This is really a very early story so apologies for the imperfections. I wrote the first half in an unaccustomed fit of melancholy, and HeidiM, my friend and beta, finished it off. But I couldn't leave it - it kicked off a whole new AU universe.

This story is followed by Revenant and Masquerade .



A Fond Farewell

"Can you do it?" Boomer asked quietly, one hand on Starbuck's arm.

Starbuck looked up from the untouched glass of ambrosa, into which he'd been staring for a long time, ignoring the quiet conversation around him. "What?"

"The toast. Can you do it, or do you want me to?"

Starbuck looked around at the faces in the OC. More than one was watching him expectantly. "No," he said. "No, I'll do it. I didn't do anything earlier. Now, do you think?"

"Now would be good." Boomer was gentle. "Before the duty shift changes and half of them have to go."

Starbuck nodded and got to his feet, waiting until the noise died away and every eye was on him. He looked back at them, his face carefully expressionless. Some of them had been crying, he saw. He envied them. When the big room was silent, he turned to the large, garlanded portrait of the dead pilot they'd gathered to honour and raised his glass.

For a moment he couldn't speak, and he closed his eyes. Then he took a deep breath. He was surprised how strong and calm his voice was.

"To Apollo!" he said and downed the glass in one.

They flowed to their feet behind him and he heard the echo, magnified by a hundred voices.

"Apollo."






The Farewell had been beautiful. Even Starbuck, stunned and remote from grief and shock had to admit that. Everyone had been there - every warrior who wasn't out on patrol or in the ready room, bridge officers, maintenance crews, even the Council. Apollo would have laughed at that and at the spurious expressions of sorrow on the faces of the Council members. He and the Council had not got on.

Apollo's family and friends had been dignified and restrained in their grief. Only Boxey, too young for restraint, had cried silently, holding tightly to his grandfather's hand as the service wore on. He had swung from furious disbelief that his father could have left him, that Apollo would never be back, to devastation, inconsolable at his loss. Starbuck, watching Adama's face, had known that the commander was as devastated as his grandson. Boxey was keeping Adama calm, the commander knowing that if he flew apart, if he allowed the grief and despair to overwhelm him, then Boxey would lose what little stability he had left. That, and his undiminished faith, kept him from breaking down completely. Athena, red eyed, had stood beside them, one hand on Boxey's thin shoulder. She had held herself very erect and forbidding, mourning her dead brother.

Speaker after speaker had remembered Apollo, recounting incidents reaching right back to his Academy days. Some were funny, some were sad; all were poignant, bitter-sweet memories of the dead man whose portrait had hung above the altar.

But Starbuck had said nothing, had stood dry-eyed and stony-faced beside Apollo's family. They had all expected him to speak, but what could he say? His memories of Apollo went so deep and so far back, well beyond anyone except Apollo's immediate family. None of them now were for sharing. All of them he guarded jealously, hugging them to himself to get what little comfort he could out of them. Because they were all he had left and he had the oddest feeling that by sharing them, they'd be somehow diminished and something of Apollo would fade. He couldn't bear that.

He couldn't talk about how he felt either. They all must know that. They all must know that he felt as though someone had torn his heart out, that he'd been cut in two. The person he'd loved more than anything in the universe was gone, and they'd never again go on patrol together, never play cards, never play Triad, never laugh at the same jokes. Never again would Starbuck turn to see the emerald green eyes laughing into his, hear the familiar voice, feel the familiar touch.

So Starbuck had stood silent, listening to everyone else's memories of Apollo, wondering to himself constantly if it was the same Apollo they were remembering, if it was his Apollo. It surprised him how differently people had viewed Apollo, that there were as many images of him as people who spoke. Once or twice - when Boomer had spoken, voice choked with emotion, and Jolly, too - he had sighed. The Apollo they remembered came closest to his Apollo.

He had looked once into Boxey's wet eyes, flinching a little from the raw, uncomprehending pain in them. The child had lost so much already when Serina had died. This was one loss too many. Once he had leaned down and brushed away the tears, just as Apollo would have done. It didn't make any difference. The tears kept coming.

He hadn't cried himself, not once. Not one single tear. Not even in the shock when the commander, white faced and shaking, had told him that Apollo's patrol had run into trouble; that the captain had sent back the two cadets he'd had out on a training run and stayed behind to guard their backs; that Apollo was dead, his Viper destroyed in an attack from unknown forces, the debris found by the reinforcements that the Galactica had rushed, too late, to his aid. Starbuck had stared grimly into the Commander Adama's shocked and grieving face, turned on his heel and walked out, feeling nothing but the cold. Everything about Starbuck was set and cold now, frozen like armour around him, cut from ice.

So when Adama had come to him to talk to him about Apollo's Farewell, and had asked him to speak, Starbuck had refused. Adama hadn't argued. Starbuck thought that the older man knew, better than most, how lost and despairing Starbuck was under that outer armour. Stopping only to hug the lieutenant comfortingly, Adama had left him to his grief. Starbuck assumed that Adama had enough to do dealing with his own, and Boxey's.

Maybe it would have helped if they had a body to commit to the deep, not just an empty space to mourn. But like so many deaths in battle, there was nothing physical left, just dust floating endlessly in space.

It hurt, not having anything of him left. There was nothing to say goodbye to, nothing physical of the body that Starbuck had loved, that had lain beside him so many nights, wrapped in passion or the exhausted sleep that had followed passion. Nothing at all. All Starbuck had now were ghost kisses, ghost hands touching him and stroking, a ghost voice asking Did you like that?






And after the Farewell came the traditional wake in the OC, the pilots' private remembrance for one of their own. When the echo of the toast died away, Starbuck lowered his glass and looked fixedly at the portrait, at the vivid green eyes framed in unruly black hair. He'd give anything to have the original back again.

I miss you, he said silently. We were supposed to go together, remember? We always said that neither one of us could manage without the other. It's true, Apollo. I can't manage without you at all. I wish you hadn't left me behind.

He paused, to give Apollo time to respond. To remind Starbuck that as long as Starbuck remembered him, he wouldn't be completely gone. Soon after they took the momentous step and became lovers, Apollo had been injured in battle, hurt badly enough to be held in Life Centre for over two sectons. Starbuck, trying to explain how frightened he'd been, how distraught at the thought of losing Apollo, had been marginally comforted when his lover, his romantic, sentimental lover, had placed the palm of his hand flat on Starbuck's chest, over the lieutenant's heart. But I would have been there, Starbuck, Apollo had said, seriously. You only ever have to look, and there I'll be. Forever.

Cold comfort, Starbuck thought now. Cold comfort. Nothing to touch, nothing to hold, nothing to kiss. Only a lifetime to drag through until I see you again.

He started slightly as a hand touched his. He'd been so lost in his contemplation of Apollo's portrait, in the silent dialogue with him, that he hadn't realised that most of the pilots had filed quietly out, leaving him alone with Boomer and Jolly for company.

"All right?" Boomer asked gently. Boomer was always gentle, these days.

Starbuck sighed and resumed his seat. He tried not to look at the empty chair beside him. He'd insisted on using their usual table, on everything being as it was before. But it made the empty space even emptier. "Sure," he said. "Sure."

Boomer sighed and shook his head. "If there's anything - "

Starbuck stirred again. "No," he said thoughtfully. "I don't think so." A pause. "Thank you," he added politely.

Apollo had once said that he'd had a few rough edges to smooth over when he had "adopted" Starbuck, but at least Starbuck had innate good manners. It had won over Siress Ila in double quick time. Damn right Starbuck had retorted. It always helps with the ladies if you're smooth and courteous. Apollo had writhed sinuously under Starbuck, pulling him in harder and closer. Helps with me, too , he'd reminded his lover. Say please, Starbuck . And all conversation had stopped for some considerable time. Starbuck had been graciously polite afterwards, when he got his breath back. He smiled a little at the memory.

He caught Boomer's enquiring glance and said, almost apologetically. "I was just remembering something Apollo said, once."

It was the first time in two sectons, apart from the toast, that Starbuck had mentioned Apollo's name. Boomer brightened visibly.

"Tell," he invited.

Starbuck shook his head. "No. I don't want to talk about him. It's too close. Not yet."

"I'll miss him," Jolly said quietly, and raised his glass in silent toast.

Starbuck merely nodded. There were no words to describe how much he'd miss Apollo. And if there were, he couldn't voice them, even to his friends.






"I wish he'd cry," said Boomer, watching as Starbuck walked slowly out of the OC. "I wish he'd do something."

"We'll keep an eye on him," promised Jolly.

"Hard to do when we're out on patrol now and he isn't." Boomer opened up his comlink. "Giles, Starbuck's on his way to his quarters. Go keep him company."

He looked for a centon at the portrait on the walls. "We'd better take that down," he said, reluctant.

"When we come back. We gotta go, or we'll be late. And we can't be late, not while we're on alert."

Boomer nodded. He'd lost more than one close friend the day Apollo had sacrificed himself to save the two cadets. "Do you think he knew? Apollo, I mean. Do you think he knew?"

"Knew what?"

"That when he went, he was sacrificing Starbuck too?"






It was a couple of centars before Starbuck could shake his concerned friends and get to the Dome, to be quiet. It had been Apollo's favourite place, his haven. The place where they'd made love together for the first time.

Starbuck sat in the chair on the dais and remembered it. They'd just come back to the Galactica after destroying the Cylon baseship using Baltar's own raider to do it, sneaking aboard and sabotaging the baseship's sensor systems. They'd barely escaped with their lives, returning as heroes. The party had been riotous. But Apollo had disappeared from the celebration after a serious talk with Sheba that ended in her leaving abruptly, and Starbuck, knowing where to find him, had come to find out what was wrong. He tried hard to hide his delight when he realised that Apollo had at last told her not to wait for him, that he wasn't interested.

"It's a shame. She's a lovely girl, but I just don't feel that way about her." Apollo opened up the dome canopy and stared out at the star field.

"Serina?" Starbuck asked. He'd always thought that the memory of Apollo's dead wife haunted him, stopped him from living properly.

"No," Apollo said thoughtfully. "Not Serina. I love someone else, that's all." He turned for a second and gave Starbuck a smile that melted Starbuck's considerable defences, then turned his gaze back to the stars.

Greatly daring, Starbuck walked to stand just behind him, putting a hand on each of Apollo's shoulders. Apollo stood very still and rigid for a moment, then, with a slight sigh, leaned back against Starbuck's chest and the lieutenant's arms slipped about him to hold him close, as if it had always been meant. They said nothing for a few minutes, watching the stars and listening to each other's heart beat, then Apollo twisted in Starbuck's arms to face him.

"You too?" he asked

"Always," Starbuck confessed.

Then Apollo kissed him.

Closing his eyes now, Starbuck remembered every detail of that kiss. The way Apollo's lips had parted to take Starbuck's probing tongue, the distinctive taste that Starbuck would never taste again, the small sigh that Apollo had given as, still kissing, they'd sunk to the floor. Starbuck looked down at the very spot, remembering the leisurely undressing, the slow explorations of bodies that had always been familiar to each other but which had suddenly taken on a new, unfamiliar quality; the kissing, touching and licking, and that exquisite second when he'd entered Apollo for the very first time. He remembered vividly how the almost languorous foreplay had flamed into sudden, unbearable passion, Apollo writhing and moaning under him, his own groans of pleasure as he'd come deep inside his true love.

"Oh God, Apollo, I miss you," he said. "I love you so much" He rubbed his nose with the back of his hand and leaned back in the chair, opening the canopy and staring out at the stars, continuing to talk to Apollo. "I'll look after Boxey as well as I can, and everyone else you loved. Even me. I mean, I promise you I won't do anything stupid, as long as you understand that I'm not to going to fight too hard when the time comes for me. I'm awfully lonely, Apollo. Do you miss me, wherever you are?"

He thought about it for a long time, about the love and passion and everything else they'd had. And he talked to Apollo a lot. Remembering, sharing, grieving, trying to believe it was true and that Apollo would always really be there, especially here in the Dome, in Apollo's private sanctuary.

That thought didn't help very much with the pain, however, which was building within him. Frightening, blinding pain that needed an outlet. But he had to be in control, especially now, when all officers would be expected to rise above this tragedy. Whatever had attacked Apollo hadn't been found, was still out there, waiting. There was no time for grieving while this threat existed.

Adama, after all, had continued functioning, his determination to protect the Fleet taking precedence over his desolation. The Commander had even sternly lectured the pilots about the futility of plotting revenge against an unknown foe. "There will be no breaking of ranks over this loss," he had said. "Any rogue actions could endanger the Fleet. I expect you to follow my orders to the letter, and any disobedience, no matter how slight, will be harshly punished. This is not the time to lose our focus on what is important, and that is the safety of the people under our protection."

So Starbuck fought down the despair, and with shaking hands he wiped his eyes. He pushed the pain deep inside him, a trick remembered from his tumultuous childhood, smothering the hurt with numbness.

He got to his feet, taking one long, last look at the cold starscape, and vowed never to come up here again. His footsteps echoed as he walked across the Dome to the door, a lonely sound, fitting for his new-found lonely existence. The door clanged shut behind him, disconnecting him from his past, leaving Starbuck in a frozen now: no future to reach for, and no experiences to look back on, just a numb present he could he could hold himself in, completely self-contained.






There was constant throbbing behind Starbuck's eyes, and unrelieved tension in his muscles. Since Apollo's loss, he hadn't slept more than three hours a night, always awakening suddenly to the imagined sound of voices, then lying in the dark until it was time for him to get up. His dreams troubled him, calling up faces of people who'd passed on long before Apollo. One face in particular kept haunting him: Zac, Apollo's younger brother. It had taken Starbuck a while to make the connection, but finally he'd figured it out. Apollo had never quite gotten over the guilt of leaving Zac to die. Now, Apollo had redeemed himself by staying back to save two lives. And Starbuck, with confused, grief-tainted logic had concluded that really it was himself who'd gotten both brothers killed. If he'd just pulled that patrol like he was supposed to all those years ago, Apollo would still be here…

He'd broken his promise about Boxey, too, hadn't been to see the boy at all, and couldn't look the Commander in the eyes anymore. But just thinking about Boxey meant thinking about Apollo, so seeing the boy was out of the question, even though it was probably hurting him.

Even though it was totally selfish on Starbuck's part.

Thank the gods for patrol. Just Starbuck, his ship, and empty space. Nobody talking to him or sending worried glances in his direction. Even Boomer had given up on conversation, now embraced the silence, too. Maybe Boomer thought Starbuck spent his patrols crying, and he certainly wouldn't be the first pilot to cry in his Viper. After all, once the comm was shut off, you could scream as loud as you wanted, in total privacy. In truth, however, Starbuck just stared out at the darkness, thinking about nothing, his mind an exhausted blank.

"Starbuck, I'm gonna roll over and check out grid point 9-3," Boomer said, his voice filling Starbuck's ears.

Starbuck hit the comm button on the inside of his helmet with his tongue. "Understood," he replied shortly, switching off again.

He heard Boomer let out a long sigh.

"Starbuck." Pause. "Starbuck, you don't even have your scanner on."

Starbuck looked down at his display. Boomer was right. He didn't have it on. He reached out and flicked the switch, watching data stream across the screen.

"Now I'm sure I don't have to tell you," Boomer continued, "that without your scanner on, somebody could sneak up and blow you out of the sky." Pause. "Unless that's what you're hoping for. Which would be fine, Starbuck, if it was just you. But it's not."

Starbuck didn't reply.

"Answer me, dammit!"

Starbuck touched the comm button. "Scanner's on," he said.

"We're gonna sit down and have a long talk when we get back," Boomer said.

"Fine."

Starbuck switched his comm off again, and watched Boomer's ship move away towards grid point 9-3.






Back on the Galactica, Boomer waited for him outside the landing bay. Starbuck made to walk on by, but Boomer grabbed his arm, stopping him.

"I want you to come with me to sick bay," Boomer said.

"Why?"

"Because you look like hell, and I want Dr. Salik to check you out."

Starbuck shook his head. "No."

"Well, as acting Captain, I am ordering you to submit to a medical examination."

Acting Captain. Starbuck felt like he'd been kicked in the gut.

"Fine," Starbuck replied. " Sir ."

They walked towards the turbolift, Starbuck now feeling very agitated. Through the numbness, a vestige of remembered emotion took hold: anger. Acting Captain – this was the first time Boomer had referred to his new rank. In fact, the other officers had gone out of their way not call Boomer ‘Captain' in Starbuck's presence. But hearing it now triggered an angry reaction in Starbuck. It grew, inflaming his already aching body, and just before they reached the lift doors, Starbuck turned and headed resolutely down another corridor, wanting only to get away from the cause: Boomer.

"Hey!" Boomer called after him. "Where are you going?"

Starbuck quickened his pace.

"Starbuck!"

Boomer caught up to him, grabbing his arm again.

Starbuck lost it. Before he realized what he was doing, he threw Boomer against the wall of the corridor, slamming him hard against the cold metal two or three times.

"Leave me alone!" Starbuck shouted. "Just leave me alone!"

He abruptly released Boomer and watched him slide down the wall, dazed and glassy-eyed. Starbuck walked away. His head pounded and his whole body trembled. At any moment, he expected security to wrestle him to the floor, but he was ready to fight back, undirected rage now controlling him. Air rushed in and out of his lungs and sweat beaded his forehead. Come and get me, he thought, wanting to be hurt, to be knocked down and kicked, to be bloodied and bruised.

Wanting to die.

He stopped and leaned against the wall for a moment. The truth of that errant thought cut through the irrational anger, bringing with it the shadow of lost hope, and sharp, bitter hate for himself. For a moment, self-awareness dawned, and he wondered how he'd gotten here, how love could have turned into something so destructive. Then the anger returned with renewed strength, only this time it had a definite focus: Apollo. If Apollo hadn't kissed him, if Apollo hadn't befriended him, if Apollo had just left him alone, right from the start…

Tears threatened, but he brushed at them frustratedly and continued on his aimless way. His expression was menacing, his gaze cold. He saw nothing but the blank walls that seemed to narrow in on him as he walked. Soon, he'd reach the end and be able to go no further –

"Starbuck?"

The voice came from behind him, and he spun around, eager for the confrontation – but it was Boxey, who looked up at him with fear in his dark eyes.

Starbuck was paralysed at the sight of him, his anger abruptly choked off. The boy held a satchel tightly against his chest, and Starbuck recognized it as belonging to Apollo. It had the insignia of the Military Academy on Caprica they'd both gone to years ago. Apollo had given it to Boxey when the Galactica's school had started up.

"Where are you going?" Boxey asked.

Starbuck swallowed, his throat was bone dry. "Nowhere," he forced out.

"There's something I want to give you," the boy said. "It was Dad's. It's in Athena's quarters."

Starbuck shook his head. "I don't want anything of your father's."

There was a long silence.

"Oh," Boxey finally said, obviously hurt by Starbuck's harsh reply. "Why?"

Starbuck shook his head again. How could he explain it to a child?

"Are you mad at me?" the boy asked.

"No. Look, I got things to do, kid."

He had to get away from Boxey. Bits of memory were invading his mind, evading his tight control. Faint images … Apollo laughing as Starbuck let Boxey handle the controls in a Viper simulation… Apollo asking Starbuck to please go get the boy after school… Apollo listening while Starbuck told Boxey a wild story made up on spur of the moment…

"Are you mad at my Dad?" Boxey asked. "Athena said that's probably what's wrong with you, that you're mad at him for leaving. Like me."

"Listen," Starbuck snapped, "you don't know anything about what's going on with me. You're just a kid. You don't know anything at all!"

Boxey just stared up at him, his eyes wide with surprise. Starbuck had to get out from under that gaze. He'd completely betrayed the trust between adult and child, heartlessly corrupted the boy's genuine concern.

One more reason to hate himself. Tears flooded Starbuck's eyes as he turned away.

"Stay right there!" Boomer yelled from down the corridor where Starbuck had come from.

Boxey jumped and looked over his shoulder. Boomer hurried towards them, his furious gaze on Starbuck. Still, he managed to smile at Boxey when he got close, and lay his hand on the boy's head.

"How you doing, Boxey?" Boomer asked.

The boy shrugged. "Okay."

"Do you mind if I steal Starbuck for a while?"

Boxey gave Starbuck a hard, unforgiving look. "No."

"Athena's probably looking for you," Boomer said. "What're you doing down here anyway?"

"Nothing," Boxey replied, still looking at Starbuck.

"You want me to take you home?"

"No." The boy was insulted by the suggestion.

"Okay, then you better get going."

Slowly, Boxey walked away. Boomer watched until he'd gone around a corner, then turned his fury onto Starbuck.

"You feel better?" he snapped. "Shoving me around like that?"

Starbuck didn't answer. He couldn't, his encounters with Boomer and Boxey hopelessly weakening his self-containment. His head was bowed, jaw clenched, and he breathed deeply in and out, concentrating on the calming feel of air filling and emptying his lungs, hearing his blood pounding in his ears.

"What'd you say to Boxey?" Boomer demanded. "I've been very patient with you. Hell, I've been worried, but if you said anything to hurt that kid –"

Boomer didn't finish the threat, didn't need to, but his fury was spent, now. He took a deep breath and closely regarded Starbuck, taking in his stance: head bowed, arms holding himself across the middle, like he was in physical pain. Boomer bent down to see Starbuck's stricken face.

"Hey, Bucko," he said, softening his tone. "You okay?"

Starbuck shook his head, no. Then his face crumpled, and he put a hand up over his eyes. Boomer hadn't said it, but Starbuck knew he was thinking it: * How could you treat Apollo's son like that? That boy needs you…* He was ashamed.

"All right," Boomer said, taking him gently by the arm, "let's go home. Come on."

In the turbolift, Boomer put his arm around Starbuck's shaking shoulders. Boomer said a few comforting phrases, but the Lieutenant wasn't listening. They made it to Starbuck's quarters without meeting anyone, but he wouldn't have noticed if they had. Starbuck was trapped inside a storm of suffering, knew nothing but intense despair as his last vestiges of self-control shattered. * I'm sorry, Apollo ,* he thought, * I'm sorry… *

Strong arms wrapped around him, holding him close, and Starbuck completely gave in to the grief. It burst from him in heart-wrenching sobs, and he had trouble catching his breath. When he'd calmed a little, he still clung to Boomer, afraid to let go and find himself alone again. But this embrace was nothing like being held by Apollo, and the vivid memory of a love now gone made him pull away. He swayed on his feet, his knees nearly buckling.

"Why don't you lie down for a bit?" Boomer said quietly, recognizing Starbuck's extreme fatigue.

Boomer helped him over to his bunk. Starbuck stripped off his boots and flight jacket, then lay down on his side. Boomer sat near him on the edge of the bed.

"Close your eyes," he said, rubbing Starbuck's back. "You need some rest."

Consciousness quickly faded, as exhaustion took Starbuck down into a deep, dreamless sleep. Boomer watched him for a bit, then quietly slipped out. While he felt relieved that Starbuck had finally broken down, it was hard to be faced with all that anguish, knowing there was little so comfort to be given.

With a sigh, Boomer headed for his own quarters, thinking about Apollo and how deeply he'd touched all their lives. The pain of his loss would linger, but Boomer would see to it that Apollo's ideals and standards would continue to guide them. In Apollo's memory lay strength, Boomer knew. He'd done so much for all of them, it was time they went a ways on their own, taking up the burden, letting him rest.

"We won't let you down, Captain," Boomer murmured, feeling like Apollo walked beside him.

* I know you won't… *

Boomer stopped, listened, then shook his head. He was hearing things. This ship was full of strange sounds, and sometimes people thought they heard voices...

Still, Boomer smiled at the empty air, then continued on his way.


END

 

Continued in REVENANT

REVENANT