to. The sooner Salik saw to him, the better.

But there was one positive side to Fee's dizziness: it gave Adama an excuse to hold him again.

He took full advantage of it. And Fee let him.

 

 

8.2 Medical procedures

"Can I call Alex?" asked Fee when he was steady on his feet again and they went back onto the bridge. "We're overdue. I was expecting to be back for my birthday, and he'll be worrying."

"We can't manage a live call. I can't break the rules about private calls, even for you." said Adama, taking him over to the communications station. "But the com desk will send a mail for you. When everyone's had some sleep, we'll arrange contact for all your people's families."

"I'll do it for you, if you like," the Comms officer said, eyes on the splint. "Just dictate the message."

Fee nodded. "Thanks. It's to Doctor Alexander, the Fenice Clinic—that's spelled capital F, e.n.i.c.e.—Eastside, Caprica City."

The officer worked for a micron, getting the right address code. "Got it. The message?"

"Safe and well. On my way home. Love, Fee."

"F.e.e?"

"Yes. Thanks."

The Comms officer hit the send button. "You're welcome, Sergeant."

Adama saw Tigh's eyebrow lift up to his hairline. The colonel was a little strait-laced about some things and Adama found himself stepping forward to take Fee's uninjured arm, suddenly protective. "Tigh, I'm taking Fee down to Life Centre to get his arm seen to. You have command. I'm sorry to desert you, but I'm likely to be down there a while, I think."

"No problem, Commander," said Tigh, in a tone that made crystal clear to his old friend that while Tigh didn't have a problem with being left in command, he'd be demanding explanations about the other things that had surprised him that day.

Well, some things were nobody's business but Fee's and Alex's and Adama would be damned if he let anyone else judge. And if that wasn't Jerry speaking loud and clear from inside Adama's head, then Adama was the Imperious Leader. He was still smiling to himself when he got Fee into the turbolift. He thought it would amuse Jerry, too, when he told him how well he'd been channelled.

Fee hadn't missed Tigh's expression or tone of voice. "He didn't know about me," he said when the turbolift doors closed. "Colonel Tigh, I mean."

"Tigh's a good friend, but no. He didn't. When I first knew him, when I took over command here, your mother and me didn't have you any more. I could never talk about it, never. And this last yahren, well, I've been a little cautious, in case it all went wrong. I couldn't bear it, if it had."

"Uh-huh," mumbled Fee.

Adama wasn't looking for some parallel expression of emotion, but he did notice that Fee reddened slightly. He left it at that. "He's met Zac and Athena, and he's seen all the holopics, but the ones I have of you stop when you were fourteen and, of course, everyone in Fleet must know that I gave up the Atlantia just about then. I think he drew his own conclusions. He's not the most tactful man I've ever known, but he's tactful enough not to mention what he evidently thought was a family tragedy. Well, it was all of that, although not maybe the one he assumed. I'm going to have to be creative about what I tell him, I think."

"You have holopics of me?"

"Of course. One in my office back there, and a whole host more in my quarters. As I say, the last one I have was the one taken on your fourteenth birthday." Adama paused. "The birthday I missed. The one of many that I missed."

"Oh," said Fee. "I didn't notice the holopics in your office."

"No. I don't suppose you did." And in truth, Fee wasn't in a state to be observant. He glanced at his chronometer. It was just after five. "Come and have supper with me later, if Salik says you can, and you can notice the ones in my quarters."

Fee grinned. "Okay," he said, agreeably. "Can I choose the menu?"

"You'll get your favourites and like it. Think of it as a belated birthday feast."

"You missed that one, too."

Adama didn't know if there was condemnation in that or not. "I seems I can't buck the trend," he said.

"Don't worry. I almost missed it myself. It was an exciting day."

They grinned at each other, and Adama changed the subject. "How is Alex? I haven't seen him since that day at Jerry's in Septimus."

Fee frowned. "I think he's overdoing things."

"Then make sure he takes a holiday at Yule. He does work pretty hard."

"Too hard." Fee gave himself a little shake, as if to put it to one side. "He won't while I'm at home."

Adama had come a long way in this last yahren. In Primus he'd been appalled at the thought that his son's lover was a man older than he was. But he knew what he owed Alex, what they all owed Alex. Now he actually found Fee's protectiveness rather endearing.

Life Centre was very quiet. Fee pulled free of Adama's hold and did a silent round of the beds, checking on everyone he could see. The Guards were quiet, sleeping or sedated.

"They're all still here." Salik came out of his office, hands in the pockets of his white coat, his intense face lined with tiredness. "We've still got two on the critical list, and I'm worried about Kerr. I think Private Chloe will make it."

Fee didn't halt in his slow inspection. "Thank you," he said.

Salik watched him for a centon, then turned to Adama, raising an eyebrow at the commander's presence. "That boy's exhausted," he said, gruffly. "He should be sleeping, not doing the rounds in here."

"They're his responsibility," said Adama, trying to quiet the rush of pride.

"So? I should see to his arm."

"I'd be grateful if you would," said Adama. He shared some of Tigh's prejudices against the doctor, but also the admiration for Salik's skill. There were only two doctors he'd rather trust his son to, and both of them were on Caprica.

Fee wended his way back to them. "Thank you," he said to Salik.

Salik gave one of his usual ungracious grunts and gestured to a room off to one side. "Let's go and take a look at that arm, shall we?"

Fee sighed and trailed after him. The look he gave Adama was slightly accusatory, something that afforded Adama some much-needed amusement.

"I'll have to cut that jacket off," said Salik.

"It's all I've got!" said Fee, alarmed.

"We'll find something for you to wear - " started Adama, trying to be soothing.

"But it won't be my uniform. No. I'll get out of it."

"For Hades' sake," grumbled Salik. "Every single one of them was the same. It's just a bloody uniform!" But despite his grumbling, he was gentle getting Fee out of the jacket. Someone had already slit the seam on right sleeve to get the splint into place. Salik was able to ease the sleeve off without having to do any more damage, and was properly acerbic about how white-lipped the procedure made Fee.

The jacket was filthy, anyway. Adama remembered some of that terrible rush of words in his office when Fee had obeyed the injunction to talk, and knew what it was filthy with. It would take some cleaning. The vest underneath wasn't much better, rusty brown with old bloodstains. That would have to be destroyed. It could be replaced easily enough.

Salik brought a small treatment trolley to the bedside where Fee was sitting and laid the arm on it for support before undoing the splint. Adama winced. Fee's forearm was gashed from elbow to wrist, and unnaturally lumpy in at least three places. Adama could see the white gleam of bone deep in the gash.

"When did this happen?" asked Salik, focusing on the hand-held mediscanner he was holding over the wound.

Even without Salik touching his arm, Fee was trembling. Just undoing the splint must have been purgatory. "Dunno. About a day ago, I guess."

"It's a crush injury," said Salik.

"We were being shelled and a bunker was hit. I got trapped under a beam. They had a bit of a job getting my arm out from under it."

"He got a knock on the head, too," said Adama, quietly, and this time the accusatory stare was stronger.

"Thank you, Dad," said Fee with awful insincerity.

Adama, conscious of the sharp glance they got from Salik, shrugged. "You're welcome," he said, enjoying Fee's reluctant grin as much as he enjoyed the sound of that little word.

"It's as well he told me," said Salik. "If I'd found out later by you collapsing with concussion, you'd have been in trouble."

"I'm fine, really," protested Fee.

"Of course you are," said Adama. "That's why you winced when I touched your hair."

"Don't you have a ship to run?"

"Shut up, Fee, and stop sulking. I'm sure that Doctor Salik will make it as painless as possible."

"If we can get past the slapstick." said Salik, coldly, and scanned Fee's head. He lifted the thick black hair on the right side and examined the lump that Adama had felt earlier. “There's no fracture and no internal bleeding, according to the scanner. The skin's broken and still oozing blood... head injuries bleed like hell, but it's not serious... lovely bump on the side of your head... lucky you have such thick hair." He straightened up, putting down the scanner. "I don't need to suture it, so I won't need to shave your head."

Fee looked alarmed, his uninjured hand coming up protectively to cover the sore spot. Adama laughed softly, riding out the glare he got, admiring Salik's diversionary techniques.

"Any trouble with your vision?" demanded the doctor. Fee shook his head, wincing a bit as Salik slapped away the protective hand and the doctor's fingers probed the bruise. "Good. Do you feel sick or dizzy?"

"I'm a bit dizzy when I stand up, but that might be the stims," said Fee, capitulating with bad grace. He agreed he had a bad headache, obediently told Salik how many fingers the doctor was holding up, read letters and numbers from a distant board, and generally tried to confound his father by being a model patient.

"You'll live." Salik pronounced at last. "Although I can't really tell if the headache's from the crack on the head, lack of sleep or the stims. When did you take them?"

"About the same time as the shell hit." Fee was looking very tired again, and with glance at Salik for permission, Adama sat down beside him and gave him something to lean up against. "Maddy, our paramedic, gave me a shot just before. I don't metabolise them too well and they take a long time to wear off."

"You look exhausted."

Fee bridled slightly. "I'm tired," he admitted. "But I won't sleep until they wear off."

"Filthy things," said Salik. "Well, your arm is a mess, Sergeant. The beam crushed it, fracturing the bone into several pieces. I may have to pin some of them together and suture that gash before I can fuse the bones and try and re-form the muscle. I don't want you awake and wriggling while I do it. I'll knock you out, but mixing anaesthetics and stims will give you one hell of a hangover."

"I'll take the hangover."

Salik looked grim. "I wasn't giving you an option. Don't go anywhere." He replaced the splint with great gentleness and went to the door. "Ben! Scrub up. One extra for surgery."

"I thought we'd finished for the day," complained an invisible med-tech.

"Life would be so much simpler without the patients cluttering up the place," agreed Salik, and returned to the room. He eyed Adama sternly. "Are you staying?"

"Fee's my son—"

"So I gathered. Are you staying?"

"I believe, Doctor, that it's my ship."

"But my med-centre. You can stay, Commander, as long as you don't interfere."

"You bully him as well as Mama does," said Fee.

"She may have had more practice," conceded Salik. "But I'm the one who's here." He took a hypospray from his kit. "You said you don't metabolise stims well. Are there any other physiological quirks I should know about?" He tapped the chain holding Fee's dogtags around his neck, including the medi-tag. "Just to save me decoding this."

Fee shot Adama a sideways look. "I shouldn't be given opiate-based drugs," he said.

Salik's eyes were always sharp, like lancets. "I see. You can't metabolise them either?"

"No."

Salik shrugged, and replaced the hypospray canister with a new one. "This will be just as effective and shouldn't give you any problems, other than the one I warned you about, mixing sedatives with stims." He pressed the spray against the side of Fee's neck, and let his voice deepen and slow, nodding to Adama. "It won't take but a micron or two . Careful, Commander!"

Fee sagged almost instantly, and Adama barely got his arms around him in time.

"Watch his arm," said Salik, his fingers resting lightly against the pulse in Fee's neck. "Good. He's out."

Between them, they got Fee onto the bed. Adama hadn't had to undress his son while he was in this state of unconsciousness since Fee was Apollo, aged fourteen and drugged senseless by Jerry in Pieter's hallway, the dead man still clutched tight in his arms. Then, like now, Apollo had been all arms and legs and without Jerry's help, Adama didn't think he'd have managed. Like Jerry, Salik was more used to handling the inert heaviness of unconscious bodies and was a great deal better than Adama at stripping Fee of boots and uniform. He dropped items onto the floor with abandon.

"That should all be binned," he said.

"I don't think he'd like that," said Adama, retrieving it all and collecting it together. His batman would clean all the salvageable items somehow, maybe even by the time Fee was awake again. He'd get the jacket mended, as well.

Salik was examining the bruises and contusions. Fee was far more battered than he'd admitted to. "Nothing serious, " he said.

"It looks bad."

"Just bruises. Nothing else is broken and there are no internal injuries."

"He did say a beam landed on him."

"I don't doubt him. It looks like it. He'll be stiff and sore for a couple of days, but there really isn't anything to worry about." Salik tilted Fee's head over and took another look at the injury under his hair. "I remember young Zac, of course. I hadn't realised that you had two sons."

Zac, of course, had visited the Galactica when she was in home space and was well known to her officers – too well known, Adama thought, remembering some of the havoc Zac had managed to wreak. When Salik stepped away again, Adama stroked Fee's hair back into place.

"Fee's the elder by several yahrens."

"I thought—" Salik stopped, glanced at Adama and shrugged. He took off the splint again and holding Fee's arm carefully in both hands, turned it to the light. Trying to see the full extent of the damage, Adama assumed. He replaced the arm on the protective cushion, picked up Fee's left arm and studied it as carefully.

Adama knew what he'd found.

"Well, the scar from that gash can join the others," said Salik, his tone completely uninflected.

Adama sought for something to say. "He had a troubled adolescence."

"Yes. I see. Deliberate?"

Adama had a sudden, overpowering recollection of Apollo's clenched fist going through the window, his son yelling curses and accusations at him while he sawed his arms backwards and forwards over the shards of glass. Adama's clothes had been soaked in his son's blood and Ila's hair had been thick with it.

"Yes," he said.

"And this? Shadow or something similar?"

Adama nodded. "Shadow."

"That explains the opiate avoidance. It doesn't look like he's used it for yahrens."

"More than six yahrens. Nearer seven."

"Hmpf. It's best, even so, not to put the stuff into him. There's often a lingering susceptibility." Salik put Fee's arm down just as the medtech appeared in the doorway with a gurney. "Are you staying?"

"Yes."

"Fixing his arm will take a couple of centars and he'll be out of it for the rest of the day. There's really nothing you can do."

"Except be here," said Adama.

And only he and Fee—and Apollo—knew just how significant that was.

 

 

8.3 Breaking the fast

Fee surfaced slowly from sleep, aware that someone was holding him. As he stirred the arm draped over his chest hugged him closer, pressing him against the warmth of the body on the bed behind him.

"Good morning," said Adama.

Suddenly embarrassed, Fee turned over cautiously, his head thudding dully when he moved and making him take it slowly to make sure his stomach didn't rebel. He felt queasy. "Have you been here all night?"

His father was propped up on pillows beside him. "Yes. It's been a long time since I was allowed to do this. I was making the most of it, I suppose." Cool blue eyes assessed him and Adama nodded, satisfied. "You look better."

Better than he'd been previous evening, when, in spite of Salik's disapproval, his father had shaken him out of the sedative-stupor. It's a shame to wake you, Adama had said, but you'd better come. Fee had been glad his father had over-ridden Salik's objections. Adama understood rather better than Salik did.

Fee had stumbled through the now dimly-lit Life Centre to the intensive care area, accepting Adama's support, feeling distant and odd, half asleep. He'd had to force himself to stay awake and sensible for the centar that followed. Salik had busied himself around his patient constantly, but the doctor had for the most part been silent, letting Fee, metaphorically at least, stand watch. Adama had stood watch too, more literally, standing quiet and unobtrusive just behind Fee's chair, one hand on Fee's uninjured shoulder.

Kerr had died at around ten. He had never regained consciousness.

"He never knew we made it," Fee had said, when it was over. Adama had an arm around his waist, half carrying him back to the private room that being the commander's son had gained him. It seemed very important that he explain the irony to his father. "He never even knew."

Adama had put him back to bed as if he'd been a child and said that it didn't matter. Kerr had died free and with friends, and that was all that had mattered. But Fee had been beyond upset that after all that effort, all that terrible effort, he'd let yet another one of the warriors down, he'd failed Kerr. Adama understood. He probably understood better even than Alex because Alex had never commanded other people and given them orders and then seen them die because they'd had to do as he'd told them. Adama had. He wasn't a Guard, but he knew how Fee felt and when it was best to speak and when to stay silent. It had been unexpectedly comforting to have him there, Fee remembered. He must have fallen asleep, still fretting, in his father's arms.

Now he said, cautiously, wondering how to take this unaccustomed closeness, "I feel better, I think, except my head's going to fall off. What's the time?"

Adama squinted at his chronometer. "About six. I'll have to go soon."

"Well, I'll let you come back." Fee was shy and uncomfortable. He'd been angry for such a long time that this didn't feel entirely natural. He tried to cover his discomfort with humour. "As long as you talk very, very quietly," he added, lifting his left hand to shade his eyes against lights that were very over-bright.

"Very nice of you, little son," said Adama said dryly.

Fee cranked open his eyes, surprised again. "That's a bit sentimental," he said, before he could stop himself.

"Maudlin, I'd say."

Cheered by the unexpected self deprecation, Fee grinned slightly. "And inaccurate. I'm as tall as you are."

"True. There's must be something about you being ill that brings out the sentimental side of me."

Fee's grin broadened. "You mean I look so small and pathetic that your natural parental authority isn't threatened any more?"

"I wish!" Adama hugged him, and released him, getting off the bed and stretching.

Fee watched him, frowning now as he tried to assimilate it all. Adama couldn't have been that comfortable, Fee thought. Hospital beds were not made for two. And yet he'd stayed. He'd stayed all night. Fee locked that away to think about properly when he felt a little less like he'd been caught between two colliding shuttles.

He struggled to sit up, pleased when his father left him to get on with it without fussing, but wishing, half way up, that he'd not even started what was a totally stupid manoeuvre. Only pride kept him going. Every breath matched about three gigantic thumps of the pulse in his temple. He narrowed his eyes against the light. It hurt less that way. Salik watched from the doorway, saturnine face unreadable.

"And how are we this morning?" he asked.

"We are fine," Fee lied.

"We certainly look it."

Fee would have rolled his eyes if he wasn't morally certain that it would hurt too much and that there was the added danger that they'd drop out.

"Headache?" asked Salik.

"No, thanks. I've got one of my own and it's a beauty."

"Not even original," said Salik, sour.

"I read it somewhere," confessed Fee. "I've always wanted to use it." He turned his attention to his arm. Encased from elbow to mid-palm in a clear plastic support, it was an interesting shade of magenta, intersected with neat suture lines. It ached like fury, now he'd remembered it.

"You've a metal plate holding everything together in there, that you'd better get used to. It won't ever be coming out," said Salik.

"Just as well that I'm left handed," said Fee. He counted the thumps inside his head: two for every word. His stomach roiled and he had to swallow, hurriedly.

Salik advanced with a hypospray, touching it briefly to Fee's neck. "You'll need to wear that support for a secton or two, and you can look forward to a lot of physiotherapy, but you'll have full use of the arm back in a sectar or so. There shouldn't be any permanent damage. In fact, so little damage I'd rather you stopped infesting my Life Centre."

Fee sighed. Whatever was in the hypo took immediate effect. His stomach settled almost instantly and the headache faded away to mere dullness.

"Better?" asked Salik.

"Yes, thanks."

"That should take care of the worst of the headache. Try and eat something to give all the drugs something to work on, and stay off the stims."

Adama smiled. "I'll arrange something for him to wear and take him for breakfast in the Mess."

"Sooner the better," said an indifferent Salik.

"Not a morning person, then," said Fee when Salik left.

"Not an any time of day person, I think. Give me half a centar to clean up and I'll be back with some clothes for you. Your uniform's being cleaned and mended. I doubt it'll be ready yet."

"Thanks," said Fee, awkwardly. "For everything. You know… including staying with me last night."

Adama sat on the edge of the bed. "My pleasure." He smiled. "It reminded me of when you were a little boy and you wouldn't go to sleep without your mother or me holding you."

"I don't remember being that insecure."

"You were only four, afraid of the dark, and very jealous of Athena. You were just after attention."

Oh. Start of a trend then. At least at four, the implication was that he got what he hadn't succeeded in getting when he was fourteen.

But he forced himself to be pleasant. "I guess I'm a bit big for that, now. I've even got used to having a baby sister - although you let me down badly there. I remember when Mama said a baby was coming. I wanted a brother at least two yahrens older than me."

"Oh dear. And all you got was Zac."

Fee smiled. "He'll do."

"Good. Because he is most definitely the last." Adama stooped down and hugged him. "I'll be back."

Fee stared after him. He couldn't ever remember his father being so tactile, so free with affection. He thought back to the previous day. Something had shifted on its axis. It scared him. Being hurt and so weary his bones ached – that was all it took to shoot his defences to hell and back? He remembered, slightly ashamed, breaking down in the bridge office, how comforting his father had been. His face burned when he remembered that, what he'd called Adama.

He wondered if he could call him that in cold blood. If he dared.

Salik stuck his head around the door to point Fee towards the bathroom and ask if he needed any help. Fee, preferring to bathe alone, got himself into the shower - real water! – and had done one rather unsteady round of the wounded before his father got back, as soldierly as he could manage it in a pair of Life Centre sleep pants that were two sizes too big for him and had to be held up by clamping the excess fabric between the support on his arm and his hip. Most people were still asleep although Ryan, both arms in supports at least as uncomfortable-looking as Fee's, managed a few words before drifting off again. Salik was there and gave him a quick run-down on everyone. Fee wondered if the doctor ever slept himself and if Salik was annoyed and annoying because he didn't.

Guessing that Fee would feel uncomfortable in a borrowed Fleet uniform, Adama, with real thoughtfulness, had brought some black combat pants and a black shirt that he'd made the quartermaster rout out from somewhere. He seemed quietly self satisfied with the apparently limitless resources of his Battlestar. Fee was touched. Clumsy with his arm in the support, he let his father help him dress - as some sort of reward, he supposed, although he didn't pursue that thought too far.

He wasn't quite sure how to interpret the look in his father's eyes as Adama fastened the Guard shield insignia into place.

He screwed up every ounce of courage he had. "Thanks, Dad," he said.

Adama nodded, and patted his shoulder. "Breakfast."

Fee looked away to hide his grin when he realised it was done. It would be alright, and that was that.

The Rubicon was passed.

 

 

"The Officer's Mess?" asked Fee, when they were on their way. He was steadier on his feet, he noticed with relief, now that his body had accustomed itself to being up and moving again.

"Of course."

"Ooh, grand! Usually us non-coms just look wonderingly through the door at all those well bred folks inside – "

"Fee."

"Oh, don't worry. I'll be on my best behaviour. I'll even use my knife and fork."

"I'd appreciate it," said Adama, dryly.

They detoured, at Fee's insistence, to check on the others. The Guard had been given a whole compartment, fitted with a couple of dozen bunks and with a large communal R&R space in the centre. Only Lottie was awake, doing some stretching exercises at the big table, getting kinks out of a body that was, Fee saw, almost as battered as his own. Everyone else was still sleeping Even Samn was snoring loudly, too loudly for Fee to wake him without risking his other arm.

"The commander told us last night that you were okay, when he came to tell us about Kerr," said Lottie. "How's the arm?"

"Fine." Fee glanced at his father, resolving to thank him later. Adama was showing a wide streak of thoughtfulness that day. "Everyone else seems to be doing okay, and Chloe's holding her own. Tell Samn I called by and I'll be back after breakfast."

"I will," said Lottie.

"He told me last night that he was intending to grow a forelock," remarked Adama in a slightly puzzled tone.

"All the better for tugging in front of his betters," said Fee.

"So I assumed. Which betters did he mean? I don't know about the Guard, but in Fleet we're not so feudal that we can't make do with the usual salute."

Fee shrugged, and they left Lottie to her exercises. Adama made nothing of the time and trouble he'd taken once Fee had fallen asleep again the previous night, to reassure the Guards and break the news about Kerr's death before returning to the Life Centre and his own vigil. And perhaps he didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary. It was the done thing, part of code of duty, honour and service that made up his life and that had influenced Fee more than he cared to admit.

The Officer's Mess was a decorative place, almost as big as the Whistlejacket's landing bay. Fee thought, as he followed his father into it, that he'd never get used to being on a ship this big or with so many people serving on it. He was accustomed to something so much smaller... and the Whistlejacket was a big ship, so far as the Guard went. Galactica's Mess had about twice as many people in it as the whole of the Whistlejacket, and this was only the officer cadre. The place was crowded with people who, very politely, tried not to stare as they passed. Fee ignored the curiosity. He was used to the other services staring because he was a Guard, but Adama had a different theory.

"I'm afraid the secret of your paternity is out. The gossip mill on this ship grinds faster than the speed of light, some days."

"I can live with the shame if you can." Fee saw Colonel Tigh at a nearby table watching them. The table was set for two. "Do you normally have breakfast with the colonel?"

"Yes, but he won't mind, this once," Adama assured him. "I'm not entirely sure how I'll be able to explain myself to him, though."

"You haven't already?"

"I didn't get a chance. I was in the Life Centre, remember?"

Of course. His father had to have been there all night but for his trip to reassure the unit. Fee considered that, and decided that it was an adequate excuse. Very adequate.

The steward put a plate of breakfast pastries in front of him. Fee, although he definitely felt better for the injection that Salik had given him and this understated expression of concern from his father, wasn't entirely sure he could handle anything this rich. He crumbled a pastry onto his plate.

His father reverted to type almost at once. "Eat it, don't play with it."

"I'm not sure I'm that hungry."

"Salik said that you were to have something to counterbalance all the stims and sedatives. Eat."

Fee sniffed, amused. "When you were still being patient and placatory, you'd never have dared speak to me like that."

"It's the restoration of natural order, that's all. Sons ought to be properly subservient to their fathers."

"I'll try and remember that," said Fee meekly, and forced down the pastry. He felt better once he'd swallowed it and decided he was up to trying another.

His father watched him for a centon or two, and nodded, satisfied. "What happens now, when we get you back to Hephaestus station?"

"There'll be an inquiry, I suppose," said Fee.

"Does it worry you?"

Fee looked at him in surprise. "Worry me? No. I don't think so. I don't know what I could have done differently. I'll just have to tell the captain what happened, and probably Colonel Graham, and write a few hundred reports."

"Good," said his father, satisfied, and Fee realised it had been a trick question. Adama was also probing Fee's state of mind.

Well, Fee's state of mind was infinitely better after a good night's sleep. "We don't go much for long post mortems in the Guard," he said. "Shit happens."

"Too often," agreed his father. "Is that the regimental motto?"

"Near enough," conceded Fee.

"And then? When you've finished telling them what happened?"

"Home. We'll get a couple of sectons, more if the Whistlejacket is still in dock for repairs. From what the captain said when she told us we were on our own, the Whistle took a bit of a pounding. I'll be home for Yule."

"So will I. Your mother's really looking forward to it, this yahren." Adama grinned at him. "You have several yahrens worth of presents to collect, I believe."

Fee grimaced. "Zac said something about that once. Dad – "

"She never gave up. She was stronger than me, really, because I did give up. I'm sorry about that. I shouldn't have stopped looking."

Fee bit his lip and went back to crumbling pastries.

"I was wondering if you and Alex would come over at Yule. Your mother would like that very much. So would I."

"To the house?"

"Yes. For dinner, perhaps, on Yule-Day. To celebrate."

Fee thought about it for a long time.

"Please," said his father. "Please."

Another Rubicon stretched before him, glinting in the sun, challenging him. Fee took a deep breath and nodded, stepping down into that metaphorical water and finding it wasn't as hard to cross as he'd thought.

"Okay," he said, when he got to the other side. "Okay."

 

 

8.4 Going Career

A centar out from Hephaestus, a Guard ship came to collect them.

Not the Whistlejacket. She was in dock with dozens of techs crawling over her, said Captain Mavinne, when Fee spoke to her over the com from the Bridge office. It would be sectons before Whistlejacket was back in service. Mavinne came out to Galactica with an anonymous Guard shuttle, borrowed from who knows where, bringing enough medical teams with her to transfer the wounded back to Guard territory. She didn't need to explain why they wanted to avoid the docks belonging to Fleet or any of those that were semi-public, the ones merchant traders or even some of the luxury space liners used to dock at Hephaestus. Bloody Drack had been manna from heaven for the newslines, and the story of what the newscasters insisted on calling, to Fee's disgust and chagrin, the "gallant little band" of Guards who'd been left behind and then made it after all, was a gloriously sentimental counterpoint to the terrible losses. The Fleet and public docks were heaving with the media, all waiting to interview the rescued warriors. Fee was as keen to avoid that sort of notoriety as his masters could wish.

Adama planned a cordial welcome for the captain. Despite everything Fee could say when his father called him to the bridge office to take Mavinne's call, Adama intended to be there to meet the captain, formally and with due ceremony.

Horrified, Fee protested. Adama listened politely to all of Fee's carefully marshalled arguments about why that was such a monumentally bad idea and thanked him for his advice. He said that he always valued his son's opinion and, indeed, welcomed it on a range of issues, but on the whole preferred to follow his own inclination to greet his guests personally. He accepted that it may be thought a rather old fashioned courtesy, but he was a rather old fashioned man—You don't say, interjected Fee, bitterly—and would be more comfortable welcoming Captain Mavinne himself. He added, rather wistfully, that he rarely got much entertainment out of his job but that that he was sure that Fee didn't mean to try and deny him this opportunity.

Colonel Tigh, an interested observer, sniggered audibly. Fee was having difficulty in reconciling the colonel's buttoned-up nature with his tendency to consider the commander witty and amusing, but decided it was better not to say so. He didn't know if every Fleet commander needed a straight man or if his father's requirements were special in this regard, but he opted to make the observation in private some time. He thought his father would laugh. He was less certain of the colonel's reaction.

Fee retired, defeated. He made an immediate, but fleeting, return to the bridge office to entertain the commander with a formal complaint about the fact that the doors on the Galactica all slid to one side to let people in and out. It was his opinion (valued, he was sure) that the current closing mechanism got in the way of a good hard slam.

"Complaint noted, Sergeant," said Adama. "I wasn't aware of your interest in naval architecture. Is this a recent hobby?"

Tigh laughed out loud at that one.

Fee gave it up and went to rout out the unit and make sure they were presentable. It surprised Fee, the easiness that had suddenly developed with his father. He spent most of the time in which he was supposed to be getting ready, in thinking more about his father rather than harrying the unit into respectability. It was more than a small change. It was a very significant change. Something had shifted, a seismic shift, like continents colliding.

Fee had seen something from his father that he had never expected to see, and had never expected that he would earn. Adama was not only relieved to know what Fee did for a living, but he respected him for it. More, when Adama had claimed him, openly, on the bridge, he'd even been proud.

Fee told himself that he didn't have time to analyse why the three day journey to Hephaestus had, in consequence, been... been safe. But in the circumstances, he decided he could allow the old man his moment of entertainment. He only hoped Adama wouldn't do any more claiming, not in front of the captain. As a child, he'd been glumly certain that his career would be mapped out by his father and monitored through his father's extremely extensive connexions – there wasn't Fleet ship of any significance where Adama didn't have at least one old Academy friend or acquaintance. One unexpected side benefit of enlisting in the Guards had been anonymity. He was very loathe to lose that. He didn't think that Adama's influence spread as far as the Frontier Guard , but he'd rather not put it to the test.

He took his attention from the comic and his straight man, both waiting patiently a few metres away, and checked over the unit again, satisfied with what he saw.

The Guard wasn't obsessed about form and ceremony, not for its own sake. But the Guard wasn't above putting on a show to confound the other two services. They still had six in Life Centre, and those two or three just released from Salik's care should, by rights, have been lying on their bunks being waited on hand and foot by their squad mates. They all insisted on being present when the captain arrived, so there they all were, lined up on Alpha deck, as crisp and as on-the-bounce as Fee could get them. Uniforms had been cleaned and mended, shoulders squared, and inscrutable Guard faces presented to the outside world. Hell on the feet as Samn observed, but he observed quietly and out of the corner of his mouth, one eye on the assembled Fleet welcoming committee and fully aware of the need not to lose face.

Fee brought them to attention when the shuttle ramp unfolded and Mavinne appeared.

"Captain on deck!"

He didn't have to look to see that they'd come to attention with a snap that would have done a parade ground sergeant proud. He knew it. He could feel it. He himself stared straight ahead. Staring ahead was good. It meant that the sardonic old beggar who ran this benighted ship couldn't catch his gaze.

"Join me," said Mavinne, quietly, as she passed him.

Fee stood the unit at easy on her nod, and fell in one step behind her. He oversaw the greeting by his father hoping that nothing of his uneasiness showed in his face. Adama was courteous and polite but thankfully didn't say anything to put his nervous eldest son to the blush. Adama and Mavinne exchanged pleasantries, and Mavinne extended the Guard's formal thanks for the rescue of its lost warriors. Fee assumed her teeth were gritted throughout. His own were clenched so hard his jaw ached.

The Frontier Guard did not care to be beholden.

Adama, thankfully, said all that was necessary but kept it short and to the point. Much as he evidently relished rubbing Fee's nose in it, he had the grace to spare Mavinne.

Pleasantries over, she turned to business, eyeing her prodigal troops. She wasn't one for hyperbole. She just looked them up and down and nodded. "Well done," she said. "I'm proud of you."

For a centon they stared back at her, impassive, until Fee had judged that just the right amount of time had passed to mark properly what she'd said and he could respond. "Thank you, Ma'am."

No ritual, no ceremony, just good old-fashioned Guard reticence. Mavinne appreciated it as much as he did, he thought. She gave him one of her rare, fleeting smiles and turned back to Adama, who was watching gravely now, all amusement gone. Adama recognised the solemnities for what they were and respected them.

"Time to get them off your hands, Commander," said Mavinne. "We'll load everyone on board and get them into Guard territory."

"Of course."

"Sergeant, dismiss the unit and get them back here with their kit in half a centar, ready for embarkation."

"We've pretty much just got what we're standing up in, Ma'am. It was a bit of a scramble getting out."

"So I see. Where's our second shuttle? I was counting on using it."

"The Galactica's engineers replaced the damaged panelling, Ma'am. It's just about flyable, they say, but Corporal Drew's confident he can coax it home."

"Then we'll put the wounded on my shuttle, and spare them the bumpy landing. Can I see them?"

Fee glanced at his father. "I'll take you, Ma'am."

The look he got back was disappointed, but resigned. "I'll return to my bridge," said Adama. "Colonel Tigh will stay here to see you off, Captain. It's been a pleasure meeting you." He paused beside Fee on his way off the deck. "Come and say goodbye before you go."

Mavinne's eyes showed her curiosity, but she said nothing until they were in the decontamination chamber, the medical teams she'd brought with her at a respectful distance. Fee had sent Samn to ensure that they'd left nothing behind in the quarters that Fleet had assigned them, and that the quarters were going to be handed back as spick and span as human endeavour could make them.

"And what was that about?" She jerked a thumb over her shoulder to indicate the flightdeck behind them.

"I— er, I know the commander, Ma'am."

"Do you?" She regarded him for a long centon, then shrugged, a glance at the medical teams. "All right. We'll talk later about what happened down there. Just now, let's focus on the wounded. Who've we got in Life Centre and what's their condition?"

Relieved he had a reprieve, Fee launched into an account of the wounded. The worst part was telling her about Kerr's death. "He made it all this way," said Fee, rather helplessly.

"It's hell losing them after pick-up, when they should be safe."

"Yes," agreed Fee. Kerr's death weighed on him.

"Where is he?"

"They have him in the morgue, Ma'am. Kerr's squadmates will be collecting him now, to take him home." Fee hesitated. "I'm sorry, I had to leave the others behind."

She had time only to nod before they turned into the Life Centre doors and Salik was demanding to know what outrage was being perpetrated in his medical facility, only to be bowled right off his feet by Mavinne's most brilliant smile. Fee watched, amused, as the doctor was charmed into compliance. He followed the pair around, while Mavinne talked quietly to the warriors and Salik preened and explained and generally put himself about for Mavinne's benefit.

"That's where I went wrong," he said, when Salik had gone off to help a medical team get Chloe's life support capsule fitted with suspensor units. "I'm the wrong shape and I didn't have enough oestrogen to avoid the sharp edge of his tongue."

Mavinne laughed. "You use what weapons you have, Sergeant. You know that." She glanced around and nodded. "They'll do fine. I'll just go and ask the good doctor to arrange escort for the wounded down to the bay and you and I can take a slow walk up to the bridge so you can say goodbye to the commander. We'll talk on the way."

Salik was embarrassingly eager to do as she asked and insisted on coming over to take his leave of them. He gave Fee a lot of vicarious advice about his arm, one eye on Mavinne to see that she'd noticed that his care extended even to the lightly wounded, and watched them leave, looking sentimental. Fee thought how much his father would have enjoyed seeing that.

Mavinne chuckled slightly and seemingly dismissed the doctor from her mind as soon as the Life Centre door closed behind them.

"This way, Ma'am." Fee led the way to the nearest set of turbolifts, wondering what Mavinne was going to say. He wasn't looking forward to it. "It's quite a walk."

She walked beside him for a few centons in silence, looking around with interest. The Galactica's crew had, in the last few days, got used to seeing Guards about and gave them no more than ordinarily curious glances.

"It's a big ship," she said.

"Yes'm. It takes a bit of getting to know." Fee was aware of the sideways glance he got from her, knowing that his time was up.

"Find us somewhere to talk, Sergeant."

Fee sighed and nodded. They were near the main mess halls, a slight detour from the turbolifts that led to the bridge, and he led the way inside. Midmorning, it was pretty quiet. No-one gave them a second glance. She refused the offer of a caff, and herded him into one of the booths that lined the walls.

"Tell me what happened down there."

"You saw the first reports, Ma'am. I know it wasn't very detailed—"

"I know. Fill some of it in now, Fee."

Caught between the rock and the hard place, Fee complied. Like his father, she just let him talk, but by now he'd had time to reflect and think. It wasn't a outpouring of words this time, but a reasoned and calm story he had to tell. The bare bones of it only, though, they both knew that. He'd do more detailed reports later, but this was enough to let her know what had happened on Bloody Drack.

He started with the Cylon attack and the disaster to the shuttle. "The lieutenant was killed in the first barrage, Ma'am. We'd just got the Cylon when the Dracks started up." He paused, then said, as calmly as he could, "He was killed by shrapnel. It tore his head off."

She winced and nodded and let him go on, letting him tell in his own time the whole story of the eight centars and more they'd held the embarkation area while Drew made his makeshift repairs; and then the long flight to meet the Galactica, the welcome and the help Fleet had given them. He said nothing about his own epiphany with his father. That wasn't Guard business.

"It's a shame about Lieutenant Hanson," she said, at last, when he'd finished.

Fee wondered if he should tell her that he and Hanson were an inch away from hitting each other when the shell came. He didn't know if it was cowardice on his part that kept him quiet, or having to explain that Hanson had frozen and wasn't doing what was needed to get people out. Bit of both, probably.

He settled for a non-committal nod. He was sorry that Hanson was dead, but his own position if the lieutenant had made it would be difficult, to say the least. Mavinne watched him, waiting. A non-committal nod wasn't enough, apparently.

"It's a shame about all of them," he said.

"Sergeant, right this centon I'm not interested in how many didn't get out, but how many did."

"Twenty seven," he said. It had been twenty eight until Kerr died on him. Then he stopped, meeting her eyes at last.

"Twenty seven. Nearly three quarters of the unit. That's not bad, Sergeant."

"The commander said something like that," Fee said, relaxing at last.

"Yeah," she said dryly. "Standard management technique. He got the training too."

"How to motivate the troops?"

"Something like that. Are you still intending to go career, Sergeant?"

Her voice was so neutral, he didn't know how to read it. He couldn't tell if she was offering encouragement or opposition. He feared the latter. It felt like someone had just closed their hands around his guts and twisted them.

"Yes," he said, after a centon.

She nodded. "Time to go to say your farewells to the commander. Let's go."

Bewildered he followed her out, and pointed the way to the turbolifts. She waited until they were in the lift before speaking again.

"I was thinking about the timing. I don't think there's a hope in hell they'll take you in this yahren's intake, not two sectars into the Academy yahren. You'll have to wait until next Octavus and do your yahren from then. Until then, you and me have got a lot to do to rebuild the unit. What do you say to putting Samn up to sergeant?"

"Overdue," said Fee, when he could make his mouth work.

"He'll complain. He likes it where he is, but you're going to need a good platoon sergeant to help you through the next few sectars. An officer has to be further away from them than a non-com and you're going to have to work hard to put some distance in there so that they see it too. Making the transition in your old unit isn't easy, Fee. I know. I did it."

"I don't really understand -"

"The colonel and me already agreed that we'd bump you up to lieutenant, vice Hanson."

A field commission! Fee stared.

"I need someone I can trust to pull that unit back together. But you know the drill. A field commission... well, without your yahren at the Academy you would never get much past captain. Stupid, but there it is. I'll be sorry to lose you for a yahren, but you have to do it. It'll have to be next yahren's intake though."

"Oh," said Fee.

The doors opened. He followed Mavinne out onto the bridge. She stood for a micron, taking in the sheer size and numbers and shook her head.

"When I think of the problem we have with recruitment, this doesn't seem quite fair."

"There just aren't enough misfits and lunatics in the world," said Fee. "My father says that anyone in the Guard has to be insane. He has a point."

Adama had seen them, and had come to the edge of the command dais, leaning on the railing. His expression was grave.

"Your father's military?"

"Yes, Ma'am. Regular forces."

Mavinne nodded politely at Adama. "Go and take leave. We don't have much time."

"Can I tell him?" Fee arched an eyebrow in Adama's direction.

"Do you know him well enough for that?" asked Mavinne, then her eyes widened and she looked from Adama to Fee and back to Adama again.

"Nearly," said Fee. "And we're getting better acquainted all the time."

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