The star field made for a calming background. It should have been too old and familiar to even notice after countless centars spent in the cockpit of a viper. But it wasn't. At least, not every time. Not today.

"Yo, buddy..you in there?"

Apollo became aware that his wingman had been chattering away for a while now and he hadn't been answering. "Sorry, Starbuck. What was that?"

His friend chuckled. "Star gazing again, eh? Sometimes I wonder about you."

"A little introspection might do you some good." He sighed and wondered if Starbuck ever stopped to think about anything beyond the next woman and card game.

"Hey, who says I don't indulge? I find that a nice, long patrol gives me a great opportunity to do all kinds of thinking." Starbuck's tone told him what was coming next. "I figure out whether Cassie's expecting me when we get back, whether I owe her a nice night out or just a friendly dinner. Figure out who else might be free or who owes me cubits, so I can collect 'em and find a game."

"Not to mention who you can trade patrols with for maximum downtime. My father is going to catch you at that sooner or later, then you'll be cleaning the turbo shafts for the next sectar."

"That is not why I trade patrols, Apollo. I wouldn't shirk my duties." Starbuck sounded just indignant enough that, if Apollo hadn't known his friend so well, he would have believed him utterly. As it was, he knew Starbuck was telling at least half the truth.

"No, you just overbooked again." He laughed. "Come on now, don't I rate in your perilous schedule somewhere?"

There was a suspicious second of silence, then Starbuck's cheerful voice came over the comm. "Of course. But only when you don't remind me about how much trouble I'm going to get into, or how many cubits I owe you, or--"

"Who you are supposed to give a tour of the Galactica to, I know." He answered the old line, as always. Silently, he had wished for more, but knew it was never going to come. Starbuck was happy with his legions of women. Why go for his over-serious, borderline-stuffy partner? He'd been wishing it long enough that by now his thoughts were reduced to reflex and resignation. Stuff of dreams.

Off-handedly, Starbuck asked, "Was there something you needed, chum?"

"No, I'm fine. Just thinking of everything I need to do when we get back." 'Liar!' He berated himself silently.

There was no response to that, so for a few centons they flew in silence. Apollo could tell that Starbuck was undisturbed by the conversation they'd just had -- which only made sense. Apollo hadn't actually said aloud any of the things which would have disturbed his friend. For all his current silence, Starbuck was enjoying himself.

The weird thing was there was no overt indication of Starbuck's mood. But Apollo knew.

It was sort of sad, really. He knew there were depths to his friend that no one but himself and one or two others had seen. Most of the time though, Starbuck was more than willing to coast on impetus, reacting to other people. Abandoning it as a lost cause -- again -- he spoke, "Time to make our last loop, partner."

"Then it's back home, and off-duty!" Apollo had time to roll his eyes, then Starbuck asked, "Hey, Apollo, I'm heading to the Rising Star later. Do you wanna come along? You could invite Sheba, I'll bring Detra. Have a foursome for dinner."

"Rather it was a twosome with no Sheba or Detra," he mumbled very softly. Louder, he said, "I don't know. I have reports to do--"

"Come on, Apollo. You work too hard! There're always reports to do. I'm telling ya, the Fleet would come to a standstill if anyone realized that reports are just so much felgercarb. Have you ever read a report anyone else ever wrote?" There was a half-laugh. "Who am I talking to? Of course you have."

"Including yours, Lieutenant." He laughed.


"Right. Remember that next time I have to give you an efficiency rating review."

"Aw, come on, Apollo! You know I meant to finish those. I just got... distracted."

Apollo could imagine Starbuck's expression, right then. If they'd been face-to-face, he would have been hard pressed not to give in completely. There were advantages to having a lot of empty space between them. "And what was her name?" He would grow a spine where Starbuck was concerned; he would.

Starbuck laughed. "Analea."

"Then get Analea to write your reports next time. She's from Communications. I'm sure she's good at reports."

"Now that's a good idea."

"Just make sure they get done. Colonel Tigh is just looking for an excuse to take you off flight duty, then who would I have to look after me when I'm stargazing..." It was a cheap shot to the ports, but he'd take what he could get.

"He wouldn't take me off flight duty. He'd give me double flight duty." Starbuck sounded like he was grousing, but there was a note of amusement there, as well.

Apollo understood -- for all Starbuck went on about wanting to get back and spend his time playing around, he loved flying.

All the pilots did.

In a sick sort of way, the war had been good to the pilots. They had gotten far more flight time since their rush from the colonies had begun. Patrols had an ever changing set of dynamics as well, not just the same old patterns. Always something new to keep them on their toes, even though no one had seen a Cylon in a while.

"So," Starbuck said after another centon of silence. "How about it? You and Sheba want to join us?"

"You'll sit down with me and do reports?"

There was a loud sigh. "Fine. If it means you'll enjoy yourself tonight, I'll do the reports with you tomorrow. Happy?" Starbuck managed to make it sound like a huge concession on his part.

He laughed again, he couldn't help it. "It's not like it's a tour on the prison barge."

"I dunno. When you start making me re-do my report for the third time, it can start feeling like it."

"When you leave out things for the third time, I have to."

"Blue Squadron long range patrol, this is Galactica Command. You are cleared to land in bay two."

"Thank you, Galactica command."

Starbuck waited until Apollo had his comm to the Galactica closed again, then said, "Ever occur to you that I meant to leave those things out?"

Then he was switching his own comm back on to the Galactica, listening for further landing instructions. A smooth glide along the flight path and into the landing bay and they were home again. The centon they were both out of the cockpit he closed in on the grinning Starbuck. "That doesn't make it right. Besides, my report was already in and I had that stuff in--"

"Captain Apollo!" one of the pit crew called out to him. When Apollo turned, Starbuck gave him a grin, a clap on the shoulder, and headed for the lift.

"Felgercarb," he groused then called out, "Meet you at the shuttle for the Rising Star, Starbuck."

"Will do!" Starbuck called over his shoulder. Apollo watched him go for a micron, then turned his attention back to Jordy, the crewman who'd stopped him. It only took a centon, but by the time he left the landing bay Starbuck was long gone.

Apollo brooded as he listened to Starbuck charm both of their dinner companions. He took another drink of his wine and wished that dessert would show up so this could all be over. It had been a bad idea after all to accept the invitation, as he'd suspected, but he couldn't stand the thought of Starbuck going out without him.

Occasionally, as he regaled the ladies with another story which Apollo knew was only half-true because he'd been there, Starbuck would glance his way. Apollo couldn't read much into the looks, but sometimes Starbuck had an almost thoughtful expression hidden in his eyes, even as he laughed.

Maybe Starbuck wanted Apollo to call him on it, as he'd pulled the other man back on task so many times before. On the other hand, it was understood that Starbuck never told anyone the complete truth, about anything. It was just the way the man was built. So he listened and drank more wine.

Once Sheba tried to drag him into the conversation -- she didn't realize it was 'dragging', but that was how it felt to Apollo. She'd turned a pretty smile towards him, asked him to verify one of the wilder claims Starbuck had just made. Starbuck continued grinning, as if looking forward to being corrected. In a perverse frame of mind for once, he answered, "It's true. In fact, Starbuck left some of the wilder things out."

Starbuck hid his surprise well; Apollo figured he was the only one who saw it. As Detra and Sheba turned astounded expressions towards Starbuck, he grinned knowingly. "See? Would I steer you wrong?" He tapped his cigar on the ashtray, then leaned back in his chair, looking the picture of contentment.

The conversation continued, then, and for a long while they didn't even do more than try to bring Apollo back into it. Finally it was over and they were headed back to the shuttle bay that would take them back to the Galactica. Apollo reflected gloomily that he'd managed to put a damper on the whole evening, if the sidelong glances from Starbuck were anything to go by.

Starbuck and Detra sat on the bench to wait for the shuttle -- and indulge themselves happily in necking. Sheba sat beside Apollo, trying not to look worried.

He smiled at her and tried to ignore the sounds of heavy breathing coming from the other seat. "So, I understand you and Bojay are due for patrol tomorrow. Want to swap and I'll take your duty?"

Sheba looked surprised. Then her eyes narrowed. "Why?"

"Would you believe...no, you wouldn't. How about I just want to do something nice for you and leave it at that?"

She laughed, apparently mollified. "How is flying with Bojay being nice to me? You should talk Starbuck into swapping with me, so we can fly together."

There was something in her eyes -- maybe he was imagining it. That she realized his first thought was not to be with her, but to get away from Starbuck. Apollo shook his head. He was imagining things. "I may just do that; then again, Bojay and Starbuck can't stand each other." He managed a smile.

"It'll do them good," she said, leaning closer and lowering her voice. Had he wanted to kiss her, he could have. She was certainly giving him a clear opportunity.

He couldn't do it. Leading her on would be wrong, even for such a little thing as a kiss. The pain of Serena's death was behind him now, but he wanted another. Someone who most definitely didn't want him back.

After a brief pause, Sheba leant back again. She looked disappointed, but didn't make mention of it. "If you want, I'll switch a flight with you," she offered.

Before he could answer, their shuttle was announced. Tapping the very distracted Starbuck on the shoulder to get him moving, they boarded the shuttle and were headed back to the Galactica. They parted ways once they reached the Galactica. Starbuck and Detra spared the attention to tell them goodnight before heading down the hallway. Starbuck had an arm slung over Detra's shoulders; she was laughing again at something he'd said.

"Good night, Sheba," he said cordially after they had disappeared from sight. "Thank you for joining me for dinner."

"Thank you for inviting me," she replied, sounding sincere, even if she was not, Apollo suspected, totally pleased with how the evening had ended. "Shall we do it again sometime?" she asked.

"Certainly, as time permits..." he hedged. He gave her hand a gentlemanly kiss, then disappeared down the corridor to his quarters.

Not having much else to do, he stripped off his jacket and began writing reports. He really did hate them as much as everyone else did, but he really couldn't say that aloud. Sometimes being the Commander's son did have its drawbacks. He sat there working, for only half a centar before there was a knock at the door. It would be one of three people. His father, his son, or....


"Hey, Apollo." His friend gave him a disarming smile and glided easily past him into the room. When he spotted the desk where Apollo had obviously been working, he shook his head. "Reports? Apollo... I'm surprised at you."

"Uh-huh." He rolled his eyes. "What happened to Detra?"

Mildly startled, Starbuck shook his head. "Detra's fine, chum. We, ah... well, you know."

"That was awfully fast, even for you." He deliberately misunderstood.

"You flatter me." Starbuck half-grinned. "Detra begged off, has early duty tomorrow." The explanation fell short, but Starbuck made no attempt to elaborate. Or say anything else, for that matter.

"Oh, so you came to keep me company instead?"

He shrugged. Then he looked up at Apollo with a steady gaze. "Are you all right?"

"I've had better sectars," he said uncomfortably.

"Yeah, you kinda look like it. Anything... the matter?"

"Nothing that time or breathing fresh air wouldn't fix. You?"

A brief smirk, and a "Yeah," then Starbuck was looking at him again.

"What? You are staring at me like a particularly good hand of pyramid."

"Am I?" Starbuck looked startled, then the expression vanished, replaced by a crafty, hidden one. A look that gave nothing away, and requested even less in return.

For a moment.

Then it dropped, and Starbuck looked at him, worriedly. "You didn't seem to enjoy yourself, tonight."

"I enjoyed the food and your company."

"Yeah, I could tell from the way you kept laughing," Starbuck replied, sarcastically.

"Do I ever laugh?" he said bitterly. "I mean, after all I am Captain Apollo, the man with no sense of humor."

Starbuck shook his head slowly. "I've heard you laugh. Not often, and, lately, not at all." He walked over, closer -- too close. "Come on, tell me what's wrong?"

"I'm not happy with my personal situation."

That seemed to throw him off-balance. "Your personal situation? Is... something wrong with Boxey?"

"No, Boxey is fine."

"The Commander's all right?"

"My father is in wonderful health, so is my sister."

"So that leaves your quarters, which seem fine to me, or your duty schedule -- which, I'll admit, is pretty harsh. You do need to take more time off, Apollo."

"To do what? Write more reports that you won't?"

Apollo saw a flash of self-rebuke on Starbuck's face, then it was gone. "Is that the problem, then? You know, if you need help you only have to ask. Boomer and I would be glad to help take some of the load off if you need more time. Raising a kid and all, you must be hard pressed for time."

"Not as much as you think. I've gotten good at keeping a lot of things going in the last yahren." He sighed. "Speaking of which, you can either help or get out of the way..."

At that, Starbuck looked hurt -- but he didn't get out of the way. "I suppose now's as good a time as any to finish my reports." With that, he pulled some folded papers from inside his jacket pocket and laid them on Apollo's desk.

"When did you have time to do these?" he asked. "You've been busy with one woman or another every time I've turned around. Or at least I thought you were."

"Ah, a gentlemen never tells." Starbuck grinned as he waggled one finger at Apollo.

"It'd be nice if you were honest with someone." Apollo sighed and sat down. "Me, for one."

There was a long silence. Then Starbuck walked over to stand, once again, far too close for Apollo's comfort. "I write them before we go out -- leave only the details blank. Most of it never changes. Only takes a few centons to finish them; did these right before I came here."

Apollo wanted to shift again, but he was pressed up against the wall now. "They don't change much," he admitted softly.

"So, that honest enough for you?" There was an odd note of challenge in Starbuck's voice.

"Yes, it is." He raised his eyes long enough to nod then went back to staring at the bright fasteners on Starbuck's jacket.

And there was more silence.

"Was there anything else, Lieutenant?" Maybe falling back on rank would help him get past this odd silence of Starbuck's. The man clearly thought he had latched onto something. Lords of Kobol only knew what strange notion his partner had cooking.

"Probably, Captain," he replied easily. "You never answered my question."

"I seem to recall answering every question you've asked."

"What's wrong? And don't say your 'personal life'. I deserve a better answer than that." There was a challenging tone, which Apollo was both astonished and amused to hear.

"You do?" He paused and thought for a moment. "Perhaps you do at that. I doubt you really want to hear it, though. I'm sure it will work out on its own, eventually."

"Uh-huh. You've probably been telling yourself that for the last three sectars."

"And I will continue to do so until it goes away. What is your point, Starbuck?" He knew he sounded upset now and didn't know how to rein it in any longer.

"What if it doesn't go away? What'll you do, then?"

"Live unrequited, like most of the people in the fleet." His eyes stole up to meet Starbuck's blue ones again and he was caught.

Strangely, Starbuck looked away, looking as nervous as Apollo felt. Nervous, or... Apollo shook his head. Again he was imagining things. Starbuck shook it off, and asked, "Unrequited, huh? Who is it?" The demanding question was gentler than it might have been.

"A very old friend who doesn't have a clue about how I feel. It's better this way, trust me."

Starbuck watched him, frowning slightly. It was obvious he was thinking of all Apollo's old friends, looking at Apollo's behaviour in the new light of unadmitted love. He shook his head, bewildered. "What I don't get, is why is it better?"

"Because he--the person doesn't love me back."

"Ah." Starbuck nodded, understanding. "He said as much?"

"Not exactly." He wasn't sure where this was going and had the uncomfortable sensation of being in Starbuck's targeting grid.

"Acts like it?"

"Definitely acts like it. Dates everyone he can find."

Starbuck nodded again. "I guess you're better off without him. It's a sure bet he isn't hiding any feelings the same way you are."

Was he imagining it, again? The piercing blue gaze, daring him to say no more? "Starbuck, do you have something to tell me?"

"Me? What could I have to say to someone who doesn't want to talk to me?"

"What have we been doing for the last twenty centons?" Apollo was confused now. Starbuck wasn't being Starbuck. Somewhere, something was coming to an end.

"You've been hedging. I've been--" and he stopped. He suddenly looked unsure, and a moment later he said quickly, "You're right, this is none of my business." He moved towards the door.

"Sit down." Apollo grabbed his arm. "We've come this far, don't eject on me now partner."

Starbuck came, reluctantly, but still said nothing.

"I was hedging. What were you doing?"

"Trying to see if you'd admit it. I guess--" He stopped again, frustratingly.

Apollo threw his hands up in the air, anger finally finding an outlet. "Admit what? I already have. I'm in love with you!" He clamped his jaw closed and paled. He'd said it. Lords of Kobol come and swallow him up into the void now.

The void was taking an awfully strange form, though. It looked blue -- and delighted.

"I don't know if you'll believe me," Starbuck was saying quietly, "but I love you, too."

"How could you-- I mean you and the women-- And..." he stuttered to a halt then yelled, "Why didn't you tell me, you idiot?"

"The same reason you didn't tell me? I thought you'd say no."

"Have I ever been able to tell you no, ever?" Apollo reached forward and pulled Starbuck into a loose embrace. "About anything that was really important?"

Starbuck wouldn't meet his gaze. "I know, Apollo. That's why I couldn't say anything. I didn't want to hear you say no. Not to this."

"Well, I'm certainly not saying no now."

Starbuck looked up, then, his expression moving from surprise to concern to something Apollo didn't want to identify -- to a wide, beautiful smile. "I wasn't aware I'd asked, yet," he teased.

"You would probably never get around it."

"Wouldn't I?"

"You certainly haven't so far." Apollo smiled slowly. "So... ask me already."

Starbuck took a step forward, resting his hands lightly on Apollo's waist. The moment of contact startled them both, and Starbuck's confident grin faltered slightly.

"We have no idea what we are doing, do we?" Apollo queried softly, letting one hand come up to rest against Starbuck's shoulder.

Starbuck blushed, then, furiously. He glanced away. "Um...."

"Doesn't matter," he continued in that gentle tone of voice. "Just us now. Here."

"Yeah." He didn't seem totally reassured, and he looked at Apollo with a questioning expression. Apollo knew he was trying to decide whether to say something, and he couldn't decide if it was bad news or not.

"Tell me, if you think it's that important."

"Ah, I just...." He took a deep breath, then apparently decided it was that important. And not necessary bad news. "I do know what I'm doing." He still looked nervous, though, as he waited for Apollo's response.

"I would have been very surprised if you didn't, Starbuck. I meant," he said with the same gentle smile, "that we don't quite know what to do with each other."

"You mean just because we've been friends for nearly eight yahrens, possibly in love with each the whole time, never said a word about it and suddenly here we are?" He grinned. "I'd say we could use a centon to regain some bearings."

"That is exactly what I meant. Quite the way with words you have there, Starbuck." He let himself take in the bright blue eyes and golden yellow hair for a moment, along with the bright grin that had haunted him waking and sleeping for yahrens.

"So, whatdya want to do? Stand here and stare at each other?"

"Well, its more interesting than staring at Bojay," he snickered.

"Bojay?" Starbuck's eyes went wide, then they narrowed in suspicion. "Bojay, huh?" He couldn't hold the expression, though, and laughed. "I knew I had competition."

"About as much as Cassie is for me."

Starbuck looked thoughtful. Apollo felt him tense, suddenly -- but he didn't move. He just continued looking at Apollo, thoughtfully.

"It was a joke about the staring, right?"

"No." Starbuck shook his head. "I was just wondering if I was really going to--"

Then he did.

Before Apollo could more than open his mouth to ask what he was talking about, Starbuck had kissed him. Having his mouth open certainly seemed to encourage his old friend to dive in enthusiastically. His hands tangled in the short hair, pulling Starbuck closer. Starbuck came easily, the tension Apollo had felt seemed to have fled. Starbuck's hands grasped his waist firmly, and one knee pressed between Apollo's legs.

With a shiver of arousal, Apollo let his legs fall slightly apart, letting him in. It felt so good to be touching him, at last. His hands slipped down Starbuck's back, feeling the muscles moving under the thick uniform.

Starbuck leaned back and looked at him, eyes clear -- showing him, for possibly the first time, everything that was inside. "How long are we gonna be alone?"

"Not long. Boxey is due back from my father's any centon actually."

"Ah." Starbuck didn't seem terribly disappointed.

"Go slow?" he asked with a grin. "Maybe even date?"

"Actually, I was thinking -- I happen to have reservations for a private dining room on the Diabla, night after tomorrow. Would you care to join me?"

"I would be happy to join you." He grinned. "Who brings the flowers?"

Starbuck smiled, and for the first time Apollo felt the full force of the Starbuck-charm. It was a little disconcerting -- especially when he realized that this was no facade to put a nervous date at ease. "Ah, ah, leave everything to me."

"Starbuck?" he said nervously. "What do you have planned?"

"Me? Planned?" He sounded completely innocent.

"Last time you did that we ended up on shuttle patrol for a secton."

"Only because we got caught." He sobered, suddenly. "Unless this is going to be a problem?"

"No, no problem." He leaned in and got another kiss. "You better get going. I still have reports to write before tomorrow."

Starbuck gave him an exasperated smile. "Reports. I'm telling you, Apollo--"

"Get, before I make you walk security with Bojay!" His smile made the threat empty, mostly.

"I'm going, I'm going!" He took a few steps towards the door, then stopped. "You know, you're gorgeous when you're ordering me around." With that, he slipped out the door.

"Starbuck?" Apollo watched as that tightly-fitted uniform, and the man in it, moved away from him at a good clip.

In moments there was only the faint smell of his musk and the burn on his lips to remind him it had been real. That, and the anticipation of seeing Starbuck again.