Lost and Found

"Married life hasn't slowed you down much." Apollo smiled as he watched Starbuck grabbing his jacket on his way out the door. Starbuck stopped and looked over; Apollo's smile faded when he saw the expression of guilt. He hurried to Starbuck's side. "I was only teasing."

The guilty look faded, replaced by uncertainty. "Would you rather I stay? It's just a game in the rec room--"

"No, love." Apollo gave his husband a quick kiss. "You go and have fun. Boxey and I will see you later. Not *too* late, though?"

With that Starbuck finally smiled. "I can be home by curfew. Besides, I don't think anyone but me has that much to spare for betting."

Apollo gave his lover a mock frown. "I know exactly where those extra cubits came from, Starbuck. Being married is not supposed to be about saving money."

"Sure it is. Well, saving money and getting a decent room," Starbuck conceded. With that and a cheerful grin he returned Apollo's kiss and headed out the door. Apollo watched him leave, shook his head once, and then -- when the door was safely sealed shut -- laughed. Starbuck would never really change. Married over a yahren and still he spent his free time living life to its fullest -- gambling and carousing, plotting the intricate pranks he'd become famous for while still at the academy.

The difference now was that this 'free' time was nearly half what it had been before and whatever carousing he did, was done with Apollo. In truth Starbuck *had* settled down rather a lot, much to the surprise of many of their friends. It had even taken him no time at all to adjust to being a father, raising Boxey in almost the same serious manner as Apollo. Almost, because though Apollo had put his foot down against Starbuck's teaching the boy to play pyramid, Apollo could not entirely stifle his lover's sense of irreverence.

Luckily Boxey didn't seem to have his second father's skill at getting away with practically anything. After only a few attempts Boxey had lost interest in trying to repeat Starbuck's reputation as a jokester, at school.

Apollo found himself hoping that Starbuck would never completely settle down -- he looked forward to still having the energy which kept him invigorated now, when he was old and grey and surrounded by great-grandkids. As often as he found himself annoyed by it, he found that life simply wasn't as much fun unless Starbuck was somewhere nearby.

He walked away from the door and headed for his son's room. "Boxey? You ready to go?"

"In a centon!" They'd made plans to spend the evening with Apollo's father; Adama had acquired tickets to a concert on the _Nebula_. Apollo waited as Boxey put his toys away where Muffit wouldn't walk on them, and then, taking his hand, they headed out. Apollo couldn't help but grin as Boxey began to describe the day he'd had at school. Starbuck wasn't the only one with irrepressible energy.

"...and then Darli found enough string to make an entire leffe so Borel and I had to hold the edges. That's when Mata came in...." Boxey described the string pictures the kids made with their fingers, twisting and threading the string in patterns. The conversation lasted until they reached the Commander's quarters, and then the boy started all over again when his grandfather asked how he was. Adama listened with great interest as they made their way to the shuttle bay.

Two sectons later the Galactica found itself under red alert. The Viper Squadrons were standing by in the launching bays, waiting for the patrols to report back with verification of their suspicions. Traces of a dozen or more craft, just outside their range but gaining, looked like a classic Cylon attack. Commander Adama couldn't risk sending the vipers into space until they were sure -- fuel was ebbing low again, and it was entirely possible some vipers wouldn't make it through a firefight if they launched even half a centar too early.

Captain Apollo was trying not to pace nervously in the launch bay. Boomer was standing at his elbow, acting as though he would grab Apollo and hold him should he try to make a break for it. Apollo wasn't sure he would -- he wasn't sure he wouldn't, either.

Starbuck was in the second launch bay, standing by with the newly commissioned Green Squadron. Green's Strike Leader, a veteran pilot by the name of Jugson, was laid up with a mild bout of the flu. Their second in command was Ensign Car, newly-promoted to replace the warrior who'd been killed in last sectar's battle with the Cylons. Green Squadron needed seasoned leadership in this newest crisis, so Tigh had temporarily reassigned Starbuck. For the last secton they'd been training together, getting used to each other. No one had expected Green Squadron to go into battle with their temporary leader.

Apollo definitely hadn't counted on going into battle without his husband and wingman at his side. When the alert had sounded they'd been in their quarters -- rushing out together, they'd had to part ways two corridors down. They'd stopped for a long kiss, then Starbuck had given him a cheerful grin and a flippant "Last one back makes dinner." Apollo had wanted to hold onto him but their duty called in opposite directions.

"Relax, Apollo. We might not even go out." Boomer, his acting wingman, said in a low voice.

"I know." Apollo started to say more when the alert sounded again.

"All pilots to their vipers," came Rigel's calm voice. All around them warriors began scrambling, climbing into their cockpits and zipping through preflights.

Apollo felt his stomach dive into his boots as he settled into his own viper. He tried not to think about Starbuck, all the way across the Galactica. His husband would be smiling, urging his squadron on with a joke, helping them calm down and keep them alert at the same time with his dry wit. Apollo wished he could hear it, wished he could risk switching channels to Green's preflight channel. He had his own squadron to take care of, though. He turned his attention back to his nearly completed preflight checklist -- performing the actions automatically, he knew they were done right -- he began receiving Blue Squadron's rollcall.

The battle was well joined -- Cylon fighters and vipers nearly evenly matched in skill, Cylons outnumbering their Colonial enemies by five to one. Fortunately it was the sheer number of Cylons that made their skills evenly matched. The vipers were destroying Cylon fighters up and down and so far only sustained damage, no lost vipers. Apollo was relieved to be on battle channels, hearing his love's voice calling out to his squadron, giving advice and offering more bad jokes.

Suddenly he heard, "Apollo! Trouble!" Ensign Giles' voice came over the com.

Apollo double checked his scanners, confirming the location of Giles' ship as he replied. "Go ahead, Giles."

He saw it even as the warrior explained. "Looks like a double wheel! I can't break--" Giles stopped transmitting, concentrating on breaking the elaborate pinwheel formation the Cylons had created. Apollo and Boomer aimed their ships for the mass of Cylon ships, trying to find the right angle to fire their cannons without hitting Giles' viper.

"Hang on, Giles, we're there." Apollo kept his voice steady, even as he studied the formation, trying to bring his viper around again for a better angle.

Finally he heard Boomer cry out, "Got it!" The other viper's laser cannons fired, and one of the Cylon ships exploded. Apollo quickly created another hole in the wheel, and Giles slipped free. Apollo felt his racing heartbeat slow infinitesimally, whispering a silent prayer of thanks to the lords that they had not lost Giles. Then he focused on destroying as many of the Cylon ships as he could before they got out of targeting range.

He had stopped counting, several centons ago. The sky was full of Cylon ships, and though they were holding their own it didn't look like they'd made an appreciable dent in the Cylons' numbers. Instead of worrying overtly about it, he just kept firing. The folks on the bridge could try and figure out what was going on. Right now his job was to keep his pilots alive, and destroy as many Cylons as possible.

The amount of damage was growing, he could hear reports coming in as pilots lost engines, lost cannons, even one that lost part of the nose of his craft. He'd have to be towed in to the landing bay but for now he could still fly, and still fire. Apollo regrouped with Boomer, and headed back into the fray.

That was when Apollo realised that he hadn't heard Starbuck's voice since before they'd gone after Giles. He barely stopped himself from calling out for him; the comlinks had to be kept clear for battle reports. He could find his husband later, after the fight was over. He was probably just too busy blowing up Cylons to chatter....

Another centon went by with no word from Starbuck. Apollo flew after the next Cylon with a steel plate in his stomach. There had a good reason why Starbuck wasn't talking. He hadn't heard anyone say they'd lost a viper.... Hadn't been paying attention, either. He took a deep breath and blasted a Cylon fighter to dust.

Four destroyed Cylon ships later, Apollo was surprised to realise that nearly all of the enemy fighters had been destroyed. He checked his scanners, and found only seven ships remaining. Even as he watched, two disappeared as viper fire found their marks.

"That's it! We've got them, blast those last ships and let's get out of here," Apollo called to the warriors. He heard muted cheers from one or two pilots, as those closest to the now-retreating Cylons flew in and easily destroyed them. As the last one vanished, more of the pilots gave triumphant cheers.

"Captain Apollo to Galactica. That's all of them."

"Read you, Apollo." Omega's voice came over the comlink. "Long range scans show clear. Return vipers to the Galactica."

"Acknowledged, Blue Squadron returning to the Galactica." Apollo smiled as he said it.

His smile froze as he heard Ensign Car say, "Green Squadron, returning to Galactica."

Apollo could barely force himself to fly straight, heading back to the Galactica. He was dimly aware of Boomer's voice, saying something about getting their ships back in one piece for repairs, directing Greenbean to assist in towing the worst damaged of Blue Squadron's ships back. Apollo wondered if he ought to say something; he was, after all, still in charge of his Squadron.

But what had happened to Starbuck?

Apollo's vision went slightly grey around the edges. Was he dead?

"Apollo? Apollo!" Boomer's voice was suddenly more insistent, and Apollo shook his head. He was listing off from his position; quickly he took control of the joystick and concentrated on flying his viper. He wanted to scream. Instead he simply landed.

The voices over the comm were muted, frenzied: typical after-battle chatter. Apollo ignored them, not hearing the one voice he needed to hear and he didn't want to hear what the others might have to say. He settled his viper into its landing pad, anxiously waiting for the ship to be locked down. As soon as he heard heard the 'all clear' from his flight crew he stabbed open the cockpit and jumped out. He was barely aware of tossing down his helmet as he ran towards the nearest landing pad. Starbuck had to be here, somewhere. Apollo just had to find him.

Boomer grabbed him as he went by, checking each landing pad for Starbuck. "Whoa! Captain, hang on!"

"Boomer, let go! I have to--"

"Apollo, listen to me! Starbuck's not here--"

"He is! He has to be!" Apollo felt the world spinning slightly, as if all the blood had been drained from his body.

"Lords, Apollo, I didn't mean -- he's in the other landing bay! His radio got shot up, he couldn't contact anyone but he's fine!" Boomer had Apollo by the arms, giving him a slight shake to make sure he had Apollo's attention.

"Radio...?" Apollo stopped and stared at his friend. "He's not dead?"

"He's all right, Apollo. Look, I'll meet you in debriefing. You get over there and see for yourself."

Apollo couldn't answer; he reached up and clasped Boomer's arm before spinning and running for the lift. The transport flats would get him to the other bay in mere centons but it seemed like centars before he exited into the other bay. He had barely begun to search the small crowd of warriors before he heard his husband's shout.


Dirty and wearing a torn jacket, Starbuck pushed his way past two of the pilots towards Apollo. Apollo remained where he was, not quite able to accept what he was seeing until his love was standing before him, grinning, asking if he could have a hug before being debriefed.

That galvanised Apollo into action. With a single motion he had his arms wrapped tight around Starbuck, eyes closed tight as he tried to pull the man inside him. He couldn't say anything -- it wasn't the first time he'd had to face the possibility of losing his husband, wasn't even the first time he'd been convinced Starbuck was gone. That didn't change how desperate he had felt, and how indescribable it felt now to have him safely in his arms.

Apollo finally pulled back and studied his husband carefully. Torn and *burned* battle jacket. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Apollo. Com went up in a burst of sparks, caught my jacket but it didn't even singe me." He winced, though, as Apollo ran his hands down Starbuck's arms, checking for signs of injury. Before Apollo could do more than glare his protest, Starbuck amended, "OK, a slight burn," he held up his hand, showing Apollo what was indeed a slight burn. "But I'm fine, otherwise." His voice lost its note of defense and became pure loving. "I'm all right, Apollo." He leaned forward and gave Apollo a kiss.

When they broke it off -- both ignoring the knowing looks coming from the other warriors -- Apollo took Starbuck's uninjured hand. "Come on, you're going to sickbay."

"It can wait until after--"

"But it won't. Shut up, Starbuck." Yahrens of practise let him deal expeditiously with the stubborn man.

Starbuck let himself be dragged out of the landing bay, calling over his shoulder to Ensign Car to cover for him at the debriefing. In the hallway Apollo stopped, faced Starbuck again, and took him into another embrace with a long, searching kiss. His heart was still pounding from the fear that had nearly consumed him in such a short amount of time. It wouldn't fade for days, he knew.

Fortunately he knew Starbuck understood. They remained there, in the shadows of the empty passageway, for several centons. Apollo held Starbuck as close as he could, knowing he needed more but they could not take the time now. "Come on. Life station, then debriefing. Then home."

Starbuck gave him a blinding, oh so welcome smile. "You're on."

They were late to debriefing; no one commented. Neither did anyone comment on the way the two Squadron Leaders sat together, though the members of each Squadron were congregated separately, on each side of the room. Perhaps it was that the debriefing was nearly over -- more likely the warriors had simply grown used to it. Afterwards Tigh dismissed them all, neglecting, for once, to retain the two Squadron Leaders for further detail and orders.

Apollo wasted no time taking himself and Starbuck out of the briefing room and down the corridor towards the nearest lift. Starbuck didn't say a word, merely smiled and kept pace.

When they reached their quarters they found, inside on the desk, a folded note.

"Boxey is staying with me through dinner. Love you both - Athena."

Apollo laughed. "Sometimes I wonder if we're that obvious." He looked up at his husband. "And if we are, how we managed not to be two yahrens ago."

"Don't ask," Starbuck warned him with a smile. "I think you'll find out we were rather obvious even then."

"You're probably right," Apollo agreed. He dropped the note and ignored it, as it fell to the ground. He stepped over to Starbuck, close enough to touch, and then did so. First it was one brief kiss, then he tilted his head slightly and leaned in for a second, longer kiss. He heard Starbuck's satisfied sigh. When he released Starbuck, Apollo looked into his eyes. "I thought I'd lost you."

Starbuck raised a hand to touch him lightly on the face. "I know. I'm sorry, lords Apollo I had no idea you didn't know--"

"They might have said. I wasn't," he paused, looking away he finished, "I wasn't listening. When I realised I wasn't hearing your voice anymore it was like... like everything shut down. I don't even remember how I got back to the Galactica." The feelings were so close; his throat tightened as he felt the fear, unspeakable horror at having lost Starbuck. Grabbing onto Starbuck's flight jacket he hung on as if for dear life.

"I know," Starbuck's whisper broke through the pain. "I love you, Apollo." He punctuated the statement with another kiss. "I wish there was some way I could change it."

"No," Apollo corrected. "No, I don't want this changed." He saw Starbuck's surprise, and spoke quietly. "If I didn't love you so much I wouldn't be so scared of losing you."

Starbuck said nothing; Apollo raised his hands to hold his husband's face, and kissed him on the lips. Drawing his hands away he took a hold of Starbuck's jacket once again, this time pulling him towards their bedroom. Starbuck first gave him a jaunty grin; it faded when Apollo spoke.

"I love you, Starbuck."

"Enough to risk losing me?" Came his husband's quiet voice.

"Having you now is more than enough to risk losing you."

The bedroom door slid closed.